I think it is very fitting that the anniversary when I became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is near Thanksgiving. November 21st, 2012, marks the 25th anniversary of my baptism. I remember anticipating that day with such excitement. I was 19 and that is an age when people like to forge identities. Yet, I did not take such a decision casually.
I originally resisted attempts by my friend in my Composition class at the University of Nebraska at Omaha to give me a copy of the Book of Mormon during my first semester. I was just barely 18 and the warnings about people out in the world trying to convert Catholics by the nun who taught my last religion class at my Catholic high school were very vivid in my mind.
A history teacher had also made me fully cognizant of any cult activity where groups of people would try to gain my favor, show me love, and fill me lots of carbs and little protein making me wary of my over-zealous friend. Many members are not nearly so zealous. I later learned that he felt prompted to share the Gospel with me. However, many may have made just a feeble, half-hearted attempt while he continued to share. As we sat in the classroom, he shared about the persecution of the Saints in Missouri. I replied that they would have persecuted Donnie and Marie. I knew a few adults who were members but did not know anything about their religion other their abstaining from alcohol and members giving money to their Church.
As disinterested as I was, I do recall opening the encyclopedia to review the First Vision by Joseph Smith after my friend shared this story with me. Still, I would not accept a copy of the Book of Mormon. I was a good conformist growing up and was at that point a very content Catholic. While I wasn’t the best on observing Holy Days of Obligation, I was faithfully attending the nearby Catholic Church on a weekly basis.
I was no longer in class with my friend when I shared a religious dream with with him when I crossed paths on campus because I thought of him as someone that I could discuss religion. He was very animated as he marched to his car and offered me a copy of the Book of Mormon again. I accepted with the intention of waiting until finals were over to read from the work. How surprised my friend was when I called him that Summer letting him know that I had received an answer to my prayers. I started attending the scripture study program known as Institute prior to starting my missionary lessons
During the period that I took the lessons, I felt the influence of the Holy Spirit quite often. As I became more aware of what the Holy Spirit felt like, I could recall times in my youth when I had felt the Holy Spirit. Latter Day Saint Doctrine does believe that all people are born with the light of Christ and that people may have the influence of the Holy Spirit at times.
To have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, a person needs to be confirmed by someone who holds the proper Priesthood and live worthily. I have had a Bishop who I think was using the gift of discernment when he said that I was receptive to recognizing the presence of the Holy Spirit. However, this was not during my most spiritual period, which was prior to my mission. I felt very prepared to serve a mission and felt the love of God so much at that time that I knew I could never repay the debt. My nonmember family was protective and concerned about my going on a mission. Fortunate for them and their peace of mind, I was called to serve in the United States in the Pennsylvania Harrisburg Mission.
I have reexamined my convictions from time to time and have had periods of renewal such as reading the Book of Mormon during the period that President Gordon B. Hinckley, one of the Prophets of the Latter Day Saint Church told members that there would be special blessings if we finished by the end of the year.
At times, I have longed to be more connected with my roots in the Catholic Faith and also the roots with the Lutheran Faith on my mother’s side of the family. I am connected to many people from my Catholic Schools and have appreciated their support. Latter Day Saints do not believe you have to be a Latter Day Saint during this life to be in Heaven. We also respect all major religions, which raise the moral compass of the people. While we encourage people to learn about our religion, we respect people to worship according to the dictates of their conscience.
I have become increasingly interested in learning more about all religions through the years. Latter Day Saints do not feel we have a corner on righteousness and I am continually humbled by good examples of other faiths. I do feel the faith of my youth has prepared me in many ways to be a good Latter Day Saints. President Hinckley encouraged people to bring the good with them from other religions. I have done that. I have not been without my trials. And I don’t know what blessings would have been mine if I took a different path.
Even the blessings we have are often beyond our comprehension. I do know that I have had many blessings in my 44 years of life and the 25 years as a Latter Day Saint have been particularly rich in so many ways even when times were hard.