Returning to the Fold

Name withheld upon request

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    One day the ward clerk telephoned me and asked, “Could you come see the bishop on Tuesday night?” I had heard from a neighbor that the local ward had a new bishop, but the news didn’t mean much to me because I had been disfellowshipped years before and had not returned to church. Now I assumed the new bishop wanted to extend a calling to me, and I imagined how awkward we would both feel when I explained my membership status. Still, I didn’t feel right saying no to a bishop, so I agreed to the appointment.

    That is how I ended up sitting across the desk from the man who helped change my life forever. The bishop had a wonderful way of letting me know I was truly welcome. We chatted sociably for a little while, and then he asked me how I felt about the Church. I explained that although I didn’t have any hard feelings, I had been disfellowshipped several years before and had been told that if I repeated my transgressions, I would likely be excommunicated. Because I had been unsuccessful in repenting, I had made up my own mind that I was already excommunicated.

    The bishop asked me if I felt any desire to discuss with him my present life in relationship to the commandments. At that point, I realized I did want to tell him everything—and it all tumbled out, accompanied by a lot of tears.

    When I finished, he asked one simple question: “Will you just come back to church?” I said yes.

    The bishop said he would talk to the stake president about whether another disciplinary council needed to take place, and then he would get back to me. It is hard to describe the hope I felt when I left his office. Months later, a Book of Mormon scripture helped me understand what had changed in my life that night: “And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity” (Moro. 10:22). I left the bishop’s office filled with hope that I could repent, hope that I could become a worthy daughter of my Heavenly Father, hope that I could return to live with him one day.

    When I came home from meeting with the bishop, I told my husband, who is not a Latter-day Saint, that I was going back to church. He said he thought that would be fine. My announcement thrilled my oldest daughter, age 11 at the time, who had always gone to church alone or with grandparents. When I called my mom and dad on the phone to let them know I had talked to the bishop and was going back to church, I heard them crying. I realized they had looked forward to this day for a long time.

    Returning to Church

    One of my biggest worries about going back to church was how ward members would treat me. My first Sunday back happened to be stake conference. I went feeling a little scared and a little frazzled from trying to get four children ready for church.

    Some neighbors were sitting a few seats away from us, and I felt reassured to see some familiar faces. The opening hymn was “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” (Hymns, number 136). I started crying as I followed the words, and I continued crying through the rest of the inspiring talks and hymns.

    Near the end of the meeting, a sister passed me a note. As I looked down to read it, I noticed that my two-year-old had unbuttoned my dress. I quickly buttoned it and thought, My goodness, who else noticed? But when I read the note, all it said was that the sister was very impressed with my children and thought they must have good parents to be so well behaved. The note helped me feel reassured that I was in the right place and that people would accept me and my children. I never found out who the woman was, but I will never forget her simple act of kindness.

    The next Sunday was fast Sunday. I had hoped to make a discreet entry, but when we arrived it seemed that everyone greeted us with a smile and a kind word. Many people welcomed me to the ward and asked if I was new. However, when I quietly passed along the sacrament tray without partaking, my three-year-old loudly asked, “Mom, aren’t you hungry?” Then my 11-year-old stood up to bear her testimony and said how happy she was that her mom had quit drinking beer and had started coming back to church. So much for quietly sneaking in!

    Later, the bishop met with me again to let me know that the disciplinary council would be reconvened. I felt nervous and a little scared, but I knew it was worth going through. Since I had met with the bishop the first time, I had been feeling joy like never before. My perceptions had started to change, and I found myself loving life, family, and friends so much more. I had experienced some difficult days when I wondered how I could ever spend the rest of my life without beer, but on most days I could feel hope building inside me.

    I was nervous partly because one of the bishop’s counselors was the father of my son’s friend, and I feared that after hearing about my sinful past, he would not want his son to play at my house again. I resolved that if he did feel that way, I would respect his wishes. No obstacle would stand in the way of what had become the most important thing in my life: coming back into full fellowship in the Church.

    Shortly before my disciplinary council, I listened to general conference for the first time. At one point President Howard W. Hunter said: “To those who have transgressed or been offended, we say, come back. The path of repentance, though hard at times, lifts one ever upward and leads to a perfect forgiveness” (Ensign, November 1994, 8). I felt like he was talking directly to me. I thought to myself, I am coming back. I promise. I have a special love for President Hunter because he was the first prophet I ever really listened to.

    A Council of Love

    The night for my disciplinary council finally came. As I knelt in prayer with the members of the bishopric, I felt strongly the influence of the Spirit, as well as an indescribable brotherly love. Those men hadn’t known me long, but I knew they cared about me and loved me. Nevertheless, when my son’s friend’s father hesitated before speaking, I thought he was trying to find a way to say his son couldn’t play with my son anymore. Instead, he said: “I just want you to know how impressed I have been with your son and your family. You must be good parents to raise such a boy.”

    At the end of the meeting, the bishop said, “You are a worthy member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” I felt great joy upon hearing those words.

    When I returned home, I wanted to laugh and cry and tell my family everything, but everyone was asleep. So I prayed to Heavenly Father, thanking him for his love and kindness, for honorable men who act as righteous judges, for family and friends who helped me along the way, and for all the other blessings I have in my life.

    In the middle of the night, my husband and I both awoke and felt an evil presence in our home. Just as surely as I had felt the Holy Ghost in the bishop’s office, I now felt the adversary. As I lay in bed, I realized I had made Satan very unhappy by returning to the Church. I prayed with all my heart, and in time I felt the presence go away.

