Before I was 11 years old, I had read the entire Bible. My father, a brittle diabetic before the days of modern medicine, was frequently ill and I was expected to ‘be quiet’ during his long periods of being bedfast. Reading was the quietest thing I could do, and my mother did not much approve of ‘wasting time reading fiction’, so I read the Bible. Thus, I was always questioning why what was in there was not what the Methodist Church practiced. One thing that bothered me was the lack of tithing in spite of clear instructions that it is important. Therefore, before I was a teen, I practiced a form of tithing as I always gave away at least 10% of my income, but it was more like fast offerings than true tithing.
Another thing that bothered me was the lack of service which seemed so contrary to Christ’s teachings. Once, when I had a new Winter coat and another girl had none, I gave her mine as I had the old one at home. The lectures I got from my mother and the pastor about being practical were nullified by my father’s, “I am glad she is a generous person”. My father was my main support as a child. His death soon after my 11th birthday was devastating.
As I grew into my teen years, I looked for a church that ‘fit’ with what I believed. Thus, it was easy to convert to Roman Catholic when I married in 1964 at 20. The man I married loved to travel, and his home was an RV on the back of his large pickup truck. As 2 different doctors, one in the US Air Force, had told me I was sterile and would NEVER have children, we saw no problem with our gypsy lifestyle and set out happily to see the world, or at least North and South America. We got as far as Arkansas. After spending several weeks each in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, while camped on the Buffalo River, we discovered I was expecting! This called for a drastic change of plans!
When my in-laws learned of my condition, they offered us the use of a family homestead in Warsaw, Ill. Therefore, in the Autumn of 1964 we moved there. Those familiar with church history know Warsaw is in Hancock Co., half-way between Quincy and Nauvoo. The 40-acre farm came with a lot of anti-LDS lore. In fact, a maternal great-grand father of my husband was said to be a member of the Warsaw Irregulars who murdered Joseph Smith. It was only after I joined this church and started on genealogy that I realized someone who left Europe in 1845 could not have been a member of that group in 1844, though he was later a member.
The 18-months we lived there, I learned much about the “Mormons”, most of it negative. However, I had learned as a teen the lesson that most groups had both good and bad people. I didn’t actually become anti-LDS, then, in spite of my in-laws dislike.
When my 2nd son was born the 29th of Jan. with the temperature at 29 BELOW 0, I announced this FL girl had had enough of Northern winters! As my husband actually did not care for extreme cold either, we headed South–to AR in the Spring of 1966. This was our compromise as he felt about FL, my home state, summers as I did IL winters.
Now, let’s fast forward a few years to the mid-1970’s after I had become involved, with my husband, in the fire and emergency services. I was teaching not only fire and police officers, but local community groups. Several churches had me teach the then-new technique of CPR to members. One women’s group, which I now know was the Relief Society, stood out due to the lack of diversity among them. In a town about evenly divided between Anglos and persons-of-color, all members of my class were very pale. After learning the name of this church, I realized it was the one back in ILL—LDS or “Mormons”. I knew no real facts about these people, who seemed much nicer than I had been led to believe.
Finally, after teaching a couple classes, I asked if the other members wanted to learn CPR and was told the men were learning from a male firefighter. “No, I said, I mean the other women, the darker skinned ones?” With a very prissy look, the woman flatly replied, “People of color are not allowed to be members of our church!” Stunned, I said nothing more. That was when I became anti-Mormon, including refusal to teach the members any more classes. This happened in 1976. Of course, I now realize she was nearly as uninformed as; but, after that statement, I had no interest in LDS and would avoid anyone I knew was a member.
kipping forward to 1984, I became a single woman and was not entirely satisfied with the Catholic Church. Again, there were too many inconstancies between scripture and the church. I actually probably explored all the world’s religions, including some better left unexplored. None seemed to satisfy me.
Now, let’s fast forward again, this time to 1992. Both my daughters and their husbands were living in TX. I had, long before, told them if either became pregnant while in school, I’d move nearby to help. Thus, when my eldest called that Wed morning in August to ask if I had really meant it, I was already mentally prepared to leave AR after 26 years. In fact, I had been considering returning to FL when Dorothy called. More difficult than changing states was leaving a rural life-style after 28-years to go to the busy Ft. Worth-Dallas metroplex. My daughter and son-in-law had moved into a 2 bedroom apartment anticipating the expected arrival. I moved into the one atop them. Dorothy attended college full-time, soon to change to part, and worked part-time at a veterinary clinic where one of the docs was LDS.
