Behold Thy Mother

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Yesterday I picked up 7 dozen roses that we (the young men and leaders) distributed today to the women in the ward after Sacrament Meeting. The cashier, when I brought up all those roses asked, “How many mothers do you have?” I replied, “A lot.” I also overheard the woman in line behind me make a comment about the lucky mom getting all those roses. While it would have been great to give my mother 7 dozen roses, most of the women and mothers in our ward only got a single rose.

After the question yesterday – “How many mothers do you have?” – I started wondering, “How many mothers do I have?” The correct answer is “a lot.” Not only do I have my own wonderful mother, I have a mother-in-law, I have older sisters who have been like mothers to me in their own ways, I have generations of mothers on back for thousands of years (see this post for some of my mothers back a few generations).

In addition to specific mothers, there are general and stereotypical mothers. In 1973, then Elder Thomas S. Monson gave an address in General Conference entitled Behold Thy Mother. He tells of four such general mothers:

  1. Mother forgotten
  2. Mother remembered
  3. Mother blessed
  4. Mother loved

He said, “‘Mother forgotten’ is observed all too frequently. The nursing homes are crowded, the hospital beds are full, the days come and go—often the weeks and months pass—but mother is not visited. Can we not appreciate the pangs of loneliness, the yearnings of mother’s heart when hour after hour, alone in her age, she gazes out the window for the loved one who does not visit, the letter the postman does not bring. She listens for the knock that does not sound, the telephone that does not ring, the voice she does not hear. How does such a mother feel when her neighbor welcomes gladly the smile of a son, the hug of a daughter, the glad exclamation of a child, ‘Hello, Grandmother.’

“There are yet other ways we forget mother. Whenever we fall, whenever we do less than we ought, in a very real way we forget mother.”

May we have no forgotten mothers in our lives! Maybe we don’t forget our own mothers or our grandmothers but do we forget our great-grandmothers on back through the generations? Are there mothers waiting for us to remember them or to find them? Do we have mothers waiting for us to perform the necessary gospel ordinances in the temple? Or, are there mothers around us – neighbors, friends, church members, strangers – who have been forgotten. Do we reach out of our comfort zones and seek out the lonely? Do we seek to remember these forgotten mothers?

Of mother remembered Elder Monson said,

“As a boy, I well remember Sunday School on Mother’s Day. We would hand to each mother present a small potted plant and sit in silent reverie as Melvin Watson, a blind member, would stand by the piano and sing, ‘That Wonderful Mother of Mine.’ This was the first time I saw a blind man cry. Even today, in memory, I can see the moist tears move from those sightless eyes, then form tiny rivulets and course down his cheeks, falling finally upon the lapel of the suit he had never seen. In boyhood puzzlement I wondered why all of the grown men were silent, why so many handkerchiefs came forth. Now I know. You see, mother was remembered. Each boy, every girl, all fathers and husbands seemed to make a silent pledge: ‘I will remember that wonderful mother of mine.'”

Remembering our mothers can bring solace and peace. In dark moments or in times of temptation or in the good and happy times of our lives, remembering our mothers can bring us comfort. There are mothers who are absent, there are mothers who are abusive, there are mothers who might even best be forgotten, but I think most mothers are best remembered. Mothers are not perfect, mothers do make mistakes, but motherhood is a divine calling and blessing that comes with the blessings of the Lord. The Lord can make up for shortcomings. There are hard days and sleepless nights; there are rings around rosies and rings under eyes; there are baths and diapers and vomit and tears; there are hugs and kisses and giggles and tickles; there are songs and swings and dances and strings; there are little hands clasped in steadying mother’s hands; there are skips and jumps and laughs and loves. These are things that build memories in both mother and child. It is that foundation that gives such strength and comfort to those who have their own mother remembered.

I’ll quote at length for the next mother – mother blessed.

Now that we have considered ‘mother remembered,’ let us turn to ‘mother blessed.’ For one of the most beautiful and reverent examples, I refer to the holy scriptures.

In the New Testament of our Lord, perhaps we have no more moving account of ‘mother blessed’ than the tender regard of the Master for the grieving widow at Nain.

‘And it came to pass … that he went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people.

‘Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her.

‘And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.

‘And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.

‘And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother.’ (Luke 7:11–15.)

