I read a fascinating account by a woman who had had an after-death experience. She recounted how after her death she was met by a divine personage. Together they watched as her life was replayed, as if in holograms. She even saw herself being born and was privy to the thoughts of others in the room. She not only saw everything she did, spoke or thought, but she was able to also see other’s feelings and reactions to her.
She was stunned to see how some very small things that she did were magnified over and over in other peoples’ lives. Both for good and for evil. It was stunning to her how much her every little action influenced others. For example, she could have kicked her dog in frustration over it peeing on the floor. The dog, in turn, bit the visiting neighbor. The neighbor screamed in pain, scaring her 3-year-old daughter, who burst into tears. The little girl threw her ragdoll at the dog, who bit it and refused to let go. The child wailed and tried to pry her doll from the dog. Unfortunately, the doll’s arm was torn in this power struggle. (This is a made-up scenario, but I think you get the point.)
This woman also saw how the good things she did continued to echo in others’ lives. She was shocked to see the power of each small act. She wondered to herself why she had done so few good things, given the power that they seemed to have to affect others.
This was pretty sobering to me.
This past week, I had an experience that taught this same principle to me pretty powerfully. I’m going to back up and give a little history of an experience my husband and I had while he was serving as the Mission President in the Santiago, Dominican Republic Mission.
When we arrived in the mission in 2012 there were only a handful of pianists in any of the 46 church units in our mission. As the members struggled to sing hymns they were unfamiliar with, some of the hymns were hard to recognize from the tune sung by the members!
I decided to take my violin and play the melody line at all the Stake Conferences and District Conferences in the mission, where we had to speak. It was such a simple thing to do, but the members seemed delighted to hear the actual tunes of the hymns.
Turns out, Pres. Diaz of the La Vega District, had several young women come up to him after one of our District Conferences, who told him they wanted to learn how to play the violin. Unbeknownst to me, he had called my husband to find out if there was a way to get instruments for these kids and to arrange for lessons. This was quite a challenge as the nearest violin teacher was in Santo Domingo—two hours away.
But obstacles had been overcome. Instruments were purchased and lessons began. These Young Women were really motivated. When we were ready to leave our mission, Pres. Diaz invited us to a farewell party. We were absolutely stunned to be treated to a presentation by a string quartet made up of those four Young Women in the District, playing Bach and Mozart. I was speechless!
There’s more to this story. This little group of youth so inspired their friends that a small orchestra was formed in the community. It met in the Church. So once a week, students and parents were coming to the chapel for orchestra practice. Most of these people would never have dreamed of stepping into a “Mormon” church before. Many friendships were formed as the parents watched their kids rehearse together. I don’t know if the missionaries were able to teach some of the parents and their families, but at the very least, it changed the way the community saw our church. I never would have dreamed of this sequence of events!
Last week, John and I had reason to return to visit the Dominican Republic. We actually attended two different branches in La Vega (Framboyanes and Primavera) because we had so many people we loved in each branch. It had been seven years since we had left the mission.
When we arrived at the Framboyanes Branch, I was so surprised to see two violinists playing with a pianist. That’s right—with a pianist! One of our senior couples had taught piano lessons to interested people in the District. I wish she could have walked into that meeting with me and seen a pianist playing the hymns. She would have been thrilled. And with two violins accompanying him, no less!
As I spoke to one of the violinists after the meeting, she told me that playing the violin had literally changed her life. She said she had taken her violin on her mission. In her first area, on the first Sunday she was in the mission, she took her violin to church. She and her companion had to walk quite a distance to get to the Church. A man watched them walk by and seemed to be staring at them curiously. He followed them and asked her what she was carrying. She told him, “I’m carrying a violin to play at our church.” He asked if he could come listen, as he had never heard a violin before. She smiled as she replied, “Of course!”. The next week he showed up again with some of his friends.
Before she left the area, this little branch which had originally had 40 people when she arrived, had 140 people when she left! So many people had come to hear her play the violin, that she and her companion and the other missionaries in the area were kept very busy teaching all the people.
