In Elder Oaks’ Office

[ 20 ] Comments

by jendoop

Fifteen years ago my father-in-law was called to be a mission president. Well in advance we knew the day that he would be set apart by an apostle. As that day waited on the calendar I couldn’t quite believe it – I would meet an apostle! As it drew closer, however, the day was obscured by more immediate and personal concerns.

Our daughter was three years old and we had hoped for another child for a year when I finally did the happy dance with a positive pregnancy test in my hand. Excited to be pregnant at last, I told everyone, especially when nausea overwhelmed me.

At last it was time for the doctor appointment where I’d hear the baby’s heartbeat. While lying on the table with my smallish belly covered in cold goo the doctor couldn’t find a heartbeat. While assuring me that things were fine, he called the ultrasound office at the hospital next door. My husband met me there where it was confirmed: our baby was dead. I went home to let nature take its course, completely oblivious to that approaching date on the calendar, my chance to meet an apostle.

Over the next few days my body and heart seemed to turn inside out. There was nothing I wanted to do after the worst was over; I anticipated many hours in bed, crying. Then my husband answered the phone and his parents reminded him of the appointment at Elder Oaks’ office the next day.

A few details stand out from that difficult, yet exciting day. I wore a white muumuu-like dress. I don’t know why, because my preoccupying thought was worrying that I’d have a big bloody spot on my white dress before the day was over.

We were shown in to wait for Elder Oaks and I looked around to see if there was anything that would tell me more about him. What kind of man is an apostle of God? What does an apostle want to look at all day in his office? Would he be kind if I left a spot on the chair I uncomfortably sat on?

Maynard Dixon (1934) Forgotten Man
Brigham Young University Collection

On the wall directly across from Elder Oaks’ desk, where he would see it every time he looked up from his desk, was a painting by Maynard Dixon: Forgotten Man. It depicts a dejected man sitting on a curb with people walking behind him. Knowing the time period when Dixon worked, I knew that this was a typical scene from the Great Depression. The fact that Elder Oaks chose this painting for his office told me that he wanted to remember the forgotten man – he did not want to forget any of God’s children in his work as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. (It also told me that he has good taste in art.)

This was a big day for my mother- and father-in-law and there was very little talk of my ordeal, even though there were many knowing looks and hugs from the family. Another detail, that I don’t like to remember, is how hard I tried to forget what I had been through. It resisted, instead stubbornly occupying my thoughts. My thoughts were completely self-centered; I wished for an opportunity to tell Elder Oaks what I was suffering, to receive a blessing or emotional healing from God’s special witness. In the end I just didn’t have it in me to ask. Instead I tried to shrink and focused on getting back to my bed while watching the beautiful blessings and assurances my in-laws received in preparation for the hardest job they would ever have.

After Elder Oaks’ talk in this week’s General Conference about the world’s responsibility to children, that day in his office came back to me. Now I regret not asking for a blessing, because I see that he would not have thought me silly to be so distraught over the loss of my tiny baby.

Since that day I’ve had 3 more children and have been a foster parent. I’ve wondered why the church has not been more encouraging of members becoming involved in community services, such as foster parenting, throughout the world. Today Elder Oaks gave the talk I’ve been waiting for, without my watching the calendar. His protective and loving attitude towards children is the same sense I felt in seeing “Forgotten Man” in his office. Elder Oaks has not forgotten about the least in the kingdom of God. This is the talk that I can share with my foster parent friends, with social workers, with anyone who has a passion for helping children. I hate that we live in a world where this talk is even necessary, but I am extremely grateful to belong to the Church that has apostles to give it.

About jendoop

Jen writes, reads, paints, walks, prays, eats and sleeps. Paul is her co-conspirator in teaching these skills to 4 children.

20 Responses to In Elder Oaks’ Office

  1. Wonderdog says:

    I’m sure that if Uncle Dallin had known what was happening in your life, he would have gladly given you a blessing. If appropriate, he would have given you a fatherly hug. He testifies of Christ by showing Christ-like love.

  2. Miscarriage is such a hard thing to go through! It is so personal and heartbreaking and different for each woman. It also isn’t talked about as much as it could be.

    As far as the church encouraging members to be more involved in community services, I think it depends on where you live. In our area it is a big thing! There have been firesides and talks about it, flyers hung up on bulletin boards and passed around with the Sacrament meeting programs, etc. The second counselor in our bishopric and his family just adopted a little girl they had through foster care. It is a yearly tradition for the Relief Society, Young Women, and Activity Day girls in our ward to do a service project for the community Safe House and teen foster girls.

    • jendoop says:

      Thank you for sharing all of those ways the church in your area serves the community, maybe it can spark ideas for leaders who see your comment. It also makes me happy to think of all those children who are blessed by the service there. Every little bit counts!

      Thank you for your kindness about the miscarriage. I wish it was talked about more too. Previous to my miscarriage I didn’t think any of my family members had been through it, afterwards many came to me in private to share grief. It almost seems to have a stigma. Maybe it’s just so tender that it’s hard for women to talk about openly.

