Answers All Around Me


I had let go of the iron rod so long ago that I thought I could never find my way back. I was wrong.

As my two sons descended into the waters of baptism, I watched them grab hold of the silver handrail in the font, and I was filled with a feeling of warmth and peace. The sight of one son baptizing another is enough to make any mother’s heart overflow with joy, but considering how far our family had come—how far I had come—the experience was especially fulfilling. The event caused me to reflect on how I, too, in my youth had grabbed hold of a handrail—a spiritual rod—then let go, finally grasping it again in adulthood.

Growing up, I was a dedicated teen. I received all of my Young Women awards, graduated from four years of seminary, and was a seminary vice president. As Lehi described in his dream, I “caught hold of the end of the rod of iron” and “did press forward” toward the tree of life (see 1 Ne. 8:24).

But little by little along my way, I became interested in the “great and spacious building” of Lehi’s dream and the people within (see 1 Ne. 8:26–27). I wanted to know more of them. I gradually changed my friends and started hanging out with a different crowd. While I continued to hold to the rod with one hand, not quite wanting to let go, I leaned more and more toward my new friends and the “spacious building.”

I still went to church, but that was the only day I thought about God. My interests changed; my activities changed; I changed. By the time I entered college, I had no grip on the rod at all. I found myself thinking, I can go back to church any time I want. I just don’t need religion in my life right now.

Wandering Alone

Years passed, and I continued to live a life that drifted from the teachings of my youth, a life in which I thought I was happy. But after my first marriage ended in divorce and the death of my second husband left me a widow at 30, I found myself in the depths of despair.

Throughout these years, I never spoke badly of the Church or its teachings. But I had become so absorbed with my own self-pity (I thought my life was so much harder than anyone else’s), I found it uncomfortable to be with Church members, even family members. I thought their biggest challenge was coming up with good family home evening lessons every week.

It was my young son who saved me then. For his sake, I decided to be strong and change my life. As I looked at myself and my friends and saw how our lifestyle was slowly destroying us, I knew I wanted something better for my son. After I changed my standards, I soon lost all my so-called friends. The changes I made led me to a happier life—I married a good, loving man, and we were able to adopt a newborn son. Yet I had not returned to the gospel and I still felt a deep void inside of me. I had strayed so far from the iron rod that I didn’t know where to find it. I had left the “spacious building,” but now wandered alone in spiritual darkness, where I was to remain for several more years.

Searching for Something

After my second son started school, I began working as an x-ray technician. My job description included receiving phone calls in the dead of night and driving alone to the hospital. Most of the time I just had to perform a simple x ray. But sometimes it would involve a fatal accident. At those times I found myself looking at that still form lying there, sometimes mangled, sometimes without a mark, and I began realizing how fragile my own existence was.

I remember one instance in particular in which three men had been joyriding in a new truck. They were drinking and speeding when they rolled their vehicle. Two of the men were killed, and one was seriously injured.

As I left the emergency room that morning, the sun was just rising and the sky taking on a tint of pink. The birds were starting to sing in the trees, and I thought, What a beautiful morning, I’m so glad to go home after such a hard night.

Then I saw the brothers of the men who had died, their heads hanging low as they walked to their car. I’m sure they didn’t hear the birds singing or notice the color of the sky. Their lives were changed forever.

I sat there in my car and pondered over those men. What did life have in store for them? I also thought about my life and what it had in store for me. What was my purpose in life? If I died, would I really go somewhere, or would I merely cease to exist?

Many nights after that, I would drive home from the hospital, staring up at the stars but seeing only darkness, even when the moon was bright. I felt myself wanting to search for God. But being in a scientific and analytical world, working with all the modern technology, I started finding it impossible to believe God could exist. It didn’t stand to reason. How could it be possible? It frightened me to think that way. It made me feel so alone.

As I drove at night, looking up into the darkness of the heavens, in my heart I began to beg for a sign that God was there. It didn’t have to be a huge sign, just something. I never even saw a falling star. I became very discouraged.

Reaching Out

I began to share some of my spiritual troubles with my sister and my brother, who are active Church members. I think they could sense my despair, and I’m sure it caused them concern. Now I realize that my family knew what I needed, but for years I hadn’t been ready to partake of it.

