A recent trip taught me some valuable lessons that have changed the way I look at life and at those around me. We know that, in the eyes of our Savior, charity or the pure love of Christ trumps every other virtue, even that of martyrdom ( 1 Corinthians 13:3). We have been told many times that if we have not charity, we are not fit for exaltation and life with our Heavenly Father. (i.e.,1 Corinthians 13:2; Moroni 7:44-47)
It would be easy if this were the type of commandment that could be followed by checking off the boxes by a list of “to do’s.” I think the reason it isn’t, is because Heavenly Father is not impressed by behavior but by the actual condition of our hearts. We can’t change our hearts by following steps. I know that mighty change is a gift of the Spirit. (Moroni 7:48) Our behavior might lead us in the right direction, but only the true substance of “the fleshy tablets of our hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3) tell who we really are.
So, in telling of what I have learned, I (who am an inveterate type A personality) will need to refrain from numbered lists or bullet points. Instead, I will endeavor to teach the way the Savior taught—in stories. One of these stories I told in my last post for Meridian, but in the context of this all important topic, it bears repeating. The other story happened about a week later. Following these stories, I will present two role models, one well known, and the other quite obscure.
Two Modern-Day Parables
There was a woman (me) who was traveling alone in a strange land (Italy). She went out one day with a bullet-pointed list of things she intended to accomplish. So blinded was this woman by her intent, that she failed to notice the uneveness of the pavement, tripped, and fell. Fortunately, the land where she was traveling was populated by people of extraordinary kindness, many of whom instantly surrounded her, offering assistance and reassurance. However, she was in so much pain and so winded by her fall that she had no strength to do anything but reassure them that she was not dead. “I’m fine,” she said. “I’m okay.”
By her speech, they could tell she was a foreigner. One of the group, who spoke her language, but otherwise appeared quite ordinary, stooped down so he could see into her face. “I am going to help you to get up. We will do it in easy stages.” Taking her uninjured hand in his, he gently eased her to her feet. When he surveyed her condition, he could tell that she could not go further by herself, and so he put her arm through his and walked her very slowly to a café in short distance away. She explained that she had been running to catch a bus. Speaking to her in calming tones, he said, “We need to get you to the café so you can sit down.”
Once this was accomplished, the young man did not leave her, but asked her what she would like to drink. He brought it to her, refusing her offer of payment. In soothing tones, he proceeded to speak to her about how much he loved the Duomo (Florence’s cathedral), and how every time he passed it, his heart swelled at the miracle that it was. They were soon talking of Brunelleschi, architect of the dome, with enthusiasm. He drew her a map of the best place to view it from a neighboring village. After forty-five minutes, he said that regrettably he must get to work and went to pay their bill. He told her that he would return shortly. When he did, he gave her a gift: a bus ticket for four bus rides. She thanked him profusely, knowing that she would never encounter him again. Finally, due to his kind ministrations, she was able to get up and go on with her day.
The next story finds a woman (again, me) in the lobby of a theater in a strange part of a foreign city (Florence). She is extemely tired, and has decided that she must go back to her lodgings, even though the production has not begun. Asking merely that someone call a taxi for her, she is surrounded by concerned Italians, insisting that they must call a doctor for her. Declining the doctor as firmly as she can in the face of their concern, she asks merely that they call her a taxi. Moments later, one of their number approaches her, bursting with good news: “I have Milano 25! You must go out to the front and wait for the taxi.” Confused, she said, “I must ask the driver if he is Milano 25?” This had never before been part of her taxi experience. “Si, si,” the man said, beaming.
She was only moments by the curb, when a strange sight approached her. It appeared to be a taxi, but it had a huge bouquet of balloons affixed to the trunk. The driver got out immediately and came around to help her in. Transfixed, the sickly woman (me) saw that the driver was a beautiful blonde woman, dressed in an enormous pink flowered hat and a pink cape, which she swept aside in a flourish as she invited entrance to her cab. The passenger got in and was assailed by several things: the fragrance of roses, the plush pink seats, the presence of innumerable rubber baby pigs, and three video screens showing cartoons. The driver got into her cab, asked the address, and drove off. Soon she was crooning gentle phrases, assuring her passenger that they would soon be at her hostelry where she could lie down on her bed.
