For those who know the story of Madeline Baldwin, a recent convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the message is clear.
"You're never too old," the 100-year-old Baldwin said with a voice that's still clear and strong.
Baldwin was baptized into the LDS Church in May, just one week after her 100th birthday. Although she had to give up her morning coffee and get over her fear of water before she was baptized, her lifetime of familiarity with the LDS Church and the encouragement from her returned-missionary grandson made the transition easy.
"I felt wonderful," she said, recalling the feeling of coming out of the water. "I felt good. I felt like that's where I should be."
Madeline Baldwin was raised Catholic but was introduced to the Mormon faith by her husband, Ralph, who was a member of the LDS Church. She attended church with him regularly, and their three children were baptized. Eventually, the whole family stopped going to church. One son, Mike, returned to the faith and raised his own children in the gospel.
But Ralph Baldwin had planted a seed of love for the faith in his wife's heart.
"I love the people," she said. "I feel very much at home there. The first time I went to church with Ralph after we were married, I just felt like I was one of those people."
Still, it took Baldwin decades to decide to get baptized.
"She's always told all of us the reason she couldn't be baptized is that God put her on the earth as a Catholic, and if she changed she was afraid he would get mad at her," said Debbie Baldwin, Madeline's daughter-in-law.
Although all three of Madeline Baldwin's children were baptized at age 8, Debbie's husband Mike was the only one to return to the faith after the family became inactive.
After Debbie's son Michael Baldwin returned home from his full-time mission in 2005, he began giving his grandmother missionary discussions and talking to her seriously about joining the church.
"Just being on my mission, (I gained) a stronger testimony of the church and really (understood) the importance of it and (wanted) my grandma to have those blessings so we could be sealed together," he said. "I just really thought it was important for her to be a member and be an example to the rest of my family that aren't members."
Michael Baldwin said although his grandmother believed in the teachings of the LDS Church, the timing was never right. But as she got older, she started expressing a stronger interest in eternal families.
"I wanted to be with Ralph, and all my kids were baptized Mormons, and I wanted to be like them," Madeline Baldwin said. "I wanted to be with my family. I made up my mind that that's what I was going to do, and I knew that (God) wouldn't be mad at me anymore."
She finally began taking formal discussions from two sister missionaries in her hometown in Tacoma, Washington. Her familiarity with the LDS Church made the missionaries' job easy.
"They would tell her something and she would pat their arm and she would say, 'Honey, I already know that,’ ” Debbie Baldwin said with a laugh.
Although Madeline Baldwin can't read on her own and her hearing isn't very good, she is taught by the Spirit, according to her family.
"When she goes to church, she says, 'I can't always hear or see what they are saying, but it feels good,'" Debbie Baldwin said. "She didn't always hear what (the missionaries) said, but she always felt good. She always felt the Spirit."
Debbie Baldwin said her mother-in-law was already living a lifestyle mostly in line with LDS teachings. The only thing she had to give up was the two sips of coffee she used to drink every morning.
"I always felt like I was a Mormon," Madeline Baldwin said. "I just felt like I belonged there all the time."
Once she had made the decision, the only obstacle to her joining the church was her fear of water.
"She was scared to death to be baptized, (because) she's afraid of the water," Debbie Baldwin said. "She was just horrified."
"The thing I was most worried about was that she would be flailing around when we tried to baptize her," Mike Baldwin said. "But it went smooth just smooth as silk, like she was a little child almost."
He said they hope to get her to the temple next year.
"I'd say I have a wonderful family," Madeline Baldwin said. "And now that I am a Mormon, I feel that we'll all be together. And that's what makes me feel good. And I think that makes (Ralph) feel good, too, that we'll all be together."
Michael Baldwin said his grandmother's story has a valuable lesson for all.
"I think it's a good example of how Heavenly Father looks out for all his children, whether you are members (of the LDS faith) or not," he said. "He kind of guides you to the truth. It's not ever too late to change."
Erica Palmer is a writer for the Mormon Times and Features department. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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