I was born in Grande Prairie, Alberta in the tail end of 1979. I was a pretty sickly child and spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital. At age 2, I was having problems breathing and was wheezy and sweated all the time. My mom took me to doctor after doctor and finally one of them took an x-ray of my lungs. What he saw there put him in a bit of a panic,and he sent me out to Edmonton that day. Turned out that I had TB that was far enough advanced that I had holes in my trachea and a granuloma in my lungs that needed to be removed. So, I underwent surgery that left me with a scar halfway around my torso but also gave me the ability to breathe well, so that was a pretty good tradeoff.
Now, all of this being sick stuff had kind of made me my daddy’s baby. My dad would often stay up and rock me through the night so that my mom could get some sleep. My dad has kind of always had a soft spot for a weakling, and I was definitely one if you ever saw one. In reciprocation, I pretty much thought that my dad was the centre of the universe. He taught me to fish, hunt and throw a baseball hard enough to make him wince when he caught it. As soon as I would get home from school, I would put on my chore coat and head to the shop to be with my dad. My dad always had work for me to do, and even if it was just sweeping the floor my dad always made me feel like whatever work I did for him was crucial to the completion of his day.
The thing I didn’t know about my dad was that he drank. I don’t mean that he drank all the time, but when he went out he drank TOO much. I also didn’t know that when my dad drank he did stupid things. My mom and dad’s relationship was chaotic at best, but they did a pretty good job of shielding me from that. I actually had no idea that anything was wrong until my mom moved us out of our house in the middle of the night when my dad was away at work. And even then, I really had no idea what was going on. I was just devastated that I didn’t see my daddy anymore. But a few months later, my mom and dad got back together, and as far as I was concerned the world was right again.
When I was a teenager, I fought with my mom quite a bit. One day I made some flippant comment about how if Dad was home he would side with me, and something in my mom snapped. That’s when I learned all about how perfect my Dad wasn’t. I guess she had just had it with my idolizing a man that had made her life so painful. Anyways, life was never the same after that. Suddenly I felt like there was no one I could trust. I really felt that if my dad could do all the things he had done, that everyone else in the world would do much, much worse.
I learned to guard myself, and to close myself off. I never let anyone actually know me. I learned to mask emotion and play the part. The only place I felt truly at home was, oddly enough, on the volleyball court. That is where I could actually be me, and I excelled there. The problem was that with excellence comes awards,and I learned to gauge my worth by the level of recognition I received.
Then came the lucky day that I moved away and went to college. I attended Augustana, which at that time was a Lutheran college. I got a pretty sweet scholarship to go there, and they were just starting a volleyball program, so I was quite excited to go even though I was not at all interested in church.
I had kind of gotten used to people knowing everything about me, probobaly as most small town kids do. I was used to having people ask me about my sports or my grades, and asking about my plans for the future. Somewhere in the midst of all of this, I had kind of gotten the message that I was sort of a big deal. It took me all of about a couple days at college to figure out that actually, I was sort of a small deal and suddenly I became interested in God.
Now, what a great place to be to get interested in God, right? Well, that’s what you’d think. But, my roommate, as nice as she was, was Catholic and I’d already knew enough of that to know it wasn’t the place for me. I had made 2 friends at the dorm who were Mormon, and they started talking with me. Both were what would be considered “less-active” Mormon, so it didn’t take long before I was asking deeper questions than they had answers to. One girl introduced me to the missionaries, and I started studying with them.
At that time, a Mormon convert would go through a set of 6 lessons which Mormons called “the discussions”. This was a prerequisite to being baptized. Most potential converts would agree to baptism on the 2nd discussion, and the other 4 discussions were simply lessons on how to be a Mormon. I took all 6 discussions 3 times through and had a gazillion other discussions that I dictated the topic of. To say that I was a hard nut to crack would be an understatement.
Basically, my days consisted of school, volleyball, homework and the missionaries. I would often just lay on my bunk in the dorms and think think think for hours on end. I was incredibly confused about God and what he wanted from me. What the missionaries taught made sense to me. They introduced me to a world of order-one that was completely the opposite of the one I had been raised in. To me, it made sense that God would have rules for me and for my behavior, and that those rules would take me to heaven. To me, legalism was heaven because it was completely the opposite of what I knew.
There was one problem,though. I kept praying for a manifestation from God that would tell me what to do. When nothing ever came, I finally decided to take a leap of faith and just do it. I got baptized in April, just before I came home from college. That went over *really well* with my family. But, here is the best and worst thing about being born in my family… the word “stubborn” is not sufficient. It’s more like stubborn to the power of a million. The more opposition I faced, the more convinced I became that Mormonism was true, and I became the world’s most dedicated Mormon. I didn’t just keep the rules-I literally lived and breathed them.
Now, here’s one thing about Mormons that I wasn’t prepared for. As a teenage girl, you get used to getting attention from boys. What I wasn’t expecting from Mormon boys is that they didn’t just want to give you attention-they wanted to put a ring on your finger. I actually successfully evaded a few Mormon proposals before Quenton came along when I was 19. He won over my Mom by doing magic tricks and telling jokes, and after that my heart was his. We were married in December of 1999, after the longest 6 month engagement ever.
We were both in college when we got married, which is another way of saying we were dirt poor. I graduated from SAIT in June, and Quenton graduated in April of 2003. By that time, we had already had 2 babies, which is yet another way of saying that we were dirt poor. Quenton got his first “real” job, and we moved up to Fort St John.
I really hated Fort St John, and a year later we moved back home. Quenton got a job in Valleyview,and we thought we had the world by the tail. By that time, we had had our third child and another was on the way.
