Real Talk from a Convert

Let's talk about being a convert in the Church, because there is a cultural tension between me and a lot of lifelong members to which I'd like to introduce y'all.

Source: (Christ) Rescue of the Lost Lamb, Minerva K. Teichert

The Church (the organization) and the church (the people) love to share what they believe with others. They each sacrifice and give a lot to make that happen. Millions of dollars and years of their time throughout their lives, whether they're full time missionaries or not.

How I came into the Church is a beautiful example of this. My community didn't have missionaries, so the members found me, loved me, taught me, and were there to baptize me when I decided to join. They did everything for me. Everything about my story is a testimony of how genuinely church members just love other people. What I'm about to say is in no way a criticism of them. They did the best with what they had, and what they knew. And I will love them forever because of it.

One of the most important things they did for me was give me space to figure out and adopt what changes I wanted and needed to make in my own life. They didn't treat my conversion like it was their job. They didn't expect my end results to look anything like theirs. I was a very different person from a completely different background, and they understood me being exactly like them was never going to happen, and wasn't the point.

I didn't join the Church to be like them. I joined the Church to be like Jesus. To do everything in my power to be changed by him, according to his wisdom, will and timing. They understood that.

The number one praise I heard as a new member was how grateful they were to learn from me and my perspective. They valued me for the unique talents and perspectives I brought with me from outside of the Church. They listened and learned from what I had to say.

That hasn't been my experience in every place I've lived. People I've met in other places have expectations for converts to erase any and all differences in thought and method, to become just like one of them. They couch this in language about "the culture of the gospel."

To them, uniformity and acceptance are totally synonyms with each other. That is their failure, not mine. But they take it upon themselves to punish anyone who is different, anyone who deviates from who they think a church member should be. They do this through gossip behind other people's backs, nasty comments to their face, and a mulish refusal to consider anything else outside of their own worldview and the practices of their own families.

Jesus did not bring me into his church to be someone else. He brought me here to be myself, and to become the best version of that person—with all the gifts, talents, and experiences he gave me before I ever knew the Church existed. He brought me here not just to learn from others, but also so they could learn from me. Growing through our differences is the wisdom of God, and it's only possible if I bring those differences to the table.

I am not okay with being erased and manipulated into being someone I'm not, or being forced to see Jesus as someone I don't recognize. Someone who's love for me is conditional upon conformity and performance, not love and grace.

So the "why don't you just leave?" crowd, the members who just can't metabolize the person I am, who would be happier if I just left, know that I didn't do this to you. You did this to yourself with your own expectations. You don't get to be comfortable in a church that spends all of these resources on bringing in new people, without ever being challenged to learn from them, or (gasp!) be changed by them.

You prayed, fasted, and called down the power of heaven to bring me here. You don't get to choose what my presence means for you now that I'm here.

Dispatches from a Boise Temple Ordinance Worker

19 December 2015

I'm officially a temple worker. Yay!

27 February 2016

I once said being a temple worker is about 50% memorization and 50% smiling at people. Yesterday was 50% memorization, 40% smiling, and 10% swooning over how attractive my husband is until I forget what I'm supposed to do.

I love how the Lord reveals needs we can fill. Like how I need to carry a sewing kit in my temple bag in case there's a hole in my skirt. And that I need to get a sewing kits for the temple because they don't have one.

10 March 2016

"The only Ghostbusters I care about are temple worker." -By Common Consent on Twitter.

Welp. There's no unhearing that now.

18 July 2016

Getting a big locker in the changing room has become the highlight of my day. 

11 August 2016

I've made my peace with my infertility. And I don't mind when people ask me about it anymore. I talk about it pretty openly as it is. But the people who ask me why I'm a temple worker, like there's something else I should be doing. They bother me. A lot. 

They're the ones I give the fake smile, unapologetic "Because I can't have children." And let them sit in the awkward silence.

I mean, the old ladies who honestly don't know better, who are delighted I'm there, that's different. They're allowed to be nosy. But I have little patience for middle-aged people who are just being nosy. They deserve to feel awkward for asking.  

