Last Days’ calamities are no longer just printed words of prophecy from scripture. We see them in screaming newspaper headlines, and many of us are experiencing them in painfully personal ways that bring up hard questions. I want to tell you how adversity is spiritually reshaping character and priorities of people I know, then reflect on a pattern given in 3rd Nephi that can help us face today’s challenges. First, some edited journal entries I’ve made regarding recent tragedies that have impacted me personally because they happened in my neighborhood, in my ward, to people I know:
Saturday, June 23, 2012: Today two houses in our ward burned down–a block from Mark and Heidi [my oldest son and his wife]. Their friends returned from a birthday party to find their house mostly gone, part of a three-alarm fire; their children ended up at Mark and Heidi’s for the evening, which increased the impact of the fire on my grandchildren. That day the thermometer had soared above 100, which didn’t help; all the neighbors were spraying their yards and trying to keep flying sparks from igniting dry spots in their lawns. Smoke billowed from the fire into nearby houses, leaving a residue of ash.
Tuesday, June 26, 2012: Beautiful six-year-old Sierra Newbold was kidnapped from her home in the middle of the night, assaulted and killed. Newbolds live two houses from the homes that burned, four houses from Mark and Heidi, about four blocks from us! The news felt unbelievable, an unwelcome reminder of the evil in the world and of the grief I felt when I first heard Brian [my son] had died tragically. I was teary and distraught, and called Peggy McFarland [my friend and counselor]. We did some emotional clearing and talked about the good that always comes from even the hardest times and reviewed the path of learning and comfort I have experienced since Brian’s death.
After our visit, however, I was still feeling the parents’ grief so deeply, especially since I know them, and I shed a lot of tears. I feel so helpless, so useless, so desirous of helping Newbolds, my children and grandchildren, and the people whose houses burned down, and I can barely even help myself. I know prayer matters, though, and that is something I CAN do. I called and put many names on the temple prayer roll.
Not surprisingly, Heidi, who is in her eighth month of pregnancy, went into early labor Tuesday afternoon. At the hospital they were able to stop it and sent her back home Wednesday on absolute bed rest. No small challenge with seven other children in the home.
By Wednesday, our neighborhood was full of pink and purple ribbons tied on every post, tree, and fence to honor little Sierra, especially along the canal where her body was found.
There were teddy bears, flowers, and ribbons all around the Newbold home, even though it was blocked off with police cars and yellow tape. I felt so sad, but my heart was warmed and calmed by this outpouring of love for the Newbold family.
Thursday, June 28: Knowing there is a predator on the loose, a spirit of fear has settled on the whole area. Thursday evening we attended a short prayer meeting at the church, called in an effort to extend comfort and give neighbors a chance to talk to each other.
The ripple effect of tragedy is unbelievable. Some good things: priorities are being realigned, people are coming together, but oh such sadness and no small amount of fear as the reality that people’s houses can go up in smoke, and the proof of “man’s inhumanity to man” has come so close to home. Reading about such things or seeing them on the news is one thing: having them happen to people you know and live near, is quite another.
Understandably, the children in the area are upset. My friend’s young daughter is sleeping on the floor by her parents’ bed, afraid to sleep in her own room. My grandchildren are asking hard questions that I wish they didn’t even have to think about. The many parents in the area who have little girls are worried to let them out of their sight. People are angry, hoping for early capture and punishment of the perpetrator. Who can ever measure the amount of damage this one person has done?
Our best source of comfort is gospel knowledge that the Lord always uses even the worst situations for good as much as we will let Him. Hearts are being softened, turned to Him. Hundreds of people attended the funeral on Saturday. My friend Jeannie brought me some food and gave me a detailed report afterwards, softening the blow that I did not feel well enough to go. (She told me that serving people suddenly seems so much more important to her than the many projects she had planned: an example of how priorities are being reassessed.)
Sunday, July 1, 2012: I’m so grateful I was able to attend fast and testimony meeting. I’ve never seen the whole congregation so sober, or the focus so totally on Christ. I was reassured when Sierra’s parents, Kathy and Brad Newbold, were the first to speak. They were calm and composed. Their teenage daughter and her fianc were next. They all expressed gratitude for the gospel message of hope in the midst of this awful situation. Carolyn Clark reminded us how her house fire twenty-five years ago had changed her priorities and been a blessing in the long run. Although I hadn’t planned it, I became absolutely sure I was supposed to bear my testimony; I spoke of the power of the Comforter and the love of the Lord I have felt since Brian’s death and my gratitude for the great healing, redemptive power of the gospel. I hope something I said made a difference.
July 10, 2012: Heidi called to tell me of the arrest of Terry Lee Black in connection with the murder of Sierra Newbold: the third major blow to members of my ward in two weeks. Ward members are relieved that a DNA match makes it as certain as such things can be that the killer has been caught, but here’s the sad part: Just over a year ago Black’s wife Gloria and their son Cody were baptized and have been active members in our ward. When Terry attended with them on rare occasions, I sat in Sunday School class with them. Gloria is a really nice woman and I hugged her recently. Cody was passing the sacrament just last Sunday. I can’t imagine what this is like for them. It is unreal to have all this happen so close to home, to people we know!
