Today, I'd like to honor someone very special to me - my eldest daughter, Hannah.
When Hannah told me she was leaving home so abruptly that very sad day, she told me that she couldn't set one more foot in that church. It was killing her. She knew that if she remained at home, we would have made her go to church with us because that is what we do as a family and that's what was expected in this type of environment. She knew that. She didn't want to cause an uproar in the home, she just wanted to be free from having to go to that particular church.
We wrongly assumed it was because of a bad influence in her life and all of the focus shifted to her bad behavior, who she was associating with, her disobedience to her parents, to her God.
Her mind was made up. She knew we wouldn't change our minds. She had her plans already set. She would move out with someone she met on Craigslist - a stranger - a single LDS woman. She would be living 45 minutes away from home. She had no job in that area. She had no driver's license, no vehicle. There was much to sacrifice, many unknowns and uncertainties.
Because we were convinced this was an act of disobedience (keep in mind that Hannah was 21 yrs old - not 17 yrs), she had every right to move out, but once again, we didn't see it that way while we were at the church. My husband told me to not help her move out in any way. We did not contribute boxes, help her pack, move her boxes to the truck that she had arranged to come help her move. Her new roommate's boyfriend and roommate helped her load the truck - pure strangers. We had a truck. We could have helped her. We had boxes. This is painful to type. There's more mama guilt going on with each letter I type - and of course the trickle of tears have started again - ugh.
She was not to take her bed, her bedding, and if I remember correctly, even her pillow. We told her that if she left anything in the house, it would be thrown out. Ouch!
This was our precious daughter. She was leaving because she could not take the emotional and spiritual abuse she was experiencing at the church. By telling us she couldn't take it anymore, she was crying out for help saying, "THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG THERE" and we missed the clues. She left about 4-1/2 years ago and the pain of seeing what happened in hindsight is so deep.
My daughter willingly gave up many things to protect her sanity and leave the place that was emotionally killing her. She gave up her precious relationship with her only sister, her sweet brothers. She gave up wonderful home-cooked meals that she loved, the security, the warmth from family.
What we all lost was beautiful music at the piano, playing the recorder, fun in the kitchen doing dishes with her brother while jamming and playing my "kitchen dance music" playlist. My daughter and I were robbed of precious time from each other. I no longer had the ability to touch her, hug her, be a part of her daily life, be influential to her, say the special things moms say to their children. I was robbed of our special knitting times at coffee shops. I was robbed of relationship with my daughter.
Her little brother, just a toddler, would never know what it is like to grow up with his older sister. He probably has no memory of life with her in his home.
When she left her family, she also left most of the friends she grew up with. Only a select few remained in contact with her over these past 5 yrs. That's quite a sacrifice.
The first months were very hard. I determined to remain in contact. We had rules - she was not allowed to be alone with siblings. She could come to the house, but none of her siblings could go to her house because we had no way of knowing what she was involved with at that time. My husband was very distraught. We were convinced that she was in deep rebellion and sin. He didn't call her for 6 months. That was nearly unbearable to me.
I cried every single day. E.v.e.r.y s.i.n.g.l.e. day. It was like a death to me. I never knew a mom could have so many tears. My precious daughter was gone from my home, my life as I knew it. All the dreams I had for her were shattered.
Her life changed. She no longer had any desire for church and relationship with God. She got into other relationships. She didn't go to church. And I can't say that I blame her.
But this young lady remained focused. She had dreams and goals. Her roommate situation changed over time. She got her driver's license and bought a car. The car was paid off as quickly as possible. She worked full-time and took college classes at night.
Today marks a special day - her graduation from college. She did it completely on her own.
Now, looking back, I understand why she left. She was the first person I know to clearly articulate: there is something wrong at that church. She needed to move on. She needed to be free from that control. Having that freedom enabled her to reach her personal goals.
Hannah is brave. She is sensitive. She has great insight. She is driven, independent, and extremely focused. At work, she sees the full picture and finds ways of improving procedures so many are benefited from it. She is a team player and selective with those she calls friends. In doing so, her relationships are deep and meaningful. She is very talented, a great cook, musician, and can do pretty much anything that she sets her mind to doing. She is also very forgiving of what we as parents put her through. She adores her family, respects her parents. She treasures close relationships with her family. I am so proud to call her my daughter.
Hannah, on this graduation day, your mama will be a big mess of tears sitting amongst the spectators. What you accomplished speaks volumes of your character. Your grace and forgiving spirit to us as parents has been remarkable. Many would have written their parents off, but you loved us through the process and allowed us to finally "get it". You showed us unconditional love.
I always have taught my children to "trust their gut" and even though your whole family was not getting that message, you followed through with that very powerful advice. When you left, it caused me to re-question everything. Your bravery was the first domino to fall amongst the winding path of dominoes. It set the path in motion for many questions, lots of dialogue, and encouraged me to trust my gut.
You have handled this lawsuit especially well. From one simple review of sharing your experience on Google, you have been placed beside me and three others to defend something we never dreamed of doing - defend our First Amendment rights and to stand for the truth.
This sequence of events may have far-reaching effects. It shows the value of standing for what is true - for speaking out when we know people are in harm's way. Many will say to just leave it be and move along, but you have chosen the narrow path of standing up for truth despite the risks involved. I have always taught my children to defend the weak and help those in need. You are doing that right now!
I cannot wait to see what lies ahead for you. You rock my world, daughter. I love you and am so proud of you. When you walk on that stage accepting your diploma, look out into the stands and find your mama. You'll see me standing, waving my white hanky.