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Be the Real You

Pathway missionary Sister Mary Nielsen shares how she’s been blessed by simply being herself and sharing her beliefs


A Grateful Heart

While I was a service missionary assigned to BYU-Pathway, I felt like I learned something new from the students at every gathering. They were a great example of what the power of a grateful heart could do. As I witnessed them increase their gratitude toward God, I saw them in turn strengthen one another. They recognized who they were, who Heavenly Father is, and what He expected of them.

Sister Nielsen (far left) with other service missionaries and employees at the BYU-Pathway Home Office

A person who is grateful and routinely acknowledges gratitude to Heavenly Father has a life that is focused on positive goals. They are more willing to serve, love, and be kind to others. As I’ve shown gratitude to God, I have noticed that it is much easier to be myself and to be open about my beliefs.

I’ve had a few experiences in my life that helped make this principle clear. A few of those stories have a special place in my heart, as I know how much I’ve grown because of them. I wish to share a few of those stories that helped me realize the importance of having a genuine, grateful heart.

Be You

The office building in Seattle where Sister Nielsen worked as a bill collector

My husband and I lived in Seattle, Washington, while he went to law school, and I graduated with a degree in elementary education. The city was in a deep recession at the time, so getting a job as a teacher was extremely difficult. I soon realized I had to start somewhere else.

I began working as a bill collector for a company in their credit department. I was placed in a huge open office with at least 200 other employees and a few little private office pods for the managers. While I worked there, I let my co-workers know that I was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

One day, the managers came up to me and said, “Would you please come in and speak with us?” I got nervous and thought, “Ok, I’m only 23, but for some reason, the managers want to speak with me.”

Never be Ashamed

“We need a little help,” they said. “One of the vice presidents from Chicago is coming to visit our office, and he’s a Mormon. How do we treat him?” I looked at them and struggled to hold back a laugh.

“Don’t offer him coffee or tea,” I said. “Cookies and soda are fine. He would appreciate it if you cleaned up your language, and just treat him like a normal human being.”

Sister Nielsen and her family outside the Provo Utah Temple in 1983 after having her youngest child sealed to them

After that, whenever the managers had a religious question, even if it wasn’t concerning my religion, I would always hear, ”Mrs. Nielsen, would you come into the office?”

I discovered later that there were four or five other members of the Church in that big office. Occasionally, one of them would say to me, “Don’t tell anybody you’re a member of the Church. You won’t be accepted.” That was the absolute opposite of what happened. I enjoyed my co-workers, they enjoyed me, they were comfortable, and it was a great experience. I ended up making many friends who weren’t members of the Church.

A lot of young women in that office would ask me relationship questions because they couldn’t understand why my husband and I were happy, and they were struggling. I’ve found that it was because my husband and I didn’t hide who we really were, and we always strived to be grateful for what we had.

Protected Through Values

Our non-member friends began to respect our morals so much that they would go out of their way to help us be obedient. In the early 90’s, my husband became the president of the family support council in California, which was a big deal for us. For his work one night, we were invited aboard a luxurious ship for dinner with his co-workers.

Sister Nielsen’s husband (right) and friend (left) who defended their standards while at a dinner for Elder Nielsen’s work

We had a lovely meal, and then came time for dessert. It was carrot pudding, which I grew up eating and loved. Traditionally, the dessert is soaked in rum, but my family never prepared it that way, so I had no idea it contained alcohol.

While they were bringing the dessert toward us, one of our friends stood up, waved his arms, and exclaimed, “Take it away! They’re Mormon! They can’t eat that! Take it away!” They did, and brought us ice cream instead.

I know some people have difficulties or get teased for being members of the Church, but that’s never been my experience. I’ve found that people admire our values, so they respect us. I still get difficult questions about the gospel, but I answer them the best I can without putting anybody down. People hold onto that. They see the good in you and rejoice with you.

Be yourself. Be natural and kind, but also non-judgmental. Open up and love other people so they see who you really are, and they’ll be drawn to you. If you let the Spirit shine through you, you’ll have many terrific experiences.

Elder and Sister Nielsen with their family