This month marks the twentieth anniversary since the amazing revelation of The Family: A Proclamation to the World was first given by President Gordon B. Hinckley at the Relief Society General Conference. I was only ten years old at the time. I knew nothing about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, nor could I even begin to tell you the definition of “proclamation.” I wouldn’t have understood or comprehended such a “proclamation,” not because I didn’t have the capacity to know something important was being announced to the world, but because I didn’t understand the definition of “family.” At least not the way President Hinckley read it.
By the time I was ten years old, my parents had long since been divorced and remarried to their new spouses. I was living with my mother, who was physically and emotionally abusive towards me. She had a growing resentment towards my father that she insisted on taking it out on me simply because I was his daughter. I was often told I was the reason for her misery, the reason they got divorced. I was disgusting. Lazy. Worthless. My presence made her physically sick. She regretted the day she married my father, often claiming that he was the reason she was the way she was.
I believed every word she said to me.
I swore, even at a young age, I would never get married. Even more heartbreaking, I breathed life into those hurtful names and accusations and made them apart of my own identity. I am worthless. I am disgusting. I am the reason.
Over time, I thought I found a way to replace those worthless feelings by filling up that space with people and alcohol. Even though what I was doing was self-destructive, my friends validated those behaviors with praise and affection. I was good at being bad and they made it very clear they were proud of me.
My husband’s story follows the same pattern as mine, which is why when we met each other in February 2006, sparks flew immediately, if not for more then a kinship over our love of partying and tumultuous childhood. We married eloped in a quickie Las Vegas style wedding and began what would be the most challenging journey of my life. We were both wrapped up and deeply involved within the Las Vegas culture, supporting each other with our alcohol and pornography addictions. Of course, it’s not surprising that with those addictions came marital conflict. We argued a lot because no matter how much we may have fed those addictive behaviors, there was always something inside of us that screamed, “there is more to life than this!” Emotions were high, hearts were broken, needs were not being met. But we were young and too stubborn to call it quits.
And then I got pregnant with my son and our life flipped upside down. I quit my job to be a full time stay at home mother to provide stability for my son while my husband served in the military and deployed. Having a career was a focal point in my life up until that point. Having worked since I was fourteen years old to provide for myself, I only knew that type of independence. Because I had found myself in terrible and dangerous relationships, I swore I would work hard so that I could never rely on a man. Quitting my job meant I was completely reliant on my husband and the thought paralyzed me.
Not having a healthy mother figure in my life left me confused and angry when it came to mothering my own child. I was told that my mother’s life was ruined when she had me, so those feelings and thought patterns were passed down through me and I vocalized those emotions frequently. I truly felt my life was over. I felt stuck and unhappy. I watched all my friends go out meanwhile I was home with a baby, who quite frankly, probably knew he had gotten the short end of the stick for a mother. I watched my girlfriends get ready for parties in their tight dresses and high heels, meanwhile I sat idly by in my yoga pants and fretting over the last ten pounds I needed to lose from being pregnant. I felt like I didn’t belong to the world of motherhood. I didn’t know what to do and I had even fewer people to talk and relate too. I spent a lot of nights crying, incredibly lonely and feeling like I was a drowning under the pressure of being a new mother, a failing relationship and an image that reflected in a mirror that I neither recognized or knew anymore. I was broken, beyond repair.
But God, always aware of His children’s circumstances, sent the LDS Missionaries to me.
When I started attending The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I was dumbfounded by the amount of women who just loved being a mother and a wife. In my world, that was unheard of and certainly never an ambition. There were so many women that wanted to hold and fawn over my baby, as if he were their own child or grandchild. I would be invited to Ward functions, only to have members surprised when I would apologize profusely for bringing my son along as well.
“Look, around!” they would laugh, “Kids are always welcome.”
And look around I did. I loved what I saw. It felt like a family. The family I always wanted. It felt stable. Though every member is imperfect, I knew I wanted to belong to it. What the LDS community had, I wanted. When I finally spoke up and asked what was the deal with the emphasis on family, I was shown “The Proclamation to the World.”
It was the answer the answer I was looking for. I thought that life was too far out of reach for someone like me. But, what I was reading that this life WAS available to me and it was there for the taking. It was well within my grasp. But, more than that, it spoke truth to my TRUE identity.
ALL HUMAN BEINGS—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.
All human beings!? That included me with all of my imperfections and baggage. No matter what I had said or done, I was created in the image of God with a specific purpose and destiny that no one could take away from me. The words that were spoken to me as a child were no longer my inner dialogue. I am a Beloved Daughter of God and He speaks good things to me and about me. Within that revelation, I saw my parents with a new set of eyes. Grace-Healed eyes. They too have a purpose and a destiny, if nothing more than to help me achieve mine. I saw how we were all interconnected with each other, ushering in the Kingdom of God in our own capacity, whether we were aware of it or not.
All little girls love to play dress up and imagine their wedding day and I was no exception. I believe we tend to build up relationships with extremely high expectations and when our marriage falls short of our childhood fantasy, it’s a hard pill to swallow and we are left disenchanted because our spouses are, well, imperfect mortal beings…like me. My marriage fell short in a lot of ways, mostly because I was not the person I thought I would be when I played “make believe” and married my Disney Prince. The Proclamation says,
Husband and wives have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children…Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.
But, I am a realist and I know people fall short of this ideal all the time. It looks good on paper, but it’s hard to achieve. However, when I read this initially, I thought “yes, this is the basis that I am looking for. Here are the guidelines. This is what we should strive for.” I lean heavily on the attribute of forgiveness, for myself and my husband, for not loving each other the way only God can love us. We try. We fail. We try again. We struggle. We hold on. We fight. We forgive. And then we repeat the process over again. Happiness can be achieved within the family, but only when our roots have grown deep within the rich soil of the Gospel and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Until then, we are to trust that the ground we are standing on will one-day produce good fruit. And if we remain in Christ and remain steadfast in the Gospel, it will. God is faithful to His promises and He has promised that He will continue to work on us and through us until we have reached perfection. Our relationships have yet to see the completed fruit of pure Christian love, but just wait.
It’s been twenty years since the Proclamation was read to the world. In those twenty years, I have sworn off love and marriage only to become a wife and mother. I have fought for my identity only to lose it and find it in Christ. My only wish is that my parents would have read it. Thankfully, my husband and I have read it and we sustain it. Honor it. And with it, we are breaking the chains that have surrounded our generations and held us in bondage to our past. My son will have a better life because of it.
My name is Nikki. I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. And I’m also a convert. I hope to inspire people to live more openly and radically in their love of Jesus. To trust that He is who He says He is. And He can do anything for those who believe. I’m living proof that as long as you are still living and breathing you can become exactly what God wants you to be. I’m an advocate for the “outcasts” especially those in the sex industry (aka, my sisters). You can find me at my blog LDS Woman at the Well, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Be sure to visit We Talk of Christ and A Thing Called Love for more articles celebrating the 20th anniversary of The Family Proclamation! Don’t forget one easy way to share your testimony of the Proclamation and join the celebration is to share your photos on social media using the hashtag #ILovetheFamilyProclamation and explain why.