“The Power to Change,” Ensign, Jan. 1995, 10
The Power to Change
Latter-day Saints share stories of how the Savior’s atonement and the principles of the gospel reshaped their lives.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden,” the Savior invited, “and I will give you rest.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matt. 11:28–29).
Throughout the world in the latter days, millions of our Heavenly Father’s children have accepted this invitation. Stories of Church members healed in spirit, finding peace through the atonement and power of Jesus Christ, are plentiful.
A few months ago, the Ensign invited readers to share their stories of conversion and reactivation. Following are only a few of the accounts sent by members willing to tell of their experiences so that others might be strengthened. Because of the nature of the experiences, some of the names of those who shared them have not been used.
From Uncertainty to Truth
I am a 45-year-old woman with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and a career of sorts in freelance art, pottery, and writing. My husband, a computer programmer, has a scientific mind. We have no children. I was reared in a family of agnostics; they were among those sometimes referred to as the intelligentsia. My parents both felt that religion was a psychological crutch, needed only by the emotionally lame. I adopted the same attitude of proud superiority, wearing my accomplishments and independence like badges of honor.
But in 1992, my husband, Alex, and I experienced a “mighty change” of heart (Alma 5:14), thanks to two missionaries who listened to the Holy Ghost and knocked at our door while they were tracting.
Prior to this great event in our lives, Alex (whose parents were atheists) and I could have talked into the wee hours with the Book of Mormon anti-Christ Korihor, agreeing on much. We agreed there was no Messiah to save us from sin, for there was no sin from which to save us. There was no heaven to hope for nor hell to worry about, because when you died, you were dead, period. You certainly couldn’t prove otherwise by any scientific means!
Besides, I reasoned, if there were a God, certainly he wouldn’t condemn to hell so many in the world. Such action would be too human, not godlike. Nor would a God hide behind a priest, minister, or any other cleric; he would talk directly to anyone he wanted to, anytime, anywhere. So I rejected Christianity’s claim to be a true faith and decided that if a religious crutch were needed, any faith would do, as all of them seemed equally illogical and unprovable.
My own life, however, had never been as logical as I wished. It wasn’t easy at times. Some of my friends had told me that prayer made a difference in their lives, so I prayed occasionally—against all hope—to whatever supreme being there might be, asking that I might figure out the purpose of life somehow. If only I could see the large picture sketched out, then I could paint the details of my life into that framework with confidence. I had wrestled for years with the dilemma of how to act, what to do with my time on earth. The best I could come up with was to go with what I thought was best for myself and let everyone else do the same.
So, looking at life from my artist’s point of view, I had always tried to make good pots—to do the best I could do. But uneasiness and self-doubt haunted me constantly, and even at the happiest of occasions, the sad prospect of death and the pointlessness of life marred my joy.
Finally, however, things began to change. Nearly eight years ago, I married Alex, finding greater happiness than I had ever known before. He felt the same way as I did about many things, especially about religion. He, too, was plagued by the lack of truth or certainty in his life. He, too, wanted desperately to know what the purpose of life was. Together we began in time to understand somehow that there really is a God and that the purpose of life, it seemed, was to find him. Together we began to read books with religious themes (instead of tossing them aside), looking for ideas that made sense. We seemed to come to the same new conclusions at the same time.
Then one day, when Alex wasn’t home, I saw missionaries coming up the walkway. Mormons! I thought. Why, I haven’t seen Mormon missionaries in this town before. It was nearly 105 degrees outside our desert home in Borrego Springs, California, so I let the visitors in and gave them tall glasses of cool water.
They thanked me for the water, then asked me some questions. Did I believe in God? That depended on the definition, I answered. Did I believe in Jesus Christ? Not as more than a historical figure. Had I heard of Joseph Smith? Yes, he claimed he was a prophet. Had I ever heard of the Book of Mormon? Wasn’t that the book Joseph Smith wrote? Did I know what was in it? No. Would I read it and find out what was in it? Well, that seemed fair enough. Would I pray about it to find out if it were true? How novel—a church that would encourage you to find the truth for yourself.
