Friday, August 27, 2010



I have always loved Alma 32. It spoke to me even when I was an investigator. It’s where I live….. “If you can no more than desire to believe…” Aren’t those words beautiful? They stir up so much feeling in me. I can also relate to that desperate man in the New Testament, “Lord, I believe. Help Thou mine unbelief.” It is not doubts about the restored gospel. I love this gospel. That resolve has been tested over and over, not by those who’ve abandoned or maligned me, but by those in the church.

It was tested when someone who taught me the gospel behaved horrendously. It is even now tested as someone I grew to trust more than I have trusted anyone in my life behaves in ways that both frighten and anger me. Through it all I knew and still know the gospel is true. My friend, Vicki, was always afraid I would encounter such things after I joined the church. I remember a phone conversation we had once right before my baptism. Her words still ring true. “Annmarie, I want you to always remember the gospel is perfect. The people are not.”

So, my faith in the Savior and His gospel are strong. It is daily faith. Where I waver is believing the words the Spirit whispers to me are true and will come to pass. I have always wondered about the story with the young stripling warriors. It said they believed the words of their mothers and did not doubt. Therefore not one of them perished. I’ve wondered, what if they had doubted? Was it their resolve and faith that brought to fruition the Lord’s protection? If they had doubted, would they have been killed?

We are told to have faith. Is it possible that it is our own human weakness and doubts that keep blessings away? And how does the agency of others factor in? I once prayed in desperation, knowing faith and trust are my weakest areas for God to please have mercy on me and teach me how to have faith. His Spirit whispered to me Alma 32. Well, if that is the main factor, then I should be heading in the right direction. I have such a great desire to believe. I need to work on keeping the fear away, knowing that fear and faith cannot co-exist.

It seems I am also entering a new arena in life as well. I’ve been asked out a lot lately. I kept saying no, but realize that at some point I have to get out there. Tonight I go on my first date. Here are my fears: 1. I hate disappointing people. Because of that I am afraid I will stay in a relationship longer than I want to out of fear of hurting either him or the person that set us up. 2. While I do want to re-marry for several reasons, I don’t want to end up in a similar relationship to the one I had in my first marriage.

I am also mindful of the words in my patriarchal blessing, that I will not share here. How can I be sure I am with that person? It seems the Spirit tells me I will know, but I sure don’t trust myself. I prayed about this a long time in the Celestial room of the temple, the last two times I’ve gotten to go. There are some things I feel the Spirit has said that seem impossible. But, He said it both times, and now it is time for me to have….yes, you guessed it…faith. I really wish I was better at that.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Gift of Learning


hard at work

And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.

Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God; –D & C 88:118-119

There are so many wonderful things I love about the Latter Day Saint faith. I cherish the church’s stance on learning and education. We are encouraged regularly to do everything we can to improve our knowledge, both secular and spiritual. What a blessing! What a gift!

I was once told by a pastor’s wife at my former church that I was over-educating my children. She told me they’d end up weird and on drugs. I have no idea where the drug connection was, but figured if they ended up weird it wouldn’t be from their “over” education. It would be because their mom was weird. As there is nothing I can do about that, we might as well keep learning.

There are obvious temporal benefits from continuing education, such as better employment and salary opportunities. But, there are incredible spiritual benefits as well. I always tell my children: Every time you learn something new, you’ve added another way you can love and serve your Heavenly Father.

Are you studying an instrument? You can use it to serve at church, bless people with beauty, and teach others who may want to learn. Think of the joy you can bring to elderly people at a nursing home, or who are homebound, when you visit and play a few songs for them. They are so happy for both the company and beauty.

Are you studying a new language? You have a whole new people group with whom you can share the gospel. At many of the bigger piano competitions, where my son competes, the majority of the competitors are Asian. My family is learning Mandarin together so we can better fellowship and minister with our new acquaintances. I have so enjoyed the fellowship time I’ve had with one of my new friends from China as she allows me to practice with her and ask her questions.

Are you studying math? That is one of my favorites. There are countless people who need tutoring whom you can bless with the knowledge you’ve developed. One day, when I have enough money to cover my bills, I want to tutor at risk children from disadvantaged homes free of charge. I want to develop relationships with them and love them, all while helping them get through Geometry or Algebra 2 well.

There are so many incredible things in this world our Savior formed. Daily I get to sit with joy and wonder as my children and I study science together. My oldest (14) is doing chemistry this year. My 10 year old is studying zoology, and my 6 year old is studying astronomy. Each day brings us new admiration at the glory of the universe and creatures God has made.

I long to go back to school, but have to wait until I am making enough money to cover all our expenses.   One day….. (sigh). In the meantime, I study daily at home, and take great joy in schooling my children, looking forward to the day I can go to the university myself.

I feel so blessed that I belong to a church where I don’t feel I have to avoid talking too much about what the children and I are learning. Nobody here thinks I’m nuts if I let my 10 year old learn algebra, or my 3 year old learns to read. Instead we are encouraged to learn as much as we can. It was even a visiting teaching message not too long ago.

