Growing up in Baltimore, Maryland as a very busy and active 12-year old, I really didn't see it coming.
I came home one summer afternoon and there they were. Two young men wearing white shirts and ties in our living room talking to my mom and sister. I paid no attention to it. I'd come home everyday and there they were again. A couple weeks later, I found myself sitting down and "listening" to them. Hey, I was 12 - I was lucky to absorb one-third of what they were teaching. Before I knew it though - I was Mormon.
I was raised Baptist and basically went every Sunday - only because I had to. My father wouldn't come with us. It wasn't a priority for him. So, when I was told we were going to be baptized and changing churches, it really didn't hit me. I always went to church with them, so I would continue to follow along.
As the years passed, I would later come to recognize the classic battle - Faith vs. Works. I would continue to "check things off." I attended every Sunday. Check. I progressed in the priesthood. Check. I went to an LDS college. Check. I went on a mission to Madrid Spain. Check. I paid my tithing. Check. I got married in the temple. Check. I held positions of responsibility. Check. In my three--plus decades in the LDS church, there is so much pressure to do so much that when you miss just one "check" - you feel like an absolute failure.
Eight years ago, I had an opportunity to move from Michigan to Arizona - an absolute hotbed for LDS membership. We would get to live and worship among our own. This was going to make things great, right?
When we arrived in "Mormotopia" our children were ages 8 and 6. We thought that this would solve everything. Our kids could go to school with children they went to church with. Thing is, as they grew older - they became the "outsiders" - not in the clique. It got to a point in the last couple years where neither of our daughters wanted anything to do with the LDS church or with Christ for that matter. Why would they want to attend a church where they weren't wanted? I have to say I agreed.
For some five or six years, my wife and I questioned where we needed to be. Thing is, if you're LDS, you don't question. You just don't.
We "did it all" so to say, but after 23 years of marriage and "doing it all," why were we so unhappy? Weren't our "works" going to bless us? Seemed like we had all the "check marks."
So, for what I would say, three years, we would put on that wonderful Sunday game face and we, as a couple, still went to our meetings. Although feeling like the worst possible parents this earth could possess. Our hearts ached.
Reality struck nearly two years ago when I received a call at work one day before Christmas break indicating our youngest daughter - then 14 - was being rushed to the hospital. She took eight sleeping pills. We would later find out that she and her friends were taking pharmaceuticals from their homes and bringing them in to get high. The girls she was associating with were your typical "sugar and spice and everything nice" girls. We were wrong to judge the book by its cover.
My wife and I prayed so hard for both our daughters. Neither were happy, they were angry. After being expelled from her school, she made attempts to rid herself of bad influences and do well in school. She was and still is on her way. Her wake-up call came when she tried to turn to a good friend she used to associate with. He told her he couldn't hang out with her because his brother wouldn't let him due to her previous behavior. It broke her heart.
It would be a short time later that this friend invited her to his church - a Bible Church. She began to attend the high school student program on Wednesday nights. We saw a change. She was happy. She was around good kids. She told us she wanted to go to church with him on Easter. We asked if we could tag along. She gave her approval and we promised not to embarrass her. A teenager thing.
This Easter Sunday changed our lives. The message that day was a simple question - Do you practice a religion or do you have a relationship with Christ? My wife and I both turned to each other simultaneously - knowing the answer. We have never looked back. Each message since then, we believe, has been meant for us in our conversion to Christ. We feel so very, very free of an emotional and spiritual bondage and so full of Christ's love.
Please keep in mind that when you live in an area that has a great deal of LDS members - it is truly a "community". It's beyond a congregation. You miss two Sundays - murmuring begins. It's a network of sorts.
Since we have left, people we consider friends are now, for the lack of a better word, acquaintances. Some family members who know of our change are happy for us - and yes, they're LDS. Some family members are less than thrilled. When we needed help from our LDS ward, they weren't there for us even though we asked for help. I really don't know if they knew hot to react. In defense of a handful, they were and still are genuinely concerned. I've learned that we truly must love one another, as Christ taught. Our words and action can truly pierce the heart and soul of another. It's my prayer we be mindful and prayerful before we speak and act.
I won't go into detail, because it would take many, many pages of text, but this awakening of ours also shed light on many practices, rituals and doctrine that we today look at each other and say, "What were we thinking?" Mind you, I earned and spent my own money to go and preach this for two years in Spain. Our eyes were open, but couldn't see. We were taught principles and taught to accept them. Do not question authority.
Our oldest daughter - now 18 - has yet to attend with us. Her anger is still very deep at the LDS church and her Heavenly Father, but we pray each and every day for her heart to soften and to attend with us so she can meet her Heavenly Father and ask for help and forgiveness. To clean her house, so to speak. The thing is, she is one of the most generous and giving young women you would ever meet. And just because of continual ridicule and exclusion from those who shared her beliefs scarred her heart and her spirit. We ask for your prayers too.
But as I close this - I ask, "Who would've known?" The person who was causing so much pain, worry and strife would be the one who would lead us to Christ and a spiritual freedom that has truly changed our lives. It is through faith in Jesus Christ and not by "check marks" or works that we are saved and welcomed into his kingdom. We are eternally grateful for her inspired change and allowing us to follow in her footsteps. I only wish we had found this love, happiness and freedom long before.
You can visit Matt at Rise Rise
That's His story and I'm sticking to it!