All Things New
Stories in this episode: Jolene fully expects a lecture from her father when he invites her to lunch, but is surprised when the conversation takes an unlikely turn; Steven's hopes for a bright future are thrown for a loop when his college football career comes to a sudden stop, causing him to spiral into his addictions until he finds God where he least expects it—an isolated jail cell.
KaRyn Lay 0:03
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.
And I don't mean to be overly dramatic. But is there anything more perfect than the feeling you get from the first shower after a three day camping trip? Now listen, we're too cheap in the Lay household to hang out in one of those RVs that are basically bigger and more fancy than our house.
We're talking good old tent-backpack camping where the dirt and the smoke just seem to cling to every pore of your body. There's just something about the satisfaction of washing it all away that makes sleeping on the ground in a flimsy nylon shelter, eating half raw, half burned meat on a stick–totally worth it.
Maybe you're not a camper, and that's totally cool, I have more than enough friends who think it's insane to pack up your house and move it into the woods for a few days, just so you can pretend cellphones don't exist.
But even if camping is not your jam, you probably have something that helps you feel like a totally new person when the heaviness of life sort of settles into your bones.
Maybe it's a deep and meaningful conversation with a friend about big picture stuff of life, or listening to your gym Spotify playlist at level 10 while you dance around the kitchen.
I know that sometimes for me, it's a good heaving cry, the kind where you can't catch your breath, especially when I'm praying and pouring out my heart. Whatever it is that offers you that sense of renewal in the everyday work of living life, I think they're just tiny little allegories meant to give us a small taste of the reconciliation and reconstruction that Jesus Christ offers us when we decide to fully commit to discipleship.
As the Apostle Paul taught in Second Corinthians, "Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature. Old things are passed away. Behold, all things are become new." And man, if anyone understood the power and the reality of that promise of newness, it had to have been Paul, the former persecutor of Christians who had that profound change of heart that led to a totally new life.
Well, today in our first episode of season four, we have two stories about that promise of newness, and how it shows up for us in both quiet and profound ways when we humble ourselves to accept it. Our first story comes from Jolene, who wondered, like most of us do, if people really can change. Here's Jolene.
Many years ago, I went to visit my parents. I had been struggling with a relationship in my life and it was a time for me to just have some time to ponder. Think about what I was going to do. And I didn't tell my parents why I was visiting, I just came to visit.
And one day towards the end of our visit, my dad came to see me. He said, "Now, honey, I'm going to take you to lunch. You and I are going to have a lunch." And I'm thinking, oh my golly, he is going to lecture me. I don't know what he's going to lecture me about but he. . . that tended to be the dynamic of our relationship is that my dad would you know, just tell me what he thought I should be doing with my life. And in my mid 30s, this was not very welcome.
My dad was a business executive. So he handled things like a business deal, even raising his children. I had not had a lot of time with my dad. When he was present in the home, he wasn't always present with me or with my siblings.
When I was growing up, I was a little afraid of him. I didn't have a good relationship with him. And actually it colored my relationship with men. I chose men that were not really healthy in my life. I actually told my dad at one point that I did not respect the way he handled his priesthood. . . . Kind of a tough thing to say to someone. Yeah, my dad liked to talk at me. And he was very uncomfortable if I cried when we were talking. So anyway, that was the dynamic of our relationship.
So we ended up going for lunch to our favorite Mexican restaurant. We got our menus when we got there and we ordered our lunch. And after our lunch had arrived, my dad whips out this piece of paper from his jacket. It was a legal sized piece of paper and I'm thinking oh my goodness. What am I in for?
He said, "Honey, I've made a list of all the things I wish I'd done differently with you." Now, I think my jaw might have hit the floor. I mean, this is my dad, you know? Somebody who I thought would never change in a relationship with me.
And so he says, "Now, can I just read this list to you, and we'll discuss it after I read it to you?" And I said, "Sure." So he started reading things to me. And in my little bit of a bratty mind, I was thinking to myself, well, when's he going to get to this? And when's he going to get to that? And I know I rolled my eyes at some of the things he said, and I know I was thrumming my fingers on my leg underneath the table thinking, "Okay. He's got to get to this one, huh? He will get to that one, huh.
