My Unlikely Adventure Through The Book of Mormon

by Jen on June 18, 2005

By Howard Lemmon

As a young man I was a very poor reader. My comprehension was mediocre, but my reading speed was dismal. Being called upon to read a passage of scripture in church was always traumatic. I would often butcher it beyond recognition. In elementary school, I would be placed in reading groups with other kids who were likewise “challenged”. Taking turns reading aloud in the group was terrifying. But I took some comfort in the fact I was not alone.

One year for Christmas, I received the book “Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain. During the 5th grade, I carried that book around with me for the entire school year. I had it with me at all times. One day near the end of the school year, Tad Pierce, a class mate of mine asked “hey Howard, you’ve been carrying that book around with you all year, are you almost through with it?” I smiled and told him that I was almost done. The truth was that I was still on page 6. It would have been just as possible for me to read the entire Library of Congress then to finish that book.

Throughout my school years, whenever a book report was due, I would simply read the summary on the back cover. That gave me a good place to start. Then, using my knack for story telling, I would go to work filling in the details. Even back then, I must have had a great imagination. It was always good for at least a “B”. Although I had a sponge-like mind, I did not enjoy reading. It was way too much work for what I could possibly get out of it.

As I entered my senior year in high school, I was the only person who knew of my deep dark little secret; that I had never read an entire book from cover to cover (Except comic books and childrens books).

That school year, (1974-1975) our course of study for seminary was the Book of Mormon. Our seminary class began at 6:00 AM sharp. My alarm was set to go off 15 minutes before class started. When the piercing buzz of the alarm aroused me from my slumber, I would shut it off, roll out of bed, put my shoes on and walk out the door. No, I didn’t attend seminary in my pajamas. I simply slept in my clothes. It was just easier. To most people, this reveals the inner slob within me. However, to me it was a reflection of my brilliance as an efficiency expert.

Using my fingers as a comb, I would straighten my hair as I walked down to the end of the block on 5th Street in Manhattan Beach. Then I would cross Meadows Ave. and walk through the storm gutter the entire length of the next block, scale the cinder block wall into the back of the church parking lot. The seminary room was located in the far corner of the building.

For this year’s curriculum, The Church Educational System introduced a self study course for the Book of Mormon. According to my recollection, there were 20 to 30 separate booklets comprising the entire course. Red in color, these booklets were standard 81/2” by 11” in size that all fit together in a large three ring binder. I was excited about the subject matter and was anxious and eager to learn. I really wanted to do well in the class. Although it was a self study course, the schedule required daily attendance. From Monday through Thursday, we would work through the study manuals on our own. Then, on Friday, we would have a course lesson by the teacher. The teacher was available for help at any time should one need it.

I launched into the course with gusto! A typical lesson would consist of a reading assignment, followed by a series of essay questions you would be required to address. I gave it all I had. After reading the assigned chapters, I would attack the essay question with real intent and full purpose of heart (Moroni 10:3-5). On each essay question, my responses were the result of a thorough and comprehensive analysis. I considered all facets of the subject, and thoughtfully formulated my conclusions in the most articulate way that I knew how. I was very proud of my effort and meticulous treatment of the issues. Simply put, I did my best. However, after a couple of months, it became obvious that I was falling noticeably behind the class in their pace. It took me a long time to read the chapters, and even longer to formulate my answers.

There were 3 or 4 girls who sat together in the back row against the wall. They were all beautiful, intelligent, and very popular. They had it all. They were the complete package. They were flying through the assignments like greased lightning. I never saw any of their work. That was none of my business anyway.

As I was finishing up book 1, they were already on book 5. By the time I was half way through book 2, they were working on book 9. I got very discouraged. I didn’t know what to think. Was I that stupid, that I was falling so far behind where they were at? I knew I was a poor reader, and had always heard that girls matured faster then boys. My only measuring device was to compare myself with the progress of others, and when I did, I came up wanting, in a big way.

One day, after using some simple arithmetic, I realized that at my current pace, there was no way I would even come close to finishing the course by the end of the year. It was simply too daunting.

Being disheartened, I made an executive decision. I would forget about even trying to finish the assignments. Instead, each morning I would come into the class, sit in my chair and do nothing but read the Book of Mormon. And so… there it was. Day after day, I plowed ahead, for the entire hour, until the end of the class. I wasn’t sure if I would finish the book or not by the end of the year. But at least I would be reading it; and as long as I was doing that, I had to be getting closer each day.

