Dakota Edward is a lifelong student who is currently pursuing a B.A. in Secondary English Education and is studying educational policy. His goal is to become a high-school superintendent and perhaps one day be involved with governmental educational policy. Dakota has a passion for learning new things and spends his summers reading books about studies on education and new perspectives on the LDS faith. He was born to two amazing parents and has three older half-brothers. He has lived in the Midwest his entire life and plans on either staying there once finished with college or moving further west in order to be involved more with the Mormon culture.
Growing up, Dakota’s life was marked by frequent hospital trips and emergencies. Two notable incidents include at the age of 8 Dakota being bitten above the left eye by a dog with a scar still visible today, and at age 12 being kicked directly in the face by a horse, the after-effects of the surgery leaving him a scar along the top of his scalp from ear to ear.
Dakota converted to Mormonism at the age of 19 and was baptized October 8th, 2011.
My Testimony to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
On October 8th, 2011, I was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Those that knew me know that I had been looking forward to my baptism for an extremely long time. If I had had my way, I would have been baptized into the Church February 2011, yet due to family circumstances and extreme problems at home I was forced to put this wonderful occasion off until I could leave for college.
I know this church is true. I know it with every fiber of my being. I have a very strong passion and testimony for the restored gospel and for my Savior Jesus Christ. It is with great pleasure that I relate to you my feelings and experiences concerning this gospel.
During the year 2010 I went through a time in my life that was terribly destructive for me personally. Without going into too many details, I lost nearly every one of my friends, alienated those I respected and watched as almost every relationship in my life was torpedoed. At the time, I was seeking to blame anyone other than myself, but looking back, I can honestly attest to you that everything that happened during that time was my fault and my fault alone.
For months I felt like I had nobody. I grew up in and attended a mainstream nondenominational Christian church. To this day I don’t have many complaints about the church…it was quiet. The people were nice and the fellowshipping was good. Yet in 18 years of attending that church, I never felt like I knew who God was.
I remember hearing friends or family talk about how they could just “feel God’s presence” when they had done something. Whenever I heard them say that, heard them say that they “felt” God, I always thought they were lying, or that it was some sort of placebo effect. No one actually “feels” God… That surely wasn’t possible.
Thinking back on this now, I’m beginning to realize that those individuals probably were feeling something…they were feeling the Holy Spirit. Those in my church would never say they “felt the Spirit” because my church never talked about or understood the Spirit… The only time that we would ever mention the Holy Spirit, or Ghost, at all, was when they taught that God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost were all the same being. This was an oft-repeated lesson throughout my life, yet I never understood the basis for that. From everything that I had read in the Bible it seemed extremely obvious to me that God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost were different beings, yet my church taught the opposite, so I went along with it.
We can have the opportunity to feel the Spirit’s influence in our lives when we do something that is appropriate, or something that God would want us to do. Following the commandments are an amazing way to receive this blessing, as is getting baptized, helping our neighbor, or preaching the gospel. I believe these individuals were feeling the Spirit’s influence for a short time when doing things that lined up with God’s will.
At the time, I never understood why I couldn’t feel what they felt too. I now realize that this is because I was never doing God’s will, but was rather expecting God’s will to line up with mine…
Around the beginning of my senior year I began to question whether or not God really existed at all. I continued going to my church and went through the motions like everyone expected, but I felt empty inside. I still had a notable lack of friends and felt like nearly everything in my life was grinding against each other, making it difficult to move about or really function at school. My personal life wasn’t very great and my familial life was something akin to a play where we’d each act our parts so the audience wouldn’t get upset.
I met my first missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in late September. The two young men were doing service at our school, helping the theater and drama department to build sets and set up light and sound for the upcoming show. I got to talking to them, never about religion, but just about life in general. They understood that, while at school, they could never talk about religion unless a student brought it up to them first. I wasn’t interested in religion at all very much at that time so I never did, though I’m pretty sure a few of my friends did.
During that time of my life, I was dating someone, a boy named Devin. He and I had been together for about three months when I met the missionaries for the first time. I will come back to this part of my life later in my testimony.
