“I’ve always struggled with my testimony of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Tami wrote on her blog in August of 2016. “My testimony was always on high or off. There was no in between. I’m sure people wonder . . . if I had a very strong testimony at times in my life how in the world could I just let it waste away? I don’t have the answers to that question. I’m stubborn? Satan is a jerk? I’m forgetful? I left my room without thinking to pray? Yeah, probably all of those combined into a big mess.”
Pulling Away from the Church
Tami Havey grew up in a strong LDS family. Weekly family home evening, daily family prayer and scripture study, early-morning seminary were the norm. “We went to church every week. Never missed,” Tami said. Growing up, her father, now President of LDS Business College, served as a bishop, a member of the stake presidency, and a high councilman.
Imagine their shock when their beloved daughter and sister, now grown with children of her own, posted on Facebook that she was denouncing the Church. “Was I ever dramatic about it,” Tami wrote. “I didn’t let my family know beforehand. They were angry and hurt, which just fueled my fire even more.”
Although the announcement came as a shock to many, Tami’s struggle with the Church began many years before when, at 19, she began dating a non-member. She stopped going to church and went to a lot of parties. After a couple of years, however, she decided that wasn’t who she wanted to be. She quit her job in the California Bay area and got a new job in San Francisco. “I decided to clean up my life, and I couldn’t hang around those people anymore,” Tami said.
One day her sister came home to San Jose from Rick's College and invited Tami to attend the young single adult ward with her. Tami's decision to go changed the trajectory of her life.
“I said, okay, fine . . . just for the summer,” Tami recalls. But one thing led to the next and she was called as Relief Society president. “That really was the catalyst for going back to church.”
Tami met her first husband while serving in the YSA ward, and she moved to Utah when they got married. They had three children, a girl and two boys. Both of their sons were born with Hirschsprung's disease, a condition that causes blockage in the bowels. “In a nutshell . . . when they’re born part of their intestines are dead,” Tami explained.
In 2012, Tami’s youngest son, Carter, spent most of the year at Primary Children’s hospital. The experience was extremely difficult for Tami. “It was all I could do to keep my emotions in check. Until I couldn’t,” Tami wrote. “During one ward council meeting I cracked, and I stormed out. I handed in my binder and keys and told them I was done.” Tami had been serving as the ward Young Women’s president at the time.
Tami fell into a deep depression and was even hospitalized. “As a mom, there is nothing more heart-wrenching than to see your child lay there being poked and prodded and hurt, and there’s nothing you can do to take that pain away. . . . It was devastating,” Tami said.
During this time Tami’s husband lost his job, and Tami went to church solely for the financial help. “Where was God?” Tami wrote about her feelings at the time. “I had a critically ill child, a husband with no job, and depression to boot." Once Tami's husband found a job and they no longer received financial assistance from the ward, she felt as though she had no reason to continue attending.
Despite Tami’s growing distance from the Church and the adversity in her life, she remembers several spiritual experiences that she had in the hospital. “I know that angels were around us lifting us up . . . without that I don’t think either one of us would have gotten through it,” Tami said.
One such experience happened during Carter’s longest hospital stay. “He was hurting . . . and I asked the tech to leave for just a moment,” Tami said. They knelt on the cold, hard floor and Tami said a prayer.
“It was overwhelming—the feeling of peace and of love from people that we couldn’t see,” Tami said. “It was an experience that I will never ever forget.”
Renouncing It All
In the fall of 2013, Tami got a new job at LDS Hospital as a phlebotomist. One day on her way home from work, she drove past a billboard advertising a website claiming to share the truth about Mormons and Church history. “How bad could it be?” Tami wrote. “BAD. Really, really bad.” In an interview, she added, “This was the beginning of me really leaving the Church and becoming an anti-Mormon.”
The website opened Tami’s eyes to facts and history about the Church which she had previously not known. “The things that I found out on the website are true,” Tami said. “And that’s why I think I felt so angry at first. I felt lied to. I felt that the Church had hid a lot of things.” Tami later came to feel that the website had “twisted these facts into something evil.”
For three weeks Tami obsessed over the website, reading it on the train every day to and from work. “I would use every spare moment I had on that website reading article after article and post after post. It consumed me,” Tami said.
After three weeks, Tami decided to write a letter removing her name from the Church. “That’s when I announced [my departure from the Church] on Facebook, for my family to see,” she adds.
Tami jumped into her new lifestyle with vigor, anxious to defend her new hatred for the Church and to prove that she was happy. “Finally, I was free!” Tami wrote. “Free as a bird. I took flight. I flew right into a tattoo shop and got a blackbird singing tattooed on my leg.”
“I was free from what I thought were strict rules and people telling me what I could and couldn’t do,” Tami said. “I tried just so hard to convince myself that I was happy and free, and I got the tattoo as a reminder of that.”
“I started drinking," she continues. "I filled my fridge with beer and wine. . . . I took pictures of my fridge and posted them, yep, on social media,” Tami wrote on her blog. “I had a few people un-friend me on Facebook. I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why they would do such a thing! Weren’t they taught not to judge and love everyone?
