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Helping families

Mormon counselors build lives ‘not after the manner of men’

Declaring the family to be at the heart of the Church, Elder Russell M. Nelson addressed a banquet audience on March 30 for the Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists, during which he and his wife, Sister Wendy Watson Nelson, were honored with the organization's Distinguished Service to Humanity Award.

Upon receiving plaques, Elder Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Sister Nelson addressed a gathering in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building on the last evening of the association's annual spring convention. Sister Nelson, who holds a doctorate in marriage and family therapy and who is a former professor in the School of Family Life at BYU, served on the association's board from 2002-2005.

In his remarks, Elder Nelson, who married Sister Nelson on April 6, 2006, expressed gratitude for the honor bestowed upon his wife. "For you to do that for one of your contemporaries is a very significant thing. Wendy and I both feel humbled to be receiving such an honor together."

In referring to the banquet's theme, "Matters of the Heart," Elder Nelson said that what matters to the leaders of the Church "is what is happening to the heart of the Church — the family."

Using as an analogy his work during his years as a cardiovascular surgeon, Elder Nelson said that when he was a medical student, "we were taught that one must never touch the beating heart because if you do it will stop beating."

However, as he began research with colleagues on an artificial heart/lung machine, he "started with the conviction that the scriptures were true and the truths from the scriptures would undergird all our research efforts."

Specifically, he referenced Doctrine and Covenants 130:20: "There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated," and Section 88, from which he learned that there are bounds and conditions to every law.

"From that scripture, I decided that the kingdom of my concern, mainly the beating heart, was a kingdom that was governed by law. If our research would ask the right questions, we would learn the specific laws relative to the kingdom of our concern."

Successful open-heart surgery was subsequently made possible, Elder Nelson added.

Then, in 1984, he was called as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. "Now I needed to learn how to touch the human heart in an entirely different fashion.... Just as scriptures undergirded my research in the development of cardiac surgery, so do they undergird my calling and Wendy's covenant to be my wife, my eternal help meet."

Continuing, he spoke of the gathering of Israel and of the sealing of families in holy temples, creating "celestial welding links." He then spoke of evidences of Satan's assaults on the family, including increases in divorce, out-of-wedlock pregnancies, fatherless homes, and the "highly contagious and dangerously destructive plague of pornography" sweeping the earth.

Against that backdrop, he spoke of the responsibilities of family counselors and therapists, who, by following the teachings of the "Good Shepherd" turn "the hearts of husbands to wives, wives to husbands, parents to children, children to parents.... There is a real sense of the divine in your vital work."

In her address, Sister Nelson also referred to Elder Nelson's medical training, including the early counsel, "Keep your hands off the heart."

"Think of what you do as Mormon counselors and psychotherapists; you put your hands on people's hearts," Sister Nelson declared, emphasizing, however, that their approach is "not after the manner of men."

"I often think how Nephi was told how to build a ship not after the manner of men. That's exactly what you are doing. You are building marriages, you are building lives, not after the manner of men."

Sister Nelson described a picture she had seen of an emerging monarch butterfly, its wings still wet from the struggle but ready to fly. However, in the background of the picture is an oncoming train. The caption said, "Unless you're in a proper environment, you can only progress so much."

The most important part of their environment, she told the audience members, is the presence of the Holy Spirit in their work.

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