One Saturday morning many years ago, my brothers and sisters and I scurried around the house, doing our chores early. We were excited because Dad had promised to take the family for a ride in the five-year-old station wagon he had recently bought. We had wanted him to get a newer vehicle, but he said a newer car would be too expensive. Besides, he said, the one we bought was heavier and would be safer in an accident. That was an important factor for Mom, who had recently been in a terrible head-on collision and had almost died.
Once we had finished preparing everything, we all piled into the car—Mom, Dad, and seven children, including my baby brother. Since we were only going out for a Saturday-afternoon drive, we didn’t pack a lunch or take anything to drink.
We made our way out to the highway and headed north. Being early fall in Needles, California, it was hot, and this was before cars had air-conditioning. The vista around us was the bleak, open desert, with scattered plants, an occasional outcropping of rock or a telephone pole, and the low-level mountain ranges on the horizon. Despite the heat and barren scenery, we were content to be on a fun family outing.
The mood of contentment was broken, however, by an apprehensive whimper from my mother. The memory of her accident was still fresh, and the sight of oncoming cars frightened her terribly. Dad decided that for her sake he had to get off the highway. “Here we are,” he said in a cheery voice as he turned onto a dirt road that followed a row of huge power lines. Leaving a cloud of dust behind us, the car whistled down the old road, and to my 13-year-old mind this was all great fun.
Enjoying the ride, none of us children noticed the troubled look that came to Dad’s face. But my mother knew something was wrong. “What is it, Anthony?” she asked.
“Well,” he answered, “it’s probably nothing, but that sand out there looks treacherous. We had better head back.” With that, he found a wide spot on top of a little hill and turned the car around.
We started back down the small incline and headed up the next little hill—and then it happened. The car sank in soft sand. Several of us got out and pushed as hard as we could, but it would not move forward. We managed to back it up onto some solid ground so that Dad could get a run at the sandy area and try to drive through it. His repeated attempts at this failed, however, especially since he had to be careful not to back up too far into another sandy place. Each attempt moved the car a little ahead, but then it would sink even deeper into the soft, powdery sand.
The girls started to cry now. “We’re thirsty, Mom.” As the hot afternoon sun beat down, we could see heat waves coming up off the sand, distorting the view of the mountains on the horizon.
Then off in the distance we heard a faint sound coming toward us. The drone of a single-engine aircraft grew louder and louder as it approached our position. “Oh, we are saved!” I cried as I saw the airplane coming. “Let’s all wave him down!” Frantically we waved our arms. This was the airplane that inspected the power lines, and the pilot flew so low that we could see him leaning out the window. He was returning, with a vigorous wave of his own, what he must have thought was a greeting from us. As the plane flew off into the distance and the sound of its engine faded softly away, we knew we were on our own again.
The situation was growing desperate. We had no food or water, my mother was struggling with a now hysterical infant, the four girls were crying, and even my brother and I began to doubt our chances of getting home safely.
Dad called us together and said, “We have only one thing left to do. Let’s ask Heavenly Father for help.” We all knelt down in the burning sand and bowed our heads as Dad poured out his heart in behalf of the entire family. He explained our situation in detail to the Lord, including all of the things we had done to free ourselves, and then he pleaded for help.
After the prayer we stood, and Dad said, “Let’s try it one more time.” He had all of us stay out of the car while he backed it up to make one more run. The engine roared as Dad took off as fast as he could. The car hit the sand, but this time it kept going as if it were floating. Dad drove to the top of the next hill and stopped on solid, rocky ground. We all cheered and ran toward the car. When we reached it, Dad was still sitting at the wheel, shaking and sobbing, something I had never seen him do before. When we asked him what the matter was, he looked up and said that it seemed to him as if the car had been lifted and carried over the sand by an unseen power.
It was a quiet ride home as the bright orange colors of the setting sun shone in the western sky. No one spoke, as if not to disturb the reverent feeling that lingered among us in the car. While I recognize that answers to prayers come in various forms and are not always dramatic, I am grateful to Heavenly Father for the blessings of that day.
In the Palm of His Hand
The first few years of our marriage seemed nearly perfect. After my husband and I were sealed in the Mexico City D. F. Mexico Temple, we both graduated from the university and our first daughter was born. My husband had a good job and was called as bishop in our ward. Then we were able to move to Jalisco, a part of Mexico where my grandparents had lived. We had always dreamed of rearing our children in a peaceful place, and Jalisco met the desires of our hearts. Our way of life, however, would soon change dramatically.
