“From my youth I have suffered and been close to death...
darkness is my closest friend”
After Mack[*] broke things off, and God had so graciously helped me heal, I started—in earnest—trying to set my house in order. I equated pleasing God with compliance with LDS Church standards. Because my father had served in leadership positions in the LDS Church from my childhood on, there had always been the expectation or pressure put on our family—by no one in particular, but everyone in general—to live up to a certain standard. For a while I had been a little rebellious, making and following my own rules. I knew I hadn’t exactly been living up to LDS Church standards in my personal life, though I put up a good front to the adults in my life. (I don’t think my siblings were fooled.) At this point, I sincerely wanted to be a better person. But since I didn’t know any better, mainly because of how I had been taught growing up in the LDS Church, all my efforts were focused outward.
I began to be much more reserved about who I dated. While I had been dating Mack, he’d talked me into borrowing someone else’s ID a few times so I could get into bars with him to dance (something he knew I really liked to do). His real motivation was so he—also using an older friend’s ID—could drink. I wasn’t going to do things like that anymore. I wasn’t going to date a guy who was going to drink on a date. (Now I can ask: “Did this make me a better person?” and be sure it did not!) Our dishonesty had bothered me a tiny bit at first, but then I forgot all about it.
As I was trying to clean up my life, I continued to think it had been pretty cool to be able to pretend I was older and be believed. However, I have to admit, it was something of a relief not to have to ask Laura[†] to borrow her ID anymore. Even though she didn’t seem to mind at all and was very accommodating, her dad held a super spiritual, high-up position in the LDS Church in our area. It was also a relief not to “have to” tell half-truths to my own parents anymore. This dishonesty just kind of died out by default, unintentionally. Drinking alcohol was an outward, visible sin against LDS Church standards. The dishonesty? It wasn’t even on my radar.
Another whole-hearted determination I made—also based on outward rules—was to be more appropriate in my physical involvement with guys. I didn’t intend to be unapproachable or undemonstrative, but I set some of my own limits. For example: no kissing on a first date; no being totally alone with a guy, but if we did somehow end up alone, no going too far (friction or rubbing or hands touching private parts). For the most part, I imagined I did pretty well. But—honestly—there were still occasions when I failed to maintain my rules exactly.
I generally dealt with my failures in one of two ways. I either stopped seeing the guy who was so pushy he didn’t respect my boundaries, or I didn’t stop seeing the guy, even if he was pushy. If I really liked the guy, I told myself, and usually him too, that we would “do better” in the future. We would not go so far—“ever again” (unless we were married). In the second case, if I said anything, the boy usually agreed with me, at least verbally, if he wanted to keep seeing me. Sometimes I didn’t say anything but just thought these things. There was no consistency in me.
Because of what had happened with Mack, I felt super guilty when I went too far with a guy, even for a minute. As I’ve mentioned (in a previous chapter), though Mack and I had only gone all the way in intent and not in reality, it felt the same as if we had. I knew what had led up to that. I didn’t want to repeat this with anyone again unless I was married to them.
This might be the only truly admirable determination I made. In this one thing at least, I truly feared God and wanted to honor Him with all my heart. Though this determination had a lot to do with the idea of eternal marriage that I had formed in my head, much of that ideal had to do with dwelling eternally in God’s presence. I had since childhood truly wanted to be worthy of that.
Now, I can see that I sometimes failed at keeping my own rules in my effort toward abstinence-until-marriage because I saw eternal marriage and dwelling with God forever (which were all one to me) as something I had to and could earn by my own actions. I didn’t attempt this ideal of abstinence because I cared about anyone else or in keeping with a heart of obedience toward God. It was, I believed, to preserve my own righteousness or worthiness in this area before God. As if I was or could be righteous or worthy in this area or was righteous or worthy by default!
Here, I need to pause and insert something before I continue my story. While reading about the things I’ve shared and will be sharing in this chapter, some have wondered where my parents were in all this. Where was my father’s protection? My mother’s prayers and care? In this chapter and the next, I’m going to share a few things that might both convict and exonerate not just my parents but all parents (myself and my husband included). Part of the package of parenting is that each parent and child is a fallible human. This is mixed with each parent and child being unique. And because of these things, this package also needs to include appropriate repentance (turning from wrongdoing back to God) and forgiveness by all parties involved, by the grace of God.
For my part—remember my childhood feelings of scorn toward my mom and femininity in general? Those feelings had only gotten stronger. Which, by the way, was super hypocritical based on the hours I spent in the bathroom primping and consumed with clothing and apparel and trying to look enticingly feminine.
