Mari Ann Birch
Five years after she began working in Admissions at BYU-Idaho in 1993, Mari Ann Birch earned an associate degree from Ricks College. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Lewis-Clark State College and an MBA from Western Governors University. Two years ago, Mari Ann transitioned to work in Human Resources, where she is a Faculty Employment Specialist.
Mari Ann has served in various callings at the ward and stake level in the relief society, young women, and primary organizations.
Mari Ann was born and raised in St. Anthony as the 8th of 9 children. She and her husband, Ronald, have been married for 31 years and are the parents of two children and have two grandchildren.
Please respond to the questions below on the devotional discussion board:
President Hinckley said, “Never assume that you can make it alone. You need the help of the Lord. Never hesitate to get on your knees in some private place and speak with Him. What a marvelous and wonderful thing is prayer. Think of it. We can actually speak with our Father in Heaven. He will hear and respond, but we need to listen to that response. Nothing is too serious and nothing too unimportant to share with Him.” (Stay on the High Road, Ensign or Liahona, May 2004, 114.)
- How has prayer helped you grow closer to your Heavenly Father?
- What have you done to help make your prayers more personal and meaningful?
Thank you, Kenneth, for your inspiring words, and for the wonderful musical number, scripture, and prayer. These have invited the Spirit into this meeting, and I pray He will continue to dwell here.
Have you ever noticed how some pieces of wood burn up quickly in a fire while others burn steady and slow? I would like to relate this to prayer. Think about your prayers. Are they said with meaningful purpose or are they quick and superficial? Heavenly Father wants to hear from us, and He wants to communicate with us, but He can only do that when we make an effort and give Him the time to respond.
President Gordon B. Hinckley instructed us to “Be Prayerful” as one of the six “B’s.” He said:
You need His help, and you know that you need his help. You cannot do it alone. You will come to realize that and recognize it more and more as the years pass. Live so that in good conscience you can speak with God. Get on your knees and thank Him for His goodness to you and express to Him the righteous desires of your hearts. The miracle of it all is that He hears. He responds. He answers—not always as we might wish He would answer, but there is no question or doubt in my mind that He answers.
How does God answer prayers? Here are a few examples.
The first example occurred while I was working in the scholarships office. We needed to hire a student employee to fill a significant and urgent need. When all interviews were completed, our supervisor closed the process with a prayer. He asked Heavenly Father to let us know which of the students we should hire, and to do so quickly. After the prayer, my colleagues and I looked at each other surprised, and wondered if it was okay to put a time limit on when we could receive an answer. As we were leaving, one of the students who had been interviewed stopped by to see if we had made a decision. We told her we had just concluded the interview process and didn’t have a decision yet but would call her and let her know.
A co-worker was going out of town and left a little early for the day. While driving in the car with her husband, she recounted the events that had transpired. He stated, “It looks like you have your answer.” She called the office, and we all had one those aha moments. The young lady was offered the job, which she accepted. It turned out she needed us as much as we needed her.
My second example is from a sacrament meeting speaker who has given me permission to share a portion of his talk. This brother—let’s call him Tom—mentioned there was a time when he had a question about something he read in the Church’s history that didn’t align with his sense of logic. For a long time, his prayers felt empty and reading the scriptures felt dark. In fact, everything about the Church felt dark. However, he continued to read the scriptures and remained dutiful in his priesthood responsibilities, especially home teaching. He tried to forget about the question, tried to talk himself out of needing to know the answer, but it kept rising to the surface. As he continued to serve, and live as he knew he should, the question moved to the back of his mind and he slowly noticed the hand of the Lord in his life. He began to feel the Spirit again, and the answer to the question came—15 years later when he least expected it. Tom shared the following about his quest to receive personal revelation regarding the question: “I’m grateful I didn’t receive an answer quickly, because it helped me to develop faith and trust in the Lord, and it caused me to stretch.”
Elder Brook P. Hales stated:
The Father is aware of us, knows our needs, and will help us perfectly. Sometimes that help is given in the very moment or at least soon after we ask for divine help. Sometimes our most earnest and worthy desires are not answered in the way we hope, but we find that God has greater blessings in store. And sometimes our righteous desires are not granted in this life.
On June 21, 2011, I received one of “those” calls that no one wants to get. My little sister, Linda, had collapsed in her kitchen. The ambulance was called, and CPR was administered as they rushed her to the hospital in Logan, Utah. Less than 72 hours earlier, I had been at her home painting bedrooms, helping to get everything ready for her fourth child (a girl) who would be arriving soon. I gave her a squeeze as I left and told her that the next time I saw her she would have a new baby. Oh how our lives changed in that short amount of time! At the hospital the baby was delivered by C-section. Linda’s husband named her Charlie, which was the name they had decided on to honor our oldest brother, Charles, who went by Charlie and who had previously passed away. Linda and Charlie were sent on separate life flights to the IMC hospital in Murray, Utah, where they could receive specialized care together. This is where my husband and I met them.
