My Spiritual Experience and Conversion
By Steven O’Dell
I was raised by good parents who cared for their children, seeing to their needs and education in all ways within their means. We were rich in love, if not in money. I attended the occasional church meeting over the years, but not enough to say I was religiously inclined or informed. My grandparents on both sides of the family were worthy of being called saints, if ever there were any. They were God-fearing and -respecting believers. No better people existed than them.
While in high school, I got an interest in attending a church that some friends were affiliated with. It was a local branch of The Church of Christ. I was even baptized by the pastor while I was there. We went on trips as a youth group and had a good time, but there always seemed to be something missing from the experience. It felt like there needed to be more than social gatherings.
Along the way, I fell in with the wrong crowd and began to experiment with marijuana and other so-called ‘recreational’ drugs. Needless to say, my church attendance fell to zero. None of those so-called friends, or even the pastor, came to find out where I had disappeared to. I would have thought that a casual question at school would have been appropriate, but no such thing happened.
By the winter of 1971, I was your typical hippie–involved in drugs, rock and roll music, and sexual immorality. I had been arrested on a misdemeanor for possession of marijuana and was given a year of probation. At heart, I wasn’t a bad person, but just had developed bad habits. I was sensitive to others (as sensitive as you could be when under the occasional influence of drugs, friends with poor habits themselves, and the self-centered philosophies of the sixties). I was not by any means a drug addict, but I was not wise in the choices of what I put into my body or my mind.
After approximately ten times of using LSD, I mentioned to a friend how it no longer seemed to satisfy me and that something was missing from the experience. He suggested that perhaps I was searching for the wrong thing. Just that simple statement. I left the conversation not knowing what I should be looking for but knowing somehow there might be significance in his suggestion.
One night, another friend and I were sharing an LSD experience when it took an amazing turn for both of us. Dan and I were feeling the effects strongly and sitting at the kitchen table in discussion when suddenly we both dropped our jaw in astonishment at a change we were both aware of simultaneously. No longer were we the only ones in the room. The effects of the LSD were totally gone and replaced by something so much more powerful as to defy all description. There was now a superior intelligent presence there with us and we both knew it without a shadow of doubt. We could not see it, nor did we hear it, but it nonetheless communicated with us, spirit to spirit. Our first impulse was great fear, as neither of us had ever felt such a presence. Somehow there was a tangible feeling of overwhelming love and peace that assured us we were in no danger. I can only compare it to the feeling of getting a big hug from someone you love deeply.
For the next several hours, Dan and I experienced an input of intelligence–pure knowledge–that neither of us had known otherwise. Every fifteen minutes, one of us would become the mouthpiece for the Spirit of God and would speak and teach things previously unknown to us. The truly incredible thing is that when the change would come (from one of us being the mouthpiece to the other taking over) it often happened in the middle of a sentence, with no hesitation at all. The other would pick up not only the same thought, but the very same word that was to come next in the sentence. We were literally two mouths sharing the same mind. It was like plugging into the switchboard of Heaven. The Holy Ghost was in control.
As I said, this went on for several hours. We then tried to get some rest, but there was no way to do so, as excited as we were. Again we ended up at the table, teaching each other more that we didn’t know before, but by the Spirit that was now with us. Later, we decided to go for a walk. It was winter evening in Indiana and snow was on the ground. As we walked, I looked up and stopped dead in my tracks, for in the sky, for the briefest moment, I saw a vision of God on His throne in the Heavens. As I exclaimed this aloud, Dan was stunned to hear it. I also was told by the Spirit that the earth was like a huge crystal and man was defiling it with his wicked ways. This crystal was like a huge Urim and Thummim, the device used by prophets of old to gain insights into the things of God. That the earth itself was such a means was a totally new concept to me, as was another that I got as we walked. I was given the insight that my body was simply a means of travel and a dwelling for my spirit body and my intelligence. I knew without a doubt that I had lived before this world and had been sent here for a purpose that I as yet didn’t understand.
