Never before had two flights of stairs seemed so long. I was coming back to church after a long absence, and my excitement had been replaced with fear. My desperate hope to believe in core doctrines of the Church, like Jesus Christ’s Atonement and the sealing power of the temple, had driven my return, but I worried that with a visible tattoo and extra piercing I would no longer fit in with my peers in the young adult congregation.
While my time away from church had some extremely dark moments, I honestly consider it as one of the most important times of my life. Never had I prayed so hard, examined myself and my beliefs so thoroughly, or faced my uncertainties so head-on as I did then. Once I came to terms with my struggles and questions, I realized how much I wanted to believe in the things I had been taught in the Church and decided to go back.
After making the decision, however, I started to worry about what others would think of me. I had a tattoo, and I wondered how I’d be judged because of it. I wondered if my questions about the gospel would seem silly to others and if I’d be labeled as undateable, unfriendable, and ignorable.
I finally made it to the Relief Society room that first Sunday and slid into the back row. I recognized a few people, but I avoided eye contact because I didn’t want them to ask where I had been or about my tattoo or piercing. My peers seemed to have perfect testimonies, and I marveled at the intelligent comments they made in classes. I felt like I was the only one with insecurities, and I worried that none of my peers would ever understand or accept me. I made it home that day without having to answer too many questions about my absence, but I wondered, would I feel like I had to dodge everyone and stare at the floor every Sunday for the rest of my life? Would my testimony ever grow?
During this time, one of my goals was to grow closer to and learn more about the Savior. I was reading the Gospels in the New Testament in addition to the Book of Mormon, and I came to the story in Mark chapter 2 when Jesus is eating dinner and is joined by publicans and sinners:
“And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?
“When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (verses 16–17).
That story went straight to my heart. I realized that if publicans—outcasts in the Jewish community—and sinners could fit in with Jesus, so could I, and that was all that really mattered. Never before had Jesus Christ’s Atonement meant so much to me. I realized that He was the only one who knew exactly how I had felt during my dark times—and exactly how I was feeling coming back to church. I still worried how I was being seen by my peers each week at church, but as I tried to focus more on following and getting to know Christ, those worries lessened.