“Vickie’s Family,” New Era, Nov. 1973, 33
It took me a long time to convince Vickie that she could change things. But now, after all that’s happened this last year, she will never again doubt—nor will I—that within one individual is the power to change the lives of many.
I first met Vickie about two years ago when she was a junior in high school. The circumstances that brought us together were such that I knew immediately she was in need of a little friendly direction. How to do it in a subtle way was a problem I solved the first day she and her friend Pat came to my home. I was trying to convince them they needed to get involved in some interesting activities.
“Hey, you guys, I’ve got a deal for you,” I said. “How about free drama lessons in exchange for some baby-sitting?”
They thought about it, and giggled, and decided it would be fun. Little did they dream that that weekly committed hour was just a ruse to keep them coming. Oh, I carried out my part of the bargain, but I was much less interested in their theatrical potential than in their lives.
About five weeks later, right between Our Town and Peter Pan, we gave up the “drama lessons,” mostly because it was impossible to emote properly with my three preschoolers on the premises. But the lessons had served their purpose, and Vickie and Pat kept coming. Pat’s story is a good one, too, but this one is about Vickie. So it’s into her life that we now go.
Life was a drag to her. School was boring. Church was boring. Home was boring. Home—that’s what I started asking questions about. For I had learned enough to know that’s where most things start, good and bad. As she described her home to me I had a feeling she could have been talking about thousands of homes throughout the Church.
“Are your parents active in the Church?” I asked.
“Oh, sort of. They were married in the temple but haven’t been back for a long time. They go to church sometimes, but they drink coffee, and sometimes we find beer cans around.”
“Do your parents seem to enjoy one another? Are they happy together?”
“Yeah—I guess so. I mean, they don’t really fight or anything, but they’re not happy in the way that Mormons ought to be happy.”
“What do you talk about at your house?”
“Oh, nothing. Nothing interesting. Oh, they talk about our debts a lot, and how much we owe on different things, and that kind of stuff. But nobody ever talks about the way we feel about something, unless it’s to get mad and yell.”
“Vickie, do you think your parents love you?”
“Oh, I’m sure they love me. They even tell me so. And they do lots of things for me. Like—Dad will work an extra four or five hours to get a new dress for me. But sometimes they won’t go out of their way to be with me. I remember having to go alone to things like Laurel standards nights. It’s sort of weird—I know they love me. But sometimes—I don’t feel like they love me. You know what I mean?”
“Yes. I know what you mean.”
Vickie found herself depressed a lot. She couldn’t sleep. A lot of her friends at the high school were getting into drugs. Not too long before a friend had committed suicide, and sometimes Vickie found herself envying her. But it was the drug thing that had us worried for a while. I gave to her and to some of her friends a copy of a book that tells the story of youth and drugs. And I took them to The Group, a Church-affiliated organization dedicated to helping young people find a better way. I’m happy to report that Vickie did not take any drugs, but there were times when she thought it might be the answer.
The real answer, as I was trying to convince her, lay in coming to grips with the problems of reality and doing something, however small, toward solving them. On a long-into-the-night phone call, she told me she hadn’t been able to sleep for days and would just lie awake thinking of all her worries. I guess that was the first time I gave her an assignment.
“Look, Vickie,” I said, “go get a pencil and paper right now and make two lists—one of all the things you are worried about that you can’t possibly do anything about—and the other of all the things you are worried about that you can do something about. Then put a cross through the first list and say, ‘Lord, this part is yours,’ and next to each item on the other list write down one simple little thing you can do as a beginning to solving the problem. Then put a check by the one thing you’ll start on tomorrow, put it away, say a good prayer, go to bed, and go to sleep!” Next day she claimed to have slept better.
I started giving her other assignments then, each geared to one of the worries that she did have some control over. After a few afternoons of lonely concentration in my writing room, she gradually improved her study habits. I assigned her to try out for the school play, and she had a wonderful time in a small part in Green Pastures.
But things at home were not getting a lot brighter. She claimed she couldn’t talk to her folks about anything. Once over the phone she said to me, “Wow, we’re learning the neatest things in seminary these days—all kinds of stuff about Church history that I never heard of before—it’s really exciting!”
“That’s great, Vickie,” I said. “Have you told your mom that?”
Silence. Then a nervous laugh. “Of course not. I couldn’t tell them anything like that.”
“You can’t tell them the bad stuff or the good stuff, huh? Just the ‘what are we having for supper’ kind of stuff.”
“Yeah. Guess so.”
I then determined to persuade Vickie that she was as much a part of the problem as her parents were. True, they were older, and it is the responsibility of the parents to set the tone of what’s going on at home. But parents inherit their own set of problems from other parents who also have inherited problems. Not that they are exonerated from what they as parents do or don’t do, but simply that by the time a child approaches adulthood he must assume some of the responsibility of deciding what kind of a home he wants to live in and how he wants to relate to his parents.
Mother’s Day was coming up. “Here’s your next assignment, Vickie,” I said. “Invite your mom out to dinner, and make yourself talk about some things that are really important to you.”
