CEDAR CITY — In the world of college basketball, playing in March is all about postseason tournaments, intense games and thrilling plays. Winning a championship at the end of the season is what every player works for and dreams about for his or her respective team.
That’s all true for John Marshall, a junior guard for the Southern Utah University Thunderbirds. But in addition to giving his heart and body for the team, Marshall will realize another special dream at the end of this season.
That’s when he and his wife, Lexi, are planning to be sealed together in the Salt Lake LDS Temple. It’s something they have aspired to do since John Marshall became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints just over a year ago.
“That’s my ultimate goal and really the main reason why I chose to be part of the church,” Marshall said. “It is the most important thing to me, and I will be forever happy and grateful when we are sealed as a family.”
Marshall and his wife recently shared the highlights of his LDS conversion story, his first church calling and other memorable experiences for which they are grateful.
Marshall’s path to LDS membership can be traced back to his early teenage years when he met his future wife, Lexi Clark, in the Phoenix area. He was a high school basketball star and she was a cheerleader at a rival high school.
“She cheered for both of us,” John Marshall said.
As their relationship deepened, Marshall learned Lexi was a Mormon. While she and her parents were not active in the church, her extended family in the Salt Lake City area was strong in the LDS faith.
Marshall’s family reared him to appreciate Christian values, but he was not particularly religious. What he observed in his girlfriend’s extended family intrigued him.
“They were good examples,” Marshall said. “I saw how happy they were, and it sparked my interest.”
After high school, SUU offered Marshall a spot on its basketball roster, and Lexi came with him to Cedar City.
John and Lexi Marshall got married in May 2014.
With their marriage came an increased interest in the LDS Church. John Marshall had befriended several Mormon teammates and wanted to learn more about the faith. Lexi Marshall, who hadn’t attended church since she was 12, wanted to become active again. They began attending a local LDS ward on and off for several months.
T-birds teammate Race Parsons recalls seeing John Marshall seated in his home around that time, flipping through the pages of a Book of Mormon he had found on the coffee table.
“Maybe he’s actually interested,” Parsons said. “I never wanted to be one to push him. I wanted him to make his own decision. But as I saw him become more interested and hanging out with the LDS guys on the team, it was cool to see the power of it working on him. It started to influence his life, and he began asking questions.”
One question Marshall had pondered was whether he should partake of the sacrament — the bread and water — as a nonmember. It was one of the first questions he asked the full-time missionaries when his former teammate Austin Waddoups offered to arrange a meeting in late fall 2014.
Over the next month, Marshall met with the missionaries and progressed toward baptism. He read the Book of Mormon while on road trips and asked his teammates many questions.
Marshall doesn’t remember any major obstacles or doubts creeping in. He was especially touched by the doctrine of eternal families, he said. His family was skeptical but supportive.
“His conversion happened fast,” Lexi Marshall said. “It was the way he felt. He had the goose bumps, that was how he described it. He knew it was true.”
Waddoups, a returned missionary who served in Pittsburgh, baptized John Marshall on Dec. 1, 2014.
“Once we started meeting with the missionaries and went over the commandments, I realized everything was doable. I started praying about it and knew it was true,” Marshall said. “There were negative influences all over the place, but I really wanted to do it. My wife wanted to be active again. We weren’t going to let anything get in the way.”
After his baptism, Marshall surprised his wife with the statement: “Well, we’ll have to get a divorce now so I can go serve a mission.”
“You can’t just do that,” she said with a laugh.
While the idea of serving a senior couple mission someday appeals to the Marshalls, John Marshall has been able to share his newfound passion for the gospel with the 16- to 18-year-old young men in his ward. Since his baptism, Marshall has served as a priest quorum advisor. He received the Aaronic Priesthood and hopes to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood this spring.
Although being asked to say a prayer in a meeting or to teach a lesson to young men who will soon leave on missions has been intimidating to him, Marshall hasn't ducked away from his new responsibilities. One of his favorite activities has been taking the sacrament to members who are physically unable to attend church.
“It makes me feel really good,” Marshall said. “We took it to one lady who had been sick, and she cried as we read the sacrament prayer. It was a good experience.”
As a new member of the church, Marshall believes his fresh gospel perspective has helped some of the young men and his departing teammates to better understand new converts. He also loves to hear about their adventures each week.
“Every Monday, I have about six people I am emailing,” Marshall said. “It’s been a blast, really fun.”
While Marshall does what he can to help the Thunderbirds, contributing an average of 3.3 points in 14 minutes of action each game, he and his wife remain focused on their career and spiritual goals.
After earning a degree at SUU, Marshall plans to study physical therapy. Lexi Marshall is earning a nursing degree and wants to work in labor and delivery.
In addition to preparing to go to the temple, the Marshalls recently received their patriarchal blessings.
“It was a very personal experience that made us feel closer to the Spirit and motivated us to do our best to be worthy every day,” John Marshall said.
It’s been special for Lexi Marshall to experience spiritual growth alongside her husband. She is grateful for the missionary work performed by many people that has resulted in their growing testimonies and love of the gospel. Going to the Salt Lake Temple with her husband will fulfill a dream that she once had as a little girl.
“To know I will be able to go there, it’s not really a feeling I can describe. (When we were married) I didn’t have any expectations for us to be religious or have faith together. I never thought I would have an eternal family,” she said. “For us to discover the gospel and practice it together, to serve in callings, it’s been exciting. We’ve noticed more blessings, and that has brought us closer together. Going to the temple will feel like an accomplishment.”
The gospel of Jesus Christ has given their lives new direction, John Marshall said.
“The gospel has definitely blessed our lives. It has changed my life in a positive way because I get to have these experiences,” he said. “We are grateful for everything.”
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