In a recorded message played throughout the world during the 1986 Young Women Worldwide Celebration, Ardeth G. Kapp, who served as Young Women general president from 1984 to 1992, said: "There are so many of our brothers and sisters in the world searching for happiness and truth. Our courage to stand for truth and righteousness and to radiate the joy of the gospel may become the first ray of light of their new day."
On Oct. 11, 1986, some 300,000 young women throughout the Church released helium-filled multi-colored balloons to which were attached messages of love, hope and peace. (Please see Oct. 19, 1986, Church News.)No one really knew what impact their messages might have. But for Linda Higgins, the message was indeed the "first ray of light" of her new day.
Two balloons - red and yellow - blew into the chain link fence in her yard in Erda, Utah, some 45 miles from Bountiful, Utah, from where a group of young women had released their balloons. Attached to the two balloons was the written testimony of Shelly Huddlestone, then 15 years old.
Sister Higgins, a member of the Erda 1st Ward, Grantsville Utah Stake, read Shelly's testimony - and burst into tears. For the-then 35-year-old, it was the message of hope she needed while facing some of the most difficult trials of her live - and it became the impetus toward changing her life.
Eight years later, in early August 1994, Sister Higgins located Shelly. She wanted to meet the woman who had changed her life, but a surprise for her was that Shelly was only 15 when she wrote that testimony. She had thought the testimony had been written by a woman close to her own age.
"This young woman changed my life," Sister Higgins wrote in a recent letter. "How wonderful it is to know that in these latter days we can count on our youth to be examples to us all. Working with the young women in my ward and learning that Shelly was 15 when she ballooned her testimony, I realize the important role we have as adults to guide youth and direct them in the gospel.
"Can you imagine sending a balloon with your testimony in it into the air with a prayer in hopes that it would reach someone, but knowing that the odds against it were much greater? Miracles do happen."
In correspondence, the two woman, who are now close friends, have shared with each other the events that eventually led to that blustery October day.
On Sept. 25, 1986, just days before the Young Women celebration, Sister Higgins's husband, Bob, was entering an alcoholic treatment center in Arizona. The mother of three young children loved her husband dearly but was unsure which way to turn. "Mentally, I was falling apart and I wasn't too sure how much longer I could live with someone who was slowly dying," Sister Higgins wrote in an Aug. 10, 1994, letter to Shelly.
Sister Higgins made plans to join her husband at the treatment center for counseling. Her flight to Arizona was scheduled for Oct. 12, 1986. On Oct 11, the day of the worldwide celebration, she was preparing for her departure when she felt a strong need to pray.
"I don't think I have ever in my life felt so desperate. I needed hope. I needed answers. I needed the Lord. I told Him of all my fears and worries and how much I really loved my husband, but I didn't know if I was doing the right thing by going down to see him. I was scared."
It was that evening she found the balloons. On the note, Shelly testified: "I love the Lord and bear my testimony to you that the Lord is there for you & He loves you."
While Sister Higgins read the note, the telephone coincidentally rang and a member of her bishopric was calling to assure her everything would be OK.
With renewed faith and determination, Sister Higgins joined her husband in the treatment center, and together they helped him recover. On Aug. 2, 1994 - their 24th wedding anniversary - they were sealed in the Jordan River Temple. Since then, the Higgins are enjoying the blessings of Church activity and their eldest son has returned from a full-time mission. The Higgins also have a daughter and another son.
Shelly's letter to Sister Higgins of Aug. 18, 1994, revealed trials of her own. The young woman's family had faced two divorces by the time she was 15. In a Church News interview, she related: "I was questioning my testimony at the time of the worldwide celebration. I knew that God lived, but I was questioning myself and where I fit in."
In 1988, she graduated from high school and attended Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, where she was a member of the Weber State Singers for two years. In her second year with the Singers, she met Scott Thorne. They were married in the Salt Lake Temple Sept. 15, 1990. Brother and Sister Thorne of the Clearfield 7th Ward, Clearfield Utah Stake, have one daughter, and are expecting their second child.
Sister Thorne told the Church News that knowing she had affected someone's life in a positive way has strengthened her.
"First of all, I couldn't believe that as a 15-year-old I could have made a difference in somebody's life. For the last eight years, I have been a part of someone's life, and I didn't know it. I was surprised that an ordinary person like me could affect someone like her."
Sister Thorne is now the ward Young Women adviser, and said her testimony and her commitment to her calling has been enhanced.
"I remembered how vulnerable I felt when I was 15," she said, and added that her message to young women today would be that "no matter how insignificant you think you and your testimony are, you could affect somebody's life in ways you can't imagine - even just by being an example."
As for Sister Higgins, she has carried Shelly's testimony in her wallet for more than eight years. "It's almost like a good luck piece," Sister Higgins said. "Ever since the day I received it, I have thought of it as a reminder of where I need to be and how much the Lord loves me. I never really knew how much He loved me until I received Shelly's message."