I Pretended to Be Asleep


I lay there, feeling disgusted with my family’s lack of consideration for my feelings. I had told them that I didn’t want those young men coming into our home and talking about God. I was bitter about religion and had pushed God out of my life. I blamed him for striking me with multiple sclerosis at age thirty-three and then taking my father a few years later, when I needed him most.

When two young men offered to talk to my family about their religion, I wanted nothing to do with them. But I was unable to walk out of the room, so I pretended to be asleep as they taught my family about Christ and a book called the Book of Mormon. When they finished, one young man said a prayer, and then my mother gave them permission to return in a few days. As soon as they left, I told her that I wanted no part of religion, and if my family wanted to hear such nonsense, then I wanted to remain in my bedroom while the young men were there.

The missionaries returned three days later. Despite my request, my family left me propped up in a chair in the living room. Once again I closed my eyes and pretended to be asleep. The young men came in, asked if they could begin with a word of prayer, then started to teach. Although I tried, it was very hard to shut their words out of my bitter world. They talked about where we came from, why we are on earth, what happens when we die, and where we will go after this life. They also mentioned three kingdoms—not the heaven and hell I’d heard about all my life.

The entire discussion fascinated me. And at the same time, it made sense—I knew it was true. Even in my bitter and unforgiving state, I could tell right from wrong, truth from fiction.

I opened my eyes and began to ask questions. Each time the missionaries answered, their faces seemed to glow as they taught me what they knew concerning life and death. I began asking them every question I ever had about religion.

Before they left, they placed a Book of Mormon on my lap. I wanted so much to read it, but because the multiple sclerosis had stolen most of my vision, I had to wait impatiently for my niece to find time to read it to me.

When the missionaries returned a few days later, I was excited about what I had read, but I had a very important question. The missionaries were Caucasian. I wondered if all members of the Church were white and how they felt about black people joining. The missionaries explained that it was Christ’s church and all were welcome. When they said that three black families were active in the ward, I couldn’t wait to be baptized.

A year after my baptism, after much prayer and a lot of effort on the part of faithful ward members, I was able to go to the Atlanta Temple to receive my endowment. Doctors advised me not to make the five-hour trip, but I knew I had to try.

Eleven years ago, when the doctors diagnosed me with multiple sclerosis, they gave me two years to live. Today, I am still alive, although I am totally paralyzed from the neck down. But now that I have the gospel, I am no longer bitter about my illness or my father’s death. I look forward to God’s promise of eternal life if I faithfully endure to the end.

[illustration] Illustrated by John Johnson

Lilly Swanigan lives in the Columbus Ward, Bessener Alabama Stake.

Annie Smith lives in the Columbus Ward, Bessener Alabama Stake.