How the "Other Woman" Led Me to Christ
A Relief Society Presidents Journey Out of Mormonism
I grew up in a wonderful home---an only child until age ten; raised lovingly by my mother, aunt, and maternal grandparents. As such, I was precocious, spoiled, and spiritually inclined. My mother had me baptized in a Methodist Church when I was four, but we only attended for a couple of months. My mother, aunt, and grandparents provided for my every need and taught me the values of integrity and respect for authority. They taught me well, although I had very little formal religious training; so I was left to my own devices on how to find spiritual truth.
Intrinsically, I knew there was a God and that He was All-Powerful. I believed He could do anything. When a beloved pet would die, be it a turtle, lizard, parakeet, chicken, or duck, I would run to my room, drop to my knees, and pray to God that He would keep them safe and let me see them again in Heaven. Only twice did I briefly worry that there was no God; the first time was at age eight when my mother confessed that Santa Claus was a hoax (if grown-ups lied about Santa were they lying about God too?); and the second time at age thirty-nine after learning that the Mormon Church was a hoax.
God was a little scary to me. My mother had bought me a book of Bible stories with pencil-sketched drawings in it. The drawing of the Flood showed terrified naked people crawling over each other to escape the rising waters. One story told about a sick boy in the hospital who saw Jesus by his bedside before dying. The couple of times I had been to a Catholic Church, I saw the figure of a bruised, broken, and bloody Jesus hanging on a cross. Frankly, as a child with no formal religious background, those pictures and stories were frightening to me.
My family was the typical American family; they enjoyed an occasional beer and used expletives now and then. My mother smoked. I was taught that pre-marital sex was okay as long as you loved the person, however, I felt no desire to do those things. Consequently, I felt different from family and friends alike and felt like I didnt quite fit in. Those feelings were even more pronounced after my mother re-married when I was nine.
My family carefully and conscientiously sheltered me from the social chaos of the sixties and early seventies. I only became aware of the Vietnam War when I entered junior high school in 1972. Bumper stickers were as abundant as hip-huggers and bell-bottoms. Almost every locker had one plastered to the front reading "Bring Home our P.O.W.S" or "God Bless the M.I.A.s." About that time one of my good friends began asking me to attend the Mormon Church with her. Every Wednesday Liz would invite me to a mysterious meeting called "M.I.A." (Mutual Improvement Association). I asked her what the acronym stood for and she didnt know. The only thing I knew was that M.I.A. meant Missing In Action. I wasnt about to go to some strange church meeting and never return home! Eventually though, common sense won out, and when Liz invited me to a square dance at her church, my love for dancing prompted me to accept the invitation. It was incredible! It felt like I was coming home! The people were warm and friendly; the kids my age were accepting and not driven by worldly mores. Here were people LOTS of them who were just like me! I finally felt like I fit in.
When I got home that night I excitedly told my mother that I wanted to get baptized. She wisely advised me to wait until I knew more about the church. Disappointed, I answered that all I wanted for my fourteenth birthday was to be baptized a Mormon. I jumped into full activity with my whole heart and soul, becoming the darling of the Canoga Park Second Ward. During the following four months I asked just about every adult in the ward who would listen all about the "gospel." By the time my birthday approached I was just a "dry Mormon." The bishop informed me I was required to take the formal missionary discussions. The Stake changed their whole baptism schedule so that I could be baptized on my birthday. It meant a lot to me to be "spiritually re-born" on the day I celebrated my physical birth.
While the missionaries, Elder Peterson and Elder Backsendale, taught me the basics of LDS doctrine, I kept plying them with meatier questions; "When is the Second Coming?" "How can I get my Calling and Election made sure?" "What is the white stone were given in the next life?" Much to my dismay they insisted on sticking to the official lessons and stated that they really werent supposed to be teaching me deeper doctrines.
My baptism was held on a sunny Saturday afternoon, the day of my fourteenth birthday. There were about 40 people in attendance to see nine of us getting baptized; four "children of record" and five converts. When the group began to sing The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning, the air became electrified to me. It sounded like angels had joined in the chorus to celebrate the occasion.
As a True Blue Latter-day Saint I began to have longings to join the bulk of church membership in "Zion" along the Wasatch Front. Specifically I longed to live in Provo. It had been nicknamed Happy Valley Utah. "Provo" the name was music to my ears! I remember a young man in my California ward being called to serve a mission in Provo, Utah. The whole congregation burst out laughing when the call was read over the pulpit; it took several minutes for the bishop to get everyone under control. We all "knew" that the only people living in Utah were the Saints! Who was this poor boy going proselyte? Farm animals?
My dreams of Utah, meeting Donny Osmond, and living happily ever after were about to come to fruition. Or so I thought. My family had grown weary of smog, crime, and traffic congestion, so in August of 1975 my grandparents and parents put their houses up for sale and by the end of September we were all living in Zion! I began attending Provo High School and learned there was a difference between Utah Mormons and "mission field" Mormons. It seemed that many Utah Mormons were complacent about their faith.
My ward was great though. Of course, my perceptions may have been colored by the fact that I attended the same ward as the Osmond family. Every Sunday was a thrill, especially sitting as close to the front as possible hoping to catch the eye of Donny as he sat at the Sacrament table. Once in a while I would be rewarded by his captivating smile. Gathering up all the courage I could muster, I even invited Donny to a "Sadie Hawkins" dance. To my surprise he smiled and said yes! Unfortunately, he had to break the "date" because of a concert. Another chance to go out with him never arose. As Donny was often on tour and the opportunity for him to fall in love with me didnt arise, I met the returned missionary (eight years my senior) who would later become my husband. Having ambitions to become rich and famous recording artists we moved to Las Vegas two years later, where Scott and I married when I turned nineteen.
