The Pure Love of Christ Changed My Life

by Karen Jensen

Take a look at Moroni 7:46-48. As Moroni was hiding from the Lamanites at the end of the Book of Mormon, having watched his entire nation, along with his own family and loved ones, be destroyed, and as he was utterly alone and unsure if he’d be caught and killed for believing in Christ, these are the words of his father’s that he felt were important enough to add to the end of the Book of Mormon.

As we partake of the sacrament, we symbolically make our Savior and His strength a part of us as we eat the bread. What a beautiful symbol that this bread is nourishing us and literally becoming our own muscles and bones and energy. What a beautiful symbol that we drink the water that is now inside of us, washing and healing our body, and giving it life! All of this is a symbol of what the Savior is for us on that altar. 

And as we do this, we made a solemn covenant with our Father in Heaven to take upon us the name of the One whose body and spirit was torn and broken for us and which now gives us this healing, strength, and hope. Which means we have promised to represent him, and in the process, become like him as we act in his name.

I have been, for many years, in a position where my kids and I have been the recipients of so many beautiful, simple, and profound acts of Christlike love in the middle of what has seemed like constant intense health and family challenges. These Christlike acts have truly changed my life. I was hesitant initially to share some of these experiences, for fear it may look as if I’m asking for pity or attention. But I have realized that my testimony in this topic comes from these very experiences, and the Spirit I hope to invite may need to come straight from this testimony I have gained.

Something I want to preface this with is the fact that it can easily feel like such an impossible goal to consider how we can and need to try to become like our Savior. But I think everyone here can probably stand here just as well as I can to say that some of the most meaningful and most Christlike acts we’ve individually been the recipients of can be incredibly simple.

For instance, when my Ashley was four years old, after collapsing in her tumbling class and not being able to use her legs for a few moments, she was diagnosed with a malformation in her brain which had caused pressure and fluid to build on her brain and spinal cord. This fluid was threatening to break it entirely.

My sweet little Ashley underwent many incredibly brutal brain and spinal-cord surgeries over the course of the next year. I was told by the brain surgeons and nurses in the NTU that one surgery she had to undergo twice is the most difficult and traumatic surgery to recover from in their unit, and from a mom’s perspective, it was gut-wrenching to watch her go through it not once, but twice.

The first time she went through it, I was almost nine months pregnant with my Jane, and after having been at the hospital that first couple of days, I left the hospital exhausted one afternoon for a few hours to go home and see my other kids. I remember as I got in the car to drive home, all the emotion of seeing my sweet little girl in such a frightening state and with such a huge gash on her head finally came to the surface.

I was trying to merge onto the freeway during rush-hour traffic, and I was honestly falling apart emotionally and maybe not driving quite as impeccably as I usually do. I remember some very angry drivers flying past me, some waving the special friendly wave. And while it was maybe some deserved frustration on their part, I remember the feeling crushing me… like I just couldn’t shoulder one more emotion, even as silly and insignificant as that action was. And then, I remember someone slowing down slightly to give me a spot to merge into.

I remember them smiling and waving me into the lane, and as simple as that act was, it meant the world in that small yet extremely heavy moment for me. It lifted and replaced the heavy and dark with something beautiful and loving, which to me, is absolutely Christlike. Changing what is dark to what is beautiful. Since that day, I have tried (I’m not always successful) to remember that moment and remember that it can be my seemingly small actions in even how I drive that can lift a burden. It can be a very simple act that can bring the light of Christ into a moment.

Another example is when Ashley underwent the same surgery the second time. This was about nine months later, and at this time, my Jane was about eight months old and had some extremely difficult eating and health issues, all coinciding with the difficulty of Ashley’s recovery. I was often feeling overwhelmed, and sometimes alone in the weight of all that was going on while wanting to be a good mom to all my kids. And little Ashley was struggling for having felt so much pain for so long now, along with the fear and loneliness of being in the hospital for such a long time again.

When it was finally time for me to bring her home, we walked in her bedroom, stunned to find more than 2,000 beautifully folded paper cranes hanging on her wall, with twinkle lights surrounding them. I was told they were made by friends, neighbors, family, and strangers, all wanting to show Ashley she was loved and never alone.

