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: