My Own Road to Damascus

We are part of history

Sometimes we don’t fully appreciate that we are a part of history.  We may feel insignificant in comparison to ‘the big bad world’ but in our own little way, we influence the lives of those who are closest to us – especially our own darling families.

I had been asked by family about the reasons why I had joined the Church.  As is the case with all conversations when we’re retelling past experiences; sometimes we go into more detail with some than with others.  We see that clearly in Joseph Smith’s retelling of his own experiences.

Our lives are special and are the foundation of the eternal lives we will live.  The company we keep; the way we communicate; the choices we make now, here in mortality, will influence the company we dwell with through the eternities.  We cannot escape who we are, and if there are aspects of our behaviour or communication that are unsuitable now, we can’t expect it to be acceptable there, in the holy realms we pray we may one day inherit.

With all these thoughts in mind, I began this little introduction of my ‘conversion process’.  I used to think of it as a ‘once off event’ but now I’ve come to realise that it’s a ‘daily experience’.  I’ve heard it said that ‘our lives are like a tapestry’.  For all of us, it’s woven from the fabric which are our ‘choices of the moments’.

In sharing this insight into my personal history, the reader should be aware that this was constructed mainly for the benefit of my Family.  However, if it can be a source of hope or inspiration to others, then it is freely offered.

Life in London

After I had been living in London for a couple of years I returned for a short time back to my hometown of Belfast.  This was late December 1972.  I had moved to London in Jan ’71.

London was the loneliest and saddest time of my life…I don’t know why I didn’t leave earlier.  I guess we get stuck in a rut sometimes.

One experience that stands out from that period was shortly before I came home.  I remember I was lying in bed in the basement flat I had and shared.  I had woken early and was lying there thinking about my life… where I was, or more to the point, where was I at?

In later years I recall the quotation ‘the man most to be pitied is the one who feels uncomfortable in his own presence’.  Much later in my life i recall what I heard Pres Packer speak when he said, ‘when you are on your own – are you in good company’?  In my ‘minds eye’ I reflected back to those days in London.

I didn’t like myself.  I was very uncomfortable.  I felt unclean and knew that God knew.  However, I did not know how to get out of it – other than go home.  I’ve learned over the years that you can change the scenery but all too often the same content remains.  Some have said ‘you can take the boy out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the boy’.  A change of scenery isn’t a change of personality.

Returning Home

When I got home I had the love of my Parents and it was great to see my Brother again and his Family.  For me though, not much had changed.  I didn’t know where I was going and life seemed bleak and without purpose.  Northern Ireland was immersed in a blood-bath of sectarian murders.  I felt like i’d jumped from one boiling cauldron into another!

Relationships for me were always a challenge, simply because I was not committed to them or anyone other than myself.  I would meet girls and enjoy their company but seldom did I show up for follow-up dates…I just wasn’t that interested.  Sadly i reflect that i was too shallow to be honest with them.

I was working in the same factory as my dad and we were on the same shift together, so i got to spend a lot of time with him.  After work sometimes we would go for a drink together.  I was 21 and Dad was 58 but I loved being with him.  He passed-on 22nd October 2002.  I miss him so much.

Having Mum looking after me again and ‘feeding me up’ was great and for a while I just let the day’s roll by.  Working a three cycle shift system causes days to blur into one another and before long it was May ’73 and I had been home about 5 months.

The greatest blessing ever to come into my life was when I met ‘the girl of my dreams’.  This was late May…it was a Saturday and I think it was the 26th.

The excursion to Bundoran

One of the working-men’s clubs in our area advertised an ‘excursion’ which is a fancy name for a bus-run.  It was going from Belfast to Donegal in the West of Ireland.  The trip included transport, an evening meal, a dance and Bed & Breakfast.  My brother, Michael, thought it would be a great idea to get Mum & Dad away for the break…Mum had been very unwell for some time.  My brother’s financial situation wasn’t too good, so I decided I would buy two tickets for him and two tickets for Mum & Dad.  They were delighted.  They wanted me to come but I said I didn’t fancy it!  After a few days and their ‘overtures’ I decided ‘for peace’s sake’ that I would buy a ticket.

The town in Donegal we were going to is called Bundoran.  It’s a lovely spot right on the coast of Donegal and at that time of year it was really pretty.

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Bundoran Strand, Co. Donegal

The day was good enough and the evening passed over to the time of the dance.  My Mum & Dad were up dancing and enjoying themselves.  I had never seen them dancing together before.  This was the one and only time that I recall seeing this.

For me it was fun to be there but I was feeling that perhaps I should have stayed back in Belfast and let my family enjoy themselves.

