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As I finished the dinner dishes, I checked the clock. In ten more minutes my counselors and secretary would arrive for another evening of visits. As a Relief Society presidency, we often select a few less active or new sisters to visit, to extend our love and encourage them to come to church.
Earlier I had felt prompted to look over one particular questionnaire that our bishop had asked Visiting Teachers to fill out for the women they visit. This one was for a woman who had recently asked to have her name removed from the records of the church. The bishop and a counselor had visited with her a couple of weeks ago, softened her heart, and convinced her to allow visiting teachers to come by.
As I read the form, I noticed that she had once been in an abusive marriage, suffered from depression, and was worried about who would take care of her when she got older. As I read it, my heart melted. She had been through some terrible experiences, and I felt strongly we should go see her.
When my secretary arrived, she expressed frustration that she hadn’t been able to fill the 7:30 appointment slot. She had visits schedules for 7 and 8 o’clock, but couldn’t get one for 7:30.
“Oh, that will be perfect,” I said. “I’ve been feeling we should visit Sister Smith* (not her real name), and we can drop in then. Maybe if she’ll see us.” Because she hadn’t wanted LDS visitors, we had never met her before.
After the first visit, we headed to the senior apartment complex where Sister Smith lived, and rang her bell. I was hoping we could at least introduce ourselves on the porch, and let her know we’re here for her.
“Oh, I was just going to bed,” she said. “Well, come in, anyway.”
I was pleasantly surprised that she invited us in. All four of us squeezed into her small living room and chatted with her about her children and her doll collection. Something strange was happening, and I found myself feeling great love for her, even laughing with her about her Winnie-the-Pooh nightie and cute striped socks.
Because she was on oxygen and had several other health problems, she also spoke about her caregiver, the wife of a pastor in another faith. It turned out this woman had told Sister Smith not to allow Mormons or Mormon literature into her home. She even threatened not to care for her properly if she should do so.
My heart ached, thinking of the abuse Sister Smith had already endured, which was now continuing in the form of this “friend” who was dictating whether Sister Smith could pursue her own faith. This was why Sister Smith had asked to have her name removed.
It gave us the chance to talk about free agency, and encourage Sister Smith to stand up for herself. We also explained how to switch caregivers, freeing her from such unjust control. We could see her countenance changing as she smiled and realized we wanted to help her.
Suddenly she said, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t tell you this, but just before you came, I left a message for my care giver telling her goodbye. I was going to commit suicide tonight.”
I threw my arms around her and cried. Had we been even ten minutes later, we might have been too late, since she was just going to bed when we got there. I felt so humbled and grateful that Heavenly Father had prompted me to visit her, and left a space in our schedule for that exact moment. How tenderly he watches over his children! How amazing it is that he knows the anguish of every heart, and then prompts someone to come to us in our darkest hour. And I was so profoundly grateful that I had been listening to the Holy Ghost, and had not brushed aside my feeling that we should visit her, despite having been told she was hostile.
We continued our visit and twice I bore my testimony. I asked her to recall a moment when she had felt the power of the Priesthood and she remembered a blessing that had saved her unborn baby, after doctors had said the baby was dead. The next thing I knew, she was talking about what to wear to church and where she could plug in her oxygen tank. The following day she called three times to say she felt she had four new friends, and couldn’t wait to come to church. We felt we had a new friend, too.
All of us were changed that evening, and realized with renewed clarity how tenderly God watches over his children. Not one escapes his loving care, and in our darkest hour he can send his servants to help us, comfort us, and even rescue us. His love for each of us is monumental. It is humbling. It is real.
*This sister has since passed away.
Watch the music video of Hilton’s song, What Makes a Woman, from her new musical, The Best Medicine (with music by Jerry Williams). Her books and YouTube Mom videos are available on her website, here. Hilton currently serves as a Relief Society President.