This is how I became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
By C.M. Jones
I had been in agony for almost two months inside my head. It was happening again. I was depressed and inconsolable. My heart was dying inside my chest from the pressure of the guilt that I felt for my sins. It had been slowly suffocating me. Then the beginning of February 2013 came. I got online and went to www.lds.org. That website had a link to www.mormon.org, which happened to have a live chat box onscreen. I clicked on it and got in touch with two Missionaries, Elder Jorgensen and Elder Tucker. I asked them some questions and conversed with them a bit over the internet and Elder Jorgensen and Elder Tucker both friended me on Facebook. I met with Elder Jorgensen and another member of the LDS Church on Facebook a few nights later. They encouraged me to get in touch with my local Missionaries if I could. Monday came. I was on the bathroom floor praying when I felt the Holy Spirit burning in my chest. A voice told me, "Call the Missionaries and get baptized." That was the day that I told my husband Jerrold that he had to call the Missionaries, that I could not take it any more, and that he had to call right that moment. I stood there in tears in the living room of our basement apartment as Jerrold called the number for the Sister Missionaries that he had gotten from a friend about a week earlier. It was a Monday, which was turned out to be the Missionaries' "P" day, or preparation day – the one day of the week they got to do laundry and shop for TV dinners and such. Jerrold explained that he was a member of the Shiloh Ward and that his wife Christine needed to speak with them as soon as possible. One of them asked to talk to me. Jerrold handed me the phone and the Missionary asked me if there was anything they could do right then. I told her that I just really needed to talk to them. We set up a time two days from then, on a Wednesday, to meet at the church building on 36th and Monad. The Missionary told me to call if I needed anything before then.
Wednesday seemed to take forever to arrive. I had chatted with a Missionary online who had been very supportive, and those comments that we had exchanged held me until Wednesday. When it arrived, I felt anxious. I waited at the church building, having gotten there a half an hour early. I was hanging near the north door because there was a car parked in the parking lot – the only other vehicle there – and I thought that it may have belonged to the Missionaries. I stepped around the side of the building at a few minutes past our meeting time to discover the Sisters waiting in a white four-door sedan out front. I was greeted in a friendly manner by Sister Geralds and Sister Niutapuai. We went inside and set out a few folding chairs for ourselves in the Relief Society room. The anxiety had not ceased for me, but I sensed that it was not entirely absent in the Sisters, either, which made me feel better. We began with a prayer and I told the Sisters a bit about my history. I included the fact that I had almost gotten baptized seven years before and received all the lessons from the Missionaries then, but that the Bishop, now excommunicated, had gotten into an unfortunate argument with me from which I had to walk away. I told them that I had been through many churches, but that none of them were the right one for me. I also let them know that I had some mental disorders that I was receiving treatment for because that would largely determine availability in my schedule. They listened patiently and attentively. Unfortunately, they were both suffering somewhat from the influenza virus that had been going around at the time. The first lesson they shared with me was about the restoration of the Gospel. I found the lesson to be fascinating and was very interested and excited to learn more about what they would teach me. I had not remembered having such a feeling with the Missionaries seven years ago. They offered me a Book of Mormon after we finished the lesson, and I politely declined, having already purchased one for $3.50 off the Internet. I did take the pamphlet that they had taught me from, however, and we set a time to meet next. I asked them very few questions, but I did ask them if I had to wear a skirt or dress. Due to personal reasons, I did not wear skirts or dresses and wondered if a nice pair of slacks and a nice shirt would suffice. They explained to me that dressing our best for the Sabbath helped keep it holy, and that was the reason for the dresses and skirts. The Sisters were kind about it and said I could "work up to skirts or dresses". That was good enough for me. I also asked what you had to do to get excommunicated. Evidently, it is a fairly difficult thing to accomplish, so I did not have much to worry about. Our next meeting would be Saturday.
Saturday came and Sister Geralds led the discussion – the entire discussion – because Sister Niutapuai was so ill. She was incredibly sick, but still came to meet with me. This impressed me a lot. They had also invited Brother and Sister Done to join us. They were a young couple in the Church without children who had only been in the ward for approximately seven months. It was a great meeting, at which we discussed the Plan of Salvation. Sister Geralds carefully laid out cut-outs on the piano bench between us and explained each step so that I could understand. I felt the Spirit guiding me to understanding as we talked through the process, and I felt a real peace about the lesson. I decided that I would attend church the next day since I would have someone to sit with and would not be alone between the Missionaries and the Dones.
