Elsie and Three Things to Remember
Good morning. I’m so excited to be here. That’s totally not the right word. I’m totally nervous to be here. This building is just so overwhelming—I feel like you can’t enter this building without feeling some of the Spirit that is here.
I want to share with you a little bit about my little daughter Elsie, and then I’m going to share with you a few of the miracles that we experienced around that story, and then a little bit of why that should matter.
It was just an ordinary Tuesday, back in the fall of 2016. I had sent my four big kids off to school, and my three little ones—Tank, Elsie, and Seal—were happily running from room to room. They were playing with two neighbor’s kids that I was also watching. I was busying myself with household chores while the kids were running around and playing, and I was just enjoying the sound of their laughter.
I was in the kitchen washing dishes when Elsie’s friend came and tapped me on the hip. She said, “Elsie is hanging by the string.” I didn’t really have any frame of reference as to what that could possibly mean, so without even turning off the water, I wiped my wet hands on my baggy, black sweatpants and I walked into our front room to find that my daughter Elsie had become entangled in the cord from our blinds.
I quickly took her down and I began CPR. I sent my son to get help and a neighbor came and administered a priesthood blessing. The paramedics were called, and Elsie was Life Flighted to Primary Children’s Hospital. She spent a week there before she passed away.
Now, if this is all that you knew from our story, it just sounds like a very tragic, sad thing to have happened. But I want to share with you a few of the miracles that we experienced. First of all, you should know that I am really not the kind of mom that watches other people’s kids all the time. I have seven kids of my own, and they make a big mess. And so, I’m typically pretty embarrassed about the state of our home, because it looks like seven children live there. So I don’t offer often. And I think because people know that I have seven kids of my own, they don’t think to ask me.
That morning when I was watching a neighbor’s children, I received a group text. It was a close friend of mine and she needed somebody at the last minute to watch her two children. So I said yes. I came to find out later that that text was actually never meant for me, that it was meant for her visiting teacher who is coincidentally also named Sunny. But if not for her daughter being there that morning, I’m not sure how long it would have taken me to find Elsie.
My neighbor who came and delivered the priesthood blessing, he just happened to be running a little bit late for work. The paramedics are typically stationed about fifteen minutes from my home, and they just happened to be on break three minutes from my home. And lastly, I’m not a doctor or a nurse; I have no medical training. I think the extent of it is from TV shows and girls’ camp certification when I was about thirteen years old. But I performed that CPR perfectly. By the time the paramedics arrived, I had gotten her heart started and she was taking breaths on her own.
With all of these little miracles that fell into place, we were given every reason to hope for the best possible outcome. So, when the results from her scan came back that there was very little brain activity and even that was declining, I wondered why. Why was I able to save her, but I wasn’t able to save her? What was the point of all these little miracles lining up. We sought for answers and comfort within the walls of the temple, and our answer came in the form of organ donation. Because I was able to get to her just in time, she was able to be a life-saving miracle for others. We received confirmation that, although Elsie’s mission was much, much shorter than we would have hoped, her mission was finished here.
What does that have to do with any of you? Well, the one thing that all of us in this room have in common is that our missions here are not finished. How do we remain faithful and endure to the end of our mission?
President Spencer W. Kimball said that perhaps the most important word is remember (See "Circles of exaltation," address to religious educators, Brigham Young University, June 28, 1968). I’ve thought of three key things to remember, and they all have to do with the plan of salvation.
About four years ago, my husband surprised me with a trip to Texas to visit my family for Valentine’s Day. My step-dad had given me a box of See’s chocolates—the Bordeaux, they are the best ones, if you are wondering—and my mother had just replaced the carpeted stairs that she had in her home with this beautiful hardwood. I was at the top of the stairs double-fisting the chocolate, and I was in my socks, and I forgot all about the hardwood. On the very first step, I slipped and tumbled, tumbled, tumbled all the way down the stairs. I got to the bottom of the stairs and I’m doing a little self-assessment, and I noticed that the chocolate was safe.
I don’t know how much you were listening to the introduction, but at one point in my life, I was a very good athlete. I trained for the Olympics, I was like a world-class athlete. And as I’m sitting there at the bottom of the stairs with my safe chocolate in my hand, I thought, “This is definitely the most un-athletic thing I’ve ever done in my life.” I felt like, in that moment, my body completely forgot who I was.
That was my first thing that we should remember—remember who you were, that here on earth there are going to be times when you will be tempted to hate your body, that you will be tempted to feel like your body has betrayed you. In those times, remember that at one point you didn’t have one. When the trials of life come and they feel heavy and unbearable, remember that you chose to come here to learn and to grow, and to prove yourself worthy of the blessings to come. And remember that there are things that we knew and understood there that made all of this not only worth it, but desirable.
The second thing—you know, most people know who my husband is, here in Utah. He grew up here, he played football at Brighton High School, he played at BYU. I didn’t grow up here. I grew up in Texas, and when he played for the Eagles out on the East Coast, we kind of enjoyed a little bit of anonymity. When we moved back here, I was a little bit unprepared for that to be gone again. The very first time I handed my debit card to somebody at the grocery store, they looked at the last name and said, “Oh, my. Do you know Reno Mahe?” Yes, I do.
It was a little bit of a culture shock to me, especially having been an athlete myself. I must have thought I was kind of hot stuff too. The very first ward that we moved back to, we were sitting near the back during sacrament meeting, and right after sacrament meeting, my husband was out in the hall with my daughter, and—I’m probably exaggerating, but this is how it felt at the time—it felt like the bishop ran down the aisle straight towards me.
