16: A True Change of Heart
When Dusty first came in contact with anti-Mormon literature, he had no idea that his desire to refute it would eventually lead him to become a vehement persecutor of the Church he once loved. What does it take to come back from the precipice of lost faith? Dusty’s unique story of belief lost and found is a reminder that the Savior’s atonement reaches for us even in our seemingly unreachable places.
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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. I have what some might call an unhealthy obsession with all things Texas. I think it actually started when I was in college in Philadelphia and discovered that every single person I met from the Lone Star State immediately felt like my best friend. And maybe there's something about that wide open space that calls to those of us who love to spin a good yarn. I don't know. But this week's episode has done absolutely nothing to cure me of my Texas enthusiasm because we've got one wildly incredible story from Dusty, a Texan with a heart and a sense of humor as big as the state he comes from. Dusty is a convert to the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ who found himself far away from home figuratively, literally and spiritually. He shares his story of how he got lost, and how the Lord pulled him back when he was finally ready. Here's Dusty.
DUSTY: When I was a kid, there was always a whole bunch of Steve's in the classroom, but I was the one that came in from recess with the holes in my jeans and dirty and, you know, dusty, and I was the mischevious one and it just kind of stuck. Everybody calls me Dusty. I grew up in the little town called Creedmoor, which is just south of Boston, about 20-25 miles. Population of Creedmoor is about five and a half. I mean the post office was in the store. I mean, it was a little place. And I grew up kind of poor. My dad left when I was five. And we lived in a trailer house. My mother and my grandparents raised me. Mostly my mother, but my grandparents were a big influence in my life. My mother was Lutheran. My grandfather was Catholic. My grandmother was Baptist. So I went to all three churches, and I, frankly, was pretty confused. You know, doing that. Did I kneel, stand, sit? I was always wondering as a kid, why there were so many different ways to do stuff based on one book. But I learned to love the Lord. In college, there was a tragedy that happened. A young girl, a family friend, 13, was running home from school thought, the glass doors- thought they were open. They were shut. And she ran through them and fell on a piece of glass and it killed her. And I got really angry with God. I said, you know, "That's how you treat your folks? I want nothing to do with you." So I stopped going to church, stopped praying. I was in my third year of college. At some point, my mother had been up to Salt Lake on business. She worked with the VA, Veterans Administration. And somebody had given her Book of Mormon and she put it on my bookshelf my old bedroom. I graduated from college in 82. In 83, I went, I went home. I was visiting my mom and I wanted to read a Louis L'Amour Western. I had him on the bookshelf. And the Book of Mormon fell off the bookshelf. So I opened it up and read it and got interested. Got the phone book. Called the stake. I didn't know what to call but it was I was hungry. It was lunchtime. So I called the stake. I'd never heard of wards and stakes before, you know? The Stake President answered. He said he was never there during the week. But he had forgot something, came by to pick it up, and answered my phone call. He arranged to meet with the missionaries and I was baptized shortly thereafter. It was 83. I was- I had a college degree and I was already working. People started saying you should go on a mission. And I was saying I'm never going to go on a mission. I'm an adult. I have a degree. I have a job. Not going to happen. I was actually sitting in sacrament meeting one day at the university ward in Austin, Texas. And I had been so adamant about not going on a mission. But I just had this impression, just incredibly strong impression, that I needed to go on a mission. And so I ended up quitting my job. Selling everything I could. But anyway, while I was at the MTC, I was 24. And everybody else was 19. I felt like I was babysitting. And they were running them down the halls. They were screaming and my family wasn't that in favor of me. They thought I was kind of crazy for quitting a paying job and going for, back then it was 18 months, going on 18-month mission where I wasn't gonna get any money. So I went to the payphone at the MTC. I called church headquarters. And I said if nobody cares if I'm here, I'm going home. And a lady answered you know, she said, "Would you please hold" I wait a few seconds and a voice comes on the phone and said, "Elder, if nobody else cares if you're serving a mission, I do. This is L. Tom Perry." And so we chatted. And at the end of the conversation, he said, "Do you mind if I'm your pen pal on your mission?"
