Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Taming of a Butterfly by Emmett R. Smith (2003)

I believe I started joining this Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when I was four years old even though I had never heard its name.
            Our family lived in a rather humble existence on a small farm that boasted a three-room house.  We called this home.  Daddy worked at a dairy and we kids sold blackberries from door to door. The world was in the depths of the depression and almost every nickel earned went toward survival.
            My mother had strong religious ties to a local church and she wanted her children to have the same beliefs that she had.  Every Sunday morning she would line us up, inspect our neatly patched clothes, scrub a few ears, place a nickel or dime in each of our hands and lead us the mile and half to the church.  There we were separated and sent off to various classes designed to “build our character in the grim shadow of an angry and vengeful god.”  I was always frightened on Sunday—especially when it came time to give that nickel or dime up to this church.  Not that I minded giving up the money although I have always felt that it would have been better used to buy a candy bar or a sucker.  It was how it was received that frightened me.  And I knew it was coming.  It was the same every Sunday.  It played over and over in my mind during the week like some never-ending nightmare.  I knew it would happen again the next Sunday.  It had happened every Sunday for as long as I could remember.  The minister would walk into the classroom and gather up the envelopes that had our donations in them.  We were required to put our name and the amount of the donation on the front of the envelope.  When I resisted—and I often did—the teacher would fill out the envelope for me.  The minister would stand like a giant in front of the class and go through each envelope one by one.  Reading off to the class who the donation was from and how much it was.  And I would cringe in fear, humiliation and embarrassment. I knew what was going to happen. 
          "Ah, Billy Jones, five dollars.  You really love the Lord, don’t you Billy?”   He would read from another envelope.  “But Betty White, seven dollars!  You love the Lord even more than
Billy.  Isn’t that right?”  Billy’ eyes would turn toward the floor in shame, and Betty would exclaim, “I do, I do!”  My turn was coming, and I would slip down in my seat trying to hide from the world.  “And Emmett Smith, five cents.  You don’t love the Lord much at all, do you Emmett Smith?  Stand Emmett so that God’s children can see someone who does not love the Lord.”                          
           I  was humiliated down to the to my feet which seemed so seemed to be glued to the floor.  Is this really the way God would want me to feel when I was doing the best that I could?   I felt heavy and useless.  I felt flat and without substance.  I left that building that day and never went back.  I knew that my mother would never tolerate attitude about this religion that she belonged to, so each Sunday, I would get ready for Church, walk the mile and half to the building and circle the elementary school play grounds jogging as many times as it took to take up the meeting hours and then I would return home.  My mom worked almost every day-all day and into the night-so she never questioned why I came home looking like and I suppose smelling like I had just run a marathon. I guess this didn’t do much for my spiritual growth, but I have often thought that it helped me become a distance runner.  I realized, even at that young, age that I was just running in circles and not really going anywhere.  And I knew that there had to be a happy direction for me if I could just find the right course.
            One Friday afternoon as I was returning home from school, I crossed the little park which was in the middle of Glendale.  Usually, it was just a nice shady break from walking the sidewalks and then down the railroad tracks, under the ice docks across some fields and finally to the “Little White House” where we lived.  Usually that park was quiet on winter days.  Today, however, I heard cheering, laughter, and boisterous talk.  Then I saw boys in scout uniforms pitching tents, playing games and in general having a great time.  Some of the boys looked about my age.  A few of them I had seen at school.  One saw me and waved and then went back to work driving stakes that would hold up his tent.  Suddenly, from deep within me came this burning desire to become part of this group. 
            The next day I asked around among my friends about the scouts that I had seen.   No one seemed to know much about them.  Then one boy who belonged to the same church that I had been going to before I took up jogging in circles, said that he thought they were the “Mormons.”  “But watch those Mormons, they’re really weird.”  Well, I didn’t know what a Mormon was, but I sure wanted to be a scout.  When I asked my mom if I could become a scout, she told me she would see if there was a troop that met close to home that I could join.  At that time, there was only one in this small, farming community.  It met down on Wednesday night at some sort of church building about two miles from our house.  She warned me that I was not to get involved with the church-whatever it was-only the scouts.  I felt like telling her that I had no intentions of getting involved with any church-ever.
