She Saved Me a Place

Each New Year’s Day since a Primary lesson in late childhood, I have made a list of New Year’s resolutions in my journal. But the year 1985 was different. January was half gone and I was still putting off that yearly ritual.

Sure, I was busy; two pre-schoolers were underfoot in our tiny mobile home, homemaking duties were a constant concern, and the janitorial business that we hoped would one day take the place of my husband’s full-time job demanded a lot of time and effort.

But the truth was, I was ashamed to face the journal. Not only was I still forty pounds overweight and without the savings account that I’d vowed to start, I also needed to rededicate myself to living the gospel—for the fifth year in a row. And Ralph and I had yet to be sealed in the temple.

I kept up with my Relief Society calling by making a monthly appearance at homemaking meeting, but I hadn’t been to a sacrament meeting in months. I was not praying, studying the scriptures, or attending ward socials, and my four-year-old hadn’t recognized his Star A teacher when we bumped into her at the post office.

It was easy to shift these responsibilities to my less-active husband. And this rationale led me to what I believed was an “inspired” plan.

“I am through resolving to be more active in the Church,” I wrote in my journal at last. “I am going to wait patiently for Ralph to lead me spiritually.” In keeping with that solution, I put together a lengthy letter to the bishop outlining my plan: I told him that although I welcomed home teachers and visiting teachers, I was adopting a “low spiritual profile” to help my husband grow. I wouldn’t be back to church until Ralph suggested we go. I would need to be released from my callings until Ralph accepted a calling. I emphasized that this choice was not any reflection on the ward and was not due to any recent event or misunderstanding. I was just “tired of carrying the spiritual burden.” I typed the letter and mailed it with the bills that afternoon.

As Sunday approached, I felt unsettled. Although I hadn’t attended my meetings in months, I felt pulled there. Ralph and the children were still in bed when I left, leaving a note promising a hot breakfast when I returned.

The ward choir was singing prelude music when I slipped into my place, and my eyes brimmed with tears at the moving lyrics. Each speaker gave a message I needed. Sitting alone, I cried through the whole meeting, grieving to know that I wouldn’t return for a long time.

Afterwards, I hurried toward the foyer to conceal my tears and to head homeward. I noticed Mary Eror, a member of the choir, racing down the aisle, excusing herself as she darted through clusters of chatty ward members and throngs of dodging Primary children. I wonder what’s wrong? I asked myself as Mary rounded a corner so fast that her sweater caught on the last bench.

Then our eyes met. “Don’t leave!” Mary cried, over youngsters’ heads and between shoulders. “Melonie, don’t leave!”

Breathless, with silver hair askew, and smiling, Mary—merely an acquaintance, not a close friend—embraced me. “I saw you from the choir seats. You were going to leave, weren’t you?” she asked. “Don’t you do it!”

As the rest of our ward milled around, Mary gave me a two-minute overview of her own young married era. “I cried my way through church for four turbulent years,” she said. “But I’m here today only because I kept coming.”

En route to the library and then to her Sunday School class, Mary convinced me to stay for Gospel Doctrine class and to meet her in Relief Society after that. “I’ll save you a place!” she said over her shoulder, as I turned to call home.

Mary did save me a place—that Sunday and for many to come. When I had a question or needed a shoulder to cry on, Mary was there. She baby-sat for me, entertained us in her home, and sent me cards and notes. “Call me,” she’d say, again and again. “Any time of the day or night. It’s E-r-o-r. We’re the only one in the book!”

In the beginning, I came to Church because Mary saved me a place. I knew that she would call if I wasn’t there and that she would know if I was making up an excuse. Eventually, my circle of friends increased, and I went to church because I wanted to.

My enthusiasm was apparently contagious. Ralph joined me at church more and more often until Sunday meetings became a habit again. We began to hold family home evenings, and gospel discussions were more frequent at the dinner table or on car trips. We started paying tithes, magnifying our callings, and working on individual spiritual goals.

Before long, the ward was divided. The Erors were part of the other ward, and we lost touch. Later we moved across town. Last January, we attended the temple for the first time. My journal records the day as “the most perfect day I’ve ever spent.”

I thought of Mary all that day, with much gratitude. I don’t know if she ever realized the miracle her jaunt from the choir seats was working in my life. She once recalled that she was “just doing as the Spirit prompted.” I am trying to live up to her example.

Melonie Simnitt Ferguson is homemaking leader in the Tualatin Second Ward, Lake Oswego Oregon Stake.

The Chili Appointment

One day many years ago, in Charleston, South Carolina, missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints knocked at my door. I let them in and listened to the discussions. Reading the Book of Mormon was like seeing a light come on—I knew it was true. I was ready to be baptized right away, but my wife wasn’t. So I turned the missionaries away.

