February 14, 2010
My life has been so unbelievable that I usually hold back sharing my stories with people until they’ve gotten to know me really well. I wouldn’t blame folks for wondering if I’m just making up a pack of lies. I’m a living testimony that truth is stranger than fiction. I figure since God gave me such an amazing story (a soap opera couldn’t hardly compare); He must want to use it in some way. God has blessed me with all kinds of struggles and losses during my life. I say blessed because I think my greatest growth has been during my greatest trials. I figure that must be what is meant in the Bible by "the refiner’s fire". In order to protect our privacy, I have used alias names in the telling of my story:
Life, Part One: My Childhood
I was born to a school teacher and a homemaker/actress in Southern California. Dad is a very intelligent, charming and funny man. We always knew he loved us, but there was a side of him that we feared. He had a volatile temper. Mom was beautiful, loving, smart, artistic, and a flirt. Unfortunately, she was also an alcoholic.
We lived in an upper scale community on my dad’s teacher’s salary – not easy for a family of our size. We may not have had much, but God always provided us with what we needed. Being part of a large family was a lot of fun. We never had a shortage of playmates. In some ways it was a curse too. Because we were a mischievous and energetic bunch of kids, our home was always noisy and chaotic. We were notorious in our neighborhood for our antics. I have many fond memories of childhood.
The spiritual condition of our home is hard to explain. We attended Christian Churches from time to time over the years, but we were also exposed to a lot of occult influences. My sisters and I played around with the OUIJA board. My mom studied numerology, read palms, did astrological readings, and encouraged us to experiment with Extra Sensory Perception. Paradoxically, Mom loved studying the Bible and had a pretty impressive knowledge of it. Once she was asked to give a sermon at her minister friend’s church. That same friend was so impressed that she decided to ordain Mom as a minister.
My parents’ marriage fell apart during my high school years and everything went downhill from there. Mom sort of “checked out” as a parent and started pursuing her own interests. She wasn’t around much so the older children were often left with the responsibility of looking after the younger ones. I was drawn to the Mormon Church because it gave me what was missing at home. I had the emotional support of a whole church family who truly cared about me. I became a Mormon during the latter part of high school, not because of any testimony I had, but because I felt it was expected of me after attending church there for so long.
Life, Part Two
After graduating, I attended college where I met my first husband, Tom. We married in the temple, had our children blessed and baptized, attended church regularly, and kept busy with all the typical Mormon activities. Our marriage probably appeared to the outsider as solid, but it was all a façade. Tom was very withdrawn emotionally, controlling and emotionally abusive towards me. It seemed the nicer I was towards him, the nastier he became towards me. My only self-defense was to shut down emotionally. We both put a lot of energy into our parenting, but we were not a team. In fact, it seemed as if we were on opposing teams.
Our family faced many trials. I suffered years and years of persistent health problems, but doctors could not find a diagnosis. I was eventually healed, but that is a story for another day. Of my six pregnancies during those years, one ended in a miscarriage, two children were born prematurely and died shortly after birth, and all three of our surviving children suffered from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Nate, the youngest, was also diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.
I was naïve during most of my marriage. Though Tom’s public image was squeaky clean, there had been clues all along that should have tipped me off that he had been cheating on me during our entire marriage. When I discovered pretty solid evidence of this, we separated and eventually divorced. Several months after separating, I was horrified to learn from my son Nate that Tom had been sexually abusing him. I went through the usual channels to address the abuse, but got nowhere. It was a nightmare. To make matters worse, our bishop and stake presidency treated me with suspicion and doubt while Tom was treated as if he were an unjustly accused victim. I fought long and hard to protect Nate, but because of his young age and disability, the abuse couldn’t be proven and Tom got away with it. I was forced to send Nate on regular visits with the very person who had abused him. It was agonizing! Since I had run out of all other options, all that was left for me to do was to teach Nate how to stand up for himself, pray and trust God to protect him. After an ugly two-year long battle, the divorce was finalized.
