The Chocolate Bar
Many years ago, as a young teenage organ student, I was taught a vital lesson by my teacher, Dr. Alexander Schreiner, late Tabernacle organist.
I practiced on the pipe organ in a nearby ward building that was cared for by an older brother who kept the meetinghouse and grounds immaculate. However, he was often a bit cranky and complained about various things, chiefly my practicing. It was too loud, it went on too long, and I used too much electricity. His complaints became so insistent that I had to bring my own lamp to church to put on the organ so I wouldn’t use the lights in the chapel. Then he complained that even the organ was using too much electricity.
As the complaints increased, so did my frustration. It got to the point that I couldn’t practice adequately to prepare for my lessons with Dr. Schreiner. As a family, we discussed the situation and decided I should ask Dr. Schreiner to contact the agent bishop of the meetinghouse to intervene in my behalf.
Soon after, my father took me to the rear of the Assembly Hall on Temple Square, where Dr. Schreiner taught. Between organ lessons, I was able to explain my situation to him.
He listened intently. Then he said, “Yes, as Tabernacle organist I could call the bishop and ask to have him correct the situation,” he said. “But I don’t think that is the best thing to do.” Then he counseled, “I would recommend that you buy the largest chocolate bar you can find, take it to this good brother who is the custodian, and express your appreciation for all he does.”
I was devastated. I had hoped that Dr. Schreiner would solve my problem—all he needed to do was to make a phone call—and yet he had suggested this! Again we discussed the matter as a family, and finally we concluded that I had nothing to lose in following Dr. Schreiner’s recommendation.
We bought the largest chocolate bar we could find, and my mother drove me to the church to practice and to talk with the custodian. Confronting him, I nervously presented the chocolate bar and told him honestly how much I appreciated all he did to make the building and the grounds always look so beautiful. His countenance brightened; he seemed very pleased, and he expressed his gratitude. What followed was a friendly conversation between him and both me and my mother.
It was gratifying to see such a wonderful change occur in our relationship in the next few weeks. If anyone complained about my practicing, this good brother came to my defense. And I didn’t have to bring the lamp to practice anymore. I gained many insights into this brother’s challenges as a custodian, and he and I shared many enjoyable moments over the succeeding months.
The chocolate bar given with appreciation had really worked!
I Knew It Wasn’t Luck
With each carefully placed step I slipped quietly through the vines and high grass of the Vietnam jungle. The dark shadows offered the Vietcong a million hiding places, and my heart was pounding so loudly it seemed that its beating alone was enough to give away my presence. Then I saw a shadow that seemed out of place—a trip wire.
I was on point duty, which meant it was my job to walk in front of the reconnaissance patrol and spot traps. I saw the wire about ten feet from me, but I also knew the Vietcong often placed a visible trap as bait to set off an unseen trap nearby. I stopped and signaled for the patrol behind me to halt. I drew my knife to begin a probe of the trail. As I bent to my knees, a sudden burst of machine-gun fire filled the space where I had just been standing and shot my backpack full of holes, ripping it from my back and sending it flying into the jungle.
I dropped down flat and rolled over a fallen log. My steel helmet fell off, striking me in the chest as I landed on it and knocking the wind out of me. While I desperately caught my breath, I tried to work the helmet out from beneath my chest, but it was stuck. The sounds of gunfire and grenade explosions were all around. Just inches from my eyes, I saw the trip wire to another trap. I knew I couldn’t crawl forward, yet the bullets hitting the log near where I lay made moving a necessity.
Finally I managed to edge down and lift the helmet. I then saw what had been holding it. It was a punji stick, a sharpened bamboo stake set in the ground and dripping with what smelled like fresh snake venom.
As I lay there in the jungle, my mind flew back to a year earlier, when I had just turned twenty years old and had wanted to go on a mission. My mother was not financially able to support me, so I was working hard to earn money for a mission. One day a letter came calling me to serve, but it was not from the prophet. Instead, it was from the president of the United States telling me to report for induction into the U.S. Army.
After going through basic training and advanced individual training, I had an overwhelming desire to receive my patriarchal blessing. I contacted the nearest patriarch, and after giving him a recommend from the bishop of my home ward in Oregon, I received my blessing. In part, my blessing promised me that as long as I kept the commandments, my life would not be taken from me while I was in the service of my country. With that assurance I was ready when the overseas assignment came a few weeks later, sending me to Germany for eighteen months. But after only six months, I was transferred to Vietnam for a tour of duty. Although temptations of the adversary surrounded me during this time, the gospel teachings of my youth helped me remember I held the priesthood of God.
