Saturday, July 31, 2010

How I became Mormon....part three and a half

I know it should be part four, but a friend pointed out I've neglected quite a bit of the story. I wanted to include some of the spiritual challenges and successes. During my years of study

I read A LOT of material. Not only did I go through the entire book of Mormon, but I read Articles of Faith, Jesus the Christ, The Inevitable Apostasy (probably the most helpful book to me), and countless talks that my friend Vicki would send me to try to help answer questions.

It was during one of these talks that I first experienced what Mormons call the "testimony of the Spirit". I would often get frustrated in my conversations with missionaries when they'd ask me questions such as, "How does that make you feel?" I kept thinking, "Who cares how I feel about it? All that matters is whether it is true. I can think something sounds wonderful, but that doesn't make it true." I was so frustrated with them. Plus, I came from a doctrinal background where feelings were taboo. Discernment was done strictly through the Scriptures. If the Bible says it, then it is true. Period. No feelings can verify anything. Having the Spirit affirm something was completely foreign to me. Gradually, the Lord helped me understand.

One of the first things that helped occurred while reading one of the talks my friend Vicki sent. I don't even remember the topic of it. All I remember is standing at my computer, reading the talk, and feeling my whole chest burning in a way I will never forget. It was a beautiful feeling, and every ounce of me felt like the Spirit was affirming the words of the talk. The topic wasn't new doctrine for me. Everything in that talk my former church would have agreed with. But, the experience was new for me, and was the beginning of me learning what it means to have the Holy Ghost commune with you. It startled me at first because it strengthened my suspicions that there was much more validity to Mormonism than I'd considered. I knew what that would mean for me and I was frightened.

The second big milestone for me occurred while reading The Inevitable Apostasy by Tad Callister. If you've never read that book, I highly recommend it. I knew there was an "elephant in the room" regarding Mormonism that I had yet to address....exaltation and godhood. I tried addressing it that first night I spoke with the piano teacher about his faith. I asked him if he believed he would be a god. He didn't answer my question (no big surprise there). Instead he asked me what would happen if he asked Dillon to play Tchaikovsky's hardest concerto. I replied it would be too discouraging for him. He said that is what would happen if I tried to understand deep doctrine, before getting the basics. To be honest, I wasn't convinced. I thought it was a cop out. But, I knew him well enough to know that if he didn't want to deal with something, he wouldn't. So, I dropped it.

Privately, however, I knew that issue would have to be addressed before I could make ANY decision regarding Mormonism. It was too foreign a doctrine and I didn't want to commit idolatry.

In the meantime, as I was praying and studying, I realized that I tended to read the Scriptures through the lens of the theological interpretations I had been taught and personally developed. We all have bents and biases that affect how we interpret things, even our Scriptures. I began making a very conscience effort to re-read my Scriptures as a blank slate. I tried to pretend I had no theological knowledge or background and was coming at the Scriptures fresh. I was amazed at the difference in understanding you can have if you just took Scriptures for what they literally said, without spinning it through your learned theology. That prepared me for what I was about to learn.

Tad Callister's book contained a chapter on deification. The very topic I NEEDED to deal with. It was amazing! He did such a great job taking you through the Scriptures and the ante-Nicene father's writings in such a clear way. It opened up that doctrine for me in a way I had never previously understood. I also learned that the doctrine is not quite the same as what we are taught in anti-Mormon literature. However, it was still in its actual form quite different from anything I had ever been taught before. As I was sitting there, I suddenly said aloud, "I believe this." And then I thought, "Oh no! I believe this." I knew there was no turning back. I had to follow through and see if it was all true.

All during this time, I felt like I was on one of the scariest roller coaster rides of my life. I would read and study the Scriptures and other books and really feel like things were true. Plus, I fell in love with the faith itself. It is so beautiful, so heavenly. So there I was riding the coaster up, feeling the tension the whole time between the two belief systems. Then, I could have a five minute conversation with my husband and come plummeting down. I was terrified that he was right and I was falling for a cleverly devised Satanic deception. I was trapped between belief and fear.

