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Tomorrow marks my 40th year that I will have been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints . Wow.  That’s big.

I joined the church when I was still in high school. I had to write a paper to practice writing for college and I chose to write it on the “Mormons.”  Little did I know how writing that paper would be a life altering decision for me and one that I have never regretted. I was 17 when I learned about the Church and in order to join, I needed my father’s permission. He was very reluctant to give it to me, so since he had to sign to give his permission to allow me to be baptized, he made me take “dictation” telling me to write down that I would hold him totally blameless for any mistake I made joining the Mormon Church. He then made me sign it, and then he signed my card… I have never looked back.

I grew up in a home where we were well taken care of, but my parents did not get along and there was a lot of tension. My mother was an alcoholic which contributed to many problems in her life. After years of difficulty, they finally decided to get divorced. My older brother and sister were in boarding school at the time, but my younger sister and I were still at home. When my parents separated, my little sister was sent to live with my mother, and I went to live with my father’s brother, Uncle Ben. He had 11 children living at home so what was one more?

I remember very little about those days and eventually I too was sent to boarding school.  I went in 8th grade and the school was in the countryside of Massachusetts. I remember that there were soaring pine trees and lots of fresh air. If there were any tensions, they were mostly between the students. I was relieved to be away from the rancor at home and remember that I expressed that relief by being outside by myself in my free time.

I never really did well in school and my father often compared me to my brother and sisters, who did much better.  It was discovered that I could sing well and I was encouraged to take voice lessons. I eventually had a teacher from the New England Conservatory of Music, but because of a lack of support and encouragement, I never fully developed that talent.

I found out about the Mormon Church in my junior year of high school. My teacher said the paper was good, but to make it better, I should have the missionaries come and talk to them about the Church.  They gave me the introductory lessons, but I chose not to join at the time. I finished my paper and got an “A” on it. When I got home to Rhode Island that summer, I had the missionaries over to give me the lessons again.  This time, I was invited to join with the youth group and be a part of their activities and also a part of their families. It was there, in those homes where I could finally breathe a sigh of relief. I saw and felt things in those homes which were totally foreign to me.  Parents were involved and interested in their children. I saw a commitment to work together to make a marriage work and do all that could be done to work as a family.  Of course, in my young mind, I didn’t know these things, but I could see them and feel them, so when the missionaries asked me to be baptized, I said “yes!”

The Church and its people became the example of goodness that I learned to follow.  I attended all the meetings and learned all I could, but the things I learned in the 17 years prior to that from my nuclear family were very hard to unlearn, and I made a lot of mistakes. I have remained faithful through all of it and because of the Grace of God, I have learned that life is a growth process.  I am a better person for all I have learned in these 40 years.  The only regrets I have are because of some of the choices I have made; but even in my darkest moments, I have stayed true to my commitment.

It would take a book to say all that I have learned from my membership in the Church, but the one I will pay tribute to is the Relief Society.  This is the largest and oldest women’s group made up of sisters from many countries around the world .  It has been through the education I have received from this program, that I have learned everything about being a woman, a wife and a mother.  Relief Society has brought purpose and meaning to my life.  With my mother an alcoholic most of my growing up years, I learned next to nothing about my role as a woman.  Therefore, in Relief Society, I soaked up everything: spiritual learning, social learning, motherhood ideas, homemaking ideas, sewing, cooking, quilting…all of it.  I watched from a distance and made mental notes of the things I saw the women doing. I learned about my divine worth and destiny, integrity, hard work, learning, righteous living, service to others, and the joy of womanhood.

Now, lest you think I captured all of this in my first few years of membership and led a perfect life right from the beginning, nothing could be further from the truth.  I had been greatly affected by my parent’s choices.  The wonderful traits that I have listed did not come naturally or easily for me.  In the Book of Mormon, there is a scripture that says:

For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have. Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 28:30.

This is precisely how learning came to me: very slowly, imperceptibly and with much trial and error.  And that is the way life is, it is a slow learning experience which is influenced by our choices and our surroundings. Nevertheless the goal remains the same: strive towards returning home to the God who made you…thus, step by step, I have learned to live better each day from the day before.