I'm a Mormon!
It's not always been easy for me!
How did I become a Mormon? It wasn't an easy road. My brothers and sister, I think, probably got their testimonies of the Church a lot earlier than I did. I kind of followed in my dad's steps, while they followed mom's.
When mom and dad got married, while they were baptized into the church, they didn't go to church. It wasn't until we moved to Germany that mom began going to church and dragging (my words) Dan an I along. Mom was active in the Primary and perhap therefore so was I. I think Mom started going to Church because dad's job took him away much of the time. The church members were a good support group for a young mother taking care of 2 rambunctious boys. When David came along, she needed more help.
When we came back from Germany, mom stopped going to church, though Sandy was blessed when she was born. It wasn't until we moved to Fairchild, that I really became aware of the church. When we first got to Fairchild, mom wanted us to go to church, but didn't know how to contact the local ward. Dad wasn't interested at the time. Mom took us non-denominational church services at the base chapel. After a while, dad's rank got us moved from a 2 bedroom house to a 3 bedroom house. Across the street were the Sommers. The father was in the Army assigned to the Nike missile sites protecting the the base. They were LDS and mom got the idea that we should go to church with them. (Mom and Dad didn't go, Just Dan and I).
For me this probably set me back rather than moved me forward. Their oldest boy, Stanley, was a bully. He seemed to take great pleasure in picking on me and making my life miserable. It was a real pain in the butt to have to go over every Sunday and ride to church with the kid that made my life a living hell. Stanley's parents were really nice though and I tagged along, mainly because I didn't have a choice. I was finally baptized in Spokane. I really don't remember it and it held no special place in my heart or mind. When the Sommers were transferred, we didn't have a ride to church and stopped going. I was much more interested in the things going on at the teen club and doing things with the kids on base.
In 1965, when dad got transferred to Barksdale, Mom got the bug again. Only this time, she decided that she was going to take us to church. I went a few times, but didn't really click with the kids in the ward. I was still in the BRAT vs. Civilian mode and just wanted to do things with my friends. I didn't have any LDS friends on the base. Eventually I stopped going to church, though mom, Dan, David, and Sandy kept going.
In 1966, when we went to Japan, Dad finally started going to Church. Therefore, I got dragged along, too. The people in the branch were nice, I just felt like an outsider. By this time I was smoking and drinking beer with the kids I ran around with. I went to church on Sunday and ignored the church the rest of the week. Mom tried to get us to go to Seminary, but wasn't interested, though she made me go for a long time. Though I was active in church, until I graduated, once Paul and John went stateside, I felt like a fish out of water at church. They called me to be a counselors in the MIA, but it didn't last. I finally stopped going to church and stayed away.
In 1969, we were back in the states and I was living with my Aunt Olea and My uncle Byron. They were really great to me. While I lived there I was attending the U. of Utah. Wanting to meet someone, I listened to my Uncle who convinced my I should take LDS Institute classes at the U. I did and had a good time, but I still didn't feel that I fit in. I think in part because the lifestyle they wanted me to live was so foreign to me. One day, in church, the Bishop pulled me aside. He said, "Joe, you need to consider going on a mission!"
This sent me into panic mode. I moved out of my uncle's house and into a Frat house at the U. It wasn't that I didn't believe in the church, I just felt that I had messed up my life so bad that I couldn't get back. When people would make comments about the church, I told them that I thought the church was true, but that I didn't fit in.
By this time, my life was a mess. I was drinking,smoking and had moral and drug abuse problems that I didn't think there was anyway of fixing. Getting drafted in 1972 was probably the best thing that could have happened.
When I went to basic training, I was forced to start getting my life together. I had to admit that I had used marijuana and swear to never use it again. I stuck to that. But, the life of a GI wasn't peaches and cream. For the next 2 years, I continued smoking and drinking.
Finally, one night, someone upstairs decided that it was time for a change. I went to bed after a long day of work, drinking, and playing poker at the N.C.O. club on the base. As I lay there, I realized I wasn't breathing. I panicked and forced myself to breath. I tried to go back to bed and found myself not breathing again. My roommates made me go over to the medic's office. They couldn't find anything wrong and sent me back to the barracks. I went back to bed and just as I was drifting off, I realized I wasn't breathing again. I couldn't figure out what was wrong. I sat up and started breathing normally again so I tried to go back to sleep. Presto, my breathing stopped again.
Sitting up, I was wondering how I was going to sleep when I noticed my duffle bag in the corner of my room. Inside was a small set of scriptures that the church gave to all LDS soldiers. I got the scriptures and began reading the Book of Mormon. After a while, I got on my knees and prayed for some rest and that I could sleep. At the time, I didn't know why I did that. I went to sleep and woke up refreshed the next day.
Like an idiot, I don't learn very easily. That night, it started all over. This time it didn't take me as long to turn to the scriptures and get on my knees.
At the time, I was drinking 2-3 six packs of beer a day and smoking 1-2 packs of cigarettes. I decided that I needed to change my life. I decided that on Sunday I would go to the local ward and talk to the Bishop. I also decided that I would stop smoking and drinking. I haven't had a drink or touched a cigarette since (44 years). Everyone says that its hard to quit smoking and drinking. Once I decided to quit, I never had the urge to do it again.
A friend, Ross Hay, and I started going to Church. The Bishop, who would later become my brother-in-law, decided that the place to put me was in the Primary teaching young 10 year-olds. One of the boys in my class is now a nephew. Ross and I began going to Young Adult activities in Moses Lake. I met some really great kids that helped me to begin building a testimony. After about 9 months, Ross and I were on our way back from Moses Lake when I got the feeling I needed to talk to the Bishop. We stopped at his house and he and I went into his office and talked. I felt guilty about the things that I had done in my life and told him that I didn't think I could be forgiven. We talked and prayed for a long time and then he gave me President Kimbal's book, the Miracle of Forgiveness and sent me back to the base.
After reading the book, I realized that I was the only thing stopping me. It wasn't easy, and my discussions with the Bishop over the next few weeks were at times very painful, but I worked hard.
Eventually, I started getting my life together. I don't know why, but my life became easier. I was happier and more focused.
Joyce and I were able to go to the temple when we got married. Even then, my testimony isn't the same as her's. She's always easily fit in. For me, I've always believed it to be true, but I've had to work at fitting in. I can't do things just because others say its the way to do it.
I have come to believe that a lot of people who fall away from the church are like I was. They did something that made them feel that they worn't worthy and not understanding "The Miracle of Forgiveness", can't find their way back. From personal experience, I know that these feelings can be strong and are hard to overcome. For me, I was lucky that someone in basic training had taken the time to give me a book that I buried in the bottom of my duffle bag and didn't give another thought to, until the Lord decided to kick me in the butt. For others it might be a friend who cares enough to open a door.
What's important isn't how you get back, but THAT you get back. I know the Lord loves us all. He's here for us and we're here to help him help others.
This is my testimony.
In the name of Jesus Christ,