On TV and in the newspaper, Newbolds stated that they have no animosity toward Black’s wife and children. I’m proud of them for that.
Thursday, July 12, 2012: Another prayer meeting at the church. Newbolds were there, Gloria was not. The bishop announced that Gloria will need help moving soon-into her sister’s house. Many of us have extended love and support to both families, but Gloria feels an urgent need to leave.
Sunday, July 15: I wasn’t there, but heard that Gloria and Cody attended Sacrament meeting and Cody passed the Sacrament.
I admire their courage and I’m so grateful to live in a ward where people “get it”- that the gospel is about love and mutual support. I don’t know if the Newbolds and Gloria have talked together, but it appears that they are both doing their best to hang onto their faith and not escalate the tragedy.
Saturday, July 20, 2012: My new granddaughter, born early yesterday, was moved to Primary Children’s Hospital because of difficulty breathing. Congestion in her chest could easily turn to pneumonia. So sad for Heidi, who stayed down so much to avoid having another baby having to spend time in newborn ICU. She is in pain from a C-Section (her fourth!), and emotional pain from separation from her newborn. I feel for her.
Scriptural Messages for Our Day
Well, dear readers, that’s quite enough detailing of recent adversities in my part of the world. Now let’s discuss spiritual applications. Just how can adversity bring us to Christ? In Helaman 12:3 we read, “And thus we see that except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, yea, except he doth visit them with . . . all manner of pestilence, they will not remember Him.” Sadly, this message has proven true for the bulk of the people in all dispensations.
In 3rd Nephi, the survivors of the destructions (which were “caused” by the Lord, that the blood of the prophets and the saints would no more cry out to Him) were the “more righteous” segment. But God also allows innocent people, like little Sierra Newbold, to be killed. We all raised our hands in favor of agency in our pre-mortal state, but when man’s inhumanity to man strikes home, we may question why God does not step in and limit it.
Wayne Brickey’s excellent book Making Sense of Suffering helps us sort out the most puzzling questions, but only God knows the beginning from the end. Some of the answer is given in the Book of Mormon in the scene where Alma and Amulek watching the believing women and children burn. Alma 14:11 reads: “But Alma said unto him: The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.” Only God sees how His purposes can still be fulfilled in spite of atrocious use of agency and disasters that leave us reeling.
Here’s what I keep learning: adversity of all kinds CAN and often DOES help us remember our need for Christ and for repentance, and when we choose to turn to Him instead of away from Him in our adversity, we are blessed and healed. Whether the adversity comes through mistakes or even terrible choices of ourselves or others, whether it comes from random natural disasters or through the direct chastening hand of the Lord (think 3rd Nephi destructions), adversity CAN turn us to Christ in a more urgent, direct way than anything else. In its throes we are so much more inclined to remember Him, to kneel at His feet, plead for His help.
When I studied 3rd Nephi again recently, I saw the pattern there: devastating adversity followed by deep anguish, an invitation extended by Christ to come unto Him, the invitation accepted, and people find joy and healing. And I remembered that the stories in the Book of Mormon were specifically chosen because the Lord knew they contained messages we would need to apply in these latter days.
I also recognized something I have never thought of before: the people who gathered at the temple in Bountiful to receive the personal ministrations of the risen Lord were grief-stricken and traumatized to the extreme. The extent of destruction and loss of life in the new world at that time is beyond comprehension. We are told in the introduction to 3 Nephi 8that “Tempests, earth quakes, fires, whirl winds, and physical upheavals attest the crucifixion of Christ.” Many cities were burned, buried, or sunk into the ocean, destroying a huge percentage of the population. Then darkness covered the land for three days and the darkness was rent by”great mourning and howling and weeping among all the people continually; yea, great were the groanings of the people, because of the darkness and the great destruction which had come upon them.” (verse 23)
Anyone who has been in an earthquake for a few seconds can only begin to imagine the horror of three hours of death and destruction, followed by three days of black darkness. How unsettling and terrifying all that would be to the many children among them; it is beyond my comprehension. No wonder Jesus later blessed them one by one! I picture them with dirty clothes and faces (They certainly weren’t taking baths and doing laundry during the three days of darkness!) in shock, numb with fear from the happenings of the past few days. The world as they knew it would never be again. Everything had changed.
Then the Savior’s voice was heard by all. (Those people didn’t have electronic media to instantly inform them.) In 3 Nephi 9 we learn that Jesus Himself told them the extent of the destruction, even detailing what had happened to each city and why: “that the blood of the prophets and the saints should not come up unto me any more against them.” (verse 9)
But then Jesus gave them great hope with words that speak peace and consolation to us as well: “O all ye that are spared because ye were more righteous than they, will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you? Yea, verily I say unto you, if ye will come unto me ye shall have eternal life. Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me” (3 Nephi 9: 13-14). He tells them more about Himself and the redemption He offers and the sacrifice of a broken heart that He now requires.
