Courage at Twilight: Unvisitable

The men of the Church assigned to see to her welfare told Dad she could not be visited. As the lay leader of the congregation, Dad bore responsibility for the welfare of every member of the congregation, whether they wanted to participate in the Church or not.  “What does ‘unvisitable’ mean?” he queried.  Apparently, “unvisitable” meant she did not want anyone from the Church to visit her.  For Dad, the deeper questions were “Why is she unvisitable?  What is happening in her life to distance her from the Church and from people.”  Sitting at his desk in the law department of Johnson & Johnson, pondering over this unvisitable Church member.  A thought pressed itself irresistibly onto his mind: Call her. Now.  Having learned to never put off a prompting, he picked up the phone and called her.  “Sandy?  This is your bishop.  I’m coming over right now,” and did not wait for a protest.  He found Sandy living in squalor and disrepair, and terribly depressed and overwhelmed.  The trees and shrubs had overgrown the house and porch.  The front stairs had fallen away from the porch, and the mailman could not deliver the mail.  Stacks of newspapers filled the rooms and hallways, with only narrow trails from place to place.  She had not read them yet, she explained.  The window frames had been painted while open, and remained stuck open, even in winter, when she shoved crumpled newspapers against the screens for insulation.  “I will help you,” Dad promised, and he spent the next year helping Sandy transform her living space, which in turn transformed her life.  He suggested she start her reading with the next day’s edition, and emptied the house of newspapers and trash, taking many loads to the dump.  He cut out the trees and pulled out the shrubs, planting new ones.  He cut the windows free of old paint so they could be open or shut with the season.  He jacked up the stairs and put rock and new cement under them.  He repaired all the plumbing.  He painted all the walls.  Mom asked him once, “Why don’t you involve the other men of the Church instead of doing all this work yourself?”  And he explained that descending en masse to fix the house was all fine and well, but would not fix the occupant.  She needed frequent, regular visits of encouragement, acceptance, and assistance.  In the course of that year, Sandy began to smile, and to converse, and to return to Church.  She and Mom became friends, sometimes hopping on the train to New York City for Broadway’s “two-for” matinees.  In telling the story four decades later, Dad was clear it was not to boast, but to teach me this lesson: No one is unvisitable.  We just need to ask the Savior how to do it, and He will show us the way.  To God, all persons have equal worth, and we can be his hands in reaching out to the unreachable.  No one is unvisitable.

(Photo from lily pond at Island Lake in the high Uintah mountains, 2007.)

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