The Book of Mormon stayed on our bookshelf, though. Years went by, and my marriage fell apart. My wife and children moved to Georgia. I was left with nothing except a few books. I had never been so unhappy and lonely in my life.

One day I came across a Scottish newspaper with a section in which people advertised for pen pals. Remembering my mother, who was from Scotland and who had died when I was ten, I wrote asking for a pen pal.

I had just about forgotten my letter when replies started arriving from locations all over the world. I wrote to all those who answered my letters, but one in particular became interesting—Thea, from Scotland. I felt I just had to meet her.

From the moment I saw her waving at the London airport, I knew my life would never be complete without her. She felt the same way. Four months later, she arrived in Charleston, and we were married by a Baptist preacher. However, Thea was Presbyterian, and soon we were both active in the local Presbyterian church.

One day I came home from work angry and frustrated.

“Where is the farthest place that we can go to get away from this rat race?” I demanded. “Let’s emigrate to Australia!”

Thea proposed a better idea: “Make it New Zealand, and I’ll be there with bells on!”

We checked out New Zealand. The more we read about it, the more idyllic it sounded. We prayed that if the Lord wanted us to go, he would open up the way for us. He did.

We loved New Zealand and started to put down roots. However, we found the local Presbyterian congregation unfriendly. We tried to adjust.

During the adjustment, my copy of the Book of Mormon sat unheeded on the bookshelf—until the night Bill, a workmate, stopped by to visit. He liked to read, and he picked up the book, thumbing through it.

“Hey, this looks interesting. Mind if I borrow it?”

A bit reluctantly, I agreed—and haven’t seen Bill or that Book of Mormon since!

“One day the Mormon elders will come around,” I told Thea. “When they do, tell them you don’t want to hear anything about their church, but you would like a copy of the Book of Mormon.”

One Saturday morning, they came by. Thea couldn’t turn them away. Neither could I.

They wanted to show a film. I invited them for a bowl of chili instead.

Elder Hennessy just wanted to show the film. Elder Toone, a brand-new greenie, said “Name the time. We’ll be there.”

Elder Toone was transferred to Invercargill before the day of the chili appointment, but a few weeks later, after we had recognized the truth, Elder Hennessy and Elder Anderson baptized Thea, our son Iain, and me.

Looking back, we realize that Heavenly Father wanted us here in New Zealand. We’ve been members of the Church for thirteen years now, and many miracles have strengthened our testimonies as we work to serve our Heavenly Father in the Christchurch stake, on the South Island.

Paul Easton Williams is second counselor in the Christchurch New Zealand stake presidency.

A Book for Eveline

My husband’s only sister, Eveline, was not a member of the Church and had been writing to us about serious family problems. We worried about her depression and about our helplessness in coming to her aid.

I began to pray for her, and Peter and I went to the temple, seeking help. My heart sought direction: How could I help my sister-in-law? The answer came from the Spirit: Write to Eveline about the Book of Mormon, bear your testimony, and send the missionaries to her house.

Peter remained hesitant about sending the missionaries, but I knew that it was what the Lord wanted me to do. I composed my letter the next morning, felt inspired as I wrote, and mailed it.

A few days went by with no response from Eveline. I began worrying and fretting. She had been offended, I told myself; she had hated the letter. I became so afraid of her response that I asked Peter to call her. Her story unfolded on the phone.

The day that my letter arrived had been an especially bad one for Eveline. The problems weighing her down had seemed overwhelming, and a television show she was watching about depression and suicide didn’t ease her turmoil. She finally found relief when her son came home from school for lunch. He brought in the mail, which included my letter.

As Eveline began to read, the Spirit touched her soul. Tears rolled down her cheeks. She had been praying for someone or something to help her in these hard times, but she hadn’t known whether her prayers were being heard. Now, through this letter, she knew that her Heavenly Father really cared about her. She was overjoyed.

She told me that the peace she felt from the Spirit was so overwhelming that she didn’t know what to do or how to respond to my letter. I then challenged her to begin a daily study of the Book of Mormon, which she proceeded to do. One week later I called Chicago and asked that missionaries be sent to her home.

Through her study of the Book of Mormon, and with the help of a wonderful missionary couple, Eveline’s life began to change. She absorbed the missionary discussions, began living the Word of Wisdom, and noticed her marriage improve. She began to feel at peace with herself.

That happiness spilled over and affected the lives of her family. Of course, Eveline’s daily problems hadn’t disappeared. But her perspective had changed. With Christ at the center of her life, she became a new woman.

Peter never thought he would see the day when he would have the opportunity to baptize and confirm his only sister. Giving such a priceless gift to one we love so much has brought us joy beyond our expectations. The Book of Mormon was the answer.

Teresa Wolf serves as Relief Society president in the Thousand Oaks Second Ward, Thousand Oaks California Stake.

