Let’s play a game of Would You Rather. I honestly don’t know if this is an actual legit game, or it my family just invented it sometime during my childhood. Anyway, the basic idea is to present someone with two possibilities and ask, “would you rather (insert option A) or (insert option B)?”
A few examples that I remember my younger sister asking me:
“Would you rather be a lamp or a rug?”
“Would you rather have a sore throat or the stomach flu?”
“Would you rather be able to fly or be invisible?”
“Would you rather live in the mountains or by the beach?”
“Would you rather eat pizza or tacos?”
Okay, we’re not done yet.
Now we’re going to take a poll. The purpose is to get a picture of who you are:
Raise your hand if you are the type of person who, when you leave town, packs everything you own, including maybe 12 pairs of shoes.
Or, raise you hand if you tend to pack light. Just a change of undies and your toothbruth.
Or maybe you pack, “just right,” meaning you take exactly what you need, although anyone in either previous camp could argue that they have packed the “just right” amount.
When you have a task to do, do you wait until the last possible second to do it? Or do you begin early and know it out well before the deadline?
Which phrase best describes you: keep it simple, or do it right?
Would you rather be told exactly how to do something, or do you prefer to jump in and figure out a task for yourself as you go?
The good news is that there is no wrong answer to these questions, just like there is no wrong way to be a human. We all have different interests, talents, quirk, hang-ups, strengths, and struggles.
Our Heavenly Father knows this about us because he made us this way. He knows every weird and amazing thing about you. He has known you for a long time—longer than you can remember.
He loves the procrastinators, the over-packers, the independent spirits, and the people who always look for the shortcut. He loves all of us. He loves you, just as you are.
He also know what you are capable of, which is why we are here, meaning on planet earth, in mortality, with a physical body. He already knew we were good, but that we wanted to be better. And so, with the help of our Savior, he created the earth for us, a place where we could live as autonomous beings, where we could struggle and work and learn things we otherwise couldn’t learn as spirits.
Because he knew that mortality would be straight-up difficult, confusing, and sometimes painful, he gave us a path, a roadmap back to him, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
He didn’t place us here to fail. He put us here to grow, and he gave us the Savior, to help us return to wholeness with our Heavenly Parents.
But you guys know all of this already.
Sometimes, though, there is a difference between KNOWING that something is true, and really INTERNALIZING it.
So I’m here to tell you a story of how I came to know the Savior, and to understand that Heavenly Father is involved in the details of my life. My goal is that this story will help you see that your Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ are intimately involved in the unfolding of your life, too.
I have four sons, ages 15, 13, 9, and 5. Three of my boys have autism. My second son, Jack, is the most profoundly affected. He is nonverbal. He also has a rare syndrome that affects his cognitive abilities, meaning he is mentally disabled. Physically, he is a big, healthy boy with red hair and ginger skin, meaning alabaster or pasty white, depending on how you like to describe it. He has freckles and green eyes. He’s super cute.
Because of the nature of Jack’s disabilities, we are no longer able to continue caring for him at home, and two and a half months ago, we placed him in a group home, permanently. It was the hardest thing I have ever done, and you guys, I have done some hard things over the years as Jack’s mom. He lives a couple of hours away from us, and he has full-time staff devoted to his care. It’s been a tough transition for us as well as him, but we are all adjusting and making a lot of progress with accepting this new life.
Because he can’t speak, it’s tough for Jack to communicate his wants and needs. He understands much of what he hears, but he can’t verbalize his own thoughts. We’ve only had limited success with sign language and picture communication systems.
Imagine your life if you could not tell people what you needed, what you wanted, how you were feeling. It would be a hard life, and that is what my Jack lives with every day, always. He gets frustrated, understandably, and because he has the cognitive abilities of toddler in many ways, he reacts the way a toddler might to disappointments. He hits, head-buts, throws things, breaks things. And he’s a big, strong teen.
The aggressive and destructive behaviors don’t define who Jack is as a valiant, eternal being. Instead, they are a function of his disabilities and his limitations.
But man, they can make for some difficult situations. A few years ago, Jack started getting unpredictable and sometimes violent when we were driving places. As a younger kid, he would always seems to find a way out of his seatbelt and dance around the car, usually on the freeway, sometimes while taking his clothes off.
Three years ago, right before Christmas, we were in a drive-through waiting for his fries. They were taking forever with our order and Jack began to attack me. There’s no other word for it. He was punching, biting, clawing me. He began to climb into the backseat and attack his younger brothers, so I held onto his waist and dragged him back into the front seat. He tried to unlock the door and run away. As people drove around us and stared, I was alternately trying to keep Jack inside the car and away from his brothers, and also protect myself.
At one point, my third son screamed, “Call the police!” I totally would have done it, but I was defending my face from kicks and hits and literally could not pick up my phone.