Unfortunately, the passenger was afraid to ask questions and pretended to have ridden in such cabs every day of her life, thereby missing the opportunity of learning more of the driver, whom she later found out was a great lady and a legend not only in Florence, but around the world.
Milano 25 is a cab given to its owner by her fiance as he was dying of cancer. She refitted it so that it would be a “happy carriage” for those who suffered. (The little man in theater lobby had not been able to get the sick, eccentric foreigner to accept his offer of a doctor, so he had done the next best thing: call for Milano 25 to take her home.)
The driver most often uses her cab to take children to the hospital for cancer treatments, donating all her proceeds to cancer research. This is what this extraoradinary woman has decided to do with the pain of her own loss. The remarkable story of Milano 25 is told at at length in an interview with the cab driver. Her passenger is still stunned by the fact that their lives were allowed to touch during her time of need, and that she was again ministered unto by a human angel, operating by the Light of Christ.
Two Role Models of The Pure Love of Christ
I’m certain that nearly every reader is familiar with the president of our church, Thomas S.
Monson. Even before he was our prophet, stories of him have been told and retold. As prophet in the Last Dispensation of the Fulness of Times, no one could be a greater exemplar of our Savior. The only question is, does this mortal man ever sleep?
President Monson’s joy radiates from his countenance as he tells stories of all the widows he served in the ward where he was Bishop in his twenties. He loves to tell of and honor anyone who ever served him. The one I remember most is his Sunday School teacher, Lucy Gertsch. A master of the modern-day parable, his life stands out in gold relief as an example of all stories of charity that he relates. The man is a type of the “Master” among us. How lucky we are!
The next man will be completely unknown to you. He is my father-in-law, who passed away while shoveling the walk at his church before Bible Study, almost five years ago to this day. Habitually, he carried a shovel in the trunk of his car just in case the church walk hadn’t been shoveled quite well enough. He had much in common with our Savior. His living circumstances as the child of a Methodist minister were humble.
As a vocation, he chose farming. Whenever I think of him, I am reminded of a story that repeated itself again and again in his life. When seeing after his cattle, they sometimes would become restless and unsettled in the corral. All this great man had to do was go in the gate, lay his gentle hands upon one of two of the cows and the whole herd would settle down almost immediately. He wasn’t greatly learned in the things of the world, but he always was in touch with what mattered most. Always seeing people and situations in the most charitable light, he often frustrated people who had more guile. There wasn’t an ounce of guile anywhere in Warren Vandagriff. He had a smile that would light up a room and was generous with it.
After retirement, he and my mother-in-law (another rare person who is a lay preacher in her community, even though she is in her late eighties) went on several humanitarian missions. They served at the Heifer International Project in Arkansas for several years. The last few years of his life, they served at Henderson Settlement in the Appalacians helping the poorest of the poor. Even though he was in great pain because of a knee that had no cartilage left, he still did hard physical labor every day. When they entered their assisted livng center, he developed the habit of weeding and planting flowers all around the buildings, without being asked or being paid. Now, there is a blue spruce tree planted outside my mother-in-laws window with a plaque commemorating him. It comforts her to see it, but I know that he never would have thought he deserved such an honor.
I am certain that you can imagine how grateful I am to be married to a man who was raised with such a Christlike father. It shows in my husbands actions every day.
Because of my knowledge of these four people, my heart is changed. I pray that my ministry on this earth will help those whose lives I touch in a similar way.
G.G. Vandagriff is the author of eleven books, the most recent being the novel, Pieces of Paris, which deals with recovery from PTSD. (See her website: http://ptsdweb.com) The Last Waltz:A Novel of Love and War won the 2009 Whitney Award for Best Historical Novel. (See http://last-waltz.com). The novel she was researching in Florence is The Only Way to Paradise, as yet uncompleted. She loves to hear from readers at