I have a daughter who has many wonderful qualities. She’s kind, the first to volunteer to help others with their projects and she’s very thoughtful. She’s faithful to her covenants and works hard being a better disciple of Christ. On the other hand she’s not super organized or tidy. I have told her that being organized and tidy will make life go smoother and help her family run better, but it won’t get her into heaven. But kindness will, and she is one of the kindest people I know.
Kindness just makes life more enjoyable. It makes hard times better. It smooths over faults and leaves the recipient and giver both blessed. Kindness costs nothing but gives much. Simple acts of soft words returned for harsh, or even just ignoring meanness, creates peace and love. When I see people go out of their ways to be kind, it always touch me. Kindness warms peoples hearts and their lives.
My daughter often reaches out to others with her art, with kind words, or with friendship. She is simple in her acts of kindness. Once when she was a teenager we were at a restaurant. A child from another table came over and started talking to her. Eventually the child pulled a chair up to our table and the waitress brought his food to him and he ate with my daughter (his parents were at the neighboring table and gave permission). Mostly she just chatted with him but she was kind and he wanted to be with her. Children have always been drawn to her. I told her once that they must sense her inner goodness. She is a kind person and people are can see it in her face. Jesus Christ also reached out to others in kindness.
Joseph B. Wirthlin, who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spoke on kindness in General Conference, in April 2005. He said,”Kindness is how a Christlike person treats others.” So often this is hard, especially when someone has been unkind to us. It is tempting to return harsh words for harsh words. It is difficult to be kind when someone has hurt us. And yet, Christ did it. He returned kindness for malice and hatred. He spent His life being kind.
“Jesus, our Savior, was the epitome of kindness and compassion. He healed the sick. He spent much of His time ministering to the one or many. He spoke compassionately to the Samaritan woman who was looked down upon by many. He instructed His disciples to allow the little children to come unto Him. He was kind to all who had sinned, condemning only the sin, not the sinner…Yet His greatest act of kindness was found in His atoning sacrifice, thus freeing all from the effects of death, and all from the effects of sin, on conditions of repentance,” said Elder Wirthlin. To be truly Christlike we need to be kind.
Elder Wirthlin continued:
“But,” you ask, “what if people are rude?” Love them.
“If they are obnoxious?” Love them.
“But what if they offend? Surely I must do something then?” Love them.
“Wayward?” The answer is the same. Be kind. Love them.”
I love these thoughts from Elder Wirthlin. Love is the basis of kindness. Christ loved others and He was kind. Our great task then, if we are to be disciples of Jesus Christ, would be to learn to love others and to develop kindness. It’s funny to me how love is the basis for every good thing, which is probably why loving our neighbor is the second great commandment.
There’s a short little poem I like by an anonymous author: “I have wept in the night, for shortness of sight, that to somebody’s needs made me blind; But I never have yet, felt a tinge of regret, for being a little too kind.” I have met many kind people who inspire me to be better, who help me want to be more kind. My daughter is one of them. She recently texted me synonyms for my name and told me that’s how she feels about me, and told me she love me. Such a simple thing to do. Such a kind thing to do. Her kindness warms my heart and life.
When I was a youngster I rode my bike almost every where I went. I loved the freedom it gave me. I really liked racing down the street with the wind in my face. I got really good at riding with no hands and felt really cool. So cool in fact, I thought I could ride my bike with no hands and my eyes closed. I let go of the handlebars, sat up straight and closed my eyes. Three-seconds later I was lying flat on my back on the grass with the wind knocked out of me. I had hit the concrete curb and flipped over the handlebars. I was really lucky I landed on grass instead of concrete. I remember looking around to see if anyone saw this really idiotic incident. I was more worried about someone seeing the stupid thing I did than actually the stupid thing I did. Why it didn’t occur to me that it was foolish and dangerous to ride withy eyes closed, I’ll never know. That was the first and last time I ever rode my bike with my eyes closed. Not looking where I am going is a dangerous thing.
I’ve noticed there are other ways I haven’t been looking where I am going too. Most days I get up and get my daughter off to school and do a little housework. With most of my kids grown and gone my life is simpler these days. So simple in fact that I noticed that I wander through each day without a real purpose, without a lot of direction.
