The most prolific writer (or at least letters of which the greatest amount were saved) were the letters of Aunt Nancy Whitmarsh, my husband's 3rd great grand aunt. Nancy Anna Ward was born 22 July 1826 in Philadelphia, PA and died there on 5 April 1905. She married James Whitmarsh in 1847 and bore 8 children, three of whom died in infancy, and that I might never have known existed but for one letter she wrote which I will share later. Her letters are particularly interesting to me as she includes many details of daily living that some might find mundane but that paint a great picture of life in Philadelphia in the 1800's. Unfortunately, there is no photograph of Nancy in the family collection. I hope to find one someday.

526 N. 53rd St.
West Phila. Oct. 18th 1891

My dear nephew,
Your of Sep. 14th (wish I had a decent pen) came in due time and I have been wanting to write and put your curiosity at rest though not in the way you can expect for I really cannot recall anything I was going to communicate in the way of news that was “strange, startling and peculiar”. Did I really write that? I think those adjectives in a dream or some other unaccountable way. Indeed my curiosity is aroused now to find out what I had in mind. I am inclined to think I only referred to our improvements, new piazza, new fence, etc.

It is Sabbath evening and as I belong to the “shut outs” as well as the “shut ins” I thought perhaps an hour might be profitably spent in writing to you as your letter expressed comfort in hearing from home. I have been contending with the “blues” today and trying to reason with myself that I have much for which to be thankful. Mother is well as usual, wheels about, sits at the east bay window all day and looks out. Howard is better, is taking “Hoods Sasparilla” and does not have that tired feeling. It contains dandelion that I know to be useful in a discordant condition of the system. He took a ride last evening by moonlight in a tandem tricycle, that is two in one vehicle. Their “steed”, their own legs and feet. There were two others of the same kind of vehicle and they all rode to the Park several mile. Howards’ became somewhat unmanageable as they went down grade and ran into a band of earth throwing them out but hunting no one. Howard says they have three wheels and are safe, do not topple over like a bi-cycle. I suppose last night they were cautious. The part was composed of young men (no ladies). Your father came out with Mollie about two weeks ago to color his measures. They did the work in the empty house next door and attended to the drying in the parlors and shed. Albert was on to take the balance of his family home to Pittsburg. It was a big disappointment all around. We have named it a “fizzle”. You see he reckoned without his host the landlord would not release him as he fully expected and after much suspense and anxiety especially on the part of Caddie and the oldest child they had to give the project up. Caddie wrote me after the return “I am homesick for 53rd St.” and “this suspense is fast whitening my hair”.

Yesterday week (Saturday) your father came out to fold or roll some of the measures. He did not come as early as he expected so was delayed in returning, indeed it was nearer eleven o’clock than ten when he left and then he carried two bundles of rolls in each as they weighed seventeen - made a heavy load for him to carry so far to reach the car and then to walk to his lodgings. The reason he did not come earlier he said orders were coming in and he could not get away from the office. Yesterday he came again before noon and worked steadily rolling and tying until after ten and carried away 2 bundles. Howard has taken some in but only one bundle at a time. I think the last move of the office was a good thing. I have never been there to see it but from the description it is much more cheerful, he has gas light and heat without any extra charge and less rent to pay. The day light is more plentiful and surroundings much better. Your father appears much better than last winter and sometimes he speaks of his condition then he says he was not sick bodily but his mind was sick on account of breaking up his home and George’s treatment. Did you know that George called at the office and told him he was not going to pay anything for that mantel mirror as his father owed him for his services on partnership in the business until the papers were destroyed and he offered to come and go over the books to see how much his father was indebted to him? Do you know what George called his father last winter when the first papers were destroyed? A thief and a coward. Only think after all his kindness and attention whenever he visited him. I told your father one day that it was well to be ones own executor as Wills are often broken and then added he had not a child who regarded him as you did. In a few days he sent you $50. I think much of that talk and surmisings last winter was without foundation as there was a little of it this summer by Mollie which turned out to be entirely without the least foundation as I soon learned. Some weeks ago when he came out I saw a lack of his usual cheerfulness and felt something was depressing him. Before he left he told me about Adamson curring pieces and he said he could not sleep one night worrying about his business but since that he has returned to his normal condition and business is pretty good. I told him he had enough already to live on, which of course he knows. How we do cling to the present life although it may soon be over with us. We forget ‘Tis not the whole of life to live.”

