What I Want in my Easter Basket

Like any good American, I celebrate the commercialized Easter with gusto.  With a toddler in the house, it’s almost impossible to resist the urge to organize egg hunts, fill Easter baskets, decorate eggs, and dress my offspring in theperfect—Easter—outfit. Growing up, I remember Easter mornings we’d rush eagerly downstairs, finding our baskets packed to the brim with treats and presents.  As I look for gifts and egg fillers for my little man, I can’t help but feel nostalgic for my childhood Easters.

Then I saw all the religious posts on Facebook, reminding me of the seriousness of Easter and killing my holiday buzz—thanks folks.  They reminded me that I’d become distracted from Easter’s true purpose—remembering Christ.  The baskets and egg hunts have nothing to do with the real Easter, they chastised me. And as I clicked on the videos of His Atonement, crucifixion and Resurrection, I couldn’t help but feel like all my Easter gifts paled in comparison to His.

Easter Sign

So, with my irreligious holiday exuberance tapered, I started to think about my Easter basket (my figurative one, of course—no one makes an Easter basket for moms).  What gift would I really like to find in my basket on Easter morning?  Once I gave it serious thought, I quickly found my answer—it was Christ.  I want Christ’s compassion and love in my Easter basket this Sunday.

I thought about His immense capacity to love and to forgive.  The ability to forgive and to love is hard for me, in part because I had a difficult childhood.  In fact, it’s very hard for me to forgive the people who hurt me as a child.  Their thoughtless, cruel actions have left scars; these scars pain me and affect me to this day.  Is it even possible for me to put forgiveness for these people in my basket?

But see, the wonderful thing about a holiday that focuses on Christ, is you get to think about Christ, and what He would do.  And I clearly remember that He forgave.  He forgave over and over again.  Even when he was being tortured and crucified, He asked his Father to forgive the same people who were committing these horrible acts.  I haven’t undergone even a fraction of the pain the Savior suffered.  What excuse do I have to withhold my forgiveness?

This thought inspired me; and, as I reflected on my past, I was surprised to realize that I’ve already forgiven so much of what happened to me.  This doesn’t mean my past doesn’t still affect my life today. One uplifting experience can’t heal a lifetime of resentment.  But even though it will take time to achieve full forgiveness, this Easter holiday, I’m hopeful.  If I try to fill my basket with forgiveness, perhaps, just perhaps, Christ can help me actually feel it in my heart.

Christ Forgiveness

 

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How Losing My Sister Changed My Faith

I’m a fervent believer in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I sometimes post on controversial issues (on Facebook or otherwise), and because of this people often question my beliefs.  It’s a fair question, if you only interact with me in the virtual world.  But I have a deep religious faith.  Because I want you to understand the sincerity of my beliefs, I’ll share a story that, while difficult for me to recount, helped define my life and testimony.

In 2006, I went to serve as a missionary for the LDS Church in Arequipa, Peru.  I entered the Arequipa mission with all the optimism and joy of a newly called missionary.  The mission was a prosperous one, as far as gaining converts was concerned.  My companions and I had no shortage of people to speak to, and we taught several missionary lessons daily.  Seeing large numbers of inactive members, we visited them often, and soon our small branches started to grow.  After six months, I had gained enough experience to become a senior companion.

Tacna, Peru, 2006.
Tacna, Peru, 2006.

The brightness of these early days soon dimmed, however, with alarming news from home.  In October 2006, my mom wrote that my sister, Jennifer, was experiencing some severe pain in her hip.  Soon, the doctors came back with a terrifying diagnosis.  Jen had soft tissue sarcoma.  I cried when I heard, and immediately started fasting for her.

It wasn’t long before my sister and mom had scheduled a barrage of tests and arranged a treatment plan for Jennifer.  Surprisingly, I was able to still focus on proselyting and find joy in the work.  I remember sincerely feeling that, if I worked hard, God would bless my family and maybe, just maybe, Jen’s cancer would go into remission.

