Randy Casto of Lusby, Maryland, grew up wearing a red and white bathrobe and celebrating Catholic mass in his bedroom, offering passionate sermons to his twin brother. The ebullient young man dreamed of a long life of service in the priesthood.
Meredith Carter grew up wearing robes of fear and anxiety in a home hammered by divorce, and, later, abuse. She was raised Episcopalian and, despite her tumultuous childhood and teenage years, held to the promise that God lived and loved her. The hopeful young woman dreamed of a long life of health, happiness and a loving family.
During college, Randy left Catholicism over doctrinal disagreements and soon found a spiritual home in the Lutheran faith. After a decade of study, Randy became a full-time Lutheran pastor and was blessed with a congregation of his own.
Meredith’s spiritual journey also led to full-time ministry and she became an Episcopal priest in 2007. The faith would ground her during an abusive marriage and both a painful and public divorce.
Randy and his wife were struggling, too, and both his marriage and ministry ended. Though the well-known, popular pastor was still called upon for weddings, funerals and as an occasional Sunday substitute, his day-to-day life was no longer robes and recitals.
Then, on a sacred day in 2012 that neither saw coming, their paths crossed. They met — literally — at the intersection of two hallways at a Continuing Care Retirement Communities facility. They immediately hit it off, became friends and eventually started dating.
One of Meredith’s professional responsibilities was to invite representatives of different faiths to share their beliefs. The sessions featured many religious traditions, from Judaism to Hinduism and from Buddhism to Mormonism.
On the day they heard from Amy Henderson, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Meredith shared with the audience an experience watching then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney speak and interact with his family at the 2012 Republican National Convention. Meredith was impressed with his sincerity and obvious love for his family and others. It was a feeling she admitted was tough to describe, but even harder to ignore.
Looking out at the curious crowd, she said, quite simply, “I want some of that!”
Henderson, in this very public setting, uttered the phrase that would become a mantra for Meredith and Randy.
Members of the LDS Church are encouraged to share their faith with others, but most, in that setting, would have said, “Not her. Not here. Not now.”
What did Amy Henderson say? "Well, you know Meredith, it’s never too late.”
Not long after, Henderson invited Meredith to watch October general conference. The talks brought her to tears, not because on their own they were moving or inspirational — though they were — but because prophets, seers and revelators had taught and testified of truths. Meredith told Randy they needed to learn more.
“It’s never too late.”
For the next six months — during which time they married — the Castos got to know Amy and her husband, Mark, very well. They met with the missionaries and examined the church from every angle.
In a recent interview, Randy described for me their approach. “We wanted to take the roof off of the faith, look at its entirety: the sacrament, pre-existence, the priesthood. We really unpacked the key differences between LDS theology and that of mainline Christianity. We were particularly interested in, and touched by, the church’s understanding of the Fall, the Godhead — as opposed to the Trinity — the pre-existence, the Great Apostasy, and so on. Our study was not trivial.”
Randy was careful to add that it wasn’t merely an academic experience. “We were aware of how the Spirit was guiding our study.”
Meredith was learning, too, and discussed being moved by the church’s celebration of womanhood. She spoke of being able to truly breathe while attending Relief Society.
“I was surrounded by women who understood that the singularly most important role they would play in their lives would be that of wife and mother," she said. "And they celebrated that truth in the midst of a culture that tells women they can do anything a man can do — a culture that demeans the wonderfully blessed roles of women.”
As time and the lessons wore on, the Castos realized that joining the church wouldn’t just mean leaving behind another faith; it meant the end of a significant income on which the family relied. But, the words rang on.
“It’s never too late.”
On June 14, 2013, in the company of Elders Sheldon Vaterlaus and A.J. Anderson — their original set of missionaries — Brother and Sister Casto were baptized.
Rather than the end of a long journey, however, the Castos felt it was the start of a new one. “That is what baptism is, after all,” Randy said. “Not the end, but the beginning.”
But this beginning also came with some opposition. Meredith became estranged from her family and even now, a year later, the relationships are strained. Randy says old friends, neighbors and colleagues were aghast.
“They called us crazy," he said. "They said we’d lost our minds.”
After a pause, Randy repeated a frequently fielded question. “Don’t you care what people think about you?”
“No,” Meredith interrupted, “We care about what God thinks about us.”
Remarkably, the Castos harbor no ill will toward those who’ve cast their friendships aside like old shoes that are no longer comfortable. They love their brothers and sisters of their former faiths and respect their right to worship however and wherever they choose. But they hope the same respect will be afforded to them, and they certainly won't apologize for their decision.
“There is a mandate to hasten the work,” Randy said with infectious enthusiasm. “And we’re excited to be a part of it.”
Today the Castos are raising Carter, a beautiful daughter from Meredith’s first marriage, and in February of this year, the Castos welcomed a son to their family. With the temple in their sights, they named him Elijah.
On Saturday, June 28, the Castos, now members of the Lexington Park Ward in the Suitland, Maryland Stake, visited the Washington D.C. Temple and were sealed for time and eternity. A Facebook post from Meredith says it all. “Today was singularly the most important day of my life. I thank God for my husband.”
Near the end of every interview, I always ask if there is anything else my interviewees want Deseret News readers to know about their story, their journey or their faith. In the case of the Castos, they provided it long before I ever asked.
“It is our testimony that the fullness of the gospel has indeed been restored; that the authority of the priesthoods are once again upon the Earth; that we have a living prophet who brings to us God’s loving encouragement and challenge; that our call is to bring the great news of hope and eternal life through the one who selflessly surrendered his will to that of Heavenly Father’s, even Jesus Christ.”
As a postscript, I share my own admiration for Amy Henderson, the courageous sister, and how I hope to be more like her.
I wonder: What if all of us did that? What if every member of the church had such faith to hasten the work? Are we bold enough to share our beliefs when time and circumstances suggest, “Not her, not here, not now?”
Maybe we should consider the words that started it all. I know I will.
“It’s never too late.”
Jason Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars" and "The Wednesday Letters." Learn more at jasonfwright.com, or connect on Facebook at facebook.com/jfwbooks or by email at email@example.com
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company