Monica Bielanko
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Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam

Before scandal rocked my family and the subsequent divorce that marked the disintegration of normal, my parents were devout members of the Mormon church. Mom was in the Primary Presidency, a church position that required her to lead all the children in song during Sunday School classes. I remember her teaching me, along with my four-year-old peers, my favorite of all the Mormon ditties.

“Jesus wants me for a sunbeam, to shine for him each day.
In every way I’ll try to please him, at home, at school, at play.
A sunBEAM! (the 'beam' bit was shouted at the top of my lungs) a sunBEAM!
I’ll be a sunBEAM for him.”

I figured Jesus wanted me for a sunbeam, obviously. I was his girl. I was special. I was part of “the chosen generation.” That’s what my Sunday School teacher said, anyway. And I believed her. She wore pantyhose and high heels so she must know a thing or two about what goes on in the real world.

My generation, I was told, would lead the world through the most wicked times. Once we accomplished this task we were to wait around for The Second Coming. That would be the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. When all the dead people would sit up in their graves and the good ones would hang out in Jesus’ posse and the bad ones would spontaneously combust. Or something like that.

I privately envisioned a scene not unlike Michael Jackson’s legendary Thriller video in which zombies with decaying skin and shredded clothing lurched down the street after Michael. The Second Coming would be kind of like that I thought as I watched Michael's video on the fledgling Music channel MTV. Except with Jesus instead of Michael.

As spontaneously combusting and being relegated to the lowest kingdom of God would be, like, totally embarrassing I sang my heart out during Sunday School:

Choose the right when a choice is placed before you.
In the right the Holy Spirit guides;
And its light is forever shining o'er you,
When in the right your heart confides.
Choose the right! Choose the right!
Let wisdom mark the way before.
In its light, choose the right!
And God will bless you evermore

Throughout the coming years, as I ascended the ranks of Mormondom, more details about what Heavenly Father had in store for me when I died were proffered by parents, grandparents, teachers and my peers who ventured wild guesses about hell and damnation. My Sunday School teacher told me that after The Second Coming, everyone will be assigned to three main kingdoms. As far as I could tell, the Celestial Kingdom is like gaining access to the VIP section of the hottest night club in New York City. Everyone in the club can see you! They know how cool you are. They want to be you but alas, like the losers they are, they're denied access. They simply aren’t hip enough. You can always go visit them but don’t even think about trying to bring them back to VIP. God will totally bounce them.

It was drilled into my head from the time I could speak that I must be righteous in order to gain entrance to the Celestial Kingdom. Let’s say I screwed up. You know, like if I had pre-marital sex or didn’t attend church services or drank coffee (gasp!) I would be relegated to the Terrestrial Kingdom.

Those digs are reserved for those caffeine swilling masturbators among us who are not valiant in following Jesus. To its credit the Terrestrial Kingdom is still in the nightclub, sort of like General Admission. We’ll still have a good time and all but we’ll always be wanting access to the VIP section and it just ain’t gonna happen. God says.

Lastly, I was warned about the Telestial Kingdom. This fiefdom is strictly for murderers, adulterers, and others who do not accept the Gospel of Jesus. All who do not qualify for a higher degree of glory will enter this kingdom. Sorry non-members. You’re stuck chillin’ with the murderers.

Of course, if you gain a full knowledge of the Gospel and proceed to willfully deny (holy shit.. don't do it, don't do it!) and contend against the Holy Ghost, you’re headed to Outer Darkness. I likened Outer Darkness to where the three villians in the Superman series starring Christopher Reeve were sent. Remember? They’re stuck screaming in that piece of glass, spinning around in space? Forgiveness is not possible for these souls.

One Sunday after learning about the kingdoms I returned home and began peppering my newly divorced Mom with questions.
“Mom? Which kingdom are you gonna go to when you die?” There was a pause so long I thought she didn’t hear me.
“Oh, I don’t know.” She was chopping carrots for the same roast dinner her mother had made every single Sunday of Mom's life. Roast, mashed potatos and gravy, a side of carrots or corn and jello for dessert. If Grandma was feeling festive she'd mix up some Kool-Aid and spike it with 7 Up or throw some mini marshmallows right into the goddamn Jello! BAM. Mormon festivity all rolled up in one green, jiggly dessert. This dinner is a tradition Mom continued to carry out with her four children despite the fact she didn’t attend Church anymore. In fact, the fervor with which she made the Sunday roast seemed to increase once she stopped going to Church.

