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Steven Birdsall

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My Conversion Story

Written Sunday, October 22, 2006 

To: Ladd, Barbara, Jennifer, Doug, Victoria, CC, and Ralph Petty 

This letter is long overdue. I felt inspired to call you a couple of weeks ago to personally thank you (first I called Jennifer, then Barbara) for the role that each of you played during my conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I recently baptized a new member here in Tokyo, and it brought back a flood of memories about my conversion. I could then no longer procrastinate, and had to call and then write this letter to you. 

I have many rich memories of my conversion to the gospel, and all are inextricably tied to the Petty family. Ifd like to remind you of my conversion and the incredible experience I had with the Spirit when our mortal lives crossed. 

Jennifer – In early 1987, having investigated the Church for almost a year, you may recall that you and I were at a point in our relationship where we either had to move forward or call things off. Your spirituality and focus are a huge part of my conversion. For everyone else, Ifll relay the story. 

One Monday night (likely January 12, 1987), after really missing Jennifer during the day, I drove the requisite two hours from my home in the desert to see her. Even though I had just spent the weekend with her (and all of you), I really missed being together. I recall making similar mid-week trips over time as I loved her very much, and missed being together. Youfll also recall that I spent almost every weekend with you after I moved back to the desert, having lived the previous summer in Lake Arrowhead. So I drove 2 hours each Friday night to spend the weekend with you. 

Upon my arrival that Monday night, Jennifer and I decided to drive around and talk for awhile. I remember we went to a beautiful spot overlooking Lake Arrowhead, and we had a heart to heart. Jennifer explained how important the Church and the Gospel are to her, and that her membership in the Church is more important than anything else – including me. She had planned to get married in the Temple for time and all eternity, and to marry a returned-missionary. She explained that I wasnft quite fitting the mold of what she wanted or expected in a future husband. And even though she loved me very much, it may just not have been gmeant to beh for us to be married. I think my lack of progression in the gospel was getting the better part of her. Jennifer suggested that we gtake a few weeks offh to see how things work out. 

Upon hearing the news, I was absolutely devastated. I wasnft surprised, as I knew that what she said was true. She grew up with those expectations – which taught me a valuable lesson as a future parent. I also heard it many times from Barbara during my courtship with Jennifer. Nevertheless, it really frustrated me. This was not quite the night that I was hoping for on the drive up! 

I dropped Jennifer at home, unprepared for what turned out to be a fantastic adventure on my drive home. I remember approaching the intersection at the top of the hill, just before getting on Highway 18 to go back home to the desert (only about 15 minutes from the Lake Arrowhead home – I attached a picture of the intersection). 

I was already fairly emotional from what Jennifer had just told me, and I started sincerely asking Heavenly Father why I couldnft gain a testimony. I had heard so many testimonies at church, and believed that people were sincere. But I was left in the dark, with no answers, and I didnft know why. I wondered what I did that was so wrong that I couldnft receive an answer to my seemingly sincere prayers. And now I was about to lose someone I loved more than anything. 

I remember that I wanted to know the truth more than anything. I wanted to know whether what I was taught at church was true. I just couldnft understand how a loving Heavenly Father would leave me alone to fend for myself and not answer my prayers. I was very passionate in my desire to know the truth, and I honestly remember thinking that if Heavenly Father really loved me he would answer my prayers. Mine was a sincere heart, and I had complete intent to want to know the truth. 

What happened next is such an awesome experience, and I sincerely canft explain why I am so fortunate to have received such a strong testimony. But at that moment, and for the next two hours as I drove home, I was engulfed in the Spirit. I was completely drenched and I donft even remember the drive home – at all. I just KNEW from that point on that Heavenly Father loves me, the Book of Mormon is true, Joseph Smith is a prophet, and the church is true. I honestly feel the Spirit very strongly right now as I write this, confirming to me yet once again that it was Heavenly Father testifying to me for the first time about the divinity of His mission, and the truthfulness of the Gospel. From that moment on my life entirely changed.

I was so excited from the experience that all I could think about was the need to call Jennifer and tell her the great news. I didnft know what to do next, as I never before felt so loved, inspired, and overwhelmed at the same time. Jennifer told me to call the Bishop in Palm Desert (Craig Zundel), and he would explain the process and next steps. I called him that night. Bishop Zundel explained that I needed to have the missionary discussions before I could be baptized. It took about two weeks to go through the discussions, and then I was baptized by Ladd in Palm Desert on Friday, January 23, 1987.  

Beyond this experience with Jennifer, the highlights of my conversion and post-baptismal experiences with the rest of you are as follows: 

Ladd – One day, several months before my conversion, you told me gThe Gospel isnft for everyoneh. I misunderstood what you meant, and thought that it seemed like more of a club than a religion. But it really got me wondering why so many people had the grighth to be a member. How had they gained a testimony? Why was I left out? It turned out to be a very inspirational message, but one that I didnft understand for many years.  

In retrospect, I think what you were telling me is that everyone who hears the Gospel may not accept it; therefore it isnft gcfor everyoneh. I believe that it proved to be the necessary prompting and desire that I needed to really want to know for myself – which desire ultimately led to my conversion. 

