Thou Art Graven Upon the Palm of My Hands: Finding Solace When Someone Close Passes Away
Faith comes before the miracle. Check my article to know more about where I came from. Though I have arrived at the door of the church, it doesn't necessarily mean I haven't planned on converting myself daily. Despite our efforts to keep him out, God is involved in our lives. I encourage each of you to take the time to write about how God has touched your life and I applaud all who recognize His work in our lives.View all articles by Emanuel
I do not apologize for the knowledge I share. I have received it from my loving Heavenly Father as I tenaciously pondered, studied, and prayed in order to understand these truths. I still have much to learn about the nature of God and His relationship with us. I do know that our God will give answers to all men liberally if we lack wisdom in any area. If you will pray about these events that have happened to our family recently, you will feel the Spirit leave an undeniable impression that these things actually happened. God is no respecter of persons. He will bless you as he has blessed me.
I have been prompted by the Spirit to write some reflections on my mother’s life and conversion. I pray that you will pay attention to how you feel as you read these details about my mother’s search for truth. My love extends to you, even though we
probably have never met. If you were a friend to my dear mother, my greatest wish would be to meet you and thank you
personally for your love to her.
To read about my conversion story, please read the article: The Seed of Two Members. You’ll notice that my mother was the first to post a comment.
Who was my mother? No words can describe my mother’s life, yet I have attempted to write this solely to see her smile in paradise. That smile has already abolished all my doubts about my writing abilities, and given a peace that can't be described in writing or verbal words. I would give back all my accolades and progress in my life to see my mother again. However, the Lord has confirmed to me that we will all reunite with her one day. Jesus Christ has been and will always be the answer to bind families together in the eternities.
THE NATURE OF MY MOTHER
Truman G. Madsen once said, “Feel so much compassion for people that you taste the salt of their tears in your mouth.” Maria Del Carmen Guerra, the mother of Rosemarie and Emanuel Francis Zevallos, passed away on August 8, 2011. Her conversion story has never been written until now. It is from a talk given on August 20, 2011 at her memorial service -- four years and a day since my own baptism into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
John Kuebler said, “Show me your friends, and I will show you your future.” Looking around in this room, I can equate this powerful quote with the conclusion that my mother's future was looking bright whether in this world or the next. How can I do justice to writing about a mother who has impacted every decision in my life? I am floored knowing that everyone is here to commemorate a life that has impacted us in different ways. I write this in order to set the record straight on how we should view death: as a celebration of a person's life.
We should take time to mourn, but we should see things as God sees them. How can we do this? Isn't this an impossible feat? God doesn't understand losing a relative … or does He? Do we see with our temporal glasses? Is there a way we can we prescribe eternal ones?
When we ask these questions, there is a tendency to feel that we are guests knocking on the door of an Eternal Manager. We must erase this erroneous picture that distracts us from the truth that we are indeed children of a loving Eternal Father. Just as your own father wants you to have everything that is beautiful in this life, so our Heavenly Father follows the same pattern.
CONTEMPLATIONS ON THE NATURE OF GOD
We are not permanent residents here on Earth, but we are guests to this temporal world. Has God left the room? Are we on our own? It is certainly not the case as explained in a few of my favorite scriptures.
In the Book of Abraham, we read, “And God SAW that the wickedness of men had become great in the earth; and every man was lifted up in the imagination of the thoughts of his heart, being only evil continually.” (Moses 8:22) God is a patient Father. As Richard Draper once commented, “The sense seems to be that God, who had witnessed elements obeying Him, was now witnessing children disobeying Him.” How hard it is to see your child go into a cold world, progressing yet sometimes suffering or disobeying. We need to know that He is there for us. Watching is not enough.
“How conscious is God of my situation?” we ask. Isaiah asked the same question. The Lord’s answer will shock you. As He comforts his loyal Isaiah, He uses physical traits that humans can understand to make a very warming statement of his continuous attention with our situation. Said He: “Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy
walls are continually before me.” (Isaiah 49:16) Can our Celestial Father forget or ignore us? Never. He is truly a loving attentive Father.
