What to do if your missionary comes home early…

What to do if your missionary comes home early…

You know, if you don’t have time to read my story…I hope you skip to the end, and read about the reason for this post. To better love our missionaries. To better honor their sacrifice, no matter how big or small. They deserve our support, our effort and our love. <3

It was April 27th, 2017 when Drew received his big white envelope. The house was all abuzz with excitement for where Drew would spend his next two years.

When Drew read the words “Washington DC South Mission”, I couldn’t have been more thrilled. Something that was very cool, was Craig and I met (and eventually got married) while working together at Shriners Hospital for Children. We got pregnant with Drew right away, to give Anthony the siblings he’d been begging for. The address to the hospital was “Fairfax Road @ Virginia Street” so the fact that Drew got called to Virginia was actually pretty perfect.

Later that night, I read who his mission Presidents were. President and Sister Huntsman, who also had 8 children!!!! I was like, they know how to love a lot of kids! This is perfect! Happy tears. <3

Shortly after that time, Drew went out and loved every second of his mission. It wasn’t easy by any means. A mission is full of challenges and struggles, but that’s kind of the point. Drew wasn’t afraid of hard work. He absolutely LOVED the people. And the people loved him. I would often get texts or messages about his good heart. It makes a momma proud. I watched six months pass, then nine, then a year…and so on.

Then on a normal Thursday afternoon the phone rang. It was a warm and friendly voice, that spoke the words, “Are Brother and Sister Armstrong home?”

“Yessssss.” (Me trying to place the voice)

“This is President Caplain, I’m Elder Armstrong’s new Mission President. I have your son here in my office with me.”

“Hello! How are you? Is everything ok?”

“Yes, everything is fine. Your son is fine missionary. He works very hard. He’s a great leader and he’s done a lot of fine work. You have a lot to be proud of…”

“Why, thank you. We think he’s pretty great, but it’s a very biased opinion.”

“Well, I am very biased too. The thing is Sister Armstrong, your son has been struggling with a really bad foot. I guess it started five months ago, but he was worried if he told us about it, he’d have to go home. He talked with Sister Caplain a couple of weeks ago and she told him he had to go see the doctor. He went, they took some xrays and found several degrees of separation in the bones and a large bunion. They tried a cortisone shot to manage the pain and inflammation, but it didn’t work. We’ve had our mission doc look at it, and mission medical look at it, and they all have said that he needs to have surgery.”

Craig being in the field he’s in said, “Well, can we get him some foot orthotics? Better shoes? Get him in a driving area or something?”

“Well, the thing is…as much as we want him here, he’s got to use this body of his for a long time after his mission is over, and we don’t want to do anything to jeopardize his health long term. So far, we have heard the recovery is about 4-6 months, and then we would love to have him back out here with us as soon as he’s healed.”

“Ok, so does this happen next transfer, or ?”

“Actually, we have another boy with a broken foot, and we would like Elder Armstrong to travel home with him. Can you receive your son tomorrow?”

Tomorrow???? At this point, I’m freaking out how fast this is happening. I couldn’t even process. Drew was coming home? I think President Caplan heard the worry in my voice, he was quick to put me at ease.

“Sister Armstrong, you’ve got an incredible missionary. We love him. He’s done an incredible job, and we would love to have him back as soon as he’s able.”

The phone call ended. A million thoughts racing through my mind. That’s when I go into planning mode, cause its not in me to sit still. I started making phone calls to see how quickly we could get him an appointment with a surgeon. Everyone local was booked out for weeks, so we started looking in the Maryland/Virginia area. Found a great surgeon and booked and appointment for the next day. President Caplain moved heaven and earth to get the approval for a presurgical consultation in record time. He even asked missionary travel to book their flights for the following Monday to accommodate us.

Drew called us to talk details. The first words out of his mouth were in concern for his brother Ethan.  “Mom…this is Ethan’s season. The time leading up to his mission, the focus should remain on him. I got my time, he deserves his. I don’t want me coming home to overshadow or be a distraction.” Knowing Drew, I wasn’t at all surprised by his request. What an awesome brother! We coordinated all the necessary plans, and said goodbye. I honestly couldn’t believe he was really coming home.

I had a million worries on my mind. I am a mother of eight, so I’m used to busy. However, sending a missionary off is all consuming. Now, I felt a lot of angst about balancing the needs of getting one ready, to getting one home and on the mend, without feeling like I was letting anyone down in some way.The balance of all the emotions that come with both of these life transitions is crazy.

Next on the list, was telling the kids. The next day was Sunday, and after church we sat all the kids down and said, “Hey, there’s something we need to tell you. Drew has hurt his foot, and he’s going to have to come home to have surgery.”

Sophie was so excited she beamed and yelled, “Aaaaaaaaaaawwwwwww YESSSSSSS!” and then caught herself and made this super fake frowny face like, “I mean, oh…so sad.” 🙁

We all busted out laughing. Children are so refreshingly honest.  Ethan was THRILLED to get to see his brother before he left for New Zealand. They would have spent almost four years apart, so for Ethan it was like Christmas morning.

Then, I thought about Drew getting off that plane. I really wanted to make sure he had all the fan fair that a missionary coming home would normally get. Regardless of the healing that laid before him, he should celebrate this great sacrifice and work. He should feel so proud of the sacred time spent and the beautiful gifts he found in the people he served. We spent the rest of the next day making posters, rallying close friends. That Monday, we all headed to the airport…so thrilled to get to see one our favorite DC South Missionary!

As an added bonus, we got to pick up his mission companion too and spend some time with him until his flight to Boise. It was a beautiful day, beautiful hug, and beautiful memory. Everything was perfect.

A couple of days before we were flying out to Maryland for Drew’s surgery, I got a gut instinct to call my friend whose husband is an incredible podiatrist, just to have one more opinion. He reviewed Drew’s xrays and called me. He told me that Drew that the simple bunnionectomy we had scheduled would not be adequate. That Drew actually had a congenital birth defect, called “metatarsus adductus” and had we have caught it while he was a baby, he should have had his feet in casts. (but most parents don’t catch it, cause babies have chubby feet) He said the surgery would require cutting four bones and placing pins and screws. That he would be non-weight bearing for 10-12 weeks in a boot, then physical therapy, then a more healing. That the recovery time is typically a year.

We were floored. Whaaaaat? We had already booked our flights to the DC Area. What do we do now? Do we cancel everything? Do we put off his surgery now, cause Ethan doesn’t have much time left at home?

Then, Drew’s cherished friend, Glenn (and recent convert) called. He was ready to go through the temple for the first time. He wanted Drew to be his escort. That sealed the deal, we were going to DC.  Glenn means so much to Drew. They became dear friends while serving in DC. Drew getting to be there meant everything! So Craig, Drew, Ethan and I all hopped on the plane and headed to DC. Families in DC had already heard Drew was flying back out for surgery, they had all planned open houses for everyone to come see Drew while he was in town!! We met with different members every single night. Some nights, it was dozens and dozens of families. (I wish I had gotten more pictures, so sorry if you don’t find yourself in here, but you’re in our hearts forever!) It was amazing!!! It was so beautiful to see him interact with all of these people who he had fallen in love with, and became a part of their DC Family. The best part was when we’d walk away after, and Ethan would say, “I can’t wait to have this too. People who I have these kind of memories with, and that I love so much. It’s so cool!”

