Carly Lampi | The Voice of Zion November 2022 --
When I was four years old, a believing family moved into our neighborhood. Luckily for me, they had a girl my age with whom I made fast friends. We spent the majority of our days together. On hot summer days, we created the most elaborate imaginary worlds out of old cinder blocks and fallen trees, making up silly songs and marching to them, or trying to sell warm lemonade on our road that had very little traffic. On rainy days, we walked up and down that same road, carefully escorting the washed up worms to safety from the pavement to the muddy grass. All the while, we talked about nearly anything and everything. It was a friendship that greatly enriched my childhood.
I come from a loving family that has a lot of dysfunction. My parents have both struggled with mental health and their own personal addictions. Their financial, marital, and mental stresses seemed to darken our home, and my brothers and I were witnesses to a lot of their conflict. Although we also had many good days, I battled with a lot of anxiety and anger at home.
From an early age, I was drawn to the believers’ home. It was a calming break from what was happening at my house. I was the neighbor girl who was always calling the landline or knocking on the door to come and play. I don’t remember thinking much about the lack of a television in their home or about any other religious differences. I do however remember the peace I felt there as I played amidst beautiful music, the smell of fresh baking, and the loving banter of their family. Looking back on this, it is clear to me that what I was feeling was the presence of the Holy Spirit in their home and the peace that radiates from children of God who have their sins forgiven.
Since I spent so much time with them, they began offering to take me to church. I went to services many times with their family from the time I was six to the time I repented at age thirteen. My own family attended a Lutheran church occasionally throughout my childhood. My brothers went to church without a hitch, but I always resisted going as much as possible. I would lay in my bed long after I had woken up, pretending to sleep in hopes that my parents would leave me home. At times it felt like the only reason we went to church was to convince ourselves that despite our issues, we still were “good people.” Attending this church likely helped my parents cope with their hardships, but it seemed disingenuous to me as a child, as we nearly never spoke of faith or God in our home.
For one reason or another, attending services with the believers never struck me the same way as my family’s church. Perhaps it was the liveliness of all the large families, getting to go there with a friend, or being in the presence of that same peace I sensed in their home. All the same, I loved going to Minneapolis church with my neighbors so much that I attended some Sunday school and even sang in a Christmas program during my early elementary school years. I still remember the excitement of lining up with the other children in the overflow room, feeling like twins with my friend in our matching red velvet dresses.
There were definitely periods of time when I lost interest in going to church with the believers, but by the time I was twelve, I was going with them nearly every Sunday and Wednesday. At the time, my dad was happy with this arrangement. He is the son of two Lutheran speakers and felt it was important for his children to be confirmed. While I had gone a few times to confirmation school at my family’s church, I refused to continue. I had made more believing friends and was back in Sunday school. At this time, I was still chasing the wonderful feeling I felt around the believers, while not really listening to the sermons or thinking much about faith.
On October 31st, 2009, a couple of girls from church were over at the neighbors’ house. The plan was that we would spend all day together and go to church that evening. That afternoon, the girls and I walked to the nearby coffee shop. On the way back, one of them took me aside. I wish I remembered her exact words, but I remember them being beautifully blunt and to the point. Something like: “So do you want to be a believer or what?” This caught me off-guard, and I really didn’t understand the question. Instead of seeking clarification, I just guessed that the right answer was “yeah” and went with it. She then explained that I needed my sins forgiven, and preached the gospel to me.
This is one of my favorite memories, as it details just how simple faith is, and how children can plainly and easily put it into words. The rest of the day was so bright and felt surreal. Even though I don’t believe this is when I truly repented in my heart, it was the day I realized that the peace I saw in the believers could be extended to me. From there, I focused on figuring out what being a believer actually meant.
At first, I thought of sin very simply. By this, I mean that I thought of sin as mostly outward actions, like watching inappropriate television shows or purposely hurting others. It seemed like changing my lifestyle to be “mostly sinless” was going to be pretty easy: “I will stop watching television, I won’t lie, I’ll work to respect my parents.”
However, it wasn’t long after that I realized that all my doubtful, hateful, and envious thoughts were also sin before God. In other words, it dawned on me that I can’t fool God by my outward appearance, He knows and sees all. After this realization, I felt like I was never safe and feared God and how much He knows. I began to stress over all the bothersome thoughts and feelings I experienced each day; every time I felt envious of someone else, every time I thought I hated a girl at school, every time I accused God of forgetting to bless me. How could I be a “good believer” if I have such a loose grip on my sinful thoughts?
Although I thought I repented earlier, I now think my true repentance occurred at this time, when I became deeply troubled and scared of my own untamable corruption. I discussed this with my dear friend, and then I was given to grasp the true meaning of the gospel. When the gospel was then preached to me, I felt all this fear and discomfort with myself lift from my heart. I was free and happy like I couldn’t recall ever feeling before.
My spirit is imprisoned by my weak and corrupted flesh; the holy dove of heaven in this vessel of clay doth rest. There trembling in his corner, oh, how often the dove doth wail; the winds of earth are biting through the walls that are thin and frail! At times this dove of heaven is uplifted from fear and woe when warming rays of mercy in his vessel of clay do flow. These words from song of Zion 592 speak so thoroughly to the feelings in my heart. Our own corruption is troubling and scary. This purity of our faith resides in flesh that is weak in the fight against sin and is inherently corrupt on its own. The gospel finds its way from God into our souls and gives nourishment to our faith, encouraging us to continue this journey, and reminding us that eternal life in heaven awaits.
When I first began spending time with believers, I was under the impression that believers are as content and happy as they are due to a nearly “sinless” lifestyle. However, after I partook of the gospel that day, I understood that this contentment comes from being counted as sinless by God, rather than being strong and committed enough to not fall into sin in the first place. Partaking of this gospel message is what it means to believe as a child of God. We are faulty, blind, and foolish, full of sin, like other men, yet we’re counted wise and sinless through the works of Christ, Your son (SHZ 203:1).
Following my repentance, the Minneapolis congregation became a whole new kind of family to me. I was thoroughly taken care of in many ways. I received many rides to and from church and friend’s houses, and adults would consistently check in with how I was doing and offer guidance when I needed it. I loved visiting the elders and would occasionally help myself to a spot at the elder’s table after Wednesday night Bible class. Still today, when the words “mother congregation” are used, I feel that warmth in my heart of how precious and caring God’s Kingdom was to me then and still is today.
God has since preserved me in faith. He has blessed my life in ways that my childhood self would have never imagined. I am now a mother in a believing home with a loving husband, three children, and a fourth baby on the way. The beautiful music I recall at the neighbors’ home is now playing in the background of my own, and the gospel is preached here often. While the devil continues to tempt and try me each day, I simply pray that I will continue to travel on this narrow path of God’s children and make it to the heavenly home one day. All the while I am thankful to God and the way He has carefully directed my life and will continue to do so according to His plan.