Last Sunday, we sang “I Stand All Amazed” for our sacrament hymn as my wife led the music. As I sat next to our daughter in the congregation, I remembered the first time I ever sang that hymn.
I was a teenager and investigating the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to the horror and disapproval of my parents. I attended that evening meeting at the invitation of a close friend who had joined the Church five months earlier. It was at the Gabriel Park Ward in Portland, Oregon. It was the first time I had ever attended a sacrament meeting.
I don’t remember what the opening or closing hymns were, but for some reason I remember that hymn by Charles H. Gabriel:
I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me,
Confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me.
I tremble to know that for me he was crucified,
That for me, a sinner, he suffered, he bled and died.
I had attended church with my family my entire life, but the peace and stillness I felt at that meeting was different than anything I had ever experienced. A young couple spoke. I don’t remember their names, but I had never heard such faith, commitment and reverence over the pulpit before. Somehow, I was transformed, changed forever. That was my day of decision. It was Sunday, October 12, 1975.
I made my way home to our ranch where I lived some 60 or 70 miles south of Portland. My dad was home alone. (My mother, who was bedridden, was away for her annual check up.) He nervously asked me if I went to Church that day. When I told him I had gone to the “Mormon Church,” all heck broke lose. What I felt at sacrament meeting was tested to it’s full dimension.
My father, who happened to be drunk at the time, maligned the Church with all his wit and power. With a cigarette in one hand and glass of Scotch whiskey in the other, he said, “I’m ashamed before God.” But I controverted him and within a matter of minutes, I was kicked out of the house, banished to the blackness of the night.
I loaded a few meager belongings up, and drove back to Portland. I didn’t know what my fate would be, but at that moment, I thought I was cast into outer darkness by my father for recognizing the brightest light I had ever seen. But I did not despair. I felt a wonderful comfort that was both familiar and unfamiliar. Somehow, I knew I was doing the right thing. I knew I had taken a stand for my new found faith. It was a small faith, like a mustard seed, but it was growing fast.
Two days later, I met my future wife Cristi for the first time. I went to early morning seminary with my friend who had invited me to Church. Cristi was sitting with her sister on my left and she about knocked me out with her beauty. Later, Cristi told me that her sister said after seminary, “He’s just an old cowboy.” I don’t suppose I was much to look at that day, but I am grateful that beautiful girl was kind to me, and ultimately, took a chance on me.
Within a few weeks, I was baptized and confirmed into the Church. A year after that, I went on a mission, and within seven months after returning home off that mission, I married that girl I met in seminary in the Manti Temple. We have (nearly) raised three beautiful daughters together and just celebrated our 32nd anniversary in August. We have a very happy marriage, though we have had many trials together. Maybe it’s the trials that make (or break) a marriage.
I am grateful for that fateful day in October 1975. It has made all the difference. It has not been an easy road. It has been a long road, but it has been the right road for me. Joy has always overshadowed the pain and sacrifice.
I am grateful that I made my commitment to follow my Heavenly Father that day, even though it was one of the most difficult days of my life. It has been 36 years ago now, but He has never let me down. I’ll never forget that day, nor that hymn.
Oh, it is wonderful that he should care for me,
Enough to die for me.
Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me.