  3. Thanks for the story.

    I agree that, in general, community service isn’t emphasized, at least in the last 3 wards I’ve been in. We pale when compared to the amount of community service other churches do.

    • jendoop says:

      It seems as though some places are better than others. When I lived in a small branch it seemed all we could do to get everyone to church and bread for sacrament. In the stake I live now we recently made care kits for the local foster agency. It was a project I was thrilled to support!

  4. Howard says:

    Unfortunately these problems continue to exist even within the LDS world community despite very affordable solutions “It costs only $50 a year to provide nutrition to a malnourished child in an LDS stake in Ecuador, Guatemala, or Peru.” Dr. Brad Walker, who founded and operates the Liahona Children Foundation, offers these sobering numbers: “We estimate 80,000 active LDS children suffer from chronic malnutrition, and about 900 die from malnutrition each year.” How can this be given Elder Oaks’ position and the very substantial resources of the church he represents?

    Hopefully the church’s forth mission fold will eventually turn this needless loss of life around for both member and nonmember children worldwide!

    • jendoop says:

      Howard,
      More can be done and I believe that is the goal. But one man does not a church make, even a man as good as Elder Oaks. The church has many efforts worthy of their attention and money. I believe this problem is not just about throwing money, it is about changing the world so that we all serve each other, aware of the needs around us. It is about spreading the gospel throughout every corner of the world and through the depths of our hearts.

      I had a friend who was very concerned when she learned about the plight of women in India. She found a site where bracelets could be bought to support those women. When she presented the idea to our bookgroup we agreed that we’d take a look at the site. It wasn’t enough for her. She was inflamed that I wouldn’t hold a party in my home or heavily lobby my neighbors to become involved. Little did she know that my resources were being maxed out by being a foster parent. While being passionate about the causes we hold dear, we need to retain compassion for the person who is sitting next to us. Compassion and charity have many faces.

      Thank you for mentioning a foundation which is helping with the problem. We do far more to change the world by supporting good organizations like the Liahona Children’s Foundation and the LDS Church’s Humanitarian Aid than we do by tearing each other down.

      • Howard says:

        I’m sorry you had a bad experience with your friend, it must have been uncomfortable in an ironic way. However I do believe the world can be improved by agitating for change particularly when the target of change is a conservative institution because by definition these organizations revere and strongly attempt to preserve the status quo. When this means preserving something good, great! But when it means preserving something defective they benefit from outside help in the form of agitation to change. OD1 & 2 are examples of the church resisting change but finally bending to significant agitation.

  5. jendoop says:

    We are talking about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, led by Jesus Christ himself. It is not just some “conservative institution.” The Church is led by a prophet of God. Official Declaration 1 & 2 came about through revelation directly to God’s chosen prophet, not from “significant agitation”.

    Obviously you are entitled to your opinion Howard but let me remind you that this is a forum of faith. Under the “Conversation” tab above you’ll find this: “5. This isn’t an introduction to Mormonism class. We aren’t here to debate the foundational precepts of our faith. We are believing members who are discussing ways to increase our reach, improve our discipleship, and sustain one another. While we may grapple with basic issues, it is in a spirit of faith and belief, not doubt or disputation.”

    • Howard says:

      Jendoop,
      Respectfully, I have no desire to bump up against your moderation policy unless Pollyanna cotton candy comments are required to participate here. I have a very strong personal testimony of the gospel and I walk daily in the Spirit. The fact is President Hinckley didn’t seem to have much of a problem with the concept of church related agitation, so I’m surprised you do. The word agitation in this usage came from him and he implied a somewhat acceptable relationship to change within the church when he used it publicly. Are you denying any relationship between the agitation of the US Government by seizing church assets and OD1? How about the agitation of the civil rights movement and OD2. Just to be clear, I’m not arguing the brethren made these revelations up, I’m suggesting that agitation of this magnitude has the effect of motivating prophets (who are also men) to seek specific revelation (some of which they may personally disagree with and by their own descriptions can be months of work) . Also; “led by Jesus Christ himself” or not we all know prophets are also men and the church as an organization is partly a result of this. I meant no offense by calling the church a conservative institution, but do some research, it clearly meets that definition in many respects, it certainly isn’t a liberal organization! Is there something wrong with adding to Elder Oaks’ comments by suggesting that we as a church prevent member and nonmember children from dying of malnutrition? It is certainly relevant to his topic.

      • Paul says:

        Howard, I think that you are correct regarding OD1 — Wilford Woodruff said as much as he queried the Lord about how to cope with the intrusion of the government on the church and the lives of its members.

        As for OD2, I think there is less of a straight line. Clearly history shows that various of the brethren held different views during that difficult time in US history, as evidenced by the recent biography of President McKay. At the same time, we know from that same account and others the President McKay petitioned the Lord, unwilling to move without His approval, and repeatedly had the answer that it was not yet time. Even so, he took measures to extend priesthood blessings as liberally as possible within the confines of the ban.