I would love to hear some of the ways you guys are becoming houses of learning.  Oh….and if you’re ever interested in homeschooling, give me a buzz. I can talk about that for hours. You should also check out the Latter Day Homeschooling blog (and not just because I am one of the authors). There is loads of information on ways to bring learning into your home, no matter what avenue you have chosen to school your children.

Thank you so much, Heavenly Father, for the gift of learning!

By the way, next week is Education Week at BYU. You can take as many classes as you want for $50!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

How I became Mormon…..part 4

One of my baptism pictures. This is a picture of me and Neil (the man I tried to convert)

When we last left off, my husband had just left, and I still was not anywhere close to sure what I believed. I still remember my first weekend without my children. I had never really been without my children for any significant period of time before. In the nineteen years of our marriage, Brent (my ex) and I had been on a total of four dates, and they were short. The longest I had been away from any of my children were the times I was in labor having another one. Try as I might, I have a hard time counting that as time away.

I spent the entire weekend crying. I did NOT want to be alone, but no longer had any friendships to call on. Neil was definitely not the comforting type, so it would be pointless to call him. Vicki had family obligations that weekend. Those were the only people I knew who were allowed to talk to me.

Coincidentally (or maybe providentially?), that was the same weekend Mormon's held General Conference. I did try to watch some of the talks on my computer, but always ended up crying so much I couldn’t see or hear anything. I remember several of the talks being about trials, but was having a hard time applying them for some reason. To be completely honest, I was still afraid I had made a wrong decision by refusing to submit. What if it turned out Mormonism was not true and I had sacrificed everything for a false religion?

Soon I started receiving letters from members of my former church, calling me to repentance. Most said I placed myself and my children on a path to hell. It was very frustrating. Not one person was willing to hear my side of the story. They felt they knew all the information they needed from my excommunication announcement at church. When I ran into church members in a public arena, I was either ignored completely, or told to repent. Even the woman who had been my best friend for quite a few years, pretended we had never even met when we unexpectedly ran into each other. It was infuriating, but I had too much on my plate to focus on their behavior.

The next emotion to hit me was panic. How was I going to provide for my family? I didn’t even have a college degree. When Brent and I first married we were both going to school. Then Brent suggested only one of us go at a time. Our agreement was that he would finish first, as he would be the primary breadwinner. When he was done, I could return. I agreed because, at the time, it seemed to make sense. The problem was he took seventeen years completing his courses, and then quit with nothing left but his master’s thesis. As a result, I never got to return.

Plus, there is NOTHING more important to me than my children. I did not want to give up raising and educating them. I needed to find a way to earn money and still be their mother.

To add fodder to my fear, all my math students were from my former church, with the exception of one family. They all dropped my classes. I remember calling one of the mother's in desperation, begging her not to drop my class. I wasn’t teaching theology, I was teaching math. She absolutely refused, citing the irresponsibility of letting her children study under me now that I was Mormon. I reminded her I wasn’t Mormon, I just felt I had the right to study it and examine my belief system. She told me I lacked character and this would be the last I heard from her. 

Her attitude was not uncommon. I heard the same thing time and time again from the parents. They didn’t feel I would be a good influence on their children. On top of that, the general manager of one of the two magazines I wrote for every month was a former member of my old church. I thought because he was a former member, there wouldn’t be any issues, but once word of my excommunication leaked to him, suddenly there were no more articles available for me to write. I called and asked if I could do advertising sales, volunteering to work on straight commission. That would not cost him anything. He refused even that.

I spent nearly every waking minute trying to find ways to earn money and still raise my children, but was not having much success. At some point a couple of things began to work out. The other magazine I wrote for was also run by a woman from my former church, but she was kind of dependent on me and decided to keep me on. That was at least some income. Then an acquaintance who owned a recording studio agreed to let me do some odd jobs for him, as they became available. With those two things, and me querying other magazines for work I should be able to squeak by. We’d survive.

I began to relax. Now I could focus on whether this church really was true, or if it I truly had reserved my spot in hell. At first it felt funny reading the Mormon scriptures in my living room. It had been forbidden for so long at that point, that part of me still felt like I was doing something naughty. Eventually I got past that, and in my spunkier moments would say aloud, “Oh look, Brent, I’m reading the Book of Mormon.” I decided it was time to take the next step. I was going to attend a Mormon church service. In order to take all precautions with my children, I waited until the next weekend they were with their father.

I was shaking like a leaf that first Sunday morning. I did not know anybody (Vicki and Neil attended a ward in a different city). It never even occurred to me to call that Bishop that had contacted Neil those many months ago. When I went into the chapel, I sat quietly by myself and looked around at the people. There was one woman in particular, Lanniece Lewis, who had the most radiant smile. Looking at her helped me relax a little. I spent the entire sacrament service praying, begging God not only to help me know what was true, but to help me know how to order my family correctly and provide for them. (Things had gotten a little out of control with the children while I was trying to drum up work). I was very concerned about order and provision.

