Sunday, January 31, 2010

Our Conversion Story

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my husband's and my baptismal anniversary. You can see it here if you'd like. That post generated some questions about our conversion. I originally answered through email. I have decided to also post it here. First is the question, then my answer.


I was wondering if you could tell me a little more about how and why you guys decided to join LDS? Did a Missionary come to your house and introduced you to it or did you look them up? What was you first impression? And how did you feel about the Book of Mormon etc?
I'm just really curious because I'm still trying to find my faith and decide what's right for me. I find it so hard because I tend to question everything and find it hard to just say that I'm going to have faith in something... I think it goes back to growing up in a family that is non-religious as well as being from (omitted) where most people in general are non-religous. In schools we were taught evolution as the truth. Religion was taught more as least that's how it felt.
I definitely believe in a creator and a higher power. I want to say that I'm a Christian, that I believe in Jesus and the Bible etc but I always feel doubt and come up with a million questions.
We have a few Mormon friends (including you) and several acquaitances and we get Missionaries stopping by regularly. I've been kind of wondering if God is trying to tell us something ;). But honestly, add the Book of Mormon to my already questioning faith and it's too much.
I guess I don't really know where to begin. I would love to hear how you got to where you are today. Have you ever questioned or doubted your faith? I hope you don't mind me asking.

Good Morning!

I'll answer your last question first: Have you ever questioned or doubted your faith?

Yes. During meetings I sometimes hear the comment that everyone at some point doubts on some level. Faith, like a muscle, needs to be exercised. When you exercise that faith, you gain a testimony. A testimony is when something tells you that it's right, like a gut-feeling. Often (we believe) it is the warmth of the Holy Ghost/Spirit that tells us if that faith we are exercising is right or not. Over time, we build a testimony. We use that testimony during down-times (feelings of discouragement, overwhelmed, etc) to lift us back up.

I'm very logical and a critical thinker, often playing the devil's advocate. Many friends were surprised I would join a religion. But, I can't deny the spirit I felt when I entered our first LDS chapel (still as an atheist) and a couple months later was asked to be baptized. It takes years, a lifetime, to build a testimony. The first testimony I had was that I was in the right place; that I needed to be there. I had that warmth of the spirit rush over me. Then I needed to add on to that testimony by practicing faith in different areas like prayer, is there a God, reading scriptures, what about these "golden plates" business, modern-day prophets, the Words of Wisdom, etc.

I remember the missionaries asking me to pray about what I'm learning. I asked, "Who am I supposed to pray to? I don't believe in God." And that's where a little faith comes in. Practice the faith, and let the spirit tell you if what you are doing is right or not. At this point, the missionaries didn't speak much about the spirit, but I practiced praying in my own way that I felt comfortable with. I told Danny that maybe what I will consider doing is taking a moment before eating and consciously and verbally say that I am thankful for the food, that I know others are without. So, that's what Danny and I did. We just started being thankful and verbally acknowledging it. I did it throughout the day about different things. I remember that warm feeling telling me I'm doing the right thing.

Baby steps.

Now, I'll jump to the beginning (I'll talk more about questioning my faith later). I was my fine, happy, atheist self when Danny, agnostic, began wondering if there was more than just us, if maybe there was a God. I supported him in his quest and tagged along as we went church-hopping.

{Side note: I was raised Christian, attending a variety of churches: Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Quaker, non-denominational, and Catholic with a friend. I went to church camp several years. I even had a born-again experience. Danny was technically Lutheran. They went to church Christmas and Easter, but never spoke of God nor prayed.}

Anyway, we attended several churches while living in Arizona. While watching tv, we saw an ad for a "Families First" video offered by the LDS church. It was free. Danny called and ordered it. It arrived. A couple days later, the missionaries also arrived. We weren't expecting this. We let them in. We had interesting conversations with them. We were polite, but not interested. They returned one time, then never, again.

