The Gift of Hindsight
I grew up barely a CEO Catholic...Christmas and Easter Only. We went just to see what it was about, but the doughnuts and coffee afterward attracted us the most. When I was 10 I had a gay uncle who passed away and upon returning to school, some girls heard me telling my friends about his funeral. “Did you say your uncle was gay? He’s burning in hell. Jesus doesn’t love gays.” I didn’t know THAT much about Jesus, but between his bleeding paintings, statues, and his “hatred” of gays, I wanted nothing to do with him. In high school my best friends were Buddhist and one was Jewish. Those were the religions I clung to the most. In any religious debate I took their side and had developed some pretty intense anti-Christian feelings. When I got to college I really struggled with the purpose of everything. I was pursuing a theatre degree that seemed to have no future; either I was going to sacrifice having a family and become famous, or I could have a family and forever resent them for keeping me from success. I wasn't happy, life was vacant, and I felt a deep sadness that this was the extent of my existence. I signed up for voice lessons and there I met a grad student, about 10 years older than me that had self-confidence and self-worth like I had never seen before. My mind seemed to be so open around her. There was a light that would go on when I was in her presence. 30 minutes, one day a week I felt I had a purpose. I would walk the halls the rest of the week, asking the universe to put her in my path...and to my greatest joy...I would see her every time I asked. We were instant friends. I trusted her and didn't know why.
In the theatre dept, I was offered a role in a show that I didn't agree with and felt compelled to ask her about it. All my friends and professors had said, “Welcome to show biz, you're going to do things you don't want to do.” She said otherwise. “You DO have morals and standards! That feeling in your heart telling you NOT to take that role is a good thing. Listen to it.” And I did. I turned it down. I asked her, “What is LDS? You keep saying that.” She responded a little embarrassed she didn't clarify earlier, “I'm a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” I looked at her, “I don't know what that is...” and she responded this time a little confused, “I'm Mormon.” and again I said, “I don't know what that is…” I didn’t really care and to be honest, the only thing I heard was “Mormon” and “Latter-day Saint”—I completely missed the part about Jesus.
Over the course of a year, I asked every question you could possibly imagine. I remember when I realized she believed in Jesus Christ, and so much so that her life choices were dictated by that belief. I was on my way to her house and got lost, “UGH, hold on I have to turn around in this Church of Christ, gag me, parking lot.” She responded gently and with a little laughter in her voice, “You do know that I’m a Christian right?” I stopped driving for a moment. “What? I thought you were Mormon whatever that is?” She laughed, “I am! Sash, it’s the Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints—we believe in Christ” I had no clue. I hadn’t heard it. I sat there for a moment. “Do I stay her friend? We usually get to a point where we just can’t be friends. I really thought she was cool. And we are already Facebook official….I’ll stay. For now.” I put the pieces together…she didn’t drink, she didn’t smoke, she was married, she had kids, AND she was pursuing her goals. She didn’t resent anyone. I knew it was too late to de-friend her, despite the fact that she was a Christian. I loved her and I knew we needed to be friends.
She had the missionaries at her house a few times for dinner, but I didn't know who they were and couldn't open up since they were strangers. “Sister, what do you think happens to your soul when you die?” I was shook, “Uhhh do I have to answer that? I’m not answering that. That is a very personal question and I don’t even know your first name. So uhhh Elder, you wanna pass the salad err..?” I just couldn’t open up. I had questions, but I was scared. What if this baloney was all true? NO, it’s crazy, Sash, get it together. The missionaries and my friend kept on talking, and every once in awhile they tried again. They were nice young men in suits that said words I didn't understand. What's apostasy? What's faith? What's baptism? What's a Nephite? What the HELL is a ward??? One of the elders tried to ask me another question and my response was to ignore it all together, “Elder Heck is it? Is that your real name or is it Hell and they asked you to edit it? She says ‘Oh my heck’ all the time.” I was a treat.
