Songs of the Heart – A Tribute to my Grandmothers

I sang to both of my grandmothers as they were dying.


My dear Grandma Harper had suffered a stroke and could no longer speak, though her eyes were full of emotion. In the hospital, I felt embarrassed to start singing, “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” to her with my sister, but we did and suddenly what the world thought didn’t matter anymore. The Spirit filled the hospital room.

… He asked if I for Him would die,

The flesh was weak, my blood ran chill,

But the free spirit cried, ‘I will’

Then in a moment to my view,

The stranger started from disguise,

The tolkens in his hands I knew,

The Savior Stood before my eye

He spake and my poor name he named,

Of me thou hast not been ashamed,

These deeds shall thy memorial be,

fear not thou didst them unto me.


GrandmaC2My Grandmother Chournos loved music. She was my primary pianist when I was a child. She was on her deathbed and too weak to turn her head to see who had come. My mother asked if there was something we could sing for her and she asked my mother, daughter, sons and I to sing, “the hymn about the Garden of Eden.” We looked at each other, initially not knowing which song she meant. Then it hit me, “She wants us to sing, ‘Now Let Us Rejoice’ “.

Now let us rejoice in the day of salvation

No longer as strangers on earth need we roam,

Glad tidings are sounding to us and each nation

And shortly the hour of redemption will come

When all that was promised, the saints will be given

And none shall molest them from morn until ev’n

And earth shall appear as the Garden of Eden

And Jesus will say to all Israel, “Come home!”

My Savior was taking her home. Grandma was too weak to wave, so I touched her hand and said my ‘goodbye’.

These hymns were equally important to my pioneer ancestors. Oscar Winters was a pioneer who once told Heber J Grant, “Heber, I believe that the young people of Zion do not thoroughly appreciate what Brother Clayton’s hymn meant to us, as we sang it, night after night, crossing the plains. … I want to tell you an incident that happened as I was coming to the valley. One of our company was delayed in coming to camp. We got some volunteers, and were about to go back and see if anything had happened, … when we saw him coming in the distance. When he arrived, we unyoked his cattle and helped him to get his supper. He had been quite sick and had to lie down by the road, a time or two. After supper he sat down on a large rock, by the camp fire, and sang the hymn, ‘Come, come, ye Saints.’ It was the rule in the camp that whenever anybody started to sing that hymn, we would all join with him; but for some reason, no one joined with this brother. His voice was quite weak and feeble; and when he had finished, I glanced around, and I don’t believe there were any of the people sitting there whose eyes were tearless. He sang the hymn very beautifully, but with a weak and plaintive voice, and yet with the spirit and inspiration of the hymn. The next morning we discovered that he was not hitching up his oxen; we went to his wagon, and we found that he had died during the night! We dug a shallow grave and laid his body in it. We then thought of the stone on which he had been sitting the night before when he sang:

“And should we die before our journey’s through,

Happy day! All is well!

We then are free from toil and sorrow too,

With the just we shall dwell.

But if our lives are spared again

To see the Saints their rest obtain

O how we’ll make this chorus swell—

All is well, all is well!

“We then rolled that stone over in place as a headstone for his grave.”


The Lord has said, “The song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.” I am overwhelmed that I am able to offer this prayer with all of you. Thank you for your love, prayers, talents and this your sacred offering.

Brother Harper – given as a thought at a youth practice for a Pioneer Trek Fireside

Real and Lasting Change

I have seen a battle with despair in those who feel they will always need to pretend to be something they aren’t.  I’m talking here about people who want to change to be better and put on an optimistic face, but inside wonder if they will ever measure up.  In addiction recovery work, I’ve come to find that a basic fear is that even if sinful desires are suppressed, they will always be there as a powerful force waiting to break through in a moment of weakness.

I’ve heard men use the phrase, “I will battle this all my life.” I applaud this resolution to keep trying, but it troubles me.  While the spirit of man should remain vigilant in maintaining mastery over the flesh, the fruits of the Spirit include peace and that means that constant battle is not our goal. I submit that the battle subsides as one draws on the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ. He’s already won this battle on our behalf, and the battle will subside in our hearts as we really change.

One of my many dear friends who successfully worked through addiction recovery gave the following insight (shared with permission):

“When I first started attending addiction recovery groups and began my journey towards the Savior, I believed that the end result would just be a mask. I knew that what Heavenly Father wanted from me was the right thing, but I didn’t think anything about who I was would change and, if I’m honest, I didn’t want anything about my personality to change. As I progressed in my recovery and as my relationship with Heavenly Father grew, He showed me that what I thought He wanted from me was wrong. He didn’t want me to wear a mask. He had a plan for me. He was listening to all of those prayers that I didn’t have the courage to bring to Him. What I finally realized was that what Heavenly Father wanted from me was to become the best version of myself. He believed in me, encouraged me, and brought out who I really was and showed me who I could be. It turns out I was wearing a mask, and He took it off. I will forever be grateful for that.”


It was a privilege to have a window into this man’s recovery. He found the Savior’s promises fulfilled, that if we give him our whole heart, he will return it, “pressed down, and shaken together, and running over” (Luke 6:38). “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matthew 16:25).

Real and lasting change comes when we seek the Lord’s will in everything we do. The real mask we wear is the one keeping us from our true nature as divine sons and daughters of God.

President Boyd K. Packer said: “The thought is this: the Atonement leaves no tracks, no traces. What it fixes is fixed. … The Atonement leaves no traces, no tracks. It just heals, and what it heals stays healed.” (Excerpt from Elder Allen D. Haynie)