“You don’t go to Church anymore. Does that mean you won’t go to the Celestial Kingdom?” I pestered.
“I don’t know”, she said again. She had stopped cutting the carrots.
“Well, how come you don’t go to Church but you still make us go?” I asked. Mom slowly placed the knife on the counter, rinsed her hands and left the kitchen. Moments later I heard her bedroom door close.

I didn’t understand why Mom didn’t come to Church like all the other Moms. One time I asked my big brother Brandon and he just shook his head.
“What?” I pressed.
“You know. Why do you play stupid all the time?” He kept his eyes on the television screen where Inspector Gadget was using propellors that shot from his trenchcoat to escape the evil clutches of Dr. Claw.
“Really I don’t know.” My head hurt. I had the vague notion that something bad had occurred in our family. But I couldn’t imagine what.
“Mom isn’t allowed at church.” Brandon finally said while still staring at the television.
“Not allowed? But they’re always telling everyone to come. Sister Johnson is always telling me to bring the inactive members and invite our nonmember friends.”
“She’s excommunicated, stupid.”

Excommunicated. It filled my mind with darkness. Like when I tried to think about the end of the world or dying. Excommunicated. The mouthful of a word was dark and forbidding. Definitely NOT a good thing to be.
“But what does that mean?” I plowed forward in my questioning.
“It means she’s so bad the church doesn’t want her.”
“Why? What did she do?” I was horrified. Was Mom bad? Did everyone know Mom was bad? Was that why the neighbor kids called her bad names? I tried to ask Brandon more questions but he said “force field” and used his hand to indicate the force field his mind had erected around him forbidding any type of communication and so I gave up.

The next week, when I learned that a united family, which lives and progresses forever, is at the core of Latter-day Saint doctrine I felt left out. My parents were divorced. Did this mean my family wouldn’t be together? Were we all bad? My throat got that funny, scratchy feeling that made me swallow a lot and my nose felt all tingly. Then, in Primary we sang a church hymn that made me feel more alone than ever:

I have a family here on earth.
They are so good to me.
I want to share my life with them through all eternity.
Fam'lies can be together forever
Through Heavenly Father's plan.
I always want to be with my own family,
And the Lord has shown me how I can.
The Lord has shown me how I can

That’s when I began thinking or our family as The Bad Family

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Reader Comments (45)

I just realized this is The Girl Who section. Long time no post. Beautifully written, as always. YOu've got to write those books.
October 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAimee
pentecost and mormon have alot in common. im divorced. am i gonna burn? time will tell.
October 18, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterghost
I really enjoyed reading this and felt a lot of compassion for that little girl. You did a good job of writing from a child's view (which was of course you).
October 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBeg2defer
I'm so glad my parents didn't foist some religion on me. I was allowed to learn about life without the guilt perameters of some old white guy religion. Bravo to you for finding your way out. It seems to be a very painful process
October 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJenna

You ARE my sunbeam.

(in a very non-lesbian sense. Unless you want it to be. in which case, we'll talk later.)

October 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSicksadworld
If I were to rock the lesbian scene... it would SO be with you, my dear.
October 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMonica
And we would SO rock the lesbian scene together.. We would be feted at ALL the coolest lezzie parties.. Girls would swarm around us, guys would envision us doin' the dirty.. We would be Lipstick Lesbian Celebrities. Celesbities!
October 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMonica
O.K.....that scared me - not the lesbian post. The fact that they are ALL AROUND ME. Again, not lesbians.
Do you think if I am cool with Larry H - I can get into VIP? Maybe sneak me in the back?
I hope so.
October 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAllie

Killing me.