Charlie was in the NICU, on a cooling mat, wearing nothing but a diaper. She needed to stay on the mat for 72 hours. She had a ton of tubes and wires hooked up to her, because when my sister collapsed, Charlie was deprived of oxygen, and brain damage had occurred. The cooling mat lowered the body temperature and calmed the brain.
Meanwhile, upstairs, the doctor and nurses were fighting to save Linda. They did everything they could, but her blood wouldn’t clot. Linda passed away at 5:00 a.m., June 22, 2011. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I turned to my husband in disbelief and remember saying, “I don’t understand!” How could this mother of four pass away without ever holding her new baby in her arms? How? It just didn’t seem right, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it.
At that point, we didn’t know the prognosis for Charlie. The doctor kept telling us the brain was plastic and could reroute, but they didn’t know enough about the brain to know what permanent damage Charlie might have. We could only prepare for the worst.
A few life-supporting brain functions that Charlie couldn’t do on her own were breathing and swallowing. She was on a machine that breathed for her, and she had a feeding tube inserted through her nose into her stomach. Funeral plans for Linda were put on hold to see if Charlie would be buried with her momma or stay with us here on earth.
Brothers and sisters, I fasted and prayed with all my might that Charlie would stay with us. I knew it was what her mom wanted. Charlie was the last gift of precious life that we would ever receive from her. I just couldn’t imagine Charlie leaving us too after all her mother had gone through to get her here. My sister loved her! I poured my heart and soul out to my Heavenly Father, praying for Charlie to live and to live a normal, productive life. This was one of those times, as Brother Roger Jackson mentioned in last week’s devotional, that “being a good one” can be hard.
After 72 hours of being on the cooling mat, another MRI was done. The damage to the brain was severe. However, Charlie had started to breathe over the machine. She was making progress! The doctor told us it was time to take care of her mother and move forward with funeral plans. Charlie had made the decision to live, and live she did!
Charlie had a feeding tube implanted in her stomach for about six months when she started to swallow on her own without aspirating. I will never forget the first time I held her in my arms and fed her. Looking at her, I knew that I had witnessed an answer to my and so many others’ prayers. She was truly a modern-day miracle.
Charlie turned eight in June and was baptized. It was such a joy to witness this event! Let me give you a little update on her. Charlie is all girl! She wants to be a cheerleader, she loves clothes (and changes hers probably five times a day), and she is fearless, as you can see from the picture of her taking my daughter on a go-cart ride. Charlie is determined, stubborn, and gives her dad fits, which just makes me smile.
This experience hasn’t been easy. In fact, it has been heart-wrenching and devastating. However, one of the many tender mercies is that my love for Heavenly Father and my brother Jesus Christ has only increased. I couldn’t imagine trying to cope with such grief, pain, and uncertainty without Them.
On the discussion board this week I asked you to share how your prayers have helped you grow closer to your Heavenly Father and what you have done to help make your prayers more personal and meaningful. Joseph writes down his thoughts to the Lord in a journal. Anne Marie shows respect in her prayers by using “Thee” and “Thou.” And Shannon attends the temple often to learn how to speak with Heavenly Father. I have learned so much from everyone’s comments this week. Thank you for participating.
Have you ever had an experience when you have prayed and prayed for personal revelation to answer a question, or inspiration for a talk you needed to give, but didn’t feel like you were getting anything? Or wondered if the answer or thoughts you received were coming from you and not some inspired place? I sure have!
In Moroni it reads, “But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.”
Elder Ronald A. Rasband taught:
Remember the words of Nephi. “I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the thing which I should do. Nevertheless,” he said, “I went forth.”
And so must we. We must be confident in our first promptings. Sometimes we rationalize; we wonder if we are feeling a spiritual impression or if it is just our own thoughts. When we begin to second-guess, even third-guess, our feelings—and we all have—we are dismissing the Spirit; we are questioning divine counsel. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that if you will listen to the first promptings, you will get it right nine times out of ten.
In 2016, Sheri Dew gave a devotional address at BYU-Idaho that has stayed with me. She challenged each of us to be seekers and learn to communicate with God. She taught:
As you cultivate these spiritual habits, there are two questions that will help open the heavens. First, ask the Lord to teach you what it feels and sounds like for you when He is speaking to you via the Holy Ghost, and then watch how He tutors you. And, second, if you’ve never asked the Lord how He feels about you, that is a great question to ask. In time, He will tell you, and as He does, you’ll learn more about speaking His language.
When the Lord sees that you want to communicate with Him, He will teach you how.
I would also like to issue this same invitation to you today. I have taken this challenge, multiple times. I bear testimony that Heavenly Father loves us unconditionally and wants to speak with us. We just need to get on our knees. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
 Gordon B. Hinckley, “A Prophet’s Counsel and Prayer for Youth,” Ensign, Jan. 2001.
 Brook P. Hales, “Answers to Prayer,” Ensign, May 2019.
 Moroni 7:13.
 Ronald A. Rasband, “Let the Holy Spirit Guide,” Ensign, May 2017.
 Sheri Dew, “Will You Engage in the Wrestle?,” BYU-Idaho devotional, May 17, 2016.