Editor’s note: Below, Paradox shares the story of her conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As she has pondered the Joseph Smith story, she has found parallels that were meaningful to her. She includes quotes (in italics) which are verses from Joseph Smith History.
“It seems as though the adversary was aware, at a very early period of my life, that I was destined to prove a disturber and an annoyer of his kingdom…”
I cannot say for sure when my conversion began. For as far back as I can remember, I have believed in God. My parents didn’t make much of an effort to teach me this, nor did they even know enough about my feelings to encourage them. But from my earliest memories, I remember talking to God about many things in my life. I remember times when I would lay in my bed and just talk to Him, and those conversations were sometimes easy and comfortable. Other times, I would be scared, and my prayers were important to my safety, even at a young age.
Who God was, or where He was—whether He was just on the other side of the ceiling, or clear on the other side of the universe—didn’t matter much to me then. The one thing I knew for certain, from all of those experiences, was that He was listening. I may have wondered just how much He was doing for me personally, but I knew He heard every word of what I said to Him.
Somewhere in the years that followed, I stopped praying. My parents separated, and life was finally quiet. I drew closer to my mother—and that was what I wanted more than anything else. She had always seemed so angry and distant from me, but being with her and seeing her be a single parent left a permanent impression on me. I saw strength in her that grew as we—my mother, my little sister, and I—tried to heal from much of the hardship we had known in life.
Eventually that desire for healing brought me back to the familiar desire to know God, and to learn for myself what I truly believed.
“I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together?”
I was 14 when I started going to church with my friend Alyssa. As I attended their meetings, I wondered if perhaps I was doing something wrong. I was surrounded by people who could raise their arms in praise and they felt something by being in church. I just stood there feeling foolish, wondering why God wasn’t reaching my reaching the way the pastors said He would.
I was 15 when I met my first Mormon family. It was easy to see they were different—special. Their sons treated me with dignity and respect I had not known from many young men, and within a few short months they invited me to a Mutual [youth] activity. This activity was based on the Three Kingdoms doctrine—complete with Judgment Bar—and it seemed so bizarre to me at the time. I tried to resist what I was hearing, to continue being an impartial observer. I felt I didn’t know enough to make any informed decisions yet, but in my heart it felt wrong to resist the messages I was hearing. That frightened me. I didn’t feel ready, and my friends certainly had not pushed me—but my feelings were bringing me to conclusions I wasn’t ready to face, and realities I couldn’t yet understand.
I spoke to my pastor about what I had experienced, and he wasn’t pleased. But even when he warned me to stay away from the Mormons, everything in my being resisted that warning. I wanted an explanation, not the suggestion to ignore what was becoming harder and harder to deny. And the accusations he made of Mormons not being Christian—mostly based on their view of the Godhead—didn’t account for how Christian they looked to me, the warmth I felt in their presence, and the light I could see in their eyes.
“Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine.”
It was in this season of my life that the first spark of my faith ignited. I was looking up some scriptures in the Bible my youth pastor had given me, when I got the distinct impression, an irrepressible feeling to search through the scriptures for… I wasn’t sure what. I hadn’t read the Bible since I was a little girl with my first children’s Bible, and I had never read anything past Exodus before.
But this was different. Somewhere in those hundreds of pages was a message I needed to find, and I couldn’t stop until I found it. I hadn’t felt anything this powerful before. It was something I couldn’t flee from, ignore, or deny.
Eventually I ended up in Psalms at a scripture Alyssa had given me. It was a beautiful verse, but it wasn’t mine. I wanted the verse that would mean something to me, something I could hold onto in my heart the way my all of my Christian friends did—to have what my Mormon friends called a testimony. I could feel I was so very close, and I wandered around in those chapters, not really reading—until I came to Psalm 27.
“…when my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.”
My eyes stood transfixed on that verse. I read it over and over again.
Then I wept.
