Sunday, January 25, 2009

God Wouldn't Leave Me Alone (Washington)

My first memory of hearing about Jesus Christ, or God, or anything like that, was when I was 8 years old. My parents had just gotten a divorce, and my dad realized that he had to get me and my two brothers into a healthy environment. So he began taking us to church (Methodist, I think). The first time I heard about Jesus Christ, I immediately started asking questions about who he was. I remember the pastor saying, “Open the doors of your heart, and invite him in”. I remember saying that exact prayer at 8 years old. Up until the time I was in sixth grade, we went to church pretty regularly, and I was genuinely trying to be a good kid. I tried not to lie, steal, or be mean to any of the other kids, stuff like that. For some reason, I remember specifically praying “God, please don’t allow me to be caught up by Satan. Please forgive me for my sins. Please be patient with me. Please help me to learn the truth when I am ready." About the time I turned 13, we stopped going to church, and I just got distracted and fell away. I fell away for almost 10 years exactly.

I began to make some foolish choices. I messed around with things I shouldn’t have. By the time I was about 19, I began to realize that what I was doing was not good, and that I needed to quit it. I tried to make changes, but I kept falling back with the old crowd. The summer I turned 20, I was invited to go to Silverwood Theme Park with my Uncle and his fiancĂ©, who happened to be a Mormon. They were on their way to her family reunion in Idaho Falls, and somehow talked me into going with them after the water park. I had heard all these stories about the Mormons, and I was a little guarded. I was afraid I was going to get bombarded with their religious beliefs. But to my surprise, that wasn’t what happened at all. They immediately opened their arms to me, and accepted me as one of the family. I was with them for 2 weeks, and I got to see what a normal, healthy family environment was like. I can remember thinking, "These people are doing something right."

After I returned home, I fell into the same old habits. Right after I turned 21, I got a DUI. This was my low point, and I decided that I had to leave my mom. I love her, but she was not a good influence for me. I went to live with my dad in Oregon. I couldn’t find a job, so I took a job at McDonald’s as a cook. After the 6th day of work, I walked out. My pride had gotten the best of me. I knew my dad would be very upset, so I planned out how I was going to hide this from him. But when he showed up to pick me up, I realized that the manager had called him and told him that I had disappeared. He told me that I had to go back in and face the manager, and ask for my job back. I began to sob uncontrollably, begging that he wouldn’t make me go back in. But my dad, God bless his soul, knew that he couldn’t let me off the hook, but that I had to face my fears. I went in to talk to the manager, couldn’t make out a single word I was crying so bad, and eventually got my job back. The whole car ride home I cried uncontrollably, just ashamed that I lied to my dad, and I knew my dad was hurting worse than I was.

The next morning, I went for a walk. I began to pray, and just pour my heart out. I was saying terrible things about myself, saying that I was a mistake and that God must regret calling me His son. Then, this voice came into my head saying: “If you believe I am God, and that I am perfect, and created all things, then to say you are a mistake is to say that I made a mistake, because I created you in my own image.” And this sudden feeling of peace and absolute love came over me, unlike anything I had ever encountered.

Almost immediately, I asked my dad if we could start attending church. So we began attending the local Free Methodist Church. I attended that church for 4 years, and I am so grateful for my time there. I began to learn about Jesus Christ, and what exactly he did. I established a relationship with God, and began reading the New Testament. I had my ups and downs, but I had faith that God would get me through anything. After a few years, I began to feel like something was missing, although I had no idea what. I thought about attending other churches like the Baptist or Nazarene, but I knew they were pretty much the same. The only church that stood out to me was The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but I was scared to attend. I didn’t want to have the missionaries forced down my throat, plus my pastor had warned me to stay away from them. But I couldn’t deny the fact that I saw and recognized so many qualities that I termed as Christ-like. I really wanted to know more, but I was just too scared.

This last February, my grandfather passed away from heart congestion, and all my relatives came to Washington for the memorial service. My Aunt J. (the only member of my family on either side who is a Mormon) came down from Cincinnati. She also came down with 2 of my cousins. I hadn’t seen any of them for about 10 years. I always had fond memories of them, but I didn’t really remember anybody else. I didn’t have a way to get down there, but my brother called and offered to pick me up.

I wanted to ask so many questions, but they were there for only 2 days, and I really didn’t get the opportunity. But my cousin works for an airline, so they sent me tickets and invited me to come to Cincinnati in the summer time. I arrived in Cincinnati on a July 9th, a Wednesday, and the following Saturday night before church (around 10:00) I couldn’t hold back any longer. I began to ask my aunt just about every question in the book. She asked my cousin’s husband, who had gone on a mission, to come up and try to explain things to me. He asked me, “What do you want to know?” and I said, “Everything!”

He got out his scriptures, and started from the pre-mortal life down to who will inherit the different glories of heaven. My heart was absolutely stirring, and I didn’t know quite what to think. It all sounded so right, but I was a little nervous. He then read Moroni 10:3-5 and invited my to pray about it. Then he asked if I would be comfortable meeting with the missionaries. For the first time, I did. So I started attending church, and meeting with the missionaries regularly. I continued to pray, and my heart was telling me that this was true. But I didn’t have a testimony of Joseph Smith being a prophet. For some reason, I was having a hard time with that.

One day, as I was riding in the car with my cousin, I said how I thought it would be so cool to be able to go to Kirtland. She said, “Let’s go!”

I totally didn’t expect that, it was just a comment. But she insisted. So we went the following Thursday. I got to go to the Kirtland Temple, the visitor’s center, and on Friday, we went to the John Johnson Farm. It was in the bedroom where Joseph Smith received like 16 revelations that I received confirmation about him. I was emotionally overwhelmed, so I really couldn’t say too much.

The next night, Saturday, her husband must have known that something was troubling me. He asked me if there was anything I wanted to talk about. I told him that I believed everything. I believed The Book of Mormon, I believed the church, I believed in Joseph Smith, but I was feeling hesitant and scared. Mainly because I didn’t want to go home and tell everybody that in a 3 week time period, I had been converted to Mormonism. He told me that when you know you should do something because it is the right thing to do, and you feel fear, that that fear usually comes from Satan. The minute he said that, the fear left me, because I knew that is what it was. I asked him to baptize me then and there, and I haven’t had any doubts since then. I was baptized on August 2, 2008 and confirmed with the gift of the Holy Ghost on August 3.

The blessings that I have received since then have been astronomical, both temporal and spiritual. I am 26 years old, just met a wonderful girl, have quite a bit of student loans I am going to owe, but I am truly one of the happiest people to walk the earth.

I am so grateful to have a Heavenly Father who loves me so much, and who will never leave me alone, and who has a plan to help me return back to His presence to receive the fullness of His joy. I am so grateful for the missionaries, for the church, for the members of the church. I am grateful for the Prophet Joseph Smith, and for the Prophet Thomas S. Monson, the men that God has chosen to lead this church. And most of all, I am grateful for Jesus Christ and His atonement which makes this all possible.

Written by Bro. J.

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