I've tried to link to information on concepts that those who are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints might not be familiar with. If you have questions beyond what I've tried to address, please don't hesitate to ask!
I testify that Heavenly Father knows us, loves us, and has provided a way for families to be together forever. If you'd like to know a little more about a piece of my forever family, you can read the brief accounts below.
Mary Loretta Jackson is my paternal grandmother. When my dad was a single parent, my brother and I spent the summer with "Grandmom" (she hated being called "grandma"...I think it made her feel old!) so that my dad could continue to work during the day while my brother and I were out of school. I loved to sing the children's songs I learned in church, and many summer days found me singing "I am a Child of God" while I sat on the living room floor of Grandmom's apartment, playing Barbies:
I am a child of God,
And he has sent me here,
Has given me an earthly home
With parents kind and dear.
Lead me, guide me, walk beside me,
Help me to find the way.
Teach me all that I must do
To live with him someday.
Although I didn't really understand it at the time, this was strongly developmental of my grandmother's personal relationship with her Savior. My dad, who joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in his 20s, shared the gospel with my grandmother, but it was her granddaughter's repeated action of bringing the Holy Spirit into her home that began to influence her to change her life.
When Grandmom was finally baptized, she asked me to sing "I am a Child of God" at her baptism. I am so grateful that she chose me to be a part of that and recognized the power that the Savior can have in our lives, even if it comes from a child.
My paternal grandmother was a creative person. She had more Bob Ross videos than I could comfortably count at age 9, and would often paint-by-number while I watched the progression of black and white outlines to full-color birds and animals with awe. My childhood was filled with elaborate, beautiful crocheted doll's dresses and carefully coordinated and sewn casual outfits which she had given me for Christmases and birthdays.
Perhaps one of her most enduring creative legacies, however, exists in the form of a poem. (If my dad knows where his copy is, I'll try to post it later!)
This poem is based on a particular experience she had, before she had even really considered joining the church. I hope to relay it accurately, but my retelling is based on cobwebbed childhood memory and therefore a little creative license of my own can be anticipated.
It was a rainy night, common to San Diego winters. My grandmother drove down the freeway, harrowed up by the anxieties and struggles she faced. As she drove, she began to pray, reluctantly at first, but with increasing earnestness as she took full stock of her life. Things seemed hopeless and she felt increasingly aware of how trapped she felt by her circumstances and personal weaknesses. In this dire moment of self-doubt and spiritual exhaustion, she cried out for help to the Lord.
She drove her car around a bend in the road...and there was the temple.
The San Diego temple shone in its full splendor through the rainy, dismal night and my grandmother's tears. Light radiated from it in a holy proclamation of peace and majesty, and that holiness washed over my grandmother's heart. Tears fell anew as the Spirit bore personal witness to her that her prayers were heard, that her sacrifices and efforts were accepted, and that her Creator, her Heavenly Father, loved her with all of His infinite heart.
Grandmom's decision to put this experience into words influenced my own desire to become a writer, and her commitment to creating beauty to share with others inspires me to do the same. Most of all, however, I am strengthened by her testimony that Heavenly Father is aware of us, even in our darkest moments, and provides all of the promise and peace of the holy temple to bring us joy and light forever.
When my dad was a single parent, my grandmother was a strong influence in the life of my brother and I. Simply put, Dad needed the help, and Grandmom stepped up to the challenge of caring for the children of her children when she was needed.
Although she may not have realized it at the time, the most enduring aid she gave to me was allowing me to witness and participate in her conversion. My grandmother loved the temple, and the Primary songs I would sing to myself as I visited her. However, with all of the ways that the truths of the gospel resonated in her heart, she still struggled with the Word of Wisdom.
I remember a particular week when she had not been very successful in avoiding her addiction to coffee and cigarettes. She felt so weak, and the discouragement and disappointment she felt in herself hung like a heavy burden on her shoulders. That week in sacrament meeting, we could tell that she wondered why she was even trying.
During one of the songs in that meeting, I heard a sniffle. I glanced over to find my grandmother weeping, as her gravelly, tobacco-damaged voice sang:
I marvel that [Jesus] would descend from his throne divine
To rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mine,
That he should extend his great love unto such as I,
Sufficient to own, to redeem, and to justify.
Oh, it is wonderful that he should care for me
Enough to die for me.
Oh it is wonderful, wonderful to me.
She was reminded, before my very eyes, that Jesus Christ atoned for our sins, that we are blessed for every attempt we make to walk uprightly before God, and we are forgiven for each and every stumble.
Even almost 20 years later, this song still touches my heart and makes me think of my grandmother and her humble testimony. I, too, am amazed by the love that our Savior has for each of us, and with Grandmom, I testify that we can be free from every sin, addiction and weakness through His Atonement. And that is wonderful to me.