He Longs to Gather Us
by Kathy Penrod
In my home I have displayed an image that reminds me of just one of God’s tender mercies in my life. The image is one of a mama duck, with her 10 ducklings gathered around her at the edge of a curb. While I did not personally take this picture, it is the perfect depiction of a scene frozen in time, forever in my mind and heart.
Our family was still reeling from the heart breaking tragedy of loosing a loved one unexpectedly and all the associated repercussions. Each of us was grieving. Each of us was doing our best to just make it day to day. And frankly, I was handling it all very poorly. Sleepless nights and zombie like days became the norm. There seemed to be no Balm of Gilead to soothe my heart.
It was during this time, while I was out running errands, that God presented me with a very tender lesson.
The mama duck. There she was, her 10 ducklings walking single file behind her, attempting to leave the Costco parking lot. I almost ran right over her as I, too, was trying to leave.
My first reaction was to grab my phone and start snapping pictures. It was such an anomaly that she was even there – the nearest body of water being over a mile a way and in the parking lot of all places. Just as I was about to drive away, I noticed something.
The mama duck had hopped up onto the curb. Five of the ducklings had used their siblings as stepping stools and also jumped up onto the curb.
But five of them were stuck, unable to climb over.
The mama duck was frantic.
Rushing back and forth between the two groups of siblings, she kept trying to reach her little babies who couldn’t make it over the curb.
She dipped her beak down and nudged their heads. Her wings flapped, her neck stretched, but she had no way to rescue them. I could feel her anxiety. So, I decided to help. I got out of my car and approached the ducks. Stooping down, I offered my hand as a step. It was so obvious to me what the babies had to do. However, the ducklings scattered. They were terrified.
Trying again, I got in front of them a little more. Scooped my hand gently under the belly of one of the frightened ducklings and lifted him over the curb. He RAN to his mama. He ran to her just like I have seen my children run to me when they are scared.
The part that has stuck with me and has replayed in my mind countless times was the mother’s reaction.
She opened her wings wide, wrapped her little one in her embrace and nudged his head with her beak. Then, quickly, the mother duck looked back to her other stranded babies.
I was already doing my best to scoop up the next one. The ducks were still scared of me but after some effort, I got the next one to the curb. Just like his brother he ran straight to his mama, who gladly welcomed him with the same motherly embrace.
Seeing that their brothers had safely reached their mama, the other little ducklings were no longer afraid of me. They knew I offered help. In fact, one tried to get into my hand all on his own and, just like the others, ran to the open wings of his mama.
I have thought on this experience many times through out the last few years. The lesson I learned that day still warms my heart.
I was reminded of a scripture in the Book of Mormon.
Just before Jesus Christ shows Himself to the people in the Americas, He speaks to them saying: How oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, but ye would not. (3 Nephi 10:4)
I used to think that this verse only referred to those who sin and refuse to repent. However, in light of the experience I just shared, I began to see another meaning.
The Savior stood, ready to comfort me. Ready to welcome me into his arms. Yet, while I wasn’t outright refusing Him, I wasn’t using the power of the atonement to help me.
I noticed that the little ducklings left behind, very much WANTED to run to the comfort of their mom. However, when help and hope was offered to them, they didn’t understand it.
At first, they didn’t realize that they must quiet their fears and hope in the possibility of being lifted up to higher ground – to be with the one who could protect them.
In our own lives, how often are we like those little ducklings? We may hope and pray for peace, comfort & safety, yet unintentionally deny the enabling power of the Savior to lift us to higher ground?
The Savior is willing to comfort us, willing to take us under His wing and yet, how often do we turn aside that help that is so readily available to us?
Perhaps we don’t feel worthy of the aid or perhaps we don’t understand it. For whatever the reason, we are unable to reach the warm embrace of our Savior. Not for lack of desire but, maybe, for lack of understanding.
Up to this point, I thought the atonement was mostly for those with big sins. I hadn’t personally realized that through its power, those who were broken in spirit could also be healed.
As I allowed my heart to soften to the gentle prodding of the spirit, I began to see that the Savior DID, in fact, hold the Balm of Gilead in His outstretched hand. If I let Him, He would heal me.
The difficult question for me to answer was just “how” to access the power of the atonement. I used to imagine I would always know when I was accessing its power. I assumed that it was a tangible action that could be defined. I thought of it like a radioactive spider bite giving me undeniable strength after a good nights sleep. However, I have come to realize that accessing the power of the atonement is more of a subtle, ongoing process. One that I am constantly learning.
