To Sylvia

Posted by on June 24, 2014 in Family, feminism, Friendship, grief, Mormon women, personal notes, sisterhood, women | 46 comments

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

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46 Comments

  1. Wow, mraynes. That made me cry. So beautiful and so heartbreaking.

    “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.”

    Yes, please. Let this all be for something.

    • I echo you, Caroline. Please, please let this be for something. My hope now lies with our daughters.

  2. Oh, my MRaynes. Oh, my Sylvia. Oh, my Cora. I am weeping now, at this moment over all of these things that you wrote so beautifully and truthfully. I didn’t immediately cry when I read that Kate was excommunicated. It took reading Joanna Brooks’ status, “What will I tell my daughters? What on earth will I tell my daughters?” I feel those questions so poignantly.

    All I can think to say now is that you are right. I have cried for Sylvia, but I have rejoiced with her too, for that moment on the playground, when she found her Power. I want her to teach me now, to find my own.

    • Being a mother of a daughter in this church is endlessly heartbreaking, it never gets easier. But I do believe our daughters are remarkable. That moment on the playground where Sylvie claimed all of the power in the world, that was a revelation. I have faith that she and Cora will somehow make this right. Thank you for being a powerful role model to my girl.

  3. It was such an honor to stand with you in solidarity in that rose garden, and to meet your wonderful rose garden of a family. I have deep hope that you and your daughter will hold the priestesshood.

    • Thank you, Morgen. It was such an honor to stand with you and feel I your strength.

  4. 30 years ago my little daughters said, “When will we get a woman bishop, mama?” and “When will I get to be a deacon and pass the sacrament?” and I had to tell them it wouldn’t, couldn’t happen. I stayed in, stayed active for their sakes, and have only recently begun to wonder what damage that decision caused.

    I already know one very direct harm – my sweet girl was raped by her boyfriend and went to the bishop to confess, because she was the one at fault for wearing shorts and kissing him. She faithfully completed the repentance process the bishop assigned. She had been too ashamed to tell me, and carried it all in silence for years. The thought of it still breaks my heart. She only realized it was rape 5 years later preparing for the birth of her first child, when she began having flashbacks and panic attacks, and had to tell me the whole story so that I could help keep her grounded in the delivery room.

    That’s only the deepest of the cuts. They watched their mother swallow her anger, live quietly with injustice. I thought I was being strong and offering them a precious gift. Now I see it as a legacy of shame.

    But they are strong and see farther and more clearly than I do. Since leaving home they have both been moving slowly and steadily away from the church. And now, this week, when I finally say in despair, “I’m done,” they’ve both said, “We were waiting for you Mom. You can live your conscience now.”

    I look at the gift I intended to pass on to them and see it small, stained and broken in my hands. I’ll drop it and walk with my daughters. They’ve already led the way.

    • Oh CRW, this comment breaks my heart. I am so, so sorry for the pain of you and your daughters. No one should have to experience the cut your daughter received. I weep for them and for you. I do not feel a legacy of shame from you, however. I see a woman and her daughters who have survived violence to their bodies and spirit. I can feel your strength. I have no doubt that you gave your daughters the cover they needed to find happiness in their own journeys. And now they are helping you find your own joy. Thank you for sharing this raw, vulnerable experience with me. Peace to you and your girls.

    • Oh, wow, CRW. I’m so sorry!

  5. I don’t know what to say, either. But this beautiful post by a stranger put into words why I’m not leaving: http://amormonwomaniam.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/today/

    • I loved that essay. Thank you for sharing it with me!

  6. Much love. <3

    • Thank you, janeannechovy! I feelyout love and return it. <3

  7. This is a wonderful gift. You’re a gift. And not just to your daughter, Mraynes, but to everyone who knows you. Sylvie and all your children are in good hands–yours, your husband’s, and God’s. Good is good and so are you. Bless you. Thank you for sharing your heart with us. Beautiful beyond words.

