Rachel, My Sister
“The bishop called to ask if he could come over tonight,” said my husband, Wayne, in his “I-know-something-you-don’t-know” voice.
“Do you know why?” I asked.
“Yes, a new calling for you,” he said.
My mind raced from the nursery to the Relief Society, then bounced back to the Primary and through the library, wondering what the new calling would be. Then panic struck as I remembered. Sister Coke had been released as a counselor in our special Relief Society. “Oh, no,” I thought.
Within our ward boundaries is a large rest home. The wards in the stake take turns being responsible for the Church services there—including sacrament meeting and Relief Society. The rest home is a dependent branch, and it was our ward’s turn to provide the branch presidency and Relief Society presidency.
I had been in the rest home once before on a substitute visiting teaching assignment. That visit had depressed me so much that I had told the Relief Society president I could not go again.
That evening, as I met with the bishop, my fears were realized. “Sister Chappell,” he said, “Sister Marlene Recksiek, as president of the rest home Relief Society, has asked for you as her second counselor. Sister Clara Harrison will continue as the first counselor. We feel this is a special calling. Will you accept this call from the Lord?”
The bishop had the nicest way of saying the worst things.
“I’ll try,” I muttered.
As I met with the other two sisters in the presidency on Thursday for an orientation, I could scarcely believe what I heard.
“Oh, just wait, Leah,” said Marlene. “After you’ve been with us a week or two, you’ll love it.”
“The sisters are so special,” Clara said.
Marlene added, “I was called for one year. But when the year was up, I begged the bishop to let me keep this job longer. It’s been almost two years now.”
Sunday came. I arrived at the rest home an hour early, as we had planned in our presidency meeting. We had a prayer, and then each of us took a list of sisters we were to help get to the meeting. A few of the women, I learned, were able to come by themselves, but the majority needed help to get from their rooms to the recreation room where sacrament meeting was held. Since this was my first week, Marlene had given me a list of only five sisters to help.
I got the first four to the recreation room with remarkable ease. Each was eager to attend the meeting. Two of them were already in their wheelchairs waiting for me when I arrived. They directed me to the elevators and down the right halls to the recreation room. “I’m being blessed,” I thought. “Maybe this won’t be so bad after all.”
The fifth name on my list was Rachel—room 207. I knocked softly on her door. She immediately opened it. “Oh, good,” I thought. “She can walk.”
“I’ve come to take you to church,” I said.
“I can’t go,” Rachel replied. “My sister is coming to visit me.”
“Oh, that will be nice,” I said. “Well, I’ll come for you again next week. I hope you can come then.”
During the next few weeks, I watched Rachel. I learned that in the ten years she had been in the rest home she had never had a visit from her family. She had never attended church while she had been in the rest home, though her records said that she was LDS. I learned that she often went outside on the sidewalk to watch for the sister who never came.
Each week I went to Rachel’s room to ask her to come. I prayed for her. I felt that we could take away at least a little of her loneliness if she would just come to the meetings.
On the sixth Sunday, I knocked on her door.
“I’ve come to take you to church,” I said.
“I can’t,” she replied as usual. “My sister is coming to see me.”
Then the inspiration I had been praying for came.
“Rachel,” I said, “My name is Leah. In the Bible, Leah and Rachel are sisters. I will be your sister.”
Confusion filled Rachel’s eyes. I repeated, “I am Leah. The Bible says Leah and Rachel are sisters.”
After a moment, Rachel looked up at me with a light I had never seen in her eyes before. She put her hand in my outstretched one. As we walked toward the recreation room, I gave her hand a little squeeze. “Sisters,” I said.
As he was leaving for early-morning seminary, our teenage son, Michael, found one-year-old Alex in the living room, screaming, with his eyes tightly closed. A pair of sharp scissors lay in front of him.
Sensing that something was seriously wrong, Michael carried Alex to his mother, who was still in bed. She took him in her arms and tried to comfort him, but he kept screaming. I was on my knees saying my prayers in an adjoining room.
My wife became concerned and called to me. I quickly concluded my prayer and emerged from the small sewing room off the bedroom. Michael had by now told his mother about the scissors, and together we laid Alex down on the bed to look at his eyes.
Our hearts sank with dismay as we saw his damaged eyelid. Instinctively I grabbed him, held him close, then went into the sewing room and closed the door. There I poured out a plea to Heavenly Father to heal my son.
Immediately, Alex went limp in my arms. He stopped crying and seemed to fall asleep. For about a minute I prayed more fervently than I ever had in my life.
Then, not daring to think what I would see, I looked down. The protrusion was gone. A few seconds later, Alex opened his large, dark eyes and looked up at me. They were crystal clear. He gave me one of his happy grins.
Tears of joy flooded my own eyes. Opening the door, I went back into the bedroom to find my wife kneeling beside the bed, sobbing in prayer. I put Alex in her arms. “Heavenly Father has made him better,” were the only words I could manage.
Tearfully, she examined his eyes, then expressed her thanks to Heavenly Father. Alex wriggled out of his mother’s arms, climbed down off the bed, and trotted off, with no sign whatever of the injury he had suffered.
The whole incident could not have lasted more than a few minutes, but more than one prayer had been answered in that brief time.
