Episode #50: Published March 2, 2020
Stories in this episode: As a missionary in Chile, Brad Wilcox struggles to find the answers to his gospel questions until a transfer leads him to the light and hope he is looking for; Cody finds the spark of her testimony in a barren patch of desert after she prays for the impossible; An empty Primary room becomes sacred ground for Dave as he seeks to come back to the gospel he once knew.
Brad Wilcox with his wife, Debbie.
Also watch Brad Wilcox in his 5-Minute Fireside: "You Were Born to Change the World."
Our covenant relationship with Christ allows for a fullness of hope! That is what Easter is all about. In a world that is increasingly apathetic about God and religion, Easter matters more than ever. Brad writes, "People can call it spring break if they want, but Easter will eternally be about the Christ on Calvary." Because of the Christ on Calvary, we can know that the creation, Fall, and Atonement are all part of an eternal plan for our progress and joy. Because of Him, we understand that no matter how many people give up on God, He never gives up on us.
Cody while on the survival camp in southern Utah.
Cody enjoying the outdoors.
Dave Belt and his family.
Welcome to This is the Gospel, an LDS Living podcast where we feature real stories from real people who are practicing and living their faith every day. I'm your host, KaRyn Lay.
Okay, pop quiz time. When you hear today's theme -- sacred ground -- what are the first words that pop into your head? I'll give you just a minute to think about it.
And... now I'll tell you that I conducted a highly scientific study, highly scientific study, around the LDS Living offices, and here are just a few of the words and phrases that came to mind for some of my friends: "trees, light, field, holy place, sacred grove, Joseph Smith, and temple grounds."
Maybe some of those were the same things that you thought of and maybe you thought of something totally different. I for one thought of the words "Native American" because of the beautiful spiritual tradition that culture has around burial spaces. But it was interesting to me that so many of the words that my friends thought of were related to the first vision, "grove, trees, light, Joseph Smith."
It is true that our whole team has been knee deep in participating in President Nelson's invitation to really celebrate the 200th anniversary of that miraculous event. But I kind of think that even if that weren't the truth, we'd still make all of those associations. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, we have this unique privilege of having a modern origin story that includes a seminal, transformative, divine event happening in a decidedly ordinary place.
I've been to the grove, and I come from Pennsylvania, the land of groves, it's trees, and grass, a little clearing, and now there's even a well worn footpath in and out of the forest. What makes it special is not the location in and of itself, but what happened there has transformed those trees and that grass into something special and dedicated, set apart, holy. The appearance of the Father and the Son to the Prophet Joseph Smith turned an absolutely ordinary grove of trees into a sacred grove. And we who believe, get to celebrate that event and honor that place. It's so cool.
Well, in today's episode, we have three stories of holy experiences that could have happened anywhere, but they didn't. And how those places became sacred ground for the people who tread there are stories we're excited to share.
Our first story comes from Brad, whose "sacred ground" moment came during a particularly difficult time as a missionary in Chile. Now listen, I know we normally start with just first names, but the voice of Brad Wilcox is so recognizable that it wouldn't be fair to you not to just tell you it's Brad Wilcox. Otherwise you'd spend the whole time wondering, "Is that Brad Wilcox?" We're not monsters.
So, here's Brad Wilcox.
In Chile, there's a beautiful city that's on the coast and it's called La Serena, which means the "serene." For me, it will always be a sacred grove. It will be a place where I came to know God.
When I was a young man and I received my call to Chile, I was excited to go and share my testimony of the gospel, and it's not that I didn't have a testimony. I mean, I wasn't going on a mission without a testimony, but really quickly, I realized that my testimony was not as personal and not as deep as it needed to be.
Oh, I'd grown up in the church, had a wonderful family, and I had wonderful church experiences and wonderful church leaders, but when I confronted the difficulties of a mission, when I realized that learning Spanish was not going to be a piece of cake, and when I got to Chile, and I found out that the culture was so different, I just realized that this was hard.
I was sent to a little town up in the north of Chile called via na, and my companion and I were the only missionaries there, and it was hard. It was hot. Oh my gosh, you're out there working in the hot sun. I mean, this is in the north of Chile, which is desert. And I just thought while I was out there one day, and somebody had rejected us, and I just thought, "Why am I doing this? Why am I doing this?" When you grow up in the church and you have seminary teachers that tell you, "You must go share the gospel because there are people out there wanting this message."