With the missionaries’ help, I voiced a prayer (they showed me the exhortation in Moro. 10:3–5) and promised them I’d start reading the Book of Mormon. Would I make an appointment to see them again? No! But I mentioned that if they dropped by and I happened to be home, we might talk again.
When he came home, Alex was interested in what I had to relay. Had Israelites really landed in North America 2,500 years ago? We had developed a habit of reading aloud to each other in the long desert evenings, and the time seemed right to begin reading the adventure story: “I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents. …”
Thereafter, the missionaries talked with us off and on for several weeks following that April afternoon, although we didn’t let them give us formal lessons. Then they were transferred from our town without replacements being sent. We were still reading the Book of Mormon and trying Alma’s experiment (see Alma 32:28–43) for ourselves.
By the time late August came, the Lord must have felt I was ready to pay close attention to the Spirit. Alex and I rented a condominium in St. George, Utah, for August to get out of the Borrego Springs heat and to see what Latter-day Saints were like up close. We stayed pretty much to ourselves, however, instead of socializing. Then Alex was called back to work early and I stayed the last two weeks alone, hoping to write a mystery novel based on the St. George Marathon.
The day after Alex left, Cherrie Miller, a neighboring condo dweller, said, “Hi, neighbor,” and despite some initial wariness, I opened up to friendship with her and even let her take me to church. At church, Cherrie introduced me to the Wilkinson family, who took me into their hearts and through their example showed me latter-day sainthood.
Linda Wilkinson asked if I wanted to talk to missionaries again. Sure! This time, discussion moved quickly, as I would soon be returning to Borrego Springs. Had I read the Book of Mormon? Yes, I’d just finished it. Had I received an answer to my prayer about its truth? Yes, I was sure Joseph Smith could not have written it himself. Would I repent of my sins and be baptized? At this point, I realized I still didn’t have the framework to understand sin as sin. The missionaries left me, and I had a long day of solitary thought. I didn’t know I’d been doing wrong. Could I be blamed for my blunders? Perhaps not, but I could at least understand that I had hurt other people, even if I didn’t yet understand how I had hurt and disappointed God.
Suddenly a flood of remorse broke through my emotional dam, and I began to wish I had seen the truth years earlier, before I had had so much practice in the various sins I knew so well. How sorry I was that at times I’d been so proud and stupid, so heartless and thoughtless! I paced the condo, crying and raging at myself, seeing my sins for the first time—through new eyes—and suffering new guilt that I could not, would not rationalize away.
After sunset, I took a walk through the housing complex, walking paths and not caring where I was. The sound of thunder caught my attention, and I looked up into a beautiful stormy sky. Lightning played on distant mauve cliffs, and the breeze was fresh with the smell of coming rain. Though I felt miserable, I smiled at how beautiful God had made the world. I felt the need to pray, and I saw a patch of grass to kneel on. I looked around very carefully, because I had no desire to be seen doing this. No one else was around. I knelt in the twilight and asked God if it was right that I should be baptized.
I continued to struggle with the pangs of remorse, and then, quite suddenly, I felt a sensation new to me—a kind of warmth. And just as suddenly, my suffering was shut off as if someone had pulled the plug.
It was completely gone, and in its place was a presence of peace that I know I didn’t create. Somehow I knew that I was forgiven for past errors, and I felt it was the kind of thing that could come only through the Savior’s atoning power. I was overwhelmed with joy, and I knew I would be baptized.
When I called Alex to make arrangements for him to pick me up at the end of the week, I told him I’d be getting baptized in St. George before we left. He was not happy that I had decided to take this step. He told me later that Satan had been attacking him with some of the most depressing thoughts he’d ever felt in his life while we were separated, and as he drove to St. George he was even contemplating divorce. But when he arrived, finding me so happy and the Wilkinsons so warm and accepting of him, his gloom lifted. When he felt the Holy Ghost at my baptism, he was persuaded that he must look the question of faith directly in the face for himself. Later, as we watched general conference in Borrego Springs in the fall of 1992, Alex felt strongly impressed to be baptized. He entered the waters of baptism four weeks after me.