If Brent was right, and I believed Mormonism, I would be condemned to an eternity in hell. If Neil and Vicki were right, and I didn't believe Mormonism, I would not know or obey God as He intended for us to know Him. Fear drowned me from both directions. That was the state I was in when my husband moved out.

Click here for part 4.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

How I became Mormon....part 3

When Brent and I left that meeting we were both in agreement that the church leadership had overstepped their bounds. They didn't have the right to determine our piano teacher. It was a few short weeks later that we were summoned to another meeting. This time I was to face the entire elder board, which consisted of about 16 men, both vocational pastors and lay leaders. In the meantime, the pastors kept busy by interviewing my friends, asking them if I had ever said anything to them that could be deemed suspect regarding my beliefs on Mormonism, or my friendship with Neil. They really couldn't find anything except the fact that I spoke of him highly and had given him a yearly Christmas gift.

They began the meeting by reading a passage for the purpose of "setting the tone". The passage they chose was one on church discipline. I knew from that moment on I was in step two of the excommunication process. I was flabbergasted. In the fifteen years I had served at that church, I had not so much as even given the appearance of sin. Why were such drastic measures being taken?

The meeting itself was humiliating. The men were hostile and treated me as someone unworthy of even decent kindness. Every innocent action or word spoken was scrutinized and looked at with the most vile slant possible. I was asked to defend how I could justify allowing a Mormon to mentor my son. It didn't matter how many times I said he was teaching piano, not theology; they still disapproved. Next I was asked to defend my interest in Mormonism. I didn't want this fight. I wasn't even sure Mormonism WAS true. I explained to them that Brent had told me to return the materials and stop studying, and I had submitted. Still they were unsatisfied. The meeting went on for about three hours, with the conclusion that I was to renounce anything to do with Mormonism, including taking the children to piano, or they would go forward with my excommunication. I was frustrated beyond belief.

Whenever I tried calling a friend to talk about the situation, they would tell me that the elders had already contacted them, and they were not allowed to discuss the situation with me. I was also told if I needed to talk about it, they were instructed to tell me the pastors were available. I was allowed to speak to no one else. I felt trapped. In the meantime, the pastors summoned me to another meeting. I had no intention of repeating round one, and said that my position had not changed and refused to attend. Brent, however, grew frustrated with my inability to say Mormonism was false and decided to attend the meeting himself.

At that meeting, Brent's leadership of our home was called into question. He was even advised to disable my van, so that I could not take the children to piano. They told him, it sounded to them as if the Mormon in Conway was leading our home. Brent came home from that meeting more hostile than ever, and was now was in full agreement with the leadership.

I was under immense pressure. My whole life was falling apart, and I wasn't even sure it was for a good reason. Brent went to work in silence, and then came home and yelled at me for not submitting to the elders. When I went to church, I was not allowed to participate in any of the ministries. I was whispered about and avoided. I had finally reached my breaking point.

I wrote a local Mormon Bishop who had heard about my situation and asked the piano teacher if there was anything he could do to help. I told him in the letter that I had so many questions and wished I could speak to him about them. I knew I wouldn't be permitted to, so just asked for him to pray for me to have wisdom. Brent had been going through my computer files because he found the file of the letter and went ballistic. I was now to give him my email password so he could check all of my computer correspondence. He also would not allow me to have a phone conversation without him listening in.

I was falling apart. There were days I did not feel I could continue. I went about the house barely functioning, superficially going through the motions with the children's school work, then going to my bed to cry. Several times I came close to suicide, but thoughts of my children kept me from following through.

I tried explaining to my husband how desperate and alone I felt. I even told about wishing to die. He responded by saying my sin brought all of those feelings upon my head. If I would simply repent, it would all go away. I knew I was completely alone. My husband wouldn't help, my friends wouldn't speak to me, and I wasn't sure which God was real, the one from my church, or the one from Neil's.

My one lifeline was a woman Neil introduced me to from his ward, Vicki Lorimer. She must have sensed how desperate I felt, because she would email daily checking on my state of mind. Because she knew Brent was monitoring my emails, she would often put the subject heading as Scrapbooking, or some other girly thing, so as to not bring it to his attention. Those emails helped me feel as if there was another human somewhere who cared about me. I'm not sure if I could have gotten through those months without her.

