16 July 2012

I Gotta Wear Shades

Last Sunday.

I have this really awesome calling that lets me skip Sunday meetings if I want to, and makes it not only possible but necessary to leave early and thus avoid the super-awkward time in-between Relief Society and Sunday School when all the married women get up and rearrange themselves so that their husbands can sit next to them.

Actually, I haven't been to Relief Society in weeks. It's delicious.

But last Sunday.

I was only in Sunday School for all of about fifteen minutes as a Sharing Time pencil emergency meant I came in late and, of course, I had to leave early. To ring the bells. Seriously--coolest calling ever.

The lesson was about Alma 23-29 and the Anti-Nephi-Lehies and conversion.

We were split into little discussion groups and asked to talk about our conversions. When did our individual conversions occur? What did they mean to us then? What do they mean to us now? How do we continue being converted?

All of the people in my group were born and raised in the church, just as I was. And I was the only one who could look back and identify a specific point in my past that could be labeled a conversion.

I described it this way: Conversion is like the filters in photography. Change the filter on your camera, change the way the world looks. Nothing is actually different, but the way you see it is new.

This explanation of my conversion is so simplistic as to be only barely true. But I doubt anybody in my Sunday School discussion-group would want to hear what I actually have to say.

I was raised a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I don't remember the day of my baptism, but I do remember reading the entire Book of Mormon before I turned eight. Oh, and going to the dollar store to find white hair ties. So that my braids would be just as baptismal-font-ready as the rest of my bright and shiny little self.

I was always the kid who knew the answers. When I was in primary, all my teachers eventually made the same rule: When all the other kids fail to understand the question, ask the girl with glasses and freckles. Almost the only time I ever talked in primary was when directly addressed by a teacher, so . . . yeah, I was never that popular with the other primary kids. I'm sure they all thought I was the pretentious little genius-girl who was too good to go to school with the rest of them and would rather stay at home than run around the neighborhood on afternoons. [Do I have a chip on my shoulder, you ask? No. Of course not.]

Being a smart kid sucks, let me tell you.

So, conversion.

As a kid, the Church was pretty much all full of sunshine and glee. There were a few times when I was, like WAIT! I DON'T GET IT! WHY DOES IT WORK LIKE THAT? WHY DOESN'T ANYONE EVEN ACKNOWLEDGE THAT I'M ASKING QUESTIONS, HERE? but for the most part it was pretty smooth sailing. After all, I knew all the answers. Little Sister Schaffer, das Wunderkind.

As I got older, the questions began to erase the glee. Eventually there was only sunshine, brighter and brighter and brighter until before I understood how it had happened I was curled into a corner screaming my lungs raw and trying to tear my eyes out.

Depression is an old acquaintance of mine. And when it came by that time, offering a place in the dark out of the heat and the bright bright brightness--I jumped at the chance. Just get me out, I begged. Get me out of here, and give me a place where I can just . . . be. There was no more light to hurt my eyes, no more need for screaming, and when no one heard my whimpers I knew it was because they were too quiet to hear and not because I was being deliberately ignored. And it was so easy to keep going, to outwardly continue saying and acting everything I'd said and acted my whole life. I had all the answers. Who would think that they were now delivered in irony and not belief? Nobody did.

Unfortunately (or not, depending on which perspective you're at), the darkness brought a numbness that I wasn't willing to live with.

And so I learned to feel again. It was a wet day in early spring. I stood in the rain on the Weber State campus, the day I decided something had to change, and paid special attention to each and every drop of water as it fell on me. And for awhile, simply knowing I was alive was enough.

Eventually, of course, I turned back to God. I always do, however reluctantly. I had to be practically beat over the head with a brick, but . . . there it was. There I was.

That was more than a year ago.

I tried really hard in the beginning to actually be the person I'd been pretending to be. But it turns out that girl wasn't any more real than the one who went to all the meetings and answered all the questions while privately disbelieving.

I desperately didn't want to come back to the church. A lot of days, I still desperately wish I weren't here.

But the glee of the gospel is back. I believe. With caveats. With asterisks. With a lot of "well"s and "but"s and "though"s. But I believe.

The sunshine's also back. And it's still bright. Too bright.

Some days I realize that I'm searching blindly for a corner to hide in, covering my eyes and starting to scream again.

But now . . . now I know how to fix that. I have a nifty pair of sunglasses that let me live in the light without squinting. And I invested in sunscreen, so now all the sunlight doesn't burn my skin either.

I look around, and it doesn't seem like anyone else is wearing sunglasses. They seem just fine walking around in the light with their eyes unprotected. But I need these sunglasses. For now, and for the forseeable future, they're what make it possible for me to stay.

I don't really want to stay. But . . . I actually do.

Are you confused yet? Imagine how it is in here.

So the shades make me look a little different, a little silly. That's okay. As I have to be reminded every now and then, it's my religion too. I'm not borrowing it. It isn't something I picked up secondhand and wear even though it's too big around the waist and one sleeve is too short. It's mine, just as much as it's yours and his and hers and the rest of them all's. I get to make it fit me.

It's more of a whisper now, but maybe someday I'll be able to say it loudly and with pride:

I'm a Mormon.

Love always,

A. Irene

{ Since It's } Sunday


Linda said...

You amaze with your honesty and willingness to write about your pain. I'm sending a separate email so your readers don't have to hear all the "mom stuff." You go girl! I love you!

Cody said...

Hey, that sounds so... familiar...

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