A Prayer in the Storm
“Go faster, Mama,” I pleaded. I had never wanted anything so much as I wanted to be safely home with my family.
That summer evening in Amarillo, Texas, in 1955, I was five years old. My mother was driving me and my little brother and sister, Henry and Abby, home from church as a terrible rainstorm flooded the streets. Our father wasn’t with us because he had to be on duty at the fire station.
“I can’t go any faster,” my mother patiently answered me.
“If water splashes up on the motor, it’ll quit. Then we won’t be able to go anywhere.”
I held my breath as Mama coaxed our old, temperamental pickup through deeper and deeper water.
Then it happened. The truck sputtered and died. Now the only sound was the roar of the storm, which, it turned out, was no ordinary rainstorm at all but actually part of a tornado.
Mama tried to start the truck, but it refused to come back to life. She looked out into the storm. “I’ll be right back,” she told us. “I’m going to call someone for help.” As the door opened, the wind whipped cold rain at us for an instant. Then there was a slam and we were alone.
Time seemed to stall, and I feared we would never get home. As I sat there with my four-year-old brother and two-year-old sister, anxiously watching water pour down the windows, I noticed a flashing red light approaching. It wasn’t until the vehicle was beside us that we could tell for sure what it was.
“Daddy’s fire truck!” Henry cried.
“Daddy come! Daddy come!” said Abby. She reached out her little hand, opening and closing her fingers.
But the fire engine rushed on, taking our father away from us. My sister began to cry. Henry reached for the door handle. “I get Daddy!”
I grabbed him. “No, Henry! Mama told us to stay here!” I held on as tight as I could, but I wasn’t strong enough to stop him. He pulled away and went for the door again. Abby’s crying got louder.
Henry began to pull on the door handle. Panic stabbed me. I had to keep Henry in the truck. It was up to me to keep us safe. I had to do it, but I couldn’t. I felt helpless, afraid, and alone.
No, I wasn’t alone, I realized. A calm assurance replaced fear. I knew what to do. “Fold your arms,” I told my brother and sister. “We need to have a prayer.”
Henry’s resistance melted. He let go of the door handle, and he and Abby sat down on the seat beside me. We folded our arms and bowed our heads. I told Heavenly Father that we were stuck in this awful rain and asked Him to please make our truck start so we could go home.
We sat calmly and waited for Mama to come back. Before long, the truck door opened again. Mama reached out for me, explaining, “The lines are down, and I can’t reach anyone. The people in the house across the street said we could stay with them tonight.”
I knew there was no reason to leave. “Mama, you can start the truck now.”
“Jessie, I have tried. It won’t start.”
“But, Mama, it will this time. I know it will. We prayed.”
Mama climbed in and shut the door. She turned the key. The engine groaned and groaned, then sputtered and rumbled to life. Mama quickly left us to go tell the family across the street that the truck had started, then returned and drove on.
Rain, hail, wind, thunder, and lightning continued around us, but I felt delighted and grateful. Heavenly Father had answered our prayer, and we were going home.
In My Grandmother’s Name
Ever since I was 16, I have had a great love for family history work. Being the only member of the Church in my family, I have submitted many ancestors’ names for temple ordinances to be performed in their behalf. So after my maternal grandmother died in February 1993, I eagerly awaited the end of the required year before submitting her name for ordinance work at the Chicago Illinois Temple. (At the time, family names were held for a limited time in a family file at the temple until family members could perform the ordinance work.)
Many months passed, and I still had not been able to get to the temple because it was a seven-hour drive to Chicago. I reluctantly called the temple and asked that my grandmother’s name be moved to the temple file, where it would be given at random to members performing ordinance work.
I had been close to my grandmother while she was alive—I was her namesake—so I felt disappointed that I couldn’t do this essential work for her. But I knew these ordinances were important to her progression, and I was glad that at least the work would get done.
Some time later, in October 1996, my husband had a weeklong seminar in Chicago. I accompanied him and was able to spend a whole week in the temple—what a treat! My husband was to pick me up on our last day at 5:15 P.M., so at 3:00 I felt I had enough time to do one more session.
When I was given the name of the person I would be doing the work for, my mouth dropped open in astonishment. A year and a half after submitting it, I had been given my grandmother’s name! I would have the blessing of being her proxy after all.
Some might claim that this experience was simply a remarkable coincidence. It is my feeling, however, that in His love and mercy, the Lord managed things so that I might realize the desire of my heart—to do something of eternal worth for my beloved grandmother that she could not do for herself.
It had been four years since I had come home for Easter, so I had looked forward to the break from school and the Easter activities with my family. We were in the kitchen fixing supper Friday night when I asked Mom about the family reunion she was organizing.
