57: Fitting In

Mon Oct 19 14:26:54 EDT 2020
Episode 57

Stories in this episode: Finding the bridge between her Indigenous identity as a Cree woman and her love of the gospel feels out of reach for Jalynne until motherhood brings a surprising change in perspective; As a recent divorcée, Suzanne feels invisible to her ward until she takes matters into her own hands.

Show Notes

See LDS Living article about Jalynne and her family: "A divine Indigenous heritage: How one Latter-day Saint family combines Cree and gospel teachings"

Jalynne wearing beadwork that she handmade.
Jalynne wearing beadwork that she handmade.

More of Jalynne's beautiful beadwork.
More of Jalynne's beautiful beadwork.

See more of Jalynne's beadwork on her Instagram account: Nehiyanahk_Creations

Jalynne's parents when they were dating.
Jalynne's parents when they were dating.

Jalynne's kôhkum and môshum (grandmother and grandfather) with other family members.
Jalynne's kôhkum and môshum (grandmother and grandfather) with other family members.

Jalynne and her husband traditionally wrapped in a quilt  when they were married.
Jalynne and her husband traditionally wrapped in a quilt when they were married.
Jalynne's son in regalia for his first dancing powwow.
Jalynne's son in regalia for his first dancing powwow.

Jalynne's cute little kids.
Jalynne's cute little kids.

Jalynne in front of the Portland temple.
Jalynne in front of the Portland temple.

Photo of Suzanne.
Photo of Suzanne.


KaRyn 0:03

Welcome to "This Is the Gospel," an LDS Living podcast where we feature real stories from real people who are practicing and living their faith every day. I'm your host, KaRyn Lay.

If I asked you to name a time when you felt like a fish out of water, I bet it wouldn't take too many mental gymnastics for you to pull up that memory. All it would take for me is to cast my mind back to the rigors of middle school and the years that B.U.M. Equipment and Spree-branded clothing were all the rage here in the US. Oh, I needed that label on the front of my sweatshirt to match the label on everyone else's sweatshirt. It's all I asked for for Christmas that year. All I wanted in life, really. I wanted to slide into the massive B.U.M. Equipment sweatshirts and be one with the entire seventh grade. And isn't it funny that I cannot recall if I ever got the sweatshirt? But I remember that feeling. That feeling of longing that surrounded it, that pull to belong to something bigger than ourselves definitely has some strong biological roots. After all, there is safety in fitting in and conforming to the tribal standard.

And from a spiritual perspective, the need for us to be one to be unified was so important to Christ that he prayed to the Father on our behalf in His intercessory prayer. And while I'm pretty sure that He wasn't talking about me and you having matching sweatshirts, it's hard sometimes to know how to execute on that invitation, especially when our differences seem so pronounced.

Well, today we have two stories about what fitting into the body of Christ looks like in actual practice. Our first story comes from Jalynne who struggled to find the balance of both her cultural and spiritual identity. Here's Jalynne

Jalynne 1:50

I was raised on Beardy’s and Okemasis Cree Nation. That's the reservation that I'm from. And that's in Saskatchewan, Canada.

On the reservation, we have different customs, like even at a funeral, there's really different customs. And there's different cultural things that we have, like we go to feasts and to powwows and there's protocols you have to follow and that stuff is just normal. I'm sure to somebody who's never visited a reservation, that would be out of the norm for them but for us, it was just normal. That was just life. And it was a really beautiful environment for me to grow up in for our whole family because we didn't have any reason to feel out of place or different, we're with people who understood.

But I do remember, when I was in grade four, we decided to move off of the reservation for one year. It was like my first real exposure to like life off of the reservation. And I remember, um, I had been nervous to go to school. But I made like this little group of friends. And we were playing and I remember being conscious that I was one of the few First Nations people there. Oh, in Canada, we call ourselves First Nations. Here it's Native Americans in the US, but Canada, it's First Nations. But I remember being conscious of the fact that I was one of the only First Nations people in that class and one other boy.

And so I made this little group of friends. And I didn't really play with little boys that much, but I played with him at one point. And those little girls said to me, "Don't play with him. He's a native.

And I realized they didn't know that I was indigenous. So it was really kind of jarring for me. And that was like, a really young age to learn that, to learn that, "Oh, somebody's reaction to me might not be a positive one." And I don't really recollect a whole lot about the rest of that school year. But I do know that that little boy struggled with friends and finding friends.

