Friday, February 28, 2014

On Your Baptism Day.

To my daughter.
{*disclaimer: longest post ever.}

Tomorrow, you will be baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. You will participate in your first symbolic ritual in which you will promise to take upon the name of Christ, to always help others, to stand as a witness to the reality of God, and to love God and strive to keep His Commandments. 

This is a big deal for an eight year-old kid.

You were given a choice to be baptized. And they'll keep saying that to you. You made a good choice today. So I want to talk to you about all that. I'm going to get for realz with you, because that's what a Mama does. By the time you're old enough to read and digest this letter, I'm predicting that this will be the least bumpy of the for realz kind of conversations that came your way and for once!, involved exactly zero terms involving the human anatomy. Hey, if you can't get it straight from your Mama, then who can you get it from?

So let's just start off by admitting that as an adult, when you look back on this "choice" to be baptized, you will recognize that an eight year-old child doesn't so much choose anything. Trust is a better word. You have trusted. You have trusted your parents' way of life. Which as of this point, you haven't had much else to compare it to. So, yeah.

It is my opinion that one of the greatest gifts, the most marvelous, sacred privileges I have ever been endowed with was the unmerited trust of my children. Of every single walking person on this entire planet, of every book or every story or every movie you've ever watched, there is not another voice you trust more now to interpret your reality than mine. This is a weighty, enormous, beautiful responsibility and I do not take it lightly. I also know this trust will most likely completely expire by the time you are thirteen. It's like a one shot, limited time offer.

I have heard it asserted before that a parent teaching a child their religious views is tantamount to child abuse. The more vocal proponents of this opinion contend that nothing should be passed on until the child is an adult and can think and reason for his/her self. This all has a masked appeal of democratic freedom and rationality but upon further reflection I have come to see this demand as A) absurd, and B) operating under a grievously mistaken assumption.

Here's how I look at it: When you are gifted with a precious child who comes equipped with an impressionable, curious, trusting mind, it's as if you are handed a completely clean slate. Like a fresh, white marker board. But over time, that slate will unavoidably become filled with writings from outside sources. Every day, millions of signals, advertisements, images, ideas, and identities will be sent forcefully to the board. Now, more than ever, this frenetically fast paced world only seems to be increasing in the pace and intensity of messages regularly pummeling that fresh, porous surface. Consequently, I see it as a fools errand to think that you can simply keep a child's slate completely clean and empty until the child is old enough to begin writing their own ideas and values. Unless, possibly, you're raising them in a padded white room in isolated confinement (We're still keeping this option open).

Inevitably, their supposedly new and unencumbered "original" ideas/beliefs/identities are going to be developed largely from the source material of messages already sent to their board. So, what is really being proposed, is that I restrain writing any of my ideas or beliefs --all in the noble cause for freethinking -- while, in the mean time, the hot mess of every else's ideas and beliefs will continue to accumulate. No Thank You. I will not be relinquishing my responsibilities, or my marker.

The supremely sacred, serious, even burdensome task of a parent is this: you are first person to the board. And just to be clear, this is pretty much like, the only head start you will ever be given in your parenting experience. You are the one who begins writing. It is your script(s) that will be embedded in the first layers of a new mind.

So, the most important question becomes, what will you say?

From the moment of your birth, a literal fire was set within my soul. A quest, a hunger, a need. I needed to know and feel comfortable with what to teach you. I needed your life curriculum to be real, authentic, and full of goodness and integrity. The past eight years have been spent on that deep search, filled with intense inner contemplation and prayer. Almost, a little bit, to the point of obsession. However, I preferred to use the term interchangeably with hobby.

You see, every mother worries about the knowledge that their child will acquire throughout a lifetime. That's why from the earliest age we plug you into learning activities, in an almost desperate effort to teach skills that will always improve upon your condition. Reading, writing, counting, music, art, sports, travel, culture...the list goes on. A Mama doesn't want her child to simply survive life, she wants you to thrive on life.

I instantly had questions from the moment you were in my arms. Is she eating enough? How much does she weigh? Is she holding her head well? How much tummy time?

Over the years the questions evolved. How many words per minute? Did she finish her homework? Is she getting along well with peers? Did she eat the apple in her lunch? Did she remember to say thank you?

And the questions will keep evolving, and I will do my usual seeking for answers and solutions. But then, there are the BIG questions. The kind that are always looming in the background and can really keep any mother up on a reflective, starry night.

How will she handle pain and struggles? Will she know how to access and cultivate joy? Will she love well? Does she know who she is? Does she value herself, and in what ways? Where will she find her strength in life's toughest moments? How will she use her power? Is she even aware of her power? Where will she seek wisdom? What will she prioritize? How will she discover her purpose, her life's meaning, her happiness?

And it's those kind of BIG questions that bring me back to your baptism day, the day your Dad and I chose to accept your sweet trust and set you on the path of a religious life. This faith, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is our life curriculum. It is our foundation. It is the source. I mean that with the deepest sincerity a Mama's heart can muster. It is the source for us. There isn't anything in life that creates the sort of joyful purpose in your Mom and Dad's existence as much as our belief in your divinity, in your lineage as a daughter of the Highest Creator, the daughter of Heavenly Parents. There is so much I love about this faith. There is so much I hope to share with you over time. This faith proposes some very big beautiful answers to some big, hard questions. But, I'm going to spare you a lot of time and obnoxiousness and false expectations now and issue one important spoiler alert: our faith does not have every answer to every question. In fact, that is part of the beauty of it. Our faith is a lived experience. A way of living out the questions, even in the absence of complete answers sometimes.

