Mormon Journal

By Mary Johansen


A Letter Made the Difference

It was the hardest letter I had ever written. Not knowing how it would be received, I struggled to find the right words.

It had been five years since I last communicated with my ex-husband’s mother. I was now remarried and trying to offer the love of four children to a grandmother who hadn’t seen or heard from them in all that time.

“Do what you feel you must,” my husband said, although he was cool to the idea. “Don’t open old wounds,” my mother told me.

But there was something else prompting me—a different spirit that said, “You must let her know that her only grandchildren are alive, well, and happy.”

So I wrote the letter. Offering to put aside our past, I spoke of future visits with loved grandchildren and friendship with our family. I included the children’s school pictures.

Grandmother June was in the hospital when the letter arrived. Following surgery, she had developed an infection that slowed her healing and triggered a deep depression. She had had an unhappy life, and no one was really surprised when she seemed to give up the will to live. Days went by as she lay there, uncaring and unfeeling.

Bill, her husband, brought her cards and letters as they arrived, but it didn’t seem to help. A few days before Thanksgiving a priest came to administer last rites. Hopes for her recovery were very slim.

That day, when Bill brought the mail in, June took an interest in one of the letters. He opened it, spilling the children’s photographs onto the bed. Both of them reached at once for the pictures. Bill kissed them again and again, hugging them to him. June was too weak to do more than look at the treasure and weep.

Later in the afternoon she told a surprised nurse, “I’m hungry. Please bring me something to eat.” With a new will to live, June sat up in bed for the first time in many days. Soon she was strong enough to answer my letter. She was overjoyed to read about the children, happy to forget about past problems, and excited about seeing her grandchildren again.

We drove to Pennsylvania that summer and visited June and Bill, sharing together a great gift of love and gratitude. I don’t know that my letter saved her life, but I do know that the Spirit of the Lord prompted me to write. And I am deeply thankful that the Spirit urged me on when I felt like giving up.

How I “Found Time” for Gospel Study

A decade ago I became acutely aware of my need to know more about the scriptures. I felt I could help Jim, my nonmember husband, to understand the gospel better if I knew more about it myself.

I had been a member of the Church all my life, but like many others I had neither read nor studied as I should have. I would often say, “I’m going to read the scriptures and learn more.” But that was easier said than done. We had eight children, and I had always held at least one Church position and been active in PTA and other interests. Reading seemed to be at the bottom of a long list of priorities, and time always ran out before I got to the bottom.

Finally I took this problem to my Heavenly Father. I prayed earnestly and sincerely that I might organize my responsibilities so that I would find the necessary time for daily scripture study. Then I began reading occasionally; but it was not good enough. I continued to pray for guidance.

Meanwhile, we were planning to move from Waipahu to Hawaii Kai—a distance of about thirty miles. We had purchased a new home, and it was scheduled to be finished in about six weeks.

One day the telephone rang; it was Hawaii’s seminary coordinator. He asked me if I would teach early morning seminary during the coming year. I was shocked! I had a teacher’s certificate for English and math, but I just didn’t know enough about the scriptures to teach seminary.

I told him that because we were moving, I couldn’t accept the calling. “It’s not in this area that we need you,” he responded. “It’s in the new area where you will be moving.”

“But we won’t be there for six weeks yet. If I did accept, you’d have to get another teacher until we arrived,” I said, hoping to dissuade him.

“Oh, no,” he answered quickly. “We don’t like to change teachers in a seminary class. If you accept, we’d want you right from the beginning. You’d have to commute for six weeks.”

All the objections came tumbling out: “But I’ve got a little four-year-old boy—and two children still in elementary school—my husband’s a non-member—he’d never let me—I’m not qualified—it’s so far—I just couldn’t!”

“Think about it for a few days,” he said, “and discuss it with your husband.” He assured me that he felt I was qualified to teach.