“I in turn un-friended everyone in my ward. . . . I’ll show them! Hate consumed me. It flowed through my veins. Darkness clouded my eyes and my heart. I only cared about myself.”
Soon after Tami made her announcement, her father reached out to her and asked if she would be willing to meet with a friend of his that was serving as a mission president in Utah. Tami saw the invitation as a challenge and a chance to prove that the Church was wrong. She agreed to meet.
At this point, Tami had already mailed her resignation letter to her bishop. “He encouraged me to remove my name,” Tami said. “He told me that a fresh start is probably what I needed.”
Tami used this in her ammunition when she met with the mission president and his wife, but her plan backfired. The mission president asked her if she had any faith left at all. Tami told him no.
“Do you have any, any love for God?” he asked her.
This was a point that Tami couldn’t deny. Although she no longer believed in the Church, she did believe in God.
“If you do,” the mission president said. “If you have any, any love for God, don’t remove your name.”
That night Tami texted her bishop and told him that she had changed her mind and not to remove her name from the Church. But she was still far from coming back.
Life as an Anti-Mormon
The months went by. Tami continued to read the anti-Mormon website every day, and she joined a support group of ex-Mormons and met them for coffee once a month. She was given anti-Mormon pass-along cards, which she distributed to LDS friends who confided in her that their testimonies were suffering. “I’m not kidding when I tell you that I took my temple recommend out of my wallet and replaced it with these cards,” Tami wrote.
Tami’s husband had struggled with his activity in the Church for their entire marriage, so Tami’s change of heart didn’t affect him much. Their children, however, were very confused. “Before all this, I had been my daughter’s Young Women’s president,” Tami said. “To this day my oldest son doesn’t ever go to church and doesn’t want to have anything to do with the Church. I know I had a heavy influence on that.”
Her youngest son was nearing baptism age, but there was “no way I would allow him to get baptized,” Tami says.
A fear began to creep into Tami’s mind—a fear that if she died, someone would try to bury her in her temple clothes. To prevent the possibility, Tami built a bonfire in her backyard and ransacked the house for everything related to the Church. “I burned manuals. I burned my garments. I burned my temple clothes.”
There were only two things that didn’t make it into the fire—a temple-related gift that her grandmother had made for her, and her scriptures. “I tried to find my scriptures, but I could not find them. . . . I looked everywhere,” she adds.
Spring of 2014, a friend invited Tami to go to church with her for Easter Sunday. Because it was a friend who had continued to love and stick by Tami throughout the past months, Tami decided to go.
She only stayed for sacrament meeting. “There was one woman whose jaw literally dropped when she saw me at church. Because I had been very vocal about my feelings for the Church on social media," she says. "It was shocking for a lot of people.”
The experience didn’t create any change in Tami. If anything, the experience convinced her that if she ever tried to come back to church, she would not be welcomed.
A Spark of Curiosity
What did spark a change, however, was a conversation Tami had with another friend who is no longer a member of the Church. Tami had made a comment about her internal struggles to truly feel happy and free, and how she missed feeling the Spirit. Her friend said, “Tami, you know how I feel about the Church, but you know that the Church is you. You love the Church.” Tami explained, “That’s really what started me thinking, ‘Oh, gosh. I think she’s right.’”
That desire to come back was weak, but Tami found herself googling “Ex-Mormon returns to church” in the hopes of finding stories of others who had left and come back, but she couldn’t find anything. “It would just pull up more anti-Mormon literature. I couldn’t find anybody who left the Church and became an anti-Mormon and came back.”
Tami created a secret Pinterest board called “Going Back to Church.” It only had a few pins on it, but she would look at it every now and then.
In the meantime, Tami’s relationship with her parents and siblings deteriorated. “I was angry and bitter and they didn’t want to be around that,” Tami said. Although she felt like she was the same person—minus the Church—she realized later that wasn’t true. “I pushed them away because I was mad at them because they didn’t understand my journey.”
Despite the strained relationships, Tami texted her dad one day, “Is anyone too far gone to come back?” Her dad responded, “Of course not.”
Around the same time, Tami’s brother was visiting from out of state and they met up for lunch. She asked him the same question, and he bore his testimony to her of the same thing—no one is too far gone.
The Flood That Changed Everything
A week later, Tami got the news that a large storm had hit Idaho. Her parents’ home in Rexburg, which her sister’s family was living in while her parents were presiding over the Mexico Cuernavaca Mission, had flooded.
Tami was running errands with her husband when they got the news, and she began screaming and crying because she was so angry. “How could God do this to my family?” she said. “My dad was a mission president; how could He do this?”
As these thoughts festered in her heart, a wave of peace washed over Tami. “I knew then that only good would come of this flood,” she said. “It was the first time that I had felt the Spirit or anything like that in a very long time.”
A day or two later, Tami had a distinct impression to look under her bed. Sitting there were her scriptures—the ones she couldn’t find in her attempt to burn all tangible connections to the Church. She pulled out her Book of Mormon and “literally blew off the dust.”
