Category Archives: family

Why Do Good People Suffer?

Within our communities of happy, blessed people are also those who are quietly suffering. Some people feel a crushing loneliness. Some are in a painful marriage. Some have constant physical pain. Some people cry every day of their life. There are those who miss a husband or wife who has died. Or agonize over family members who wander in dangerous paths. Some people struggle with their faith. Others have an endless battle with finances. Some feel that they are a disappointment to everyone. Some people think about taking their own life.

Is it possible that someone in your family is secretly unhappy, while you and everyone else thinks life is just dandy? Some people’s struggles are easy to see. Other people struggle much more privately. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are the only one who struggles. That is a dangerous lie that will make you feel isolated, helpless, and unworthy of God’s love.

Everyone you see today is struggling with something. Every person you see – every rich and famous celebrity you see on television, every member of that seemingly perfect family sitting in the front row of your church congregation – is suffering with something.

Frustratingly, God doesn’t often explain to us why we need to suffer. When the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith, was crying out to the Lord from the terrible conditions in Liberty Jail, the Lord basically just told him those 5 words that no one wants to hear during adversity, “It’s for your own good.” (Doctrine and Covenants 122:7-8)

These words seem so painful and wrong when we are in agony.

After Job had suffered horrible losses and pain, God didn’t even explain to him about the devil challenging Job’s faith and devotion to God. Instead, the Lord just spoke about the goats, stars, ravens, oxen, and a bunch of other things that might have made sense to Job, but leaves the rest of us confused.

Even Jesus Christ asked the question, “Why has thou forsaken me?” and He wasn’t given an immediate answer.  No one is exempt.

Why do good people have to suffer? Why would a compassionate God allow so much pain in the world?

Much of the adversity we face in life, isn’t a trial, but the consequence of sin. These are not punishments, these are the results of our own choices. However, poor choices don’t cause all suffering. The Bible teaches us that difficulties rain down on the just and the unjust. (Matthew 5:45)

Sometimes we respond to this innocent suffering with resentment, bitterness, doubt, or fear. It isn’t easy to keep an eternal perspective while we are going through the hard times.

“Into every life there come the painful, despairing days of adversity and buffeting. There seems to be a full measure of anguish, sorrow, and often heartbreak for everyone. For some, the refiner’s fire causes a loss of belief and faith in God, but those with an eternal perspective understand that such refining is part of the perfection process.”  (James E. Faust, “The Refiner’s Fire,” Ensign, May 1979, 53)

Trials are unfair and pointless if this life is the end. If all you ever did was watch the middle part of every movie, they would all seem unfair and tragic. We wouldn’t understand the motives or the results of the character’s actions. We wouldn’t understand who people were or what they could become.

Buzz Lightyear and Woody would be homeless and hate each other.

Rocky Balboa would lose to Mr. T, get depressed and take it out on his wife.

Dorothy Gale would be locked up in the witch’s castle and the scarecrow’s guts would be thrown around by flying monkeys.

Joseph would be sold as a slave by his brothers and he would end up thrown into a prison for something he didn’t do.

The middle part of a story is almost always about pain, suffering, and hardship.  Similarly, every trial in our lives seems unfair and pointless if we view it in the short-term perspective of this life.

The truth is this: Suffering is good for us, and we should be grateful for it.

“…God-fearing people worldwide will never pray for freedom from trials. They will not surrender or panic. They will strive to put themselves in condition to meet and master troublesome trials.” (Marvin J. Ashton, Ensign, Nov. 1980, 54 )

I would like to countdown the top 10 reasons why we should thank God for letting us suffer.

#10 We must have suffering in order to have agency

The freedom to choose is the heart of being human. It is the basis of God’s plan of Happiness for us. To preserve agency, the Lord also at times permits the righteous to suffer the consequences of evil acts by others . We would never be free if God always stopped us before we hurt ourselves or someone else. This is why we have commandments. This is why some things are called evil. Heavenly Father didn’t just arbitrarily call some things bad, because he wanted to control us. Stealing isn’t against the commandments just because God wanted to say so. It’s against the commandments because it hurts people. Sin always hurts someone. That’s why it is sin.

