“I Think Shafer’s a Mormon”
One summer afternoon in 1974, my roommates and I at the United States Naval Academy were in the middle of the infamous “Plebe Summer,” when freshmen at the academy undergo the rigorous transition from civilian to military life. We were dutifully shining our shoes in our quarters one afternoon when one of my roommates broke the silence with, “I think Shafer’s a Mormon.”
Midshipman First Class Michael Shafer was our platoon leader. Since I had never heard the term Mormon before, I said, “Oh, yeah? How can you tell?”
“Well,” my roommate replied, “he always bows his head during prayer at mealtime, and he doesn’t drink iced tea or coffee when I pass it to him.”
“Oh!” I said, “Mormon must be his religion!”
During that summer, some of the senior midshipmen believed that plebes needed to be humbled through various degrees of harassment. Shafer, however, seemed to adhere to a different philosophy. He worked hard to help us cultivate our strengths and teach us leadership skills and teamwork. He expected us to perform well and held us personally accountable for our actions. He also seemed to be keenly aware of our needs and took a personal interest in each of us.
One day, just prior to the academic year, he sat us down to have a heart-to-heart talk about what we could expect in the months to follow. We were about to meet the rest of the brigade of midshipmen who had been training with the fleet all summer. As Shafer spoke about the challenges ahead, our fears were put to rest. I thought to myself, Shafer will be there to watch over us.
Then one Saturday evening two of Shafer’s classmates returned from a night out partying. Drunk, they decided to have some fun at our expense. Just as things began to get dangerously out of hand, Shafer showed up. He walked directly to his classmates, said a few quiet words, and put them to flight.
I was amazed. These guys were both ten inches taller than Shafer. But he wasn’t intimidated. In fact, he didn’t even raise his voice. I learned a valuable lesson that night: you don’t have to raise your voice to get your point across.
On another occasion damaging gossip about a midshipman raged throughout the brigade. Shafer pulled us aside and cautioned us not to judge this person without facts to back up the accusations. He asked us not to be part of spreading rumors, because they could eventually distort truth and destroy a life.
I thought then, Here’s a person who keeps his head on straight. As a group we made the effort to remove ourselves from the spreading rumors.
Shafer graduated the next summer, but his lessons in leadership and example left their mark on many of us. Two of us were baptized while in training at the naval academy. Shafer’s example played a key role in my decision. I will never forget the words that changed my life that summer: “I think Shafer’s a Mormon.”
I Tried to Quit Dozens of Times
As a young woman, I stopped going to church and later acquired a smoking habit that took control of my life. The years passed, and I married and was blessed with eight children. Seeing their need for the gospel, I sent each of them to Primary and Sunday School as they became old enough to go on their own. As they grew older, however, they began noticing that I stayed home while other parents attended church with their children. Soon it became clear to me that to keep them going to church, I had to go with them.
Because I’d been taught the Word of Wisdom as a young girl but did not abide by it, it was uncomfortable for me to go to church. The Church meetings I began to attend enkindled a desire in me to be a clean and active participant. I wanted to quit smoking. My nonmember husband had quit smoking twice, once for a year and then for good. I had tried to quit dozens of times, but the cravings of my tobacco-conditioned body created an obstacle seemingly larger than any mountain I had ever climbed.
One day when my older children were at school and the little ones were sleeping, I knelt at the foot of my bed to ask the Lord’s help in overcoming the habit that held me prisoner. As I prayed, a man’s name came into my mind. Brother Fred Lisonbee had come to our home once as a stake missionary, but there was no reason I could think of that his name should mean anything to me. Yet his name refused to leave my mind. I decided that perhaps there was a reason for his name persisting in my mind. I got up and called him.
Dr. Lisonbee was a busy chiropractor; I realized that just as he answered the telephone. I suddenly felt foolish. He said he remembered me and asked what he could do for me.
“Brother Lisonbee, I am trying very hard to quit smoking, but I just can’t do it. I was hoping you might have a suggestion.”
Without hesitation, he said, “Why don’t you ask the Lord to take away the desire to smoke?”
I was stunned. Unable to think of a reply, I thanked him and returned to my bedroom and thought about what he had said.