And he, and he didn't get to all of the things that I had on my mind that I wish he'd done differently. But anyway, we went through this list. Then we talked about everything that was on the list, and I told him, "Oh, well, that really didn't matter to me. But thank you." "And yes, thank you, this really did matter to me." And we talked about it and, and how things might have been different.
That was a great conversation, this lunch actually turned out to be a four hour lunch. So it was quite an in-depth conversation. Then he said to me, after we'd gone through the whole list, said, "Now, honey, would you mind telling me things that you wish I'd done differently?" Chin on floor. I was just gobsmacked. It was just so amazing that he'd be so vulnerable, right.
So I told him that things that I've been thrumming my fingers about. And you know, so I told him all these things. And he wrote them on his list, he added them to his list. That honored me so much that he would put them on his list. It felt like he was validating me. And he was validating my opinion .That told me he heard me. That told me, he wished he'd done that differently as well.
And that meant so much to me. It meant that if my dad could change, maybe other people in my life could change. Maybe I could change.
Then he said to me, after we put all these things on the list, he said, "Now, honey, if you think of anything else that should go in this list, will you call me over the next few months, and we'll add them to the list?" And I did, I did do that.
But in addition to that, I actually was able to call him and give him a list that I'd made of things I wish I'd done. Those things change the dynamics of our relationships so much. And what it also did was, I mean, it allowed me to look at my dad in a whole different way. I think it allowed him to look at me in a whole different way.
And it allowed me to actually look at my Savior in a whole different way. And that led me to be able to let down my guard and actually return to the Church, which I cannot imagine being without the gospel in my life.
At the point that we had this lunch, I wasn't active in the Church. I hadn't recognized till later how much this had allowed me to come back to the Church, to look at things as evolving through seeing my dad evolve, and seeing myself evolve.
And also not to see men as the as the enemy. But men as friends, men as wonderful. And back then I was thinking of men as my . . . not my enemy, but gosh I, just couldn't, couldn't get past a certain point with my heart with men. Because this relationship with my dad was pivotal.
I think it was pivotal with my Heavenly Father. I've always felt close to my Heavenly Father, but when my dad and I had a better relationship, when his humility came forward, and when we were able to speak about things that were close to our heart, it changed everything for me.
It allowed me to think, can you imagine my Heavenly Father knows everything about me? He knows everything that's in my heart and soul. He knows my intention, and boy, does he know my failings, right. So does my dad and he still loves me.
These are things that I needed in my life to be able to move forward and to explore this relationship. I'm thinking that maybe we could work things out. My dad taught me that people can grow, that people can change.
I had kind of in my mind stuck my dad into a little box. In this–he was never going to change. He was never going to be, you know, do things new. And my dad was, as I look back, he was a pretty amazing guy in so many ways. But when he did this, when he was humble, when he encouraged me to be humble, and when he encouraged us to look at our relationship and things that we could have done differently with each other. It's amazing.
To me, that's where the gospel really sings, is with these relationships. And it's one of the big things that we're meant to learn while we're here, isn't it? This experience with my dad actually taught me more about the Atonement. It taught me how rich it can be. It taught me how it can impact so many parts of our life. And it also taught me that my dad was listening to the Holy Ghost. My dad was, he was trying to help me. Just like the Savior does all the time and that the Savior sends people into our lives, to help us move forward and to help us see things in a new and astounding way.
KaRyn Lay 11:35
That was Jolene and I have been thinking about her story since we first talked this past fall. There are so many layers of rebirth here. Obviously, there's the renewed relationship between Jolene and her dad that came from both of them seeking to reconcile their past mistakes with one another. And I love how her dad's change of heart was the catalyst for Jolene's own growth and self awareness.
His willingness to choose humility and redress actually helped to heal more than just his relationship to her. But that isn't the only way that healing and rebirth can come to those of us who've been hurt by someone maybe wielding their priesthood or other types of power in less than honorable ways.
It might feel impossible to ever be reconciled to Heavenly Father or an institution that bestows that gift on imperfect people. And if that's part of your story, or the story of someone you love, then I think Jolene's experience may offer us some hope that there's a way forward in faith.
While it's true that not every person who's hurt us will seek a new heart the way Jolene's dad did, the truth is that it might not really matter. Because ultimately, we believe in a Savior who's paid the price to give us a new heart, new understanding, new experiences that will help us to be soft in the midst of our stony places.
