I've never sat down to write down my conversion story. I've told it countless times, and I still have my journal from when I was an investigator... but I've never actually written it down. My future grandchildren are probably shaking their heads at me from their little clouds up in Heaven... I can feel it.
I grew up in Defiance, Ohio and growing up I was raised as a devout Roman Catholic. Both sides of my family are Catholic, and they probably have all been Catholic since Christ declared that Peter was the rock upon which He would build His church (which, every Catholic knows is the defining moment where Christ declared Peter the first Pope, and the Catholic Church was born.)
My grandparents on my mother's side (the Romary's) consistently attend daily mass, and are notorious for attending Saturday evening mass, so Grandpa can sleep in on Sunday. My grandparents went to Central Catholic High School, and my mom and her siblings all attended one the Catholic high schools in Fort Wayne, Indiana... Bishop Luers High School, and my cousin Elizabeth is going into her sophomore year at the same school. My Aunt Julie teaches at a Catholic school in South Bend, Indiana, and my cousins Jack and Lucy attend Catholic School as well.
As for my grandparents on my father's side (the Koester's), they are devout Catholics too. I've been told that my grandma was preparing to be a nun, when she met my grandpa. My dad and his siblings didn't attend Catholic schools, but they did belong to one of the two Catholic parishes (ward's) in town, St. Mary Parish. When they graduated from high school, my dad, my Uncle Steve, and my Uncle Brian all went the University of Notre Dame, and my Aunt Mary went to the University of Dayton... all Catholic universities. My Aunt Mary is a very devout Catholic, and her kids and husband are as well.
As for me and my siblings, we didn't attend Catholic schools either. We attended attended CCD (Sunday school that was held on Wednesday nights), and we attended mass almost every Sunday at St. Mary's. My mother was a lectern who read the readings during mass, and one of my brothers was an alter attendant for a while. In high school, I was actively involved in my parish's Youth Group, and every summer, I would participate in a weekend of service called YES (Youth Elect Service) with St. Mary's and St. John's (the other parish across town). I also was able to attend NCYC (National Catholic Youth Conference) in Atlanta, GA in 2005... we celebrated mass in the Georgia dome with over 35,000 people present. It was awesome. My brother Joe now attends Marquette University, and my sister Katie has followed in my Dad's footsteps, and attends the University of Notre Dame.
In short, I grew up Catholic like most Utah Mormons grow up LDS.
When I moved to Utah, and was in treatment, my spirituality was strengthened ten-fold. While I was never permitted to attend Church (treatment is a whole other story), I had a rosary that my Grandma Romary sent to me, and I had a bible that I read frequently. I knew that I needed something bigger than myself if I was to survive those 18 months. Most people lose their faith during those months, and for good reason. But mine grew. I'm grateful for that.
When I aged out of treatment as a 19 year old, I enrolled at Southern Utah University and moved into an apartment with 5 other girls, all of whom are LDS. My direct roommate was Bailey. She and I exchanged the usual get-to-know-you questions, and then she asked me if I was a "member". I thought to myself... "A member of what?" When I realized what she meant, I told her that I was Catholic. And that was that. We existed quite harmoniously.
A couple of weeks later, I went to mass at the local Catholic Church, and I was talking to one of the parishioners about college, and just having a normal conversation. They asked me if I had Mormon roommates. I said yes. The tone of the conversation completely changed. She told me to watch myself, and that they were going to try to give me a Book of Mormon, and set me up with the missionaries any day now.
Well... they were right :)
A few days later I came home from class, and when I got to my room, there was a Book of Mormon on my desk. It had a post it note on the front that said, "Just read the front cover, if nothing else. If you have any questions, feel free to ask". I opened the book, and right on the inside, Bailey and another roommate Danelle, had written in a short testimony of the Book of Mormon. I realized that this wasn't something like a quota that they had to meet... They actually meant all of these things. They had genuine testimonies of this book. And that night I read until about 3am... and read all the way into 2Nephi. I couldn't stop. I started because I was inspired by the honesty and courage of my roommates (giving a Book of Mormon to a non-member friend could potentially blow up in your face...). But I continued reading because the Holy Ghost wanted to turn me into an insomniac :)
About a week later, I attended my first Sacrament meeting, and had my first lesson with the missionaries, Elder Lund and Elder Hill. Everything just made sense. I already believed in the concept of eternal families. I already believed that revelation never stopped. I believed in a pre-mortal existence. These were the stepping stones to my "common sense" testimony.
