General Young Women presidency second counselor Neill Marriott has had a lot of powerful moments of inspiration in her life. One of those was the moment she joined the Church. Read her story here, as she tells it in her new book, Seek This Jesus.
By the time I graduated from Southern Methodist University and moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to work, I think I had decided my religion would be based on my belief that God wanted me to do my best, go to any Christian church, and then occasionally He would let me feel His loving acceptance . . . period. Based on results of my search for Him thus far, that was all I could hope for.
Just as I was settling into that frame of mind, David Marriott, a graduate student in Cambridge, brought the Mormon elders to the apartment, and my religious paradigm began to shift. I look back now and see how close I came to slipping away from my search for deeper spiritual meaning. An eternity of blessings could have been lost and I would have eventually become dull to the things of the Spirit, or at least become slack in my attention to things of eternity. The temporal world rushes into any space in our lives that we will give it, filling our spiritual needs with good but mostly temporary activities.
David had met one of my roommates and told her he was a Mormon. We asked, “What’s a Mormon?” He said he would bring some friends with him to tell us about his church. We four young adult roommates thought, “Sure, some nice, cute guys!” What a laugh we had when in walked two dark-suited, earnest elders, loaded down with paraphernalia about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These were not potential dates; these were ministers with a serious message!
I was immediately intrigued because they were bright, respectful young men who honestly believed everything they taught, even though we questioned and didn’t agree. After my friends and I established the “rule” that the elders couldn’t ask us to be baptized, we settled down for almost six months of regular visits with the Mormons. Gradually, experiences built on one another to bring me to a certainty that this church was the Lord’s true church on the earth.
The elders asked us to read certain chapters of the Book of Mormon and be ready to discuss them at the following visit. My assignment was Mosiah, chapter 2. Rather pridefully, I began this chapter relishing the idea that I would explain it well and impress them, given my degree in English literature. I was halfway through the chapter when the Lord mercifully cut through that prideful beginning by allowing a startling question to enter my mind: What if King Benjamin were a real man? I dropped the book into my lap and stared at the ceiling. A real man! Was that possible? That question led to other possibilities: if he were real, then others in this book could be real. The recorded events could have happened. It was too much to take in, and I avoided the thought—but didn’t forget it. The mere thought that the Book of Mormon could be a true account softened my attitude about the elders’ gospel message.
After four months of pleasant but unproductive gospel meetings with us, the missionaries arranged for us to meet the president of the mission. We understood that he was a minister, so we dressed accordingly in our church clothes and drove to the mission home, a beautiful, historic New England home once owned by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
We sat in the parlor waiting for the president and his wife; they entered and stopped short. Looking at his wife, the president asked, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” His wife nodded. (Surely, I thought, Mormons can’t read each other’s minds!) The president then turned to the four of us and said, “We are thinking you look like members of our church.” Instantly I had a happy feeling rise in my mind. How nice, I thought.
When we got back in the car later, one of my roommates said, “I didn’t like being told I look like a member of his church.” The others seemed to agree. Silently I wondered, What is happening to me? I am changing. I used to feel like they do, but something is different about my attitude toward Mormons now. The softening of my heart, though imperceptible to others—especially the discouraged elders—continued. Being very much connected to the Protestant way of worship, I didn’t plan on changing churches, so I kept this new feeling to myself.
A few months later the elders finally taught us Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation. I was undone. Hardly had they begun to teach that before we came to earth we lived with Heavenly Father, and we were His daughters, when I began to cry. I could not resist the pure truth of their words. I recognized this doctrine, but where had I learned it? I felt like a beloved, long-lost friend had suddenly walked back into my life. The tears continued to silently roll as the elders steadily taught the eternal truth of our loving Father’s plan for us to return to Him through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel of our Savior, Jesus Christ. They taught that we were given opportunity on earth to live by the light within us and to make choices. They taught that this life was the time to learn of Christ and accept His Atonement, which opens the way for us to return to the joy and fulness of everlasting life with Heavenly Father. All that they shared was as familiar as the nursery rhymes my mother had taught me years before. I knew I had heard these things somewhere else and cherished them. I was reminded in that discussion that my life started long before I was born on this earth. I was a spirit daughter of God. I felt it; I knew it.
