Love by the Bucketful
When Idaho’s Teton Dam collapsed on 5 June 1976, our home, on the northwest corner of our sixty-acre farm near Sugar City, Idaho, was slammed by a debris-laden, six-foot wall of water. It shattered the family room windows, allowing a barrage of mud, muck, and entire bales of straw to fill the house.
For weeks after the flood, thousands of volunteers poured into southeastern Idaho to help the victims clean up. Near the end of the second month, my husband was back at work, and the children were dispersed among relatives in Montana and Utah. I was left to supervise the “flood” of volunteers—a hundred in all—who miraculously arrived day after day to help us dig out from under six feet of filthy muck and water. In a matter of weeks, those assigned to our home had scoured every inch of every room except for the crawl space in the basement. Because this space was so inaccessible, I had saved this worst task of the cleanup until last.
There was only a partial basement underneath the house, but the three-foot-high crawl space reached out in all directions. In that hard-to-reach area we had stored boxes of empty fruit jars, painting supplies, nails, screws, an ice-cream freezer, and packages of food too bulky for regular shelves.
A few days after the flood, these buried supplies had been discarded, and all that remained was slimy, mucky mud. To alleviate the stench, it all had to go.
On a particularly hot July day, a volunteer crew from Salt Lake City was assigned to help us. I drove to the church parking lot early that morning and picked up three men and two teenage boys.
When the six of us reached our home, I reluctantly ushered them downstairs to the mud-clogged crawl space. Without a murmuring word, they cheerfully accepted the enormous challenge and quickly organized a bucket brigade. The boys crouched in the crawl space with short-handled scoops and filled the buckets. The men were bucket carriers.
It was a tough job. In the part of the basement that was dug out and cemented, anyone taller than five feet had to stoop to avoid colliding with the floor joists overhead. The boys slid, kicked, crawled, and groped their way under, around, and between water pipes and heating ducts to shovel and fill the buckets. When the buckets were full, the boys shoved them toward a man who carried them to another volunteer halfway up the basement stairs.
He in turn lugged the buckets—one in each hand—to the third man in the family room, who emptied the buckets of mud out the broken windows. This miserable work continued through the whole day. In spite of this, the crew remained cheerful, sometimes whistling or humming while waiting their turn to pass the mud-filled buckets.
I worried about the health of one man whose brow dripped perspiration continuously. With the ninety-degree heat and the heavy manual labor involved, I felt my anxiety intensify with every bucket, particularly when I learned that he regularly worked in an air-conditioned office.
I was grateful for their work and didn’t want to nag, yet I frequently asked all the volunteers to rest. No one paid any attention. None slackened their pace or stopped, except at noon, when they ate cold lunches they had brought with them. All day they labored feverishly, as if their lives depended on the quantity and quality of the work they were doing.
To allow them to meet their bus for the ride home, quitting time was 4:00 P.M. Somehow, by that time, this crew had miraculously extracted all the mud and debris from the hard-to-reach crawl space.
When we arrived at the church parking lot where they were to catch the bus for home, I again thanked the volunteers for their help. The two boys and two of the men marched off toward the row of buses, black lunch pails swinging by their sides.
One of the men hesitated by our pickup, took my hand, and whispered, “You wonderful people. May the Lord bless you and help you keep going.”
Tears glistened in his eyes, then suddenly he turned and joined his comrades on the bus.
I was greatly touched and uplifted. Through this volunteer and his friends, I had felt the Savior’s words magnified:
“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:34–35.)
The “Getaway” Gift
The fabric of my daily life had been pulled ever tighter over several months, and it was on a Sunday morning when I finally came apart at the seams.
Many LDS women can empathize with the frustrations and tensions involved in getting a large family physically, emotionally, and spiritually ready for church all alone because their husbands are at early morning meetings.
A lost shoe and a teenager’s attitude may have been the straws that broke the camel’s back at my house; combined with recent health problems and plaguing financial worries, it suddenly all seemed too much to bear. Desperately, I asked my oldest daughter to take the children to church. Then I collapsed on my bed, sobbing with the futility of it all.
I don’t think I had ever been more down. I reached for the phone and called my sister and dearest friend, Lucy Strecker, in Seattle, Washington.
I cried as I told her about my life and present circumstances. Everything that I held in the highest regard and had worked so hard to accomplish as a wife and mother seemed to be crumbling around me.
Lucy encouraged me to pray, but I was too angry. She encouraged me to think about my many blessings, but I couldn’t remember a single one. She spoke of the love shown me by my family and friends, but I was too depressed to recognize it. She extolled the many accomplishments of our family, but I doubted my part in any of them.
