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Standing strong as families stand together

Spectacle and splendor at interfaith conference of American Mothers

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For faithful parents who might feel under siege from societal forces threatening the family, there is strength in unity.

That message pervaded an interfaith conference hosted by American Mothers Inc. Sept. 13 in the Church's Conference Center in Salt Lake City.

President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, was the concluding speaker in an energetic 2 1/2-hour program of messages and music, splendor and spectacle, underscoring the theme "The American Family: Standing Together, Standing Strong." The Mormon Tabernacle Choir combined with the International Children's Choir and the Osmonds — Second Generation for musical presentations in the program, which also featured the Tongan Singers of Utah.

President Monson said that when the seas of life are stormy, a wise mariner seeks a port of peace. "The family, as we have traditionally known it, is such a refuge of safety."

He said that a "Back to Basics" formula might offer the solution to many problems and influences in society that stalk the traditional family.

He noted, "There seems to be the beginning in our society of a return to basic virtues, an appreciation of the value of the traditional family, whether large or small, whether young or old. It just may be that the world is sick of sin, discouraged by degradation and fed up with falsehoods. When true values and basic virtues overlay and undergird the families of society, hope will conquer despair, and faith will triumph over doubt.

"Such values, when learned and lived in our families, will be as welcome rain to parched soil. Love will be engendered, loyalty to one's best self enhanced and those virtues of character, integrity and goodness fostered. The family must hold its pre-eminent place in our way of life because it is the only possible base upon which a society of responsible human beings has ever found it practicable to build for the future and maintain the values they cherish in the present."

President Monson mentioned three of what he called "the many hallmarks of a happy home." The three were these: Take time to pray, step up to serve and reach out to rescue.

Take time to pray. "A prominent American judge was asked what we, as citizens of the countries of the world, could do to reduce crime and disobedience to law and to bring peace and contentment into our lives and into our nations. He thoughtfully replied, 'I would suggest a return to the old-fashioned practice of family prayer.'"

Step up to serve. President Monson said the finest example of service is found in the life of Jesus, who ministered among men, healed others, restored life, and taught love and compassionate understanding. "Well could He have been preparing us for our role in building a family," President Monson said.

Reach out to rescue. "On the journey along the pathway of life, there are casualties," he said. "Indifference, carelessness, selfishness and sin all take their costly toll in human lives. There are those who, for unexplained reasons, march to the sound of a different drummer, later to learn they have followed the Pied Piper of sorrow and suffering. Fractured families and shattered homes need the binding band — even the healing balm — of love."

He quoted an expression from a needlework item on the kitchen wall in his grandmother's home: "Choose your love. Love your choice." He then said, "Very often this takes compromise, forgiveness, perhaps apology. We must be committed to the success of our marriages and our families."

Father Val J. Peter, executive director of Girls and Boys Town in Omaha, Neb., was the keynote speaker. He is the the third successor to Father Edward J. Flanagan, the Catholic priest who 85 years ago founded Boys Town and whose work was portrayed in a classic movie by that name.

"There are two visions of life that are symbolically at war with each other in our society," Father Peter said. "There are individual people and there are family people."

The former, he explained, "have been taught that life is solitary and brief. It won't be much fun. You'll have a series of episodic relationships; that's all you'll have. What's their moral mandate? … It's a very sad thing: Explore your sexuality; pursue happiness for yourself; self-fulfillment is your goal. You don't ever need to become an adult, because you had no childhood, and there is no future."

By contrast, "family people" see the family as "the center of all human existence," and with such an outlook, happiness follows in the wake of pursuing family activities, he said.

Drawing upon a quotation from J.R.R. Tolkein's The Fellowship of the Ring, Father Peter said the task of nurturing children in a family must be undertaken by the "real heroes," the "little people of the world" who perform deeds that "move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere."

Barbara B. Smith, a former Relief Society general president and former president of American Mothers Inc., said: "Our goal is to work together to support and educate mothers so that we can better address the issues of the day as they affect the home and family. Our purpose is to strengthen the moral and spiritual foundations of the family and the home. Women of all religions must band together, for we know when religion is practiced in the home, it also aids the moral development of children."

Introduced by Sister Smith, Carole Gates of Las Vegas, Nev., National Young Mother of the Year, spoke of her family bringing their young son home from the hospital for the last Christmas of his life following treatment for leukemia. "His face lit up at the twinkling lights along the eaves," she said. "This small, very sick 2-year-old breathed out just one word: 'Home.' … How often we have been reminded that home is the foundation of society. No civilization ever prospered for long without strong homes and families. C.S. Lewis expressed it another way: 'Ships, railways, governments exist that people may be warm and safe in their own home. The homemaker's is the job for which all others exist.'"

Mervlyn Keapo Kitashima of Hawaii and National Mother of the Year urged mothers never to underestimate their power or take for granted the work they do in their homes, adding that they are engaged in strengthening the family "one smile, one hug, one ball game, one child at a time."

U.S. Sen. Robert F. Bennett of Utah, said, "I believe that He in whose image we were created believes in families, and that His purposes for each of us are best carried out in that institution which He created. . . . That which will endure into the eternities beyond governments, churches, institutions, charities and schools will be the institution of the family."

Suzanne Osmond, mother of the brothers who perform as The Osmonds — Second Generation, told of shopping in a store while her 8-month-old was sitting in the seat of the shopping cart, her 2-year-old inside the cart, and her 3- and 4-year-olds hanging on to the sides of the cart. "A woman approaching from the opposite direction shook her head and commented as she passed, 'Well I'm sure glad it's you and not me.' To which I quickly responded, 'Well, so am I!'

"Let's all remember that God is our employer; we are His employees, entrusted with His children, expected to teach, nurture and love them."

Her husband, Alan, eldest of the original performing Osmond Brothers who achieved fame in the pop music world, said he has counseled his family "to follow an ancient leader who said, 'Deny yourselves of all ungodliness' [Moroni 10:32]. We're living in that day when we need to deny ourselves of all ungodliness. Turn off the TV channel. Filter and be selective with your Internet. Change the music. Walk out of unacceptable entertainment. Deny yourselves. You have the power to choose."

Steve Young, well-known former BYU and NFL football star, addressed the conference and conducted the program. "I have asked myself, where has the confusion come from?" he said. "At what point did someone feel that deserting one's family for selfish desires was somehow justified? At what point did self-love replace the great truth of who to love first, making the love of family and mankind a secondary satisfaction? Why are some willing to think that 'it only takes a village' when the truth is it first takes a family? For when families make up the village, the village becomes safer and more desirable for every member of the family."

Musical highlights included the Tabernacle Choir and the Osmonds singing the children's song "My Thank You Prayer" and the choir performing the Natalie Sleeth composition "How Will They Know." Concluding the program, the choir and Osmond family joined in a Sam Cardon arrangement of "Love at Home."

The task of nurturing children in a family must be undertaken by the "real heroes" … "while the eyes of the great are elsewhere."