Delivered by Nancy in a sacrament meeting of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Montgomery Ward, Cincinnati Ohio East Stake, Sunday 22 February 2009
Almost exactly four years ago, I stood at this pulpit and gave a talk likening my crammed bedroom closet to our spiritual closets, which can become so stuffed with worn, outdated concerns that we have little room left for things of eternal worth. In the talk, I mentioned that my bedroom closet was only 48 inches wide, and that before we moved into the house, Michael and I had considered remodeling to create a walk-in closet—but that we had never done it. Immediately following that talk, Mark P approached me and offered to come over the next night to start knocking out walls. I declined his offer at the time, but now I am happy to report that, thanks to Mark’s unflagging encouragement, expert advice and specialized power tools, demolition has finally begun, and within the next few months Michael and I will have our expanded, walk-in closet.
Perhaps because he knows that I am currently in his debt for helping to get that project underway, Mark did not hesitate to corner me in the coat closet here at church a couple of weeks ago and issue notice that it was time for me to give another sacrament meeting talk. So here I am.
During the past several months, in between Internet searches for the best values in closet organizing systems, Michael and I have been discovering the joys of Facebook. Originally, we decided to join this online social network because our kids kept sending us links to photo albums they had posted, and the easiest way for us to access their pictures was to register for Facebook ourselves. At first, most of my Facebook friends were either my children or the girls I knew from years of attending YW camp; but gradually, the “People You May Know” column on my home page began showing more and more familiar faces from my own generation and beyond. This miraculous electronic tool has allowed me to reconnect with high school classmates, college classmates, former neighbors and distant relatives—many of them people I rarely spoke to when we saw each other every day, and yet whose lives I have become intensely interested in now that we have been separated by decades of more varied experiences.
For example, last month I was “friended” by a Kevin B, whose birthday party I had attended when both of us were in kindergarten. (I remember that because the party invitation is pasted into my first scrapbook, which I still have.) The friendship between Kevin and me pretty much began and ended with that party, although our acquaintance and daily encounters continued until we graduated from high school. All the time we were growing up, Kevin’s family was listed among the members in our ward directory, but they rarely came to church, and by junior high, Kevin had quit coming altogether. In high school, he belonged to the jock-partygoer group and I didn’t; so our paths didn’t cross much, and his name probably had not crossed my mind for thirty-five years—until it appeared on Facebook. Kevin remembered me and remembered that the church had been an important part of my life, and now he wanted me to know that after high school, he had decided to embrace his religion. He told me that he had married a girl I knew from seminary, and explained that she had died of cancer a few years ago. And then Kevin shared with me his testimony and gratitude for the blessings of the temple and the eternal family connections it establishes. I was grateful that even though the connections between Kevin and me were thin and almost rusted through with age, he chose to polish them up and reinforce them so that both of us could be strengthened. After nearly fifty years of mere acquaintance, we are finally connecting as friends.
Nephi tells us that “by small means the Lord can bring about great things.” The specific “small means” he was referring to was the Liahona, a remarkable ball that provided written information and instructions for his family “according to the faith and diligence [they] gave unto it.” The Liahona is not available to us today, but we have other devices “of curious workmanship” that offer valuable written information that changes from time to time according to our needs. I like to think of Facebook and similar resources as more “small means” that can bring about great things if we will use them with faith and diligence.
Just as I have been rewarded by using the Internet to strengthen ties with former classmates and other friends, I also have been rewarded by using the Internet to strengthen ties with my family. I tend to concentrate on my closest family members, but I have begun reaching out to more distant relatives and to tap other sources of vital records, life histories and photographs that can help me establish stronger connections with my ancestors. Dedicated researchers like Marcy P—who provided us with a helpful list of her favorite genealogy Web sites in Relief Society a couple of weeks ago—will tell you that even the smallest pieces of information can lead to greater understanding and appreciation of people with whom we share thin but crucial family ties.
Last weekend, Michael and I drove to Delaware to visit his mother and sister Pat. While we were there, Pat showed us the family history project she was working on and shared some data about their mother’s great-grandparents that she had gleaned from various online sources. From these bits of information, we began piecing together a story about Amanda, a young woman from Ohio, and George, a man from New York. The two had made their way west to Wisconsin, met and married, raised a family, and then—for reasons that remain unknown—separated and apparently lost track of each other for more than twenty years. Amanda moved to California to live with their oldest daughter; George wound up in Kansas, reportedly at a veterans’ home. During their separation, Amanda was baptized into the LDS Church. Eventually, the couple was reunited in Sanpete County, Utah, where they were sealed to each other just a few years before George’s death.
As we started to fit this puzzle together, we became intrigued by the pieces that were missing. Amanda had been born only twenty miles from Kirtland in 1832; had her family encountered the Mormons who were living there, and had they been influenced by the new church’s teachings? Amanda’s family had a German surname; were they part of northeastern Ohio’s Amish community? Why had Amanda and George separated, and how had they lost contact with each other for so many years? Could he perhaps have gone off to fight in the Civil War and become disabled? Is that why he was in a veterans’ home, and why he did not communicate with his family? How did Amanda and George finally find each other again? And by what miracle did they find their way into the LDS Church? These and other questions about my husband’s great-great-grandparents may not get answered until we meet them in the hereafter, but in the meantime, the information we have been able to find has inspired us to imagine them as real people with real experiences. And the more we see our ancestors as real people, and the more we can relate to their experiences, the more connected we will feel to them.
Connections are a vital part of our mortal, human existence. During the creation, the first thing God saw that was “not good” was that the man he had created was alone, so he created a woman with whom that man could connect. Many of our human connections, however, are superficial ones. For example, it may seem that the only connection I have with someone who appears in the “People You May Know” column of my Facebook page is that both of us used to live in Fullerton, California—and that’s a pretty thin thread with which to bind a friendship. But if, for the sake of connection with another human being, I am willing to make a little extra effort, ask a few more questions and give a few more answers, I might discover a few more common threads to braid into a sturdier binding cord. I might discover that the kid I ignored in high school because he was a jock and I wasn’t is now strengthening my testimony that through the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, “family relationships [can indeed] be perpetuated beyond the grave.”
Connections are not only a vital part of our mortal existence but also of our eternal destiny. In order to enjoy the blessings of eternal connections, however, we must ensure that our bonds are strong and meaningful. As we have seen, doing so takes effort. Developing meaningful connections with our ancestors means doing the research that will allow us not only to identify them, but to learn as much as we can about them. It also means ensuring that they receive the saving ordinances of the temple. Forming strong, eternal bonds with living members of our extended family means communicating with them, sharing with them, showing love for them and forgiving them. It also means encouraging them to receive saving ordinances and then keep the covenants they have made. And because, ultimately, everyone on earth is part of one great extended family, we must make similar efforts to develop significant connections with our friends.
In order to enjoy the blessings of eternal family connections, we also must have strong, meaningful connections with the Lord. Jesus prayed earnestly that we might be one with each other, one with him, and one with the Father, that we might be made perfect in them through his atonement. The great goal of our Heavenly Father, our Savior and the Holy Ghost—the noble purpose that binds these three divine beings to each other—is to bring the human family back together as one, interconnected, perfected whole. That we may be the small means by which the Lord shall bring to pass this great thing is my prayer.