Repentance can be a hard road to go down, albeit a necessary one. Laurie just needed encouragement—encouragement that only a friend, someone who would stick with her regardless of her current behavior or her subsequent decisions, could give.
I first met Rip, my name for Laurie, when she started attending our singles ward from time to time. I took a liking to her after a thoroughly entertaining testimony that she gave about a visiting teacher she had while still attending college. It was by far the funniest and most touching story I’ve ever heard about visiting teaching.
As fate would have it, it didn’t take long before I was asked to be her visiting teacher.
I quickly got to know her through her sense of humor. We became friends, and she routinely confided in me concerning her trials and frustrations. I listened while being compassionate and sympathetic to her diverse problems.
She strongly desired to stop her behavior on multiple fronts, including Word of Wisdom problems as well as a relationship she was in with a woman. Yet she found herself unable to do so, as she lamented many times.
About a year into our friendship, I invited her to go to lunch with me. I had no particular agenda in mind; I just felt it was a fun way to visit teach. We both laugh about it to this day. After our order was taken, she complained about the numerous obstacles that seemed to keep getting in her way on her path to repentance. At one point she said, somewhat kidding, somewhat seriously, “Well, there’s no reason I have to repent now, right? I have years before this catches up with me.”
At that point, I got really quiet, and before I knew it, I told her that the time had come for her to stop messing around with the Lord and procrastinating the day of her repentance. I told her that the Lord expected her, since she was bright and had a thorough understanding of her commitments, to stop doing the things that were tearing her apart.
I was harsh—harsher than I would have ever been had it not been for an impression that she needed to hear what I needed to say. She didn’t touch her meal the entire time we were at the restaurant. I had never been that critical or incredibly serious with Laurie about anything.
I didn’t realize at the time how this would play out. However, I knew that I had cut her to the core. She hadn’t expected me to be so brutally honest with her and to call her out on her “I can stop and repent later” attitude.
There wasn’t an immediate transformation, although she took what I said very seriously. There wasn’t an easy road that lay ahead of her. There still isn’t an easy road ahead for her, now for completely different reasons. But she wanted to change, and
It took years, but I think in that moment she made the commitment to stop playing with words and start constructing new paths with life-altering actions that mattered and would last.
Whether she ever changed or not, we would still be friends, and she knew that. We’re the type of friends that can pick up right where we left off.
We both ended up moving from the area we were in and found that we had no way of getting in touch with each other since we both had new, unlisted phone numbers (this was before the social media age). We each tried to locate the other, but we were halfway across the country and it wasn’t easy. Rip finally found me (and still holds that over my head). I doubt there will ever be a time that we lose touch again. Seeing her again after eight years felt as if no time had passed at all. I have a deeper testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ because of her.
There’s admiration and love between us, but we’d be hard put to dwell on that aspect of our friendship since we are so adept at humor and joking around with one another. We laugh and tease and help each other. We listen to each other’s thoughts and respect each other’s differing points of view, all the while learning from each other.
I’ve also appreciated that there has never been any judgment between us, ever. She is a true friend. I have learned a multitude of things from her, and as I said, she would still be a true friend if she hadn’t changed one bit those many years ago. We have both grown and are still trying to get it right as we raise our families! She has answered my prayers more than once without even knowing it. She is amazing.
Rip’s desire to do what she believed was right overcame her desire to do the things she knew she needed to stop. If she hadn’t wanted to change, we would never have had that conversation over lunch. I wouldn’t have dreamed of telling her or anyone to do something or to repent of something that they didn’t want to repent of. As it was, I was shocked at what I had said to her that day.
As we all know, it’s not our place to judge another person or condemn them. Naturally, we have the ability to know right from wrong in order to make our own choices, but
My parents taught me when I was very young not to judge the person who sits next to me at church who might smell of cigarette smoke because it’s not our business. And we certainly don’t have the ability to judge the person who sits on the other side who might be telling lies. In other words, they taught me to not judge anyone since we aren’t equipped to intelligently and equitably make those determinations. Not only are we not to judge, we are not to have an attitude of being judgmental. Rather, our job is to be courageous in our love for our fellowman.
I thank Rip and all those I’ve come in contact with who have different experiences than I do for allowing me into their lives to share life with them and to benefit from our association.