Sunday, May 8, 2016

Building Families: Mother's Day Church Talk

Another year, another mother's day, another talk in church. Here is the text of a talk I gave today.

Good morning brothers and sisters.   My husband Todd, and I have lived in this ward for four years.  We have four delightful and exhausting children; Jared, who is six, Eloise, who is five, Benjamin, who is three, and Samuel, who just turned one.  We are coming up on our tenth wedding anniversary in a few weeks, and I don’t know where the time has gone.  I may be a little bit biased, but I have been blessed with the best family on earth.

I guess I have always been blessed with the best family on earth.  Our family spent the last week with all of my siblings at my older sister’s house in Georgia celebrating my brother’s return from a mission in Chile.  My siblings make me incredibly happy.  It was a great trip.  
Let me tell you a little bit about the family that I come from.   
In 1984, my parents met at a singles dance on Valentine’s day in New York City, where they both lived, and, a short time later, got married in the Washington D.C. temple, which was the closest temple to New York City at the time.  Over the next eight years, five children joined their family: four girls and then, finally a boy.  With different education and work opportunities, our family moved a lot, so each of the children was born in a different state or country. I was definitely born of goodly parents.  My mom is an amazing mother.  She dedicated herself to motherhood from the very beginning and put her heart and soul into it.  She devoted herself to our education.  My dad served in scouting, read classics out loud to us kids, wrestled with all five of us at once, and delighted in our minor achievements.  
When I was nine, a period of chaos began in my life as my parents separated.  My mom was left with five young children to raise and support on her own.  For the next nine years, as all six of us learned about personal healing and forgiveness in our own lives, our family was buffeted from outside by the ongoing conflict of a turbulent divorce.  My siblings and I were put in the awkward position of trying to maintain a good relationship with both of our parents, even as one attempted to influence us children contrary to gospel standards, and the other struggled with all that had been placed upon her shoulders.  Consequently, with the experiences I had in my own family during that time, a testimony of Heavenly Father’s plan for families did not come automatically to me.  As a youth I had many questions about what it meant to honor a parent who tried very hard to persuade me to seek happiness where it would not be found.  What guarantee could be found in temple marriage when the gift of agency sometimes leads individual covenant makers into error, or, as the prophet Jacob described in the Book of Mormon (Jacob 4:14) into blindness by “looking beyond the mark”?  How could I look forward to marriage in the temple when I had seen and felt so much pain in the dissolution of my parents’ eternal marriage? Would my family still be able to be together forever if one individual was not choosing to live in the way of eternal life?  

Answers to these questions and doubts came to me line upon line through my teenage years and into adulthood.  I learned from the counsel of wise leaders, the examples of happy families around me, Sunday school and Seminary teachers, and the words of a beloved prophet.  I would like to share some of the lessons I learned on my path to testimony of Heavenly Father’s plan for families.  

1. First of all, a family of any size or shape can find happiness by heeding the counsel of living prophets.
“The family: A Proclamation to the World” was delivered to the world like a gift in the midst of one of the most confusing times of my life.  It begins: WE, THE FIRST PRESIDENCY and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children. . .
The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.
It goes on to say: Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.
In my family we were happy!  We were unified.  We did not always get along perfectly, but four teenaged girls sharing one bathroom eventually have to learn to get along.  My mom, siblings, and I passed through the storms together and came forth strong and close.  We are actually kind of obnoxiously close, as my husband can tell you.  We got a lot of sideways glances from other spectators at our six year old brother’s soccer games when our entire family showed up for every game, cheering loudly and bearing brightly colored signs of support.  I think he was already old enough to be a little bit embarrassed by us.  We worked together, we played together, we talked to each other, we attended each other’s concerts, plays, and sporting events.  We bore our burdens together, and we really were generally happy.
In the most recent general conference, Elder M. Russell Ballard said,  We can, with Heavenly Father and our Savior’s help, become more patient, thoughtful, helpful, forgiving, and understanding as we pray for help. With Their help, we can make our homes a little bit of heaven here on earth.
A family council that is patterned after the councils in heaven, filled with Christlike love, and guided by the Lord’s Spirit will help us to protect our family from distractions that can steal our precious time together and protect us from the evils of the world.
Many years before Elder Ballard’s conference address on family councils, my mom made time for individual conversations with each child.  She called them PCIs - parent-child interviews.  My mom was faithful, humble, and prayerful.  We often hear single parent families referred to as “broken homes.”  My mom adamantly declared that our home was not broken.  She demonstrated, through her devotion to and reverence for her temple covenants, her testimony that our family was founded upon the teachings of Jesus Christ.  He was a part of our family.  No family of any description that is built upon a testimony of Jesus Christ can ever be broken.  He is the great healer.  
Alma 37:37 says Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God
And that is what my mom did.  We were far from being a perfect family, but my mom held her executive family councils on her knees beside her bed each night, her head bowed in prayer, and her scriptures open.  

