By: Jenna Davant //
My name is Jenna, and I’m a recent convert to the LDS Church. I was baptized on July 12th, 2014, in Austin Texas, where I moved about two weeks before my baptism. I’m from Texas originally, but was living in Los Angeles, California for the past six years. At the time I thought I was moving there to become a filmmaker, but I now know that moving there was more of a prompting from our Heavenly Father, to meet the people that I needed to meet so that I might heal and become a whole person.
I was asked to give a talk at my ward in Santa Monica the Sunday before I made the big move about my testimony and the experiences that led to my decision to convert, and I would like to share that talk here. It has been a few months since my baptism, and I still get chills thinking about the answered prayers, pondering and revelation that inspired me to write and say these words, and I am humbled at the thought of sharing them with investigators, converts, and lifelong members alike.
My talk begins with the lyrics of a song by a Texan folk artist named Daniel Johnston.
I took my lucky break and I broke it in two
I put on my worried shoes
And my shoes took me so many miles and they never wore out
My worried shoes
I made a mistake and I never forgot
I tied knots in the laces of
My worried shoes
And with every step that I’d take I’d remember my mistake
As I marched further and further away
In my worried shoes
And my shoes took me down a crooked path
Away from all welcome mats
My worried shoes
And then one day I looked around and I found the sun shining down
And I took off my worried shoes
And my feet broke free
I didn’t need to wear them
And then I knew the difference between worrying and caring
‘Cause I’ve got a lot of walking to do
And I don’t want to wear
My worried shoes
This song was very interesting to me at the time, because I really hadn’t listened to Daniel Johnston much since I moved away from Texas. I was praying the Sunday before my talk, because let’s be honest, when was the last time anyone asked a non-Mormon to get up and speak during Sacrament meeting? You can understand that I’d been pretty afraid of totally blowing it. So anyway, I had recently acquired a new laptop, and had been doing the good work of filling it with all my favorite programs and photos and of course, music. In the midst of all of that, I stumbled across this song, and something just totally clicked.
I had heard it a million times before, but until that Sunday, had never really realized that I had my very own pair of worried shoes – and I’d been wearing them for years. And those worried shoes did take me down a crooked path. And they did take me away from all welcome mats. And the longer I wore them, the darker my little corner of the world felt. And I never knew why. I never knew why I felt alone in a crowded room, or why I felt that I was truly, deeply, sadly, unworthy of love. I never knew that the heaviness in my heart was not because I had too much to bear, but because I was shouldering it on my own.
They say the Lord works in mysterious ways, and boy does he. Another discovery that I made recently was that the person who brought me to this wonderful church actually moved to Los Angeles only six months after I did. Of all places to move, and of all times to move here, and of all schools to go to – her husband had brought their family all the way from Salt Lake City to Santa Monica, so that he could attend the Art Institute of California – which is where I was studying. Now my decision to go there wasn’t one that I really thought much about. I literally woke up one morning, applied to the school, and a month later, was cruising west on I-10 to fulfill a dream that I wasn’t even really dreaming of. You could say I was on autopilot, marching on and on and on in my worried little shoes.
I cried for the first three years that I lived there. My friends were like a revolving door of people – people who “didn’t come here to make friends” and I was living with the actual worst women I have ever met in my life, whom I did my best to stay away from by spending most of my freshman year locked in my closet listening to records and reading books. On top of all of that, I had a gut feeling that filmmaking wasn’t going to be my life’s path, but I was in too deep and had no clue what my path ought to be instead, so I stuck with it, and kept trying to power through.
One day as I was leaving school, a wonderful man named Wynn stopped me, out of nowhere, as if he was just passing through – and said, “Hey, do you think you could tutor my daughter? I can pay you a couple bucks and cook you a nice dinner once a week if you’re game.” I was dumbstruck. Me? Tutor? I actually wondered in that moment if I were smarter than a fifth grader. But I agreed, and I worked with Morgan for the remainder of that semester. Little did I know that her mother, Tiffany, would grow to be one of my most treasured friends in this world.
The “Mormon” conversation started out because she was working on getting her 72 hour kit together. I guess her Bishop was making house calls at the time to make sure everyone had them. Now I, being the Paranoid Polly that I am, was totally interested. What church requires all of its members to have bug-out bags? I wasn’t very interested in the doctrine at the time, but emergency prep really spoke to me. We kind of pushed around the idea, but it wasn’t until the Tsunami in Japan that I really committed. A few days after it struck, Tiffany and I set out to build our kits – we bought in bulk and divided rations between us, and we totally bonded.