When I told Jim about it that evening, he wasn’t as surprised as I had been. He said he thought I’d be a good seminary teacher. So we discussed the pros and cons. It was true that we wanted to get our three older children into schools in the new area at the beginning of the new school year. This would give them transportation. (Our two oldest girls, Janet and Helen, were preparing for college on the mainland.) But what about Lonnie and Darin, who were in the second and third grades? And little Patrick, who was only four? We came to the conclusion that my teaching seminary was impossible.

But after Jim had gone to work the next day, it suddenly hit me with great force that this was the answer to my prayer! This was the way Heavenly Father would help me find time to study the scriptures! What better way to “find the time” than to prepare a daily lesson for a group of teenagers? I knew the Lord was answering my prayer; and I knew I must respond.

Now, how could I tell Jim about it? How could I convince him that we could work it out? After all, we had discussed it and agreed it was impossible.

When I picked Jim up at work that day, he slid into the driver’s seat—and before I could say anything he said, “You know, honey, I’ve been thinking about that seminary opening all day, and I think you should at least give it a try.”

I couldn’t believe my ears! Now, more than ever, I knew I must try.

Having my husband’s support made it easier. He agreed to get Lonnie and Darin off to grade school. The rest was up to me. Each day at five A.M. I would leave for the new area with Robin and Kevin (who were of seminary age), a sleeping four-year-old, and Nancy (our eighth-grader who was not old enough for seminary), to watch him in the car while I taught. After class, little Patrick and I would leave the three teenagers at their new schools and begin the drive home. After school the teenagers would take a bus to the Institute of Religion, which was near the University of Hawaii where their father worked, and study or relax there until he could leave his office. They would arrive home with him about 6:30 P.M.

A schedule like this can be very tiring, but we thought we could manage for six weeks. Our house wasn’t finished on schedule, however, and we continued to commute for three months!

But I count my blessings. If I had not recognized an answer to prayer, if I had allowed the numerous obstacles to prevent me from responding to that answer, or if I had not had the complete cooperation of my family, I would not have enjoyed the wonderful opportunity for study and growth that has come to me through teaching seminary. The bonus came in 1975 when my husband joined the Church.

I’ve taught in the Seminary program for ten years now. The more I learn about the gospel, the more I realize I have much more to learn.

Ardelle Holderness and her husband, James, live in Honolulu, Hawaii, and are parents of eight children.

“I Saved Sharee!”

Six-year-old Darin lay in a hospital bed, his head and hands swathed in bandages, and assured us that he was fine. Unable to see through swollen eyes, he recognized the voices of worried loved ones and told them what had happened.

“My friend was burning weeds by the ditch bank and he let me help start some fires. When I went home, he gave me three matches. It was cold outside in the wind, so me and Sharee [his four-year-old sister] got into Bengie’s doghouse to get warm. I made a little fire with some sticks in front of the door, but the wind blew too hard and it started burning Bengie’s house.”

The children became frightened and called out to their mother for help, but the doghouse was behind the garage some seventy-five feet from the house, and she could not hear them.

“What made you crawl through the fire to get out?” we asked.

“The Spirit told me to get out and save Sharee.”

“What Spirit?” asked grandmother.

“You know, grandma, the Holy Ghost.”

It would have been remarkable for a six-year-old even to get himself out and cry for help. But as soon as Darin had crawled through the fire, he ran to the barn and got an old horse blanket, then returned to put the fire out enough to get his sister to safety. Only then did he run to the house, calling out as he entered, “Mama, I saved Sharee!”

Without stopping to explain, Darin rushed to the bathroom, took off his clothes, turned on the cold water in the tub, and got in to splash water on his face and hands.

You could say it was a miracle that two young children didn’t cower in the back of the doghouse and continue to scream for help. But it is not a miracle that gospel teaching is effective and that family prayer held each morning guides us through the day. Because of gospel teaching, a receptive little child heeded the voice of the Spirit.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Bradley Clark

R. Gene Allphin, a retired teacher, is high priest group instructor in his Santa Clara, Utah, ward.