What power, what tenderness, what compassion did our Master and exemplar thus demonstrate. We, too, can bless if we will but follow his noble example. Opportunities are everywhere. Needed are eyes to see the pitiable plight, ears to hear the silent pleadings of a broken heart. Yes, and a soul filled with compassion that we might communicate not only eye to eye or voice to ear, but in the majestic style of the Savior, even heart to heart. Then every mother everywhere will be ‘mother blessed.’

We have great opportunities to bless the lives of mothers everywhere. We can do it by honoring our own mothers. We can bless others by blessing as mothers would. We can go out of our way to do good to all around us, particularly mothers and particularly widowed mothers. There have been few people I think, who have cared about widows as much as Pres. Monson does.

Now for the final of then Elder Monson’s mothers – mother loved.

The holy scriptures, the pages of history are replete with tender, moving, convincing accounts of ‘mother loved.’ One, however, stands out supreme, above and beyond any other. The place is Jerusalem, the period known as the Meridian of Time. Assembled is a throng of Roman soldiers. Their helmets signify their loyalty to Caesar, their shields bear his emblem, their spears are crowned by Roman eagles. Assembled also are natives to the land of Jerusalem. Faded into the still night, and gone forever are the militant and rowdy cries, ‘Crucify him, crucify him.’

The hour has come. The personal earthly ministry of the Son of God moves swiftly to its dramatic conclusion. A certain loneliness is here. Nowhere to be found are the lame beggars who, because of this man, walk; the deaf who, because of this man, hear; the blind who, because of this man, see; the dead who, because of this man, live.

There remained yet a few faithful followers. From his tortured position on the cruel cross, he sees his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing by. He speaks: ‘… woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! …’ (John 19:26–27.)

From that awful night when time stood still, when the earth did quake and great mountains were brought down—yes, through the annals of history, over the centuries of years and beyond the span of time, there echoes his simple yet divine words, ‘Behold thy mother!’

I echo Elder Monson’s words as he echos the Savior: “Behold thy mother!” Whether our mothers are living or deceased, may we take more time to behold, to remember, bless, and love our mothers. May we never forget our mothers and may we remember the mothers who have been forgotten. I’m grateful for my own wonderful mother. She is a woman strengthened by her faith in God, a faith she helped pass on to me. This is a legacy of faith that I am striving to pass on to my own children with the help of my beautiful wife, the mother of our children.

Keeping Our Brothers

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John Greenwood was a fifer in the Continental Army who was called to carry a musket during the assault on Trenton, NJ. On Christmas night the American army crossed over the Delaware in what would prove to be a defining moment during the Revolutionary War and American history. Crossing over the Delaware was an all-night matter. It was an adversity of great proportions. There was severe winter weather that night and into the morning. It made the crossing more treacherous but it also masked the movements of the Americans. After the troops made it across, it was so cold that there are reports of at least two soldiers freezing to death during a break. John Greenwood, during one such break wanted to just go to sleep. The numbing cold whispered to all to rest and succumb to its frozen embrace. To John, the seductive voice of the cold was enticing. He was resting and wanted nothing more than to sleep; he did not even care if it was an eternal sleep. John was saved only when a sergeant roused him and got him going. This act saved his life. Had the sergeant not noticed the lowly fifer, had the sergeant not gone after the lost sheep, John’s life would most likely have been lost.

This story exemplifies the stewardship in the gospel. All members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have responsibilities to other people. All are ideally called as visiting teachers or home teachers. In other ways all have stewardship over others. Cain asked a simple question of the Lord, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). Even though Cain’s reason for asking was not honest nor was it out of concern for his brother, who he had just killed, it is a question we would do well to ask in honesty. Are we our brothers’ keepers? The Savior answered a similar question with a parable. When asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus said:

“A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?

“And he [the man] said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.” Luke 10:30-37.

How we treat others is important. The Samaritan could have walked by the beaten man but he didn’t. He took care of him who was injured and saved his life, just as that sergeant had done for John Greenwood in Washington’s army. We need to love others and watch over our brothers, sisters, and neighbors. We might just save their lives, physically or spiritually.

On the Death of Allison

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Not quite one week ago my sweet niece, age 11, was riding her bike with her father and a sister when she was struck by an automobile. She died instantly.

