I Was Afraid to Ask
In the two years since I’d been baptized into the ward in Hammond, Louisiana, I very quickly came to accept the members as a warm, loving extended family. I was certain things would be the same in my new home in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
My first Sunday at church I noticed the similarity in the two meetinghouses. Then another realization hit me abruptly: the building was familiar, the faces were not. While I was greeted warmly by a number of people, my heart still ached for my former friends. When the organist began playing the opening song, I couldn’t join in the singing. Rita is supposed to be playing, I thought miserably. And Sandi is supposed to be leading!
I held onto my homesickness, knowing most of the problem was mine, not theirs. My attendance became spotty. One evening I knelt to say my evening prayers. I wanted to ask Father in Heaven for help in getting out of that lonely rut. But I was afraid to ask because I knew I hadn’t done my full share. So there I knelt, unable to pray, salty tears running down my cheeks. How I missed my old friends!
Unknown to me, a language barrier threatened to divide the sisters in Relief Society. It had been the custom for English-speaking sisters to meet in one room and Spanish-speaking sisters to meet in another. However, the leaders felt impressed that it was time for all of the sisters to meet together.
Since I had missed church that week, I didn’t know about the changes. However, I learned of the change when I was invited to give the next lesson in Relief Society. Because I had always enjoyed teaching, I readily agreed. After hanging up, I began to worry about the lesson topic and if I could do it justice. Then the phone rang again.
“I forgot to ask before, but do you speak Spanish?” asked Lynne, who had just called a moment before.
I admitted I did, although it had been many years since I’d spoken the language and my skills had become very rusty. Lynne must have missed that last part because she began bubbling with excitement about having a teacher who could give the lesson in two languages at once!
Later I knelt in prayer and poured out my heart to Heavenly Father. I don’t know the gospel-related words, I cried silently. And I’ve forgotten so much!
Very gently two images came into my mind: a Spanish-English dictionary and the bilingual missionaries. Of course! I could look up new words and get the gospel-related ones from the missionaries!
From that point on, preparing the lesson was a marvelous experience. I carefully listed the new Spanish vocabulary words I might need on a sheet of paper to keep by me during the lesson. When the time arrived, I decided to shift back and forth, teaching one concept in English, then in Spanish, keeping the two groups more or less parallel.
It worked! The carefully prepared lesson was a joy to present, and I saw in the faces of the sisters a warm response. We managed to have discussions in both languages, and somehow everybody seemed to follow along. I looked at these sisters and thought, We are sisters in Zion. We are one in purpose.
After that meeting I was surrounded by new friends eagerly greeting me in both languages. Heavenly Father had answered a prayer that I couldn’t bring myself to utter. I know now that he hears not only our words but also our heartfelt desires. And because he heard and answered my unspoken prayer, I’m not a stranger anymore.
Ten Thousand Hatching Chicks
One evening 20 years ago the Teton River in Idaho rampaged over its ice-filled bed and pounded wildly at our hatchery building and coops where 10,000 baby chicks were waiting to hatch. Water began to seep under ill-fitting doors and come up through sewer drains in the floor. My husband, Cal, was dismally putting his whole effort into keeping an incubator fan running in the room where the baby chicks were hatching.
After the power went off, Cal and I traded off turning the large fan by hand. Cal was suffering from terminal lung conditions and should not have been doing such work, but all of the hired help had gone home for the evening, and the two of us were left alone to fight the flooding water. After working long hours into the night, we were worn out, but things continued to worsen. I began to fear the floodwaters would get so high that I’d lose not only the chicks but Cal also. I knew my fears were getting out of hand.
I began praying. I told Heavenly Father how tough business was, how our hatching season was just getting a good start, how we needed hatching eggs from these particular breeders, and how we’d done everything in our power to save the business from being flooded.
Then, much to our surprise, Ray Ricks, an acquaintance from nearby Sugar City, came into the building. It was nearly 1:00 A.M. He glanced around and, without a word, cheerfully began working to combat the flooding water, which was about four inches deep and rising. He sandbagged openings with 100-pound bags of wheat and chick feed. Swiftly he poured wheat into drain openings, where the wheat began to swell and keep water from coming up. Then he began turning the fans. Throughout the night the water continued to rise slowly in the hatchery, but Ray’s strength and confidence inspired us to keep going.
