Finding Freedom

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After hopeless years on the streets, I realized the Lord could help me escape my collapsing world.

From the backseat of a Florida police car, I watched the chaos that surrounded me. The police were still in pursuit of my partner. Sirens blared and lights flashed. A reporter looked in my window and tried to get a picture of me. Everything seemed like a movie—but it was real.

Years before, as a young woman, I had surrendered to life on the streets, and in my heart I had told myself I would die out there. In my twisted thinking I had even imagined that I would meet an infamous, dramatic end. But now I was on my way to jail.

Something was happening inside of me, though, something I hadn’t hoped for or even considered for years. As I sat looking out at the dark reality of my world and all the turmoil I had helped to create, I realized I was being given a chance to turn away from the ugliness around me. Something was speaking to my soul, letting me know that this old book of my life could close and that I could open a new one. I sensed that it was up to me what I would write on these fresh, clean pages. As the police car pulled away, I made a silent vow that I would write only good things in my new book. Somehow God had spoken to my soul—it was clear and real. I knew it was Him. This was my chance to leave the streets, the drugs, and the crime behind and become a better person.

Discovering the Bible

Locked up, I shared a cell with a woman who was seriously ill—she couldn’t walk by herself, and she was having a hard time seeing. I would wake up and help her get her night medications. The nurses kept telling us that her sickness wasn’t worth worrying about, but we both knew differently. As I helped my cellmate, we became close friends, and she introduced me to the Bible. I would read to her from its pages, filling our nights and our souls. I often thought about my childhood and my years spent going to a religious school. I couldn’t recall ever having a Bible handed to me or read to me, not even in church; it seemed the scriptures had always been paraphrased. So when I read the Bible for myself, my heart was ready for its powerful words.

My soul rejoiced in my newfound awareness of God and Jesus Christ. I found comfort in Psalms and read Psalm 23 [Ps. 23] until I had it memorized. I didn’t just read it, though; I felt and pondered each word. I remember coming to the part that says, “thou anointest my head with oil” (Ps. 23:5) and wondering what that meant. I had a lot of questions. I would go to church in jail and relish the chance to sing hymns. My soul would soar as my voice reached up to the heavens, even through the bars. And I continued to help and read to my cellmate—which was a blessing for both of us—until she was taken to a hospital.

I kept my faith as the Federal Bureau of Investigation mandated that I complete my time at a drug rehabilitation center. I grew a lot there, grateful always for freedom and a new chance. I went to Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous groups and found that God was in the 12 steps of overcoming addictions. I loved putting my trust in the Lord—it felt so right and good.

“Where Could I Go?”

I was able to work and pay back the money I owed to the government, and a year later, I was released. I moved to New York and kept going to support-group meetings, but I soon felt a desire to have the fellowship of a church and the opportunity to learn more about the principles of Jesus’ gospel. I wanted to come closer to God and Jesus Christ, but where could I go? What church would take me? My landlord suggested his church, but every Sunday he somehow wasn’t around to take me or could never quite remember the address. I finally decided to look in the phone book for churches in the area.

As I scanned the pages, I came across the words “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” At that moment, it felt as though my heart stopped. My mind raced back to times I had seen this name before. I remembered how I used to feel when I would watch commercials on television produced by this church. I had always wanted the love and family unity they portrayed. I also remembered one night when I was living in Las Vegas years before and, with the noise of the worldly city behind me, had stood on a balcony and looked out at the Latter-day Saint temple. I had felt an overwhelming sense of peace as my soul stood at attention and feasted upon the wonder of this white edifice glowing in the desert. Because of this experience, I envisioned the Latter-day Saints as being a wholesome, beautiful people. But even though I felt drawn to their temple, I never let myself believe I could be a part of their church. At that time, I had given up hope that I would ever find a way out of my fast-paced, empty world.

And now as I stared at the name before me in the Yellow Pages, I again longed to partake of the happiness and peace I was envisioning. This church seemed to be everything I had always wanted. I decided I would disguise myself in church clothes and sneak into a meeting. I would try to blend in as best I could, and if someone spotted me as a nonmember, I would just beg them to let me stay. I looked at the address and found that the church was in Long Island. It was far away and I didn’t know how I would get there, but I found such comfort in my plan to sneak in that I knew I needed to go.