    • Thank you, Melody. You are such a gift in my life, I can never repay what you have given me. Please forgive me, in my frenetic moment of writing inspiration I forgot many of the women who form this powerful matriarchy. You absolutely belong on that list and I will update it with your name as soon as I get to my computer.

  8. Thank you, my precious friend. Your beautiful words to Sylvie are on their way to my strong and broken-hearted Shakira in Japan.

    • Ah another powerful woman that I left off my list–that will be rectified.

      You are an amazing woman and I am profoundly grateful that you are present in Sylvie’s life. I hope that my words can help Shakira. Your daughter is a beacon of God’s love and light. I have no doubt that she will change the world.

  9. This has been a sad moment for all of us, not just as feminists but as sisters in the church. However, let me encourage you not to cry and mourn for too long.

    To me is very important not that I make the world right for my children but that they know clearly what side of the history I stood every time as a woman and as a mother. And I hope that I will leave them a legacy of supporting what is right, supporting those who are marginalized, those that mourn and those that suffer. I hope my children will grow up in a fairer world but I have doubts about this. I care more about the journey rather than the end. This is mortal life after all, it is never fair.

    The church excommunicated our dear Kate. However, she remains our sister in the gospel and the church. The church can erase from its books her ordinances but somehow I feel that God’s books (if he keeps any), do not necessarily match those of our church. Only on the day of judgments, we will know for certain.

    This is a great moment to continue pressing forward. We are all smart and sensitive women. No one should feel qualified to tell us how to feel and how to make those feelings right. We are the only one who can do that. And if the church feels that we are a small insignificant group of members, then let it excommunicate us all in order to really see how small and insignificant we are.

    And as a side note, how do you envision our Heavenly Mother? Do you really think she is a quite, beautiful queen? I think she is a feisty one and pushes forward no matter what. After all, it is not easy to be the Queen of Heaven.

    • Perfectly stated, EFH. Your vision of Heavenly Mother matches my own. Thanks for the comment!

      • Well, we did work together on the WomanStats project so we definitely have a few things in common. :)

      • WomanStats was such a foundational experience for me. I’m glad to see another coder here!

    • Oh, I love your vision of Heavenly Mother. Reminds me of my missionary daughter in Japan! I feel she truly emulates divine qualities. And knowing Miss Sylvia, I think that of her as well. We have amazing things to look forward to with these upcoming women!!

  10. “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.” So powerful. This encompasses my greatest feelings in all of this. I don’t want my daughters to experience the pain I have. I want this to turn now, so that they can experience the greater beauty that a gospel free of patriarchy can hold for them.

    • Exactly! I hope this for the sake of your daughters as well.

  11. I love, love, love the idea of a strong, powerful matriarchy that is being passed on. This post is beautiful. Thank you, MRaynes.

    • Thank you, Liz!

  12. So beautiful, so poignant, so sad. We are all hurting…for ourselves and for our daughters. I hurt for my sweet special needs daughter who repeatedly says”Why do the boys get to pass the sacrament and I don’t? That isn’t fair.” I have no answer that satisfies her, because she views the world through one lens…God’s lens….everyone deserves the same rights and opportunities in her eyes, and she can make no sense of boys getting different privileges than girls. It makes me proud. May our church and its members someday view women through that same lens.

    Thank you for your heartfelt words.

    • Thank you for telling me about your daughter. I hope that one day we will all view the world as she does.

  13. Such a powerful letter, mraynes. I’m reading this in the Denver airport and wishing I could drive a few miles to hug you and Sylvie. Instead, I should probably write letters to my daughters about this moment.

    • Thank you Libby! I assure that we feel your love even though we’re apart. All my love to you and your wonderful daughters!

  14. MRaynes,
    Thanks for your raw honesty, I appreciate what you have written and your perspective. I hope and pray that this will be a turning point for all of us who consider mormonism as our spiritual heratige. I hope we can work together so that Kate’s name is the last one on the list of disciplinary casualties for the cause of gender equality.

    • Amen.

