Thursday, January 20, 2011

Love + Example + Truth = Conversion

I've heard parents talk about their teenage children falling into "puppy love", dismissing the idea that any teenager could be capable of ever really being "in love". Not me! I'm here to declare that at the age of 15 I fell in love with Jim Phillips. I wasn't looking for love but Jim didn't give me much choice. He was truly amazing! He was perceptive beyond his years. He was passionate. He was loyal. He had an unbelievable ability to communicate in a way that I'd never been exposed to before. He deeply loved the Savior. And he was totally and completely whipped over me and didn't care who knew it! HE SAW ME!! How could a girl resist that?

Through the ensuing years I have pondered on why I met him at such a young age. I would never have chosen an 8 year courtship. But looking back I can recognize the hand of the Lord. I was sent to keep Jim safe from the world and to eventually be the instrument the Lord used to introduced him to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Not that Jim didn't know and love the Savior. I realized early on that even though Jim was a Catholic he knew Christ and loved him deeper than I did. It was this realization that propelled me, at age 16, to read "Jesus, the Christ" by James Talmadge. That book became foundational to my personal relationship with Christ and it was all motivated by what I witnessed in Jim.

For the first two years of our relationship our biggest disagreement was always about religion. Jim loved the Catholic church and I loved my Mormon church. In our immaturity we would begin by sharing, then debating, then disagreeing over doctrine and end in a fight over which church was right. It finally got to a point that we had to call a truce. Contention was not getting us anywhere!

During these years one of the great blessings in softening Jim's heart was my family. He came to truly love and value my parents and siblings. He had been raised in a wonderful family of truly great individuals, but because his dad, in his anxiousness to provide for his large family, worked every day of the year there was never any family time or creating memories together. No vacations, no parent participation at sporting events, each child ended up doing their own thing. My family was very different! Because of our understanding that families are eternal, our parents taught that no one was more important than each other. Our loyalty to family was first and foremost. Jim's first camping trip was with my family. It was my father who taught Jim how to water ski and drive a boat. Jim watched my parents attend EVERYTHING each of their children participated in. Jim found safety and acceptance in the sweet love and listening ear of my mother. He watched a father put his family's needs before anything else. He saw the gospel in action and he desired its fruits for himself.

Another turning point happened when Jim was in his freshman year at Cuesta College. He had been attending the Newman Center, a catholic youth group for college students. The priest that headed up this group had become a dear friend and mentor. Because of his popularity with the youth it caused a political upheaval in the hierarchy of the catholic church leadership and he was removed from his position. Jim was devastated.

Then another blow came. At this same time there came an edict from the Vatican headquarters announcing some changes to the doctrine and practices of the catholic church that had been in place for hundreds of years. Jim was baffled. He couldn't understand how something could be true for centuries and then be arbitrarily changed by men. It rocked Jim's world and his faith in the Catholic church was shaken.

The time was right! It was June, right after Jim's freshman year. He was 19 1/2 years old. I asked Jim if he would agree to taking the missionary discussions. He agreed to listen and also made a commitment to live like a Mormon for the next 3 months of summer. He would keep the standards of the church, read the Book of Mormon and study "A Marvelous Work and a Wonder". He would take the 7 discussions and at the end of summer he would make his decision.

I remember begging the Lord to send missionaries that Jim would be able to relate to. To my delight a new set of missionaries was sent that very month. One of the Elders fit my requirements perfectly. The senior companion, Elder Woods, was a tall, skinny, nerdy Elder from Springville Utah. He was exactly what I DIDN'T want. It was the other missionary that I was sure was sent by God to teach Jim. He was an Elder from Canada who had played football in high school and a year of college. He was big and buff and very "cool".

Jim took the discussions sitting at my parents' kitchen table. What a privilege it was for me to sit and hear the gospel taught to a non-member. As Jim was taught, my own testimony deepened and was enriched. It soon became apparent I had been wrong about which Elder was sent to teach Jim. Nerdy Elder Woods won both our hearts with his deep humility, gospel understanding and love for Jim. He taught with power and conviction. When he testified, no one could deny he knew what he was teaching was true. I will forever be grateful for our precious Elder Woods.

I will let Jim write of his marvelous conversion story.

