I distinctly remember the day I came across Chelsea Homer’s Instagram post on the account owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was the first line of her post that stopped me mid-scroll: “I am in a mixed-faith marriage.” I had never heard the term “mixed-faith marriage” before but I immediately understood it because a year and a half earlier I had suddenly found myself in that kind of a marriage.
It was the first weekend of October 2016. Traditionally the first weekend in October is the semi-annual General Conference of our church. We had spent that Saturday trying to harvest, juice and bottle the grapes that grew on the fence between our house and our neighbor’s. We had 4 young and busy boys (ages 5, 4, 4, and 1 at the time) to try and keep happy and out of mischief while we worked. I remember listening to the conference talks on a Bluetooth speaker while picking grapes. I received specific and valuable spiritual impressions relating to my life and my marriage which still help to guide me today.
The next morning we traveled to Derek’s parent’s house to enjoy the rest of conference with extended family. Our tradition was to spend “Conference Sunday” with his family or mine having monkey bread for breakfast and gathering around the television to listen to the leaders of our church. That day there would have been at least 7 adults and 7 children (ages 6, 5, 4, 4, 3, 1, and 1) trying to “watch” conference together. I’m not sure how many messages got through the chaos and noise! I’m sure we scooted all of the children outdoors to wiggle and have lunch in between sessions. There would have been dinner after and, we would have put the kids in PJs and let them fall asleep in the car on the drive back home.
When we were almost home, I asked Derek if he thought there was wisdom in continuing this tradition of watching General Conference with extended family. Clearly nothing had been gleaned from the messages while trying to shush kids and chase babies around the house. I asked Derek what the biggest priority for him was: maintaining the tradition with our extended families and reading the messages later or being able to hear the messages as they were given. His answer changed everything.
He told me with some hesitation that none of it was actually a priority: not only the general conference traditions and messages but also the entire religion. This was the religion we’d been raised in and served missions for; in whose temple our marriage had been solemnized; in which church meetings we attended. We served in callings for the Church weekly and lived by its teachings daily. At some point all of the rituals, traditions, gospel and culture that we’d been participating in for our whole lives stopped being important to him anymore.
It was an emotional evening for us both. He confided that he’d been fretting for weeks about how to tell me of his disenchantment with our faith. He had been making himself sick with worry over my reaction. I think (I hope) I reacted sensibly and with love, but I felt so much panic and confusion. I didn’t know what him stepping away from our faith would do to my faith, our relationship or to our children’s spiritual development. Although it was painful for both of us, we bonded that night and the week that followed in a way that we hadn’t in our almost 9 years of marriage. For the first time, we were completely vulnerable with each other about our faith and what it meant to us individually.
I remember going to bed that night feeling as if I was looking into a dark tunnel. I saw no path ahead or back from where we came. Yet I was at peace. I knew two things: that Derek and I loved each other so we’d work through it together; and that Heavenly Father loved me and had been preparing me for this moment in our marriage.
A year and a half later as I read that Instagram post, I could identify with every sentence Chelsea wrote. I knew what those “late-night heated conversations” looked like. My “day of rest” became a day to dread. The temple, which had been my place of solace, refuge and peace turned into a place of great heart-ache and grief. I yearned for more people in my family, ward and neighborhood to “move in closer;” to understand on a deeper level my husband and our situation.
The past 3 and a half years have been a journey in pain and healing, isolation and connection, fear and faith, light and darkness. And if I’m being honest, it’s a journey that is definitely not over! However, at one point, in one of my darkest moments, I caught hold of the thought that there must be a purpose in all of my suffering– beyond being for “experience” or “for my good.” (D&C 121:7) I thought that if I ever made it through this ordeal, I would want reach out to others so they wouldn’t feel alone. I would try and be a light. I would try to “move in closer” and see others’ experiences from their perspective.
That purpose gave me enough hope to endure to where I am today. I’m feeling ready to reach out; to share in a much broader way my experience so others can find light. This is my invitation for all to “move in;” to move in and see how Derek and I are navigating these “mixed-faith” waters. I hope to reach others who’s marriages are in the same boat as mine, but I also hope that those with “mixed-faith” relationships of every kind can find something with which to relate.