{Another side note about why I was atheist, even though you didn't ask me: Although my parents and Grandmother were great, I saw the ugliness brought on by religion while growing up. I've seen how religion is used to hurt people, not only in my extended family but in history. In college, I had taken Old Testament, New Testament, and other cultural religion courses and came to the conclusion that religion was man-made to control the masses and gain power, especially over women. Throughout history, people take a seemingly good thing and turn it into a weapon. I wanted absolutely nothing to do with it. I was a science major at ASU studying animal behavior, vertebrae anatomy, evolution, genetics and other courses supporting evolution. I often heard in churches I attended that evolution as "evil-ution" and that Darwin is bunk, the earth is only 7,000 years old, etc. Well, my science classes made a lot a sense. I thought I had to choose. I made the mistake in thinking that it had to be science or religion. So, I chose science.}

( be continued. (Name), I have to go and get ready for church. I thought I'd send what I have so far. It's nice to relive it. Thank you for asking. Sorry it's so long, but I thought here's my chance to record it for my own records, which I should have done a while ago).


Danny then got a job with ACA in Virginia. We loved going for drives. We happened upon an LDS meeting house (church) in Hamilton. Danny got out to check the times on the door. I really didn't want to go to a Mormon church, besides, it was 30 miles away from where we lived. "Let's keep looking for churches closer to us." Danny was drawn, though. He told me when he was younger and in France, a Jewish friend of his gave him a Book of Mormon in French. Danny loved America and was intrigued by this "American" church. When he was older and in flight school in Arizona, he built up some hours with a buddy by flying to Utah and staying with the friend's girlfriend's family. "They are Mormon," the friend said. "Don't ask them about their religion. You'll never get them to stop." Danny didn't ask. They didn't mention it. But he said he felt something wonderful in that home. He said the "air was different there." He said that family had "something."

Danny checked out the Book of Mormon from the library. He wanted to see it without the missionaries being sent. He took it with him on trips. One night when I was working at the animal hospital, Danny called me during closing time asking if I could come home early.

"You'll never guess who's here."
"The missionaries. The Mormon missionaries. We had a discussion. Can you come home early and meet them?"
" have to help Diana med the animals and close up. Darn." (Whew! That was close!)

I arrived home to our apartment later. Danny said he made an appointment for them to return, but he'd cancel it if I wanted. He told me how they ended up at our door. He heard the doorbell. When he opened it and saw them, he thought of how he had the BoM from the library specifically so the missionaries wouldn't come.

(Door opens. Missionaries standing outside.)
Danny: "How did you find me?"
M #1: "We prayed about it."
M #2: "Well, actually, we just knock door-to-door. We were about to call it a night (they have a curfew) but thought we would try just one more door. We chose yours."

They were very nice (like the others in AZ). They had a message to share, and we listened. We discussed. It was pleasant. They knew about our views but never made us feel bad about them. They gave us copies of the BoM and invited us to read. They returned several times. I always enjoyed their visits. They were good company.

One Sunday Danny and I decided to go to that LDS chapel 30 miles away. I still hadn't changed my views, but Danny wanted to go. So we went. We sat. Wide-eyed. Then a familiar missionary, Elder Mickelsen, came over to us, beaming. "I didn't think you would ever come! Welcome!"

We sat. We listened. We sang. We stared. That warm feeling enveloped me. Being there Children stayed with their family and weren't shoo'ed off to another room. It was a bit noisy at times, but I thought it was so special they stayed together. I enjoyed the service very much but was ready to go.

We were asked if we were going to stay for the next two meetings. Next two meetings? Uh, NO. Who goes to church for three hours? They do.

Missionaries came over a few more times. We went to church a few more times. When they asked me how I liked it, I said I liked it very much. I felt more at home there than I did in any church I've ever been to. I liked the families being together during the service. I liked how it was organized and ran by unpaid volunteer/called members. I liked that tithings and offerings were a private manner handled discretely and that service time wasn't taken up by passing the plate. I liked that there was a Heavenly Mother. I liked that children were innocent until the age of accountability (baptized at 8). I liked how the Godhead FINALLY made sense. I liked that the women were strong and that they were encouraged to be educated and be able to support their family in case something happened to the husband. I liked that they lived their religion and went to church because they wanted to, not because they were afraid of hell and damnation, fire and brimstone. It was positive. God is love. We are his children. He wants us to be happy and has a plan for us. I told them I wished I believed, but I just can't. I believe in science.

