Tara Sivulka, Renae Storms, and Rob Sivulka
I grew up without any religious training. My step-dad was in the Navy and we typically had parties at our house a couple weekends a month. From the age of 10, I served as bartender for the parties. I knew all of my parent’s friends: what they drank, what they mixed it with, and how strong/weak they liked it.
In 1974 I married my childhood sweetheart, Mark. Our dad’s had grown up together and we had known each other all our lives. We had been boyfriend/girlfriend off and on from the time we were 6. Mark was in the Army and was set to leave for Germany one week after we were married. We were both 17 years old. Just babies really.
Mark’s brother was a Mormon. His brother was also in the Army and he was stationed in Thailand. Mark missed his brother terribly. So when the Mormon missionaries came by the base, he invited them to come to our house. He thought if he understood his brother’s religion better, it would help him feel closer to him.
I didn’t want to meet with the missionaries, but since my husband had invited them, they came. After a couple of visits (and me not being friendly), the LDS elders told us that their Mission President had told them they couldn’t come back. They left a Book of Mormon and challenged us to read it and pray about it… and they said the Holy Ghost would let us know of its truthfulness.
Due to where we were in Germany, and the terrorist activity happening at that time, I was limited to what I could do. I mostly stayed home and read. I eventually ran out of things and picked up the Book of Mormon. I read it in a week. My first thought was "nice story, but I don’t believe it." As I thought about what the missionaries had said, I thought… "If/when people pray about the Book of Mormon, they will only feel that burning in the bosom the missionaries spoke about IF they wanted to." My thought was that this is a mind-over-matter kind of situation. So I set out to prove the missionaries wrong.
I went into my bedroom to pray about the Book of Mormon. I knelt at the foot of my bed, and began to pray. I said something to the effect of… "Lord, I don’t believe this book is true, or from you. However, I do sincerely want to know if it is from you because I want to follow you." As I said this, the room lightened (like when you’re eyes are closed, but someone turns on the light… you know it’s lighter than it was before even though your eyes are still closed) and I felt as though someone had wrapped me in the softest, warmest, fluffiest quilt I had ever felt. I felt as though God Himself had wrapped His arms around me and was holding me. Then I sensed the Lord speak to me. Not anything audible, but I felt the words passed through my mind. It was as though He said, "This is my Church, and I want you to be a part of it." I cried. I wanted no part of the Mormon Church.
A few days later, I thought I’m going to ask again. I don’t think He understood what I was saying, so I knelt again in prayer in my room at the foot of my bed… in the dark. I began my prayer, "Lord, I don’t think you understood me the other day. I DO NOT want the Mormon Church to be true. I DO NOT want the Book of Mormon to be true. I DO NOT want to be a Mormon." Again, I felt the warmth flood over me, the room lighten, and heard the words again: "This is my Church, and this is where I want you to be." Again I cried… for about 2 weeks. Then I resigned myself to the fact that the Mormon Church was true and I decided I had no choice but to join it… regardless of what I wanted.
At this same time, I was about 7 months pregnant and had to decide if I was having my baby in Germany, or if I was going to return to the states. I decided to return to the states. After the baby was born, my husband was still in Germany, so I bundled up the baby and off to the local LDS Church we went. I walked up to the man handing out programs that Sunday and told him that I knew the Church was true… that I had had some of the missionary discussions when I was in Germany, and I was ready to be baptized. He was a little more than shocked--no one had done that before--but once he regained his composure he introduced himself, then invited me and my baby to sit with him and his family that day.
They decided I needed to start over with the missionary discussions. They wanted to make sure I got all the lessons and knew all that I needed before they would let me be baptized. So I went through the missionary discussions, and just accepted everything I was taught because I had already prayed about the Book of Mormon and I already knew it was true. I knew I had no choice about joining this church. So I didn’t ask any questions. I’m not sure I would have anyway because I had no religious background to compare to or that would help me question anything I was taught. In May of 1976 I was baptized. I cried that night. I had very negative feelings; it was not a happy or joyous occasion.
This was the beginning of 30 years of membership in the LDS church. My husband never did join the Church, so it was tough in the beginning. In 1985 he and I separated and were then divorced in January of 1986. I was a single parent with 4 kids, ages 3-8 and I threw myself into church activity.
In my years as a member, I served in many callings. I taught in the Primary, Relief Society, Sunday School and in Young Women’s. I served in the Primary Presidency, the Young Women’s Presidency, and the Relief Society Presidency. I also served in the library, as a Visiting Teacher, as a Visiting Teaching Coordinator, and as a Single Adult rep on both the Ward and Stake level.