Oh, I got out there and found out that nobody wanted my message. And that was kind of a, I guess you kind of think that somewhere out there, there's somebody who's just, you know, reading the Bible and just praying for missionaries to show up. And then you find out that they're all just busy getting along with their lives, and they didn't want to take time to talk to a couple of North Americans who couldn't even speak Spanish very well.
And I think I just missed home. I was missing my family. I was missing my friends. I was missing the involvement that my life had had before. Suddenly, I was focused on one little thing and it was hard because nobody cared about it. And I think that's when I said, "Wait, why am I here? Why am I doing this? Why don't I just go home?" But I knew the answer. God needed me. God wanted me. God called me. And I was there.
But then I thought, Well, where's God? It's not that I had all these overwhelming doubts, but it's just that my testimony had not deepened to a point where I knew for myself. So when I was there, and it got difficult, I really said, "Where's God?" And that thought shook me. It really shook me.
And so I think my companion noticed because when we went back to the apartment for lunch, he said, "What's the matter with you?" And I said, "I think I lost my testimony today." And he started to laugh. He's like, "Hahaha. Wilcox, you're so funny. You always just crack me up. Now go wash so we can eat."
So I'm in the bathroom, washing my hands, and I'm thinking, "Man, this is not good," you know, "This is not good. I need an angel. That's all there is to it. I need to see an angel. Joseph Smith saw one and he was younger than me. So I need an angel." And so I got through the rest of the day, and then that night I got up on the top bunk, I always chose the top bunk. One, because it was a little closer to heaven, and two, it was a little farther from the fleas. But there I was, and I knelt down in my top bunk and with all the faith that I could muster, I said, "God, are you there?"
And suddenly, my room was filled with light, and then the car passed. Joseph Smith gets a vision, Brad gets headlights. That's what I got. A car passing, and then I was really disappointed because you know I'd finally prayed with faith, really prayed sincerely, and that was the answer that I got? And I felt kind of ripped off because, you know, we've been teaching people that if you read, if you study, if you pray, then you can know the truth. Well, here I was asking, and I felt like my prayer wasn't being answered.
But that was a wake up call for me. Because as I laid there, I thought, "Have I really read as much as I should have? And have I really pondered as much as I should have? Have I prayed beyond the "Thank thee for everything, please bless everybody prayers," that I had given my whole life. And so that was a turning point for me. And the next morning I woke up with such a desire to read. I read the Book of Mormon, I read the Doctrine and Covenants, I read the pearl of great price, I read the miracle of forgiveness, I read a marvelous work and a wonder. I mean, I just read, and suddenly, I just could not get enough as I read and as I pondered.
Now, we had a zone conference. And our mission president came and he did interviews and I was a young missionary in the mission. You know, I hadn't been there all that long. And so I was still, you know, really worried about making a good impression on my mission president.
So he did the interview and he said, "How are you elder?"
I said, "Fine. President."
He said, "How's your companion?"
I said, "Fine. President."
"How's your area? How are your investigators?"
He says, you know about seven questions and seven "fine, presidents" later. I stood up to leave and then he said something that he'd never said before. He said, "Elder Wilcox, do you have any questions?"
Woah, questions. Oh, yeah. Yeah. I mean, I just had a million questions. I mean, let's start with, "Is there a god? Does he even exist?"
I just looked at him and I said, "Me, questions? Oh, no president. You know, I've never even had a cavity. I don't have any questions."
A little while after that I got transferred to another area. And I packed my books, I packed my clothes, I packed you know, everything, but I didn't have room for doubts. But inside I packed those also. I just hadn't felt like I had an answer as clearly as I wanted the answer. I realized that I wasn't doing what I needed to do to be able to deserve an answer that I was asking for. I think sometimes until you have a doubt or a question, you don't feel a motivation to learn. I think the questions, the doubts, the unanswered prayer, motivated me to dig deeper.
