Food Storage & Other Adventures in Motherhood

Mormon Journey Part 1: Religion and My Childhood

by heather

I realize that there are people in all parts of the spectrum who aren’t going to agree with what I have to say. I’m not telling my story to try to convince anyone, I’m telling my (our) story to tell the story. I told part of our story here, but there was more to it, before and after. I have many friends and acquaintances who have asked me to share it. I hope that it helps you readers, wherever you are in your journey. If it helps you with your faith, great. If it helps you with your doubts, awesome. If you hate it, stop reading. But I hope that maybe it will help you to understand and be kind to others around you wherever they are in their journeys.

Me and my little brother, circa 1989

I grew up in a relatively traditional Utah Mormon family. I am an 8th generation Mormon on my dad’s side and a 7th generation Mormon on my mom’s side. (Some zealous and mistaken ancestor even had our family sealed to Joseph Smith Jr’s family.) I was born and raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I knew it, I lived it, I loved it. I was not just a hard-core believer, I was a border-line zealot. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I have read the Book of Mormon. Before I graduated from high school I had read the Book of Mormon 24 times and the entire standard works twice from cover to cover.  I spent a lot of time reading conference talks, playing hymns on the piano and keeping a meticulous journal. I read The Work And The Glory series, twice.  I thought that this meant that I was pretty well-versed in LDS Church history. I worked at the Missionary Training Center in high school and college. I took my turn as the Beehive president, the Mia-Maid president and the Laurel president. I volunteered in the special needs seminary class. I attended youth firesides and I felt the Spirit. I don’t share these things to brag, but to illustrate that I was not just a bench-warming member. I was very committed to my religion. My beliefs helped me to get through some difficult experiences. Anyone who says that I never had a testimony never knew me.  I was that kid who read my scriptures twice a day and bore my testimony a few times a year, because I loved the Gospel so much.

As a family we went to temple dedications together, we sang hymns together and we frequently had doctrine-based discussions and my grandparents would tell me stories of my pioneer ancestors. We watched the Living Scripture videos. Every year on Easter we watched The Ten Commandments. We went to the Manti Pageant, we visited the Sacred Grove and we regularly went to see the lights at Temple Square at Christmas.

Credit: LDS.org

When I was eight years old my mom started teaching me how to do genealogy. I spent thousands of hours doing family history research. I loved it. I was really excited about learning about these people and helping them to be sealed together as families. When I was eighteen my mom encouraged me to go through the temple (this was back when the mission age for girls was 21 and up). My stake president thought this was a great idea, because it was me, he knew me, and that I was an uber genealogy nerd who just wanted to ‘redeem the living and the dead’. (More on that later.) As a child/adolescent I had spent hours studying the facsimiles in the Book of Abraham as found in the Pearl of Great Price. I was so excited to get to the temple and figure out what this all meant! I would be able to put more pieces together, for it “contains writings that cannot be revealed unto the world; but is to be had in the Holy Temple of God.”  Figures No. 8, 9, 10, and 11 for the win! And maybe 12-21. (Spoiler alert: the LDS  Temple Endowment ceremony isn’t related to the facsimiles found in the Book of Abraham. If you have a valid counter-argument to this statement, I would love to hear it. And no, Min is not putting his ‘arm’ to the square.)

Throughout my life I have had many faith-promoting experiences. I won’t go into all of them, but I’ll share a few that are relevant. Regardless of where I am in my faith journey, I’m still pretty sure that these experiences happened. When I was almost three years old I got lost. I was scared and I hid in a closet. I remember that closet distinctly. A man with a mustache came and found me. He told me he was my grandpa and he loved me. He looked like the picture on our wall, so I let him take me by the hand. He took me back to my mom, who could not see him. My grandfather had been dead for eight years at this point.

Through the years after, my mom frequently asked me questions about this experience that confused me.
“Did he tell you that you couldn’t touch him?”
“No”
“Did he try to shake your hand?” (See Doctrine & Covenants 129)
“No”
“Did he talk to you about anything else?”
“No”
“What was he wearing?”
“clothes”

According to my mom she had never talked to me about my grandfather before. She was surprised one day I pointed to his picture and told her that was my grandpa and he was the one that found me when I was lost. I realize that for skeptics, the testimony of a small child doesn’t mean much, and many would try to rationalize this away. As skeptical as I have become, I can not explain this experience as anything short of miraculous. I don’t pretend to know why I was so special or what *might* have happened, that my dead grandfather felt a need (or was allowed) to intervene and escort me back to my mother. There are children lost for longer and put in my danger than I was, every single day. I don’t know why I had this experience, I just am grateful that it happened.

For years, this experience was confirmation to me that ‘The Church was true’, when actually this experience had little to do with Mormonism. My grandfather did not speak for or against anything that I learned in church. To me, it makes me believe in an afterlife, but goodness I think most religious denominations believe in or at least hope for an after-life, it’s not a tenet that is exclusive to Mormonism. It also makes me believe that in the after-life we will be with our families. Modern Mormons have a tendency to be leery of experiences like this. If I ever told anyone besides my mom this story, I was treated as if I were strange, so I mostly kept it to myself. I find it ironic that a people who base their entire religion on an 19th century miraculous experience are incredulous when they happen here and now.

Being raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints taught me some very important things that I have held onto and I will continue to hold on to.

  1. Honesty- I am brutally honest. There have been too many times when I have been honest when I maybe shouldn’t have been. As an adult I have learned to keep my mouth shut a little more often. I always subscribed to the idea that if you always tell the truth, it’s much easier to keep your story straight. It is a quality I value, and I can’t respect or trust someone who can’t be honest with me.
  2. Integrity- Integrity relates very much to honesty. It’s about doing the right thing, even when it is hard. It’s about treating people fairly and being honest in not only words, but behavior. It’s about doing the right thing because you know it is the right thing, even when people around you are unkind to you or don’t understand why you feel compelled to hold to certain principles.
  3. Research- In my years of hanging out in various family history libraries, I learned how to research. I learned how to check facts and always tried to trace things back to original sources. I wasn’t going to do all of this research if I wasn’t going to do check my sources and get the facts straight.
  4. Charity- I have always believed that it is important to love the people around us. It is important to be kind to people who are different or have problems, and really everyone has some kind of struggle.

And these same principles are what has lead me out of the church.

 

Update 1/2015: Here’s the essay that is found in LDS.org that discusses some of the issues with the Book of Abraham.


3 Responses to “Mormon Journey Part 1: Religion and My Childhood”

  1. Troy says:

    I enjoyed reading this. I was devoted to it all as well. Fascinating story about getting lost in the in closet. Who knows how to make sense of things like that?!?

  2. Camille says:

    I was always very jealous that you had your act together as a teenager because I felt like I was the opposite (a lost mess, basically). You are smart and talented and brave, but I’m not such a screw up anymore, so I’m not jealous but I do admire you still :)

    Can’t wait to read the next installment!

    • heather says:

      Ahh, thanks friend. Everyone has their own issues to deal with. Overcoming tough stuff takes smarts and bravery too. I’m glad that you’re much happier with your life now. I always enjoy the things you post on your blog and facebook. You crack me up!

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