Sunday, April 19, 2015

Why Would Anyone Want to Become a Mormon? (And Why I Did)

*Note: Though I'm leaving the term "Mormon" in the title for SEO purposes, you should probably know that Mormons actually prefer to be called 'members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' or just 'Latter-day Saints' for short.

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 Latter-day Saint missionaries and immediately knew this was right for them.

I was neither of those people.

I was never, ever, ever going to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And yet, here I am.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

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 church 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 made him 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 attach myself to a church that expected so much of you. I didn't want to. I couldn't possibly! There was absolutely no way that a person like me was going to become a Latter-day Saint.

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 Spirit was there. Was it just a coincidence? "Yes." I said flatly. "It's a complete coincidence that has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit."

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.

Latter-day Saints 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 was never, ever, ever going to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And yet, here I am.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
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.

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Megan said...

I loved reading this.

Jenny Evans (sister, not author) said...

Thanks for sharing, I'm not sure I've ever heard your conversion story in such detail. You are such an amazing example!

BobandPattieEvans said...

I enjoyed hearing even more details than were in Taylor's Christmas testimony book. I clearly remember that youth conference. You can imagine how little Phillip was able to explain to me why you were so upset!

Jenny Evans said...

He probably had no clue himself. Because teenage girls, you know.

Meredith said...

Such an awesome sorry! Thanks for sharing! I always love to hear about the process for converts.

Amy @ Swag On, Momma! said...

Loved it!!!! So much.

sharon rowe said...

I thought this post was insightful and thoughtful, thank you for sharing on Monday Madness link party :)

Unknown said...

Great post that I think many converts can relate to. By the way, I have been a Mormon my whole life and I can tell you that being a Mormon has ALWAYS been cool. It isn't cool now just because more people are learning about it or famous people are spotlighted. It has been cool from the beginning whether people admitted it or not.

Queen Mom Jen said...

I am glad you did sit next to that cute boy. I am also glad you shared your story here. I love hearing conversion stories, because we all have to have one at some point or Mormonism just doesn't work the way it should. Have a great day!

Jenny Evans said...

Me, too. Because he's still cute! (I married him, FYI.)

Unknown said...

What a wonderful Conversion story. I've been a member my whole life so it's nice to hear it. Has anyone else in your family joined?

Jenny Evans said...

No, but we still have a lot in common because we're all Christian. They're supportive.

Unknown said...

I still don't get it. I understand the desire to live a moral life. I understand the desire to feel like you know the reason you or any of us are here on Earth, I just feel that organised religion is a human construct to console each other and feel like a part of something bigger than yourself. Which is no bad thing but I am too old and too cynical and to be honest, when I think of Mormonism I think about the way I learned about it which was part of my American Studies degree. The young Joseph Smith creating his own version of Christianity. It seems like a weird fairy tale to me! No disrespect :-) Thanks for linking up with #thetruthabout X

Jenny Evans said...

None taken - that's more or less how I used to feel when I was younger, too! I don't think there was anything people could have said to change my mind, it's just something I had to study, try out, and pray about for myself. Thanks for your perspective!

Unknown said...

I'm completely unreligious and I'm afraid even your lovely post hasn't converted me but I really enjoyed reading it. I think it is very easy to have preconceived ideas about your church and you have just totally blown all of them out of the water with your post. I'm also super happy you ended up married- it was like a romantic novel with a religious conversion twist.

Jenny Evans said...

Yes, we have a very unique "how I met your mother" story for the kids one day.

Stacey said...

I joined the church when in 2011 and was sealed to my husband in 2012, just three months before our son was born.

Let's Talk Mommy said...

What a lovely journey and story to share. Thank you so much for linking up to Share With Me. #sharewithme

Tiffany {A Touch of Grace} said...

I loved reading your story Jenny. We all have our own journey and story about how we got to our beliefs. Thank you for sharing yours with us.

mothers shadow said...

Jenny, I love your story of conversion process and of course, what girl doesn't love some romance!?! Thank you for opening up and sharing such a personal topic. Carrie, A Mother's Shadow

Jenny said...

Thanks for sharing your story. I'm a lot the same way when it comes to getting answers to prayers. Most of mine are very subtle and I've been a member my whole life.

Jenny Evans said...

So it's not just me that isn't seeing angels, then.

Unknown said...

Beautiful story, Jenny. I've been a Mormon all my life and I am still learning about it and having humbling experiences. Repinning.

SANDY said...

Aren’t Mormans supposed to stay pure until being married?

Jenny Evans said...

I'm guessing that she meant she was already legally married, joined the church with her husband, and then got sealed in 2012.

Kelly M. said...

Loved reading your story Jenny. It confirms my belief that it is through good, Godly example and patience! we lead others to Christ and not heated Facebook comments or persistent nagging. People find God in their own time, an you can encourage and lead, but not force those who aren't open to finding Him at that point in their lives. Seeds for future conversion are planted in many ways, so I never give up hope on anyone; even the most stubborn soul can be won over eventually!

Katie Stapleton said...

Great story! Thanks for sharing!
What a miracle (from Philip's perspective) to have the one he loves have such a change of heart through kind people, scripture and prayer. Faith and a changed heart is truly a great miracle. I'm so grateful to you for sharing that special story with us