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For The Strength of Youth

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    Ch. 44 The Wisdom of the Wise
 
Submitted by Steven ODell on 19 February 2010 - 11:00pm. | | | | |

No More Disposition To Do Evil
Steven G. O'Dell (C) 2010

...and they had no more disposition to do evil, but only to do good.

In the early 1970's in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, I was a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was still young and green and falsely confident of many things. I was to be tested as to my degree of being in tune with the Spirit and as to my level of faith.

In the ward where I was assigned were several young girls who were quite attractive and dressed much more revealingly than they should have. As a red-blooded young man, it was difficult to ignore. I am afraid I have to admit I spent more time, as did my companion, around these young ladies than we should have. But one day that friendship became quite important.

We were at home for lunch one day when there was a frantic knock at the door and one of these young women urgently asked us to come and help her friend, who was behaving very strangely. The home was only a block or so away and we ran all of the distance, with her filling us in as we went. She said she thought her friend, another member of the ward, was possessed by an evil spirit. Neither my companion nor I had experience with casting one out before. I had, however, personal experiences with ones that seemed intent on keeping me from going on a mission. These had actually picked me up and tossed me across the room at different times in an effort to hurt me.

As we entered the home, we could see immediately that this was not the same girl we knew from church. This was more like a pacing wild animal that was cornered and wanted only to escape. A different spirit was indeed in her at the time. How different, we would know later.

We instructed her to sit down in a chair, which she did begrudgingly. In retrospect, I wonder why, except that perhaps her own spirit was still a bit stronger than the one attempting to take over her body. We laid hands upon her head and I began to give a blessing. I pronounced that the spirit would come out of her and that she would be restored to her whole and healthy self again.

My companion told me that when I had pronounced the words for the evil spirit to depart, he had felt something akin to an electric shock go up his arms. I felt nothing of the sort. All I felt was an intense purpose that the demon was going to leave and I would not stop until it had done so.

This young lady was indeed herself again and she related how she had felt when we first walked into the room. She said that even if we had been dressed in rags and she in the finest of dresses, she would still have felt unclean and uncomfortable in our presence. Once the spirit was gone, she was again whole and comfortable to be with us.

We reflected upon this incident a lot in the next several days. While there is indeed an opposing force of evil, God always provides a way to remove it from our presence, from our lives, from our spirits. We must never flirt with powers in opposition to God. They will not have our best interests at heart. They seek only our misery and destruction. Only God loves us without restraint, without reservation and unselfishly. Only God can complete us as we were meant to be, removing the evil disposition and and giving us a new heart.

Submitted by Steven ODell on 19 February 2010 - 10:09pm. | | | | |

Opposition In All Things
Steven G. O'Dell © 2010

The Lord will not be confounded, neither shall He allow his faithful servants to be confounded.

While in high school, I began to have an interest in doing the right thing, becoming the right kind of person; therefore, it was natural that I should want to associate with those I felt were of that caliber themselves. Over time, I became involved with a group of kids from the local Church of Christ, close to where I lived. I was even baptized by the minister, called simply Mr. Taylor by the kids. I recall we went on a few road trips together and it was fun. But for some reason, I always felt there should be more than just socializing. It all felt empty to me; hollow spiritually, although I didn't recognize it as such at the time. Because there was little but socializing to keep me, I fell away and in with the wrong influences. None of these so-called friends questioned my disappearance...until much later and under questionable circumstances.

I became caught up in the spirit of the times, the Sixties. It was sex, drugs and rock and roll. As I became more and more a part of this debauchery and immorality, there was still one thing I would not take part in and that was taking the Lord's name in vain. I used almost every other swear word you could think of, used almost every available drug and took part in all the pleasures of the flesh that a heterosexual male could partake of. And yet it did not bring me satisfaction. My story of my conversion is not what I want to speak of, however. What puzzled me was the reaction of these acquaintances who had previously abandoned me to the wiles of the Adversary. Once it was discovered that I was studying with the 'Mormons”, ministers came out of the woodwork to save my immortal soul from errors they perceived in the doctrines of Joseph Smith.