Instead of discussing religion with the missionaries, I discussed life. I quickly found out that while these young men were in fact missionaries, they were also both just a year or two older than me. They were smart, funny, and just all around good guys.
What amazed me most about the missionaries, though, was how happy they were. There was just this joy and radiance that I could never understand. It was the same kind of happiness that I had always seen from the theater director, who also happened to be Mormon. Yet somehow, these two possessed the same light, the same quality, the same joy that was extremely absent from my own life.
I thought I should have been happy. I was doing practically everything that I wanted…if I wanted a cigarette, I got one and smoked it. If I wanted to spend an evening with my boyfriend, holding hands with him or being close to him as my body desired, then I would do that. Whatever the desires of my flesh or mind were of that time I would act upon them without worrying about it. I was doing everything that the world around me told me I should do in order to feel happiness yet I wasn’t happy…instead I was miserable and I felt like I was breaking deep inside.
As time went on, both of the missionaries I initially knew ended up being transferred out of the area. The Elders that replaced them in that area, and in the school, were Elders Anderson and Elder Migliori. Elder Anderson is the one that I attribute most of my conversion to this wonderful faith to. He is the one who taught me most of what I know, who stayed strong with me when my parents were freaking out, and who never deserted me even when it became a burden to try to continue to stay in contact with me.
It was Elder Anderson that I finally decided to ask religious questions of. He beamed happiness and radiance like the first two Elders, but Anderson also seemed very knowledgeable as well…particularly knowledgeable. I began infrequently discussing religion with him.
During these discussions, it always struck me at how happy and open the Elders always were when we talked. Never once were they shy to give an answer, or to laugh at a joke. They seemed their absolute happiest while discussion religion, and this was something that I had never ever noticed before in anyone that I had grown up around.
At that time in my life, I didn’t know much about what I wanted, or what I expected from the future. All I knew is that I wanted that kind of happiness. I wanted that kind of light in my life as well, and I wanted to know what those men knew that made them so full of joy.
So, I began to pray…
On February 10th, 2011, I knew, without a doubt, that my entire future was going to change.
My decision to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was not an easy one. It was one I really, REALLY struggled over. When I started doing my investigation of the Church, I had to totally separate myself from everyone. I was used to relying on the advice of friends and teachers but in this case, I knew that advice would be a bad idea. Listening to the advice of others would only corrupt what needed to be a decision I had to make entirely on my own.
I first started praying about and researching the church sometime late November of 2010. In a month, it’ll be my anniversary of when I started researching. My research there took me primarily to websites (many anti-Mormon), to the missionaries (occasionally), to ministers from around my area, my friends, people that claimed to “know” stuff about Mormons, etc… It was an intensive process.
Once I really began to pray about it, though, I realized that listening to voices around me wasn’t the best idea. The world is an easily corrupted place and Everybody has an agenda. When I realized that, I also realized that the only Agenda I wanted to be a part of was my Heavenly Father’s Agenda. I have always been a firm believer in the power of prayer and truth coming from my Father above, so I knew that praying needed to be my main course of action. Even though I was struggling at that time with my faith and wondering if God existed, the belief was still there and I was determined to give this one last shot.
I began seriously praying about the church mid-December. I still talked some to outside sources, but most of the dialogue was within, with my Father. I prayed at LEAST three times a day, but oftentimes, it was somewhere around 10 or 15. I prayed first thing when I got up in the morning. I would pray on the way to school. I prayed many times throughout the day at school. I prayed while eating, while doing my daily life things, I prayed before going to bed… I was constantly praying. And each time, my entire heart and soul was bent on one question: “Is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints true? Is it Your church, God? Is it really the Restored Gospel?”
When I first started praying, I expected a large and emphatic NO from God. From what anti-Mormon websites had told me, I expected that the church would be an Abomination to God, and that He would tell me early on and in no uncertain terms that I should NOT join that church and that it was totally false.
However, that was not the case.
For the first month or two of praying the only answer I was getting was, “Keep asking. Keep researching. You’re doing the right thing in asking and researching.” I knew I was getting THAT answer without a doubt. I could feel the Rightness of THAT answer every time I prayed. I was getting slightly frustrated, but this was the first time I could ever remember hearing anything from my Heavenly Father directly, so I agreed to His terms, and kept praying.
