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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 


 

 

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Elder Armstrong, Take 2 – Called to Serve (AWESOME Video)

It’s been about three weeks since I’ve been on social media…and I haven’t posted on my blog since just before Drew got his mission call. Once his church mission call came…honestly, I couldn’t keep up. We had eight weeks before his departure date. Eight short weeks to get him ready. Eight weeks to make final memories with him at home. Eight weeks left with my child, who clearly is a man now. Just try telling my heart.

Quite literally, I was chasing time.

I tried to keep up with all that we were doing, but it got to a point where honestly, I craved not living my life through a seven-inch screen. I just wanted to make it last, and for time to crawl. I wanted to savor each day, really living and breathing in every second. I was constantly taking snap shots in my mind at every precious moment. Cherishing every giggle and group hug we had left as a family. I craved intimacy and quiet, something that I didn’t realize I missed so much until I took it back for this season.

Now, while all these precious memories are fresh in my mind, I’m ready to put them to script. I’ll start with the night it all began. We weren’t expecting his call to come that day, so I had to throw together a party in like an hour and a half. A little stressful, but it was a big day that deserved some fan fare.

As we got closer to the time Drew was to open his call, I could feel my anxiety level rise. As much as I love what this means for him, there is a certain amount of dread I feel knowing what it means for my family. This isn’t my first rodeo. So…I took a quiet moment to center my thoughts to where they should be. I escaped up into my room, got on my knees and I prayed.

I prayed so hard for Drew to go where he was needed, and most importantly, where he’d promised. I prayed that as he read those words, he would feel peace and regain the knowledge of that promise. You see, I believe with all of my heart – that we made promises to one another before we ever came down here. That there would come a time in each of our lives, that we would need someone to nudge us towards God. Towards a life that would reveal our divine gifts and purpose, towards grace, and a love and depth of healing that we had forgotten was possible.

Through his missionary service, Drew isn’t really called to teach. It’s more that he’s called to learn. To learn the Lord’s way. He also isn’t there to save, it’s more to BE SAVED. To be saved by the lessons, the heartbreak, the love he’ll give and receive. It’s his sacred chance to convert himself and his heart… completely towards God and Christ’s teachings.

If it is our desire is to truly become like Christ…we have to spend the majority of our time here coming to the rescue of one other. We can’t save each other in the same way Christ did, but there’s no doubt that God needs us to save one another. He needs the change that happens in our hearts and character when we do. We are his hands for a reason. It will be through loving, serving and sacrificing for others that Drew will find his power and purpose. You give a young person that kind of knowledge, and I’ll give you a miracle that will unleash a lifetime of miracles. Get the hence, Satan. There’s a new game in town. 🙂

Anyway…enough preachin. I closed the prayer asking God to help my heart relish a day and goal 19 years in the making, and finally – to remind Drew to be grateful for the beautiful gift he was about to receive. The gift of opportunity. It’s rare in life when we get the chance to throw the world at our feet and put God first to this degree. It is a privilege as much as a sacrifice.

The thing about this prayer, is that everything I was asking God for..I knew he had already given it to us. But there is something very sacred in the asking. For me, it keeps my heart in a constant state of humility. I am reminded of where all of the good in my life comes from, and I feel peace and comfort keeping him by my side. Isn’t it beautiful, when we invite God into all the spaces of our life, and not reserve our conversations with him only in times of despair.

I headed downstairs to a moment that was about to change everything. Mostly, change a boy I had been in love with for nineteen years.

 

Isn’t he the cutest? Man…I’m so proud of his gentle heart. He’s got such a sweet and sincere way about him. I loved watching him take center stage and cheering from the sidelines as he read the words that would change his life. It was a red letter day for Craig and I. We couldn’t be more proud of him. The second he read those words….I had a flight of calm came over me. It was like I was in a room by myself…and God swept peace right into my heart. I knew instantly, that it will be the perfect experience for him. I have to say…that as a mom who’s lost a child, I’m not a big fan of foreign missions. I don’t like my babies far away from me at all. South Africa about killed me last time with Anthony. I got through it ok (just didn’t sleep for two years), but when Drew said, “DC”… I wanted to scream “YES, YES, YES!!!!” I don’t tell my kids that, cause it’s not about me. This is their journey and I’ll support whatever God needs them to do. Needless to say though, I WAS THRILLED.

