My first memory of Christmas must have been when I maybe 8 or 9 years old. The usual anticipation of Santa coming filled my heart with excitement, as it does with most kids. Looking back, that Christmas was different. I shared a room with my older sister, Jessica; our younger brother, B.J., had his own room, but would often come and in our room to sleep with us, because he didn’t like being alone in his room. Normally, this annoyed me because I hated sharing my bed. But that Christmas Eve night it didn’t. To my memory, all three of us packed into Jessica’s twin bed, smiles on our faces, and tried falling asleep, but we were unable to. Then, magic happened. All of us looked out of the bedroom window and… we saw Santa and his reindeer flying over our front yard. It was a miracle, right? Because as we grow up, we realize mommy and daddy are Santa and the magic is somewhat lost. But, I am convinced, with whatever magic little kids possess, we saw Santa and his helpers.
Why is this important 15 years later? Because I have discovered that magic again. That excitement that can only come Christmas morning.
For a short backstory. About 5 years ago, I was a junior in college at the University of Louisville. I was getting settled in with my major and classes were getting harder. The realization that I would soon be an “adult” started to kick in and stress levels were at a high. To go along with that, for the previous 7 years , I was a cheerleader and identified myself as such. But that ended when I didn’t make my college team and I aged out of All-Stars. At the same time, I was dating a guy and was convinced that we had something “special” even though the dating label wasn’t official. I will spare details and say that it ended the worse possible way could have- well no one died, so the second worse way. Lastly, my family. Growing up my family was extremely close. Birthday parties, cookouts and Christmas dinners were of the norm. But like every family, problems arose and that security and unity I felt with my family, slowly started to disintegrate.
What’s a girl to do? I tried it all. Crying was normal. Sleep… yea, that didn’t happen. I partied a lot thinking that would make me forget everything. But around 3am, I would remember how terrible everything was.
While I was in college, my aunt Deedee sent me a card a week. Cool, huh? Sometimes, little nik-naks were included. Late October, early November of 2009, she sent me the Serenity Pray. The, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change,” prayer. This stood out to me but I didn’t know why. Before this point, my knowledge about who God is was limited. I must have known he created the Earth, that he listened to prayers, but what does that really even mean?
On November 8, 2009, it was around 6:50pm, I was on my way out of my apartment, when I heard a knock at the door. Two missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints we there wanting to share a message with me. I told them that I was on my way out for a meeting, but that they could call me in an hour and we could meet at the school library. I gave them my number, not thinking they would call me. Of course.. in exactly an hour, they called me. So I kept my word and met them. The proceeded to tell me that the true church of Jesus Christ was restored to it’s on the Earth today. My response? “That’s cool!” They gave me a copy of the Book of Mormon and highlighted a verse for me to read. Alma 34:32. It reads, “For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God: yea, behold, the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.” Until this point, I didn’t know what my purpose of being on this Earth was. I had goals and things I wanted to do. Things I knew I had to do. Be a good person, go to college, and get a job, but I never thought about it more than that.
They asked me what my relationship with God had been. I told them I grew up Catholic, but I was more like the Christmas and Easter Catholic. I told them I knew God existed, but I didn’t know what that meant. I even told them about the serenity prayer I just read.
They invited me to read the Book of Mormon and to meet with them again. I accepted this invitation. It turned out that one of my good friends, Sam was a LDS (Mormon- a member of the church) and he would come with the missionaries to teach me.
Miracle #1: Remember how I said I couldn’t sleep? The missionaries taught me about repentance. Repentance is apologizing to God, our Heavenly Father, through his son, Jesus Christ. You acknowledge you’ve done something wrong, ask for forgiveness and try not to do that thing again. They invited me to try this, so I did. That night, man, I can’t tell you the last time I slept that well. That was also the first time I realized that someone was listening to me and what I had to say. I apologized for things I’d done wrong and in return, Heavenly Father knew I needed sleep, so he gave me the blessing to rest. I felt so loved. That feeling still stays with me today.
