How I Became a Mormon

When my website developed a technical issue that I could not overcome a little over six months ago, I did my best to save all of the posts, vowing to eventually re-post them all so that they would not become “lost.”  The post I’m “resurrecting” today is the story of “How I Became a Mormon.”

As I reread the post, I felt there was one thing that I didn’t make clear: how important the influence of the Holy Spirit was on my decision to join the LDS church, and how much the companionship of the Holy Spirit has influenced my decision to remain active in my faith in spite of the difficulties I have encountered in life.  The Holy Spirit is the Comforter — he brought peace to my heart and mind as I learned the teachings of my church, and as I made the decision to join a faith that would cause my family to have mixed emotions about me.  When my marriage crumbled, and when I didn’t feel that my ex-husband received “justice,” it would have been easy to walk away.

In the end, my strength and my faith come from experiences that are as indescribable yet as real as the taste of salt: the Holy Spirit brought me peace and strength, and whispered to my soul, “Hold on.  Everything will turn out right in the end.  You don’t understand everything, but you can trust that Heavenly Father loves you and is working out a plan for your eternal benefit.”

That’s why I am who I am today.

 

Conversion: A Talk Prepared for Sacrament Meeting, February 26, 2012

Recently, I was asked to give a talk during our Sunday worship service. I have shortened names and places down to initials, so as to protect anyone who has not willingly agreed to have their story posted on the internet. Here is the talk I prepared and delivered:

Brother B. has asked me to speak about my conversion to the gospel – he said he is under the impression that my experiences were quite remarkable. This means I am speaking today about events that occurred almost 25 years ago. I figure that’s o.k., because he asked me to also use an article by Hartman Rector, Jr. that was published in the September 1975 Ensign. Hopefully, the Spirit will help you find the things I have prepared relevant for today.

My Conversion

I think Brother B. was referring to my conversion as the time between when I was introduced to the church and when I was baptized. I believe that I am still being converted, but I’ll talk about that later. I’ll start by sharing the story of my introduction to the church.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I first met a “Mormon” when I moved here as a freshman in high school. I had missed band camp, and was assigned to “shadow” a junior on the trombone line. He was a really nice guy who treated me with respect and never acted like I was a lowly freshman. He was into girls, but not like some of the other guys in school. He was safe to be around. T. and his wife are still some of my dearest friends.

In many of my high school classes, there was this girl. She was smart, pretty, and liked by everybody. She could make great grades and still take time to care about the people around her.  Being excessively competitive back then, I set out to figure out what was different about her.  She was the one person that I could not find anything that I was better at than she was. In all of my wisdom of 15 years, I quickly decided it had to be her religion, so I started asking questions.  That was the first time I heard about a book called the Book of Mormon.

At this point, we had made it to our sophomore year, and a new girl had moved into my homeroom. Her family had lived in Guatemala for a while, moved somewhere else, and ended up in C. As it turned out, she was also a Mormon. Her grades weren’t as good as L.’s, but she loved everyone. Anyone near her was automatically special – I liked that a lot.

I was now thinking about joining the church, but I just knew I’d never be as good as L., and I could never be as loving and supportive as B. At the ripe old age of 16, I already knew that I was too broken, and I was far too cynical to ever be a good Mormon. That’s when D. moved in. I met her through L., B., and T., but my real turning point came when D. and I sat by each other in chorus for a semester. She was every bit as good of a person as B. and L., but she was also more cynical than I was! Finally, a Mormon I could be like!

It was around this time that B. decided to give me a Book of Mormon. She told L., D., and T. about it on the way to school from seminary that morning. L. told her it wasn’t a good idea. You see, L. had tried to give me a Book of Mormon once and I had given it back. What L. didn’t know is that I couldn’t comprehend that someone would just give away a leather-bound book, and, when I was reading that book, my hands would tingle. Sometimes, I would tingle all over. I was afraid of the book, and I gave it back.

This time, however, I had been prepared to receive the Book of Mormon. When B. gave me a missionary copy of a Book of Mormon (and explained that she had written her testimony in it because she wanted me to keep it), I told her about a dream I had the night before. I knew the Book of Mormon was coming.