            I approached the building hesitantly that night.   I felt an anxiety  that I could not explain.  I knew somehow that my life was about to change.  As I approached the door a man opened the door as if he knew I was there and was waiting for me just on the other side.
 He was big and wearing a dark suit.  I had never seen anyone wear a suit-much less a dark one-except Dr. Frankenstien in those monster movies and the school principal, and they both scared me to death.
“I-I-I’m looking for a s-s-scout troop?” I stammered.  “It doesn’t meet here, does it?”  (I hoped)    
“Sure does,” he said, “They’re out on the basketball court.  What’s your name?”
“S-S-S-S-S (I was beginning to sound like a nervous snake) Smith.” I had finally gotten it out but couldn’t remember my first name.  “Emmett Smith.”  I had finally said it.
“Well, come on Emmett Smith. Hmn, Smith, a very good name. I’ll take you out there.  I’m Bishop Barrett. And you are welcome here.”
            Did this person know me?  Did he know I was coming?  He sure sounded like he did.  He put his hand on my shoulder and led me down a hall past a patio, down another hall and out onto an outside basketball court.  There, I saw group of people.  Some were kids of various ages, some were girls, some were boys in scout uniforms, some were men, some were women.  They formed a large circle.  They were singing and acting out the words of the song:                
                                 “ Put your right foot in,
                                  Put your right foot out,
                                  Put your right foot in,
                                 And you shake it all about!”
            “Okay,” I thought midst deep, gasping breaths,  (I was beginning to breath into a panic) “time to start running!  These Mormons are really weird.” 
           Then I felt an increased pressure on my shoulder from that hand.  “Come on, let’s join them.”  He gently pushed me into the circle.   Soon, the both of us-along with everyone else-were putting our:
                                    “…right foot in,
                                    …right foot out,
                                    …right foot in,”
                                    and shaking it
                                    “…all about!”
            I had so much fun that night.  Weird or not, these Mormons knew how to have fun.  They welcomed me into their circle as if they had known me all my life. 
I was one of them from the beginning. 
            At school the next day, I saw some of them at lunch.  They waved me over to their table.  Then I began to recognize them at band and choir.  They were on the athletic teams and in student government.  They stayed in groups but invited me to join them.  I was immediately attracted to them.  They were exciting.  They seemed to be everywhere doing everything.  They were exciting and I was excited to be around them.  I began to become very involved with scouts and my newly-found friends.  I began to think of them as my family.  
A few weeks went by.  I was called into Bishop Barrett’s office one Wednesday evening.  Next week, he said, we wouldn’t be having MIA.  (Whatever that meant, that’s what they called this night.)  Instead, we would be going to pick grapefruit at the welfare farm.  There would be no pay, that the grapefruit would be juiced and canned and would be given to “the poor, the needy”.
I remembered being poor.   I wanted no part of the embarrassment.  The feeling of being used to bolster another’s ego.  I was about to tell him so when he said, as best as I can remember, these words.   “We do this because we want to serve.  We don’t just believe, we act upon what we believe.  Our religion is a way of life.  Those we serve; they too will be expected to serve others so that they may keep their pride and dignity.”  Even though I did not understand at the time some of the words that he used, I knew he was sincere.  And I believe that I have accurately recreated his statement to me for they have stayed with me-word for word-these many years.
So I went to the farm that next week.  And I was amazed, astonished, pleased and impressed.  On one side of me as we moved down the rows of trees was Brother Harmon, the rancher; on the other Brother Fish, who owned a construction company; and Bishop Barrett and his counselor in the next tree.  And my friends were there too, all having fun-singing, teasing, socializing-happily working in service to our fellow man.
Then one morning, I woke up feeling strange and frightened.  I was changing.  I was becoming something more that what I was.  I felt pulled toward the church building, these people, their beliefs and their way of life.  I felt pressured by demands and commitments, and I didn’t even know what they were.  I felt overwhelmed by something I couldn’t explain. 
