Friday, August 31, 2012

When Did I Serve You? Remember?

I can finally see the light at the end of the driveway!

I saw the doctor, and it looks like my days of cabin fever are numbered.  It won't be immediate, but the doctor said that I shouldn't need another surgery, and we can start working on recovery, instead of the stasis of waiting to find out if I would need more spinal surgery.  It will take a while to be sure, and physical therapy will most likely be slow, but I should be able to make steady. progress  It has been tough, and it isn't over yet, but I can see some light at the end of the my driveway.

One of the things that has made bed rest challenging, is that  for over a month I was taking a medication that made my sight blurry.  During that time, I could not read text from books (it was just too blurry) but I could read back lit text. That led to me reading everything, including the scriptures on my iPhone, and clicking on the links to footnotes and resources. I had the time, so following all of the references, put together to create a correlated set of scriptures, was a pleasant way to take my mind off of the pain.

During those reading sessions (I read the Book of Mormon and almost all the links in about 40 days) one thing kept coming to me. While it wasn’t said as often as, “And it came to pass,” the admonition to Remember is ubiquitous. I certainly have had the admonition to remember a particular thought or idea in blessings, and I have heard the admonition to remember in talks, but as I was reading it came to me more clearly than it had before.  It is much easier for Heavenly Father, and the Holy Ghost, to help us remember, than it is to teach us something new.

If I have read the material for a test, asking for divine help to remember the things I have studied, is reasonable. I have done the work to learn the material, and now I need to simply remember the answers. If I have not studied the materials, then there is not much for Them to work with. I think this is true for almost any gospel principle.

I find it relatively easy to distinguish promptings from my own thoughts, but that comes from years of following promptings, even if I don’t understand why the Lord needs something done, right now. A friend asked me, a few months ago, how I could be sure that something was a prompting, when I didn’t have any idea of what the outcome would be. Simply saying that I know it is a prompting, because it is like any other prompting I have received, is not very helpful if you aren’t me. I told her that if she followed the promptings that she thought were promptings, that she would see the rewards from following those promptings, even if it wasn't immediate.

She still wasn’t convinced. She wanted to know how long she would have to wait to see results. I told her that I was pretty sure most of the results we won’t be sure of in this life. I then told her about a day, when I was questioning my eternal worth. When I most needed it, I received a gift that started out several years before, when I followed a simple prompting.

I often get the prompting to send someone a card. Sometimes I know the person, sometimes they are only a name in the ward or stake directory, or a name I run into while doing something else. I try to follow those promptings as they come, so that I don’t forget and lose out on an opportunity to serve.  I seem to be one of the few people I know who finds hand writing and “snail mailing”cards and letters, to be soothing. I think that I am more likely to have the prompting to send a card, than someone with terrible handwriting, or who has never owned stamps. I have a constant supply of store bought and handmade cards and a variety of stamps at any time.

So, on a random day sometime in 2005, I had a prompting to send a card to a woman whose name was in the ward list, but who I hadn’t met. I was calling the Webelos parents to make sure all the boys had hiking boots, when her name and address caught my attention and I had the “you need to send this person a card” prompting. I did the last phone call, pulled out the box of cards, and chose one that seemed “right.” I then said a prayer to know what to write, and started writing. When I was done I addressed the envelope, put a couple of stickers on the envelope, and put it in the mail the next day. I didn’t think about it after it was in the mail box.

Over two years later I was having a tough month. It was about 13 months before I finally left my first husband, and we had been having screaming fights more than once a week. At the end of one of the fights my ex-husband yelled at me for having bought stamps that day. He said, “I have no idea why you send cards to anyone. No one ever sends one back, and they probably throw them away as soon as they see your name on it. Quit fooling yourself that the Holy Ghost has anything to do with it. If I can’t stand you then certainly Heavenly Father can’t.”

Every night as I was falling asleep, saying my prayers, I would hear the words of that fight echo in my head. I started asking Heavenly Father if I was deluded, or if I was useful. For almost two weeks I didn’t really have an answer, and I didn’t follow any of the “card promptings.” At RS the Sunday after I started crying myself to sleep, they encouraged everyone to come to the baptism of a former member who was being rebaptised. The name sounded vaguely familiar, but not enough that I could place it. I was desperate to feel the Spirit more, so I got the kids ready and took them with me to the baptism.

