“My Friend Larry,” Liahona, Feb. 1999, 14
My wife, Jean, and I had prayed that October morning in 1986 that we would be led to someone we could influence for good. When I received the message that afternoon to visit a man about an insurance problem, I made no connection between the assignment and our prayer. But that is how I met Larry.
Early in our visit I learned that Larry had also knelt that day, asking Heavenly Father to send someone to help him. Larry had recently been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and had lost his driving privileges until he took a driving course. These humiliating events brought him to kneel at the end of his living room couch.
As we talked, a special relationship quickly developed between us. I discovered some interesting facts about Larry. He was 82 and a member of the Church, but he had not been active for 60 years. His wife had died three years earlier without joining the Church. He lived in my ward, but apparently no one knew he was a member. The ward had no record of him.
I lost no time in asking if he would like to go to church with my wife and me the next Sunday. He agreed. I explained that since he had lost his driving privileges, he had no need for insurance at the moment. I offered to drive him places when he needed a ride.
When we picked him up the following Sunday, Jean took an instant liking to him, as I had. Larry, who walked with a cane, had a noticeable limp, so he rose with difficulty when I introduced him in priesthood meeting. He surprised me by telling the brethren how grateful he was to be there. As we drove him home later, he commented that he had enjoyed the meetings and the people. He said he would like to go to church the next week.
Each time I visited him, I learned more about his life. He was born in Ephraim, Utah, and could remember being baptized as a boy. He had been ordained a deacon by his uncle. I reported this information to the bishop and asked that Larry’s Church records be requested from Salt Lake City. In the meantime, Jean and I received permission to teach Larry gospel lessons in his home.
He finished reading the Book of Mormon we gave him in what seemed record time. So I suggested he read it again because it would mean more the second time. We also gave him a Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price to aid his study.
We continued the lessons and took him to church with us for several weeks. Then one Sunday morning the bishop stopped Larry and me on our way to priesthood class and said, “Larry, we can’t find your records.” I made a lighthearted remark about his possibly needing to be rebaptized.
Something about the situation offended Larry. As we came out of the high priests group meeting, he looked me in the eye and said, “Don, I will never set foot in this church again. And when I make a promise like this, I keep it.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “The bishop doesn’t want me here and says I don’t belong here, and I won’t be back,” he added.
He wanted me to take him home. During the drive, I tried to explain that he must have misunderstood what the bishop meant. When Larry got out of the car, I asked if we could still give him a lesson that week; he said no. I was sick inside for several days.
Wanting to do something, I decided to call Church headquarters to check on Larry’s records. The record of his ordination as a deacon was located immediately, but the woman who helped me could not find his baptismal record. She told me to call back in two days. By then, she had also located the baptismal record and was sending a membership record to our ward.
I was elated! Now I had a reason to go see Larry. He was thrilled to receive the dates of his baptism and ordination and to renew our friendship. My hopes of helping him back into activity were rekindled.
About this time, Larry found he needed surgery to have his hip replaced. I asked him if he would like a priesthood blessing beforehand.
“What’s a blessing?” he asked.
I explained, and Larry said he would like one, so I called the bishop to help. The bishop pronounced the blessing. Larry has remarked many times since about the warm sensation that passed through his body and about the peaceful feeling that remained with him through his operation and quick recovery.
When he was released from the hospital, he convalesced at home, with daily visits from a home health-care nurse. I also visited him daily, as did others. Sisters from our ward brought in meals for a week.
During the three or four weeks of Larry’s recovery, we had ample opportunity to learn more of each other. Many times he expressed gratitude for the help given him. I learned of his strong love for the Church, for the bishop, and for the members who had visited him.
I could see that it was time to help Larry come back to Church meetings. He responded to my wife’s invitation and began attending. The test of his resolve came one weekend when Jean and I had to attend a stake conference out of town. I asked Larry if I could get someone to take him to church, and he replied, “No, I believe I’ll stay home this Sunday.” That was a disappointment! As soon as we returned, we visited him and learned that a neighbor had asked if he could take Larry to church that day. Larry had gone with him. Once again, the Spirit had intervened to help.
Larry’s experiences strengthened our testimonies as we saw the hand of God move in his life. This once-forgotten man was led out of darkness into light. He has said many times that since we met, he has never had a desire to have an alcoholic drink, even though drinking had been a long-standing habit for him.
Because Larry’s record had remained clean during the period his driver’s license was suspended, his driving privileges were restored without further action. After his license came in the mail, he told me, “You won’t have to pick me up for church. I’ll meet you there.”
Not long afterward, he was ordained a high priest. It seemed the right time to bring up the idea of going to the temple.
The temple, of course, had come up in the lessons we had taught in his home. One day I had taken Larry to the cemetery to retrieve some wreaths from the grave of his wife, Billie. I was surprised to see an engraving of the Salt Lake Temple on her headstone. He explained that although he had not been active in the Church at the time of her death, it had seemed to him then that the engraving of the temple “ought to be there.”
So when I raised the subject of taking him to the temple for his own endowment, it was gratifying but not surprising to hear him say, “Yes, I want to go.” I asked if he wanted me to talk to the bishop about preparing him to go. “No, Don,” he replied. “I believe I should start standing on my own. I’ll talk to the bishop Sunday.”
It was a beautiful summer morning when Jean and I picked Larry up for the drive to the Salt Lake Temple. We later learned that he had lived in Salt Lake City as a young man, had seen the temple many times, and had wished someday to go there. Once inside, he was awestruck by the ever-increasing beauty of each room. The kindness and love of the temple workers warmed him. “If heaven is like this,” he said later, “that is where I want to go.”
Larry has been an inspiration to me, and he moves me to be better. He is kind and caring and has a knack for complimenting people. He is a young man for his years, with a positive outlook. It has been a privilege to know him.
There are many Larrys in the Church. God has not forgotten them, nor have they entirely forgotten God. A golden thread of spiritual memory ties them to their past knowledge and experience with the gospel. Heavenly Father wants them to come back to Christ, and He intervenes in their lives if they so desire. Often, the way He brings them back is through active members who are simply willing to help.