About a year after my grand-daughter Stacy’s birth, her mother began looking for a church in which to raise her daughter. My children had been raised in the Roman Catholic faith, the church of their father, with liberal doses of Methodism, the church of my youth, and Episcopalian, the church of their paternal grandmother. However, Dorothy’s husband was half Japanese and considered himself an atheist.
Of course, you know what happened when my daughter mentioned her search to the LDS doc. The Elders came to Dorothy’s door, and she invited them in. A discussion involving church history in Ill somehow got started. As I had not only lived in the area, but also studied American History my first time in college, Dorothy came upstairs to ask me if I would come down to answer the question. In spite of my misgivings left from the AR LDS ladies years before, I agreed.
The discussion was progressing when Elder Buck suddenly blurted, “You know more about church history than the average member!! Why aren’t you a member?” As these seemed to be nice young men, and I had no desire to give offense, I tried to avoid answering his question. However, after some badgering from both Elders, I finally said, “Because you are so prejudiced! I will not be a member of any group that excludes most of the human race because their skin is not pale”.
Now, I was talking to a pair of 20-year olds in 1993. They had been 5-years-old in ‘78 and had no idea what I was talking about. After a couple of seconds looking stunned, Elder Buck asked, “If I can prove we are not prejudiced, will you join us?”
Being sure he could NEVER do that, I responded “sure”. I had no intention of doing so. It was simply something to say to a pair of nice young men to prevent arguments. As it turned out, Elder Buck was working splits that eve. The next, he was back with his regular companion, Elder Brown from Louisiana, who was the same color as his name. Talk about a jaw-dropping moment!! Now it was my turn to be stunned!!
Even more impressive to me, Elder Buck had talked to someone and learned about the 1978 Declaration. He had a copy for me and was able to explain its significance!! After getting my composure back, I knew I needed to learn more about this church I’d promised to join. At that point, I knew nothing about the Word of Wisdom, the law of Chastity, Temples, Eternal Marriage, or any of the LDS doctrines. Plus, I smoked about 2 packs of cigs daily, drank coffee like it was water, was a vegetarian on my way to becoming a hermit while investigating the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, and had recently broken-up with my live-in boyfriend who did not want to relocate to TX. The only things I did correctly were daily Bible reading, tithing, and no alcohol, due to be being a recovered alcoholic. Needless to say, I had many lifestyle changes, partly completed before my Baptism 25 May 1993.
The rules for Baptism then were very different. At first, I was not an active member. Due to working Fri., Sat., and Sun. 7pm-7am in a hospital 25-miles south, my weekend days were spent mostly sleeping. In fact, before Baptism, the only church meetings I attended was Sat. of General Conf. in April 1993, accomplished by taking off a Fri. night, and Relief Society Week Night Enrichment meetings, or whatever it was called then.
The summer of 1994, we moved into a house located closer to Dorothy’s college. This was in a NEW ward that had existed only about 6-months, had not yet had an adult Baptism, and had an activity rate of 99%!! Yes, it is true—the only not-actives were an elderly lady with one-leg who lived in a nursing home and myself!! At the time, I had no idea what those statistics meant, but I am sure most of you do!! Suddenly, I had many new friends!! Thoughts of becoming a hermit slowly vanished as I became more involved in service, which I had always loved. In my first ward, I had attended monthly, week-day Relief Society meetings and was called as Relief Society librarian–a calling I have since learned was invented by a thoughtful Bishop and continued by my 2nd, as I received the same calling in Flower Mound for the first year.
A couple to whom I was especially close, the Chesworths, learned of my love of learning and invited me to adult institute. I accepted and started spending Wed. eves, my time off, with many wonderful members. One of the things that stunned me was the approval of the service I rendered!! Having been told most of my life that I am a ‘sucker’ for helping people, I was delighted to learn that this group was actually approving of what I did. Not only did they approve, the actually gave me MORE opportunities to serve!!
Deciding I wanted to be more like the other class members, and sensing the Temple was a large part of their lives, I wanted to go there. However, when I announced it to Bro. Chesworth, I said something like “Can we go tomorrow?” to which he bluntly but kindly replied, “There are a couple things you need to change first”.
“And what would that be? I inquired.
“First, go to church every Sunday”
“That would be hard; I might need to change jobs, what else?”
“Oh, should I stop sending 10% of my income to Billy Graham and use that, or just give the church an additional 10%?”This resulted in an interesting conversation.
“Anything else”, I asked. “Stop smoking” he replied.
Now, that was a poser! Although I had stopped for my Baptism, abstinence had lasted only a few weeks, partly from work influences. Making the decision to do as Bro. Chesworth suggested was difficult. It was before Thanksgiving when our discussion occurred. I kept thinking of Pres. Hunter’s talk at the most recent General Conference about the need for every member to be Temple worthy. By Christmas I had decided to either drop the church or do as other members did.
