Yesterday was my sister Katie's 40th birthday. She died in July of 1972. Even though none of us other kids met her here in this life she has had huge impact on my family and on each of us individually. For her birthday all of us kids wrote letters to put in a book for mom and dad. I put the book together with pictures of Katie, the letters and some poems I wrote. There is also a page that has pictures of all of us with our own families. Mom and Dad had seven children all together and they now have 25 grandchildren with more, I'm sure, to come (not from me though :)) Today, in honor of her birthday I would like to share parts of the letters that we wrote. It will be a long post, but I love all the letters that my siblings wrote. Our family will be able to be together forever because of this beautiful little girl.
I know there were many different things that probably led you to the church but I can't help but think that her little life played a role in Heavenly Father's personal plan for you. I have heard you talk about what a special spirit she had and even though she never learned to talk you knew that she understood what was going on and that she had more knowledge than she was able to express.
I am so thankful to and for her. What an amazing thing to be able to say that I have a sister who is perfect! All she needed was a body. I am so thankful to Heavenly Father too. He knew the impact she would have. Through her, you were able to accept the gospel when the time was right. Her life was able to prepare your hearts for the truth.
I really can't express in words all my feelings. I just hope that I can show my gratitude through the way that I live my life. What a blessing we have been given! What an opportunity we have to be members of Heavenly Father's true church. I hope and pray with all my heart that I will live in a manner that is pleasing to Him and that I will be able to teach my children through the spirit. As I watch our family grow, I can't help but imagine what the reunion will be like in heaven. I can't wait to thank Katie for her special life and for her special spirit that is still a part of all of our lives.
The love that I hear in your voices every time you talk about her is amazing. It is strong and deep and true. You can't say her name without love pouring out. It's in your voice, it's in your eyes, it's in your entire being. What a blessing to have been able to see that through out my life. It is a love that you don’t see very often and that too has made a big impression on me.
I am so thankful for a sweet little baby girl who came here for a short while to help us all be together for ever.
As I reflect back on my life, it is difficult to imagine or conceive how it would be different were it not for the influence of the church or the gospel. I would never have served a mission. I would likely never have
met or married Julie, and who knows if I would have a family of my own. I would also not have attended BYU, which would very likely have led to an entirely different career.
It's amazing to think how so many major milestones in my life could have been so dramatically affected by one little baby that I've never even met, but such are the Lord's ways. "Out of small and simple things are great things brought to pass."
I often find myself struggling and striving to make a difference everyday in my work, my home, or at church and often feel as if my struggles are in vain. So when I consider how Katie was able to do it
simply by being born with the special spirit she has, it show's so clearly how the Lord can make so much more out of us than we can of ourselves, if we will but align ourselves to his will.
I'm grateful for Katie's life and the influence she had with Mom and Dad. I look forward to the day when I can thank her personally and renew the relationship that I'm sure we had in the preexistence.
I remember growing up hearing about Katie and what a beautiful child she was. I remember looking at her pictures and wondering about her and her short life. Mom would always talk about how they communicated even though Katie never talked. Mom said she never needed too. They could just look at each other and they would know what the other was thinking. I’ve always known there was a special bond between Mom and Dad and Katie. How could there not be with the mission Katie was sent here for.
I always liked hearing the stories about Katie. I never really understood the importance of the stories until the first time I was able to go visit her grave. All the stories and memories told of Katie took on new meaning and had a new feeling to them after that first visit to her gravesite. It felt like we were making new memories of Katie and like I was a part of them.
The summer of 2006 when we all were able to go to Katie’s grave and clean it off and put flowers on it was one of the neatest experiences I have had. It was the first time our whole family was together. I remember thinking it might be the only time this happened. It was a moment I will never forget.
The story that sticks with me most is the one about the day/night she died. According to Mom and Dad, she knew the time was at hand to depart and chose to sit with Dad...to convey to him that she loved him and wanted him to know that. Back in those times (as far as I have read) men were supposed to be stoic and macho...no crying. Well....I would have cried for years.
In fact, when we went back to Nashville to visit and clean her grave, I did cry...quite a bit. I felt as if she were there watching us....smiling. That is something else that I will never forget. Before then, I had never had the opportunity nor the privilege to visit her humble grave sight. The emotion that encapsulated that minuscule plot of earth on this vast planet is something that I will never forget. It was like nothing I had ever felt before...in the middle of nowhere...far from home...meaningless to everyone but us. But that minuscule plot of God's earth made me feel more than I have ever felt for something of that nature. It was similar to a child being born and all of the emotions in which that entails...contained within an almost unfathomably tiny piece of earth...a modest brass marker...a name on it... "Kathryn Anne Cantrell." What a beautiful name. And I am certain...what a beautiful spirit.
Now, as I ponder on what Katie did for us, as a family, I'm even more grateful. We all have families of our own and most of us are sealed in the temple. I wonder if that would have happened any other way and, knowing myself, I doubt it. She had to do it for us. In a small way, I can compare her to our Savior. Nothing truly compares to Him and what he did, but she did sacrifice her life to save many, many people. I believe she did it knowingly and willingly, as did He, because she loves us. Christ said, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Christ also said, "Let no man be afraid to lay down his life for my sake; for whoso layeth down his life for my sake shall find it again." Katie will find her life again and she will receive her eternal reward in the Celestial Kingdom. She sacrificed her life for ours as well as for the gospel of Jesus Christ - so that it could be spread by our family across the world. Her sacrifice will allow generations of our Heavenly Father's children to be born in the covenant and enjoy the blessings of the gospel. We're seeing that unfold before our eyes. One sacrifice will bless hundreds and thousands of lives now and in the eternities. And it all goes back to one small, selfless, special baby girl. Someday I'll meet her again, and remember her from before, and thank her again for being my big sister.
When her sojourn on earth came to an end, your spiritual quest began in earnest. As you sought answers to life's most important questions, you experienced a mighty change of heart when the light of the gospel filled your minds and souls. I cannot imagine what you felt upon reading Mormon's epistle to Moroni, as recorded in Moroni chapter eight and again upon learning that family ties can extend beyond the grave. Perhaps like Alma, your souls were filled with joy as exceeding as was your pain. Like Lehi, you began to understand how God "shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain."
And so I cannot honor Katie, without paying tribute to her parents - you, who had the unshakable faith, courage and determination to enter, and press forward with steadfastness, in the strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life.
So Happy Birthday Katie! You will always be in our hearts and a part of who we are. We love you! And to mom and dad - thank you for teaching us about Jesus Christ and being the examples that you are. As Sam stated, he "first believed because you believed." I know that goes for all of us.