Feature Stories

A father separated from his family was broken by addiction. His story of conversion is nothing but miraculous

Christopher Corley hugs his son.
Photo by Cris Stroud

A family once trapped by darkness was lovingly shown a way to invite light.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared as the cover story in the May/June issue of LDS Living magazine. The theme for the issue was Love Well in which we explored how to make space in our lives for love: space to recognize it, offer it, and—perhaps most importantly—receive it.

An emotionally spent Bethany Corley sat across from two sister missionaries. Her husband, Christopher, had been meeting with missionaries for weeks at this point, but it was all still new to Bethany.

The couple’s relationship was in a delicate spot. When Chris’s alcohol addiction spiraled out of control, a brokenhearted Bethany had left with their three children. For over a year, they were separated, as Chris, who holds a doctorate in music and was an esteemed professor before he lost everything, went to rehab and then tried to put his life back together.

As he did, Chris was invited to learn about a church: a church whose teachings and scriptures had made such a noticeable change in him that Bethany tentatively agreed to come and see what it was all about. She wanted to heal their family, but after everything that had happened, she felt broken, jaded.

During their conversation with the missionaries, it came up that Chris and Bethany’s first daughter had passed away soon after she was born. On hearing that, Sister Hope Dutson began to cry and express how much love she felt for Bethany and testified that Heavenly Father loved her, too. But at that, Bethany’s walls went up.

“I just looked at her, and I said, ‘Sister, I know that they teach you to say these things before you come out. You don’t have to pretend that you care so much about me. I know you don’t. So just stop,’” Bethany recalls.

But Sister Dutson did not stop. As she looked back at Bethany with tear-filled eyes, she said, “No. I am so serious. I genuinely care for you, and I have such compassion for you.” Bethany’s walls dropped.

“That was the minute she and I really connected, and I became more open to what they were trying to teach us,” Bethany says.

The light of love that Chris, Bethany, and their children had once known together was dimmed by years of pain and distrust. And for a while, rekindling it felt impossible. But with the love of good people and, most of all, the love of God, that light slowly returned—brighter and stronger than before.

The Downward Spiral

Chris Corley had been on top of the world. As a professor of music at various universities, he was known for his musical brilliance, booming voice, and natural charisma. But behind the scenes, his life was unraveling.

Chris was born in Manhattan and attended a private grade school where he was part of a rigorous church choir. Almost every evening, he would sing for services in a large cathedral of an Episcopalian church.

“I fell in love with classical music,” he says. “I fell in love with European composers.”

Chris was accepted to The Juilliard School after high school. Following graduation, he was recruited to sing professional opera in Europe.

“I was still very young and, in a lot of ways, was not developed emotionally,” he remembers. “But they threw more money at me than I was used to ever getting. And I wanted to travel. So I went.”

As he spent the next several years performing opera across Europe, he found himself in many situations where drinking (and underage drinking) was the norm. By his late 20s, he was a full-blown alcoholic.

But it didn’t affect his life and music at first; his young body was able to muscle through.

“The outward appearance of normalcy lasted for quite some time, even though there was nothing normal about what I did; there was nothing normal about my drinking,” he says.

Chris was scared and sought help. He read book after book about how to stop drinking and spent money on psychologists and self-help groups. He visited different churches and met with ecclesiastical leaders to look for support, but still the drinking went on. And the struggle began to affect his perception of God.

“In my mind, I said, ‘The Lord is a respecter of persons. He has favorites. Because … there are people who can stop drinking and smoking, but I’m not able to do it,’” Chris recalls. “I was in a very dark place. I was very mad at the Lord because I thought that He did not like me.”

By his mid-30s, Chris decided to stop traveling and go into education. He earned a PhD in musicology with an emphasis in ethnomusicology from Florida State University and subsequently taught there, as well as at Florida A&M University and Millersville University of Pennsylvania.

Deep in his bitter feelings toward God, Chris took any chance he had to challenge students who had a religious background, trying to break their testimonies by pointing out flaws in religion.

“I’m not proud of that,” he says, “but it’s part of my story.”

Chris’s first marriage had fallen apart due to his drinking, and he later married Bethany in 2011. A few years into their marriage came the straw that broke the camel’s back—Chris lost his voice.