To All DC Families,

 

Thank you, Thank you for letting my son in your home and heart. As a mother, you are so worried about them feeling all alone in the world. You each stepped up to make him feel loved, included, important and special. I couldn’t have asked for better people to help shape into the man God wants him to be. Thank you for refining my precious silver. You will always mean the world to him, and to us. It was a treasure to get to be with you, and chat about the gospel, life, love and to laugh until our bellies hurt. Even if you aren’t pictured – I will never forget talking with the bishop in Reston, or all of the families we got to go to church and have lunch with. You gave us the gift of a lifetime!! We love you ALL SO MUCH!!


At this point, Drew coming home just felt like a gift. Many people don’t know this, but Drew was actually a twin. His twin died in utero. Drew and Ethan have always had a close relationship. Just as intimate as my youngest set of twins. I’ve always kind of felt like Drew’s twin took the next ride down, and that was Ethan. So for Ethan to be able to not only see his brother before he left, but to get to see what his brother did, the people he loved, and spend time where he served, it was amazing!!! To have that inspire Ethan’s service to a deeper degree…it all just felt, right.

We toured every area Drew had served in, took pictures next to all of his apartments and the church buildings where he spent most of his time.

Then, while driving up to the church in Drew’s last area…, it was full of cars. A zone conference was ending and Drew got to see all of his missionary companions and friends, and low and behold…it was President and Sister Caplain! They greeted him warmly, and showered us all of us with hugs.

President Caplain took off his shoe and said, “Elder Armstrong, since you left, now I’m getting a bunion too! Look, my bones sticking out, and I’m not even walking fifteen hours a day, and I drive most of the time!” We all laughed. They are so wonderful. (We love you guys so much.  Your kindness, love and warmth will not be forgotten…I will never forget the story about your eye, Sister Caplain.)

We took some time to take in the beauty of Washington DC. We have always dreamed of taking our kids here. We will go back again. So much to do, so little time. Here’s some highlights!

The last day of our trip, we spent with Glenn. We got up crazy early and headed up to Philadelphia. (the DC Temple is closed) It was a beautiful day. Craig as Ethan’s escort, and Drew as Glenn’s. Such incredible symbolism. Glenn became part of our family that day. Truly, what a gift. <3

Then we headed to the DC Visitors Center to take some fun pics…and love on some fun people!!!

I truly was so grateful to my son’s Washington DC family that showed up to make my son feel so loved, and that they were grateful for his service and sacrifice. That meant the world to me and to him. I love the Huntsman Family, and for the service and love they gave to my son while under their stead. I will always treasure the second parents (and siblings – Mae and gang…you know I love you sweeties!) they were to him. This momma heart will always be grateful. You’re an incredible gift to all of us!

Now, to the heart of the matter…

This seems like such a beautiful story full of support and love for a missionary who came home early doesn’t it?

Well, my beautiful experience isn’t why I am writing this post. I realize how blessed we are to have had this type of reception.

Sadly, so many missionaries have written me, who have had much different experiences. Some very damaging. It has caused many to disappear in their own faith communities, because sometimes we  fall short on being grateful for their sacrifices, no matter how great or small.

Being a convert, this behavior is so confusing to me. As I referenced this in another missionary post last year, the shame that surrounds an early returned missionary has no place in the church. These attitudes stand in such a stark contrast to the gospel principles. Being a person who’s worshipped in many faiths, I can attest that when you are a Catholic, Methodist, Pentecostal, (etc) kid and you decide to go serve a three-week mission somewhere.…your whole congregation is proud of you. In preparation, they throw huge fundraisers. Everyone shows up, everyone donates. It’s hyped up and talked about it for months before cause “Hey, these kids are doing something so cool.” When they all come home, those kids are celebrated. Parents brag and beam with pride that their kid went and helped someone. Heck the whole congregation high fives ya forever. All for a three to five-week commitment. Which is amazing!

Yet if our kids come home early from an 18/24 month mission, too often they find a much different welcome. It’s time we ask ourselves “Why?”.

We as a culture, have got to stop being so hard on these kids. We’ve got to stop turning our noses up to their offerings. Whether three weeks or two years, they deserve to have their contributions acknowledged in a way that keeps them in the church, not pushes them out the door, feeling unworthy.

Whenever I think of missionary service, I can’t help but think of the widow’s mite.

There sits all of these rich and capable men, who had so much support and opportunity – and yes they gave generously. Yet, here comes this quiet, meek woman, who’s contributes all that she has. She is ashamed it’s not more. Her heart longed for it to be more, but it was what she had to give, and Jesus was pleased. He taught of her sacrifice to all those who would scoff, and held her in high honor and esteem.

I know that Jesus would do the same for every missionary. Do we know better than Jesus? Can we not look at the contributions, big or small and be grateful and well pleased?

We don’t know that back ground of each missionary. We don’t know their circumstances. We don’t know what they had to give up to get there. We don’t know all they had to overcome or endure. We don’t’ know what the million and one things that had to do to even be worthy to go. We don’t know if they even had the support of their families. So to scoff at their offering….its about the least Christian thing we can do.

Some of us think we need to know all of the “why’s” when a missionary has an early return. Fact is, we don’t. It’s none of our business, and it’s unkind to ask. It makes them feel like you need a satisfactory answer, and if they don’t give one, they’re a disappointment. . The last thing the missionary needs to worry about, is making their return “ok” in the eyes of the family, or their church community.

Missionaries come home for so many different reasons.

Sadly, often times moral mistakes are assumed. That they didn’t “confess” everything before they left or made a mistake while out there. This is actually the rarest reason for a missionary to return early, but it needs to be addressed. Let’s look at the reason why a youth would lie in the first place. Do we honestly think that we have created a culture where the truth is acceptable? The pressure we put on these kids, (and ourselves) to “look the part” is crippling. We scare these kids into silence. They fear social suicide if they are the one that comes clean, but their friends (who are often making the exact same mistakes) stay quiet. They lie because they don’t want to disappoint their parents, their leaders, their friends, or themselves. They don’t want to be seen as the one that wasn’t good enough. Can you blame them? What if we just created a culture that taught that they’d be loved and accepted regardless? That we would be proud regardless?

If they did make a mistake, left on a mission, and then found the courage to say something, THEN HALLELUAH!!! Dance a jig. The kid stood up in the face of all the expectations and the potential shame attached to owning your mistakes – yet he cast all of that aside because the in the face of everything, the truth became most important.

If you wanted a mission to change your kid, it did. He/she came back honest, and brave. A great change occurred in his heart. His heart longed to make amends. He too, is giving his widows mite. Sometimes that comes in the form of simply… the truth. If that isn’t an answer to a beckon to higher ground, then I don’t know what is. To be received home as “less than,” is such a smack in the face to their courage.

How can we claim higher moral authority when we create a culture where lying, is more celebrated and acceptable than the truth? Where looking good “on paper” is the only way we can survive. Having the courage to admit the need for change or repentance is the most beautiful thing in the world. It’s honorable, and should be treated with the respect it deserves.

