Early one Thursday morning in May, our large military jet rolled down the nearly two-mile-long runway for takeoff. Major Dick Legas, my friend and a fellow member of the Church, sat in the left seat. Behind us were 14 ROTC cadets out for an orientation flight and Major Gene Barton’s crew waiting for in-flight air refueling drills. As we lifted off the runway, I raised the landing gear of the four-engine jet. When we reached 206 knots airspeed—barely 10 knots above stall speed—I raised the flaps. Immediately there was a loud bang and the aircraft pulled sharply and began to pull to the right, then pitched and bucked violently.
Time seemed to stop. As the instructor, I handled the controls in an effort to right the stricken aircraft. Quickly I scanned the engine instruments. Number 4 engine had failed. A quick look out the right window confirmed an unbelievable sight—the 28-foot engine had exploded and was spewing pieces of hot metal into the sky and piercing the fuselage and wings of our fuel-laden aircraft.
I shut down the engine and tried to make the aircraft climb to get a larger safety margin. Since we had taken off with an extra-heavy fuel load for the mid-air refueling exercise, we needed to find a deserted area and climb to an altitude where we could safely get rid of nearly 45,000 pounds of extra fuel so it wouldn’t harm people or crops.
I was tiring quickly because I had been continuously fighting to keep the plane under control, all the time worrying that one of the hot engine pieces might hit a fuel tank and set us on fire. Finally we unloaded the fuel and headed for the runway. Luckily, the wind was light and right down the runway, which meant I didn’t have to worry about fighting crosswinds and possibly exceeding the limited control I had over the aircraft.
I brought the aircraft in for landing, braked to a stop, and was met by firefighters. As we exited the aircraft, they and others were there to slap us on the back and congratulate us for saving many lives—and the $100-million plane.
That night, as my wife and I knelt in prayer, I thanked Heavenly Father for His protection. Afterward, my wife said: “Honey, I have something I need to share with you. Last night, when I said my prayers, I felt an extra prompting to ask that you might have special protection as you flew today. I feel my prayer has been answered.” This hit me forcefully. We had received our patriarchal blessings together some years earlier, and she had been promised in hers that if I stayed faithful to the Church, she would never have to worry about my being injured in a plane accident.
The next day I spoke with Major Legas. He told me his wife, Megan, had felt a similar compelling urge to pray for his safety during her nightly prayers. As he finished telling me this, Major Barton, the pilot of the extra crew, who was not a member of the Church, told us that his wife had also felt a special need to pray for his safety.
Later, when I spoke with my parents, who were serving a temple mission in Dallas, Texas, to share with them my close call, my mother said: “I don’t know how to tell you this, but last Tuesday your sister and her husband were at the Salt Lake Temple and felt a strong need to put your name on the prayer roll. And Wednesday, while I was at the Dallas temple, I too felt a need to put your name on the prayer roll.”
As I reviewed the events of our flight, I began to see many blessings I had not stopped to consider. To begin with, the engine that blew up was an outside one, not an inboard engine, which, as it peeled back and sheared off, might have destroyed the tail of the aircraft and made a safe landing impossible. We were fortunate in the timing; if the engine had given out 10 seconds earlier, our airspeed would have been insufficient to keep the aircraft flying. And finally, the weather had been clear and the winds right for landing.
We were pleased to find out later that none of the pieces of the aircraft fell on anyone. One seven-by-eight-foot section was recovered from a field, narrowly missing a house. Other pieces, mainly compressor blades, fell into a field near a chemical warehouse facility that contained a huge propane tank and many 55-gallon drums filled with flammable chemicals, yet not one of the red-hot titanium blades fell inside the fence.
I believe the faith and obedience of five people, who prayed for us that night without knowing why, contributed to the fact that no one was injured in this accident. Our testimonies have grown as we witnessed the importance of acting on the promptings we receive, and we are grateful for Heavenly Father’s protective care because we realize that many lives could have been lost that day.
Immersed in Isaiah
I have always loved the scriptures, so one day I eagerly reached for the Book of Mormon to begin reading it again. I also pulled a spiral notebook from my desk and decided to record what I was learning. Patiently I studied and wrote notes about chapter after chapter—until I came to 1 Nephi 20 [1 Ne. 20], which quoted Isaiah. At first I panicked. I had made earlier attempts to study Isaiah and found the material difficult to understand. But since I had committed to studying, I felt there was no need to depart from my plan just because I had come to scriptures that were more difficult to comprehend. I decided I would go no further each day than what I was able to understand.
Faithfully I recorded what I was learning. My recent study of the Old Testament helped my comprehension, as did my thick dictionary and the maps of the ancient Middle East found in the back of the LDS edition of the Bible. Still, sometimes I spent weeks puzzling out only a few passages. I studied some verses so much I had them almost memorized, and I found myself thinking about them as I ran errands and cleaned the house.