My mom, despite my nearly full-on resistance, pulled me aside a few times and shared some of her own dating experiences with me. One story in particular left a deep impression on me (despite my resistance) and helped me to be aware there are such things as unhealthy relationships between men and women. Her story helped me identify some bad reasons to stay in a relationship, which were either because you feel sorry for a guy or because you believe you can or should commit in order to “help” or change a guy. Her story, and the disaster it could have been had she married a particular person for these reasons, was indelibly imprinted on my mind, and reinforced by later happenings. This golden nugget of wisdom, again despite myself, ended up saving me quite a few times from especially unhealthy relationships.
Also—remember what a strong-willed and sneaky child I could be. And how this only became more pronounced in my teens. This inclination helped me deceive not only my parents but myself as well.
My dad did share some of his concerns with me regarding dating, for example. But I was always sure I had things or could get things under control. His concerns about my dating non-member boys did have some impact on me.
Other factors contributing to the parent-child dynamic were that my generally gentle and kindly dad and mom were also what is sometimes called permissive, which was kindling to my excessively independent spirit. Neither of them seemed willing to train or discipline or put his or her foot down and say, “This is not right, you must not do this or we will...(impose a lesser, but also real consequence)!”
They did firmly and unitedly maintain that “Contention [at any time or in any form] is of the devil” (Book of Mormon). This was no idle belief for them. They withdrew from arguing or contending with me. My dad (mildly) confronted me maybe once or twice concerning a prospective date or being out too late that I can remember. Both my parents confronted me on my clothing (or lack of clothing) choices a time or two. They also seemed to want us to have our freedom to choose, as they understood it, and not go against that. Whatever their reasoning was, they didn’t set or try to uphold firm standards or rules in our home, except maybe—mainly my dad—in regard to watching TV and not showing disrespect to or fighting with him, our mom, or each other. My dad wasn’t home enough to consistently enforce even these things.
They also seemed to readily believe what I told them about myself or what others told them about themselves, even when there was good reason to believe otherwise. I think they saw it as a highly admirable trait to see the best in people—always. And truly, this is an admirable trait, if it’s not taken to the extreme. Choosing to ignore reality—by failing to look deeper into things, neglecting to discern twisted or half-truths, or overlooking outright lies—can bring some severe consequences. Their faith in me did often cause me to want to live up to what I knew they believed of me, especially my dad; but it didn’t help me deal with things in myself or with others as I should have.
They rarely asked questions or tried to clarify. To me, it seemed like they believed what they wanted to understand. And that as long as there wasn’t “contention”—which could also mean disquieting emotions—all was well.
As a result, my understanding was that the LDS Church’s standards were our family’s standards or rules, and I was accountable to God, not my parents. Though I equated LDS Church standards with God’s at the time, this ultimately ended up being a big blessing in my life (as you may see). This was one of God’s graces.
I knew then and still understand that none of what I did was my parents’ fault. But at the time, their avoidance of contention or discipline and of pursuing the truth felt like negligence to me. They told me they loved me. They provided all the temporal means for survival (food, clothing, shelter). My dad took great pains to try to teach us about God and His plans, commandments, and love through our family meetings. He provided all the spiritual teachings he understood to be the means for our eternal life. They tried to give me good counsel (and often did). On some level, I knew my parents loved me as well as they knew how. But what they were doing—or rather not doing—at the time didn’t translate to my feeling loved, cared for, or protected. Clearly, in some ways, I really wasn’t. I was left almost entirely to myself—except for God.
I know now that if my parents had understood how I was interpreting their words and actions or if they had known anything of the hurt and pain I was experiencing, they would have been greatly concerned, even devastated. If they had known to do things differently, they would have. They did the best they knew how—as most of us also try to do.
Now, I am sincerely grateful for who and how my parents were. God knew my parents before He sent me to them. He gave me the parents I needed for the experiences and growth my eternal soul required—especially at that time. As you will see eventually through my story, God turned their unintended,inadvertent overlooking of discipline and discernment into an unimaginable blessing. Above all else, it caused me to turn to God for help—our only real source of true help. The Lord’s love never fails or falls short—as our own human versions of “love” inevitably do.
But returning to my story and this turning point in my life, another thing I started regulating was the music I listened to. I realized, looking back, that Mack always had his radio on in his car, and that it often influenced my emotions and will to hold out for what I wanted, which was intimacy only within an LDS temple marriage. I started paying attention to the words of the songs on my usual radio station. Wow! That was an eye-opener! Some of my favorite songs had some pretty promiscuous lyrics. I began turning the radio down or off when these songs came on.