“All by myself?” she gasped.
“Take Pat and her mother along.” Finally I convinced her that it was a good idea, and when it was over I got the report.
“We were driving in the car when I invited her,” Vickie said. “She slammed on the brakes and looked at me like she was going to faint. But I could tell she was really happy about it.”
One dinner. One nice moment together. One step in the right direction. But there were so many more steps that needed taking.
It was the dedication of the Provo Temple that prompted Vickie to take the big step. She was the only one in her family who wanted to go, and she felt embarrassed about letting them know she was going to the bishop to get the necessary ticket. A few days after the dedication she came over to see me.
“It was so beautiful,” she said. “But to me it was so depressing. I mean, temples are all about family. That’s why they exist—so we can be together as families forever and ever. My family isn’t even a family now. I sat there all alone and just wished that we could be what we’re supposed to be so that we can be together forever. Because I do love them!”
“Vickie,” I said, quietly and firmly, “if that’s what you want to have happen, then you’re responsible for doing some things to make it happen. And you can. If you really want to, you can change the eternal destiny of your whole family.”
“But how?” She was overwhelmed at the very idea.
“Okay, here’s your next assignment. Next week your family is going to have a family home evening, and you’re going to be in charge of it.”
“Me?” she asked weakly. They had made a few unsuccessful attempts at holding family home evenings in years past, but somebody had just read from the manual, and the whole idea was quickly dropped.
“If you suggest it and volunteer to take charge, will they go along with you?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Well, what do you have to lose?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “Not a thing.”
“All right. We’re on,” I said. “In five days I’ll call you and expect to hear that you’ve got it all set up. Okay?”
“Couldn’t we just have drama lessons instead?” she asked weakly, as I pushed her out the door.
Two days before I was due to call her, Vickie called me.
“Carol Lynn?” she said, with overtones of terror in her voice. “We’re having it tonight! This was the only night all week that we could all be home, so we’re going to have it in just two hours.”
“Great!” I replied.
“But what am I going to do?” she wailed. “I got out the manual and decided to use the first lesson, the one about making home into heaven. And my little brother and I are going to make cookies. But I’m scared!”
“Now, calm down, Vickie. Just use what you can from the lesson and don’t worry about it. Talking about your home is a great way to start. But don’t scare your parents off. Be sure you first of all tell them some of the things you like about your home and some things they do that you appreciate.”
“Yeah, yeah, I could do that.”
“And then start talking about some of the things you could be doing that would make your home a better place to be.”
“Yeah, yeah, okay.” Some of the terror had left her voice.
“But above all, Vickie, make it a pleasant time for the family tonight. Make sure you have fun together. After your lesson do something like—like play charades.”
“Yeah! Uh—how do you play charades?”
I gave her a quick over-the-phone lesson on charades and suggested that they use titles out of the hymnbook.
“Have a good time, Vickie, and call me when it’s over.” I hung up the phone and said a little prayer for her.
At nine o’clock the phone rang.
“Carol Lynn?” Her voice was an excited whisper. “Wow! Wow—it was so neat!”
“Hooray! What happened?”
“It was so neat!” she repeated. “They’re still in the other room playing charades and really having fun. I did it, just like you said, about the lesson. We talked about the things we like about our home. Then I asked them what we could be doing to make it a better place. And Dad said—I couldn’t believe it—he said we should be having one of these family nights every week! And then Mom said that we ought to be having family prayer too. Wow—we’ve never had family prayer! But we’re going to tonight, in just a few minutes. I can’t believe it!”
I told Vickie the next day that she couldn’t expect completely smooth sailing from then on—that there would be times when she would think nothing had really changed. And there were those times. But gradually we could not deny that things had changed. Her home became a different place, a place that she sought to be in as much as she had sought to avoid it before. She got up earlier in the mornings in order for them to have family prayer. Gradually her father took more responsibility for conducting the home evenings. She found herself spending hours with her mother, just talking, about big things and little things. Her parents became happier people. They started attending church more consistently and getting rid of certain things on the kitchen shelves. Her little brother thought it was terrific that they had family night now just like some of his friends had. The whole world took on a little brighter shade.
Vickie is away at college this year. A few weeks ago she came back for a visit and found us out in the backyard, cleaning up the winter debris. As we all pitched in, we talked about the joys and the problems of college. And then I asked how things were going with her family. Her face lit up with a brightness that some college freshmen would reserve for talking about the prom.
“Just great,” she said, “really, really great. I love to come home. And something happened just last week—I practically bawl every time I think about it. My dad was ordained a high priest. We’re so happy. My mom’s so proud of him—and she sure lets you know it. The other day my dad and I drove into Salt Lake alone. On the way back he bore his testimony to me for the very first time. It was so beautiful.”
Just the other day I got a letter from Vickie. The last paragraph said, “Carol Lynn, thank you so much for making me hold that first family home evening. I know it was that night that started all the good things that have been happening in our family.”
The power that is within us to change the destiny of our own lives and the lives of others is incredible. And once that power is felt by enough people, the world will never be the same again.