Sunday. 1100. That was what time the Sacrament Meeting began for the Shiloh Ward. I arrived about 15 minutes early and upon walking in, saw Brother and Sister Done saving a seat on a bench for me. Brother Benson, one of Bishop Streiff's counselors, introduced himself. He seemed excited to meet me and told me that the Sisters really liked me. That was a confidence-booster. Next, the Sisters walked in and sat down next to me. Sister Niutapuai seemed to be feeling much better and I told them both that I was very glad to see them. Sacrament Meeting began and when Sacrament was passed, I did not partake because I did not feel worthy, not being a member of the Church, and not having fully repented of all my sins. After the Sacrament Meeting, the five of us made our way to the Relief Society Room where the Investigator's Class was to be held. They had just started a series of lessons out of a book entitled Gospel Principles. Sister Done got me a copy from the library and was fairly certain that I would be able to keep it for study. Brother and Sister Pope introduced themselves, and sat in the front row, one row ahead of us. It was a very good lesson, and happened to be on the Plan of Salvation, which I was now familiar with. The Sister Missionaries had to leave a few minutes early, but we had already set up another meeting time on Tuesday. Sister Done asked Brother Pope if I could keep the manual that we were studying the lessons from and he enthusiastically told me that I could. Although there was another hour of meetings after the Investigator's Class, I ducked out. Two hours was long enough for my first Sunday. I felt great. Driving home was a wonderful experience, as I was excited about my sense of acceptance and peace among the people of Shiloh Ward.
I met with the Sister Missionaries again. This time, I talked about how I did not feel worthy to be forgiven, or to even talk to God a lot of the time. Sister Niutapuai's tears told me that she could identify with this. She told me that was Satan trying to keep me from getting up and that I was a beautiful daughter of God. That statement struck me. I felt it and it was very powerful as I thought about being an actual daughter of God. That was right – I am. Satan wants me to be miserable like he is, and he was succeeding in making me so. The Sisters talked to me about baptism and the course that my life would take if I decided to become a member of the Church. First, I needed faith in Christ, which I was showing by my desire to be baptized and meet with them. Second, I needed repentance. Third, I needed to be baptized by immersion for the remission of sins. Fourth, I would receive that gift of the Holy Ghost to guide me. Fifth, I would have to endure to the end. If I did all of these things, I would live eternally with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ forever in the celestial kingdom. I was excited. The Sisters had to turn me over to the new Elder Missionaries that were coming to take over for the Shiloh Ward, but offered to meet with us the first time for a smooth transition. I took them up on that.
I met the Elder Missionaries a few days later. Sister Pope also joined us, along with the Sister Missionaries. I met Elder Ross from Utah and Elder Snyder from Georgia for the first time. They went over the lesson of tithing and fasting with me. It was a short meeting, but good. It went smoothly and I set a date for my baptism. 09 March 2013 – two weeks away. Everything seemed to be working out, and I was again impressed by the work the Lord was doing in my life. I never thought I would become a Mormon, but here it was – a date was set.
I spoke with my husband about it and he preferred that one of the Elders baptize me. He felt that it needed to be an experience for them, too. He also wanted me to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost without him present because he wanted it to be my day. When I went to church for my second Sunday, I ran it by the Elders and they seemed happy to oblige the decision made by my husband. I sat with the Elders and Sister Done in the back row for Sacrament Meeting and then in the front row with them for the Investigator's Class on Gospel Principles. I again ducked out after only two hours because I could feel my blood sugar getting low. I was elated.
Wednesday I met with the Elders, Natalie, and Heather. After a fun and enlightening lesson about the commandments of Heavenly Father, the Missionaries brought up my baptism date. I had chosen the weekend of Stake Conference and would not be able to be baptized on the date we had set. I could be baptized on 08 March, Friday, but would have to share that date with another person and would not be able to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost until 17 March. My other choice was to be baptized on 16 March and then receive the gift of the Holy Ghost the next day at Sacrament Meeting. I decided to go with the second option. I was asked to pray about whom I wanted to baptize me and who I wanted to confirm me at Sacrament. I was also asked to pray about whom I wanted to stand in my circle to confer the gift of the Holy Ghost on me. We set another meeting time for Saturday. As I drove home, I felt somewhat devastated. I thought about the verses I had read that had warned against procrastinating the day of your baptism. This was not my fault, but I would rather that I be baptized sooner than later. I needed to be cleansed and I needed the Holy Spirit in my life. I was saddened by this turn of events. I thought about it in terms of Heavenly Father. He knew this would happen and it was all in His plan. All in His time, not mine, I thought. That was of little consolation to me. I had become depressed the day before, and this strengthened my depression significantly. I would still get there, but now I had an extra week to somehow get through before I could start my life over. I did not know how I was going to make it.
