Sunday, September 20, 2015

Service through trials

Last week I was asked to give a talk.  It was not an easy talk for me to give and I tried to write it many times.  Finally at 11:30 the night before I had it mostly finished.  I had to hurry and put some finishing touches on it the next morning but it was received well.  Here it is:

This past week I found myself in a pretty good funk.  I’ve been in a funk off and on this past month as I’ve tried to work through some things weighing on my mind.  I thought, “Well, I’m having a series of bad days here and I really need to figure out how to pull myself out of this.”  Now, I’ve known some pretty bad days in my life.  Trials have passed through our family, as life requires, semi-regularly.  All of us have bad days.  At one point or another in our lives we will find ourselves feeling like the poet Joseph Hillair Belloc who wrote:  
It darkens. I have lost the ford.
There is a change on all things made.
The rocks have evil faces, Lord,

And I am [sore] afraid. 7

Life can seem overwhelming, discouraging, and frightening at times.  As the thought of bad days ran through my head this week, I reflected on the final days of Christ’s life.  Surely we can all agree that if anyone understands bad days it is Christ.  As Elder Holland said, “To a degree far more than we will ever understand, He was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” 10 Indeed, to the layman in the streets of Judea, Christ’s career must have seemed a failure, a tragedy, a good man totally overwhelmed by the evils surrounding Him and the misdeeds of others. He was misunderstood or misrepresented, even hated from the beginning. No matter what He said or did, His statements were twisted, His actions suspected, His motives impugned. In the entire history of the world no one has ever loved so purely or served so selflessly—and been treated so diabolically for His effort.”
Let’s think for a second about some of the experiences that we know about the final days of Christ’s life.  He was betrayed by one of his best friends, bled from every pore of his body,his sweat like great drops of blood, denied by another best friend, neglected by those who should have cared for him, beaten, taunted, crucified, and finally, as if to add salt to the wound, left by his Father in Heaven to suffer alone.  In his last moments he cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
My talk today is not about suffering or about bad days.  It’s actually about what Christ did during his time in those last few days that were so dark and frightening.  While all the denying, taunting, and beating was happening, Christ was serving.  When the soldiers came to the Garden of Gethsemane to arrest Christ, one of his Apostles reacted and tried to protect his friend.  He rashly cuts the ear off of the high priest.  Christ says, “Suffer ye thus far. And he touched his ear, and healed him.”
When on the cross he asks God to forgive the soldiers that are crucifying him and fighting over his clothes.  “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
In His own suffering he comforts the sinner who is crucified next to him telling him, “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
To his precious and loved mother, He speaks: “… woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! …” (John 19:26–27.)  
Finally, how can we not consider the fact that His very last trial was also His ultimate act of service and love?  His suffering in Gethsemane and Crucifixion on Golgotha was His ultimate trial.  Throughout His life he served, even until the very end of His life where he endured His trial and therefore served the entire family of God.
If then, we all experience bad days, is it possible that like Christ, we can overcome our trials through serving others during our trials?  Our family learned this lesson four years ago.  Service is not something that has come naturally to me.  For me, service was always something I felt inadequate to give and felt someone else could fill the need better than me.  I have since learned a thing or two about service.  
On July 24, 2011, our daughter Laila passed away quietly in her sleep.  Our family was immediately engulfed by acts of service.  I could not describe all the service that was performed during those months or I’d be here for hours.  I would however, like to share one:  Elder Holland said in his talk The Ministering of Angels, “when we speak of those who are instruments in the hand of God, we are reminded that not all angels are from the other side of the veil. Some of them we walk with and talk with—here, now, every day. Some of them reside in our own neighborhoods.”  For us, that was indeed the case.  Just as a little back history, all five of my children have been pretty unhappy babies.  They have all arrived in our home resenting the fact that they were thrust into this world earlier than they were scheduled to be here.  There was always an incredible amount of crying from them and dare I say from me as well?  While Laila seemed slightly more happy than her brothers she was not an especially happy baby.  She cried a lot and her smiles were hard won.  We even began having contests to see who would get the first smile of the day.  It was usually Eli, who can make just about anyone smile.  Dinner time was especially hard for me because she could not stand to be put down while I prepared dinner for the family. Day after day I listened to her wailing while I chopped and mixed and sauteed until Mike would get home from work and rescue her.  
