Saturday, October 22, 2016

My Faith Journey: In The Beginning- Part 1 of 4

Life is an epic journey, full of failures and successes, ups and downs, light moments and dark. It reads like a novel, with many chapters and infinite opportunities.

Like a bookmark or turned down page, November 6th will mark one year since I openly announced the ending of one chapter of my life. I haven't shared the details about my faith journey with many people, because many have not asked. Now, here, in my little corner of the internet, the time has come for me to share my story. I do so to give myself a moment of reflection before I turn the page, and so those who care about me can better understand why I walk my current path.

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IN THE BEGINNING

I was brought up in a completely secular home. My parents were raised Catholic and Protestant, but their upbringing did not flavor mine. We only attended church when it was with friends or my grandparents. As a little kid, I had no knowledge of Bible stories. To illustrate this point, let me tell you a funny story... When I was in first or second grade, I looked up my name in the big classroom dictionary at school. It said something like, "Sarah: Hebrew for Princess. The wife of Abraham." and I thought, "Oh! Abraham Lincoln's wife was named Sarah!!!" What other Abraham was there, anyway? In my childhood home, we didn't read scriptures, never prayed, and we didn't talk of God or the Devil. My parents instilled in me a sense of right and wrong, I knew the merit of doing good for goodness's sake, and learned to trust in a reality that was proven by facts and science. Thankfully, I never tasted religious-inflicted guilt or shame, and I never feared the wrath of a vengeful god.

Life was beautiful and I was a good kid. Honest, loyal, moral, hard-working, did great in school, obeyed my parents, brushed my teeth, and did my chores. Sure, I enjoyed experimenting with foul language and could curse like a sailor (no offense to sailors!), but that was the extent of my experimentation, if you get what I mean. Sarah = Good Kid. Good adult too, but I'll come to that later.

I loved my religious friends and respected them, but had no desire to learn more about their faiths. By my early teens I was pretty sure I was an atheist. That was also around the time I met a boy. Not just any boy, but THE boy. He made my teenage heart go pitter-patter, and he was the first Mormon I ever knew. The boy and I dated off and on from the time I was 14 years old until I was 21. I loved him. I loved learning everything about him, but I didn't want to learn about his church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. However, spending so much time in close proximity to active Mormons meant that little pieces of Mormon info slipped through my carefully crafted walls. Family dinners at his home always featured a humble prayer said by his father, a good man whom I greatly respect. Sometimes the Mormon missionaries were also at dinner and shared a message afterward. Holiday celebrations in his home, like Easter and Christmas, focused on Christ. Once, I attended a play at the Oakland Temple with his family where I learned about the foundation of the church, but I never attended church with him, never read Church books or researched his religion with the intent of believing it. No thank you!

I did research it a little though, separate from him, during an Intro To American Religions class my freshman year of college. In my honors discussion group (See, told you I was a good kid!) we were assigned to attend a local religious service and write up a report. I picked the Mormons and attended an LDS church for the first time. It made me nervous and anxious. I watched it all with eyes open wide, trying to take in everything in a scholarly way. No, I didn't close my eyes when they prayed! I was in observation mode. I left that experience feeling like I learned a little about my boyfriend's typical Sunday, and that was that.

The boyfriend and I broke up several times because young hearts are passionate and fickle things. We broke up multiple times specifically because he couldn't see how we could eventually get married, since he was Mormon and I was not. It drove me batty. I didn't understand his logic. Then, after one such break up at the end of my freshman year of college, I decided that if he meant so much to me, and the church meant so much to him, maybe it was time I looked into it. Let me directly quote from my diary on September 8, 2002 - "I really hope that I can sincerely believe his church's teachings and be with him. I just can't let myself lose the real me for someone else. I'm a little afraid that I will."

I read a book, I felt spiritually touched, and I decided to dive in head first. I then read any books about the LDS church that I could find, which were all books written by LDS authors and published by a church owned publisher. I started reading The Book of Mormon and praying. I moved back to my college town and started attending church weekly, as well as an evening Institute class once each week. (Institute is a part of the Church Education System designed to teach LDS young adults religion classes outside of the normal Sunday services.) I decided to give it my all, play the part, and even close my eyes when I prayed. When in Rome, right?

The more I submerged myself in the Mormon experience, the more I felt moved upon spiritually. I felt a warmth and a goodness at church and institute. I met with the missionaries and was not surprised that their lessons made sense to me. Things I inherently believed were part of their doctrine: Of course families can be together forever, duh! LOVE is eternal. We watched videos with moving music and powerful visuals and I started to feel something for this man called Jesus. I also learned the lingo, moved within the culture of Mormon college kids, and I was so happy. Here were good people, kind people, who loved to have fun without getting drunk! (See, I TOLD you I was a good kid!) It was exciting! It was an endless emotional high of learning learning learning, while being embraced by a community like I had never known before. AND it meant my boyfriend and I could one day end up happily married? The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints had me. There were pieces that didn't fit well for me, but I placed them high up on a shelf in my mind, out of my view, so I could focus on all of the good that the church had to offer. Four days before my baptism I wrote, "I feel bad because there are so many church standards that I don't subscribe to. Some of them will just take time, others I may never accept, like their attitude toward homosexuality. Right. I swear. I have too many earrings. I feel bad about some of these things, but not about others" I went on to explain that I hadn't had a big spiritual confirmation that I should join the church, rather that... "I've felt good, but I've never been like "BAM! I Believe!" or anything. It just sounded right. Everything sounded comfortable, and good."

I wanted it, so I took the leap, and on February 15th, 2003 at the age of 20, I was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Where were my parents during all of this? Quietly and kindly supporting me every step of the way. They attended my baptism. They might not have agreed with all of my choices, but they love me and have always supported me in the endeavors that matter most to me, thank goodness.


TO BE CONTINUED...

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing your story, I look forward to reading the rest.

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  2. It can be difficult to share such personal things as faith journeys. I respect your courage and look forward to reading more. Beautifully written too by the way. :-)

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  3. You are/were a good person, Sarah Diane Hackett Spencer. And I love you sooooo much, and I will always support you. It was funny how people reacted to my saying "of course, I support her" because you are my daughter. That's what parents do - according to this mother!! And you are an awesome writer - you didn't get that from me :)

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  4. This is great Sarah; your writing, your honesty, your journey! I too look forward to MORE. Hopefully we won't have to wait too long for Part 2. Love you!

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