Becoming Mormon: My Search for Happiness


By Blog Contributor, Tonya Hartsog

When my Mom was almost 5 months pregnant with me she suffered a heart attack that the doctors had mistakenly diagnosed as a new type of influenza. She was left untreated and at one point her legs were so filled with fluid, it would seep from her legs as she coughed up blood from her lungs. Amazingly, I was born 2 months later, perfectly healthy– which my Mom always said was miracle. Shortly after my birth, my went mother went into heart failure and her lungs collapsed, nearly dying and would spend many weeks in the hospital.

I will never forget her recounting the story about her beautiful near-death experience. As she was dying she saw the brightest light she had ever seen, yet it did not hurt her eyes. Immense warmth radiated from the light against her skin and she did not want to turn back. She deeply desired to get closer and so did.  At one point, Jesus Christ appeared to her and as she stood looking and studying his hands, He said, “You need to live until your children are grown.” My mother did live and suffered for 17 more years–most greatly the last 3 years of her life. Right before she died she looked at my aunt and said goodbye. When asked by my aunt why she was saying goodbye, she replied, “The angels are here to get me.” Those 2 events have always given me immense comfort, but it was at that point that my belief in my Heavenly Father was solidified.

After my Mom passed away in 2004 I struggled internally for quite a while. I was truly unhappy, wandering in darkness, and did not like the person I was becoming. In addition to having health problems, I felt like life was passing me by. I felt depressed and so lonely. I was searching for something but I did not know what it was. I had grown up Baptist and had recently started going back to church. I even attended another church with an aunt several times but nothing felt right. Between work, home and church I never felt like I fit in or belonged. I didn’t have the same things in common with or the same values as the people around me. I quit going to church and felt even more lonely and depressed each day.

Me and my mother.

Feeling blanketed in a deep sense of loneliness, I remember one night in my room in December 2009, getting on my knees and for the first time, pouring out my heart to Heavenly Father. I verbalized everything I had bottled up: What was my purpose? Why was I here? I expressed my need for Him in my life and acknowledged I could not do anything without HimI promised that I would do my part to try to change to become the person that I needed and wanted to be. I promised I would listen to His guidance. That night, I remember randomly opening my Bible to the book of John. There I read about a miracle Christ performed and about the final days of the life of Jesus Christ. I have never been so touched in my life;  I wept as I read. I knew He had heard my prayers that evening!

Just a few weeks later I was catching up on a blog that I read called “The Farm Chicks” when I came upon a post  entitled “It’s Time!” it continued, “Hard news has been swirling all around lately but I refuse to let it bring me down. In fact, it’s time to talk about what’s good in the world. It’s ‘Happi’ Time! One thing I heard today is that my friend, Stephanie is making her silhouettes again (you can even order one from her!) and that makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. What a blessing her recovery is!  What’s making you happy today? Please share. Let’s all be happy!”  I immediately wanted to find out who Stephanie was!

It was a few days before Christmas and very slow at work. I don’t think I managed to get any work done that day but I can still remember first reading Stephanie’s blog, nieniedialogues.blogspot.com. I read the entire thing going back several years in only a matter of days. One of the first things that drew me to Stephanie’s blog was how strong her marriage seemed to be. They appeared genuinely happy and it stood out to me because my parents divorced when I was barely 3, leaving my mother to raise me alone. In fact, I recognized this pattern of happiness not only in her posts, but her brothers, sisters, parents, and their families. I prayed that I could have a family like hers one day! After seeing a post on her blog, I decided to buy a copy of  “The Family:  A Proclamation to the World” to frame and hang up on my wall.

Another thing I noticed about Stephanie was that although she was burned over 85% of body, she was so grateful to be alive and to be a mom to her 4 children. Her beautiful testimony was a shining example to me;  you never know what may come about in your life, but you must endure to the end.

Finally, I noticed her blog icon that indicated she was of the Mormon faith. Prior to this, my only exposure to the gospel was seeing commercials for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints come on television as a little girl.  One day, I decided to click on the icon that said, ‘Would you like a copy of Nie’s favorite book?‘  I anxiously clicked on it to request a Book of Mormon and patiently waited until May 2010 to receive it. I immediately knew this was The Church I was supposed to join; I felt a witness of this in my heart.

