I had just left my brother in laws house with my daughter after our first fast Sunday. I was feeling weak and tired and above all things, hungry. I had promised my daughter earlier that day that we would go to her favorite restaurant on our way home. She was a picky eater and this particular place was always good for her. As I had mentioned, it was our first fasting, well mine rather, as she did not understand the concept yet at 6 years old. As we were driving I felt something within me telling me that I should be rethinking what exactly it was that I was doing. This was becoming quite normal for me since I had been baptized just two days prior.
When I had first started investigating with my brother in law and his wife, who have been members all their lives, and the wonderful Sister missionaries, I believed that I was joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for the reasons of community and organizational events for my daughter and I. I had been thinking a lot to myself that it was the right thing to do, when I began the missionary lessons, it became much more apparent that this was the correct path. I was amazed at how much I already knew about the church and it’s principals. You see, I was just starting to go through a very rough time in my life and I felt I needed something more to grasp onto, I needed more direction. I honestly believed that this was that direction. As it turns out, I was half right. The direction that I was thinking I would receive was that of movement: go to church on Sundays for 3 hours, hold FHE on Monday nights, meet with other members and missionaries during the week and so on. However the direction I received was that of great spiritual and heavenly guidance.
The baptism was such a beautiful service. And though I had no idea at the time how incredible a journey I was about to embark on, I did know that I felt the spirit, just as I do during the writing and subsequent reading of this text. As we arrived at the Chapel, I was not nervous at all. I had always been excited for the surprises that awaited me within those rooms. Another feeling that I had, was that of comfort. Knowing that no matter what happened next, I would be accepted within the congregation. My brother-in-law Pete Gold did both the invocation and the baptismal ordinance. The talk on baptism was given by President Cavalieri. He too was a convert like me, which struck a real cord. He also has an extremely tranquil voice that I have rarely seen matched by any other. My sister-in-law Erica Gold performed the speech on the Holy Ghost. She has a way of explaining things in ways that you would never seem to think of yourself. I had asked my ward missionaries along with some of their other companions from other wards perform the hymn, “Come Follow Me”. And the closing benediction was conducted by Sister Celis, who, in hindsight was the perfect choice.
As I prepared to be baptized, I was overwhelmed with joy for the people who attended the ceremony. It was many more than I expected. I had invited some friends, of course, but the ward members who attended did not even know me. That sensation started to turn to sorrow as I began having uneasy thoughts, that I was taking them away from their homes and families. Just as that happened, someone walked up and tapped me on the shoulder. It was one of the members that I was just thinking about.
“Hello Brother Stringer, I am so happy to be here and see you be baptized, congratulations” He then shook my hand and seated himself in the audience. I was quite stunned, and relieved to know, even then, our Heavenly Father was already in my corner.
I then retreated to the changing room to put on the baptismal clothing. Somehow they found clothing that fit me! After getting dressed, I reentered the room where everyone was waiting. I thought I would feel a little embarrassed within the white clothing, but no such feelings came over me. It was all so natural and I was even more calm then before. My sister missionaries, came over and shared wonderful words for me. I smiled one of the biggest smiles ever. My brother-in-law Pete was to preform the baptism. We entered the font, he read the blessing and I went under. I was so focused on doing this correctly! As a tall person and over all big guy, you have to make sure that the person baptizing you can get you back up! I hardly had time to reflect on everything going on, before I knew it, it was over.
After vacating the meeting house, my family and I all went to dinner. I was asked if I felt different after the service, I replied, “Not exactly, but I know it was the right thing to do.” They all smiled, nodded and understood perfectly.
I had felt the spirit before for sure. Specifically during the first time I prayed, alone and in my room, before bed a few nights before. Praying has always been difficult for me. It’s taken some time to get used to. Quite frequently, I will pray in silence. Though, more recently, aloud. A recent experience with prayer ended up being very illuminating. One evening, I had some difficult decisions to be made by the next day. I gave unto The Lord that night, vocally. The next morning, I woke up with what I now know to be the answer straight from Heavenly Father being repeated over and over in my head. It was bit staggering. I sensed I had to confirm the feeling with some people I trusted. They each stated that it was indeed that still small voice. One person said to verify it by praying again. I would know if it were true because I would feel a warming sensation in my chest and head. I immediately attempted this. I was completely blown away by the physical reactions I was experiencing. Never in my life have I had such an abundance of clarity.
Though, about 15 years prior, however, I believed I had come close. Regretfully, I ignored these emotions and did not pursue the necessary steps to investigate. I had attended seminary early one morning with some class mates. It was during the opening prayer that I felt so lifted. I did not understand that this was to be direct communication with God. I don’t remember the lesson now being taught, but I remember how it felt to be in tune with the ideas being shared. I also attended church a few times during that period. There was a very kind family that I knew. Joshua, the eldest son and I were in the same grade had grown close. We had choir together and had decided to sing a 4 part quartet with a couple other guys. We practiced ALL DAY Saturday……which I severely needed. I was asked if I wanted to stay over and attend their church in the morning. I gladly accepted. I received the same emotions during sacrament meeting, again without comprehending the nature of the act.
