Anna loved her new large-print copy of the Book of Mormon that the branch president had given her for Christmas. She wrote in it: “To Anna Propps from President Turner—Christmas 1988.” Later, she told her nonmember relatives it had been her best Christmas present ever.
She was forty-eight at the time, but that year everything was new and full of first-time experiences for Anna. It was as if the Lord had given her a wide-angle lens through which to view Christmas, and we, her new friends, were sometimes able to glance through it with her and share her enthusiasm.
Less than six months and one hundred and fifty miles separated Anna from her old life, but she knew she had come a very long way. She had been baptized in September along with her ten-year-old grandson, Rusty, whom she was rearing alone as her son.
Over the next several months we learned the story of her life. Born and reared in rural West Virginia, Anna had rarely been to a city of any size. She had already reared two daughters, and she was now rearing Rusty. But in the spring of 1988 she decided she wanted to see more of the world, and she wanted new opportunities for Rusty.
She started saving from her Social Security checks. When she had enough money, her brother offered her a used car, and she and Rusty made plans to leave.
Anna couldn’t drive, so someone drove them as far as Christiansburg, Virginia, where the car broke down. Since she liked the area, she decided to stay and rented a place in a trailer park.
Before long, the carefully saved money was gone, and Anna had become ill. One day, in desperation, she tearfully prayed, “If there’s a God in Heaven, please help me.” By the time she had washed the tears from her face, elders were knocking on her door. To test their sincerity and to see if they were, indeed, an answer to her prayer, she asked them to come back a little later. When they kept their appointment and started to teach her the gospel, she was convinced.
Elders Roger Thomas and Larry Kearl, and Brother Rick Fisher, the stake missionary who was with them, saw that Anna needed material as well as spiritual help. They immediately purchased some food and called on members of the branch for additional help. With her most urgent needs met, her testimony grew. Anna and Rusty were soon baptized and began attending the branch’s meetings and socials. Frequently, one or more of the sisters invited her to visit them or go on an outing, and Anna began to develop friendships within the branch.
I was her Relief Society president, and the first time I saw the trailer court where she lived, it was clear to me that many changes had to be made. We would have to help her get a job, find her better housing, and teach her to drive so that she could be self-reliant and secure. What we didn’t know then was how much Anna would teach us.
By Thanksgiving, Anna was in the hospital with heart trouble. When she was released, she learned that Rusty would be in the local Christmas parade with the Cub Scouts and insisted on being there. One of her friends from the branch took her and parked on the parade route so that Anna could watch it all. Of course, seeing Rusty go by was the highlight for her, but the entire experience of our modest parade was exciting for Anna. How her eyes sparkled!
As Christmas approached, we held a quilting party in her honor. Anna learned to tie a quilt, and when space around the quilting frame was crowded, she enthusiastically fashioned a needle-threader out of a scrap of paper and kept us supplied with needles and yarn. She had learned that, in small ways as well as in great, “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” (Mosiah 2:17.)
Her enthusiasm for her new life was contagious. We all began to enjoy simple things more—those things we usually took for granted—as we saw them through her eyes. How I loved to teach Relief Society and watch her face! She sat and smiled throughout the lesson and nodded at the significant points, as if to say, “Yes, I recognize that teaching as a truth I’ve always believed but have just found in the gospel.” She was like the Lamanites Alma described: “The Lord did pour out his Spirit … to prepare the minds of the children of men, or to prepare their hearts to receive the word which should be taught among them.” (Alma 16:16.)
Anna appreciated everything she was experiencing. When someone gave her a ride or helped her, she expressed her gratitude in notes or in person. She was especially grateful to Heavenly Father for her introduction to the gospel and her new life. She tried to follow Amulek’s counsel to “live in thanksgiving daily, for the many mercies and blessings which he doth bestow upon you.” (Alma 34:38.)
A few days before Christmas, the Relief Society went caroling at a local nursing home. This was another first-time experience for Anna. She sang energetically, full of the spirit of Christmas and the joy of lifting those who were less fortunate than she. As we came home, we enjoyed pointing out the houses trimmed with lights. Over and over again she would exclaim, “Oh, I wish Rusty were here! He’d really like this. I wish I had my camera.”
And so our Christmas season rushed forward, enhanced and made more meaningful as we introduced Anna to a new life and as she reintroduced us to joy inherent in the Savior’s teachings.
Anna wanted to share that joy with her relatives, so she went home to celebrate the New Year. She told them how happy she was and what the gospel and the Book of Mormon had done for her. She was happier than she had ever been before, and it showed. She must have felt somewhat as Lehi had felt in his dream: “And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit.” (1 Ne. 8:12.)
Our relationship with Anna came to an end on New Year’s Eve. Just as the branch party began, we received a call from her brother. Anna’s heart had failed a few hours earlier; she was gone in a matter of seconds. We were devastated. It was a very unusual party as we cried and reminisced about what she had taught us.
A few days later, at the funeral, Rusty told us that Anna had left a will in her new Book of Mormon. We received permission to go through her things and finally found the book. But as we turned it upside down and shook it, nothing fell out. Confused, we took it to Rusty, who had moved in with his aunt and uncle.
Later we learned from Rusty’s new branch president that he was reading the Book of Mormon. Evidently, Rusty had been correct. Anna’s will was in the Book of Mormon. But it wasn’t the kind of will we had searched for. Her will was the precepts she had found in that book of scripture—precepts Anna had shared with us and had now left for Rusty to build his life upon.