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Growing Up Almost Mormon

Even though both sides of my family are pioneer stock with a long history in the LDS church (some all the way back to the earliest days with Joseph Smith), none of my grandparents really practiced our religion. My dad’s mom was fairly openly agnostic, and my mom’s parents just didn’t, as far as I know, go to church. I don’t have any idea of how my dad’s dad, who died when my dad was sixteen, felt about religion. I am not judging any of them because if I am certain about one thing in regards to faith, it is this: myriad experiences and emotions influence a person’s religious feelings and decisions. No one really knows the complicated path a person walks through their spiritual landscape, except (somewhat) the person herself.


But coming from that Mormon-in-paper-only sort of background has influenced my spiritual landscape. My dad mostly thought about religion in the way his mother did: it can’t be proved empirically, and look at all these intelligent people who think it’s all bunk. Plus, he really liked coffee. Three or four years before he got sick, he began going to church, but his scepticism continues to play a loop in my brain. My mom went to church by herself while she was growing up, and she was married in the temple to her first husband. But I think that whatever the circumstances were that caused her divorce, something after it broke in her, because for nearly all my growing-up years, we were mostly inactive. I remember a few experiences at church: sitting in the stifling-hot Primary room and not knowing many of the songs everyone else was singing; the time I performed in the road show; the Christmas party we attended and how, when I was running around in the gym with the rest of the little kids, I tripped and fell, but instead of scraping my chin along the wood floor I just tucked and did a neat somersault and landed on my feet (earning the applause of a few adults around me).


I remember the day I was baptized.


But church wasn’t an everyday part of my life. Church was the exception. It wasn’t the place I went to feel close to a supreme being, but a building we drove past on our way to the freeway. An idea that was larger than I could understand, full of hints and innuendos. But I did have my pagan spiritual moments. My happiest childhood moments were the hours I spent in the cornfield that grew behind our yard, wandering around in green shade, watching purple morning glories slowly open in the sun. I know now that the calm, silent peace I felt then came from God.


I’ve been thinking about my spiritual beginnings after reading this post about growing up Mormon at a blog I don’t remember how I discovered. This woman had a typical Mormon upbringing, and as an adult she can continue to draw strenght from it. I read her entry crying, because it is so far from what I grew up with and because of how I continue to fail at providing this experience for my own children. I think about walking around in one’s life with the serene faith her experiences have created for her and I cannot imagine how it might feel. Like taking a slow, pensive walk along a flat, shaded path, maybe.


Growing up almost Mormon is markedly different from growing up really Mormon. It meant puzzlement every first Sunday of the month, when boys would show up at our door and we’d give them money. I was well into my second decade of life before I understood what that was all about. It meant we had one family home evening. Ever. It meant we had silky, oddly-shaped cloth with raw edges and mysterious origins to dust the furniture with. It meant we all had our own scriptures collecting dust on our bookshelves. It meant I grew up never wanting to go to BYU, and thinking it was ridiculous that LDS missionaries have to pay to serve their own missions—shouldn’t the church they were serving support them?  It meant sometimes listening to conference talks in April and October, but usually not. Grocery shopping on Sunday afternoons—and trips to the mall, and to the lake—because it was much less crowded then. It meant wine on the table for Christmas eve dinner. It meant I was the only girl I knew who wore tank tops and bikinis. It meant occasional visits from “home teachers” that left me with a vague impression: stuff was going on around me that I didn’t quite understand.


Sometimes my parents would have a “discussion” about church, and then we’d go for a few Sundays. I knew I was a Mormon, but I didn’t really know what that meant. What little I knew about religion came from the novels I read, but I didn’t know how my religion was different from, say, Laura Ingalls’s.  It meant that after those discussions, there was a vague sense of guilt radiating from my mother, permeating me. There was stuff I was supposed to be doing, but I didn’t know what it was. It meant that there was one specific summer Monday, the day after one of our intermittent church visits, when I sat in our shady back yard, reading my book and listening to the faint shouts and laughter from the kids who lived on the other side of the field, and suddenly had a 10-year-old-sized epiphany: they all went to church together, so maybe if I went to church more they'd ask me to play with them. That day a wound formed in me. Guilt, loneliness, anger, and confusion made it fester. Being almost-Mormon, in the time and place I grew up, meant I would always be on the fringe. Always on the outside.


