Chapter 1: Under the Covenant (“Falling into Grace”)

I stood in the church foyer looking into the chapel and on the congregation as they sang a hymn to start their worship. They were blissfully unaware of my presence and the destruction that awaited them. Beautiful organ music floated beyond the door and tugged at me gently, enticing me to join the others.

My heart was cold as steel, and loathing consumed me. I could feel an ungodly power coursing through my veins. I was their enemy now. There was no going back. It was time to right the wrongs they caused me. Every molecule of my body ignited, and like a stick of dynamite, I exploded.

The building, the singing, and the congregants were gone in an instant. There was nothing but smoke and ash.

I awoke feeling appalled. The dream felt so real. Lying in bed that night, sweat formed on my forehead and my heart pounded. I loved the restored Church, it was the only holy and pure organization on earth, and it was an integral part of my identity. I couldn’t imagine a scenario where I’d be as angry as I was in my dream. 

Adrenaline still flowed through me. As horrified as I was, there was a part of me that wasn’t satisfied. I wanted more destruction. I wanted to force them to respect, maybe even fear me.

What did it mean? Was it a deception from Satan, or was it revealing my true underlying nature? Was I evil? Was I destined to fight against the Church?

I leaned back against the headboard and exhaled deeply. There was nothing to worry about. I had God-given freedom of choice. Regardless of destiny, it was ultimately my choice who or what I would become. I would never let myself be swayed by the powers of darkness. 

I reminded myself that I was literally a child of God. I was there when Jesus presented the Father’s plan to send us to earth, to erase our memories, and test us. I was there when Satan and his followers revolted. I was a defender of the light. I joined God’s army and helped push back the Devil and his minions. 

I knew this was true because the prophets had revealed it. In 1820, a young man named Joseph Smith, Jr., went into a grove of trees one morning to pray and ask God which church to join. There he claimed he was visited by God, the Father and the Son, Jesus, who told him not to join any of the Christian sects because they were all wrong.

Joseph was called as a prophet to restore a fallen and fragmented Christianity back to its former glory. He founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as Mormonism or the LDS church, in 1830. 

Ever since his martyrdom on June 27th, 1844, the Church was led by prophets and apostles who held the keys of the Melchezidek priesthood. This priesthood was passed down to me by the laying on of hands. It was a burden and an honor to bear the authority to act in God’s name. With it, I could perform saving ordinances and change someone’s eternal trajectory.

Of all the people in the world, only a few had the privilege to be born under the Gospel covenant. I was part of a noble lineage, a seventh generation Mormon through my maternal line. My ancestors knew the prophet Joseph and travelled with handcarts to Utah to escape unprecedented religious persecution.

My dad was a convert. He explored many religions and was still searching when LDS missionaries gave him The Book of Mormon. It was a volume of scripture from the lost tribes of Israel descended from Joseph. Its location was revealed to Joseph Smith by an angel, and he was able to translate it through the gift and power of God. 

My father read the book in a single day. Not long after, he was baptized. I was blessed to have so many faithful relatives, but because of my dad I also felt the energy of a new believer. If I was faithful, I would serve a two-year mission for my church when I turned 19. I would be the first missionary ever to come from the Flournoy line.

Whenever my grandpa talked about my mission his eyes would tear up. “You’re the torchbearer,” he would say. My service would inspire my three younger brothers to serve. It was vital that I go.

Every member of the Church had the chance to receive a special prophetic blessing from a man called the Patriarch. Each church building had one Patriarch who was called to give these blessings. He was usually wise in years and very close to the Spirit.

I was nervous when I went for my blessing. Spiritually speaking, I was supposed to be clean and spotless. Sin could interrupt the subtle art of receiving revelation. What if I wasn’t worthy enough? What if the old man placed his hands on my head but no words came out?

My mom drove me to the Patriarch’s home, and he asked me a few questions about myself. We’d never met, but then, we didn’t need to. He had me sit in a chair and he placed his weathered hands on my head. 

He addressed me as Brother Michael and said I belonged to the tribe of Ephraim. He told me it was my choice whether to serve a mission, but if I did, I would treasure that experience my whole life. He said I would get married and have kids. 

Near the end of the blessing he said, “And now, Michael, I tell you that our Father in Heaven knows who you are. He knows your name, He knows your mind and heart and your sweet spirit and has great desire for you to become all that you are capable of becoming and to live righteously in this life- that you will be a blessing to your own family and to Heavenly Father who has a great vision for you in your life and may you see that vision as well.”

I clenched my fist as I recalled the words in bed. I didn’t believe I was meant for great things. Why did the Patriarch say that? I thought about my impending two-year mission and my heart grew heavy. I would never live up to my family’s legacy. There were so many miraculous stories about what they’d done in faraway lands.

One of my uncles was approached by a Catholic priest on his mission and asked why he was there. He answered with a song called “High Places” from the production Star Child.

Some men choose the downward road 

Afraid to walk in light untold

Too blind to ever recognize their plight

And some may choose the low low land

I know that some men walk in sand

And never know the joys of taking flight

But we’ve been called to walk in high places

Far from the crowd

Where light and truth and love abound

Yes, we’ve been called to walk in high places

And all the days we walk on earth

That’s where we’ll be found.

Something pricked the priest’s heart and he converted to the Church. That was just one story among dozens. Soon it would be my turn.

I lacked confidence and was shy to a fault. When my dad baptized me at eight years old, they had to close the curtains in the font and coax me into the water. I was afraid because Dad had been telling me he needed to hold me down for a long time to wash away all that sin. 

Baptism was the immersion into a covenant with God. Through baptism I promised to keep God’s commandments and to bear the burdens of my fellow man. In return, God promised me a place in the first resurrection and eternal life. 

Baptism was for the remission of sins. The day of my baptism I became spotless and clean. It should have been a special moment, but looking back, all I could remember was fear. 

Looking ahead, I knew my anxiety would ruin my mission too. I was supposed to be the torch bearer, the first missionary on my dad’s side and the next legend on my mom’s. I was going to let everyone down. 

My heart still thudded in my chest as I sat in bed. I told myself the dream was just a yearning for control. The men and women in the congregation hadn’t noticed me because I was only a footnote, an invisible saint. 

I wasn’t evil and I wasn’t going to turn against the Church someday. The prospect was laughable. I just needed a way to repel the disappointment my lackluster mission would cause my family.