In a panic, I thought we had to get home. There was nothing I could do in the car to keep us safe. So we got our fries, which he threw across the car, and drove away. As we approached the biggest, busiest intersection in our area, Jack again started to attack me. He leaned back and kicked the gearshift into reverse as we entered the intersection. The car stalled. I screamed. Miraculously, no cars hit us. At that moment, I shouted this prayer, “God, help me!”
Immediately, Jack stopped hitting and kicking, and instead started to cry. I put the car in drive, and drove to a nearby parking lot where I called my husband to come help us. I was shaking, Jack was happily chirping at this point. I thought, “What is next for us? How am I supposed to be parent this child?” The Spirit spoke these words to my mind: “Look into group homes for Jack.”
Wait, what? A group home means I am an inadequate mother who can’t take care of her own kid.
Do you ever argue with the spirit? Because I was. This was the response I got, “It isn’t going to get easier with Jack. This is part of his life trajectory and it will be alright.” I was then flooded with peace. And frankly, I appreciated the honesty of knowing what was really going to come. It was an effective reality check.
Soon thereafter, I began looking into residential care for Jack and found that it was almost impossible to get in our state for someone under the age of 18. Why would I get such a direct prompting and then be met with brick walls and dead ends? I nevertheless felt that Heavenly Father was preparing me for something in our future.
Then four months later, we had another near-death experience in the car. This time we were driving in rush-hour traffic and it was SLOW. Jack was losing it. When he began choking his brother, I pulled over and turned on my flashers. Jack climbed in the front seat and started beating me up. I called my husband and Jack knocked the phone out of my hands. He pulled my hair. He tried to run from the car and into traffic. I pulled him back into the car where he continued to punch and kick me. For the second time in my life, I screamed a prayer, “God, Help me!”
Perhaps 30 seconds later, I saw flashing lights behind me. I have never been so relieved to see a cop pull up behind me as I was at that moment. He was a detective, in plain clothes and an unmarked car. He walked toward us on the passenger side and saw Jack thrashing me. I still remember the look on his face as he came to the driver’s door and held out his hands as though to help, but he wasn’t sure how.
I told him that Jack was my son, was mentally disabled, and was hurting me. He asked what he could do to help. I told him if he could stay with us for the twenty minutes it would take my husband to drive to where we were, then we would be okay. So he stayed. Jack climbed in the back of the van and I went with him, to protect Charlie.
The detective, who (I am not kidding) looked like Thor but with short hair, sat backward in the driver’s seat, facing us. Jack continued to hit me off and on for that twenty minutes that went on for what felt like nine hours. He asked us questions and spoke kindly to Charlie. He said that as a detective he doesn’t make traffic stops or really even assist with traffic emergencies. But he did stop that day, and I know it was in response to my prayer.
Life with Jack did, in fact, not get easier. It was just consistently, incredibly hard. People would often send me this scripture in Mosiah 24, because I guess if you look up Mosiah 24: 14, there is a picture of a Jack and me.
“And I will ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.”
We were in survival mode. It was NOT easy, but we did feel that God was helping us carry our burden.
I knew Heavenly Father knew my challenges, and I knew that when I was completely desperate, he responded instantly. But life was still basically impossible.
What about those times in your life when you are praying and trying, and THINGS AREN’T CHANGING? What then? Does that mean God isn’t listening at that moment? That he doesn’t care?
No. My experience has shown me that he is listening and he does care. But if he instantly fixed every hard/painful situation, when would we have the opportunity to exercise faith?
We know that we came to earth to grow, to become more than we were. We have to be challenged so we can be humbled, which readies us to turn to our Heavenly Father and our Savior.
Let’s talk for a minute about miracles. The answers to my scream-prayers in the car were one form of a miracle.
But what else constitutes a miracle? Is it when you pay tithing with the last of your money and then a check arrives in the mail for the exact same amount? Is it when someone gets a terrible diagnosis, but then goes in for surgery and the doctors find nothing wrong, everything is healed?
A miracle, in my view, is anytime we have divine help that allows us to keep going—take a nap, ugly cry, eat some sugar, pray, talk to Dectective Thor—and then move forward.
I don’t believe miracles have ceased, compared to those described in the scriptures. They happen all the time, in all our lives. They happen any time your Savior’s atonement gives you power—the strength to carry on despite all the odds stacked against you.
A miracle is the chance to heal from hardship and try again. A miracle is finding peace, even when life doesn’t go according to plan (which, if it hasn’t yet, it will. At some point). These things are possible because of the miracle of the atonement of Jesus Christ.
I remember sitting in a Relief Society lesson a couple years ago when my friend Shirley was giving the lesson on the Savior. She had brought this picture of two horses pulling a wagon. The photo was taken from the perspective of the person driving the wagon, so we were looking over the ears of these two horses with their heads down, leaning into the load as they pulled it together.
I stared at that image throughout the lesson, and in my mind I heard the words of Jesus from the book of Matthew in the New Testament, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Before that moment, I DID NOT understand that the Savior’s atonement wasn’t just an abstraction, but a real force. I don’t know how it works—easing all our burdens, cleansing all our sins, comforting all our heartache—but it does.