We shall embark on lesbian hijinx. Lesbianjinx.
October 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSicksadworld
Jesus Christ. This Mormon religion never fails to completely stun me. Astounding. I am absolutely appalled at the nastiness. What a bunch of arseholes. Obviously they have no idea who Jesus Christ was, or what he preached. Truly disgusting. I'm so royally pissed off right now that people can put this shit on poor little kids. Beautiful, perfect, creative children who are holy in every possible way. That's just so mean. I feel sick to my stomach. No wonder your childhood still haunts you Monica. There are loads of painful memories there to be relived so that you can finally leave them behind. Jesus Christ.
October 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNiedlchen
actually I could have gone.The church people were always inviting me out, bombarding me to come out with cookies and fruit pizza (sweet sister Landis) and whatnot. It's not that I couldn't go, they wanted me to go. I just felt like shit about it and hated the feeling of finger pointing from everyone, although I don't know if they were, or it was just in my head. I DO still love those songs tho Monica. Standing up there leading the songs and looking down on all your sweet faces was MY spirituality. I got it all from that. Nothing else they taught, just how I felt when I was looking down at the children..and you. That was my religion. I can still hear you singing..And it breaks my heart. Not that your not a mormon, but that your not my little sweet singing angel anymore, whose hair I can brush and pull close to me and smell, and kiss those "missy too kissy lips" ...I think of that all the time.
October 18, 2006 | Unregistered Commentermama
All I wanted to say is that my cousins are mormon and now I know why they are so screwed up. You sound pretty screwed up at times as well.
October 18, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterms t
Who. On this planet is not screwed up Ms T ?! Everybody has their reality and only in your reality are you the "normal" one.
October 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNiedlchen
The final straw when I was a church member was that I would never be with the rest of my family and that my dad couldn't be there when I was married.

Church members told me that I should stop accociating with my dad and brother because they wouldn't meet with the missionaries. (I had never pushed the topic on them and my neighbors would bombard my dad and brother on a regular basis, ultimately straining my relationship with my family. Members would tell my dad and brother that I was too afraid to talk to them about it and try to convert them on my behalf.)

I couldn't stand that these people weren't interested in supporting me in me relgious endeavor, but instead judged me because my family wasn't whole in the eyes of heavenly father. The relief society and and young women's presidents met with me in the bishop's office where they told me that obviously, my faith wasn't strong enough, or else my family would have converted. I left and never went back.

Sorry this is so long, it makes me feel better knowing that I'm not the only who dealt/deals with this stuff. Thanks for writing.
October 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa
Oh, Monica-- I feel for you as a young kid! It's confusing enough growing up but to have all the religious rules and goings-on... it's too much.

I remember visiting a Baptist church's Sunday school, and the physical reaction I had when the teacher told us we were going to h-e-l-l if we didn't accept Jesus as our Savior. I was sooooooo scared.

I talked to my non-religious mom about it, and was determined to go up in front of the church to make my statement that I was 'saved'. My mom gave me the perfect advice- she told me that I could do whatever I wanted, but just to wait a couple of weeks while I thought about it. As soon as she said that, I knew I wasn't going to be sucked into something just because of the intimidation.

PS The Sunday school teacher, who was so concerned about OUR sins left her husband and ran away with another man. Just FYI.
October 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKaren D.
This was a great post. I have been married to a non-member for 13 yrs and I remember having my kid ask me why we weren't a celestial family. I'm dying to read more of your blog. Great writing.
October 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSister Mary Lisa
ms t - I don't understand how you can log onto someone else's blog and be so judgemental. Someone who bravely puts themselves on the line (with their mother's support) and shares her life. To say "you sound pretty screwed up" is just ridiculous. I feel like it's an honor to have an inside look into someone else's heartfelt feelings and to be able to relate or disagree as the case may be. Shame on you for being rude under the guise of anonymity. I'm sure you're just as screwed up in some other arena of your life. Mama - I admire you for raising your children as a single woman and doing the best you could considering the circumstances. I love Monica's story Motorcycle Mama. I think it shows hilarious insight into your fun loving personality and love for your children.
October 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous
this is why organised religion can go to hell, IMHO.
October 18, 2006 | Unregistered Commentersfh

In the words of Monica "I am highly suspicious of all devoutly religious people".
October 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJib
I should perhaps hold my hand up now to being a card carrying liberal, but I tend to think that those who exclude anyone from church have missed the point of their faith completely, and they really should know their Bible well enough to know that Jesus spent time with those who were shunned by society.

It is good to read that your mum could have gone to church, but it doesn't really matter if she was excommunicated or just felt excluded, the result is the same. I know so many people who have felt ostracised at a time, like divorce, when they really needed the love and kindness Christians profess to share. I would be willing to bet that, in the event of any second coming, Jesus would want to know what the f**k they thought they had been playing at.

I am not anti-religion at all, and think faith is one of the things which makes people happy, but I do have a problem with churches as organisations at times, as well as the people in them. Faith is generally a good thing for people, but the way they interpret the Bible is often flawed, and some human beings seem to forget they don't have the right to make any judgements about anyone. If they believe in Him they should know that is God's job.

Lovely post;I found myself in that little girl's shoes, and could really imagine her mother's anguish.
October 18, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterhelensparkles
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