Sign up for Meridian’s Free Newsletter, please CLICK HERE
I wrote this article title with a pang in my soul and erased Darla from the Meridian publishing calendar with the sense that this can’t be true. How can a voice so strong and radiant and encouraging, that Meridian readers have been hearing since 2001 so suddenly be gone?
Darla died Wednesday morning, Aug. 21, after a short bout with an aggressive cancer that was diagnosed only in early May. Less than six months to live became only weeks to live as the cancer triumphed in her body.
Her great hope was that she would have the strength and clarity to write one more article for Meridian because she had something more she wanted to say, but that article was never written and those thoughts passed with her. The strength to make it to the computer just one more time never came, so we are left wondering about her one last message, but I think I have a clue.
She wanted to remind us to love what you love with all of your soul and not to pretend you have forever. Do what you must do, including loving God with all of your heart now, because this is your moment of opportunity and death comes sneaking up when you don’t expect it.
Scot and I visited Darla and her husband Doug one night this summer, and we were the ones who came away lifted. Darla once wrote a book called Trust God No Matter What, and it was clear that night that trusting the Lord thoroughly permeated her soul. She had learned the lessons she sought to teach.
We talked together and laughed and she said that she had always had a 100% spirit in a body with 10% strength. Now, she was going to run and dance and climb mountains in the next life. She said she had confirmation from the Lord that this was her time to go and trusted Him. Her calm in the face of a ticking clock of mortality was astonishing and we talked about it easily together, just laughing in a mutual love we had long shared.
She wrote about it the next day in an article we published on Meridian called “What My Journey with Cancer is Teaching Me.” She said: “So many have told me they are praying for me and asking for miracles. I’m receiving miracles, in the best way possible: in my Spirit. I love the scripture, “Care not for the life of the body, but for the life of the soul”. I know God is not ‘doing this to me’ but that the whole process going on in my body is a result of natural law, the toxins I have been unremittingly exposed to, the damage done to my body by accidents, medications, and choosing to run faster than I had strength. But I know that God brings good from all things and I’m seeing that good in so many ways.
“I’ve been given some of the most direct and clear personal revelation of my life these past few days: that my job is not to ‘wage a valiant war against cancer.’ I’m not to ‘fight’ for the extension of my mortal life. I am not pleading for a longer life than He wants to give me. Instead I am praying for the strength to complete my life’s mission in the time He may allot.
“I’m finding the ‘peace that surpasseth understanding’ by surrendering my life to God’s will.”
She had written in the preface of her book, “As I look back on my most personal writing, the most prominent theme—running through it like a golden thread—is trust in the Lord, especially when things haven’t ‘turned out’ as I planned and especially when I am aware of my own weakness.
“Can I trust God with all of it? Can I see fulfillment of prophecies and know that God is not surprised? After all, this is His world and His plan.”
She shared a dream she had.
“A few years ago I was going through a hard time spiritually. One night I had an unusual dream—so real, so vivid. I saw myself driving alone up a narrow mountain road, shivering in the cold of a dark rainy night. Fear enveloped me. The road had no shoulder, no place I could now turn around or pull over, much as I wanted to. I was driving slowly, carefully, higher and higher up the mountain, but the road was treacherous and slick with rain. As I approached the hairpin curve, I suddenly realized I could not hold the road. I have never been more terrified as the car sailed off into black, dark nothingness. I was falling, helpless, knowing that I was going to die. The only thing I could do was surrender to God—give myself over total to Him. As I did so, my fear was swallowed up in the most intense, most amazing peace I have ever known. I felt and saw myself cradled safe and warm, in God’s loving arms, and nothing else mattered.”
This is what I saw in Darla the night we visited and in the many phone calls since then. There was such power in her peace and a swelling sense of gratitude about what life had given her.
She said, “If modern science could wipe out all disease, even re-engineer our bodies so we wouldn’t die, would God’s plan unfold? No. Disease and death are part of the plan that we agreed to when we shouted for joy for the opportunity to come to mortality. The person who fights valiantly against cancer, but dies, does not lose the war. Instead, they enter into the only portal possible that leads to a glorious resurrection.
