My Last Letter to Dad
One evening several years ago as I sat watching television with my husband, I felt the Spirit prompt me to leave my comfortable place on the sofa and go into the den.
As I wondered what my purpose was, I began to think about my father, who lived some two thousand miles distant. In my mind I visualized his bright smile and recalled his cheerful nature. I remembered how his eyes sparkled as he solemnly testified of the Savior and how he had spent many long hours in his life serving in Church callings and working at the welfare farm. Smiling, I recalled how young children at church would surround him, waiting impatiently for his small ball to disappear by magic only to reappear in their ears or under their chins as they laughed in delight.
Finding pen and paper, I began writing a letter to my father recounting experiences and lessons he had given me through the years. Tears streamed down my face as I expressed my gratitude for his efforts and sacrifices in behalf of his family and the Lord.
When I finished my letter, I sensed that I had accomplished something very important. I mailed it immediately.
Just a few weeks later, my sister called with the painful news that my father had suffered a stroke and a heart attack and was lying unconscious. His doctors reported that it would be only a matter of hours until his time on this earth came to a close.
I was shocked. What would we do without him? How could I bear the pain of his leaving? I didn’t have enough time to travel home to see him alive. Couldn’t I be given just one last chance to put my arms around him and tell him again how much I love him?
In the midst of my sorrow I remembered my recent letter. My spirits lifted and I felt peace as I realized that I had expressed to my father one last time in this life my feelings about him. I didn’t know the Lord’s purpose at the time, but I appreciate now the great blessing he gave me by prompting me to write that heartfelt letter.
“Turn These Men Loose!”
In August 1897, seventeen-year-old William Hansen left his home in Ogden, Utah, to serve a mission in North Carolina. Several months later he and his companion, also a Utah native, arrived in the town of Lillington to proselyte. They were promptly arrested and charged with disturbing the peace because, as Elder Hansen reported in his journal, “The people were afraid of [us], especially the womenfolks, believing that we were there trying to get them to go to Utah.”
The mayor, the chief of police, and the judge visited the missionaries in the town jail and told them they would not be released until they signed a paper denouncing their religion and promising they would leave the city. The young men agreed to leave, but they refused to deny their faith.
Twice that afternoon the town officials returned and confronted the missionaries with the same ultimatum. Each time the elders adamantly refused. Finally Elder Hansen declared that he would rather die than renounce his religion. The judge responded, “Then you will die!”
Threatened with their lives and denied food and water for the rest of the day, the young men prayed to the Lord for deliverance. When the officials returned, they were “accompanied by one more man,” Elder Hansen wrote. “He was a colored man, fine-looking and neatly dressed. He stood about six feet two inches. He was dressed in a dark suit and had on a derby hat. We could tell from his language that he was well-educated. At first we became more or less frightened.”
The newcomer stepped up to the missionaries and asked, “Where do you men come from, and what are you doing here?”
The elders told him about their homes and their missions, and then the man asked, “Do you know a man in Utah by the name of George Q. Cannon?”
The young men said yes, they knew who President Cannon was. He was a member of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the religion they were representing.
Without further questioning, the man faced the officials and said, “Turn these men loose!”
Before they left town, the elders learned that their benefactor was Mr. Williams, the town’s postmaster. When they asked him the reason for his kindness, he explained that several years ago, as he was walking down a hall in the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., a door had suddenly opened in his path, knocking his silk hat to the floor. The gentleman who had opened the door picked up the hat and wiped it off with his handkerchief. Touched by his politeness, Mr. Williams asked who he was, where he was from, and why he was so caring.
The man said that his name was George Q. Cannon, that he was a representative of Utah, and that his religion taught him to respect all men regardless of color or creed. Mr. Williams thanked Mr. Cannon and told him that he would always remember his kindness and that if ever a time came when he could return the favor, he certainly would.
“When I heard you were in jail,” Mr. Williams said, “I felt the time had come when I could make good my promise.”
The missionaries departed with renewed vigor in the work of the Lord.
I Prayed for Food
When our three children were small, my husband and I experienced an economic crisis while living in our small home in Mexico City, Mexico. We had done all we could, but we had run out of money—and there seemed to be no help available anywhere. One morning I fed the children the last of the food in the house for breakfast. There was not even a drop of oil with which I could cook them something for lunch. My husband left for work hoping to get at least enough money to buy food that day.
At mid-morning a neighbor lady knocked on the door and began to tell me about the approaching visit of her mother-in-law. She mentioned that she had prepared a big noon meal of chicken, rice, and many other delicious things. It was difficult to listen to her talk about so much food, but I told her nothing of our situation. Then she left in order to be home when her mother-in-law arrived.
