As a young member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (inadvertently called “The Mormon Church” by the media), I learned about the atonement of Jesus Christ at a very young age. I prayed in His name, was baptized in His name, and partook of the bread and water of the sacrament weekly, just as He did with his disciples before his crucifixion (Luke 22:18-19). In my prayers, I promised God that I would follow Jesus and serve Him with my life; if I had broken one of His commandments, I asked forgiveness. I worshipped and asked for help every day. In my early 20’s, I went to the temple, where members of The Church of Jesus Christ (Mormons) covenant to follow Christ, keep His commandments, and sacrifice all they have to Him. Yet it was not until I reached the age of 31 that I truly came to understand what Jesus did for me when He suffered in Gethsemane, died on the cross, and was resurrected.
Needing the Savior
I spent Christmas of 1991 in the hospital, fighting for the lives of my unborn twin daughters. They were not due for 12 more weeks, but because of serious complications their lives were in danger. I had blown up like a balloon and was at constant risk of going into labor. My husband and I prayed constantly for our babies’ health and safety, but still felt continual fear. Our three little boys could not understand why Mommy was not home for Christmas.
Three days after Christmas, one of the twins died, and the other was delivered by Caesarian section. Her life, too, hung in the balance as she was rushed to a nearby children’s hospital, given three full units of blood, and placed on life support. In shock and pain, grieving the loss of her sister, we continued to pray for the miracle of health for our remaining daughter, whom we named Sarah.
In a few weeks the verdict was in: Sarah, although healthy in body, had suffered an almost complete loss of mental capacity. Her brain was damaged beyond repair, with only enough healthy tissue left to keep her heart beating and her lungs breathing as the rest slowly died and disappeared. We were devastated. How could God have treated us this way? We were His beloved children, and we worshipped Him and followed our Savior, Jesus Christ, who had miraculously healed the sick and brought the dead to life! Where was the Lord when we needed Him?
As we brought home our tiny, four-pound premie, I tried to settle into life as the mother of a profoundly handicapped child. Sarah required round-the-clock feeding and attention. She did not sleep normally; she fed listlessly; she could not keep her tiny meals down; she cried and arched her back painfully whenever she was not being held. With three other young children who needed me and a still grieving heart, I felt completely overwhelmed. Again I sought help from God through prayer. One day, as I was reading in The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, I came across the following lines in Mosiah 24:13-15. Jesus Christ said to a group of ancient Christians who were enslaved to their enemies:
“Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; …and I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs.”
The Miracle of Grace: Lifting our Burdens
Grace is the miracle the Lord God offers to us, through the atonement of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, that lifts us to Him beyond anything we can do or ever hope to do in this life. “For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (The Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 25:23). We must put forth our very best efforts all through our lives to keep the Lord’s commandments–but we will inevitably fall far short. Grace is the gift through which God strengthens us along the way and makes up the difference. One of the three essential gifts we receive by grace through the atonement of Jesus Christ is the gift of comfort and healing. Alma, an ancient prophet, calls it “succor:”
And [Jesus Christ] 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…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 (Book of Mormon, Alma 7:11-12).
Relief and hope flooded my heart as I read the words of the Lord. I began to pray differently: not that my Savior would remove my burdens, but that, through the atonement, he would “ease my burdens” and provide succor for my soul. It was then that our miracle began–not a miracle of the flesh, but a miracle of the heart. I began to sense the presence of my tiny daughter’s pure, magnificent soul, and the presence of the angelic spirits who tended to her as she endured her physical trials. Earthly angels entered my life in the guise of loving friends, wise doctors, and understanding social workers who eased my burdens of worry and exhaustion. By the time a few months had passed, I was rejoicing in the opportunity to nurture my beautiful daughter.
The Miracle of Healing our Bodies
In order to heal, I needed a second gift of grace. As a Mormon, I believed Sarah’s damaged body housed an immortal spirit that was a literal spirit child of God the Father. Although her brain could not function, her spirit was still experiencing mortal life through her body. When she felt pain, I suffered, knowing she could not remember or anticipate it. Nor could she organize the continual bombardment she experienced through her senses. She could not, for example, tolerate both a breeze and a song at the same time. Nevertheless, her mortal experience was important to her eternal life. I had faith that after this life, she would remember and learn essential truths from what she experienced here. I sang to her, and her spirit responded to the sounds. She would relax in my arms, a rare blessingfor her, as I sang her a favorite children’s song from a songbook published by The Church of Jesus Christ:
My life is a gift; my life has a plan.
My life has a purpose; in heaven it began.
My choice was to come to this lovely home on earth
And seek for God’s light to direct me from birth.
I will follow God’s plan for me,
Holding fast to his words and his love.
I will work, and I will pray.
I will always walk in his way.
Then I will be happy on earth
And in my home above.
“I Will Follow God’s Plan,” by Vanya Watkins
I had faith in my heart that, through the grace of the resurrection of our Lord and Redeemer Jesus Christ, Sarah would one day fully experience life in a healthy, perfect immortal body. By understanding her past as a spirit daughter of God, her present mortal experience, and the perfection to which she would one day be raised, I found comfort despite her occasional sufferings.
On a trip to visit family just seven months after her birth, Sarah contracted a sudden, severe case of pneumonia. In the whirlwind of rushing her to the emergency room trying to help her breathe, I was forced to decide if the doctors should use oxygen or a ventilator in order to save her life. Visions of her early suffering in the NICU arose in my mind. There was no time to calmly review each choice, and although we prayed, answers were not immediately evident. I tried to see my daughter’s life in terms of the learning and growth of her immortal spirit, and made a decision to withhold treatment. She died in our arms at home just a few hours later, breaking my heart once again.
The Miracle of Forgiveness
The last grace I needed through the atonement of Jesus Christ was perhaps the most serious of all. While I had made the best decision I could, I had made an irrevocable choice in allowing my daughter to move on in her eternal life by leaving this one. If that was a mistake, it was a big one. Like all parents, I agonized over my imperfections. Like all mortals, I was lost unless my Redeemer intervened in my behalf. Without the Savior’s atonement, Sarah was gone forever; and I was cut off from God unless Jesus Christ atoned for all my sins. I reached up and grasped His promises with both hands. Isaiah’s promise was a light in the darkness to me:
“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Isaiah 1:18
Amazing Grace: The Atonement of Jesus Christ
The world has never been the same for me since Sarah lived and died. Sarah brought me face to face with suffering, sin, and death, and my own great need for a Savior and Redeemer. Despite my best efforts, in the depths of my need, I was indeed lost. Through the sacrifice of the blood and body of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, I was strengthened, healed, forgiven, and found. He has paid my debt, and I owe every breath of my life to Him. I live in hope of a glorious resurrection where Sarah will be reunited with our family, our physical bodies made perfect, to continue to grow in God’s presence for all eternity. Through Jesus’ grace we have been saved, after all we could do. It is indeed Amazing Grace to me.
Nora Moore Hess
Nora Moore Hess is a writer and musician living in Lindon, Utah. She is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon). Nora and her husband, Bret, are the parents of seven biological and three adopted children.