Prayers for a Thief

My father bought a new truck when I was six years old. I remember the first time he drove it into our driveway; the sun’s reflection shimmered on the new paint as I ran toward the truck, pleading for a ride.

Several months later, Dad called our family together. He explained that he was unable to pay the bills. Mother was expecting a baby, and money was scarce. It had been a difficult decision, but he’d decided to sell the truck. We all felt sad; the truck had become part of our family camping and fishing adventures. But we knew there were no other options.

An advertisement was placed in the newspaper, and a “For Sale” sign was displayed in the truck window.

One day a man flagged my father down, and said our truck was exactly what he had been looking for. The following day he assumed my father’s loan.

Three months later, my father received a notice from the bank claiming he was three months behind on his truck payments. Upon telephoning the buyer’s home, Dad learned that the buyer had written several bad checks and had left his wife.

Dad called the police and the insurance company, but there was nothing he could do. The bank insisted on Dad’s making the payments for a truck he no longer had. Several months passed, and he was still making payments on our missing truck. We were all affected by the bitterness he felt.

About this time, my uncle returned from a mission. He listened to my father’s plight and then asked Dad if he had prayed for the man who had stolen the truck. My father said he had asked the Lord to return our truck, but he could never pray for the man who had caused our family so much grief. My uncle reminded Dad that the Savior taught us to “love your enemies … and pray for them which despitefully use you.” (Matt. 5:44.) My uncle also quoted the Savior’s admonition to forgive those who trespass against us “seventy times seven” times. (Matt. 18:22.)

My father thought about the Savior’s teachings for a while and then called us together for prayer.

I’ll always remember my father humbly pleading with Heavenly Father to bless the man who had stolen our truck and to give us the strength to forgive and love the man. As we prayed, a spirit of peace and love entered our home.

From that day on, all of our prayers included a petition to bless the man who had taken our truck. The spirit that warmed my young heart let me know that loving and forgiving the man who had taken our truck was the thing the Lord wanted us to do.

Two weeks later our telephone rang. A man on the other end apologized for stealing our truck, explained where it could be found, and asked for our forgiveness.

The next day Dad left on a bus to pick up our truck in a small southern town. Several days later, he returned home. The truck was beat up, and its tires were worn out. Over the next few months, we repaired and painted the truck. We then sold it to another buyer.

Although having our truck stolen seemed difficult and unfair at the time, I will be eternally grateful to my father for calling us together to pray for the man who had taken it. At the age of seven, I learned the importance of forgiving, loving, and praying for our enemies. I also learned that Heavenly Father answers our prayers. I will always remember the spirit of love and peace that entered our home when we prayed for the man who had stolen our truck.

Melvin L. Jeppson serves as first counselor in the bishopric of the Logan Forty-third Ward, Logan Utah Central Stake.

James and Annie Forever

It took a few moments to pin on my nurse’s cap and check with the outgoing supervisor. Then I walked over to James, who had been eagerly waiting for my attention.

“Is there something you need? Are you in any pain?”

He beamed as I approached him. “Oh, no,” he said. “I was just hoping you would be able to shave me today. The new girls don’t seem to do it the way I like it.”

I patted his arthritic, twisted hand. “I’m sorry, James. Several of the doctors are coming for patient rounds, and we have a new admission. I don’t have time, but I’ll get one of the more experienced aides to do it.”

James’s smile faded. “I understand,” he said. I knew he really didn’t, but I couldn’t allow it to bother me. As a charge nurse in a 120-bed nursing home, I had little time for individual patients. Nurses’ aides took care of the patients’ basic needs and the medicine technician distributed the medication, so my one-to-one interaction with patients was limited.

In addition, I was a single mother, working the evening shift part-time at a local hospital and attending classes at a nearby university.

My most important priority was meeting the needs of my five children, so I had eliminated unnecessary demands on my time and emotions. I gave my best at work, but at the end of the shift, worries about my patients were put in my locker with my cap.

Among my patients were James and his wife, Annie. They had been in the facility for the last seven years. Sharing the same room, they were staff favorites.

Annie was frail and bedridden, often recognizing only James. James had no mental impairment but was a total invalid. Severe rheumatoid arthritis had kept him in a wheelchair for the last ten years. But he was pleasant, cheerful, and extremely grateful for small services rendered. The nursing-home checkers champ, he loved to sit by the nurses’ station and visit with anyone who had time.

Some time later, Annie passed away. James was grief-stricken. In their sixty-five years of marriage, they had never spent an entire day apart from each other.

