Free will did not begin in infancy,
but if one was lucky enough
to live long enough
to be emancipated—
after the world had put its stamp on them—
they could make the best or worst choice
based on what they knew.
How unbreakable & valiant
the spirit of some
had to be
not only what they had been taught
but how they had been treated.
She’d traded in her Netflix membership
for a library card,
her Chocoholics Anonymous loyalty card
for a YMCA membership,
her customer service job
for a career in content creation.
As she got smarter,
she also got wiser & realized
that she could still be entertained
after a hard day’s work
& sprinkled (if not showered) with candy
& be a people person sometimes—
the last depending on how many & what kind.
Marriage is no more disastrous first (& last) dates
Motherhood is paying it forward, so they will have something to give back
Family is everything during a crisis
Friends are the people in our lives we choose to adopt
Faith is loving Him for what He did, not hating Him for what others do
Education is stimulating our intellectual curiosity
Work is only part of a purpose-driven life
Writing is spending quality time with people who don’t exist
Books are other worlds you can visit privately
Food is best when shared
Life is best when appreciated
Liza Beth Higginbotham
traded in her name badge
for a nameplate,
her apron for a tweed suit.
She chose to be called Elizabeth.
It was in this way that she made
a name for herself,
only to marry an even bigger name.
It was then,
& only then,
that who she was once only mattered
because of who she now mattered to.
She spent the days
with her hands in flour,
her nights with her head in words
so that her cookies tasted like paper,
& her books tasted like cookies;
she found that lunchtime afternoons
were her sweet spot,
for she could eat her words.
to look at the past,
& gazed at her child
to look at the future.
They were glorious,
for they were made
of the same stuff—
the dust of the heavens,
with the breath of life into
sculptures more resilient
When the Cock Crowed for the Fourth Time
Because she believed
that she wasn’t smart enough for college,
toiling away in dead-end restaurant & retail work,
soaking up life experience,
which was often greasy.
When a little bun was placed in her oven,
she found it in herself
to believe in herself
or maybe even for the first time,
for being little more than the miller’s daughter
who turned words into gold.
I miss the days of quiet libraries rather than media centers and The Baby-Sitters Club series before they became graphic novels; I miss the B. Dalton bookstores in the mall, sitting on the floor in the corner, reading the Berenstain Bears until my parents finished their shopping.
I miss the days when that could be done without worry.
I miss browsing Blockbuster with the non-confrontational request to “Be Kind. Rewind,” of waking up to Bob Ross and Mr. Wizard, of talking on the telephone with my best friend, Jessica, watching T.G.I.F. together on ABC.
I miss writing book reports at the kitchen table and thinking all I had to do was work hard and be good and everything would come to me.
I miss handwritten letters and birthday cards in the mail with a 10-dollar bill inside and the tactile experience of ripping the paper off a gift rather than reaching inside a gift bag.
I miss simple math and spelling bees and Pig Latin.
I miss the compartmentalized cafeteria food, where to taste it was to (perhaps) solve the mystery.
I miss the days of wearing pinafores with black patent leather shoes, of glittery jellies and bows made of neon shoelaces, of Barbie bubble baths with the bubble gum pink bottles of Salon Selectives shampoo.
I miss the park when it didn’t seem so hot; I miss the stand-up merry-go-rounds that made me think of a pinwheel trolley.
I miss the early mornings when I’d be half-asleep, helping my dad deliver newspapers.
I miss walking across the street to the filling station with my mom, where we’d buy Nestle Alpine White candy bars and dark Milky Ways.
I miss the grandparents who are no longer here and my mom who is here no longer. I miss the aunt and uncle I knew as a child, when I didn’t know there was a difference in being related by blood or marriage because, to me, they were both family.
I miss eating homemade pecan divinity and red pistachios.
I miss running down the driveway in bare feet to fetch the local newspaper, looking through the TV Guide insert to see what science fiction movies were coming on.
I miss the news that was so blessedly short—when life seemed so much longer than it was. I miss the days before reality TV when dialogue was memorable. I miss when photos were a surprise.
I miss the days when adulthood seemed like this thing that could never possibly happen to me, even as I saw the baby pictures of myself in old photo albums.
