I grew up in a small town in Ontario, Canada and lived both in the city, and then after I was 10, out in the country with Georgian Bay as my backyard. We did not live on a farm but were surrounded by them. I grew up as a tomboy as I was the only girl around for many miles, learning how to work on my friend’s farms, birthing calves (messy business) and haying, while swimming in the summer and riding my bike for hours to get to anywhere. We often camped during the summer, and once travelling to the west coast of Canada as my dad was a teacher and off work during the summer.
It was a great childhood, I had been born of ‘goodly’ parents, but we never went to church. My parents felt it was not necessary to attend a church but just needed to be nice and live as a Christian.
My mom had suffered as a child with various ailments/diseases that left her with multiple operations and the knowledge she could never have children. I am thankful that they adopted a boy, and then a few years later me, and provided a loving home when I was young.
When I started to hit my teen years things had changed, and my mother was an alcoholic. This of course created all kinds of issues in the home and dynamics were not exactly ‘normal’. My brother is two years older than me and became abusive. This continued for a few years until I told him to stay away from me ‘or else’. I had a conviction and strength in my voice that was not from me, and somehow my brother knew I meant it. I did not fully realize it at the time, but Heavenly Father was always with me, and it was His strength not mine.
There had been many times that I would despair and not know what I was going to do, but I always had in those darkest of times, a moment of grace, and they always came just when I thought I could not go on with the situation I lived in. It was often when I could run outside and walk through the fields alone that I felt a peace and comfort that I could not explain, but I somehow knew that God still knew I was there. Sometimes in the winter, walking in the quiet night with the snow gently falling, a feeling of warmth and comfort and peace would come over me that today I understand to be the Holy Ghost. So I know for a fact that even someone not of our LDS faith can feel the influence of the Spirit because that is exactly what kept me going, even though I did not understand it at the time.
I did many sports when I was little, but always stuck with figure skating as my main sport and by high school was only doing that, outside of all the school sports I could fit in. I learned that discipline is the secret to life! I had to develop it not only in my sports, but also in learning to juggle my time between school, sports, home life and friends. I was very fortunate to be scouted by the Canadian Figure Skating Association to enter into the elite athlete training for the National program, but my parents felt that moving away from home to train exclusively and switch to tutors instead of regular school was not something they were willing to let me do. My dad was a teacher, and education was more important than sports.
For a time I felt a bit resentful and wondered why I wasn’t able to pursue my dream of the Olympics, but now I know without a doubt that although my family were not members of the church, Heavenly Father was also playing a role in that decision. I know that if I had moved away, I would not have had the stability of school routines and friends, but would have been in an environment that many girls ended up with eating disorders and where drug use was high. Even with the abuse of my brother, and strained relations with my mom, I still had a somewhat normal life. (well I thought it was, as I did not know anything different lol) The biggest reason I needed to stay in school was the gospel, and while it was not formally introduced to me in high school, it was still present in the form of a faithful member who was ALWAYS a good example, who was always kind, thoughtful, and upheld the standards of the church (even though I didn’t understand them) and explained to me why he was not going to university just yet, but on a mission instead. He offered me a book of Mormon but sadly I said no thank you. When the missionaries knocked on our door in 1994, it was his example and my memories of this young man from my high school years that was fresh in my mind, and was what enabled me to be open to eventually hearing the discussions. I would not have had that opportunity to see his example through high school if I had moved away to skate.
While going to university I would go to different churches with friends that still went to their own church. I was definitely searching even if I did not realize it then. I even walked by an LDS chapel every day to attend university. I always had felt drawn to the building and tried the doors a few times but of course it was closed in the day and I did not know any Mormons at university. When we were preparing to get married, my husband’s family asked me to attend the Catholic ‘lessons’ with the intent I would of course convert. It did not go as planned as the questions I asked the priest, he had trouble answering. We got married with me not becoming a Catholic.
Once we had children, we took them at Easter and Christmas, weddings and funerals and that was it. We had two children at the time and our marriage was in trouble. Then my father passed away from an accident and I had more questions! I really felt that there was more to life and wanted our children to have religion, I just did not know where to find it. The time came when we knew we needed a change in our lives if we were going to stay married, and I was feeling weary and tired (the word would be humbled haha).
…enter…the KNOCK! Yes, we were tracted by two sister missionaries one cold Nov evening in 1994. When those sisters got in their car that cold Nov night it was 9pm. They only had 30 minutes before they needed to be in their apartment but they felt that they were not where they needed to be. They prayed to be guided…and they drove straight to our door! Our house was not the first one on the street. They were led by the Spirit and their faith to our very door.
My husband let them right in (which was not characteristic) and we had our first contact with the true church I had been looking for. We attended the one and only time before our eventual baptism the following June, a December fast and testimony meeting, with no prep on what to expect and what was actually happening. The poor members, we came in as my husband smelled of smoke and I smelled of the xl coffee I had purchased on the way to church…we had lots to learn. Shall I mention the testimony of Kolob and things that were way over our head, wondering what all the crying was about, or of our toddlers crawling under the pews and popping up five rows away?!
