I heard a story once of a primary music leader who was approached by a little girl after singing time.
“You lead music like Jesus does” she said.
The little girl’s mother explained that her daughter was referring to pictures of Jesus with His arms outstretched,
as if He were leading music.
The music leader left the sweet, short exchange with peace in her heart.
She said she did not always know what she could do, but she never forgot she led like Jesus that day.
Music has found me in unexpected ways lately.
Last spring, I found myself standing in front of a pink music stand looking out at a group of talented institute students.
My new assignment placed me as the institute choir conductor, and I was scared.
My hands and my voice shook the whole semester.
They still do sometimes.
But my students are kind.
They are forgiving.
They are amazing.
A few weeks ago, they sang in a devotional.
When they finished and made their way back to their seats the speaker said,
“This is who Jesus Christ is for me. He is a beautiful choir like that. I see Him there.”
I do too.
Every weekday at noon I see Him too.
I see Him in choir because there is room for everyone.
There is love.
There is patience.
There is trying.
There is humility.
There is unity.
He is there.
There is music in my home because of them.
Songs about the Savior on repeat as I practice and ponder and just try to keep up with them.
It is a privilege to know them.
To know a little of their story.
To love them.
So even if there is just one, I’ll go.
I’ll straighten the pink stand and raise my hands high.
Because I can’t do much, but I can try to lead like Jesus.
As if He leads their music.
And He does.
I think He sings with them too.
I see Him in the “hello’s” before class.
I see Him as empty seats next to the lonely are filled.
I see Him as they welcome and invite each other.
I hear Him when they sing.
And I feel happy.
Happy just to be here and to watch it.
And happy to raise my hands where I can.
When you can’t go for you and you can’t go for others, you go for Jesus.
One of my favorite stories in the New Testament is the Savior’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
A few years ago I visited the home of an incredible artist, J. Kirk Richards.
His home was a gallery and the Savior was everywhere.
He let us walk around and stand close.
Some were finished and others were still in the works.
I will never forget how it felt to look at the Savior painted over and over and over.
We headed to his garage last.
He was working on a close to life size painting of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry.
Jesus and a donkey were outlined and the beginnings of onlookers, palm leaves, and garments laid on the ground could be seen.
It wasn’t finished, but I felt like I was there.
Sometimes I think about that painting.
I think about that day and what it must have meant for Him.
The scriptures say the whole city was moved.
I wonder how much Jesus knew about what came next.
But He still came.
And the whole city was moved.
Eternity was moved.
I was moved.
Despite the hard and the inconvenient and the unknown, He came.
Isn’t that beautiful? The coming?
I see the Savior in people every day who “come” against the odds.
They come without family support.
They come without friends.
They come without perfect knowledge.
They come with unmet expectations.
They come before promised blessings.
They come anyway.
And I look at them, and I see Jesus.
So to those who come anyway, thank you for coming.
I see you.
God sees you too.
And We’re all happy you’re here.
My first year teaching seminary full-time I taught the Doctrine and Covenants at Dixie High Seminary.
I loved that assignment, and those students taught me a lot about God and what He’s like.
The seminary was decorated as a sacred grove that year.
Kraft paper trees lined the hallways.
They started out bare.
Day by day leaves appeared as students hand wrote revelation they received from God.
One of my favorite parts of the day was emptying the repurposed tissue box in my classroom to tape up the leaves.
It was a sacred experience to read the revelation received by those students.
They were spiritually experienced young people learning to hear God in the scriptures, in their trials, in their questions, and in their personal lives.
It humbled me to read what God said to them.
One leaf touched my heart deeply.
God taught her,
“Joseph Smith is just like me.”
When I was 9 years old I got a “Hymns Made Easy” book for Christmas.
The first song I started to plunk out on my own was “Joseph Smith’s First Prayer”.
We kept the piano in the walk-out basement up against a window guarded by a window well.
My feet dangled as I sat up straight and tall and practiced.
I practiced one particular part of the song over and over, so pleased with the progress my fingers were making.
A song that at first sounded messy and clumsy was becoming clear, beautiful, and familiar, the longer I practiced.
The sun shone through the window and soft yellow light fell across my sheet music.
I looked at the sun on my music and on my fingers and I remember thinking,
“I wonder if that was what it looked like when Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ came to Joseph Smith.”
In a clear voice the Spirit said,
“It was just like that”.
In that moment my little heart was filled with joy.
I had gained my own witness of Joseph Smith, of Jesus Christ, and Heavenly Father’s love for me and for all His children.
