Their Calling Helped
It was a bright, sunny day in early April when my daughter, Susan, then fourteen years old, rushed into the house in a torrent of tears.
“I always pick the wrong friends!” She said. She related that her “friends” at school had invited her to a party that night where they would be “doing drugs.” Afraid of missing out on something fun, Susan had agreed to go to the party. As she sat in her math class, it was clear to Susan that she had made the wrong choice, yet she wanted desperately to be a part of the group. Throughout that class period, she battled with her conscience. After class she told her friends that she wasn’t going to “do drugs,” and they became very angry. They informed her that if she didn’t, she could go back to being the nerd of the school because she wouldn’t be allowed to hang around them, and furthermore, they would actively make her life miserable.
Unfortunately, this came at a time when Susan was feeling particularly vulnerable. She was in the tall, gangly stage. Social skills didn’t come naturally for her, and she sometimes offended people with her loud, brash ways. Consequently, she was an extremely lonely girl. This had been the first group of her peers to accept her—and acceptance was so important to her.
“What am I going to do, Mother?” she wailed. “If I don’t go tonight I will be the nerd of the school, and I can’t be that again. I don’t have any other friends.”
I told her how I felt—strongly. I praised her for making the right decision in a difficult situation. But with a sinking heart, I could see my comments missing the mark. I could tell she was seriously trying to figure out a way to keep the friendship of these people, and I knew that if she did she would be pressured to make unwise choices.
I excused myself, telling her that I knew she would continue to make the right choices, but in my heart I was not so sure. I feared that peer pressure was too much for Susan at this time in her young life; she would crumple if she did not have help now, and she needed something more than her family’s love.
I sat at my desk praying about how to help my child. I thought of a dear friend’s agony when her daughter turned to drugs. I remembered this mother asking me why the youth leaders of our ward had not come to help her daughter. I also remembered making a decision that if that challenge ever came into my life, I would not wait for my children’s youth leaders to offer help—I would ask them for help. I picked up the phone and called Susan’s seminary teacher.
“Sister Cole, I am having a problem with Susan that maybe you could help me with. This is what is happening.” I laid my pride aside and told her everything, adding, “I would appreciate anything you can do or even a suggestion that might help Susan.” I then called Sister Dunn, one of Susan’s Young Women advisers, and related the story.
A short time later the phone rang.
“Mom,” an eager-faced Susan said as she rushed into my room. “It’s Sister Dunn on the phone. She wants to know if I have time to go for a soda and just talk. Can I, Mom?”
That night Susan stayed home from the party. The next day her seminary teacher called and asked for Susan’s help with a class project. I asked Susan later what her “friends” had said about her not showing up for the party.
“They were really mad, Mom,” she answered quietly. “It doesn’t matter though—I don’t think I really want them for my friends.”
The next two months, Susan was very lonely at school. But her Church leaders came over to visit often throughout those weeks, involving her in their lives. If it had not been for their help, my daughter may not have been able to stand by her decision.
That day in April when Susan decided not to go to the party seemed to be one of the major turning points in her life. The next year she became actively involved with band, choir, and theater. In Susan’s senior year of high school, she began to reap the rewards of her wise choices as she was recognized for her participation in and service to school, community, and church. The bud of both her inner and outer beauty fairly burst into bloom as she distinguished herself in many ways.
Now doing well in college, Susan still has no idea that I called for help that day in April. I may not tell her until she is a mother herself.
We Were a Family Once More
When my 29-year-old son, Matt, asked me why we never had family reunions, I said, “Some of us have uncomfortable feelings among us. I don’t think anyone would come.” My four surviving siblings and I hadn’t all been together in one place since my father’s funeral thirty-one years earlier. Ten years earlier, my older brother had been on military duty during the Iran crisis and didn’t receive word that my mother had died until after her funeral. I hated to think that it might take another death to bring us all back together.
Matt urged me to phone my three brothers and one sister and ask if they’d come to a reunion at my place. To my surprise, each was enthusiastic and expressed their long-standing hopes that we would all get together again sometime.
It had been eighteen years since some of my family had seen my oldest brother. His hair was gray, and he walked and talked just like our father, bringing back sweet memories of Dad. Because he couldn’t take time off from work, my youngest brother drove all night Friday, arrived Saturday morning, and returned home twenty-four hours later. My sister and her family brought their motor home and spent the whole week with us, and I relished every minute of their visit.