At one point, I felt that maybe I needed to do a little bit more than pray. I decided to try fasting. I was unsure exactly how to go about it, but I knew that I needed to pray before fasting and then pray after. When I made my decision to fast, I ultimately decided to go 40 hours without food. Because this was such a long period I still decided to drink water, but ate absolutely nothing.
My method for fasting is about continual prayer. Every time that I felt a pang of hunger or discomfort then I would remember why I was fasting and pray to God again on the topic. As many of you know, once you become hungry, you stay hungry. The hunger eventually only gets worse, and more insistent. After about 25 hours of no food my hunger didn’t die down at all, but just kept building. Because of that, I was in continual prayer with my Heavenly Father. There was hardly a minute during the day where I wasn’t praying to Him. It kept going for a long time and was a great experience, yet even after this experience, going 40 hours without food, I still didn’t feel like I had an answer beyond “Keep asking.”
Looking back, I sometimes wonder my answer for so long was, “Just keep researching, keep asking.” I think it might have been because Heavenly Father wanted to equip me with proper knowledge before I made my decision. Regardless, I’m glad that I trusted in Him.
There came a time during my prayers where I became extremely discouraged with the answer I was getting. Months were going by and all I could hear was “Keep asking.” I wondered if maybe I was imagining it all, and maybe God wasn’t really there at all, and I was just making a fool of myself.
I discussed this fear with Elder Anderson. I wanted his perspective and wanted to know what he thought. He gave me advice during that time that has completely changed how I pray and the experience I get out of it.
He told me to go home that night and to kneel by my bedside to pray. Before, I had always prayed while lying down in bed, but this time, he asked me to kneel. He told me to completely clear my mind before I prayed and to focus my mind on Heavenly Father. He asked me to picture that Heavenly Father was really there, watching over me, and that He was listening to me and nobody else in the entire world right at that moment. He told me to let Heavenly Father fill my mind, and once I knew for certain that He was listening, then to pray.
I did what Elder Anderson said… I knelt by my bed and I emptied my mind. I pictured Heavenly Father as best I could in my mind. I pictured Him standing in a white room in front of a white throne with gold trim. I saw Him smiling and nodding at me, and as I watched, I saw Him kneel down beside me and wrap his arms around me while I prayed.
It was at that moment that I knew, for the first time in my entire life, that Heavenly Father was aware of me. I knew without a doubt then that He was listening to me, and that He did love me, and that He did care about my pain and my trials and all the things that I was so confused about and couldn’t answer for myself. I could feel His arms around me and I cried as I prayed and asked Him for what felt like the millionth time if the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was true or not. I wanted so badly to do what He wanted me to do. I was so sick and tired of living in such a way that was contrary to my Father’s will. I wanted Him to be proud of me and what I was doing. I wanted to be called a Child of God and not shame Him, I wanted so badly to make things right with myself and the world around me.
After that, my prayers became completely different. They are still different today. I always get into the proper mindset before praying so I know for certain that I am not just praying to my Heavenly Father, but I’m actually praying with Him. We are communicating, and His words are what get me through my life.
Even after this prayer that changed my life and my perspective on my Father, I still was getting the same answer, but not for long..
On February 10th, 2011, my entire perspective changed. The answer I was receiving, the “Keep asking!” answer, changed in the blink of an eye. Instead, I knew right then that my answer was, “Yes…This is what you should do.”
When I realized, I was terrified. I’ll be the first to admit to you that I don’t like change, especially life-changing decisions. But when I prayed and asked God what I should do now, a full sense of peace settled upon me, and I knew that He was going to take care of it.
There was one thing that I had to talk to the missionaries about, however. I knew right at that moment that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was true, but there were parts of me that I felt were horribly wrong and couldn’t possibly be allowed in any Church. I ended up breaking up with Devin in December so at this time I had been single for a couple of months. However, even though I had left behind my relationship with another male, I still harbored feelings of same-sex attraction that just would not leave me alone no matter how much I prayed about it.