And so I didn’t go to Scouts that week or the next or the next or the next.  I didn’t associate with Morman kids.  But soon I became lonely, with a thinness of spirit and a hollowness of the soul .  I knew I had drawn away from something I desperately needed, and so I returned and was welcomed bask as if I had never left.
Then I met Sylvia Crosby.  She had just moved into the area and I found out right away that she was a Mormon.  I first saw her at school and then at MIA.  Just about the first words that came out of her mouth was:  “Why don’t you come to Church with me Sunday?”
And the first words that came out of my mouth to her were:  “I don’t go to Church here; I belong to another church.  (Actually, I didn’t go to church anywhere.  I hadn’t been to the church that I belonged to in over two years.  I suspected that they were all the same anyway so why go.)
 She wouldn’t leave me alone about this. “Come one Smith. Come to Church just this one Sunday.  We’ll pick you up.  We’ll bring you home.  Come, you’ll really like it.”
Well, I had been to church, and I didn’t like it.  And God didn’t like me.  That’s why he let me be so torn apart inside when I was just trying to do what was right. Finally, I said to her, (just to get her off my back), “I’ll tell you what, you come to my church with me and then I’ll go to your church with you.”  Well, I knew that had her.  I knew she would never do that.  No body in their right mind would go to my church.
That next Sunday, in the afternoon, I was sitting in the Glen Theatre watching my favorite actor, Roy Rogers, in my favorite type of movie, a western.  Just at the best part when Roy was trying his best to sing the bad guys into giving themselves up, I felt a tap on my shoulder.  I looked up.  It was Sylvia.
“Well?” she asked.
“Well what?” I asked trying not to sound startled.
“I just came from your church.  I sat through the whole meeting.  You were not there.  Now you get up-now-and come to my meeting with me.”
            And I did.  I went to my first Sacrament Meeting.  I came away that day feeling so uplifted.  Now I do not remember what the message of the talks, but I felt a depth of spirit there.  It was as if God himself was sitting in that congregation nodding his head in agreement with all that went on.  Beautiful hymns were sung, prayers were given, and I felt a since of belonging, of unity, of family.  I felt for the first time in my 14 years that I belonged to something eternal, and that I could have an important part in it.     
            A few weeks later, Sylvia told me that there would be no meetings at the ward building that Sunday, but we would be going to the stake house.  “Would you like to go with us?” she asked.
            “Sure,” I said, “how much money do I need?”
            At first she looked puzzled at my response and then she giggled, covered the giggle with her hand.  She explained that this would be a gathering of many of the members of the church from this area who would meet together to be instructed by an apostle. 
            Now that was scary but intriguing.  I knew about the twelve apostles of Jesus’ time.  But now, today, in these times, apostles?  Peter, James, John…and the others that were called by the Savior?  I had never heard of anything like this.
            She explained,  “You’ve heard us say that this is God’s only true church?”
            “Right—all the time!”
            “Well, it is, and if it is then it would have to be just like his church that he organized when he was here on earth.”
            “Yeah,” I said, “that makes sense, I guess.”
            “It is true; I know it is.  Would you like to hear him speak and you can make up your mind for yourself.”
            So that Sunday I went with the Crosby’s to a big building down in Phoenix called a Stake Center.  It was so filled with people that we had to sit off to the side in an overflow room, but I could hear him and I could feel of his spirit and of the spirit of all those present.  His message and counsel:  By following the footsteps of the Savior, we can gain the same qualities and characteristics that he had.  What an astounding and outstanding idea.  That we could be like God!  And I knew it was true.
            Life among the Mormons became more and more exciting.  But most exciting  was the Joseph Smith, the Prophet.  Could it be true?  Could it really be true that a boy of fourteen with that most common name of “Smith” could become a prophet?  I knew deep within my soul that when I asked that question, that God was going to give me an answer.  I didn’t have the answer yet, but I knew it was going to come soon.