In the past I was busy from when I got up to when I went to bed. It seemed there was hardly time to even breathe most days. It’s different now. I still have things to do and I am still busy but it occurred to me that I really don’t have a purpose, a direction to my life. I’ve been asking myself what do I really want to accomplish at this stage? What is it I really want to have happen. When I look back at my life in 10 years what will I wish I had done? I don’t just want to be busy. I want to be busy with something meaningful. I guess I’m trying not to go through the rest of my life with my eyes closed.
Finding my purpose in life at this stage of my existence is challenging. I want some overall sense of direction to each day. I think volunteer work is important and even meaningful but that is an action, a result of a goal or purpose. As I have sought for direction and continue to think about what is truly important, I have been reminded of a quote by Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This comes from one of my all time favorite talks by him, entitled The Love of God.
“God the Eternal Father did not give that first great commandment because He needs us to love Him. His power and glory are not diminished should we disregard, deny, or even defile His name. His influence and dominion extend through time and space independent of our acceptance, approval, or admiration.
No, God does not need us to love Him. But oh, how we need to love God!
For what we love determines what we seek.
What we seek determines what we think and do.
What we think and do determines who we are—and who we will become.”
Dieter Uchtdorf, November 2009 Ensign
I have written before about trying to focus more on the first and great commandment found in Matthew 22:37, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” And it seems that all my roads lately keep leading back to this concept. To let the love of God, my love of God, be my focus and purpose seems to be calling to me. To have this concept as my goal and my guiding force. Then all things will make sense. Volunteer work, scripture study, serving others, family history and temple work and even house work will be done all because I love God. Getting up in the morning will be done with the purpose to learn to love God more fully and to demonstrate that love through my actions. To learn to have His will become my will.
This is something that is not easy for me because I am all too human. Sometimes I want what I want, not what God wants. But I keep thinking about what will I wish I had done 10 years from now. And so the personal battle goes on, the wrestle with myself.
In the same talk by Elder Uchtdorf, he talks about God’s love for us. I try to remember this even is sometimes I don’t feel it.
“God does not look on the outward appearance. I believe that He doesn’t care one bit if we live in a castle or a cottage, if we are handsome or homely, if we are famous or forgotten. Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God’s love encompasses us completely.
He loves us because He is filled with an infinite measure of holy, pure, and indescribable love. We are important to God not because of our résumé but because we are His children. He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken. God’s love is so great that He loves even the proud, the selfish, the arrogant, and the wicked.
What this means is that, regardless of our current state, there is hope for us. No matter our distress, no matter our sorrow, no matter our mistakes, our infinitely compassionate Heavenly Father desires that we draw near to Him so that He can draw near to us.”
These beautiful words encourage me to look to my God. Even when I sometimes ride with my eyes closed, I need to remember He is always patient, He always loves me. He is rooting for me, not waiting for me to make a mistake. As I try to improve little by little I just need to keep my eyes open to focus more clearly where I am going.
When one of my daughters was little, we would race up the basement stairs to see who could get to the top first. Whoever won would shout out, “I beat you!” Being older and faster, I frequently won which caused my daughter to try even harder the next time. She got pretty fast on those stairs!
One time I was grocery shopping with this same daughter, who was 4 years old. She stopped to look at a cereal box as I continued walking. She finally noticed that I had made it to the end of the aisle. Fearing being left, she loudly shouted out, “Mom, don’t beat me.” I was sure the people three aisles over could hear her. I was also sure that people really thought I was beating her and I was very embarrassed. I wanted to run to people and reassure them that I was not beating her. Honest!
It’s So Easy to Judge
Children give us lots of opportunities to be embarrassed, and to also have our actions misunderstood. This incident also reminds me that sometimes we hear something someone said and think we have a complete picture. We think we know exactly what is going on. It is so easy to judge the situation without having an understanding of what is really happening. And because we think we know, we make a judgement.
Before I ever had children I remember thinking, when I would see someone’s child misbehaving, that my children would never do that. I thought I would teach my children what to do and then they would do it (I’m sure all those who are parents are now laughing). Actually, being a spectator is a lot different from being a parent. And being a parent is certainly a lot harder than it looks on the outside.
The Merciful Obtain Mercy
There’s an expression I really like, “walk a mile in his shoes.” It conveys the idea that until we actually know someone’s heart and why they make the choices they do that we really can’t understand the situation. It teaches us not to assume or to judge. One of my favorite General Conference talks is by Dieter F. Uchtdorf, and is called The Merciful Obtain Mercy.
