“Being Strengthened through Service,” Ensign, Nov. 1981, 87
Just five years ago last month, our family got involved in a situation that was quite unexpected at the time, but that has changed our entire family. We took a foster child into our home.
I remember that day very well. It was one of those pressure situations in which they couldn’t find anybody else and the child was coming the next day. After our great volunteer effort, as a couple we started having all kinds of misgivings about the commitment we had made. We even became a little upset. We felt like we had almost more children of our own than we could handle at the time. We had five children, and it seemed like all of them were at some special age where they make big messes but are not quite responsible enough to see that things get picked up. Now, here we had another child coming who wasn’t even one of our own.
With all of these doubts, we sat down with our children to make some preparations. With the faith that can come only from a child, our children, in just a short period of time, were ready to accept their big sister.
Jean arrived, and we found a child much more frightened than we were. She was a seventeen-year-old high school sophomore. We were a family that had not seen a child have a ninth birthday yet, so we knew we were in for some quick learning. That was probably the only right assumption we made about the whole situation.
Right off, we found that we had a new problem. It concerned bathing. She was there just a few days when we realized that something had to be done. Finally, it was decided by the matriarch that the patriarch needed to do his duty—so a daddy-daughter talk was the order of the day. I must say that it went exceptionally well. Starting the next day, we didn’t have any hot water for three months.
We look back now on the short time that we had Jean—just a few months—and we realize that we learned many things. Let me take just a minute and review some of them with you.
Both my wife and I had to struggle a little at first to let ourselves accept another child on the same level as our own children. Those first few days were a real struggle as we had to try very hard not to put our own children first. That was an invaluable lesson for us. We can accept anybody now almost immediately. We could have gone a lifetime and not learned how to do that. Our children learned that, too, and we will be eternally grateful for that.
The second thing we learned from Jean was that we can certainly learn many things from others. Jean taught our children many things. She loved to work, and she’d always take a job and do it right. And then she’d pitch in and help the other children with their jobs. She helped our children internalize many of the principles that we were trying to teach them. One of the biggest challenges we were having with them at that time was trying to get them to take a job and do it completely. They seemed to do the minimum—either that or a little less. Jean taught them differently. They would struggle with us, as most children do with their parents, but they would accept it from her.
As an example, Jean liked the satisfaction of doing dishes by hand. She wouldn’t use the dishwasher. And to this day we have a daughter that enjoys doing dishes that way.
The third thing Jean helped us with was learning how to communicate with our children. As an older child, if she understood a situation, she basically felt the same way about it as we did. We found that the goal became one of understanding. At first there was a language problem between us; she nodded her head “yes” all the time, but we soon found out that she had learned to do that when sentences ended, even if she hadn’t understood what was being said. We came to realize that we needed to extend the same courtesies to our other children that we were giving to Jean. In the process of raising children every day, we start expecting too much from them, and we think they should automatically understand all the things that are going on in the family. Sometimes some of us treat the neighbor children better than we treat our own. It was a great lesson that we are thankful we were able to learn.
The fourth thing was that this was the first real fast-moving missionary experience we’d had as a family. We used to call Jean our “sponge”—she wanted to learn it all. She would ask us questions about everything. She wanted to know why we had to sit down as a group to eat, why we knelt when we prayed, why a person needs to go to church every Sunday, why we have to have different foods for every meal. When it came to gospel living, she felt a special kinship and wanted to know all that she could find out.
I recall one experience that we had with Jean when we went camping. Immediately after I stopped the car, Jean got out and began sweeping the camping area. Our children just couldn’t believe it, but she continued until she had swept over all the area, until all the loose dirt and pine needles were in a neat pile. But she didn’t stop there: she came over and knelt down by the children and spent the next few minutes talking to them about the principle of cleanliness—that when you are camping or living outdoors cleanliness becomes a very important thing, and that by taking a few steps you can make life livable. And the amazing thing was that they listened. We were just grateful that we were in the Rockies of Colorado and not the sands of New Mexico. I always wondered how deep she would have gone to find solid ground.
Just three weeks ago, Jean returned to our home for a few days with her two children. She was quietly asking questions about ways she could be influencing her family and her children.
Now, I’m sure that as you listen to this, it sounds like the whole experience was joyful and always a good time. But I can promise you that it wasn’t. It’s like any service done for others; you have to sacrifice something in order to make it happen. The deep feelings of satisfaction that come from service can be gained in no other way. It changes people and prepares them for something very important.
We are eternally grateful to Jean, and not just because we consider her our eldest daughter, or because of the joy that she brings into our home. But we are grateful for the opportunity that she gave us to be of service to another. We have learned as parents that we can spend an awful lot of time teaching gospel principles and applying them in our family and working toward perfection. Sometimes it feels like a great deal of effort is being put forth with very little impact on our children. But as soon as we started living gospel principles through service to another, a great thing began to happen. Our children began to understand the principles of the gospel that we had been trying to teach them.
As we attempted as a family to be of service to another, we found that we received the most. What a marvelous thing that is! By helping someone with something that she couldn’t do alone, we received blessings we weren’t able to obtain by ourselves. That’s the gospel of Jesus Christ in its truest sense. As the family and the individual are strengthened through service to others, they are blessed, and a Zion people is prepared.
I know that Jesus Christ lives, that this Church contains his complete gospel plan, that welfare principles are the gospel in action. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.