Not every great writer will be published, and not every one desires to be. This post describes one of the most loving, family-strengthening projects I've had the privilege of hearing about. Five years ago, a friend and father of a large family undertook a goal to maintain close spiritual ties with his rapidly growing and geographically expanding family. This is his project in his own words. The name of this wonderful father and husband is Scott Stephenson, and when I heard about THE DISCIPLE MD project, I asked him to share his experience with other parents who might be inspired to try something similar. I hope Scott's words do get published, but in the meantime, I hope you'll subscribe to Scott's web page and share his daily insights with your loved ones. The web link is www.thedisciplemd.com.
April 5, 2012
Thank you for the opportunity to post on your blog regarding a family project that coincidently I started on this exact day, five years ago in 2007. That year my wife and I had traveled from Maryland to Utah to spend time with three of our five grown children. I had procured tickets to General Conference that year and it was there at the Conference Center that I felt impressed to embark on a project that I first called “The Disciple”.
As I sat waiting in the Conference Center with my wife for the Sunday morning session to begin, I glanced down the isle to view my children. One son was seated with his wife, another son was seated with a girlfriend, and my only daughter was there with her then fiancé. As with most parents, I marveled at how fast time had gone by and that my children were now grown. They were becoming “independent”. I recall thinking that my influence was slowly diminishing from their lives. At that moment it occurred to me that with modern technology, I could continue to influence their lives for the good. I could accomplish this by communicating with them on a daily basis via email. I made the commitment right then that when I returned home I would begin to send out a weekday spiritual message. Surprisingly, five years later, with some 1100 messages sent, I am still doing it.
At first my messages consisted of a scripture or perhaps an inspired entry from one of my journals. Sometimes it was part of an old letter that I had received from a grandparent, or my parents, or even an old romantic letter I had written to their Mother. On occasion it was a quote from one of the General Authorities. As time when on I began to recount stories of my youth, tying them into gospel principles. My children are avid sports fan so I started to tie in sports themes or personal experiences of my own with athletics. Since I have spent most of my life in church leadership I began to intermix inspiring stories of a personal nature that were uplifting and testimony building. There are so many stories of inspiration in the lives of our members. I once recall one of my siblings complaining to my Mother that she saw the gospel in everything. She didn’t deny it. What I have found out is that my mother was right. The influence of the gospel of Jesus Christ is found in all aspects of our lives. The Savior was a great teacher because he taught parables that resonated with the common man. He could relate simple stories that could be understood by all. I have found the more simple the story, the more profound the message.
Since I began writing a daily message, which I called “The Disciple”, I found that it gave me the opportunity to address specific family issues without having to single a family member out. It gave me the opportunity to give counsel without the worry of offending the one. It also provided me with a way to praise and honor each of my family, in a more public way, on their birthdays or other special occasions such as graduation or achievements. Over time, my siblings and extended family found out I was sending out daily messages and asked if they could be included in the email list. On many occasions I have received a response back from someone in the family who write, “Thanks for that message. I needed that today!” I guess that is why I keep going. I believe I am doing some good. One of my sons told me that he uses my messages in his priesthood assignments and that it is nice to have them stored in his phone where he can access them in a moments notice. I often talk with my children about the gospel and nary a discussion goes by without “The Disciple” being mentioned. After five years I think I have approached just about every subject under the sun.
The greatest beneficiary of my messages has been me. It has given me reason and purpose to write down my thoughts. Because I use a lot of personal experiences it has become somewhat of a journal. It has driven me to the scriptures on a daily basis. Often I find myself overwhelmed with the spirit while in the mist of writing. At times I find myself in tears as I recall experiences of the past. Memories come flooding back into my mind as I search for a daily message to impart. Often I read my messages to my wife verbally out loud when I get home from work. It’s become a daily habit. More times than I can remember I get emotional as I read them to her. She is patient in listening and usually says, “That’s a good one!” each time I finish. She has given me wonderful support over the past five years with my writings. She believes that it connects our family and she encourages me to continue.
For a number of years my siblings have been encouraging me to publish my messages but I have not gotten around to that just yet. Recently I have set up a webpage so that the general public can read my messages. I have listened intently to the general authorities that have recently encouraged us to be more active in promoting the cause of the restoration. There is so much on the web that is unflattering of our church. I hope that by making my messages available, I can in some small way contribute in helping others see that we are a people of faith. And for those of our faith who may stumble across my words, I hope one of my messages may bring a ray of understanding or hope to their life. I have named the website “TheDiscipleMd” because I was born and raised in Maryland. I have a great love for this state. I have the Maryland Flag imposed in the “D” of “MD” as proof. Secondly I added the “MD” to “The Disciple” as a subtle hope of my prayer that my messages might bring some “healing” to those who search for Jesus Christ. In Him is the real power to heal.
For those who might tackle such a project as this, I would say that it is well worth your time and effort. I have usually spent between half an hour to an hour a day on my daily messages. On the few days where I just didn’t have the time, I would copy an old message and send it out. Better to keep the habit than to skip. Like scripture reading, once you start skipping, you lose the habit pretty quickly. One time I didn’t send one out and my son-in-law sent me an email at 11:30pm and said, “You only have a half hour left to get off your message”. I quickly went to my laptop and fired one off! I learned that they looked for it. Perhaps to begin with once a week is better. Particularly if you have a busy life and you know you cannot write every weekday. I write from my office but I am also my own boss so that means my time is “my” time. Consistency is very important. I always let my children know when I am going on vacation and that I won’t be writing. I treat them as if they are “subscriber”, or “readers”, who need to be informed. That may sound funny, but I try to be “professional” about doing this.
I guess what has motivated me the past five years in writing a daily message to my family is the knowledge that my life on this earth is limited. The loss of several of my siblings and in-laws at young ages during the past few years has reminded me that my life could abruptly end without notice. If that should happen, how long will my testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ live on. Certainly it will live on in my children but I have hopes that my words will not only influence their generation, but also the next generation and the next. My testimony can have a powerful impact for good for centuries if I take the time to write it down. After all, the scriptures are simply the inspired thoughts and interaction of men with deity that have been written down for all to read. There is no reason that my influence for good has to go with me to the grave. I have hopes, as did Jacob of the Book of Mormon, whose final words were, “…and to the reader I bid farewell, hoping that many of my brethren may read my words. Brethren, adieu" (Jacob 7:27)
Best to you Laurie,