One With Our Loved Ones
It seemed I waited an eternity to marry at age 53, and then I had the special blessing of marriage to an apostle who had six married children and 24 grandchildren. But I found myself in many cases still alone in my marriage and in my family. I still sat alone at church in every meeting, I was alone when he traveled to serve, and alone much of the time he was away at work.
I had entered a glorious family full of great love. Yet I felt I remained on the outside, as any second wife, or single person, can testify. This family still sorely missed a mother whom they adored and honored. I came to realize relationships are not built instantaneously—they develop incrementally and are best forged on the foundation of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
How was I able to enter my own family circle—the one I had longed for all my life? After much prayer and pleading with the Lord about what I should do, my entrance came in the form of a letter from a precious daughter. She wrote me and asked me if I could please be a loving and devoted grandmother to her children. She hoped through my example her young children would develop the capacity to understand what a grandmother’s love meant and it would endear them to her own departed mother, June.
With that letter, my prayers and my perspective changed. Now I wanted much more than personally to be loved and included. I began to pray that our family would join together. I began to be prompted to organize events and activities where my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would have increased access and interaction with their grandfather, activities where siblings and cousins would learn to know and love each other, and where we could learn the history of members of our family.
Hearts began to soften; I had a new vision of my role as a second wife. I had not come to compete against their mother, I came to serve and complement their mother and grandmother. I began to listen to the whisperings she sent from heaven so I could help her family and preserve her memory. I felt the assistance of angels as I worked to create a family unit that could endure forever. I was working with their mother and for our eternal family. It made me a better wife and a better mother and grandmother.
These family opportunities resulted in a blessed consequence I could never have foreseen. I married into an amazing family. We are not saved in isolation. I testify that loving kindness over prolonged periods of time works. It is not an easy thing to administer, to love when some are not returning that love.
Sometimes it seemed my dream of unity was the “impossible dream.” But as I learned, no estranged family member, no rebellious child or dysfunctional family situation can withstand Christlike love and not be made the better for it. As we draw near to Christ, He draws near to us and His ministering influence is as the balm of Gilead.
As our love increases for those around us, so does our desire to minister to them. Through priesthood ordinances we are not only brought back to God, but we are brought together— through sealings, genealogy, and family history. The Atonement broadens our concept of the resurrection and heaven as family events. It is the literal binding together of generations of all families on earth and is unique to our faith. Best of all the message of our Savior is universal, and ours is a worldwide Church, intended for “every nation, kindred, tongue, and people” (Mosiah 15:28).
Like many of you, Elder Oaks and I sought for a means to spiritually unite and protect our family. Inspired by the words of President Russell M. Nelson, that “no other work transcends that of righteous, intentional parenting,” we determined to become more “intentional teachers” to our family. This was a new territory for us, and we began by presenting an unusual Christmas gift to each family. Our teaching tool of choice was a spiral-bound booklet we had made for each family containing the text of The Living Christ, a testimony prepared by the Apostles as a gift to the world to celebrate the new millennium.
To our joyful amazement, over 30 members of our family—young and old—took the challenge to memorize this beautiful testimony of our Savior. What a gift it was to us and to them. Many reported more peace and less fighting in their homes, less irritation, jealousy, and concern for things of the world. I should mention we did offer a reward of a special certificate and family dinner at a favorite restaurant to motivate them. But it was no easy thing and Sarah, a 3-year-old great-granddaughter, told her mother, “Don’t ever make me do that again!” Sorry, Sarah.
Any vehicle to achieve higher spirituality can work—studying the family proclamation, increased reading of the Book of Mormon, doing service, singing hymns, saying consistent family prayers—you choose, but I testify such intentional efforts will bring your loved ones closer to their Savior.
One granddaughter reported, “When we had the missionaries over for dinner, they gave us a message about the First Vision, and asked the girls (ages 3 and 5) if they knew anything about it. I prompted them, ‘In the modern world . . .’ and they finished by reciting ‘He and His Father appeared to the boy Joseph Smith, ushering in the long-promised “dispensation of the fulness of times.”’ The missionaries’ jaws dropped! They definitely were not expecting that response! I am not sure 3-year-old Sarah and 5-year-old Bailey always understood what they were reciting, but it has given us something to refer back to, and try to help them make connections, all about Jesus Christ. It helped strengthen our family unity as well since they were excited to ‘help’ Dad or Mom as we also recited each paragraph. Even while we were in line at Disneyland, Sarah said, ‘We need to practice The Living Christ’!”
Let me share a few more comments from letters and e-mails. From a grandson:
I wanted to let you know how much we enjoyed learning The Living Christ. I was amazed at how well my boys picked it up, and now seeing them point out quotes from it in many talks from Conference and other meetings.
A son-in-law wrote in a letter to his family:
As you will recall in The Living Christ, “Each of us will stand to be judged of Him according to our works and the desires of our hearts.” We are still reciting together regularly this proclamation. We do not want it to slip our minds and more importantly from our hearts. I want it to be a permanently installed window in my life from which I can have the correct view of the world and everything in it. Our perspective, our choices, and our happiness narrow when we don’t keep the Savior properly positioned in our lives. Again, The Living Christ says, “His way is the path that leads to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come.”
Best of all were the comments of a granddaughter who wrote:
I learned so much about teaching my children from our experiences memorizing The Living Christ. Most importantly, teaching the gospel is an everyday, all day responsibility, and it doesn’t happen unless I specifically choose to teach it . . . You can’t sit down with your child the night before their 8th birthday and say, “Okay! Tonight we’re going to learn all about the gospel of Jesus Christ!” It takes time and repetition, not to mention making connections to their world and life, because the gospel is personal, not abstract. . . . The side effect of this, of course, was that constantly focusing on Jesus Christ brought His Spirit into our day to day living. For me, my testimony has been strengthened as I am aware more than ever of how Jesus Christ is the center of everything—the plan of salvation for all people, and for my life personally.
Our righteous “intentional parenting” resulted in more blessings than we could have imagined.
One With Our Fellow Man
“If ye are prepared ye shall not fear” (Doctrine and Covenants 38:30). This scripture is often applied only to temporal preparation, but I apply it also to the spiritual transformation necessary to meet the challenges ahead. A worldwide challenge has been given to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and befriend the stranger. Sisters, we are a mighty army. The Lord has called us to serve His children and we are ready!
We know our divine identity as His children. We are joined in one great eternal family.
Like any great army we have a plan of action—the plan of salvation, which makes our purpose clear—where we are to go and how to get there. In addition, through family history and temple work we have assembled the mighty hosts of heaven to come to our aid.
We are ready to serve our fellow men—after years of practice acting as missionaries, visiting teachers, camp directors, den mothers, and compassionate service leaders. Our skills are honed and our hands are ready. We travel under the banner of The Living Christ. Most important, our heavenly supply lines are secure. We honor the Sabbath; each week we partake of the holy sacrament and we are a changed and purified people given supernal power from above.
We are His, one in Christ, one with ourselves, one with our loved ones, and one with our fellow man . . . one in victory!
Lead photo from Getty Images.
In an increasingly polarized world, what will bridge the gulf that divides us? How can such a "small and simple thing" as care for others transform us into better people than we have been? One in Charity, with featured talks from the 2016 BYU Women's Conference, supplies those answers and more. Available at Deseret Book stores or on deseretbook.com