Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Personal Conversion Story

As part of the Stake Conference goals, we were asked to think about and record our personal conversions and share them with our friends and family.  I thought my blog was an appropriate place to do so.

I grew up in an actively religious/LDS home.  Both my parents are children of Grandparents that were LDS, some not so faithful in certain ways but good people with big challenges.  Some very faithful despite big challenges.  I'm just starting to realize how much each of them contributed to who, where and what I am today. 

My earliest memories about church are of running up the sidewalk in front of our church building in my tennis shoes and dress, tripping and skinning my knees.  My Mom worked night shifts, but my Dad would get us kids dressed and ready to head out to church as soon as my Mom got home.  I loved going to Primary and singing the Primary songs.  Early on, I would say that the Primary songs are one of the main things that I understood.  I don't remember lessons, but I remember the songs.  One lesson I do remember was when I was about 7.  My Primary President cleared out all the chairs from the room, sat us in front of the TV and we watched the one and only movie that was out about Joseph Smith and the First Vision.  I felt the Spirit, but didn't think much more about it until a few years later when my family visited the Sacred Grove and I could feel the Spirit again testify of the things I had already learned.  

Some other learning opportunities that stick out to me now as an adult were when my parents took us to California for my cousin Conrad's baptism.  We stopped at a Dinosaur dig.  I thought it was sooooo neat, but I had some questions about how dinosaurs fit into the Creation story.  As an 8 year old, I thought I was pretty smart and no one could teach me anything... but I was very impressed with how my Dad patiently answered all my questions in a way that made sense, and even when one of two of the answers were, "I don't know."... I was comforted that my Dad was willing to answer any and all of the questions that I had.  Even after almost 25 years, I was able to share some of my thoughts and the answers that my Dad gave with Jer and his Dad when we talked about it some time ago. 

My baptism as an 8 year old, was shared with not only a best friend (Jamie Higham), but also a Vietnamese friend of my that was living in my house (Doa).  I loved being able to share our experience, but didn't really realize the full importance of what I was doing. I'm still learning how important as I learn more about Christ and His Atonement.  I remember several things that did make a bigger impact than the fact that my friend and I had matching dresses.  My Dad just beamed as he took me into the font, and my Mom beamed as she took me out of the font and helped me into the skirt she made for me.  I do remember feeling the Spirit as my Dad, Grandpa's and Uncles surrounded me to give me the gift of the Holy Ghost. 

After that, I was pretty clueless for a couple of years.  I didn't try to learn anything spiritual.  If it came, it was from my parents or teachers being consistent and making it available to me.  I was always impressed that my Dad would sit there with his scriptures or books by church leaders and just read with his journal at his elbow.  I love to read some of the notes that he wrote in the margins now.  I saw him kneel in personal prayer every morning before he left for work.  I saw how hard he worked as a member of the Bishopric. 

By the time I was 11, my Mom had been called as the Stake Camp Director.  It was exciting because her mom had done a lot with Camp Shalom and now she got to... and because I got to go to camp with her as an 11 year old.  I didn't officially fit into the Ward camp, so I hung out at the Stake cabin, chopped wood, watched people, etc... for the next 9 years, girls camp provided me with several opportunities to not only listen to and feel people's testimonies, but also give my testimony as an assistant camp director.  The one that I remember most is when my Mom, as a Stake leader, visited our Ward camp site and bore her testimony not as my Mom but as my leader.  There was a special spirit about that and a kind of authority that you could feel. 

Many more layers of testimony came as I attended Seminary.  They challenged me to read my scriptures, write in my journal and be a good friend.  All of these gave me many chances to learn and grow.  My favorite year was learning from the New Testament.  I loved learning about the life and teachings of Christ while He was on the earth.  I loved sharing this testimony and teachings with my friends around me.  Early "morning sides" were particularly powerful.  I remember one in particular.  My friend and I were asked to play a duet at the last minute... we had 15 mins to prepare and we did okay, but then the speaker went on to speak about standing up for truth.  I wanted to stand up right there and say, "I will!"