This video just makes me cry dang it. Watching my children run around the house…it got me. They are growing up on me and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. I’m deciding to take in the joy though…and be grateful for the beautiful gift I have in each one of them. I am in awe of their goodness and light.

I’d like to thank my dear friend RJ Idos, who shared his incredible talents with us making this stunningly perfect video. What a gift he has given me in this memory. I’ll cherish this forever. Thanks, my brotha. <3

Hurrah for Israel! What a gift of a good day.

Love,

Dawn

Some pics of our beautiful day!

 

 

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Dear Missionary….It’s your call

My son Andrew (Drew) is due to receive his mission call literally any day now. He’s been checking the mail several times a day, hoping for that much anticipated white envelope. I remember going through the same anticipation with Anthony. I was a ball of nerves! Yesterday he checked the mail like four times, even though he knew the answer wasn’t going to change. Not today friend, not today. It’s killing us!

In the past few years, social media has let us share beautiful moments with those that wouldn’t otherwise get to be a part of watching a mission call being opened. Mission call parties are becoming a fairly common occurrence. With these developments, have come some unintended consequences.

This season of our lives always strikes up a lot of comrade with members all over the world. Get missionary parents in a room and proudly, it’s all we talk about. Mom’s are the worst. 🙂 This makes me privy to a lot of stories and experiences, some hilarious, some informational, and some very eye opening.

I share the following story with the permission:

After much self reflection and prayer, my friend’s daughter made the amazing and heart wrenching decision to serve a mission. Several appointments, interviews and hours spent on the computer later, she clicked “SUBMIT”. Everything in her life was about to change. How, when and where it would change, all depended on that “Great White Envelope”. Everyone was on high alert, just waiting for the word on when it arrived.

After several trips to the mailbox that week, it finally came!!! She was beside herself with joy. Blissful calls went out to friends and family. She wanted all the people that mean the most to her to come and witness her big day! She couldn’t wait to share this moment with them.

With her cherished ones gathered around her, she read the following words,

“Dear Sister ______, You are hereby called to serve as a missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – You are assigned to labor in the Charlotte, North Carolina Mission.”

Tears went down her face. She was thrilled. She knew when she read those words it was where God wanted her to be. When you watch the video, she was completely joyful. She looked like she won the lottery. Everything about it felt good, it felt right. Her parents were through the moon.

As her friends came up to hug her, she anticipated congratulatory remarks, and a lot were. However, a lot of what she heard was the following:

“Awww, Are you ok?”
“Are you disappointed?”
“Are you so sad?”
“Do you still want to go?”
“Are you still going to serve?”
“Awww, I was hoping you’d go somewhere cool.”

By the end of the night, something that had been a very joyful and sacred moment for her in the beginning – turned into a three hour sob session, where her pillow was drenched in tears. Not tears of her own disappointment, but the disappointment of others. She was made to feel that her offering to the Lord just didn’t measure up. It took a little time for her to block out their words out of her mind and become centered in her own feelings again.

All I can say to that story is, First – Not cool. Second – Completely inaccurate way of thinking.

When my friend told me this story, she shared it with me to somewhat protect us when Drew opens his mission call. She didn’t want what happened to her daughter, to happen to Drew. Her word of warning made me rethink sharing this beautiful moment with others, because their reactions may be less than ideal.  I’m grateful that she was honest with me, because she confirmed a trend I had been noticing and what other parents had also shared with me.

I have a million people on my social media feeds. I get the honor of watching a lot of mission call openings.  If it is a foreign call, its met with cheers and loud screams of exhilaration. If it’s state side – I hate to even say this – but a lot of times its an awkward pause, followed by a few sharing a little “Woo hoo” condolence cheer. Now to be fair, there are some families and friends that ROCK being excited no matter what – so I need to put that out there too.

It merits the discussion though. The thing about culture – we use it to create beautiful traditions or we can use it to do unintended harm.

In an effort to course correct, I’ve taken some time to poll a ton of missionaries. Both in person and online.  Some were recently returned and some seasoned vets. Here is what I found: (and my commentary to these findings, lol)

1. Most Missionaries to varying degrees feel pressure to get a “good call” when opening that envelope. The excitement/acceptance of their peers and family is crucial. That weighs heavily in their own personal joy of the experience. This was less of an issue for older returned missionaries, but has become more prevalent because of social media.

