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Cover image: Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf during his boyhood (far right) via Church Newsroom.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women in homes and in neighborhoods? Will what happened in cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling than what happened in congresses?”
The men and women who help build the Kingdom of God from positions of leadership have certainly been shaped by the sound of lullabies and what happened in cradles and kitchens. Many have even shared specific examples of their mothers’ influence in General Conference. In honor of this upcoming Mother’s Day, here are some of the most memorable stories Church Leaders have shared about their mothers:
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf Shares How His Mother Retained Hope in Wartime
It’s often said that a person’s true character is revealed in times of crisis. As a child growing up in Western Europe during World War II, Elder Uchtdorf was able to observe his mother’s strength of character in many trying circumstances. He shared one such experience in his talk, “The Infinite Power of Hope”, given in October 2008:
Toward the end of World War II, my father was drafted into the German army and sent to the western front, leaving my mother alone to care for our family. Though I was only three years old, I can still remember this time of fear and hunger. We lived in Czechoslovakia, and with every passing day, the war came nearer and the danger grew greater.
Finally, during the cold winter of 1944, my mother decided to flee to Germany, where her parents were living. She bundled us up and somehow managed to get us on one of the last refugee trains heading west. Traveling during that time was dangerous. Everywhere we went, the sound of explosions, the stressed faces, and ever-present hunger reminded us that we were in a war zone.
Along the way the train stopped occasionally to get supplies. One night during one of these stops, my mother hurried out of the train to search for some food for her four children. When she returned, to her great horror, the train and her children were gone!
She was weighed down with worry; desperate prayers filled her heart. She frantically searched the large and dark train station, urgently crisscrossing the numerous tracks while hoping against hope that the train had not already departed.
Perhaps I will never know all that went through my mother’s heart and mind on that black night as she searched through a grim railroad station for her lost children. That she was terrified, I have no doubt. I am certain it crossed her mind that if she did not find this train, she might never see her children again. I know with certainty: her faith overcame her fear, and her hope overcame her despair. She was not a woman who would sit and bemoan tragedy. She moved. She put her faith and hope into action.
And so she ran from track to track and from train to train until she finally found our train. It had been moved to a remote area of the station. There, at last, she found her children again.
I have often thought about that night and what my mother must have endured. If I could go back in time and sit by her side, I would ask her how she managed to go on in the face of her fears. I would ask about faith and hope and how she overcame despair.
I can’t help but think that in similar circumstances, I would be tempted to just plop down in that train station and cry rather than continue and persist in searching even when all hope seemed lost. Elder Uchtdorf went on to say of his mother:
The example of our mother, even in the worst of times, to move forward and put faith and hope into action, not just worrying or wishful thinking, sustained our family and me and gave confidence that present circumstances would give way to future blessings.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson’s Mother Puts An End to His Life of Crime
In an address called “Moral Discipline” given in October of 2009, Elder D. Todd Christofferson shared an experience that many of us can relate to and may have even been through ourselves. Many of us go through an early criminal phase and it is often through the influence of a righteous mother that we can quickly get back on course:
I can share with you a simple example from my own life of what parents can do. When I was about five or six years old, I lived across the street from a small grocery store. One day two other boys invited me to go with them to the store. As we stood coveting the candy for sale there, the older boy grabbed a candy bar and slipped it into his pocket. He urged the other boy and me to do the same, and after some hesitation we did. Then we quickly left the store and ran off in separate directions. I found a hiding place at home and tore off the candy wrapper. My mother discovered me with the chocolate evidence smeared on my face and escorted me back to the grocery store. As we crossed the street, I was sure I was facing life imprisonment. With sobs and tears, I apologized to the owner and paid him for the candy bar with a dime that my mother had loaned me (which I had to earn later). My mother’s love and discipline put an abrupt and early end to my life of crime.