These cranes hang now in Jane’s room, and to this day, I can’t walk in her room and watch her sleeping under them without being profoundly touched by this gesture. I am reminded every time I see them that we are not alone. Again, what a simple act for someone to fold some paper and give it away. But for me, this again is absolutely Christlike.

Jesus was so often found in the company of the lonely, the sick, the heartbroken, the weighed down, and those seemingly abandoned. Even a small paper crane can remind us that we are never abandoned or alone.

About two years later, I found myself in a position where I was forced to choose whether or not I would try to follow my Savior’s example in a way that felt so incredibly difficult for me. Jane had now been diagnosed with the same malformation as her sister. So at three years old, she underwent the same difficult surgery. Two weeks after surgery, she was still so sick at home and getting worse, so I took her back to the hospital, where they discovered she had acute hydrocephalus. Her skull needed to be drilled so her brain could be drained of fluid, along with a separate procedure to correct the hydrocephalus.

As all of this was happening, the doctors and nurses were concerned about her body and brain being able to handle all the trauma and stress of the last weeks, as some things were beginning to shut down. I began being prepared for some of the frightening realities and possibilities.

There was a point in all of this when I remember sitting alone by her bed one night, watching her struggle in her sleep, and I emotionally began falling apart. I had been desperately praying for her to be healed for so many weeks now, all as things just continued to pile on in more frightening ways. So as I began praying that night, my prayer began in the same desperate, frantic way. And in some personal, sacred moments of that night, I remembered Jesus’s prayer in the Garden, when even the Son of God felt so much pain at the weight of all the world’s, he asked if there was another way for God’s plan to be fulfilled. And then Jesus added, “Not my will, but thine.”

My initial response to remembering this was shrinking and even some anger… because no way could I ever make it my will for my baby to suffer and die! But then, as I thought about Jesus’s words, and realized it maybe didn't have to be my will for my Jane to suffer or die, I realized for the first time the help I really needed. I needed to hand it to God.

I needed to hand Jane and myself and my family and the outcome completely to him and his will and trust that whatever the outcome, he would take care of us. That he would be in the eternal and beautiful details, no matter the temporal situation. That even if I lost Jane, that even if it broke me entirely, He would be with me, just as He promises in the sacrament. That He would heal me, at least someday, and heal Jane, as that water we drink symbolizes. That He would send help and hope and comfort somehow.

Honestly, this might be one of the hardest choices and lessons I’ve ever learned. But the overwhelming and tangible peace and hope and even sacred experiences that followed could not have happened otherwise. This attribute of Jesus, which we are all so grateful He chose in following the will of His Father and not His own, is maybe one of the most difficult for me to learn. But the miracle of the entire plan of salvation being fulfilled in the Savior’s choice in that moment helps me understand that maybe it’s the deepest growth I’m making when I can choose my Father’s will also, even if it’s just in those few seconds where I so desperately need peace and need His strength.

In the years that followed this experience, more health and family challenges followed, and as I found myself in places of complete exhaustion and overwhelm, I began to see all around me what seemed to be angels who were my Savior’s hands. When Gabe broke his leg and was diagnosed with a rare bone disease, my dad carried him so gently everywhere to and through the hospital that day. And friends, neighbors, and family showed up constantly with help, love, and encouragement.

And in the last two years, I experienced some of the most personal challenges of all as my own tumor diagnosis and surgery almost took my life (and in which my surgeons at Huntsman still marvel at the miraculous result). And finally, as I became a single mom. How many times in these years did I fall next to my couch on the floor to pray at night, while falling apart in exhaustion and overwhelm, asking where Heavenly Father was and how He expected me and my kids to survive it all, let alone how I could be the mom my kids deserved?

And then how many times did I open my front door to someone with a meal, with a note, with gifts for my kids, with offers to cut hair, or did I open the door to see neighbors trying to stealthily plant flowers in my flower beds? How many times did I open the door to find someone with bags of darling clothes for my kids, or with homemade quilts, with books to read to my kids at night, with anonymous generosity giving my kids a Christmas? 

