What I Learned From Natalie Kjar

by her Dad

address given at her Memorial Service, Oct. 16, 2011

Thank-you for your expressions of love for Natalie and of sympathy for her family and for each other. This is a loss to all of us. It is my faith and my witness that this loss is temporary, but that doesn't always fix the empty hole we feel inside our hearts. As a family, we feel your prayers, not in some undefined or abstract way but as palpable help that buoys us up continually.

To her Medical school colleagues, students, professors, staff, and administrators, I give my heartfelt gratitude for you. Natalie shared wonderful stories of you when she was home. In the dark days of this past week, you have reached out to our family, bent over backwards, and displayed amazing kindness despite your busy schedules. I have something to say about the work you do, and are preparing for. Two weeks ago I could not have understood this in the way I do now. God bless you for your diligent preparation, the endless facts you memorize, the late nights of books and junk food, the abbreviated social life, the mountains of debt, and your fearless pursuit of skill and knowledge in an uncertain world. If you save or prolong or enrich the life of even one precious daughter of a father, or of a sister, or a Mom-to-be, or of course of sons and brothers and fathers, your service will have fended off a type of pain that I did not understand until it hit me. We cannot control everything nor save all, but your determination deserves our deepest thanks.

What I learned from Natalie...would take about 23 years to tell. And so I'll summarize, drastically.

Make, Work Towards, and Enjoy Good Goals

Just like they sometimes say that the dentist's kids have rotten teeth etc, in this family the engineer's kids were rationed their technology in their early years. A Nintendo was a wonder to be found only at Grandma's and even that was an obsolete one. Nevertheless the young girl who demonstrated Jedi reflexes on the controller wanted one at home. Mom and Dad said (and they were chuckling to themselves when they did this,) “Maybe you can make enough money to buy one yourself.” We thought we were safe from that distraction for a long time.

Now you need to understand,we had a system for everything. And for allowances we had a unique one: Every kid got a base allowance, proportional to their age, regardless of what they did. It was a pittance! We wanted each kid to at least learn to handle and budget and spend a little money, and learn what it was. Believe me, it was nothing near what the other kids got, and they made sure I remembered that! But to get additional money out of Mom & Dad, you had to do chores. And not just do them, but each kid had to keep a Job Journal – a little notebook that listed each week's extra chores that they performed. There was no limit to the number of chores that could be written there. And the Job Journal came with the girls when it was time for Dad to reckon allowances, and would add to the base allowance, or even multiply it generously, according to a secret formula Dad never wrote down.

A normal week's chores would fill half a page of the Job Journal. But It wasn't long after Natalie expressed her wishes for a game console that her job journal lists began to grow. Obscenely! Two pages. Three pages. She was constantly asking her mother for things that she could do. Sometimes, we couldn't even keep up. We would run out of chores to give her. She started cottage industries. Pony bead keychains. Not just lemonade stands, but stands that would market a variety of innovative products. And of course the Kjar report card incentive system, where she eventually broke the bank, but that is another whole story. Six months she kept it up, making her sisters green with envy over her income. When the day finally came, she was driven to Game Stop, where she bought a nearly-new SNES and two games, gleefully brought them home, and disappeared into her room. For the next two months no one saw her.

Natalie learned early to set and reach and enjoy her own goals. She applied that principle to all facets of her life. She was always preparing, always thinking about new things to achieve and new ways to get there, and always, always willing to do the work, even the jobs that that no one else would do.

Prepare For The Lord's Timeframe

Another thing that I learned from Natalie's life has to do with our ongoing preparations. Natalie was born on December 17th. Her mother went into labor when I was taking a physics final. And she was born between that final and and Engineering final. I tried to complete a study problem between each contraction. Is there any better reason that Natalie should have become such a science geek?

Likewise, Natalie left this world in the middle of a stressful test week. We don't know why. It may never be exactly clear. Natalie's entrance and her exit were not convenient, but it's clear that we were dearly blessed by the Lord when she came, and that when she left, it was the Lord's will that she move on. This is a great reminder to me that Lord's time frame isn't our time frame. His purposes will roll on, whether we are prepared or not, and regardless of whether the things we are preparing for are notable, of good report, or praiseworthy.

