I buckled my new shoes and checked the mirror. A respectable grey pencil skirt grazed my knees, set off nicely by the happy poppy-red of my cardigan. Titling my head, I fasted the small gold hoops in my ears, then fumbled the clasp of the thin gold chain as I attempted to hook it under the wave of thick, loose curls blanketing my neck. Tiny beads of sweat dotted my nose, and I tried hard to keep my hands from trembling. I was determined.
Coming up behind me, Jon gently lifted my hair and fastened the necklace with steady hands, and kissed the top of my head. Today was the first Sunday in our new ward, and my trembling hands betrayed the put-together exterior. In the eight months since we were married, we had continued to attend church each Sunday in the ward where he had lived for a decade. We had imagined, somewhat naively it turns out, that people would rise above petty gossip and manufactured prejudice and allow their better natures to shine- or at the very least, withhold judgement until their own experience gave them something on which to judge. We were wrong.
To be fair, it wasn’t everyone— it wasn’t even the majority of folks— who took it upon themselves to treat me like Hester Prynne. The last eight months had been a real-life object lesson in the old idiom “A few bad apples spoil the whole barrel.” I don’t go to church for friends, or for a social life. I didn’t grow up in the Mormon church, and I didn’t even join as a young adult- I was mature, near 30, and already a wife and mother when I was baptized. I have a rich social network and deep, abiding friendships that transcend distance and ward boundaries. I go to church because I have aligned my life and made promises that I will. I go to church to renew my covenants, to think about Jesus, to teach my kids, to serve others, and to find ways to be a better person. I go to church because going is an act of faith. I go to church because some Sundays, that act of faith is all I have to offer.
I knew attending my husband’s old ward was going to be rough. His divorce had been incredibly hostile and protracted, taking literally years— and the threat of a trial— for it to finally be finished. He did everything he could to avoid making a bad situation worse. One of his conscious decisions was refusing to speak ill of or slander anyone. He never shared the stressful and awful details of what was actually happening. Wards being as they sometimes are and human nature being as it all too-often is, people gossiped anyway.
I walked into a ward where, as I was told by leaders, “the well has been poisoned.” The problem was, it wasn’t just me walking into a terrible situation- it was us walking in with my three children, and on alternating Sundays, with our combined five children. One of the problems with salting the earth behind you is that it might end up being your own children who cannot be fed.
Our clergy was kind and supportive. We were asked to please give them a chance, and we did. There were some very kind people who reached out to us, people who invited us over, who included the kids in activities, and who were friendly and thoughtful. But one can only sustain so many tiny cuts before the cumulative damage becomes too much to bear. That moment came down to my children.
When a person allows misinformation obtained through gossip and their disdain gleaned therein to color how they treat innocent children, the gloves come off. The last straw happened when an adult disliked Bean’s behavior and literally picked him up and squeezed him. I was a few feet away around the corner, but aware of Bean’s activity; I was utterly disregarded in this person’s decision to physically discipline my child. Bean ran crying from the person and hid under the sofa in the foyer. I heard what happened from an adult who had witnessed the incident.
Once was bad enough. It happened twice.
We requested our records be transferred that day.
Jon holds my hand tightly as we walk into the new ward. I hope my nerves don’t show. We are both hoping here we won’t feel as though we must wear our Recommends around our necks just to prove we are worth human kindness. All five children are with us this first day, and we are immediately greeted by the bishop and his counselors, who take the time to speak to each of us and each of our children before the service begins.
After the service, the youth leaders immediately introduce themselves and offer to show all the children to their classes. They are so kind and friendly- all five children, including Bean, happily head off with their peers. Jon is still holding tightly to my hand. As we stand near the back of the chapel, people warmly welcome us to the ward, they shake our hands, and smile. I had forgotten what being fellowshipped felt like- and I am suddenly aware of how parched and battered my faith had become, as I feel the simple water of basic kindness filling my spirit.
Jeffrey texts me from his Sunday school class “Mom, there are three other gingers! I like it here. I already have a friend.” That’s a win. Bean stayed in his class the entire time, and didn’t even use his ear-protection. The scout and young women’s advisors both speak to us, and welcome our kids to their programs. Jon and I look at each other and exhale.
There is a knock at the door after church. We are in various stages of changing out of our Sunday clothes, and children are scattered all over the house. It’s the bishop, stopping by to check on us. He spends time talking with each of the kids again, saving Bean for last. Taking his phone from his pocket, he proceeds to talk video games and minecraft with Bean, talking and keeping him engaged. Bean finally bounds off to get some toast, and I feel the water that was filling my limbs earlier suddenly well into my eyes.