I like to think I was born in the perfect time—without social media or cell phones, only being granted these marvels when I was old enough to handle an instant audience, eventually finding my voice in the blogosphere, my shyness having matured to introversion.
And matured I have.
I have seen the inside of a soup kitchen and the outside of a coffin. I have experienced a person being born and seen a person die—the first, a great big shout out into mortal life, the other, a whisper into life eternal. I have lost my faith in church and found it in the God who is everywhere.
Now I’m the mother, the wife, the writer who has proven herself to herself, and, in small measure, to others. I am the baker, the homemaker. I am the scholar who went back to college after the time for living the college life had passed; I come home not to roommates but to the family who waits up for me.
Now I’m the one snapping shots of my child in various stages and poses, reading the nursery rhymes that are darker than I remembered, playing board games without reading the rules. I am the parent who was able to give my daughter a dollhouse—the one thing I always wanted but never got—only to find that she, like me, like us, love our electronic devices.
So many evenings, I am in my office, she, her bedroom, and my husband, the living room. It is at times like these that the sound of my typing, the music from her Kindle, and the noise from the television come together and let us know that we are still here—just off the hallway that connects us all.
Written July 2019 and published in the March/April/May 2020 issue of Bella Grace magazine.
*The names of the individuals mentioned and the Church have been changed for privacy reasons.
Having been a former Mormon for over fifteen years, I’ve tried to remember just what it was — what little piece of doctrine — swayed me to believe everything else that had come with it, and it came to me the other night during a conversation with my husband, in which I was adamant that unbaptized babies and young children who didn’t have believing parents went straight to Heaven; my rugged half wasn’t so sure because the Bible said you must be baptized to be reunited with God. (The Bible says a lot of things.) As with my husband, I found myself at odds with every Christian denomination in some way, but it was that belief alone — that children were not punished for their parents’ deeds (or lack thereof), for dying young, or even not being born — that showed me the kind of God Mormons believed in.
It was the same kind I did.
However, I would come to learn that they believed in a great many things I did not. I could never believe that God was limited to a body of flesh and bones and could not be everywhere at once (though, according to them, His influence was) — for the God I believed in couldn’t be explained away by theories but was Awe and Wonder not quite personified — that when He spoke of His image, He wasn’t referring to the physical sense but a cognitive one.
Though I could have remained a cultural Mormon, I had to be true to myself, and so I walked out, burning that bridge behind me. Though there were times I missed the Church, I have no desire to ever go back, even though I still read LDS fiction every once in a while, even though I sometimes catch myself singing “Come, Come, Ye Saints” in the car, and even though I find myself drawn to shows like Big Love.
I had prayed for God to tell me whether or not the Church was true (an admonition from the missionaries), as their Prophet Joseph Smith had quoted from the Bible in James 1:5: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” They’d told me I would feel a burning in the bosom, which would be the Spirit telling me that the Church was true. I should have known not to expect a manifestation, for faith was believing in something absent a manifestation.
My time in the Church was rife with internal conflict, for my feelings often conflicted with what I was being taught; I was told that the Prophets spoke for God, and who was I to question Him?
I try to think back to the first time something didn’t seem quite right, which would be when I got my patriarchal blessing — a personal blessing inspired by the Lord to help guide LDS members in their lives, modeled after the blessing given by Jacob to each of his sons prior to his death. I don’t even remember the man’s name or face — it’s all a blur to me now — but I do remember, in hindsight, it was like the time I went to an LDS hypnotherapist to help me deal with my Utah Mormon life.
The patriarch interviewed me prior to, and I’d felt, even then, that he was fishing for information to help him give a better reading, and so my blessing sounded like a positive rewording of the personal feelings I had just divulged. My eyes were closed the entire time his hands were feather-light on my hair, his wife transcribing it all.
It was one of the strangest days I had ever spent.
I remember leaving, feeling as it had all been a farce, but it was a feeling I would bury. I was told I belonged to the tribe of Ephraim. (It was generally either that or Manasseh.) I remember one of the sister missionaries who had given me the discussions had shown me hers, but I wasn’t supposed to read it or compare mine to anyone else’s, which sounded like the admonition from bosses to their employees never to discuss their salaries.