For me, it was like, "Okay, it's time to buckle down. It's time to take this seriously. It's time to do what you know you're supposed to do to get what you want to get." So I dove in. In the new area where I was transferred, my companion and I worked harder than ever. I mean, we just loved that little branch. This was in the town of La Serena, the one I mentioned at the beginning, and we loved our little branch, we loved the people in the branch, we loved the people we were teaching, we worked harder than I'd ever worked on my mission.
We loved with a more genuine love than I'd ever loved before. We served with such a complete selflessness. And yet still, the answers, I mean, I felt good, I knew that I was happier. But the answers that I really wanted were eluding me. And then I got another interview. So there I was, in La Serena, and we met with a mission president.
He said, "How are you Elder?"
And I said, "Fine."
And he said, "How's your companion? How's your area?"
I said, "Fine, fine, fine, fine, fine."
And then, as I was leaving the interview, again, he asked me, "Elder Wilcox, do you have any questions?" And I don't know, maybe I'd just been working hard enough and long enough that I didn't care anymore about the fact that he was the mission president. I needed answers.
And I said, "President, is there a god?"
And he said, "Yes."
That was it. No quotes from the brethren, no scriptures, no judgmental looks. Just one word -- "Yes."
And I said, "President, does he know me?"
"With all of his numberless children, on all of his numberless worlds, does he know me?"
And President Day said, "Brad Wilcox. He knows you by your first name."
And then I said, "President, does he love me?"
"Me even with all the stupid things I've done and all the dumb mistakes I've made."
"Does he love me?"
And he said, "Yes."
And that was it. The spirit just washed over me confirming the truthfulness of my mission president's words. Suddenly, that answer was so clear and so personal. Suddenly, I knew for myself, the Spirit spoke to my spirit that became such an anchor for my soul, and such a foundation for my testimony. And I thought, "Why didn't you just answer me? Months earlier, why didn't he just answer me the first time I crawled up on my top bunk and prayed, "Are you there?" Why didn't he just answer me then?" But then I thought, "If he had answered me then, would I have studied as hard as I had studied? Would I have read with the ravenous desire that I read? Would I have pondered as deeply as I pondered? Would I have talked to mission companions about the gospel? Or would I have just kept shooting the breeze and wasting time?" I mean, "Would I have served as sincerely as I served?" And I realized that I wouldn't have.
If God had still been holding me above the water, I never would have learned to swim. And it's when he finally let my head dip below the water, which scared me. That's what finally motivated me to search and to do what I've been instructed to do. And so even now sometimes when I might wonder, I go back to that moment. And that's why Chile is sacred ground for me. That's why that little town of La Serena is a sacred to me as the sacred grove is to Joseph Smith. That is the place where my testimony deepened to the point that I knew, and I knew that God knew and I could not deny it.
That was author and teacher Brad Wilcox. I love that Chile became a sacred place for him because of both the depth of his struggle and the brilliance of light that he found there.
It reminds me of Joseph Smith's description of that thick darkness that gathered around him in the grove that was trying to convince him that he was doomed to destruction. And then, of course, my favorite part to share when I was a missionary, that welcome moment of illumination when a pillar of light above the brightness of the Sun descended gradually upon him. It seems to me that often our sacred ground is defined by moments that are symbolic of the salvation that comes from Jesus Christ and His Atonement. Darkness turned to light, death turned to everlasting life, despair turned to hope.
And it doesn't surprise me that my friend Brad is the teller of such a story. He has spent his entire writing career trying to help us understand the atonement, grace, and mercy of our Savior, that he so acutely felt on that sacred ground. And we're all just a little bit better because of it.
Our next story comes from Cody, who allowed a wet, cold, barren patch of desert to be transformed into a place where the fire of her testimony could burn brightly.
I was 15 years old, this is in 1989, and I had a big tennis tournament that I was supposed to be competing in that day. And my family, extended family all showed up to come and cheer me on, but I didn't. I had gotten high with some friends earlier in the day and kind of lost track of time and just really was oblivious to any of my responsibilities.
When evening came, I went home and I remember thinking it was very strange because I had extended family that was there and my mom had laid out dinner on the table. And we were all about ready to sit down for a family dinner, which didn't happen in the middle of the week very often for us. And when we sat down to eat, a knock came at the door.
When it was open, two large men came in, and I was told that I was going to be just living in the wilderness for an untold number of days. And it was a wilderness survival program meant for troubled youth.