Things were now getting so tense at church, that I refused to attend. I couldn't bear it any longer. Brent continued to attend and take the children, meeting with the pastors regularly about my "lack of repentance". One Wednesday evening, Brent took the three oldest children up to church. I kept our two year old home, who had a 102 degree fever. A few minutes after Brent pulled out of the driveway, three pastors (one full time pastor and two lay leaders) showed up at my door. They were there to give me one final chance to repent.

So, while trying to comfort a very sick toddler, I spent the next two hours again having to defend my desire to study Mormonism. I realized throughout the evening, to my surprise, that every time they brought up some Mormon "heresy", I had a response as to why it could be a true doctrine. I was honest with them that I wasn't sure what was true, but did feel I had the right to figure that out for myself. They strenuously disagreed and sincerely could not understand my refusal to submit. I was handed a letter that told me I had until the following Tuesday to repent and submit to the elder board, admitting Mormonism was a false religion or my excommunication would go public.

I didn't know what to do. I just couldn't agree to what they required. One afternoon, while Brent was at work, Vicki called and explained to me about unrighteous dominion. She helped me understand that it would not be a sin for me to disobey Brent and figure out what I believed. I knew I couldn't continue in the state I was in anyway without having a nervous breakdown, so I came to a decision.

I announced that if I was going to get in trouble for Mormonism anyway, I might as well study it and figure out if it was true. He was not pleased, to say the least. I was told it was time to make a decision- him or Mormonism, because he could not stay in our marriage as it currently stood. I was angry. I told him time after time that I wouldn't even be able to join the Mormon church without his permission. I wasn't asking to be a member, I just wanted to figure out what I believed. He still patently refused to allow me to study.

I had submitted to him our entire marriage, even obeying when he told me what I was allowed to watch or what I could eat. I had been a constant support to him whether I agreed with his decisions or not. The one time I needed to disobey for the sake of my conscience and well being, he couldn't support me..

We agreed to a divorce. I was to file, because divorce is forbidden at our church and I was getting excommunicated anyway. This way the children could still attend, while I figured out what I believed. Shortly after our agreement, my excommunication went public. At my former church, excommunications were finalized in front of the entire congregation. The pastor spent about twenty minutes speaking about me, telling the congregation I was under the influence of a Mormon male and had abandoned my family. They were told that the elders had loved and pleaded with me to return, but I had refused. Their instructions were to now treat me as an unbeliever. Any communication they had with me should be designed only to call me to repentance. I was ostracized.

A few weeks later, Brent moved out. For the first time in over eighteen years, I was alone. I felt that way too. Terrified. I had no means of financial support, four children I loved more than life itself, and no idea which theology was true. I think if I had an idea of who God really was it would have helped. At least it would have given me some direction in where to place my trust. At that moment I wasn't sure who to trust. For almost three years I had prayed and studied faithfully (until forbidden). The missionaries constantly assured me if I prayed sincerely, God would tell me what was true. I could not understand why He hadn't answered. I was as sincere as was possible for any human to be. I began to wonder if there was there something wrong with me. Was I not good enough? Was I committing some sin I was unaware of that kept Him from answering me? I didn't have any answers, and I really needed some fast.

Click here for part 3.5.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

How I became Mormon....part 2

The day after I received my Book of Mormon I began studying it. I would set aside one to two hours each day to read it and compare it with the Bible, writing down any questions and what appeared to be contradictions to the scriptures. Then, each Thursday evening, after my children's piano lessons, I would sit down with Neil and ask my questions. The first thing I remember was that the Book of Mormon was not what I expected. It was much more in line with the Bible than I thought it would be. Although, I couldn't understand why it was so much more specific than the Bible.

The skeptic in me decided that Joseph Smith was just taking information from the Bible and writing a "new" testament. That theory changed when I read the story about Joseph Smith's reaction when Martin Harris lost some of the manuscript translations. I then realized then, whatever Joseph Smith was, he was no scam artist. He truly believed everything he was writing was true. That left two options: Either Mormonism was true or it was a cleverly designed scheme of Satan and Joseph Smith was the first of the dupes to believe it.

I had to know which option was correct.

