Monday, June 8, 2015

The Power of FAMILY

Today missionaries and church employees who work in the Pacific Area Office were invited to gather together to view a recording of the funeral for an Apostle of God, Elder L. Tom Perry, who died last week at the age of 92.

Elder Perry was the second most senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the second highest governing body of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint,  having been called to the position in 1974 at the age of 52.  (Once called, apostles serve for life).

   (See LDS Leadership and Organization Page for list of names and biographies)
Elder Perry has spoken at nearly every general conference for all of the 33 years that I have been active in church. I will so miss his voice and special perspective.  
In our most recent conference this past April, Elder Perry gave a powerful talk : "Why Marriage and Family Matter--Everywhere in the World".  In that talk he said "Family is the center of life and is the key to eternal happiness."   He pointed out that "The entire theology of our restored gospel centers on families and on the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe in a premortal life where we all lived as literal spirit children of God our Heavenly Father. We believe that we were, and still are, members of His family."
For many years of my college teaching career I taught courses on the Sociology of the Family and for a while a course in Marriage and Family Living.  So I have studied a lot of academic analysis about various family forms and how they relate to one another.

When I think of family, I of course think about my own tribe, in all its many incarnations.

My family of orientation is the family I grew up in:

Family of Don and Nancy Pendley in 1963

My family of procreation is the family I parented and reared

Ours is also a blended family since Elder Bennett and I each had children from previous marriages.  Ours never all lived together in the same house, but they all co-mingled in our hearts.  No matter who came from him and who came from me, they are all our kids and each and every one of them are part of who we are.


Then there is my extended family, made up of aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews, cousins, and inlaws, grandparents and grandchildren - looping all through the generations.
Pendley sibs with Spouses - 2010
5 generations of my family, from my sons to my great grandmother
Pendley Clan in Oak Creek, AZ 2013

As a Family History Missionary,  the whole focus of my service is wrapped up in the power of honoring both the roots and branches of family -  teaching the importance of learning all we can about the generations that have gone before us and building strong, loving ties with the generations coming up. 

The family of Aola Urade Krebs and Alta Geneva Booton - the little boy with the curly hair is my Grandpa, Louis Krebs

                                                              A Gaggle of Grandkids!

Our family, like many these days, is no smooth and simple line for genealogy charts.

According to The Encyclopedia of New Zealand in the Maori language "Whānau is often translated as ‘family’, but its meaning is more complex. It includes physical, emotional and spiritual dimensions and is based on whakapapa. Whānau can be multi-layered, flexible and dynamic. "

That makes perfect sense to me - My Whānau includes a child who transitioned from one generation to another by adoption, and a young man who lived with us for a time with no formal legal claim to help him finish school who almost never communicated with us again once he graduated. Then there are my sons' former spouses and the children of my children's former spouse's new spouse, and the grandparents of a child with no blood tie to either myself or my husband who nevertheless is a very much a special part of our tribe known to us as our great-grandson.   In one family group there are children from multiple biological lineages.  In another family backflip the wife of my husband's son is the daughter of his ex-wife's second husband's third wife.How is that for complicated? 

Family is seldom simple.  Ours most certainly is not. 



I've given much thought to how much I identify myself by my various relationships to my family.

I've heard it said before that "no mother can be happier than her saddest child".  I used to believe that was true.  I've spent countless hours on my knees, tossing and turning in sleepless nights, or simply weeping for the struggles my various kids have had to face at one time or another over the years. No matter how rich the blessings of my own life might be, I would carry a constant pilot light of concern and worry over whatever was going on in their lives. The same was true of my siblings, and even a lot of my cousins.  I used to measure how much I loved them all by the degree to which their pain became my pain, their joys my joys.

I no longer choose that way of relating to my family members.

I still care deeply for each and every one of our tangle of progeny and extended kin.  But I have learned to let go a bit more.  I have not backed off in my affections one iota.  But I have learned to accept that they each have their own journey to discover.  My grieving and worrying will not help them.   So instead, these days I try to simply love them all and send energy from a position of strength and joy, even when their own lives may be tumbling all akimbo or the stresses of the world are wearing them down. Some I talk with (or write to) on a regular basis.  Some I go for long periods with little if any contact.  A few I have not spoken with in years. Nevertheless,  they are my FAMILY, and they mean the world to me.

So as we watch the funeral services of L.Tom Perry who was such a champion of strong, loving families, I was reminded all over again about the importance of staying connected and close, even when I'm very far away.

Just because I no longer want to have my heart wracked with worry over every little bump any of my kids or sibs might face most definitely does NOT mean I want to turn off the faucet of concern for them.  Loving with boundaries is all about balance.  I won't always get it right.  Far from it.  But the thing about family is that even when we stumble, even when we pull too close or push too far away, the bonds remain.  Sometimes there are misunderstandings.  Sometimes there are rough patches or even huge rifts.  But with prayerful, deliberate effort, we find our way back to each other as best we can.  We each decide the meaning we will give to these relationships we share.  Choosing to love ferociously these people whose attitudes, values, beliefs, behavior and lifestyles are in some cases miles apart from my own can be complicated business.  But they are my clan, my tribe, my Whānau, and I would not have it any other way.

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