At an early age, about 12, I was introduced to recreational drugs, drinking, smoking, and I associated with people that were a lot older than I was, and so I just was surrounded by a lot of influences that affected me at such a young age.
On the surface, I think people probably looked at me as somebody that was a good girl. I grew up in a home that was a pretty normal home as a good family, my parents, you know, members of the church, I was baptized. But I wasn't in a place where I had my own strong testimony. I was a competitive athlete, I was doing well in that, but you know after time, the more and more you get involved in these kinds of things, the more you go down a kind of downward spiral. And by the time I was 15, that was when my parents started recognizing that there was a serious problem that was going on. I think they realized that they needed to do something drastic.
So when I first arrived on the top of Boulder mountain, all I saw was just a bunch of pinyon pines and rocks and recognized the vastness that surrounded me. It was just lots of sky, lots of wilderness, and the men that ran this program, were ex Navy SEALs. And so their tactics were to be as frightening as possible. They yelled, they didn't talk, they yelled, they yelled at you.
They gave me these clothes that had been sent down, you know, by my mom, my mom had gathered ahead of time. They said that that's what I needed to wear, but that was all that I was going to possess, that later they would give me a knife, and they would give me an army poncho. Those were the only two items that we had in our possession. I was put into a group. There were some other kids that are my age, so anywhere between 12 to 18 that had been there already for about a week.
I was very frightened. And I just remember feeling like even though there are people there, I'm so alone. I was there for four months. So I went there the beginning of August and came home the day before Thanksgiving in November. During the first couple of weeks that we were there, we had actually a Native American guide that would teach us how to recognize edible plants, and how to find water, and how to build fire, and how to create shelter and things like that. And that's what we used our knife for. We used this kitchen knife to be able to cut down the types of woods that we needed in order to make a fire making kit.
And we learned how to make rope out of yakka fibers or sage bark and things like that so that we could make these bows or traps and things like that. You literally were stripped of every comfort, everything. It was just a rough like I just was angry. I didn't like anyone that was there. I was not going to go about this easy. I was full of pride, you know, full of that, like teenage angst you know, that you would think of?
I was breaking inside, but I wasn't going to show them that I was breaking. I was just going to try to like seem tough. I was so mad at my parents. I never really wanted to see them again. My plan was to never ever go home again. You know, I don't know how I would've worked that out. But that's how I felt at the time. I felt betrayed, I felt more and more determined to not have a relationship with my parents and to just get as far away from them as possible.
So one of the things that we were given an opportunity to do twice during the time that I was there is we had what they call solos. Basically what that means is that instead of being with the group of kids, that they would go, and they would give you an area, like a parameter of like about a mile, maybe a square mile of where you could stay, but you weren't supposed to go past and you were completely alone.
The first solo was for five days. So during that five days, we were supposed to just completely fend for ourselves completely survive on our own. We're supposed to find our own water sources. We're supposed to find our own food, our own shelter, and just have complete, alone time. And then we had an eight-day solo.
During the eight-day solo, they took me to a place that was... it's called Harris Wash and it's kind of a slot canyon in a way, little bit bigger than slot canyon, it's in an area that's very remote, but it's along the Escalante river, and it was raining the day that I started the solo. And so all of the wood was wet, the sand was wet, I was soaking wet. And I just kept getting rained on and rained on with really no way to kind of keep myself dry or warm. And so I was not able to boil any water, I just had to drink the water that was in Escalante river just knowing that it was probably going to make me sick.
I had trapped some mice but I had no way to cook them because I couldn't make the fire. Luckily, you know, being right near the water, I was able to eat bulrush which is just a kind of water weed that grows along the banks of the river, and I would just suck on juniper berries and things like that and anything that I could really just fine, but it wasn't really enough.
It broke me, it broke me.
I felt totally and utterly, like hopeless and in despair and just felt like everything, every attempt that I was trying to make on my own, wasn't working out. That's when I realized that I really can't do this on my own, that I am in need of some other help. I remember having the thought that, "Is there really a god? And if so, why is he allowing me to be like this? He knows that I'm in this situation. He knows that I'm desperate. But yet, where is he?"
