Tracy’s Testimony

Ex-Mormon Testimonies
Personal stories told by real people on why they left the Mormon church

     TRACY    Visit her website


     I grew up in a wonderful home—an only child until age ten; raised lovingly by my mother, aunt, and maternal grandparents. I was precocious, spoiled, and curious about the world around me. My mother had me baptized in a Methodist Church when I was four, but we only attended for a couple of months. My mother, aunt, and grandparents provided for my every need and taught me the values of integrity and respect for authority. Because I had very little formal religious training, I was left to my own devices on how to find spiritual truth.

     Intrinsically I knew there was a God and that He was All-Powerful. I believed He could do anything. When a beloved pet would die, be it a turtle, lizard, parakeet, chicken, or duck, I would run to my room, drop to my knees, and pray to God that He would keep them safe and let me see them again in Heaven. Only twice did I briefly worry that there was no God; the first time was at age eight when my mother confessed that Santa Claus was a hoax (if grown-ups lied about Santa were they lying about God too?); and the second time at age thirty-nine when leaving the Mormon Church.

     God was a little scary to me. My mother had bought me a book of Bible stories with pencil-sketched drawings in it. The drawing of the Flood showed terrified naked people crawling over each other to escape the rising waters. One story told about a sick boy in the hospital who saw Jesus by his bedside before dying. The couple of times I had been to a Catholic Church, I saw the figure of a bruised, broken, and bloody Jesus hanging on a cross. Frankly, as a child with no formal religious background, those pictures and stories frightened me.

     My family was typical of most. They enjoyed an occasional beer and now and then let a swear word fly. My mother enjoyed smoking. I was taught that pre-marital sex was okay as long as you loved the person. I had no desire to do those things and consequently, I felt different from others. Those feelings were even more pronounced after my mother re-married when I was nine.

     My mother and grandparents carefully and conscientiously sheltered me from the social chaos of the sixties and early seventies. I only became aware of the Vietnam War when I entered junior high school in 1972. Bumper stickers were as abundant as hip-huggers and bell-bottoms. Almost every locker had one plastered on the front reading “Bring Home our P.O.W.’S” or “God Bless the M.I.A.s.” About that time my best friend began asking me to attend the Mormon Church with her. Every Wednesday Liz would invite me to a mysterious meeting called “M.I.A.” (Mutual Improvement Association). I asked her what the acronym stood for and she didn’t know. The only thing I knew was that M.I.A. meant Missing In Action. I wasn’t about to go to some strange church meeting and never return home! Eventually though, common sense won out, and when Liz invited me to a square dance at her church, my love for dancing prompted me to accept the invitation. It was incredible! I felt like I was coming home! The people were warm and friendly; the kids my age were accepting and not driven by worldliness. Here were people – LOTS of them – who were just like me! I finally felt like I fit in.

     When I got home the night of the dance I excitedly told my mother that I wanted to get baptized. She wisely advised me to wait until I knew more about the church. Disappointed, I answered that all I wanted for my fourteenth birthday was to be baptized a Mormon. Immediately I jumped into full church activity with my whole heart and soul, becoming the darling of the Canoga Park Second Ward. During the following four months I asked just about every adult in the ward who would listen all about the “gospel.” By the time my birthday approached I was just a “dry Mormon.” The bishop informed me I was required to take the formal missionary discussions. The Stake changed their whole baptism schedule so that I could be baptized on my birthday. It meant a lot to me to be “spiritually re-born” on the day I celebrated my physical birth.

     While the missionaries, Elder Peterson and Elder Backsendale, taught me the basics of LDS doctrine, I kept plying them with meatier questions; “When is the Second Coming?” “How can I get my ‘Calling and Election made sure’?” “What is the ‘white stone’ we’re given in the next life?” Much to my dismay they insisted on sticking to the official lessons and stated that they really weren’t supposed to be teaching me deeper doctrines; they said I needed milk before meat.

     My baptism was held on the sunny Saturday afternoon of my fourteenth birthday. There were about 40 people in attendance to see nine of us getting baptized; four “children of record” and five converts. When the group began to sing the LDS hymn The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning, the air became electrified to me. It sounded like angels had joined in the chorus to celebrate the occasion.

     As a True Blue Latter-day Saint I began to have longings to join the bulk of church membership in “Zion” along the Wasatch Front. Specifically I longed to live in Provo. It had been nicknamed Happy Valley Utah. “Provo” _ the name was music to my ears _ I remember a young man in my California ward being called to serve a mission in Provo, Utah. The whole congregation burst out laughing when the call was read over the pulpit. It took several minutes for the bishop to get everyone under control. We all “knew” that the only people living in Utah were the Saints! Who was this poor boy going proselyte? Farm animals?

