Tuesday, August 30, 2016
How I Became Mormon; My Testimony
Nobody is born Mormon. Even if you're born into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, you're not born Mormon. Though, as I type out Mormon, the word Mormon feels strange under my fingers. We are called Mormons, and though I respect Mormon as an ancient American prophet who abridged the golden plates, no small task, this is not his Church. I am not a follower of Mormon. Nor am I a follower of Joseph Smith. I'm a follower of Jesus Christ. It is Christ who is the center of everything I believe.
Regardless, Mormon is the label we, who believe and follow the Doctrines of the LDS faith, are stamped with. It's a name I'm attached with, and though born into the Church, it's a label I choose to wear.
Still, I wasn't born believing the Church is true. That's a knowledge I had to seek and pray for.
Looking back on my life I can't remember a time when I didn't believe in God. There's no defining moment that led me to realize God exist. This is something I've always believed and have never had to question. This faith lies deep in my spirit. But believing the LDS church is true? I didn't even know other churches existed until I was seven years old, and I didn't grow up in Utah.
It was the beginning of the second grade, the Summer of 1989, as we had year-around-school. The day was hot, as hot as it typically gets in Porterville California, which is an hour north of Bakersfield. I remember standing close to the fence which overlooked a big field, which lay next to the soon to be All American City Highway, which was next to the foothill mountains, the Sierra Nevada mountains blue in the distance. I was to the south of the slide playground having a rather heated debate over religion.
One of my classmates, her face now blurred in memory, was countering everything I said. This somewhat out of the ordinary conversation for a couple of seven year old's started when I mentioned how excited I was to be getting baptized. "What is baptize?" She asked me, and I explained that it involved getting submerged in water. "Our church doesn't do that!" She proclaimed, "You're wrong."
"I'm not wrong. You get baptized when you're eight. And then you get the gift of the Holy Ghost."
"My church doesn't do that. You don't go to the right church!"
And we went back and forth, na na-na na na like. "You're wrong" this and "You're wrong" that. The Trinity was mentioned, and I brought up the Godhead, the idea that Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are all separate beings. Naturally that started up a whole new debate.
When the recess bell rang I went back to the classroom somber, suddenly realizing there are other churches, and that these churches believe different things, and that they believe they're right and that they believe they attend the right church of Christ. And then suddenly I realized, "What if my church is wrong? What if I believe the wrong thing?" That line of thought then quickly turned into, "How can I get baptized when I could be joining the wrong Church? And if I am being baptized into the right Church, am I ready for that commitment?" My mind spun round and round. In my spirit I knew I could only get baptized if I was fully ready to make an Eternal commitment to Christ, and not fall back on my covenants. At the time I didn't know "covenant" was the word that represented what I didn't want to break. I didn't want to break my promise to God. I wanted always to follow him.
That three block walk home after school was a long one. So distraught was my mind, full of questions and worries. How was I going to tell my Mom that there are other churches and they feel they're right!?
When I did tell my Mom she was very patient, understanding, and bore her testimony with what she believed. She then told me I had to seek out, ask questions, and form my own testimony, and that she would trust me no matter what I decide. A lot of trust for a seven year old. But baptism is no small thing.
In all those months leading up to my eighth birthday I struggled reading the Book of Mormon and the scriptures. I was incredibly below average in my reading skills at the time, not getting up to grade level until the fourth grade. Reading was a struggle, but I tried my best, and knew God would make up the rest. It was around this time I stopped coloring during sacrament meeting and started listening to the talks. If I can't fully read the scriptures I was going to listen, both in Sacrament meeting and Sunday School. One time when we had the missionaries over for dinner they asked if anyone had any questions. My Mom said, "Sarah has a question."
"How do I know the Church is true?" They mentioned reading the scriptures and praying, but then they shared something that has stuck with me. They talked about Christ time and that while he lived the church was perfect. A mirror, fully formed, represented this. After he died the mirror shattered into many pieces. As time went on one truth was picked up by one group and they formed a church around that mirror piece, trying to fill in the gaps. Another church was formed around another mirror piece or so, trying to fill in the gaps. Another church was formed around another mirror piece, trying to fill in the gaps. And so forth. Each Christian church with different truths and beliefs, some the same, some different, all trying to recreate the mirror with their own pieces. No church completely wrong, but no church completely right, because of the missing truths.
Then one day Joseph Smith asked the same question I asked. What church is true? They're all so different. And the answer he received was to join none of them. Over time Joseph Smith, through inspiration, guidance, and revelation was able to put the mirror back together with all the missing pieces: temples, prophets, ordinances, covenants, priesthood keys, gift of the Holy Ghost, modern revelation, personal revelation, as so forth. All the mirror pieces joined together to form Christ's reflection.
I don't know at what point I realized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is Christ's restored church on Earth, but I did realize it. The process was slow. Bit by bit. And I said so many prayers. But there came a point before I turned eight that I did know the Church was true. I did believe Jesus Christ was my Savior and Redeemer. I dis know Joseph Smith to be a prophet of God. And I know The Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ.
My testimony has only gotten stronger.
When I went for my interview with my Bishop to see of I was ready for baptism, I answered all his questions with confidence. I knew. And today I still know.
And I also knew it was never going to be easy becoming a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. That confrontation during recess my second grade year taught me that, and I knew instinctively I was agreeing to a life of persecution if I was baptized. Porterville is a very religious community, at least when I was there, and anti-Mormons crossed my path regularly. They tried to beat me down. Shun me. But that only made me stronger.
I met good people, too. One of my friends was a Methodist and I went on a trip with her church group to Magic Mountain. They learned I was Mormon and didn't treat me bad. You have no idea how much that meant to me.
Standing for what you believe is a lonely path, but being a follower of Christ was never meant to be easy.
My Grandpa R. gave me a set of scriptures when I was baptized, one book comprising the Old and New Testament, the second book containing The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price. On the inside flap he wrote: "To Sarah! We love you! And we present this Book of Mormon to you. May you read it everyday. It is the greatest book in the world!"
I treasure that inscription because of what it came to represent. Around 2000 my Grandpa left the church. It was a traumatic day on many fronts, especially for my Mom.
At one time, around 1990, he mailed out hundreds of Book of Mormons to those of our Scottish linage with a 4 generation genealogy chart and his testimony included. I found one of these un-mailed Book of Mormon's in his Ventura home office when I was packing it almost two years ago. I also found several folders containing correspondence he received from those he gave Book of Mormon's to, most of what I found was anti-Mormon literature.
In the last several years I've come to realize why he left the church. I respect his agency. I have to, as I'm a strong defender of agency. Always have been, always will.
That inscription he wrote in my Book of Mormon is a reminder not to ever take my testimony for granted. A reminder of how fragile testimonies are.
I do believe the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ's restored church during these last days. I do believe Jesus Christ is my Savior and Redeemer, the center of everything I believe, my everything.
I write these things in the name of Jesus Christ,