The next significant memory of that day was relief society. My shaking was getting a little worse, and I felt very alone. One thing I remember very clearly was the practice hymn. They sang Be Still My Soul. I had never heard that hymn before, but my heart nearly leapt out of my chest when we sang the line: “Leave to thy God to order and provide”. That was exactly what I had been praying about just that morning. It made me feel like God was listening to my prayers. Maybe I would even know soon, whether or not the church was true.

The lesson ended up being on Joseph Smith and the trials and sacrifices he went through when he told people of his newfound faith. Tears began streaming down my face uncontrollably as they talked about Joseph’s struggles. There was something in his unshaken confidence I longed for. I wanted this church to be true. I thought it was beautiful, but I could not join a church on desire alone. I needed to know what God wanted me to do. I wanted Joseph Smith's confidence. My sobs grew (to my great dismay). I felt exposed, but couldn’t stop the tears. I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me. I was so embarrassed. The sweet teacher (Emily Sigler) kept looking at me with compassion and I just didn’t know what to do. Finally, I raised my hand. I told the ladies I wanted so much to know if the church was true. Before I knew it, all the fear and agony came pouring out of my mouth. I told them everything. I told them I was scared. I wanted to know, if I was going to have to sacrifice everything, that it was for righteousness and not deception.

They were gracious. Many embraced me and told me why they knew the church to be true. Even if my testimony did not become sure as a result of their comments, it was at least comforting. I went home renewed in my efforts. I studied with renewed vigor and began meeting with the missionaries again. They came over at least once a week and would answer questions and eat dinner with us.

With my husband gone, there was no longer anyone telling me on a daily basis that Mormonism was a satanic deception. Gradually, my fear lessened, which opened up my ability to feel assurance from the Spirit. Though I knew fear and faith could not co-exist, it was so hard to get rid of my fear.

I longed to get baptized, but feared doing it without 100% assurance. One night after dinner, Elder Bird looked at me and said, “Annmarie, why haven’t you gotten baptized yet?” I replied I didn’t want to make God angry. I thought it would be hypocritical to get baptized without a 100% assurance and understanding.

He replied, “I am a representative of God, and I can completely assure you that God will not be angry with you if you get baptized.” He then told me he felt led to read a verse to me. Turning to Ether 12:6, he read, “And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.” At first I cringed, “until after the trial of your faith”. Wasn’t this enough of a trial? Was there to be more before I received a further witness? Then, suddenly, it hit me. The trial for me is not having 100% knowledge. I’m the kind of person who wants ALL the information. I want to study everything out ahead of time. I would never go to a test unprepared, and what could be more important than eternity?

For me, the trial was going forward without every piece of the puzzle put together. It occurred to me, I was doing to Mormonism what I would never have done to the Bible. I did not have to work out every verse in the Bible to believe it was true. I believed the Bible was true, because something told me it was. The same could be true of the Book of Mormon. So, I took a deep breath and said, “Ok. Let’s set a date.”

The days leading up to my baptism were filled with  great excitement. I felt a huge burden had been lifted. I was excited and ready to go. The piano teacher would baptize me, and Vicki would give a talk at the baptismal service. I was thrilled. This day was going to be amazing. Anticipation welled up inside me.

But, when I woke up the morning of my baptism, I was overwhelmed with fear. What if I WAS being deceived? I panicked. In desperation, I picked up my Bible and prayed. My prayer went something like this, “God, I know this is really bad theology, but I need to be sure right now if I am doing the right thing. So, I am going to open my Bible. If I need to cancel my baptism, please show me in the Scriptures now.”

I opened up my Bible, and the first verse my eyes laid upon was, “Beware of false prophets.” My heart stopped. Then I read on. The passage continued, “You shall know them by their fruit.” It was as simple as that. Peace flooded my soul. I had studied this faith and the life and teachings of Joseph Smith for close to three years, and I knew the fruit. I went to my baptism with 100% confidence. Something I never thought I would have. Nothing felt as good as being submerged in that water. I became a Mormon on May 9, 2009, and was confirmed on Mother’s Day, May 10th.

It hasn’t been easy since then. Shortly after my baptism, the magazine I wrote for on a monthly basis fired me. She was the majority of my income. I knew her attitude toward me had changed after I got baptized, but she had always been happy with my work, so I felt safe. Apparently, she was biding her time until she found a replacement. Once she found one, she stopped assigning me articles. When I asked her about it, she said she needed someone with a college degree.

My only guess, as I had not needed a degree previously, is that the pressure, or guilt, became too much for her to handle at church, and it was easier just to let me go. So, I’m back to square one in earning money.
There are other pressures too. It is hard being a single parent. I’m tired all the time, and the loneliness can be overwhelming. But, I can say with total assurance, that I am right where God wants me to be. I have learned so much in the last year, that my heart often feels like it is already in heaven. Of course, the realities of life quickly remind me I’m still in the telestial world... but I won’t always be.

I love being Mormon.