In the Image of God, by Shantel Gardner


I had an experience with my daughter several years ago. When I was thinking about what I wanted to write about the Family Proclamation, this experience came to me. I pushed it aside, but the impression kept coming back. The Family Proclamation does not tell us what to do– it tells us who we are and what our relationship is to God and Jesus Christ. It also gives us incredible insight into the character of our Heavenly Parents. We are meant to learn how to be like our Savior in family units, and this is how it happens for me. God is good. So Good.

This is my daughter Ella. Isn’t she just cute?? And so big, making her own PB & Chocolate (Nutella. She calls it chocolate–I guess she thinks she is getting away with something.) sandwich for lunch. I took this picture to remember. Here is the story:

On this particular day, Ella was having a bad day. She has Asperger’s, a high-functioning form of Autism. Most people in her world are not even aware that she has this. I don’t notice it most days, but this day I did. On her bad days she gets stuck in a rut, with a need for structure and for things to be and look a certain way. These days normally end up with her alone in her room, organizing her toys, until she feels better. My mood on this day was of no help to her. She had come home from school, and wanted to make her own lunch. I usually have her lunch pre-made, so it is waiting when she walks through the door. I had a crazy morning, so this did not happen. When Ella is having a bad day, she will not compromise or rationalize, or she is not even able to have a two-sided discussion. She will even lose her language if it gets really bad. I have found the best thing to do is give her what she wants as reasonably as possible and try to curb bad behavior with distraction. Anyway, here was our dialogue:

Me: Ella – Do you want peanut butter or circle sandwich for lunch? (Circle is Bologna – long story)

Ella: Peanut Butter Chocolate – I want to do it!!!!!! (High-pitched scream)

Me: o.k. Ella – let me help you.

Ella: No! I do it!!!!!!! (Scream)

Me: o.k.

So I watched her proceed. She got a stool, climbed up to the counter. Couldn’t reach the bread. She started screaming.

Me: Ella – do you need help?

Ella: Bread!!!! (Language now down to one word – this was not headed in a good direction)

So I got up to help her. I reached for the bread.

Ella: NO!!!!!!!!

Me: DO you want the bread?

Ella: Ella Do! (Scream)

Me: o.k.

She struggled a few seconds.

Ella: Please help.

So I helped her get the bread out and laid out the slices for her. I magically and very sneakily managed to get out the jars she needed and unscrew the tops without her protesting. I handed her the butter knife.

She proceeded to dig into the peanut butter and the Nutella. She was making a huge mess. I was having a very hard time not intervening. Not only was she making a complete mess of everything, but she was getting upset. She was piling way too much on the bread, she was taking way too long, and I had a long list of other things I did not like about this situation. Finally, after about 10 minutes, she was done with one piece. It was literally a mountain of Peanut Butter. She and the counter were covered. I was not happy. I was dwelling on how my day had been so far. How she was likely going to need a bath after this and a bath would lead into the afternoon, and then the kids would be home from school –I was getting overwhelmed quickly. She started screaming again. I started to cry; I felt done. The sound hurt my ears, and my heart. I didn’t know what to do. What did she want now???

Me, through tears:  What Ella?

Ella: Fix it!

I didn’t know what she meant, so I got up and looked at the disaster on the counter. Ella very quietly (and completely unlike how she had been over the last 30 minutes) said, “Make it smoooooth,” and she handed me the knife. My despair at the situation was immediately transformed to deep peace and understanding at what I was being taught. As I followed Ella’s instructions to smooth out the Peanut Butter perfectly and make it go “all the way to the edges” of the bread, I realized that we makes messes sometimes. We take situations in life, and insist (sometimes screaming) on doing it all ourselves. We make mistakes, we misjudge, mistrust, and misuse sometimes. We cause a lot of grief to the people around us as we learn, and we judge others harshly as they learn. Then we give our slice of peanut butter bread to the Savior, and he makes it all smooth. He makes it perfect. He spreads it to the edges of the bread, and makes our work look like it was done by a professional chef. Then he lets us keep it. To savor and find joy in. As we become confident in the Savior’s ability to perfect our efforts, we become stronger– and our capacities increase.

I grabbed the camera and took the picture, and really enjoyed letting Ella make the rest of the sandwich. I enjoyed the process of watching her learn, and I was ready to step in when she needed me. Happily and patiently this time, I felt so grateful to my Heavenly Father for taking what was a mess, and making it a moment of learning never to be forgotten.

