My conversion to the restored gospel has been a life-long process. I was raised of “goodly” parents who generally taught me Christian principles. For much of my childhood we were not particularly diligent in our church attendance but I still grew up attracted to the teachings of Christ, knowing in my heart that they were true principles, and as a teenager I considered myself a non-denominational Christian. My first exposure to the LDSChurch was during my senior year of high school in Oklahoma when I picked up a couple of missionaries and gave them a ride. They told me of the Book of Mormon and the idea that Christ visited this continent and that the Indians were actually descendents of Jews who had crossed the ocean. I remember thinking at the time that it had the ring of truth, but I dropped them off and never gave it much thought after that.
The next step, I think, was when I decided to move to Salt Lake City. I was enamored by the mountains and the outdoors and “greener grass”, but I can’t help but wonder now if there was more to it than that. I moved here in 1979, married in 1980 and knew I was pretty much settled when our first child was born in 1983. Unfortunately, all during this time I was in the midst of a lifestyle that included drugs and alcohol, a lifestyle that I didn’t abandon until 1992 – after 20 years of addictive behavior. My life choices during this time were so contrary to the gospel that I found myself denying the existence of God – denying who I really was – although I never completely abandoned the principles of Christ’s teachings. I lived this whole time in contradiction – a contradiction that disallowed any form of true happiness. I also arrogantly told myself that someday I would return to the gospel – when I was ready.
Changes began when I quit drinking in 1992. It was a fairly simple event; I was faced with the truth that I was an alcoholic, and that the only person who could stop the slow spiral I was in was me. My integrity had slowly and insidiously been compromised to the point that most of my life was a lie – a denial. My marriage was on the rocks and everything that I had done in my life to validate myself was going down the drain unless I could quit drinking. Well, I did. I simply quit. Never took another drop after I made my decision. The significance of this event, besides the obvious, is that I was suddenly free to explore myself – my thoughts and feelings, my fears and joys – to explore what made me tick. If something made me happy, I asked, “Why?” If something frightened me, I asked “Why”. I didn’t have to be afraid of the answers, because I had already stared down the ugliest and most frightening demon I would ever have to face. I was suddenly filled with confidence and a desire to be honest with myself and with those around me. I didn’t really know how to go about it, but I definitely had the desire.
Over the next 5 years, three things developed that would ultimately lead me to embracing the gospel. 1) I started realizing that my marriage was over – that it was not just a matter of “if” it would end, but “when” it would end, 2) I started playing the guitar again after a 10 year hiatus (it made me happy) and 3) I started exploring things spiritual – reading books, talking with friends, etc. I read a book called, The Celestine Prophecy, by James Redfield, and it really made me start realizing that there may truly be more to life than just the physical. I was not ready yet to look to Christ for answers – I was still too proud for that, as ironic as that may sound. I still attributed my blessings to either luck or my own strength and wisdom.
After about 5 years of self-discovery, I met my current wife. I was playing music as a solo act in small venues around Salt Lake City and decided I would like to find someone to team up with musically. Friends told friends and eventually I was introduced to Diana. We met on the grounds of a local library and were impressed enough with each other that we decided to get back together and work up some songs. This was 1996, and for a year we played together, performing frequently as a duo. It was very enjoyable – we got along really well, and we complemented each other musically. She was Mormon, and I respected the fact that she seemed to live her religion with integrity. I would often go to their house to practice, and would pray with them over meals. One time I even said the prayer – a huge milestone for me. Obviously, I was losing my inhibitions about God and about pursuing a relationship with Him.
Diana and I gradually became very good friends and things remained platonic until late summer of 1997. I was very unhappy at home and so was she. Slowly, feelings began to develop that we were not prepared for. I won’t go into detail, but this is pertinent to the story because Diana was a significant factor in my conversion. Soon, we realized that we were actually in love, but we were very cautious about what was happening. We continued to practice and perform, we wrote letters, we talked, we were very unsure about what to do. We weren’t willing to just part and go our separate ways, although by conventional wisdom that might well have been the right thing to do.
During this time, late fall of 1997, I frequently ran in the mornings before it was light. During my runs, I found myself “talking to God” in my mind. It is significant to note that I was praying largely about Diana and what we should be doing, and asking that He help us to not do anything really stupid. I had a significant epiphany during this time that I still share with others. I realized that, regardless of what anyone else in the world ever said, wrote, thought, or did, the bottom line for me was that I wanted – needed – a relationship with God. Once I realized this, the door was open for me to pursue that relationship more actively.
One morning, I was praying during my run, and shortly after I stopped praying, I saw a falling star. On the next run, the same thing happened, and then a third time. These falling stars occurred on consecutive runs – not consecutive days, but within a 3-5 day period. The third time really caught my attention and on the fourth consecutive run, I asked God during my prayer if He were really talking to me. I saw a falling star! Now, I was really quite touched by this experience, but not yet committed. I guess I needed one more time, and it came on the very next day. During this prayer, I made my first covenant with my Heavenly Father. I told him in my prayer that if he showed me a falling star this time, I would earnestly seek to know Him. I no sooner got the thought through my brain than I saw a falling star streaking across the peaks of the WasatchMountains! I just stopped in my tracks, my heart pounding (ok – I was in the midst of a four mile run). I knew at that time that my life would never be the same, that I had definitely stepped off the cliff, but I didn’t feel at all uncomfortable or frightened. I knew somehow that this was good.
