It's been a road since this post. She sits and she sits. I actually don't think I've written anything about Mormonism since, except small blips on the 'ol instagram. I still like that post, and feel what I wrote. But as constant as time changes, I've also changed. Or, I'm changing, rather. Present tense.
And another one bites the dust
Oh why can I not conquer love?
In terms of a simple update, I'm still sitting. I may move positions and stand up and stretch from time to time, but still I sit. And I reserve the right to change my mind any time because it's mine. I feel peace knowing that. I've also had some experiences that I want to share, and I might have found the space to write after wrestling it out for a while. And also because of Sia's song Elastic Heart, which helped push me over the feeling ledge the other night and into a writing one (and you'll see some of the lyrics littered through this post.)
And I might have thought that we were one
Wanted to fight this war without weapons
How do you feel about a mother holding her baby during a baby blessing? I want you to think about that for a minute without being colored by stories or handbooks or experiences (which will follow with my own.)
The mother and her baby stand and walk to the front where they are encircled by brethren who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood and who have been asked to stand in the circle because they too are lovingly invested in the child. The father of the baby (or whoever has been asked) administers the blessing by the power of the Melchizedeck Priesthood while cradling the child along with his/her mother. When I envision this scene, it feels natural. The first time (nearly 3 years ago) I heard about this idea, I immediately felt peace surrounding it. What a wonderful way to bring the importance of family into sacred parts of our routine practice. I fully felt the words from the pages of Neylan Mcbaine, that this was a wonderful way to include women into Priesthood Ordinances without the ordaining.
So I asked. Two years ago when Sullivan was born, Matt and I went to our Bishop and asked if I could hold him during the baby blessing. He had never been asked this before, and said probably not as the Handbook states "only worthy men who hold the M.Priesthood may participate in naming and blessing children." I understood what he was saying, but I'd like him to take it to the Stake President. He did, and then I received a call a few days later with a no. Once again, stating the handbook outlines it as such, and so no. He and the Stake Pres were gracious and loving and I have no ill will toward them, and I appreciated the time that was taken and the direct response to me personally.
And since there's no sense not writing the truth, I was crushed. Sad and angry, and mostly heartbroken. I felt personal loss of love from a Church in which I'm incredibly invested. It felt a small thing to hold my baby, and I felt dismissed by tradition. Brene Brown writes about heartbreak in her book Rising Strong, and one part says "Heartbreak is always connected to love and belonging, and broken hearted are brave because they dare to love. Heartbreak is loss (or perceived loss) of love. Much more than disappointment, because you've given your heart." To say that I've given my heart over the past 30 years as a member of the LDS church is accurate. I wonder if most members would agree because it's built to be our identity and our actions and our life. If you continue in Brown's book, "Heartbreak can cause grief. Grief is loss, longing, and feeling lost. Loss of what I thought I knew, longing for what used to be or something new to be solved, now feeling lost on how to recover." I definitely waded through heartbreak and grief, and also felt gratitude to be able to do so. I felt brave for asking and also thankful for a response, even if it wasn't what I had hoped. I felt the heartbreak and allowed myself not to hide from the pain, but leaned in and hoped it would help me become stronger. I also felt a little disbelief about something that seems so small in the spectrum to be denied because of rules or appearances or stats quo.
And I wanted it, I wanted it bad
But there were so many red flags
So Matt and I carried on. Sullivan had a wonderful blessing day surrounded by love and family, and no one but a close few knew what had taken place. I asked to be removed from any callings for some time (both to take a break with my new baby and also because I needed some separation from any callings), and started paying close attention to the WHY behind my behaviors. We've still been sitting on the pew because I love it and also because it feels comfortable, but I was trying to make active choices and no more going through motions. My love for Heavenly Parents and a Savior has stayed mostly in tact, while my relationship between "The Church" has ebbed and flowed. Which brings us to earlier this year when we were lucky enough to welcome Moses into our family. Another baby which meant preparing for another blessing day.
You did not break me
I'm still fighting for peace
As the time was getting closer to a usual blessing day schedule, we once again approached our Bishop (a new one had been called) and also the Stake President (the same one from 2 years prior.) I like to follow the counsel to "go up the chains" because that's what we're told to do if we have questions. And so we put it into action. I do have to qualify (which I dislike doing, but I know it's necessary on occasion) that we love and respect both of these men, and they both have had enough experiences with myself and our family that I would consider us familiar. I've also given books to my Stake Pres and have openly expressed myself on many issues which could be considered uncomfortable (and he has known me for the majority of my life even, since I was a youth in his ward.)