2. “You’re not a real missionary.” – Missionaries expressed that getting called to the states has varying stigmas associated with it.

East and West Coast Missions being more desirable or more culturally accepted, especially when a foreign language was attached with it. Hence the “I was called to the California, Riverside Mission – Spanish Speaking” responses, in hopes that it validated their call more in the eyes of some.  State side Missionaries want it to be acknowledged that they can have just as foreign of an experience. Some may never speak English their whole mission, or even teach American whites at all.

The most stigma associated (and therefore highest experienced anxiety) were calls to Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada. Missionaries who served there say that often times they get the, “You’re not a real missionary” speech. Due to the high concentration of members, some view their mission is/must have been a cake walk. That the members line up all of their friends in front of the font and after taking a dip, have baptism dance offs. Missionaries serving in those states are pampered with dinners and gifts. To this I say – Lol! Are you for real? I am a ward missionary. Our missionaries work their tails off. They may get more meals than some other places in the world, but then those missionaries get more of something else.

The second most culturally “less desired” was a call to the Midwest. (Whaaaaaaaaat?!) I’m from Iowa dudes! Nebraska and Missouri are practically my close cousins. Craig served his mission in St. Louis! The Midwest ROCKS. It took an army of missionaries being called to the Nebraska, Omaha Mission to get me in that font. A years worth of people investing in me, one by one. Miracles happened, generations were changed. And now…look at that circle as it continues to grow, it’s crazy beautiful! And none of that happened abroad in some remote tropical location. It happened right in the middle of nowhere, Iowa. I am so grateful that my missionaries didn’t turn their nose up at their call, because of the expectations of others. I wouldn’t be here writing this blog post.

Some other Funny (and sad!) Utah Mission Call Misconceptions

– One Elder got called serve on temple square for part of his mission. He reported that he kept having to explain to people throughout his time there that he wasn’t slow or special needs. That he really got called there while being completely normal. Wait, Whaaaat? Elders aren’t special needs because they work on temple square. That’s disrespectful to anyone who is special needs and to anyone who isn’t. The work is the work, no matter who’s doing it, or what they are doing. 

– Only pretty Sisters get called to Temple Square, or any visitor center around the world for that matter.

Let’s just call this “debunked.” First, I haven’t ever met an ugly person. Not once in my life. Second, my friends daughter is gorgeous – (seriously, I don’t think I have seen a more beautiful human being on the planet.) She didn’t get a call to the visitors center, she got called to the Philippians and served the poorest of the poor. She tracted in the literal jungle. She would write home about living in a shack next to a pig slaughter house, and how she would hear the screams of the pig all day and night. Her sleeping conditions consisted of a foam pad on the floor, each night further mastering the skill of staying just awake enough to chuck huge spiders against the wall on instinct. Her testimony floored me. She had immeasurable depth and beauty, none of which had anything to do with her face. Sister Missionaries are warriors too – so much more than a pretty face. Please tell me we can give them a little more credit than being Barbies at the Church Visitor Centers. That’s laughable. The ones that get called to Temple Square and Visitor Centers throughout the world work just as hard as anyone else.

Here is the heart of the lesson friends,

Every time an 18-26 year decides to go on a mission, we know that at minimum almost two decades have been put into this moment in time, at huge sacrifice to both the missionary and the parents. On a daily basis, parents step away from the world and choose the harder road to raise their children in righteousness. As a mother of eight, I can attest that this is no small feat.

By the time most children are raised up in the gospel of Jesus Christ, he or she has attended:

988 Sunday Services
624 Weekly Activities
720 days of Seminary Attendance (for some kids that’s at 6am every morning)
12 Spiritual Summer Camps (that’s if they don’t go to EFY in addition to the normal ward or stake level camps)

At minimum, they have given hundreds if not thousands of hours of community service throughout their association with the church and held numerous leadership positions.

Young men and women have had ecclesiastical interviews every few months throughout their teenage years. Interviews that hold them accountable to gospel standards. Sometimes a great deal of repentance has been required to get back on track.