Saturday afternoon was the big reunion. Matt had decided that if my brothers and sisters were going to make the effort to come, it should be worth their time. On his computer, he prepared and personalized a family history book for each of them, going back seven generations and including all the family pictures and stories we could find. As my brothers and sister looked through their books, mouths dropped open and tears fell, and they expressed amazement and gratitude for the love Matt had put into the work.
I shared a family letter to our parents that I had recently written, recalling spiritually significant events from my childhood and mentioning recent accomplishments of my family members. We took turns sharing our feelings about our parents and our lives together as a family. When I told my older brother how sorry I was for being such a stinker of a little sister, he laughed and assured me that he hadn’t been holding any negative feelings. Other family members who had experienced more serious clashes spoke in private and changed misunderstandings to feelings of love and respect. Before parting, we planned our next reunion and promised to keep in closer touch.
A few days after the reunion, my youngest brother called to tell me that his National Guard reserve unit had been summoned to Saudi Arabia. Divorced and childless, he said that because of the family reunion, he could go to war knowing that he had a family who loved him and would pray for him.
“Something Had to Give”
Because I worked as an installer of residential water treatment equipment, my bishop gave me the unofficial calling of ward plumber. This meant that from time to time I would help widows and single-parent families in our ward with their plumbing problems.
During one particularly hard winter, I was asked to replace the incoming water line on the mobile home of a single mother. It was bitter outside: cold, windy, and damp. At this time of year, the thought of working outside on my back under the mobile home made me really dread the job.
When the day arrived, I dressed as warmly as I could, but the weather still blew through my insulated overalls, boots, and stocking cap. Before long, I was grumbling: “Why does the bishop always ask me to do these things? There must be someone else in the ward or stake who can do this.”
I closed my eyes and said a short prayer, asking that I might get done quickly and get home to some warmth. Moments later, a question came into my mind: “How would you have felt if the bishop had asked someone else to do this job?”
I chuckled out loud as I realized I would have been offended if the bishop had thought I was unwilling to use my skills to serve a member of the ward. Then I saw the contradiction: I had a bad attitude about doing this job out in the cold weather, yet I would have been bothered if I hadn’t been asked to do it. Something had to give—and I knew that the “something” was my selfish grumbling.
After I made my choice, I did not get warmer and the job did not go faster—but it did go better. I decided that it was an honor to be lying on my back under this mobile home in the service of our brothers and sisters in need and therefore in the service of our God.
Following an Inner Compass
As he hung up the telephone, Bishop James W. Irey wondered how he could possibly do what he had just agreed to do. He had accepted the responsibility of immediately locating a place large enough to accommodate several thousand members of the Church who had volunteered as relief workers after Hurricane Andrew.
The eye of Andrew’s fury had struck Bishop Irey’s town—Leisure City, Florida. It had crumpled buildings, ripped out trees and power lines, and disrupted basic services. Tired and discouraged, the bishop knew he must search the devastated area for a place to house the helpers as they arrived.
He knelt in his office and poured out his heart to his Heavenly Father. As he prayed, the words of Nephi came vividly to mind, and he was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things he should do (see 1 Ne. 4:6). He recalls being certain that in this circumstance, the Lord would not expect him to find a place for the relief workers without help. As he thought of the words of Nephi, he knew the Lord would prepare a way for him to accomplish what was expected.
“I got to my feet,” he said. “My knees were steady, and a feeling of calm and reassurance came to me. I still didn’t have a clue where we were going to put all those people, but I knew it was going to happen.”
He walked outside, got into his car, and drove down the road to an intersection. He had no idea where he was going but concentrated on an inner compass that led him. Soon he found himself at the high school and wondered why he was directed to that place, since it was currently occupied by army troops.
Entering the double doors on the side of the building, he walked down empty, dim hallways that were lit only by daylight through the windows. At one point, an army sentry appeared and asked him what his business was in the building. The bishop looked him in the eye and honestly replied, “I’m on an errand.” Without another question, the guard told him to proceed.
Electric power had not been restored to the building, and there were few windows on the second floor. But he continued on through the dark hallways. Four more times he was confronted by army sentries and asked his business in the building. Each time, he gave the same answer with the same results.
At the end of a long hallway a single lamp, powered by a generator, illuminated a table around which an army staff meeting was taking place. An officer stood with his back to the bishop, addressing the group. Bishop Irey was prompted to move forward and tap that uniformed shoulder.
As the man slowly turned, Bishop Irey found himself looking into the eyes of a friend he had not seen for twenty years. They had served together in southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.
