In the past 15 years, I've met many people who are, like me, converts to my church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints.) Some of them were visiting different churches and searching for the truth for years; some of them ran into Mormon missionaries and immediately knew this was right for them.
I was neither of those people.
When I was in high school, a family with a son about my age moved in next door. We didn't really talk but I was vaguely aware of his existence. I remember once seeing him out of my window and idly wondering, "What if we dated?" Of course, as a teenage girl I thought that about every boy I saw, so maybe it didn't mean much.
But, funnily enough, I did end up dating that boy.
Maybe a year or so later, I was on a train bound for Washington, D.C. with the other members of our band for our end-of-the-year trip. When I noticed an empty seat next to that cute neighbor boy, I promptly inserted myself into it. I came away from that conversation wondering, "Why is this Phillip guy so good? I have to find out why he's so good."
We started dating, and when summer rolled around Phillip invited me to a big Mormon youth conference. Spanning a Friday and a Saturday there would be spiritual speakers, a service project, classes, activities, and a dance.
I grew up Lutheran, but as a teenager I'd drifted into an agnostic period of my life and that was A-OK with me. But whatever, I guess I could go.
My friend Cassandra and I had great fun joking about it. "Have fun at Super Mormon Weekend!" she snickered as she waved me off.
When we arrived at the youth conference, we were all meeting together, hundreds of high-school aged kids in a big church. We sat on a pew and took out a hymnbook for the opening song, "True to the Faith." Phillip leaned over nervously, warning me that it was "kind of a weird song... we say 'no' and 'yes' and stuff."
It wasn't really that weird. I probably wouldn't have thought anything of it, but to this day I still smile when the first few chords of "True to the Faith" are played.
The first day was uneventful, but the second day was rough. We attended a series of classes on different spiritual topics, and honestly I cried my way through them all.
Phillip, being by nature a quiet person, hadn't previously volunteered many details about his faith. And being a very loud person who wasn't interested in the particulars of his religion anyway, I'd managed to date him for several months without knowing much about what makes Mormons tick. (Did I mention how totally sophisticated and mature our teenage relationship was?)
Naturally, I ended up learning a lot. Namely that I'd been making his life very difficult for the past several months. I'd admired his goodness — his lack of swearing and gossiping, his sobriety, his disinterest in dishy movies, his commitment to wait until marriage — but at the same time I'd thought it was sort of a drag and I'd been pestering him to loosen up.
I felt, in a word, terrible. Terrible because I felt I was only just beginning to understand him, and terrible because the morals and values I was hearing about sounded right to me — but I was not going to become a Mormon. I didn't want to. I couldn't possibly! There was absolutely no way that a person like me was going to become a Mormon.
So I did what I do best and decided to ignore this whole thing until it simply went away.
Still, the things I'd heard at that youth conference stuck with me. Okay, I eventually conceded to myself. There's something more to life. Probably.
So I started with what I knew and went back to the Lutheran church I grew up in.
I felt like I was on the right track but what I was looking for wasn't there. So I started going to church with Phillip.
Inside me, something had changed, but I was as stubborn as ever on the outside.
I remember having a conversation with Phillip about how everyone at his church was so nice, and he asked if I'd ever considered that it might be because the Holy Ghost was there. Was it just a coincidence? "Yes." I said flatly. "It's a complete coincidence that has nothing to do with the Holy Ghost."
Let me tell you, I was a real pleasure to have intelligent spiritual discussions with.
But I kept going to Phillip's church for another year and a half. I tried to apply the Sunday School lessons to my own life. I became a lot nicer. I stopped swearing. I gave away my booty shorts.
I met with the missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints many, many times. They kept inviting Phillip to our discussions, thinking I might like to have him there, and I would call him and tell him not to come. This was my search now, I didn't want him there making it complicated. (When you're 16 and a boy's around, everything is complicated.)
I read a ton. Everything I could find on the Internet. Nothing was a surprise when I joined the church, I'd heard it all before.
Things were just sliding into place. The more I learned, the more sense it made. I don't remember feeling shock at learning there was a prophet on the earth today; I hadn't thought about it before, but now that you mention it, why shouldn't there be?
I started reading the Bible and the Book of Mormon. I spent a lot of time in prayer but didn't feel like I'd received very much in the way of answers. If I was going to get baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I needed confirmation from God Himself that it was the right thing to do.
Despairingly, I wondered if I was somehow caught in a parallel universe: I believed very much that God existed, but maybe He just didn't exist for me. Maybe He didn't want to talk to me. Maybe I was destined to believe others who said they knew the church was true, but never really know for myself.
Mormons are big on talking to God for yourself and asking Him questions. But I didn't know how to do that. It wasn't like calling somebody up on the phone.
Some people say they've had prayers answered in an undeniably strong way or even with an audible voice, but I never have. It's always been more subtle for me.
Hearing the voice of God requires me to really pay attention. But even though I was earnestly asking "Is this true?" I don't think I was really paying attention for an answer. I was frustrated and hoping for a miraculous answer like the burning bush, but not necessarily paying attention to the fire already burning inside of me.
It wasn't until one day reading the Book of Mormon that I came across Mosiah 18: 8-10:
... as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another's burdens, that they may be light;
Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life —
Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?
As I read this, I finally realized: I'd been getting an answer to my prayers all along. All those things were the desire of my heart.
I knew The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was true because not only did the things I learned about the gospel make sense in my mind, I also felt good every time I applied them to my life.
So I called up the missionaries and told them I wanted to get baptized. I'm sure they almost passed out from the shock of it, having certainly given up on me by now, but they recovered well and we set a date.
|I'm not actually a time traveler visiting from the future. Someone just got a little zero-happy recording the date.|
And as much as I'd like to say that the rest is history, it's really just beginning. I've come a long way since then, but there are still so many (too many) moments when I realize just how spiritually immature I am.
The first reason I took notice of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was moral. I thought it taught a good way to live. But the more I learned, the more I saw that the way you live is just an extension of why you think you're living at all.
I love my savior Jesus Christ. I love knowing that I'm a child of God. I love how intensely personal the gospel is, how empowering and yet how humbling it can be at the same time. I'm just beginning to appreciate the power of Christ's atonement and how my life can be transformed through God's grace.
All in all, I guess it's a good thing I sat next to the cute kid on the band trip.