‘She really made a choice’: What Tom Christofferson learned about love through watching his mother endure health problems

by | Jan. 16, 2021

Members of the Church first met Tom Christofferson when he wrote his first book, That We May Be One: A Gay Mormon’s Perspective on Faith & Family. The book told the story of how the love of those around him, including his immediate family, brought him back to the gospel of Jesus Christ after spending two decades away from the Church. In his new book, A Better Heart, Christofferson explores Christlike love in greater depth, but in both books there is one standout character: his mother. 

Christofferson told LDS Living about a family meeting the Christoffersons had a couple of years after he came out to his family. 

“Mom told us, ‘I’ve realized that there is no perfect family, but I believe we can be perfect in our love for each other.’ And then she turned to my brothers and sisters-in-law and said, ‘The most important lesson your kids will learn from the way that our family treats their Uncle Tom is that nothing they can ever do will take them outside the circle of our family’s love,’” Christofferson said. 

On this week’s episode of All In, Christofferson shared what he believes led his mom to have such a charitable, loving heart. 

Listen to the full episode here or in the player below. You can also read a full transcript here. 

The following excerpt has been edited for clarity.

Morgan Jones: One of my very favorite examples in the book, Tom, of Christlike love is your mother. And I didn't get to tell you this after I read That We May Be One, but I was obsessed with your mom then and I'm still obsessed with your mom now. And every time that you tell a story about her, I am just in awe of her goodness, and of her example of what it means to be—not only a mother, but just a person of charity. How do you think that your mom became such a charitable person with the right kind of heart? And how has her example impacted your life Tom?

Tom Christofferson: Right. You know, one of my friends after reading that first book said something similar, said, you know, “After I get to heaven and greet my mom, I want to meet yours.”

Morgan Jones: Seriously, sign me up for that line as well.

Tom Christofferson: She was a wonderful person. Saintly, with a great sense of humor. And a sense of humor about herself as well. I give an example, or share an experience in this book, that I mentioned is sort of sacred to my brothers and me. About six months after I was born, my mother was diagnosed with throat cancer and it was advanced by the time they had found it and so the surgery was scheduled almost immediately. I mean, she was really sent in the hospital the very next day, and [had a] very extensive surgery. And frankly, the doctors didn't hold much hope for a successful outcome. 

And when she survived the first night, they started to feel they could be hopeful, and then as the week went on, she got pneumonia. And then they felt again, and her primary care physician told our father that he didn't think that she would last the night, and that he should say his final farewells and arrange the same for the family. So in the book, I tell that story in mom's words, she recorded it in her history.

And I think that experience of coming so near death and feeling in a sense that she could choose whether to stay with pain and suffering ahead or to let it go, and the feeling of peace and love that came with that. You know, I think she really made a choice about her desire to raise her sons, and to be with her husband and family, and I think she had a real clarity of purpose in her life. She had another cancer scare later in life—she had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and was able to overcome that. Through my early years of growing up, her health was not great, so she was often bedridden. 

But I think she really had a clarity about what was important, what mattered, what she wanted to teach her boys. And both in the form of teaching by speaking and teaching by example. She was one who, you know, never made a show of her kindness or her outreach to others. It just was something she did so quietly and naturally, but always, always attentive, I think, to the, to the person in any group, who seemed on the outside, to someone who just seemed like maybe they didn't fit and her—that seemed to be a call to her, to go find a way to connect with that individual and bring them into the circle and have them feel loved and wanted and able to contribute themselves—to expand their ability to contribute, because they had felt both my mother's love and the Savior's love through her. 

Morgan Jones: Yeah. I imagine, Tom, that in—and I'm basing this assumption off of things from That We May Be One but I imagine that often in your family, you felt like that person on the outside and how important it was for your mom, to be somebody that could bring you in and make you feel a part. And I think that that is a special Christlike quality.

Tom Christofferson: Yeah, I agree. I think in my case, I can see pretty clearly the times when I felt like I was on the outside was because that was a perception or a way I was placing myself. I don't think my parents ever wanted me to feel on the outside, and each of us in our own ways, tried very hard to make sure that we would stay united as a family. And so, I think about that in my own experiences that there are things each of us can do, because of our internal feelings that cause us to put ourselves on the margins, or to find the margins a more comfortable place to be. And what a powerful gift it is for someone to see us and to extend their love in a way that allows us to lay down some of our barriers or our own feelings of insufficiency and to allow that love to permeate us.

Lead Image: Courtesy of LDS Living.

Image titleThroughout all scripture, a theme and message emerges that Jesus is the medicine, He is the Living Water and the Bread of Life, He is the Good Shepherd, and through His love, He will heal our hearts. In A Better Heart, Tom Christofferson blends scripture stories, personal experiences, quotes, metaphors, and commentary to show that, like a doctor treating patients for diseases of the heart, the Master Physician cares for us and will change our spiritual hearts to work in rhythm with His. As we understand the love Jesus Christ has for us and our love for Him, and as we study and seek His precious gift of charity, we begin the daily process toward a better heart.

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