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A family with 17 special needs children serves the 'least of these'

Published: Sunday, March 20 2011 6:00 a.m. MDT

Frequently I refer to the analogy of "Italy and Holland." We plan our lives for a trip to "Italy," but as life takes us in a different direction than we planned or thought it would, we find ourselves in a similarly beautiful place, but one we never expected, "Holland."

I recently had an experience that will change my life forever. I met a couple who literally hijacked their plane and insisted they go to "Holland."

First, let me put it in to perspective. I have taught gospel doctrine for 12 years, served a mission and had many other callings in the LDS Church, and I may have learned more in one evening about the gospel of Jesus Christ than I have in all those experiences combined.

I was invited to the home of Chris and Sally Mart for dinner and family home evening. I admit I was nervous. After 11 years of marriage and several miscarriages, Chris and Sally have adopted 17 special needs children; two have passed away, and most are medically dependent. Chris and Sally, who have medical backgrounds, consider themselves ordinary people with an extraordinary opportunity.

In referring to her children Sally said, “First, these are Heavenly Father's children. Second, they are my brothers and sisters. When we focus on who they are, and not what they do, it gives us the insight on how the Savior sees them."

Absolutely devoted to their Heavenly Father, the Marts have literally given their lives to the loving and caring of his children.

When I arrived, they started the introduction of their children, some who were in wheelchairs, or were not able to see or speak to me. Midway through the introductions, a widowed neighbor, who was also invited for dinner, arrived. One of the kids' Sunday school teachers was also invited, but he couldn’t make it. I quickly learned that they have no boundaries to their generosity.

Everyone helped themselves as we ate and visited. I enjoyed talking with the kids and hearing about them and their lives. Without me even realizing it, some of the kids were taken to their rooms and others arrived. It was like magic; I couldn’t keep track of how they were pulling this off. They do not have professional help, and yet I don’t remember Sally or Chris leaving my sight. It was amazing.

After dinner Chris took me aside, with a child in his arms, and another one at his side, for a little one-on-one time as he expressed his love for such an amazing wife and his feelings about the gospel.

After 10 or 15 minutes with Chris, Sally asked me to join her for a drive.

First we dropped in at a neighbor’s house to do their dishes. Both husband and wife have Stage IV cancer. Sally or Chris usually stops by in the evenings to help them out. Again, I was reminded that they have no boundaries to their selflessness.

After meeting this wonderful couple, we were off to the rehabilitation facility to visit and take dinner to one of their daughters who is being treated for spina bifida. Katie is 13, beautiful and perhaps the happiest person I have ever met in my life. After hearing Katie share her dreams and aspirations, which included marriage in the Draper Utah Temple, four children and wishes that her parents would adopt another little girl, we were on our way home.

When we arrived, Chris and five of the kids were laughing hysterically at the pictures they were taking of each other on their cell phone. Chris hopped up to wash the dish from the dessert I had brought, we said our goodbyes and I was on my way.

At this point it was 9:30 p.m., and my head was spinning. My eyes and ears were spiritually awakened to a level of consciousness that I had never experienced before. I have felt the Spirit with amazing intensity throughout my life, but I am not sure that I have seen love or selflessness or the gospel in action as I did in the Mart home.

The fact that many of these children cannot return an ounce of love in this lifetime doesn’t seem to matter or drain the life out of Chris and Sally. They are committed to the Savior and loving their brothers and sisters; that is the bottom line. This perspective seems to take them to a place far beyond "what about me" or "I need time for myself," and they certainly don’t have a minute to judge anyone else or worry about being offended.

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said, “At the final day the Savior will not ask about the nature of our callings. He will not inquire about our material possessions or fame. He will ask if we ministered to the sick, gave food and drink to the hungry, visited those in prison, or gave succor to the weak. When we reach out to assist the least of Heavenly Father’s children, we do it unto him. That is the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Ensign, November 2007).

Chris and Sally converted to the LDS Church and embraced the gospel as young adults. Together they have committed their lives to assisting "the least of Heavenly Father’s children."

I have seen the "essence" of the gospel of Jesus Christ; I have been touched forever. For this I am very grateful.

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