I love to give my wife, Elisabeth, flowers. Her favorite flowers are red roses. When we started dating, and Valentines Day neared, I went out to purchase flowers and found myself in a crowd of other men hovering about the flower selections. I watched as some of the men would go straight for the pre-packaged half-dozen or dozen red roses. That seemed like a quick and simple solution. There they were, ready to go, and the displayed price was reasonable. However, as I approached the roses to inspect them more closely, I was disappointed. As I surveyed them, I could not find a bouquet that was satisfactory. Now, I do not pretend to be a flower connoisseur, but each bouquet had at least a flower or two that was so wilted that it was only still standing upright because of how tightly it was surrounded by its neighboring flowers in the bouquet, and the neighboring flowers were not much superior.
In my disappointment, I thought that perhaps I was too late, and that all the good bouquets had been claimed. I looked to those men who had recently picked up a bouquet and were waiting in line to purchase it. As I was feeling sorry for myself for missing the good bouquets, I was surprised to find that those men did not hold bouquets worth coveting. There was even one among them that looked as if it would not make it home with a petal still atop its stems. I couldn’t help but feel sad for the man holding that bouquet and for the woman it was destined for. I am certain that that man did not know any better, but I was determined to find beautiful flowers for Elisabeth.
As I was still standing near the pre-packaged bouquets, an employee came by to replenish the stock. My heart jumped a little at my good fortune, and I quickly looked over the lot, hoping for the perfect bouquet, but I was again disappointed. I glanced around the shop searching for the source of these mediocre bouquets of flowers, and I found that I could see through an open door to the back room.
In the back room there was a group of employees that were assembling bouquets. They had been at this for some time and were talking and laughing amongst themselves while they worked. They were not paying any special attention to the bouquets they were assembling. Some, it seemed, would have been able to do it with their eyes closed. I watched as flower after flower was pulled out of stock barrels and blindly added to the bouquets in the back room production. Looking at the varying quality of the stock flowers in the barrels, I realized that I could be waiting all day for a bouquet that I would be proud to give to Elisabeth.
I sought out other options in the flower shop. I soon came to a couple of the same stock barrels of red roses that I had seen in the back room. These barrels were hardly noticed by most of the men in the shop who were busy looking amongst various pre-arranged bouquets and packaged items. As I looked around a bit more, I found many barrels spread throughout the store, and I began selecting what I considered to be the perfect red roses. When it came to quality versus quantity, I settled for the three best roses I could find rather than dilute the bouquet with sub-optimal flowers. I took my finds to stand in line to have them arranged and purchase them. I stood there with a bit of pride, knowing that I had the pick of the lot, and I was anxious to present them to Elisabeth.
I went to Elisabeth's apartment on our first Valentines Day where she had prepared dinner for the two of us. I presented the three roses to her and she loved them. She thanked me for them and placed them in a vase on the table where she had prepared dinner.
A year and a half later, we were married in the Timpanogos Temple and we were moving into our small one bedroom apartment. Among her belongings was a dried bouquet of three roses which she placed in a prominent position in our little apartment. It wasn't until we shared a living space that I noticed how much she appreciates receiving flowers.
The first time that I bought her flowers after being married, I noticed that the flowers moved around the apartment. It seemed that every time I saw them, they were in a different position around the house. Eventually, I noticed that they were always in the same room as Elisabeth. If she was in the living room doing homework, they were too. If she went to the kitchen to prepare dinner, they went with her. At night, when she went to sleep, they sat on her nightstand. She loved the flowers so much that she wanted to always have them where she could see them. Her actions showed me how much she appreciated the flowers that I gave her, how grateful she was for the gift. Her show of gratitude encourages me to spend extra time picking each flower that I give her, because I love her response.
I hope that each of us has had such experiences in life. Think back on them. There is nothing as gratifying as preparing a gift for another and having that gift well received. Whether it is as simple as flowers for a loved one, that perfect toy that lights up a child's eyes on Christmas morning, or that act of service that someone else could not do for themselves, their show of appreciation makes it all worth it.
I think of our Father in Heaven, who has given us so many gifts. I think of how well He knows and loves each of us individually. I perceive that if He were to enter into that same flower shop that I did, He, too, would have avoided the generic, productionized, mediocre bouquets. Instead, I perceive Him hand-crafting the perfect gifts for each of his children, carefully considering each child's situation, personality, and desires. For “we see that God is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in; yea, he numbereth his people and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth” (Alma 26:37). Our Father truly is mindful of man and visitest him (Psalms 8:4). In the Doctrine and Covenants he addresses His people as “ye whom I delight to bless with the greatest of all blessings” (D&C 41:1). Why does He delight to bless us? He is our Father and loves us, but I think our reaction might also have something to do with it. That is something I can understand. I am encouraged to give Elisabeth flowers because of how happy she is to have them. If her reaction were to quickly set them aside and later forget to put them in water and on display, I may not have as much motivation in the future.
Now, I am sure that we have all had experiences where we have given and the gift was not appreciated as much as we hoped. We have all felt that disappointment and discouragement. The degree of disappointment is often proportional to the effort put into the gift. We hate to put anyone through that, but as receivers of gifts, we often simply forget to give thanks or show appreciation. Sometimes, gifts that we commonly receive can even come to be expected.
When I was a young child in primary, my grandparents would come to closing exercises to listen whenever I was asked to give a talk. My grandmother always liked to give out monetary rewards to her grandchildren whenever they did something that she thought deserved it. Giving talks in primary was deserving in her eyes. She consistently gave me five dollars whenever I gave a talk. After giving a few talks in primary, the relationship of talks and money was solidified in the mind of a five year old child. I remember one instance after giving a talk in primary where after finishing the talk, before I took my seat, I walked straight to my grandmother’s seat and held out my open hand, waiting for my payment. My parents realized what was happening and quickly intervened to sit me down. They taught me that that five dollars that I had come to expect was not earned by anything that I had done, but was a gift that my grandmother chose to give me out of the goodness of her heart.
