Sunday, June 12, 2011

Clear as a Bell

For those readers who are married, let me ask you this question: how long did you date your spouse before you got engaged? And how long after that until you got married? I know that most of my audience so far is LDS, so I’m guessing most of you dated for a few months, but probably less than a year, followed by an engagement that lasted somewhere between 3 to 6 months. And I also know that if you’re not LDS, you’re probably astounded right now (I’m talking to you, Della!), just thinking about how someone could plan a wedding in 3 to 6 months.

Well, try picturing this instead. You go on one date with a guy, and then realize he’s your husband-to-be. You go on about three more dates with him, get engaged, and get married a couple months later. This is exactly what happened to Sarah Bell and her husband Scott. About four years ago, Sarah was a single mom in the Medford Singles’ Ward when she met Scott. It wasn’t exactly love at first sight.

“He was really irritating!” Sarah says, “He asked questions all the time!”

One day while watching Scott pass the Sacrament at church, however, she felt prompted to become friends with him. Eventually, they went out to dinner. As a divorced mother, Sarah was cautious about dating, and Scott knew of her feelings. When they discussed seeing each other during that first date, he made a suggestion that few of us have probably heard.

“He said, ‘Let’s pray about it,’” Sarah recalls. So she did, praying that same evening about where her relationship with Scott should go. As she prayed, she felt the Holy Spirit with her, and then and answer came to her.

“I felt that I shouldn’t date him, that I should marry him,” she remembers. But knowing that most people don’t decide to get married after one date, she asked again, “Where did this come from? Are you sure?” At that moment, a burning in her heart answered her question, and she knew she had to follow the answer to her prayer. But, she worried, what would Scott think if she told him?

Little did she know that Scott too had prayed that night, and received the same answer to his question. He was so certain that it was the right path to follow, in fact, that he went out the very next day and bought a ring.

In fact, from the first time he saw Sarah, Scott knew she was special.

“I could tell that there was something that she knew that no other girl knew, but I didn’t know what that was,” he says.

It didn’t take Sarah long to understand why Scott was the one for her.

“There was no denying that the priesthood was what I was missing, and what I needed, and Scott would be able to fulfill that, and be the father that I needed for my daughter.”

Sarah had been baptized almost four years before she met Scott. She was raised in a home with beliefs that she describes as “mixed.” Her mother was a Lutheran, but not very active in her church, and her father was thoroughly nonreligious. In high school, some friends invited her to a non-denominational youth group activity and Sarah was introduced to religious life. At the same time, she also had an LDS boyfriend, and although she says she knows he believed in the restored Gospel, he was inactive and unwilling to act on his faith.

Still, says Sarah, “Had he not been unwavering in his faith, and the knowledge of what he should be practicing, I might not have been introduced to the Church.”

Life at home got tougher and tougher during Sarah’s senior year of high school. It became so negative, in fact, that she moved in with her boyfriend’s family after graduation. She attended church with them once, but it was not anything like what she was used to.

“I went to a church that was all jumping up and down and ‘Praise Jesus!’” she says, “And I thought, ‘How can you just sit here and sing like this?’” She didn’t go back to church with them.

Then, when she married her boyfriend the following year, Sarah decided that it would be important for her family to have the same faith. She talked to her new husband, and he agreed to attend the non-denominational church she had been part of since high school. She says that at first her church family welcomed her husband into their midst, but when they discovered he was LDS, the negative comments and Mormon jokes began. They even went so far as to show anti-Mormon videos to Sarah.

“I kept thinking, if you have to beat someone else down to build yourself up, then where is your foundation, where did your foundation go?” she recalls about that time. Still, Sarah continued to go to the church that had taken her in and introduced her to religion. It was still home to her.

Then, about a month after their marriage, Sarah’s husband invited her to take the missionary discussions. She agreed, since he had been willing to attend and learn about her church. She remembers the first lesson, and that it felt good and validating of the ideas she already had about spiritual matters, and she could not find any contradictions with what the missionaries taught and what she observed. The second lesson, however, would be a game changer.

In the second lesson, the missionaries told Sarah about the Plan of Salvation, the premortal existence and the Spirit World. When she heard these things, she felt the Holy Spirit in the room, stronger than any other feeling in her life to that point, and she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Church was true. When the missionaries came back for the third lesson, she told them she wanted to be baptized. Two weeks later, she was.

Sometimes, people feel that a convert’s story ends with baptism. After all, that person has taken the lessons, obviously felt something, and acted on their newfound faith by entering the waters of baptism. However, most of the time, the convert’s story is only beginning at this point. So it was for Sarah, who spent nearly her first two years in the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints as an inactive member. As she describes it, she was, “In a relationship that wasn’t equal on the terms of religion…he was never really level with [the Church], and so it was hard for me to maintain the conversion that I had first experienced.”

Sarah recalls waking up one Sunday morning, when her daughter was only a few months old, and thinking, “I’m going to start going back to church. I want to go to church.” She went to her closet and soon discovered that she didn’t have any appropriate church clothes. The thought came to her mind to just forget it, and wait until the next week, but at length she found a nice pair of slacks, a blouse, and an outfit for her baby.

As Sarah walked out the door, she recalled that suddenly, “There was this really strong feeling that, ‘nobody’s going to be there that you know, nobody’s going to like you there, you don’t know anybody, why are you going?’” In response, Sarah slammed the door, got in her car, and went to church. When she arrived she saw her in-laws, and people greeted her warmly at the door. It was the first step she toward finally becoming a part of a ward family.

“It was just right, it was good. And I never missed a Sunday after that…throughout singles ward, throughout my divorce, throughout college and working full time,” she says, “I went to church every Sunday.”

Eventually, that first marriage did end. Sarah wanted to grow in the Church, and her husband was still unwilling to change his habits. For Sarah, having access to the Melchizedek Priesthood in her home had become a priority, and her husband was unable to attain it. I ask her what it means to have the Priesthood in her home now.

“Without it I would be nothing,” she answers immediately, then adds that she is trying not to cry, “The Priesthood is God’s evidence of miracles on Earth. The Priesthood is imperative in my existence and I would be unable to be the mom and wife that I am without it. It’s a huge part of my testimony.”

Sarah and Scott will celebrate their fourth wedding anniversary this summer. In August, Sarah will have been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for eight years. Their third child (which will make a grand total of four with Sarah’s daughter from her first marriage) will also be born in August. Their lives are incredibly busy, running an in-home adult foster care facility and caring for 3.5 children and a couple of dogs. Our interview had to be paused several times, in fact, so that Sarah could tend to a resident, talk to a child in need of his mother’s attention, or instruct Scott on what to buy at Wal-mart. But overriding the busyness is a sense of love and compassion in their home. It’s no wonder, considering what Sarah strives to teach their children.

“Just because the world isn’t necessarily good doesn’t mean we can’t be good, and doesn’t mean that there aren’t positive influences out there.”

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