I had to ask the missionaries about how the Church saw those who dealt with same-sex attraction. The Church that I grew up in terrified me to the point that I was afraid to even tell anyone that I was attracted to the same gender. The pastor would not often talk on the subject of homosexuality or same-sex attraction, but when he did he made it abundantly clear that anyone who was attracted to the same gender was going to go to Hell, no if, ands, or buts. I grew up with this and when I realized that I was attracted to the same gender I was terrified that this just meant that I wasn’t going to go to Heaven and that I was doomed to Hell for something I couldn’t change about myself.
These thoughts were the cause of my falling away from God initially. I remember thinking to myself, If I’m going to Hell for something about myself that I can’t change, something that God caused to happen in me, then I don’t care if He exists at all or not…I’m going to Hell either way, so I may as well have fun while I’m not burning. I had no incentive to follow Him or even to think that He cared about me. I remember thinking some nights that He must hate me since He caused this to happen to me. I knew that I hadn’t chosen to be born with same-sex attraction. I didn’t choose to like boys in addition to liking girls. However, because of something wildly beyond my control, I was being taught that God was going to send me to Hell.
I remember the night that I told my parents that I liked boys. Their reactions terrified me and I still grow cold and scared when I remember what happened. My mother called me sick and said there was something disgustingly wrong with me. I distinctly remember her using the term “disgusting” over and over that night. My father completely agreed with my mother and told me that he knew I was going to go to Hell. He told me that I was “burning myself a seat in Hell” for what I was doing and that God hated me for what I was. They spent the better part of three hours screaming at me over it and I was so scared because they were basically affirming what my Church had already been teaching me. After I told them that night, we didn’t talk about it very much, but it did come up now and then. My parents pretended that it didn’t happen and that I hadn’t told them anything. They just turned the other way.
The missionaries, however, did something that no one else had ever done when I had come out to them: they showed me the love of Christ. The Church’s stance on same-sex attraction is that there are people who are born with attractions to the same gender. This is something that some people are born with and having those feelings does not mean that God hates you, or that you’re going to Hell, it just means that you’ve been born with a different set of obstacles to overcome than anything else.
That’s what same-sex attraction is, essentially: an obstacle. Being born with that kind of attraction isn’t a sin, the sin is the acting upon those feelings. After all, who among us hasn’t had the urge to strike someone else, or to curse at someone else, or to tell a nasty lie about them? However, thinking those things and having those impulses are not a bad thing so long as we don’t let our minds focus on that and we can dismiss those thoughts. Why should same-sex attraction be any different? Having the impulse and thoughts to be close to someone of the same gender in a relationship way is not bad, what is bad is acting on those thoughts or expounding deeply upon them in our own minds and feelings.
At that time, I had a completely different perspective on my life. I no longer had to live in fear of being attracted to the same gender and feeling like God was going to condemn to endless torture in Hell for those feelings here on Earth…now I knew that He didn’t expect those feelings to go away, but for our resolve to not act upon them to be built stronger. He doesn’t expect for us to suddenly, at the drop of the hat, stop feeling that way, but instead wants us to take steps towards becoming more like Him and focusing on that, while doing our best to align our will to His through obeying the commandments.
Today, I can happily report that I am progressing normally through the Church. I am keeping the commandments as best I can and fighting the urge to act upon the temptation to do what is against the will of our Father. I am very much attracted to women and I do love spending time with them and I do find them extremely attractive and beautiful and want to be with them the way that every man who is attracted to women wants to be… I focus on those feelings instead of the feelings that exist that pull me towards the same gender.
After I talked to the missionaries concerning being attracted to the same-gender, there came a time when I had to tell my parents what I had learned. I didn’t want to tell them immediately and had plans to wait and tell them after I had time to plan and think about it. Unfortunately, the Lord had other plans, and my parents found out two days later that I intended to join the Church of Jesus Christ.
What followed were some of the most painful months of my life. I thought my parents had been frightening and overbearing when I confided in them my same-sex attraction, but that was nothing compared to what they did when they found out I intended to be Mormon. They went absolutely crazy.
