Kathryn Skaggs: My Mormon Conversion Journey...

I've never done this before, begun my post with my 'current' beginning and ending. Oh... or shared my conversion story as a convert of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) publicly. I bet you didn't know that about me, a WBMW; most don't. Seeing as today is The 2nd Annual International Hug a Convert Day, and also (as you will soon be able to figure out), this post has been in draft mode for quite a while now... and, seeing as this was another perfect opportunity to share it... and, not doing so would mean having to answer to Middle-aged Mormon Man… well, let's just say that was NOT going to happen!





And yes, I know I've gone rogue by not submitting this to MMM on his blog, seeing as he is the instigator of the gathering of some of the most inspiring accounts for this occasion, which he has been sharing them fast and furiously this past week, culminating today, of which you must read; confirming the importance of our individual efforts, as members, to be everyday missionaries!

My conversion story is an interesting one, as I am caught in the middle somewhat; not an adult 'convert', but a legitimate convert nonetheless... but an adult convert. I suppose you'll need to read my story to understand what I just wrote, but that's basically the reason I don't go around declaring myself a 'convert' to the Church -- and yet, that's exactly what I am; and a true modern-day pioneer in so many ways, and in particular to my own children and grandchildren.

I sincerely hope that my reason for deciding to participate in this wonderful celebration by emphasizing the best decision I've repeatedly made, and continue to make each day of my life, which is to keep the covenant that I made on the day I was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints --  to take upon myself the Name of Jesus Christ --  will become apparent as I share these very personal thoughts of how the Spirit has been my constant companion, throughout my life, in gently testifying of truth, and continually, always leading me toward greater light...

****


During the last presidential election I was approached by an online Christian friend, who asked if I might help clarify some of the beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints  -- as she preferred to not trust everything she was hearing from the media -- as well was hoping that I would share some of my personal thoughts and feelings about being a Mormon. As you might imagine, I was more than delighted to oblige and enjoyed very much the back and forth of emails that we exchanged throughout the process.

Today I'd like to share with you my response when asked to share my conversion story. I do this with gratitude for my friend, in that this was the first time I have ever recorded my personal account of that journey. After having done so, when reading it back for the first time, it was as though a child had written it -- and, I suppose she had. (Please keep in mind I am writing to someone not of our faith, and so that is how, and for whom, this is written.)


My Conversion Story:


I can't recall a time in my life that I didn't think of myself as Mormon.  Which is kind of odd I suppose, as I didn't grow up in a home where the Mormon gospel was lived.  You see, my mother, who was raised in a strict Mormon home, rebelled as a teenager and married my father -- a non-member.  Both of my parents' smoke, drank and swore in the home where we lived.  I don't have a single memory of having family prayer, reading the scriptures together -- or even being taught about the Mormon Church specifically.   

