We Were Meant to be Courageous

Updated 7/15/14: Op-Ed by Mormon women on the “End of the Mormon Moment”

Kate Kelly’s ex-communication from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has me thinking. I’m not Mormon, but I’m a member of a (local) church that has seen some turmoil over the last five years. We’ve lost three pastors – some by choice, other by grave “sin” – and the effect has been a heavily splintered congregation. The latest split has perhaps been the most profound, not due to “sin” per se, but to a large chasm of opinion about the “right” amount of influence, insubordination to church leaders, and the sowing of discontent — much like the charges brought against Kelly. It split our church, and left me with a sour taste regarding our current church leadership and their abilities to be good stewards. Honestly, I think they really messed up.

I think part of the problem is a lack of diversity on the Elder Board. See, my church also does not allow women to hold the penultimate positions of leadership, eldership, similar to the LDS church where women cannot hold the priesthood. Women do important jobs in the church, no doubt, but women cannot hold the title of Elder, part of the group that “heads” of the church and who makes decisions about the path of the church, the employees, the finances, etc. Women can’t do those jobs.

Prior to the Kelly story, I was troubled by the lack of women in high positions, especially since I think a dear (female) friend of mine would make an excellent elder in our church. I think at least one woman might have been able to temper the egos involved in the decision. But I wasn’t TROUBLED by it. True, my church attendance has been pretty spotty since our last pastor left, but I’d chalked that up to the turmoil and the fact that more than half our church left, leaving worship services feeling empty, even of God’s presence. I told myself I just needed to be more faithful, for scripture says that God is anywhere two or three are gathered in his name, and at least my husband was there.

But now I’m TROUBLED. I don’t know if Kelly violated the rules of her religious organization, who likely has the right to kick out whomever it chooses — it’s an organization in addition to being what their members believe to be the voice of God’s church. But I cannot help but feel a great sense of compassion towards her, and some admiration for her bravery. She likely knew that her actions would lead to serious repercussions, even if she didn’t agree with the results. I think she chose to sacrifice herself for a purpose larger than herself. From what I can tell, Mormons are having deep conversations among themselves and in public with non-Mormons about what just happened.

But now I feel like a coward. I love how Kelly has refused to accept the ruling that she must repent, for insisting on equality cannot be wrong. It just cannot. MLK said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” There are few things I believe in more than the equality of humans. While I believe we all have roles to pay, outside of what is ruled by biology (childbirth, breastfeeding…not sure what else) I don’t believe that there is some “natural” divisions between who can be a leader and who cannot. Between who can guide and teach and who cannot. Between who can make decisions affecting a large number of vulnerable people and those who cannot. Not everyone is meant to be a leader. Not every woman or every man should be a leader, guide, or teacher. But I have yet to hear any good reason, other than because the Bible says so, which is usually a ridiculous argument, and in this case even notable Biblical scholars disagree on this issue of requirements for elders that includes gender. And even if the Bible says so, why should I believe that God intended me, solely because I’m a woman, to not have a equal say as to the leadership of His church? Why would I believe that?

Of course, there is a larger argument as to why believe in God at all. Short answer, for me, is that it’s the only way I can understand the purpose of life at all. I choose to believe in God and in the divinity of Christ Jesus because it makes sense to me. 

The exclusion of women from the highest seats of power and influence in the church is something I do not understand, something that does not make sense to me. So why do I continue to support a church who does not believe as I do about one of my core values? How can I continue to support a church that sees me as inferior, for everything a woman can do a man can also do, but not vice versa? How can I continue to be a part of a practice that I believe oppresses me but cloaks itself in “obedience”? 

For this reason, I am deeply TROUBLED. For now, as I (sort of) keep my distance, all I can do is pray. I hope, if nothing else, He gives me courage, either to accept what is despite my misgivings (and hopefully also understanding of why what is…is) or to be brave enough to seriously not just question, but challenge. God Help Me.

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New Blog: Dr. Mama Esq.

New Blog: Dr. Mama Esq.

I have a new blog: Dr. Mama Esq.!