     My dreams of Utah, meeting Donny Osmond, and living happily ever after were about to come to fruition. Or so I thought. My family had grown weary of smog, crime, and traffic congestion, so in August of 1975 my grandparents and parents put their houses up for sale and by the end of September I was living in Zion! I began attending Provo High School and set about to make friends. I learned there was a difference between Utah Mormons and “mission field” Mormons. Instead of finding everyone excited about “living the gospel,” it seemed to me that many Utah Mormons were complacent about their faith.

     My ward was great though. Of course, my perceptions may have been colored by the fact that I attended the same ward as the Osmond family. Every Sunday was a thrill, especially sitting as close to the front as possible hoping to catch the eye of Donny as he sat at the Sacrament table. Once in a while I would be rewarded by his captivating smile. Gathering up all the courage I could muster, I even invited Donny to a “Girl’s Choice” dance. To my surprise he smiled and said yes! Unfortunately, he had to break the “date” because of a concert. It also broke my heart. Another chance to go out with him never arose, as Donny was often on tour with his family. The opportunity for him to fall in love with me didn’t arise so I decided I’d have to settle for a mere ordinary man. I met the returned missionary (eight years my senior) who would later become my husband (a couple of his younger brothers were friends of mine in high school).  

     Having ambitions to become rich and famous recording artists, Scott and I moved to Las Vegas two years after meeting. I also had the ulterior motive of getting Scott out of the clutches of “the other woman.” I was 15 and Scott was 23 when we met. The following four years were emotionally turbulent ones. About the same time Scott began dating me, he also began dating a young woman named Becky, who closer to his age. Neither of us unsuspecting girls knew about the other until we were both head-over-heels in love. As you can imagine, two marriage-hungry females fighting for the same guy made life miserable and painful for four long years while Scott made up his mind which one of us he wanted to spend eternity with. He was afraid of making the wrong choice. He reasoned that if he said yes to one girl, he was theoretically turning down a million others. Scott had grown up being taught that the most important decision a person could make was choosing an eternal companion. Becky and I both left Scott within a week of each other, but I came back (yes, I know—I’m a glutton for punishment). Scott and I were married in our Bishop’s home shortly after I turned nineteen.

     We strove diligently the first year we were married to prepare for getting sealed in the temple. I kept praying that neither one of us would die before we got to the temple, lest we spend an eternity apart from each other. I wanted to be righteous enough to be an eternal family and daily lived so as to be worthy of the blessings of the temple. My husband and in-laws had forewarned me that the endowment session was somewhat unusual and that some people feel uncomfortable the first time through. Scott had taken out his own endowments before his mission and told me as much about the ceremony as he could without violating the sacred oaths of secrecy he had made. I felt prepared and excited to finally be going to the temple.

     The much-anticipated time arrived. I took out my endowments in the Salt Lake Temple so that I could go through a “live” session (with actors instead of the movie) and the next day we were sealed for eternity in the Provo Temple. Even though I anticipated some unusual things about the ceremony, I was troubled by the blood oaths (we covenanted to suffer our lives to be taken in gruesome ways rather than reveal the signs and tokens) and wondered why we needed to learn special signs and tokens to pass by the angels to get into the Celestial Kingdom. Did that mean that if an outsider found out what these signs and tokens were that he could sneak into heaven? Would an Omniscient God really need these signs and our “new name” in order to recognize us? Why did all the women (and all the men) get the same name on any given day—I thought each person would be given a special and unique name. Why would our eternal destination be altered if we revealed to others what went on inside the temple? The thought certainly carried an element of fear with it. We set those questions aside and forged ahead to rear a righteous family.

     Over the following twenty years of our marriage, Scott and I were fully immersed in church service, sometimes holding up to five callings at a time. It was a challenge, but we were glad to serve and felt honored and humbled that the Lord found us worthy to contribute in various capacities. Besides regular temple attendance (traveling two hours each way until a temple was built locally), I served in the children’s Primary for over seven years, was involved in the Cub-Scouting program, belonged to the ward choir and a local LDS community choir, sang special numbers for Sacrament Meetings, assisted in the library, led the music in Relief Society, was ward music chairman, taught in Relief Society for six years and served as Relief Society President my last year in the church. My husband held a variety of callings; playing the organ or piano for meetings, leading the choir, serving as a ward financial clerk and as a counselor in the Elder ’ s Quorum Presidency, as well as teaching in the Primary and the High Priest group.

