Monday, December 2, 2013

I'm a coffee drinking Mormon

I was born and raised Mormon. My ancestors on my dad's side (the Petersens, Bennetts, Smiths and Gadds) trekked across the plains to get to the Promised Land, Mormon Mecca, Zion (i.e. present day Salt Lake City). Many of them died on the plains and there are amazing stories of faith, resilience and miracles on that journey. I can't wait to meet them on the other side (although I don't plan on that being any time soon).

My dad is incredibly faithful. He loves the Mormon faith as much as he does God and his family. All of us are One. You can't have one without the other so separating any of those three entities is impossible. I grew up believing that the disobeying the Word of Wisdom was one of the biggest sins I could commit, that my value as a Daughter of God was somehow tied to my virtue (i.e. being a virgin until I was married and then, only then, having "relations" with my lawfully wedded husband and no other), that tank tops and shorts above the knee were not allowed once I had gone to the temple, that I needed to wait for a nice returned missionary to take me to the temple so we could be together for time and all eternity, and that my greatest role in life would be to nurture my (many) children and my husband. (My mom converted to the Mormon faith when she 20 years old and she is far more liberal than my dad in her thinking. That said, she is still very conservative in her lifestyle, political views, and choices. My mom, though born and raised in Montevideo, Uruguay, is 100 percent Italian, which is why we are going to Italy in June.)

Even at a young age, I questioned all of those "values" and decided to forge my own way instead. I ran everything I heard in church through my (extremely flawed) "Lizzy-filter." Since I was (am) totally rebellious by nature, I mostly just looked every rule in the face and broke them all. Whether that was in my best interest or not.

So when it came time to go to college, I had two options of where to go: University of California at Irvine (UCI) or BYU. I did not want to go to BYU. When I told my dad I picked UCI and I already knew who I was going to be roomies with, he said, "That's great. I hope you know how to pay for it. But if you go to BYU, I'll pay." I packed my bags and headed to Provo, Utah to attend BYU.

Within a week of moving into the dorms, I found every partier like me. Within a few months, my weekends were spent at one party after the next. If there was an option between studying for exams or going to a party, that was an easy choice. I finally got booted from "the Lord's University." I transferred to the University of Utah with my friend Emmy and never looked back.

When I no longer had all the rules to rebel against, I started making better choices for me. I stopped drinking (for the most part), went to church sometimes, and graduated from college with every high grades. And to this day, I'm still an "active" Mormon.

That said, I'm Mormon on my own terms, which makes me extremely left of center. And the whole Mormon-guilt thing? Well, I've just let it go (for my own sanity). One day, I was sitting in Relief Society and the teacher was rattling off a bunch of things we "good" Mormons need to do, like doing our visiting teaching, allowing home teachers into our home, daily scripture study, daily scripture study with our children, family home evening, daily prayer, monthly fasting, tithing, fast offerings, temple worship, three hours of church meetings on Sundays, magnifying our callings... It started making my head spin and my heart pound. And that's when I said "that's enough". And I took my sanity back and started living Mormonism on my own terms, being the best that I could and letting the atonement (hopefully) take care of the rest.

