Doing Hard Things (Bernie, Brandy, and Paige)

This last episode (Episode 7, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”) of Seeking Sister Wife was honestly very hard for me to watch. This difficulty had nothing to do with the quality of the filming or of the editing. It had to do with the raw truth of the matter: polygamy can be very difficult at times. And this episode, more than any of the previous episodes, highlighted many of the difficult things about it. Part of the reason it was hard to watch was that it showed the difficulties even well-adjusted, loving plural families (or potentially plural families) can experience.

We saw the very tense and awkward moments when Vanessa’s sisters were visiting in Los Angeles. Dimitri puts it so succinctly when he says that people are going to fall off, meaning relationships will be severed one way or another. It is a sad, painful, and unnecessary reality. We even got a glimpse into the struggles of (arguably) the most functional of plural families, the Alldredges, when Sharis tells about how she sometimes misses Jeff on nights he is not with her.

What’s more, it’s not just theoretical, or televised “plural families” that can have difficulties; it is my family. Watching this episode was difficult partly because it brought back memories of our own difficulties trying to live as polygamists in a society that largely frowns upon that. Fortunately, we have overcome most of those difficulties, both with others and with ourselves (but we’re not perfect yet), and things are so much better and smoother than they were in the beginning. There is so much to talk about in this episode that it is almost overwhelming.

As a plural husband, Paige McGee’s melt down was so hard to watch. I can tell that Bernie has a genuine, deep, and abiding affection for his wife. He is hurt when she is hurt. He is concerned for her welfare, for her physical and emotional well being. A person’s own emotions are difficult enough to manage. Handling other people’s emotions requires an added measure of patience and control.

I’ve talked about Paige’s issues with jealousy here and here already, so I won’t address it again – there’s not much more to say. Jealousy is natural and jealousy can serve a positive function, but jealousy also needs to be checked before it turns into envy. All that aside, I feel for Paige in this episode. When it comes to changes in plural marriage, the first wife has got some of the biggest adjustments to make. To be sure, everyone involved has to make some pretty huge changes when a new wife is added to the family. Of course, the biggest changes to any family come with the addition of the first two wives.

It is arguable that the biggest and most difficult changes accompany the marriage of the first wife. This is when the family is first forming, and therefore is experiencing the most dramatic changes. Consequently, this can also be the most difficult time for a family. I am speaking in general terms here, but the risk of divorce is highest during the first few years of marriage. There are so many adjustments that need to be made! And so many different types of adjustments – mental, physical, financial, logistical, etc. The stress can be crushing. But commitment pays off, hang in there, and give it some time and effort. Things get better with every passing year, and just because marriage is sometimes hard doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it!

Of course, adding the second wife is a huge adjustment for everyone too. The new wife has to adjust to being married (just as the first wife did), and adjust to the rest of the family and the first wife as well. The first wife has to adjust to her changing schedule both with her husband and also new interactions with the second wife. The children will certainly have adjustments to make, and the husband will obviously have a large additional load on his shoulders as well.

I don’t know the McGees personally (but I’d like to; they seem like very nice people) but my guess is that the mixture of emotions Paige was feeling have a lot of basis in a fear of the unknown. This fear is largely informed by our culture, which includes our family, friends, churches, laws, and a multitude of other factors. As I recall, Paige talks about her family playing the role of devil on her shoulder in the first episode – whispering doubts and encouraging envy. We saw some of the same with Vanessa Cobbs in this episode too.

Yes, it can be difficult. Yes, the fear, the jealousy, the envy, the uncertainty, and the negative responses are all real, but none of these things are sufficient reasons to give up. They are all obstacles to overcome, and, much to Paige’s credit, she pulled thru in the end! She is not even the one who asked Bernie to come back – that was TLC (and I think that was a bad move and poor form on their part). Regardless, it looks like things turned out anyway. It would have been an absolute tragedy if the date had not gone thru.

I feel for Paige and the difficult emotions she is dealing with in this episode. I feel for Bernie and his loving concern for Paige. And I feel for Brandy too! What thoughts must be going thru her head as she is waiting out in the car alone while Bernie gets called back in to console Paige? She seems to handle it well tho.

Paige knows what she wants, even if it is hard, and I admire her for that! Hard things that are worth it. We could easily make a list of a hundred things that fit this description (some harder than others) – things that you want and are willing to work and sacrifice for: Marriage, child birth, raising children, going to school, training for a marathon, quitting smoking, changing your life for the better, cleaning your room, getting up in the morning, going to work, going to church, etc. You get the idea.

There is pain and emotion connected to all of these things. That is real, and that is something that has to be dealt with if you want to accomplish anything useful or good in this world. Just because these things are hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do them. Just because they make you cry sometimes doesn’t mean you should give up. It is an uphill battle. Be patient with yourself and others. Things take time, and there will be setbacks. Get back on that horse and keep riding!