     Our experience as members of the church was very positive and we enjoyed the fellowship we had with other members. I took church membership and the gospel seriously, raising our children to walk uprightly before the Lord as best as I could. I had six children by the time I was a twenty-nine and nine children by age thirty-eight. We had decided when we got married that we would not limit the size of our family for personal or selfish reasons and that as long as my health was good, we would welcome all the “spirit children” of our Heavenly Father and Mother that He wanted to send to our home. At times Scott worked two jobs so that I could be a full-time mother as the church’s prophets taught that good Latter-day Saint women should be. I practiced honing my skills as a homemaker by sewing a lot of my older children ’ s clothing, baking bread, and making crafts. I became diligent in preparing for the End Times by trying to live frugally, learning to can and dry fruits and vegetables, taking first aid classes, and familiarizing myself with prophecies in scripture and by church leaders. My few attempts at canning were somewhat disastrous, but at least I learned how to do it. For example, one time I took two of my young sons with me to shop for a canning pot. As we were driving, Jeff accidentally released pepper spray from my self-defense canister. Fumes quickly filled the car and….that’s a story best left for another time. But I will tell you that our painful excursion resulted in our returning home with two finches from the pet store, along with a big pot for canning. No, not for canning finches.

     My daily life and thoughts revolved around the church. Although the truth of Mormonism was never supernaturally manifested to me by an overwhelming “burning in the bosom,” I believed the church was true. One of my “gifts” seemed to be believing on the testimony of others, which I did wholeheartedly. I figured that was my test in life; to “know” without really knowing. As a matter of fact, the closest I ever got to a “burning in the bosom” was when leaning over a hot stove! Some of my friends told me of visions, dreams, voices, and even seeing the spirits of the deceased in the temple. I was disappointed because I didn’t get to see dead people’s spirits or have extraordinary supernatural manifestations. I often wondered what was wrong with me. Despite the lack of frequent spiritual phenomena in my life, I frequently bore my testimony in “Fast & Testimony meetings” and in private to my children. I *knew* the church was true because it seemed right and felt right.

     Life was a struggle handling the challenges of raising a large family, home-schooling, and trying to be the best Latter-day Saint I could. I had ambivalent feeling about putting our children public school; there were advantages and disadvantages. I prayed and researched and prayed some more until the Spirit finally “prompted” me to home school them. Looking back, I see I was not equipped for the task, but I was prepared to do whatever the Lord asked of me. Financial difficulties attended us through the years as we committed to my being a fulltime wife and mother. This, among other things, took a toll on our marriage. Scott was much more easy-going than I was, living by the motto popularized in the song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” With Scott coming from a family of sixteen children and me being an only child, our views on child-rearing were quite different. One of the things we didn’t quite see eye-to-eye on was how much emphasis we should put on growing “testimonies of the church” in our kids. I had a real concern about the warnings from Church leaders that if we were not diligent in teaching our children LDS doctrine and grounding them in it, they would be more apt to “go astray” through either peer pressure or the challenges of life.

     After the first few years of marriage, I noticed that Scott rarely got up to bear his testimony in church. He started a night job and began listening to a Christian radio station while he worked. Everyday Walter Martin in his role as the “Bible Answer Man” would come on. Often this program would revolve around the Mormon Church and other religions considered cults by mainstream Christians. From what Scott told me several times a week, Dr. Martin would spew all kinds of vitriolic blasphemy from his mouth about the LDS church, The LORD’S Church. I couldn’t stand the guy – this misinformed heathen. “Just wait till he gets to the other side,” I would tell Scott, ” boy, will he be shocked and embarrassed when he finds out he was wrong all these years! Boy will he be kicking himself when he ends up in the lowest kingdom!”

     One day while Scott was on a “pokey-stick” walk (that’s “dumpster-diving” for you uninitiated folk), he found the book entitled, By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus by Charles M. Larsen. Scott began reading it and reported to me what he was discovering. It appeared as though Joseph Smith had mistranslated a pagan funeral document by turning it into what is now one of the Mormon Church’s volumes of scripture. I was really shaken up by the information. I remember driving to get groceries one evening and sitting in the car crying over what it meant. Could it be possible that the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price was a fraud? How could the prophet have gotten things so wrong? What if he wasn’t really a prophet? That would mean that the church was not true! The concept was too deep to fathom. There must be a logical reason for the seeming error; maybe it was a test of our faith. Maybe Satan was just trying to discredit God’s work. After several days of feeling shaken up over what Scott had learned, and reminding myself of what leaders have said—that if there is a problem, it lies within the individual and not the Church, I told Scott that I didn’t know how to explain Joseph’s botching up the Book of Abraham, but deep inside I knew the church was true and we just had to press on in faith.