I want to share one experience we had together before his baptism. He had informed his mom of his desire to be baptized. One evening about a week before his baptism date we were called to his home by his mother. When we got there we found his family had set up two chairs surrounded by a semi-circle of chairs in the back yard. The chairs were occupied by some of Jim's best friends, their parents and all of Jim's siblings and parents. Unbeknown to us, Jim's mother had in her hands one of the first copies of a horrendous anti-Mormon book. She preceded to bombard us with accusations and statements taken from this book. Others in the group would yell out their comments, demanding answers. We were both young and inexperienced. We simply had no answers for some of the things they were saying. It was horrible!

This went on for over an hour. Finally Jim stopped everyone and turning to his mom,with tears in his eyes, said simply, "Mom I don't know the answers to these questions. I promise one day I will. But right now all I know is what God has told me, that the church is true. So you go and fight with God."

It was after Jim's mission, driving his mom home from Santa Barbara, that he was able to finally answer all her questions she had demanded to know that horrible night. Then our precious Ysabel asked Jim's forgiveness. She told him, "I just don't know what got into me!"

That was a blessed and sacred summer. I got to watch the Lord turn Jim's heart. I witnessed the fire of the Holy Ghost burn a testimony into Jim's soul of the truthfulness of the gospel; a testimony, that in the 42 years since, has NEVER faltered. His decision at the end of summer to be baptized was met with horrible persecution. His family and friends disowned and shunned him. Yet, because of the power of his personal witness and conversion, he never was swayed. He was baptized on August 31, 1968 by my father and confirmed and given the Holy Ghost by our beloved Elder Woods.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

San Luis Obispo; The Beginning

Our family moved to San Luis Obispo in 1961 when I was 10 years old. We had lived in Tulare for the previous 5 years. Tulare is found in middle of the San Joaquin Valley. Within an hour's drive there were several lakes and rivers. It was here that we begin the tradition of camping and boating that would eventually define our family and hold us close together for years to come. It had been a wonderful experience living in that small farming community. But my dad had an opportunity to buy his own garage and gas station in San Luis Obispo. What sealed the deal for my parents was the fact that there was a LDS ward there, not a branch like in Tulare. My oldest brother was turning 16 and my parents wanted the influence of a bigger ward and more youth to support us as we entered our teenage years. For me, I always felt like we moved there so I could find my childhood sweetheart who would eventually be my eternal companion.

I was just beginning 5th grade when we moved there. I was enrolled in a split 5th/6th grade class. I had always been tall and looked way older than I was but was mortified to find out the on my first day in class some of the students in the class thought I was the new Student Teacher. Not only was I not the Student Teacher, I was only a 5th grader!!!

Luckily I had a very special, very tall, very compassionate teacher; Mrs. Baldridge, who knew what it felt like to be the tallest kid in the class. She took me under her wing and became one of my most influential teachers. She was a gifted teacher and she loved me.

When I was starting 6th grade we moved across town to the house that I spent the remainder of my growing up years in. With that move I once again had to start over in a new elementary school, but now I was a "big" 6th grader. It wasn't nearly as difficult. Once again I was blessed with a outstanding teacher; Mr. Peterson.

I loved that house and to this day still think of it as "Home". It was only a couple years later that my maternal grandparents bought the lot directly behind us and built their home right behind ours. I grew up feeling I was surrounded by LOVE!

Growing up I had always preferred boys as my closest friends. There was always so much less drama and backbiting with boys than with girls. I felt lucky to have moved into a neighborhood full of boys who I quickly made into best friends. The only problem was even though I was only 11, 12, 13 years old, I looked 17. My heart was broken on several occasions when my guy friend's mom would call my mom concerned about me going after their sons. It would break my heart. Luckily my mom would defend me, defusing the situation and calming their fears. How could I ever let a woman like my Mom down?

The summer before I started High School I met Jim Phillips. I never dreamed at the time that I had just met the boy I would eventually marry. I had heard of "The Phillips Boys" for several years. They were famous in our town because there was 6 of them and they were "wild". Two of them, Tom and Pete, had transferred from a Catholic High School to our public high school the year before. I had met all of them except the red head; Jim. I was told by some of my friends that he was the nicest of all the Phillips boy.

The first time I laid eyes on Jim was while I was waiting out in a car for a guy friend who had gone into a convenience store. Up walked a group of guys that I knew, all except one of them. They introduced him as Jim Phillips. Finally I had met Jim Phillips, the nice one. The next time I saw him was at Avila Beach, our local summer hangout. There had been a boy who "liked" me at the beach that day looking for me. I was walking done the sidewalk along the beach when I saw him coming towards me. Looking around for help, I saw that Phillips boy Jim sitting on the sea wall. I ran over and plopped down next to him, told him about the guy and asked him to "rescue me", which he willingly did.

