My name is Tina Michelle Coats. I was born and raised in the LDS (Mormon) religion. My mom was born into the church and my dad was a convert in his early 20’s. I am the oldest of 3 kids. Both parents had health struggles and so did my younger siblings. My litte sister was born with spina bifida and has been in a wheelchair since the age of 3. As far back as I can remember both parents worked to make ends meet. We lived in small apartments until my early teens. I remember the church leaders dropping by occasionally and visiting our family, sometimes leaving a sealed envelope for my parents. I later learned they were assisting financially during some difficult times. We also received food from the church distribution center for a number of years. Sometimes my brother and I had to stay with friends in the church with kids our age, because my parents and sister had to travel occasionally for special doctor appointments or medical emergencies and then we wouldn’t have to tag along being bored or missing school. I felt grateful that people were helpful to my family in those times, but I also felt like a burden or inconvenience in those situations. Since we were members of the same “ward family”, they would show how Christ-like they could be and help those who were less among them. But outside of church, those who helped us hardly ever socialized with us. And unfortunately, my sister’s circumstances would bring out 2 sides of people. The side we saw at church; kind, inclusive, compassionate. Versus outside of church; it was the obligatory pleasantries, strained tolerance, veiled pity or avoidance.
Even though the church taught kindness towards others, I always felt out of place…and often excluded (whether intentional or not, I couldn’t say). There were always cliques among the youth, especially in areas that included very wealthy neighborhoods (our stake had a couple). I would always hear on Sundays about something fun that happened at So-and-so’s house or an activity had taken place but somehow I never heard anything about it. If I was included, it felt like it was out of guilt (they felt sorry for me or my family) or necessity (they were instructed to include everyone). I was the quiet one. Always tried to do what I was told, what was expected of me. I was the oldest, needed to set an example. As I got older, I acquired a few friends who actually liked me as a person but had more outgoing personalities. I became the shadow and honed my people-pleasing tendencies. I would rarely give my opinion, always went along with whatever the majority of the group wanted to do when hanging out. I didn’t want to be an inconvenience or draw attention.
I grew up with a love of food and feeding people from my grandma having big family get-togethers for holidays or special occasions. We had several every year for various reasons. I turned to this skill in high school. Someone was having a birthday party and needed a cake? I volunteered. A friend was feeling down and the group was going to drop by to cheer them up? I made and brought cookies. It soon became my way to try and be included and some even expected it of me. I had crushes in high school, but no one was ever interested in me. I was chubby, I had braces, and I wasn’t very outgoing. My self-esteem wasn’t great, a mindset that took hold from a young age. Being called pig at school at the young age of 10, repeatedly prank-called and told I was a dog at the age of 12, criticized by my 6th grade teacher for numerous things (not having nicer school supplies, being excited for a good pair of hiking boots for the week-long field trip to the mountains and she told me “Don’t expect them to still be new looking or the same color by the time we come back”, etc). These, among other instances, had that effect unfortunately. I preferred the company of books over social gatherings usually. But I had a couple good friends who pulled me along and wanted me to be included in the fun times. No one asked me to my Senior Prom; I ended up taking a cousin of mine with whom I got along well and knew would have fun. I did find out after that my friends had tried to persuade a couple guys to ask me, but no one wanted to. I did ask a guy I liked to the Sadie Hawkins dance. He had a girlfriend at another school, but agreed to be my date. He knew I had a crush on him (his sister was my best friend) and we had fun. At one point, my best friend expressed some irritation at me for not branching out and finding other friends and continuing to be her shadow. We stopped hanging out for about 6 months before we reconciled.
