The Book of Mormon Was My Answer
The dream goes back as far as memory will take me. It recurred several times annually all the years I was growing up.
Although I was a city child, the dream took place in a country setting. I was standing on a pathway in a park. A brook ran beside the path. It wasn’t very wide or deep, but instead of the water being clear and fresh, it was dark and muddy. I wasn’t afraid of falling into the brook because I saw, on my right, a railing I could hold on to. It was constructed of sections of iron piping connected by threaded joints, much like my father would have made in his workshop.
As I looked ahead along the path, I could see in the distance an enormous tree with overhanging branches. A bearded old man wearing a long robe stood under the tree. He held his hand out to me, and I started to walk toward him.
As I glanced across the brook, I saw a pretty green meadow. Out of it rose a large, white building six or seven stories high. It had many windows, and out of these leaned men and women who were richly robed and jeweled. Some wore tiaras or crowns.
They shouted to me, but I could not hear their words. Then they waved their arms in scornful gestures. From other window openings leaned skeletons who waved their long, bony arms in similar gestures of derision.
At this point, I always woke up. I think I was too alarmed by the skeletons for the dream to continue. Through the years of dreaming, I never did reach the old man who beckoned from under the tree.
As a young woman working in New York City, I was assigned to the office of a lawyer from Washington, D.C., who was joining our firm. He was youthful, handsome, and enthusiastic, and he lost no time in asking me if I knew any thing about the Mormon church. I had heard of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young but didn’t know anything more.
He came to work the next day carrying an armload of books. He spread them out on his desk and asked if I would choose one and read it. Reluctantly I took one, the thinnest volume, which was LeGrand Richards’s A Marvelous Work and a Wonder. I read it with curiosity and later returned it with the comment that, to my surprise, I had enjoyed it.
Now he grew bolder and asked if I would like to read the Book of Mormon. I declined. He then asked if he could read something to me, and he proceeded to share with me the promise in Moroni 10:4 [Moro. 10:4]. Those words moved me, and I agreed to give it a try.
When I came to the recitation of Father Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life (see 1 Ne. 8:9–35), I was electrified. I knew that story. I had known it all my life. Wasn’t this my dream? And in that moment, I knew that God had touched my life in a very special way.
After several months of study with the missionaries of the Eastern States Mission, I was baptized. Following that ordinance, I was confirmed a member of the Church. I was thrilled when hands were placed on my head and I heard the words, “Receive the Holy Ghost.”
In the many years that have passed since then, the Spirit has witnessed to me at various times and in a number of ways, but never quite so persistently as it did in my dream. And the dream itself? After I emerged from the waters of baptism, I never dreamed it again.
“You’re Doing the Right Thing”
Since my baptism after I graduated from high school, my life has never been happier, never more fulfilled. My love for the Church is deep and real.
As I studied the scriptures, prayed, and served in various callings and activities, my testimony grew even stronger. As I learned to use the gift of the Holy Ghost, I was blessed to know how true and how exciting the gospel is. I was sure nothing could ever shake my faith—until an anti-Mormon television show was aired on our local Christian station. I saw only part of it, but I felt terrible watching it, and afterward I felt angry and scared. I thought, “How could anyone say things like that about us? We don’t believe those lies!”
The empty, dark feelings I had experienced while watching the show stayed with me, A frightening thought came: what if the Church isn’t true? In spite of the blessings my Church membership had brought into my life, I was tempted to begin doubting it.
A few days later my husband, Paul, felt inspired to ask me if I’d like to go to the temple. This was no easy task, as the nearest temple from where we were living at the time was six hundred miles away, in Washington, D.C. Could we just pack up and go?
I thought about it and prayed very hard. Yes, I finally decided, I needed this trip.
We decided to fly there instead of taking the time to drive. We had just enough money to afford the trip, with a few dollars left over.
The peaceful feeling I felt at the temple was wonderful. But I still had questions. Exactly what was I doing there? What was the temple, or for that matter, the Church, really all about?
I went through the first session wondering “Why?” Then, on the next session, I was able to relax and concentrate more on what was happening.
When I least expected it, an answer came. I could feel the presence of a warm, loving spirit that seemed to say, “You’re doing the right thing.” This calm reassurance instantly wiped away all of my doubts.
I had been confounded by the adversary’s propaganda, but I am grateful for that struggle. My testimony of this church is stronger now than ever before.
The Three-Block Marathon
I stared at the picture that had come in the mail, hardly recognizing the handsome missionary. I remembered Manuel as a brown-skinned boy whose big black eyes sparkled with fun. His teeth were big, too—pearl white—and usually showed through a wide grin.
I first met Manuel at the Salem, Utah, elementary school. He came charging into me as I rounded the corner from my daughter’s fourth-grade classroom. He wasn’t smiling then. A blond boy was chasing him and blowing spit wads at him through a straw. The boy also kept hollering the name of a government housing project—a group of homes for low-income families that had recently been constructed in our community. Obviously, Manuel lived in one of those homes.
I recognized the blond boy as a student in my Valiant A class. As he whizzed by, I caught him by the arm, snatched the straw away from him, and said loudly, “Hi, Jerry, why don’t you introduce me to your friend?”
“Oh, uh, Sister Wistisen … uh, this is Manuel.”
“I’m happy to meet you, Manuel. You must be new here.”
“Yes, Señora … I mean yes, Ma’am.”
