In honor of my 1-year blogiversary, I am sharing my conversion story. It’s a bit long, but my hope is that it might help someone who is struggling the way I was.
I don’t look like your typical Mormon girl. I’m short, I’m not blonde, and I’m so pale I almost glow in the dark. What sets me apart the most, though, is my hair. My hair is huge; it’s curly, kinky, frizzy, and there’s a lot of it. My hair has made me stand out my entire life. As a baby, I was adorable, but the moment I set foot on the elementary school playground, I was a prime bully target.
The bullying lasted until I graduated. The bullies had started with my hair but quickly moved on to other things; I was (and am) a huge nerd, I was shy and incapable of standing up for myself, and I had no interest in fashion trends. I also hit puberty years before my peers, so I hit that awkward, gangly, training-bra stage far too early and didn’t fit in at all. I might as well have had a target tattooed on my forehead, given how bullies attacked. I was bullied in school, and when I got home I was cyber bullied. For many of my school years, I had no friends. I was alone and I was miserable.
Not surprisingly, I became very depressed. I couldn’t understand why I was so lonely. After so many years of this, I felt entirely hopeless. I contemplated giving up; what was the point of continuing to fight when there had been no sign anything would ever improve?
I watched a lot of TV as a means of coping. A lot of the shows I watched had religious tones; at the time I excused it by saying there was nothing else on, but really, I found the shows both fascinating and comforting. I appreciated watching people who were facing serious issues be given strength from a supernatural source. I wasn’t sure if it was possible, but it was nice to watch.
I had gone through a period of atheism while in middle school, but around the time I was fourteen, I sat up in bed in the middle of the night and poured my heart to the G-d I didn’t believe in. I had lost hope, I was emotionally spent, and ready to give up. I was crying so much I couldn’t sleep, and I was exhausted. I had seen people pray on TV and it seemed to work for them. I had no one else to turn to, so if there really was a G-d, He was just going to have to listen to me. I looked up at the ceiling, and tearfully told Him I couldn’t do this anymore. I was so alone, so unhappy, and I couldn’t do it anymore. I didn’t quite get how this whole “prayer” thing worked, so I just said, “If You’re really there, and if You’re really You, then You have to help me. You have to fix this. You have to do something. If You’re real, and if You care about me at all, then please help me.”
Things didn’t get easier, though. School was still a nightmare. I didn’t suddenly have a million friends or have a spring in my step every day. But I felt less alone, and I had the courage to hold on to hope. So, every night after that, I would sit up in bed, close my eyes and clasp my hands, and pour my heart out to G-d. I was 90% sure He was listening.
My mom had the thought that volunteering might bolster my spirits, and if I volunteered with one of the many religious organizations in my town (my hometown has one of the highest populations of Orthodox Jews in the country. It also has the best bakeries. No coincidence.) I would meet girls who went to yeshivas, and thus would not know the nicknames I’d been given in my own school, or that being friends with me made you a prime bully target as well, and was essentially social suicide. Mom was right. I began volunteering on Sundays at a program for special needs children. I developed a love for this work, which led me on the path to the wonderful career I have now, and in volunteering, I found friends.
At first, I struggled to fit in with the Orthodox culture, but my friends were kind and patient, and explained the things I didn’t understand. I had been raised Jewish, but in a reform home, so I knew precious little Hebrew, attended synagogue only a few times a year, and my home was not kosher. I had spent much of my life believing the Orthodox ways were silly, but my friends explained the beauty in them. They took me to Jewish bookstores, and helped me buy a siddur so I could learn the prayers, and they had me spend Orthodox Shabbats with their families. They gave me a new appreciation for Judaism, and strengthened my belief in G-d.
It was around this time that I first heard about Mormons. The introduction came when my mother was reading Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer. It wasn’t exactly a pro-Mormon book, but I was intrigued by this faith. I did some online research, and became fascinated by what Mormons believed, and how they lived their lives. They had some truly absurd ideas, were blatantly sexist, and all seemed to live in a Brady Bunch-esq perfect, happy, world that no real problems were able to penetrate. These Mormons were crazy, they were clearly brainwashed, and I couldn’t look away. I frequently researched the church, looked up BYU Facebook groups, and read everything I could. As soon as I learned the show Big Love was about polygamists in Utah (which I had learned was the Mormon capitol of the world), I made sure to watch every episode.
Miraculously, I survived high school. I went off to college, which I had been led to believe would be the best time of my life, where all the misery I had endured in high school would be more than made up for as I would incredibly popular and have the perfect college experience. After two months of being painfully aware that I didn’t fit in, I got really sick. I was constantly exhausted, no matter how much I slept, I had dizzy spells, nausea, frequent migraines, and wound up in the ER on several occasions.
On one of the visits to the ER, I was genuinely scared. It was the wee hours of the morning, and I was laying on a bed in a dark room by myself, trying hard not to cry. I looked up at the ceiling, and whispered, “G-d, I really need a hug right now.” As I said the words, I felt a warm, comforting embrace around me, and I knew G-d was there. I also knew if I was going to get through this, I needed a stronger relationship with G-d.
