My Dearest Daughter,
Twelve days before your birth I wondered if I would be sacrificing you on the altar of my desire to be Mormon. I knew that remaining Mormon would mean that you would be confronted with the pain of being a woman in this church, even if you do not feel it as acutely as I do. Over the almost six years since I wrote that post I have documented the little “paper cuts” that you have experienced. Each one has broken my heart but you have met them with strength, determination and thoughtfulness. You are an amazing little girl.
Yesterday, however, you received a much deeper wound. Yesterday your history changed. Yesterday Kate Kelly was excommunicated from our church for “conduct contrary to the laws and order of the Church.” A lot has been written about this event but I want you to know your piece of the story.
The week leading up to this event I spent time talking to you and your brothers about feminism and how it relates to Mormonism. Though your father and I have talked a lot about the concept of fairness, justice and equality we have never specifically used or defined terms because we believe in the importance of your own journey, in asking your own questions. But the notification of Kate’s church court necessitated that you have a basic education and understanding of the most important cause of my life. I was planning a candlelight vigil and wanted you to not only be there, but to understand what was happening. It is a remarkable thing to bear witness to a defining moment in history
On the night of the vigil, I watched you as I participated in the circle of women and men expressing grief and anger over what was happening in our church. You were running with your brothers–your long, red hair glistening in the sunlight–so confident and at peace with your place in the world. Several times you stopped to smell and caress the roses that surrounded us. In my mind’s eye I could see my grandmother, the woman you are named for, smile down at you as she watched you play. She too was named after a powerful woman, a woman who fought with all her might so that women could have equal voice in her country. Though my grandmother has long since passed I have often felt her presence in my life. To see her in this moment protecting your innocence and silently supporting you…it was an indescribable gift.
And then I got the news. “It’s bad. I’m sorry. So sorry.”
I could barely get the words out to tell your father. My heart shattered into a million little pieces and I wept. Time stopped in our little house in the heart of Denver. Your father looked on with sadness, your brothers confused by the suddenness of my emotion. But you, you slid yourself into my lap and whispered, “Mama.” Your weight kept me grounded in the present and I buried my face in your hair. I rocked you like I did when you were a baby. Only this time I cried and told you over and over again, “I’m sorry, Sylvie. I’m sorry.”
This is the legacy I have given you. One where history repeats itself. The sense of failure and sorrow is intense–I wanted this shame to be in the distant past for you. I did not want another redheaded girl reading over the names of Lavina, Janice, Maxine, Margaret and weeping for their suffering. Now, somewhere, sometime you will read this same list…only the name Kate will be added. You are now inextricably tied to this moment.
The look of confusion and betrayal on your face when you finally understood what had happened will forever be etched in my memory. You could not understand how a bishop could do something so mean. You asked, “How can he kick her out of church, Mama?” Your confusion is legitimate, every week you watch your own daddy reach out in love and welcome the outcasts of society into our congregation. You, perhaps more than your brothers, have felt his absence when he has gone after the one. And then you are angry, “Jesus won’t let this happen, Mama. He will tell the bishop to stop it.”
And I pray, “I hope so. Oh, please! I hope so.”
I do not know what lays ahead of this particular moment in time. Probably by the time you are reading this, the story will have played out in ways we could have never expected. Maybe in ways that will directly affect our family. Hopefully in a way that furthers the work of God.
I have heard some say that our daughters will not stand for this and they are right. We, your mothers, have taken upon ourselves the pain and fear of speaking out. We will risk ten million paper cuts if it will save you from just one, just as our mothers before us did. It is a gift they gave to us and that we now give to you. We will give you the cover to stand for something better. Your very existence, your simple belief in the goodness of God, your demand for justice–I believe that you, and thousands like you, will make this right.
Though I have passed to you a painful legacy it is also a powerful one. Those names–Lavina, Janice, Maxine, Margaret, Kate as well as Jessica, Emily, Caroline, Deborah, Jana, Alisa, Laurel, Claudia, Judy, Chelsea, Lisa, Joanna, Sara, Tresa, Suzette, JaneAnne, Jerilyn, April, Rachel, Melody, Twila, Michelle, Heather, Hannah and hundreds of others–these women know you. Some of them rocked you when you were a baby. They have kissed your face and stroked your hair. They have prayed over you and sent you blessings. They have shed tears for you. They have adopted you into this powerful matriarchy. They have and will stand and fight for you any day of the week. No force on Earth can take this away from you and Heaven never will. This is the legacy I give to you.
I love you more than I can ever say,
Your earthly mama