My testimony of missionaries grew as both my Wilcox and Ellis grandparents served missions, and as they applied to serve again.  I knew my Grandma Ellis' strength in testimony because every time we visited them in St George she was preparing herself to play the piano for a baptism, took time out to go visiting teaching, preparing a lesson, etc... I loved watching her sit under her hair dryer in the morning with the Ensign open in her lap.  My Grandpa Wilcox often took time to bear his testimony at family gatherings.  One stuck out in my heart and mind.  The last Christmas before he died, he stood and tearfully told us all that was in his heart about his Savior.  My heart was touched several times as the Spirit bore testimony to me through these wonderful people.  As my Grandpa Wilcox lay dying in bed, we took turns reading scriptures out loud to him.  I remember what an amazing feeling it was.  We could read any scripture and the Spirit was there.  I also received a witness of the eternal nature of families as my Grandpa Ellis, who was a sealer in the temple, dedicated the grave of his lifetime sweetheart.  I knew without a doubt that my Grandpa would be standing there ready to take my Grandma's hand as she was resurrected at the Second Coming.  I felt the Spirit testify again of eternal families as my Grandpa Ellis sealed my husband and I together in the temple for all eternity.

I was touched by the Spirit weekly as I read my brothers and sisters letters from their missions.  A scared young adult me knelt to pray about being a missionary and received an unqualified, "YES!"  Over and over on my mission I was taught about the Atonement of Christ by teaching others.  I gained a sure testimony of Joseph Smith in the 4th month of my mission.  We were teaching a woman and her 2 kids about the First Vision.  I was reciting the experience as I had many dozens of times by then.  I almost couldn't finish.  I was filled with such joy and intense sureness that Jesus Christ and God had appeared to Joseph Smith.  The woman and her kids did not ask us to return to their home, but I had a new knowledge of something I had heard and taught since my childhood.  I learned to have Christlike love as I served the Saints in Santa Elena.  When an 8 year old boy that had been baptized with his mom contacted me this last year with the news that he had just returned from a full time mission, my heart finally understood what it was to truly rejoice like it says in the scriptures over and over. 

Deciding to marry Jeremy was the easiest spiritual experience I could have had.  Marriage is a decision that could be agonizing.  I prayed after our second fun and successful date, not if he was the one, but I prayed and asked God if Jeremy would be a good companion if he ever asked me to marry him.  I was surrounded by warmth and love.  When Jeremy did ask a month later, it wasn't hard to say yes. 

Being a parent has definitely been a great blessing to my spirit as well.  When our first doctor called me at work to tell me that we had 0% chance of being able to get pregnant I was completely devastated.  We cried, I pleaded with my Heavenly Father, we fasted, I sat in the temple and was told that I'd have a little red head and then Jer was told by a new doctor that we'd have a chance if he had a surgery.  I've never been so much at the mercy of God's grace.  The one thing that I wanted so badly and had been preparing for was being denied. But it was for my good.  It taught me the value of these children.  It taught me how to try to humble myself and rely on Him.  When our little girl was born and we took her home, imagine.... I was holding her by the window and noticed that in the sun, her light and fluffy hair was completely red just like my sister Janelle's has red highlights in the sun.  God's promised baby was here.  

These kids daily help build my testimony for a testimony doesn't grow until you are using it.  They teach me that I have to be aggressive in my actions to make my testimony grow, I can't be passive.  Once I had been praying to be able to find time as a new mom to read my scriptures more often.  Not 5 minutes later Ada walks up to me holding a Book of Mormon half her size and says, "Mom, read to me."

The Spirit speaks quietly as I teach my children.  "Hold her hand." "Tell her about death and resurrection." "Tell him about addiction." "Teach them about Jesus."  "Sing to them."  I'm so grateful that I'm not a mom alone.  I'm glad to be here to teach Gods children.  I just need to be patient while I watch them slowly build their testimonies and not expect them to know everything the first time it is taught.

My husband daily challenges me to stay faithful.  He helps me to remember daily prayer and scripture study.  I love to hear him as he gives blessings with the Priesthood power and know that the Priesthood is a tool of God and not of men.  I look forward to many more spiritual learning experiences with him and I'm grateful for a man that loves his Father in Heaven.

I'm learning that by standing in holy places often makes me want to stand in them more often.  Reading books on religion used to be something I "should" do, but it's becoming more and more what I want to do.  My heart is changing a year at a time, a lesson at a time, an experience at a time.

I am by far not free from having sinned.  I have and will continue to have to repent for things throughout my life.  And how much joy to be able to repent because of my Savior Jesus Christ.  I have felt years of guilt melt away into nothing and know that I have been forgiven.  I'm so grateful for that.

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