Judaism was what I knew, so I dove into it. I read from my siddur daily, and said the full morning and evening prayers each day. I studied the weekly Torah portion every Friday, and attended Shabbat services at my school. I kept strictly Kosher for Passover for the first time, and brushed up on my Hebrew. But for all my efforts, I didn’t feel what I was wanting to feel. I always felt one step out of step, and I didn’t have the relationship with G-d that I wanted, and that I was sure was possible. I became very frustrated.
While I was home for the summer, I watched Big Love again. The show was still good at that point (it kind of went downhill after season three) and I found myself glued to the television. It wasn’t the polygamy; I knew that was not the church and I knew I wanted no part in any kind of plural marriage. But there was something about the culture and the faith depicted (the show deals with the priesthood, baptisms, and shows Temple Square in the background of many shots) that I was fascinated by. When I finished the last episode available on HBO On Demand, I found myself wondering why I couldn’t look away, and why I felt so pulled towards this church. There were a hundred things I found wrong or offensive or simply nonsensical about the church, but I kept being pulled back to it. I finally thought to myself “I don’t think G-d would have me feel this way about this church if He didn’t want me to look into it.” So, as a product of my generation, I went online and tried the Chat With a Missionary feature on Mormon.org. After talking online, I got the number for the missionaries in New York City, and gave them a call.
I decided that I would only meet with the missionaries and go to church until I heard the one thing that would make it clear to me that whatever I had been feeling was silly, this church was crazy, and I was crazy for even looking into it. I was sure the one thing would come soon. There would be some doctrine or something that was so absurd and wrong that I would know the church was not true and I would just walk away. I did everything I could to hurry that one thing along, but every time I was sure I had found it, it would be explained in a way that actually made sense, or I would feel a peace and know that even if I didn’t understand, it was alright, and it was right with G-d.
On September 7th, 2008, after returning to college, a friend send me a link to watch a fireside by Jeffrey R. Holland, now known as Lessons from Liberty Jail. I had a lot of homework, so this presented a way of procrastinating that still felt productive. As I watched, I couldn’t understand why there were so many other people watching; Elder Holland was clearly speaking only to me. The talk was beautiful, and perfect for me in that moment, and I knew this man was truly an apostle. And if that were true, then the rest of it had to be true. I prayed, and asked, “G-d, is this really right?” And I knew in my soul that it was. So I called the missionary I had first met with, who was now home from his mission and had become a good friend of mine, and asked him if he would baptize me. He said yes (and so shall forever be known as Baptizer!) and I was baptized on October 12, 2008 in New York City.
I wish I could tell you everything got easier then, all my problems were gone, and I never felt depressed again, but that isn’t true. Things were really hard and I struggled a lot, especially for the first 18 months after my baptism. What I can tell you, though, is that I found the peace I always wanted. I have the relationship with G-d that I knew was possible, and that I was determined to have. I also have a relationship with my Savior, and when I have my weak moments now, He lets me lean on Him and He makes me strong again. Even in times of trial, I know I am loved. I know G-d knows me, and cares about me. I know I’m not alone.
I will write more about what came next in a future post, but for this one, I want to share three “morals of the story” for anyone who might be somewhere close to where I was at any point on this journey:
1. You are not alone. I spent so many years being completely alone, and believing I was not worthy of love. I hated myself for a very long time, because I was sure there was something about me that was completely unlovable, and that made me deserve to be bullied and hurt. It is only because of my faith that I can believe that is not true. My faith allows me to know that I am never alone, and that I am loved completely by my Heavenly Father. He knows me, flaws and all, and He believes I am worthy of His love. No one can tell me otherwise. I know He loves each and every one of us, and is always with us. We are never alone, we just need to remember to turn to Him.
2. It’s okay to be different. Like I said, I don’t look like your typical Mormon girl, and I certainly don’t act that way. A lot of what makes me different is the result of having been bullied and hurt by a lot people, and a lot of what makes me stand out is what made me a bully target in the first place. It took me over twenty years to realize that being different doesn’t make me bad, or unlovable. I like being different, because I think it’s proof that G-d loves us all as individuals. Different makes the world beautiful. I wear my differences as battle scars, and I’m quite proud of them
3. Be kind. One might argue that if I hadn’t been bullied I wouldn’t be where I am now, and that may be true. Still, I really wish someone had stood up for me, or been kind to me in school. In school, work, church, life, we must always be kind. You’ll never regret having been a nice person, and G-d always notices. Kindness truly is the most important thing in this life. I also remember the lesson my mother taught me about serving: your own problems are so much easier to bear when you are helping another with theirs. So, if you’re struggling, try serving someone. It really does help.
 I knew these weren’t really Mormons, and that Mormons do not practice polygamy, but it was about Utah and showed the Mormon culture a lot, so I watched it.