Finally the water crested, and, with icy water above my knees, I moved cautiously through the hatchery and into our little apartment. Exhausted, I went upstairs and sank to my knees in grateful prayer. I wanted to cry. I was overcome with gratitude for this wonderful man who had come to our aid and helped us save our 10,000 chicks. Somewhere a cock crowed, and I realized we had worked throughout the night.
Later we learned that Ray Ricks had been driving through the flooding areas to see if anyone needed assistance. He had been impressed to stop and help us, a family he hardly knew. How grateful we were for his response. His help saved our business and possibly our lives. I know Father in Heaven hears and answers our prayers and that many times those answers come through the efforts of others.
The Little Bottle of Water
I was on a ferryboat traveling between the Asian and European ports in Istanbul, Turkey. As the boat was about to depart, an elderly man carrying a meager lunch of a roll and some water in a plastic bottle sat down on the empty bench beside me. Watching the other boats in the harbor, I paid scant attention as he set down his roll and picked up the little bottle of water.
After a few minutes I realized he hadn’t yet begun to drink but was busily wiping the neck and top of the bottle. His efforts to clean the bottle struck me as a little amusing, if not a waste of time. Just when I thought he would be satisfied, he withdrew a ragged handkerchief from his pocket and proceeded to clean the bottle again. Suddenly the bottle slipped from his grasp and clattered to the deck. I leaned over to retrieve it for him, but he picked it up first. Now turned in his direction, I wondered if he would start the whole cleaning ritual over again.
Suddenly I saw and understood something I had missed before. Both of the man’s hands were badly deformed, with knobby stubs where his fingers should have been. The bottle’s tab opener was too small and tightly sealed for him to grab. He had spent all this time just trying to open his small bottle of water!
Quickly I leaned toward him and, in what little Turkish I knew, asked him if I could be of help. In spite of my bad grammar, he understood and gratefully handed me the bottle. It took me several moments to pry open the cap, for the little plastic tab eluded my fingers time and time again. At last I opened the bottle and handed it back to him. Then I quietly turned a bit to give him privacy while he ate his lunch.
The expression on my face was no longer one of amusement but one of disappointment in myself. A scripture came vividly to my mind about Samuel the prophet, who had sought to know whom to anoint as king and was told that “the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). Though my circumstances differed from Samuel’s, the words pierced my heart. I had assumed my vision was clear when in fact I had been blind to someone’s need.
Although the man may have forgotten that one small incident, it stands clear in my memory today as a lesson to me on judging others unrighteously. I thank our Heavenly Father for his teachings and the opportunity we have on this earth to learn from our errors, to repent, and to grow in spirit and in love.
What about Abstinence?
I was holding a notice from my 13-year-old son’s school announcing a special parents’ meeting to preview the new course in human sexuality. Parents could examine the curriculum and take part in an actual lesson presented exactly as it would be given to the students.
When I arrived at the school I was surprised to discover only about a dozen parents there. And I was the only Latter-day Saint father. As we waited for the presentation to begin, I thumbed through page after page of instructions in the prevention of pregnancy or disease. I searched for the word abstain and any related words but found the idea of abstinence mentioned only in passing.
When the teacher arrived with the school nurse in tow, she asked if there were any questions before she began. I asked why abstinence did not play a noticeable part in the lesson material.
What happened next was shocking. I was verbally assailed by the other parents. “How stupid are you?” one sneered. “Idiot!” someone else muttered. There was a great deal of laughter, and someone suggested if I thought abstinence had any merit, I should go back to burying my head in the sand.
Through it all, the teacher and the nurse said nothing as I drowned in a sea of embarrassment. My mind had gone blank in the unexpected attack, and I could think of nothing to say.
The teacher explained to me that the job of the school was to teach “facts,” and the home was responsible for moral training. I sat in silence for the next 20 minutes as the course was explained. The other parents seemed to give their unqualified support to the materials presented.
“Donuts at the back,” announced the teacher during the break. “And since we’re all getting along so well, I’d like you to put on the name tags we have prepared—they’re right by the donuts—and mingle with the other parents and get to know them.”
Everyone dutifully stood and moved to the back of the room. As I watched them affixing their name tags and shaking hands, I sat deep in thought. I was ashamed that I had not been able to come up with an argument that would convince them to include a serious discussion of abstinence in the lesson materials. I uttered a silent prayer for guidance.