Because of my earlier decision to live a mainstream Christian life, I looked ahead and thought I could still stay a Methodist and just take these truths of the plan of salvation with me! How could I have been so unteachable? How could I not see that what I had been seeking for years was before me? My prayers throughout all the six months of lessons with the missionaries had been consistent but careful. I didn’t ask Heavenly Father for direction; I had my own agenda now of how I planned to live my beliefs. The Mormon church didn’t fit into my view of what my life would be when I settled down in the South and raised a socially traditional Protestant family—but now I knew I must keep in my heart this glorious plan of salvation given by Heavenly Father and worked out by the Atonement of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Two weeks later was the last meeting my roommates and I were to have with the two elders, since most of us had plans to travel and the elders were finishing up their missions. At the meeting, David, who had quietly accompanied the elders on their visits, spoke up. He asked each of my roommates how they felt about the Book of Mormon. When it was my turn to answer, I was planning to say politely that I had enjoyed reading it and whoever wrote it did a good job, and leave it at that. However, my hidden feelings emerged. “I think it is true,” I heard myself say. The words seemed to take on a life of their own and hang in the air between me and the others.
“So,” David asked slowly, “what are you going to do about that?” Now, surprised that I had blown my cover, I answered with a new degree of humility, “I will pray honestly about it tonight.” And so it was that I knelt, as was my wont, and returned to the earnest seeking that I had abandoned. I simply said something akin to, “Heavenly Father, if this really is the only true church of Jesus Christ on the earth, I’ll join it. I just need to know it is the true church.”
Immediately I received an answer to my heart and my mind. The words came directly, “It is true.” And the feelings of warmth, love, and happiness poured over me and through me again, just as they had at Camp Windywood and at the piano. “It’s true!” I exclaimed aloud and stood, throwing my hands up as if to embrace the whole-souled joy I felt. First thing the next morning I called the mission president and asked to be baptized.
My roommates soberly heard me out. I could feel their opposition to my decision to join the Church, but eventually their loyalty prevailed, and I welcomed their support. My parents asked me not to be hasty, but I had my answer: this church was the Savior’s true Church, and I was going to be part of it, no matter what. With very little knowledge of the restored gospel, and dismayed at this turn of events, my good father and mother nevertheless accepted my decision without rancor.
The Cambridge chapel sits just a stone’s throw away from the historic mission home where I first heard that I looked like a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The moment of happiness I felt at that comment in that home was a harbinger of my baptism day. On May 30, 1970, I stepped joyfully into the baptismal font of this chapel and thus onto the covenant path back to Heavenly Father.
My pledge was now to the Lord to obey Him, always remember Him, and be willing to take His name upon me. Though it sounded similar to my 9-year-old’s pledge to uphold the Methodist Church with my time, talents, gifts, and service, this covenant yoked me to Jesus Christ by solemn priesthood authority. God and I were in a covenant agreement together. As I upheld my side of the covenant, He would give me strength to stay the covenant course and feel His love and direction. I felt the power of that commitment in a way I never had as a member of another church. Here was the connection to God that I had so earnestly sought.
Lead image from the Deseret News
Read more inspiring stories from Sister Marriott in Seek This Jesus.
As a Methodist growing up in the Deep South, young Neill Foote felt the desire to commit her life to Jesus Christ. During a sing-along at YWCA camp, she felt a wave of divine love envelop her. She writes: "I cried all the way back to the cabin, stumbling along in the dark, holding on to this most precious of realizations: God loved me. He knew 12-year-old me. He was real. That certain knowledge bound my heart and soul to Him."
The desire to continue feeling that love kept growing. "Much of my early life was influenced by my seeking for the true and living God," she writes. "I wanted to know the Savior better, to understand His will, to become a true disciple of Christ in my daily life." But how?
Not until David Marriott brought the missionaries to her apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, did she understand the joy that accompanies covenants made and ordinances performed by true priesthood authority. After months of studying, she finally committed herself to the Lord in a more complete way, as a newly baptized member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In Seek This Jesus, Sister Neill Marriott shares highlights of her personal story as she testifies of Jesus Christ and offers a unique and intimate invitation for readers to seek Him. With topics including searching for the Savior, bringing the influence of the Lord into our families, and feeling God's grace in difficult times, Sister Marriott encourages readers with her warm, personable style and Southern charm.