One of my earliest memories is of attending Sunday School class as a five-year-old in the basement of our old ward meetinghouse. I recall watching the dust particles move in the shafts of bright sunlight as our teacher read to us the story of how Joseph Smith prayed and our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ came and stood before him. I can still feel myself sitting there, looking and listening, surrounded by the towers of sunlight; but most of all, I remember the warm feeling swelling within me when I heard about Joseph Smith seeing and talking to our Heavenly Father.
Later that day, I went to the bookshelves at home and found a book of my father’s that looked like the one my teacher had read from. I couldn’t read it, but just holding the book in my hands and looking at its pages recaptured for me what I had felt in Sunday School.
When I got older and read the book for the first time, I felt this same warmth. Over the years, I have experienced this feeling again and again—in church, in the temple, while listening to someone speak, and most of all, while reading scripture. Consistently this is true when I read the Book of Mormon.
Briefcase from the Dump
While my wife and I were serving as missionaries in Argentina, I was called to serve as district president. My counselor, Alberto Schoevenhold, had been one of the first to be baptized in the city. Although his wife and children had not joined the Church and did not support his Church membership, he had accepted the gospel wholeheartedly and served faithfully as president of our young, struggling branch.
One day, Alberto asked us to help him with his family history. We spent the morning filling out pedigree charts and family group sheets with the information he had obtained from his family. His own family group sheet included the name of his first wife, who had died years before in giving birth to Alberto’s eldest son. He felt that she would have accepted the gospel if she had had the opportunity to hear it. After filling out the sheets, he gave them to us and asked that we do the temple work for his family since (at that time) there was no temple in South America. We gladly took the sheets.
After completing our mission and returning home to the United States, we received a letter from Alberto’s eldest son saying that his father had died quite suddenly. We felt very sad knowing our friend had passed away, and we wanted to do his temple work. We knew, however, that while his immediate family were alive, we needed their permission.
We wrote back to his son immediately, telling him there was something he could do for us. We reminded him of Alberto’s great love for the gospel, his service to the Lord, and his desire and request to have the temple ordinances performed for him and his deceased family members. We asked specifically for permission to do the temple work for his father.
Alberto’s son wrote back promptly, giving his written permission. What a happy day it was when we received his reply!
Knowing we must wait a year after Alberto’s death before we could perform his temple work, we placed the letter of permission and Alberto’s family group sheets in one of three briefcases containing our family history papers. We then put the briefcases in a storage unit with our other belongings while we vacationed in Arizona, waiting for our new home to be completed.
After spending several months in Arizona, my wife and I returned and discovered that the storage unit had been broken into. Many things had been stolen, including the three briefcases. The precious papers of our dear friend were gone. Our hearts sank. Those names, dates, and permission papers would be extremely difficult, perhaps even impossible, to obtain again. We prayed that somehow we would be able to find them.
A few weeks later the man who had built our new home came to our door carrying one of the three briefcases that had been stolen! He was a stake clerk in a neighboring stake. One night a man from another city had brought the briefcase into the stake office and asked if anyone there knew us. The man said a friend of his had been down at the county dump and had seen a bulldozer about to cover up some briefcases. He was able to grab one before the bulldozer finished the job.
I immediately looked through the briefcase, but the papers from Argentina were not there. We were extremely disappointed. It had seemed such a miracle that someone would be at the dump just at the right time to recover this briefcase, and we had hoped that the papers we needed would be in this one. We fasted and prayed that we might be able to recover the other briefcases in some way.
The following Sunday the bishop asked us to teach a family history class, so we opened the briefcase again to see if there were any materials we might use for teaching. We took the papers out one by one and found some we could use, but not the important ones we were still hoping to find. Everything was so dusty, after having been in the dump in a crushed and partly open case. When we finished, I went out to the patio, totally preoccupied with the loss. After several minutes of contemplation about what to do, I returned to put the papers back in the briefcase. The first sheets I picked up were the pages Alberto had sent with us—the ones that had been lost. They were right on top of the other papers and were perfectly clean.
The next day, we obtained permission to do the temple work for Alberto and his ancestors. We asked our former mission president and several returned missionaries who also had served with Alberto to come with us, and we went together to the house of the Lord to do for Alberto that which he had requested and could not do for himself.
“I Knew She’d Be Here Today”
While living in Puerto Rico several years ago, I had a home teaching partner who, like me, was a lifelong Church member and a returned missionary. Both of us were confident of our gospel knowledge, but we were taught an invaluable gospel lesson by an eight-year-old boy who did no more than exercise the simple faith we are all counseled to live by.