My faith, at that time, taught the canon was closed, meaning there would be no new scriptures other than what was already in the Bible. If that was true, the Book of Mormon was false doctrine. End of story, so I decided to follow that line of investigation. I remember early on calling one of my pastors, Todd Murray, for help. I just couldn't figure out where in the Bible we derived the fact that the canon was closed. No matter how hard I looked, I couldn't find a passage that even hinted at it.

To the contrary, I found verses such as I Thessalonians 5:19-21 "Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things: hold fast that which is good.", and Amos 3:7 "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.", and Hebrews 13:8 "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever." To me it looked like there was still precedence for God to speak. After a brief conversation with Pastor Murray, he admitted there is no scriptural support for the closing of the canon.When I asked why we believed it was so, his response was church tradition.

Church tradition? Really? Isn't that in part what the whole protestant reformation fought against? Didn't Luther himself say he had to be convinced by scripture to change his mind on his beliefs? Now I'm supposed to go to Neil and cite church tradition? Not likely. That conversation opened up the possibility to me that there could be new Scripture. Now my job was to find out if it was. Just as Thessalonians taught, I needed to "Prove all things".

As we met, there were several differences in doctrine that I had to examine and try to discern which was true. Some of the first that came up were the need for baptism as a requirement of salvation, the doctrine of the Trinity (a biggie for me), the continuation of an actual line of priesthood, as well as the laying on of hands for receiving the Holy Ghost. There were many others, of course, but those were my starting points.

I would ask my questions and Neil would photocopy chapters from Articles of Faith and Jesus the Christ by James Talmage. Eventually he just handed me both books to borrow, citing the need to save trees. Funny guy. Now I had more material to read as I studied.

One Thursday afternoon, Neil called me on the phone and asked if he could invite some sister missionaries to come and watch my children while we talked, so we wouldn't be so distracted. I agreed, not knowing there was a rule that missionaries couldn't watch children. When I arrived for lessons that evening with my list of questions Neil casually mentioned that he also invited a couple of elders. So, by the time lessons ended, the children were playing quietly in the back room by themselves, and I was sitting around Neil's kitchen table with five Mormons, four of which were missionaries. It was slightly intimidating to say the least. I was worried my questioning things would come across defensive, or worse offensive, but the missionaries were always gracious and understood my motives--at least most of them did.

This went on for close to three years. I went through many wonderful sets of missionaries. Occasionally Neil would invite some other ladies from his ward to sit in on the discussions to introduce me to some women from his church. One of those ladies, Vicki Lorimer, later became a lifeline for me.

There were times I had a greater understanding of things than others. I still remember the day I was reading my Bible and realized we were supposed to receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands, the only prerequisites seeming to be repentance and baptism.

I didn't want there to be any part of the Bible I wasn't at least trying to obey, but my church didn't practice the laying on of hands for the Spirit. I devised what, to me, was a simple solution.

I emailed Neil and told him I now understood that we had to receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. Seeing as I had repented and was baptized, and he held the authority to lay hands at his church, maybe he could confirm me after lessons that week. Looking back at the naivete of that suggestion, I wish I could have seen Neil's face when he first read my earnest email.

When I arrived for lessons that evening, Neil tried to explain to me why that wouldn't work, but I just wasn't getting it. I did realize that Neil would be breaking some rules to comply to my request and I certainly didn't want to get him in any trouble. I would just have to content myself with continuing to study and determine the truth.

When this all began, I was sure I was right. I would faithfully ask my companions in my Ladies' ensemble group to pray for "my Mormons". Hoping they would come to my faith. Eventually, however, I began to realize there was a very strong possibility that they were right—and I was wrong. I didn't dare say anything to anyone at church about my doubts. It would get me in a tremendous amount of trouble.

The boldest I would get in sharing my doubts was to change my prayer request from praying for "my Mormons" to asking for wisdom. My daily prayers changed from, "Lord, please help Neil understand the truth." to "Father, please show both of us what is true." I figured that covered it either way. I began to grow uneasy. I felt my whole foundation crumbling underneath me and I didn't know where to put my feet. My whole life revolved around my faith. I realized I had started on a path that could not be retracted. I now HAD to know which was true.