I didn’t know how tired I was, how heavy the burden had been, until it was suddenly set down. I don’t go to church for friends, but it also was suddenly apparent, neither can I go it alone. No matter how solid or well my husband holds my hand, fellowshipping is a necessary part of Christian life, and those waters Christ promised us truly are life. And we do, in fact, find it that life in each other.
I’m so grateful to be back.
If you find yourself in a situation where you feel justified in treating someone poorly, or feel God needs help in dispensing judgement or sorrow, I invite you to step back and consider yourself. It’s unlikely you have all— or even a big enough part— of the story to make that call. If you’ve only heard one side, you only possess a fraction of the truth. Consider the words not spoken— they may, in fact, be truer than all the gossip. There is enough pain in life without adding to anyone’s burden.
14 thoughts on “River Song”
I am so happy you have found a good ward family. It really makes all the difference.
Love this. I’m happy that your family has found a ward where you can feel safe and loved.
Amen, Tracy. It showed through in the ward I grew up in when my parents split. My mom stayed, my dad poisoned the well against her and left. It was disconcerting to attend my childhood ward and feel ignored by people I love and had admired. Luckily the ward split and my mom was allowed to start anew with the comfort of supportive neighbors and new friends. I hope this new ward continues to buoy you up.
So many thoughts going through my mind….experienced the same from yw leaders who literally drove my daughter from the ward….self righteous people who feel justified because someone doesn’t measure up to their “standards” the damage that has been done is inexcusable….Good for you having the courage to move your records. Good for you standing up for your son. Good for you taking a stand. And good for the other ward members who welcomed you and your family.
A very good friend of mine went through an acrimonious divorce while in our Ward. She did not handle it well and a lot of cruel words were aired via social media. She made her ex-husband out to be a sociopath and even went so far as to tell the single sisters in another Ward about all of the horrible things he had done so that they would not consider spending time with him. Eventually she moved away and her ex moved back in to the Ward. He proceeded to serve faithfully however and wherever he was asked and earned the respect of most of the other members. He did not talk about the divorce at all as far as I know. I believe my friend really felt everything she said about him was true but in this case he came out looking much better than she did. I think being in the Ward and riding out the gossip was very brave of him, but he didn’t have kids that would also be affected.
That was our thought, too- and why we agreed to attend that ward as long as we did. I was willing to absorb a lot, and he honestly thought if we just kept showing up, people would see things weren’t the way they believed. And some people did see that, but when it bled over onto the kids, that was a bridge too far. We are much, much better off in our new ward, and we moved with the blessings of both bishops and the stake presidency.
This post broke my heart. To think that people could be so swayed by one person. Even worse, that anyone would feel it their right to ‘discipline’ your child is despicable. So glad that your leaders recognized that and you found a good place to be. I hope those in the previous ward see where they erred and change their actions. Fellowshipping is a blessing to both those being fellowshipped and those who are providing it.
It’s so sad and disheartening to have some members of the church treat others with such unkindness callous disregard.
Renn and I had a long talk about this. And how much it ties back to your awesome past post about how adults should behave during divorce (which post I just keep sharing, over and over again.)
I’m sorry your kids had to deal with the fallout of other people’s poor choices, that always brings out the mama bear, but hopefully they are learning about dealing with the fallout of other people’s poor choices, since it doesn’t seem to be an avoidable plight.
Thanks, Em. How I handled my own divorce and my children is one of the things I tried really hard to do right. I’m not perfect and have undoubtably made mistakes, but I’ve learned taking the high road where the kids are concerned is always— ALWAYS— worth it. It’s not always easy, though.
I have no idea what any of the five kids will take away from this. No doubt it will be different for each of them, and even more different between my three and Jon’s two. Very divergent lives to navigate.
Thank you everyone, for your kind words. We’re doing much better now, and we are happy with the choice we made. We’re also happy our clergy supported us completely in making that decision.
So glad that your family was able to find a safe place to learn and grow…with the support of your leadership.
That makes me so sad. If there is any place that should be welcoming, safe and forgiving it should be church! I’m glad you found a new ward to go to. Some wards just aren’t what they should be.
This is so true. Fellowship is part of going to church–just being with others and sharing God’s love and growing because of those relationships is so important. I’m glad you and your family have found a place where you are happy!
What you experienced in your new ward, THAT is the fruits of the gospel. THAT is what it looks like when people try to have Christ like love. That is what is missing from the ward I left 3 years ago. It is too exhausting to do it all alone. It becomes not worth it to even try to go. I am so sorry to hear what happened to your son. Thank you for writing this though, it is one of the most beautiful things I have read in a while.
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