I remember I was standing with my back to the dance-floor when two girls came up and tapped me on the shoulder.  They said that their friend over there – and pointed – would like to dance with me.  I looked across and there was this beautiful girl in a long black dress with colours that seemed to run through it…so across the floor I went to ask her to dance.  The rest is history!

Sadie’s move to Youghal

That was late May ’73 and I quickly found-out that her family were moving to Youghal in County Cork which was about 300 miles away!  We met as often as work would allow between then and the end of June.  Just a week before they left it was my birthday.  I hadn’t worn a watch any of the times we had met and so my Darling decided to buy me a watch for my birthday.  She gave it to me on the same day that I bought her a gold heart shaped locket.  As it turned out my own watch was being repaired and I was wearing it that day!  Poor Sadie was so surprised to see the gold watch that my parents had bought me for my 18th birthday.  I later learned that her watch had cost her all of her wages for the whole week!

In the days before she left it was very difficult to see her.  The ‘troubles’ were in full murder-mode and people were being ‘assassinated’ as they liked to call it in Belfast – simply because they were of the wrong political or religious persuasion and in the wrong place at the wrong time.  One of these times I had gone up to Ligoniel, which was the area of Belfast where Sadie’s Family lived, to go to a local dance in a Church Hall.  When it was over and I was getting ready to go home via taxis, one of the drivers warned me not to go.  He said that there was a murder-squad at the bottom of the road which was just waiting to shoot at cars ‘going in the wrong direction’!  I stayed with Sadie’s mum and family that night.  With my folks not having a telephone it caused them great concern not knowing where I was.

Going up by bus to see Sadie was quite a worry too.  Because the buses passed through ‘troubled areas’ there was always the risk that some undesirables would get on the bus when you would be travelling.  Thankfully I was able to move around freely, without event, albeit feeling a sense of danger at all times.  When I was with her I was fine.  When it came time to travel home then the anxiety would rise again until I was safely at home again.  However, wanting to be with her had overridden all my concerns and fears and I would ‘run the gauntlet’ each time.

We arranged to see each other again in July.  I was to have two weeks off for summer holidays and I would go down to Youghal.  There was a bed and breakfast not too far from where her Family now lived and I arranged to stay there for the two weeks.  It was great.  I saw her every day, rain or shine.  We walked and talked and ate and had fun together but all too soon it was time to go home.  I planned to travel as far as Dublin on the Sunday and stay over and then the early train up to Belfast.  I was starting back to work on the night-shift and so would have all day to rest up.

Leaving her was terrible.  When I got to Dublin and got into a bed and breakfast I lay down on the bed and cried.  I had felt that terrible loneliness before in London but I never had experienced anything like this.  I was sore all over and a had an ache in my chest that just wouldn’t ease.  I fell asleep and the morning found me almost in automatic-mode heading back home and to work.

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Mum & Dad in Youghal
Time to make a decision

Over the next few weeks and months we would write frequently.  I had planned to go down to see her at Christmas.  As I thought about how much I missed her and how deeply I loved her, I realised that if I wanted this to work then I was going to have to be closer to her.  Seeing her once or twice a year was not going to be enough.  I was afraid that I might lose her.  I decided I was going to leave work, home and family and go down to Cork.  Either I would get a job and she would want me there or I would go on over to London and start over again.

My parents were not sure if I was making the correct choice.  Sadie’s parents didn’t want me to come.  They were just trying to settle-in themselves, the last thing they needed was worrying about me.  Sadie tried to dissuade me too.  Why wouldn’t I wait until Christmas?  I’m sure she felt pressurised between me and her parents and trying to find her own feet in a new place so far away from anything she had known.

I decided to arrive on her birthday 23rd September 1973.  I hoped she be at the train station to greet me.  She wasn’t!  Perhaps she would meet me at the bus?  She didn’t!  I went to the bed and breakfast that I had stayed earlier and they said I could stay there for a few days.

The next few days were a little tense… to say the least, but I got a job and the B&B offered me a room as a flat.  Sadie’s parents were relieved too that I appeared to be making a go of things.

Heaven of heavens, I could see her almost every day.  The days passed.  Christmas came and went and by March we were engaged.  We planned for St. Patrick’s Day March 17th 1974 but that was a Sunday…so we were engaged on the Saturday, buying her ‘the ring’ in Cork City at Hilser Bros in Grand Parade.

We married the following year in Rome, August 2nd 1975 and Honeymooned at Ostia di Roma Lido.  Two glorious weeks in Bella Italia… the start of a love-affair with that country!