In Jalisco, our second daughter was born. Unfortunately, I suffered severe complications after her birth. We were able to meet the expenses from our savings, but then, two weeks later, my husband lost his job. With no income, we had to move from our house. Credit card bills, car payments, and rent were strangling us.
Eventually, my husband began to work nights as a taxi driver. Frequently his expenses exceeded his profits, but his work did bring a little food to the table. Then the car broke down, and even that little source of income ended. We sold or pawned many of our possessions. At the same time, Mexico underwent a serious currency devaluation, which added greatly to our financial distress.
My husband was emotionally and physically exhausted, so I got a job as a teacher in a bilingual elementary school. The work was hard, the salary small, and I had to leave my little ones in the care of a Church member. To save money, we moved to a cheaper place in a poorer section of town.
As I struggled to go to work, care for the family, keep up the house, and participate at church, I became very depressed. One terrible night I was so distressed I had to be hospitalized. After giving me a sedative, the doctor told me, “You’re drowning yourself in your problems. That’s for cowards, and I don’t think that is what you are. Think about it.”
Her words resounded in my mind, and I closed my eyes, searching for something to give me courage. I reviewed my life. Yes, all our material possessions are gone, I told myself, but I am still alive, and I have a wonderful husband and two precious daughters. I remembered I had not been born to accumulate goods or to live in tranquillity. I had come to serve my family and others and to build the kingdom of God.
When I returned home, I prayed as never before. I pleaded with my Heavenly Father to strengthen me. I spoke with my bishop, and he told me, “The Lord will remove from your path that which is hurting you.” The following day I learned that I had been fired from my job without any explanation. The same day, I learned I had been granted a scholarship to further my education.
One morning, the telephone, which had not worked for months, rang to bring the news that my husband had received a teaching job. The phone immediately stopped working again, but it didn’t matter. My husband had work!
As never before, welfare and self-reliance principles took hold in our home. I learned to process wheat and soybeans for storage. I planted corn near the sidewalk, then received permission to plant a garden on property belonging to friends. God blessed our little garden, which was barely a square meter of ground. It produced an abundance of food, including squash and alfalfa.
The hard work—and the food I was able to store—tamed my fear and filled me with hope. As my attitude changed, I was able to see the hand of the Lord in our lives. We were blessed with good health; none of us even had a cold. Never, even in the most difficult times, did we stop feeding the missionaries. The children always had food, and we had plenty of invitations to eat with friends. One day I was finally able to buy a second cylinder of propane for our stove. Immediately the contents of the previous cylinder ran out. Typically, a cylinder lasts a month and a half, but this one had lasted for months.
Out of our trials we learned some important lessons. We learned to value the counsel of our leaders. We learned to receive; it is good to serve, but it is also important to let others serve you. Both my husband and I were able to get additional job training without paying for it. My beloved in-laws were always conscious of our needs, and I found in my mother-in-law a great friend.
And our marriage grew and was strengthened. One night my husband took me into his arms and said, “I don’t care if they put us out on the street. If you are by my side, I will have the courage to start all over again.”
Perhaps most importantly, we came to see things from an eternal point of view. We came to understand that both in good times and bad, God shelters us in the palm of His hand.
Their Service Opened Our Hearts
When we first really became acquainted with the Church, the winter had arrived early in New England and covered everything with a sheet of ice and snow. We had been living in Watertown, a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts, for almost a year and a half. My husband, Richard, would soon be finishing his postdoctoral work and had gone to Colorado for a job interview.
Our children, Mike, Mark, Misty, and 11-month-old Michelle, were helping me clean the playroom when suddenly little Michelle began to vomit violently. I was afraid she might have eaten something toxic among the toys. Moments earlier she had been happily playing, but now she was obviously very ill. Within minutes she had become listless. Her temperature was rising rapidly, soon reaching 105°F (40.6°C). While my sons sponged her with cool water, I called the doctor, who told me to take her to the hospital emergency room immediately.
The streets were icy and narrow, and I was not sure of the way. When at last I saw the hospital, I felt a wave of relief. The doctor’s diagnosis was the flu, and he prescribed some medication to control the fever. I felt strongly that her illness was more serious, but the doctor seemed sure she would be fine. I took Michelle home, but never before with my children’s illnesses had I felt so uneasy. That night I moved Michelle’s bed into my room. Every two hours I checked her temperature, which remained under control, but I spent most of the night watching her breathe. In the morning when I looked at my baby, she was gray, weak, and listless. I felt afraid and desperate.
