At one point in my life, I was president of my wards Young Women’s organization. I am sure that comes as a shock to many who may be acquainted with me online, but it is true- my ward trusted me with about 20 girls, aged 12-17. Among them, was a 12 year old whom I’ll refer to as Flor.
Flor has blonde hair that falls in curls and a face that looks most natural when it smiles. She talks a lot with her hands, and giggles and is buoyant and energetic. I met her as a 12 year old, stick thin and pale, in a shadier part of town. The missionaries I went out with were not too sure about her, because her mother was a drug dealer, and generally always high or drunk and what were the odds of Flor staying in church anyway? Better to focus on her friend Vickie, whose overworked mother was listening too—that seemed like a better bet.
It set something off inside of me- because at one point, I had been a child that was looked at as polluted (my mother had been divorced multiple times!), and as unsteady. I told those Elders that Flor needed Jesus too, and that she needed to be in church, and that she needed of a church family as a refuge from the life she led. I was stern and unrepentant.
I was there for Flor’s baptism and as president gave her the official welcome, only to have her jump into my arms, wet hair burried into my blouse as she excitedly said “I am Mormon now!”.
I have since moved away, but hear from Flor often- she has grown close to one of the sisters that served along with me, and 3 years later, out of Vickie and Flor, Flor is still active. She is still buoyant, still awkward, but she is still loved and she is still needed.
I have thought a lot about Flor these past few days- how bereft my life would be without her. How beneficial she is to her church family, how constant she is even through these fickle teenage years. How the logic of protection might be applied to her were the situation a little different.
After Thursday night, I knelt for a long time, asking my Heavenly Parents, imploring really, for understanding. If this was where I was to stay, why where we doing this? Why were we depriving children? Why were we doing it under the guise of protection? I thought of abusive relationships, where I would look at my discolored body, purple and hurting to be told that it was for my own good. It shrunk and distorted how I saw myself. It took years of unlearning. Why was my church doing this same thing to so many others, shielding itself behind God? I could not comprehend. I do not understand. I do not accept this spiritual violence.
I have been a walking wound, a Mary Magdalene as friends and relatives mourn, as they say good bye, as they must remove themselves from a body of Christ who calls them cancerous, who tells them that if only they become feet instead of hearts and hands and arms and shoulders, then they can stay. I have been rubbed raw with the salt of my own tears as message after message has flodded my inbox, from friends who take their time to testify and who urge me to find the truth, and who tell me to stop calling bad things good and I find myself withering. I have been that unwanted kid in one way or another. It’s the same thing, dressed differently. So much lecturing, and so little listening. I have started avoiding people.
My relationship with the church organization is difficult, but I am clear and sure footed in God. I think of the ways my Heavenly Parents have guided and loved me into being, of all the lovely things this Mormon journey has given me. I want to love others into being, into safety. I want other children, regardless of their circumstance to be shaped by love and I want that so badly for my church community.
I have been constant and fervent in my pleas, asking for something, anything that I may understand. I got a text message Friday afternoon, stating that my chapel was burning. It was burning and they could not put the fire out. I got on a bus headed downtown, and saw how the streets where blocked a few blocks away from the chapel. I got up, asking to be let down, with the bus driver telling me
“But ma’m, the road is closed- there is a huge fire”
“I know. I can walk”
“But they will not let you through m’am”
“I will walk, please, let me down”
And the doors opened to let me out. The stink of smoke filled my nostrils and stung my eyes and I found myself running, faster and faster until I reached my street and saw the cluster of cop cars at the entrance of my chapel. “The fire lasted for hours—that church burnt to the ground!” an old man exclaimed. It seemed appropriate. I thought of how fire purifies, and after a while I walked away, crying, from the smoke and from the hurt and from myself.
It has been four days since the violence started, and three days since my chapel burnt to the ground. A short-ciruit was the cause. My chapel will have to be demolished- there is very little left aside from ashes. It will take months. Members from my ward will start the clean up this morning.
I have also pondered on this too. On the fire, and on Flor and on the chapel.
I am like ashes, scattered.
I am like my chapel, destroyed.
I am like fire, a spark.
I am like Flor, loved.
I cannot leave. I find myself thinking that maybe this will be the short-circuit that burns the building down. That this will be the fire that purifies us. Maybe this will be the light that shines on all of the other injustices that we inflict on each other in the name of purification.
And maybe we can change things. Maybe we can clean this mess. Maybe we can love each other. Maybe we can build together— maybe we can build something better. I think on all the people who long for the warmth that comes from the light of Christ’s love. I think of all those who may be crying, hurting in the dark from the bruises inflicted upon their souls from those who would play God and tell them that it is for their own good. I can be a spark. I can be warmth.
I think on all of the Flor’s that the church will be deprived of, and I find myself encouraged to keep fighting. The world deserves bouquets of Flor’s. God has planted so many like her who need Him to grow and beautify and enrich the lives of flawed folks, like me.
I can stay to resist policy becoming scripture. I can work for Christ to come before bureaucracy.
I believe in a Christ so infinite, that he can make cathedrals out of ashes.
And maybe there is a light at the end of this tunnel.
I hold you all in my heart. I carry you whether you go or stay.
I am but a spark. Together, we can be fire.