When I was about 11 years old, I went to Camp Hiawatha, a summer Bible camp a few miles north of my hometown of Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Among my pen-pal friends that I made that summer, was a boy named Lars Peterson. Since 11 year olds aren’t the best at communication skills, Lars and I lost touch – as I did with everyone else I met at camp. However, it was interesting because every time we seemed to lose touch with each other, we would somehow find one another again. It is quite remarkable the ways in which divine intervention can change what would seem like a small, insignificant, meeting into something that alters your life (and even your eternity). Who would have known back when we were little tikes that, one day, Lars would be acting as a witness at my wedding?
In the fall of 2001, I headed off to Chicago to start graduate school at Northwestern University. I was a bit homesick for Minnesota one day and ended up emailing Lars. He wrote me back and said that, on a whim, he had moved to Utah with a friend and would be working on the bobsled track crew for the Olympics.
I went to see Lars’ mom while I was in Minnesota for Christmas vacation. We talked about how Lars was not only going to the Lutheran church but also the LDS church each Sunday. I was intrigued but didn’t dig too much deeper into the subject at that point.
When I got back to Chicago in mid-January, I gave Lars a call and we talked about the differences and similarities of the LDS church, (which I then learned was the “Mormon” church), and the Lutheran church. I learned that they were quite similar and that the LDS church just added a bit more to the story. The conversation, and hearing his passion for it, piqued my interest and I started looking on the internet for information on the LDS church. I found websites that gave all different angles – some affirmative and some negative. I called Lars about a week later and he informed me that he had been baptized into the church the previous Sunday. This only intensified my interest.
It is interesting that all that was required for me to have a desire to learn about (and eventually join) the church was just a friend mentioning a change in religion. That, along with Elder Holland’s recent counsel that, “an invitation that is born of our love for others and for the Lord Jesus Christ…will never be seen as offensive or judgmental,” helps to give me confidence when I share the gospel with others.
Tuesday, February 5, 2002 was the one-year anniversary of the day that I blew out my knee. I felt, this meant that I needed a present so I bought myself a book called “Latter Days: An Insider’s Guide to Mormonism” by Coke Newell. I planned to begin my reading that Thursday on a flight that would take me to Rochester, NY for a graduate school interview. I thought this book would provide some good company. I found that I couldn’t wait that long; I started reading the day I bought it.
The morning of my trip, I woke up feeling completely at peace and knowing that Heavenly Father had heard my prayers. I felt I was in God’s hands and doing what I was supposed to do. I had hoped that I would be able to find a Book of Mormon sometime soon. Interestingly enough, the University of Rochester had me staying at one of the local Marriott hotels so I got a Book of Mormon sooner that I had ever expected. (It wasn’t until later that I learned that they are only found in Marriotts.) I dove in and started reading it from the beginning. However, since I was there for an interview, I wasn’t able to read much. When it came time to pack up and get ready to head back to Chicago, I debated for quite a while about whether to take the book with me. After all, it had been placed there with the intent of it touching someone’s heart and them reading it. In the end, I decided I should be able to get my hands on one some other way so I left it there.
I got back to Chicago and started doing some more intensive web-searching. On the www.mormon.org website I found a link for “Get a Free Book of Mormon”. I filled it out and didn’t even think about how it would show up. I guess I just thought it would be mailed or something. A few weeks later, I got home from my night class and to find a note on my door. The note was from the missionaries and stated that they had stopped by to drop off a Book of Mormon. It was signed Elder Nordberg and Elder Steoger. I called them up that night and talked with Elder Steoger. I wouldn’t be able to meet with them until the next week but decided to check out church that upcoming Sunday. They gave me directions on how to get there which consisted of a few bus and train rides, taking about an hour in total to get up to Logan Square.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am compulsively early, especially when I am dependent upon others and am not driving myself. I ended up getting to the church about 45 minutes early. I was quite confused when I got there because everyone was speaking Spanish. I took three years of the language between high school and college and even studied for a few weeks in Mexico but I retained absolutely nothing. (Maybe it was a bit of foreshadowing for my Spanish-speaking mission a few years later.) A pair of sister missionaries must have seen my scared face and they rescued me from my puzzlement. They explained that there was an English speaking ward meeting a bit later and that the Spanish one had just finished. We couldn’t find Elder Steoger but I was introduced to Elder Morrill and Elder Weston who gave me my first Book of Mormon. I chatted with them until it was time for Sacrament Meeting. Elder Steoger still wasn’t there so Elders Morrill and Weston invited me to sit with them. Elder Steoger came in just as the service was starting and was able to get a handshake in before finding his own seat. Throughout the service, Elder Weston was very concerned about whether I had any questions and if anything made me feel uncomfortable, etc. I was just trying to be a ‘sponge’ and absorb everything. Oddly enough, everything felt right.
