I 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?