How I met Jesus on a Bus...
I'll start by saying that I got baptized at a Non-Denominational Church in the backyard spa of my youth pastor's home my freshman year of high school. I had started out the school year angry, upset, alone, and incredibly frustrated. I had survived my parents nasty divorce only to watch my father get diagnosed with cancer... start to become a better man... and then die... My sister took over the "aggressor" role my dad had vacated and my mom continued to numb her pain with alcohol. (See the "my story" page for more details).
On a bus ride home from school one day, I noticed a girl from my English class reading. I knew from prior conversations that she got car sick when she read, so I knew the book must be good if she couldn't put it down. It turned out to be the first book in the Left Behind Series and it was here that I learned a new concept that I had completely missed in the handful of random "Saddleback Sundays" I had attended as a child... Jesus apparently is supposed to come back... and somehow I had missed that. Half way through the book I went hunting in my closet for an old Bible and I was stunned to find out that the scriptures mentioned in the book were in there... word for word.
Blackmailing my way to church...
I was left with a lot of questions and I needed answers. At the time my sister was going to a youth group at a local non-denominational church. Unfortunately, I wasn't allowed to go since it was "her" place. That all changed one afternoon when my sister shoved me up against our bedroom wall and tried to choke me... My silence on the matter was the price of the car ride there and back. I wasn't supposed to make friends, just sit in the back and then come home... but a girl saw me sitting by myself and insisted I play dodge ball with her. She later introduced me to all her friends, encouraged me to get up and dance with them to the music, and invited me into her small group afterwards... and I loved it.
I continued to go every week not because my family wanted me to, but because if I didn't show up, people would ask my sister why I wasn't there. Her desire to "save face" with her friends won out and I was given access to church... and it was worth all the fights that followed. Jesus and me just clicked. I started reading the Bible, listening to christian music, and then I got baptized in my youth pastors spa. Somewhere along that journey my sister stopped going and my home life further deteriorated. Church became the one thing that kept me alive (literally). I had Sunday morning and Wednesday nights and within those walls I felt all the feelings someone should feel in a safe loving home.
Misgivings, problems and the start of Living Through Grace...
Fast forward a few years and I graduated high school. Since there wasn't really a 20-something ministry there for college students, I helped my local church start a college bible study... and it caught on. It caught on so much that we formed a Sunday night service! This was great news to everyone except the new Senior Pastor (the same man who used to be my youth pastor who baptized me). His dwindling congregation and our growing "Remnant" of 20-30 somethings made him feel very threatened politically.
In the end, the Senior Pastor fired the pastor that oversaw our group and I ended up spending the next 6 months rebuilding our little group of misfits with the new youth leader that was appointed. When we were back up and ready to start our service again, the Senior Pastor wasn't too happy that we were able to rebuild with such a dramatic change in leadership. He couldn't fire the new Youth Leader because he was also in charge of the jr high and high school ministries and the parents loved him. In the end he decided to reduce the youth pastor down to "part-time" and told him to just focus on the Jr High and High School ministries. When our group didn't disappear without an official paid leader (the youth minister continued to volunteer unpaid because he liked our group), the Senior Pastor felt the need to clean house. He canceled the youth ministers health insurance when his wife was pregnant, forcing him to quit and seek employment elsewhere so he could provide for his growing family.
That should have been the end of our group... and the end of my involvement at that church, but it wasn't. It was clear to me that Jesus had left the building and church politics were taking over... but the Associate Pastor who ran the after school day care decided that disbanding the "college group" wasn't an option. He offered to let us meet in his home off campus as a "Bible Study/Outreach" group and since we had no where to go, we took him up on his offer. We watched on the sidelines as the power struggle at the church continued and eventually the Associate Pastor up and quit and left the church... and about half the congregation walked out too.
It was at this point that our little group became the leadership of Living Through Grace Christian Church. We moved from the house to a local park on Sunday mornings and our numbers started to grow. After a few weeks/months we knew it was time to get a building since we had enough people committed to the church plant. The problem became our luck. Every proposed space we could find backfired in the final hours. We ended up finding a struggling church that agreed to let us do a Saturday night church service in their building and since it was our only option, we took it. I attended our evening service and the mid-week bible study... I sang in the worship band... and I was pretty happy and content with my small church family.
My first experience with Mormons...
It was around this point that South County Boy re-entered my life. As we dated more seriously, I tried to talk to him about the Mormon Faith... but it was a little difficult. He was what you call an "inactive" member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The term inactive, generally refers to anyone who was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church, but who no longer attends services or is not involved. So while South County Boy would tell me that he still believed in "The Church" and "it's teachings," he wasn't really able to answer my questions ...