Jalynne 4:23

Many experiences happened similar to that throughout my life. But the worst struggle for me was when it would happen at church. We were the only indigenous family at church, and it happened more often than I would have liked it to. Obviously, I wish that it never happened, it should be a safe space for everybody where everybody just feels totally embraced.

Jalynne 4:50

But I do remember this one time we were in a class and we were learning about the Book of Mormon and, and I love the Book of Mormon. . . I love the Book of Mormon. And we were talking about Lamanites and the teacher started talking about how native people were savages. And then he kept kind of going on and I feel like he maybe he didn't say it that much. But in my head, I felt like he just kept repeating it—like native people are savages.

And I remember I was with my brothers. And as a self kind of preservation mechanism, a lot of the times when you're confronted with something that's uncomfortable, and you don't know how to respond, you laugh. And my brothers, we kind of looked at each other and we laughed, kind of out of disbelief, and like, we couldn't, we couldn't believe what we were hearing. We didn't say anything. Like, obviously, we don't know what to say. But nobody else said anything, either. And I think that was one of the harder things. And so after that class, um, my brother, we were kind of talking about it. And my brother, like he just said, really firm, kind of it felt like an affirmation to himself, but also to us, and he said, "Nowhere in the Book of Mormon does it say the word 'savage.'" And I don't think that this person who said that was bad, and that, like, people are bad, people are just misinformed. Maybe he was comfortable saying, or maybe he hadn't been corrected on before.

I don't think we told our parents, and to be honest, they, they know like, stuff like this happened to them all the time. This wasn't a new story in our home.

Jalynne 7:01

So those are kind of heavy things to carry. But then I always think about my parents who I felt like weren't carrying them growing up because my dad was just so just gregarious, and just big and loud. And he always met people as his indigenous self, that's the only way he ever met a person.

Jalynne 7:27

And so I always just remember growing up in church, he would be teaching Sunday school, and he'd somehow tie it to our culture somehow, like, all of a sudden, we'd be having a lesson on teepees in the middle of Sunday school. Or, I remember, for the Christmas party one year, my dad, he just decided that we were—and we're not a family of singers—but he's like, "We're gonna go up and we're gonna sing some Cree hymns." And so we went up as a family and sang some Cree hymns. And none of us speak Cree except for my dad. And we were kind of singing these hymns that we didn't really know what we were saying. So, my parents were not about blending in or fading in, at all. I learned how miraculous it was, um, as I got older, and the full weight of my parents' story kind of sunk in.

I talked to my mom and I told her that I was going to be sharing her story. And I asked her if it was okay and she said, "Yes because my story is your story. This is our family's story." The more that we share our story is how we heal ourselves. But also it heals my mom knowing that, that I'm, I'm taking part in her story. And I'm actively being part of that healing process.

My mom, when she was a little girl, Canada had the Indian Residential School program. It began in the United States as the boarding school system and Canada quickly adopted it. And so the whole purpose of it was to strip indigenous heritage from indigenous people. And so it wasn't a choice that they had, it was forced on them.

And so, one day, when my mom was a little girl, two government agent showed up at her home and told my grandparents, my Kôhkum and my Môshum, "We're taking your kids." And they plead with them. "No, don't take them." And they said, "You either let us take them now or you'll never see them again." So my Kôhkum, my grandma, she fell to her knees and started crying as they let them take them from, from their home.

So you can understand how inhumane the system was, almost 3,000 children died as a result of the residential schools.

My Môshum knew the danger that they faced and the abuse that they would endure at those schools. Like all of a sudden, that was like awoken in him, what was going to happen. So he went running out and chased after the van that had just loaded up all of his children. And for the rest of the school year, my mom has this memory of my Môshum running after the car, and tripping and falling and crying in the road.

She had a surgery forced on her, she was not given any warning. All of a sudden, she was being toted away, and she wasn't told what was happening. And, next thing she knows, she's waking up from surgery, and she doesn't know what it was for.

My mom still has P— like, what I think is PTSD. To this day, like she was drinking apple juice and all of a sudden, like, she remembered something that happened to her and that apple juice now was an association for her.

I asked my mom once kind of how she maintained her tenderness and her testimony of the Christ through everything after a school system that was designed to take away her heritage, that was in partnership with it, with a Christian system, how did she maintain her testimony? And she said that she always knew who the Savior was, and the Savior wasn't in that abuse.

