I thought about her today. I used her hanger. It's no ordinary hanger. She made it for me, and so it always holds my temple dress. I think of her every time I touch the green crochet trim. Her name is Paula, and she is my sister in Zion.
Years ago, I was serving in a Relief Society presidency. We had a goal to contact each sister whose name appeared on our monthly lists but never attended church. Put a name with a face and a story. That was our basic idea.
Paula's name appeared on the list. The information we received stated that she was a member but not active. So, we located her house and knocked on the door. Once she opened it, we explained who we were and that we had dropped by to meet her. Paula responded by telling us she wasn't a member of the LDS Church, and then she invited us inside. We visited. We talked about her family, her grandkids and where she grew up. She was delightful.
As we left, we were puzzled. If she wasn't a baptized member, how could Paula's name show up on our inactive report month after month? We resolved that this was a question that would never have an answer.
But Paula left an impression on us. So, I offered to unofficially visit teach her. I reasoned that she was just too wonderful not to visit. From that month on, my companion and I added her to our route. Sometime later, the missionaries started dropping by as well. Then the Ensign started showing up on her side table. Paula started coming to church, and she also quit drinking coffee. Through it all and month after month, we would visit. We would talk about her life, her challenges, her grown kids and her career as a hair stylist. We sat on her porch. We sat in her family room. I brought my little girls over to get haircuts. She taught me about canning. Most importantly, she became my friend.
During this time, my husband was serving as membership clerk. Unbeknownst to me, he knew that Paula was not a member. So he would delete her name off the inactive list. A month or so later, he would notice that her name had returned. Once again, he would delete it. This continued — just long enough for a Relief Society presidency to take her name and search her out. Her name kept appearing on our list because the Lord wanted us to find her.
Paula was baptized, surrounded by her family. I spoke at her baptism and felt honored to do so. One year later, on July 11 (her birthday), she entered the temple. Again, she was surrounded by her family. They had all joined the church 40 years ago when the missionaries had taught their family. You could feel their joy to have Paula finally join their eternal family unit. Her brother-in-law (one of the missionaries who taught their family) told me that they had been praying for her for 40 years.
I now live states apart from Paula, but I think of her often. I think about sitting with her on the porch. I think about the lessons she has taught me and how she increased my testimony. She will always be a part of me.
Through all of our service in the church, sometimes our visiting and home teaching falls to a low priority. It's not an intended action; it just happens. We're busy. And there are months where we can't get to it all. But maybe, we need to view our teaching and visits with new eyes. Paula's eyes. I often wonder if Paula and I were friends in our pre-earth life. I think we were. And I also think that maybe she sat me down and asked me to promise to find her and be her friend. Maybe she explained to me that she would live a long, hard life without the gospel and that I had to find her house and knock on her door. And sit on her porch. And speak at her baptism. And see her be sealed to her family.
What if each of us made promises to search, find and love? What if our pre-mortal life was filled with tender embraces and echoed promises not to forget? What if the Lord's program for visiting and home teaching is our path to fulfill those promises? I'm pretty sure I know the answers to these questions. Paula taught them to me. And all it took was seeing a name on a list and a commitment to be a friend.
Who is your Paula, and how long has he or she been waiting for you?
Lisa Foster lives in Tomball, Texas, and is a mom of three. She writes about her family at thefostercircus.blogspot.com.