Other things happened that night that were quite remarkable. A favorite music album that we had listened to many times before now took on new meaning. I am a firm believer that God teaches us after the manner of our own understanding, whether it be symbols, mathematics, or music. The LP we had was Fire and Water (definite scriptural symbolism there) by a group called Free. The thought kept coming into my head–”the truth shall set you free.” I had no idea where this came from, as I wasn’t too in tune with the Bible at that time of my life. But the Spirit told us to play this record over and over, specifically one song called “Heavy Load.”
This song had a lumbering, heavy, plodding beat, as if a man was walking with his last available energy, just barely able to drag himself down the road. It told of a man who had taken the wrong turn in his life and was indeed carrying a heavy load, due to his decisions. As the needle hit the first note of the song, both Dan and I felt a tremendously heavy weight press down upon us until we were crushed to the floor and reduced to sobbing and uncontrollable tears. This didn’t end until the last strains of the final note had faded. When the weight lifted from us, we were able to stand and talk again. We were allowed about five minutes’ break and then were moved to listen again, with the same results as before. Many times we were instructed to repeat this sequence. Every time the music began, we were pressed down with the weight of our sins, as I know it to be now.
I had heard the song many times before, but the lyrics were transformed as I listened. What had once been “oh, I’m carrying a heavy load–can’t go no further down; it’s the wrong road” now became “Lord, I’m carrying a heavy load….” Surprisingly, Dan heard no change in the song. We had experienced almost everything in total synchronization. Now we had a major difference.
That night, as we talked between playings of the song, Dan would see shadow figures that would hide in the dark corners when he turned to look at them. It was as if the demons knew he could see them. I could not see them. Perhaps this was not my gift, but his. We went from room to room, turning on lights–desiring light instead of darkness. When we left the rooms, other people living in the house would turn them off and hide in the darkness. They left rooms as we entered. Not that they were sharing the experience in any way, but they seemed to know that there was definitely something highly unusual going on. They just didn’t want any part of it.
I went from being gone a week at a time, my parents not knowing if I was even alive, to being home every night and reading the Bible. My parents knew that something miraculous had taken place, but even when I tried to explain, they really couldn’t comprehend it. And they never asked any questions, which was surprising to me. Perhaps they were just glad I was home and safe.
About six months later, I was the only one home when the missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came to the door. I would have previously turned them away, but I was now interested in hearing what they had to say. They introduced themselves as Elders of the church–Elders Atwater and Catmull. And as they taught me the things I had previously learned by the Spirit of God (doctrines uniquely LDS), I became excited because I recognized the teachings and they rang true again in my soul. I think they were surprised to have me so receptive, saying over and over again, “I know! I know!”
At a certain point, I knew I had to ask my parents to listen, too. They had politely said their hellos and left the room during the first discussion or so. I went to get them and told them they had to hear it as well. From then on they sat in and they, too, became convinced it was the truth. Within a month of my baptism, the rest of the family was baptized. Shortly after we began to be taught, Elder Catmull was transferred to a new assignment and Elder Fisher took his place. Fisher/Atwater–another sign to me that this was the Lord’s will.
But an interesting thing happened while my family members were being taught. My sister had been attending another congregation of The Church of Christ and had mentioned that we were studying with the Mormons. Suddenly those who were nowhere to be seen when I was into drugs, having overdoses, and being arrested were coming out of the woodwork to save us from the Mormons.
One night I was visited by the pastor who had baptized me into The Church of Christ. I hadn’t seen him for ages, but here he was. I told him that I was convinced that if the true church was on the earth, it would have the same organization of apostles and prophets, the same gifts of the Spirit, and the same miracles as was in the ancient church. He smiled in an amused way, turned his Bible to the New Testament, and proceeded to show me the points that were connected with the apostles. He then told me that since they were no longer on the earth, the ancient authority was now gone, as well as miracles and powers from God. As he had listed their authorities and powers, he mentioned baptism, which had stood out like a neon light to me. I asked him if he’d had the authority to baptize me and he began to stammer and stutter, trying to find words to explain his way out of it. I couldn’t let him change the subject. And being just green enough to be less than tactful, I asked in no uncertain terms, “Did you have authority to baptize me or not? This is my eternal salvation we are talking about.” He again tried to answer, but could not, so he left and never came back. I have often wondered how he dealt with answering that question for himself.
