Kirsten, our second child, was born about 30 years ago after a difficult pregnancy. Immediately after her birth the doctors discovered a serious cardiac defect. Kirsten was quickly transferred to the intensive care unit of the children’s hospital. Laying his hands on her tiny body in the incubator, my husband gave her the first priesthood blessing of her life—a welcome gift for her arrival on this earth.
During the following days I often stood in front of the glass window looking into intensive care and watched as this little girl struggled for her life. We were not even allowed to touch her, and we did not know what to wish for her.
When I was discharged from the hospital without my baby, my husband and I had the desire to go to the temple. We could do nothing physically for our little Kirsten. We had to trust the Lord and the physicians. At that time the nearest temple was in Switzerland, far from our home in Hamburg, but we felt we had to gather strength there for the unknown future. We applied all of our faith in behalf of our daughter.
In the meantime the doctors diagnosed a rare cardiac defect they were not able to operate on at that time. The life expectancy of patients with this condition was very limited. But five weeks later we were able to take our little Kirsten home. While her body may have been suffering, her spirit was cheerful and willing to learn, and we could tell that she enjoyed living in our family and loved her older brother very much.
When Kirsten was four her condition deteriorated, and she became weaker and weaker. After praying, fasting, and visiting the temple, we decided upon surgery in a cardiac center in Munich, where doctors had recently repaired a complicated condition like Kirsten’s. Doctors actually had to change everything in the heart—make the ventricles smaller, close holes, and repair both valves. It was a genuine work of art. We were very worried about Kirsten, and our whole ward joined us in praying for her.
The doctors operated on Kirsten on May 21, 1980, and when she had gotten over the worst and was transferred from intensive care to another unit, we were full of confidence. Then a terrible thing happened. A tiny blood clot loosened from a repaired heart valve, settled in the brain, and within a few minutes caused a complete paralysis of her right side and a loss of speech. Kirsten’s eyes were full of fear and sadness. This was very difficult for us. I still see my husband and me standing in a phone booth in Munich, desperately calling our bishop. Within the next few days we received comforting letters from many ward members. Fasting also gave us renewed strength to encourage Kirsten and accept this affliction.
The following years were filled with therapies, and we rejoiced in every little bit of progress. When it was time for Kirsten to start school, her health was sufficient for her to attend a regular elementary school. She developed fabulous coping strategies with her left, usable hand. Her right leg became stronger, and she learned how to swim, bike, and ride horses. She rejoiced in her life. If a child laughed at her somewhat peculiar walk, I simply showed him or her pictures of Kirsten’s life, and the laughter turned into admiration.
Kirsten received much love from her grandparents and other relatives, and the ward fellowshipped her. In turn, she showed her joy in the gospel to everyone she met and has been the one in our family who has brought the most friends into the Church.
After graduating from high school Kirsten diligently completed training to be an industry saleswoman and also obtained her driver’s license. With her slightly converted car she could be more self-reliant, and she was able to participate in young single adult conferences and fulfill stake callings. In 1999 she took a year off to serve a Church-service mission in the Frankfurt temple.
Kirsten loves children and finds a special closeness to them. Her niece, nephew, and Primary children love her very much. She is an example for us, showing that one does not have to become bitter because of severe adversity, but that one can radiate cheerfulness.
In 2003 a very loving young man came into Kirsten’s life and became more and more important to her. He is a returned missionary who grew up in a faithful Latter-day Saint family. In August 2004 he and Kirsten were sealed in the Frankfurt temple. They are now mastering life’s challenges together.
Two of our children have physical impairments. You do not wish it, but if it happens, you have to accept it wholeheartedly, learn, and fight through the difficulties. You develop a keen ear for the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Our Father in Heaven knows which afflictions we need here on earth if we are to grow. I have often comforted my children with the words, “You will have these physical impairments only while you live on this earth, and mortality is very short compared to eternity.”
My brother and I were driving home from work on a long, dark stretch of highway. We hadn’t passed a car for miles. I was exhausted, and in an attempt to stay awake, I began looking at the layout of the road. We were in a hilly area, and there were two lanes going up the side of the hill we were climbing. Only one lane came down in the other direction. The extra lane in our direction was a passing lane because of the steep grade.