So, we expressed our desire for me to hold Moses while Matt administered the blessing the next month in a Sacrament Meeting. We did approach with a few reasons: It is not a saving ordinance, it would offer a wonderful experience for us to participate in a Priesthood ordinance together as husband, wife and child, and also because I'd heard stories of this happening in other wards and wondered if this were something that could be adapted for more mothers. The Bishop was thoughtful and hopeful with his response, but once again asked to speak to the Stake President before giving an answer. I did joke with him that I could just do it without asking, because if I walked up to the stand with Matt and just held tightly to Mo, I bet no one would stop me because we're super polite and also usually bad at handling awkward situations. Turns out we still had a sense of humor about Mormon stuff ;)
Well the Bishop got back to me after talking to SP and the answer was no. The handbook outline was still in play, but they did give me the option that I could hold Moses if we blessed him at our home. So no at the church, but yes at our house. I was taken aback by this reasoning, but once again Matt and I were thankful for a response and we said we'd think about what we wanted and then set it up. I was not heartbroken this time, whether it was because I was myself stronger or had lower expectations or a combination of both. After a week or so of discussing, we decided we'd do it at home two weeks later.
So that's where it could have ended. We blessed Moses at home like so many other people have done, I held him, and that was our experience. Buuuuut it gets a bit more storied from here. Matt was casually talking to his Dad about events surrounding the blessing (as a son does with his dad) and David decided to write an email (since he has a personal email of one of the Apostles because they've known each other a long time.) He wrote a very sweet email about how Matt and I have always supported each other in love and in the gospel, and then ended the letter with this, "...they decided that if they wanted to bless their baby in their home it would be OK , but not in Church. Your counsel is always given in love and I would love to hear what you may have to say on this."
A loving Dad/grandpa writing to someone he knows about an opinion (who also happens to be called as an apostle) and ends with a pretty open-ended "what do you think?" question. He forwarded it to us and Matt and I were surprised, but also figured we'd hear about it if/when David got an answer. I had already done the direct questioning in the proper Church channels, and we were moving forward with an agreed to plan.
Well, I've got thick skin and an elastic heart,
But your blade --it might be too sharp
Within 48 hours of that email being sent, a person from the "office of the twelve" contacted my Stake President, who then called my Bishop, who then called Matt and then me (all during a work day for all of us) to inform us that it was not acceptable for me to hold my baby at church or at home during the baby blessing. The Bishop was nice and felt like a messenger (who probably didn't want to be shot) and also asked if he and the SP could come over and visit with us, if that would even be helpful. We declined because we needed to process, decide what we'd do, and frankly because we felt flabbergasted. We also wanted to contact David and see if he'd received a response, and inform him what had taken place since sending that email (ha... what a whirlwind when I write it all out.)
David never received a direct response (still hasn't), which means that email was received (by who? I wonder) and our personal information then had to be looked up in order to find our stake information and know who to call, and all so a message could be relayed down the chain that I couldn't hold my baby (which if I'm being snarky, is like asking to be a chair. A female chair who is holding a baby inside a circle.)
Then another one bites the dust
It's hard to lose a chosen one
So we took some time to digest this turn of events, decided that we'd have the blessing in Sacrament meeting at our church building with friends and family. Matt and I sat down together to pray for our son and write down our feelings on what we hope for his life, and he delivered the blessing beautifully with the help of the spirit. It turned out to be a wonderful day where we focused on our sweet new baby boy, found specialness in the ritual, and shared tenderness within our marriage. And once again felt thankful for responses to questions, even if we didn't agree. And still don't agree.
The initial shock has gone away, and we've studied the feelings surrounding what happened. I could look at it like a blessing, to have received an answer straight from the top (I don't see it this way.) I could also look at it like a witch hunt, void of love from high up authorities trying to shut down "appearances of evil" (this rings truer for how I feel.) I feel linked to a tiny part in a movement full of women trying to have a voice, and also completely helpless to the system of patriarchy. I feel love from heaven as we parent these miraculous babies, and angry at the broken human world in which we reside. I feel like another straw has been added to my human experience, and sometimes I want it to break me and sometimes I feel my back getting stronger. Matt has had his own emotional journey through this too, and it's hit him harder this time than with Sullivan's blessing.
