As I attempted to write this brief history and lesson about how I found the Church - about how I found the Truth - I was at a loss at where to start.
Surprisingly after much deliberation, I decided upon “the beginning”.
But were is that?
How far back should go?
What I thought would be a period in my life, easily distinguishable from the rest has turned out to be every moment of my life meticulously strung together.
So many times what I thought to be “background” has turned out to be “beginning” and what I’ve come to accept is that you can never fully understand a part of your life without first understanding every moment that preceded it.
However, seeing as how writing every single moment of my life is impossible, and probably too long and boring for anyone to read, I’ll try my bests to fill in the blanks whenever necessary….
When I was six years old, my parents divorced. This wasn’t uncommon or even difficult for me to bare. To be honest, I don’t really remember much of it.
Just that dad moved out and an aunt moved in.
As James E. Faust pointed out in the Ensign, “Statistically, it is difficult to avoid a divorce because in the United States with every one hundred marriages there are now about fifty divorces” and he said that in 1977.
I’m telling you of the divorce mainly to avoid any confusion when i speak of future step parents and to establish (early on) the great division between my parents.
In fact, it seemed to me, the only thing on which they agreed was that I was important enough to love. Which they both did. Deeply.
I grew up in a variety of loving homes. My father’s, my mother’s, and due to my father’s demanding job with odd hours, I also spent a lot of time with my grandmother, and various aunts and uncles.
I am thankful for the abundance of love that was around me.
I am thankful for the people who cared for me enough to share their beautiful wisdom, insights and teach me invaluable lessons.
My father instilled in me an independence and will that derives directly from his own personality and demeanor and that I’m sure my husband adores.
For the longest time my father was my entire world. Though many others had an impact on who I would eventually become, I don’t believe anyone has had such a vital role in the development of my opinions, standards or even my personality as my father has. To this day, he remains a large part of my daily living and my life as a whole. My father also taught me if I ever did anything wrong or illegal, he would find out. (Because he was always watching.)
My mother taught me about Jesus and how loving and trusting Him was the most important thing you could do. (In years to come, when things got tougher for her, and her life became harder she would recite Proverbs 3:5-6, which reads “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart: and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy way acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”).
My Grandmother taught me that God truly is love - no matter what you looked like, who you were, what your past, or even your religion. My grandmother was charity incarnate. Though I didn’t always appreciate or recognize her acts of kindness when I was younger, with her I always felt at home and I always felt important. Through my darling grandmother I learned to see the importance and value in all others. She also taught me to go to church every Sunday, because even though God his love, you still don't want to risk making Him mad.
However, aside from the broad goodness, a great deal of what was being taught to me by various, well intentioned guardians, was conflicting. I so wanted to be good. That was one thing I knew for sure. I desperately wanted to be good.
When I was around eight years old, I began to say the same prayer every night.
In fact, it became such a routine, that I can remember nights when I was so exhausted I would simply pray: “Dear God, you know what I’m about to say, so goodnight and amen.”
However on the nights when I could stay awake long enough pray, I would say:
“Dear God, thank you for my day and for my family. Please bless me, mommy, daddy and my puppy. If I’m suppose to be Catholic make me Catholic and if I’m supposed to be Christian, please make me Christian. Please make me what I’m supposed to be to make you happy. amen”
For years that was my nightly prayer and the greatest desire of my childish (and I mean that in a good way) heart.
Years past, and when I was ten, my father remarried a woman who was a member of his church. When my stepmother learned that I was never baptized when I was a baby, she was mortified. Shortly after their marriage, she made all the necessary arrangements and I was baptized at our local church in southern, CA.
It was then assumed, that when I reached the appropriate age, I would begin taking classes in preparation for my confirmation. It made sense. It seemed right. I took it as answer to my prayer and forgot about my regular, nightly pleas to my Father in heaven.
Fast forward about six years. My confirmation is getting closer and the assurance I think I’m supposed to feel isn’t there. I’m told its because I’m 16 and asserting my independence, but I begin to search other forms of faith while continuing to attend church with my father. And though I’ve long forgotten about my nightly pleas to my Father in Heaven, I begin to feel that desire to “make Him happy” and “Be what I’m supposed to be.”
The next year, my father’s family, myself included, moved across the city to a nice suburban area. With this move came the choice: Should I keep attending my private high school, or should I attend the local high school?
I was actually shocked when my father and his wife left it up to me. I had spent my junior high years and the first three years of high school at that particular private education establishment. I thought it was a no brainer. Why oh why would I leave my friends and a school I was comfortable with if I didn’t have to?