One dinner in stood out to me. My friend opened up about having two full-term stillborns. Her first child and her fourth. The room fell silent and she was emotional. She explained about something called the Plan of Salvation. As she spoke, she and the missionaries used the things on the table to help give me a visual. A pre-earth life (a plate), a veil (a fork), earth life (the salad), death (a knife), and three kingdoms (cups). She said she knew she would get to raise her boys because of this plan. That God was real. At that moment I felt tears well up and I thought, “This, of COURSE, this is true for her. She WILL raise those boys! But…this can’t be for me. It’s too late for me. There’s no way, this could apply to ME. That would mean I matter in the Universe, and I’m not import—“ My thought was cut off by one of the Elders, “I KNOW this plan is for YOU, not just her, I promise you that.” I said nothing. I stood up and went in the bathroom, shaking and crying. I waited until they left before I came out.
It was a few weeks before I finally mustered up the courage to ask to go to church and it was NOT graceful. “So, maybe sometimes, like, only if you’re going and there’s room! Because you know you have kids like maybe I can go to church with you. But I don’t have to. It’s fine. I don’t need to. But I could. But it’s also fine if I don’t. If you had room.” I went on and off for 6 weeks. Then I had to find the courage to ask for a Book of Mormon I knew my friend had for me. In her defense when I found out she was Christian, I had said, “Please never invite me to church. I’ll never be one of those people that’s excited and all ‘Elbows for Jesus! High fives for Jesus!’” But in this case, I knew she had it, she told me late one night, and I remember my insides shifting. It wasn’t bad, but I felt my stomach physically move. So before she left for something called “Girls Camp” I said, “Can I have the BoM you have for me? The U of A library doesn’t have one.” She gave it to me the day she left. I wasn't ready to read it, but I carried it with me for 5 days. I had a dream while she was gone that I was at a restaurant with all my friends and while I had stepped away they found the Book of Mormon in my purse. They took it out, laughed at me, ripped the pages out, and refused to give it to me when I asked and begged. Finally, I got the pages that had fallen and I was kneeling on the floor, tears in my eyes. I looked back at them and said, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” It was months before I realized the significance of those words. It was a month later before I opened the book to read it.
I went to New York City to visit a friend of mine, still carrying the book in my purse. While getting into Manhattan I saw 3 sets of missionaries. Each one I said to myself “No WAY! For real? Ok if they talk to me, I’ll read this book!” We made eye contact, but they went across the street, got off at the next stop, or turned a corner. “Please, just talk to me. I’ll read it.” We were walking away quickly when I looked up toward where God is supposed to be and said, “What do you want me to do?” And then I ran into a pillar; literally, ran into a building. I was embarrassed and thought, “Really?” I looked to my right and saw, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” I looked up and saw a golden angel at the top of the building. I was astounded that I ran into what I thought was a church. I took a picture of the sign and kept it where no one could see it. I had run into the Manhattan Temple, not knowing what it was. I started the Book of Mormon that night. That was August 12, 2008.
Late in September, I was really struggling. I would cry at church, cry when I didn't go to church, hear people talk badly about Mormons, and wonder if they even knew any. I was so sick of the comments from family and friends and this constant war between my heart and my brain. I was living with my best friend and her girlfriend and it was causing tension between them. Looking back I see how my friends were just concerned about me. I was concerned about me. I was confused and torn, but I didn’t open up to my friends about it. I wish I had! Maybe this all would have gone differently.
Adele, my best friend’s girlfriend, had investigated the church when she was in HS and said, “I have nothing but good things to say about my Morms! Look, it wasn’t for me, but it saved me! I was in a bad place in HS and I couldn’t imagine not going to church and reading at that time!” But Laura, my best friend, was angry that I was interested in this. And in all honesty, I couldn’t understand that ONE part of this church; how they felt about gay people. But there was SO MUCH I couldn’t understand about the world in general. Was I going to let this one thing keep me from something I felt in my soul MIGHT be for me?