“Jim!” his friend exclaimed as they embraced. “What on earth are you doing here?”
The bishop responded, “I need a place to put several thousand Mormon relief workers.”
“You’ve got it,” said the officer, without a moment’s hesitation.
“But how … where?”
“We’ll move our helicopters and vehicles off the football field, and you can put your people there,” Jeff told him.
The way had been prepared to do what was necessary. “For me,” he recalls, “Nephi came alive that day. I felt such a close bond to him and felt as he may have felt when the Lord laid a seemingly insurmountable task before him.”
However, there was to be more to the bishop’s task. On the day when the largest number of volunteers were to arrive, a weather front threatened the relief effort with severe thunderstorms approaching. Most of the workers arriving at the football field had planned to sleep there, but the storm would drench them.
Bishop Irey and the local Church leaders prayed and exerted their faith to ask the Lord that the storm be turned. What was later called a split in the tropical wave then occurred. The storm front divided and deluged communities north and south; but in the areas that had been most affected by Hurricane Andrew, the next seventy-two hours were dry and clear.
The relief effort then moved into full swing as more than five thousand workers came from all over the Southeast. They camped on the football field after a day of patching roofs, removing debris, and distributing supplies to victims of the hurricane.
Latter-day Saint volunteers had helped bring relief to many who were suffering the effects of the hurricane. And once again, Bishop Irey had been reminded that through the power of prayer, the Lord can show us the way to overcome any problems if we open our hearts and minds. Faith can move mountains—and storm clouds. It can even find a football field.
A Catalog of Events
When I answered the phone, a man’s voice on the other end of the line asked my name and told me his, saying that a mail order catalog with my name on it had arrived in his mail. He asked if I had ordered the catalog or if I wanted it. I told him I didn’t and that I had no idea why my name was on it. We would have hung up then if the caller hadn’t said something else.
He informed me that his wife’s maiden name had been the same as my married name. Suddenly, I became interested. My husband and I had been working on the ancestral line for his side of the family for more than fifteen years. My ears perked up and my eyes were wide open, and I’m sure the caller could hear my voice become increasingly animated.
As we discovered that his wife was a cousin my husband barely remembered, I heard myself say, “What are you doing for Thanksgiving? Can you come over?” Sounding enthusiastic, he said he would let me know soon. When I spoke to my husband, Marlyn, later that day, I told him of the call and of his cousin.
I began to see another important family link. Members of the caller’s wife’s family had apparently been separated long ago. We remembered attending a family reunion the summer before and meeting twins—a boy and a girl—who had been trying to locate their mother and some older sisters and brothers. Now pieces of the puzzle began to fall together for me.
I had heard a story of the twins’ family. Their parents were facing problems and were unable to provide for their children’s needs. Some of the children were given up for adoption, among them the twins we had met at the reunion. They had never known their previous family. Now teenagers, they had come to the reunion in hopes of being able to find their family.
Since we hadn’t lived near relatives for many years, we were even more enthusiastic than usual as Thanksgiving Day arrived, and as our newly found relatives, Dave and Cindy, came to the door. We visited about the catalog in the mail and agreed that since we couldn’t figure out how the mail mix-up had happened, it was clear that we were supposed to meet—“Someone wanted us to find each other.”
Cindy had been in first grade when her family had been split up and was now a 23-year-old mother, expecting her second child. Cindy remembered that she and the other two older children had gone to live with grandparents, but it was decided that twin toddlers would be too much for them.
Once Marlyn realized how Cindy missed the twins, he could hardly wait to tell her that he had seen them at the reunion. Her response was a volley of questions about them. She wanted to know where they lived, what they looked like, and everything else she could think of.
Within minutes Marlyn had found the phone number, dialed it, and reminded the twin who answered that he’d met her at the reunion. Then he said, “How would you like to talk to your big sister? Yes, your big sister, Cindy!” Pause. “She’s sitting right here in our living room.” Cindy squirmed in her seat, hardly able to stand it. I was on the verge of tears.
Cindy took the receiver and spoke with Tammy and Terry at a pitch near disbelief. “Yes, I am really your sister. We have the same dad.” A visit was arranged. “Tonight?” Cindy continued. “Well, we could be there in about an hour and a half.”
As the young family happily left our home, we were overjoyed to be part of such an unlikely reunion. We learned later that the gathering that night at their grandmother’s home included all five children. All of this happened because someone got the wrong mail. Or did they? In my mind, there was no mistake. A family that had been separated had been brought together.