Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thanksgiving, Family, and the Great Plan of Happiness

Thanksgiving, Family, and the Great Plan of Happiness

I feel honored to be speaking on Thanksgiving week; plus, it is a privilege to be able to speak about families. In a way, I feel like I am giving my own eulogy. This talk will definitely be about my family and about the great Plan of Happiness. You may learn more about me than you wanted to know; but, I hope that what you really leave this meeting with is a greater appreciation for your own family and for our Heavenly Father’s love for us.

Bob and I were privileged to be born into Latter-day Saint homes. By this, I am not just saying that we belonged to Mormon families, but that we belonged to families who were truly trying to live the gospel. Our parents loved the Lord, and they did everything they could to serve Him and to serve their families. I know that my own parents made many sacrifices on behalf of their children, so that we could have the wonderful opportunities that they were not afforded themselves.

I believe that this love from parents to the Lord and from parents to their children extended way back in our family history. Those grandparents, close and further removed, who did not hear the restored gospel in this life or before they reared their families, still wanted to do their very best, and they still felt accountable to God. This is true for most of us here today. From our own current families back to Ephraim (or the Patriarch whose line you tie into), then to his fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; back to Noah, and on back to Adam, parents have cared for their children and wanted the best for them, and they have felt an accountability to God for their actions towards their families.

And so it is with our earthly family. We are all linked together, with Adam and Eve as our first parents. They were overjoyed when they heard the great Plan of Happiness, and they covenanted to be obedient and faithful so that the Atonement would be affective in their lives. But like Adam and Eve, all of their children have had agency. Some have followed the pattern that leads to happiness, and others have not. Satan would have us all believe that all is lost when we stray from the path, but Heavenly Father offered His Son so that nothing is lost. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).

It is important that God sent us to live in families here on earth. That is His design. We lived with Him in Heaven during our premortal life, and there He taught us our first great lessons while we lived with Him as His Spirit children. Families are central to God’s plan for our happiness, and He intends for us to seek to live happily together as families now, so that we can be worthy to live as families eternally. His grand mission statement reads as follows, “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). Eternal life is not only life with God, but it is life like God’s. We will be blessed to have eternal increase, if we enter into the obligations, ordinances, and covenants that are necessary, and if we live up to those covenants, especially in how we treat one another.

I grew up in a family with seven children. My parents were not born in the United States. They were from far different European backgrounds from one another; but, they did have the gospel in common. They were blessed with strong-willed children, and they were strong-willed as well. But they always did their best to provide a loving and happy home. That does not mean that things were perfect. I have the perspective of the middle child. Those who are middle children will know what I mean.

My sister Kathy, who was nearly three years older than me, enjoyed annoying me. I mean it; she really did. One day when I was vacuuming the family room, she kept unplugging the vacuum. To begin with, I was singing while vacuuming. But after she unplugged the vacuum a few times, I lost my temper. Her response was something like, “My, you must be having a bad day.” She never held grudges though.

My brother Ed, who was two years younger than me, had some health issues as a baby and then developed rheumatic fever when he was young. As he grew older, he was just as healthy, if not healthier than the rest of us; but, he was often babied; and I was often asked to do things for him that he should have done for himself. I resented that.

As a youngster, I can remember thinking, I’m not sure that I want our family to be together forever. I was in a hurry to grow up and get out. But as we all continued to grow, we became good friends. These two siblings have returned to heaven, and I can tell you now that I am thankful for the knowledge that I have of the Plan of Salvation. I am grateful for the Lord’s love for me that He would atone for all of us and make it so that our family is a forever family.

When you believe in the gospel plan, you must take the decision of whom to marry very seriously. You will want to marry someone who shares your values, who is equally yoked with you in your understanding of the gospel, and who will be willing to commit all that they have and are to the Lord and to you and your children. And that is why I married my dear Bobby. I knew that he loved the Lord and I knew that he loved his family and he loved me. Also, it helped that his family members were active in the church and supportive of us and our goals. These are important things to consider, since eternity is weighed in the balance.