I think of our Father and His personalized blessings that He bestows upon us whether we ask for them or not, whether or not we are even deserving, and often without our acknowledgement. I think of the thought and effort required of Him, and how discouraging it must be at times to give unappreciated gifts. We know that it is not trivial for God to bestow a blessing. When the “woman having an issue of blood” reached forth her hand through the crowd to touch Jesus and was healed of her plague, Jesus sought out the beneficiary saying, “Who touched me?” When all had denied, He stated, “Somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me” (Luke 8:43-46). The gift of healing was not without its cost, without some effort on Christ’s part. Nothing is without its cost, yet our Father gives liberally unto us.
Our Father in Heaven gave life unto our spirits and taught us in our primeval existence. He prepared a plan for us whereby we would obtain physical bodies and learn by experience to become like Him. He organized the world whereon we now dwell. He formed the mountains, the oceans, the plants, the animals, and every needful thing, and He gave us dominion over it. He has given unto us “to know good from evil; wherefore [we] are agents unto [ourselves]” (Moses 6:56). He permits us to learn by experience, yet reveals unto us guidance whereby we may obtain true joy and happiness. He has guided and inspired man to establish great free nations and make incredible scientific discoveries. As wonderful as all these gifts are, however, they would all be for naught without our Father’s greatest gift unto us, that of His son, Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ, like us, is a spiritual child of our Father in heaven. In the eternities prior to this life, he was taught by our Father. Can you imagine how much effort and teaching was required to prepare someone to lead a perfect life and be the Savior of all of God’s children? Granted, Jesus was a superb candidate, but it’s nonetheless impressive. Can you imagine the fatherly pride when the Father asked, “Whom shall I send?” and Jesus answered, “Here I am, send me” (Abraham 3:27).
Jump ahead to the time of Christ’s earthly advent, where the nation that has professed to know the Father for a millenium can’t even produce a room for His only begotten Son, foreshadowing their lifelong treatment of Him. Here the Father offers the world His most precious and prepared gift, and He’s tossed into the cavity of a rock with a few animals. Not many years later, and He would again be placed in the cavity of a rock after His people were through with Him. Eternities of preparation for that reception.
There is little wonder that we can read of the heavens weeping. Enoch asked, “how is it that thou canst weep? The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy bretheren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency; And unto thy bretheren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood...wherefore should not the heavens weep?” (Moses 7:31-37).
While the Father gave us the gift of His Son, it was ultimately Jesus’s choice to follow through with the Atonement. In the Garden of Gethsemane, as He began to feel the full weight of his burden, he said to Peter, James, and John, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here and watch with me. And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:38-39). Here we see Jesus at His weakest moment. If ever there was a time for Him to give up, I think this would have been it. He did not need to go through with it for Himself. He was perfect. We needed Him to go through with it, that we might be cleansed of our sins and imperfections.
After completing the atonement, Jesus later commands, “repent, lest...your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, yea how hard to bear you know not. For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men” (D&C 19:15-19).
He finished it, despite His initial hesitance. I think part of His motivation was how His gift would be received. I think that as he experienced the punishing guilt and agony of spirit of an individual’s sins, the thought of how that intervention would be received encouraged Him. Having a sense of that individual’s gratitude during that moment of agony, I believe, helped Him to hold off the then welcoming relief of death just a little bit longer, until He had experienced each of His brother’s and sister’s sins, sorrows, and weaknesses, and was able to exclaim, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
The gift has been given. How should it be received? One of my favorite expressions of gratitude for the Savior occurs during His earthly ministry. Jesus often stopped at the home of Mary and Martha during his travels. He felt welcome there. He had friends there. While Mary sat with Jesus as He taught, Martha was often concerned that her guests were comfortable during their stay, and on occasion chastised Mary for not being more attentive to household duties. “And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42). Implying no dishonour to Martha, Mary seemed to have a greater affinity for spiritual things.
Six days before the final passover of Christ’s ministry, he again sat at supper at the house of Mary and Martha. Martha was tending to dinner, and her brother, Lazarus, whom Jesus recently raised from the dead, sat at the table with Jesus. Mary, who must have perceived that this was to be the last time she would have the Master’s company, entered the room. “Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment” (John 12:3).
There were some who were displeased by the act and voiced their opinion that she had wasted an expensive item that might have been sold to benefit the poor. But Jesus rebuked them, saying, “Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always. She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her” (Mark 14:6-9).
Today, again, we hear the memorial of Mary, a woman who wrought a good work on the Savior. She understood the full import of His saving mission and the task which He was about to undertake, and wanted to show her gratitude at that last opportunity to have Him in her home.
How might we, who do not have Him present with us, show our gratitude for the gift of the Atonement? I think the best that we can do is to use it. He invites, “will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?...Behold, for such I have laid down my life, and have taken it up again; therefore, repent, and come unto me, ye ends of the earth, and be saved” (3 Nephi 9:13,22). The feeling of forgiveness available through repentance and the Atonement truly is healing, and moves the soul to the most intense feelings of gratitude and appreciation possible. Words fail to express gratitude of that magnitude.
I know that our Father in heaven lives, as does His Son, Jesus Christ. I know that the Atonement is real, and the most precious gift given to man. I pray that we may receive all of our gifts well, show that we appreciate them, and be grateful.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.