Thursday, November 3, 2011

Beauty from Ugly

My grandma --Gladys Mae and my mother--Susan Jane
A few weeks ago, I taught a class at our Stake Relief Society's Women's Conference on "The Joy of Family".  

Originally, the plan was that I would share what I have learned from studying the Family Proclamation these last two years and help others with ways they could teach it to their families.  But the night before I was to give the class, I looked more closely at the theme for the conference "Adam fell that man might be, and men are that they might have joy," and I decided to ponder what Adam and Eve said when they left the Garden of Eden, because I thought it might give me more insight into this joy and how we might also have it in our families today.

In Moses 5: 10-11 we see that Adam, after learning that the sacrifices they were asked to make were in similitude of the sacrifice that the Savior would someday make, he rejoiced and began to prophesy concerning all of the families of the earth, saying; "Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy..."  Then Eve heard all these things and was glad saying, "Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption..." 

Were it not for our transgression.

Were it not for our transgression...we should never have known the JOY of our redemption.

Is there any joy greater?

This truth rang out to me as I prepared for my class, and the next day, I shared what joy can come to our lives when we understand that without hardships, we cannot even begin to comprehend joy.  Adam and Eve could not experience joy in the garden.  They could only experience innocence.  Only when they experienced pain, transgression, and redemption, could they come to understand the joy that Heavenly Father had waiting for them.

The same is true for each of us.

We NEED our trials to help us achieve joy.  Sounds counter-intuitive, but it's true!  As the Book of Mormon teaches, they are a compound in one.

I talked about my grandmother Gladys during the class, because she is truly a woman who has waded through much pain, sorrow, and trials in her life, but she was able to find the Joy.  And because she was able to do that, I now enjoy happiness in my life.

I was thinking about my grandmother a lot today, as I made chocolates in the shapes of fall leaves with my children.  I was remembering making Easter candies in all different colors using chocolate molds with my Grandma long ago.  I was being careful not to burn my fingers, and I was missing her.

It's funny that I should have that moment with her today, because later on I received a most precious letter in the mail.  In a miraculous turn of events, my mother recently discovered a lost letter that my grandmother had written to my aunt in 1982.  It is the letter of a mother giving her most precious advice and life-lessons to a daughter who had temporarily hit a rough patch.  The letter details the hardships and blessings and the resulting joys which my grandmother experienced.  In essence, it is my grandmother's life story in her own words, typed by her own hand, written so lovingly to her beloved daughter.

I had heard most of these stories before in one form or another told at family gatherings, but to read them as they were carefully recorded put many of the pieces of the picture into context for me.  It was like a deathbed letter, only written at a time when my grandmother was still young and sharp, so the vision presented was not fuzzy at all, but crystal clear.  For a woman who largely underestimated her own talents, this letter is her magnum opus.

Her words are heart-wrenching and lulling all at once, like when she says on page four, speaking of her birth-father, "He tried to poison me." and follows it up immediately with, "This is my legacy."  (And in case you are wondering, he literally tried to poison her.)

I can not possibly outline for you every hardship that she faced.  Just know that she faced an inordinate amount.  On page two, she says, "...there's going to be many periods of depression in your life.  Many things are going to happen to you and you're going to say, why me?....the Lord has a purpose."  Although, she wrote this letter to my aunt nearly 30 years ago, I feel as though she is speaking directly to me, today.

She illustrates, through her relationship with her own mother, the type of loyalty that should exist in a family when she writes about the day that her mother finally left her deeply abusive, alcoholic husband.  She says, "The day came that my mother left him.  She couldn't stand it any more.  We got a divorce. And I say we because everything with my mother and I was we.  Everything that we did, we did together.  We did for a reason for the betterment of the both of us."

When they left the abusive relationship, they were dirt poor, but she contrasts their financial bankruptcy with their emotional wealth.  They cooked by a kerosene stove and hauled their own water from 3/4 of a mile away, multiple times each day.  She says, "Being an introvert and a lonely child, I used to dream many spectacular dreams as I walked down the hill to get the water.  I didn't even realize that we were depressed [financially] because we were so happy.  The stress of unhappiness and drinking were gone from our lives, but we didn't have any money."

