For a long time I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it. Why was I still in the church? What about it kept me coming back every time I left?
For a long time I didn’t know, but I think I do now.
Nothing about my life has been stable. Growing up, I was never certain about anything; my family, friends, my purpose, or my worth. I change my mind about so many things all the time, and I have the habit of making decisions on a whim. I struggled for a very long time trying to understand why certain things happened to me and what I did to deserve them. My family left the church when I was younger, and I have been in and out of activity up until just over two years ago. There were times when I wanted to leave the church and never look back, and times where I felt I needed to stay.
After my family left the church, my father left the family. My older siblings went their own separate ways, and after about a year with my mom, she left me and my two sisters. I haven’t seen my father since, but my mom returned when I was 16. However, sometimes I feel like she’s still not here. You can imagine what this kind of thing does to a 13 year-old girl. I didn’t understand why I was unwanted by the two people I was taught to trust. For years I felt alone and empty. All I’ve ever wanted was to be my own person, and even still I feel like a tiny part of me will always be defined by the decisions of other people.
During the time my parents were gone, I began to pray. I remember the first time I said my own personal prayer; I didn’t really know what to say, but I remember asking Heavenly Father to let me be happy. I was miserable and at a young age I became hard and cynical. It was hard for me to wrap my head around the concept of someone loving me unconditionally, but when I prayed, I could feel God there. I could feel Him around me, watching, listening. He knew I was there and I knew He was there too.
Through difficult times when I was a teenager, one thing was always certain: God knew. The gospel was the only thing in my life that was constant. The knowledge that Christ felt everything I did, and endured every trial was ingrained into my mind and my soul.
Like I said, there were times where I wanted to leave and never look back. I remember being so angry because I felt like the gospel gave me false hope. I thought of how easy it would be to leave and forget all about it. It was never that easy. I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was where I was supposed to be.
You know that feeling when you’re at camp, or a friends house, and you’re having a good time and then you go to bed and you think, “man, I really miss my own bed”? And for just a moment, you miss home, and think about how you might sleep just a little better if you were there in your bed. This is what being inactive was like. I felt like I could do whatever I wanted, but there were moments when I thought maybe I could be just a little happier with the gospel back in my life.
A little over two years ago, before coming to BYU-Idaho, the missionaries contacted me and asked if they could teach me a couple of lessons. I reluctantly agreed. In the first lesson, they taught me about the restoration of the church. As they went on and on about the importance of Christ’s church on earth, I said to them, “I know all of this already.” It was quiet for a minute before one of the elders looked at me and asked, “then what happened?”
I was shocked, I didn’t expect him to react that way. I didn’t even know if missionaries were allowed to say things like that. Even if they weren’t, that question shook me. I left that lesson and sat in my car for about an hour and cried. For the first time in such a long time, I felt Heavenly Father with me again. I didn’t know what happened. I didn’t know why I thought it was so easy to leave something that I knew to be the reason I was here. I had been so sure that I didn’t need it in my life, but I had forgotten that it was the only thing that has kept me going.
Now, at 21, in my junior year of college at BYU-Idaho, I finally understand why I am a Mormon. As I said before, I had felt God with me, and I know that Christ suffered everything I have. Because of this, that piece of me that knew it was always trying to pull itself back to where I got it. I am a Mormon because I have felt the presence of Jesus Christ in my darkest times. When I was 14 and crying myself to sleep because I missed my mom, He was there, feeling it all. When I was 16 and hating myself because I wasn’t good enough, He was there, bleeding the same blood I was. When I was 20 and so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed to brush my hair, He was there.
This gospel has been the only certain and constant thing in my life. So many things have been taken away, or have left me, but nothing that has come from being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints has left me.
I hate it when people say “I’m grateful for the trials I went through.” I am not. I’m not grateful that I was left by the two people that were supposed to protect me. I’m not grateful that there have been days where I would rather not wake up. I’m not grateful that most of the pain I have suffered in my life was because of other people. I’m not grateful for these things, but I got through all of it because of that piece of me that knows the truth. I’m grateful for the pain I was spared because of Christ. I’m grateful that Heavenly Father heard me. I am grateful that I felt Him there with me when I cried night after night. I am grateful that He gave me the strength to get through everything. I wish I never had to go through the things that I have, but I would never take back the knowledge and certainty of the atonement of Christ. I’ve never prayed to God and said “thank you for this terrible time in my life”, but I have said “thank you for helping me through it.” To know that the most perfect man to ever walk this earth saw my face while He bled from every pore, and felt every pain and affliction, every ounce of guilt and emptiness that I have and He still said “yes, I will die for her” is something that I will never be able to shake.
And it is still hard. To leave something you knew, then come back is difficult. There are times where I feel inadequate, unworthy, unclean, and sometimes still unwanted. But the joy that is in my heart when I remember why I am still here is worth it. The feeling of not belonging in my family because I’m the only one who chose to come back is worth it. The feeling that at any point I could mess up all my hard work is worth it, because I know that even if I do mess up, this gospel and this church are not going anywhere. The love that Heavenly Father has for me is constant, and even in my darkest times when I didn’t want to see it, that love was there. When I am here, in the church where I am supposed to be, I feel wanted and I feel worthy of so much love. I know my worth because God would not have stuck by my side through everything if He thought I didn’t deserve it.
This church is not perfect, the members are not perfect, I am not perfect, but the gospel of Jesus Christ is. The power and the spirit that is felt when praying to Heavenly Father is perfect and definite. And I know there are so many things I don’t know, and I might not know until the next life, but right now I know this to be true.
So, yeah. I’m a Mormon.