One day while I was in the car doing errands, an answer came to me about a point that had puzzled me for some time. I had wondered about Isaiah’s choice of the words prisoners, darkness, and captive (see 1 Ne. 21:9, 21; Isa. 49:9, 21). As I thought about those words, a scripture suddenly came to mind: “And the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Those who find and accept the truth are led from spiritual captivity and brought out of darkness into the light of the gospel! Suddenly I felt I understood what Isaiah was saying.
Other insights came to me. Weeks turned into months, and I exchanged my spiral notebook for a computer. Studying the 19 chapters of Isaiah referenced in 1 and 2 Nephi had become an adventure. Often I worked to complete household tasks quickly to make time to study. Other times I spent an entire day studying. My whole family was very tolerant of my immersion in studying Isaiah and seemed to enjoy hearing some of my thoughts about current events as they related to Isaiah’s prophecies.
These studies took almost an entire year. Not only did my understanding of spiritual things increase, but my own nature softened and changed for the better. My love for others increased, and my desire to do missionary work intensified. I felt I could be part of what Isaiah prophesied about our day by sharing the gospel with others. Never before have I had a greater learning experience with the scriptures than during my study of the chapters of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon.
Loving, Hoping, and Believing
One of the hardest challenges our family has faced is seeing a beloved, handsome, intelligent son become a drug addict. I have often wondered, “How could this happen in our home—to one of our children?”
Heavenly Father had given us the chance to raise this fine son, yet we could not seem to teach him all we have to give. As Job, “my roarings are poured out like the waters. For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me. … Neither had I rest, neither was I quiet” (Job 3:24–26).
Motherhood and fatherhood bring out the nobility in each of us: we dare to try to raise up a royal and righteous seed. Our success or our seeming failure—either one is felt deeply, and guilt for seeming failure can be consuming. Did we bend the twig in the wrong direction? Our intent was pure. We had raised our child by the method we thought best. We wanted only to make everything right for him.
We got him into a treatment program. Joy filled us when he responded well. But the reprieve was short. Old buddies and addictions lured him back.
At stake conference I felt comfort when a leader spoke reassuring words about God’s great love and deep commitment to agency that allows even those who strive in righteousness, like Job, to be tested. The test is not a punishment, he said. It brings growth. So much of motherhood had brought growth already. Was this test yet another lesson?
No progress. I felt the test too much. Guilt for being a part of unsuccessful parenting blocked out hope. Then, in Chicago, another speaker opened my eyes. He explained we do not cause another person to disobey the laws of God. We influence; we do not cause. Parenting, I realized, was indeed left in the hands of imperfect beings like you and me. Yet my son is held accountable for choosing wrong, and my heart cries, He chooses in ignorance!
A gentle hand seemed to touch my heart. Dear sister, God has exempted no one from trial, not even His Firstborn. Suffering and consequences can be enlightening as can no other means.
It came to me that God was the master teacher and that He was guiding my son to new growth. I would continue to do all I could, but the choice to change was ultimately my son’s.
Solace crept into my heart. I recalled that I too had choices. So I chose to live my life the best I could to help him when it was possible, but meanwhile to believe that somewhere, sometime, in this life or in the spirit world, the gospel would light his life once again. I chose to put away fear, to pray for him, and to wait out gracefully his time of learning. I chose to hope and to find again a place for cheerfulness.
Time has passed. I am beginning to see, at long last, some bad habits dropped as the consequences take hold, and some good principles practiced as he builds a business—something I’d never thought possible. And there’s a glimmer of light in my son’s eyes once again. The road may be long, but I believe.
Discovering Me in Motherhood
I remembered with envy the seeming ease with which my mother cared for her family, kept herself lovely, and maintained a smooth-running household. My own attempts to carry on a conversation with preschool children, fold and put away laundry, keep a baby dry, and still smile as I sat down to dinner sometimes ended in frustration. The role of mother seemed to demand more creativity, compassion, wisdom, and sacrifice than I could bring to it. I often found myself growing weary of trying to meet lofty expectations and care for the needs of others.
To fulfill my role, I gradually resigned myself to the seeming necessity of giving up the things I most enjoyed. My paint box went on a shelf, books requiring mental effort were left to gather dust, and my sewing machine sat unused in the corner.
Though willing to make the necessary sacrifices, I felt I needed a personal testimony of the divine calling of motherhood. After I spent many nights in prayer, my answer finally came—but in an unexpected way. I received a call to serve as a counselor in the stake Young Women presidency. Because our stake center was 120 miles away, I would have to travel four or five hours round-trip just to attend meetings, not to mention the time and travel required to visit wards and branches. Could I handle a calling that took so much time when I already felt overwhelmed at home? As I prayed sincerely for guidance, I felt I should accept, so I determined to do the best I could.
To meet the demands of my increasingly hectic schedule, I immediately saw a need to rethink my approach to housework. I relaxed some standards and enlisted the help of the children. With these small changes, I soon noticed I was not as irritable as I had been, and I enjoyed my children more. Now when I returned from meetings, I was happy to see those same little faces that had brought tears of frustration before.