All of a sudden, like I started kind of having this song that came to me, "I'm a child of God," and the lyrics came to me and I hadn't sung it since I had been in primary as a I don't know, eight or nine year old, but I just started singing it out loud and kind of paying attention to the words and the words you know, I'm a child of God, and the words about you know, "sent me here, loving parents."
I mean, there was all these things that just were kind of flooding me with like a really strong desire to really hope that this was true. My dad's a convert to the church. And I remembered stories about him telling me about some of his first prayers, and that when he had, you know, been asking if there was a God, or if the Book of Mormon was true, that he would kneel and pray and some of the experiences that he had had with that, and the story of Joseph Smith going to the sacred grove that came to my mind, and I kind of almost felt like I was in a similar situation here, just in the middle of this wilderness.
So I kneeled down and I prayed. I remember just praying in a way, like not in a formal way, but almost as if I was just talking to somebody that was right there in my presence. And I just remember having this overwhelming feeling at the time when I finished the prayer that not only is God real, but he's there with me, and that he knows me, and that he loves me because those were the things that I was really desperate to know. I wanted to know if he existed, I wanted to know if he knew who I was, you know, in this huge, giant world, you know, why would he know me? And does he know the situation I'm in, does he care?
And I just remember having this overwhelming comfort and peace that came over me. I was freezing cold, it was rainy, I was wet, but I was warm. And I just remember feeling loved. I felt embraced. I just remember, you know, praying that I could somehow be able to create a fire. And so when I finished the prayer, I went to my fire starting kit, but where everything was wet, it was impossible. There really was no reason that I should have ever been able to make a fire for days because it was that wet.
But I know that because of the prayer that I gave, now it didn't just happen like I instantly you know made a fire, but pretty quickly, quicker than it should have been for sure, I was able to make that fire. So for the remaining days, I was able to keep this fire burning and be able to use it to not only heat myself, but be able to eat and be able to boil water, and just to bring me comfort. That fire was the most precious thing that I had.
And you know, honestly, I have thought about that fire and how kind of it was a representation of what was going on in that moment where I just needed to have that little prayer that was kind of like that little coal or that little spark that I could not find. And then I finally found it and then I was able to spend time tending to it and helping it to grow and helping it to last.
After the eight days, the group of kids they started becoming gathered by the leaders, and they would kind of hike through and gather each one of us and we would join back up with the group and I was out in the wilderness for another, probably another month, we still continued our day to day hiking, but my experience during those hikes completely changed, where I used to be somebody, I'm a pretty talkative person so I would be like talking with the other kids, I would be, you know, giving other people hard time or whatever, I'd like to joke and do things like that, but instead, I became very quiet and kind of reflective. And what I was doing was praying, I was praying twenty-four seven.
And so during that time, that's when I really felt like, my relationship really grew with our Father in Heaven. I recognized that he's not just this like distant being that just, you know, every once in a while, throws down a miracle. You know, it was he's there, he knows me, and he loves me. And he, he wants to just hear all of the random thoughts that I had in my head. He could understand and he would give me a little signs here and there that, "Yep, he was listening and he understood what I was feeling," and there would be little miracles that would happen all of the time where we would find water. I mean, I mean, that's, that sounds like it's not a miracle, but it's hard to explain, you know, when you're in that situation, but I would have a need, it would come, the solution would be presented. And so last month, being there really, really prepared me to be able to go home.
So the last day that you're there, they set up what they call a run in. And basically the leaders will take you to this road, and they will say your family is waiting for you down a mile or two. Just keep going.
I remember. I didn't stop running. I just ran with all the strength that I had because I knew I was going to see my family again and I saw my mom and my dad, and I just ran into their arms. I loved them. I wanted to be with them. I had no anger towards them. I had just complete, unconditional love, and appreciation for them.
I had every desire to do what was right. I have often thought about that day and thought about how it symbolizes so much about that same feeling that I felt, I think will happen when it's time for us to go home to see our heavenly parents like that was just something that just really represented that same thing to me.
We stayed in a little hotel in Escalon, Utah called the Circle De motel and I was able to take a shower and I took like a two hour shower. And I just kept looking down at the floor to see when it would finally be clear. I was just covered in soot and dirt, and we didn't bathe, we didn't brush our teeth, we didn't do anything like that for four months. And so you can only imagine, but I'm sure I smelled amazing when I hugged my parents. I'm sure they were trying to not gag.
