18 Jan

The Awakening: Introduction

Posted by Jenna, Under Personal

Over the past several months I’ve experienced what is best described as an Awakening. I opened myself up to possibilities different than what I was raised in, and my world turned upside down. Those who have followed me for a long time know that I’ve always been a firm absolutist, and I attribute that to my upbringing. Not my parents exclusively, but the small-town, conservative, Mormon culture that I came from. Is this the experience for all Mormons? Of course not. There are many millions of us, and we come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences that shape our views in a variety of ways.

In some respect it’s been a long journey, initiated by classes at BYU like Intro to Women’s Studies and The Gospel and World Religions. Casual reading of By Common Consent and Feminist Mormon Housewives introduced me to alternative ways of thinking. A few months ago I started listening to some podcasts like Mormon Matters, Mormon Stories, Mormon Expressions, and Daughters of Mormonism and the doors were thrown open. I’ve never felt “brainwashed” in the LDS Church (even though I know there are those who would argue otherwise) but it’s very much an environment where  you are simultaneously expected to rely on God speaking to you personally while sustaining the leaders of the Church (and this is often interpreted as “If you feel like God tells you something contrary to what the leaders say, you need to ask again until you get the right answer”).

Once I allowed myself to question a few things, the dam burst and I started questioning everything. It was so freeing! Now when we hear something That Husband and I turn to each other and ask “How would you interpret that?” and “What do you think about that?” We talk things over, sometimes coming to a conclusion, sometimes not. We search, develop theories, talk them over with our friends, revise, and commit to learning more. It’s so liberating!

I wanted to write a series “coming out” on four major topics where I’ve experienced dramatic reversals in my thinking because I want to continue to be genuine and honest with you. I want to share my perspective on some of the deeper meanings of life, and I can’t do that if it constantly leads people to say “But you said X 3 years ago and why is that different than what you are saying now?

I admit that this almost prevented me from speaking out. The fear that I would be attacked for… changing my mind. For educating myself and growing and developing. The worry that I would spend my time deleting comments asking me how it feels to realize how wrong and stupid and ignorant I was.

This sort of discourse is not productive, and I hope that my fears will be unfounded. I hope that by writing about these shifts in my thinking I will come into contact with those who encourage me to continue thinking critically. I hope that those who might feel threatened by one of their own speaking out about sensitive issues will engage with me respectfully that we all can represent our faith in a positive way. I think this fear of mine has come from the political rhetoric we see so frequently in the media right now in the run up to election season. I know we don’t want politicians to do a 180 after we elect them, but at this point we aren’t even allowing someone to change their mind within their entire lifetime! I have to keep reminding myself that it’s not hypocritical or wrong to change my position on any given topic. I’m not running for political office which happily means I can switch positions whenever it feels right for me based on my knowledge and experience.

Some of these topics I’m going to cover are things that I’ve written about in the past, and the way I wrote about them or the positions that they took were hurtful. I never intended harm. I’ve long thought, and still do believe, that the best approach in life is to think critically and pick a position that feels right to you, only know that I’ve made this move toward Relativism I am much less likely to say “I’m right and thus you must be wrong”, and instead think “I’ve thought about this, and based on everything I know this is what seems right to me.”

Right now my belief about the LDS church can be summed up by a statement I heard on one of the podcasts I’ve been listening to:

The LDS Church is the truest church, but not true enough.

This is why I want to speak out, because I think we can do better. In some small way, these posts will be my way of paying it forward, because I would not have reached this place if other before me had not stood up to say they had questions they were still seeking out answers for. I look forward to sharing and conversing with you via four separate posts with you over the coming weeks regarding my evolving beliefs and my move away from Absolutism, toward Relativism.

101 Comments


  1. I’m really looking forward to this series, Jenna. Thrilled that you are going to share with us. xo

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  2. How brave of you! I applaud you for taking a risk and admitting that stances you held in the past may or may not be the same today. I know that I have “changed my mind” on a number of things, as I’m sure most people have. If none of us ever questioned or changed our beliefs, our world would be a sad place.