Finding My Black Ancestors
Soon after my conversion to the LDS Church, I received my patriarchal blessing. In it I was counseled to do my genealogy work. This surprised me, for as a black person I had always thought that pursuing genealogy would be hopeless. Slaves were only recorded as nameless property. How could I possibly find the records of my ancestors?
But although I didn’t have the experience, time, or funds that Alex Haley had, I did have a patriarchal blessing that encouraged me to uncover my personal roots and see that my ancestors’ temple work was done. So I began.
After months of dead ends, one night I had a dream. In the dream, a photograph of my great-great-grandmother that hangs on our living room wall was lifted down and handed to me. I had already searched in vain for her records. Yet the dream was so vivid that the following day I stared urgently at the photograph, wondering what it held for me and why it had appeared to me in the dream.
Many times that day I returned to the picture. Slowly, but firmly, I received the impression that I should write to the Mississippi archives for information. It didn’t seem logical, but I followed the impulse.
One week later I received the copy of a particular census that verified my great-great-grandmother’s birth and gave me all the information I needed. I now look forward to performing the saving ordinances for her in the Atlanta Temple.
I used to look at that photograph in my living room and see only my great-great-grandmother. Now that picture reminds me that when I felt that finding information about my ancestors was impossible, a way was shown to me.
“I Understood Nearly Every Word”
During a Sunday School class several years ago, we discussed some of the challenges confronting our growing, multicultural Church. We faced a few of these in our own large urban area. Some class members wondered how we could extend fellowship to the people of many nations who are joining the Church. As a result of our discussion, a few of us made a commitment to study a second language.
Two years went by before family responsibilities permitted me to enroll in a university Spanish class held two mornings a week. An earlier experience had influenced my choice to learn Spanish. While serving on a stake board, I had felt that my inability to speak Spanish had handicapped me because there were two Spanish-speaking units in the stake. I was rarely able to have a personal conversation with a Spanish-speaking sister; I had also noticed that since no one on our stake board spoke Spanish, some misunderstandings inevitably arose.
Because I had studied languages before, I knew this was a major undertaking. It would take many months—perhaps even years—of work to achieve real fluency. But it seemed important to make a start.
The school year was filled with hard work—six hours a week in class and many outside hours memorizing, practicing, and reviewing. Giving up most of my personal leisure time was a big adjustment. Many times I felt burdened by my commitment to learn Spanish.
But as the months went by, I was rewarded by small signs of progress. I could speak haltingly to Spanish-speaking members who called my husband, the stake clerk. I remember the broad grin of our Spanish-speaking ward custodian the first time I requested Relief Society room arrangements in Spanish.
But by far the most rewarding experience occurred at a Relief Society leadership meeting. Attending our group were two Spanish sisters. One was quiet and withdrawn, speaking very little English. At the conclusion of the meeting, the stake leader asked the shy Spanish sister to close the meeting with prayer in her native tongue.
For the first time, I understood nearly every word of spoken Spanish. I listened with amazement as this humble sister, taken by surprise, poured out her heart to the Lord in a most beautiful way. I was moved by her powerful testimony. The prayer left me in tears. I clasped her hand and tried to tell her how touched I had been by her prayer. How grateful I was that I hadn’t missed it!
I’ve since stopped my formal Spanish training and have begun learning sign language for the deaf. But I keep up my Spanish skills by conversing with Spanish-speaking friends and reading literature written in Spanish. True fluency still eludes me, but the start I’ve made has been one of the most rewarding projects of my life.
I dreaded going to work at the care center that day. I did not relish the thought of giving Ethel a permanent.
Ethel had long, dark hair—and a lot of it. To add to that, she was severely physically handicapped. She had no control of her muscles and had great difficulty in speaking.
Giving Ethel a permanent was no easy chore. It took me quite some time to roll her hair in the permanent rods. Several times her right hand rose and got in the way. Each time, Ethel told me to tuck it under the arm of the chair. I fought her suggestion, but after a while I submitted to her request. Finally, just as I finished rolling her hair, Ethel looked up and said, “I have a lot of patience, don’t I? I’m a good girl, aren’t I?”
Ethel was probably thirty-five or forty years old. But I told her that yes, she was a good girl, and added I was sure that she had a lot more patience than I did.
The most difficult part was still to come—taking Ethel to the sink to rinse and put the neutralizer on her hair. How could she sit there in a normal chair? I wondered. Her own chair strapped her in and braced her up. How could I rinse her head without literally drenching her?
I could tell that Ethel felt great pain as she lay there with her head back in the sink with all those curlers pressing against her head. I could barely contain my tears at the sight of her trying to stay in the chair with no control over her body.
Once or twice, Ethel asked me to take her hand down, to put a pillow under her deformed arm, and to put a towel under her crooked shoulders.
The pain and pity I felt for her must have shown vividly. I left the room to get another towel and to wipe away my tears. As I entered the doorway, Ethel, in all her pain, called me to her side. Drawing me close to her, she said, “Sandy, don’t feel sorry for me. Are you a Mormon?”
“Then think about Jesus and all the pain he had to bear. Mine is nothing compared to his.”
My tears fell freely as I gently kissed Ethel on the cheek. I left the care center that day vowing to myself that I would come to know Christ as she did.