When I was twelve, my grandpa Fuzz died. After that, my mom returned to her religion with a vengeance. She went back to the temple. She went to church every Sunday and wanted us to come along with her. But for me, it was too late to step into the growing-up-Mormon childhood. It was too late for me to simply embrace the church like I’d been there all my life. And it was too late for me to trust the girls in my young women’s class. My spiritual self, which had for all my years been a sort of conglomerate of wondering but not knowing, of feeling the spirit but not understanding it, had begun to to morph into scar tissue: hard to get through. I didn’t want to sit in church with girls who smiled and talked to me at church but ignored me at school. I didn’t want to be in Sunday classes where everyone but me knew all the answers and I was caught naked, unknowing.


So growing up almost Mormon continued to affect me, even when my mom and younger sister really were Mormon. Even though I went to church, and I knew why we paid fast offerings (even though we never fasted), even though I went to youth conference and watched more conference than I had imagined even existed, I wasn’t really Mormon. And when I got a little bit older, when I started truly to rebel, it was mostly against the foisted-upon-me religion my family mostly claimed. I mocked everything about the church. I sat in cars in the parking lot of church dances, never going inside. I partied because we weren’t supposed to. I wore short skirts because everyone said you shouldn’t. I laughed at the kids who took seminary in high school.


In my current grown-up form, I can look back on my almost Mormon experiences and see the path they led me on. I can see where I was a victim of cruel and narrow-minded people and where it was all in my head. I can see how what I really wanted was just, simply, to belong, and since that couldn’t seem to happen I tried to reject the church before the people in the church could reject me. I know the exact, dramatic moment when my trail diverged and I went a different way, and how my faith is something that is my own, based in what I know and experienced, not in what my parents believe. I can see how my spiritual landscape was formed, and it isn’t a smooth, calm path through dappled shade. It is a landscape full of rises and falls, desolate places and secret, shaded waterfalls. My path has been torturous, quite often, and I still don’t walk easy. I still haven’t achieved that seemingly-easy faith that imbued the blog entry I read this morning.


Because the truth is this. I was always on the fringe. I looked like a Mormon among Mormons, so everyone assumed. I felt like a convert, but no one noticed. I continue to feel like I am on the outside, that I don’t really fit, because I haven’t managed serenity, because I still have doubts and questions, because I still have my rebellious moments. I still hear my dad’s voice, questioning God’s existence. I still have my pagan spiritual joy most intensely when I am in nature, not in church. I still wonder if, had I been better at living my religion earlier on in my life, I might have been blessed with the experiences I still long for but won’t ever manage to have, now that it is too late. I still wonder if I will ever be good enough, or if the consequences of my various rebellions will be that I will continue to be almost-Mormon. I still look at my friends and neighbors who are so much more accomplished than I am at truly living their faith and I know that I am failing at giving my kids their growing up Mormon experience.


I’m still on the fringe.


I know women like the one who wrote that blog post. They aren’t pretending. Their serenity is real. They’ve managed to find a peace that they carry within them no matter what. Their faith, their belief, is something that is inherent to their very natures, a part of who they are, just like the blogger wrote: “Changing my Mormon-ness would be as easy as changing my height to six feet tall.” They aren’t almost-Mormon. They are, through and through. Try as I do, though, I still haven’t achieved that sense of Mormon-ness. It still feels like something I put on. It looks like my skin but sometimes it feels like a tattoo. And I continue through the up-and-down landscape of my spirituality, slowly beginning to accept that maybe I will never achieve it, the growing up Mormon serenity, and that for me the process of trying to rise above being almost-Mormon will be the entire point.