Saturday came and I was introduced to Elder and Sister Hopkins during my visit with the Elders. They were retired Missionaries from Missouri. I fell in love with them instantly. What great people they were! This meeting was about the details of the baptismal interview, the baptism, and the confirmation. Elders Ross and Snyder went over the baptismal interview questions with me to make sure I understood and did not have any questions or gaps in my knowledge and to let me know what to expect. We set a date and time for the baptismal interview of 0900 on 09 March – the next Saturday. Elder Peterson would be conducting the interview while Elder Ross and Elder Snyder attended, from what I understood. The baptism. I was informed that I got to make most of the decisions concerning it, which was a surprise to me, but a pleasant one. I got to choose who did the opening and closing prayers, the talks about baptism and the Holy Spirit, the hymns, who would actually perform my baptism... Confirmation involved decisions, too, about who would say the confirmation, and who would stand in my circle. This was terrific! I had prayed about it and there were a few positions that I could already fill for them. I wanted Elder Snyder to perform my baptism and Elder Ross to say the confirmation at Sacrament the next day. I asked Elder and Sister Hopkins if they would do the talks on baptism and the Holy Spirit, an invitation that they happily accepted. I took a hymnal home with me to choose a few hymns from and looked forward to seeing them all again the next day at church. As I drove home, I thought about a comment that Sister Hopkins had made about me having the spiritual gift of common sense and logic. That was a great compliment to me. There were still a few details to work out, such as the size of the baptismal jumpsuit and the other people who would fill the roles that were still open, but I had ideas about all of that. I enjoyed the drive home.
Sunday, I woke up ill. My left ear hurt, my head hurt, my throat hurt, and my sinuses had drained all night. I felt fatigued and feverish. I had to at least make it to Sacrament, though. I went and sat with the Missionaries, having to leave at one point during the service because a coughing fit kicked off my asthma. Sister Hopkins gave me an invitation to a Relief Society get-together on 14 March. She had the most beautiful tropical print dress on. It was the first Sunday of the month, meaning that it was Fast and Testimony Sunday. That was an interesting experience. I was getting sicker by the moment, though, so I ducked out immediately after Sacrament.
I was supposed to have lunch with a friend of mine on Monday. I texted her on my phone to find out if she still wanted to go because I had just gone to the VA doctor that morning and received some antibiotics. I was very sick. She texted me back and told me she had come down with a cold and that she was too sick to go to lunch. I ended up going over to her house and we hung out for over an hour, both of us very sick. During that time, I told her that I was getting baptized in the LDS Church. Though an atheist, she was very happy for me. I was to find out the next day during a meeting with my case manager that "mainstream" Christians are much less accepting of Mormons than atheists are. As a matter of fact, the case manager made the comment that she "just wished I was joining a Bible-based church." Of course, after making this statement, she recommended her own church to me. As I sat wondering what was not Bible-based about the LDS Church, I was saddened by her attitude toward my decision. After all, though it was really none of her business, she had been relatively open to learning about the LDS Church prior to me mentioning my upcoming baptism. I wondered if I had made the right choice in mentioning such a thing to her as I listened to all of the odd ideas she had about Mormon beliefs. I had loaned her a copy of the triple combination, a book including the Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price, several months earlier. She had returned it, unread, only a week prior to this unfortunate reaction. Though I had given her the opportunity to read for herself what the LDS Church believed out of the actual Scriptures, she had decided against investigating it before judging it. I was mildly offended by this, but more confused than anything. I have a great need to research everything I can, especially if I am to make a decision about it. I love to learn in general. I have studied many religions and denominations, attended and become a member of many churches in the past, and given each a chance before moving on. I could tell that there was to be no chance given the Mormon faith by her. I left the meeting feeling depressed. Was this the way it was to be? I was making the biggest decision of my life and would not be able to share it with anyone I knew for fear of the word "Mormon" coming up in conversation? How little I knew of others' dislike of the LDS Church.