This morning I followed a train of thought suggested by the dim gas light burning. When I retired last night the dim light seemed very necessary in the darkness and looked important. This morning when daylight appeared how insignificant the burner appeared, of no use whatever so I thought how we value the things of the present - life, our joys, how they absorb our thoughts! Our sorrows, how great they seem! And yet in the bright light of eternity how insignificant these things appear. “For I reckon the offerings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed.

I enclosed the funeral services read at the grave of Mr. Peterson and then ask you to read Corinthians Fifth Chapter.

Tell Lusetta that I hope she will have better success than many do in Phila. The newspaper says there is much complaint of fruit spoiling and cans popping. You have not guessed why a woman loves to put up fruit and it is not for herself but she enjoys serving her family, eat it.

I rec’d a letter from David in Sept. he says his bank acct. is now good for $5.00 (five hundred)

Kenton and his son Louis have left the hotel and board at his sisters, Mrs. Hudson. It cost $16 a week for both at hotel.

Love to wife and children from your loving Aunt Nancy

Image Credit The Lost Lamb by Del Parson

President Benson taught that, “The purpose of the Lord’s church is to further the progress of every son and daughter of God toward the ultimate blessings of eternal life.”

Notice President Benson’s choice of the word church. It made me think of Elder D. Todd Christofferson’s talk in which he said “How does His Church accomplish the Lord’s purposes? It is important to recognize that God’s ultimate purpose is our progress. His desire is that we continue “from grace to grace, until [we receive] a fullness”5 of all He can give. That requires more than simply being nice or feeling spiritual. It requires faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism of water and of the Spirit, and enduring in faith to the end.6 One cannot fully achieve this in isolation, so a major reason the Lord has a church is to create a community of Saints that will sustain one another in the “strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life."

In the manual under lesson 20, “Feed my Sheep”, President Benson mentions specifically our mission, as Latter-Day Saints, to perfect the Saints and then focuses on ways we can shepherd those who have separated themselves from the church back into the fold. However, I want to broaden his focus, on being shepherds and leaders in helping to perfect everyone. This includes acquaintances and friends who are active, inactive, or don’t know the gospel at all. It includes those whom we have stewardship over, whether through our church callings or as parents and spouses. It includes strengthening other family relationships as well. Because we have different backgrounds and viewpoints we can all participate in perfecting each other.

First, we should know what a saint is and what it means to perfect something. The very statement, perfecting the saints, implies that a saint is not a perfect person. My favorite definition of a saint is the one Nelson Mandela gave, “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”

To perfect something is to mend, to restore, or to complete it. I don’t know exactly how God defines something as perfect, but there is one thing about perfection that is certain and Martin G. Collins, an Elder of the Church of the Great God says it beautifully: “We cannot be perfect apart from others. The Bible links perfection with human relationships. Christ urges us to be as perfect as our Father in Heaven and ties the process to how we treat each other. The Kingdom of God is about eternal, peaceful relationships...Life would be easier for Him if he ignored us, but He works on helping us develop our relationship with Him. He is the One who works perfection in us. Not perfect in the sense that we are flawless but in the sense that we are complete. That we work together to maintain balance and community and love between each other.”

God has given us guidelines for maintaining balance, community and love between each other. They’re called the commandments, both the original ten and others that we’ve received since that time. Some commandments are absolute and some have been given based on the circumstances of a given people in a given time period. But all of them are given to us to help us treat God, others and ourselves with respect and love.

Of course the greatest source of help God has given us is Christ, both his actual atonement and his example of true leadership. Speaking of Christ, President Benson said, “His example continues as the greatest hope and strength of mankind.” Why is that? Why did he make such a huge impact on people in his day and why have his teachings so long endured?

President Spencer W. Kimball gave us the following insight into Christ's effectiveness:

1. "Jesus knew who he was and why he was here on this planet. That meant he could lead from strength rather than from uncertainty or weakness."

2. "Jesus operated from a base of fixed principles or truths rather than making up the rules as he went along. Thus, his leadership style was not only correct, but also constant."

3. "Jesus said several times, "Come, follow me." His was a program of "do what I do", rather than "do what I say." He walked and worked with those he was to serve.

4. "Jesus saw sin as wrong but also was able to see sin as springing from deep and unmet needs on the part of the sinner. This permitted him to condemn the sin without condemning the individual. We can show forth our love for others even when we are called upon to correct them."

