Their Faces Held the Answer
Soon after our first daughter’s birth, my husband started working hours that prevented him from attending church most Sundays. With a new baby, five young boys, and my husband no longer available to help me, getting to church became a major chore for me.
Many Sundays we would arrive late, and sometimes we didn’t get there until sacrament meeting was over and Primary and Sunday School had begun. I would spend most of my time walking the halls with the baby, who often was fussy because the meetings were held during her nap time.
After several weeks of such struggling, I was exhausted. We were going to church more out of habit than for anything else. I began to ask myself, Why even bother? I had always believed that attending church was the right thing to do, and yet I wondered. It seemed that the only results I was getting were stiff muscles and a headache.
I began to pray for guidance. I asked my Father in Heaven why I should go to church when it was so difficult. I knew in theory that attending church was right, but I needed to know why it was important for me personally. When I didn’t receive an answer right away, I continued to ask for several weeks.
When Easter Sunday came, I again spent my morning walking the halls of our meetinghouse with my baby. As usual, I was whispering a prayer in my heart: Why should I bother to come? Why is it important for me to continue with this struggle?
As I walked past the classrooms, I began to look in the windows. Every Primary class was having a lesson about the Savior’s death and resurrection. I was amazed at the reverence and awe that I saw in the children’s faces. Every one of them, mine included, was caught up in the story of our Savior’s greatest gift to us.
Suddenly it was clear to me. This was the answer to my questions and my prayers. This was why I needed to continue in my struggle to bring my children to church each Sunday. Maybe I wasn’t getting as much as I wanted from my attendance, but my children were benefiting from their classes more than I had imagined.
Occasionally we still have a difficult time getting to church. But when we do, I stop and remember the expressions I saw on my children’s faces that Easter morning. I know that church is where we belong each Sunday, and I still often thank the Lord for showing me why.
My Best Birthday Present
I had been preparing to be a Buddhist nun. But everything changed in December 1985, when I was converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ and was baptized a member of the Church.
I began working as a delivery driver for a catering company. Such a routine job may sound boring, but I enjoyed the opportunity it gave me to share the gospel and make new friends.
Strangely, it seemed that almost every customer had something to say about religion at one time or another. But I never told them I was a Latter-day Saint unless they asked about my church. Once in a while I made arrangements to visit with customers after work to tell them more about the Church.
Most of my customers were at home when I made my deliveries. But if no one was there, I left a note with the deliveries. One customer who was never home when I called was Mrs. Ueki. She began to respond to my notes, and I looked forward to receiving her heartwarming message every day. Although I had never seen her, I gave her the nickname of “Ducky.” She responded by nicknaming me “Rooster.”
About this time, I was preparing for my mission call to Hokkaido, Japan. In the middle of March, I wrote Ducky to tell her I was going out of town, but I didn’t tell her why. I didn’t want her to feel I had become her friend just to baptize her. I sincerely wished to continue our friendship.
But after many humble prayers, I finally decided to write Ducky and tell her I was a Latter-day Saint. I wanted her to know why I had joined the Church and why I was going to Hokkaido for eighteen months. The next day, I left her the letter along with two missionary brochures, The Purpose of Life and The Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Two weeks after I arrived at Asahikawa, Hokkaido, I received a letter from Ducky. As soon as I opened it, I recognized the beautiful, familiar handwriting: “Dear Rooster, How have you been? How is life treating you? Are the people there nice to you? I hope you are not having any trouble. Do you eat well? I am concerned about your well-being.”
My eyes filled with tears.
Following her opening greetings there was a space of a few lines, and then she began a new letter. This time she addressed me, surprisingly, as “Sister Iwasaki.”
“You left me the brochures on your last delivery. I had always told my friends that I was looking for the true church. After I finished your letter, I browsed through the brochures, and my heart became full. I asked myself, Is this what I have been searching for?
“I also wanted to know why you chose this church, so on the same day, I called the Osaka Mission Home in Hirakata. We set a date for my first appointment with the missionaries on April 9, which was followed by more visits on April 12 and 16 and on May 2.”
I was elated!
We corresponded with each other for six months, and I could sense her testimony growing over that time. On November 13, when I walked into the chapel, a member told me that there was a package for me.
On the package was written “For Your Birthday.” It was from Ducky. Inside was a letter in which she wrote:
“Dear Rooster, I’m sorry I haven’t written to you earlier. Last Friday, my oldest son, Junya, who is eight years old, finished the last missionary discussion. Yesterday he was interviewed for baptism. Guess when the date of our baptismal service is? We could have set it earlier, but we planned it for November 27. Do you know why? Because it’s your birthday!”