Coming Home

The Lord, however, had a different plan for me. Later that week as I was watching television, a Church commercial came on that brought back that same feeling of comfort and peace. The commercial ended by offering a free copy of the video On the Way Home. I copied the number off the screen and dialed right then and there, with my heart pounding. The person on the other end of the line asked if she could send representatives of the Church to visit with me. I told her my schedule, and a week later I opened my door to two elders. I felt that I had finally come home as I listened to them.

I learned that members of the Church in my area met at a storefront only a few miles from my house. I attended church and was warmly welcomed by the branch members. I completed the discussions, and a short time later, I was baptized. The following year, with the help and support of loving friends and missionaries, I received my endowment in the temple.

The first time I was anointed with oil and received a healing blessing from Melchizedek Priesthood holders, I finally understood the meaning of the phrase in Psalm 23 “thou anointest my head with oil” (Ps. 23:5), and the Spirit witnessed to me again that this is the Lord’s Church. He has filled me with His love, and “my cup runneth over” (Ps. 23:5). “Surely goodness and mercy” (Ps. 23:6) have followed me, as I am now able to enter into the house of the Lord and be together with other members of His Church, growing and learning in all that is good. I look out at the world today and know that “the Lord is my shepherd” (Ps. 23:1) and that He is helping me make my life into something beautiful.

Finding Peace and Joy

President Gordon B. Hinckley

President Gordon B. Hinckley

“When I discuss faith, I do not mean it in an abstract sense. I mean it as a living, vital force with recognition of God as our Father and Jesus Christ as our Savior. When we accept this basic premise, there will come an acceptance of their teachings and an obedience which will bring peace and joy” (“With All Thy Getting Get Understanding,” Ensign, Aug. 1988, 5).

President James E. Faust Second Counselor in the First Presidency

President James E. Faust

“What is the cost of discipleship? It is primarily obedience. It is the forsaking of many things. But since everything in life has a price, it is a price worth paying, considering that the great promise of the Savior is for peace in this life and eternal life in the life to come” (“The Price of Discipleship,” Ensign, Apr. 1999, 4).

President Boyd K. Packer Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

President Boyd K. Packer

“The gospel teaches us that relief from torment and guilt can be earned through repentance. Save for those few who defect to perdition … , there is no habit, no addiction, no rebellion, no transgression, no offense exempted from the promise of complete forgiveness” (“The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 19).

Elder L. Tom Perry Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Elder L. Tom Perry

“I know that the only lasting joy and happiness we will ever find during our mortal experience will come by following the Savior, obeying His law, and keeping His commandments. He lives” (“Special Witnesses of Christ,” Ensign, Apr. 2001, 11).

Elder Richard G. Scott Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Elder Richard G. Scott

“When you trust in the Lord, when you are willing to let your heart and your mind be centered in His will, when you ask to be led by the Spirit to do His will, you are assured of the greatest happiness along the way and the most fulfilling attainment from this mortal experience” (“Finding Joy in Life,” Ensign, May 1996, 25).

Elder M. Russell Ballard Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Elder M. Russell Ballard

“The everlasting peace Jesus promises is an inner peace, born in faith, anchored by testimony, nurtured with love, and expressed through continual obedience and repentance. It is a peace of spirit that echoes through the heart and the soul. If one truly knows and experiences this inner peace, there is no fear from worldly disharmony or discord. One knows deep down inside that all is well as far as the things that really matter are concerned” (“The Peaceable Things of the Kingdom,” Ensign, May 2002, 87).

Elder Robert D. Hales Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Elder Robert D. Hales

“Once we receive a witness of the Spirit, our testimony is strengthened through study, prayer, and living the gospel. Our growing testimony brings us increased faith in Jesus Christ and His plan of happiness. We are motivated to repent and obey the commandments, which, with a mighty change of heart, leads to our conversion. And our conversion brings divine forgiveness, healing, joy, and the desire to bear our witness to others” (“Receiving a Testimony of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Ensign, Nov. 2003, 30).

[illustrations] Illustrated by Robert T. Barrett