"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
September 17, 2014
An Unusual "Golden Question"
by Marian Stoddard

Back in the day, BYU Education Week used to travel out into the world, and one of the places it came to was Washington, D.C., where I lived.

My parents used to write me an excuse for school and take me with them.  (We debated on the wording of the note and settled on, "Please excuse Marian from school to attend a series of special lectures.")  It was fabulous — we got to hear brothers Reid (a music professor) and Hugh Nibley, Truman Madsen, sculptor Avard Fairbanks, and lots of other LDS notables.

One whose name I don't remember had a unique conversion story.  He grew up Southern Baptist in the Bible Belt, and was bombarded with hellfire and brimstone every Sunday as his parents dragged him to church. 

As soon as he was of age, he joined the army and shipped out, glad to escape the verbal burnings, and sure that they were not true messages of God, if there was a God.  He wasn’t at all convinced that there was.

One of his bunkmates was a little odd — the fellow didn't go out with them on liberty to hit the bars, and he didn't swear, and he kept some kind of book that he brought out and read every night before he went to bed; he said, when asked, that it was his scriptures but it didn't look quite like a Bible. 

But our narrator didn't mind that he was a little odd, because, well, he was just a genuinely, thoroughly nice guy. There was no other way to describe him.  In fact, he was finding he kind of liked him.  There was just something about him.

One day this thoroughly nice guy almost blew him down by asking, "Have you ever met someone and felt like you've known them before, but you know you've never met?" 

Well, sure, I guess everybody's had that experience sometimes, funny how that is. 

"Did you ever think that it might be because you knew them before you were born?" 

No!  How could that happen?

"You might have known them in the pre-existence, before we were born, when we lived with God."

“In the what?  What are you talking about?”

He was not going anywhere until he had this conversation; there was no way he could walk away from that line to some mundane duty.  Half-convinced this seemingly harmless really nice guy might be crazy, he warily agreed to attend church with him on Sunday. He was a little reluctant, remembering the images of damnation shoved down his throat at home. 

One meeting, he thought. Then he could gracefully beg off. One Sunday, then his new buddy could be satisfied.

On Sunday, to his astonishment, there was no hellfire, no brimstone, and no collection plate.  This was a really different place.  What was it like, going to this meeting on Sunday with his friend?  In his words, he didn’t just have one nice guy — “the place was a whole hotbed of nice guys!"  He'd never seen anything like it. 

He’d also never felt anything quite like it. It drew him in like the smell of baking bread through an open window.  Charmed by the welcome and the atmosphere of cheerful kindness, he was soon meeting with the missionaries and setting a baptism date.

So, he offered to us, you never know.  Put a twinkle in your eye and open your mouth.  Love people no matter how they react, and you could be surprised what the Lord can do with you.

After all, you never know what will change a life.

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About Marian Stoddard

Marian J. Stoddard was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in its Maryland suburbs. Her father grew up in Carson City, Nevada, and her mother in Salt Lake City, so she was always partly a Westerner at heart, and she ended up raising her family in Washington State. Her family took road trips all over the United States and Canada, so there were lots of adventures.

The adventures of music, literature, and art were also valued and pursued. Playing tourist always included the local museums as well as historical sites and places of natural beauty. Discussions at home, around the dinner table or working in the kitchen, could cover politics, philosophy, or poetry, with the perspective of the gospel underlying all. Words and ideas, and testimony and service, were the family currency.

Marian graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, and attended the University of Utah as the recipient of the Ralph Hardy Memorial Scholarship, where she was graduated with honors, receiving a B.A. in English. She also met the love of her life, a law student, three weeks after her arrival; she jokes that she had to marry him because her mother always wanted a tenor in the family. (She sings second soprano.) They were married two years later and have six children and six grandchildren (so far). She treasures her family, her friends, and her opportunities to serve.

Visit Marian at her blog, greaterthansparrows.  You can contact her at bloggermarian@gmail.com. 

Marian and her husband live in Tacoma, Washington. Together they teach those who are preparing to go to the temple for the first time, and she also teaches a Stake Relief Society Institute class.

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