Monday, November 8, 2010

When Lights Go Out

When I was in college, I had a friend who was a bit of pyromaniac. She came over one night and, somehow, we ended up with a table full of lit candles. My friend was playing with the little flames and occasionally put one out. Each time, I was surprised by how much darker the room was when one of those little lights went out. Relighting a candle didn't seem to be nearly as noticeable as loosing the light when it went out.

2010 has turned out to be a year of loss. We have lost more than one friend this year to untimely deaths. Each one has been a shock. But the most significant loss we have experienced this year has been the passing of my mother-in-law, Beverly Marshall.

She was diagnosed with cancer in May and died in October. All who knew her have experienced a mixture of relief that she is no longer suffering and deep sadness that she is gone.

During her funeral, I took my little ones into the hall because they were getting restless. I spoke with my 4 year old son about what was happening. He seemed to have lots of questions and was even a little confused...or so I thought.

I asked him if he understood what had happened to Grandma.
He said, "Yes. She died."
"Do you know what that means?" I asked him.
"Yes." he said sadly then added "It means her light's not on anymore."

I was doing pretty good until that moment. Then I started crying. I was so moved by how simply he had explained it. I have thought of that moment often since then. It is such a beautiful way of explaining death. As I think of each of the people that have passed on this year, I am touched by how each of them exemplified the counsel to "let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in Heaven."

One was an example of home teaching at its best. He was a single father with teenage daughters when we moved to Belgium. My husband was gone to a 4-month school in the states and we had a huge yard that needed tending. Brother Gonzalez came over several times with the missionaries to cut the grass and trim the hedges. His daughters helped with housework and played with the kids. I was so grateful for his willingness to serve our family during a stressful and frustrating time. His service reminds me that even when we think we are alone, our Heavenly Father is always there and will send just the right person to take care of His children.

Another example was a man I have known my whole life. I don't have a single memory of him where is was not smiling and joking, trying to make others happy. He was the embodiment of cheerfulness. He, too, succumbed to cancer, but his battle was long and taxing. Yet even during his long illness, he attended church, fulfilled his Priesthood duties, and was an example to all who knew him of faithfulness and discipleship. 

Another is the little girl from our ward I wrote about previously. When I think of her, I think of those first few times I taught sharing time in Primary. I would look out at the sea of children; talking, looking at their feet, ignoring me... and there would be this happy, smiling face, watching me. She was always eager to answer a question and gave me a little reassurance that I wasn't talking to the clock on the back wall. So simple, yet so meaningful.

This brings me back to my mother-in-law. She was a quiet lady, never pushing or judging. She reached out in many ways. She shared several storied with me about simple things she had done that change lives. Smiling to a girl in the hall in high school, offering a seat to a young mother in Relief Society, welcoming a young woman into their home and into their family. Each of these examples are glimpses into the light she shared with others.

There is one story that has really stuck with me. Years ago, she and her husband were going to the temple in Washington DC. During the drive, they discussed an acquaintance who was having surgery. Beverly decided to put his name on the prayer roll in the temple.

When they arrived, she went to put the man's name on the prayer roll. She couldn't remember what his name was. All she could think about was Steve McQueen, the actor. She kept picturing a scene from one of his movies. After a moment, she gave up trying to remember the man's name and went about her day.

The next day, Steve McQueen died. (That was 30 years ago this week, by the way.)

This story was such an eye-opener for me. We hear phrases like "We are all God's children" or "God loves everyone". Until I heard this story, I thought I understood that. But I didn't really apply that understanding to celebrities or politicians or historical figures. I realized that I had a kind of arrogance like "I am child of God but I don't know who you people are."

Since then, I have tried harder to see EVERYONE as a child of God. It isn't as easy as you might think. Seeing a person from God's perspective can be kind of painful sometimes. Imagine how disappointed he must be in some of us. How his heart breaks at the wickedness and violence he sees us committing.

I have always loved the passage in Moses 7 where Enoch has been shown the creations of God and the destruction of the wicked.

28 And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?

29 And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity?...

32 The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;

33 And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood;
I feel like I can understand this better, now that I am a parent. How can God weep? His children are fighting and ignoring one another and acting like spoiled idiots.

And what should we be doing instead? "Mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places" (Mosiah 18:9)
I don't know if I have really caught the vision yet. I think I just get little glimpses from time to time. Hopefully, someday, I will be able to align my life more perfectly with the things I have learned. In the meantime, I am grateful for all the lights that shine around me. Because of their examples, I do, indeed, want to glorify my Father in Heaven.

1 comment:

tkangaroo said...

This was gorgeous. Thank you.