I sat in a crowded room, looking down at the bare feet of a young surgeon. My mother sat in a chair nearby along with my stepfather, other members of my family, my mother’s home teacher, and her bishop.
The surgeon was good-looking and somewhat disarming for me. It wasn’t a coincidence that he wasn’t wearing shoes and socks. That’s how he worked in the hospital. I had the same stirrings of attraction I always have had for a man with a smile like his and a certain level of audacity.I wasn’t there to think about handsome doctors, but my mind went back momentarily to the day I told my mother I was attracted to men. Her answer was so practical and simultaneously revealing what kind of mother and mother-in-law she was.
“You still love Barbara, don’t you?” I assured her very much that I did. That was really all she wanted to know. I know her and it was really her way of saying, “You’re happy, aren’t you?”
My thoughts were brought back to the room in the hospital by my mother. She wanted to know if I had any impressions. We had been studying out in our minds to know the will of the Lord concerning the information the young physician had given us.
We knew the teachings of the Church about receiving answers. You study it out in your mind and then you ask God if the answer you think is right is according to his will. He answers via a burning in your bosom or a stupor of thought, yes or no, respectively.
My mother had pancreatic cancer and it was our task to help her to decide whether to have a risky and painful surgery that would give him a better idea how far her cancer had progressed and simultaneously be an opportunity to cut part of her pancreas away and maybe save her life. There was also the added problem that if the surgery failed, there was nothing remaining that could be done for her. What little life would be left would be spent in pain from the surgery and the unstoppable cancer.
In that moment, all ears were focused on me. The surgeon had given his speech. My stepfather was at a loss. He wasn’t a member of the Church and not a praying man. He believed in God, or so he said, but we hadn’t seen any evidence of it growing up beyond listening to gospel albums by country singer, Hank Snow.
The home teacher and bishop looked at me expectantly and the other members of the family waited. In my lifetime, I’ve had to pray for many answers.
I’ve been a president of this and that in the Church and had to prayer to know who to call as counselors. I prayed about who to marry. I had a major prayer where I wrestled with the Lord over my life and struggle to deal with my homosexual behavior.
Yet, here I was being asked by my mother to utter some profound answer that we could take to the Lord in prayer. She wasn’t asking her husband. She wasn’t asking her bishop. She wasn’t asking her home teacher, both men much more experienced in things like this than me. She was asking her only living descendant and I was terrified.
I closed my eyes and silently prayed for anything. I asked for a set of scriptures and felt led to look at Doctrine and Covenants 123:17.
Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.
I opened it there and pretended to read it. I didn’t need to read it. I had inscribed it on my heart many years before. I thought about my mother and the life she had led, all of the many challenges, heartbreaks, and corrections she had need to make. If there’s one thing I knew about my mother, it was that she needed to fight, even if the fight held no promise of being one.
The choice between just slipping out of life quietly versus a last effort to find an answer and maybe live seemed clear in light of the idea of doing all things that lay in her power right then. We knelt, even the doctor, and prayed over what we felt was the right thing to do.
After the prayer, all eyes turned to me again and I unmistakeably said that I felt it was right. The others agreed and my mother told the doctor that she would do it.
One day, while visiting my mother in hospital, I used the pay phone in the hall to answer an ad in the paper for a database administrator. I went to an interview and was offered the job, complete with moving expenses from Ohio.
The surgery revealed a tumor too far gone to remove and my mother went into hospice care, first at home. I had flown home to Ohio, packed up my son’s car, and drove it back to Oregon and moved in with my parents while my wife handled the move.
Four months later, my mother passed away. I had my doubts about my experience with the scripture and the prayer. Sometimes, I still do. I guess what I worry most about is that my mother might think I made the wrong decision, because she had such high hopes that the surgery would cure her and she could go on living. I don’t remember anything in that experience that led me to believe she would live, though I kept it to myself. I just knew that it was in my mother’s nature to want to feel she had tried everything.
Before that time, I had made it the theme of my life to make sure I’m doing everything I can to do what is right and let the Lord be in charge of the outcome, knowing that whatever he decided would be his according to his own will and I could accept it.
Since then, even more than before, I still believe deep in my soul that just praying for something isn’t enough. I have to do everything I can and not only do it, but do it cheerfully. Many, many times, in doing so, I’ve seen the arm of the Lord revealed. He doesn’t always do things the way I want, but has always been willing to show me his salvation.
Life can be a terrible burden sometimes, but I have learned how much better it can be to bear it cheerfully and to do everything that lies in my power, having faith that the Lord will bless my efforts and make everything right.