And my dad, when he joined the Church, it took him three years of investigation. And then he met my mom in those three years. He introduced the Church to my mom, and she was like, "Oh, that's true," and she joined us as well.

I just remember sitting in a Sunday school lesson and she would all of a sudden, like, be bearing her testimony about somebody like Spencer W. Kimball and all of the work that he did among indigenous communities. And she would go, and she knew all about him. She was always bearing testimony of her culture, and how it tied in with her Christianity.

My mom didn't have my dad's like boisterousness, I guess, it was more like my mom was really firm about teaching us certain things like recognizing racism. One time I was sick and my mom took me to the doctor. And the person there knew that my mom was a teacher on a reservation and that doctor just came in with this attitude. And she, she actually was telling my mother all the stupid things like my mom was doing, like, "This is the stupidest thing you can do as a mother," to my mom. She recognized how she was being treated but she didn't really say much to the doctor until we were done. And then she grabbed my hand and turned around and said, "We're not coming back to see you," and left. And that was all she said and I think that is more like my mom. Like, she was very soft and gentle until she needed to be firm.

So when I think about what my parents went through, um, it was just miraculous to me how it seemed they weren't burdened by these really heavy experiences that they had in their life. And that residential school system, like, it affected both sides of my family. My mom met my dad's sisters before she met my dad because they were at the residential schools together. My dad never, never went because they were phasing it out at the time and he went through his own hardship.

So as a teenager, I really looked up to my parents, but I also kind of felt that where they were was a little out of my reach because I knew that I was going through struggles internally, struggles that I didn't think they were going through.

Jalynne 14:46

I compartmentalize parts of myself into my adulthood. So one of the identifiers when you see an indigenous person is a lot of the times we're wearing beadwork. We're wearing beaded medallions, we have a saying in our community that, "Beading is medicine." And so we bead a lot and we wear beadwork a lot because that's medicine for us. And I never wore beadwork.

Jalynne 15:14

I would be gifted earrings and I wouldn't really wear them. Or if I did, I would, they would be really an identifiable earrings, I guess. And it wasn't on purpose. I don't think I ever did it like with this conscious purpose because I wasn't ashamed of who I was. Wearing, like beadwork or beaded earrings would immediately identify me to people outside of my community that I was an indigenous person. Like, anybody who was First Nations, like, they knew that I was a member of my community, but I guess to people outside of it, I looked more ambiguous. And so, and I'm ashamed of it but I, I use that to my advantage a lot of the time to find out how much of myself I could reveal to a person.

I wanted some element of control. I wanted that control because of that experience with the little boy. I just would always hear, "Don't play with him. He's a native." And when you have experiences like that throughout your life, you realize if you have the power to have any kind of control over somebody's perception of you, then you take it when you want people to perceive you in a good way.

I talked to a friend of mine, and this was after I had gotten married and we came back to, to Saskatchewan to visit and we we met with a friend of mine and his wife and we had dinner. And we started talking about my culture and, and my experiences and he asked me what it was like to be a member of the Church and to be First Nations and to experience those two things together. And I told him that it felt like you're wearing like clothes that are too tight but they look like really good. You knew that they're your best outfit, but they're just a little too tight. But when you're in your cultural community, it's like you're wearing your most comfiest pants like you, you're ready to, to sit and be cozy.

And I think with the experiences that I've had, and many people who come from marginalized communities, feel they might not have those two components together. And so that was my, always my struggle was feeling them together. I felt it at the temple because I think I was just there with, I was just there with the Savior. And I always felt that at the temple. To this day, the temple is my favorite place. Um, but when we don't have that, that protect, protection of just a direct communication with the Savior and you have imperfect people kind of like everywhere, you feel like you're in tight pants.

Jalynne 18:27

And so he was very surprised because he thought like, you know, in our small YSA in Saskatoon that we were a tight group. And like we were, but I never invited anybody to pow wow with me. I never invited anybody to a feast. I've seen too many people accidentally say something ignorant and hurting another friend of mine, or hurting me. And there's nothing malicious at all about their accidental slips of the tongue. But I feel very protective of not only the reputation of my friends in, in our faith community, but the feelings of my friends who were marginalized as indigenous people. I knew that the things that were normal and beautiful for me were strange and uncivilized outside of our reservation.

