Lost and Found
In November 2015, soon after the church announced it’s policy that children of homosexuals will not be allowed to be baptized before eighteen and that labeled all those in same-sex marriages or committed relationships as apostates, I drove with my mother, from my home in Utah to Colorado to move my oldest daughter, Erin, out of the house that she had shared with her girlfriend, Lauren, of three years. Lauren, feeling drawn to a man had abruptly ended their relationship. My daughter was devastated.
The policy itself did not affect Erin directly. In 2012, she had taken her name off of the records of the Mormon church and was at peace about that. She did, however, question how I could continue to be involved with an organization that showed insensitivity to the LGBTQ community. I wondered the same thing.
My mother had come with us to pack and clean, but her most important role would be one of support. My mother is positive in the most trying of circumstances and loves her lesbian granddaughter without reservation. When we pulled up to Erin’s house, I clearly remembered helping Erin and Lauren move in just seven months earlier. They had settled in with so much love and hope. Now, as we packed up and cleaned, every corner held the shadow of those memories.
Erin made a pile of things she didn’t want to take with her because they reminded her of Lauren – framed pictures of their life together, holiday decorations, a ceramic vase from one of their trips, and other seemingly mundane items that were now landmines of emotions. Rather than throw them away, I took them to a local thrift store. When I returned, we continued to clean and pack. When the house was empty, I watched my daughter stoically get behind the wheel of a rental truck and drive away from her life. My mother rode with Erin so that she wouldn’t be alone and I followed behind, anxious to protect her from the struggle that lay ahead.
A few weeks later, it was time to prepare for Christmas. Erin had moved into an upstairs room in our family home in Utah. Her younger brother still lived at home and her other three siblings lived in the area. Depressed and withdrawn, she rarely left her room. I wanted to continue with our family’s Christmas traditions, because she had always valued them and because I wanted her to feel the pull of love behind them.
Every year I buy each of my children a new ornament with his or her name written on it along with the year. The first ornament I bought each child was white porcelain. Erin’s was a little bear with a red bow. When Erin and Lauren moved in together, I gave her a box filled with thirty Christmas ornaments to start their own lives and traditions. As I was untangling the lights for the tree, I was thinking about this little bear, and suddenly it hit me: One of the boxes that I had dropped off at the thrift store was labeled “holiday decorations”. I suddenly couldn’t breathe as it dawned on me that all of Erin’s ornaments had been left at a thrift store in Colorado.
I ran upstairs to ask Erin if I could somehow be wrong but she had realized the same thing the night before when she saw me begin my preparations for decorating the tree. I had often felt that buying these ornaments was one of my best parenting efforts, and now the evidence of my love was gone. I went into my room, curled up on my bed, and sobbed for all that we had lost.
The next morning I called the thrift store, hoping to find an employee who would be kind enough to look through all of their Christmas decorations. Call after call, I got only an answering machine. I kept imagining one customer after another purchasing a nutcracker, a small stuffed Santa or a white porcelain bear and walking out of the store with my daughter’s treasures.
Finally, at the end of the day, a man answered and told me. “Miss, I’m sorry I cannot help you. Nancy is in charge of the Christmas decorations and she isn’t here today. I will give her your message tomorrow.” The next day came and went. No one called and no one answered my calls.
Two days later my mother told me that her friend, Colleen, was going through Colorado on her way back to Utah and was willing to stop at the thrift store to search for the ornaments. Later that day, Colleen called and said, “Lisa, I didn’t find even one ornament that belongs to Erin, but there is some hope. I learned that Nancy sometimes sorts through boxes at home. The fact that not even one of the ornaments was in the store could be a good thing.”
The next morning Nancy finally called me to say she had gotten behind on processing the donations and had several boxes at her home. After I described the box I was looking for, she put the phone down to search and soon told me, “Mrs. Dame, I just found the box and will put it in the mail today”. The anxious feeling that something important was missing subsided, and I was able to feel peace for the first time in weeks. I could let go of the thought that parts of my daughter’s life were being irretrievably scattered. Just before Christmas, a large box with thirty ornaments arrived. I unwrapped each one, so happy to have them all back. One of the last was the white porcelain bear, which I held to my heart as I said a prayer of thanks.
I wish that a nice thrift store volunteer could send me another package. This one would have everything I have lost in the last few years. I have lost my belief that I had all of the answers and that I belong to a church that is true and is led by God. The day that the policy was leaked I felt something inside of me break. I knew that the Mormon Church would no longer be my path for spirituality.
When Erin told me that she was a lesbian, five years ago, I was ready to hear it. I had loved my little tomboy from the time she told me at three to never again put bows in her hair. She disliked anything girly, played the drums in a punk band and was outspoken about how men held too many positions of power. I had seen her struggle to be comfortable with whom she is. I had begun planning a wedding for her when she was twenty-two to a man who was her best friend but not someone who she felt attracted to physically. She had called off the engagement.
Over time, I realized that she was a lesbian and would not be marrying a man. I grieved this loss but embraced my commitment to help her have a complete and whole life, a departure from the church’s stance that same-sex attracted people must remain celibate or enter into a mixed orientation marriage. I didn’t believe that my daughter would thrive without a partner, and so I lost my belief that the leaders speak for my daughter and for God.
My own loss of belief now keeps company with my daughter’s loss of self after this breakup. For a time I kept the little white porcelain bear on my nightstand to remind myself that things can be restored, then I put it back with the other ornaments. Memories can help us to remember where we have been and how far we have come, but they can’t substitute for the hard work of learning, growing, and becoming new creatures. The loss of the old self can give birth to finding the new within us. My daughter and I are both working at finding those new people.
I have started a meditation practice and read books by authors who teach mindfulness. I have asked to be released from my church calling so that I can spend more time helping those who are experiencing homelessness, work that has brought peace to my soul for the last four years.
My daughter is growing and becoming more emotionally resilient by working through a program with a counselor. We won’t look the same, but I have faith that the new things we collect will be unique and beautiful because of what it has taken us to find them.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2016 edition of Exponent II Magazine