Many of my friends are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS church) just like me. However, I also have many treasured relationships with people not of my faith. For those of you who aren’t a part of my faith, but who know me well, you may have asked yourself at one time or another why I would be a part of such a religion. I know what people say about Mormons, and I know what preachers teach about them. You may have looked at me and thought, “Mandy is a smart, kind person. She has a good family life. I just don’t get how she is a member of such a church that believes such weird things.”
I was born to two parents who were both members of my church, so since birth, I have attended the LDS church. You may be interested to know, however, that my father joined the church in his early adulthood, while my mother grew up with parents who were members (though one of her parents also joined the church later in life).
My earliest memories of attending church include going to a wonderful place called Primary each Sunday, where we would sing songs about Jesus, prayer, Heaven, and sometimes even popcorn popping on the apricot tree. We learned lessons from teachers about many different things, such as prophets, families or the fact that we are all children of God. We, the kids, also sometimes got to go in front of the microphone and speak to the other kids about a topic like this. We had classes for our age groups, where we would learn scripture stories or ways to be more like Jesus. Primary was so much fun, but also helped me learn that I was special and that God loved me.
When I was eight years old I made the decision to be baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My dad baptized me. I remember him taking me out into the hallway to practice how he would put me under the water. I actually had to be baptized twice because my foot came up a little the first time. My dad was also the one who laid his hands on my head and gave me the gift of the Holy Ghost. I remember feeling so happy that day, and enjoying the loving attention I got from family, teachers and friends for my decision.
The next day in church, we sang a hymn called I Am a Child of God. I had sung it many times before in Primary. That day, though, as I sang it, tears fell gently down my face. I asked my mom why I was crying, and she said it was because I was feeling the Holy Ghost.
As a member of the church, I grew up praying before each meal, as a family, and on my own before bed. We read our scriptures around the table every night after dinner. We did family nights called Family Home Evening, where my parents would teach us a gospel lesson and then we would do a fun activity, like the “tasting game,” and would sometimes have a dessert. We also loved celebrating holidays together. Dressing up for Halloween was always so much fun. We gave special focus, though, to Christmas and Easter, so we could not only have fun, but remember our Savior.
Our family had so much fun spending time together. Sure, we as kids annoyed each other, and we didn’t always listen to our parents. But, we loved each other and made family a priority. I have many fond memories of going to the movie store and getting ice cream, playing make believe, having “school” on the chalkboard, riding bikes, and going to Nana’s house.
When I turned 12, I no longer attended Primary. I started a new program, called Young Women. I was in that program until I turned 18. It was a program where I learned how to love myself and love my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Each Sunday we would stand as a group and recite something called the Young Women Theme. In it, we spoke of our knowledge that we are daughters of God and that he loves us. We promised to stand as his witnesses at all times and in all things and in all places. Then we would recite values we promised as Young Women to live by. There were many, but some of my favorites were individual worth, choice and accountability, good works and integrity. Throughout all my years as a young woman, I did assignments, projects and activities to help me learn more about, appreciate, and act upon these upstanding values.
|This is me with a group of young women, dressed up to perform the Parable of the Good Samaritan.|
Each year all the girls from a large geographical area would come together at a girls’ camp. Girls’ Camp was one of my favorite times of year. We were each secret sisters, and would do nice things for another girl each day. We did many activities and lessons to help us learn how to take care of ourselves physically and spiritually. We ate great food. We got to know each other better. Most importantly, we felt closer to our Savior as we bore testimony of Him.
I remember one year we followed a path through the camp site. We stopped at different areas where someone would speak to us. I don’t remember what they said, but I remember the final destination – a tent. Inside that tent was a picture of Jesus Christ. I remember tears streaming down my cheeks. I knew the man in that picture really was my Savior and Redeemer, and through Him, I could be clean, and I could stand have the strength to always stand up for what was right.
Additionally, once a year from age 14-17, I went to something called Youth Conference, meant for Young Women and Young Men. For a few days, we would come together as a large geographical group and focus on our spirituality. I always loved this time of year too. I left loving Christ a little more, and having a greater desire to do good.
During all four of my high school years, I attended a class called Seminary. It was held at 6AM each morning before school. Each year we studied different books of scripture. It sounds crazy to get up at 4:30 in the morning to go to a spiritual class, doesn’t it? Why not sleep in a little more? I can tell you that Seminary was one of the best things I ever did as a youth. I learned and grew so much. I understood the scriptures better, I felt a desire to do what was right, and I felt the Spirit on a daily basis. I will always be grateful to my Seminary teachers who worked so hard to prepare those lessons for us, and teach them so early in the morning, when they too, could have been sleeping.
As a child, we sang a song in Primary called I Love to See the Temple. I always loved that song, and in the Young Women program, we focused so much more on the temple. We learned that our decisions and our chosen paths should lead us to the temple. In the temple, we make covenants with God and receive instruction for our spiritual benefit. As a Young Woman, I knew that I wanted to be married in the temple, for marriages in the temple were not just until death do us part, but rather, for all eternity. I knew I wanted nothing less.
I have such special, spiritual memories of attending the temple as a Young Woman. We would go to the temple in Washington, D.C. as a group of youth and perform baptisms on behalf of those who had died without having that ordinance. The Spirit was always so strong there. I knew that was the Lord’s house and that we were blessing lives.