So, Elder Perry was my pen pal on my mission. Got off my mission, went to law school, and I went to a foreign country to go to law school, Michigan. In my third year of law school, I went to Palmyra for the pageant. And I found something I'd never seen before. And that was a lot of anti-Mormons. And I debated them. And I came back from that experience. And I wanted to be a smarter member of the church. So I could debate better, defend the church better. And so I began to read all these things. And the more I read, the more I thought I never heard that before. And when I would ask questions, this was in 1989, when I asked questions, I was told don't ask questions. I finally woke up one day and I realized I no longer believed. I no longer had a testimony. So I sent a letter to the Stake President and I said, "Take my name off church records." A few weeks later, I got a letter saying I'm excommunicated. And it made me very angry. And so I became an anti-Mormon myself. I would go to churches and give classes against the Mormon Church. I would write articles. I would stop missionaries on their bicycles and tell them they were following false gods and false prophets. And I mean, I was the worst kind of anti-Mormon. I served my mission in Honduras. I was in the army in Honduras. I went to the places I had baptized people and apologized to them. Okay, that's how anti I was. And I, I came back and discovered the internet. And I could be an anti-Mormon from the comfort of my own home. And so I began to find places where I could go argue with Mormons. I was arguing with people for years. And in 1999, I joined one called "What Do Mormons Really Believe? That was the name of the board. And I went on that board to tell them what they really believed. And I met a guy named Mike, and Mike and I were just bitter, bitter debaters. Like we had some knock down drag outs. Over the years, though, we became friends. And I would tell him, "I'm still not going to become a member of your church." And he would say, "Well, I'm putting your name in the temple every week." He did since like, 1999, or 2000, began to put my name in the temple every week. I would say, "Don't do that. You're praying to the wrong God. Don't do that." But he did it every week.
In 2009, I went down to Laredo, Texas, I had to do a deposition with a client that had been deported. And I came back from that experience with the swine flu. And no doctor would see me. So I was on my deathbed in Dallas, Texas. Two missionaries knocked on my door, and my young- my oldest son, let them into my house. Oh, I was angry. Worse, he brought them up to my deathbed. All right? And one of them looks at me and says, "You're sick." I say, "Get out of my house." And they said, "Can we give you a blessing?" And I said, "Will it get you out of my house?" And they said, "Yes." So I said, "Then fine, do it." And they gave me a blessing. And I was immediately healed. I mean, not like I got better over the next couple of days. Fever broke, sweating stopped, I was able to stand up out of bed for the first time in days. And I walked them downstairs, I said, "Don't ever come back to my house." In 2014, my wife got this job promotion. But it required her moving to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Now, I don't know about y'all, but Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and promotion never belong in the same sentence. But she said, you know, should I take the position? I said, "Yeah, baby, take it. I'll stay in Dallas, you go to Baton Rouge, we have a plan. You'll keep that job until the same position opens up in Dallas, you can come back like make a lateral move." That was our plan. And we'll meet in Shreveport once a month. So she did. There's like 40 some odd division districts in her company. Her district was in the bottom 40, or the bottom part of 40. Within a few months, she had it up in the top four. And her reward was they closed her district and they were going to let her go. Her boss called her and said, "Don't sign any severance paperwork. I want you to take the position in Baltimore. Put the paperwork in for Baltimore." Called my friend Mike. He was the one that he and I debated on that first board back in 99. Was put my name in the temple every week. And I called Mike. He and I were friends now and I said "Mike, do me a favor. Pray for Susan to get this position in Baltimore." He said, "I'll do it." And this where I got clever. I said, "However, if the Lord wants me to be LDS again, He'll send Susan to Utah." Now, there were no openings in Utah that day. The next day, the person in Utah retired. And the next day, Susan's paperwork was transferred to Salt Lake City, and she was hired with no betting.