So, to me, Mormonism means...
  • I drink coffee whenever I want to. That is about three times per week
  • If they're serving champagne at a wedding, I'll probably join in the toast
  • I wear tank tops and shorts above the knee all summer long and I allow (encourage) my daughters to do the same
  • I went to the Mormon temple twice. I didn't like the experience and I haven't been back
  • If my daughters want to go to the temple some day, they'll take themselves. They (I hope) won't wait for a boy to take them. If they go with a boy, they'll go together
  • My value, nor anyone's value, is not tied to the virginity (really, are we living in the Middle East?)
  • I can't find any doctrinal reason why women can't hold the priesthood if they want to and if they are worthy
  • I do think that motherhood is one of our most important roles ever. But then again, so is fatherhood for men
  • I believe in equal roles for men and women. Period
  • I don't judge others (or teach my daughters to judge others) based on if they have one ear piercing or many, or a tattoo (in fact, I allowed my 13 year old daughter to get a second ear piercing, which I think looks beautiful on her)
  • The whole polygamy thing makes me red hot mad (can we say misogynistic loud enough?)
  • I don't believe in the infallibility of priesthood leaders
  • I don't believe that a 13 year old boy who has the priesthood conferred on him is more spiritual or has more power than, say, the Pope
  • I believe that God loves gay and lesbians, too, and I'm perfectly OK with same sex couples being allowed to marry. If God doesn't recognize those unions, He won't
  • I don't believe in excommunication
  • I find three hours of church meetings on Sunday intolerable. I can handle two. On the rare occasion that I stay for all three meetings, I pretty much regret it every time
  • Once Morgan's friend was with us in the car and she was talking about how the Bishop asked her to read a paragraph out of the Strength of Youth booklet. I had to stop her right there. "Hey, Brooke, just because someone in the church - anyone in the church - asks you to do anything you don't want to, the answer is 'No thanks, I'm not comfortable with that.' No guilt, no second guessing yourself, period. Got that?" Brooke was stunned. "But he's the Bishop." I went on (probably her parents hate me for this but, oh well). "Brooke, I don't care who it is. If it isn't comfortable for you, you politely say no. Now, do me a favor and say no." She did, "No." I smiled. "See how easy that was?" Morgan chimed in, "See, this is what I mean. We are Mormon sort of but not that much. We do our own Mormon stuff." True. But overall, we embrace the message
  • I supported the Wear Pants to Church on Sunday movement and support Gay Pride Parades
  • I laugh at my religion when it's silly, which is often
  • I do not like that all our gajillion church buildings in Utah are locked up most of the time every day. When I was sick and moved to Utah, I wanted to find a peaceful place to pray and meditate. Could I go into a Mormon church? Oh, no. I found a nice Catholic church where I found solace during cold months. I would sit in the pews and pray and cry and beg God to let me live and get better. When the weather improved, I discovered canyons where I saw the work of God with my very own eyes. That was a better place to meditate and pray. And then I found my yoga studio, which was healing on its own. But nowhere in a Mormon building did I find any kind of comfort whatsoever and that is not cool
  • I can't stand Open Mic Sunday (ie Fast & Testimony meeting). I find it cringeworthy when young kids get up to give their testimonies and I won't allow my children to do it until they're old enough to really understand and believe what they are saying
  • I do not wear the Mormon garments. I just don't allow my church to dictate the type of panties I should wear and how often
We take liberal church holidays. I have no problems saying "no" when someone in the church asks me to do something, I swear like a truck driver, and I even watch rated R movies (and allow my 13 year old to watch select R rated movies, too). I often role my eyes and things I think sound nutty in church, and am the first to blurt out a-typical Mormon thoughts in Sunday School. My dad cringes every time I speak up because I think he's afraid of what might come out. Too bad-- I will not be silenced.

While I might have Mormon views outside the mainstream, the church teaches so many concepts that I love and, while typical of many Christian faiths, seem to be specially branded "Mormon." Like...
  • Loving God and Jesus
  • Trying to be a better person every single day
  • Putting family and God first
  • Being morally clean
  • Having high values and doing your best to live them
  • Forgiving and loving others
  • Helping others
  • Being self sufficient and reliant
  • Being honest and virtuous
  • Living a clean lifestyle (dang, I love the "clean" part)
  • The personal nature of God and the encouragement to pray often to Him for guidance
  • The very nature of the Godhead
  • Treating your body as a temple
  • The tight community of Mormons
  • The work ethic
  • High value placed on education
  • The love of the arts, music and dance (William, the girls and I just went to Handel's Messiah after walking around Temple Square to see the lights; I had chills during the Messiah. I swear, I felt like God was right there. It was amazing and inspiring and I wanted to go back to Temple Square and feel the warmth of its light for a very long time. The whole experience felt so beautiful, angelic, pure and perfect)
  • Mormons, in general, have such faith, resilience and optimism, which are all wonderful attributes

Mormons can be incredible and trustworthy people. And gullible (although, truth be told, I'd opt for gullible over the ugliness of alcoholism, drug abuse, and domestic abuse any day- hands down).