Two years later, now sealed to Alex in the temple, I look back and realize that the peace of that St. George evening is still with me. I no longer stare restlessly at the stars, aching with unknown longing, wondering what point there is to my brief life. I now see the hand of Heavenly Father everywhere in the universe, and I acknowledge the gentle nudging of a very patient Shepherd in my life as he led this runaway lamb to the fountain of living water, back to the fold I had known in the premortal existence. I know without doubt now that the gospel is true, because I know the Book of Mormon is true, and because I have felt, through the Spirit, unforgettable instances of feeling the Savior’s love. I have come to know the power of his atonement for myself, and I look forward with a certainty of hope and faith that I never had before. I thank the hand that guided two missionaries through the desert heat to find me.—Barbara Szabo, Logan, Utah
The Gift of Forgiving
By the time I graduated from high school, I had lived with five different families and in two institutions, including a juvenile psychiatric hospital. There it was discovered that my alcoholic stepmother, a pediatric nurse, had unethically medicated me out of fear that I would be like my mother; my mother had been mentally ill and had (unknown to anyone but me) sexually abused me. While I was in the hospital, I was treated with a drug intended to counteract the effects of the drugs my stepmother had given me.
Wherever I found myself while growing up, I strove to please those responsible for me at the time. I was afraid of being without a home. Outwardly, I was a model young man; inwardly, I harbored deep and bitter resentment toward those who had abused and neglected me—even toward a caring grandfather who had died and left me homeless earlier in life.
When I was finally on my own, attending college, I attempted to block out my anger and hurt with alcohol and then sexual promiscuity. One summer, however, I worked with a Latter-day Saint who befriended me.
I lived in a part of the country where there were few Church members, and I’m sure the Lord’s hand must have been in our meeting. As I visited his wife and several young children in his home, I felt a spirit of love and harmony that I had never known could exist. I hungered for a family like this! But when my coworker began to speak to me of angels and gold plates, I shut him out. It was not important to know his beliefs, I reasoned later, because after all, someone who lived the kind of lifestyle I did could never hope to have his kind of family.
Strangely enough, I found a job in faraway Utah when I graduated from college. Yet even there I was able to find friends who shared my worldly values and lifestyle. In my new work environment, though, there were Latter-day Saints who stood out. I assured my friends that I would never be susceptible to those “religious fanatics.”
But when things began to go downhill for me because I had been drinking, I was frightened into thinking about my life. I was terribly lonely, and all my “relationships” were leading nowhere.
I attribute it to providence that at this point a group of Latter-day Saint youth befriended me. Under their influence, I quit drinking, quit smoking pot, gave up coffee, and determined to live a chaste life. I had several profound spiritual experiences, and after some studying and pondering on my own, I asked my new friends if there was anyone who could teach me more. Within weeks I was baptized, but not until I had spent hours on my knees in a secluded place in the mountains pleading with the Lord to forgive me for the way I had abused my body and soul. I felt his sweet forgiveness.
After serving a mission, I met a strong woman, also a returned missionary, who loved me enough to marry me in the temple despite my past. She shared my dreams of a large family, but after years without children, we learned that the drugs my stepmother had given me and the treatment that had been meant to counteract them had left me unable to father children.
The anger I felt toward my parents and stepmother because of this was almost more than I could bear (even though my wife and I were later able to adopt two beautiful children). One question kept coming to me: Why? I had repented of my own sins. And after learning the importance of chastity, I had struggled against great odds and with joyous success to become a pure vessel. Why, then, had this happened to me? Wasn’t I willing and eager to be a father?
The scriptures became a source of comfort and instruction for me. I came to identify with Abraham, who had not let his less-than-ideal home environment stop him from making and keeping sacred covenants with his Father in Heaven. Abraham must have learned to forgive, and no matter what my family had done to me, I knew that I had to forgive them too—even my mother and my stepmother.
