I've shared this story in small conversations with several people, but I just recently shared it again with my entire church congregation, so I thought I would share it here, too. 😀 This is a story that is deeply meaningful to me in my conversion as a faithful Christian and devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It is a story that confirms my faith in God over and over again!
I believe that with everyone’s life stories or backgrounds there are stories of divine intervention, of answers to prayers, of miracles, and of strengthened testimonies of God’s marvelous hand in our lives. I could probably sit down with each and every one of you and listen as you tell me the amazing circumstances or tender mercies that brought you to be where you are right now. Including, of course, the beautiful struggles and hardships that have given you clarity and growth on your journey. And with every single story I strongly believe we are brought right back to our Saviour Jesus Christ, where His power, His influence, and His radiating light first began to touch our lives.
I grew up in Hawaii and was raised as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I was officially baptized when I was 8 years old. As a child I loved going to church and looked forward every week to learning and growing in the gospel. I loved the Young Women's program and still believe that attending my Young Women's classes and activities is what planted small seeds of faith inside me to help me build my testimony later on. As a young girl and youth I was always mindful of my Heavenly Father and truly desired to make good choices in my life, not only for my own well being, but to receive the many blessings he had in store for me.
However, when I was 15 years old my parents divorced and our family quickly drifted away from the church. It was a really hard and confusing time for me as everything I knew and believed about my family quickly changed in an instant. It seemed that my family was falling apart as my siblings and I were each trying to navigate through a stressful situation and a rapidly changing home environment. Things like family prayer, attending the Sacrament, and gospel conversations were replaced by the critical demand to survive in these newly defined living conditions.
A huge part of me wanted to keep going to church-- to keep attending my Young Women's meetings and to take the weekly sacrament, but I no longer had the family support to do so on my own. The overwhelming pain and confusion of being thrown into this new life arrangement allowed me to become further susceptible to the outside influences of the world and the negative peer pressures that would slowly lead me away from my Heavenly Father.
It wasn’t until 7 years later that I found myself in a situation where I desperately needed my life to change yet I didn’t know how or where to begin. I had moved across the Pacific ocean to San Diego, CA to live with some friends from high school who moved there right after high school graduation. I was 21 years old and found myself completely on my own. I didn't feel especially close with my family at this point--in fact I often felt that nobody cared about me anymore. I hadn’t been to church or thought about God in years. In fact, I wasn't even sure there was a God at all!
I was living a day to day life I never imagined for myself. Not only was I making poor choices with extremely negative emotional, physical, and spiritual consequences, but I often felt lost, alone, confused and hopeless as I was trying each day to figure out what I was supposed to be doing with my life.
It wasn’t until one Saturday night when I felt completely drained of hope, that I felt a strange prompting out of nowhere to kneel down and pray for help. I quickly nudged it away, thinking, "I don’t pray! I’m not even religious! In fact, I’m not even sure there is a God.” But the prompting came again into my mind to kneel beside my bed and pray. My roommates were out for the evening so I decided it wouldn’t hurt to try.
I knelt by my bedside and said the most pleading and tear-filled prayer, asking God (if he even remembered me) to please offer me some help and guidance in my life. I told Him that I needed some direction and I didn't know where to turn. I also told Him I wasn't happy and I didn't know what happiness was supposed to look like anymore. I felt like my heart would break as I kneeled next to my bed, begging for relief from someone I wasn't even sure existed.
After my prayer I rolled over into bed and I cried myself to sleep.
The next morning I got up and again felt a strange prompting to go to church. Of course my first thought was,”I don’t go to church. I’m not even religious. I don’t belong in a church!” Again a feeling deep in my heart told me that it wouldn’t hurt to try.
Next thing I knew I had called a taxi and had him drop me off at the closest Mormon church. I didn’t know what time the meeting started but just figured I’d figure it out when I got there. However, as soon as the driver dropped me off at the front entrance, I felt very uncomfortable walking up the stairs. I felt even more uncomfortable walking in the front doors. I could hear music coming from the chapel room but I immediately felt nervous and uncomfortable about going in there alone. I was starting to give up on this whole idea and so decided it would be best if I just used the restroom and then headed home. I entered the restroom and silently stood in front of the mirror staring at my reflection. What was I doing here? I asked myself. I don’t belong here. I don’t belong anywhere.
I was starting to cry again when suddenly I heard the toilet flush behind me. The stall door opened and I froze still. There standing in front of me was a girl I knew from Hawaii. Her name was Pouneh and she was one of the only members of my church I’d known towards the end of high school. The last I saw of her she had gone away on a mission somewhere far away. This, of course, was long before social media, so basically if two people moved away they dropped off the face of the earth! But there she was--my old friend--standing right in front of me smiling the biggest, most welcoming smile.
I recall her exclaining, ”Sally, I’ve been looking for you for years!” She quickly pulled me in for a long embrace. I cried. She cried. We stood there crying like that for a long time and I knew in that moment that this was the answer to the prayer. I knew in that moment that God had sent this friend to help me, to guide me, and to be an instrument in His hands in helping me change the entire direction of my life.
For the next few months she picked me up for church every Sunday. She introduced me to young adults my age who were making good life choices and moving forward in positive directions. She answered all my questions and was patient with me when I questioned things over and over again. She was a light and an example to me in a time when I truly needed it. But most of all she helped me recognize the power of Jesus Christ in my life as I slowly turned my life over to Him and allowed him to lead me down the path I was supposed to be on.
As I continued to attend my church meetings, read the scriptures, practice living gospel principles, obey God's commandments, and surround myself with uplifting people, I witnessed the spirit work miracles in my life. I watched Him stretch me and refine me, I watched Him help me achieve peace and happiness I never thought possible, I watched Him lead me towards meeting my husband, getting sealed in the Temple, and starting a family. I watched Him guide me towards reaching my truest potential as a daughter of God. By bringing God and Jesus Christ back into my life, I gave myself permission to follow a path that I never could have planned on my own.
I just want to leave you with my testimony that I know that if we put our faith in Christ and allow Him to lead us and guide us, we will be exactly where we need to be.