Sadly, my lack of opening up, my own fear, their fear, spread to our other best friend Jake, who was also gay. He and Laura had been reading a lot of negative things about the church and unbeknownst to me, had planned a sort of “intervention.” Adele came over earlier than they expected because when she walked in they looked uncomfy and she was angry, “What the hell is this? You guys should be ashamed of yourselves. Sash, put your book away. They don’t have real questions. This is an intervention and it’s not fair.” I was shocked. What was happening? They were scrambling and now the tension was palpable. “Jake, what was Sasha’s response when you first met and told her you were gay? “
“Uhh, nothing. It wasn’t even a thing.”
Adele: “Exactly! Laura, what was Sasha’s response when you told her you were thinking about dating ME, a girl??”
“Nothing, just that she was happy for me.”
Adele: “Exactly! What are you guys doing? She has completely accepted you for who you are and now that SHE wants to do something that maybe doesn’t match YOUR lifestyles you’re going to change how you treat her? It’s not fair.” My heart hurt. They both admitted that if I ever joined they wouldn’t be able to look at me the same. I didn’t feel strong enough for this. I’m amazed that Adele was so strong, and I look back and just see that Laura and Jake were doing what they thought was best. I love them for that! A few years ago, Jake and I were in NYC together and he said, “I know I can speak for Laura when I say, I’m so sorry! We should have been better, but I hope you know I love and support you and so does she!” They are both STILL some of the best humans on the planet. The thing about hindsight is that it’s 20/20. Don’t we all have moments in our life that we look back on and wish we could do differently? I wish I had been more open and so do they—our life experience makes us better…now!
After that night my brain was exhausted. A week later I was riding my bike home from class and the wind was blowing so strongly! I was annoyed and frustrated since I was in a dress and heels, having just come from a voice lesson. I yelled out, “Ok! If you're really there...stop the wind! Go ahead! I DARE you! If I'm supposed to look into this more and change my life, let me know it's real. Stop the wind!” It just blew harder and harder. I got home, threw my bike down, and wanted to give up. Then I had a small feeling question come to mind, “What if God needed it to be windy? What if He had already planned it and couldn't change it? Are you really going to base your whole religious future on the wind?” FRUSTRATED, I started packing for a ward camp out that I was supposed to go to with my friend, and naturally, the Book of Mormon went with me. In the car, she explained to me that they were going to have a fireside. I asked, “What's a fireside?”
She said, “Umm, like a devotional.”
“What's a devotional?”
“Uhh, I guess like a talk by the fire...”
“Why would you do a talk by a fire?”--
“I don't know THAT'S JUST WHAT WE DO!”
During the fireside the brother speaking said, “I wasn't given a topic for this fireside, and I didn't know what to share until I read this story on LDS.org this morning. It's about a young girl who was a pioneer in her family. She was struggling to gain a testimony and while she was riding her bike home from school the wind was blowing very hard. She decided to tempt God and ask Him to stop the wind.” I didn't hear anything else after that. I just looked up and said, “Are you kidding me?” About a week later I told my friend and said, “What a coincidence...” to which she responded, “There's no such thing as coincidence. Heavenly Father is trying to reach out to you. TRUST Him!”
I knew Joseph Smith was a Prophet. That only made sense. And if I was going to be a Christian...I was going to be a legitimate one. If I can believe that a man can split waters and lead people through a river on dry ground, I definitely believed that a man could be lead to some golden plates and translate them. That was less of a miracle than anything found in the Bible stories people told me. The question I had was: Is Jesus the Son of God? I believed in the Book of Mormon, I believed in who translated it and that he saw God. But was Jesus Christ REALLY on His right? Was God literally my Father? Did I belong to someone?
I was 10 years old when I learned about the female body and the only question I had was “So out of all those eggs...why was I chosen? Why am I here?” I heard a voice in my head that said, “You're more than just an egg.”