In my desperate search for more information about the church, I would ask random people what they knew. I would get the standard misrepresentation of their beliefs which made me hesitant, but the more I learned, the more I wanted to know. I found much information online and I began watching Mormon message videos on mormon.org and YouTube where Stephanie has her very own Mormon inspiring message (see here). I was even able to watch the messages of the living prophet and apostles at their semi-annual General Conference from home. I also rented a movie about Joseph Smith’s wife (the prophet who restored the gospel to the earth), Emma Smith and I started finding and reading other blogs which inspired me in my quest for truth.

One day, while reading The Book of Mormon, I came upon a vision Joseph Smith (then a 14-year-old farm boy) had after praying to know which church to join. It said:  “I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me….When the light rested upon me I saw two personages, who brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spoke unto me, calling me by name and said, to the other—This is my beloved Son. Hear Him!” ( Joseph Smith—History 1:16-17). My mind immediately went to the story mom my had recounted before her death and I got chills.  I continued reading and by the time I was done with the first chapter, the Holy Ghost had confirmed to me beyond doubt the that the church was true! For the first time even though I had never met these people, I felt like I belonged. My deepest and most sincere prayers were being answered and I began to understand my purpose in life!  I felt that my potential was being reached and I understood why I was here on earth! My life changed as I started to come out of my shell and open up to people. My passions were reignited as I remembered how much I like sewing and crafts. In essence, I found myself and I knew it was all because of Heavenly Father.  I knew I was meant to be a member of the church.

I had become a closet Mormon.  I was converted in my heart and I hadn’t even spoken to a “real” Mormon yet. I wanted to attend church but was painfully shy and didn’t want to go by myself.  I had ordered a really nice set of scriptures online and was getting the Ensign–a magazine published by the church. I even went so far as to purchase a hymn book. Then one day, I found a video on YouTube called “Mormons made simple, what to expect in sacrament meeting.” I watched and prayed for the courage to attend. Finally one morning I just felt that I couldn’t put it off any longer. I had to go! I got up, got ready and headed to church in Boone. To my surprise and relief, I wasn’t nervous. I waited in my car until I saw a woman get out of her car and asked her I could walk in with her. Her name was JoAnne Hicks and she of course said YES! I immediately  felt like I had known her for years even though we had just met. She introduced me to the missionaries and other church members, and explained what was coming up next in church and where to go. She was truly a heaven-sent blessing that day!

“Heart Sewn in Hand”, by Kimberly Darragh Hynd

On August 27, 2011, I was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Although my journey is only beginning, I have learned so much in the short time I have been a member. I am so grateful for the confirmation that there really are beautiful families like Stephanie’s which I hope to one day have for myself. Words cannot express how truly happy I feel, how truly grateful I am to have the gospel, and the joy I feel in being a member of Christ’s restored church. It is a true miracle to have gained such a testimony! I hope that through my experience others can recognize and seek the happiness that I have found.

This is my testimony of the gospel.

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4 Comments

  1. My Mother died Of Pancreatic Cancer , But Told Me The Flowers Are So Beautiful Referring To Heaven. My Sister Died Of A Massive Heart attack And My Older Sister Said That She Would See Her On The Street Walking Home After She Died. My Older Sister Had Her Ashes At Her House. My Father Before He Died Told Us That He Was seeing People Above Him. And That He Was Flying In The Air And For Us To Put Him Back In Bed. They All Died with A Year And A Half Of Each Other. Anna . I Believe 🙂

  2. Jen

    What a truly touching story. My Mom died 32 yrs ago when I was 10 from Aplastic Anemia which was caused by an experimental drug. She was terminal from the time I was 4 until her passing, leaving me to grow up feeling just the way you did. I was lost inside myself and didn’t know what my purpose to be here was either. I found God at an early age and had/have the utmost faith and belief in a Greater Power. Fortunately for me, I have found peace. I love me and take nothing for granted. So glad you now have your new family to support you through the rest of your life. Best of luck and God Bless!

    Jen
    vB’s Member to Remember

  3. Amber

    This is beautifully written Tonya and touching to read of my own Aunt and you! I’m so glad that you have found church and religion you feel you belong in. I love you and miss seeing you. Hope you are well.

  4. Brittany D

    I enjoyed reading this so much Tonnie. Your story is so beautiful and I am so proud of you for stepping out of your comfort zone and finding the strength to do what is best for you. And my heart is so happy to know that you have found where you belong. I love you.

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