As for host of other reasons that a missionary comes home early…

The kid that came home early because he couldn’t survive the rigor of missionary life (which is extremely difficult by the way), is the kid that still tried.

The kid that battled depression still showed up in the face of knowing that she might fail.

Isn’t the ultimate act of bravery, to put yourself in situations that you know you may not be successful, but you still show up? That is the process by which every person in history created anything meaningful or great. That is the key to innovation and progression. To not celebrate that kind of courage, is to teach your kids that anything less than perfect execution is failure and that = unlovable.

I would scream so loud for a kid willing to do that. I’d be so proud of him/her. And they would deserve that honor. They’d get balloons, and all the fanfare.

So What do you do when your missionary comes home early?

You LOVE THEM. You cheer just as loud. Shower them with warm hugs. Posters, balloons, loving and accepting hearts. A party. Support. Kindness. Empathy. Compassion. Respect for their privacy. Most importantly, a sacred and honored place in the church. You stop calling them “Early Returned Missionaries” as if that title qualifies their sacrifice.

To my sweet, amazing Missionaries (who just happened to come home early) I leave you with this:

You are not a failure. You are not less than. Stand TALL. God is pleased. Do not let the judgements of others weigh on your heart. Do not let anyone push you out of the church. That is not the gospel. Jesus celebrated the widows mite, and he celebrates your sweet offering too.

Missions are meant to change lives, and that always starts with the person who signed up to go.

What if God called you to serve… yourself? To convert yourself? What if your mission was just to save YOU? Are you not worthy of your own efforts? What if he called you to learn to love who YOU are? Self-love opens the door for all the other great loves in our lives. Part of self-love is giving ourselves room to grow, change and become better. Learning to acknowledge our weakness is the ultimate sign of strength. This life isn’t about outgrowing our need for God or for grace. It’s about accepting it. Learning your value to the world and in God’s plan…that is the most beautiful and dedicated service we can ask for.

I love you. I stand with you. You did enough. You are enough.

 

Love,

The Missionary Mom <3

Be ONE – a Cause to Celebrate, Righting the Wrongs of the Past, and What I teach my children about Blacks and the Priesthood.

This evening the LDS Church will host a “Be One” Celebration, commemorating 40 years of lift of the priesthood ban for those of African Descent.

With respect to that endeavor, I offer my heart in this matter. I do not speak for the church. I speak only for myself and to my experience. I hope to contribute to the dialogue concerning my Black Brothers and Sisters in Christ, who deserve our contributions in righting the wrongs of the past. I hope to do that with grace, humility and courage, because what I am about to share may strike at the very core of who we are as humans, and who we should be as Christians.

First, I think it’s important to note that I did not know about the priesthood ban when I joined the church. This might surprise you, but it’s not in the brochure. The purpose of the missionaries is simply to teach the basic tenants of the gospel. God, Jesus, eternal families. In my experience to date, very few in my generation (and the ones that follow me) have any real knowledge of these past teachings.

When the missionaries came into my life twenty years ago, I was very much in love with an African American young man. Although my family had very little to do with raising me, from the moment they heard I was dating a person of color, some went out of their way to very cruelly, state their opinions. Ones that had nothing to do with his character. The things that were said to me during those years were unforgivable. In an effort to spare him, I never shared what was said. I just walked away from my family. By the time the missionaries entered the scene, we had two children together.

If the missionaries would have presented me with the history of the priesthood ban during that season of my life, I never would have joined the church. There is no way I could have seen past it. I made no room for grace in this arena.

After a year of study in Mormonism, and with the death of my son – the promise of eternal families beckoned a great change in me. I joined the church and built my entire world around the gospel. I can honestly say that I’ve never regretted that decision. I don’t know if I could have designed a better framework to get out of the multigenerational abuse and poverty on my own. I wouldn’t be where I am without it.

There’s something very beautiful that happens when you join the church. All of the sudden, you find a common bond in people and it creates a huge sense of community and connection. As alone as I had felt for so much of my life, it filled the holes in my heart in a lot of ways.

However, my time in the church has also been quite messy. It’s not an easy life, because we are also a community riddled with pride, judgement, weakness, doubts, fear, jealousy and a severe lack of intimacy. In so many ways, we do a lot of harm to one another. A lot of tears have fallen in those pews at the hands of each other. Some of the first I had shed were in learning of the priesthood ban.

I had been a member for a little over a decade by this time, and was sitting in a Relief Society lesson. It was a lesson on the priesthood. During the course of the lesson, the 1978 revelation was mentioned. My ears perked up. What is this?  People started going back and forth on who, what, when and where. I was trying to process this information, but my head was spinning. What just happened?

The teacher tried to move on, it being very evident she opened a can of worms that she couldn’t get away from quick enough.

I raised my hand, “Ok, wait a minute. I’m sorry, I need to go back for a second. You mean to tell me at some point in our church’s history, my son couldn’t hold the priesthood? Why is that exactly? Where did this teaching come from?”

The room fell silent. No one knew what to say. When it was first introduced everyone was all sorts of talkative, and had no problems sharing their opinions as fact. However, my questions made everyone realize that my first time hearing about this was from them, and all of the sudden no one wanted the responsibility to fill in the gaps.

I looked around the room, and for the first time – I noticed every person I worshipped with was white. Up until that point, it always just felt like church. Now, I felt completely alienated.

The lady teaching the lesson very curtly, asked me to move on. I was asked to “Put this spice back on the shelf.”

I just had my world rocked. I can’t put this spice back. I needed to open the jar and eat this crap raw, no matter how bad it tasted. I needed to know.

With an impending sense of doom, I was able to muster up the courage to say,

“Sisters, I know this is uncomfortable for you. I promise, it is even more uncomfortable for me. But the difference between you and I is that you do not need this answer. All of your children are white. You have the luxury of not having this talk with your children. I do not. I have a beautiful child with a brown face that is going to ask me why at the wrong time in church history, the blessings of the gospel couldn’t be his. I need to be ready with an answer.”

After some back and forth dialogue, I was eventually silenced with the words, “Sister, this is not an appropriate time or place for this discussion, and I ask that you take your questions elsewhere. Your questioning of this ordained law begs me to ask, Where is your faith?”

The sting of her words felt like a sucker punch to my soul. This wasn’t the place for this discussion?!!!! YOU BROUGHT IT UP!! You cut me with these words and now you want to leave me here bleeding.

I got up in tears and left the room. I felt angry, hurt, and most of all, ashamed.

I grabbed my son from his class and headed home. As I clung to his little brown hand, I was in a world of hurt. I never wanted to go back to that building again.

I told Craig what happened, he explained what he was taught growing up, which was very little. That it just wasn’t “their” time. That back in biblical times only a select few had the priesthood and it wasn’t given the everyone, and this was a similar situation. Then what was the big secret at church? and what’s the deal with the “curse”?

That afternoon I watched my children play on the swing set. Two white babies, one black. If God loves his children like I love mine, how could he ever hold one in less value than another? When I put that belief to my heart, I refused to believe that could ever be the nature of God. Plus, Jesus was a Jew. In the scriptures he was described as dark skinned and hair like wool. Call me naïve, but I always figured Jesus probably looked a lot like Anthony. What did this even mean? Nothing made sense and there was a great conflict in my heart.