I loved it when he said, “This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon. When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following: Stop it!” He goes on to say, “It’s that simple. We simply have to stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and His children.”
Years ago, any time when there was someone in my ward that I didn’t like very much I would be made her Visiting Teacher or she would be made mine. This happened several times over the years (obviously I had a lot to learn). Each time, it didn’t take long before I learned how wrong I was about that person. Most of the time we became friends, or at least I gained a greater understanding of her. God, in His mercy, gave me the opportunity to better learn not to judge.
There was one time I was someone’s Visiting Teacher and I was visiting with her and we were laughing about something when she suddenly stopped and said, “You’re a lot different from what I thought.” I hadn’t realized she had a negative impression of me, but we were able to become friends because we got to know each others hearts a little better and judge a little less.
Just “Stop It!”
The funny thing is we don’t want others judging us but somehow we think it’s okay for us to judge others! I’m not sure why we do this and I constantly need to remind myself that I don’t know someone’s motives, their reasoning or thought process. I really do want to be better at this and allow myself to have good thoughts about others. I want to do as President Uchtdorf said and “Stop it!” So, how do I do this?
So, How Do We Do This?
Dieter F. Uchtdorf gave us the solution to stop judging others . “The more we allow the love of God to govern our minds and emotions-the more we allow love for our Heavenly Father to swell within our hearts-the easier it is to love others…In a world of accusations and unfriendliness, it is easy to gather and cast stones. But before we do so, let us remember the words of the One who is our Master and model: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.” Brothers and Sisters, let us put down our stones.” So basically, the more love we have for God, then the more love we will have for others and the less judging we will do.
For me, it always comes back to the scripture found in Matthew 22:37. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all the heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind.” When we love God more than anything else, when we put God first, everything else falls into place in our lives. For me, this is my greatest challenge. Loving God more will help me put down my stones.
Elder Nelson, in the April 2017 General Conference, gave a talk about drawing the power of Jesus Christ into our lives. In it he talked about reading every reference to Jesus Christ listed in the topical guide. He spoke about how doing this had blessed his life.
I decided to take the challenge. It took me quite a while because there are 57 subtitles, but I read every scriptural passage listed. Then when I was rereading his talk, I noticed that he said to read every scripture in the topical guide about the Savior and underline them. Somehow I had missed the part about underlining the references.
So, I decided to reread all the of the scriptural references to Christ in the topical guide and this time, underline them. In some ways this reminded me of a story told by President Monson. This was before the Berlin Wall fell and East Germany was still under communist rule. Elder Monson was the General Authority over East Germany. He was lamenting to Elder Kimball about how he wished the leaders there could have a copy of the Church’s General Handbook of Instructions. Elder Kimball told him to memorize the handbook, go to Germany and type it for the leaders in Germany. What a daunting task!
But that’s just what he did. When he got to Germany he immediately asked for a typewriter and some paper. He had typed about 30 pages when he decided to take a break. While walking around the room he was startled to see the General Handbook on a shelf. Not only was it the General Handbook, but it was in German. I’m sure he had a lot of mixed emotions over seeing the handbook lying on that shelf.
Some could say that all the work he put into memorizing the handbook had been needless. Some could point out that he should have had inspiration telling him it was unnecessary. But, I can see at least two benefits of memorizing the General Handbook. The first was he became an expert on church policy and procedure. Wherever he went he knew how to instruct those he was teaching concerning policy and procedures. Maybe the Lord needed him to know the book inside and out to help guide those he taught, especially because so many he worked with lived outside the United States.
The second benefit is that he was obedient to his church leaders. Elder Kimball, who was a senior apostle, told him to do it and he did. He didn’t question it. He didn’t say it wasn’t possible for him. He went to work and did it. Obedience strengthens the person and helps them qualify for blessings God wants to give them. God already knows what we will do. Sometimes we just need to prove to our own selves that we will be obedient.
So, back to my story of reading the references in the Topical Guide about Jesus Christ for the second time. It was a daunting task to do it again. Some could say I did it with the right spirit the first time, the second time was needless. Some could point out that I should have had inspiration to guide me while reading it the first time. I would have known then to underline the verses.