What I do recall, is that when my mother's parents' came to visit, all indicators that she was not living the teachings that she was raised with, were temporarily hidden.  
My mother was a heretic in her family. I came to understand this all too well.  I think I learned what was right from wrong, because of the effort my mother would put forth to hide the bad.  All her siblings remained active in the LDS Church.  My grandmother was an angel.  I think that because she considered me a Mormon, then I did, too.  And because the Mormon Church was the only church that I ever attended, even if only on occasion, that was my Church.  
As I look back, I can clearly see how much of a religious influence my mother's family was on me as a child.  They would always teach me the beliefs of Mormonism whenever they had the opportunity, never preachy, but more in the way that they lived.  Mostly, they were great examples.  I heard stories about visions that family members had had of deceased relatives -- my relatives.  After my grandfather passed away, he appeared to my grandmother.  I firmly believed these accounts -- still do. I believed that these experiences were part of my Mormonism.  I had faith in the things that my grandmother knew and often shared with me.  Her religion was who she was.  It was in her life and how she lived it.  In some remarkable way, her faith became my faith.  Whenever I was around my mother's family, I felt the Spirit and knew that I was amidst truth.  It was tangible and I could feel it. I loved being in the midst of that feeling. To me I was home.
When I was seven, due to what was no doubt tremendous family pressure, my father decided to be baptized and join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  We were officially Mormon!  Shortly thereafter, my parents went to the Los Angeles Temple to be married, or what Mormons refer to as sealed.  This meant, that after we all die, we would still be a family for eternity.  Eternal marriage (in temples) in the Mormon Church, is very important -- as it is the basis for creating eternal families.  This great conversion of my nuclear family was short lived.  As soon as all of the excitement from the extended family died down, my parents returned to their previous non-religious state.  And in fact, when I was 10, they decided to divorce.
During a very short period of time, while living with my father, the Mormon missionaries found us while out tracting.  Normally, the children of active LDS families are baptized into the Church at age 8.  That did not happen for me.  Nevertheless, for some odd reason my father allowed these missionaries to teach me and my sisters, and then baptize me; I was almost 11 at the time.  I suppose that he felt that this was a good thing to do, and might even please my mother.  From what I have been told, it was my mother who initiated the divorce.  So once again, there was a very short period of time that I attended the LDS Church. Due to complications from my parents' divorce, and their complete lack in being able to care for me and my two sisters, we were literally shipped off, via a dirty Greyhound bus --  to live with my Mormon grandmother in Salt Lake City, Utah.   Coming from our previous circumstances, we had truly found heaven on earth!  My sweet grandmother immediately embraced three little girls, 9, 11, and 13 -- and took every opportunity to show us what it was like to really be a real Mormon.   
I loved every minute of being immersed in that community.  I belonged.  These were my people. Everything I learned about Mormonism resonated with my young spirit.  I felt the Church was true.  To this day, I will forever be grateful to my grandmother for her faithful testimony of Jesus Christ, and for the teachings of the Church that she instilled into my young soul during that precious time that she had with us.
We were only with my grandmother for three short months, and then returned to live with my mother back in California.  Our lives immediately returned to the previous condition -- and for a time, got much worse.  My connection to the Mormon Church, into and throughout my teenage years was sparse.  I had moved on… 
Fast forward…  My mother remarried, and again, to a non-member.  When I was in high school, those faithful Mormon missionaries, once again, found us!  Well, they found my stepfather. Because he knew that my mother was Mormon he decided to chat with them.  Needless to say, my mother was infuriated about this.  Nonetheless, my stepfather felt the spirit as he visited with those missionaries, and eventually decided that he wanted to be baptized.  This also meant that my mother would become active in the Church -- again.
Now, I was 17 at that time, and had no interest in going to church!  However, the most of of my family, including a stepsister, began going to the Mormon Church.  I felt that the Church was true, but at 17 I did not want to live like a Mormon was expected to live.  I was much too busy being an independent teenager.  My conversion was still not complete...
Something very odd happened to me immediately after I graduated from high school.  I was done with the world.  I didn't want what it had to offer.  I had seen too much and experienced deep heartache growing up as a child of divorce - and being part of a broken family.   I was observing, from a distance, the blessings that the gospel was bringing into my family's life since they had made the choice to live it.  I made a decision that I wanted those blessings for myself, and my future family.  A year after my family was converted/reactivated, I decided to start attending the Mormon Church, too. 
But this time, as a young adult, I decided that I would need to take personal responsibility for my faith, and find out for certain if the Church was really true.  I loved being Mormon.  I wanted to be Mormon for the rest of my life, with no more detours.  So this time, I was compelled to follow the teachings of Mormonism, and truly find out if The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was really true.  From my perspective then, it had to be --  because membership required a great deal of what I saw as sacrifice at the time.  It had to be more than a good way to live, or feel good -- it had to be true.  In my heart, I had always believed that it was -- but now I was going to actually put it to the test, and apply the process that missionaries around the world invite all sincere seekers of truth to do -- so that I might know. 
Here is my personal account of doing just that...
I then shared the link to a post that I had previously posted here The Book of Mormon and Me

I was prompted to share this, because of another email I recently received, making a similar request, to which my first thought was, "do I have a conversion story?" --  which jogged my memory about this account I had written and shared with my Christian friend of another denomination, of which I actually forgot about! So before I forget, again, I decided to post it here, where I knew it would be safely recorded.


