I don’t know her real name; she went by “Cinnamon.” She was a red-headed freckle-faced camp counselor for Academy for Girls at BYU when I was only twelve. Our days were filled with powerful motivational talks from the most popular speakers on the circuit, and our evenings were jam-packed with activities from field games to a fabulous show at the Sundance Theater.
I remember feeling encouraged and motivated to live more Christ-like during the
morning lectures. I thought about how I could treat my brother better, or be more willing to help my mother. I thought how I should read my scriptures and giggle less during Sunday school. There were so many things to change about myself, and the words I heard solidified a desire within me to live the gospel of Jesus Christ more perfectly. I wanted to be different, like the people the speakers talked about. I wanted to be just as happy as the best of them.
However, as much as I wanted to change, I think the permanent conversion didn’t happen until something changed my heart. That’s where Cinnamon comes in. While the speakers were fantastic and their words contributed greatly to my confidence and desire to do right, Cinnamon is the one who led me to a “mighty change of heart.” I write this now because I want her to finally know what her evening devotional did that night.
The lights were dim, and all the girls in her group gathered into one dorm room in Deseret Towers. She sat at the front of the room and played some beautiful, inspiring music. We had been rowdy before, but in time settled down to listen reverently to the song. I think more than anything we were curious about what she was up to. The other evening devotionals had been chatty and upbeat…but this one was different.
When the song was over, she talked about prayer. To be honest, I don’t remember a single thing she said. I suppose it was her testimony that God hears our prayers and wants us to communicate with Him. Finally, she issued a challenge. She challenged us to return to our dorm rooms, speak not a word to our roommate, turn off the light and pray to our Father in Heaven for twenty whole minutes.
I think it was the morning lectures which softened my heart enough to listen with faith to my counselor and take her challenge seriously. I returned to my room, said nothing to my roommate who turned off the light, and knelt down by the side of my bed.
“Dear Father in Heaven, I thank thee for this day, for the chance to be here at this camp, for my family, for the church… um… I thank thee for trees…” (I knew I’d be there a while and run out of things to say if I didn’t start getting specific about things I generally never mentioned.)
Eventually I ran out of things to be grateful for, so I started into my “request” segment. I had learned as a child the four parts to a proper prayer: the opening where I address Heavenly Father, the thankful part, the asking part, and the closing in the name of Jesus Christ, amen. So I continued, “Please bless me to have a good night’s sleep, and to have a good day tomorrow. Please bless my family back home…”
I asked for everything I could think of. If my memory serves me right, I peeked at the clock and realized I was probably only halfway through the twenty minutes. What else was I going to say to pass the time? Well, with nothing left to say, I simply began to imagine myself kneeling before Heavenly Father. I had run out of words, so I spent the next few minutes trying to picture myself actually being with Him. It took a lot of concentration, and it was easy to be distracted by other thoughts, but I wanted to meet the challenge in an honest way. I intended to keep the prayer ‘open’ the whole twenty minutes.
Soon, something happened. I felt a warmth come over me, accompanied by a new awareness that I had never experienced before. I was aware that someone had actually heard my thoughts. Not only were my thoughts heard, but they were received with joy, and an outpouring of love was sent down from heaven. In an instant, my Heavenly Father revealed to me through His Spirit that He is real. He wasn’t just “God;” the being who heard my prayer was my Father… my DAD.
I had a DAD in Heaven! He was there! He knew me by my name! He loved me and rejoiced that I had taken the time to reach Him with a full purpose of heart. It felt like I had been sent away from Him to Earth-camp, and had finally decided to call Home. He had been there all along… but now I knew it.
I had a brief family reunion with DAD that night. I poured out my heart to him, this time with meaningful, heartfelt expressions of gratitude and joy. To talk WITH Him filled my spirit to overflowing. Now, more than anything in the world, I look forward to returning Home to Him, for I “get it;” I know who I am: I’m His long lost child, finally found. I am literally His daughter, one who is cherished and loved in the Royal Courts on High.
Since then, I had the good fortune of becoming, like Cinnamon, a counselor at Academy for Girls. I issued the same challenge, and have issued it again and again to people whom I care about and who struggle to feel their value. Many times it touches other’s lives as it touched mine. Cinnamon, I want you to know the challenge lives on, even twenty years later. Thank you, from all of us who have come to realize who we really are: that we are daughters of a Heavenly Father who loves us.
I truly believe He waits anxiously for THE big family reunion. Now I know that each time I pray, it can be just that for me.