I eventually destroyed that patriarchal blessing, even as I would give away everything that had anything to do with the Church. When I removed the Church from my life, I removed a source of conflict from it, as well, as a desire for my family to join me (my mom did, briefly) sometimes caused friction, but then, did not Jesus say He would divide families?
I learned through my experience beyond the Mormon curtain that sometimes you just have to lose yourself before you can find yourself.
Had it not been for the Mormon Church in Montana, where I was a live-in nanny in 2004, I would’ve been terribly homesick. That’s the thing with the LDS Church — wherever there were fellow Mormons, there was always an instant camaraderie. Perhaps that was why tithing had come so easy for me, for I felt I always got back far more than I ever gave. Perhaps that was why I’d never felt the Spirit in any other Church, but now, looking back, I think that spirit I felt was of fellowship and friendship, which can feel an awful lot like the love of God.
I’d joined the Church right out of high school, after ordering a copy of the Book of Mormon. I can still remember the television commercial advertising it — a lady with a soft voice and hair that blew in the wind, walking on a beach past a lighthouse. It had touched me, and so I’d requested a copy be delivered to me personally by the missionaries, as I was curious about what Mormons looked like.
Here I lived in Pensacola, Florida — the buckle of the Bible belt (also known as Lower Alabama). I’d attended many churches, yet I’d never felt as welcome as I had when I chose to become a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I’d felt a belonging, fulfilling a longing I hadn’t realized was there. I’d never been a partier, I didn’t use profanity, I didn’t drink or smoke — my idea of fun was their idea of fun.
However, I fell away not long after I was baptized. I’d stopped attending services after the sister missionaries mentioned tithing, for my parents had always taught me to beware of churches that asked for money. Nine months passed during which I joined the College Republicans at the University of West Florida, where I met my first boyfriend, “Tony,” who happened to be in the same ward (what Mormons call their meetinghouses) I had been in. (He was a returned missionary, and RMs were considered the cream of the crop, the salt of the earth.) He dated me back into the Church, so I guess you could say I’d have never gone back had it not been for him; this time around, I gained a testimony of the truthfulness of the everlasting gospel, the restoration of Christ’s Church on Earth, or rather, I wanted to believe in it so much, I thought I did. It seemed too wonderful not to be true, with all their talk about families being together forever. Anything I didn’t like, I accepted. After all, there were parts of the Bible I didn’t necessarily like, but I was still a Christian.
The sister missionaries had planted the seed, but with Tony’s friendship, it grew. I had more reason than ever then to want to be an active Mormon.
My best friend at the time was a girl named “Dasha” (one of the few black members of Pine Hollow Ward). I became part of a church family for the first time in my life. I attended every Sunday, every meeting, every social I could, and after Tony and I broke up (we had chemistry but nothing else), my family and I often had the missionaries over for dinner. The elder missionaries (the young men people often see in white shirts and ties, wheeling around town on their bicycles) were the first fruits — the extra virgin olive oil. They were the best of what the Church had to offer, or so I thought, in terms of husband material. I had crushes on a few of them, though they had been admonished to lock their hearts before their mission — to live as Catholic priests — so that they would not stray from their real purpose for being there.
So, no matter how they might have felt about me, it would’ve been unseemly for them to give me any encouragement.
It is fair to say that the Church became my whole life. I stopped drinking sweet tea, and I never was much of a coffee drinker. (This was before I discovered the iced gingerbread latte at Starbucks, which, much to my chagrin, has been discontinued.) I dressed even more modestly, I didn’t shop (or eat out) on Sunday, I marked up my Book of Mormon — finally becoming worthy enough to enter the temple. I even gave a few talks, all of which I wrote myself and helped me overcome my paralyzing shyness. I accepted every calling given me by my Bishop, which included working with young children — something I’d never been crazy about. I knew many of the hymns by heart, memorizing them during the passing of the Sacrament. It was my world in a mustard seed, for so immersed in the culture had I become. All my friends were Mormon, and I found, at times, unable to identify with those who weren’t. I’d never been strong in any other church, and the concept of “once saved, always saved” had always seemed flawed.
I was a true believer.
So, I guess you could say meeting Tony wasn’t so much a turning point in my life, but rather, it led to a boiling point.