How many dear friends and family showed up, knowing full well they couldn’t fix the problem, yet they were willing to simply be there with me. Having no idea the right words to say, yet they would simply listen and feel with me and love me in all my brokenness, and sometimes cry. I thought of the Savior who cried with Martha, even knowing He could and would fix her problem.

As I’ve watched all of these people doing simple or big acts, it made me realize in such profound personal ways that I wasn’t alone. That all of these beautiful people around me have that light of Christ in them. The light of the Man who lifted, healed, and loved at the cost of his own life. All of these people made me see my Savior and His light shine through what was truly dark and terrifying.

Even as we moved into this new ward, knowing nobody, it was clear that the Savior’s love is everywhere. From a mass of men and their sons helping me move in, to sweet Nedra Coyner or Amy Bullock chatting endlessly with my Jane, to Nedra buying my kids birthday gifts or giving them popsicles and treats, to a neighbor running down the street to help me pull a rose bush, to boys stopping in to invite my Gabe to play night games, to girls inviting my girls to get-togethers, to texts and kindness from almost strangers, I am truly amazed at the miracle these Christlike actions have created in our home.

I would say it is the pure love of Christ that has changed my life--the very thing Moroni 7 teaches us we need to pray for with “all the energy of our heart.”

I want to close with something I wrote on Facebook in February, as the struggles we experienced seemed to be climaxing. Some minutes, hours, or days, I feel like there is no strength left in me and discouragement is just too heavy. Some moments, I feel I genuinely can't lift any more. But the craziest and sharpest reality of this place of exhaustion and frustration is the miracle it has made clear in my life.

On the night of Valentine's Day, I lay down in my bed, exhausted and discouraged, and just as I was about to switch off my lamp, I noticed the tape dispenser on my nightstand and wondered why it was there. I suddenly noticed the wall above my head, and as I sat back up, looking at sweet little notes written by all my kids all over my wall, I began to cry. Really hard! They were the sweetest, most sincere insights and expressions of love... about me. In everything that has happened, my beautiful babies see something in ME... and they love me genuinely.

Maybe the most profound miracle in all that has happened became clear to me. And it wasn't just clear, I felt it overpowered me! Love. What an incredible miracle. As these last years, and these last months have gone by, the love I have felt from others has honestly changed my life. But looking at my wall, I realized that one of the most hopeful and beautiful things for me to grasp is how much love I feel so powerfully FOR so many people.

For my babies. For my parents and siblings who have given so much time and love endlessly. For friends and neighbors, who have saved my behind and sanity, and who have lifted and loved more than I ever realized could be possible. For those anonymous souls whose generosity and love has shown up on my porch more times than I can count. For those angels who continue to surround me and my family. Some are seen. Some are on the other side.

The last months have been challenging, for many reasons. One is that a few weeks ago, Gabe had his regular check-up at Primary's for his bones, and the doctors are concerned cancer may be causing his tumors to grow substantially. This, along with some other heavy realities, sometimes made discouragement feel crushing. But it is the very reason that feeling so much love is clearly a miracle. It changes everything.

It is the reason, yet again, that I know things will be okay. It is the reason I find the strength to figure out another day, again and again. It is the reason I have hope, no matter what is in store each day. It's the reason my Savior allowed his hands and feet to be torn by nails. It's the reason he felt such unheard-of agony in the garden.

And, as I think of all those I love so very much, I realize my reasons are far more overwhelming, profound, hopeful, and powerful than anything out there that discourages me. I am SO grateful for the people I love so much! There are no words, really, to verbalize the miracle you have all brought about for me!

I want to bear my personal testimony of that attribute of Christ which motivates all others: the pure love He has for us. And while I may not be the example of one who has learned to show and give it, maybe I can be a testimony for what that love can do. And for that, I can say it has been a miracle. And one that I yearn to pay forward.

For all the challenges my family has faced, the miracle is that the love shown to us has turned these frightening and heavy challenges into truly beautiful experiences.

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