It hasn’t been easy, but I have undeniably felt the needed, comforting presence of the Spirit during this process. Christ’s atonement began to have meaning for me with my conversion to the Church, from a life riddled with sin to one filled with real family and temple experiences and worthy use of priesthood powers. Now, in what seems almost like a second conversion, the power of his grace and his atonement have blessed me with the gift of forgiving. Today, freed from anger and hurt that could drag me back to the past, I look forward to the future the gospel offers.—Name Withheld, Idaho
The Sweetness of Change
The first time I went back to church, I knew that I was where I belonged. But the long-entrenched habit of nonattendance was hard to break, so over the next several years my attendance was sporadic. My husband was not a member and never thought much about religion, but he was always proud when I would go to church—and I would feel guilty when I didn’t.
During that period of off-and-on attendance, however, I met my goal to read all of the standard works, and I did a lot of thinking about what our Savior had done for me. I had been given a way back to Father, through the Atonement. I spent much time thinking about the sacrifice the Savior had offered for me—for all of us; I came to feel that we dare not ignore his gift. I had taken so much for granted, and I felt quite ashamed.
Reflecting on these things brought me back to the Church. I was determined to enjoy all the blessings of the gospel, even the temple. I remember saying, “I am going to the temple and nothing is going to stop me.”
My love for my husband had a lot to do with my determination. Over the years, we had had many young missionaries come to our home. My husband would talk to them about where they came from, what their parents did, what the weather was like.
But he wasn’t interested in learning about the Church for himself.
Then, in 1992, we learned that the great pain he had been having in his arm and shoulder was because of cancer. Our lives were changed forever. He was hospitalized for a time because of the intense pain, and I knew in my heart that he did not have long to live.
When he got out of the hospital, some young missionaries came to our house. This time, my husband was interested in listening, and he let them come back to teach him. My prayers had been answered, though I had never dreamed this was possible; I had only hoped. At the same time, we were forced to look at death, and my beloved companion told me, “I’m so afraid.” He feared the unknown. My heart ached for him, but I knew the gospel could give him answers. I rejoiced as we talked about what the missionaries were teaching him. The man I loved so much was thinking about being baptized!
Sometimes he was sick or miserable because of his medication or the pain. The missionaries would come to teach him and ask him questions that he felt he couldn’t answer or was afraid to answer for fear of saying the wrong thing. One day he told me that he didn’t want them to come back. He said he felt he was the only one in the room who didn’t know the answers to their questions; he felt stupid.
On the day I heard him tell the missionaries that he didn’t want them to come back, I poured out my heart to Heavenly Father. I needed my Father now more than ever, and so did my husband. How could he come so close, and then turn back? I asked Father please to send us someone that he could feel comfortable with, someone who had more experience with life, and perhaps death.
It was the next Sunday at church when we met the new missionary couple in our ward. We would learn later, after we became good friends with them, that a call to a mission in Texas had not been in their plans, but they came because they felt it was what they were supposed to do. I knew from the first day we met the couple that they had been sent to us. Through their love and service, as well as the kindness and love of our former home teacher, my husband learned to love the gospel and was baptized.
There was a change in him after his baptism. The fear of dying was gone. I looked into his face, the same face I had been seen for twenty years, and something was different. He had the prettiest eyes I had ever seen, and I wondered how I could not have noticed that smile before. Then I realized that it had not been there before. I was reminded of the words in Alma 5:14: “Have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances?” Others noticed the change too. The love of Christ was shining through my husband’s face.
He and I talked of many things during his illness. He knew he was dying. We planned his funeral. I promised him that I would do our temple work, and he seemed happy about that. We had come together in the gospel. Together we grew. I saw the beautiful changes that came over him, and I came to know even more the love our Father has for us.
