My absolute favorite Relief Society talk was given a few years ago during our stake's annual women's conference. I don't remember the theme and I can only vaguely recall some rendition of "O Divine Redeemer" being the special musical number, but I do remember the keynote speakers.
It was a mother and daughter. The mother lived in our stake and her daughter had grown up out here and then moved to Utah--Riverton, I think. As they shared their story they switched back and forth and supplemented with pictures projected onto a screen behind them. The daughter, who was a young married twenty-something and the mother of two children, had been born with a kidney problem. It had been only a minor issue until she was about to graduate high school. It was then that they discovered her kidneys were in such bad shape that she would have limited health and most likely never be able to support a pregnancy. It was horrible news, but they went on with their lives.
The daughter eventually met a wonderful young man who said he would marry her regardless of the state of her kidneys. After they were married, much to their surprise, they were strongly prompted to have a baby. Against the advice of doctors they followed the prompting and got pregnant. Things went much better than expected and in the end both the mother and child were healthy. However, the doctor warned the young woman that her kidneys had had all they could take and she'd better not try again.
So, they began to plan for adoption, when again the unmistakable prompting came to get pregnant. After praying and fasting, they again conceived. The pregnancy was difficult, but the baby was born healthy. Unfortunately, the young mother was not. Her weak kidneys were in a desperate state and she was immediately started on dialysis and put on the organ donation waiting list.
The older mother, the one who lived in our stake, traveled out to Utah during the week to help her daughter with the dialysis and then came home on the weekends to take care of things at home. She did this for months until it got too difficult and it was decided that perhaps other people could pitch in a little. Providentially, the young mother's visiting teacher got laid off and was suddenly free during the days to take her to dialysis. Then a neighbor's work schedule changed so that she could watch the two young babies. Meals were brought in, fasts were held, prayers were said, and finally, an answer loomed on the horizion.
Unbeknowst to the young mother, her mother had been going through the testing process to see if she could give her daughter a kidney. She passed the intial test and began the next round. As she waited for the results she called the young mother and they had a family fast--what they were fasting for, they weren't sure, but they knew they needed the Lord's guidance.
The older mother, thankfully, was a match. And she immediately flew out to Utah for the procedure. There was a lot that could have gone wrong, but the operation went off without a hitch and both women healed completely. And again, the Church network of home teachers, visiting teachers, and other compassionate servers came through by giving blessings, bringing meals, watching children, and cleaning houses. In fact, it had been a couple years and things were going so well they had begun looking into adopting another child.
As the women spoke it was all very inspirational. To hear how they struggled and kept the faith had many listeners in tears, but that is not why it was memorable to me. As I listened, I kept thinking, "Well, of course, you had faith. Everything worked out. But how would you have felt if the pregnancies hadn't been successful or if the kidney hadn't been a match? Or what if your visiting teachers weren't there for you? Then what?" Now, my thoughts may have been more cynical than they should have been, but I think those are important questions. To be in that situation must have been horrible; I can only imagine how emotionally and physically painful it was. But still, things worked out for them and for a lot of people they don't. Plenty of people don't get the organ they need or don't have the support system necessary to weather that kind of storm. Then what happens to their faith? We certainly don't hear from them in a testimony meeting or ask them to speak at our firesides.
So now comes the memorable part. After the young mother had borne her final testimony and sat down, it was her mother's turn. As she stood up at the podium she got very teary eyed and testified to the Lord's blessings and how they had seen His hand in their lives. But, she said, there was one more thing they needed to tell us. The day before the young mother had flown out for the conference she had gotten some bad news from her doctor. Her kidneys were fine, but the rest of her was not. She had cervical cancer and it had begun to spread. The day she returned to Utah she was supposed to start treatment. As both women began to cry, the older mother admitted that it didn't seem fair and she wasn't sure why this was happening. It raised a lot of questions for her, but she was going to do her best just like she had done before. Neither of them offered any platitudes or statements of false hope. In fact, they both looked haggard and a bit scared. But they also looked determined. And that was what was memorable to me.
Looking back on that now, I am struck by their courage. For most of us it is very easy to talk about our problems in the past tense. When things are over and done we can assign them meaning and purpose. When it all works out we can then see the Lord's hand in our lives. But how many of us can do that in the present moment? In the midst of extreme trials, how many of us can honestly face them with such a determined faith that we can admit to being unsure? How many of us can be so candid as to say that we don't know, but that we still hope? I think more often than not part of the test of life is come to know the truth, to know our Savior. But maybe sometimes the real test is to be pushed past our knowing and see if we are still willing to hope.