Two particular events stand out to me from that time period, although there were many along the way. The approaches of the two parties to the teaching were polar opposites of one another. One group was saying I needed to just trust and believe them that Joseph Smith was wrong and was deceived by the Devil and that only their interpretation of the Bible was accurate. The others, the missionaries of the Latter-day Saints, told me to pray for the answer and God would be faithful and answer with a witness that was unmistakable. The first said that only the Bible was the word of God and it was complete. The second said that God was not limited to speaking or causing to be written only one record. The first claimed the heavens were sealed and God no longer spoke to prophets and Apostles. The second bore witness that modern revelation was indeed fact and that the individual could know for himself the truth.

The first minister to come see me to save my soul from the Mormons was Mr. Taylor. I had not seen him or heard from him since I had fallen off the map, so to speak. Now he wanted to set me straight and reclaim his lost sheep. We had an interesting discussion, I must say.

I was young and still spiritually green in many ways, but I was excited to think that God would still speak to mankind and guide us toward truth. I found it difficult to think that God would have abandoned us to our own devices if He was the same yesterday, today and forever, as I had read.

I recall mentioning to Mr. Taylor that I thought the true church, if on the earth today, would have all the same earmarks of the ancient church – Apostles, Prophets, priesthood authority, gifts of the Spirit, such as raising the dead and healing the sick by the laying on of hands. His response was surprising, to be sure.

He opened his Bible to the New Testament and read off a list of the authorities of the Apostles and, with an air of authority and a smug smile himself, declared that since the Apostles were dead, the powers they had held were no longer in existence. It was evident from his attitude that he thought the matter closed and that there would be no questioning it on my part. How wrong he was. He had just hung himself from his own argument.

Mentioned in that list of authorities of the Apostles that he had so casually pronounced as being dead and gone was the authority to baptize. It may have gone unnoticed to him, but it had stood out like a neon light to me and I wasted no time in questioning him on the issue.

“Then if the authority to baptize is gone, did you have authority to baptize me?”

He looked as if I had hit him between the eyes with a brick. He stammered and stuttered and tried to change the subject, but by now I was adamant and held on like the proverbial bulldog.

“Now, wait a minute. This is my eternal salvation we are talking about. Did you have authority to baptize me or not?” I looked straight into his eyes with an intensity he couldn't ignore. I wanted an answer and I wanted it to be clear, concise and honest. Again he stuttered and danced around the issue. He had no answer and it was more than adequately apparent. He left soon after and that was the last I heard of him or ever saw him again. I am not sure if he ever was able to answer the question to his own satisfaction or not, but he had answered it to mine. He had no authority he could trust in. He had a diploma, a license, a document or whatever you wanted to call it, that said he had satisfactorily attended a theological institute. God has no need of such things and has never handed such trifles to assert His authority. Paper is paper, no matter what is printed on it. Priesthood power and authority is far more and unmeasurable. It cannot be handed out in portions like so many ribbons, buttons or rewards for good grades and attendance. And now Mr. Taylor knew that, too, I assume.

The other episode was when two men came from another branch of the same church, The Church of Christ. One was the pastor and the other worked with my father. Both were concerned about the deception of the Mormon doctrines again. So far, the same story. Here is where it begins to get more interesting.

While claiming that the Book of Mormon was not reliable because it had been changed, I picked up a copy and asked sincerely if they would show me where the changes had taken place. I assumed that it they were ready to make the claims, they must have some evidence of such. Perhaps they had brought with them an earlier version that we could compare. Not only did they not take the copy I had and point out anything from it, they actually leaned backward and away from it as I offered it. I thought this odd, but let it go until the claim was again made regarding changes to the text. Again I offered to have them point out to me, in my own copy, where these changes had taken place. Again, the same leaning backward and away from the book, but this time with the words, “I wouldn't touch that perverted book.”

My father, who had been a silent observer to this point, suddenly came off the couch at the other end of the room. I don't recall ever seeing him move so fast in all my life. He stopped short of them, as if he had caught himself before grabbing their collars, and he stated clearly and with some degree of controlled anger, “I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you gentlemen to leave.”