    Thanks for the honesty; it’s much appreciated.

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  3. I think it’s important to live an examined life and to determine what you believe in based on those examinations and interpretations. I don’t believe everyone has to believe the same thing – there is not always just one correct or right position. It’s important to find what is right for you.

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  4. I think it’s great that you’ve decided to re think certain issues in your life.

    In these new posts will you point out some of the errors in your own thinking and research?

    I’m very interested to see what areas you cover.

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  5. kayakgirl73 says:

    I think we need to be able to change our thoughts and opinions over time, or otherwise we would never grow. I’m looking forward to this series. Best Wishes.

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  6. Could you clarify your definition of relativism? It seems that you mean ‘open-minded.’ The standard definition I’m familiar with doesn’t mesh well with someone who does absolutely believe in God, or believes some behaviors as absolutely right or wrong such as rape, etc. I’m guessing you will over the course of this new series. I’m very interested in what you’ve learned!

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    Monique Reply:

    I’m curious about this, too. Recently I’ve started to cringe when people say Relativism, because many people (friends included) use it to justify all sorts of behavior. “Do what works for you” becomes “Well, nothing is REALLY right or wrong. It’s just the way you look at it.” I’m very open-minded, but I don’t ascribe to Relativism.

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  7. I’m curious about what this series will entail–will be it doctrine in the church you now don’t agree with? Things not relating to church? There is a lot of grey in the world but the Lord is black and white on His standards and doesn’t change.
    I think it is great when we change, over time, and become more like Him.
    I have definitely changed in opinions now that I have my own kids! Experience definitely gives you new perspective!

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    Anne Reply:

    So if the “Lord” is black and white, why did the Mormon church forbid black people from Priesthood ordination and from participation in temple ceremonies but after 1978 it was okay?

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    Melissa Reply:

    I think you might not be understanding the phrase “black and white”. It has nothing to do with color, it is referring to right vs. wrong.

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    Anne Reply:

    I’m definitely understanding the phrase black and white. I was merely giving an example of how the Mormon church has changed it’s rules overtime. If the “Lord” was truly black and white, the church wouldn’t have changed it’s doctrine on anything.

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    Pam Reply:

    God accepted Blacks, it just wasn’t time for some of the people to accept them into the Priesthood…they were still too prejudiced. Our world views had to change first.

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    Anne Reply:

    So if God accepted black people to begin with, why didn’t the church also accept them to begin with?

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  8. Can I get an amen?! I am so proud of you! It’s not an easy thing to do- but I think it’s incredibly brave. It seems that so many people in the LDS church have those same questions/doubts and it is completely human to have questions! I get really irritated when people doubt others’ faith just for questioning and having doubt. I have these same thoughts within my own faith tradition, but cannot be as vocal about them, unfortunately. I applaud you.

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    Danielle Reply:

    Amen!

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  9. Jen Whilder says:

    I find this very interesting. You husband was brought up Catholic, right? That must give Him some perspective when it comes to different religion. I look forward to this.

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  10. Nothing but applause from this camp. I’m really looking forward to seeing what you’ve come up with!

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  11. This is such an interesting and thoughtful post. And I do think it’s really brave, to admit that your thinking has dramatically changed on certain topics (because who wants to admit they were wrong, even with the best intentions?).

    Good for you, for your bravery and for your willingness to think carefully about what you believe!

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  12. Can’t wait to read this! I think there will be a lot of people who identify with you.

    My husband’s family was always very catholic (and super strict in their beliefs), but in the past seven years it has been really interesting to watch them grow and change and challenge certain ideas. I think part of this is due to the five kids growing up, going to college, opening up conversation and daring to look outside the box. It’s been awesome to watch and I have gained so much more respect for my in-laws.

    You may receive some criticism. I think that is unavoidable. But hopefully the positive experiences will outweigh the negative.

    Looking forward to it!

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  13. I am excited for you, although I could tell that you had a little awakening just from the last post.