Over the couple years after high school, I tried to build up my self-confidence by asking guys out a couple times. I would get polite no’s or they would agree to 1 date and then give me the “I just want to be friends” speech. My parents always encouraged me to get out more. They even expressed that maybe they should send me to Utah for a while to “find a husband”. I had lived on my own in another state for a year after high school. I had no desire to do so again so soon or for that specific reason. Thanks Mom and Dad for trying to plan out my life without asking me… A Young Single Adult ward was formed soon after so I no longer had to attend church with my family, which was a pleasant change. While I had been living on my own, I had the choice of whether I attended church. I had the opportunity to try some new experiences as well. Being back at home, church was a requirement. But now I had a choice other than with my folks. I had developed a bit of a rebellious streak. I had put a new doorknob that locked on my bedroom door (that bothered my folks). I drank occasionally with work friends who weren’t Mormon and didn’t move in the same circles as my church friends. I eventually met a guy through my friend’s fiancé. It took me a while but it hit me I had seen him before.
It was at a New Year’s Eve church dance. I was there with a group of friends, which included a guy I currently liked. The dance was winding down, breakfast was being served. I was getting food when…SOME FORCE…drew my attention…like a moth to a flame. He had a striking face (no facial hair at that time), but his whole being radiated torment. His facial expression clearly indicated he did not want to be approached, but underneath there was so much pain and heartache. The urge to hold and help heal him was overwhelming. I was completely unaware that I was staring or for how long I had been so…until his gaze locked on me and burst the bubble that I was in. Nothing further happened between us that night, but he stayed in my thoughts. It would be several months later before we officially met…and a couple more months after that before we realized the encounter that had transpired between us at that New Year’s Eve dance. I fell hard for him and he tried to keep me at a distance. He told me he had contemplated suicide, that he didn’t feel the same for me as I did for him, that he was just using me for sex. I knew he believed what he was telling me, but part of me also knew it was a defense mechanism. I was not going to be pushed away. I was not going to be another in a long line of people to turn my back on him and continue to let him feel worthless. I wanted to be someone who would choose to see him differently. I wanted him to know that he was deserving of the time, effort, and affection that I wanted to share with and give to him. I knew that I was going against what I had been taught (no sex before marriage, no dating a married man…his divorce to his first wife was not yet final). But I didn’t care, consequences be damned. If things really didn’t work out, I would face whatever came. But I was not going to give him up or give up on him.
My parents were strongly against our relationship. My dad wanted to send me to live with relatives in another state so I could “come to my senses”, because obviously I was brainwashed into doing things I shouldn’t want to do. What happened to their “good, obedient daughter”? I was starting to stand up for what I wanted, that’s what! Our relationship wasn’t easy. My parents kept their distance for awhile. Wesley didn’t want to have anything to do with the church so he didn’t go. I stopped going myself, I mean I was living in sin…why should I continue to attend? Things very slowly started to change when we decided to have a baby together. My folks tried to guilt me into going back to church. I tried to walk the line between what I wanted and show my parents that I wasn’t being manipulated. I was the go-between, trying to bring 2 sides together. My folks weren’t bad people just stubborn and protective. My boyfriend wasn’t a bad person, just not what THEY wanted for me. In hindsight, I could and should have done things differently. They wanted to be involved with their grandchild, so they made efforts to be tolerant. They always offered support to me and the baby. I would make weekly trips to their house an hour away to do laundry because we couldn’t afford the laundromat prices. They helped with gas money. Most of the time, Wesley would stay home because he didn’t want to be around them. I hated leaving him alone for pretty much an entire day. I thought I was being productive and helpful, he thought I was choosing the company of them over him. We went through many similar situations, our communication wasn’t what it should have been. We spent several years on welfare, bouncing between my parent’s house and my grandparent’s house while Wesley went to school to learn the welding trade. This always came with passive-aggressive criticism, input on our life choices and rules we had to follow because they were “helping us out”. During our stay with my folks, is when Wesley stumbled across the Works. I noticed a change in him. He had found something that made sense and gave him answers to questions he had had. He wanted so much to share about what he had found and what he was learning. I could tell he needed to be able to talk about it and I would always try and listen, but some of the things he would say would throw me for a loop. I would hear Christopher’s voice when Wesley would watch his broadcasts, and his voice and personality would just grate on my senses. He always seemed to be yelling and belittling everyone. How could someone enjoy or appreciate being talked to like that?! Wesley asked me several times over several years to just read the books. I told him that I probably would, I was curious to try and understand what had made such an impact on this man I loved so much, but I never really put time or effort into following through. We still had issues of distrust and incomplete communication. Part of me always felt like I couldn’t do enough to make him happy and I was always waiting for the shoe to drop and for him to leave me. He was always feeling like I didn’t want to be around him and that I was going to leave him like his first wife did. I was stuck in a mindset fostered by being raised in a very religious and restrictive environment. He was my first boyfriend, my first sexual partner; and I thought I was doing everything I knew how (I really didn’t know much) to make our relationship work.
