Latter-day Saint Life

Sister Wendy Watson Nelson on Being an Apostle's Wife and the Power of Keeping Covenants


We recently talked with Sister Wendy Watson Nelson, beloved wife of President Russell M. Nelson. She shared with us her thoughts on being an apostle’s wife and an author, as well as her passion for temple work and sharing the gospel.

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned as the wife of an apostle?

I have learned over and over again that this really IS the Lord's church—that He really is at the helm. Jesus Christ is guiding what is happening in His church. Right now. So I’ve learned that this really is The Church of Jesus Christ.

I also learned that these are truly the latter days. When I was a little girl attending Primary in Raymond, Alberta, Canada, I was taught that in the last days before the Second Coming of the Savior, the 12 tribes of Israel would be gathered.

On June 15, 2013, my husband and I woke up in Moscow, Russia, and ended the day in Yeravan, Armenia. That morning, I was privileged to gather with our wonderful Russian sisters for a sisters’ meeting. When I asked our sisters to stand as the name of the tribe of Israel as declared in their patriarchal blessing was announced, we were all surprised and overwhelmed to realize that 11 of the 12 tribes of Israel were represented in that little gathering of less than 100 women!

All but Levi were present. But later that day in Armenia, my husband and I met a young missionary who was from the tribe of Levi. (He happened to be from Gilbert, Arizona!)

So, just think of that! Within one 24-hour period of time, I was with children from all of the 12 tribes of Israel. I couldn’t believe it then, and I still can’t get over it yet!

These are indeed the latter days!

Where is your favorite place to visit?

Our backyard, because we don’t get to go there very much.

What is your favorite Primary song or hymn?

Let me answer that by saying that I love all kinds of music and especially the hymns of Zion and Primary songs. I wish I knew the Primary songs the children are singing now. They are filled with doctrinal truths instead of just popcorn popping (as much as I love that song).

Since I was about 20 years old, I started noticing what hymns, or Primary songs, I was subconsciously humming—in the morning especially—but also throughout the day. When I notice I am humming, I stop and think of the words to the hymn. I’ve learned that through the words of that hymn, the Lord is often trying to get a message to me.

In the year 2000, when I was chair of BYU Women’s Conference, and in the final months of preparing for that important conference, I woke up with these words, and the accompanying music, in my mind (from the hymn “The Time is Far Spent”): “Be fixed in your purpose for Satan will try you. The weight of your calling he perfectly knows.” It was exactly the counsel I needed at that time.

You are the author of several books, including Change Your Questions, Change Your Life and the children’s book The Not Even Once Club. Do you have any passions or hobbies outside of writing?

I am passionate about preaching the gospel—and I would like to be more effective. And I am passionate about finding those on the other side of the veil who are desperate to make covenants with God and receive their ordinances. What could be more fun than that?

My recommendation is that if you are looking for a little more meaning in your life—more heart-to-heart connections, more joy—I heartily recommend going to FamilySearch and taking the plunge into the adventure of family history research.

I was invited to give the keynote at BYU Women’s Conference 2015. During the several months I prepared for that talk by studying the scriptures and words of the prophets, time in the temple, time in family history work—all with the focus of our covenants—I came to understand some things about our covenants I had never considered before. The power of our covenants. The words of our covenants.

We use the word “covenant” so often that I had drifted into an automatic response. I wasn’t really thinking about what I was saying. What I was covenanting. The privilege of really thinking and praying and seeking revelation for myself about our covenants, woke me up, and I just had to share.

Can you tell us a little more about the 21-day challenge in the book?

That 21-day challenge [to sacrifice time for family history and temple work] is pretty interesting. Who would ever think that offering such a challenge to overwhelmed, stressed-out young mothers would reduce their stress and anxiety, increase their energy and their ability to receive revelation, and their courage to make needed changes in their lives?

Just a few days ago, I received an email from a woman who tried the challenge and started out her message to me with these words: I wanted to share with you that your "21-day Challenge" truly changed by life (and saved my December)!”

The bottom line for me is that there is there is nothing more important than making covenants with God, and then keeping them with increasing precision. Because making covenants with God calls forth the divine within us. And keeping our covenants with God allows Him to pour His divine power into us.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Never settle.

You were a professor of marriage and family therapy for 25 years. What piece of marriage advice would you share with LDS Living readers?

Research shows that men who allow themselves to be influenced by their wives have the best marriages. My husband smiles when I remind him of that.

What is something not many members of the Church know about you?

I started out my education by receiving my RN in Canada and then received my bachelor’s degree in Psychology at the University of Hawaii. Many of my professors were renowned for their work and were teaching at UH, on sabbatical. I then commenced graduate work at BYU Provo, and completed my PhD back in Canada. Full circle.

Another thing they may not know is that over the years I have stored up songs in my mind from almost every decade I’ve lived—and even from several of the decades before I was born. My best friend calls me a "walking jukebox" and wishes they still had Name That Tune on TV. She’s convinced I would win every time. In the meantime, I can entertain myself quite well with all those songs. Perhaps it all started when I was 3 years old and my dad taught me how to put a record on the little children’s record player he bought me. I would amuse myself for hours.

Who is your scripture hero?

I empathize with Jonah. I understand very well the feeling of not wanting to do something. In fact, in wanting to run and hide from something the Lord wants you to do.

And I hold tight to the counsel of Nephi who assures me that the Lord will provide me with everything I need in order to do all that He requires me to do.

Joseph Smith is my hero for bringing us the Book of Mormon and for the sublime doctrine in the Doctrine and Covenants.

But clearly the Savior is my real "scripture" hero—all of the scriptures are all about Him.

Lead image by Mark A. Philbrick, BYU, image retrieved via

In Covenant Keepers: Unlocking the Miracles God Wants for You, Sister Wendy Watson Nelson uses pure doctrine, and examples of those who have taken the Lord at His word and put His doctrine to the test, to offer us invigorating insights into our baptismal, sacramental, and temple covenants.

Sister Nelson invites us to consider how our covenants can help us with everything from loneliness and despair to boredom, meaninglessness, and feeling overwhelmed. She teaches us how we can ask for angels to help us and those we love; how our premortal covenants can help us make meaning out of the anguishing experiences of this mortal life; how the covenant of sacrifice and the covenant of service, and even the very words of our covenants, can give us access to power we may have been overlooking.

Encouraging us to participate in a 21-day experiment that changed the lives of stressed-out young mothers, Sister Nelson takes us behind the scenes into a most unexpected journey she personally has been on, sharing three truths that now compel her life.


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