Jennifer had surgery to remove her tumor in December 2006—but the cancer had invaded the bone too deeply, and the doctors also had to remove her leg.  When I spoke with her on Christmas Day 2006, she seemed well, although I’ve since learned from my family the time after her surgery was immensely painful for her.

Then, on February 14, 2007, I received a brief phone call, summoning me see to the Mission President in Arequipa.  I was in Puno, high in the Andean mountains.  My companion and I took the six-hour bus ride to Arequipa and I was ushered into the President’s office.  He quietly told me my parents had called with bad news about my sister; then he left me alone to call them.  Moments later, I listened to my mom say, in a trembling voice, that Jennifer’s cancer was terminal.  She had little time left, a month at most.  I started to cry, and I’m crying writing this now.

Later I learned Jennifer had asked my parents to hide from me the seriousness of her cancer.  Up to that point, I had hoped that she would still beat the disease somehow, that I would be able to see her when I got home from my mission.  I just remember my mom kept repeating, “It’s all right, it’s all right, she’s suffering so much anyway, I’d prefer she go.”

I immediately asked my parents when I could come home to see her.  Their response shocked me—“Don’t come home.”  Jen wanted me to stay in the mission, they explained, and I had to stay in the mission I’d been called to.  I still don’t think any of them knew what they were asking of me.

After hanging up, I called Jen.  She was medicated and couldn’t speak much. I mostly remember telling her, over and over, that I loved her.

Of course, I started fasting for Jen the next day.  After a lot of prayer, I asked the President if I could visit Jen, before she passed. I had also made a very difficult decision—if Pres. Galli’s answer was “no”, then I would stay in the mission God had called me to.  I knew I was supposed to be there, helping some very unique individuals to come to Christ.  President Galli’s response was direct:  if I visited home, I would have to stay there, and I may or may not be reassigned to a stateside mission.  It was exactly the answer I didn’t want.  But I had received a confirmation from God that I was to stay in Peru and finish my mission there. 

Pres. Galli also gave me permission to call Jennifer and my parents when I wished; but every time I called Jen after February 15, our conversations were always short.  She became progressively less coherent over time.

That period was so difficult.  Although I didn’t waver in my decision, I frequently worried about my sister and family.  Saying this, I do know that as many times as I felt grief, I also felt spiritually quieted.  Constant prayer and a priesthood blessing brought me moments of peace and consolation.  The Spirit reconfirmed my decision to stay in the mission more than once, and although I could not feel true joy, I found solace in my work as a missionary.

On March 10, 2007, Jennifer died.  Both her husband and my mother were by her side.  It hurt all of us, so much.  But it was a small comfort to know she was no longer in pain.  Because she had served in the military in Iraq, many of her fellow soldiers attended her funeral—”a sea of green” in the crowd, my parents later told me with pride.

I had some hard times after Jen’s death.  But I, and my companions, continued to teach, and some of these people were baptized.  I grieved, but I also felt a strong desire to focus on my mission. I think I wanted to make our sacrifices (both Jen’s and mine) count.  Many times, I reflected on the Plan of Salvation.  I was so grateful for my firm belief in the Plan, and its core principle—that families can be united forever in heaven.  What an amazing doctrine!  When Jennifer died, I knelt down and thanked God for this Plan, and that we could be together again.

While I don’t know why these struggles came to us,  I do know this experience profoundly shaped my belief in an all-knowing Heavenly Father.  During this time, I came to know and love Him as He comforted me time and again. His guidance helped me develop a deep and abiding faith in His Gospel, the Plan of Salvation, and personal revelation.  By the end of my mission, I had changed into someone who held these beliefs close to my heart. They’re an indivisible part of me—knowledge I’ve bought with pain, and loss, and sacrifice.

Jennifer Ball Cooper, my sister
Jennifer Ball Cooper, my sister.