Always a thought provoking read. Interesting that you turned to a religion you grew up on the outside of where I turned away from one I grew up on the inside of.

I read the other piece as well and think it would read better with out the anti-christian digs. It sort of invalidates the whole 'Being Mormon Feel' she was trying to convey. It is like a little bit of the meanness of the kids who wouldn't play with you showing through.


I wonder. You do make me wonder, Amy.

I think, sometimes, that we are too hard on ourselves for questioning. Whenever the guilt clings to me when I have secret, or even verbal, moments of "do I really believe all of this?" I think of Joseph Smith. Talk about a guy who had questions! It gives me comfort that he was allowed, rewarded even, for questioning. He coupled it with faith and, whammo! We get the gospel. I think it's cool.

I think I understand your wistfulness about being outside-looking-in. Not having grown up in Utah, I can't fully understand what it feels like to not only not be a regular member of a religious community at church, but to feel so excluded at school, around the neighborhood, etc. etc. That must have been really tough. But, I do know that you are a powerful, independent woman with exactly the same opportunity as every other woman in your ward, every mother on your block, every daughter of human parents, to be converted to Christ. To be loved by Him. To experience His peace. And to know His truth.

That is what being mormon means. I know we link a lot of other stuff onto the title, and I'm not saying the things like modesty, word of wisdom, conference watching, etc. etc. don't matter, because they do, but they are the result of conversion, not the cause of it. I think.

Anyways, I enjoyed your post. I think you have such an incredibly honest voice. I appreciate you.


Amy, this was indeed thought provoking. I echo much of what Lucy wrote about questioning and conversion.

I grew up feeling on the outside because my dad was ex'd, I had no social skills and was left out of a lot of things by the church girls.

I do wonder if we assume a lot of people are stronger in their faith than they really are, but ds is demanding my attention so I can't expound on that further. I'd love to talk to you more about this in person. And thank you for your honesty. I love you!

Julie Lopp

Amy, I loved your post. I always love reading your posts. Like Lucy said, you do have an incredibly honest voice and I love how you can write down how you feel and in a way that touches others.

Amy, I think you are amazing and you do so much with your kids and you care about them. They will always remember the hikes you go on and teaching them to enjoy and feel those spiritual moments you have on the trail.

I liked your last line, the process of trying to rise above the almost Mormon will be the entire point.

I think doing what your are doing with those moments outside in Nature are awesome and maybe if they happen more it will help.

Thanks for your comments on the Young Woman in your life growing up, it helps me to remember the YW in our ward. I think about them all the time and know that they are a daughter of God and I try to say "Hi" or say little things that help to make them feel welcome. Your daughter is awesome and when I was picking them up last night from their party I just listened to them laugh and talk and I could feel that they have become a little closer this summer and I felt so happy to hear them talking and laughing and doing things together. They were so close in their younger years, then they drifted and now I think they are on a road to becoming close again. I hope it continues to sky rocket. Love ya


Okay, I'm back. Ds gave me a second chance at focusing. I read the other girl's post. I didn't love it. It was much more cultural than spiritual, and I think there are far many more families that don't look like that than that do. I suppose she has no idea about that. Anyway, I don't want my thoughts on her article to detract from what you wrote or felt or feel, so please separate the two.

So back to her article, I think her view and title was narrow. Very narrow. Oh, and I was just thinking about a Mormon family I grew up near with seven girls. They were very strong in the church. Two are active. I have my theories on why, but I guess my point (since I really do need to be a Mommy right now), is that even many of those "growing up Mormon" families had their own heartaches and difficulties and such . . . oh, ds needs me . . . sorry to be so random here!


I wonder how much of the "outside" feeling comes from the Utah cultural stuff.

Hugs! Beautifully written!


