Tresa Edmunds provides today’s guest post on her first Sunstone experience at the Salt Lake Symposium August 2009. She blogs at reesedixon.com
I have to confess, prior to a few months ago my flawed perception of the Sunstone symposium was that it had little to offer me, a non-academic who defines herself as a True Believing Mormon. I somehow got the impression that it was full of analysis of obscure texts or whacked out fringe theories. But a lot of people whom I loved and admired from around the Bloggernacle were talking about attending, and when I saw an opening on a panel about parenting a child with special needs, I saw it as my opportunity to dive in and see what all the fuss was about. It turned out to be one of the most intensely inspiring weeks of my life.
For years now I’ve felt a little voice nagging at me that I should write—that I should get down to business and put pen to paper. Until recently, I have successfully ignored that prompting by convincing myself that there was no point. I got my Bachelors degree after extreme work and sacrifice and I haven’t had the chance to continue with the education I dream about. I kept telling myself that without that advanced education, it wasn’t worth the effort—that I wasn’t anybody special and didn’t have anything special to say. Throughout the week I met with authors, publishers, PhDs and Internet celebrities and I was astounded at how democratic this environment turned out to be. What I shared was valued and respected. I was heard. And it made me see that my goals are not as far away as I told myself they were. This was not a place where your only value comes in the letters after your name. A good idea, a thoughtful discussion—that was what mattered. I found everyone there to just be excited by the exchange.
I expected to be enlightened by scholars, but what really took me by surprise was how spiritual the week turned out to be for me. The last decade has been chock full of ridiculous numbers of trials for me and my family, to the point where we joke–but it’s only funny because it’s kind of true–that we are Job, double or nothing. Infertility, career setbacks, disabled children, health problems, and the way our life has played out has made me far more sympathetic, but it’s also given me a complicated relationship with God. Jacob is my patron saint and I feel like I wrestle with the angels daily. In the wards I’ve lived in, I don’t always feel like I can share this. It’s so easy for things to be black and white at church, and my very gray life is just…it’s difficult. I have developed a deep cynical coating that protects my mushy interior, and I resist any effort at persuasion that strikes me as treacly or overly sentimental.
There were moments at Sunstone when I heard people discussing what they struggled with, courageously sharing the burdens that they were carrying, and still affirming their faith, that I was touched so deeply it’s hard to find the words. The honesty just pierced me right through. During the sing along, I found myself weeping through the last three verses of “If You Could Hie to Kolob,” as I was surrounded by people I felt connected to by our shared search for understanding. I felt the Spirit at Sunstone, and I left resolving to have more courage, to try harder, to more profoundly personalize my experience with both Heavenly Father and the gospel.
I came to Sunstone hoping to meet some friends from the Internet, and maybe if I was really lucky, I could make some contacts. I left Salt Lake at the end of the week feeling totally changed—re-energized in my faith, inspired in my endeavors, and feeling embraced by a community of saints well acquainted with the messy realities of non-traditional journeys of faith.