My name is Jessica and I blog at One Shiny Star. I am 22 years old, married, and one semester away from graduating college. I have been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for 12 years, and it has changed my life in ways I never dreamed possible.
My story is three-fold. Me, my family, and my husband.
I cannot count the number of churches I have attended. I have moved more than 20 times, so that is a jumping off point. My dad was raised Baptist, while my maternal Grandmother is Wiccan, and my Mother is blessedly sane – she did not grow up going to church. Don’t get her confused, she has never been a practicing Wiccan. Because of my parents’ varying backgrounds, while I was growing up, we attended churches of every variety. From the Catholic churches on the Army base, to the Presbyterian vacation bible schools, we attended a different church every Sunday. My parents were trying to figure out what worked for them, and my sisters and I were just along for the journey.
In 1997 my family moved to England. I was 10 years old. I did not fit in as the only American in my British school, and the only friend I had lived down the street. I was too young to have heard any of the things people say about Latter-day Saints. I just knew that my new friends went to a church. They asked me if I wanted to go, and I said yes – with out any prejudice, or expectations. I’ve been to churches before, this was nothing new.
But, this church was different. I can’t put a finger on it, but even as a child I felt more welcome. My parents had not found a church to fit them, but I started to attend church with my neighbor every Sunday. I learned that the reason I was going to church was not just to hear Bible stories, and it wasn’t just to put quarters into the passing plate. They didn’t even have a collection plate! I didn’t have to sit in the pews while every one else went up to the front to eat crackers. I will admit, at that point, I didn’t have a meaning behind church. I went because my parents went. But here I was, making this decision for myself.
I don’t know if you remember being 10, but as the oldest of four children my Mom tells me I was 30 at the age of 10. But I loved going to church. I enjoyed Primary (the Church’s program for children) and learned so much there. At home my parents were constantly fighting – later in my life my Mom would tell me the reason was religion. My Dad was not happy about my church attendance. It was a rough time for my family as my Dad was deployed, and my Mom was trying to raise four children in a foreign country.
I remember the first song I ever learned at Church, Hymn # 81. Press Forward Saints. As I was learning about a Savior, some one who loved me, even when my parents were fighting and the kids at school were teasing me. I found peace in reading my children’s bible, and singing church songs.
Press forward saints,
With steadfast faith in Christ
With hope’s bright flame alight
In heart and mind.
With love of God,
And love of all man kind
The second verse talks about finding peace in the scriptures, and I did. Over time, my Mom started going to church with me, and she brought my three sisters. My Dad stayed home. He did not approve. Eventually I started meeting with the missionaries. I remember the lessons about the plan of salvation, and that faith in Jesus Christ and the scriptures was the basis of this church, and everything was built from there. With out faith in both of these, everything else would fall apart. It all made sense. The tension and anxiety at home almost disappeared when I was at church, or praying. I told my parents I was getting baptized. I was a precocious 10 year old. But as I felt the Holy Ghost, and the comforting love of my Savior, I knew exactly what I needed to do.
I was baptized in the summer of 1998. The entire ward was there. My dad sat in the front row. It was a beautiful day, seeing my family together at the place where I had found solace. I did not want it to be the last time. After this event, my entire family started attending church. My dad went to primary with me, I remember him sitting with me, singing Love is Spoken Here. As the boys would sing “Mine is a home, where every hour, is blessed by the strength of priesthood power.” I would feel something missing. I didn’t have the Priesthood in my home, my parents were not working together to teach us. I remember once telling my Dad about this song, and saying that it upset me that he didn’t want to go to church, and I’m pretty sure I got in trouble for that one. As I said, I was outspoken. I realized that I needed to turn to my Heavenly Father because I was not going to change my Dad.
I remember the hot summer morning in 1999. I had gone on a Girl Scout camping trip, and returned early Sunday morning. My dad was at the bus stop, dressed for church, smiling. He told me to hurry up, he didn’t want to be late for church. I thought it was his military urgency to just be on time. I’m sure I was longing for a shower and a real bed. But my Dad took me and my family to church that day. As we walked into Sacrament meeting, over 20 minutes late, the meeting started.
Church doesn’t usually start late.
My family took our place in a side pew, all six of us. The Bishop stood up and announced that Brother *My Dad* was getting baptized the following Tuesday. My dad had a huge grin on his face, my Mom was stunned. I think I probably jumped up and down. My dad had met with the missionaries on his own, and made this decision on his own – he didn’t want to be influenced by me, or my Mama – and he had kept it a surprise. He really was baptized the following week.
I don’t want any one to think that this fixed my life forever. My parents still argued, I was still outspoken, and we continued to live our lives. But we were happier. I am so very blessed that my Heavenly Father answered the prayers of a desperate 10 year old, and he did it the way I wanted. But not everything always goes according to my plans. I know that not every one has a story like this to tell, and that many people leave behind nuclear family for a new church family. I knew that feeling for a short time, and I will forever be thankful for my family.
The next few years were like a dream, as I look back, but my family’s journey wasn’t over. We returned to the states from our military tour in England, moving to Kansas for 11 months, and then moving up to Washington state. It was incredible to move from state to state, every where we went there was a new ward (congregation) to welcome us with open arms. Looking back I see this as a crucial part of who I have become, because with out my friends from church, this awkward middle-schooler probably would’ve gotten in trouble, I was still rather precocious. But I was surrounded by people who had high standards, people who didn’t pressure me to sneak out, or drink, or do anything – the pressure was to behave! Gosh my parents got lucky. lol. What I love most is that often time, people will ask my Dad to come talk to the youth about where he served his mission – and of course he didn’t, because he joined the church in his late 30’s. But God has really done amazing things with his life.
A few short years after my family was baptized, we all went to the temple. This includes me, my three sisters (my little brother wasn’t born yet), my parents, and my maternal grandparents. Normally a couple is married and sealed in the temple from the beginning, but since my parents were not – and they already had kids, all of us went to the temple to be sealed together for time and all eternity. I don’t remember the words that were said, or the people (aside from my family) who were there, but I do remember the feeling. Being able to kneel at the alter with my parents and siblings as we were sealed together is still one of the best memories I have.
I am so blessed to have my family, and I am doubly blessed that we are sealed together for eternity. As my family moved around the world, all over the United States and Europe, we had each other. Not just physically, but spiritually and emotionally. The church helped each of us grow into better people, and thus a better family.
This is only a part of my story, but it is such strong proof that Heavenly Father knows his children, and he knows what we need. He doesn’t do things too early, or too late. He puts people in our lives, when we need them the most. My neighbor, the Hungarian sister missionary, and our wonderful ward in England. None of these things were happenstance.