But, I can see at least two benefits from my reading it again and underlining the second time. The first is how much more I learned from the verses the second time through. There are some verses I don’t remember reading at all. As I was reading I remembered many verses from my first reading. Together the verses made more sense and tied things together better. I had a better sense of the mission of Jesus Christ and His role in our lives. Maybe the Lord just wanted me to gain a deeper understanding of Jesus Christ in my own life.
The second benefit is that I hope to be more obedient to my church leaders. Elder Nelson asked us to do this, and though I had to give myself a little pep talk about doing it a second time, I did it. Obedience strengthens me and helps me qualify for blessings God wants to give me. It also helped me see that in spite of my weaknesses, I really do want to be obedient. God already knows what I’m going to do, but sometimes I really need this reminder.
I have written many times before about how I have had migraines for many years. I had my first migraine when I was 21. At the time I didn’t know it was a migraine. I was shopping and all of a sudden my head really hurt, I felt a little nauseated and my eyes hurt. Aspirin had always helped with my previous headaches, so I went home and took two aspirin. I was surprised when aspirin didn’t help. I continued having headaches, and I continued taking aspirin, and I continued to be surprised when it didn’t help. Being a poor student I didn’t have any money so I didn’t go to the doctor about it.
I graduated from college, went to graduate school and got two Master’s Degrees, all the while having headaches. I met and married a wonderful man (he’s still wonderful!), and had two children. One day I was reading a magazine article about headaches and the descriptions of the different types of headaches. I was really surprised when my headaches fit the description of migraines. It had never occurred to me that they were migraines. I did go to the doctor about them but there was little they could do until I was through having children.
I continued to have debilitating migraines and the funny part about all of this is that it didn’t occur to me to pray about this problem. Of course I usually prayed for help with individual headaches, but overall it just didn’t occur to me to pray about it. I think I was thinking that everyone has something to deal with and this was just one of my things to deal with. For many years I stumbled through my days trying to deal with my responsibilities with children, a home, a husband and well, basically my life.
Fast forward several years when I was pregnant with my sixth child. For some reason I decided to pray about a way to treat them. I’m not sure what changed or why it finally occurred to me to do this. By this time I had been having migraines for 18 years, and yes, sometimes I’m a little slow.
I started asking for guidance in my prayers. I asked to be directed to find a way to treat the migraines when they happened. I even hoped that maybe I could find some way to prevent them. I prayed about this for several weeks. At this time I was serving in the Young Women’s presidency in my ward at church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). We were having a presidency meeting when one of women in the meeting started talking about headaches she was having. Her doctor had told her to take an aspirin with a Coke and lie down for a while. When she said this I strongly had the Holy Ghost tell me to do this too.
Not being a Coke person I tried Pepsi with the aspirin. It worked! It worked fairly well most of the time. Sometimes it just dulled the pain and sometimes it didn’t work but this was the first thing I had tried that even came close to working. I did some research and found it was the caffeine in the Pepsi that worked so I switched to aspirin with a caffeine tablet. Later on I alternated between aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen with the caffeine. This gave me the ability to function much better for several years. In hind sight I wish I had prayed about it many years sooner.
So the lesson I mostly learned from this experience is that God is often just waiting to bless us but that we need to ask Him. We need to humble ourselves, recognize that He is our Father in Heaven and ask (sometimes beg) for the blessings we need. We need to show our faith in Him by asking and then moving forward in faith knowing the blessing will come, when it’s the right time and in the right way. Sometimes this means it’s not the way or what we expected, but He will bless us. I recently read a talk in the May 2019 Ensign by Dale G. Renlund about qualifying for blessings that God wants to give us. “Most blessings that God desires to give us require action on our part-action based on our faith in Jesus Christ. Faith in the Savior is a principle of action and of power,” said Elder Renlund.
Since then I have learned that sometimes I’m the one denying myself help from heaven because I haven’t asked for it. I have also learned to be more specific in my prayers, to ask with faith in Jesus Christ, and then watch for the hand of God in my life.
My daughter, who has Down syndrome, turned 18 last week. She proudly announced that she’s an adult now. She’s aware of a lot of things in life. She watches all the preteen shows on TV and Netflix and is a sucker for anything to do with romance. She oohs and aahs when there is a wedding in a show. She loves it when they hold hands and kiss. She dreams of her own wedding and finding her true love.
