Prodigal Stories

A Las Vegas Teenager

"With one phone call, a nightmare began that would span more than five years. A tender voice on the line informed me that our fifteen-year-old son was involved with drugs and alcohol and had been for quite some time. Shock gripped me.

"We took our son to the county health department and had him tested for drug use. His drug levels broke their record for that substance. By the end of the week, we had admitted him to a local rehabilitation program. Six weeks later he was discharged and I thought the nightmare was over. But it was only just beginning. Two months later he was arrested at school for sale and possession of marijuana. Months became years, and a pattern of drug abuses and arrests developed. In one year alone he was arrested ten times. Finally he was sentenced to six months in jail.

"After visiting our son in jail each Sunday, we would drive to the Las Vegas Temple, which was under construction at the time, and sit there and weep. How could this have happened?

"I prayed often for my son. I kept his name on the prayer rolls of the temple. I fasted for him every Sunday, not just on fast days. When he was out of jail and living elsewhere, I invited him to dinner every Monday evening and to every family function we had.

"I felt impressed to pray that someone he respected would come into his life. The name of his former Blazer leader came to mind, a peace officer whom I saw soon after at stake conference. I told him about my son and the impression I'd had. He said without hesitation that he would go and see him.

"Two days later I was sitting at the sewing machine when I saw in my mind the officer standing in a room embracing my son. Tears were flowing down both of their faces. I looked at the clock. It was 2:15 P.M. When he called later that evening, I told him I knew he had been to see my son at 2:15 P.M. that afternoon. He confirmed that he had gone where I could not go and be welcomed. My heart overflowed with gratitude.

"From that time on, I felt powerful spiritual confidence infuse me. I realized that my prayers were being heard and that deeply spiritual blessings could result if I would continue to be faithful and diligent in my efforts.

"One Monday morning as I prayed, I had a strong impression to ask Heavenly Father to give my son a special dream, for it was only when he slept that he was still enough to listen. The specific words to say came gently to my mind. I was startled. I doubted that I had understood the impression correctly. Could I do such a thing? However, after receiving the same prompting two more times, I obeyed. As I knelt in prayer, I was moved to ask specifically that my son have a bright recollection of all his guilt and feel the burden of his sins, but also know immediately that the Savior loved him and wanted him back.

"Time passed. Then late one summer night my son came to the house. He stood in the foyer, unsure of his welcome. He told us he had been to visit with the bishop and that he wanted to go on a mission! I ran to him and threw my arms around him, and we both wept. For about two hours he described the pain of what he'd been going through and begged for our forgiveness.

"My husband, who had been deeply hurt, was skeptical at first. After talking long hours, our son reached over and put his hands on his dad's knees and asked him if he would give him a father's blessing. I witnessed a second miracle that night as tears came to my husband's eyes and his heart was immediately softened.

"Some time later, my son was asked to speak at a leadership meeting about his return to Church activity. At the meeting he stood and said, 'One night I had a dream, and in the dream I had a bright recollection of all my guilt. I felt the burden of my sins but knew immediately that the Savior loved me and wanted me back.'

"I was overcome with emotion. I knew then as never before that Heavenly Father had not only responded to my heartfelt fasting and prayer but also, in his merciful wisdom, graciously taught me what to pray for.

"Eighteen months later my son was called to serve a mission. There were nearly five hundred people in attendance at sacrament meeting! Friends from Hawaii arrived, bringing with them a braided green lei, which they presented to our son just before the meeting began. This particular lei, they explained, was one villagers placed on triumphant warriors when they returned victorious from battle. They asked him to wear it when he gave his talk.

"However, when our son stood to talk, he didn't have on the lei. I worried that our friends would be hurt. Then, near the end of his talk, he took out the lei and explained the tradition associated with it. He said he felt like a warrior going to battle for the truth but that there was someone else here who was the real warrior, someone who had waged a difficult war and won. He then turned to me and reached for my hand, led me to his side, and lovingly placed the lei around my neck.

"I surely know that as parents in Zion we have great power to reach out and bring back our lost children with help from our Father in Heaven. 'For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found' (Luke 15:24).

("Still Enough to Listen," Ensign, Apr. 1996, 64-65)

A cheerleader who had little to cheer about

"Linda was a very popular seventeen-year-old who loved the noise of the crowd. She seemed happiest when involved in activities where people mingled freely and engaged in boisterous conversation. No one was surprised when she was chosen as a school cheerleader. After all, she could jump and shout and stir excitement among a group of people as well as anyone.

