I am SO lucky.
Actually, I should use the word blessed because that’s the only way to explain it, isn’t it?
You see, I have a HUGE family.
I wasn’t born into it. My side of the family is relatively small–I’m one of three girls (my older sister never lived with us) and our extended family reunions can fit comfortably in a house if everyone is present. My dad has died, so coming home for week-long stays now includes my immediate family of two. But I love them so much and we’ve never lacked. We’ve always been close.
But then I moved out and went to college and accrued a whole plethora of friends who have become family. So close, in fact, that my kids will call them aunts and uncles.
And then I got married and BAM. Just like that, I accrued 14 other sisters and brothers (including spouses) and 21 other nieces and nephews besides the two I already had. I got another set of parents, and more cousins and uncles and aunts.. When we first got married my husband and I actually made a game out of memorizing everyone’s names because it was like memorizing the names of an auditorium of people at a football game.
But it wasn’t hard to memorize each of them because they worked their way into my heart really fast.
This last weekend I learned a little bit more about how blessed I am–and how blessed you are too. Let me tell you why.
We went to Utah for the baptism of my little nephew Colton. His mama, my husband’s sister, passed away three years ago from cancer. It shook our family to the core to lose her, but we all made a pact that we’d stay close to the kids and to her husband and his new wife now. Not all of us could make it to the baptism/reunion weekend but lots of us did, and I’m so glad we were there. During the confirmation blessing Colton’s daddy made it clear that Natalie, his mama in Heaven, was so proud. And we all felt it at that moment. She was very near. So it was only fitting that after we had our playtime and went out for ice cream after, we would visit Natalie’s resting place together.
I write about this time with the utmost reverence because it isn’t something that should be flashed around. I wondered if I should even include it at all. But I feel that I should. Natalie is buried in a family plot and since her youngest, Ella, wasn’t even two years old when Natalie died, she had lots of questions. As the family walked back to their cars and left them behind I captured a shot of my sweet and incredibly strong brother-in-law explaining with the utmost simplicity the resurrection.
“Someday, when it’s our time to go home to be with Heavenly Father we will see Mommy again,” he said sweetly. “We will give her a big hug.”
“I can’t believe she’s in the ground,” Ella said.
And that’s when my brother-in-law explained that she isn’t in the ground. But in fact, she’s with us as a beautiful spirit.
As I write this I remember the feelings that came over me in that family burial plot watching a daddy and his daughter over a mother’s grave. I remember feeling like the cemetery was suddenly packed, standing at attention–saluting a small girl who has to face a life of strong faith and courage.
Those stones in our graveyards are reminders in the emerald grass of the chariots of fire that run to our rescue daily. They remind me that whether you have a small family or a large family on earth, it doesn’t compare to the crowd that loves you in Heaven.
For all that I’ve lost, I remind myself now, I have gained so much in Heaven. My uncle, my cousin, my dad, my sister-in-law, my grandma, my grandpa, friends…all the others I’ve lost along the way–they guard and protect and serve me daily. They whisper in my ear and hug me from behind and lift my chin to the sun when I feel despair. They stand at attention during my time of sorrow and celebrate when I feel joy.
Yes. Angels are real. It’s called family.
One of the little boys I teach in primary at church said a sweet prayer the other day that comes to mind now.
“Thank you that Heaven loves us!” he exclaimed last Sunday. I’ve never heard that kind of phrase before, but what a little spiritual giant he is to exclaim what my heart sings over now. Thank you that Heaven loves me! Thank you that I have family and friends and ancestors who cheer for me and root for me and have passed down their talents and love and faiths just for me! Thank you that throughout the course of history we are one long chain that pulls and tugs through time, reminding each other and comforting each other and loving each other back to the kingdom.
Elder Holland said it best I think. I included this quote in a past blog of mine but why not share it again? It’s just THAT good.
“In the gospel of Jesus Christ you have help from both sides of the veil, and you must never forget that. When disappointment and discouragement strike–and they will–you remember and never forget that if our eyes could be opened we would see horses and chariots of fire as far as the eye can see riding at reckless speed to come to our protection. They will always be there, these armies of heaven, in defense of Abraham’s seed.”
You are the seed of Abraham. You are a link in a never-ending chain of God’s children. You matter enough to have angels, ancestors you never met, and those you have loved and lost, form rings of fire around you. You matter enough to have Heaven work to keep you uplifted, safe, and in the light, even against the dark evil that you can’t see.
It blows my mind and comforts my heart all at the same time.
Our feet that pass by these gravestones now will someday be joined in Heaven–someday WE will be the ones to help our loved ones from the other side of the veil.
The eternal plan for eternal happiness. The eternal pattern.
My face streamed with tears as I watched Ella learn about where her mama is right now. My face streamed with tears when I had to learn that same lesson with my dad.
But I can’t help but turn my face to the sunshine and thank God for the angels that hold us up. I can’t help but thank God that despite death, despite pain, and despite the blindness to the spiritual realm, I have a HUGE family.
And we have chariots of fire on each side running at reckless speed.
Just for me. Just for you.