When she died there was suddenly silence and the absence of her crying was torture for me.  That is when there was a knock on my door and there stood my neighbor from two doors down.  She explained that dinner was going to be brought in every night for the following two weeks.  She had sent out an email to friends in the community and in her church congregation and the response had been overwhelming.  One woman in particular had gone to the store to get groceries and felt prompted to buy double the ingredients for a particular meal not knowing that when she arrived home there would be an email waiting asking if anyone would be willing to make a meal for someone in the community that had just lost a baby.  These women were complete strangers to me.  They were not members of our ward, or of our faith.  They were simply women who felt compassion and love in their hearts for another mother.  This service to our family was a very real, practical service but it also allowed me to not have to suffer through a quiet dinner preparation where all I did was think about how if Laila was here I’d still be hearing her cry.  
Now, this example is not an example about a service I performed during my trial but these types of acts of service were the beginning of training me to serve others.  I learned that service doesn’t have to be done to your best friend, or even someone you know.  It doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive.  All it requires is love, compassion, and action. Elder Holland says, “heaven never seems closer than when we see the love of God manifested in the kindness and devotion of people so good and so pure that angelic is the only word that comes to mind.”  He continues with his testimony that “God never leaves us alone, never leaves us unaided in the challenges that we face.”  I add my testimony to his that this is true.  During the most difficult trial of my life, the Lord sent both Heavenly and Earthly angels to take care of us.  
When Laila received her baby blessing it talked a great deal about her character, mentioning her compassion and her ability to seek out those that were suffering and know how to help them during their trials.  Obviously at the time we thought that was talking about her mortal life and the things she would do as she grew but when she passed away we realized that the Lord was giving us a peek into the kinds of activities that Laila was doing on the other side.  We realized that Laila was serving and seeking out those that needed comfort and help.  We discussed how we should honor her life and celebrate her birthday when the time came.  I felt strongly that Laila wanted us to serve.  We bought a tall glass jar and each month we performed acts of service--writing notes to teachers, drawing pictures for Grandma, pulling weeds for a sick friend, etc. We wrote our service down on a strip of paper and stuck them in the jar.  We invited friends and family to do acts of service in honor of Laila the months leading up to her birthday.  On her first birthday we bought balloons and on each balloon string we taped one of our strips of paper.  Friends met us at a local park and we released our balloons of service to heaven.  Looking up to heaven as each balloon quickly flew out of sight I pondered on what each of those balloons represented.  Every balloon represented a service either we performed for someone else or a service someone else performed for us.  We lived in Colorado less than three months when she died and we virtually knew no one but here we were at a park surrounded by eighty plus people that loved us and served us and that we had grown to love by serving.  
In Elder Ucthdorf’s talk Happiness, your heritage, He talked of President Hinckley who “believed in the healing power of service. After the death of his wife, he provided a great example to the Church in the way he immersed himself in work and in serving others. It is told that President Hinckley remarked to one woman who had recently lost her husband, “Work will cure your grief. Serve others.”
Elder Uctdorf continues his talk by saying, “When we reach out to bless the lives of others, our lives are blessed as well. Service and sacrifice open the windows of heaven, allowing choice blessings to descend upon us.”  Our family desperately needed blessings during this time of our lives and I testify that by serving, the windows of heaven were open and we received many choice blessings as a family and individually.  
