We were “that” family for a long time! Husband in the bishopric, me- YW President; great, obedient kids-life seemed good. I watched my friends struggle with teenagers suffering from depression, not-so-great choices, struggles in marriage, and I felt sorry for them. This would never be MY life. We had consistent FHE, read the scriptures daily, often twice a day, attended the temple monthly if not more and my husband was an ordinance worker most of our marriage. We had consistent morning and evening family prayer, kept the Sabbath Day holy and sincerely tried to do everything that was asked of us. Then life experience hit.
Ten years later we are still “that” family! Now on the other side of “that.” The blessing of life experience! Almost everything I thought would NEVER happen to MY family has happened, despite doing all in our power to do what the Lord asked. Our oldest daughter who we thought for sure would serve a full time mission got married fairly young, we had a child struggle with an eating disorder, we have dealt with numerous cases of ADD and ADHD in our children which have led to depression and some self medicating, we have had children come to us and say that they did not believe the gospel was true-only to find out that they had completely lost the Spirit through some poor choices. We have had struggles staying close in marriage during these most difficult times. We have dealt with a chronic illness of a daughter and a lack of faith from many of us that God was even aware of our situation.
What we HAVE seen is this: The Lord knows and is aware of each of us. We have been blessed with the gift of agency and I use that word “blessed”, thoughtfully. There was a time when I honestly wished I had not “shouted for joy” that we all would receive the “blessing” of agency! I wanted to choose how our children’s lives turned out! I knew what was best. I have learned to trust God and to trust our children (for the most part.) They are being guided IF they are living righteously and I need to trust that.
Our own family challenges-never say never
Our wonderful oldest daughter had always planned on a full time mission. At the General Conference where the mission change was announced for missionaries she called and said, “I feel like I want to still wait till I am 21 to serve a mission.” That was about 6 months away. We were fine with that. Two weeks later she met her amazing husband and they were sealed in the temple 3 months after her 21st birthday. The mission that WE had planned for her to serve was not in God’s plan for her right now. Surpise #1!
Our 2nd daughter called that same General Conference announcement and announced that she wanted to serve a mission. She was one that had NEVER expressed interest in this and frankly, we were shocked. Six months later, she was serving a mission in West Virginia and was an incredible missionary. It changed her life. Surprise #2. She also came home a bit early from her mission with some health challenges. Surprise #3. As she dealt with those challenges in the mission field I knew that God had blessed her with specific leaders in her mission who knew her situation and could guide her in a way we would not have been able to do, if she were here. Surprise #4.
Our 3rd daughter, we were sure would serve a full time mission as well. She was diagnosed 2 years ago- at 18 with a chronic health condition that would not allow her to serve at that time and would send her into a physical and emotional tailspin for the next few years. Surprise #5. Watching her go through this has so far been one of the most difficult experiences of our life. To know her potential and see her wither about killed us-and her. Yet-once again-God knew her and He knew us. He always knows what is best. Two years later, 5 doctors and numerous Mayo Clinic Trips, we are beginning to see some physical healing and due to her ability to hear and act on the Spirit’s promptings, she has made some life decisions that have helped to start the emotional healing process. God has also taken her down a road she NEVER would have gone had she not dealt with this challenge.
When our son was little I would always tell him that he was going to MINNESOTA on his mission (that was where I went-husband was fine with that because he went to France and it was tough!) Whenever we would ask, “Where do you want to go on your mission?” the answer was always (with the accent) “Minnesoooota!” Without invading his privacy, the past 18 months have been a challenge in many ways. There were times when I thought he would not serve a mission and may not even have a testimony of the Savior. I never thought I would face situations like this-oh yes-it could be way worse-but I just could have never imagined that I would be calling upon God to help our family in this way. Surprise #6. He is an incredible kid, with the biggest heart around. He will serve in any way he is asked. He loves people and is so good to be a friend to all. He loves the Lord and wants to do what is right. Yet, he has struggles…that I never thought as a parent, I would face with one of MY children. At this point he plans of a full time mission, but there has been some heartache leading up to this point. I can say that some of the things that have challenged him-though not good-will help him to be a powerful missionary-especially in testifying of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
We are not done raising our children and still have 2 at home. I can also say, that even AFTER they leave MY nest-our children have even greater, more life altering challenges. Once you are a parent, you are always a parent. Even with our kids that are out of the house, we have had challenges that have shaken me to the core as we we pray and fast for them and their families.
Tools that have brought me strength through life experience:
- I have learned from watching my angel mother, the power of a “Mother’s Fast.” As I fast for my sweet family, separate from a regular Fast Sunday, the power and strength of the Spirit and of revelation is so clear.
- Consistent Temple Attendance. I LOVE the temple. I love being a temple volunteer and a temple patron. I know there is power in the temple and being there often to receive the guidance I need as a parent and to be reminded of the blessings promised as we keep covenants.
- Couple prayers. I can think of many nights when the challenges were just overwhelming and the thought of sleeping was not possible. In those times, being able to pray with my sweet husband who loves this family as much as I do and to pray to a Heavenly Father who loves them even more has been a great comfort to both of us.
- Consistency in FHE, family prayer and scripture study. We have always done it. We will always do it. It is a part of what happens in this home. It doesn’t matter where you are at spiritually at this point. We love you. We know this is important. You are a part of our eternal family, therefore you are a part of this.
- Keeping a close personal relationship with Heavenly Father. I cannot tell you how many hours I have spent on my knees in our room, pleading with the Lord to strengthen me, my husband, our children, their leaders and teachers. That relationship has been key for me.
- Doing Family History and attempting to get my family involved. There are specific promises of protection by apostles of God in relation to this. I know as we reach out to our ancestors and bless their eternal lives, that they will reach out to us and our children with blessings of protection and peace.
- Regular scripture study is key. As I study the scriptures and search for answers to our struggles as a family, I recognize that most often the answers will come through the searching and study. See my post Stop Reading The Scriptures and Start Searching Them.
- Regular service. As i try to serve others, as the Lord prompts, I find a peace and a comfort that would not have come otherwise. He is aware of the people we need in our lives and when we need them and often, helping and seving thers helps us more than we expect.
I will never look at someone else’s struggles again and think, “that will never happen in my family.” We don’t know what agency brings, how the Lord plans to teach us lessons and get us where He needs us to be. What we do know is that if we keep the commandments and our covenants, trust in Him, strive to do what he asks of us and truly love Him, that he will guide us and our families. No matter what our life expectations started out as, life experience has a way of teaching us what we really need to know in order to become who God needs us to be.