My dear young friends, I've seen great examples of preparation among you. But I'd like to ask, is there something more that the Lord is attempting to prepare you for, if you would pay a little better attention to it? Are you paying attention to creating, building, and strengthening family relationships with love and devotion? Have we freed ourselves from grudges and ill will? Do we serve others with clean hands and a pure heart? I can testify that if we seek the Lord's guidance with humility, he'll show us what we need to work on next. I have felt His whispering influence over the past several years, and that has lead me, despite my stubbornness, and my family to a place where we have the knowledge and reassurance we have needed so far to weather this storm

Natalie knew how to let the Lord prepare her. That much is clear to me now. When I got her computer and took it home, and turned it on I looked at her desktop. I saw a Tangled picture, of course. But that picture was mostly obscured by 6 or 7 blue electronic post-it notes. On the top was a little yellow todo list that started with “scriptures” and “conference talks”, despite her busy week. As I read the rest of them, I was amazed at the things that Natalie had felt were important enough to keep right there on top. I could tell they were lovingly hand-typed, because there were a few shortcuts in capitalization and spelling. Here is one:

If you are carrying some burden, 
forget it, let it alone. Do a lot of
forgiving and a little repenting, 
and you will be visited by the Spirit 
of the Holy Ghost and confirmed by 
the testimony that you did not know 
existed. You will be watched over and
blessed — you and yours.

Even during a busy test week, she took time to remember and prepare for that which is really important.

Think Deeply and Listen Carefully for Answers About Life's Most Important Questions

We think of Natalie as someone who lived her life in a way that indicated that she had a lot of answers. In fact, I've had the privilege of watching Natalie's faith blossom in recent years, but I can say it did not come without great effort on her part. Natalie approached her testimony of Christ with an unusual rigor and her questions were often frank. She would not cut corners, she had to know for herself. She knew the scripture in James, chapter 1 verse 5: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him. She worked on this for a while, studying the words of prophets, forcing herself past discouragements and distractions. As a family, we could all see when those answers came. It was like the sun rising on a clear morning. Her testimony of Christ's gospel became firm. Within its light she touched other's lives and became even more anxious to serve others. Again, one of her sticky notes:

I testify to you that our Father in Heaven loves 
His children. He loves us. He loves you. When 
necessary the Lord will even carry you over obstacles 
as you seek His peace with a broken heart and a 
contrite spirit. Often He speaks to us in ways that 
we can hear only with our heart. To better hear His 
voice, it would be wise to turn down the volume 
control of the worldly noise in our lives. If we 
ignore or block out the promptings of the Spirit for 
whatever reason, they become less noticeable until 
we cannot hear them at all. Let us learn to hearken 
to the promptings of the Spirit and then be eager to 
heed them.

Find That Last Friend, and Treat People Right

Natalie was a happy child, but not everything that happened to her was happy or even fair. From time to time, she found herself an outsider, isolated by diverging interest or prejudice or just bad luck. She became quick to notice these situations in others and was often the one to reach out and include someone who might not have had the chance, and be their friend. I think she was able to do that because she had learned for herself that she was a beloved daughter of God, who has a divine nature and great individual worth. How do I know this? Another of her post-it notes read:

if you ever doubt that you mean something to God:
1. he loves the humble and meek
2. he trusts the fulness of his gospel to be proclaimed 
   by the weak and simple
3. no matter where you live, or how humble your 
   circumstances, or how limited your abilities...you 
   are not invisible to Him.  He loves you and knows 
   your heart.
4. what you see and experience now is not what forever 
   will be.  you will not feel loneliness, sorrow, or 
   pain for forever.  He will neither forget nor forsake.  
   If you but hold on...one day you will experience the
   promises "eye hath not seen nor ear heard nor have 
   entered into the heart of man the things which God 
   hath prepared for those that love Him

There are hundreds of other things I've learned from this gal. I wish I had time for them. Let me list a few more of them from my journal:

I have had the privilege of being Natalie's father for 23 years. That's 23 years and counting. Like most of her mortal life, I'm still just trying to keep up with her.

Natalie's middle name is Ashton. It's a family name, and a reference to Sarah Ellen Ashton, her spunky pioneer ancestor who as a young girl, pushed a handcart across the American west under horribly adverse circumstances, as part of the Martin Handcart Company. Sarah Ellen Ashton, as it happened, reached her destination in Utah long before her father did.

Natalie reached our destination first. I testify that her spirit lives, that and that she did not leave behind any one of those good attributes of her character and personality. I'm still learning from her example. I look forward to that day of glorious reunion with her, when I will again, by the grace of God, hold her in my arms.