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Karen Hales

Remember How Merciful the Lord Has Been

Recently I have been thinking a great deal about the word “Remember” and how the act of remembering plays an important part in our lives.

Elder Marlin K. Jensen said, “If we pay close attention to the uses of the word remember in the holy scriptures, we will recognize that remembering in the way God intends is a fundamental and saving principle of the gospel” [Marlin K. Jensen, “Remember and Perish Not,” Ensign, May 2007, 36-38].

Elder Jensen went on to say that when prophets admonish us to remember it is frequently an invitation to action: to listen, to see, to do.

In April of 2004, Elder Neal Maxwell spoke in the Priesthood session of General Conference. His talk was filled with what he referred to as “a few remembrances and life’s little lessons”. He passed away a few months later in July of that year. I think it is significant that his remarks centered on seemingly small and what many people might have felt were insignificant experiences—each experience a witness to him of God’s hand in his life.

“. . . there are clusters of memories embedded in each of your lives. And these can help us to “remember how merciful the Lord hath been (Moroni 10:3) [Neal A. Maxwell, “Remember How Merciful the Lord Hath Been”, Ensign, May 2004, 44-46].

It has been said that when we remember the Lord it nearly always increases our gratitude for all he has done for us as we begin to recognize his hand in our lives.

Henry Ward Beecher wrote: “If one should give me a dish of sand, and tell me there were particles of iron in it, I might look for them with my eyes, and search for them with my clumsy fingers, and be unable to detect them; but let me take a magnet and sweep through it, and how it will draw to itself the almost invisible particles by the mere power of attraction. The thankless heart, like my finger in the sand, discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day; and as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings.”

In the hymns we are told to “Count your many blessings . . . / And it will surprise you what the Lord has done” (Hymns, no. 241). I guess that’s why it has been said that the better in math you are, the happier you are . . . because you’re an expert at counting your blessings (Chieko Okazaki).

The Psalmist put it this way: Psalm 103: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. Who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases; who redeemeth thy life from destruction, who crowneth thee with loving kindness and tender mercies. Who satisfied thy mouth with good things, . . . The Lord is merciful and gracious. . .”

When Elder Henry Eyring was First Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, he gave a talk titled “Remembrance and Gratitude”. He spoke of the problem of not remembering . . . “we so easily forget that we came into life with nothing. Whatever we get soon seems our natural right, not a gift. And we forget the giver. Then our gaze shifts from what we have been given to what we don’t have yet” [Henry B. Eyring, “Remembrance and Gratitude,” Ensign, Nov 1989, 11]. Several years ago I heard Mary Ellen Edmunds tell a story that she said changed her life. The story is:

Two little children were put early to bed on a winter’s night, for the fire had gone out, and the cold was pouring in at the many cracks of their frail shanty. The mother strove to eke out the scantiness of the bed covering by placing clean boards over the children. A pair of bright eyes shone out from under a board, and just before it was hushed in slumber a sweet voice said, “Mother, how nice this is. How I pity the poor people who don’t have any boards to cover their children with this cold night.”

Sister Edmunds said, “This little story stopped me in my tracks. I thought about it over and over again, coming to the realization that I had spent far too much time in my life thinking of all I didn’t have instead of all I did have. Here was a little unknown child who taught me a great lesson: she was grateful for present blessings. She was looking at everything from the perspective of what she had” [A Singular Life: Perspectives on Being Single by Sixteen Latter-day Saint Women edited by Carol L. Clark and Blythe Darlyn Thatcher. Deseret Book Co., c1987].

Children seem to have an amazing ability to show their appreciation in honest and direct ways. Here is a letter from a little girl to God: “Dear God, Last week it rained for three days. We thought it would be like Noah’s Ark but it wasn’t. I’m glad because you could only take two of things, remember . . . and we have three cats. Donna.”

As we grow older and life gets more complicated and our future often seems uncertain it helps us to remember and recognize the blessings we have received in the past. A humorous little poem puts it this way:

There was a Dachshund once so long,

He hadn’t any notion

How long it took to notify

His tail of his emotions.