And leave they did, immediately. I don't think more than a few more words were spoken as they left. I don't even recall what they were, but it wasn't from me or my father that they came. My father told me later that the man he worked with didn't speak to him for some time after that. I would assume it was too awkward to do so after such treatment. But the thing that was most impressive to me was this – after they left, my father paced the floor several times, shaking his head silently and cooling off. When he stopped pacing, he said simply and profoundly, “There must be something to it or they wouldn't fight it so hard.” The words struck a chord in me that night. From then on, my father was more a part of the missionary discussion, too.

Over the years, I have reflected on how a personal testimony must grow to remain strong. A testimony never tried is a testimony that will die on its own. Some die as a result of trials they are not ready to handle, or so it would seem, but I know that God is faithful and provides a way out and upward for His children, if they will not lose faith in Him. I know, because God put into the hands and mouth of a still spiritually green young man the means to counter the supposed wisdom of the wise, the enslavement of erroneous beliefs and the wiles of the Devil. No truer words were ever spoken that these – “There must needs be opposition in all things.” After the test of faith comes the reward.

Submitted by Steven ODell on 19 February 2010 - 6:29pm. | | | | | |

A Light In The Darkness
Steven G. O'Dell (C) 2010

...that when ye are in the service of your fellow man, ye are only in the service of your God.

I will never forget the name Abraham Schaefer, nor how this humble, kind and caring Jewish man taught me the extent to which God will go to show His love for His children, Israel.

It was early in the 1970's in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada and I was serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Our apartment was above a store at the corner of King and Arthur streets. I always saw the humor in that. I still do.

The day in question started as any other. We studied the map and decided where we would go that day to do the Lord's work. No specific impressions being received at that point, we chose an area we had not yet covered together. Our assignment, however, was soon to be changed.

As we were en route to our chosen area, we both stopped suddenly and felt strongly prompted as we reached a particular street. After a moment of discussion and agreement on the prompting, we turned and proceeded down that street, choosing a side at random, as no further impression was given. In short order, we would know we had chosen correctly.

The first half of the block was just as any other we had encountered—no answer, 'not interested', 'we have our own church', etc. The home of Abraham Schaefer was to be different, however. Just how different would be a surprise to us all.

Mr. Schaefer was sitting on his porch, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine, we assumed. We informed him of our purpose as we stood on his walkway, not presuming to intrude onto his porch. He informed us he was Jewish in belief and practice and had no real interest in our message, but as he looked up and noticed the sky darkening, he invited us to come into his home with him until the storm should pass.

This, I am convinced, was no ordinary storm. What had been a moment before a clear sky was now covered in thick, dark clouds and thunder was beginning to sound in our ears. As we entered the house, Mr. Schaefer mentioned that he was not feeling too well. He introduced us to his grown daughter and within a few moments we were surprised to see him begin to collapse and we eased him to the floor. His daughter began to panic and had no idea what to do. Responding to our firm, but gentle command, she got on the phone and called for emergency medical assistance. They seemed to arrive quickly, as we made every effort to keep Mr. Schaefer and his daughter calm.

I recall that as we were watching him being loaded into the ambulance, the sun suddenly broke through the blackest of clouds and the sky began to rapidly clear. The same clouds that had seemed to come out of nowhere, now proceeded to return to the same place in the same fashion. And there we all stood, in the very middle of the rays of sunshine from Heaven. This had indeed been no ordinary thunderstorm. The hand of God had been in it, I am convinced.

I wonder if anyone else saw the significance in the symbolism. God's light shining down out of the darkness, the storms of life, focusing on His beloved children – those who were here to assist the needy and afflicted, to calm the concerns and the souls of the worried. To show His love of His children, Israel, and to show His approval of an assignment well done by faithful servants. It was a humbling experience and the rest of the day seemed much more ordinary as a result.

The next day, my companion and I visited the hospital where Abraham Schaefer had been taken. As we asked where he was roomed, we were told without equivocation that had we not responded as quickly as we did and been there when we were, he would not have made it to the hospital alive. It had been a massive heart attack and scant minutes had mattered greatly and saved his life. Yet again were we humbled to have been part of such an extraordinary experience.