That was the best birthday ever—knowing that Ducky and Junya were being baptized. My friends back home attended the baptismal service in my behalf.
I thank God for using me as his tool to help lead Sister Ueki and her family to the gospel.
Bells across the Snow
Snow whirled faster and thicker, but that didn’t bother me. I had come to the woods for solitude and prayer on this significant Sabbath day because the silence and snow matched my mood. Jabbing my ski poles into the deep, thinly crusted snow, I pushed off beneath the towering pines.
After nine months as a foreign exchange student in a small Finnish village, I could communicate only in the simplest ways. This hindered me from sharing my testimony of the restored gospel with my new friends. Those good people, thoughtful and caring as they were, did not have much room for religion in their lives, nor did they give me opportunities to discuss the subject.
Compounding this frustration was the fact that on this Easter Sunday it had not been possible for me to travel to Latter-day Saint meetings held far away. So I had come to spend some time alone in the frozen forest. Though I did not then know it, I would also learn a lesson of love and tolerance.
I swept down an incline and surged out across the open expanse of a frozen lake. Snow fell even more quickly here, blotting the lake’s far side from view as well as the lake and the trees I had left behind. The new powder was already deep enough to break my speed and begin hiding the trail. Crossing the wide lake sapped my strength. Because it was all I could do to keep track of the trail, I worried about becoming lost.
From the edge of the lake, the trail turned steeply upward. Breathless, I paused at the hilltop as snow swarmed like white bees through the gathering darkness.
I slid forward again. “Just over this next hill,” I told myself. Maybe I would see a road, or at least a light. Surely I would find a light …
But it wasn’t the light that reached my senses first. Instead, the cold air carried a faint sound. I bent into my strides with renewed energy and soon burst over the hilltop into a joyous cacophony of pealing bells.
Then softly, compellingly, the words of a countermelody passed through my mind: He is risen! He is risen! Tell it out with joyful voice. He has burst his three days’ prison; Let the whole wide earth rejoice. The joyous message pierced my melancholy spirit, and suddenly I understood that I could celebrate Easter no matter how alone I felt in my beliefs. My testimony rang inside of me as clear and true as the church bells. Death is conquered, man is free. Christ has won the victory (Hymns, 1985, no. 199).
Chagrined, I began to realize how shallow I had been to allow my feelings of isolation to determine my spiritual fulfillment. But the Spirit touched me further.
As I listened to the bells, I strained to see their source through the falling snow. Below me nestled a tiny Greek Orthodox church, and in its onionlike turret a coatless woman was energetically hitting the bells with mallets.
He is risen! The words were still ringing in my heart when the doors of the little church burst open and worshippers wrapped in dark coats streamed out into the whirling snow. They clutched their candles tightly to their chests to protect the tiny flames from the storm. Led by three priests, the singing procession began circling the chapel.
The group had nearly finished its seventh pass around the church when I first saw her—a girl stumbling behind the others and holding her candle high with both hands. The wind had snuffed out the candle’s flame. As the procession swept back inside the chapel, a cocoon of light and warmth, I realized the girl was blind. Then the great doors thudded shut, the ringing stopped, and the darkness of night was complete. All was quiet except for snatches of a priest’s voice carried across the frigid air.
Though the Finnish language was still foreign to me, there was no longer a chasm between me and the people among whom I was living. I had felt of the spirit of their devotions, and I realized there were believing people who exercised their religious faith as best they knew how. I thought that surely the blind girl’s raised candle, though small and burned out, could be a torch in the eyes of the Savior.
My body was tired and cold, but a glowing, shimmering feeling had crept into my heart. My memory of the blind girl moved me to exercise greater degrees of love, tolerance, and patience for the rest of my time away from home.
The words He is risen! He is risen! still resounded in my mind as I waited outside the church. After the service, I would ask directions and find my way home, warmed by Easter bells in my heart and determined to let my own light shine brighter than before (see Matt. 5:14–16).
Hope in a Hymn
I hadn’t driven down the Claytons’ * long gravel driveway since I graduated from high school almost twenty years before. Kerri Clayton and I had been best friends then. Now, knowing that we would both be in town to visit our families at Easter, we had arranged to get together at Kerri’s house.
As I walked down the front steps, I thought of the heavy burdens the Clayton family was bearing at this time. With three children, Kerri was going through a painful divorce. Her father had recently suffered a stroke, and her mother was struggling to care for her husband and meet the family’s financial obligations.