A few weeks later, I met with my bishop. We talked at length and he apologized for how things were handled. He told me that there was no “curse on black people”, and that everything I heard that day was opinion and that people tend to speculate when they shouldn’t. He encouraged me to do what he did, to correct these false teachings whenever it came up and that the truth is, we don’t know all of the whys. I told him it sounded to me like there was prejudice that existed in the church back then. He told me that he honestly didn’t know, but it would be easy to draw the conclusion. We just know that now, there is nothing withheld from any worthy member of the church. That Anthony was a blessing to the ward, and so was our family.

I took to the scriptures, and tried to find more resources to the origins of this belief.  That was when I discovered that this whole “curse” idea was the handy work of theologians dating all the way back to the slave trade. The curse was a common belief in the 19th & 20th centuries, initially started by some Protestants and then adopted by some Catholic sects, and Baptists. The curse was used to justify slavery in the mind and hearts of Christians.

Being a newer religion, I found very little on Mormon theology at the time. I just figured that all of our converts came from these other religions, and probably carried these beliefs into Mormonism. I made it my mission to correct people that spoke out of turn in regards to this subject.

Over the years, I would endure many things that caused me to question where the heck people got some of these crazy ideas. I honestly chalked it up to ignorance. That people weren’t aware of their own church history or of their own bias. Through those experiences, I came up with the gospel according to Dawn Armstrong, and that’s what I taught my kids.

When I taught my children about the priesthood ban, I told them many will say that “we don’t know why.”  However, my belief at the time was that if our leaders were constantly petitioning the Lord to have this ban lifted, and God didn’t see fit to lift the band until 1978, then it had to be that he withheld the priesthood until the white members of the church grew up enough to honor the space of a black man holding it. That although God’s love for us is perfect, before 1978 – man’s love for one another was not. He knows our hearts, and most likely, the white people of the church weren’t there yet.
So God let us suffer and learn from our ignorance. Our choices are not benign. They always affect others, and because of the great bias that existed during that era, we kept the priesthood from blacks and as a church, we suffered greatly for it. That I believed if anyone was being “punished” it was the white members. God must have waited until they came to repentance, and were on their knees begging for forgiveness and for things to change.

Seemed like it was the only thing that made sense to me. And for years, that explanation was enough. Until about a month before Anthony went on his mission to South Africa.

An article from the Washington post featuring an interview from religious professor Randy Bott, had surfaced.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/the-genesis-of-a-churchs-stand-on-race/2012/02/22/gIQAQZXyfR_story.html?tid=ss_mail&utm_term=.317096d345ee

It about knocked me out of my seat. What the heck is this? The article covered a lot of church history, and again – I was blindsided. I went to BYU’s website, and looked this Randy Bott up.

Under his name I read the following:

“Areas of Expertise: Doctrine of the Church, missionary preparation, application of doctrine to life”

I felt queasy. He was a very seasoned gentleman, who’d been teaching for an extremely long time. I worried about how many times he had this discussion in his classroom with missionaries or students. If he was an expert on doctrine of the church, then is this all true? Where did he find all of this information? Up until that point, I hadn’t really found anything that could remotely bring me to these conclusions.

Very shortly after the release of the article, the church released their own statement, denouncing what he said in the interview.

https://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/racial-remarks-in-washington-post-article

“His comments absolutely do not represent the teachings and doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

It went on to say that “the church’s position is clear — we believe all people are God’s children and are equal in his eyes and in the church. We do not tolerate racism in any form.”

As to the question of the now-discarded ban on blacks in the priesthood, the church said: “It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began but what is clear is that it ended decades ago.”

At the time, we were knee deep in a project with people who worked directly for the church. We had a candid discussion in my living room about the article and the church’s stance. It put me at ease. Ok, back to where I was before, even though worry lingered in the back of my mind – who else was getting this so wrong? Was the churches statement enough to squash these teachings as a whole?

Leading up to Anthony’s departure, he had some experiences that shook him, but it didn’t change his desire to go. We moved forward with faith.

When Anthony left the Johannesburg Missionary Training Center, his first area was Phoenix, South Africa. It was a predominately Indian area. He forgot himself and went to work. To paint the political landscape of South Africa at that time, I would say it was like America 40-50 years ago in regards to race relations. Apartheid had only ended in 1994. 20 years hadn’t changed much for blacks, natives and Indians. (You can learn more about apartheid here. https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apartheid)

Some of the things Anthony started to experience as a mixed race person in Africa, it was mind blowing. So many he worked with hadn’t evolved past their own bias. He took it in stride, but you have to know…I was PRAYIN!

His first Sunday out of the MTC, he went to church so excited to be a missionary.

After the meetings, an Indian member pulled him aside and said, “Hey what are you?” Anthony, very naively said, “I’m a missionary!”

The guy, insistent, asked again, “No what ARE YOU? Like what are you mixed with?” Anthony responded, “Oh, I am half black and half white.”

Guy – “So you are a braino?”

Anthony, thinking he meant “mullato” responded, “Yes, yes! Wait, what does that mean?”

To which the guy responded, “Oh, well if you were totally black, we’d know you had no brain, but because your half white, we know you’re really smart.”

Anthony didn’t even know what to say. He sat with his mouth open, probably thinking this is going to be the longest 2 years of my life. I will say,.a tribute to Anthony’s character, that by the end of his time in the area, Anthony had made this guy and his family some of his best friends. Love bridges a lot of understanding. They still have a friendship to this day. Anthony has a gift like that…to love people, and to see beyond human frailties.

When he was transferred out of Phoenix and started teaching predominately blacks, that was when he hit the wall. Anthony started to write home heartbroken. With every conversation, he was blindsided with new “doctrine”, or confronted with things former leaders of the church had supposedly said. He would confront these teachings as false, because he had never heard any of this before.

By the nature of being a missionary, he was forced to try to explain to his black brothers and sisters the status of blacks in the church prior to 1978, while also trying to reconcile a past that was starting to not add up.

I was researching as fast as I could, trying to refute these statements – convinced I was going to “arm him with the truth”. Only being able to email once a week, I couldn’t get back to him fast enough before he was blindsided by something else. I felt helpless. There was no way to ease his suffering. I was failing him.

At the same time, all of this seemed like dejavu. Here we go again. Where are all of these teachings coming from? How could a nation ten years behind in technology have knowledge dating back to the origins of the church? Where are they looking that I’m not?

I think rock bottom for Anthony was when he was sitting in the living room of a member of the church, and was told that “his mother was going to hell because I gave him life.” That race mixing was a sin punishable by death. That I was an abomination and by virtue of him being my son, so was he. It took every amount of self-control to sit there while he was raging inside.

Yet, I had to tell him that those were the words of Brigham Young. It was actually called the “blood atonement.” I found his quote and as I read his words and felt sick to my stomach. This was not the Brigham Young that I learned about in church for the whole of my life.

You know, the fact that we are a record keeping people – yeah, that’s not always a good thing.  You think you want the truth, until you find it, and it breaks your heart.

