Just wanted to send a shout out -- to thank you for the lovely comments you have left here. Your encouragement is so appreciated as I begin this endeavor.
As I will share in the future here on this blog, leaving the LDS church has been a process..... not just "physically" leaving but spiritually and emotionally leaving. I really can relate to the Israelites as they were led out of Egypt into the wilderness. Their wilderness experience was necessary, as the Lord was taking " Egypt" out of them.... show them one step at a time, that He was their God, the I AM and that He would truly take care of them, protect them, provide for them, lead them and be their all in all...... the Lord has truly been doing the same thing with me.... taking "religion" out of me, and showing me that it's all about a personal relationship with Him. Thank You, Lord for your patience with me!
I left off last week sharing my first experiences with the LDS faith. Primarily thru my friend, " J ". As I mentioned, " J " went off to serve as a Mormon missionary in Ecuador. He left me a Book of Mormon to read. While he was gone, he wrote and encouraged me to visit with a Brother " H " at the Seattle Institute of Religion. The " Institute" was a building right off campus, where LDS students enrolled at the University could go and take Mormon religious classes. It was also a "social gathering place" of sorts.... where LDS students could go and "hang out" . I had lots of questions about the Book of Mormon that my friend " J " had given me, so I headed over to the Institute in the fall of 1988. I was just 20 yrs old at that time, and completely biblically illiterate. Basically I was very impressionable and naive. Something that did not help me or profit me as you will soon find out.
I recall entering the old 1960's brick building that was built by the LDS to teach that the "glory" of God was intelligence. *official LDS teaching* The LDS do not believe that God created intelligence. ( Doctrine & Covenants 93:29) They believe that it has always existed. I know it sounds "odd" but I am just letting you know what they "officially" believe. At that time, of course I had no clue about these teachings. I was just a naive 20 yr old young woman who was interested in learning more about the Mormon faith. When I entered the Institute, there was a middle aged woman who sat at the front desk. I told her who I was, " J " 's friend who had been told by "J " to come speak to a Brother " H" who would be able to answer my questions about the Book of Mormon... was he in? Now, you have to understand a little about Mormon culture, to fully grasp what happened next........ the woman jumped out of her seat and ran to the front of the desk shook my hand heartily ( remember that "hand shaking" is something that LDS do a lot of!) . She had "heard" about me from " J " himself, and was so pleased to meet me and "yes" of course Brother " H" was in, and he would be thrilled to talk to me. I have no doubt she saw me as a "potential" convert to the LDS and more than thrilled to have me asking about the Book of Mormon! It wasn't a few minutes later that Brother " H " appeared. He was a middle aged man, with silver white hair that was very happy to meet me. He too shook my hand . ( by that point I really wondered about the hand shaking!)
He invited me to come into his office. I learned quickly that Brother "H" was the "head guy" there at the Institute. That is , he was the "Institute director" and had an important position of prominence in the local LDS church. He was warm and friendly and very very eager to share the "LDS gospel" with me. We began to meet together a few times each week. I would come with a list of questions and he would answer them as best he could. After a few weeks of our meetings, he told me it was "time" to make a choice........ I didn't understand I told him. He then explained to me that I had been given " the further light and knowledge" of the true gospel of Jesus Christ and was now needing to be baptized a member of Christ's Church. I told him I had already been baptized, so why again? He then went on to tell me that my baptism as an infant in the Catholic Church was null and void. That God did not recognize it, because I was not baptized by a Mormon " elder" ( a man who has the Mormon priesthood) . I was a bit confused, as Brother " H " tried the best he could to explain to me what that meant. I told him I wasn't ready to make a commitment to the Mormon church, that I needed to learn more and study more. He dismissed my concerns and said that I had "enough" knowledge to be baptized. He then picked up the phone and made a call to the Missionaries who were assigned to work in the area I lived in. ( Missionaries are assigned to work in a certain geographical area) . He set up an appt for me to meet with them. I recall feeling overwhelmed with feelings of pressure. I didn't know how to tell him to "slow down"... that it was going too fast. I set a date to have the Missionaries come to my home. I had no idea who they were or what they would say to me.