In the meantime, my friends began to notice my uneasiness. Some of them wondered if the piano teacher had too strong an influence over me. They knew I thought highly of him and that my marriage was not easy. I assured them not to worry. If only they could see how much I still argued the doctrine. Still, they were uncomfortable by what they now considered my fascination with Mormonism. My husband also became concerned about what he perceived as my defense of Mormonism in our discussions about what I was learning. When, one evening, I refused to say I was convinced Mormonism was a false religion he hit the roof.

He told me I was no longer to read, study, talk about, or even think about Mormonism again. I was ordered to return all the reading materials and limit my conversations with Neil to life and piano. Religion was not to be brought up again. I was devastated, but I submitted. The church I attended taught that wives were to submit to their husbands in all things. There was a clause in there that said we could not be ordered to sin, but I wasn't sure this fell into that category. I returned everything to Neil (except my Book of Mormon which I kept hidden under my mattress. I guess I had a little bit of rebel in me.) and explained to him we would no longer be able to discuss theology. Neil took that in stride and went back to our discussions revolving around piano. I, however, did not fare so well.

I was truly confused about what to believe. What if God was different than I had been taught? What if there was more Scripture, as well as a whole line of priesthood authority and blessings that came with that? If that was so, I was not obeying God as He wanted. Possibly I didn't even know Him at all. What if, like the Pharasees, in the New Testament I was dishonoring the God I thought I worshipped? What if I was teaching my children incorrect theology? Every decision I made was now suspect. Plus, so much of our daily lives revolved around the teaching opportunities I had with my children. Even our academics in our homeschool were saturated in theology. Every part of my life was shrouded in doubt. I began to fall apart and didn't know how much longer I could continue in that state of mind.

I begged my husband to allow me to continue to study. I pleaded with him to understand I had to know what to believe. He kept saying he would tell me what to believe. As submissive as I am, I knew that wouldn't work. I explained to him it had to be my beliefs--not his, but he wouldn't budge. I felt close to a nervous breakdown. He grew angrier and more resentful of me because I could not seem to get past this desire to study further. Things kept getting more and more tense in our home. Istill submitted and did not study or discuss things, but I was absolutely miserable and felt completely pulled into tiny pieces.

Eventually one of my friends, ironically the colleague of Neil's that told me to go to him for lessons in the first place, went to the leadership of my church and told them she was concerned about a relationship I was in with a Mormon male. Brent and I were summoned to one of the elders homes to meet with he and his wife. There I was told of my friend's concerns. I was also told that I was no longer allowed to take my children to piano lessons.

Brent and I were both furious. First they implied that there was impropriety going on, which we all knew to be untrue. Brent said if the husband of the home was not concerned about the friendship than neither should they. They said it was their final decision. Either I discontinued taking the children to the piano teacher, having no further communication with him, or I would be kicked out of choir, orchestra, ladies ensemble, and my teaching responsibilities.

I was devastated. Who could I replace Neil with for my son? There wasn't another qualified teacher within hours of driving. This time I dug in my heels. I told them if they could find a suitable replacement for Dillon's instruction, I would switch teachers. But, I certainly didn't think they had the right to determine who could be a family friend. They disagreed and I was officially kicked out of the ministries at church. They replied that even if there was no impropriety, which we all now agreed there wasn't, it was irresponsible for me to expose my children regularly to a Mormon. I left the meeting angry and feeling completely defeated and hopeless. The fact of the matter was, I wasn't even sure Mormonism was true, but I certainly felt the need to find out.

Click here to read part 3.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

How I became Mormon....part 1

I've received many emails asking what led me to convert to Mormonism. Here's my answer...

I was a confident, conservative, reformed evangelical. Reformed protestants have a Calvinist bent in case you were curious. I was married, with three incredible children, and very active in the church of my faith. I taught Bible studies, was a mentor in our women's mentoring program, sang in the choir, was a soloist, a member of a six person ensemble, and a violinist in the church's orchestra. I was also a full time homeschooling mom.

