Yesterday in Relief Society, I shared some thoughts about how I have felt the Master’s touch through the hearts and hands of others. When I stood up, two things happened…First, my iPad with all of my notes would not unlock (Why does technology always fail when you are in front of a group of people?) so I had to talk without the benefit of the notes I had made. Second, I was overwhelmed with emotion as I stood before many of the wonderful women who have helped me get through the past few years. So I cried all the way through my presentation. I’m afraid I didn’t express myself very well…so this post is what I wanted to say.
Last Saturday, May 9th, marked the one year anniversary of the accident that nearly severed my right hand. This year has been quite a journey, filled with pain, heartache and disappointment. But it has also been a year filled with blessings and evidence of the Savior’s love for me. Many of those blessings have come from the human angels that surround me. Money was donated to help offset our medical costs. Meals were brought in to my family. My home was cleaned and organized. I was given rides to and from my doctor appointments while I was too drugged to drive myself. Treats have been dropped off and gifts delivered. One dear friend even came to my home to give me a manicure after I was released from the hospital. Another bought me a “hands free” hairdryer so I could ‘style’ my hair without assistance. I could go on and on about the hundreds of acts of service that have been rendered on behalf of me and my family. I have received many blessings through the hands of others and my life has been forever changed by many of you who are reading this. I will never be able to repay you. Saying thank you just doesn’t seem sufficient to express how I feel…but my thanks is all I have to give.
I have also been blessed by the prayers of hundreds of people, even some that I have never met. Please know that your influence has been felt and your service has been recognized. I know that I have been watched over and given strength because of the sincere and earnest desires of those offering up pleas to heaven. Your prayers were answered time and time again as I felt the peace and love that can only come from One Source. Again, saying thank you doesn’t seem sufficient, but that is all I have to give. Someday, I hope to return the favor.
I have learned some interesting lessons through this year…lessons about perseverance, patience and pride. But perhaps the greatest lesson I have learned is one that I have always known in theory, but have come to understand through experience. It is a lesson I hope to never forget and one I want to implement in my life. It is the difference between sympathy and empathy, the difference between service and charity, the difference between giving and loving. This past year I have been the recipient of numerous acts of service. But as I look back and reflect upon the things that changed me and helped me feel the love and compassion of the Savior, my mind is drawn to the moments when someone took the time to connect with their heart.
On my bedroom wall hangs a Greg Olsen print of a woman in a red dress, kneeling at the feet of the Savior. The painting is entitled, “Forgiven”. This has long been one of my favorite depictions of Christ. For me, the red clothing doesn’t signify sin, it signifies the anguish we sometimes go through as we travel through mortality. That anguish might be caused by things of our own making, but it might also be caused by the death of a loved one, the inability to become a mother, financial stress, relationship problems…or an accident that nearly severs your hand. When I look at it, I see myself kneeling before him, struggling with the challenges of this life, and having him lift my burdens simply through the touch of his hand and the compassion in his eyes.
One of my favorite scriptures is found in Alma 7:11-12:
11 And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
12 And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
I love the mental picture that this scripture brings to my mind, one of Christ succoring, or running to me, to support me and to help bear my burdens. Elder Bednar has taught, “There is no physical pain, no spiritual wound, no anguish of soul or heartache, no infirmity or weakness you or I ever confront in mortality that the Savior did not experience first. In a moment of weakness we may cry out, ‘No one knows what it is like. No one understands.’ But the Son of God perfectly knows and understands, for He has felt and borne our individual burdens. And because of His infinite and eternal sacrifice (see Alma 34:14), He has perfect empathy and can extend to us His arm of mercy. He can reach out, touch, succor, heal, and strengthen us to be more than we could ever be and help us to do that which we could never do relying only upon our own power. Indeed, His yoke is easy and His burden is light.”
As women, we are called upon to represent the Savior because of our innate tendencies toward compassion and love. We can be his hands through service: making meals, packing moving boxes, tending children, delivering gifts or sharing treats. But to touch hearts the way the Savior does, we must also be empathetic.
Empathy is defined as the capacity to understand what another person is experiencing from within the other person’s frame of reference. Empathy requires us to open our hearts and get in touch with our emotions. We have to be willing to access the deepest, and sometimes darkest, moments of our lives in order to feel what the other person is feeling. Empathy doesn’t require us to DO anything, but it does requires us to BE vulnerable and authentic. We have to look inside and recognize our own suffering so we can identify with the suffering of others. Then we will be ready to reach out with our hearts as well as our hands. Empathy is true charity.
The Savior reaches out with empathy and love to each of us and expects us to do the same. As sisters in the gospel, we have the power to make a real difference in the lives of those around us, simply by opening our hearts and following the promptings he gives us. As I look back over the past few years and the trials I have been called upon to endure, the acts of service that come to my mind most often, those that have made the biggest difference in my life, are the ones that were filled with empathy. One sister was there when I woke up in ICU for the first time. She hugged me and sat with me until my husband was able to get back to the valley. Another dear friend showed up at the hospital the next day to see me. She brought her husband, knowing that I would likely want a priesthood blessing and he could assist with it. She didn’t bring any thing with her except her love. These two women were there to love and support me for the 12 days of my stay in ICU, taking time out from their own busy schedules. Another sister came to my home soon after I was released from the hospital to give me a manicure. I’m sure she had no idea what to expect with my hand, but she willingly gave that loving service. I have received thoughtful gifts and delicious meals, delivered with love, concern and a willingness to serve wherever needed. There have been texts and cards and phone calls just to check up on me and see how I was doing. Then there were friends who wrapped their arms me as I mourned the losses of the past few years, and those who laughed with me as I struggled to figure out new ways to accomplish things with just one hand. And perhaps most importantly, there are those who have treated me just the same, knowing that a bit of normalcy in my life was just as important as everything else.
Sometimes, empathy is not politically correct. It requires complete honesty, something that is hard to find in the world today. About 5 months after my accident, I was with a group of women who were asking questions and making comments about my hand. Several of them commented on how good my hand looked. I know they were trying to be polite, but my hand did not look good! Finally the conversation was interrupted by one of the women who said, “I can’t imagine what you have been through. I’m not sure I could stand to see my hand if it looked like that.” While her comment may seem cruel to some, it was so honest that it was refreshing! It allowed me to express my true feelings rather than having to uphold a front for everyone in the room. Afterall, anyone standing there, myself included, could see that my hand did not look good. Sometimes, it is better to state truth than to try to sugar coat the obvious! And it is always better to say something than to pretend that problems don’t exist.
While service alone is a wonderful thing, when empathy is added to it, it becomes a catalyst for connection. It allows the people involved to share a common bond, which creates the love and support that we all need. It is during moments of empathetic connection that we truly feel the Master’s touch. I have felt his touch in many ways during my journey the past few years. I know he has watched over me and sent people to take care of me when I needed it the most. The Savior is not so concerned about the physical things of this world. We can’t take the treats or the clean house or the manicures with us, but we can take the relationships we create as we serve in those ways and love the way he would love.
One year later, I still have a long way to go. My hand is still ugly, it doesn’t work the way I want it to, and I have several more surgeries in my near future. But I don’t regret the accident because of the blessings I’ve received and the knowledge that has come from experience. I have learned so much from the generosity and love of the women around me. I want to become more like you when I grow up…serving, loving and giving…with empathy…otherwise known as charity or the pure love of Christ.