We would argue most nights about it. My parents would scream at me so loudly that they would actually be red in the face. Before this happened, I never had the strength to actually yell and scream back at my parents, but something inside of me erupted and I found myself fighting back, screaming for my right to follow Jesus Christ as my conscience dictated, fighting for my right to listen to the Spirit and be close to my God.
One night, I remember my mother being so angry that she actually spit in my face and slapped me. My father once threatened to beat me severely if I didn’t quit screaming at him and if I didn’t stop with my intention to join the LDS Church. Most mornings, as soon as I got out of bed, my mother would be waiting to yell or scream at me because she would have thought of something during the night that made her mad about my intent to join the LDS Church. I would leave my home and go to school each morning on the tail-end of a bitter fight with my mother.
During this time I would scream back at them and just beg them to hear me and to listen to what I had to say. I would bawl, tears streaming down my face as I begged for them to believe me when I said that I had felt the Spirit move in me and that I knew without a doubt that the LDS Church was true. I wanted them to understand the happiness that I had that I had never had before. I wanted them to open their eyes and see that the miserable and shattered boy that had been living with them just a few months before was gone and that there was someone in front of them that had a real joy in his heart and that was, for the first time, happy.
That’s the thing—I was finally happy! Even though I was fighting so helplessly with my parents every night and morning, I was finally happy. For years before this I had been living with an exterior that projected happiness at times because I was indulging any desire that I had during that time, but I had a core of miserableness and anger and bitterness and hate that made up most of who I was. Once I realized the Church was true, however, and began doing my best to live according to the gospel of Jesus Christ, my inside core was changed to one of happiness and pure eternal joy, and it matched my exterior.
Now, am I saying that I don’t occasionally get sad or miserable? Absolutely not. I am human like everyone else and I have issues that get me down. The difference, however, is that my core and that which makes up the entirety of what I am is joy, so I am always joyous. Part of following Jesus Christ means that even if I am sad or upset or angry, I am never not filled with joy. That is the important distinction that was made in my life.
Well, needless to say, my parents never adhered to my desire to be LDS. I reached a decision at one point to move out because of how miserable my nights were becoming when my parents would fight with me. However, when I tried, my father made such a threat against my the physical well-being of my drama teacher and missionaries that I stayed home so he wouldn’t do anything crazy and get himself in trouble and hurt them.
The following months after that were just months of waiting. The fights continued through February, March, April, and May. They did taper off a little in May and we stopped fighting as much and as furiously as we had before and instead tried not to talk about it all. I still faced June, July, and most of August before I could move out and go to college and begin progressing in the gospel again.
It was during that time that I wanted to do something for the Church I loved and wanted to be a part of. I pondered and considered and prayed and ended up thinking about those who were once Mormon but had left the faith. I wondered how they could do that, how they could take all the happiness that the LDS Church offered, and then just throw it away. I decided that these were the people that I wanted to reach out to and help bring back to the Church, because I knew that if they had the testimony that I had of the Church’s truthfulness, they would never have left.
I decided to go online and begin talking to those that I had been specifically cautioned to avoid: the anti-Mormons.
My summer was extremely interesting. As soon as I began going to anti-Mormon pages on Facebook and dialoguing with them, I realized that I was up against something that I hadn’t necessarily bargained for. However, I trusted my knowledge of the gospel, and I tackled them head on.
I learned a lot that summer. Some of it scared me. Some of it confused me. A lot of it intrigued me. My testimony of the truthfulness of the Church never once went away, though, because I knew without a doubt that it was true and nothing that any anti-Mormon told me could sway that.
I approached the study of anti-Mormonism with a certain mindset… I knew that the Church was true, so I knew that anything that was critical of it or that made it seem untrue was in fact not true, and that if I studied it enough and really dug into it, I would come to a knowledge of what was really true. After all, the Church was true, so enough study would back that up.
Everything I got into and studied confirmed my theory that the Church is true and that the things that anti-Mormons like to say do not have a basis of truth themselves. Particulars of what I learned are not appropriate for this time, however, and if I were to talk about all that I learned, I would be typing another fifty or so pages.