    My husband and I didn’t have a chance to talk about the experience until the next evening, when I picked him up in a town about 48 kilometers from our house. During the ride home, he asked, “What happened last night?”

    Because my husband believes that when a person sins it is between that person and God and should not be the concern of other people, I had told him the previous night that I was only going to a Church meeting. Now I told him all about what had happened in the bishop’s office, the feelings of love and comfort, and my return to full fellowship. I bore my testimony of the system Heavenly Father has set up to enable his children to repent and get their lives in order. I told him I felt the adversary was very unhappy with my actions, and that is why we had felt his influence during the night. I told him I wished I had the priesthood in my home, but I knew Heavenly Father would watch over our family. As I finished, I felt strongly that I should close in the name of Jesus Christ, so I did.

    My husband didn’t say anything until we were pulling into our driveway. Then he said, “I think you’re right.”

    Fruits of Repentance

    Many blessings have been given to me and my family since I came back to church.

    When I decided to become a full tithe payer, I felt hesitant about telling my husband. He handles the finances, and I knew he would not welcome the addition of another expense when we were trying to get out of debt. I decided to fast and pray to prepare for the discussion.

    When the time felt right, I approached him prepared to give a speech about the commandment and blessings of tithing. Instead, when I opened my mouth I started telling him how much I loved him and how the gospel had helped me see what a wonderful man he was. I told him everything that made me proud to be his wife, and I said that even if he never joined the Church, I would always love him.

    My husband rarely cries, so when I saw him tearing up I knew he was deeply touched. He admitted he had been worried he might lose me because, with my life in order, I wouldn’t need him anymore. He had been feeling worthless as a husband because he felt he wasn’t supporting me enough.

    I had been so involved with my own happiness I hadn’t realized that my husband had been feeling left out. My Heavenly Father had guided me to discuss what my husband needed most.

    When the time did eventually come to discuss tithing, my husband agreed that I could pay it if I could figure out how to eliminate another bill. I didn’t know how I would do it, but I resolved that January 1995 would mark the beginning of my tithe. On New Year’s Day, I noticed several chicken pox on my four-year-old as I helped her undress after church.

    Because my daughter couldn’t go to day care, I called a coworker on the graveyard shift and asked if we could switch shifts so I could stay home during the day. When I received my paycheck two weeks later, I realized that the amount I needed for tithing was the amount I would have paid a baby-sitter. As expected, my two-year-old broke out in chicken pox two weeks later, but I was again able to switch shifts with someone. I realized this was Heavenly Father’s way of telling me I would be able to find a way to pay my tithing, and I have been able to do so ever since.

    At a certain point in my activation, I loved going to church, but I still didn’t feel perfectly comfortable there. I had to decide if I really had a testimony of what I was doing. Was I going back for my children? For my parents? Because I wanted to feel better about myself? What exactly did it mean to have a testimony of the gospel?

    I listened intently to members bearing their testimonies in sacrament meeting, wondering if my testimony was real. One Sunday my Gospel Essentials teacher told us that the only thing a person needs to do to begin gaining a testimony is have faith that Jesus Christ lives and presides over the Church.

    These words hit me so strongly that tears started streaming down my face. I knew that I knew that much. I knew that Jesus Christ lives, that he loves me, and that he presides over the Church. I also knew I had a testimony of disciplinary councils, prayer, the Word of Wisdom, tithing, and leaders who are called of God. I went home from church that day knowing that I had a testimony.

    Reflections on Coming Back

    Many people have asked me, “What made you come back?” I used to answer that a wonderful bishop called me in when I was ready, but I realize now that the process began long before that.

    My parents have always been examples of righteousness, honesty, integrity, and love. I was taught correct principles all my life. In addition, I have lived and worked alongside men and women who honor the priesthood and lead by example, many of whom have taken time to answer my questions.

    One neighbor with 12 children has invited my two oldest children countless times to meals, family home evenings, and Church activities. I’m certain many neighbors would have preferred us to turn down our music or end our parties earlier, but they didn’t complain. I don’t think I would have been as receptive to the bishop if at any point I had felt my neighbors withholding their friendship because I didn’t attend church with them. Much good comes simply from loving our neighbors!

    I drive an old car that lacked an interior dome light when I bought it. During the day the missing light didn’t matter, but at night I always felt a little nervous getting into my car in the dark. If I needed to follow written directions, I had to pull over under a streetlight. If I dropped anything, it was difficult to find. Having no interior light was inconvenient, but I got used to it.

    When a friend returned my car after borrowing it, I discovered she had installed a new light. She told me the bulb had cost less than a dollar and took about a minute to install. It was wonderful! How had I ever lived without it?

    During the next few weeks, I realized that finally having an interior car light was like finally having spiritual light. I had thought my life was okay the way it was, but in reality I was suffering from lack of spiritual light. My fear of entering a dark car reminded me of my fear of dying without having repented. Looking for streetlights so I could read instructions was like having gospel conversations with trusted friends—but I couldn’t always rely on borrowed light. Losing items in the dark was like forgetting gospel principles, which happens easily without the light of the Spirit. I was still able to drive my car and get through life without the light, but I was missing out on blessings of peace, guidance, and understanding. All it took to start bringing back the light was repentance—a process that began when I saw the bishop and started attending church again.

    I went through the temple recently and was further strengthened spiritually. Now I hope I can share what I know with others who don’t have as much light. My husband sometimes attends Church activities, and members go out of their way to help him feel part of the ward. I feel eternal gratitude to Heavenly Father, his Son Jesus Christ, and the people who didn’t look at me as the person I was, but as the person I have the potential to become.

    Illustrated by Doug Fakkel