Later, I was able to talk my parents into letting me go to church with B. one time. It was a fast and testimony Sunday. So, during my one and only experience as a young woman in a young women’s meeting, I bore my testimony as a non-member. I had no clue why everyone seemed so shocked and excited.

I didn’t join the church until I was 18 and in college. When I told my parents about what I intended to do, my mom cried, and my dad informed me that this was by far the dumbest thing that I had ever done in my life. After I moved into the dorm, I looked up The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the phone book. A man answered the number I dialed, and I informed him that I wasn’t a member, but that I wanted to be baptized, that I was a student at the University of M., and that I needed a ride to church. The other end of the phone line was completely silent. After a long few moments, Bishop C., who became my first bishop ever as a member of the church, told me he’d be happy to arrange a ride and to introduce me to the right people so that I could be baptized.

Being a Missionary

Hartman Rector, Jr. identified four items as being the most influential when non-members are
being introduced to latter-day doctrine:

  1.  church members
  2. the Book of Mormon
  3.  prayer
  4.  the missionaries

Church members were, by far, some of the biggest influences on my decision to actively investigate the church. Each member I met was unique, and every member I have ever met has imperfections. That didn’t matter. What mattered was that they cared about me. They were willing to be themselves around me, and that included everything about them that was “Mormon.” They never apologized for or were embarrassed by their faith, but they never forced me to sit and listen when I wasn’t interested. It was just a natural part of who they were, and it became a natural part of our friendship. They treated me like a potential member of the church before I was ever interested.

Even when I didn’t recognize what I was feeling when I read it, I recognized that the Book of Mormon has power. Heavenly Father helped me be ready for it the second time around. It was the 13th verse in Moroni 7 that finally convinced me that I was onto something real. “But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.”  The Book of Mormon is possibly the most powerful witness we have of the truth of our message.

Prayer is important in so many ways. I didn’t know it then, but I know now that my friends were praying for me. Their faith and effort in prayer brought blessings to me. My friends also encouraged me to pray.  Since I was already a member of another faith I didn’t need to be taught how to pray, but I needed to be encouraged to have real conversations with my Heavenly Father. My prayers put me in touch with the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit awakened and changed my heart.

The missionaries were able to teach me the truths of the gospel in an organized manner so that I would be prepared for baptism. By the virtue of their call as teachers of the gospel, they were able to answer my questions and help me understand new concepts and ideas. They brought the Spirit with them as they taught me, and I could feel the Spirit depart when our appointments ended. Coming from another faith, that was really impressive for a couple of 21-year-old women!

Finally, I think the people involved in my conversion understood that what they were doing was ultimately Heavenly Father’s work, and that He was guiding, directing, and preparing all of us so that things worked out as needed. Heavenly Father took a 14-year-old girl from Michigan and another one who had been living Guatamala and put them in the same homeroom class in a high school in a suburb
of M. My friends didn’t always know what I was thinking and feeling, but Heavenly Father did. By following the promptings and impressions given to them by the Spirit, they were instruments of God in teaching me the truth of the restored gospel.

Continuing Conversion

Before I close, I want to go back to the idea I introduced at the beginning of my talk that I am still being converted. Hartman Rector, Jr. gave two wonderful definitions in 1975. The first is of testimony.  Testimony, he said, is knowledge of a principle. Conversion, on the other hand, is acting and living in accordance with that testimony. This means that I can have a testimony and not be converted, and I can be converted to some principles of the gospel without being fully converted to all of it. Just yesterday, as I served in the temple, I learned that I still have work to do to become more fully converted in prayer and faith. If I may add my own definition, I think that enduring to the end actually refers to the process of learning how to more fully live according to the principles of which we have received a testimony.

Testimony

In closing, I want to bear my testimony that I know, with every part of me, that Heavenly Father lives, that our Savior, Jesus Christ, lives, and that they know each and everyone of us personally and intimately. Our Father in Heaven stands ready to bless us as we strive to do His work here on earth. As we do, we will grow closer to Heavenly Father and become more like Him. We will find healing, peace, and strength in our daily lives.