We strove diligently the first year we were married to prepare for getting sealed in the temple. I kept praying that neither one of us would die before we got to the temple, lest we spend an eternity apart from each other. I wanted to be and have a righteous eternal family and daily lived so as to be worthy of the blessings of the temple. I already had been forewarned that the endowment session was somewhat unusual and that some people felt uncomfortable the first time through. Scott had taken out his own endowments before his mission and told me as much about the ceremony as he could without violating the sacred oaths of secrecy he had made. I felt prepared and excited to go to the temple.
The much-anticipated time arrived. I took out my endowments in the Salt Lake Temple so that I could go through a "live" session (with actors instead of the movie) and the next day we were sealed for eternity in the Provo Temple. Even though I anticipated some unusual things about the ceremony, I was troubled by the blood oaths and wondered why we needed to learn special signs and tokens to pass by the angels to get into the Celestial kingdom. Did that mean that if an outsider found out what these signs and tokens were that he could sneak into heaven? Would an Omniscient God really need these signs and our "new name" in order to recognize us? What if during the End Times someone tried to torture us into revealing the secrets of the temple? The thought certainly carried an element of fear with it. We set those questions aside and forged ahead to rear a righteous family.
Over the following twenty years of our marriage, Scott and I were fully immersed in church service, sometimes holding up to five callings at a time. It was a challenge, but we were glad to serve and felt honored and humbled that the Lord found us worthy to contribute in various capacities. Besides regular temple attendance (traveling two hours each way until a temple was built locally), I served in the childrens Primary for over seven years, was involved in the Cub-Scouting program, belonged to the ward choir and a local LDS community choir, sang special numbers for Sacrament Meetings, assisted in the library, taught in Relief Society for six years and served as Relief Society President my last year in the church.
My husband held a variety of callings; playing the organ or piano for meetings, leading the choir, serving as a ward financial clerk and as a counselor in the Elders Quorum Presidency, as well as teaching in the Primary and the High Priest group.
Our experience as members of the church was very positive and we enjoyed the fellowship we had with other members. We took church membership and the gospel seriously, raising our children to walk uprightly before the Lord. I had six children by the time I was a twenty-nine and nine children by age thirty-eight. We had decided when we got married that we would not limit the size of our family for personal or selfish reasons and that as long as my health was good, we would welcome all the "spirit children" of our Heavenly Father and Mother that He wanted to send to our home. At times Scott worked two jobs so that I could be a full-time mother as the churchs prophets taught that good Latter-day Saint women should be. I practiced honing my skills as a homemaker by sewing most of my older childrens clothing, baking bread, and making crafts. I became diligent in preparing for the End Times by being frugal, learning to can and dry fruits and vegetables, taking first aid classes, and familiarizing myself with prophecies in scripture and by church leaders.
My daily life and thoughts revolved around the church. Although the truth of Mormonism was never supernaturally manifested to me by an overwhelming "burning in the bosom," my gift seemed to be believing on the testimony of others, which I did wholeheartedly. I figured that was my test in life; to "know" without really knowing. As a matter of fact, the closest I ever got to a "burning in the bosom" was when leaning over a hot stove J . Although disappointed, I frequently bore my testimony in "Fast Meetings" and in private to my children. I "knew" the church was true because it seemed right and felt right.
After the first few years of marriage, I noticed that Scott rarely got up to bear his testimony in church. He started a night job and began listening to a Christian radio station while he worked. Everyday Walter Martin in his role as the "Bible Answer Man" would come on. Often his program would revolve around the Mormon Church. From what Scott told me several times a week, Dr. Martin would spew all kinds of vitriolic blasphemy from his mouth about the LDS church, The LORDS Church. I couldnt stand the guy this misinformed heathen. "Just wait till he gets to the other side," I would tell Scott, "boy, will he be shocked and embarrassed when he finds out he was wrong all these years! Boy will he be kicking himself when he ends up in the lowest kingdom!"
One day while Scott was on a "pokey-stick" walk (thats "dumpster-diving" for you uninitiated folk), he found the book entitled, By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus by Charles M. Larsen. Scott began reading it and reported to me what he was discovering. It appeared as though Joseph Smith had mistranslated a pagan funeral document by turning it into what is now one of the Mormon Churchs volumes of scripture. I was really shaken up by the information. I remember driving to get groceries one evening and sitting in the car crying over what it meant. Could it be possible that the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price was a fraud? How could the prophet have gotten things so wrong? What if he wasnt really a prophet? That would mean that the church is not true! The concept was too deep to fathom. There must be a logical reason for the seeming error; maybe it was a test of our faith. Maybe Satan was just trying to discredit Gods work. I told Scott that I didnt know how to explain Josephs botching up the Book of Abraham, but deep inside I knew the church was true and we just had to press on in faith.
It began to grate on me that Scott wouldnt get up in church to bear his testimony. He also never really talked about his mission. His mission was a real eye-opener for him. There were lots of politics and brown-nosing in his particular mission and it disillusioned him greatly. I wanted our sons to go on missions and felt that they needed their fathers example and encouragement. How could I help them develop strong testimonies when their own father would not express his own? Scott finally admitted that he didnt have a sure testimony. He hoped the church was true, he wanted it to be true, he believed it was probably true, but he said he would feel like a hypocrite getting up in front of our kids and in church to testify that he knew it was true. He confessed that it kind of irritated him that church members always used the word "know" when there is no way they really could know without being eyewitnesses or having solid evidence.
Despite Scotts weak faith, we were both committed to teaching the children the principles of the gospel. We had daily family prayer and scripture reading from the Book of Mormon, memorized the thirteen Articles of Faith, had regular family gospel discussions, and participated in all the church activities we could. We believed that the building of the New Jerusalem and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ would be in our lifetimes and wanted to see that our children were well taught and worthy to be called to build Zion.
