When my son Greg was five years old, he approached me in the kitchen with his typical curiosity and asked, “Mommy, where does God live?” He had no idea how the question would change our lives. Without that question, I’m not sure I’d be writing a book, and certainly not one with a chapter on faith.
It was the early 1970s, and my husband, Larry, and I were still adjusting to our new life in Colorado. He’d become unhappy with his job in Salt Lake City at a small car dealership, and when an opportunity to play competitive softball in a new city came along, Larry and I discussed it and decided it was something we should explore. Just like that, he landed a job at a Toyota dealership in Denver. We’d been in our own home in Salt Lake for only eighteen months, but this was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. As for me, I was excited for the chance to be a full-time mother to our two boys and another baby on the way.
When we left Utah, Larry and I hadn’t been active in the faith of our childhood—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—and we didn’t exactly advertise our Church membership when we arrived in our new community. Back then it wasn’t hard to hide when you moved from one area to another.
I love that memory from more than forty years ago, because Greg couldn’t have known that when I was five years old, my own parents were sharing stories from a set of children’s books packed with Old and New Testament favorites. When I was a child we didn’t have traditional family home evenings or a regular schedule of family prayer, but I knew where God lived. I was very familiar with Jesus Christ, Noah, and Moses, and I loved hearing their stories come to life. My upbringing wasn’t perfect, but Mom and Dad were doing their best, and that foundation of faith had deep roots.
I had stayed active in the Church in my late teens during the awkward transition from Young Women to Relief Society, but soon after that, my involvement dropped off for a while. It wasn’t that I’d forgotten everything I’d learned; I think I just forgot what the Spirit felt like and how it spoke to me. I was working, supporting my parents’ family, and dating Larry as if it were a full-time occupation.
People I meet are sometimes surprised to hear that Larry and I both faded from the Church for a time. Certainly I never doubted that the faith of my ancestors was true and that Christ’s gospel had been restored in the latter days. But there was a disconnect between believing and living like I believed.
With young Greg still looking on and his question hanging in the air, I knew it was time to stop hiding. I had to go back to church. I immediately hunted for the phone book and began calling local chapel phone numbers. Eventually, I found the ward we lived in and learned that Primary met on Wednesday afternoons. It took courage I didn’t know I had, but I took the kids that very week, and everyone was eager to invite me to Sunday meetings, too. I will never forget the Primary president embracing and loving my kids as if they’d always been there. We weren’t treated as lost, we were treated as found.
I don’t remember the name of every brother or sister who has been a blessing to our family through the years. But I clearly remember Bishop David Brown and how he visited sooner than I expected, and one of his first questions still rings in my ears: “May I send home teachers?”
My husband said they were welcome, but he was too busy to sit in. Larry Hunter and Steve Carpenter were assigned to our family, and these must have been the two most dedicated men in the ward because they never gave up. They didn’t push, but they found ways to fellowship with kindness and genuine interest. At first my Larry remained upstairs; then he slowly gravitated to the kitchen, still out of sight but well within earshot.
I kept praying for Larry to have the same change of heart that I was experiencing, but he wasn’t ready yet. He was softening and growing supportive, but he kept getting more and more entrenched in work and softball. Before long, I was attending Relief Society, Sunday School, and sacrament meeting and taking the children by myself. It was a challenge to keep them all quiet and interested, but I did my best. Since we had to pass one on the way home, sometimes I would bribe them with a trip to McDonald’s if they behaved. It was a choice I probably wouldn’t make today, but it’s something I will never regret. I believe that when you’re doing all you can to rekindle the family’s faith, the Lord is willing to look past the Golden Arches and into your heart.
After what seemed like an eternity, Larry finally attended a Relief Society social with me and met many of the members of our ward. He didn’t change his mind overnight, but our wonderful home teachers were making inroads by their sheer consistency. I was praying like I never had for him, and I realized that the prayers weren’t just about him. They were about me. Despite his disinterest in returning, I was learning to love him more than ever. I knew I couldn’t personally will him back to church. Maybe more than anything, I realized I wasn’t so much praying for his mighty change of heart as I was praying for mine and hoping he would take notice.
No praise of home teachers is complete without an equal dose, maybe more, for visiting teachers. Inspired Relief Society presidencies have always assigned to me exactly the right sisters for what I’ve needed. During this time of my returning to the Church, a phenomenal visiting teacher came every single month with a list of what was happening in the ward and stake. Even though I wasn’t always there for those events, I was connected. It’s intriguing that something as simple as a ward calendar can make someone feel loved.
