Growing up close to the center of the Church in Utah with pioneer background on every line was a marvelous experience. Those were the days that General Authorities commonly came to stake conferences and General Conference was a two-hour drive (now a 45-minute drive). I participated in the Church-wide June Conference in drama and dance, even shaking the hand of the president of the Church when he came to thank the cast. So testimony should have come easily. But testimony never comes easily.
At the center of the Church are different challenges to faith. Mormons of every type live next door, across the street, down the block. Mormons are our grocers, our physicians, our teachers, our politicians, our lawyers, our housewives, our merchants, our librarians, our alcoholics, and our criminals. Mormons are in our state house and they are in our prisons. There are faithful, strong saints and there are inactive members, hostile members, and excommunicated members all living here together.
We see the fantastic love and service of the saints and we see dirty laundry of the saints here. Working with faithful saints can lead to testimony-building experiences, but exposure to unexpected member flaws can lead to discouragement in testimony building—or a loss of testimony. In the small town where I grew up, when a person was called to a position of responsibility, we all knew if he/she was honest in business dealings (or not), kept the Word of Wisdom (or not), was a good father or mother (or not). We saints at the center, perhaps more than those wards and stakes whose members are scattered and not quite so visible, sometimes have a harder time to look past imperfections because they’re in our face. We have to constantly remind ourselves that we all have imperfections. Being nonjudgmental and forgiving of human frailties is an on-going challenge. Testimony has to be built on principles and the whisperings of the Spirit, not on human charisma or charming personality; it is not to be lost because someone seems to be a hypocrite. We can never judge because we do not know the entire truth. Only God knows that, and he is the final judge.
It is not by accident that many of the General Authorities come from the center of the Church. There is great strength here. For many years, it has sent out more missionaries than any other region. Temple attendance is overwhelming, despite the numerous temples in the upper half of Utah. Great love and commitment come from the multitude of wards and stakes with thousands of people serving in responsible positions. Our humanitarian service sends many bales of clothing and tons of food to needy areas just from this area alone. So once again, I reiterate that it is a marvelous place to live. Here is where my testimony began as a seed and has grown strong.
For the most part, my testimony came not as a convert-type instant sureness of knowledge, but in bits and pieces: testimonies of individual principles before the pieces of the puzzle fit together.
My first piece of the puzzle was a testimony of faith. I was one of those fortunate people who are born with a believing heart. It got me in trouble sometimes, such as when my older siblings told me that there was a witch living in our cellar who fried eyeballs—and, of course, I believed them—but for the most part, it was a source of deep comfort and joy. I was taught basic beliefs in Sunday School as a child: how to pray, how to give to others, how to love God. Along with faith came my testimony of prayer.
My first recollection of testing such beliefs was when I was a child—perhaps about five or six years old. We didn’t have the money for each of the five children to have bicycles and since I was the youngest, I was left out. I desperately wanted to ride a bicycle but my older sisters’ bicycles were much too large for me. Nonetheless, I took a bicycle out to the front sidewalk and climbed on. I remember it being a long way up. I tried to hold it steady and peddle, but as you can guess, I crashed. Repeatedly. My legs and arms were skinned and bleeding, but I was determined. I don’t know what made me think of it, but a lesson from Sunday School on prayer came to my mind. I closed my eyes and folded my arms on the handlebars and said a quick child’s prayer. I asked God to help me ride the bicycle. I opened my eyes, gripped the handlebars and rode the bike. It was so amazing to me that I’ve never forgotten it.
Many other experiences throughout my life developed my faith. Not that I didn’t have doubts or didn’t question many things, too. My faith was never blind. Sometimes I had to work through questions myself. I thought that original sin was a slick answer to the whole Garden of Eden punishment. I couldn’t imagine God punishing Adam and Eve just for eating an apple. I believed my own version for years until, one day in a Sunday School class, the whole idea became clear. They weren’t punished for eating an apple. They were punished for disobedience. After all, they had only a few commandments: multiply and replenish the earth (which they couldn’t do at that time) and don’t eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So the one thing they were asked not to do, they did. Big time disobedience. I realized at that time that if I had so few commandments, life would be so much simpler. God asked them simply for obedience and they disobeyed.
I have always been blessed because of my innate faith. Prayer has been a vital part of that faith. Through sincere prayer, I was able to be guided to my husband and know that he was the one I should marry. Through prayer, I was told, sometimes very directly, when I should or shouldn’t do something in my life. Answers came, sometimes in exact words, sometimes in strong impressions, sometimes in dreams. Prayer and faith helped me raise my family, finish my education, work in my profession, serve in Church callings, and make changes in my life.
