When I was sixteen I was so excited to receive my patriarchal blessing. I was anxious to see what if anything it would say about my future husband. I thought that it might give me some glimpse as to the magical fairytale that I was about to experience. To say I was boy crazy at that age would be a bit of an understatement. I remember sitting around with friends daydreaming about early married life and talking about how many kids we wanted and what neighborhoods we would raise them in, not for one moment thinking there might be a different plan in store for us. I remember a friend’s mother sighing as she listened to us talk about our futures and warned us, ladies; married life is when the hard stuff comes. But at sixteen we knew better and we knew we were destined for enchantment.
When I met my best friend it was like magic and I knew, after spending time with a few toads, that this was the man from my blessing. This was the good and faithful man who would take me to the temple and love me for eternity. And for five years it was blissfully perfect, full of travel, adventure, friends and family. It all came so easy. And then our daughter was born.
In July 2010 Lila came to our family. She was so gorgeous. White blonde hair with blue eyes framed by the longest eyelashes you had ever seen. And for two whole months I thought that my perfect little family was beyond what I had even daydreamed it could be back as a teen. Then the doctors started to voice concerns and specialists were summoned. Every new appointment found a new problem with our perfect baby. We were told that something was very wrong and that they weren’t sure that she would gain even basic life skills. We worked constantly with therapists and tried early intervention only to be disappointed month after month. My little girl could never lift her head up, couldn’t eat on her own, roll over, see very well or even communicate at all. Finally at fifteen months we got the earth shattering news. Our daughter had a terminal genetic condition called Vici syndrome. Most kids didn’t live past the age of three. She would never develop and would never be able to communicate. She would be constantly sick, need 24 hour care and would seize all the time. My daughter would never call me mom, would never go to a daddy daughter dance and would never give her little sister advice about boys. My fairytale was crumbling.
For months I was in a dark place. Angry at my circumstances and mourning the loss of the expectations of what was to be. I struggled with the idea that this was now my life. That the special needs world had become my reality and my new community of mothers would be discussing seizure meds and wheelchair options not play dates and preschool. I looked at my friends and family who had healthy children with envy and at times self-pity over took me.
During this time my best friend struggled to cheer me. He wanted so much to take away the pain of a grieving mother and yet he couldn’t. He stood true and epitomized the quote by president Hinckley when he says. “ I am satisfied that happiness in marriage is not so much a matter of romance as it is an anxious concern for the comfort and well being of one’s companion. Any man who will make his wife’s comfort his first concern will stay in love with her throughout their lives and through the eternity yet to come.” And slowly with his support and many others I began to see that this non-fairytale life was more beautiful than I first thought it could be. I still had a wonderful family and an incredibly sweet partner in the journey and finally that I really did have the absolutely perfect daughter. Lila may have not been able to say the word mom but I felt her love every time she laughed at my voice and smiled when I held her. Being in constant service of her was in no way burdensome. It was impossible not to fall in love with her. My life was happy. It was full of love.
Through a miracle we were able to welcome our second daughter Ruby into the world. Knowing that these sisters wouldn’t have much time together we decided to name Ruby for Lila’s birthstone. That way Ruby would carry a bit of her sister with her. Life for eight months was again very nearly perfect and while it was looking a bit different than I had once dreamed, it was just as joyful as I had hoped.
In April of this year my sweet angel Lila got sick for the thousandth time and just like she had always rebounded before I truly thought she would be just fine. The hospital even let us go home explaining that it most likely was the common cold. Four days later she quietly fell asleep and never woke up. I thought that having a special needs child would be my hardest trial but as it turns out not having her is a hundred times worse. My whole world has been shattered. Being Lila’s mom for the past four years opened my heart and saw me through the refiners fire. She was my constant little companion and my world revolved around her. As I wrestle with my grief I have questioned why my amazing daughter had to endure it all. Was it only for me to realize to be happy with Heavenly Fathers plan? To see our blessings through the trials? Or was it simply to give love and feel the peace of heaven when you held her? I am sure Lila came to us at this time for many reasons but I have come to understand that she came here most of all to be a part of an eternal and ever loving family.
