Being Watched

When I found the address I had scrawled in my notebook, I thought the place looked creepy. It was a big, old, gray house that had been converted into apartments, but it looked more like a haunted house in a black-and-white movie. Still, I wanted to meet Rachael, so I marched up the rickety steps.

Earlier, when I stared at the housing ads tacked to a board in the institute building, the ads had blurred together like a patchwork quilt made of paper and pushpins. But one ad stood out. It showed a stick figure saying, “This is me, Rachael. I like running, jazz music, and chocolate.” I laughed. It didn’t say much about the apartment, but the roommate seemed fun.

After talking to Rachael for a while, I decided that the feeling inside her apartment seemed welcoming. I dismissed my first impression and moved in a few weeks later.

The next morning Rachael left on a two-week family vacation. An eerie feeling sank in the minute she was gone, but I brushed it off and busied myself unpacking. “I’m nervous because I’m not used to being here,” I reasoned. “I need time to adjust.”

It was almost midnight when I came down with an itchy sore throat. “I must be allergic to something,” I thought. I hunted around until I found Rachael’s scented candles. I decided to put them outside.

I had discovered earlier that the entryway light didn’t work, so I left the front door open a crack, letting a sliver of light spill out. Barefoot, I hurried through the darkness onto the porch.

Suddenly I froze.

The night air was still. I couldn’t hear a thing. But I felt someone approaching.

“Get back into your apartment before someone else does.” The Spirit’s instructions were unmistakable and urgent.

Still grasping the candles, I raced through the darkness into my living room and slammed the door. As soon as I locked it, the doorknob turned. My jaw dropped. I watched the doorknob slowly twist back and forth without a sound.

Someone had been hiding in my entryway! He had tried to follow me inside, only a moment too late. Now nothing but a flimsy wooden door stood between us. Instinctively, I hit the door with my fist as hard as I could.

I don’t know how long I stood there silently praying, waiting for something to happen. Finally a peaceful feeling assured me that the threat had passed and I would be safe for the night.

The next morning my mom called. She and Dad were gone on vacation, or I might have called them sooner. Before I could tell Mom what had happened, she said, “I’ve been worried about you! I keep getting the impression that your entryway is a danger zone. Is it well lit? It would be so easy for someone to hide there.”

I shivered to realize how close I had come to being attacked—so close that my mom had sensed the danger from 200 miles (320 km) away.

Then she told me she had been trying to call me the day before to warn me of her impression. “I couldn’t catch you on the phone, so I prayed. I knew I couldn’t protect you, but Heavenly Father could.”

Mom was right. A stranger had hidden in my entryway, watching me. Higher powers had also been watching and had told me what to do.

I know that the Lord won’t always protect me from tragedy, but as I follow Him, He won’t let His plan for my life be thwarted. It was His will for me to be protected that night, and I am grateful He was watching over me.

Just Five More Minutes

Our family enjoys nature. We spend almost every Saturday outside—hiking, camping, bike riding, or sightseeing in the summer; and sledding, skiing, or taking walks in the snow in the winter. These are wonderful family times that give my husband and me opportunities to converse with our three children.

One summer day we hiked around a lake in a nearby forest. It was perfect weather: sunny and warm with a refreshing, cool breeze from the lake. As we made our way down the trail, we pointed out the wildflowers and trees. We discussed how much Heavenly Father must love us to create such beauty for our enjoyment. We tried to decide which was the most beautiful place we had seen. One child suggested nearby Yellowstone National Park. Someone else suggested a favorite camping spot. We thought about our trip to the ocean and the beauty of a cross-country ski trail with trees covered in glistening snow.

Our youngest child, Jacob, age 7, who had been quietly listening to our discussion, said, “I think the most beautiful place in the world is where all the things about Jesus are.” Things about Jesus? My mind searched for a connection, and then I realized that Jacob meant Temple Square in Salt Lake City. With the magnificent temple, trees, fountains, and flower gardens, Temple Square is indeed a beautiful place. But to Jacob, Temple Square means more than the outward beauty of nature alone.

Born with a complex congenital heart defect, Jacob is the veteran of three heart surgeries and numerous medical tests, with many more surgeries anticipated. His doctor frequently comes to Idaho, but for Jacob’s surgeries and some tests, we must travel to Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City. These trips are often filled with anxiety and worry about Jacob’s health, and we have found that a trip to Temple Square helps calm our nerves and reminds us of Heavenly Father’s plan and of our need to trust in Him.

The night before Jacob’s most recent and most complicated surgery, we took him to the Temple Square visitors’ center, where we sat together looking at that glorious statue of the Savior—the Christus. Peaceful, warm, and safe in a parent’s lap and not wanting to leave, Jacob sat uncharacteristically still and kept asking to stay for “just five more minutes,” until our time there stretched past an hour. When at long last we needed to leave, we all felt at peace and ready to cope with whatever the surgery would bring.

