If you ask me where I am from, there is approximately a 96% chance that I will say "Massachusetts".
However, of my 22 years of life, I only lived there for 6 years.
The first 12 years of my life I lived in Utah. Since then, I have moved around from Hawaii, Idaho, Utah, Arizona and Kentucky.
Why don't I like to claim Utah, then? Because when I say that I am from Utah, people say "Oh, you're a Mormon. You were born a Mormon."
I LOVE for people to know that I am a Mormon. I am very proud to be a Mormon.
But I was not born a Mormon.
Yes, I was raised by parents who are Mormon and I was baptized when I turned 8 years old. (The LDS church does not practice infant baptism. The youngest a person may be to be baptized is 8 years old. This is because this is viewed as the age of accountability when the individual making promises to God can understand what they are promising to do and to not do.)
My conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came more when I was 12-13 years old.
My move to Massachusetts was not an easy one. Moving when you are just entering the teenage years of life is never easy. I had just received a terribly awkward haircut which resulted in getting a perm which looked like your grandmas's brown-afro-wig. It's a good look for women over 65. Not for 12 year old girl moving to a new school.
I got a variety of nicknames in my new school. People called me Shirley Temple, Utah, Mormon Girl, and G.P. This stands for Granny Panties because one time I accidently tucked my shirt into my underwear and walked back into Algebra. I don't really think that the other 12 year old girls wore thongs, but that's what they told me and that's why they teased me.
I was asked a thousand questions about being a Mormon, and coming from a school where much of the majority of the students and teachers were LDS, this was overwhelming. I did my very best to answer everyone's questions, but I soon learned that many of their questions were asked because they wanted to tease me; not because they wanted to learn about what I believed.
Besides my unkind nicknames, I had a really hard time making friends. Such a hard time, in fact, that the guidance counselors sent me home with a list of nice girls in my grade with their phone numbers. They told me to call some of them and ask them to be my friends and to sit with me at lunch....which I did.
8th grade came around and while I had some friends at school, I was sad because I did not really have anyone to hang out with outside of school. I do recall being invited to a birthday party, where they all decided to watch an R rated movie, and as grateful as I was to be at the party, I elected to stay outside and chit-chat with the parents of the birthday girl rather than watch the movie.
While I had no personal desire to see an R rated movie, I did desire to have friends and to be accepted by people. More important to me though, was being accepted by God. "Perhaps I can be accepted by both." I reasoned and decided that I needed to know for sure what God expected from me. After all, I was only a 13 year old girl. God knew what I needed and what I was capable of better than anyone else.
I determined that if the Church of Jesus Christ was the true church of God on the Earth, and that God had called a Prophet in these days, I would do absolutely anything it took to obey the servant of the Lord. I did not want to be making needless sacrifices and standing out unnecessarily, though. I had no desires to do bad things, but it seemed that drinking coffee and throwing in a few cuss words here and there might help me be more accepted and not make God terribly upset. After all, a lot of REALLY good people drink coffee and occasionally (or even regularly) swear.
I went out to the woods where no one would hear me, and taking the advice that Joseph Smith took from John, I asked God what I should do, whether or not the LDS church was truly His restored church, if Gordon B Hinckley was His prophet, and if I really needed to be doing all the things I was doing.
No voice spoke to me. No angels appeared. No music played. But suddenly I thought of all the doctrines that the LDS church teaches that no other church teaches. The idea of marriage ending at death and families not being eternal was something that struck at my heart. I knew because of the confirmation of the spirit that families were the fundamental unit, that God was my father, and that when the day came for me to get married, I could be sealed to the man of my dreams for ALL eternity. The idea of ignoring these truths make me feel physically ill.
I began to think of what it would mean if the LDS church was not true and Joseph Smith was not a prophet. It would mean that I could drink all the coffee I wanted to, but much much more importantly it would mean that God was leaving us very much alone here on Earth. He had called Prophets in the past; why would he stop now? Why would the people on the Earth today be less important that the people on the earth during the time of Abraham, or Enoch, or Isaiah. No, I knew that God loved me and he loved everyone else and he would not leave us without guidance in the ever-darkening world.
Immediately, my prayer became one where I asked God to forgive me for being so selfish and caring so much what other people thought. The nausea left me. What really mattered was what God thought of me; not what other students thought of me.
I also knew that God loved my peers, but because they had not been taught the same truths that I had been blessed with, they were not held to the same standards. I had an opportunity to live the values that I had been taught and I promised God that I would do my very best to obey Him and live in such a way that people who knew me knew that I knew Him.
My life got much, much better after that. I went on to be the Mormon of the high school. No one ever invited me to a drinking party. No one ever offered me drugs or a cigarette. Everyone was extremely respectful of me and my beliefs and while I had the occasional lonely weekend, I really feel like my peers respected and liked me; even if we weren't best friends. I even went on to be class Vice President and Prom Queen. I feel like it was a huge blessing to have such nice people at my school. Some of them had and have vastly differing values, but we respect each other and can learn different things from each other.
The bottom line is this: My conversion did not come in one moment or one evening. It was the result of persistent obedience to God's commandments. "If any man shall do his will he shall know of the doctrine; whether it be of God or whether I speak of myself." John 7:17. My testimony of this the LDS church has come from daily acts, or 'by small and simple means'. It is in the same way that anyone who is not carefully persisting in obedience, but rather engages in small acts of rebellion and disobedience, that they will weaken and eventually lose their testimony.
I feel that I was very lucky to have such good parents teach me the lessons of Jesus from the Bible and from the Book of Mormon. Their lives have been examples to me of service and charity. That day I went to pray about the LDS church was not the only time that God has affirmed to me the truth of it. Truths from the Book of Mormon seem familiar to me and without them, I would be very confused. I am so grateful to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The members aren't perfect people, but they are trying and they are good examples to me. I am so grateful that I did not have to just believe the words of other people, but that God allows each of us to come to Him in prayer and ask him to tell us what is true. I am so grateful for the Holy Ghost which acts as a compass in my life and helps keep me on the straight and narrow path.
I sound like the guy from Reading Rainbow when I tell you that the LDS church is the restored church of God, "but, you don't have to take my word for it."
I know that anyone who wants to get closer to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ can do so by reading the Bible and the Book of Mormon and then pray receive a personal witness of the truth of the words contained therein.