... But for some reason, it was a tough decision.
So I prayed about it. Shockingly, I felt heavily impressed to attend a new high school. So, as apprehensive as I felt, I told my dad my decision, and he enrolled me in the public school system.
It wasn’t a smooth transition at first. I cried my first day.
I didn’t feel comfortable, it didn’t feel right and I wondered if I had made a mistake. That is, until my last class of the day: Play Production. I had been in theatre in junior high and in my previous three years of high school. Finally something I knew! - A very loud room, with very big personalities and no personal boundaries. I found my niche there, and I was happy again. (again, I’m sure you’re thinking, “What does this have to do joining a new church?”, but I warned you about background, and I promise I’m getting to the point)
Coming from a private, conservative high school with many rules and regulations, and going to such a large and diverse school was something of a culture shock. Because of this, I think, I was drawn to a classmate who seemed different from other boys. (of course it was boy, I was 17). He was funny without being crass, and friendly with out being inappropriate.
One night, during our high school production of a cheesy 1960’s play, I was back stage, waiting to go on when I over heard a conversation between this boy and another cast-member. The cast-member desperately wanted to go see a very popular (very gory) R rated movie after our production that night. He had already gotten a small group together and was trying to persuade the boy to go. I heard that brave boy say something to the affect of: “No way. I’m not seeing that, its rated R.” at which point he reminded our friend that he does not go to rated R movies. Never. No matter what
That peaked my interest.
I started talking to him more and found that I was so much more comfortable around him than any of the other skeesey boys at the high school.
Eventually we started to “date” which usually consisted of us hanging out at his house. Partly because my father scared the daylights out of him (conveniently cleaning his gun when the boy picked me up for our first date) and partly because of how his house felt like such a home. So peaceful and inviting.
I remember my first time over, I felt like I was stepping into a 50’s TV show: His mom was simultaneously cooking dinner and helping his youngest brother with his homework, his sister was reading scriptures on the couch, and everybody hugged me when I walked in. As I started staying for dinner, I was floored to see that everyone ate together ... at the table ... every night ... it was absolutely unheard of! I had to question him about it. He replied with “I don't know, I guess its a church thing.”
Once more, my interest was peaked.
I began asking more and more questions about the church. Purely out of curiosity. In fact, the only thing I knew about the Mormon church was that they had commercials about family, and that they had the Book of Mormon, which they claimed to be another testament of Jesus Christ, and that I deduced - without ever actually questioning anyone about it - had to be about those years in between Jesus’ teaching in the Temple as a boy and when he began his ministry. (I was wrong, by the way.) As to the book’s legitimacy, I hadn’t given it much thought. All I knew was the general attitude toward Mormon’s as a whole was negative, but the more I learned, piece by piece, the more I wanted to know.
Shortly after my 18th birthday and in the middle of all of this question asking, I took a trip to the East Coast, to visit my mother, who had moved there 5 years prior. I decided that I was going to visit a Mormon church while I was so far away from my home. Away from my friends and people who knew me. After all, I didn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea about me. I wasn’t Mormon, I was just curious.
I can remember sitting my mothers car - a car that I had barely persuaded her to let me drive - in front of an LDS meeting house and being so incredibly nervous and having no idea why.
Well, I sort of did:
I didn’t want this church to be right. I didn’t want this church to be true. Do you know what that would mean if it was true? Things I thought I knew would have to change, people I loved would be upset. Nothing but problems, right? I didn’t think I could handle everything that came with it. But I reassured myself that I didn’t really have anything to worry about, I was just asking a few questions
After about 45 minutes of this self reassurance, I finally went in.
The first person I saw was a pretty little blond haired, blue eyed girl who had a name tag on that said “Sister _____” .
I assumed that meant she worked there.
I approached her, and before I could say anything, she greeted me --- in Spanish.
I cannot speak or understand Spanish aside from the few scoldings I can remember my grandmother saying to me. I didn’t know what to say the girl, so I kind of just shook my head and sputtered “ uh, um I don’t know...”, she got the point and thankfully spoke English! She introduced me to her “companion” which I didn’t understand meant her missionary partner until she explained it.
Anyway, it turned out that I had walked into a Spanish meeting that was rarely held in that building. I just chose the perfect day. Of course, right?
But all was not lost and the sisters led me into the meeting hall as soon as the Spanish service finished. We sat down and I began asking my questions.