        President Kimball’s biographers make clear of his own experience with the divine as it related to the matter. Both Prince (McKay’s biographer) and Kimball (Kimball’s biographer) indicate that President Kimball’s feelings had been around for some time. Whether they were coincident with the civil rights movement and other agitation is not clear.

        The risk of attributing revelation solely to agitation (and I’m not saying that’s what you’ve done, but one might infer it from your comment) is to suggest that the prophets are incapable of receiving direction without an external stimulus. I personally reject that notion.

        That it raises the question of the role of the agitator in the church is another matter, clearly beyond the subject matter of this post.

        I’m not quite sure of your motivation in raising the specific issue of Andean children. To be sure the church is anxiously engaged in caring for children the world over in a variety of ways, from digging wells and providing immunizations in Africa to assisting the improvement of agricultural techniques in Central America.

  6. Howard says:

    Paul,
    Well I brought it up because Elder Oaks’ talk encourages is to increase our concern for the welfare of children. So my concern is increasing. Even member children are dying. Why? …the church is anxiously engaged in caring for children the world over in a variety of ways, from digging wells and providing immunizations in Africa to assisting the improvement of agricultural techniques in Central America. Great! But…is it enough compared to the need? Is it enough compared to the available resources? Obviously it isn’t enough if 80,000 member children face malnutrition and 900 die from it each year!

  7. Bonnie says:

    I’m going to assume that this discussion is occurring out of a genuine intent to grow personally (because that is what we are about here), and ask this point-blank question. Whose problem is it when people suffer? We are daily able to do something about the suffering of others, and it’s the most important test of our lives. We are quick to demand that those in power erase the burdens of those who suffer, because that suffering makes us wince. We should wince, but then we should ask what we can do personally instead of demanding that others do something. It’s a crucial difference. One makes us carping and contentious, and the other crafts of us Saviors on Mount Zion. Nonprofit agencies have known for years that you cannot sweep in and cure the ills of a society. The people who own the society must have a voice in their cure or it is impermanent. It is the height of hubris to assume that we always know best. Still, we are accountable for what we can do, and it is the work of our lives to figure out *what* to do.

    • Howard says:

      I don’t know, that may sound great to you to turn it around like that but honestly who has a greater ability to identify and end LDS members facing malnutrition? A single member or the church with all of it’s financial and organizational resources and ability to train and place missionaries in so many countries? I would say the church and I would rather ask who as an individual is doing more to solve this? The critic or the silent faithful member who doesn’t want to hear about any of this?

      • Bonnie says:

        Howard, I don’t think we’ve well explained the intent of our site. There are a host of places in which we can debate online. This isn’t one. Real Intent is established as a forum for discussion that extends the exploratory tone of a Sunday School not the challenging tone of a political debate. I think we’re done.

  8. MSKeller says:

    Jen,

    What a difficult time to experience and to remember. I’m sure there are many regrets and lingering pain. I think that sometimes life is like that so that we don’t become calloused or too comfortable. I know that my memory of my own pain makes me more kind to others, more aware of their humanness and potential difficulties.

    I loved Elder Oaks talk. There was so much in there for me, individually. So many places I can re-evaluate my place, my understanding and where I can and want to contribute differently. Thank you.

  9. Hedgehog says:

    It takes me a while to digest the posts, and respond, ditto conference talks.
    I don’t feel you should regret not having asked for a blessing. Firstly, I’ve always understood that there is the Priesthood (Aaronic, Melchizedek), but that the offices within those are just that: specific roles and responsibilities for which a person is given keys when ordained to that office. All Melchizedek Priesthood holders are able (dependent on worthiness) to give a blessing. It isn’t something confined to a particular office. So far as I was aware Apostle isn’t a separate Priesthood, it’s the same Priesthood (but maybe one of the guys on here could confirm or correct that view, Priesthood instruction in YW/RS isn’t exhaustive). I guess I’ve always had a hard time wondering why some think that a blessing from the bishop, stake president or a GA would be better than one from a husband or father (where that choice is available) who knows us better. Secondly, I think it is nice for your in-laws that that event was just for them, in spite of what might have been going on in the lives of everyone else who was there at the time. I write from a position of having suffered a miscarriage, and having to continue as normal, with pre-arranged events involving other people the following day (New Year). I do understand it is easy to look back and think maybe something else would have helped in a given situation, and often it can be true and we can learn. But in this case, I think you did the right thing…

    On Elder Oaks talk. I’m still processing. It was chock full of information. I felt like I was listening to the notes of a brainstorming session or mind-map of ‘everything that is wrong with the world as it relates to children’. At some point I’ll probably get to the part of the process where I work through how I need to use that information in my own life, but I’m not there yet. I need to read through a few more times I think. It’s nice to read a positive response to the talk though, so thank you for that.

    • MSKeller says:

      I’m with you. I ‘sit with things’ for awhile before I really know what I feel/ think. I re-listen, re-read. I loved Elder Oaks talk frankly, but I too need to figure out what that means on a personal action-level. Thanks for your thoughts.

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