Sister Elaine S. Dalton’s Mother Knows “Who She Is and Whose She Is”
In her April 2013 address, “We Are Daughters of Our Heavenly Father”, Sister Dalton shares how her mother’s quiet example had a profound effect on her. Though she was a widow for more than half of her life, she was unwavering in her commitment to and belief in the Lord’s covenant promises to her:
Her life was not what she had planned. Her husband, my father, passed away when he was 45, leaving her with three children—me and my two brothers. She lived 47 years as a widow. She supported our family by teaching school during the day and teaching piano lessons at night. She cared for her aging father, my grandfather, who lived next door. She made sure that each of us received a college education. In fact, she insisted on it so that we could be “contributors.” And she never complained. She kept her covenants, and because she did, she called down the powers of heaven to bless our home and to send miracles. She relied on the power of prayer, priesthood, and covenant promises. She was faithful in her service to the Lord. Her steadfast devotion steadied us, her children. She often repeated the scripture: “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.”4 That was her motto, and she knew it was true. She understood what it meant to be a covenant keeper. She was never recognized by the world. She didn’t want that. She understood who she was and whose she was—a daughter of God. Indeed, it can be said of our mother that she acted well her part.
The Note From His Mother that President Gordon B. Hinckley Never Forgot
The letter from President Hinckley’s father that brought him encouragement and hope in the midst of a difficult season of his missionary service has become almost iconic in the minds of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but many may not realize that long before that his mother wrote a letter that would also change his approach to life forever. In a talk given in April 1993 entitled, “Some Lessons I Learned as a Boy”, President Hinckley shared how when the time came to move from the 6th grade into a new building for middle school, the building couldn’t accommodate them and they were sent back to their old school:
We were insulted. We were furious. We’d spent six unhappy years in that building, and we felt we deserved something better. The boys of the class all met after school. We decided we wouldn’t tolerate this kind of treatment. We were determined we’d go on strike.
The next day we did not show up. But we had no place to go. We couldn’t stay home, because our mothers would ask questions. We didn’t think of going downtown to a show. We had no money for that. We didn’t think of going to the park. We were afraid we might be seen by Mr. Clayton, the truant officer. We didn’t think of going out behind the school fence and telling shady stories because we didn’t know any. We’d never heard of such things as drugs or anything of the kind. We just wandered about and wasted the day.
The next morning, the principal, Mr. Stearns, was at the front door of the school to greet us. His demeanor matched his name. He said some pretty straightforward things and then told us that we could not come back to school until we brought a note from our parents. That was my first experience with a lockout. Striking, he said, was not the way to settle a problem. We were expected to be responsible citizens, and if we had a complaint, we could come to the principal’s office and discuss it.
There was only one thing to do, and that was to go home and get the note.
I remember walking sheepishly into the house. My mother asked what was wrong. I told her. I said that I needed a note. She wrote a note. It was very brief. It was the most stinging rebuke she ever gave me. It read as follows:
“Dear Mr. Stearns,
“Please excuse Gordon’s absence yesterday. His action was simply an impulse to follow the crowd.”
She signed it and handed it to me.
I walked back over to school and got there about the same time a few other boys did. We all handed our notes to Mr. Stearns. I do not know whether he read them, but I have never forgotten my mother’s note. Though I had been an active party to the action we had taken, I resolved then and there that I would never do anything on the basis of simply following the crowd. I determined then and there that I would make my own decisions on the basis of their merits and my standards and not be pushed in one direction or another by those around me.
That decision has blessed my life many times, sometimes in very uncomfortable circumstances. It has kept me from doing some things which, if indulged in, could at worst have resulted in serious injury and trouble, and at the best would have cost me my self-respect.
How President Henry B. Eyring’s Mother Grew to Know and Love the Savior
Before a “home-centered, Church-supported” curriculum was formalized, President Eyring’s mother taught him through both her example and her teaching the importance of the Savior and who He is to us. In a talk given in October of 2000, he shared the following:
There was a picture of the Savior on the bedroom wall where my mother was bedridden in the years before she died. She had put it there because of something her cousin Samuel O. Bennion had told her. He had traveled with an Apostle who described seeing the Savior in a vision. Elder Bennion gave her that print, saying that it was the best portrayal he had ever seen of the Master’s strength of character. So she framed it and placed it on the wall where she could see it from her bed.
She knew the Savior, and she loved Him. I had learned from her that we do not close in the name of a stranger when we approach our Father in prayer. I knew from what I had seen of her life that her heart was drawn to the Savior from years of determined and consistent effort to serve Him and to please Him. I knew the scripture was true which warns, “For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?” (Mosiah 5:13).
Years after my mother and father are gone, the words “in the name of Jesus Christ” are not casual for me, either when I say them or when I hear others say them. We must serve Him to know the Master’s heart. But we also must pray that Heavenly Father will answer our prayers in our hearts as well as in our minds (see Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:10; Heb. 10:16; and 2 Cor. 3:3).