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Baby Sister

By Melissa McQuarrie

levysI was fourteen when my youngest sister, Charlotte, was born. Because my mother birthed her at home, I saw her when she was just seconds old and watched my father cut her cord, bundle her in a blanket, and hand her to my mother. When she cried her first soft cry, I fell in love on the spot. I couldn’t wait to come home from school so I could hold her and kiss the top of her head. I appointed myself as her second mother; some nights I lay awake in my bedroom, just below hers, listening for her cries and worrying that she’d stopped breathing. As she grew, I babysat her, played with her, and sometimes toted her along to my friends’ houses. I wrote down in my journal every cute thing she said, delighted in her curls and her cornflower blue eyes and the way she toddled around the house with her arms in the air when she first learned to walk.

I left for BYU when Charlotte was three. When Charlotte was eight, my mother struggled with her testimony and my parents’ marriage unraveled; by the time Charlotte was fourteen, my mother had stopped going to church, and so had Charlotte and my second-youngest sister, Shannon, leaving me, my father, and two other siblings still active in the Church. In the ensuing years, as I married and started my own family, I grieved over and worried about my mother and sisters’ church inactivity so much that I distanced myself and focused instead on my own growing family.

Yes, I  had some spiritual maturing to do.

In the meantime, Charlotte met Dave—a kind, loving, good man who we all grew to love. On Charlotte’s wedding day, I helped her fasten up her curls and button her white satin dress, then watched her walk down a rose-strewn path to make her vows, my baby sister suddenly grown up. Then I returned to my family in Utah, while Charlotte and Dave settled in California. A couple of years later Charlotte had her first son, Sam, her own curly-headed baby. Soon she was calling me for advice on colic and fevers and teething, and we grew close again as I helped nurture her in her new role as mother. Our families visited; my children delighted in their new little cousin. Shannon and I rekindled our relationship, as well, as she began a career and raised a daughter. I was learning to let go of my anxiety over my mother and sisters’ choices and embrace my family again.

That was a miracle in itself, but there were more to come. Shortly after Charlotte’s second son, Finn, was born, Charlotte’s father-in-law died and Sam wanted to know where his grandpa had gone. “I don’t know how to answer him,” Charlotte told me. So we talked about the plan of salvation; I sent her some Primary manuals and church DVDs, encouraged her to start praying. She told me she wanted to raise her boys with religion and was considering attending a Christian church nearby. “Why not check out our church first, since it’s the religion you were baptized into?” I suggested, trying to sound casual. And then I prayed, prayed, prayed. Around that time my mother, who had been inactive for nearly twenty years, started going back to church at her visiting teacher’s encouragement, and that got Charlotte thinking about religion, as well.

To make a very long story short, within six months Charlotte and Dave were attending sacrament meeting with their boys. Under the guidance of an inspired bishop, their ward gently nurtured them along. Charlotte was called to be a Beehive teacher, then a counselor in the YW presidency. Dave eventually started staying after sacrament meeting to attend Sunday School with Charlotte, while Sam and Finn went to primary and the nursery. And of course the missionaries got involved—when Dave was ready. And all the while I prayed for my sister and her husband, prayed for the ward members and the missionaries, put Dave and Charlotte’s names on the temple prayer roll, organized family fasts. I felt my own faith blossom as I learned to trust, once again, in the conversion process. And, as Charlotte sought my help in preparing her YW lessons and her first sacrament meeting talk, I felt the Lord’s love for her and for me and the Spirit whisper to us both as I taught her about the Godhead, the Atonement, the First Vision and the Book of Mormon, temple marriage, and the priesthood. I was watching my sister learn how to walk all over again, this time spiritually.

Although I served a mission, helping Charlotte rediscover the gospel has been the most joyful missionary experience I’ve ever had. But, I’ve grown to realize that had she never come back to church, I would have loved her just the same. My sister Shannon is still uninterested in the Church, but I’ve learned to trust that the Lord guides us—myself included—through the twists and turns in our lives and that ultimately, all will be well. In the meantime, I pray for Shannon’s happiness, delight in her company, and love her deeply.