My husband’s cancer spread, and his condition gradually worsened. Our special missionary couple were there every day to visit him. On the day he died, I knew he was going. I spent hours talking to him, telling him how much I loved him and how proud I was to have been his wife. It was not until after our friends arrived, however, when my husband knew I would not be alone, that he slipped away.
I had seen him go from a person who wasn’t sure about the reality of God to a person who loved Heavenly Father and our Savior and knew they loved him. My companion’s transformation helped strengthen my own testimony of the gospel.
In July 1993, a little more than six months after his death, I went to the temple to receive my own endowments; it was the first step in keeping my promise to do our temple work. Then in December, I was sealed to my deceased husband in the temple, with our male missionary friend as his proxy. I felt my husband’s presence and knew of his joy—the same joy I was feeling.
I am not the person I once was. I have had to change, and I am glad. My Father has allowed me to have some wonderful experiences in this life. How grateful I am for his sweet love, and for the gospel! I have thought many times how wonderful it would be one day to hear the words I long to hear from his Son, my Savior: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21).—Name Withheld, Texas
I Sought Cleansing
I was just twenty years old, away from home and in the army, and my life had no particular direction or purpose. As I began to experiment with living, however, I thought that there must be something more to it than simply working, eating, socializing, sleeping, and then doing it all over again the next day.
One day, I happened upon a religious show on television that caught my attention. There were references to the Savior that made me want to know more about him—especially about his having paid the price for my sins, as suggested by the scripture, “With his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). I had been feeling promptings to try to overcome some things I felt bad about in my life.
I also had a desire to find a purpose for my being, so the program’s comments about the influence of the Savior and the possibility of feeling clean and free from sin struck me at a time when I was receptive.
I began studying the Bible and attending a gospel study group and other meetings at a local church. After a few weeks, I felt good about what was happening in my life. Still, I was not having the kind of spiritual experiences others reported, and I was unable to get through more than a day or two at a time without going back on my resolve to quit smoking.
My family noticed that I had “found religion,” so when I visited them in Atlanta for the Thanksgiving holiday, they arranged a blind date for me for Thanksgiving dinner—a young Latter-day Saint woman who was eager to talk about her church with anyone who would listen. She and I launched into a religious discussion, and before the day was over, she asked if we could perhaps go to church together on Sunday before I returned to Fort Benning.
It has always been interesting to me that after my first meeting with her, I was able to give up my bad habits. For example, I lost the desire for cigarettes. I believe I was given strength that I did not possess on my own to help me change my life.
Back at Fort Benning, I read Joseph Smith’s testimony in a pamphlet my friend had given me. If Joseph Smith could ask and receive an answer to prayer, then why couldn’t I? I found a place to kneel and pray out loud, asking if what I had read was truth, if Joseph really was a prophet, and if I should join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Unlike the boy Joseph, I did not see the Father or the Son, but I can truly say that I received an answer. It was yes, and it burned deep into my being.
I do not have the words to express the exhilaration I felt. I remember receiving the understanding that this was what I had been looking for and praying for for a number of months. I knew the Lord lived, I knew I had a Father in Heaven, I knew Joseph Smith was a prophet, and I knew I must join the Church. When I was baptized in early January, after finishing the missionary discussions, I remember feeling and rejoicing in the cleansing influence of the Atonement that I had been seeking but never finding until the gospel came into my life.
I know there are many people around us, individuals and families, prepared to hear the gospel if we are prepared to share it and sensitive enough to obey the promptings of the Spirit. I shall be forever grateful that my friend was active in sharing the gospel. Though at first she may have thought that the testimony she bore to my relatives would have no effect, it helped change my life.—Name Withheld, Missouri
I Knew I Had Been Forgiven
The year that I graduated from high school brought both some of the sorest trials and some of the greatest blessings I have ever known.
In January, I realized that I was pregnant. Although having a baby was something I had eagerly anticipated since I was four years old, my joy was tempered by the fact that I was seventeen years old and unmarried. I knew my parents would be terribly upset; they very much disliked my boyfriend, who had been home at Christmastime from his army duty station, thousands of miles away.