I recently graduated from Stanford with a JD/PhD, and felt that this transition warranted a fresh blog! I know that my journey as a black mother and professional may be inspiring to others, so over there, I am sharing my experiences and reflections as a young black mother and wife with mental health issues and three kids in a top graduate program. I’ll also continue just talking about my life as it continues into my professional career. If you love Gradmommy, please subscribe to Dr. Mama Esq. This site will stay open, but posting will likely be quite light here while I focus on this new endeavor. But I will continue to share my honest thoughts and experiences on raising black children in a world that is often hostile to their very existence, pursuing a joint degree with three young children, and trying to be my most authentic self in service to God. It will just be on the other site  :)

I hope to see many of you there. 

Humbled…and Tired

First, let me say how humbled I am that y’all are still reading. That I’m still getting emails from folks wanting to connect. That my stories and experiences are making a difference. I’m totally and completely humbled.

Second, as you can imagine, I’m exhausted. Tired. Writing a dissertation in a year while nurturing a marriage and raising three energetic and complex children, moving from one home to another, preparing for teaching a summer class, getting geared up for working full-time …yeah, I’m tired.

But I’m also very happy. Because I’m in the final stretch. In two weeks, this long journey comes to a wonderful conclusion. In two weeks I’ll be surrounded by my family and friends to celebrate my graduation from Stanford University with a PhD in Sociology and a JD from Stanford Law School. It’s unreal, but it’s so real.

As my friend said to me, “Doors open for God’s children.” Please don’t take this to mean that I think nonsense like the prosperity gospel is legit. I don’t. I believe, though, that God opened this door not for my fulfillment, but for what this will allow me to do for His kingdom, here on earth, according to His will. And I can’t wait to get started.

I hope to be back writing with regularity after I’m done. Until then, I’m retreating to my cave known as my dining room table to finish writing this dissertation. See you when I get to the other side!

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Go shortay…it’s ya birthday…we gon party like its ya birthday

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Well, it was my birthday. And it was fabulous. Baseball game with kids and fellow 30-something’s in the backyard. I was obviously the MVP — got on base at every at bat. Then followed by karaoke at what I thought was going to be a happening bar but what turned out to be a little sad. Misfits and me and my friends. I don’t know what that says about us.

I sang “Let It Go,” dedicated to my daughter, even though I got totally lost in the middle. And “Ni**as In Paris,” dedicated to me and my girls as we are on our dissertating grinds. There’s just something about that song, the hype that comes over me as I hear these words:

You are now watching the throne
Don’t let me get in my zone
Don’t let me get in my zone
Don’t let me get in my zone

I’m in my zone. I’m doing what I love, even though dissertation writing sucks. Hard. But this is my zone. When I’m in it, I’m alive. It’s not easy. God is forcing me to live my values, and while it doesn’t feel so good right now, I know that it’s all good. I got disappointing news over the weekend, but that’s all it was — disappointing. Not catastrophic. Not unbearable. The worst case is still a good case.

And my children are healthy and happy. Some days I think they are straight up nuts, but beautiful anyway. My husband is a gem. A diamond not in the rough. Just sparkling for everyone to see.

I’m 33. Jesus was 33 when he died. I think God wants me to remember that. Jesus did his job. I need to do mine. I’m here to do my job. Five years ago today, the day after my 28th birthday, I checked myself into Stanford Hospital’s psychiatric ward. I was despondent and felt so lonely. I believed in God and Jesus as my savior but I didn’t have a relationship with him. I was floating — really fighting — through life alone. My illness had me.

It’s been up and down since then. But I’m still here. That is a victory. I am victorious. Because five years ago I didn’t think I would be here. Standing. Thriving. Worrying, but trying not to. Confused, but reassured. Down but hopeful. Knowing every day is not going to feel like this. Not taking how I feel today as indicating how I will feel tomorrow. I’m stressed out. No doubt. But I’m in my zone. Watch.

It’s the final stretch on this part of my life. And right now, at this moment, I have a smile on my face.

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I Had To Write This Down.

This morning I work up and decided I wanted to be a writer. Not a sociologist or a lawyer or an academic. Just a writer.