Jalynne 19:27

I think everything kind of, I don't want to say came crashing down on me. But I think when I realized that my self-preservation mechanisms and coping mechanisms and all these techniques they weren't working was when I became a mother and I realized that my children are learning their worth from me. And all of a sudden, like, it was like this light came off like my parents were teaching us our worth, like my dad, just, you know, just walking in indigenous foot first was really a helpful tool for me. And my mom being very firm about her identity was a tool for me. And so when I became a mother, I, it's like this bright light just went off in my brain and I saw what they were doing.

And I realized I didn't want my son to learn how to mask himself the way I had. I wanted him to, to walk into a room indigenous foot first like my dad does. And so we made the decision to, to grow his hair. We decided to grow his hair because, first of all, in past parts of the residential school system, their hair was cut. So little boys couldn't have long hair, but also, so that's like a way to be honor ancestry and we reclaim our ancestry. But also, when you're growing a little boy's hair from, from an infant, each braid has a meaning, and you always start off as three braids. There's a braid on the top of your head and two braids on the side because that's all you really can do with his little hair. And one of our Cree teachings about hair is that each braid symbolizes three things. One is your relationship to the Creator, two, second braid, is your relationship to other people. And three is your own spiritual relationship with yourself.

And my son's journey is, it's his own little journey. But I wanted to get, if I could in any kind of a way, get his feet planted in his culture as early as possible. And get him, we talked about how loving his hair all the time, in a really positive way. But already, at the age of four, he's been made fun of.

I'm aware of, of what he might face and what he still might go through the journeys that I go, I went through, and that felt really heavy to me one day. And after he had been made fun of, I just kind of felt like giving up and I'm like, it would be so much easier if we just, you know, cut his hair. It'll just, he won't have to deal with that. No one will mistake him for a little girl, no one will make fun of him and tell him, he won't have to worry about that.

And I went to the temple one day and I was just kind of feeling just finished. I just felt like at a hopeless place on the way to the temple. And I said, "Heavenly Father, I'm going to the temple. I don't expect anything to happen but if you could just help me carry this burden just a little bit, I'll be really grateful. And I didn't even expect that to be answered because I thought maybe He's just giving me this, this hard week or this hard emotion of me to, for me to work through because it was good for me. And I got there and this woman I'd never met before just gave me a hug and said, "Thank you so much for coming."

So a Cree teaching is we believe we're all related. And we call other communities of color our relatives. And so this woman, she was Polynesian and so I felt like I was seeing a relative. And it felt like I was being hugged by my auntie, and I really needed, I was missing home. I was missing my home community. And it meant so much to me to be embraced at the time that I needed it in the temple.

And so I went through the session just crying. And I just remember thinking, "I wonder if there's anybody else here with me." And all of a sudden, I felt my Môshum Joe beside me. I felt him in the room with me and, and I knew what he had gone through, what he had seen his children go through, having their culture taken from them. And it just felt like I was on the right path. Like I all of a sudden like felt this answered like, "Jalynne, you are on the right path. And it's gonna be hard but what your family had gone through wasn't for nothing. It wasn't so you could fit in. It was so you could find so much joy in your culture, and so much joy passing that culture on to your children. Heavenly father didn't send you, it wasn't a mistake that He sent you to the earth the way that He sent you."

And so ever since then, like I never, I'm, like I think I'm like my dad now like, I'm just gregarious. Like I'm not, I'm a shy person, but I feel like, I like walk into a room indigenous foot first. And I'm just really grateful for that answered prayer. That Heavenly Father let me know that my attempts to, to be the person that He wants me to be, are accepted by Him. And that He's not wasting this gift, I'm not wasting this gift that He has given to me by being Cree, I'm not wasting it. I'm taking advantage of it and finding joy in it.

If I can teach my children to love themselves where they are, they'll be able to hopefully love other people where they are the way Christ loves us. He can reach anybody anywhere. He can reach my mom when she was a little girl at the residential school. He can reach my dad when he is making us sing Cree hymns at a Christmas pageant. He can reach anybody.

I want my children to know that they are always worthy of it and they don't have to compromise that part of themselves because it has every possibility to enhance their testimony and to enhance their relationship with the Savior like it did for me.

KaRyn 27:02

That was Jalynne.

I admit that I know so little about the experience of my indigenous brothers and sisters, especially in the context of our church life. I feel deep gratitude to Jalynne and her parents for their willingness to share this story, so that I can learn and understand better.

