“Take Upon You My Whole Armor”
One summer some time after my divorce, I felt my children and I were sinking under the weight of many challenges. I was working as well as attending school full-time, and I studied late into the night after caring for my children. It was a struggle for me just to provide food and clothes and maintain the house and yard, but on top of that my five children, who at the time ranged in age from 9 to 18, seemed to have major problems of their own that required extra help and patience.
Early one Saturday evening, I retired to my bedroom with heavy feet and a bitter heart. I felt abandoned and alone, with no help or insight to give me hope that things could soon improve.
I lay on my back and rested my arm over my eyes to block out the light. Silently praying for relief from the bottomless black pit we seemed to be falling into, I felt impressed to grab hold of the rod of God’s word by turning to the scriptures (see 1 Ne. 15:23–24).
In response to the prompting, however, I said out loud, “There is nothing in the scriptures that can help me with my problems in this day and age.”
When I felt the impression again stronger than before, I begrudgingly sat up and took the scriptures from my night table. I opened the pages at random to section 27 of the Doctrine and Covenants and began reading the first verse: “Listen to the voice of Jesus Christ, your Lord, your God, and your Redeemer, whose word is quick and powerful.”
These words got my attention; I was being directly told to listen to the words of the Lord. Quickly scanning the rest of the section, however, I didn’t see anything else that seemed to apply to my dilemma. I was about to turn to something else when I came to verse 15. As I read it, a warm feeling went from my head to my toes, the hair on my neck tingled, and my eyes filled with tears. “Wherefore, lift up your hearts and rejoice, and gird up your loins, and take upon you my whole armor, that ye may be able to withstand the evil day, having done all, that ye may be able to stand.”
This was my answer! By allowing despair to overcome me, I was not exercising my faith to clothe myself or my children in the whole spiritual armor of God.
Just as a knight clothes himself in armor before a joust, I recognized that I needed to wear the armor of God to protect me in my spiritual battles with temptation and adversity (see D&C 27:16–18).
I contemplated being covered head to foot with that armored protection. With the guidance of the Lord Jesus Christ and his Spirit, I was better able to focus my faith and battle with feelings of bitterness and despair or other fiery darts that assailed my spirit. Even today, I continue to find reassurance that we are not left alone to withstand the adversary. Through praying, finding guidance and answers for our day in the scriptures, striving to live the principles of the gospel, and putting our faith and trust in God and his Son, we can put on the whole armor of God and endure to the end with strength and power.
Finding Aunt Ida’s Church
Elisabeth Charlotte Echelmeyer was little more than a girl when she married Willi Schmaal, a German soldier, on 17 November 1944. Tragically, he would be sent to one of World War II’s battlefronts, where in a few short months he would die in one of that conflict’s countless campaigns.
For seven years Elisabeth thought of her young husband but with no hope that she ever would see him again. Then, one fateful morning, she awoke wondering if what she had experienced during the night was truly just a dream.
“I found myself in a beautiful garden with exquisite trees and flowers,” she said. “I was barely able to comprehend anything so lovely on this earth. Before me I saw a large and luminous antique gate. When it opened, I saw my husband in his soldier’s uniform, looking as he did when I last saw him.
“In life he had never looked so wonderful as he did at that moment. When he saw me, he opened his arms wide and smiled with joy to welcome me. I tried to go to him, but then I woke up.”
As a result of this dream, Elisabeth determined for herself that there is life after death. This thought brought her great happiness but created questions in her mind. Her one solace was to read the Bible, but still something seemed to be missing.
One Sunday morning Elisabeth saw Ida Korth, her husband’s aunt, on the street and asked her where she was going.
“To church,” was the reply.
Elisabeth suddenly remembered something her husband had once told her. “If I should be killed and not return from the war,” he had said, “get together with Aunt Ida, because she belongs to a special church.”
Sister Korth, a faithful Latter-day Saint and member of the Schwerin Branch in Berlin, invited Elisabeth Schmaal to accompany her to the day’s meetings.
“During the first meeting,” Elisabeth said, “I heard Sister Edith Lemke speak about baptisms for the dead. I had never heard of such a thing before and was made happy and joyful to know of the eternity the Lord has prepared for his faithful children. My dream and the things I learned that day about the gospel of Jesus Christ, as the Latter-day Saints taught it, prepared me for baptism. I became a member of the Church on 19 September 1952.”
