Sunday, October 7, 2012

Building My Faith: Sharing My Testimony


 filter, baby, testimony, LDS, Mormon, Sharing Testimony,
Grace watching President Uchtdorf speak during Saturday's session

Today is Conference Sunday and we have been enjoying words from the Prophet and I was prompted to realize that I haven't shared my testimony with those in my life--and that I need to. 

I shared my testimony, partly, at Grace's blessing. But, I got so nervous and it definitely didn't come out the way I wanted it to. This is also a re-do for that. 

I pondered for awhile on how best to do this. Invite them all to a fast Sunday? No, many of my friends don't even live in driving distance of me. Send them all a letter? To me, that seemed a little weird. I thought of my blog: a place where many of my friends and family come to keep up with me and my family. What better place to share something that bonds my family together? 

Please read through with an open mind and an open heart. This is something extremely special in my life that I want to share with those who are very special to me. 

This will be long, but I feel like I have to put in background for you to really understand why my testimony is so important to me. High Five if you get through it!

Who knows, maybe I will print this out and read it at next Fast Sunday, so I can get out what I want to say in a more eloquent way with fewer "ums". 
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As a youth, I had always been involved in the church from the time of my baptism. My grandparents even got me my very own scriptures with my name on it when I turned 10.  I went to church, participated in Young Women's, went to girls camp, did community service, read my scriptures, went to Seminary, I had my favorite prophet--Uchtorf--and tried my best to live the LDS lifestyle.

Then in my very VERY small town, I was met with people who weren't what I thought those who were in the LDS faith should be. They were those who would preach the religion, but not live it. They were so very nice in church, but unspeakably cruel outside church doors. I dealt with it for awhile, knowing you would find such people in any religion. (In retrospect, I feel badly for passing judgment on them, when I know I was and am far from perfect.)

Then, one of my dear friends was met with unspeakable brutality for being gay. I opened my eyes to what was happening in my school to those who were gay, and I was disgusted. I stood up for my friends at every turn, and thus got the full extent of the same hatred my friends experienced along the way. I didn't want to associate myself with anyone that would treat those who are different, or believe different, horribly.

The last time I entered an LDS church before last October, was when I was 16.

I told my bishop I was leaving the church, that I wanted my records withdrawn, that I was done. I had a meeting with the counselors, and the image of my friends being judged so harshly for being different replayed in my mind, and definitely fueled my resounding "yes" when they asked if I was sure about leaving.

As I went through high school, I grew resentful to those who were LDS, even if they weren't the ones who were being cruel. I started studying a new religion, one that was on the complete opposite of the religious spectrum: Judaism. So, from the time I was 17 until the summer of 2011, I was a practicing Jew. I participated in Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Hanukkah -all the Jewish traditions and holidays.

During this time I did many things I am not proud of, and many things I would take back if only I had a way. I got tattoo's, I drank (only a few times, never cared for alcohol to be honest--it makes people stupid), I swore, I wore what I wanted--and while they were never scandalous choices--they weren't always modest either. The one thing I most regret: I broke the law of chastity.

I also had several serious health issues that made me question God all together and for some reason made me steadfast in the decision to leave the church. I still don't fully understand that thought process...

Then...I met Daniel. The first thing I did was ask him if he was Mormon because I just didn't want to be drawn back into a life that had such painful memories for me, even though my best friend and my loving Grandparents are LDS. I couldn't bring myself to date a Mormon, because I knew I didn't want to change. Daniel said he grew up in it, but he wasn't practicing. That was good enough for me.

Then in late September I found out I was pregnant. I was floored. I was embarrassed. I was extremely scared. I cried for a day straight. Daniel had close to the same reaction, minus the crying.

One night when we were talking to Dan and DiAnna and we were talking about marriage and were Daniel and I stood on that. As I was leaving I asked Dan if it bothered him that he was talking about his son marrying a Jewish girl. He said he didn't care because he knew when he met me that I would be Mormon again one day. I laughed and walked out the door thinking that Dan was crazy and horribly optimistic.

My grandma, seeing me struggle, asked me to read my scriptures and asked me to pray and to give the LDS faith another chance. Previously, I shrugged those advances off, but now I needed something. I needed peace. I needed help in this decision.  So, I did. I started contemplating why I left the church in the first place. Being honest? I was ashamed. How could I leave a religion based on a group of people's actions? Yes, what they did was horrible. But that is their personal actions, not the actions of the church. I shouldn't have judged those who were so cruel, I am not Jesus, I have no badge that says I am deputy Jesus and should pass judgment on them. I am ashamed I did and I am ashamed it took me so long to realize that. But even with this realization I was still too stubborn to admit I was wrong.

One night in the kitchen at Dan and DiAnna's I had brought over a list of questions I wanted answered. That were all erroneous. They were just to put up walls and show just how against the religion I was. There were several men in the kitchen that night, Dan and Daniel among them. All of them sharing their testimonies with me. But, it wasn't till Daniel started crying, a man who does not cry, and telling me he was wrong, that he knew this was the true church, that he had a testimony and he didn't know why he denied it for so long--it wasn't till all of that--that I was truly touched by what was happening in the kitchen. Yet, I was still stubborn--even as my soul was softening. Dan saw through it. After about an hour of answering rather stupid questions and testimony sharing, he said "I could answer these questions all night, but it won't change your mind. You have to do something else."  I asked what that was. He quoted Moroni, telling me that I had to pray if this was the true church. To honestly seek the truth. As I left, he asked me to promise to do so. And if I did, and I still didn't want to be LDS, that he'd drop it. I look back at that now and smile, knowing he had to have known how that was going to go.

