Almost exactly 2 years ago, I was in charge of an old fashioned Christmas Nativity for our ward party. It was chaotic, touching, joyful, funny, spiritual and musical. Everything anyone would want in an old fashioned nativity. We had Mary and Joseph. We had 3 wise men and their gifts and entourage - even a camel. A huge set had been built with a stable and Bethlehem skyline and twinkly stars. We had a donkey, an adventurous 8 year old to be the star. We had shepherds and many sheep. The sheep had a tendency to “wander”, but it added to the charm. And angels, we had many beautiful angels. At our dress rehearsal on Wednesday night, we were ready. The costumes were distributed and worn, the songs were sung, thank you ornaments and candy canes were distributed from me to all the beautiful children. The angels loved jumping off of the stage to “fly” with their wings, usually shouting at me, “Watch me, Sister Hawker! I can fly!” The performance was set for the coming Saturday morning with a wonderful ward brunch. We were so excited!This had been a difficult year. We had just experienced hurricane Sandy, along with the power outages and clean-up that followed. It had made our ward closer. This party was much anticipated. I was Relief Society President at the time, so I was tired and just as excited as everyone else. My favorite thing to do in the world was music with children. I was in my special happy place with this program.I didn’t mention that the ward was the Newtown Ward in Connecticut. We are a large ward that covers 5 small neighboring towns.On Friday, December 14, things changed.I don’t have the words to describe the panic and upheaval that the Sandy Hook shooting wrought.One of the angels from the Nativity was a victim, her family a much loved and valued part of our ward family. She was 6. A beautiful, smart, exuberant little girl who was in first grade. Everyone in this tight, protective community knew at least one (usually more) child or adult that was gunned down. Other children from our ward attended that elementary school and saw and heard things that no child should ever see or hear.I wasn’t a first responder. I didn’t see the carnage in the school. But I saw the eyes of those around me. In those eyes I saw such pain and grief and disbelief. I saw helplessness and despair. I still see those eyes.As a ward we gathered that Friday night to try and offer comfort to each other. As RS president, I hugged all the sisters there, wishing I could do more to comfort them.The next week is still a blur. I answered hundreds of telephone calls and emails from all over the world. One of the priorities was protecting the victims. The VT of our sweet ward family who lost their daughter, acted as intermediary for all of the meals and emails. She was and is one of my heroes. I received gifts for Newtown of books, CDs, blankets, stuffed animals, and much more. We received thousands of hearts and snowflakes. Everything was accepted with thanks. I hope that it helped others to heal.I visited people. I called people. I set up therapy and grief counseling, grief massage, meals, help for the first responders. I offered a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear.I wish I could have offered a blessing to so many who needed it. A blessing from a loving sister and mother for those who were not comfortable asking a man in a suit - and there were many.I could not.I had to petition for permission for all that I did, because, even though I had a “leadership” position in our ward, I did not have priesthood authority. I am still trying to come to terms with that. I’m trying.Two weeks after the tragedy, one of the bishopric asked if I would still lead the children in singing, “Angels We Have Heard on High”, the favorite song of all the kids. I said no. I just couldn’t handle it. In sacrament meeting, the member of the bishopric called the children to the front and announced that I would be leading them in the song. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I am still trying to forgive him for that. I’m trying.When I was nine and my younger brother was baptized, it was a huge thing that he was on the path to gaining the priesthood. That is when it was explained to me that I could never be on that path. When I was 18, a freshman at BYU in 1978, a friend introduced me to someone who had been excommunicated for questioning why people of color couldn’t have the priesthood…3 months before “revelation” was received that supported his questions. When I was 19, at BYU, I was sexually assaulted. I was counseled by my bishop that the BYU president and he didn’t want me to report the assailant because, “We wouldn’t want to ruin this young man’s life.” I was then told to repent for tempting him and putting myself in a compromising position. When, at 21, I went through the temple for the first time, I was appalled and thought that I was in a cult. That was the time when penalties were acted and an odd man in a dark suit was part of the session. I was shamed and told that I needed to repent for not feeling “the spirit”. When, at 22, I returned to a new ward in SLC (somewhere I had never lived) from a very difficult mission, I was pitied and shunned because I was not married. When I married (in my 30s), my husband and I were investigated and lost our temple recommends for the 6 months the investigation happened because we were “intellectuals”. My husband was a fairly new member and we both read and questioned. It was 1993. I guess that was my second church purge. When we lost a baby through miscarriage and through my bout with cancer, my sweet husband had the power to give me priesthood blessings. He could support me in that way, but I was not allowed to support him in the same way. I could not hold my babies when blessed. I could not even act as witness to their baptisms. My offers of a mothers blessing were refused because my children had been taught to be wary of any without the priesthood. A 12 year old child has more authority than I will ever, ever have in this church.I am now, two years after Sandy Hook, struggling to have a desire to stay in the church. I am struggling to stay in the church that I love. I was RS president of the Newtown, CT ward during 2012 and 2013. During that time I lost both my parents, sent a son on a mission twice, experienced hurricane Sandy, my husband was hospitalized for 2 weeks, I had a minor heart attack, one of my counselors and secretary had babies, and then the culmination of the shooting at Sandy Hook where everyone knew many of the children and adults that were murdered. It would have been so wonderful to have been able to offer blessings through the authority of the priesthood to the mothers and sisters who came to me for comfort. After the trauma of Sandy Hook, after all the furor and grief became manageable, I was released along with my counselors. Since then, and with the whole apostasy thing with Kate Kelly, I feel like the church has turned it's back on women in general. It feels like I have been shunned by my church family. I am good for a meal or some nurturing, but I have no authority to do anything simply because I do not have external genitalia. If we truly believe the 2nd article of faith, why are women still and forever being punished for Eve's sin?The Heavenly Parents and Brother that I love would not deny me, or any of their children, the power of their love or divinity. The priesthood is that power. I believe that.As recently as yesterday, my sister asked me, “Have you thought of maybe putting aside your anger?” Okay. I’m trying.
I have hope that things will change. I believe in the power of love, the power of prayer, the power of knowledge. I love and feel and hope and strive to continue learning. However, I will continue to be angry over complicity with severe and in-humane torture - just like I will continue to be angry about child abuse, spousal abuse, bigotry, racism, slavery and so many other things.