The author of this essay is Michelle F, the mother of two young boys. Before she married, she served an LDS mission in Bulgaria.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1
I remember visiting my “well to do” grandparents in California when I was about 14 years old. My Grandmother had been raised in an LDS home, but had gone inactive under pressure from her first husband. Her second husband was a self-proclaimed atheist who believed in his own two hands, hard work and common sense. I think he felt that believing God would be like believing in a “free lunch.” He was also the most lively, generous, motivating force in my life second only to my own mother. My grandparents had flown me to California for four days where they took me out to dinner, shopping, to the movies, and sight seeing. Coming from a family of six children all haggling for our parents’ attention; I was in heaven.
One evening as we were sitting in front of a crackling fire, and their dalmatian, Abby, had finally stopped thump, thumping the arm chair with his happy tail, and had lain his head on his paws to sleep, they asked me a question. The conversation went something like this:
Grandma Dorothy: What is it that you really believe in, Michelle? I mean, why do you go to church every week?
14 year old me: Um, well,…I believe in a loving Heavenly Father who sent us down to earth in families so we could get a body and have experiences.
Grandma Dorothy: But your church believes so strongly in raising families when there are too many people on the earth right now; many of them starving! Isn’t it irresponsible to have more children when the planet already can’t feed what it has? And what if a woman wants to have a career instead of raise a family?
14 year old me: . Well, um…I know that the church encourages everyone to get a good education so that they can provide for their families. I know I plan on going to college.
Grandma Dorothy: (She waves away my answer and moves on.) But what about all the crimes, murders, atrocities, and wars that all have their roots in religion? Religion really seems to incite more problems than solutions, wouldn’t you say?
14 year old me: Um, I guess I’ve never really thought about those questions. But, I do know that God lives.
Grandma Dorothy: But how could you know that?
14 year old me: Well, I know I feel good when I talk about Him, or pray or read the scriptures. And I have felt peace when I was afraid or needed help.
Grandma Dorothy: But couldn’t that all just be in your mind? Like your own confidence kicking in?
14 year old me: I don’t know… But I feel like the church has helped me make good decisions and kept me away from things that could have hurt me like drugs or immorality.
Grandpa Norm: That’s probably true. In any case, I think you should probably marry a Mormon if it’s that important to you.
He then gave Grandma Dorothy a look that meant “That’s enough,” and the conversation drifted on to something else and soon we all said goodnight. I plodded down the hall to the guest room and it’s black comforter and carpet. I had failed. I knelt down by the bed and cried and prayed. I felt the weight of a lost opportunity on my shoulders. I had no answers for my grandparents. I had no idea what to tell them. My belief in God had seemed childish and immature, and for the first time I really wondered what it was that I believed in.
Help me, I prayed. Please. Help me.
And then I felt something as I prayed. I felt a tiny warm, calming sensation in my stomach that grew and spread until it reached every part of me; like a blanket had been pulled from inside me and was then wrapped around me; filling me with a living, energizing peace. And I knew with absolute clarity three things; 1) God was real 2) God loved me and 3) He was pleased with my sincere effort to explain my faith.
And now, as a returned missionary, a college graduate, a wife, and a mother, I’ve wondered how I would answer all those questions. I would be lying if I said that I ‘d never experienced suffering, unfulfilled longing, pain, or loneliness. But I would also be lying if I didn’t tell of how in the moment I most needed something, or someone—He was there. When we moved to a new country every three to four years for my Dad’s assignments in the Foreign Service—He was there. When I was too scared to fall asleep at night when my parents were traveling—He was there. When I opened the envelope with the rejection letter from graduate school—He was there. When my son’s breathing was so labored that I lay awake watching every breath—He was there. When I fiercely hungered for another baby and cried every month—He was there. I have felt God’s loving warmth, His peace. And though I can’t pin it to a smell, a color, texture or flavor on it, I know He’s real. And every time I am able to feel peace during a crisis I know–I have my evidence.
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