Latter-day Saint Voices: With Thankful Hearts

By Julieta Arevyan de Álvarez

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    It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord,” wrote the Psalmist. “… For thou, Lord, hast made me glad through thy work: I will triumph in the works of thy hands” (Ps. 92:1, 4).

    What is it about gratitude that prompts such joy? Why are those “who [receive] all things with thankfulness … made glorious” (D&C 78:19)? Is it because hearts softened by feelings of gratitude are humble hearts—hearts sensitive to the whisperings and the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost?

    As President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor in the First Presidency, has said, gratitude is “among the noblest of virtues” (“An Attitude of Gratitude,” Liahona, May 2000, 4). A spirit of gratitude allows us to focus on heaven, even while we struggle with the challenges of earth. It places all our experiences—negative and positive—in their proper perspective.

    As the following expressions of gratitude illustrate, our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, love us immeasurably and are eager to bless us—especially with the gift of the gospel. May we receive Their gifts with thankful hearts.

    Gratitude on a Rainy Day

    It was rainy and brisk, the kind of day in México I like to be at home, spending time with my four children. I was reading a copy of the Liahona (Spanish) when I felt the warmth of the Holy Ghost reminding me how blessed my life has been. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I remembered.

    I was barely 17 when two missionaries knocked on our door; my mother was recently divorced and had five children. At the time I accepted only what could be proved by sight or touch or logic. So when my mother let the elders in, I was angry. I listened to the discussions but kept my distance. All the family members but me agreed to be baptized.

    One night the elders came to our home. Elder Álvarez spoke to me in a tone I had never heard before: “We have taught you all you need to know and have invited you to change your life. Now we come in the name of Jesus Christ to ask you to kneel before that God whose existence you deny and ask Him if the things we have told you are true. Do you accept our challenge—or are you afraid?”

    Afraid? That word was not in my vocabulary. I could ride a horse and hunt as well as most men. I would have put a rattlesnake around my neck if someone had dared me to.

    “I accept,” I said.

    It was hard to sleep that night. I kept thinking of the challenge I had accepted: Why had I done it? How could I bow down before an invisible being? The truth was, I was afraid.

    The next day I waited until everyone left the house before I went to the top of the building. There, I knelt down and began, “Father in Heaven …” Then I stopped. A strong wind was blowing, and I felt vulnerable. My senses were tuned to every sound, and I didn’t dare open my eyes. I felt utterly alone.

    Suddenly I felt protected, and I had the courage to go on. I asked to know if God existed. I asked for understanding. I asked to feel. I asked and asked. And before I knew it, I was crying—asking forgiveness for having doubted. I felt a burning in my heart and knew beyond any doubt that God existed and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was His Church. As I arose, I saw grit embedded in my knees and realized I had been praying for a long time.

    How much love the Father must have for me—indeed for all of us! Not only did He give me His gospel, He also gave me a righteous husband to help me take full advantage of it. Some of the greatest blessings of my life are the promises my husband and I received when we were sealed in the temple.

    My life is not easier than anyone else’s. On occasion, my family has wanted for the necessities of life. But as long as we have the Lord as our companion, we have found no problem too difficult. Sometimes we do not see His intentions and must simply trust in Him. I am eternally grateful for His love.

    The Bus Was Late

    Most days my bus arrived right on time, but one day—11 October 1993—it was late. I was a young university student in Caen, France, and I needed to get to class. Looking around, I noticed I was not the only one waiting for the bus. Two young men standing nearby caught my eye. They looked different. Each had a name tag. Who were they? They were obviously not high school students. But anxious about getting to class on time, I quickly turned my thoughts back to worrying about the late bus.

    Then, unexpectedly, I heard a voice behind me, saying, “May I ask you a question?”

    I turned and found myself facing one of the young men. He spoke French with an unusual accent. “Do you believe in God?” he asked.

    I was surprised and hesitated to reply. I had asked myself that very question many times. I had finally decided I was an atheist. There was no reason to continue talking with these young men, but something about their demeanor was so remarkable I found myself wanting to continue our conversation. They radiated a feeling of peace and, surprisingly, an outpouring of love and intelligence. Their name tags said they were missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    The three of us conversed for about 10 minutes. I knew nothing about their church, and I was amazed when they said they were prepared to teach me everything I needed to know about God, including the meaning of life. Before my bus arrived—15 minutes late—we set an appointment to meet.

    During our discussions, the two elders introduced me to the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, and they taught me about the restored gospel. Little by little, I learned the principles of the gospel and came to believe they are true.

