In the general Relief Society meeting in September 1995, President Gordon B. Hinckley read a document prepared by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Before reading “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” President Hinckley explained: “The world we are in is a world of turmoil, of shifting values. Shrill voices call out for one thing or another in betrayal of time-tested standards of behavior. … With so much of deception concerning standards and values, with so much of allurement and enticement to take on the slow stain of the world, we have felt to warn and forewarn” (“Stand Strong against the Wiles of the World,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 99–100). This proclamation has proven prophetic in the years since it was written, as values continue to shift and morals to decay. This article illustrates how the principles in the proclamation can help families achieve peace and happiness even during times of adversity.
September 23, 1995, was a life-changing day for me. My calling on the stake high council required that I attend the broadcast of the general Relief Society meeting. President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke, and for the first time I heard the words of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.”
Immediately a growing brightness illuminated my mind and heart. I listened with rapt attention. I had just completed a PhD in family studies, but now I heard in five minutes more pure truth about the family than I had gleaned in nearly five years of graduate study. I wanted to stand up and applaud. As President Hinckley concluded, I felt a great desire to apply these principles in my family and share them with the world.
In the days that followed, I thought constantly about the proclamation. When the conference magazine finally came, I read the proclamation over and over again. I pondered and prayed. I wanted to so thoroughly digest its words that they would become an indelible part of my being. That’s when I felt impressed to memorize the proclamation. It would not be easy. I was in my mid-40s, and memorizing was not nearly as easy as it once had been. But again and again I felt the prompting: “Memorize the proclamation. Memorize the proclamation! MEMORIZE THE PROCLAMATION!”
I took a copy of the proclamation with me wherever I went. I memorized while shaving. I memorized while walking to the university. I memorized while exercising. The last words on my mind before retiring and the first words in my mind upon arising were the words of the proclamation. No miracle aided my memorizing, and my progress was painstakingly slow. But after about a month I could repeat the whole proclamation.
Applying the Proclamation
Now that I had it, I wanted to keep it. So I would recite the proclamation several times each day during morning exercise and stretching. As I did, it seemed as if the Spirit highlighted certain words or sentences. I would linger on these passages, and they, in turn, would prompt impressions that would bless my family and me.
For example, the next summer I was concerned about the friends my teenage daughter was spending so much time with. But when I tried to talk to her about the situation, she discounted what I said and became more distant. While I was jogging and thinking about the proclamation one morning, the Spirit highlighted in my thoughts the last sentence in paragraph seven: “Extended families should lend support when needed.” I slowed the pace of my jog, and an image of my younger sister came into my mind. This sister had experienced many trials in her life and was now nearly full term with her seventh pregnancy. The impression I had was that we, as extended family, should lend her support right now. So I bought a plane ticket for my daughter and asked her to spend a week serving in my sister’s home.
In this distant place an interesting thing happened. During the day my daughter found joy serving my sister’s family. And after the children were asleep, she and my sister had many long talks. My sister was able to talk to my daughter in a way that I had been unable to. She told her how decisions she had made as a teenager had produced a lifetime of challenges. When my daughter returned home, something had changed in her. She began making choices that blessed her life. My sister, her family, my daughter, and I were all blessed by this trip, which was prompted by the words of the proclamation.
Another time the words “Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs” weighed heavily on my mind. Our family members loved and had a good time with each other, but I felt that we were far from our spiritual potential. The words of the proclamation inspired my wife, Juanita, and me to begin having a family testimony meeting on fast Sunday after church. Unfortunately, our first attempt did little to provide for our children’s spiritual needs. None of them really wanted to be there. Several children complained about how hungry they were, and our youngest asked several times, “When is this going to be over?” Still, we persevered, and after a few months the complaining stopped and we started feeling the Spirit more. This family testimony meeting became a precious time to share sacred truths and to help us “rear [our] children in love and righteousness.”
A pattern was emerging. As I frequently reviewed the words of the proclamation, they formed a conduit through which the Spirit could give my wife and me inspiration to move our family forward. True, most of the inspiration was not as grand as these examples. Most of it came as ideas like “Take Hannah on a daddy-daughter date,” or “Fix dinner for Juanita tonight,” or “Listen more to Emily,” or “Put Seth to bed more often.” But the hundreds of little bits of direction added up to a much better family life.