As we entered his room, Mr. Schaefer was alert, but bedridden, as expected. He brightened in countenance as we entered and bade us to come in. After a few moments of small talk, if you can call it that in such an instance, he told us to reach for his wallet in his trousers nearby. Our curiosity was soon to be satisfied as he pulled a small amount of money from the wallet and placed it in my hands with instructions that I was to donate it to the church. I was somewhat stunned, but again humbled, at the irony of the situation. Here was a devout Jewish man making a cash contribution to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Miracles do happen, don't they?

I made sure to fill out a tithing slip and place the name of Abraham Schaefer on it, placing the money into the envelope with it. I wanted this dear and kind man to receive every blessing afforded those who pay tithing to the Lord. And I trust that God did indeed bless him for his faith and works in that regard.

Brother Abraham Schaefer, I want to thank you personally for teaching me the extent to which God goes to provide for His children of the house of Israel. Because of the chance to serve you, I got to be an instrument in the hands of God and I saw the love He has for His children, firsthand, even to the intervening in their behalf. May God be with and bless you always, my dear brother. Thank you, again.

Submitted by Steven ODell on 8 July 2007 - 10:45pm. | |

In section 84 of the Doctrine and Covenants, verses 98-102, the reference is made to a new song that will be sung in the day when the Lord reigns on the earth. I have been blessed to hear and know that song and will be sending it to the Church as a gift. For your blessing, here is that song:

D&C 84: 95-102

The Lord Hath Brought Again Zion

The Lord hath brought again Zion, according to His grace;
He hath freed His people Israel, as brought to pass by faith.
The Lord hath gathered all in one, above and from beneath;
By cov’nant with our Fathers, His people hath redeemed.

The earth hath ended her labors and now brings forth her strength.
With the truth established in her, Heaven smiles upon her reign.
With Satan bound and time no more and all see eye to eye,
Let us lift our voices together, here never more to die.

Our God hath shown us His mercy and all now know His way.
The earth clothed in His glory and men behold his face.
God’s glory, honor, power and might, within his people’s midst.
Through justice, grace and mercy, His truth hath brought us peace.

Words and music: Steven G. O’Dell, b.1951

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Submitted by Dan Crites on 6 April 2007 - 4:31pm. | | |

This is not meant to be an example of good writing, I'm not ready to hope for that! This story is true and important to me. I wrote it for my personal history and I share it here in hope that someone may find value in it.



My name is Dan Crites and I hope to explain in this writing how I came to know that God lives and that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ’s true church.

I grew up in Portland, Oregon where my parents lived following my fathers return from World War II. Mom and Dad had met each other when my father was stationed at Topaz Camp in Central Utah. My mother was born and raised in Fillmore, Utah about 50 miles from Topaz. My mother’s family were members of the Church but had quit attending by the time my mom was old enough to be baptized. My dad was not a member of any Church.

While I was growing up we always made a summer vacation trip to Fillmore. I had aunts, uncles, and many cousins there. I loved it as we would go up Chalk Creek Canyon to fish, out to my uncles farms to see the livestock, up in the mountains in a jeep, or out to the desert to hunt jack rabbits. It was great adventure and fun for a young boy and I always enjoyed going there.

My Mom died after a long illness when I was 11 years old. I loved her as much as any boy loves his mother, she was so good to me. My Dad, a good man, died 3 years later when I was in the 9th grade. After that, I lived with my brother, Gary, and his family.

When I graduated from high school I went to college at Oregon State University for one year. I was lost, not knowing right from wrong really. I was searching, searching without knowing I was searching, for the meaning of life and what was worth pursuing. I didn’t go back to school the following year but got a job working for a landscaping company where I stayed for several years.

Just after my 21st birthday I took a trip to Fillmore to see my extended family there. I can’t explain why I made the trip, I hadn’t seen any of them for 6 or 7 years, but I had good memories of Fillmore and used my vacation time to go. I took my dog, Beorn, with me and left in my Volkswagon Beetle early one morning a little before Thanksgiving. My car broke down near Bliss, Idaho and I had it towed to Burley where I learned that the engine repair would be major. I decided to sell the car there and I got a ride to Fillmore. This is where my story really begins.