“How would you like to come to Primary today after school? The church is only three blocks away. We have stories and games. You might like it. Jerry, you’d be glad to bring Manuel to class, wouldn’t you?”
Jerry looked down at his tennis shoes. He always did that when he was thinking. “Say,” he said after a minute. “Manuel thinks he’s Speedy Gonzales. I’ll bet if you raced him before Primary and won, he’d come.”
I gulped hard and found myself saying, “Would you like me to race you, Manuel?”
Manuel’s mouth widened in a semicircle and his black curls shook as he eagerly nodded yes. Right then, I regretted the deal.
I had three hours before I needed to worry about charley horses, so I went home to finish my lesson preparation and some household chores. Then I put on my fullest skirt, heaviest support hose, and my teenage daughter’s tennis shoes. After saying a prayer for youthful strength, I knew I was as ready as I could be for Primary and a three-block marathon.
“Ready … set (I took in five gallons of air) … go!” hollered Jerry. I shot a quick glance at lithe Manuel and took off. I couldn’t believe it, but the rhythm and breathing I’d learned twenty years earlier on the junior high track team came back into three-quarter swing. The Lord wanted Manuel in Primary that day, because I won the race by a head.
I hadn’t realized it during the race, but a large pack of children had followed, cheering for Manuel. Some of them punched his shoulder and said, “You’ll get ’er next time Manuel!” I was too breathless to protest.
I raced Manuel on the next six Primary days. The crowds dwindled each week, and I began to suspect that Manuel had decided to let me win. As we walked outside after that sixth lesson, I had one hand on Jerry’s shoulder and the other on Manuel’s. “Look guys,” I said. “It’s snowing outside. I wonder where I can get some snow track shoes; I’ll probably need them for our race next week.”
“Nah,” said Manuel. “No racing anymore. I like Primary. You teach we are all God’s children. I like to look at the pictures of boys and girls from all the world.”
Before long, Jerry and Manuel were actually buddies. By the end of that spring, we had moved to another state, but I continued to send Manuel a Christmas card each year.
I stared at the picture. I realize that it takes a lot of people to influence a boy like Manuel. I know I’ve only been a small part of the Lord’s plan for him, but I will always treasure this picture and the opportunity I had to race in the three-block marathon.
Look After My Loved Ones
While stationed in Texas, I was a member of the high council, and lived 175 miles away from the stake center. Because of the travel involved, stake meetings took up the entire day a couple of times each month.
One Sunday morning, hours before daylight, I was preparing to leave for a long day of travel and meetings. My wife and year-old son were sleeping, but neither one was well. They were suffering from a virus, and had slept fitfully, indicating that the illness had not yet run its course. As I dressed, I debated with myself. “Should I leave these dear ones, and spend twelve hours on the road and in meetings? Or should I stay and care for them in the manner I expect when I am sick? Who will miss me more, the stake president or my family?”
Finally, through a determined sense of duty, I tiptoed to the living room, prayed, and drove off to pick up the other high councilor from my branch.
Brother Larsen’s family had not been well, either. He was dressed when I arrived, but had also debated whether or not to go. We decided to seek a blessing from the Lord that we might leave our families in His care. Real intent rang in our voices and words.
After our prayer, we felt comforted for our families’ sakes, and set out with lighter hearts. As we drove, we talked about the first missionaries of this dispensation who went to England. They had left under similar—albeit much more severe—circumstances.
That day we enjoyed a rich outpouring of the Spirit and returned home to find our families rested and on the mend.
The Lost Watch
In 1975, I was stationed in Winnipeg, Manitoba, during the first several months of my mission. On Monday, our “D-day,” the elders with cars picked up “bus-pass elders,” and we all headed to the University of Manitoba for a good, old-fashioned missionary basketball game. Afterward we stopped for lunch, groceries, and ice cream, and then scattered to laundromats and our various apartments.
On Tuesday, I discovered my wristwatch was missing. It wasn’t just an ordinary watch; it had belonged to my Grandfather Alston. He had died in 1972, and my father had given it to me as a going-away present as I left for the mission field.
I was heartsick. Where could it be? I cleaned every inch of our apartment (much to the delight of my companion), called the other elders we had been with, ransacked missionary cars I had ridden in, and inquired at every conceivable place we had stopped the day before.
Weeks passed. Conferences came and went. Questions were asked—but all for naught. No one had seen my treasured watch.
More than two months later, I was attending a meeting at our zone leaders’ apartment with several other missionaries. My companion and I had been fasting with one of our contacts and were feeling close to the Spirit. As we started to leave, thoughts about my watch burst upon my mind. I didn’t understand why, but I felt distinctly that I should ask the Lord about it.
I found a room where I could be alone and knelt down to ask for guidance.
Suddenly, in my mind’s eye, I saw my watch. I could see it doubled up inside some sort of black tubing. The image enlarged and I could then see not only the black tube, but also its immediate surroundings.
Outside, much to the dismay of several other missionaries, I dismantled the entire dash of the missionary car I had seen in my mind. There was my watch! It had slipped down the defrost vent and was lodged in one of the many hoses of the car’s heating system.
After reassembling the dashboard, I again retired to a vacant room to thank Heavenly Father for his loving influence.
Within a week, all the missionary cars in Winnipeg were replaced and that particular car was sent to the junkyard. The car was gone, but the watch was found—thanks to the power of fasting and prayer.