I prayed, and I got the answer that this was the true church and that I made a mistake leaving. That I had not clung to the iron rod as I should have. But I was still too embarrassed to admit it.

I kept quiet when I went to Dan and DiAnna's. I said nothing. I went to church with them and Daniel every Sunday. I gave comments in Relief Society. I made friends with women in the ward. DiAnna bought me a new Book of Mormon and I read it, a lot. I did more than that, I studied it and grew a better understanding of what it was I knew was true.

It wasn't until Daniel took me to Temple Square and when we went to see the Christus statue, that I openly cried. I had to be open and I felt the need to tell everyone that I was wrong, that I just felt so stupid for even thinking for a moment Jesus wasn't the Savior, that he wasn't my redeemer. It made me feel so ashamed. So, for about 15 minutes, we--Daniel and I--just sat and stared at the statue as I cried and made my peace with my Savior. I felt a wave of peace as I said I was sorry, that I knew this was the true church. I knew I was forgiven. I knew He knew me, knew my struggle, and that He loved me and forgave me.

As we walked out of the statue room, and went down the hall of the paintings, I looked back because Daniel had let go of my hand, and as I looked back--he was down on one knee. It was as, I feel, in Gods plan. I had to grow up. I had to come to the realization that I was on the wrong path, that I needed to come back into the fold. When I had these realizations God opened the way for Daniel to feel the time was perfect to propose.

Through the coming months, my testimony kept building. I was filled with more and more spirituality as Daniel and I made the steps to become worthy to be sealed in the Temple. Many of my testimony building moments happened because of our presence in church. The women of the Relief Society who were always so nice to me, and always so supportive, I am extremely grateful for. These women are who I want to become, I hold them up as example of how to be charitable and loving regardless.

Dan and DiAnna have been nothing but supportive: letting me make my decisions on my own and guiding me when I asked for it. Dan was always and is always up for answering any questions I have or helping me with any problem I bring to him. DiAnna became as close to me as anyone, and I am really glad that I beat the cliche and have a sincere and profound love and appreciation for my in-laws. Who are some of the best LDS people I know, who not only preach the religion but strive every day to live it. Daniel and I both agree, that we want to mold our lives off of their example. They built their family around the church and held on to their religion when things got bumpy. They are the most loving and kind people that I know. I truly love them and count my blessings every day that they love me and have welcomed me into their family.

Along with Dan and DiAnna--came the Mafia family. This amazing group of people who are just so welcoming and kind. Who let me into their fold with open arms and proved even more to me that you can't judge a whole batch by a few bad apples. Those who support us and who care just as much about our family as we do. They are all a blessing that I am so grateful for.

In May, Grace was born. This little girl is our greatest blessing. Period.

I think I found out about Grace at JUST the right time. She forced Daniel and I to grow up. She forced us to face the facts and realize we were wrong. For two VERY stubborn people that took a bit. It made us realize how much we meant to each other and that we did want to be together forever. It started us on the path we are on now, that I feel is a righteous and worthy path. It really made me realize that God does everything for a reason and that we truly do have to trust in his plan because as our Eternal Father--He knows best.

I am so grateful to everyone who has gotten me to this point. Who was there when I had a question. Who was there to support me in tough times. Who were just kind to me when I knew no one here. Everything you've done has helped me on this path.

This path to my testimony...

I know that this church is the true church and that this is the restored church of Jesus Christ. I believe that Joseph Smith was a true prophet on this earth. I know that Jesus died for our sins and now lives and is with us every day in everything we do. I know that we must CLING to the rod, because you never know when a test of faith will come, and you must cling to the Gospel, or you could fall. I believe in the power of the Holy Ghost and the promptings that you can receive. I believe in God the Fathers eternal plan for us, and I know that we must trust in that plan and stay steadfast in faith. I know that Thomas S. Monson is the living prophet on this earth who receives revelation from our Heavenly Father. I have a strong testimony of charity, community service and caring for one another, because it has been shown to me and Daniel by so many. I believe in family prayer, and it's power to bring families together. I believe in personal prayer--and its ability to bring us closer to our Heavenly Father and His son Jesus Christ. I believe in the sanctity of marriage and the blessings it can bring you. I believe in the LDS life style and the constant blessings that rain down on you when you stick to your guns and resist temptations. I believe in the importance of temple work, and being sealed in the temple and I can't wait until Daniel and I are blessed with the opportunity to be sealed.

I am eternally grateful for my testimony, and it's constant growth. I am grateful for those who add to it. I am grateful for the many blessings that Heavenly Father has seen fit to give to me. I hope to always be worthy to receive them.

So, from the words of one of the talks during the conference weekend...

I am a Mormon and I love it...and I try VERY hard to live it.

I say these things, humbly and gratefully, in the name of our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

Amen.

2 comments:

  1. This was very beautiful, Tanika, and I'm very happy for you. Your journey is one many people aren't brave enough to take.
    Personally I think your tattoos are beautiful, and everything you went through during that time period helped bring you to where you are today - reflecting on it doesn't make you any less of a person, it just makes you strong enough to hold firm and realize what's dear and precious to you forevermore. You have a beautiful family and a bright future ahead of you. Everything it took to get you there was your journey. Now you start a new one. :)

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  2. Dang girl, you done made me cry. This was so beautiful. I am so glad you found something that makes you truly happy. :) I love you lots, and I miss you!

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for taking the time to say something back! :) One sided conversations are never any fun! :) Thanks for reading!