What it was like being a non LDS teen growing up in Utah - My Conversion Story
I thought it was important to record my conversion story. So here it is:
My mom and dad taught me about God and Jesus, prayer, and the Bible. My mom took me to church when I was little but she quit going. I wanted to keep going so my mom made arrangements with a church that had a bus pick up kids who went to church without their parents. I loved going to church and learning and singing songs about Jesus. I just believed that he loved me. I loved the song "Jesus loves the little children". I went to a Baptist Bible Summer Camp. When I was about 8 years old, I was reading in the Bible that Jesus was baptized and we need to be baptized too. I asked my mom. I didn't know which church I wanted to be baptized into so I just said I wanted to be a Christian and that's all I knew. Why did we have to belong to one religion anyway? I didn't get it. God wasn't a Catholic or Baptist. I just knew I wanted to follow Christ. I wanted to be baptized just like Jesus. Immersed in the water and in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. So my mom abliged and arranged for a non denominational preacher to baptize me in my grandparent's hot tub. And guess what?! My Grandpa decided he wanted to be baptized too! So we did it together.
When I was in elementary school we had to choose a state to do a report on. I randomly chose Utah. I had never been there and was amazed at how beautiful it looked in the pictures. Coincidence? I don't think so. Years later when my mom wanted to move from New Mexico, I suggested Utah. There happened to be a manager position opening in Utah she got so we moved to Utah. We didn't know anyone. Looking back I feel that was very inspired and we were led to Utah for a reason.
I was 14 when I moved to Utah. I had been living with my dad in Texas so it was a bit of a culture shock to say the least. In New Mexico I was the minority. In Texas, I didn't fit in with the private school rich kids. And now in Utah I was again in the minority. I started to notice everyone wearing the same ring with a CTR on a shield. I asked someone about it and that was when I first learned what a Mormon was. I also noticed a separate building out in the parking lot where a lot of students went for a class. I asked about that and learned about seminary. I started to realize that these kids were very different from any I'd ever met.
I remember I said a bad word at school once and a kid said he was so offended and could I please watch my language. He was so self-righteous about it and so rude and condescending. I felt so embarrassed and mad. I was a good person. I tried so hard to do what I thought the Lord wanted me to. I prayed every day. I read the Bible. This kid made me feel so unfairly judged. I have forever since been sensitive to judgemental people. My bitterness towards the Church began. I felt shunned. All the kids I had ever known up to this point said bad words. My family said them. To me, it wasn't bad. To me, it was normal. This kid thought he was better than me because I was doing what was normal to me for my whole life. And this is just one example. There were many other things I did that were normal to me and not the kids in Utah. I felt very left out and became very bitter and angry. I remember I actually hated the Church. I felt like I wasn't good enough for any of them. Like they thought they were better than me. I hated driving past all the church buildings. I hated all the slang that I didn't understand that everyone assumed I knew. Like the word "Stake"...not like the slab of meat steak. It's like a regional grouping of wards which are smaller geographical congregations. It's basically a big group of Mormons that live close to each other. Anyway!
I started to soften a bit when a boy I had a crush on gave me a Book of Mormon. He'd written his testimony in it. A seed was planted. I respected him. He was a good kid and nice to everyone. He invited me to Mutual, a youth program that has activities during the week. I had so much fun and learned about the three kingdoms of glory (maybe not the best place to start as an investigator). I continued to soften as I met more non-judgemental Mormons in high school that liked me for me. They accepted me. I quit saying bad words because they didn't say them, not because they were self-righteous about it and told me to stop. They led by example. They were modest. They didn't drink. They were such good people. I liked hanging out with them because it felt good and I didn't go home feeling guilty like I used to with other friends. We didn't need to drink to feel cool or have fun. I learned you could be cool and have fun AND not drink, smoke, or swear. We were hyper and crazy enough without it.
I got a few more Books of Mormon. They started inviting me to Stake (church) dances. Then to Firesides (where someone gives an awesome talk). Then to sacrament meetings (church). Then my friends started going on missions and I'd go to their Farewells (sending off meeting). A lot of my peers started to assume I was already a member of the Church. But I didn't know enough. I didn't believe what I knew. But I was working on that.
I was reading the Bible and the Book of Mormon. I was praying to know what I should do. I had changed so much already and I was proud of who I'd become. I felt good about myself but I also felt like I needed to know for sure whether or not the Church was true. What did God want me to do? I said I'd do whatever He wanted but I had to know. I would pray and then wait, over and over. And I didn't know what to look for. I remember one night being so frustrated I couldn't sleep. I got up in the middle of the night and went for a walk. I walked down the street to my high school stadium and I prayed in the bleachers. I prayed out loud. When I was done, I looked up into the sky and waited for an answer. I stared at the stars and expected them to spell out a yes or no....anything. I needed a sign! It seems so silly looking back, knowing what I know now about how the Spirit works, I had my answer, I just didn't recognize it. I hadn't been taught how it feels, what to look for. God doesn't give you a sign like the one I was looking for. He answers by the still, small voice. It's a feeling. It's a thought. There were signs all around me. Feeling peaceful and happy with my friends at church activities. Feeling good when I read from the scriptures. But I didn't know and I needed more. So what did I do? I gave up. I set it on a shelf and took a break.
Time passed and guess what? Missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints knocked on my door! They had been given my name from a friend of mine that had left on his mission. I was skeptical but I let them in and heard them out. They taught me about the Spirit. In Galatians 5: 22-23 it says,
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
Then we read Joseph Smith History. I couldn't help but relate. We both had been searching for the truth and praying to know what to do. I'm sorry this is a long excerpt but I can't paraphrase it. It's so powerful. He says,
8 "During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness; but though my feelings were deep and often poignant, still I kept myself aloof from all these parties, though I attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit. In process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them; but so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.