Saturday came and with it, so did my baptismal interview with Elder Peterson. The Missionaries joked with me about not grilling him too hard beforehand. The interview went well and Elder Peterson, at the end, said he was excited about my spirit. That was a great complement to me and I thanked him for it. We walked out into the foyer and did the baptismal records paperwork. What a form that was! The only thing it did not ask for was my social security number (which is good, because I would not have given it). It looked like it was mainly for the purpose of tracking families past, present, and future. The Missionaries and I set a date and time to meet so that they could give me some baptismal jumpsuits to try on for my baptism on Saturday, 16 March 2013 at 1000 hours. I had set the time with them that morning. I left very excited, but fatigued from having been sick and in bed on antibiotics with a fever for the entire week before.
Sunday was Stake Conference and I did not go, first of all because I would not know anyone, and second because I felt too sick. It was odd not going to church after having begun a routine with it again. Monday, I went back to the VA. My doctor there, Dr. Stanley, thought at first that I was there prematurely because the azithromycin he gave me the previous Monday for my illness was still in my system. When he heard my cough and the rattle in my right lung, though, he pronounced it pneumonia and gave me methylprednisolone (a steroid for inflammation), moxifloxacin (an antibiotic for the infection), and some cough suppressant pearls to treat it. I talked to an old military buddy of mine who was now a nurse the next day and she said that those medications were what they were using to treat the pneumonia superbug down in Texas where she worked. People were being sent to the hospital all over the place for it. It sounded to me like another week in bed. Pneumonia of that sort gave "coughing up a lung" new meaning. I was not, however, worried about my baptism. It would still happen as long as I took my medication, rested, and took good care of myself the following week. I had figured out that someone, probably that someone named Satan, was trying very hard not to allow my baptism to happen. I was determined that it was going to, though...
Thursday came and the day began with an ECG at the VA Clinic, ordered by my psychiatrist because he had found a potential interaction between the medications he prescribed and the medications prescribed for the pneumonia. That afternoon, I met with Elders Ross, Snyder, and Hopkins, and Sister Hopkins. I told them about my trials over that past week and a half with the sickness and the pneumonia, but also let them know that it gave me time to ponder the Scriptures, which was a welcome side effect of lying in bed for hours on end with only the energy to pray and sleep through the fever. We had a good conversation about what I had been learning from my experiences with the Scriptures and prayer, not to mention my illness, and then we turned to the subject of my upcoming baptism. Sister Hopkins had designed a program for the event and Elders Ross and Snyder produced two white baptismal jumpsuits for me to try on. I quickly tried them on in the bathroom while they waited so that we would know if either on fit. The first on that I tried on fit perfectly – an XL-08. I would have to roll up the pant legs, but that was nothing new for me. I asked some questions about the baptismal process. Elder Hopkins was very helpful in telling me to let the Elders take care of the logistics so that I could hopefully take in the experience. That helped me to worry less. I just worried about something going wrong, as so often did in my life. I was carefully reassured that it would all work out and that it would be great. I did truly love these people, for their patience, their understanding, and their love toward me. The Spirit was definitely with us, and my heart was no longer troubled by the details. It would work out. We parted after I closed with a prayer and I thanked Elder Snyder for the Ensign magazine he had given me earlier during our time together. It had an article on the Atonement in it, which was exactly what I needed, as I read it later. Our next meeting would be Saturday at the Stake Center, 16 March 2013 at 0930 for my baptism at 1000. I was so excited!
It was now Friday, the day before my baptism. I pondered my repentance process as I lay in bed. Was it good enough? Had I done enough? There were things that I had not yet fixed, things that I had not the strength to fix yet. Would those things nullify my baptism? I did not feel a burden upon my heart while thinking on these things. I felt the peace of the Holy Spirit that would soon dwell with me on a regular basis, so long as I kept myself a clean vessel for Him in Heavenly Father's presence. That meant repentance. Regularly. Repentance was a process, an ongoing one, that as long as I was mortal I would need to engage in. I realized, though, that repentance was part of being mortal.