I began to ask myself why I was being given this trial. What was I doing wrong? Then I realized that even if I were guilty of something, my children certainly were not! In prayer, exercising great faith, I humbly asked that Father in Heaven would help us find some food. After praying, I went about my work.
A short while later my neighbor returned and said that her plans had changed. Her guest would not be coming after all. Instead, the family would be accompanying the mother-in-law on a two-week vacation. But now my neighbor had a problem. What could she do with all the food she had prepared? A bit embarrassed, she asked me if I would be offended if she gave me the food.
The customs of our country would ordinarily prevent one from offering a gift of something that no longer had value to the giver. But I knew that this was the answer to my prayer! I told her not to worry, that I appreciated her offer very much! My neighbor was pleased that I would take the food and then asked, “Can I leave you the food in the refrigerator too? We’ll be gone so long that everything will go bad.”
My husband arrived home that day without having had success earning money. Nevertheless, we ate well, and our refrigerator was filled to capacity.
The Sugar Beet Farm
In June 1964, rain had been falling intermittently for days when the bishop, with whom I served as counselor, called one Sunday morning to ask me to conduct the day’s meetings. “We must remind the ward that the beets need to be thinned,” he told me, “or the stake stands to lose the crop.”
In those days, stakes had assignments for welfare production projects. Our particular stake farm had been growing sugar beets for the Church welfare program for years. Early each summer, we used hoes to thin the crop before the beets became too large to thin; if beets were not thinned, an inferior crop or no crop would be produced.
Our ward had already passed up several opportunities to complete our assigned rows, and now I was worried that the rain would prevent us from meeting our deadline, only a week away. Despite my personal dislike of sugar beet thinning, I resolved to help the ward fulfill its duty.
As the men of the ward assembled for priesthood meeting later that morning, I heard the rain intensify, and I feared that the ground would not dry out enough during the week for us to work. Nevertheless, when I made announcements I pleaded for as many brethren as possible to come to the farm at five o’clock the next morning to finish our assignment. I was surprised to hear myself say that it didn’t matter what the weather conditions were; if the men would show up in the morning, they would be able to thin the beets.
As I sat down, I wondered why I had allowed myself to make such a promise. Silently praying, however, I felt calmness and recognized that I had been inspired by the Spirit.
Later, when I stepped up to the podium to dismiss Sunday School opening exercises, I stood for a moment watching the rain fall outside the open windows. Then I announced in a confident voice that we needed everyone at the farm in the morning to thin beets. I reaffirmed that it didn’t matter what the weather forecast said; if the ward’s able-bodied members gathered at the farm in the morning, we would be able to thin the beets. This time I felt no doubt that I was guided by the Spirit.
As I went outside to my car, the sky was still overcast, but it had stopped raining, and I noticed a streak of blue in the gray clouds. I could feel my spirit lift with gladness, knowing that we would be able to fulfill our assignment. As I stood by the car, I could see in my mind’s eye the field of beets and the ward members completing the thinning.
Suddenly I felt drops of rain on my face, and when I glanced skyward, the blue streak of sky had vanished. But my hopes remained strong.
It rained most of the afternoon before we drove back to the chapel for our evening sacrament meeting (at the time, the consolidated meeting schedule had not been adopted). Nevertheless, I hoped that we would see the sun before the meeting finished. As I opened the meeting, I again reminded the congregation about the assignment in the morning. At one point, sunlight did indeed fill the chapel’s stained-glass windows with beautiful colors, but by the time the meeting ended the sky was dark again, and it was raining harder than ever. I repeated the assignment again when I announced the closing song.
As I knelt by my bed that night listening to the rain hit our steel patio roof, I poured out my heart to the Lord. What had gone wrong? Was I foolish, or had I been directed by the Spirit to make the promise? All through the night, I awoke each hour to listen to the rain and ask the same questions.
When my alarm went off at 4:30 A.M., it was still raining. I sank into an overstuffed chair in the living room and put my head in my hands. How would I face the ward members, and what would I say to them? As I stared at the clock, the phone rang. The elders quorum president told me that he had driven most of the way to the Church farm and then had turned around and come home. He reported that water had collected all along the highway. He said that he had seen no other cars headed to the farm. I thanked him and hung up.
I was sick at heart. What was the matter with me? How could I have been so wrong? Why did I make those promises? Feeling unworthy to pray, I went back to bed to listen to the rain and waited for the morning light.
Later, as I drove to my work, the rain stopped, the sky began to clear in the east, and the sun broke through. As I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed one of the brothers from the ward arriving at the same place where I work. Remembering what the elders quorum president had reported, I blurted out, “I didn’t see you at the Church farm this morning.”