You did no break me
(You did not break me)
I'm still fighting for peace
Like I wrote at the beginning of this post, I'm still sitting. No one gets to remove my Mormonness from me, but I cannot deny that I haven't been shuffled around. I personally have asked to hold my babies twice, and have personally been told that was not acceptable by my church leaders (all who are male) both times. I wasn't asking for the Priesthood. I wasn't asking to be a witness in a saving ordinance such as baptism (which I also have feelings on, in case you're wondering), and I wasn't trying to cause a scene in the middle of a sacred meeting. I once believed it should be insignificant who holds a baby during a blessing, as I feel heaven's involvement with the sacredness of the ritual and the power of Christ through the Priesthood for the baby either way, but I feel it has to be significant now. Men who are no longer participants in the Priesthood or even removed from any type of Church activity level are frequently asked to participate in an effort of inclusion with the hope they might feel the spirit and return. But a 30 year faithful woman who is trying her best to feel the spirit and stay actively involved was denied. Are we worried about appearances? Is the gender in a circle ultimately most important? Was it simply because I outright asked for it? Heaven forbid a policy comes out agains this (as I've heard it's happening in various wards.)
Matt asked me the other night how I think it should have been handled (because we were discussing how it wasn't handled well.) I paused at that question before answering, because it felt like leaning toward a solution instead of just complaining. The Church either lets the wards/stakes handle something themselves, or they don't and that removes power from the local leaders. My direct leaders who have served with me and know my situation personally had come to a decision that felt appropriate, and we were moving forward. There were no protests or angry words exchanged, just some members talking about a situation that concerned us directly. And then HQ got involved, and the care and love was stripped from the situation. Matt and I felt hunted down like we were doing something wrong. I had a few words with my Stake Pres last month and he even seemed a little flabbergasted himself and couldn't quite put words to the situation, but thanked me for trying to stay positive through it (since we happened to be at girl's camp and I was fulfilling a calling with a genuine smile on my face.) I wonder if the Stake Pres and Bishop felt reprimanded (which is usually the case when those higher in authorities change a decision you've made, not saying this is how they felt as I cannot speak for them), Matt and I definitely felt chased down, and a personal email was never responded to directly. So I take issues with what happened.
Well, I've got thick skin and an elastic heart,
But your blade--it might be too sharp
I'm like a rubber band until you pull too hard,
Yeah, I may snap and I move fast
But you won't see me fall apart
'Cause I've got an elastic heart
I have not hidden that I'm trying to decide what kind of Mormon I can be in the current culture of the church and world. I'm trying to remain flexible and to not allow cynicism to take me over. I still happily serve in non-Sunday callings and care about the ward and the church. I'm nourishing my personal divine relationships and will walk out of classes in which I may not agree with the topic (I'm tired of being frustrated after attending church.) I speak up whenever I'm guided, I sincerely care about others, and I'm not afraid to discuss uncomfortable topics. I know we have women issues and gay issues and racist issues that need to be discussed, as well as a slew of other things, but don't often find places to do so within a local level. It's more or less business-as-usual in most of the meetings and classes, and I am craving more depth to everything we're saying and doing. Even if it means we don't agree! Because as I'm coming out of my baby blessing situations, I can see we have work to do and room to grow. Even if that growth never comes with practice or policy changes (but please bless it sometimes does), it can come within our relationship to each other and in the growth in conversations. We have not capped our potential with regards to communication, as it has no cap. What I learn from my experiences will be different from someone else, but I do believe learning needs to be taking place. Learning and growth go hand in hand, and maybe it could lead to more people standing hand in hand.
I have been hurt. I understand we live in a world where people hurt each other. But like Sia, I have an elastic heart. Even after hurt I can believe in good. I want to believe that the Church entity is doing it's best, as well as the individual members. We're better people when we believe people are doing their best, but also acknowledge that we can always learn or improve. I've set better personal boundaries on my own relationship with the Church, because boundaries keep away resentment and I don't have time for resentment or anger to rule my life (I already have a knack for anger, so I am fighting to rid that emotion as my go-to anyway.) If people are incapable of being perfect on this earth, then so it goes with entities as well. More forgiveness and patience will be required, but also more hard conversations and people speaking. So here it is, I'm speaking my story and I'd love to hear yours. Do you have feelings or solutions surrounding what you've read here? Let's discuss openly with each other and see where it takes us. And don't you worry about me,
I've got an elastic heart.
EZ's Blessing Day// Sully's Blessing Day// Moses' Blessing Day
(Putting all three of those pictures next to each other makes time feel heavy. The heavy of a baby sleeping on your chest; so happy it's happening mingled with the sadness that it won't last.)
Listen to Elastic Heart here if you please.