Last Days’ calamities are no longer just printed words of prophecy from scripture. We see them in screaming newspaper headlines, and many of us are experiencing them in painfully personal ways that bring up hard questions. I want to tell you how adversity is spiritually reshaping character and priorities of people I know, then reflect on a pattern given in 3rd Nephi that can help us face today’s challenges. First, some edited journal entries I’ve made regarding recent tragedies that have impacted me personally because they happened in my neighborhood, in my ward, to people I know:
Saturday, June 23, 2012: Today two houses in our ward burned down--a block from Mark and Heidi [my oldest son and his wife]. Their friends returned from a birthday party to find their house mostly gone, part of a three-alarm fire; their children ended up at Mark and Heidi’s for the evening, which increased the impact of the fire on my grandchildren. That day the thermometer had soared above 100, which didn’t help; all the neighbors were spraying their yards and trying to keep flying sparks from igniting dry spots in their lawns. Smoke billowed from the fire into nearby houses, leaving a residue of ash.
Tuesday, June 26, 2012: Beautiful six-year-old Sierra Newbold was kidnapped from her home in the middle of the night, assaulted and killed. Newbolds live two houses from the homes that burned, four houses from Mark and Heidi, about four blocks from us! The news felt unbelievable, an unwelcome reminder of the evil in the world and of the grief I felt when I first heard Brian [my son] had died tragically. I was teary and distraught, and called Peggy McFarland [my friend and counselor]. We did some emotional clearing and talked about the good that always comes from even the hardest times and reviewed the path of learning and comfort I have experienced since Brian’s death.
After our visit, however, I was still feeling the parents’ grief so deeply, especially since I know them, and I shed a lot of tears. I feel so helpless, so useless, so desirous of helping Newbolds, my children and grandchildren, and the people whose houses burned down, and I can barely even help myself. I know prayer matters, though, and that is something I CAN do. I called and put many names on the temple prayer roll.
Not surprisingly, Heidi, who is in her eighth month of pregnancy, went into early labor Tuesday afternoon. At the hospital they were able to stop it and sent her back home Wednesday on absolute bed rest. No small challenge with seven other children in the home.
By Wednesday, our neighborhood was full of pink and purple ribbons tied on every post, tree, and fence to honor little Sierra, especially along the canal where her body was found.
There were teddy bears, flowers, and ribbons all around the Newbold home, even though it was blocked off with police cars and yellow tape. I felt so sad, but my heart was warmed and calmed by this outpouring of love for the Newbold family.
Thursday, June 28: Knowing there is a predator on the loose, a spirit of fear has settled on the whole area. Thursday evening we attended a short prayer meeting at the church, called in an effort to extend comfort and give neighbors a chance to talk to each other.
The ripple effect of tragedy is unbelievable. Some good things: priorities are being realigned, people are coming together, but oh such sadness and no small amount of fear as the reality that people’s houses can go up in smoke, and the proof of “man’s inhumanity to man” has come so close to home. Reading about such things or seeing them on the news is one thing: having them happen to people you know and live near, is quite another.
Understandably, the children in the area are upset. My friend’s young daughter is sleeping on the floor by her parents’ bed, afraid to sleep in her own room. My grandchildren are asking hard questions that I wish they didn’t even have to think about. The many parents in the area who have little girls are worried to let them out of their sight. People are angry, hoping for early capture and punishment of the perpetrator. Who can ever measure the amount of damage this one person has done?
Our best source of comfort is gospel knowledge that the Lord always uses even the worst situations for good as much as we will let Him. Hearts are being softened, turned to Him. Hundreds of people attended the funeral on Saturday. My friend Jeannie brought me some food and gave me a detailed report afterwards, softening the blow that I did not feel well enough to go. (She told me that serving people suddenly seems so much more important to her than the many projects she had planned: an example of how priorities are being reassessed.)
Sunday, July 1, 2012: I’m so grateful I was able to attend fast and testimony meeting. I’ve never seen the whole congregation so sober, or the focus so totally on Christ. I was reassured when Sierra’s parents, Kathy and Brad Newbold, were the first to speak. They were calm and composed. Their teenage daughter and her fiancé were next. They all expressed gratitude for the gospel message of hope in the midst of this awful situation. Carolyn Clark reminded us how her house fire twenty-five years ago had changed her priorities and been a blessing in the long run. Although I hadn’t planned it, I became absolutely sure I was supposed to bear my testimony; I spoke of the power of the Comforter and the love of the Lord I have felt since Brian’s death and my gratitude for the great healing, redemptive power of the gospel. I hope something I said made a difference.
July 10, 2012: Heidi called to tell me of the arrest of Terry Lee Black in connection with the murder of Sierra Newbold: the third major blow to members of my ward in two weeks. Ward members are relieved that a DNA match makes it as certain as such things can be that the killer has been caught, but here's the sad part: Just over a year ago Black's wife Gloria and their son Cody were baptized and have been active members in our ward. When Terry attended with them on rare occasions, I sat in Sunday School class with them. Gloria is a really nice woman and I hugged her recently. Cody was passing the sacrament just last Sunday. I can't imagine what this is like for them. It is unreal to have all this happen so close to home, to people we know!
On TV and in the newspaper, Newbolds stated that they have no animosity toward Black’s wife and children. I’m proud of them for that.
Thursday, July 12, 2012: Another prayer meeting at the church. Newbolds were there, Gloria was not. The bishop announced that Gloria will need help moving soon—into her sister’s house. Many of us have extended love and support to both families, but Gloria feels an urgent need to leave.
Sunday, July 15: I wasn’t there, but heard that Gloria and Cody attended Sacrament meeting and Cody passed the Sacrament.