You'll find that there are many ideas and descriptions about what constitutes a "religious life", but I hope to offer you one that really animates our life. Choosing a religious life means engaging with the questions. A religious life does not run from them, or act like they're not there, or that they don't matter, or that they should be ignored because we are unsure of the answers. A religious life builds and builds upon important, life-determining sorts of questions.

Tomorrow, you will enter the waters of baptism. I particularly love this part because it offers a chance to engage with the often forgotten art of symbolism and ritual. I really treasure the meaning behind each act of this ordinance. First, we believe that you enter the waters innocent and perfect to begin with. You are a child, and as such we do not believe you are tainted or in any way shaped by previous sin or curse. You are pure. You will be held in the strong, steady hands of your Dad - who is given power to baptize you through his desire and demonstrated commitment to uphold his own personal promises to God and to his family. He is your honorable protector and guide. You will be surrounded by your Mama watching (woot! woot!), your sisters, your Grandparents, your extended family and friends, all who are present to watch over you with love and guidance. The water, which you will be fully immersed in, will serve as a symbol of renewal and refreshment; cleansing a mind, heart, and spirit ready for a rebirth into a world where you will begin to accept accountability for your actions. You will emerge and begin your first steps on this new, Christ-centered path. You will be given a blessing and the Gift of the Holy Ghost, which means that we believe you are endowed with the special power that comes from communication with the Spirit of God from within, a Spirit that will be a moral compass all of your life.

It will mark your first day as an official Mormon girl.


I heard you say it one day when we were out to dinner. You heard the hostess mention the word 'Christian' and you brightly beamed, "Hey! Well I'm a Mormon!" I briefly laughed and had to explain that Mormons are Christians as well...but I was more surprised by how it melted me to hear you announce "I'm a Mormon!" to the world. I wonder if there will ever come a time, as it did occasionally for me, that you would rather not have announced this identity. Let's just say you will soon discover that a religious life is not the fastest track to being the most popular or acclaimed. You will also discover that the nagging desire to be popular and highly acclaimed is not merely confined to the petty high school years, unfortunately. There may be times when you aren't sure what, or who you are. You will quite possibly experience a time or two that you wish you were anything but the very thing people might poke fun at or ridicule. Don't worry too much about those times. Instead, refuse to cave to the incessant temptations to be constantly validated. Give yourself the freedom to live your convictions regardless of popular consensus. Resist the urge to insulate yourself only with other Mormons. The world is full of amazing people, and the wide plurality of voices and opinions simply means that God's work is actually working. There are lots of free minds and free voices out there, your's included. There will be times you just wish you could "be normal like everybody else!", and other times when you'll be so thankful you are anything but the norm.You don't need to be afraid. Love what you love and believe what you believe and stand your ground. If there's anything I am already sure of about my daughters, it is that they are the kind of girls capable of standing ground. From both within the walls of your faith and from without, stand your ground and lift. {Shout out: Uchtdorf!}

And if you are ever hurt, or feel isolated, misunderstood, or miserably alone, allow those feelings to work deep within you. Remember the discomfort, remember how it stings, then give thanks for the insight and commit yourself (again and again if necessary) to never knowingly or purposely creating those feelings for others. It is tough sometimes, and your Mama is a terrible example, but it IS what Christ taught. If you ever feel marginalized as a Mormon, or minimized, or criticized, just take comfort in the fact that now you know what it is like to be either short, tall, republican, democrat, gay, straight, black, white, big nosed, small boobed, zit faced, atheist, cross eyed, jewish, a lover of cats, muslim, skinny, fat, introvert, talkative, nerdy, fill in the blank, fill in the blank, fill in the blank.....etc. etc. etc...or any other person or identifier that has been met with some form of ridicule or spite. I think what I'm trying to say is welcome to being a human being. God has a wonderful way of reminding us of that fact, sometimes in unexpected or even annoying ways. I think it is because He thinks it is so important for you to remember that every single human being you meet is really your brother or your sister.

Share your blessings always. You will receive many on this path.

And I'll end by assuring you that although you trusted your Dad and I enough to direct your first steps of a faith journey, it is ultimately you who will have the choice regarding your life and your beliefs and your heart. That's another reason I love this faith so much. The entire foundation of our theology begins with a rather epic cosmic battle over free will. It's pretty awesome, and another spoiler alert: freedom wins! Your Mama loves freedom and so does our gospel. I am grateful for the privilege of passing this gift onto you, I desperately hope that you will treasure your inheritance, your traditions and your faith. My prayer will always be that you find as much love and solace in it as I have. This is the beginning of placing a marker in your hands. Eventually it will be only you who does all the writing and erasing. It is you who will have the freedom and choice to follow your conscience always.

Dive deep, my darlin'. It is such a breath-taking journey.

I love you more than you'll ever know.

Welcome to the faith!


{photos above are outtakes from your baptism invites.:)}


Joan said...

A lover of cats!!!
Its wonderful that you can post about something so sacred & serious and yet throw in awesome little Rae quips to keep it real.

Amy said...

This is really lovely!! Lots of good advice for not just Lily, but everyone. xo

Emily said...

Rae, you did it again. Thank you so much for writing this. 'Be Still My Soul' was playing on pandora while reading this and I was fighting back tears. I needed the reminder of how great our faith is and bring my testimony to the surface. You are great with your words, thanks for saying what I needed to hear.

thepainterfamily said...

This is just incredible.
Love so much that you took the time to spell it all out.

You see clearly,
(or maybe I just judge you to have a similar viewpoint as my own :)

Either way, beautiful.