As melodramatic as this might sound, today, September 27, was a turning point in my life.
This date, aside from my birth, is the most important day of my life. More important than my marriage, the birth of my daughter, the day I immigrated or the day I became a U.S. citizen. On this date, in 1975, I became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons. While some of you may be thinking, uh oh a post on religion, fear not. I'm not here to harangue anyone into becoming a Mormon. I simply want to share something I love with you, much like talking to you about cleaning supplies and the Container Store, only much more important and much more significant to me.
As a teenager, I was very, um, conflicted. I felt like I didn't fit in with any one group, I was angry, I hated that I was Mexican, I hated that my parents weren't like other parents, I hated that I hated everything. I was in a word, unhappy, but I didn't know why or how to fix it.
My senior year of high school, in Government class, I was doing a research paper on Mormons. I don't remember what the topic we were suppose to be researching or how I ended up with Mormons as my subject. I, being the weirdo that I am, loved doing research papers. There was something about gathering information and then putting it into some kind of order that spoke to me. I knew that to have an outstanding research paper on my topic I needed to do some first hand research. I decided to attend a Mormon church service.
I had a couple of friends that were Mormons so I asked if I could tag along. I don't know what I thought I was going to find out, I just knew that I had to go. I wanted an 'A' on my paper, I was willing to do whatever to get it.
We got to the church, it was nothing what I expected. I was used to stained glass windows, candles and holy water. What I got instead were blank walls, draped windows and no holy water. Bummer, I thought.
I was expecting altar boys and girls helping with the preparation of communion, a preacher dressed in holy vestments and some kneeling and standing. Instead, there was a man in a suit, boys in shirts and ties blessing bread and water and the only standing I did was when I got up to leave.
As different as it was, as strange as it all seemed to me, it felt different than when I'd attended church as a little kid. For the first time in my teenage years I didn't feel lost, I didn't feel angry at the world. And it scared me.
How, I thought, can attending someone else's church make me feel like this, peaceful and happy. I was confused. I wanted to learn why. I wanted to learn more.
I asked my friend, Anita, if she minded if I continued to attend church with her. For some strange reason she was overjoyed at the prospect of me attending with her. I now know why.
That was in February.
In April, Anita asked me if I'd like to participate in the dance festival that they were going to be having in June. Are you kidding me? I'm Latin, rhythm is part of the genetic code! I was in hog heaven.
I don't remember how my parents felt about me attending dance practice on Wednesdays and a church that was not theirs on Sundays. I'm sure there was a part of them that was glad I was no longer a surly teenager, someone so very unpleasant to be around.
Maybe the reason my parents allowed me to attend church with Anita was because I told them that I had to attend church to be able to participate in the dance festival. Why they agreed to allow me to participate in the dance festival in the first place is still a mystery to me. You see, my parents were very, very strict. Older Sis and I were seldom allowed to go anywhere that was not school related. The fact that I was allowed to do both, attend a different church and participate in one of their programs, was completely out of character for them.
The dance festival came and went. Now what, I thought. I no longer had an excuse to attend a church I had come to love with all my heart. As I pondered what I would do, the thought came that I needed to convert to the Mormon church.
What? Convert? Am I crazy??
As crazy as it seemed to me, I knew it's what I had to do.
I told Anita of my desire to convert.
We were driving somewhere, we were at a red light when I asked her, What do I need to do to become a Mormon?
She sat there dumbfounded, staring at me, not saying anything for what seemed like forever. Finally she said, What? You want to become a Mormon? Are you serious or are you just joking around?
No, I'm serious. What do I need to do to become a Mormon? Oh, by the way the light's green.
Anita was ecstatic. She told me about meeting with the missionaries and being baptized. I was ready to begin. But I didn't know how I was going to tell my parents.
For all the anger I felt toward my parents, I still loved and respected them and would never do anything to hurt them or anyone else in the family.
I agonized. I prayed. I prayed some more. I agonized. I prayed again.
I finally found the courage to tell them. My dad was not happy. My mom was confused. They said no. I was devastated. I prayed some more.
I was impressed to wait until I turned 18, which was only a few weeks away, before I approached them about wanting to convert again. This time, dad said it was my decision to make. That's all I needed to hear.
After meeting with the missionaries, I knew more than ever that I wanted to become a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I had found what I'd been searching for but didn't even know I searching for it. I was finally happy. I had peace in my life.
I know that for some, having a belief in God is strange, odd, even crazy. But for me, it is what makes every day worthwhile. It's what makes me who I am. Every major decision I have made in my life since I converted to the Mormon faith has been based on the tenets of the church. I have not regretted any of those decisions.
I find immeasurable strength in knowing Jesus Christ as my Savior. When I think of the conflicted, unhappy person I was as a teenager and I see the joy and peace I have in my life now, and for the past thirty five years, I know that it has come to me because of the decision I made to be baptized on September 27, 1975.