5. "Jesus knew how to involve his disciples in the process of life. He gave them important and specific things to do for their development. Jesus trusts his followers enough to share his work with them so that they can grow. That is one of the greatest lesson of his leadership. If we brush other people aside in order to see a task done more quickly and effectively, the task may get done all right, but without the growth and development in followers that is so important."

President Benson taught “The power of Christ’s leadership grew from the challenge of His example… His [success in gaining] the loyalty and devotion of men to principles of righteousness depend[ed] upon love as the great motivating factor. He helped us realize that the godlike qualities in each of us clamoring for expression can become glorious living realities.”

Underlying all of Christ's actions is love. It all comes back to love, always. All of us crave love, and when we can’t find it among certain people, we seek it elsewhere. Jesus asked us to feed his sheep, to be like him in in keeping each other in the fold and leading back those who stray. To lead, to shepherd is not passive. We don’t wait for others to come to us and we shouldn't wait for others to leave before we reach out. True leadership is love. Love that lifts and motivates others to betterment, to action.

President Benson said, “There are no new solutions to this old problem of sheep straying elsewhere for food...The found in prayerfully shepherding and feeding the flock... There must be real, heartfelt concern by a true and loving shepherd...Thus, we must all learn to be true shepherds. We must manifest the same love to others that the Good Shepherd has for all of us.”

To be a leader is to guide others. To shepherd, is to guide others. And how do we best lead and guide others? How do we feed his sheep? We love them. Love is absolutely the greatest motivator there is. That is clear through Christ’s example. Think for a moment of a time when love changed you. Not love that you gave to someone else, but love that you felt from someone else that made you do or become something more.

Love is crucial to effectively shepherding because without it, we cannot have a full measure of the Holy Ghost and the Holy Ghost is necessary in both directing our words and in impressing the truth of our words into the hearts of our listeners.

President Russell M. Nelson recently said, “Sisters, do you realize the breadth and scope of your influence when you speak those things that come to your heart and mind as directed by the Spirit?...We need women who are devoted to shepherding God’s children along the covenant path toward exaltation; women who know how to receive personal revelation, who understand the power and peace of the temple endowment; women who know how to call upon the powers of heaven to protect and strengthen children and families; women who teach fearlessly. Attacks against the Church, its doctrine, and our way of life are going to increase. Because of this, we need women who have a bedrock understanding of the doctrine of Christ and who will use that understanding to teach and help raise a sin-resistant generation.12 We need women who can detect deception in all of its forms. We need women who know how to access the power that God makes available to covenant keepers and who express their beliefs with confidence and charity."

Be more confident in your ability to lead through love. Let us all strive to love better and deeper. Each act of love we give will ultimately draw those with whom we come into contact, closer to Christ.

Suggestions for additional study:

While I was living at my mother in laws house a few years back she told me (knowing of my great passion in doing genealogy) that she had a number of boxes I could go through and see if there was anything interesting in them. I cam across a gold mind of letters, some of which I would like to publish on occasion here.

The author of the following letter is Louise Richards Ward Carson, my husband's 2nd Great Grand Aunt. The person to whom she is writing is her brother and my husbands 2nd great grandfather, Allen Ward. Only a few letters from Louise can be found in the collection but she has a very elegant voice and hand. The following are people mentioned in the letter for whom I have been able to prove family connection: Fleet and George are Louise's brothers, Edith, Ward, and William are three of her children, Molly Whitmarsh is a cousin (who I have found notoriously mentioned in other family letters) and Louise and Mamie are her brother George's wife and daughter. The other names mentioned are friends or unknown (at present) relations.

Louise was a widow for most of her adult life. She was married 9 January 1868 to William Carson and he died just nine years later, leaving her with four children but a good amount of wealth to support them for a time.

Chillicothe Sep 23, 1894

My dearest Allen,

It is now over two months since I received your very welcome letter, but you must not think it is neglected because I have much answered it before. I have so much to attend to I find very little time to myself. The past two years misfortune seems to have fallen thick and fast upon me and it takes more courage than I can always command to keep my spine up. In the first place all my furniture I had packed in Cincinnati was burned up in the warehouse where they were packed and not a stick was saved. All my pictures, china glass, books, everything and the insurance was only four thousand dollars and I did not get even that as Fleet took it to invest for me and cast it in the stock exchange, I suppose, as he never would tell me where it went. He also has gotten my business affairs into such a tangle, I have been trying for a year and a half to see my way out and straighten things up, as he left me to get out of the difficulty as best I could. I have had to hire lawyers and start from the beginning just as if he were dead, as he won’t answer a letter or give me any information about a thing. Of course I make all kinds of excuses to outsiders, saying his business keeps him away and everything I can think of, but I believe he has just lost everything through carelessness or laziness and is ashamed to tell me so. The last time I heard from him he was in New York in some banking business.