Fast forward through us getting married, adding 2 more kids to our family unit, FINALLY getting a job and house a couple states away from both sets of parents. I thought things were starting to work out. In the last year, our issues finally hit a point where drastic measures came into play. Our sex life had become stagnant. He believed I didn’t want him around. He had admitted to wanting to be with other women and I was trying to protect my heart and sanity by keeping my hurt locked away…waiting for the day he’d tell me he was leaving me for someone else. The month before our 10th wedding anniversary, he proposed that we get divorced but still live together. I knew when I met him that he had planned to never get married again (but he gave in to me and pressures from our families). He wanted to be true to what he wanted and try to follow what the Works was asking. We decided not to rush into the divorce, but in the meantime he wanted to open our relationship to include other people. I was at a loss, I had no idea how to navigate this new path. But I wanted to give him the opportunity to find out what made him happy. I would rather share him than lose him…so I agreed. He was already on a couple dating sites and signed up for more. We agreed to be open about who we were talking to and what was discussed…as long as it wasn’t intimate. It was hard for me to see him chatting away with new women every week and barely speaking to me. He would share about conversations he was having if I asked. Sometimes I would just sit next to him and observe the interactions. He enjoyed chatting and flirting with new people, and the attention they would give him. I tried being on 2 dating sites and talking with other guys for a couple days before I gave up. I just was not comfortable. He thought he made actual connections, but most of the time they turned out to be scammers or escorts. This proved to be a big source of frustration to him. I had several mini breakdowns. I contemplated ending my own life. I wanted to trust that this would be good for us in the long run…but I felt like I was drowning. He knew another couple from the Works that had been through a very similar situation. He was good friends with the husband and introduced me to the wife, so that I had someone who I could talk to who would understand and relate. It did help a lot, I no longer felt like I was alone in the chaos and madness of my own thoughts!! Also during this time, I began some serious self-reflection and self-evaluation. Why was I holding onto ideas I no longer believed in? Why was I so resistant to opening my mind and heart to something that might help me be a better person? I started reading The Sealed Portion. Lo and behold…it makes sense!
I appreciate the message that the True Messenger has shared with us, the peace and understanding it continues to bring into my life is enlightening and I am truly thankful. It has brought clarity to the way I view religion and I can see how it divides people and does so much harm to this world. I am more aware of humanity as a whole and how amazing this world could be if there was an end to poverty! I am a better parent because of the truths that I am learning. I have been able to break through some mental blocks and recognize some things about myself that help me improve as a human being and better help others. I am accepting that I don’t need to feel guilty about doing things that bring me happiness, while also being more intune with what I choose to search out in regards to that happiness. Things between my husband and I are so much stronger than they have ever been. We have grown so much closer and brought down so many barriers in our relationship. I recognize that I need to be humbled, repeatedly, and I look forward to continuing on this journey. I’m still in the process of reading all the books and I’m embracing the path of unlearning what has been instilled in me from my upbringing. But I no longer resist the truths that I am discovering. I welcome them with open mind and open heart.
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