He Touched My Life

By Leah S. Neilson

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    He Touched My Life

    The path President Harold B. Lee walked was narrow, even strait. But there was always room for someone else to walk it with him. He was a man greatly loved of other men, for to walk with him was to be touched and changed, comforted and challenged. The Ensign, in paying tribute to him, has chosen the homage of representative members of the Church, ordinary people. Some of them never met him. None of them knew him well. But in another way, all of them knew him intimately, for he spoke to their hearts. Many paths brought them to President Lee. They came because of their responsibilities, or because of their callings, because of their receptivity to his spirit, or because of their need for his strength. And they walked away different, changed. …

    The Prophet at Conference

    He stood,
    In the newness of his call
    And yet serene.
    And spoke to us of God—
    His witness brimming to his eyes
    (A startling hue but oh, so kind).
    And we,
    Straining to know him,
    Searched his words.
    That is the key!
    His being is so filled.
    And I,
    In humble corner where I serve,
    Felt that he appreciated me.

    The Spirit’s Voice

    I have had many rich religious experiences in my life, but the single event that did the most to build my faith and make me want to shun all evil was an afternoon with a member of the Council of the Twelve who was visibly inspired to perform his duties. That man was Elder Harold B. Lee.

    Our stake had just been divided, and Elder Lee, then one of the Twelve, conducted a special Sunday afternoon meeting to set apart the high councilors, bishoprics, and other officers.

    I knew these men well. I had worked for years with most of them as a member of the stake presidency, as a high councilor, and as stake Sunday School superintendent. I had visited in their homes. I had seen them perform various callings. I had been with them on outings and at parties and was familiar with their strengths and weaknesses.

    However, our visiting apostle knew none of them personally. His contact with most of them amounted to little more than a handshake. Moreover, he was tired; he’d addressed both sessions of conference and was under the heavy strain of his great responsibilities.

    As a member of the older stake presidency I was invited to join in the laying on of hands as each of these men received his commission and blessing from the apostle. After the first two or three blessings, I found myself thinking, “He surely has read these men correctly—almost seems to know them.”

    As the blessings continued I began listening intently to every word, tears welling in my eyes, as I began to realize that the pronouncements had not been by chance but by prophetic inspiration.

    Here was a new bishop’s counselor who would need to “always be on guard” to “honor his priesthood and calling.” How well I knew it. Then followed one who had been having a tithing and coffee problem. His blessing contained specific warnings against those weaknesses. Next was a plodder type, level-headed, honest, and dependable, but not given much to reading. His blessing was a challenge to devote himself to scripture study, the one thing most needed by this fine man.

    By this time, my tears flowed freely and I personally did some intense soul-searching about my worthiness to participate in that humbling hour. My hands tingled where they touched his on the heads of my brethren.

    The blessings continued. A returned missionary, whose business often interfered with proper Sabbath observance, was told, “The Lord will bless and prosper you if you put his work first.” Then followed a college professor who was a bit given to lightmindedness—an occasional vulgar story. “Your potentialities for good are limitless if you keep your thoughts and actions spotlessly clean.”

    I bear witness that not in one instance did that servant of the Lord fail to strike home. Several of the men who received blessings that day have since borne witness, in my hearing, of the prophetic utterances of our inspired visitor. They were from God.

    A Hug from a Stranger

    While attending LDS Business College, struggling to put myself through school, I couldn’t help feeling very lonely and depressed sometimes. My parents were both dead, and even though I prayed constantly to my Heavenly Father for the courage and faith to go through life alone, there were times I doubted if I could ever make it. At one of these times I had one of the most wonderful experiences of my life.

    I was working part-time for the Church Membership Department, and on my way up the front steps of the Church Administration Building, I noticed a man not far behind me. He joined me at the elevator, and put his arm around my shoulders, making some humorous remark about waiting for the elevator. I just laughed and said nothing. I didn’t know him, but it didn’t feel uncomfortable, being gently hugged by a stranger.

    When the door opened, we walked in, his arm still around me. A lady on the elevator looked up, beaming in delight at the sight of us.

    The man left us on one of the floors, saying, “Have a nice day, ladies.” I casually returned, “Same to you.” Then I turned to the still-beaming lady who shared the elevator and asked, “Who was that man?” She replied, “That was Elder Harold B. Lee!” Disbelieving, I choked, “Who?” She repeated his name.

    At that moment, I suddenly felt that my Heavenly Father sent his servant, Elder Harold B. Lee, to me that day to put his arm around me. That feeling was a real assurance of my Father’s love and protection for me. It was also the first time I gained a personal testimony that I can really love my Heavenly Father and my Savior more than anyone or anything in this world.

    With President Lee in Mexico

    I must have taken over 2,000 pictures of President Lee in the last ten years; and whether he’s in the car, in his office, walking down the street—this man glows. He glows!

    I’ve been in his presence many times—many, many times—but the trip to the Mexico Area General Conference in 1972 has to be the highlight of my life. Those four meetings that Saturday—they were incredible.

    It was 9:30 that Saturday morning and more than 8,000 people were waiting in this huge hall for the President to come. When he finally came, they all rose to their feet together. He stopped and looked up at that vast crowd of people from all walks of life, rich and poor. He looked at some of the brethren, and then looked up, and it seemed as if the Spirit, right then and there, just descended. It made you feel tremendous inside.