And I called Mike and I said, "You're not gonna believe this Mike. Susan's going to Utah. He said, "Well, you know what you told God." I said, "I was just kidding." He said, "Well, God wasn't."So I hit my knees and I said, "Okay, Heavenly Father, you want me to be a member of the church again? For 26 years, I've had issues that nobody's been able to resolve. And I've heard all the apologetics, I've heard all the reasonings and the answers, and none of them work for me. So I need answers."And over the next few weeks, I'd wake up in the middle of the night with a new answer that I'd never heard before. Until I woke up one day in March 2015, I had my testimony back. And it was as if the Lord had walked up to him with his hands cupped. And he said, "I've been keeping this warm for you for 26 years. Now you take care of it this time." And he touched my heart and gave it back to me. And I called Mike and bore my testimony. And he wept. Couple of weeks later, I came to Salt Lake division, Susan, my wife. I was out doing my five-mile walk and the Lord said, "This is home now." And I said, "No, no, it's not. I live in Texas." And he said, "This is home now." I get back to the apartment that Susan's rented. And I said, "Baby, out of curiosity, what do you think about Utah?" And she said, "I've been wondering how to bring it up to you, but I never want to leave." I said, "Fine. So, I'll go home and talk to a realtor." So I go home, talk to a realtor. Realtor looks at my house and says, "You'll never sell this house." It was built in 1929. It had issues. I got re-baptized. The week after that, I get a knock on my door guy says, "I want to buy your house." I said, "It's not for sale." He said "Don't care. I want to buy it." I said, "Okay, but I can't afford to fix it up to sell it to you." He said, "I want to buy it as is." I said, "How much?" It was more than the house was worth. And I called Susan and told her and she said, "When God wants you someplace, he really wants you someplace." Rest of that story is about a year later, I'm sitting in my apartment in Salt Lake City. I get a call from a guy in Dallas. He wants to buy my house in Dallas. I said, "I've already sold that house." He said, "Are you sure?" I said, "Pretty sure. I was there." He said, "Get the money?" I said, "And spent it." He said, "Well hang on." I can hear him shuffling papers. And he gets back says, "Huh? The guy who bought your house disappeared. That house is in foreclosure and abandoned."To this day that house is abandoned.
So, I'm in Salt Lake. Susan takes me down to Moab to see the arches. Right? And I'm waiting on her to get ready. I get a phone call from a girl. She says, "Are you, are you Dusty Smith? I said, "Yes." And she said, "I see you've been on mormon.org and you want information on the church?" I said, "No, that's not true." She said, "Sir, the only way your name pops up on my screen is if you've been on mormon.org and you want information on the church." I said, "Be that as it may, but me." She said, "Well then how do you suppose I got your name and number?" I said, "I do not know. However, my computer is in Salt Lake City. I am in Moab." She said, "You're a member of the church?" I said, "Let me tell you a story."I tell her my story. I get done and she's crying. She said, "I'm at the MTC and I'm having a crisis of faith and not thinking I'm not going to finish my mission. Your name pops up my screen, and I call you and thank you for your story. I'm going to go finish my mission." A couple of months later, I get a phone call, "Is this Dusty Smith? I said yes. "She said would you please hold President Uchtdorf? I said, "Yes." He'd heard about my story, coming back to the church at 26 years. He wanted to talk to me about it. And then he used that story in General Conference in October 2016 Priesthood Session in a talk about Alma and Amulek. February of 17, Susan and I go to a gun show in Sandy, Utah.
