“A Long Road Back,” Ensign, June 1997, 47
I needed Heavenly Father’s help to make my way back. Once I showed him that I was serious, repentant, and determined, I knew he would guide me.
Modern pioneering in the gospel takes many shapes and forms, all requiring personal courage and individual faith in Jesus Christ. Such pioneering may be a journey toward full activation in the gospel, to apply a gospel principle such as repentance or forgiveness, to overcome destructive behaviors, to weather well the parental trials of a straying child, or to leave one’s religious and family roots to join the Church. All such journeys, if undertaken with the guidance of the Spirit and in harmony with the teachings of the Lord, represent our own personal journey toward more fully coming unto Jesus Christ.
In my heart I always believed that someday I would make my way back to the Church. But I could not return without opening my heart to the saving reality of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice.
After my excommunication, I had put limits on the Atonement, denying what Jesus Christ did for me and failing to acknowledge how vital and all-encompassing his sacrifice was. Only after my heart was broken and my spirit contrite was I able to cry to my Heavenly Father to apply the Savior’s atoning blood that I might be forgiven (see Mosiah 4:2).
Similar to the experience of Alma the Younger, I felt that I, too, had waded through much tribulation as a result of my decisions, but that “the Lord in mercy hath seen fit to snatch me out of an everlasting burning, and I am born of God” (Mosiah 27:28). The renewed joy I have felt upon returning to the Church is indeed exquisite, but it came at a bitter price: shame, heartache, sorrow, and painful repentance.
When I was young I joined several churches, but I never heard answers to my religious questions until I found the restored gospel. I recognized the truth immediately and rejoiced when my wife and I were baptized some years ago.
We soon found ourselves in Church leadership positions, actively working to build up our little branch. I worked in the music industry at the time, and I enjoyed helping Church members put on shows to raise money for our building fund, as we did in those days. As the branch grew in numbers, we grew in spirit.
My occasional work with touring music companies required a lot of travel. After I returned from one short tour, my world collapsed when I discovered that my wife had been unfaithful to me and untrue to her marriage covenants.
I became lonely, lost, and afraid. We went for counseling, but I was too stubborn and hurt to allow anyone to help. Instead, I relied on my own ability to correct the problems in our marriage, which deteriorated over the next few months. Eventually I moved out, and my wife filed for divorce.
Had I knelt in humble prayer, trusted in the Lord, and poured out my heart to him, I know he would have helped me. But because I trusted in the arm of the flesh—my own—I was left to Satan’s buffetings. As a result, I fell by the wayside.
My pride and stubbornness put me on a self-destructive path. With each step down that path, the power of evil had greater hold on me. I rejected knowledge and blessings I had received as a member of the Church and was soon living in ways that cost me my Church membership.
Following my excommunication, I left the area, worked on cruise ships for a few months, then moved to the eastern United States to look for work. Things went well for the first six months, but my big break never came.
I began staying with friends, but eventually those options dried up. My pride prevented me from admitting that I needed help, and I soon found myself homeless.
My “gall of bitterness” and “bonds of iniquity” (Mosiah 27:29) culminated on the streets of New York and Philadelphia. Now, years later, I can still remember living on the streets, thinking about what I was going to do with my life—somehow believing that I could not change or repent. Because of my iniquity I had lost nearly all hope (see Moro. 10:22).
The night I spent in the garbage bin was the low point. But by then I had learned that when you’re living on the streets, you do what you can to keep warm and dry.
I did odd jobs here and there in order to keep something in my stomach and to pay for cigarettes and alcohol. Drinking helped me forget my misery, but when I sobered up, reality was always waiting for me.
One evening as I was walking along Broadway at 49th Street in downtown Manhattan, I stopped in front of an electronics store. A public service announcement produced by the Church was airing on television as I gazed in the window. I no longer recall the details of the announcement, but it touched me deeply. I ached inside at the reminder of everything I had lost. My family was gone. The Spirit had left me. I had lost my testimony and my faith. I had sinned grievously. How could I ever be forgiven?
