Back in the Saturday morning session of General Conference, Sister Ann Dibb gave a talk that some of you might remember. She told a story of a time that she went shopping at her local grocery store. While she was waiting in line, ahead of her stood a confident, happy young woman wearing a T-shirt that read, “I’m a Mormon. Are you?” Sister Dibb said she admired the young woman’s confidence and conviction, and wondered how the young woman came to possess such confidence in her identity as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Sister Dibb then said, “I couldn’t help but wonder what meaningful phrase I would figuratively choose to have printed on my t-shirt reflecting my belief and testimony. In my mind, I considered many possible sayings. Eventually, I came upon an ideal statement I would proudly wear: ‘I’m a Mormon. I know it. I live it. I love it.’“
Rereading this and considering my talk for today, I thought to myself, “If I were to choose a phrase for my t-shirt, what would I choose?” and I came up with this, “I’m a Mormon. I don’t have sister wives. I don’t have horns. But I do have a Savior, and a really good book.”
I chose this phrase for a few reasons: first, I am a Mormon. Second, it gets the most common misconceptions about members of the church out of the way immediately. Third, it testifies that I have a Savior, whom I love and am grateful for every day. And it states that I have a really good book, The Book of Mormon, that I know has the power to better people and change lives.
I am not afraid to bear testimony of the Savior and of the Book of Mormon to anyone. 400ish all at once is a little more intimidating, but here I am.
When Brother Labrum gave me the topic for my talk he invited me to share how my testimony has been strengthened, when it had been questioned, how my testimony has grown in preparing to serve a mission, and how I made the decision to serve a mission.
Looking back on my life, I can remember several occasions where my testimony has been strengthened, the earliest memories coming from primary. I remember one day in my 10 or 11 year old class, we had a substitute teacher. The lesson began normally with a prayer and the instructions to “sit down and be quiet” but after that it was a very memorable lesson, and if you know Joe Belnap, you know that memorable is actually pretty normal for him. He asked all of us if we would believe that he had a ten dollar bill in his pocket. Immediately, all of us said “yes”. It was an easy enough thing to believe in. Then he asked us if we would believe that he had a million dollar bill in his pocket. Of course, we all said “no”. He then proceeded to teach us a lesson on faith. He taught us that we don’t always have to see things to believe they are true, and sometimes the most believable things are false. Joe then pulled everything out of his pockets, phone, keys, and a million dollar bill. I remember going home from that lesson thinking that my faith and my testimony, while seemingly impossible to others who don’t have the blessing of the gospel, like that million dollar bill, was very real to me.
Then I grew up a little, and moved into young women’s where I was taught by so many inspiring women. Each of them contributed to my testimony in their own way, by example, lessons, music, girl’s camp, firesides, but mostly by being my friend. When I was struggling and at my lowest in young women’s and in the church, one leader in particular stepped up and made me feel loved, respected, and helped me to renew my testimony of the church and of the Book of Mormon. I was in 9th grade, and had been having a really hard time dealing with the accidental death of someone I felt very close to. I was upset and was questioning why Heavenly Father would let someone so good pass away, and I began to doubt a lot of things. My testimony was wavering and I was slipping. But my Mia Maid’s advisor in the 33rd ward helped me back up. She saw that I was struggling and stopped to listen. Her advice to me went something like this, “Heather, go home, read the Book of Mormon.” I followed her counsel. To quote Ezra Taft Benson, “There is a power in the book which will begin to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the book (A Witness and a Warning, pp. 21-22).” With serious study of the Book of Mormon my testimony of it and of Jesus Christ was solidified. Thanks to a leader and a friend, I know without a doubt that the Book of Mormon is true.
I also know that Jesus Christ lives, that He is the Son of God, and that He carried out the Infinite Atonement. There have been times in my life when my values were questioned, or I’ve been picked on by others or have just felt alone. I know that that Jesus Christ has felt exactly what I have felt. I know that He knows how it feels to be hated, criticized, and mocked. Speaking of how the Pharisees viewed Christ, Spencer W. Kimball said,
“His every word was criticized; he was accused of being a deceiver, a glutton, a winebibber, a common person associating with publicans and sinners. They called Him a Sabbath breaker, a usurper of authority, a tax evader. They charged Him with heresy and sedition. He was said to be and ignoramus, a blasphemer, and was accused of being born of fornication” (Elder Spencer W. Kimball, Conference Report, April 1946, p. 44-45).
