“A Change of Heart,” Ensign, Aug. 2002, 64–65
I first met Martha* at a ward social many years ago. Well into her 70s, she was spunky and quite outspoken. I became better acquainted with her about a year later when Duane, a young renter who lived in our home, was assigned as Martha’s home teacher. Martha didn’t hesitate to call Duane to chat or request rides to the doctor, so many of our conversations were conducted over the telephone—sometimes before 5:30 A.M. Frequently she would call when Duane was not at home. As silly as it may sound, I often had the uncomfortable feeling that Martha blamed me for his absences, and it was always unpleasant to explain that he was gone. In fact, one of our conversations ended abruptly as Martha told me, “You’re just stupid!” and hung up.
That was one side of Martha. It would take me a full year later to discover another side. Inwardly I was envious of the ward members Martha liked, those who made her smile. Still, I was wary of her. I was sure she just didn’t like me, and more than anything I was afraid she would embarrass me by stating her feelings publicly at Church gatherings.
For the better part of a year, we managed to stay clear of one another. Then, some of the visiting teaching assignments within the ward were changed, and my companion and I were assigned to visit Martha. Because I was still intimidated by her, I tried to have her name removed from our list, suggesting a “personality conflict.” But the visiting teaching leader felt sure of the match. How grateful I am now that she was so in tune with the Spirit of the Lord!
I wasn’t sure what to expect when my companion and I approached Martha’s apartment complex for our first visit. Several minutes later, as we wondered if she was purposely not answering her bell, she appeared at the door, warmly greeting us and apologizing profusely for the wait. How could I not love Martha? A change of heart was starting.
We spent our time discussing music and tatting (she absolutely could not believe I did not tat, let alone not know what it was). She proudly showed us a yellowed newspaper clipping about her volunteer work at a local school and politely listened to the visiting teaching message about our celestial potential. Then she expressed an interest in leaving this world and getting on with the next. “Does she always say what’s on her mind?” I wondered.
While I was thinking, out of the blue, Martha looked straight into my eyes and said, “You know, I thought you didn’t like me.” Momentarily taken aback, I responded with, “Martha, I thought you didn’t like me!” Very seriously she said, “Well, I like you,” and gave me a smile, the one I had yearned for. At that instant, I more clearly understood what Alma meant by a change of heart (see Alma 5:14). All my ungodly feelings of dislike and uneasiness were quickly replaced with love and understanding. Fighting back tears, I told Martha how much I liked her too. I left that day feeling our visit was more than a success; it was the beginning of a real friendship.
We never conversed face-to-face again. Within two weeks of our visit, Martha was admitted into the hospital for cancer surgery. She called me the night before the operation. She sounded unusually weak, not like the spirited little lady I was beginning to love. Not really knowing what to say, I wished her well and promised to visit during her recuperation.
In the weeks following her surgery, my companion and I went to the hospital to see Martha. I still remember sitting beside her bed in the ICU, stroking her arm, pleading for her to get well and go home so we could talk again. But she didn’t. A short time later, she passed away. I guess she really was ready to move on.
Without this experience, I would never have been able to catch a glimpse of the real Martha before she died. How grateful I am for the visiting teaching program and for the lesson I learned about looking on the heart. In doing so, my own heart was changed.—Sheila Anderson Bruce, Minneapolis First Ward, Minneapolis Minnesota Stake