A few weeks ago my husband and I attended a temple session. As we entered, we were greeted by a temple worker, a dear friend from our ward. That greeting began a remarkable experience for us. We were met and served, more than any time I remember, by many people we knew: friends from previous wards, friends from the community, men and women we had served with in various callings. The last person I encountered was a young woman I didn't recognize. She was lovely, and when she began to speak, I immediately remembered: Robin, one of the young women in my Laurel class when I was first a Young Women president. As we visited and exchanged memories and life updates, she told me how much that time had meant to her. I felt the same way.
I left the temple feeling moved by so much kindness, aware how important friends have been to me throughout my life. The Lord has touched my spirit time and again, and more often than not, His touch has reached me through the hand of a friend.
Thirty-eight years ago this month, Dean and I, then newlyweds, traveled to New Mexico to visit my parents. While there, my father took us on a day trip into the mountains in the northern part of the state. In the afternoon, we encountered a car stranded on the roadside with a flat tire. The driver told my father that his spare was also flat and he needed a ride to the nearest town to get the tire fixed. My father, seeing the man's family inside the car, said to him, "You'll never be able to get to town and back before dark. But listen, you have the same size wheel as mine. Take my spare, and the next time you come to Albuquerque, bring it back to me."
The stranger, shocked by the offer, said, "But you don't even know me."
Daddy's response, typical for him, was, "You're an honest man, aren't you? You'll bring the tire back."
A few weeks later I asked my dad about the spare tire. He told me that it had been returned.
My father, now in his 90th year, still goes about his life the same way. Most people his age receive meals-on-wheels, but my dad delivers food to the "aged." He's often at the bedside of friends who are ill or dying. He goes out with his chain saw helping the Rotary club with their annual cleanup efforts. As I think of Daddy's life and actions, I'm reminded of President Boyd K. Packer's thought: he's "active in the gospel" ("The Golden Years," Liahona and Ensign, May 2003, 82). His life, as the hymn suggests, touches lives for good, and in the touching, all are enriched (see "Each Life That Touches Ours for Good," Hymns, no. 293). My father understands friendship.
As a Relief Society presidency, we sometimes hear women say that they don't feel the love of the Lord. But perhaps they would feel more of His love if they looked for His hand in the actions of those who care for them. It may be a member of their branch or ward, a neighbor, or even a stranger who blesses them and manifests Christ's love. Elder Henry B. Eyring instructed us: "You are called to represent the Savior. Your voice to testify becomes the same as His voice, your hands to lift the same as His hands" ("Rise to Your Call," Liahona and Ensign, Nov. 2002, 76). If we can lift others in Christ's name, surely we can also be lifted.
One home teacher I know faithfully made monthly visits to an elderly widow. More than just visit, however, each fall he winterized the sister's air conditioner and checked the filter on her furnace. Was that God's love or the love of the home teacher? The answer, of course, is both.
What greater gift dost thou bestow,
What greater goodness can we know
Than Christlike friends, whose gentle ways
Strengthen our faith, enrich our days.
(Hymns, no. 293)
I have been blessed throughout my life with Christlike friends--from friends of my youth to the many people who have blessed our family in all the wards we have lived in. Their faith and commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ, their service, their wise and gentle instruction have enriched our lives. Some of my friends are very different from me. We disagree about things, and we can even irritate each other. But friendship allows for differences--in fact, it embraces them. I love to visit stakes made up of people from a variety of backgrounds, ages, and ethnic origins.
I'm experiencing right now a special dimension of sisterhood and friendship as I serve with Sisters Parkin and Pingree and the other women in the auxiliary presidencies and boards. These are good women. Oh, how I love them. After three years together, my dear sisters in the presidency know me well. They know my faith and testimony, but they also know my insecurities and worries. They know that when I'm tired after a long training trip, I'm not my best self. But I feel their love and patience, and I know they still think the best of me. Their testimonies and prayers bolster me. Their laughter brightens my day. In every sense, we are sisters.
I have had similar experiences with my own family. One of my younger sisters has been struggling with cancer the past few months. We don't live close, but phone calls bring her near. We have shared love, prayers, memories, and tender testimonies as she has gone through this difficult ordeal. My sisters are treasured friends. So are my brothers, my dear husband, my children, and my grandchildren (no matter how noisy those grandchildren are).
In the early years of the Restoration, new members gathered to create Zion. Zion was both a place and purpose--a spirit. We no longer gather in the same way. Our branches and wards are now our Zion. But they take on the spirit of Zion only when members care for one another. Sadly, we sometimes hear of women and men who have had their feelings hurt and become alienated by other Church members. If you are on either side of this dilemma--the offender or the one who has been offended--seek forgiveness; see your own part in the fault. Remember Christ's admonition to us: "I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine" (D&C 38:27).
I recently had the opportunity to speak to a woman who asked me about Joseph Smith. She was clearly skeptical about his calling and mission. As I spoke to her, the words of the Lord to Oliver Cowdery came to me: "Stand by my servant Joseph, faithfully" (D&C 6:18). I hope that on that day, and at every moment in my life, it can be said of me, "She stood by Joseph." I want to be his friend.
Joseph Smith himself was a great friend to many. He said, "Friendship is one of the grand fundamental principles of `Mormonism'; [it is designed] to revolutionize and civilize the world, and cause wars and contentions to cease and men to become friends and brothers" (History of the Church, 5:517).
And yet, he knew that friendship was more than an abstraction. He learned one day that a brother's house had been burned by enemies. When Church members said they felt sorry for him, the Prophet took some money from his pocket and said, "I feel sorry for this brother to the amount of five dollars. How much do you ... feel sorry [for him]?" (in Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, comps., They Knew the Prophet , 150).
Do we feel about friendship as the Prophet Joseph did? Do we turn our good feelings into practical assistance? God knows the needs of His children, and He often works through us, prompting us to help one another. When we act on such promptings, we tread on holy ground, for we are allowed the opportunity to serve as an agent of God in answering a prayer.
Brothers and sisters, if we are friends to the Prophet Joseph, then we are friends to the Savior as well. Do we live lives that proclaim "devotion to the Savior's name"? (see Hymns, no. 293). Joseph Smith did, and in this year, as we honor the man who ushered in the dispensation of the fulness of times, we should remember not only his friendship to humanity, but his friendship and dedication to the Lord. The Prophet said: "I will try to be contented with my lot, knowing that God is my friend. In Him I shall find comfort" (The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, comp. Dean C. Jessee , 239; spelling and punctuation standardized).
It should be obvious to each of us that our ultimate friendship should be with our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. The Savior has affectionately said to us, "I will call you friends, for you are my friends" (D&C 93:45). His greatest desire for us, His brothers and sisters, is to bring us back to our Father. And the way for us is clear: develop in our lives, to the degree that we can, the qualities and attributes of Christ. Obey His commandments and do His work and His will.
As I think back to the day I was greeted in the temple by so many I loved, I like to imagine that our daily lives can be equally blessed. I felt a love that seemed a glimpse of the pure love of Christ--the charity that should fill our hearts. I picture wards and branches where friends of all ages and backgrounds stand together and model their lives on the teachings of Jesus Christ.
I bear you my testimony today that Christ lives. I give thanks for Him. I pray that I may always be His friend and that in doing so, I will be your friend as well. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.