10 In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?
11 While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
12 Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.
13 At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to “ask of God,” concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture.
14 So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally.
15 After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.
16 But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
17 It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!"
He was searching for the truth, just like I was. He was young. He prayed aloud. I felt a kinship with Joseph. Like he better than anyone knew what I was going through. I wasn't alone.
After we read that the missionaries asked me how I felt. I sat there and looked inward. I felt a tingling sensation all over my body. Like a bucket of glittery sprinkles was dumped over my head. I felt so emotional I couldn't contain it and I started to cry. It was like my heart was so full it was bursting. The missionaries just sat there and stared at my emotional breakdown. I was embarrassed and apologized. They said not to be and that I was feeling the Spirit. They helped me recognize it. It was honestly the most incredible thing I have ever felt or experienced in my life. There was no denying that it was from God. I had received the answer I'd been waiting for with perfect clarity. The Church was true! The Church is true! God is real. He heard my prayers and he answered me. This was what He wanted me to do. And there was no looking back. From that moment forward I was forever changed and on a new path. We set a baptism date of January 31st, 1998. Two weeks away!
Joseph was persecuted beyond belief and ultimately killed. About being persecuted for telling people about what he saw, he says,
24 "However, it was nevertheless a fact that I had beheld a vision. I have thought since, that I felt much like Paul, when he made his defense before King Agrippa, and related the account of the vision he had when he saw a light, and heard a voice; but still there were but few who believed him; some said he was dishonest, others said he was mad; and he was ridiculed and reviled. But all this did not destroy the reality of his vision. He had seen a vision, he knew he had, and all the persecution under heaven could not make it otherwise; and though they should persecute him unto death, yet he knew, and would know to his latest breath, that he had both seen a light and heard a voice speaking unto him, and all the world could not make him think or believe otherwise.
25 So it was with me. I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation."
And so it is with me. No matter who has ever wanted to talk me out of my beliefs, change my mind, or convince me I was wrong, I like Joseph can not deny and will never deny what I felt that day. It came out of nowhere. It was so strong and unlike anything I'd ever felt before, I knew it was from God. I will never deny it. My testimony began by hearing the First Vision of Joseph Smith. I have read books about him and his wife Emma. I have never jumped into anything blindly in my life. I have always sought after truth and knowledge and been prayerful about decisions.
The seed that I planted has been nurtured by continual prayer, obedience, and discipleship. It has grown roots and branches and fruit. I am blessed beyond belief. Not to say I haven't had struggles since I got baptized. I have. Trust me, it hasn't been easy. But I have had Christ to lean on.
I am far from perfect and in fact I feel like I'm pretty bad at this life thing. I'm forgetful and I lose things and am late. I lose track of time and miss appointments. I lose my patience and yell at my kids. I still haven't figured out how to stay on top of papers and junk. I look around and sometimes I just feel completely overwhelmed and want to quit. But I have faith that Christ can and does make up the difference. He helps me make it through each day. I struggle with depression and anxiety and I have Satan in one ear constantly telling me that I suck and I'm not good enough. But I read my scriptures, I say my prayers, I go to church, I attend the temple, I go to therapy, I take medicine...and on and on. I'm constantly battling my demons. But I wouldn't rather be anywhere but where I am. With an amazing, loving husband and our four beautiful, fun kids.
You know when you see a great movie or read a book you love and you want to tell your friends about it? That's how I feel about the Gospel but multiplied by 1000. It has made me so happy and given me so much strength that I want to share it with everyone. You can't find true happiness without letting God in. Once you let Him in, let Him lead you. Follow Him. And little by little you'll nourish the seed you plant and it will one day bear fruit. All it takes is a tiny seed. Here are two of my favorite scriptures: The first one is from the Bible in the book of Proverbs 3:5-6.
5 Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
The second one is one of the first scriptures that I read from the Book of Mormon. It's Alma 32:27-28
27 But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.
28 Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.
I know what's it's like to not have the Gospel in my life. I felt like I was wondering aimlessy about life. What was my purpose? Why was I here? The Gospel answered all my questions and then some I didn't even know I had. It makes perfect sense. It's set up just like when Christ was on the earth. We have a prophet and 12 apostles. How cool is that?! In a day and age like this, why would he leave us? Have miracles ceased? NO! Do angels still walk the earth? YES! Why not? Why would He change? He is unchanging. Why is it so hard to believe that we wouldn't have prophets in our day when we need them most?
I have felt judged. I still do sometimes. I have felt ridiculed. I'm sorry if you have to. Nobody is perfect. There are LDS people who are mean and say hurtful things. And there are a lot of non LDS people who are some of the most Christlike people I know. What matters is your personal relationship with your Father in Heaven. Don't judge the Gospel or the Church by it's imperfect people. Ask the Lord. He is perfect. He hears your prayers. He answered mine. It took me 4 years from the time I moved to Utah to when I was baptized. But as I look back, He's been guiding me all along. All I want is to do what He wants me to do. Who cares if someone is mean or offends you? Do you stop obeying God? Do you destroy your life because of them? Nope.
You are not alone. Christ knows your trials and can comfort you better than anyone. Don't listen to Satan. He wants you to be miserable and hopeless and he wants you to be alone. Don't let him win.
Good luck on your journey. God bless you.
Keywords: Baptism, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Conversion, Joseph Smith, LDS, Mormon, Non member teen
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