From Straying to Praying: A Prodigal's Well-told Story
by Laurie Williams Sowby
Rescued -- A Prodigal's Journey Home, by Jerry Earl Johnston. Covenant
Communications, Inc., 2012, 116 pages hardcover, $15.99.
Interesting that one of my first columns for Nauvoo Times is a review of a book
by longtime Deseret News reporter and Mormon Times columnist Jerry
Johnston, a guy whose prose I've admired since my own early days with the
I've noticed that Johnston's columns in recent years have taken on more
honesty and depth. After reading his new book, I understand. In Rescued -- a
Prodigal's Journey Home, we see why glib prose has flowered into profound
The book's title is a succinct, bottom-line summary of the story of an LDS man
who served a mission because his authoritarian father expected no less, then
"bolted from the Church" as soon he'd completed it. Determined to become a
sophisticated disciple of "the God of Good Taste," as he says, he fell away and
stayed away from the Church for 20 years. Viewing himself as an "intellectual,"
Johnston spurned his LDS upbringing and values while building a successful
career as a writer.
How the prodigal made his way home -- thanks to many individuals including
his wife, friends, and co-workers who never gave up on him -- makes for a
touching, intimate, and courageous personal account. Johnston dedicates the
book "To the grandkids -- a manual for what not to do and how not to do it."
The book takes as many side trips as Johnston's own journey did, shifting
forward and backward in time and distance from the starting point. With
honest and sometimes humorous detail, he fleshes out some of the watershed
experiences along the way, from Utah to Bolivia and in between. He speaks of
memorable encounters with President Gordon B. Hinckley and long
conversations with Elder Neal Maxwell (and includes the Deseret News
columns he wrote in tribute at their passing).
But it's also the less-known "ordinary" people who stand out in his journey.
Although there's an occasional scriptural reference or quote, there's no deep
discussion of doctrine here. Instead, we see the doctrine in action. This is a
highly human story of repentance and transformation that we can relate to,
regardless of where we are on the path home. The insights apply whether we
are the rescuers or the one in need of rescue.
The Johnston prose is apparent, with metaphors aplenty. He describes his
"mighty change" thus: "Yes, my heart had been broken. But not the way
romance gone bad breaks a heart. It was more as if my heart had been broken
open -- like a pomegranate -- and gushed with overflowing sweetness…It had
broken and revealed something warm and alive -- like a brittle egg giving way
to the chick or a tightly wrapped cocoon bursting to free the butterfly."
Undeniable Jerry Johnston.
His is a compelling personal story of triumph over his past and hope for the
future. But it is more gratitude than attitude in the telling. He makes it clear
that the heroes in this story are God and His Son, our Savior. Johnston
expresses, in everyday language, awe at those who surrounded him with
unconditional love, even from beyond the veil.
One gets the sense that Johnston shares his story not so much for himself as
to reassure spiritual vagabonds -- and those who love them -- that they can
find their way home again.
Laurie Williams Sowby has been writing since second grade and getting paid for it since high
school. Her byline ("all three names, please") has appeared on more than 6,000 freelance articles
published in newspapers, magazines, and online.
A graduate of BYU and a writing instructor at Utah Valley University for many years, she
embraces all, having had her five children and their spouses all graduate from universities of
various colors. The oldest of 18 grandchildren (so far) begins the cycle again this fall.
She and husband, Steve, have served three full-time missions together, beginning in 2005 as
proselyting missionaries in Chile at the same time their youngest son was serving in Germany.
The last two times, they've served in Washington, D.C. (South and North missions) as young
adult Institute teachers. In D.C., they found it much easier to teach in English and enjoyed
having heat in the winter.
During her years of missionary service, Laurie continued to write about significant Church
events, including the rededication of the Santiago Temple by President Hinckley and the
groundbreaking for the Philadelphia Temple by President Eyring. She also was a Church Service
Missionary, working as a news editor at Church Magazines, between full-time missions.
Laurie has traveled to all 50 states and at least 45 countries (so far). Home is American Fork,
Utah. She serves on the board of the Timpanogos Symphony Orchestra and loves good music,
good books, and good chocolate.
Laurie is currently serving with her husband in an MTC branch presidency