Occasionally I go back, collect the last decade or so of talks by a particular general authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and read through them to get a better sense of that particular leader's life and ministry. Each time I have done this, I find it profoundly affects my understanding of them, and hence of the gospel.
While Hyrum is sick and I watch him at home during church, I found the time to do this for Elder M. Russel Ballard, the 6th most senior apostle in his 25th year of service. He is the grandson of an earlier apostle, Melvin J. Ballard, and is descended from Hyrum Smith, Joseph's brother, for whom our Hyrum is named. He used to be a Ford dealer and businessman.
Elder Ballard served on the missionary committee for years, only to be transferred to the public relations committee. This is kind of like me telling Joy to take a break from being a mother (by which I would mean, let me have a turn playing with .. er, taking care of Hyrum) and do some housework instead. It's all the same thing - you're just working with different people.
Anyway, when Elder Ballard gets up to speak at General Conference, I prepare myself for a missionary talk. There's good reason. Oct 2001 he gave us advice on how to be better member missionaries by removing the phrases "nonmember" and "non-Mormon" from our vocabulary, to be replaced by "neighbor." Here are the next several titles: "The greatest generation of missionaries," The essential role of member missionary work," "Let our voices be heard" by sharing the gospel in all media formats, and so forth.
This means he has been surprising me nearly every conference for 5 years. What has he been talking about lately? Mostly about families. Yes, there was one talk about sharing brief statements with people who ask us for a little information about the church. But in that talk, he discussed the importance of families as part of that information. Last conference, it was about the relationships of fathers and sons. He's spoken about finding fulfillment in motherhood, about teaching our children, about learning from the generations before us... There's been a lot of family going on, actually. "What matters most is what lasts longest."
For the most part, he focuses in on practical advice to help our families be more close-knit, trusting, loving, and successful:
Sons: Trust your father, take an interest in his life, and ask for his advice.
Fathers: Listen to your sons, pray with and for them, have the "big talks."
Mothers: Recognize that the joy of motherhood comes in moments, don't overschedule yourselves or your children, but do find time for yourself. "We love you. We respect you and appreciate your influence..."
Husbands: Show appreciation for mom, counsel with her about the children, give her a "day away," be actively involved in the family.
Church leaders: don't overplan Mom, reduce the workload on families
Children: Help out without being asked, say thank you, tell Mom you love her.
Single guys: Date and court. Don't rush, but be active about it.
And what about courting his own wife? “I met her at the University of Utah ‘Hello Day Dance.’ A friend of mine thought I ought to meet her, so he tagged in to dance with her, danced over to where I was, introduced me, and I danced with her thirty seconds before I was tagged out. That was the beginning of a courtship of eleven months. She was not only beautiful, but had a sparkling personality. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to marry her, but she didn’t share the same feelings. It was a little hard convincing her. I kid her now that getting her to agree to marry me was the greatest sales job I ever did,” said Elder Ballard. That sounds remarkably familiar..... (Hat tip to 'Grandpa Bill')
I need to update my expectations.