Tami looked up and said, “Heavenly Father, I’m going to open the scriptures and it better be good.” She then opened the book in her lap and the pages fell open to Mosiah 26. “I read the story of Alma the younger, and again I looked up and said, ‘Really funny, Heavenly Father.’”
On her shuttle ride up to Rexburg to help with the flood, Tami listened to EFY music. “I cried the entire way, tears streaming down my face with this busload of people . . . my heart changed. That was the first little change of heart that I had.”
Before she got to Rexburg, Tami texted her brother: “Holy crap. The Church is true, isn't it?”
He texted back: “It is! What makes you say that?”
Her response: “This flood. The outpouring of love . . ."
An Analogy of the Atonement
Tami got to her parents’ home and was shocked by the damage. Since her sister was living there, her parents had moved all of their belongings to the basement. The flood covered it all, filling the basement with eight feet of water.
When Tami got there, she could see the water line of debris on the soaked drywall, almost as high as the ceiling. Grass was stuck to the walls. The floor was covered in mud, inches deep. Tears streamed down Tami’s face. “It was a muddy, disgusting, hopeless mess,” Tami said. “I just didn’t have a clue how it could be made whole again.”
Bucket by bucket, however, they hauled out the mud. “I saw strangers who didn’t know our family sift through pictures and lovingly place paper towels between each page of a journal,” Tami wrote. She realized, “This is what the Church teaches. This was Christlike love that I was witnessing first hand.”
The restoration company came in with a sewer pump. They squeegeed the floor and stripped the walls to the studs. Eventually, they were able to rebuild the entire basement.
“It became such hallowed ground for me,” Tami said. She knew she was that basement—a hopeless, muddy mess that could become new again.
Tami had a “brutal” talk with her sister and brother-in-law as she stayed at their house. Tami didn’t have a good relationship with either of them at the time, but this was a turning point in their relationship. Afterwards, she felt that she could prove that her change of heart would, this time, last. “I don’t exactly have the best track record,” Tami wrote. “I was just so glad that they gave me another chance.”
Going Back to Church
Tami promised her sister that she’d attend church when she got home. She texted the mission president, President Chambers, who she had met with before to let him know because he and his wife had promised they’d come with her if she ever decided to go back. She was afraid they would be too busy, but Sister Chambers said she would be there.
When Tami walked out the door Sunday morning, her neighbor asked her where she was going, and Tami told her she was going to church. Her neighbor was happy but told her she was four hours early. “I didn’t even know what time our ward started!” Tami wrote.
Tami went back home and waited and waited. She thought about when she’d been to church on Easter and the jaws that had dropped. She was a “nervous wreck.”
“You have no idea how terrifying it is to come back to church. I almost threw up the first time. I’m not kidding. I had such sweaty palms that I was grateful for a hug rather than a handshake,” Tami adds.
But she did it, and she stayed the whole time. She couldn’t leave after sacrament meeting because this time, there was a circle of friends giving her hugs and she couldn’t get away.
Tami said, “When you see someone walk through the chapel doors that has been gone for a really long time or has struggled, don’t ignore them. Don’t sit in your seat and listen to the prelude. Don’t just look at them. Get up and go hug them, and tell them how happy you are to see them. Put your arms around them and tell them that they matter and that you’re happy that they’re here. Offer them a place to sit next to you.
“That’s what happened. A lot of people came up to me that first Sunday back . . . and there were some that ignored me, but there were so many that hugged me and told me how happy they were to see me. And that made all the difference in the world.”
In that first Relief Society meeting back, Tami got an answer to a question that she’d been struggling with for a long time. During her months as an anti-Mormon, she’d told God that if he would just send an angel, she’d come back. “For me, that was the only way I’d believe. . . . I wanted an angel dressed in a white robe, with a halo and big, white wings. It didn’t happen.”
The answer was a quote that the Relief Society teacher put up on the board:
“The Spirit of God speaking to the spirit of man has power to impart truth with greater effect and understanding than the truth can be imparted by personal contact even with heavenly beings. Through the Holy Ghost, the truth is woven into the very fiber and sinews of the body so that it cannot be forgotten.”
“I almost stood up and raised my arms and said, ‘Praise Jesus. Hallelujah,” Tami wrote.
Tami’s Message to the World
Now, four years later, Tami feels truly happy and content. She has divorced and remarried and lives with her new husband and four of their combined five children in Harrisville, Utah. They were able to go back to the temple in March and will be sealed together on December 2nd.
“I teach Relief Society, which I love. I always wanted to teach Relief Society," she says. "We just bought a house in April, and life is really fun. Life is happy.”
“My message through all of this is that . . . changes of heart, miraculous changes of heart, are still possible in this day and age." She continues, "Your past does not define your here, your now, or your future. I won't let my past define who I am now. Because of the Atonement, I am just as worthy to walk through the temple doors as someone who's never left the Church. For that, I am beyond grateful.”
Tami hopes that by sharing her story, others who are struggling to come back to the Church or who are terrified of doing so will know that it’s possible. She hopes that if someone else googles “Ex-Mormon returns to church," they’ll find hope.
“I know why that flood happened. That flood happened so that I could come back to the Church and share my story," she says. "God can heal any heart and make it whole and happy.”