My aunt created beauty from a life of desolation. She never had children, but she taught this child how to make life beautiful. I discovered my aunt in my early teens. We visited her home in the rolling hills of Chester County, Pennsylvania. She painted all the walls in her home white, even the brick on the back wall surrounding the fireplace and leading high up to the cathedral ceiling —all white. But the room was vibrant with color—from her furniture, to paintings, to every knick-knack on every shelf. The white foundation made the color pop in every room. While the grown-ups chatted, I spent hours wandering around the house, soaking up the color like a wilted flower starving for water.
My aunt is an expression of color. She seems to make a statement: I’m here and I matter. As an awkward pre-teen, I used to drift in and out of the perpetual fog that distorted a healthy concept of self. I was not someone who wanted to be noticed, probably because I felt so insecure. But my aunt was the image of self-assuredness. The color she used spoke of this confidence with boldness.
Her life lacked color for years—in fact it started with the grays and blacks of war. She was born in Germany when World War II began. She suffered from starvation, bombings, air-raids, poverty, and loss. By the time the war ended she had lost her father, her baby brother, and her country. The family was left on the communist side in East Germany with no freedom in their future. They fled to West Germany and ultimately to the United States. There was but one thing left to do—rebuild a lost life.
The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul. No matter our talents, education, backgrounds, or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before. (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Happiness, Your Heritage”, October General Conference 2008)
With such devastation in her formative years, my aunt could have remained bitter and gray. Her foundation was based on misery and heartache. But something inside of her said, “No. I will not allow my life to continue this way. I will start over with a clean slate and create with a palette of pure color.” She searched deep within her heart and found the strength to rebuild.
Creation brings deep satisfaction and fulfillment. We develop ourselves and others when we take unorganized matter into our hands and mold it into something of beauty. (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Happiness, Your Heritage”, October General Conference 2008)
My aunt made up for her devastating childhood with determination, guts, and ultimately glory. The color she incorporated in her home was just a symbol of the many fine attributes she refined, despite her war-torn foundation. She took interest in the arts, education, travel, literature, and crafts. She learned to speak up for herself, for others, and for causes she believed in. She was excited about people and listened to what others had to say. The color in her life was not limited to her interests—it took light in attributes of compassion and deep understanding as well. Everyone should have an aunt who listens, who cares about their interests, and who truly loves them. My aunt did not have children, but she has a heart full of love for me.
I can only imagine the struggle her life must have been, especially with a foundation of agony and grief. We all have days of sorrow, but not all of us have had such devastation. Still, feelings of inadequacy can bring even the happiest person down. Bouts of unhappiness need not cripple a person in their daily lives. Bringing happiness—or color—into the lives of others is a wonderful way to overcome sorrow. President Lorenzo Snow expressed a similar thought: “When you find yourselves a little gloomy, look around you and find somebody that is in a worse plight than yourself; go to him and find out what the trouble is, then try to remove it with the wisdom which the Lord bestows upon you; and the first thing you know, your gloom is gone, you feel light, the Spirit of the Lord is upon you, and everything seems illuminated.” (Conference report, 1899.)
My aunt continues to do this for me—she brings happiness to my life by virtue of her colorful disposition. Visiting her when I was young gave me a sense of color I never knew before. The pure foundation of white provided stability—a starting point from which to jump. In a sense it was a symbolic washing away of the bitter past, creating a clean slate from which to start a new life. Adding the color said, “Here is the life I was meant to have. I will make it beautiful, because I matter. The sky’s the limit to my possibilities.”
While against the backdrop of infinite creation we may appear to be nothing, but we have a spark of eternal fire burning within our breast. We have the incomprehensible promise of exaltation—worlds without end—within our grasp. And it is God’s great desire to help us reach it…He sees you as the being you are capable and designed to become. He wants you to know that you matter to Him. . (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Happiness, Your Heritage”, October General Conference 2008)
How is it possible for a woman from a war-torn country to build a life of compassion and goodness? It is inherent in all women the seeds of divine creation and motherly nurturing. It is a gift from God. My aunt was blessed with a witness of this divinity. And despite the trials of her life, she took that witness and let it blossom into a colorful garden of virtue for all to enjoy.
Nanette O'Neal loves the gospel and is very happy to share her testimony on LDS Blogs. She is a convert to the church and still feels the spirit burn strong within her heart. She graduated from Mason Gross School of the Arts with a degree in music education and has taught children and adults in the private and public sphere for over twenty years. Nanette continues to study the gospel and the art of writing. She writes weekly inspirational articles on her blog and is currently working on an LDS fantasy novel series, A Doorway Back to Forever. You can find her at NanetteONeal.blogspot.com. Nanette has a wonderful husband, talented son, and three beautiful dogs.