Don’t Go through the Alley!
The summer after I graduated from high school, I took my first full-time job as a teller at a small thrift and loan office in Santa Monica, California.
One morning two employees were sick, leaving only Jon, the manager, and me in the office. One of my usual morning duties was to take the deposits from the previous working day and walk them through the back alley to the bank. This particular day, Jon suggested that I take them over in the afternoon when he’d be able to cover the teller line for me.
After lunch I grabbed the deposits and headed out the back door to the alley. I finished my business at the bank and started walking back to the office. When I reached the corner of the alley, an undeniably clear thought came to my mind: “Don’t go through the alley!”
I stopped abruptly. The thought puzzled me, because the walk was much shorter through the alley and I always went that way. In a quick decision I thought, “Well, all right,” and turned to walk toward Fifth Street, thinking it would be a nice change of scenery anyway. I made it to the door of our small office several minutes later than usual, hoping my boss wouldn’t give me a bad time for taking too long.
As I walked through the front door, one of our elderly customers was sitting at one of the front desks. He had a stunned look on his face. Concerned, I asked, “Mr. Reed, what’s the matter?”
Mr. Reed’s voice was shaky as he replied that the office had just been robbed! Apparently, as Mr. Reed had walked in, the thief had demanded what little money he’d had before running out the door.
After Jon completed the police report, he gave me an account of what had happened. He had been alone in the office when a man wearing a ski mask and holding a gun came to the counter demanding cash. He became very angry upon learning that most of the cash was en route to the bank.
The robber had then forced Jon into the back room near the alley door, which we always kept locked, and jerked him angrily to the floor. Then he had shoved his gun against Jon’s temple and yelled profanities before finally deciding to leave.
Jon told me, “That guy was so nervous that I kept thinking, ‘Please, Polly, don’t come through the back door jingling your keys. This man will shoot us both!’”
As Jon told me this, a sudden calm enveloped me. In my mind I replayed the alley scene and realized I had received a divine prompting at the corner of that alley from a loving Heavenly Father.
Jon was somewhat of an atheist, and when I told him why I had changed my route that day he called it lucky or coincidental and then conceded that perhaps someone was looking out for us. I knew it went way beyond luck or chance. The scriptures give the promise that if we are worthy, “The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion” (D&C 121:46) and “will show unto you all things what ye should do” (2 Ne. 32:5).
I am extremely thankful for a most loving Heavenly Father who has given us the gift of the Holy Ghost. I know I will continue to pay attention to the promptings I receive, no matter how trivial or inconvenient the situation may seem.
Mom, You’re Singing!
Several years ago I began to feel severe pain in my neck, back, and legs. It soon became almost impossible for me to play the piano, type, crochet, or do anything with my right hand. I was diagnosed with dystonia, a neurological disease that affects my entire right side as well as my neck and face. I can no longer speak above a whisper, which means I can’t sing anymore. I was especially devastated to be unable to sing or play the piano because I had served as music leader or pianist among the Primary, the youth, the Sunday School, and the Relief Society since I was 16 years old—a total of about 45 years!
On 6 April 2000 I went with my son and daughter-in-law to our stake center to watch the satellite broadcast of the dedication of the Palmyra New York Temple. When it came time to stand and sing “The Spirit of God” (Hymns, no. 2), I started mouthing the words as I always do now. Suddenly my daughter-in-law put her arm around me and said, “Mom, you’re singing!”
It was true! I was singing the way I used to sing! I sang all four verses of the song. By the time the dedication program was over, the tightness returned to my throat and the miracle had ended.
I will always be grateful to the Lord for allowing me that last opportunity to sing praises to Him. I still can’t speak above a whisper, but I will always have a song of praise in my heart.
The Music of Peace—in Prison
I remember years ago sitting with my peers in our 14- to 15-year-old Sunday School class, discussing which hymn we might sing that day. One of us mentioned, “If You Could Hie to Kolob” (Hymns, no. 284). We all broke out in laughter. To us, this title seemed the funniest and most old-fogy-sounding in the hymnbook.
After discovering this hymn’s title, it became a standing joke with my group of friends. Whenever there came a chance to suggest a hymn for any occasion, one of us would call out, “If You Could Hie to Kolob,” and we would all have a good laugh.
I don’t think any of us had ever actually heard the hymn—I certainly hadn’t. At the time, rock and roll was the only kind of music I was interested in.
About 18 years later, in a very different setting, I sat in a cold concrete cell as an inmate in a state prison. I was watching TV and wearing headphones so as to hear the program and tune out the ever-present noise and profanity of my surroundings. I was listening to the Saturday afternoon session of general conference. Years of Church inactivity, battles with drug addiction, and the experience of being incarcerated had brought me to the depths of humility. The path I had followed had been a horrible way to realize that nothing is more important in life than the gospel of Jesus Christ.
A musical selection by the Brigham Young University combined choir was announced, and my memory of youthful laughter was jogged when I heard the title: “If You Could Hie to Kolob.” It struck me that through all this time and the many changes in my life, I still had never heard this hymn. Before I could think any further, the music began.
Before the first verse ended, I recognized I was hearing a holy hymn of uncommon and intricate beauty. The choir and organist performed magnificently. My soul was pierced by the Spirit of God, which I felt strongly through these inspired, eternal words of truth and heavenly music.
Tears began to flow, initially tears of shame and regret for my pride and ignorance that had so long separated me from the blessings of the gospel. Quickly, however, my pain was transformed into joy as I was at once consoled and instructed by the Spirit. Before the hymn ended, what had started as a pricking of my heart became the beginning of the healing of my soul.
In the several years since my release from prison, the Savior’s love has continued to heal me. My life isn’t easy, but living the gospel has brought me many blessings. I hold a responsible job and serve in various Church callings. I share a good relationship with my less-active parents. In my work as a facilitator in the Church’s Substance Abuse Recovery Program, I now help others overcome their addictions. And the sweetest blessing of all is the one I received five years ago when I was sealed for time and eternity to a righteous young woman in the temple. I have the deepest gratitude to a patient, loving Father who truly has the power to transform the bitter into sweet.
A Gift of Eggs and Love
I had been living for a few months in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then Zaire), Africa, when the branch Relief Society president asked if she could come visiting teaching. I realize now that she waited so long to visit so that I could have time to learn a little French with which to communicate. At that time our family was the only white family in the branch. Some of the women spoke French, but the majority spoke Lingala, a tribal language. Although I tried not to feel alienated because of my skin color and language, I felt very different from the sisters in my branch.
The Relief Society president was a widow with two sons. She was thin, not quite five feet tall, and always smiling a beautiful, big smile. When she arrived to visit me, she came accompanied only by the Spirit of the Lord.
After greeting me, this sister asked me to get my English Bible. She spoke very slowly so I would understand her message. We read in her French Bible, and then in my English one, Ephesians 2:19 [Eph. 2:19]: “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God.”
I smiled as I read the verse she had chosen. In spite of our differences, she understood the struggles I was experiencing.
As she prepared to leave, this sweet sister presented me with a gift of 10 eggs. Many people in Zaire at that time ate only two meals a day, and many were starving.
I knew it was a struggle for her to feed her sons. I felt guilty accepting the eggs and tried to decline the gift. But her eyes told me it was given in love.
I accepted the eggs, and we basked in the love that she brought. It filled the house and made everything seem brighter. After a prayer with her, I watched her leave the yard, her petite and gracious form wrapped in African cloth. I no longer felt a stranger, but at home with the Saints of God.