This quickly got me interested in buying a cassette player and music on tapes, so I could choose songs with more appropriate lyrics. Hello, Jim Croce, James Taylor, and Billy Joel...or...er...maybe not all of their songs either. My best friend Gina told me about two of her favorites: Amy Grant, a Christian singer, and John Denver. I thought all their music was great...until I became unsure.
I was distressed when I’d hear raunchy music at a church dance once in a while, though usually the music was monitored better than that. There wasn’t any way to get away from dirty music all the time. My school didn’t monitor the music; in fact, it seemed like just the opposite. Most of the music at these dances made me feel contaminated by association.
Then I got angry and self-righteous about it. I felt disgust for the people who would choose to like such music—as if I never had. I stopped going to school dances. Now, I can question: “Did not-listening to this music make me righteous? More righteous than the people who did listen?” I can see now that it didn’t. But then, somehow, I felt it increased my own worthiness. In that same self-righteous spirit, I didn’t want to regularly date guys who were not members of the LDS Church—though of course, there were continual exceptions because I was never consistent.
I didn’t question the dark lyrics that spoke of escape through various negative means, including drugs, alcohol, and suicide. Nor did I take issue with the “fun” ditties or folk songs that elevated the world’s lifestyles over God’s; or that straight out mocked and scoffed at God and His good ways.
Around this time, I also started paying closer attention to how I dressed. I stopped wearing suggestive clothing. Not because I cared about the visual and body-chemistry struggle guys sometimes go through (if they don’t just give in to them) when women show as much as they dare. But it was to fulfill my own goal to be “more righteous.” I should have been at least a little empathetic toward other young women who just wanted to be attractive—mainly to guys—since that had been my own approach for so long.
All I knew or thought of was that I wanted to be more righteous—which immediately infers—than others, by living closer to LDS Church dress standards. Again, I began to judge others in and out of the LDS Church who didn’t keep what I thought were God’s dress standards. I was beginning to shape up into a fine Pharisee. Pharisees were religious people to whom Jesus declared: “Outside you look good, but inside you are evil and only pretend to be good” (Matthew 23:28, CEV). On the inside, I was becoming more and more critical of others—and of myself—angry, and depressed.
There is a verse from the Bible that says:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
“Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.” (Proverbs 3:5-8)
In almost everything I was trusting in my own understanding or that of other humans—including the organization, programs, and standards of the LDS Church that I equated with God and His will and ways. I was doing my best with what God had given me. I don’t think God judges (condemns) us for this, but He can’t bless us either; the consequences (of trusting in our own understanding) certainly don’t go away.
I didn’t understand that changing the things one does outwardly doesn’t make a person worthy or righteous on the inside. I had no idea that nothing I could do could make me clean or pure in God’s eyes. I had fallen from God’s perfect standard. His standard, which is perfect because He is perfectly righteous, just, good, and loving—and in Him there never has been, never is, and never will be any unrighteousness, injustice, or wrongdoing. I wasn’t looking to Him or His solution. The ladder I was climbing was leaning on the wrong wall altogether!
I was trusting in my own beliefs and feelings rather than in God’s character and word, His promises and faithfulness. Feelings come out of our beliefs. With false beliefs come unrealistic expectations of oneself and others; unnecessary offenses, hurts, and misunderstandings; and a world of harm in relationships. Our feelings will also be in almost constant turmoil. I was trusting my own assessments of myself and others and other’s assessments of me.
When a person relies on their own or outside human approval for affirmation, if that person has a tendency to depression, and takes herself (or himself) too seriously, this is a bad combination. If you add comparing oneself with others as I was beginning to do, this makes for an even more unhealthy mix.
One huge problem with self-righteousness is that it becomes a regular emotional pendulum. One minute you imagine that you are—and you feel—superior to someone or to a group of people. You let yourself get all puffed up and full of false pride—based only on your imagination. But then, the next minute, you know you are inferior to another person, and you clearly see your faults and failures loudly in comparison. You begin to feel totally hopeless and worthless and move just as quickly into despair.
Criticism and accusation are a nasty two-edged sword. It is a sword that hurts the holder far more than it hurts the one being pierced or cut by one’s criticism or accusation. Though criticism and accusation can cause a great deal of damage when verbally or physically directed at others, it remains that the greater damage is done to the soul of the one who’s wielding it. It begins to set and harden in a person, like cemented in one’s character, weighing one down, and down, and further down into the depths of despair.
The pickier I got about what I would and wouldn’t do to become a “better person,” the more critical I began to be. The more critical I was of others, the more critical I was of myself as well. My thoughts began to align with the accuser—with Satan—the enemy of our souls! This is really important to understand, so I’m going to go into a little more detail here.