I had always been diligent to follow the prophets counsel to prepare for the events of the Last Days, often sacrificing comfort and extravagance to make sure we had food and clothing storage. As it got closer to the year 2000 (and a possible Y2K computer disaster) I was doing all I could to finish getting our year supply of food and emergency items. I became increasingly interested in prophecies regarding the Last Days, including dreams and visions that many individuals were having. I had read an LDS womans story about her dreams of a devastating earthquake that would put Utah and Salt Lake Valleys into economic and physical chaos. She wrote about her deceased sister coming to her in a vision to warn her of these things. What disturbed me about her story was that she said the leaders of the church would call in everyones food storage and then turn it over to the United Nations. Of course I didnt believe that part and was amazed that someone could be so deceived. I began to pray quite often that I would not be led astray. A verse in Matthew 24 foretells that in the End Times many would be deceived and I did not want to be one of them; I wanted to hold fast to the faith until the Second Coming of Christ.
In November of 1999 I was called to be the Relief Society President. I knew the call was coming six weeks before the Bishop asked. It was the oddest thing. Our Relief Society President had passed away, and as I was sitting at the luncheon after the funeral, I got the distinct impression that I would be the next president. I tried to avoid the bishop from that point on! What in the world could the bishop be thinking? Or the Lord for that matter! I was not Relief Society President material we were in the lower economic class, had nine children at the time, home schooled, wore the same clothes to church every week, didnt have an immaculate house, nor did I shop at Deseret Industries. However, I was diligent about putting family first and lived by the "K.I.S.S. Principle," Keep It Simple Sister, which later became our motto as a Relief Society presidency.
Being called to a leadership position was a serious matter not to be taken lightly or unworthily. Even though being a member of the church had been a good experience overall, I somehow always felt like I did not measure up. I often doubted my standing before the Lord. Was I doing enough? Could I be trying harder? Would I really make it to the Celestial Kingdom? What about the times I raised my voice at the kids or didnt feel like going to church (even though I went anyway)? What about drinking caffeine sodas while driving on long trips? Would it count against me? Was I really "valiant in the testimony of Jesus" or would I only go to the Terrestrial Kingdom? Did Heavenly Father really want someone like me as a leader over the sisters in the ward?
Furthermore, I was discouraged and mad at the Lord for slowly killing my sons fish. It was autumn of 1999 and my 11-year-old son had worked hard all summer for the neighborhood ice cream man to buy an expensive, but ugly (actually it was butt ugly!) fish a Jack Dempsey. He had the fish for about two weeks when we decided to go to the park as a family. We were gone for a couple of hours and when we came home our son declared that the fish was gone! A diligent fish-hunt ensued and the Dempsey was found floundering on the windowsill. The poor fish had taken a swimming leap to capture its goldfish dinner, but with no lid to stop him, kept sailing right out of the tank. Amazingly, it was still alive, though barely.
I knew my son was heart-broken as he came to me asking what he should do. I recommended putting it back into the tank to see if it would revive. The Dempsey sunk to the bottom and lay there, its great sides heaving with every "breath." I wanted to tell him to pray for the life of his fish, but I was afraid that if Heavenly Father let it die, it would shake my boys faith in prayer and in the Lord.
Privately I shut the door to my room, kneeled at my bedside and wept before the Lord in behalf of the Dempsey. "Please," I prayed, "please heal the fish miraculously so that my sons faith in Thee will be strengthened, but if not, then please make it die quickly so it doesnt have to suffer." I checked on my son and his fish. My son, Curran, had propped the Dempsey up against the undulating plastic pirate ship that gave the aquarium a nice, homey feel for its residents. It seemed the fish might actually recuperate.
The next day brought no change in the Dempseys condition. As a matter of fact, there was no change at all in the ensuing days other than the wretched creature would sometimes flop over and have to be propped back up. Daily I prayed for that fish, anticipating the great miracle Heavenly Father was going to perform. It would be a defining moment in our lives, something Curran would look back on when he when he was a General Authority giving a talk in General Conference;
"Yes, brothers and sisters," he would testify at the grand pulpit, "I knew there was a God in Heaven the day He healed my fish. That was the moment I determined to serve the Lord for the rest of my life. That was the moment I gained a testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints blah, blah, blah." And I would beam proudly from the front row, nudging the Saint sitting next to me, "Thats my boy up there! The Miracle of the Fish happened over 30 years ago and now see what my son has become! Yes, thats my boy!"
Secretly I harbored the thought, "If the fish revives, then I will absolutely KNOW that the church is true." It wasnt that I didnt believe it was true. It was just that I had never experienced an overwhelming spiritual manifestation as some others had. Sadly, the fish lingered in that nether land between life and death for almost two weeks. I became discouraged. What kind of pleasure did God take in the suffering of this fish? Didnt He love us enough? Id heard of other miracles; one Education Week story about a dehydrated pet frog that miraculously regenerated after being prayed over by a child. Were we so unworthy as to not merit this one favor? Was my childs testimony not as important as the boys whose frog re-inflated?
Finally the day came that we either had to flush, bury, or barbeque the Dempsey. We buried it. I was still mad at the Lord. It was about this time that I was called to be the Relief Society President. At the time, I was eagerly awaiting a call from the Oprah Winfrey Show, telling me that I was one of the chosen few who would be getting a "Millennial Make-Over." Id already sent pictures and the days were crawling by. The phone rang as I was heading out the door for a class. I wouldnt have answered it at all had it not been for my hope of quasi-stardom. It was the bishop.
"Sister Crookston," he greeted, "do you know what the Relief Society Emblem is?" Id been teaching the lessons for 6 years, but I really hadnt the foggiest notion. "Two stalks of wheat," he answered. He then asked if I knew what the RS flower was. Frankly I didnt know there was a RS flower. He asked if I knew the Relief Society colors. Boy, was I batting a thousand! I was sure he thought I must be a complete dunderhead. I took a wild guess, reasoning that the Cub Scout colors were blue and gold, so maybe there was a connection. I got the answer right. His next question was regarding the motto of the Relief Society. I didnt know it, but supposed it had something to do with charity and said as much. He replied, "Yes. Charity never faileth."