It was Sadie’s idea that we get married in Rome.  It meant that her parents would not insist on her being 21, and with having family scattered across Ireland and England it meant that we wouldn’t have an expensive wedding.  What little we had could be focused on us and our Honeymoon.

Returning to the Church

When we got home and back to work again my Sweetheart continued to attend Church – so I went with her.  Returning to Church helped open my mind again to things of the spirit, and I was always of an inquisitive disposition.  I joined the local library and would read lots, especially theories around the formation of the universe and the nature of man.

I liked books by Von Daniken that advanced the suggestion that God was an astronaut!  Seems funny now but i enjoyed looking beyond narrow perspectives.  He cited evidences from archaeological sites around the Gulf of Mexico and Central and South America.  He showed evidences of advanced civilisations that built vast temples and pyramids far superior to anything in the ‘old world’.  He showed aerial photographs of sunken cities in Gulf of Mexico only visible from the air.  It sure got me thinking.

This, together with other more middle-of-the-road authors who suggested that we were not alone, and that the vast universe must contain many worlds like ours – since there were billions of galaxies, and that our own little Milky Way was a small event in comparison to the wide universe out there.

Meeting the Missionaries

We were expecting our first baby.  The company I was working for in Youghal was on short-time and was looking for voluntary redundancies.  I went up to Limerick and got a job and we planned to move there.  This was late June early July 1976.  We rented a house not too far out of the city centre and with easy access for me to get a lift to work.   I would again be working a three cycle shift pattern as I had done in Belfast and Youghal.

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About this time, probably mid July, I answered the door.  Generally, Sadie would have answered but I must have been feeling generous especially as she was quite advanced in pregnancy.  At the door were two Mormon Missionaries.  I had never met them before.  In fact, I have no recollection of ever even seeing or having heard anything of the Church.

One of the Missionaries asked me a strange question as I met with them at the door, ‘How would you like to be on the earth when the Saviour comes again’!  I don’t know if he had ever used this door-approach before or since, but for me it was electric!  I routinely would attend Catholic Church and would not really take too much notice of what was going on – however I always looked forward to the part when the Priest would say, ‘Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again’.  For me this was my part of the Mass.

I could hear these words ringing in my ears.  I invited them in.  They were really surprised, but not as much as my Wife who was shocked that I would bring anyone in before asking her in advance.

I remember viewing the First Vision for the first time.  The Elders asked if I believed that this could really have happened.  I remember saying, ‘why not’.  They introduced me to the Book of Mormon and the importance of prayer.

They would highlight certain passages which they wanted me to read.  For me this was like giving me only the ‘loaded bits’.  I told them that I would read the book for myself.  I was really surprised, for just as soon as I started to read from it, I couldn’t put it down.  I would read before going to sleep and then wake in the night and start reading again as if I had not taken a break.  I was devouring it at a rapid rate.  I was convinced it was true.  I had not prayed about it – it just felt right.

Prayer

The Elders taught me how to pray.  It seems a strange thing for me to say but prayers were always said for me by the Priest and ‘rote’ prayers could be recited without really giving any thought to what was being uttered.

I remember a few significant occasions with my own prayers.  One was an evening as I was going off to bed.  Mum said to me, ‘Son, tonight pray for world peace’.  This was the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, October 1964, when it looked like the USA and the USSR (a younger generation will have to Google this name),  would go to war over nuclear weapons on Cuba.  The other and much more memorable experience was on being advised of the death of my sister, Marie.  This was 1st July 1962.  She was only 20 for two weeks.  I asked God to take it all away and make it all a dream.  Sadly, it was reality.

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Big Brother and Big Sister

The loss of her has haunted me all of my life since that terrible day.  My Parents were broken.  They never recovered from this tragedy.  They had been blessed with four children and I was the youngest.  Marie was born June 1942; Sadie was born October 1943; Michael was born May 1945 and myself June 1951.  Sadie only lived a few months and died in 1944 from the scourge of Consumption.  In later years I would come to know that this was Tuberculosis or TB.  Even now, after all these years, I cry for the loss of my Sisters and for my Parents and the aching grief they endured.

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Baby Bill & Big Sis

With the Church we are given the steps to prayer.  We thank our Father in Heaven; we ask for that which concerns us; we close in the name of our Saviour.  Having to use my own words and create my own language of prayer was very difficult at first.  I was comforted to know that Joseph Smith’s first vocal prayer led to receiving what we refer to as ‘The First Vision’.  So finding it difficult to pray vocally puts me in good company.

