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This past Friday our family received some of the worst news we could imagine. Our dear friends and neighbors, the Sheltons, had lost their sweet two year old son, Kayson in a tragic accident.
When you get news like that, everything stops. To say this hit close to home would be an understatement. The Sheltons live just a couple doors down from us, I can see their house from our front door and the windows on our upper story. Kayson is friends with my little boy Danny as he’s only a few months younger than my son. He’d been part of the little joy school that I’d done with some moms in my neighborhood this past year. He was in Danny’s nursery class. I remember him as being quiet, sweet and rambunctious. Those terms might not seem to go together, but he was a very kind boy but with a lot of the high energy that can come with being a little boy. His family are some of the most wonderful people on this planet. No exaggeration. In a recent Relief Society activity the sisters in our ward were going around and talking about various people in the ward who had given them service. At least half of the women who shared something were talking about Kayson’s mom – Toni. She is always serving someone else. Taking meals, watching kids, cleaning houses, listening to friends – she has a constant awareness for the needs of those around her and is looking for ways to fill those needs. Kayson’s dad, Scott serves with my husband Eric in our ward’s Young Men’s program and is always friendly and aware of those around him. This past winter when my brother and dad were at my house and getting ready for different surgeries, Scott was the one who was able to come over and help give them blessings – and my mom was impressed later in the week when he stopped them in the driveway to see how both of their surgeries had gone. These are some of the most genuinely GOOD people in this world.
As the news spread through our neighborhood our neighbors slowly all gathered to the Shelton’s driveway. The Sheltons of course were still out of town, but the neighborhood just wanted to feel like we were there supporting them. Quickly, the neighborhood sprang into action. They found blue ribbon and started tying it to every post, light pole and tree in our neighborhood. Anything that stood still for long enough got a ribbon tied to it. A banner was placed in their driveway for neighbors to sign and share messages of love for them that would be placed on their garage door. The men all got together and got supplies to plant flowers in their front yard, some new trees in their park strip, and finish off their side yard by removing rocks and putting down bark chips.
Their family came and started cleaning the house top to bottom. One family in our ward volunteered an empty freezer for their use and the Relief Society sprang into action making freezer meals. Another neighbor donated the use of their truck and trailer to transport that freezer across the neighborhood. In one day we had so many meals made that they ran out of room in that previously empty freezer and space was volunteered in another neighbor’s freezer for more meals that would be taken at a later time. Healthy snacks were collected for the kids at one person’s house. Some friends gathered to make care packages for Kayson’s three siblings. Blankets are being made and collected in Kayson’s honor to give to Project Night Night. I put my talents to use and set up a website for memories and photos of Kayson, as well as an online fundraiser. Someone else set up a Wells Fargo account in Kayson’s name to help offset the funeral/transportation costs. So many posts have been made by their friends and family expressing condolences and love for them. The Relief Society is arranging for a luncheon for the family following the funeral services. One of their friends is selling a beautiful digital print that says “Families are Forever” and giving all the proceeds to the Sheltons. The neighborhood found out when the Sheltons would be coming in and lined luminaries along the entire path from our neighborhood entrance to their home. As the Sheltons drove in the neighbors lined the streets and quietly sang “Families Can Be Together Forever” and then met in their driveway for a neighborhood prayer on their behalf.
The amount of service and outpouring of love on their behalf has been staggering. I have never seen anything like it. And yet, even as I watch it all the only thing I can think is this:
It’s not enough.
It’s not even close to enough.
We’re not even approaching 1/1000th of a percent of a fraction of being within light years of enough.
It can never, ever, ever be enough.
Regardless of the amount of service, the amount of love, the donations, the time and the true and sincerely genuine efforts of their friends, family and community – these good people have lost their son. They have been separated from a child who they love as dearly as they love their own lives. Such a loss is an unspeakable sorrow and nothing we can ever do could make up for that.
I expressed this thought to my husband. He agreed and added this inspired insight – “It reminds you of how the Atonement works, doesn’t it?” I thought about that for a moment and realized, that he was exactly right, and we discussed the many different ways in which the analogy could extend.
Of course, firstly the atonement is the only thing that will ever make the Shelton’s loss right again. We have the knowledge that because of Christ’s sacrifice for us their family can be once again reunited. They will still miss him dearly in the meantime, and the grief is still very real, but in the end he is not gone forever. There is hope even in the pain of the loss.
But it’s also like the atonement in our own lives. We’re taught, “for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” (2 Nephi 25:23) In our lives we have been given commandments and we strive to serve one another and do the best we can do. We work ourselves to the brink serving and loving. Caring for children, working in church callings, serving in the temple, doing family history work, studying the scriptures, praying, attending church meetings, preaching the gospel, serving missions, enduring through trials, donating our time, our talents and our means to building the kingdom of God. But yet…
It’s not enough.
It can’t be enough. Regardless of all of our best efforts to keep the commandments and serve others – we are lost. We have fallen from the presence of our Heavenly Father. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” (Romans 3:23) No matter what we do, we cannot save ourselves. We are stuck forever in a state of separation from our Eternal Parents. It’s a horrific state to be in and we simply do not have the power to do anything about it.
But, even in this sorrowful state, there is hope. Even though we can’t do anything about our fallen state, Christ can. He has made his sacrifice so that we might return to live with our Eternal Parents again. The only thing that will ever make up for our fall is His Atonement and He gives that to us freely.
Some people look and say, “well there’s nothing we can do, we’re saved completely by grace, so it doesn’t matter if we give our efforts to keep the commandments – none of that will save us so why bother?” Why bother? Because we don’t give our efforts to save ourselves, we give them to serve Christ, to give something, the only thing we can give, back to Him in return for what he has given us. We wouldn’t say as a community, “well, nothing we can do will make up for the Sheltons’ loss so let’s not do anything at all.” That would be absurd! Of course we did what we could do for the Sheltons. We gave our very best efforts, and did all that we can do. We’re not doing it because we think it will fix the problem, we’re doing it because we love the Sheltons. We don’t serve Christ because it saves us, we do it because we love him.
I think sometimes that phrase “all that we can do” is misunderstood. Of course we didn’t do every single possible thing that we could have done for them. We didn’t finish their basement, or donate every cent of our money, or make it so that Scott will never have to work again… but that doesn’t make it so it wasn’t our best. I don’t think the Sheltons are going to come back to their friends and family and say, “well, but you could have done ____”, I’m sure they are seeing everyone’s efforts and are grateful for what has been done. They know that we’ve made our best and honest effort to do what we could to alleviate their pain, as feeble as those efforts may seem. I think Christ will look at us the same way. Even though we cannot ever do every single thing we possibly could do, to be the very best we could possibly be, I don’t think He will fault us for that. I think at the last day Christ will look at us and say as he did to the woman who anointed His feet, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much” (Luke 7:47).
The Atonement is real. It will make up for every pain, every sorrow, every sin that we face in this world. Christ made his sacrifice so that the Sheltons can be reunited with their sweet Kayson again. So that their family, and our family, and all families can be together forever. Our efforts are nothing, but because of Him-
It is enough.
For anyone who would like to do something for the Sheltons donations can be made through Wells Fargo in an account set up in Kayson’s name. There is also an online fundraiser that you can get to here. Blankets are also being collected in our neighborhood to be displayed at the funeral, you can contact me in the comments if you want a specific drop off point.