Death is not a tragedy, but a graduation into far more glorious existence of learning, progress, and service.
“If I could choose to have my disease-ravaged body cured of cancer and live decades more in mortality, would I? No… I greatly cherish the thought of being able to move on and enter a sphere where our desires to bless others are not limited by time or resource or weak bodies.
“From a gospel standpoint we could say that the question is always whether we choose to turn to God and experience his great comfort and refining and teaching power or choose to use our pitiful store of knowledge to question and fight reality and turn away from God.”
We laughed together that night about one of the most astounding surprises of her life—to be blissfully listening to General Conference and have Elder Jeffrey R. Holland quote her. The surprise about knocked her off of her chair. He said,
”Around the Church I hear many who struggle with this issue: “I am just not good enough.” “I fall so far short.” “I will never measure up.” I hear this from teenagers. I hear it from missionaries. I hear it from new converts. I hear it from lifelong members. One insightful Latter-day Saint, Sister Darla Isackson, has observed that Satan has somehow managed to make covenants and commandments seem like curses and condemnations. For some he has turned the ideals and inspiration of the gospel into self-loathing and misery-making.3
“With a willingness to repent and a desire for increased righteousness always in our hearts, I would hope we could pursue personal improvement in a way that doesn’t include getting ulcers or anorexia, feeling depressed or demolishing our self-esteem. That is not what the Lord wants for Primary children or anyone else who honestly sings, ‘I’m trying to be like Jesus.’”
Her phone rang off the hook that day, and one of the sweetest parts to her was a letter Elder Holland sent thanking her for her spiritual insights and understanding, which still stands framed on her desk. A portion of which reads:
Your sweet letter following my general conference talk touched me deeply–far more than I can tell you. Please be assured that it is through faithful members like you that I receive great strength and endless blessings in my service. The beauty of the gospel is that we all have opportunities to be instruments in the Lord’s hand.
It could well be said of you, “And of some have compassion, making a difference” (Jude 1:21). Thank you for what you are doing to help others. Your empathy, compassion, and mother’s heart does make a difference.
She understood the tendency toward demanding lists of things to do and the self-criticism that followed when all was not accomplished. She knew what it was to have a self-imposed critic on your shoulder, and her personal spiritual strides to understand things differently was part of what made her come to such wisdom.
In working to lose that critic on her shoulder, which she came to see as Satan’s nagging and abuse, she wrote masterful things like this.
“One damaging lie of perfectionism is that we can get good enough and sinless enough not to have to bother the Savior for His help. If we recognize this counterfeit gospel as anti-Christ, Satan changes his tune and tells us that it takes near perfection to get good enough to be worthy of the Savior’s help.
“Whenever I get caught up in perfectionism, I need to say, ‘Lord, help me see this in a different way, Your way. Help me to see the truth.’”
When I was a young mother I often started my day feeling that I was on trial: that my whole life was a test and I was often failing. It was not a happy way to live! As my life unfolded in ways I had never expected, I often thought: if life is a test to see if I can create the ideal, I have failed. But if life is about learning, then I have truly created an ideal environment for that! One of the most important things I ever learned is that life is truly about learning and that I am not moment by moment ‘on trial.’”
“No trial goes on forever! Every winter of the soul melts into spring. Our whole time here on earth is temporary! The oft-quoted scripture ‘And it came to pass’ is literal. Nothing here in mortality comes to stay! All the bad stuff is temporary!
The struggles we have here will pass, the problems will be resolved, the tears dried. And when all is said and done, when we get to the other side, we would probably be disappointed if our mortal stay hadn’t been rough and challenging—and sometimes very cold—because we prepared for it and expected it to be that way.”
“The Lord’s assurance means it is as good as done. God never lies. His promises are sure. And we can put our names on scriptural promises and claim them for ourselves because the Lord says, ‘What I say unto one I say unto all’ (D&C 93:49). Doubt and fear flee in the face of His assurance that the dawn is coming. And even though his timetable may be very different from ours, His dawns are never late.”