It was especially hard for me to hear the ways that we can sometimes get it wrong as volunteer teachers of the scriptures. But I'm going to take that part of the story as a gentle reminder to tread lovingly when I'm teaching and to seek more guidance from heaven about what to teach and how.

I think like Jalynne, we all bring a few identities with us when we walk through those chapel doors. Maybe they're cultural, maybe they're familial or professional. And some of those identities are easier to reconcile with the gospel than others. But that work of integration can be a holy work that leads us towards the most important identity as children of Christ.

I was reminded in Jalynne story that we will have divine assistance as we choose what to hold on to, and what to let go of in that pursuit.

Our final story today comes from Suzanne, who learned that sometimes in order to find your place, you have to create it. Here's Suzanne.

Suzanne 28:17

My story starts with the decision to divorce my husband. We had been married for 40 years. I was 60 years old and we have seven children, they had, they were all gone from our home at that point.

It was something that had been building for many years but it finally came to the point where I felt like I couldn't stay. And so I was the one who packed up and moved to a different place. That was quite an experience for me. I had either been taken care of by my parents or by my husband. You might as well put me on the moon.

When I got to my new ward I thought, "Okay, you know, I'm going to have great sisters here. It's gonna be okay. I'm gonna make it through this. But it didn't quite happen, at least not for me. I was not treated badly. I would never say that. But they didn't know what to do with me.

I handed the bishop my tithing every couple of weeks. Other than that, we had no contact. I sat on my bench in church. I would sit on this side and I would sit all the way in next to the wall so that if someone else wanted to come and sit, you know, because everybody's looking for a place to sit, my bench would be available. I lived there for two years, and I sat alone on my bench.

It's very difficult to go to church when you don't feel like you have a connection to the people in the church. I really wondered how this was supposed to work. And finally, one day, I talked to my Relief Society president. And I said, "You know, I've lived in this ward for six months. I do not have home teachers. I don't have visiting teachers. I don't know anybody who is in this ward." And so then I did receive home teachers and visiting teachers, and they were wonderful. And I liked knowing them. It was nice to have a face at church and in Relief Society that I recognized. But I still felt very, very separate and practically invisible.

I sold my home and moved to another part of Salt Lake. And I was really considering staying under the radar for as long as possible. It's very hard to stay active, especially if you are moving to a new area where you don't know people.

Because I had felt so frustrated with my experiences in that first ward, I felt like maybe I needed to write a letter and explain that to the people at church headquarters, or at least to tell them my story because I felt like there were so many sisters who they would not be hearing from. And I wanted them to know how difficult that is for a single sister and a divorced sister. I felt like there were many sisters who actually were becoming inactive because they didn't feel that they were being heard or seen. I figured it doesn't hurt to tell them and maybe if someone else writes the letter, then there'll be more than one voice. So I finished my letter, and there was some fear and trepidation that went along with that. But I put a stamp on it and sent it off.

So when I moved into my new home, lo and behold, my bishop came over. I thought, "Whoo! I got a bishop!" And that was a very positive experience. And it was still, it was still a little while before I decided to make the plunge and go to church.

Now when I went to church that very first Sunday, I walked in the door, I was greeted by an absolutely lovely sister, who introduced herself and asked me if I was new, and I said yes. And she was very friendly. And then I went in and sat down alone on my bench. And then, you know, we have Sunday school, then we had Relief Society. And I thought, "Meh, I really want to go to Relief Society, you know. This is, I've done done, my due diligence. I've been here for two hours." But I thought, "Nah, you know, buck up and go to Relief Society."

So I went into Relief Society and the sister who had greeted me at the door when I very first walked in to sacrament meeting came over to me, she said, "Do you mind if I sit with you? Because I don't think anyone should have to sit alone." And I almost burst into tears. I just thought she was so sweet to do that.

But they were handing out, you know how they do those papers where everybody gets a paper, you have to read your little thing and answer your question? When I read what my question was going to be, I realized that the lesson was going to be on temples. And I had just ended a 40 year template marriage. I was not in the mood to discuss temples. I was still trying to figure out where I fit because I am no longer married to the man I'm sealed to, you know. So I really, really wanted to get up and leave. But Relief Society is started and there was no way that I could gracefully get out of that room, or I would've.