I went to the temple to receive my own endowments in 1987. I held a temple recommend from that time until I left the Church in 2002. I was totally and completely devoted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I volunteered to help with cannery projects, and inventory projects. Anything that was needed, I was there.
In 1999, my third child, Lori, died from Juvenile Diabetes. She was 3 weeks shy of her 19th birthday. I clung to my Mormon beliefs for a couple of years, and then began to question things. I became very depressed at the thought that my kids and I weren’t sealed, and now that Lori had died, she and I wouldn’t have the opportunity to be sealed.
I felt that Jesus was the Christ and my Savior, but I wasn’t so sure about the Mormon Church. I wasn’t sure what to believe in regard to religion… and I wasn’t sure who to talk to, where to look, or what to do.
One of the first things I did was go to a Christian bookstore and after searching through all the various Bibles, I ended up asking for some suggestions and bought a study Bible. I began to read and study, and as I read, I had more and more questions. Things I had believed for years no longer seem to fit the picture. It amazed me that for all my years in the Mormon Church, I really knew nothing about the Bible.
For the next few years, I felt totally alone and on my own without any guidance, and no where to turn. Most of my friends were not believers, but there was one guy at work that was a believer and was very concerned about my being a Mormon. He knew that I had questions and was beginning to doubt my faith. So he talked to me on several different occasions. He was always very respectful of my beliefs, and would simply ask me what Mormons believe about this or that. Why don’t Mormons believe in grace? Do Mormons believe in the Trinity? I would explain the Mormon viewpoint, and he would tell me what Christians believe and why what Mormons believe doesn’t fit with what the Bible taught. He never made me feel stupid, or inferior; I looked forward to our discussions. I began to ask him questions. How can God be 3 in 1? Why are there so many contemporary style services now? How can the Holy Spirit speak to anyone in a noisy worship service? After all, it’s supposed to be the "still small voice," right? Why is it so hard to believe in latter-day revelation? How do you know God doesn’t still speak to a prophet?
One day Tim asked me to join him and his family at his church, Pantego Bible Church (Arlington, TX). They were doing a series on "Defending your Faith," and this week was about Mormonism. I was very excited to attend and see what they had to say. There was a handout given with the program. It was the LDS plan of salvation. As we waited on the service to begin, Tim was looking over the plan of salvation, and he commented, "I don’t understand this. Do you?" I replied, "Yes, I’ve taught it for years." I quickly ran through the various details, and Tim was floored. The service began, and everyone was singing contemporary worship songs. I longed for hymns. This was so loud and so irreverent. It offended and hurt my soul.
They had a guest speaker, James Walker, from Watchman Fellowship ministries. He was a former Mormon. I listened closely to see if Mr. Walker was here to bash Mormons, or if he was truthful in his comments. I heard nothing dishonest. He spoke the truth. As I listened to James Walker and the pastor talk about Mormonism, my heart broke. I knew more and more that I was going to have to leave the Mormon Church. I knew it was getting to that point of no return. I wasn’t going to be able to rationalize my beliefs much longer.
I continued attending Pantego Bible Church for about a year, but I didn’t connect. I enjoyed PBC, but I still felt that something was missing. I wasn’t totally committed as yet, and I think I was still looking for something to push me back towards Mormonism. I was looking for something that would give me that aha moment… that Christians were wrong and Mormons were right. It never came. But at the same time, I also hadn’t had that aha moment to let me know Christians were right either. I didn’t know what to do, but since I wasn’t committed, I stopped attending.
About this time I got a new boss at work. Kelly was wonderful, and an evangelical Christian that was very vocal about her beliefs. She shared with me all the time. Later that year, she had me come to Houston for a company meeting. She invited me to stay the weekend and go with her and another co-worker to their church on Sunday.
It was December 17, 2006. The service was incredible. Everything the pastor said seemed to be directed right at me. One of his comments was, "Don’t get wrapped up in the technical details, trust Christ. Believe Christ." The funny thing was… I had said just that morning that I knew I was hung up on technicalities, small details. At the end of the service, Pastor Joel extended an altar call. You couldn’t have kept me in my seat. I leapt to my feet and rushed forward, eager to accept Christ as my savior. Finally I knew what to do… I knew Christ really was my savior, and had died on the cross for me. I prayed that Christ would come into my heart, and I confessed that I believed in Him, and that I would accept Him as my savior. My personal savior. I felt grace wash over me. It was the most incredible moment of my life.
All these years I hadn’t believed in grace and thought I had to work my way to heaven. But now I could see myself as a sinner and knew that Christ had died for me and all my sins. He didn’t have a laundry list for me to complete. It was clear now that the laundry list of Mormonism was man-made. All I had to do was accept Him as my savior. He had done the rest.