“Lo, I Am with You”

I well remember when I was seven years old, baptism seemed to be far away, as though it would never be my turn. I watched with a fever of excitement as several members of my Sunday School class were baptized and confirmed. They somehow seemed different to me after baptism, and very important.

At last summer came, and Sister Nielsen, our teacher, reminded the class that I was next. I could hardly believe the time had come. I was to be baptized on my birthday, the 24th of July—Pioneer Day among the Latter-day Saints. At the water’s edge I was confirmed and promised that I could have the Holy Ghost as a constant companion. A feeling of happiness and contentment filled me.

But as the days melted into months, I began to feel with some disappointment that, for a constant companion, the Holy Ghost had been uncomfortably silent. At times I wondered if somehow I had failed to live up to my special promise and confirmation.

Then came the second summer after my baptism. I was ten, and large for my age. I could quickly complete my assigned tasks at home and escape to my grandmother’s house on her farm some distance away. My feet seemed to have wings, and I flew the distance, anxious to be with the dearest person I knew.

It was haying time, and the men on the hay crew were already in the field as I hurried along my way. At grandmother’s there would be long tables burdened under the weight of wonderful food: produce from the garden, fresh-baked bread, and berry pies.

The day seemed to fly by, as did all the special summer days spent with my grandmother. It was with great reluctance that I said good-bye and took my departure. As always, I hated to leave the happy warmth of my grandmother’s pleasant kitchen, but I had seen the shadows lengthening over the trees and down the hill beyond her house. I knew if I delayed much longer it would grow dark before I reached home—an uneasy thought, even though I would be able to see the lighted windows of my home beckoning in the distance in the river valley below.

I sat a few moments on the step, savoring the sweet scent of the ripening fruit in the orchard and the roses trailing up and over the back porch. “Why does it have to get dark?” I thought.

With a sigh of resignation, I moved down the walk and through the garden gate. As I crossed the yard beyond and went through the gate on the hill, I realized suddenly that night had fallen. Even the shadows had disappeared. I kicked some rocks as I made my way down the steep hill. I could hear them bounce all the way to the bottom. Usually it was fun to kick rocks down the hill, but tonight the sound they made seemed ominous as they disappeared into the night.

On reaching the bottom of the hill, I remembered that there were big ruts filled with water where many wagons had crossed during the day. I had jumped from rock to rock to cross when I came, but the darkness made that impossible now. “Oh well,” I thought, “it’s warm and my shoes are old anyway.” I plunged across, slipping and sliding on the rocks and oozing mud.

The frogs that had been intoning with stentorious sound now grew silent, causing my fear to grow like a dark specter. “I’ll sing,” I told myself, and began singing a song that I felt was designed especially for those who, like myself, grew faint of heart: “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war!”

The words were hardly out of my mouth when a voice in my mind said, “Be still, and listen.”

For a moment I was startled, but then I thought it was foolishness and began to sing with more vigor still, “With the cross of Jesus marching on before,” and marched to build my flagging courage.

This time my head filled with the command, “Be still, and listen!”

I stopped short, and my heartbeat seemed louder than the thud of my marching, squishy-wet shoes just moments before. Resolutely drawing a long breath, I began again, “Onward—” But before the words would come, more demanding than ever I heard, “Be still!”

I stopped. The last shred of courage disappeared as if it were a leaf caught in a whirlwind. What should I do? Terror gripped me from all sides, and I began to pray in my heart, “Heavenly Father, please bless me!” I couldn’t even think what it was that I should ask for. Just over and over the prayer, “Heavenly Father, please bless me,” until the flood of terror subsided and a sweet reassurance filled my being. Then I heard the words, “Get off the road!”

This time I obeyed at once, and as silently as I had been loud before, I walked, sensing rather than seeing my way. I covered a half-mile in the field adjacent to the road, swallowed up in a void of blackness. My breathing seemed suspended, and I was intent on the night sounds around me, some easily identified and others strange and labored.

The creek crossing was just ahead, and I thought at once of the gate nearby, and whether I should crawl over it or through the fence. Almost before the thought came the answer, “Don’t cross at the gate.”

Where should I cross, then? I paused again, this time to contemplate the thought of the creek and the boggy swamp with cattails and brush that followed its sides. It would be difficult enough in the daylight, but at night? …

Then I smelled an odor borne on the night air that brought terror and instant knowledge: the smell of tobacco smoke, acrid and penetrating! There was someone near the gate assuredly, and every strained nerve assured me that this presence was menacing.

How I crossed the swampy creek and gained the ground on the other side has long since passed from my memory. What is plain and very vivid in my mind is my arrival home and my explanation for the torn and disheveled condition I was in, and the circumstances surrounding it.

My father believed my words without question. He put on his boots, took down his shotgun, and set off in the darkness across the fields. He returned many hours later with no explanation but with the comforting assurance that I had most certainly done the right thing.

Although that marked the end of my long and pleasant evenings walking home in the dusk, I felt a happiness and gratitude for the knowledge that came to me that I indeed had the companionship of the Holy Ghost. How grateful I am for this knowledge, for it has served me well. I trust it will to the end of my life. Has not the Savior promised, “And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” (Matt. 28:20)

[illustration] Illustrated by Sonja Cowgill