The book came alive, from the life changing stories, to the most profound discourses ever recorded. I became aware that the doctrine and principles taught within these pages contained more truth and wisdom than all the other books that men have produced from their puny minds combined. And all of this, brought to us by a little farm boy with no education in western New York State 200 years ago who translated the book from gold plates in less than 60 days!

Each day, I looked forward to my hour of reading. I couldn’t wait to take up where I left off. Soon, I began to expand my reading time into the evenings and weekends on my journey towards the end of the book. One night, as I was reading about the prophet Abinadi (A-bin’a-di) testifying against wicked King Noah and the corrupt priests in his court, I felt the spirit of God so strong that I have never forgotten it.

Even more amazing was that each and every time I picked up that book and started reading, I would feel that same spirit testifying to me again and again of the glorious truths that are taught nowhere else but in this book. I already knew at that point that this book contained God’s will revealed through Holy Prophets. I loved reading that book and longed to continue.

The central and only theme of the Book of Mormon is that Jesus is the Christ, the very Son of God, and the Savior and Redeemer of all mankind to them that follow him with full purpose of heart. Nineteen chapters in the book actually record Christ’s visit and teachings to the Nephites in the Americas following his resurrection! His post mortal visit to the Americas becomes an even greater testimony of his divinity than what men wrote of him during his mortal life.

I always knew there was something special about the Book of Mormon. As a young boy, I would often stare at the old copy of the Book of Mormon on my bookshelf that I received from the primary president when I was baptized. It was the brown cover edition that was common back in the 1960’s. I would often take it down from the shelf and read her personal testimony to me, hand written on the inside cover. I would often flip through the book reading selected passages and knowing that someday I would understand it.

I began to supplement my study of the Book of Mormon by studying other scriptures. I cross referenced several hundred scriptures between the Book of Mormon and the Bible “scripture chaining” them together on subject matter.
I persisted, day after day, undaunted. During the month of May, I finished the Book, all 521 pages (the old version without all the extra footnotes). I had actually read the entire Book of Mormon. I hade done something incredible! I had amazed myself. I was only the second Scout to ever attain the Eagle Rank in the history of my ward and was great at many sports, but in my heart, I felt that this was the greatest accomplishment of my life.

Another provocative observation is that even though I did not complete the course work as the other students had, I believe that I learned more about the Book of Mormon and my relationship to my Heavenly Father then any of my classmates. It was my sincere desire that overcame my weakness.

Joseph smith recorded in his journal:

“I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct book of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, then by any other book.”

Imagine that! What are the chances that the first book I have ever read would be the greatest one ever written? I wonder if I am the only one who could make this claim.

But something even greater was about to happen! As the school year was winding down and all of the pomp and circumstances of graduation were filling the air with excitement and uncertainty, something took place that forever changed the concept I had of myself.

The Elders quorum used the Seminary classroom on Sunday and also shared the same cabinet located in the far corner of the room for storing materials. The top shelf of the cabinet was used by the Elders quorum for storing books and other materials, while the rest of the cabinet was for the seminary students to keep their scriptures and notebooks in after class.

One Sunday, for some strange and unknown reason, I was asked by John Payne, the Elders quorum president to go and get a notebook for him out of the metal cabinet in the seminary room. I don’t know why he asked me, of all people, or why he couldn’t get it himself. But I was a willing candidate so I did it.

I walked into the room and weaved my way around the desks to the back corner where the cabinet was. I grabbed the silver handles, twisted one of them counterclockwise and pulled open the cabinet doors. I then looked on the top shelf, and retrieved what I had come for. It was right where he had said it was.

Standing there gazing into the cabinet, I took a moment to reflect on the past year of seminary, the blessing of my accomplishment, and the other students in the class. As I reminisced, I took a quick glance at the contents of the cabinet.
I was all alone in the room. A little imp on my shoulder whispered something into my ear. I couldn’t tell if it was the good imp or the bad one, but either way, curiosity got the best of me. I just had to look. I took out the notebooks of each of the girls who excelled with flying colors in the class, threw them open on the table next to the cabinet and began to leaf through their work page by page. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Question: What was the main reason the Lord sent Nephi and his brothers back to Jerusalem to get the plates of brass?

Answer: Cause he wanted to._____________________________
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Question: Why do you think that Nephi had such great faith when Laman and Lemual did not?

