Although this is not really a Christmas story, many years ago I found myself singing Christmas carols one sunny, September afternoon in a small, prairie cemetery. And, I did receive an incomparable gift.
Seven family members had gathered to inter the cremated remains of Judith, a cousin to some, a niece, and a wife. Judy’s husband had honored her desire to be buried next to her grandparents and so he had travelled from their home by the ocean. We were there to give our beloved cousin the remembrance that she deserved.
In my childhood and youth, Judith’s family had visited occasionally, and we knew her as beautiful, kind, graceful, artistic, and talented. She was raised in a Church-going home and attended Primary. As she got older, she embraced the 1960’s life style of being a flower child.
She was the freest of spirits, and wandered spiritually. During that era when hippies trekked to Morocco, Turkey and other exotic places, she spent some time in Afghanistan, doing who knows what. But we country cousins knew that her Primary teachers and mother wouldn’t have been happy.
Judith married and moved to one of the small islands near Vancouver Island and lived in a home without modern conveniences, such as electricity. She was kind to her neighbors and shared her huge garden with them. She wasn’t blessed with children, but doted on her large dogs.
She retained her beauty and elan to the end of her life, which came early when she was in her thirties.
Back to the small, prairie cemetery
On that September afternoon we spoke of Judith. Someone suggested that she loved Christmas songs and so we sang a few. The familiar carols soothed our hearts and gave us comfort and joy, as Christmas carols always do. The singing was something especially for Judy, almost like a prayer. We buried Judith and felt that she had been reverently loved and honored.
During the benediction to the interment proceedings, I received what I know was a personal revelation, a heavenly message, just for me. It was this: “Heavenly Father loves Judith as much as He loves me.”
While leaving the cemetery I said to my Dad, “Heavenly Father loves Judy as much as He loves me.” To this my father responded, “Of course!”
As completely embarrassing as this is to admit, I was perplexed, even though I was well into adulthood.
Was I mistaken on what being a “child of God” means? After all I had at least endeavoured to obey the commandments as my religious instruction had outlined and as my Primary teachers had so lovingly taught.
Was I the only little Primary Sunbeam who equated being a “child of God” with trying to “choose the right,” and almost nothing else?
How could I have missed the very essence of our relationship with our Father in Heaven. We are loved, period.
Spiritual lessons learned
After many years of thinking about this experience, this is how my thinking has concluded, for now.
When we live a certain commandment, we receive a blessing, even if the blessing is delayed. We are blessed when we help someone in need; when we are baptized; when we honor our parents; when we go to the temple; when we take a casserole to someone; when we pray; when we keep the Word of Wisdom [health code for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-days Saints], and on and on.
We are blessed because we have kept a commandment, not because Heavenly Father loves us more than someone who has not. This is because Heavenly Father and Jesus love us all. Their love is not conditional, but blessings often are.
We are simply loved because we, everyone on earth, are children of God.
The scriptures clearly state this and sermons from our present leaders add emphasis. Here are a few examples from April 2022 general conference.
The very first sentence from a talk by President Dallin H. Oaks says, “The gospel plan shows our Heavenly Father’s love for all His children” (“Divine Love in the Father’s Plan, “Liahona,” May 2022; emphasis added). He goes on to explain that much of the effort by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, such as temple building, is to enable God’s blessings to all. Or in President Oaks’ words, “The teachings and policies of the Lord’s restored church… can be fully understood only in the context of our Heavenly Father’s loving plan for all of His children.”
Also, learning from Elder Renlund in speaking to the Young Women of the Church, we are reminded that “You are a beloved daughter [child]. Nothing you do - or do not do - can change that. God loves you because you are His spirit [child]” (Dale G. Renlund, “Your Divine Nature and Eternal Destiny,” Liahona, May 2022). Parents easily understand this principle.
So, a spiritual message, a gift, a personal revelation was given to me. It was received with the acknowledgment and appreciation of its worth. Hopefully this gift has blessed my life in trying to see others as God views them, and with a greater understanding of God’s plan of love, grace, and eternal possibilities for each of us.