It was the first sign I’d had since I was a child that God could hear me. He was real, and He was watching over me. He wasn’t ashamed of me because of my family, or the wrong things that I had done in my life. He had not forgotten me, and He promised me then that He never would. I could feel for myself that God loved me, and that I could love Him in return.
But as much as I had always wanted that experience—prayed for it and sought it out—it wasn’t enough. Somehow, I knew I needed more.
“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.”
This personal experience with God, as reassuring as it was that I was on the right track, did not solve my problem. I needed to know what to do about a church—if God even cared one way or the other about what church I went to.
If I was to stay with my Baptist friends, hoping only for rare and fleeting glances of God instead of the powerful and genuine interaction with divinity that I craved, I wanted God Himself to tell me that.
If I was to join with my Mormon friends, as I was beginning to suspect I should, I needed more than suspicion to help me in that choice. I could sense already the great personal sacrifices being a Mormon would require from me. Mormons had a lot of rules, and I didn’t like rules. But the things they told me made so much sense, and I learned more about God in the few brief times I shared with them than I did after a year in another church.
The longer things went on, the more obvious it became to me that the time for a decision was coming, and I would have to make the first step alone.
“I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me…”
It was January 22nd the first time I went to my first Sacrament meeting.
From the moment I stepped into the chapel, I could feel a difference all around me. It was warm and safe, comfortable and quiet. I remember smiling brightly and thinking to myself it feels so good in here.
I thought about that for several minutes, wondering what it was I felt. It was the peace I craved to find in a church that goes beyond people sitting together quietly in a room. It was something completely outside of myself, powerful and heartfelt. Genuine.
I could feel for myself that God was there. And it felt as if I were coming home for the very first time.
By the end of the three hours, I wanted to stay longer. I wanted to hear more. Having finally tasted of the Bread of Life, I hungered for it like I’d never wanted anything before in my life. Having tasted the sweetness of that Living Water, I would soon decide I didn’t want to live without it.
A week later after my second time attending church, I found myself thinking about being baptized. As if by invitation, Satan’s opposition to that decision began, and I disappeared from church for about two months. But as I wandered down familiar but forbidden roads, I knew I was about to walk away from the best thing that had ever happened to me.
“… It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound.”
God was watching over me as I struggled to understand and find my way, this much I know. When the time was right, I began focusing on the baptism I wanted more than ever, and I set to work to make it happen.
From April until August, I took discussions from the ward [congregation] mission leaders because our branch had no full-time missionaries. I learned about the promise I was preparing to make, the lifestyle I had to live to honor that promise, and to make changes to my behavior that would invite the Spirit of God into my life. I began to see that God had the power to change me, to make me better, and to bring me a greater peace and abiding joy than I had ever known before.
At the very end of the summer, I was baptized and confirmed a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Since then, it has become the source of personal and spiritual triumph that I could never have obtained in any other way. My relationship with my Heavenly Father and my Savior Jesus Christ is wonderful. I tell my Father everything, and I cannot say enough about how wonderful Jesus Christ has been to me. He has healed the wounds that no one else could even touch. He has made my life rich through the mercies of His atonement, washing away my sins so I do not carry burdens beyond my strength to bear. I love Them both so very much; more deeply than I could ever hope to put into words.
I spend my days now keeping the commandments of God to show Him I love Him—going to church, paying a full tithe, attending the temple, and obeying the counsel of the prophets. I enjoy doing family history work, and performing the ordinances that will reunite my family and bring us great joy in the eternity I long so very much to see.
I know that heaven is real by the same power I’ve always known that God is real—by the Holy Spirit of the Lord who reveals all things divine to anyone who asks in faith, believing they shall receive an answer.
And dear to me is the Prophet Joseph Smith, who showed me that I can ask of God and receive answers to my prayers. I respect him and love his dearly for the sacrifices he made for this Church, for they are many, and I believe in the goodness of his life. I believe he was a prophet and he truly restored the Church of Jesus Christ to the earth. I believe his life because it has been my privilege to know his life, and I can no more deny what happened to Joseph Smith than I could deny what happened to me.
I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. AMEN.