A Family for Peter
One evening when my son Peter was only seven weeks old, I sat rocking him in our living room. I was telling him what a beautiful and precious little boy he was when a question came to my mind: “Who would you want to rear this child if you couldn’t do it yourself?”
“Hmmm,” I thought. “I would choose a loving family who had peace and harmony in their home. They would love and encourage him and help build his self-esteem. Even when they were annoyed, they would speak in quiet tones. They would also be honest in both word and deed. I would want Peter to feel comfortable and secure with them.
“Yes,” I thought, “I would want such a family to love him and to help and encourage him as they reared him in the gospel.”
Then a second thought came clearly to my mind, almost as if Heavenly Father had spoken to me: That’s how I felt as I passed this little spirit into your care.
I knew then how our loving heavenly parents must feel as they give their children to us to rear in mortality. I realized, too, how precious each child is to them just as my children are to me.
As I reviewed in my mind the parenting traits I would look for, I felt humbled, for I knew that I would often fall short. But I also felt a sense of great joy as I promised my Heavenly Father that I would try hard to be the kind of mother he would have me be.
Flying Blind at 100 MPH
On a cold winter morning in January 1992 I went to the airport in Provo, Utah, and signed out a Cessna 172, which I planned to fly over the mountains to nearby Heber City. Assured that the plane was in good working order and that the weather wouldn’t be a problem, I pushed in the throttle and the plane lifted off the runway.
I felt the usual excitement I experienced whenever I fly. When I was above Provo, I turned the plane toward Provo Canyon and climbed to about 8,500 feet and leveled off. The weather report had stated that the sky was overcast with mild northerly winds, but I could see that the blanket of clouds was dropping closer to my altitude.
Before long I could see the airport in Heber just ahead, so I lined up and prepared to land. After landing, I shut the plane down and went to get something to eat. As I ate, I noticed that the sky was rapidly becoming much darker than before. The clouds began to look ominous, and I was concerned about the sudden change in weather.
I decided to take off immediately and to try to get home quickly despite the worsening weather—a decision I was soon to regret. The wind had picked up, and tiny raindrops accumulated on my windshield as I taxied toward the runway. I was beginning to feel very anxious to get back to Provo. Any small plane is at the mercy of the weather, especially in clouds and storms. Even if I had the training to fly through such weather, the airplane I was flying that day did not have the instruments needed for a flight through clouds.
Lifting off the runway at Heber, I noticed that the cloud ceiling was dropping fast. Because the surrounding mountains were covered with storm clouds, I would have to fly through Provo Canyon instead of over it. As I headed into the canyon, however, I found that it was blocked by clouds and filled with snow showers.
Frantically I turned the airplane back toward Heber so I could wait out the storm there, but I saw nothing but thick clouds and snow showers. Heber was no longer in sight! Never had I been so scared. I was traveling blind at more than 100 miles per hour with nowhere to land. I was boxed in, and death seemed certain.
As I sat there in shock, an eerie silence enclosed me despite the engine’s steady rumbling. Snow fell on my windshield, and I could see ice crystals forming on the wing struts. It was all I could do to keep the wings level and stay in control of the airplane. I was terrified, but suddenly I recalled a painting in my room back home. It was of a boy piloting a ship in rough seas. Standing behind him with a hand on the boy’s shoulder was Jesus Christ, who was guiding him through the storm. The image reminded me that I needed divine help. I bowed my head and, with one eye shut and the other on my instruments, prayed for help. I asked Heavenly Father to help me somehow find a way out of my desperate situation.
Finishing my prayer, I felt a complete calm come over me; I no longer felt alone. I turned the plane again toward the canyon, and ahead of me a tiny patch of blue sky opened up through the clouds. I pushed in full throttle and raced to make it through the opening to Provo. As I traveled through the canyon, the hole in the clouds slowly closed behind me.
Just ahead I saw the Provo airport through the clouds. I no longer was worried, because I knew Heavenly Father was watching over me. I managed a smooth landing just as the wind picked up and the storm descended with a fury.
I would not have made it through that situation without divine help. Though I had erred by ignoring obvious signs of possible disaster, the Lord was merciful in answering my prayer in my time of great need. That experience strengthened my testimony of prayer and reminded me in a powerful way to do all I can to avoid danger by exercising good judgment and being sensitive to spiritual promptings.
The Faceless Man
I was visiting my father in Cagnes-sur-Mer in the south of France, and he was showing me photographs of my relatives in an old, dusty album. As we came to a faded group photo with a man’s face cut out of it, I stopped him from turning the page. “Who was that?” I asked.
