To Be, to Become and to Remain
‘Where do you come from?’ The question is simple enough, and ought to be easy to answer. But when I’m asked, I never quite know how to. My family loves to tease me about my lacking ability to keep things short, but explaining where I come from is just downright complicated.
I could say I’m from Oslo, Norway. Now that I live in Stavanger, and have done so my entire adult life, it is partly true. I came from Oslo when I moved to Stavanger. But that’s not the complete truth.
I could say I’m from London. I was conceived there, and lived there a few years before my family moved to Oslo, and English is my mother tongue. But I’m not English. (I’m Norwegian now.)
I could say I’m from Lagos, Nigeria. I was born there. My mother was too. But I only lived there for about 9 months and have only been back twice since. I’m not exactly Nigerian.
When I was a teen, my family lived in Switzerland for a few years. My mother is a Swiss citizen. (Her father was Swiss). But I never really felt at home there. I learned French and downhill skiing and I made a few friends for life – but no. I’m not from Switzerland.
I once heard someone say that he refused to define where he came from. He claimed he was a world citizen. ‘Borders and nationalities’, he said, ‘are just man-made inventions that create wars and misery.’ I kind of liked that. But calling oneself a world citizen sounds a little over the top.
So where do I come from? A little bit of here and a little bit of there, but mostly here. Home is where the heart is, right?
I am the oldest of eight siblings, and the prototype of a ‘bossy,big sister’. Terribly responsible, but luckily quite lazy, so I have managed to avoid major burnout. Kind of. I have always been particularly close to my mother, which I realized as a teen, was not a given. I was never very competitive or ambitious. I vacillated between wanting to be a teacher, a SAHM, a translator, to work at the airport,or be a journalist. My parents were a bit ‘larger than life’ types: actress and film creator, respectively, and I was quite happy to stay in the background. My childhood revolved around our unstable financial situation, and lots of moving – but there was also a huge focus on self development, learning and creativity. I taught myself to read as a four year old, and books become my escape. Not just books. Reading in general. I read all the time. (Just ask my kids.)
Both of my parents were the only child in their families, so they wanted a big family. And they had one. This meant that we had no extended family to speak of. No aunts or uncles, no cousins. But we did have a big extended family of sorts at church. We belonged to, (and most of us still do) the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Also called the Mormon church). My father was born and raised in the church. My mother converted as a young adult.
I have always been a little hesitant to talk about church and my relationship to it on the blog. Especially once I noticed I actually had some readers. But it is such an important and integral part of who I am and what I stand for, that I strongly feel it is time for me to be more open about it. My cautiousness, I believe, stems from three things: fear (I don’t want to be viewed as ‘different’), consideration ( I don’t want others to feel I am pushing my religion on them) and shyness (religion is an intensely personal issue, and it is painful for me when others belittle or ridicule that which I hold so dear).
Church and belonging to it became the only source of continuity in our lives over the years. No matter where we moved in the world, we had a safe base, with familiar elements and rituals and routines. I was a fairly easygoing teen. I had no need to rebel. I was living on my parents faith, and was fine with that. Following the rules and guidelines that the church dictated, and that others might have found restricting or rigid, was not a problem. I didn’t see them like that. For me, they were sensible advice from a loving Heavenly Father who wanted what was best for me. No drinking? Ok. No sex before marriage? Fine. Go to church EVERY Sunday. Sure. Pay tithing? No problem.
But church was for me so much more than a set of guidelines. It was an arena where I felt at home, where I felt competent, where I was allowed to grow and learn and become the best version of me I could possibly be. It gave me an identity. (I am a child of God!) It gave me purpose in this life (I can make a difference for good!) and the life hereafter (I can go back to Him one day!).
The church is organised a layman’s church. That means that there is no paid clergy. All the work done is performed on a volunteer basis. And there are plenty of assignments to go around. I have always loved being a small part of something bigger, and contributing to the smooth functioning of the whole. And I have been allowed to to lots of different things over the years: teach children, teach teens, train other teachers and leaders, be a music conductor, translate, serve the elderly, serve as public affairs officer, cook for lots of people, be camp director, organize trips and exhibitions and concerts… Right now I teach the 14-18 year old’s in Sunday school. It’s demanding, but I learn so much and I love them!
Everyone who grows up in the church must at some point ‘find out for themselves’. Stand on their own spiritual feet, so to speak. For many, this process takes place when they are teenagers. My crisis of faith came as I approached thirty. As previously mentioned, just ‘living the Gospel’ was a no brainer for me. And because I loved reading, I had quite a lot of theoretical church knowledge down. Life happened. I was married, a busy mother of four, and felt that I should be the happiest person alive. But I wasn’t. So what was wrong? I was raised to believe that if I just ‘kept the commandments’ and put God first, everything would be perfect. (Or had I actually been raised to believe that? )
Gradually I realized I was just going through the motions. But my heart wasn’t in it. I worked and worked, I volunteered for all kinds of stuff – but just became increasingly frustrated and confused. Where was the JOY that was promised to the’righteous’? Why were so many of God’s children suffering? Where was God? How could a God who loved all his children equally allow for so much suffering? Why was I so privileged – but still not happy – while so many others were having such a hard time?
And what about how the church had handled homosexuality, or practiced polygamy? Could I really belong to an organisation that had that kind of skeletons in it’s closet?
To top it off, I was struggling with my marriage. In the church we get married not ‘until death do us part’, but ‘for time and all eternity’. Everything in church revolves around the importance of family ties, here and hereafter. So it was quite problematic that I wasn’t sure if I really could stomach being married to my husband for all eternity! We both felt we stood a good chance of making our marriage work when we started out, which made me even more frustrated when it became so difficult! I was even embarrassed that we should be struggling, since we supposedly ‘knew better’.
My dear husband (yes, we are still married – going on 27 years actually!) was amazingly patient and supportive throughout the whole process. In hindsight I can see that we both brought baggage with us into our marriage from our respective backgrounds that made communication difficult, and we had very different expectations. But at the time I just felt more and more inadequate and unlovable. And if I couldn’t hack this eternal family deal, what was the point of anything?
To make a long story short (yes, I’m trying!) the first of many turning points came when I read a book called ‘Believing Christ’. I discovered and admitted to myself that I had never really developed a personal relationship with my Savior. Grace and Mercy were abstracts to me. ‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. ‘ (Matthew 11:28) Really? How so?
I was more of a ‘God helps those who help themselves’ kind of girl. I was trying to do it all on my own. It wasn’t just exhausting. It was impossible.
Achieving spiritual self reliance and gaining my own testimony and faith did not happen over night. It has taken me years, tears, soul searching, falling and getting up again to get where I am. And I’m not done. To be able to say with deep conviction, ‘I know’ or ‘I believe’ is one thing. To have that knowledge and belief permeate my life and existence completely is a whole different story.
Do I have all the answers? No. The paradox of pain is still a paradox. The history of the church, like all other religions and organizations have some dark chapters. I can’t be perfect in all areas. (Not in any, come to think of it…)
But I am more at peace now. I trust more that my Heavenly Father actually loves me too. Not just everybody else out there. I really do believe there is a plan. Prayer works. Studying the scriptures, and not just reading them, works. I can be happy. I can contribute. And in the end, it’s all about LOVE. Loving like He loves. Seeing others as He sees us, and loving and serving each other accordingly.
Leaving the church was never really an option. But staying seemed impossible for a while. It doesn’t anymore. I chose to stay. And I’m fine.