To be honest, there have been a lot of times when I’ve asked God to ease my suffering, when what I’m really asking is for him to take away the consequences of sin or bad choices. It showed a complete lack of understanding of why we have consequences.

#9 Pain warns us of Danger

We hate pain. But without pain, the sick would never go to the doctor. When our bodies got tired and worn out, we wouldn’t stop to rest. Children would only laugh at correction. Criminals wouldn’t fear the law. Without the pains of guilt, we would never repent. Without the pains of loneliness, we wouldn’t seek companionship. Without pains of boredom, we might never do anything. And without the pains of emptiness, we might never seek God.

#8 Suffering can bring us closer to Heaven.

Again, if this life is all there is, then a life of pain is not fair. But the reality is that those who grow closer to God through pain, are more prepared for the next step. Those who let their hunger, grief, and poverty drive them toward the Savior, will find the truth in his words, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”

“Those who yield to adversity become weaker. To the valiant it is a stepping-stone to increased power. (Marvin J. Ashton, “Adversity and You,” Ensign, Nov. 1980, 54 )

#7 Suffering reveals what is in our Hearts.

Every story of greatness and achievement is generally the story of a person overcoming handicaps. There are lessons that can only be learned through the overcoming of obstacles. The Scriptures are filled with stories of prophets – ordinary men with extraordinary callings – who are faced with trials. Sometimes, the real trial of our faith is just to remain faithful without murmuring. Our own capacities for love and compassion, or even envy, hatred, and pride often lie dormant inside of us until brought to the surface by some sort of adversity.

Howard W. Hunter told of a young man who asked him why his mother had to suffer through a painful life if God is all-knowing and already knew how she would handle it. His response was,  “God already knows how your suffering mother will handle it, but she does not.”

And this is a principal that we often get. wrong. Heavenly Father didn’t send us here so that HE could find out what we are made of. He knows the beginning from the end. He knows our potential and our weaknesses. This life is for US to learn the depths of our OWN love, compassion, and humanity. It is for US to learn what our weaknesses are, and then make them strong with the Lord’s help. This Life isn’t so much a test with a pass or fail grade. But more of an aptitude test, to show us what areas of ourselves that need work. We can never learn how strong we are, until we are tested with resistance.

#6 Suffering builds our faith.

I mentioned earlier that God rarely reveals why we suffer. Job never learned why he lost all he had. There is a good reason for this. Job was left to conclude that if God had the power and wisdom to create everything, then it makes sense to trust Him in times of suffering. (Job 42)

If we always got the answer, then it wouldn’t really be suffering. It would just be annoying. When in crisis, our feelings make us THINK we need an explanation. However, what we really need are the resources to get through the trial.

#5 God always suffers with us.

Any parent who has had a child in the hospital knows the agony. Any parent who has watched their child make dangerous choices, understands the frustration and sorrow. Anyone who has felt the pains of a loved one, has a small taste of this principle. If we, being imperfect and worldly, can feel these feelings so strongly, how much more does a loving and perfect Fatlierin Heaven suffer along with our pain?

#4 God’s comfort is always greater than our Suffering

In 2 Corinthians 12, The Apostle Paul pleads with the Lord three times to remove an unidentified source of suffering that he compares to a thorn. The suffering isn’t removed, but the lord says, “my grace is sufficient for thee. My strength is made perfect in your weakness.”

Paul said, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul was comforted. He felt better.

Elder Richard G. Scott said,

To the sightless or hearing impaired, God sharpens the other senses. With the loss of a dear one, He deepens the bonds of love, enriches memories, and kindles hope in a future reunion. You will discover compensatory blessings when you willingly accept the will of the Lord and exercise faith in Him.” (Q&A: Questions and Answers,” New Era, July 2003, 16)

In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 Paul writes, Blessed be God, who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.