I am reminded of gMoronifs Promiseh in The Book of Mormon (Moroni 10) that to find out gcif these things are trueh, we should merely ask our Eternal Father gcwith a sincere heart, with real intentch if it is true. I believe your comment ultimately inspired and provoked the appropriate sincerity for me to want to know whether what I was learning was true – which ultimately helped me in my conversion process. For that I am eternally grateful to you. 

Barbara – Yours is perhaps the memory that is most indelibly etched in my mind as the primary Spiritual point of inflection in my life – on almost equal footing in importance as my conversion itself.  

Right after gaining my testimony and being baptized, members almost weekly asked me if I planned to serve a mission. Since I was 21 at the time, my natural response was that guys return from their mission at my age – not leave. But I was encouraged to pray and ask Heavenly Father whether I should go, so I took their advice. 

For about three months I prayed and prayed, but received nothing. I knew what the Spirit felt like because I just had such an incredible conversion experience. So I was poised to know what to look forcbut received nothing. I assumed that gthis must be the stupor of thought people refer to regarding prayer – if what you are praying for is not right.h 

At that point, Jennifer and I began talking about marriage and planning our future life together. We shared our vows by writing in each others scriptures about how much we loved one another, and how we looked forward to going to the Temple in February 1988 to be married for time and all eternity (this was the one year mark after my baptism). 

Jennifer and I conferred with one another and decided to tell the family. I remember one weekend we thought, gThis is our time.h We knew that we had to tell you first, and I suggested that Jen should lead the conversation. I would then follow her lead by responding to the tough questions we knew youfd ask. 

We prepared ourselves late one Saturday evening, planning to tell you the next day after church and before my drive home. It was about 10:30PM. We were downstairs in the Lake Arrowhead home living room, conspiring and role playing the next dayfs event. Then we heard someone coming downstairs, and I think my heart leapt through my head when I turned and saw that it was you! We knew that this was our chance, and gave each other a look of encouragement and support. 

Upon arrival, you said that you gfelt inspired to come downstairs and talk with ush. We saw this as the perfect time to share our future plans with you – foregoing the plan to talk with you the next day on the Sabbath. We told you that we wanted to speak with you as well, and that we were glad you came downstairs. 

I nudged Jennifer, who began telling you our plans, when you interrupted and said that youfd like to go first. You then began telling me how gImportant decisions in life need to be prayerfully approachedh. You said that I gshould earnestly continue asking Heavenly Father about serving a mission.h 

You were in the middle of an elegant speech about lifefs challenges and the need to draw upon our missionary experiences when the Spirit very clearly and distinctly told me that gwhat you are saying is trueh, and that I gneeded to serve a missionh. The voice and prompting was unmistakable, and it kindled an immediate desire in my heart to act upon what I was hearing. The Spirit provided a testimony to me that I needed to act upon my new-found knowledge and desire to want to know whether to serve a mission, and I was eager to oblige. Quite frankly, I was so happy to experience the Spirit again that I could only abruptly interrupt you to say that, gThe Spirit just testified to me that what you are saying is true, and that I then knew I needed to serve a mission.h The look on Jenniferfs face was classic! What a great experience that was. 

Itfs funny when I think back now about my naivety. I had no idea what I was getting into, and I certainly didnft know how difficult it would be to prepare for a mission. I did know that I had to make up for 19 years of study deficit, and that I was completely unprepared at that moment in time – other than my testimony, which was strong and true. And I knew that if Heavenly Father wanted me to serve a mission, together we would find a way for me to be prepared and effective as one of His missionaries. 

Just as I had received an answer to my prayers about the truthfulness of the Church, the Book of Mormon, Jesus Christ, and His Atonement, I KNEW that I was supposed to serve a mission. Fortunately I didnft waver, and I owe the inspiration to serve a mission to you and Heavenly Father. I donft know how my life would have turned out were it not for you a) living worthily to feel the spirit, b) acting upon the prompting to come downstairs to talk with us, and c) sharing your personal testimony that you knew it was right for me, and that I should prayerfully continue to find out whether I should serve a mission. For all these things I am eternally grateful to you. 

Doug – Ifm not sure if you remember, but about two or three months before my conversion I was really struggling with prayer. I was not receiving an answer to my prayers, and I was getting frustrated and impatient. One night we were sitting in your white Honda Prelude in the 7-11 parking lot, behind the store, talking about things in general. You asked how my prayers were coming along. I explained that I was getting a bit frustrated because I wasnft getting answers. I felt like I just prayed and prayed, but I didnft feel anything – and certainly was not getting the answers I hoped for or expected. 

I think you must have drawn upon your missionary experiences or something, or maybe it was just pure inspiration – but you asked me a tough question. You asked if I gcbelieve in God?h I thought about it really hard and honestly answered that I didnft know. You said that before I pray for an answer as to whether the Book of Mormon is true, or Joseph Smith is a prophet, I should pray to know that God exists.  

