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Sharing My Faith: An Interview with Hunter Romano

Hunter Romano grew up in Woburn, Massachusetts. When he turned twelve and joined the deacons’ quorum he was on crutches with a broken leg that was still mending. That didn’t stop him from passing the sacrament. He and his quorum worked out a way for him to get the job done. Hunter is now a freshman at Brigham Young University.

What are some experiences you had talking with people at Woburn High about how you live and what you believe.

Once they hear I’m a Mormon, people always ask about multiple wives and polygamy. It’s the first thing to explain. Once you explain that then they ask, “What’s the deal with Mormons? What makes you a Mormon and not something else? I say we’re peculiar because of the Word of Wisdom and law of chastity, but it’s more than that. I also talk about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.

In the first month of my freshman year of high school, my history teacher brought up Mormons in a lesson but didn’t know that I was one. He made the comment that Mormon men currently still have multiple wives. I spoke up to clarify that we do not and then was asked if I would be comfortable getting in front of the class. I was, and I talked about my faith and answered questions for the rest of the class period.

I find people aren’t interested in the things you would think. When it comes to drinking, smoking, and sex before marriage, they say, “Yeah, those are good to avoid. My religion says the same thing, but in my religion they are overlooked.” They really are more interested in Joseph Smith and the Church’s origins.

Who was your best friend in high school who was not a member of the Church?

His name was John. He played lacrosse and was really busy. Pat was also a good friend. He played on our ward basketball team and attended church because this was a requirement to play. He’d also sleep over at our house. Pat became good friends with Jared, a Mormon friend of mine, and even went to his mission farewell. He came to seminary a couple of times and learned more about the Church that way. At one point, he and I went to a party out of town. I had my “Stormin’ Mormon” sweatshirt on and someone from the other town came up and commented on multiple wives and all the things Mormons can’t do. Pat spoke up first and started answering questions. Pat is now a sophomore at UMass Amherst. I hope one day the missionaries will knock on his door. I hope he’ll read this interview when I invite him.

You’ve talked about some wonderful experiences. In your high school years, did you have some bad experiences being a Mormon?

Yes. In high school kids drink and swear and do things that are not exactly aligned with the gospel. I got comments like, “Why aren’t you drinking? That sucks.” They steered clear of me, saying, “Why talk to the sober kids?” In the girl scene, some girls said, “He’s a goody two shoes.” Sometimes I was not accepted and people steered clear of me because they felt I wasn’t like them. If they can’t respect that, it’s not worth worrying about it.

But you were class president your senior year, right?

That was huge because it put me in a lot of positions where I had to be an example. When setting up certain activities, they would ask me if I was comfortable with this or that aspect. Everyone in the whole school knew I was a Mormon, and they found out that they could learn about my faith from a source other than the Internet.

You are just starting your freshman year at Brigham Young University. Did you always know you wanted to go to BYU?

It was always high on the list because my parents went there. And it’s very affordable! I grew up watching athletics. When I did well in football, I was recruited by Williams College, Middlebury College, and other small New England schools. I prayed about it. What it came down to was to meet more members of the Church, especially girls, and be around people who would put me on the right path to my mission. Going on a mission is such a big goal for me. Being in other environments could have affected my path to a mission, and after a mission it would have been hard to get to Church and hard to meet girls.

Do you feel any concerns about being at BYU?

I’ve gone from being one of the few to one of the many and not having to be the only example. I thought this would make me feel like I could waver. But, as it turns out, people at BYU are great and they help build each other up.

Why I’m Mormon

By Guest Blogger Denia-Marie Ollerton

I grew up in a religious LDS household. My parents were and are hardworking, God-fearing, sacrificing people. But it wasn’t easy. We had our difficulties and challenges, and at the time I felt we had more problems than my seemingly-perfect Mormon neighbors.

Church was just a thing we did every week. My friends were there, but I didn’t feel much else pulling me besides them. I remember thinking that religion as taught in my church was for perfect people only. They’d talk about the virtues of being good, and of happy families. I didn’t feel that fit my experience. I thought that God was cold, mean, and punitive.

