Thursday, July 31, 2008

Warning "This new convert may say or do inappropriate things."

I was a sophomore in high school when I was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I realized that I would never really be like the LDS saints that grew up in the church. It has been an ongoing adjustment and gradual change for me. The church really has its own culture and mini cultures within it, with it being world wide. It’s my opinion that it can be quite the shock to try to fit in. I've seen converts that seem to not have an issue with the adjustment and so I speak for myself as usual and point out that my life experiences and environmental and biological dynamics have contributed to my situation.

I remember wearing sleeveless dresses and funky clothes to church because I didn’t know better. I’d wear my mom’s dresses because what average high school kid that doesn’t go to church has a church wardrobe? My mom happens to be 4’ll (I’m 5’3) and is much shapelier than I ever was and ever will be. I must have looked ridiculous!

It’s not just the Mormon fashion or modesty thing either that takes some adjusting to. It also includes language and presentation. My parents are both immigrants from different countries (one from Asia, the other from Central America). They met at English school. You can imagine what communication issues that created in our home. At least for my parents, their English was simple and to the point. There is no tact because it already is an accomplishment to learn another language. There was no continued education on that point and no one really to keep them in check. So, I’m usually not a rude person on purpose but I may seem like it at times. The reality is I lack tack. I just wasn’t raised on it and as a result I’m pretty straight forward. I grew up hearing swear words and with lots of dysfunctional ways of expressing anger. So trying to be a sweet, Christ-like, Mormon girl has been an inner battle.

Kids that grew up in the church saw there parents teach, serve, share testimony, give talks and prayers, volunteer, socialize, cry in front of a congregation and doing the whole shebang. I on the other hand was embarrassed of my (actually cute) parents and much rather not see them embarrass themselves out in public places like church with their lack of tack and funky clothes (actually not bad just worse in my mind). I can’t imagine them bearing a testimony or teaching a lesson. It’s so out of their nature. And as it is for them, it was/is for me. As converts it’s a new thing to do all of the above. It takes a little getting use to. Some do better than others and boy have I said and done LOTS of inappropriate things along the way!! With baptism I should have come with a warning “This new convert may say or do inappropriate things.”

Well, being na├»ve, I made the decision to go to BYU to quote “become a better member of the church.” I absolutely LOVED my experience at BYU, but it far from made me a better member of the church. As soon as I entered my first ward, I was drowned out by all those talented and beautiful, confident, Mormon girls that had stamped on their foreheads “Relief Society President.” My time there was long before Hinckley’s talk on converts needing a friend, a calling, and the good word. I fell through the cracks and wasn’t given much convert encouraging from my church leaders and fellow members.

I was glad that I felt strong inspiration to go on a mission soon after my baptism. I felt strong promptings that I was going on a mission. I felt gratitude for the Gospel and the love I felt. I was amazed at the change from not having the spirit to having the gift of the Holy Ghost. I was blessed and experienced many miracles and the fire that burns in the bosom. I wanted to share my experience to others as a missionary. But by the time I became pre missionary, I had lost all the genuine feelings of why I originally wanted to be a missionary. I knew I wanted to go. I knew I was inspired to go. But by 20, my reasons became worldly. I hoped I was going to Japan so I could learn Japanese. It was going to be a good experience. It would make me more marketable to get married. Yada Yada Yada.

I see the blessings from following spiritual promptings. My mission was a refiner’s fire. I worked my tail off. I had trial after trial. The Book of Mormon became alive for me. I devoured it for the first time in my life in the MTC. I saw miracle after miracle. I seriously felt like I was protected by the hand of God. I was given the opportunity to see God’s missionary work progress and all the amazing things that happen and we don’t get to see on a regular basis. My mission was hard; it was what God knew I needed in my life. I learned what it takes to be a member of this amazing church sanctioned by God.

My focus on Mormon culture moves to how to raise a good family. I watch successful Mormon families very closely, examining what it is that they’ve done right. I realize that the spirit leads us. I realize that the Gospel teaches those basic truths. The prophets remind us of the way to do so. We just have to do it. And so I watch how it is done, sometimes mimicking, sometimes just coming up with good things on my own. Obviously, Christ’s example is the way to go. But with it, the church people have a culture and norms that perhaps have been passed down from generations before. My visiting teaching companion comes from a great family. She said that her parents always served in their calling and they continue to do so without ever complaining. That impacted her in a good way. Some may see it as a no brainer but it was a real eye opener to hear this. So although I have the gospel and study it, I learn a lot from my fellow members on how to apply the gospel in my daily life. I realize that my complaining can have a negative impact. I’m reminded of my temple covenants. And so I grow a little closer to who I want to be and who my family needs me to be.

There is still the fact that I am ME. I am who I am; Liberal on some things, conservative on other things; Comfortable in the Ghetto, comfortable in Zion; Comfortable and uncomfortable that my brothers are covered in tattoos; Indifferent to several ear piercing but glad I don’t have them; O.K. with abortion and previously to gay rights but worried about admitting it; Confused on how to raise kids in the church having never experienced it before. I have some positives that come from my life experience. I realize I am tolerant. I can have non member friends and am friends with all my neighbors regardless of their religious beliefs or membership status. I’m respectful of different types of people. I respect religious diversity and believe we aren’t the only good people in the world. Perhaps I’m no different than you but I perceive myself as such. I’ll keep working on becoming more Christ like and as I progress I realize it won’t matter to me if I fit in or not.