We have been living at the Cottage on the Farm since last April a year ago trying to economize all we can. I had to take Ward out of school as I was not only afraid to be here without a man, but I could not afford to send him. Fortunately Edith was through and Will was doing so well at College. I was anxious to exert every nerve to keep him there until he was through - he has one more year and leaves us tomorrow for his Service year. We have all kept very well I am thankful to say. I spent two winters in New York, 92 and 93 and enjoyed it very much. I saw quite a great deal of Aunt Mathers? and her family. I enclose a letter received from cousin Mary yesterday, which will give you some news about them.

The Will she speaks of is her oldest son, who was married last November. We expect to spend the winter here at the Cottage and hope in another year to be able to have my affairs in some order. I get as I said, so discouraged sometimes and have a good cry and feel better and start anew but I know the good Lord will help me out in the end. It comes very hard for me to work so hard at my time of life doing the most of my own work but I must try and think it is all for the best. We take a great deal of fun too out of our makeshifts to put the best foot foremost and fix over our things to make them look like new. Edith looks after the Milk and makes enough butter for our own use and to sell some, while Ward had developed quite a talent for farming. He made a garden this summer, we had all the corn, potatoes, tomatoes and cabbages we use in the family besides lettuce, beets and onions. He is six feet two inches in height and weighs one hundred fifty six.

I am so sorry Allen dear I haven’t an old suit of clothes in the house. Ward is wearing Will's cast off muss and when he is through with them they are nothing but rags. Don’t say anything I have written you about Fleet to any of the children. I do not think it necessary to tell them anything to cause them to lose confidence in humanity and perhaps someday he will explain away things that look very queer now.

While I was in New York, Vaughn Darling dropped dead in one of the Houses there, from heart disease. Cousin Louis writes to me once in awhile, to let me know he is in the land of the living, but I am ashamed to say I never answer his letter. Papa writes at long intervals, but they are not very cheerful letters or not always complimentary to us children. I think there is some influence behind at work and should not be surprised if it was Molly Whitmarsh. You knew cousin Mary Kahn had lost her husband some years ago, she looks very much like the Silvers as does Eugene. George when I last heard from him was in some insurance business in New York, having had to resign from the army on account of ill health. His pay was not sufficient to keep them without his doing something. His daughter Mamie is a very sweet girl and some think pretty - Louise is just the same.

You knew Mrs. Hancock was dead I suppose. My how I wish you were here and I could have a good long chat with you, there are so many things I would like to talk over. In the past year, Dr. Carsen of Cin. Mr. Washington Carsen of Baltimore and Dr. Carsens Wife and brother have all died. The Dr. was supposed to be very well off but it was found he was living upon a thirty thousand dollar income from his practice, which left very little for his family when he was gone. He has a son who is a rising doctor and is to be married next Tuesday week, to a charming Cin. girl.

It must be delightful to have Louis such a fine musician and I am so glad you have such a nice family of children, they certainly are a great comfort. I hope you can send Bennie to high school I think an education is of so much importance. I received the picture of the two oldest boys and ought to have acknowledged it before but I know you will understand and it was not because I am not always interested in you and your family, but I think I will wait and write when I can have a long chat with you and before I know it the weeks have gone into months and they into years, but I will try and do better in the future. We all talk about you and keep you in our thoughts, but you must write to me and not wait for me, use a lead pencil if you find it more convenient, you know I do not mind. I sent you the New York papers when I was there sometimes, I suppose you received them. I often put aside a bundle but keep putting off sending them, but will if you would like to have them. Mr. Carsen’s nephews send me so many papers and magazines from the east and friends too, which we all enjoy reading and I can send them in, although they may be a little old in news. The children wonder who is to get such a long letter and as Will gives away so sad, feels I am taking some of his precious time away from him, so I will bring this lengthy letter to a close.We all send love to you and yours. You can return cousin Mary’s letter when you are through. If you should write to her I know she would enjoy hearing from you as she always asked after you. Good bye, write soon

Always your affectionate sister, Louise.

In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says, “There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else;...There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.”1

To which vice is he referring? Pride.

Pride: An unreasonable conceit of one’s own superiority; inordinate self-esteem.

Now before we go any further in discussing pride as a vice, I want to look at it as a virtue.