Finally I knelt again and prayed for my desire to smoke to be taken away. During my prayer, I felt as if someone were pouring a big pitcher of warm water over my head, the water rushing down, over, and through me. As the pitcher emptied, I was filled. Weeping, I got up from my knees and knew that somehow I was different; something wonderful had happened.
My desire to smoke and the seemingly unyielding addiction to tobacco were washed away as if I had never smoked. From that time on I attended church with my children. Now they attend church with their children. I am eternally grateful to a Heavenly Father who helps us as we strive to repent and keep his commandments.
A Blessing for My Sister
As long as I live, I will never forget the evening I spent with my sister Charlene and her three children. She was nearly eighteen years older than I and had left home to attend college shortly after I was born. When she received her bachelor’s degree, she moved even farther away. Both of us always felt we had missed something, because we had not seen much of each other throughout our lives. Now, thirty years later, she and her three children were seated before me on my sofa.
Each of them looked tired and pitiful. My sister and her husband were in the process of a bitter divorce. Her husband had abandoned the family and taken much of their savings and many of their possessions when he left. Instead of a joyful family reunion, this one was filled with sorrow and despair. The four of them sat looking steadfastly at me, their eyes begging for comfort or relief.
My sister asked me if I would give her and each of her children a priesthood blessing. During her entire married life, the priesthood had never been exercised in her home. Though members of the Church, she and the children had only a vague idea of how priesthood blessings are administered and how they can bless lives. So I proceeded, through tears of gratitude and joy, to explain those things to them.
Before I gave the blessings, my sister commented that she was proud of me and glad I honored the priesthood. But her eyes seemed to hold the question, Why were you able to honor the priesthood and my husband was not?
As we proceeded with the blessings, the Spirit was strong and comforting. Each of us felt an abundance of the love of God. We had faith that Heavenly Father was mindful of the situation and would bless and help them if they could endure just a little longer.
As I finished giving the last blessing, I felt that I knew the answer to my sister’s unasked question. Some years earlier, during my teenage years, our family had moved to a community where I was the only Latter-day Saint boy. Having become friends with nearly every boy my age, I soon was tempted to participate in many of their activities. I started to stray from the teachings of the Church, thinking that my peers were what mattered the most. My parents quickly noticed my conduct and worked diligently to help me stay on the straight and narrow path. In spite of their efforts, however, I resisted—until the day a certain letter arrived. It was from my oldest sister, Charlene. She expressed her love for me and pleaded with me to stay close to my family and the Church. The letter was followed by a telephone call and more letters. She and my parents persisted until I was able to repent and become fully active in the Church.
So after administering the last blessing, I told my sister that she had been one of the major influences in my life and that she had played a significant role in why I was worthy to bless her and her children that evening. I watched her expression as she reflected on those efforts in my behalf. Her eyes filled with tears as she looked up at me and said, “I’m thankful to Father in Heaven for the strength found within the family.”
The Bishop and the Deacon
I remember well the day Daniel and his family came to our ward. As they entered the chapel, I watched with curiosity as the brown-haired boy struggled to follow a couple who appeared to be his grandparents to the only available seats, which were in the front. The boy walked with great effort, and every few steps he grabbed the top of the pew to steady himself.
I soon became acquainted with Daniel. I often substituted in his Primary class. He was an intelligent, eager boy. His blue eyes were full of earnest desire to learn more about the gospel. He was a joy to teach, and I admired him for the effort he put into learning.
Not long after Daniel moved into the ward, our bishop announced that Daniel had turned twelve and would be ordained a deacon. The next Sunday, I noticed that Daniel was not sitting with the other deacons. I was not really surprised. Walking was such a challenge for him that he likely could not pass the sacrament without spilling the contents of the trays. A few weeks later, just after the sacrament hymn had begun, the bishop left his seat on the stand and walked reverently down the aisle and stopped beside the pew where Daniel and his family were seated. Leaning over, he whispered something to the young man, who immediately stood up. Together they went to the deacons’ pew and sat down, side by side.
Following the sacrament prayer, the deacons stood and waited to approach the table to receive bread-filled trays. In line with the boys was one very tall bishop standing beside a very short Daniel, who struggled to remain standing as he waited. The bishop gently reached down and steadied him, and together they approached the table. Daniel received a tray and turned toward the nearest pew. I could see that his steps were made with determination and completed through sheer force of will. The bishop also took a tray and passed the sacrament alongside Daniel.