In my teens, I got into some trouble with school, friends, and had some close calls with the law. I wasn’t happy, but I was trying desperately hard to become so. I still felt that religion was too strict and family relationships too sterile. Around eighteen years old my parents loosened their grip, and I began to experience the reality of being all on my own. I had long since lost any close friends I had in high school. My interactions with my family were minimal, and my life consisted mostly of going to school, trying to stay out of everyone’s way, and going home to sit in my room. Yes, it was very lonely. I knew that the life I had lived and the choices I had made up to that point were not making me happy.

I noticed my siblings were good enough people, and they seemed happy. They were active churchgoers, and always talked about how great the church was. I decided that I’d try religion one time, and one time only. If it was true, if it did work to live by certain rules, then great. If not, I’d know and I could move on with life. At this time, a lot of teachings from my childhood started to come into mind. One principle that came to mind was repentance. Repentance as I understood it was supposed to be this thing where you told God (or your bishop) about all the bad things you’d done, and somehow that was supposed to make you feel better. Oh yeah, and you weren’t supposed to do it again.

I also remembered the teachings about Jesus. I didn’t have much of an opinion on him. I had heard about the crucifixion and the atonement, but those were just words to me. And yet, he did seem like the only forgiving person in the entire story of religion. I remember thinking, “Alright, if he really is merciful and kind, I’ll test it out. I’ll see if he can handle me and all I’ve done.”

I went to my bishop after thinking this over for some time. I expected some harsh words and punishment, but I was willing to go through the process to get to the other side whatever that was. I went in and just let everything out to him. I was surprised but grateful at how calmly and kindly he handled the situation. He just listened for a while, and then asked if we could meet again after church. I agreed. I went to sacrament meeting, and the speakers all spoke about repentance and the atonement. I cried. I felt like a spotlight had been shone on me, and God was finally noticing me. I went back and talked more with my bishop. All of his words were encouraging, hopeful, and healing.

I walked home that day and went to ponder all that had gone on. It was as if a heavy load had been lifted off my shoulders, and I didn’t even know I was carrying it until it was gone. I felt incredibly happy. I think it was joy. I can honestly say I hadn’t felt joyful or happy up until that point in my life. I had seen people cry “tears of joy” before, but I didn’t want to cry, I just wanted to smile. I went through the rest of that week with a huge grin on my face. I knew then that God lived, and that there was so much more to life than I had known. Who knew that because Jesus Christ died thousands of years ago, and went through the atonement, that I could find healing and happiness in life? I didn’t before, but I knew it then. And there was no way I was going back to the life I had lived before.

I became fascinated with religion. I realized that I had been surrounded all along by a wonderful road map to a successful and happy life! I felt that I was doing years of make up work, but also felt that I was given an increased ability to soak it all in. Everything was positive that I found out. My previous notion of a punitive God was erased in large, sweeping motions. I found out he really did care about me. He did answer my prayers, he listened to me, he talked to me, and he helped me connect with others in ways I never knew were possible.

By relying on the teachings of the gospel, I’ve overcome fear, judgment (mostly of myself), and discouragement and have instead found opportunity, growth, excitement, and love. I thought my past would weigh me down, but it has buoyed me up. It has taught me that if God can right the wrong in life, he can make the good even better. I can come to the Lord, imperfect and all, and ask him to change me. And he does!

I love living the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not because it’s what I’m used to, or what I’ve known all my life, but because it makes me truly happy. And although I haven’t had a perfect life, I don’t hold myself to that perfect standard anymore, and I know God doesn’t either. He and I both know that I am powerful, and I have so much potential. And I’ll continue to draw on that potential, with his support, for the rest of my life.

Guest Post: What do Mormons look like?

My boss sometimes asks me, “Is that person a Mormon? He looks like a Mormon!” I always agree with him. Mormons do not have any visible identifiers, yet somehow people recognize Mormons. What does a Mormon look like?

Mormons come in all shapes and sizes, but there are certain attributes most Mormons share. We are encouraged to dress modestly, be clean, and be well-groomed.  However, there is more to the Mormon look than external decoration. We embrace internal principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ that affect the way we look physically.