However, the sisters came back for discussions. Then what came after, well, I was a bit stubborn and cynical (prideful) perhaps, as I did not attend any lessons with my husband. I had been a bit worn out with so many churches not making sense that I just let him learn while I went Sunday shopping, hid downstairs, went out for coffee, basically anything to avoid talking to them! I had no problem with my husband taking discussions, and told him I would attend church with him if he wanted, just don’t expect me to convert! He took the discussions, but did not commit to baptism, and the sisters needed to stop seeing him as he was not progressing any further. He did know it was true, and the missionaries knew that he knew it was, and I am eternally grateful that they wrote that in the area book so when there were new sisters they tried again. What patience those sisters had!
We did go through a few transfers, and by April of 1995 I happened to ask a question of them when they were over and they had the answer…thus started my short few weeks into May, of lessons, where once they asked me if I would be baptized I said yes. If only I had listened when they taught my husband! When my husband told the sisters that he needed to speak to me privately, they were really in a panic, fearing he would not want me to continue…but while my husband had not decided to get baptized before, he did not want to be ‘left out’ and asked as well to be baptized. It had been the issue of ‘faith of our fathers’ and his family not understanding him joining another church that had held him back. He had not wanted to disappoint them by leaving the faith he had been raised in. We led the usual busy lives and had asked to be baptized in July (this was early May) they sisters were worried and tried to push it much sooner.
We really had no idea that Satan is real and that our decision was huge and had eternal consequences. I assured them I had no intention of backing out of my commitment but they were nervous! We came to understand why, when each Sunday something happened to prevent us from attending church. Our car had a flat tire, then the next Sunday a different tire went flat! The next Sunday it would not start at all, until hours later when there was nothing apparently wrong with it. Then an alternator failed. Four missed Sundays!
That month I think those poor sisters fasted every week for us! But, even through the anti literature that was brought to us, to videos that we chose not to watch, to friends trying to dine us with wine and tempt my husband with cigarettes, to having a pastor from another church calling me on the phone with anti information about Joseph Smith, it all just made me feel a peace somehow in the middle of all that chaos, that it was the right decision.
We entered the waters of baptism June 4, 1995. We had more trials come our way once I wanted to get my endownments. My husband had quit smoking, then started again not long after we were baptized, so I prepared to go alone. It was a long road as I put off the date waiting for him to quit, many many times. I despaired of being an eternal family. I went to the Temple by myself and later that year I was blessed with a ‘glimpse’ of my husband beside me in the Temple. I knew that it would happen, either in this life or the next so I was able to make peace in the home over that issue. Eventually he had his own revelations and conversion and despite yet more challenges and trials we were sealed to our 3 children in the Toronto Temple in Dec 1999.
When my father died my mom became very reclusive with her alcoholism and when she was diagnosed with esophageal cancer it fell to me to take care of her. She wanted to die at home so I left my 3 kids and would travel 3 hours each Sunday night to take care of her for the week, returning home Sat night to attend church with my family the next day, eat lunch and leave again. I did this for 3 months until I needed to stay all the time until her death later that month. It was only after both my dad and mother were gone that I was able to fully heal and lay to rest the years of abuse and the continued attempts my brother had made to try to wreck havoc in my life. I learned many things through those trials. Heavenly Father never forgets us and always is just waiting for us to reach out to Him.
Family is everything. I cannot imagine a life without my family and my heart breaks for those who have to wait for that joy. I certainly learned what addictions can do to you and why the Word of Wisdom is so important. My mom never really communicated anything of importance with me through those months, and I decided then that I would always tell my family how I feel about them. I learned that service and love do take away the hurts of the past and that my mom was gripped by an addiction she could not control. I came to feel nothing but sadness and regret for her at her own hurts and hoped that when the time came, and I did her work in the Temple that she would accept it. I know that it is only through the atonement of Jesus Christ that we can repent, but that we can forgive others too. I was able to go to LDS social services to deal with the abuse of my brother that needed to be resolved within myself, and to be able to heal. I went from feeling sick and nauseous when I saw an email and anger towards him for all that he had done, to finally being able to feel the love that Heavenly Father has, even for him. He made bad choices and he will have to live with those consequences, not me. I have to live with how I deal with it, how I react, what is in my own heart, and I am so incredibly blessed to now understand this and not let Satan destroy my peace with hurt and anger. I am grateful to feel the comfort and peace, and know I am never alone.
Since becoming a member in 1995 I have had many callings. I am so grateful for the opportunities we have as members to serve. Each calling brings something different, some learning, some building of testimony. I know Heavenly Father guides my life and I know my Savior loves me. We have been blessed to help our children understand the gospel and have seen one daughter married in the Temple, our son serving his mission, and his younger sister already planning her mission. I am grateful for a husband who holds his priesthood dearly and uses it often. None of this would have been possible without all the experiences that prepared me to receive the gospel and those sweet sweet sister missionaries that ‘found’ us. Yes, we still have many trials to deal with just like everyone else, but as long as I remain focused on the gospel I can make it through!
I know this is a long story, but it is a long conversion! It did not just happen at once, but it was a process that started as a child, feeling the Lord’s hand in my life, then being prepared by the example of my friend, by being prepared to be able to feel the spirit and recognize the gospel when it was finally brought to me when I was ready, and the lessons of the atonement I continue to still learn and apply. I know that the Book of Mormon is truly the word of God. I know that Joseph Smith is the prophet of the restoration of the Church of Christ on the earth today, that we have a prophet to guide us today, President Monson, and without a doubt I know that our Heavenly Father loves each of His children and listens to our prayers.
Denise del Mundo