The questions I had for them were a bit deeper and more probing then any inquiries I had made of the boy I liked or his family. As the Sisters began to tell me about living in Heaven before I born and about a Heavenly Father, I started telling them that I had already believed those things. I had assumed them, but didn’t have the vocabulary to express them. It was like knowing something that can only be explained in a language you haven’t learned yet.
Those patient sisters sat with me for over 3 hours. They gave me a copy of the Book of Mormon and promised to pray for me and my search for truth.
Three days later, when I returned home, I still hadn't opened the book the Sisters had given me.
Just like when I was sitting in the car in front of the LDS church building, I was scared. There was a very real possibility now, that the things the sisters had told me were true, and I didn’t think I could handle that.
I decided to talk to my “boyfriend’s” younger sister about it. I was driving her home from school one day and told her to look in the glove compartment. She opened it and out popped the unopened Book of Mormon. She began to squeal and from her mouth came a barrage of questions, and words. I told her I hadn't read it and I didn’t know where to start. She convinced me to talk to her mother.
So I presented the same information and the same question to her mother - where should I start reading? And (much like my story) her mother suggested that I simply start at the beginning.
So that night, though my nerves were through the roof, I prayed for an open mind and to be able to discern the truth from anything that was less than true.
Everything started out easy enough: There was a guy named Nephi, he had great parents, but his dad was a dreamer and lived in a tent.
Then I read 1 Nephi 2:16 - the second half of which reads: “..I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father...”
...and I began to cry. The tears honestly took me by surprise.
In that same moment I suddenly recalled the prayer that I would say nightly all those years ago: “Please make me what I’m supposed to be to make you happy.”
I felt an overwhelming sense of satisfaction, assurance and peace.
I felt like I was finally getting my answer.
It wasn’t smooth sailing from there though. I began talking to the missionaries at the LDS meeting house and friend’s homes. (We would meet there mainly because I was still living with my father and his wife and I was sure they would not allow them in their house.) I attempted to go to church, but because of concerned parental intervention it was rare that I would attended.
By this time the boy and I had “broken up” as high school students generally do right after graduation.
But it was on good terms, and because he went away to school, I continued to visit with the missionaries in the very peaceful environment of his family’s home and at the church building.
Many times the family would even participate in the discussions which, made me more comfortable and able to ask more questions.
When I was 19 and taking classes at a junior college, it was suggested that, since I couldn’t attend church, I enroll in the local LDS Institute of religion.
So armed with a desire to learn (and one failed baptism date due to the intervention my loving and well meaning father.) I started taking institute classes . I basically started living at the institute. At one point, I had more institute credits than I had college credits.
While attending my religious classes, I met a young man who would soon become a large part of my life. He was shy, but kind and very funny. He always took time to answer any questions I had after institute classes. (he said it was good practice because he was preparing to serve a mission soon). One day, he told me his brother had just gotten home from his own mission in Spain and that his brother, Blake, was going to be attending institute classes too.
It didn’t seem to be a big deal at the time, but boy was I wrong.
Blake and I started our relationship when I was still officially investigating the church. We spent a majority of our dates reading the Book of Mormon or the New Testament together and delving deeper into the doctrine then I ever had before.
That seems to be when things became difficult. I started feeling a heavy weight - an almost pain - pulling on my chest constantly. After my first attempt to be baptized, I was afraid to try again. I didn’t want to cause strife in my home and I didn’t want to fight. I thought that if I could just wait until I moved out to be baptized, then it would be easier for me and my family.
I talked to Blake many times about my “dilemma” and he listened patiently, letting me vent. His advice was: “Pray about it, and do what you think is right.”
During this same time, the Newport Beach Temple reached its completion, and an almost tangible buzz filled the air. People were exited for not only was a Temple of the Lord about to be dedicated, but the President Gordon B. Hinkley was coming to southern California to speak to the Saints!
Then I realized ... he was speaking “to the Saints”. To members of the church only.
I desperately wanted to be there.
I wanted to see the Prophet and I wanted to enter the Temple after it’s dedication. When Blake and I toured the Newport Beach Temple during it’s open house I was awed and overcome with peach and joy. I always wanted to feel that way.
Now I had to ask myself a few things:
Did I believe Gordon B. Hinkley was the current Prophet? (in the same way Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were Prophets.)
Did I believe the Temple was the sacred house of the Lord?
Why? Why did I believe these things?
I had my answer: because I believed the Book of Mormon was the word of God.
I believed that, as young boy, Joseph Smith had seen our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
I believed that through that boy, Christ’s church was restored.
I believed this with all my heart, with all my being.
