As many know, I love researching our family history. I won’t bore you with the details, but I do want to analyze a short, short story from my great-great-great-grandmother’s trip across the plains as a pioneer. Don’t worry; it’s only one paragraph long:
“Soon after leaving Florence, Sarah’s husband William James became ill and had to be hauled in the cart many miles. Their daughter Emily also became very ill and on one occasion was so low that the people thought she would die because there was no food suitable for a sick child. At this time the fervent prayer of the mother was answered. A dove, that sacred bird offered no resistance or evidenced any fear. So she took it in hand, killed and dressed it, and prepared soup of which they freely partook. Their sick ones immediately gained strength and recovered.” (Mormon Welsh History, “Sarah Jenkins James”)
By the way, the little Emily spoken of is my great-great-grandmother, so, of course, I’m personally thankful for the dove. From the lack of information, I’m left to guess as to exactly what happened. At some point, after the prayer of Sarah, the dove flew from somewhere and landed close enough that Sarah could “[take] it in hand” and make the food needed to help her little family.
So, is this a miracle, a “tender mercy”, or just a lucky break?
At LDS.org, a miracle is defined as “an extraordinary event caused by the power of God” (www.lds.org, “Miracles”). Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught:
“A miracle has been defined as ‘a beneficial event brought about through divine power that mortals do not understand and of themselves cannot duplicate.'” (“Miracles”, Ensign, June 2001)
So, was Sarah’s dove a miracle? Couldn’t we duplicate that one? I mean, I’ve trained a dog to walk all the way home from a park and sit in her kennel until I got home. Couldn’t I train a dove to fly up to me and land in my lap and allow me to make it into soup? I guess, but I think I can consider Sarah’s dove a miracle.
But what about a “tender mercy”? Elder David A. Bednar defined a “tender mercy” this way:
“The Lord’s tender mercies are the very personal and individualized blessings, strength, protection, assurances, guidance, loving-kindnesses, consolation, support, and spiritual gifts which we receive from and because of and through the Lord Jesus Christ.” (“The Tender Mercies of the Lord”, April, 2005)
Was Sarah’s dove a “tender mercy”? It was certainly personal and individualized. But did it come through the Savior, or from Him? It would be hard to argue either way, but yes, I’d say so.
Certainly, there must be someone thinking, “What a second, Brian. Maybe she just lucked out. Maybe the bird was tired and happened to run out of energy right as it was in front of Sarah. Sarah, who was hungry, took advantage of the opportunity and snatched the bird in its weakened condition…She was lucky!”
Yes, I suppose this is the way you could look at it. In fact, you could look at a lot of your life as a long list of lucky breaks, good timing, or coincidence. But I think that if you really look at the pattern, our long list of lucky breaks, good timing and coincidence is proof that there is a Heavenly Father who knows you and your needs and circumstances very, very, very well. And, He is good–very good–at what He does…As an act of faith, I am going to put more effort into seeing God’s hand in my life and the lives of my family members.