"Slowly, but progressively, the voices of the peer group gained control of Linda's life, for she wanted to be acceptable to everyone, particularly to those who seemed to be the most sophisticated and "fun" oriented. In time the enticements of her carnally minded friends became more appealing than the warnings of her caring parents. Worse still, the numbing effects of tobacco, alcohol, and other addictive substances little by little smothered the voice of conscience. Before long, Linda yielded completely to the voices of the world-voices that had convinced her that happiness could be gained by forsaking parental restraints, rules of society, and other quieting influences in her life.

"At the urgings of a lustful companion, Linda ran away from home. They were not concerned about marriage or other conventional arrangements. It was the 'good time' that the two sought. Thoughts of basking under the lights of the big city and blending their voices with others who were rebelling against heaven and home seemed to push them on their way.

"Once in the city, the young couple chased their dismal dream. It was one binge after another and one nightclub after another, with all the assorted baggage attached. Soon, however, the dream turned into a nightmare. Their funds were exhausted. Too proud and ashamed to return home, they looked for jobs and some means of sustaining their style of living in the so-called 'fast lane.' But it wasn't easy for two high school dropouts to find employment. Neither possessed a marketable skill, and what friends they had made during the short and carefree days pushed them aside.

"As their circumstances became more desperate, Linda and her companion began to blame each other for what had happened. Eventually they decided to go it alone, because the stresses of adversity had destroyed all that remained of their pseudo-love.

"Linda moved from one job to another-one economic crisis to another. First, it was washing dishes in a dirty café. Next, it was sweeping the floor in a smelly saloon. Each task was more demeaning than the last and each took its toll on her ego and self-esteem. Finally, in sheer desperation, Linda turned to prostitution.

"A year passed, but it seemed like an eternity to Linda. Her life was one one-night stand after another with a parade of nameless individuals who treated her like a rented tool. She became zombie-like, hardly heeding the meaningless voices around her and the bright lights of the big city-lights that had drawn her away from home and burned her like an innocent moth. Life, she finally concluded, was not worth living.

"One evening, Linda decided that things must change. She crawled out of bed without awakening her bed partner, dressed, and walked the noisy streets of the city. She wondered what she might do to escape her dreary and empty existence.

"In the midst of Linda's aimless wandering, thoughts of home flooded through her mind. She remembered the warmth and beauty of the place where Mother and Father showered her with love. She recalled many fond memories associated with brothers, sisters, and other members of the family circle. Moreover, she brooded over the feelings of peace and security that had once been hers when living within the quiet company of people who had extended unselfish love to her. Her heart yearned for home and the voice within cried, "Go there!"

"But she had concerns. She wondered whether those at home would accept her after all the mistakes she had made. Will they forgive me? was the question that repeated itself over and over again in her mind.

"Then she remembered a lesson her father had taught the family about the forgiveness of sins after repentance and through the merits of Christ. Moreover, she recalled her father reading and discussing the parable of the prodigal son-a tender story that had caused her and other listeners to weep openly.

"Linda thought to herself: I am the prodigal; I did rebel; I have erred; and I have eaten with the swine. So I must go home and trust that they will receive me.

"She had barely enough money to buy a one-way bus ticket home; yet she bought it, knowing of no other way to climb out of the pit she had dug for herself. It was a long ride back to the little town where she had grown up. The miles seemed to drag by. En route she replayed the twelve-month nightmare over and over again in her mind. How foolish she had been! Why had she listened to the enticing voices of the world? With each thought came regrets and bitter tears.

"The walk from the bus station to home seemed long and arduous. Part of Linda's body wanted to run. Another part held back because of the uncertainties of the reception. One voice within her shouted, 'Turn back, they don't want to see you ever again.' A still, small voice whispered, 'They love you and they want you to come back home.'

"She hesitated in front of the house. But as she reached to open the front gate to the yard, the door of the house flew open and out streamed the whole family. All members of the family cradled her in their arms and smothered her with kisses, for this their daughter and sister 'was dead and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.'

"Later in the day Linda learned of the power that turned her homeward. She was informed that family and friends had gathered on that weekend fasting and praying that she would be found and returned safely to their care. The loud and barbaric voices of Blindness of Mind and Hardness of Heart had lured her awy from loved ones. Soft and kind voices-even the enticings of the Holy Spirit-had brought her back.

