“My Hands in Thine”

After Laurie Whitehead lost everything she owned in a 1978 fire, she asked herself, “Am I doing what the Lord wants me to do?” After much prayer and thought, this divorced mother of five grown children decided to leave her job to paint full-time. Convinced that it is never too late to develop a talent, she dedicated her efforts to the Lord, saying, “My hands in thine, Lord. It all comes from thee.”

Unlike most freelance artists, Sister Whitehead was soon able to support herself through her art. After only six years, she was recognized by the International Art Appraisers as a master fine artist. However, in 1987 a tremor in her left hand caused by brain damage from an earlier case of meningitis progressed to her right hand, leaving her unable to paint. Surgeons finally had to perform brain surgery, which wiped out Sister Whitehead’s motor-system memory and forced her to relearn everything. “During the period I was totally incapacitated,” she says, “my creativity was greatly expanded. I truly feel God just wasn’t finished with me yet.”

In 1990 Sister Whitehead, who was not yet a member of the Church, received a commission to honor the 500-year anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the New World. As she researched in Spain, she realized that Columbus had acted under direct inspiration from God.

In January 1995 Sister Whitehead had to undergo another surgery to correct problems arising from an earlier bout with cancer. Her recovery was more difficult than anticipated, so her good friend—who was also the mayor of Sister Whitehead’s town of residence, Friendswood, Texas—called the Latter-day Saints to ask if they could help until family members arrived. Sister Whitehead was so overwhelmed by the spirit of the Relief Society sisters that she knew she wanted to take part. She was baptized in April 1995 and received her endowments in the Dallas Texas Temple a year later.

Sister Whitehead is particularly well known for her painting honoring those who died in the 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion, the proceeds from which she donated to the Challenger Center scholarship fund. She has demonstrated art and art techniques to more than 54,000 Texas schoolchildren, and she made children the central theme of a painting she did for the Texas state sesquicentennial. She has also completed paintings commemorating 200 years of manned flight in America, honoring nurses worldwide, and welcoming home Gulf War troops on behalf of the state of Texas. She is currently working on a painting honoring the 1847 arrival of the pioneers for Utah’s sesquicentennial next year.Marta Maxwell Bourgeois, Friendswood, Texas

Bound for Bosnia

When Carol Gray of Sheffield, England, saw images on television of Croatian and Bosnian women dragging their children to safety, she wept tears of frustration. “I knew I had to do something,” she says.

At the time, Sister Gray was president of her ward Relief Society, so she asked the sisters for help. Before long, members had collected 38 tons of food, milk, and winter clothes, which Sister Gray and some helpers took to war-torn Bosnia themselves. Since that first trip three years ago, she has returned to Croatia and Bosnia 21 more times to deliver medical and dental equipment and school supplies. She has also provided cows and chickens and arranged for surgeons to perform operations and teach.

“I know that doors and even the heavens have opened to help me,” Sister Gray says. Preparing for a trip to take Christmas presents to children in three orphanages, she realized the expedition lacked funds to cover some costs of the return trip. “But the children were waiting for us,” she recalls, “so I said we must use our faith.” When the convoy stopped in Germany, she was handed a brown envelope that she thought contained letters. However, when she opened the envelope later on the road, she found enclosed the exact number of deutsche marks needed to cover fuel costs.

Carol pours time and energy into this effort not only out of compassion for war victims but also because, as a cancer survivor, she has an increased appreciation for life. “When you are so close to death, and you’re spared, you live 24 hours in every day,” she says. Now she is presently preparing to assist with water supplies in Somalia and orphanages in Africa.

A Good Neighbor

My earliest memory of our next-door neighbor, 82-year-old Bill Croft, is when my daughter asked him if she could climb his fence to take a shortcut to her friend’s house.

“Fences can be painted and fixed,” he said, “but the memories of children climbing them passes by much too quickly. You can climb it as much as you like.”

But Bill went beyond simply giving my daughter permission to climb his fence. The next summer he asked if we would mind if he built a gate in the fence. “You design it, and I’ll build it,” he said. “I’m afraid your little girl might be getting worn-out pants and too many slivers.” Sure enough, a sturdy gate between our yards was soon in place.

Many other acts of kindness by Bill have benefited our family over the years. He has repaired our car, piano bench, bathroom faucet, and camping trailer. He has loaned us tools and shared his grass clippings for compost. A skilled metalworker, he built us a cart for our power tools as well as numerous “Hold to the rod” necklaces for me to hand out at Young Women camps.

Countless other people also benefit from Bill’s cheerful service. He works in the temple three times a week, passes out the program each week in sacrament meeting, and willingly teaches classes whenever he’s needed. He writes letters to missionaries and lifelong friends and offers financial support to good causes. Perhaps Bill is best known, however, for his service when it snows. Driving a small tractor equipped with a plow, he clears not only his own sidewalks and those of his immediate neighbors but also those within an entire two-block area. On snowy weekdays he first clears walkways used by schoolchildren, and on Sundays he clears the way to the meetinghouse first.

Though he is long retired from his work drilling rigs for Mountain Fuel and though his beloved wife has been gone some 20 years, Bill’s life still seems constantly full. “There’s no such thing as work,” he says. “I love everything I do, so it’s not work to me—it’s life. People should love what they do in life.”Sydnee Price Crockett, Orem, Utah

In the Spotlight

  • Violinist Ann Christensen of the Lake Oswego (Oregon) Ward has been chosen as an Artistic Ambassador. Under the sponsorship of the U.S. government, she is touring China, New Zealand, Taiwan, Korea, and Mongolia, where she will give performances, lectures, and classes featuring American composers. She is a member of the faculty at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, where she directs the chamber music program.

  • University of Michigan professor of sociology Arland Thornton was honored by the American Sociological Association with two awards for his book titled Social Change and the Family in Taiwan. One award recognized the book’s outstanding contribution to family studies, and the other award honored it as the year’s best book in social demography. A member of the Ann Arbor Ward, Ann Arbor Michigan Stake, Brother Thornton is a research scientist at the university’s Institute for Social Research and serves as associate director of the university’s Population Studies Center.

  • James R. Bradshaw, bishop of the Newmarket Ward, Brampton Ontario Stake, has been named president of Hallmark Canada. In his new position, he is responsible for marketing, sales, strategic planning, financial planning, and human resource functions at the large greeting-card company.