“I had a really big, beautiful, booming speaking voice,” he says. “People would listen to what I had to say. But then all of a sudden, I could not produce sound out of my vocal cords.” Chris spent a lot of money going to doctors trying to find answers, but no one could find anything wrong.

Eventually, students began to complain because their music professor couldn’t talk, let alone sing. And the stress of it all led Chris to more drinking and more depression. He was eventually arrested for driving under the influence and causing an accident. Fortunately, no one was injured, but the event made the front page of the newspaper. Chris was fired from his professorship soon after.

Then, the day after Bethany delivered their third child, Chris wrecked his car again due to alcohol. Bethany felt she had no choice but to take their three kids and move in with her parents. Something had to change.

A Not-So-Chance Meeting

While in a rehabilitation center, Chris offered a last, desperate prayer and angrily told God that if He sent someone to teach him spiritual things, Chris would listen— but only to prove that it wouldn’t work.

“My prayer was, ‘I don’t think you care about people that come from a background like [mine] with drinking. Whatever you send, I will do everything they say. Because then I’m going to be able to tell anyone that has any faith that it doesn’t work,’” Chris says.

He wouldn’t have to wait long for his prayer to be answered—but not quite in the way that he expected.

By the time he left the center, his voice had not returned enough to go back to teaching or singing, so he put his resume out on the internet, hoping for anything. He was eventually hired for a remote position with a Tennessee employee benefits company, which just so happened to be owned by Mark Riches—a Latter-day Saint with a passion for missionary work.

After some time, Mark could tell that Chris was having trouble focusing on work, so he invited him to come periodically to Cookeville, Tennessee, and work in the office there. Chris accepted and began traveling regularly to Tennessee from Pennsylvania, and Mark could see he was really struggling emotionally.

“The thought came to mind immediately: he needs the gospel,” Mark remembers. “That’s the only thing that’s going to help. I could help him financially through the business and stuff, but his needs were greater than business needs. He needed the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The thought came to mind immediately: he needs the gospel.
Mark Riches

Mark started by telling Chris that the gospel was something that had blessed his life with peace and happiness, and then he invited Chris to meet with missionaries in their home. Chris agreed, and the missionaries, knowing a bit of Chris’s history, invited him to not start at the beginning of the Book of Mormon but with the story of Alma the Younger.

“I started there, and I [thought], did these people type this up for me?” Chris says. “I’ve never been able to relate so much to a story… . I had [Alma the Younger’s] dislike for people who had a testimony. I certainly had a dislike for church; I had a dislike for everything that I was exposed to as a child. And [like Alma], I was struck down where I was not able to communicate that venom any longer” (see Mosiah 27).

To his surprise, Chris could not get enough of the Book of Mormon and the missionary lessons. “He soaked everything up like a sponge,” Mark’s wife, Jennifer, says. On his 11-hour drives between his home in Pennsylvania and Tennessee, Chris listened to the Book of Mormon constantly—and he wanted to share what he was learning and feeling with Bethany.

Eager to help Chris, Mark and Jennifer invited Bethany to come and stay with them so she could see for herself the changes Chris was making. At this point, however, Chris and Bethany had been separated for 15 months, and she was very hesitant. But something inside told her to try.

“I packed enough clothes for me and the kids to stay for a week—and I never left [Cookeville],” Bethany says.

While Bethany was understandably guarded toward everyone at first, the sincere love she felt from missionaries and the Riches softened her heart. She was willing to try what the missionaries invited her to do. So, she and Chris slowly began reading the Book of Mormon and praying together.

“We were just newly trying to figure out our marriage—if we were going to make this work or not,” Bethany says. “And with each lesson and each commandment that they had shared with us, we would reap the blessings…. We noticed a difference with ourselves, we noticed a difference in our marriage, and we noticed a difference in our children.

“As each day and each week would pass, the miraculous change in all of our lives was just evident. You could see from when we arrived in Cookeville until a couple of weeks later, going through the discussions with the sisters, how much our lives had changed from learning the truth and keeping the commandments to the best of our ability. And because our lives had been so dark and so heavy for so long, seeing the light and then becoming the light—it was incredible.”

