From a rare insider’s point of view, Unveiling Grace looks at how Latter-day Saints are “wooing our country” with their religion, lifestyle, and culture. It is also a gripping story of how an entire family, deeply enmeshed in Mormonism, found their way out and what they can tell others about their lives as faithful Mormons.
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By Lynn K. Wilder
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2013 Lynn K. Wilder
All rights reserved.
OUR BELOVED FAITH
I know what happiness is, for I have done good work. —Robert Louis Stevenson
The three of us, dressed up and laughing, raced down the sidewalk and around the corner from our mountain home in Utah to the church building.
"Hurry, we'll be late," Micah called. The organ was playing the prelude for the opening hymn when Katie (fifteen), Micah (eighteen), and I stepped through the foyer, past the couch and the painting of Christ in a red robe, and into the chapel.
My husband, Michael, was sitting behind the podium in his dark suit and tie. He'd been at church since early morning, in meetings related to his responsibilities as one of three members of the bishopric. (This is similar to being an assistant pastor.) I was accustomed to sitting alone with the kids and was proud of Michael for his calling and his commitment to the Mormon Church—also known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the LDS Church.
The opening hymn began as we slid into seats in the back. It was fast-and-testimony Sunday, a once-a-month church ser vice. Members fasted for twenty-four hours prior to the ser vice and then filed up to the podium during the ser vice to bear testimony of their love for the Mormon gospel. (Our son Micah hated to be late on these days, because the only seats left were way in the back. He preferred to sit up front, in ready position to bear his testimony.)
Mormon hymns are not all that rousing compared with, say, the gospel songs of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, but most people in the congregation knew this one by heart. We obediently joined in the singing about Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon faith.
Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah! Jesus anointed that Prophet and Seer. Blessed to open the last dispensation, Kings will extol him and nations revere.
Great is his glory and endless his priesthood. Ever and ever the keys he will hold. Faithful and true, he will enter his kingdom, Crowned in the midst of the prophets of old.
Hail to the Prophet, ascended to heaven! Traitors and tyrants now fight him in vain. Mingling with Gods, he can plan for his brethren; Death cannot conquer the hero again.
When the testimonies began, Micah strode up the long aisle to the front of the plain chapel (we had pews but no cross, windows, or artwork) and up the steps. The bishop gave Mike a you're-doing-a-great-job-as-a-father wink.
Micah leaned down to speak into the microphone.
"I've had a very spiritual week. Every morning this week at 5:00 a.m., my girlfriend and I went to the Mount Timpanogos Temple before school to perform baptisms for the dead. It was so amazing. The Spirit was so strong. Friday night we went to Temple Square to see the movie The Testaments of One Fold and One Shepherd. The Book of Mormon and the Bible are two sticks—two testaments—together in Christ's hand. I couldn't help but cry, because I love my Savior so much." He looked out at the hundreds in the audience. "I want you to know that I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. I know that the Father and the Son appeared to him in the Sacred Grove. I know that Heavenly Father chose him to bring forth the Book of Mormon and to restore the true church of Jesus Christ to the earth in these, the latter days. I can't wait to serve a mission and bring others into the fold. I love my family, and I love each of you. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen."
It was February of 2003, Micah's senior year in high school. He was a year from turning nineteen, when he could follow his two older brothers and serve his long-awaited two-year mission. Micah made this podium pilgrimage monthly to bear witness to the truth of Mormonism. It was something he wanted to do to prepare himself spiritually for his mission. He often wept as he expressed his love for his church and for Christ.
After the seventy-minute church ser vice, several priesthood brethren approached Micah to shake his hand, pound him on the shoulder, and congratulate him for his faith. Katie and I stood by smiling, but we all needed to get moving. We had two more meetings before the three-hour block was over.
Next hour, Mike and I taught the "Strengthening Your Marriage" Sunday school class while the kids went to their Sunday school classes. The third hour, Katie and Micah attended their respective youth organizations—Mia Maids, part of the Young Women organization, and priest's quorum, part of the Young Men organization—of which they both were officers. That hour, Mike presided over the Primary organization (ages birth through eleven), assisting the workers with some rowdy boys. I was a leader in Young Women.
It was another ordinary Sunday.
Wilder family life in Utah was a desert whirlwind of Mormon bliss. My husband of thirty years was busy with his church callings and his home-based business. I loved teaching at Brigham Young University (BYU), which is owned and operated by the Mormon Church. And of course there were our children, whom we adored.
Mike and I had had four children within a nine-year period. Along with our two youngest children, Katie and Micah, we had two other sons: Josh was twenty-three and Matt was twenty. The kids seemed grounded in our religion and content with school, friends, and activities. With the two older boys gone on their missions, I had a hard time getting used to the idea that there were only four of us at home.
Entering the house after church, I imagined seeing our oldest son, tall and dark-haired Josh, looking hungry for Sunday dinner. Before his mission, he'd been a student—a social soul majoring in communications—first at Indiana University and then at the University of Utah, located forty-five minutes to the north of us in Salt Lake. At the U of U, he worked as a manager for Rick Majerus' Utes basketball team. Josh completed three years of college before deciding to serve a mission. Because he was older than many missionaries in his mission, he had an advantage. He was called to serve as a branch president (pastor of a very small Mormon congregation). Currently he was in Russia, soon to be transferred to Belarus, nearing the end of his LDS mission. He planned to finish college at the University of Utah when he returned.
