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It was Stake Conference and we went with friends who liked to sit on the cultural hall stage, towards the back of the huge gathering. One of the speakers was a woman who spoke about her wonderful mother, a woman whose kindness and tenderness guided her even today.
And I felt it. That pang I usually brush aside. Only this time it stung and stayed there, the reminder that I didn’t have a mother like hers, one I could have spent the day with shopping and lunching like girlfriends. I didn’t have a compassionate circle of sisters and a mother who came to help as each of my children were born. If anything, my stress skyrocketed if I knew she was coming over. For reasons I now understand better (though it didn’t help as I was growing up) my mother was not mentally healthy. She was critical, volatile, abusive, pick an adjective.
And my mind flooded with painful memories. I’m adopted, and more than once my mother said she wished she could take me back to where they’d gotten me. It created a fear of abandonment that plagued me for decades. Why did everyone else seem to have this phenomenal angel mother filled with unconditional love, and I was struggling just to keep breathing?
Over time I felt saved by my Savior, who knew my burdens completely. And I learned to use humor. It’s still my first reaction to most trials that arise, and the reason I write a weekly humor blog. Between my Savior’s rescuing love and my ability to laugh at most adversity, I’ve become an eternal optimist.
But not that day. That day I felt self-pity flooding over me, choking out my usual ability to bounce back. Again, I wondered how everyone else seemed to have this warm, supportive mother whose love knew no bounds.
It was as if every hardship I’d ever endured was looming before me in living color. And let me just say that we all carry wounds. Someone else’s bag of burdens could be far different—and even worse– than mine. I don’t feel I’m the only person who has suffered.
Soon the chorister was motioning for all of us to stand for a rest hymn. I held the book before me and sang along. From where I now stood, I could see everyone in attendance. And then it happened.
I felt a voice. I heard it in my heart and it echoed through my entire being. It simply said, “Who would you choose to take your place?” And I stared down at the packed cultural hall and chapel, brimming with members. Some looked familiar, some did not. But as I scanned the congregation a truth thundered into my being and I realized my answer was, “No one.” There wasn’t a single soul in this huge gathering—nor anywhere—that I would wish to take on my burdens. My eyes filled with tears and I had to stop singing.
And, as often happens with personal revelation, I felt layers of extra meaning, additional messages. I suddenly knew that I loved these people, even the ones I didn’t know. And I would never trade places with any one of them. I also felt the distinct impression that I had achieved the level of forgiveness for others that I had always thought beyond my ability. Even forgiveness for my mother, whose own life was so damaged I could only weep for her and hope she could find her own healing and peace. I thought of others who had hurt me and realized that, despite what they have done, I would never wish upon them the pains I had experienced. Never. I saw them as my brothers and sisters who had behaved badly because of their own harbored hurts.
And then I felt something else. It was a crystal clear impression that I had agreed to be my mother’s daughter. This was a trial I had willingly taken on. Tears flowed freely and I felt honored to have been placed in such a position. My lifetime of anguish was changed—in an instant—to a breadth of gratitude I had never imagined before. There was design, not happenstance. There was opportunity, not punishment. There was love flowing into me and from me, and I truly felt I had glimpsed a sliver of heaven. God knew that I would be born with a basically cheery nature and he knew I’d find a way to cope, turning to him for help.
My self-pity turned at once into self-determination, and a commitment to lean upon the Lord. The blessings I missed by not having “that perfect mom” was more than overshadowed by having that perfect Savior. Your trials may be completely different; it seems our problems are customized to what each of us can endure and will teach us the lessons we need. But God knows every tear you’ve shed, every sacrifice you’ve made. He really can reach into our hearts to share answers, meaning, and comfort.
Today I feel bathed in peace, surprised by his trust in me to endure and ultimately triumph. The love I feel for my fellowman actually surprises me, and has changed everything. It has given me eternal perspective. And how grateful I am for the still, small voice that spoke to me at exactly the perfect moment.
Hilton’s LDS novel, Golden, is available in paperback and on Kindle. All her books and YouTubeMom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.
GailJune 23, 2018
Thank you for posting this. It opened a place in my heart.
Patti H.June 21, 2018
So true! While I was not adopted, I grew up in a dysfunctional home with an alcoholic father and negative mother that I had great difficulty getting along with. When I joined the church at 17, I thought but never told anyone, "why was I sent to this family". Years later, in a blessing by my Stake President, I was told that, "I was sent to this family for a purpose" so that "that my heart would be softened". In that moment, I knew that it was for me to accept the gospel. This weight lifted and I began to see that every trial I have had is for a purpose to teach me something. I don't like them, but I do keep looking for the good and what I can learn. I have a positive, optimistic outlook and because I grew up in that environment, I have been able to help others, including youth, who struggle with similar issues. I now thank the Lord for having sent me to that family, because it has helped me be there person I am today.