The difference between your post and the one you linked to goes to show that everyone's faith is personal and different. I can definitely relate to both. In some ways, I am the typical, naive Mormon - eating funeral potatoes, saying family prayer, and filling out tithing checks. In many other ways, I'm the outcast Mormon - the one whose mother committed adultery with a man at church. But no matter what kind of Mormon I am, I'm happy to be able to say that I have a testimony, and that matters far more than any label associated with my church. I love how you said that, "No one really knows the complicated path a person walks through their spiritual landscape." It is so true. We can so easily form assumptions about other people's spiritual progress, but we don't really know.

Kayci Bitton

Don't give up! We all have our moments. I promise. No body's landscape is smooth and perfect. It's never as easy as some make it look. But I also believe in working hard, praying for the things I lack, and having faith that if I do what I am supposed to do(what I am commanded to do), I will receive my answers and be blessed. You are such an amazing person! Press forward and keep working hard! Thanks for sharing this. So often with blogs, we only post the good things that happen, the happy moments in our life that make ours look like some sort of fairy tale. The truth is we all struggle with different things, at different times in life. But life isn't supposed to be a cake walk with everything handed to us, it is a test. You can still become the person you hope to be! I know it. We have until the judgment day to become all that we hope to become. I'm pretty sure it's not tomorrow and I pray that I will have more time to work out the kinks I have as well. Love you! Sometimes a testimony is found when bearing it:) (I hope this doesn't sound preachy, I have been feeling a little this way lately as well. But I guess that's why you blogged this, to get feedback, right?)


I have read your post three or four times and still don't know exactly how to say everything that is on my mind. A bunch of random thoughts though - I grew up in Utah as a non-Mormon. My dad was/is less-active & my mom is not a member. I went to school smelling of two-packs a day of cigarette smoke. I was luckily socially clueless so never noticed that I did not have the normal group of friends. My self-esteem came more from my grades than my friends. I attended stake dances, firesides, plus church & girls' camp occasionally. I joined the church when I was sixteen because it just made sense & felt right - I had had enough experiences in my life to realize that there was something there that I needed in my life. I love feeling the peace of the spirit; it is a great motivator for me. When I was 21, I married a great guy that I met in college & soon moved out of Utah to Washington state & then South Carolina. The church in Utah & the church in other places is so different - the doctrines are the same but the culture is so intertwined in everything in Utah that it is difficult to separate the two. I have learned through lots of time & experience that everyone comes to and goes from church on a different path - I don't feel that I can stand in judgment of others because life is not always a fairy tale. Even people with seemingly picture-perfect lives have many secrets in the hidden recesses of their hearts. For now, I go to church because I love the spirit that I feel there & because I don't feel like I can become a whole person anywhere else. I used to compare my life to those of friends who have had an "easy" church life - grew up with an active family who did all the right things. Now, I am grateful for a little perspective - I think that I am a more compassionate listener and friend because of the way I came to the church.

As always, I love to read your blog because you help me think about things in a new way.

Jeff Bitton

Amy, this is Jeff. You are an author and a poet and your blog was masterfully written! I think your thoughts identify with more people than you may know. One day a publisher is going to knock on your door and beg for one of your though-provoking works! Faith is an interesting topic, it seems the more secular knowledge one gains the more they tend to rely upon themselves for divine answers. Good luck with your journey.


I was just thinking that sometimes we can view the church too much as a certain culture or social group. It isn't like that. We're all on the same page, really, whether we have all the answers or we don't--and most of us really don't all the way. We all have questions, just some admit it and some don't. But I always feel like, in the end, no matter where we are in our progression, that we're still in this together, and that we never have the right to judge each other, and that we're all working toward the same thing, not something different--we're working towards loving each other, and discovering truth and happiness.