When our bishop was released and called as stake president, I felt uneasy and worried that Larry’s progress, and maybe mine, would slow to a crawl. Instead, the new bishop didn’t miss a single step. Bishop Lowell Madsen loved Larry as if they’d known each other forever. Though Larry was still less-active by every measure, he was asked to accept a calling as an assistant volleyball coach. Larry agreed, and the call soon grew to head coach.
I remember once telling Bishop Madsen how well Larry was doing in his new career. “Tell him he’ll do even better if he comes to church!” The exclamation was strong, inspiring, and true. How the Lord loves a courageous, loving leader!
When the priests quorum adviser moved out of the ward, Bishop Madsen called Larry back into his office. Was he willing to join the bishop in working with the priests on Sunday? Always on his toes, Larry explained that he had commitments to play softball on Sundays during the summer. “How many Sundays do you play ball?” the bishop asked.
Larry backed into the equation. “There are fifty-two Sundays in a year. I play from May through September, which takes about twenty Sundays and leaves about thirty-two Sundays free.”
The bishop smiled. “I’ll take them.” It might have been the first time in the history of the restored Church that the terms of a calling were negotiated like a business deal! It’s humorous, but that experience taught me so much about how we view those who don’t fit the mold. That certainly described our family well.
It was such a new experience to have Larry go to church with us. The boys in the quorum loved him and he loved them. It was also time for Larry to buy some new scriptures and really study the gospel. He always loved working with the youth, and near the end of his life he said that it was his favorite calling—the best calling in the Church.
A year later, Bishop Madsen called Larry in and told him it was time for him to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood and to be ordained an elder. Larry wasn’t sure this was something he was ready for, but he wanted to listen to the questions for the Melchizedek Priesthood interview without answering them so he would know exactly what would be expected. The bishop went through the interview questions one by one, and Larry listened intently, but he didn’t answer. They agreed that he should go home and think about it.
Once again, things went more slowly than I’d hoped. Larry was deliberate and methodical. He kept teaching the young men in priesthood meeting, studying the scriptures, and working very long hours.
Finally, one morning while Larry was at work, the bishop called him on his private line to ask him to come in for another interview. This time he wanted him to answer the questions. They were both very busy men and, remarkably, the only time they could find to meet was 10:30 p.m. When Larry got to Bishop Madsen’s home, the bishop told him that he’d had a dream the night before about Larry that was so vivid, he’d gotten up in the middle of the night to write himself a note to call the next day. What the bishop hadn’t known is that that very morning, Larry had said to me as he walked out the door for work, “Gail, I have put this off long enough. I need to call the bishop today.”
As they went through the questions again, Larry answered candidly. He told the bishop that there were only two issues that concerned him. “I have a problem with swearing,” he admitted. Larry added that he only swore around men, but he promised to work on controlling it. The second was more serious: “I don’t pay tithing.”
The bishop asked why, and I’ve always imagined that Larry’s simple reply must have caught him off guard. “I don’t know. I just never have.” The bishop invited him to begin paying immediately and promised things would change if he did. Late that night, when Larry returned, he told me he was ready to be ordained and that I was to start paying tithing without fail. “Pay it on my whole check on the next payday and never ask me about it again.” He did not want to be tempted to change his mind.
The next payday was January 5, 1979. I paid the tithing and hoped that things would start to get better for us. Larry was looking for peace of mind about work, and I was looking for him to be more involved with the family.
Our lives changed forever over the next few months. On a vacation to Utah, Larry had lunch with the owner of the dealership where he’d once worked. By the end of the lunch, they had an agreement written on a napkin. By the end of the day, they had a formal agreement, and Larry wasn’t just working for a dealership anymore. He owned one.
We weren’t naive about the source of the opportunity or the tremendous blessings that were soon to come. We believed that returning to church, paying our tithing, and doing our best in our callings had resulted in the Lord opening the windows of heaven. Our family was sealed one year later in the Salt Lake Temple.
No one who was in the sealing room that day will ever forget some very specific counsel offered by the sealer. Remember that we owned just one dealership, Larry didn’t do his own advertising, and he wasn’t any more recognizable to the general public than I was. Still, the sealer looked at us both and said that he felt strongly impressed to tell us that Larry’s name would be known by thousands, even tens of thousands in the years to come. We were dumbstruck. We couldn’t imagine ever getting to a place where that many people would know us. Larry H. Miller was a man, not a brand.
Lead image from Deseret News
Gail Miller might seem as though she has it easy—now. But she has experienced challenges in nearly every aspect of her life: financial struggles, family trials, and personal loss. Through it all, she has had courage to move forward and remain grounded in her faith.
In Courage to Be You, Gail encourages readers to find their own path—with the help of the Lord. Her candid stories and personal insights about faith, hard work, grief, and many more topics are both fascinating and inspiring.