Viewpoint: The Lord Has Blessed Us

Contributed By From the Church News

  • 17 May 2013

Photo by Scott G Winterton.

“I urge you to lift your heads and walk in gratitude. Spare yourselves from the indulgence of self-pity. It is always self-defeating. Subdue the negative and emphasize the positive. Count your blessings and not your problems.” —President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008).

In 1866, Hawaii’s King Kamehameha V signed the “Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy.” Soon thereafter, a peninsula on Molokai was designated as a place of settlement for those who had contracted leprosy, now known as Hansen’s disease.

Initially, the peninsula held out little hope for any of the people banished to it. Eventually, supplies became available, improvements were made over the years, and a permanent settlement was established at Kalaupapa, complete with a hospital, comfortable housing, and access to just about anything residents needed.

Some 8,000 people—including hundreds of Latter-day Saints—were sent to the peninsula. When the isolation law was repealed in 1969, it was determined that no new patients were to be sent to Kalaupapa, and no new residents were allowed to move in. Since no children under age 16 were permitted to live there, Kalaupapa became a dying settlement; it eventually became a national park.

Over the years, LDS membership declined. The last Latter-day Saint at Kaulapapa, Lucy Kaona, died in 2011. The little LDS chapel in an exotically beautiful setting now stands empty, except on special occasions.

In 1997, Sister Kaona and only two other Latter-day Saints remaining at Kaluapapa, Kuueli Bell and Peter Keola, told a visitor a bit about themselves. Sister Kaona said she had spent most of her life at Kaluapapa, having contracted leprosy in her youth and removed from her home. While marriages were permitted, residents were not allowed to keep their children. Her baby was taken away within minutes after birth.

On the day the visitor met with Sister Kaona and the others, the bishop hiked down the 2,000-foot-cliff that separates Kaulapapa from the “topside” Hoolehua Ward to preside over and conduct a sacrament meeting, something done by a Melchizedek Priesthood holder each Sunday.

Such visits reflected the Master’s eloquent teaching: “… when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17). And the gathering of so few Saints reflected the Savior’s declaration: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).

Her face disfigured and her body bearing signs of the disease that ancient Egyptians called “death before death,” Sister Kaona stood to bear her testimony. In a soft voice she said, “I know the Lord loves me because He has been so good to me.”

Sister Kaona could have listed her woes. Instead, she spoke of her blessings. She felt blessed to know the gospel and to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She was grateful for the Atonement and the knowledge that she could triumph over earth’s trials and return to her Heavenly Father’s presence, that while she was deprived of the blessings of a loving home and family on earth she could look forward to returning to her heavenly home.

Through her simple words, she taught a profound lesson: The Lord has blessed us.

Yes, we have problems and sorrows. Grief visits, disappointments abound, disabilities hedge physical progress, challenges present roadblocks. We have our own woes, monumental or minute. Will we be remembered for our litany of troubles or our testimony of faith? 

No matter what our troubles, cares, or worries might be, we have the opportunity to lay them down. The Savior extended an invitation:

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

In bearing her testimony, Sister Kaona exemplified the message President Gordon B. Hinckley, then a counselor in the First Presidency, delivered as he addressed the 1985 General Women’s Meeting:

 “I urge you to lift your heads and walk in gratitude. Spare yourselves from the indulgence of self-pity. It is always self-defeating. Subdue the negative and emphasize the positive. Count your blessings and not your problems” (“Ten Gifts from the Lord,” Ensign, November 1985).

A favored hymn reminds us:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings; name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

Count your blessings;
Name them one by one.
Count your blessings;
See what God hath done… .

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings; every doubt will fly,
And you will be singing as the days go by… .

So amid the conflict, whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged; God is over all.
Count your many blessings; angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end… .

(“When Upon Life’s Billows,” Hymns, No. 241).

“People were sent here to die. This was a living tomb,” Sister Bell said of Kalaupapa’s early days.

The little settlement that was established as a place of disease, despair, discouragement and death has become a memorial, a tableau of refuge, healing, faith, and hope. It was here that Sister Kaona came to know that Heavenly Father loved her. May we come to that same knowledge, no matter where we reside.