I enjoyed being in Fillmore, enjoyed visiting with my extended family. I stayed with my Uncle Londo and Aunt Edith. Londo was my mom’s oldest brother. Edith was a woman of great faith and always attended church meetings, read scriptures, listened to recorded inspiring talks and music, and lived a life of service. She invited me to go to church with her, and though I really didn’t want to, I felt an obligation to do so, knowing that it would make her happy. I remember going with her, arriving a bit late, and having to sit on the first row. On another day I went with Errol and Joyce and their family to a Church road show. It was great fun and I enjoyed being with them.

I went to say goodbye to Errol’s family the night before I left Fillmore. My plan was to drive all the way from Fillmore to Portland, a trip of over 900 miles taking about 14 hours. When leaving Errol’s, he asked me if I’d like to stop on my way home at the Visitor’s Center at Temple Square. I didn’t have any interest in stopping there, knowing what a long trip home it would be. I said no, that I couldn’t do it and explained my reasoning. He tried to talk me into it and asked again. I said no again. He asked again. He told me that I would enjoy it, and that he would bring his family and meet me there. He suggested having his brother Lon, who had recently returned from serving a mission in Germany, meet us there. I don’t remember how many times he asked, but I do know that he asked one more time than I said no.

The following morning Lon and I met at the Visitor’s Center. We started our tour by looking at the large murals that depicted scenes from the old and new testament. It felt good there and I enjoyed hearing about what was depicted in the murals. Lon was a great guide, perfect for me, able to show and explain gospel principles. We then went to a diorama depicting Joseph Smith kneeling in prayer in a grove of trees. It was at this diorama that the story of the First Vision of the Father and the Son was first explained to me. I had never heard before a credible explanation of a modern prophet, and this opened up a whole new world of possibility. I believe it was just after that that we met up with Errol and his family. We went to a room that describe the Family Home Evening program and purpose. It was both entertaining and heart warming to hear of the importance of families and of a practice to help them be close and protected.

As I was driving home I decided that I needed to learn more about what I heard at the Visitor’s Center that day. I had a copy of the Book of Mormon that Aunt Edith had given me and a pamphlet or two from the visitor’s center. When I got home, around the 10th of December, I started reading the Book of Mormon. I liked it. I wasn’t reading very fast, only having read 30 or 40 pages when I got bogged down in the events surrounding Christmas. It was then that Lon called to see if he could come, just after Christmas, to visit me and see some of the sights of Oregon.

Though he has never said so, I have to think that Lon had a more noble purpose than just visiting me and seeing Oregon. We went to the beautiful Oregon coast, to Mt. Hood to go cross country skiing, and into the Columbia River Gorge. Because I had been thinking about what I had heard at the Visitor Center, and the things I had read in the Book of Mormon and church pamphlets, a few questions had arisen in my mind. I would occasionally ask Lon questions while we drove. His answers were always given in a very good manner. His responses made me very comfortable in asking more questions because they were always taken well, answered well, and were never “preachy”. He never gave more than what I asked for which left me wanting to ask more.

On Saturday he let me know that he wanted to attend church. We went to what was my home ward, it was the ward that I would have attended had I been a member while growing up. There I found people I knew, including two young women that I went to school with who had since joined the Church. Lon was instrumental in my introduction to the gospel and early learning of it. Looking back, I doubt that I would have taken the steps I needed to continue reading from the Book of Mormon and request missionaries had he not come and spent those three days with me.

We had a great time traveling and playing, but for me it was worth much more than that. By the time I took Lon to the airport I was determined to learn more about the church and this religion that had the ring of truth to it. I had had some concerns about talking with the missionaries, but had gotten to the point that I needed and wanted to. After I got back to the house where I was living I asked a roommate, Chris Kendall, a member of the church who no longer attended, if he knew how to find the missionaries. He said that he did and that night he arranged for them to come.

The missionaries, Elder Grant and Baker, came at the appointed time a day or two later. After a brief “get-to-know-you” discussion they asked for permission to offer an opening prayer and began to teach. They first told me about Joseph Smith’s First Vision. I loved it. I had heard it at the Visitor’s Center and I enjoyed hearing it again, it had the ring of truth. They then told me about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. I had previously heard that too. Then they told me about the restoration of the Savior’s true church, as it was originally organized, and through His authority. They ended by teaching me how to pray.

