Home Evening, 1846 Style
One Sunday soon after we had moved to the Omaha, Nebraska/Council Bluffs, Iowa, area, my husband and our eight-year-old son, Randy, informed the rest of the family that the home evening activity for the following night was a secret. We were instructed to dress warmly and be ready to leave the house as soon as Dad got home from work. They would give us no other clues.
There was a feeling of excitement in the air as Monday evening approached, but in Randy’s eyes was a look of disappointment. They had forgotten to plan for the change from daylight saving to standard time that had occurred two nights before. It was almost dark when Dad got home. To make matters worse, it was windy and rain was falling in torrents. My husband took me into his confidence and told me of their plans for us to visit Winter Quarters, about fifteen miles to the north.
We decided to go anyway. We all donned boots, coats, and mittens and ran to the car, where Randy announced where we were going, to the delight of his three sisters.
We spent the twenty-minute ride singing pioneer songs and watching the rain splash on the car windows as we sped along. We soon turned off the freeway and drove down a narrow street lit by an occasional street light. At last we arrived.
We stopped at Pioneer Park. Through the wet car windows we could see a marker. Before we got out to read it, Randy told us about some of the events that had taken place there: the hardships the Saints had faced, the bitter cold winter, and the disease that had left six hundred people dead.
When my husband suggested we get out of the car, three-year-old Cynthia began to cry. She said she didn’t want to get out in the wind and the rain, and besides, she was cold! I thought of how pioneer mothers must have felt as they tried to keep their small children warm and dry during that bitter winter of 1846. With a little coaxing, Cynthia agreed to get out. We all huddled together as my husband read the marker: “Winter Quarters Location of the Camps of Israel.” A feeling of pride swept over us as we stood there shivering.
We then walked a few yards into the bare trees of the park. The children were cold, and they wanted to get back into the car. Then I had an idea. I said, “Catherine, would you please gather wood for the fire? Randy, you take the gun and get a rabbit so I can make stew for supper. DeeAnne and Cynthia, will you make up the beds in the wagon, while Dad unhitches the oxen?”
Delighted, they each scampered about pretending to do their various jobs. My husband put his arm around me, and we stood in the cold rain watching our children. Neither of us spoke, but I knew we were both silently thanking our Heavenly Father for our four precious children. Then it was time to get back in the car.
Even though we had our boots on, our toes were numb; but within minutes the car heater had us all toasty warm. As we drove home my husband explained that the Saints usually traveled fifteen to twenty miles a day. It had taken them a full day to travel as far as we could now go in twenty minutes.
Back home, after a warm supper, we knelt for family prayer. A feeling of deep gratitude filled the house and warmed us. We were grateful for our pioneer heritage, and we were especially grateful for our warm clothes and cozy home. We thanked our Father in Heaven more humbly than ever before for those blessings that we had often taken for granted.
“Save My Life … Comfort My Children”
It was twilight on a cold and rainy October day in 1968, and I was riding my bicycle home from work in Copenhagen, Denmark. My husband was in Canada on an assignment at that time, and I was alone with two children, a boy ten and a girl seven years old.
On my way home I had to cross a very busy four-lane road with a bicycle lane. For safety, I had made it a habit to get off my bike and walk it across the intersection. On this particular day I got halfway across the street and stopped in the middle to let the cars go by. A small car stopped in the lane to my right, and the driver signaled for me to cross. A big truck stopped in the lane beside the small car, and the truck driver also signaled to me, so I continued across the street. Just as I passed the truck I saw a Volkswagen coming toward me, illegally in the bicycle track, at full speed. There was no time for me to escape, either backward or forward.
In that split second, countless thoughts of my children, my husband, my widowed mother, and my job flashed through my mind, and I prayed more fervently than ever before: “Please, dear Lord, whatever happens—spare my life.”
The car hit the bicycle, slamming the handlebars into the left side of my body. As I lay helpless in the road, I could barely breathe because of the pain, but I didn’t lose consciousness. When I turned my head, I saw the Volkswagen’s tire only an inch away. I looked at my bicycle, which had been thrown several feet by the collision. It now looked half its original size.
I was certain that I had experienced a miracle. The tire couldn’t have been any closer, yet it had not crushed my head. I felt that an invisible hand had stopped it right there. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I thanked Heavenly Father for saving my life.