So the lesson started, the lady who gave the lesson did a wonderful job. But it was in the responses by the sisters in Relief Society that just about blew me away. We had, of course, lovely sisters who talked about how wonderful the temple was and how much they loved it and how they went weekly or whatever. But we also had sisters who raised their hand and who said, "You know, I had a temple recommend, and I loved going to the temple. But I'm not in that position anymore where I can go, but I would like someday to return."

And I thought, "Wait a minute, we don't discuss this kind of stuff in Relief Society. Nobody comes actually out and says, 'I don't have a recommend.'" And she was not the only sister who said pretty much the same thing. They never disparaged the temple or, or said anything bad about it. It was always very complimentary, that it had been a wonderful place. It was peaceful. It was a place they wanted to be able to go again.

And then, which just almost knocked me off my chair, was the teacher up front said, "Well, sisters, actually, I don't have a recommend either." Um, then I said, "Sisters, I want you to know that I have never been in a group of women like this before." The amount of honesty and the love and the comfort that I felt in that room where each sister felt that she could say what was in her heart.

So I thanked them for having that kind of a spirit. And I told them that I had never, ever experienced anything like this before. And I shed a lot of tears at that point. So Relief Society ended and I had quite a few sisters who came up and spoke to me after. There was such a common thread, it really struck me because I would get this wonderful hug, and they would welcome me and they would say, "You are exactly where you need to be. This is the healing ward." And I truly believed that that was the case.

A month or two after that, I got a call from the stake president. And so I went over and visited with him. I walk into his office and his desk was all cleared and my letter was right in the middle of the desk. And, you know, he just said, "Well, I got a call from the area presidency, and they told me to, I needed to talk to you and see how you were feeling. I told him everything I said in the letter was true and I still believed everything. But that I had been placed in a place where I could heal. And after I finished visiting with the stake president, and he was showing me out, um, we talked for just a moment. And he said, "Well, I just want you to know that we will be changing some of the boundaries in some of the wards." When he told me that, my heart dropped.

Honestly, my heart broke at that moment. And in just a few months, the boundaries did change. I went to the new ward and probably 75% of the people were brand new to me. But the thing I did notice, week after week coming to church, was that the sisters that I had seen in that original Relief Society meeting that had touched my heart so very deeply, were not there. They didn't feel, perhaps, that they had a place, and it broke my heart.

As time went on, I realized that if I wanted to be associated with sisters and have that same wonderful feeling, that it wasn't going to just happen. It had to be made to happen. So as I talked to a couple of the sisters that I was acquainted with, I said, "You know, we really should just came together." So we decided that we would meet every month. And at first I thought, "Well, you know, do we need a book? Or do we need some, like an article or something that we can discuss?" I was dead wrong on that.

We just come together and we talk about whatever's on our minds. If that includes frustrations, then we hear frustrations. If that includes times when we feel like we got to win, then that is there too. And it is such a wonderful feeling to gather with these women because we're all close to the same condition in life, but we all caught here in different ways.

We have one sister who is a widow. We have sisters who were not treated well by their husbands. We have sisters who were never married. We meet together out of kind of in an atmosphere of healing. This is the place we can be ourselves under any circumstance. And I come home, and my heart is full. We're not invisible to each other.

Several of these women would sit on the back row. And so when one of us or when one of us single sisters would walk in, you know, they would motion and say, "Come, come and sit with us." I cannot tell you the difference that that made in my feelings about going to church. The thought that when I got there, even though I was coming by myself, that I would walk in the door, I would see a face that I recognized and they would say, "Come and sit with me." When you walk in, you know that that little section is going to be there for you. And it is huge.

Honestly, there were times before and after I went through the divorce proceedings, that I felt extremely alone. I didn't feel like, like my Heavenly Father really was interested in what I was going through. And I really felt like I was fighting myself to remain active.

After I had the experiences that I did, as I moved into this particular area, it was like a light bulb going off. And as I looked back and watched things that had happened to me and decisions that I had made because of those things, I thought, "I have been put here. I have been placed here very carefully, led by circumstance, but it has brought me to this place. This is the place that I was meant to be." And I was so grateful for that knowledge.

I know that my Father in Heaven is watching over me because I'm here. And all I have to do is look around and I know that I was guided. Now maybe I was kicking and screaming while I was being guided, but I was guided and He does care.

KaRyn 44:08

That was Suzanne.

