Cross-posted on MormonTimes.com.
After nearly a year of investigating, I decided to change my view about Mormons.
They are good people with morals and beliefs that actually make sense, and I wanted to be one of them. The only problem that stood in my way was telling my parents. While my father and mother are wonderful people, they did not have an understanding of the gospel at the time. Both agnostic themselves, it wasn’t religion in general that they were worried about. It was our religion and the many stereotypes associated with it that caused concern. I faced a challenge: How do I explain to them why I want to get baptized?
For a couple of months, I agonized over how I would break the news to them. In that time, I started my first semester at Mills College, which only helped me procrastinate further. After asking the branch president back home for advice, we agreed that a letter would best convey all of my feelings without interruption. That letter is below.
I hope that in reading my letter, your hearts may be softened as my parents’ hearts were. They gave me more love and support during my baptism on Dec. 19, 2009, than I could have asked for. Maybe this letter will remind you of your own baptisms and what precious experiences they were. Or maybe you have yet to be baptized and you are working up the courage to tell your parents, too. Hopefully my letter will in some way strengthen your testimony. Being baptized was one of the best decisions I ever made and a decision that has enabled many more blessings to come.
Nov. 2, 2009
Dear Mom and Dad,
When I first started going to church, I felt out of place. I felt like I didn’t belong there because I didn’t understand any of it: the beliefs, the practices, the people, nothing. Now, I feel quite the opposite. I love the church and the profound effect it has had on my life and I want to get baptized this month.
The “this month” part may come as a shock to you, but I hope that the idea of baptism isn’t new. The purpose of this letter is to explain why I love the church, how it has bettered my life, and why I am getting baptized sooner rather than later. Hopefully, you will understand my reasoning and, while I do not ask you to be excited about it, I pray that you will be supportive of my decision.
What initially appealed to me about the church were all of the morals that I had already put into practice, such as the Word of Wisdom and the Law of Chastity. If your teenage years were anything like how mine are, then you know that it’s hard to find people my age who have basic principles, who don’t get absorbed in so many trends that just end up hurting them physically or emotionally. True, I don’t need the church to tell me that drinking and smoking are damaging habits, but it feels good to be around people who have that same ethical code as I do. It opens a whole new window of opportunities. It’s such a blessing to have friends that I can depend on and know that, when they say “party,” they don’t mean playing too many games of beer pong and puking all over the floor.
What drew me into the church further was how welcoming the members are. No matter how rude or tricky my questions, everyone tried to answer in a very polite and honest fashion. I remember when I asked Elder Bingham why so many people thought that the church was sexist. After giving me a brief but logical answer, he came to church the next week with two books, a lecture, and numerous scriptures to further explain how the church views both sexes with equal importance and, to prove his point, many examples of the profound effects women have had on the church. It was so touching to see someone get so involved in helping me further understand what the church believes. More importantly, I never felt the pressure to convert. I just felt the openness of church members and their eagerness to help me in any way they could.
Investigating was what really helped me build a testimony of the church. I remember my first fast Sunday and how incredible it was to watch members stand up and talk about their own personal experiences and how they strengthened their beliefs. That was the first time I felt the Spirit. As crazy as it sounds, I just knew that I believed in the gospel, even though I hadn’t been investigating for very long at all. I even stood up and bore my testimony in front of everyone that day, and I’ve been bearing my testimony every fast Sunday since.
While it didn’t take long for me to be comfortable with asking every question that popped into my head and sharing how I felt with members of the church, it was very hard for me to sing hymns. Even with that year of piano, I still had no idea how to read music. More importantly, I didn’t have the confidence in myself to sing much louder than a whisper. I was terrified that people would judge me and think, “There’s the investigator with the awful voice.” But after a while, I realized that not everyone was a good singer. In fact, a lot of them weren’t, and that was the beauty of it. Everyone at church sings the hymns no matter how good or bad they sing, which allowed me to test my own limits until I was one of the loudest singers there. The icing on the cake was Sister Sessions asking me to sing in the choir. I had thought about it — everyone’s welcome — but I didn’t think I was that good. It was so wonderful to finally be able to sing with a group. And the fact that I sang a duet the first time I performed made the experience that much better.
It’s my love for the church and my urge to truly become a part of it that has inspired my decision to be baptized. It’s a big step, but a very important one for several reasons. Typically, people associate baptism with a “remission of sins.” I wouldn’t say that I was a bad person before I started investigating The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but I was definitely a cynical one. With a lot of things, I acted like it was my way or the highway. I wasn’t open to changing my views for anyone. I’m still a little stubborn that way. But the church has humbled me a lot. There are so many ways to look at the world and looking at things with blinders on just isn’t the way to approach life. And, more importantly, there are a lot of things I can do to be a better person.
One could argue that a lot of the changes I’ve made in who I am I could have made if I just listened to the both of you, but sometimes I think I need an extra push before I start to take critique seriously. Let’s face it: I had some very bad habits a year ago. I cussed like a sailor, my shirts were way too low-cut, and I was just plain rude to a lot of people. Thankfully, all three categories have improved tremendously since I began investigating the church. The gospel inspires me to be a better person. What’s so amazing about it is that the improvement never stops: You reach one goal, make another, and continue down that path. I like the idea of constant improvement, and I like that the church provides an encouraging atmosphere for that.
With baptism also comes the gift of the Holy Ghost. I’m not sure how familiar you are with that phrase, so let me give you a little bit of background. In the church, we believe in a godhead made up of God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost. You know that warm feeling you get when you know something is right? That’s the Holy Ghost. He’s kind of like a guardian angel, constantly looking out for people and helping them make the right choices. With baptism, people receive continuous guidance from the Holy Ghost, which increases their understanding of the gospel and strengthens their testimonies. The Holy Ghost is really important to me because I want to be able to increase my faith and continue to be active in the church, and I know that the Spirit can help me do that.
Through baptism, I’ll be able to participate in church activities on a whole different level. I will be able to give talks during sacrament meetings on various topics; I will be able to work on different committees; I will be able to pay tithing and fast offerings to benefit members and nonmembers in need; and I’ll be able to do my own missionary work by visiting less-active members.
I hope you can both see why I am so excited to get baptized. The church means so much to me and it’s become such a big influence on my life. I know it’s hard for you to relate, but I promise that my membership to the church will not negatively interfere with our family life. My religion will not alienate me from the family, but bring me closer because I will finally be able to put my apprehension over how and when to tell you about my baptism aside and to start treating you with the love and respect that you deserve. I don’t want to start an argument. I don’t want you to feel disappointed. I just want you to be happy that I’m happy.
Please call me when you have read this over and thought about it a bit. I’d love to talk to you about what you think and how all of this makes you feel. Hopefully you understand my reasoning. I’d love it if you would be able to attend my baptism, and I know that the other members of the church would love it, too.
Stephanie Scerra is a sophomore at Mills College. She was baptized by her boyfriend in December 2009 and has been waiting for his return from his mission since his departure in June 2010. Contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @StephanieScerra.