On Being Strange

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When I was younger, I was very judgmental.

There was a woman in my ward growing up who always wore pants to church. She was not married, and would always say that she was better off on her own. That did not compute in my young Mormon lady brain. She was loud in every way – in her speech, her dress, her opinions, her laugh.

We moved to a new ward, when I was about 7, where there were more weirdos. There was a family of 6 who were only in the ward a few months because they were permanent travelers. There was a young women’s leader who was a psychologist and insisted that we learn car mechanics…like the actual science of a combustion engine, not just how to change a flat tire, and unapologetically wore two-piece swim suites at girl’s camp.

We moved again when I was 16 to a ward with still more strange people. My mom’s visiting teaching companion read crazy books like A Rough Stone Rolling, and went off script when giving the monthly message.

I would listen to other women, young and old, talk about the ‘strange’ ward members in hushed tones. And I agreed with a lot of the gossip: they were doing Mormonism wrong. There was something they weren’t understanding, or they weren’t thinking things through, or they didn’t have a strong testimony, or if the would only listen to the Prophet, or they were taking the lazy path. We should love them, but be careful of their influence…

As I got a little older, and my worldview developed, I started to notice other things about these Strange Sisters. My old young women’s leader kept tabs on me after we moved away and helped me process my parents’ divorce. My mom’s old visiting teaching companion lovingly visited each of her assigned sisters every month and quietly gave meaningful service to others not on her list. The things that they did different from the rest of us started to seem less and less important. I came to accept the truth that there is more than one way to Mormon.

Now I am one of those weirdos who wears pants to church, reads crazy books, and goes off script when teaching gospel doctrine. However, I generally feel that I am doing what God wants me to do. And I am now so, so grateful for all the unorthodox examples I had in my life. Today, I salute you: you who took your own path, who asked hard questions and made me think, you Sisters who didn’t fit the mold. Thank you.

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8 Responses

  1. Liz says:

    I worry so much about the single narrative we have of what it means to be a good Mormon woman. It’s so narrow, which means that most women feel like they aren’t doing it properly, when in reality there are as many ways to be a Mormon woman as there are Mormon women. I think it’s a damaging, incomplete stereotype. I applaud those women in your life (and mine) who confidently walked a different path, rather than agonizing about not walking perfectly on the one they saw everybody else on.

  2. Quimby says:

    One of the most influential Mormon women in my life was very traditional in some respects – she was a stay at home mother to 12 children – but in other respects, very different. She’d converted from Judaism as a young woman and used to organise a Passover sedar for the ward. She’d also sprinkle Jewish teachings through her Primary and Young Women’s lessons, which helped us understand and appreciate the scriptures. I credit her with culturing my love of Judaism. She had multiple graduate degrees in deaf education. Now that I’m the mother of a deaf son, I’ve turned to her for help and reassurance, and she’s always made me feel more confident in the task ahead. She and her husband remain to this day two of my very favourite people.

    • Jess R says:

      You touch on a point that was in my earlier drafts of this post but I couldn’t quite figure out how to make fit: many/most of us may seem traditional or orthodox on the surface. But as you get to know someone, their nuances come through. I love that you have such a good friend who is simultaneously traditional and not traditional! She sounds really great!

  3. Rachel says:

    Bless those women, and really all Mormon women who march to the beat of their own drum, within our shared faith tradition. (When I was young, I was immensely grateful for the very few Mormon women I knew who had served missions, because that was my dream. They showed me it was possible. Now I’m immensely grateful for women like Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and Claudia Bushman, who lived my new dream, of getting a PhD while being a young-ish mother. But I have also learned so many things from so many more Mormon women.)

  4. EmilyCC says:

    Church would be considerably more boring without us all displaying our strangeness. I try to remember that when I’m getting ready to make my next unorthodox move.

  5. Kael says:

    Thanks! This is wonderful…except foe the fact that there isn’t twice as long. I’ve known several people who’ve joines the xburch because of wierdo Mormons.

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