Shantel Bancroft Gardner lives in Minnesota with her husband Joel and their five children. She is a student in the honors program at the University of Minnesota, majoring in US History and Religious Studies with a minor in Jewish Studies. She is a research historian for the university and also for the Minnesota Historical Society. Shantel has published several articles and essays in both academic and LDS literature.  She serves on the Board for the Joseph Smith Jr. and Emma Hale Smith Historical Society, and travels to universities and historical sites to speak about the lives and legacies of Joseph and Emma. Her favorite place is Winter Quarters. Shantel also considers chocolate necessary to her salvation, and partakes as often as she can.

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Click here to read a complete version of The Family: A Proclamation to the World. The celebration will continue from Sept 17-30.

Remember that during the world-wide-web Family Proclamation Celebration, you can read more posts every day at We Talk of Christ, at Chocolate on My Cranium, and at Middle-Aged Mormon Man.

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51 thoughts on “In the Image of God, by Shantel Gardner

  1. I love this post. LOVE it. My toddler is not yet two, and just barely beginning to talk, but I imagine there’ll be a fair few moments like these for me on the horizon… There have already been times when I’ve had to make myself take a step back and try to look at particular situations from a new perspective. There have also been plenty of times when I’ve not had the patience or clarity of mind to do so. I’m trying to be better. Thanks, Shantel! :-)

  2. I really loved this post. So often it is hard to let go of the perfection we want from our kids and just let them learn and experience. What a great lesson to all.

  3. I wish I had known about my son’s Asberger’s when he was small…I didn’t understand and I know I didn’t handle it very well. We didn’t know he suffered with this until he was in his 20’s. I’m grateful for your example and your reminder that even though I maybe helped make my son’s life a “mess”, the Savior can “clean” it up and He loves me and my son completely.

    • Yes. Yes he does. We didn’t kno about ASD until pretty late in the game with our others. But the Savior allays mamages to help out when I need him the most.

  4. I love that the things children do and say are such a reflection of what we as adults and parents are learning simultaneously. So many times I’ve opened my mouth to teach, correct or reprimand only to have those words hit home like a message directly from Heavenly Father that he couldn’t get to me any other way.

  5. I loved the story about Ella. It touched my heart so much. Thanks for sharing and allowing us to see and think about our own messes. I want to share this with my beehives, I know it will touch thier hearts also.

  6. A great metaphor for life. When I feel like I have lost my language I know I need to return to the scriptures and other direction from my leaders to reground myself.

  7. thank you so much for this post. My 4 year old son has high-functioning autism and sometimes it feels like we’re the only ones struggling with stuff like this. Thanks for reminding me to listen to the Spirit even when I’m in the middle of a tantrum mess. PS My favorite church history site is Winter Quarters too!

    • There are many of us out there- Thankyou for sharing that you are struggling too- It helps me. I know- isnt Winter Quarters just the best!?

  8. heart warming, brought tears to my eyes. I have worked w/children who have autism for several years and i thoroughly enjoy it! Children can teach us sooo many things, but there is something about children w/a disability. We can learn a plethora amount of lessons from them. Thank you for sharing!

  9. I have had these kinds of days and am so glad
    To have read this. I think we get to caught up
    In the moment worrying about everything being
    Perfect that we forget what’s most important.
    Thanks for sharing this beautiful message.

  10. Thank you for this post. This is something I have been struggling to learn. and being the one who is whinning and screaming and trying to do it myself right now. This is very much a message I needed to hear. So from a soul that needs healing thank you. I need to go back and remember some of the things that the little ones I have cared for taught me and write them down.

  11. I really liked everything you had to say here, especially that the proclamation tells us who we are and how we relate to God. Then you had a story about normal mundane family life and spoke of how that taught you about God. I love it– it’s a great message– thanks.

  12. Lovely post. We all feel like little Ella sometimes, don’t we. i loved what you said in the beginning about the proclamation telling us who we are (not what to do). So much of the pain we feel in this life is related to not understanding our great worth.

    • Ella and I are SO much alike. I often act like that in so many situations. It seems to be about trust and that is something I struggle with.

    • I feel like that information was such a blessing. The Lord is so good about giving us added insight into the things he tells us. I love him. He is awesome.

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