            Sylvia gave me a Book of Mormon.  Not being a great reader of the scriptures, I at first read nothing but the title page, but I did (as kind of a status symbol) carry it with me on Sundays.  One Sunday morning I was crossing our front lawn on my way to church when a friend of my brother John asked me what it was that I had in my hand.
            “Book of Mormon,” I said rather proudly and continued walking across the yard.             
            She stepped in my way, and I knew that for some reason I was in trouble. “Don’t you realize what that is?  That is the book of the devil.  And those people, those people…” Her voice began to rise to a hysterical pitch.  “…those people are the devil’s disciples!”
            Now I loved irritating my older brothers, and this was a friend of my brother so I guess it was all right to irritate her, so I put two fingers on top of my head to form horns and continued on my way.  But I was concerned by this.  Why all of this antagonism?  Why the violence that I had heard of perpetrated against these kind, peace loving people?  Why the obvious hate?  I did ask these questions within my own soul.  I knew that I was going to get answers.
            At this time, during the summer 1953, I was working for my mother at her place of business, The Maternity Home, an old home where women from the small farming community of Glendale, Arizona, would come to have their babies.  For two hours every day, I would sit up in the front of the house to answer the phone while my mother napped.  Not too many calls came in so I had plenty of time to do nothing.  Something is always better than nothing so I started to read the Book of Mormon.  Maybe I would find the answers to my questions within its covers.  The reading became an obsession.  What did it preach, what did it promote, what was it teaching to be called a book of the devil?  For eleven days, beginning with the Joseph Smith Story, I poured over its contents to its completion.  Therein, I found a plan for happiness through repentance, commitment, faith, and service.  And it seemed to be written just for me!
            And all of this wonder had come about under the direction of God through Joseph Smith, a 14-year-old boy, common in every respect that had the audacity to say that he had communicated with God and his Son, Jesus Christ.  Now that was something, there were two of them and there was also the Holy Ghost.  Three distinct personages, but one in purpose:  to bring happiness to who had ever lived or who would ever live on this earth.  I had never heard this idea before, but it made me feel good, that there were three looking after me instead of just one.  
            “Hey Smith,” Sylvia asked, “would you like to go to a meeting down in Phoenix Friday night?”
            I noticed she was a little nervous.  “Sure why not?’ I was beginning to love Mormon meeting.  Besides it wasn’t on Sunday and so that meant that we would probably have refreshments!  “Will it be like the other meetings we have been too?”
            Now she was looking a little more nervous.  “Well…no…ah but my mom said I should ask you if you want to go.  You don’t have to though,” she responded a little too quickly I thought.
            That Friday night found Brother and Sister Crosby, Sylvia, her brother Jimmy, and myself at a grassless lot where a huge tent had been erected.  People were streaming into a glaring light of the tent’s only door.   Sounds of trumpets, drums and guitars leaped out into the night blaring into a sort of music (if one would dare call it that).  Were we really going to go in there?   Not me.  I hesitated.  Sylvia took my hand and pulled me along.  Mr. Crosby took out five one dollar bills, handed them to the man at the door (we were going to pay to go in there?) and we entered.
            We stood at the back of the tent.  The place was filled with people.  Up front just stepping to the microphone was a man dressed all in white.  There were many “hallelujahs” and “amens” voiced loudly and with much excitement as he spoke.  Over and over, he claimed that his voice was the voice of God and that his will was the will of God. When he would make these proclamations many would jump to their feet and loudly voice their sustaining of his pronouncements. At certain moments in his sermon, as if on cue would come forward uninvited.  Some were in wheelchairs, some on crutches, some claimed to be blind or deaf or filled with demons.  He would then place his head on their heads (sometimes two at once) and push them back as he cured them of their infirmities and afflictions.  They would then claim a miracle had occurred and that they were “cured.”  But I never quite knew just was the will of God was that came from this man who claimed to be a prophet.  I wanted to leave.  I felt uncomfortable and alien here in this place.  I kept pushing harder and harder against the back wall of the tent.  One more minute of this and I was going to turn and rip my way through the tent and run all the way home.  About that time, men and women, all dressed in white, came from back stage with baskets in hand.   The “prophet” told the congregation that their money was needed so that his will, which was the will of God, might continue.  The more money they gave, the more blessings they would receive. 
