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...