The next six months brought slow but noticeable changes in James. His appetite decreased, and he didn’t spend as much time at the nurses’ station. Checker games no longer interested him. The nurses’ aides frequently found him crying, but he refused to explain why.

One day I was changing a bandage on one of James’s feet. The loneliness and grief in his eyes prompted me to ask how he was handling Annie’s death. The tears began to flow and soon turned into sobs. I broke all my self-imposed rules and put my arms around him. I held his shaking shoulders until he was able to speak.

He talked of Annie, of their son who died just two days after birth, of their life together. The memories flowed from the depths of his heart and soul. As I listened to his loneliness, my heart hurt. The thought crossed my mind that I was becoming too emotionally involved, but it quickly faded in the face of his anguish.

In spite of my strict policy against mixing work and religion, I found myself telling him about eternal families and assured him that Annie and their little son were happy and were waiting for him to rejoin them.

James was a religious man, but the concept of families being together forever was new to him. Yet he immediately grasped it and believed. He asked no specific questions; the simple truthfulness of what I explained was enough.

In the days that followed, I found myself trying to spend a few minutes each day with James. I learned more about his life with Annie and their children. He told me many of the stories over and over again, but for some reason I never tired of them.

Often, he would ask me to tell him again about eternal families. I realized my own testimony of that truth seemed to grow and strengthen each time I testified of it to him.

One day, James stopped the story he was telling me and said, “You love Jesus, don’t you?” It was more of a statement than a question and caught me off guard. I had never mentioned my membership in the Church or spoken of the Savior. I nodded. “I knew you did,” he continued. “I can tell by the way you treat me.”

Holding back the tears, I looked into the face of that sweet, kindly man and loved him in spite of my determination to never get involved.

About a month later—on my day off—James died. I cried when I found out, breaking yet another of my self-imposed rules. And the final rule I broke by attending his funeral.

I missed James a great deal, but knowing he was happy with Annie, I thought of him less and less as the months passed.

However, sometime after his death, I suddenly began to think of James. I searched for the program from his funeral and was amazed to find it had been one year since his death—almost to the day. Into my mind and heart came a definite impression. James wanted me to send in his name so that baptism and temple ordinances could be performed in his and Annie’s behalf.

I hesitated, thinking perhaps I was being led by my own personal desires, but the feelings persisted and intensified. Finally I filled out the forms, sending them along with a letter of explanation since James and I were unrelated. Once the forms were submitted, I felt a peaceful calm, and soon the thoughts of James faded.

A month later, I received a letter from the Family History Department informing me that permission had been granted for the work to be done and that the names would be sent to my family file at the Dallas Texas Temple. I wept at the news.

I wept again as I participated in the ordinance work for James and Annie. The most humbling and joyful moment came when I knelt at the altar in their behalf in order to allow them to be sealed together, along with their son, for time and all eternity. Kneeling there, I recalled those sweet words, “You love Jesus, don’t you?”

And I knew that James and Annie did, too.

Marilynn Helf Barnes, a member of the Springfield Second Ward, Springfield Missouri Stake, serves as a stake missionary.

The Vacuum Will Be There Monday

Saturday had been hectic. Our son was getting married within days, and several of our children, along with our grandchildren, had spent a long day helping us prepare for the exciting event. I woke up Sunday with a million things on my mind, and as I surveyed the remains of the fun and frolic the grandchildren had left behind, I added cleaning up the house to the list.

In our home we have fervently tried to keep the Sabbath day holy. We had decided that that included saving housekeeping tasks for other days of the week, so on this Sunday morning I limited myself to picking up a few toys and cleaning up the towels left over from Saturday’s spontaneous water fight.

I surveyed the living room. There in the corner stood the vacuum cleaner I had brought out just as the children arrived.

Oh well, I thought. I’m ready for church, and I have a few minutes. I’ll just vacuum this room.

As I began to unwind the cord, I heard a familiar sound coming from the radio—the sound of the Tabernacle Choir.

I rewound the cord and left the vacuum cleaner sitting in its place. It will all be there Monday, I thought. I wouldn’t drown out the choir’s quiet Sunday message with housekeeping noise. Instead I decided to enjoy the calming tone of the music—a quiet reminder to keep the Sabbath holy.

Barbara Cope serves as a stake missionary in the Cerritos California West Stake

Desert Crisis

Jay McNabney had been driving for hours and was near Las Vegas, Nevada. His in-laws, Michael and Marilyn Kozlowski, and their fifteen-year-old son, David, were all dozing. But they woke up quickly when they heard Jay yell.

