Home Opinion OPINION: Standing my ground

OPINION: Standing my ground

Walking to the auditorium, participants would linger in the shade, trying to avoid the hot San Antonio sun. A sigh of relief came as the air conditioning would hit them. In a blue polo, the EFY counselor standing on stage already narrowed down the number, announcing 100, then 50, 30, 20, 10. As he reached five, another group of youth sat down. There I was, standing, with very few others. I looked over at a friend from my ward who went to a private Catholic school, also on his feet.

The counselor finally said, “Keep standing if you are the only member at your school.”

I stood my ground.

In high school, you could say being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was my personality trait. One that was chosen for me, one I just ran with it.

Orange, Texas is a small town with more than enough big personalities. It is my home. But just like every home, there are good and bad memories. For instance, I didn’t realize once I graduated middle school that I was just asking for the “Mormon” jokes to hit me just like puberty did.

I was a trumpet player in the marching band and I adored it. I was still a doe-eyed freshman, looking up at the officers as if a high-five from them would let me defy the laws of gravity.

One day at the end of classes, all the band kids piled into the band hall before leaving school.

I saw two of my best friends in a large group, accompanied by one of the drum majors. This was something I wanted to be a part of. As we all stood and laughed, the subject found its way to “Mormon missionaries.”

The drum major, someone I thought I respected and would respect others, wanted a good laugh from her audience of 10.

“Oh yeah, when one of those Mormon’s come by, they don’t just knock. They kick the door in!”

Everyone laughed, except me.

I was shocked. My face turned red. I looked over at my two best friends. They were laughing too.

I clenched my fists and tears came to my eyes. Without a word, I turned, picked up my backpack and walked home.

Maybe this wasn’t the most dramatic and rude comment ever, but as a freshman thinking the band hall was a safe place to be who you are and believe in what you want, I was disappointed. Especially because the jokes didn’t stop there.

It was disheartening, but it challenged my testimony more than anything. My classmates doubted my faith, and to make sure they were wrong, I found out for myself if what I stood for was true.

I stood in a sea of people, being different. And I was okay with it.

I found myself ironing “mormon.org” on hats before a band trip to Disney World. I bought merchandise that showed I was a member of the Church. Looking back, I was probably really annoying with it all, but to me, it showed them that their bullying and teasing didn’t affect me. I knew they just didn’t understand, so I thought maybe I could help with that.

When I was a junior in high school, I wrote an article for my school newspaper entitled, “A Misunderstood Mormon.” This column clarified many misconceptions of the Church and explained the many things I loved about it. Two days after it was published, somehow, Deseret News picked it up and featured me in a story all about my column.

It was the closest thing to international fame I had ever gotten. I began receiving messages from members of the Church in Spain and Australia. I was being praised for having the courage to write about my faith in a town whose population was 34.8% Baptist and 2.5% members of the Church.

But every coin has two sides. While I was being praised outside of school, this was just fuel to fire more jokes inside school.

That experience gave me a whole new perspective, especially now that I’m in college. The changes I would feel while coming to school here was something that I can only describe as a sigh of relief that I’ve been holding in for many years. It was a sigh I had only released few times before.

I loved the way I felt at EFY camps growing up. To be in a large group of people that stood for the same standards and beliefs I did was so invigorating. It charged me up to go back into the storm that was the world.

And coming to college, it had the same effect. I kept expecting that great feeling to end, to last as long as that one week of EFY. But it didn’t, it became my new normal.

I can say I’m lucky to be part of a school where I can be myself without constant doubt. I know that in the years that I’m here, I will not take for granted this tender mercy before going back into the world. Yes, I am grateful for the challenges that occurred in high school because my testimony wouldn’t be where it is today without it. Being encouraged to live my beliefs is a blessing I can’t stop being thankful for.

Through those experiences, I have learned a lot.

When a storm tries everything to make a tree fall, what does that tree do? It digs its roots deeper and stands its ground.

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