Jo Anne Kay
Teacher Education Faculty Member
Bio not available
Since I received this assignment to speak with you today, I have spent many hours pondering and have prayed that I might say something that will touch your hearts, comfort your souls and inspire you as you work through the individual trials and challenges of your lives. I pray that the Holy Ghost will abide with us and allow each of us to understand, embrace and contemplate what our Heavenly Father would have us learn from this earthly experience.
Trials are often like dense fog. They block our view of our potential, blind us to the joys surrounding us, and limit our vision of our eternal purpose. We know we were sent here to earth to prove ourselves worthy to return to our Father in Heaven and dwell in his presence eternally. But didn't we already dwell with Him before we came to earth? Why was this earthly experience necessary for our continual growth? What could we learn here that we couldn't learn in our Heavenly home?
The plan, the perfect plan of our Father, was not only for us to return to His presence, but to become as He is. President Lorenzo Snow taught, "As man now is, God once was; as God is now man may be."1
Our experience here on earth has much more meaning than just living through life and being good. It is a testing ground; it is a school, a preparation, a time for development of talents and abilities beyond our own expectations. And just as in any school, learning is not always easy, convenient, or possible without much work and sacrifice. An essential part of our learning process is gaining experience.
While in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve knew "no joy for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin."2 Was it the same with us in our premortal life? Did we know no joy?
In 2 Nephi 2:25, we learn that "Adam fell that men might be; and men are that they might have joy." Part of the reason that we came to earth was to experience and learn of joy, but joy doesn't come without the trials, and we will not experience a fullness of joy until we return to God's presence because in God's presence is the fullness of joy.3
In the October 1991 General Conference, Dallin H. Oaks said:
One of the greatest of all God's revelations is Father Lehi's teaching that "men are, that they might have joy." (2 Ne. 2:25.) Joy is more than happiness. Joy is the ultimate sensation of well-being. It comes from being complete and in harmony with our Creator and his eternal laws. The opposite of joy is misery. Misery is more than unhappiness, sorrow, or suffering. Misery is the ultimate state of disharmony with God and his laws.
Each of us is a unique son or daughter of a loving Father in Heaven and as such, each of us will face individual trials and testing in this life. Each of us has an individualized education plan. In teacher education, we call this an IEP. I believe that we have been placed upon the earth in a time in which our particular trials and challenges will lead to the most growth and development possible.
Blaine M. Yorgason has penned, "The Monument," as an introduction to his book, Charlie's Monument:
God, before He sent His children to earth gave each of them a very carefully selected package of problems. These, he promised, smiling, are yours alone. No one else may have the blessings these problems will bring you. And only you have the special talents and abilities that will be needed to make these problems your servants. Now go down to your birth and to your forgetfulness. Know that I love you beyond measure. These problems that I give you are a symbol of that love. The monument you make of your life with the help of your problems will be a symbol of your love for me, your Father.
How can problems be a symbol of love? How could someone who loves us want us to face challenges, trials, hardships, discouragement, and sorrow?
We, with our finite vision cannot understand God's plan, but God with his infinite vision sees beyond the moment of this earth life, into the eternities and understands the greatness found within each of us. He knows the beginning from the end. He knows how it will all turn out. He knows that each of us have the power to overcome our challenges. Why then is it so hard for us to see the value of the struggles we face.
Elder Holland in a CES fireside address given at BYU-Provo in September 2008 said:
Every one of us, in one way or another, great or small, dramatic or incidental, is going to spend a little time in Liberty Jail--spiritually speaking. We will face things we do not want to face for reasons that may not have been our fault. ...Every experience can become a redemptive experience if we remain bonded to our Father in Heaven through that difficulty.
Many of the trials of our lives are brought about through no fault of our own--the family we were born into, health, accidents, social and economic conditions. These are things over which we have no control--except for how we will use them to grow and learn. This is not an easy task, and I would have you know that for many of us, these trials seem almost hopeless. The sense of hopelessness and discouragement can only be replaced when we put our trust in the Lord. In Proverbs 3:5-6 we read, "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."
I was born into a family struggling with problems brought on by choices. My father was an alcoholic. Soon after my birth, my sister, Betty Jean, who was five years older, developed a brain tumor. For the next two years our family faced a crisis as my mother and Betty Jean traveled to Minnesota to the Mayo Clinic for treatments, but the tumor was imbedded in the brain stem and surgery was not an option. My mother gave birth to another baby girl during this time and shortly after Margaret's birth, Betty Jean died. The stress of the loss of a child, amplified by the alcoholism, caused my mother to take her own life at the age of thirty-six, leaving four children.
