Becoming Children of Light

By Annette P. Bowen

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    The darkness of difficult moments can be replaced by hope and light offered through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    It was two o’clock in the morning, and I was lying in a hospital bed, unable to sleep. I was worried and shaken, and I felt terribly alone. Surgery on my knee had been successful, but during a routine preoperative examination, a doctor had discovered a growth on my thyroid. The next day doctors would determine if it was cancerous or benign.

    Down the hall a friend of mind lay in a coma caused by cerebral bleeding two days before as she was delivering her first child. Earlier that evening, my husband, Scott, had bicycled to the hospital to visit me before reporting to a neighboring hospital for a night’s work as a medical student. During our visit he told me our health insurance company had sent us a letter of cancellation dated two days before my surgery.

    After assuring me that all would work out, Scott left but quickly returned to my room to call for a ride because his bike, his primary form of transportation, had been stolen.

    Needless to say, when Scott left I was beside myself with anxiety. We were struggling newlyweds and didn’t have the money to replace Scott’s bike, let alone pay for the staggering medical bills that our health insurance might not cover. Why had our insurance policy been canceled? And what about this thyroid test? What about my friend—would she recover? How was her little boy? Still groggy from anesthesia, my mind wouldn’t connect my thoughts to any answers, so I tried not to think at all and finally fell asleep.

    But by two o’clock in the morning, the effect of the anesthetic had abated, and I was fully awake. The impact of all that was happening to me was overwhelming. Feeling lost and abandoned, I began to sink into despair.

    My closest relative was three states away. Mom had offered to come, but we’d assured her that my surgery was a simple procedure and I’d be all right on my own. It was too late to telephone any of my nearby friends. Scott was working all night, and I knew he was as worried as I was. As tears slipped down my cheeks, I said a prayer to see me through the night.

    Twenty minutes later, I heard the door to my room open. Expecting a nurse, I turned my head. There was Margie Barry, a new sister in my ward. Her husband was in residency training at the medical center.

    “Something told me you’d be awake,” she said as she approached my bed. “Here, I brought you something.” She handed me a can of soda pop and a package of treats. “I felt strongly that you needed someone right now, so I came.”

    I couldn’t believe that Margie would get out of bed at two o’clock in the morning and drive across several Houston suburbs to come comfort me. I expressed to her my amazement, but she responded simply, “You needed somebody, so I came. Now tell me what’s wrong.”

    I poured out my sad story. Margie listened and sat by my bedside until I was able to fall asleep.

    Answers to most of my worries came in the next few days. My employer would correct the mistake with my health insurance coverage, so I didn’t need to worry about my hospital expenses. Our renter’s insurance would enable us to replace Scott’s bike. The nodule on my thyroid was benign. Tragically, my friend down the hall died, leaving a grieving husband with a tiny new son. This death made all my troubles and worries seem trivial as Scott and I struggled to assist our widowed friend with his burdens.

    “Ye are all the children of light” (1 Thes. 5:5), the Apostle Paul taught the Saints in New Testament times. My friend Margie was applying that ancient lesson in modern times. She was certainly a child of light for me. Into the darkness of my hospital room she brought the light of charity, compassion, and love. Her appearance in my room and her response to the Holy Spirit’s whisperings set an example for me of love and light I have never forgotten. The memory of her sweet actions on that bleak night has often prompted me to comfort, cheer, and serve others, to be a child of light myself.

    We know that Jesus Christ is “the light of the world” (John 8:12), “the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9), and “the light which shineth in darkness” (D&C 6:21). Christ also charges us to be like him, to be his disciples by bringing his light and love to others: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14–16). Ways in which we prepare ourselves to radiate this light are to “believe in the light” (John 12:36) and to “gird up [our] loins, that [we] may be the children of light” (D&C 106:5).

    When my son, Jeremy, turned eight, he wanted to be baptized in the stream that runs behind my parents’ cabin in the mountains. We received permission to conduct the baptism there after Jeremy’s interview with his bishop. At twilight, after Jeremy’s beautiful baptism, we went back to the stream to participate in a special family tradition—lighting the “candle boats,” simple wooden platforms with small candles attached.

