This was written by Patricia Minnick, who, in my head, is still a twelve year old kid coming from soccer practice to babysit my kids. The truth is, she's not much older. Just 16. So young she probably doesn't even know the song I referenced in the title.
I received this essay that she'd written and was blown away. She's not even old enough for a driver's license, but she writes far better than most adults I know. And with her (and her mother's) permission, I wanted to share it with you.
Some of you aren't going to like the content. That's O.K. We're all entitled to our own opinions. Some of you may not like how it's written. That's O.K., too. Writers will always have critics. However, I have turned on comment moderation because the bottom line is, she's only 16. While constructive criticism and opposing opinions are welcome and will likely be published, I will not publish any comment that attacks a child (or her parents).
I think she's brave for being willing to share her personal journey, even while knowing many who read it will disagree with her or even judge her harshly. And I want to give her the writing platform I wish someone had given me as a 16 year old.
Patricia--I hope you keep writing. I think you have a very bright literary future ahead of you, and I will publish your work anytime. (And when you get a book deal, put in a good word for me with your publisher, O.K.?)
It’s every parent’s dream to have a perfect child with a perfect life, and they do everything in their power to make this dream reality. When I was born, my parents joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, better known as the Mormon Church. The Church seemed like an excellent choice for two young parents who wanted the best for their child; it was known for its strong values and morals. Growing up a member of the Church has changed who I could have been, who I am, and who I could be.
One of the things that I will always remember the most about the church is that no matter where I went, it was always the same. My family only moved a few times, but the first day at a new church was always the same: everyone greeted us with friendliness, and my family instantly fit in. It was amazing how at home they made you feel in a brand new place.
Since I’d been going to church my entire life, the values I’d learned at church were deeply rooted in me. I was just like any other child my age, but at the same time I was so different. I was taught to believe that the world was out to get me and that the only way to be safe was to stay true to the Church. My teachers at church taught me not to drink coffee or tea or any other caffeinated drink; alcohol, tobacco and any drug was out of the question; tattoos were unacceptable, and any piercing other than one hole in the ear was ungodly; wearing shorts or skirts that came before the knee was inappropriate, and if I even thought about wearing a sleeveless shirt I was disappointing God.
The teachers and leaders always taught that I should surround myself with people who upheld that same values and standards as I did, and that those were the ones who mattered most in my life and would bring out the best in me. In addition to this, they taught me about the people who didn’t believe in the same things as me, the nonmembers. They told me that just because the nonmembers were different than me didn’t man that they were bad people. They wanted me to accept the way others lived their lives, yet they didn’t teach me how to. The Church’s idea of acceptance was making my beliefs known to nonmembers, and encouraging them to live the way I lived. I was never taught to accept an individual; just to advertise for my church. I remember going to my grandma’s house when I was younger and preaching to her about the dangers of drinking coffee, and how God still loved her, but he was disappointed in her. God’s disappointment began to draw closer and closer to home.
Every Sunday, my family and I would wake up early, eat a big breakfast, get dressed in our nicest clothes and go to church for three hours. When I was eleven, I started to recognize a pattern in my mom’s church attendance. Every few Sundays she would be sick and stay home from church to get some rest. As more time went by, her strange sickness started showing up more frequently, and before I knew it, she was sick every Sunday. I realized that “sickness” was another ways to say “I don’t want to go to church anymore” when she got a job at the local gym and began working on Sundays. I was concerned, but I tried my best to encourage her to come to church, and sometimes it worked. I thought there was still hope for my mom.
One morning when I was around twelve, I remember getting in the car with my mom and smelling coffee, but I shrugged it off and figured I was imagining things. But the smell didn’t go away as we kept driving, and I looked in the cup holder and saw a brown ring around the bottom. I couldn’t just leave it alone and forget, so I coyly brought up that the car smelled like coffee. My mom told me it was the new air freshener she’d bought, and that was the end of the conversation. I desperately wanted to believe that, but I knew that it wasn’t true. A few days later, I had to go out to the car to get something, and I discovered a stash of empty coffee cups under the car seat. I was so appalled by this that I didn’t even realize that my mom had lied to me about the coffee smell. I probably cried for three hours, and of course, I gave her the passive-aggressive treatment, but I never found the courage to confront her about it. Then, when I least expected, she confronted me. She apologized for lying to me, and told me that she was an adult and could make her own decisions. I was too blinded in disgust to care about a word she said. I felt so betrayed. I couldn’t understand how my own mother could go against everything she’d taught me, and drink coffee. This feeling of betrayal stayed with me for years as I silently criticized and judged all of my mom’s actions.
I didn’t start to accept my mom until I started public high school, and was exposed to things that my private-Christian-school brain couldn’t begin to comprehend. I was surrounded by “the kids I was warned about”; teenagers who smoked, drank, had sex, did drugs, swore. The list could go on and on. I made friends quickly, but I always found myself judging them and the things they did. About halfway into the year, I was just like them. I even started drinking coffee. Somewhere along the line I’d decided that I had no right to judge people for who they were and what they enjoyed doing, and that there was so much in the world that I hadn’t experienced. I wanted to know everything, to do everything, to make mistakes, and to be satisfied with my life.
I stopped going to church. After being an active member of the outside world, a world of surprises and free-spirits and spontaneity, everything about the church was repulsive to me. I hated how they talked, how they dressed, how they seemed so blind. I wanted to save them. It still makes me sick to see how they shape their lives around rules and beliefs that in the end mean absolutely nothing.
At the end of the day I’m kind of glad I was part of the Church. If it wasn’t for fourteen years of brainwashing, I might have made some bad decisions before I was ready to make them. I might even be a better person than I am now. Being part of the church has been to me, sort of a gradual epiphany. I used to view life as a rat race to heaven. Literally. Most of the people I knew had one thing on their mind, and that was where they were going to end up when they died. I didn’t realize until recently that no one can really be sure about their life after death until they die, and by then it’s too late to go back. I’m definitely not the Church’s success story, but now I’m my own success story.