"Really." I said, afraid of where this conversation was heading. "Well, Ive learned something new today." The bishop then asked me about my philosophy on home schooling---probably trying to ascertain whether I was a zealot---and what I thought about Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. He asked about my family. I was getting antsy to get to my class as it was the last one for the semester and the teacher was bringing Krispy Crème doughnuts. I told the bishop that I hated to cut short this scintillating conversation, but I was going to be late to the college.
Driving to class I sat a little straighter, walked a little taller, and began to feel a little "presidential." If people were going to begin looking to me as a leader, I had better start acting leaderly. It was hard to look "leaderly" though in holey jeans, a toddler-stained tee shirt, and my uncombed hair in a ponytail. The morning had been so hectic Id forgotten to properly groom myself. How embarrassing.
The next day I checked Oprahs website and saw that they already had the guests lined up for the makeover show. I was really disappointed, but deluded myself into believing it was a sign that I would not be called as the next Relief Society president. If my greatest dream wasnt going to come true I reasoned, then neither would my worst nightmare. Besides, if I wasnt good enough to be on Oprah, then what made me think I was good enough to be a leader? It was depressing.
Three days later the bishop called from out-of-state where he was vacationing with his family. He asked if I would serve in the capacity of Relief Society president. Of course I accepted; thats what good church members are supposed to do. A calling from the Bishop is a calling from God. The bishop later confessed that he had reservations, but that the Lord made clear to him that if he did not call me to be the next president he would be under condemnation.
I truly felt like a fish out of water! My only hope was that Heavenly Father would not let me flounder like the Dempsey. I chose two counselors who were almost as unorthodox as I was. We all home schooled, we all felt like the Second Coming was near, and we all felt that the sisters needed more focus in their lives on the simple things. We often joked among ourselves that we must have been the most dysfunctional presidency that the ward had ever had!
A few months later, in February of 2000, I again attempted to get on the Oprah Winfrey Show. The theme was changing your frumpy clothing wardrobe into something more stylish. Well, I could do frumpy --- that was right up my alley. I had my daughter video tape me sing "Frumpy Clothes Blues," having changed the words to the old standard "Ballin the Jack." It was just hokey enough that two days after sending the tape by overnight mail someone on Oprahs staff called me and asked how I would like to visit Chicago! It was quite an experience.
Well the Lord works in mysterious ways. The evening that the show aired (February 11) I got a phone call from an unusual and unforgettable friend. This friend had once been my mortal enemy --- the "other woman" in a love triangle when we were both dating the man I ended up marrying, 20 years before! As you can imagine, four years of battling for the same man was a very emotionally painful experience that had left scars in both of us contenders. Becky had lost track of us over the years, however, on the day that the Oprah Show aired, she came home early, turned on the TV and hit the VCR record button --- something that she usually didnt do. She hardly ever watched television! In that exact moment I came out onto the stage. Becky sat down a while later to watch the tape and took a double take. "Could that really be Tracy?" she thought. The guest wardrobe designer mentioned my first name, number of children, and the city I lived in. Becky looked me up and called.
We had a pleasant conversation, although I was shocked to learn that Becky had left the church. She was a several generation Latter-day Saint from pioneer stock and as True Blue as they came; no R-rated movies or colas, expert in cooking and sewing, a straight arrow if ever there was one. I thought, "The Lord has arranged this so I can bring her back into the church." Becky explained that she had been reading the Bible and was led out of the church. I made a commitment to read the Bible myself to see what could possibly be in there that would lead her astray.
Over the following months we kept up a correspondence and Becky would always tell me about what the Lord was doing in her life. She kept expressing that she had never felt as close to the Savior as she did then and that truly the "truth had set her free." It certainly puzzled me as to why Heavenly Father would lead her out of His "true church." Not only that, but apostates were supposed to lose the Spirit completely and become dark, bitter, empty individuals. Instead, quite the opposite had happened; she was calm, peaceful, and had an assurance about her standing with God. I kept looking for a chink in her new armor, evidence that she was being led astray by the devil, but could find none.
As the summer wore on I began to pray to know the truth. Not that I doubted the Church --- I just wanted know how it could be that Becky and others could have a close relationship with the Lord outside of the church, especially as "apostates!" Could it be that there was more than one way to the Celestial Kingdom?
On one of our evening walks my husband posed an intriguing question; what if the truth was that the church was not true? After pondering for a moment I responded that I would not want to know. If the church wasnt true, then what was? The very foundation of the world as we knew it --- our lifestyle, belief system, and way of thinking --- would crumble. The mere thought of it was frightening to me!
In August I attended BYUs Education Week. It was inspirational as always. While in Provo I arranged to meet with the woman who had visions concerning the End Times and claimed to have had a visitation from the spirit of her deceased sister. I wanted to see what kind of person she was. If she and Becky and others could be deceived, then it was possible that I was also at risk.
After an intense five-hour discussion I ascertained that she was indeed sincere and did not appear to be a charlatan. How could someone who had been excommunicated get visions and visitations from the dead, another person who left the church on her own have the peace that passes all understanding, and faithful church members all be getting a "spiritual witness" that the course they were on was the "true" course? That was when I decided that I had to know the truth at all costs. I prayed that Heavenly Father would reveal the truth to me. I told Him that if the church was true I had to know beyond any shadow of doubt so that I could continue to press forward in faith in preparation for the Second Coming; and if it was not true, then I needed to know that too so that I could be on the correct side when Jesus came again. When I prayed I wouldnt be deceived I never considered the possibility that I already had been deceived---by the LDS church!