Once I found one thing, it just opened up the flood gates to all the others.
The Journal of Discourses. The Joseph Smith Papers. The Improvement Era. The Way to Perfection. Doctrines of Salvation. The Glory of Mormonism. Mormon Doctrine. Essentially the church history library ya’ll.

So many talks, and journals and books, all that I had hoped would refute these statements, instead it just confirmed them. Yes, I had taught my children that I thought that prejudice had existed in the church. It was naive to think that it didn’t. However, I thought it was from the rank and file, but it had come from the top. For a long season in our church’s history – from everything I could find – there was no way I could refute that this was taught as doctrine. Everything I read, blew my mind.

This was not just a priesthood ban. It was a gospel of Jesus Christ ban. The priesthood ban prevented men from serving missions. It withheld the promise of eternal families, which would keep them from the highest degree of glory. Young men couldn’t bless and pass the sacrament. There was no temple work they could participate in. No leadership positions. So every fundamental right of passage, and eternal promise was denied. Even more sad, was the only person who held less power in the church than a black man prior to 1978, was a black woman. Because a black woman’s power in the church was inexplicably linked to a black mans. Every blessing denied to males, was also denied to females by proxy. Why couldn’t black women serve missions? They didn’t need the priesthood to do that. From everything I had read, other than worship services, blacks truly had no home in the church.

Now, I was in the fetal position. I went from anger, to rage, to tears, to a great sadness, over and over and over again. I thought back to all of those conversation, where I had thought I was schooling people on church history. And after all of this time, It was me that didn’t know. I was mad at the church. I felt so betrayed. I was mad at myself, because my ignorance had left my son extremely vulnerable. I didn’t push hard enough for answers when I should have. I had failed him. The church had failed him.
It’s the worst thing in the world to have your child in his greatest depths of despair, while being half a world away.

So, what had originally started out as letters to refute these statements, and in defense of the church, eventually became letters that were just honest about the past. He deserved the truth. Little did I know, he was beating me to the punch every time. He had found the truth – all on his own.

Eventually, Anthony-  through the help of his mission president, reading books, his missionary service, and a lot of prayer – he was able to make peace with the leaders of the past. He admitted to me, that he didn’t read most of what I sent. He just needed to find his own way. Faith is a very personal journey. Anthony didn’t need me, he needed God. Only God could mend his broken heart.

For me, I kept writing the letters. Most I never even sent – he didn’t need them anymore, but I did. Writing has always been healing for me. One day, I sat there wondering how I could ever reconcile the teachings of the past.

I started to look up pictures of each leader starting with the one who hurt my heart the most. I needed to see their faces. It helped me realize that they were just people. Subject to the same fallibilities as me. Born into a world where they were taught wrong when it came to race.

I pictured what it must have been like for these men to cross over to the next world, and have all the of weaknesses of the flesh be liberated from their bodies. I pictured the flood of knowledge that permeated their minds in an instant. I pictured a just God, who would let them feel the pain they had inflicted on others from the perspective of the wounded. The agony they must have felt for what the mistakes that were made. I pictured them begging God to let them go back and fix it. To let them have just a moment to say they were sorry and right all of the wrongs.

I pictured the tears that were wept by the souls that scattered around them. The souls of those who had lived and died with these policies. Both people’s eyes finally open, seeing each other for the first time, as equals. The wounded feeling the agony of their oppressors, and granting them mercy and forgiveness.

I realized that someday, I too will sit in that judgement seat. I will pass on to the next life and feel the weight of my mistakes, and those whom I have hurt deeply. I will beg for grace. I will beg for mercy. I will long to right the wrongs in my own life. Each of us will.

Then I realized, every generation since the beginning of man, has had and will have a plague of their time. Racism was theirs. It existed all throughout the world, and touched every faith. Christianity didn’t save anyone from it, and our church was not immune from this plague. Just like it’s not immune from pornography or the long list of ailments we humans carry today.

We can always look to the past and judge harshly, wondering how the people that came before us could have ever treated another human being with such cruelty. I have never been able to wrap my head around slavery, or Hitler or racism, or the host of awful things we’ve done since the human race began. The answer is simple, when we know better – we do better. That’s why our history is so important. It’s how we learn from the sins of the past.

Some may ask, how could leaders of the past pray to God and get the wrong answer so many times? The gospel according to Dawn – every single one of us go to our knees with an agenda, with the answer that we really want. I think for the most part its subconscious, and we don’t even realize. We get up from our knees, feeling good, like the Lord is in the details, only to later realize that it wasn’t his answer, it was ours. God will never take our agency by force. God’s been meeting us where we are since the beginning of time.

Learning to get out of God’s way will be a lifetime pursuit for each of us, as we learn to lean into his agenda and trust his timing. None of us are immune to pride, as we are all here to overcome the natural man. There have been times I have gotten on my knees and not felt satisfied with an answer. I’ve felt uneasy. Sometimes, when it’s God’s answer and not our answer, it will make us feel uneasy. Cause he asks us to do hard things. Things we aren’t ready for and will challenge us to the very core of who we are. That IS God’s agenda. Not to force his will, but to force growth. He will shape us, and if our hearts aren’t willing fast enough, he will shape the circumstances around us until one day – we are forced to see.

We often times look to our leaders, whether in the church or outside it, and we demand perfection. This is especially true of our church leaders. We look to them as deity’s and constantly expect a flawless performance. Some of them will spend the whole of their lives serving. A lifetime of perfection? Come on. None of us can do that.

The gospel wasn’t designed to at some point, outgrow the need for God, or the need for grace. There’s no calling that can give anyone that, no matter how far “up the ladder” we go. They are giving their lives to this work, and it’s gonna be messy sometimes. We are going to get things wrong.

For the hurt that still remained, one day not too far from then, I turned on general conference and there was Elder Uchtdorf, beginning a talk called “Come, Join with Us.”

As I sat there, wondering if I was wrong to doubt and have questions for so long

Elder Uchtdorf stated, “In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth.”  

Then I wondered if I could ever make peace with all of the unanswered questions, to which Uchtdorf replied:

“Some struggle with unanswered questions about things that have been done or said in the past. We openly acknowledge that in nearly 200 years of Church history—along with an uninterrupted line of inspired, honorable, and divine events—there have been some things said and done that could cause people to question.

Sometimes questions arise because we simply don’t have all the information and we just need a bit more patience. When the entire truth is eventually known, things that didn’t make sense to us before will be resolved to our satisfaction.

Sometimes there is a difference of opinion as to what the “facts” really mean. A question that creates doubt in some can, after careful investigation, build faith in others.”

And then when I wondered if the church would ever fully acknowledge that there were mistakes made, and seriously ten seconds later, Uchtdorf brings it home with,

“And, to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.

I suppose the Church would be perfect only if it were run by perfect beings. God is perfect, and His doctrine is pure. But He works through us—His imperfect children—and imperfect people make mistakes.”

By this time, I was impressed by Elder Uchtdorf’s ability to read my mind and then plan
his talk accordingly. I’m almost positive, he wrote that talk for me.

Whenever I am approached by others on this subject, I’m always asked the same questions. These are my answers. I hope they bring peace to your heart. (Again, gospel according to Dawn.)

Why hasn’t more been said about the teachings of the past?