My oldest child, Dillon, wanted to be a concert pianist. Believe it or not, his piano lessons were the first step on my journey to Mormonism. Though he was only eight years old when he made his career decision, he was an extrememly gifted pianist. At the time, he took piano lessons from a professor at a university in the next city. I began to pray about what to do for my precious son. We lived in Arkansas, which is not a mecca of classical music opportunities, and I needed direction.

A few weeks later his teacher informed me that Dillon needed a more advanced teacher. I disagreed. She was a piano professor. How much more advanced could we get? She explained the differences in levels of pedagogy, even at the collegiate level, and told me that in six months to a year, she would no longer be qualified to instruct Dillon and he would get frustrated with his lessons. She recommended a colleague of hers and told me he was really the only option for my son. There were a few obstacles she warned me about. First, he rarely takes children. Second, he is known for being a monster to his students, and third he is very expensive.

I started with the third obstacle. When I found out the price I decided then and there I couldn't do it. The cost of piano was solely my responsibility and I had very few resources. When Dillon was five I asked my then husband if he could take piano lessons. He said yes, only if I paid for it myself. It was not to come out of the household budget. So, I started tutoring math and freelance writing. That worked fine when the lessons were $20 an hour, but now, if we switched to this new teacher, they were going to be $60 an hour, and his sister was now old enough for lessons as well. I had no idea how to afford it. But, I figured it might not even get that far given the first two obstacles.

Because of the cost issue, I made the decision to stay with his current teacher for as long as it seemed useful to Dillon and then worry about switching. Sure enough, six months later Dillon hit a wall. He was frustrated with piano and his lessons. His teacher reminded me it was time for a more advanced instructor. As it happened (some might call it providence), Dillon was in a piano competition at a university and we met the suggested instructor. A few weeks after we met him, we attended a concert in which he was performing.

The instructor remembered Dillon's performance at the competition, approached us after his concert, and invited Dillon to attend and perform at a piano party he was holding at his home. On the way, I prayed for an opportunity to discuss the possibility of piano lessons for Dillon. At the end of the party, he asked if I could give him a lift into Little Rock. That was the opportunity I needed!

During the drive, I told him of Dillon's current teacher's suggestion and asked if he would be willing to take Dillon on. I also explained that my schedule was pretty tight, so I would also need him to take his sister. He graciously agreed. Hurdle one down. I decided to hit hurdle two head on. The conversation went something like this:

"I feel a little awkward asking you about this, but it has to be addressed. Right now Dillon absolutely loves piano and I want that to continue. However, I have been told you can be kind of ruthless with your students."
Neil (the professor) looked at me with a mischevious grin and replied, "That's true. However, I do know the difference between a Master's candidate in piano and an eight year old boy. Why don't we do the first month free and you decide if you like my teaching style."

I agreed and hurdle two was over. As for the cost, I doubled the number of tutoring students and took a job proof reading a magazine from home. All hurdles were now cleared and we settled in to new piano lessons.

Life was moving along as comfortably as I thought possible. Then three things happened which turned my world upside down. First, we discovered Neil was Mormon. Secondly, my family came to love him greatly. Thirdly, my conscience would not allow me to care about someone and not discuss eternity with them.

You see the church I attended taught that Mormonism was a cult, its members deceived and condemned to an eternity in hell. How could we say we loved this man and just sit back while he went to hell? It was a real struggle for me. I know it shouldn't have been that hard to talk to someone about eternity, but I was afraid he would get angry and stop teaching Dillon. We'd become dependent on his teaching. Dillon was blossoming under his tutelage, and there wasn't another teacher within a two hours drive that was even close to his capabilities.

Truthfully, Neil had quite a temper. I was afraid for Dillon to lose him as a teacher. Pretty sorry excuse, I know, but it felt very real to me. Dillon means the world to me. I didn't want to do anything that would hurt his future. So, I selfishly put off the conversation.

Soon I was pregnant again, and all thoughts of Neil's eternity conveniently went out the window as I made preparations for our new arrival. During that time, our family's friendship with Neil grew. We regularly had outings together and even decided to name our newest bundle after him. It was delightful, but my conscience began to bother me almost continuously. I still hadn't talked to Neil about Mormonism.