Well, God took me at my word that I really desired truth and a few weeks later impressed me to ask my sister-in-law about a paper she had mentioned in the past that if it were true, she said, was the scariest thing she had ever read. She said she was reluctant to send it to me because she did not want to be responsible for "shaking my testimony." She would only tell me was that it was about the temple ceremony. I assured her that I had my free agency and that I absolved her from all blame. If what was written was true, I needed to know! If it were not true, then the Lord would give me discernment.
A few days before October General Conference, the long-anticipated "paper" arrived. It was about seven or eight pages long written by a man in Southern Utah who quoted Book of Mormon witness David Whitmer saying that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet. It also made references to the temple ceremony being copied from Masonic Temple rites. That information was mildly interesting, but for the most part I dismissed it as the exaggerated ranting of a very deceived individual. What did grab my attention though, were some alleged quotes by Brigham Young concerning blood atonement.
According to the author Brigham said, "Suppose you found your brother in bed with your wife, and put a javelin through both of them, you would be justified and they would atone for their sins, and be received into the kingdom of God. I would at once do so in such a case; and under such circumstances, I have no wife whom I love so well that I would not put a javelin through her heart, and I would do it with clean hands " Young goes on to say that "the blood of Christ will never wipe that out [adultery], your own blood must atone for it " (Journal of Discourses, vol. 3, p. 247). I was absolutely incredulous. This was obviously misquoted or taken out of context.
Right away I began calling people in my ward to see who had the Journal of Discourses in their personal library. I had tried using Gospel Link but it did not contain the full text. As soon as the books were located I jumped into my van and headed for a members home. I had written down some references and began a determined search through several volumes. To my amazement and shock I found that the quotes were genuine and not taken out of context. I looked up other topics as well; the Adam-God doctrine, blacks and the priesthood, monogamy condemned. Contrary to what Id been told, the Journal of Discourses had First Presidency approval at the time of publication (Volume 1, first page). Not only that, but all the sermons in the Journal of Discourses had been printed in the Church newspaper/magazine prior to being published in book form. I got quite a belly full of outrageous doctrines before leaving. Brother B___ asked me before I left if I found what I was looking for. I replied in the affirmative. Indeed, I found a whole lot more than I was looking for. He looked at me quizzically and I brought up the Adam-God doctrine, to which he replied that President Young had only speculated on it publicly a few times. After researching further, I learned that Young taught it as a revelation for over twenty-five years!
I came home quite shaken. What President Young taught was not the gospel as I thought I knew it. What about the woman taken in adultery who Jesus forgave and comforted, "Neither do I condemn thee, go thy way and sin no more?" He did not say, "Okay, folks, go ahead and stone her! I cannot atone for her sin and there seems to be a shortage of javelins around here."
Calling my friend Becky, I asked her for the web address that she had recommended months before to have my questions answered; a web address that I blew off because I already "had the truth" (www.hismin.com). Along with the Internet I checked out some books from the library; Mormon America by Richard Ostling, In Sacred Loneliness by Todd Compton (LDS author and researcher), and Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power by Michael D. Quinn (Former BYU History Professor, now an Independent Scholar). My husband and I read voraciously for weeks checking every reference we could with church records, histories, and official publications to verify the many contradictions, inconsistencies, and revisions. All the while I prayed fervently that God would guide me and not let me be led astray; I only wanted to know the truth. I emailed several Ex-Mormon websites asking for answers to my questions. I sent away for pamphlets. I visited with Institute teachers and relatives active in the church whose opinions I respected.
When I read for myself the almost word for word similarities between the temple endowment oaths and the oaths taken in Masonic rites and Satanic rituals, I removed my temple garments. I figured that if I was wrong that the Lord would forgive me because my intentions were pure, but if I was right, perhaps the garments were actually shielding me from receiving the truth.
The final straw was when I learned that Joseph Smith had married several women who were already married to men still living. Incredibly, he had also threatened teenage girls with eternal damnation for them and their families if they refused to become his plural wives, and exaltation for them and their families if they consented. I decided that if that bit of history could indeed be verified, then I would know that Joseph Smith was not true prophet of God. It was verified through various historical documents (see In Sacred Loneliness by Todd Compton).
The foundation of Mormonism quickly unraveled from there. I learned that much of the time Joseph Smith did not even have the gold plates in his view while "translating" them. Instead, he had a "peep stone" in his hat, which he claimed gave him revelations not the Urim and Thummim allegedly found with the plates, but a stone he had found while digging a well for his neighbor! Because of my knowledge of the occult, I recognized the practices of "channeling" and "automatic writing" and knew they were of a demonic nature. I also learned that there were many contemporary resources available to Smith to be able to author the Book of Mormon on his own or with the help of educated and well-versed friends such as Sidney Rigdon and/or Oliver Cowdery.
I began a concentrated study of the Bible in earnest, reading commentaries, listening to study tapes, learning the background of the individual books of the Bible and the Hebrew culture of those days. There were many Bible verses that had been taken completely out of context by the LDS Church. The Lord was removing the scales from my eyes and peeling back the layers of years worth of indoctrination in false teachings.
This was probably the most difficult period of my life. There was so much at stake! Whatever decision I made would affect generations. If I left the church and was wrong, I would be responsible for the spiritual demise of my posterity. I couldnt take the chance of being wrong in either direction. Whether I stayed in the church or left the church I had to know for sure that it was Gods will and that I was not being deceived.
Day and night these matters weighed upon my mind. There was scarcely a moment that I was not thinking about it, discussing it, studying, praying, and even dreaming about it at night! I was scared and sobered over the implications of my quest, yet underneath I felt a peaceful assurance that this path wherever it ended was Gods will. Oh how I wanted the church to be true! "Please, please let the church be true," my breaking heart cried out, "nevertheless, not my will be done, but thine oh Lord. Just lead me to the truth and I will follow it."