In 1994, during their temple week, Elisabeth invited fellow branch members to come to her home, recalls Ursula Schwarz, a member of the Schwerin Branch. The visitors were surprised to find that Elisabeth had decorated her table as if for a celebration. She explained the importance of the occasion. That day in the Freiberg Germany Temple she had participated in the sealings of many of her deceased ancestors, some of whom she had known quite well. Her joy in being able to do so was evident.
“I felt a particularly strong spirit today,” she said, “not just because I was doing the Lord’s work but because today is my 50th wedding anniversary.”
As she looked from one guest to another, she said, “Fifty years ago, when I got married in the midst of that terrible war, I wore a pretty blue dress. Today, on my golden wedding anniversary, I am grateful that I could wear my beautiful white temple dress. I’m grateful that I am sealed to my husband.
“Today I am the golden bride,” she said. “My husband is the golden bridegroom. I hope you’ll excuse him for not being here. He’s on a mission in the spirit world. And part of his mission was to lead me to Aunt Ida and her special church.”
“M” Is for “Mormon”
Nine-thirty Sunday morning found me standing at the bottom of the stairs leading to the room where the Mormons met. No one was in sight, and no sound could be heard. I was filled with trepidation. Who were these people? What were their beliefs? Nervous, I turned to leave but was stopped when I felt a warm glow of peace and assurance fill me.
I had been brought to this point by my firm desire to find God’s church. In 1957, at age 19, just after my discharge from the Royal Air Force Police, I returned to Southport, Lancashire, England, to live with my parents. One day when I returned home from work, I was informed that two American Mormon missionaries had visited the house but had been turned away. I had never heard the word Mormon before but felt a strong desire to find out more about them.
That evening I looked up Mormon in the dictionary. The entry said it was a nickname for members of a religion headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah. Later that night I prayed to Heavenly Father and asked if it was right for me to investigate this religion that seemed new and strange to me. I felt a burning within, and an overwhelming sense of peace came over me. I decided to seek out and attend this new church the following Sunday.
So there I stood at the bottom of the stairs. I knew I had to go up and find out whatever I could. I climbed the stairs and entered the room. No one was there, so I looked around. I saw a lesson manual on a nearby table, and, filled with curiosity, I began flipping through the pages. I was determined to leave quietly if I found strange and unacceptable teachings inside those pages. However, I could see nothing unusual, so I sat and waited until the services began.
During the service I was impressed by the spirit of the meeting, its simplicity, and the friendliness of the people. The missionaries happily made an appointment to come and teach me. I was eager to hear more.
The elders told me about the gospel of Jesus Christ; I believed it. They told me about Church meetings; I attended. They explained the Word of Wisdom to me; I kept it. They taught me about tithing; I paid it. The discussions could not come quickly enough for me. I hungered for the things being taught, and I pressed for baptism.
Finally I was baptized and felt infinitely closer to my Heavenly Father. A journey that began by looking up Mormon in the dictionary has brought me to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am ever grateful for being guided to the truth.
Why Had I Come Home?
It was a busy morning, and I was especially pleased that I was dropping off the last of my children at preschool on time because I had so many tasks on my to-do list. I felt confident that if I hurried I could do most of my errands before I had to return and pick up my child.
As I headed toward my first stop, I had an overwhelming impression to go home. I couldn’t think of any reason to do so and continued on the errand. While en route to my second stop, I again sensed a strong need to return home. I reordered my list of errands and decided to stop by the market, then drive home and check on the house while dropping off groceries.
As I shopped I again felt an urgency to go home immediately. Suddenly I realized these persistent thoughts were not just some unfounded anxiety but a prompting I should heed immediately. I rushed out of the store with my groceries and sped home, wondering if one of the children had been hurt at school or if the house was on fire. I was relieved as I rounded the street corner to see that the house appeared okay, and my relief was even greater when I listened to our phone messages to find all was well.
Feeling suddenly foolish, I went outside to unload the groceries so I could finish my errands. As I was carrying armloads of groceries into the house, I heard a strange sound I could not identify. I set the groceries down and went back outside, but the sound had stopped. As I was going inside with a second load, I heard a strange, pain-filled sound. I put down the groceries and decided to investigate. The sound seemed to come from down the street, so I headed that way.