This experience reminds me of Ammon in Alma 18 when he spoke with and served King Lamoni. When asked if he believed in God, King Lamoni honestly answered, gcI do not know what that meaneth.h Then Ammon, thinking quickly, followed up with gcBelievest thou that there is a Great Spirit?h With which the King answered, gYeah. And then Ammon replied, gThis is God.h 

A good missionary responds to the Spirit, and you were a great missionary. Mine seems to be a similar experience as Ammon and King Lamoni, and you were my Ammon (would that I was a King). It was very similar in that I did not understand the meaning of what I was asking about, and you helped me understand what and how to ask – in terms that I could spiritually understand. I needed to know that God existed first, and then once I received that testimony I would receive additional light and knowledge. 

This was a pivotal point in my conversion process because it helped me think about things differently from a spiritual point of view. It focused my attention more on building a relationship with Heavenly Father and the Spirit rather than picturing an ambiguous being in my prayers, which I had faint assurance was even there. For that experience I am eternally grateful to you. 

Victoria – A few months after my conversion, my fondest memory of you is learning the words to gI am a Child of Godh for the first time. You, Jennifer, Doug and I were driving around somewhere one day, talking about things in general, when the subject of church hymns came up. When you found out that I had never been taught the hymn gI am a Child of Godh, you immediately went into teaching mode and taught me the tune and lyrics.  

I reflected on that experience often – especially later in life when I was called as a primary teacher and able to learn all of the childrenfs hymns for the first time. I sometimes think about how Heavenly Father must have been so proud of us. We were young kids, just driving around teaching each other hymns in the Spirit. What a great memory that is! 

Another experience I recall with you is one day when I said, gOh my God!h You didnft hesitate to tell me, gWe donft say that – we say egoshf or something else – but we donft use Godfs name in vain.h I still remember that I knew you loved me, and you were just teaching me what was right. I suppose in retrospect I could have been offended, but knowing that you loved me seemed to make the difference. 

I used this strength and straight forward approach many times on my mission. For example, one time as a missionary I recall a prospective member once asked me about chastity. His girlfriend often stayed with him on weekends since she lived quite a distance away in Pittsburgh. I immediately told him that it was wrong – and he knew it. I didnft waver in my answer. He later told me that it was a pivotal point in his conversion process. He and I are still good friends to this day (he later served as a Bishop and then in the Stake Presidency in the coming years). So, in a way, your spirit carried forward with me on my mission. For this I am eternally grateful to you. 

CC – Although we werenft very close due to our age difference, I often thought about your passion for life. At that point in your life, you were going through a pretty difficult time. I recall often worrying about you, and I always thought of you as a little sister. Itfs funny in retrospect how you had a way of life that kept everyone on their toes. It certainly was a great experience for me to get to know you. I guess the experience I recall with you in general is how you lived life to the fullest, and seemed to question everything. It turns out that I often used that passion during my preparation for my mission. I rarely left any stone unturned, and questioned everything. For that I am eternally grateful to you. 

Ralph – I didnft get to spend much time with Ralph as he was older and lived far away. But I often thought about both he and Janna. I kept them in my personal prayers during my mission. I hope that one day he will come back to the Church and Heavenly Father. But it was great to hear from Barbara and Jennifer about his daughterfs (Brittany) recent conversion, and the fact that she found her way to the Church. I think some of our spirits are simply destined to hear the gospel and readily accept it – and then, once we do, it is more of a homecoming than an introduction. 

Now I will move on to an update of my life. After our experiences together in California, in 1991 I was married in Salt Lake City to Kimberly Kelley. We now have three beautiful children – Noah is 3-1/2, and we have twins who are almost two – Nicholas and Noelle, born Christmas Eve 2004 (names apropos). We currently live in Tokyo. 

After serving my mission in West Virginia from 1988 – 1990, in 1993 I received a BS degree in Economics from the University of Utah (Doug will be happy). I then worked for a few years in sales before going to BYU from 1996 – 1998 for an MBA (Barbara will be happy).

Professionally, after sales I worked for three years in IT consulting, based in Utah but traveling 95% of the time. We decided to move to Philadelphia in 2001 to work directly for a software company (SAP) rather than in consulting implementing software. After a successful three years in Philadelphia, we moved to northern California to work for another software company (Adobe) for two years. We left Philadelphia when we found out that we were having twins, and needed to move closer to family for support (three kids under two requires support!). However, after Adobe (in 2006) we decided to move back to SAP – but this time we moved to Tokyo. The person I worked for at SAP in Philadelphia was promoted to CEO of SAP Japan. He asked me to join him for some challenging work here in Tokyo in July 2006 – and so here I am. 

Anyway, Ifm glad that I finally made the time to remind you of my conversion and experiences with each of you. Ifm sorry for the length, but this letter is almost 20 years in the making. However, it proved to be a good use of my Sabbath Day. I am simply eternally grateful for the experiences I had with your family, and I feel truly blessed for having met each of you. Thank you all for allowing me to have such a wonderful and spiritual conversion and introduction to the Gospel, and for the role that each of you played in the process. 

Still with a lot of love, 

Steven

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