I lay in the road waiting for the ambulance. What would the children think when I didn’t come for them? Would I be in time to call the day-care center from the emergency room before it closed? Who could I contact? I hardly knew my neighbors because of a busy schedule, and members of my ward were some distance away.
At the busy emergency room, the staff wouldn’t let me use the telephone before they had taken an X ray. The nurses were too busy to make the call for me. The police officers didn’t show up until four hours later to make a written report of the accident.
For the five longest hours of my life I was kept in the hospital with a number of people helping me. Still, I felt that only Heavenly Father was able to give me the real help I needed. For the first time in my life I found myself unceasingly praying about my only concern—two small and lonely children.
“Please tell them I’m all right,” I prayed. “Let them have peace of mind so that they won’t panic, and give them patience. Please tell them what to do.” I felt the presence of the Holy Ghost, and an all-embracing peace filled my mind—the same feeling I prayed my children would receive.
Finally, the doctor told me that except for my painfully bruised ribs, I was as good as new, and he let me go. The two policemen offered me a ride home, and we arrived outside my apartment building at 10:15 that night.
Two small, tired children walked hand in hand in the dark toward the police car. “Mom, where have you been? What happened to you? How come it’s so late? Why did the police drive you home?” they asked, as soon as we were safely in the apartment.
I explained, and asked, “How did you get home?”
My son said, “We couldn’t understand why you didn’t come to pick us up, but we thought you might be late from work, so we walked home. It started to get dark, but we couldn’t get in because we haven’t got a key.
“I didn’t know what to do, but all of a sudden I thought we should pray about it. So we knelt on the doormat while I said a prayer. We sat without talking for a little while after the prayer, as you taught us to do, and then a nice thing happened to me.
“I felt a big, warm hand touching the top of my head, and I heard a friendly voice saying, ‘Your mother is well, she has been taken care of. It will be a while before she comes home, and it will be dark outside, but just stay calm. Take your little sister by the hand and stay near the apartment and play peacefully. If you do, the time will go by quickly until your mother is with you again.’
“When I looked up to see who was talking to me, I couldn’t see anybody, and no more was said. I felt calm.”
Over the years I have seen my son have occasional struggles as he has grown into adulthood. It’s sometimes easy during difficult times to doubt there is a living God.
Each time he was struggling, I would ask, “Do you remember what happened to you the night of my accident?”
His features would clear, and he would say, “Mother, it’s true, and I will never be able to deny it.”
I am grateful that my son is able to carry an experience like this with him. I have also learned how important it is for us to teach our children to pray and to remember the words in Psalms 94:9: “He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? he that formed the eye, shall he not see?” [Ps. 94:9]
Our “Lost Coin”
Though it was several years ago, I can still recall the panic I felt that day as I searched my house for the misplaced envelope containing six hundred dollars. Frantically, I dumped drawers and searched the desk where I usually put important papers.
As the mother of three young children and the wife of a school teacher, I knew how much we needed that money. I knew how far off our next monthly payday was.
I prayed, and so did our whole family. All our family prayers centered around pleas for help in locating that envelope, yet we received no answer. I wondered how I could have been so irresponsible. We needed that money in order to pay bills and buy food. Time passed, and each day frustration and fear took a greater hold on my spirit and my faith. The lost money occupied all my thoughts.
A few weeks later on Sunday, I remembered that a visiting teaching message meeting would take place before Relief Society. I decided I would be better off at church than at home worrying about the money, and I managed to get all three children into the nursery and slip into my seat just as the teacher began her lesson. She was reading the parable of the lost piece of silver from the Bible. (See Luke 15:8–10.)
Suddenly it was no longer just a parable, but an instant replay of the past three weeks at our house, where nothing had been left unturned and where I had spent long hours trying to reconstruct my actions.
Then the Spirit whispered that while the Savior sought after the lost soul, I had been seeking the piece of silver. I realized that if I used the same energy to find the sisters I was assigned to visit that I had spent trying to find our six hundred dollars, I could truly magnify my visiting teaching calling.
Tears ran down my cheeks as the lesson hit home, and I knew something good would still come of the experience. The panic and the self-recrimination were gone, and I knew through the peaceful reassurance of the Spirit that somehow all would be well.
For the first time in weeks I felt really happy again. The children sensed a difference. When we got home, we all knelt together and four-year-old Spencer prayed once more that we would find our money.