I had no excuses. Though it was terribly nerve wracking and not without struggles, I told my father I was going to be baptized. Somehow his response was not severe. He made his opinions known, but in the left it with a sort of “do whatever you’re going to do” tone. That was so much more than I had expected
So, on July 3, 2005 when I actually, finally, miraculously entered the waters of baptism, that heavy weight - that almost pain, lifted from me and I could breath.
I could breath like I had been holding my breath without realizing it and I had finally let it out.
I had always been a child of God, but now I was a member of His church, and I had taken that first step to reaching my potential and purpose.
(and Yes, I was able to attended the meeting at which president Gordon B. Hinkley spoke about family and love. I was at the dedication of the Newport Beach Temple. It was as awesome as I had expected and so very worth it.)
About a year after that triumph, my love, my sweetheart, my best friend got down on one knee and asked me to be his bride. Through tears of joy I said “yes” and almost immediately we began preparations for our wedding that would be held at the very end of summer in 2006.
Aside from flowers, dresses, center pieces and cakes, my wedding preparations included me preparing to receive a Temple recommend and enter the Holy Temple.
Blake had already been through the Temple in his preparations for serving a mission, and it was exciting reading Scripture with him and going to temple preparation classes.(which, to me, are basically reviews of the discussions on the Plan of Happiness or the Plan of Salvation).
We both knew that the only way we would make it to the Temple - that is, the only way we both would remain worthy and clean enough to enter the Temple - was if we avoided impurity and temptation.
After all, why spend time dreaming of the future and wanting what will be yours soon enough?
We continued to read together, spend time with his family, and generally keep busy with our wedding plans.
The day I was to enter the Temple, I felt the same way I did years prior, waiting in my mother’s car in front of an LDS meeting house for the first time.
There was so much mystery and unknowns surrounding the idea of Temple.
And it wasn’t like I grew up dreaming of one day entering the House of the Lord. This was all new to me.
Haden’t I just learned, only two years prior, that Temples even still existed? How was I supposed to feel excited? How could I not be anxious?
Well, that all seemed to fade away as I entered the doors of the Temple.
I felt - for lack of a better word - giddy.
I was so very thankful for a father in Heaven who loved me enough to prepare a way for me to return to Him. A Heavenly Father who, though I may make the same mistakes over and over and over again, will alway forgive me when I come to Him seeking forgiveness.
I felt loved. Treasured. Uplifted. And full of Hope.
I returned to the Temple a few more times before my wedding day just to soak it all in.
Then, on September 16, 2006, Blake and I were Sealed together for time and for all eternity in the Newport Beach LDS Temple.
I longed for my family to be there with me in the Sealing room.
And even though they waited patiently, lovingly, and so supportively outside the Temple, I knew that they longed to be with me as well.
I also knew, however, that my presence in that Temple on that day, and the Sacred Covenants I was making with my husband would ensure my eternal tie to, not only him, but to my future children and one day hopefully, my parents and ancestors.
Being there was the right decision.
It was a decision that has - and will - provide eternal blessings for me and my family. All generations of them.
I know that every good person in my life has helped me to discover and accept the truth I now know.
My father and my mother instilled virtues that made me respect and strive for truth and goodness.
My grandmother taught me about love like no one else.
The boy in my play pro class who chose to live according to his principles by keeping his baptismal covenants made me take notice. As did his sister, who always looked so cute, and so fashionable, and never shoulder, navel or knee did I see.
The actual missionaries who gave up their lives for two years, who didn’t lose faith in me or motivation to teach me when I made a baptismal date, then had to cancel it, were the epitome of patience and service.
As were the amazing students at institute who did not treat me differently because I wasn’t a member, but included me and helped me to grow.
And My amazing husband, who has taught me our entire relationship and who continues to teach by examples of faith, patience, unconditional love and continual forgiveness.
My testimony is my own, but it is built with bits and pieces of everyone who has loved me enough to share theirs.
As it says in D&C 50:22 “He that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.”
We are all here, on earth, because at one time we made the decision to be here. We made the right choice. Some people just need help remembering that decision.
I know, logically, spiritually, personally and unequivocally, that this is the true church of God. Restored by our Father in Heaven through His Prophet, Joseph Smith.
I know that we are led today by our Prophet's obedience to the counsel of our Heavenly Father.
I know that my large, diverse, wonderfully close family loves me.
I know I will live for all eternities with my husband and our (future) children.
And I know that everyone on this earth has that opportunity.
You just need to have a bit of faith and determination.