For Cathy Gilmore, what started as family history hobby soon developed into a passion of uncovering stories and writing about them over at thisgreatdeep.wordpress.com. She is also currently working on a documentary history of her grandmother Dorothy Smith Clark. Cathy graduated from the University of Utah with a B.A. in English and a Russian minor, and works as a contract consultant in marketing communications and design. She is married to Ed, an English bloke from Northeast Lincolnshire, and together they have four daughters. She’s also in the market for a new minivan.
The first Monday after conference is a always hopeful one for me— a spiritual New Years Day of sorts, where all the conference rubber hits the road. But which road to take? My path leading up to conference was an increasingly awkward hopscotch through life’s competing needs and opportunities. Still in the weeds of parenting, every direction led to an unsorted pile, an incomplete project, a waiting repair, or a collection of dusty Cheerios. My own long-held desires to nurture professional paths in more fulfilling directions have been marked with both disappointment and fresh opportunity. Spread thin as a dime, I was overwhelmed both with what I had and what I wanted. It was hard to know just where to begin.
I needed the kind of advice Elder Lawrence describes in his conference talk What Lack I Yet?: “The Holy Ghost really does give customized counsel. He is a completely honest companion and will tell us things that no one else knows or has the courage to say.” So that Monday morning, instead of again asking, How can I do all of this? I asked, What do I need to change? The impression was clear: “Take care of what you have.”
I thought I was trying to do just this—to take care of everything—and failing. I opened my eyes from prayer and saw that the rug underneath me needed cleaning. Take care of what you have. So I washed the rug. What next? Take care of what you have. You have bills. I began to go through them, and as I did, I discovered a couple of unfamiliar charges on our account. Our credit card information had been stolen. I went to the bank and took care of that, too.
In my office sits a large collection of papers that belonged to my grandmother Dorothy Smith Clark. Over the years, my cousins and I have scanned and sorted hundreds of pages of letters, diaries, and personal notes with a distant goal of publication. Subject to the tides of busyness that mostly rise and rarely fall, completing the project has felt overwhelming. Yet, I am drawn time and again to this box of papers. Take care of what you have, I feel her say. Take your time.
On Tuesday, I went driving with my 15-year-old daughter. She was at the wheel earning practice hours for her Driver’s Ed class. She was doing well, signaling cautiously and turning hand-over-hand as new drivers do, when the passenger wheel gently bumped up onto a curb. In an instant, she panicked, made every wrong decision, accelerated up onto a rock embankment and slammed into a concrete sign. I knew in that moment our old van was a total loss. I took a deep breath. Take care of what you have.
I comforted her through stages of hysteria, dismay, and embarrassment. Later, as I sat on alone the curb waiting for the tow truck, I tried to ignore the slowing cars snapping photos of our apparently hilarious accident. We had hoped to drive our minivan into the ground, as it were. What will we do? Take care of what you have. Take care of your daughter. Things will work out.
On Wednesday we attended a wedding—on our own wedding anniversary. That morning my husband and I sat in the temple and watched the same man who sealed us 20 years ago seal my niece to her husband. Being there was a tender reminiscence. After the ceremony we spoke to the sealer. “And you’re still together!” he said, smiling. “Just barely,” my husband answered with a wink. Take better care of him, I thought.
That night, I peered into our youngest two daughter’s bedroom. My four-year-old—intense, fiery, affectionate—sleeps in contorted, playground formations. I adjust her blanket and turn my attention to Jane, my special needs daughter. Sitting at the foot of her bed as I often do, an accustomed inadequacy overcomes me. I’m not her Anne Sullivan, spelling out w-a-t-e-r in her hand. Most of the time, it is all I can do just to hold her hand to keep her from falling. Her geneticist calls her condition “syndromey” in lieu of an official diagnosis. I hate that word, as much as I hate the random cruelty of her limitations—a lack of speech, her fragile bones, her seizures, her heart. How can I help her? What more should I do? Take care of what you have, I remember. Appreciate her gentleness, her laughter, her sensitivity. Take care of all she is, and let go of what she isn’t.
It’s Thursday, and Jane wants to come grocery shopping with me. As she helps me return the cart, she trips, hitting the asphalt hard. I lift her, and she’s holding her arm in that familiar way. Jane, do we need to go take a picture of your arm? Yes, she nods. At the urgent care center, the doctor informs me what I already know: there is a small buckle fracture in the radius. For the sixth time, I hold her hand while she is splinted. Take care, the doctor calls out as we leave.
Take care. Despite our post-conference flip into the fire, the simple directive has, through its broad application, recast my view. It was an allowance to live more simply and an invitation to act. It functioned as a warning, an assurance, and a solicitation for patience as I wait on opportunities and answers. I found relief and clarity not in doing more, but seeing more clearly what has been done for me. It has been a recognition that sufficiency comes through grace, and not through my own frantic efforts.
Just as sure as there is a Cheerio on my floor, uncertainty remains. But like the raven or the lily, I am taken care of. In another room, Jane sorts cards with her newly casted arm. A borrowed van sits in our driveway, and dishes are cleaned in a dishwasher we did not buy. And as I write, a feeling of peace I did not earn reassures me. We are all of us broken, casted with grace we don’t deserve, healing despite ourselves, hoping for better days to come.