I saw that image of the horses working together, yoked together and pulling in tandem and the Spirit said to me, “Jesus Christ is beside you, helping you.” And I knew that he was! I knew that he hadn’t abandoned me or expected me to figure things out on my own. He, in reality, was pulling the lion’s share of the load. He had been helping me, even when I couldn’t see it.
A few weeks ago, my husband Jeff left really early in the morning for work, much earlier than usual. He came back a couple of hours later where I was being lazy and just barely waking up. Lazy! He told me, “I did a good deed.” He’s an engineer who works with MRI machines in hospitals—installing, maintaining, and fixing them. He told me that he had gotten a text early that morning from the children’s hospital’s imaging department. Their MRI wasn’t functioning and they had a little 3-year-old girl already sedated, waiting for her scheduled MRI. Kids have to be sedated for MRIs because they can’t hold still very long and you have to hold very still during an MRI scan.
The imaging department asked if Jeff could come in, right then. He didn’t have to. He wasn’t on call and it was way before his scheduled time to be there. But he got out of bed super early and went anyway, because Jack has taught us to notice and care when people are stressed, struggling, or need help. Jeff got the MRI up and running, the radiology staff gave the little girl a bump in her meds to help her stay asleep just a bit longer, and the MRI went on as planned.
After this experience, I said to Jeff, “That little girl’s parents don’t even know what transpired to make their daughter’s MRI possible today.” And right then the Spirit said to me, “You don’t know how many miracles have transpired for you.”
I was rendered speechless. And I knew it must be true. I don’t even know all the ways that Heavenly Father is making the blessings of my life possible.
Is your Heavenly Father aware of your personal challenges and hardships? Is the Savior helping you? How do you know? He speaks to us through the Holy Spirit, so maybe the better question is, how do you feel the Spirit?
In my life, I’ve seen that when I have a pattern of praying and reading the Book of Mormon, the Spirit communicates with me. The end. He just does. Maybe it’s that when I’m doing these devotional things every day, I am different. I’m better able to listen. I’m receptive.
Remember we are talking about surviving the messes of our lives by praying and reading the Book of Mormon. This is what Alma 37 says, in verses 6 and 7, “Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.
And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes.”
Does God think that prayer and studying the Book of Mormon are sort of okay, but not all that great? NO! It’s how he communicates with us and works miracles in our lives!
It continues, in verses 16-17, “But if ye keep the commandments of God, and do with these things which are sacred according to that which the Lord doth command you, (for you must appeal unto the Lord for all things whatsoever ye must do with them) behold, no power of earth or hell can take them from you, for God is powerful to the fulfilling of all his words. For he will fulfill all his promises which he shall make unto you.”
I read this and knew that the covenants that I have made with God aren’t just promises on my side. He is bound to help me. He wants to help me. He is helping me.
And then finally, these words in verses 35-37, “O, remember, my son, and learn wisdom in thy youth; yea, learn in thy youth to keep the commandments of God. Yea and cry unto God for all thy support; yea, let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord; yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever. Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good.”
Cry unto the Lord in the middle of a busy intersection when your disabled son is attacking you and kicks the gear shift into park.
Cry unto the Lord on the side of the road during rush hour traffic when that same kid is trying to kill you.
Counsel with the Lord when someone asks you to do something good really early in the morning and you’re like, really?
Counsel with the Lord when your day goes badly, or when you day goes great.
Counsel with the Lord and ask him what he wants you to do so you can feel his love and be happy.
The concept of these versus in Alma 37 is two-fold in my view. First, the Lord is asking us to turn to him in prayer. Second, he’s asking us to be humble enough to be obedient to his gospel and really listen to him.
When we do these things, he is bound to bless us. He can’t NOT bless us. He will help us.
He has given us his perfect first-born son as a sacrifice on our behalf.
Our Savior is beside each of us. He knows you. He is your loving older brother. He is helping you pull your heavy load, even when you don’t realize he is helping you.
Jeff and I went and saw Jack yesterday. It was the best visit we have had. He was happy. He was excited. He is healthy. He is making lots of progress. And he wasn’t sorry to see us go. He feels contented in his new home where he needs are being met in a way that couldn’t happen anymore in our home.
My life has shown me that God loves my son Jack. He loves me enough to tell me in my hour of need exactly what lay ahead in Jack’s future. He loves us so much that he, no kidding, gave me a step-by-step tutorial, spiritually-speaking, and showed me what to do to secure Jack’s group-home placement.
God loves my son, who can’t speak, who hits people and breaks things, who can’t pray and ask for help. Jack could be described, in terms of abilities, as what the scriptures refer to as “the least” among us. And yet, the Savior and our Father in Heaven help him and direct his care.
Being Jack’s mom has shown me that God knows us and loves us, every one. To God, there is no “least among us.” He knows what we need to live our lives and return to wholeness with him. He knows how to help us.