It was then that I thought… I don’t care if there’s Kool Aid in the basement, I’m drinkin’ it. Cause I wanna be like that. I want to be able to genuinely love someone the first time I met them. What a great goal that is.
I stood at the edge, both literally and physically. I was on the edge of a highway over pass; I was on the edge of madness. Life hadn’t worked for me so far, and it was time for it to be over. I wasn’t going to hurt anyone; I only brought pain and misery so far to those I loved. I knew this was the best decision. But then…. a voice in my ear.
What are you doing? You have so much left to do.
I heard it as clear as I can hear the TV playing right now in the background. It struck me hard, like a blow to the face. I sat on that overpass curb and I bawled like a baby. Then, as if nothing had happened, I stood up and walked the mile to where I was sleeping.
Within the week I had signed up and checked in to a Christian rehab in Dahlonega, GA. It was there I began to realize that my life was the way it was because of my decisions. A realization like that can honestly break a man or make a man depending on how you handle it. Honestly, I almost turned right back to my old ways after leaving, thinking that I was destined to a life of misery and frustration. Luckily, I was always able to remember that voice in my ear as I attempted to give up in the worst way; the curiosity that event provoked in my life was enough to persevere in some of the toughest times I faced in the early days.
After the drug haze had cleared and my thoughts no longer clouded, I began to really think about my position in life and how to fix it. I started by thinking of all of the traits in others that I really respected and why. I started making a list, and I remember laughing out loud at how I used to ridicule people who made lists. I got lost on a trail of people I had ridiculed in the past and suddenly my thoughts and my list collided.
I remembered making fun of the Mormon kids in school. They were always so kind and happy; as unhappy as I was in school this infuriated me and I tormented them to compensate. I thought of how it was weird that in my ten year journey for religious identity I had never even glanced into the Mormon faith. I realized that I literally had no idea what they believed though I called them cult members and gullible fools. How was this possible? I prided myself on knowing “enough” about every faith.
I had spent years changing from one religion to the next: studying their religious texts, reading what I could about the formation and development of each, even occasionally immersing myself in the culture. I was raised Christian, my mother being a very strict Southern Baptist; I studied Buddhism and read the teachings of Siddhartha; I studied Islam reading the Qu’Ran and seeing my friends in prison praying on their faces in submission five times daily; I studied Hindu, reading the Bhagavad Gita; I even studied about Scientology kind of… well I read a L. Ron Hubbard science fiction novel once.
But for some strange reason, it wasn’t until this day of list making that I realized two things: First, I had never studied of the Mormon faith and second, the positive traits I was writing that I respected were exactly describing the LDS kids who I tormented in high school. Me, being a man who doesn’t believe in coincidences, got on my knees and prayed to Heavenly Father. I told him that if I was to ever see a Mormon Missionary, I would reach out to them; I would ask them to teach me why those kids were always so happy.
At this time in my life I was twenty five years old and I had never seen a missionary, not except for those on the Broadway plays and TV shows making fun of them. I figured I would probably never see one again and my prayer was just an empty one. How surprised do you think that I was when, not a week later, I saw a companionship of Missionaries in the Asian buffet I went to with my friend, Carmen.
“I’ll be right back,” I told her. “I gotta go talk to some people really quick.”
I walked up to two smiling young men who looked confused at my approach, shook their hands and told them that I thought it was great they were out spreading the word of God. They genuinely seemed glad for my words, but the next line out of my mouth left theirs falling towards the floor.
“I think you should get my number. I would really like for you to come and teach me why Mormons are so happy.”
The combination of anticipation and confusion that they felt was so palpable I thought they would be frozen there until I spoke. One of them quickly recovered and gathered my contact information. They said they were waiting on an appointment with a new member or else they would love to talk to me then, but they promised they would be in touch within the week. I went back to my meal, a strangely warm feeling as if I had worked for something washing over me.
I began lessons with the Elders when I was living in a homeless shelter two years ago. I was thrilled at how much they loved to teach me. They spoke of how quickly I latched on to ideas that otherwise alluded people; they called me Elect, telling me of how Heavenly Father said there would be those who hear the Word and immediately harken unto it. I was simply amazed at the way the way I felt was finally being perfectly described in the lessons these men were teaching me. They left me with a Book of Mormon and a promise that if I read it I would know of its truth.
I remember the first time I cracked open that little blue book. I popped open to some random page and began reading about this King Benjamin fellow and a speech that he was giving from a mighty tower. It was an amazing speech, unlike any of those given by today’s politicians. I was enthralled by the words but there was something more that was far too evident to ignore: Deep from within me, bubbling out, there was a warm feeling as if there was Hydrogen Peroxide working its way through every fiber of my being. If this doesn’t make sense to you, I’m sorry. It really is the only way I know how to describe this feeling, and it’s one that I get rather frequently now.