C.S. Lewis said, “Pleasure in being praised is not Pride. The child who is patted on the back for doing a lesson well, the woman whose beauty is praised by her lover, the saved soul to whom Christ says ‘Well done,’ are pleased and ought to be. For here the pleasure lies not in what you are but in the fact that you have pleased someone you wanted to please.”1

Pride: A noble self-esteem springing from a consciousness of worth; Rational evaluation of oneself; a feeling of happiness you get when you or someone you know does something good, difficult, etc.

We must have a degree of pride in ourselves and our abilities, and know that we are capable of making rational decisions and doing hard things because self confidence is vital to further growth. The difference between proper and improper pride begins when we start to compare our accomplishments or knowledge to that of others, and that doesn’t only mean being arrogant about ourselves and what we can do, improper pride also includes being self-deprecating. As President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “We don’t discover humility by thinking less of ourselves; we discover humility by thinking less about ourselves. 2

“If the opposite of humility is pride, which is in essence self-glorification, counterfeit humility is self-loathing, hating oneself, always talking down about oneself to others, shunning or shrugging off compliments all the time. Some people confuse self-loathing with humility. But it’s a counterfeit or false humility. Because the truth is that self-loathing and self-glorification really aren’t that different. They both share the same root, namely obsession with oneself.”3

C.S. Lewis said, “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man…It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.” 1

So way back in the April 1989 session of conference President Hinckley read an address prepared by Ezra Taft Benson.There are always a few conference talks that stick in your mind long after they are given and I think this is one of them. He mentions many ways that pride might manifest itself.

  • Judging Others
  • Faultfinding
  • Gossiping
  • Backbiting
  • Murmuring
  • Living beyond our means
  • Envying
  • Coveting
  • Withholding gratitude
  • Being unforgiving
  • Jealousy
  • Conceit
  • Arrogance
  • Rebelliousness
  • Unrepentant
  • Easily Offended
  • Vanity

  • President Benson taught that all of these things are elements of the sin, but they are not the core of the sin. He said, “The central feature of pride is enmity--enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen. Enmity means “hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.” He also stated, “Pride is the great stumbling block to Zion. I repeat: Pride is the great stumbling block to Zion.”4

    Zion refers to a people of one heart and one mind who dwell together in righteousness. It is something that we as Latter-Day Saints are working towards, but pride is often damning in our effort to reach that goal. Active Latter-Day Saints try to live the law of consecration as it has been explained to us, but what if we were called upon today to go even further? What if our Prophet asked us to submit an inventory of our possessions and our wealth in order to divide it evenly between us and our fellow ward members? Would we rejoice in having "all things common" (Acts 2:44-45) with our fellow men or would we choke on bitter lumps of judgment we have made about whether or not they deserve such generosity?

    A memorable reminder to swallow our pride and refrain from harsh judgment is given in the following parable, from the bookFollowing Christ by Stephen E. Robinson.
    Image Credit: Markus Spiske


    “Many years ago, when I was somewhere between nine and eleven, I participated in a community summer recreation program in the town where I grew up. I remember in particular a diving competition for the different age groups held at the community swimming pool….There was one kid my age from the less affluent part of town who didn’t have his own pool...While the rest of us did our crisp little swan dives, back dives, and jackknives, being ever so careful to arch our backs and point our toes, this young man attempted back flips, one-and-a-half’s, doubles and so on. But, oh, he was sloppy. He seldom kept his feet together, he never pointed his toes, and he usually missed his vertical entry. The rest of us observed with smug satisfaction as the judges held up their scorecard that he consistently got lower marks than we did with our safe and simple dives, and we congratulated ourselves that we were actually the better divers….
    The announcement of the winners was a great shock to us, for the brave young lad with the flips had apparently beaten us all. However, I had kept rough track of the scores in my head, and I knew with the arrogance of limited information that the math didn’t add up....And so, certain that an injustice was being perpetrated, I stormed the scorer’s table and demanded an explanation. “Degree of difficulty,” the scorer replied matter-of-factly as he looked me in the eye. “Sure, you had better form, but he did harder dives. When you factor in the degree of difficulty, he beat you hands down, kid.” Until that moment I hadn’t known that some dives were awarded “extra credit” because of their greater difficulty.…” Whenever I am tempted to feel superior to other Saints, the parable of the divers comes to my mind, and I repent. At least at a swim meet, we can usually tell which dives are the most difficult. But here in mortality, we cannot always tell who is carrying what burdens: limited intelligence, clinical depression, compulsive behaviors, learning disabilities, dysfunctional or abusive family background, poor health, physical or psychological handicaps - no one chooses these things. So I must not judge my brothers and sisters.”5

