A little more than two years ago, shortly after my parents divorced, I found the Church.
Growing up, my brothers, sister, and I were taught to believe in God, and we said prayers at dinnertime, but that had been the extent of my religious education. My mother was raised in the LDS Church, but my father was not. I guess over the years they found it easier to avoid religion than to quarrel over it.
I was the youngest and the baby of the family in more ways than one. My brothers and sister were much older and very protective. I believed everything would always be easy.
School was a rude awakening for me. In the early years I wasn’t required to do much work and my grades were pretty good. But, as the years went by, my grades began to drop, and it certainly was not easy. Consequently, my parents began getting calls from my teachers, and we entered the era of “What to do about Dane?”
My parents tried a variety of methods to get me to do my assignments, but nothing worked. Teachers, counselors, school administrators, and my parents, all threatened a whole array of punishments. But my situation worsened with each year of school, and by the time I was in seventh grade, everything was falling apart. I hadn’t done much in class except goof around for six years, so I was totally unprepared for junior high.
The year I entered junior high was also the year our family fell apart. Two weeks after Christmas my parents separated, and later they divorced. My two oldest brothers and my sister had graduated and moved out on their own. That left my brother Lee and me at home with our mother, and Lee was a senior in high school. To make matters worse, we had big financial problems. From my mother’s perspective, we had hit rock bottom. But that’s when I think things began to look up.
One day my mom sat me down, and we had a serious talk. We talked about her upbringing in the Church, and she said that even though it seemed like things couldn’t get any worse, she knew she could turn to God for help. She also said she believed that if I went to church, it might turn me around in school. I had attended church a few times with an LDS friend, and I had also attended summertime Bible schools at other churches, but my family had not been to church since before I was born. My parents both smoked, and the coffeepot was always on. And now, my mom was suffering because of the divorce and the loss of income. I didn’t want to add to her problems, so I decided to give church a try and to have the missionary lessons.
My mother invited Lee to sit in on the lessons too, but he was caught up in his senior-year activities and wasn’t interested. He sat in on the first discussion, but then always seemed to have something else to do whenever the elders visited. My mom and I started attending church together, and things just started to feel right. I was baptized that spring, shortly before my brother graduated. At the end of my school term, Mom and I decided it would be better for me if I repeated the seventh grade and buckled down to do things right. I felt good inside.
Before I joined the Church, I had experimented with cigarettes and alcohol, and I hung around with the kids I felt most comfortable with—the kids who weren’t passing in school and who were with me so often in detention. But when the bishop interviewed me and I made the commitment to get baptized, I made a promise to obey the Word of Wisdom. I found that I enjoyed the feeling of responsibility that came with holding the priesthood, passing the sacrament, and getting praise for the things I was doing instead of always being in trouble. These positive feelings I was experiencing started to influence my life outside of church. And, as I shared my testimony with my friends, I started to see who my true friends were.
Lee went into the army the summer he graduated and was sent to Kentucky for basic training. For a boy raised in thin mountain air, the humid air of Kentucky in August was almost more than he could bear. Lee also found out what homesickness is all about. He wrote home every day, and Mom cried when she read his letters. She asked him to find out if there was an LDS ward he could attend near the base. We prayed for him and encouraged him to pray too. My grandmother had given Lee a Bible as a graduation present, and for some reason he had thrown it in his suitcase when he left. It turned out that religious books were the only reading material allowed on base. When he told my mother that, she sent him a Book of Mormon. Shortly after that, we started getting letters from Lee saying how much he enjoyed the scriptures and that he was reading them aloud to other soldiers in his unit. Of course, my mother cried some more. In a few weeks Mom asked Lee if he wanted to take the missionary discussions. But Lee wrote back to say he had already asked the bishop to set up discussions. He was baptized that Thanksgiving when he came home on leave. Mom cried then too.
I made it to eighth grade and served in the Church as a deacons quorum president and now as teachers quorum president. I haven’t quite made the honor roll yet, but I’m on the school’s academic team and have stayed eligible to play sports. I’ve tried to remain friends with the guys I used to hang around with, but I don’t go out with them much anymore. We’re still on good terms, but we have different interests now. I’m involved in Scouting and have been concentrating on my schoolwork.
My mom has made big changes too. A year ago she made a commitment to become temple worthy. She quit smoking and drinking and started paying tithing. I can’t say all our financial problems have been solved, but the bills have always been paid. My mom and I have become great friends, and now she’s my seminary teacher too. She went to the temple last summer. Last year she developed a life-threatening illness, and she’s had a long, slow recovery. It was scary and hard on us both, but the elders gave her a blessing, and we pulled through it together.
The changes that have come over me, my mother, and my brother didn’t come easily. But they have definitely been worth it. My mom still cries sometimes, but now it’s because she’s so happy. And I’m happy too.
Is it easier to live in Utah where you are surrounded by other Church members?
Or is it easier to live in the mission field where you must learn to stand on your own?
These are just two of the questions that were studied by two Brigham Young University professors, Brent L. Top and Bruce A. Chadwick. For four years, they interviewed LDS teens in three areas of the United States with vastly different religious environments: the Pacific Northwest, the East Coast, and Utah County. Their work has revealed some answers.
Friends make a huge difference. This was no surprise. Friends have a great influence on your decisions and can lead to good or bad.
Family is a great support. The study showed that it didn’t matter where the teen’s family lives. Zion truly is a spiritual condition rather than a geographic one.
Your testimony means everything. The study showed that what you believe and the spiritual experiences you have had will be a major influence in your behavior. The study confirms what Elder James E. Faust taught. “What seems to help cement parental [and Church] teachings and values in place in children’s lives is a firm belief in Deity. When this belief becomes part of their very souls, they have inner strength” (Ensign, Nov. 1990, 34).
Personal prayer is vitally important. Prayer is a powerful tool in developing your testimony and resisting temptation.