“And When Thou Art Converted”

by Janet Brigham

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    She was a convert of three years—a recently returned missionary who was never as happy as when she was firing up others with the story of her conversion. When I read the neatly typed version of her story, written at the request of her mission president’s wife, I was awed. And a little envious. Her testimony had developed intensively as she had studied the Book of Mormon, taught the gospel, and sought spiritual confirmation of truth. She hadn’t seen angels, but she had seen quiet miracles. The Lord had touched her life. She, in turn, had touched mine through sharing her story. I was raised in the Church; I admire the enthusiasm of converts.

    Such experiences, I told her, ought to be reciprocal. “And so I ought to give you something of equal value in return,” I said. “But I don’t know what.” She tactfully declined my offer to let her read my poetry. (“I never touch the stuff,” she said.) “Why don’t you write your conversion story?” she suggested.

    “But I’m not a convert.”

    “So? Aren’t you converted?”

    I sat down that night to start, dubiously. I reread her story and despaired of ever piecing together a conversion story from my lifetime of attending meetings and teaching Sunday School lessons. The pattern of my conversion wasn’t obvious, but the material was certainly handy—I had kept diaries and journals for years. But a conversion story? A look back through the journals showed that I had always been aware of the Church in my life. My ancestors were baptized in England and New England in the early decades of the Restoration and later crossed the plains. I remembered always being a Mormon.

    Which was how I decided to start my story: I remember always being a Mormon. I told of growing up in the Church, of going to corn-feeds and Primary, of singing solos and telling my school friends about the Church. I told how no one needed to tell me when my grandmother died because I knew in my eight-year-old heart that it had happened. I told how all the relatives and seemingly half the town gathered for her funeral in the Rexburg, Idaho, Fourth Ward chapel.

    As I reminisced, a theme began to emerge: as a child, I had learned the gospel by living it. Family and teachers had taught me to look to the Lord for strength. I had prayed since I was a child. This seemed ironic, because during my adolescence I had wondered if my prayers were correct and effective. Other people told of dramatic answers to prayers and of lengthy sessions of pleading with the Lord. My prayers, in contrast, were simple, short, and sometimes quite demanding and to the point. Yet I saw, by looking back through journals and memory, that I had always prayed, and that my prayers had always been heartfelt. When grandma died, I prayed. When I lost control of a horse I was riding, I prayed. When I was scared no one would dance with me, I prayed. When I was too terrified to play a piano solo in public, I prayed. Though not every prayer was answered immediately, all were answered.

    I realized that looking to the Lord was a pattern of my life, part of me since I was a toddler. I recognized a strength I had questioned before, and I recognized the Lord’s hand in my life as never before.

    As I wrote of my intense involvement in Church while I was in high school, I recalled that many of my friends had wanted to know what made my life different from theirs. Why did I spend so much time at church? Why were the Mormon kids so close? What was our 6:30 A.M. religion class about, anyway? I had told some friends about the gospel. One girl friend and her family were baptized a few weeks after I had timidly asked them, “What do you know about the Mormon church?” one night as we sat around their kitchen table after an orchestra excursion. Another friend gained a testimony of the Book of Mormon but did not have the faith at 15 to be baptized. Other friends went to Young Women meetings and to Church dances with me. A young man I met at a high school journalism conference joined the Church after we corresponded philosophically for three years. I had not converted him, but I had introduced him to the truth, and he had recognized it.

    Before reviewing these incidents in my journals and writing them out for my conversion story, I had wondered if I were capable of being an effective member-missionary. “Every member a missionary” had rung guilty notes in my ears for years. Now I realized that I was a missionary—in my own way, with my own friends. Now, that knowledge gives me confidence in continuing to share the gospel gladly and openly.

    I wrote next of times I had sought help from the Lord through his servants. I wrote of my high regard for one bishop in particular, of the blessing of knowing worthy men who regarded themselves as “the servant of all” (D&C 50:26). I had forgotten those men and the impact of their leadership. I had forgotten that from them came my first motivation to study the scriptures until the Lord’s words became a pattern for my thoughts.

    I wrote how one morning while I was attending Brigham Young University I awoke feeling a need to know that my life had purpose. I prayed that as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve spoke at a devotional assembly that morning, his words would give me direction and motivation. The prayer was undeniably answered only hours later. That incident, too, I had not thought of for some time.

    Throughout those events, I know the Lord was involved in my life. But, curiously, I had underestimated my ability to successfully live my religion. Writing my conversion story out—all eight typed pages of it—made me more appreciative of me. By reading my journal and writing my story, I understood myself better, and I saw my growth more clearly. I saw that even when I did not yet understand or accept all the principles of the gospel, I accepted the Lord. I wrote: Because I learned to pray as a child—taught by my grandmother, my mother, and uncounted teachers at church—I had a faith in prayer that carried me through periods of doubt. It was my prayers as a youngster that I recalled in my greatest need.

    An even greater benefit has come since writing out my own Church history. “And when thou art converted,” Luke wrote, “strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32). I gave a copy of my story to the friend who first shared her conversion story with me. (“It was pretty good,” she said. “You didn’t know you had it in you, did you?”) I have judiciously given it to a few other friends since, as we have shared experiences and encouragement. I share it with nonmember friends who want to learn more about the gospel. I wouldn’t give it to just anybody—too much in it is too private. The friends I share it with are strengthened, and that strengthens me. And now, with my conversion story written, signed, and dated, I am more than strengthened; I am a convert.

    Photo by Kevin Merrell