Grandpa and the Marshmallows
I cannot think of the statement about turning “the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers” (see Mal. 4:6) without remembering my grandfather, Arvin Dean Nielson—a great man who fulfilled that vision in a quiet, unassuming way.
When we arrived at the candy counter, Grandpa typically had a pocketful of spare change, and it was my solemn duty to relieve him of its presence. Yet he could never be accused of spoiling a child when a firm hand was required. I remember being punished for climbing the forbidden oak tree on a dare and almost breaking my neck taking the gravitational shortcut down.
Grandpa lived in a small town in southern Alberta, Canada, where everyone knew everyone else. Every summer, I took on the identity of “Arvin’s granddaughter” with pride and trepidation. It seemed to me that the entire town watched my behavior. Naughty or nice, I remained nameless, but Grandpa’s name was a strong reminder of who I was and who I represented.
One particularly hot day in July, Grandpa found me sitting alone on the back porch, lost and forlorn. My older cousins had gone swimming at a distant water hole, and I had been left behind. Assessing the situation, Grandpa invited me to go fishing. Instantly, my face brightened as I took his outstretched hand.
I hummed to myself as I sat beside Grandpa in the car. He told me about a special spot that only he knew about, and I was delighted to be sworn to secrecy. But the magic wore off when we started fishing. The fish were not biting, and I was hungry—even if they were not. I grew restless. Grandpa smiled and nodded toward the tackle box. Inside were a couple of sandwich bags filled with tiny, colored marshmallows. Sitting on a rock, I happily finished the first bag and then, munching a few from the second, I made a discovery. “These aren’t any good any more.” I pulled a face. “They’re too old.”
Grandpa thought for a moment and then quietly said, “There is no such thing as ‘too old’—just a change in purpose.”
I watched him take the marshmallows from my hand and rebait his line. When he brought in a fine rainbow trout he said nothing, but I understood.
That day, he taught me an important lesson about life. Years later, he passed away. As I have reflected on his words, I have come to understand that there really is no such thing as ‘too old,’ and often, I have felt the quiet strength of a new change of purpose in life.
I Learned to Lead
When a counselor in the bishopric issued me the call to serve as ward music director, I explained that I did not have musical skills or a good singing voice. Neither he nor I understood the responsibilities involved, and he felt that the job would be mostly administrative, a matter of choosing hymns and arranging for musical numbers for sacrament meeting. I felt certain I could handle the calling.
A few days after I accepted, however, Sister Marchant, the stake music director, telephoned to arrange for my orientation. I didn’t see any need to be trained for my small responsibility, but I agreed to meet with her.
As I sat dumbfounded, she explained that I needed to take music conducting classes so I could lead the music in sacrament meeting. Then it got worse—she also asked me to organize a ward choir. And still worse—she asked me to plan on attending a nearby university’s music workshop that summer.
I explained to her that I didn’t know the difference between leading music and hailing a cab, that I couldn’t tell a soprano from a tenor, and that attending a music workshop with talented musicians would be the most humiliating experience of my life.
In reply, Sister Marchant promised me that if I would accept the challenges of the calling instead of just doing the minimum, I would be blessed with growth in many ways.
As I drove home, I still worried that music was not my thing. I felt the Holy Spirit so strongly, however, that I decided I must do as she asked.
Though both my husband, Bob, and I lack musical talent, we were blessed with children who have musical ability. Our 13-year-old son, Michael, suggested to me that if I could learn to speak Spanish, then I could learn to lead music. I sat on the couch listening halfheartedly as he spoke of quarter rests, fermatas, note values, and timing.
Suddenly, however, it was as if a veil were taken from my eyes, and I thought I understood. Could it be? It seemed so easy! While Michael played hymns on the piano for me, I carved out musical time patterns in the air. We practiced for half an hour. When we came to “O My Father,” the triplet confused me at first glance, but again I was blessed with understanding, and I knew how to lead the music.
That spring, Sister Metter from the ward helped me hone my conducting skills. Day after day, I led the Mormon Tabernacle Choir—or at least their voices on tape—in “Battle Hymn of the Republic” in front of my bedroom mirror. Tears streamed down my cheeks when I finally perfected it. The first time I led the music in sacrament meeting, I was certain that my heart was pounding louder than the organ was playing, but I felt the sacredness of leading a congregation in musical worship of the Lord.
My next task was to form a ward choir after years of silence in the choir seats. Besides blessing us with his own voice, Bishop Barber helped me organize the choir. Not only did the choir contribute an inspiring unity of spirit to our sacrament meeting worship, but it unified my family musically: Bob joined the choir; our 17-year-old daughter, Laura, played the piano; and Michael was called as choir director.