Suddenly I realized someone was calling for help! I ran down the street and found Helen, a neighbor in her 90s, lying on her driveway in a puddle of cold water that had formed from a spraying hose she held in her hand. There were insects crawling on her, and I realized with a sinking heart that she had been there quite a while. She was begging for help but couldn’t remember what had happened. I turned off the hose, ran into her house, called 911 for help, then grabbed some towels to dry her off while we waited for help.
When the paramedics arrived, they determined that Helen had suffered a stroke and asked how long ago it had happened. Helen couldn’t remember, but I had an idea that it might have been the moment when I dropped off my son at the preschool and received the first prompting to return home. Nervously I told them the time I thought it might have happened, hoping they would not ask me how I knew. However, they just wrote down the time and transported Helen to the hospital.
It was two weeks before my neighbor was able to return home. She was grateful for my help, but I regretted I had not been more receptive to the strong impressions I had received and come to her aid sooner. I am grateful Heavenly Father was patient with me until I listened and obeyed. Certainly Helen’s call for help was the most important item on my to-do list that day!
I Felt Humble beside Him
On a mild winter day in February, when I was 10 years old, my mother was rushed to the hospital to deliver my brother several weeks before his due date.
That afternoon I wandered into my parents’ bedroom. Noticing the bare white cradle at the foot of the bed, I laced a yellow ribbon around its edges and tied a bow on top. Then I began to explore drawers full of tiny baby things: pure-white diapers, flannel receiving blankets, hand-me-down nightgowns, and a package of new undershirts.
At one point I discovered a small red football jersey. As I held it up, I daydreamed about how my little brother would grow up, play games with neighborhood boys, and later move on to things like football. Feeling a thrill of pride, I imagined myself teaching him everything a big sister could. I could hardly wait for him to grow up.
Rick was an uncommonly good baby. We all seemed to revolve around him. Whenever he would cry in his weak, high-pitched little voice—which wasn’t very often—we would all race to comfort him. For the first few weeks, we stood in line to feed him, but the novelty soon wore off because it took him so long to eat. He always seemed too sleepy to care about eating.
As summer approached, Mom seemed to spend more and more time with the baby. I didn’t mind the extra work around the house, but I dreaded feeding little Rick. Listless and unwilling to support his own body weight, he put a heavy strain on my arms. When I propped him up to burp him, I could feel the entire weight of his drooping head against my neck.
I could sense, even at my young age, that it was becoming a battle to keep Rick alive. He seemed too weak and fatigued to respond to our attentions. With each passing day, we became more aware of the shadow enveloping our household.
One Sunday afternoon my mother held the baby in the rocking chair and wept. Dad stood by and placed a tender hand on her heaving shoulder. We children were sent to church without them, but I could not concentrate on worshiping. That evening, after Mom had put the baby to bed, I impulsively took her hand and asked, “Mom, what’s wrong with Rick?”
Mom flashed a helpless look at Dad, and they gathered us around the sofa. Mom’s voice was tender as she began to explain Down’s syndrome. My parents seemed relieved to be talking openly about Rick’s condition. They told us that he was a very special spirit.
Later I went alone to the bedroom to look at the baby, wondering how he would seem to me after what I had learned. I pushed the bedroom door open and drew my breath in sharply—I was afraid. I approached the crib and looked down at the tiny figure nestled inside.
As I watched him, I could feel the confusion and fear begin to leave me. Rick was helpless and listless, yet I could sense that he was a choice child of God. I realized that a strong spirit of God was with him. Suddenly I felt small and humble beside him.
As Rick grew, he brought joy to our home. We pampered and adored him. We laughed over his little mishaps and rejoiced over his small performances and accomplishments. Sometimes we misunderstood him, but even those times brought our family closer together.
Rick is an adult now. His purity, innocence, and complete faith and trust continue to bring us joy. We don’t love Rick for his wits, talents, or abilities, nor do we glory in his accomplishments or worldly stature. Rick merits our love simply because he is himself; as a member of our family, he is unique and precious in our sight. This, I suppose, is much like the love our Father in Heaven has for us—and the love we should have for one another.