My husband also put much effort into supporting me during this time and spent many evenings caring for our children. On those days when I came home to find the children bathed and in bed and the house clean, I was deeply touched by these visible signs of his love and support.
In addition to these changes at home, my calling brought me many new opportunities. I found myself writing skits and poetry, practicing the piano, baking new dishes, conducting meetings, and directing panels. My paint box came back off the shelf. I began developing personal tact, compassion, friendshipping skills, and love for the sisters in the stake.
The growth I have found through service in the Church has indeed given me new insight into the divine role of motherhood, and the demands of home and family no longer seem an unending sacrifice. Thanks to the greater vision of a loving Heavenly Father, I have come to realize that while my family requires time and sacrifice, the Lord’s plan for me has many facets and includes serving others, developing talents, making new friends, and finding balance in my life. All these things bring me joy, and my children now have a happier mother.
“There Will Be No Problem”
After my wife, Luisa, and I were baptized in our hometown of Portimão, Portugal, our study of gospel principles became intense. We prayed earnestly for direction, and the witness we received strengthened us in our journey along the gospel course. A year later we decided to receive the greater blessings available in the temple. We wanted to be sealed to each other and to our son, Nuno, and our daughter, Sandra, who was born only two weeks before a scheduled temple trip.
During little Sandra’s first checkup, Luisa asked the doctor if our baby could withstand the rigors of the long trip to Switzerland. The doctor recommended that we not take her, and it seemed that fulfillment of our dream to be sealed as an eternal family might have to be postponed.
To add to our worries, Luisa’s doctor found a breast tumor that might require surgery. Luisa received a priesthood blessing, and we were grateful and surprised when within three days the tumor disappeared.
One of the blessings of joining the Church has been learning that we can speak to God our Father and feel His comforting influence in our lives. Following Luisa’s healing, we felt the Lord was mindful of our difficulties, so we determined to ask in prayer if we might risk the temple trip with its possible dangers to our baby.
A few days before we were scheduled to depart, Luisa sat pondering our temple trip and praying silently during a Sunday School class. As she meditated, a picture came to her mind of the Savior holding little Sandra in His arms, carrying her toward the Swiss Temple. Tears came to her eyes, and she received a feeling of assurance that we could and should go to the temple.
The following Saturday we traveled to Lisbon to board a bus for the temple excursion. Some of the waiting passengers commented on the dangers of taking such a young infant, and my wife began to worry again about our daughter’s safety. Then, before boarding, our temple group gathered quietly and humbly asked the Lord to bless us on our trip. As I took my seat on the bus, I felt a deep sense of peace wash over me. I knew with a surety that what we were doing was pleasing to the Lord and that He was watching over our little family. I turned to my wife and said, “There will be no problem.”
Indeed, all went well with our baby. And when we arrived at the temple, Luisa found it to be exactly as she had seen it in her mind the previous week. It was a great privilege to be sealed, and we are grateful to Heavenly Father for guiding us despite our many worries.
A Gift of Pink Tulips
It was a cold, gloomy morning when I left to do my grocery shopping. Although it was spring, the winter had been long and cold days lingered. As I made my way to the back of the store, I noticed a display of potted pink tulips. The bright flowers suddenly made the day seem less gloomy. At that moment, I heard in my mind a whisper: Get Sister Day the tulips.
Being fairly new in the ward, I thought, How foolish I will look standing with flowers on the doorstep of a sister I don’t really know. But the whisper seemed to get more insistent: Get Sister Day the tulips.
I picked up the flowers and looked at the price. This is crazy, I thought, and put them back and walked on. The farther I walked, the worse I felt. Finally I turned back, picked up a pot of tulips, and set them in my cart.
My heart was full, and I began to turn my thoughts to Sister Day, wondering if something was wrong. I finished my shopping and drove to her house. Sitting in the driveway for a moment, I couldn’t help but envision Sister Day coming to the door and saying, “Hello, Sister Ries. You bought me tulips? Why?” And I wouldn’t know what to say.
The walk to the door seemed long as I nervously held the pot of bright pink flowers in my hand. I rang the doorbell. When I asked for Sister Day, her young son said she was sleeping. I gave him the flowers and asked him to see that she received them.
That afternoon Sister Day called. “Are you the bearer of these blossoms?” she asked.
“I am,” I answered. Then, a bit nervous, I added, “But they’re not from me.”
“I know,” she replied. She went on to explain how she’d been depressed because of a lingering chronic illness and the long winter. Sometime earlier she had seen the tulips in the store, but she couldn’t bring herself to buy them. Now as she saw this special gift, her heart was lifted up and she knew Heavenly Father had encircled her in the arms of His love (see D&C 6:20).
I realized that day the special love our Father in Heaven has for each of us and that we can help meet each other’s needs and lift one another’s burdens if we are willing to respond to His direction.