This sweet young girl was preparing to go to college where she planned to continue her studies in music. I have to add that that Sunday when we went from the Framboyanes Branch to the Primavera Branch, once again a violinist was playing alongside a pianist. Unbelievable! I couldn’t stop smiling!
All this because I decided to bring my violin to a District Conference to play the melody line of the hymns. I never, never could have guessed what the ramifications of that would be. It was such a small thing I had done . . .
Another interesting experience occurred in another return visit to the Dominican Republic. In one small town we went to visit a family that we had known. We had heard that the mother had recently had a baby girl. We went to congratulate her. When we arrived, she placed the most beautiful little baby girl into my arms. As I oohed and aahed over her, I asked the mother what the baby’s name was. She replied, with a big grin, “Her name is Amber.” I was very surprised. Amber is not a Hispanic name.
I exclaimed that I had also had a baby girl named Amber many years ago. “Yes, I know,” she smiled. “I named this baby for your daughter, Amber.” Iwas open-mouthed stunned! She explained, “Once in our District Conference you gave a talk entitled, ‘No empty chairs.’ You told about your daughter, Amber, who had struggled with Bipolar disease. For a while your daughter, Amber, had become inactive in the Church. After reading an article in a church magazine, you spoke of how your family decided to have a dinner with the theme, ‘No empty chairs in heaven.’”
Shortly after this dinner, Amber eventually returned to the Church. Even though her life ended tragically, when she died, she was active in the Church and very busy doing her genealogy. I was very moved by your story.’
‘I want this daughter of mine to know that in our family there will be no empty chairs, so I named her after your daughter, Amber.” You could have knocked me over with a feather! I felt that Amber’s legacy was living on in the Dominican Republic.
Many of you may remember that my daughter, Amber, died by suicide after a long struggle with bipolar disease. After her death, we learned that Amber had been spending part of the money we gave her for college each month, to donate to an orphanage in India. After her death, I went to visit this orphanage. There in the streets of Chennai, I encountered many people suffering terribly with leprosy. This was what led me to start Rising Star Outreach, a charity to serve people in India affected by leprosy.
As part of the work of this charity a beautiful campus was built for children from the leprosy colonies. It was a boarding school. The dorms were paid for by the J.W. & Alice S. Marriott Foundation. They requested that we name the girls’ dorm, The Amber Douglas Home for Girls, in honor of my daughter’s life that had led me to India in the first place.
One of the fun things about visiting our campus is to ask the children where they live. The little girls always reply, “Auntie, I live in the Amber.” That gives me chills clear down to my toenails! Over the years hundreds of girls will likely have lived in this dorm. l can’t help but think how different their lives will be because they lived in this dorm and received a top-notch education. And the influence doesn’t stop there. They go on to help lift their families after they graduate from college.
Also, when each of those girls marries, their children’s lives will likely be completely different because their mother lived in the Amber Douglas Home for Girls. And then their children’s children will also have their lives on a totally different trajectory because their grandmothers lived in that dorm and received an education. God has truly honored my daughter’s life, despite its pain and the tremendous burden that she struggled with.
Even from a life lived in great trial, one that seemingly ended in failure, God has been able to have the struggles of that life influence many people for the better. Through her small act of sharing a little of her money each month, a beautiful dorm now stands in her name. Over time, thousands of lives will be blessed.
Every life has meaning! Every small thing we do in this life has meaning—far beyond our imaginations. We matter! I think only God realizes how much we really matter. Every choice we make matters. It becomes the messenger of either good or evil in others’ lives. I think we will be stunned when we exit this life and get to watch our lives played out in front of our eyes.
I believe it is not until the next life that we will finally realize how much we influenced others. We will be surprised at how much good we were able to do. I suspect that we will wonder, like the lady who wrote about her after-death experience, why in the world we did not do so much more. After all, they were only small things!
Truly, in reality, there are no small things!
Amy FoxApril 14, 2022
I was deeply moved by your article. We have children who suffer from mental illness, including bipolar. It's a vicious disease and I'm so thankful that you have honored your daughter and helped bring meaning to her life. Thank you for sharing that there can be beauty, even in darkness.
Kathie CudeApril 13, 2022
Thank you for sharing! I needed this today and this is such an important message for us all to keep in the back of our minds.