Brother Stephen W. Owen

From the Head to the Heart


 

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Brother Owen

Thank you, Elder Falabella. This is wonderful to be here with you all today. My calling has given me the opportunity to travel to many stakes around the world. Through these travels, I have learned that there’s no age requirement to be touched by the spirit of Elijah. Any individual who shows even the smallest interest in family history work can open the door to blessings.

I recently visited the Sandy Granite Stake and witnessed how the youth have been empowered to actively earn and benefit from the blessings promised by modern apostles. Youth in that stake have been called, set apart, trained, and have been serving as family history consultants.

It all started when youth ages 8–18 were invited to attend a stake youth fireside with their parents where they received an age-specific challenge. Youth in senior Primary were invited to do one of the following: complete the My Family: Stories That Bring Us Together booklet, add a story to FamilySearch, or find at least one family name. Young men and young women ages 12–18 were invited to find at least one family name and take it to the temple before the next stake conference.

The challenge was accepted, and the blessings are being received. One youth, age 10, reported an increase in love for her family. She said, “Family history makes me feel connected to my family and grateful for the hard things they’ve done. I love them!” Another youth, age 12, has been spending time at the family history center. She said, “I walked out of those doors with six names. And since then, I have found more and have been able to go to the temple with my dad almost every Friday.” A young man, age 17, reported the following, “The biggest blessing I have seen is that overcoming temptations is easier. When you’re constantly busy doing the Lord’s work, you don’t have time for bad actions.”

These youth are experiencing the spirit of Elijah and are beginning to understand the power and purpose of relationships in God’s plan. These experiences with family history and temple work will continue to strengthen them, and help them keep on an eternal perspective, and help them become more resilient through their earthly trials.

Relationships are at the very core of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When the Savior was asked, “Which is the greatest commandment in the law?” His answer pointed to relationships: First, our eternal relationship with our Heavenly Father, “Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God with all thy heart.” And second, our eternal relationships with one another, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (see Matthew 22: 36-39).

Our Savior was never distracted by anything temporal. His attention was always focused on the eternal. And ours can be too when—like Him—we put relationships first. By focusing on our relationship with our Heavenly Father, our Savior, our family, and others, we’re focusing on what lasts, and Christ’s gospel can move from our heads to our hearts. We will be blessed by the following example… following the example of the Savior, and by following His counsel to lay up for ourselves “treasures in heaven” (See Matthew 6: 20-21).

When I think of eternal relationships, experiences come to my mind that I’ve had with both my Grandma Ruth and my daughter Jessica.

When I was young, I often found myself sick at Christmastime. And my maternal Grandmother, Ruth Woodruff, would often take care of me. I remember on more than one occasion as I lay resting and recovering, Grandma’s hand on my forehead and her compassionate words, “Bless your little heart.”

I still remember the last day I was with my Grandma Ruth. She was in a care center near my parent’s home. And one Sunday evening at dinner, my mother mentioned that I might want to go see her. So, by myself, I drove the few blocks to visit with her. As I leaned down by her bed to speak with her, the only thing she was able to say was, “I’m thirsty. I need a drink.” I went to the nurse and asked her if I could have some water to give to my grandma.

But the nurse informed me that my grandma couldn’t have anything to eat or drink. I felt horrible, and I tried to persuade the nurse to let me give her a drink, but she wouldn’t allow it. And later on, I learned that this is a common and ethical medical practice for a dying patient, but at the time, my heart sank as I went back to my grandma’s side and explained what the nurse had said.

The agony on her face left me feeling terrible. I leaned down. I gave her a kiss on the forehead and said goodbye. And as I did, I remembered the many times that she had nurtured me as a young boy and helped me through my own painful experiences. I struggled with the thought that in her last moments, I wasn’t able to give her the smallest thing, even a drink of water.

With tears in my eyes, I left the care center and drove back to my parent’s home. And when I arrived, I told my mother what had happened. She took me by the hand and said, “Let’s go back.”

So together, we returned to the care center. My mother had a conversation with the nurse and explained how much it would mean to me to give my grandma something to drink.

Well, the nurse allowed us to take a swab with some water and put it on her lips and a little bit in her mouth. And as we did, I saw a calming effect come upon my grandma’s face. In those tender moments, I had the opportunity to lean down and lovingly whisper back the words she’d once said to me, “Bless your little heart.”

Grandma Ruth passed away shortly thereafter. And I’m so grateful that my mother went back to the care center with me, and that she had the foresight to ensure that my final moments with my grandma were positive and nurturing.

I received an inheritance of one thousand dollars from my grandma after her passing. And after pondering on what I should use it for, I chose to write and publish a history I called The Owen Experience. This history includes my own history, my wife’s, and our family’s. And I dedicated the book to my Grandma Ruth and have given each of my children a copy. As the years have gone by, the book’s value only increases for my family.