First off, does this “Satan talk” sound extreme to you? Is there anything that might help you face the reality of the spiritual realm? What if knowing the tactics of an enemy could save your life or the life of a loved one, even—especially—if that enemy is unseen but real?
Even when people don’t believe because they can’t see God and His angels or Satan and his “angels” (demons), the fruits of Satan’s work in people’s minds and hearts are real enough—just as God and the fruits of following God are real. If you’ve ever struggled with any kind of mental illness or if you know and love anyone who has or does, Satan’s work becomes quickly and painfully obvious. Evil spirits reinforce and exacerbate mental illness. But if you are aware of Satan’s tactics and of the mental condition you’re dealing with, with God’s help you can begin to turn things around. On the other hand, with the denial of both the demon(s) and the mental illness involved, Satan can gain the strongest hold and do the most damage.
The truth is, the spiritual realm is more real than the material to us. It’s where we all live or die. Through the ages we have inherited descriptors that help us understand this world we cannot see. It can be a realm of extremes of thoughts and emotions that can only be balanced by God.
For example, Satan’s opposition to God and His good plans for us is extreme. Satan can only hate and wants to force its way. Satan hates God with an overbearing attitude of superiority and a deep-seated hatred set on destroying any who, in any way, want to follow God and God’s good ways. Satan even hates “his,” or “her,” or “their”—but really “its”—own followers.
A side note: Satan is the ultimate “it,” having no gender, not being human with DNA or a material body—an “it” who would like all to be the same. For ease of communication, I’m going to assign the pronoun “it” to Satan and its demons, evil spirits, or fallen angels.
Both God and Satan have existed through the ages of humankind. Only God has greater power and wisdom than Satan. Humans are no match for evil. Only God—the Only True One—who is extreme in a love we cannot even begin to understand, can bring balance, healing, and soundness to this realm of the spirit.
Satan can’t read our thoughts, only God can. But Satan can guess them and put thoughts in our minds. Sometimes we think these thoughts are our own. This is also important to understand. We can choose whether to accept or refuse thoughts that come to us. We can first find out from God whether they are true (from Him) or false (not from Him).
To be able to recognize a counterfeit bill, experts carefully study every detail of the real deal. Knowing the real, exposes the counterfeit. This is true in the spiritual realm as well. The better we come to know God and His Spirit of truth, the better we will be able to recognize the imitation or the lie.
Jesus said: “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16a, 20). Some well-known fruits of God’s Spirit are: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control...” (Galatians 5:22–23).
Some of Satan’s names and characteristics (as disclosed by God in His Word, the Bible) besides accuser are “murderer from the beginning...a liar and the father of lies.” This evil spirit is also known as the slippery, twisting serpent; the dragon; and “your enemy the devil [who] prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” This mischievous demon is the prince or ruler of this world. It’s “the thief [who] comes only to steal and kill and destroy”; the one who rises up to incite people to do evil; the tempter; the amplifier of ungodly human concerns; and the one who takes away the seed or word that God sows in people’s hearts and keeps them from understanding it. Satan is the one who binds and keeps people bound in sin and disease; the one who blinds people and reigns in darkness; and the schemer who seeks to outwit us.
While God’s Spirit warns or convicts us of specific sins (or wrongdoing) so we can turn from them and to God for help, Satan continually accuses and reminds us of our generally sinful nature and numerous wrongdoings to lead us ever deeper into despair. Satan, the accuser, never reminds us of the whole story—the truth concerning God and what He has done to overcome our sin issue through Jesus Christ. This part Satan leaves out. If Satan tells any truth, it tells us only the general part that says what we have done or are doing is wrong or hurtful before God and others and is forever rotten and bad. While God’s Spirit encourages and gives us real hope for redemption and sanctification, Satan accuses and focuses on our repeated failures. I understand this now, but I didn’t understand any of this then, except in a very vague way.
Returning to my story, I started realizing how much I had neglected relationships with my siblings and mom and how badly I usually treated them. Besides avoiding them, I was impatient and didn’t know how to deal with my frustration before it turned into anger. I tried spending more time with them and doing more things for them, but this only seemed to make things worse.
My siblings and my mom, who by then was also hard of hearing, often suffered the brunt of my intolerance, impatience, bad temper, and critical spirit in angry or unkind words directed at them. Sometimes I lashed out at my siblings by hitting them or with unrestrained spankings. Then I would—rightfully of course—feel even worse about myself because I was showing myself to be a terrible person. I would feel the need to withdraw again.
