After my second visit to Laurie’s church, she suggested I meet with the missionaries. Two young men/boys about 19’ish years old who had left home for a two-year period to teach others about theirs and their church’s beliefs.
I felt ill-prepared for this meeting. I didn’t know enough about the tenants of the church to have a serious discussion. When I told my friend how I felt, she chuckled. I didn’t understand it at that time, but have come to since know, most people entering those discussions are at the same place, often with less information than I had, but searching for something to believe in.
That night, I had several copies of the Book of Mormon (“BOM”). The revered guidebook of the Mormon religion. This book is held to be above the bible and is believed by their followers to be the most correct book of scriptures on earth. Though the bible is part of their standard works, it is to be believed in so much as it has been translated “correctly”. And so it goes. Carefully chosen wording would become a staple in my life for the next 15 years…
I spent the next three weeks pouring over the BOM. I kept a yellow legal pad by my side to record all my questions, and I nearly filled the pages by the end. I literally read day and night only pausing to feed and change my infant son and make dinner for my family. After three weeks we held our first missionary discussion in my home. My husband joined that first one. Not because he was searching, more to support me. He’s an awesome man, who has had quite a journey himself, but that is his story to tell, not mine.
That first night I was introduced to the “First Vision” story of Joseph Smith, which I was rather blase about. I had questions about what I had read. Some things seemingly contradictory to what I had heard or thought I had been told. Some of my questions were brushed aside. Sometimes I was answered with a catch-phrase I would hear throughout my time with the Mormons, “Line upon line, precept upon precept.” Meaning, in due time, or more so that I wasn’t ready for the answer just yet, I had more to learn and then I would be ready to understand things more fully.
Here’s the thing. I am smart. Just generally. I am a deep thinker. I read, I study, I question. But the person I was then was a bit naive, and there was a longing, to belong, to have what my friend seemed to have, a family that shared a common belief and bond. What I was being told felt comforting. And my friend, she was a smart one and she was living a full life as a member. And so, I set aside my doubts, believed there were answers down the road that would make more sense to me, and in I dove. Straight into the baptismal font.
It’s here I feel sadness for that young woman I was. I don’t know if anything could have stopped me from moving forward, but I had nothing to press what I was hearing against. In the first part of this story, I mentioned I had never opened the bible. I wasn’t kidding. Any sound bite the missionaries shared with me I accepted, much like we accepted the pastor in my childhood church’s teachings. I was in no place to question because I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I had been asked to read the BOM and pray about it and see if I didn’t get a “feeling” it was true. So I did. And it felt good to believe in something. To belong to something. And belong I did.
We had lived in our started home about 18 months. Now, living in Phoenix is a little like living on the sun come summertime. 115 degrees and no one stands around outside to chat and make small talk. You drive your air conditioned car and pull straight into your garage, close the door and enter your air conditioned house. In eighteen months we had met exactly one neighbor, and we were about as different as two people could be. I was baptized in December 1998 (my husband was not – though he would follow me into the church about ten years later). The next Wednesday was a social meeting of the women’s organization of the church (“Relief Society”). It was a craft’s night, complete with dinner and a spiritual lesson. The ladies rallied around me and I had instant friends. That was followed shortly by an invite from one of the ladies who happened to live in my neighborhood. One Monday a month families in the neighborhood got together for a joint “family home evening”. I wasn’t sure what that was but I agreed and the next Monday, my husband, son and I joined in and magically, after eighteen months of knowing no one in the neighborhood, we now knew six couples.
Not long after this time, I was called into the Bishop’s office and extended my first calling. In the Mormon church you do not offer your services where you feel called or where you feel you are gifted to serve, you are “offered” an assignment, and I use “offered” lightly because it becomes obvious pretty quickly that turning down a calling is frowned upon. These callings are “prayed” over by the leaders of your Ward (another word for congregation) and it is an opportunity to serve God. My first calling should have tipped me off — I was called to serve in nursery.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my children. I even have a love for children of my close friends, but generally, I don’t love all children, and I especially was not patient with other people’s children under the age of three. But I accepted because I didn’t want to seem unwilling to serve or difficult for that matter. I figured once they got to know me I would be called for something with more teeth in it.
Here’s where I pause for a moment and wonder how things might have gone differently had I known the bible better — or at all — two verses come to mind —
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
~ Acts 17:11
Had I been more engaged – or engaged at all – with these words I would have had some confidence to prehaps decline. And better yet;
At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
~ Matthew 27:51
The death of Christ tears the Temple curtain, making the need for an intermediary between man and God unecessary. That would have been handy to know as well. In so many ways, for so many reasons…
Next up…tithing as a means of control…