The Christian evangelistic team visiting in town sprinted around the parking lot of the high school, their breath visible in the crisp January air. I watched them from my front porch. This was the second time they had been in St. Anthony.
The first time was right after my salvation. That time I had worked with another converted Mormon to bring the team to town. Now, several months after my excommunication, they were back.
Things had changed since then. Along with Margarettas restoration to health, she had softened a bit. We continued to attend the Community Church together, plus she had not attended the Mormon church for several weeks.
Everyone I knew was praying for Margaretta. They even let her sing at Christian functions, since they believed she was on her way into the Kingdom of God and wanted to help her along.
Margaretta, in turn, had come to accept my Christian friends. The people she "hated" turned out to be a lot of fun. One of those fun people was Katy.
Katy Cranford was a woman everyone loved. She was fearless, though sometimes she spoke first and thought later. So every time she got around my wife I got nervous. Everyone else walked around on eggshells, trying to protect Margarettas feelings. Not Katy.
One day, for example, she whirled into the house and gasped, "It just makes me sick."
Margarettas eyes widened. "What makes you sick?"
"Oh, I dont know," Katy said. "I always get sick when I go by a Mormon church. I mean, you can just feel the blackness!"
"You can?" Margaretta asked incredulously.
"Oh, absolutely. I mean, its like driving by a funeral parlor!"
"Well, Katy," I interrupted. "Thats really interesting. Say, by the way, how is Dale doing?"
"Dont interrupt," Margaretta said. "What do you mean you can feel the blackness?"
And so it would go. It was the most unlikely friendship you could imagine. Katy was the last person I would have thought God could use to relate to Margaretta. But Margaretta just loved Katy, who could say anything to her. And usually did! They struck up a close friendship. They both loved to sing and made a strange couple doing special music at Christian functionsKaty, the effervescent auto-harpist, and Margaretta, the Mormon soprano.
It was not until later that Margaretta confided to me what she was thinking during this time. She had come, after two years, to have serious doubts about the Mormon Church. Though she didnt want me to know, she had begun reading Christian tracts and literature I left lying around, careful to replace them so they appeared undisturbed. She had even looked at some of my private study materials prepared by former Mormons and cult investigators. One day, reading Dr. Walter Martins Kingdom of the Cults, she got so mad she threw it across the room. But she retrieved it and read some more.
A month or so after my excommunication, Margaretta and her mother sang in the Yellowstone Stake Conference Relief Society Choir. As she described it later, she looked out that night at 2,000 dedicated Mormon faces listening to the droning of boring statistical reports, and could actually see the emptiness. Wasnt faith more than religion and church meetings? Where was the life? The joy? Did they never talk about Jesus in these meetings?
One night not long after, she and Katy sang at the Christian Center in Idaho Falls. By this time, Margaretta was beginning to search with genuine openness, recognizing that Christianity and Mormonism could not both be right.
In particular, she was interested in the concept of salvation by grace. Christians kept telling her she could not make herself acceptable to God by her good works. That if she went to heaven it would be on the merits of Christ alone. That she needed to be saved by grace. It was a concept she could not understand.
And the Christian Center meeting was strange to her. The people were joyful, all right, but they seemed too exuberant, not "reverent" enough. One little white-haired lady in particular appeared too demonstrative in her praise.
Lord, she prayed, show me something that will prove to me what is right and what is wrong.
After the meeting, she and Katy went out to find that the car would not start. At their sides, offering a ride and assistance, were the little white-haired lady and her husband, Alice and Bob Johnson. Later, at the Johnsons home, Margaretta saw a poster taped to the back of a door:
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.(Ephesians 2:8-9)
She was shocked! What was going on here? She read it and reread it.
This cant be true, she said to herself. And this couldnt be the King James Version. But if it were, it would be a message from God. Could He be answering my prayer?
She could not bring herself to ask Bob or Alice Johnson about the poster. But when she got home she went into the bedroom and pulled out the worn, marked-up King James Version that she had used since childhood. She opened it nervously to Ephesians. Then she began to weep. The words were exactly the same as on the poster. God was actually speaking to her. He really did love her!
One day I came home and found her reading the Book of Mormon. Beside her book was a tract pointing out the errors in Mormonism. She didnt say anything to me, but as I looked at her, I could see hurt and confusion in her eyes. I had mixed emotions. Part of me rejoiced as I saw her begin to become aware of the truth; part of me empathized with the pain that truth brought.
Margarettas diary from January 7, 1976, reads:
I have come to the conclusion that the LDS Church is not true. I dont know whether to be mad or glad; I finally figured it out with the help of the Lord. I am confused as to what to do now, though.
She was ready to listen. She began to talk freely with Mike Shaw. Two Sundays in a row, as she sat in the choir at the Community Church, she listened to Pastor Shaw preach on hell. She realized she was a sinner. She knew that if she died she would go to hell. She began to open her heart to God.
And now, on January 19, 1976, the evangelistic team had returned to St. Anthony for a second engagement in the high school auditorium. This time the crowd was not as large. The main evangelist preached a hard sermon that evening. He talked about stubborn hearts that resisted the grace of God.
I was a counselor. At the end of the sermon, at the appointed moment, I stood up and walked forward with those who wanted to receive Jesus as personal Savior.
As we stood around the foot of the stage, I closed my eyes and prayed. Within moments I felt a nudge at my side. Margaretta was standing beside me with head bowed, tears streaming down her cheeks. Beside her was eight-year-old Erin, also weeping, also accepting the simple message of the gospel. That night, after two years of waiting, God gave me back my wife and my daughter.
As I looked at them, my own eyes shining with tears, I remembered that God had said, No deals, Jim. No fleet rates. Your family is My business. I also remembered that when I had given in to Jesus on the Sugar City Curve two years earlier, He had said to me, Son, I love you more than you can possibly understand. I had come to realize that in losing my life for Christs sake, I had found it. Gods timing and faithfulness were better than any plan I could have worked out.
The work Jesus had done in our hearts was well done. Every sophisticated argument was swept aside. No doctrinal snare, no demonic power, no worldly pressure could withstand the love of God. I could only marvel at Gods amazing grace.
Margaretta and I looked at each other through the tears. We looked at our little blonde angel staring seriously at the preacher on the stage.
Margaretta reached over and took my hand. "Ive come home, Jim," she said.