One day I received a call from a man with a scruffy voice asking me if I wanted to subscribe to the Friend. I had no idea how he had gotten my number. I thought, This man must be nuts. Does he really think I want Church magazines? But as I went to say “no,” my mouth formed the word “yes,” and I told him I wanted the Ensign too! Hanging up, I thought, Wow, that was strange. I can’t believe I did that.

Shortly thereafter, while in a local bookstore, I was drawn toward some novels based on early Church history. I’ve heard of these books, I thought. My mom and sister are always talking about them. But I don’t want to read them.

A few days later, I went back in and bought one of the books. I took it home and hid it from my husband and two sons. I didn’t want them to think I had flipped or something. The book stayed hidden for several weeks, and I all but forgot about it.

As the Ensign and Friend started to arrive, at first they too were tossed aside and ignored. But for some reason they began to beckon to me. I started looking through them, enjoying the beautiful pictures. I even started reading an article or two. I found the words comforting and warm.

One day while cleaning, I ran across the book I had bought a few months earlier and hidden away. I opened it and started to read, wanting very much not to enjoy the book. Yet I couldn’t put it down. Page after page I read, not wanting to stop, the whole time thinking, What’s come over me?

Several months later, as I was working in my yard, a car pulled up and a man and a woman got out. The man looked like an old high school chum I hadn’t seen in 20 years, so I quickly ran over to them. But to my surprise it was a couple I had never met, the bishop and his wife. We visited, and they invited me to church. I was there the next Sunday.

I felt uncomfortable at first, but when we sang the hymns I recognized from my youth, I started to cry. The Spirit comforted me, and I knew it was right to be there.

Recognizing Answers

A short time later my sister called, and I began telling her of the unusual events in my life. “I don’t know what’s happening to me,” I told her. “I feel compelled to go to church. I count the days until my Ensign comes and read it cover to cover. I can’t remember when I’ve ever felt this way. Why am I so strongly pulled in this direction? My husband and children have noticed a difference too. I’m calmer, more patient, and I have a new inner peace.”

My sister was very quiet on the other end of the phone and finally said, “May I tell you something that I hope you will understand?” Slightly perplexed, I asked her to go on.

“Several months ago the whole extended family decided to fast and pray as a group for you and your family, that your heart would be changed and that you would return to church.”

Dumbfounded, I realized that I had started yearning and searching at the same time my family had fasted and prayed for me. In that instant everything fell into place; I realized that the whole time I had been asking for signs in the heavens, thinking there were none, there had been signs all around me and within me. I just hadn’t recognized them.

It was my family’s fasting and praying that brought this miracle into my life. Suddenly I realized how much they loved me.

Grasping the Iron Rod

Four years have passed since that momentous day. Over these years, I’ve gradually developed relationships with the people in my ward, have been given Church callings, have developed my testimony through gospel study, and have become strong in the gospel. Along the way, I’ve stumbled and fallen, but I continue to get back up.

As I’ve become stronger in my faith, I’ve also seen my husband, a member of another church, become stronger in his faith in Jesus Christ. He supports me in my Church attendance and callings, and we’ve started holding “nondenominational” family nights. Our marriage is stronger today than it has ever been.

One of the greatest blessings that has come into my life is that my two sons have also become strong in the gospel. My older son, who was baptized at nine but never active, has become active in the Church. He has received the priesthood, and he and his wife are working toward going to the temple. He recently baptized my younger son, who had requested baptism after hearing the missionary discussions on his own.

Now as I look up into the heavens at night, they no longer look dark and empty, even when there is no moon. There is a light now that comes from within. I know there is a God. I know He loves me. I know He hears my prayers. I know that His Son, Jesus Christ, lives and that through Him all things are possible. I know the peace and contentment that come from holding to the rod and living the gospel. I know the difference it has made in me by returning to it. To any who may be struggling and asking for answers, realize that we do receive them; we just have to recognize them.

To Those Who Have Wandered

Elder Ben B. Banks

“I would like to talk to those who have wandered away from the fold. … You have in many instances formed new associations and no longer keep Church standards. Many of your children tread in your paths and follow your example. Children are not only largely dependent on their parents for physical and emotional support but for spiritual support as well. …

“What a blessing it would be to your family if you would harmonize your life with the gospel. The decision to change your life and return to activity and come unto Christ is the most important decision you could make in this life.”—Elder Ben B. Banks of the Seventy, “Feed My Sheep,” Ensign, Nov. 1999, 10–11.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Keith Larson

Judy Zabriskie Howa is a member of the Helper Ward, Helper Utah Stake.