26 August 2016

Just know this. If you have a cell phone alarm that goes off for over 20 minutes in the locker room, everyone is secretly judging you.

26 Sep 2016

There's a man on our shift who looks like 80 year old Dwight Schrute. Not staring at him is a weekly struggle.

16 October 2016

In case y'all didn't know, temple giggles are the worst giggles.

The giggles I get when I'm working in initiatory, and the patron has a funny last name are bad enough.

The giggles when the next patron's name card is also funny are even worse.

Inda Woods 

5 November 2016

The temple president informed us temple workers that white bow ties are acceptable temple attire for patrons.

14 November 2016

My former visiting teacher asked me to cover her temple shift because her daughter-in-law is going to be on Wheel of Fortune.

6 January 2017

Watching patrons fall asleep to the temple films makes me feel so much better about myself. Since most of them have been falling asleep in the temple longer than I've been alive, I don't feel qualified to correct them.

19 January 2017

I won't be watching the inauguration because I'll be working my shift at the temple, then eating birthday cake.
30 March 2017
Trying to find a sub for my temple shift tomorrow. I can confirm the fifth circle of hell is calling the elderly from an out of state number.
23 April 2017
If you ever need a place in the Boise Temple where you can fall apart in peace and quiet, I recommend the first aid room.

5 May 2017

My guilty pleasure of being a temple worker is watching two thirds of every endowment session fall asleep. Admittedly, it's because I have a hard time staying awake too. It's hard to feel guilty when I see it happen so often. 

And people make the best faces when they're trying to stay awake, right as they fall asleep.

24 June 2017

I have completely given up on correcting people on not asking me why I don't have children at this point. It's too exhausting.

I've mentioned it to my shift coordinator at the temple,warning her "if I have to have the 'you could always adopt' conversation against my will with one more temple worker, I'm going to ask them to pay for it." 

But she can't stop people from being nosy. She can't stop them from being rude, any more than I can stop them from asking me about it.

When the workers finally stop doing it, the patrons start asking questions. It's really affecting my ability to go to the temple in peace.

28 July 2017

I'm seriously about to go up in testimony and tell people myself how badly we need temple workers.

"If you aren't ready, get ready. If you aren't worthy, get worthy. We need you more than we've ever needed you before. Now is the time!" 

Sign up slips for additional Temple shifts went around today. Guys, I feel so bad. I feel bad no matter what I do!

26 August 2017

Hardest parts of being a temple worker, ranked:

  1. Giving away time 
  2. Constant correction 
  3. Standing still 
  4. Being quiet  
  5. Uninvited political conversations with other temple workers 
  6. Realizing #5 was defending Joe Arpaio

I didn't know that's who she was talking about, because she couldn't even remember his name. We've been told on numerous occasions not to even talk about politics. We have training videos that tell us not to talk about politics. I basically get through it by imagining how embarrassed they'd be if they understood how vehemently I disagree with them.

15 September 2017

Sometimes, being a temple worker is so hard. I am completely drained of my ability to deal with exhausting, problematic people.