Bill and I had been assigned to home teach Sister Lambert. She was an older lady, one of the first members in Puerto Rico. But when her husband left her, she began to devote more time to her small business of selling plants and seeds. We saw her less and less often at Church meetings and activities.
It also became more difficult to find her at home. However, Bill and I managed to visit her regularly. We showed up each month with specially prepared lessons and did our best to reactivate her, but nothing seemed to work. She said she had a strong testimony of the gospel, and yet she would not attend church.
One Sunday I called to see if Sister Lambert had arrived home early. When she answered the phone, I knew that Bill and I should visit her right away. But as luck would have it, Bill was away on a high council assignment.
My mind raced with ideas, but I dismissed them until the right one presented itself: I got Trent, my recently baptized son, to accompany me.
“Throw on a tie, Trent,” I directed. “You and I are going home teaching.”
He was surprised, but proudly grabbed his tie, looped it around his neck, and away we went.
On the way to Sister Lambert’s home, I felt inspired to have Trent give the message. So as I drove, I discussed the topic with him, and by the time we arrived, he had the concept down.
I can still remember Sister Lambert’s smile when she greeted four-foot-four Trent instead of six-foot-four Bill. After we’d chatted awhile, Trent gave a beautiful lesson. We left feeling good about our visit.
A few weeks passed, and on the evening before fast Sunday, I reminded Trent of the goal he’d recently set to fast on fast days. I recounted the blessings that fasting brings and explained that a fast should have a purpose. “If it is a righteous desire,” I told him, “the Lord will help you make it a reality.”
“I know, Dad,” he replied. “I already have a special purpose for my fast.”
When we entered the chapel the next afternoon, I could hardly believe my eyes. She hadn’t come to church in a long time, but there she was—Sister Lambert.
It took us awhile, I thought, but Bill and I had finally gotten through to her. She’d heard our message and felt our concern after all.
Then, to let Trent, too, feel the thrill of the experience, I leaned over and whispered, “Aren’t you happy and amazed that Sister Lambert is here today? You helped, you know.”
His answer left me speechless. “I’m very happy, Dad,” he said, “but I’m not surprised. I fasted so that she would come back to church. I knew she’d be here today.”
I was grateful for the chance to see her life—and mine—touched by a child’s faith in fasting.
Let All Bitterness Be Put Away
I sat at the window looking at God’s new day. The snow fell—silent, soft, and white. I wondered at the beauty as the newfallen snow shimmered like diamonds. Yet in a few short hours, the snow would become dirty with the soot from neighborhood chimneys and passing cars.
Life, I realized, was much like the newfallen snow. It can change so quickly, and before a person realizes what has happened, the soot of life can blemish hope.
My life had changed so much within the last few years. I had gone through a traumatic divorce and seen the effects of it on my family. I found myself repeatedly asking the same questions: Why me? Haven’t I tried to live worthily? Haven’t I raised my sons in the gospel? Why is God punishing me? Like the soot that tarnished the snow, bitterness had tarnished my soul.
I quit praying to a God I didn’t feel would listen. My heart had hardened, and I no longer cried. The words of bitterness I spoke towards those who had done me harm only poisoned me further. I felt my friends could not possibly understand, and I turned my back on those willing to help.
I recognized something was wrong, knew something was missing. I felt a darkness in my life and yearned for the light I had previously experienced. But I didn’t know where to start.
One afternoon, my Relief Society visiting teachers came to my home for their monthly visit. Their message was simple, but it had tremendous impact. During the visit, we read a scripture that seemed custom-tailored to my situation:
“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:
“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (Eph. 4:31–32.)
These words of scripture were the answer to my receiving the light again.
That evening, in the quiet of my room, I fell to my knees in prayer. It had been a long time, and the shame was hard to bear. The lump in my throat made speaking difficult, but finally the words came as I truly conversed with God.
I prayed that I could be forgiven for the things I had done. I prayed that I might be forgiven so I could forgive. I asked that I would be able to feel again. I needed to be able to cry again and heal my heart.
Bittersweet tears fell down my face as I realized that if I didn’t forgive others, I couldn’t be forgiven. Not forgiving others would hurt me the most. I had to drink of the cup of forgiveness to be healed.
I also needed the commodity of time to heal. I realized it would not happen overnight, but for the first time I felt healing was possible. Obstacles still appeared in my way, and Satan tried to discourage me. But at last the time came when I knew I could accomplish anything with Heavenly Father’s help. I was not alone, nor had I ever been.