Around the time I met the missionaries last year, I was also preparing for my summer studycation in Paris. In school, I was studying Deaf history and found intimate ties with the Deaf community in France. I had a little extra money left over and decided to be wildly irresponsible and run away to Paris for the summer. Worth every penny I don’t have now. (smile).
The Elders knew I was taking off for the summer and I made one of them, Elder C, promise he wouldn’t get transferred before I got back. He said he’d do his best. We agreed to stay in touch while I was away, exchanged addresses, sloppy goodbyes, and “don’t forget me” handshakes. Couldn’t hug him, what with all the rules and me being a girl. He told me that he knew a missionary serving in Paris and said that if I needed an English speaking friend, I could look her up.
Before I left for Paris, I sent Sister S an e-mail and we arranged times and places to meet when I arrived in the city.
I arrived in Paris on June 30, 2010 and met the sister missionaries a day later. The church was about a 15 minute walk from my apartment and, having walked it almost four times a week, I became very familiar with this route. Sisters S, L and I became instant friends. On the first day I met them, we walked to Palais Royal, a gorgeous garden in the first arrondissement, and talked for nearly four hours. We covered a lot of ground very quickly: I told them how I first met the missionaries, my history with the Catholic church, and how I was way not interested in being Mormon. They asked if they could tell me a little bit about their church, and I agreed to listen… as long as they didn’t ask me to believe it. Here I am on the other side of the planet (okay, not actually the other side) and I’m sitting in the park with the only two friends I have in this foreign country whose language I just about barely know, and I’m being stubborn and mean.
We talked about faith, hope, our purpose in life, and Heavenly Father. I unloaded on them the same things I had been frustrated about in the past. The best I can do to explain my behavior last year is this: I was hurt and hurting. I was confused, lost, spinning, broken, I didn’t have answers I wanted to the questions I thought I was asking. I had a brick wall up and while sometimes it felt like it was a giant defensive barrier, other times it felt like I was behind that wall tied to a chair and screaming for someone to come let my arms and legs free. I was just so angry.
The sister missionaries were so kind. So amazingly kind. They were really my only friends in the city and they let the conversation float to other topics besides religion and I found so much comfort in their love and compassion.
One day, the sisters invited me to the young single adults institute building (it was so beautiful and Parisian). It was so hot and humid that day, and I remember going up into a little alcove with comfy chairs and fans. We needed the fans. The senior missionaries, Elder and Sister S, brought us ice cream and we all lost ourselves in wonderful conversation. I got to teach them all about Deaf culture – specifically why European Deaf history was so alluring. Any opportunity to talk about deaf history, I’m on it.
While we were up there, and after my Deaf history lesson, Sister L asked if we could watch a movie. First, though, they wanted to pray. On the inside, I was groaning and grumbling, “here we go.” On the outside, I hope so very much that I was gracious and kind. Knowing me, I probably groaned and grumbled on the outside. I can’t remember who said the prayer, but I remember that she prayed that I would come to know the truth about what I was learning. I was so angry about that. I thought to myself, “BUT I DON’T WANT TO. I DON’T NEED THIS CHURCH TO BE A GOOD PERSON. STOP!” But nothing stopped.
We watched “The Restoration.” I had a hot and fiery, acid-refluxy feeling the whole movie and I knew so hard that no matter what they said, I wasn’t going to change my mind. The good news was that no matter what I said, they weren’t giving up on me.
Sister L asked me a question after the movie ended. I sometimes wonder if she realizes how important it was for me that she asked that question, or how often I thought about the consequences of answering it. She asked me, “what does it mean if this is true?” And then came that punch in the face feeling again. So far in this story, any time someone brought up the notion that God could possibly be real or that the Book of Mormon is truly the word of God, I felt like I got punched in the face. I kept asking myself how something that was bringing them so much joy, however delusional I thought they all were, was bringing me so much pain. I couldn’t understand it and it just added to the hurt and confusion. I couldn’t make the hurt feelings go away, but I also couldn’t get her question out of my head.
The sisters and I had many conversations over the course of two months. The senior missionaries joined in our discussions sometimes. Sometimes, we read scripture, which almost always pissed me off. Sometimes I found so much comfort in the safe space they created for me to ask questions and to work things out. Other times I felt like I was outnumbered and defenseless – I realized later that this feeling was of my own making. These missionaries, my friends, listened when I needed to unload my frustrations and comforted me when I revealed to them my darkest wounds. Even if just one chip came loose, it felt like they were helping me take down my s0lid brick wall. Or, at the very least, they were helping me realize that I didn’t want that wall up anymore.
I stayed in touch with the Kansas Elders over the summer. I e-mailed a few of them every week to give them updates about what I was doing in my crazy beautiful new city. Just now, I took a look at some of the e-mails I wrote and it is clear how much I kept from them. I never shared what I was learning or what I was thinking about outside of my academic studies in Paris. Looking at my e-mails, I only mentioned the Paris missionaries twice in two months and only that we had “talked in the park.”
There is so much I could write about my time with these amazing missionaries. The whole summer was formative, for sure. I secretly started reading the Bible. I went to a church service at Notre Dame. I read as much as I could about the LDS church from the FMH blog. I watched a conference talk. Slowly, very slowly, I could feel my solid resistance melt to willful, but very secret, curiosity.
Last summer, I started to seriously consider the consequences of understanding that what Joseph Smith experienced was real. And I assure you, I wasn’t one bit happy about that!
With so much love,
The Lady Mo
ps – one night, the sisters invited me to a fireside at their church. this was an actual conversation up arriving:
Lady Mo: So, where’s the bonfire?
Sister S: Not that kind of fireside.