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A CIA official finds her faith

MCLEAN, Va. — The light of the gospel can change a person — even someone who's used to basking in the limelight of personal achievement and power.Stephanie Smith had reached the pinnacle of her career and the depths of her personal life when, three years ago, she reached out to find The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.\"I was the most unlikely Mormon in the world,\" she said.Smith grew up in a faithful Catholic home, attending a parochial school and celebrating Mass each Sunday. But she strayed from God's commandments while pursuing her education and career.Smith earned degrees from Kent State and Harvard universities and quickly advanced in the CIA. In 2005, she became the first woman to hold the title of director of support.\"I was promoted at a speed that astounded even me,\" she told a packed chapel during a fireside on Aug. 2. \"In the process, I came to live by a standard (of), 'Get there first and clean up your road kill later.' \"Smith described herself as a \"hard-driving person\" who believed in accomplishing her goals with no regard for the costs to those around her.\"If you had observed me during a typical work day, you would never have been able to tell I was Christian woman,\" she said.Her job, which put her over worldwide support for intelligence collection, was \"the biggest leadership job of my life,\" she said. She dove in and worked hard. But 20-hour work days and a lot of negative media glare took their toll, and she began to inspect her own life.\"I was forced to acknowledge that I had become a profoundly sinful person,\" she said. \"... I no longer knew what I believed or who I believed in.\"She then turned to God.Smith phoned a colleague she admired, a man who was a Latter-day Saint. He simply offered her \"two clear messages.\"\"First, he told me that Heavenly Father knows me by name and loves me for who I am,\" Smith said. \"Second, he told me that Heavenly Father has a plan for my success — but not success as I had come to define it. The next day, he sent me hand-drawn directions to the Washington D.C. Temple Visitors Center.\"She went, and soon afterward found two young sister missionaries on her doorstep. She hesitated to invite them in, thinking they could never relate to her \"troubled and headstrong life.\" But as they opened their visit by singing \"I am a Child of God,\" Smith was \"captivated.\"\"I began relating to them and the profoundly joyful message they shared,\" she said.The missionaries taught Smith throughout the summer and fall of 2006, at first without the knowledge of her family. (\"I was carrying out a covert operation,\" she said.) When her husband, Bill, finally met the sisters, he welcomed them warmly. Over the next six months, church members helped as Smith struggled to accept the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith's vision.\"Everyone patiently answered my questions and encouraged me to read and pray and know for myself,\" Smith said. \"There was no pressure, no coercion, no hard sell.\"The interaction with ward members was vital to her joining the church.\"I saw by their example that this was a faith that could be practiced,\" Smith said. \"It could be lived every day, in the world as it is — in a world of work, commercialism, temptations and distractions ... \"The moment of clarity came when Smith was reading Alma 34:26, where Amulek urged his listeners to \"pour out your souls ... in your wilderness.\"\"I knew that Amulek was speaking directly to me,\" she said. \"From that simple passage, I came to know for certain that the Book of Mormon was true.\"With that unwavering testimony, other questions seemed to fall away. When Smith was baptized in January 2007, her entire family supported her.\"I like to think the conversion process is not simply about turning your life around but turning toward something more powerful than you — quite literally, the will of God,\" Smith said. \"Ultimately, I joined the church because I could no longer deny the truth of the restored gospel and I could no longer sustain the weight of my old dead self.\"Life for Smith after her conversion has not been what many would consider successful.\"Ironically, when I was living a faithless life, I was immensely successful — at the top of my professional game, with more friends and associates than hours in a day,\" she said.But that all changed abruptly when a new leadership team came into power at the CIA in late 2006 and her tenure ended. She was jobless for five months. Many former colleagues whom she'd considered friends \"couldn't fathom my conversion to this church\" and stopped speaking to her.She was able to start fresh in two other government agencies — first with the State Department and then the U.S. Navy — \"without credentials, friends or peers,\" leaving time for family and church service. Since joining the church, she has served in the Relief Society presidency and is now the ward employment specialist.\"Heavenly Father cleared my calendar for another kind of assignment: his work.\" Smith is also back at the CIA in another position.\"A lot of the people around me believe I have lost it,\" she said. \"But it is my pleasure, my joy and my duty to tell them I have found it.\"