Rewards I Had Never Imagined


His life was on cruise-control in the corporate fast lane. Then he learned about the gospel.

I was living life in the fast lane when I met Deborah. Career success and the people I was associating with were what mattered most to me. All of us were hoping to reach the top of the heap in our profession, putting everything else aside to get there fast. Big incomes, impressive houses, nice cars—these were what mattered to my friends and me.

Days at work were long and demanding, and as the pace of our careers picked up, so did our appetite for places and things. Nights were spent in worldly social activities—going to bars and drinking until two in the morning. Then, we would start the cycle all over again the next day. One weekend, my friends and I would party in Palm Springs or Newport Beach, the next in San Francisco.

Exciting at first, this way of life eventually began to lose its appeal and became tiresome. I would occasionally just sit by myself and wonder what I was doing, wonder if I liked who I was and what I was giving my life for. Surrounded by the material rewards of a successful real estate profession, I felt somehow vaguely dissatisfied.

One afternoon, I was washing my car in front of my home in Manhattan Beach when Deborah drove into my life. When her car went by me a second time, it occurred to me she was looking for a place to park. Her two little boys looked so eager to get to the beach that they were ready to crawl out the window, and she was looking frustrated.

Feeling sorry for her, I offered to let her park in my driveway. She was very attractive and had two handsome boys. I recall wondering where the father was. After making room in the driveway for her car, I told them to enjoy the beach and that their car would be safe while they were gone. One of the boys said, “Come down to the beach with us and play.”

I told him I just might, after I was finished with what I was doing. A little later, I did go down with some soft drinks. Within half an hour, I learned that Deborah was no longer married, that she had recently moved to Los Angeles, and that she was a Latter-day Saint. To my knowledge it was my first conversation with a member of the Church.

That afternoon at the beach led to other times together. As we became better acquainted, there was more and more about her that I found interesting. When her beliefs would come up, I would sometimes ask more about them. We began dating. One day, the stake missionaries called me up and told me Deborah had given them my name.

Though I was not really interested, I told them I was willing to sit down with them. They invited me to meet them at the visitors’ center next to the Los Angeles Temple.

Somewhat surprised, I thought the missionaries were both interesting and successful people. They were well-groomed and articulate, not the way I expected religious people to be. I found them likable and intelligent. Though I began listening mostly out of courtesy to them and to Deborah, it gradually occurred to me that what they were telling me made sense, that what I was hearing was true. This roused my concern. I didn’t really want to know whether the Church was right, because I knew the changes it would require in the way I lived, and I wasn’t sure I was ready for that. I liked the people I worked with and felt that if I accepted these things and changed, I would be ridiculed or even ostracized. Perhaps my job would be threatened. What would my Catholic parents say? It would all be too embarrassing—for me, for my family, for my friends. So I fought against the feelings of faith at first.

Eventually, though, I realized I had to make my own choices. I knew that regardless of what happened with Deborah and me, I needed to resolve for myself what all this meant. So I began to take the missionary lessons. Once I decided to open myself up to really examining the truth—setting aside the fears about what it might mean to my family and friends—I became teachable. At first, when I discovered that I agreed with everything the missionaries taught me, I felt very self-conscious. But the simple logic of the gospel made sense. All of it seemed true.

As I studied the scriptures and listened to the missionaries, life began to take on new meaning for me. So much of what I had been striving for, so many of my goals, so much of what had seemed important to me looked different with a knowledge of the true purpose of life.

I began to feel the power of prayer. I knew I was getting answers, which was a wonderful gift, because I had long felt alone in spiritual things. The very name of Jesus Christ took on new meaning. He became my guide as I sought to learn more of him, the Holy Ghost, and God, our Heavenly Father.

Once I gained hope in Christ, I was able to face the problem of telling my family and friends about my faith. In my new happiness, I was able to change old habits, change my thoughts, and change my way of life. I hoped friends would understand, and I prayed that my parents would understand, too. And they did. I remember phoning them. “Mom, I’ve been looking into the Mormon church,” I told her.

“Well that’s interesting,” she responded. “I’d be interested to know what you find out.” She has told me since that she never thought I would pursue it.

The next great challenge for me was Deborah. I began to be a little afraid as I thought of her and her children. At twenty-four years of age, I wasn’t sure I wanted to inherit a family. What enormous decisions I was about to face!

Suppose it doesn’t work out with Deborah, I reasoned. Even if we go our separate ways, I’m still going to be left with me. The person I had become as I raced along in the fast lane seemed less and less attractive to me. I knew I had received a confirmation through the Spirit, and I didn’t question it. I had read the Book of Mormon and believed it to be another testament of Jesus Christ. Baptism seemed right. But marriage? I wasn’t sure. So I separated the two decisions, taking one step at a time.

I wondered whether I should tell my parents before my baptism or after. They had always treated me with respect, so I felt I needed to tell them first. My mother’s response was remarkable: “What is most important is your relationship to God. If this church is where you find God, then I will support you in your decision.” That was a pleasant surprise, as were the responses of my friends and work associates.

After my baptism in February 1983, my fears of being rejected by friends faded quickly. My life took on a new perspective, but I didn’t take myself too seriously or try to judge others by my own new standards.

At work, I did find that my associates treated me differently, in that they were sensitive about off-color language and jokes when I was around. It seemed, though, that they avoided inappropriate conversations with me not because they thought I’d pass judgment on them but because they just knew I wasn’t interested in hearing these things. My heroes had changed. Christ and the prophets took the place of top-producing salesmen or other rich and successful role models. I began to look at the person rather than the accomplishment.

Deborah and I talked a great deal more about marriage. It began to seem the right thing for us to do. Committed to keeping the commandments, I wanted my new values to affect how I pursued my whole life. Work was still demanding much of my time, yet I knew that a good marriage would require a lot of my time, too.

I turned often during those days of decision to the Lord’s promise “Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land.” (2 Ne. 1:20.) The word prosper was taking on new meaning—and the idea of a family was central to that new meaning. The temple became a most important place for me to be. I wanted to do everything I could to prepare to take Deborah there to be sealed. My perspective was expanding; I was taking on an eternal view.

Our marriage was a wonderful new beginning for both of us, and we have since been sealed in the temple. I will never forget the expression on the face of our first child, Bobby, as he was brought to the altar to be sealed to us. Since then, we’ve had another son, Blake. And I have grown so close to Deborah’s two sons, Jeffrey and Jay, that they seem like my own. During the nine years since she and I married, they have both grown into young men, with Jeffrey now serving a mission and Jay a senior in high school, active in his priests quorum. Along with them, I’ve learned the valuable and central role of service to others.

Now as I teach the bright and beautiful children in my Star B Primary class each Sunday, I am occasionally reminded of two other little faces that day at Manhattan Beach—two beautiful blond boys with their mother looking for a place to park. When I met them, I couldn’t have imagined the rewards they would bring into my life. The blessings of the gospel have exceeded any wealth I imagined as I cruised the fast lane on my own.

[photo] Chris and Deborah Ludeman and their children, Blake, age five, Bobby, age eight, and Jay, age eighteen. Missing is Jeffrey, serving a mission.

[photo] The beach was where Chris and Deborah met, and it’s where they love being together.

Chris Ludeman teaches Primary in the Pasadena Second Ward, Pasadena California Stake