Sunday, July 16, 2017

Every Relationship

spoke in church at the end of April so I was pretty sure I was off the hook until we got to our new ward, but no. But apparently you're never safe because I was asked to give a talk this week (Andrew is speaking next week). Fortunately, I was the middle speaker so I didn't have to worry about ending the meeting on time, which made the whole ordeal a lot less stressful. I wasn't given a topic, however, which made things a little more stressful. I was told to give my "parting remarks," whatever that means, but also talk about the gospel, obviously. So this is what I ended up with (my only regret is that I didn't manage to squeeze in a lesson from Wicked—"Because I knew you/I have been changed for good"; but there's only so much one can say in 10–15 minutes):

Every Relationship

As many of you know, our time in D2 has come to an end and we’ll be heading off on a new adventure, so these are, essentially, my valedictory remarks. Taking time to introduce our family seems almost trivial at this point since next week is our last Sunday here. Those of you who know us do and those of you who don’t, unfortunately, won’t. We’ve been in Durham for about five years while my husband Andrew has been working towards a PhD in Public Policy. We moved here with our two little girls, Rachel and Miriam—then only five and two—and a brand new baby Benjamin. We’re leaving with two relatively big girls—now ten and seven—and a five-year-old Benjamin (along with a two-year-old Zoë and a half-baked baby boy)!

We feel like our family has done a lot of growing up here and it’s rather difficult to say goodbye, especially for our children since this is the only home they remember.

A few months ago, long after the children had been put to bed, I heard a sniffling sound coming from one of their rooms. After a little investigation I found the culprit—our oldest daughter, Rachel—crying in bed. She was worried about having to say goodbye to all the wonderful people she knows here and was fretting about how she’d make friends at our new place. She wondered if making new friends would even be worth the effort since, as of right now, we only have a one-year contract where we’re going and have no idea yet where we will be after that.

I assured her that of course making new friends—even short term friends—would be worth it.

People are always worth it. “Remember,” we’re told in D&C 18:10, “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” As “Latter-day Saints [we] see all people as children of God in a full and complete sense; [we] consider every person divine in origin, nature, and potential.” In Psalms 82:6, the Lord says, “Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.” The Family: A Proclamation to the World teaches, “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.” And 2 Nephi 26:33 states that “all are alike unto God.”

All people. All souls. All of you in this room. All human beings. Everyone, everywhere.

We are all children of Heavenly Parents who love us.

So then, of course, investing in relationships—whether short- or long-term—is worth it.

When I shared these thoughts with my mom she directed me to a blog post written by the daughter of our friends, the Daltons. I have never met the writer, but I was touched by her story and how her timeline intertwined with my own. I will share part of her story with you today.

On July 19th, 2007, Melissa Dalton Bradford’s son, Parker, a freshman at BYU-Idaho, went to a popular swimming hole with some friends of his. Parker and another boy got into some trouble in the water and in a tragically successful effort to save his friend’s life—a friend he’d only known for a few months—Parker ended up drowning. Other friends hurried over when they realized the predicament. They pulled Parker from the water and performed CPR until an ambulance arrived.

On July 20, 2007, while we were busy welcoming our first baby girl into the world, Parker was fighting for his life in the ICU. His grandparents still managed to be happy for me, in spite of the difficult time their family was going through—which I had no idea about!

On July 21, 2007, Parker passed away.

Soon after his death, Parker’s mother had a dream where she was ushering her three remaining children along when she suddenly heard her youngest son behind her begin “squealing like a newborn.” She swung around to “snap the head off of whomever was bugging [her] boy.” But when she saw who it was, she melted, for there stood her eldest son, Parker, “as unscathed as the last time [she’d] seen him alive, the day before he died.”

“He was playfully dangling his youngest brother over a trash can.”

She rushed over to embrace him and began pleading with him to “tell [her] everything [he’d] learned.”

“Bending down, he whispered, ‘This is it[:] ...Every relationship is to bring us to God.’”

“That’s it?” she gaped. “There’s nothing more? Nothing else?” And the dream closed.

That was all the wisdom he offered: that every relationship is to bring us to God.

As Melissa pondered his words, she began to think about every relationship she’s ever had. The list she made was astounding and included everything from the obvious answers of friends, family, neighbours, and teachers, right down to more anonymous people we might not think of having much of an impact in our lives at all, such as “the blue-haired widow who waves as she walks her [dog] past my window evenings at eight” and “the guy loading my mulch on a cart at the garden store. And the lady who cut me off on the freeway exit ramp this morning. Or the infant who cried all through that transatlantic flight,” and even that one Facebook acquaintance I haven’t seen in person for decades. She literally went through and listed the “least of these” in her life, acknowledging that relationships—big and small—are important.

“All relationships,” Sister Bradford concludes, “are gifts that help us approach God.”

Sometimes, as in the hymn “Each Life that Touches Ours for Good,” we are fortunate to be on the receiving end of things and other people touch our lives for good, as Karen Lynn Davidson so beautiful put it:

Each life that touches ours for good
Reflects thine own great mercy, Lord;
Thou sendest blessings from above
Thru words and deeds of those who love.

