Being a mother in a mixed-faith marriage has given Ashli unique insight into agency, eternity, and God’s never-ending love.
This article is the first in a series highlighting how Latter-day Saints of all backgrounds, experiences, and circumstances bless and contribute to our church community.
My husband, Tony, was supportive when I told him of my decision to be baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Even so, I had my worries about the implications of joining without him. But one night, before falling asleep, I prayed and asked, “What if my husband never gets baptized?” The Holy Ghost whispered to me that Tony could choose to accept baptism after he dies. I was so perplexed; what in the world did that mean? The next day when I met with the sister missionaries, I told them what the Holy Spirit had whispered to me. They were astonished and explained the concept of temple ordinances by proxy, which we hadn’t covered yet. Learning about proxy temple work helped me recognize that the plan of salvation “plays the long game,” so to speak. In other words, the Lord is in this for every step of our journey, helping us to come unto Him.
This perspective has helped me to view everyone—fellow members of the Church, those who were once members but have stepped away, friends and family who are curious about my faith, and even friends and family who have scorned me for it—through a different lens. I hope that sharing my journey in the Church as a convert, wife, and mother in a part-member family will help other Latter-day Saints have a more eternal view of the people around us; I believe that whether or not we are members, we can all help walk each other home to God.
Revelation in the Cathedral
Tony began his first year of medical school in Rochester, New York, in 2010, and soon afterward Latter-day Saint missionaries knocked on our door. My husband’s mentor, a young man who was one year ahead of him in medical school, and his wife were members of the Church, and I adored them. So, when the missionaries knocked, I set up an appointment to meet with them. When my husband came home from school and I told him about the upcoming lesson, he politely declined participating, as his whole family had been Roman Catholic for generations in Italy, and he didn’t have an interest in exploring other religions. I had also initially been raised Catholic, but my parents left that church when I was 10. Since then, I’d been seeking for Christ on my own, so I was curious to know what Latter-day Saints taught about the Savior. But out of respect for my husband, I left a “Dear John” letter for the missionaries on our front door on the day of our appointment, explaining we would not like to meet after all. I signed the letter, “Your sister in Christ.”
Seven years later we moved to Durham, North Carolina, where my husband was doing his cardiology fellowship at Duke University. It was a very exciting time of life—we had just bought our first home and adopted a dog, and I landed my dream job working as a medical aesthetician. To top it all off, we were also expecting our third daughter. But while I had everything I had prayed for in the 10 years leading up to that point, I felt that something was missing—and deep down, I knew what it was.
I felt that something was missing—and deep down, I knew what it was.
Our new home had a heavily wooded backyard, a tall canopy of trees that I nicknamed “The Cathedral.” One afternoon I planted a lawn chair just below the canopy and began to pray, asking God what church our family should join. The answer came: “Read the Book of Mormon,” which in a way didn’t even surprise me, so I requested a copy online, and two beautiful sisters came to deliver it. I began meeting with them on my own; while my husband was unopposed to me learning more, he was still not interested in the Church. Through my study of the Book of Mormon, discussions with the sisters, and continual conversations with my Latter-day Saint friends from medical school, I came to fully believe that Jesus had been leading me to this Church the whole time—so I was baptized within weeks of first meeting with the sisters. My husband attended the service and sat beside me as we sang the Primary song “I’m Trying to Be like Jesus.”
Revelation along the Path
Tony accompanied me a year later when I went to receive my patriarchal blessing. The patriarch blessed me that I would not allow the gospel to become a force of separation between my husband and me. I was also reminded of the love the Lord has for me and for Tony and that we have both been given agency. In that moment, I realized in a profound way that truly loving another person means honoring their agency. Trying to coerce, control, and push others into believing as we do is not the Lord’s way. I hope that the understanding of agency I have gained from my husband not being a member has improved my discipleship and made me a more compassionate ministering sister, teacher, mother, daughter, and friend.
My journey has been both sweet and challenging as I’ve moved along the covenant path from the waters of baptism to my temple endowment. I received my endowment while pregnant with our fourth daughter, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down church meetings and temple attendance. I then found myself in a position in which I needed to be diligent in nurturing my testimony on my own. I also led my family’s sacrament meetings at home with the help of my ministering brother, who brought the bread and water to our doorstep and blessed it while masked every other Sunday.