As a boy I remember my dad asking me to offer a blessing on a Thanksgiving day meal when my Aunt Eva and Uncle Pratt were visiting. I didn’t want to because I didn’t know how. We never had prayers in our home and I really had not heard someone pray very many times. One of the missionaries asked me if I would like to offer the closing prayer. I didn’t. I had only prayed one time previous to this in my life, just after my mom died. I definitely did not want to pray in front of them. They told me they would leave their flip chart open showing an outline of how to pray and asked if that would help. I told them that I didn’t need it, that I did not want to pray then but would do so in my own room after they left. They asked again, and I reluctantly agree to pray.

I closed my eyes and bowed my head. I’m sure I followed the outline, it was a very short prayer though I don’t remember what I said. After I closed the prayer in the Savior’s name I experienced something I never had before. It was a most amazing combination of feeling and intelligence. The feeling came as a warmth, though not physically warm, and accompanied with it was the knowledge that what I had just been taught was true. I sat there enjoying the feeling and being amazed by it when Elder Grant thanked me for saying the prayer. I thought, “Oh, let’s just sit here and feel this”.

We arranged for another visit and I started pouring through the Book of Mormon. I read it every chance I had, in the morning, during work breaks, at lunch, and in the evening. I found so many great things in it and I knew it was true. I continued with the lessons and was invited to be baptized on January 28, 1978.

My baptism occurred on the appointed day. I was confirmed a member of the Church by a childhood friend, Terry Walworth, who had returned from a mission a few months earlier. While hands were on my head, and the words “Receive the Holy Ghost” were pronounced, I had a similar experience to what had happened after praying at the end the first missionary discussion. I felt that I had received the promised Gift of the Holy Ghost, and though I know that there is much to receiving that gift, I did receive it that day.

That was 29 years ago. Since those days I have been greatly blessed in many ways and am so grateful to God and all those who helped me begin to learn the Gospel of Jesus Christ and gain membership in His Church. I have read the Book of Mormon over 30 times now. Prayer has become an essential part of my life. Church attendance has been a regular part of my life since joining and I have felt the Spirit many, many times. But, I still remember the unique feelings of the Spirit that came to me as I started to have, as it were, the scales of darkness fall from my spiritual eyes, and the Holy Ghost begin to communicate with me in ways that I could understand.

I know that God lives. His Son, Jesus Christ, is the Savior of the world, the Savior of every person who ever lives in it, if they will follow Him. He is greater than I have the ability to understand, yet I know something of his personality. I have heard his voice. I seek to live my life better by following Him, though I frequently have cause to be disappointed in my actions. I know that the Book of Mormon is literally true. It is what Joseph Smith claimed it is, an ancient book of scripture written by men of old for the people of today, translated by the gift and power of God. It was written for me. I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ’s church, the only one authorized to administer the ordinances of the Gospel. It brings peace to the hearts of man in this life and salvation and exaltation in the life to come.

I am so grateful.

Submitted by kerry blair on 13 December 2006 - 9:09am. | | | |

I’ve seen Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” at least a dozen times, but I’d never experienced a holiday miracle of my own until one dark December night a few years ago. On that almost-Christmas eve I encountered an angel—a couple of them, in fact—and learned a lesson in faith, prayer, and God's love that I will never forget.

This is a true story. Only the names have been changed—and not all of them!

Angels Bending Near the Earth

“It’s Christmas,” I reminded myself under my breath. “Peace on earth. Goodwill to men.” Supposing the heavenly exhortation extended to children as well, I looped the piece of cloth around a little shepherd’s head instead of tying it around his mouth as I’d have liked to.

It was already December twenty-something, and I had yet to bake a tray of cookies or wrap a single gift. Instead I’d spent most of the month writing a Christmas pageant, assigning parts, sewing and refurbishing costumes, building a stable, affixing a star in the cultural hall firmament, and directing twenty-some kids who were all now sugar-filled and giddy at the thought of Santa’s imminent arrival.