Recently, I asked Josh why I hadn’t been brought into the church way back then. I look back now and see how easily I could have accepted this into my life. He laughed and said he didn’t know, but he was glad I found my way in anyway. I told him what I tell just about everyone nowadays. There are no coincidences and It was meant to be, and that maybe it wasn’t the right timing for me. He agreed.
President Thomas S. Monson often says, “There are no coincidences” as he makes the point that his experiences in life have taught him to always look for the Lord’s hand.
I have adapted this into my daily life as well. I can’t help but notice these occurrences everyday. I remind my friends and family of it all the time. So much that I fear that soon they will start making me put my loose change into a jar every time I do.
I had a lot of great friends back in high school, some were members, some were not. Not long ago, my conversion was discovered by one these old friends. Which brings me to my second quote that I have started to live by:
“There is opposition in all things.”
This particular friend had noticed that I had started quoting scripture on that social network we ALL use. She immediately confronted me.
You’re Mormon now?
Did you really not know? I was baptized on November 1st, 2013, and had been posting a lot about it!
Yeah, that’s weird!
Why do you think that is weird?
Well, we used to make fun of THEM in high school!
I thought about this for a moment, It was true. It took me a moment to gather my thoughts. I did not like that this had happened at all. I thought about all the people I may have hurt. Then I thought, they weren’t hurt for long, for they know the truth. They have the tools and words to battle the opposition. I know this because even after, we were all still friends, and THAT is what made them special. They were sharing the gospel with us and we didn’t even know it! I simply replied:
We were THEM in high school!
I don’t think she understood, but maybe someday she will. I also reaffirmed to her that I wasn’t different, I was the same old Phil, with a different coat of paint. She laughed and we both went along our day.
I fully believe that if you open your heart to the our Heavenly Father, he will show you things that you never knew were there. For me, one of those things is the Book of Mormon. Specifically, Alma chapter 32:13-16. When I listened to this during one of my nightly runs, I was completely stopped in my tracks! I had to go back and listen again and again. This is the scripture that really got me where I am today.
13 And now, because ye are compelled to be humble blessed are ye; for a man sometimes, if he is compelled to be humble, seeketh repentance; and now surely, whosoever repenteth shall find mercy; and he that findeth mercy and endureth to the end the same shall be saved.
14 And now, as I said unto you, that because ye were compelled to be humble ye were blessed, do ye not suppose that they are more blessed who truly humble themselves because of the word?
15 Yea, he that truly humbleth himself, and repenteth of his sins, and endureth to the end, the same shall be blessed—yea, much more blessed than they who are compelled to be humble because of their exceeding poverty.
16 Therefore, blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble; or rather, in other words, blessed is he that believeth in the word of God, and is baptized without stubbornness of heart, yea, without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know, before they will believe.
There are many reasons that these passages are special to me. I will give you one glowing example. These 4 short verses describe a scene in which Alma teaches to people that had experienced great suffering. They are taught that a basic concept of faith is something that cannot be seen, but only felt. These people had become humbled by their suffering and accepted Alma’s great words as truth! The parallels in my life were SO apparent that these verses literally shocked me. I no longer had any doubt in my heart. It was a superb feeling.
On the evening of my first fast Sunday, November 3rd, 2013, my daughter and I entered her favorite restaurant. There were at least 3 parties waiting to be seated. Madelyn and I walked over to the counter to place our names on the waiting list. There was no one there to take our names. Now being in the IT industry, I could be called in at just about anytime for an emergency at work. From a server crash to a broken keyboard. At that moment, my cell phone began to ring. I looked at it, yup, it was work. I contemplated picking up as it would further send me down the path of breaking the Sabbath. I picked up. I began covering about this that and the other thing, which all sounded like an emergency. Then my daughter tugged at my arm, “Daddy, my stomach hurts!” I covered the phone and asked her, “Do you need to go potty or are you just hungry?” Just then I looked up, realized it had been at least 5 mins and STILL no one was at the front counter to take our name and no one had been seated!
I stopped, told the person I was on the phone with I would call them back when I got back in the car. I ended the call, picked up my daughter and walked back to the car.
As we started to exit the parking lot and turn on to the street, I asked Madelyn how she was feeling, she said that her stomach didn’t hurt any more….
So I simply said, well that’s good, we will be home soon so we can eat dinner there. She replied ok also that she didn’t mind not eating at the restaurant anyway. I became puzzled. I then dialed my office back to continue the conversation about the problems they were having at work. The previous conversation ended really abruptly and I had fully expected to need to remotely log in and work from home, thus possibly delaying our meals even further. However when I called back in, I was met with an,
“Everything is working just fine now Phil! Thanks for checking back in!”
It wasn’t until we had reached home and started making dinner that I had realized what had occurred.
I believe 3 distinct things that evening:
•We were not seated because Heavenly Father wanted us to keep the sabbath day holy.
•Heavenly Father knew that I would listen to my daughter and healed her immediately after I did.
•Heavenly Father did not want me to interrupt our day of rest with work, so he took care of it.
We concluded our day with a prayer in our hearts. I knew what had happened that evening had been miraculous. I also knew that I did not want such blessings I had received to end.
I know that this Church is true. And when you allow the spirit to flow through your life, you will know it too. There is so much that he can do for you when your eyes, ears and heart are open. I thank you for taking the time to listen to my words and I leave them with you in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.