"It is important that you keep in mind the miracle of forgiveness through the goodness and grace of our Savior. Many rejoice when the sinner comes to himself and repents. But it is also very important that you remember this unchanging truth: 'That man [or woman] who resists temptation and lives without sin is far better off than the man [or woman] who has fallen, no matter how repentant the latter may be. O how much better it is never to have committed the sin!' (The Road to Somewhere: A Guide for Young Men and Women [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1994], 123.)

The President of the Quorum of the Twelve

"There stood once on the grounds right here, before ever this building was constructed, a bowery-a rather crude structure in which the Saints met in those days of their poverty. In September of 1857, there was presented in that old bowery on a Sunday afternoon, what was really the concluding act of a drama of great tragedy.

"On that Sunday Brigham Young was conducting a meeting and introduced to the congregation a man who appeared to be old and infirm and weary of life.

"Said President Brigham Young to the congregation:

"'Brother Thomas B. Marsh, formerly the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has now come to us, after an absence of nearly nineteen years. He is on the stand to-day, and wishes to make a few remarks to the congregation. ...

"'He came into my office and wished to know whether I could be reconciled to him, and whether there could be a reconciliation between himself and the Church of the living God. He reflected for a moment and said, I am reconciled to the Church, but I want to know whether the Church can be reconciled to me.

"'He is here,' said President Young, 'and I want him to say what he may wish to. ... Brethren and sisters, I now introduce to you Brother Thomas B. Marsh. When the Quorum of the Twelve was first organized, he was appointed to be their President.'

"Brother Marsh rose to the pulpit. This man, who was named the first President of the Council of the Twelve Apostles and to whom the Lord had spoken in so marvelous a manner, as recorded in section 112 of the Doctrine and Covenants-which I wish you would read-said to the people:

"'I do not know that I can make all this vast congregation hear and understand me. My voice never was very strong, but it has been very much weakened of late years by the afflicting rod of Jehovah. He loved me too much to let me go without whipping. I have seen the hand of the Lord in the chastisement which I have received. I have seen and known that it has proved he loved me; for if he had not cared anything about me, he would not have taken me by the arm and given me such a shaking.

"'If there are any among this people who should ever apostatize and do as I have done, prepare your backs for a good whipping, if you are such as the Lord loves. But if you will take my advice, you will stand by the authorities; but if you go away and the Lord loves you as much as he did me, he will whip you back again.

"'Many have said to me...'How is it that a man like you, who understood so much of the revelations of God as recorded in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, should fall away?' I told them not to feel too secure, but to take heed lest they also should fall; for I had no scruples in my mind as to the possibility of men falling away."

"He continued,

"'I can say, in reference to the Quorum of the Twelve, to which I belonged, that I did not consider myself a whit behind any of them, and I suppose that others had the same opinion; but, let no one feel too secure; for, before you think of it, your steps will slide. You will not then think nor feel for a moment as you did before you lost the Spirit of Christ; for when men apostatize, they are left to grovel in the dark." (Journal of Discourses, 5:206.)

"Speaking in a voice that was difficult to hear, and appearing as an old man when he was actually only fifty-seven years of age, he spoke of the travails through which he had passed before he had finally made his way to the valley of the Great Salt Lake and asked that he might be baptized again into the Church.

"I wondered, as I read that story so filled with pathos, what had brought him to this sorry state. I discovered it, in the Journal of Discourses, in a talk given to the Saints in this same bowery the year before by George A. Smith. I think, if you'll bear with me for a minute or two, it is worth the telling to illustrate to all of us the need to be careful in dealing with small matters which can lead to great consequences.

"According to the account given by George A. Smith, while the Saints were in Far West, Missouri,

'the wife of Thomas B. Marsh, who was then President of the Twelve Apostles, and Sister Harris concluded they would exchange milk, in order to make a little larger cheese than they otherwise could. To be sure to have justice done, it was agreed that they should not save the strippings (to themselves), but that the milk and strippings should all go together.

"Now for you who have never been around a cow, I should say that the strippings came at the end of the milking and were richer in cream. Mrs. Harris, it appeared, was faithful to the agreement and carried to Mrs. Marsh the milk and strippings, but Mrs. Marsh, wishing to make some extra good cheese, saved a pint of strippings from each cow and sent Mrs. Harris the milk without the strippings.

