This week on Times and Seasons several of us will be sharing conversion stories, whether discussing our own conversion to the restored gospel or that of others. We figured that there are few things more appropriate to Thanksgiving week then to reflect upon those events for which many of us have cause to be deeply thankful.
I have no conversion story; at least, not in the aforementioned sense. Like any member of the church, I can remind myself of the Lord’s counsel to Peter–“When thou art converted…”–and think about how much further I have to go on my own spiritual path. Nonetheless, my particular path has always been a Mormon one; I was born into the church, to parents very much settled in their own membership. But there is a conversion story in my family worth sharing.
My grandmother, Edra Young, was born in 1910, in Lethbridge, Alberta. Her father was a grandson of Brigham Young, but the faith of his fathers’ wasn’t strong enough in him to prevent him from abandoning his family when Edra was a child. Her mother went back to school, and then took a job that eventually led her to New York City and away from the church, leaving Edra and her sister to be raised primarily by her maternal grandparents in Cardston. Her grandfather did the landscaping for the Alberta Temple, and it was perhaps her early exposure to that beautiful place that gave her the determination to make better choices than her parents had.
But she was a young woman without many prospects. Educated in Lethbridge, then nursing school in Salt Lake City, then a degree in pediatrics in New York City, and no worthy young men came calling. She moved to Spokane, WA, where her sister lived, and worked in a hospital there. Soon thereafter she met a tall, beak-nosed (and hard-nosed) rancher’s son named Bill Fox; he was not a member. But she saw something in him, loved him and knew he would give her children and a home to raise them in. They were married in 1939, and had three children: my aunt Marilyn, my father Jim, and my uncle Chuck.
In the 1930s, there was only one small branch of the church in Spokane. Edra could easily have drifted away from the faith. But she did not. For nearly 22 years, she took her children to church, where they were taught and baptized and gained their own testimonies. She would strategically leave church books and other literature around the house, hoping her husband would read some of them. He did, but all it did was strengthen his determination to make certain his children did all that their mother required of them. He often said that if his children were going to Mormons, they were going to be good ones; my father remembers that whenever any of the children gave Edra trouble about going to church, Bill would point out some fence that needed mending, or a barn stall that needed cleaning. He read the Book of Mormon, and endured the whole set of missionary discussions more than a half-dozen times. (One of those unlucky missionaries later moved back to Spokane and married my Aunt Marilyn.) As the local church grew, and Edra’s involvement increased–stake primary board, one of the founders of the local seminary program–Bill’s support of her increased also. But he still wasn’t interested. And still Grandma Edra loved him and worked beside him and prayed for him.
Then one day in 1961, just a short while before my father left for his first year of college at BYU, one of the many missionaries that Grandma and Grandpa hosted at their home asked a surprising question: “Why haven’t you joined the church yet, Brother Fox?” Not an attempt to resolve concerns; a challenge. And my grandfather realized he had no good answer. Who knows what was going through his mind that day? He never wrote down his feelings. But whatever he felt inside himself was enough to make him follow through on something my grandmother had been praying about for over two decades. He was baptized on July 31, 1961. He had joked–and you’d have to have known my grandfather to know just how intimidating his “jokes” could often seem–that he wouldn’t let himself be baptized if the water wasn’t warm. Of course, that meant someone forgot to turn on the furnace, and the water was quite cold. Many of those assembled wondered if Bill Fox, the man of his word, wouldn’t go through with it. He smiled at my father and the missionaries and his wife, and said it was all right, the church was still true. As my father put his father under the water, those present reported that a powerful spirit unexpectedly descended upon them all; it was, some later said, the nearest they’d ever been to the Holy Ghost. In 1962, just before my father left for England on his mission, Bill and Edra Fox were sealed to each other and their children for time and all eternity in the Cardston Temple, completing a quest my grandmother had begun perhaps 40 years before.
There is a lot more to our family than this story, but without this story, our family would not be the family I know. It is a story of the example of someone who easily need not have been one; and it is the story of someone she converted through that example, though she was not the one who asked all the questions. Grandma and Grandpa are both gone now, but his decision and her example, still fill me with thankfulness, and probably always will.