A Letter to Mormons

Dear Mormon Neighbors,

Having lived in Gilbert for most of my life, we have been visited by many young, passionate, Mormon missionaries throughout the years. Recently they have been offering their help with anything we may need assistance with. These exchanges always include the typical pleasantries where I thank them for their generous offer, and add that, “no, we don’t need help with anything at this time.” After their last visit however, as the young men pedaled away, I realized that I do have a request. A request that has been bubbling beneath the surface, unspoken for quite some time now. A desire that began formulating in my grade school years and has been refined since having children of my own. The next time a Mormon missionary asks if there’s anything they can do for me, I’m going to humbly and vulnerably reply as follows:

  • Please teach your children to be inclusive of my non-mormon children and please guide them to carry that inclusion past grade school, into middle school, and throughout high school.
  • Please encourage your children to sit with mine in the lunchroom.
  • Please permit your kids to invite my kids to their slumber parties, birthday parties, and weekend get togethers even AFTER my child has made it clear that he or she is not interested in attending fireside, seminary, or church with your family.
  • Please allow your teen to go with mine to school dances, athletic events, and group dinners trusting that just like you, my husband and I have done the best we know how to raise a teenager who knows right from wrong.
  • Please welcome my children into your homes and permit your children to visit ours.
  • Please ask your kids to consider how isolating it must be on “Seminary (extra credit) Days” for those kids who do NOT come to school dressed for church.
  • Please reflect on the fact that adolescents spend the majority of their waking hours comparing themselves to their peers, so when they recognize that it would never be “acceptable” to date your son or daughter or be your son or daughter’s best friend, it is, at best, damaging to their delicate self-esteem.
  • Please call to mind your younger years when your primary objective was to be loved and accepted for who you were without having to pretend you were someone else.
  • Please understand that my families faith also emphasizes the importance of loving others, giving of ourselves, forgiving those who have wronged us and seeking forgiveness when we wrong others, doing what is right and turning from evil, seeking a relationship with God, spending time in prayer, and living a life inspired by Jesus.
  • Please support your children in having open, vulnerable, honest, transparent, loving, kind, accepting conversations with my children about what they believe and why. In fact, while our kids are having that “grown-up” conversation, I also hope to enter into this depth of sharing with you…the Mormon parent.
  • Please know that I hold your child in the same regard as any other child who shares my family’s faith or who prescribes to no religion at all. Your child is special, and beautiful, and worthy of my love and caring regardless of doctrine or theology.
  • Please believe that I see our differences as an opportunity for us to grow together in loving-acceptance. God did not call us to “tolerate” our neighbors. He called us to Love. I love and welcome you, your family, and your faith because we are all children of God made in His image. Your faith is a sizable component of who you are, and you are God’s creation with gifts and beauty and a soul that has the ability to positively transform my life with each encounter.

As these hopes for my children spill out, I realize that these are the same yearnings I had when I was too young to express them and they remain yearnings for me now. I would like to know my Mormon neighbors. I would like for us to share our celebrations and mourn our losses together. I would like to enter into deep relationships with you that allow us to celebrate our differences and lift each other up versus silently judging one another from across the street or the backyard fence. I would like us to hug and share dinners, and text jokes, and go to movies, and have pool parties, and discuss politics, and cry and laugh, and live life together. These desires have never been expressed because I never felt important enough to express them, but now that I have children there is nothing more vital than ensuring they have a deep sense of belonging to this village we chose to raise them in.

For decades now I have felt an invisible yet palpable partition between my family and our mormon neighbors…a silent criterion that has said, “we can’t be that close…we can’t walk this life together too often, we can’t be intimate friends unless we share the same faith.” I want to tear down this barricade and abolish this silent destroyer of fellowship. I fear we are forfeiting valuable friendships and life-changing communion with one another as we allow religion to segregate our lives.