On my family blog I wrote the following:

“Yesterday as the lights were going out here on the East Coast, in the West, a different light dimmed and then disappeared. In a moment worlds changed and hearts broke. Bicycle and automobile danced a tragic ballet, extinguishing the light of one so small. As this light faded from earth, leaving a hole in the hearts and darkness in the lives of loved ones, a brighter light grew and radiated with an unfiltered luminosity in an eternal world. The sorrows and tears of earthly separations were balanced by the tears of joy from reunions with other pure lights.

“Goodbye sweet Allison, your death has brought a dearth of joy to all who mourn your passing but your life brought love and joy to those around you. You came to earth for just a short while; not long enough for us who are left but long enough to fulfill our Father’s plan. We are brightened by our memories of your light and long for the day when we shall meet again, face to face and embrace in embrace in eternal realms. We are strengthened by our faith in the Savior Jesus Christ who gave His life that all would live again. Jesus “appoint[s] unto them that mourn in Zion, [and] give[s] unto [us] beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, [and] the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Isaiah 61:3). We are fortified by the knowledge and power of the sealing of families together forever through the power of the Holy Priesthood of God. We miss and love you Allison!”

Since then, all our – family and friends – feelings have been tender; our hearts are broken. My sister, brother in law, and their family are trying to put the pieces of their shattered lives back together. In the midst of crashing waves of sorrow, we cry:

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. (Source).

The loss of a child under such tragic circumstances is devastating. It is a hellish darkness of separation – poignant and painful; a pain one might expect would never end. But with the inexorable march of time comes a deadening of the pain. The storm passes, the numbness fades, but still gray skies remain. There is room for laughter and joy but at times the grief can be overwhelming. So would go life, the only solace in the numbness of time, without knowledge of God’s plan for His children. However, there is more solace available; it comes through faith in Christ’s Atonement and the knowledge and power of eternal families. These are like radiant rays of the sun bursting through the dark clouds and burning away the dreary mists of life.

Jesus is like a song in the night. He is a pillar of fire. He restores breaches in our hearts and families. He stabilizes the rudderless and calms the stormy seas. The Lord blesses us with His tender mercies – friends, family, and other loved ones who provide meals and support. There are the mercies of the promptings and love provided by the Comforter – the Holy Ghost. Most importantly, we are blessed to know that because of the sealing power of the Priesthood, Allison will be forever part of her (and our) family should we remain faithful to God. That knowledge is almost unbelievably comforting. I phrased it that way because at this time when we think we might be completely devastated, we feel some measure of peace even though peace seems so out of place.

President Joseph F. Smith, “at the death of his 19-year-old daughter Alice, his ‘Darling Alibo,’ on 29 April 1901, conveyed his faith in the Atonement in a letter to his son: ‘Our hearts are still bowed down in the earth where the remains of our Sweet girl and those of her little Brothers and Sisters repose in dust. … But we will do the best we can, by the help of the Lord, and from our hearts we feel that our Sleeping treasures are all in His holy keeping and will soon awake from the dust to immortality and eternal life. But for the precious assurance and glorious hope in the Gospel of Christ, life would not only not be worth the living, but it would be an infamous and damning farce! But, ‘O, what joy this sentence gives, I know that my Redeemer lives!’ Thank God.'” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, Jesus Christ Redeems All Mankind from Temporal Death).

Those are strong words from someone in the acute phase of separation. The joy that comes from the knowledge of what happens after death is immensely comforting. Even though we feel painfully separated, those who depart do not travel far. President Ezra Taft Benson taught: “‘Sometimes the veil between this life and the life beyond becomes very thin. Our loved ones who have passed on are not far from us’ (in Conference Report, Apr. 1971, 18; or Ensign, June 1971, 33). President Brigham Young taught that the postmortal spirit world is on the earth, around us (see Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young [1997], 279).” (Source). Even though we cannot see our departed loved ones, they are close by us in a world of spirits.

In the spirit world, those like Allison are in a place of peace and rest: “The spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.” (Alma 40:12). Allison is free from all troubles, care, and sorrow. That does not mean that she has no cares for us, she just has no burdensome cares; things that so many of us are plagued with in our lives. She is surrounded by her family who have gone on before. They are with her until her parents and the rest of her family join her in that radiant world.

We have received promises of peace and comfort forevermore. Some day, we will all live in a promised paradise like the millennial earth of which the Lord said:

“For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying. There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old.” (Isaiah 65:17-20).

There are a lot of hopeful promises made unto those who mourn. For now we mourn, but this life is just a blip in eternity. Some day the voice of weeping will be heard no more among the people of the Lord. Those who mourn for lost loved ones will be reunited. There won’t be the premature loss of children to death. Christ shall wipe away their tears and anoint them with the oil of joy.

