I must tell you about my dear Aunt Alice, from whom I have learned some wonderful lessons. What a woman she is! She lives in Cardston and is now ninety-three years of age. If you were ever to see her when she was dressed up, you would find her wearing a perky little hat, a delicate chiffon scarf tied at her neck—"to cover the wrinkles," she says—a bright smile on her face, and a twinkle in her eye. A couple of years ago, her son took her to a Saturday night stake dance. This was a happy occasion, she was excited to report to me. She told me that several people had asked her to dance. Her excitement reminded me of a conversation I might have had with a girlfriend fifty years ago.
Following the dance she returned home, where she lives alone, exhausted but excited. She went to bed, but during the night she awakened. Her legs were swollen; her heart was pounding; she was afraid she was going to die. She explained to me that she felt she couldn't be found dead in bed looking like she did. So she got up and made her bed, changed into her nicest nightgown, put on fresh makeup, combed her hair, and went out to die on the living-room couch. She said she was quite surprised to awaken in the morning still alive.
Let me take you behind the scenes in this remarkable woman's life, that we might learn from her journey of blessings and adversity. She was asked to speak in stake conference in her ninetieth year, and she later sent me a handwritten copy of her message. With her permission, I share it with you:
Our Savior's love is beyond comprehension. Sixty-three years ago, I became a wife. I thought that to be the most perfect love that ever could be. I hadn't enjoyed that love very long when my husband was called on a foreign mission, leaving me home to go through the tribulation of having our first baby alone. After he had been in the mission field about a month the baby was born. He became the center of my love and existence for two long years. When my husband returned, our lives were filled with love and thanksgiving for this adorable child. When he was five years old he was accidentally killed. It seemed all the light went out of the world for us. As I walked the streets at night unable to sleep, hoping to see that dear little face in a cloud somewhere, I came to love my Heavenly Father more as I pondered his words, "Take time to be still and know that I am God." Some years later our beautiful Mark earned the money to put himself through his mission. Shortly before his release, I received a call from his mission president telling me that Mark was critically ill. He had cancer of the lungs. It seemed unbelievable. We had great faith that he would be healed through fasting and prayers, but it wasn't to be. Later in a dream I saw Mark walking towards me with a beautiful smile on his face and his arms outstretched to embrace me. I awoke happy and content once again that my son, Mark, lived where his life was one of sublime quality of love.
She goes on to mention that when Mark was just a baby, their family life was anything but ideal. She doesn't say any more about the details, but I will add that her husband had become addicted to alcohol and all the related tragedies that go with that terrible disease. Concerning that time, she writes:
As I put my dear baby down for the night and the two older children were gone to bed, I dropped on my knees by the couch and poured out my heart to Heavenly Father as I had never done before. I thought my heart would break with the sorrow that possessed me. I said, "Father, if things can't change, if I only knew that my prayer was heard, then with the love that I have for these dear children, we will survive some way." In my prayer, I had wondered how Father could let me know. The next day was fast and testimony meeting. I said I would try to bear my testimony, which I wasn't in the habit of doing, and perhaps he would let me know in that way. While I bowed there in humble prayer, a warm, wonderful feeling enveloped me—that sweet peace that passeth all understanding. And although I didn't see anyone, I knew there was a holy presence there. It was so strong I was unable to arise for a short time. I knew my prayer was heard, but I went to testimony meeting determined to bear my testimony as I had said, although I didn't need any more assurance. At the beginning of the meeting the bishop arose and said he would like to hear Sister Alice bear her testimony in song. How I ever got to my feet or what I said I will never remember as I received that second assurance that my prayer was heard. The love of music has ever been a moving force of enjoyment. As I was called upon to sing that lovely song, "I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked," the thought came to me, I most likely would never walk where Jesus walked in this life, but I knew I had walked and felt his presence here. I had never knelt in the Garden of Gethsemane where all alone he prayed. But I knew I had knelt and prayed and I wasn't alone. Some divine presence was there. I was able to pick my heavy burden up and, with him by my side, I climbed the hill of Calvary where on the cross he died for my sins and yours. My heavy burden was gone and I lived. I lived as I had never experienced life before. A sweet peace filled my soul and, as the love for my Savior grew, I recalled the words in John 17:3, "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent."
