August 7, 2016 by FHElessons
Recently, as I was going through some old photo albums and scanning pictures for an upcoming event, I stumbled upon a great treasure: a Why I Believe essay written by my grandmother 62 years ago!
Not only is this an amazing treasure for my entire extended family – to have a written, personal testimony from their beloved grandmother, but I am so happy to be able to include my grandmother’s essay in the Why I Believe collection on my blog (Click on the “Why I Believe” tab at the top of the page to see all the essays so far).
[Bernie (top-center) on her baptism day with her 3 children. On the left are her husband and mother-in-law. On the right is Paris Stewart, the man who baptized her.]
Bernie Shown was a woman of great faith who loved the Lord with all her heart. She endured many hardships in her life yet always maintained a positive, cheerful outlook. She was an athlete who loved to play tennis and would frequently get a game of baseball going with whatever kids were around. She enjoyed fishing and being outdoors. She would sometimes catch you as you were walking through the room and twirl you around in a dance. She was an excellent historian and spent many hours doing genealogy at a time when that consisted of writing letters and searching microfiche at the genealogical library across town. Her favorite scripture was, “As I have loved you, love one another.” She constantly reminded us grandkids to “Be Ye Kind.”
Bernie lived a life of service, spending most of her free time helping others. She loved to take her cub scout boys camping and was well known for her “Shown burgers” – a kind of hamburger, foil dinner. Throughout her life and even after her death, people would come up to me and say things like, “I sure loved your grandmother. She was a wonderful person,” and “Sister Shown was my favorite scout leader ever. She made a huge difference in my life.” Here is a picture of her teaching her Primary kids, probably not long after her baptism:
Although Bernie’s husband (my grandfather) never joined the church in this lifetime, Bernie always faithfully attended church without him. She was an example of discipleship to her children and grandchildren and taught us to love the Lord as she loved Him.
Here is her conversion story and testimony:
Why I Believe by Bernadine
This opportunity I’ve been given of writing my testimony, so that others may read of my enthusiasm to this gospel, is indeed a gratifying opportunity and a humbling experience. I pray for the words to flow easily and for the Lord to guide my pen. However, I have been asked to share my testimony with others, and I have been asked by one who is in authority. Therefore it is my conviction that I should do so. I pray for wisdom and the ability to successfully complete this task.
I am now thirty eight years of age. I am married to a wonderful man, and have three beautiful children. We have been married twelve years. Our first girl is eleven; our second girl is nine; our third, the boy, is six. It is this wonderful family that first turned my heart to things spiritual.
It is my belief that my husband and I were brought together by our Heavenly Father. Before I was baptized, or before I knew enough to attribute such things to a power greater than our own, I knew that our marriage was meant to be. Even before we married, both of us talked of how strange it was that we should find one another. Each successive year just proves this conviction.
My husband and I both came from homes where religion did not play too great a part. He attended Sunday School more regularly than I. Only twice in my youth do I remember being enrolled in a Sunday School, and then only for short periods. I was never baptized, and never told the story of Jesus Christ until I was in high school.
However, my parents I love very dearly for they taught me all the Christian principles. They were very conscientious, and felt that responsibility of a family very strongly. They taught me to have this same feeling of responsibility, to be honest with yourself and with others, and to always have an open unbiased mind. My father always told me to learn the facts, study both sides, and then think for yourself.
Before Bob and I were married we talked a very little about religion. We actually had very little time to talk religion for we were married just eight months after we met, and most of this eight months he was away training to become a pilot in Uncle Sam’s Air Force. We did though, as I say, have this keen feeling that our marriage was pre-planned by a power greater than our own. When it actually became time to get married, we both wanted to be married by a preacher and in a church. We were married by a Methodist minister in a small church in Quartzsite, Arizona.
(Bob and Bernie the day after their wedding.)
You may wonder why I am telling all this history. Well, it is my opinion that the Lord is always working to bring about one’s salvation. Salvation is a continual thing, and thus, a testimony is being built long before the person is aware of this fact. Only since my baptism has the clear picture been clear to me. It is my earnest prayer that my family and I may always have this power for God guiding our lives, and that we might not ever do anything to cause us to retrogress.
Bob was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Air Force six months after we were married. For the next ten years we traveled from one air force base to another. Our family grew and our happiness increased. Our first, Bari, was born in 1944. Our second, Donna, was born in 1946. John, our boy, was born in 1949.
