I guess you could say my younger sister’s life has not played out the way a Latter-day Saint girl’s life traditionally plays out. She and I and our two other siblings grew up in an active LDS family, right in the center of Mormonism in Salt Lake City, Utah. Shortly after high school, however, my sister’s life veered away from the faith we all shared and onto a journey that took her away from activity in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for nearly 15 years.
By the time she reached her mid-20s, my sister was in California, raising her young son as a single mom. One of the outward manifestations that she was keeping her distance from the church was the gradual appearance of her tattoos. First they were subtle, then not so subtle. On through the coming years, everyone in the family prayed and longed for her to find her way back.
And then it happened. Starting in 2013, my sister began a new journey, a journey back to God and back to activity in the church. She relit the flame of faith in her life and began working to instill that faith in her son. Almost before we knew it, we were witnessing my dad baptizing my nephew, followed by my sister receiving her endowment in the Jordan River Utah Temple in late 2014.
A few months later, my sister told us she planned to move home to Utah, where she and her son would have the support of extended family. At that point, I confess that I began to worry about how she would be received by neighbors and ward members in Utah. Would her new ward embrace her, or would she find herself on the outside looking in? When I found out she was moving to Bountiful, I wondered if a tattooed, single mom in her 30s could fit into any ward there.
Her appointment to meet with her new bishopric was set for a Sunday in January 2015, and here is what happened, in my sister’s own words:
I had a "get to know you" meeting with the bishopric of my new ward today. To be honest, I have been struggling a bit with the adjustment of attending a new ward since moving back to Utah.
I feel somewhat out of place as an individual in general, then you factor in the covered in tattoos, single mom approaching her mid 30s aspect, and quite frankly it's easy to feel like a misfit within the [church]—especially when you are attending a family ward.
I have to say though, meeting with Bishop Stone and his counselors today was exactly what I needed—it felt genuinely warm and inviting. They each told me a bit about themselves, and then eagerly asked to know more about me and my life. Of course I had to lift my sleeves and break the ice by saying, "Well, I guess you could say I've lived a colorful life." We all laughed, and even though they may have been in a bit of shock, I felt accepted and embraced. "You bring a bit of diversity to the ward, and we love that" was Bishop Stone's response. I told them I prefer "flavor," but "diversity" would do. J
I told them more about my life and the paths I have been down, when Brandon, one of the counselors looked at the bishop and the other counselor and said, "I feel like we are filming an 'I am a Mormon' video. Your story is so interesting," which made me smile for obvious reasons.
The lesson I learned today was NOT to assume that other people will count you out. Don't assume people judge you—give them a chance to love and accept you. Change, though uncomfortable at times, gives us a chance to grow.
One thing Brandon said in our closing prayer that literally brings tears to my eyes as I write this was, "Thank you for guiding Amy into our ward, and for bringing her here to be with us." Those words will impact me for the rest of my life.
It is hard to describe how I felt when I first read my sister’s description of that initial meeting with the bishopric a few weeks ago. My gratitude for her wise and caring bishop is immense. I actually think most members of the Church are a lot like my sister’s new bishopric—I’ve met mostly kind, loving, accepting Latter-day Saints in every congregation I’ve ever attended all across the world. But sometimes in our fear or in our shortsightedness, we assume members or leaders may unfairly judge or reject our differences.
I am grateful for all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints everywhere who live the teachings of the gospel and walk in the footsteps of the Savior. I am thankful that my sister, her bishop, and his counselors have each shattered different stereotypes about members of the Church in their own ways. We are all at our best when our warm embrace ensures all members are “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). As the Lord taught, “by this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 3:35).