Message on a Bottle


My mother’s abiding love taught me more about the Atonement of Jesus Christ than anything else in my childhood.

When I was 11 years old, I had a wonderful Primary teacher. One day in class, she walked in on a discussion among us 11-year-old boys about our mothers and how tough they were on us. Our mothers would insist that we make our beds, help with the dishes, take out the garbage, and even help with other housework.

Our teacher said nothing but went ahead with our lesson. At the end of the class, she said that on the coming Saturday morning we were going to have a special activity at her house.

That Saturday, we peddled our bicycles to her home. She gathered us around her dining room table where she had some liquids in bottles. She also had small, empty bottles for each of us. We poured so much of this and so much of that through a funnel into our bottles. We learned that we were making hand lotion for our mothers.

When we finished, our teacher gave us a small piece of paper on which she had written a verse. We each copied it down and taped the verse onto our bottles. We proudly took the lotion home to our mothers as a gift.

My mother was wise so, instead of using the lotion, she put it on the middle shelf of our bathroom’s medicine cabinet. It remained there through all my teenage years. Every day, as I opened that cabinet to get my toothbrush or comb, there on the shelf was the bottle with that handwritten verse. It was still there the day I combed my hair before leaving for my mission.

That verse impacted my life permanently. It said, “Bless the hands that never tire in their loving care for me.” That message, which I read every day, drove deep into my heart love, respect, and appreciation for my mom.

Another story about my mother had an even greater impact on me. It shaped how I resolved to live my life.

When I was a priest, my assignment one Sunday was to bless the sacrament in Sunday School. In those days, we took the sacrament during Sunday School in the morning, and then returned for sacrament meeting in the evening.

I had a 1946 Chevy coupe that I had made into a hot rod, and I wanted to compete in some races that were being held that Sunday. I knew that my parents would not approve, so I said nothing. I am ashamed to say it, but I left church and went to the drag races. I raced one time and lost.

When I returned home, my mother was standing at the kitchen sink, finishing up the dinner dishes. I could see tears on her cheeks. I asked, “Mom, what’s the matter?”

She turned and asked, “Son, where have we failed as parents that you feel you can violate the Lord’s holy day?”

I couldn’t bear it! My dear mother was taking the blame and burden for my wrongdoing.

That moment helped me understand more about the Atonement of Jesus Christ, that someone else was willing to bear the burden of my wrong choice. I began to understand how the Savior could do that for me because I saw my mother do it in this instance.

To you who may find yourselves in similar situations, I say: I hope you learn before you get hurt—spiritually or physically. I hope that you have parents like I have who put an arm around me and taught me. I hope you listen to them. They will help you make decisions that will bless you the rest of your life.

[illustration] Illustrated by Steve Kropp