My name is Paula Marshall Wright Archer. I have been baptized for 48 years.
My conversion is on-going, but it started with my aunt and uncle taking the missionary lessons in the mid’60’s. They decided not to finish with the lessons, and told horror stories to the family about what they had learned. That was my introduction to the fact that there WAS a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
I was an only child with a mother who worked hard and long hours. She was tired when she got home and fell asleep after dinner. I played board games by myself and watched television – and read the Bible. Really. I loved the stories. I KNEW I had a Father in Heaven who loved me. I KNEW it. I didn’t have one ON Earth; somehow I was given the sure knowledge that I did have one in Heaven. I talked to Him all the time.
My father had abandoned my mother and I before I was 2 years old. She never remarried and I was raised by her, her parents, with support from her sister and her family. Our extended family was an active one, and a religious one. By the time I was a teenager, I had been solidly brought up in the Methodist church – with the expectation of the same behavior standard the LDS church professed. You shouldn’t drink, or smoke. They taught that we should be seeking after the same things I later read in the 13th Article of Faith. Weekly Church attendance was mandatory, as was summer bible Camp. I had a solid foundation of faith.
When I was in high school, things started to change. My mother started dating a man who wasn’t religious. My aunt and uncle stopped going to their church. We had moved further away from my grandparents. Mom started sleeping in on Sundays because she had been out late the night before. She started drinking with her boyfriend. I started getting up Sunday mornings and walking to church by myself. It was only a couple of blocks away and I’d been going there for years.
I started not being satisfied with the answers I was given to my questions about the scriptures. One of my teachers went so far as to say that the Bible was just a bunch of stories and you couldn’t believe everything you read. We had a “creed” of faith that we read from the back of our Hymnbook, or Bible once a month. It never made sense to me and no one could explain it to me. I watch my friends present one face on Sunday and have different behavior at school during the week. My mom would say that I should be more “Susie,” referring to girl I had grown up with. I told her that if she knew the “Susie” I knew, she would NOT want me to be more like that!
I started going to other churches with friends, to see what they were learning. I went to a Quaker pre-school/daycare program to see how that worked, to hear their beliefs. I went to some 7th Day Adventist programs on cooking vegetarian and talked to people. I went to catechism with a friend several times. I went on youth outings with the local Baptist church – which were the most fun I ever had at church to that point. I learned their songs and went to a retreat. And then my aunt and uncle started taking the LDS missionary lessons. Ah ! Another church to look at!!
One day, while home along, I got a phone call from two LDS missionaries, asking the “Golden Questions.” When they asked what I knew about the Mormon Church, I had an earful for them! They had their own Bible. They were polygamists. They claimed they had a prophet. They made you pay 10% of your money to the church, plus building funds, plus operating funds…. At which point the missionary said, “It seems you have a few misconceptions about our church. Would you like to come over and go over these things with you?” I figured, why not. They got permission from my Mom to teach me and that was the beginning.
Everything they told me rang true. I had actually been excited about the prospect of a living prophet. When they asked why I thought the Lord would talk to his children all through the Bible times and leave us undirected now, when we needed still – I was “That always bothered me!” I WAS really disappointed when they showed me a picture of just an older, clean-shaven man wearing a dark suit. (David O.McKay) I wanted him with a beard and old robes…. “So – what did he say this month?” They didn’t know. I was again disappointed. I was sure it must be important.
They spoke of sheep knowing their shepherd’s voice. I felt drawn. They told Joseph’s story. I almost walked. They told about the Book of Mormon. They gave me one. I said I’d read it. It was a free book. I liked to read. They asked me to come to church with them Sunday. I agreed. I met them at the building Sunday morning. We walked into the chapel. I was almost dumbfounded. I KNEW people there. There were WHOLE families there. I had NEVER seen so many MEN in a chapel – in suits!! MEN at church – not grandpas. Dads. Teenagers. Boys. I can’t tell you how much that affected me. Families sitting together. I was literally speechless. And my best friends from choir, Penny and Pam, were there. Mormons. Wow. I was wrapped, packaged and totally sold.
Penny’s family literally adopted me. I was instantly included in their church attendance, family home evenings – everything. This was back before the block meetings. We went to church Sunday morning – priesthood and Sunday school, Sunday night sacrament, Tuesday RS, Wednesday Primary/Mutual. Stake conferences had two Sunday sessions – every three months. I found I was a laurel – and it was fun. There were dances. Fund-raising dinners. Potlucks. Road shows. Amazing. I had a family, a big family, and I loved it.
I continued taking the lessons. I read the Book of Mormon. I believed in it. I prayed about it. I knew David O. McKay was a prophet. But that left Joseph Smith, the vision and his angel. I just didn’t know. Then came the baptism challenge. I waivered and waivered. Flipped and flopped. While at the next stake conference, this peace just came over me. I had two anchors – David O. McKay and the Book of Mormon. The one factor that tied them together was Joseph Smith. For them to be true, his story had to be true. I could take that on faith, based on what I DID know to be true. I’d read that you had to hope before you could have sure knowledge. I decided to hope.
I got baptized on a Saturday night. My mom didn’t come. None of my family did. But all my surrogate family did! None of my family was interested in the Church.
I’d like to say it was free sailing for me from that point on – but it wasn’t. Hence the continuing conversion. I keep sailing, and learning and teaching and growing.
Now, at 65, I have a family of four children (BIC!!), all active, three married in the temple. I have 13 grandchildren. I am sealed to a man who is more than I ever thought I could imagine possible for me. I have baptized, priesthood-holding , endowed, sealed family members on both sides of the veil. I called to a mission in Rochester, New York – which included the Sacred Grove, The Sacred Grove, Palmyra. The Lord knows what we need.
My path has been filled with switch-backs and extra side excursions. I married two non-LDS men and they joined the church. (My first husband molested our children and was jailed and excommunicated) (My second husband wasn’t a member. He said he would never join my church. I said I’d never ask him. I didn’t. He just morphed all on his own. He is a godly man and just kept being worked on. He got baptized after we had been married about 10 years. We were sealed about five years ago.)
I have been sealed twice, received one cancellation. I have been excommunicated, re-baptized, gotten my blessings restored. My mother actually joined the church and took out her endowments the day Tom and I were sealed. She was sealed to my step-dad (who we had done the work for after he died) and I was sealed to them. It was an.amazing.day.
I haven’t taken a side-step, detour, and sight-seeing trip since hearing Bro Bednar speak at our Corvallis Oregon stake conference, while he was still at BYU-Idaho. He told the pickle story then – before giving it in conference – and it was for me. It changed my life.