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Vai's View: Finding one's way through faith

Published: Friday, Dec. 2 2011 10:38 a.m. MST

Temecia Stone and Bryan Rowley at Stewart Falls in Aspen Grove, Utah.

Vai Sikahema

About a year ago, I wrote of the special bond and relationship I have with former Utah All-America receiver Bryan Rowley, who moved into my LDS ward in 2006. We were introduced by mutual friend Chad Lewis, who at the time had just finished his NFL career in Philadelphia and returned to his Cedar Hills, Utah, home.

Each of us wrote a blog last November about our unique friendship and how it helped bring Bryan back into church activity. Chad and Bryan were Orem High teammates and grew up together. Bryan played for Utah in the late '80s and early '90s and still holds most of Utah's receiving records.

Bryan moved east after his divorce because his ex-wife is from New Jersey and he wanted to be closer to his daughter Sage, who returned with her mother to be closer to family.

In the years following college, Bryan drifted from the moorings of his faith. Our relationship started slowly, with open invitations for dinner in our home. That led to Bryan's offer of help with my youngest son's Eagle Scout merit badges. Others in our LDS ward and stake also befriended Bryan, and slowly he returned to church, eventually accepted a calling, home teaching assignments and two years ago, was able to baptize his daughter.

After his divorce was finalized, Bryan didn't seem eager to date or resume a courtship, focusing all of his energy on raising Sage. But Bryan was in his mid-30s so in due time, he longed for companionship. A divorcee tethered to New Jersey because of the state's restrictive custody laws isn't exactly an attractive "catch," even if it's because he's trying to be a good father. Several trips west to Utah to meet or date a prospective companion yielded a few friendships but nothing more. At someone's urging, Bryan even tried finding someone compatible on LDS singles' websites, but that didn't work.

No one locally caught his interest. Bryan needed a woman willing to move to New Jersey because until Sage is 18, Bryan simply can't leave the state because he shares joint custody with his ex-wife. His ex isn't LDS, but with Bryan now divorced and returned to church activity, marrying LDS was a priority. Yet he wasn't having any luck.

Then, two summers ago he was introduced to a pretty, petite brunette named Temecia Stone by friends while visiting the Jersey shore. She wasn't LDS, in fact she worked for a spirits company — Jim Beam — as a business analyst.

There was no special connection, in part because Temecia was going through her own divorce and she lived nearly two hours away in Harrisburg, Pa. After her divorce, Temecia's work brought her regularly to Philly and south Jersey. Sometimes she would text or call Bryan and they'd meet for lunch, see a movie or attend a concert. They found they both enjoyed the outdoors — hiking, skiing, running — and now a single mother, Temecia shared joint custody of her little boy with her ex, just like Bryan.

Increasingly, Temecia was drawn to Bryan and some of his interesting quirks. "I'd be in town on a Saturday night and ask him if he wanted to go 'midnight bowling' with a group of friends and he'd decline because he was preparing a Sunday school lesson," Temecia told me. He didn't want to stay out late on Saturday nights and on Sundays, he wouldn't go to movies, out to dinner or hiking at all.

"A lot of people say they believe in God or are spiritual beings, but Bryan was the first guy I met who actually practiced his faith," she said. "I was so impressed by that and also his priorities."

Temecia was intrigued with how important it was to Bryan that his 9-year-old daughter dressed modestly for church on weekends when he had visiting privileges — men she knew just didn't care about that stuff. Curious, Temecia asked if she could come to church with him.

Bryan didn't serve a mission and had never had a church calling until the bishop asked him to teach the teacher's quorum on Sundays. He had played in packed stadiums from Laramie to Lincoln but standing in front of teenage boys was more nerve-wracking than he expected. So, whenever Temecia was in town on a Saturday, he asked her if he could practice his lessons on her. She listened and asked questions, sometimes even stumping him. They spent their Saturday nights poring over the teacher's manual, scriptures and lesson ideas so Bryan could feel confident teaching kids who knew the material inside-out.

