I had dropped out of Church activity almost completely until Marba—and Relief Society—brought me back to Christ.

I had always dreaded Relief Society. From the time I joined the Church in California in 1974 and then moved to Utah, I had attended Relief Society only a few times. The truth is, I felt out of place. To me, it seemed that the women in my ward were all happy wives and mothers who stayed at home and served in Church callings. I was a recently divorced 24-year-old with no children. I felt like a child with her face pressed against a candy store window, unable to taste the wonderful goodies inside.

Shortly after my move to Utah, I married again, had a son, and went to work. Most sisters my age had several children already and stayed at home. Those with just one child were younger than I was. Once more feeling out of place, I gradually stopped attending even sacrament meeting—though I did occasionally go to a few ward activities.

Over the next few years the bishop extended various callings to me. I always said I was too busy because I had to work. I even turned down an invitation to be a visiting teacher.

Then Marba came into my life. I had known who she was, but at a ward camp-out she sought me out. We walked together and talked. I felt an instant bond, although on the surface there seemed little likelihood of friendship. She was twenty years older than I. She liked opera; I liked baseball. She had eight children, all grown; my son was twelve at the time. She barely tolerated animals; I had two dogs. But we became fast friends.

I trusted Marba, so I began to ask her questions and to share my doubts, guilt, and fears, finally unafraid of what someone might think of me. Instead of judging me or not liking me, she was supportive and encouraging. She accepted me.

Then came the gentle proddings. Would I come to Relief Society? She would be there to sit with me. It would be more enjoyable with both of us there. Come on, Marba, I thought, You’ve been going all these years without me. But how could I refuse? She was my friend. She taught the Family Relations lesson. Could I read something for her lesson? Could I take a few minutes to tell the class about an experience I had had?

Gradually I began to feel more comfortable at church and around the other sisters. They were encouraging and kind. Were these the same sisters who had seemed unfriendly and judgmental only months before? They had certainly changed!

Then Marba told me that her visiting teaching partner had moved. Would I go with her that month until she was assigned a new partner? I went with her one month, then another, and another. The bishop called me in to his office. Would I accept a calling as homemaking leader? I almost fell off the chair in disbelief. I had never even been to a homemaking meeting. How could I be the leader? Still, I promised I would think about it. As I did, I began to feel that maybe I should accept before the bishop thought of something else.

My initial efforts were tentative. I didn’t feel I even knew enough to ask an intelligent question. More than once I almost asked to be released, but fortunately the sisters of the ward stuck with me and helped me through. Slowly but surely, I was being brought back into the fold.

About this time, Marba told me something that helped me reach a decision. First she explained that the gospel would always be the center of her life. Then she said that although we were now good friends, if I did not remain active in the Church we would inevitably grow apart; we would focus on different goals and priorities. Her comments made me examine my priorities and make a decision about whom I wanted to serve.

Another neighbor, Cheryl, invited me to attend the production “Mormon Miracle,” a pageant held in Manti each year, with her and her daughter. I went, and found I had another friend. Later, I attended BYU’s education week at her encouragement. The classes helped me learn skills I desperately needed and gave me the courage to continue on the path I had so recently chosen.

My visiting teachers came to see me every month without fail. One of them, Jan, came back often just to talk. I began to realize that I wasn’t so different from the other sisters after all.

Marba called. Her youngest daughter was getting married. Would I teach her class for her? I astounded her by saying yes. But could I do it? What was I getting myself into? As it turned out, I lived through it, and so did the other sisters. She asked me again. I accepted again. One of the counselors called because they needed a substitute. I willingly agreed to help.

At this point I had to admit that I had made progress. I wondered how it had happened. How had I overcome my fears and discouragement? How hard it had been, first to decide that I wanted to come back to the Church, and then to find the courage to do it! How awkward I had felt the first few times I went to church, wanting to be there but fearing all the possibilities! Marba understood. My visiting teachers understood. My Relief Society presidency understood. They had always understood.

And now I understood, too.

There is no doubt that the love and acceptance of the sisters in Relief Society brought me back into Church activity. But I have stayed active because of a growing testimony that the Lord loves all of us, wants to bless us, and wants us to be happy. He works his miracles through others. My needs were met, first by Marba and then by the other wonderful sisters that he helped me find. I still struggle, but now I know I’m not alone. He is there—and so are my sisters.

[illustration] Illustrated by Paul Mann

Diane Bjarnson serves in the Relief Society presidency of the Grandview Seventh Ward, Provo Utah Grandview Stake.