     It began to grate on me that Scott wouldn’t get up in church to bear his testimony. He also never really talked about his mission. His 2-year mission for the church was a real eye-opener for him. There were lots of politics and brown-nosing in his particular mission and it disillusioned him greatly. I wanted our sons to go on missions of their own and felt that they needed their father’s example and encouragement. How could I help them develop strong testimonies of the church when their own father would not express his own? Scott finally admitted that he didn’t have a solid testimony. He hoped the church was true, he wanted it to be true, and he believed it was probably true, but he said he would feel like a hypocrite getting up in front of our kids and in church to testify that he knew it was true. He confessed that it kind of irritated him that church members always used the word “know” when there is no way they really could know based on warm fuzzy feelings. I advised him to keep his doubts to himself and not share them with the kids lest their own budding testimonies get shaken.

     Scott agreed to not tell our children his doubts, on the premise that the Church was true but his own inadequacies kept him from really knowing. Church leaders had emphasized many times that if there is a problem it comes from within the individual, not from within the Church. Despite Scott’s weak faith, we were both committed to teaching the children the principles of the “restored gospel.” We had daily family prayer and scripture reading from the Book of Mormon, memorized the thirteen Articles of Faith, had regular family gospel discussions, and participated in all the church activities we could. We believed that the building of the New Jerusalem in Jackson County Missouri and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ would be in our lifetimes. We wanted to see that our children were well-taught and worthy to be called to build Zion.

     I had always been diligent to follow the counsel of all the LDS prophets to prepare for the events of the Last Days, often sacrificing comfort and extravagance to make sure we had food and clothing storage. As it got closer to the year 2000 (and a possible Y2K computer disaster) I was doing all I could to finish getting a year supply of food and emergency items. I became increasingly interested in prophecies regarding the Last Days, including dreams and visions that many individuals were having. I had read an LDS woman’s story about her dreams of a devastating earthquake that would put Utah and Salt Lake Valleys into economic and geographic upheaval. She wrote about her deceased sister appearing to her to warn her of these things. What disturbed me about her story was that she said the leaders of the church would call in everyone’s food storage and then turn it over to the United Nations. Of course I didn’t believe that part and was amazed that someone could be so deceived. I began to pray quite often that I would not be led astray. Matthew 24 foretells that in the End Times many would be deceived and I did not want to be one of them; I wanted to hold fast to the faith until the Second Coming of Christ.

     In November of 1999 I was called to be the Relief Society President. I knew the call was coming six weeks before the Bishop asked. It was the oddest thing. Our Relief Society President had passed away, and as I was sitting at the luncheon after the funeral, I got the distinct impression that I would be the next president. I tried to avoid the bishop from that point on! What in the world could the bishop be thinking (or the Lord for that matter)? I was not Relief Society President material – we were in the lower economic class, had nine children at the time, home schooled, wore the same clothes to church every week, didn’t have an immaculate house, nor did I shop at Deseret Industries for second-hand clothing. However, I was diligent about putting family first and lived by the “K.I.S.S. Principle,” K-eep I-t S-imple S-ister, which later became our motto as a Relief Society presidency.

     Being called to a leadership position was a serious matter not to be taken lightly or unworthily. Even though being a member of the church had been a good experience overall, I somehow always felt like I did not measure up. I often doubted my standing before the Lord. Was I doing enough? Could I be trying harder? Would I really make it to the Celestial Kingdom? What about the times I raised my voice at the kids or didn’t feel like going to church (even though I went anyway)? What about drinking caffeine sodas while driving on long trips? Would it count against me? Was I really “valiant in the testimony of Jesus” or would I only go to the Terrestrial Kingdom? Did Heavenly Father really want someone like me as a leader over the sisters in the ward?

     Furthermore, I was discouraged and mad at the Lord for slowly killing my son’s fish. It was autumn of 1999 and my 11-year-old son, Curran, had worked hard all summer for the neighborhood ice cream man to buy an expensive, but ugly (actually it was butt ugly!) fish – a Jack Dempsey. He had the fish for about two weeks when we decided to go to the park as a family. We were gone for a couple of hours and when we came home Curran declared that the fish was gone! A diligent fish-hunt ensued and the Dempsey was found floundering on the windowsill. The poor fish had taken a swimming leap to capture its goldfish dinner, but with no lid to stop him, kept sailing right out of the tank. Amazingly, it was still alive, though barely.

