"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
June 24, 2015
Sandra Drake
by Marian Stoddard

A few months into our marriage, my husband and I were called to serve in the branch that was organized for the university hospital. There was a branch president, his two counselors, and Bill was the executive secretary.

I was set apart as the compassionate service coordinator for the Relief Society. In truth, I was the Relief Society; the other wives were not called into this service. They had babies or other callings, and most weeks they did not come into the hospital with their husbands.

There were two student stakes in Salt Lake; one for singles and one for married students. The married student stake, with the creation of this branch, was tasked with providing a consistent Sunday service for the patients and with ascertaining their other individual needs.

Since this was a regional hospital, connected to the only medical school for Utah and Idaho, there were often patients who were far away from their local support networks, with bishops, home and visiting teachers, and friends.

Our job was to visit those who were admitted with an LDS designation on their records, determine whether they were local or not, and let everyone know that there would be a sacrament meeting in the hospital chapel room; we would find out how long they might be there and what they needed.

Each ward took a week’s rotation of assignments to have elders available to give priesthood blessings, and then provide us with two speakers for our Sunday meeting.

My husband and I went in two evenings a week, for about an hour, checked the records with the front desk, and picked up and passed-along messages. Anyone who was from out of Salt Lake and had been there more than a couple of days, we would go see ourselves.

One of the patients we saw repeatedly over several months was Sandra Drake. She was from northern Utah. We got her story in pieces from her mother, from another motherly sister who was also a repeat patient, and from Sandra herself.

When Sandra’s mother was first pregnant with her, she contracted rubella (German measles). There was no vaccine for it yet. Rubella has devastating effects upon an unborn child, and was the fear in every woman’s heart at that time, if she had never had the disease. Early in pregnancy, it could cause deafness, blindness, heart problems, and mental retardation.

Her mother was terrified of what might result, and the law at the time allowed for an abortion under these circumstances; rubella was one of the specific legally allowable reasons at the time. After much prayer and soul-searching, she decided to carry the baby to term.

Sandra was born blind in one eye and deaf in one ear, on the same side. This was a relative relief, as possible outcomes could have been much worse. She had a wonderful family, and was loved, and thrived.

Then when she was nineteen, she lost the facial nerve on that side of her face, for no known reason. Nineteen, the age when she was starting to launch into adulthood, the age where maybe she was starting college, or where dating might shift from casual to potentially serious. Nineteen, and suddenly she looked like she’d had a stroke; that whole side of her face slumped.

Remember when you were nineteen, and imagine yourself in this condition. She was devastated. The doctors thought they might be able to repair the nerve, but they couldn’t guarantee success, and they wouldn’t be able to tell for several months, as the nerve regenerated — if it did.

She and her parents decided to try. The doctors were hopeful because the procedure had seemed to go well, but all they could do was wait and see.

Unfortunately, there were complications. The surgery set off what was termed to us a “sterile infection.” I don’t know now what that means, or how it would be termed today. She was back in the hospital fighting a life-threatening infection, cleared and sent home only to be back again, and then again.

Just before we met her, as the doctors tried to access the areas of infection and abscesses, they had been forced to amputate her outer ear, and her head was all bandaged. As she continued to fight the problems, enough months had gone by that they were faced with the probability that the procedure itself had failed, and she was still in danger from its execution.

In less than a year, she had gone from a moderate handicap but good health to serious disfigurement and disaster. She was my age, only a year younger. She could have been me.

Her family was there as often as possible, but her father had to work, and her mother had other children to take care of, and home was close to two hours away from the hospital. She was stalwart and determined to stay cheerful, and we kept tabs on her.

Our hearts sank a moment every time we spotted her name on the census sheet because that meant she was back, fighting another setback.

One evening we went to visit her in the room that was listed, but found that she had been moved. There was another woman sharing that room, who asked if we had seen Sandra before, after telling us where to find her. We smiled and said that we knew Sandra well.

This woman told us that she felt so bad for that girl, that no one should have to go through what she was going through. Then she said, “I pity her poor mother too. I don’t know how she can bear it. Every time I looked at that child, if she was mine, I would think, ‘Why did I ever let you be born, to go through all this pain?’”

But I have never forgotten the testimony meeting in our little hospital space, where Sandra Drake stood and said, “I’m so grateful that my mother let me be born.” She expressed a testimony of the blessings of mortal life, the gift of a loving family, of a Savior, and of her Heavenly Father’s care through everything. Eternal perspective changes the equation.

Her faithful heart, her words, and her courage, took a truth I believed in conceptually and placed it before me as a concrete reality. “All these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” The gifts outweigh the trials. We accepted the conditions of tutelage through the imperfections of our bodies, our circumstances, and our choices. All our pain, our grief, and our anguish will be overcome through our Savior.

This life is about learning, and about walking in the light of faith. It’s about drawing on love in order to persevere. We take that learning, and our loving relationships, with us, and nothing else. Money, status, renown, are all fleeting. We take our character and what we have become; at the end, that’s all that matters.

We served in this calling for almost two years. Sandra Drake eventually was well, and quit showing up in the hospital. Her gift to my life, however, of faith and love and comprehension, has never ended.

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About Marian Stoddard

Marian J. Stoddard was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in its Maryland suburbs. Her father grew up in Carson City, Nevada, and her mother in Salt Lake City, so she was always partly a Westerner at heart, and she ended up raising her family in Washington State. Her family took road trips all over the United States and Canada, so there were lots of adventures.

The adventures of music, literature, and art were also valued and pursued. Playing tourist always included the local museums as well as historical sites and places of natural beauty. Discussions at home, around the dinner table or working in the kitchen, could cover politics, philosophy, or poetry, with the perspective of the gospel underlying all. Words and ideas, and testimony and service, were the family currency.

Marian graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, and attended the University of Utah as the recipient of the Ralph Hardy Memorial Scholarship, where she was graduated with honors, receiving a B.A. in English. She also met the love of her life, a law student, three weeks after her arrival; she jokes that she had to marry him because her mother always wanted a tenor in the family. (She sings second soprano.) They were married two years later and have six children and six grandchildren (so far). She treasures her family, her friends, and her opportunities to serve.

Visit Marian at her blog, greaterthansparrows.  You can contact her at bloggermarian@gmail.com. 

Marian and her husband live in Tacoma, Washington. Together they teach those who are preparing to go to the temple for the first time, and she also teaches a Stake Relief Society Institute class.

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