"A quarrel arose, and the matter was referred to the home teachers. They found Mrs. Marsh guilty of failure to keep her agreement. She and her husband were upset and, 'an appeal was taken from the teacher to the bishop, and a regular Church trial was had.' President Marsh did not consider that the bishop had done him and his lady justice for they (that is, the bishop's court) decided that the strippings were wrongfully saved, and that the woman had violated her covenant.

"Marsh immediately took an appeal to the High Council, who investigated the question with much patience, and, says George A. Smith, 'I assure you they were a grave body. Marsh being extremely anxious to maintain the character of his wife, ... made a desperate defence, but the High Council finally confirmed the bishop's decision.'

"Marsh, not being satisfied, took an appeal to the First Presidency of the Church, and Joseph and his counselors had to sit upon the case, and they approved the decision of the High Council.

"'This little affair,' Brother Smith continues, 'kicked up a considerable breeze, and Thomas B. Marsh then declared that he would sustain the character of his wife even if he had to go to hell for it.

"The then President of the Twelve Apostles, the man who should have been the first to do justice and cause reparation to be made for wrong, committed by any member of the family, took that position, and what next? He went before a magistrate and swore that the 'Mormons' were hostile towards the state of Missouri.

"That affidavit brought from the government of Missouri an exterminating order, which drove some 15,000 Saints from their homes and habitations, and some thousands perished through suffering the exposure consequent on this state of affairs." (Journal of Discourses, 3:283-84.) Such is George A. Smith's account.

"What a very small and trivial thing-a little cream over which two women quarreled. But it led to, or at least was a factor in, Governor Boggs' cruel exterminating order which drove the Saints from the state of Missouri, with all of the terrible suffering and consequent death that followed. The man who should have settled this little quarrel, but who, rather, pursued it, troubling the officers of the Church, right up to the Presidency, literally went through hell for it. He lost his standing in the Church. He lost his testimony of the gospel. For nineteen years he walked in poverty and darkness and bitterness, experiencing illness, and loneliness. He grew old before his time. Finally, like the prodigal son in the parable of the Savior (see Luke 15:11-32), he recognized his foolishness and painfully made his way to this valley, and asked Brigham Young to forgive him and permit his rebaptism into the Church. He had been the first President of the Council of the Twelve, loved, respected, and honored in the days of Kirtland, and the early days of Far West. Now he asked only that he might be ordained a deacon and become a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord.

"We have all seen cases somewhat similar in our own time. I mention the matter only as a reminder to each of us that as we leave this great and inspirational conference we go with resolution in our hearts to live the gospel, to be faithful and true, to have the strength to look above small things that could lead to argument and trouble, to be forgiving one to another, to 'look to God and live.' (Alma 37:47.)

"It is so easy to stumble. It is sometimes so hard to keep our voices low when small things provoke us.

"Let us rather remember always that we are sons and daughters of God, children born with a divine birthright, partakers of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, the beneficiaries of the priesthood restored by the Almighty for the blessing of his sons and daughters. Let us, my brethren and sisters, walk with integrity and honesty in all of our dealings one with another. Let us subdue any arrogance or pride and walk humbly before God, and with appreciation and respect for all with whom we associate.

"May the blessings of the Lord attend you, beloved associates. May the peace of the Lord be in your homes and love for him reside in your hearts. God be with you, till we meet again, I humbly pray as I give you my testimony of the truth and divinity of this work, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen." (Gordon B. Hinckley, "Small Acts Lead to Great Consequences," Ensign, May 1984, 81-83)

The Prodigal Sister

The prodigal son informs his father that he wants his inheritance now. He wants to leave the safety of his home and family and seek after worldly pursuits (see Luke 15:12–13). Please note that in the Savior’s parable the father lovingly responds by giving the son his inheritance. Certainly the father must have done everything he could to convince the son to stay. However, once the adult son makes his choice, the wise father lets him go. The father then demonstrates sincere love, and he watches and he waits (see Luke 15:20).

My family had a similar experience. My two faithful brothers, wonderful sister, and I were raised by exemplary parents. We were taught the gospel in our home, we successfully made it to adulthood, and all four of us were sealed in the temple to our spouses. However, in 1994 our sister, Susan, became disenchanted with the Church and some of its teachings. She was persuaded by those who mocked and criticized the early leaders of the Church. She allowed her faith in living prophets and apostles to diminish. Over time, her doubts overcame her faith, and she chose to leave the Church. Susan has given me permission to share her story with the hope that it might help others.