Which brings us to …

#3 Suffering helps us find and unite with our fellow men.

If you have ever been through a tragedy with someone, you know the bond that can form through suffering. Army buddies, missionary companions, spouses. Those people who have endured with us, understand us like no others.

The Jewish Community is bound together by thousands of years of persecution and hardship. They share a common history of trials that allow them to relate to each other in a way that outsiders can not understand.

Similarly, Mormons stand on a mountain of history that is filled with people united by suffering. Kirtland, Jackson County, Carthage, Haun’s Mill, Clay County, Nauvoo, Winter Quarters, Zion’s Camp. They all are synonymous with suffering. It is their history. The suffering helps create a feeling of brotherhood.

#2 God can turn our pain around for our good.

Remember, don’t only look at that middle part of the movies. There is an ending that makes us understand the hardships. Buzz and Woody become friends and find their way home. Rocky Does get back up after being knocked down. Dorothy does find her way home. Joseph of Egypt becomes the King. There is nothing admirable about a person who overcomes nothing. If we give up during the struggle, we will never know what happy ending might have been in store for us.

#1 Pain loosens our grip on this life.

As we get older, our bodies become worn out. Our joints get stiff and ache. Our eyes grow dim. We feel obsolete. Sleep is difficult. Our problems seem larger and our options seem smaller. I have spent a great deal of time with people as they get close to death. And I have come to see pain as blessing. Each new trial makes this life less inviting and the next more appealing. In a way, pain paves the way for a graceful departure. We stop looking back, and begin to look at what is next.

Each of us will have a time of suffering. No one is exempt. Each of us will, sooner or later, have to pass through that garden gate as our savior did, kneel, alone in darkness, and fiercely battle despair.

When we do, hopefully we will knowingly say, “Not my will, but thine be done.” And be thankful for what our suffering is helping us to become.

 

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Growing in Grandpa’s Garden

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I learned everything I need to know about life in my grandpa’s garden. I can not look back on my childhood without picturing myself doing some sort of work on that single acre of land that seamed to be the whole of my young world. Most of the family did occasional work in the garden, but no one spent as much time at my grandfather’s side as I did. I was his buddy.

When I was nine years old, I moved into my grandparents’ home. The reasons for this move vary depending on who you ask. It boils down to two facts: my home life was terrible and my grandparents wanted me. I can say with confidence that no matter how difficult that move was for me at the time, it was absolutely necessary if I was ever going to become a stable adult. I went from an environment which consisted mostly of long periods of loneliness broken up by the sounds of my parents screaming at each other to the peaceful stability of living in a home with retired grandparents.

Grandpa loved having me work with him in the garden. In his sly way, he made it very clear to me that nothing else was as important. I remember getting up one morning and walking across the cold, brown linoleum of the Kitchen floor and eating a breakfast of basted eggs and fried baloney with Grandpa. “How are you feeling today, Wessy?” he asked.

“Okay,” I answered as I washed down my breakfast with our traditional icy cold pepsi. It was a different time with different ideas of diet.

He mixed another hot pepper in with his runny egg yolk and then said, “You know, if you weren’t feeling good and you stayed home from school today, you could help me rototill the tomato patch.”

“Would you let me run the rototiller?” I inquired.

“Sure,” came his reply.

I pondered this while staring down at my red plastic plate and stirring my egg yolks with my spoon which had the letters US stamped on the handle from WWII. (My grandmother had picked these spoons out of the garbage can in back of the USO building. Sometimes the soldiers would accidentally drop one into the garbage as they emptied their food tray. I still use these spoons every day.)  “I really don’t feel all that good,” I said.

“Well you better go tell your grandma you can’t go to school today,” he suggested. And I scampered to my grandma’s bedside to tell her how sick I felt.

