The call to gather for family home evening has barely been spoken before the excuses begin. “How long will this take? I have a big German test tomorrow!” “I only have fifteen minutes tonight. I’m serious, fifteen minutes. That’s it.” “I still have to go to the library!” Then comes the settling in. “Hey, move over.” “It’s my turn to sit by Mom.” “Would someone please take Gretchen [our dog] out and bring James [our son] in?” Eventually everyone is seated, sort of.
It is nights like this that seem to test my testimony of family home evening. My wife, Chris, whispers, “Have courage,” and we begin. It is her turn to give the lesson. (That is one thing to be grateful for tonight.) As she shares her thoughts, the mood changes. The children listen as she teaches us of faith and prayer, and of pioneers who needed a great deal of both.
The Spirit comes. Once again we are thankful for family home evening, for the gospel, and for each other. It seems for a time that heaven has indeed been in our home. As we leave the living room, I mention to my wife what a great lesson she taught. She smiles and tells me it was the lesson from Relief Society on Sunday.
We will probably never know how many Relief Society lessons have been recycled in our home over the years as family home evening lessons. Many times, my wife has come home from Relief Society visibly touched by a lesson. Often, what she learns at homemaking night, we learn in the weeks to follow.
Relief Society has played a major part in the lives of our family ever since Chris was called to serve in the Relief Society presidency two months after we were married. She learns things in Relief Society meetings, then puts them into practice in our home—which, with our eight children, has been a “testing ground” for principles taught in Relief Society.
It was in Relief Society, for example, that she became converted to the importance of family home evening. She also learned how to French braid hair, how to bake bread and make crepes, how to sew, and how to decorate a home. Skills such as car and home maintenance have helped her make wise use of our resources, and learning more about meal planning and food storage has helped us feed our large family more economically and nutritiously.
Chris sums up her Relief Society experiences succinctly: “I’ve learned to do the things I thought I couldn’t do. It gives me hope and makes me more determined to be my best.”
When Chris was called to serve as Relief Society president, we were a busy family with eight children. She felt overwhelmed but knew it was an opportunity. As she applied herself, she learned that Heavenly Father takes each one of us, where we are, and uses the talents and abilities we possess at that time. She learned to share whatever gifts and abilities she had rather than coveting the talents of others.
One of her most important gifts is the ability to help others serve. This is evident both in her Relief Society work and in her service as a mother. Often, she combines the two by inviting one of our children to go with her as she takes meals to families in need. Through such experiences, we have all felt the joy of service. Her compassionate service has taught us that “people need us when they need us, and it is hardly ever convenient.”
Relief Society has also taught our family to accept service from others. Chris had to have a hip replaced after our fifth child was born. When we had our sixth child, her replacement hip began to give her problems. An orthopedic surgeon told us that the procedure done previously had failed and that she would need to undergo the surgery again.
We both felt that our family was not complete, that there was another spirit waiting to be born into our family. We discussed with the doctor the possibility of having another baby. He said the damage had already been done to the replacement hip. We could have our baby, then Chris could have the hip replaced afterward.
I still remember the day when Chris called me at work and told me the results of her visit to the doctor that morning: we were going to have twins!
Her hip failed completely about five months into the pregnancy, and she had to move either on crutches or in a wheelchair. She became so incapacitated that our ward Relief Society began organizing meals for us, coordinated by our visiting teachers and the Compassionate Service leader. It is one thing to organize meals for a week or so when someone comes home from the hospital, but this went on for months. Even after our twin daughters were born, the meals didn’t stop. Chris returned to the hospital six weeks later to have her hip replaced, and the Relief Society continued to support us, spiritually and temporally, during the long rehabilitation period.
After years of being able to help others, we found that it is much more difficult to accept help than to give it. But we learned that service requires both givers and receivers. It was our turn to receive, and we were grateful for the help given us.
The five years Chris spent as a counselor in our stake Relief Society presidency was one of the most spiritual times of her life. She gained a deep testimony of fasting and learned that “when we are willing to pay the price, the Lord will bless us beyond our abilities, especially on behalf of others.”
One year the presidency focused on teaching the sisters in our stake about following the Spirit. During the course of that year, as a result of much fasting and prayer, many sisters in the stake became sensitive to spiritual promptings. Chris’s efforts made an important difference in our home. As Chris worked to have the Spirit with her, she went to great lengths to avoid any form of contention. She found that whenever contention was present, the Spirit would leave, and she would feel the loss immediately. As a family, we talked many times about the price that must be paid to invite the Spirit into our lives.
On one occasion, a ward Relief Society president asked Chris to speak at a women’s meeting. Arrangements had been made for every sister in the ward to be present. The Relief Society president’s only requests were that Chris speak on the subject “Charity Never Faileth” and that she share the story of an automobile accident she had had many years before.
This was a difficult assignment because the accident, in which she struck and fatally injured a young child, was one of the most difficult and trying experiences of our lives. She spent many hours preparing for her speaking assignment. The turmoil she felt eased only after she requested and received a priesthood blessing.
At the meeting, Chris told of her heartbreak following the accident and of the parents of the young child who was killed, who were so loving and kind to her in her pain. Bearing her testimony of the power of charity, she declared that her life was forever changed as these parents called on several occasions to see how she was doing, even though they were grieving for the loss of their child.
Two days after Chris spoke at the women’s meeting, a sister in that ward had an automobile accident in which the child of another ward member was seriously hurt. Many ward members commented on how much Chris’s story and her testimony had helped them feel compassion toward both the sister who was driving the car and the mother of the child. We were awed by the power of the Lord to take care of his children through the inspired leadership and ministrations of others.
President Ezra Taft Benson once said that “men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can.” (Ensign, Dec. 1988, p. 4.) I have certainly found that to be true as I have watched and benefited from Chris’s association with Relief Society.