With every bearing of my testimony and with every good work, my faith strengthened. I was at the height of my faith in Montana, like the golden angel Moroni that’s on all the Mormon temples — closest to God and His Church.
And then I went to Utah.
I’d always been somewhat of a perfectionist, and this was stressed in the Church. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as I am.” Jesus’s words. The women struggled with this counsel, I believe, far more than the men did. They were supposed to stay attractive for their husbands while having lots of children and preparing wonderful meals and keeping a clean house, while being told that the desire not to have children was rooted in selfishness and vanity. I even remember our Institute teacher (who most churches would call a youth pastor) told our class that his family fell apart when his mom worked outside the home.
If only I could’ve taken these words in stride, but I took them to heart.
When my time in Montana was up, I was ready for a new adventure. I was ready to meet someone, though now I know I wasn’t anywhere near ready. I hadn’t become who I was going to be for the rest of my life. I wasn’t even sure I wanted kids anymore, for I wasn’t sure I was unselfish enough to have them. I wanted to be a rich and famous writer, but that was long before my daughter was a blue-eyed gleam in her daddy’s green eye.
I went on hiatus back home (I was ready for some real seafood) between Montana and Utah. I’ll never forget the night that Tony’s mother and father came over for a Family Home Evening (or FHE, which is one night a week that is designated for LDS families to fellowship together) at my parents’ house. Though Tony and I were no longer together, I still kept in touch with his parents. I told Tony’s father I was going to Utah, and how excited I was. I knew most of the members there had been members all their lives, whereas most of the members in Pensacola were converts. I’d heard Utah Mormons were different, and I figured that was why; they knew nothing else. I can’t recall his exact words, but he admonished me not to go — that all would not be as wonderful as I imagined, that it wasn’t Zion. He’d looked so grave, as if my eyes were little crystal balls.
How naïve I was then.
I can’t say I wish I’d listened to him, for I’m glad I went, even though it led to my leaving the Church in a blaze of glorious anger.
I went to Provo. The couple I was going to nanny for turned out to be a nightmare, so I ended up calling a friend — an elder missionary my family and I had often had over for dinner appointments — who came and got me. I was a true damsel in distress. He got me set up with some girl friends of his in an apartment close to the BYU campus. They were all kind and sympathetic to my plight, opening their temporary home to me; we became good friends, at least during the time I was there.
However, I felt my life begin to unravel. I was living amongst people who were going to college, who seemed to have it all together and knew exactly what they wanted to do with their lives while I worked jobs that didn’t require any skills. Though I’d worked the same kinds of jobs back home, it had always felt like enough. I still had my writing — I always had my writing (though I found that my trying to stay true to the Church stifled it, for I tried so hard not to offend) — but the depression that came about because I was losing my faith held me back. It had gotten to where I didn’t want to do anything, because it never felt good enough.
And then all the uncertainties began to trickle like water through cracks in a vase. I remembered reading Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie, who was a general authority (a member of the Church hierarchy); there was one entry that struck me, especially in light of the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping that was still big news: “Loss of virtue is too great a price to pay even for the preservation of one’s life — better dead clean, than alive unclean. Many is the faithful the Latter-day Saint parent who has sent a son or a daughter on a mission or otherwise out into the world with the direction: ‘I would rather have you come back in a pine box with your virtue than return alive without it.’” (124). I knew if I ever had a daughter (now I do), I would never want her to believe that if she ever made a mistake, it would render her worthless. I would teach her that her worth was inherent, and that nothing or no one could ever take that away, whether it was by choice or circumstance.
After my time (but not my welcome) had run out in the other apartment, I moved into a different complex, where I would come home from work to an apartment full of people, when I’d just want to decompress. Because I chose the privacy of my room, I was considered anti-social. I felt like I had nothing that belonged to me anymore.
I bounced around from job to job until I couldn’t deal with the pressure I know that I, not God, had placed upon myself.
I was floundering.
My Bishop at home was a kind and good man, never judgmental, but the Bishop there was offended that I preferred to attend the ward where my white knight attended, for he reminded me of the good times I used to have; he reminded me of home. A bad experience with a bishop had driven one of my friends away from the Church back home, and it was happening to me now. “The Church is perfect, but the people aren’t” didn’t cut it anymore.