She chastised me for trying to do too much and for judging myself too harshly. She reminded me of how I had overcome other problems. She bore her testimony about the love that our Father in Heaven has for each of us. Her testimony that God grieves with us when we grieve and rejoices with us when we rejoice finally gave me some comfort, and I was able to rest.
I later learned that after hanging up the phone, Lucy had dropped to her knees and pleaded with the Lord to help me. She told him that I really needed help in order to return to the giving, loving, self-confident woman I had once been. She begged him to send me comfort and peace so that I might solve my problems and look at life more optimistically.
She concluded her prayer, wiped her eyes, and hurried to her own Sunday meetings. Her mind was still on my sorrow as she took a seat in the chapel. Then a calmness filled her heart, and she felt that her prayers had been heard. Everything would be all right.
During the opening hymn, a woman she didn’t know sat down next to her. Lucy introduced herself and learned that this sister, Barbara Papenfuss, was in town visiting and had decided to attend this ward on the spur of the moment. Sister Papenfuss lived in the Missoula Montana Stake, and it took only moments for Lucy to learn that she not only knew me, but was a good friend of mine.
With tears in her eyes, Lucy explained that I was having a hard time right now and needed something tangible to hold in my hand as evidence of her concern and love. She asked Barbara to wait after church for a few minutes while she went home to get something for her to take to me.
When Barbara returned to Montana, she immediately telephoned me and arranged to meet me with Lucy’s gift. It was a beautiful cloisonne vase from my sister’s mantle, along with a hundred-dollar bill earmarked as “getaway” money and a short note written on the back of her ward bulletin: “God moves in a mysterious way.” Barbara also gave me a hug from my sister, and the message that Lucy loved me.
Today, as I look at Lucy’s vase resting on my mantle, I remember the “getaway” weekend with my husband that gave me the time and space to regroup and find solutions to family problems.
Sometimes spoken words are not enough. We need the tangible evidence of a tuna casserole, a birthday card, a rose, or a hug to remind us that there is someone out there who cares about us and wants us to be happy.
God does work his miracles through other people. I shall ever be grateful that others were spiritually in tune to hear and act on the Spirit’s promptings.
“I Prayed You Would Call”
I was converted to the Church while attending the University of Texas at Arlington, and was baptized during the 1970 summer break.
The following semester I struck up a casual conversation with a girl named Stephanie who sat in front of me in an embryology class. We discussed an article that had recently appeared in the local paper about the possible existence of a pre-Columbian Jewish culture in ancient America. When I told her that this theory was supported by the Book of Mormon, her curiosity was aroused.
After class, Stephanie and I made our way to the lunchroom to discuss Mormonism. Although she admitted being biased against traditional institutions like religion and marriage, we became good friends and often met to exchange philosophies.
When the semester ended, I transferred to Brigham Young University. Before departing I gave several friends, including Stephanie, copies of the Book of Mormon with a personal message inside.
I corresponded with Stephanie for a time, but we soon lost track of each other. I returned home to Texas for the summer and decided to serve a mission before completing my schooling.
One night that summer, a forceful feeling came over me, and I had a distinct impression that I should call Stephanie and talk to her about the gospel.
I tried to rationalize the impression away. “You don’t just call someone out of the blue to talk about the Church,” I reasoned to myself. “Besides, Stephanie would have graduated by now, and I have no idea where to reach her.”
The feeling persisted. Soon I could think of nothing else. Finally I located a home phone number she had given me, and nervously placed a call.
Stephanie was home. When I identified myself I was greeted with stunned silence. Then we started to talk.
I spoke about the gospel at some length, and I marveled at her receptiveness. Before we ended our conversation I invited her to attend stake conference, where Elder LeGrand Richards was scheduled to speak.
She readily agreed, and met me a few days later at the conference. She was visibly shaken and very quiet.
After the meeting, I introduced her to the missionaries. I departed for my own mission soon afterward.
Stephanie and I continued to correspond, but it wasn’t until after her baptism that she told me of the events that had awakened her interest in the Church. Her letter of explanation read, in part:
“After graduating from four years of college and breaking up a romance of five and a half years, I came home. I had no car and no job prospects. I was desperate—I had never felt so alone in all my life. I decided to pray. It was like some built-in instinct for survival.
“I prayed that you—Marcus—would call and tell me something about the Church. I never, never, never expected that prayer to be answered.
“You can’t imagine how shocked I was when the phone rang less than twenty-four hours later. Sure enough, it was you—‘that Mormon guy from my embryo class.’ I started poring over the Book of Mormon and saying a lot more prayers. From then on everything in my whole life began to straighten out. I got a job, then a car, and then I was baptized into the Church. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to thank you enough.”
I read the letter several times through my tears. Stephanie later married in the Salt Lake Temple. She is now a mother and homemaker and has served in several Church positions, including that of Relief Society president.