Was there finally an answer to my question of why am I here? I couldn't fathom that someone loved me enough to look out for me, plan my life, and know my soul and how much it really wondered these things. Thanksgiving and Christmas were approaching and I felt this year would be different. For Thanksgiving, we went to San Francisco and I did NOT want to go. How could I sneak away for Church in a city I didn't know? I was making up any excuse not to have champagne with the rest of the family and why I didn't want to go shopping on Sunday. It was a long weekend. I missed my Book of Mormon. I was lying down in the back seat, on our way home, when my mom and sister were arguing about something. I thought to myself, “I am different than my family. I always have been. This is why, isn't it? I'm supposed to be Mormon.” I heard a familiar voice in my head say, “Yes.” I was so excited to feel like I belonged to someone. I wanted to say it out loud, so I whispered in my hands, “I want to be baptized.”
I waited a week to talk to my friend’s Bishop. Right after sacrament, she left because she was sick and I snuck around the building to talk to Bishop Carter. I asked, “Can I get baptized without anyone knowing? If I tell Kenz, my family will blame her for the rest of my life. But if no one knows and no one is there, then it's only my fault.” That was my plan, but God had other ideas.
I went home and decided to tell one person I knew had my back; Adele. It was just her and me at home and she asked how my Morm life was going. “I’ve decided to get baptized! I’m not going to tell anyone so that way in six months I can be all, ‘hey could you guys ever love a Mormon’ And when they say they couldn’t I can be like, ‘well I’ve been Mormon for six months!’ Good plan?” She came up to me and said, “First of all, give me a hug! Congratulations man! Big step! Secondly, why not? They’ll get over it, but it’s true—they couldn’t deny how you were just YOU! What did Mackenzie say?”
“Uhh I’m not going to tell her either. That way no one can blame her.”
“Totally cool, your choice. But I know she’d want to be there for you. She wouldn’t care if people blamed her. Maybe just think about it?”
A week later, I told Kenz. She was shocked. She couldn't really respond at all. Last time she checked, I was anti-Christian with a testimony of Joseph Smith. She jumped all in to help, and we had to find my ward, since I didn’t live in her boundaries. I googled my address with “Mormon churches near me” and a list came up. I called and called and called. I left voicemails, I even spoke to a Bishop’s wife who wished me good luck when I gave her my address and I wasn’t in their ward. Come on God, throw me a friggin bone here. I had my piano final the next day and when I handed it into the grad student I felt a surge of boldness. “You’re LDS right?”
“Oh, yeah! …. are you?”
“No….I saw your garments, that’s how I knew. I’m actually trying to get baptized, but no one knows what ward I’m supposed to be in. Apparently there’s something called a singles ward and, well, they want me to go to that one. But I don’t know which one. Anyway, did you go on a mission? I noticed you’re not married, but you gave garments. I thought you could only do that as a girl with one of those.” Good hell, tact went out the window for me, but I just couldn’t stop myself, “Sasha, where do you live?…You’re in the University 5th ward! I’ll go with you and tell you about how I didn’t go on a mission, but went through the temple anyway, it’ll be great! Meet me at 1pm on Sunday” and she handed me a slip of paper with an address on it.
My first day in the singles ward I went to the Bishop after sacrament and said, “Hi, I'm Sasha. I want to be baptized, but apparently there are 5 discussions you have to take. Can I have them Mon-Fri so I can get baptized on Saturday?” After 15 seconds of silence, he said, “I’m sorry, but we usually have to work to get someone to say that.”
“Oh, yeah. Your people have been working but for like a year in another ward. Apparently this is where I’m supposed to go.”
The Elders assigned to this area were the “APs” whatever that meant and they were gone in New Mexico at a “Zone Conference” whatever that was. “Neat, well can I just take the lessons from someone?” The “Ward Mission Leader” came over and said, “Well I called the elders. They want you to come to this ward a few times before you get baptized. They’ll be gone for another few days but said you could meet with us.” To be honest, I was furious, “Why do I have to come here? I’ve already been going to church on and off for 6 months. Please, I want to do this before I change my mind.”