The date, 16 March 2013, had arrived. It was Saturday. I had gotten up early to take my medications and then set the alarm to go off an hour later. Well, the alarm did not go off. I woke up at 0830 and realized that my 0730 wake-up call had not happened. I quickly showered and dressed, so quickly that I had plenty of time to spare. I got my black plastic bag with my jumpsuit, dry clothing, and towels in it and left at 0850. When I arrived at the Stake Center on Belvedere, it was only 0900. I arrived, though, to find a crew of people cleaning the building. I asked them if they had seen the Elders and they directed me to the Relief Society Room, where a young man was diligently picking up all the chairs that I was certain the Missionaries had set out for my baptism. I found Elders Snyder and Ross looking down into the font at the slow progress it was making filling and mentioned the chair situation to them. After setting the chairs back out, the Elders explained where I would go and how it would work when it came time for me to be baptized. I entered the women's bathroom, turned to the left, then saw the stalls to the right on the other side of the wall. In the corner of the handicap stall was a door that led to the steps of the font. I opened the door and saw a handrail. Very reassuring. The font was filling slowly, and after filling for two hours, the chlorinated water was only two feet deep or less. Elder Snyder described how the font from where he was from in Georgia was much larger than this one, which was contrasted with Elder Hopkins' later comments on how large this one was compared to the one where he was from in Missouri. Elder and Sister Hopkins arrived with trays of fruits, vegetables, and cookies for refreshments after the event. They also had the programs, which were wonderfully done. They gave me two of the color copies. When it came time for me to change into my baptismal garb, I found the cleaning crew cleaning the women's bathroom. They had just begun. I ended up changing in the handicap bathroom at the end of the hall and they were, thankfully, done by the time I needed to set up my towels and such in the bathroom next to the font. Sisters Geralds and Niutapuai arrived and we got photos of me with all the Missionaries. It was fun. Jerrold got some good shots, as he arrived just in time for the photo shoot.
It was time to begin. Brother Pope got up and welcomed everyone in the Relief Society room. Brother Lund, Second Counselor to Bishop Streiff, presided over the event. Elder Snyder and I sat in the front row. Jerrold sat on the other side of Elder Snyder. Elder Hopkins directed the music as we sang Hymn #114, "Come Unto Me". Sister Geralds said the opening prayer, followed by the talk on baptism. Elder Hopkins gave that talk, emphasizing that this was my day, and through his talk, I felt the Holy Spirit within me assuring me that it truly was. Something that Elder Hopkins said really struck me, too. He said that God would forgive all my sins and forget them, but that I had to let them go, too. He was so right! Elder Hopkins gave a great talk, after which the baptism took place. As I descended the steps into the baptismal font, using the handrail and watching Elder Snyder do the same from the other side, I felt the warm chlorinated water and a sense of peace. I was not nervous or anxious, but instead calm. I knew I was okay, that I was making the right decision. Elder Snyder and I got into position and as soon as he said, "Amen", I bent my knees and leaned back into the water. I heard the water as I was underneath it, the sound of cleansing a soul. When I came back up out of the water, Elder Snyder tapped me twice on the back to let me know that I had been fully immersed and that it did not have to be repeated. I gave two thumbs up to all those watching and turned to walk back up the steps out of the font. The Sisters were waiting with the door open and handed me my towel. I changed quickly back into my dry clothes and met Sister Nelson right outside the bathroom. I went back into the bathroom with her and gave her the wet baptismal suit. She congratulated me and left. I walked back toward the Relief Society room and saw my husband standing at the doorway. We went back in and sat down, waited a few minutes for Elder Snyder to come back, at which time the DVD that was playing was turned off. Sister Hopkins then gave a talk on the Holy Ghost. My confirmation and the conferring of the gift of the Holy Ghost upon me were to be the next day during the Sacrament Meeting. The next day, of course, was 17 March 2013 – St. Patrick's Day. Brother Lund got up and welcomed me, giving a short talk before we sang Hymn #236, "Lord, Accept Into Thy Kingdom". Brother Lund said several times that people would now be watching me, and gave warning that I may lose friends and be made fun of at times for my decision. I appreciated that warning because it reflected the reality that I was already experiencing with my case manager. The closing prayer was said by Sister Niutapuai, completing the event. As everyone got up to go to the gym where there were refreshments, a man that I had unfairly judged long ago approached me. I greeted him with a handshake, calling him by name. Hank was so surprised and said, "You remember me." Of course I did. Hank handed me a small package – a book wrapped in plain white paper with my full name written in pencil on it – and said, "There are a lot of important words in there." Hank apologized for Karen not being able to make it because she was working at the Temple that day. Jerrold came over and Hank was immediately drawn to him, telling him that he only had four cars now. The gift that Hank had given me was a leather-bound burgundy-colored pocket hymnal. I was very touched and recognized that it was not my place to judge and that I had done so wrongly. Many people congratulated me on my baptism as we had refreshments in the gym. I felt cleansed – truly forgiven – and new. The Missionaries had gotten me a framed picture of Jesus as a gift for my baptism and Elder Hopkins gave me the pamphlet in which he had marked my place that day on the eternal timeline of salvation. Jerrold and I took some photos with Elder and Sister Hopkins before everyone dispersed. It was indeed my day and it was one of the best days of my life.