I don't know. I just remember just having all of these little things that we totally take for granted now. That as a 15 year old, I all of a sudden recognized, like how blessed, how lucky we are.
That experience of that prayer and not just total without a doubt answer, that has stayed with me for the last 30 years. But at that time, it didn't immediately, like make me think that the Church was true. It was the foundation, but a lot of times I still didn't go to church, I would go out to the wilderness, I'd go up into the mountains.
It wasn't until like a year later that I ended up actually reading the Book of Mormon for the first time and reading it pretty quickly and having a you know, saying a prayer, wondering if this is also true, and just having that confirmation that it's true, then at that point, it was like there's no turning back now. I just wanted to read my scriptures all the time and listen to Janice Kapp Perry, like that's just who I wanted to be, which was so different than what I was before all of this happened.
There has been a lot of criticism about the particular program that I was in. And I know my parents received a lot of criticism from others that thought it was too harsh of a program. I know that this program was eventually shut down by the state. There were a lot of things that happened while we were there. That shouldn't have happened. But I wouldn't be the person that I am. I really, I think back on anytime, actually, any trial that comes my way, that's where my mind goes, is back to that four months that I was out there.
I think that when we think of the sacred places in our lives, that it doesn't always have to be a physical place, a location. A lot of times it can be the times in our life, the place in our life that made the biggest difference that put us on the road that we were meant to be on.
That was Cody. Now before anyone starts to think that sending your teenager into the wild with a bunch of Navy SEALs and no toothbrush is the answer to all of your parenting struggles, we want to make sure you know that we are in no way endorsing intense survivalist programs for youth like the one Cody described from 1989.
The fact that she was able to make something beautiful out of something that could have been deeply traumatic is a testament to her resilience. But we believe that God can work those same kinds of miracles without adding unnecessary trauma.
What I love about Cody's story is the reminder that the ground we are currently sitting on may seem anything but sacred. It may be wet and inhospitable, unable to receive even a spark of warmth, but our Father in heaven has the power, the ability, and the will to transform everything we think is impossible into possibility.
Our final story from Dave makes the case for the everyday sacred ground we might take for granted in our discipleship -- the Chapel.
I was not at a place in my life that I ever thought I'd be at. I was about 26/27 years old living in Las Vegas. No license. I had pending charges for at that time my third DUI. I tried lots of different methods to get sober. I feel like I read 10 different self help books from Dr. Phil to Joel Osteen. And I even had spent time in a inpatient rehabilitation center for three months. I even had a sponsor through AA who had 10 years of sobriety who was trying really hard to help me, and none of that was working.
So it all started, I was off my mission about two months, I had never tried alcohol, never tried any drugs. Couldn't even spell the word marijuana probably. And so I found myself on Super Bowl Sunday with my friend that I had known since high school, and that's when I tried alcohol for the first time.
I love the effect of what the drink did for me. It took away the really I think, as I think back on it, and what alcohol did for me is it took away the feeling of shame, and not measuring up and feeling guilty and feeling like I wasn't worthy of God's love. And when I would drink alcohol, all that went away and I could live in the moment.
When I would drink during the week, I would feel like a fake when I was at church because I almost felt like there was a price of admission to get into church, and I snuck in the back of the line. For me to go into church that meant I had to be doing x, y, &, z, to even walk through the doors. And since I hadn't been doing those things, it was like I was there without a ticket. That's what it felt like. I would miss maybe one week and then it's a little easier to miss the next week and long before it is sort of a gradual like falling away, up until where I just was so tuned out to spiritual matters and it just didn't matter to me.
I mean, I remember one time when I was trying to come back to church and it was a sacrament meeting and as soon as that hymn started, this desire to drink, and I think it was just because I didn't feel worthy to be at church that day. And it was that feeling of everyone around me is judging me, I don't belong here, I'm the outcast.
And I remember leaving sacrament meeting in the middle of the opening hymn and going straight to the 7-11 buying a six pack and I was like, as soon as I got out the door of the 7-11 I remember cracking open the can and started to guzzle it and it was just like get rid of these feelings because I don't want to feel this way. And alcohol is very effective at making it so I didn't feel that way.