Mormons tend to be so dang nice. If I'm ever in a pinch, it's Mormons to the rescue with meals and rides, and visits, and promises of blessings from the missionaries. I always feel so at home and welcomed among the Mormon flock.

Case in point... I went to Europe in 1999 for 18 days. It was a fabulous trip but by day 17 I was ready to go home. I was walking near Westminster Abby in London and not too far ahead, I could see two 20-ish year old boys in suits and I knew: missionaries! I ran up to them. It was like a piece of home was right there in front of me. "Hey guys! Mormon missionaries!" I called out (I refuse to call boys Elders, even if that is their official title). The looked at me. "I'm Mormon, too! I graduated from the University of Utah!"

They were kind of speechless and waited for me to say more. When I didn't, one said, "That's nice. "Did you want to know when and where to go to meetings in Sunday?"

"Oh no," I said. "I just wanted to say hi. Good luck with the whole converting new members thing. God bless!" And I want on my way, somehow feeling far less homesick.

Another time, I was getting on a plane in Yekaterinburg, Russia and I heard a man behind me say, "That's a welcomed accent." Clearly he was American and before I even turned around, I knew "Mormon missionary." He was elderly, maybe in his 70's.

Once we got on the plane, he handed me a huge binder with all the humanitarian aid projects that they had done in Yekaterinburg in their two years there. I mean, really significant, mind-bogglingly cool, things that make huge differences in the lives of people. One was a woman who couldn't walk for years and her husband had to carry her anywhere she need to go. They purchased and gave her a wheelchair. He mobility increased exponentially. I could go on and on but I was stunned and deeply humbled by the stories in that binder and I couldn't stop crying. They were angels. The Mormon church, who sent these missionaries out to do the work and funded it, were angels. Some day, I'd love to serve a humanitarian aid mission.

William's daughter is going with a BYU-sponsored church group for high school teens to Belize in July to build homes and water treatment facilities-- all paid for and sponsored by the Mormon church. If Morgan were old enough, I'd pack her bags and get her on a plane for that project too. Next year. That is truly exemplifying Christ's teachings. There's a song in our hymn books that sums it up: "Called to Serve." It's one of my favorite. Many of our hymns at church are really super boring and depressing- like funeral music. But not that one. We sing it with gusto.

I've been asked many times if I have a testimony of the church. Good question. I believe that the Mormon church is a fantastic place to find God, learn to love and emulate Jesus, and to be better people. It provides structure and rules and that is incredibly important for many people. But there are other church's that can, and do, accomplish those things every day. For me, the Mormon church still hits all the big important things for me and that's why I keep going. I truly believe it helps make me a better person. Or at least, it helps me strive towards that goal.

I'm Mormon. It is me, through and through. I'll never leave the church. And the church, I suppose, will have to accept me the way I am. Since I'm not leaving, move over fellow Mormons, and make room for me in your midst. Crazy Mormon opinions and all.

I'm so incredibly proud of my roots. And I'm good with raising my daughters in the Mormon faith (with caveats). I teach them to love their Savior, to be good and honest and kind people, to work hard, respect others, to stay away from alcohol (though consuming alcohol, which I don't have a problem with, and alcoholism - which is the heart of evil, are two different things) and drugs... To do your best and let the Mormon guilt go. Be forgiving of themselves and others. Good Christian virtues.

But I love coffee. I think God is ok with that. He knows me and forgives me for my faults. And since I've been battling with cancer, I can honestly say that I do my best. Every.Single.Day. I push myself beyond my limits and I know that He helps me and props me up when I think I can do no more but I find just enough strength somewhere inside of me to go further. And I know that the concepts I was taught from the cradle to today help me in my quest to be a better person, daughter, mother, friend, and human.

And for that, I am eternally grateful.

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