I was born to a Latter-day Saint family and baptized at age eight; I faithfully attended church and my seminary classes. The gospel had always been a part of my life. Nevertheless, I wasn’t really converted.
As a seminary student, I developed good habits of scripture study that served me well for several years, but I could never bring myself to get really serious about prayer. In my youth I’d made many mistakes, and because of them, prayer often seemed painful and hard.
I went off to college, and when I was twenty-one, my father died unexpectedly in an accident. In my bitterness, my faithful scripture reading came to a halt.
Years passed. I married in the temple and bore three children while my husband struggled through law school. Because I was without the sustenance of scripture study and deep, sincere prayer, the trials and frustrations of this period left me open to the adversary, and my feelings became tainted with anger and a sense of failure.
Then my husband graduated and found a job that took us to another state. I had lived in many parts of the country, but this move left me feeling terribly out of place. We moved into a ward in a fairly wealthy area where many members wore nice clothes and drove expensive cars. My husband and I had a lot of school debt and very few possessions. We drove an old car, our clothes were outdated, and our furniture was secondhand and mismatched. The disparity was painfully obvious to me.
It wasn’t that I coveted what others had. I simply couldn’t imagine that they could see me as a worthwhile person when I had so little.
As the months passed, I had great difficulty making friends in the ward. It seemed the people I tried to get to know were all too busy or had little in common with me. I had been fairly comfortable in our wards in college, but now I felt intimidated and isolated from the friends and family who valued me.
A very long year and a half passed. Several unfortunate social experiences further eroded my confidence. I felt more insecure and unaccepted than I had felt since being a teenager in junior high school. I gave up even trying to fit in. I was one of those people the Relief Society president worried about.
Then a ward member named Julie, a sister whom I greatly admired, began reaching out to me. She was ten years older than I, a pillar of faith, and respected by everyone. I couldn’t believe she really wanted to get to know me, but I was lonely enough to be willing to be a service project for a while. At her invitation I began joining her and a group of her friends who went jogging each morning at a nearby track.
Every day, Julie arrived having just finished morning prayer and scripture study. She was always filled with enthusiasm about the gospel, the scriptures, and the insights that came to her as she read. Running with her was like going to a devotional or a seminary class. And she seemed genuinely interested in me; she listened without judgment to my frustrations and fears.
I found Julie’s enthusiasm irresistible. Following her example, I became dedicated to a program of regular, serious scripture study for the first time in seven years.
I began to feel the Spirit in my life on a daily basis, and I found that I was able to follow the Spirit in fulfilling my calling as a Beehive adviser. I could actually get inspiration about what to teach and how to teach it! I began to realize that even though I’d been physically present in the programs and meetings, I had been spiritually inactive for many years.
Then one day I walked into church a little late. Sunday School opening exercises were under way. Julie was leading the music, as she did every week. I looked up at her face. Her smile was wonderful, radiant, somehow filled with light. She looked directly at me, and I was overcome with an overpowering sensation of warmth and peace and joy. I was surprised. I knew I was feeling the Spirit very strongly, but I didn’t understand what the feeling meant.
I pondered throughout Sunday School and sacrament meeting, all the time cherishing this feeling of great peace and joy. Phrases came into my mind—things Julie had said and words from the scriptures. By the end of the meeting I understood the reason for this witness. I realized that Julie, being filled with the Spirit, actively sought to convey the love of the Savior to the congregation by the light of her countenance (see Alma 5:14, 19).
This understanding filled me with awe. And then, into my mind came the whispered words that changed my life: “You must learn to be like that.”
I was stunned. Suddenly my perspective on everything shifted. I was to learn to smile like that and to convey the love and kindness to others that Julie had extended to me. It seemed that for the first time I could see clearly. I understood that if I had the love of Christ in my countenance and went about lifting others, no one would care what my clothes looked like, or my car, or my house. And those worries would no longer be a burden to me.
My life was very different after that. The next month I walked into homemaking meeting, where I had always felt hopelessly out of place; I looked around at the room full of faces as if for the first time. It seemed that everyone there was either my friend already or needed a friend. I saw no condescension or condemnation in anyone. Nor was I looking for it. I was looking outward for what I could give.
After that, I continued to mature in terms of my motivation and expectations. As I felt more and more of the Spirit in my life, I desired to have the strength and faith to do anything the Lord might ask.
Julie seemed always prepared to teach me the next step in my progress. I attended a fireside where she spoke; she talked a lot about prayer. I took her counsel to heart and decided to start praying morning and night with real sincerity. I got up earlier than before, scheduled fifteen or twenty minutes just for prayer, and treated it as an appointment with the most important person in my life. I found that I could get answers and guidance in a way I never had before.
I began to study the Atonement intensively. I studied the doctrine of the change of heart and the meaning of being born again. As always, Julie was there, directing me to the article or book that answered questions I hadn’t even asked her yet. As I studied, I developed a profound reverence for the Savior, for the power of his atonement, and for its efficacy in saving me from all of my failings and weaknesses.
One day I read Mosiah 5:7–8: “Ye shall be called the children of Christ … ; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.
“And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free.”
Now I understood the words made free. I was being released from so many personal fears, inadequacies, and negative feelings that it seemed as if tangible shackles were falling from my hands and feet. My posture changed as I began to see myself as a person who had every reason to stand up tall. My children asked why I was smiling so much. My husband asked why we didn’t quarrel any more. My mother and brothers simply asked, “What happened?”
I spent three years in that ward where I had initially felt so uncomfortable. My last eighteen months were a wonderful, fulfilling time. It was a time when I faced some difficult trials, but I didn’t feel panicked or angry. Sometimes I felt a lot of pain, but I also felt an assurance that the Lord was mindful of me and that the painful experiences were for my growth.
By the time I left that ward, I felt not only loved; I felt trusted and honored by the members there. I had had many opportunities to serve, to speak, and to teach. I had had many humbling, spiritual experiences, and the ward became a cherished family.
Julie remains a dear friend. I still do not have her gift for radiating light—a gift that has touched many lives. But she has taught me how to reach for the Savior, the source of the light. And by so doing, she has given me the means to lift and love and comfort many people. I believe that if I continue to progress, some day I too will be filled with his love and receive his image in my countenance.