What she did inherit finally was a stepfather who loved her profoundly, to the point that when, at the age of nine, she carelessly left the screen door open after school one day, allowing her baby brother to wander out and drown in a cistern, her stepfather never once blamed her, because, as she put it, "His Christ-like love was too great to put the burden on us."

All this happened before she turned 10 years old.  Widowed twice, married thrice, this definitely was not the end of her story, but I don't dare even try to share with you the many stories that my grandma shares in this letter, mainly because I couldn't possibly do them justice and they are just personal to me.  But I am so thankful to have this treasure in my possession.  It is like a road map for finding joy in spite of and because of everything that will most likely go wrong along the way.  

And it, oh, so masterfully illustrates the point that through our trials, through our transgressions, through our toil and strife...we are able to come to know true joy in this life.

While we made our chocolates today, I watched as my girls held "dance class" as they call it.

How joyful they are as they pirouette in my from terror or from abuse or neglect or pressure to be to feel to just be.  I hope more than anything that my extraordinary grandmother is able to look in on us and see her great-grandchildren experiencing the love and joy that she couldn't as a young child.  I hope that she takes a spin out of joy right along-side our babies.  And I hope that she knows that it was her ability to make something beautiful out of something ugly, all throughout her life, that paved the way for this scene to take place. 

I love you, Grandma.  Thank you!  (And thanks to my Mom for sharing that letter with me.)


  1. Love this one, and you are so right. We might not like the trials, but we need them!

  2. Your grandmother sounds pretty incredible. I often think of my grandmother, who I've never met, and hope that she can look in on us sometimes, too.
    What a beautiful and sweet message. And thanks for sharing the video. Having only boys, there's no pirouetting here and I love seeing the cute things little girls do:)

  3. The power of one life lived is lasting. Your grandmother showed that. We can show that too in how we choose to live our lives.

  4. What a powerful legacy she has left...And how joyful she must be to see all of you living it so well.


  5. You need to read, The Fortunate Fall....It's an amazing book.

    and i often feel my mom in and up on I am certain she does the same for each of my kids.

  6. All I can say is thnk you for your words. You always have a way of touching my heart and mind and I needed to hear those words today as i was going through my own " Why Me" moment. and seeing the girls dancing Made my day I LOVE IT please give them a hug from me. Love the Chipmunk chrismas music in the background " ALVIN" classic lol

  7. very touching post. I love it.

    My dad is going through some hard times, and I wish that I could say to him that it will be okay...pain and joy - they are on different sides of the same coin you just can't have one without the other.

    anyway - beautiful post. It was a great way to start the day. :)

  8. I struggle with periodic bouts of depression and this past couple of weeks have been especially difficult. This post was something I really needed to hear. I keep reminding myself to continue looking for Heavenly Father's tender mercies because they are out there for me.

    And your daughters are adorable. Mine doesn't dance in the kitchen, but she does like to lay on the floor with her pillow and blanket and sing "winkle, winkle, iddle tar". :-)

  9. What a beautiful Story, I always love reading them, but this one really touched my heart! Thank you!

  10. What an inspiring story! And HOW TRUE!

  11. How wonderful to have such a wonderful letter in your possession. And how blessed you are to have such a wonderful grandmother.

    Your daughters are adorable! I remember doing that exact same thing when I was a little girl.

  12. Beautiful post!! My cousin and I are trying to transcribe all of our grandma's diaries, and it's amazing all that she went through! Reading about her life has helped me so much in my life right now. Thanks!

  13. Your grandma ROCKS! :D

    And I have to say that I LOVE this post! I could have written it too!!! Live has given me many opportunities to learn to appreciate a good trial; I love them because of what they make me!!! It would be fun to link up this post with about 30 or so of mine, but I'll just leave a reference to one (perhaps not the best one, but just one):
    Have a great day!
    Corine :D

  14. PS. Here's another for good measure: ;)

  15. Those beautiful girls of yours have quite a legacy behind them, in your Grandmother, your Mother, and in YOU! Thanks for sharing this small part of your family's story.