I often think of my grandparents and others who have gone before me, and I’m grateful for the relationship that I developed with them. As I’ve passed through each stage of my life, my love and appreciation for my family has matured and developed. And my testimony that relationships are eternal has deepened.

I’ve invited my daughter Jessica to share a family experience that both tested and strengthened our family.

Jessica, want to come out here?

Jessica

Thank you, Dad.

Brother Owen

This is my youngest daughter Jessica.

Jessica

Hi. Thanks, Dad. Almost two years ago, my husband and I went through something we both never imagined going through that changed our lives forever and gave us the eternal perspective I'm so very grateful for each day. In March of 2014, our daughter Annie was unexpectedly born two months early. We didn't know anything was wrong until she was born, and then we realized the very special and perfect angelic little girl she was and would be throughout her life.

Annie had a rare genetic disorder that would cause all of her muscles to contract, and she would stop breathing. These episodes would happen around 60–70 times each day. Being a mother, it was hard to see my little girl in pain and not be able to help her. Only, I could tell her, "Come on Annie! You can get through this! You are so strong!"

As the days went by, the doctors were never able to diagnose her disorder. After 4 1/2 months of fighting through the life in the NICU, Annie returned peacefully to our Heavenly Father. Though I miss my little girl so much every day, and the heartache never goes away, I am so very grateful for the plan of salvation that our Heavenly Father created for us. Even though Annie had a short life here on earth, and I wasn’t able to raise her here, I know that I will have that chance one day, but when we are in perfect form.

I'll never forget the yearning love I had and will always have for my little girl. I miss her every day, but I know that she is with me all the time. How grateful I am for the wonderful gospel and that I have chosen to take this challenge into my life and turn it into something positive.

My husband and I definitely couldn’t go through this hardship alone, but through the prayers of many, we have been lifted up and guided through this trial. Though it is hard for both of us each and every day—not being able to raise our first child here on earth—we know that she is so much happier, free of pain, and always with us in spirit.

I will never forget what my dad told my husband and me the day Annie passed away. “You two, stay strong together. Be strong and fight through this together.” As his face was trembling with tears—feeling pain for me, his daughter—I knew that my dad was right. My husband and I needed to stay strong for each other and never blame each other over this trial. I am so very grateful for the counsel that my dad gave to us that day. It has helped Sam and me remember to work hard and keep an eternal perspective with unwavering faith.

The relationships that we have with our family and friends have strengthened us through this trial. I am so very grateful for the gospel and for the knowledge that I have of eternal family relationships. I know without a doubt that I will see and live with my daughter once again. Families are forever, but only if we do our part. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Brother Owen

Amen. Well, I want to introduce you to her newest little baby. Jessica just had another baby one month ago.

Jessica

Yes.

Brother Owen

This is little Archie. And…

Jessica

Thank you.

Brother Owen

She just welcomed this second child into the world, a son. I feel like I’m in sacrament meeting at a blessing. This is little Archie.

Jessica

Oh, come here, dude.

Brother Owen

Jessica, we love you.

Jessica

Thank you, Dad. Love you.

Brother Owen

We are so excited to have this new little grandbaby in our lives, an addition to our family. Jessica, we appreciate your wonderful example.

I’m reminded of a song from years ago called “Grandma’s Book of Memories.” Words of the chorus are as follows:

“When Grandma opens up her book of memories,

“These strangers all begin to look like friends to me.

“I can see where I have come from and where I belong,

“And where I got the color of my hair.

“And I won’t be afraid when I follow them home,

“Because I’ve got friends already there.”

The thought of Annie being welcomed in the waiting arms of Grandma Ruth has brought solace to me. Each of us can find comfort in the relationships that we’ve developed and in the knowledge that those relationships are forever and transcend death.

More joy and comfort are found in the sealing power of the priesthood, which can strengthen and bind our family relationships. We are each an important link in our family chain. And each of us, regardless of our current family circumstances, can begin working on the things that last.

I recognize that not everyone has had the opportunity to nurture and develop family relationships, but don’t be discouraged. Stronger relationships can begin with you, right now, where you are. Through all kinds of family history and temple work, you can increase in love and help your family heal going in both directions, toward your ancestors, and toward your posterity.

Maybe you’ve started your family history and have become discouraged because of damaged relationships, missing information. Don’t give up. Keep seeking the eternal. Pray and look for connections, relationships, and stories. And when you begin to find those personal connections—and they can be as simple as sharing physical features or personality traits with ancestors—you’ll start to understand what it’s like to have your heart turn to your fathers, and the gospel will have an opportunity to move from your head to your heart. You will feel for yourself the power and eternal nature of family relationships.

Brothers and sisters, let us remember that Christ suffered alone so that we can be together. Because of Him, we can have relationships that endure, relationships that include our Heavenly Father, our Savior, and our loved ones. I testify that the gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of relationships that transcend death and have eternal value, and I do so in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.