Have I mentioned that I love my family?  In my childhood home, we learned to live the gospel through righteous examples, testimony strengthening conversation, and regular family councils.  With these seeds planted, I don’t remember ever really feeling different or marginalized by the doctrine of homes being led by a father and a mother.  I was, however, still left with some questions.

The Proclamation on the Family says The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.
How did this promise apply to my family?  How does it apply to yours?  
2. As I studied and counseled with wise leaders, I began to recognize the second principle that formed a foundation for my testimony of our Heavenly Father’s plan for families: God loves each of his children as individuals with a perfect love.  
Elder Boyd K. Packer, in the April 2015 General Conference, said, When we speak of marriage and family life, there inevitably comes to mind, “What about the exceptions?” Some are born with limitations and cannot beget children. Some innocents have their marriage wrecked because of the infidelity of their spouse. Others do not marry and live in single worthiness.
For now I offer this comfort: God is our Father! All the love and generosity manifest in the ideal earthly father is magnified in Him who is our Father and our God beyond the capacity of the mortal mind to comprehend. His judgments are just; His mercy without limit; His power to compensate beyond any earthly comparison.”
The family proclamation reiterates: ALL HUMAN BEINGS—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.
Brothers and sisters, I KNOW that I have a Heavenly Father and a Savior who love me individually, personally, and perfectly.  I love my children with a love that I cannot describe, but Jesus Christ loves me and you with a love that is exponentially greater.  One of my favorite scriptures is found in Isaiah 49:15-16  Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.
16 Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.
Would someone who loves us so completely ask us to do anything that is not ultimately for our happiness?  I know that he would not.  
I had many teachers, home teachers, and youth leaders whose love and attention for me helped me begin to recognize Heavenly Father’s love in my life.  I pray that I can have that effect on the children and youth that I serve.  
The hymn “O My Father” teaches important lessons about the existence of families in the eternal realms.  My favorite part of the song has always been the second half of the third verse, which reads: In the heav'ns are parents single?  No, the thought makes reason stare! Truth is reason; truth eternal Tells me I've a mother there. Funnily enough, what I love about this verse isn’t what it overtly states, that we have a mother in heaven, although I do love that, too.  The message that this carries to me is that I have a FATHER in Heaven who is ready and waiting to fill any void left by my earthly parents.  Our crazy earthly families make heaven’s reason stare, but all will be well, In Elder Packer’s beautiful words, Heavenly Father’s mercy is without limit.

