I was 24 years old when I first met Julio Martínez. At the time, I had great interest in meeting someone who could explain the purpose of life to me and help me understand why I felt such a void in my soul. Julio, age 87, was just such a person. He enjoyed extraordinary physical and mental health. He loved nature and was always in a wonderfully good humor. We spent many summer afternoons talking, and I came to admire him and his ideas. A philosopher who practiced what he taught, he became my mentor.
One day, two and a half years after we met, Julio told me he had been baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was dismayed. How could a man as wise and experienced as he was make such a decision? I respected him, however, so I respected his choice. We continued to visit frequently, but I would turn the conversation to other matters whenever he began to talk about the Church.
In time I began to notice some changes in Julio. His eyes had a new glow, and he became kinder, less critical, and more humble. I didn’t understand what was prompting the changes, and I was afraid of losing the good friendship we already had. But still I remained unresponsive to his invitations to learn more about his church.
And so I ignored the Lord as He called to me. I believe He calls to each of us, often through other people, but we hear only if we have ears to hear—and only if we open our hearts. The Lord called to me several times, but my heart was closed.
Then on 20 August 1998, at Julio’s urging, I met with some of the Lord’s missionaries: Elder Martinez, Elder Boyle, and Elder Winward. For the first time, I recognized the voice that had been calling to me. The Spirit bore such witness that my heart was softened and I was humbled. With tears flowing down my cheeks, I asked myself over and over, How is it possible for the Savior to love us so deeply? How did He come to do what He did for us, for me?
Nine days later I was baptized. Thanks to Julio, my friend, I now know the love Jesus Christ has for us and the fellowship that is found in His Church. Julio became like a grandfather to me, and I rejoice to know that because of our Lord’s grace I found His eternal truth.
A Friend to Ease Our Burden
When I first learned from my doctor that I was going to have triplets, I broke into a cold sweat and then into tears. We already had three young children, ages one, three, and six, and I wondered how I could possibly care for them and three new babies at the same time.
Our family had just moved into a new home that summer in Illinois, and we were making the adjustment to a new community and ward. Now came the challenge of preparing for triplets, which was difficult to do when my doctor insisted that I have complete bed rest.
When the babies came they were 14 weeks premature. The identical girls were under two pounds each and struggled to live. Taylor Manning, a friend from our previous community of Wheaton, Illinois, helped my husband give a name and blessing to all three girls. By the end of the second day, two of the three babies had died. All of our hopes centered on the firstborn and smallest, Hillary.
At two weeks Hillary required open-heart surgery to close a valve. The surgery was successful, but she did not regain consciousness after the anesthesia. Two days later she was still comatose. Our friend Taylor, whose job brought him regularly to the facility where Hillary was receiving care, felt prompted to cancel his round of appointments that day and was waiting outside Hillary’s room when I arrived. As we looked at her gray, motionless body, Taylor asked if he could give Hillary a blessing, since it would be some time before my husband could arrive from his work in Chicago. I agreed, and he went to find another person to assist him. Following a simple but beautiful blessing, I met with Hillary’s doctors and was told there was no hope. They said she would live a few hours or a day at most.
I returned to her side and with tear-filled eyes began praying. Within minutes I saw her chest rise and fall with a jerky attempt to breathe (she had taken no breaths of her own for three days). A minute later I saw another breath, then another. I rushed over to a nurse and cried, “My baby’s breathing! Come see!”
Hillary did continue to breathe, and after four months recovered completely. She was released from the hospital a healthy, smiling four-pound baby girl. The victory was short-lived, however. Within a week of coming home, she developed pneumonia and was subjected to another prolonged hospital stay. Again we were told of her imminent death, and yet she lived and continued to fight to recover.
During all this time, Taylor and his family supported us by cooking meals, watching our children, and calling to inquire about Hillary’s progress. Taylor made sure her name was on the prayer roll at the Chicago temple, where he served weekly. I would often arrive at the hospital and find little encouraging notes from Taylor taped to Hillary’s isolette. Once, when my husband and I were showing obvious signs of distress, Taylor presented us with a gift certificate for dinner at a lovely restaurant so that we could have an evening to ourselves. I would often remark to my husband, “Why is Taylor so concerned about Hillary and our family? Why does he care so much?” We felt lucky to be the recipients of such kindness and love.
The second time Hillary was released from the hospital she was not a normal baby. The repeated and sustained lack of oxygen had severely damaged her brain. She did not have normal sight, speech, or movement. I was trained by nurses to help care for her delicate needs. Later, I began taking her to speech, occupational, and physical therapists. Nevertheless, her condition suddenly worsened, and she passed away.