    That night President Lee was scheduled to meet with four groups of people—the Aaronic priesthood youth, the girls of the same age, the Melchizedek priesthood, and the sisters.

    We went first to the Aaronic Priesthood brethren—about 500 boys, beautiful boys. When he walked in, those young men began to sing softly, “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet.” I’ll never forget it if I live to be a hundred. He walked to the pulpit; the Spirit of the Lord was with him. It seemed as if the Lord and President Lee were hand in hand.

    When he started talking to them about being a boy in Clifton, Idaho, there wasn’t a noise in the congregation.

    In the hall where the young girls were waiting, there was a huge spotlight, blinding bright. President Lee talked to those girls like a father would to his daughter—off the cuff—a beautiful talk about chastity, morality, and the problems of the earth.

    At the conclusion of his talk he asked one of the brethren if there was an aisle up the middle. He couldn’t see, because of the light, but he wanted to walk out the middle. The spotlight followed him—this white-haired man in that white light.

    I watched him walk up the aisle. He’d reach out to touch a cheek, pat the top of a head, reassure with a touch on the shoulder. His hands were very important; he’d touch one, shake a hand. I thought of Christ coming into a town and blessing the people with his hands.

    When he reached the back of the hall, he turned and saw 2,000 young Mexican sisters standing in the balcony waving white handkerchiefs. “Come back, Presidente Lee, come back.”

    I cried more in Mexico than I have anywhere else in the world.

    When we got to the huge hall reserved for the married sisters, the President got to the pulpit and looked out over a large congregation of women with their babies, and he gave them a sermon I’ll never forget.

    He said:

    “Sisters, here is what I would like you to do tonight. Go home and put your children in their ‘jammies.’ Then I want you to bring your husband out into the living room, sit on the couch, and kiss each other, then I want you to tell each other how much you love each other. Then I want you to talk to each other.”

    How simply the prophet of the Lord spoke—as if to only one person!

    Then we went to the Melchizedek Priesthood brethren and this was super. When we got there, there were brethren sitting on tops of cars, in windowsills—every available space. Some were in suits, others in pantaloons and sandals, shirts that had seen hard living. Their eyes had seen hard living and their faces, but behind all them, uniting them, was the priesthood.

    After he told the brethren of their responsibilities, as only President Lee could do, he walked out through an aisle the brethren created for him. How they avoided crushing him, I don’t understand. They loved him so much, they wanted to touch him, and he responded by shaking hands, as many as he could.

    It took us 45 minutes to get to the car. President Lee was shaking hands all the way. He said, “I wish I could have shaken more hands.” He felt bad that these men had come so far and that he couldn’t shake all their hands. But those with whom he did shake hands will cherish it forever. They’ll be thinking, the prophet shook my hand, the prophet touched my cheek.

    I have seen President Lee time and time again, and I’ve never seen him leave a room without shaking hands with everyone in it. Never. He went to you. He didn’t make people come to him. He’d come over and take both hands—photographers, the TV men, kids—everybody, not just the dignitaries.

    I was in President Lee’s home not quite a year ago to take some pictures. We went into his study, a simple room, a room for working. On his desk were an open Bible and Book of Mormon.

    I asked him about the open books, he said, “I have to give a talk tomorrow, and I want to be correct in anything I say. This is the source from which I get my information.”

    I said, “President, you certainly have a nice room here.” He smiled, “This is the room where I’m on my knees most of the time.”

    “He Seemed to Glow”

    Elsa Lucía Contreras of Peru had been contacted by the missionaries while studying at her Catholic school. She was impressed by their message, but was not ready to make the changes in her life that accepting the gospel would demand of her. At this point, she received an invitation to attend a special conference. Elder Harold B. Lee of the Council of the Twelve was coming to organize the mission in Peru, November 1, 1959. Sister Contreras says:

    “The thought of seeing a living apostle thrilled me and we went to the airport to meet him. My excitement increased as I joined the large crowd. We all waited expectantly as the plane landed. As people started getting off the plane, my curiosity grew.

    But to my dismay, I couldn’t see anyone who fit my idea of an apostle. The missionaries were gathering around a certain man, but he couldn’t be an apostle. I thought that an apostle must be completely different from us, even in his dress. Nevertheless, there was a definite difference in this man. He seemed to glow.

    The conference with him was an experience that I will never forget, but what touched me even more occurred after the meeting, when we went to the recreation hall for a special dinner. Elder Lee was the first to be served, but he refused his plate, saying, “First, the visitors, the children, and then us.”

    Later, after he had received his plate, he wouldn’t sit at the special table prepared for him. He took his plate in his hands and began to mingle with the people. With the aid of a translator, he talked with them all.

    He is a man of love and humility. Though I couldn’t understand the words he spoke, I felt his spirit. There was no room left for doubt. He was a man of God. I returned home ready for baptism.”

    [photo] President Lee listening with concern.

    [photo] Alertness, forcefulness, humor—all stamp President Lee’s face.

    [photo] The President always received dignitaries and visitors graciously.

    [photo] A visit with Harold Hansen at the Hill Cumorah visitors center, 1973.

    [photo] A loving arm, a strengthening word—a President Lee trademark.

    [photo] Young people also loved to be in his presence.

    [photo] Mutual affection is evident between President Lee and seminary students at early morning meeting in the Assembly Hall.