About a week after Lila passed Quinn and I headed downtown to walk around temple square. As we pushed our eight month old in her stroller and ached over the emptiness that her big sister had left we began to talk about our wedding. I pondered that it was amazing that we didn’t even know the gravity of what we were doing on that day. Yes I realized that I was marrying this amazing and sweet guy but I had no idea that what I was doing that day would let me be with my first born again after her death. That kneeling at that alter would entitle me to hold those tiny hands that are a perfect match to mine. How could I ever grasp the love of a mother who is desperate to see her beloved daughter? How could I have known that what Quinn and I were doing on that day would make Lila a part of our family for eternity.? I love that as I was being sealed to Quinn I was also being sealed to Lila and to Ruby. As Spencer W. Kimball said, “ Marriage is perhaps the most vital of all the decisions and has the most far-reaching effects, for it has to do not only with immediate happiness but eternal joys as well.”
Temple marriage opens up the most wonderful blessing that we can partake of in this life, an eternal sealing to our loved ones. Whether we are sealed to a spouse with children of our own or are children with parents who have been sealed we have been ordained to be permanently connected to our loved ones.
In Doctor and covenants section 130 verse 2 it states, “And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there; only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.” How sweet is this promise. My little girl will remember me and our interactions and activities in this life. But she will have eternal glory, a perfect body. She will be able to join in on the family dance sessions instead of me twirling her in my arms. She will be able to freely swim, her absolute favorite activity, with strong arms and sturdy legs, beating, I am sure, her once competitive swimmer mom in a race.
Robert L. Millet said, “ Love is intended to last longer than time, to span the veil of death and continue everlastingly.” The love between Lila and I is so pure and fervent. She couldn’t vocalize but I was able to understand her, small variations in her facial expressions told me so much, if she was uncomfortable, sick, happy or about to give you the most amazing smile. A tiny flick of her eyes told me all I needed to know. She could read me as well and was especially cute and happy on days that were a struggle. How could that kind of love be anything but eternal? You cannot tell me that a loving Heavenly Father would want nothing more than to see me with my daughter again and for her to finally be able to find her voice and tell me the words that I have so longed to hear.
At the beginning of April of this year at general conference president Uchtdorf gave a talk. In it he stated, “We are made of the stuff of eternity endings are not our destiny.” I remember that quote hitting me hard as I sat on the floor helping my immobile child color in the conference packet her grandmother had made her. Endings are not our destiny. How much those words would comfort me when just a few weeks later I was in my daughter’s hospital room on Easter Sunday partaking of the sacrament. The spirit overwhelmed me as I took the bread and water knowing that because of the savior my sick little Lila would be whole and have eternal life. I remember looking at my partner and feeling grateful for the decisions that we had made, for not only would Lila be made whole but that we would be with her. That Sunday would be her last in this world.
On a very rainy Saturday morning I took my girl in my arms and assured her that if she had to leave her broken body behind that she could. I told her of my absolute love and that I would be with her again. Minutes later she closed her eyes and peacefully left her small, damaged and inefficient body.
Endings are not our destiny. These words mean more to me now than ever before. As the months without my daughter have been the hardest of my life I am consoled with the knowledge that this separation is but for a moment. Because of our merciful savior and the sealing powers of the priesthood I will see and raise my girl again one day. She will call my name and tell me she loves me, She will dance with her dad and she will share stories and advice with her baby sister. I know this to be true, because a life without my Lila makes no sense. I simply cannot fathom it. She is still very much apart of our eternal family.
I am so grateful for this gospel, for the atoning sacrifice of my Heavenly brother and for the mercy of my Heavenly Father. I am humbled and indebted to the sealing powers of eternal marriage. I am grateful for that beautiful fairytale.
A you can see Kristi and I are not shy to share our feelings about the recent loss of our little girl. She is with us every step of the day. Since the day of her passing she has permeated my thoughts and actions. I reflect on my time with her often and marvel that see picked me. Lila presented a very unique situation for Kristi and me. We knew early that all would not be well. And so we grieved. The sadness and anger came and overflowed. Looking back I know those feelings have never gone away completely nor will they eventually disappear. Eventually decisions needed to be made and as a family we decided that happiness was our only real option. Together we turned to the Lord and the Spirit showed us light. We received an appreciation for Lila’s perfect spirit as well as a deep sense of gratitude for the knowledge of her eventual reward. Despite those choices we made, things got much worse until she eventually couldn’t stay with us. Now we grieve again and the feelings of doubt and fear and anger return only now they come more often and stay too often. And those decisions we have made before must be made again and again and again. I look out at this group of Latter Day Saints and I know doubt and fear and pain and trials accompany many. Loss and failure are a part of life that everyone will feel and so we come back week after week making those decisions to commit to Christ regardless of anything else knowing full well we will come up short and things won’t goes as planned but exerting any faith and hope that we have a loving Heavenly Father who will help us. Lehi attempted to convey this to his son Jacob when he said “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility. So why are we here? Am I just a small defenseless ship left to be tossed on the waves bound to an eventual crash into the rocks? Later in the same chapter Lehi reassures Jacob when he states, But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.