    Law school was my awakening. I was just not informed as to the real ways of the world. I seriously get embarrassed in an empty room to think of some of the things I said my first year.

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  14. I’m looking forward to reading this series of posts. Can’t wait!

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  15. Can’t wait! I’ve been very happy about some of these changes I’ve noticed, like the decision to get your degree. Other things too. Congratulations!

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  16. Good for you, I look forward to following the series. Questioning things at church can be taboo, and the way I see it, the real problem is that we have a history within our religious culture of filling in doctrinal blanks ourselves, and letting those speculations become mainstream beliefs. Its very unproductive, and makes people like you or I feel a bit shy about having something different to say. An example that springs to mind is where ‘do not put off having a family’ causes a woman in my ward to judge me for taking the pill in the first year of marriage, because I was terrified of becoming pregnant so soon, and frankly none of her business. Certainly the link between having a family and not using birth control fits, but there is vast room for interpretation and the omission of further details by the brethren reinforces this. That’s just one of the things on my mind lately with regards to the difficulty of expressing any ‘different’ views at church – the people who set the speculative details aren’t necessarily right in the first place. But, it sounds like you’re in good company here and within your family with TH.

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    Hailey Reply:

    Oh just to clarify – I don’t think that anti-birth control is a mainstream or commonly held speculative belief, but certainly that is an opinion of a minority. It was just an example of people taking the responsibility if writing their own religious tenets for everyone else upon themselves!

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  17. Jenna, it is so clear from the tone of this intro post that you are bringing a lot of thought and a lot of hard work to these posts. I am so grateful for your commitment to thinking and re-thinking through important issues, and so grateful that you are putting yourself out on a limb to share your thoughts with us. I cannot wait to read this series.

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  18. I wish more people would take this approach. Can’t wait to read it!

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  19. I am looking forward to these posts!

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  20. Vintage_paige says:

    I find this to be your most interesting post to date and I congratulate you on writing it as I imagine it must have been difficult.

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    Kate Reply:

    Agreed!!

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    Christine Reply:

    Agreed! Brave and awesome! It was wonderful to read genuine excitement in someone’s voice at the development of critical thinking and personal growth- especially to hear you have a marriage in which you are supporting each other in that.

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  21. You’re brave and I’m excited to read your thinking. Go, Jenna!

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  22. I’m REALLY looking forward to this. Thank you!

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  23. That one statement pretty much sums up why my husband isn’t active and why I can’t seem to make the decision to be baptized. I really look forward to your upcoming posts and being a part of journey.

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  24. Just say no to drama!… errr… just say DELETE to trolls! :)

    I’m super intrigued and can’t wait to read. And also very happy for you. To me, what you are doing right now, the examining with a critical eye and deciding what you believe in your heart to be true, THAT is the mark of “adult” faith.

    Hopefully the negative trolls don’t get to you (more power to the delete button!), and you get the experience of really really really feeling secure in your beliefs because you made an informed decision, and not just because its what you had been told all along. (Not knocking parents raising their kids in faith, just acknowledging there is a difference between an informed adult decision, and believing what you were raised with.)

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  25. Additional food for thought – I highly recommend studying other religion’s history and beliefs. I took college courses on Buddhism and world religions and it was eye opening and made me really critically examine my own beliefs. After I felt more secure in my beliefs than ever before.

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  26. “I am much less likely to say “I’m right and thus you must be wrong”, and instead think “I’ve thought about this, and based on everything I know this is what seems right to me.”

    I think that sums up how I try to think now as I get older. No matter where you fall on the spectrum of being more conservative, moderate, or liberal in your beliefs, it’s an attitude that we should all work on to get along better and relate better with one another.

    And just because my opinion on a topic may be contrary to someone else or their lifestyle, I’ve never thought to make that be a reason to treat them with any less basic respect or dignity. Sometimes when we get to know people that we have one major conflict in ideas with, we find that we actually have much more common ground to work from.

    Great post!