            That’s when we left.  We went outside and walked through the night to the car.  No one said anything until we were in the car.  Sister Crosby turned to me and asked, “He said he was a prophet.  What do you think?”
            “I don’t know what to think,” I almost whispered.  Was this a Mormon meeting I wondered.  It couldn’t have been.  But if it wasn’t, why was I brought here?
            “Do you think that man’s will was the will of God?”  asked Brother Crosby.
            Now I was a little angry, and I was going to give my opinion.  “No, no it wasn’t, I don’t believe God would reveal his will that way.  It was too loud and noisy and demanding.  And you know something, I didn’t ever hear him say what the will of God is.”
            Sylvia squeezed my hand and Sister Crosby said, “Good for you.”
Not another word was spoken.  I was left with my own thoughts.   
            The following week, as I was making my mother-timed “five minute only and I-don’t-care-who-you’re-talking-to-even-if-it’s-that-little-Mormon-girl,” phone call to Sylvia, she—right in mid sentence, stopped.  A long, pause came over the phone.  All I could here was here breathing.  It did not sound normal.  Maybe she had died.  No, I could still hear her breathing.  Finally, and very quickly:  “Do you want to go to another meeting with us this Saturday?”
            Now I was the one that was silent.  Finally, and very slowly:  “Is it like the last meeting that we went to last Saturday?” 
            “No, nothing like it.  I think you’ll really like this one.”
            So I went to another meeting that Saturday morning out to a large open, grassy park in Litchfield, about fifteen miles from Glendale.  It was bright and clear and cool.  By the time we arrived, I could see that we were not going to get one of the several thousand seats.  They were already filled.  Some people had spread blankets on the grass at the sides of the seats and were waiting there for the meeting to begin.  We went up as far as we could to the right of the congregation, spread out a blanket and sat on it.  I wondered why we were there.  I saw a few people from the Ward, but most of them were strangers to me, but I knew they were Mormons.  Almost another hour passed.  We talked about school, farming and the future but not why we were there.  Then suddenly, as if on cue (but no one directed us) everyone stood and began to sing:                        
                                 We thank thee, O God, for a prophet To guide us in these latter days,
                                 We thank thee for sending the gospel to lighten our minds with its rays.
                                 We thank thee for every blessing bestowed by they bounteous hand
                                  We feel it a pleasure to serve thee, and love to obey they command.    
     Walking up on a platform placed there for them were six men and two women.  They all looked like they were somebody.  Who were they?    I could not see their faces clearly, but from the reaction of those around us, I knew that they must be special.  My attention came to rest on one individual in the middle of the procession.  He had a shock of white hair that presented almost an angelic glow.  I  noticed that he helped the woman accompanying him to her seat, kissed her on the cheek, and then took a seat himself.  It was only then that the thousands there sat.  Who was he?
A hymn was sung and a prayer was offered.  Still, my eyes would not leave this man.  Finally, I asked Sylvia,  “Who is that man, the one with the white hair?”
      “Oh,” she said as if she were giving a common answer to a common question, “that’s David O’McKay,  he’s our prophet.
“Really?  Just like Joseph Smith?”  I asked. 
“Really,” she whispered, “just like Joseph Smith.”
“A prophet ?  A real live prophet?”  I was stunned.  I couldn’t believe it.  Prophets belonged up in the mountains, in a white robe talking to God.  Here he was, talking to us as if we were the most important people on earth.  And I especially felt as if he were talking directly to me about the importance of following in the footsteps of the savior in all that we did.  “Learn of him and be like him,” he said.  He told us how wonderful we were and how wonderful life would be if we kept the commandments.  And that wonderful life would go on forever.
