Trials, lacrosse lead to BYU senior’s lasting conversion

Natalie Giles and her husband, Hunter Giles, pose for a picture. Natalie’s path to membership in the Church included her brother’s death, success in lacrosse, going to church with high school friends and some sister missionaries who helped her love the plan of salvation. (Natalie Giles)

Natalie Giles’ path to baptism began with lacrosse and her older brother’s death. 

On the first encounter, Natalie Giles seems like a life-long member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She served a mission, is a senior at BYU studying public health and was married in the temple in November 2019. But a look into her past reveals the highs and the lows that shaped her life and led her to the gospel. 

A Harleysville, Pennsylvania, native, Giles had never heard of the Church or the Book of Mormon until high school. She attended a local church as a child with her family, but all that changed when her 21-year-old brother died by suicide when Giles was just 9 years old.

“My family’s never been the same since that, and I think that was a big thing that even kind of broke the spirituality of my family,” Giles said. “I specifically remember the morning we got the call that he was missing. We were on our way to church. We turned around and went home and we never went back to church again.”

Lacrosse: An escape

Giles turned to lacrosse as an escape as her family tried to cope with the loss of her brother. That escape became a passion, and eventually, the key to her conversion.

“I guess my whole interest (in the Church) started as a lacrosse player. All growing up, I played lacrosse, and I was just at a point I wanted to play in college. When I was 15, I verbally committed to go to Georgetown and play,” Giles said. 

Giles, in white, competes for the U.S. lacrosse team at age 16. (Natalie Giles)

Giles said when she turned 16, she was invited to try out for the national lacrosse team. “That was a big step. I actually made the U.S. team when I was 16 and I played in the World Cup right before I went to college,” she said.

Even though she had worked hard to achieve these goals, Giles felt there was a disconnect with her success.

“I (thought that) there has to be something out there that’s helping me do all these things because I didn’t think that I was doing it on my own. I worked really hard, but I didn’t think it was just due to that. I think that the stars were aligning allowing me to have all those opportunities,” she said.

Finding the Church

Giles became friends with two boys during her junior year who were members of the Church. As an athlete, Giles tried to avoid high school parties where drugs and alcohol would be present for fear of losing her lacrosse scholarship, and she noticed that these boys chose not to attend those parties either. 

After getting to know the boys, she asked if she could go to church with them over the summer. 

“It was weird because it was the beginning of the summer, so a lot of the families in their ward were away on family vacations. There were just a ton of old people there,” she said. “I hadn’t been to church in years, and I was out of the rhythm of praying and stuff.”

Giles immediately noticed the different cultural aspects of the Church and she felt uncomfortable, wondering if she even knew how to pray correctly. 

Giles did not go back to church with her friends until the beginning of her senior year when she began to have personal questions about religion. 

“When I was a senior in high school, I started getting all these questions like, ‘Where is (my brother?)’ because some faiths tell you that people who commit suicide are in hell,” Giles said.

“We were all really close with my brother growing up and I refused to believe that he’s in hell. So I had this indebtedness to God for all my achievements, but then I also had these questions like ‘Where do we go after we die?’” Giles said. 

Those questions drove Giles back to church with her friends during the fall of her senior year, where she met the missionaries. 

Ashlyn Clark was serving in the area at the time and remembers teaching Giles about the plan of salvation, noting that this was the lesson that changed everything in Giles’ conversion.

“I know (Natalie) had people whom she held dear that had passed. Learning that she would see them again and that they had the opportunity to learn just like she was doing, that was a specific moment I saw her light get brighter,” Clark said. 

This was only the beginning of how Giles’s conversion would touch the lives of other people.

“As a missionary, you meet a lot of people that leave a lasting impact on your life, but no one compares to Natalie. When I first met her, I felt (her) light,” Clark said.

Giles said the plan of salvation was the “selling point” that helped her decide to get baptized.

“I grew up (learning that) everyone goes to heaven. That didn’t seem right, but then it also didn’t seem right that you go to hell if you have to deal with something hard and commit suicide,” she said. “I really liked how the plan of salvation was justifiable; everyone can go to heaven but you have to do (certain) things, and if you die of suicide, you can still get to heaven.” 

“The plan of salvation really clicked for me,” Giles said. “It doesn’t sugarcoat anything but also doesn’t banish everyone to hell.”

Giles was baptized in January 2015, graduated high school later that year, and went on to play lacrosse at Georgetown University. But even after years of training camps and campus tours with her teammates, Giles suddenly felt “socially isolated” because of her newfound faith.

“They knew me as this girl that was fun but took her life seriously, and then all of a sudden, I’m this heavily committed Christian girl,” Giles said. “I feel like that was very odd, especially because they knew me as this one person and then all of a sudden, I just flipped a switch.”

Despite the challenges, Giles stuck to her faith. She said her time at Georgetown taught her about her weaknesses and gaps in her testimony that need to be strengthened.

Mission, marriage and the future

Giles decided to serve a mission after a year at Georgetown. She served in the Paraguay Asunción North Mission from July 2016 to December 2017. After her mission, she transferred to BYU in January 2018 to play lacrosse for a few semesters, and to meet more people with her same standards.

Giles met her husband, Hunter, in the fall of 2018 when he moved into her student ward. 

“Nat always seemed really interesting to me, and initially, I didn’t know she was a convert. But then she gave a talk about her conversion story, and I leaned over to my roommate and I was like ‘Oh, she’s a powerhouse,’” Hunter Giles said.

Hunter and Natalie Giles on their wedding day, Nov. 30, 2019. (Natalie Giles)

Hunter and Natalie Giles were married on Nov. 30, 2019, and right off the bat, they had to tackle the challenges of Hunter marrying into a family that was not made up of members of the Church.

“It was a little tricky because they didn’t really know anything about all the things that make me (who I am). Holding the priesthood doesn’t mean anything to them,” Hunter Giles said. 

Despite the adjustment of getting married and gaining new in-laws with different family standards, the couple has found a way to build relationships with both families.

“It was definitely hard, but I could tell that Hunter was just a good personality for my family,” Giles said. “And so, I always thought that I was going to fix my family, but I feel like Hunter does a good job of being like a neutralizer and asking questions, he’s kind of like the peacemaker when everyone’s home.”

Despite the challenges that may come, Giles and her husband said they understand that God is in the details, but also in the big picture of their lives.

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