As my husband and I planned Hillary’s funeral, we asked Taylor to be the main speaker. In his remarks he related how he had felt guided to become a special support to us through our trials and that he had determined to do all he could to ease our burdens and heartaches. He said he believed that Hillary had stayed with our family only as long as she needed that we might learn all we could from her existence. He described how the day before Hillary’s death, as he went to add her name to the temple prayer roll, a prompting came that it was no longer necessary.
Taylor’s words brought me comfort, and I felt an assurance that Hillary had finished her time with us here and was meant to be with her sisters and Heavenly Father.
I know the Lord can prompt others to help comfort us as we face challenges in this life. Taylor’s service and example taught me to look for opportunities to serve others and helped me better appreciate the love Heavenly Father has for all His children.
The Hidden Book
In the summer of 1973, I succumbed to an unexplainable urge to go to Europe in search of family history records. That is how my two granddaughters and I ended up copying records inside a large old building in Kappeln, Germany.
I had felt impressed to concentrate my limited time on searching out my Grandfather Thomsen’s people, who had lived in this region, and the building we were in housed the civil and religious records of Kappeln back to 1764. We were unacquainted with the German language, but fortunately the English-speaking curator explained to us enough terms to understand the well-kept records.
My granddaughters and I worked as fast as we could to get the information I needed until they left for England in keeping with our itinerary. I felt I could not leave yet; my urge to search the records of my grandfather’s family line now seemed like true inspiration.
It didn’t take long for the staff at the Kappeln archives to learn how important their records were to me. I was waiting at the door each morning when they opened, and I did not stop for lunch. They responded generously: not only did they allow me to stay when they closed for lunch, but they offered to open their doors an hour earlier each morning. Given my limited time, I was grateful beyond expression.
When I had searched through the births, marriages, and burials back to 1764, I asked myself, Where do I go from here? I knew the records before 1764 had to be somewhere, but where? At that moment I had the impression, “You haven’t looked.” Somewhat astonished, I went to the building’s vault where the records were kept and muttered, “Where haven’t I looked?”
Some books up on the top shelf caught my eye. The spines on the huge volumes were four inches wide. I mused to myself, I’ll bet the records are in those big books that no one has looked at for ages. To reach them I had to step up on the bottom shelf. As I reached with my right hand to remove one of the large volumes, I placed my left hand in a recessed corner to brace myself and felt something there. After retrieving and setting down the massive book from the top shelf, I looked to see what I had felt with my left hand. It turned out to be a much smaller book, about one inch thick, over 14 inches in length, and about six inches wide. Its cover was the same color as the shelves, a nondescript and unobtrusive tan. I opened it. Old Gothic script spread across the page. What was it? Understanding it was hopeless for me.
I flipped to the back where the writing was more modern and found the name of a child born to parents whose records I had already assembled going back as far as I could, to 1765. What I was looking at now was the record of an older child born to those same parents in 1763.
I was afraid to hope, but as soon as the staff returned from lunch I took the record book to the archivist. After some discussion and a long wait, he returned to tell me that the book was, in fact, just what I had thought—a record of the christenings of Kappeln going back to the mid-1600s. “You are right,” he said. “This is the Kappeln record, but we have never seen this record here,” he said.
Having only a day and a half left to cover the entire record, I made arrangements with the staff to have a copy made. The 101 sheets I received covered the christenings in Kappeln from 1656 to 1764 and produced many names my family and I would later submit for temple work. Paper copies and a film of the book are now available in the Church Family History Library.
I gratefully acknowledge the help that the Lord gives to those who sincerely seek the records of their ancestors. This experience confirmed to me the wisdom of the scripture: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Prov. 3:5–6) .
Trusting the Rest to the Lord
“Mom!” The high-pitched wail made me wince. What now? I wondered. The children had recently gone to bed, and I was going about my evening activities. My husband was gone to a late meeting.
I went upstairs, bracing myself for what I thought was probably another argument between siblings, and found my youngest child, Michaella, standing in her nightgown and looking at me with red-rimmed eyes. “My ear hurts, Mom.”
Oh, no, I thought. Why does this always happen at night? “You’ll just have to wait until morning, honey,” I told her. I couldn’t justify the expense of an emergency-room visit for an ear infection. I used all the home remedies I knew and tucked her in. “Try to sleep now,” I said. “I’ll call the doctor as soon as her office opens in the morning.”
