When I was 30 years old, I was excommunicated from the Church. It was the most devastating event ever to occur in my life. I tried to stay active but was filled with anger and bitterness, and without the gift of the Holy Ghost it became more and more difficult. Nevertheless, anytime those around me mocked or disparaged the Church, I would be quick to defend it and to correct any misconceptions they had.
I remember clearly the day I was riding with my mother in the car and she suddenly told me she knew I had a testimony. She said it was about time I returned. I told her I didn’t believe and that I couldn’t return. After all, I had been excommunicated once, and if I ever made another mistake I would be “out of there.” She sat quietly for a moment and then wisely replied, “Yes, dear, but if you don’t come back, you’re already out of there.” I said nothing at the time but pondered this for years. Another thought that often came to my mind was the verse in Proverbs 22:6 [Prov. 22:6]: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
When my mother died, I felt desperately lost without her and found myself wondering if I would ever see her again. If what she believed was true, I would certainly never be with her again if I continued to live the way I was. I decided I needed to know for myself.
I began devouring the scriptures. I was truly starving and thirsting for righteousness. I also began attending church regularly and found myself overpowered by the Spirit. I spent the first few months crying during every meeting. Sometimes the emotion was so intense I didn’t think I could bear it. Yet I was terrified of praying to ask if the gospel and the Church were true. At last the time came when I could put it off no longer. I went into my bedroom, knelt by my bed, and pleaded with Heavenly Father—first to tell me if He was there and second to tell me if the Church was true.
I think I have an inkling of the darkness that surrounded the Prophet Joseph Smith when he prayed in the Sacred Grove, for a darkness assailed me as I began to pray. It was so thick I felt almost consumed by it. I closed my eyes more tightly, dug my fingers into the covers of the bed, and prayed with all my might. The darkness disappeared as quickly as it had come, and in its place came an all-encompassing peace. I felt as if I had been picked up and rocked in the arms of the Savior. In my mind came the message, “You are a child of God, and you have always known the Church is true.” It had not been hard for me to believe that everyone else was a child of God, but the message that I was His child touched me deeply.
What exhilaration! What joy! I wanted to climb to the top of the highest mountain and shout it to the world. Tears streamed down my face, as I could no longer contain them.
A family reunion was coming up the next week, and I needed to let everyone know how sorry I was for all the pain I had caused them for so many years and to thank them for never giving up on me, even in the worst of circumstances. I wrote a letter to my uncle, the head of our family. I began to feel better than I had in years.
I went to my bishop and began my long journey back into the Church. We worked together to accomplish the steps that led to my rebaptism. I have a strong testimony that each step in this process is an integral part of repentance and none can be skipped.
During this time of repentance, I came to be grateful for the Church leaders who had listened to the Spirit and excommunicated me. This had been a necessary step in my path to forgiveness. It took me so long, and I walked so many dangerous and tragic paths. I am deeply grateful for the principle of repentance. I know with all my heart that Heavenly Father loves me and that His plan is a complete plan, that if we listen and obey we can return to live with Him. When a General Authority told me that all of my temple blessings had been restored and that I would be able to attend the temple again, the joy I felt was overwhelming.
No longer do I spend my time wishing I could go back in the past and change things. Now I try to live my life in such a manner that I can undo the harm I have done to my family, to other loved ones, and to those I am not even aware of hurting. I know with every fiber of my being that I have been forgiven. I know what it feels like to be without the Holy Ghost as well as how it feels to have this precious gift, and I never want to be without it again.
Opportunities for Happiness
“Jesus Christ the Redeemer … has given His life that even in our weakness, we may overcome our mistakes through repentance and obedience to His gospel. Oh, what a favored people we are to have this light, this knowledge, these opportunities for happiness on earth and throughout the eternities. May we commit to share a knowledge of this magnificent work, personally or through missionaries, with our friends and neighbors that they may join this kingdom of God on earth, and receive the consummate, eternal blessings available to them.” Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “He Lives,” Ensign, Nov. 1999, 89.