I have been meaning to write this down for years. Some things in our lives change us so completely that it’s hard to share them. They are so personal, so important that we hold on to them fiercely, scared that if we let others in that our memory will wear out from over use. I have told parts of this story in different places, and in different times, but never the whole thing. I only feel the need to tell it all now and in this way because my sweet niece Lyndze has recently returned from her mission to McAllen Texas.
I was about her age, 22, when this story began. I had just finished college and was living with a roommate in Seattle. Our college antics had annoyed our landlord for the last time (we let our friends come in and out of her first floor apartment window, and didn’t change our cat box daily) and we were facing eviction. I found myself at a turning point. My life could go in any direction and the possibilities were mind boggling. I considered moving across the country to Boston. My roommate and I looked for new housing, but couldn’t find anything that we could afford, and our friendship was wearing thin because of the stress. Then my brother called me.
You see, he NEVER called me. I didn’t even know he had my phone number. We are separated by 11 years in age, which might as well have been a lifetime and a million miles. Our lives were completely different and because of our age difference I had never really gotten to know him. After recovering from my initial shock we chatted briefly about what was going on with me. I can’t remember, but I assume that I confessed my challenges because I went into our bathroom to hide from my roommate and talk in private. Then he said the thing that I will never forget. “Would you be interested in living with me and being nanny to my kids?” My brain screamed, “not in a million years!” But I heard myself say “Yes.” The strangest part, was I could hear excitement in my own voice. The whole conversation felt like an out of body experience. We talked a little more about what that would mean and then hung up promising to talk more soon and finalize our arrangement. I got off the phone and sunk to the bathroom floor trying to comprehend the weight of the split section decision I had just made. I was terrified, but then a calm comforting feeling filled my heart and I knew that this was God leading me.
Over the next few weeks everything in my life was uprooted. I quit my job, lost my roommate as a friend (she was very angry that I had chosen to move) and moved back into my childhood home that my parents were renting to my brother Harry. The first night I went to sleep in my old/new home I was so unsure of what I had done. Harry and I had both been raised as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but a little over a decade before he had stopped practicing. I wasn’t sure how he would respond to my expressions of faith and knew that my fate was now completely in his hands. In the past he had been antagonistic to my parents attempts to call him to repentance. I worried that if I appeared to be “preachy” to him I might end up homeless and unemployed.
So I walked on eggshells. I had enough challenges to deal in the meantime. Lyndze and her younger brother Ryan (ages 9 and 7 respectively) were now in my care. Harry was self employed and worked long hours. So the three of us spent a lot of time together. We played games, did homework, and with each passing day I found it more and more difficult to not think of them as my own children. Their mother had been gone for several years and Ryan especially was desperate for the motherly attention that I willingly offered. In a few short months it felt as if we’d always been together and I was happier then I could remember being in recent history. I could see that my relationship with Harry was improving as well. For the first time in my life I felt like my older brother was my friend.
So I took a risk. I started reading my scriptures each day in the living room instead of my bedroom. I did it when Harry wasn’t around just in case. It wasn’t long before Lyndze wanted to know what I was doing. Lyndze was such a precocious child. She was always one of the adults, even when she was in elementary school; maybe it was because she was an “old soul”, or because the absence of her mom, but she always seemed like she had grown up too quickly. In our reading sessions she asked me questions about the purpose of life, why I went to church each Sunday and who was this Jesus Christ? My heart broke at the last one when I realized she had never been taught even the basics of faith.
It was about this same time that I noticed my scriptures were falling apart. I wanted a new set to take with me to institute and I loved color coding them. My old set looked like a well loved coloring book, so I decided to order a new set. When the package arrived I thought, “I can give my old ones to Lyndze.” However when she saw the shiny new copies, she wanted them and I didn’t have the heart to say no. Lyndze even came with me a few times to church with her father’s permission of course. At the time I was attending the Young Single Adult ward, so it was a little awkward for me, but Lyndze as usual kept pace with the adults double her age.
Somewhere along the line Missionaries were invited and their lessons began. Recently Lyndze asked me if I was the one that invited them. I don’t have any memory of this, I actually suspect Harry was responsible. He still seemed disengaged personally from the lessons at first, but I could tell that his daughter’s interest in learning had awakened something in his own heart. There was a noticeably different spirit in the home then. The Holy Ghost was there and it was palpable.
