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!

The Importance of Being Ourselves

Have you ever admired someone so much that you trip over your words, behave in strange ways, and ultimately embarrass yourself while trying to be the person you THINK they want you to be? Have you ever looked up to someone with such reverence that you actually avoided being around them because you were afraid you might make a bad impression? Maybe you’ve tried too hard and walked away feeling inauthentic and even silly? If not, how lovely for you! 🙂 If so, then I want to tell you that you’re not alone and I want to encourage us all to be true to who we are regardless of our proximity to those we’ve placed on a pedestal.

My neurologist is a brilliant and lovely woman in her 30’s. Being her patient has me believing that I still have the opportunity to make something of myself, and that if I spend enough time with her I will acquire some of her success through osmosis. Early on in my treatment I was confident that one day we would tour the nation sharing her knowledge and my story while dramatically changing lives. (In an effort to be completely transparent about the level of my delusional day-dreaming, I must admit that I also believe if I ever met Steve Nash, Jewel, Brene’ Brown, or Jen Hatmaker, we would be BFFs).

Shortly after my future touring partner had her first baby, I went in for a quarterly appointment and had a bit of a cough. I spent the entire appointment feeling guilty that I was exposing her to my cold. I worried that my germs would be carried home to her newborn, and that in turn, the rapport we needed to establish prior to traveling the country with our transformative message would be hindered. The appointment was brief, and as she walked me out and shook my hand, I left her with this sound advice, “make sure you wash your hands!” Like a Jewish mother frantically calling her adult son on a Saturday afternoon insisting that he floss immediately because gum disease runs in the family or a Christian father telling his 30-something divorced daughter that no man will buy the cow if he can get the milk for free, I unnecessarily and unabashedly advised my doctor to wash her hands!

Whatever would she do without me and my sageness?

I was so embarrassed by my unnecessary counsel that at the next appointment (weeks later) I brought up the exchange and apologized for being thoughtlessly overbearing. Then, with all the accountability I could muster, I blamed my bossiness on my childhood. I explained, (in my defense) that I was the only girl of 4 children, and with 2 brothers 11 and 13 years older than me, I grew up with a lot of disciplinarians at home. Consequently, I turned to “leading” (or what others might unkindly and more accurately call bossing) the neighborhood kids. I’m told that I would direct everyone to sit in a line and then proceed to “teach” them. I can only imagine that these lessons included tips on how to avoid spankings, how to secretly feed your vegetables to the dog, and what to do when your parents threaten to “pull over the car!” After my sincere apology and lengthy justification, she assured me that she didn’t think a thing of it. Of course I knew the truth…I was convinced she had gone home that night and laughed with her husband about her “astute” patient who brilliantly encouraged her to wash her hands. I imagine their conversation snowballed into, “What would I have done without her keen instruction? I bet she counsels her pastor to pray, directs her therapist to meditate, and cautions her personal trainer to stay hydrated!”

As I received my treatment, I thought long and hard about how I could make light of our last encounter and “totally redeem myself!” This time, as my lovely doctor walked me out and shook my hand, I let my wit loose on her and said in what I think might’ve been an overly sultry voice, “and you can do whatever you want with your hands.”

In an effort to vindicate myself, I managed to unintentionally hit on my neurologist. Who does that!? Well….I do, obviously!

This is a light-hearted example, but what I’ve learned is that it rarely plays out well when we try to live up to the self-inflicted pressures of fitting in, impressing others, or trying to belong. We can avoid a lot of discomfort by resting in who we are and loving who we were made to be. As I allow myself to be the quirky, “helpful,” and sometimes sultry (ha) person that I am, I will build a community with people who appreciate those traits and allow me to lean in while fully belonging.

You are uniquely made and made to be you. You will experience true fellowship when you stop striving and start being. The impression you leave with your authentic self is so much more beautiful than the image you create when trying to impress.

Be you! You are enough!