My biggest hangup was the need for a restoration. Catholics can trace their history all the way back to St. Peter. Logically, there wouldn't be a need to restore anything. Elder Hill put it really simply. He compared the Gospel to a mirror. While Christ was on the earth, the mirror was perfect. But when the Niacin Counsel came around, and messed everything up, the mirror was dropped and shattered. Religions have come around, and taken the pretty pieces of the mirror, and left others. He said that even if the Catholic Church picked up every single shard of glass from the mirror, and glued them back together exactly the way they were supposed to be placed, it would still be imperfect. When Joseph Smith came, and asked God what to do, it was as if Heavenly Father was having us throw out the old, broken mirror, and was giving us a brand new, perfect mirror. And that made sense. It still makes sense.
My family wasn't exactly thrilled, because I was leaving the one true faith. Logically, only the Catholic Church, and the LDS Church can truly have any legitimate claims to the "fullness of the Gospel". But for me that made it pretty simple. There was either an apostasy, or there was not. There was either a need for a Restoration, or there was not. It was black and white for me.
At this point, I had read the Book of Mormon, cover to cover. I had received all of the lessons, and discussions. I had been to Church, and I had started to form my "common sense" testimony. I wanted to believe that the missionaries were telling the truth. I wanted to believe that my roommates were all being honest. It was the moment of truth. Is this the true Church? Or am I already in the true Church? It was time to trust God. It was time to put Him to the test. I opened up that Book of Mormon, and read Moroni 10:4-5, "And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things."
I was pacing around my dorm room. Bailey was gone that weekend, so I had the room to myself. Pacing and pacing. I finally dropped to my knees, in tears (good tears), and asked out loud, "What is right? I've narrowed it down to two. If this is what you want, I will do it! But I need to know. This isn't a joke. This is my eternal salvation! Just tell me!" And immediately, I was filled with warmth, and comfort, and I had chills up and down my spine. I knew. Clear as day. That was the Holy Ghost. And that was my first experience with divine confirmation. I wouldn't have a confirmation again until a few years later, late in 2011 in the Oquirrh Mountain Temple.
When I told the missionaries that I wanted to be baptized (they actually beat me to it... they challenged me before I could open my mouth and say anything), I knew I was gay. I absolutely knew. But the missionaries said that I would be blessed. And the only blessing I could have wanted was to be straight. When I went in for my baptismal interview with the district leader, he asked me the standard question of whether or not I had participated in homosexual activity. I hadn't. And since he did not ask me if I was homosexual, I knew I answered the question honestly. I was baptized April 25, 2009.
Was a converted on that day? Yes and no. I was converted enough... I believed enough. I knew enough. But I was not truly converted until my experience in the temple 19 months ago. I may speak out, and openly disagree with the General Authorities on certain issues. I may interpret scripture, and doctrine differently than you do. I may be a little more liberal than most Mormons (no... I know that I'm more liberal than most Mormons). I may be a little too intellectual and feminist for your taste. I may speak out too aggressively for your taste. That's ok.
I'm converted. I'm in this. I sustain the First Presidency, and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. I sustain the General Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary Presidencies. I sustain the Presiding Bishopric, and Young Men's Presidency. I sustain the First Quorum of the Seventy. I sustain my Bishop and Stake President. I sustain my ward's Elders Quorum President and Relief Society President. I am in this. I'm a Mormon. A gay Mormon. I'm a little unorthodox, and I like it that way. It keeps me on my toes. It keeps me from getting comfortable, and getting stuck in a rut. My testimony is just as valid as anyone else's. My testimony is just as sacred, and just as important.
If anything... It'll keep you from falling asleep in Fast and Testimony meeting. And speaking on behalf of everyone, we all need a good dose of that.