I began studying about Mormonism, in order to have an intelligent conversation with him. I checked out every book our church library had on the subject and borrowed a few from one of our pastors. The more I read, the more frightened I became for my dear friend. I would weep on my bed and pray for Neil. It seemed so awful, so satanic, so deceptive. I could not sit back without any attempt at rescuing him. So, I set an appointment for the dreaded conversation, deciding that if Neil got angry and dropped Dillon, perhaps God would look mercifully on my dear child and move another qualified teacher into the area.

When the night for our conversation finally arrived, I tried to get my husband to go in my stead, to no avail--yes, I was a coward. So, I packed up my little Neil and drove to his namesake's home. It felt like the longest drive of my life. I had a basic plan, but was still not completely sure what to say. Bringing a peace offering of homemade chicken pot pie (which I made him eat before I brought up Mormonism) hoping he'd be more pleasant on an full stomach. When he finished I took a deep breath and asked him why he thought Joseph Smith was a prophet.

He responded, "Because he is." We bantered back and forth for a while, with me trying to explain some of the things I'd read, attempting to show him from Scripture where it was wrong. But, each time he cut me off.

After about fifteen minutes of this, he held up his hand and said, "Listen, Annmarie, I should probably tell you that I've been expecting this conversation for some time. I can also tell you that you won't get far with me by talking about things you read in anti-Mormon literature. I know the books you've read. Do you really think it is intelligent getting all your information on a subject from opposing sources? You wouldn't teach someone about Protestantism by using material written by a Muslim would you? Have you considered studying our literature to see what we believe?"

I had to admit he was right. It was not an honest way of investigating something. I told him I would investigate further, using actual Mormon reading material. At that moment, his doorbell rang and two female Mormon missionaries entered the room. Neil explained they were going to be meeting with someone at his house, but it would not interrupt our conversation. He then told the ladies why I had come. I was already feeling pretty uncomfortable, and now there were two missionaries in the room. They offered me a Book of Mormon, which I accepted. I quickly packed up my sweet baby and took off out of that house as fast as I could.

If the drive to Neil's house seemed long, the drive home was even longer. I now had to face my husband Brent and explain that not only did I not convert Neil, but I agreed to read the Book of Mormon. I was pretty sure that would not go over too well. I was right. Brent was furious and told me the book was not staying in our home. I calmed him down by telling him I knew it was a false religion. But, I explained, the only chance we had of helping Neil was to use his literature. I also said that truth had nothing to be afraid of. If our beliefs were true, this would only serve to display that truth more readily. He agreed to let me read it, but only to show Neil where it violates the Bible.

That process both destroyed my life and saved it. I began a three year journey that ended in excommunication from my former church, ostracism from every friend, a divorce after a 19 year marriage, and loss of all means of financial support.

Click here to read part 2.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

In God We Trust

First off I need to tell you I am a hopeless romantic....and not just about romance. I'm romantic about life and friendships. So, what usually happens to hopeless romantics? Yup, they get squashed like little bugs. But, because they are romantics they peel themselves off the pavement, brush off the debris, and jump right in expecting great things to happen. Now there are a few things that can happen to our little bug. First, she can keep getting squashed over and over and over again, or she can become cynical and stop trusting in people completely, or she can learn a better place to put her trust than in people.
There are many wonderful passages in Jeremiah. One I've been thinking about a lot lately is Jeremiah 17: 5,7

"Cursed be the man that trusteth in man........

Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord"

First let me say there are many wonderful people in the world. I know some of them. I could tell you about a family who gives up a large sum of money every month so that my children could continue their music lessons after my husband left me and my parents decided to no longer help me. They knew my son wanted to be a concert pianist, they knew he was gifted, and they knew there was no way I could continue their lessons. I don't know if they knew how important music education was to me. I don't consider it a nice option. I truly and deeply feel it is an important, necessary part of a child's brain development. I doubt they knew how I was in agony trying to figure out how in the world to continue the lessons. I was close to offering to be the teachers house keeper, but was worried that wouldn't work because he already had one. Whatever they knew, they stepped in and made a great sacrifice. They're not wealthy people, and there are many other things they could have done with that money. I DO believe there are great people in the world.

