CLEVELAND, Ohio — When Elizabeth Fook’s life came crashing down around her, the anxieties and depression that came with her trials became almost too much for her to bear. If she was going to make it through her hardships, she needed to embark on the journey of her life to find the meaning and purpose for her existence.
“Bad things are going to happen to good people,” Elizabeth said. “I learned that at a very young age.”
Elizabeth grew up in Indiana in a non-religious home. Though her parents taught her correct principles of leading a good, moral life, her childhood experiences learning about a higher power were limited to her visits to her grandparents’ home in Kentucky. Her grandparents, who never missed attending their Southern Baptist congregation on Sundays, were loving examples of Christlike service to Elizabeth and her family. “They were the walking, talking principles of Christ for me. The only reason I gave any idea to Christ was because of their solid examples,” Elizabeth said.
Their shining testimonies became beacons of light when Elizabeth’s life took a terrible turn. A little over 10 years ago around the time she entered college, her father lost his job, her parents went through a divorce, and she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. She said, “Losing my health at such a young age made me wonder how I was ever going to get through those trials.” During that time, though, she knew she could always go to her grandparents to receive comfort and reassurance.
However, she knew she couldn’t always rely solely on the guidance of her grandparents to sustain her. “I realized there was a hole in me, and I kept trying to fill it by keeping myself busy,” she said. “There came a point where I couldn’t even finish my (college) classes because even though I had kept myself busy, I didn’t have a ‘why’ for what I was doing. I knew I needed to find the reason for life.”
Elizabeth’s journey was anything but easy. At one point, her depression turned into thoughts of suicide. “I got to the point where I thought, ‘If death is the end goal anyway, and there are nothing but trials in store, then why don’t I just get out now?’ I decided I was done living if I couldn’t find a reason to.” She tried to fight her way through those terrible thoughts, and she resolved to do anything she could to find her purpose.
Her efforts led her to studying works of philosophy, reading the Quran, and searching other religious scriptures before she finally decided to turn to the Bible. She turned to different churches in her community in the hopes of finding clarity in some of the seemingly conflicting doctrines found in the Old and New Testaments, but to no avail. “Nobody could seem to give me a straight answer about why we are here,” she said.
There was one thing, though, of which she was certain. “I knew that if there was a Christ, He would have the same nature as my grandmother,” she said. To add to the trials she was already experiencing, Elizabeth’s dear grandmother had been diagnosed with cancer. But even while suffering through cancer treatments, her illness did not keep her from being the Christlike example she’d always been for Elizabeth. “Even in her sickness, she only worried about the wellbeing of others,” she said.
After months of dedicated searching, Elizabeth felt more hopeless than she ever had, and those suicidal thoughts returned. “I remember one evening falling to my knees and thinking, ‘God, if you’re real, I’ll stay,’ and then hearing nothing but utter silence. I will never forget that silence,” she said.
Finally, as she lay on the floor of her apartment praying for answers, that silence was broken by a clear, distinct, and loving voice: “You are mine.” Elizabeth describes this experience as an undoubtable feeling of love that shot through her entire body. “I felt every particle of my body shouting that singular joy of ‘You are mine.’”
This heavenly experience was a turning point in her search for truth. She no longer felt like taking her own life, and she felt a renewed sense of dedication to her journey.
One day as she was driving down the road, she felt an overwhelming force urging her to turn her car around and go back home. “I had no idea why in the world I would need to turn around while I was speeding 50 mph down the highway,” she said. “I thought maybe I’d forgotten to turn off the oven or something.” She listened to the feeling and returned to her home, but found nothing out of the ordinary there to prompt her return. She got back in her car and turned onto that same highway, but again she felt the same dread that she’d felt before and mistook it for a panic attack. Once again, she returned home and stepped inside the house. “I thought, ‘Oh, I forgot to brush my teeth, that’s why I need to be home,’” she said.
But God had a much more important plan in mind. As Elizabeth brushed her teeth, she heard a knock on her door, and a thought came to her mind: “Oh. That’s why I’m here.”
At her front door were two missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “They asked me if I believed in Christ,” Elizabeth said, “and I told them that I had been trying to find Him.”
The following week, she met the missionaries at the local chapel to learn more about the message they had to share. She said, “When I pulled up to the chapel and the elders opened the doors, I felt this overwhelming sense of home. I felt the peace and the stillness of the building and knew that it was where I needed to be.”
She began attending Church services and studied with the missionaries, reading from both the Bible and the Book of Mormon and finding answers to the questions for which her heart had been searching. Eventually, she decided to be baptized and become a member of the Church. “Making the decision to be baptized was a pretty easy one because as soon as I entered the chapel that first time, I knew I was home.”
Now, nearly a decade later, this journey of faith is still the defining event of her spiritual life. “The bedrock of my faith is my journey of spending about 3,000 hours over eight months searching for the meaning of life,” she said. While her trials didn’t disappear after her baptism, she now knows why she’s here, and she’s able to face her struggles with an eternal perspective.
As The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints celebrates the 200 year anniversary of Joseph Smith’s First Vision, Elizabeth says she can relate to Joseph Smith because of her own struggle to find truth. “I know Joseph Smith was a true prophet because I can relate to him so much,” she said. “I appreciate him so much more especially as my own faith journey unrolls.”
To anyone else who may be struggling with knowing why they’re here enduring trials, Elizabeth says, “Personal revelation is real. To get further revelation is always going to require action on our part, and then it’s always going to be up to us to act on the answers we receive. We’re not going to know everything, and we’re not going to be perfected in this life. Answers will come in bits and pieces. Just keep going with what you know.”