I doubt most people who follow this blog do so because of my religious faith. Truthfully, I hope you read my work because you like what I write.
But today is important. Today I celebrate 19 years as a member of the kingdom of God. I was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on December 26th, 1992. I call today my rebirth day.
I always take time on this day to reflect on where and what I am, what I have, who I have become and am becoming, and what might have been if not for that day in 1992.
I’ve briefly described, in a previous post or two, what led me to the waters of baptism, but I’ve never really gotten into the mental, emotional, and spiritual gymnastics that went on during that time.
You see, I’d moved out of my father’s home and in with my childhood friend, Tim. During our move, missionaries had shown up offering to help us. We declined. We had been raised in a cult, you see, and in my mind, religion was a haven for idiots and delusion. Although, to be fair, that position had somewhat softened by that time- which was about a year after I’d moved to Kanab, Utah. Being surrounded by so many genuinely awesome people of great faith was bound to make a difference.
I assumed that Tim’s attitude toward religion, and particularly to those who wanted to convert us to the Mormon faith, was similar to mine. I was happy to humor them insofar as their invitations were harmless. I went to church a few times. I listened to them talk about what was important to them. Their heartfelt sincerity made an impression. Testimony meeting was quite a remarkable thing for the jaded me to see.
But any invitation to change my life and path, to make promises and to commit to commandments and fulfilling conformist expectations? I had zero interest in that kind of thing.
Tim and I worked at the same fast food joint: the Junction Drive Inn (now called Big Al’s). One day I overheard Julie Dalton inviting Tim to her house to talk to the missionaries and have dinner. Julie was tall and blonde and kind and that may have had something to do with Tim finally giving in and accepting the invitation.
Tim convinced me he needed a ride to and from the visit, and when I showed up to pick him up, the discussion with the missionaries was not done. Not even close. Tim was having a great deal of fun at the missionaries’ expense. “If the Word of Wisdom is supposed to keep your bodies healthy, why do Mormon’s play football? It’s dangerous.”
I came back after another hour and he still wasn’t done. I sat in for the last bit and did my best to ignore the conversation. Somehow the missionaries scheduled a follow-up visit with Tim at our apartment.
I was distressed when I walked in on that next visit. I was just coming off my shift at the Junction. I opened the front door and was invited to join in on the discussion by the missionaries. I did so for a short time.
The missionaries were back within a week or so. I was dumbfounded at why Tim kept allowing them into our refuge.
It’s important for you to know where my heart was at the time. I had graduated from high school, number 2 in my class of 40 or so. I’d been recruited by several colleges but had no plan to go on to college. At all. I had no interest in more school– I’d hated nearly every minute of it to that point. I’ve never been a fan of hoops, per se. I figured I could find a good company to work for and just stay with that company, making money and spending it on a fun life. I would write too, and that would eventually take off.
What’s more, I was becoming a pretty typical 18-year-old boy. I didn’t get drunk every weekend– or ever really if memory serves. But I didn’t have a problem with enjoying alcohol here and there. I also didn’t particularly care to find opportunities to drink. I bought booze maybe twice in my life. It probably helped that nearly all my friends at that time in my life were LDS.
Girls, now that was pretty much the issue. I was good looking and in pretty great shape at that time. So my free time was spent chasing them. Energetically. That said, I was in regular relationships fairly often, and usually with LDS girls. Sure, some of them were not as faithful to their covenants as they might have been, but going past certain points was still an issue for them, so I didn’t get in trouble there.
Not that I didn’t want to get into that kind of trouble.
Part of that issue, in fact, was that I was still uncertain about myself. I felt awkward at times and still quite shy in certain situations. I, for some reason, was hypersensitive to taking any kind of advantage of the girls I was with and I never wanted to assume or treat any of them with disrespect. I was unsure of how to make certain moves, so I ended up not making them.
Which all worked to my benefit, when all was said and done.
All of this to point out that I was not living my life by any kind of clear principle or idea beyond making money and having fun. I didn’t think I was missing anything in my life and was happy to be patient as I looked for a true love to share my life with.
I thank God I never proposed to any of those girls I became infatuated with as a young man. I was easily blinded by physical closeness and allowed myself to become convinced I loved them dearly. When what I really loved was the feeling of being in love.
