One night after Institute, we sat around chatting and asked the Elder who was here on exchanges where he’s from. “Pocatello,” he said. My ears perked up. I leaned forward so as to see Elder Hensley down the row and I asked, with low expectations, “Do you know the Shaytards?”
To my surprise he said he did, at which point I undoubtedly embarrassed myself with my enthusiasm (what else is new) and we got to talking about it. Everyone else in the room already knew me by then and had each already been asked by me if they knew you guys, or knew of you. It’s seriously (not seriously) like the second thing I’ve asked every Mormon I have met. So I think at this point we were all excited that someone finally said yes. I told Elder Hensley my conversion story and the major role you guys played in it, and he offered to send a letter to you if I wanted to write one. So, while this is one of the more intimidating letters I have ever sat down to write, here goes!
I started watching your vlogs two VidCons ago, after you were in Tanya Burr’s vlog, I think. I was instantly hooked. This was, what, a year and a half ago, and I haven’t missed a single vlog since. I was instantly struck by how different your family is – how loving, how energetic, how full of life. I think I doubted your reality the first few vlogs I watched. I had never – and still have never – seen any family like you. My family is loving and all that, but nothing like yours. We tend to keep our love for each other left to the imagination (haha). I definitely know it’s there, but we don’t express it so outwardly as you guys. And that’s something about you that I found fascinating – and still do, really.
After probably a week or two of watching you guys, I learned that you belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I remember thinking, “But… they’re so cool.” At that time, the only things I “knew” about the Church were all sorts of misconceptions. Seeing how epic you guys are definitely made me confused, so I was inspired to google the Church, at which point I discovered that not everything one learns on South Park is accurate. I thought, “Oh, this religion is actually pretty cool. But it’s not for me.” (I was a pretty passionate atheist at the time.) I was always curious about your one-take Sundays when there you’d all be in your church clothes, and you all seemed so happy. And often times you’d talk about what you discussed in church that day. I enjoyed passively learning about it. And every few months, something you’d say, Shay, would really strike me and I would be inspired to do a bit more research online. “That’s really cool. But it’s not for me.”
This happened maybe three times over that first year.
Also during that time – and here I am having lived in Iowa for the last 10 years – I had been wanting to move back to California. Seeing the palm trees in your vlogs certainly strengthened that desire. But then this summer you guys moved back to Idaho. And I realized that 1) Idaho is insanely beautiful, and 2) mountains are insanely beautiful. So, unhappy with Iowa, and scared of the California prices, I starting browsing housing prices in Idaho, just for fun. Not bad. I think I checked out Utah next. Mountains are pretty indeed.
Then, I, completely jokingly, had the thought, “Maybe I should move to Idaho or Utah and become a Mormon or something.” (I kid you not.) And then I was like, “…Maybe I SHOULD move to Idaho or Utah and become a Mormon.” (Insert wide-eyed expression here.) I think it was at this same time that I had the realization that if I did move there, I’d probably get along really well with all the Mormons there, because my lifestyle was so similar. In fact, I couldn’t believe that I had only just then made the connection that there were in fact other people who lived the way I did – and better even. “But, Mormonism isn’t for me because I’m still an atheist.”
Also at this time, I had the very new thought that maybe I don’t know as much as I think I do, about the existence of God or lack thereof. And I thought back to one of the first videos of yours I watched, which was you, Shay, in a hotel room talking about how if you get to heaven and God says Buddhism is the way to go, you’ll become a Buddhist. I think it was also in that video that you were saying that we don’t know the complete truth of the universe but that your beliefs make you happy so you’re sticking with them (paraphrasing). Back when I first watched that, I was very impressed with your humbleness about religion, by the way. And that very honest, real, yet hopeful perspective had stuck with me since.
So anyway, there I was standing in my kitchen and I had the realization that I’m not going to know either way if God/heaven exists until I’m actually there or I’m not. And therefore no amount of study and research on the matter will get me any closer to knowing – I just have to wait. And I realized that I had two choices: either continue living my life as an atheist, waiting until I die to know for sure; or live my life as a Christian (or any number of religions, in theory) waiting until I die to know for sure. And this realization really took me off my high horse. And opened my mind to the possibility that maybe God does exist.
I recognize that this letter is getting really long so I hope this story is interesting!
It was also at this time (so yes, the completely random thoughts to move to Idaho/Utah, to become a Mormon, and that maybe I don’t know as much as I thought, all happened in the span of a few days, as I remember) that I became suddenly SO INTERESTED in the Church. Like, SO interested. Out of nowhere. Again, I had been interested before, and researched for a half an hour here and there, but that was nothing like this. I researched online for 2-3 hours every night for two weeks straight. I loved everything I read. And I was fascinated. Is it possible that God exists? And that He loves us? Does heaven exist and can we actually live together with our families, in one giant family, with our loving Heavenly Father? Was Jesus real? Is He actually there now, and can He affect our lives?
I had the thought, “I want to join this church.” Then, realizing I had gotten ahead of myself, “Maybe I should go to church sometime, and, like, read the Book of Mormon first.” (Haha.) So, that Sunday, I… chickened out. (I had been to church maybe 5 times in my entire life at this point, 4 of which were before the age of 10.) But the following Sunday I went! I was sooooo nervous. I told myself on the way there, “I’m not going to sign anything, I’m not going to meet with the missionaries, I’m not going to commit to anything. I’m just going to show up, this one time, get myself a free copy of the Book of Mormon, and if I never want to come back, that’s fine.” I didn’t pay attention to anything in Sacrament meeting because I was sitting there thinking, “What am I doing here, why did I come here, I don’t belong here, I’m so out of place.” But then afterwards (and briefly before, too) I met some of the nicest people I have EVER met in my entire life. Everyone was so interested in why I was there and how I heard about the church. (Yes, I mentioned you guys!) I met the two missionaries, Elder Brooks and Elder Kilpatrick. They helped me with where to go the next two hours. Then there was a potluck afterwards that they and a few other people invited me to stay for, and I thought, “Why not.” It ended up being a great opportunity to chat with some people.
