A Lesson in Atlanta

“A Lesson in Atlanta,” Ensign, Feb. 2009, 54–56

A Lesson in Atlanta

I had never been more insecure than I was as a 19-year-old working in a new city. What was keeping me from living a fuller life?

When I graduated from high school, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with my life. College didn’t particularly appeal to me, but I wasn’t sure what kind of work I wanted to do either. I did know that I felt ready to be out on my own, and I ended up attending school far from my hometown in Texas but in a place near many members of my extended family.

The two semesters I spent there were OK, but I wasn’t sure I would return the next fall. That summer, I returned home to Dallas, where I worked in a temporary position to earn money for school. At the end of the summer, I was offered a full-time, year long position with the company, but it would require a transfer to Atlanta, Georgia.

I considered the offer. I liked the fact that I would have a chance to earn more money for school, and maybe a year in a completely new place would help me to determine what career path I wanted to take. After fasting and praying about the decision, I accepted the job. At age 19 I set out for this new adventure.

My initial living arrangements turned out to be much different than I had expected. I had rented a room in the home of a woman who was several decades older than I was. Our age difference didn’t bother me, but our differences in personality and standards did. I started to look for a new home, but in the meantime I tried just to be grateful to have a place to live and tried to make the most of my situation.

My job was fine, but friends were hard to come by at work. I knew that church could offer an opportunity to meet people who shared my standards—and possibly new roommates—but the thought of introducing myself to others terrified me. I found a young adult ward to attend, but when Sundays came around, I arrived late and left early so that I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. I wanted so much to meet people and make friends, but the effort required was simply too overwhelming.

This church-attendance routine continued for about three months. Then one Sunday, I said to myself, “Sam, this has got to stop.” I tried to get to the bottom of whatever was keeping me from fully participating in my ward, and I realized it was fear. I was afraid to be alone, afraid to meet new people, afraid to extend myself—just simply afraid.

One Sunday when I particularly needed confidence, I looked up fear in the Topical Guide in the back of my scriptures and turned to one of the verses that was listed, Doctrine and Covenants 68:6: “Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you; and ye shall bear record of me, even Jesus Christ, that I am the Son of the living God, that I was, that I am, and that I am to come.”

It was a simple but powerful—and very personal—message. I felt the Spirit confirm that not only did the Lord want me to not be afraid, but He also wanted me to be happy. Those were two distinct, separate things—things He wanted me to do. And I could do them because He would be with me.

That verse changed my outlook. The next week, I went to church on time. I still felt a little bit nervous, but not enough to keep me from attending the full duration of my meetings. After all, the Lord wanted me to be happy. Even if I didn’t yet feel confident in myself, I did feel confidence in Him and in His promises.

I got to know my bishop, who was instrumental in helping me better understand the gospel and gain a stronger sense of self-worth and direction in my life. I will always be grateful for the time, love, and direction he gave me as a member of the ward.

I started attending institute too. It was there that I got to know young adults from my area. Over the next several weeks, people began to look familiar to me, and several recognized me as well. One week I was invited to a party. I thought about declining, but I decided to be brave and go. I had a good time, and I also met several people who later became good friends.

In the weeks that followed, I continued to meet other people and to gain confidence. I even found another LDS young woman who was looking for a roommate, and we rented an apartment together—a huge improvement over my previous living arrangements. During that period and with encouragement from my bishop, I received my patriarchal blessing; it infused my life with direction and passion I had not previously experienced. I started a part-time position in a floral shop, which I loved. That led to a decision to study horticulture at Brigham Young University–Idaho, and today I continue to work in—and love—this field.

In the end, my time in Atlanta was a time of happiness and not of fear, thanks to specific, loving direction from my Heavenly Father.

That experience was many years ago. It taught me that I can be happy and unafraid now, that I need not wait until some magical event or circumstance happens to me. I have known people who are unhappy and claim that once they finish school or change jobs or get married or move into a new ward, they’ll find peace, and their lives will officially begin. But my experience in Georgia—and Doctrine and Covenants 68:6—showed me that this isn’t the case. Rather, we can choose now to be of good cheer and not fear.

That lesson has been a vital one as I have faced personal challenges that are common in mortality. No matter my circumstances, I can choose to be of good cheer, to be unafraid. After all, the Lord has promised that He will be with us.

Illustrations by Allen Garns