This story is part of our Tales of Return collection. Read more from Tales of Return.

I’m not sure anyone even knows I left the Church. I continued to go through the motions of activity long after they had ceased to bring me the joy and peace I had known in the gospel most of my life. This sensation of finding darkness and confusion in the very places and activities that had formerly been a source of light and surety was so overwhelming that I finally had to acknowledge to myself that in my heart, I had been gone for a long time. When I could no longer bear the hypocrisy of it, I made an appointment with my stake president. I took my temple recommend with me and resolved to return it to him, all the while hoping that he would say something that would restore my faith, and my life, to what they had been.

It would be an oversimplification to say that he changed everything, but that humble man was a mouthpiece for Heavenly Father that day. He didn’t try to answer the questions I knew there were no satisfactory answers to. He merely testified to me that, just as the children of Israel had to stand on the banks of the Red Sea with Pharoah’s army pressing upon them, each of us that hopes to gain a place in the kingdom of God must, at some point, stand in a lonely, terrifying place and wait to see God’s hand. That night I was given a clear vision of the crossroads I was standing at. I could retreat, or I could wait on the Lord.

I read shortly after that meeting that Christ is the vine. It’s mentioned just briefly. More often He is the bread, the living water, the light. The image of Christ as the vine struck me powerfully as I realized that a vine was a perfect metaphor for the change I felt was happening in my own faith. I believe it started out as a stick: thin, rigid, and easily broken when pressed against even the smallest inconsistency. It was slowly being replaced with something much stronger and yet much more malleable. Something that could bend around and embrace difference, paradox, incomplete equations; and yet remain nearly unbreakable. A true vine. I had hoped for a restoration of my faith, but what I was given was much better. It was a new heart, a new hope, a new faith.

The journey back to peace in the gospel will most likely be a lifelong one for me. I feel it often, but not always. I have learned that the most important thing to cling to on this journey is my relationship with God, not an organization. I am grateful to the Church for forming my idea of a loving God; a Father, and a Mother, and a Brother. I always wanted to believe in that Family, and my place in it. It’s one of the many paradoxes I constantly have to balance: the realization that my greatest hopes AND my greatest fears are based on the teachings of the restored Church of Jesus Christ. For every unanswered question, there are many reasons to hope. I remind myself often that “we believe that God will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” For now, my hope is greater than my fear.

Abby Olson