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 theology...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.