Supporting Women: A Family Affair

I was on Temple Square with my family yesterday.  We were there to support the Ordain Woman movement. And it was amazing!  I’m not a member of Ordain Women.  It’s not that I don’t agree with their premise that women could be ordained to the priesthood.  But Elder Oaks’ remarks at the 2014 Priesthood session, and recent statements by the LDS Church, seem to close the lid on that subject- at least for now. 

I’m not posting to argue the doctrine on this issue.  Many of you have your minds made up that women shouldn’t hold the priesthood, and I respect that.  But for all those who would only be getting your information on the 2014 priesthood demonstration from local news media, I’d like to tell you what I experienced on Temple Square yesterday.

My husband, Jang, and I brought our two-year-old son to the demonstration.  Because of naptime, we were running late, and would just arrive at the tail end of the event.  We parked our car at City Creek and quickly made our way to Temple Square.  Within moments, we saw the Ordain Women line.  And it…was…huge!  It started at the Tabernacle door and wrapped most of the way around the large circular building. Mind you, the women started lining up at 4:30 pm.  We got there after 5:30 pm.  That means women had been approaching the door and been turned away for over an hour before we got there.  Some estimates put the number of participants at 500+ people, and I’m inclined to believe that figure is accurate.

And that wasn’t the most impressive part.  This next part, you might not believe, but I swear it’s the truth—the line was almost entirely comprised of men and women.  The sight was so impressive my husband and I stopped for a moment and took it in.  I even teared up a little bit.  The men and women in that line were standing side-by-side, happy and peaceful.  They looked like there was no other place in this world they’d rather be.  It was exactly what I’d always dreamed of seeing in our Church.  Men and women, working together as participants with an equal voice.  The symbolism of that just astounds me. 

I hadn’t been sure if I would stand in line, and I definitely wasn’t going to push Jang to join me if I did.  But the urge to join with these people quickly became overpowering.  And bless his heart, Jang was right beside me as we quickly took our places at the back of the line.

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Our family together in the priesthood session standby line.

As we stood in the slow-moving line, we started chatting with the women and men around us, who were all very friendly.  Some were staunch supporters of OW.  Others, like me, were there to show their support for all the Movement had already accomplished to expand women’s role in the Church.  We talked and laughed as we recounted our reasons for coming.  For some, just getting to the demonstration had been an adventure. 

Then, the conversation hushed as the front of the line came into view.  An Ordain Women spokeswoman was positioned to the side, and as we drew up by her she explained that each person or group would have the chance to speak to the usher at the front of the line.  We would be turned away, and should then quietly leave the Square.  She invited us to a devotional later that night, and then left us to close the short distance to the Tabernacle door. 

To the side, I saw groups of people move to the side as they were turned away from the Tabernacle.  An OW representative was standing by to give a supportive hug to those recently rejected. Some individuals seemed excited and relieved; others, mostly women, had tears streaming down their faces.   I sympathized with these latter women, who felt this rejection so deeply.  Jang and I unabashedly eavesdropped on the woman in front of us who, as she was turned away by the matronly usher at the door, explained that this denial by the Church would be the final one for her—she was leaving the Church.  

Then it was our turn.  Jang and I approached the kindly woman at the door.  She had been there for hours at this point, but she radiated calmness and compassion.  I had watched her sympathetically listen to the countless women and men before me, some of whom were quite emotional.   We both knew that she would have to turn us away, and I had nothing to say in protest.  So I shook her hand and thanked her for listening to all the people who had gone before me.  She apologized for having us stand in line so long with an infant, and after a little more chitchat, we were on our way.

Yes, my husband and I were turned away from the door of the Tabernacle.  Yes, if Jang had gone by himself he probably would have been let in.  But honestly, that experience was one of the most special of my life.  And I’m so glad I could share it with my wonderful, supportive husband and friend.

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Jang and I being kindly turned away from the Tabernacle.