Shocked, the family watched a red truck, driving in the opposite direction, lose control and roll into the middle of the freeway. The truck, engulfed in dirt as it rolled, looked like a huge dust ball rolling across the desert floor. Jay saw what he thought was a pillow fly some fifty feet in the air, then tumble another fifty feet before coming to rest on the desert floor.

“There are children!” Jay yelled as he slammed on the brakes. He bolted from the van and ran across the freeway while the dust was still settling. The others followed.

The scene was devastating and heartbreaking. A young mother was lying on her back on a bed of rocks. The family was shocked to find that what Jay thought had been a pillow was a little girl, about a year and a half old. She lay a hundred feet away in the same position as her mother. Both were unconscious.

A little three-year-old boy crawled out from the wreckage, staggering and dazed. The driver, who had been hanging upside down in her seat belt, managed to release herself and crawl out. In shock, she walked around sobbing.

Jay and the Kozlowskis went to work. Jay sat the driver down and put the three-year-old child in her arms. The two clung tightly to each other.

He and Michael then ran to the little girl, while two truckers assisted the other victim, who was struggling to get to her daughter. Michael, a chiropractor, could tell the toddler’s leg was broken. In addition, most of the bones in her face were broken and her mouth was full of blood, pieces of bone, several teeth, and bits of gravel.

Jay saw the ribboned ponytails in the little girl’s hair and thought of his own toddler daughter. He lay down in the dirt next to the girl, soothing her, talking to her softly and assuring her she would be all right. Tears streamed down his face as the little girl squeezed his finger and moaned.

A hundred feet away, the toddler’s mother was calmed as she saw this man comforting her daughter. The injuries to the mother’s face and head were even more serious than those of her child. Later that night, in the trauma center at the Las Vegas hospital, a plastic surgeon would delicately stitch her face and head, using over 150 stitches. Her chest cavity was filling up with blood and her lung was collapsed. She had bruised ribs, lacerated kidneys, and severe back injuries.

While Jay and Michael did what they could to help the victims, Michael’s teenage son, David, began picking up the belongings strewn along the freeway. He was startled to see a Book of Mormon lying in the dirt. He looked at the car and noticed Utah license plates. On the license plate holder were the words, “My Future’s So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades,” and as David read those words and thought of the serious injuries of the car’s occupants, he started shaking. He went to his mom and started to cry. “I think they’re members of the Church,” he said.

Michael went to the young mother. “Are you Latter-day Saints?”

She replied that they were. Michael told her that they were also members of the Church and asked if she wanted a priesthood blessing. She said yes.

As Jay and Michael blessed the two, they were inspired to bless them that in spite of the severity of their injuries, they would both heal completely with no permanent injuries. They were also impressed to tell them their bleeding would stop, even though at the time, both men were afraid the baby was bleeding to death. As they concluded the blessing, both victims stopped bleeding.

Jay and the Kozlowskis stayed until a rescue helicopter. They then continued on to Provo, Utah, where they celebrated Christmas with family members. But the memory of the accident was never far from their minds.

Each day either Jay or Marilyn called the Las Vegas hospital to see how the baby was doing. Hers was the only name they knew—Audra. Each day they were told the same thing: Audra was in critical but stable condition. They prayed for the young family.

It wasn’t until later that Jay and the Koslowskis learned that while Audra’s mother, Janet Southwick, lay in her hospital bed, she thought often about the good Samaritans, knowing that if it weren’t for them and the power of the priesthood, she and her child might not be alive. She ached to thank them but had no idea how to find them.

On the sixth day, Marilyn called and was accidentally connected to Janet’s room. Marilyn asked how the baby Audra was. “Who are you?” Janet asked.

As Marilyn told her, she heard soft sobbing in the telephone. “I’m Audra’s mother, and I thought I would never be able to thank you.”

Six months after the accident, the Southwicks and the Kozlowskis met under more favorable circumstances—a barbecue. Janet and Audra are completely healed, and the two families share a special bond that goes beyond just reaching out to help others during times of need. Each felt the Lord’s hand strongly in the happenings of that December day, and each knows that the priesthood of God is restored and blessings and comfort are available for those in need.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Doug Fryer

Sharlene Southwick serves as a Sunday School teacher in the Sunset Heights Sixth Ward, in the Orem Utah Sunset Heights Stake.