In that one short phrase we are definitively taught that good and bad come. And regardless of frequency or potency or duration of pain and sorrow, his desire for us is Joy. The first step to finding true happiness in this life is to acknowledge God exists. The second step would have to be what does He want for me? Picture a life in which your earthly parents never provided any direction towards happiness. The thought of a stale and unfulfilled life is enough to break the heart. In “The Family. A Proclamation to the World” there is a beautiful statement that describes our beliefs as to how far our heavenly Father wants us to progress. It states “ spirit sons and daughters knew and worshipped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress. toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny as heirs of eternal life.” In this marvelous statement we see the Plan of Salvation in its entirety. And woven into that statement is the truth that we achieve eternal life only through family. One is a spiritual family where as spiritual children we accepted our father’s plan and the other is our mortal family, which is the only way we get to this earth and continue to follow in the Saviors footsteps as best we can. In his book Mere Christianlty C.S. Lewis offers his insight as to just how far our Father wants us to progress when he stated “The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said that we were 'gods' and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him - for we can prevent Him, if we choose - He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.” I feel truly blessed to agree. So lets look at Heavenly Fathers plan for our progress while we are here. I think of my childhood and the relationship I have with my family now and I am incredibly blessed to see God’s hope in action for me. Is there anything good in this world that they don’t want for me? Do they at anytime hope that I fail and fall? Of course not! They do on the other hand understand by their own life’s experiences that you only progress because of the trials you face. I was taught and still am today taught through their words but more importantly example what a Christlike life looks like. Later in the proclamation to the world this is model is described. “Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. There is no better way to learn love, service, selflessness, and sacrifice than in a loving family.
The unfortunate and ugly reality is that for all the good the family does, not having that atmosphere I have described that I have enjoyed in this life can cause serious and sometimes irreparable problems. And I must recognize not everyone can describe his or her family life as I can. When I looked in the eyes of my two little girls on the day they were born I felt such a responsibility to protect and love them no matter what. But is it possible to neglect them? Could I ever possibly abuse these 2 angels in any way? Can I fail as a Husband or a father? A scary part of our Heavenly Fathers plan is for his imperfect children to bring perfect spirits into this world and teach them to walk a righteous path. Due to our inherent and learn imperfections, and we all possess many, it is a constant uphill battle to attract and apply the many good examples in this world while deflecting the attributes of the adversary. Selfishness, contempt and impatients are waiting at our front doors. I look at my life ahead and I see a minefield of possible failure and then I see two clearly defined footprints navigating the perilous terrain. The beauty of the Lord’s plan is that every day is a day of decision. Will I endeavored to live a Christlike life or not? Are my goals humility, patients, charity, and love or do I seek after something else? Weather you have been brought up in a loving family or not each day is a day of decision to provide a more clearly defined path to or Savior. Our prophet and apostles remind us of this responsibility when they said “Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, and observe the commandments of God” I taught a lesson in Elders Quorum last week on eternal marriage. I have tried not to duplicate anything so the elders wouldn’t fall asleep but there is a quote I used then that struck me as to the importants of a celestial family by Elder Nielson in his Oct conference 2008. He said, “ All church activities, advancements, quorums, and classes are means to the end of an exalted family.”
I now find myself at an critical crossroads in my life. On one hand I have one little girl who has returned to her Heavenly Father. In this life Kristi and I didn’t get to teach her all the lessons about our Savior that we were taught. Our role was changed somewhat from our expectation of teaching a healthy girl with imperfections to being a caregiver to a perfect angel with a broken body. I know she still learned from me. But I feel I learned much more from her than she learned from me. On more than one occasions I caught her rolling her eyes and sighing at her silly dad. It was as if she was saying, “ If only you knew what I knew.” On the other hand I have a 1 year old who has enough energy and passion for her sister and herself. All that I couldn’t teach Lila while she were here I can now pour into Ruby. And I have a feeling she will test every idea and theory that enters in to her head. Today I get to make the decision to teach her that her sister is waiting for us. I also get to teach her how we can all return to be with Lila and our Heavenly Father and Savior. I get to show her that our family is the most important adventure she will have on this earth.
So weather your past family experiences are filled with the love of Christ or not may we all today make that decision to make our future an endeavor to return to our loved ones and our Loving Father by strengthening our families foundation in Christ’s gospel. I close with one of my favorite scriptures 2 Nephi 25:26 And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.