CUTRER said...

Girl you had a lot on your mind last night! You are so cute, I swear you are the best I love that you say what you feel thats why I love ya. My folks where the same with rasing us they where converts to at the ages 15 & 17. It was diff for me although born into the church but having parents that where learning what to do as we where growing up. I had lots of member friends that where as you say "mormon" couldn't play on sunday had tonz of family come to church functions and so on so I hear ya I still feel out of place sometimes but I am glad that you feel that you can grow from our down falls. I think Heavenly Father will tell me when I die "Oh Edith you had me worried at times but glad to see you"

Carson Calderwood said...

Awesome post Nancy! You are awesome and seeing your changes and your ability to relate so well to the culture and outside of the culture is why we love you so much.

Thanks for posting that, what was your inspiration? I wish more people would open up like this. I've been thinking a lot on this topic lately, then yours and collette's recent posts have made me think even more. Maybe I'll do a CCLI post on people wanting to be more close but not willing to open up. I think it is hard to have one w/o the other so thanks for sharing.

VAgirlinUT said...

Nice post, Nancy. I agree that part of your charm is that you say what you feel. As I've said before, you are usually just saying what others are thinking anyway!

lucy said...

Thanks for the comments. Carson--I think the inspiration comes from a few things that have been going on lately: 1)that I've been feeling a bit backwards lately; 2)I'm constantly checking myself to see if I'm/we're headed in the right direction and realize how much I've been slacking and need to get my behind in gear; and 3)how those two above things co mingle together in my mind to inspire a self evaluation of myself

Lettie said...

Knowing what I know about you, I can tell you this. You are a better Mormon that I have ever been...and I had relatives cross the plains, so Mormonism is not new in my family. Everyone struggles with things. I think it is sometimes easier to see others' success where we might be failing or having a hard time.
I totally 100% agree with you on being afraid to admit to what I really feel about political issues. I love religious diversity and find that is one of the things that I have the hardest time with now living in Utah. Just be a good person and love your family. What is the best for you guys may not be the best for your neighbors, family or friends and you might get judged by it. But, we are all always being judged and as difficult as it can be, it's best to just keep on going with what is right for you. I have no idea if that made sense. Anyway, thanks for your post and your honesty. :)

Mr. Dizzle said...

Excellent post Nancy.
I have often wondered about the same things that you speak of. I feel a responsibility to help new members of the church, but often don’t know what to do. I’m not a very friendly person to new members or old members, or nonmembers, I don’t discriminate. So it seems out of my nature to befriend a new member. But I feel guilty about this and sometimes try to anyhow, which usually produces some semi-awkward conversation or engagement. Truth is I don’t really want to be their friend. Not because they are weird or new or different or scary, I’m just not friendly and not looking to get any more new friends, period.

To me friendship is a thing that just happens, not something that you synthetically manufacture. Sure, I will still say hello and do the small talk thing, but that probably offers precious little help. I am also aware that a person can feel far more alone in a group setting than any other time, it’s not a good feeling.

Trust me, it’s very difficult to offend me with actions or words of a ‘strange’ new member, it’s not that at all. I feel for there situation I truly do want to reach out to them. But I’m clumsy and a jerk and I hate everyone equally (that’s an exaggeration, but has some truth to it).

Chris said...

lol, so funny nate. Good post babe!

Emily said...

i love your post! you are like the best member I know, seriously! oh, and I love your pics of the snake river...really good shots! See you tonight!

lucy said...

Once again, thanks for the comments guys.
Collete, I think you hit it right on the nail. You're right. We all struggle and what might be right for us might not be right for someone else. I'm hesitant to say that about religion but I've seen so many members fall away. And honestly I feel grateful to have this gospel and to be living this lifestyle but I'm not going to push it on anyone who doesn't want it. And I hope that will never be my kids because I truly feel that all my blessings are directly linked to the good choices I have made in my life regarding the gospel. If people want to know about it and want to commit to the change I'm happy for them. But to me it doesn't matter that others are in another church. If they're content, then I'm happy for them as well.

Nate, I appreciate your honest and real comment. I know Chris has really enjoyed your friendship. I guess he's one of the lucky elite.

the narrator said...

i didn't know until now that you joined the church when you were 15. does that make me a bad brother-in-law? heck, i didn't even know you were a convert.

Anonymous said...

Nancy! I just wanted you to know that I love looking at your blog and all the great pictures you take! I really enjoyed this post a whole lot. One thing that I've always loved about you is how you speak your mind. :) You are such a great example to me!

Sara C. said...

You always make me stop and evaluate my lackadaisical self! Keep it comin'! I can't imagine what it would be like to be a convert. I don't think I would have the guts.

jkziel said...

very insightful post!

In many ways I think our rearing mirrors each other...except instead of non-member parents I had a very inactive father and a mother who was just trying to hold it together!

Even though I've always been a Mormon, some elements of the culture still aren't comfortable for me!