I think at the time, the leaders thought it was enough to say, “Forget everything that’s ever been said before now.” It may feel likeit is when you aren’t the one that it directly effects. You cannot right over one hundred forty years of wrongs in one sentence. One sentence also cannot reshape an entire churches character, when racism has been a fundamental part of our theology. Sadly, too many church members have not forgotten these teachings, and continue to carry them forward, or have not clearly understood that the church has disavowed any teachings that diminished in any way, the children of God in every shade and circumstance.

Why haven’t current church leaders done more to denounce these teachings?

Frankly, It’s hard to speak for the dead. We were not in those prayer rooms, nor were we in the mind of the ones on their knees. I think it’s important to remember, that former church leaders do not only have a legacy of mistakes. They got a lot right too. There was also a lifetime of beauty, service, love and compassion. They spent their life in service to their fellow man. Yes, there were things they got wrong, but none of us are ever only one thing. Sometimes, it’s hard to honor the Christian part of the legacy, while at the same time finding a way to condemn the mistakes. That’s tricky. Imagine if people took turns standing at your funeral, remembering the worst acts of your human experience. None of us want to be remembered by the worst things we’ve ever done.

My family, the ones who held those deeply engrained prejudices that I had to walk away from for a season. Well, it was through me loving them in their weaknesses, they had a mighty change of heart. When I sat at the body of my grandmother and grandfather – The “unforgiveable comments” weren’t at the forefront of my mind. It was the sweetness of their last moments. The times when they showed great kindness and charity. As they moved to the other side, I didn’t want my lack of forgiveness to plague their hearts. I longed for them to be free. It’s a grace that I will hope for myself.

I think current church leaders are trying. Part of my healing came when the church came out with the Race and the Priesthood essay. https://www.lds.org/topics/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng Is this enough? No, but it’s a really good start. In the last year, I’ve seen more about race than I have in my entire membership of the church. More and more talks are being written that further enforces the churches stance.

How many times do we have to acknowledge and talk about the priesthood ban?

Well, how many years did we teach it? (mid 1800’s to 1978)
I think we have to unsay it about as many times as we’ve said it.

Most people I talk with have never heard of the “Race and the Priesthood essay”
That’s a problem for two different reasons. First, there are still three generations above me that grew up in this era. A lot of these people aren’t online and it’s never been read from the pulpit, so unfortunately some still cling on to those teachings and promote them as doctrine, thus spreading a message that the church has denounced.

For my generation and below, it’s a history that most of us don’t know, and need a resolution to. If you take the time to ask our black brothers and sisters their experiences in the church, I think you’d be shocked to find there’s a lot of hurt.

Similar to the struggle in American culture, racism still exists. Bias still remains.

What it’s been like to raise a black child in a white world.

Why can’t black people and people in general,  just get over it?

There is a lot of hurt in these teachings. They still touch us today.  Some, like me – had no idea about them and get shook to the core when we find out. Some people are finding out for the first time through this post.

With all due respect, we don’t get to “command that ye be healed”. Only Christ can do that. People will find healing in their own time, and in their own way, but no one has the right to diminish or judge the process.

I do know that healing always begins with the acknowledgement of suffering. So, I say to you my black brothers and sisters. I’m so sorry. For all of it. For all the times we held you back. For all of the hurt we have caused. For all of the things we taught. For all of the ways we diminished you in our buildings and in our history. I’m sorry that we robbed ourselves of your gifts and your contributions to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m sorry we robbed ourselves of your leadership and your insight. I’m sorry that we withheld the blessings of forever, which were rightfully yours. I’m sorry for all the names, and for the exclusion, and for the deep loneliness you may have felt.

And I as walk into that building tonight and celebrate every single thing about you that we have missed out on, may we finally and wholly lift you up to where you have always belonged. I love you. I honor you, and treasure you.

 

Love,

Dawn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elder Armstrong’s “Hope for a better world.”

Elder Armstrong (my son who is currently serving a two year church service mission in Washington, DC) wrote this little pearl this week, and I combined it with one of his last emails in the area he just left. He was transferred to Belmont Ridge after leaving Reston, Virginia. He leaves behind 7.5 months of loving people, working hard and growing up. <3

“The week… wow its great to be a missionary 🙂 So sorry if this email might be a little long.

This week we had interviews with President Huntsman, which I always really enjoy. There was a little stress going into it, just because I’m training a new missionary. I tend to put unnecessary stress on myself, trying to make sure I don’t mess anyone up. 😅 

A main focus on this transfer is promised gifts in our patriarchal blessings. (a personal blessing, kind of like a road map for your life in a lot of ways) President Huntsman asked us to share (to our comfort) a promised blessing we have received, and it was such an eye opening experience. Part of my blessing shares the promise that if I forget the things of this world, then I will be blessed with a greater appreciation of the Savior and Heavenly Father, and will also be blessed with any spiritual or temporal need.

I have come to see this continue to be fulfilled, many times. I know that if I continue serving God to the best of my ability – God will continue to open up doors for me.

This last Friday we got to go to the temple again! This time for baptisms with our recent convert Glenn. (Also, ask me about Glenn after my mission, and I’ll probably talk for a few hours just about what an amazing person he is. Such a cool dude.)

 
When we got there, none of the other Elders wanted to get wet so I volunteered to go with Glenn into the font. We went behind a family, and Glenn got to actually be a witness for the whole family. When the father had baptized his family, I got the chance to go in and baptize him. After I got done baptizing, Glenn walked into the font to baptize me. You’d think he was a pro with how awesome he did, especially when we had Korean names!! 😂

You’ll never find a sweeter feeling than when you’re serving in the temple, that I have a testimony of.

We left shortly after, and went back to Reston to have the iconic Silver Diner dinner. And honestly, it felt like family. It made me really happy, and also a little sad. I know I have at most another transfer left in Franklin, and its going to be sad leaving. I grew up as a missionary here, and have spent 7.5 short months serving these wonderful people. The feels man.
 
It was testimony meeting yesterday and not a ton of people were getting up. So GLENN (being the awesome person that he is) got up and bore his testimony. For those of you who do not know, John Huntsman (yes that one) passed away this last Friday. He’s President’s dad, and it was a very sad moment for a lot of people in the mission. Glenn got a chance to meet him at a fireside, and it was seeing the generosity of John Huntsman that was a large part of his conversion. Not his generosity in donating money, which he did do quite often, but for Glenn it was seeing him being generous with his time. Time he didn’t have much of. It was an amazing testimony. 
 
Shortly after I got up and bore my simple testimony and expressed gratitude for the ward. Then one of our youth got up and shared his testimony, in which I got quoted from something I had said when I was at a dinner a his house. I had absolutely no idea that stuck with him. But there’s the truth about life. You will never really know just how much you impact someone’s life. The things you do and say do matter. So don’t ever be afraid to share your testimony with someone else. It just might be the reason they get to enjoy the Gospel. 
 
There’s a song lyric from an old song I used to listen to that has been running through my mind while writing this. 
 
“Who says you are one in a million?
You’re so much better than that.”
 
