The simultaneous infinite worth and nothingness of man has always seemed a curious doctrinal dichotomy to me, but the truthfulness of the two superficially opposing eternal realities came into sharper focus for me as I served at my husband’s side on Church assignments around the world.
Often, when my husband was scheduled to attend meetings that didn’t include me, I asked leaders to arrange visits for me at the homes of local Church members. I never knew in advance whom I was going to be visiting or details of why those people had been chosen for the visits, but without exception, the opportunity to spend unscripted time in members’ homes was inspiring and profoundly gratifying. I didn’t always learn anything about potential ramifications of the visits, but occasionally the import and heavenly purpose of specific visits became apparent on location or sometime thereafter. That follow up illumination was always welcome and awesome in the holiest sense of the word.
During an assignment in the Philippines, I was scheduled to visit a sister who lived some miles from the center of town in a very small, simple home deep in the jungle. I was accompanied by the stake and branch Relief Society presidents, as well as the wife of the Area Seventy from a neighboring island who accompanied us to the stake conference. I had never met any of those women before, but I fast gained a great appreciation for their goodness of heart as well as their familiarity with the local landscape. Our destination was so far off the beaten path that I would likely be lost there still had it not been for the able navigation of the local sisters.
After a slow drive on rudimentary dirt roads, we arrived at a simple home constructed with heavy cardboard and corrugated tin on a dirt floor. We entered to find the indoor space ingeniously turned into a tidy dwelling place with several separate rooms partitioned off by colorful shower curtains hung neatly from curtain rods. In order to provide for a bedroom without compromising the minimal floor space, the family had built a platform above the main rooms with a ladder leading to a wooden floor with pads spread wall to wall for sleeping. A gracious sister and her teenaged daughter welcomed us and invited us to sit on folding chairs and large paint canisters.
While we introduced ourselves to each other, I sought to listen carefully both to their introductions and the voice of heaven to enable me to know what I might offer to that impressive mother and daughter. I was on the other side of a wide world, oceans and miles from my home and familiar turf, but I felt an unmistakable closeness to those Philippine sisters. Their infinite worth and my smallness of familiarity with the details of their lives sat face to face in that small room feeling somewhat at odds with each other.
And then the wife of the Area Seventy at my side spoke up. We had all heard a rustle of movement from behind one of the curtains. She asked with local forthrightness, “Is your husband back there?” The wife answered, “Yes.” Without pausing, the Area Seventy’s wife called to that husband to come join us. He did, albeit slowly and with what appeared to be great physical pain.
He had no sooner taken a seat than the sister asked if he had seen a doctor for his physical problems. The wife answered for him, assuring her that, yes, they had seen a doctor and he had prescribed medication. The Area Seventy’s wife asked her to fetch the pills to show her exactly what he had been prescribed. She looked at the pills and said, “I am a rheumatologist. That medication is exactly what he needs to be taking. Is he taking it as prescribed?” The wife confessed, “No. We can’t afford to buy the pills, so we are rationing the ones we have to make them last longer.” That doctor at my side replied, “If he takes those pills as they are prescribed, he will get well and will be able to return to work. I have drawers full of samples of those pills. I will send someone to your home with enough pills to make your husband well.”
We bid that sweet family a tender farewell and made our way back through the jungle to our car. All the way home, I marveled at the miracle of what had occurred. I hadn’t known that that sister who accompanied me on that visit was a rheumatologist. None of us did. I certainly knew nothing about that brother’s malady or what would make him well and I had no pills at my disposal. But heaven knew it all. Without the benefit of any details of why, the Relief Society president had felt inspired to take me there so that that rheumatologist would be implicated and at my side and could facilitate the healing of that brother. That’s how heaven works. Everyone, everywhere, one by one.
On another occasion, I found myself sitting in the back of a minivan traveling up and down the hills of La Paz, Bolivia, with a team of local leaders who were my companions as we made our way to visit a young woman from their stake. In an attempt to prepare myself somewhat for the visit ahead, I asked the stake president at the wheel, “Is this young woman a member of the Church?” He responded quickly, “Oh yes! She never misses a meeting. She is a wonderful example to all the other young women.” I continued, “Are her parents members of the Church? Is she doing well in school? Does she have health problems or other concerns?” His answer was always the same: “She is a model young woman in every wonderful way.” Since I usually was taken to visit people who had notable needs, I wondered if there had been some miscommunication. I felt sure I would love meeting this exceptional young woman, but I wasn’t sure I would have anything particularly timely to offer her.
When we arrived at the cinder block home that was our destination, we made our way up a small staircase and into the immaculate home. The cement floor was carefully swept and several folding chairs were neatly arranged in a circle. We each took a seat, then all eyes turned to me. After all, this visit had been scheduled responsive to my request and they had no idea what I had in mind. At that moment, neither did I.
Mostly as a stall, I asked each member of the circle to introduce him or herself and share something of the connection they had to the young woman. One sister introduced herself as the owner of the home, so I learned that the home didn’t belong to the family of the young woman. That was a clue. Others in the circle were the stake president, the branch president, my team, the young woman herself, Luz, and her mother sitting at her side with a sleeping baby boy strapped to her back and her head bowed in what looked like well-earned fatigue.