A few year ago we were driving in the car together. She was staring out the window and said, “I really want to get married.” She had said this many times before and has said it many times since. But, there was something in her voice that tugged at my heart that particular time. Even though she’s pretty bright, she’s not capable of being independent, let alone married. Getting married in this life is not in the cards for her.
I have told her that someday she will get married in heaven. She will have a beautiful wedding and her family will be there and she will be very happy. She asks me questions about it frequently. Questions like, “Will I have a beautiful dress?” “Will I have flowers?” “Who is going to be my husband?” I try to answer these questions honestly with the little knowledge I actually have about heaven. I tell her, “I’m sure you will have a beautiful gown.” I don’t know if she’ll have flowers but I have told her, “I’m sure your wedding will be just how you want it.” When she asks about her husband I tell her, “I don’t know who you are going to marry, but Heavenly Father does and I’m sure He has someone wonderful in mind for you.” She’ll clap her hands with joy at the prospect of it all, but really, these answers just satisfy her temporarily. She still wants to get married in this life.
She has seen her sisters and brothers get married. She has seen them having children, and she wants the same joy that creating a family brings. It seems to be inborn in her to want to find a true love, a soul mate. I tell her that not everyone gets married in this life, but that hasn’t deterred her. She really wants to get married.
I haven’t told her this because she’s really not capable of understanding it, but I have been thinking about how there are a lot of things people want in this life that will never happen. People have problems they would like solved. Some have health issues they would like cured. Many want to be free from addictions, have enough money to meet their needs, or have family problems go away. Some people yearn for children. I think we can look at society, the world at large, and want for things that seem like will never happen. All of us, in some way, want for something that will probably never happen.
That seems to be part of life. To recognize that there are things that will not be in this life, and to hope for better things in the world to come. How do we deal with life when it doesn’t give us what we want most? When our hearts seem to be breaking and our souls are stretched to their limits? For me, faith in Jesus Christ and hope in His promises are sometimes the only things that I can fall back on. I trust in His absolute knowledge and power. Joseph Smith said that to have faith in God we need to know and trust in the Nature and Character of God. We need to know that He loves us, is mindful of us and trust that He knows what is best. To know that He knows what is going on, and if we stay faithful despite our circumstances, He will make all things right. I love the scripture found in Revelations 21:4 which says, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying. neither shall there be any more pain…” And so, with this promise we go forward knowing that God always fulfills His promises. We go forward, knowing there are things that we want, that we will never have in his life.
My daughter will not marry in this life, she will not have what she wants most now. But I am sure she will marry in the next world. I am sure because I know and trust in the Nature and Character of God. He will wipe away her tears and hold her close, and her pain will be gone. She will have what the faithful inherit.
I was fondly remembering the other day when my kids were little and we did projects at the kitchen table. I used to save seed and flower catalogs that would come in the mail. Toy advertisements and even magazines came in handy. My kids would cut out the pictures and make collages from them. Frequently they would make stickers from the flowers or fruit pictures. Sometimes they would cut up church magazines to make stickers too. Then at church they would quietly sit and lick the stickers and make stories using the stickers. It was a simple family activity.
We made sticker glue using 1 tablespoon of any flavor of jello and 2 teaspoons of water. Then the kids would paint the back of the picture they cut out and we let them dry on cookie sheets. I put them in plastic bags and placed the bags in the church tote ready for Sunday. Cutting out the pictures from the magazines and applying the “glue” was one fun activity and then we got another activity out of it at church. The really fun part for them was that the stickers tasted good.
I used to save Christmas cards that we received too. When Christmas was over and I would gather up the cards and toss them in one of the Christmas decorations storage boxes. The following Christmas when I pulled out the decorations I would find the cards. My kids would use these cards to make Christmas scenes on construction paper. They would cut and paste and add glitter or whatever else they wanted to make a nice scene. It was always a simple but fun activity. I actually enjoyed reading the messages in the cards again.
We also made a lot of play dough. It was easy to make, and a lot cheaper and better than store bought. I would make it and give it to the kids to knead when it had cooled a little. I bought different cake decorating colors to make more than the basic primary colors. We made play dough for birthday parties, church activities and for school classes too. This was another simple family activity.
The recipe is really easy. Combine in a pan 1/2 cup flour, 1 teaspoon Cream of Tartar, 1/4 cup salt. Add 1/2 cup water, 1/2 tablespoon oil. Stir over medium heat until too thick to stir. Add desired food coloring and knead a few minutes until color is evenly distributed. Cool completely before storing. I haven’t made play dough for many years but I remember this being the best recipe for the dough I have ever used.