To the casual observer who might have seen my grandpa and me working in the garden, it might have seemed like he was ignoring me. He didn’t talk much as we puttered the days away. We didn’t have to talk very much. We were so much a part of each other that there was no need for chit-chat. There were long periods of comfortable silence that passed between us as we dutifully worked the garden. When we did speak, it was usually about an important principle of life that I wouldn’t have recognized without his direction.

I remember how we would pound wooden stakes into the ground at either end of the field with itchy twine strung between them to guide us as we hoed the rows for irrigation. The rows had to be straight and carefully tended during each watering because even a small blockage could cause the water to back up and flood portions of the crop. Grandpa saw this as a teaching moment and he likened it to our lives. He said that sometimes a problem can seem small and unthreatening, but if left unchecked it can cause irreparable damage. He would remove the small blockage with head of his hoe and the water would flow freely again. He talked about repentance and how it can get us progressing again.

The first time I saw a diagram of the Plan of Salvation was when it was drawn with a stick in the freshly tilled soil of my grandpa’s garden while he explained why we needed a Redeemer.  It seems strange to say that one of my fondest memories of home is the dirt, but it is. Besides being the chalkboard for my grandpa’s garden classroom, it was the vital element that brought life to the garden. And Grandpa taught me how to read what it was on it, and in it. He would reach his calloused hand into the tilled ground and remove a fistful of dark, rich soil. He knew by smelling it and sifting it between his experienced fingers what ingredients needed to be added to the earth before it was ready for planting. Once the judgement was made, we would spend days adding manure from the chicken coup, or compost, or some other organic material to the soil until it was finally perfect. I learned that when the soil is right, it has a feel and smell that will ring true to the often neglected recesses of one’s soul.

Much of the bounty from our labors never made it into the house for others to enjoy. We would relish it together as we sat silently with our backs against the woodpile, glorying in what we had produced from the land. I still can hardly stand to eat store-bought tomatoes because they are only tasteless imitations of the dark red beauties that grandpa and I ate together, salting them with shaker that he kept hidden in the toolshed.

When the Summer sun would get too much for us, we would take a drink of the cold well water that would always chill our teeth. Sometimes Grandpa would pick a cantaloupe. We would rest in the tall weeds under the cool shade tree and enjoy the hot, juicy sweetness of the sun-baked melon as he cut off slices with his little pocketknife. It wasn’t always a cantaloupe; sometimes it was boysenberries gathered in his panama hat, or a handful of pea pods that we would shell together, or a pomegranate that we would slowly share, staining our fingers and leaving tiny crimson droplets on our dirty jeans that would remind me of the experience for months afterward. Even a crunchy raw turnip was a savory treat when picked and eaten with grandpa. I can remember sitting in the shade of the grape arbor, eating sweet seedless orbs and watching the trains that passed on the tracks just west of our property. And Grandpa would tell me of his experiences in the war — tales of horror and fear that I now know he rarely shared with other people. Sometimes I wonder why he confided so freely in me.

On December 1st, 1980, Grandpa was diagnosed with cancer. Ten days later he was dead. I was 12 years old. It was a long time before I could go into our garden again. When he left, he took the garden and my world with him.

As I got older, I found out that the things I learned in the garden didn’t matter to the world. Sure, it was a fine life for a retired old man — it was good therapy — but I was expected to be more productive, be ambitious, make money. But I felt out-of-step with the world around me. Everything seemed too fast when compared to the natural pace that I learned in the garden. Life rushed by me in a blur before I had time to even make sense of it.

My younger sister, who was raised by my parents in the home I escaped, is a successful accountant with her own firm. She is a go-getter who doesn’t rest. I’d never survive in her world.

For a while, I worked the garden by myself. I did it on a smaller scale, but it was still a lot of work for a kid, but it helped me feel close to Grandpa.

