I was leaving town on December 8th for the winter so I went visiting teaching earlier than usual. Afterwards, I decided to stop in unannounced at another ward sister’s home to say farewell. I hadn’t seen Cora Lester* for a while and the last time I’d heard, she was in remission from last year’s terrifying battle with thyroid cancer.
She looked weary and was recovering from pneumonia. She shared the devastating news that one of her daughters living in another state had just been diagnosed with lung cancer, and that another of her out-of-state daughters had brain cancer.
Cora, whose heart is oceanic in its compassion and generosity, seemed broken and bowed under the weight of these challenges. She felt helpless to give anything “more” than empathy, a shoulder to cry on and her ears to hear her family’s sorrows and stories.
Additionally and closer to home, because of her own serious health issues, Cora had had to give up her role as manager of the food pantry in her neighborhood, a service she’d loved for years. “Everyone calls me their granny,” she said with the perfect blend of pride and humility. She still volunteered at the pantry as her health allowed. She heard from neighbors, however, that the new director lacked organizational skills, hadn’t made turkeys available this year for Thanksgiving, and had tossed out all the fun holiday décor that spruced up the pantry at Christmastime. It just wasn’t the same without Cora in charge.
The level of crisis with her daughters’ health and her own health was far beyond my abilities as a friend and ward sister to help with in any practical way. I provided my available shoulders and ears that afternoon, but I was leaving town in days. Was there anything I could do to be of practical benefit?
I knew in a flash that with quick emails to the Bishop and Relief Society President we could muster resources to allow Cora to at least continue in her role as Granny of the neighborhood to provide gifts to the children (and parents) she served at the food pantry. Within 24 hours we had a system in motion with a smart, organized point person from the RS presidency in charge and the good will of ward members already bringing items for Cora’s cause.
In fast and testimony meeting last Sunday, Cora was one of the first to stand. She shared her own and her daughters’ grave health challenges. She shared her trust in and love for the Savior, her faith that, no matter what, God would be present with them and with her. She asked for our prayers, love and support. Somehow she radiated both vulnerability and strength. She stood at the pulpit and “glory shone ‘round about.”
Fast and testimony meeting could have been dicey, knowing that many people are aching from recent events. Thanks to the power of the Spirit and the sensitivity of Cora and the others who stood, the meeting was an affirmation of the miracle of Jesus, the Son of God, come to earth to love and redeem; a call for loving arms; a place of solace “for the wounded and the weary”. It was the Gospel in loving action and a balm to my own soul.
I am awed to think that my unannounced visit to Cora could connect a need with a solution – as nominal as it may be. I recognize that God knows Cora Lester and her needs. And it is a reminder (not for the first time, but still surprising), that God knows me, too. He let me be a stand in for His shoulders and ears. He used my hands to turn the cogs of service already in place in the organization of the ward.
I am reminded of this story from the journal of the 19th century pioneer and missionary, Joseph Millett:
One of my children came in and said that Brother Newton Hall’s folks were out of bread. Had none that day. I put…our flour in a sack to send up to Brother Hall’s. Just then Brother Hall came in. “Brother Hall” I said, “how are you out for flour.” “Brother Millett, we have none.” “Well, Brother Hall, there is some in that sack. I have divided it and was going to send it to you. Your children told mine that you were out.” Brother Hall began to cry. Said he had tried others. Could not get any. Went to the cedars and prayed to the Lord and the Lord told him to go to Joseph Millett. “Well, Brother Hall, you needn’t bring this back if the Lord sent you for it. You don’t owe me for it.” You can’t tell how good it made me feel to know that the Lord knew that there was such a person a Joseph Millett.
I feel honored to have offered my own metaphorical “sack of flour” to Cora and am grateful to the many who have bolstered me in times of need with the same. I am witness once again to the reality that God knows each of us. Happiest and holiest of holidays to you all.
*(not her real name and details have been altered for privacy)
Musings for your Advent season: When have you been the recipient of “sacks of flour” from others? When have you unexpectedly been led to be the right person at the right time for their benefit? When have you been surprised to know how intimately God knows you?