And I need a holster. I go to the table where they're selling holsters and a fella and I are talking and he says, "You're from Texas." And I said, "You could tell because of the way I talked. How odd is that?" He said, "What are you doing in Utah?" "So let me tell you a story." He said, "Wait a second, that talk in conference was about you?" And I said, "Yep." And he said, "Can we chat?" I said, "Sure." So he and Susan and I walk over a quiet area of the Sandy Utah Expo Center. Then another fella follows us over. I get done telling the story, and the fellow that followed us over said, "You're from Dallas?" and I said, "Yes." He goes, "Oh, Cliff" And I said, "Yes..." He goes, "You don't remember me. But in 2009, you had the swine flu, and I gave you a blessing." The rest of that story is after his mission, he had gone inactive. Before the 2016 General Conference, his Bishop said, "I'm tired of your inactivity, here's a ticket to Priesthood Session." He goes and hears the talk about Alma and Amulek. And it reactivates him not realizing that the story was about somebody who'd given a blessing to nine years earlier. All of this just proves that the Lord loves us so much that He orchestrates and lets all these things happen for our benefit. They happen for us because He loves- He loves each of us as if we're the only person on this earth. He loves us enough to give us the atonement. When I met with President Uchtdorf, he said, "Do you have a testimony of the atonement?" I said, "That's a trick question." He said, "Why is it a trick question?" "Because I believe in it for you and for all y'all, but I was horrible. For 26 years, I fought the church. For 26 years, I tried to hurt the church. I don't deserve the atonement."
And I had my head down and he said, "Dusty." And I looked up and he was looking at me with those soft eyes of his and that smile. And he said, "Your sins are forgiven." That's how much the Lord loves us. Now, I'll be the first to admit you're going to see and hear negative things about the church.Google it, it's there. If you want to find the perfect church, die, because if you're looking for the perfect church, you're not going to find it on this earth. What you'll find is the church that has the keys. The church that has the truth. The church that has all of the ordinances and the priesthood. That's what you look for, you're not going to find perfection, because we're not perfect people. But you can find the true church. And that's what you need to focus on. And people have made mistakes. Absolutely. People get offended. Absolutely. But you know what, go back to the basics. So you don't look for perfection. You look for truth. You look for truth and the fullness of the gospel. If I could go back and tell my earlier self, warn my earlier self, what would I tell my earlier self? And I would say, "Don't let what you don't know, destroy what you do know." There was a time in 2009 after I got healed that I thought about maybe trying to come back and I prayed. No answers. I prayed. No answers. Okay, I went to the stake president in 2009 in Texas, and I said, "If I ever decided to come back to church what I gotta do?" He says church court." I said, "I didn't do anything wrong. I will never do a church court." When I did it in 2015. And I prayed, it was with humility, and with the true desire to know. And when I went to the Stake President, and it turned out to be the same guy, all those years later, he said, "I remember you. The answer hasn't changed: church court." My answer was, "Whatever it takes, let's get it done." And I look at all these miracles as they happen. And people tell me all the time, "I want one miracle to happen to me, they happen to you all the time." I say "They happen to you too." My stories only good because I was weak. I left the church. I gave up on the church in 1989. Special? No, not even a little bit I'm special to the Lord. That's how much the Lord loves us. And that's why I'm back in the Gospel. That's why I'm home.
That was Dusty. Dusty's had the opportunity to share his story and testimony with so many people since his re-baptism. And as we talked, the thing that really struck me was his desire to be a powerful instrument in the hands of God. To bring people to Christ. With as much energy of heart, or more, than he had when he was actively tearing it all down. Isn't it amazing to think about that kind of shift? The reality is that God accepted Dusty's change the minute he turned toward the Savior. Even if he never helped to strengthen the faith of another person, his sacrifice of a contrite spirit and a broken heart would be enough. But here's the coolest part. When we do lay it all down before God, something magical happens. We desire to do more, to be more, to help others come to Christ. Not as penance for a life of mistakes, but because we are new men and new women in him. That is a true change of heart. And this is the gospel.
KARYN LAY: That's it for this episode. A big thank you to Dusty for sharing his story and his faith. And thank you for listening. If you have a story to share about living the Gospel, we'd love to hear it. Call us on our pitch line at 515-519-6179. And leave us a message with a short synopsis of your story. And of course, be sure to check out past episodes of this podcast, and the All In podcast, at ldsliving.com/podcasts. This episode was produced by me, KaRyn Lay, with help from Katie Lambert and Davey Johnson, and edited by Katie Lambert and Derek Campbell. Our executive producer is Erin Hallstrom. If you love the stories we've shared, leave a review on the apple podcast app or anywhere you listen to your podcasts and tell all your friends. It'll help more people find us. Have a great week.