Mormons are obedient. We strive to follow all of God’s commandments. We are honest in all of our dealings and we endeavor to live what we believe all the time. It brings us happiness and helps us have the Holy Ghost in our lives. Mormons are also obedient to the laws of the land and try to be good citizens. People can see how Mormons look honest on the outside and can sense truth and goodness.

Mormons are givers. They give 10% of their income in tithing. They dedicate their time and resources to serve missions, serve in church callings, and serve their neighbors. We believe in doing good to all men. When you see a Mormon, they are respectful and even helpful to others.

Mormons are seekers.  “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, [Mormons] seek after these things [1].”  We seek after joy (2 Ne 2:25) in this life and eternally. Part of that joy is engaging in good activities and conversation. Not every Mormon likes the same activities, but the way we go about our activities usually gives us away in a crowd.

Mormons are repentant. No one is perfectly obedient but through the atonement of Jesus Christ we can be clean from our sins. This makes a huge difference in appearance as we are not weighed down by guilt or dulled by compromises with sin. It makes our appearance lighter and even happier. Mormons appear clean.

The outward appearance of Mormons is often described as the light of Christ that is apparent in everyone striving to live good, truth seeking lives. I believe that Mormons are recognizable because they carry this light by living gospel principles like obedience, repentance, and service. The attributes listed are some of my ideas. What do you think makes Mormons recognizable?

written by: Brooke, an adventurous newly wed Mormon from Utah living in Boston who loves videography and exploring New England.

Attending Church

A few weeks ago, Hurricane Irene whipped up the East Coast and threatened to hit Boston–and hard. Our governor encouraged everyone to stay indoors, so my weekly church services were canceled. I welcomed the rare chance to sleep in as my meetings start at 9:00, but as the day wore on, I realized how much I missed going to church that particular Sunday.

I rarely miss church. The reason why: The Holy Ghost confirms to me that Jesus Christ lives and that truth has been restored through the prophet Joseph Smith. This is why I go. Here are some more thoughts on going to church:

Every Sabbath day, Mormons around the world attend church. Church meetings are normally held on Sundays; however, this varies depending on location–when I lived in Cairo, we met on Friday, the Islamic sabbath day. Church consists of a three-hours block, one of which being sacrament meeting. Taking the sacrament is the main reason for going to church.

Church attendance also strengthens and edifies me. It gives me time to ponder on my actions during the previous week. It also gives me the motivation and encouragement to be a better person, a better friend, sister, aunt, roommate, Christian, etc. While I get a lot of inspiration from lessons, talks, and being around fellow members, it is the Spirit that truly whispers truths to me.

I encourage those of all faiths to take time out of your busy weeks to attend  your worship meetings. There are so many little hidden tidbits in scripture stories that will come alive. You will come away wanting to serve your fellow man more and yourself a little less.

Practical, Not Fanatical!

This past month, many that I talked to had been scrambling as Hurricane Irene approached to complete a flurry of last-minute preparations. It was reported that there hadn’t been a hurricane to hit Massachusetts since 1996, and many people were anticipating power outages and the loss of telephone, internet, and water access. One of our neighbors rushed out to the store the day before the Hurricane was predicted to hit Boston, and returned to tell us that it took him at least fifteen minutes to just find a parking spot. He said that it was a zoo at the store, and people were clearing the shelves (if they weren’t already) of water bottles, fruits, canned foods, batteries, etc. This conversation gave me food for thought. I couldn’t help but wonder amid the clamor if the sum total of the collective anxiety wasn’t one of the great (and unnecessary) costs of this very costly natural disaster.

On the other hand, not everyone faced these anxieties and concerns as the storm approached. I was pleased to hear several calm and practical voices all around me, for instance, members of our wards (congregations) and neighbors. For example, several friends and composed neighbors gave advice about filling our bathtub with water to use for the toilet and washing, getting bags of ice or making our own and putting them in a cooler to store perishable items in case the power went out. One of these voices of calm that I have learned to appreciate more and more over the years is that of the our prophet, Thomas S. Monson, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. As members of the church, we believe in living prophets and apostles, who have been called of God to guide us for our times. One of the things that members of the Church have been encouraged and guided to do, is to prepare for emergencies, of all kinds, i.e. natural disasters, unemployment, etc. Our family (although living on a graduate student stipend) have made efforts to follow this counsel, and in doing so, the results were practicality and peace of mind. We had enough food to last us at least two weeks or more, and drinking water gallons in the basement. Unfortunately, we found our 72 hour kits incomplete and we were thankful that evacuation wasn’t necessary.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, I am grateful for that inspired counsel and for those in our community who sought to help one another feel some of the peace of preparedness during this storm. It’s during moments like these that I realize that emergency preparedness and food storage can be practical and reasonable. It isn’t something we need to be fanatical about, and in the end, that practically leads to peace of mind.