I believe that Temple Square is beautiful to Jacob not because of what he sees there but because of what he feels there. Heavenly Father’s gifts of peace, hope, and comfort are more beautiful than anything Jacob can remember seeing with his physical eyes.

Understanding Heavenly Father’s plan and accepting and trusting in His will can bring indescribable peace and joy. When we become discouraged, upset, or afraid, there is somewhere to turn—not to a specific beautiful place but to our Savior Jesus Christ. And I think Jacob is right: nothing is more beautiful than that.

Small Decisions, Eternal Blessings

I first heard the gospel as a child when my parents welcomed the missionaries to our home in Antofagasta, Chile. I grew up in the Church, but I did little to gain a personal testimony. Consequently, I eventually fell from activity and found myself facing life’s challenges without the divine power of the gospel to help me. My faithful mother, however, continued to love me and remained a quiet example of righteousness.

Although I married a Church member, neither of us felt the urgency or necessity of living the standards we had been taught in our youth. But as time went by, life in our home changed radically for the worse.

Because of the difficult problems we were facing, my wife decided to start attending church with our daughter. I had no desire to go with them, yet they returned home each week and shared what they had learned. Some time later I began to receive visits from home teachers, two faithful brethren who somehow envisioned my divine potential even though I couldn’t.

Slowly, a change began to take place in my heart, but I refused to acknowledge it at first. Every Sunday my wife would iron my clothes with the hope that I would attend church with her. I was too stubborn to put on the clothes, but I started going to sacrament meeting in jeans and a T-shirt. As less-active members often do, I sat on the bench nearest the door so I could be the last one in and the first one out without having anyone speak to me.

After several months I realized I was not being a good example to my children or blessing my family with the priesthood as I should. I made the decision to never again miss a day of church. I had watched the application of gospel principles brighten my life, and I realized that this simple decision should have been made long ago.

How eager the Lord was to bless my family and me! My wife and I and our children were soon sealed to each other in the Santiago Chile Temple.

I am grateful for a mother who diligently taught me the principles of the gospel, for a wife who encouraged me through her love and example to live them, for faithful home teachers, and for a Father in Heaven who patiently waited for me to live the gospel so He could bless me more than I thought possible.

Reuniting the Dancing Couple

For 25 years I worked in downtown Wiener Neustadt, Austria. On a mild day in May, I strolled through the pedestrian zone during my lunch break and came upon a bookstore. Near the door were two large crates full of discounted books. I was curious to know what kind of literature was selling at such a low price, and I picked up the top book in one of the crates. With no particular interest in buying it, I opened it and noticed the depiction of a dancing couple. To my great surprise, I also found the name Gretl Stättner. Instantly I recalled that this was the name of my father’s second wife. I had not thought about her for years.

My father was a customs official, but he was also an enthusiastic dancer and operated his own dance school. A few years after my parents’ divorce, my father met Gretl at the dance school. Their relationship was short, however, because my father died from a ruptured appendix when he was only 35 years old. As he lay dying he must have hoped that Gretl would take me on, knowing that my mother did not look after me. For this reason, my father married Gretl just three hours before he died. Gretl, however, was extremely young and still under her parents’ influence. There was no way she could look after me, so I grew up in foster homes.

As I stood there holding the book, seeing not only the name Stättner but the dancing couple as well, I suddenly realized that this was my father’s legal wife. She had a right to be sealed to him.

My investigation disclosed that Gretl had never remarried, that she had lived in Vienna and had operated a foot care salon there. I remembered her maiden name as well as the place her family, the Weißenbergs, had lived. My wife and I looked them up, but we were disappointed to learn that no members of the family were still living. We visited the cemetery but made no further progress at first, because the stone at the family plot contained only a list of surnames. After it occurred to us that someone, after all, had to pay for the grave and its maintenance, we asked the authorities for information about the grave’s owner. We received a name leading us to Vienna and to a woman who turned out to be Gretl’s niece. She provided us not only with all the required dates to perform Gretl’s temple work, but also with information about all the family members who had passed away: parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.

It also turned out that when my wife and Gretl’s niece were young, they had entered the same high school at the same time, and both had graduated on the same day. How small the world can be.

My wife and I submitted all the family names to the temple and were then able to personally carry out the work in the Frankfurt Germany Temple. I am deeply grateful for this opportunity and am firmly convinced that my finding my stepmother’s book was no mere coincidence. Our conversation with Gretl’s niece disclosed that Gretl had owned many books, and her niece had given some away, kept some, and sold some. Only a single book made its way to Wiener Neustadt, and I was the one who stumbled across it.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Kristin Yee