We know about our Savior, but it is often in our adversities that we truly find him and know him and love him. In our times of trial, if we will turn to him, the Spirit bears witness that our Savior not only can but will ease our burdens.
In this mortal life of trials and tests, no one is spared the refining fire of adversity. President Spencer W. Kimball, whose life was fraught with physical struggles in a long series of medical challenges, spoke of his gratitude for adversity through a poem he liked to quote:
Pain stayed so long I said to him today, "I will not have you with me any more." I stamped my foot and said, "Be on your way," And paused there, startled at the look he wore. "I, who have been your friend," he said to me. "I, who have been your teacher—all you know Of understanding love, of sympathy, And patience, Ihave taught you. Shall I go?" He spoke the truth, this strange unwelcome guest; I watched him leave, and knew that he was wise. He left a heart grown tender in my breast, He left a far, clear vision in my eyes. I dried my tears, and lifted up a song— Even for one who'd tortured me so long.
(Author unknown; quoted in Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, p. 99)
Through the writings of Orson F. Whitney we are reminded:
No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God . . . and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven. (As quoted by Adney Y. Komatsu, Ensign, May 1987, p. 79)
This life experience is designed for our growth and progress. Our trials will not be more than we can handle, but they cannot be less if we are to fill the measure of our creation. Some of our afflictions may be a result of disobedience and could be avoided by keeping the commandments. Some are the result of error and others the consequence of sin. Some are simply the effects of mortality. Whatever the case, the Lord has said, "Come unto me, and I will heal you." This healing can be physical, spiritual, or emotional—whatever is needful—and it will come in his own way, not always on our time line but ever at the right time. In a profound message from President Howard W. Hunter, we hear his gentle, powerful plea: "To those who have transgressed or been offended, we say, come back. To those who are hurt and struggling and afraid, we say, let us stand with you and dry your tears. To those who are confused and assailed by error on every side, we say, come to the God of all truth and the Church of continuing revelation. Come back. Stand with us. Carry on. Be believing. All is well, and all will be well. . . . Have hope, exert faith, receive—and give—charity, the pure love of Christ" (Ensign, July 1994, p. 5).
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who marked the path and led the way, extends the invitation, "Come, follow me." We read in Hebrews 5:8, "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered." Yes, we are to suffer, and as we read from Alma 7:12 we better understand why the Savior is able to understand not only our struggles and our afflictions but also our feelings: "And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities" (Alma 7:12).
Can we tell him anything about struggle or suffering that he does not know and understand—anything about loneliness, about rejection, about abuse? Do you think he understands about sorrow? And though he was without sin himself, do you think he knows of the consequence of sin, when he voluntarily took upon himself the weight of all our sins and transgressions? If we choose to follow him, he will be with us even in the fiery furnace.
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Rejoice! His Promises Are Sure is filled with insights that inspire and motivate us to seek greater spirituality and trust in the Lord. With personal stories, scriptures, and warm reassurances, author Ardeth Greene Kapp gently reminds us of our eternal potential and of the covenants we have made that will help us achieve it.
"There is no question," writes Sister Kapp, "not only can he bless us, love us, forgive us, and heal us, but he wants to." And when things are hardest, and the afflictions of mortality surround us, she offers comfort in the perspective that "this life experience is designed for our growth and progress. Our trials will not be more than we can handle, but they cannot be less if we are to fill the measure of our creation."
She goes on to testify that "if we are devotedly intent on returning home, we will be guided in every major decision we have to make throughout our lives— and we will enjoy the journey. . . . The lessons we were taught in the premortal existence included the plan for our salvation. The small promptings or inklings of memory we carry into this life are like a lighthouse in the harbor that beckons us home through stormy seas."