Since my father was not capable of taking care us, we were placed in an orphan's home where I spent the next eight years of my life without the bonds of a family or even contact with my older siblings or extended family.
St. Thomas Orphan's Home was located in Great Falls, Montana, and was run by the Sisters of Providence of the Catholic Church. For over fifty years it served as an orphanage taking in children of abuse, neglect, illness, addiction and death. A newspaper reporter for a Great Falls newspaper once referred to the orphans as "stray mites of humanity." My younger sister, Margaret, and I were among those "stray mites of humanity."
Elder Jeffrey Holland, in his October 2008 Conference Address said:
In the course of life all of us spend time in 'dark and dreary' places, wildernesses, circumstances of sorrow or fear or discouragement...But I testify that angels are still sent to help us, even as they were sent to help Adam and Eve, to help the prophets and indeed to help the Savior of the world Himself...not all angels are from the other side of the veil. Some of them we walk with and talk with--here, now, every day.
It was here, at the age of four that the first of many angels came into my life. The Sisters of Providence were such angels. They provided a safe refuge from the storm that had become my family. My life was highly structured with Mass each morning, catechism, school and supervised activities. Material possessions were few.
The school I attended was part of the orphanage but it was also a parochial school to which Catholic children from the community came. Because other children came to the orphanage, I learned about families. At Christmas time, the children at the orphanage were often taken into the homes of kind people in the area who provided gifts for them. I can remember spending the night with a young couple and praying that they would like my sister and me and want to keep us. I, in my child's heart felt that I was not good enough to be loved. If I tried hard enough and was good enough, I might earn that love that never came.
During those years the nuns provided a sweet education. Always, I watched over my little sister, Margaret. Those angels provided for our basic needs, but also taught me about God. It wasn't the Father in Heaven I was to come to know later, but it was a solid foundation in faith and reverence. I must admit that it was a "fear of God" more than a love of God. That love for my Heavenly Father didn't come until I found the gospel. My biggest dream when I was ten years old was to become a nun just like the sisters that cared for me. I smile now because even though my life has been changed, I teach at a university where I am called Sister Kay. These were years of isolation in which I built a wall within my heart to protect myself from the pain of trusting and loving.
When I was ten years old, another angel came into my life. This was my maternal grandmother. After many years of trying to see us, my mother's mother was able to take my sister and me to her home in Sugar City for a month during the summer. What a glorious experience that was and yet a terrifying one, too. For three years we spent a month each summer with my grandmother. The year that I turned twelve, my grandmother asked if we would like to be able to stay with her always.
Since we were Catholic and my grandmother was a Mormon, this did not sit well with my relatives on my father's side of the family, and they refused. My grandmother took the case to court and was able to adopt us and bring us to live with her.
Our angels have trials and challenges, too. My grandmother was a survivor. As a small child her family was called by President Lorenzo Snow to colonize in Canada. They left their comfortable home in Cache Valley, Utah. During the first winter they lived in a tent with blocks of snow surrounding it for insulation and protection.
At night my grandmother would listen to the wolves howl in the darkness. Her early life was filled with hardships. My grandmother married out of the church. The poverty and hardships of Canada were too much for most of her family, and they slowly moved back to the United States, settling in Montana. My grandmother, however, remained in Canada with her husband and young family of four children. My grandfather died when my grandmother was twenty-eight years old, leaving her alone on six hundred and forty acres of land.
For eight years my grandmother ran the farm with the help of neighbors to put in the crops and harvest them. Then one winter day, she sent the children to school on the horse. Shortly after they left a blizzard came up and raged all day. She did not know about the safety of her children and could not go to find them. As night fell, she feared that they were lost and knelt to plead for their safety. She promised the Lord that if He would watch over the children, she would find a way to leave when spring came. The children made it to the small town and were taken in by neighbors, but Esther would not know this for three days when finally her oldest son rode the horse home and told his mother that they were all safe.
My grandmother had little education and worked as a maid to support herself and her children. She buried five husbands and three of her four children, and at the age of sixty-three took my younger sister and me into her home.
How she provided for us, I do not know. She had a small social security check and continued to work for a family in our ward during these years. My grandmother lived through her trials and challenges making a monument of service and example. She accepted what life had given her and made the best of that life. She could create a meal from almost nothing. I often watched her do ironing for others. She ironed the white shirts of the patriarch of our stake; they were a work of art. She was independent and self-sufficient. She found joy in a world in which others found sorrow.