     After the meeting was over, hundreds of people lined up to meet the prophet.  “Would you like to meet him?” Sylvia asked, “We’ll have to stand in line.”
“I would, I really would.  And the line,“ I said, “I’ve stood in longer lines to see a Gene Autry movie.”  I teased,  “Let’s go!”
 The line was long when we joined it, but two men kept it moving.  The prophet would shake hands, say a few words, and the men would move them on.  Finally after almost an hour, I was standing in front of him.  I looked deeply into—no, he looked deeply into my eyes.  They gently pierced my soul.  It seems I could see and feel the eternities.  I could not move.  I was mesmerized.  He actually had to reach down and take my hand.  “How are you,” he asked in the most gentle voice I had ever heard.
     “Rea..Real..Really good,” I stammered.  Actually I was shaking inside like a leaf in a wind.  One of the two men there to control the line began to move me on.  And I was relieved.  I didn’t know how much longer I could stand to be in the presence of this man who talked to God and God talked to him.  I began to move away, but he continued to keep a firm grip on my hand.
      And then his voice, “You’re searching for something, aren’t you.”  It was more of a statement of fact than a question.
      “Yes sir,” I whispered, “I guess I am.”
      “Just keep searching and you’ll find it.”  He released my hand and turned to the next person.
      Soon after that Sylvia moved.   I knew that I was not going to see my good friend as often as I had before and I knew I would miss her strong, valiant spirit.    But I had the strongest feeling that if I stayed close to these people and this Church that I would have many good friends.  In fact, for three years, ages fourteen to 17, I continued to attend meetings.  And this meeting,  and this was back in the days, where you would go to a meeting, go home, come back for another, go home and finally go back for Sacrament Meeting in the late afternoon, all as a non-member.  I believe that I became such a fixture at that building that the members saw me as a member of the Church.  I went to all the activities, participated in the service projects, showed up at the baptisms of the children, and even spoke in Sunday School.  It’s a wonder I wasn’t interviewed for a recommend to go to the Temple.  Then one Sunday, I saw a new girl at activity night and asked her for a date.  There is nothing like holding hands with a Mormon girl.  We dated a time or two when one Sunday a fireside was announced and I asked her if she wanted to go.  She accepted.  After the fireside, I was exceptionally quiet, not speaking one word to this new friend of mine.  I know I must have seemed solemn and distant, but something that I had heard from the fireside speaker was giving me great concern. 
     Finally, she said, “Well…”  There was just a touch of  trouble in her voice.
     “ ‘Well’ what ?”  I responded.
     “Listen, Smith, you haven’t said one word since we got into the car.  Now what’s wrong?”
    “Do you believe what that brother said at the fireside?”  I asked her.
    “I sure do,” she said firmly without an ounce of doubt in her voice.  “Don’t you?”
    “What he said makes since, that we should not date outside of our religious faith or marry outside the faith.  Maybe we should not date anymore.” 
     “But..but I’m a Mormon.”  She said through tears.  “Don’t I act like one?”  I could hear the hurt in her voice.
     “You act just like one.  And I know you’re a Mormon.  The problem is I’m not a Mormon.”
     “What!?  But you’re everywhere and at every meeting and every activity.  And the only people I ever see you with are the kids from this ward.  I just don’t understand.”
     “I not sure that I understand.  I just want to be around all of you.  I want to be like all of you.  I want to believe what you believe, and I do believe what you believe.  I want to have what you have.   Do you suppose I could ever have what you have?”
     She did not answer my question, but three days later two men showed up at our home.  I recognized that one of them was a member of the Ward, Neldon Cook.  They introduced themselves to my mother as members of the Church and missionaries.  To this day, I have never found out who sent them to our door, but I have a pretty good idea!
     Brother Cook spoke, “Sister Smith, we have come here to deliver to your son the greatest message that the world has ever received since the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
     “And what would that be?” she asked skeptically and looked at me as if I has just sold my little sister!
     “Simple,” he said.  “The Church that Jesus Christ established on this earth when he was here, has been restored.  And just as in olden times, it has a prophet who directs its people in the direction that the Church should go.”
