*Sometimes, I share a post that is less about toddlers throwing tantrums in Walmart and more about the bearing of heart and soul. This is one of those. Here on SOM, we talk about the things that matter most to us--for many of us that includes our faith and religious beliefs. I hope that we can all show respect and learn from each other's perspectives, even if they are different from our own.
Thank you for allowing me to open my heart to you!*
So, there's a new movie that came out in theaters called, "Meet the Mormons." I haven't seen it yet, but I'm excited to see it (cause I am one! Ha!) and it will be so interesting to see how we as a group of people are portrayed. (Ps. I've heard that it will be coming out on Redbox and Netflix, so you can check it out there too!) But, ya know, if "Meet the Orthodox Jews" or "Meet the Amish" or "Meet the Buddhists" was in theaters, I'd be excited to watch any one of them. I love learning about other cultures and religions. (I was a Geography minor in college--I'm pretty much a geography nerd.) I love people and hearing their stories. :)
Because of this extra exposure that my church is getting (as well as the negative attention and misunderstanding we've had in the media off and on through the years) it seems like more and more Mormons are trying to be super open about their beliefs, to welcome any questions and clear up misunderstandings. Kind of like saying, "This is who I am and I am happy to let that shine!"
Sometimes people ask, "Why are you guys so into telling others about your church?" Here's the way I think of it: Let's say I go to a new restaurant that's not super well-known. And it is AMAZING! Seriously, the best food I've ever had. The first thing I want to do after that delicious meal is tell everyone, "Oh man, you GOTTA try this place!!!" You want to tell the world! It's human nature--we like to share what we love so that others get to experience it too! And that is just a silly example. My faith is so much more important to me than an awesome restaurant. It truly brings me so much happiness and direction in life, so why wouldn't I want to share that joy with others that I care about? And, it's ok if I share my beliefs with someone and they tell me they aren't interested, I totally respect that, and our friendship is still the same. :) But, I like to share cause you never know who is searching for a way to come closer to God, and maybe I could help them on their path. :)
(PS. Just for a little clarification, the real name of our church is: "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints". We are 100% Christian! The name "Mormon" is a nickname, since we believe the Book Of Mormon (an ancient record written by the prophets God called in the Americas) to be scripture along with the Bible (which you probably know is an ancient record written by God's prophets and apostles living in the regions around Jerusalem). And since our name is kinda long, people started calling us "Mormon" and it stuck!)
Anywho, I'd like to tell my own story...so you can meet this Mormon. :) (It's kinda long...but some stories just are. You have been warned. :)
I grew up in a Mormon home. Before I can remember, my mom was singing to me, "I am a Child of God." and "I'm trying to Be Like Jesus." (classic Mormon children's songs.) My parents taught me to pray, to read the scriptures, to be kind, and most of all to follow Jesus. I was a happy little girl, who sang constantly. My family called me "Amy Poo Lovey" and "Lovey" cause I was such a hugger.
At eight, I was baptised. I was young, but I knew that I wanted to follow Jesus my whole life, so I was excited to make that choice.
But as I got older, I became less open-hearted; I was skeptical and jaded. At some point during Jr. High, I decided I never wanted to be "girly" since people equaled being "girly" with being "weak and silly." So it became my mission to be this tough tom-boy; I laughed at anything I considered emotional or cheesy. I literally RAN when my mom tried to give me hugs. I would roll my eyes and snicker when my parents got emotional talking about love or spiritual things. (Sheesh, I was such a brat.) I don't know why I was such a pain...teenage hormones or something. Also, I think in part, this was a way to kinda mini-rebel against my parents, who I felt were too strict. (Now I know they were doing their best and I was being very dramatic about it.) I wanted to rebel to hurt them, but I didn't want to do anything stupid that would ruin my life like doing drugs or getting terrible grades. And I was way too scared of boys to rebel by dating some bad boy! Haha! So I just stayed bratty to my parents, even though I never quit going to church or praying. At family scripture study and prayer, I just acted too cool to care.
During this time I didn't have a strong relationship with God like I had had when I was a full-of-faith, open-hearted little kid. I didn't even know for sure if He was there.
The weird thing? Even though I acted too cool, I desperately wanted to believe there was a God. I hoped He was there. I wanted to trust in Him. I just didn't know. Everybody talked about feeling God's love or feeling the Spirit...but I didn't think I had ever felt it. I thought I was broken, since everyone else seemed to feel and recognize the Spirit.
I also started to worry: what if I was only in this religion cause it was how I was raised? After all, I was only 8 when I decided to be baptised, just a little kid!