Temecia occasionally stayed with us in our guest room. Sometimes, she'd be accompanied by her little boy, 4-year-old Rogan. Bryan and Temecia were frequent dinner guests — especially on Sundays — which led to wonderful discussions about faith and religion. We learned Temecia grew up in a small central-Pennsylvania town where she and her family were church-going, evangelical Christians. Like many young adults, her church attendance waned when she left home for college, continuing into marriage. Her relationship with Bryan elicited questions she had long harbored but never found adequate answers for. This past spring, we invited the Elders to teach Temecia the missionary discussions in our home.

Temecia is a college-educated woman with a management job, so we should not have been surprised that she always read more than the simple reading assignments given her by the Elders from the Book of Mormon. Yet she pleasantly surprised us. She consistently read four or five chapters more than she was given, sometimes reading it twice for comprehension. Temecia typically started lessons with a list of questions from her reading. Elders Corey Daley of Forrestville, Calif., and Paul Bezas from Twin Falls, Idaho, learned to come prepared for the unexpected.

Among the many questions Temecia had was, "Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?" All four of her missionaries, Elders Daley, Bezas, then Elders Steven Anderson of Apple Valley, Calif., and Stephan Phelps of Orem, Utah, offered some wonderful thoughts, scriptures and I even weighed in with some ideas. To no avail. Nothing satisfied that particular question.

Then, while watching October General Conference with us in our home, Elder Robert Hales of the Twelve opened his remarks by saying, "I have often pondered, Why is it that the Son of God and His holy prophets and all the faithful Saints have trials and tribulations, even when they are trying to do Heavenly Father's will? Why is it so hard, especially for them?" Temecia turned to look at me and I just smiled and shrugged my shoulders at her. As she listened, her eyes moistened and I sensed her question was being answered in a very personal way, by an Apostle speaking from Salt Lake City to millions world-wide.

I counseled Temecia that her many questions about the Church, the gospel and life in general won't all be answered in one fell swoop. I told her I grew up in the Church and I still have unanswered questions. By now she was familiar with the story of the Brother of Jared so I used that to illustrate my point. The Lord answered some things about their trans-Atlantic trip in the eight barges — make a hole at the bottom and top and use plugs; only open the top for air for obvious reasons and you can't use fire or have windows for light. The Lord left the lighting problem to the Brother of Jared, given those parameters. He came up with the idea of 16 stones that the Lord would touch and illuminate the darkened barges, presumably two per barge.

This is just how my mind works, but I always wondered how in such close quarters, how they dealt with toilet facilities? To me, that would've been important in small, submarine-like barges because of the threat of cholera or other sanitary diseases, to say nothing of privacy.

In the end — no pun intended — I think those issues were solved using ingenuity or other methods, but they must've figured something out because they did arrive in the New World.

I suggested to Temecia that my own personal questions, like hers, will be answered along the way, in time, with patience, as we seek to improve, just as the Jaredites travel-related issues were thousands of years ago. Sometimes it comes while listening to a General Conference talk, as we did that day, or from scripture study, or an experience or during deep contemplation.

So many of our conversations with Temecia led to enlightened moments like this.

As their relationship deepened, Bryan took Temecia to Orem to meet his family, her first time in Utah. They hiked Timpanogos, ate lunch with Elder Larry W. Gibbons of the Seventy and spent a day touring Temple Square.

Just last week, Temecia finished reading the Book of Mormon — all 531 pages — on her birthday. Last Sunday, Bryan baptized Temecia Stone as the entire Moorestown, N.J., ward looked on as Elders Anderson and Phelps served as witnesses.

Temecia asked if I'd confirm her this Sunday. It's our stake conference weekend and one of Temecia's first missionaries — Elder Paul Bezas — is serving in another area of our stake so he'll join Elders Anderson and Phelps, mission president Bill Shaefermeyer, Bryan, a few others and me to bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost on her Sunday afternoon.

Finally, a word of gratitude to the Daleys of Forrestville, Calif., the Bezas of Twin Falls, Idaho, the Andersons of Apple Valley, Calif., and the Phelps of Orem, Utah. Thank you for sending us your faithful sons. Having sat through most of Temecia's discussions, you should know that your wonderful sons made a difference. They're amazing teachers and exemplary in every way. They shared experiences of your family life to answer Temecia's questions and are well-versed in our doctrine and scriptures. You should be so proud.

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