“My grandfather, your great-grandfather,” he replied. He looked off into the distance and shook his head. “I’m sorry to say I don’t know much about him—I don’t know what he looked like, and I don’t even know his first name.”
Although my father’s last name, Ramognino, is Italian, he was born in France, as I was. I had lived in the heart of Paris for the first 23 years of my life. And so it was with interest that I asked about this faceless man, my great-grandfather, who was Italian.
My grandfather had cut the face out of the photograph because he hated my great-grandfather for leaving his family. Up to the day he died several months before I looked in the album, my grandfather refused to say anything about this man to his children.
Father told me as much as he knew: My great-grandfather was a native of northern Italy and had immigrated to France as a young man, married a beautiful young French girl, and had three sons. Then one day he left his home and family, never to return. No one knows why, and no one knows where he went. His brokenhearted sons, especially my grandfather, grew up resenting their father.
Though Dad had tried to find his grandfather, his efforts were in vain. Relatives mentioned he had blue eyes and was very tall—six feet seven inches—which was particularly unusual for an Italian. On two occasions, 40 years earlier, my father had learned that a “tall Italian” had been in the area and had inquired about him. Later he became convinced that the man must have been his grandfather.
I left France that year feeling a little sad because my father never even had a chance to see his grandfather. I was determined to do all I could to find him myself.
This was difficult, however, for all the people connected with him had either died or refused to say anything about him.
Ironically, I was able to find out my great-grandfather’s full name because of my grandfather’s death. I knew my grandfather’s death certificate would have my great-grandfather’s full name on it, but I didn’t know which district in Paris would have the certificate on file. There are 20 districts in Paris, and though it seemed to be an arduous task, I began the search. I wrote to all 20 district courthouses asking if they had the death certificate, but I received negative responses from all of them. Then I decided to visit each one personally the next time I went to France, just in case a clerk had been careless.
Several years later, when I went to Paris to visit relatives, I continued the search for my great-grandfather. I traveled 600 miles from Paris to interview my father again, and this time he seemed to think my grandfather had died in the 15th district. But that district had already replied negatively to my written request. So I returned to Paris and, with some reluctance, decided to go to the 15th district courthouse. I didn’t expect to find anything because I had already visited several other courthouses with no success.
While my husband photographed a small park nearby, I went inside the building. Minutes later I rushed outside and ran down the steps, waving a piece of paper. “I found him, I found him!” I shouted to Don. “His name is Nicolas—Nicolas Ramognino!”
Later we felt my great-grandfather’s presence in the temple when my husband was baptized and confirmed for him. We felt so close to him we named our next son Stewart Nicolas.
I still don’t know the details of what happened to the faceless man in the photograph and why he left his family suddenly, never to be heard from again. But the spirit of the gospel, and my enthusiasm for finding my ancestors beyond the veil, has filled my heart with love for my great-grandfather. My husband and children value him as part of our eternal family, and we will always remember his name.
Pray before You Go
Many years ago a Relief Society president greatly influenced my understanding of visiting teaching. She was an energetic, silver-haired grandmother who left no doubt about the way she felt about visiting teaching. I can still recall her standing before the Relief Society sisters, saying, “I don’t think we realize the importance of visiting teaching. I challenge each of you to pray before your visits this month. This is part of your calling and should be done with your companion.” Her voice was firm but filled with love. I knew that what she said was true, and I vowed to follow her counsel.
Although my companion had not attended Relief Society that day, she readily agreed that prayer could only help us be better visiting teachers. So before we went visiting later that month, we prayed together that we might be guided to do and say the right things.
I had made the appointments and then phoned the sisters an hour before our visits to remind them we were coming. We were surprised when no one answered the doorbell at our first stop. Not wanting to waste time, we went to our second appointment. Again, no one answered. We traveled to our third sister and found the same results. Perplexed, we went back to the first home, and still no one came to the door. My companion and I were both disappointed and were at the point of returning home for the night when I felt a strong impression to go to an apartment where a young woman who was investigating the Church lived. I mentioned this to my companion, and she agreed it would be a good use of our time.
The investigator was in her mid-20s. She and her husband had recently separated, and she lived in a small apartment with her two-year-old son. Because of the lack of response we had met with at the other homes we’d visited, I was not surprised when no one answered our first knock. But I felt prompted to knock again, even though the small apartment was dark and the drapes were pulled tight.