Answer: Cause he was a good guy and they weren’t.__________
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Page after page, study manual after study manual, I flipped through the entire course of each of them only to see nothing but short flippant answers containing no thought or meaning. Their answers revealed a lack of thought and fundamental knowledge of the subject matter. I don’t believe they even read the book at all!
I quickly folded up the binders, put them back into the cabinet, and walked out of the room with an opposite view of the world, and a chuckle that only a startling revelation can invoke. The individuals that I was dwarfed by, was nothing but an illusion in my own mind. When the real truth was discovered, I was the one who excelled and they were dwarfed by ME! The truth had not changed, just my discovery of it.

We rarely understand why things are happening the way they are. But for those who ponder on the wake left behind and desire to know why, understanding awaits. I believe that the Lord prepared a gift for me that day and arranged for me to find and open it. Like Nephi who slew Laban under the commandment of the Holy Ghost, it was the promptings of that spirit that authorized me to look.
That summer, I made an appointment with our stake patriarch, William Jones. I went to his house on a Sunday afternoon. After talking to me briefly, he started the tape recorder, placed his hands on my head and gave me my patriarchal blessing. In his first words he said:

“Brother Lemmon, thou art a valiant and faithful servant of our Heavenly Father. You have been born of goodly parents who have loved you, but your testimony of the gospel has come because of your faithful study of the scriptures and the desire in your heart to know weather these things are true”.

These words became a personal witness to me that the source of this blessing was from an Omniscient (All Knowing) God. Becoming a student of the scriptures is rarely a teenage pastime.

During my mission in Illinois, after reading all the scripture and other required reading material, I began consuming books. I would borrow books from member’s homes, read it during morning study time and return it to them the following week. Thirty years later, as I write this article, I have read the Book of Mormon countless times, and made it the central element of my life study. I continue to learn from its pages every time I read. I gain something new and delightful even if reading a passage for the one hundredth time, a quality of any true scripture.
Another quality of scripture is that its claims can be tested and proven to an individual by personal application. For example, the following principle taught by Christ in the Book of Mormon has been proven to me by personal application in my own life.

27. And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness, I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men who humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me and have faith in me, I will make weak things become strong unto them. (Ether 12:27)

I read more each year then the average person does the rest of their adult life following their education. As my story illustrates, I am a living example of the power of Christ and his ability to make men equal to any task. He used the Book of Mormon to give me that strength. I Thank God for it. I will always love the Book of Mormon.

Conclusion

Despite your weakness, you are literally a child of god and posses unlimited potential for greatness. But potential is not greatness. To harness and unleash your potential for good, we must remember the words of Ammon, who said, “Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; (Alma 26:12).

Author’s Note: 33 Percent of High School Graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives! 80 percent of US families did not buy or read a book last year!

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous July 6, 2005 at 1:24 pm

I had to thank you for this timely article.

Very very inspiring.

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Anonymous August 1, 2005 at 2:31 pm

I loved this story….makes we want to go read the Book of Mormon.

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Sister Erin Kenny August 16, 2005 at 1:34 pm

You have no idea how incredibly grateful I am for your article.

I am a voracious reader, but I am also the mother of a 9 year old boy with a reading disability. His heart is good and he loves the Lord, but it troubles him that he has so much difficulty reading and he is frequently teased in Primary by his classmates when it is his turn to read or give a talk (he also stutters).

I will share your story with my son for the joy and courage it will give him.

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Jen August 16, 2005 at 6:11 pm

🙂 My Dad wrote the article and I’ve always known him to be a reader. It seems like whenever I see him he’s reading. So it was interesting for me to hear this story. Good luck to your son, I’m sure he’ll do great!

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Anonymous September 3, 2005 at 1:17 am

This is an inspiring article as I am taking the prophet’s challenge to read the Book of Mormon by the end of the year. Thanks for sharing!

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Anonymous November 14, 2005 at 6:48 pm

Uhmm.. So what do you do if your best friend is going crazy on you!.. like shes wanting to date older people, such as 23 year olds and shes only 16!! I can’t think of anything else to tell her except, do you think that you should be wanting your self in this situation?? And what would your parents say about this?? most importantly Jesus?? I just can’t seem to get anything though her head. And if she keeps on acting like this should I stop being her friend? PLEASE HELP!

And Jen your amazing! Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to put up this web site!!

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