I spoke to you before about how I had never really felt God in my life before, and how I never felt His influence or the Spirit at all. However, looking back on those months where I prayed and researched the Church, I see the Spirit in over-abundance.
Galatians 5:22-23 tells us that the Fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. We can recognize the Spirit and its presence in our lives whenever these things exist, especially when they exist in abundance.
Those that claimed they were feeling God were in fact feeling the Fruits as they did things that lined up with God’s Will. And during the time I prayed about the Mormon church, I too was able to experience those things because I too was lining up with God’s Will.
If you remember, I told you about how my life was in a terrible place before I started praying. The Fruits of the Spirit were NOT present in my life because the Spirit was not present. I was driving the Spirit away because of my actions contrary to God’s will.
Yet when I asked God for Truth, He sent the Truth with the Spirit, and I was blessed with the Fruits everywhere. They were so strong and so abundant that my entire life was changed. Broken friendships were restored during this time. I became more calm, I was able to control myself, to foster new friends. I found humility, and it was so amazing.
When I arrived at college in August, I don’t know if Elder Bradford and Elder Crouch really knew what they were getting into with teaching me.
Honestly, I don’t think I could have asked for better teachers. I learned a lot in lessons with them. I made promises and have been sticking to them as best as I can ever since. I have been able to experience joy beyond measure in my freedom to attend church each Sunday when I want to. Nothing makes me happier than to be able to go to lessons with the Elders and learn new things, or discuss this amazing gospel and doctrine that brings the utmost joy and happiness to my life.
I was baptized October 8th, 2011. Before I wrap up, I want to show you what I wrote as soon as I got home from my baptism concerning the baptism itself…These words came pouring out of me when I got to my computer so they might seem a little jumbled, I hope you can bear with me:
“This was the best day of my entire life…
I never thought that I would really make it here. I have doubted myself for so long now. I was sure that I wasn’t good enough and that I would just fail terribly, or that some cosmic twist of events ould cause for everything to be ruined and for my baptism to be in shambles.
But I know now that that isn’t true…
Going and being baptized was just a whirlwind of emotions and a rollercoaster of feelings. From the moment I stepped into the building, all I could think was, “This is really it…It’s actually happening.” I heard the most amazing talk given by Brother Nelson right off the bat. He had clearly put a lot of thought into what he had to say and quoted a lot of scripture, both from the Book of Mormon and the Bible. His talk on baptism was very lovely and informative and made me even more confident about the ordinance I was about to undertake.
The first hymn we sang, “If You Could Hie to Kolob,” was a beautiful and wonderful hymn. We sang it a cappella because we didn’t have a piano player but it was gorgeous nonetheless. The hymn expressed the life that we are earnestly seeking but shall never find, the future, the past, the wonders of this universe and our Heavenly Father, and the eternity of Him and us.
The actual ordinance felt so strange… So lovely and amazing. For some reason, I can’t remember exactly what it was like going down into the water. I remember Elder Bradford bringing my hand towards my face and I remember coming up out of the water smiling, but as for actually being in the water, my memory isn’t there.
This would normally upset me (that I forgot even one tiny detail about this day I’ve so longed for) but thinking of it right now, it doesn’t at all. Baptism is symbolic of being reborn. It is an ordinance that we must undertake to be saved. “A man cannot enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and spirit.”
So I was reborn today… I went into the water, and the boy that once existed died, and a Brother rose out of the water, a Child of God. I am a new person, a new being. I have taken the name of Jesus Christ upon me which means that I am a symbol of him and all that he taught. I cannot be the boy that I was which was a boy of sin and of struggles and pain. Instead, I must be a Brother, a follower of Christ, who will earnestly endure til the end.
It makes sense that I wouldn’t remember my rebirth exactly as it happened. I accept and am okay with that now. I do not remember how I was born of my Heavenly Father and Mother, nor do I remember how I was born into this world by my father and mother. I do not remember how I fought alongside Michael against the forces of Satan, nor do I remember the look on Lucifer’s face when he was told “No” by Heavenly Father. I also do not remember when I was reborn through an ordinance that changed the entirety of my being.