It's funny you say I was the real mormon. I can remember sitting in primary, 8, 9, thinking, what do these people know? Why am I here? These rebellious thoughts quieted thanks to Mr. Tulley; he gave me my first ever taste of the spirit (not that I knew enough at the time to identify it, but that is what it was.) I was closer to 13 than 12. It was easy for a few years to wear the skin, but as my friends lost their faith, I lost mine. Not completely, but enough to go on some paths that showed me life on the outside.

It is interesting for people like us. Baptized at 8, converted in our 20s. Maybe conversion is a process and has nothing to do with the family we grow up in. We put our feet on a path, and it meanders along. The landscape changes as in a choose your own adventure story, because we are choosing our own adventure.

But regardless of where we started, Amy, we decide where we end up. Don't forget that. And remember, the first temples were nature. The mountains and nature reduce us to our core selves in the same way (I think) as wearing white in a temple. There is a power in nature that is raw, is evidence of God.

Beautiful, beautiful post.

jamie `

I read this yesterday and have thought a lot about it since. I came back to reread and think some more. I hesitate to make a comment as I have nothing eloquent to say as previous commenters have done before me but I wanted you to know I read and was touched by your honesty and your emotion. My heart aches for your feelings of not belonging.


There was an interesting book around when I was in my church's youth group (so it's rather an old book now!) called "The problem of wineskins", which was about the difficulties imposed on faith by the structures of the church. Perhaps some of that 'wineskin' issue is what you're dealing with? Remember that it's the wine that's the important bit, not the vessel the wine is in.


I don't think there is such a thing as "growing up Mormon serenity."
I did grow up Mormon.
I still, at times feel on the fringe.
I don't think anyone, in ANY religion feels like they are "as good as" the next guy.
I don't fast. I forget to pray. I complain. I sluff church. I blow off meetings. Etc, etc.
I love the quote, by Teilhard de Chardin:
“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
I think your relationship with God and Jesus Christ is what will bring you that serenity you are searching for.
Whether it finds you in the stake center, or a cornfield, it is the same. :)


Amy, your honesty and openness always are so appreciated. I am not a Mormon, but I think the questions you raise are questions all of us have while on a spiritual journey. Is it real? does it make a difference? and then, there are the questions a mother must contemplate - how do I raise my children? what will bring them security, peace, joy?
Thank you for bringing these thoughts forward, I hope in your journey, you find answers. Thank you, for being "real"!


This resonates with me, as I was raised with a Catholic background, but not raised Catholic (interestingly, my grandfather was raised LDS and large portions of my family on that side remain so)

Anyway, being inside a church is something it was very important to me to raise my children with and one of the blessings of my Orthodoxy (ironically, my oldest does not consider himself Christian, but honors the background he was given).

Melanie Bell

I am always amazed at how the thoughts and feelings you express in your writing resonate so deeply with me. Even though in this case I'm coming at the whole thing almot from the opposite experience. I was raised as "mormon" as possible. My parents were far from perfect, but they tried to do every little thing that they were supposed to and to teach us the principles as we went. I had such a great depth of knowledge from an early age, and gained a very real testimony early on. And yet I managed to fall hard in college, and in dealing with the consequences (disfellowshipping, etc) I started to fall away. I held on loosely for a while, and eventually stopped going altogether. And that was when I fell in love with my husband and decided to get married, thinking that I was fine with not getting married in the temple and that I wouldn't want to go back later. But that only lasted until we had kids and I realized the responsibility I had taken on. So now we're about to have our 5th, my husband doesn't have anything to do with the church while I drag the kids every week by myself. I'm trying to teach them the gospel while dad doesn't follow any of the rules. It's so hard, because I want them to believe in the word of wisdom, and to keep the sabbath day holy, but we've got a cappuccino and coffee maker on our counter and dad's favorite Sunday afternoon activity is a trip to Costco (which I go along with because he suffers through hours of me frantically getting the kids ready and then hours of us being gone).