With each new lesson with Elder Steven Schoebinger who would quickly become and remain one of my closest friends, my questions were answered and my interest was growing. For the first time in my life of seeking, there was a religion that made sense to me. The core beliefs I had always harbored were laid out in more depth, explained in the words that I had been unable to put together properly on my own. It was if I was really re-learning something, and I would later find out that truly I was.
I remember my first time in a Sacrament Meeting. Everyone was so friendly and inviting; one by one they all noticed the newcomer and come over to introduce themselves. There were babies everywhere throughout the service, something I really just wasn’t used to but thoroughly enjoyed. One even made it away from his mother and was halfway to the speaker at the podium before a ninja mom came out of nowhere and snatched him into a maneuver I hope to remember one day with my own child. It was half Chuck Norris, half Swan Lake, all impressive.
I was most impressed with the way services were led by members of the church who had to research and prepare in the previous week and the explanation that no one in the Church from the top down made money for their service; it was a service to God, and no one makes money in service to Heavenly Father. I found that notion to be beautiful, and it had always bothered me on a personal level when I heard of pastors like my mothers who made six figures a year to lead their church.
In the time leading up to my baptism, my life was faced with hurdle after hurdle some of my doing and others not so much. Personally, I had a hard time giving up women and sweet tea, being the southern charmer I was at the time and still somewhat to this day. I actually gave up women first, believe it or not. That sweet tea is almost impossible to give up as a Southern Gentleman and in fact I delayed my baptism by six weeks because I couldn’t let go of its grip on my life.
*For those of you who aren’t Mormon or familiar with the Mormon beliefs, we do not partake of coffee or tea, known as “hot drinks” due to a commandment delivered by Heavenly Father through Joseph Smith known as The Word of Wisdom*
On the left: me and Elder Schoebinger at my baptism
On the right: Six months later at a conference.
I was baptized Dec 5, 2015 much to the chagrin of my family and some friends. As Elder Schoebinger lifted me from the cleansing waters I knew in one solid moment that I was exactly where I was supposed to be, when I was supposed to be there. I knew that this was one of the things that I still had left to do per the voice at the moment of my suicide attempt. I was reminded of Heavenly Father’s words when his Son was baptized in the River Jordan:
“This is my son, in whom I am well pleased.”
My family, who had nothing to say as I traveled the country gang-banging and drug dealing/using, was furious in a silent way mostly. For Christmas that year I got mostly passive-aggressive presents such as Starbucks gift cards and such. (Remember, Mormons don’t drink tea or coffee, so these gift cards were both offensive and useless to me.)
The only overtly aggressive against my conversion was my sister Jennifer. She got everyone that year a book whose title told them the words she was unable to say herself. She claimed that she was doing it in love, but I know the ugly face of spite when it rears its ugly head. My book was titled Unveiling Grace: How we managed to escape the Mormon Church. I was hurt and confused by the actions of those who claimed to love me, but that feeling of warm cleansing was enough to persevere.
Two years later and my family, if they were still in my life, would be unable to deny the power of the Church in my life. The little snot-nosed kid they all think I am is completely gone. The racism I once held onto is removed from my heart, as well as the desire to break the law and do whatever feels good. I am left with a responsible heart with a moral compass. I am left seeking daily to become a better man in every way I can and succeeding even more than I ever thought possible.
But its more than that. If you remember, two years ago my first lesson was taken in a homeless shelter as I worked at a gas station for $8/hour. I was alone and miserable, overweight and depressed, headed nowhere in life with no gumption to change any of the above. Heck, I was maybe a month off of a serious decision whether to kill myself or not.
Today, all of the things that I thought were out of my reach are here and obvious in my life. I have a beautiful wife who loves me despite my flaws, a beautiful baby (son, son son, cross your fingers for a son) on the way, a beautiful dog to roam the yard, and just secured a job making $17/hr with the union. That is over double my original income, and with the amount of hours I will be working it will be more than enough to be the man of my house and truly provide for and protect my family with the insurance package that comes with the job.
It’s as if Heavenly Father was simply waiting on me to choose His way and had a choice of blessings for me when that day arrived. I am literally the happeist I have ever been; I’m happy on so many different levels both permanent and temporal. I know that I have made the right decision and its evidence is constantly present in my life.
I still feel that warm feeling when I read the Scriptures or attend Church Meetings. I feel it intensely every second I am within the walls of one of the many Temples I have visited and went through. It is this constant feeling and confirmation that I wish that you would feel. I drank the Kool-Aid so to say, and I have been more than thirsty ever since.
Me and Elder Schoebinger at the last General Conference, a bi-annual conference held by Church Leaders to guide and direct us through this failing world.