HOW I FOUND THE GUTS TO COME OUT WITH MY RELIGION
There we were on our hands and knees working side by side staining the grout of the newly-installed, beautiful, tile flooring. The style of the kitchen was reminiscent of the old world, darkly stained wood complimentary of the deep green granite countertops. We’d been at it for hours.
“So what is the name of your religion?” My sister asked casually, without looking my way. Her focus on the task at hand, as if this was any other run-of-the-mill sister-sister conversation; she had no idea what a bombshell this would set off inside my head.
I felt a lump rise in my throat and caught myself holding my breath. This is it, time to come out. I took a deep breath and tried not to sound nervous, “ECKANKAR, the Religion of the Light and Sound.”
“So what’s that?” She asked; a small change in her tone as if she was a little confused about the answer. Holy cow, this is really happening. I took another deep breath, then another, and silently chided myself for being so nervous about sharing this intimate part of my life. For the last eight years, I knew this day would come; when I would share with my family that I had officially changed my religion.
OK, where do I start? When in doubt, stick with the basics. “Primary beliefs are karma and reincarnation.” This was all I could manage with my heart pounding in my chest and the growing lump in my throat. I had to brace myself and resist the urge to seek shelter from the anticipated barrage of friendly fire.
“Oh.” She responded and kept right on staining the grout; we had a lot of floor to finish by close of business that day. Looking back I get tickled with myself. It took me eight years to find the intestinal fortitude to share with my family and some of my closest friends this most intimate detail of my life. What was I afraid of, outright religious persecution from those people dearest to me? What, as if they were going to form a posse, tie me to a stake and light me on fire? Or call an intervention with a priest?
I should have given them more credit. Over the years, I became more comfortable with sharing more about this intimate aspect of my life. All of this was met with acceptance and unconditional love. Interestingly, I later learned that my sister and other loved ones were also seeking a different path that they would eventually follow.
FINDING MY INTESTINAL FORTITUDE
Backing up a bit, just how did I find the courage to make the change and follow my heart, anyhow?
The answer was nothing short of divine intervention. I was working as a cardiovascular recovery nurse, where I met my dear friend, Melanie*. She had recently moved from the Medical Intensive Care Unit over to Cardio Vascular ICU and was adapting well to managing the much higher-level acuity (critically ill) patient population. We became very close friends and roommates during the time she was attending classes and converting from Southern Baptist to Conservative Judaism. Born in the South, her conversion was a tremendous leap and required significant courage and diligence against some powerful resistance within her family.
For the last eight years, I knew this day would come; when I would share with my family that I had officially changed my religion.
I’ll never forget her response, when I asked the big question, why Judaism? “Because I’ve never seen a group of people who actively live their beliefs and the profound difference it makes in their lives.” Later she went on to say that once she found Judaism, she felt like she had been switched at birth.
I knew exactly what she meant, her statement resounded deeply within me. Over time I observed a profound transformation in her life, to one of peace, love, and acceptance. I remember thinking if she can do it, then so can I.
UNCONDITIONAL LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE
Being the quick study and courageous pioneer that I am, it only took me eight years to tell my Sister; and much longer to tell my Mom. Dad was easy; we have always had a much deeper, underlying connection.
Regardless of my fears, I was relieved to see my family and friends embrace my change, even if they didn’t fully understand it. My change was met with unconditional love and acceptance. Not a single posse was rounded, not a single intervention was planned, and not a single family member was called to gossip or pick sides. The most beautiful part is how in the years afterward our relationship has unfolded and become much deeper.
KEEP IT MOVING FORWARD
It was years later that the tables were turned, and they both came to me at different times to share that they had each found their own path home to God and had also converted into a different religion. Everyone is in their right place, we are closer than ever, and I am profoundly happy for them.
TWO OF THE DEAREST DAYS IN MY LIFE
While on a “sister date,” our lunch conversation found us sharing the foundations of our religious beliefs, what led us to make our changes, and our spiritual goals. My Sister opened up and shared with me some intimate details behind her conversion to Mormonism. She shared with me her experience of us growing up in the Episcopal Church. She described our environment as so routine that we had to sit in the same pew every week or the day was ruined – so to speak. As an adult, she branched out visiting Fellowship type churches in search of something more. She was searching for something that she never found until she became a Mormon.
It’s incredible to me how important this aspect of our life is to each of us, and how comforting it is to know that each of us has found our place. By the end of our “sister date”, we committed to supporting each other and our spiritual goals, and have been doing so every day since. I am deeply grateful that we now enjoy a very deep bond, one that only sisters may understand.
I later learned that my sister and other loved ones were also seeking a different path that they would eventually follow.
About a year ago, my Mom invited me to attend the baptism of her and her husband. This was an unexpected and very pleasant surprise. My Mom is a very private person and my heart leaped at the opportunity to share this monumental experience with them both. My Mom grew up as a Baptist, then a devout Episcopalian the bulk of her adult life. I understood her need for ritual and tradition, but I felt she was missing something very important to her. It seemed that for years she was just going through the motions and left wanting and needing more.
Curled up on the couch together in my Mother’s library, she and her husband opened up and shared how they had found what they were looking for in both tradition and a close-knit community. This was a magical time for us and created a bond with my Mom that I’ve never experienced with her before. After her baptism, with hair dry and makeup reapplied, was a moment I’ll cherish forever. She practically ran back into the room to take her seat in the front, bursting with a deep happiness. Her eyes bright and shining, she was full of love. It was the first time I’ve ever seen her truly happy and without fear behind her eyes; she found her tribe, and her feet were clearly set in her path.
LOVE – THE ULTIMATE FOUNDATION
I think I can speak for all of us when I say that our love for each other is deeper than ever – we are closer than we’ve ever been and deeply committed to supporting each other.
Isn’t this what life is really all about? Finding a path that works best for each of us, for where we are in our lives, and in a way that we can understand it. Finding the individual path that brings us home to God?
I’m so very grateful that I found the guts to make my change. Is it funny how changing religion is like replacing a tile floor? Once you tear it up you’re committed. It can be shocking to see the colossal mess and not just your floor. Everything gets dusty and messy. You have this huge mess and begin to worry; did I make the right decision? Then you start to lie down each tile close together but not touching. Then you go back to fill in the cracks and smooth it all out. In the end, you have a solid foundation to walk on that is more beautiful then you the one you had before.