No one who lives today, has lived in the past, or will live in the future will ever have your spirit, your testimony, or your exact life’s experiences. So yes. Even when you have the thought I’ve had of “my testimony isn’t anything special, is it even worth sharing?”, I can promise you yes, it is. Don’t every shy away from sharing it. No one can be you 🙂 
 *******************************************************************

First week in Belmont Ridge down, and can I say… wow.

I have officially walked throughout my entire area, with some parts several times haha. That’s how small my area is. But yet it is still so awesome. The members in this ward are great, and it’s twice the size of my last ward. I’ve met a lot of our current investigators, and they are very cool people that definitely are seeking the truth. I can’t wait for our lessons with them this next week.
 
Less serious, but equally awesome things about this area:
1. I have a washer and dryer in my apartment. (My last apartment didn’t, which is rare for this mission) Hallelujah.
2. TWO. Yes…. TWO bathrooms, which are 5 times the size of my last bathroom that I shared. I think I can wake up happy just knowing that. Counting my many blessings lol.
 
On a more serious note, I guess there is a certain stigma that this area has, that the work is super slow, and that the last recent convert that came out of it was 2 years ago. Elder Johnson, (who has been here for the last 6 months already)  is a great missionary, and I can’t wait to break that stigma while working with him. We’ve got a lot of great plans to work with members and through other methods to pick things up. It’ll be awesome, and I am excited to get to work.
 
I’m often reminded of the scripture that I’m 98% sure I have on my missionary plaque, which is Ether 12:4. It says,
 
“Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.”
 

I know that my “hope for a better world” is why I am out here, and why I will not be deterred by anything. My hope is that somehow I might be able to be the servant of Christ that my Heavenly Father wants me to be, and that I might share that hope with those I serve. I love this gospel and look forward for whatever amount of time I have here with the wonderful people in the Belmont Ridge Area.”

Love,

Elder Armstrong

Dawn Armstrong

Homelessness has a face…and it’s mine.

I come from a long line of broken women and bad men.  By the time I was 14, I had experienced so much suffering and abuse that I was tired of being scared all of the time. One day I packed a bag and headed for the city. I didn’t know where I would go, or what I would do…but I knew that I had to get out of there.
No one came looking for me, either.

By nature, I am an introvert. I was always quiet and reserved as a child, never asking for much. Needing things got me into trouble. I learned to stay shadows to avoid that trouble. Being homeless however, it taught me how to be an extrovert. I knew that if I wanted a meal or a place to sleep, I had to learn to make friends quickly. I learned to read people well and to listen when they talked. I always knew when it was time leave. It was around the time that parents started asking,

“Do her parents know she’s been here for three days?”

“Should I call her mother?”

“Why is she still here?”

Yep, time to go.

Making friends became my job. Getting food and shelter was how I got paid. When you aren’t old enough to work, you become very resourceful. As soon as I was of legal working age, I held down a job and went to school. Working was never a problem for me. I was an Iowa farm girl. I knew how to work. I took any job I could get—mostly fast food or as a waitress. It was quick money, I had somewhere to eat, and I was warm for my whole shift.

There were times where there just wasn’t a friend to be made. I would sleep anywhere and everywhere I could find. There was one night in particular that’s burned into my memory.

It was right in the middle of a harsh Midwest winter, and it was frigid outside. I had no coat. I just had this basketball sweatshirt with my name on the back of it. Man, I loved that sweatshirt so much. I had bought it with the money I earned de-tasseling corn for a local farmer a few summers back. Something about that sweatshirt made me feel normal—like I was just this kid on a basketball team who had a great life and was not a homeless beggar. That cold, winter night I walked up and down the streets of Council Bluffs, Iowa, not sure what to do. I remembered that one of the friends I’d stayed with had recently moved. I wondered if the house was still vacant. In complete desperation, I ran to the house and found that it hadn’t been rented yet. I went to the back, scaled the house, popped open the window and crawled inside. To my despair, the heat was turned off. It was still so cold. I looked around for anything that had been left behind to cover myself up with. Nothing remained, so I found a carpeted room in the middle of the home and laid down. I rolled up in a ball and shoved my knees as far up my sweatshirt as I could. I put my hands inside the sleeves in an attempt to warm them to any degree. I sat in the dark and cried.

I felt so alone in the world. My hands hurt. My stomach was so hungry. The weight of my situation was so heavy. As I sobbed that night, I could see my breath in the dark, another painful reminder of how cold it was even inside the house. Exhaustion set in. I could feel my body start to succumb to how tired it was.
My last thoughts that night were wondering if I would freeze to death. If this spot in the carpet would be my final resting place. Would this be the way that I died? I wondered if there would be a funeral.  I couldn’t think of anyone who would come. How would they even know who I was if no one was looking for me? I was afraid to go to sleep, not certain that I was going to wake up. I was just so tired.

I woke up the next morning to the sound of someone entering the back door. I was startled and shot up like a rabbit. I heard them talking. It was the landlord showing the house. They saw me, and I ran out the front door in shame. Shame that they saw my need. Shame that they knew. Shame that I had broken into his home because I had nowhere to go. I ran for three blocks before I stopped. That adrenaline was the first warmth I had felt in a long time. The tears came back.

At the time, I didn’t even know I was pregnant with my first child. Being homeless was becoming very inconvenient. Things that people don’t realize:

You can have a baby at 16, but you can’t sign a lease. You can’t buy a car. You can’t turn on your utilities. You can get welfare, but technically I made too much money. In time, I made enough money to support myself to some degree, but none of it mattered because I wasn’t legal. I found a few friends that let me stay here and there, but there was no stability. Everything relied on me never being underfoot and always perfect. I always tried to disappear or remain in the room of the friend I was staying with. I did this somewhat in hopes that they would forget I was there, and I’d get to stay longer. My survival was completely based on the generosity of others creating space for me in their life. At seventeen, hoping for a miracle, I reunited with my child’s father and found myself pregnant again. Upon this news, my boyfriend left us for his full-ride scholarship.

I had no choice anymore. I had to keep Anthony safe. He would not survive freezing temperatures.  I went to a homeless shelter which broke the rules and let me stay there. I can’t tell you how humbling it was to walk through those doors with one hand on my pregnant belly and the other holding the hand of my one-year-old—especially knowing that this was all I had for them, and it wasn’t even mine to give.
I would stay in this homeless shelter until the day I turned 18.

In the homeless community there are two subcultures. There are vagrants, and there are homeless.

Vagrants are those who have accepted homelessness as their way of life. They come to shelters for a meal and a bed. They have no interest in rehabilitation or getting off the streets. Something in their way of thinking shifted in life. Homelessness grants them anonymity. They are able to escape expectations, responsibilities, and heartbreak. In my experience, most have some mental illness. They seek refuge in friends who need that escape, too. A high percentage of them are riddled with addiction because that’s the way they truly get to “disappear.” When the generosity of others wains or the drugs run out, they aren’t above committing crimes or hurting you to steal what you’ve got.

The homeless are the rest of us. I spent four years in that world, and I can tell you firsthand who these people are. They are people who were in similar situations to mine, either experiencing teen pregnancy or escaping abuse at home. Some were battered women who took their kids and ran. Some had lost jobs, and for others, medical bills were the cause of their financial demise. Some were people that had been shunned by the world for one reason or another and had just shut down. Back in my time, there were a lot of LGTBQ people or girls who had gotten pregnant and had been kicked out of their homes for disappointing their families. They had nowhere to go.