Sometimes it is easy to forget that Jesus did not live a life free from suffering until he was in the Garden of Gethsemane. No man descended lower than the Savior of the World. And because He led a life of suffering, He understands our suffering. One of my favorite quotes comes from Chieko N. Okazaki’s book “Lighten Up!” It reads,
“We know that on some level Jesus experienced the totality of mortal existence in Gethsemane. It’s our faith that He experienced everything – absolutely everything. Sometimes we don’t think through the implications of that belief. We talk in great generalities about the sins of all mankind, about the suffering of the entire human family. But we don’t experience pain in generalities. We experience it individually. That means that He knows what it felt like when your mother died of cancer – how it was for her, how it still is for you. He knows what it felt like to lose the student body election. He knows that moment when the brakes locked and the car started to skid. He experienced the slave ship sailing from Ghana toward Virginia. He experienced the gas chambers at Dachau. He experienced napalm in Vietnam. He knows about drug addiction and alcoholism… He’s not waiting for us to be perfect. Perfect people don’t need a Savior. He came to save His people in their imperfections. He is the Lord of the living, and the living make mistakes. He’s not embarrassed by us, angry at us, or shocked. He wants us in our brokenness, in our unhappiness, in our guilt and our grief” (Chieko N. Okazaki, Lighten Up!, p. 174, 176).
I know that the Savior knows exactly how I felt in my darkest moments, and I know that He is willing to lift me up and save me in my imperfection. And I know that the Atonement is a vital part of the Plan of Salvation.
When I was at girls camp my last year in young women’s, I was the oldest girl there and therefore, I took it upon myself to be the leader and example to the younger girls. So one day at camp we were gathered together by the leaders for an activity that none of us knew about. We were instructed to sit down at a table and go around and each share a favorite scripture, and one at a time, the leaders began taking each of us up a short trail on the mountain. Slowly girls were leaving our group, and quickly we ran out of scriptures to be shared. I remember scrambling to keep the scripture thing going, I probably shared ten scriptures that day, and Sarah Crandall did as well. We went back and forth for a while, trying so hard to keep the girls focused on the scriptures. We got down to about twelve girls left and I got the idea to sing some hymns, so all twelve of us began singing “I Know That My Redeemer Lives”. I will never forget feeling the spirit that strongly. We continued to sing hymns until it was just Sarah Crandall and myself left at the bottom of the hill. When they came to take her, we hugged and parted, not knowing what would happen on this adventure the leaders were taking us on. She left and I had a minute to pray and thank Heavenly Father for the spiritual experience I was having.
The leaders then came down the mountain, blindfolded me, and then led me up the mountain with me holding onto a rope representing the iron rod. One of the leaders represented the Holy Ghost and the other was representing the temptations of the devil trying to get me to let go or take a wrong step. And at the end of the rope, I took off my blindfold and saw all of the other girls and a tree covered in gold wrapped gifts, representing the tree of life.
This experience was meant to teach us about holding fast to the iron rod. But I learned a different lesson. From the beginning of the experience when we had all sat down at the table until the moment the leaders came to bring me up the mountain, I had had a most spiritual experience. That day, I felt my testimony of the Holy Ghost grow, because I learned to recognize the spirit. That was the first time I remember recognizing immediately that what I was feeling was the comfort of the Holy Ghost.
Two years ago, even though I had a testimony of Christ and I knew the Book of Mormon was true, I had absolutely no desire to serve a mission. When I was little I would often follow my brother Garrett around wherever he went and would copy whatever he did, but I never imagined that I would one day follow him right out into the mission field! My desire to serve came after I spent about 4 months last year watching and helping a very close friend prepare for her mission. I during those 4 months, I gradually began to want to go on a mission, and after lots of prayer I came to the realization that I wanted nothing but to serve a mission. The only problem was, I had just barely turned 19. I struggled with the idea of waiting two more years to go, and so I prayed for patience, and for experiences that would help me to prepare for my mission. My prayers were answered without me even realizing it. I was blessed with so many experiences and opportunities that I am sure will help me at some point, whether in the mission field or life after the mission.
