“The Poem,” Ensign, Apr. 2007, 70–71
When I was a child, I found a poem on a page that had been torn from a pamphlet someone had ripped apart and strewn on the sidewalk. I grew up in public housing projects and was a loner, but I had three escapes: books, Elvis Presley movies, and poetry. I loved poetry. It spoke to a part of me I could not identify. There seemed to be no word to describe it. Curious about the poem, I picked it up and took it home.
I read that poem every day, sometimes several times a day, in the years that followed. Sitting in class, walking the halls to and from classes, sitting alone at recess, I would find parts of that poem coming to my mind. I had never memorized a poem before, but this one was different. There was something in it that spoke to me and touched me.
Ofttimes a secret something
Whispered, “You’re a stranger here,”
And I felt that I had wandered
From a more exalted sphere.
I always felt different from other children. I felt at times that there was another home somewhere, and if I really tried I could sort of remember it. The poem encouraged these feelings. From time to time I would remove it from my drawer and read it. I wondered how many people like me there were in the world and if I would ever meet any of them.
For a wise and glorious purpose
Thou hast placed me here on earth
And withheld the recollection
Of my former friends and birth.
Imagine my surprise many years later when, as an investigator sitting in my first sacrament meeting, I opened the hymnbook to the page indicated and saw the poem I had found all those years ago. The arrangement was different from the one I had sung aloud to myself when I couldn’t sleep or when I would awaken in the middle of the night crying, but I recognized even the notes that sounded from the piano.
O my Father, thou that dwellest
In the high and glorious place,
When shall I regain thy presence
And again behold thy face?
While everyone else sang “O My Father” (Hymns, no. 292), I could only sit and cry, knowing that God had placed that song in my path as a child.
In thy holy habitation,
Did my spirit once reside?
In my first primeval childhood,
Was I nurtured near thy side?
As I sat in that sacrament meeting, listening to my poem being sung by the congregation, I knew I was on the right path. I knew that what the missionaries were teaching me was true. I knew that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the only true Church of God on earth. So when I knelt and asked God if it was right before Him that I be baptized and confirmed into the Church, I wasn’t surprised when the answer was yes.
After three weeks of lessons by Elder Walker and Elder Whittaker, I was lowered into the waters of baptism. I was washed clean, cleaner than I had ever felt and could ever imagine being. Accompanying these elders in the circle of priesthood holders who participated in confirming me a member was my first bishop, the man who answered the phone the day I called requesting that missionaries visit me.
I could hear the words of my beloved poem like a sweet refrain floating above and weaving itself between each person I met and each act that brought me into the Church—words that had touched an aching heart yearning to know once more its Eternal Father.
I had learned to call thee Father,
Thru thy Spirit from on high,
But, until the key of knowledge
Was restored, I knew not why.