Comfort in Adversity
In 2001 Juanita was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer and was given a 50 percent chance for five-year survival. Our best option was to pursue an aggressive but very taxing course of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. We were discouraged when after eight weeks of nauseating chemo the large tumor had not shrunk at all. During this trial I went jogging and recited the proclamation as loud as I could to relieve the stress I was feeling. It comforted me.
On one jog when I got to “Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer,” I stopped. I felt a sense of peace as an impression formed in my mind. It was the Saturday morning before fast Sunday, and I felt inspired to send an e-mail to everyone I knew, inviting them to fast and pray and exercise their faith for Juanita so that the chemotherapy would be effective. We received a great outpouring of support. Even friends of other faiths described powerful experiences with fasting and prayer. Without our asking them to do so, friends in Australia, Japan, Hawaii, Salt Lake, Boston, Belgium, and South Africa put Juanita’s name on the prayer roll in their temples. The results were miraculous. Immediately our mood and our faith improved. And during the next four weeks of treatments, the tumor almost totally disappeared. Juanita finished the treatment, and no measurable cancer remained. We were so grateful! But this wasn’t the end of our trials or of the continued comfort the proclamation brought us.
In early 2004 we were devastated to learn that Juanita’s cancer had returned, this time in her lungs. In somber tones our doctor told us he would try to keep the cancer under control as long as possible, but there was now no possible cure. At first I felt betrayed and hopeless. Juanita and I had righteous desires and plans. What about the missions we were going to serve together? What about the grandchildren we were going to strengthen spiritually? How could this happen to us?
As I went through the proclamation again, this time it was as if someone turned a flashlight on to highlight the words “Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother.” I recognized my children were entitled to be raised by a father and a mother. This statement filled me with hope that in the face of very large medical odds Juanita would be blessed with a miracle and be healed.
A Change of Focus
We lived a fairly normal and hopeful life for about six months, but then the cancer began to take its unmistakable toll. Juanita lost weight rapidly and acquired a nearly constant and uncomfortable cough. Even the smallest exertion left her struggling for breath. Things seemed always to get worse and never better. Soon it became apparent that it was not God’s will for Juanita to live very much longer. I was at a complete loss to explain why God had not stepped forward with the miracle we so badly needed and so sincerely hoped for. But then again the words of the proclamation provided inspiration and comfort: “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.” Through many tears my understanding was enlarged to see that Juanita would indeed receive a miraculous healing. Because of the plan of salvation, Juanita would pass from this life into a beautiful place to be greeted by her father, our daughter who had passed away, and the Savior. Because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, Juanita would be healed and at the Resurrection receive a perfect body, free from cancer and any other illness. I could also see that through all eternity our children would have access to her influence as their mother—another miracle.
I also felt impressed that there was much we could yet do in this life to give the children continued access to her wisdom. I received a clear impression that it was time for us to stop focusing our faith on a physical miracle that was not in keeping with God’s will and focus instead on learning as much as we could from Juanita in the short time we had left. We needed to be better prepared “to return to the presence of God and for [our family] to be united eternally.” In our family testimony meeting we expressed these feelings poignantly, and their truth washed over us all. Then we went to work.
Juanita wrote her testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, and I wrote mine as well. We printed and laminated them along with our pictures in a size that would fit in the children’s scriptures. Juanita then wrote long letters in her own hand to each of the children, expressing appreciation and offering words of encouragement and advice. We recorded Juanita’s sweet voice singing hymns, Primary songs, and childhood lullabies and made CDs for each of the children and for future grandchildren. We also recorded messages to be listened to on special occasions such as going to the temple, leaving on a mission, getting married, giving birth to a child. Juanita crocheted baby blankets and bibs for future grandchildren. Our lives now became focused, full of activity, and we received great comfort from the Spirit. All this came as a result of inspiration from the proclamation.
“Same to You”
All of our children were at Juanita’s side when she died, and each had the opportunity to share tender communication with her. She was alert and talked to us until about 10 minutes before she passed away. That’s when I told her, “I love you,” and she responded in Spanish, “Lo mismo,” which means “Same to you.” Those were her last words. Her passing was sweet.
I have marveled at the numerous specific and personal ways the proclamation has blessed me and my family since that Saturday night more than a decade ago when I first heard it. It has changed our lives forever. It is the word of God, and it can be the basis for great joy and happiness in family life, even in the midst of unfathomable trials. I know by the Spirit that “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” is an inspired document for families today, and if seriously studied, it will open the windows of divine assistance for our families.