Over the years, the garden became smaller and smaller as I fewer family members visited and grandma and I didn’t need a big garden. As Grandma grew older and I became her caretaker, the garden became little more than a barren field. It is interesting how something that was so fruitful and beautiful with just a little dedication turns into an ugly wasteland as soon as it is neglected. I’m sure Grandpa would have found a life-lesson in that fact, too.

For many years, the garden neglected. After I married, my wife and I spent the first few years of our marriage living in a tiny shack in the back part of that property. I cleared the land and planted tomatoes, squash, beans, corn, and peppers on a section of it. I discovered that it is impossible for me to do gardening without feeling my grandpa around me. That’s not a complain, it’s more of a boast.

My wife and I moved away and have a home of our own now. I have a small vegetable garden in the backyard. I have filled our front yard with plants and flowers that I have grown from clippings or scavenged from other sources. I have beautiful succulents growing in pots and flowers blooming in beds. I often get compliments on our yard and interesting plants.
Grandpa is with me when I work in my own yard, too. I think about him and my childhood whenever I work in the yard. It’s funny how those simple times from so long ago have stuck with me.

My family still refers to that area as “the garden”, though anyone seeing it now for the first time would wonder why. It makes me sad to see it.

My wife and I plan to buy a few acres outside of the city in the next few years.  I can’t wait to plot out my garden, raise chickens, and shake my fists at goats.  It will not be in the place I grew up, but it will feel more like home than anywhere I’ve ever been.

I think about those things I learned out in the garden and I am grateful for those character-building lessons. I have noticed that the things I learned while gardening with Grandpa have done nothing to help me become successful or wealthy in the eyes of the world. I suppose I shouldn’t have skipped school as often as I did.

But when life becomes difficult, the things that help me make it through are not the things I learned in school, but the patience, faith, and character that I developed while working with Grandpa in the garden.  So that was the best school of all.

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Grandma’s Hands

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On August 23, 1995, my grandma, Vivian Cisneros, finally died. I say finally because she had spent the last year of her life confined to the hospital bed that we had set up in the living room so that her family and friends and nurses could care for her more easily. She’d spent a month in a nursing home, but during that month her ankle was broken and bruises and sores kept appearing on her body. She began to lose touch with reality and she would flinch and shy away from anyone that came near her. We had a doctor evaluate her condition and he said it wasn’t uncommon for a patient in a nursing home to experience Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome from the rough handling that they receive there. After all, he said, these people aren’t loved by their care givers. We brought her home that very day and vowed that we would take care of her ourselves, no matter what the sacrifice.

Once home, she relaxed and seemed to be much more at ease, but she never fully regained her faculties. She had lost touch with this world and was looking forward to the next. During the last few months of her life, she spent more time staring into the corner of the living room and having conversations with dead relatives then she spent talking to those of us that were still here. So when I say that she “finally” died, I say that only because I know she is where she wanted to be, not because I wanted her to leave. When it came to my grandma, I was selfish. I would have much rather had her stay here with me, no matter how much she needed to go.

I was kneeling by her bed and holding her hand when she died. After she took her last breath, I lowered my head and cried. I remember looking at her hands through my blurry eyes and thinking about all of the ways that those hands had influenced my life. Now they were thin and bony and her tendons were tight and ran under the skin like wiry cables. Blue veins criss-crossed up and down like lines on a road map just under her delicate skin which had become thin and transparent like tissue paper.

I thought about how many diapers those hands had changed. There wasn’t a member of our family who hadn’t been bathed, powdered and diapered by those hands. Besides family members, Dozens of other children spent their days being pampered by those hands in the daycare she ran from her home.

I remembered Grandma’s comforting hands patting my back as she sang me to sleep and rocked me in her chair. I have vivid memories of my grandma’s hands holding a counting book in front of me, turning the pages as I sat on her lap and pointed to the pictures of kittens and ducks and pigs and counted them out loud.

