In May of 2010, I was standing alone in my new room after having just started a new job for the summer working the dorms at BYU. I had just finished completely unpacking, and everything was in place and orderly. And it was at that moment, when all seemed settled, that I decided I had to leave.
There I was, just done with my first year at BYU. The past year and a half of my life had been spent fighting against a thought that started as a small flicker but overtime became impossible to push back. That struggle had been spent with what seemed like virtually constant prayer, and I was feeling very close to God at that time in my life—closer than I had ever felt before.
And so, I sat down at the end of my bed and said a simple, to the point prayer. . It wasn’t a prayer of asking—I am much too decisive a person for that. I said something like “Hey. I know I just unpacked and everything. But I can take it no more, and I have decided to leave the church. No one understands my struggle better than you—you’ve been with me through it all. But I can’t do it anymore. I do not feel welcome, and I do not feel that this is my home. I’m starving slowly and I am finding no nourishment in this church. I am scared if I stay much longer, the damage will not be reversible and I’ll never recover. So, I have decided to leave. I’ll transfer to a new school. I’ll move on from this.”
My answers to prayers always come not as a voice that I hear, but as words or phrases that come into my own thoughts. But at the end this prayer, that was not the case. I heard a voice like someone was right in front of me. And it wasn’t the voice that I had been taught God would sound like. It was a woman’s voice. Strong and clear.
She told me “No.” And then said “You shouldn’t leave. You have to keep showing up. You have to keep showing up. You have to keep showing up.” Repeated three times just like that.
All at once, I knew that I had a Heavenly Mother and that she loved me. I realized that she is powerful and wise—just as powerful and wise as Heavenly Father. Equal. She loves all of us and is there to help, comfort, and advise us when we need her and if we are open to her influence.
She knows me so well, you know. Heavenly Father too. At that time in my life, if He had been the one to tell me I shouldn’t leave, and that I had to keep showing up—I would not have been convinced. I wasn’t starving for the influence of my Father. I was starving for my Mother. Desperate for the influence of my Mother.
A while back, I went to the break the fast service in Salt Lake City to close the national fast for women’s equality in religion. It was held in the Buddhist temple in downtown, and it was a beautiful and spiritual space. Mormon’s spoke. Buddhist’s spoke. We sang a song from the Utah Woman Suffrage Song Book (it was wonderful).
A Presbyterian pastor also spoke. And she spoke with such authority and eloquence. She told us how she knew she was a privileged woman among us, since she is able to be ordained and to lead in her congregation. That no one could tell her she couldn’t do it just because she was a woman. That she was welcomed to participate in every spiritual opportunity. She told us that it was struggle for her religion too, years and years ago. But the women before her had done a remarkable thing.
They had gone where they didn’t feel welcome. They had come over and over until the men realized they weren’t just going to go away. “They showed up” she said. “You have to keep showing up. You have to keep showing up. You have to keep showing up.”
You know the story of how Brigham Young spoke to the Saints after Joseph Smith died, and many people swear they heard the voice of Joseph, not Brigham, as he addressed them at that critical time in the Church’s history. When big changes were coming and people had to decide what path in Mormonism they were going to take.
As that woman spoke, to 50 or so of us sitting in the pews of a Buddhist temple, her voice became the one I heard in May of 2010. The voice that told me no, I had to stay. The voice of my Mother, who I had been longing for so desperately. This pastor had become the mouthpiece of God the Mother, and I was reminded of that little conversation She and I had before.
And so, I will go where I may not feel welcome. And I will show up-I will always, always show up. That is what I have been asked to do, and I know She is proud of me when I have the courage to do it. Truthfully, I am not hopeful that true equality will come in my lifetime. But I am willing to show up and speak up for my daughters and granddaughters.
I’ll show up at church. I’ll show up at the temple (in the ways that I can bring myself to). I’ll show up to fast and testimony meetings for women’s equality in Buddhist temples. And I’ll even show up at the priesthood session of general conference on October 5.