You know, the gift of Jolene's story wasn't that her father had a change of heart. It was that she had a change of heart, a true renewal an exchange of her heartache and resentment, for hope and return. Her story reminds us that change is possible. And that change is real for you, and for me, regardless of the choices that other people make. And that is the gospel.
Our final story today comes from Steven who learned that our past is no match for the power of Christ loving redemption.
A quick note for those who might be listening with younger children, Steven's story, while it's totally, profoundly, hopeful, it does have some gritty elements that you may want to preview before sharing.
My upbringing was pretty tough. I come from a broken home, pretty much, you know. There was a lot of violence and verbal abuse, emotional abuse, neglect. My parents struggled with drugs and other substances as well, and they fought a lot. And growing up, I just kind of always had a hope and desire for my parents to get along and to just have a happy life and be able to do normal things, you know.
Neither one of my parents really had the best upbringing themselves, you know, and so I try not to blame them or make them out to be people that, you know, were just evil or wicked people. Rather, they're just people who were having their own struggles.
With my father, you know, I was always playing sports. He didn't have an education, and he didn't quite know how he was gonna help us kids become something better in our lives, and so, you know, sports was my outlet, but it was also. . . it was also going to be the way that I became something. You know, sports was going to be something that we use to get a scholarship, to get an education and hopefully have a better life.
My parents, they had been married for about 12-13 years, you know, it came to a point where it was just so toxic that they just could not even stand each other anymore. And my parents got divorced, basically got to the point where I was choosing that I wanted to live with my dad. I moved in with him, and what I didn't realize, though, is that my dad was a lot more broken than I thought he would be.
Because of that he was using more and more. Drinking, and, you know, smoking, pot or marijuana. And then shortly after other drugs came into play. At the later end of junior high is kind of where things took a much worse turn.
I was getting ready to go to Cottonwood high school. That's kind of where I had been recruited to go and play football for a program that was up and coming. My last day living with him I was in my room by myself doing homework. And I just remember hearing this huge . . . almost like an explosion.
I just remember hearing this huge explosion, and sitting there, pause, thinking like what was that? You know, and didn't even move out of my chair. Next thing I know, my door, my bedroom door, flies off its hinges. And I realized that the explosion was not explosion, it was the front door being completely taken off its hinges. And now my doors completely off its hinges.
And all I saw was a group of men in all black, bulletproof vest, all kinds of different, you know, weapons and rifles and stuff, giving me commands in order to get on the ground. I was terrified. I was confused, I was in shock. And all I could think was like–they have the wrong house, you know.
And so they take me outside. And they start breaking down everything to me, letting me know that the names of the people they were looking for. One of the names was my father's name. And they had given me some information as why they were looking for him, you know, him and his friends had been involved in a lot of serious drug crimes.
And I didn't even know this, but the basement in the house that we were staying had been converted into a meth lab. I didn't quite know exactly what that was. I knew it was really bad, you know? I knew that meth was like this very, very serious drug. And I'd seen the pictures from health class of what it does to people, you know, and I knew he was in a lot of trouble. I had to try and figure out like, well, where am I gonna go? Where's my dad? You know, he wasn't even home at the time. There's just so many unknowns.
So they call my mom to have her come and pick me up. And I stayed with her for probably a few weeks, I slept on her couch. I had so much resentment I . . . just didn't want to be there. So I got out.
I got out and I went to live with friends. It was just a bad environment all around. And the kids that I was hanging around with were also not the best examples. You know, there was drugs and drinking with these friends and I stopped going to school. I just didn't have the guidance. I didn't have people to hold me accountable. I didn't have people telling me to go to school, you know, as a 15 year old. That's how I was getting by and getting around with those groups of kids and other kids who were dropouts.
I lived that way . . . eight to ten months. Out of nowhere, a man showed up to one of the houses that I was staying in, one of the football coaches that Cottonwood high school who had heard somehow through the wire what had happened. So he shows up to this house. And he asked me to come take a ride.
And so I jumped in his car, we went for a ride. We pull in some apartment complex, and he's telling me that, you know, here, there's a bed, there's blankets, the cupboards are full, the fridge is loaded and this apartment can be for you if you need somewhere. And I just have a few rules. And I was interested because I also wasn't happy with the way that I was living and hanging around the kids I was hanging around.