I was right about their reaction. When they found out, my father angrily insisted at first that my boyfriend would have to come home on emergency leave so that we could be married. But a few minutes later my father came up with another idea: I should have an abortion (a legal option in the state where I then lived). I was horrified. I swore that I would never do it. Though we did not have the teachings of the gospel in our home, I felt instinctively that it was wrong.
Over the next few weeks, however, my parents’ insistence and the tense situation in our home began to wear me down. My father, concerned about the effect on his career if others learned that I was unmarried and pregnant, pleaded with me to prevent that from happening. My mother’s pleas grew out of her worries about what my life would be like if I married my immature and emotionally unstable boyfriend.
Finally, I decided to talk to our minister. He told me that as far as he knew, causing the death of the unborn was not murder. After that, I began to feel I was selfish to insist on having the baby; I felt that since I was the one who had sinned, I had no right to place such a burden on my family. Even so, giving up my baby through abortion was the most painful decision I have ever made.
Immediately after the abortion, the rest of my family went back to their business as though nothing had ever happened. But I mourned the loss of my baby intensely. Though I hid my feelings from everyone else, I felt lost. I wasn’t sure whether I could ever again be acceptable to any man, given my tarnished background. Worse, I wondered—despite what our minister had said—if God could ever forgive me for what I had done.
Ten days after the abortion, I met a young man named Tom who possessed an optimism and enthusiasm for life such as I had never before seen. Later I learned that he was a Latter-day Saint and that his attitude was shaped by his beliefs. He told me that we had lived before we came to earth and that little babies are pure before the Lord and do not need baptism. There was something familiar about those teachings. It was as though I had heard them before, long ago.
Tom loaned me a copy of A Marvelous Work and a Wonder. When I picked it up, it opened to the chapter that includes Joseph Smith’s testimony. For the next hour, I was absorbed in reading. It was amazing … and I believed it.
Over the next few months, I spent many hours with Tom discussing the gospel. I had an insatiable desire to know more about it. But when he asked me to meet with the missionaries, my answer was no. I was afraid they’d somehow sense that I had had an abortion and would not want to have anything more to do with me.
Finally, one Sunday morning, Tom came to pick me up and insisted I was going to church with him. When I walked into that chapel, I felt almost overcome by the Spirit. It was like coming out of a dark dungeon into bright light. The feeling was so strong that I found myself sobbing.
Then Tom invited me over to his house one night and I found the missionaries already there. One lesson led to another, and after several of them, the missionaries asked me if I wanted to be baptized. I had wanted that from the first time I read Joseph Smith’s testimony. I knew I had found the only church organized by Jesus Christ, the only one that had his priesthood authority. But I was still uncertain whether the Lord would consider me worthy to be a member, and the question haunted me.
One night I decided that I had to know. I knelt down and began pouring my heart out to my Heavenly Father. After quite some time, my eyes swollen from the many tears I had shed, I received my answer. A calm, warm feeling came over me. I felt almost as if the Savior’s arms were around me, supporting me and protecting me. At that moment, I knew that I could be forgiven and that I could be worthy to become a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. After the proper interviews, during which I was able to discuss the sins of my past, I was baptized.
My life since then has not always been easy. At times I have still mourned the baby I almost had, even though that was more than two decades ago. Worse yet, infertility kept me and my husband childless for many years, although we now have five children. Occasionally someone would suggest that our infertility might be a punishment for something I had done before I joined the Church. That hurt me deeply, for I had come to know the seriousness of the sin I committed when I was so young and so unfamiliar with the will and teachings of our Heavenly Father. Yet I was comforted by knowing that a loving Father would not punish me lastingly for something I had done with so little knowledge. I came to know without doubt that I had been forgiven. The witness I had received many years ago was so strong that it was unforgettable.
I know that my Redeemer lives and loves me, as he does all of his children, even those who have sinned. He has already atoned for our sins, and he is eager to forgive all those who are willing to humble themselves before him and follow his commandments.—Name Withheld, Utah