“Lo, I Am with You”
I well remember when I was seven years old, baptism seemed to be far away, as though it would never be my turn. I watched with a fever of excitement as several members of my Sunday School class were baptized and confirmed. They somehow seemed different to me after baptism, and very important.
At last summer came, and Sister Nielsen, our teacher, reminded the class that I was next. I could hardly believe the time had come. I was to be baptized on my birthday, the 24th of July—Pioneer Day among the Latter-day Saints. At the water’s edge I was confirmed and promised that I would have the Holy Ghost as a constant companion. A feeling of happiness and contentment filled me.
But as the days melted into months, I began to feel with some disappointment that, for a constant companion, the Holy Ghost had been uncomfortably silent. At times I wondered if somehow I had failed to live up to my special promise and confirmation.
Then came the second summer after my baptism. I was ten, and large for my age. I could quickly complete my assigned tasks at home and escape to my grandmother’s house on her farm some distance away. My feet seemed to have wings, and I flew the distance, anxious to be with the dearest person I knew.
It was haying time, and the men on the hay crew were already in the field as I hurried along my way. At grandmother’s there would be long tables groaning under the weight of wonderful food: produce from the garden, fresh-baked bread, and berry pies.
The day seemed to fly by, as did all the special summer days spent with my grandmother. It was with great reluctance that I said good-bye and took my departure. As always, I hated to leave the happy warmth of my grandmother’s pleasant kitchen, but I had seen the shadows lengthening over the trees and down the hill beyond her house. I knew if I delayed much longer it would grow dark before I reached home—an uneasy thought, even though I would be able to see the lighted windows of my home beckoning in the distance in the river valley below.
I sat a few moments on the step, savoring the sweet scent of the ripening fruit in the orchard and the roses trailing up and over the back porch. “Why does it have to get dark?” I thought.
With a sigh of resignation, I moved down the walk and through the garden gate. As I crossed the yard beyond and went through the gate on the hill, I realized with a start that night had fallen. Even the shadows had disappeared. I kicked some rocks as I made my way down the steep hill. I could hear them bounce all the way to the bottom. Usually it was fun to kick rocks down the hill, but tonight the sound they made seemed ominous as they disappeared into the night.
On reaching the bottom of the hill, I was brought up short, remembering that there were big ruts filled with water where many wagons had crossed during the day. I had jumped from rock to rock to cross when I came, but the darkness made that impossible now. “Oh well,” I thought, “it’s warm and my shoes are old anyway.” I plunged across, slipping and sliding on the rocks and oozing mud.
The frogs that had been intoning with stentorious sound now grew silent, causing my fear to grow like a dark specter. “I’ll sing,” I told myself, and launched into a song that I felt was designed especially for those who, like myself, grew faint of heart: “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war!”
The words were hardly out of my mouth when a voice in my mind said, “Be still, and listen.”
For a moment I was startled, but then I thought it was foolishness and began to sing with more vigor still, “With the cross of Jesus marching on before,” and marched to build my flagging courage.
This time my head filled with the command, “Be still, and listen!”
I stopped short, and my heartbeat seemed louder than the thud of my marching, squishy-wet shoes just moments before. Resolutely drawing a long breath, I began again, “Onward—” But before the words would come, more demanding than ever I heard, “Be still!”
I stopped. The last shred of courage disappeared as if it were a leaf caught in a whirlwind. What should I do? Terror gripped me from all sides, and I began to pray in my heart, “Heavenly Father, please bless me!” I couldn’t even think what it was that I should ask for. Just over and over the prayer, “Heavenly Father, please bless me,” until the flood of terror subsided and a sweet reassurance filled my being. Then I heard the words, “Get off the road!”
This time I obeyed at once, and as silently as I had been loud before, I walked, sensing rather than seeing my way. I covered a half-mile in the field adjacent to the road, swallowed up in a void of blackness. My breathing seemed suspended, and I was intent on the night sounds around me, some easily identified and others strange and labored.
The creek crossing was just ahead, and I thought at once of the gate nearby, and whether I should crawl over it or through the fence. Almost before the thought came the answer, “Don’t cross at the gate.”
Where should I cross, then? I paused again, this time to contemplate the thought of the creek and the boggy swamp with cattails and brush that followed its sides. It would be difficult enough in the daylight, but at night? …
Then I smelled an odor borne on the night air that brought terror and instant knowledge: the smell of tobacco smoke, acrid and penetrating! There was someone near the gate, and every strained nerve assured me that this presence was menacing.
How I crossed the swampy creek and gained the ground on the other side has long since passed from my memory. What is plain and very vivid m my mind is my arrival home and my explanation for the torn and disheveled condition I was in, and the circumstances surrounding it.