My church taught about Jesus Christ. But, how could I know if He had really existed? I didn't even know if there was a God, so how could I know if he sent His Son to earth to die for our sins? And how is that even possible? It seemed far-fetched at times.
My church also taught that the Book of Mormon is a book of true scripture: that while the prophets and apostles kept records of God's dealings with them over in Jerusalem, on the other side of the world, in the Americas, God called prophets and taught those people too! The Book of Mormon was the record that they kept--it also testified of Jesus Christ and His gospel and works in harmony with the teachings in the Bible.
My church also taught that the same church that Jesus Christ organized when he lived on the earth--with apostles who had authority given to them by the Savior--had been organized again on the earth. That after the Apostles and early christians were killed off and the pure gospel doctrines were distorted over the hundreds of years that followed, God called Joseph Smith to be a prophet again on the earth--a legit prophet, like Noah and Moses. Once again Jesus Christ's church was on the earth, led by a prophet and apostles who had the same authority that Christ had given His apostles in the ancient Christian church! That the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (aka Mormons) was that restored church, with all of the full teachings and authority once again restored, not by a man, but by God. That Christ leads our church through a living prophet of God today!
That is a pretty freakin bold claim.
I didn't know if it was true.
I wanted all of this to be true, cause so many people that I loved and trusted believed in it. I knew they weren't lying to me, but I was so scared that we were all just believing what we wanted to believe. I desperately wanted to know if God was there, if Jesus was real, if my church was truly Christ's own restored church--all of it. But I was scared. What if I asked God and I didn't get an answer? So I kept scoffing at spiritual things and acting flippant, to hide how worried I was that I didn't know what everyone else seemed to know.
Looking back, I can see that I was being controlled by fear. My anxiety and skepticism was blocking me from feeling peace from God. It's like I would feel good at church or while praying and I'd talk myself out of those feelings! I'd replay all those doubts in my mind, thrusting out the seed of faith every time it was planted.
Deep down, I always had those feelings of faith there. I had a strong foundation lovingly laid by my parents. They tried to help me and answer my questions, but I didn't really want to hear it from them. They were wise not to push me as I searched for my own answers.
And, these answers did come, as the scriptures say, "line upon line" a little at a time.
The first time I remember strongly feeling God's love as a teenager was during a really hard trial that my family went through. Remember my sister Sherie's post about when she lost her first baby not long after she was born? It was devastating. I was distraught and could not understand how a loving God could let this happen. No one would be better parents than my sister and her husband. It was so hard to see my sister in such pain. While my tiny niece lay in the NICU, kept alive by tubes and machines, I prayed harder than I'd ever prayed before. I remember pleading with God to provide a miracle. Then, ever so softly, I was filled with the peace. He assured me that He loved me and would care for my sister and her husband, but He couldn't answer my prayer in the way I wanted. And I kept feeling His assurance and love through the funeral and the next few days. Many in my family, including my sister and brother-in-law, later talked about feeling God's love lifting and supporting them through their grief. Little Jana's few days on earth profoundly influenced my faith, as well as many others. I fully believe that I after I die, I will get to meet her again and I look forward to that day!
After this trial, I knew that God was there and that He loved me. I had felt his love so strong, and I no longer doubted. I knew I hadn't dreamed it up, He really had comforted me and taught me. After that, prayer became much more real to me--it went from, "Well I hope someone is listening" to "Hi Heavenly Father, I know you're there." But I was still searching for answers about everything else.
In my seminary class (many Mormon teens take 4 years of seminary, which are classes where they study scriptures) that year we were studying the New Testament. As I read the accounts of Christ--His life, His compassion, His teachings--in the Gospels, I just knew it was all true. I was so moved by His miracles and His love for the poor, the sick, and the doubtful--people that others forgot and ignored. I cried when I read about Him being beaten and spit on, then giving His life for us...for me! I imagined the sorrow of the apostles, His mother, and the other early saints and followers, followed by their overwhelming joy when they saw Him resurrected. It felt so real to me. I had been told these stories my whole life, but this time, really studying them on my own, my faith began to flourish. I loved Jesus and believed that He was the son of God. I loved how He lived--and just like when I made the choice to be baptised at 8, I knew I truly wanted to follow Him.
One day, my friend's dad, (he served in church leadership with my dad...he's such a great guy, super fun, but so wise!) asked me if I knew for myself that the Book of Mormon was a true book of scripture from God. He also asked if I knew for myself that this was Christ's true church and if I knew that Joseph Smith was truly called of God as a prophet. I trusted him and felt safe answering him truthfully, so I said, "I don't know. I believe it's true, but I can't say that I know." And he said, "Do you want to find out?" I said that I did. So he told me, "Then you'll have to put in the effort. Show God that you're willing to do your part. You need to study and really pray and He will answer you." So I did. I began to read the Book of Mormon with more intent, really studying it. I also asked God to help me know if it was true or not, and if the church was true. But, I didn't really know what to look for as an answer. People described feeling the Spirit as a burning in their heart or like a "warm blanket." So I kept waiting and waiting for a warm blanket feeling while continuing to study and learn.