There were so many questions to be answered and finding the answer to one of them seemed to spawn a dozen more questions. I had new friends from the Internet (how I thank God for their patience and long-suffering) who I emailed daily asking questions, demanding proof, rehashing subjects already covered. They made me a part of their daily prayers, pleading with the Lord to remove the scales of spiritual blindness from my eyes and give me new sight.
With Thanksgiving around the corner, visiting family would be a good excuse to travel to Salt Lake City for further investigation. Scott and I were up until two or three a.m. discussing the issues with relatives. Although I had tried to hide my doubts from our children, just in case I was wrong, they noticed I was no longer wearing my temple garments and were quite concerned. That final week was an emotionally tumultuous one. We were being told by extended family members that we just needed more faith and to rely on the good feelings we had about the church prior to all of this. One of Scotts brothers went so far as to tell him that his doubts were arising from unworthiness and if he would just repent he would know that the Church was true. Scott replied that his worthiness had no bearing on whether or not Joseph Smith took other mens wives or repeatedly lied to Emma and church members about his plural marriages. Scott asked his sister-in-law what it would take for her to leave the church if it could be proven that these things were historically accurate. She admitted that she didnt know. Some people seem to think that if you only believe in something hard enough, it will become true.
I set up an appointment to meet with Dennis and Rauni Higley of H.I.S. Ministries, an outreach for Mormons questioning and/or leaving the church. They had been devoted Mormons until Rauni discovered that the churchs doctrines and histories had been revised many times over the last century. She had full access to church archives through her work of 14 years as a Finnish translator for the LDS Church. Scott and I were at their home for over seven hours bombarding them with questions, looking up the facts in the many church publications that filled their bookshelves. It was truly a "spiritual warfare" that left them exhausted. The thin veneer of Mormonism split open as I saw for myself that it was not "Gods Restored Church" as it claimed to be.
I was devastated and jubilant at the same time; relieved that the search for the truth about Mormonism was over, yet saddened by the realization that I had been worshiping a God who did not exist a glorified man who had worked his way to godhood and whose wife (one of many) birthed my spirit. Who was I? Did I have a purpose? Who was this new God the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob --- that I knew nothing about? Did He love me? Did anything really matter anymore? If the LDS Church wasnt true, then what was? I had to go back to square one; I knew there was a God. The absolute miracle and intricacies of life on earth could not have come about by mere happenstance. I also knew that God sent His Son that we might have eternal life; the historical, archaeological, prophetical, and spiritual evidence was overwhelming. On the hour-long drive back to my brother-in-laws house I gave my heart and life to the Jesus Christ of the Bible, crying because of His love and mercy, and singing praises to His name along with the worship tape I had playing. It was going to be bittersweet journey, but I looked forward to getting to know my Savior.
The following day my nephew set up an interview for us with his Institute Director who had once worked in the Church Historical Department. We asked him if we could record the conversation so we could later reflect on his words. He told us he would rather not be recorded because of whom he worked for. These were some of the major issues troubling us. The following was just the tip of the ice berg that sank the "LDS TITANIC":
The Institute Director conceded that those things really happened, but that it did not matter to him. He said he could easily have traded places with us. God allowed it all to happen, probably to test our faith. Then, in the same pattern of every other active Mormon we spoke with, he proceeded to attack the Bible. We said, "Whether the Bible is translated correctly or not is not relevant to the issues we brought up." Our nephew who had come with us left smiling his testimony strengthened by the blind faith of his mentor. I left more convinced than ever that it was more important to be loyal to the truth than to be loyal to an organization. As we left our relatives to travel back home, my ten-year-old nephew was overheard warning my just turned eight-year-old son, "Your mom will never let you get baptized; shes an apostate now!" That barb was only a precursor of things to come.
This intense process of searching for and discovering truth took place over a period of about seven weeks. I could hardly stand to continue attending church; now knowing it was a scam and a cult. I was supposed to teach a Relief Society lesson in November and decided to go out with a bang. I could not leave the church until I had an opportunity to teach truth. The lesson I gave was Beware of False Prophets. I gave the lesson in such a way that those who had ears to hear would hear and those who did not would not be offended. The bishop already had an idea I no longer "had a testimony" because my counselors had told him I was acting strangely.
When the first counselor in the bishopric came in and sat in the back, I knew the bishop had figured it out. I decided to soft-pedal the points because I did not want to be excommunicated and lose my credibility with church members. They generally dont listen to or associate with "apostates." When I left the church I wanted everyone to know I was a member in good standing and that I requested that my name be removed from church records. The lesson went over well with the women (I was sure it didnt go over so well with the First Counselor; I cracked some of my best jokes and he didnt even crack a smile!), but I dont think anyone had "ears to hear." Perhaps some seeds were planted. The interesting thing about Brother P___ sitting in on the lesson is that the Bishop told him to sit in and listen and if he felt "prompted by the spirit" to ask me to speak in Sacrament meeting the following Sunday. Afterward the counselor approached me and complimented me on my lesson. He then asked if I would speak in church the following week. So much for his spiritual "promptings." Of course the Bishop didnt allow me to speak, but I was amazed that they did not even catch the irony or implications.
That afternoon I told the bishop I needed to be released as Relief Society President because I found out that the church is not true, as it claims to be. By the end of November I turned in my resignation letter to officially terminate my membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Then began my quest for a new church home, one whose teachings were strictly biblical, which I found in December of 2000 after much prayer and visiting a variety of wonderful Christian churches. I learned that Christs true church is not a specific denomination, but is comprised of the body of believers; those who have been saved by His grace. I was baptized unto the Lord, the Jesus Christ of the Bible, in February of 2001. Over the ensuing months I came to understand the true gospel of Jesus Christ as set forth in His Holy Word. I learned that Satan leads people down many paths that all end in spiritual destruction. Probably his most insidious trap is to lead sincere people who love goodness to the worshiping of false gods. He gets close enough to the truth that it is difficult to recognize it as counterfeit Christianity.