Then we got up, and with no conscious thought, went to our seldom-used front entry closet. There on the top shelf was a book with the envelope of money sticking out of it. Prayers had been answered, a lesson taught, and the money recovered.
Today, our two older children bear testimony to the younger ones that Heavenly Father does answer our prayers, and I understand in a much more personal way that the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.
The Man Who Lost Almost Everything
It wasn’t unusual for the pediatric unit of the hospital where I worked to admit adult patients when the rest of the hospital beds were full. That is how I met Frank, a quiet, middle-aged man who had been admitted for tests because of poor circulation in his left leg. After several days of tests, the circulation became worse. Doctors agreed that Frank’s leg would have to be amputated below the knee, and the operation was performed.
Days passed, and I noticed there were no plants or flowers in Frank’s room. There were no phone calls or “get well” cards, and no visitors had been in to see him during the shifts I had worked.
Curious about this man who seemed so alone, I looked at his chart. On his admission form there was no home address listed; instead, in bold letters, was the word transient. He had listed a sister in Texas as his nearest relative.
None of the other nurses knew any more about Frank than I did, so gathering my courage, I knocked quietly on his door and went in.
He lay quiet as usual, with his hair askew. He grimaced as he tried to find a comfortable position.
“Can I help you?” I asked.
“Well, you could put that pillow under my leg right here,” he said, pointing to his thigh. “I can’t ever seem to find a comfortable position. Is it supposed to hurt so much? Is it time for another shot?”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s too soon to have another. Here, let me pour you a glass of water.” Picking up the water pitcher, I filled his glass. “Are you from around here?” I asked.
“No. I was laid off in Vegas and came through Salt Lake looking for work. I was on my way to Montana.”
“Oh, do you have family there?”
“No. I don’t have any family.” The words seemed to echo in the room. “I lost my family.”
He glanced at me and grimaced again, grasping what was left of his leg. I placed my hand on his shoulder and stood by his side until it seemed the pain had passed.
“There was a car accident,” he said. “My wife and five children—gone.”
Later, I sat at the nurses’ station trying to understand the loss this man was feeling—his family, and now his leg. And he was in a strange town with no friends or family to help him through it.
I told the other nurses Frank’s story. We committed ourselves to becoming his friends and family. We learned that since the accident, he had traveled from town to town, working for a while, then moving on, looking for something he had lost, never able to find it. Afraid to love and have it all taken from him again.
Each nurse had her own special way of doing things for Frank. One found out that Frank enjoyed reading western novels, so she made sure he always had one. Another kept fresh flowers from her garden by his bed. Another brought his favorite treats.
The family of a patient in the room next to Frank’s got in on the action, too. The Parkers brought something to Frank that touched me deeply. They gave him a picture of their family. He was very proud of it and kept it in view all the time.
He said, “Since I don’t have any family, the Parkers want me to feel that I am a part of their family. That makes me feel good. I love to look at the little children.” Then he would point and say their names as proudly as if the children were his own.
It soon became evident to the doctors that Frank’s extreme pain was caused by a complication in the healing process. To correct this problem, Frank would need another operation. This meant further amputation of his left leg above the knee. Frank was devastated. He wouldn’t talk to any of us, except to ask for another pain shot.
The night before the scheduled operation, Frank slid to the floor of his room and dragged himself across to the window. He unlatched the bottom of the window, three stories up, fully intending to end it all. No more pain. No more depression or aching inside. But he couldn’t get the window open. Falling to the floor in despair and agony, Frank lay there and cried.
The surgery went as planned. This time the remaining portion of his leg healed properly, and the pain was not as severe. We were all relieved to see Frank finally improving.
The Parker family contacted the missionaries, and Frank was very receptive to their message. Then that wonderful family took Frank into their home after his release from the hospital. As soon as his leg was healed, he was baptized. He now has a new zest for living and a desire to begin a new life, and he is looking forward to the day when he can be sealed to his wife and five children.
I learned a hard lesson from the experience, too. As I had wondered what I could do for Frank, I had considered giving him a Book of Mormon. It had made it as far as my locker at work but had stayed there. Later, I was embarrassed to tell Frank about the book in my locker. Frank was amused by my story, but he shook his finger at me and told me never to ignore those promptings again.
I hope I never will.