I cannot remember a time when I did not believe in God. Some of my earliest memories involve going to Shiloh Baptist Church in Norfolk to see and hear Granddaddy, my paternal grandfather, the son of an emancipated slave, preach his sermons. He died in February 1962, and his passing was the first time I experienced the death of a close loved one. His body lay in state at his home for several days for friends and members of his congregation to view. Not quite four years old, I found the custom quite eerie.
To my dismay, I soon became much more familiar with death, viewings, and funerals than I would have liked, as over the next 10 years I attended the funerals, in chronological order, of my mother (January 1965), my maternal grandfather (January 1967), my paternal grandmother (December 1968), and my father (July 1972). My maternal grandmother and all my great-grandparents had died before my birth; thus, shortly after my fourteenth birthday, I had no living forebears.
I introduce myself to you, the reader, on what may seem a sad note because those deaths and that 10-year period of my youth formed the essence of who I have become. They were also the catalyst to my acceptance, years later, of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ as taught to me by LDS missionaries. As I came to appreciate both my earthly and divine legacies, I also realized that who I came to earth to be, through the family bloodlines I acquired, was not by coincidence, nor of small consequence, for me, or to my Heavenly Father.