In a short time Harry was participating 100% with the lessons and Lyndze wondered if she should be baptized. The elders has asked if she would, and she wanted to be sure before she said yes. She came to me and asked in the most sincere voice, “How will I know if I should get baptized?” My heart nearly burst! I felt honored that she had come to me, that she looked to me in this most important moment. I also knew I had to get this right.
So I suggested she pray. She had been timid about praying in the lessons and I could see her hesitation on her face. So I suggested we pray together. She nodded. We went to my bedroom and together we knelt by my bed. The room was dark and quiet. She wanted me to go first. I prayed very simply asking that God would help her find her answer. Then she prayed. After she closed her prayer we sat in silence for a few minutes. The room seemed to fill with an invisible warmth and tears started to trickle down my cheeks. I feared breathing or moving. This room had become a sacred place and I wanted nothing to disturb that. Then, with a whisper she said. “I know I should get baptized.” My tears came heavier now, but before I could say a word she jumped to her feet and ran to find Harry. I followed, worried about what he would say. Lyndze found her father in his bedroom. I didn’t dare go in and encroach on their private moment, so I sat just outside of the door and listened. Lyndze exclaimed that she wanted to be baptized. Harry was silent for a moment and then he said, “Okay, then I’m going to baptize you.”
This was a shock! My brother had been inactive for years but had just promised his little girl that was all about to change. Over the coming days and weeks I watched in utter astonishment as Harry’s life completely changed course. His bishop, (my former bishop, and someone who more than once changed my life for good) gave him a list of things he needed to do to be worthy to baptize his daughter. Harry accepted his list and fulfilled them with urgency. By this time I had gotten a second job. One day upon returning from work I found the trash cans overflowing in front of the house. Before I could shut my car door my brother came bursting through the front of the house with a giant box of more trash. I quizzically asked what he was up to. “The bishop said I need to change some habits, so I am,” He retorted and went back to the house for another box. I examined the trash piles to find an inventory of all of his bad habits. Harry had decided to remove anything that would tempt him.
I watched all of this happening with awe and then one day I couldn’t keep quiet any longer and I asked Harry what had changed. He simply told me how he had watch his life take a direction he never anticipated over the course of many years and knew that now was the time to make a correction. After he said this we sat together for a long quiet moment. I realized then I had never felt so close to my brother. Not only had the previous year helped us to build a friendship, but he had become one of my heroes. As a young girl I idolized Harry. I thought he was the coolest and most talented person alive. Sitting next to him that day I felt that again, but for different reasons. Now I added brave, and humble to my list of his good qualities.
As his heart changed, so did his relationship status. Jenifer and Harry had a whirlwind romance that lead to them being married that same November. Just a few days later, standing an a luke warm baptismal font, my brother raised his hand, said a short prayer and baptized his daughter. His new wife and family that had now doubled in size (Jenifer had three children from a previous marriage) sat in the audience along with all of my family and other ward members.
That April I would move out of Harry and Jen’s house, get married to Caleb and we’d move to Utah. Again for the second time in two years, my life was changing completely, however this time I wasn’t apprehensive, just grateful for being witness to so many miracles.
I never served a full time mission like Lyndze. I always wanted to, but my life took a different course. But I am a missionary and have always felt that my calling was to help my family come unto Christ. While my part in Lyndze and Harry’s story is very small, I feel so blessed that God allowed me to be an instrument in his hands.
“…behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass…” Alma 37:6
Addendum: I shared this post with Lyndze and Harry before posting it. Harry told with me that he had thought about going back to church for a while, but he hesitated because of the bad feelings that existed there. He had even tried taking his kids to a single adult ward on one occasion. He looked into attending other religions, knew their locations and meeting times, but never could bring himself to go. Finally he decided to go to what was then called the Kent 8th ward. He was welcomed and received fellowship. The missionaries were right there, excited to see them and Harry invited them over. It seems that God had been helping Harry soften his heart for sometime and so when Lyndze asked to be baptized he was truly ready.