What God Taught Me About Service in A Dollar Store Parking Lot

Local Story: Natalie Langford | Apr 15, 2016

Natalie first shared this story live on the TOFW stage as the local presenter in Spokane, WA as part of the 2016 One Heart One, Faith Tour.

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Though the gospel of Jesus Christ has been a huge blessing in my life since the day I was baptized over 20 years ago, my relationship with Heavenly Father has been a complicated one. To put it mildly, we haven’t always seen eye to eye. Even after learning the truth about the gospel, I struggled with communicating and trusting in Him. Because I had lived without any knowledge of God for over 17 years, I was foolishly under the impression I could handle everything myself and often relied on my own strong will. I learned to kneel in prayer during times of trial, but when I prayed and didn’t get the answers I had hoped for, I resisted in embracing His divine plan.

A Gift and A Loss

My difficulty in trusting God was everpresent as my husband and I began to plan for and start a family. For many years, we suffered from infertility. Finally, on our 5th wedding anniversary we submitted our adoption paperwork. A short ten days later, we found out that we were expecting a baby boy in only two months. When little Conner was placed in our arms at one day old, I finally felt for a moment that my life was perfect.

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However, our rush of joy, love, and excitement was accompanied by almost instant struggle. Our beautiful baby boy was soon diagnosed with severe epilepsy. No surgery, diet, or medication could heal him. His seizures were uncontrollable, violent, devastating, and ultimately life ending. At age 8, my sweet, compassionate boy passed away in the middle of the night from SUDEP, (Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy). His death has been the single most devastating trial in my life. It’s one that has stretched me and molded me into the person I am today.

There are many stages of grief, but the one I remember the most vividly is anger. It was all consuming. I remember yelling at the Lord, telling him that I could never forgive Him for taking so much from me. I told Him that I’d never listen to another word He said. I was simply done listening.

It’s very hard for me to admit that I fell to such a low point, but grief can cast a shadow on everything good. In my case, it drained the color out of my world making everything flat and lifeless. I tuned out the Holy Ghost. I refused to pray, read scriptures, or do anything that would invite the spirit in. Though I knew the gospel was true, I had too much pain in my heart and I let the anger take hold. That is, until a miraculous day about three years ago. The day that changed my life forever.

Someone Turned the Light Back On

It was a cold day made even colder by the task ahead. I was going to the hospital to visit Conner’s best friend Karsten who in his short life was also no stranger to physical struggle.

Diagnosed with brain cancer as a baby, he had endured over fifty brain surgeries. This day, he would have another surgery and my heart was consumed by my genuine love and concern for him. I believe that it was this love that made me more open to receiving the message from the Lord that came next.

Before arriving at the hospital, I decided to stop at the dollar store to buy Karsten some balloons. I knew they’d make him smile. As I walked through the bitter cold parking lot, I noticed an elderly man struggling underneath the hood of a car. To be honest, it looked less like a car and more like a big heap of metal with the entire front end held on by heavy gauge wire. It was then that I also noticed that the man seemed to have paralysis on one side of his body like someone who’d had a stroke. He was trying with all his might to use his tools to fix his car, but was physically not able to. His wife was in the front seat of the car, bundled up in anything warm she could find. I immediately asked if I could be of any help and asked them if they had a place to stay. She replied, “Just here.” They were from out of town, had very little money, and were forced to sleep in their car overnight.

I told them that I would go into the store and try to find someone to help. As I turned to walk into the store, it happened. As clear as day I heard the Holy Ghost, and his instructions were very clear. “Natalie, give them your car.”

I stopped in my tracks, startled by the message. After all, it had been radio silence for longer than I’d like to admit. I had been very successful tuning out the messages from the Lord. My heart began to race. Excitement filled my mind.

Even after so much silence, I could not deny the message I received. I KNEW that I needed to do what I was instructed to do. When I accepted the message in my heart, it was as if someone turned the lights back on. The world was once again filled with color. Warmth radiated through my body, tears streamed down my cheeks, and I felt my Savior’s love. I was one with the Lord once again.

“This Cannot Be Real!”

I called my husband and told him to unearth our extra car, which was covered in layers of winter snow. I told him my plan and though hesitant, he didn’t challenge the inspiration I received. He grabbed the title to the car and a Book of Mormon, loaded up our three little girls, and was on his way to meet me in no time.

After he arrived, we walked over to the couple, with our girls in tow, and handed them the keys and title to their new car. The wife shouted, “This cannot be real! This doesn’t happen! Is this really for us?” After we assured her that it was real, she exclaimed, “This is the nicest car I’ve ever owned!” She then told us about her husband’s stroke, loss of employment, and recent loss of their home in a house fire just three months prior. They had spent the last bit of money they had on gas to come visit family. To us, it was just an extra car—older, yet reliable—a nice backup for emergencies. To them, it was a new start.
In that moment, I learned that it is possible to feel pure, God given joy even in the midst of suffering a great loss. I felt the warmth and love of my Heavenly Father, unlike any other time in my life. Looking around at the faces of the couple, my husband, and my little girls --I knew they felt the spirit too. We put a Book of Mormon in their glove compartment to find later. We said our goodbyes, exchanged hugs, and went our separate ways.

The Key to My Survival

It has been almost five years since Conner returned to the Lord and feeling like I am one with God is still not always easy. It’s not always constant. I have weak moments just like everyone else. But the more I serve Him and the more I open myself up to embracing the gospel and accepting His plan, no matter what that might be, the happier my life is.

Every day I make it a point to serve others in some way—a random act of kindness, volunteering at the elementary school, helping someone with their genealogy, or just making someone laugh. I’ve also found fulfilling service-oriented hobbies that keep me connected to the Lord, like purchasing priceless family heirlooms at thrift stores, doing genealogy in reverse, and then donating the items to the families, free of charge. These tools and hobbies, along with the love of my Savior, get me through my hardest days.

The lessons I learned from that day in the parking lot of a dollar store are still vivid in my heart and in my mind. Joy can be felt if you just invite it in. Living can be worthwhile when you embrace the motivating force that makes you want to be better. I’ve also learned that service and generosity are the keys to my happiness and even my survival. They allow me to open myself up to feeling more joy, being loved more deeply, and letting myself be molded and shaped into the person the Lord has always wanted me to be.

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