Downstairs again, I tried to clean up and read, but I felt anxious and could not concentrate. I went to the kitchen and halfheartedly began to wipe the counters. Then with a sudden motion I threw down the cloth. I headed back upstairs to check on Michaella, moving softly in case she was asleep. I stopped halfway up. Through the open door at the top of the stairs, I could hear whimpering sobs.
I could not take it. I couldn’t just stand by, helpless, while my child suffered. I sank down on the stairs, tears running down my face. I prayed. I pleaded. My hands trembled as I told the Lord that I would do everything I could to help my daughter but that I would leave the rest up to Him. After taking a few deep breaths, I climbed the rest of the stairs, approached my daughter’s bedside, and smoothed the damp hair away from her forehead.
“It hurts bad, Mom.” The usual dimple in her cheek wasn’t there. Her face was waxy. Fatigue and pain had made dark blue smudges under her eyes.
I decided I wouldn’t wait until my husband returned from his meeting; I would risk looking like an overanxious, overprotective, and overreacting mother. “I’m going to call our home teacher, OK?”
I made the phone call, feeling somewhat awkward. When I asked our home teacher if he could come over to give Michaella a blessing, the answer was, “Of course.” A short while later he arrived, smiling, as if driving out late at night was his favorite thing to do.
While he performed the blessing I felt hope lighten my heavy heart. I thanked him as he left, then put Michaella to bed again. She was asleep within minutes.
The next morning she seemed so much better, I was tempted to skip calling the pediatrician. But I had promised the Lord I would do everything I could. So I called the doctor.
Later that morning, as I sat on the hard wooden office chair, I watched the doctor closely. She peered through her otoscope into Michaella’s ear and pursed her lips, blowing a silent whistle of dismay. “You didn’t get much sleep last night, did you?” It was more of a statement than a question.
“Oh yes,” I said brightly. “She slept straight through the night.”
I took a mental photograph of the doctor’s astonished face.
I knew then that we had had our own private little miracle. Nothing spectacular had happened. No seas were parted, no lepers cleansed, no dead raised. It had simply been a night of peace, without pain, for a little girl.
For me, it was enough.
I Saw Beyond the Prison Bars
As my daughter and I traveled with our group through the gates of the prison, my uneasiness stayed in check because we would be participating in sacrament meeting at the youth facility and not with the regular inmates. I thought about the passage in Matthew where the Savior said, “I was in prison, and ye came unto me” (Matt. 25:36), and I felt it would be a good experience to worship with these young brothers and sisters.
When we arrived, however, we learned that plans had changed and that we would instead be meeting with the male inmates in the main prison facility. This upsetting news caught me totally unprepared, and I was frightened as we were escorted through metal detectors, security doors, and gray hallways into the prison chapel.
The chapel was similar to many others I had seen except for the windows. Although letting in sunlight, they were heavily barred. Also, on one side of the chapel was a Family History Library for use by the inmates. Since the prisoners were still eating their evening meals, I had a chance to talk with our escort. I shared with him my fear about the change in plans. He tried to reassure me, but I was still afraid.
When the guards finally escorted the inmates into the chapel, I actually felt sick to my stomach. I wondered what unspeakable things these men had done to be here in this awful place. I couldn’t wait to go home.
I had come to play the piano while my daughter sang. When our turn on the program came, I nervously took my place at the piano. I have heard my daughter sing many times, but this time was special. There she stood, filling the prison walls with her beautiful voice and sharing her testimony through music. Even the inmates in the Family History Library stopped their work to stand in the doorways and listen. I could tell their hearts had been touched.
Returning to my seat, I looked into the faces of those in the congregation with a different attitude. As they listened to the words spoken from the pulpit, many had tears in their eyes. I was no longer afraid, but sorrowful. Somehow, it didn’t matter now what they had done; I knew only that I cared for them. My heart ached for the circumstances they had brought upon themselves, and I was close to tears.
At the end of the meeting we were invited to sit with the congregation for a gospel lesson. As I sat among these men, I felt no fear but a feeling of oneness. Was I really so different from them? Certainly, I had not made unwise choices that would cause me to be imprisoned, but I was still in need of repentance. Were we not all children of our Father in Heaven?
After the closing prayer, the men gathered around us, shook our hands, and thanked us for coming. Some stayed to visit, telling us about their lives and their families. I enjoyed being with them. I even found myself praying for an opportunity to return. Three hours before, I had not wanted to stay, and now I did not want to leave. I loved these brothers in prison, and I knew God loved them too.