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    Danielle Reply:

    Nicely said.

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  27. I can’t wait to read these posts!

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  28. I’m REALLY excited for this series! Thanks for opening up to us. I hope that readers and commenters are willing to keep open minds and keep a positive dialogue in the comments.

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  29. Echoing many others to say I really look forward to these posts, if not for any other reason that posts like those make ME think critically when I wouldn’t otherwise.

    Love this sentiment: “I reserve the right to change my mind.”

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  30. I’m really excited to read! I’m always fascinated by religion and faith as a non-believer in any structured religion or God.

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  31. It takes a mature person to be self-reflective. Congrats on this big step. Can’t wait to hear more about the new insights you’ve gained!

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  32. I’m looking forward to this series too. I believe that if you’re going to believe in something–anything–you should be educated about your beliefs. I think that it’s wonderful you’re taking these steps to discover what your beliefs mean to you and your family!

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  33. First of all, kudos you to for being open and honest. Those are two qualities I’ve always appreciated in your blog, even when my opinion and thoughts may have differed.

    I’m very much looking forward to learning more, and – as always – appreciate your willingness to share.

    I personally believe that religion or denomination can be communal, yet faith is very personal. It’s an ever evolving conversation between your head, your heard, and your god. And, the best way to keep a conversation going is with questions.

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  34. I’m interested to hear what you have to say in this series. However, I must say, part of why I liked reading your blog is because you were so steadfast in your belief in your church. I’m interested to see where you have changed your mind, and what the Mormon teaching is.

    I may be premature in saying this until I hear what you are going to disucss, but I think this is why there are so many Christian denominations out there. One person or group of people start questioning something at their church and decide that they have a more correct interpretation, so they split from that church and make another. Or they decide that they are right, but the church is mostly ok, so they stay there although they don’t believe all the teachings.

    I think that further study and personal revelation should lead you to believe that much more in your church. I am Catholic and the more I learn and pray, the more I am assured that the Church is the one true church and it’s teachings are 100% right. Sure, there are sinful people in the church and church leadership that do bad things or misinterpret the church stance to their congregation, but that doesn’t take away from the truth of the doctrines of the faith. Either your church has the truth, or it does not. There is no room for error.

    I’m sure most people won’t agree with me, and I may not have put my thoughts into the best words, but it’s my two cents. Still looking forward to hearing what you have to say!

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    Jackie Reply:

    As a Catholic too I think this is a common attitude but I want to say 2 things. 1) We believe our doctrine and dogma are 100% true but recognize that sometimes the way we are asked to live it out is not always 100% right and those things do change over time. God is 100% and religion is our best attempt to reach him, but it’s not always perfect. And 2) doubting and searching and questioning builds our faith. If what we believe is strong enough to hold up to scrutiny, we should have no worries.

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    Marissa C Reply:

    Amen Jackie

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    Andrea Reply:

    Jackie,
    Totally agree that religion is our best attempt to reach God and we are not perfect in that attempt. I find it oddly comforting to know even Mother Theresa questioned. Without questions, we can’t grow in our faith.

    Jenna,

    You say you will be sharing your “evolving beliefs”. Looking forward to it! If you aren’t growing and evolving, you are staqnant and may as well be dead.

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  35. Wow! I can’t wait to hear what you have to say. This kind of considered thinking is real sign of maturity to me. I’m really glad that you and TH have found a place where you can allow each other to think outside the box.

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  36. Looking forward to reading about this. Thanks for opening up.

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  37. Go Jenna! I’m so pleased that you have the courage to share what you’ve learned with us. I encourage you to check out this website, particularly the ‘conclusions’ page. It’s really aided me in my search for truth through the lens of my own understanding.

    http://mormonthink.com

    Best wishes!

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  38. Brava!

    I think it can be hard for anyone from an Absolutist background (Mormon, Baptist, Catholic, etc) to question at first because questioning is not the norm. Even though I’m not Mormon, I find myself on a similar trajectory questioning a lot of the things I grew up with (without rejecting them outright). I actually took comfort in “knowing” all the answers before–so to believe in a place colored with tinges of grey and not black and white was a challenge. I think I’m still figuring this out.