December was the last time I attended my ward, because I was singing a special number in Sacrament and I was being officially released from my calling that day as Relief Society president. No one asked me why. Since that time, no one from the ward reached out to me, with the exception of one woman who tried to convince me that the Journal of Discourses and other church publications were too inaccurate to use as references---she ended up saying she didnt believe the church was true but it was good for her kids and husband because it "makes them think right." Also reaching out were my Visiting Teachers, who after a couple of visits were instructed by the bishop not to have contact with me any more and not to discuss religion with me. The abrupt dismissal of me by fellow Mormons couldnt have been greater if I had had fallen off the face of the earth, despite many people telling me on a weekly basis how "wonderful" I was and how much they "loved" me while I was still one of them. My two closest friends of 16 and 18 years quickly faded from my life. These were friends who over the years we had shed tears together, took care of each others children, shared homes, talked for hours each week, traveled together, worked, played, and worshiped together; but I knew the risk I would be taking when I turned my life over to Jesus Christ. The loss of close friendships both in and out of my family still hurts, but God has been so good to bless me with new friendships based on His love to replace the ones based on condition of religious agreement.
The same week that I gave the bishop my letter stating my request to have my name removed from the records of the church, I sent letters to my husbands family informing them of my decision to leave the LDS Church. I wanted them to get the story straight from "the horses mouth." One of Scotts brothers told him he "could see it coming." (Our only discussions together over the years had been "gospel" discussions and sharing "testimonies") Scott replied, "How could you see it coming? Ive been married to Tracy for twenty years and I didnt even see it coming!" Another brother said our marriage wouldnt last more than two years after we leave the church. A brother-in-law told Scott that "some people just cant live up to the standards of the church. It requires a lot." That would be like saying, "You know, the law and commandments are just too much for some people and Saul just couldnt hack it as a Pharisee---thats why he left the faith to become Paul, a Christian."
Besides criticism from extended family, there was criticism "given in love" by my Bishop and other church members; I felt like my intelligence, motives, and parenting were being insulted, as if I would jeopardize their eternal salvation on a whim! The "flock" had to be protected---why, they wondered, couldnt I just go my own way without exposing others to the devils dastardly schemes? I was told that my upcoming baptism in my new church was nothing more than "taking a bath." If only they knew Who they were really mocking! Then there were all the comments made to my still-LDS children; like their poor mother must have been offended, or had some unresolved sin, or had a weak testimony, or drank one too many caffeine sodas in her life, and other nonsense.
The first year after I had left the church was very hard on my marriage and children. My newfound faith and the Biblical doctrines it was founded on were often under attack. Many family "discussions" ended in tears from either my older children or me. I decided when I left the church that I would take the four younger children (ages 8, 5, 2, and newborn) with me to a Christian church, but I would not keep my older children (ages 10, 12, 14,16) from attending the ward. My 18 year-old son was preparing for a mission and my 19-year old son had been inactive for some time. My daughter (14) seemed to be taking things the hardest. We had always been close; now she was tearfully saying, "Mom, I dont know you anymore. Youre drinking ice tea. Next thing I know youll take up drinking, smoking, and prostituting on the street corner!"
Although Scott could not see how the church could possibly be true in light of the evidence against it, he still had a hard time accepting it. It hurt too much. He was unwilling to let go of a lifetime of tradition. He was unwilling to let go of the dream of becoming a god and having an eternal family. It was hard for him to accept the Biblical teaching that we would not be married forever (Matthew 22:30). We began a weekly discussion/study with our home teacher, who was an attorney. Scott was hoping that with a lawyers analytical mind, Brother E___ would be able to refute the evidence. The bishop asked me "as a friend" if he could hold on to my name removal request, just in case I could yet be persuaded to return. In deference to our friendship I agreed.
The months went by and we were not any closer to being able to dismiss all the historical and doctrinal problems of Mormonism. Scott asked the home teacher if it could be proven that Joseph Smith was taking young teenage girls and promising exaltation for them and their families if they married him and threatening them and their families with damnation if they did not; and if Joseph was having sex with other mens wives, would he admit that it posed a major problem? Brother E___ paused, chin in hand, and nodded mildly, "Well, that would seem inappropriate." Scott shook his head in disbelief and told me later, "If a church leader took Brother E___s wife as his own and had sex with her, I think Brother E___ would feel strongly that it was more than inappropriate!"
By April I decided that the "study" was going nowhere fast. There were so many problems with Mormonism that we could conceivably be meeting an hour weekly for years. I wrote another request for my name to be removed and gave it to the Bishop. I didnt hear anything for over five weeks, long past the 30-day requirement stated in the churchs Handbook of Instructions. One Sunday in early June, the Bishop came over with the home teacher and an envelope in hand. He shook his head sadly and said, "This is not the letter youve been waiting for." My heart sank. Without opening it I knew what it was. I was right; it was a summons to a church court for "apostate activities."
Just what constituted "apostate" activities I cannot be sure of. When the Visiting Teachers were over a week before, they shared their testimonies with me, trying to convince me that the church was true. In turn I shared my testimony of Jesus Christ with them, along with the reasons the church was not true and told them I was in the process of posting my "Exit Story" on the Internet. One of them told me how the book of Hebrews had really strengthened her testimony and challenged me to read it and let her know what I thought. I read it and wrote to her how it showed that the Mormon doctrine on priesthood is in error because Christ was the last High Priest. Did that make me deserving of church discipline? In addition, I had joined an email support group for Mormons questioning the faith and making a transition into Christianity (www.IRR.org/mit) For several months I had been posting questions, seeking answers, and sharing some of the trials I was going through. Does honest questioning and the exchange of ideas with other people really make one eligible for excommunication?