We got to the baptism, and I got the kids settled down towards the back of the room.  I thought that since the name was familiar, when I saw Nancy* that I would immediately recognize her and realize where I knew her from.  Instead, I only was able to pick her out as the woman being baptized because she was wearing the white jump suit.  It was a nice program, and the Spirit was wonderful. I was glad that I had made the effort to get the kids dressed in church clothes again.

After the baptism was done, the twins wanted to go play with a friend for a few hours, and then my son found a friend who had puppies at his home, and his mom was okay with him staying until I picked up the girls.  It was the first Sunday of Spring Break, so playing with church friends until 9:00 pm seemed reasonable.  Just as they were all getting ready to leave, my son's friend hollered, "Sister P******, what time is the picnic on Wednesday?"

The kids were getting all of their jackets sorted out when Nancy approached me.  She said, "You are Julia P*******, right?  I think you sent me a card." I told her that I didn't think so, but I had really enjoyed her baptism.  My son said, "Probably it was mom, she writes lots of cards, even when my dad yells at her!"  Thanks son.  Nothing like kids for honesty.

Nancy went and picked up her purse and drew out an envelope. The kids recognized flower stickers that I still had at home, and it was my handwriting on the inscription.  She was about to say more, but her brother was getting ready to leave and she went over to give him a hug.  She handed me the envelope and card, before giving hugs to a few other people.  I looked at the card, and recognized it as one from a set of six I had made.  I was still confused because I made them a long time ago, and had used the last one over a year before. 

I looked at the envelope and realized that I had sent it thirty two months ago.  Why had she kept the card so long?  Nancy was still talking to other people, so I opened the card and started to read.  I was flabbergasted.  I had shared A LOT of personal details about my life, the sexual abuse and rape, my teenage suicidal attempt, and even my struggle with understanding the Atonement.  I was barely talking to my husband and mom about those issues, outside of therapy, in 2005.  I really couldn't imagine why I had written this many personal details, in a card someone I didn't know.

I was glad that the kids had already taken off.  It gave me a few minutes to digest.  Why had I shared those struggles with Nancy?  Why did Nancy still have the card?  Why was it in her purse?  I didn't have many answers, but I was breathing and able to smile by the time Nancy came to sit next to me. 
She came back and gave me a big hug, and thanked me for coming.  She was absolutely beaming as she then told me the story of the card, why it was in her purse, and how it had impacted every layer of her life.  By ten minutes in, we were both in tears. 

In August of 2005, Nancy had decided that she was done with life.  Everything, in the last two years, had built layer on layer of heartache, and by then, she had decided that she wanted out.  She had planned carefully.  Her parakeets were in a new home, the dog was visiting her brother and his partner, and Nancy was sure they would keep him. She had taken three weeks of vacation and bought all of the supplies that she needed to end her life.  She stopped by the bank and pulled almost all of her money out of her savings account.  Her last stop on that Friday night was to pick up her mail.
She had dinner started when she sorted her mail.  When she saw the envelope with the hand written address and stickers, it was out of place, swimming in among the bills and junk mail.  She didn't recognize my name, and she wasn't sure that she wanted to open it and be disappointed because it was just a card from the insurance company or someone asking for money.  She decided to wait until after dinner to decide what to do. 

Nancy had made the decision to end her life about two months before she started getting the supplies ready to do it.  Through that time she did pray, figuring that she should let Him know what she was planning on doing.  She wasn't positive that He was there, but her parents had believed,  Talking to Him at least helped her become clear in her own mind, about why and how she was going to commit suicide.

After she had showered and changed into pajamas, she checked all of the supplies that she was planning on using the next day, and then sat down on the couch with the card.  She turned it over and over, and then got up the courage to slice through the card with her letter opener. Nancy read the card, tears running down her face.  She never did make it to bed that night.  The rest of the night she cried, read the card again, found her scriptures to look up the scripture reference on the back of the card.  Then she cried again as she drifted off to sleep on the sofa.

That card became her lifeline.  It was in her purse when she showed up to her first counseling appointment the next Monday.  It was in her hand when she talked to the suicide crisis line on Saturday that set up Monday's appointment.  It was in her quad when she went to the last 15 minutes of Relief Society that Sunday. 

Nancy kept the card with her through the funeral of her parents, her brother's failed adoption of a son from Romania, and her best friend's battle with cancer.  She wondered about me, and who I was, but it seemed like an unsolvable mystery.  By the time she thought to go to the address on the envelope, we had already moved.  She checked an old stake directory, but didn't see us in that either.