I  went downstairs, had my two cups of coffee, took my kids to school, and proceeded to clean my kitchen cabinets while my toddler took all the pots and pans out. The babysitter came, and I was alone, and I kept at it. Sorted and labelled tea bags. Gathered paper bag full of breastfeeding supplies. Rearranged the small appliances in the now empty cabinet. Organized the pots and pans. Threw away a bunch of shit.

Then decided I needed to go to Costco. Searched for my rebate coupon. Made a list. Went to Costco, wandered the aisles. Bought diapers, paper towels, toilet paper, ziploc bags, ham, cereal, waffles, syrup, juice, two bottles of wine.

And I struggled to hold back the tears as I walked the aisles. Because yesterday, I literally sat on my hands for 45 minutes until I knew I couldn’t leave my house and get back in time for the babysitter to leave at her regular time.

Because all I wanted to do was go to an expensive-ass store and spend $300 I didn’t have on clothes I don’t need. I bought stuff online instead.

Because last night I asked my husband to take my children out for dinner because I simply could not stand to have them all around me. We didn’t read our book. I just couldn’t wait for them to go to sleep. And I wanted to just be alone.

Because I worried last night as I was going to sleep about going to sleep. Because I couldn’t sleep, was drenched in a cold sweat, and got up to take a shower at 6 am. And then made pancakes and bacon and drank two cups of coffee and prayed my children didn’t act crazy. And when the neighbor boy who sometimes goes to school with us said that we needed to clean our car, I told him he could walk. He’s six.

I shouldn’t be drinking wine, or coffee for that matter. I take three drugs that are supposed to help my mental health and I shouldn’t be drinking with any of them. And I know this, but I don’t care. They are rituals, how I start and end my day. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I didn’t have them.

I just had to write this down. I left my groceries in the middle of the living room floor, and came upstairs to write this. And listen to Maxwell. And E. Badu. And Tony Toni Tone. And feel the music pulse through my body and move and exit as tears. And I turn it up as loud as I possibly can without getting a headache.

Everywhere I look, I see mess. Mess that needs to be cleaned. Mess that needs to be cleaned by me. Right now. I haven’t eaten today. And I’m not fasting. I’m struggling right now to even want to give anything up for Lent. Because I am so fucking angry that I can’t control this no matter how hard I try no matter what I do no matter how good I’ve been I still have this. I sill have bipolar disorder. And it scares me.

Most people don’t even believe me, don’t believe I have bipolar. I’m accomplished. I’m friendly. I laugh. I joke. It’s not full-blown mania. My thoughts are all over the place. The words tumble faster than I want them to.  I literally cannot sit still. Overabundance of energy, but not directed. Haywire. I take anti-anxiety meds to take naps. To slow things down.

And it makes me worry. You can’t see worry. You can’t see anxiety. You can’t see the panic. Only I can. And my husband can. And he says you’re really hyped right now. What can we do about this? And I don’t know.

I don’t even know if this makes sense. I just needed to write it down. I just needed to make a record of this. I just need to know that I’m not…I don’t know.

I’m going to finish my cabinets. And sing along.

Before

There is nothing like being in the presence of those who knew you before. Before the husband, before the children, before the move. Before the JD, before the phd, before the dissertation. Before kindergarten, or first grade, or second grade, or third babies. Before losing baby teeth. Before you even remember you.

When you are in the presence of those who knew you before, all pretense falls away. Who you are is who you’ve always been. Not “LaToya Baldwin Clark,” but “Toya,” “Toy,” and my parents pet name of “Boop.” How good it feels to have to be no one other than who you are — a Baldwin, a Noble. A big sister. A little cousin. A big cousin. A daughter. But loved still as a mother and a wife and a friend.

And a welcome accomplice to foolishness and nonsense. To be celebrated for staying out after 10. For shutting down the club at 3 a.m.

There is simply nothing like being with folks who knew you before. Who loved you then and love you now. People who don’t care about your degrees. People who are simply happy to see your face and the reflection of you in your children’s faces.

I feel grounded after my weekend in Philly. I know who I am and where I come from and that I am enough just being Toy. Toya. I love being where I am. But I needed to feel whole with the idea that even if I did nothing more in my life besides take care of my children and be a decent person, I’d be more than loved. I’d be cherished. I’d be wanted. I’d still be me.