Another simple but fun thing we did was make our own bubbles. Then it was fun to find different objects to blow the bubbles through. Kitchen gadgets, metal washers and soup cans with both ends removed worked well. The soup cans you need to swoosh through the air. Kids have lots of fun finding and trying different objects to see it they will work. To make the bubbles we combined 1/2 cup water, 4 tablespoons dish soap, and 1 1/2 tablespoons corn syrup.
What I liked about these projects is that we usually had all of these ingredients readily available at our house and they were inexpensive. It only took a few minutes to make them but provided hours of family fun. My family liked these activities and maybe yours will too!
Recently my daughter had me help her cut some paper. This is the daughter who has Down syndrome. She was trying to cut out something from a magazine to tape it on a jar. I showed her how to cut around it and started the cutting for her. I watched her cut it and for the first time noticed her hand was in the way of her seeing what she was cutting.
It occurred to me that I had started cutting on the right side of the picture and she is left-handed. I have done this many times over the years and never once noticed that she couldn’t see what she was cutting because her hand was in the way. It explained all of the jagged edges and uneven cuts she always made. I had always wondered why she couldn’t cut anything out straight.
I stopped her and restarted the cut on the left side of the picture and she continue to cut around from that side. She cut evenly and smoothly, no jagged edges and no cutting in the wrong place. She’s 17 years old and has been using scissors since preschool and I just notice this.
Sometimes it’s really easy to see things only from my right-handed perspective. To just do something like I always do, or to think things through from my reference point. Often it’s easy for me to not notice what stops someone from doing a good job. Then I wonder why that person didn’t measure up. I wonder why they can’t cut out something without jagged edges. My right-handed perspective gets in the way.
Often I’m dealing with “left-handed people”. People who are different from me. Someone who methods and ways contrast from mine. His or her ways are just different from mine, not bad or worse. Sometimes it is easy to judge another as incompetent, or foolish or even incapable. When I do that it’s because I’m not making the effort to look at things from his or her perspective.
Usually telling someone to just do it the way I do it is not the answer. That often produces frustration and the previous results. If I really want to understand, I need to see things from the other person’s viewpoint. Looking at something as another sees it can be illuminating. Concentrating on another person’s skills and abilities and what they do well, can make a big difference. Trying to figure out what is stopping that person from being successful is helpful. And then taking the next step to figure out a way to help them succeed. Often it’s just little adjustments. Like switching sides of the paper when cutting.
Viewing something from another person’s perspective often helps me understand better, be less judgmental and more compassionate. When I do that I become a better parent, teacher, spouse and friend. When I step aside from a right-handed perspective to see through a left-handed view, I don’t have to wonder why someone didn’t measure up. That’s because the jagged edges and uneven cuts usually go away.
Sometimes I have the attitude that the only way I’m going to make it to heaven is through Brownie Points. I look at my short comings and weaknesses and the same mistakes I keep making over and over and almost feel there is no hope. If I do something good I tell myself that it’s a Brownie Point, a positive on the great balance sheet in the sky. Sometimes I think Brownie Points will be the only way I get there. Basically, I have in the back of my mind the attitude that I can buy my way in. Of course when I say it like that I know it sounds ridiculous because it is ridiculous. Logically I know I can’t buy my way into heaven. I can never do enough good, accumulate enough points, grit my teeth in sheer determination enough. No matter how hard I try I can never buy my way in.
But, in reality I don’t have to. That is the beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He has already bought my way into heaven. Through the gift of the Atonement of Jesus Christ my entrance fee has already been paid. What I have to do is accept the gift to heaven that He is offering me. I accept that gift by making and keeping sacred covenants with Him and repenting. There is beauty in making covenants and great power in keeping them. When I keep my covenants foremost in my mind and thoughts I spend my time differently. I choose my words and thoughts with greater care. I am more present in my prayers. I seek Him in my life more fully and I realize I don’t have to be perfect in order to accept His gift of heaven.