The next day, Sunday, I was slightly nervous when I got to church. Bishop Streiff introduced himself and congratulated me. Elder Hopkins came and asked that when my husband and I went to the Temple, that we let him and Sister Hopkins know so that they could go with us. It sounded like a great idea! Sacrament meeting got underway and during Ward Business in the program, I was asked to come forward by Brother Lund for confirmation and the gift of the Holy Ghost. I sat in a chair, surrounded by Brother Done, Brother Pope, Elder Snyder, and Elder Ross, who all placed their hands upon my head as Elder Ross said the confirmation and blessing, conferring upon me the gift of the Holy Ghost and membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I went back to my seat and stood again as Brother Lund asked so that he could introduce me into the Shiloh Ward. The show of hands confirming everyone's support of my membership was reassuring as I looked around. I partook of sacrament for the first time in the church. Sister Geralds and Sister Niutapuai were there. I sat with them, not realizing until the end of the meeting that they did not have to be there, but they came for me. I hugged them both and told them I loved them, for I truly did. I was now fully and completely Sister Jones. I was a Mormon.
Many congratulated me and introduced themselves after Sacrament was over. A man and his wife came up to me, the man extending his hand and congratulating me, saying, "Congratulations. You almost got baptized a few years back. I knew you back then." I asked him his name again. "Randy Swenson," he replied. He asked me to tell Jerrold hello for him. I promised him that I would and the former Bishop Swenson and I parted with a fist bump. I had no ill feelings toward him, but only the feelings I had toward other members who had congratulated me and welcomed me to the Ward. I knew that was the Holy Spirit's work, and I was glad.
Not even a week after I was baptized, the trials really began. I was pronounced free of pneumonia mid-week on Wednesday, the first day of Spring 2013, but was told that I had lung inflammation from some unknown source. That would require a steroid inhaler. After two and a half weeks of not being able to breathe very well, that seemed like standard news. The next day, however, I got the non-standard news that my psychiatrist, whom I had had a very close relationship with for over nine years and who was a father-figure to me, had to have heart surgery. Dr. Tom Van Dyk would not be back until at least July. I cried, and I cried hard, because I just wanted him to be okay. I did not want to lose him, either. He said to me, "You can say some prayers for me." That I would definitely do. I felt like my life was out of control. It was my last semester of my Master's program, which had been a disaster, I was behind in all my schoolwork to the point of not being able to finish it in time to graduate with grades in all my classes, and the man that I depended on for stability and help in any circumstance was going in for heart surgery on short notice. In the meantime, I would have to see another doctor, whom I knew somewhat, but not to any depth, take "Incompletes" in two classes at college, and pray that Heavenly Father would take care of my doctor. Talk about tests!!! I was devastated. I paced in Dr. Van Dyk's office, crying. I was incredibly upset and worried. I just did not trust other people enough to talk to them about the things that I could and needed to talk to Dr. Van Dyk about. One of my immediate thoughts was that I did not even have his Easter card done yet! "You can send it to my house," he kindly replied when I told him. I cried for hours. I prayed to Heavenly Father and told him that I was willing to give Dr. Van Dyk up if I had to, but that I just wanted him to be okay and that I could not handle this by myself – I needed Heavenly Father's help. I was so upset. I went from baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost to possibly losing one of the most important people in my life in less that a week. That was on top of every other chaotic thing that was going on in my life, and none of it was within my control. So, I began praying.
The next day was Friday, and I met with the Relief Society President and another lady shortly before the Missionaries at the church. The ladies provided me with all of the study materials for the classes that were currently going on, which I appreciated greatly. I sat down next with the Missionaries. Both the Elders and the Sisters were there. Elder Snyder produced a small book from inside his jacket and handed it to me. As I thumbed through it, I realized that it was a book that the Missionaries had compiled for me on the day of my baptism with messages of testimony from almost all who were in attendance, complete with photos and the program of my baptism. It was so special to me. I hugged the Sisters and shook the hands of the Elders, thanking them. Elder Snyder said simply, "All glory to God." We went over the last lesson that they were to teach me and at the end of the lesson, I asked them if they would pray for Dr. Van Dyk. They all happily took on the request, and even said that they would put his name on the prayer rolls up in the Temple for me. I felt so much better.