It was in Idaho that I was first introduced to the church. My grandmother continued to take us to the Catholic Church each Sunday, and then we would go to the Mormon Church with her. My sister and I would then go home and know that we were going to Hell. In the Catholic Church, attending another church is a mortal sin and unless confessed can lead to damnation. The years of catechism were not lost on us and we knew well that we had better live until the next Sunday when we could go to confession before Mass. It was in August of 1960 that I was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
And then there entered into my life another angel. Image going to Young Women's without the experience of Primary--my first experiences as a member of the church were not without failure. One of the first mutual activities I attended was a speech night. This particular night, after opening exercises, the Young Men's president announced that tonight was the extemporaneous speech competition. I had no idea what that was, but he asked each of us to take a place on the stand, so I did. The Young Women's president then gave directions that each of us were to come to the podium when it was our turn. We would be handed a picture showing a gospel principle and we were to give a two-minute talk on that picture. A young man or young woman would go to the podium, receive their picture, take a minute to look at it and then out would come this wonderful talk. I thought it must be a miracle.
In my upbringing, attending church meant you went quietly and did not say a word during the service. How these young people were doing this was beyond me. When it was my turn, I walked to the podium; the Young Women's president handed me a picture. I looked at it and nothing came into my head. I looked around and wondered where the miracle was and then the tears began to flow.
In D&C 88:84 the Lord promises, "...I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you to bear you up." If anyone needed an angel, I did. And there she was, Mary Miyasaki, my young women's leader. She stood all of 4 feet 10 inches tall and she came to the podium put her arm around my waist, and just as your mom or dad did when you were in Primary and were too scared to give your talk, she whispered sentences in my ear, and I repeated them. When we came to the end and said "Amen," she gave me a hug and smiled. I returned to my seat wondering what kind of a religion I had gotten myself into-vowing that I would never do that again no matter what. But the Lord had other plans.
In Ether 12:27 you will find my mission scripture, because I have watched this promise become reality in my life. "And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." Making weak things become strong requires that we are stretched. Stretching is often painful; trials are often needed, but the promise is sure. He will make weak things strong.
But what of this angel? In my teenage years, Mary would become a second mother to me. She would guide me, love me and make me her own. Through my teenage eyes she was perfect. Little did I know at the time that my angel also had her trials and challenges. Mary grew up a Buddhist. She married a fine young LDS man and the following year was converted to the church. This was during the beginning of World War II. Mary's husband, Tommy, enlisted in the service and was stationed in Minnesota preparing to go overseas.
In a freak accident, Tommy lost his sight during a training maneuver. Mary was devastated. None of this was her fault. But Mary faced her challenges with courage and faith. Tommy graduated from college and began his own poultry business with Mary at his side. They had three sons and a daughter. Mary worked with Tommy, rising at 4:00 in the morning in order to accomplish all that needed to be done and still have time for her family. She became a community and church leader, as did Tommy. She served with love and honor. She took what life had given her and made of it a monument. She reached out to those around her, including me, a shy, insecure, non-member of the church. Through all the years of our association, I saw only her positive, cheerful attitude in the face of her trials. She trusted in the Lord.
Elder Holland counsels us:
Everyone ... will be called upon to face trying times. When that happens we can sometimes fear God has abandoned us, and we might be left, at least for a time, to wonder when our troubles will ever end...whenever these moments of our extremity come, we must not succumb to the fear that God has abandoned us or that He does not hear our prayers. He does hear us. He does see us. He does love us. When we are in dire circumstances and want to cry 'Where art Thou?' it is imperative that we remember He is right there with us---where He has always been. We must continue to believe, continue to have faith, continue to pray and plead with heaven, even if we feel for a time our prayers are not heard and that God has somehow gone away. He is there. Our prayers are heard. And when we weep, He and the angels of heaven weep with us.4
When we are involved in trials that we have not created, the Lord has promised us that we will have the strength to endure. Many of these trials are life changing--divorce, abuse, drugs, pornography, economic conditions, health problems, but know that God is aware of our circumstances. If we turn to him, He will help us endure. He will strengthen us.
There are trials in our lives that we, through our own disobedience bring upon ourselves. These trials require an additional step on our part--repentance. The Lord has told us that wickedness never was happiness.5 That is an eternal truth. When we violate the laws of God, the consequences often cause us to go through pain, suffering and sorrow.
Our choices in life always have consequences. This, too, is an eternal truth. One of the most marvelous blessings Heavenly Father has given us is the ability to repent--to come to Him with a broken heart and a contrite spirit and thus receive forgiveness for our sins.6 But it requires that we reach upward.