He turned and looked at me with surprise. “I didn’t see you at the Church farm this morning,” he said.
My heart sank. This brother had been there! He continued: “When you promised us that if we came to the farm this morning we would be able to thin the beets, I felt the Spirit and knew you were right. I was the only one there, but the ground was just right for the work at hand. I could see it raining all around, but it didn’t rain on the farm except for some light sprinkles. The conditions were perfect.”
Feeling humbled and out of place in this man’s presence, I mumbled some response and walked away. He had been the only one to follow the prompting of the Spirit. Where was my faith? How could I have been so blind?
Years have passed since that beautiful June morning when I learned that the Lord does speak through his servants. Since then, I have tried to listen and act when prompted by the Holy Spirit. This experience changed my life, and I will ever be grateful to the Lord and to the one believing elder who had the faith to follow the Spirit.
On top of my desk sits an unusual paperweight. Actually it isn’t a paperweight at all. It’s a beanbag, bright blue with a yellow sun centered on each side. I call it a paperweight only to justify its presence on my desk. I put it there to remind me each day of a personal miracle that I call “Sunbeam love.”
It began with a call to teach Primary just seven months after my returning to church following a five-year absence. My past struggles had led to renewed spiritual commitments and had made me strong. I was comfortable with my new beginnings, confident, and hungry to serve.
When my first Primary day arrived, I was the first teacher seated in the room. I knew my class would be the youngest, and I knew they were fresh out of the Primary nursery. But the significance of these facts hadn’t registered clearly in my planning. As each child arrived, I was truly shocked at how far down I had to look to find the tops of their little heads. They were just babies!
The sophisticated lesson I had prepared, as well as my tailored suit and silk blouse, now seemed out of touch. As they gathered around, their faces looked up apprehensively. Do they even talk yet? I wondered, horrified at the possibilities. During opening exercises I examined my pupils. How unique each one was—blond, brunette, freckled, petite, and plump. As I captured an occasional glance, their faces revealed further individuality. I saw anticipation, mischief, boredom, and fear.
When the time came, I somehow managed to lead them down the hall and start the lesson. For an introduction I had planned a beanbag game. I had even made the beanbag myself, and I was sure I had made the perfect beanbag—despite the fact that mine was much larger than the pattern. With the first toss, I knew once again that I had overestimated the size of these children. One forceful throw of the oversized bag sent a wide-eyed girl sailing backwards, knocked flat, as she bravely tried to absorb the bag’s impact.
I went home feeling just as overwhelmed by my Sunbeams as they were by me. My prayers the next week were pleas for help. I somehow felt this was where I needed to serve.
The next Saturday evening I still had no clear answers. How do I relate to such tiny, tender beings? How do I translate the miracle of the gospel into plain, simple English for three-year-olds? Suddenly my vision focused on a picture on my wall. It was, in fact, my first Primary visual aid, purchased just two weeks before. So beautiful was this portrait of Jesus Christ holding a small child that I had hung it in my bedroom.
I carefully studied the expression of love depicted in Christ’s eyes. New thoughts filled my mind. How much he must love them! How he desires to reassure them of his love! I then realized with perfect clarity that this was exactly the thing the Savior wanted me to do: I must love them in a way that would reassure them of his love.
It was such a simple and beautiful answer. But to me, it seemed I had been asked to perform a miracle. Six painful years as a stepparent, and my subsequent divorce, had left my heart numb—especially to the idea of trying to love someone else’s children again.
Throughout the night I tried to reconcile the conflict between what I knew the Lord wanted me to do and what I felt I could not do. It was only after hours of praying that I was convinced by the Spirit that I could change. The next day, seated on the bench with the Sunbeams, I looked at the questioning faces of the children sitting near me. I felt nervous yet determined as I said over and over in my mind, I’m going to love you.
From that Sunday forth, a personal miracle began to unfold. Each week during our time together as a class, I was guided by the Spirit in the art of loving. And throughout the year, I was loved in return. There were excited waves across the chapel during sacrament meeting, shouted greetings from grocery store aisles, and gifts of oddly shaped cookies.
Panic set in as the year concluded and my glorious row of Sunbeams graduated to the next class. My heart ached wildly for my beloved little friends. Feeling abandoned, I sat numbly, surrounded by eight tiny new strangers.
I managed to go through the motions of being a teacher throughout opening exercises and into class time, where we were to play once again the introductory beanbag game. As I picked up the worn, oversized bag, I paused, remembering this exact Sunday a year before. How overwhelmed I had felt then. How far I realized I had come. The powerful memories carried by this familiar beanbag fueled me with hope. As I met each pair of bright eyes, I saw their pleading looks: “Please love me too.”
And so I did.