Squeaky Clean Language

I have a very vivid memory of being on the school bus when I was in 4th or 5th grade and having some boys my age offer me candy if I would say a swear word. When I declined they tried to get a little more persuasive and try to convince me that it didn’t count if I said a swear word because I could just quote them saying it so it wasn’t  actually my own words. To their great disappointment, I didn’t end up saying a swear word that day.  I don’t mean to paint this picture in a persecuting light. The boys were my friends, they were having fun  teasing me and I was having just as much fun being stubborn back to them. I was somewhat of an anomaly to them. I was the only Mormon in my elementary school besides my little sister so they were curious to see what my limits actually were and if I could be bought over by candy.

Avoiding profane and vulgar language is something that most Mormons strive to do. My brother-in-law requested that I do a blog post on this subject to try and help explain why that is. Sometimes it’s not so obvious why it matters so much. In the situation on the school bus I didn’t really know why I wasn’t supposed to say swear words, I just knew I wasn’t supposed to. My reasoning, as it often was when I was younger, was that it was against my religion. At that time that was a good enough reason for me. As an adult though I desire a little more insight as to why our church leaders have asked us to avoid profane and vulgar language.

Now let’s get something straight before I go any further. If you haven’t heard a Mormon use a swear word you probably don’t know very many Mormons. This is something that is difficult for a lot of people to master. Sometimes the tongue is a little faster than the mind but as a general rule we do try to keep our language clean.

What somebody says, or how they say it, reflects who they are. All kinds of assumptions are made about someone based on their speech. If I spoke with really bad grammar people would assume I was uneducated or if I spoke with my best Boston accent people would assume I either had a speech impediment where I couldn’t say my “R’s” or know that I was from Boston. As I have explained before, when we are baptized we take the name of Jesus Christ upon us and agree to be his representatives throughout our lives. That means our language not only reflects who we are but also the Savior. It doesn’t really matter if people are watching and assuming or not, I covenanted to represent Jesus Christ at all times;  when I’m alone, when I’m angry, when I’m with friends, when I just got cut off driving, etc. so my language should also reflect that at all times.

We also don’t take the Lord’s name in vain. We do not use the Savior’s name as an expletive or that of our Heavenly Father. Those names are to be used with only the utmost respect and reverence. In the bible James explains about why language matters. He says that if we can control our speech then we can control our whole bodies but if we allow our speech to be vulgar our lives will follow. He also explains that the same mouth that teaches God’s word has no room for profane and vulgar words, it’s hypocritical.

Mormons don’t avoid profane and vulgar language to be self-righteous  or to prove a point, we do it because we are trying to represent Jesus Christ and want to lead clean lives. But, we’re just normal people and we say things we regret in the heat of the moment or perhaps sometimes the candy being offered just looks too enticing. When you avoid profane language do you notice a change in your behavior as well?

Going to the Temple

While I was in Utah a few weeks ago for my sister’s wedding  I was able to be there when she went to the temple for the first time. In Mormon culture this is a pretty big deal. My whole family was there along with her fiancé, future in-laws and a few other close loved ones. Going to the temple for the first time signifies a lot to Mormons. It usually happens before a big event like going on a full time LDS mission, getting married, or before starting a new direction in life like beginning a full time career. It also signifies a willingness to have a deeper commitment to living the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In preparation for going to the temple for the first time my sister (as well as myself and most other people that go) take a temple preparation class. Like I said, it’s a pretty big deal when someone goes for the first time. If you are baptized when you are older you have to be a baptized member of the church for a least a year before you go. If you are baptized when you are young you wait until you’re an adult to go to the temple. I used to think when I was younger that so much emphasis was placed on going to the temple for the first time because the person wouldn’t be able to handle it without all the family support and preparation. What happens in the temple isn’t really talked about that much, even within the church, so I didn’t really understand.

