Growing up in a strong religious family in a small town in Colorado, I developed convictions of faith and a testimony of the Savior early on. By the time I was a senior in high school, though, I began having doubts about my church and wondered whether God’s authority might not, in fact, rest with another church. Realizing that I had only a very limited perspective, I resolved to listen to anyone who claimed to have truth.
A member of the Gideon Society came to school one day and gave out pocket-sized copies of the New Testament. Some of my classmates made fun of the books, but I put mine in my pocket and took it home. Though we always had had a copy of the Bible in our home, I don’t remember anyone ever reading it, and I had never considered reading it myself. But knowing I could read my copy of the New Testament in the privacy of my own room, I felt drawn to it. Reading the scriptures for the first time proved to be a profound spiritual experience. More than once, I was moved to tears as I read the words of the Master, and the Spirit of the Holy Ghost bore fervent testimony of their truthfulness. I discovered many principles of faith and righteousness within their pages.
About this same time I began dating Lee Walstrom, a member of my faith with whom I had attended church and religious classes for many years. We graduated together and were married one year later. Not long after our wedding we were involved in a serious automobile accident that left Lee with serious back and internal injuries requiring weeks of hospitalization. We had just learned that she was pregnant, and her doctor, fearing complications, recommended abortion. But Lee wouldn’t consider it.
The following weeks were sobering for both of us. My low-paying job barely sustained our meager existence. As life’s harsh realities began to impress themselves upon me, I realized that I was in no position to provide for a growing family. So, after carefully considering our options and after several sessions with an army recruiter, we decided I would enlist in the army. The military would pay for Lee’s delivery, and I could eventually finish school under the GI Bill.
Six months pregnant, Lee moved back to her parents’ home and I was off to basic training. After two weeks, I was sure I had made the biggest mistake of my life, but somehow I survived the eight-week ordeal and returned to Colorado to enjoy a few days with Lee before my next assignment at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. About two weeks later, I got a message that Lee had gone into labor. I was granted emergency leave and arrived at the hospital the day after Lee gave birth to a perfectly healthy son we named Joshua Blair.
Not long after Joshua’s birth, I found a small apartment a few miles off base and sent for my little family. Though we attended church and often read the Bible and prayed together, I had a gnawing feeling that something was missing in our lives. I felt that I needed more truth and prayed that God would send it to me.
Within a week or two, a representative from another faith knocked on our door. Wondering if this could be the answer to my prayer, I invited him in and began what turned out to be a lengthy investigation. Although Lee was upset that I would even consider abandoning our current religion, my only objective was to find the truth. That, I soon learned, was no easy task. We met with the representative, his wife, and other members of his church regularly. While I was anxious to hear what they had to say, Lee was more cautious and defensive of our church. I read the literature they provided and also studied my Bible, fasted, prayed, and questioned. Our marriage suffered, but I had to know if this was, in fact, the true church of God.
While many of their tenets made sense to me, I struggled with others. This presented me with a real quandary: I wanted desperately to find the truth and believed that it was within my grasp, yet I was afraid I might make a terrible mistake. After all of my studying, fasting,and praying, I still could not say for sure I had found the true church. In desperation, I went for a walk in a secluded forest on the grounds of Fort Belvoir. I told God that I had done everything I could to determine the truth of the matter but was unable to reach a conclusion. I asked for his help and promised to conform my life to whatever he showed me to be true.
Two days later, the representative returned to our apartment with a visiting authority of his church. After talking with this man, I knew by the power of the Spirit that this was not a representative of the Lord’s church. As they left our home, I felt as though a tremendous burden had been lifted from my shoulders. I still hadn’t found what I was searching for, but my marriage was back on solid ground.
A week before school was over, I got orders for Germany and was assigned to Nellingen Kaserne, outside Stuttgart. Though money was tight, we loved Germany. We enjoyed riding the Strassenbahn to the Kaserne on Sundays for church, and we volunteered to teach high school religion classes to the children of American soldiers.
After a few months, we found an apartment in an older part of town that was more suitable to our meager private’s pay, and we bought a rickety old car. I stopped by the new apartment after work one day to make sure it was ready for us to move in.