You may not realize this about the temple, but the reason you're able to go to the temple is because of the dedication of hundreds of people. They aren't paid. They aren't rewarded. In many cases, they aren't even thanked.  
In fact, if you knew what was really going on in the lives of most temple workers, it would upset you that they give up so much to be there. There are people on my shift who have children or spouses dying of cancer. And yet, they show up. Because if they didn't, no one else could go to the temple. There would be no temple without these workers.
I try to remember this when some of the workers forget themselves, or do something embarrassing or hurtful. I had a head-on collision with someone else's personality today. They didn't like the way I put my hands on a patron's head. Even though we're never supposed to correct each other in front of patrons, that was my first interaction at the beginning of my shift. She grabbed my hands, yanked them to where she thought they should be, and jammed them into the patron's head.
I wish I could say this was rare. But dealing with every flavor of correction under the sun is what it means to be a temple worker. It's especially difficult when you're younger, like I am. Older people seem to think they can treat you with less respect. I shouldn't have to be used to this, but I am. So I didn't say anything I was thinking or feeling. I waited for her to come to her senses.
By the end of the ordinance, she looked up at me in disbelief. "I can't believe I just did that. That was uncalled for. I apologize."
That was more than I've gotten from some others. So rather than stay angry, I chose to forgive. 
Meanwhile, the poor patron was stunned. I hope she can forget it, or at least take away from it that she apologized. Because as angry as I was in a small moment, I understand the stress and pressure that we're all under right now. Opening a new temple takes a very difficult job and gives you about half the people you need to do it, at full capacity. 
So even though I wasn't emotionally ready for this exchange, and it hurt my feelings, I'm glad it was me and not one of the newer sisters. Their day for this will come. But if it comes too soon, they will leave in tears and never come back. I know this happens because I've watched it happen. It breaks my heart. And some of those sisters, I've never seen again.

So the next time you see a temple worker make a mistake, please smile. Don't be afraid to tell them how much you appreciate their trying. You may feel like you have to point out a mistake if they make one. Don't worry though. Three other sisters will do it after you leave. You may not realize it, but there is always someone listening. That's the nature of what we do.
It means the world to us when you say thank you. I've even had sisters give me hugs. It makes my day. It makes the bad days so much better. So if you're reading this, please thank the temple workers in your life. Their sacrifices make the temple a holy place. And they will never, ever forget you for it. 
You may not know this, but they love and pray for you always. They notice when you come to the temple, especially regularly. They're sad when they don't see you.
They remember your name and put it on the prayer roll if they see you having a bad day.

Just wanted to share that, in case you didn't know. Because before I was a temple worker, I had no idea either.

7 October 2017

I told my husband the Seventy currently serving as a sealer on our temple shift looks like Sam the Eagle. It was the hardest either of us has ever laughed in the temple.

22 October 2017

I've had to remind an alarming number of people that the Seventy serving on our shift is just a person. I'll never understand why we put leaders up on pedestals like this.

29 October 2017

The lengths people go to hide things in the temple is hilarious to me. But you don't have to do that. You can take water into a session with you. If your snack doesn't make noise and doesn't leave crumbs, no one can stop you from bringing it. You can have literally anything you need in the session, as long as you are discreet about it.

I'm also not sure where the notion started that being in a session is literally like being a hostage. But it's very incorrect.  You can ask to go to the bathroom and we pause the session. If you go at the clothing changes, no one even notices.

15 November 2017

My favorite thing to do on my temple shift is to wave at people who don't know me like they're my best friend. Confused faces are the best faces.

17 November 2017

You know what's worse than having someone at the temple engage you in a conversation you don't want to have about your infertility?

Remembering the time when, in some kind of bizarre attempt to be comforting, they say "there's always adoption. It's just too bad there are so many non-white babies."

I'm not going to be normal after this, am I?

19 January 2018

Realizing that I've been serving in the temple as an ordinance worker in the temple for two years. That's typically how long that calling is supposed to last. 

In our case, the assignment is open-ended. But I feel like it's time. Not just because I was given my fourth calling last Sunday, because that's a separate conversation. My service has been full and I am content with all I've accomplished.

I could keep going indefinitely. We've had older workers who have been serving for the upwards of 20+ years. But I'm in a different season of my life. This wasn't going to last forever.

I've been forever changed by my service. I feel like this is the right time for me to step back into the role of a patron. It may not be what the temple needs. But it's what I need. Heavenly Father showing me the difference, to me, is what confirmation looks like.

Opening Ourselves to Empathy with LGBTQ+ Members of the Church

I've been holding this experience I had in the temple in my heart until I feel like I have the language to share it the best way I can. Today, I feel like I can make the attempt.

Many of you know that I serve as an ordinance worker in the Boise Idaho temple. When I was set apart, I was promised the veil would be parted to me through my service.

