As you may be aware, last week several FEMWOCEES presented or participated in panels at the annual Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City, UT. We are currently in the process of transcribing some of our presentations, and this is the first of them. Three FEMWOCEES — Gina, Kalani, and Fatimah — participated in a panel called Why We Stay, and this is the first transcription from that panel. If the grammar seems a bit more conversational than normal, please keep in mind that this is what was presented orally, so it is a lot less formal than some of our other work. Also, please be sure to check back throughout the next couple of weeks, as we will be posting more presentations as they are transcribed.
“Some of you are my facebook friends, and if you are, you know that I have been agonizing over this panel. It is incredibly intimidating to be the sole no-name. I feel like there are all of these amazing, talented, well-known people…and me. I am both humbled and terrified to be standing before you today. I used to teach 9th grade before I had four babies in 2 years, which I always thought was incredibly challenging because you have to constantly do a kind of song and dance routine to keep the kids engaged and interested, but as I have had opportunities to speak and teach adults, I’ve realized that it is a lot more challenging for me to speak to adults because…y’all listen. And, like, you expect me to have interesting and relevant things to say. So, I’m going for either great and memorable…or totally forgettable!
I am the black sheep in an otherwise very orthodox family. I was born into the church, got baptized at 8, rebelled a little bit and went to the University of Utah for 2 years on a volleyball scholarship, but then my sister committed to play for BYU, and I transferred so that I could play with her. And while I am grateful for that experience, I would definitely say that I have more of a University of Utah personality. I’ve been a “questioner” for as long as I can remember. Faith does not come naturally to me, and it is important to me that I know the “why” before I’m willing to “do,” which, as you can imagine, has made my life in the church a bit of a challenge.
It seems like every time I make a plan, at the last minute God changes it up. And it has happened far too often for me to think that it’s just coincidence. I’m one of those people who always wanted to be a mom, and I always wanted to have a lot of kids. But, while I was pregnant with my oldest, my now-ex-husband went to prison for 6 years. He got out when I was 30. So, when we were talking about family planning kinds of things, I told him, “Welp…you used up six of our chances at having children, and I don’t want to be super old and still having children, so I’ll maybe have one or two more.” And then it took a year for us to get pregnant. And then I miscarried. And I had all but given up hope that I would have a big family. And I had made my peace with that. And then, Heavenly Father said, “Well…I’m going to give you one…and then 11 months later I’ll give you two (twins)…and then 13 months after that I’ll give you one more…While you’re on birth control. It’s gonna be so fun!” And, I’ve always kind of joked that God has kind of a mean streak in his sense of humor. Because when he does these things, he says, “Hey, you said you wanted a big family. I’m gonna make it happen. And then I’m gonna send your husband back to to prison for another six years. Curveball!” And, I’ll be honest, I think I’ve tried to stay positive and hopeful, but there were a lot of dark days. And some days when I really wanted to take the advice that they gave Job and curse God and die. In fact, I’m pretty sure that in the midst of what we now refer to at my house as Barf and Poo Fest 2013 – which is every bit as unappetizing as the name implies – when my bed was covered in barf and I was scrubbing diarrhea out of the floor, and my babies barfed on each other in a stripped down crib, I distinctly recall looking up at the sky and flipping god the bird. Not my finest moment. But, I think God probably looked down at me and giggled. I’m telling you – that guy has a mean streak in his sense of humor.
Anywhooo…all of this is to say that last week I had FINALLY planned out, after agonizing over it, exactly what I wanted to say. I felt at peace about the direction I was going with my conscious decision to stay. And then, this past Sunday, my bishop called me into his office from the hallway to have a little chat. And he was awesome. And everything that I brought to him as a concern, he validated. And every question I had, he acknowledged. And he didn’t try to answer it if he didn’t know. And I feel like that old mean streak came out and Heavenly Father said, “Come on, now, Kalani…you know better than to plan too far in advance. You thought you were going in one direction, but you’re not. You have other things to say. CURVEBALL!!”
Which brings us to where we are today. And I do want to share just a little bit of what I was originally going to say because I think it is still relevant, but my focus has shifted a little bit, so bear with me if this feels a little bit disjointed now, but I want to share just a few of my original thoughts.
I stay because when I think about leaving, images of my family members and dear friends pop into my head, and, while I know they love me, I often wonder if they love the church more. I don’t want to be someone that they love “even though”:
“We love you EVEN THOUGH you’re not active.”
“We love you EVEN THOUGH you’re not a good example to our children.”
“We love you EVEN THOUGH we don’t think you’re enough.”
So, one of the biggest reasons I stay when things are dark and hard and sad is because of fear. It just is. But it isn’t the only reason why I stay. I attended Fatimah and Lisa’s discussion yesterday about “Finding the God that Calls to You,” and I cannot deny that God is calling me to be a Mormon…often in spite of myself. Things got really, really bad before I left my ex-husband, and, again, God with his twisted sense of humor threw me curveballs. I remember distinctly standing outside one night as I watched my husband drive away to go and spend literally our last $20 on beer and cigarettes, and doing that ugly “can’t catch your breath sobbing” kind of cry, and looking up at the sky and saying out loud, “is it ok for me to leave now?” And the distinct impression that I received is that the answer was “no, not yet.” And, I was so angry because I knew that I should stay, and I did not want to. And shortly thereafter, I was pregnant with my youngest, who is named Sofia. And we call her The Boss because she thinks she is. And she is so much fun. And I absolutely cannot imagine my life without this child, but if I had left when I wanted to go, she wouldn’t be mine.
So sometimes at church in the hard and painful and sad days, I do that ugly cry, and I look up at the sky and ask, “Is it ok for me to leave now?” And inevitably, I keep getting the answer, “No, not yet.”
So, I have accepted that for better or worse, I am a Mormon. And there are so many things about being Mormon that I love. When my twins came home from the NICU, the response from my ward – and particularly the women in my ward – was amazing and overwhelming. My visiting teachers set up meals for my family, people brought over gifts and made blankets and there was just a huge, HUGE outpouring of love and assistance from my ward. Women that I didn’t talk to on a regular basis at church called me up and said, “I want to come over every Tuesday for the next two months from 1:00 to 3:00 and watch your children. Please plan on having this free time to yourself to do whatever you need to get done.” I felt loved. I felt remembered. I felt like part of a community. And I feel like THAT is what this church is about. And I have been there on the inside – feeling loved and remembered and cared for, but I have also felt like I was on the outside. I felt forgotten and misunderstood and alone. So, when I think about “why I stay,” I stay for the sense of community. I want to belong to the body of Christ. And, as one who was shown such love and kindness, but who has also felt extreme isolation and sadness and loneliness because of my membership in the church, I not only want to belong to the body of Christ, I also want to be the reason that others feel they also belong to the body of Christ. I want to stay to make a difference to the marginalized…to make people feel loved and feel remembered and feel like they belong. Because isn’t that what we all want: a feeling of love, and of community, and a sense of belonging?
I do believe that there is a place for everyone in the church, and I also feel like there is a place for everyone outside the church. I believe that everyone has their own path, and that that path may legitimately lead out of the church. There are people called to paths outside of the church, and one day that may be me. But, for the foreseeable future, I stay to make a place for others who want to stay. I stay to make a place for myself and my children. I stay because I love the gospel, and I want to bridge the gap between my understanding of the gospel and what I see happening at church. I want to make things better. I want to widen the circle of the church and make it welcoming for all. I never want anyone to hear “I love you EVEN THOUGH.” I want my brothers and sisters to feel loved and validated and accepted and wanted and important, and I want to be one of the difference makers. And that is why I stay.”