Some of those experiences include: walking around Cabo San Lucas, Mexico alone and unable to understand most of what is being said to me; navigating airports on my own, and on a separate occasion, with three bags while pushing a wheelchair. Then in July, I spent a long time praying about what to do with myself. I didn’t know what to do, mostly pertaining to my education. I didn’t know what degree I wanted to get and I was praying for guidance to know what would be a good fit and the right path for me. And one night while on my knees I got a very strong feeling that going to school in the fall was not the right thing to do. So I deferred my enrollment for a year, and began job hunting. I applied at many places and waited for something to open up, but nothing really came. I started to get this nagging thought that I needed to get a passport. I found an excuse for my mom to help me get one and so we went and got it done. So in September, my passport arrived at my house and I had nowhere to go with it. Then in October, my life suddenly had a direction.
During the Saturday morning session of General Conference, I was working as an assistant debate coach at a debate tournament. It was the first one of the season and I was enjoying judging and getting to know my debaters. Everything was going great and I had a little break around 10 am to sit in the coach/judges room and chat with my dad, who was kind enough to be one of my judges. After a few minutes I walked over to help a coach with something and as I was walking back to the table I had been sitting at, my dad stood up, came over, and shoved his cell phone into my face. I read the tiny screen, showing a text message that said that the age requirement for missionaries had changed. It said that men can leave at age 18 and women at age 19. My first response was to ask him, “Are you serious?” His only reply, “Look who it’s from.” I read my mom’s name at the bottom of the screen and burst into tears.
President Monson's announcement made me happier than I have ever been. The Spirit confirming to me that I should serve immediately was so strong. Later when I watched the recording, I felt like the change had been made for me. Of course, so did most of the 18 and 19 year old girls at BYU.
As I reflected on the months since I had decided I wanted to serve a mission, I realized that I had been
gradually preparing to serve without knowing that I was being prepared to do so. That alone has strengthened my testimony in Heavenly Father’s love for me; and in His plan for me.
I would like to share with any of you who are struggling with your testimony, a bit of what a wise woman once wrote to me. She said, “If you ever have a question… Remember that a 14 year old boy… turned to the Lord when he had a question. If you ever feel alone… Remember that Heavenly Father and the Savior love you. The Savior loves you so much that He was willing to come to Earth to show you the way home and in the process, He gave His life for you. If you ever need to feel the Spirit… Remember to open your scriptures. If you ever need to know who to follow… Remember to follow the prophet. The prophet will never lead us astray and will always tell us to do things that bring us happiness and lead us to our Heavenly Home. May you ever be converted unto Christ and keep Him at the center of your life” (A letter to me from Hilary Weeks).
In True to the Faith, a testimony is defined as “a spiritual witness given by the Holy Ghost. The foundation of a testimony is the knowledge that Heavenly Father lives and loves us; that Jesus Christ lives, that He is the Son of God, and that He carried out the Infinite Atonement; that Joseph Smith is the prophet of God who was called to restore the gospel, that we are led by a living prophet today; and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Savior’s true Church on the earth. With this foundation, a testimony grows to include all principles of the gospel.”
My testimony has been shaped by so many wonderful and also trying experiences over my life. I have gained knowledge about the gospel through experience, study, and by revelation.
I know this Church is true. I know that the Book of Mormon is a true testament of Jesus Christ. I know that Thomas S. Monson is a true prophet on the earth today. I know that Jesus Christ lived and died for us, and that he knows and loves each and every one of us. I know that Heavenly Father knows me, loves me, and knows where I can best serve Him. And I am excited to go serve the people of El Salvador and Belize.
At the beginning of my talk, I told you what my figurative t-shirt would say, and I still stand by that, but, during the next year and a half, I am excited for my shirt to literally say in bold letters on a black badge, “Hermana Shoop; La Iglesia de JesuChristo de los Santos de los Ultimos Dias”.
I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.