    Easier said than done though, as always. Little thoughts of dissatisfaction with others wiggle their way carefully into our brains nearly every hour of every day. It seems I need to constantly tell myself the same thing I tell my children every day which is, "Worry about yourself!" I can't tell you how many times I'll ask a child if they've done their household responsibilities yet and the response will be, "Well my sister didn't do hers yet." To which I will usually respond, "I didn't ask about your sister, I want to know what you have been doing." God is the ultimate parent. He is the one that gets to worry about what my brothers and sisters in mortality are doing. He wants me to leave their doings alone and worry about myself.

    Image Credit: Michael Good, Wholehearted Human

    When I was diagnosed with panic disorder many years ago, I had a therapist help me learn some techniques for mindful thinking which is basically, thinking about what you are thinking about. A lot of the time I would be unaware of negative thought patterns that spiraled downward throughout the day or week which would ultimately culminate in a massive panic attack or depressive episode. To help me manage these attacks I was taught to be aware of negative thought patterns so that I could redirect them. Now, being a long time sufferer of mental maladies, I will add here that sometimes no matter how positive you try to think or how logically you look at your circumstances, you will still get depressed or have panic attacks. However, being able to cope with them and overcome them quicker, and sometimes even successfully prevent them, is a big plus of mindful thinking. What does this have to do with pride you ask? Well think of your brain as a jungle through which you're trying to make your way. If you're forging a path through it for the first time you're encountering dense foliage as you go along. Some plants you pull out, some you break until you're through. The next day you take that same path and break more plants and branches. Every day that you walk that path you compact the soil more and tear out more foliage. Eventually, use after use, you've worn that path well. It is clear of plants and easy to travel. Well neural pathways in our brains create patterns of thought. The more often we follow certain thought pathways, the more established and easy to travel they become. This is how habits are formed. Delbert L. Stapley taught, "Good habits are not acquired simply by making good resolves...Good habits are developed in the workshop of our daily lives. It is not in the great moments of test and trial that character is built. That is only when it is displayed. The habits that direct our lives and form our character are fashioned in the often uneventful commonplace routine of life. They are acquired by practice."6

    We practice thinking patterns of all kinds every day without even realizing it. To stop prideful behaviors we need to be cognizant of prideful thoughts so that we can form a habit of redirecting them. Thought leads to action. Action leads to habit. Habit shapes our character.
    In a BYU address Richard R. Sudweek wrote the following:
    "Now consider the interesting assertion made by Alma the Younger in Alma 12:14:For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us. Alma declared that people will be judged by their thoughts as well as by their behavior. I believe that Alma’s statement in this verse refers more to the thinking habits and dispositions that characterize our minds than to discrete, isolated thoughts.One reason the Lord will hold us accountable for our thoughts is because of the relationship between a person’s thinking habits and his character. This relationship is taught in Proverbs 23:7. We typically replace the pronoun in this passage and paraphrase the verse to read “As [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he.” This scripture teaches that we become what we think. In the words of James Allen, “A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.” The verb thinketh in Proverbs 23:7 is expressed in the progressive tense, suggesting that this passage refers more to our ongoing thinking habits than to isolated, individual thoughts that temporarily occupy our minds. It is a person’s mental habits and thinking dispositions that will largely determine his or her character rather than random, isolated thoughts.

    I'll end with a quote from President Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s talk, The Merciful Obtain Mercy. “This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon. When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following: Stop it! It’s that simple. We simply have to stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and His children...I don’t know exactly how to articulate this point of not judging others with sufficient eloquence, passion, and persuasion to make it stick. I can quote scripture, I can try to expound doctrine, and I will even quote a bumper sticker I recently saw… "Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you.”...Because we all depend on the mercy of God, how can we deny to others any measure of the grace we so desperately desire for ourselves?”8

    1.Lewis, C.S.The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics: Mere Christianity.C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. 2002.
    2.Uchtdorf, Dieter F., "Pride and the Priesthood".Ensign, November 2010.
    3.Brian Cochran, November 21, 2012, "Genuine Humility is Self-Forgetfulness"
    4.Benson, Ezra Taft, "Beware of pride".Ensign, May 1989.
    5.Robinson, Stephen E.Following Christ: The parable of the divers and more good news. Deseret Book Company,2002.
    6.Stapley, Delbert L., "Good Habits Develop Good Character".Ensign, November 1974.
    7.Sudweeks, Richard R., "Thinking Habits and Dispositions".BYU Speeches, July 15, 2003.
    8.Uchtdorf, Dieter F., "The Merciful Obtain Mercy".Ensign, May 2012.