“Give Me the Works”

One night thirty years ago, I received a call from Winifred Stobaeus, a woman with whom I had served on the board of the Parent Teacher Association when I had been president of that organization some time before. At that time, I had suggested we start our board meetings with prayer.

Because some felt we had people from many denominations and that someone might be hurt, I had volunteered as a lay person to give the first prayer. Apparently this had impressed Mrs. Stobaeus.

I had not seen her since she had moved out of our neighborhood two years before. But she was distressed that night. She asked if she could see me as soon as possible. Two members of her family were seriously ill, and she felt that if she could unite her whole family in prayer, the Lord would bless the family members and restore their health.

Mrs. Stobaeus told me that when we had moved into their community, all our neighbors had watched us because we were Latter-day Saints and had five children. She said that her father had often called the family to the window to watch as we had loaded our whole family into the car and had gone to church not once but twice each Sunday—this being in the days before the consolidated meeting schedule had been adopted.

When I learned that she had been searching the Bible for answers to her questions, I suggested that I visit her family and tell them something about our church. Later she told me that as she had prayed for guidance, my name had come into her mind. This had happened a number of times, but that night, it was as if I were standing in the room in front of her, and she had gone immediately to the telephone.

Mrs. Stobaeus said she would let me know when she was ready for me to come. Unfortunately, when she called later, I was recovering from an emergency appendectomy and had only one month to prepare for my daughter’s wedding and reception in Salt Lake City. I told her I would come as soon as I returned from Utah.

Shortly after I came home, I was set apart as a stake missionary. I could hardly wait to call her. But when I did, I was disappointed. She said, “It’s too late now. I have been working on my husband for years to join our church. At Christmastime he agreed, and I stood up and sponsored him.”

“Please let me come and tell you something about our church anyway,” I pleaded. She consented, but again told me that it was too late for them to change.

I had never heard a missionary lesson given, but I worked diligently to learn that first lesson, and before leaving home I told my companion, “I’m not going to mention the name of Joseph Smith, because she won’t listen if I do.”

“You have prepared yourself and prayed about it, and I’m sure you will be led to do the right thing,” she replied.

After the prayer, I gave the lesson, which taught about the Godhead. We read together many scriptures from the Bible about God and his appearance to people in all dispensations. The lesson was going beautifully.

But then Mrs. Stobaeus asked, “Have you seen God?”

“No,” I said.

“Do you ever expect to see him?”

“Not on this earth. But if I can live righteously enough, I hope to see him in the celestial kingdom.”

“Can I see him?”

“It wouldn’t be impossible, if you could be righteous enough.”

“You have been telling me what a just God he is and how he has appeared to men through the ages and how he loves all his children. Why doesn’t he show himself in these days, as he did then?” she asked.

I was trapped. I felt a burning in my bosom such as I had never thought possible. I leaned forward in my chair, and with all the surety I had, I told her that God had appeared to a prophet in this dispensation. I told the Joseph Smith story with such conviction that she immediately knew that God had spoken again to man. She could hardly wait to tell her family that she had found what she was searching for.

The next day, Mrs. Stobaeus came to see me. I knew something was wrong. She had driven around the block three times before getting up enough courage to come in. She said that when she had told her family what she had heard, they were very disturbed. Her husband had barely joined her church; now she was looking to join another!

In despair she asked, “Can’t you just teach me the Bible and leave Joseph Smith out of it?”

“I could teach you the Bible, but it wouldn’t be complete without that which has been revealed through Joseph Smith, the Prophet,” I replied.

“I’m sorry,” she said unhappily, “but I can’t upset my family, even though I believe you have what I want.”

I had a sudden thought. “Do you remember the story of the rich young man who came to Christ? When he was told to sell all he had and give it to the poor, he turned away sorrowing because he didn’t have the strength to do it. You are like that young man. You know that what I have told you is the truth and that you can get the answers to all your questions, but you are turning away sorrowing.”

She was silent for a few minutes. “Okay, you win,” she said. “Give me the works.”

She studied and prayed and gained a testimony of the gospel. Later, she told me of a dream she had had that had powerfully reaffirmed the Lord’s love for her. When she attended an LDS ward for the first time, she recognized it as the place in her dream and knew for a surety that it represented the true Church of Jesus Christ.

She went through two difficult years before she was baptized, but she said that her testimony had grown so strong that she had to join the Church. Her husband resisted for years, but finally, after fifteen years, he also entered the waters of baptism. Since then, they have been stake missionaries and have served as ordinance workers in the Washington Temple. They are finding the joy that can come from living the full gospel of Jesus Christ—“the works,” as Sister Stobaeus once called it.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Robert McKay

Pauline Romney Thomander is a member of the Parleys Third Ward in Salt Lake City.