I recently read an article in the Ensign (June 2019, p 30) about being perfect in Christ. It listed out several things that God expects of us. Things like denying ourselves of all ungodliness, loving and serving God. Repenting with faith, doing our best to keep the commandments and covenants we’ve made and continuing on in life in patience. The list I really related to was what God doesn’t expect of us. He doesn’t expect us to be perfect now or to never make a mistake. He doesn’t want us to be burdened by an attitude of perfectionism or to be self critical for lack of progress. He doesn’t want us to be constantly busy with all work and no play. The last one was what hit home with me. He doesn’t want us to try to earn our way into heaven. In other words, He doesn’t want us to have a Brownie Point Mentality.
One of the problems with a Brownie Point Mentality is that, in some ways, it denies the power of Christ to save and change us. It implies that we have to do it on our own. It creates a barrier between our Savior and ourselves. We miss out on the concept of coming to Christ through repentance and using His strength and help to change. We completely miss the boat on understanding God’s expectations for us.
One of the blessings of having a daughter with Down syndrome is that I need to simplify gospel teachings and principles for her. The other day she asked me what repentance meant, even though I have explained it many times to her before. I said, “Repentance means you stop doing what’s wrong, tell Heavenly Father you’re sorry, and start doing what’s right.” When I really thought about it, it’s really is that simple. That really is what repentance is. Of course there are some serious matters that need to be worked out with a Bishop. Most often though, it’s just a recognition that we want to do something a little better. Sometimes it’s something we want to start doing or something we want to stop doing. Often it’s just allowing ourselves to be imperfect but recognizing we are a little better than we were last week. Usually it’s just to keep on trying to become better through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. One thing it’s definitely not though is a Brownie Point Mentality.
My grandmother was an interesting person. She lived her life differently than most people, especially in her generation. She was born in 1921 and married at age 17. My mother was born soon after that and then not much later my grandma and her husband divorced. After that she either lived with or was married to at least 7 men that we know of. She worked in bars and moved around a lot. Since she didn’t graduate from high school and was limited in job choices. I have previously written how my mother often was boarded with other people until they tired of her. She would then live with her mother until another place was found for her to live. There were always new people, new schools and new cities.
My mother has a half brother and my grandma and his dad never married. Just like she didn’t really raise my mom she didn’t raise her son either. At one point, she was married to a man much older than herself and when they divorced she left her son in his care. My uncle was 10 years old when this man died. At that point my uncle came to live with us, and I grew up with him as a sort of brother.
We never saw much of my grandma. I thought of her as some vague, incompetent person who was my mother’s mother. We rarely knew where she was living or what she was doing. Every so often we would get a phone call from her and we would know she was still alive. I do remember her visiting us once though. I was probably about 12 and I was fascinated by her fingernails. She wore bright red nail polish and had this kit that made her nails longer. I watched her in wonder as she used the kit, filed her nails and painted them. And she smoked cigarettes and drank coffee, and I didn’t really know many people who did those things. This visit is the only time I remember interacting with her, and her world was completely different from mine. To me she was an enigma.
My grandmother’s father was an alcoholic and he killed himself with a gun when he was in his 40s. Alcoholism plagued that family with several of his children becoming alcoholics too, including my grandmother. I think there were mental health issues that went undiagnosed and obviously untreated. Alcohol temporarily silenced their mental health demons but created new ones. I think she struggled to find happiness in her own way. Unfortunately, as a young adult I never had much respect or even love for her. I saw no value in her existence.
I tell you all of this because in spite of her unusual life style, the alcoholism and mental health issues she was really good at crocheting. She made beautiful tablecloths, shawls, ponchos and just about anything that could be crocheted. This dysfunctional, sort of pathetic person had a talent, developed it and used it to bless the lives of others. I remember being in high school when she sent me a poncho she had crocheted me. They were really popular at the time and I remember being thrilled to wear it. When I married she sent me a tablecloth with a beautiful, intricate pineapple design in it. I still have the tablecloth and will never give it away.
Sometimes we look at someone and see limitations, ineptness, dysfunction and shake our heads at that person’s life. We don’t see anything of value and we wonder how they could live their lives like that. Like I did with my grandmother, we judge that they are worthless individuals with nothing to offer the world. The tablecloth she made me reminds me to look a little further at a person. It demonstrates to me that if we look for the good we will find it. It teaches me not to dismiss anyone because of life style. She had a lot of challenges in life and made a lot of poor decisions. Despite all of that she had a talent and used it to bless the lives of others. In her own little way she made the world a better place.