After nearly a year on the streets, I had had enough. I said to myself, “That’s it. I am not going to live like this anymore.”
On a cruise ship I had met a businessman who told me that if I ever changed careers, he wanted me to work for him. I called him. After he wired me some money, I cleaned myself up, bought a suit and a used car, drove to his office in another state, and went to work. In less than a year I was vice president of sales. Other jobs followed, but renewed financial success during the next few years did little to ease the spiritual void I felt since my excommunication.
Even though I had numbed my spirit by rejecting all I had held sacred, I could not forget the peace I had once enjoyed through the companionship of the Holy Ghost, the fellowship of the Saints, and the service I had rendered as a priesthood holder.
My longing to have the gospel back in my life grew, but I needed strength and faith to repent. Most of all, I needed Heavenly Father’s help to make my way back to the Church. The first steps required that I regain my self-respect through renewed obedience. Once I showed my Heavenly Father that I was serious and determined, I was sure he would guide me.
By then, 10 years had passed since my excommunication. I had begun dating the receptionist at a company where I was working as a salesman. As our friendship progressed, we prepared for marriage, and I began to think more about the gospel. With the joy that our marriage brought into my life, my thoughts about the gospel grew even more persistent.
One evening as I was going through some old boxes of belongings, I found my scriptures and a long, handwritten copy of some thoughts and feelings I had written shortly after being baptized. I had forgotten about this personal writing in which I had expressed my feelings about the truthfulness of the restored gospel and the Book of Mormon. I had always wanted to rewrite what I had written, but I fell away from the Church before having the chance. Now, with a home computer, I began reviewing what I had expressed earlier.
The exercise prompted a renewal of my gospel studies and a search for Church books I had once owned. I wanted one particular book so badly that I began praying that I might find it. My prayer was answered when I found a copy of it while browsing in a used-book store.
With every sentence I wrote and rewrote, my determination grew to do whatever was necessary to have the Holy Ghost back in my life. I must have wept over every word. As I typed, the words seemed to flow from my fingertips:
The world is full of unrepentant sinners, but there is hope for them if they will but get on their knees and seek repentance. The Lord is always ready to listen to the cry of the repentant sinner.
Take your secret acts to the Lord in honest repentance—now, not later—lest they be revealed at the Day of Judgment. Beg for forgiveness, and then live according to God’s commandments. Act as if God were next to you at all times!
Come unto Christ and be made whole and receive the gifts that God has promised. Deny all ungodliness. Love God with all your might and heart, and by that love you will be made whole. Through the grace of Jesus Christ, you will be sanctified in him through the remission of your sins.
The Holy Spirit touched me, and I realized more powerfully than ever before how my decisions had alienated me from the Lord. It was I who had left him, not he who had left me. I had felt his protective influence even during my dark days on the streets and had sensed he was waiting for me to call on him.
When I had first written my feelings years earlier, I had no idea that they would serve the purpose of reconverting me. I knew then that it was time for me to return to the Church. I began praying regularly and, acting on promptings from the Spirit, renewed my observance of the Word of Wisdom.
In the past when I had allowed myself to dwell on my sins, I was overwhelmed with so much pain that I turned to alcohol to dull what I was feeling. But not anymore. I no longer hid from the bright recollection of how my wickedness had not only hurt me but also had brought deep sorrow to many others—my children, those I had helped bring into the Church, and Church members with whom I had associated and over whom I had presided. The darkness that tortured my conscience brought me to my knees. I acknowledged my guilt before God, pleading for his forgiveness.
It was then that the power of the Atonement awakened my seared conscience to a renewed hope of eternal life. I knew what I must do.
I had often passed a Latter-day Saint chapel driving to and from work, and one Sunday morning I decided to attend. I did not know what to expect after 10 years, but I knew I needed to go. A bishop greeted me at the door as I entered.
“Are you a member of the Church?” he asked.
“No,” I replied.