Then, at a seminary testimony meeting at the very end of my senior year, I was listening to the other kids share their testimonies of the gospel. Suddenly, I literally felt compelled to go share my testimony. Like I would pass out or puke or die if I didn't! In a panic I silently prayed, "But Heavenly Father, I believe it's all true and I think it is, but how can I say I KNOW?" And I felt assurance like I should say it anyway. Talk about scary! Me--the girl who scorned showing emotion--was suddenly in front of over a hundred other teenagers, crying and saying, "I know that God lives and this is Christ's true church."
I believe it was God's way of asking me to take a leap of faith, to trust in all the good feelings I'd been having for the past few years of my search. So I did.
And you know what? As I said the words, I felt so good! When I sat back down, the thought came to me, "This is not how a person feels when they tell a lie. I really do know it's true!" And I cried even harder, because FINALLY I had my answer for myself. I wanted to shake the person next to me and say, "How crap, I really really DO know it's true!!!!"
It's so funny to look back and see that God was trying to guide me all along, but I was resistant because of my own doubt and fears and skepticism.
I learned that faith takes an open and soft heart.
Plus, everyone feels the Spirit differently...I most often feel it as peace and joy and just "feeling right" about something--never the "burning in my heart" physical warmth that I was looking for as a teen. :) Haha, I don't know why I was so hung up on needing to feel that! So, I was receiving my answer all along, I just didn't know how to recognize it.
My conviction grew and grew, and over time, it became so much who I am; my faith shapes my desires and decisions. After three years of college, I decided to serve as a missionary for my church. It felt like my chance to give back to my Heavenly Father for the blessings and spiritual guidance He’d given me in my life. If I could help others feel the joy of coming closer to Him, then being away from my family, wearing a dress every day (yikes!) and halting my education for a year and a half would be worth it.
Here's a couple pics of me as a missionary in Missouri and Oklahoma.
|I'm on the right, with two of the missionaries I served with! I served with so many AMAZING ladies! (And guys too!)|
|Such a sweet man! He was baptised when he was like in his 70's...he inspired me so much. When many people become more set in their ways as they get older, he loved learning and increasing his faith.|
|Some cute kids in a family I taught.|
Now that I'm a grown-up, raising kids of my own in a world that's got a lot of evil in it, this reassurance gives me the courage to move forward, trusting in Him, knowing that He will guide me and my family.
My three favorite scriptures also give me courage that I don't need to fear the future if my foundation and first priority is living as a follower of Christ.
"Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." Matthew 6:33.
"Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not." Doctrine and Covenants 6:36.
And this scripture where a prophet is speaking to his sons: "And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall." Helaman 5:12
I love those three scriptures so much!
Now, I get to teach my children how to pray and love others and follow the Savior. (I hope none of my kids will be as bratty to me as I was to my parents...but it will serve me right if any of them are! Ha!) I know that in this crazy world that seems to just be getting worse, the best protection I can give my children is to help them nurture their faith, so that they will have their own strong foundation. When we are on the Lord's side, we don't need to fear!
Well, that was my very long story. But, it's all true and I'm glad I could share it with you! Please tell my your thoughts, especially if you have questions for me! :) If you believe in God, how did you come to know that He was there? I'd love to hear. :)
And, whoever you are, I know that God loves YOU. You are precious to Him because you are His child. If you'd like to get to know Him or learn how to pray, I'd recommend putting forth the effort to gain a relationship with Him. It is life-changing. Here's a good place to start. If you already have a relationship with God, but you'd like to gain more knowledge and understanding about His plan for you, I'd recommend this website to you too! :) It's so good!
I hope you take this post as I meant it, to share what is important to me. Please know that I while I love to share my own faith, I love and respect all people for their beliefs! :) If you appreciated this post, please Like and/or Share. Thanks a million! I think sharing our stories can open hearts and bring about better tolerance and understanding of each other.
Remember, I'm always looking for ladies to share their stories, so please check out the "Wanna Contribute?" button up on the right side of this blog! :) And if you're new, Welcome! If you wanna party with us, follow along through BlogLovin, or you can like Swag On, Momma on Facebook, or your can join this site through Blogger. So many options! We have a lot of fun around here. :)