My brothers and I and our widowed mother were devastated. We couldn’t imagine what possibly could have led her to abandon her faith. My sister’s choices seemed to be breaking our mother’s heart.

My brothers and I had served as bishops and quorum presidents, and we had experienced the joy of success with ward and quorum members as we left the ninety and nine and went after the one. However, with our sister, our persistent efforts to rescue her and to invite her back only pushed her further and further away.

As we sought heavenly guidance as to how we might properly respond to her, it became evident that we had to follow the example of the father in the parable of the prodigal son. Susan had made her choice, and we had to figuratively let her go—but not without her knowing and feeling our sincere love for her. And so, with renewed love and kindness, we watched and we waited.

My mother never stopped loving and caring for Susan. Every time my mother attended the temple, she placed Susan’s name on the prayer roll and never lost hope. My older brother and his wife, who lived closest to Susan in California, invited her to all family events. They prepared dinner in their home each year on Susan’s birthday. They made sure they were always in touch with her and that she knew of their genuine love for her.

My younger brother and his wife reached out to Susan’s children in Utah and cared for them and loved them. They made sure that her children were always invited to family gatherings, and when it came time for Susan’s granddaughter to be baptized, my brother was there to perform the ordinance. Susan also had loving home teachers and visiting teachers who never gave up.

As our children went on missions and were married, Susan was invited to and attended these family celebrations. We tried diligently to create family events so that Susan and her children could be with us and they would know that we loved them and that they were part of our family. As Susan received an advanced degree at a California university, we were all there to support her at her graduation. Although we could not embrace all of her choices, we could certainly embrace her. We loved, we watched, and we waited.

In 2006, after 12 years had passed since Susan left the Church, our daughter Katy moved with her husband to California so he could attend law school. They were in the same city as Susan. This young couple looked to their aunt Susan for help and support, and they loved her. Susan helped care for our two-year-old granddaughter, Lucy, and Susan found herself helping Lucy with her nightly prayers. Katy called me one day and asked if I thought Susan would ever come back to the Church. I assured her that I felt she would and that we needed to continue to be patient. As another three years passed, with continued love, we watched and we waited.

Six years ago this weekend, my wife, Marcia, and I were sitting on the front row of this Conference Center. I was to be sustained as a new General Authority that day. Marcia, who is always in touch with the Spirit, had written a note to me that read, “I think it is time for Susan to come back.” My daughter Katy suggested that I leave and call Susan to invite her to watch general conference that day.

Prompted by these two great women, I walked to the foyer and called my sister. I got her voice mail and simply invited her to watch that session of general conference. She got the message. To our delight, she felt impressed to watch all the sessions of conference. She heard from prophets and apostles she had loved in earlier years. She found new names she had not heard before, such as President Uchtdorf and Elders Bednar, Cook, Christofferson, and Andersen. During this and other unique heaven-sent experiences, my sister—like the prodigal son—came to herself (see Luke 15:17). The words of prophets and apostles and the love of her family moved her to turn and begin the walk back home. After 15 years our daughter and sister who was lost had been found. The watch and the wait were over.

Susan describes this experience just as Lehi described it in the Book of Mormon. She let go of the iron rod and found herself in a mist of darkness (see 1 Nephi 8:23). She states that she did not know she was lost until her faith was reawakened by the Light of Christ, which brightly magnified the stark contrast between what she was experiencing in the world and what the Lord and her family were offering.

A miracle has occurred over the past six years. Susan has a renewed testimony of the Book of Mormon. She has received her temple recommend. She has served as an ordinance worker in the temple, and she currently teaches the Gospel Doctrine class in her ward. The windows of heaven have opened to her children and her grandchildren, and although there have been difficult consequences, it feels as if she never left.

Some of you, like the Nielson family, have family members who have temporarily lost their way. The Savior’s instruction to all who have 100 sheep is to leave the ninety and nine and go after and rescue the one. His instruction to those who have 10 pieces of silver and lose one is to search until you find it. When the lost one is your son or your daughter, your brother or your sister, and he or she has chosen to leave, we learned in our family that, after all we can do, we love that person with all of our hearts and we watch, we pray, and we wait for the Lord’s hand to be revealed. (Elder Brent Nielsen, General Conference, April 2015)