At various moments throughout my childhood I had exposure to the concept, if not the reality, of God. I had a primary teacher who walked with the Savior and who did then — and still does — exude the pure love of Christ. I had devout grandparents who loved and cherished me and who urged me to be baptized, attend meetings, and bear my testimony. I had parents who — even if they didn’t participate — were at least willing to permit me to attend meetings when it wasn’t inconvenient, and who, out of respect for my grandparents, didn’t bad-mouth the Church. But those exposures were fleeting, and generally speaking, I wasn’t raised in the Church.
When I was in the seventh grade, I had a Bishop who took a puzzling and compassionate concern with my well-being. He called the house and persuaded me to join the youth on a temple trip — whatever that was — and I cajoled my sister, Lisa, into going with me. I didn’t have a clue what a temple trip was, or even what a temple was. The week-long multi-state itinerary included a day at “the Y,” which I assumed must be the YMCA, having never heard of BYU. But it was a chance to get out of the house for a week, and so I agreed to go. (I later discovered that the rest of the youth had spent an entire year raising funds for this trip, and I was being invited without having done a darned thing to pay my own way. Ungrateful child. I didn’t even appreciate it.)
The trip involved a bus ride from Seattle to the Oakland temple, and from there to Provo, and then back north through Salt Lake City via Ogden and Logan back to Seattle, covering half of the continental US temples in existence back in those days. (Today you could stand in Seattle swinging a cat and hit about the same number of temples as we visited on that week-long trip. But I digress.)
In California and on the road I picked up that the temple was meaningful, and needed to be treated with respect. I also fought with Lisa and our new friends Patty and Kristine, and discovered the Beach Boys, but I just didn’t get it. I wasn’t sure what the point was of this whole experience.
Until we got to the Logan temple. There, on the last night of our temple trip, we had a testimony meeting. I don’t remember a word that was said at that meeting, but I do remember feeling an outpouring of the Spirit (I didn’t actually recognize what I was feeling at the time, but now it’s nameable) and I remember being filled by the sense that I belonged here. At the close of the meeting we stood together and sang “I Know that My Redeemer Lives,” (one of the few songs I had learned during my years of spotty Primary attendance), but I was unable to sing. I was completely overwhelmed by the Spirit, and stood there openly weeping while trying to choke out the words.
That was my real introduction to what it meant to be LDS, and I committed myself then to doing whatever it took to have that same sense of peace permanently in my life.
Thirty-some years later, it’s still good.