Right now, I can feel the Spirit inside of me. I haven’t received the Gift of the Holy Ghost yet—that is tomorrow and I will most certainly write about that experience once it has occurred. Yet I can feel the Spirit in my heart right now, telling me that what I did was the right thing to do.
The Spirit will confirm the truth of all things to us. Even thouse who haven’t been given the Gift of the Holy Ghost can still feel the Spirit when they do things that invite it to us. When we do things that are pleasing to God, or that He wants us to do, then we can feel the Spirit’s presence and influence in our lives.
Today, I was baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for a remission of my sins. As such, I invited the Spirit, and the love I am feeling right now is second to none of all the love I’ve ever felt in my life.
Maria gave a talk that brought me to tears and calmed me in waves. She spoke specifically on the Holy Ghost, but of course she was also talking on many things. In several instances I had shared to her how I felt and in three particulars of those she had kept the words I had said and reproduced them for that talk. The three instances in particular were a text I had sent about the sun and the Mormon faith, a conversation we had had about prayer and Heavenly Father talking to us, and another text about the gospel being the most beautiful jewel we could ever hold. That she remembered my words touched my heart. What further touched me was that she mingled them with the words of the prophets and compared them to what prophets had said. So much of what she said came from the prophets, which was a wonderful thing, but then my words were among them… That means so much to me.
When it was time for me to bear my testimony, I felt like there were so many words I wanted to say but could not find any way to express them. I wanted everyone to know how terribly sad I once was…I didn’t want them to know that so that they would feel sorry for me, but so they would be joyous for the overcoming of crippling despair. I wanted to express all the things that I had learned over the months that I had studied this. I wanted to tell them about the things that I’m still learning and still producing information on. I wanted them to know that they held the most beautiful knowledge in the world and that it was just so selfish to hold it too close. I wanted to scream my testimony, I wanted to sob it. I wanted to do so many things. But in the end, I know that what I said was what God wanted from me. I expressed my testimony of truthfulness. I expressed my testimony of love and happiness. These things will never go away. It brought me to tears at the stand to express these things, but it also brought joy into my heart.
I’m reminded of a passage in the Book of Mormon. In Alma, he is speaking to his son concerning his conversion. He said that “his joy became as exceeding as was once his pain.” I understand what Alma was saying there, now. I understand it fully. To be baptized and to accept this beautiful and holy gospel is a transformative thing that does just that: makes your joy as bright and beautiful as your pain was once deep and dark. I can say that my pain was definitely deep and dark before.
When President Hakes, my Elders Quorum President, stepped up to welcome me, I was absolutely delighted. He spoke of the work that was in store for me, the things that he expected me to do, and all I could do was smile and nod. I am so ready for these responsibilities in my life. I am so exceedingly ready for the things that are to come of them and the blessings that I will behold. I am overly ready to start my home teaching…that will be a wonderful thing, I believe, and I sincerely hope that I help a family or a person by doing my home teaching. President Hake’s speech was an introduction into this world that I have been so extremely ready to step into.
When Brother Miller, First Counselor to the Branch President, welcomed me to the Branch, I was also over-joyed in all my heart. Entering the Branch and truly becoming a member meant so much to me. There are things that I cannot express when I think about the journey that I’m embarking on with my stake. The Elder’s Quorum goes monthly to the temple to do baptisms for the dead; I am ready to join them. There are so many activities constantly going on that I was wary of doing at first, but now, I feel like I could take them all on at once. The Branch is going to be a wonderful thing.
Our closing hymn was “O My Father.” I adored that song because of the afterlife that it spoke of, and the things we can look forward to seeing once we have been resurrected.
The hymns I chose were very much Mormon. I did that on purpose. I want everything about me to be Mormon, everything without a doubt. No holding back at all. The songs both spoke sincerely of Mormon doctrine that is not really taught anywhere else in Christianity at all (especially “If You Could Hie to Kolob”). The choices were extremely deliberate in that sense. Both were also beautiful and touching songs.
