International Series: My Story

IsabelleWe are thrilled to feature new voices and new perspectives, many from women who are posting for the first time in English. Their voices have been missing from the conversation about gender and Mormonism, and their posts highlight the diverse experiences of LDS women throughout the global church.

Today’s post comes from Isabelle. Isabelle lives in Sydney, and is the mother of three grown children and two grandchildren. She is happily divorced,  lives with her cat, and is ‘so happy on my own.’

When I first joined the church, I was a 14 year-old teenager.  I had heard an advert on the radio, and ‘these people’ (Mormons) called him Heavenly Father. I had felt out of place my whole life from having French as a 1st language in an English-speaking country, and also by the fact that I was bought up Catholic. I was dubious about the ‘vengeful and horrible God’ taught to me, because He always showed Himself to me as a heavenly version of my earthly father.

The people didn’t impress me much, and I didn’t impress them either. I felt immense pressure to conform quickly to LDS things, and I felt like that was the last thing a scared, child convert needed.  I was mocked and treated like dirt by most of the young women I was “teamed with” by being looked down upon and left out of things because I was not the ‘norm.’  But I know I was sent to this little chapel in Australia, not just to be taught, but to also teach others too.

I learned about MY Heavenly Father’s plan, His love for me, my kind of eternal family, church community, and trust. I was taught that someone who comes from somewhere else, has been somewhere else, has done some pretty stupid things was just as capable and worthy of being a member of the church. It was claimed that as church members, we accepted all people, but that wasn’t really the case. Secretly, it was very different.

But I stayed.

Over 25 years I’ve watched the church change, and for 25 years members of my ward watched this ‘outsider’ fight for the church in my own way. I had married a non-member because I fell pregnant and became a teenage mum, and as far as I knew, once you have a child, you are family. Period. Frankly, I didn’t know that I did not have to marry this particular man. So I did. And it was bad. At times, I was a total mess, living with someone who grew to be a violent man, and having to balance between worlds of Mormon and not Mormon.

The only thing I would stand up to my husband about was about going to church. I insisted, at great personal risk. Yet strangely enough, he would back down quickly and I would take my children to church. The members watched this, and in return, I watched my chapel embrace my children and myself. This love and support started to grow the more they got to know ME, not just my circumstances. And they seemed to love and trust me, perhaps because the spirit was telling them how hard it was for me to be there.

All I do know is that everyone that steps foot in this church say there is no other like it. I have to wholeheartedly agree. It a bubble of paradise in what I believed at times to be an angry and mean world. When my teenagers were at their worst, and I felt more unloved than any other time in my life, I was given paradise within paradise: Nursery. When it was announced, I received many condolence-like, tongue-in-cheek comments like ‘good luck with that!’ and I giggled my way to my new friends. I found a room full of the most beautiful souls ever created, and they loved me, and found me funny, and listened and learned and all the things I wish I could’ve done with my children, I could do here. I was amazed that babies could ‘know’ Heavenly Father as much as I did (if not more) and that they looked up to me to learn more and more about God’s love for us. It was a Celestial calling to me.

After all these years, I still love my church. I can’t physically attend, I have Systemic Lupus Erythematosus that’s attacking my major organs and am on strong immuno-suppressants, so I often cannot be in public places.

BUT Heavenly Father provides.

My main form of communication is via Facebook. I know  I know….but hear me out. Because of the people I CHOOSE to speak with, my friendships with ‘old’ and ‘new’ LDS friends have made my life whole. This has allowed me to really know the people. People at church whom I had spoken to once or twice in 20 years, I got to know in a deep and meaningful way through online social networks. I came to know people’s happiness, sadness, dreams, and recipes. This was more friendship than I had felt in a lifetime of isolation.th

I watch more LDS videos and Conferences than most people I know. And I love them. It keeps me feeling like I’m part of my church family, which now includes members from all around Australia, and all around the world. I hear testimonies that I never would have heard otherwise. I have the honor to watch growth and the opportunity to lift up when things aren’t going so fabulous for people. They do the same for me. So I can be ok with not being able to attend church physically as I have been blessed with another way, or I would miss out altogether.

The changes I would like to see in our church are few, and as I add things to that list, Heavenly Father crosses them off, giving me explanations or change. I guess that’s why we have a living Prophet (another reason I joined).