Can you imagine, then, how it must break His heart to have His children feel like they are orphans their whole lives? He can see them from above, and can sometimes help them in their situation when it is wise. However, many of His children don't know he exists and are not aware that He loves them so very much. Most have difficulty believing they will ever get back into His presence. Some won't even seek Him, even though He is their first parent.
The truth is that Heavenly Father knows exactly how it feels to lose children temporarily. He knows this a billion times over since the beginning. He was with us in the pre-mortal life, and continues to personally raise us as a close, love-enduring parent in this fallen world. He is very conscious of who we are and loves us completely.
“Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.” As I explore the doubts, revelations, and experiences that occurred during my mother passing away, this scripture solidifies the reality of God's multi-faceted care.
In order to appreciate the conversion of my mother, I must talk about how much I wanted to go on a mission to serve those who are unaware of the good news of the restored gospel. I have always believed that misery loves company. However, happiness loves company as well. I wanted to share the joy of the gospel with every soul that has crossed my path since I was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I still feel strongly that I may be the only hope for some soul. This helps me to engage in conversations that I usually wouldn't participate in. When I discussed my desire to serve a mission with my bishop, he advised me that doing missionary work with my family, instead of officially on a mission, would bring me more joy. At the time, I did not understand or fathom how this could be possible.
My mother lived most of her life as a devout Catholic. As far as I can remember, we attended a church called St. John Fisher in Palos Verdes, California. However, she only read the scriptures on Sundays before the sermon. How was her relationship with God? How was it manifested? This can be summed up in the history of the early church in the story of the “Road to Emmaus”. Denver C. Snuffer wrote a book called “Eighteen Verses” that explains the power of Christ and how he has the option of withholding his identity. Snuffer elaborates, “ In Luke 24: 13-32, the verses record two disciples walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus on the day the Lord rose from the dead. This was a day where the tomb was already empty. In verse 16 it states that the 'eyes were holden that they should not know him.’ Christ has the capacity to withhold His Identity. Paul reminds us in Hebrews, 13:2, 'Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.' From the incident on the road to Emmaus, we learn we must not just be careful about the visit of veiled angels, but the Lord Himself can come to visit without disclosing his true identity. We really need to realize when we do things to 'the least' we literally risk doing it to the Lord.” (Eighteen Verses: Christ's Discourse on the Road to Emmaus, Denver C Snuffer, Jr. pg. 338).
My mother had owned this principle from a very early age. My father took the approach of intense gospel study, and my mother became a student of action and learned the nature of God in that manner. Everyone was Christ to her, and she found elation in serving God's children. My mother admired people that served, whether they belonged to a church or not, she was looking for like-minded people who wanted to assist the needy. Whatever religion they belonged to, her instincts to assist those who were less fortunate were innately manifested. Service became the keystone of her religion and she didn't care where it came from or who received it. The prophet Joseph Smith taught that it is our responsibility to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to provide for the widow, to dry up the tear of the orphan, to comfort the afflicted, whether in this church or in any other, or in no church at all, wherever he finds them. (“Times and Seasons,” 15 Mar. 1842, 732) That perfectly describes my mother.
But, there was still something missing in my mother's life. It began with understanding that she must continue to improve her craft as an oncologist and hematologist. She searched for words that would comfort one who was moving from cancerous body to a spirit. She usually attended the last hours of her patients and she found it difficult to share her thoughts about the afterlife. She would mention how hard it was to be able to connect to her patients on that spiritual level. Another reason she was interested in looking into the Mormon Church was because of her fear that I was going to be lost because of my new faith. She believed that I might turn to a completely different life that would hinder our fundamental relationship. Acknowledging these two concerns, one must recognize that these were selfless concerns. Her quest did not start because of a search for truth but to enhance her connection with those she had stewardship over. In many instances, members of the Mormon church would agree with this statement: "I was not looking for the church; the church found me.” We all have something in our life that is unanswered, yet we forget that God may have the answer for you dressed in two young men or women with name tags. These would be the missionaries representing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who preach the gospel.