    Image Credit: LDS media Library

    I’d like to begin with a quote by President D. Todd Christofferson, given this last April in general conference.

    “Above the Great West Door of the renowned Westminster Abbey in London, England, stand the statues of 10 Christian martyrs of the 20th century. Included among them is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a brilliant German theologian born in 1906. Bonhoeffer became a vocal critic of the Nazi dictatorship and its treatment of Jews and others. He was imprisoned for his active opposition and finally executed in a concentration camp. Bonhoeffer was a prolific writer, and some of his best-known pieces are letters that sympathetic guards helped him smuggle out of prison, later published as Letters and Papers from Prison.

    One of those letters was to his niece before her wedding. It included these significant insights: “Marriage is more than your love for each other...In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of the generations, which God causes to come and to pass away to his glory, and calls into his kingdom. In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal - it is a status, an office.
    Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man. ...So love comes from you, but marriage from above, from God.”

    Marriage is the ultimate purpose of our creation

    Ezra Taft Benson raught: “Marriage, the home, and family are more than mere social institutions. They are divine, not man-made. God ordained marriage from the very beginning. In the record of that first marriage recorded in Genesis, the Lord makes four significant pronouncements: first, that it is not good for man to be alone; second, that woman was created to be a helpmeet for man; third, that they twain should be one flesh; and fourth, that man should leave father and mother and cleave unto his wife.

    As I was preparing this lesson I came upon a blog post on a Christian site about marriage. The following is an excerpt from that post: “The Lord didn’t just create marriage; he wove it into the very fabric of our existence. We’re all familiar with the first chapters of Genesis. God creates the world and everything in it, then creates Adam and puts him in a place of unimaginable beauty and abundance. Adam is given everything he needs for a long and happy existence. But one day God looks at the Garden of Eden and sees that His creation is perfect in every way but one. “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Gen. 2:18). So God puts Adam to sleep, removes a rib from his body, and uses it to form Eve.

    God creates every other creature from the dust, but Eve is special. I believe this is because Eve is more than just another creation, but instead the completion of a creation already in progress.

    That last sentence, the idea that Eve is the completion of a creation in progress is so beautiful to me. It symbolizes so perfectly the idea of becoming one flesh with our husband and that we are imperfect and unfinished creations without each other. And even after we are married we still work together to learn and grow, a creation in progress.

    In the Ensign this month is a great article titled God’s Plan for Families by Mark A. Matthews. In it he he says, “...the crowning event of the Creation was not just when Adam and Eve were created in the image of their heavenly parents but when they were sealed in eternal marriage like their heavenly parents. From the beginning, marriage between a man and a woman was ordained of God and established as the ultimate purpose of our creation.”

    The Family is the most important organization in time and in eternity

    Ezra Taft Benson taught: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints views the family as the most important organization in time and all eternity. The Church teaches that everything should center in and around the family. It stresses that the preservation of family in time and eternity takes precedence above all other interests.”

    From the same Ensign article I mentioned previously, Mark A. Matthews said: “It is true that not everyone has the opportunity to marry in this life, nor is every couple blessed with children in mortality. Latter-Day prophets have assured us that those who are faithful will eventually be given these blessings, either in this life or the next. Nevertheless, just because not everyone achieves the ideal does not mean we should stop holding it up as the standard to seek.”

    All of us, even if we aren’t married or don’t yet have children, are still part of a family. We may be daughters and granddaughters, sisters and aunts and we should strengthen the family relationships that we do have.

    President Benson once said, “Some people ask me as a Church leader why we place so much emphasis on the home and family when there are such larger problems around us? The answer is, of course, that the larger problems are merely a reflection of individual and family problems….No nation ever rises above its homes. This Church will never rise above its homes.”

    Elder M. Russell Ballard taught: “Brothers and sisters, the most important cause of our lifetime is our families. If we will devote ourselves to this cause, we will improve every other aspect of our lives and will become, as a people and as a church, an example and a beacon for all peoples of the earth.”

    In happy marriages, husbands and wives love and serve God and each other.