I began wondering about the downhill side. Sometimes on a steep incline, I knew, large trucks lose their brakes. I wondered what would happen, with only one lane, if a truck lost its brakes and a car was in front of it. It could be a serious situation. I was glad there was no other traffic on the road that night.
After a few moments I again thought about the situation. I was driving in the passing lane and figured a truck without brakes would have to veer into my lane to pass a slower vehicle. A thought came into my mind that the right lane would be safer, just in case something like that happened. But I rationalized that it was late and there was no traffic, so it didn’t really matter where I drove. The thought came again as I approached the top of the hill. I realized that I couldn’t see the oncoming traffic, and it couldn’t see me either.
Suddenly a sharp voice shouted, “Move!” I was so startled that I jerked the steering wheel abruptly and veered into the right lane. In that instant lights came over the hill and a horn blared. My brother woke up just in time to see the truck pass us in the middle lane. A moment later a station wagon came over the hill in the far lane. I was so shaken I pulled over on the shoulder of the road to steady my nerves. The realization that my brother and I could have been killed was very frightening.
I was amazed; I had heard that the Holy Ghost speaks with a still, small voice, but this voice had shouted. It was several years later when I realized that the Holy Ghost had indeed spoken in a still, small voice. He had spoken to me as He brought to my mind the possibilities of where a large truck might go, and He had spoken again when He suggested I move to the far right lane. I was dismayed when I realized I had not recognized the still, small voice. Finally there was no time left, and the Spirit had to shout.
After that experience I vowed to always live my life so that I am in tune with the Spirit. I decided I would never again question a prompting but would follow the still, small voice immediately.
My Personal Hero
On that November day in 1972 when I got on the bus to go to school, I had no idea this day was going to be one of the most important in my life.
I was 13 and an ordinary student. I mainly tried to have a good time at school, and I had many friends who were like I was. Óscar Italia was not like the other boys. He really did study and, as a result, was on the honor roll. But I didn’t know him well. He was a quiet fellow.
When I entered the classroom that day, he was wearing a button on his lapel that read, “I Care. What about You?” At that time the Church in our area had a program to help members share the gospel. They wore this button so when people asked about it, they could explain about family home evening and the family.
I asked Óscar, “What’s that?” He explained that he had been baptized three months before and was the only Latter-day Saint in his family.
During the breaks that day he noticed my interest and explained the plan of salvation, and he gave me a copy of the Book of Mormon. He read me the promise in Moroni 10:3–5 and told me that if I prayed, I would feel a burning in my heart that would confirm to me that the Book of Mormon was true. Óscar was a great member missionary, and I believed him.
The next morning, while my mother was doing her shopping at the neighborhood market, I decided to read the Book of Mormon. When I was almost finished with the first page, I had a desire to pray. I went to my room and knelt beside my bed. I had never prayed before, but I remembered I had to ask God in the name of Christ. I asked if the Book of Mormon was true, and I asked God to tell me if He existed. I expected to feel what my classmate had testified I would feel. After some minutes I heard my mother coming home and was afraid she would find me praying, so I stood up and got ready for school.
As I rode to school a real battle of ideas was going on in my head. “Is it true or not? Nothing happened,” I thought. I had a lot of doubts.
I can’t explain why, but no sooner had I stepped from the bus onto the sidewalk at school than the doubts disappeared, and I knew it was true. It was extremely simple.
Óscar came up to speak with me at the classroom door. I said, “I will be a member of your church.” He couldn’t believe it. A friend of mine was listening, and he told my other friends what was happening. Soon they were all around me, asking me why I was going to change religions. They told me I was crazy. I couldn’t answer their questions and started to cry. They finally went away, and I was left alone with Óscar. Suddenly I had an overwhelming feeling of joy. I had never felt anything like it before. It was the burning my friend had said I would feel, and it came as a confirmation of the decision I had made.
The next day Óscar brought me a button, and we wore them proudly.
Thirty years later I returned to my hometown to speak at a youth fireside. I had titled my remarks “How to Be a Hero” and had intended to analyze how Nephi, Abinadi, and Alma can become our heroes. While waiting to speak, however, I saw my friend Óscar and his mother among those in attendance. I remembered that wonderful day 30 years before and instead told the youth about my personal hero, Óscar Italia, a brave young man who had a determination to share the gospel, a young man who changed the course of my life.