     Brother Cook’s message might have been a simple one, but to get my mother to let me listen to the missionaries was not going to be a simple task to accomplish.  She had certainly not encouraged me to attend the meetings that past three years.  In fact, she had told me that if I insisted on going to “their church,” then I would have to find my own way.  No one would take me nor could I use the family car although I did use it when going on a “date” to firesides.  She did not know that they were Church related and I didn’t tell her.  So I almost went into cardiac arrest when she said, “If that what he wants, then okay, but not here.  He’s been going to your meetings so I guess I can’t stop him now.”
     I took the discussions at Brother Cook’s home.  A good move.  We had refreshments after each discussion, and I wouldn’t have to explain to the missionaries why my mom and dad, brothers and sisters would disappear from the scene like the Black Plague was visiting our house.
     And now to a night when the Black Plague did visit our home:  the minister from the church, my mother’s church, that I had belonged to before leaving it for the activities of the Mormon Church.  My mother answered what sounded like a most ominous knock at the door.  Knock.  Knock…Knock…Knock.  It sounded like the grim reaper was waiting out their in the dark.  And I am not far off in the assessment of who was there.  Knock…knock…knock…knock.  My mother opened the door.  There he stood.  Black suit and all—the minister of the church.  Without being invited in, he quickly stepped inside the kitchen.  He gave me one glance that could have melted horseshoes.  Then to my mother he said in a steady, hissing voice, “I want to talk to you about you son.” She then motioned to me to go into the next room.  Which meant she wanted me to get out of the line of fire.  But I could still hear clearly what was being said—especially if I got very close to the door, like my ear was right up against it!
        “I understand your son is associating with those Mormons,” he said.   This was not a question. 
        “Yes,” my mother said,  “he is.”
        “I understand that he is even thinking about joining that cult.” 
        She did not respond.  If fact, there was a hard, cold, dark silence coming from the kitchen.
        The minister again:  “If he continues his association with those people, he is going to go to hell.  All of them are going to hell.  Now you sit down with him and have him read this pamphlet.”  He turned and left and I went back into the room.   She didn’t say a word.  Finally, after a long silence, she began turning the lights off which was her way of saying I’m angry.  Now go to bed before I say or do something I’m going to regret.”
         I couldn’t fall asleep.  I tossed and turned and worried about what this man had said.  The Mormons, a cult.  They’re going to go to hell.  I had heard plenty about hell.  Not a nice to be and not nice people there to be with.  Scary!  Finally I got out of bed, went into the kitchen and looked for the pamphlet.  It was on the kitchen table.  I went close to the kitchen window so I could at least read the title without turning the lights on.  Across the top were printed in giant, fiery red letters:  DON’T LET THE MORMONS GET YOU ON YOUR KNEES.  Then it pictured a man dressed in black with a broad-rimmed black hat, with two horns protruding through the top of the hat.  He appeared wickedly gleeful as he chained up several howling, kneeling people.  Smoke and flames poured off their bodies.  Obviously, this was not a fun time for them.  I read no more.  I went back to bed and pulled the covers up over my head.  A shiver went through my body.  Then I did just what the author of the pamphlet told me not to do.  I got out of bed, dropped to my knees.  With elbows on the bed and my hands clasped in an attitude of prayer, I looked out the window into the heavens.  I asked in a voice so soft that I know not even God could hear me (and besides, I didn’t want to wake up my brothers or sister)  “Is it really true that the Mormons are going to go to hell?”  Silence.  “Well—is it?”  Long silence.
     Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, there came over me a calm, peaceful, serene feeling, and one like I had never had before.  Then a thought, maybe it was a voice entered, my mind and heart.  There was a quiet, gentleness to that communication.  There seemed to be a smile, even a sense humor in the question that was presented to me,  “If the Mormons are going to go to hell, then don’t you want to be there with them?”
