LONG BEFORE SHE became my wife, Kristine Allen dreamed of living in France, and, being the kind of person she is, she made her plans and carried them out.

Her father had taught in BYU's Semester Abroad in Grenoble one year, while the family stayed home. When the program was moved to Paris, Kristine determined to go one day and began to prepare.

She started studying French in junior high. There she met two students in particular, Kim and Tommy. Tommy was memorable because he was the only boy who took all three years of French in Madame Felice's class in junior high.

Kim and Kristine, who shared the dream of BYU's Semester Abroad in Paris, became great friends. They studied French together through high school (from Madame Brown), took intensive French in college and went on the semester abroad together in the winter and spring of 1974.

By the time she went, Kristine and I had been dating and were very much in love. I not only inundated her with letters and tape-recorded love songs, I also sent my cousin Mark, who was on his mission in France, to visit her when he went to meetings in Paris.

Imagine Kristine's and Kim's delight when, by sheer coincidence, Mark's missionary companion at the time he visited them was the very same Tommy who had studied French with them at Lincoln Junior High in Orem!

Paris was everything Kristine had wanted it to be, a seminal event in her life. She made many lifelong friends there, and the stories from Paris have become part of our children's lives, too.

The family's fascination with France led our two older children to study French in school, and we have visited the country several times. Our youngest daughter's earliest memories are from the six weeks we lived in a rented villa in Cagnes-sur-Mer, just after our oldest graduated from high school.

If I were writing an essay about how the dreams of childhood can, if you are determined enough, give shape to much of your future life, then I could stop right here.

But I'm telling a different story, about one of the young women Kristine and Kim became friends with during their time in Paris. Kristine first noticed Sandy because she had been told to. A guy in Kristine's Young Adult group was dating Sandy and asked Kristine to be on the lookout for her.

Kristine would have noticed her anyway, however, because Sandy was enthusiastic about life, kind to everyone and fun to be around. She was bold, always ready to try something new; she was also the one who thought of, and organized, their trip to the Swiss temple during their semester in Paris.

It was Sandy who met a French family while buying tickets to the Paris opera and invited them to church. They came! As Kristine says, "Because I tagged along with her, I had my only missionary experience in Paris."

Soon after their arrival in Paris, Sandy began disappearing one afternoon a week. Nobody in the group knew where she was going; her roommate wouldn't tell. Only after Kristine worked on her for weeks did she finally learn the secret.

Nearly every day, all the students in the group would walk past a huge door that had a sign reading, "Les Petites Soeurs" — "The Little Sisters." Nobody knew what was behind the door, and nobody was curious enough to find out.

Except Sandy. She found out that it was an old-folks home run by a group of nuns. She asked if she could help them in their work. "We cannot afford to pay," they told her. She assured them that she was a willing volunteer.

Communication was not easy — there are differing degrees of "fluency" in a foreign language, and talking to the elderly is one of the most difficult tasks in a language you are still learning. But Sandy came to love them, and they her. Sandy also became very close to the nun she worked with most.

It wasn't church service, it wasn't missionary work, it wasn't helping with her studies, and after the first week or so it could hardly be called a "new experience" — it was the same thing week after week. Why was she doing it?

Sandy explained that she was so blessed, living her dreams, having so many good things happening in her life that she felt she had to give something back to the Lord, or she was in danger of losing herself. This idea had a powerful impact on Kristine. After all, she, too, was living the dream she had worked to fulfill since junior high; but, as Kristine says, "It had not occurred to me to reach outside myself."

Once the secret was out, several of the other girls joined Sandy from time to time in serving with the Little Sisters. But even with that, Kristine believes that Sandy had the greatest adventure of them all in Paris.

"She got the same wonderful education we all did, but she also received the blessings of service in her life and made a lifelong friend in the lovely sister she worked closely with."

Like us, Sandy's family has gone back to France from time to time — but they also make a stop in Portugal, where that particular nun now lives in retirement.

There is a time in your life when there is nothing wrong with making your plans and fulfilling your dreams — living a life centered in what you are doing, what you are making of yourself.

But most of life is about turning outward, reaching into the lives of others and serving them in the name of Christ. What Kristine has taught our children and many other people — what she learned from Sandy's secret service — is that the meaning of it all comes from the outward, not the inward quest.


Orson Scott Card is a writer of nonfiction and fiction, from LDS works to popular fiction. "In the Village" appears Thursdays in the Deseret News. A longer version of this column is available in the Mormon Times section of deseretnews.com. Leave feedback for Card online at www.nauvoo.com/contact_desnews.html.