“Everyone wants to go back to the lake,” she told me as she chopped vegetables. “But during the six-hour car trip last year …” I looked up as the chopping ceased and her voice broke. Tears crept from the corners of her eyes, and her face crumpled. “I thought I was going to die. I really thought I was going to die.”
I didn’t know how to respond to my gentle, patient mother when she talked about the possibility of her death. I wanted to hug her until her shoulders stopped shaking. I wanted to tell her everything would be all right—the doctors would find out what this disease was and give her medicine and fix everything. But I couldn’t.
I had refused to think of death throughout the year of her sickness, even as I fasted and prayed and hoped. Still I watched her weaken and suffer. She wasn’t vocal in her suffering. She just worked harder because she was unable to sleep at night or even sit down. The pain clutched at her heart and made her shake whenever she tried to relax. But soon her suffering became visible in the dark circles around her eyes and the fatigue deep in her eyes themselves.
Discouragement soon accompanied the pain. After a full year of visiting doctors and undergoing tests, she was distressed when the specialists were unable to discover what was causing the intense pain around her heart. The test results all came back normal. Nothing was wrong, the doctors said.
But we knew the situation wasn’t normal. My mother did not normally pace the floor at night or stop in the middle of vacuuming to sob. And my mother, who had faced many types of pain in her life without ever complaining, did not normally talk about dying.
During the two days before Easter, I tried again to think of something I could do to help her. But her disease had left us all feeling powerless. Even my father, a doctor, could not fix the situation, in spite of his years of training, experience, and knowledge. I could not alleviate her burdens—she even wanted to do most housework herself, because resting made the pain worse. So she was always working, working to the point of exhaustion. And because there was so little we could do to relieve her suffering, she seemed to suffer alone.
We went to church on Easter morning. As I glanced at my mother sitting beside me, my thoughts wandered back to her high, cracked voice and the chilling sentence that had consumed me since Friday night—“I thought I was going to die.”
Suddenly my mother rose from the bench and made her way to the pulpit.
“On this Easter Sunday,” she began, “I want to bear my testimony of Jesus Christ’s Atonement. King Benjamin said that Christ ‘shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer” (Mosiah 3:7; emphasis added). Many of you may not know that I have been sick lately. The nights have been long”—her voice softened as she continued—“but not lonely. During the worst of it, the Savior has been my friend, my support. I testify that Jesus Christ knows our suffering because He experienced it—and more. He will lift us from our sorrows just as He lifted us from an eternal death.”
As my mom bore her testimony, a new picture of suffering replaced my former preoccupation with my mother and myself. It was a picture of the Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane, full of such anguish that He bled from every pore as He suffered for all, including my mother’s physical agony and my own emotional pain.
I realized then that I did not need to tell my mother that it would be OK. We couldn’t fix everything, but she was comforted by her knowledge that the Savior already had.
But How Could I Mention Tithing?
Several years ago when I was a missionary serving in the Villa Mercedes area in Argentina, my companion and I attended a branch activity that promised to be enjoyable.
As we exchanged greetings with the brothers and sisters of the branch, however, I noticed a recently baptized sister who, though usually smiling and talkative, seemed sad. She was keeping herself from the main body of the group, so I approached her and asked if something was bothering her.
As tears came to her eyes, she explained the difficulty of raising her small children by herself. She lived in the neighboring rural community of Justo Daract and could not afford the train fare for her boy to attend school in Villa Mercedes. She said she was considering taking him out of school for a time until she could find a better job.
My heart ached to hear of her difficulties, when suddenly the thought of tithing came to my mind. Initially I fought the prompting. How could I mention tithing to this sister who worried about how to come up with enough money every day to send her boy to school? Might the Lord make an exception in her case? But the prompting persisted, and I felt the sweet confidence that the Holy Spirit grants to us as we testify of eternal truths.
I asked the sister if she had paid her tithing. She said she had paid it a couple of times after she was baptized, but with her recent challenges she could not see how she could pay it now. I told her the Lord knew her circumstances, and if she would pay her tithing He would bless her. The Spirit was warm and reassuring, and she managed a smile as she joined the rest of the group.
A couple of weeks later, my companion and I boarded the train and made the 30-minute journey to Justo Daract to visit this good sister. As she invited us into her humble home, I kept thinking about what I had said to her earlier about tithing and wondered whether she had decided to put the commandment to the test.
We had scarcely sat down when she began to tell us she had been offered a job in Villa Mercedes as a housekeeper. This job would provide room and board for her and her children, and because she would be living in Villa Mercedes, her son would be close to the public school.
I then found the nerve to ask her if she had paid her tithing. Her eyes twinkled with a look that said “I was about to tell you,” and she responded, “Yes, I have paid my tithing.”
Once again I felt the confirming reassurance of the Spirit that God will “pour [us] out a blessing” (Mal. 3:10) if we will exercise faith through obedience to the law of tithing.