Our second son, tall and Nordic Matt, powerful yet kindhearted, was in Denmark preaching the Mormon gospel to the Danes, where he had some opportunity to write and perform sacred music. Before his mission, Matt had completed his freshman year at BYU, located forty-five minutes to the south of us in Provo, and was contemplating a piano performance major. He spent long hours at the piano every day. Soon after he left on his mission, he was accepted by the College of Fine Arts and Communications. When he was back in the country, he planned to return to BYU with both music and academic scholarships.
Since the boys' missions overlapped, Josh and Matt went almost three years without seeing each other; later Matt and Micah went nearly four years. We did not have a family photo with all of us present from September 2001 until April 2006. But we were proud of our Mormon missionary sons. First Josh, then Matt, and soon Micah—all bearing testimony to the truth of our beloved LDS faith. What could be better?
An Exemplary Mormon Youth
Micah is about six feet three inches tall with an easy magnetic smile, and characteristically tilts his head to his left. With his black, curly hair, he could easily grow a 1970s Afro, but he has always kept his hair conservatively short. He has his dad's Roman nose, my dark eyes and serious ways, and a curiosity that asks probing questions.
Never much of an eater, Micah was leaner than his brothers, a quick athlete who enjoyed basketball, soccer, and track. But mostly his interests tended toward his Mormon faith and the band he and friends had formed. He was an exemplary son who caused us little pain, a kind young man who tried his best to do what his parents and our solid Mormon faith expected of him. His faith in the Mormon Church was the center of his life. Ours too.
When Micah was in high school, we lived a mile high in an area of Utah that had the highest percentage of active Mormons in the world. At the time, I was so proud of Micah and the choices he made; just thinking about him made me grin.
This was a typical conversation between Micah and me his senior year:
Me: "Hi. You were up early again."
Micah: "Yeah, Leash [Alicia, his girlfriend] and I went to the temple again to do baptisms for the dead before school. I really like her, Mom. She's strong in the church, like me."
Me: "Alicia's a very spiritual young woman with a good head on her shoulders, Micah. You hungry?"
Micah: "no, I'm good. Mom, do you think when I'm a missionary, I'll convert a lot of people to the church?"
He wanted to be "good" and to do what would please Heavenly Father, as Mormons call him.
Me: "I'm sure you will be a great missionary, Micah. Your heart is in the right place."
Micah: "Is there anything I can do for you, Mom? Do you need me to run to the store or something?"
Now, what mother would not love this?
Me: "Well, you could go pick up Katie from dance lessons."
Micah: "no problem."
And out the door he went. He jumped into his dad's red Mitsubishi 3000GT twin turbo, the one Micah kept spit-shined, and rolled past our manicured lawn, the one he mowed in perfect golf course stripes. Even though the car's engine thundered with 320 horses, Micah always drove a little like an old lady. I liked that about him too.
Micah was eager to convert the corner of the world to which the living Mormon prophet would send him on his mission. He was ready to serve as a representative of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was exciting for the entire family to imagine where he might go.
Preparing for a Mission
On his eighteenth birthday, a week prior to the ordinary fast-and-testimony Sunday, Micah met with his Mormon bishop (pastor) in our church building, whose parking lot was across the grapevine-laden fence from our home, to design a plan to prepare himself during the ensuing year to be an effective missionary. The plan suggested he get up at 6:00 a.m., read his Mormon scriptures in the early morning, and practice throughout the day doing all the good deeds he had been taught by the Mormon Church and his parents over the years. Micah decided to add to this list that he would bear his testimony once a month every fast-and-testimony Sunday. He executed his plan as faithfully as an eighteen-year-old young man could. All he could think about was his mission. All he talked about was his mission.
After high school graduation, he worked a construction job. Then in the fall of 2003, he began his first semester as a physics major at Brigham Young University. In LDS culture, parents expect their sons to obtain at least a four-year degree after their mission, and Micah intended to follow suit. But he could barely concentrate on his studies. By late October, he had submitted his mission papers.
One morning, about the time Micah got up, the post office called to tell us that the 8 ½ x 11 white envelope with Micah's mission call from the first presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had arrived and that we did not have to wait for the postman to deliver it. The close Mormon community was delightfully friendly. We could pick the envelope up, which we did, before the sun rose.
In front of the gas fireplace in the living room, Michael, Katie, and I pulled up chairs around Micah as he sat alone on the living room couch, wide-eyed, eagerly fingering the envelope. The anticipation was brutal. Open it! The Mormon prophet had heard from Heavenly Father, and Micah's mission call (see the glossary for the Mormon meanings of religious words) was to Mexico City. Wow.
I immediately put his revered call in a picture frame and nailed it to his bedroom wall. Missionary sons in Russia, Denmark, and now Mexico! It was something to be proud of. In Mormon culture, it was whispered that the worthiest missionaries received international assignments.