I ended up spending the whole day being rescued by Jim.

During the summer my mom was adamant that we children not waste every day at the beach so we were required to go to summer school, even if our grades were good. That same week I had spent the day with Jim at the beach, he decided to come pick me up from summer school. As we pulled out of the parking lot, I spotted my mom, there to pick me up. Jim got out of the car and came over to smoozed the mom. He was always so good at that. I got into the car with my mom and the first words out of her mouth were, "What a cute boy he is!" My reply, "Are you kidding? He's got RED HAIR!"

Well, I quickly got over the red hair. That summer was magic. Even though we couldn't officially date, we had so many fun group experiences together. He was different from any of the boys I knew. Although he was Catholic, I realized he had a love and relationship with the Savior that far exceeded mine. He was deeply spiritual and the best communicator I'd ever been with. I was his first real love and he fell hard, knowing from the beginning that he would eventually marry me. I loved that my parents adored him, as did he them. He just fit!!! Little did I know that summer that this relationship would end up lasting for the next eight years!

The Love of a big sister

I always felt like the lucky one in my family. I was born smack dab in the middle of my family with an oldest brother, Marc. Then came my older sister, Heidi. Below me was my younger sister Tani and then the baby was Todd. I had the benefit of having access to an older brother and sister and a younger brother and sister; the best of both worlds.

I always considered my siblings my best friends. There was no one I would rather hang out with than my siblings. When we would go on vacation, our parents never let us bring friends along. Instead they encouraged us to play with and cherish one another. My mom would always tell us that friends were temporary but brothers and sisters were friends forever. It was only when we got older and had boyfriends (or my brother's girlfriends) that we were finally allowed to bring them along on our vacations.

I loved all my siblings, but as I was growing up I ADORED my older sister, Heidi!!! She was almost 3 years older than I was. I thought she was AMAZING and my idea of heaven was when she would consent to play with me
I can never remember a time growing up that I didn't want to be just like my big sister, Heidi!  She was my hero.  She was almost 3 years older than I was, yet I figured whatever she did I should be able to do, too.   I'm sure I was the annoying little sister, always wanting to tag along and imitate everything she did.  That's why an experience I had as a 6 year old has stayed with me for over a half a century!

It started on a Saturday morning.  It was our family's routine to do our big chores on Saturday.  That morning our mom had informed Heidi and I that we were responsible to not only clean our bedroom we shared, but to also clean out, organize and put away everything we'd stuffed under the beds and in the closet for the past month.  Mom gave us strict orders that we were not to come out of the room until it was done!

It literally took most that day to complete, not so much because of the job itself, but because we ended up having so much fun doing it.  I remember playing and laughing and then working a little, playing and laughing and working a little more. By late afternoon it was finally completed.  To my surprise it ended up being a blast. It had been so fun to be shut up in that room with my sister for most the day.

When Mom passed inspection on the room and dismissed us, to my utter surprise and delight Heidi asked if I wanted to go with her to Molly's house and play.  Now you must understand I was only 6.  Heidi was 9, as was her friend Molly.  I was overwhelmed that she would include me with her "grownup" friends.

Molly lived down the street from us so we walked over to her house and knocked on the door.  Molly opened the door and was clearly delighted to see Heidi standing there.  My eyes grew huge as I looked at Molly.  She was dressed in a long grownup dress, high heels, white gloves, hat and long beads.  She was playing DRESS UP!!!!  That was one of my favorite things to do in the whole world!

Slowing Molly's eyes settled on me.  "What's SHE doing here?"  Heidi replied we were both here to play with her.  Molly looked at me again and said, "Heidi you can come in, but SHE has to go home."

I was devastated.  With my head hung low I turned to leave.  That's when I heard the words that I've never forgotten.  "If Starla can't play, then I don't want to play, either."  Had there ever been sweeter words spoken than these?  Heidi chose ME!! My heart filled to overflowing with love for my sister.

Molly let me stay.  I remember thinking it wasn't all that fun playing dress up with Molly.  But that didn't matter.  My big sister had stuck up for ME!!!  My love and adoration knew no bounds.  She owned me then as she still does today. 

I feel it was one of the Lord's greatest blessings to me to have grown up with a older sister like Heidi. Her influence and example for good was critical for me through my teenage years.  She gave me courage to hold to the rod, to stay close to our parents, and not care what others thought but to always choose what was right. She was my rock! I owe her for all eternity and I adore her still!