A second piece of the puzzle was a testimony of tithing. I was a giving child, another trait that got me into trouble when I gave away my sister’s doll. Giving to God seemed like the absolutely right thing to do. From the time I earned my first quarter babysitting for a neighbor, I paid the 2.5 cents (rounded to 3 cents) of tithing. I kept an exact record, which I have until this day. Paying tithing is difficult for some people but for me it was very easy. Marrying in the temple to a faithful man made it easy to continue paying a full tithing. Although sometimes, when times were hard, it was difficult to pay other bills, when you pay tithing first, it’s never as hard. When my husband and I served a couples mission to a third-world country, my husband served as the financial clerk of the branch. He was amazed at the sincere faith of some of the members who paid tithing even when they had so little to give. As a family, we have been deeply blessed by obedience to this principle.
Another piece of the puzzle was a testimony of the scriptures. I attended church and seminary faithfully and read my assignments, but I had never read the Book of Mormon or any of the other scriptures completely through until after I was married. I was never asked to. One day I knew in my heart that I needed to read the Book of Mormon and put it to the test. I can’t say that the first reading was easy, but I did it. Then I knelt in prayer to ask if it was true, as suggested in Moroni 10:4-5. I got an answer but it certainly wasn’t the one I expected. The Spirit whispered very clearly the words, “you already know.” And I did. Since that first reading, I have read all the standard works many times. I find new and exciting things every time I read. For example, this past week I have been finishing up Leviticus. There in the 26th chapter is a wonderful promise to those saints who keep the commandments—their fields and flocks flourish, they will live in safety, and they will be fruitful. In verse 12 it tells us that “I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people.” What great promises lie in the scriptures for us to discover every time we read.
When I was a teenager, I received my patriarchal blessing. In it, I was told that I would serve a mission and work in the temple. At that time, I thought it would never happen. I wasn’t even interested. I married at age twenty, so I was unable to serve a mission then. In addition, I was too busy raising a family and getting my education, then teaching school, to serve in the temple. After our children were raised, my husband and I talked more and more about serving a couples mission. When I was in my 50s, I knew the time had come for a mission, so I took a leave of absence from my job and we went to serve in the French West Indies. After more than fifteen years we are still in contact with some of the wonderful saints we met there.
When we returned from our mission, the Mount Timpanogos Temple was being built. After the dedication, I met our bishop in the foyer of the chapel and out of my mouth came the words, “I want to be a temple worker.” I was as surprised as my husband. I had never before thought of or discussed being a temple worker with him. I was called and started serving the month after it opened and have been serving since. I have a strong testimony of temple work. I have had many amazing and humbling experiences through my service there. In this past year I have also been called as the family history consultant for the ward. Again, unexpectedly, I have received a testimony of the work. I have a testimony of missionary work, both for the living and for the dead.
Another piece of the puzzle is my testimony of the Plan of Salvation. We came to this earth to receive a body and to learn from our experiences. As women, we are asked to multiply and replenish the earth. Having a family has been the greatest blessing in my life—not because it has been easy. However, there has been great joy. As I look at my children now, each with his or her own family, I can see many of our teachings coming through. They are wonderful people and I love them very much.
Part of the Plan is also to learn from our mistakes and to experience pain and sorrow. It’s not good to stumble, but it’s good to repent and gain wisdom from the mistake. I’ve experienced many health problems throughout my life and it’s taught me humility. Jesus Christ suffered so infinitely more than anything I’ve ever suffered that I realize increasingly what an incredible gift the Atonement is.
I have always known that education was very important, probably because my mother was a widow and always had to work. Her education made it possible for her to receive honorable employment sufficient to support our family. After receiving my Ph.D. at the University of Utah, I had the privilege of working at Brigham Young University. My years of teaching at BYU brought me into contact with many of the fine young people of the Church. I was able to teach classes in the Book of Mormon as well as in composition and literature. I know that the ability to read and write is a great gift that will provide us with valuable skills throughout our life, and that great literature can put life into perspective and teach us life-changing lessons. Some of the lessons I learned and taught from Shakespeare will forever be with me. Perhaps the greatest moment of literature for me is in Shakespeare’s King Lear, when Cordelia asks for a blessing from Lear at the end of his life. A repentant King Lear asks for her forgiveness. Repentance and forgiveness are so movingly shown, often I am brought to tears with its beauty.