With my sister going to the temple and being able to be there for it has made me think a lot lately about going to the temple and I realized I was all wrong  about it before.  When we are baptized we make a commitment to God to follow his commandments and to live the gospel. Often when we are baptized we are young or have just recently learned about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Baptism is a real commitment and covenant with God but it is only the beginning and foundation of our commitment to God. Going to the temple is actually pretty similar to baptism in our commitments. In the temple we make commitments and covenants with God to follow his commandments and to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The reason for all the preparation and support and attention is because these covenants are no longer the basic covenants of baptism.

When I went to the temple for the first time, like most other people, I was an adult and I had learned the gospel for an extended amount of time and I understood it.  Because I was an adult and understood perfectly what I was doing I believe I am held 100% accountable for those commitments.  That is the reason for the preparation and attention, to make sure we are ready to take the next step in our commitment to God.

The temple has a bit of a reputation for being secretive. It’s really not. The words spoken in the temple are sacred so we don’t repeat them outside the temple but the main point of the temple is to covenant with God to keep his commandments that are found in the scriptures. After we make those covenants for ourselves we go to make them in the name of those that have passed on so if they choose to they can also have the blessings of making those covenants with God.

My personal experience with the temple has been wonderful and peaceful. When I promised to follow God’s commandments in the temple God promised to bless me, protect me and help me throughout my life. I love knowing that if I do my part to follow God’s commandments that I will not be alone and I will be helped. The temple is a beautiful place. If you live near a temple I would recommend just going to the grounds to walk around and take in the beauty of the area. It’s really a peaceful place to visit and think and come closer to God.

Real Men

I wrote a post about fathers on Father’s Day and when I was done I realized I wasn’t done. I didn’t even scratch the surface on what I had to say about Mormon Fathers (or men in general). I focused my last post on the selflessness that is required of Mormon men. I now want to focus on the purity expected of Mormon men, particularly the husbands and fathers.

I was shopping for birthday cards for my dad and just about every card had a reference to 1) alcohol, 2) sex or 3) gambling (the really great ones tied in all three). Sometimes our society’s  definition of a real man is one that can hold his liquor and get with as many girls as possible. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches something different. According to the gospel of Jesus Christ a real man is someone who has the strength and character to be loyal and true to his God and his family.

A lot of things the Mormon church expects of men I have heard people say is literally not possible. Like, not only no pornography but no media that is meant to arouse and tempt. Mormon men are expected to be sexually pure having complete fidelity to their wives–both emotionally and physically.

For a lot of people, both Mormon and not Mormon, this is a very difficult task. Everywhere you look there are unsolicited advertisements using sex and pornography. It takes real strength, the kind that matters, to resist giving into these impulses and urges and to stay true to yourself, God and your spouse (if married). Sometimes (most of the time) people can’t do it alone and that is where Jesus Christ steps in. Sometimes the borrowed strength from Jesus Christ (which he will give freely and often) is the only thing that can help people avoid the temptation that is constantly thrown at them.

As a wife, married to a real man, I know it is difficult for men striving to live a pure life but I also know that it brings the greatest blessings of happy relationships and self respect. It is hard but it is worth it. Men do not have it easy in this world but there is a way to receive strength and help and that is through Jesus Christ.

Mormon Baptism

When I came out to Massachusetts for the first time to look for a place to live I had an interesting conversation with our real estate agent about baptism. He brought up the subject and was telling me about a baptism he had witnessed for a family member. The baptism was of a young baby and it was a communal baptism, he said about 5 babies were baptized at the same time. He didn’t mention the religion but he just mentioned that it didn’t seem right to him. He thought that baptism should be more personal. I told him I agreed with him and that in my church baptism was very personal.  I realized that the way we baptize in the Mormon (Latter-day Saint) Church is pretty unique.

