When I was in junior high my best friend’s mom decided that a group of neighborhood girls needed to go caroling. I remember being surprised at how much I loved Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” even though it was five long verses. If you’re old like me, you may recall that in the LDS hymnbook’s former incarnation, only the first three verses were featured. The other verses were included, sans music at the end, as sort of extraneous or bonus material. Once I figured this out I was appalled. How could you end that song with the line, “And hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth good will to men?” Several years later when the green hymnal came out, the last two verses were restored to their proper, prominent place and I love to shout/sing “the wrong shall fail the right prevail with peace on earth good will to men!” It’s a song of hope and triumph.
But in the month since the Church announced its policy change, my spirit feels like the last two verses are missing again. I cannot explain my sadness. I can’t read my scriptures anymore. It’s not that I don’t try. The verses just feel hollow. Within the walls of my home it has caused pain. Of course I ask myself, why do you stay? How can you stay? There are no simple answers.
Sometimes I think that because I am a woman, I am conditioned to fight from within. One of my daughters has been struggling mightily with the church regarding women and LBGTQ issues. She has been raised to expect a seat at the table and isn’t placated by the card table set up for her in an adjacent room. (I’m a little embarrassed at how many years I silently accepted my folding chair while my brothers sat firmly on seats carved from oak.) I have fought so hard to keep her, because I believe. I believe in the gospel and I have a deep and abiding testimony of Jesus, that He wants his daughters at the grown up table. I believe the gospel has allowed me to withstand some pretty sucky things. Every morning and night I pray/meditate and find the inner peace to keep going. To get out of bed and function and serve and build Zion as best I can. And let me be clear, I mostly kick ass at building Zion. And my ward family has sustained me when my life has gone off the rails. I am blessed to live in an area where the Church facilitates the gospel and has nurtured me and mine in countless ways.
I found a list in this child’s room with two columns, reasons to stay in the church, and reasons to leave. I cannot control her path. But I think she still has things that the gospel and Church can teach her that will help her grow. The Sunday after the policy bomb, I explained to my children that I am choosing to stay though others in our family are not. But staying does not mean I agree with everything the leaders say. I am staying in the church because it is MINE. Then I gave them a little family history lesson. Our ancestor, Lydia Knight used her money to bail Joseph Smith out of prison. Joseph borrowed Lydia’s father-in-law’s wagon to carry the plates from Hill Cumorah. Joseph Knight also paid for most of the paper the BOM was translated onto. When Lydia was to go west from Winter Quarters she had two wagons and three yoke of oxen. Her husband Newell died and Brigham told her to stay and he gave her wagons and oxen to other families, leaving her destitute. A few years later Brigham returned to her a broken wagon and one team of sick oxen. She was desperate to reach Zion so Brigham agreed to lend her money to buy new transportation and made sure she payed it back. Brigham majorly screwed her over. He was a jerk. But she did not leave. She helped build the Church, her Church, and no bully was going to push her out. And she passed this dedication on to her kids. Her son, Jesse Knight (of JKHB fame) bailed the Church out of debt in the 1890s and bought most of the land for BYU. I have other less illustrious forbearers who have busted their butts for the church; sometimes they were rewarded, sometimes not. My McFarland roots are Scottish and the family motto is: “This I’ll Defend.” And I will defend what I believe in. I will defend the family because I believe in it. But I will NOT define the family. I will defend my faith, the gospel, Zion, but I will not defend a policy that hurts people and denies people access to the gospel. This I’ll defend, not define or deny.
So here I am. My family is being pulled in diverse directions and I’m struggling to keep us together. And the Church that is supposed to support and unite us is breaking my heart. But this season, as I lay presents under the tree, I will also lay my broken heart at Christ’s feet and listen carefully for the Christmas bells. Perhaps in time I will again hear “a voice, a chime, a chant sublime, of peace on earth good will to men.” For now, I wait.
For information on the Knight family: