“Growing into the Church,” Ensign, June 1984, 64–65
Each person’s conversion to the gospel comes in its own way. Mine happened the way I needed it to happen. It was not the result of a dramatic revelation. There was no glow of light, no bolt of lightning. It happened gradually, like the building of a pyramid, one stone at a time.
It began thirty-five years ago, when I first saw Ann Farnsworth, the woman who became my wife and changed the course of my life.
I’m not sure when I started to accept the gospel, but my love for the Latter-day Saints began with my love for her. The greatest missionary tool in the Church is the example of the Latter-day Saints themselves. Many people accept the missionary lessons because they had an LDS neighbor with a beautiful life-style, or knew a fellow at the office who saw good in everyone and beauty in every day, or had a friend who faced the death of a loved one with the peaceful assurance that the person was in better hands than his own.
Through the years, I found myself growing more and more like the good church members I knew. I gave up habits that did not fit in my association with them. Many close friends did not realize I was not a member. One pair of next door neighbors in Chula Vista, California, used to listen to my children and me at play in our back yard, or to our frequent work details; they never heard any fighting or screaming or cursing—just laughter. He and his wife were so impressed with our family that they sent for the missionaries, studied the gospel, and were baptized. It was some time before I had the courage to tell them I wasn’t a member.
Perhaps ten years ago I reached a crisis in my life. I had raised six children and had a wife who was not only my sweetheart but my best friend. These loved ones were the only things in the world that were important to me, and their greatest desire was for me to join the Church. What was I waiting for?
I decided to be baptized. Then I realized that if I went to our bishop and told him I didn’t really believe the gospel but wanted to join the church to please my wife and family, he would likely tell me to get converted first.
A short time after we moved to Escondido, our bishop, David Tew, called me into his office to ask why I hadn’t joined the Church and if there was anything he could do to help. Bishop Tew did not know that he was already doing exactly the right thing: he was being a marvelous example for me as a loving father, a caring and thoughtful bishop, a skilled educator, and much more.
In Escondido, we were blessed with an outstanding home teacher who came into my life at just the right time. I was struggling with trying to gain an intellectual understanding of the gospel, so I needed someone who was patient, gentle, understanding, and extremely knowledgeable in the gospel. Don Marler was that person. With his wife and children, he was one of many who worked hard to bring happy experiences to me, my wife, and our family.
In our next bishop, Guy Baker, I found a best friend who sensed immediately that I would not be pressured into joining the Church if I did not believe and understand the gospel. He never brought up religion unless I asked a question, and then his answers were so honest and logical that I questioned him more and more often.
But finally it took the strength and clarity of the gospel itself to make me a member.
Early in my association with the Church, I was struck by the beauty and ultimate logic of the precept that “families are forever.” This idea captured my attention immediately because I was raised in a large, loving family, and I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be lovely if that were true?” I watched my wife at the death of her mother, only months after the passing of her father. She was so confident that her mother was now with her own husband, she found no reason to grieve deeply, except in the loneliness of the temporary separation.
It was in discovering the beauty of the Book of Mormon for myself, however, that I finally found my own testimony. Many times I had been asked to read the book and pray about it. But one night my wife asked me again to read it, in a manner that I could not refuse. “Read it and pray about it,” she said, “and if you then cannot accept the gospel, I promise never to mention it again.” I knew she was offering to make a painful sacrifice because I knew how much this Church means to her.
So I pulled out one of the many copies of the Book of Mormon strategically placed around our house and took it to the office. Each day at lunch I would read a few chapters, and each evening I went home armed with more questions. I carefully scrutinized each sentence, comparing it with Old Testament chronology. I examined the feasibility of these incidents as pertaining to the history of the Americas.
Finally, I was through. I closed the book, then closed my eyes, and prayed. Nothing happened. I prayed some more. Nothing—no bolt of lightning, no voice, no warm glow.
As I drove home that evening, I was deep in thought about the Book of Mormon. “Okay, let’s look at this analytically,” I said to myself. “This book is either completely true or completely false. It can’t be anything in between.” And then came a beautiful, memorable experience, and a feeling settling like peaceful wings on my heart and mind: I could not believe that an uneducated farm boy wrote an epic book, this complex and incredible, that blended perfectly with all existing scripture and history. Even if he could, why would he want to? It ultimately cost him his life. If it wasn’t a hoax, then it was entirely true. And if the Book of Mormon was true, then everything he said and wrote was true. The thoughts and feelings went to the core of my being.
Shortly thereafter I was baptized. When I emerged from the waters of baptism, I looked out over a sea of faces that virtually glowed with happiness. I saw tears running down the cheeks of my children. I saw in the eyes of my wife the fulfillment of a dream. And I realized how very blessed I was.