I was able to go to the other church meetings and was befriended by Sister Carmen, a member of the ward. She was very loving and very interested in my life. I was also introduced to the missionary couple that would be coming to my apartment with Elder Steoger and Elder Nordberg – the Jespersons. I absolutely loved the Sunday school class. I thought it was such a great thing – to discuss, analyze and study the scriptures and beliefs. I left church that day, excited for my upcoming meeting with the missionaries. I had three pages of questions for them that I had generated through my reading of the Latter Days book and through my discussions with Lars.
I remember the day I was to meet with them. I was very nervous. I didn’t know if I should be dressed up and I had no idea how we would fit all of us into my little studio that was about 8’ x 13’. Well, we made it work. The first discussion was pretty easy to understand so we had time to address some of my numerous questions. We set the next meeting up for Sunday after church. The Jesperson’s weren’t able to come so another member, Ravi, came with to the little room at the church. When they asked if I wanted to be baptized, I was a bit hesitant. I believed everything I had been taught to be true but was concerned about whether I would be denying everything I had been brought up with. Also, I was distraught about what my family and friends would say.
Since Lars had recently made the choice to be baptized while wondering how family and friends would respond, I decided to write him a letter voicing my concerns. Here is his response:
If I were to tell you to go one specific direction or another in terms of your faith, I would be a little out of my element. However, you’ve certainly entered God’s jurisdiction. Anne, all I can tell you is that it appears as though your heart is in the right place, and when your heart is in the right place, God will lead you down the right path if you ask it of him through prayer.
I have a testimony that the decisions we often make, or the decisions we often feel are the right ones are usually the most difficult, or seem the least likely for us to prevail through. But what you must remember is that God made a promise not to lead his children astray if they give their lives fully to him through trust in, and love for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If you can testify that you are doing your best to show God you love Him, then He will make the decisions for you. In other words, it’s not so much which decision you make that matters, it’s making a decision at all. You will make a decision and I promise you that it will be what God wants you to do. It will be part of his plan as long as you ask for his guidance.
So worry not my friend, let God do the worrying for you. Take care of yourself first, and the rest will be given to you (life’s great rewards) when you least expect it.
His words helped me to realize that I needed to follow my heart and deal with everything else later. At that point, I made the decision to let my heart lead the way and get baptized. I just had to figure where and when. This was going to be a bit complicated because I was moving within a matter of weeks and had to decide if I wanted to get baptized in Chicago or Minnesota. Well, I was thinking it would be cool, no matter where I got baptized, if Lars could be the one to do it. I asked the missionaries if that would be okay, and they were pretty excited about the idea. This only added more confusion to the when and where because Lars was still in Utah and would potentially be driving back to Minnesota about the same time I was moving.
Within a few days, Lars found out he could get tickets to General Conference so he asked what I thought about maybe coming to Utah. We decided we would have the baptism in Utah on April 5 and go to General Conference on April 6.
Everyone in Chicago was very excited but I felt bad that they wouldn’t be able to be there. It dawned on us then that Elder Steoger’s family lived in Hooper, (which I still don’t say correctly), and could maybe come to the baptism which was going to be in Heber. He gave me all of his family’s information so that I could contact them and he also wrote home to let them know I would be calling.
I finished up my discussions in Chicago, said my goodbyes to the members and missionaries of the Logan Square Ward, got all packed up and moved back to Minnesota. I was at home for a few days before driving down to Minneapolis to catch a plane to Salt Lake on Thursday April 4. At that point, I don’t think I had seen Lars in about 3 years.