As I began to recognize evidence of Heavenly Father’s love in my own life, I began to understand his love for the people around me.
3. This leads me to the third principle that strengthened my testimony of families: repentance and forgiveness.  
Building family relationships is hard.  It is easier to see the faults in people around us than it is to confront our own weaknesses, imperfections, and sins.  
Luke 6:41-42 says 41 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
42 Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye. In other words, first we must examine ourselves and repent before we can begin to be qualified to properly recognize the weaknesses of others.
The family proclamation says, Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.”  
Our family relationships improve when we repent daily.  Repentance is one of the first principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  
President Boyd K. Packer said, Nowhere is the generosity and mercy of God more manifest than in repentance.
Our physical bodies, when harmed, are able to repair themselves, sometimes with the help of a physician. If the damage is extensive, however, often a scar will remain as a reminder of the injury.
With our spiritual bodies it is another matter. Our spirits are damaged when we make mistakes and commit sins. But unlike the case of our mortal bodies, when the repentance process is complete, no scars remain because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The promise is: “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more” (D&C 58:42).
Isn’t that beautiful?  I know I need that a lot.  
The twin principle to repentance is forgiveness.  Anyone who has a family is surrounded by imperfect people.  Some have experienced wrongs more significant than others, but all of us need to learn to forgive.  This is made easier as we understand Heavenly Father’s love, and it is essential if we want to form relationships with our earthly families that we want to perpetuate into eternity.  I have so far to go to learn to forgive like the Savior does.  It is enough for me to know for now that repentance and forgiveness are available to everyone as freely given gifts of Jesus Christ’s atonement, no matter what.  I aspire to be more like Christ, so I am working every day to be better at repenting and forgiving.  
4. Finally, and perhaps most obviously, to trust in Heavenly Father’s divine, revealed plan for families, I had to develop my faith in Jesus Christ.   Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are an integral part of a temple marriage. When I talked to my mom about my doubts and concerns for my family in the eternities, and my fears about placing my trust in a man who I would marry, she told me that despite all of the trials and hardship she faced, she had no doubt that her temple sealing to my father had been absolutely the right choice.  I remember her using that word: absolutely.  
When we place our faith in Jesus Christ, we are entrusting ourselves to one who cannot deceive and does not change.  Moroni 9:19 says “He changeth not; if so he would cease to be God.” When we place our faith in Jesus Christ, we have nothing to fear.  He will never let us down.
When I was eighteen, I had my life all planned out.  I was going to get an education, see the world, and eventually get married and have children.  All of that travel and world experience would benefit my children, right?  I wanted to make my mark on the world, make a difference before I settled down to the dull monotony, as I perceived it, of grown up married life.  Then, when I was eighteen years, three months, and nine days old, I met Todd.  I’m pretty sure that that one week I had been living on my own before we met does not really count as all of that life experience I imagined.  Marriage was not on my radar.  I was really just kind of desperate for a friend 900 miles away from my family.  Todd, on the other hand, was fresh off of his mission and very enthusiastic about finding a wife.  My mom tried to warn me that dating a returned missionary would derail my plans, but I really liked him.  We had a lot of fun together.  When the time came to consider whether I was ready to get married, my answer for myself was still a fairly strong no, but as I prayerfully considered my future, and put the matter in the hands of a loving Heavenly Father, I knew that I could derail my plans for His better plans.  I have never had a moment’s regret over that leap of faith.  
I still have so much to learn about Heavenly Father’s plan for families.  Without two parents of my own as an example, I have often felt like I am reinventing marriage from the ground up, as evidenced by my daily failings as a spouse.  Father in Heaven knew me, though, when he placed my husband, Todd, in my life.  I could not ask for a more patient, supportive, selfless, kind, and faithful husband who teaches me constantly what it means to build our family on a foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  When I stubbornly insist on learning my lessons the hard way, he stands beside me, teaching me the meaning of unity, sacrifice and support in marriage.  
I am grateful for my family of origin, where I learned the principles that prepared me to make sacred temple covenants, and build my own family upon the teachings of Jesus Christ, so that we may never be a broken home, no matter what choices the individual family members may make.  It was a very special day for all of us two years ago when we were able to all be in the temple together with our mother as my brother was the last child to enter the temple and make sacred covenants for himself.  My siblings continue to be a support and an example to me, despite the thousands of miles that now separate us.  
I know that “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” teaches Heavenly Father’s plan for families.  I know that it was revealed by living prophets as a gift to all mankind.  No matter what our earthly family looks like, and no matter what challenges we face with the people nearest and dearest to us, Heavenly Father, in His love and mercy, has given us the standard that we can prepare for and aspire to.  I am grateful that my family can be together forever.  

No comments: