I have been involved in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints all my life. I was raised into it, nurtured by it, and used it as a crutch to lean on when things in life became difficult. And things were often difficult. My childhood was spent in the small Santa Cruz mountain town of Boulder Creek, California. Population 8,000 where true civilization is miles away and there are more tattoo parlors and tie dye shops than grocery stores, drug stores and gas stations combined. A place where I learned with every fiber of my young being, that the Lord works in mysterious ways, guiding and protecting me through the people involved in my life. I remember being nine years old, crying for a treasured best friend a year younger than myself who was involved physically with a fifteen year old high school boy. There were times when I had to turn away in sadness from those I loved who were inhibited by chemical alterations to their body. Every child my age, by age twelve was either involved in early sexual experiences or experimenting with drugs and alcohol. As ironic as it may seem, it was in this environment where I truly came to know and treasure my Heavenly Father.
I was an awkward twelve year old seventh grader. I was taller than all of the other girls… and all of the boys, and I was still growing into my skin, still forming for myself the kind of person that I was trying to become. I was not popular. Not well liked. I had few, if any developed talents, and even fewer friends. And I was angry. I was upset with the Lord for my discomfort, for my insecurities, and for not fulfilling my selfish desires to be the prettiest, for not “letting” me fit in with everyone else.
There was another girl in my grade who likewise just didn’t seem to fit in. Her name was Linda, and she was known to all as the “weird kid”. She was the epitome of silence, in the most literal sense. She never spoke a word. Not to teachers, not to administrators, and certainly not to peers. And so people made fun of her. They called her names, said cruel things about the way she looked. They insulted her to her face, and called her a freak because they knew she would never say anything in return. She never even changed her facial expression, never frowned, and never cried. She simply endured. I was teased, but I what I experienced never came close to being the object of pre-teen torture that poor quiet Linda was.
And then one day, I had an encounter with Linda’s mother, a petite Peruvian woman who was full of words enough for herself and five of Linda. I ran into her by chance, had a short, awkward conversation with this strange new woman, and at the end of our brief exchange, she extended an invitation to come over to their house. It was the loving, desperate invitation of a parent fearing for the well being of her distant and isolated child. Without thinking, an affirmative reply escaped my lips, and Linda’s mother scribbled down their phone number for me with the heartfelt enthusiasm of one whose life had just been snatched from the clutches of despair. She hurried off with a teary look of appreciation and I stumbled on to my next class, dazed by the experience.
That evening I sat alone in my room with a telephone in one hand and the hurriedly written number in the other. My thoughts were afraid, frustrated and confused. I wasn’t popular, but if anyone in that cruelly judgmental school heard that I’d spent time with Linda, my popularity certainly wouldn’t increase. So I sat there in indecision, weighing my own self-centered desires against the well being of a girl that was more special than I had the perception to recognize. After some time, I just called. My brain stalled for a minute and I dialed the numbers to set up the date. Linda’s mom answered the phone. As I mentioned who I was and why I was calling I could hear in her thick Peruvian accent, the overflowing disbelief, turned to appreciation. We set up the day and time and as I hung up the phone, a swelling of utter and complete joyful warmth flowed through my body, bringing me more happiness and confidence than any word from a popular peer ever could. The selfish thoughts just flew away from my mind.
I visited Linda not knowing what to expect, not knowing what to do or say, just knowing that with her was where I was meant to be. So I went to her house and watched movies ate and played. And Linda’s voice remained ever silent, her face expressionless. A few days later, I visited again, playing and laughing, and Linda smiled at me. The loner, the shy girl, the child who seemed to be void of personality smiled at me. I could have jumped for joy at that smile. In fact… in retrospect I believe I did. Days later I visited again. And then a few days later I came over again. With time, small smiles turned to big grins, and big grins turned to laughs. And I was able to see for the first time, how beautiful this quiet girl was. I could see the purity and childlike innocence that defined her personality, through high pitched, girly giggles.
I will never forget the day that I heard her voice. We were sitting in Linda’s bedroom, playing with Barbies as I told her stories about my family. I was picking up a brunette doll, lifting it from her dresser showing her that it was my favorite, and she pulled a box from her closet. As she opened it, my young eyes widened and I admired the beautiful princess bride within. She smiled at the look on my face saying, “This one is my favorite.” I didn’t act shocked. I didn’t stare at her when she finally uttered a word, but I sealed the moment into my memory. As I knelt at my bedside that night to pray, I cried in complete joyous elation. Tears poured down my face and words could not escape my lips, nor begin to describe the light that filled my bedroom that night.
Some time later, the girls on the bus heard that I’d befriended Linda. They laughed at me, called me disdainful names. They told me I was fat, said that no boy would ever like me, and that Linda was the only friend I’d ever be able to get. In patient understanding and confidence, I smiled to myself. If Linda, that bright pure spirit was the only friend I’d ever have, I knew that I would live a happy life. For the first time, words meant to hurt me meant nothing. Girls, whose words once would’ve meant everything to me, now meant absolutely nothing.
Do not cast pearls before swine. The words of those popular, pretty girls did not matter to me because the Lord had valued me enough to place a pearl in my life by sending me Linda. I realize now that had I ever befriended those popular girls, I eventually would’ve been broken down and I would’ve given in to the temptations that filled the lives of nearly every other child at that school. I was saved from a world of hurt that that environment could have created, all because of one girl, one friend that gave me confidence. I treasure Linda and the friendship she brought me to this day because having her in my life brought me closer to my Heavenly Father than I ever would’ve been otherwise. I was still awkward, but I was fulfilled, and I knew that I could count on my Heavenly Father above everyone else.