All of the things I have mentioned helped ground me in the gospel of Christ. Life wasn’t always easy in middle school and high school, because my friends were doing things I knew to be wrong, whether legally or morally. I knew I was supposed to have integrity. I didn’t always make the right decisions, though. Sometimes I gave in to peer pressure, and sometimes I wasn’t completely honest about my faith for fear of rejection. However, I always knew deep down in my soul what was right and what was wrong, and what the Lord wanted from me and for me.
As I graduated from high school and entered my adulthood, I felt spiritually prepared for what the world had in store. All those years of spiritual education and experience had given me great faith, and a conviction to remain a member of the LDS church even after I left my parents’ home and went off on my own.
About six months after high school, I left home to attend Southern Utah University. It wasn’t that difficult to stay an active member of the LDS church there, since so many people were members, but it was still an every day challenge to stand as a witness and keep God’s commandments. That challenge has never gone away, and never will.
|This is me with some of my college friends at a park in Cedar City in 2003.|
One thing that helped me stay a strong member of the church, without my parents, was becoming a member of the world’s oldest and largest organization for women: the Relief Society. It is a place for sisterhood, charity, faith-building, strengthening families, and finding joy in our divine nature as daughters of God. Throughout the years, my love and appreciation for this great organization has increased, and my love for my fellow sisters has grown exponentially.
While I was at school, I fell in love, and at age 19 and a half, I was married in the temple of God. The previous day I had made special covenants with the Lord in preparation for my marriage. Those two days I felt the Spirit of the Lord so strongly. I knew, as I had as a youth, that the temple was the house of the Lord. I knew that it was a sacred place, and I knew that if my husband and I stayed faithful, our marriage would last for eternity.
Most of you know that my marriage did not last, for my husband did not stay faithful to the Lord. He did not put God and his family as a priority, but rather his own lusts. That was a very difficult time of life for me as a young divorcee and mother. However, I was able to get through it. It took me longer than it should have, and I know that is because I wallowed in self pity, and I had forgotten the things I knew so well – that Heavenly Father loves me and knows my name. I am his daughter and he wants me to be happy. I can be happy and endure my trials if I pray to Him for help. My worth does not change as my circumstances change. Jesus Christ, who felt and suffered every sin, pain, sickness, and trial anyone on this earth would ever experience, can lift me up because He knows what I have been through. I always have a friend, and I am not alone. When I finally remembered and enveloped myself with these truths, and remembered that I was still so blessed, I was able to move on and be happy again with my little son.
|This is Casey and me in the fall of 2006.|
My marriage ended, but my membership in my church did not dwindle. My entire adult life I attended the LDS church every Sunday. I have never been one to skip church, and I can tell you that the times in my life when I have missed due to sickness, I have felt like something was missing. I have always longed to be there amongst my fellow brothers and sisters, to receive spiritual nourishment.
There has only been one time in my life when I have questioned my faith. It was during a time when I put my own personal desires above God’s will, and above keeping His commandments. I was dating someone I shouldn’t have been dating, doing things I shouldn’t have been doing. I justified it by saying that I was sharing my faith with him, and that maybe he would join my church someday. You see, I still believed that marriage between and man and a woman was eternal. I still wanted to marry in the temple, but I couldn’t if I was dating someone not a member of my faith. Beyond that, he did not share in many of my values. I kept going on with it, though, because I was in love.
One day, we were talking on the phone, and I was talking to him about my church. He suddenly threw out all these “facts” in my face, trying to prove that my church wasn’t true – that everything I had held dear my ENTIRE LIFE was a lie.
I remember getting off the phone with him shaking. I could feel evil all around me,like a deep, dark cloud, and I wept. I can’t explain exactly how I felt, but it was definitely not the Holy Spirit. I truly questioned – is my church true? Is it?
Through mighty prayer, reflection on my life, reflection on this person’s intentions, and reflection on my past and how my faith had guided me all those years, I learned what I already knew – that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is and always will be true.
I stayed a member, and I had to repent for sins I had committed. I had to get myself back on track. As I did that, and as I remembered what was truly important, the Lord brought Jad into my life, someone who just the year before had found his way into the LDS faith. He and I were married, and a year later, we were sealed in the temple. We know that if we are faithful throughout our lives, that our marriage and our family will be eternal.
|This is Jad, Casey and me on March 6, 2010, the day Jad and I were married.|
|This is Jad, Rigel and me at the Raleigh, NC LDS Temple on March 12, 2011.|
We have been so blessed, and thank our Heavenly Father every day for all He does for us. Our lives are not perfect, though. In our family, we still have sickness, disagreements, financial trouble, etc., just like every other family.
We do have a strong faith in Jesus Christ, and in the church we belong to. My oldest son, Casey has been the first of our children to make the decision to be baptized, a decision he is grateful for and finds joy in each day.
|This is Jad, Casey and me at our church on June 15, 2013, the day of Casey’s baptism.|
In the past few years I have made it a goal to share the gospel of Jesus Christ every day of my life. I strive to be a good example, a good friend, a good wife and mother, and a good missionary. I am stronger than ever in my faith.
As a family, we do our Family Home Evenings, we study our scriptures, and we pray often. We have fun together, and show love for each other and our neighbors.
This is my life. Does is sound weird? As I look at my life, maybe it is weird because I devote the vast majority of my life to my family and to Christ. The world around us tells us to follow self-serving pursuits, and do what feels good, what is comfortable, what is convenient. In that case, yes, I and all the members of my church are indeed peculiar.
You may be thinking, but what about your beliefs, though? Your life isn’t too weird, but some of your beliefs are.
Think about this a bit, and I will talk about those beliefs and why they may not be so weird after all, in part two of this blog post. Much love!