We shall see Allison, one of our missing joys, again. Through the sealing power of the Priesthood families can be together forever. Allison is sealed to her parents and family by this same power. I know that we will all be resurrected some day because of Christ’s death and resurrection. As we remain faithful to these covenants we made in the Holy Temple of God we can return to live with Allison and our Father in Heaven.

You can read her obituary here.

For those wishing to honor Allison Bowers, her family has suggested that in memoriam donations can be made to the Neonatal Resuscitation Program of Latter-day Saint Charities or to the school library at Hale Elementary School in Mesa, Arizona. Allison loved both children and reading, and either program would be a fitting memorial. The family sincerely thanks you for your love and support during this difficult time.

To donate to the Neonatal Resuscitation Program, follow the instructions under In Memoriam giving at the LDS Charities website or go directly to give.lds.org/neo-natal.

To donate books for the school library at Hale Elementary School you can bring in a new book to the library and specify that it is in memory of Allison, or you can send a check that will be used to buy books for the school library. Checks should be made out to Hale Elementary School, contain the name “Allison Bowers” in the memo line, and can be brought to the school’s main office or mailed to Hale Elementary School at 1425 North 23rd Street, Mesa, AZ 85213. The books donated or bought will be marked that they are in memoriam of Allison Bowers.

Here is a brief video about death from Mormon Messages. In it, Pres. Monson expresses his testimony of the Plan of Salvation and of life after death.

Building Zion

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Sir Cecil Spring-Rice wrote a poem about his country (England) and a spiritual country. Both countries are deserving of devotion. The words are beautiful. Here are the words:

“I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

I heard my country calling, away across the sea,
Across the waste of waters she calls and calls to me.
Her sword is girded at her side, her helmet on her head,
And round her feet are lying the dying and the dead.
I hear the noise of battle, the thunder of her guns,
I haste to thee my mother, a son among thy sons.

And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.”

The speaker in the poem gives an oath to serve and protect his country. If that calling is war, he goes to war. Joseph Smith wrote in his letter to John Wentworth, an editor of the Chicago Democrat newspaper, these words: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” Wherever we live, we should honor and obey the laws. Yet, there is another country that requires greater commitment and devotion. This country is spiritual. It’s ruler is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He is its King. It is not protected by walls of stone but by faithfulness and love. It is a country of peace.

A number of English poets wrote of spiritual countries and themes. Another of my favorites is by William Blake. His poem Jerusalem was set to music and is the national hymn of England. In the poem Blake questions if the Savior’s golden feet ever walked upon England’s green mountains and pleasant pastures.

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire.

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

These words are stirring and powerful. Did Jesus ever walk upon England’s ground? He might have. We read in 3 Nephi: “And verily, verily, I say unto you that I have other sheep, which are not of this land, neither of the land of Jerusalem, neither in any parts of that land round about whither I have been to minister. For they of whom I speak are they who have not as yet heard my voice; neither have I at any time manifested myself unto them. But I have received a commandment of the Father that I shall go unto them, and that they shall hear my voice, and shall be numbered among my sheep, that there may be one fold and one shepherd; therefore I go to show myself unto them” (3 Nephi 16:1-3).

Jesus said that He was going to show Himself to others who were not in the land of Jerusalem or in the Americas. I believe some of those others He visited were from the lost tribes of Israel who were scattered into the north countries and across the face of the whole earth (see Ether 13:11). Many within the lost tribes (and some who were not “lost”) ended up in England. To them the Savior may have come. His divine countenance may have shone forth upon the clouded hills of England.

Blake also calls for the building of Jerusalem upon England’s hills. This is similar to the early Latter-day Saints who sought to establish Zion, a New Jerusalem. It was to be built in Missouri (but was not due to persecution) and someday shall be built in Missouri. We can build Zion wherever we live by building our lives upon righteousness. As we strive for and are blessed with purity of heart we will discover that Zion is no longer fled (see Moses 7:69) but stands on the rock upon which we build (see Matt. 7:24 and 3 Ne. 14:24). Yes, someday a literal Zion shall be built in the Americas and the city of Enoch will return from whence it was taken, but in the meantime, Zion is wherever the Saints of God, especially the pure in heart, dwell (see D&C; 97:21).