They’ve had countless leaders invest in them. A minimum of 120 people serving them per year since 18 months of age. Including bishops, counselors, primary leaders, youth leaders, seminary leaders, stake leaders, various teachers, etc.

The missionary has sacrificed greatly just to be worthy to go. They will sacrifice everything, when they go – Family, friends, school, work, holidays, and all the comforts of home. For the missionary and their family, that separation is brutal.
They are trading being loved, nurtured and celebrated at home for grueling 15 hour days of rejection, culture shock, loneliness and some days – complete despair. There are beautiful moments too of course, but lets be honest – it’s mostly hard. Like everything worth doing is.

Wanna know how many people are actually willing to give up a year or two of their lives to be a missionary? {to our church standard}

Current world population –  7.5 Billion*
Current Missionaries Serving – 70,946*

That means that in the world, at any given moment – there less than
one-ten thousandth of a percent of people are willing to do this work. (.00000945946 to be exact)

So I guess what I am saying is this…STOP MINIMIZING THEIR SACRIFICE. Sometimes – within in the culture of the church, we are so flippant about missions. We don’t give credit where credit is due. Like a mission is just something kids do, no biggie. I’m sorry, but this is HUGE! Maybe it’s because I am a convert, but I don’t understand this mentality. I know we should “beware of pride” and all that, but I think we take that a little too far. I think we are being aware of the wrong pride. We should be thrilled and verbally praising to our children who are in every sense WARRIORS. They fought their to be worthy to go and do the hardest things that can be asked of an 18-26 year old. That is a pretty impressive resume in my book. These kids are a pretty big deal, no matter where they serve (or in some cases, how long they serve, or if they serve in this way -but that’s a whole other box we will open on a different day.) The pride we should be aware of in our culture, is always feeling the need to put one thing above another. Like mission calls, or church calls, or people. If you have a spring in your step cause you are proud of yourself or your kid for doing a beautiful thing – that’s just as it should be. However if you feel your nose or arrogance rise when sharing your mission or your children’s mission, then there is some growth that needs to take place. There is no better than or less than. The pride should be in the WORK. Not the place.

We shouldn’t be saying anything to diminish what any of these missionaries have worked so hard to achieve. We need to stop making comments and jokes about certain places being horrible to get called to. I’m sorry, but are those souls living in the Intermountain West less in the sight of God? No, they aren’t.

As for me….I’m more of the “LOOK ERRRRYBODY! MY KID LOVES HIM/HER SOME JESUS!” kind of Mom. Not that I am arrogantly boastful, cause no one wants to hear that.  However, I do think it is important for our children to hear that we are proud of them. That we are thrilled at their choices and sacrifices. Acknowledgement of how far they’ve come in a world that teaches dramatically different values is vital. Come on, this is amazing!!!! It’s so beautiful and I can hardly talk about how proud I am of ALL of our kids without tears!

One thing that is incredible to note, every single missionary I have talked LOVED THEIR MISSION! Even if they felt some cultural pressure in the beginning, it didn’t take long before they knew it was where exactly where the Lord needed them.

So I say this to you missionaries – BE DANG PROUD!
Your contribution is irreplaceable. The work is just as sacred no matter where you go. You WILL have a foreign experience, no matter what. It will be different than how you grew up, what you have witnessed, etc. God’s gonna use your good heart for his sacred work. You’ve worked so hard to be here, and I am SO PROUD OF YOU. Shout your call out proudly. You’ve earned it.

BOTTOM LINE – You are called where YOU PROMISED. I believe that a long time ago, we all made promises. Promises to find each other. To help each other. To save each other. Jesus Christ is the only one that can atone for our sins, but if we are to truly live a Christ like life – saving each other to the degree of our capability is a vital part of our own earthly ministry. Sometimes saving each other is just a matter of showing up. Of loving and serving even the ones that aren’t ready for the truth. Love is the most vital thing you can give another human being. Do that and watch it change everything about yourself.

So I say ROCK ON CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS! Go where you promised! Love the ones your with! Be thrilled you have this beautiful chance to leave the world for two years and do only God’s work. It is the only time in your life you’ll get this chance, to this degree. Man…..I love you!

P.S. You can bet your bottom dollar that I’m gonna be screaming just as loud for Ogden, Utah as I would be for Scotland! Hurrah for Israel!