Sunday, February 10, 2013

Tender Mercy

Today I had the incredible opportunity to share my testimony with a living apostle and about 1000 BYU students.  Elder Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles came to our Stake Conference (regional church meeting) to speak to us, and I was invited to speak at the meeting with him.  I felt as if I was enveloped in the spirit, and at the same time felt as if my heart would escape my body.  It was a transformative experience to listen to Elder Bednar, to shake his hand, and to have him speak to me.  Being there was another witness to me that God knows me, and that he knows my heart.  I feel so blessed to have been there...It was a tender mercy.

This is what I shared:

Last night I was having trouble sleeping.  I felt so anxious as I anticipated the opportunity to stand before you today.  So instead of sleeping I turned to my scriptures and read Alma 37:35-36, where we find the theme for this conference.  I wanted to understand the context of that scripture, so I read the chapter.  In Alma 37, Alma is speaking to his son Helaman and giving him advice.  For the first half of the chapter Alma teaches Helaman about the importance of keeping and preserving the record, and remembering.  In verse 8, He talks about the power of a record to “enlarge the memory of the people and bring them to a knowledge of their God.” I would like to testify of the truth of that statement, and share an experience that illustrates this point.  I hope that as I do you will pay close attention to the blessings of record-keeping and remembering.

Seventeen months ago my day-to-day life was very different.  I was a full-time mom to my incredibly curious little boy Jonah.  Jonah was born in the summer of 2010 with a rare genetic disorder called Treacher-Collins Syndrome. The syndrome affected the development of his ears, cheekbones, jaw and palate.  He looked a little different than other babies, but he was so beautiful, and his condition never really slowed him down.  As he got older he climbed to the top of everything, loved meeting new people, learned to sign, and for the first year of his life it seemed as if he never really slept.  I was exhausted trying to keep up with him, yet really blissfully happy being his mother.  And then one September morning my life changed. 

I suddenly found myself in the front of speeding ambulance, praying for strength, as paramedics tried to resuscitate my sweet boy.  Jonah and I spent the morning playing at a friend’s house, and I gave him a fruit snack.  That small fruit snack became lodged in his airway and he stopped breathing.  I tried desperately to save him, as did the paramedics and the ER doctors, but nothing could be done.  Within a half an hour my life changed dramatically, and instead of putting my busy boy down for his afternoon nap, my husband and I returned home with empty arms and broken hearts to a too quiet home. 

The minutes and hours that followed Jonah’s death were the most excruciating of my life.  I couldn’t eat or sleep and I found myself simultaneously praying for God to take the pain away, and then wondering if He was even there…if He knew me…and why we had not received a miracle.  Maybe some of you have asked the same questions.

I also felt fear.  I was afraid of forgetting Jonah, and how it felt to hold him, and how he smelled, and the sound of his laugh.  So I turned to my journal to remember. 

I have rarely been an everyday journal writer, but I try to record things that feel important.  I began to write everything I could remember about Jonah so I wouldn’t forget, and then I started to read through the record of his life that I had already kept.  My son’s whole life is held in the pages of this small book, my own “small plates.” They are my greatest material treasure.

As I read my journal a miracle happened in my heart. While I read my own words, I really read my own testimony, and I felt an incredible peace that Jonah would not be forgotten.  And more importantly I began to remember how my Heavenly Father had never forgotten me.    

I read and remembered the peace that flooded my anxious heart as I sat in the temple trying to decide if I should marry Jordan.  I read and remembered the quiet promptings that came when we were newly married urging me to prepare and strengthen myself spiritually. I read and remembered praying for the opportunity to be a mother, and then dreaming about a unique blond haired blue-eyed boy.  I remembered looking into Jonah’s slanted little eyes for the first time and knowing that his spirit was not my own creation, but that it had come from God.  And most importantly I remembered all the joy of becoming a family, and being his mother.

As I read, I recognized that in order to deny God’s existence or His goodness in my moment of grief, I would have to deny the truth and record of my own hand.  I could not deny it. 

Reading my journal, and remembering, opened my spiritual eyes and helped me see again.  I could see again how God was helping me, in the days that followed Jonah’s death.  I saw it in the kindness of my friends and neighbors, and in the beautiful rainbow the covered our home on the day of Jonah's funeral.  Then upon deeper reflection I could see how God helped in the moment that Jonah died. 

I have been struck as I’ve read the Book of Mormon this week how often the ancient prophets warn against forgetting.  Nephi continually asks his brothers “how is it you have forgotten?” when they murmur and drift after seeing angels and witnessing miracles. 

As imperfect beings forgetting is our default.  Our minds are designed to forget for a reason.  If we could remember perfectly, I think we would be paralyzed by our fears, our pains, and by our sins.  As a result remembering requires action and intention. 

President Henry B. Eyring taught us that “Trying to remember allows God to show us what he has done in our lives.”

Keeping a record has helped me remember, and has strengthened my testimony, so I can stand before you today and testify without reservation that God knows me and that He loves me.  He loves me so much that...

“He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

God is a God of miracles and the greatest miracle he works in our lives is on our hearts.  Through the atonement of His son he can heal the broken-hearted, and bind up our wounds.  I testify that He can ease our burdens, and strengthen us, because I have felt strength beyond my own.  I believe that God wants us to be joyful, and I can testify that joy and happiness can be part of our lives in the midst of great difficulty, if we turn to Him.

I urge you to keep a record.  Follow Elder Bednar’s counsel to write on your own "small plates" the inspiration and revelation and blessing you receive.  I promise that in your times of greatest need your record will have the power to “enlarge your memory, and bring you to a knowledge of your God.”

I am truly grateful to know my Heavenly Father and to have this testimony, and I leave it with you in the name of His son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.