“Well, it’s important that you go to YOUR ward. Why are you in such a rush? If you’re in this much of a rush maybe you’re not ready.”
Maybe he was right? Was I ready?? Either way, I wanted to punch him. I agreed to meet with them the next night. We had a lesson about Joseph Smith, and afterward, this guy asked me, “What does apostasy mean?”
“Uhhh what? I’m sorry, I don’t remember. Things went away and then God came to Joseph right?”
“Not exactly. What were the two priesthoods that were restored?”
My face turned red and all I could think was, “Oh shit, I don’t KNOW. Maybe I’m not ready. God, I can’t do this. Do you hear me? I can’t.” “Uhhh I’m not sure. Something with an M.”
“Yeah, Melchizedek and Aaronic. You know, it’s important that you know these things before you get baptized. Are you sure you’re ready?”
He was right. I hated him. But he was right. I was an idiot and I knew nothing. What was I thinking? I canceled my meeting with them for the next day, and then later got a call from the Elders. I agreed to meet with them one time, in my mind, to explain to them that it was, in fact, too late for me.
I walked into the room with the Elders waiting for me and I immediately felt a weight lift off my shoulders. I told them, “I’m so sorry, Elders, but it might be too late for me. I don’t know what things mean, I can’t remember what priesthoods were restored…” I felt a lump in my throat when one of them said to me, “That’s ok! You can always learn that later! We would just love to get to know you a little bit! We heard you’ve been going to church for a while! That’s literally amazing!” I told them a little bit about Kenzie and my experience with the church so far. Nothing too in-depth. They responded with, “We have been praying about you and were wondering if it would be ok if you read a chapter out of order? Alma 34 came to our minds. Would you be willing to read that tonight and meet with us tomorrow?” I felt an ease with them that I hadn’t felt…in any time I had spent with missionaries or ward members. I agreed and felt the lump in my throat go away. It was just what I needed; kindness, assurance, and an idea that two people prayed…about ME? And while my belief in God was new, there was still doubt. I wanted to believe in Christ and it had occurred to me that with Christmas approaching…maybe the spirit I felt in the air every year WASN’T just about Santa or the spirit of giving. Maybe the songs I had sung during that time weren’t based on a fairy tale? Maybe He was the Babe born in Bethlehem while Heavenly Hosts sang Hallelujah. But did Christ truly love ME? Did he really die because he loved ME? Ohhh maybe I just wanted to believe and it wasn’t real. The missionaries left, I rode my bike home and opened Alma 34. To this day, it is one of my favorite chapters. I still feel my emotions from that night when I read “Yea, even that ye would have so much faith as even to plant the word in your hearts, that ye may try the experiment of its goodness. And we have beheld that the great question which is in your minds is whether the word be in the Son of God, or whether there shall be no Christ.” There it was. They didn’t know me, but they prayed about me, and God told them what I needed. He knew me.
I was baptized in January of 2009, and have learned SO MANY things about God, Heavenly MOTHER, Jesus Christ, family, miracles, GRACE, and forgiveness since. Hindsight is 20/20 means that looking back we can see MORE clearly than we did when we were living through something. There is more to my story that involves serving a mission, mending my relationship with my family who was feeling hurt at my absence, getting into a toxic/emotionally abusive friendship and five years of hell later, leaving it, moving, traveling the US for work and learning so much about people and relationships, but for now, I’ll end it here. I wouldn’t change how my story has turned out because it’s made me who I am, but I can say that the number one thing I’ve learned is to listen to God in ways we wouldn’t expect. He didn’t stop the wind, the missionaries didn’t speak to me, my family didn’t jump for joy at my baptism, I didn’t get to leave on my mission until 18 months after I wanted, but in it, all-THEY, my Heavenly Parents, my Savior, were there. They knew me, and They gave me gifts along the way, and I know those gifts are available to all of us, we just have to be willing to look outside of our expectations.