Mormonism Looks Good
How can such good people be wrong? I thought. There's gotta be something there. Surely if God designed His church for today's world, it would be like this one.
Jim's account with Campbell Soup took him to the Arizona farmlands each year from May to the first of July. He needed to be there during potato harvest to oversee grading, loading, and shipping to ensure top quality spuds. Although this was my first time accompanying him with our kids, I heard my husband rave so much about Joe Jackson and his family, I'd gotten sick of it. "Judy, these are the finest people you'll ever meet."
At first, I made serious accusations. "Jim, these people just want your business," I said cynically. "That's why they're being so nice. They're snowing you."
"Judy, how can you say that? They're just sincere, hard-working people."
"Well, I have a funny feeling about them. And what is their religion? Mormon? I've never heard of that before."
"They are totally committed to it. I've never seen anything like it. Everything they do revolves around their church and family."
After a summer of observing this "all-American" family in action, I began to see their appealing qualities, too. Boy, they really do have something! Certainly something we don't. I want to know more.
My depleted spiritual life needed to be recharged, especially after a recent incident at our home church in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I guess you could say my spiritual candle was flickering.
At a vacation Bible school planning meeting, I sat with my co-director in her elegant living room. I opened my heart and unfolded what I thought were innovative and fresh ideas for the kids. In the middle of my presentation she interrupted me. "We've never done it this way before, and I don't know who you think you are, trying to change our VBS!" she sputtered, eyes glaring at me. Her words stung and I sat speechless. Unable to go on, I swallowed hard, gathered my things, and left her home like a whipped puppy.
I choked back tears all the way home. Once in our bedroom I lamented, How could she be so cruel?
I knew after a good fifteen-minute sob I needed to get my feelings under control fast. The kids would be back soon from their friends' house and Jim home for supper.
After eight years of marriage, Jim's way was to try to "fix" my hurt feelings. He'd say something like "Why didn't you just tell her off?"
But I couldn't bring myself to tell off anyone. So I stuffed it in my hurt-feelings bag never to tell anyone—not even God. I didn't know how to share my hurts with God, and I hadn't studied the Bible enough to know we should "bear one another's burdens."
I'd been a church attendee all my life, listened to lots of sermons, but I didn't know how my faith should work in times of crisis. That's why I looked forward to this family trip and meeting these "fine" people Jim kept telling me about.
* * *
A cloud of dust caught up with Joe Jackson's truck as he skidded to a stop beside the still-turning props of our Twin Comanche airplane. "Hurry up, honey, I want to say hello to Joe."
"Mom, where are the bathrooms? I can't wait any longer." Janet, six, squirmed in the four-seater company plane, struggling with her seatbelt. Our four-year-old son, Steve, squeezed past my seat. He'd already taken care of the no-pot-up-in-the-air business by using the Ziploc bags we'd brought along. Our pediatrician suggested our kids could "bomb the coyotes" while in the air.
We could already smell the dusty Arizona farmland, so different from the lush greenness of our home in Arkansas.
"Jim, are you sure people live here?"
"Don't worry, you'll see. The potato shed is over there." Jim pointed to a long, tin-roofed building with a train car pulled up along one side and several trailer trucks parked on the other. "Queen Creek's down the road. It's just a post office, a few general stores, and the Mormon church. Families live on big ranches spread out all over the desert."
"Welcome, folks. You look like you could use a drink." Joe was the grower Jim bought most of his potatoes from.
That's putting it mildly, I thought. My teeth crunched the dust that stirred from his truck. This is the hottest air I've ever felt in my life—it's like a blast furnace! My skin felt gritty. I think standing under a faucet would be more appropriate!
* * *
The Jackson family put us up in an apartment house they owned right off Main Street, near the center of the city of Mesa. After we had a welcome shower to get the accumulated dust off, they took us out to dinner.
Our kids enjoyed the apartment complex's swimming pool. Across the street from our summer home was a lush green park, and we were only a block away from the gleaming white Mormon temple. Its acres of cool grass, tall palm trees, and sparkling fountains were an oasis in the desert.
They treated us like family, taking us out to eat and to church and to family cookouts. "I'll have to admit, Jim, any people I've ever been around that I've thought were really Christians have these same attributes. They are good, loving, family-oriented people." In no time, I forgot the unpleasant experience with the church member back in Fayetteville.
Jim and I agreed before we married that we would join a "neutral" church if we couldn't agree on his Lutheran background or my Disciples of Christ upbringing. We believed that if our family prayed together we'd stay together.
After hopping from church to church to find our niche, we finally settled on the First Christian Church. I had attended it as a college student at the University of Arkansas.
We jumped right into the activities. Jim was on the church board and eventually became vice chairman. One summer, I co-directed the vacation Bible school. It was during this time I felt the sting of the sharp words of my co-director criticizing my ideas. Even though I attended church regularly, I didn't adequately know how to call on God for my needs. Perhaps you could call me a social Christian.
I never searched the Scriptures I'd learned about, sung about, and heard every Sunday during my entire life. I was president of Christian Youth Fellowship, played piano for Sunday school, attended church camp every summer, and sang in the choir with my mother.
Jim received "proper training," too. Raised in the Lutheran faith, he learned many Scriptures to be able to pass the exam for catechism. "I didn't continue learning Scriptures and eventually forgot all I'd been taught," Jim recalled.
Satan is subtle, catching us in our weakness. Nursing my wounds from the sharp tongue of a less-than-tactful church member, the kids and I traveled with Jim on this fateful trip into the desert of Arizona to buy potatoes. Little did we know this journey would change our lives forever.