I had a friend named Sally. Just knowing Sally was around made me feel safe. She was a hugger, a smiler and she liked to call everyone “Dearie.” I have known Sally since I was three years old. Sally and her husband were permanent fixtures our ward’s Primary where they delighted in the enthusiasm of youth. After Primary, Sally would seek out the parents of the children and tell them about the smart answers they gave during sharing time or about the funny way their child sang a particular primary song. From Sally’s perspective, every child was a genius or a comedian. Every child was worth getting to know and like.
Several weeks ago, Sally was teaching Primary as she has for decades. After church she spoke to several people in the hall about her excitement that her oldest grandchild had received his mission call. Minutes after arriving home from church she suffered a massive heart attack and passed away.
I was devastated. Shocked. Upset. Sad.
“What do you mean Sally has died? I just saw her a few hours ago!” was all ward members could say.
Hundreds of people attended her funeral. Seating for the grieving poured out of the chapel and into the overflow areas. A child sitting in front of me carried a rose and a hand made drawing of Sally teaching her primary class to give to Sally’s husband. The Primary sang “I am a Child of God,” and anyone who had been taught by Sally was invited to sing along with the primary children on the stand. Adults carrying children of their own stood alongside their babies with tears streaming down their cheeks sang the words to one of our church’s most beloved songs.
In the chorus of the song “I am a Child of God” we sing “Lead me, guide me, walk beside me, help me find the way.” Those words resonated with me particularly as I reflected on my experiences with Sally. The day Sally died I was thinking about her a lot. Sally had a condition where she couldn’t sweat and that made clothing very uncomfortable. She wore the same sack-like dress to church each week because it was the most comfortable item of clothing she owned. Sally also had developed a fear of being in large crowds and had bursitis in her shoulder. Just coming to church was a struggle she overcame every Sunday. On the Sunday Sally died, I was struggling to go to church too. My Rheumatoid Arthritis was making my feet swell so much that I couldn’t bear the thought of wearing my church shoes. The only clothing that fit me post delivery of my fourth child was a denim maternity skirt. I was not feeling cute, and I DID NOT want to go to church.
My mother taught me to be very prim and proper about church apparel. She taught me to dress my very best out of respect for God. Denim and sandals would have never flown at my house as appropriate church clothes. But as I stared down at my shoes that Sunday morning considering the pain even a pair of flats would cause me another mother’s voice came into my mind and told me it was OK to wear sandals to church. It was Sally’s example of wearing comfort apparel every Sunday that made me feel OK about being me. Just attending, partaking of the Holy Sacrament, and making other people feel loved, right down to the very youngest member, was infinitely more important than wearing heels. Thinking about Sally made me want hug people even when it hurts, to smile through my anxieties and overcome physical limitations to show Christlike love to those around me.
Sally’s example had a profound influence on me. She helped me find my way on a hard day. Even though she can no longer physically walk beside me here on earth, her loving influence will live on in how I choose to live with pain. My physical limitations do not have to hinder how I worship my God. When I decide to live the two great commandments, to love God and to love my neighbor as myself I will be honoring Sally’s memory and will be on the right path to finding my way back home to Him.