I found out Sunday that Sister Hopkins was ill. She was down with the same virus that had attacked me during Spring Break before I developed pneumonia. I had thought all week about calling her, but was afraid that I would interrupt her day by doing so. I sat with Elders Hopkins, Snyder, and Ross during Sacrament Meeting and told Elder Hopkins that I would definitely call Sister Hopkins sometime during the next week. I also gave him one of my business cards with all of my information on it.
On Wednesday of the next week, I called Sister Hopkins. A tired, ill voice answered the phone after several rings. I spoke with her long enough to learn that she had called the nurse at one of the hospitals and the nurse had told her to just wait it out. I was reasonably sure that this illness would require a doctor's visit, but I told Sister Hopkins that I would pray for her and kept the conversation short.
At the end of the week, on Easter Sunday, I sat with the Elders during Sacrament Meeting once again. Sacrament Meeting went well, as did Gospel Principles class, but Relief Society was different. I did not feel the Holy Spirit working there. As a matter of fact, I felt out of place, like I did not belong there. I left from that meeting feeling somewhat disappointed. After all, I had no one with whom to solidly associate. All of the women my age were pregnant – very pregnant – and the rest of the women there were grandparents and all they talked about was their children. I had no interest in children. I never had. I did not like children, as a matter of fact. I did not feel the need to have children, nor did I feel the need to explain myself to anyone. That was just the way I felt. That is not to say that I did not think that children were important to others and should not be protected and nurtured. Children were just not in my personal plans, nor had I ever felt that I was to have any of my own. Adoption was something that I felt strongly about. I would not mind adopting at all. I just did not have the slightest inkling that I should birth my own children. Explaining that a bit further, there were many reasons – medical reasons – that it would be potentially harmful to any child I would happen to get pregnant with and myself, should I actually become pregnant. The Holy Spirit just had not guided me in that direction, and I was perfectly okay with that. At 32 years of age, adoption was an option, but pregnancy was not.
So Relief Society was not really my thing. Speaking with the women individually outside the meeting was gratifying and I could feel the Holy Spirit working in those conversations, but never during the meetings. I was not sure what that meant. Sister Hopkins was still ill and had not attended any of the meetings that day, so I planned on calling her again the next week to check on her.
Monday, the first day of April 2013, was an incredibly difficult day. The depression hit me hard and I found myself sitting in my truck in a parking lot crying when my husband called. Jerrold asked what was the matter. I told him I was just overwhelmed and stressed out. I could not catch up in school and I had been working hard. I just could not handle it that day. We met at home and I accompanied him to a job that he needed to do for a client. I read my Scriptures and rested in the truck while Jerrold worked inside on the job. I did not go to my Rural Research Team meeting at the university, nor did I accomplish anything beyond studying my Scriptures and praying the rest of the day. I slept here and there as well. That evening, I painted an Easter card for Tom and Jane Van Dyk, carefully printed their home address on the envelope, and put two stamps on it just for good measure. If it was mailed Tuesday, surely it would get there by Wednesday.
I went to school the next day. It was another difficult day, but I made it through by praying. That morning, a good friend of mine outside the Church had thrown my beliefs concerning homosexuality in my face on the Internet. I responded carefully and let it go. Tuesday was over with. On to Wednesday...
Wednesday started out as a rough day. I had not slept well and had had many nightmares while trying to sleep, all leading to bad feelings and an exhausted feeling on top of a headache. It was not until I decided at 1100 to call and check on Sister Hopkins that my day improved. I called and a much healthier and cheerful voice answered the phone. Sister Hopkins had gone to the doctor and gotten some antibiotics. She was feeling better. She said, "And, now that I've found out a little more about you, you may know me as KD0MAG." I asked her to repeat it and write it down. It was an amateur radio call sign. She and I both held a general license, it turned out. I was so excited! I had made such a connection with this precious lady in such a short time. The first time I met Elder and Sister Hopkins, I fell in love with them. I told her that. She said she had felt the same way about me. It was not only an eternal friendship, but probably a premortal one, she said. I agreed wholeheartedly. The rest of my afternoon was taken up helping Jerrold build the framework for a deck, and it was a cheerful time, as I felt the Holy Spirit working in me the minute I asked Sister Hopkins how she was doing. I had a genuine friend.
