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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

My Conversion Story

I have been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints my entire life. I have always loved church, and I have always accepted what was being taught, not because I didn't question it (believe me, I have questions) but because it simply makes sense. It always made perfect sense to me. It has been the most natural thing in the world for me to believe. Of course, I had never had any major trials to my faith. I made mistakes (after all, I am human) but I was trying to be better and doing my best, so I felt good about my efforts. I knew the Church was true. That testimony was built on a million tiny experiences building up to one great whole. However, I think it's safe to say that my faith was rarely, if ever, tested in real way.

Then I moved to Boston. Being far away from friends and family was harder for me than I thought. Then I decided to go to India, which is about as far away from friends and family as I could get (that's not why I went, mind you - I love my friends and family). Being away from all things familiar really tested me. I suddenly began to realize all in my life that I had taken for granted, including my testimony.
India was an amazing learning experience for me - never before have I been so humbled both temporally and spiritually. I became acutely aware of how much I have. The poverty I saw was, of course, shocking and life-changing. But the biggest change in me came in an increasing awareness of just how imperfect I am. I became more fully acquainted with my sins and learned exactly how much I need Christ's Atonement. Along with that came a knowledge of how prideful I am - I would not let the Atonement work for me. I didn't think I deserved it. I tortured myself over mistakes I made, big and small - curse of the perfectionist - and wouldn't let myself heal. India was the hardest two months of my life, mostly because I was not happy with my newly discovered self and not happy with some of the choices I had made, and the people there loved me and accepted me, faults and all. Blessed Team India. I probably was not the most fun to be around while I figured all of this out and they were patient and kind with me.

I often think about movies - it is my job, after all - and recently I've been thinking of City Slickers, starring Billy Crystal. In the film, the three main guys ask each other for their best day and their worst day. I find it especially interesting and moving when one of the guys gives the same day as both his best and worst day (see the scene here) As a child it didn't make sense to me in a real way, only in a theoretical way. It began to really make sense when I was in India, where I had my best day/worst day experience.

The worst day in my life was the day before we visited the Taj Mahal. We had all been so excited to see it - it was the culmination of the touristy part of my India trip. But I was the sickest I had ever been in my life. I was so ill I couldn't see straight or walk by myself. All the diseases the CDC had warned us about started running through my head, and I was sure I had Japanese Encephalitis or Malaria. I couldn't keep anything in my stomach - I lost over 10 pounds in a few days. The day before the Taj Mahal trip was the pinnacle of the misery. I seriously felt like I may die. Now, people who have actually come closer to dying than I have may think I was overreacting, and I probably was. But I had never felt so totally and absolutely physically miserable. The feeling of terror that surrounded me was something that could not be diagnosed or treated in any way other than prayer. So that's what I did.

I had a talk with God during the 9-hour car ride back from Jaipur, where I basically came to terms with the idea that I could die in India. I cried silently for hours. But during those nine long, painful hours I learned about my faith. I learned that I believed in God, and not just that I believed but that I was willing to trust Him and that everything would work out for the best, even if that meant me dying. I had never been faced with even the idea of death before, and here I was facing it square in the face with no hospital to go to. But I felt something during that car ride that was outside of me, outside of anything - a comfort and peace that could only have been from God.

We made our way to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, and I was not getting better. The other members of our group were sick too, but I guess I was the only one crazy enough to think I was dying, which I honestly did. We woke up to walk to the Taj Mahal, and I was so sick that I didn't see how that would even be possible. But based on a lifetime of stories about the sick being healed, I knew it could work. At this point it wasn't even about seeing the Taj Mahal - it was about faith.

So I asked the men in our group, who were wonderfully and fortunately priesthood holders in our Church, if they would give me a blessing to heal me. They placed their hands upon my head, blessed me, and the pain and fear was gone. It literally melted into a dull ache that I could manage. It was the sweetest, most amazing feeling I have ever had. I had been healed! I wasn't feeling 100% better, but I was well enough to walk to the Taj Mahal, take several jumping pictures, and glory in the beauty of the Taj Mahal itself and the Gospel that had healed me enough. That day we had to cancel our flight due to a road closure and spend hundreds of dollars to get a new flight, and then ride on an awful, bump side road to try to get back to Delhi, but I was grinning ear to ear. Best day.

I learned so many things from this experience. The first is that I never want to be without the priesthood in my life. I will be eternally grateful that there were men in my group who could give me that blessing. It was as close to a biblical miracle as I have ever come. I took the priesthood holders in my life for granted before this. It was simply a given that they held the priesthood. But I now know the precious gift that it is and how wonderful each man who lives his life worthy of it is. 

I learned what humility is. I had to be brought to the lowest physically and emotionally I have ever been, but I have learned to accept the Atonement and the wonderful blessing that it is. There is nothing greater, nor more powerful. It was this experience that fully converted me, forever and always, to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I want to work hard to keep these feelings alive. 

I grew closer to God in those awful painful moments than I ever have. I am so grateful for my health when I have it. I am so grateful for my body. I'm so grateful for my family in India who took care of me while they were also feeling sick. They were suffering probably as much as I was and still took care of me. I've never been so humbled and so grateful. Perhaps it's silly if it took being that sick to have such an appreciation, but I choose to look at it as gift. This experience was the worst and the best - my worst day, but also my best day.

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