But I didn't know how to get out of that. So I asked him, you know, what are the rules? And he said, Well, first and foremost, school has to be a priority. Secondly, you got to obviously give your best efforts on the field. And I want to see you on time to every meeting, every practice. And I was like deal. I can do that. I remember thinking like this is my chance. I can have another chance I can go to school. I can I get myself out of this.
So that's where high school began for me. And those were pretty much the best years of my life to that point. I loved it. High school was great. I had a lot of great friends, I did really well. I was still kind of a wild kid, and getting into trouble from time to time. But for the most part, life was great.
Post high school, I was getting recruited to go and play for different colleges, and wound up in Colorado playing football there. And I was doing really well there. Still kind of like a broken person, but the sports were the outlet, like I said.
When I was not playing football, I had this like, dark hole inside, that was just getting more and more power over me and taking more and more happiness and peace out of my life, the more that I neglected it.
We did get new coaches, the last year that I was there, the new coaches had set an expectation of, you know, no partying, no extra curricular activities that would get us in trouble to school or in the community and stuff like that. And they were very strict about that.
A lot of the stuff that was going on inside of me, a lot of the inner turmoil, it caused me to gravitate towards groups and people that ended up getting me in some trouble. My final year playing there I recall deciding to go out and go to a party. We all knew that we shouldn't be, but you know, we were going to try and be responsible and just not get caught and not do anything stupid.
At that party, one of the guys I was there with he got us into some trouble. Long story short, they pulled my scholarships, and I was kicked off the team. That's when like the real depression and the hard, hard things started to come up within me. Because I had lost that coping mechanism, the sports and everything.
And I started drinking more. And I wasn't allowed to hang out to football guys so I was drinking in groups and crowds that were unfamiliar to me. And basically numbing all my pain. Became very depressed, I stopped going to classes. And there was just so much shame because I was well known on the campus already as the quarterback. But when people had found out I–there was just so much shame on campus, you know that I had ruined it, you know, and I was no longer on the team.
And you know, and that just caused me to spiral down. You know, hard drugs came into the scenes I was drinking in and I made some bad decisions. And next thing, you know, became a pretty serious drug addict going down a very slippery slope to a dark place.
I dropped out of school and was involved with a lot of bad people. I tried many, many times to get clean and sober and went to inpatients and outpatients. I went to rehab and I tried home detox therapy, counseling–I tried everything that I could to get clean as often as I could, and nothing really could get me more than a few weeks, it seemed.
My life just–you know, it eventually got to the point where I gave up. I gave up on trying to get myself back together. And I embraced the idea that you know, since I can't get it together after all that I've been trying, I'm just going to live this life until it takes me. I was just there to get high, to numb out and to escape the failure of my life.
Every moment was–I just didn't want to be in reality. I had grown an affection for the drugs and the euphoria and the high and that's kind of where everything seemed to go away. It was a constant obsessive chase, because the pain inside and the depression and the brokenness was so unbearable that I would do anything to escape it, you know.
And that led me into even worse and worse circles and was running around in the streets with gangs and really bad people and drug dealers and stuff. Doing terrible things and just driving myself further and further down.
Became homeless, burned every bridge with every family member and friend. I would go and knock on family members houses doors and ask for help and shelter and aid and it was so bad that they wouldn't give me any.
All I had left was the people that I was running around with in the streets. And it got to a point where I had burned my bridges with them too. After being asked to do something that I was not willing to do, I had lost their faith that I was going to be safe to hang around with. Because in the streets, it's it is about trust. And if you're too close, you know too much information that could cost people years, if not life in jail or prison, I was no longer trusted. I was on the run for my life, because people were trying to take it.
And in jail, people would find out what I had been up to. And, you know, there's a lot of connections from the streets to the jails in those systems, and so I had people taking shots at me in there and even wanting to take my life.
It got so bad that I ended up having to put myself into maximum security, and be in parts of the jail where I feel that people couldn't get access to me, I had to be locked away and isolated.
So I'd been locked up for a few months, was able to have some clean time and get my head somewhat clear from all the substances and stuff like that. This one night came where I was laying in my bunk and thinking about everything, and I decided to, you know, I was sore from laying down, so I decided to jump out of my bunk, and maybe pace the cell back and forth for a little bit, stretch out my legs, get some water, maybe look out of the cell window to, you know, just stare. There's not really anything to look at.