My first real experience with Mormons, a casual name for Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, came from my husband's family. Now please note--They aren't perfect people and don't claim to be-- but I always felt accepted and loved by them. I didn't have to "do church" with them for them to like me. They just did. They answered my practical questions (and sometimes silly ones) and they supported SCB and I on our marriage when others wouldn't with no thought of my joining the church. I have really come to feel very blessed to gain them as "parents." In passing I told South County Boy that I would take the "missionary discussions" after we were married in case he wanted to get more involved in church down the line (mainly so I knew what I we could do together and where I wasn't comfortable)... but South County Boy never asked me to after we got married. In fact, he would even come with me to my church on Saturday nights.
Enter the Sister Missionaries...
After some time, my little church's attendance declined... 6 pm was hard to do on a Saturday Night and we got to the point where we didn't have enough youth in the congregation for any real programs to develop and so more people left. It was around this time when I got a knock on the door from the Sister Missionaries from my husband's church. First and foremost, I didn't know Missionaries could be girls and I was definitely surprised when then showed up.I was more friendly with them then I would have been with a set of elders because they were right around my age and I could relate to them. They didn't want to preach at me either to my surprise. They just wanted to meet my husband and I since he was a member and see if we needed anything from the local "ward" (a "church" word for your local congregation). It was a little hard to find a good time to meet with them so we eventually just invited them over for dinner. We ate and told them about ourselves, our church involvement elsewhere, and they listened. Towards the end they asked if they could leave us with a little spiritual thought (which ended up being about serving and doing nice things for your spouse). As they left, they asked if they could come back some time later and visit again.
I think we largely agreed because they were so nice and I was in desperate need of friends. Most of my friends stopped calling to hang out when I got married... and I lost a lot of group hang out friends when I broke up with my ex... the rest had slowly stopped going to church and without church each week, we didn't see much of each other to connect with. So I was in need of people and we started having the Sisters come by once a week. I slowly stopped going to my weekly bible study, finding myself replacing it with the missionary discussions. I was still going to church on Saturday nights, but shortly there after Living Through Grace closed its doors and we reverted back to meeting in peoples homes... then they stopped Saturday nights all together and just continued the weekly Bible study I wasn't going to anymore.
Going to 3 hour church...
After a few weeks I knew I needed church because I missed it. Even when we met in someone's home I still felt like I was getting filled somewhat, but not anymore. I don't know about you but church "shopping" can be exhausting. You go and meet people, listen to a message, see if you like the music... and wait for that "okay I fit in moment..." and I just didn't have it in me anymore. I had invested my time and energies into starting 3 twenty-something groups/church plants and I just couldn't take trying to find a place I liked at the moment. On top of everything, my family was driving me crazy and I was an emotional wreak. I ended up asking South County Boy if he would mind if we went to his church on a Sunday since it was simpler than finding a new one and I had been a couple of times with his parents out in Utah.
He was okay with it but it took a little of me dragging him to get him there (just like it did at my old church). At first we just went to the first hour and attended the Sacrament Service... but after awhile we started to stay for the whole thing... all three hours. (The first hour is sacrament, the second is a type of group study/learning, and the third hour the ladies go to Relief Society and the guys to Elders Quorum.
People in the "ward" (Aka local congregation) really reached out to me and I made some friends and it just started working. They knew I was new because I was sitting with the Sister Missionaries and people just made me feel welcome. We continued to meet with the missionaries and attended church for a few weeks until the sisters were transferred to a different area and were replaced with a set of Elders. By this time though, they weren't as "creepy" as I once thought so we continued to meet with them weekly.
The Book of Mormon... and the Ultimate "?"
I had been slowly reading through the Book of Mormon (another set of scriptures that testifies of Jesus Christ), placing sticky notes on things I wanted more clarification on, and I continued to do this with the Elders. I have to admit that it really surprised me by how straight forward it was. I tried to read a little each day and in the beginning I'll admit that I was looking for all those "weird things" you hear about from people who aren't familiar with the LDS Church... but they weren't in there... and to my astonishment, Jesus really was.
It was like reading the Bible, but in plainer English with different stories. They would say a lot of the same things that were in the Bible and often times I'd compare some scriptures and I always walked away pleasantly surprised with how they matched up doctrine wise. I found I couldn't disagree with the basic principles because it jived with my non-denominational beliefs. I mean, who was I to say it wasn't possible for Christ to appear and preach his gospel outside of Israel... especially when the other concepts matched up.
Sure I found some theological differences that I brought up in the missionary discussions... but nothing that contradicted what I already knew to be true. I just found that the Church had answers for things I had always just shrugged my shoulders at because the "correct answer" didn't change how I lived my life... (which was why I chose a Non-denominational church in the first place, so I didn't have to argue with Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, etc since they all contradicted one another using the same scriptures as to what was "officially" correct).
When the elders asked me to set a date for baptism, I told them no. When they asked me to pick a day and pray to have an answer-- I again told them no again. To me, God was and is bigger then me setting a deadline for HIM and telling HIM that I need to know by a certain date or else... To me, God was bigger than the box they wanted me to put him in and I told them that if I got baptized I would know when the right moment was.