My decision was made New Year’s Eve 1994. As I smoked my last cig, I resolved to ‘do everything the others members do for one year and follow all priesthood counsel given me’. I figured I could do most anything for just one year; and, if I did not like it, I could always return to my old ways. As Alma had said, if we have but a desire, that can grow into habit—so I experimented upon the word.
The first Sunday in Jan. of 1995 I attended Sacrament. It was difficult, but Heavenly Father helped me to be able to stay awake and listen to everything. Church was the 9am session that year. Thus, I drove from work to church, and then went home to sleep a few hours before returning to work.
As I became more involved, I received a second calling—working in Family History, a new field to me. As I had lots of info on my former husband’s family, I started on them first. About the first of Feb., Bishop Gunnell stopped me in the hall and asked if I was planning to go to the Temple someday. Getting a positive reply from me, he proceeded, “The first Sat. of March is our Ward Temple Super Sat. and I would like that to be your Endowment Day.” Slightly stunned, I came back with, “But I’ve only really been coming to church a month!! How can I be ready?” The words he spoke next will never depart from my mind—“You have been ready a long time, you just needed to learn obedience”. As I have since learned, obedience is never a ‘just’ thing, but then I simply accepted his words and started preparing for the big day.
While most of the rest of the LDS world was watching Pres. Hunter’s funeral, I was in the Texas Dallas Temple for the first time. Due to everyone in the Ward being there and all ordinances being done, not only did I receive my own endowments, I also was able to do both my grandmothers’ endowments!! Males in the Ward did my grandfathers and my father.
Thus, my very first day in the Temple, I was able to do 3 Endowment sessions—plus have both sets of grandparents sealed and my father sealed to his parents. The feelings I had that day cannot be described in words, but gave me a GREAT love for the Temple. That was the day I was truly converted to this Gospel and knew I’d never go back to my old ways. The next week, Heavenly Father saw to it that I acquired a different job, both closer to home and with hours that allowed me to easily attend sacrament.
Since then, I have strived to do whatever is needed to keep my Temple Recommend. When my Bishop told me to learn to handle my own money or lose Temple privileges (the person handling my money thought tithing was silly and wasn’t paying but she had stopped sending money to Billy Graham), I learned to manage my money at the age of 52—and am still learning but improving all the time. When someone at church offended me and I did not want to be in their presence anymore, thus stopped going to Sacrament for a few weeks, the Temple Recorder explained the seriousness of my actions and the sureness of me losing my recommend ( I was a Temple Service Volunteer in the cafeteria). Later, the woman and I became friends and we eventually worked things out.
This is a long story because it covers 60-years of my life searching for the truth before finding the true church, one that ‘fit’ with what I KNEW to be true as a child. Because of a rashly made promise to a young Elder, I am now a member of the only true and living church on earth. Wonders never cease!!!!
My tale illustrates 3 important points often expressed by Apostles:
1-most people do not join the first time they are introduced to our church; it takes several exposures for conversion to happen
2-in spite of two negative experiences, I eventually became a member of the true church
3-conversion is not a onetime event but an on-going process, perhaps a life-long one. Although I count March 4, 1995 as the date of my conversion, it was actually the start of a continuing process that continues today.
In the name of Jesus Christ I say these things in hopes of helping someone else along the path to return to be with our Heavenly Father eternally.
I enjoyed reading your story so much that, somewhere in the middle, I found myself hoping it wouldn’t end too soon and was happy to find that you wrote much more! You have a really interesting story!
Love the comment by your dad “I am glad she is a generous person” what an insightful man he was! : )
And what determination and faith you have to quit smoking…no small feat!!
Your story brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing it.
JoCarol, thank you so much for that beautiful story of your conversion. How wonderful to know that there are actually people that are looking to serve others as you have done, and you were looking for a church that showed love through service-the kind of service that is Christ-like and giving without thought of recompence. Despite two bad experiences with members of our Church, you still found your way-or really I think I would say the Lord made sure you got to the truth of the matters that were concerning you so that you would have opportunity to hear the “whole” truth and not just what others told you about the “Mormons.” Very beautiful testimony of the power of the temple as well. Love, Susan
I know this is supposed to be about your story, but I just can’t get over how cute that picture is!! Hugs to all <3
Wonderful, wonderful. Hugs from California!!
Big Hugs for you and your family.
I LOVE it!!
What a joy to know you in real life and to read your story here. Hugs from Texas, and bushels of love.