03450_000_010This book she handed me was different. It was a parting gift. Liz was moving out of my locker!
On my bookshelf sits an old and worn paperback copy of A Marvelous Work and a Wonder. I don’t use it anymore; it’s been replaced by a larger hardbound edition. The only reason I’ve saved the tattered black paperback is for its sentimental value. It was given to me 13 years ago by someone very special, and it changed my life.
I tossed the shiny black paperback into my high school locker. I knew it was some kind of religious book. Liz, my girlfriend, was always giving me “Mormon” things to read, but I never read them.
This book was different—its was a parting gift. Liz had moved out of my locker. This time she was serious about breaking up for good.
“Chris,” she said, trying to choke back the tears, “you know how I feel about you, and you know how I feel about the Church. I can’t … I won’t let myself become seriously involved with you. If I ever get married, I want to be able to be married the right way.”
I knew that. She had always made her feelings about marriage very clear. For one reason or another, Liz and I had broken up regularly since the beginning of our senior year, but we always got back together because we had something special between us.
We had dated for a year and a half. At first it was a casual relationship. I didn’t go out very often, but when I did, it was with Liz. By the start of our senior year of high school, our relationship became more serious.
Liz was LDS, but that never bothered me. I was attracted by her wholesomeness, her bubbly happiness. At times I teased her about her religion, and my friends teased me about dating a “prudish Mormon,” but it was worth it. I liked Liz. In fact, I was falling in love with the cute little Mormon girl.
As we became closer friends, we talked about things close to us: family, friends, religion. I was Catholic; she was LDS. Many of our dates together ended in cordial debates about the nature of God, life after death, and almost any other religious topic. I was noncommittal about religion. I wasn’t a particularly strong Catholic, but I wasn’t ready to be a Mormon either.
The more we were together, the more Liz talked about her religion. Nearly every time we were alone she’d drag Mormonism into our conversation. She explained the premortal existence, Heavenly Father, and the three levels of heaven. It was useless for me to try to stifle her interest in her church. If I ever was successful in getting her off the subject of religious theory, she’d talk about the Primary class she was teaching, the road show she was in, or the wonderful seminary teacher she had.
Liz constantly tried to involve me in her church activities. I declined her invitation to attend her seminary class, but I would walk her across the street to the chapel. I did, however, refuse to set foot on Mormon ground—she had to walk from the sidewalk to her class unescorted.
Once she convinced me to attend a fireside with her. Elder Paul H. Dunn was the speaker, and although I don’t remember what he said, I do remember Liz’s reaction to his talk. She cried.
“Hey, Liz,” I asked. “What’s the matter? Did I do something wrong?”
“No, nothing’s wrong.” She wiped her tears and smiled at me. “It’s just the wonderful spirit I felt as Elder Dunn spoke to us.” Her response puzzled me. I couldn’t understand why anyone would cry when nothing was wrong.
The Arizona Temple was the only other Mormon place she ever had me visit. If I asked her what she wanted to do for a night out, she’d always reply, “Let’s go visit the temple. I love it there.”
I gave in, and we went there a few times. Usually we just walked through the grounds and admired the gorgeous landscaping, but after our third visit she talked me into touring the inside of the visitors’ center.
Inside, we saw several films and met many very friendly people. After the films and introductions, we went on a guided tour of the center. At the conclusion of the tour, our guide bore his testimony of the things we had seen that night. Liz cried.
After that experience, the temple was one of her favorite topics. “Chris, isn’t the temple a beautiful place? That’s where I’ll get married someday. I’ve promised myself that.”
“I guess I wouldn’t mind getting married there either,” I said. “It’s really no different than a cathedral.”
“It is different. When two people are married in the temple, they’re married forever.”
“That’s fine with me. I’ve always believed that true love lasts forever.”
Liz grew very serious. “You don’t understand. Only active members of the Church are allowed in the temple. You wouldn’t be allowed to enter.” She explained again that when her time came, she would be married in the temple. No other place was acceptable for her.
“But what if you really love a guy who’s not LDS?” I asked. “If you really love someone, it shouldn’t matter where you get married. All that matters is that you’re together and you’re in love.”
“If two people really love each other,” she answered shaking her head, “they’d never settle for anything less than an eternal relationship.” She paused and looked me in the eye. “I never would.”
As we neared the end of our senior year, we had many arguments about temple marriage. Liz maintained that she’d never marry outside of the temple. I argued that, in true love, the ceremony was not important. Love was eternal regardless of the type of marriage.
The more we discussed it, the more she talked about the temple and how special it was. I was confounded. It was obvious that we were falling in love, yet Liz wouldn’t budge on her temple marriage hang-up. I felt positive that if our love matured, she would eventually give in and agree to be married anywhere. I was wrong.
One afternoon at school, Liz met me at our locker. Her eyes were tearfully red, and her voice was taut with emotion. “Chris, I’ve decided that we can’t see each other anymore. We can’t go out again—ever.”
Her words stunned me. “What do you mean? Look, I don’t care what your parents think …”
She looked up at me with tears streaming down her face. “It’s not my parents. It’s me. I can’t allow myself to date you. I don’t want to fall in love with you.”
“Liz, you’re just upset. Why don’t we just talk this out like we’ve always done? You’ll feel better in a little while.”
She backed away from me. “No, I’ve made up my mind,” she sobbed. “I can’t afford to see you again!” She pressed a shiny black paperback into my hands and ran down the hall.
We stopped seeing each other. Liz started going out with LDS guys, and I moped around campus. I thought about the many discussions we’d had. What was it that made her so stubborn about a temple marriage? Why wouldn’t she compromise? What made her so special?
Several weeks after we broke up, I returned to school late one spring afternoon. I searched through the mess in my locker and soon found what I was looking for. The little black paperback was slightly dog-eared but still readable. Maybe it would answer some of my questions. I glanced around to make sure no one saw me carrying an LDS book, tucked it inside my jacket, and went home.
When I got home I hurried upstairs with my secret bundle and hid it in my desk drawer. I knew my parents wouldn’t approve of me reading Mormon “propaganda.”
Two weeks passed before I had a chance to be alone with the book. When I had the opportunity, I took the book out of my desk, stretched out on my bed, and started to read.
I opened the book, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, and skimmed its pages. A section about the Joseph Smith story caught my eye, so I read it carefully. As I read the story of Joseph Smith’s vision, I knew that it was true. I also knew that if his story was true, then the church he founded must also be true.
A little later I agreed to take the missionary discussions, and I rapidly gained a testimony of the principles of the gospel. After the discussions, I knew that I should join the Church, and after much fasting, praying, and soul searching, I was baptized. Liz was there. She cried.
A little more than a year after I was baptized, Liz and I again visited the temple, this time to be married for time and all eternity. That was 13 years ago. Today, and every day, as I watch our family blossom and grow, I’m grateful for the strong testimony of that cute little Mormon girl. I’m thankful that she was courageous enough to refuse to compromise on an issue that meant eternal happiness for her, and eventually, for me too.