But I decided to get out of my bunk. And then something something like struck me and I was having some sort of medical event, I couldn't even roll out of my bunk. And so many things are occurring to my mind instantaneously, that something serious is happening. I'm not able to even get to the button to press for help. And I was not even able to speak. And I felt myself losing the ability to even breathe. And in an instance I knew that I was probably going to be going unconscious soon.
Not even being able to speak or cry for help I–all I could think was to hope that there was a God. And that I would pray in my mind, and hope that this God would hear me. So what I did is I, I prayed in my mind. And the key parts of that prayer was that like, "God, if this is my time, you can you can take me, I'm ready. I'm tired of this life. And I'm tired of living this way. If this is my time to die, take me. I haven't lived a good life. And you can hand me over to the devil, if that's where I need to go. But anything is better than how I've been living." And slowly from there, things kind of faded to black and I became unconscious.
Sometimes in dreams, you can go to a lot of different places in your dreams, but things are very foggy in my dreams at least. And I know the difference between a dream and what I felt in my unconscious state. I felt very clear, I felt very present. I didn't feel my body. But I was in this totally dark space. And I felt incredible anxiety and fear and loneliness and emptiness. And there was no sense of time. And it seems like I was there for years. That's what that's what it felt like. It's really hard to describe.
Before coming to, I felt my body again. And I regained consciousness and I awoke from this sleep that apparently had been about 11 hours in jail. Which for pretty much anyone is unheard of. The beds are super uncomfortable. And at the time, I couldn't sleep more than five or six hours total to begin with. But I had woken up, it had been about 11 hours later.
My breakfast was still in the door in the slot untouched. And so I had somehow been out completely for breakfast and all the banging on the doors and stuff that the correctional officers do to have you come and get your food. And so I awoke and I got out of my bunk and I just remember kind of feeling a little bit confused as to what was happening. And I started to pace back and forth.
And then certain things started to come to my remembrance. And I had remembered the night before, I started to wonder was that real? I remembered the dark place I had been to, which seemed like I was there for so long. Then it dawned on me that I had said a prayer. And I was starting to think about that prayer. And then there came a presence into my cell. And I felt something so indescribable. I was like back in shock, and I didn't quite understand what I was feeling. It was just so overwhelming. And the only way I can really describe it as I felt like I was really being wrapped by like the warmest, softest, most coziest blanket.
And then I had like this really strong burning in my chest. Shortly after feeling that and wondering like, what is going on? What's happening? Like, did I get drugged? Like, am I just tripping out? I then heard in my mind, a voice that was not my own, communicating to me that, "This is God. And you have been saved." Just those two things. "This is God, you have been saved. And that I've heard your prayer."
I was still experiencing this warmth, this like light in my chest. And so I kind of paced back and forth. And I started to embrace the idea that what I'm feeling I can't deny, what I'm hearing, I cannot deny. It must be real. I'm starting to feel like this love and this hope. And I believe that there's a God, you know, in that moment.
Right then and there, the correctional officer came on intercom, and said that if anyone would like to get out of lockdown come to the front of your cell, there's an LDS church meeting happening in about 15 minutes. I felt a prompting to go to that. But I remember thinking like, no, this is just a coincidence. This is not where I need to go. And please, like if this as an experience with God, then please, not the Mormons.
In high school, I had a lot of bad experiences with kids my age that were in the Church. And they made me feel as though that they were better than me. It even got to the point where people were saying, like really mean things to my face about my parents, and making jokes about my dad. And so I developed resentment towards those individuals, and that resentment, creeped into anything and everything about them, which happened to include their membership to the Church.
So that's pretty much why I had like this, this hard spot in my heart for the Church. And so, back in my cell, and I'm feeling this prompting to go and I'm audibly saying, like, "Please, not the Mormons." And then I start trying to entertain other ideas, like I'm just crazy. I'm just hearing voices, the drugs must have messed me up. I'm just losing it, I'm going crazy.
And the voice comes back to me and speaks to my mind and convinces me of an option that I have. The option was, "Well, you can go to this meeting. And if you do, there's something there for you. You can know that by going to the meeting. And if there's nothing there for you, then maybe you're crazy." You know, and those may not have been the exact words, but those are basically the impressions that I felt.