My mother became occupied in helping cancer patients in Peru. She frequently missed appointments with the missionaries even though she knew they would only take thirty minutes of her time. I once heard this saying, “The devil likes us to confuse busyness with productivity.” In the world we live in, we need a spiritual fort that would protect us from the evils of this world. Our positive affirmations towards ourselves can only assist us temporarily, but in the long run it will still be incomplete. We must bring our fallible selves to an infallible God that wants us to have peace everywhere we go.
Maria's mother, my grandmother, had trouble finding peace until the Book of Mormon enhanced her life. She went from occasionally feeling lonely to having many sleepless nights. My mom requested that the missionaries visit her mother. The missionaries recommended that she read the Book of Mormon. In about a month, and after some studies on her health, her doctor was very impressed by her speedy improvement. My mother got word of this and found these results very intriguing. It was something we would bring up in conversation from time to time. At age 89, Maria's mother began to learn a new methodology of acquiring peace. This reality set in that the word of God found in the Book of Mormon can assist in bringing peace into your life.
These are many different events that changed Maria’s life and helped her progress towards learning more about the Gospel truth. My mother gathered these moments to accumulate the reasoning she needed to be baptized, by the proper priesthood authority, into the church. Here are the top things that contributed to her conversion:
1. She began to read the Book of Mormon. The reading became more satisfying when she coupled her mind and her heart as she read. She continued to pray to see if what she is reading is true. (One of the prophet-writers in the Book of Mormon gave a promise that can assist any reader to know whether it is true. The Moroni Promise consists of asking Heavenly Father, through our Savior Jesus Christ, if what we are reading is true. The Holy Ghost will give witness to its truthfulness. This promise is what separates us from other churches. The Church invites all to pray and once they receive their personal witness, only then do they proceed to get baptized. This distinct manner of spiritual operation involving the Holy Ghost convinced my mother to take this journey very seriously.
2. She had a small journal that she kept before she was baptized. It consisted of so many scriptures based on healing oneself. However, there was a repeated commentary she made to herself as a side note. She wrote the following heart-warming words in her journal on November 28, 2010:
My mother was right. The prophet Joseph Smith Jr. restored to us the reality that God continues to heal his children. When he was poisoned, he had the faith to be healed. He laid hands upon the unconscious Benjamin Brown, who had been sick for weeks, and Brown was immediately healed. Clint Harris had a crippling fever sore, Joseph spoke, and Harris was healed.
In the Pearl of Great Price and Old Testament, it contains accounts of people who saw the Christ anciently. The Doctrine and Covenants (the Lord's words to Joseph Smith revealed 1830-1844) contains accounts of those who have seen Him in our day. My mother was looking for an Eternal God that can be depended upon as much now as those times where our first spiritual forefathers lived. Many would challenge the prevalent belief that God's scriptural Canon is closed. Joseph Fielding McConkie describes this yearning for a consistent and speaking God in this manner. “Prophets and revelation had been the source of EVERY doctrine espoused in the four thousand year history of the Bible. Should we not then also be entitled to feast upon the fruits of the tree of life as they did, or are we to be consigned to satisfy our hunger by reading the account of that which they ate?” (Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon pg.5; Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet).
3. As she viewed a movie about Joseph Smith, my mother was challenged by a sister missionary to ask herself (in her heart) to know if what she was watching actually happened. She later told me that she took this challenge seriously and reached her conclusion. My mother was touched by all the persecution Joseph Smith endured to carry out the gospel in America. As a French philosopher once said, “If you don't want to be persecuted, don't tell the truth.” She started to realize that Joseph Smith and God's church became the piñata of America because of what it stood for. Persecution in the name of Christ became common lot with the early saints in the 1800’s. In that sense, she exclaimed that nothing has changed in our society since the time of Christ. He said:
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake." (Matthew 24:9)
“The time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me." (John 16:2-3)
My mother began connecting this with her way of practicing alternative medicine and the persecution it receives from doctors and pharmaceuticals. Persecution takes a vacation when truth does. However, when truth clocked back in around 1830, persecution began to rear its evil head. What religion was persecuted the most in the country known for its freedom to worship? This would be The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My mother understood persecution being a
very cutting edge doctor involved with a recently new treatment called immunotherapy.
