The Gift of the Blue Lace Curtain


I determined not to let my terminal cancer set back the work my husband and I were doing with the homeless. We had to find a way.

In 1995 I moved from Pennsylvania to Tennessee to be closer to my sons, daughter-in-law, and grandchild. Divorced six years, I was looking forward to being a giddy grandma, writing my personal history, and catching up on family history. My boxes weren’t even unpacked when I was called to serve on the Nashville stake public affairs committee. My first assignment was to find a community service project. As a writer and photographer, I was grateful for the calling. Years earlier I had promised the Lord that I’d go where He wanted me to go and do what He wanted me to do. Since I was already personally committed to using my talents in helping the homeless, I was thrilled when I read in the newspaper about a community media event, “Walk for the Homeless,” designed to heighten awareness and show ways to help the homeless. I met with the coordinator, Ray Klimley, and decided it would be a good project to propose for our stake.

After I received approval from stake leaders, I worked with Ray for the next seven months. I photographed the positive side of the homeless: Bobby sitting in a waiting room sketching large and colorful pictures that looked like complex dreams, and Joe and Mike leaning against a post, joking with each other and laughing. Ray wanted to present the side most people don’t see about homelessness. We gave our presentations to corporations, schools, and churches so that they would join our “Walk for the Homeless.”

Several months later, Ray and I were married.

Alice in Wonderland

Saturday, 18 October 1997, was bright and sunny, the leaves nearly in their prime color. Ray and I were planning to eat our breakfast on the screened-in porch. I twisted slightly while straining to push the patio door open. Then I felt what seemed like a lightning bolt. My body was actually lowering itself slightly onto my hips. I was shrinking—like Alice in Wonderland, but there was no white rabbit or a grinning Cheshire Cat! From that moment, I could not place any weight on my right leg.

Moving to my bed, I prayed, What is wrong with me? My family doctor couldn’t see me for another week. But would it make any difference? My son brought me a pair of crutches.

By 7:00 P.M. on Tuesday, I was in pain and exhausted. To be more comfortable, I got off the bed and started to undress when a very strong feeling came over me. Don’t. Why? I wondered. Again, I started to undress. Don’t. The feeling became even stronger. I stood there for a moment. I recognized the special feeling—as if someone was talking to me. I obeyed, not understanding why but knowing from experience that these strong impressions were never wrong!

I carefully got back on the bed and placed the little pillow under my right knee to bend it slightly for more comfort. I took deep breaths to relax. And then, in a flash of pain, I screamed. Ray came rushing into the house. I cried, “Call 911! My leg just broke—all by itself!”

“It’s Probably Cancer”

The ride to the hospital was bumpy and longer than I had expected. “I will be frank,” the emergency room doctor stated, “a break like this, especially in the femur—the strongest bone in your body—doesn’t just happen. Something serious has to be going on—and it’s probably cancer. After we see the X-rays and test results, we’ll have more answers.”

It was 2:00 A.M. before I was finally as comfortable as I could be. I concentrated on gathering all my faith. Lying in the silence of the dimly lit room, I felt peaceful, yet I thought, I need direction and must remain calm, above all. Not just for Ray, but for my family too. From the strong feelings earlier, I knew I was not alone.

The next day was busy with taxing tests. The X-ray showed a severed vertebrae in addition to my broken leg. Surgery to repair the breaks was scheduled for 6:30 P.M.

After surgery, I awoke for a moment. “Everything went fine,” my doctor said. Happiness filled me, knowing I was still alive. It reconfirmed my strong feelings that my earthly mission was not yet completed.

Hope from the Homeless

As I lay on the hospital bed, I renewed my determination to help Ray. I thought, We have been married only a year. I must stay strong. I won’t let this setback stop us.

I was still on harsh chemo treatments on 23 March 1998, when Ray and I began a nonprofit organization to find jobs for the homeless so they could earn money to get off the streets.

A few weeks later, Ray pulled me aside and said, “I want you to meet Pops.” I hobbled over to a railroad tie in the parking lot on which sat a fragile, elderly man with a wonderful wide smile.

“How is your chemo coming along?” he asked.

While shaking his frail hand, I told him how the chemo was going.

Then he offered, “Mine has a few side effects, too.”

I just looked at him, stunned. This dear old man had cancer and lived on the streets! I felt so humbled and grateful to Heavenly Father for my situation. I went home at night to a warm bed. Where did Pops go?

I draw strength from homeless people. Most people think that all homeless are on alcohol or drugs. Many are. Many are not. With the right opportunities, many can work and have a better life. Helping them get work has brought me some of the happiest times of my life. I can see in their eyes how their self-worth rises and rings the bell sounding “somebody still needs me.”

I rarely missed a day of work, but usually, after four hours, I grew terribly weak from the chemo. Mary Jean, another volunteer who came in several afternoons to take my place, was an answer to our prayers. When she couldn’t come, Ray simply locked the door to our tiny office and went out to visit with the homeless while I rested on a piece of foam under my desk. After an hour or so of sleep, I was able to go back to work. Ray knew what needed to be done to help the one-third of the homeless who desired to return to mainstream society. His dream was working.

“Give This to Miss Libby”

My broken leg had left me with a limp, and I used a cane. I went hairless for months but tried to have fun with it by adding stickers and having friends draw pictures with paints on my head. People loved it. Sharing my pain eased the burden.

I believe that the homeless realized that I too was going through a trial and therefore understood a little about them. They asked Ray, “How’s Miss Libby today? Tell her I’m praying for her!” The homeless people gave me a great gift—their faith and prayers for me!

One gentleman came up to Ray and carefully pulled something obviously precious to him from his backpack. “Give this to Miss Libby,” he quietly said, as he handed Ray a beautiful blue lace curtain panel.

I am still deeply touched by this unselfish act. He was gone before Ray could get his story. Was the lace curtain his mother’s? His wife’s? Obviously it meant a lot, since he carried it with him. Now this blue lace curtain is my memento from more than 8,000 volunteer hours of helping the homeless. Even with cancer, my life has been, and still is, a wonderful life! As I use my talents and trials in positive ways, joy is my reward. I’m grateful for every day of life, which now includes four extra years beyond the six months my doctor had first predicted. I’ve learned adversities can be a learning experience, an adventure, and an opportunity for growth. This keeps me on the correct path to wisdom and, hopefully, eternal life.

Joy in Life

Elder Richard G. Scott

“We have so much freedom, so many opportunities to develop our unique personalities and talents, our individual memories, our personalized contributions. … You are one of the noblest of God’s creations. His intent is that your life be gloriously beautiful regardless of your circumstances. As you are grateful and obedient, you can become all that God intends you to be. Sadness, disappointment, and severe challenge are events in life, not life itself. … Your joy in life depends upon your trust in Heavenly Father and His holy Son, your conviction that their plan of happiness truly can bring you joy. … When you are willing to let your heart and your mind be centered in His will, when you ask to be led by the Spirit to do His will, you are assured of the greatest happiness along the way and the most fulfilling attainment from this mortal experience.” Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “Finding Joy in Life,” Ensign, May 1996, 25.

[photo] Photo by Libby Frech Klimley

[illustration] Illustrated by Ben Sowards

Libby Frech Klimley is a member of the West Nashville Ward, Franklin Tennessee Stake.