You know, I thought about that. And I decided, you know what, if I go to this meeting, and there's nothing there, perfect, I'll know that I'm crazy. And so I kind of went there to hope to prove that I was crazy. Because that was gonna be better in my mind than having to be involved with the Church. But I go to this meeting. And I sit in the back in the corner, and just try to go unnoticed, and just, I'm paying attention to everything.
And everything in that meeting was so directly in line with what I needed to hear and what I had been going through in my life. The lessons I remember were about Joseph Smith and about him being in prison and about him being treated so unfairly by the people that were persecuting him, about him being, you know, murdered in cold blood, and being in perils among false brethren. You know, just so many things started to stick out to me and resonate with me that I started to realize, "Oh, crap, like, there's something in this meeting for me." And I started to really be able to relate to Joseph Smith.
And after the meeting, I talked to the Elders who were running it and I told them what I had experienced and they told me that I needed to, I could get some help and some aid there from the bishop. And they gave me the Book of Mormon and they gave me a ARP, you know, the Church's addiction recovery program manual.
I took those back to my cell with me. I tried to read the Book of Mormon and just did not understand the words and the language. I had no gospel knowledge or anything. For some reason, it just didn't speak to me. I put the Book of Mormon to the side. And I thought, okay–and there was still so much anxiety about the Church, I still didn't believe in the Church, I didn't want to be a part of it. But that meeting, it touched me.
So I started looking into the addiction recovery program manual. And when I started reading through that, I started to feel that same presence that I felt when I had awoken from that sleep or that unconsciousness or whatever that was, and I quickly identified in my own mind that wherever I feel this feeling, that's what I'm gonna follow. It took away the pain, it took away the discomfort, it gave me so much peace. It was a new high that I discovered that was so much better than all the crazy drugs that I had tried, which were pretty strong. That feeling the Spirit, and that feeling the burning in my chest. And that warmth, and being wrapped up in that was far greater, far, far greater than any of the highs that I had felt from any substance.
I got out of jail, I went to see a bishop and tried to get some help. And sadly, the best that he could do was give me a sack full of food, take me across the way, buy me some jackets and coats. And he took me to a place where I thought I was going to be getting shelter. But he took me to the shelter.
And he dropped me off there on the corner and was like, "This is the best I can do." And I'm like, I can't stay here. He's like, "I'm so sorry, this is the best that I can do." You know, but if you need anything, if you need more food or anything, come back, and you know, come back and see me.
So he drops me off, and I'm outside the shelter with all this stuff. And I realized like I can't go in there. Wasn't safe for me. So long story short, stuck with nowhere to go and all I could think was like, "Where am I gonna go? I can't go to the shelter. I can't go to the streets. If I violate my probation, I go and finish a two year sentence." And so all I could think, though, was about my experience, and I kept repeating to myself that God has entered your life, God saved you. He has a plan, and I just have to have faith. I have to have faith that something will happen for me.
No joke. 15 minutes later, I get a phone call. A Facebook phone call from a friend I had known in high school, who I had not talked to in about four years. I think I messaged him four years earlier, asking him for some help or asking him how he's doing and stuff like that. And he calls me and he says, "Hey, man, I sorry, I never saw your message. And it's been a long time. I just wanted to call you and see what's up."
And I just kind of told him a very quick rundown of what was happening. And he goes, "That's crazy." He's like, "I have recently, me and my family. We just recently started going to a Church. And we just moved back from Wyoming to Utah. And we have a place in our basement that you can take over and we won't charge your rent or anything. Do you have a way to get here?" And I'm like, "Yeah, I can I can find a way to get there. And I remember hanging up the phone and just crying because God had come through." A miracle had literally fallen out of the blue. And I had somewhere to go just like that.
At the time, I loved that ARP program manual. And I was going to these ARP meetings, and I was having tremendous experiences there and working the steps, the 12 steps there and, and listening to all the people sharing there. My hope just started to skyrocket. And I started receiving, you know, personal revelation there, that my life was going to get better. And that everything that I had been through, God was going to use so that I could help other people. And then that was going to bring true happiness and joy to my life.
I wasn't going to LDS church at the time. But the people that were I was living with, they started having the missionaries over and I went to the first meeting, I was there just to kind of observe. I remember the lesson being over and they asked the family before we leave, "Can we leave a scripture with you guys, so that when we come back next time that we can have something to talk about?"