However, I am humbled to know that no matter how much knowledge I gain in this life, I will never know even a fraction of all that is out there. Knowledge is infinite. The same goes for knowledge of spiritual things. Some people struggle over spiritual truths they don’t know. I willingly admit that there are many things I don’t know, but I don’t let them get in the way of the things I do know. I don’t need to know everything. I have all of eternity to learn. I am grateful for modern revelation that lets us know that any knowledge we attain in this life will be of value to us here and in the next life, and that we can continue to learn throughout eternity.
Many other pieces of the puzzle came at different times and in different ways: testimonies of the Word of Wisdom, of family preparedness, of a living prophet, of humanitarian service, of love. I could give multiple examples and experiences of these and many other principles for which I have developed a strong testimony.
Most important is my testimony of the truthfulness of the calling and mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith. As my husband and I walked through the Sacred Grove, I felt strongly of its sacred peace. I know that he prayed there in sincere faith to know what church to join and was given the glorious vision of the Father and Jesus Christ. I know that Joseph Smith was truly called of God for a glorious but difficult mission. He gave his all, even his life to fulfill and affirm his calling. Through the past two years, as we have studied some of his teachings, I have been amazed at his compassion and knowledge. I know that he was instructed throughout his life, line upon line, precept upon precept, and that he saw and knew more that he could even reveal. But what he did give us has shaped the lives of my ancestors and my own life for the better.
In addition, I have a deep knowledge of the reality of Jesus Christ and his ministry. I have had a witness of the Spirit that Jesus Christ lives. He suffered infinitely in Gethsemane and then on the cross to atone for my sins, which are many, so I can repent and one day live again in His presence. I know that He loves me and wants me to prepare the best I can in this life for the life to come.
I know that I have a divine Father in Heaven. When I was a small child, my earthly father was murdered, so my prayers to Father in Heaven went for two fathers. I know my divine Father is just as concerned about me as my earthly father—perhaps they both watch over me. In my childhood, when we sang the Christmas carol “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” I thought it was a song for my earthly father, whose name was Harold. Through the years, I have grown to know more and more that God, the Father, to whom we pray, is cognizant of our prayers. He answers them at a time and in a way most beneficial to us but not as we always want them answered. He knows us better than we know ourselves, so I have learned to trust his judgment and accept his answers, even when they surprise me.
The older I get, the deeper and richer my testimony becomes. Constant affirmations of each of the parts of the testimony have made it grow together into an amazing whole. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the restored church established by Jesus Christ among his apostles. It has the teachings, gifts, structure and authority of Christ’s original church. It has grown strong and great, not entirely because of its fruits (which are great and many) but because each person receives a personal testimony of its truth. I have my own personal testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ lives, and because He lives, I, too, will be resurrected and live again, hopefully in His presence. Joseph Smith was the prophet of the restoration and we have a living prophet today, Thomas S. Monson. The twelve Apostles are called and ordained prophets, seers, and revelators. Good men and women serve us in the stakes, wards and branches of the Church, trying to live the best and serve the best that they can. The Book of Mormon is true. Living righteously brings joy and peace.
I solemnly bear witness of the truthfulness of these things.
Sally Taylor was born in Salt Lake City and raised in Provo, Utah. She graduated with honors from BYU with her BA degree in 1960 and her MA in 1965. She received her PhD from the University of Utah in 1975, specializing in Shakespeare. She has published an article on Hamlet and has presented papers on Shakespeare in many places in the United States as well as in Australia and Finland. She published a Freshman English textbook that went into three editions with Harcourt Brace and a textbook for Technical Writing, as well as a book of poetry and individual poems in many journals. Her series of seven sonnets on Joseph Smith, Jr., were set to music by Murray Boren and performed on Temple Square. She loved teaching and received an Alcuin teaching award. Now a professor emeritus of English, she retired in 2004 from Brigham Young University.
She and her husband David served a full-time mission to French Guiana in South America in 1993-94 where she taught literacy and ESL (English as a Second Language), as well as the missionary discussions. When she returned home, she taught literacy at Project Read. She and her husband served a two-year service/leadership mission to the Lakeview Manor Branch, Lakeview Stake, in Orem, Utah from 2006-2008. She has served as Primary president (twice), ward/branch Relief Society president (twice), stake Relief Society president, and gospel doctrine teacher, as well as in many other callings. She is currently the family history consultant and photographer for her ward. She serves as an ordinance worker at the Mt. Timpanogos Temple. Her community service includes Orem City Parent Teacher Association president. She has also served as president of the State League of Utah Writers. She has four children and twelve grandchildren.
Posted February 2010