Despite being a nervous wreck I was pleased. It was our night of nights at last and we were ready. By the time the bishop stood to welcome the audience and announce the opening prayer, the set was decorated, the choir assembled, and the characters in place. Everyone and everything looked wonderful—if I did say so myself.

Having just completed my last task—shoving a crown on a wise guy’s little head for the umpteenth time—I slumped against the wall in the back of the cultural hall to enjoy the fruits of my labors. Just then a door flew open and an excited, windblown little girl ran into the room and grabbed my hand with her icy fingers. It was Earlene. As if the name alone wasn’t enough for a ten-year-old to contend with, this little girl was painfully thin, wore thick glasses, and had incredibly prominent teeth. She also had one of the strongest, sweetest personalities I’d ever encountered. I wondered if that was the reason she’d been sent to the family she had—one that seemed to have more than their share of trials in life.

“How do I look?” she asked breathlessly. “Where do I go for my part?”

She looked like she’d just tumbled off a hayride, but I didn’t tell her that. Nor did I mention that she might have known what was going on if she’d made it to even one practice.

After assuring Earlene she looked beautiful, I nudged her toward a children’s choir that was assembled around the piano. At least I tried to nudge her. She wouldn’t move.

“No!” she cried, pushing her heavy glasses back up the bridge of her nose. “I’m an angel!”

People in the last few rows forgot that Brother Crawford was now pronouncing a blessing upon the proceedings and turned to look at us instead.

“You’re not an angel,” I whispered. I had no idea where she got the idea in the first place. Then I added encouragingly, “But you’re a very important part of the choir.” Never mind that she wouldn’t know any of the songs since she attended Primary too seldom to learn them.

I’d dragged her about six inches closer to the choir before she yanked her hand from mine. “You said!” she insisted. “You said in church that I’m supposed to be an angel!”

My mouth opened, but no words came out of it. I was trying to remember just what I’d said to her and when. I seemed to recall speaking to Earlene in the hallway a couple of weeks previously. I’d been in a rush to get to Sunday School before my students and had practically knocked her into a wall. Whatever I said had said then had been an apology . . . and perhaps a platitude.

“You said I’m an angel!” Earlene wailed.

The audience uttered a resounding, “Amen!” I hoped it was in response to the end of the prayer.

I looked down into two myopic little eyes and knew it was possible—probable, even—that I had called Earlene an angel. But I certainly hadn’t meant she was a Christmas-pageant angel. I’d meant she was a . . . well, you know.

Earlene didn’t know. She knew only that as director of the pageant, God had given me the right to appoint little girls to be His heavenly messengers for ten or fifteen minutes in that particular ward on that particular night. Clearly, being chosen as an angel for the Christmas pageant—or believing that she had been—was the best thing that had ever happened in her short and surely difficult life.

Earlene clasped my hand again with both of hers and her eyes shone. “I’ve asked Heavenly Father every night to help me be a perfect angel in His pageant. He will help me. I know He will.”

The thought of Earlene’s sweet, fervent prayers brought tears to my eyes, but there was nothing I could do. The pageant would begin any second. I prayed for words to explain to the little girl that she had misunderstood, but there were no words in any language that could fix this. No matter what I said, Earlene would still believe in her heart that God had handpicked her to be an angel.

She looked from me to the softly-lit stage and back again, wondering when I’d produce that white robe and silver garland worn by the other pageant angels.

Any minute the welling in my eyes was going to run down my cheeks. There was no doubt in my mind that this misunderstanding would drive her parents even further from the Church. Worse, might the awful disappointment cause Earlene to wonder if God heard her prayers? To wonder, if He did hear them, why He would ignore her hopes and happiness—and at Christmas?

Despite my fears of a family’s impending apostasy and a child’s crisis of faith, I simply didn’t have an angel costume—or any way to come up with one in two minutes or less. My thoughts raced. Earlene wore a dirty orange sweatshirt and tattered blue jeans. No way could I slip her onstage with the robe-clad girls without evoking stares and giggles that would break her heart. I looked frantically around the room, hoping to spot a shirt or a sweater or anything white that I could strip off an unsuspecting ward member. While everybody looked festive, nobody looked angelic.