One night a friend of my dad’s, who worked with him, came with a minister while we were having a session with the missionaries before the baptism of the rest of my family. This minister kept insisting that the Book of Mormon had been changed and was no longer in its original form. I held one out to him and asked him to show me. He backed up as if I was about to hurt him. Again and again he insisted it was changed. When I again held it out and asked for an example, he simply said, “I wouldn’t touch that perverted book.” I have never seen my father move so fast, before or since. He came off the couch at the far end of the room, and I thought he was about to grab the man by the lapels. Instead, he stopped short, directly in front of him and announced in a voice of authority, “I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you gentlemen to leave.” There was no doubt that he meant it and they complied immediately.
After they left, he paced the floor several times, from one end of the room to the other. When he finally stopped pacing and shaking his head in agitation, he said simply, “There must be something to it or they wouldn’t fight it so hard.” What wonderful insight he had and how true that proved to be.
For all the years since I was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in late 1971, I have made it a mental exercise to find weak points, chinks in the story or doctrines. I have succeed a few times, or so I thought, until the details and answers were provided to me. I then had more evidence of its truthfulness. And year after year, the evidence becomes more and more convincing. However, if I were to rely on that kind of evidence alone, I would be deceiving myself. How I know the truth of it is far more powerful and more convincing. I know it to be true because the Spirit has born witness to my soul that it is true. There is no substitute for the Holy Ghost telling you the truth of a matter. No message goes deeper or lasts longer. All else is just corroborating evidence. It is the personal testimony and witness of the Spirit that is the convincer.
I mentioned that the Lord uses the manner of our own understanding to teach us. He used parables with those who understood them. He used symbolisms to teach those who recognized them. He did the same with me, although many were recognized only later. The apartment where my experience took place was on Smith Street. Joseph Smith was the founder of the Restoration and the first prophet in our day. A few streets from there was Taylor Street. John Taylor was a prophet of the church, as well. The name Fire and Water on the LP was significant, as was the name of the band, Free. The previous LP had been called Tons of Sobs, something that Daniel and I had experienced that night in full detail. Even the names Daniel and Steven are Biblical names, although the spelling of mine is different. The name Daniel means “Judge of God” and Stephen means “Crown.” The Lord established in the mouths of two witnesses that night, just as he promised in scripture that he would, and just as he did with the missionaries he sent to our home. The names of the missionaries, Fisher and Atwater, had Biblical significance and symbolism.
The teaching of a pre-mortal existence, having a body of flesh to carry our immortal spirit, that the earth itself will become a Urim and Thummim and many more, are uniquely LDS teachings. And what impressed me most was that these young men knew the answers. You couldn’t stump them–ever. The gospel as taught by the LDS Church was impeccable in every way. It not only answered every question, but brought up new and deep questions you had never before considered and answered them satisfactorily. And these were not run-of-the-mill questions and answers. They were ones that dealt with the eternal nature of man and God and the relationship they have. The Church answers the questions of where we came from, why we are here, and where we are going after this life. It tells us that we are the children of royal lineage–children of God Himself–and as such, have a greater measure of creation to live up to than we thought. It tells us the nature of this world and why it was created for man.
The true church also provides insight into the ancient church, the Apostasy and falling away, the true knowledge that was available to ancient prophets and much more. Above all, it teaches us that God is not unreachable or untouchable, but is accessible to His children, if they will seek Him out. It tells us of our Father’s intent for us to become just as He is–eternal beings in nature, power and wisdom–and that this is not blasphemy to know it to be so.
My wish for any who read this is that they will give it a chance, listen to the teachings, pray about the truth of them (without any pre-determined biases or prejudices), and allow God to witness unto them the truth of it. If you are sincere, you will know, for the Spirit cannot lie and the peace and warmth you will feel will assure you of the truth. As the men on the road to Emmaus said of Christ, “Did not our heart burn within us?” By this same means will you know of its truth. God bless you to that end and may he bring you into his one true fold.
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