We use this phrase a lot in the church, and it means a lot of different things. What I thought it meant at the time and in that context was experiences with the deceased people we are serving. The way I can most easily relate this thought to someone not familiar with our beliefs is that Mormons believe in angels, and that we can see them. They look like regular people and we interact with them without knowing it. And sometimes they're even our deceased family members. We believe this is fully possible in the temples we attend, and we talk about it as the veil between heaven and Earth being parted. That's why I understood it this way.

In that sense, I've never had this experience. Apart from a really vague sense of joy that someone has finally had their vicarious ordinance work done on their behalf, that's the full extent of what I've had in terms of interactions with the dead. 

Mormons also believe that every person, no matter how terrible they might act, has a divine nature. The scriptures call it the "inward man." And most of us do what we do to access that inner goodness, and see it more clearly in those around us. We also refer to glimpses of this divine nature as parting the veil. How we see someone falls away and we can finally see them as God sees them. In this sense, I rely on this constantly in my service. It's slowly making me a better person.

This happened between me and a temple patron one day, as it sometimes does. But what was different about it was how clearly I saw her, and how much I felt what she was feeling.

I received clearly into my and heart her feelings. Through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, I was given to know that she was strugglingand I do mean strugglingwith same-sex attraction. Whether as a lesbian or bisexual person, I couldn't say. But please know that why I'm using SSA as a descriptor. 

Imagine if perfect empathy with another person was somehow possible. As I performed the ordinances on her behalf, that was what I had with her.

I felt a gut wrenching loneliness I don't know how to put into words. However lonely you have ever felt, magnify it. The only anguish I have to compare it to from my own life was the day I admitted to myself that I was raped.

I felt the anguish of her body as it ached for connection to the women around her, both sexual and platonic. The shame and fear that also accompanied that feeling. The fear of losing control of herself, of acting on what she was feeling, because it was completely overwhelming all of her senses. And I felt it. I felt it all, and was completely overwhelmed by it.

She wanted someone, anyone, to see her, know her, and love her. She wanted someone to reach out to her and tell her it was going to be okay.

I wanted so much to speak to her. But I couldn't find the words in that moment. I'd never considered so literally how my LGBTQ+ brothers, sisters, and siblings feel. And even if I had asked, they couldn't give me this experience. God had to do that.    

All I could do was put my hand on her shoulder. I never do that. At one point, I looked her in the eye. I don't know how she understood that, but I hope she saw in me someone who sees her and loves her as she is.

She left and the veil closed on those feelings. I prayed for that woman like I've never prayed for anyone else in the temple, not even myself. If it were up to me, I would have rained down every imaginable happiness upon her without any thought of restraint.

If you could feel, for only a moment, how LGBTQ+ people feel, you would know it isn't an act. It isn't a deception. It isn't a ploy for power or political control. It isn't a desire to be evil.

I don't know where sexuality and gender dysphoria fits into God's plan for his children. I just don't know, and I try very hard not to pretend to certainty I don't have about someone else's life. But I will tell you what I do know.

My LGBTQ+ friends and family members are precious to me. I love them unconditionally. I want to see them happy. Whatever that looks like to them is how I can and should support them. They deserve that from me. 

And I know, because I've felt it fill my entire soul, that God loves ALL of his children. He loves them without failure or reservation. He loves them where they are, including through their experiences with their sexual orientation and gender identity. God doesn't love his LGBTQ+ children any less. In fact, the only thing more overwhelming than this woman's attraction that I have ever felt was his unconditional love for her. It is the holiest experience I've ever had in the temple.

So I'm leaving you with a question to think about, study, ponder, and pray about. And I hope you will. Because it has changed my life forever. 

If you could see LGBTQ+ people how God sees them, how would it change you? How would it change the way you think and speak about them? 

More Posts from Me

The Unimpressive Origins of Anti-Queerness in the LDS Church

"Sister Collins, why don't you believe being queer is a sin like the rest of the righteous, obedient Mormons?" Because despite...