He reached out his hand and said, “Sister Mahe, we have the best calling for your husband.” And then he must have been able to sense that I was a little bit unimpressed with that, and so he followed it up with, “Don’t worry; we’ll find somewhere to stick you a little bit later.” That’s awesome.
It’s a little embarrassing to admit that this was a pretty big hit to my probably over-inflated ego. I remember wondering at the time, is that who I am now? I’m Sister “Reno Mahe’s wife”? And don’t get me wrong, he is awesome, and I feel very, very lucky. But I remember thinking that maybe he is a little bit lucky too. I felt like an afterthought. I felt overlooked and forgotten.
It was taking enough of my time, mulling it over and pouting, that I decided to take it to prayer. The answer that came was in a scripture. It is in 1 Nephi 21:15-16: “For can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee, O house of Israel.
“Behold, I have graven thee on the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.”
So my second thing to remember is remember who you are. You are a beloved child of God.
My family and I, being Tongan, we had the opportunity to attend our local Tongan ward for a while. While we were there, we had the opportunity to go on the Pioneer Trek. We happened to be there at the same time as then-acting general Young Women’s president Elaine S. Dalton. Upon meeting her, our men and our Young Men were able to perform a haka for her.
Probably some of you are thinking that seems a little weird, because you have seen those done at football games and you know, it’s kind of like a war cry. But when done in that spirit of respect, it’s actually very, very touching. It was an honor to be there and to part of it. We, as the women and Young Women, stood to the side, being very proud of our Young Men, having this thing that they could offer. After they finished, Sister Dalton said, “Oh, men, that was wonderful. And now we have something for you, right, girls?” And we just kind of panicked. We looked at each other like, “I didn’t prepare anything. Did you prepare anything? No.”
And she said, “Okay, here we go. One, two, three. ‘We are daughters of our Heavenly Father, who loves us, and we love Him. We will stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places as we strive to live the Young Women values, which are: faith, divine nature, individual worth, knowledge, choice and accountability, good works, and integrity. We believe as we come to accept and act upon these values, we will be prepared to strengthen home and family, make and keep sacred covenants, receive the ordinances of the temple, and enjoy the blessings of exaltation’” (Young Women Theme).
I remember saying that so many times when I was growing up through the youth program, but it never sank into my heart as much as it did at that moment, as we testified of that truth, that we are children of God, that He loves us, and we love Him back.
It’s a lot harder to feel loved and blessed when things are not going well. But Elder Orson F. Whitney said, “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude, and humility…. It is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we came here to acquire” (quoted by Spencer W. Kimball in Faith Precedes the Miracle, 1972, 98).
I think perhaps because we cannot see the way that our Heavenly Father sees things, or understand the way that He understands, that it’s difficult to see His love when we experience sorrow or disappointment. His answers can be different from the ones that we’re hoping for, and so they don’t seem like answers at all.
I think of my own children. Sometimes they will say to me, “I’m hungry.” What they mean is, “I want a popsicle.” So when I give them instead a healthy dinner, it doesn’t really seem like the most loving option to them, even though it is exactly because I love them that I do it. In Matthew 7:9-11, the Lord says, “Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?
“Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
“If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask of him?”
You are a beloved child of God. Remember who you are.
And then my last one. I don’t know how much my husband loves when I share this example, but when he was growing up, he was one of several boy cousins around his same age, and they were a rambunctious group of boys. They were loud, and they loved to play, and make a mess, and he remembers that he had certain family members that just had no patience for that, that as soon as they would start coming in the door, they would say, “Oooh, you guys are gross and dirty and smelly and loud. Get out of here!” And they would slam the door and lock it. So no matter if they were thirsty or hot or tired, they just had to play outside until the adults were done talking and they could go home.
And so then, fast forward twenty years or so, and these are the same family members that are so proud, “I want you to meet my nephew, my nephew Reno Mahe. He plays in the NFL and he’s going to speak to our ward on Sunday.” And I have to wonder, that if those family members had known who he would grow up to be, if they would have treated him the way that they did when he was a little boy.
Keeping that in mind, if you really knew who you could grow up to be, how does that change how you treat yourself? How does that change the way you treat those around you?
The third and final point is remember who you will be. When trials come—and they will come—remember this. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said, “The Lord compensates the faithful for every loss.… every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude” ("Come What May, and Love It," Joseph B. Worthlin, October 2008 General Conference).
As the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith, “Peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;
“And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high” (Doctrine and Covenants 121: 7-8).
As we remember who we were, who we are, and who we will be along this path of mortal life, may we be strengthened in our resolve to be true. May we be more assured of our heavenly parents’ love for us. He sent His Son to provide a way for us to return to Him because He loves us, and He wants our eternal happiness. I am truly grateful for the knowledge of eternal families and the plan of salvation and the restored gospel on earth.
I love my Savior, and I am so grateful for every opportunity to testify of Him, and I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen
Sunny Mahe grew up in Allen, Texas. She came to Utah to attend BYU, where she became an All-American member of the Y's women's volleyball team.
At BYU, she met and married Reno Mahe, a BYU football player and current coach. After college, they moved to Philadelphia where Reno played football for the Philadelphia Eagles for five years.
Sunny has been a columnist for The Daily Herald, but her primary focus has always been her family. Reno and Sunny have eight children.
In the fall of 2016, the Mahe's three-year-old daughter, Elsie, was involved in an in-home accident and passed away after a week at Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City. The couple started a foundation in Elsie's honor — The Miracles From Elsie Foundation — which gives financial assistance to families experiencing medical crises, provides grief counseling to families who have lost a child and promotes organ donation awareness.