My thoughts were interrupted by the teacher’s hand on my shoulder. “Won’t you join the others, Mr. Layton?” The nurse smiled sweetly at me. “The donuts are good.”
“Thank you, no,” I replied.
“Well, then, how about a name tag? I’m sure the others would like to meet you.”
“Somehow I doubt that,” I replied.
“Won’t you please join them?” she coaxed.
Then I heard a still, small voice whisper, “Don’t go.” The instruction was unmistakable. “Don’t go!”
“I think I’ll just wait here,” I said.
When the class was called back to order, the teacher looked around the long table and thanked everyone for putting on their name tags. She ignored me. Then she said, “Now we’re going to give you the same lesson we’ll be giving your children. Everyone please peel off your name tags.”
I watched in silence as the tags came off.
“Now, then, on the back of one of the tags I drew a tiny flower. Who has it, please?”
The gentleman across from me held it up. “Here it is!”
“All right,” she said. “The flower represents disease. Do you recall with whom you shook hands?”
He pointed to a couple of people. “Very good,” she replied. “The handshake in this case represents intimacy. So the two people you had contact with now have the disease.” There was laughter and joking among the parents. The teacher continued, “And who did the two of you shake hands with?”
The point was well taken, and she explained how this lesson would show students how quickly disease was spread.
“Since we all shook hands, we all have the disease, and there is no escaping that fact.”
It was then I heard the still, small voice again. “Speak now,” it said, “but be humble.” I noted wryly the latter admonition, then rose from my chair. I apologized for any upset I might have caused earlier, congratulated the teacher on an excellent lesson that would impress the youth, and concluded by saying I had only one small point I wished to make.
“Not all of us were infected,” I said simply. “One of us … abstained.”
Years ago when I was in California studying English in a program for international students, I worked at a fast-food restaurant. Nearly every day brought the same routine: go to work, go to school, go home. I was feeling lonely and sad, especially because my grandfather had just passed away back home in Mexico.
I remember one cold, rainy morning very clearly. It seemed no customers would come into the restaurant for breakfast that day. But every morning the same old man came to eat breakfast, and this morning was no different. He always seemed so lonely and sad. Many times I had felt the desire to talk with him but always hesitated because he wasn’t very friendly. Yet I sensed that behind his grumpy, cold exterior and attitude of indifference there was a very special person.
That day I decided to go to his table and simply wish him good morning. To my surprise, he acted very nice. He asked me what made me feel so happy. I didn’t know what to say, but I remember telling him he reminded me of my grandfather whom I loved so much. My grandfather had recently passed away, I said, and even though I felt sad, I knew he was in a very special place and that someday I would see him again. Then I asked my new acquaintance if I could call him grandpa too. I still remember “Grandpa Ben’s” sweet expression and his beautiful eyes full of tears. He smiled and told me that he was happy that I wanted to call him that.
The months passed, and every time he came in for breakfast we chatted. Often our conversations turned to gospel topics, allowing me to share with him what I believed. I enjoyed his company, and I began to love him as if he were my real grandpa.
The time came for me to return home. Seeing Grandpa Ben in the grocery store one afternoon, I never felt so sad, as his tender eyes filled with tears when I told him I needed to go home because I had finished school. I hugged him and gave him a kiss on the cheek. He told me he would never forget me. I started to cry and hugged him once again.
The morning before I left, I decided to go to the restaurant. I knew Grandpa Ben would be eating his breakfast, and I wanted to say good-bye and give him a cassette tape called Our Heavenly Father’s Plan. He was there, and I gave him the tape. I told him I hoped the tape could help him find the way to real happiness.
After I returned to Mexico, we wrote often. It was wonderful to see how much love the once grumpy man expressed in his letters. After a while, however, I stopped hearing from him. Many times I prayed to Heavenly Father so I could get an answer to the letters I’d sent to Grandpa Ben. Finally one morning the mailman brought a letter from a person whose name I did not recognize. As I read the letter I started to cry. Grandpa Ben had passed away. His last desire was that his wife write me a letter telling me how much he loved me and how much happiness my company and letters had brought to his life. His wife also told me that he had spent hours listening to the tape I gave him and that he had always talked about me as his real granddaughter.
I still have his words, advice, and his sweet face in my heart. I feel grateful to Heavenly Father for the wonderful opportunity to know this special man and for helping me look past his grumpy exterior to his kind heart. Meeting that wonderful man blessed my life.