Dec 16, 2013

My Struggles With Priesthood Leaders and Mormon People Part III


Things with the bishop got hard when I decided the right answer was to divorce Paul. At the time, I was attending the temple as often as I could (baby needing to be watched, etc.) I didn't have a whole lot of emotional support from the bishop (for whatever reason) and the fact that he seemed so wrapped up in Paul, and that the previous bishop never talked to me at all while my husband was going to him about severe depression (and possibly about pornography, I'm not sure if he ever confessed to that bishop or not) made me realize that in the spiritual scheme of things, it was me and Heavenly Father. Against the world, it seemed to me. My parents had found out and their reaction was the predictable one: get. away. now. Do not reconcile. Do not give him a second chance. He tried to kill you. My bishop was saying, don't listen to your mom, she's being protective and stressed, marriage is an eternal thing and your decision has to be based on spiritual confirmation. And Elder Groberg (our area 70 at the time... the guy who made that movie the Other Side of Heaven) gave the stake president a call and said I needed to "remember how serious eternal marriage is."

yeah, thanks guys. Really helpful... I never considered how serious eternal marriage is.

(sorry. bitterness=some remnants of sarcasm).

I felt like my priesthood leaders were talking at me, not to me. About me, not with me. I didn't feel supported, I felt observed, and like they were trying to guide me to a decision they'd already decided was the right one--that I stay with Paul. Which, at the time, was my full intention. I even told Paul, "if you can get clean of pornography, we can start dating again about 6 months after that. We can re-court, re-date, and get our relationship back on its feet." At the time, that was my plan.

And then one day I went to the temple, and got a different answer.

And then, I told my bishop, and he reacted in anger. He told me to pray again. That's when I lost trust in my bishop. I got a very clear, spiritual prompting that i needed to divorce Paul, not just for my own sake but for Loli's. That Paul's time with us needed to be over, and it was partly also for his benefit--he was not ready to be a husband and father. He was too broken. Being burdened by us would make it impossible for him to recover.

I had to ignore the counsel of my bishop and go with personal revelation.

I still feel a whole lot of cognitive, and spiritual pain, and confusion, and dissonance, about that decision. Aren't prieshtood leaders supposed to lead you right? Don't they know what you're supposed to do? Why did this bishop hate me so much? Why did he think of me as someone who didn't need help, and why did he sometimes treat me like *I* was the person who had caused all this? It seemed he did, at times. Like I was the one who had done something wrong. He avoided me, and was pretty cool/distanced when we talked, and didn't want to hear about how stressed I was.


Things with the ward went downhill, too. Someone reported me to child protective services. Who knows why. They came in, looked around, and never came back. Thank goodness. My home teachers were supportive (they and their wives came over periodically), but guarded. But as supportive as anyone could be. People watched loli when I needed it. ONe family took on childcare (the first I ever had for Loli) and it was a good, gentle experience to transition me to what I'd have to do for the next two years--let someone else be mom to my baby.

But it was hard. And when I decided to pursue divorce and termination of parental rights--both things I felt strong spiritual confirmations I needed to do-- bishop was basically done with me. He got angry enough to throw a book down on the desk and say "we're done here."

I plugged away on my own. A friend at work suggested a lawyer--her Dad was a district court judge in Central Utah and had heard about my case and suggested an attorney he knew would be able to make sure Loli and I were safe from Paul. It worked out.

But it ruined me for bishops.


I moved away into another ward. An incident there didn't help--I was working in the nursery, and an older girl was coming in to volunteer. Young women age. I asked the Primary president what I should do--shouldn't she be going to Young Women? And the primary president informed me that the girl had been kicked out of her school for sexually assaulting another student. This girl was in the *nursery*. What do you do in that situation? Hesitantly, I approached my bishop about it. His response was to get very angry that the Primary President would tell me such a thing. And the next month, this weird guy who'd been kind of following me around in the halls, who had a wife and three kids, approached me at Stake Conference and told me his wife had left him.

Why are you telling me? I didn't ask the question. Instead I said, "have you talked to the bishop about it?"

He said, "no. Do you think I should?"

My response was to walk away. And out of the ward. That's when I switched to the singles' ward, where I met Jeff. that bishop was wonderful, but I didn't trust him. And the stake president found out I was going and said it was against church policy because I had a child. The one thing that stopped me from being put out of that ward was the fact that Jeff and I were "almost engaged" and so the stake president softened and let me stay. And it was through him and that bishop that my request for a sealing cancellation was processed. So they were nice men. Probably good priesthood holders. But I never felt like they were on my side. They were worried about the influence I'd have on all the pure, single young men and women in that ward. Because of what I'd gone through, I was a liability. That's what I felt my leaders were telling me.

New ward, new bishop. I was in the relief society presidency this time, in the ward above the Stadium where Truman Madsen taught Sunday School, Susan Easton Black was YW president, and Charlotte England was a relief society worker. Wonderful, huge ward. 101% activity because even the non-member in the neighborhood (she was catholic) attended regularly. Huge relief society--90 or so women, about a third of them home-bound because of age.

That bishop was young, and he didn't listen to the relief society president. He once asked me for some input about a certain tragic situation in the ward (instead of the Relief Society president). I felt weird that he would circumvent her and talk to me, but I told him what I thought might help, and he sounded upset and hung up on me.

I think at that point I was done with bishops, and wards. For the next 6 years, I just kept to myself. I disliked bishops at this point. Sometimes I'd see them up on the stand and this hurt would just well up inside me. I tried again, just before we left Provo--I went to our bishop, because his wife was my friend, sort of. She was the YW president while I was beehive advisor. But he just told me that my feelings toward preisthood leaders were uncharitable and I needed to learn to be charitable.

