The Very Best Gift

We fasted and besought our God (Ezra 8:23).

Ashley counted the days as her fingers ran across her braille calendar. Only five more days until her eighth birthday!

“Five days is too soon!” Ashley said to herself. “How can I ever do it?”

Like most children, Ashley looked forward to her birthday each year. She loved the excitement of birthday parties, cake, ice cream, and, of course, gifts. But even the thought of gifts wasn’t enough to make her want her birthday to come this year. I’ll never be able to do it—never! she thought with despair. I’m too afraid.

Ashley was born blind. She had never seen even the ordinary things that other people take for granted, like grass, flowers, and trees, houses, schools, and buses. She had never even seen her family. But she had felt their faces often, and in her mind she knew what they were like. Mom was beautiful and Dad was strong and handsome. Her brother Jake was always smiling. Josh was more serious but was always kind.

All her life Ashley had to work hard to do things that were easy for others, like walk from one room to another without bumping into walls or furniture. Getting herself dressed and her hair combed each morning was a job in itself. Each day was filled with new things to learn.

With the help of her family, though, Ashley had learned to be very independent. She tried to face each day with a smile, and she met each task as a challenge to be mastered.

But the thought of going into water even a few inches deep terrified her. She took showers, never baths, because bathtub water scared her. Thoughts of dangling her feet in a stream or a swimming pool sent her into a panic. So although she wanted with all her heart to become a member of the Church, the idea of getting baptized was almost more than she could bear.

“Five more days, just five more days,” Ashley said again. She knew that her parents wouldn’t make her be baptized until she had overcome her fear, but she didn’t know how to do that. How can I ever go into water that deep, let alone be put under it? She started to shake just thinking about it.

She heard her mother come into her room and felt loving arms go around her and hold her tight. After a few minutes, Mom said, “Thinking about being baptized again?”

Ashley nodded. “My birthday is only five days away, and I really do want to be baptized, but I get so scared just thinking about it!”

“I’m sorry this is hard for you,” Mom said. “Do you think talking to Bishop Felix would help?”

Ashley remembered how worried she had been about her baptismal interview, but the bishop had made her feel at ease and had even made her laugh. Maybe he could help her. “Do you think I could talk to him tonight? I don’t have much time left.”

“We’ll see what we can do.” Mom gave Ashley a reassuring squeeze.

As Dad went with her into the meetinghouse that evening, she felt nervous. “Here’s the bishop’s office,” Dad said. “Would you like me to come in with you?”

“Yes, please.”

Soon she heard Bishop Felix say, “Hello, Ashley. Come right in. It’s nice to see you.”

Just by hearing his voice, Ashley knew that she had made the right decision. After a short prayer by Dad, Ashley started to explain her problem. Afterward the office was quiet for a few minutes. She knew Bishop Felix was thinking.

“Ashley,” he finally said, “I’m glad that you came to me with this problem. I know that you understand the importance of being baptized and that you have a strong desire to be baptized. And I can understand your fear of water, even the baptismal water. It’s wonderful that you and your parents have discussed the problem and prayed about it. That’s the first step, and you have taken it. Prayer is a powerful tool, but sometimes it, too, needs strengthening. I’m sure you know what fasting is,” he said.

Ashley nodded. “It’s going without food and water.”

“That’s right. But when we fast, we should fast for a specific purpose or blessing. And we should let Heavenly Father know what that purpose is. Fasting with prayer is a very powerful tool.”

“Do you think it would help me?” Ashley asked hopefully.

“I’m sure it will.”

“The whole family will fast and pray with you,” Dad said, squeezing her hand.

“I’d like to fast and pray with you, too,” Bishop Felix offered.

Ashley had faith in prayer, so if fasting strengthened prayer, she knew it would work. “Thank you,” she answered. “With everyone’s help, I’ll try it.”

As she and Dad left the church, Ashley felt good inside, almost peaceful. She knew getting baptized would still be a hard thing to do, but her faith was strong.

All the rest of the week, Ashley was prayerful about her baptism, and it wasn’t quite so frightening. She and her parents planned a short program, with both Bishop Felix and Dad speaking before the service. Afterward they would have birthday cake and ice cream for refreshments at home. Mom had already made Ashley a beautiful white dress to wear.

Soon it was the day before her birthday. After a light supper, her family began their fast with a prayer that she might overcome her fear of the water, at least while she was being baptized. And that night as Ashley knelt to pray by her bed, she felt very humble. She still feared the water, yet she knew deep down that Heavenly Father loved her and would help her.

“Happy Birthday!” Ashley woke to the family singing.

She could tell by the sounds of their voices that they were all smiling. They knelt by her bed for their morning family prayer. Mom said the prayer and asked Heavenly Father to be with their family that day as they fasted and prayed for Ashley and for her to have the courage and strength to enter into the waters of baptism. As Ashley said “Amen,” her stomach growled.

Instead of reading the scriptures around the breakfast table, the family sat in the living room. As they read, Ashley heard another stomach growling. It made her feel good to know that her family loved her enough to fast for her.

All day long Ashley’s stomach begged for food. She hadn’t realized before how hard fasting could be. But when thoughts of hamburgers, french fries, and pepperoni pizzas kept popping into her head, she pushed them out with a short prayer. With each prayer, Ashley felt stronger.

Finally it was time to leave for the church. Fear started to creep into Ashley’s heart. “Dad and Mom, could we say another prayer before we leave?”

The family knelt on the floor in a circle, holding hands. “Dear Heavenly Father,” Ashley started softly. “I’m thankful for this special day and for my family. Please help me so that I won’t be afraid to be baptized.”

As Dad guided Ashley down the baptismal font steps, she could feel the water covering her feet. Then it was up to her knees. She had never been in water this deep before, but she wasn’t afraid. The water was up to her waist when they stood in the middle of the font, yet she felt no fear. She listened to Dad and concentrated on the words as he spoke the baptismal prayer. Then he laid her gently into the warm water.

Instead of fear and panic, she felt peace. As Dad lifted her out of the water, her heart was bursting with joy, She had been baptized! She knew that fasting and prayer had helped her overcome her fear.

What a wonderful birthday gift from Heavenly Father! she thought. It’s the very best gift I could have received!

[illustrations] Illustrated by Susan Curtis