After the potluck Elder Kilpatrick found me again and asked if I’d like to meet with them sometime. Remembering full well that I told myself I was not going to meet with them, I thought, “Sure, why not?” (Oh, the power of inviting!!) We set up an appointment for Tuesday afternoon. I left church still amazed at the kindness and friendliness and love I had experienced from the complete strangers I had met there. And I thought to myself, “I want to come back.” I didn’t even care if I believed in the doctrine at that point – I wanted to come back for those people.
So, I met with the Elders on Tuesday, ready with the giant list of questions I had come up with and written down over the last two weeks while researching. Giant lists of questions proved to be my pattern throughout the lessons.
At the end of that first lesson, Elder Kilpatrick told me that September 13th seemed like a good day for my baptism and he asked if I would like to be baptized then, provided I felt ready by then. This question was OUT OF NOWHERE (well, not really, the church tour ended with us standing right there at the font) and September 13th was WAY TOO SOON (it was July 29th now) but I said, “Well…if I was ready…then…yes?” (Hahaha.)
If this was a novel (which I’m sorry it’s looking to become) then that would be the end of Part One.
Elder Kilpatrick’s mission ended that same week, and Elder Wardle took his place. Interestingly enough, I first met Elder Wardle outside Brother McConeghey’s car just before we all headed over to Nauvoo for the afternoon to tour the Temple grounds and see the pageant. This was on Thursday, just four days after I first went to church.
I continued to meet with Elder Brooks and Elder Wardle and sure enough on September 13th I was baptized (!!!). I was soooo nervous, because my parents were there, as well as my aunt and uncle and three friends. I have had mixed support from everyone. But at least they came to the baptism. And some came to church the next morning for the confirmation as well!
So that’s my story. It of course goes on, up through the present day, and is filled with temple trips and a calling and a talk and institute class; new friends, new perspectives, and a newfound faith in Christ. A few weeks after I was baptized, my parents and I went on a road trip to New England, and I requested a stop in Palmyra to go to the Sacred Grove and Temple. It was pretty epic. Elder Brooks was transferred while I was gone (sad day). But Elder Belliston came and took his place. I am still meeting weekly with him and Elder Wardle. I gave a 5 minute talk on Gratitude the week of Thanksgiving. I was called to serve with the Young Women. (I taught my first lesson in there today!) I am reading the Book of Mormon, albeit very slowly as I tend to get distracted (but how can I not, what with all those cross references??) and I am pretty much being as active as I can. Oh! I joined the choir two weeks ago!
And this may or may not be completely unrelated to my conversion, but I decided this summer to go back to college after a resentful 4 year hiatus to finish up my bachelor’s degree, which I just completed this month! Upcoming plans include [the tentative idea of] moving to Utah to find a husband (haha) and a job.
You might be interested to hear my testimony of sorts.
I feel like my entire conversion happened so smoothly. And also so randomly. I was not seeking. I was not looking to join a church. The idea completely randomly – even jokingly – came into my mind. I feel like the only way to explain it is that it was God’s timing. And He gave me each new step, and I took it. (Which is also so unlike me. I am so shy, why would I ever go to a church, let alone all by myself?!) And then He set the next step. And I took it. And He’s still setting them, and I’m still taking them. And thus far, I love it. I absolutely love it. The gospel is amazing. The love that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have for all of us is amazing. I am so, so glad I know about this Church and the restored gospel and that love. It has changed my perspective on the world, my priorities. I am so much more grateful. And confident. And so much more at peace with existence and the mysteries of life after death, etc.
A couple years ago, I became interested in Christianity, and I read the Bible, but I had so many questions, and so much of what I read on various Christian blogs didn’t make sense. (Like, why can’t we still have prophets today? And what about people who never learn about Christ before they die?) After a few months, the gaps and contradictions were too much and I figured it couldn’t be true, so I stopped praying and went back to atheism.
Who knows where I would be now if I never watched your videos. It was the light your whole family has that intrigued me so much. The pure love that you express so openly with one another. The kindness you have extended to strangers throughout the vlogs. And the general calm and confident and uplifted outlook you share with us. All of which is so rare these days and shines so brightly in comparison. I love you guys so much and I have learned so much about love and family from you. Colette, you are an inspirational wife and mother. The kids amaze me. Their selflessness. I don’t even know how one raises kids to be so giving and so mature. (Gavin is seriously more mature than I am – hah!) You’re all such a delight to watch and I feel so good knowing that I’m watching something wholesome and uplifting. I’ve also found your other channels and family’s channels through you guys, and they’re all so great.
I wish you guys the best and I have the utmost respect for you. Thank you so, so, so much for making your videos, and for not being afraid to be your awesome selves.
It was you guys being such a loving and happy family, and sharing what you had talked about in church those days, that first got me interested in the Church. So just know that it does good. It puts good into the world when you talk about it. And if it affected me, I don’t know how many others it must also affect. Keep sharing it. I know some people get down on you in the comments for it. But it’s just not their time. Yet.
I’m so, so grateful that it was mine.
I love you, Shaytards <3.