Sunday, January 21, 2018
No More Strangers
The Relief Society president caught my eye from across the room as she waved a small white piece of paper at me. I sighed, realizing that it must be a new visiting teaching route. Sure enough, the four sisters I already visited were still listed, but now a fifth name was added….Thursa.
How was I supposed to fit yet another thing into my schedule? I didn’t even know her! I think maybe she was new in the ward. Dutifully, my companion and I made an appointment and set out to visit her.
We drove down snowy Alaska back roads until we located her little home, set back from the gravel road on a large, treed lot. It was clear from the pathway in the snow that they didn’t use the front door, so we headed around to the back of the house to the sounds of shrill barking, where we were greeted by Thursa and her spoiled little dog, Princess.
We walked through the kitchen to the living room to begin our visit. Thursa was pleasant enough, but it was clear to me we had nothing in common. Nothing! She was probably 15 years older than I, and was on her third marriage. She grew up in a rural mining town in eastern Utah and had relatively little education. She’d had a hard life, working dead end jobs to make ends meet and raise her children. Over the years she had had minimal contact with religion even though she had been baptized as a child. She apologized for the toys Princess had scattered around the room and asked us to sit down.
It was an average visit. We gave the lesson and asked about her life…the typical getting to know you sort of visit. She told us about her husband, Jim and her children who were scattered around the country. We were indeed strangers to one another, looking for some common ground.
Over the months we visited with Thursa, I began to notice a remarkable quality she had. She was one of the most teachable people I had ever met. She was eager to discuss whatever message we brought to her.
One day the message had something to do with family history. She said she had always been curious about her family but never knew just what to do, so I offered to come over on another day without my companion so we could begin to explore her family tree. This was before the days of genealogy via the internet, but I was the director of the local family history center at the time, so I had access to some resources we could use. On the appointed day, I dropped my daughter off at school and headed to Thursa’s where I was happily greeted by Princess, who now considered me her friend. Thursa brought out an old suitcase, dug through a pile of papers and came out with several of those old-style, long genealogy sheets. Somewhere along the line someone had helped her get started! Over the months we were able to expand her family tree.
The old suitcase held other things as well…an old piece of choir music her mother had saved, an old dance program and other memorabilia. We enjoyed going through it together as she told me about each item.
Thursa didn’t usually drive, so one day I casually mentioned that I was willing to give her a ride once in a while if Jim couldn’t take her, so it wasn’t a huge surprise when she called one day to ask for a ride to visit her doctor. As it turned out, she wanted more than a ride. She wanted a listening ear. Her doctor tended to talk over Thursa’s head, so she wanted someone else to listen to the doctor as well and then talk with her later to explain her options…something Jim wasn’t very good at. Thus I became her permanent ride to her appointments. Pretty soon I became pretty familiar with her medical history. After some months, she was referred to a specialist who told her she needed surgery.
I reassured her as best I could and went with her to the hospital on the day of her surgery. Jim was beside himself, pacing back and forth as we waited. When we at last were taken back to her room, it was clear that Thursa was in terrible pain and seemed to be hallucinating. Jim was frantic with worry.
By the next day, Thursa was not in so much pain but was terribly worried about Princess. Jim and I put our heads together and made a plan. I picked him and Princess up the next morning and took them both to the hospital.
I was familiar with the hospital layout. It was a rural area, so the hospital was just one story. Some years before, when our son was born, the hospital didn’t even allow anyone except parents of the baby in to see the babies, but I remembered that my in-laws, anxious to see their first grandchild, had hiked around the hospital to the back and located the window to my room so they could see him.
That knowledge came in handy. I went inside the hospital to visit Thursa and made sure to close the door to her room, then went to the window to watch. Sure enough, Jim soon appeared with little Princess. I quickly opened the window and brought her inside to see Thursa. I think that was the best
medicine there was for her that day. At some point one of the nurses came into the room to check on her, noticed what was going on, and tiptoed out and shut the door behind her.
It wasn’t too long after that that the Anchorage Temple was opened. Thursa was anxious to go to the temple for the first time, so several of us ward members took her, helped her dress and complete her work there.
I realized one day that Thursa and I had fulfilled a scripture from Ephesians, “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.”
We were no more strangers, but rather friends and sisters in the Gospel.
A few years later we left Alaska just before Thursa and Jim moved to California where one of her children was willing to care for them. Thursa died shortly after moving there.