And I remember the family just saying, you know, "No, we're good. We don't want to read your book. But you're more than welcome to come by anytime you'd like." And I felt really bad for them and a really strong prompting came to accept whatever it is that they wanted to leave to talk about next time.
I voiced myself and said, "I'll take it." And quickly one of the missionaries reaches into his bag. And he is, you know, fumbling around for a Book of Mormon and a sticky note, he writes on there a chapter for me to read in, slaps it on this Book of Mormon and hands it to me, and they said, "We'll be back next Wednesday."
And so they leave, I threw the Book of Mormon and the sticky note on my nightstand. Monday rolls around, I come home from work, I'm looking out my window and just kind of looking off into like the sunset and just thinking about the day.
And as I'm like, just looking around, I look over my nightstand, and I see the Book of Mormon sitting there. And I feel this overwhelming presence of the Spirit again. And then the voice came to my mind again. And it said, "There's something in there for you." Every hair on my arms and the back of my neck stood up, I got the chills. And I went over to my bed, and I opened it.
And I flipped to the chapter that they had left for me to read. They wrote on a sticky note, Alma five. Now, these boys did not–they had no inkling as to what my story was. So I opened it up, and I started reading that chapter. And there are so many things that started sticking out to me. But the main thing that stood out to me, I mean, obviously, that chapter is about Alma the younger, you know, he was struck dumb, and he was out for the space of a few days. And he woke out of a deep sleep, and he was converted, and he had repented.
But when I read it, and the words that I read was that, "Behold, he changed their hearts, yea, he awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God. Behold, they were in the midst of darkness, nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word. Yea, they encircled about by the bands of death, and the chains of hell, and an everlasting destruction did await them. And now I ask of you, my brethren, where they destroyed? Behold, I say unto you, Nay, they were not."
And when I read that, there was a first time in about eight months, that I had found something that gave words to the experience I had encountered in my jail cell. And I resonated with those words, so deeply, and I cried, you know. And tears to hit the page, I gained a confirmation, and a testimony that God had used them to reach me and say, "Hey, here's where I'm at. Here I am. Here's my Church, and here's where I want you to be."
I started going to Church, and I remember walking in Church for the first time, I knew I was being guided and directed there, and I wanted to embrace it, but I didn't want to be judged. And so I walk up to this Church thinking to myself, I'm like, "God, if any of these people judge me, or treat me differently, or make me uncomfortable in any way, I'm not going to go here." I just left it at that and I walked up to the Church, and I was welcomed, I was loved, I was appreciated and admired.
And people would show up to my house and would want to get to know me, and they loved and accepted me. And it was, it was so bizarre, because this Church was just so ready for me. And so willing to just love me, regardless of what I had been doing and who had become, and I, you know, I fell in love with the Church from that moment and became very devout.
And had to kind of . . . find for myself that I really believe that the Church was true. Because there's a lot of rules and doctrines and guidelines that were pretty tough to want to accept, to say the least, because I'd come from living life in a worldly way. But I learned that by trying it out, and through the experience of just being obedient, I learned the gospel truth that you can judge a tree by its fruits, because it only continued to produce really good fruit in my life.
And I have joy and happiness I didn't really understand or know, was possible. You know, I went from being like a homeless person. You know, five years later, I own a home now. I have a vehicle. I have clothes, I have food. I have an amazing job. I have been able to get all my friends and my family and the people who cared about me back in my lives because they've seen the transformation.
All those years. It was . . . it was hard. And something I learned about myself, which I feel is true about, probably most people in the same situation is that the drugs are not my problem. The addiction is just a symptom of the real problem. For me, it was my childhood and the trauma and all the crazy stuff I had been through. Drugs and substances were just an escape for me to find some peace and some comfort.
And the 12 step program in the Church, it really is the Atonement broken down into 12 steps. It helped me to discover and understand my brokenness. It helped me to allow Christ to put things back together and mend all of that. And I was able to treat the root causes of my addiction. Slowly but surely, I went from a state of wanting to live my life, the way it was before and how everyone else lives it to seeing a different version of myself in the future.
And knowing that God loves me and wants nothing but happiness for me, to the point where I was willing to live my life in a different way. The way of the gospel and the way that God wants his children to live. And it's infinitely better. And so, because of that I have that perfect knowledge of, and testimony of, the truth, and the gospel and Jesus Christ and God's love. I wouldn't trade that for anything.
