PigTale 08.5 | Ex-Mormon: Megan Jessop (Part 2)

I’ve been wanting to write about my experience growing up in a Fundamentalist Mormon family for quite some time, I just haven’t been sure where to begin. In fact, I’m still figuring it out. I am finding that my biggest challenge is trying to normalize something that, well let’s face it… isn’t so normal. However, for me as a child, it was an unquestioned reality. When people hear that I grew up in a polygamist community, there is usually one of two responses: fascination and even a bit of delight, and the other is a sort of reserved stigma. Much of this could even be due to televised examples or stereotypes from such shows as “Sister Wives” and “Escaping Polygamy”- both of which I might add are only a stone’s throw away from hitting close to home. These sorts of responses may be part of the reasons why I often still feel as though I am misunderstood or seen as an outsider within many circles.

Although within my immediate family, my father never married beyond my mother, I have still witnessed the effects of the “principles of the gospel” of the FLDS at a close proximity. Both grandfathers had three wives each. My father’s father had four at one point. His fourth had left before I could really remember, for reasons I am still not entirely sure of. I have no doubt there were many aspects to her decision, not all of which were based on the aspects of living within a plural family.  Since my father’s mother, who was grandpa’s first wife, lived next door to me since I was five, I saw many of the dynamics of what can only be described as a complicated, multifaceted marriage. That being said, I understand that there are multiple sides to any story, and I am not here to place judgment on anyone else’s side, that is theirs to own and between them and God, I only want to share the perspective I have from my personal experience. This experience is one that still shapes the way that I see God as my Father and as a result, the ways I view myself His child.

I can’t even remember at what age I realized that I had six grandmas and most kids had two, in the case of stepfamilies maybe four at most… but six? It was an oddity. I mean I had known of each of my grandpas’ wives from the beginning. For a long time, I had nothing to compare it to, and at first, I never really thought anything of it. It’s just the way things were. Looking back, it all sort of blurs together, which is rather ironic considering that it feels like a separate world in contrast to where I am at now in life. I can recall instances of my mother asking me how I would feel about having another mom. Even as a small child, I felt like I had swallowed a large stone whenever she asked. I loved my mother, so why did I need another one? What was worse was that I could see it somehow on her face that her heart broke at the idea of it as well. As I got older, I overheard many conversations between my mother and grandmothers about my grandpas and the other wives. Without fail, it seemed like anytime another wife was mentioned, there was frustration, jealousy, and heartache. Growing up, I was taught that God wanted the men to marry several women and have as many children as possible, because one day they would be able to earn the rights to be gods themselves and rule over their own earth, as long as they met the requirements. If God asks you to do something, you most certainly obey. Talk about a works based religion.

Any Mormon will tell you, Fundamentalist or otherwise, that Christ is still a very large part of their belief system. The good news message of a loving God, who sent His Son as a propitiation for our sin so that we might have the hope of Heaven, is very much so thread through every other precept they follow. As I grew and watched my grandmothers in constant tension with one another and with their husbands, I found myself doubtful to believe that a loving God would ask his children to endure such lifelong turmoil of bitterness and jealousy. Of course, the relationship between a husband and his plural wives would have a downstream effect on the children as well. I have no idea how many children each of my grandpas had in total, but Momma came from a family of fourteen, nine boys and five girls. Daddy on the other hand was from a family of nine, all boys. About half of my father’s brothers chose to live polygamy, none of momma’s siblings have. That has created its own stigma and pressure within the community towards my family as well, but that is a story for another time.

In the dynamics of expanded families and their children, there are innumerable challenges that come with it. Raising such large families requires a financial responsibility that I cannot fathom. No doubt, it is the reason my father worked so much. For most plural families, take a 40+ hour a week job and divide the time left between three or more families, and you are left with distant, if not mostly absent fathers. Granted that my father, being monogamous, was home often enough, but he was still emotionally distant. The same is true of my mother. There are a number of reasons for this, among them being their own wounds from their families and life experiences. So much of these stories are not talked about, at least not in detail, and maybe the details aren’t necessary, but it certainly helps in gaining understanding. This is something I am still reconciling in my life and my relationship with my parents. In any sense, distant fathers are not uncommon among plural families. Therefore, my parents’ emotional distance carries with it generations of a learned behavior. My mother had eleven children total. As the third oldest and the oldest daughter, that left me as a stand in momma for my younger siblings from the time I was about ten years old. While I am thankful that this gave me a close bond with my younger sisters and some solid homemaking experience, the downside was that I received the message that a person was meant to have children to fulfill some sort of spiritual duty. The children were, in essence, a means to an end.

Translating this into self-image, there isn’t much to go off in terms of value or self-worth. Affirmation of being a beloved child was not common practice, in word or in deed. That is not to say that my parents never said they loved us, or that they didn’t show us in the best ways they knew how, but the examples they showed of what our Heavenly Father’s love looks like was broken—shattered— at best. I heard more negative words, that in my mind, proved me to be a disappointment as a child, than I did gentle words of love and compassion. Not void, just heavily imbalanced. For a long time, many of the examples I saw in my family and the community I grew up in, pushed me far away from receiving God’s embrace. If it was anything by comparison… no thank you! Thankfully, God had the upper hand and at seventeen, I fell broken into His everlasting arms.