Sister Sal, our ward organist, had been encouraging me to attend a Brigham Young University music workshop because she had found it so beneficial. Once again, the Spirit was stronger than my excuses. The workshop turned out to be a spiritual and intellectual highlight of my life as I increased my appreciation of how music can elevate us closer to the Lord. What I thought would be a humiliating experience became instead a humbling opportunity to learn. Afterwards, I began attending other music workshops. With King Benjamin, I came to hope that “my immortal spirit may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God” (Mosiah 2:28).
I know that we are called by the Lord to serve and bless others, but I feel that in this calling I received the greatest blessing. My newfound knowledge and appreciation of music has lifted my soul in worshiping the Lord. I am grateful to my bishop and to the Lord for the call that came despite my lack of musical skills. Like King David, “I will sing unto the Lord, because he hath dealt bountifully with me” (Ps. 13:6).
Two Precious Books
One day while my wife and I were serving in the Nigeria Aba Mission, my wife was giving organ lessons at our home to some branch members, when Elder Uwaifo and Elder Akagha brought an exuberant man to meet us. “You’re all angels!” he exclaimed. Tears were running down his face. “My joy is too much! God is too good!” We invited the man, Dr. Pius C. Ozoemena, to tell us his story.
In August of 1988, Dr. Ozoemena, a senior lecturer in physics at Anambra State University of Technology in Enugu, Nigeria, had received an invitation to attend professional meetings in Italy. During the course of these workshops, he often visited rooms set aside for meditation, where he would pray and read.
“On one of those occasions,” he recalled in an interview, “I scanned through the holy books on the reserved shelf and found, among others, two curious books: a triple combination of the scriptures and A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, by Elder LeGrand Richards of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. … Of all the books there, those two made the greatest impact on me. For the first time I read about religious truths that opened to my understanding certain ill-understood passages of scripture from the Bible.
“My excitement was so great that I paid to have both volumes photocopied and professionally bound. Because of the revelations contained in these books, I guarded them jealously upon my return to Nigeria.
“For almost a year I read them faithfully and compared their messages with other scriptural texts. Intuitively I knew that the messages were inspired.
“On 28 December 1989 I returned to my village to celebrate Christmastime, as is the custom among my people. There I met my cousin O. C. Ekufu, from Lagos, who had also returned to our village for Christmas.”
Dr. Ozoemena noticed his cousin no longer smoked or drank beer. When asked about it, his cousin told him he had joined a new church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Instantly my heart throbbed with joy,” said Dr. Ozoemena. “We hugged each other, and I related my own experiences to him and showed him my treasured volumes. He showed me many Church books he had brought with him from Lagos, including those that I had photocopied in Italy. I expressed my desire to join the Church, and he promised to help me get in touch with missionaries serving in Enugu, where I worked. I was overjoyed, for I did not know that the Church could be found outside of the United States.”
True to his promise, Brother Ekufu sent his cousin’s name and address to the Nigeria Aba Mission office. However, Dr. Ozoemena did not want to wait for someone to contact him and set off to search for the missionaries on his own. Despite the lack of a local address for them, he finally located the missionaries, who invited him to go with them to meet my wife and me. Our excitement was overwhelming.
Elder Uwaifo and Elder Akagha began visiting the Ozoemena family and taught them the gospel. Because his wife had recently given birth, Pius Ozoemena was baptized alone on 4 February 1990.
“This turned out to be a distinct blessing,” said Brother Ozoemena, “because later I was ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood and permitted to baptize my own wife into the Church!”
Due to some unusual circumstances, on the day of his baptism Brother Ozoemena was asked if he would substitute in the Gospel Doctrine class the following Sunday. Since he was not only a lecturer by profession but had also been studying the gospel in great depth for almost a year, he agreed, and soon after was called as the teacher.
“I have found in the revealed books of the Church a great and consistent design for salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ,” explains Brother Ozoemena. “Indeed, the path is narrow, and few are they who find it [see Matt. 7:14]. I am thankful to Heavenly Father that I have found the gospel! It is so true, and God is so good!”
Taming My Little Tempest
Several months after joining the Church, I was called to teach the five- and six-year-olds, a calling that perfectly matched my degree in early childhood education. The course of study focused on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Before beginning my assignment, however, I was required to take a teacher development course. I was rather disappointed because I felt that my educational background fully qualified me to teach. Through the course, however, I not only gained new insights to my chosen career, but I also learned how to teach by the power of the Holy Spirit.