KaRyn Lay 47:11
That was Steven. It's nearly impossible for me to hear Steven's story and not be reminded of all of those scriptural examples of God sending a physical stupor to precede a great change of heart.
We've got Paul who was stuck to the ground and blinded for three days after his profound call of repentance. And Alma the Younger who had a similar experience, and the Lamanite King Lamoni and later his wife, the queen, who both fell to the ground as though they were dead, as the scriptures say, only to rise again later ready to testify of the Savior upon their awakening.
And though Stevens experience in the jail cell was only the beginning of a much longer period of conversion, I can't help but think of the symbolism of him waking in that 11th hour with a new hunger for the things of God and that crazy invitation to Church in prison.
If Paul and Alma the Younger stories remind us that we are never too far gone to be reached by salvation and the light of Christ, then Steven's story is a reminder that it is never too late. In the Lord's timing, even the 11th hour is the right hour to turn to Him.
There's another part of Steven's story that has surprisingly really stuck with me. And it was that hesitancy he felt when he learned that the church meeting he was drawn to in prison was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
His resistance to the restored gospel because of the unkind actions of members of his high school totally broke my heart into a million pieces. It reminded me of that scripture in Alma, chapter 39, verse 11, when Alma is talking to a son, Corianton. Poor Corianton has struggled to stick to the work of His appointed mission to teach the gospel to the termites, and he totally got tangled up in some bad business.
And Alma says to him, that while his actions were problematic for a lot of reasons, a huge one was the impact it had on the work of sharing the gospel. He said, "Behold, oh, my son how great iniquity brought upon the Zoramites, for when they saw your conduct, they would not believe in my words."
My heart broke in that part of Steven's story, because in my own desire to fit in, I've been that person who chose ridicule and unkindness as a way to mask my own insecurity. I'm 44 years old now, and I have felt the sting of that regret for so many years wondering what kind of lasting damage my words and actions caused others.
It is entirely possible that as one of the few members of the Church in my little corner of Pennsylvania my actions made it harder for someone else to see the value in the restored gospel. And I feel eternally grateful that God can work around our human weakness to continue to draw seekers to him as he did with Steven.
To those young friends who are listening and maybe even some of my older friends, if you find yourself in a situation where you have the option to choose between being seen as cool or funny or right–or being kind, I really hope that you'll always choose kindness. And let's all just seriously rejoice forever, that even though the effects of our past actions can't always be erased, with Christ, all things, including the pain we've caused others, or the unfairness we may have experienced because of other people can still be transformed into holiness.
You know, sometimes I really wish that that evolution Paul talked about from old creature to new creature in Christ was truly as simple as showering at the end of a camping trip. But if there's anything we've learned from our stories today, it's that renewal and restoration–well, it's more of a process than an event.
You and me, we're probably not going to have a Paul, Lamoni, Alma, Steven moment in our spiritual lives. And even if we do, that change, that change is only the beginning of a lifetime of discipleship and hard work. The change to our hearts might look a little bit more like the list that Jolene's dad was compiling, a back and forth with a Savior filled with small adjustments to our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that will, at the end of our progression here on Earth, hopefully, hopefully, look and feel less like us, and more like Him.
That's it for this episode of "This Is the Gospel." Thank you to our storytellers, Jolene and Steven for sharing their journey to a new heart with us. You can learn more about our storytellers in our show notes at LDS living.com/thisisthegospel.
All of the stories in this episode are true and accurate as affirmed by our storytellers. If you have a true story to tell, we want to hear it. You can call and pitch your story on our pitch line at 515-519-6179. We meet so many of our storytellers this way and in fact, that's how we found Jolene. So be sure to use your three minutes wisely to help us get a clearer sense of the beginning, middle and end of your story. You can find more tips on how to pitch a great story by following us on Facebook or Instagram at @thisisthegospel_podcast.
And if you're excited for this new season of great stories tell us all about it. You can leave us a review on Apple, Stitcher or whatever platform you listen on. Reviews can help this podcast to show up more often in the recommendations so that new people can find us. This episode was produced by Erika Free and me, KaRyn Lay with additional story production and editing by Erika free. It was scored, mixed and mastered by Mix at Six studios and our executive producer is, as always, Erin Hallstrom.
You can find past episodes of this podcast and other LDS Living podcasts at LDSLiving.com/podcasts. See you soon.