One of my friends from Pensacola, who’d hastily married into the Church (and divorced after ten months) had lived there at the time, was a godsend. Though we are no longer friends, I realize she was there for me, at that time and place, when I needed her. We were both having doubts about the Church — she understood me when no one else did. It was different being a Mormon in Utah, and it was almost impossible to make lasting friendships. I didn’t fit in there like I had in the wards in Florida and Montana.
I asked my roommates questions I already knew the answers to, and though everyone pretended to understand, they really didn’t; I don’t think they could. I began to understand why they called it Happy Valley.
There was a big misunderstanding, and the Bishop there called my parents, alarming them unnecessarily. He seemed to think I either came from a broken home (not true) or broken the law of chastity (also not true), because I should be happy if I was keeping the commandments. He even told my parents after he came over the next day that I must be feeling a lot better, because I was wearing make-up, which my mother took as a sexist comment.
I knew I wouldn’t get well while I was a member of the Church, where people either seemed perfect or were striving for perfection, and it took time, but I gradually turned my troubles over to the God I had known as a Protestant. It took months back home to get to that point; I had to detox (but not deprogram, for it had never gotten that far). I didn’t even bother to contact my friends from the Church at home during that time. As far as they knew, I was still in Utah. I didn’t want anyone to know I had fallen away.
I did some Internet research and found a website called Concerned Christians (who are just as dogmatic about their beliefs as the Mormons) and used their resignation letter template to have my name removed from the Church records in Salt Lake City.
I couldn’t believe how much my relationship with the Church had changed. My friend, who rescued me from that crazy new family I was supposed to nanny for, became defensive when I tried to make him see why I could no longer believe, and so I simply let him go.
I went back to Pine Hollow Ward a few years later, but my heart (and soul) just wasn’t in it. I think perhaps I just had to be convinced that I had made the right decision in leaving. I attended a ward social a few years later (by invitation from a member who happened to see me working in Albertson’s). Tony’s father had come up to me, looking so sad, and said, “We lost you.”
I had simply nodded.
My faith had been shattered — like a mirror thrown against a wall. I was fragmented, and it took months before I became whole again. Those fragments were never mended, but rather I was made anew.
There has never been another church that had ever brought me into its folds like that, so I just live by faith without boundaries. I’m pretty much a “Creaster,” and it works for me, but more importantly, I try to live a goodly life (I would say godly, but I think God might shake His head at some of the stuff I write). I am a Christian who respects not only His name but the sanctity of innocent life, and I am the best wife, mother, daughter, and friend I know how to be.
The Church did help me become a more spiritual person, and it built me up, even as it tore me down. I am who I am today because of it, and in spite of it.
My kinship with Mary Ann (Tony’s wife, who I always liked more than Tony) was briefly rekindled, but a couple of years or so ago, I ran into her and a couple other Pine Hollow girls on a Girl’s Night Out when my husband and I were on a date. I hadn’t been invited. At first, I was hurt, but then I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t a part of their world anymore, but neither were they a part of mine (and I liked mine better).
From my experience, Mormons had friends and they had “non-member friends.”
When Mary Ann moved to another part of town, we became acquaintances, then strangers. She even admitted (via instant message) that she hadn’t been a very good friend, she, who had been with me during two of the best times of my life (when I married and had my daughter), but I had moved on and made lots of new friends — friends with whom I connected on a deeper level, who had been there for me through two of the worst times of my life (when my family and I became homeless, and I lost my mom).
It’s those worst of times friends that matter.
And do you know something wild? My life is far more perfect now that I don’t try to be perfect; I’m also a lot happier. I live by the spirit of the law and not the letter. I can write what I want, drink what I want, and wear what I want, and I thank God every day that I went to Utah and lost my religion, only to find a new spirituality with an old friend, who had waited patiently for my return.
Meg Trundy was a sofa-sitting,
binge-watching pile of marshmallow fluff.
When the TV got crushed by a giant meteor
in the shape of a hard-to-find size 10 shoe,
she went to the library to change her lifestyle,
only to end up changing her life.
It has been a long four years—only because so much has happened in those years.
