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“Family”: Beware the Memes

By Linda Hoffman Kimball

I was visually waltzing through Pinterest the other day looking for examples of how graphic artists enhance text. One can find memes a’plenty there – in frilly typefaces, somber typefaces, comical typefaces, dystopian typefaces. Some were surrounded by lovely watercolor images. Everything looks better with a watercolor border or classy calligraphy.


Even Judges 4:21 would look inspiring that way:

Then Jael Heber’s wife took a nail of the tent, and took an hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it into the ground: for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.

But maybe it’s a little wordy?

The picture below shows one quote I found in a pleasing, straightforward graphic design:


It looks and sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Crisp, clear letters. Basic. Unified. And there it is – the family in a symbolic circle for unity, protection, an all encompassing hug. L. Tom Perry is a trustworthy source, right? Who wouldn’t want this framed and hanging on their wall?

My guess is a lot of my divorced friends, my never-married friends, my friends whose spouses abuse them or their children, my friends who are not happy in their current marriages wouldn’t. They might find this a weighted and challenging barb rather than an inspiration. How do we honor and sanctify the concept but live lives in the grit and groanings of reality?

What does “Family” mean? Is it the Hallmark channel image of a mom, dad, two kids and a golden retriever frolicking in a park? Is it the cluster of kin with the bride and groom in white standing on the temple grounds? Those of us who have been paying attention to the Old Testament Sunday School classes this year have heard about Lot and his despicable “hospitality” involving his daughters. How does that dysfunctional group and its myriad OT cousins represent a “celestial key to happiness“?

Is it Joseph and Emma – and…and…and? Is it Heber C. Kimball (from whom my own children descend) with his  43 wives, 17 of whom he had children with and all their 65 children – and my grandchildren as their distant satellites? Is it my friend’s daughter and daughter-in-law who just welcomed their newborn into the world? Is it the single loving mom in the projects with her 5 children from different men? The concept of family is complex and fraught.

Don’t look to me for answers.  I’m not going to try to define this concept. I am not going to dole out terms like “counterfeit” or “ideal” when the examples we have throughout our broad canon all need a good sit-down with Dr. Phil.

I have a family and I have a ferocious love for each member of it. Each of us is wonderful and deeply flawed. I remember the searing ache of growing pains as we developed into where we are now, and I expect we’ll experience more of the same as the years go on. I am pulled into family history research by powers I can’t fully comprehend. There is something to it. It remains ineffable to me.

I love the song “Let There Be Peace on Earth” by Jill Jackson, written in 1955. The words to it in the United Methodist Hymnal now read:

With God our Creator,

Family all are we.

Let us walk with each other

In perfect harmony.

“Perfect harmony” is a lofty goal in both our individual families and in our human family. But, reading about the author, I found she wasn’t writing from a Pollyanna view of life when the song came to her. She knew trials and sorrow:

“When I attempted suicide [in 1944] and I didn’t succeed,” she said, “I knew for the first time unconditional love—which God is. You are totally loved, totally accepted, just the way you are. In that moment I was not allowed to die, and something happened to me, which is very difficult to explain. I had an eternal moment of truth, in which I knew I was loved, and I knew I was here for a purpose.”

Perhaps through reality’s rough road families can provide what Jill Jackson recognized at her pivotal moment. We may likely never come to a wholly satisfying definition of what family “is”, but Jill Jackson’s experience is a powerful clue to its purpose. Whatever its configuration, at its root, perhaps its purpose is to be a place to learn to know that we are Divinely loved, accepted and here for a purpose and to help those around us recognize that, too.




About Linda Hoffman Kimball

Linda Hoffman Kimball is an artist, writer, photographer, and poet who grew up as a faithful Christian near Chicago, & joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1971 while at Wellesley College near Boston. Early on she assumed that all Latter-day Saints were articulate, inquisitive, faithful, and socially engaged since her role models in the University wards in Cambridge, MA., were. Her husband says she is “fluent, but not native” in Mormon-ese. She is a founding member of Mormon Women for Ethical Government.

4 thoughts on ““Family”: Beware the Memes”

  1. Thank you for this. Those FAMILY memes can be really hurtful to the mobs of us who deal with deep disappointment on this front. I keep wanting to pull quotes from your essay, but there are too many resonant lines. So I'll leave it at THANK YOU.

  2. I have been married twice. The first one sadly ended because of my wife's abuse of the rest of the family. I have found that perfect families may be the goal, the desire, and the hope of all of us, but that vision of purity will have to remain with the unicorns, available to most of us only after the resurrection.
    But despite the perfection we all wish we could experience in the home, having that level of goodness is still helpful and instructive for us to struggle for. I used to tell my children that the world is a dangerous place. If we can't feel safe in our own home then there won't be any safety for us in this world. That was before we found that one of my children was sexually abusing a step sibling. Sigh.
    We all have varying challenges as we try to cobble together peace and safety in our homes. I live trusting that my Father in Heaven is still in charge, and that his foreknowledge of all these events and circumstances will provide us with the challenges that we will need to overcome through Christ's atoning sacrifice for our own development. Eventually I just needed to decide to put my faith in his eternal love for us all and trust that having done all in my power to do the right things, it will be enough in the end to save my family in the hereafter.

  3. This is a lovely thought arc. I think it truly comes from a place of love and understanding. You are exhibiting empathy. You have not closed yourself off from people that do not follow your codes, and empathize with their situations and try to feel what they feel. I commend you and wish you Godspeed as you hold this line against a sea tide of… what’s the opposite of empathy? that comes from pharisiacal types. Well done, sir or madam, I commend you!


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