As I got out of my car, I noticed another American soldier standing across the street. He was an officer, a first lieutenant, and he seemed to be watching me. Rules of military courtesy called for me to initiate a salute, but I was off duty now and had had enough military ritual for one day. I said, “Good evening, sir!” but didn’t salute. The young officer met me halfway across the street, stopping squarely in my path. I knew I was in for a real tongue-lashing, maybe even an official reprimand. I braced myself for the worst as he looked me in the eye, pointed his finger at me, and started to speak. In mock seriousness he said, “Don’t ever call me sir again!”
This unusual display of camaraderie was in direct contradiction to everything I had come to expect from army officers. It provided a welcome moment of comic relief and was the basis for what proved to be a friendship like no other in my life. He introduced himself as Jack German, told me that he and his wife, Paula, lived in the apartment adjoining ours, and offered to help when it came time to move.
Lee and I quickly became friends with Jack and Paula. But we were a little troubled when we learned they were going to be baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Before long, curiosity got the best of me, and I asked Jack about it one evening. When I came home with a copy of the Book of Mormon, Lee didn’t have to say a word; I knew she was indignant. She saw my interest in any other religion as a threat to our marriage. We both braced for another battle of wills like the one we had waged in Virginia.
Wanting to avoid confrontation, I would get up early and read from the Book of Mormon every day before Lee woke up. Then I would hide it so she wouldn’t throw it out while I was away.
My first reading of the Book of Mormon was reminiscent of my first reading of the New Testament—only even more powerful. After the wide array of religious literature I had previously encountered, it was like an intense ray of light piercing the darkness of my mind. I was overcome by the wonderful spirit that seemed always to attend this marvelous book, and was impressed by the simple truths laid out so plainly. It seemed that whenever I had a question about a particular point of doctrine, I would find the answer spelled out clearly in my reading of the Book of Mormon a day or two later.
Before long, I had read half the book, and was quickly developing a testimony of its truthfulness. I knew I would soon have to act on the truth I had received, and made many attempts to talk to Lee about it. She was convinced that I was being misled.
The situation between us remained at an impasse until one day several weeks later. While walking though the woods, I summoned the courage to broach the subject of religion. Lee responded with anger and called me a “Mormon.” Reaching a fork in the road, I stomped off in exasperation in one direction, and she went the other. About a half hour later, when we had both cooled off, we found each other. She said she had decided to read the Book of Mormon, but if she wasn’t convinced it was true we would have to go our separate ways, at least in terms of religion. I told her that was all I could ask.
Lee later confided that during the time we were separated in the woods, she had found a secluded spot and knelt down to pray. Her first question was, “OK, Lord, what do you want me to do?” Getting no response, she asked whether he wanted her to read “that stupid book.” Upon receiving an unmistakable response in the affirmative, she clarified her question: “I mean the Book of Mormon.” The Lord clearly answered again that he wanted her to read the Book of Mormon.
Jack and Paula had invited us to an open house that was being held a few days later and we accepted the invitation. The program began with a meeting in the chapel. A man we later came to know and love as Brother James Shelby Arrigona began by talking about priesthood authority and the Apostasy. He explained how the line of authority gradually had been broken some time after Christ’s death and resurrection. I fully expected Lee to get up and walk out at any moment, but she didn’t. Afterward, we visited exhibits depicting the mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the restoration of the priesthood, and other aspects and organizations of the Church.
We hardly talked during the ride home with Jack and Paula. When we got home, I asked Lee what she thought about the open house. Her reply caught me off guard. She said that if things kept going the way they were, she thought we should be baptized in a few weeks.
We picked a baptismal date about three weeks away, invited the missionaries over, and playfully asked them to guess the day we had picked for baptism. They challenged us to be baptized a week earlier than we had chosen, and we accepted the challenge. We continued to read the Book of Mormon, and Lee finished it before I did. The influence of the outstanding young elders in our humble apartment during this time will never be forgotten. On 7 November 1975 we were baptized by John R. German in the servicemen’s branch in Stuttgart.
The following year proved to be one of the most wonderful and exciting times of our lives, as our understanding of the gospel grew, our friendship with Jack and Paula deepened, and a daughter, Jessica Lee, was born to us. Before we knew it, our tour of duty was nearly over. On 11 November 1976 we traveled to the Swiss Temple, where our family was sealed for time and all eternity. Had we been baptized a week later, we would have missed going to the Swiss Temple prior to the end of my three-year term of service.
A search for truth that had once threatened to tear our marriage apart had now brought our family together, not only for the rest of our lives but for all eternity.