And so it happened

While his eyes were

Filled with woe and sadness,

His little tail went wagging on

Because of previous gladness.

Just like the little Daschshund remembering “previous gladness” can give us . . . strength to meet present challenges” [Jeanie McAllister, A Singular Life, Deseret Book, c1987].

Before meeting Goliath, David looked back, saying, “The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of the Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:37).

Ammon recalled God’s mercy to him during his mission to the Lamanites, “Now when our hearts were depressed, and we were about to turn back, behold, the Lord comforted us, and said: Go amongst thy brethren, the Lamanites, and bear with patience thine afflictions, and I will give unto you success . . . . Now behold, we can look forth and see the fruits of our labors, and are they few? I say unto you, Nay, they are many . . . . blessed be the name of my God, who has been mindful of us” (Alma 26:27, 31, 36).

President Eyring teaches a simple yet profound principle that each of us may practice to help us increase our ability to recognize how merciful the Lord has been in our life in this Mormon Message. Elder Eyring: O Remember, Remember

“When our children were very small, I started to write down a few things about what happened every day . . . I wrote down a few lines everyday for years. I never missed a day no matter how tired I was or how early I would have to start the next day. Before I would write, I would ponder this question: “Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today? As I kept at it, something began to happen. As I would cast my mind over the day, I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized in the busy moments of the day. As that happened, and it happened often, I realized that trying to remember had allowed God to show me what He had done” [Henry B. Eyring, “O Remember, Remember”, Ensign, Nov 2007, 65-69].

Sister Chieko Okazaki related the story of an old missionary couple from a Protestant denomination who had been working in Africa for many years and were returning to New York City to retire. With no pension and broken in health, they were discouraged and fearful of the future. They happened to be booked on the same ship as the President of the United States [Teddy Roosevelt] who was returning from a big-game hunting expedition. They watched the passengers trying to glimpse the great man, the crew fussing over him . . .

At the dock in New York a band was waiting to greet the President . . . But the missionary couple slipped off the ship unnoticed.

That night in a cheap (apartment) flat they found on the East Side, the man’s spirit broke. He said to his wife, “I can’t take this. God is not treating us fairly.” His wife suggested he go into the bedroom and tell the Lord.

A short time later he came out of the bedroom with a face completely changed. His wife asked, “Dear, what happened?”

“The Lord settled it with me,” he said. “I told him how bitter I was that the President should receive this tremendous homecoming, when no one met us when we returned home. And when I finished, it seemed as if the Lord put his hand on my shoulder and said, “But you’re not home yet.”

Elder Maxwell said that God “is in the details of our lives.” “He knows you perfectly, just as Jesus knew the woman of Samaria, whom he quizzed as to her belief in the Messiah. She said, “I know that Messias cometh . . .” when he is come, he will tell us all things.” And Jesus said, “I that speak unto thee am he.” And she went back to her village all excited and said she’d found the Messiah, and then, significantly, she said to the villagers, “He told me all that ever I did” (see John 4:25-26, 39-42). [Neal A. Maxwell, “Called to Serve” 27 March 1994 BYU Speeches].

“I testify to you that God has known you individually . . . for a long, long time (see D&C 93:23). He has loved you for a long, long time. He not only knows the names of all the stars, He knows your names and all your heartaches and your joys” [Neal A. Maxwell, “Remember How Merciful the Lord Hath Been,” Ensign, May 2004, 44-46].

When I was in my early 30’s I was what I liked to call an “unclaimed treasure”. Others, less sensitive probably referred to me as an “old maid” – the stereotypical “Marian, the librarian”. Around this time my parents were called to serve a temple mission in Washington, D.C. After they had been there for a while they were so excited to call and tell me about a temple worker, a lady in her 70s who had never married. While serving in the temple, she became acquainted with another temple worker about her same age, a widower. And they were going to get married. All of sister temple workers gave her a bridal shower – it was so cute. My Dad could never understand why I was not comforted by this story.