    Sister Sheri L. Dew taught: “The Lord’s pattern for couples and in large measure men and women serving together in His kingdom was established by our first parents. Together Adam and Eve labored, mourned, were obedient, had children, taught their posterity the gospel, called upon the name of the Lord, “heard the voice of the Lord”, blessed the name of God, and dedicated themselves to God. Repeatedly the scriptures about Adam and Eve refer to the pronoun they.
    Neither Adam with his priesthood nor Eve with her motherhood could bring about the Fall alone. Their unique roles were interconnected. They counseled with one another, lifted burdens neither could have lifted alone, and then faced the wilderness, with all of its uncertainty, together. This is the Lord’s pattern for righteous men and women.”

    As last weeks discussion of Elder W. Craig Zwick’s talk emphasized, we need to approach all people, but especially our eternal companion, with patience, kindness and intent to understand.  

    I read an article recently title How I Saved My Marriage by author Richard Paul Evans and his insight into what love really is, is profound. He says: “The question everyone in a committed relationship should ask their significant other is, “What can I do to make your life better?” That is love. Romance novels (and I’ve written a few) are all about desire and happily-ever-after, but happily-ever-after doesn’t come from desire - at least not the kind portrayed in most pulp romances. Real love is not to desire a person, but to truly desire their happiness - sometimes, even, at the expense of our own happiness.”

    President Benson taught that “Spiritual growth comes by solving problems together - not by running from them...The secret of a happy marriage is to serve God and each other. The goal of marriage is unity and oneness, as well as self-development. Paradoxically, the more we serve one another, the greater is our spiritual and emotional growth.”

    Solving problems together. That is a particularly important line to me. I truly believe that a good relationship with your spouse makes all the difference in the happiness of the children. Children recognize undermining tactics, bickering, and unhappiness between their parents, no matter how subtle. While sometimes a poor example will teach them what not to do, more often than not they will follow that example in their interactions with their siblings and others. We need to remember not to make them “middle men” in our interactions with our spouse or to gripe to them about things that may bother us about our spouse. They don’t deserve that pain or that responsibility. In the same vein it is inappropriate to gripe to others about marital unhappiness. Especially dangerous is confiding marital problems to those of the opposite sex with whom we work or interact as it may lead to emotional or physical affairs. Spouses need to solve problems together and they cannot effectively do this if they are only talking to other people about their problems.

    The home is the best place for children to learn the principles and practices of the gospel

    President Benson taught that “One great thing the Lord requires of each of us is to provide a home where a happy, positive influence for good exists. In future years the costliness of home, furnishings or the number of bathrooms will not matter much, but what will matter significantly is whether our children felt love and acceptance in the home. It will greatly matter whether there was happiness and laughter, or bickering and contention.”

    The proclamation on the family states that, …“Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work and wholesome recreational activities.

    In a recent conference address Tad R. Callister said, “As parents, we are to be the prime gospel teachers and examples for our children - not the bishop, the Sunday School, the Young Women or Young Men, but the parents. As their prime gospel teachers, we can teach them the power and reality of the Atonement - of their identity and divine destiny - and in so doing give them a rock foundation upon which to build.

    ...We might all ask ourselves: do our children receive our best spiritual, intellectual, and creative efforts, or do they receive our leftover time and talents...In the life to come, I do not know if titles such as bishop or Relief Society president will survive, but I do know that the titles of husband and wife, father and mother, will continue and be revered, worlds without end.”

    There are four practices that I find continually emphasized throughout church magazines, conference addresses and devotionals. If we would continually strengthen ourselves and our families we must be active participants in prayer, scripture study, temple attendance and family home evening. These things are mentioned with such frequency that sometimes we forget how vital they are to spiritual fortification.

    Sister Linda S. Reeves has taught: “Brother and sisters, how do we protect our children and youth? Filters are useful tools, but the greatest filter in the world, the only one that will ultimately work, is the personal internal filter that comes from a deep and abiding testimony of our Heavenly Father’s love and our Savior’s atoning sacrifice for each one of us…. How do we lead our children to deep conversion and to access our Savior’s atonement?...The answer that came was clear: It is OK if the house is a mess and the children are still in their pajamas and some responsibilities are left undone. The only things that really need to be accomplished in the home are daily scripture study and prayer and weekly family home evening….I must testify of the blessings of daily scripture study and prayer and weekly family home evening. These are the very practices that help take away stress, give direction to our lives, and add protection to our homes." 

    Suggestions for additional study: 

    They Twain Shall be One by Brent A. Barlow

    Why Marriage, Why Family by D. Todd Christofferson