Miracle #2: Feeling loved and knowing who I was. I meet with the missionaries weekly and they would always invite me to church. One Sunday, I decided it was time to go. As soon as I walked in, I felt the love of my Father in Heaven and the love of everyone in the building. Everyone was so welcoming. For those who may not know, the LDS church meets for 3 hours every Sunday. The first hour is called Sacrament Meeting. Members take the bread and water, just like other churches do and we have speakers share a gospel centered message. The second hour is called Sunday School, where you learn more about the doctrine of Jesus Christ. The third hour is called Relief Society (for girls) and Priesthood (for boys). It’s similar to Sunday school but is tailored to men and women. Each hour I was there I felt safe, loved, wanted and accepted. I felt like I was at home.
I continued to meet with the missionaries. They would invite me to be baptized, but I didn’t feel like I was ready. I had a lot of questions and I didn’t want to “mess up” if that makes sense.
In January, 2010, my brother, B.J., called me (who was living in our hometown). He told me he was getting baptized and asked if I would come. I said, “Yes! What church?” He told me, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I excitingly told him I had been taking lessons with their missionaries. His wife and her family are members of the church and that is how he learned about it. So I went to his baptism, as did the rest of my family. It was amazing. I have never seen B.J. so happy. He had so much light in his eyes.
In June 2010, I was still taking lessons with the missionaries, but it was getting to the point when I needed to make a decision. I was reading in the Old Testament in Isaiah 29, verses 10-14. Click the hyperlink to read the full scripture, but it talks about the restoration of the church of Jesus Christ and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. Now, if I believed in the Old and New Testament, and it talked about the Book of Mormon coming forth in the latter days, doesn’t that mean that the Book of Mormon is true? YES! It does. I called the missionaries and told them I wanted to be baptized.
On June 19, 2010, I was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The missionary who baptized me was Elder Sessions. He, along with the other missionaries who taught me, were so patient and loving. I felt the peace and the love of my Savior. I knew I was making the right decision. That day, that feeling, was perfect.
I started to see things in my life improve. School was still hard, but I had a new understanding on life and I knew I could get through it. Prayer helped me a lot. Someone is listening when you pray. I know that. The Holy Ghost was and still is my friend. It guided me through the good times and the bad. I learned that everything happens for a reason. We may or may not understand why, but keeping the perspective of our Heavenly Father is key.
About a year and a half after my baptism, my mom started asking questions about the church. She took lessons with my brother, but never gained a full testimony. I invited her to an Institute class (just like bible study). After a few months of this class and more meetings with the missionaries, she made the decision to be baptized. She was baptized in October 2012. I remember that day like it was yesterday. Right when she came out of the water, she looked at me and said, “I get to start over!”
How true is that? Very true! When you are baptized, you get to start over. How? Because you made the decision to dedicate your life to Christ and to follow His commandments and give your broken heart and contrite spirit to him.
Miracle #3: I learned the true meaning of Christmas. Our Savior, Jesus Christ was born this day. He lived a perfect life. He is our big brother. He is a perfect example to us and loves us more than we can fathom. He suffered for our sins. He died for our sins. And three days later, he rose again. Which means, after we die, we will to live again. And if we remain worthy and keep his commandments, we can live with Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father. This time of the year is when people remember our Savior, but let’s remember him all the year long.
Miracle #4: My family. Remember how I said it was rocky a few years ago. That is starting to change. And I couldn’t be more happier. Family is everything to me.
Joining this church is the best decision I have ever made. It has taught me how to smile.. more! It has taught me that I’m not alone. It has taught me about my purpose here on this Earth. It has taught me that their is life after death. It has taught me that family is the center of the gospel. It has taught me that miracles happen everyday!
Merry Christmas, Everyone. I invite you to learn more about your Savior, his birth, his mission and his life. Please share your experience with me and with others!