Before he could serve as a missionary, Micah was required to attend the temple proper for the first time. He'd been attending the basement of the temple since the age of twelve to do baptisms for the dead; now he could finally go upstairs to receive his washings and anointings and his endowment.
In November 2003, the Mount Timpanogos Temple, close to our home, was closed for the annual cleaning, so Micah chose to receive his ordinances in the historic Salt Lake Temple. Since Mike and I held temple recommends (which meant our church leaders deemed us worthy to enter), we showed our recommend cards to the couple standing as sentinels at the entrance, then accompanied our son inside.
First, the men went to the initiatory so Micah could receive his washings and anointings. Both Michael and Micah were washed symbolically with water, anointed with oil, and dressed in the garment of the holy priesthood. Once Micah received his garments, he was given a new name to be used later in the endowment, and the men met me in the hallway. We proceeded to a small chapel to await the endowment ceremony in a room down the hall, where we were instructed, with approximately thirty people, in what we needed to know to live with Heavenly Father in the next life. We entered into six specific covenants and then imitated passing through the veil to enter the Lord's presence at the end of this life. The three of us felt greatly blessed and emotionally weakened by this three-hour experience in the temple.
Soon afterward Micah earned the privilege of becoming the youngest full-time temple worker in the modern age of the Mormon Church. We lived no more than fifteen minutes from the Mount Timpanogos Temple, located at the base of the majestic Timpanogos Mountain, and he wanted to serve as a full-time temple worker in the two months before his mission began. This was unheard of. I admit we were somewhat disappointed he had chosen not to get a paying job to contribute financially toward his mission but instead to work in a Mormon temple gratis, assisting attendees with carrying out the saving ordinances for people who were already dead, a righteous act to convert the dead to Mormonism. But that was Micah. How could we object to such honorable desires to serve the Mormon Lord?
The Torture Room
When the treasured moment—on February 10, 2004—finally arrived, everyone in the family dressed in their Sunday best and accompanied Micah to the Missionary Training Center (MTC) on the campus of BYU. The LDS Church is very organized. We had to park in a certain spot, enter through a certain door, and stay in a certain foyer while Micah checked in and took his luggage down the hall to a designated room. He seemed a bit tense but was raring to go.
Families and future missionaries were ushered into a large convention-like hall—the torture room, my husband called it. This was our third experience in the same room being ripped from a son with whom we would have very limited contact for the next two years. Essentially, we were giving up our parental rights to Micah's mission president. After we all watched a video about being called to serve a mission, heard two brief talks by MTC leaders, and sang a couple of LDS hymns, Micah said his goodbyes to his father and me individually.
He held my shoulders, pierced me with his eyes, and told me he loved me but was excited to begin his mission. I didn't know what to say. He hugged and kissed me one last time, then embraced his cherished younger sister and his dad. Then he turned to exit the door for missionaries, which was opposite the door for families. As he reached the door, he spun and gave us a two-fingered salute. It was more than I could bear. While my husband stood in shock, I bawled silently. We exited the family door in emotional agony. The torture room had lived up to its name once again.
Micah was called to a leadership position in the MTC, his letters to us said. Since he was headed to Mexico City to proselytize, he was scheduled to spend about six weeks at the MTC learning how to teach the basics of the Mormon gospel in Spanish. From his letters home, he sounded exhilarated.
Excerpted from Unveiling Grace by Lynn K. Wilder. Copyright © 2013 Lynn K. Wilder. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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Table of Contents
Part One MORMON BLISS....................
1. OUR BELOVED FAITH.................... 15
2. GROWING UP CHRIS TIAN.................... 27
3. MORMONS COME CALLING.................... 37
4. FOREVER FAMILY.................... 51
5. THE PERFECT MORMON LIFE.................... 63
6. A WORKING MORMON MOTHER?.................... 77
7. MOVING TO GOD'S COUNTRY.................... 93
8. BYU BLUE IN HAPPY VALLEY.................... 103
Part Two CRACKS IN THE FACADE....................
9. TEACHING DIVERSITY IN A WHITE-BREAD LAND.................... 119
10. SOMETHING IS ROTTEN IN THE STATE OF DESERET.................... 133
11. "THINGS WILL NEVER BE NORMAL AGAIN".................... 149
12. HOME SWEET HORROR.................... 163
13. "JUST READ THE NEW TESTAMENT".................... 179
14. THE POINT OF NO RETURN.................... 193
Part Three STARTING OVER....................
15. THE EXTRICATION.................... 211
16. BIGGIE-SIZE YOUR GOD.................... 229
17. GOD PROVIDES.................... 247
18. BREAKING THE PHARISEE.................... 265
19. A LOT TO GIVE UP.................... 283
20. BINDING AND HEALING.................... 299
21. UNVEILING GRACE.................... 313
Appendix 1: CHRIS TIAN MINISTRIES WITH INFORMATION ON MORMONISM............ 337
Appendix 2: QUICK DOCTRINAL COMPARISON OF MORMONISM AND THE BIBLE.......... 341