Happiness

“If they’re happy with her and they make her happy, then I’m happy.”  Bree 33:30 Season 2 Episode 6

This. This exactly.  So.many.times, this is the type of response I have wanted, but it has not been something that has been expressed upon disclosure by people whom I have had relationships with the longest. Rather, there has been outrage, upset, and hateful words and deeds.  There are literally 5 people, who are close family or long-time friends, whom I have disclosed to in real life that did not express some form of hateful judgment, or have their spouses want them to limit contact with me.

Why?  Why do people insist that others stay in a prescribed box, and not allow them to act according to the dictates of their own conscience?  Why wouldn’t they give latitude for grown adults to make their own decisions and live their lives as they see fit?

Surely, it can’t be that they think they are the only ones going to Heaven?  Because I don’t think that all that many actually are; regardless of whose signatures are on that piece of paper carried in their wallet or purse.  A thorough, actual review of the Bible never condemns polygamy as these non-scripture reading folk seem to be blissfully unaware.  They prefer to avoid the scriptures in lieu of pastors, preachers, and others dictating to them what they should believe rather than the actual Word of God.

I can only assume that those who react the most vehemently are either somehow dependent on what I do for them in order to be okay with their own lives, or else they are people who insist that everyone have the same belief system that they do.

Both points of view are frankly dangerous. They are the basis for either being unwilling to live one’s own life, or they are the basis for extremists to enact violence against others – as has happened through ages past. This is a possibility that we are very sensitive to, and there is generational sensitivity to this.  Sadly, many other polygamists I know have been the subject of persecution, discrimination, and various forms of abuse and even violence.  Not just at the hands of individuals, but also at the hands of religious and civil authorities as well (for example, the cases of Short Creek in 1953 and the 2008 raid on the Yearning for Zion Ranch.

Because of the history of and possibility for violence, I am all the more grateful, for those few who have expressed that they simply wanted me to be happy.  They are like beams of light on a dreary day.  They have created a small net of safety in the face of uncertainty, and I consider them true friends.  Their friendship is as precious as gold, and likewise untarnishable.

Gold

The Winder Family Comes Out of Hiding! or Hidden Wife, Hidden Life.

The second episode of Season 2 of Seeking Sister Wife is by far my favorite episode to date!  There are so many funny moments! I just laughed out loud on more than one occasion.  One was the very awkward conversation that Bernie has with his son John.  Oh man, you just can’t make that stuff up!  The confusion on John’s face was just priceless.  Bernie, from one father to another, I think you handled it well.

Another time that got me laughing was actually in the preview for the next episode where Vanessa provocatively orders a piece of red meat on her first date with Dimitri.  This, of course, was after she learned that the Snowdens are essentially pescatarian, as a matter of family policy.  But she likes her steaks and cheeseburgers!  Such a funny situation, and very bold of Vanessa.  I know it sparked some interesting conversations in my house, and I am sure there will be more to come.

Perhaps the funniest moment, however, was the public debut of the Winder family.  The situation was just too comical for words, and probably more funny for me because I know, first hand, the courage it took to do something like that!  And yet, despite all the emotional buildup and bravery, there was no one to appreciate it but some ducks.  It’s just too funny!  It reminds me of that old saying about sounds and falling trees in the forest.  You know the one: if a polygamous family comes out in the open together, but no one is there to see it…?

winders at park

Baby steps, baby steps.

In all seriousness, I think divulging themselves to the ducks is an admirable first step!  It means they have personally, and fully, embraced the reality of their own family, and are ready to take the next step, and that can be one of the hardest things to do.  Honestly, this may have been the best way to do it.  If they could go together, as a family (and those are not the same things), to an empty park (but where the possibility of being seen is a reality – where the sense and prospect of danger are real) a dozen times before actually going out where people would be guaranteed to see them, they would already have gone a long way towards conquering their personal fears.  And of course, they have gone quite a bit farther than that now.  What with being on national TV and all.

I remember, with a twinge of PTSD, our own efforts to announce the change in our family when we became plural.  The fear and uncertainty were so intense at times!!  And the losses were bitter and painful!!  But it has all been worth it.

There was fear of the repercussions from so many angles!  And it is the same for most, if not all other polygamous families.  We faced social, familial, and religious shunning wondering what our neighbors, friends, coworkers, family, and fellow church members would say, or how they would treat us and our children.  We were especially keen to the possible social consequences for our children – the decisions were horrible!  There were also financial fears, and legal fears.  We could go to jail, I could lose my job.  Every. Single. Thing. that we had worked so hard to gain and build – our family, our home, my career, our children, our friendships, and our very reputations –  was literally at stake.  It could all so easily come tumbling down into a broken pile of smoldering garbage.  Everything could be lost, and there was literally no earthly help or community that we could fall back on for support (however, we have built or received all of that community and support structure since).  It seemed sometimes that it was us against the entire world (and us against ourselves at other times).  Prayer was almost as common to me as breathing.  I look back on those days with wonder, and almost awe, that we survived at all, and I thank God that he walked us thru that fiery furnace.  Yes, the refining was intense, and our fears were not at all misplaced; yet, we were also given peace and courage sufficient to meet our fears, face them, and overcome them.  It was an amazing roller-coaster ride!