It’s too much pain for one family, I thought as I rang the doorbell.
Kerri opened the door and threw her arms around me. Though five years had passed since we’d seen each other in person, I immediately noticed the toll that my friend’s recent emotional traumas had taken on her. She was too thin, and I could sense desperation in her hug. In contrast with the smiling eyes of her girlhood portrait on the wall, my friend’s eyes were pools of pain.
Kerri’s mother came in to greet me, and Kerri called her three beautiful children, two girls and a boy. I recognized their father’s features in each face and felt again the hurt and pain of the divorce. How would the family survive?
Kerri mentioned that her father was in an upstairs bedroom. I offered to go up and visit with him, but Kerri told me that he wanted to come down on his own. “It will take him some time, so let’s sit down and visit,” she said.
We sat across from each other in the living room where we had often laughed together as schoolgirls. We did not laugh today, however. As Kerri told me about her struggles with finances and facing the future alone, all I could do was listen. She had so many questions, and I had no answers.
After a while, I heard a rustling on the stairs. I turned to watch Kerri’s father begin his shaky journey down. Grasping the handrail, he inched his feet forward on each stair. His wife stood beside him, but when she reached out to assist, he shook his head and pushed her hand away.
I rose to go meet him, but Kerri motioned for me to stay where I was. Tears came to my eyes as I saw how much the man’s body had been damaged by the stroke. When he finally reached me, he grasped my hand and said, “So good to see you, Annette.” Each word took effort.
After her parents left, Kerri asked, “Did you ever think life would be this hard? Did you ever think you’d be sitting here listening to my terrible divorce story and watching my dad suffer? Why do things like this happen?”
In the silence that followed, I could hear Kerri’s mother counting slowly in the kitchen as she exercised her husband’s arms and legs. Wondering what she felt as she cared for him while facing the constant threat of another stroke, I began to cry.
“I’m sorry,” Kerri said. “Here you come home for Easter, and you get all this.”
“It’s okay,” I sniffled. “That’s what friends are for. I’m just trying to think of something to say that could give you some help, some hope.”
Just then, Kerri’s mother began to sing. Kerri and I stopped speaking and listened to her angelic voice coming from the kitchen. The song was a perfect one, perfect for that Easter weekend and perfect for that moment:
(Hymns, 1985, no. 200)
As she sang all the verses and her alleluias rang through the house, I thought about Christ’s suffering, his victory over death, and his resurrection. I felt light and hope replacing the day’s darkness and despair. I knew that this family was loved and watched over by the most tender of shepherds.
“You’re not alone,” I said gently to Kerri. “You are in Heavenly Father’s hands, and so is your father.”
“I know,” Kerri said. Our tears flowed freely as our hopes rose heavenward with the hymn.
Names have been changed.
The Voice Said, “Stop!”
When something happens that we have been praying for, sometimes we’re tempted to wonder: Is it an answer, or did it just happen? Other times, however, we know for certain that Heavenly Father has intervened in our lives in response to our faithful supplication. One such experience happened to me in the rain forests of Vancouver Island, Canada.
Soon after I joined the Church in 1957, I was asked to travel to the island’s interior to determine the existence of a mining claim. Receiving as much as four feet of rain a year, the area is not unlike the rain forests of South America. After my family and I had prayed that morning that we might return home safely following my day’s activities, I left for work. My coworker and I began to cut our way through the undergrowth to where we believed the mining claim was.
Every once in a while we would come across a giant, fallen tree. It was easier to climb up onto the trunk, walk the hundred or so feet to the end of it, and then jump off.
As I continued to do this, I was about to jump off the end of another tree when I heard a loud, clear voice shout, “Stop!” I turned to see why my companion had said this, but he was busy hacking his path through the bush.
Thinking I was mistaken, I moved to continue to the end of the trunk. Again the voice commanded me to stop. Confused, I turned to see who could possibly be kidding around in the middle of the forest.
In so doing, my position on the tree changed, and instead of jumping off the end of the tree, I jumped to the side. I walked over to where my companion was still making a trail and asked him if he would return to the tree with me. I knew now that the Spirit had directed me, and I wanted to find out why.
At the end of the tree, we cautiously parted the ferns and holly. Exactly where I would have landed had I not stopped, we discovered an open mine shaft, the bottom of which we could not see.
With a heart filled with gratitude, I silently thanked Heavenly Father for answering our morning prayer by saving my life.