    My entire life began to change. My parents were the first to notice the difference. Communication with my family improved, and my relationships with everyone became happier. I made friends more easily than ever before. I attended church and saw no pretense there, only expressions of love and acceptance unlike anything I had experienced before. The members seemed to know the difference between what was true and what was false. It was a place of wonderful opportunities.

    But before joining the Church, I wanted to be absolutely certain it was the right thing to do. I took my time making up my mind. The missionary discussions helped me come to the conviction that I would not be making a mistake, that I had indeed found the truth. I was baptized on 24 July 1994.

    It was the best decision I have ever made. Since then, I have enjoyed the blessings of the gospel and the fellowship of wonderful ward members. I have received the priesthood. I have taught Sunday School and participated in the conversion of others. Life has taken on new meaning.

    Thanks to the elders, I found the answers to my questions and the solutions to my problems. Meeting them was the most fortunate encounter of my life. When people ask me how I came to join the Church, I grin and tell them, “The bus was late—thank heavens!”

    Peace Within

    It was April 1992—summer in the Philippines. Our family was spending a vacation at a beach resort in Bagac, on the Bataan Peninsula. As soon as we arrived, my brothers and sisters ran down to the beach and jumped into the ocean. My parents went to look for a cottage to rent.

    Confined to a wheelchair, I waited in the shade of some coconut palms, feeling the cool breeze caress my skin. I inhaled deeply and felt my face break into a grin. I turned my gaze to the seemingly endless sea and watched the sun blazing in the sky, a brilliant ball of fire.

    On the beach, people were enjoying the warm sand; their laughter was audible even from a distance. In the water, swimmers were engaged in all kinds of activities. I watched my younger brothers practice their strokes. Elsewhere, some young people were riding jet skis or propelling paddle boats.

    I thought, How lucky these people are to have the freedom to fully enjoy the beauties of the earth!

    And then a wave of self-pity washed over me. I could not do the same. I will live all my life in a wheelchair. A feeling of gloom settled on me. I felt as though an actual force was trying to destroy my faith in Heavenly Father.

    I began to pray. I prayed with all the fervor of my soul for this feeling of depression to leave. Into my mind came words I had read in the Bible. At some happy day in the future, it said, “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart [deer], and the tongue of the dumb sing” (Isa. 35:5–6). A familiar yearning welled up deep inside me. My fondest desire is to walk, but doing so is beyond my abilities.

    I was startled from my thoughts by the laughter of young children. They were filled with the excitement of discovery as they searched the wet sand for seashells. Suddenly my spirits lifted, and peace filled my heart. Someday I would walk. Someday I would even “leap as an hart.” In the meantime, my physical disabilities did not prevent me from feasting my senses on the beauties of the earth, pondering my blessings, and praising the Lord for them. Bowing my head, I uttered a silent prayer of thanks for the privileges I enjoy.

    Because of Just One Person

    I was 13 years old when I first saw the full-time missionaries. I was living apart from my family at the time, going to school in another town in the Philippines. One day while riding the bus, I saw two nicely dressed young men sitting near me. I didn’t know who they were, but I was impressed with what I assumed were their uniforms. For some reason, I wanted to wear one, too.

    Several months later, on one of my trips home, I arrived to find my father reading a book. I was curious, and so was my mother.

    “What book is that?” she asked.

    “The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ,” he replied, adding, “One of the neighbors gave it to me and invited me to read it.”

    Two weeks later, two young men visited the house and introduced themselves as missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They seemed to really care about my father. The following day, they began to teach him the gospel.

    Because I was living away from home, I was not able to talk to the missionaries. But about a month later, I received word that my father had been baptized. He sent me a message, telling me to come home so his whole family could learn about the true Church. My mother supported my father’s wishes wholeheartedly.

    And that is how the missionaries came to teach us all. We were baptized on 19 November 1988. It was the most wonderful day of my life.

    About a year after my father’s baptism, he became very ill. Early one Sunday morning, he called my mother, my brothers, my sisters, and me to his bedside. There, he looked at me and said, “My son, I hope you will serve a mission.” After saying these words, he died.

    My father’s dying words impressed me so deeply that I did wear the “uniform” of a full-time missionary. I served in the Philippines Quezon City Mission.

    I am grateful for my father’s example, and I am grateful for that one person who cared enough to share the Book of Mormon with him.

    [illustration] Detail from The First Vision, by Gary E. Smith

    [illustrations] Illustrated by Brian Call