After I had our last baby, I got postpartum depression. I really started to go off the deep end. One day I had firmly resolved to kill myself, but put it off until I got the house clean, because don’t you know you can’t kill yourself unless your house is clean? Somewhere in the midst of this line of thinking, I realized how crazy this kind of thinking was. I really don’t know how-I can only believe that it was God intervening in what most certainly would have been a horrible tragedy. I called Quenton at work and told him he needed to come home and help me. That was when we started to really put priority on our marriage and family.
Now, all through this progression, Quenton and I had been serving faithfully in the church. We had served in several positions, but since moving back home we had been put in positions of fairly high responsibility. I had become the Relief Society President and Quenton had become a counselor in the branch presidency.
We had had a new president ordained in our branch. He was as sticky on the rules as I was, although I don’t think he was as good at living them. At first, we worked really well together. After a while, I realized that he couldn’t handle a woman having an actual will and opinion. We had several conflicts in which my genetics came shining through. I started to wonder if God was actually leading this man at all, or if he was just following his own agenda. I started becoming fairly crafty about how to get my ideas for our church to come to fruition-I would tell my husband my ideas, and then he would tell them to our branch president as if they were his own. President My-Way-or-the-Highway would then in turn declare them wonderful ideas, and implement them. Apparently, wonderful ideas are not offensive if they come from men.
This is about when Quenton and I became the Young Men’s and Young Women’s presidents at our branch. In our branch, we were divided on the importance of scouting. A lot of us felt like it was a ridiculous program that was a headache to run, and would have preferred to do something of our own. There were some who were dedicated to the tradition of scouting in the church. I wasn’t one of them. When it came time to put my son in scouting at age 8, I didn’t put him in. I refused to buy the membership, the neckerchief or the books. This brought about some heated discussion between myself and President My-Way-or-the-Highway. When President told me that I either had to enroll my son in scouts or say goodbye to my goodstanding in the church, I started doing my research on whether I actually wanted to be part of the church anymore. As far as I was concerned, any organization that required a boy to wear something as feminine as a neckerchief should be suspected of aligning itself with the devil.
What I found in my research thoroughly shocked me. What do you mean Joseph Smith practiced not only polygamy, but polyandry? What do you mean the church gives less than 1% of its tithing to the poor? Since when did DNA evidence exist against the Book of Mormon? The church, of course, hadn’t told us about any of that. I started to learn things that I had never even thought of before, and I once again was lost in a world full of confusion. Except this time, the stakes were sooo much higher. This time I knew that my family was up for grabs. This time, I really sincerely believed that my husband would leave me if he knew what I was thinking. And, every part of me believed that he would be absolutely doing what was right in finding himself a replacement wife who was not so arrogant as to question God and his church. This time, I 100% felt I had to fake it or I wouldn’t make it. Fortunately for me, I’ve never really been good at faking it.
What I learned was that trying to fake it totally destroys you. Before long I was confessing to my husband the very things I was afraid he would hate me for and was desparately trying to hide from him. I will forever remember the grace he extended me when he reassured me by saying,”Terri, I’m married to you, not the church.” After that, I felt I had his OK to go ahead and research. I continued to read obsessively, and learned rapidly that the legalism I idolized was actually not the truth. I started to learn who God really was.
That was when I began to understand that I could never be Mormon again. That was when we started coming to a Christian church. I started asking the pastor questions. I started learning of God’s love for me, and found that I was so hungry for it that I desired God’s word over anything else.
President My-Way-or-the-Highway sort of started to take notice when I resigned from my positions of leadership. He took even bigger notice when I stopped coming to church altogether. That’s when he called to set up an interview with Quenton and I to try and set things right.
When we got to the interview, I knew it was going to be bad when his first question was about how my garden was doing. I don’t know why we always have to ask warmup questions when we’re going to approach a touchy subject or ask a favour…I guess it’s just the Canadian way. But anyways, after that he asked me why I wasn’t coming to church anymore. What was I supposed to say? “Actually, I am pretty sure that you are not being lead by God at all, Pres My way or the Highway. In fact, I think that there may be a great deal of Satan in the way we do things around here, and I don’t want to have anything to do with it!” No, this was a man that in some ways I still kind of felt had authority over me-even if in my head I knew it was fake. And, in some ways, I actually feared him. So, instead my answer was,”I just don’t want to talk to you about this.”
Now, apparently this was the wrong answer. For a man that really didn’t ever want to hear my thoughts previously, he sure did want to know them now and my refusal to tell him made the tips of his ears turn an interesting colour of fuschia. He started to spout off things about how I was going to go to hell, and in that moment I remember thinking how ridiculous the whole thing was. That is when I stood up, and in the middle of him telling me how I would never see my family again after I die, I said,”I’ll take my chances on that.” and simply walked out of the room.
Now, I will admit that this exertion of my new found freedom left me feeling a little giddy. And maybe even a little pompous and arrogant. That all ended when I realized that the keys to my vehicle were in my husband’s pocket, and that my husband was still in this man’s office. I had to stand and wait outside that office until they finished talking-AN HOUR LATER- so that I could finish my triumphant exit. It kind of took the exhilaration out of the whole thing and gave me sufficient time to deflate my ego. But, it was still pretty sweet.
After that, I started attending church here regularly. I cannot tell you the excitement that I felt over learning that salvation is truly a free gift. I cannot relate to you how freeing it is to know and understand after years of living salvation check lists that Jesus really meant it when he said “It is finished!”. I will forever be amazed at the grace that God has offered my family,and the mercy he has shown to my sin. So when we sing “amazing grace” I truly feel amazed by it. The contrast of what I have known is remarkable, and the best word I can think of to describe what I now accept as truth is “delicious”, as sappy as it may sound. Knowing Jesus has made all the difference for us and there literally are no words to describe how greatful I am that he pulled me out of the hell I was in.