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Eva Witesman: Are We Looking for Magic When We Should Be Looking for Miracles?

by | May 20, 2019

We are a people of miracles. Every week, perhaps every day, we read stories of miraculous events in the scriptures. Angels, healings, the parting of the Red Sea, five loaves and two fishes feeding a multitude, Jesus walking on water, and the Apostle Peter doing it too. And there, in Matthew 17:20, the promise that “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.”

I remember being in Primary and hearing this verse for the first time. My very diligent Primary teacher led a discussion about what this meant—that if we only had a tiny seed of faith (mustard seeds are small!), then by the power of God we could move mountains.

Conveniently for me, I was raised in Salt Lake City, so there was no shortage of mountains to aim my faith at. And I already knew that children had exemplary faith—the Savior Himself had said as much! (Matthew 18:3–5) So later that week, I decided to try it out.

I stood where I had an excellent view of the peaks to the east of my home, squinted my eyes, and commanded the mountain to remove hence.

Nothing happened.

Obviously, I was doing it wrong. Did I have faith? Check. Was it at least the size of a mustard seed? Double check. Was I aiming straight at the mountain? Check, check, and check. I tried again. I squinted. I pointed. I yelled. I whispered. I prayed. That mountain did not move.

In fact, it still stands today.

“But,” I said to my young self through welling tears, “where’s my miracle?”

As I grew older, this feeling sometimes compounded:

“Am I not good enough?”

“Do I not have enough faith?”

“Have I not sacrificed enough?”

“Have I not tried, loved, served, exhausted myself in the service of my God?”

“Father, do you not love me?”

It’s one thing to not be able to move a mountain. (Where was I going to move it to exactly?) It’s another thing entirely when you are praying to conceive a child. Or to keep one healthy. Or to bring one back to life.

How often have you or I asked, “Where is my miracle?”

In my adult years, I have looked back on that ill-fated day at the foot of the mountains and realized that the trouble was never that I lacked the faith (mustard seeds are small, remember?) but rather that I was treating miracles like they were magic.

I experienced magic one day in the form of a rainbow.

I was in my 30s and my eldest daughter was about 6 years old.

It was a hot summer day, and she was playing in the sprinkler. Each time the water spray would pass through a specific angle, it would catch the light just right and create a rainbow.

I came over to admire the rainbow with her—we both agreed that it was very beautiful—and she suddenly grabbed my hand and said, “Come on! Let’s see what’s on the other side!”

I jumped through the sprinkler rainbow with her and with amazement followed the wonder in her eyes.

“Look, Mommy, at that mermaid. Isn’t she amazing? And look at that giant fish over there! And look, can you see the treasure? Do you think we can get to it before the pirates?”

Yes, sweetheart, I see the mermaid, and she is stunning. That big fish is a wonder! And luckily we snatched the treasure from the pirates just in time.

Yes, there is room for magic in this world.

But magic is not the same thing as miracles. You can’t just pray for something and make it happen. You can’t just imagine something, aim your faith at it, and make it true. Praying for something doesn’t mean it will happen. But that doesn’t mean miracles don’t exist.

I experienced a miracle one day in the form of a rainbow.

I was standing in a store parking lot, just a few years ago. We had recently suffered our third pregnancy loss just three weeks before our son would have been considered full term. As I loaded groceries into my car, I saw this gorgeous rainbow appear in the sky above me.

I went to take a picture of it because I wanted to find out if my family could see it from home. But the Spirit stopped me, telling me, “This rainbow is just for you.”

So I stood there for a moment in the sun, soaking in the beauty of the rainbow and the golden light, trying to be mindful and present as I enjoyed this gift from heaven.

A few days later, I was sitting in my office at BYU when I couldn’t get the rainbow out of my mind. I had the sense that God had a message for me, but I wasn’t sure what it was.

I mentally reviewed the story of Noah and the first rainbow, searching for meaning, and nothing came.

“Read the scriptures,” the Spirit said.

So I searched for the rainbow verses in my online scriptures and reviewed Genesis 9:12–15. By the time I reached the last few words of these verses—a promise that “the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh”—tears were streaming down my face.

My one prayer—my one question at this time in my life—was about whether or not I would be able to have more children. After five pregnancies and only two live births, I had been seeking my Father in Heaven’s guidance about how to proceed.

I knew from this rainbow and this verse that my father was telling me that if I chose to have another baby, I would not experience another flood. My baby would live.

“That’s not all,” the Spirit whispered. “There is more. Read from the beginning.”

And there it was, right in verse 1:

“And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.”

The miracle in this story is not that there was a rainbow, or even that the scriptures I was inspired to read based on my experience with that rainbow answered my heartfelt, prayerful question. Certainly, all of this is explainable by our current understanding of psychology, neurology, and the power of the human mind to make meaning.

The miracle of it was the clarity of the Spirit that I felt. He answered my prayer. My mind was clear and my heart burned.

Miracles are not outcomes that defy science. They are not tricks or illusions or fantasies. Miracles are manifestations of God’s will.

Are we looking for magic when we should be looking for miracles?

Just a few months before the Parking Lot Rainbow Miracle, I was in the hospital. It was time to deliver my stillborn son.

My contractions were hard and painful, and an anesthesiologist was putting a needle in my spine to administer an epidural. In that moment, the natural thing to do was to think of the beautiful baby that would enter the world, and how he would make all of this pain worth it.

And then I remembered that this was not a joy that awaited us.

Of course, the miracle I wanted in that moment was to somehow receive a healthy, living child. I wanted magic. I wanted it badly.

This was unquestionably the hardest, most difficult, most harrowing moment of my life. I was in physical pain, emotional pain, mental pain, and spiritual pain.

Something about this accounting of all these kinds of pain reminded me of the Savior and His Atonement.

The moment I thought of Christ in His atoning hour, it was as though He was there—a peaceful, loving presence in my room. I knew that He was the only person who could understand what I felt in that moment. And not only that moment, but all of the other difficult and sorrowful moments of my life.

“Why?” I asked Him. “Why would You go through all of this for us? Why would You subject Yourself to all of these kinds of pain for us?”

And He answered me: “For the same reason that you are going through this pain now: For the hope of life.”

I did not leave the hospital that day with my son, but I did leave with the Son of God. No magic, only miracles.

Later, my Heavenly Father would send me a rainbow in a store parking lot. And about a year after that, He sent me a healthy baby boy, as He had promised He would. There would be no more floods.

Do you know what they call children who have been born to mothers who have had miscarriages or stillbirths?

They call them rainbow babies.

Lead Image: Getty Images
Eva witesman bio photo

Eva Witesman

After receiving her bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah in 2002, Eva Witesman wanted to continue on to graduate school but was torn between her desires to further her education and to focus on motherhood. Following a prompting, she continued her education and received her MPA from Indiana University in 2004. After a hiatus—during which her husband, Owen, interned in Finland—she continued her education at IU and received her PhD in public management and policy analysis.


Witesman, an expert in evidence-based innovation and strategy, became a full-time professor of public management at the BYU Marriott School of Business in 2009. She teaches graduate classes and coordinates student-driven projects like GoodMeasure - program assessment and evaluation for dozens of local nonprofits, and Creating the Virtuous Organization - a series of classes, ongoing qualitative research, and community conversations based on how companies can be good, not just do good. Eva and Owen Witesman have four children, who, she says, are “individually and collectively the central joy of my life.”

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