During these years we met many people. Those whom we met, who were members of the Latter-day Saint Church, were especially nice. To me there seemed to be something different about the way these people lived. Their lives truly centered around their church, but their exemplary lives made me curious. My husband too was interested in what it was these people had. However, it was not until I asked to know what Mormonism was did I find my new friends anxious to talk. One family in particular, the Paris U. Stewarts of Las Vegas, who happened to be our insurance agents, brought and left in our home a Book of Mormon.
My husband was the first to read this book. First he only scanned through it, but then his interest became aroused; he re-read the entire book carefully. Regretfully I confess my interest was not great enough to do more than thumb through it.
Soon after our introduction to the Book of Mormon, the missionaries began coming to our home once each week to explain Mormonism to us. Erma Stewart came first, and then Emily Lee and her companion. I found the discussions interesting, but always there were questions unanswered.
Erma Stewart. (I found this picture with Bernie’s baptism documents, captioned “my missionary”.)
Perhaps I should interrupt here to tell a little more history. Before I was married, in fact while I was in high school, I met a very dear person, Myra Rhodes, who explained to me a great deal about the Bible, and more particularly about Jesus Christ. At this time, to her, I confessed my faith in Jesus Christ.
And so, when the missionaries told me of Jesus Christ, and of God the Father, I believed every word. Only when they began the story of Joseph Smith and some of the Mormon doctrine did I find questions unanswered. I’m afraid the missionaries considered me a hopeless prospect. My husband, however, gave less argument with the way the Book was revealed. Truthfully, I could not understand how the Lord could reveal anything to man so directly. That the Lord could or would manifest himself in the flesh was, at this time, impossible for me to understand, and this I told to my missionaries. This never seemed to discourage them. Just keep praying, and try to read the Book of Mormon, this is all they would say.
Well, Uncle Sam interrupted our missionary meetings. We were transferred to Valdosta, Georgia. Bob left several months ahead of the children and me, and the missionaries did continue with me alone, but I never really wanted to listen to them until Bob and I could listen together.
Several weeks after we arrived in Valdosta and had established our new home, a neighborhood Methodist minister called at our home and asked us to visit his church. We did accept his invitation, and soon after enrolled the children in Sunday School and quite regularly attended the church services. In fact, I even did a little teaching in this Sunday School. One of their teachers was always finding it necessary to leave town and when she did she would call on me to act as a substitute. This work I truly enjoyed.
This minster, a Mr. Buccannan, was a wonderful man. He was extremely friendly, very sincere, and a very convincing personality. Bob and I both liked him very much, and I’m sure he played an important part in the development of my testimony
I had never been a member of any church, and had never been baptized. I expressed a desire to Mr. Buccannan that I would like to be baptized and also join the Methodist church. Bob and I decided that the children would be baptized and join the church also. He had already been baptized when he was twelve years old. We had his membership transferred to this church from Los Angeles, Griffith Avenue Methodist Church.
This move to join myself to a church, I am sure, had a definite influence on my later being baptized in Latter-day Saint Church. While we were attending Sunday meetings in our new church, my conviction as to the divinity of Jesus Christ and his mission here on earth became deeply embedded within me. I now seemed to know that my faith in God and Jesus Christ was the one thing upon which all things great were established, and this faith would affect the blessings that came to me and my family.
Quite miraculously, but this is another story of which I will not take time to tell, the Mormon missionaries found us again in Valdosta. My husband was again willing to listen, but I told them on their first visit of our baptisms and our membership in our newfound church, and that there were others more anxious to listen than we. Needless to say, they didn’t return. I thought at the time I was doing right, even though Bob told me I shouldn’t have done this.
While we were in Valdosta, Bob decided to leave the service, and so just about one year after we arrived in Georgia, we left to return to Las Vegas where we planned to make our home. The first week we arrived in Las Vegas the children and I attended the Methodist Sunday School. Bob had lost some of his enthusiasm for church in general.
That next week I became very sick. It started with a cold and then it progressed to what seemed to be a complete collapse. Instead of getting better I got weaker and weaker. It came to the point where I began to think that perhaps I would die, and if I did what would happen to my family? About all I could decide was that God would take care of my family if He chose to take me.
I had been sick about three weeks and Bob had come to bed for the night. I had said my prayers with a special plea that I would get better. I had quickly dropped off to sleep. During this night the Lord spoke to me personally. I awakened and heard a clear voice say this: “What your family needs is the Latter-day Saint Church.”
