When I was younger, my family visited relatives in Utah every summer. During those visits, I often found the wards (LDS congregations) we visited to be cold, unwelcoming, and stand offish. The whole ward may not have been that way, but the youth and youth leaders (in my experience) were. Now, this is no way affected my testimony of the gospel or of Christ, but it did instill in me a dislike for Mormon Culture (which is a different thing from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Because of that culture, I vowed, for many reasons, that I would never live in Utah.
Over the years it sort of became a joke to me that there were two types of “Mormons”: Utah Mormons, and all others. This joke, of course, referred to the (in my opinion) nature of having so many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in an area that much of the belief system became “every day life” and became taken for granted. I was certain that it must be impossible to develop a deep and true testimony in a culture where there was very little opposition to the truths I held so dear. I didn’t want to raise my kids there and I never wanted to live there.
Well, teenage vision is far from omniscient and is most nearly always distorted. My experiences formed in me an very narrow vision of what Utah was…most certainly an incorrect vision of “all” its people and its members. But, nevertheless, that vision was powerful and I adhered to my vow. I never lived in Utah, nor was I ever even tempted.
Fast forward to 2013. My life was in upheaval. I had gone through a heart-wrenching divorce in 2009. I’d been living and working from home, with my angelic parents. I’d sworn off mid-singles LDS dating (and all dating), quite content to be single, to work, and to travel with close friends. I was teaching early morning seminary. I had a host of “adopted kids” from seminary and a little writing group I led. I felt, as much as I could at the time, quite complete. My family was around me and I was loved and in a society of people I trusted.
It’s a long story, and someday I hope to write a book about it, but I was subtly introduced to my current husband via a missionary that served in both of our wards. After getting to know him, the very real object of him moving to Utah came up. While I was (against my will) developing an attachment to him, I was quite willing to let him go and continue on with my life, especially if dating him and becoming serious required a move to Utah.
Now, certainly, in the back of my mind, I realized how juvenile these feelings were. But, as I was afraid to ever get married again, it seemed very logical to rule this man out of my life for many reasons, not least of which was moving to Utah. We’d only been on a handful of dates, but this man decided to go visit his parents for Christmas. And with that visit came an invitation from his mother (my would-be-mother-in-law, though I wasn’t certain of that at the time) to visit them over the New Years holiday.
I admit, something in my gut knew more than my conscious mind did. I was afraid to go. But, I relented with very little persuasion (wanting to be kind and gracious as she was paying for my travel). The trip was fine. I had a good visit. But the real shocker came when “my man” gave me a ride back to the airport.
I’m a moderate-to-severe introvert. I get my energy from alone time. Thus, I’m a homebody (in many respects) and I like to limit my social events to one-on-one visits and usually only close family and friends. Home, or the feeling of “home,” has always been centered around one place, Moberly, MO. Home has always been with my parents. Even in my previous marriage, our apartments and houses felt like home, but being centered near central MO was always where “I felt home.”
So, as I was driving away from my future in-laws home and a powerful pull tugged at my gut and the desire to cry (as if being torn away from home) began to swirl in my heart, head, and stomach, I was shocked beyond reason. I held myself together (didn’t want to cry like a baby in front of what I now realized was probably my soon-to-be fiancé) the best I could until I got through security. But the feeling only increased when I sat in a chair near where I would board my plane.
I literally cried, in that suppressed leaking sort of way, ALL the way home. I managed to pull myself together enough to meet my parents (who were picking me up from the airport); but that three-hour plane ride the feeling that home had been “moved” never changed. And off all the places God had moved my home…he moved it to Utah.
My heart and head and gut had never been so overwhelmed in such an unexpected way. But, the feeling was certain. Even after getting “home,” a place that was still home, I felt strongly that it was home “in a different way.” God wanted me to take my life “to the mountains,” (Doctrine & Covenants 112:7) and my heart had been adjusted by the Spirit to feel it.
As I was studying Numbers 12 today, the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and Manasseh felt that home, for them, was on the east side of Jordan. This hit a chord with me. It made me think of Abraham. Abraham was often led from one place to another. Even though he was promised the land of Canaan for his inheritance, it was meant to be the inheritance for his blood line. He never got to enjoy that inheritance. His “home” was where God led him.
It made me think of my own family, that has for so long had its promised land in Missouri. Over the years, God has led our hearts to the homes where He would have us serve, learn, grow, and become. My whole life Missouri has been home. But, since 2013, God has made “home” Utah (despite my best efforts to avoid it). I didn’t know He would lead me to a land other than the one that had always been home. But, God does that. He most certainly works that way with us.
Now, I live in “the culture.” Where everywhere outside Utah is “the mission field” (their joking description for everywhere else that’s not saturated in LDS culture). I’m on “the other side!” And, guess what, there are wonderful people here. It’s something I suspected (and knew in my heart) but didn’t want to know. Now that I’m here I’m grateful that God has set me straight. He has taught me to see more clearly and to “go where I’m called.”
The reality is that people are the same everywhere. Some of us are still learning to be charitable. Some of us are still learning to see past the culture and live the gospel for the gospel’s sake. Some of us are great at welcoming people, but we have other things to work on. Some of us have pioneer ancestry. Some of us are the pioneers in our families and in our lives. It’s not Utah. It’s not Missouri. It’s individuals all trying to live the gospel and to come unto Christ in the best way they can.
What is certain is that God has led each of us where we need to be, if we are listening. I’m here because my heart is here. Where is your heart? Are you where God needs you to be? Have you come to a crossroads in your life where you feel are searching for your home (Ether 1)? Has someone invited you to visit and when you left you felt like you were leaving home (Mosiah 9)?
If you are sincerely looking, God will tell your heart where home is…where your current promised land is. It may be where you are. It may never change. But, it may change. Trust your gut. Go in faith.