Back in 2002, we had a son serving his mission in Brazil, while the love of his life, Toni Venema, was simultaneously serving her mission in France. They had met at Snow College and timed their departures so their returns would coincide. Nobody knew for sure how it would all work out, but I was writing them both as I made the assumption (correctly) they would eventually rekindle their love and be sealed when they returned. In fact, that's exactly what happened as they became the very first sealing of the new year performed in the Salt Lake Temple on January 2nd in an early morning ceremony with my father performing the sealing.
It eventually proved to be a "double-dip match," because Toni's younger brother Tanner married Joe's younger sister Allie. We love those Venemas!
After graduation from the University of Utah with his DPM, Dr. Joe and Toni are now living with their two children in Kennewick, Washington, where Joe is plying his wares as a physical therapist at the local hospital. They are extraordinary people in every sense, and always have been.
I discovered a letter I had sent to both while they were serving as missionaries. In the spirit of General Conference this weekend, it seems appropriate to share some insights then that resonated with me this morning.
Joe and Toni:
I regret that I let another week slip by without writing to you. My thoughts and my life have been preoccupied with what I have been learning recently – I know, I’m just slow – there is still so much to learn, and I am learning it so late in life! I have to tell you that all the really important lessons in life seem to come too late. My most influential teachers have been Mom and all the children. I told Mom this weekend that she has BY FAR been the greatest influence for good in my life. There have been other influences, no doubt, but no one has made me desire to be a better person than she. That’s why I loved so much what President Packer said at the conclusion of his last General Conference talk [April 2002]:
President Boyd K. Packer
"When it comes to understanding our relationship with our Heavenly Father, the things my wife and I have learned as parents and grandparents that are of most worth knowing, we have learned from our children.
"This blessing has come to me as a gift from my wife. The Lord said of such women, '[A wife is given to a man] to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, and to fulfil the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world, and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men; for herein is the work of my Father continued, that he may be glorified' (D&C 132:63).
"With women such as this to be the mothers of children, we see why the Lord revealed 'that great things may be required at the hand of their fathers' (D&C 29:48)."
Elder Neal A. Maxwell
I was consumed last week with reading the new biography on Neal A. Maxwell’s life. It is titled A Disciple’s Life, and is inspiring beyond words. I want you to know the most important lesson I learned from the book – it is possible to be outstanding, excellent, even extraordinary (as Brother Maxwell certainly is) and simultaneously be meek and humble as a true disciple.
I guess I always resisted that notion as I was growing up and trying to find my place in the world, since all the examples I saw seemed to suggest that it was an “either/or” proposition. Not so with Brother Maxwell. His prodigious intellectual gifts gleaned in the fields of academia were consecrated upon the altar of sacrifice for the benefit of the kingdom (and consequently for all of us).
The book was an inspiring account of the progress of the Church over the last thirty years. At the core of his developmental discipleship was the foundation laid by his long list of mentors, including Grandfather Lee. He, along with his brethren in the leadership of the Church, it seems, have implemented the strategic vision for the Church that was established back in the late sixties and early seventies. We have been eyewitnesses to a glorious unfolding as the growth of the Church has been accommodated. It is the Twelve and the First Presidency who collectively establish that strategic vision for the Church, and Brother Maxwell’s biography gives ample evidence of all the details of that reality. The keys of the kingdom reside with the Twelve, and the First Presidency preside and execute that vision. I loved the book!
President Gordon B. Hinckley
I was also reading early this morning the comments of President Hinckley at the first graduation ceremonies at BYU-Idaho (formerly, Ricks College) since the transition to a four-year college. It caught my eye, because it seemed like such good counsel for all of us. He said, "My dear young friends, keep the faith with the best that is in you. You may not be a genius. You may not be exceptionally smart. But you can be good and you can try. And you will be amazed at what might happen when in faith you take a step forward."
Elder Henry B. Eyring
Elder Henry B. Eyring also spoke. He said, "First, wherever you may labor in life, give more than you take. Second, whoever is around you in life, find someone to help. And, third, ask God to multiply the power of your efforts to give and to help," he said.
President Hinckley expressed similar sentiments about helping others as a way of having faith in associates. He told graduates that they must work together with others in the world in order to accomplish things and they should embrace opportunities to help those around them. "You will have about you, throughout your lives, those who stumble and fall. You can lift them," he said.
President Hinckley gave examples of the temple presidency recently set apart for the LDS Lubbock Texas Temple as men who have kept their faith in the church while still excelling in various professions. He urged graduates to keep that same faith in the church, as well as in God. "Keep that humility which will cause you to get on your knees in prayer, in acknowledgment of his power and goodness," President Hinckley said. "He will not fail you."
I loved these lines from Elder Maxwell, also from last Conference, particularly in light of the ever-present frustration I note in each of your letters with regard to your consecrated labors among those who can’t seem to make the kind of progress you would like. Even you two tend to be hard on yourselves for how slow you seem to progress. Rest assured it is all part of the process:
"Many ignore consecration because it seems too abstract or too daunting. The conscientious among us [he’s speaking to both of you], however, experience divine discontent because of progression mixed with procrastination. Hence, loving counsel is given with the confirmation of this direction, encouragement to continue the journey, and consolation as we experience individually the inherent degrees of difficulty.
"Spiritual submissiveness is not accomplished in an instant, but by the incremental improvements and by the successive use of stepping-stones. Stepping-stones are meant to be taken one at a time anyway. Eventually our wills can be 'swallowed up in the will of the Father' as we are 'willing to submit. . . even as a child doth submit to his father' (see Mosiah 15:7; 3:19). Otherwise, though striving, we will continue to feel the world's prop wash and be partially diverted."
I am humbled continually as I observe your diligence and the obvious evidence of your consecrated efforts to bring souls to Christ. You are serving at a time in the world’s history when the challenges are the greatest. Imagine how difficult it must be to find Christ in a world so diverted with “prop wash.” We are not excused, nevertheless, from making the attempt as both of you do so magnificently in your various fields of labor. The opening of nations begins with the opening of one heart at a time as the gospel rolls forward on its destined course to someday fill the whole earth. And you get to participate your whole lives as Zion spreads forth across the world. How blessed are you?