Scariest-Roller-Coasters-in-the-world

We had letters written to us by family members accusing us of adultery and other sorts of gross wickedness.  Similar letters were sent out to other family members, warning them of our dangerous influences.  We had death threats against us, the police were called to investigate us, ecclesiastical leaders were called to discipline us, and child protective services were called (DCFS) to remove our children.  But nothing came of any of these attacks.  There was no weapon forged against us that prevailed.

Melissa’s children were even kidnapped by her parents for a short time.  They were going to send her kids up to Washington State to live with their deadbeat father who is generally unstable, has lived in dozens of locations, is a known drug addict, owes 6 figures in child support, has been physically abusive, has multiple arrests, is into prostitutes, and has been married to 6 different women!  Can someone please explain how that is better than a man being financially stable, providing for his children (in both emotional and financial ways) but being married and maintaining a healthy relationship with 2 women!?  It’s crazy!  Literally crazy! Eventually, they relented and changed their actions when they realized that they were the felons (kidnapping) and not us (polygamy was alegal in Utah at the time of the kidnapping – thank you Judge Waddoups!).

We were openly uninvited to family parties.  I had family members that I hadn’t talked to in years, go out of their way to reach out to let me know that they disapproved of my life.  We were all excommunicated from the church that we had been born and raised in.  But when we kept on attending as non-members, my daughter was abused by her Sunday School teacher, and the church gave us legal notice that we were unwelcome in the most profound way possible.  We were not even allowed to set foot on any church property anywhere in the world!  The McGee family sadly describes a similar experience with their Synagogue (I’ll have a future post on this topic).

We literally had former friends place curses (in the name of the Lord – of course) upon us and our family.  I’m not making this stuff up.  I couldn’t.  I can hardly believe it now.

I used to ride a van pool to work.  It was convenient because the van would meet at a parking lot just one block from my house.  Rain or shine I would always walk in between my house and the van pool.  After we became plural, I remember being so grateful for the change in daylight savings time – just so I could walk home in the dark and not have to see my neighbors.

I thought about the 6th lecture on faith many times during those days.  Especially verses 5-8.

For a man to lay down his all, his character and reputation, his honor and applause, his good name among men, his houses, his lands, his brothers and sisters, his wife and children, and even his own life also, counting all things but filth and dross for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ, requires more than mere belief, or supposition that he is doing the will of God, but actual knowledge: realizing, that when these sufferings are ended he will enter into eternal rest; and be a partaker of the glory of God.
– LoF 6:5

I remember having Jesus’ parable of the man building a tower brought to my mind so many times!  Those words were a steady a source of strength and inspiration for me.

At some point, everyone needs to live an authentic life – in my opinion.  The potential dangers and discomforts of the many forms of persecution are eventually outweighed by the desire to simply live rightly and face the consequences – whatever they may be.  Sophie Winder expresses this in the first episode when she talks about not having to be the hidden wife anymore, and Tami mentions it in the second episode when they are planning their outing to the park for Sadie’s Birthday party.  There comes a point when you are ready to just be done hiding.  There is no need to act rashly or foolishly, but when the time is right you’ll know it.  Hopefully, you will then have the courage to carry it out and see it thru to the end.

Despite all the hardships we endured, there have still been some good and true friends who have stuck by us while the false have fallen away.  Also, there have been plenty of new friends, a thousand times better than the old ones.  Some family members too, from the beginning, have maintained and reaffirmed their love and support of us, and that has been wonderful.  There are even some family members, originally antagonistic, who have now come around in some ways, and our relationships are healing.

Things have calmed down significantly for us since then.  The roller-coaster ride has slowed and transitioned from almost constant nausea to almost constant enjoyment.  There are still ups and downs, but we are enjoying the view and the thrill of the ride much more now, and we’ve loosened up our grip on the safety bar – now that our fear of certain and sudden death has subsided.  Even so, it has taken us years to fully come out into the public eye.  Starting this blog has been another step for us, and I’m so glad Charlotte did it.

elephant

We told our friends and family one by one.  Maybe there was a better way, but at the time it seemed like the most manageable way to handle all the upset and emotion.  Like eating an elephant one bite at a time.  And I suppose we are still not finished.  When Melissa and I were married we had no public celebration, but we are finally getting around to doing it this summer!  Let us know if you want an invitation.