As blogger Stephanie Nielson lay in a hospital bed, the eighth of nine children remembers her adult siblings whispering in her ear, reminding her of Christmas traditions and childhood memories.
“Those were the memories that I had in my mind, and when I was in the darkest places in the hospital and recovery, I would go to those places, and I would feel love from my family in the traditions and the memories that were being made,” Nielson said. “And those were the things that helped me climb out of those dark places because I wanted that again.”
After a plane crash in 2008 left the then-27-year-old burned over more than 80 percent of her body, Nielson's love for her family motivated her to fight for her life and helped make hers a story of triumph rather than tragedy. So it only made sense for Nielson to accept an invitation to speak at the World Congress of Families IX on Oct. 27-30 in Salt Lake City.
Nielson, a mother of five, believes in the power of family traditions, and her desire to help her children create memories that will carry them through their own times of trial ultimately gave her the strength to persevere through both the emotional and physical pain she experienced after the accident.
“I realized that I loved those memories that I shared with my siblings and parents, and I thought, ‘I want that for my children, and I’m the only one that can do that. So I need to get better so that I can carry these traditions on for my little family and so that they can grow up and then they can have that unity with their siblings,’” Nielson recalled.
It was care and love from her husband, Christian, that helped Nielson know she was not alone. Christian sympathized with Stephanie in a unique way because they were both involved in the same plane accident, and Christian suffered similar injuries, albeit less severe.
“He knew exactly what I was going through, so we went through this knowing exactly how each other felt, and that was so helpful on those days that were really dark and depressing because we had each other,” Nielson said. “Christian taking care of me and the family was just inspiring, and he’s everything to me. He’s perfect for me, and I just think that the way we went through this together is just beautiful, and I hope that our children see that marrying the right person for the right reasons and at the right time is everything.”
Since their accident, the Nielsons have used their story to publicly share what they believe about faith and families. This opportunity to speak at the World Congress of Families IX falls in line with the Nielson family motto for 2015, which comes from the hymn “Go Forth With Faith” by Ruth M. Gardner. The hymn reads, “Go forth with love to tell the world the joy of families.” This event will give Nielson an opportunity to do that on a large scale; more than 2,700 people are expected to attend.
“Through opportunities that we’ve been given, we have kind of a platform, and so we picked (the motto) with that in mind, thinking that we want to be able to share with others the joy of having happy families where God is the center and good principles and morals are being taught,” Nielson said. “With the World Congress of Families, I just feel like this is a good opportunity to be able to share what we all believe, what we’re all doing and what we’re all striving for.”
The word “strive” is key. Nielson acknowledges the work required of parents and the challenges of being a mother in today’s world. One such challenge Nielson cites is mothers comparing their families to other families, but she notes that the successes often seen on social media come after a great deal of work.
“I think we live in a world where everything we see on blogs, social media, Instagram or anything, everything looks perfect, and it’s not that way,” Nielson said. “The reality is that it takes a lot of work.”
That work does not always translate into the perfect Instagram photo, but Nielson says that is not important.
“I don’t want mothers to think that if they’re not doing picture-perfect family home evenings or picture-perfect Christmases that it’s a failure,” Nielson said. “That’s not the point. The point is what’s being felt in your home, and they’re the kind of things that you and your family feel together. That’s what matters, and it doesn’t have to be beautiful and look perfect.”
When Nielson addresses the World Congress of Families IX, she will speak from personal experience about the power of the traditional family unit.
“I’ve just seen the blessings that come when we follow God’s law,” said Nielson, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
She makes it clear that knowing that she will have her family forever, a doctrine found within the LDS Church, is one of the greatest of the aforementioned blessings. Nielson embraces any opportunity to share that knowledge with others.
“I think that’s one of the huge motivations for why we do share what we share online and talk to people,” Nielson said. “It’s because we get to share that knowledge that there is more, that this is not just it, and God loves us so much that he created this plan that after this life we do get to be together forever, and I think it’s just beautiful. It’s a beautiful principle.”
Nielson will participate in a meet and greet Oct. 29 at 5:15 p.m., and she will speak Oct. 30 at 9:15 a.m. More information about the schedule for World Congress of Families IX as available at wcf9.org.