I thought I was you know, at my rock bottom at that point, and little did I know how much worse it was going to get from then on.
I went into Mexico with one of my friends and brought back prescriptions because you didn't need to see a doctor to buy things. So we were basically like, like mules going into Mexico and bringing some pills back with us. And we stopped to drink right before we got out of the border. And he ended up getting a DUI and I was with him in the car and so next thing I knew I was in downtown San Diego jail.
I probably hadn't prayed in two years, and I was so disconnected from spiritual matters, but at that point, I remember a prayer to Heavenly Father where I just said, "Please help get me out of this jail cell and I promise I will not drink again." And I managed at the time, I feel like I was genuinely... my desire was to stop because I didn't want to keep finding myself in these situations that I thought I never would find myself in, like a jail cell for example, where your freedom is gone, and I remember feeling like a monkey in a cage. And it was just, it was the worst place I'd ever been in my life. And so the idea was, "If you get me out of here God, then I will never drink again and I will fly right. I'll straighten up as a good soldier and I will become active."
And you know, at that point, I thought it was a turning point in my life that I could actually do that. I'm not even kidding. The next day. I remember the guard saying to me "belt roll up" which meant basically get your mattress pad and roll it up. And I said, "Okay, what's going on?" He's like, "You're getting released." And basically all three felonies were dropped.
So yeah, God definitely came through for me. He got me out of jail, miraculously. I think I made it a weekend after getting out of jail that there I was back in the liquor store line buying more whiskey when I thought I was done. As soon as that desire, the temptation to drink came back up, it was like I had no defense against it, I was just I was, I gave right into that temptation again, I was desperate.
My friend Fred, said, "Dave, I know enough of your past to know that your upbringing in the LDS Church and I suggest that you find a way to go get close back to that because I can't really help you anymore." We were basically at that crossing point. And he said, "Dave, reach deep and and see what you can do."
It was a Saturday afternoon. And I thought, "Well, I know there's a chapel on Warm Springs and Eastern. I think I'll go there." And I got my bike, and I started to pedal. Immediately, the destroyer, the adversary started to put thoughts in my head like "don't go back to the chapel like give up." This is another thing that he does is tell me if I start, it's all or nothing and it's like, "Okay, you're heading back to the chapel, I hope you know this means that you're going to be temple worthy in a year."
And those are the kind of things that get me discouraged, like, "Oh, that's too insurmountable." But nonetheless, I pushed on, I got to that chapel super sweaty. And I didn't even think that the chapel would be open because there was actually just one car in the parking lot. My plan was actually to go sit under a tree, because it was super hot in Las Vegas, in the middle of July, and I thought I would go sit under a tree at the chapel, but at least I would be at a chapel and that's when I would pour my heart out to God and say, I don't know where to turn next because my life has been ruined by my constant decision to drink alcohol.
I tried a door and it actually opened up, and I went in there and I could hear some beautiful piano music coming from the chapel. I peeked into the chapel, and I saw the chorister playing the organ practicing probably for the hymns for the next day. I still remember walking through the chapel and oh my gosh, what a feeling of overwhelming peace that I had missed for so long. I walked down the hall and flashbacked to when I was a little kid and running through the halls on my way to primary class, and I just remembered back to the feeling I used to have as a kid where the world was great, and I didn't have to worry about what I had done.
I walked down the hall and I opened that primary door and I went in and I grabbed one of those little tiny chairs and I set it down. Again, my thought was, "I just need to sit in here and pray. I'll sleep in here if I can, but I need to feel the Holy Ghost." I was so desperate to feel some spirituality in my life.
I started to pour my heart out to God and just that surrender, "Help me please." There was no real bargaining like I'd done in the past. It was just kind of like "help me" and I looked up and there in the middle of the room of the primary was a picture of the Savior. And it's that picture where he's wearing the red robe, and those eyes were just telling me "I love you, Dave." I felt him saying, "Dave, I'm your advocate. You don't need to do this alone. Thank you for asking for my help, now accept it and embrace it, and let's do this together."
I had that feeling that I was being hugged. I know that I needed to be in the chapel that day because it was a giant step for me to even go back to a chapel, but I think that maybe it displayed some humility, and it allowed me to start on that path back.