Though it had stormed all night and the roads were treacherous, I tried to block out everything other than getting Michelle to the hospital. When we arrived, Michelle was rushed into an examination room. Cloudy fluid obtained from a spinal tap indicated a strong possibility of spinal meningitis. From the waiting room, I called Richard in Colorado, and he said he would be on the first plane back to Boston.
Michelle was transferred to intensive care. By this time it must have been near noon, but it was still dark, cold, and stormy outside. I sat alone in a room, waiting until I could see Michelle. I watched the snow hit the window and felt cold, alone, and helpless. I tried to pray, but the memorized prayers I had been taught felt so empty. They did not express my feelings. I then prayed as I had never prayed before. I prayed to my Heavenly Father as if I were kneeling before Him. I prayed about my feelings and my hopes. I prayed for His help.
At last I was allowed to see Michelle. She seemed even grayer than she had earlier, and she lay so still. Monitoring equipment and IV tubes were attached all over her small body. To even find a place to touch her was difficult. The day remained dark, but as I sat near her bed the clouds briefly parted and a ray of light fell across her bed and filled the room. I felt warm and comforted. I was filled with a sense that all would be as it was supposed to be. I did not know what Michelle’s fate would be, but I knew things would be as they should be, and I felt at peace.
That afternoon Richard arrived. As the doctor confirmed Michelle’s diagnosis of spinal meningitis, Richard’s face showed all the fear and desperation I had felt earlier. The doctor told us Michelle’s chance of surviving the next three days was remote. Then he explained that if she were to survive, she would most likely be deaf, blind, or brain damaged. I felt strongly that if she didn’t know we were there, if we didn’t touch her, she would drift away forever.
Child care for our other children became a major problem. I belonged to a baby-sitting co-op, but no one would risk taking care of our children. Michelle’s lab results showed the type of meningitis she had was not contagious, but it made no difference. At first even the school refused to allow our boys to attend. There were, however, two couples who came to our aid; one couple, the Romrells, were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Romrells apparently told their Relief Society of our problem. The Relief Society president and others from the Watertown Ward brought us food and provided child care so we could spend time with Michelle. These people we had never met helped us when we so desperately needed it.
Michelle survived those critical three days and slowly grew stronger. Richard’s mother was able to come from California to help look after our children. If during those first three days we had not had the help from members of the Church, I don’t know how we would have managed. Michelle celebrated her first birthday in the hospital, but Richard and I received the greatest gift. On that day, we got to hold Michelle in our arms. Even more than on the day she was born, we knew the Lord had entrusted us with her care.
This experience prompted us to begin investigating the Church. It did not happen swiftly, but over the next several years, each time we moved we met new and wonderful members of the Church, and our interest and investigation continued. The seed planted in our hearts by the Relief Society sisters in Watertown was nourished by the examples of many loving members. Today Michelle is a perfectly healthy and intelligent woman. She recently gave birth to her second child, and we are all members of Christ’s true Church.
Giving Up My Graven Image
I used to have a 1978 Harley-Davidson motorcycle. I had invested a huge sum of money in it and was indescribably proud of it. It was everything to me. Every Sunday I joined a group of friends in our native city of Patillas, Puerto Rico, and we rode our motorbikes around the island. We forgot all our problems, our families, God—everything—for a brief period of pleasure on those bikes. In essence, my motorcycle was my idol.
That all changed when a former classmate, Jaime Rivera Gómez, introduced me to the Church. I will be eternally grateful to Jaime and to the missionaries for their teachings, patience, and genuine love. My wife and I were baptized on 31 March 1996.
Finding the gospel of Jesus Christ changed our lives completely. I immediately sold my motorcycle for much less money than I had invested in it. But the sacrifice was worth it. As I changed my life, Heavenly Father—the only true God—poured out blessings on me. Now I am happy. My home is happy. I love my wife and my children. We hold family home evening, and we pray and serve the Lord as a family.
Three months after becoming members of the Church, we traveled to the Washington D.C. Temple and were baptized for some of our ancestors. Our second visit to the temple was in July 1997. There we received our endowments, were sealed, and performed sacred ordinances for our loved ones.
I know God loves me, and I am striving each day to become more like Him.