  15. Beautiful post, MRaynes. Sylvia is fortunate to have such an amazing mother (and father!) and so many wonderful people supporting her. I love your description of her here in particular:

    “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.”

    So confident and at peace. I wish it weren’t so difficult to help our daughters maintain that feeling as they grow up in the Church, which I guess is a lot of what you’re getting at here. Thanks for expressing this so poignantly.

  16. Thank you for sharing this. I did a similar thing with my sons for the vigil. Mark and I sat them down and discussed what was happening in the church and why we were going to the vigil. I’m not sure they really understand, but I”m glad that we’re having the conversation.

    Another thought I had about this line about Sylvia, ” [you were] so confident and at peace with your place in the world,” comes from Brene Brown. I believe it’s her who says that children are hard-wired for struggle. It helps me to think of this when I see my kids in pain or imagine them working through something.

    However, it does give me pause to think of causing more struggle than they will already encounter organically in life. What is our role in determining which battles we are setting our kids up for?

  17. This is so beautiful. Thank you.

    I only want to remind you of one element of our legacy that we sometimes forget: a legacy in which people left their families and their homes and their previous beliefs and traveled thousands of miles in search of something better. None of us would be Mormon if someone in our lineage (which includes ourselves, of course) hadn’t decided that there was a truth so important that it was worth giving up all sorts of things to possess and affirm it.

    Pioneer children sang as they walked and walked and walked. Our beautiful pioneer children can walk with us to a new home, and we can teach them beautiful songs to sing along the way.

  18. Crying. Our daughters will not stand for this. And neither will our sons. Not the ones I am raising.

  19. Love you, Meghan. Love, love, your voice. Love, love, love, Sylvie. What will her grown up voice sound like? What will she look like when she has to stoop to touch and smell the rose? What words will she speak and write to her own circle of women, to hold and to heal? I can’t wait to see and to hear.

  20. Meghan, thank you.

  21. Thank you for this beautiful essay MRaynes. There is a great legacy of strong women and supporting men in your ward so Sylvie is in good company. I’ve been thinking of this proud heritage a lot lately. I’ve witnessed some pretty amazing miracles in that little ward. I’m so happy that Jada and her brothers are there learning from and being loved by great people like you.
    Thank you for sharing this with all of us. With love from Dubai.

  22. This is so beautiful Meghan, though it makes my heart ache. Thinking of my granddaughters weighs heavily in my decision be less entangled with the church. But when I think of the daughters I know so many other strong women are raising, and when I think of my sons who I am trying so very hard to bring up right, I trust their world will be a better place for them.

  23. Not a good idea to teach someone that rebellion is okay. It’s very telling that feminists still rail against the church.

  24. This is so beautiful. I’m just getting to this after many busy and heart wrenching days and it is a balm I need. I am so proud of all of you, us, sisters .

  25. Is this article for REAL? I certainly hope not. I am a very opinionated woman and I do not need, nor do I want the Priesthood. Any of you women who think that you do, do not know what you are really asking for. And Kate Kelly… stop making her a martyr. She is anything, but that. Please. She has another agenda and it is all about self gain. I am sorry that she was excommunicated. I feel sorry for her and all of you . However, If you really believe in this article and you REALLY believe in Kate Kelly’s real motives,, then you do not understand the Gospel. This is His Gospel and he will do as He sees fit. Who are we to question this? Equal does not, has not ever, and will not ever mean the same. Come on ladies. Wake up.

    • Great comment Kristi! I completely agree with you. Thank you for speaking out.

    • I do so love being called to repentance by someone who exhibits absolutely no qualities or characteristics of a disciple of christ. Kristi, I don’t know what your problem is, but if you think the comment you just left succeeds as missionary work or does anything to improve the reputation of the church or its members, you have another thing coming. People like you are one reason why so many others are concluding that the church of jesus christ of latter-day saints can’t possibly be true–if it were, its members wouldn’t be such nasty, mean people. Instead of making people into christlike examples of love, the church just makes people judgmental, narrow and small.

  26. I am just wracked with sobs reading this. Thank you for writing it.

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