10 months later and I still hadn't joined...
Yes. It had been 10 full months of meeting with Sisters, than the Elders, then more Elders, taking a break, and then starting up again with a new set of Elders... and I still hadn't joined.
By this point I even had a "calling" at church to help plan the monthly women's activity night. (The Church doesn't have a paid clergy. From the Bishop and his Councilors, to the people who help set up chairs on Sunday, no one is paid. Instead members are asked to serve and have a "calling" or volunteer task that they help with for a specific period of time).
I also had told my husband that I was "okay" with us calling "his" church "our" church and paying tithing because I liked all the churches welfare programs that helped the community... and I needed to give somewhere. I also liked that the churches leadership positions rotated so no one person could have so much power (like at my old church). You could be bishop for a few years and then one day be released and a week later be assigned to help watch infants in the nursery).
I guess you could say I just wasn't really sold on the idea of Prophets and new revelations and the idea of 12 living Apostles at this point...
Attempts to Change my mind
As you can guess, a few people from "the ward" tried to help me get over these hurdles since I was a regular by this point. They told me to watch past "General Conference sessions" (Every 6 months the church leaders prepare talks and broadcast them for anyone to watch) so I could hear what these "funny" Apostles and Prophets were really saying... At one point they even unofficially dedicated a church service to me.
You see on the first Sunday of the month, members will get up and "bare their testimony" about things they feel inclined to talk about (it's voluntary and people generally speak around 5 mins or less). The cool thing was I had met this really awesome guy who was way into scripture 3 days before. He came over with the missionaries to help answer one of my post-it note questions from the Book of Mormon... and it was awesome. We had a really great discussion and in passing I mentioned I was kind of hung up on the idea of Prophets and Apostles and he told me he understood where I was coming from and we chatted about some other things.
So fast forward to the first Sunday of the month and he got up there to bare his testimony... which I guess isn't something he normally does, and he talked about his belief in prophets and modern day revelation. Then something weird happened. For "whatever" reason everyone who followed him went up there and spoke on the same thing... WHICH never happens... especially in a "ward" (congregation) of 700 random people... to have like 15 people go up there and speak on the same thing just doesn't happen. Even the Bishop at the end of the service said how weird it was... But no, even that didn't change my mind.
A few weeks later I was at my friends graduation BBQ (my best guy friend who gave me away at my wedding), and I got to see all my old friends from my old church... and lots of other wonderful people too... I was so excited to catch up with everyone, eat BBQ, and hang in the pool and spa. It was great...
Until it wasn't.
Sure I had a good time and it was great to see people, but as the number dwindled down and it was just the "old crew," everyone just mellowed out and started to complain about their life... just problems of all sorts... jobs, school, everything... no one was really happy and just joyful... or excited about their future (minus our host)... and, well me.
Even with my crazy family drama and their hatred for my husband... work... unemployment... I was happy. I didn't want to or need to vent. Normally I would have dominated the conversation with "OMG you won't guess what my family just did..." but instead I was like, eh, "life is pretty good. I'm working and sure, my family is my family so I have their drama, but SCB and I are liking our little life together..."
So I found myself happy... and they were miserable.
Then I noticed something else. Someone asked this girl of mine... the girl who originally found me a church that very first time... the one who welcomed me and made me play games with her when I was sitting all alone. They asked her if she was still singing at "such and such" church and she said no... and not just no... but she mentioned she wasn't really going anywhere anymore...
And then everyone else started to second her thoughts. They were spending Sundays in Bars watching football games or sleeping in or just doing nothing and going nowhere. These were the people I did ministry with for years... the ones who begged me to keep going when we faced so much drama with our college group at our old church... We would hang out in parks and dig into scripture... we would talk about how we wanted to make the church described in Acts 2:32 a reality... We read Shane Claiborne and talked about what living that kind of life was all about...
and here they were telling me they were just .... not.... and in that moment I finally had my answer.
The phone call
I was happy... and that realization was all I needed. I needed to see what my life would have been like had I not decided to go to my husbands church... and I had a handful of examples right in front of me.
Either the next night or maybe it was the same night? I don't recall, but we called SCB's parents and we asked them if I were to get baptized if they would like to be there. They said yes of course and we tossed out a few dates and picked one in August... We called the rest of his family members to let them know and they all expressed a desire to come and participate.
I figured I should probably let the missionaries know so I casually sent them a text and just told them I was getting baptized on a Thursday evening, the 16th of August, 2012.
Over the past few years I've watched myself grow as I've continued to learn and allow the spirit to change my heart. I've been able to handle my family encounters with much more grace then I could ever imagine... and i'm really looking forward to the future family SCB and I will get to start together one day. I hope as time goes on that my relationships with my family members will improve as they continue to see that i'm still the same old me and that I've found a man who makes me happy and brings out the best in me.
If you want more information on what the church is all about, you can watch this quick You Tube Video or go to mormon.org and request to meet with some missionaries.