I would like to tell you about a friend of mine. I will call her Lynne. I first met Lynne about 25 years ago while teaching adult Institute classes in Alaska.
We met in the High Council room and sat around the big table. It was a lovely setting, each student had a place for books and scriptures, and I had a wide whiteboard behind me. We were studying the Book of Mormon part one. It was nearly Christmastime, and a time of partaking of the processes of spiritual growth with special people. We soared and rejoiced as we searched the scriptures together. The Holy Spirit was often strong in our classes.
About the fourth Sunday evening we met, a young woman walked into the room and sat away from the table, in a corner of the room. Her hair was unkept, her clothing was heavy and worn. I walked around the room and introduced myself. She smelled of wood smoke and burned meat. She said her name was Lynne. She smiled shyly through yellowed and missing teeth, and sat abruptly, looking away.
During the next few months Lynne said absolutely nothing. She declined to participate, she would not comment, she would not read scriptural passages, and would not look up. She often arrived late, and left early to avoid the need to interact. But, she always came, and she always followed along in her manual, making copious notes on a spiral-bound notebook. The only time I heard sounds come from her lips was if I stumbled on a scripture reference. I would say something like, “I don’t know the verse, but there is a verse in Moroni that says,” and she would whisper the exact reference I was looking for. She knew them all, and she was never mistaken.
I found out as the class progressed that Lynn had a checkered past. She had been on a mission, then had lost her membership in the church. She married a guy who abused her kids. He ended up in prison and she ended up penniless. Her two boys were in perpetual legal trouble, and one of them spent time in prison as well.
It was near the end of the semester when we were discussing how the scriptures had blessed out lives. I knew Lynne loved the scriptures, and hoped she would have a few words to say. I asked every member of the class in turn to say just one or two sentences of testimony. I saw Lynne look up at me in fear. I smiled at her and nodded assurance.
I forgot about Lynn and was listening to the sweet testimonies. Suddenly it was Lynne’s turn. She was not sitting at the table, but on a back row of chairs, her head bowed. I looked at Lynne, who was struggling to find words to say, and to my great astonishment, I saw a vision.
Instantly I found myself standing in a beautiful sunken garden. There were four beautiful pathways rising up a few marble steps out of the small formal garden I was in. Beautiful flowers and sculpted bushes filled the space with beauty and sweet perfume. The pathways led away from the center of the garden, where I was standing. The light was more yellow, or golden than normal, and the flowers were more pinks, mauves and pastels than the bright colors one normally associates with flowers. Each flower seemed to be singing in their souls, rejoicing and radiating love and faith. I found myself completely enthralled by the experience.
I saw a figure walking toward me, and looked up. A short distance away a beautiful woman was walking toward me. She looked to me like a goddess in a long, white, gossimer dress. She literally glowed with righteousness, and was so stunningly beautiful that I could scarcely look at her. I felt like a bashful little boy, out of place and at a loss for words. She radiated love and joy. She walked down the steps and toward me with such grace and confidence that I did not know how to address her, or even if I was worthy to talk to her.
She stopped and smiled broadly, as if she knew a secret. I was astonished to feel that she loved me. She waited a moment, then asked, “You don’t recognize me, do you?”
“I’m so sorry, but I really don’t,” was my reply.
She smiled so happily that I felt my soul overflowing with joy. She took both of my hands in hers and said, “I’m Lynne, from your Institute class.”
The vision closed up and I found myself looking at the mortal version of this glorious, celestial being. No time had elapsed and our mortal Lynne was still struggling. Finally, she just shook her head and leaned back into her chair. I nodded at the next class member, and the discussion progressed around the room.
Now, this was astonishing enough, and the message was clear enough, but it is not the end of the story. I went home and wrote about this in my journal, but I never spoke to any other person about it. This sudden vision of a lowly and self-abused human’s true worth has deeply affected me, and has shown up in my novels a time or two, but the event is real, and I saw what I saw.
Nearly ten years later I was serving in a bishopric, and was walking through the Stake Center late one Sunday afternoon. By sheer chance I happened upon Lynn in the hallway. She was pacing back and forth. She still looked worn and tattered. Her hair and clothing were still the same, and she still smelled of wood smoke. The only thing I could see different was that she was older, and she was very angry.
I greeted her. “How are you Lynne?”
She shook my hand one pump and yanked her hand back. “I’m here to get my name taken off of the records of the church,” she said. It was practically the first time I had ever heard her speak a complete sentence, and it was not the one I had expected.
“Why is that?” I asked.
She explained how someone had deeply offended her, and embarrassed her so badly that now she couldn’t even come to church anymore because everyone looked at her differently now. She had the signed letter in her hand ready to hand to the Stake President. Her appointment was in a few minutes.
The same vision I had seen many years ago came forcefully to mind, the memory of it was as fresh and astonishing as when I had first seen it. I asked her to give me a few minutes. She looked at her watch and nodded.
I told her of that day, sitting there hoping she would say something in class, and then suddenly seeing her in vision, so full of light and righteousness, glowing so gloriously that I deemed her to be a goddess then. I told her about how I knew that of all the people on earth, she, herself, did not understand her own worth, her own glorious soul, and how deeply she is beloved of God. Why else would God show me that vision, than for His love of her, so that at this critical moment, someone could tell her who she really was?
Lynne wept. I wept. She pulled the letter from her coat pocket, ripped it up and dropped it in a garbage can. She shook my hand warmly, forced her chin up where it belongs, and walked from the church.
I have seen Lynne many times since over the years, and her hair and clothing are still worn and tattered. But, still holds her chin up, and her face glows as she smiles and speaks, because she finally knows who she is.
It was a loving and tender mercy that filled my heart and senses with her true worth. I have often wondered at Father’s love for Lynne, at the goddess she inwardly is, and am ever grateful for the privilege it was to be there for her at that critical moment.
From what I saw of her then, I still think she is underestimating her worth a great deal – I think we all are. If we all could only see ourselves as Christ does, we would never hang our heads again.