I told the experience in an institute class once. At the end of the story I apologized.
“Sorry, this is just a little experience I still remember from when I was younger.”
My teacher stopped me.
He urged me never to diminish the simple and beautiful ways God shows His children He loves them.
I love my story even more now.
A few summers ago Jake and I walked through the sacred grove hand in hand.
I learned that God uses the ordinary to bring about the extraordinary.
God grants the significant to the seemingly insignificant.
He loves to bless those who least expect it.
The lame man waiting at the pool of Bethesda.
The begging blind man who called out to Jesus on the road to Jericho.
The widow of Zarephath who had only a few sticks, a little meal, and a little oil.
A 14 year old boy in a grove of trees.
A 9 year old on a piano bench.
He’ll bless you too, you know.
That makes me happy.
I came across some pictures this week that stopped me in my tracks.
They were from an anniversary photo shoot Jake and I did two years ago.
It was the first time I had looked at the images.
It felt like I had gone back in time as I looked at our faces.
It surprised me how young we look.
I was not surprised by how happy we were though.
I watched us walk through rows of pine trees while we held hands, laughed, and smiled.
I was overwhelmed with gratitude and love as I thought about those days.
It’s sweet when the past sneaks up on you.
But all I wanted to do was whisper to myself,
There’s more beauty.
More hope on the way.
Three years ago, Jake was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin Lymphoma and our lives changed.
After the initial shock of a diagnosis and treatment plan, we found ourselves in a tender routine that allowed for lots of time with just us.
We frequented the Ace Hardware just up the street from us.
It had everything we wanted in a date night.
A fountain drink station with Diet Coke and Diet Mtn Dew, and home improvement opportunities.
We’d sip fountain drinks and look at paint colors, but mostly just hold hands and talk quietly to each other.
I remember when they put the Christmas trees up.
The first time I saw it I knew I loved it.
A seven and a half foot lightly flocked tree, prelit with a mix of traditional Christmas lights and larger, beautiful round bulbs.
We walked by the tree a handful of times.
It was a little outside of our budget, but we loved it.
We ended up heading home with the floor model.
We put it up on November 12th, and it was perfect.
We needed a little extra Christmas that year.
I look back on that special time and I want to tell myself,
There’s more beauty,
more love on the way.
We got out that same Christmas tree a few days ago and put it up in our new house.
If this tree could talk, I bet it would say something sweet about us and the past few Christmases.
Hank crouches down low and really close to look at the tree.
He whispers “wow” when the lights turn on.
And I know that in a few years I’ll look back on these moments and think,
Maybe that’s why I’m so happy.
The holiday season officially begins the Monday before Halloween.
The Greg Townsend family gathers for pizza, pumpkins, and Halloween classics.
On Monday Hank ate and laughed as he watched Ichabod and Mr. Toad.
My favorite part is watching “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown”.
Linus and his most sincere pumpkin patch gets me every time.
As I sat in my family home with my own little family I was struck by how far we’ve come.
Traditions always remind me of growth.
They help me think about the past and enjoy the todays.
Sometimes it’s hard to see the growth we really experience, the difference events, time, or teachings really make.
How do you know experiences weren’t wasted on you?
I can’t help but think about a few October’s ago when it was just Jake and I.
We were in the middle of chemotherapy.
Growth was easy to see then.
Pet Scans showed dramatic, positive results.
We had something to work towards.
Trials provide those benchmarks.
You see growth.
They make you different.
But how do we know if it worked?
If it sticks?
If we learned what we could have learned?
Just after Jake’s diagnosis, we got pulled over on the way home from some tests at the hospital.
Jake wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.
The officer was kind. He gave us a warning.
As he walked back to his car I realized something.
I wasn’t mad.
I wasn’t even a little annoyed.
I would have been. A few months before. A few weeks before even.
I was different.
We got closer over those months than I ever imagined possible.
That was three years ago.
Things are different now.
It’s sometimes harder to see progress.
And so sometimes I wonder, am I learning what I can?
Am I better?
A few weekends ago we drove down the freeway.
A little too fast.
The flashing red and blue lights signaled a stop and ticket.
I wasn’t mad.
I wasn’t even a little annoyed.
I’m still different.
We’re closer than we’ve ever been.
I have a framed print on a table by the front door.
It has a handful of painted pumpkins and the phrase,
“Don’t Get Your Pumpkins in a Pile”.
So I guess that’s the message.
That’s how I know it worked.
Maybe that's why I'm so happy.
My name is Maddie Townsend Topham and I am a happy wife!