She once bore testimony to everyone in the room “In the end, everyone will know Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. Just like many of the pioneers of this world are never recognized for the value they provide until they pass away. Society learns of their calling long after their grave has settled. No man would to do all that Joseph did for something that is false. I can believe now, even a life-long Catholic, that Peter's Keys were dropped in his martyrdom and Joseph Smith Jr. picked them up before they hit the ground.”
4. As she studied with the missionaries, my mother was frequently asked this question: “Do you want to follow the example of the Savior Jesus Christ and be baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?” My mother would stare at them blankly and tell them that she was not ready yet, but she was still interested in seeing them more. This went on for two years. She said, “I am so behind in reading the scriptures. I would like to read the whole Book of Mormon before being baptized.” She didn't understand that once the witness of its truthfulness had come, it would conclude for the investigator that it is all true and a very inspired book from our Lord. Most Christian sects believe that God spoke in times past; our faith believes that He continues to speak as in days of old through a chosen prophet. This prophet is currently President Thomas S. Monson.
One day, I prayed for mother to receive an answer before the missionaries met with her. Secretly, in my room, I prayed harder and more earnestly then I have ever prayed in my life. One hour later, my mother decided to get baptized. She read a scripture (that I'll share shortly) and then she began to cry. At that very moment, she knew for herself that the Book of Mormon was true. That means Joseph's translation is real, and he was a true prophet. What did that change? This did not take away anything from her faith, but added a major component. This component was the reality of a God that presently speaks and that revelation continues. And this truth that she found changed everything for her.
The scripture that she read when she received her personal witness is in the Book of Mormon: Alma 32:26-28.
That day, the missionaries were inspired to ask a different question from what they had been asking for a year and a half. They asked, "Is there anything holding you back from being baptized?” Her look was priceless. She smiled, looked around the room, and contemplated vocally. “Hmm … I guess not; I can't think of anything.” She had tears of joy. My mother found what she was looking for. My mother was baptized by Brother Rawlings and later received the gift of the Holy Ghost by President Lamb (two men holding the Priesthood of God).
My mother was excited to know more and continued to prepare herself to go the Los Angeles Temple. Two months before she passed away, my mother was able to attend the Los Angeles Temple. She told my sister and me, “I'm going to the House of the Lord. I know he is preparing a mansion for me somewhere.” She smiled and was prone to cry in these moments. Her sensitivity had increased, and her joy resided in the idea of getting closer to a Heavenly Father who loved her before her birth.
In the temple, you learn in great detail why you are here on Earth. She gained perspective…God's perspective. God's perspective impresses an undeniable peace you cannot find through any external factors. Equality between your fellow brothers and sisters finds a new meaning, and we learn the truth that we are truly sojourners on our way to Heavenly Father's presence. As a member of the Church, she went from educating herself about God to internalizing who God is for herself.
LAST DAY IN THE HOSPITAL
My mother had battled pancreatic cancer for about a year and half. The cancer had spread and instilled an infection in her lung and the liver began suffering because of the high dosages of medication she was receiving. My very close family members stayed with us in her room the last days. We promised each other to always have her accompanied and to be very attentive to her response to the medications. She was just above a coma-state and we continued to talk to her in the last days because we knew she could hear us. My sister and I would alternate two hour intervals sitting next to her and holding her hand. On August 8, 2011, (around 5 a.m.), my sister reminded me that she let me sleep an extra hour and she decided to go to bed. When she left to a separate room, I distinctly heard a soft voice. It reminded me of the scripture of God whispering to his depressed prophet who wanted to take his own life.
