I was born and raised in an atheist Jewish family. We were culturally Jewish, like some people are Polish or Irish, but we didn’t believe in God. When I asked questions about how the world was created, the answer I got was, “billions of coincidences in the primordial soup.” I accepted what I was told but I still wondered about God growing up. It was hard to believe that something as beautiful as a rose could have been created by coincidence.
One day in junior high, I was riding past my best friend’s house on a city bus. I remember thinking to myself, “If there is a God, Laura’s mother will get on this bus.” And she did! I almost had a heart attack!
In high school, I overheard a chemistry teacher tell someone, privately, that she didn’t know how anyone could look at the periodic table of the elements and not believe in God. I thought about all those elements lined up in neat little rows and columns with predictable properties. It did seem unlikely that it was a product of coincidence.
In college my first husband and I started an Amway business. The people we were associated with were mostly fundamentalist Christians. They started and ended every meeting with prayer. That was bad enough, but they always had to do it in the name of Jesus Christ! I couldn’t understand why they had to bring Him into it!
As our business grew, it seemed like every time we hit a stumbling block, someone would come to speak at a rally or seminar and say exactly what we needed to hear. After a while, it got to the point that my ability to believe in the power of coincidence was stretched beyond its limit, and broke. I realized that there had to be some kind of organizing power in the universe that knew who we were.
Once I became willing to believe that there was a God, it wasn’t difficult for me to accept that Jesus Christ was His son. If these people were right about God, they were probably right about Christ as well. We decided to find a church to join. A lot of our friends were going from church to church until they found a pastor they liked. That seemed like a bad way to choose a religion. What if the pastor moved? Or we moved?
We made a deal with God. We would listen to anyone who wanted to talk about their religion. He would send us someone to teach us about the true Church. We had a list of things we knew would be true about the True Church when we found it. The first was that if there was any true church on the earth there could only be one, because Christ only organized one while he was on the earth. Another was that the members of the church would be responsible for their own salvation, learning the doctrine and developing a personal relationship with God without a priest or pastor running interference.
On breaks at work I would ask people what church they belonged to. Then I would ask, “What does your church believe?” I would usually get a “deer in the headlights” look. “Um, uh, um, we believe in the bible!” I would say to myself, “Scratch that one.”
When I was in elementary school, I had been chased down the street by little Catholic kids who called me a “Christ killer.” I knew I could not join a church that would make me feel ashamed of or turn my back on my Jewish heritage.
Another thing on our list was that the church had to have answers to questions, and the answers had to make sense! I couldn’t buy the concept of the trinity, for example, and was not satisfied when the answer to my questions was “the mysteries of God.”
A new guy came to work in my department. He had moved in from out of town. Like I said, I wanted to hear people talk about their religion, and by golly, he wanted to talk about his! He had answers to my questions, and the answers made sense! I invited them over for dinner.
The entire night we talked about the Church. They took turns, about every ten minutes, asking, “Do you still want to talk about this? We don’t usually do this the first time we meet somebody!” We just said, “Go ahead, go ahead.”
The next week we went to their house where the missionaries taught us a bi-centennial family home evening lesson. After that, we did 6 discussions in 6 weeks. Can you say, “golden contacts?”
The first time I went to Church, I mentioned, in Relief Society, that I was a Jew. Afterwards, several women came over to me and said, “Did you know that in our church, if you aren’t born into one of the tribes of Israel, you are adopted into one?” I said, “Score!”
Every single thing on our list was true about the Mormon church. After six discussions, I believed everything except the Joseph Smith story, but I didn’t have any other plausible explanation for the origin of the Book of Mormon. Looking at the goodness of the members and the doctrine, I felt, “By their fruits ye shall know them” applied. Nevertheless, I wanted a testimony before I got baptized.
One day, I went into an empty training room at work and knelt to pray. I told God that I wanted to have a spiritual testimony before I got baptized. In my mind I heard, “Faith precedes the miracle.” I thought, OK, I will get baptized, and when I come up out of the water, I will have a testimony! Great!
It didn’t work that way. It came to me slowly, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little. But it came.