       I came to my feet, crawled back into bed with this thought just before I went into a deep and very restful sleep.  “If the Mormons are going to go to hell, that’s exactly where I want to be, right there with them.  It couldn’t be such a bad place, if Clair Gardner, Loa Lamb, Sylvia Crosby, DeNell Chrisman, Denny Harman, Ann Schurter, Bishop Tenny and on and on and on I named those that would be welcome company anywhere.  And besides that, I wouldn’t have to put up with the twins anymore!”
        I knew that I wanted to be a member of this Church.  I finished the discussions.  And approached my parents for the required signed permission for baptism.  My dad didn’t say anything.  Nor did my mother, she just gave me one of those looks that would turn granite into dust, and turned and walked away.  To even approach them again would be asking for a quick and horrible death.  I was desperate.  I was in turmoil.  I felt as if an anvil had been tied around my neck.  What was I to do?  Tomorrow was the date set for the baptism and I wanted to be baptized.  I knew and still know that membership in this Church puts us on a journey of excellence—if we are obedient to the commandments.  But one of those commandments is to honor your parents.  Honor!   Honor!  I reasoned: the greatest honor I could show them was to be a valiant member of Heavenly Father’s Church.  So-o-o-o, I signed the permission slip myself, using my mother’s name and I was baptized the next day, Saturday, February 6, 1954, at the building north of Encanto Park in Phoenix, Arizona. 
The next day, Sunday, February 5, 1954, Brother Neldon Cook, laid his hands on my head and confirmed me a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Thus the door was opened to the gift of the Holy Ghost, and that great spirit has confirmed to me on that day and many times since then the great message of this Church, that indeed God has restored his Church to this earth, and that he has placed prophets beginning with Joseph Smith and since that time other prophets and come to speak to all who will listen, even the whole world of the direction that we need to take in order to return to Him, He that created us.
I have been in the Church as of February 4, 2003, nearly fifty years, but I know that my conversion did not stop with my baptism and confirmation.  With the gospel as my roadmap I believe I am continually being converted.  As I serve, study, pray, ponder, struggle and act, I learn more of the mysteries of Godliness which motivated me to continue to serve, study, pray, ponder, struggle, and act.
Alma 26:22   Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing—unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God…
Now, at the age of 66 years, I realize the great blessing that have come to me because of my membership in His Church.  I have a beautiful wife and sweetheart.  Her name is Jackie.  She came to me as Jackie Hiland from the farmlands of Indiana.  She had never heard of this Church before coming to Arizona.  We fell in love young.  She was 17 and I was 18.  And we married young.  She was 18 and I was 19.  In five years after our marriage, we had four children, one before she joined the Church. And we took our loved to the Temple and where we were all sealed together forever.  Our children:  Rob, Scott, Rick and Laurie.  They too were sealed to worthy members of the Church for Time and All Eternity:  Rob to April Conner, Scott to Gayla Gardner, Rick to Kathleen Best and Laurie to Bill Wilson. 
All have lived valiant lives.  All actively participate in the forward movement of our Father’s kingdom.  They have been are in bishoprics, Scott and Rob have been bishops, stake positions, Relief Society Presidents, Elders Quorum Presidents, teachers in Sunday School, Primary, leaders and workers in every auxiliary in the Church.  They go often to the Temple.
  We now have fifteen grandchildren:  Patrick, Jason, Amber, Ira, Jamie, Stephen, Andrew, Harrison, Katie, Tricia, Misty, Kalee, Dennis, Riley, and Autumn. Each of these children have been blessed and baptized and confirmed by the hands of a worthy father and priesthood holder.  Loving mothers are nurturing each.   Amber married just a few months ago in the Mesa Temple, Randy McBride.  Our first Great Grandchild will be here soon.
 Because of the Church, our lives are filled with hope and promise and of bright tomorrows.
            Doctrine and Covenants 65:2 (as revealed to Joseph Smith in 1831) The keys of the kingdom of God are committed unto man on the earth, and from thence shall the gospel roll forth unto the ends of the earth, as the stone which is cut out of the mountain without hands shall roll forth, until it has filled the whole earth.
             -Emmett R. Smith

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