Throughout the years since, we’ve spoken about everything from the true meaning of love, to spirituality and religion, to high school journals. A few years ago, she gave me this wonderful book to read by a Mormon writer, Sheri Dew called “No One Can Take Your Place.” I highly recommend it. She invited me to her relief society functions and told me all about the book of Mormon. She never put any pressure on me or asked me to believe in it, but through her faith and testimony, I gradually became more interested. And I mean really gradually. For three solid years, I stood by, skeptical, and unwilling to take the bait. But even still, I guess she and Wynn used to joke that I would be “the perfect Mormon.” I don’t know if that’s true, but I’m hoping I’ll at least make a pretty good one.
A few weeks before April 2014 General Conference, some major shifts were happening in my life, and I was having kind of a tough time. Well, let’s be honest – a really tough time. It was then that I started really praying and talking to Tiffany about the church with a personal curiosity, and she gave me an official invite.
I cried during my first day at church out of a mixture of joy of finding what I had been looking for all along, and a shuddering realization of the healing that still needed to be done. In the months since, after much introspection, I have realized that Tiffany is so much more than a friend that I met while I lived in California. All the advice she’s given me, and all the talks we’ve had, all along, she was gradually, unknowingly, helping me to heal my broken heart with the power of the Holy Ghost. I firmly believe that Heavenly Father brought us together so that He could bring me to finally untie these worried shoes.
He bought us together so that I might see the sunlight, and so that I might accept this gospel into my heart in the only way it ever could have happened – through careful examination and by taking my own sweet time. Heavenly Father knows me very well, you see. He knows that I’m a skeptic, and that I’m a little lazy, but that once I find what I’m looking for, I never let it go.
What I’ve learned as a result of Wynn and Tiffany so graciously and innocuously inviting me into their lives is that you just never know who you’re gonna save when you walk out that door in the morning. You never know how what you say or do is going to impact the people around you. And you never know if someone’s got their worried shoes on, because worried shoes are invisible. I don’t know where I would be today if I had never moved here, or if Wynn had never asked me to tutor his daughter, or if Tiffany had never told me about 72 hour kits, or if I had never taken that leap of faith and gone to church with her. Thankfully, I don’t have to. Where do you think you would be if every step you had ever taken hadn’t led you right here? I invite you to ask yourself, who do you know who might be wearing worried shoes, who do you know who would be better off sitting right next to you today?
Sometimes we put on worried shoes, and it’s very hard to take them off – we think that because we made one mistake, we’re ruined, or we get scared of getting out of our comfort zones and really going for the things that we love, and sometimes we’re even afraid to simply speak our minds. I can testify before you today, that there are no mistakes so big that Heavenly Father won’t look upon you softly for, and if you truly repent, there is no distance so far that you can’t come back to Him and revel in his grace and glory, and because of the atonement, you don’t have to worry about being ruined. You need not worry about taking the big leaps, because with Heavenly Father on your side, it’s kind of like leaping in a ballet – you know, the kind where there’s a guy carrying a ballerina across the stage? And because Heavenly Father made you, you can trust that what you feel is valid – and that the things you say do have an impact. When you have the Spirit in your heart, and you speak your truth, it does matter. You matter. We all do. Even me, as it turns out.
I will leave off with a particularly inspiring, and relevant, and abbreviated quote by President Thomas S. Monson:
“Our opportunities to give of ourselves are indeed limitless, but they are also perishable. There are hearts to gladden. There are kind words to say. There are gifts to be given. There are deeds to be done. There are souls to be saved. We can turn from the paths which would lead us down and, with a song in our hearts, follow a star and walk toward the light. We can quicken our step, bolster our courage, and bask in the sunlight of truth. We can hear more clearly the laughter of little children. We can dry the tear of the weeping. We can comfort the dying by sharing the promise of eternal life. If we lift one weary hand which hangs down, if we bring peace to one struggling soul, if we give as did the Master, we can—by showing the way—become a guiding star for some lost mariner.”
I testify before you today that I know that this is the one true church. I know that this gospel is true and I can feel in my heart that the spirit lives here. I am so thankful for the atonement, and that Joseph Smith was unafraid to ask the toughest question of all – and also that he was unafraid to stand up for what he believed in. I’m so grateful that my path led me to my friend Tiffany, to whom I owe so much more than I could ever repay. I look forward to spending the rest of my life practicing these principles, and to getting closer to God through personal revelation, and to becoming as Christlike as possible in my relatively short time around the sun.
I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.