Life has also shown me that there are people whom you can love, admire, and trust with all your heart, who will hurt you, use you, even abuse you if possible. People who say one thing and do another. People who manipulate you for their gain. I've known parents who knowingly allow their children to be abused, or even do the abusing themselves. I have so little tolerance for people who hurt children, or who stand by without intervention and allow them to be hurt.

So, how do we respond to things like that? How do we keep from staying in a self preservation mode where we withdraw into ourselves all the time? I think it is by always remembering that there is really only one person you can trust....the Lord. He is the only one who will never use you, never harm you. When people do rotten things it is easy to become bitter. It is also easy to want to treat them as they deserve. I propose that instead we use the hurt to worship and grow closer with our Heavenly Father. Doesn't it make you appreciate Him so much more. Knowing He will not use you. He'll be there for you.

You know, as I type this there is that little nagging voice inside of me that is telling me I'm not being completely honest. I won't be able to post it if I feel there is dishonesty in it. So I will be. Although maybe you'll think I'm a hypocrite because I have so far to grow. The truth is, I'm always afraid that God will abandon me. And there have been times I wish He would have protected me better. Times I've begged Him to that He didn't. But, I have a STRONG testimony that our Scriptures are true. They tell me He has good reasons for everything He allows into our lives and I believe it. I'm scared, but I believe it. Maybe that doesn't make sense to you. Even though I'm still growing in my faith and trust, I know He is really the only one we can trust. If I focus on that, and growing my relationship with Him. It keeps me from becoming completely cynical. It helps the little bug in me dust itself off one more time and try again. Maybe this time they'll be a happy ending....... Don't you just love happy endings?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Do you ever want to be so much more than you are? I have a picture of what I want to be. God tells me to do something and I do it at the drop of a hat, without fear. That last part is what is hard for me. I'm scared a lot! My imaginary me also can discern the Spirit whenever He speaks. It's not that I don't hear Him. It's just that I know He says way more than my miniscule spirituality can discern. I would know my Scriptures by heart and not get confused by all the new Book of Mormon names. I would also be cheerful all the time. No sadness, no crying, no fear, no secretly wishing someone (whom I won't name) would fall down and break both arms. Hmmm...this is going to be a long paragraph, but there are a few more wishes for the imaginary me. My house would be spotlessly clean ALL the time, the laundry would always be caught up, and I'd bake something delicious every day. Do you know what else? I wouldn't exercize for an hour and then sit down and eat chocolate. Never mind, I don't wish that. I know the Old Testament said the heavenly bread called manna tastes a little like honey, but there must have been chocolate flavor in it somewhere.

I'm not sure I'll ever be the imaginary me this side of eternity, but I'm not one to give up. I don't want to improve as a means of showing worthiness, I know I will never be worthy of heavenly glory. For that reason, as well as many others, I am so grateful for the atonement. I want to improve so I can be more like Him. I want to be more like my Heavenly Father. I spent some time today sad, and wondering how someone who was dear to me, who taught me the gospel, could end up being so unrighteous. It was consuming me. I couldn't grasp it. Then I read Helaman 6. In this chapter the roles were reversed for the Lamanites and the Nephites.
Now, it was the Nephites who were behaving so unrighteously, and the Laamanites who were becoming righteous. It stood out to me because I had always looked up to the Nephites as a people, as I once had the person who had taught me the gospel. There were two things that stood out to me.
First, NO ONE is exempt from the possibility of an unrighteous life. We cannot progress without progressing. Previous righteousness will not keep us righteous. We have to constantly be learning and growing, or we'll end up unrepentant. The second thing that stood out to me, was what pleased the Father about the Lamanites. It said, "And thus we see that the Lord began to pour out his Spirit upon the Lamanites, because of their easiness and willingness to believe in his words." That was it. Believe. That sounds remarkably like "having the faith of a child". When my children are little, and they ask me a question about how something works, or why something is the way it is, they never question my answer. They assume, because I am mom, that I must know. That is a remarkable trust and one I take very seriously. Oh! how I long to be that way with my Heavenly Father. I want to have an easiness and willingness to believe His words. Funny, I have the willingness. It is the easiness that is getting me.
For now, I look across the distance of where I am and where I want to be, and sigh. But I know that even if all I can take are tiny steps forward, eventually, I will get there.