“Well, let me give you a tour.”
He took me down one hall and up another, explaining the purpose of each room. It was almost as if he were reacquainting me with what I had missed out on for the past decade. I stayed for fast and testimony meeting and wept as people bore wonderful testimonies of the gospel. The testimonies were music to my ears, which for so long had been deaf to the Spirit. My heart and soul were touched. I was embarrassed at how loudly I sang the hymns during the meeting, but I could not help myself. People stared, and one sister turned to me and said that I needed to join the choir. I walked out of the meeting aglow.
I had just started to open my car door when two full-time missionaries stopped me. “We have a feeling that you are not a member of the Church,” they said. I gave them my name, address, and phone number.
At first my wife did not understand my need to return to the Church, and she was initially uninterested in the gospel. But within a few months she began supporting me, deciding one fast Sunday to accompany me to meetings.
After receiving a warm welcome and being moved emotionally by the testimonies, she asked, “What kind of church is this?” In a Sunday School class for investigators, the teacher thought I was a golden investigator because I answered all his questions correctly. Afterward, I went to priesthood meeting while some of the sisters whisked my wife off to Relief Society. Before we left, the full-time missionaries had committed her to taking the discussions. She had many questions.
A few days later the missionaries showed up with the mission president, with whom I quickly developed a warm relationship. I told him shortly after the first discussion that I was an excommunicated member of the Church.
“I thought you knew too much,” he said. “You need to see your bishop.”
My wife’s growing interest in the Church gave me added determination. I taught her to pray and encouraged her to read the scripture passages assigned by the missionaries. By the fourth discussion she was asking to be baptized.
Her conversion became paramount to my spiritual healing. I will never forget the support she gave me as I prepared to be rebaptized.
As I renewed my association with men and women of God, I realized how alone I had felt without the fellowship of Church members and the ability to exercise the priesthood or attend the temple. I was willing to do anything necessary to regain those blessings.
I had studied the Atonement of Jesus Christ and had talked about it many times. But I had never realized how bleak life can be without the saving knowledge of the Atonement’s power to heal, purge, and save.
I went through a number of interviews with priesthood leaders and opened my heart in several letters. It was difficult to stand before a high council and stake presidency and answer questions about sins I wanted to forget, but there was a spirit of love in the room. I knew they could feel that I was sincere, that I truly had given away my sins that I might again know God and know the joy of living the gospel. After I had answered all their questions, I was asked to step out of the room. While they deliberated, I turned to my thoughts. A short while later, I was called back in. Everyone stood as I entered.
“The Spirit has prompted us to grant your request to be rebaptized into the Church,” the stake president said. After I was counseled to avoid the very appearance of evil in all my actions and to seek the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, the stake president said, “We would like you to give us some counsel about what we can do to help others not to fall away.”
Through tears of joy, I told the stake presidency and high council how important it is that Church members be reminded to read the Book of Mormon, to pray always, to obey all the commandments, to stay close to the Lord, and to never doubt the power of the Atonement. I had learned of Satan’s reality and of the pain that awaits those who fall away. I had experienced that pain while living on the streets and while making my way back to the Church, and I had learned that the Atonement provided the only safe passage out of suffering from sin.
“Behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love” (2 Ne. 1:15).
I bore an emotional testimony, and the stake president asked the others to welcome me back into the Church. Some hugged me, some shook my hand. One high councilor wrapped his arms around me and lifted me off the floor.
“Welcome back home,” he said. “Welcome back.”
Eighteen months after my rebaptism, my priesthood and temple blessings were restored. That was the most glorious day of my life.
It has taken me a long time to forgive myself. I still have pangs of remorse, but service in the Church helps ease those pangs. Perhaps I will never forget my sins, but I know that the Lord remembers them no more.
What a privilege it is to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and to know with certainty that our Heavenly Father will forgive us! The way is open to all who will repent; as one who applied “the atoning blood of Jesus Christ” (Hel. 5:9), I found out that truth for myself.