One child in particular taught me a great lesson about following the Spirit in my teaching. He found it difficult to endure the length of the lessons and would share his discomfort by disrupting the whole class. Once, as we were discussing how Jesus had calmed the sea, I invited the chorister into my class to teach us a hymn I had discovered just weeks before: “Master, the Tempest Is Raging” (Hymns, no. 105). Like the storm referred to in the hymn, that child tempestuously raged until the chorister broke down in tears. I grabbed him and proceeded to give him quite a scolding in the hall. I wasn’t pleased with myself, knowing in my heart that Jesus would never have lashed out angrily in that situation.
Not knowing what to do, I reviewed my training materials again and again searching for clues. I prayed for guidance, fearing that my inadequacies might reflect negatively on Jesus Christ—the subject of our lessons. After one such fervent prayer, a specific thought entered my mind: Send a letter home praising good behavior. I thought about it and decided to give it a try.
The next week I explained to my class that those who could listen and participate attentively in class would have a letter sent home describing their virtues. All their eyes lit up, and each of them, including my little tempest, prepared to be honored.
In the next couple of weeks every child received a letter except, to my great disappointment, the one who was the reason behind my efforts and inspiration. He would try, but he could not get through a whole lesson without a problem. Week after week this occurred. I prayed for him, knowing that I had received divine inspiration. I encouraged him privately each week, reminding him how badly I wanted to send him that letter.
Finally it happened. Miraculously, he not only got through the lesson without disruption, but he even participated in the discussion. When the lesson ended, I excitedly told him of his great accomplishment. He smiled from ear to ear and walked out in triumph.
That night I created a veritable epistle praising him. Throughout the following week I smiled as I thought of his parents sharing that letter with him. The following Sunday, a new boy walked into class. He looked like my tempest of weeks past, yet he had confidence and self-discipline that continued for the rest of the time I knew him.
As I think of the fertile spiritual ground in which I was placed as a new convert, I have little trouble believing in the Master’s words to his disciples when he said, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3).
Would Rain Ruin Our Hay?
Just before dawn I sat down on the cold, hard seat of my old tractor, prepared to spend several long hours baling hay. It had been an unusually wet summer, and once again ominous black clouds blocked the rising sun. Our first and second crops of hay, which now stood in long, molding stacks of black bales, had not escaped the relentless rains. We desperately needed this third and last crop of the season to be dry, high-quality hay to feed our small dairy herd through the winter.
As the hours stretched toward noon, I noticed a wall of rain stretching along the entire southern end of our small valley, moving slowly toward our fields. A silent prayer filled my heart: Please let me finish baling before the rain comes!
I looked at the waiting hay and knew the rain was moving faster than I could bale. I continued to pray to the thump-thump of the baler as it moved down the rows of hay. My speed seemed slow compared to the quickly advancing storm. I shivered as I felt the first raindrops on my dust-covered face. I could not stop the inevitable.
Yet I knew he who had parted the Red Sea could part the clouds if it were his will. Perhaps I lacked faith. I stopped the tractor, knelt on the ground, and felt the comfort of the Holy Spirit flow through me as I prayed earnestly that I might be able to finish not only this field but also our entire crop of hay, which would take several more days. I asked that the rains might pass over our fields, and I thanked Father in Heaven for all of our blessings, including the blessing of dry hay.
As I closed my prayer and returned to the seat of the tractor, I still felt raindrops on my face. But my heart told me to trust in him and have faith. I revved up the engine and took off as fast as the bumpy field would allow. I was determined to beat the rain by sheer speed.
As the tractor bumped down the rows, a thought came to me: If you have faith, slow down. I reached for the gears to shift to a slower speed but hesitated. What difference does it make if I go fast or slow? I thought, so I remained in high gear.
Again, the thought came: If you have faith, slow down and trust the Lord. I reached for the gears, hesitated a moment, then shifted to a slower speed. As I did so, the rain stopped. I knew then that Heavenly Father had heard my humble prayer. A calmness filled my soul. I relaxed and methodically continued to bale hay while the storm moved around me. As I left the field to return home less than a mile away, I was drenched in rain pouring down around me.
The next day, a Sunday, I briefly wondered if I shouldn’t go to the fields and quickly bale more hay while it was still dry. But as I reflected on the immediate answer to prayer I had received the day before, I knew I did not need to be anxious. Instead, I honored the Sabbath day and offered up my thanks to Father in Heaven for his loving kindness. Monday morning I went out to finish baling dry hay.