“Finding Norma Jean,” Liahona, October 2017
It was the 18th hour of my shift as a volunteer at a shelter in Dallas, Texas. Thousands of people displaced by Hurricane Harvey were arriving around the clock for a place to sleep, food, donated clothing, warm showers, medical attention, and a chance to call their loved ones.
An officer in uniform approached me. “We have a situation. Can you come with me, please?”
Exhaustion washed over me, but I followed the policeman outside, where a husband and wife waited with an all-too-familiar look of uneasiness on their tired faces.
“We’re trying to head back to our hometown tonight,” the husband explained, “but we heard that my grandmother was in the shelter here. We aren’t registered to go inside, so we don’t know how to find her. Once we leave town, we can’t get back here for a couple of weeks with all the chaos going on. We really don’t want to leave her that long. How can we find her?”
I felt a lump in my throat and sensed the urgency behind the man’s voice. I was the only one in the group who knew the weight of what they were asking. It was the middle of the night, and thousands of sleeping bodies filled a makeshift dormitory the size of several football fields. The only way I could find this person was to leaf through the hundreds of intake forms waiting to be processed, maybe find a cot section number, and hope someone could help me find that section. We were extremely short-staffed, and the new shift of volunteers had just arrived. None of these volunteers had taken up their duty stations yet or had even met the people they would be serving. Finding this grandmother seemed like an impossible task.
“What’s her name?” I asked, hoping I sounded more confident than I felt.
“Norma Jean,”* the wife told me.
“We told her when we saw her last that we wouldn’t be able to come for her until all this was over.” The husband sounded a bit ashamed, but I smiled and patted his shoulder.
“I can definitely go take a look,” I said. I swallowed hard and began the walk toward the dormitory. I blinked back sudden tears of weariness and frustration and said an urgent, silent prayer.
“Heavenly Father,” I pleaded. “I’m exhausted, but this family needs to be together. Please make me Your instrument. Tell me where to find this woman.”
I suddenly saw a wheel beneath a curtain divider and felt a strong impression.
Take that wheelchair and walk toward the medical area. She’s an older woman, alone. They’ll have kept her near the medical facility.
I set off to the medical area with the wheelchair, feeling as if I knew where I was being led.
Another impression came to mind.
Stop at this section.
I looked over the thousands of sleeping mounds before me. Several volunteers milled quietly among the cots, checking on the well-being of the evacuees. One volunteer stood out in my mind.
Ask her. She knows where to go.
I approached her quickly and she glanced at my empty wheelchair. I took a deep breath. “This is a long shot, but do you know a woman named Norma Jean?“
An instant spark of recognition on her face ignited a feeling of pure relief inside me. She turned to a cot about 10 feet from where I stood, where a sweet, 86-year-old woman was sitting up, wide awake.
“Ms. Norma Jean, why aren’t you sleeping?” the volunteer asked her.
“I prayed to the Lord that my grandchildren would come to get me,” Norma Jean said. “And He sent me a dream to tell me that they’re here. I’m ready to go!”
I helped her into the wheelchair and handed her a small handbag that held everything she owned. The three of us set off for the entrance.
The volunteer leaned close to me and said, “She’s been struggling since her family got separated. I suggested we pray for them, and she decided that meant to pray for them to come here. I can’t believe the odds …” She sniffled back some tears.
Once outside, the little family was reunited. They shared long, tearful embraces as we loaded a few belongings and supplies into their truck. Norma Jean pulled me into a warm, grandmotherly hug and smacked a kiss on my cheek. “Thank you for coming to find me. I knew He knew where I was, and I’m glad He sent you so I can be with my family now.”