We have been blessed with six wonderful children. They are bright and capable, and they all have a desire to do what’s right. Like their parents, they aren't perfect; but they are on the right path. Bob and I have also tried to make sacrifices for our family so that each member could progress and excel and be happy. Also, we taught our children the importance of cheering for each other and being proud of each other’s accomplishments. In a family, we should not be contestants to outdo and oust each other, but we should eagerly help and persuade each other to be his or her best.

We have had great joy in watching our children progress from stage to stage. Life is a miracle. And for God to entrust us with his precious spirits, and to give us the time and the lessons to both teach them and to learn with them is the most incredible gift. It’s beyond comprehension. We've made our mistakes, but we've also made our apologies. Isn't it a great thing that our generation as parents has been allowed to apologize to their children and not lose face, but gain more faith and trust in doing so? And since God is so quick to forgive, we should also all be quick to forgive one another.

There are trials in rearing a family. No one can escape them. While some of them are similar for all of us, some are quite different; and all of them give us opportunities for growth. Some families experience health problems; others infertility; some women miscarry many children; some children have real physical or mental or emotional or social problems. But in our own unique families, it is important for us to realize that our combination is right, and God is at the helm.

Our first daughter was born with diastrophic dysplasia. While her dwarfism may have limited some of her life’s choices, it by no means has limited her capacity to grow and excel and be happy. From her early days, she was loved and treated as a capable individual. It was hard to recognize that Cathy was ever really a baby. She has such a mature adult spirit and nature. Bob and I know that we were extra privileged to have her come to our home.

I could brag about my children one by one. But I’ll spare you that today. The main thing about seeking happiness in family life is to remember to have a good attitude. Do all the important things together, especially praying together. The church provides so much good material and direction. Don’t ignore the established program of Family Home Evening. If your little boys are throwing punches, that’s okay; at least you are all together. And they will all learn to value that time. Reread The Family: A Proclamation to the World. It truly is an amazing document of scripture, written by prophets, and inspired by God.

Our family learned in a deeply personal way that families are forever when our fifth child Robert Jr. passed away. Everyone was looking forward to the birth of this dear baby boy, but it was followed closely by his death; and his siblings did not even get to see him alive. But they felt his spirit, and they all had experiences through the power of the Holy Ghost that let them know that Robby was their brother and would be forever. How sweet to hear Eliza, so young and small herself, comforting her little brother Tommy, “You’re still a big brother, Tommy. You’ll always be a big brother.”

Now I have children all over the country. Cathy still live is SLC, Utah. John and his wife are in Florida. Eliza and her husband are in Texas. Tom is in American Fork, Utah. And Christine, are special daughter that completed our family is with us for a short time yet. We can’t all be together for every holiday anymore. But we stay close through praying for one another and talking to each other by phone, by Facebook, and by letter. It is wonderful to see our children making temple covenants and beginning forever families of their own.

When Tom and Whitney got married, Jacob was just one-year-old. Tom loved Jacob from the time he started dating Whitney. And Jacob has always loved his Daddy. It was a wonderful blessing that Jacob’s birth father allowed for Jacob to be sealed to Tom and Whitney on their wedding day. I know that the Spirit was involved in this process, and I will ever be thankful to the birth father for allowing that blessing to take place. After Tom and Whitney were married, the temple sister brought Jacob into the very full sealing room. Little Jacob had the biggest smile on his face as he looked around the entire room from one person to the next. Yes, I believe he felt the significance of that event that day. The Spirit was strong. And Jacob is our first grandchild. Currently, Tom is in the process of adopting him. We are blessed and thankful. And Jacob’s little sister Amanda will be one year’s old in a few days. What a beautiful, loving granddaughter. The titles of “Mom” and “Grandma” or “Hamma” as Jacob says, are the most important titles to me. “Wife” is right up there, too.

I am thankful for family—past, present, and future. I am thankful that God would send us to families and entrust us to have families. May we value each other and live together in love, so that we will ever be privileged to do so.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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