I would change:

  • The short time space for conversion.  I’m going to assume that a lot of people won’t agree, but I feel that more new converts would stay if they had the opportunity to learn and feel and receive their own answers. Feeling like you failed because you couldn’t change from ‘The World’ to ‘LDS’ in such a short period of time, can be devastating and consequential.
  • People with addictions may need extra time, and members should be more patient and tolerant with this. Sometime things need to work in God’s time frame, not man’s.
  • Women’s roles in the Church. I  understand our differences from men, that since the beginning, it was the men that were blessed with Healing and Authority. But we are a different people, living in a different time, and the sexes have become more balance, more unified. I don’t think God allowed this by accident, or that he was surprised that women would change. And want change. He doesn’t make mistakes, and I believe the only logical progression in His plan, is for women to join men in a new age of gathering His people, blessing them and anointing them. Women in Priesthood is not scary, it’s a blessing waiting to happen.

And that’s my story. I’m still here because the church is a kind of home to me, and even when I have not felt welcomed by the church members, God lets me in.

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7 Responses

  1. Jenny says:

    I am so glad that you have found a welcome and loving home within the church. I know I felt that at times in my life, but I don’t have it right now. I feel like I have taken a journey opposite of yours, where I was born in the church and fit in well, but somehow lost that along the way. I like your suggestions at the end. It’s good to think about things from the perspective of a convert.

  2. spunky says:

    Thank you so much for this, Isabelle. I think we tend to presume that converts are ‘fine’ no matter how we treat them but we often treat new people as outsiders– no matter how much, as church members, we like to presume we are better than that. I’ve often heard it said that converts have stronger testimonies– I think many mus have, in order to stay through the period of social exclusion that comes for way too many. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  3. EmilyCC says:

    Isabelle, thank you for sharing your story here. I love hearing how nursery was a balm for you at a difficult time in your life, and I love hearing about what the Church’s resources online mean to you.

    Would you mind talking a bit more about the short period for conversion that you’d like to see changed? As someone who has lived in the same ward for almost a decade, I’ve seen many converts come and go, and I’m not sure how I could help them. I suspect that there aren’t enough lessons pre-baptism for many investigators, but are more lessons the solution? Or something else?

  4. Liz says:

    Thank you for this, Isabelle. I worry about other converts having to “fight” to carve out a space in church. It makes me wonder: what kind of walls are we putting up (however unintentionally) that keep converts from feeling safe at church?

    I also love that you talk about the “short time” for conversion – I would imagine that, for many, baptism is just the beginning of conversion, and we should allow for the process to happen within people without aggressively pushing for it on our own timetable within our wards.

  5. Em says:

    I think a longer conversion process would be great, especially because after baptism, the ward is supposed to take over. This works well when the new convert has made friendships or is otherwise already tied in personally with members — something that usually takes time. It works less well when it is by assignment, particularly since only a tiny fraction of members are available during all three hours to be a friend, a supporter etc. I think part of the solution would happen as a big shift in mission culture away from measuring success by baptism. That is also on members reminiscing about missions, bragging about children’s missions etc. If you stop measuring your worth by someone else’s ability/willingness/readiness to dramatically change their life, it removes a lot of pressure.

    I also think there should be some basic policy changes. To the best of my knowledge, a person has to have attended church twice before they can be baptized. In my opinion, that is ridiculous. Even if you know and love the things the missionaries teach, what it actually means to be a Mormon, sit through church, have a calling etc. etc. etc. is something that you pick up from attending for awhile, and then deciding if that is a change that will bring you happiness.

    I love your idea of what sort of sounds like a Facebook ward — a virtual contact system because of your current physical limitations.

  6. Tink says:

    Hi, I’m Isabelle..
    Thankyou so much for being so kind and accepting of me..
    I’m actually too overwhelmed to write answers right now, and may have to come back later..
    All I know, is this this is the only place I haven’t had to fight to be heard, and i am eternally grateful for that.

  1. September 8, 2014

    […] The people didn’t impress me much, and I didn’t impress them either. I felt immense pressure to conform quickly to LDS things, and I felt like that was the last thing a scared, child convert needed. I was mocked and treated like dirt by most of the young women I was “teamed with” by being looked down upon and left out of …read more […]

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