Elder Richard G Scott taught: “When we obey the commandments of the Lord and serve His children unselfishly, the natural consequence is power from God—power to do more than we can do by ourselves.”
The Savior was wholly and unwaveringly devoted to His Father in Heaven and he was infinitely compassionate to those around him. As we commit to living more like Him and become more devoted to Heavenly Father, we will begin to see that sacred enabling power of the Atonement take shape in our lives.
One of the ways I have found that helps me draw on that power is by partaking of the sacrament. I don’t mean putting the bread in my mouth between text messages and whispers back and forth to my neighbor. I mean really, partaking of the sacrament; Thinking about it, absorbing the spirit that is always present during this sacred ordinance. I have found that by doing this – in spite of my human weaknesses – I am lifted. Strengthened.
It doesn’t erase the problems. Rather, it gives me hope to overcome my problems. My trials don’t change. But, by partaking of the sacrament, I am changed. I have come to realize how vital this ordinance is to my happiness.
By following the Savior’s path, soon we will begin to notice that sorrow doesn’t win. We will find hope in a situation that seems hopeless; we will gain understanding and clarity of mind.
Our hearts won’t feel as troubled and each day will be a blessing. Like the people of Alma in the Book of Mormon, we will be strengthened and begin to “bear up our burdens with ease.” (Mosiah 24:15)
That is what God intends for us. We were not created to be sorrowful or hopeless. He wants us to have joy and that is possible through the all encompassing love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This is the promise to all who follow Him.
There are surely times for all of us when it seems that strength we need is so far away. There may be times when we feel physically, spiritually and emotionally fragmented. It can be difficult, when we are in the heat of the battle, to remember Christ has given us a way to overcome the war.
I have learned that my ability to use the atonement in my life has a lot to do with maintaining perspective and having patience, which, quite honestly, can be hard to do. It is only through patience and time that I am able to look back and realize how the trials I faced actually provided the blessings I needed. Still, while in the thick of things – during the hardest part of the trial – it can be hard to keep perspective.
This last General Conference, Sister Linda S Reeves said something that really struck a chord for me. She said, “What will it matter what we suffered here if, in the end, those trials are the very things which qualify us for eternal life and exaltation in the kingdom of God with our Father and Savior?”
Knowing that our trials can actually be part of our blessings and knowing that they can actually help qualify us for the Kingdom of God helps bring perspective to the challenges we face. But our loving Father doesn’t stop there. He also gave His Son for us. And Jesus Christ already figured out how to make it through all the hard stuff.
Elder David A. Bednar teaches:
"The Savior has suffered not just for our iniquities but also for the inequality, the unfairness, the pain, the anguish, and the emotional distresses that so frequently beset us. There is no physical pain, no anguish of soul, no suffering of spirit, no infirmity or weakness that you or I ever experience during our mortal journey that the Savior did not experience first."
We also learn more about the Christ’s mission from the Book of Mormon. In Alma it reads:
“And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.”
As we remember that Jesus Christ DOES know how to succor us, as we try to live righteously, we will be given the strength we need when we are in our greatest need. I know that to be true. That great Atoning power will bear us up and give us the reserve we need to go on.
We all face trials. While some trials may be obvious to those around us, so many more are lonely battles fought within our hearts – known only to Heaven. Our dear Savior knows those gut-wrenching feelings that come with betrayal. He knows what it is like to be forgotten or misunderstood. He understands temptation and physical weakness. He knows what it is like to be homeless and hungry. He understands the ache that comes with loosing a loved one. He knows what it is like to watch someone you love make poor choices and suffer. He knows loneliness. And because He knows these things, He can free us from them.
The beauty of the atonement is that it has the power to reach all of us – wherever we are. What ever our struggle, in our brokenness, Jesus Christ longs to gather us to Him.
He loves us in spite of our weaknesses – or maybe because of them. He is ready to welcome us to Him with open arms. If we can quiet our fears, trust in He Who knows the way; we will feel the warm, comforting embrace of His arms.
When I start to forget that, the image of that mama duck comes back to my mind, and once again, I remember how much the Savior desires to gather me back to Him.
Authors Note: The experience with the ducks happened in April 2010. At the time I was an avid Mommy Blogger. Because I saw many lessons in this one small encounter, I shared this experience to illustrate the importance of mothers. You may read the original post here.