Those same hands taught me the seemingly impossible task of tying my shoelaces into bows. She gave me an old shoe and guided my fingers as I knelt at the green footstool in front of her rocking chair and practiced making the complicated loops and tucks.

I remember standing with her at the kitchen sink, watching her wash the brown and white eggs that I had just gathered from the chicken coup. Her hands moved quickly and carefully, never breaking a single egg. When I was young, and my own fingers were clumsy, I was impressed by that.

In the summertime, those hands pulled countless bee stingers out of my hands and feet as I cried and fought her. The orange, stinging medicine that she would apply afterward seemed worse than the sting itself. She would tell me to blow on it to stop the sting of the medicine, but I think that was just to keep me busy or make me dizzy and hyper-ventilated.
Throughout my childhood, grandma’s hands always smelled like onions, or garlic, or yeast from the meals that she was constantly cooking for the endless stream of cousins and aunts and uncles that flowed through the doors of our house. I remember thinking that Grandma’s hands smelled like dinner whenever she would touch my cheek or brush my sweaty blond curls off of my forehead.

Those hands of hers gutted dozens of chickens on the kitchen counter after my cousins and I would bring them in after they had been beheaded and plucked by my grandpa and uncles in the backyard. I remember being glad that I was a boy and would never have to sit at that counter with grandma, like Tammy and Lisa had to do, and learn how to cut open the chickens and take out their guts. Swinging an ax in the backyard with the men was much more fun.

Those hands taught me how to do long division when my fourth grade teacher couldn’t  Grandma would teach me how to do the work and then she would make up a dozen or so problems on a clipboard and have me practice. Once I mastered those, she would give me another dozen that were a little harder. Because of those late nights with her, I usually went to school knowing how to do more difficult problems than were required, instead of feeling confused and behind the rest of the class.

Those hands gave me some of the worst haircuts of my life. I remember the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I heard grandma say, “Oops,” after a snip of the shears.
When I was in high school and didn’t want to get up to go to seminary, I remember her throwing a cold wet washcloth on my face as I slept, and then running away before I had the chance to throw it back at her. As angry as I was, I had to fight back the laughter at watching this chubby old lady try to run away quickly.

These were the same hands that wrote letters to me every week while I was on my mission, even when the ache in her arthritic fingers kept her awake at night. Sometimes the writing was so bad that I could barely read it. But I’m so grateful for those letters now. I remember one time she tried to type me a letter, but her fingers were so crooked that she couldn’t hit the right keys and it ended up being harder to read than her longhand. When I got home from my mission, I teased her about that letter and she threw her head back and laughed like a little child.

Once she became too feeble to care for herself, our roles reversed and it became my job to care for her needs. It was a way me to repay her for all of the years that she had spent caring for me. Part of this duty involved tending to those hands. I would file her fingernails and rub lotion on her hands to keep them soft. One day while I was clipping her nails, I accidentally snipped off a piece of her skin and she started to bleed. Grandma didn’t even flinch and seemed to be totally unaware that anything had happened. That’s when I realized how far gone she really was. It was only a few weeks later that she died as I held that very same hand.

As I cried and pondered the influence that those hands had on my life, I was struck by the fact that I had only been fortunate enough to have known them toward the end of their time here on earth. How much more must they have done when they were youthful and sturdy? How many other people had been influenced by those hands before I was even born? What experiences had those hands been through that led them to point when they first held me as a baby? I wondered about the first time those hands were held by a boy. What did they look like when they were young and nimble?

Fortunately, in a final act of giving, those hands had worked daily to supply some answers to these questions. Those hands had left behind volumes of journals and diaries, written out tediously in longhand over a lifetime. I cherish those stories now because they teach me what my grandma was like before I came into her life. By reading them, I know I will be able to recognize those hands when I hold them again — when they won’t be the old and worn out hands that I had known in my life, but the youthful and strong and perfected hands of woman who had spent a lifetime in the service of her family.

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