I believed in the importance of worshipping at home, but it wasn’t easy—the first time I brought my family together for sacrament meeting, I ran upstairs in tears, feeling that no one in my family was listening or cooperating. I prayed in my closet, desperately reaching out to Heavenly Father and confiding in Him. “This is beyond me,” I whispered. “I don’t have the capacity for this.” But the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart, saying, “I am pouring out an extra measure of my Spirit upon you to fill in the gaps as you lead your family. You were endowed from on high, and you have entered into the Abrahamic covenant. The Lord will increase your capacity.” I did feel my capacity grow, and I now have a very strong testimony of how priesthood power is available to women as we cling to our temple covenants.
In other tender moments, I have loved feeling Tony’s spiritual support in our home. Our daughters love coming to church and participating in activities, and he has supported my love of teaching them the gospel. And when our oldest, Isla Rose, turned eight, Tony agreed to let her be baptized. He participates in home evening, family scripture study, and family prayer. But that’s not all—I also love how Tony contributes to our Latter-day Saint community. Every Sunday he attends both sacrament meeting and the second hour of church with us. Additionally, when I took a self-reliance class my stake was offering via Zoom during the pandemic, he shared with the group how he created our family budget spreadsheet to help other participants in their own budgeting efforts. On other occasions, he has drawn on his expertise as a cardiologist, giving a talk for a Relief Society activity on heart health and speaking to the young men about a career in medicine. He even accepted a calling alongside me on the ward activities committee and was set apart by the first counselor in the bishopric. The blessings promised in his setting apart brought tears to my eyes, including that Tony would gain a greater testimony of Jesus Christ as he enjoys a fellowship with the Saints.
Tony also blesses my own spiritual growth. He was respectful when I wanted to receive my endowment and I began replacing clothing in my wardrobe with more modest pieces to accommodate my garments. In Sunday School, we sit together, studying the scriptures and listening to the lesson together. At home, we have great discussions about gospel topics while sitting at the kitchen table or going on walks. I love his insights, his questions, and his perspective. He makes it possible for me to go to the temple by taking care of our daughters, and I am humbled by his support. His willingness to bear me up demonstrates the meaning of the covenant we all make at baptism to lift and care for one another.
While my husband is not a member of our church, we are still on the journey to Christ together.
Not everything about our lives is easy or perfect. Tony and I have disagreed on fundamental religious practices and have had some very tense conversations in which we have to remember to honor each other’s agency. At other times, I feel very lonely coming home from the temple on a spiritual high and not being able to share it with the one I love most. I deeply long for the highest blessing of being sealed to my husband for time and all eternity. This longing in my heart has required me to rely on the Lord fully—to trust Him, His promises, and His timing. I’ve also grown closer to the Lord as I seek ways to lovingly invite my husband to join me in the journey to come unto Christ each day, line upon line, little by little.
As I think about my faith journey, one of my favorite quotes from spiritual leader Ram Dass always comes to mind: “We are all just walking each other home.” I believe that as we take that walk home, the Lord needs loving hand-holders in His Church—those of us who are “continually holding fast” to the iron rod while holding the hands of those who haven’t fully grasped it yet (1 Nephi 8:30). He needs members who are willing to be steadfast and immovable, even when their most central partner may have a different idea of what it means to walk the path.
I also believe that the Lord needs people like my husband, who are willing to hold the hand of another who is walking the covenant path. These relationships require commitment, effort, and deep respect. But by being in a part-member family, I’ve learned in a profound way the joy of honoring another person’s agency, relying on the Lord, and emulating the long-suffering of Jesus Christ. I’ve loved watching my husband bless our ward family in a myriad of ways with his service and contributions, and I’ve appreciated his faith in me, in the Lord, and in our children.
My experiences in a part-member family have anchored my testimony in these words from Christ: “Ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours” (Doctrine and Covenants 78:18). I know that we can all be hand-holders as we walk each other home—and that the Savior will be there to lead us along.
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the July/August issue of LDS Living magazine. Find past issues as well as learn how to subscribe for inspiration straight to your mailbox at ldsliving.com/magazine.