Years later someone at LDS Business College listened to the promptings of the Spirit and introduced me to the man who would become my husband. I was a little younger than 70. After I got married many times when I would be talking to my mother on the phone she would ask me, “Are you happy.” I would reply, “Yes, Mother, I’m happy.” There would be a brief pause and then she would say, “Are you really happy?” Maybe it seemed like a miracle to her that what she had prayed for for so many years had finally come to pass. It seemed like a miracle to me too. But it shouldn’t have. All through my life I have experienced miracles—answers to my mother’s prayers for me.

When I was in College I took a speech class. I was always a very shy person and standing in front of the class to give a speech was hard for me. The teacher would fill out an evaluation of the speech and assign a grade giving us the sheet as we finished. The highest grade I had received for a speech in the class was a B+. I shared with my Mother the desire I had to get an A on one of my speeches. One day when I knew that I would be giving my next speech, Mother asked me what time my class would be. She told me that she would say a little prayer for me at the beginning of the hour.

I was the last person to give my speech at the end of the class period that day. When the teacher handed me the evaluation sheet with the grade I saw that he had given me the grade of B+ and then crossed it out changing the grade to A-.

Later when I told my Mother about the grade I had received she told me that she looked at the clock and realized that she had forgotten to pray for me at the beginning of the class period. She quickly offered a prayer for me at what would have been the end of the class period at the time the teacher was assigning my grade. I felt very strongly that my A- was a result of my Mother’s prayer.

On another occasion when I was in my 30s and living far away from my parents as a single adult, I was going through a time of feeling depressed. For some reason I was not able to shake off the sadness and had spoken to my mother about my feelings. For a period of time I had felt as if I were walking around under a cloud. One week for the first time in many weeks I felt as if the cloud was lifted and for the first time in a long time I felt happy and peaceful. After a few days I had the impression that my Mother had been praying for me that week and that this was an answer to her prayers.

About the middle of the week, I called her on the phone and asked, “Mother, have you been praying for me?” She said, “Karen, your dad and I pray for you every day.” I told her I knew that but I wondered if she had been praying for me more than usual that week. Then she told me that every time she had thought about me that week, she had stopped what she was doing and offered a silent prayer for me. I told her that I could feel the influence of her prayers and that the cloud of depression was gone.

Then I had an impression come to my mind that someday my Mother would die but that she would still be praying for me on the other side of the veil and that I would be able to feel the influence of her prayers.

I believe that God hears and answer prayers and that the unselfish prayer of a mother for her child is always heard.

There is story that helped me to have patience and faith at a time in my life when I wondered if God was aware of my heartaches and my unfulfilled dreams. 

 The Story of the three trees

Three young trees lived together on a hillside. They often talked about what each would like to be when he grew up.

One said, “Babies are the sweetest things in the world. I should like to be a baby’s cradle.”

The second spoke, “That would not please me at all. I should like to be a great ship so I might cross many waters and carry cargoes of gold.”

The third tree stood off by himself in deep reflection. “Have you no dream for the future?” asked the others.

“No dream,” he answered “except to stay on this hillside and point men to God. What could a tree do better than that?”

Years passed, and the three small trees grew up to be tall and beautiful. One day men came to the hillside and cut down the first tree. But he was not made into a cradle. Instead he was hewn into rough pieces and carelessly put together to form a manger. “This is not what I planned to be,” he sobbed heartbrokenly, “Shoved into this dark stable with no one but the cattle.”

But Heavenly Father, who loves trees, whispered, “Wait, I will show you something.” And he did.

For one night when God’s only Begotten Son was born, he was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in the manger. The manger quivered with delight. “In all my dreams I never thought to hold a baby like this,” he said. “Why, I am part of a miracle. Truly, this is better than all my planning.”

Years passed. And men came to the hillside and cut down the second tree. But he was not made into a great sailing vessel. Instead he became a tiny fishing boat owned by a man named Peter. “To think that my life has come to this,” he complained unhappily. “Just a fishing boat.”

But Heavenly Father, who loves trees, whispered, “Wait I will show you something.” And he did.

