The Lions’ Den

By Carla Kelly

It’s no secret that I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormon, if you prefer. This particular blog is for fun, not preaching. Recently, I was wasting time on Facebook, looking at a website inviting people to list funny experiences in church.  

I have a dilly. It happened about 47 years ago, in a small congregation in Wyoming. A family had been invited to speak, so some of them sat on the stand with the bishop and his two counselors. Other of their numerous family remained seated with the congregation.

The dad was a dairy farmer, a good man. He sat on the stand beside his little daughter – I’ll call her Sadie – who was probably four. Sadie spoke first, and her topic was the story of Daniel in the lions’ den.

Sadie was a shy child. I don’t imagine she had spoken in front of the congregation before, and I know she was frightened. There weren’t many of us present, but I’ll tell you that even today, I get a familiar tightening of the stomach muscles when I speak in church, and I ain’t young.

As she spoke, Sadie held up a picture of Daniel surrounded by indifferent-looking lions. Trouble was, she held it in front of her face. Her dad got up to help her. He moved the picture to one side, and then he backed up to sit down.

Unfortunately, he forgot that the unlike the church’s pews, the seats on the stand were those theatre seats that spring up when vacated. There in front of all of us, he sat down hard on the floor. Bam! 

We all lost it completely. After that first startled moment, everyone laughed. We couldn’t help ourselves, even though I know we all knew we shouldn’t. What would you do? Yes, I thought so.

I am ever the observer, so I started to watch the bishop, the leader of our little flock. Unlike the rest of us, he was struggling not to laugh. The more he struggled, the redder his face grew. Let it out, I wanted to tell him. How will this look in your obituary – killed by mirth?

After a moment, sanity returned and the meeting continued. We weren’t entirely lost to goodness.

Except for one thing: One of the dairy farmer’s children, a boy a year or two older than Sadie, was sitting with the congregation. I’ll call him Timmy. He had the most amazing laugh. It sounded more like a “Whoop!” 

As the other talks went on, I can only suppose that Timmy remembered the sight of his generally dignified dad butt-down on the floor. At intervals during the remainder of the meeting, remembering, he gave out a “Whoop!” This naturally set off the rest of us again, and we laughed, too. I still wonder why the bishop didn’t just end the meeting early. We were a lost cause.

Lest you think I am dead to virtue and past all reason, let me tell you another story about us in church. Same congregation, maybe a year later, if that.

One of our number was a crop duster. The family had recently moved up to Wyoming from Colorado for his business. One day he was out crop dusting when a gust of Wyoming wind  blew his plane sideways shortly after take-off. He had a full tank of aviation fuel.

He crashed on a nearby street and, on fire, climbed out of the cockpit. Burning and dying, he staggered toward a house where a woman happened to be watering her flowers. She turned her hose on him, doused the flames and saved his life.

Critically injured, he was airlifted to Denver and spent months in the hospital, recovering from third degree burns from the waist up. Many skin grafts later, many surgeries later, and pain I can’t imagine (and I have a good imagination) he came home. After the initial shock, we all got used to his different face. He recuperated slowly. The family eventually returned to their original home near Denver. We still keep in touch.

Before they left, our congregation had its usual Primary Sunday program. It happens in autumn all over the church, where the children ranging in age from three to twelve present the program. I don’t recall what the theme was that year. Maybe it was faith. Maybe prayer.

The six-year-old daughter of our friend had been asked to speak on an experience that spoke to either of those topics. She stood up there where we had laughed so hard a year earlier, and reminded us that when all this horror happened to her father, she and her three siblings were visiting Grandma and Grandpa in Idaho. 

She took us through that afternoon when their mother called from Denver to tell them what had happened to their dad. She told us that her grandparents had immediately gathered them together. 

“We knelt down to pray for Daddy,” she told the absolutely silent congregation. No one moved. Not a baby cried. “We took turns praying that he would live.”

Then she covered her eyes with her hands and just stood there. Eventually her mom came up to the stand and led her down to sit beside her and her dad in the congregation.

It’s hard to imagine a more sacred moment as that brood of little kiddos and their devastated grandparents knelt and prayed for a dying man who lived, and still lives. She felt it. We all felt it. It’s etched in my mind. They prayed in desperation and faith, and the moment was too sacred for her to say more.

I have a scientific mind and I am certain that without the best medical care, he could not have lived. There’s another side to me that says, the Lord or whatever Higher Power you might believe in definitely hears us. He heard that family. He heard all of us. He hears us today.

So there you have it: A memory of utter hilarity, followed by a memory of what happens when Someone above and beyond us listens and puts the heart back in us.