Sometimes relationships are symbiotic and both parties feel equally uplifted by the other. Other times, things are slightly more difficult and we are the ones meant to touch another’s life for good. Often these relationships require service or sacrifice on our part or demand that we step out of our comfort zone or be patient with someone whose personality perhaps clashes with our own. But all these things can help us cultivate the more Christlike, godly qualities we’re—hopefully—striving to develop.

Even relationships that we feel should come easily to us can, at times, be difficult. Before I became a mother I assumed that I would naturally, effortlessly get along with all of my children. I don’t know why I was under this assumption because I had seen plenty of strained child-parent relationships. Somehow, though, it was still a bit of a letdown for me when I realized that this parenting gig wasn’t going to be a walk in the park.

In General Conference this past April, President Eyring recounted a time when his young son had been “jumping on his bed hard enough that [he] thought it might break.” In a “flash of frustration, …[he] moved quickly to set his house in order...[and] grabbed [his] son by his shoulders and lifted him up to where [their] eyes met.”

President Eyring then says, “The Spirit put words into my mind. It seemed a quiet voice, but it pierced to my heart: ‘You are holding a great person.’ I gently set him back on the bed and apologized.”

“I am eternally grateful that the Lord rescued me from my unkind feelings by sending the Holy Ghost to let me see a child of God as He saw him.”

Hearing this story made me feel a lot more at ease with my parenting experience, which often seems to overflow with flashes of frustration, and I’ve found myself repeating “This is a great person,” in my mind as I deal with the shenanigans of my children. Fortunately our children are often instrumental in teaching us more than simply how to be patient in times of great frustration.

Last week when I was tucking my own great little person, Benjamin, in bed he asked me to read Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who to him. This, of course, was after we’d already had story time—and Dr. Seuss isn't exactly succinct—but we’d had a particularly frustration-filled day so I decided to take the extra time and read him that story.

If you’re unfamiliar with this story, it relates the tale of a sweet, bumbling elephant named Horton, who experiences all kinds of adversity at the hands of a sour kangaroo and her cronies, while trying to help an invisible civilization called the Whos. With his terrific elephantine ears, Horton can hear the Whos’ cries for help from their speck of dust, but no one else in the jungle can so they come to the conclusion that the Whos don’t exist and that Horton is in desperate need of an intervention. In the end, however, the Whos are saved and, as the jungle creatures learned to stand up for the little guy, the reader will also hopefully pick up on Horton’s charming refrain: “A person’s a person no matter how small.”

The world that Horton knew and the world that the Whos knew were both very different; yet Horton took the time to try to understand and help the Whos.

In The Trouble with Reality: A Rumination on Moral Panic in Our Time, Brooke Gladstone discusses the concept of umwelt, “the idea that different animals living on the same patch of earth experience utterly disparate realities” (p. 6).

Just like Horton and the Whos, a worm and a robin, for example, have completely different views of the world. So, too, would any two people I randomly pulled from the congregation today. Our unique experiences shape our view of the world. “Facts, even a lot of facts, do not constitute reality,” says Ms. Gladstone. “Reality is what forms after we filter, arrange, and prioritize those facts and marinate them in our values and traditions. Reality is personal” (p. 2).

Ms. Gladstone later quotes neuroscientist David Eagleman, saying, “I think it would be useful if the concept of the umwelt were embedded in the public lexicon. It neatly captures the idea of limited knowledge, of unobtainable information, and of unimagined possibilities” (p. 17).

A worm cannot understand a robin’s point of view. Nor will a robin ever truly understand a worm.

But we are not worms or robins. We are not sour kangaroos. We are people, we are Latter-day Saints, we are followers of Christ, and we can be the Hortons of the world. “When we are with people,” we can, as Sister Sharon Eubank advised in a recent article, “remember they are each filled with troubles,” we can “lift them to a higher plane.” We can look for similarities with each other, and find those common threads that bind us together, in order to forge relationships with and sometimes rescue each other. We can seek to understand a point of view that differs from our own, we can take the time to lift one another’s burden, to “mourn with those who mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” even when—or perhaps especially when—we would rather look away. Doing so can help us tap into the unobtainable information and unimagined possibilities trapped in the layers of the umwelt. Doing so can help us, as Emily H. Woodmansee, penned, “build up his kingdom with earnest endeavor”; it can help us “create Zion in the midst of Babylon.

Thank you for welcoming us into this ward and into your lives. We’ve been blessed with wonderful primary teachers for our children, fabulous home and visiting teachers, inspired priesthood and auxiliary leaders, and, I hope, have established some lifelong friendships. Thank you for helping us find a sense of Zion, thank you for loving us and serving us, and for teaching us how to love and serve others better.

That we may all “so fulfill the law of Christ,” as it says in Galatians 6, by bearing one another’s burdens, by not being weary in well doing and by remembering that “as we have therefore opportunity, [we should] do good unto all men,” is my prayer.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen. 


  1. Loved this, Nancy. So wonderful. Thank you for sharing.

  2. What a great talk! Really made me think. I'd sure love for you guys to come live in my ward. :) We're in Pleasant Grove so it's a little ways from BYU, but we are close to the freeway and there are a bunch of three bedroom apartments. I just think you guys are awesome and it would be fun to live close. :)

  3. I'm crying over here. It's been an emotional week, good and not so good. Thank you for your incredible way with words and your willingness to share your heart. Love you!