So back to the missionaries. They invited Tim and me to obey the Word of Wisdom. I told them I practically did already. I hated coffee, drugs of any kind had zero allure to me, cigarettes have always seemed the height of stupidity to me, and alcohol had no hold on me. But I wouldn’t commit to the commandment. Nope.
They invited us to obey the Law of Chastity.
I laughed. I actually laughed, wondering if they even knew they were talking to two smart, good-looking young men with all kinds of female prospects out there. (Of course, the girls I was spending time with DID have values, so.. yeah.)
It’s funny that I never realized until a year or two later that it was quite unusual that I was almost entirely Mormon in my outward behavior and had been for most of my life. Funny stuff. Haha.
Today I see my Father’s hand in all of that.
So I was not searching, lost, or interested. At all, really. I had no use for God and essentially didn’t believe in the God that had been preached to me my entire life. The Mormon God was more appealing, but I still had no use for Him. The missionaries forged ahead, nonetheless. But not for much longer, because after having displayed my lack of interest in making changes in my life, they came to the realization that we might be a lost cause. They said they would be around, but that if we needed them, we should call them.
Then they stopped coming over.
One rainy night a week or two later, I returned home and was surprised to see Tim hunched over, reading the Book of Mormon. For weeks, I’d been telling the missionaries I would read the passages they outlined, but then I never did. It dumbfounded me that Tim would make any kind of religious effort. There were fantasy books to be read, movies to be watched, RPGs to play, music to listen to and play, friends to hang out with, an absurd TV show to produce. How could a book of religious writings take any kind of priority over that?
I challenged him on his religious behavior, somewhat appalled that I didn’t know Tim like I thought I had. Having come a long way, in many ways, from shy Jared, I told him that the way he prayed, on his knees at his bedside, was silly. I also couldn’t believe he prayed regularly. I had NEVER prayed with any kind of sincerity in my life. My prayers until that point had been me trying to blackmail whatever God might be out there with my belief.
I essentially tried to extort signs from God by holding my belief ransom. That was the sum total of my religious behavior up until that time.
Tim told me I could pray any way I wanted; it was individual. I mockingly left the apartment, scrambled up a nearby hill, and shouted at the rainstorm. I called God out on His allowing horrible things to happen in the world. I spewed hatred of organized religion. I questioned His existence.
He made the fact of His existence and reality known to me in a moment of quiet, world-shattering revelation that still makes my heart stutter and my vision blur. How did He know me so well that He knew that was the exact, precise moment that His Spirit should manifest to me? Why did He love me so much that He would wait patiently for the exact moment that I would listen?
I descended that hill a different person. For the next few days, my thoughts stretched the length of my life to that point, finally, for the first time ever, seeing His hand in my life. His protection. His love. His plan. When my senses returned to me the next day (The rest of that evening is gone. I remember none of it. I had to be muddy from my climb, but I recall nothing after that experience.), I needed guidance. I was on a new path and needed to see where it led.
I grabbed the Book of Mormon, cracked it open, asked, “What next?” and found 2 Nephi 31: 5-7. It told me to get baptized right away.
I called the missionaries the next day. Tim shocked me when they came over by saying that he wanted to be baptized too.
I outlined much of what came next in my “I Was Led Not Knowing” series.
My life is pretty darn good. I have not realized my dream of being a successful novelist, but I’m getting there. Other than that, pretty much every fond dream I had as a kid and a teen has come to pass, plus some. I have traveled the world. More or less. I have learned three new languages. I have lived in Japan and partaken of the fascinating culture there. I have become a sincere, motivated student who knows how to look beyond classrooms and desks and homework. Most importantly, I am married to the coolest woman I can imagine. We love each other, like each other, and have a relationship that puts the “happily” into “happily ever after.” I have a bundle of kids, all of them hilarious, delightful, sweet, brilliant, cute, wonderful, irritating sometimes, and brimming with eagerness to learn and find the fun in every second.
On my 19th rebirth day, I thank a tall, nice blond girl named Julie for insisting that Tim meet with the missionaries at her home. Thanks, Julie. Strangely, I owe all of this to you.