Suddenly the captain’s voice brought me back to the reality of the jungle. The firing had stopped, and he and the rest of the patrol flanked the ambush site. As my buddies came forward, I knew they expected only to recover my body. Instead, they looked at me in disbelief. The captain told me to lie still. Two more punji sticks were inches away from my legs, and my boots were almost touching another trip wire leading to a land mine.
Death could so easily have taken me that day. However, to the medic’s surprise I did not have a single wound. The sergeant declared me to be the luckiest man he’d ever seen and said that since I must have used up my portion of luck, I was relieved of further point duty.
But I knew it wasn’t luck. I knew then, as I know now, that it was the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise that my life was saved that day.
Someone Was Calling My Name
Tears blinded my eyes. I was saying good-bye to our home of fifteen years in Cadiz, Philippines, to return with my husband and children to Sagay, my childhood home. I dreaded going back, for I had many painful memories of my childhood, and I wondered why things beyond our control seemed to be forcing us to move there. I was leaving behind not only a place where I’d been happy but also the place where the most memorable event of my life took place: baptism into the true and living church. It was hard to leave. I missed attending church there, I missed the Saints, and I missed my friends.
The bus let us off on the national road in Sagay, and we walked about a kilometer to my parents’ house. My first night there I hardly slept because the house was so oppressive and tomblike. I hated it.
The next day many friends and relatives came to see me, and I felt a bit better. But I wondered why my cousin and best friend did not come. I was informed she had just suffered a miscarriage and had to stay home.
That night I kept thinking about my cousin. I decided to visit her after church the next day. In the morning my daughter and I awoke early to walk to where we could catch a bus that would take us to the nearest meetinghouse. All the way to the bus stop I thought about our ward back in Cadiz. Suddenly I heard someone calling me by my nickname. I turned to look, but no one was there, so I continued on. Seconds later, I again heard a voice calling me. This time I stopped and looked behind me, but I still didn’t see anyone. I stood there puzzled, wondering if it could have been the Spirit, when I clearly recognized my cousin’s voice!
I told my daughter I needed to go back to the house. Quickly I sent her on to church and hurried home expecting something unusual, but when I got there everything seemed normal. Puzzled, I knelt down and prayed for understanding. I remained kneeling and pondering when suddenly I saw as in a vision my cousin, very pale and dying, lying on her bed with no one by her side.
The impression hit me so strongly that I jumped to my feet and hurried from the house. We had no phone, so I ran two kilometers to the nearest hospital, where I found the resident physician and begged for an ambulance and an attendant to go to my cousin’s isolated farm.
When we reached the farmhouse I was amazed to see her lying in bed, dying, just as I had seen! She was hemorrhaging badly. While the attendant quickly prepared her for transport, I called my brothers and asked them to go to the hospital and donate blood immediately. Later, when the doctor needed blood for transfusions, my brothers were already there waiting. The physician was not hopeful, however. My cousin’s condition was so serious, he said, that only divine intervention could help her. I tightly closed my eyes and fervently pleaded for help.
We waited through the long night and all the next day. It was six o’clock the next evening when my cousin finally opened her eyes. I knew then she would live, and I thanked Heavenly Father for saving her life. After nine days she went home.
Later she asked me, “How did you know I needed help?”
“The Spirit told me,” I replied.
As she recovered, we began to share fun times together as we had done as children.
I finally began to understand one reason why I had to come back to my hometown. I know that our Father in Heaven is mindful of all his children, that he loves us all, and that he uses one to bless another.
The Lord Sent Me a Shepherd
When I finally looked up from the game we were playing, I realized that it was past five o’clock and I was going to be late getting home. I hurriedly said good-bye to my friend Susan, and then I rushed out the door.
Since I was only eight years old at the time, I knew I would be in trouble when I got home. At the moment, however, I was more worried about walking several blocks alone in the approaching darkness of a fall evening in San Mateo, California. The streets seemed deserted.
As I walked along the sidewalk in the shadows, fear overcame me and I began to panic. A prayer filled my mind: Please, Heavenly Father, help me get home safely.
Suddenly I sensed movement behind me. I whipped around and saw a large German shepherd came out from between two houses. I had once been chased by a big boxer, so I was terrified. But the dog simply trotted up beside me, wagging its tail. I kept walking, and the German shepherd continued along at my side.
At the first corner we came to, the dog stepped in front of me so I had to stop. When he could see that all was safe, we crossed together. He repeated this routine at every street.