We were all ashamed to be there. Deep shame. The kind that makes your soul quake.  At first, we all just tried to stay in our rooms. It was easier to not have to look people in the eye. During meal and chore times, we were forced to interact. Sometimes the thought of having to face people made me really not hungry. I only went into the kitchen because my baby needed to eat.

One evening during another awkward meal at the dinner table, I got brave and asked the person sitting next to me, “So what are you in for?” The whole table laughed, and we all started to open up about what had gotten us there—the roads we had traveled. Every single one of us wanted a chance to say that we were more than just our circumstances. It helped with the shame. When people came into volunteer, it made us all uncomfortable in a sense. We scattered like roaches. We didn’t want to be seen or treated as less. Some of that stemmed from how we viewed ourselves, being in one of the weakest moment of our lives. When we had chores that brought us face to face with staff or volunteers, we were quick to tell our stories. We didn’t want to be lumped in with vagrants. We didn’t put ourselves above the vagrant population, but it was vital to our long-term survival for those around us to know that WE WANTED OUT! We didn’t want to be here. We needed people to stop judging us long enough to see that. No one could judge us as critically as we judged ourselves. We, too, wanted so desperately to hold our heads high and do well for ourselves. Our chances at that point relied solely on people’s willingness to see beyond our circumstances. We needed someone willing to open a few doors for us—doors we couldn’t open for ourselves, despite our best efforts.

I signed the lease for my first apartment on my 18th birthday. I walked through that door with pride. I owned nothing but the two towels assigned to me by the homeless shelter, along with three children’s books given to me that I read to Anthony every night. I bet the people who donated those books had no idea how much I’d come to treasure them. They were three of the five things that I owned. My apartment wasn’t much by the world’s view, but those were the most beautiful four walls I had ever seen. They were my four walls.

I wish I had the time and space to tell you the whole story, because the first 20 years were absolute hell and this post makes it look like Candyland. It got so much worse. I only give you this rare and very private view of my life because I want people to see that
struggle…has a face. It’s my face.

For months I have watched cities throughout Utah consistently reject bringing homeless resource centers into their communities. This week it happened in my own home town of Draper, Utah. A proposal to house a resource center for women and children was brutally rejected, no questions asked. As leaders tried to calm the angry mob and address concerns, they were booed or yelled at. Threats and insults were flying everywhere. I can’t tell you how much it broke my heart. I don’t think my community realized they were rejecting one of their own. 20 years ago, that was me.

Draper’s response was no different than any other proposed hosting city. Every meeting has had the same result, each proposed site being shot down with the same vigor. Rooms filled with anger, resentment and awful words spoken. This happens in cities all throughout our nation whenever the subject of homelessness comes up.

The heart of the message is always the same: “We don’t want you.”

I can’t help but feel the sting of that sentiment. I can guarantee that for some of the people walking the halls of those homeless shelters, they’ve heard those words before…and it’s part of what landed them there.

There is also a very important part of the story that you aren’t hearing—the end.

After struggle… comes triumph. I normally wouldn’t give my resume (I’m not about that life), but I think it’s imperative in this instance because people need to understand that someone’s beginning does not determine their ending.

I went on to have a beautiful life. I worked HARD. I fought my way OUT of poverty. I worked multiple jobs and never turned my nose up at an opportunity to further myself.  All of those desperate times shaped my character in ways you can’t even imagine. It gave me the grit I needed to stare down the obstacles in my life, including myself. People’s willingness to see my potential—rather than my circumstances—gave me a chance to move on and to do beautiful things. I outworked everyone, because I wanted a good life.

I spent a long career as a director at a local hospital, where I specialized in addiction recovery, motivational workshops, marketing and strategic planning, clinical care, and sensitivity training. I was the first person in the State of Utah to achieve several National Awards for Excellence. I served as a consultant for several hospitals throughout the Intermountain West. In 2009, I walked away from my six-figure salary to stay home with my (Surprise!) twins.

For several years now, I’ve devoted hundreds of hours to humanitarian service every month—thousands of hours per year. I spend time investing in communities around the globe. I sit with the broken. All day, every day… I walk people out of the dark. Some of the time is spent in mentorship programs for young single mothers. Some of it is spent at the women’s prison, or juvenile detention centers. I’ve also worked with bereavement groups.  I’ve held dead babies in my arms while mothers wept from their unspeakable loss. Often times it’s in a church. I work with men, women, and youth around the world, counseling them through abuse, addiction, marriage, suicide, grief, loss, LGBTQ issues, and a host of other heartbreaking circumstances. I love my life and I don’t make a dime, although I have been able to help raise money for others in need. In fact, sharing a tiny bit of my story helped to earn the American Red Cross 1.2 million dollars.

I have been happily married to an incredible man for 20 years this summer. We have eight well-educated, nurtured and loving children that go out to serve with us. That is ten people serving communities. And the generations that follow them will, too.

My son Anthony… he’s currently in the Junior Core at the Marriot School of Business, one of the top business schools in the country,  highly focused on integrity in business. His education follows two years of service in South Africa, where he had the chance to lift up and offer aid to some of the world’s most humble and impoverished people. My next oldest son, Andrew, has just sent in the paperwork to serve for two years as well. Upon returning, his plan is to attend medical school. My other children are too young to know their futures, but I know they will serve their communities well because it’s modeled at home.

My point is that we have to look at the return investment. I am confident in saying that it worked out for those who invested in a tiny homeless girl in the Midwest. We won’t always see the ending, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a beautiful one.

We have got to recognize what Charity is and what it isn’t. Charity is not going down to the homeless shelter on Thanksgiving and serving dinner, then snapping a picture for Instagram. Charity is not being willing to help those in need, as long as they stay out of our communities. That’s the worldly and human need for a social pecking order, with the elite always remaining on top.
We might as well be saying, “I am fine helping you, but know your place. The only way you are welcome in my community is if you can afford to buy your own ticket.”

Can we truly call that the pure love of Christ?  Christ entered the world homeless, and was of humble means throughout his life. Yet his contributions are quite literally our saving grace.  I think his view on this subject was pretty clear:

“For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not…
Inasmuch as ye have done
 it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

Good people of the world, I challenge us to search our consciences—to channel our Christian hearts. Good deeds are not done by walking into a church. They are done when you walk outside of that church and help others.

We have got to change this “No Room in the Inn” mentality. There’s room if we make room. True charity is sacrifice. True charity is giving to the point that it hurts a little bit, or sometimes an awful lot. That’s the very essence of Christianity: loving sacrifice. It’s what shapes our character and defines our hearts. I beg of our communities to share in the sacred responsibility to serve our most needy.

Stephen Colbert said it best:

“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we’ve got to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition, and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”

 

Dawn L. Armstrong is a humanitarian, speaker, blogger, and lover of all people. Her autobiography, “A New Dawn”, highlights the struggle to break the chains of abuse, neglect, and poverty. In it she provides insight on how to heal from the wounds of this world, and go on to have an extraordinary life. Look for it in book stores later this year.

 

 


 

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save