As an 18-year-old high school senior I felt like everything was going my way. I was dating several girls, participating in sports, and anticipating nothing but success the next year at the University of California at Berkeley. The college had already sent me a letter of acceptance.
I anticipated success when I entered a Lions Club speaking contest that spring, too. The topic was “Generation Gap—Fact or Fantasy?” My talk was custom-tailored for the judges’ preferences, and I won the contest by defeating a girl named Karen, a Mormon.
I won because I had said what the judges wanted to hear. But in my mind, Karen’s talk based on her church’s doctrines, was far more thought-provoking. Her delivery enveloped me in its sincere conviction. We became friends.
As we got to know each other, our conversations sometimes evolved into debates, with Karen defending religion while I argued for science. Our discussions served mostly to frustrate her.
But Karen had a friend named Nese. Nese never said more than “Hi” to me in the halls, but she had paid close attention to my conversations with Karen.
Nese never told me directly that she was a Latter-day Saint. She strolled up to my table in the library one day during study hall. “May I sit down?” she asked. At some point during the conversation, she said she was a member of the house of Israel. I assumed she meant she was Jewish.
We had study hall at the same hour, and during the remaining months of our senior year, Nese and I sorted through the many religious questions flooding my mind. She told me later she “just wanted to share her opinion with someone who wouldn’t laugh at her.” I would voice my ideas on a subject like life after death, and then she would explain her beliefs. Her confidence amazed me. It wasn’t until later that I found out she was a Latter-day Saint.
By then our talks were so enjoyable I began spending lunch hours with Nese and her Mormon friends. They were refreshing to be around. No smoking, no swearing, no off-color jokes. Best of all, they never seemed to put anybody down—they respected each other’s feelings. It was different being with them, and I enjoyed it.
Toward the end of the school year, Karen invited me to a Gold and Green Ball, whatever that was! I had never been to a dance in a church, and I had to dress in a suit! I was amazed to see a gym in a church building.
But what went on in the gym surprised me even more. Adults and teenagers were talking, laughing, and even dancing together. My friends had always thought it was “uncool” to like your parents. All over the nation there was an uproar about communication breakdown between parents and their children. But these people all seemed to be friends, regardless of age.
I asked Karen about it. She said it was because of the Church. As she took me on a tour of the building, I pondered what she had said. By the time I went home that night, I felt these people were unique, choice in some way I didn’t fully understand. They had a lot to be proud of.
After graduation my summer job stole me from my new-found group of friends. I was employed at a gas station, where I was nearly starved by my co-workers’ lack of concern. I was depressed, unhappy, and alone.
One afternoon in July, Nese and a friend drove up to the station. Just seeing them boosted my morale. They were planning to sing in the Oakland Temple Pageant and invited me to attend.
I’ll always remember that special evening. It was the first time I heard the story of Joseph Smith and learned the history of the Latter-day Saints I had grown to admire. At the end of the pageant, the audience rose and sang “The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning.” How I wanted to know the words of the song so I could join the chorus! I felt completely full of respect and love.
The crowd left slowly. Standing in the parking lot, I looked up at the temple. A voice in the back of my mind told me that some day I would enter that building.
When fall came, Nese left to attend Brigham Young University. I returned to Berkeley. Loneliness encompassed me again. Nese’s letters arrived regularly, two or three times weekly. I asked her why she was Mormon. The next letter bulged the envelope. It was a detailed explanation of her struggle to remain active and maintain a firm testimony while living with her inactive family.
I decided I had to go to church. That was a difficult decision because no one pushed me to attend. I had been allowed to come to the conclusion on my own.
I nearly changed my mind when I opened the door. I entered the chapel by myself, spotted an empty seat on the back row, and quickly sat down. Not all alone here, too! I wondered inside.
Then suddenly Karen, who had appeared from nowhere, was shaking my hand. “Good morning, David,” she said, grinning. I wasn’t alone anymore. She introduced me to people, showed me which class to go to, and sat beside me the entire time.
I was impressed to find a class I could bring my questions to and get answers. To top it off, the teacher, Sister Booras, took time afterwards to thank me for coming. “You added a great deal to our class,” she said. I had never felt so at home before.
But I still didn’t have that spiritual testimony all the Church members kept telling me about. I liked the Church; I could believe in many of its teachings, but I didn’t know it was true. I kept attending the meetings anyway.
One month later, Nese urged me to come to BYU. I jumped at the chance and rushed to Provo for a whirlwind visit. She described her school as if it were part of her. As we walked around campus, all we talked about was religion. My mind was overflowing with questions again, as it had been in the high school library. I still didn’t see how everything fit together.
The stone in my path was the principle of eternal progression. “It’s no good,” I said. “How can man, who was created by God, ever hope to be a god?”
We were standing in front of the Joseph Smith Building. Nese paused for a moment.
“Dave,” she said, “before we were ever created physically, we were created spiritually as God’s sons and daughters. A part of us, our spirit, comes directly from him as our Father.”
It finally clicked! It all fell into place. My grin spread to a smile and erupted as a laugh. I couldn’t stop grinning. My mind jumped from doctrine to doctrine. “Yes, yes, it all fits!” I wanted to dance or sing or run.
There, on the steps of the Joseph Smith Building, the Spirit bore witness to me of the gospel plan. I knew in my heart I would join the Church.
I still had to read the Book of Mormon, learn to pray, and take the missionary discussions. But my life was changed from that moment on. I had found truth, purpose, and a life to fulfill. Five weeks later I was baptized.
Eighteen months later, my impression that I would one day enter the Oakland Temple came true, as I received my endowments one week before leaving on a mission. When I returned, Nese and I decided to continue the eternal journey we had begun with conversations at a table in a library. We were married in the Provo Temple.
Every time I look at my wife, I thank the Lord that there was a girl in my high school with enough faith to “just want to share her beliefs with someone who wouldn’t laugh at her.” She touched my head and changed my life.