We are not that different. Our children are not that different. We are all living in a beautiful yet broken world doing the best we can with what we have. With inclusion and acceptance we can lighten each other’s burdens and love each other through the brokenness. We are all damaged humans, so let’s be damaged together. As our fractured pieces are assembled together, we will transform into a magnificent and vast tapestry of vibrant hues and unity…we can weave our hearts into a community of “us”…dynamic threads of surviving souls stretching out to reach each other, love each other, understand each other….staying true to ourselves while supporting one another. Loved and loving! Fully belonging!

Sincerely,

Renee’ (your hopeful neighbor)

P.S. I am not proposing that Mormons are the only religious group that could receive a request comparable to this one, or that this applies to every Mormon. I’m also not assuming that I wouldn’t, myself, benefit from reading the same words and applying them to my life with regards to another group or an “other,” an “outsider.” I believe every religion and every denomination could benefit from being more inclusive, but I write this letter in relation to my own experiences and memories and the concerns I have for my children. My Jewish/Agnostic husband could write an identical letter, based on his history, and just change the greeting to Dear Christians or Dear Italian Catholics. We can all admit that it feels good to belong to a group, but too often it’s at the expense of living a life void of those who are different from us, and I believe this is a tragedy. It is exhausting to correctly locate and consistently remain in the good graces of the right “club” these days. Race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, political affiliation, socio-economic status, neighborhood, state, coast, country, profession, and the list of ways we etch the invisible line goes on and on. I find that when I try too hard to belong to a particular group I lose sight of God’s vision for my life, which starts with loving “others” the way He loves me. We are created for community, and I believe our lives will always be richer if we truly follow God’s commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. I pray that God will give us the courage to knock down walls, the strength to build bridges, and the grace to love with out qualifiers. I pray that my children will grow up loved and loving! Fully belonging!

Tao of Toddlers

My 2 year old son, Isaac was doing his very best to patiently wait for his cousin Brayden after a basketball game. I use the term “patiently” loosely, as Isaac was running the length of the gym , sliding feet first into the mirrored walls on each side, and then licking said mirrors, all while laughing hysterically. Then, Isaac spied his favorite thing….older kids doing something without him (how dare they!). Isaac is drawn to older kids like a moth to a flame, desiring to do everything they do regardless of how complicated or dangerous the activity might be. An adorable 4 y/o boy and 6 y/o girl were playing a game of tag, and Isaac immediately began his attempt to keep up, running as quickly as his little legs would carry him. He was completely oblivious to the fact that he was being ignored and was in no way a part of their game. It took a few minutes before the older boy finally acknowledged Isaac. This sweet, age-appropriate bossy boy, pointed his finger at my son’s chest and said, “we’re not playing with you. It’s just me and her playing…not you!” I watched from afar as Isaac tried to understand what he was being told. The boy attempted to confirm that Isaac understood the limits he had just set. He stopped pointing his finger and made the fatal mistake of raising both arms, shrugging, and saying, “ok?” This was the moment Isaac decided that a hug was clearly the appropriate response. Isaac gave both kids a big squeeze as if they had just nominated him President of their exclusive “We’re Older and Bigger Than You” club. Within minutes, the hearts of the older kids visibly softened as they began to make room for Isaac in their play. The older boy took Isaac by the hand, guided him to “base” and then taught him how to tag. My sweet son decided that tagging should be hugging instead, which they graciously tolerated. Even when Isaac began tagging his own reflection in the mirror, they laughed with him and then patiently redirected him to their game. By the end of the evening these 3 beautiful children were friends. My heart melted as I watched this loving interaction and I was struck at how 3 young children had innocently illustrated the power of loving-acceptance and kindness. I couldn’t help but think of my own life and the times I have reacted to others in a way that wasn’t at all what I hope to model for my son.