And they were astonished, and there was silence in the land for many hours. (To have such silence, I wonder if the exhausted children were finally sleeping?)
And then the voice of Jesus came again, giving the invitation that rings out over the centuries and is offered just as new and fresh to us today: “O ye house of Israel whom I have spared, how oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if ye will repent and return unto me with full purpose of heart” (3 Nephi 10: 6). Oh the safety and warmth of being “gathered” under His wings!
Just as we are inclined to do, however, the people immediately went back to wailing and grieving their dead and being afraid, perhaps partly because of the unsteadiness of the earth. After shocks seem to have continued for that whole three days. Verse 9 tells us that only as the darkness subsided did the tremors quit: “And it came to pass that thus did the three days pass away.
And it was in the morning, and the darkness dispersed from off the face of the land, and the earth did cease to tremble, and the rocks did cease to rend, and the dreadful groanings did cease, and all the tumultuous noises did pass away.” Verse 10 begins with the interesting words: “And the earth did cleave together again, that it stood.”
Imagine what it must have been for those people to stand on unsteady ground in utter darkness for three days! And only then, when the earth “stood” steady, “the mourning, and the weeping, and the wailing of the people who were spared alive did cease; and their mourning was turned into joy, and their lamentations into the praise and thanksgiving unto the Lord Jesus Christ, their Redeemer.
The words of the Savior evidently “sunk in.” And they believed the promises Jesus had made, accepted His words, and in the midst of their grief and shock, they found joy. And so can we.
Gathering in Holy Places
Then, apparently as soon as the light returned and the tremors ceased, they began gathering at the place they deemed most comforting, most safe, most holy: on the grounds of the temple in the land Bountiful. They talked of Christ. Here again is a pattern for us. We gather in holy places, we have prayer meetings, we share our experiences, we talk of Christ. we go to the temple.
The people in 3rd Nephi then saw the living Christ, heard His teachings from His own mouth, and were healed and blessed by Him. Eventually we can experience that too, and in the meantime, we can spiritually come to Him, read and hear His teachings from the scriptures and from the mouth of living prophets. We can make our homes into holy places, and be healed and blessed by the power of the Restored Priesthood.
When a dear friend read this article he added, “Through the power of the Holy Ghost we too can feel His healing touch-I know, because I feel His touch, even as I write this. When the fires of adversity take us from a place of security, the Holy Ghost is there to comfort and guide us. If not for the comfort of the Holy Ghost I do not know how I could have possibly endured the trials I have passed through and am currently passing through.”
The Last Days: The Best of Times, the Worst of Times
It is a great privilege to live in these days when the fullness of the gospel is being poured out on the earth in unprecedented ways, when we can access the voices of living prophets day or night, in our own homes, at the click of an electronic device, no matter where in the world we live. However, last days people also face adversity on a grand scale.
The 9/11 tragedy was prelude to disaster on a scale few of us have before experienced. And we’re not talking just faraway tsunami’s and wars. We’re talking the devastation of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and fires in our own country, and countless human-caused tragedies such as the recent senseless shooting in a suburb of Denver.
Fulfillment of Prophecy
The Nephites were reminded that all the destructions and adversities were fulfillment of prophecy. In verse 9 we read, “And thus far were the scriptures fulfilled which had been spoken by the prophets.” And then verse 14 gives us a vivid challenge: “And now, whoso readeth, let him understand; he that hath the scriptures, let him search them.” When we follow that admonition, we find that the adversity unfolding all around us today is also fulfillment of prophecy. And if the bottom-line purpose of all this adversity is to bring us to Christ, is it working? Are we coming to Christ and asking Him for the strength and trust to face up to the hard questions adversity brings?
Can we use all the trials and tribulations to remind us of Christ’s admonitions? Can we respond to His invitation to repent and come unto Him today as the Nephites did so long ago?
“Will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you? Yea, verily I say unto you, if ye will come unto me ye shall have eternal life. Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me” (3 Nephi 9:13-14).
Here again, as Christ spoke to the Nephites so many years ago is the invitation and the promise given to each of us: “Therefore, whoso repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive, for of such is the kingdom of God. Behold, for such I have laid down my life, and have taken it up again; therefore repent, and come unto me ye ends of the earth, and be saved” (3 Nephi 9:22).
The Nephites who turned to Christ then, ushered in a 200-year period of righteousness and happiness. Those of us who turn to Christ now will have the privilege of ushering in the Millennium. What a grand and glorious prospect! What better motivation to endure, to stay faithful, to triumph through Christ!
DarlaIsackson has a rich background in writing and editing and has been one of Meridian’s most consistent and most-read columnists since 2002. To learn more about Darla and her books, Trust God No Matter What! and After My Son’s Suicide: An LDS Mother Finds Comfort in Christ and Strength to Go On, visit her website: darlaisackson.com. Also check out Barnes and Noble nook books and Amazon.com.