Geraldine Hamblin Bangerter, the mother of Sister Julie B. Beck, had been in Brazil where her husband presided over the Brazilian mission for several weeks when she felt her courage give way. In a battle with homesickness, she hurried to her room, buried her face in a pillow and began to cry.
Sister Julie Bangerter Beck’s father, William Grant Bangerter, served in World War II as an Air Force pilot. During the war, William met Mildred Lee Schwantes, and they were married in the Mesa Arizona Temple. He was serving as bishop when their fourth child died just moments after birth. His wife never really recovered from that pregnancy and it was discovered that she had leukemia. Mildred passed away and her husband became a widower while still in his early 30s.
Meanwhile, Geraldine Hamblin, future mother of Sister Beck, was continuing a career in nursing that she had commenced during the war. She eventually became a school and community nurse in Rawlins, Wyoming, and in time, the state of Wyoming wanted Geraldine to lead their health department. To prepare for that opportunity, she accepted a grant to attend Columbia University to pursue a graduate degree. Thus begins the story of Sister Beck’s parents—a story full of decisions that would later have enormous impacts on Sister Beck’s life.
“In the 50s, attending a university across the country didn’t happen often,” Sister Beck says of her mother’s university plans. “She had grown up in Salt Lake, lived in Wyoming, and now she was going to New York City.”
Geraldine was working a few extra shifts in Salt Lake to save money before moving to New York. William Bangerter’s brother turned out to be one of her patients. He introduced Geraldine to William, and the two were married a few weeks later. She never made it to Columbia University.
“She had been content with her life,” Sister Beck says, adding that she remembers her mother saying of William and his three kids, "'I fell in love with all of them at once.'" The decision to marry Sister Beck’s father took her mother on “a fast highway to a life she had not dreamed of.”
In the five short years after her marriage, Geraldine was a bishop’s wife, a stake president’s wife, was expecting the couple’s seventh child (including those from William's first marriage) and she had accepted a call to serve with her husband as he presided over the Brazilian mission. The day she retreated in tears to her room became a pivotal moment in the Bangerter family, and out of that moment emerged their family motto. When President Bangerter discovered his wife in tears he said, “Someday, when we go back to the United States, you’ll want to tell people about your interesting times here.
“And when you do, you and they will laugh about your challenges. Why wait until then to enjoy it? Enjoy it now.”
Sister Beck was 4 years old at the time of her family’s arrival in Brazil, but her parents’ five years of service in that foreign land made a deep, lasting impression on the young girl who would later serve as Relief Society general president.
“Despite everything else that had happened to both of them up to that point—the war, the work, the death, and loss—Brazil changed their lives,” Sister Beck says. “It cemented their relationship and their marriage and their family. It was a defining time, and the definition was, ‘We’re covenant keepers and we’re going to have joy in that.’”
That message from her parents has remained with Sister Beck over the years, ultimately leading her to write Joy in the Covenant, which is now available at Deseret Book. We recently sat down with Sister Beck to discuss her parent’s influence on her, the blessing of belonging to the Lord’s covenant, the power of the covenants we make with the Lord, and her life since she was released as Relief Society general president.
LDSL: How has your mother’s example influenced your church service?
Sister Beck: She was an extremely capable person, and as she carried on with the family motto to 'enjoy it,' she became even more powerful in her personal capacity. When I began my service as Relief Society general president, my mother visited and said, 'You're not enjoying this.' Her words were a reminder to focus on the blessing and joy of that service.
I'm not my parents, and I don't know that I will ever achieve the level of true enjoyment they felt. I know that they had some really tough challenges, but their outlook always remained optimistic. The patterns they established helped me in my general Church service.
[In fact,] while serving as a new counselor to Susan Tanner in the Young Women general presidency, I was sent to Mexico where the area president did not provide me with an interpreter. He told me, 'You used to speak Portuguese, so you should be able to speak Spanish,' When I told him that I had not spoken much Portuguese in the past 40 years, he asked me to, 'Just dive in and learn Spanish!' So, beginning in Tijuana, I traveled in Mexico for two weeks. At the end of those two weeks, I was giving talks in Spanish, and I discovered that I was dreaming in Spanish. In my subsequent travels to Central and South America, I left my English scriptures home, taking only Spanish and Portuguese scriptures and materials. I knew from experience that if I put forth the effort to enjoy and learn from experience, the Lord would bless me and give me the gifts I needed.
LDSL: How can those who are not married find joy in going to the temple and making covenants when so much of it is about marriage and families?
Sister Beck: The beautiful thing about the Lord's covenant is that it's about being sealed into Heavenly Father's family. It is about obtaining all the blessings He has for all His children. By opting into that covenant, we expand our potential and possibilities. All our efforts toward bringing ourselves and others to Him and His covenant count.
Family work, the work of motherhood, is to prepare others to make and keep covenants. That work can be carried out by single women also. My mother saw herself doing that as a single professional. She continued in that purpose throughout her life by helping other people to see the blessings of the gospel. Every gift she developed was to help her improve herself and to build the Lord’s kingdom.
LDSL: What would be your advice to someone who is married and their spouse isn't keeping their covenants?
Sister Beck: We can remember that we are always yoked with the Lord through His covenant. In that covenant, I know I am not an equal partner with Him. He is always the more powerful partner in that relationship. But I can keep my part of that covenant and continue always praying that in the Lord's time, we will learn and grow to be more like Him. In every marriage, there are times when one is stronger than the other. The Lord can help us to move each other forward, but we do not stop keeping the covenant.
LDSL: What is your best tip for establishing good habits to keep our covenants and find joy in them?
Sister Beck: The best habits for covenant keeping are to just get up and do our best every day. Every day, spend time in the scriptures. Fall on your knees every day, pray and ask for strength, and ask for the joy, because we know that some days are not as joyful as others. Some days feel burdensome, and I can testify that by begging for that joy, you can feel it. Sometimes mysteriously, you’ll think, ‘I should be really sad about this day, but I’m somehow managing through.’
We are here to have a human, temporal experience. We experience all the passions and the effects of that experience. Sometimes people mistakenly feel that the covenant should lift them above the experience they are having. A lot of experiences are difficult, but we are promised blessings because of that covenant, an ultimate victory. That knowledge can help us through a lot of tough times.
LDSL: Why is this topic so important to you?
Sister Beck: It seems that life is being lived at higher and higher speeds. We need to know who we are and the covenant the Lord has for us. I can’t think of a better anchor for a time when everything is pushing, pulling, distracting us. This is a time of great commotion and confusion, but if we are solid in our knowledge of who we are and we know the promised joy the Lord has for us, we can overcome challenges and stay with the Lord’s plan for us.
LDSL: What is your life like post-Relief Society general president? When you think back on your time, what are the biggest things that stand out in your mind from that experience?
Sister Beck: Serving as Relief Society general president was such a concentrated experience. It was an amazing macro work that seared itself on my brain. The lessons were intense and the privilege was unspeakable. In many ways, it was like carrying an Olympic torch for a distance. I had the blessing of carrying that part of the Lord’s work through a space of time, and then I left it behind.
Now, I participate in a lot of micro work and I love that work also. I love being able to pray in the morning, ‘Help me be where you need me today,’ and at the end of the day, I marvel, ‘That day was so full,’ because someone needed me and I went where I was needed. It’s been a new way to be on the Lord’s errand.
In all the years I was away from my home and family in general Church service, I was completely invested in that work. The Lord allowed me to have my mind absolutely focused on that effort. But the day after I was released, I woke up feeling homesick in my own bed. I just wanted to be home, and that overwhelming longing and love have not gone away.