Something Little Can Turn into Something Big

Recently, I walked into a Young Life story that must be shared. It was my privilege on that Thursday morning to bridge the gap between two caregivers for my friend Sally Smith. Judy Henley met me at the door, extended her hand, and explained she’d known Sally for 40-plus years. The story unfolded ...

First, let me tell you about Sally, an indomitable spirit. Sally was born in 1937 to a Christian family in Spokane, Washington, but it wasn't until she was at a Young Life camp at 15 that she gave her heart to Jesus. A tomboy, it was no surprise she was a physical education major at Whitworth College. Her mother told Sally, “I'll pay for your college education if you don't become a missionary.''

Sally's first job was as a P.E. instructor at Clayton Valley High School in Concord, California. She was there four years before Young Life called her to a staff position in the Lafayette office. She oversaw the clubs in Contra Costa County for 13 years.

Judy enters the story here as a high school freshman. For Judy, school was hard and she had little emotional support at home. At 13 she ran away to San Francisco, where she started using street drugs at an early age and soon moved to heroin and cocaine. By 15 she was a ''ward of the court,” uncontrollable and suicidal. A schoolmate, Mary Lou Brown, befriended her and invited her to summer camp at Young Life’s Woodleaf. Sally met Judy there, sitting under a tree. She started the conversation that would eventually change Judy's life.

Dennis and Lin Ashlock, the Young Life leaders at Concord High School at that time, had an open door policy that was a safety net for Judy. She dropped in from time to time, always asking about Sally; the Ashlocks were a conduit for Sally to keep in touch with Judy.

Judy, however, wasn't through running. At 17 she married an enlisted man and moved to Colorado. Five years later, she came back to California with a job and the strength to let go of drugs. Judy would often drop by Sally’s home to talk, cry and connect. “Sally was like a mom; she loved me unconditionally. What did she see in me?''

Sally had foster children, but was ready to adopt a child of her own. Judy was there the day Sally left for Honduras to pick up her five-year-old son, Nic.

Sally returned to the education field and worked with children with disabilities. Upon retirement she began another career as a missionary. One of her first trips took her to China, where she set up programs for children with disabilities. She worked with two organizations, ''God's Story'' and ''Simply a Story,'' to tell the good news of Jesus' love around the world. Even when her health prevented travel, she focused on her neighborhood, collecting books for children, establishing libraries in apartment complexes and adding to the local school library. She tutored and was always recruiting help for her many projects. She also supported YoungLives, to help young mothers and their babies. Her heart for missions inspired others.

Today, Judy has dropped all other obligations to care for Sally in her final days. Judy says, ''If it hadn't been for Sally, the Ashlocks and Young Life, I wouldn't be here.'' And if Judy weren't here, who would fill her shoes as a licensed, ordained lay minister, caring for those locked in jail? Who would help the forgotten ones on the streets or those trapped in their homes because of poor health? Who would feed the poor and rub the feet of those who are weary of lying in bed?

What, you may ask, became of Nic, Sally’s adopted son? Nic is a special education teacher just like his mother. What about Sally's mother, who once worried her daughter would become a missionary? What mother wouldn't be proud of a daughter who has given so much to so many!

While writing this story, I asked Sally if there was something she wanted to add. She said softly, ''Something little can turn into something big'' — something ''little'' like an invitation to camp, a conversation, an open door or a shoulder to cry on.

Editor’s Note: Though written while she was alive, the above story is shared in memory of Sally and in appreciation of a life very-well lived. Sally passed away just days before the publishing of this article, on the afternoon of Saturday, March 12th.​