I appreciate her willingness to be so open and honest about what it was like for her to transition from a space where she felt she checked all the boxes of our church culture into a new phase of life where she felt different, unseen, and even unnecessary. And while Suzanne's experience is unique to her I don't think it's a stretch to say that most of us, as part of our mortal condition, will feel that isolation of not fitting in at some point. And when that happens at church, the one place where we most hope to feel the belonging, the pain can be exponential.

It's so encouraging for me to hear a story like Suzanne's because even though her concerns and her ache aren't completely resolved even now, she has been able to create belonging for herself and others by reframing her expectations of fitting in.

Of course, it's amazing when we feel ushered in and shown to our reserved spot on the front pew. But some of the most exciting and stretching work of discipleship is actually happening on that back row, where we thought there wasn't going to be enough room for us. But if we sidle right in and create the space for ourselves, things around us will shift and will fit with room to spare. And even if that space does feel tight at first, maybe we'll find that that's a gift. Because when space is tight, you can't help but bump into the people around you. And like Suzanne discovered if you're feeling out of place, most likely, you're not alone on that bench.

I think this is important. I'm not saying that people who feel marginalized should have to fight to be part of the body of Christ. Those of us who are currently feeling like we know where to sit each Sunday, we're obligated by virtue of our baptismal covenant to scoot over, to make room for those who don't know where they belong. We can help one another, we can look around, we can raise our hands to make it a little bit easier for those who are searching for a place to find their place.

In the October 2020 general conference, Elder Quentin L. Cook spoke about creating a more unified and cohesive church in his talk, "Hearts Knit in Unity and Righteousness." He reminded us that, quote: "Unity and diversity are not opposites. We can achieve greater unity as we foster an atmosphere of inclusion and respect for diversity."

What does that look like, that "fostering an atmosphere of inclusion and respect for diversity?" What does that look like in practice for me, for you? Well, for me, as someone who currently checks many of the cultural-norm boxes, it starts with listening, really listening to the stories of people who are different for me. It means that I have to become the kind of person who asks the question that Jalynne's friend did, "What is it like for you, in your current circumstances, to be a member of this church?" Then just as importantly, I have to become the kind of person who can be trusted to hear and care about the honest answer, even if it's painful. Not to dismiss it or to justify, but to listen with an open heart when my brother or sister tells me that they feel invisible in our ward. Or that they're afraid to allow people to see all the parts of themselves because they are afraid they'll be mocked, or that a comment in Sunday school made them feel unwelcome or uncomfortable. I have to be willing to hear that, to ask, and then to listen with the intent to mourn with those that mourn. And comfort those that stand in need of my comfort, and then figure out what I can do better. I think that's the groundwork, the foundation for the kind of unity that we long to have in the Church of Jesus Christ, that we're commanded to have in the Church of Jesus Christ.

In that same talk, Elder Cook said this:

"If we are to follow President Nelson’s admonition to gather scattered Israel, we will find we are as different as the Jews and Gentiles were in Paul’s time. Yet we can be united in our love of and faith in Jesus Christ. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans establishes the principle that we follow the culture and doctrine of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the model for us even today."

As you and I move together towards this gathering of Israel, it won't always be easy to scoot over for others or to squeeze ourselves into the pew. It's work, hard, hard work, divine work, but exhausting work. But the end goal is Zion, to find ourselves and our fellow men and women enveloped and belonging, united in our love of and faith in Jesus Christ. And to me, that beautiful end is worth the discomfort and the exhaustion of the work of now.

That's it for this episode of "This Is the Gospel." Thank you to our storytellers, Jalynne and Suzanne, for sharing their stories with us.

Jalynne is an artist who makes these beautiful traditional Cree beadwork pieces, and we'll have pictures of her and her artwork along with more information about both of our storytellers in our show notes at ldsliving.com/thisisthegospel. You can also get more good stuff by following us on Instagram or Facebook @thisisthegospel_podcast.

All of the stories in this episode are true and accurate, as affirmed by our storytellers. And of course, if you have a story to share about living the gospel, please call our pitch line and leave us a pitch. We find many of our stories for this podcast from the pitch line, and we love to hear how the gospel of Jesus Christ is transforming your life. Call 515-519-6179 to leave us a message.

This episode was produced by me, KaRyn Lay, with additional help from Sarah Blake. Our stories were produced and edited by Erika Free. It was scored, mixed, and mastered by Mix at 6 Studios, and our executive producer is Erin Hallstrom.

You can find past episodes of this podcast and other LDS Living podcasts at ldsliving.com/podcasts.

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