    So while I may not agree with every doctrine of your church, I’m thankful that you also are thinking critically. Keep growing!

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  39. you are so brave to be willing to talk about this. There is nothing wrong with changing your mind, people just don’t like it when someone’s new opinion no longer matches theirs. But it’s ok to disagree, that’s what makes the world interesting. I hope people are willing to discuss any disagreements in a respectful way though. So impressed with your willingness to become more open-minded. good for you!

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  40. Really looking forward to this series! I’ve had similar experiences when it comes to church, religion and not walking away from what I grew up in, but thinking about it critically and not just assuming it’s true because the pastor said so. God is not the church, in the sense that the church is not perfect nor always correct. It was hard for me to grasp, separate and experience at first. Ultimately I think it grows your faith.

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  41. I’ve never commented before, but have been reading for awhile, and find this to be absolutley your best post to date. I enjoy reading your blog for a different perspective and different opinions (and lots of awesome tips!). But being open and honest about changing opinions and insights is a hard thing to admit to yourself, your loved ones, never mind the internet at large. So bravo to you, and I look forward to reading!

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  42. I think you’re brave for talking about this. There’s nothing wrong with changing your way of thinking…especially when it’s being done because you have educated yourself. You’re growing, as we all do. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who think that changing any of their beliefs is a sign of weakness. The reality though is that if you don’t allow yourself to grow and be educated…how are you ever going to be whole?

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  43. Interesting stuff!

    I think it’s always important to separate the church with the gospel of Jesus Christ because they are different.

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    Katy Reply:

    I think that is a good way to put it. Sometimes those two things coincide nicely (and the church is largely a vehicle for the latter), but sometimes it doesn’t mesh well and it’s important to know when to seperate those two things in our minds.

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    Hailey Reply:

    Exactly. This is always what it boils down to for me. If I were to separate ‘the church’ and ‘the gospel of Christ’ into two columns, all of my qualms would remain in the ‘church’ column. I could further separate ‘canonised doctrine’ from ‘speculation’ within in the ‘church’ column and ‘speculation’ would bear the brunt of my concerns too!

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  44. I’m intrigued about what sort of things you’re going to talk about. I look forward to your next post on this!

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  45. Stephanie Appel says:

    Rock on, mama! Can’t wait to read your posts. Way to be true to yourself – don’t let the trolls bring you down. I will be eagerly checking your blog for each new post. :)

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  46. I think this is awesome and really brave. I can’t wait to read your posts! Of course there will be people who are not respectful of your expression of your opinions, but hopefully the support for critical thinking (always a good thing) and growing will outweigh the negative.

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  47. Stephanie says:

    “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

    In the past, I’ve seen you lose the ability to function over people who claim to be Mormon and come to a different conclusion than you. Including implying that they are not as righteous. I’m not trying to be mean, we’ve all been there, I’m saying I’m looking forward to see how you’ve grown. We need more first-rate intelligence in the church.

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  48. I am really interested in reading your future posts about this! I think a lot of people will relate, regardless of religious background.

    So glad you put in this clause: “But you said X 3 years ago and why is that different than what you are saying now?” We all have the right to learn, grow & change our minds and I imagine it is frustrating if that is always thrown back in your face.

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  49. God is good. And God is great. He can handle every question we throw at him, and I’m questioning and growing in my own religion as well. It’s caused some painful choices, and even more painful discussions. But I feel like this is a world movement that is bigger than any one church or one religion.

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  50. if one can’t their mind- they seize to exist. Imagine if we were always held to our beliefs from one period of time. The horrors.

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      I'm a farm-raised almost-crunchy stroller-pushing picture-taking lifestyle-blog-writing gastronomy-obsessed divine-seeking thrift-store-combing cheese-inhaling pavement-pounding laughter-sprinkling lover of individuality and taking chances.
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