Passing the water took a little longer, but Daniel did not spill a drop, although he stumbled once and had to grab a pew to catch himself. The bishop’s reassuring presence was never far from his newest deacon.
During the next year, Daniel rarely missed a Sunday. He confidently administered his duties as a deacon. Our bishop’s love-filled actions that day gave strength and courage not only to a young deacon but also to all who witnessed the bishop’s tender deed. Daniel’s family has since moved from our ward, but the memory of him and his determination remain with us.
Holding onto the Savior
I glanced at my watch as I pulled my car out of the parking lot. I was out of my doctor’s appointment early, and the baby-sitter wouldn’t expect me for some time. The dream of shopping without three small tagalongs was appealing, but thoughts of my budget had me turning my car homeward.
Before I had traveled a block, the thought came into my mind that I should go see Greg at the Stanford Medical Center. Greg, a convert of only a week, had been baptized in the Stanford therapy pool. His surgery, immediately following his baptism, had revealed that his already diagnosed cancer had spread too extensively to combat.
I brushed off the urge to see him. My husband, who was serving as one of the ward mission leaders, and I had visited Greg only two days before.
The prompting came again, more forcefully, to go see Greg. Concluding that there must be an urgent need, I turned my car toward Stanford. Before I had gone another block, another prompting urged me to stop en route at the Church bookstore and purchase a gift for him.
In a few minutes I found myself staring at rows of books, wondering what to buy for a man in his twenties dying of cancer. I finally settled on a book that seemed right. As I passed near the picture section, I was drawn to a beautiful and compelling picture of the Savior surrounded by children. This, along with a picture of the President of the Church, completed my purchases.
I sped off to the hospital to face whatever crisis I knew must be waiting there. I reached Greg’s room only to discover him resting comfortably and visiting with family members. I delivered my gifts, assured myself that all was well, and made sure Greg’s family still had our phone number.
I returned home wondering why I had been impressed to make a visit now instead of waiting until our planned visit two days later. In the following weeks, the answers slowly came.
On the day we’d planned to visit Greg, both my husband and I had the flu. Then Greg was released to go home. He died there just a few weeks after his baptism. We attended his funeral. About a month later, Greg’s mother telephoned to thank me for my gifts to Greg that day in the hospital. She told me that in his last few days, she would hear him crying in the middle of the night because of pain. When she went into his room, he would be tightly holding the picture of the Savior. It had meant so much to him.
To me, the experience was a reaffirmation that the promptings of the Holy Ghost are sure, even though the reasons may not be immediately clear.
Healed the Lord’s Way
When I developed a severe ache in my back, I thought the pain was normal—related to my usual back problems—and would soon go away. But the pain did not stop, and it seemed to be getting worse. I decided to see a doctor in São Paulo, Brazil, where we were living while my husband served as mission president.
After I explained my symptoms, the doctor decided to take X rays. While examining the X rays, he noticed a strange spot and said, “We have something different here, probably nothing of importance. I would, however, like to have you see another doctor for more extensive tests.”
He then sent me to a specialist who, after extensive testing, found a large benign tumor between my lungs. He wanted to schedule surgery immediately, but I refused because I felt the Lord would heal me if I just had enough faith.
Believing I would be healed, I told the specialist I would return in a month to see if the tumor was still there. During that month, my family and I fasted and prayed, asking for Heavenly Father’s blessing to rid me of the tumor.
When I returned for my examination, the X-ray photos were blurred. Wanting to give the Lord plenty of time to heal me, I asked the doctor for an additional thirty days; I would have another full examination at the end of that time. The doctor again postponed scheduling the needed surgery.
After thirty days had passed, I underwent more tests. When the doctor was finished, I stated calmly, “It’s gone, isn’t it?”
Sadly, he answered, “It is not.”
All I could do was cry. The tumor was even larger than it had been two months earlier. I could not understand why the Lord had not responded to my faithful prayers for help and healing. The doctor scheduled the necessary surgery, and the tumor was successfully removed.
Gradually, as I have pondered that experience, I have come to realize that the Lord did love me and watch over me, but in his way, not mine. I also understand how fortunate I was to sense something wrong and have the tumor removed before it could grow around my heart or into my lungs. I came to see that God is mindful of each of us and cares about our welfare.