May 8, 2016

How Service has Blessed my Life, an ode to Mother's Day

I had the pleasure of speaking in sacrament meeting at church today and was given the topic of how service has blessed my life. Since today is Mother’s Day, I decided to start by talking about my amazing, incredible mother. Many of those in the congregation had the pleasure of knowing her, and I hope that after reading this, those of you who didn’t know her may be touched by her sweet spirit of selfless service.

My Mom and me
My mother set one of the greatest examples of service for me. Aside from her love for the holidays, her example of selfless service is my most vivid memory of her. She was so caring and loving to all around her, and always there with a kind word and a hug for those who needed a friend. I remember her often making meals for families in the ward and for the missionaries. She was almost intuitive with her ability to discern when others were in need, and she was spiritually in tune enough to recognize how she could best help meet those needs. 

Her favorite calling, and I even this remember to this day, was as Ward Compassionate Service leader. I remember that she was somewhat intimidated by the responsibility at first. She was worried she would forget someone in need. But, my mother fulfilled this calling beautifully, exactly as the Lord desired of her. I know so many people have had their lives blessed by my mother’s sincere acts of service.

After my mother passed away, her funeral service, both here in Texas and at her burial in Payson Utah, were filled with so many people in attendance—so many that the chapel was filled to capacity. Their lives had been touched by my mother’s genuine love and concern for them. She never even knew the impact she had. She never even knew she made a difference. She didn’t realize how often she served as an instrument in the hands of our Lord to help His children feel His love. She helped to bless their lives with her service.

With all the people she served, the lives she blessed the most were within her own family. My brothers and I were raised in a loving home built on the foundation of our Savior and His gospel. We knew our parents loved us, as they were always there for us. My mother served us in every possible way she knew how, without even having to think about it. She was there to comfort us when we were bullied or sad. She was there to support us in our aspirations and goals. She was there to encourage us when we felt inadequate, overwhelmed, or discouraged. We knew we could count on my mother, because of these small acts of loving service for us. 
The greatest service she did for us was to teach us the Gospel of Jesus Christ. She lived her testimony each and every day, in every situation. She likened the Savior’s teachings to just about every scenario in our lives. She taught us to live the gospel as she made sure we always had family prayer, family scripture study, family home evening, family church attendance, and as she and my father regularly attended the temple. She set the example of a righteous covenant-keeping woman of God. My life is forever blessed through her selfless service as she fulfilled her divine calling as my mother—a mother in Zion. Her example is the one I want to follow. I hope that one day I will be like her.

However, even with the love and service of my family, there was a time in my life where I lost sight of the things of God and instead found myself focused on more worldly pursuits. I fell into a dark place, especially after my mother’s passing, and there was a long time that I believed that I deserved all that pain, sorrow, and despair. I was filled with a poisonous guilt that was affecting every aspect of my life.  This rancid guilt had me feeling like it was too late for me, and that life would never get any better. Worst of all, I truly felt that I was unimportant—that no one cared about me and that I wasn’t worthy of being loved.

It was during this time that an inspired Relief Society president assigned to me the exact person I needed most as my visiting teacher. Month after month for a year she faithfully visited me, even though I was resistant at first. She would call to check up on me regularly. She remembered my birthday. I’m fairly certain she monitored my Facebook posts as she seemed to always be there for me during some of the hardest points in my life. Soon, her visits became a welcome light within all the darkness my life seemed to settle. She always invited me to start attending church again, without being pushy. Quite the opposite, she genuinely wanted me to be happy and she knew that the only way for me to achieve this was to return to the covenant path. Her friendship made me feel that there really were people who cared about me. I can’t describe what this meant to me, what it still means to me, especially at that time. She was the answer to my prayers and remains to this day, a blessing in my life. Her sincere, consistent service as my visiting teacher softened my heart to the point where I started to allow the missionaries to visit me and even attend church again, even when I faced serious opposition from another person close to me.

This faithful caring sister worked hand-in-hand with the elders in our ward at that time. I feel strongly that one elder in particular was assigned to my ward at that exact time for me personally. Each week, he and his companions visited me. Sometimes they would share a message, but mostly they would find ways to serve me. As my husband at the time was often not home, they would help me out with the yard work and the heavy lifting, specifically moving large pieces of workout equipment. I even remember one time they came over and I was frustrated after trying, and failing multiple times to get rid of a troublesome gopher that was ripping up my recently hydro-seeded lawn. They came at just be perfect time to solve my gopher problem, and I’m fairly certain they had a blast trying to figure out how to catch it. 

With each visit and each act of service from them and from my visiting teacher, my heart softened until I was ready to receive the message the Lord wanted me to hear. During one of the visits by the elders, I had a particularly trying day as I struggled with my relationship. I was facing quite serious opposition to the point of hostility about my church attendance and gospel involvement from my now ex-husband. It was that night, in the summer of 2013, that that Elder felt inspired to share the scripture that changed my perception and my life forever. If you’re curious, it’s Matthew 10:34. Basically, it says that nothing should be put before Christ and His gospel. He should always come first, and if He does, then everything else will either fall into place, or fall out of your life.

Those who served me and helped me back to the covenant path
That’s the moment that everything clicked for me. That’s the moment that I realigned my priorities with my Heavenly Father’s will. That’s the moment that I stepped back onto the covenant path. My life has been eternally blessed through the heartfelt service of that faithful sister and that faithful elder. Their love and support helped me to find my way back to the covenant path and back to my Savior. The blessings of their acts of service have eternal ramifications as it affects not only me, but my entire family to come.

There are so many more examples of how service has blessed my life. So many in fact, I couldn’t possibly name them all. So many friends, family members, ward members, and coworkers were there for me and my family during my mother’s unexpected passing with kind words, much-needed meals, beautiful flowers, a hug, and even with services and means donated that allowed us to have a beautiful funeral service and burial. Their love and kindness mean more to us than they could ever know. They were there for us when we most needed a friend, and when we most need to feel the Lord’s love in our lives. These caring people acted as His hands in our lives as they served us, and we are forever grateful to them.

In times of trial and great strife, I find solace in reaching out to and serving others. I have found that as I turn my focus outward, instead of inward, my problems didn’t seem so bad. As I helped to bear the burdens of others, it felt as if my own burdens were being lessened. But the greatest blessing I receive as I serve others, is the great outpouring of love I feel. I feel love for the person I’m serving, and at the same time, it’s almost like I can feel the love the Lord has for me. There is an increased presence of the spirit through this love, and that is an amazing feeling.

As I strive to emulate my mother’s example of loving service, I often find that the greatest blessings I receive come as I serve others. Through heartfelt service, our lives are blessed, just as the lives of those we serve are blessed. In fact, we will never know in this life the impact our service will have those we serve, just like those who serve us will never know the full extent they have impacted our lives. I think that is the beauty of service—all involved are better for it, and all involved can feel the love of our Heavenly Parents for them through it.

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