I knew more than I had before, but I still was unsure why heaven had sent us to that home for that girl. With no other options occurring to me, I chose simply to ask Luz. I said, “I have traveled from continents away. I have time to visit only a couple of people in your city. Your leaders have felt inspired to bring me here to this home to visit you. I don’t really know why that is the case. Do you know why I am here?” Luz promptly began to cry. I knew I had asked the right question.
After a few quiet moments, Luz’s branch president broke the silence by saying, “As you know, we have had a land slide in our branch. (I didn’t know that.) Most of the branch members have lost their homes as they slid into the ravine below. Like many others, Luz’s father is camping on the rubble that was their home, waiting until he is allowed to pick through the wreckage to recover anything he can. In the meantime, their family is living at the Church in a classroom, showering in the baptismal font area, and preparing food in the kitchen with many other families.”
At that point, Luz regained her composure and spoke for herself. She said, “I love my family. My mother is very tired. (That was obvious and understandable.) I’m trying very hard to help. I help my mother with the cooking, I help my five little brothers with their homework, and I tell them stories at bedtime. I want to do that. I’m not complaining. I just am hoping maybe you can tell me, does Heavenly Father know I am here? Does He care? Is He happy about what I am doing?”
Voilà. I knew why those leaders had felt inspired to take me to see that faithful young woman. I was there speaking in a language not my own to a girl I had never met to enable me to be His voice, to give His hug, to offer His encouragement. Small me. Big purpose. Everywhere. Everyone. One at a time.
While in London, after a large meeting, I met with a group of local Women’s Organization leaders to determine where I might be able to be useful for the two hours before our next meeting. Those leaders decided on visits at the homes of two widows in the neighborhood. I eagerly delighted in meeting those valiant sisters, then returned to the stake center where we had originated with still a little time to spare.
I noticed a Young Women president I had met earlier standing near us with a thoughtful look on her face. When asked, she shared that there was a particular young woman in her stake that she felt would really benefit from a visit. The others did the calculations and determined that there wasn’t time to get to her home and back before our next obligation, but the strength of that Young Women president’s feeling prevented my parting with the proposed visit entirely. Those accommodating leaders put their heads together and determined that if I left the stake conference on Sunday morning immediately after the session and drove directly to that girl’s home for a visit, I could leave the visit and hurry to the airport to rendezvous with my husband in time for our flight back to the U.S. We committed to the plan.
The next morning, I hustled out of that morning session and jumped into the car of the Young Women president who had proposed the visit. We drove across town to the townhome of a young woman I’ll call Elena. Elena herself answered the door as if she had been waiting for us. I had learned on the drive there that Elena had recently had a miscarriage. She was at a crossroads – confused and unsure where she would go next. After greeting us, Elena’s parents excused themselves and left just Elena, her Young Women president, and me to sit side by side on a floral sofa to talk. I learned that Elena was from Paraguay, a country we had visited many times. She was wearing a red dress very similar to the one I was wearing. I felt an immediate affection for and connection to that seeking, sorrowing young sister.
Our time together was limited by my flight schedule, so we launched quickly into the subject at hand. I expressed my compassion for Elena and asked her how she was feeling. She confessed that she felt pretty good physically, but she felt alone, confused, and stuck emotionally and spiritually. At that moment, it seemed easier to her to hide than to press forward. Certainly, she couldn’t simply return to her Young Women class on Sunday as if nothing had happened. My heart ached for her in her despair.
Hoping to draw her out of that paralyzing moment, I asked her, “If you had your dream-come-true, where would you be in ten years?” She paused for a moment, but then seemed glad for the invitation to look beyond the messy moment. “Well,” she said, “I will be twenty-six years old. I sort of thought I would be married in the temple and maybe even have a child.” A light appeared in her eyes as she allowed herself to “see afar off” (Moses 6:27).
I continued: “Where would you love to see yourself in five years? In one year?” And then, “So, if you were going to get to those places, where would you need to be next week? Tomorrow?” She knew the answer. She saw the way. She responded with newfound resolve, “I will need to leave my boyfriend. I will return to Church. I can do this!”
I bid Elena farewell and hurried to the airport with a fervent prayer in my heart that that brave and resolute girl would remain brave and resolute.
I don’t always or even often know what exactly becomes of the people I visit after I leave, but occasionally I have the sweet blessing of hearing about or from them. Five years after that meaningful visit, I received an email with a photo attached. I recognized the stunning, dark-haired girl in the photo right away. It was Elena. She was beaming adjacent a handsome fellow. She was wearing a wedding dress. He was beaming, too.
I hungrily read her message that joyfully told me that she had met an American military fellow who was a member of the Church. They had fallen in love and married and were preparing to be sealed in the London temple. Our time together five years earlier had been short but important. She was cherished by God then and forever. He knew her intimately. She was small in the context of humanity, but she was personal and precious to her Eternal Father in Heaven. Everywhere. Everyone. One at a time.
To Elena all those years ago, the bad news had seemed to her that she was unable to hide from God. Others have tried to hide from Him and likewise been unsuccessful. Think of Jonah or Adam and Eve. But really the good news is that God is unwilling to hide from us. He always knows where we are, and He always wants to be near us. We can never fall so far or be so distant that He doesn’t know where we are and “feel after us” (D&C 112:13). Our might may on occasion be in question, but His never is. He is forever mighty to heal, mighty to comfort, and “mighty to save” (2 Nephi 31:19) – Everywhere. Everyone. One at a time.