    As we lit the first candle, I talked to my son about light, explaining to him Christ’s identity as the light of this world. Then Jeremy used the first candle to light all the other candles. I pointed out to him that as followers of Christ we can share our light with others. One by one, we sent dozens of boats downstream to circle quietly in the eddies of the pond. The candle boats, the lights, and the beautiful reflection of the flames in the water provided a rich metaphor for me to teach my son about the light that shines in his eyes—that inner light which intensifies as we come to know and receive the light of the world, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

    A family I know learned a powerful lesson about light and darkness while visiting some caves in central Oregon. Given a lantern and instructions regarding the self-guided cave tours, the family had a wonderful time exploring the caverns together. The lantern cast light bright enough for the whole family to see their surroundings as they made their way around subterranean puddles, along ledges, and through narrow passageways.

    The lantern had a cap on it that forced all light downward, so the person holding it didn’t notice that the cave ceiling ahead was considerably lower. The top of the lantern hit the rough surface above it, and the lantern was knocked loose, breaking as it hit the rocky floor. The family froze in the darkness. They couldn’t see a thing, not even their own hands in front of their faces. They couldn’t see any traces of light in the caves; no one else was on this section of the trail. At first the children were excited and thought the incident funny. But the humor wore off quickly, and the children became anxious. The father, Cliff, did not dare move his family forward for fear of accident.

    After a while the family saw a small light flickering far away from them. They cheered as it grew larger. Finally, another family found them in the darkness. Cliff explained their dilemma, and his family used “borrowed light” to progress toward the entrance of the cave. This process was so awkward and slow that Cliff decided it would be better if he and his son, Ryan, went to the cave entrance and returned with a lantern for the family. At this point there were many other people in the cave, so Cliff and Ryan made their way from light source to light source and eventually reached a handrail.

    The cave again grew pitch black for Cliff and Ryan when no other groups with lanterns were nearby. The two decided to move forward while holding on to the rail.

    Suddenly a voice inside Cliff commanded “Stop now!” Cliff didn’t move another inch. Grabbing Ryan, he told his son that they needed to stop and wait. When a group with a lantern arrived, Cliff discovered that he was at the top of a steep flight of stairs. If he’d taken one more step, he likely would have plunged to his death.

    Cliff had recognized another source of light in darkness—the Holy Ghost, whose promptings can direct our paths if we are receptive and obedient.

    I have always loved the beautiful words of the hymn “Lead, Kindly Light.” In moments of personal darkness, I have been reassured by quietly reciting the words of the first verse:

    Lead, kindly Light, amid th’ encircling gloom;

    Lead thou me on!

    The night is dark, and I am far from home;

    Lead thou me on!

    Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see

    The distant scene—one step enough for me.

    (Hymns, 1985, no. 97)

    In times of personal confusion and darkness, I pray for enough light to see the safe path, to take the next step, or to stop, like Cliff did, when I am in danger. Answers to those prayers have come as people have brought me light by sharing encouraging words, laughter, or testimony with me, as I’ve followed promptings from the Holy Ghost, and as I’ve searched the scriptures and found light in them. I have found the poetic words of Psalm 119:105 [Ps. 119:105] to be true: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”

    Tonight I find myself, once again, awake at two o’clock in the morning, facing some frightening possibilities. I have been confined to home and bed for more than a month, and I face a difficult and dangerous third back surgery. This morning my sister-in-law called to tell us that my mother-in-law has contracted encephalitis, a deadly inflammation of the brain. She lies in a hospital bed two thousand miles away. We know that we could lose our precious mother to this illness. I also realize that Scott may need to leave me for a while so he can go to her bedside. As my mind races with growing anxiety, I remember to stop worrying and to say a prayer, asking for light in this darkness, for the strength to meet tomorrow’s challenges, for health for me and for my beloved mother-in-law.

    As I finish my prayer, a gentle breeze blows through my open window, picking up the delicate perfume of a beautiful yellow rose that my friend Darlene brought to me yesterday. The exquisite scent reminds me of many friends who have offered to help me during this period of disability.

    Faraway friends and family members have called. One dear friend calls regularly, cheering me with hilarious tales, giving me the gift and therapy of laughter. Kind thoughts have arrived in the form of cards and letters. I am surrounded by children of light, who respond to my needs and the whisperings of the Holy Ghost. I will have the support I need.

    “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” (John 14:18), “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10), “Be of good cheer, for I will lead you along” (D&C 78:18)—these familiar scriptures and others float through my mind, comforting me and reminding me of precious promises. The darkness in my heart lifts; fear is replaced by faith. I know I can rest now. No matter what tomorrow brings, there will be light and love enough to see me through.

    Illustrated by David Linn

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    • Annette P. Bowen teaches in the Relief Society of the Somerset Ward, Renton Washington North Stake.