I remember the first time i tried.  My wife was downstairs and I thought I would go up to the bedroom where it would be quiet.  I remembered the steps.  I knelt down beside the bed.  I wanted to know if what the Missionaries were teaching me about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon were true.  I had no reason to doubt that He would answer me.  I just had no idea of what form or fashion it would take.

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As I began to pray I remember feeling very uneasy.  The words I was trying to utter were very difficult to get out!  This feeling intensified to the point where I was actually frightened.  I Immediately jumped up and stopped praying.  I remember thinking ‘if that’s what praying does, then I’ll forget it’.  The frightening sensation left me.

I think it was later that night that I tried again.  This time I was actually in bed.  My wife was fast asleep beside me.  I felt safe and secure knowing that she was there too.  I had barely started when this time not only did a feel fear and dread but a bad smell seemed to occupy the room.  There was a bible on the bedside beside my Book of Mormon.  I reached out and grabbed the bible thinking that this would protect me.  Who or what the influence was I didn’t stop to think.  I just knew that if I stopped praying then this fear would go away.

No further attempts were made at that time.  Within a few days of these experiences I was walking down to get my lift to work.  The sun was shining and it was a beautiful August day probably about 7:20am.  The road I was on is called Corbally Road and is the main road to Clare and into and out-of Limerick City.  The River Shannon runs along just a short distance from the road.  There was a horse in the field and he was really having a great scratch on the wired fence.  He almost had the fence horizontal with his efforts for pleasure.  I’m amazed that even after all these years, I can still see it all so clearly.  It’s almost as if I’m transported back in time.

I remember looking at the large spire of the Catholic Cathedral as it pierced the skyline.  The thought occurred to me ‘it looks like a thorn in the side of Christ’.  I started to think about my failed attempts at prayer.  As I walked, I thought, ‘Heavenly Father loves me, and if the Church is true, He would want me to know that’.  He would want me to pray.  This seemed sound.  Then the thought came, ‘but if the Church is not true – He would also want me to know that because He loves me and would want to protect me’.  Either way Father would want to pray.

Testimony

I remember stopping as I walked along and having ‘my eureka moment’.  There is only one reason why I’m being prevented and that is because it is true.  The source that was trying to prevent me wanted to scare me off…this source was not interested in me or my pursuit of knowledge but only in prevention.

I stood there for a time and then resumed my walk to work.  My step was lighter.  My mind was alight.  I had come to know for myself that Joseph Smith is a Prophet of the Lord; that the Book of Mormon was true; and that the Priesthood had been restored to the earth.  I felt that I had battled to receive my own personal witness and that the prize I had won exceeded all my expectations.

Years have passed.  Life brings such joy and some challenges.  Time does not diminish my testimony…it only enhances it.  Stage-by-stage I have received so many spiritual witnesses.  All of these have drawn me ever closer to my Father whom I love with all that I am.

My dream

I mentioned earlier of the time I met ‘the girl of my dreams’.  There is a little more to this story.  When I was at Primary School, the Catholic school I went to had separate classes for boys and girls.  The older girls met upstairs.  They were at least 2 years older than me.  I think I was 8 or 9.  One girl was called Laura.  There was a hit song at that time too ‘Tell Laura I love her’.  I thought she was beautiful.  She was so much taller than I and not in the least interested in scrawny little me.  I remember praying, in my mind, how I wished for someone to love me.  I had a dream.  In it I was shown the girl I would marry.  She seemed so tall.  She had a long flowing dress which seemed to be multi-coloured.  She was dark haired.  In time the dream faded.  Then I met my sweetheart in Donegal.  The dream didn’t all come back at once but gradually until I’ve come to realise that my Father loves me and promises to answer all my righteous desires.  He has been so very good to me.

“Does the day dawn; Does night come: Does God live”?

Oh yes He does, and how powerfully I have been shown it.

I attended a priesthood leadership training in Manchester many years ago.  I had travelled from Limerick to be there.  I arrived at the Stake building late and the meeting was about to start.  I was ushered in at a side door and luckily for me I was really close to the podium.  The opening hymn was announced.  I began to sing with the congregation when the volume behind me caused the hairs on the back of my neck to stand on end.  I looked around and the place was filled with men of the priesthood.  I had never seen anything like this before.  I had come from a small branch in the West of Ireland.  This Stake centre was filled to capacity and all with men of the priesthood.

The voice in my mind and which I’ve heard so many times over the years asked me a question: ‘Does the day dawn; Does night come: Does God live’?

Oh yes He does, and how powerfully I have been shown it.

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Bill@Gmail

My beautiful Wife is Sarah. She is my life.

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