Last month, my husband, children, and I flew to California to attend Dave’s baptism. As I stood to give the talk on the Holy Ghost after Dave was baptized, I looked out over that crowded room, full of the many people who had worked so hard for this day. I saw the bishop, and the ward members who had loved and fellowshipped Dave and Charlotte. I saw the several sets of missionaries who had taught Dave so tirelessly, coming week after week after week. I saw my family—my mother wiping her eyes—my siblings, my father, my husband and children. I saw Sam and Finn, swinging their legs and grinning, excited to be with their cousins. And Dave and Charlotte on the front row, Dave newly clean and smiling, Charlotte holding his hand and weeping silently. A room filled with joy and love and the Spirit. I smiled at my baby sister and began to speak, hoping to find the words.

Do you have a family member who is less active? What has helped you deal with the situation? How can we learn to be more loving and accepting of  less active family members?

About Melissa McQuarrie

(Advisory Board) grew up in Australia and California and now lives in Provo, Utah with her husband, four children, and their dog, Daisy. She served a mission in Peru and has a BA and MA in English from BYU. She loves reading, writing, and quiet afternoons. She does not love grocery shopping. Now that two of her children attend BYU and her youngest children are in high school and junior high, she is trying to adjust to this "emptying nest" stage and still wondering how it snuck up on her so fast.

19 thoughts on “Baby Sister”

  1. Much of my family of origin is less active or downright antagonistic in regards to the Church. Fervent prayer, patience, and unconditional love are my only recourse. Thank you for this lovely post; it renews my hope.

  2. My brother is the only one to remain inactive in the aftermath of my parents' divorce. I know that he had other issues and offenses that he viewed coming from ward members at the time, but he is such a sweet and sensitive guy and it made my heart ache to watch him walk away and refuse to talk about what he was thinking and feeling.

    Of course, I also eventually became confused and disenchanted with members as my life side tracked to inactivity. But in my own conversion story and journey back I again became concerned for my brother and the happiness that I knew he was missing. I resolved to take a more active role in bringing him back, but was quickly reminded of how I was converted and the roles that my family vs. friends played in my return.

    I knew that if my family had been pushy or tried to involve themselves that I would have resisted. It was a blessing for me that I was living on the other side of the country and that the ward where I was living somehow knew that I was within their boundaries. It was the quiet efforts of strangers and visiting teachers and inspired priesthood leaders that pulled me back into the fold. It was as my husband and I were befriended and found relationships that were genuine that we knew we could trust our ward family to support us in our mutual conversion.

    It is because of my experiences that I know what my brother needs now. I pray ceaselessly that someone will be prompted by the spirit to seek him out and support him as a friend and show him rather than tell him what is so wonderful about being an active member. And somehow, I know that this is what will eventually happen and that my brother will find his testimony with the love and aid of friends rather than family, but that it is my duty to be there for him and be a quiet example to him in the meantime.

  3. Just being a loving sister means so much….As we have been taught, your example is what brings people back to the Church. i am a member due to people just being an example and friends. The best we can do is be the best we can be, no matter what. Just making positive comments about the Church and being a friend is the best missionary things we can do!!! You are such a great sister..wish you were my sister!!!

  4. Touching story. I know the focus of what you wrote was your sister's conversion, but the message I got was how important it is so remain faithful in church activity.

    How might your sisters' lives been different had your mom nurtured her faith and stood as a strong and immovable example? I'm not trying to criticize your mom by any means. But I see this same scenario in my ward with three women who were raised in the church, fell away while their children were young, and returned late in life. Their hearts are full of sorrow. They regret not having provided their children a better example of faith.

  5. You also made me see the importance of staying active and faithful. My sister now wishes that she had remained strong because her grown children are very angry, bitter and resentful of her. My husband has been inactive for 23 of the 24 yrs of our marriage, but I stayed active. I am not saying that my children will never fall away, but I do have faith that if they do that they will return because of the teachings ingrained in them.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your experience! I can remember when you shared your testimony about talking with your sister, and it seems like forever ago!