About fourteen months before we finally met at her baptism, she had decided that she wanted and needed to repent of some past sins. She was ready do whatever she needed to do, so that she could go to the temple. After submitting to the decision of the disciplinary council, Nancy had worked through issue,s with help of her bishop, and had started to attend church regularly.  She was singing in the church choir, and was helping transport the young women from a family who needed help.  About six weeks before she was rebaptised, there was a ward boundary realignment.

For the last four or five months, Nancy had been praying to be able to find me, because she wanted to invite me to come to her baptism.  Several family issues, besides the fighting, had come up over the last few months, so I had only been to church twice since the realignment.  I was still getting used to the new ward. (We were one of about twenty families that had been moved from one ward to the other.) So, I was praying for guidance and Nancy was praying for me to be there, and we both got what we were asking for.

Nancy kept saying, "How did you know?"  She had thought about me for over two years, and to be honest, as soon as the card was in the mail, I didn't think about it.  I send out a couple hundred cards or letters a year, and well over half of them are to people I don't know well.  Some are to thank someone for sharing their testimony or giving a talk, or to someone who I am assigned to as a visiting teacher, who doesn't want in person or phone contact.  Almost half of my outgoing mail are"prompting cards."  There are so many of them, and I never expect to get a response.  I do occasionally, but it is not more than 1 in 50, and often times the responses are not very immediate. 

Nancy is not the first person who I have run into years after mailing a card who recognizes my name, and I am left scrambling to try and remember why I had sent them a card.  I usually have to confess that I had a prompting to send it, but that really the card was from Christ, not from me.  I didn't know them well enough to know that they needed proof that someone cared.

In Nancy's case, and for a lot of the "prompting cards" that I send, I am not sure that I was even the one writing the message that the words convey.  I didn't remember anything about what I had written, or that I had shared so many intimate details of my own life, until I read the card, as I sat next to Nancy that night.  Still, the scripture reference on the back of the card, spoke to me just as loudly as it had to Nancy several years before.  she had the answer as to whether or not the Lord cared for her, whether there was anyone else who understood the trials in her life, and whether she was worthy of being loved.  Thirty two months later I had my answer,  about whether the Lord thought I was worthy to serve Him and if the promptings I received were from Him or just a delusion of my own making.

So, what scripture brought both of us the comfort we needed when we were at low points in our lives?  What explained the love that our Savior has for us, and allowed us to make important and life changing decisions about of our lives?

Back Side of the Card:
Mathew 25:40

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

If you would like to see the post that started me thinking about this experience, and sharing it with other, you can see it at In Our Ward: Teachings for Our Times: Acquiring and Recognizing Spiritual Guidance. I have been enjoying poking around in the "Keepa Archives!" 

* Names, years and dates, as well as a few specific details, that are not relevant to the experience, have been changed.  Since I am sharing some very personal details of someone else's life, who I don't have current contact information for her, changing key identifiers seemed the best way to protect her privacy.

13 comments:

  1. Keep writing your cards - they are very touching. I am so glad you were able to help someone out in this fashion and I am also proud to call you friend. And if you ever have issues buying stamps again, just let me know and I will send you lots. :)

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  2. Well, if you ever run into cool ones, I don't like to use flag stamps. It seems like they should have at least a little personality! ;-)

    Scott is all good with my card budget. He even helps me with cutting the paper for the cards that I make. As long as I don't ask him to design the actual cards, he is happy.

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  3. This story is a treasure. Thank you for sharing. It bolsters my faith. And reminds me that I have a few cards I have been meaning to send!

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  4. I love this story. I've been the recipient of love like this - at the moment when I thought I couldn't endure one more second, someone was always there to say, "You'll get through this."

    Thank you for sharing.

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  5. Thanks Jen!

    That was an important part of seeing the Atonement in a larger sense. Ironically, I would say that most of my faith promoting experiences have also been tolerance promoting ones.

    I consider myself lucky to have the gifts I do, but like I shared on your blog, the experiences to get there are not always easy. I can easily see how some people would make different decisions, or feel differently than I do. I have "wrestled with Angels," and I did not know what the outcome would be.

    I hope to see you again Jen, and I will definitely look around your blog more in the next few days. :-)

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  6. that's a wonderful gift you have by serving with your letters. We're all blessed with ways to serve through our talents and its a wonderful story of how yours work for you and the people you bless.

