In Elder Oaks’ Office
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?
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.