That’s all that was said, but it was so clear that I awakened my husband who was sleeping beside me to tell him what had happened. His only words were, “Yes, I know, dear. I’ve known this for a long time. Now go to sleep and you’ll feel better in the morning.”
(This is Bernie and Bob in front of the church in which they were married at about this time, 12 years after their wedding.)
I slept soundly all night and in the morning, although I had not been up to care for my family in three weeks, I seemed to have some compelling force guide me to get up. I seemed to be impressed with the thought, “Get up and care for your family until you feel you must go back to bed.”
This guiding influence stayed with me for four or five days, little by little my strength came back. This influence, which I by now recognized as the Holy Spirit, told me things to do, how to gain strength, and most marvelous of all, it made clear to my mind many parts of the Latter-day Saint doctrine that had been so mystifying and perplexing to me when the missionaries had talked with us.
Several incidences that occurred where this Holy influence was guiding me I should like to relate. When I first got out of bed that morning after I had been impressed to get up and care for my family, I was told to go to the Bible and open it. I did and my eyes rested upon these words: “Whosoever believeth on Me shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” These words had a new meaning to me now.
Another time, I was standing doing dishes and my thoughts turned to the Word of Wisdom. When this part of the Mormon Church was explained to me I just couldn’t understand it. It seemed to me temporal laws were not a part of Jesus Christ’s teachings. Although I didn’t smoke and didn’t particularly like coffee, I couldn’t understand why a person must not do these things if they were to become Mormons. Now as I stood doing the dishes my mind began to reason along these lines: “If people were to experience a great catastrophe, they would need complete control of their minds and bodies. Shock might result from a weak body. These habits of smoking and drinking did weaken a person physically. So, if God commanded us not to do these things in order to keep our bodies healthy, He was doing so in order to preserve our health for this time we might be called upon to be emotionally and physically strong. This reasoning had never occurred to me before, and to me it made good sense.
So, this experience of being ill and regaining my strength through the grace of God, and receiving such a testimony that “our family needed the Mormon Church” made these things clear to me:
1. That He could speak directly to his children. Thus, indirectly I could see how Joseph Smith had received his revelations. I now could understand how the Book of Mormon was revealed.
2. That Mormons must not drink strong drink or smoke. Someday the Lord might need us to help our fellow neighbors.
3. That we must listen to our prophets. Follow all their instructions.
4. And most important of all – Prayer is our greatest source of power. The Holy ghost is the medium through which this power is received. Through prayer, and our willingness to act for ourselves, and obey His commandments, the Lord will guide us into rightful paths.
Two weeks after I had left my bed, I was well and myself once again. I was so enthused about my experience that I felt my husband must and would share this enthusiasm. He did not. In fact, it seemed he was definite now that the Mormon Church was not for him. I wanted to tell everyone. This was my immediate reaction. Everyone must know what I knew. I told my missionaries. They were speechless, but, of course, understood it all much better than I.
Our children and myself enrolled in the Sunday School. We attended regularly. We went to Sacrament meetings as often as possible. I began to read books. It seemed I was hungry to learn as much about God’s work as possible. Read, read, read. Study, study, study. My family thought something was wrong. All books except religious books were forgotten. For eight months though, I took no steps to be baptized. I felt my husband must understand, and that then we would both be baptized together. I tried to talk about the Mormon doctrines to him, but finally he told me he was not going to be baptized and that the children and I should go ahead and be baptized. Of course, Johnny, our youngest son, was not old enough.
Finally, one Sunday morning as we were about to leave for Sunday School, I picked up my Bible, and opened it. My eyes immediately rested upon these words: “Why tarriest thou? Repent ye and be baptized.”
This it seemed was a commandment to me personally. So, for the first time I told Erma Stewart I was ready to be baptized. Erma was my missionary. I told her it would have to be without my husband. Arrangements were made for me and the girls to be baptized on April 11, 1954. Bob, his mother, and our son John were in attendance as we went in to the waters at the First Ward Chapel of the LDS Church in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Someday my small son and his father will be baptized. Not at the time I want it, but when Our Father in Heaven wills it so.
Always I shall be thankful above all other possessions for my testimony. Nothing can ever take it from me. I pray humbly that it will continue to grow, and that I will always be able to please my Heavenly Father. May I help others to know that God lives and answers prayers, is my humble prayer.
In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
A picture of Bernie later in her life. At this time most people knew her as “Grammy”.