    That gives me hope, though, and for that I am so grateful!!! Something we learned in Sunday School today — that our lives, words, deeds, should reflect our love for the Gospel so that others can see that light, and trust it.

    Not always easy, but as I thought about the possible end result, I am even more convinced it is so worth it! I'll remember the things you listed — fasting, prayer, family unity… as I try to be a better example, and be more patient!

    Thank you!

  7. Thanks to those of you who have commented. I know that having family members who are less active can be a particularly sorrowful and tender experience, and that we all have our unique challenges and approaches in these situations, but I know that the Lord will help and inspire and support us, and that He is watching over our loved ones. Thank you for sharing your experiences and wisdom, all of you!

  8. It is good to hear stories like this. I know why own family is inactive, and I pray for them a lot. But I also know that they are good people. When the time comes, I hope they do return to church as I feel it has a lot to offer. If not, though, I feel at peace knowing that they are trying the best they can right now with what they have. I think that counts for a lot.

  9. I have two sisters that are inactive. I don't know that they will ever be interested in the church–the reasons they are inactive are difficult. Indian placement program foster brother/sexual abuse/usually while my parents were attending the temple. But I do feel I could do better in keeping in touch with them. This post reminds me how important that is.

    I call them about twice a year. Not really enough.

    And more prayer for their welfare. And of their children.

  10. My brother is inactive. We still invite him to everything, and figure the door isn't completely shut on him coming back to the fold. You have to keep loving them and don't turn your back unless there is a really good reason. They'll come back when they're ready. You can't push it or you'll make things worse.

  11. Count me as one who was brought to tears by this one.

    I think one thing that all of this reminds me of is that it's important to be patient. I think sometimes we can get antsy, and sometimes I think we think that we have more control over others' choices than we do. While I do think that sometimes we can be part of someone's journey, someone's journey really is between them and God, and each of our journeys unfold a little differently. Sometimes a lot differently.

    I think the other lesson this brings out is to never stop praying, to never stop loving, to never give up as though someone is hopeless. The Atonement is about hope.

  12. Oh, wow, wow, wow. This one is hard for me.

    My MIL was excommunicated one month before I married her son in the Temple (almost 11 years ago). His 15 year-old sister left the Church at that time as well. Throw in the divorce of his parents 2 years earlier, his mother's new husband who is an active atheist, and you have some sadness for us.

    But what this has taught me is to love without judgement. It has also given me the chance to talk to my children about how wonderful it is we can love people who believe differently than we do (and vice versa), and still be a family. The beautiful part is that the love we share with them is very real –there is no anger or malice towards one another.

    I like m&m's answer, too –each journey is different. We certainly hope that one day his sister and mother will want to come back, but we'll keep lovin' them, even if they don't, you know?

    P.S. What a beautiful post! I'm so happy for you and your sister. 🙂

  13. it is so timely that you show blog on this subject. I just got back from a trip to Canada to see my husband's sister (50 years old) go through the temple for the first time. Her husband is not a member of the church, but he came and waited in the foyer for the entire time. I remember thinking when I married in to this family (12 years ago) that it would take a lot to have her come back to church after being away for 25+ years. But as we gathered as a family in the celestial room, the family motto of "No empty chairs" was ringing in my heart. My husband and all of his siblings were standing together, arms around each other, and hearts knit as one. The love and patience and faith that led to this moment was astounding and completely worth it. The feeling is etched into my heart forever. What a privilege to be part of it!

  14. What a gorgeous family photograph! It was fun to see the beautiful family that I've prayed and fasted for… This story is another testimony of the power of love, faith, and prayer. None of us are perfect parents, so I depend on the power of the atonement and God's perfect parenting to help compensate for my mistakes.

  15. And thank you so much, Kathryn, for your fasting and prayers! You are a dear friend. And yes, my sister has a beautiful family, inside and out.


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