A week or so later, the " Elders " came by to my home. Elder Jones and Elder Robison were young 20 yr old young men, clean shaven and wearing stark white shirts, dark suits and conservative ties . They greeted me with a hearty hand shake too! ( OK, another hand shake!) I had told my parents that the Mormon missionaries were coming by to share a "message" with me . They didn't see anything wrong with "missionaries" coming by and consented to the visit. ( they were as clueless as I was). We met 3 times a week, and the Elders would present a "message" at each meeting. The first message was on Joseph Smith. I had heard very little about him, other than he had something to do with the Book of Mormon and was the founder of the Mormon church. They went on and on about Joseph Smith and I became a bit uncomfortable about the focus on "man" instead of Jesus. At the end of each lesson, they would ask me to "pray" and ask God if the message they were presenting was "true". The other 5 lessons or so focused on how the Mormons believe that all religions were false and that the only true Church was "restored" by Joseph Smith, and that in order to go to heaven I had to be baptized a Mormon. They also talked about the need to tithe 10 % of one's income , and to not smoke or drink alcohol. I had a hard time with the coffee drinking prohibition. Oh how I loved my cup of java, and I couldn't grasp how a cup of coffee could keep me out of heaven! How could coffee be sinful? They also explained that Mormons believe that marriage was forever if faithful Mormons went to the Mormon temple and were married by a Mormon priesthood holder there. The Elders told me I could not go to heaven without a Mormon husband who was a faithful LDS who was a priesthood holder. Now, that teaching really created a stir in me..... I did not accept that very well. I had to be married? I couldn't go to heaven without a husband? What did another person have to do with my salvation? What if I didn't get married? What if I didn't want to? The Elders assured me that it was necessary for entrance into heaven. Now you need to understand that at that point in my life, I was very young. 20 yrs old to be exact. I was very committed to finishing my education and going to graduate school. I was not even considering marriage at that point. I really was too young to even consider the possibility of settling down with one person for the rest of my life , let alone eternity like the Elders were telling me! Every time I expressed a concern or doubt, the Elders encouraged me to pray and ask God if their message was true. I would do as they asked and I would pray. Of course, nothing would happen. No great strike of lightening or huge boom or even a word...... nothing. I kept praying , hoping for the heavens to open and part and for God to speak to me to help me to know if these missionaries were teaching truth. I would tell the Elders that I had been praying, but God had not spoken to me. That nothing had happened. They would pressure me to continue to pray and to look for the "feelings" of the Holy Ghost. Feelings? What did that have to do with truth I asked. They then explained to me that God revealed truth thru feelings. That when I had feelings of peace and warmth in my heart, that would be God telling me that "it's true". I had a hard time with that. Feelings denote truth? OK...... I felt warm fuzzy feelings all the time..... I would cry when I would sing the American Anthem...... I would feel all warm in my heart when my parents would tell me how much they loved me and were proud of me. Was that truth? I was confused. Very confused. I wish , oh how I wish someone, could have told me that confusion is NOT of God.
The 6 lessons the Elders had to teach were wrapped up, and they challenged me to "set a date" to be baptized into the Mormon Church. Baptism? Ooh.... I just didn't know about that. I expressed my doubts, my concerns, my needs to understand more..... to study more....... they quickly told me that I didn't need to know more or study more. All I needed to do was pray and ask God to "confirm" that what they were teaching was true... to confirm that Joseph Smith was truly God's mouthpiece and that the LDS church was the *only* true Church. I felt huge amounts of pressure. I liked the Elders. They were very kind to me, and very decent young men, but I didn't know about "joining" another Church. There was NO one at that time in my life I could share my concerns with..... no Christians to share with or help me thru this time.... to pray with me. None. I didn't know what to do or where to turn to.
During the time I was receiving the lessons from the Missionaries ( called "discussions" in Mormon lingo) I was invited to attend the local LDS Ward. A " ward" is a congregation in the LDS church. Each "ward" is made up of a few hundred or so Mormons that live in a restricted geographical region. Mormons are "assigned" to attend a particular "ward". They are not allowed to choose a ward based on preference for the time they meet or the preaching style etc. Mormons are assigned to attend a particular ward and meet at an assigned time. No questions asked. My first experience of attending an LDS ward was pleasant enough. Everyone was extremely friendly. I was welcomed with open arms and lots of handshakes! :) They enveloped me with smiles, and I had someone to sit by me the entire time. Wow. I had never experienced such friendliness. I mean why were these total strangers so nice? They didn't know me at all. I just sat back and soaked it in. It was like a family, everyone knew everyone.