I’d also inherited, by nature, the family traits of over-sensitivity, the tendency to be easily overwhelmed, and the tactic of avoiding conflict by withdrawing. Despite my sharing in these family traits, it didn’t make me any more compassionate or empathetic toward other family members. I only saw these traits in them. I didn’t realize, then, that these traits were also part of my own makeup, nor did I consider their deleterious effects in relation to my own actions.
I didn’t know how to pray—how to communicate with God. Nor did I know how to communicate in a healthy way with others. I didn’t understand the need to balance the different aspects of my life to help me stay away from extremes. My remedy became retreating even more into myself and spending more time alone. I spent more hours in introspection, re-setting goals, and self-loathing. At times it became excruciating—to where I couldn’t stand the thought of imposing myself on the world a minute longer.
In this frame of mind, I had no hope, no patience with myself, no sense of humor, just a huge weight of emotional pain that wouldn’t let me see any good or hope at all.
Here is one image of many, in the bank called memory of what this was like:
I am around seventeen years old, curled up, by myself, in the back of a car, in a place off the road where I won’t be noticed. I need to be totally alone—to sort the ever-nagging, piercing, sharp, ragged, “real,” ceaseless, cutting, critical, pointed, dark, accusatory thoughts that bombard my consciousness and press in on me.
Sifting through the incoming thoughts, I become more and more deflated; the reasons for despair expand in my mind. I can’t think of a single good thing I do, nor can I find one thing to like about myself. I only see how I’m always falling short of my own and other’s expectations. In growing anger, I feel a greater and greater hatred toward myself. My thoughts are dragging me down and further down into a pit of increasing blackness.
My life grows heavier and heavier until I cannot bear the weight of existing. I wish for numbness—anything to have relief from this burden that is myself. I am becoming paralyzed by the unrelenting torment of being.
Blackness, total blankness, would be better—if it were possible, but I know nothingness is impossible for souls of our humankind. Somehow, somewhere within, I know that whatever I am, essentially, will continue after I die.
It is the fear I will continue existing—in this utterly miserable state of being, endlessly alone, cut off from anything good—that keeps me from following through with the intense, driving desire—the throbbing temptation—to end my life.
At least, I am not deceived into believing death will bring what I wish for most—to be free of living with me. I fear that with death the blackness WILL then completely engulf me.
This last realization is what snaps me out of this cold, black stupor—this pit of depression. Somehow, I must go on.
Transpose this image to many different locations and times over the years and you have a picture of what, to one degree or another, hours and hours, and days, and weeks, and months, and years of my life have consisted of. These (previously) predominant tendencies have brought with them some excruciatingly dark times.
There was one ray of light I began to see periodically during my high school years, which came through the early-morning LDS seminary classes I was attending. While I wanted with all my heart to do better, it began to look like there might be a way that I could. This occasional glimmer began to stir some real hope in my heart.
Over time, I began to notice and long for the transformation described in the Book of Mormon and the Bible that those who had come to know Christ seemed to have undergone. I wanted what in the Book of Mormon was called a mighty change of heart or to have the pure love of Christ, and what in the Bible was described as spiritual birth or being born again. As I understood it, this meant being filled with and having the Holy Ghost (the Holy Spirit) as a constant guide and companion for life. The more I learned of this, the greater my desire became to obtain this for myself.
“I [the Lord] have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness;
I have not said..., ‘Seek me in vain.’” (Isaiah 45:19a)
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, “Book of Mormon,” search: “contention is of the devil,” accessed 9/20/2023, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/search?lang=eng&query=contention+is+of+the+devil&facet=scriptures&subfacet=bofm&page=1  See: Zechariah 3:2; Revelation 12:10–12  Jesus, as recorded in John 8:44; see also Acts 5:3  Genesis 3:1–19; Job 26:13; Isaiah 27:1; 2 Corinthians 11:3; Revelation 12:9, 14-15; 20:2  Revelation ch. 12; 13:1–4; 16:13; 20:2  1 Peter 5:8  Matthew 4:8–10; John 12:31; Ephesians 2:2; 6:12  Jesus, as recorded in John 10:9–10  1 Chronicles 21:1  Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:13; Luke 4:2–13; 1 Corinthians 7:5;  Matthew 16:23; Mark 8:33  Matthew 13:5, (10–)19; Mark 4:4, 15; Luke 8:5, (9–)12  Luke 13:16; John 8:31–34–47; Acts 13:39; Romans 6:18, 22; 8:2; Galatians 5:1; Hebrew 9:15  Acts 26:18; 2 Corinthians 3:14; 4:4  Luke 22:31; 2 Corinthians 2:11; James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8-9  This is a modified excerpt from a write-up I did for one of my college classes at GFU.