I was almost thirty-three when I enrolled at the local community college—all set to get my degree in Health Information Technology to become a medical biller and coder; I was trying to be something I wasn’t, or rather, something I didn’t want to be. The classes were excruciatingly boring (some people got all jazzed looking up medical codes, saying it was like solving a puzzle—I prefer jigsaw or mysteries), but all the while, I was taking other classes that interested me more (I needed something to keep my sanity), working towards getting my A.A., but not really realizing it until I found out that I had quite a few credits to go towards it.
I will always have my A.S. degree as a backup (though I will still have to get my certification), but right now, I’m in that place called Contentment—a place I haven’t been for a very long time.
Originally, I had ignored the email that was calling for students to apply for the Editor-in-Chief position for The Corsair (the college’s student-run newspaper); I didn’t want the job because I knew I wasn’t a leader (but neither am I a follower—I just like to lead myself). I only wanted to worry about making my own deadlines, not getting others to make theirs; if someone wasn’t self-motivated, it wasn’t just their problem, but it became mine, too.
However, I accepted the position because I saw it as a way to give back to the college that had helped me so much with scholarships and not only appreciated but celebrated my writing skills.
I am very proud of the work I did, and, I hope, inspired others to do. I learned a lot about myself—like that I have what it takes to become a great graphic designer. (I just need the training.)
Through creating Shutterfly books of my writing for friends and family and designing recruitment ads for the newspaper, I’ve become more aware of how words and pictures can complement one another. I have the creativity and imagination, if not yet the talent or skill to choose graphic design as my vocation.
My writing dream is to be either a nationally syndicated humor columnist or a regular contributor for The Saturday Evening Post. I think both are a possibility within a decade. For example, my Capra-esque short story, “The Post-It Poet,” won Honorable Mention in this year’s The Saturday Evening Post’s Great American Short Story contest. (I won the same honor a few years ago.)
“Poet” is about a thirty-something woman who goes back to community college to “figure it all out.” (Guess where I got that idea.) It’s also about how poetry can change the world (and did), including her own.
Writing sure changed mine.
My work as EIC for the paper helped me get a career service position at the college. If there was one thing I tried to drill in to my staff, it was that the work they did on The Corsair mattered, that a missed deadline was a missed opportunity.
So, I’m glad I did accept the position, but I’m equally glad to be moving on to other kinds of writing (thank you letters, press releases, et cetera). I not only was the EIC for the fall semester, but I also kept up the website and Facebook page, as well as take pictures and write stories, in addition to conducting meetings and work days and writing and answering the endless emails and texts. I even experimented a bit with video, as well as post archived material on the Facebook page (the latter to fill in the gaps between issues, as our paper is a monthly).
Since free college is included in my new job, I will go for my Bachelor’s in graphic design next fall. I will learn how to draw and take pictures—two things I don’t know how to do very well; whatever I learn, I will be able to use for this blog.
The last eighteen months of my college journey were extremely hard. It seemed like the world was throwing everything it could at me to get me to quit, but it was against my nature to give up.
As November was coming to a close, I was wondering what was going to happen to us, as three of my four jobs were going away for the holiday, one of them permanently. Tutoring labs don’t need to be open when kids are out of school, and you have to be at least a part-time student to be EIC.
But then, one night, as I was driving home from my second home on campus, “Silent Night” played on the radio, and I knew that whatever happened, we would be okay.
Then, perhaps not even a week later, I got the call, then the interview, then the job.
And it was more than all right.
Our college’s motto is: Go here. Get there; for me, it’s Go here. Stay here.
Now it’s time for a semester-long spring break and a semester-long summer vacation. I’ve been running on adrenaline for too long; I’ve tried to do everything at 100% when my batteries were at 10. There were few nights when I came home to a sleeping child, which made me sad; there is nothing quite like the feeling of seeing your child through the glass of the front door, jumping up and down because she knows you’re home. I’d be so spent that even when I was home, my body was exhausted and my mind was adrift.
I so look forward to graduation tomorrow. Even though someone who was with me on my journey at the beginning won’t be with me in the same way at the end of it, I think she has the best free ticket in the house.
I’ve often thought I could’ve done all this years ago, but I wouldn’t have met the people I’ve met—might not have experienced the things I have—so I wouldn’t have had it any other way.