My father believed my words without question. He put on his boots, took down his shotgun, and set off in the darkness across the fields. He returned many hours later with no explanation but with the comforting assurance that I had most certainly done the right thing.
Although that marked the end of my long and pleasant evenings walking home in the dusk, I felt a happiness and gratitude for the knowledge that came to me that I indeed had the companionship of the Holy Ghost. How grateful I am for this knowledge, for it has served me well. I trust it will to the end of my life. Has not the Savior promised, “And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20)?
One of Those Small Miracles
“What a blessing to have the Washington Temple so near,” my mother wrote in a recent letter. “A day up and one to return home is all it takes for us to enjoy a temple session.” Her words stirred my memory of that time long ago when we made our first trip to the temple.
It was 1950, and the postwar prosperity had finally reached our family—that must have been what enabled Dad to trade off the ’38 Pontiac for the ’50 Nash. Things had never seemed very prosperous on our South Carolina farm, and we’d heard Mom and Dad talk many times about how much they wanted to have the family sealed to them in the temple, but how far off Salt Lake City was and how fearful they were that the Pontiac would never make it. But when Dad showed up one day with the new Nash, we knew he’d bought it so we could go to the temple. Why, the seats even folded down into a double bed, which meant we could save on motel expenses by letting the “big boys” sleep in the car.
So plans were made. We’d go in the fall, when all the crops were in. Of course, we would have to have a good harvest to be able to afford the trip. Even with the postwar boom, Dad’s job at the mill, and the produce from the farm, it all seemed barely enough to provide the necessities for our growing family. But always when a snag would appear, Mom’s faith and optimism would push us along.
“Callis,” she’d say, “if you don’t take me to the temple and something should happen to you, I’ll find someone who will.”
We suspected that she really wouldn’t have, but it was her way of letting it be known that she planned to get to the temple that fall. Mom and Dad and all the older children knew how close Dad had come to being killed only four years before. He’d been terribly hurt in a motorcycle accident, so when she told him “if anything happens to you” we all knew what she was talking about.
As fall approached there was much activity around our home. Arrangements had to be made for taking us out of school for a couple of weeks; someone had to make sure the animals were fed and watered; and the crops all had to be gathered in. There was an air of excitement as September turned into October—then finally the day of departure arrived. We’d planned to leave between 10:00 P.M. and midnight; that way we’d get in a day and a half of driving before we had to stop for a motel. But as last-minute chores were being done, a cry cut through the stillness of the autumn afternoon: “The pump house is on fire!”
The family came running from nine different directions, and in moments the source of the billowing smoke was found and extinguished. Some days before, one of us had set a gallon jug of gasoline in the pump house, and behind the jug, just under the pump motor, were some burlap bags. The rays of the afternoon sun had magnified through the jug onto the bags, creating a smoldering heat which burned out the pump motor.
It couldn’t have happened at a worse time! It would take days to find and install a replacement motor. Our travel time had to coincide with Dad’s vacation, and our schedule was already tight for what we thought of as our once-in-a-lifetime trip.
I can never forget the scene that followed. After surveying the damage, Dad slowly turned and with drooping head moved toward the house some thirty yards distant. Raising both hands and dropping them several times, shaking his head slowly back and forth, he spoke only half aloud: “How can I leave with no water for the animals? There’s no way we can go.”
Never, before or since, have I seen such great discouragement. Excitement over the anticipated trip suddenly turned to gloom for all of us. We weren’t going after all.
Just then, without our looking for it, came one of those small miracles that happen in our lives in such a matter-of-fact way that we sometimes fail to recognize that they are miracles. Down our driveway came my Uncle Heber.
Heber was Dad’s brother and had taken his family to the temple some ten years earlier. Like all of our relatives there in the Hartsville Ward, he knew of the hopes and aspirations of my parents concerning this trip. The family was close that way. Heber took in the whole situation in a single glance, and for what he did next we’ll all be forever grateful.
“Callis,” he said, “get your family in the car and go. I’ll have water here by nightfall tomorrow.” And we knew he would.
Nearly a quarter of a century has passed since that time. Uncle Heber is dead now, all the children have grown up and married, and the time needed for my folks to travel to a temple has been reduced from two weeks to two days. But I reflect with a grateful heart on that first trip. So many things conspired to keep us away, but always it seemed that when an obstacle appeared, the way was prepared. I suppose the only obstacle the Lord might not have helped us overcome would have been our own lack of desire. I’m convinced that he wanted our family sealed to each other, and the blessings we received on that first trip to the temple will be with us for generations to come.