It began sooner than I anticipated: Last week, I invited my best friend to join a new church friend and myself to a mid-older singles event.
It was just a little bbq behind a local meetinghouse, but it was where people first assumed I had been baptized by my best friend.
They didn’t know just how wrong they were.
Truth be told; I was expecting their assumptions. I expect many more people to assume the same thing. So, before the world jumps to the conclusion that my best friend converted and baptized me, I would like to tell my side of the story, and expose just how much of a misnomer that assumption would be.
I was introduced to Rick, Richard Alexander Larsen Sr., through several people on several different occasions. He became my best friend after we had both experienced a life event neither one of us had ever imagined: divorce.
Mine was after 22 years of marriage, 3 children and 3 grandchildren. His was after 27 years of marriage 6 children and 14 years of surviving stage IV renal cell carcinoma.
Neither of us were involved in the church at that time.
I would learn of his church history through his words. But I felt his anger at God.
Our histories regarding The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints were nearly opposite: I had once attended sacrament service with a friend of my mother’s when I was about 7 years old; He had been born into the light. His family were pioneers in the church, he descended by blood and by Priesthood from Zera Pulsipher & Clarence Larsen. He knew God and our Savior on a personal level. I did not.
We talked about God, Jesus, and spirituality quite constantly. His father and step-mother shared scripture passages with both of us through long phone conversations as well as email messages.
I thought I knew about God; but I did not understand Richard’s faith.
But I am getting ahead of myself a bit. When I met Rick, he was in a very dark period of his life. Many people on the outside, and some in his own family, assumed that he had embraced the darkness that appeared to be surrounding him. However, I saw a strange light within him. I was drawn to that light.
He confused, angered and frustrated me.
The intimacy defined by the touch of his forehead upon mine, sweeter than any kiss; left this former teenage mother confused and at times, in despair.
Here was a man who would tell me I was physically beautiful, lovingly call me a spiritually a child, and at the same time say that he also considered me very intelligent! I proceeded to misunderstand his every word.
He appeared extremely attracted to me, but yet did everything within his earthly power to resist acting upon those feelings.
In my mind, we were both divorced adults in our 40’s. I saw no evil in the act of physical intimacy. But as he knew, I was spiritually a child. I didn’t understand. He did. He tried to teach me. I didn’t comprehend what he was attempting to convey.
It was at this point he made a promise to me, to be my friend forever.
My heart was broken. I went searching for answers in the homes of my friends across the country as I traveled and explored the country and the people that I love.
This was October 10, 2010, at 10:10. It was a very binary moment.
I did trust God. I put my life in God’s hands as I traveled the country alone. First by train, then by car. First completely alone, only Christ by my side (I prayed constantly); then, in May 2011, my service dog and constant companion, Athena Brooke, joined my travels. Anyone who has ever had a constant companion in a canine knows that there is more of a connection between “dog” and “God” than dyslexia. I swear He communicated through her on several occasions! (but that is a story for another post at another time).
On several occasions, through my travels, (to the complete and utter confusion of many of our family members and friends) Rick and I spent time together. He would have an extra couch, or tent, and Athena and I would hang out with him and his dogs, until once again my heart would shatter for what I could not create from our friendship and I would resume my travels. I resumed my search.
In February of this year I finally reached the bottom, and finally started asking God some pretty intense questions. In answer I was impressed to resume the work on my genealogy in earnest, as well as to download the Book of Mormon. But, as soon as I formulated the idea that I may want to get baptized, demons from hell were unleashed against me.
My spiritual conversion could ONLY happen alone.
During most of the time leading up to my baptism, our communication was very restrained.
Not by me, as I was flooding his phone with texts and questions, knowing he knew the answers through the scripture better than anyone I knew. He had shared scripture stories with me for years; whereas I had never read the scriptures myself until this year.
But he was in a dark place, fighting depression and the demons that surrounded him.
When I messaged Rick, asking him if he thought I should be baptized; his answer (in spite of the chuckle I could FEEL on the other side), was a simple “if YOU think you should be.”
After that, in the midst of attacks from every son of Satan; I prayed that God would show me the true church and my path.
At this point in time, on the 6th of March, I silently wished that it had nothing to do with “Rick’s” church.
God knows me, He knows my heart, and I felt the overwhelming answer to my prayer: My granddaughter’s church was the true church.
Yes, my granddaughters and their mother and her mother are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
My path, though, would continue to be a solitary one, in regards to my best friend. I felt him out there.
But in spite of one of the strongest testimonies on earth, he was not attending church.
Speaking of HIS Testimony, or the reason that the masses would jump to the assumption he converted me; let me expound on that in my brief and broken way:
Rick has survived stage IV renal cell carcinoma for 15 years, so far, after having been given 3 months to live.
He is the only survivor of an experimental treatment program of which the initial numbers were 101.
He was given a Blessing.
He was healed.
I heard him speak his testimony daily for months. As one of his sons has stated, no one can listen to Rick bare his testimony and NOT believe.
Within me, I kept a part of his testimony that only he and I were aware of. I had felt his struggles with the commandments. I had been one of the very tools that Satan used against him.
As my pre-baptismal lessons began, I began to comprehend just who I had been to him. I started to feel the pain of repentance and my contrition was immense, as the sins I had committed against the friend I loved with all my heart became apparent to me. My eyes were being opened, and I was disgusted what I beheld.
I apologized to him, and to his father. I wanted to apologize to each of his children for even the way in which I had looked at him. I just hadn’t understood before this spring. Before I studied the commandments for myself, I didn’t know just how wrong I had been.
He didn’t ever steer me away from the church. In fact, when I went out to explore the country, he told me if ever I needed anything I could always go to The Church. But I fought against it. At that time, it was his “religion” that had kept us from being a couple.
In my immature mind, God had told me “no”, and I was a rebellious child screaming “WHY NOT?!?!?!” and kicking and screaming. It took me a few years to calm down from that tantrum and listen to what God was trying to tell me.
As I traveled the country, I received many reminders of the church. I have told the story of Temples at every “wrong turn” as being “stalked by Christ“. He was reminding me that He would be there when I was ready. And He was.
Through the last three years, Rick was there for me as well. Through texts and calls and late-night talks, he would tell me stories of his and his pioneer ancestors that inspired my further trust in God.
I now understand that he was sharing his ancestors’ testimonies.
But Rick remained away from the church, as I took the covenant of Baptism.
The day I was confirmed as a member of The Church, we talked on the phone for the first time in weeks. As I progressed in my spiritual journey, in my scripture reading as well as my involvement in The Church; our communication grew more frequent once again.
This culminated in our being in a ward meetinghouse together last week. Where, among a few gathered sisters and members of the Brethren, I heard the man I call my best friend call me his lifeline and share his testimony of his return to The Church.
I thank God for the friendship of this man I can now call Brother Larsen.
Only God understands the complicated people that we all are, and to each of us He grants us the guides we need and those we can help.
I thank God for every one of the gifts He has granted upon me. Some of those have been delivered through my best friend, Richard, and the Larsen family.
With the touch
of his forehead
he opened my
heart to break it
and claimed my soul
For Our Heavenly Father.
(note: this was written and published with Brother Larsen’s permission)