The blessings that come from service are not exclusively of the “divine intervention sort”, but they also come in the “better perspective” variety. There were times when I would hear stories of miraculous recoveries or near death experiences and I would begin to feel bitterness creep into my heart.  Sometimes I found myself having such intolerant thoughts like, “What a complainer.  How can they complain about something so unimportant?”  When this happened, the only thing that helped me cast those feelings out of my heart was by serving someone else.  While I realize that trails vary and not everyone will understand the aching of losing a child, every trial stretches and teaches us.  I learned as Elder Holland stated, “the trials of life can be very deep and we are not shallow people if we struggle with them.”  I found that as I served the feelings of bitterness were replaced with feelings of love and compassion.  I recognized that like President Hinckely said “The most effective medicine for the sickness of self-pity is to lose ourselves in the service of others.”  Here I was finding myself judging someone else for suffering through something I found so insignificant while forgetting that Christ, who suffered all, was not judging me for finding the lose of my baby unbearable at times.  I was reminded of what President Hinckley said, “For many years there was a sign on the wall of a shoe repair shop I patronized. It read, “I complained because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet.”  Always, someone has suffered more.   
Now, I imagine some of you are thinking, “I can barely get myself out of bed let alone go help the new family move into their home today.”  I urge you to remember the scripture in Mosiah 2:27 which reads, See that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength”  It is only through the spirit that you will be able to determine when too much is too much but I hope you will remember that service does not have to be some grandiose act of compassion.  It can be as simple as a text to a friend telling them you are thinking about them or giving a colleague a pat on the back for a job well done.  Charles Henry Parkhurst said, “Christ’s ministry, from Baptism to Ascension, … is mostly made up of little words, little deeds, little prayers, little sympathies, adding themselves together in unwearied succession. The Gospel is full of divine attempts to help and heal, in body, mind, and heart, the individual. … The completed beauty of Christ’s life is only the added beauty of little inconspicuous acts of Beauty—talking with a woman at the well; showing the young ruler the stealthy ambition laid away in his heart that kept him out of the Kingdom of Heaven; … teaching a little knot of followers how to pray; kindling a fire and broiling fish that disciples might have breakfast; waiting for them when they came ashore from a night of fishing, cold, tired, and discouraged. All of these things … let us so easily into the real quality and tone of [Christ’s] interests, so specific; so narrowed down, so enlisted in what is small, so engrossed in what is minute.”  As I mentioned, serving does not come naturally for me and it has taken a lot of practice.  I found myself often at a loss as to what someone needed and so I began to start a list on my computer.  Now, when I have a conversation with someone and they mention something they like, I write it on my list.  A few examples:  I know that one friend loves to snack on honey teddy grahams, another friend loves anything chocolate and other friend regrets missing the chance to play Ariel in a play.  One friend loves swimming and any kind of Indian food.  My list also includes details and secrets from some of you in this room but I have to keep those secret for future use…. I hope that these facts will allow me to serve in a more personal and meaningful way.  Brothers and Sisters, I encourage you to listen and get to know your children, your spouse, your friends and family more personally so that you will be able to know how to serve them simply as Christ did.    
In closing  I would just like to say that when Brother Finstand asked me to speak in church my first response was, “Sure.” But when he told me the topic, I squirmed in my chair and tried not to get teary eyed.  I said that on second thought I’d like to think about it.  I admit that a portion of my trial this week has been the anxiety caused by having to speak today.  This topic is so personal for me.  The process of gaining a testimony of how service helps us get through struggles and challenges involved a great deal of stretching. Having to now share that stretching in such a public setting is difficult for me.  I tried over and over to write a less personal talk, and over and over I continued to come back to the experiences my family had and the testimony I have gained through these experiences.  I have only just scratched the surface.  Perhaps many of you in this room could come to a deeper understanding of this principle without having to go through such a tragic experience.  some of you may even be thinking, “Yes, of course, serving others during our trials is a way to endure them.  Duh.”  But if there is someone in this congregation today who is struggling with something frightening, overwhelming, addictive or sinful perhaps, and you are wondering how you will ever make it out of the darkness, I leave my testimony that serving others will help you move forward.  It will help you see glimpses of happiness until the clouds eventually part and you see sunshine again.  Even this week, as I’ve contemplated my frustrations and worries about various things I am struggling with, every time I’ve prayed for help to get out of my discouraging thoughts, the answer has always been to serve someone else.  Psalms 34:22 “the Lord redeemeth the soul of his servants: and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate.”  

1 comment:

Jess Clark said...

Dang girl, that was great. I really appreciated the read.