"Im not going!" I stated. "This is incredibly unfair. If you had removed my name like I asked you to back in November this wouldnt be happening! You asked me as a friend to hold on to my request and now youre betraying me!" By this time I was crying. The bishop explained it was a "court of love" and he didnt want to have things come to this, but he had given it careful thought and prayer and felt this would be for the best. I told him that I already knew the verdict would be excommunication. Trying to control my emotions, I told them they could see themselves out; then I ran to my room, threw myself on the bed and wept.
Hurt and upset, I considered my options. I had heard about a lady named Kathy in Salt Lake City who helped people who were having trouble leaving the church. I contacted her and shared with her my predicament. She asked me if I was willing to go to the media or to court over it. I firmly answered, "You bet!" Since I had already stated in writing in November and again in April that "I [was] terminating my membership," I was legally no longer considered a member of the LDS Church. For the church to bring disciplinary action against me would constitute defamation of character. She instructed me to restate in writing that my church membership had been terminated in November and that I would not hesitate to go to the media or to court if necessary. She then advised me that she would call the church membership department and my stake president first thing in the morning.
The following afternoon I took the letter to the bishops house and was about to leave it on his doorstep when he opened the door and invited me in. He was on the phone with the stake president discussing the situation. Before I could hand him the letter, the bishop said, "Sister, I was up most of the night praying about this, and the spirit told me I should not proceed with the court." (As though Kathys calling the stake president and threatening a law suit had nothing to do with it. But maybe the "Spirit" didnt know I would press charges when he told the Bishop to hold the church court in the first place.) The bishop also said that they would process my request for name removal right away. A couple months later I received the official letter confirming that I was free!
Overcoming that hurdle was the first among many. I met a wonderful Christian woman (Marsha) who came to my home weekly for months to mentor me and help me make the transition to real life. I continued to grow as a Christian; getting involved in Bible study at my new church, listening to study tapes, and reading the scripture voraciously at home. The Bible was so alive to me that I could hardly put it down! I loved church for the first time in years; Sunday became my favorite day of the week. As a Mormon, Monday was my favorite day of the week because then it would be six whole days before we had to go to church again. It is hard to describe, but there was a "heaviness" there and for some reason church was associated with stress. I just assumed it was because of some inner failing on my part, until I became Relief Society president and realized that many other women there felt the same.
Christ taught that the "truth shall make you free," and I never experienced that until I left Mormonism. Suddenly the world was brighter, life was fuller and more meaningful; there was a lift in my step and a smile on my face. Truly the Lord said, "Take my yoke upon you for my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Jesus paid it all! That leaves me free to worship, praise, and thank Him with all my soul! I wanted so much for my husband and children to have that same joy, that same peace. I felt so bad that I had taught my children to believe without question, to "just have faith," to and "follow the brethren." I had taught them that truth could be determined by a "warm feeling," when the reality is that subjective feelings cannot be trusted. The way to measure truth is by the yardstick of Gods revealed Word, the Word that warns against those who would preach another gospel and another Christ other than what the Bible teaches.
Everyday my heart ached over my children still entangled in Mormonism. How I wanted them to see the truth and come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ! I tried talking to them, challenged them to read things, tried to make them see. The more I tried, the more they resisted. Finally I backed off and "gave them up" to God. (Now thats a novel idea!) I prayed like crazy that God would remove the scales of darkness from their spiritual eyes and I put their names on prayer lists at church and on the Internet. Everyday I would think of 2 Peter 3:9, which reads, ""The Lord is not slack concerning His promise but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish " From the time my children were babies I had conditioned them to believe the Mormon gospel and subjected them to the indoctrination techniques used by the church; therefore, I was constantly anxious over their salvation. Over time though, through the Lords leading, I came to realize that God could have led me out of the LDS Church years prior, but there was a reason He did not. First of all, Im sure I would not have had as many children and I cant imagine life without any one of them. Second, the salvation of my children is even more important to the Father than it is to me. Gods timing is perfect; He is never early, never late---but always on time. If I had never been a Mormon, how could I effectively minister to those coming out of Mormonism? There were things to be learned by everyone in my family.
So I waited on the Lord. He said, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (John 10:27). Eighteen months after leaving the church, I had the joyous blessing of seeing two of my teenage sons come to the Lord. A month after that my teenage daughter came to Him; and a month following her salvation, my pre-teen son rejected Mormonism and embraced the true Jesus Christ. In October of 2002 my oldest son wrote a letter home saying, "I found the real Jesus Christ; tell my mom she can rejoice!" I know that God is faithful and will bring my remaining "hold-out" to Him when the time is right.
As for "The Other Woman?"---My archenemy? She has become one of my dearest friends. "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28) God is not only a God of miracles, but He has a sense of humor!
To those of you who are questioning, have courage! There is life after Mormonism---the Abundant Life! It is not easy to lose friends, your standing with your LDS peers, and the respect of those you love; however, the pain is but a small moment. It is soon swallowed up in the joy of a personal relationship with the Creator of heaven and earth. I know my standing before God. I know my salvation is secure in Him. "And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Fathers hand." (John 10:28-29) Nothing in my experience as a Mormon compares to the incredible peace and joy I have now. Jesus lives!
Coming to know God and receiving eternal life is simple, as simple as trusting the Lord completely for salvation and not relying on our own efforts. When the poisonous serpents began afflicting the Children of Israel to death in the wilderness, Moses raised a pole with a brazen serpent in the air. God instructed him that those who would just look would not die. Brass is the Levitical symbol for judgment and the serpent represented sin. It was a model (or type) of Jesus Christ, who "became sin" for us. Many of the Israelites perished because they didnt believe that they could be saved just by looking, trusting, and believing.
If you are not yet resting in Jesus, then look to the cross and live! In prayer lay your faith at the feet of Him who "so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son," confess your unworthiness---that you are a sinner---and ask Him for salvation." if you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the scripture says, Anyone who trusts in Him will never be put to shame." (Romans 10:9-11)
To contact me, please email Tracy4JesusNow@hotmail.com