For one day on the Lake of Gennesaret, Jesus sat in the little boat and spoke to the multitude on the shore. He spoke words of such wisdom and light that the little boat listened eagerly. “Why, I am part of a miracle,” he whispered, his heart full of wonder. “In all my dreams I never thought to carry a cargo like this. Truly, this is better than all my planning.”

Months went by, and men came to the hillside to cut down the third tree. “I don’t want to go into the valley,” he wept, as the axe cut into his heart. But the men tore away his branches, hewed him apart, and fashioned his pieces into a crude cross. “This is terrible,” he quivered. “They are going to hang someone. Oh, I never wanted this to happen to me. I only wanted to stand on the hillside and point men to God.”

But Heavenly Father, who loves trees, whispered, “Wait, I will show you something.” And he did.

For one day Jesus took up his cross and was led to a place called Golgotha where he was crucified between two thieves. Afterwards, his body was laid in a tomb. But at dawn on the third day when Mary Magdalene and the others came to the sepulcher, an angel met them, saying “He is not here: for he is risen, as he said” (Matthew 28:6).

And the cross began to understand, “Why, I am part of a miracle,” he marveled. “Jesus’ great mission was to give his life so that all who have ever lived on earth can one day return to God and live with him again. In all my dreams I never thought to point men to God in this way. Truly this is better than all my planning.”

The month of July is a time we remember and honor the Mormon pioneers who made so many sacrifices that we might enjoy the blessings we have today. My pioneer ancestor is my father. When I was a little girl, missionaries taught my family about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. My dad was a very humble man and in his mid-forties he embraced the gospel with all his heart and made the choice to leave his old way of life and his old habits to become a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

A few years later when I was old enough, I was baptized. One of the memories that is embedded in my life is the day I was baptized. I can still remember how clean I felt when I came up out of the water. And on the following Sunday when I was confirmed a member of the Church and received the Gift of the Holy Ghost, I can still remember how I felt. A couple of years after I was baptized my mother who was what she called “a hard shell Baptist” was finally baptized. She had already been attending church with us and even had a calling in our little branch.

Several years ago Lavell Edwards spoke at a devotional at LDSBC. I remember that he talked about “defining moments” that he said present us with opportunities to learn something important. Many of the defining moments in my life center around that little congregation of the Church in my hometown in Southeast Missouri. We met in the upstairs of a two-story house. The downstairs was a doctor’s office and the doctor rented first one room, then two and finally all of the upstairs to the church members.

One of the members had purchased some seats that came from an old movie theatre that we used for our meetings. He had also purchased an old fashioned pump organ. But the organist didn’t have to pump the organ with the pedals because he had installed the motor from an old vacuum cleaner. When it was time for the hymn, the organist would flip a little switch and the sound of the motor would almost drown out the organ.

When I was about 12 years old, I was called to be the branch organist. I could play two or three hymns and we sang the same ones week after week until I was able to add to my repertoire. Remembering those experiences is a testimony of God’s mercy to me for he truly blessed me beyond my abilities.

One of the things that my husband and I have in common is that we both had the experience when we were growing up of attending very small congregations of the Church. He grew up in southern California and often reminds me that California Mormons are cool. Or in other words, they are cooler than Missouri Mormons.

On several occasions in the past few months we have had the opportunity to visit the Church History Library just a few blocks away where we have been able to look at old records from our respective branches during the time period when we were growing up. These records are part of our individual and family heritages. They help us to remember how merciful God has been to us in our lives. (“Many of the Church’s greatest stories are contained in personal and family histories, and these are part of our individual and family heritages” [Marlin K. Jensen].

“On April 6, 1830, the day the Church was organized, the Lord commanded the Prophet Joseph Smith, “Behold, there shall be a record kept among you” (D&C 21:1). On that day the Prophet learned how important it is to the Lord for a history of the Church to be kept and he soon called Oliver Cowdery to be the first Church historian and recorder. In the beginning Oliver recorded minutes of meetings, patriarchal blessings, membership information, and certificates of priesthood authority. He also began what might be called a narrative history of the Church. 