I felt as though Elijah and I had gained a new understanding through this similar experience. My earthquakes and fires were the spirits that told me to go back to bed and that my mother would be fine without my supervision. I needed counsel as I sat next to my beloved mother while I was extremely exhausted and my nights were restless.
The Lord whispered to me these simple words to my ear, “Do not go back to bed.” I told my sister before she got comfortable, “I plan on not going to bed in Mexico ever again.” She stood with a puzzled face, and seemed distraught by my decision. I didn't tell her about my revelation yet, but just stayed firm on my plan of action. Three hours later, our mother passed away. During those three hours, I was blessed to spend with my mother breathing and feeling the Spirit comfort me. I tried to invoke some tears by touching her face, by grabbing her hand and rubbing it on my cheeks, yet no tears came down. How can this be? I wanted to cry and I wanted to mourn! But, the grace of God rested upon my surprised soul, and my mother impressed her joy she was about to feel in spirit paradise.
At this point, I have already received many impressions by the Spirit about why she had to leave us. The theology I have learned became reality and grace came to bind them together. My revelation will be mentioned in the end.
NEW ANSWERS TO OLD QUESTIONS
I began with these questions, but they could not be answered until later on. It's God's perfect wisdom that He knows when to release answers in perfect order and timing that would benefit us as human beings. We are in God's play. He is not a overly harassed actor in ours. Michael Wilcox said it this way, “God, in his infinite wisdom, recognizes that in order for him to answer your prayer, there must be a pocket in your heart to be able to receive it. This pocket usually entails experiences we have not encountered yet. Only through these experiences would we be able to APPRECIATE and ACKNOWLEDGE the answer.” The Master Architect wants us to build a foundation of experiences before placing the roof that will forever fortify us from the heavy rains.
Q: Why did the bishop tell me to stay home and not go to a different location to do missionary work?
My mother needed time to learn about and accept the Gospel. God knew she would see the Plan of Salvation in the temple before she passed away. Could she have gone this far without my support? As adamant as my friends were about my spiritual course, I conveyed and transferred my belief to my mother. She had faith in my words until she gained that faith for herself.
Q: Why did Grandmother come back to America to acquire consolation through the Book of Mormon? She never got baptized, where does she fit in the puzzle of my mother's life?
My grandmother's spiritual progression needed to be seen first-hand through my mother’s eyes. This wonderful change that was wrought inside increased my mother's curiosity. It was enough for her to continue her search during the busy times. My grandmother believes in our church and has asked me recently to do her temple work when she crosses the veil.
Q: Why the pain before mother passed away?
A: My mother became more humble than ever. Her posture as a doctor converted to a child’s humility. She became vulnerable and this enhanced her spirit to receive things she wouldn't regularly receive. Her soft soil made way for a seed that would benefit her in the struggling times ahead.
Q: Why did mother leave us? Is God still there?
My mother had a regret that haunted her whole life. She wished she could've been with her children more and taken more time off work. Having a husband who was involved in the same field of oncology and hematology could have given her the opportunity to stay home with us. My mother suffered from intestinal problems for more than 11 years prior to the pancreatic cancer, which perpetuated more suffering. How hard is it to enjoy a sunset when you’re in pain? How impossible is it to see the miracles of life if pain distracts your joy? How can you spend time with your future posterity, when all your attention is geared towards your own suffering? This was the problem only a Loving God can solve.
Sometimes God withholds his blessing of healing because he has something greater waiting for that person. Humans have their ways to solve this, and God always has better ways. Heavenly Father created a way that my mother can see us raising our future children and enjoy great moments from the Spirit World. There would be two benefits that are worth mentioning. First, she would have no more pain as a spirit and can focus on the present gifts of life. Second, her spirit can travel from one sibling to another in seconds flat so that she can actually never miss a thing. Missing beautiful events tends to happen due to the mortal and physical state we are in. However, spirits are not limited to those circumstances but may be able to travel to different locations. Heavenly Father found this way, and I have received confirmation that this was one of God's reasons for my mother passing away.