I was an adult before I learned the truth about my family. It wasn't until my grandmother's death that I learned that my mother had taken her own life. This knowledge filled me with anger. How could she have done that to me? I sensed in a heart-wrenching way that I wasn't loved. My anger filled my heart and blocked the blessings of the Lord. It consumed my soul and prevented me from serving and helping others. One day, as I sat rocking one of our boys, the Holy Ghost whispered to my heart, "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy paths."7 The Lord truly had directed my path. He had placed angels along the way to bring me to this moment. I sat rocking a beautiful baby born under the covenant into a home blessed with the priesthood of God. I was His daughter and He had blessed me with an abundance of blessings and had filled my life with joy. Now I was, of my own choice, blocking those blessings because of my lack of understanding. I needed to repent of my anger, I needed to trust in the Lord to make all things right.
My anger and hurt were further enlarged with my father's death a few years later. My oldest sister called one day to let me know that our father had died. As I held the phone and listened, I felt nothing. It was as if she were telling me that someone I didn't know had died. I had had no contact with him for over thirty years. He had never made the effort to be a part of my life. He knew nothing of me or my marriage or my children. He had deprived my sons of knowing a grandfather. My heart was hard and that hardness caused me pain and sorrow. It took prayer and time to realize that the Savior's Atonement had already paid the price for what I was feeling and also for all that my mother and father had felt and experienced.
The Atonement is an infinite atonement. My Savior paid the price that I might feel whole again if I too would forgive and come unto Him. The Lord can heal our hearts when we take our burden to Him. He can help us forgive. He can help us to heal our families. He can help us to know that we are loved and cherished. The blessings of the temple can unite us again as earthy families with celestial goals. The temple work for my mother and father has been done. I pray now for their acceptance of gospel covenants and blessings. I pray to understand and to accept.
Trials in our lives require our constant struggle, our constant climb to the top. Those who never seek repentance never enjoy the sweet blessings of forgiveness. Life is full of mountains to conquer, fears to overcome, service to give and happiness to enjoy.For a day, I stood nervously watching the summit of the Grant Teton as my teenage son climbed under the watchful care of a friend.
The three-some had planned for this excursion for many months. It had started out as a priest quorum activity, but when it came down to the climb, only two boys and their leader were ready for the challenge. Brent called me the night before to explain the procedures they would be using to make the attempt of the summit the next morning. "There are only a couple of places where we will have to repel more than a few hundred feet," he casually mentioned. "One place we will have to repel backwards, but it will be okay," he assured me. At that point I merely said, "Don't tell me anymore. Just assure me that you will bring my son back in the same condition I give him to you in the morning." That was a foolish statement on my part. My son did return, but in many ways he would never be the same, for he had been to the top, he had reached the summit. He had been stretched.
We, too, will never be the same after going through our trials and challenges in this life, and that is the whole purpose. We skin our knees and bloody our hands as we struggle against the sharp rocks. But in the process, we are transformed into stronger, more loving, more compassionate, more sensitive individuals. Trials when viewed from an eternal perspective bring wisdom and gratitude.
Several years ago, I had the privilege while training with National Geographic to meet Barry Bishop, one of the first Americans to reach the summit of Mount Everest. He had endured hardships, risks, and even the prospect of death to reach his goal. But why? He certainly couldn't stay at the top--in fact his time at the summit of Everest was measured in minutes. Why then make the effort?
Barry Bishop quoted Rene Daumal:
You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again, so why bother in the first place? Just this: what is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees, one descends, one sees no longer but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least know.
And so it is with us. As we climb the mountains of our lives, we gain strength and testimony. As we descend, we are better prepared for the next summit, the next test. We can face our new challenge with the assurance of what we have learned.
My sweet brothers and sisters I love you. The Lord loves you. I love working with you, learning about you, and sharing in your challenges. I marvel at your strength and your integrity. Do you face trials you did not create? Then reach upward and trust in God to help you endure or overcome. Do you face trials of your own making? Then repent and bring your life back into harmony with gospel principles. Know that our Heavenly Father and our Savior, Jesus Christ, love you. Know that there are many people around you who love you. There are angels to bear you up. Be an angel in the life of someone else. Strengthen and lift and guide and direct as others have guided you. We need each other. We must hold hands and strengthen each other.
In the April 2013 Conference, Elder Stanley G. Ellis stated, "Think of it brothers and sisters--we are not spiritual orphans! We are not alone." None of us are "stray mites of humanity" in the eyes of our Heavenly Father. He is our Father. He knows each of us. He loves us eternally--I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Of Trials and of Angels
Audio of Jo Anne Kay's Spring 2013 BYU-Idaho devotional address.