But also, I had lately come upon another post on the topic of conversion, causing me to think more on this subject, where I actually felt compelled to leave a comment relating back to a recent post I had written, which helped me to see this process in my own life. I'll share that comment here:

I wrote on my own blog, just a few weeks ago, and mentioned how grateful I was for the incremental growth that I have experienced from the time I was a young girl, until the present, in the area of charity, and how that has come line upon line, and has taken much time and life experience. Interestingly, what I wrote about was not so positive, but rather identified just how far I had traveled.  
I think that's how life is, in that we never improve in a perfectly even manner, but that we are always challenged along the way with the obstacles of everyday life that we believe gets in our way. But in reality, what we come to understand, is that that is life and we learn to navigate our progression through those obstacles as part of life. Then our obstacles become part of our way to progress. 
Anyway, I've stopped expecting perfection in this life, but found conversion in the process of progressing through the obstacles of life, by applying the principles of the gospel along the way...

Not that I said it perfectly (certainly I did not), but the truth of the matter is:


Everyone has their own ongoing conversion journey...


Needless to say, 'conversion' has been on my mind over a long period of time... lately. And all this seeming confusion is nothing more, really, than a testimony to what I'm actually trying to bear witness of, which is: that conversion is an ongoing process that we should expect to happen and desire to experience not only through major events in our lives, as part of mortality, but also through our challenges, and even down to the days, minutes and seconds throughout our lives, as the Spirit bears witness to us of various truths along the way. It is the privilege of having the gift of the Holy Ghost as our constant companion and friend.


I know this for certain as He has been beside me since I was a child guiding me along the path of truth, line upon line...


tDMg

23 comments:

  1. Huzzah! Thanks for writing your wonderful story, and for the shout-out.

    Totally fine with you going rogue! By now I would expect nothing less.

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    1. Ah, glad to know the dusty trail over to your place is kickin up enough dirt to capture your attention!

      And thank you, for inspiring such wonderful sharing from so many of our good friends, the reason we are blessed with so much goodness in our lives!

      All kidding aside, my friend, the reason we both do what we do -- and for Whom!

      tDMg

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  2. Wonderful! It's not easy sometimes sharing things that are so personal, but reading the stories of others can often help us sort out our own feelings. Thank you for being you! Tudie Rose

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    1. Thank you, Laurie -- and perhaps my hesitation is holding this back for a while. Nonetheless, I'm happy and grateful to share it and most important, to have it recorded.

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  3. This is great!! Thanks for being so open about what it was like being in and out of the church and experience the family pressure in both directions.

    Good on you for landing where you did -- it's up to you to choose what covenants you're going to make and whether you'll live each day like you were making them again that day. Thank you!!

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    1. Thanks, Nat. And that's exactly how I feel... we do make that choice each day: to take His Name upon us. It's a continual renewal of self and offering each day, because the world we live in presents a new obstacle that challenges the covenant that each of us made to stand as a witness -- and we all know that we're not going to get let off the hook, even one day here in mortality, in having to prove ourselves.

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  4. Beautiful story Kathryn! I'm so glad you shared it. Looking back, I bet you would have never imagined you'd be blogging and writing about the Church for the Washington Post (among many other things!)

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    1. Thank you, Angela. And no, not in a million years!

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  5. this is incredible, thank you. Our stories are similar in some ways but not in others. I too come from a divorced family. They have been apart my whole life and I'm the youngest of 5. My mom, whom I've almost always lived with, never remarried, but through out my life she had some kind of testimony, big sometimes, others small. We have been dirt poor most of my life, so being in expensive environments unnerves me. I am still in High school, but I have lived in 9 places and attended 6 different schools. My mom has always had a long hard, high-stress level job where most of her co-workers are mean to her, so in my mind she was almost never there and when she was she was yelling at us, telling us how terrible, lazy, selfish, rude, obnoxious we are. My home wasn't really home, especially after my oldest sister, the one person I was ever close to, left for collage when I was 8. I have mostly always been very alone. But I've never doubted my Heavenly Father. On the countless occasions I've asked for him to help calm my mother and keep her from scaring me, he would bring something to calm her down within the hour. A lot of areas I've lived in have been dangerous, and there are a lot of people who have always been mean to us, especially including people in my wards. They'd pick on my siblings about not having a father. It was very painful for them, so my mom started pulling us out of church. But it has always filled me with that peace and I've always known. When I moved to where I am now, it was like an incredible transformation. I tend to get very uncomfortable around people sometimes because I'm so used to people being mean that i feels weird when they're actually nice. The people in my ward and stake now have truly touched and changed my life in unimaginable, explainable ways that they may never know. They even got my mom to yell a LOT less and to notice more of us than our faults. I know he's there, I know he listens and cares and loves me, and I love him too. I sometimes have a feeling of missing him and wishing I could hug him or hear his voice because part of me never forgot him. and he's carried me through everything.
    again- thank you :)