Life, Part Three
Being head of a household was a big stretch for me because I had always been a stay at home mom. Now I found myself needing a job, and fast. I had never finished college and was not trained for any kind of gainful employment. I was emotionally exhausted from fighting the battle of trying to protect my son from his abuser and dealing with all the ugliness of divorce. I didn’t know what I was going to do. What I needed was a part time job so that I would have the time and energy to devote to my children, the youngest of whom had special needs. The trouble was, I wanted part time but I needed full benefits. I couldn’t imagine where in the world I would find such a job as that. As it turns out, God provided exactly that in the most amazing way! The offer came unexpectedly, effortlessly, and almost immediately, and it came to me in my own living room. Day care for my special needs son was found just around the corner. The caregiver just happened to have a degree in special education. God was looking after us!
Coming Out Of Mormonism
I loved many things about the Mormon Church – the family focus, the wholesome lifestyle, the way people looked after one another, the great programs and the social connectedness. Most of all, I loved the Mormon people. Mormonism was my life, but I had a little secret. Since the day I joined the Mormon Church, doubts plagued me. For years and years I hoped that God would give me what I never had to begin with - confirmation that it was His true church. I prayed countless times for that confirmation, but the answer never came. I just kept pushing those doubts aside.
One day, a friend shared that she had left the Mormon Church for the simple reason that she didn't recognize the God of the Mormon Church as the God of the Bible. That hit me hard when I realized that I couldn't argue with her. When I compared the Mormon Church's teachings with the Bible, I saw that they couldn't both be right. I knew I had to choose the Bible and that meant leaving the very church that my life had revolved around for over two decades. It would mean practically starting my life over.
Life, Part Four
After leaving the Mormon Church, I was drawn into Christian circles, but it was at a community dance where I met my second husband, Syd. For the most part our lives were happy, aside from some tensions between Syd and his children. I could write a book about all the interesting adventures we shared. It was during those years with Syd that I came to know Jesus as my personal savior. I had always considered myself to be a religious person, but it wasn’t until I did a study on the life of Moses that I realized that no amount of good works could bring me salvation. Jesus was the only way.
A couple years into our marriage, Syd and I were hit with a big surprise. I was pregnant. Though we were pretty old to be having a baby, and our youngest was nearing his teen years, we were thrilled and ready to welcome a new baby into our home. Then I miscarried. Out of a total of seven pregnancies, not one of them went smoothly.
Our time together was short, but sweet. Suddenly, after only three years of marriage, Syd was killed in a tragic accident. Yet again, I had to start my life over. In the days following his death, I realized that God had been preparing me, but that is a story for another day.
Life, Part Five: Continuing On
I hadn’t even had time to finish grieving the loss of Syd when Rick came into my life. We progressed quickly from acquaintances, to friends, to romance, to marriage in a matter of months. We knew God had orchestrated the timing and the details of our wedding, but that is a story for another day. We have been married for less than a decade now and share a wonderful life together. Typical of life, we have been hit with difficulties too, but all in all, we have been very blessed. Between us we have five wonderful living children and two in heaven, plus a handful of grand kids.
Trials and Lessons
Life has been an adventure filled with a series of losses and lessons. During one 6 year span, I miscarried, suffered from severe health problems and lost two of my children. During a subsequent three year span, my marriage fell apart, I fought unsuccessfully to protect my son from his abuser, I went through a nasty divorce, and struggled through a very difficult stage with one of my children. During a 9 year span, I suffered a miscarriage and lost eight family members: my husband, a sister (alcoholism), two step parents, a parent, a brother (suicide), a father-in-law, and a brother-in-law. It seems there is always some sort of storm just around the bend.
And what lessons have I learned from this life I’ve been living? God loves me. Jesus is my Savior. God has a plan for my life. He wants me to relinquish control of my life to him, and to trust him. He knows what is best for me. He hears my prayers and answers them in miraculous ways. The worst possible trials can be used for good in serving God and spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are called to share and defend our faith at whatever the cost. I have lost friendships by sharing my faith, and nearly lost my relationship with my son Luke because of our differences in faith. It hasn't been easy, but I count myself very blessed!
~Kristi Sanderson (alias)
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