We moved to Rexburg. That bishop was the militaristic, controlling type. I hated him on sight, even though I'm not that kind of person. I don't hate people. I felt so much anger when I was around him, I think my hands literally shook. I tried, hard to overcome those feelings. I knew he was a fly-fisherman, and i wanted to learn how and also learn how to tie flies. I was going to try to take a class at BYU-I but it didn't work out. But when he signed my endorsement and asked what I was taking and I told him, he said, "I have all the equipment. Don't go out and buy stuff. Just come by and I'll help you out." I was glad... this was an opportunity to get to know him and maybe not hate him so much. So one day I called him and asked, "do you know of any place that give lessons in fly fishing and fly tying?" And he practically hung up on me. I don't know if he was busy, or what.

And then I moved to where I am now. You know, completely messed up at this point. I actively disliked the bishop as soon as I saw him. I remember trying, a little. At the Trunk or Treat a couple months after we moved in, he was standing with his wife in front of his trunk. He was wearing a tie with something halloween-y on it. I remember walking up to her (I was sort of friends with her) and saying hi, then looking up at him and saying, "and what are you supposed to be? A scary bishop?" I don't think it came out sounding like a joke.

I remember being called in as a ward choir director and just feeling really, really uncomfortable in that room with him, but also feeling something else... this desperate desire to not feel that way. To connect and be like, "you're OK, right? You're nice? I need help." But I just couldn't get the words out.

Then one day it all blew up inside me. I was trying to be set apart for my calling as Relief Society teacher. I'd actually not even been set apart yet as Ward Choir director because I didn't want to be going around asking to be, like I was asking for unwanted attention from priesthood leaders. But this was different. I *needed* to be set apart. This was the calling I'd had when I was married to Paul. I needed help.

I went to the bishop and asked if I could be set apart. His immediate reply was "talk to Brother (second counselor)." And turned away. I know him well enough now to know he didn't mean it as a rejection, but I felt rejected, and like I'd been attention seeking.

After church I waited. I knew the second counselor was setting someone apart, so I waited outside the room. One of the ward members, the second counselor, and a woman walked out. They were in a hurry, walking past me. I said "Hey... I need to get set apart." And the man (not the second counselor's) response was to turn to me and say, kind of angrily "go get Jeff."

I'd sent Jeff home with the kids. I'd assumed there'd be someone there to help out. Clearly, this guy didn't want to. Clearly, the thought of placing his hands upon my head was repugnant. Clearly, I was asking too much. Clearly...


I seriously almost screamed at him, across the foyer.

Instead I walked out, walked to the river, sat for hours, and thought about how it would be nice not to be alive.

Eventually I went home to an upset husband, upset baby, upset kids. When mom's gone a long time with no explanation, life falls apart. And that's how I knew I needed help. There was no other way for it. I needed to brave the bishop gauntlet again.

And that's it for now. What comes next is painful, and wonderful and hard. But I'm not up for writing about it right now, so. Sorry to leave you on that sad note, folks.

I have had so many people I know talk about their distrust of priesthood leaders because of pain they go through. I guess, reading this, a lot of you will identify. I want all of you to know that it can get better. Ok, that's a better note to leave this on.

off to make some lunch for the kids.

9 comments:

Bethany said...

Sarah,
You are a rockstar and I applaud your bravery. Every Mormon woman has had experiences with the men in authority. Some try to figure it out, some ignore it, some let it ruin their lives. I have walked out on a few sacrament meetings where the "man" said some pretty ridiculous things. The older I get the more I realize that it is between me and God.
Thank you for being you.
:)

Emma Tank said...

Not gonna lie, I really want to hear the rest of the story, but I appreciate you sharing all that you have. I have always had wonderful experiences with Bishops, but I like to hear others perspectives and understand where they come from. Bishops, sadly, like every other member of the church are not perfect, and they often make mistakes. Luckily God is perfect and always knows what is best for us. I'm glad you listened to the spirit!

Mrs. Mandy said...

Reading this has been like watching a train wreck...its awful but I couldn't look away. I am captivated by your writing: your story. Sarah..I'm so grateful that you are so honest and writing this really "hard stuff". I love knowing you on a deeper level and I love REAL. I can't wait to read more and see how it got a little better for you. I admired you before I knew all of this...but WOW! you amaze me!

Sarah Dunster said...

I appreciate you guys reading. And I will be glad to write the rest, because Heavenly Father's pretty cool and does some great stuff. Who knows why we go through stuff... but He turns everything into good, I think.

Thanks, Mandy & Bethany, too, for reading. I appreciate getting to know people around here better. I'm glad you like real :)

Luisa Perkins said...

I have read and cried. Wow.

Joy said...

ugghhh, Sarah are you kidding? I even know what happens and I can't wait for the rest. You are killing me!

Skywalker said...

I love you, Sarah!

I bear witness to your strength, determination, and desire to heal and improve. Despite all that trauma, we have had a great marriage that is only improving with time!

I have noticed lots of changes and improvements this past year. And I'm grateful that you have discovered some "Idaho family" for us. But that's part of the next installment.

The Weed said...

I am riveted. And also angry. I'm so sorry about... well, there are kind of no words. But I'm really sorry to read these things. I'm reading this all in sequence but I had to stop here and say "WOW I'm kinda mad!" Off to finish...

You are awesome, btw.

Amy said...

Sarah, I think you are totally wonderful. Thanks for sharing yourself and your stories.