Watching these kiddos taught me:

  1. When we judge, we lose the opportunity to forge a new friendship
  2. We can be forgiven for our misguided behaviors and thoughts
  3. Someone “different” can teach us a new way to play the game of life
  4. Loving someone who has hurt us can heal more than one heart
  5. We must believe we’re worthy before expecting others to believe the same
  6. When we are vulnerable we find ourselves loving others before judging them
  7. It’s easy to love those who are kind to us. It’s courageous to love those who hurt us

I’ve hoped to model for my son a love for others that is fearless and authentic and vulnerable, but as I watched this evening unfold, I realized that these qualities already live and breathe in young children. They don’t need adults to demonstrate these virtues, they need us to foster and protect them, as they face the hurts and disappointments that come with growing older. What I thought was my responsibility to teach my son, was actually a lesson I needed to learn from him.

The next time I’m tempted to judge someone, I’ll think of these 3 children and remain open to experiencing a new (and possibly more joyful) way of approaching life. And, the next time someone tells me that I don’t belong, I’ll remember that the most appropriate response is to love them anyway!

The Biggest Lady

I’ve been awkwardly tall my whole life. The kind of tall where people immediately assume I played basketball, first base, and was never asked to prom. When I was a little girl I dreamed of competing in gymnastics, riding horses, and being on the top of a human pyramid. I might as well have wanted to be a little person. My favorite book in grade-school was BFG (Big Friendly Giant) because I could relate. My dad was always telling me to stand up tall and I was always looking for ways to appear shorter so I could avoid startling the 4ft soccer player I sat next to in 7th grade. It was my curse to always have a crush on the late bloomers or the stalky short-stop who would certainly french kiss my belly button if he ever leaned in for a smooch. Needless to say, being tall was terrible for my love life and I developed what I fondly refer to as a Goliath complex (thankfully sling-shots are no longer the weapon of choice!) As a result of my Goliath (AKA: T-rex, Frankenstein, or Godzilla) complex, I spent grade-school, Jr. High, High School, and college making flat-shoed shoe-makers extremely wealthy.

Years after I graduated from college I met a beautiful, tall, heel-toting, confident woman in my church choir. We naturally became fast friends (because we saw eye to eye) and eventually she persuaded me to own my colossal-ness and buy my first pair of heels. It was a big day…I was finally taking that step…I was growing up…I was ready to kick up my heels and if the shoe fit, wear it! I found a beautiful pair of patchwork leather boots (2 inches high) that came to my knees and fortunately Kohls carries behemoth size, so I tried them on. They were hot, they were sexy, and as I walked toward the mirror to take in this newly confident and proud woman, a little girl pointed at me and shouted across the shoe department, “Mommy, look at that giant lady!” Needless to say, the only thing I left the store with that day was a bruised ego.

Fortunately, with years comes maturity and I did eventually let go of my insecurity and embrace my giganticness with pride (heels and all!) It was about this time that my husband and I went to Boston to celebrate our dear friend’s marriage. We had a wonderful time dancing and toasting and drinking. At the end of the night we were winding down at the bride’s favorite Boston bar when the groom’s father stumbled over to me and put his arm around my shoulder. Clearly having had enough to drink, he leaned into me and slurred, “shhhyou’re a big shlady.” Knowing how embarrassed he would be if he knew how insulting he had just been, I attempted to dig him out of the hole by responding, “well, I wouldn’t say I’m big, but I am quite tall.” I quickly realized that he was determined to bury himself alive when he replied with “no, no, no, shhhyou’re the biggesht shlady in the room!”

Just once, I would like to feel like China in a Bull shop.

With that being said, what I love about getting older is that I no longer feel uncomfortable in my own skin, even if I AM the biggest lady in the room. Height is my family’s calling card and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m proud that I can help get a toy off the roof, find who I’m looking for in any sized crowd, turn the ceiling fan on and off with the fan chain, and step over child-gates, hurdles, and tennis court nets without ending up on America’s Funniest Videos. I am exactly the height I was meant to be and so is that powerful cheerleader at the top of the pyramid!