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  7. Thanks for your comment Werner. I think it is a wonderful blessing that the Lord uses both our strengths and weaknesses to help others!

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  8. I received this comment by email earlier oday. The writer gave me permission to post it without using her name or info identifying her.

    Julia, you were my visiting teacher about six years ago. I don't know if you even remember my me. You wrote me every month, but I never wrote you back or called you or even though you sent me envelopes that had your address on it and a stamp. I knew I could write you but i didnt know what to say so I never did.

    I started back to church two years ago. I live in (name withheld) and my home teacher went to school with you. He saw some of your comments on a big blog, and i guess he found you or found your blog. I haven't ever been to a blog before.

    When he was helping me get a light bulb replaced outside, we were yakking about home teaching and whether I am going to be a visiting teache because I don't know if I would be good enough at it since I have never been one before and I only ever had one visiting teacher, which is you. I think you are a good visiting teacher because you kept sending things even though I never said thank you. I told him about you, but he didn't know it was you, because I didn't remember your name and your last name is different now anyway.

    I told him how you sent me cards and the magnet with my name on it for my birthday and the envelopes soo I could write you back and the gift certificate for ice cream and that you kept sending them even when I never said thank you.

    When he saw you blog post he thought about me telling him about when you were my visiting teacher. So he and (wife of home teacher) came and let me use their laptop and showed me the blog letter.

    When I read about someone else getting cards, I wondered if I was special or not. Then (home teacher) said that I was very special because Heavenly Father only has four or five people that get to have you as their visiting teacher at one time. There were lots of other people who needed friend's too. I didn't get just one card. I got 7, and I still have all of them in my special box and I read them whenever I am sad. The magnet you made me is also on my fridge and it usually has my doctors numbers which are important.

    I don't know how to send emails on blogs and I don't want anyone to know my name thag doesn't already know it. (Home teacher) said I could use his email since i don't have a computer or email. He is going to bring his laptop everytime he comes so I can read the things you say so I can still hear them. I am glad other people get cards and that you listen for prompts and send good things. I am reading hard and taking the temple class. I still have the temple card with the Portland temple. I have it in the corner of my mirror and I read what you wrote when I don't think I am good enough.

    Thank you for being a good visiting teacher. I am still nervous, but (home teacher) says I don't have to write. I can just visit people and then they don't have to read my bad handwriting. I wish I had sent you something back with the stamped envelopes, but you don't lived there anymore. I will say thank you this way. Thank you!!!!!

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  9. I have always hoped I was doing something worthwhile, but wasn't really sure what impact tgey had, if any. It makes my so humble when I hear that a card means something to someone. Knowing that a card was opened makes me glad, that what I wrote connected with someone at the time makes me happy.

    That someone still has a card months or years after I sent the card, and that it still means something fills me with an intense gratitude for the Lord's love and the perfection of his plan. I can't claim any credit. It is the Holy Ghost that knows what to say, when to say it, and who to say it to. Just as He knows just when *I* need to hear that I have done something of worth.

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  10. This is an AMAZING story!

    Julia, I think I accidentally deleted a comment you left on my blog post about Valerie's prayer. I was using my phone and hit delete instead of publish on the tiny screen! Anyways, If you would like to republish her prayer with a link to my blog I would be HONORED! Thanks for thinking of us. I don't know you in real life, but it sounds like you are in the business of impacting people you have never really met :)

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  11. Thanks Lora! I think it will make the perfect 9/11 post. I will email you about a picture, and maybe "interviewing" Vi for the post. :-)

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  12. Every time you gave me a card in school, it was really important to me. I have all of them too, just like the other people who told you. My favorite one was the one you made with my name and the rainbow of colors that went around my name all the way to the edge of the card. I could tell it took you a long time, and no one ever took that much time on something for me.

    I pulled it out to look at it, and I thought I would tell everyone what you wrote.

    Tina -

    You did such a good job with your report today. I know you were worried. You started soft, but after that everyone could hear you.

    No matter how afraid you are, you can do whatever you want to do. You are a special person.

    (There is a butterfly) Julie

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  13. Tina,

    I still make cards like that for people. I also make them as magnets and stuff in smaller forms. Yours was one of the first ones I made as a card. :-)

    I am so glad that you are feeling more comfortable commenting on the blog. You continue to amaze me! I am very glad that I get to have you as my friend too! Thanks for all your comments.

    Julia

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