There was a new LDS bookstore that opened up in Leesburg, Timpanogos Books. Danny strolled through there and found a book for me.

January 5th was my birthday. I opened his gift: Of Heaven and Earth: Reconciling Scientific Thought with LDS Theology. It was a compilation of essays written by noted and highly respected scientists in the fields of geology, genetics, chemistry, physics, and astronomy. Many of them are members of the National Academy of Sciences. And.they.were.strong.faithful.Latter-day.Saints. They believed in science and religion. Basically, in my own words, science is a language of God's. Science and religion are meant to be together. I may not understand how it all fits, but God does.

I read and read and read. Again, the warm feeling of the spirit flooded me, and I cried. It's like it gave me permission to believe in God, again. And believe, I did.

{Ironically, I currently live at the base of Mount Timpanogos of the Wasatch Mountains, Utah, just a mile from the Mt. Timpanogos Temple. That little LDS bookstore in our little town closed it's doors within the year. The nearest LDS bookstore would be an hour away near the DC Temple.}

January 17th, 1999, 11 years ago today as I write this, Danny and I were baptized by Elder Palmer, Leesburg Ward, Hamilton, VA.

PART 3 (The high-lighted areas above are things I added).

Okay, so now I believe in God. What about this Joseph Smith, Jr. character? And the golden plates of ancient script that are conveniently gone? Good questions. I do believe Joseph Smith, Jr. was a prophet of God. (We don't worship him. He was just a messenger, God's servant). I'm thankful for modern-day prophets for our modern-day problems.

Sure, I had doubts about him. Sometimes I still wonder what he was really like. Martyred people seem to gain a more heroic status as the years pass. But what he did was one of the best things that happened in my life: establishing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This church helped me want to know God through His son, Jesus Christ.

I've learned more about JS,Jr. through the years. My admiration for what he did and went through continues to grow. I believe in his visions. At this point, I have no reason not to. (The Bible has some fantastic stories, too). I totally understand that the basis for this religion is hard to believe to an observer. I get that. (Been there). But let's take the worst-case scenario: let's say Joe was an egotistical clown and genius that made up the whole thing. Instead of translating ancient script into the Book of Mormon through divine guidance, let's say he just wrote it himself and pulled the wool over his follower's eyes. That book, to me, is still inspired by God, even if He used an unknowing clown genius to get his message through. There are things in those scriptures for me to learn, things that will help me as a person. JS, Jr. was just a man, imperfect and uneducated (didn't finish school). But he had a willing heart and a desire to serve his God and his brothers and sisters, similar to other prophets like Moses and David who felt inadequate when God called upon them. God makes up the difference.

I find when I wonder about something or someone, I look at the fruits of their labors. Is the product negative or positive? Does it make me want to be a better person? And is it out of love or fear? Do I feel the spirit (that warm feeling inside that tells me I'm in the right place or doing the right thing)?

Faith is not about seeing. If we saw, then it wouldn't be faith, it would be knowledge. We are changed by the spirit.

I'm still building my testimony. I don't understand everything, yet, and may not until I die. But I like the here and now and try not to let details be stumbling blocks for me. To me, Adam and Eve are still symbolic, but I'm willing to say that it is possible they were created from the dust (I guess anything is possible with God). I may not understand it, but I'm not going to let that stop me from growing in the gospel and enjoying its fruits.

Well, (name), I loved doing this, especially on our baptismal anniversary. It brought me back, and I felt the spirit and teared up in gratitude as I relived it.

If you have any more questions, I'd be happy to answer them (and the answers will probably be a lot shorter because most of it is here).


No comments:

Post a Comment