Thursday, 04 April 2013. Dr. Van Dyk was scheduled for heart surgery. I had not yet decided whether or not I would go to school that day, but Dr. Van Dyk would want me to go, so I did. I had intended to fast as well as praying extra for him that day, but the fasting did not last long because taking my medication without food made me quite sick. My first class that morning proved to be difficult for several reasons. First, I had not slept well the night before, so I was initially very tired. I had to leave during the first half of class to get something to drink and keep myself awake. The second half of class was difficult for a very different reason. The second discussion was not so much a discussion as it was a presentation by a young gal who was quite passionate about the subject. The subject? Sexual orientation and civil rights. She went on and on about how we should not only tolerate the homosexual behaviors of the LGBT population, but we should accept them as natural and normal. I was now awake. People I could accept. Their behaviors I could not, because their behaviors were a choice. I squirmed in my chair as the rest of the class supported the strong argument against religions and churches that did not accept homosexual behaviors. The issue of gay marriage was touched on, but did not take off for some reason. It was before the Supreme Court at the time and all over the media. The legislation was called DOMA. I was glad that did not take off in our discussion, however, I was not at all impressed that religions and churches that did not accept homosexual behaviors were being put on trial in the classroom. The professor said, "You have to allow people to have their religious beliefs, too, though." I was thankful for the comment, as I could not make my own. I was afraid to say anything. I heard a voice say, "Chris, say something." I could not. I did not. My silence would have to speak for me because I was speechless. I left campus after class was over, feeling that I had failed the Lord miserably. I sat in my truck thinking about how Jesus would handle the homosexual issue. He would love them. He would seek them out. He would not reject or shun them. He would, however, tell them that they must have faith, repent, and come unto Him. He would not tolerate the behavior. He could not. He would, with repentance and faith, forgive. I drove away, not attending my second class. I went home and hid underneath the covers of my bed, begging Heavenly Father forgiveness for my failure. Later that day, after I woke up (I had fallen asleep after praying for a while), I had little appetite, but I did have an appointment with a doctor that was substituting for Dr. Van Dyk. Or so I thought. I went to the clinic, and it turned out that they had cancelled the appointment and put someone else in my slot. They made me an appointment for the next day and I left. What a day. Through all of that, though, I continued to pray for Dr. Van Dyk. That was, after all, the main focus of my day... I thought my day was over. A friend invited me over to visit, though, and I went over to her place for a bit. Gay marriage came up in the conversation almost immediately. I told her that I did not believe in it. The look on her face was of shock. It asked how I could say such a thing, how I could believe such a thing. It was quiet for several moments. Then the rant began. Her rant was about how she could not believe that anybody could be against gay rights and gay marriage because it was no different than a man and a woman. "It's because of your Mormon religion," she proclaimed at one point. After we were done "visiting", I walked home in the dark, alone, knowing that I had at least let my feelings be known. It did not feel any better.
I thought about the events of that day for the days following. "My Mormon religion". What did that mean? I watched videos on the Church website about homosexuality to make sure I was on the right track. I talked to Elder Jorgensen over the Internet, which made me feel somewhat better. I had not been wrong. I had been right about the love of Jesus Christ for these people. I had also been correct about the commandments of Heavenly Father against homosexuality. I was not off base – not for "my Mormon religion", at least.
The next challenge to my Mormon religion came the next day, Friday, from my case manager. "I would feel more comfortable if..." were the words that the challenges to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon began with. Of course, I did not know the complex answers to the complex questions that were being put forth. That did not help. "But you just go with it," continued the case manager. I thought to myself that I go with it because I have something called faith and a testimony concerning these things, but I did not say so. Again, I had failed. The redeeming quality of that meeting was that, during it, Sister Hopkins called me with my Church member number! I was so excited! I believe the Lord did that to sustain me.
I went home and created an LDS.org account. I looked through the directory, which was fun, and then something else (I cannot remember what exactly) came up. The point was, however, that I was in! I was numbered among the Saints!
It was not until a day later that I realized that I could now create a Mormon.org profile. I had been watching parts of the April 2013 General Conference over the Internet. I created my profile and waited for it to be approved. Meanwhile, I continued to be impressed with President Boyd K. Packer's poetry talents and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf's messages thus far, not to mention the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I uploaded a photo onto the directory site of LDS.org and corrected my e-mail address. I explored family.org and the genealogical features that it offered. By the time Sunday rolled around, I had done a lot with my newfound freedom as a member. Sunday, though, the depression hit again. Hard.