After we mourned my mother’s passing, I bore testimony to all my family about this revelation. At that exact moment that I finished, my sister said something I would never forget. “What he is saying is true. She wants us to be happy now, for some reason I cannot cry right now,” she said. I told her never to forget this impression she received, and my mother (who I felt was in the room with us) was able to see first-hand how God works with her own children. This brought her joy and we both felt it.
This increased my mother's testimony beyond the veil. We all rejoiced and those in spirit and in body rejoiced. I continued to tell them this picture of why God took her from us. I testify that her first 4-5 embraces must've been the best reunion situations she has ever been involved in.” She now walks by faith and by sight. Glory, light, and love stand in front of my angel mother. Hallelujah!
In my mother's confirmation blessing, it states that she would be an ensign to the members of the church. At the beginning of the testimony meeting, she first started saying “Should I go up there?” But, after her blessing, she stated (in her last testimony she would give to the congregation) “I feel like I need to go up there.” My mother who just lost 40 pounds slowly walked to the podium and bore a testimony that will forever ring in my heart.
My mother and I had a strong testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel.
Dear Mother, thanks for being at your memorial service. We will follow your footsteps of service, and leave tracks behind us as well. As my sister put in her own words “My mother taught me more about Christ by the way she lived her life, continually in the service of others.” I know we will all reunite again, but we fully recognize that you are not so far away. Paradise for us is to know that you are still alive and that you will continue to be with us.
We would like to share our testimony together:
Joseph Smith Jr. was and is a prophet of God and he saw the Father and the Son in the sacred grove. Joseph Smith Jr. and James from the New Testament are not on trial, we are. We must all one day take James’ counsel. "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him."( James 1:5) This stands true to this day if we question the truths we are looking to learn about.
Jesus Christ came to save us all from Sin and He is our Redeemer and advocate with the Father. His marvelous work and wonder continues near you and we are His pride and joy. We are preparing the saints for His second coming in glory and majesty, that we may have our countenances shine with His. We were baptized to follow His example. The Book of Mormon tells us that God loved everyone, not just the Jerusalem saints but everyone and everything that derived from his accompanied creations. His atonement is real. The Great Healer has never clocked out and will work until His Father’s plan is carried out. We both know this and it and brings us great joy that eye has not seen and ears have not heard. We leave this testimony with our uttermost reverence to our Lord, even our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
As I sat pondering about my mother, these words came to mind. Her doctor career, spiritual journey, and motherhood will always be a light in my life. She is a true inspiration to us.
Thou Art Graven in the Palm of My Hands
by Emanuel Zevallos
Sharing her talents infinitely to many like the worldly sand,
Her whole life bringing those in pain to places of healing
No one questioned her intentions because her heart was a light beaming
She found God, who loved her before she was born,
Realizing that with Christ, her heart can heal from being torn,
All moments were sacred to her, even through some pain and strife,
However, through these experiences, she continued to search for Eternal life,
Early in her life, as she interned in the hospital day after day
Her internship meant nothing in comparison to healing those full of hopeless dismay
Near the end, as we slept on the couch near her hospital bed,
She would bring us a blanket and begin to comfort us instead.
Her smile radiates the room with sincere charity,
Knowledge flowed from her mouth with the uttermost clarity
Millions of lives were extended due to her dedication as a doctor and to those in her presence
Never complaining and serving till exhaustion became her main essence.
Dear Father, Abba, and Mighty Celestial Being of Love,
Hug this daughter of yours as she crosses towards your mansions above,
She remained loyal to your cause till the end,
We send you an earthly angel, our mother; please help our hearts to mend.
Let her know that we know families are forever,
Help us all understand that we must continue growing together,
Help her see and feel the words you once comforted Isaiah in those ancient lands,
Come my daughter to your First Father, thou art graven in the palm of my hands.
To learn more about our faith, visit www.Mormon.org.