After knocking a second time, I heard the shuffle of footsteps, and the door opened as far as the security chain allowed. I identified myself and asked if we could visit with her. She hesitated, then let us into her dimly lit apartment. It was evident she had been crying.
She walked to a small table and turned on a lamp. In a few minutes, she began to take us into her confidence and told us about the financial stress she was under, the challenges she faced as a single parent, and the anxiety she felt starting a new job. She also told us that her car had just broken down. After coming home from work that day, she felt very depressed, so she decided to pray as she had learned from the stake missionaries. “I asked Heavenly Father to help me and strengthen me. A few moments later you knocked on my door. I know that he sent you here tonight.”
Many years have passed since that experience. Because of it, I have always tried to pray either on my own or with my companion before setting out to do my visiting teaching. The testimony and challenge of that Relief Society president changed my vision of visiting teaching forever.
And what became of that young sister we found crying alone in the dark? She was baptized a member of the Church only a few weeks later. Shortly after that, she and her husband reconciled. It wasn’t long before they moved to California and we heard from her a few times again—once to tell us her husband was being baptized and again to let us know they were being sealed in the temple.
My Strength, My Weakness
I have loved words, books, and reading from the time I was small. I would wait for my older sister to come home from school with her first readers so I could crouch by her on the floor, hungrily watching her finger move across the page. After I learned to read, I devoured every book I could get my hands on. To this day I can pick up a book and disappear into it.
While this was a tremendous strength in my education, it could also be a weakness. I learned that if I had to be somewhere or do something, I must not walk through the bookstore. And if I did, I had better not pick up a book. Once I picked one up, often the next thing I’d hear would be the intercom announcing that the store was closing. I have read through many hours that I had something else to do, impatient with interruptions and oblivious to others’ needs. Although we don’t often think of the need to control our strengths, I learned that a strength could be a potential weakness unless I channeled and directed it properly.
Thankfully, the reverse of that is also true. Any weakness we find within ourselves can, with the Lord’s help, be refashioned into a strength. In Ether 12:27, the Lord says, “My grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”
Once, when agonizing over something very difficult, I told the Lord, “I can’t do this. I am not perfect.”
“But you want to be, don’t you?” the Spirit whispered, reminding me that in order to become like my Heavenly Father, I must master the very thing I was protesting. When we struggle prayerfully and diligently, the Lord will help us raise our weakness to power and properly direct our strengths.
Sharing Elijah’s Juniper Tree
I had had a difficult night. My joints, afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis, were hot and swollen, and it hurt even to breathe. The acute conditions had gone on for weeks, making sleep difficult, and on that Sunday morning I felt I could not go on, worn out from suffering.
Then my four-year-old son climbed in bed with me. “Tell me a story, Mommy,” he said.
I thought of the prophet Elijah sitting under the juniper tree, so I told my son his story. Elijah had called Israel and its king to repentance, but the king and his wife would not repent. Elijah called down fire from heaven that consumed the altars of the prophets of Baal. Queen Jezebel became very angry and swore to have him slain. Elijah fled alone into the wilderness and sat under a juniper tree. Tired and discouraged, he said, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life” (1 Kgs. 19:4).
Those words expressed how I felt that day—I had tried my best and had given my all; I too wanted the ordeal to be over. It is enough, I thought to myself.
Somehow I dressed and went to church, but sacrament meeting had scarcely begun when the pain in my hips made sitting in my wheelchair unbearable. In tears, I asked my husband to take me to the foyer.
As we sat there I told him the story of Elijah sitting under the juniper tree. I explained that after praying, Elijah fell asleep. Then an angel touched him and bade him eat the food set there for him. Elijah ate and drank, then slept again.
A deacon came through the door with a tray and offered us the bread of the sacrament.
A few moments passed, and then I continued in a hushed voice with Elijah’s story. A second time the angel came to Elijah. “Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee” (1 Kgs. 19:7). He did so and received strength enough to travel 40 days and 40 nights.
Soon the deacon returned. As I took the cup of water from the tray, a still, small voice spoke to my heart. Surely the Lord knew that the journey was too great for me and that I needed strength. Like Elijah’s heavenly feast, the bread and water the deacon offered would also sustain me. My feelings of weariness and despair departed, and they have never returned. I knew I could go on, in spite of the pain, for however long was necessary.
I am thankful for the Savior. Even though at times the journey may seem too long, I know that he is mindful of each of us and will give us strength to go forward.