On my sofa table at Easter time is a cluster of tokens to remind me and my family what it is we embrace in our hearts.
There is a small leather bag of ancient coins, 30 of them, spilled out onto the black tabletop.
There is a large sharp nail.
A small molded copy of the Michelangelo’s Pieta’ that David brought home from his mission in Italy.
And a crown of thorns.
All these surround a framed picture of the Risen Lord by Carl Bloch. The whole scene speaks of triumph over trial.
One Sunday not too long ago, after teaching a Sunday lesson on the benefit of trials, one of my darling Beehive girls, age 13, came up to me and hugged me, thanking me for the lesson. Then she stood back and took my hands. Her eyes were teary, and she spoke softly…
“Cori, I pray for trials. I know they will make me stronger so I pray for them.”
I squeezed her hands, then threw my arms around her neck and whispered in her ear…
“Oh Honey, don’t pray too hard!”
Megan is a pretty dynamic girl, full of faith, and goodness, and confidence. She’s the kind of girl who, when the score is tied and there are only seconds left on the clock will call out, “Put me in, Coach!” Her confidence is based on truth, so she is often successful. Still, there comes to most of us some trial some time that throws us off kilter and shakes us to the core. I pray she will be strong when that happens. Until it does, though, I say lay low when the wagon of woes comes rolling around.
When my eldest, John, married Ashley in the Salt Lake Temple, they were blessed to be sealed as an eternal family by an apostle, Elder Neal A. Maxwell. Twenty one years earlier Elder Maxwell had joined our prophet, Spencer W Kimball, in the priesthood circle that blessed Ashley when she was a baby. After elder Maxwell married John and Ash, he spoke to them a while. We were all invited to listen in. He paused for a moment, then indicated that he felt a particular desire to bestow upon them an Apostolic Blessing. It was a sacred and private thing, and I will not share the details, except to say that he told them that they would be able to withstand the trials that would come to them.
I remember sitting there, my face streaked with tears till there was absolutely no make up left for the family pictures. The words echoed in my head, and I felt a stinging foreboding, wondering what was going to happen to them that would compel an apostle to bless them to be able to sustain themselves through difficulties. All I could focus on was that there would be difficulties. Now, over ten years later, I wonder to myself why in the world I would fixate on the difficulties instead of the magnificent blessing of being able to withstand. Truly, everyone’s going to struggle. No getting out of it.
Ain’t nobody doesn’t got a trouble.
For three years I served in the Davis County Jail as a spiritual advisor and as Relief Society president for two of those. Many of the women there were clean and sober for the first time in a long time, and they seemed to want the Lord in their lives. So when we went in every Sunday and Wednesday to teach them and share our testimonies, we found them anxious to get their lives straightened out. (Most of them at least. Some of them just wanted out of their cells and a church service was their only escape.) Corinthians 10:13 was our most quoted scripture. I must have repeated it at least once a week for three years.
The inmates, their knees tucked under their chairs, their orange uniforms making the circle of us look like a giant pumpkin, leaned into our circle of sisterhood and prayed for the strength to believe in that scripture; prayed to believe that they could escape the temptation to use drugs…to misuse relationships…to return to old familiar habits and people. Their thorny paths were precipitous and frightening and at that moment they wanted to believe in their hearts enough to resist temptation when it came upon them, as it surely would once they were released.
When I think of trials, I think of that thorny crown. That ironic crown, that the oppressors thought would be a mockery, but in actuality was a true token. Jesus Christ is triumphant because of his painful sacrifice, which, coupled with his foreordained authority and worthy life, made him the only means by which we can return Home. A golden bejeweled crown would have been an actual mockery. He is crowned with his suffering. And in some way, I think all of us will be as well.
I’ve had an idea for many years now that one day we will all be sitting around in heaven, at various times, in various circumstances…and we will say to each other in casual conversation; “So how did YOU die?” That’s when the really tragic demises will get their true shine, and those of us who just pass away in our sleep from old age will sort of shrug our shoulders and say, “oh well, nothing too exciting.”
“But…” some of us will say…”Check out the scars on my head!” We will wear the healed wounds of our life’s struggles like badges. Suffering endured. In the end we are all triumphant, some just get there more gracefully than others.
My Crown of Thorns, with its three-inch-long spikes, reminds me not only of the divine suffering of my Lord; it reminds me that my own personal suffering…and that of the people I love…is designed to lead me back to Him. The thorns in my life may be painfully uncomfortable; but they will not do me in. Whether or not I acknowledge His power to save me; He saves me still.