All fear left me, and I rested my hand on my companion’s back as we traveled swiftly and safely. Forgetting that I was late, I started hoping to convince my parents that this dog was the pet I’d always dreamed about. However, when we reached the sidewalk in front of my house, my guardian looked up at me with friendly eyes and then continued down the street as if we had never met. I saw the dog on several occasions after that, but he never again paid me any particular attention.
Since this childhood experience, I’ve thought many times about the dog. Had he been trained at an obedience school or as a Seeing Eye dog? One thing is certain: when the German shepherd joined me on that dark evening, it was an answer to my prayer. Heavenly Father’s answers come in all shapes and sizes—this one happened to have four legs.
I Felt Alone
The experience of becoming single after years of marriage was a shock to me. Burdens I once shared with an eternal companion were now mine to bear alone. The joys of togetherness, the pleasant conversations, and the happy times became only memories. Struggling with deep loneliness, I felt lost and abandoned.
Of course, the needs of my five children did not diminish. The load of single-parenting was overwhelming. My workday often stretched from six o’clock in the morning to after midnight.
In that desertlike time of hectic, backbreaking, nerve-jangling days, the Sabbath was my only oasis of peace. It was a joy to sit quietly in sacrament meeting and partake of the Spirit of the Lord. The inspired lessons taught in Sunday School and Relief Society gave me many helpful ideas about how to live my life successfully, both as a single adult and as a single parent.
But even with all of this help, my heart would sink when the meetings were over. I knew I would be going home to face another scary week.
During the week I would try to capture the same spirit I felt in church, but to no avail. I would always conclude my search with the thought When I am at church, the Savior’s there. When I am at home, the Savior’s gone. I’m going to have to wait until the next Sabbath before I can feel that special peace again. Sometimes I hungered so much for this comfort of the Spirit that it was all I could do to hang on from week to week.
Then, for an entirely different matter, I needed a priesthood blessing. I was surprised when, in the middle of the blessing, I was told, “Sister Lewis, it grieves the Lord when you think that he is gone. He wants you to know that he is not gone. Even when you think he is gone, he is not gone!”
That priesthood blessing literally turned my thinking and my life around. Although my days are as hard as ever, the weeks are less scary now. I no longer feel abandoned. I know that the Savior is watching over me all the time and that I am not alone.
Crash Off Robinson Crusoe Island
My home is Robinson Crusoe Island, a small spot of land in the Pacific Ocean about 365 nautical miles west of Chile. It is named for an eighteenth-century novel in which a sailor is marooned on an unknown island for many long years. Actually, the island is home to some five hundred people, about sixty of whom are members of a branch of the Church.
Reaching the island requires a three-hour airplane flight or a boat voyage of two days or more. Islanders depend upon the boats for food and other needs.
My older brother, Adrian, needed surgery. The island’s medical facilities are limited, so it was necessary for him to fly to the mainland. He resisted the trip fearing the problems that occasionally develop in the small planes that often fly to the mainland. But in the end he had to go. He was asked to carry the tithing from our branch to Church leaders on the mainland.
Adrian and two television reporters climbed aboard the small plane.
As I heard the plane fly overhead, I sent my thoughts with my brother: Have no fear, Adrian. Heavenly Father will watch over you.
Suddenly I felt prompted to go to my room and pray for his protection. I was still on my knees when my husband came in.
“I don’t know how to tell you this,” he began.
“Tell me what?”
“Adrian’s plane has crashed into the sea. We don’t know yet if there are any survivors.”
Realizing the plane was going to crash, the pilot ordered the passengers to break the windows and throw out anything they could. Suitcases, cameras, shoes—everything was sacrificed to help the plane stay afloat as long as possible after crashing in the ocean. The pilot gave some final instructions, and they all buckled their seat belts.
Adrian began to pray aloud. He told the Lord that all of them felt they had a lot of living left to do. They were heads of families, they had wives and small children at home. He pleaded for another chance.
When he finished the prayer, he began to sing, “The Lord is my light; then why should I fear?” (Hymns, 1985, no. 89). The television reporters aboard the plane joined in even without knowing the hymn. The music and prayer gave all of them hope.
The plane hit the water and started to sink. They had only seconds to escape, but those few seconds were enough. They got the door open, inflated a raft, and were rescued by some people in a fishing boat. After the boat picked them up, someone spotted a floating suitcase. It was Adrian’s. Inside was the tithing. Besides the passengers, the suitcase was the only other thing that was saved.
The entire island population was waiting for the survivors when they returned to the dock. We applauded with relief and joy and shed many tears of gratitude.
Although we live in one of the most remote places of the earth, we know our Father in Heaven is mindful of us. We have felt his almighty hand, and he has answered our prayers.