The day of my baptism was kind of a blur. When we got to the church, I was introduced to a number of strangers whose faces I will never forget. Elder Steoger’s mom and sister were able to come and were some of the first people to arrive. We exchanged some humorous stories about their missionary and swapped addresses. Then the person who did my talk on baptism, Kim, arrived with her mom. (She and I have become great friends since then.) After introductions were completed and plenty of pictures were taken, it was time for the ceremony to begin. As I sat there, I thought about how odd the chain of events was that had brought me to this place. I knew in my soul that I was where I was meant to be and that all of this was somehow part of God’s plan. Words cannot even begin to explain how I felt during the actual baptism but every aspect of it is etched in my memory. I remember I gave Lars a hug immediately following and he said, “I’m proud of you. Congratulations and welcome.” Since Lars only held the Aaronic Priesthood at the time, he had asked his friend Drake to administer the confirmation. After the ceremony, Lars and I went out to eat with Drake, his wife and two daughters. We had a very nice time getting to know each other a bit better.
The next day was General Conference. We had breakfast at one of Lars’ friend’s homes with a bunch of people and watched the morning session. Then we got ready to head over to Salt Lake. It was amazing to be in the presence of the prophet and to feel the spirit as he entered the room.
Sunday, we watched the conference sessions on TV and later went back over to Salt Lake to have dinner at Drake’s mom’s house. I have never felt more like I was where I needed to be than I did that night. It was purely amazing. Drake’s teenage daughter had recently passed away and the spirit was there in abundance as we talked about their testimonies of eternal families.
Monday, Lars and I sat and talked for a long time at the airport before I went through security. I think we both felt a connection in regards to what it would feel like to go home. I knew that I had no one back there that would be excited to hear about my trip and so Lars was one of the few people I was able to share that excitement.
That ability to relate to one another has continued on and on throughout the years. We’ve discussed how our family and friends who are not members don’t quite get it when we say, “I feel an impression that I should…” or “I read my patriarchal blessing and have decided I should…” Lars is the only member of the church that knew me before I was a member of the church. That has proven to be an important aspect of our friendship.
One thing that seems to be missing throughout this story is a single, definitive moment when I knew the church was true. I think that is because I knew all along – I just had to find it. I have said before that as I learned about the church, it was like I found a name for what I believed. The LDS church provided an explanation for my beliefs and questions.
I had no specific moment that I felt Heavenly Father’s presence enter my life because I had felt it there before and knew He was there watching me and guiding me throughout my life; my relationship with Heavenly Father has not changed much as I have changed churches. I did, however, feel a lot of positive reinforcement from Him. I felt Him rejoicing that I had found the true church and would be able to grow even closer to Him.
I believe the greatest blessing was to reconnect with and learn more of the Savior. I have come to know Him so much more through a greater understanding of the Atonement and of His love for each of His children on an individual level. Now, I do not only believe in Jesus Christ but I have come to know Him.
Through the strengthening of my relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, I’ve been able to find more of my true self. One of my favorite quotes by Quaker author Parker Palmer is “Before you tell you life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.” Being a member of the church and having the gift of the Holy Ghost has helped me to find that more eternal aspect of my soul and to let that part of me shine through each day.
It has been about 11 years since I originally wrote this story. (I’ve kept the below testimony as it was originally. It is still that simple and that thriving.) In the past years, I’ve quit school, served a mission (which was financially supported by Drake and his family in an amazing turn of events), moved to Arizona, moved to Utah, started school yet again, and married an amazing young man. We now live in Idaho with our two sons. I’ve been blessed in so many ways by such amazing people. Lars and I are still dear friends and he served as my witness on my wedding day.
I am so grateful for this church and the blessings it has brought me. I am so grateful for the members and all the support that they offer. I know that this church is true. I know that Joseph Smith was the first in a line of latter-day prophets who act as a mouthpiece for God. I know that with the help of the Holy Ghost, each of us can look inside ourselves and find that eternal piece of us that can remind us of the wonderful plan of salvation and bring joy to each day. I know that Jesus Christ lives and He is guiding this church.
I hope and pray that reading this story will help you to strengthen your own testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.