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    1. Hi Margaret,

      Thank you for sharing your story with me. You're right, we do have some uncanny similarities with our growing up years. I'm so sorry for the heartaches you've had to experience because of your parents' divorce. I can totally relate to having to change schools so many times, because of moving constantly; it is exhausting. It's hard to feel so alone when you're just a kid, even if you are in high school. But I'm really grateful to hear that you've developed a relationship with your Heavenly Father, where you've learned that you can reach out to him for comfort and know that He hears your prayers and that He answers them. Know also that He will guide you to know what to do in your life and answer any kinds of questions that you have... anything? He is also there to protect you when you don't feel physically safe.

      Your current ward and stake sound like a blessing to you and your family. That is wonderful. The right people in our lives can do much to strengthen and lift us. It won't be too much longer before you will graduate and have a lot of decisions as to what you want to do next in your life? Just remember, the sky is the limit! Don't let anything limit your dreams! You can go to college or decided to serve a mission. Make sure and counsel with your school counselor and your bishop as those times get closer so they can assist you with your finances -- and they will. I am thinking that you will love the temple and how it will feel inside. That feeling of missing your Heavenly Father will go away when you go to the temple. You will feel Him when you are inside the temple. Stay on track. Stay true to the gospel and do your best to ensure that you make a life for your children that is solid. I tell my children: every generation better! I did better that my mom and I expect my children to do better than I've done. You can do it, Margaret and Heavenly Father will help you. Just keep your covenants and make sure you keep Him in the loop of all the important details of your life and you are good to go! (((HUGS)))

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    2. I'm glad I read your comment. You sound so strong and faithful. Thanks for sharing your story too.

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  6. I am so inspired by the way you use your blog. I changed the format of my blog awhile ago so that I could use it as a tool to be a missionary, but I'm basically chicken to write about the really tough issues. You do such a beautiful job addressing the controversial topics in a clear and sensitive way.
    Also, I love your conversion story. :) Keep up the good work!

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    1. Thank you, Raree. Good for you! Keep writing about what you are passion about and over time you will become more proficient about discussing the more difficult issues. The Spirit, if you will invite, will assist... : )

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  7. Now I know why you named your blog WBMW :). I enjoyed reading your story. It is very much like a brother in laws of mine, except he and his siblings refused to go back to their mom.

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    1. Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that... I'm so grateful for the Atonement. I believe there is room for all of us to learn and grow from our experiences. My parents' were very young and we have all grown and changed and expect a long eternity of loving each other as an eternal family; perhaps not the way we began, as on unit -- but a family we are -- of God. : )

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  8. Kathryn, this may or may not matter to include in my comment, but here goes. There are so many excellent blogs on the internet nowadays, I hardly have time to read them all. So I must confess that I sometimes am a skimmer of blog posts. However, when I saw this post yesterday, I knew I didn't have enough time to read it, so I waited until today. I am SOOO glad I did! I feel blessed to have taken my time and savored this beautiful post. It's a wonderful example of God's love for each of His children. That He is with us through every, single heartache and triumph we experience in our earth life. Thank you so much for taking the time to outline your story so eloquently. I'd also like to take a moment to thank you for taking the time to comment back with your "welcome to the fold" greetings back in April when I left a comment saying I was a new convert. That meant a lot to me! I am definitely a big fan of your heart, which you kindly share throughout your posts. It's nice to be reminded that our conversion is an on-going process and that we are not without flaws. Heavenly Father loves us no matter what. Great post! :)

    P.S. Grandmothers are the best rockstars on the planet!

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    1. Speechless. Thank you. This is truly among the most kind comments I have received during my blogging 'career'. Blessings to you, my friend.

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  9. Great post! Thanks for sharing your wonderful story. I think you are so right about the challenges of life being a big part of what life is and that's what helps us progress! Perspective changes everything!

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  10. Thank you so much for your blog! I appreciate your willingness to share what means so much to you! Yours in loving and sharing the gospel, April McMurtrey (www.somethingtoshoutabout.org)

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    1. Thanks, Shea. I enjoyed recording my testimony.

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  11. Thank you for your faith. I know conversion to be a process!!!

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  12. Thanks for sharing! I am inspired to write my conversion story down! At least for me kids sake!

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