Mormon church helps former NFL player sort out spiritual puzzle

Published: Thursday, Nov. 4 2010 6:30 a.m. MDT

With Miles single, living alone and dealing with multiple health problems, Lester offered to arrange for someone from the local Mormon congregation to drop by and check on him. Ever independent, Miles politely declined. His new friend did it anyway.

A local church member visited. Miles said he was just fine. When the gentleman left his contact information, Miles said thanks and dropped it in the trash after he left. The man continued to check on him anyway.

Then two missionaries knocked on his door. "OK guys, you have five minutes," Miles told them.

"But five minutes turned into two hours," he said.

Miles was so touched by the story of Joseph Smith's First Vision he asked the elders to repeat it three times. "They probably thought, 'This guy can't retain anything,'" he said.

The more Miles learned the more he felt the gospel was the missing void in his life. In his journal he wrote in huge letters, "I can't believe I have finally found it." Miles had imagined his conversion would be a dramatic event, like a clap of thunder or a spectacular parade down the street. "I didn't get my parade, but this was exactly what I was looking for," he said.

Against the wishes of his doctors and nurses, the 6-foot-7 man checked out of the hospital to be baptized. He endured some pain to do it, but later proclaimed that day — July 28, 2007 — to be one of the greatest of his life. The following day he was back in the hospital.

With time, Miles was ordained an elder, received his patriarchal blessing and attended the temple.

Earlier this year, Elder C. Scott Grow of the First Quorum of the Seventy came to Akron for a stake conference and asked Miles' stake president, Doug Talley, if there was someone who might benefit from a visit with a general authority. President Talley referred Miles. The two men spoke for an hour in Miles' home. Elder Grow was impressed with Miles' sweet, positive attitude.

"I saw a man on crutches," Elder Grow said. "I learned he is in constant pain, like his body is on fire day and night. What really impressed me was his huge smile and how he never complained. What began as a casual conversation with a member of the church became a life-changing experience for someone who was seeking the truth. Each of us needs to be sensitive to those opportunities."

The next day at stake conference, Elder Grow invited his new friend to sit on the front row. Then during the meeting the general authority asked the humble giant to stand and share his story. Initially Miles, who had played football in massive stadiums before numerous hordes of fans, wanted to strap on his old helmet and hide, but his knees held together and he shared his testimony.

The following week Miles was surprised to hear from Elder Grow again. The general authority asked if Miles would be the subject of a Mormon Message video. At first Miles objected, but Elder Grow was persistent.

"I didn't want to do it," Miles said. "I didn't think my story was that inspirational. He said to think about it and see how I feel. Then a producer called. I said, 'Are you under the impression I said yes to this?' He asked if I was really going to argue with revelation. So they came out for four days."

The reaction to the Internet video has been positive, Miles said. The attention makes him uncomfortable, but he hopes his story gives courage to someone somewhere. Elder Grow said the video was well done and captures the sweetness of the man.

"I felt the Spirit as I watched," Elder Grow said. "But the spirit and eternal optimism of the man is even greater than can possibly be portrayed in the video."

Despite Miles' health problems, his bishop, Paul Stark, says the gentle giant never misses a Sunday. After his baptism three years ago he was called to be the gospel essentials teacher and did a phenomenal job. He loved the calling so much he continues to prepare weekly lessons, even after he was called to be the ward employment specialist.

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