The Relief Society room was locked or I would have ripped the tablecloth out from under their pot of poinsettias and improvised. At that point I might have considered packing Earlene in snow but we were in Arizona, so I didn’t have any of that either.

Heedless of Longfellow’s bells tolling despair back here in the corner, the pianist broke into “Joy to the World” and the first narrator entered. The play had begun.

An awful understanding began to creep onto Earlene’s face. The census was going forth from Caesar Augustus and she was going nowhere. “Hurry!” she said. “I need my costume now! I have to go be with the angels!”

I wanted to “go be with the angels” too, but my wish was metaphorical. I simply wanted to die before I had to witness Earlene’s heart shatter.

Just then Sue McGurr appeared in a doorway not six feet from where Earlene and I stood. If she had been the Angel Moroni materializing with a golden trump in hand I couldn't have been more surprised. In her hand was a hanger, and on the hanger was a clean, white angel costume that was exactly Earlene’s size.

Earlene had her shoes off, her jeans rolled to the knees, and the robe on before I managed to draw a single breath. With a dazzling smile on her face, she raced across the room and hoisted herself onto the stage. Although clearly surprised at her sudden arrival, one of the “regular” angels ripped half the garland from her own belt and used it to adorn Earlene’s long, hopelessly-tangled hair.

Angels are like that. Bless their little hearts.

When the program ended, I was still standing in the same spot and I was crying in earnest. It was the best Christmas pageant ever. Mary and Joseph had made it all the way to Bethlehem without bickering as they had done in every rehearsal. The shepherds had neither dueled with their staffs nor played keep-away with their stuffed sheep. The wise men had found their way from the East without a detour to the drinking fountain. And above them all stood the angels—beautiful, bright, beatific—with Earlene in the very front. You don’t have to believe this final line if you don’t want to, but I will always believe there was a surreal glow—and maybe an extra angel or two—around her.

When I could speak again I sought out Sister McGurr. Sue had no idea she’d just pulled off the biggest Christmas miracle since Clarence earned his wings. When I asked her where she’d come up with the costume she reminded me that I’d given it to her daughter the year before. Only then did I remember being impressed to let the little girl keep the robe when she begged, but I also remembered that I'd never expected to see it again.

Several times during the year, Sue told me, she’d almost thrown away the angel costume, but “something” made her stuff it back in the closet instead dropping it into the wastebasket. The same something had urged her to find it after dress rehearsal and wash and press it. In the end, she’d left it behind in her haste to get her children to the church on time, but that stubborn, blessed “something” intervened one last time. Sue had got up out of her seat, hurried home to grab the costume, and then returned just as the pageant began.

I was awe-struck at the heavenly machinations. I had been prompted to give away a costume I wanted to keep. Sue had been impressed to keep a costume she didn’t want. These minor miracles, set in place hundreds of days before, wouldn’t impact the world. They were all for the benefit of one little girl—a child who loved her Heavenly Father and put her trust in Him. Because of her prayers, Earlene was a perfect angel that night. Or at least she was a pageant angel . . . with perfect faith.

The real miracle, of course, is the one of which prophets and apostles testify: the infinite love God has for each of His children. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “I do not know exactly how He does it, but I testify to you that He knows us and loves us individually and that He hears our prayers. My testimony is that nothing in this universe is more important to Him than your hopes and happiness.”

I gained this testimony firsthand one beautiful, blessed near-Christmas night. Our Father—who loved us all enough to send His Son—loved odd, little Earlene enough to send her an angel robe. He had known her prayers months and months before she uttered them and had set in motion a plan to reward her innocent faith before she exercised it.

And so it is with us. Each year when children sing, “Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay close by me forever, and love me, I pray” I feel the warm, prickling confirmation of the Spirit and think of Earlene. I don’t know where she is now, but I suspect that she is still a perfect angel, still close to her Heavenly Father, and still looked over and loved by He who blesses each of us so perfectly.

I like to think that she still has her white robe. I gave it to her, of course. It’s all she asked Santa for that night when she sat upon his lap. Besides, “something” told me that angel costume had been made and preserved and protected just for her.

Just like her.

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