Just because I had received Christ at that point, does not mean that my perspective changed. Patterns that shape our thoughts often take years of undoing. It takes being intentional in recognizing these lies and taking the thoughts captive, casting them down in order to receive and exalt the truth in their place. You are dealing with your classic pauper to princess story here. I lived most of my life with the belief that I was unworthy of love, to be honest; there are days when it is still a tremendous struggle. I was raised as a servant, and for most of my Christian walk, that is exactly the role I fell into when it came to the Church and ministry. It took some hard lessons for God to bring me to a place not so long ago, where I was unable to serve in any major capacity. The whole while, I could hear Him saying, “Megan, do you believe that if you never did another thing for the sake of the Kingdom that you would still be worth everything to me? Do you believe I would still have given my son for you?” Words of truth such as these remind me that my value is in Christ, wholly and completely. The apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! (In other words… ok in Aramaic words, it means Daddy!) Father!” -Romans 8:15. (The whole chapter, by the way reveals much about God’s heart toward us as His children) When your worth is based on your very being, rather than your performance, how can you be a disappointment? Those who are adopted have done nothing to earn the rights of the family they are a part of, and yet they are still given full access to all their parents have to offer. In spite of the poor examples I was given, God showed me there was so much more to being a father than what I knew. In Matthew 7:11 Jesus tells a crowd of people gathered, “If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”

I have known Jesus for ten years this January. As I have grown in my faith, God has placed me on a path that no matter where I turn, He has revealed Himself as a good and perfect Father. Part of the revealing has come through some of the amazing Christian men I have been blessed to have in my life. For a season, a man named Jason, whom I had met on a missions trip to LA, stepped in and filled the void of the Father in my heart. His attentiveness to listen and speak God’s truth over me is a gift that I will never be able to measure. While on the trip, he carried that father’s heart to everyone around him. He had a gentle yet protective nature about him that showed me how God operates in much the same way. The first night I met him, I wandered off on my own in Hollywood and He followed after me. He did not scold me or tell me I was stupid, but rather walked with me and patiently waited while I spoke with a homeless man. He allowed me to lead the conversation and stepped in or redirect only as needed. When we left the homeless man, I began to cry. Once again, rather than scolding me or ridiculing me for being emotional, he wrapped me in his arms and held me a moment and prayed for me.  This is God’s heart! As scripture reveals: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (1 Corinthians 1:3-4). As crazy as it is to say, I had not seen this kind of fatherly compassion from my own father until almost a year after this experience. I was twenty-one at the time. I learned through God showing His heart through Jason, I could not only be grounded in that identity as a beloved child but in so being, I could also have compassion on my own father for the ways in which he as well greatly lacks that understanding.

           As I said before, I still struggle when it comes to believing my worth, which is dangerous when our value is based on any other opinion than God’s. All other foundations will falter unless it is placed in the One who is our cornerstone. Over the past month, God has drawn me closer into His arms than ever. He has been taking me on a journey of identity, showing me that I am treasured and created with tremendous purpose. Even in Christian circles, it’s easy to buy into the idea that we are created to be used by God… and while I agree that we are vessels of His Spirit, we are not meant to be abused. It has taken me a long time to realize that. Daily I ask Jesus how He feels about me and I don’t think there is anything conceited or wrong about doing so, He is patient with me and understands my need for healing. When the Holy Spirit points me to scripture, all throughout the Bible, that reveals the truth about His character, and simultaneously His affections towards me (lately I have been reading in the Psalms), it is incomprehensible the ways that He loves us! It is amazing how confident and sure we can be of our gifts and talents, our callings and our very being—when we are so aware of how deeply we are loved. James 1:5 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Which means His love is unconditional, unceasing and unchanging. It means that He desires to pour His love out on His children without reserve.

           The story of Esther has been one that has long since spoken to my identity as a daughter as well, especially as an intercessor. Esther was a woman who foreshadowed Christ as the Great Intercessor on our behalf, as she stood in the gap for her people—God’s people—to save them from destruction. Esther was an orphan, and although I was not a literal orphan, I can identify in a psychological or spiritual sense. Through her trust in God she earned favor with the King and became his bride and his queen… see what I’m getting at here? We may begin as nobody’s when we enter God’s Kingdom, but we have gained favor with the King of the Universe and He calls us His Bride, He sees us a “chosen people, a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). Every story that we read in scripture reveals God’s heart and who we are in relationship to that. Another example of someone who knew how deeply he was valued in the eyes of Jesus? John, I mean he called himself “The Beloved”—the favorite one of Christ. Truth is, John himself writes in scripture, “To those who have received Him (Christ), He has given us rights to become children of God” (John 1:12). In this generation, I know there are many who struggle with the idea of God as a loving Father, a Father that is engaging, present and as near as our very breath. Let me tell you, you are not alone and that God longs to reveal Himself as a perfect Father in any way possible. Steep in scripture, and this sinks in more and more. For those of us coming out of the darkness of the past, into the wonderful light of truth? As Esther’s uncle encouraged her toward the act of boldly approaching the throne of her King, “who knows whether or not you were created and have come into the kingdom for such a time as this!” (Esther 4:14). This is a life verse for me, honestly one of many. I loved it so much I got it tattooed! (Just don’t tell my Mormon family.)