Record keeping began with a commandment from God and continues to the present day” [Marlin K. Jensen, “There Shall Be a Record Kept among You”, Ensign, Dec 2007, 28-33].

The Church historian today is Elder Marlin K. Jensen. He has stated that:

“The primary purpose of Church history is to help Church members build faith in Jesus Christ and keep their sacred covenants. . . . we are guided by three main considerations:

First, we seek to bear witness of and defend the foundational truths of the Restoration.

Second, we desire to help Church members remember the great things God has done for His children.

Third, we have a scriptural charge to help preserve the revealed order of the kingdom of God . . .

[Marlin K. Jensen, “There Shall Be a Record Kept among You,” Ensign, Dec 2007, 28-33].

Yesterday a student asked me, “Are you going to talk about libraries tomorrow?” Well, I have mentioned the Church History Library. And I wouldn’t be true to my profession as a librarian if I didn’t recommend a good book. One of my favorite books is by Michael Wilcox and is titled House of Glory: Finding Personal Meaning In The Temple.

We have been taught that LDS Business College is a temple of learning and there are many parallels with how we learn in the temple and how we learn at the College.

“ In the Doctrine and Covenants the temple is called a “house of glory”. . . . We know that “the glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth” (D&C 93:36). [Michael Wilcox, House of Glory, Deseret Book, c1995 p.94].

As I was pondering the meaning of the word “remember”, I thought about a story from the book House of Glory that involves remembering. It is the story of Michael Wilcox’s 4th great grandfather, Jean Combe, who lived in the Piedmont valleys of the Alps. He was a religious man and went regularly to church hungering to be spiritually fed but came away unsatisfied and would sometimes comment on the difference of the teaching of the day to those of the Savior and his apostles.

When he was on his death bed, he said to his granddaughter, “The old folks may not, but the young will see the day when the gospel shall be restored in its purity and powers; and in that day, Mary, remember me!”

Shortly after John Combe’s death, Lorenzo Snow and several other elders came to the shores of Italy. They were directed by the Spirit to the valleys of the Alps, to the village where John Combe’s family lived. After hearing the truths of the restored gospel, they were the first family to join the Church in Italy. 

Jesus told his apostles on the night of the Passover when the sacrament was instituted at the Last Supper that “the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26).

Elder Eyring said that “The Holy Ghost brings back memories of what God has taught us. And one of the ways God teaches us is with his blessings: and so, if we choose to exercise faith, the Holy Ghost will bring God’s kindnesses to our remembrance” [Henry B. Eyring, “Remembrance and Gratitude,” Ensign, Nov 1989, 11].

The Holy Ghost also invites us to hear and to see who we really are – to hear, to see, to do.

Many years ago Elder Marion D. Hanks gave a talk titled “He Means Me”. He recalled an incident from his past. He said, “Another little daughter had joined our family and was of course much loved. Occasionally I had called her older sister “Princess”. One day Brother Hanks said to his younger daughter, “Come on Princess. Let’s go to the store for your mother.” She seemed not to hear. “Honey,” her mother said, “daddy is calling you.”

“Oh,” she answered, with a quiet sadness . . . “he doesn’t mean me.” He said, “ In memory I can still see the resignation on her innocent child face & hear it in her voice, when she thought that her father didn’t mean her.”

“I am one who believes that God loves and will never cease to love all his children, and that he will not cease to hope for us or reach for us or wait for us” [Marion D. Hanks, “He Means Me,” Ensign, May 1979, 74].

Have you seen His hand in your life?

May we have hearts that are quick to remember and slow to forget. May we have hearts that are filled with gratitude as we recognize and remember how merciful the Lord has been to each of us in our individual lives. The ultimate purpose of remembering is to come unto Christ. I pray that God will bless us always to remember His Son.

Other Reference:
Chieko N. Okazaki, “Thanksgiving: To Hold In Remembrance”, Nov 21, 2005 printed from Mormon Life (


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