This last Saturday, I was invited to take part in a panel on Alternative Latter-day Saint Families. After struggling to figure out how exactly a single mother was alternative, I prepared the following remarks. Most of this was not used in the panel discussion, and we instead talked about my son and his preference for wearing tutus. Go figure.
It’s Saturday morning in November. It’s unclear if the sound of rain gurgling down the gutters wakes me, or if it’s the cold little feet of my daughter under my side as she flops sleepily, arms akimbo, in the pre-dawn light. When I fell asleep to the muted monologue of Letterman, I was alone in my bed, but as happens so often now, I wake with one or several little people pushing on my warmth and needing their mama.
My children are young still- 4, 7 and 9. Our rearranged family life has mercifully settled safely into new routines since the upheaval and storm of last year- and we’re all glad that is behind us. It remains to be seen what kind of long shadow divorce and their father’s absence will cast on them- but I have no delusions- there will be shadows punctuating their sunlight. Some of those shadows will probably even be cast my my own actions, as hard as that is for me to admit.
Juggling full-time school and part time work with the needs of three children is like spinning plates most days. Last year, when my life imploded, I took my children and moved us to a small rental house in the same ward. In just a few short weeks, my children lost the only home they remembered, and all contact with their father. The weight to provide for them, to make “home” a safe place– whatever form it took– was heavy on my heart.
Once upon a time, I was like so many women- LDS and not- who give up their career and stay home with young children. Devoting myself to making our home special and beautiful wasn’t just enjoyable- it was my calling, my life. And I was really good at it. I might still be. It’s just that my priorities seismically shifted and now making wreaths from old book pages feels not only frivolous, but downright vain. These are the activities of luxury- of a woman who knows the mortgage, heat and grocery bills are taken care of by her husband, who’s sole job is to make the home a refuge from the world and be a mother. That woman is in a place of privilege. I’m not knocking her- I used to be her- only now my face is pressed to the outside of the window, looking in on her pretty life. And it’s a whole different world when you’re outside, looking in.
A sister in my ward told me earlier last week that as she was complaining of her life, she thought of me and realized how great her life was. She had no idea what a sledgehammer her words were to my gut. My life is not an object lesson in failure because my Norman Rockwell picture went up in flames. What should be ridiculously obvious- but apparently is not- is that being a Mormon isn’t about what your family looks like, or what circumstances earthly life has placed in your path.
Being a Mormon is being a part of something that is indescribably beautiful. It’s about a change in your heart; a change that may have taken you entirely by surprise, or that may have been years in the making. Becoming a Latter-day Saint begins in a million different ways with a million different trajectories, but it ends up with us looking at one another and seeing the reflection of god in each others faces. Sometimes, I fear we forget this. We forget, in our individual myopia, that we are all woven together- that we don’t just seal nuclear families together- that the utterly breathtaking goal of our faith is to seal the family of humanity forever, to progress and learn to be like God. For us, salvation is a collective communion.
This is a miracle- and this is why I am a Later-day Saint. The rest of it just falls by the wayside in the light of something so vast and awe inspiring. I am worthy in every way to claim my faith, no matter what my family or my world looks like. I believe it and I am a Mormon.