The Elders continued to come over, but the pressure began to mount. They wanted me to 'set a date' for my baptism. One evening they brought over their "Mission President" to meet with me. The Mission President held a prominent role with the LDS in the region I lived in. It was a "big deal" to have the Mission President visit with you. I didn't realize that then, but he came to persuade me to be baptized and join the LDS. Whatever he said, worked. He set a date with me to be baptized into the LDS Church...... January 29, 1989. The Elders were elated. I was nervous.
I broke the news to my parents about my baptism. They didn't' realize that the missionaries were trying to covert me to their religion. They just thought they were there to pray with me and share a message. Being the liberal minded people they were, they didn't stop me from going thru with it. I didn't tell my siblings. In fact, other than my parents I didn't tell anyone I was being baptized. I also told the Elders that I didn't want anyone there when I was baptized. I wanted it to be private. Looking back I realize how uncomfortable I was with the whole situation. The Elders just smiled ear to ear, pleased with their new convert.
My baptism was held at a local LDS meeting house. I came dressed in a lovely purple silk dress, and was told to change my clothing into a white jumpsuit that the Elders provided for me. I thought it would be a quiet ceremony. The Elders made sure it wasn't. I hadn't known, but they invited the entire Ward to my baptism! Including Brother " H" from the Institute. All these people were there that I didn't even really know. It was awkward, to say the least. Everyone was so happy. Smiling, shaking hands, talking. Inside I felt sick. So overwhelmed, so nervous, feeling pressured. I stepped into the LDS baptismal font ( Mormons believe in baptism by immersion) with Brother " H " . He was to baptize me. He raised his hand and pronounced the following prayer over my head : " Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost." He then dipped me back and I was completely immersed in the warm water. ( fortunate for me it was warm water -- so many end up with freezing water!)
After I changed my clothes, I returned to a room full of smiling beaming faces... all anxious to shake my hand I am sure. :) I was then told to sit in a chair because I would receive the Holy Ghost. Elder Robison then laid his hands on my head and prayed over me..... " Sister Gloria Maria Vazquez, by the Power of the Holy Melchizedek Priesthood, which I hold , I now confirm you a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and say to you: receive the Holy Ghost"....... he then said a bunch of other things that I can no longer remember. A few minutes later he was done , and I stood up from the chair. The Elders then shook my hand , as well as Brother " H " and his wife, and the multitude of other people that were there.
One of the things I do remember from that day was many of the LDS who came to my Mormon baptism told me that they were jealous because my sins had been washed away, and I was like a new baby... perfect and pure. I didn't understand what they meant by that. Later I learned that the LDS believe that water baptism washes away sins -- not the blood of the lamb of God.
After the Baptism service was over, I was asked by the Elders if I could "share my testimony" with a group of missionaries afterwards. I really didn't know what "sharing a testimony" meant, but yes I would be happy to help them if I could. I was then escorted into a meeting of over 500 men clad in suits, white shirts and ties......... oh my..... I about passed out! They had not told me it was a huge meeting for Mormon men. ( stake priesthood meeting) I was then asked to share my experience about joining the LDS church. I had no idea what I said..... but I do remember feeling so nervous....my legs were shaking and I thought I was going to pass out.
After the meeting , I was bombarded with hand shakes and well wishes and congratulations. Overwhelmed, doesn't even begin to describe how I felt.
Almost 20 yrs later I was baptized in Christ Jesus ....... it was such a different experience......... I was not pressured by anyone ...... I was not joining a church or having my sins washed away....... I was making a public confession that Jesus is my Lord of Lords and King of Kings. So very different then being baptized into the Mormon church.
But it took almost 20 yrs to come to that point...................
I jump ahead a bit......... first I need to share my years in the LDS church and what that entailed. Living in bondage in Egypt for almost 20 yrs, made me realize how starving I was for living waters and the bread of life.........
Until then , God bless ~