The (not completely) unique things about baptism in our church is that first we do it by immersion. In other words, there is a large font of water and the whole body is submerged in water after a priesthood blessing. You may be thinking that it is pretty cruel to completely submerge a baby when they don’t know how to hold their breath which brings me to the next unique thing about baptism for Mormons, we don’t baptize small children. We start baptizing at the age of 8.

The reason we start baptism at the age of 8 is two-fold. First of all, we don’t believe that man is born with sin. The Atonement of Jesus Christ takes away the sin of Adam, we are each born pure and clean. Babies and small children don’t need baptism to take away sin, they don’t understand good and evil therefore cannot choose evil, therefore cannot sin. The second reason we wait until we are a little older to baptize is that for us baptism is more than just taking away sin it is our first real commitment to God. At baptism we literally take upon us the name of Jesus Christ so that from that time forward we are representatives of Jesus Christ and commit to act accordingly. That is a pretty big commitment, one that each person should make on their own and not their parents. We believe that by age 8 a person is able to understand the basic concepts of representing Jesus Christ and therefore is free to choose for themselves whether they will or will not be baptized.

I remember my baptism. I was born into a Mormon family and was baptized at 8. I remember my parents sitting down with me and explaining to me what baptism meant. I also met with my Bishop, the ecclesiastical leader over our congregation, on my own and he talked to me about baptism. He asked me if baptism was a step I wanted to take and I told him yes. My father baptized me (a family member or close friend that holds the priesthood is normally the one to perform the baptism, not the head of the congregation) and I remember the day quite clearly. My dad made sure the water in the font was warm (something I was concerned about) and many of my friends (both friends in my faith and out of it) and congregation members came to witness. After the baptism I was given the gift of the Holy Ghost by a priesthood blessing to help me to know how to follow Christ and make the right choices for the rest of my life. Afterward my mom served refreshments, banana bread with cream cheese frosting (my favorite), and we all celebrated the day.

Baptism is more than wiping away the past, it is looking forward to the future as a representative of Jesus Christ. It is mapping out the direction you want to take in life. It’s a choice I am glad I made and reflect on often. How do your ideas about baptism impact your life?

The Sabbath in 45-seconds

Anyone who saw us on Sunday knows that our Sunday was not the most….reverent. I am working hard with my son to teach him how to sit still for longer than 30 seconds. I know it’s possible, he sits quite still while watching Cars or Winnie the Pooh. This is important on many fronts: going out to eat, being still for church, having guests over, etc. Back to Sunday, anyone who was with us at church or our friends who came over for dinner that evening know that this is a lesson we are ‘still working on.’

After our wrestling match during sacrament meeting I realized that our Family Home Evening lesson needed to be on appropriate behavior for the Sabbath. Having one day different from the rest is a pretty abstract concept for a two-year-old who doesn’t know  about the days of the week. Every day is pretty similar for him. I don’t feel like two-year-olds are a lost cause though. It may take a long time for him to understand certain concepts but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t start teaching now. The magic word is patience (don’t you just hate that word?).

My Family Home Evening lesson actually ended up being longer than 45-seconds this week because my son was actually very into it. He repeated everything I said and was excited to look at pictures and talk about Jesus. But, though a two-year-old can have a day where his attention span is longer than 45-seconds I know the bloggosphere is not so giving so I’ll abridge my lesson and keep it to 45-seconds. Here’s my short version of Sunday being a different day from the rest of the week.

Sunday is different from every other day of the week. On Sunday our focus is on  Jesus Christ, our Savoir. On Sunday we worship Christ and Heavenly Father by going to church and taking the sacrament. At church we are reverent and we keep our thoughts focused on Jesus. We also dedicate the whole day to doing what Jesus wants us to do. There are lots of different things we can do to dedicate the day to Christ; sometimes we visit people in need or we invite friends over for dinner or we go to meetings to discuss how to help people or we spend the day together as a family. We do not  do the regular everyday things that make us forget that Sunday is the Sabbath.

I also read a few quotes from a talk by one of our Apostles, Elder L. Tom Perry about the Sabbath, I highly recommend it. I love that we have a day that is separate from the rest of the week. It helps me renew my commitments to the Savior and gives me a boost for the rest of the week. What are your thoughts on the Sabbath?