The single event that made my day so amazing and so wonderful and perfect beyond my imagination or expectations was when I got to talk to Elder Anderson once more…
Elder Anderson is the man that introduced me to the gospel. He’s the one that answered all of my initial questions, got me interested. He’s the one who supported me through thick and thin, when I considered leaving the church, when I questioned myself, when I was at war with my family… He was the one who kept me strong. He was so much more than a missionary or teacher to me; he was my absolute best friend.
The times that I spent with Elder Anderson were hard times in my life that I look back on with sadness and happiness. Sadness because of the terror that was in my life then, but happiness because of how it prepared me for what I experienced today. Elder Anderson experienced all of that with me, so much that it drew us close together as great friends.
When I saw that he was on Brother Reese’s phone and wanted to talk to me I completely broke down. All through my baptism I had managed to hold myself together and not cry even once. But when Brother Reese held the phone to me and I saw “Elder Anderson” on the screen, I completely lost it. I began bawling like I hadn’t done in months. To hear his voice again, to talk to him again, to rejoice with him, was something I had not expected today.
Even just then, as I ended typing my last sentence, I began to cry in earnest again. I had forgotten how close I was to Elder Anderson and I just couldn’t believe that I was really and truly
hearing his voice. He had toughed all of the terror out with me yet because he was transferred and I moved to a whole other mission, there was no way that he would ever be able to baptize me. I knew that going into this so I never even considered the topic, nor did I think I’d be able to talk to him on the day that I was baptized.
Yet I did, and it was wonderful. Together, we got to rejoice and celebrate what we both had waited and worked towards for so long. Together, we were able to remember good times we had together. I got to share with him how perfect my life is now. I got to let him know all about how everything is just perfect these days and how I have never been happier—ever. I got to express my love for him—and he got to express his for me. This bond of brothership that we have will never ever be broken.
After Elder Anderson got transferred, I purposefully never let myself get close to another Elder as a friend. I made sure all subsequent Elders were teachers and nothing more. I didn’t want anyone to replace what Elder Anderson meant to me in my mind so I was so careful to keep that distance. I built up little, tiny walls around myself. But to hear the words of my friend again was something that shattered the defenses I had and broke deep into my heart where all the confusion and anxiety I once had began pouring out in relief. Baptism is not just about being forgiven, but also about forgiving ourselves. I definitely had not done that. But when I spoke to Elder Anderson once more…I did forgive myself. I realized, after we were done speaking, that I had finally and truly moved on from the terrible things that I had used to do in my past. I was truly ready, at that moment, to become a new person, with the name of Christ upon me.
I look forward to talking to Elder Anderson again in April, once he is off his mission. When that occurs, we will be able to not only talk on the phone whenever we want, but also do amazing things like text each other constantly, or “Poke” each other on Facebook. There are so many things that we’ll be able to do and he’ll finally be able to become my friend full time. I look forward to this day with a sincere and utmost happiness.
The emotions and feelings that have been pouring through me today, on the day of my baptism, are indescribable by themselves. It is something holy and amazing that has stirred up all my passions and love. I could not have imagined a more perfect, wonderful day. I truly appreciate and love the opportunity that I had today and am eternally thankful to my Heavenly Father for all of them.”
Brothers and sisters, it is with great pleasure that I am able to tell you now that I have the joy and happiness that I wanted so badly when I began praying about this church. The joy that I saw in Elder Anderson and Elder Migliori is alive in my heart today. No matter how upset I get, no matter how depressing things are, I am still happy and joyful at all times. This is the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Elder Anderson is now off his mission and I get to talk to him whenever I like. All the things I patiently waited for that bring me joy are being given to me by Heavenly Father. He rewards our faith with so many things and for those things I am eternally grateful.
Every once in a while someone will ask me, “Dakota, how has your day been?” or, “How is your week going?” All I can ever reply, brothers and sister, is “Perfect.” My life is perfect now. I am always happy, and I am always blessed, because for the first time in my life, I know 100% without a doubt that I am doing what my Heavenly Father wants of me. For the first time, my will is aligned with His. This is the happiness that comes of this church. This is the happiness that comes of the restored gospel.
I know this church is true. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that Thomas Monson is a prophet today. I know that the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price are the word of God. I know that my Father knows about me and that He loves me, and I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.