I had several relapses after that point. But I had some hope.
That's when I realized that I was no longer an outcast. God wanted me back in his arms. And I know that his love is what I need every single day. I think the door was open that day because God wanted me to know that the door would always be open for me, that he was never going to shut me out, that I could come back anytime.
God set up the environment for me by giving me an empty building, an open door, and I didn't have to worry about what I was wearing. I didn't have to worry about what I had done. There was essentially no price of admission that day. I know that chapels are for spiritually sick people that need to be well. The temple might as well have been on another continent. There was no way I saw myself getting into the temple. But the chapel was realistic. I'd passed the chapel on the bus and I can go back to a chapel even if just to sit on the grass.
I walk into the chapel now knowing that I'm going to find the Savior inside, and that he's my advocate. He's my big brother that's glad I'm there. He's like, "Dave, I'm glad you're home. Come on inside. Kick your feet back and enjoy the spirit and today, and this will help recharge your batteries, and you're going to learn more about me here. You're going to remember what it was like to be a child in primary and to feel okay." And now I have access to that wherever I go in the whole world now, I don't even need to recommend to go to the chapel. I can go there now and it has become a sanctuary to me.
That was Dave.
When we called Dave after hearing his story on our pitch line, we realized that he and my husband Justin actually knew each other, over 20 years ago when they were both preparing to serve missions. So we orchestrated a little reunion for the recording, and I couldn't help but see that word "reunion" echoed in Dave's story.
Sometimes our sacred ground is a long forgotten friend, a tiny chair in a room with carpet halfway up the walls, or a quiet chapel where the organist is practicing hymns for another day. We may have lost touch, walked away, forgotten that we ever felt grounded in that space to begin with, or we may have even chosen to break the bonds of that connection ourselves.
But our Savior is the Redeemer. He is the reconciler. Through him, what is profaned or desecrated can become reestablished, regrounded, reconsecrated. And I think for Dave as he grappled with his addiction and his pride, the chapel became a symbol of everything that he wasn't. But the minute that he let himself become as a little child, and go toward his Redeemer, he found himself in the space where he could actually hear what God was trying to teach him, and in the process, he was reunited to a place, to that sacred ground where the real work could begin.
You know, the sacred grove would not be the only place that our beloved Prophet Joseph Smith would find holy ground in his earthly existence. It was only the start of a lifetime of transformative experiences with deity and a mix of mundane and exalted spaces -- the Susquehanna River, the home of Peter Whitmer Senior, Liberty jail, the Nauvoo temple, the Red Brick store, Carthage.
Each of these places are held with deep reverence not because of the actual land that they exist on, but because of the way they transformed Joseph's faith, and in turn our faith and the way we practice in our effort to walk the path of the Savior. I believe that as we look back upon the story of our lives, if we are seeking and walking that path of discipleship, I think that we'll find that our journey was actually made upon a path of truly sacred ground.
That's it for this episode of This is the Gospel. Thank you to Cody, Dave, and Brad for sharing their stories in their faith. We'll have links to Brad's newest book about the Savior. It's a beautiful one called "Because of the Christ on Calvary," in our show notes, as well as pictures of our storytellers and a transcript of this episode at LDSLiving.com/ThisistheGospel.
A big thank you to all of you for sharing the stories that mean something to you with your friends and your family. We love to hear all the ways that this type of storytelling strengthens your faith in God and love for his children.
If you have a minute, just a minute, to leave a review and a rating on iTunes, that's another way that you can share the good stuff. Every review helps us to show up in the search for more people. All of our stories on this podcast are true and accurate as affirmed by our storytellers, and if you have a story to share about Living the Gospel, please call our pitch line and leave us a pitch. We often find many of our stories and our long lost friends from the pitch line and we love to hear how the gospel has blessed your life. Call 515-519-6179 and pitch your story in three minutes or less.
This episode was produced by me KaRyn Lay with additional story producing and editing by Jasmine Mullen, Katie Lambert, and Emily Abel. It was scored, mixed and mastered by Mix at Six Studios and our executive producer is Erin Hallstrom.
You can find past episodes of this podcast and other LDS Living podcasts at LDSLiving.com/podcasts. Have a great week.