So I'm sorry I've written a book already. I think it is so hard for us as individuals to truly understand and feel peace with our own spirituality. But it is made a million times harder by the guilt we feel as mothers. We do have a responsibility to help our children through this life, and we have to figure out exactly what our role is. And then we have to watch as our children make their own decisions and try not to blame ourselves when they trip and fall.

I can tell you that your children are so blessed to have a deep thinking and feeling mom, especially because you're able to express yourself so eloquently. They will learn so much from you in this life, and they'll be better people because of your example.


Amy, I love your post and your blog! You are so refreshingly honest and open. I admire you for your courage to express yourself this way. I'm always to scared to put really deep down personal stuff on my blog!

We are all on our own spiritual journey and everyone is on a different part of that road. Faith is such a very personal thing for every one. It's not something you can rush or hurry or impose on someone else. Do that many of us really feel comfortable with our faith? Some of us may feel comfortable in our Mormonism, but I think faith is a little something different. Mormonism, especially in Utah, and where I live in Idaho, is such a cultural thing. Faith is something that is dynamic and growing, changing, and hopefully becoming stronger. It remains with us wherever we live or whoever we are with.

I empathize with you and feeling on the outside. I feel that way a lot too; feeling like I don't measure up to the sterotypical mormon wife and family. Our family and extended family makeup of active/inactive/nonmembers are definately not typical! I have to remind myself that what others think or what I have going on in my head doesn't matter. What matters is my relationship with my Savior and Heavenly Father and my personal choices.

It comforting to know that others stuggle with similar things that I do. Thanks again for another great thought-provoking post!

Terresa Wellborn

A thought provoking post. I didn't find this until today I went to Google analytics and traced how people linked to my blog. Then this post came up and I was curious.

I wrote "Growing up Mormon" as an exhuberant expression of my Mormon culture and spirituality. I didn't write it intending so many people to read it and respond. And I didn't write it as a Sunday School lesson or a prescription on spirituality. I didn't write it to offend non-Mormons or make people feel any "less than." Not my intention at all (and if anyone knows my writing, they know I'm not mean spirited or judgemental that way).

My blog post was just one girl's view (a biased one at that) about what being Mormon means to her.

I now see that I should add a post script on my blog:
My mom grew up on the "outside" of the church, as a "less active" (parents drank and never went to church so she went from time to time with her grandma). My grandpa was known as the town drunk (he smoked, too), when all 200 townspeople went to church. I mean 199. He never went until he converted in his 60's. That's not to mention that I have a tattoo, my husband has a tattoo, and my sisters have tattoos. We all attend the temple regularly, have difficulty fasting, and swear voraciously. But, like everyone else, we are human, trying to improve, trying to become better.

Whatever being Mormon is for each of us is different. We are, all of us, converts. My true testimony came at age 23 while sitting one night in the MTC, desperate to know Joseph Smith was a prophet. I slept through 4 yrs of seminary in high school and was terrified to serve a mission to Uruguay & not know the truth. That night I got an answer that changed my life.

But being Mormon is still not easy. I'm prone to angst, pride, and judging others. I've turned my nose up to so many past Primary Presidents who seem on top of the world (as I struggle, wondering "How??"). Then, my world screeched to a halt when I was called to be Primary Pres. a few weeks ago. Me? Imperfect, red-light running, potty mouthed me?

I still don't have all the answers. No one does. We are all looking and searching and trying to grow closer to Christ in this thing we call life. It's messy and imperfect but we try all the same.

Mormonism is what we make it. If you live in a culturally judgemental place (not naming any states here), maybe consider moving? It's hard to live somewhere if you feel judged all the time. I am sorry for your outsider feelings. My mom felt the same for years growing up and that feeling still clings to her at times, even now.

I don't think any one has life or spirituality figured out. Not me, not my bishop, probably not even the prophet. We are imperfect people trying to become better. That's what Growing up Mormon means to me. ;)

PS: Keep singing your song, girl. We are listening. And keep on with your candid insightfulness in the cornfields of life. We are with you every step of the way.

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