“Yet how differently we may define ‘good gifts’ from the way He does. A child would define candy as a good gift. However, any parent knows that to give in to a dearly-loved child’s pleading for sweets instead of nutritious food every meal would compromise the child’s long-term health and well-being. How much more so does our loving Heavenly Father give priority to our long-term interests. He mercifully withholds blessings that might taste sweet to us at the moment but would erode our spiritual health in the long run. He gives us gifts with the most eternal dividends, even when they may seem anything but “good gifts” to us at the moment. The Lord cares less for our present comfort and more for our ultimate growth and education. He cares less for our momentary ease and happiness and more for our eternal joy.
“That means each of us can be certain we are safe with God because our greatest good is His priority! We simply need to believe more in what God says than in what we see. God’s promises are sure—but it is easy to interpret them in our own way to mean what we want instead of what He means. He sees everything in the perspective of eternal purposes.”
Snow on the Daffodils
“The cold reality that time in this life is limited encouraged me to look at my tendency to hurry around and get everything done except really living…
“I couldn’t help but yearn, as I sat by my father-in-law’s bedside in his final hours, to be more alive while I AM alive! Why is it so easy to push aside the activities that make me feel alive, I mused—such as looking up through the pink cherry blossoms at the blue sky? Why did I visit the gorgeous canyons that always rejuvenate my spirits only twice last year? Why did I forgo the bright colors of autumn on the Alpine Loop last fall when it is one of my favorite things in the world to see? Why is it hard sometimes to put aside my to-do list and just play with my grandchildren? Why do I resist taking time to play the piano, water color, write something new and creative? I made up my mind to do better.
April snow soon melts; however the snow of our afflictions may seem like a never-ending winter…. When we look back on the snowy times with the Lord’s perspective, we will see that the afflictions do last but a small moment compared with all eternity. In the meantime, as we turn to Him, the Lord will help us make wiser decisions in the use of our time. He will help us live each day while we are yet alive, holding tight to our faith in eternal spring.”
Darla’s Earned Wisdom
Darla was wise and shared her insights with great generosity and hard work, but hers was an earned wisdom. It is the essence of the mortal journey that we should earn this wisdom if we are willing. She was. We had talked before of the bondage we both understood—the idea of having a critic on your shoulder wheedling you that you are never good enough. We both had that voice and both sought the Lord to heal us from being open to the constant accusations.
That is why one of the most glorious moments in our last night together was this. She fell onto her chair and with animation said, “The critic on my shoulder is gone. It is just gone. I never thought that would happen in this life time, but the Lord has blessed me, and I am free.” We both clapped our hands together and cheered. It truly was about trusting God no matter what and not your own strength which will always in the end fail.
I cannot begin to say how much I will miss Darla as will all the Meridian readers who have feasted for so many years at her table. But I have a personal reason as well. Scot and I know what it is to receive a steady stream of kind letters from her. Just when the hours at the computer seemed too long or one more obstacle was thrown up in a mortal life that is naturally full of them, a loving note would come from Darla. It would often start with the greeting, “Beloved friends”. Those words alone were enough to cheer your day.
Take this note to us from her on June 8:
“I could never overestimate the positive influence you have had on my life. Or the love that I feel for you. It is a glorious thing to know that such love can continue and grow in the next life. I could never express how dear you both are to me.
Or just two days later:
“You always make me happy.”
This was after her diagnosis of only weeks to live and though she is ostensibly talking about us, what they say is really about her capacity for love.
Or try this, when I had turned down an article she suggested for Meridian: “Dear friend, I can always count on you for clarity and wisdom when I can’t find it myself. Thank you for your clear thinking and as always for your love and friendship.” This was written only three weeks ago.
When Scot and I left her home the night we visited her, we said to each other in the car, “I will die better and with more grace, having been with Darla tonight.” But in reality, I know I will live and love better for knowing her. Her words will linger here on earth, though she has gone, giving us courage and perspective. And maybe that will mean that she never really leaves us at all.