I knew my son was heart-broken as he came to me asking what he should do. I recommended putting the fish back into the tank to see if it would revive. The Dempsey sunk to the bottom and lay there, its great sides heaving with every “breath.” I wanted to tell Curran to pray for the life of his fish, but I was afraid that if Heavenly Father let it die, it would shake my boy’s faith in prayer and in the Lord.

     Have you ever felt like your prayers were bouncing off the ceiling? So often I had gone to Heavenly Father in prayer, asking for answers to problems. I followed what the D&C said about making a decision, presenting it to God, and then waiting for a burning in the bosom or a “stupor of thought.” I’d tried everything to “hear” the answers, but they never seemed to come. Maybe this time it would be different. Maybe this time, for the sake of my little boy, heavenly Father would answer my prayers. Privately I shut the door to my room, kneeled at my bedside and wept before Heavenly Father in behalf of the Dempsey. “Please,” I prayed, “please heal the fish miraculously so that my son’s faith in thee will be strengthened, but if not, then please make it die quickly so it doesn’t have to suffer.” I checked on my son and his fish. Curran had propped the Dempsey up against an undulating plastic pirate ship that gave the aquarium a nice, homey feel for its residents. It seemed the fish might actually recuperate.

     The next day brought no change in the Dempsey’s condition. As a matter of fact, there was no change at all in the ensuing days other than the wretched creature would sometimes flop over and have to be propped back up. Daily I prayed for that fish, anticipating the great miracle Heavenly Father was going to perform. It would be a defining moment in our lives, something Curran would reflect on when he when he was a General Authority giving a talk in General Conference;

     “Yes, brothers and sisters,” he would testify at the grand pulpit, “I knew there was a God in Heaven the day He healed my fish. That was the moment I determined to serve the Lord for the rest of my life. That was the moment I gained a testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints blah, blah, blah.” And I would beam proudly from the front row, nudging the Saint sitting next to me, “That’s my boy up there! The Miracle of the Fish happened over 30 years ago and look at what my son has become! Yes, that’s my boy!”

     Secretly I harbored the thought, “If the fish revives, then I will absolutely KNOW that the church is true.” Sadly, the fish lingered in that nether land between life and death for almost two weeks. The heavens were like brass. I became discouraged. What kind of pleasure did God take in the suffering of this fish? Didn’t He love us enough? I’d heard of other miracles; one Education Week story about a dehydrated pet frog that miraculously regenerated after being prayed over by a child. Were we so unworthy as to not merit this one favor? Was my child’s testimony not as important as the boy’s whose frog re-inflated?

     Finally the day came that we either had to flush, bury, or barbeque the Dempsey. We buried it. I was still mad at the Lord. It was about this time that I was called to be the Relief Society President. At the time, I was eagerly awaiting a call from the Oprah Winfrey Show, telling me that I was one of the chosen few who would be getting a “Millennial Make-Over.” I’d already sent pictures and the days were crawling by. The phone rang as I was heading out the door for a class. I wouldn’t have answered it at all had it not been for my hope of quasi-stardom. It was the bishop.

     “Sister Crookston,” he greeted, “do you know what the Relief Society Emblem is?” I’d been teaching the lessons for 6 years, but I really hadn’t the foggiest notion. “Two stalks of wheat,” he answered. He then asked if I knew what the Relief Society flower was. Frankly I didn’t know there was a Relief Society flower. He asked if I knew the Relief Society colors. Boy, was I batting a hundred! I was sure he thought I must be a complete dunderhead. I took a wild guess, reasoning within myself that the Cub Scout colors were blue and gold, so maybe there was a connection. I got the answer right. His next question was regarding the motto of the Relief Society. I didn’t know it, but supposed it had something to do with charity and said as much. He replied, “Yes. Charity never faileth.”

     “Really,” I said, afraid of where this conversation was heading. “Well, I’ve learned something new today.” The bishop then asked me about my philosophy on home schooling—probably trying to ascertain whether I was a zealot—and what I thought about Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. He asked about my family. I was getting antsy to get to my class as it was the last one for the semester and the teacher was bringing Krispy Crème doughnuts. I told the bishop that I hated to cut short this scintillating conversation, but I was going to be late to the college.

  Click here to read the rest of Tracy’s testimony 

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