The next few months were consumed with divorces and separations and Diana and I setting up our life together. It was very trying, but we were there for each other, strengthening each other, trusting each other, loving each other. When Diana told me she was leaving her husband, I knew at that time that I either had to “put up or shut up”. Again, I was making a decision, a covenant, that would change my life forever, but somehow I knew it was right. I hardly hesitated in making up my mind that I had to do whatever it took for us to be together. Things worked their way through fairly quickly, and Diana and I grew closer and closer. We read the Book of Mormon together, we prayed together. We pooled our money to pay her rent and my rent, her bills and my bills, her tithing and, yes, my tithing. I remember thinking to myself, “Since our income and expenses are being pooled, and if she’s going to pay tithing on her income, we must pay tithing on our income”. Again, it was an easy decision that would change my life forever. I have paid tithing ever since.
Diana bought me a set of scriptures for my birthday in March. I was embarrassed at first, but soon got used to the idea, and somehow I knew this was a gift that I would come to treasure in the future. I started going to church with her on occasion, even though we weren’t married (I was not yet divorced). I was seeking to know God as I had promised, but I wasn’t seeking to become a Mormon – at least not consciously. I asked Diana one time how she could be so sure that the Mormon Church was the right church – what about all the rest of them? I just didn’t understand how she could be so sure. She just looked at me, clouded up, and started crying! I was quite taken aback, having never experienced an out-“pouring” of the spirit before. Nevertheless, this was another significant event in the early development of my own testimony.
Diana had left a temple marriage to be with me, and had lost her temple recommend. At her new ward, she started talking to the bishop, and it became clear that there was church disciplinary action that needed to take place. Twice I went with her to meet with the Bishop, Bishop Kent Smith. He was brand new – had only been bishop for a couple of months. I was very protective of Diana, and didn’t understand that discipline was helpful, done out of love. The second time we met, Stake President Stephen Scott was also there. They interviewed us and told Diana that she needed to write letters of repentance to her children and to her ex-husband and to read the book, The Miracle of Forgiveness, by Spencer W. Kimball. Looking back, I am so impressed with how inspired these men were. If they had been harsh with Diana at all, I would have been protective, and might have been resentful in my ignorance and this whole story might have turned out differently. They treated her with respect, understanding and love. I saw that, and respected them for it.
I remember at this time praying about the Book of Mormon – asking if it were true. The testimony I received was that the Lord had brought Diana and I together, and that this was all part of the package. The Book of Mormon was as true as Diana was, as true as our love was. This may sound strange to someone else, but it worked for me. It was a confirmation that somehow made sense to me.
We were married on April 2nd by Bishop Smith. He had all kinds of reasons not to agree to marry us – yet he did. It was his first marriage ceremony and he gave us advice that I will never forget. He spoke of the gospel, but he didn’t overwhelm us with it. The bishopric came with their wives ( I was so impressed that they took the time to come to our wedding, and we are good friends to this day), and so did my friends Ray Bonella and Jerry Jessen (They had been very helpful when I had questions about the gospel and about church discipline and what Diana and I were doing. They had always lived the gospel with integrity, and loved me even when I was an alcoholic). At the end of the ceremony, I told the Bishop to send the missionaries over. I didn’t want our marriage to be conditional upon me joining the church. Diana, for some reason, went along with that, although she claims that from early on she knew I would be baptized. I gave up drinking coffee – the last “vice” I had. I remember asking myself at one point, “would I give up everything if asked?” I thought of the most precious material possession I had – my 1976 Martin D-28 guitar – and told myself, “Yes, I would”. That was the last test for me. I was prepared to give myself to the gospel 100%. I have since come to realize that 100% is very difficult to give, and I am still working on it, but I am committed to keep trying.
I was baptized on May 30, 1998 by Ray Bonella, and confirmed by Jerry Jessen the next day. I halfway expected some sort of spiritual fireworks at one of these events, but they never came. Still, I knew it was right, and I now recognize the priceless gift of the Holy Ghost, the priceless gift of being washed clean by its power. The ward fellowshipped us beautifully. We were given callings that allowed us to interact with a lot of people. Diana’s visiting teacher, Beth Davis, was just wonderful, and we were immediately invited to perform our music at the next ward campout. Everyone was very kind and attentive, putting President Hinkley’s admonitions for fellowshipping converts in action. I was ordained an Elder in May 1999, and in June I received my endowments in the West Jordan Temple.
My conversion to the gospel has been truly one of line upon line, precept upon precept. It was inexorably tied to my marriage to Diana. The Lord has gently led me as only I needed to be led. He has blessed me with the sweetest eternal companion a man could ask for. Some would criticize or judge the way we got together – myself, perhaps, among them. Somehow, though, I believe this was all part of the Lord’s plan – a plan that may well defy earthly wisdom – but a plan that bore righteous fruits nevertheless. Our motto, through all the turmoil with children and ex-spouses and finances and everything has been, “We just have to make it worth it”. We have honored that motto many times over, and continue to do so. On September 13, 2003 we were sealed in the West Jordan, Temple.
Since then, we have served a mission abroad and we now work as ordinance workers at the Salt Lake City Temple. Every once in a while I reflect on that first covenant I made with the Lord, standing there in the dark, breathing deeply and rapidly, realizing that my life had changed forever, and I ask myself if I’m keeping my part of the covenant. I am always able to answer, “Yes, I am.” I pray – I know – that through the atonement of my Savior, my efforts will be enough. I also know that He will always keep His part.