“Unlocking Heaven,” Ensign, Jan. 1993, 52
Carol was nine years old when my eyes were opened to a spiritual concept I had never fully understood. Her life had been basically unhappy and frustrating. She was born with mental deficiencies that were a challenge to teachers, peers, and family. Most of all they were a challenge to her. Her language ability was excellent, even beyond her years, but her reasoning and comprehension skills were seriously impaired. It seemed a paradox. How could she speak so well and yet comprehend so little? When she was just five years old she explained it to her brother. “I can’t help it. I’m brain bandaged.”
Along with her learning difficulties in school, even in the special education classroom, she suffered from another problem I had come to identify as “peer fear.” Not that she was afraid of other children—to the contrary, they were afraid of her. They simply could not relate to her. After a few minutes of play, they were gone. Startled and embarrassed by her unpredictable behavior, they found the safest place for them was anywhere but there. No one would be her friend. No one.
Too frequently, I saw tears running down Carol’s cheeks as she said, “I want a friend, Mommy, but nobody will play with me.” It was heart-wrenching. “Come on over and play with Carol,” I’d plead. “We’ve got cookies, we’ve got punch. It’s going to be so fun.” But when the cookies and punch were gone, so were the friends. No one would stay and play with Carol, no matter what my tactics.
Our family understood the children’s need to leave. We wished we could do the same on several occasions. We, too, had experienced some real embarrassments. For example, Carol’s twelve-year-old brother, Michael, just entering the “whatever you do, impress your friends” stage, came running in one day after school. “Mom, you’ve got to talk to Carol!” he cried. “It can’t happen again.” Then out the story poured.
“I was sitting in my classroom. The whole class was real quiet, working on math, and my teacher was at her desk, when Carol burst into the room yelling, ‘Michael, you have got to come out on the playground right now! There are two boys out there calling me a mental retard, and you have got to come out and beat them up.’”
Sympathetically I said, “Oh, Mike, what did you do?” Forlorn and frustrated, he replied, “Mom, I went out and I beat them up.” I said, “You’re right, this can’t keep happening.”
We never knew what Carol would do next, and neither did her peers. For them, the risk was too great, so they didn’t stay around for long. But one day Carol came home filled with resolve and said, “I am going to have a friend, and it’s going to be Jill.” Jill was a girl Carol’s age who lived in our neighborhood. “Please give me Jill’s phone number,” she said. “I’m going to call her right now.” And she did.
“Hello, Jill,” she confidently began. “This is Carol. Can I come over and play?” Jill said no and gave some excuse, to which Carol’s loud response was, “I hate you, Jill, I hate you! I don’t ever want to be your friend!” And hung up.
I feel certain that at that point Jill’s resolve to not play with Carol became a firm, set-in-concrete commitment. But Carol, determined to win Jill as a friend, continued calling her every day, and every day Jill declined, and every day Carol would shout, “I hate you, Jill!”
Diligently, I worked with Carol, trying to teach her social skills, and more precisely, trying to teach her how to talk to Jill on the phone. One day I said, “When Jill says you can’t come over, how about saying, ‘That’s okay, Jill. Maybe another time.’”
With wide-eyed innocence, Carol said, “That’s a good idea.” But somehow, no matter how hard we practiced, when the moment arrived and Jill said no, Carol would shout, “I hate you, Jill! I don’t ever want to be your friend.” She could never remember to say, “That’s okay, Jill. Maybe another time.”
I realized that no matter what I did, I did not have the power to give my little girl a friend. That’s when I cried.
One day, my husband and I prayed, as we had every day since Carol’s handicap was discovered: “Please make our little girl well and whole and normal.” Her life was so unhappy and fraught with so many difficulties. Oh, how we wanted her to be made well. And so with all our hearts we prayed for her to be healed.
But that day, when the children were at school and I was at the kitchen sink washing the dishes, I had a profound experience. On that quiet morning, the Holy Ghost taught me that I had been praying for too much in too general a way for Carol. What had I been praying for? I remembered: “Please make Carol well and whole and normal.” A big, general request. I felt prompted to pray instead for something small and specific. So I prayed that today when Carol came home from school and called Jill, she would remember to say, “That’s okay, Jill. Maybe another time.”
A few hours later the children came home, and with all five children there, the usual after-school pandemonium was in full swing. But amid the noise I heard Carol call Jill and say, “Hi Jill. This is Carol. Can I come over and play?” Then a pause while Jill said no. Then Carol said softly, “That’s okay, Jill. Maybe another time.”
I could hardly believe my ears. Michael heard it, too, and said, “Mom, did you hear that?”
I will never forget the feeling of that moment. I knew beyond any doubt that Heavenly Father knew our trial, and he loved me, and he loved Carol, and he wanted to help within the realm of his plan.
The next day Carol called Jill again. “Hello, Jill. This is Carol. Can I come and play?” Then a pause while Jill answered. And then Carol’s face lit up with one gigantic smile as she said, “Oh, goody, Jill. I’ll be right there.”
For two years, until Jill moved away, Carol and Jill became best friends. I don’t mean just one kind little girl named Jill being compassionate to a poor little handicapped girl named Carol. No. I mean best friends. Carol’s handicap remained; she didn’t change. But somehow, Jill did. Not only had Heavenly Father answered my very specific prayer, but he also blessed Jill in an unusual way. No longer was she embarrassed by Carol’s unpredictable behavior. Somehow she didn’t even seem to notice it anymore. She just loved her for who she was, a child of God.
Carol is an adult now and is still mentally disabled. We know through her patriarchal blessing that her disability is an important part of her mortality and will be there throughout her life here on earth. Since that day when Carol was nine years old, we have experienced, over and over, sweet answers to small, specific prayers in her behalf. We have come to know more clearly the importance of the Savior’s words, “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you.” (3 Ne. 18:20; emphasis added.)
For so many years we had prayed a prayer that was contrary to God’s will and plan for Carol and for us. Learning to pray for small, specific things that fit into that plan has been our key to unlocking heaven.