A New Chapter

Ten weeks after Bethany arrived in Tennessee, Chris and Bethany were baptized, on August 3, 2018. Mark baptized them, and for the past five years, he and Jennifer have been inspired by how Chris and Bethany have continued to flourish.

Corley Baptism 2.jpg
Chris and Bethany with three of their children on the couple's baptism day, August 3, 2018.
Photos courtesy of the Corley family.

“It’s just such a miracle to watch the change that happens to people over time when they join the Church and come closer to the Savior,” Jennifer says. Mark adds, “Chris had a pretty rough background, you know, in alcoholism and addictions and all of that, but the Savior saw Chris for who he was and wanted him freed from that. Being able to see when [the Savior] reaches down and stretches out His arm and rescues souls, that was powerful.”

Hope Dutson, the sister missionary who testified of her love for Bethany during that initial meeting, keeps in touch with the Corley family and says she is forever changed because of them.

“They went through a lot of heartache, but seeing how far they’ve come really shows the transformation of the love of God. And it shows the Savior’s Atonement being put into play,” she says. “No one is ever too lost, and no one is ever too far gone. We always have God’s love; nothing takes that relationship away.”

Sister Hope Dutson (left) and Sister Sarah Holloway (right) with Chris and Bethany after the couple received their endowments in the Nashville Tennessee Temple on August 10, 2019. Bethany is holding their daughter Scarlett Hope, who was named after Sister Dutson.
Photo courtesy of the Corley family.

The Corleys still live in Cookeville and enjoy seeing the Riches often.

“As far as I’m concerned, they’re our family,” Jennifer says. “That doesn’t happen with everyone you share the gospel with, but with them, they could be [children] of mine, and [their kids] are my grandkids. We treat them just like our other grandkids, who think the Corley kids are their cousins.” Jennifer even included the Corley family on their Christmas card last year.

Chris, Bethany, Jennifer, and Mark on Easter Sunday in March 2024.
Photo courtesy of the Corley family.

Chris and Bethany have watched the light and peace grow within the walls of their home, with the pain of the past no longer haunting them.

“It’s just been an incredible change. I know where we’ve been, and I don’t want to go back there,” Bethany says, adding that they’ve had many opportunities to share the gospel. “I say this all the time—our job is to be the sunlight and to walk in it.”

Like his Book of Mormon hero, Alma the Younger, Chris now loves building up the Church. In the past five years, he has been elders quorum president, has served on the high council, and is now in the bishopric. His voice also slowly fully recovered on its own, and he has debated returning to his music career. But as he took the decision to the Lord, he felt called in a different direction.

“I got a very strong impression that there will be a time for music. [But] right now, … my place is learning and serving in our congregation,” he says.

Of all the changes Chris has made in this life, perhaps the most important one is the change in how he views God. Back in rehab, Chris believed that God no longer cared about him because of the mistakes he’d made. But the true nature of God’s love has set him free.

“My prayer in rehab was an irreverent prayer, but it was a prayer, and God honored that,” Chris says. “He wanted me to meet the Riches, who have a love for missionary work, and to come all the way from Pennsylvania down to Tennessee because He knew these sister missionaries were going to be perfect for us. The Lord gave me miracles that would touch my heart and my Spirit. Where I am now is truly a miracle. …

“By the time I got to the temple [to receive my endowment], I knew the heart of the Lord—He was looking for His children to make promises and covenants with Him because He wants to bless our lives. He has shown us that is His nature.”

The Corley Family in the fall of 2023.
Photo by Cris Stroud.

▶ You may also like: Childhood best friends paralyzed 32 years apart—‘We’re more tied to each other than we ever imagined’

Read more in the LDS Living May/June 2024 magazine

Love offers us precious moments of reprieve and joy that spur us to keep going on our walk back to our loving eternal home. And that is why the LDS Living staff is so excited about the theme for this issue: Love Well.

Our hope is that something in this issue inspires you to make space in your life for love: space to recognize it, offer it, and—perhaps most importantly—receive it. Plus, find excerpts from our best recent podcast episodes, comments from our readers, a recipe, fun facts, and more! Available at Deseret Book and deseretbook.com.

Our bi-monthly LDS Living print magazines are included with Deseret Book Platinum Rewards memberships. We also have a stand-alone subscription available. Manage your subscription here.

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