BUENA VISTA, Va. — Hundreds of Latter-day Saints gathered from around the country to receive practical lessons and doctrinal instruction on how to strengthen their families and improve relationships at the 15th annual Southern Virginia University Education Conference 2011 on Friday, June 3, and Saturday, June 4. The theme of the two-day education summit was "Family ... Forever."

Day one featured a keynote address by New York Times best-selling authors Richard and Linda Eyre. Other speakers included Michael A. Goodman, associate professor of LDS Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University; Scott and Angelle Anderson, popular speakers on the topic of parenting; and Barbara Heise, assistant professor of nursing at BYU. Attendees also enjoyed two musical performances by soloist Vanessa Joy and pianist Marvin Goldstein.

Linda and Richard Eyre: Beware of entitlement

The Eyres expounded on the conference's theme with their keynote address, “Families Can Be Together Forever.” They encouraged parents to endure the mundane, day-to-day challenges of parenthood by allowing glorious eternal principles to permeate their lives.

Speaking of the difference between the ethereal view of families and the “common light of day,” they reminded attendees that although the family is forever, it is the most difficult and complex management challenge parents face.

Richard Eyre, who received a master's degree from Harvard and served as a mission president in London, warned that the "cult of the individual" — focusing too heavily on individual rights, individual freedoms, freedom of expression, self-help, self-love or valuing the individual at the expense of all else — threatens our society and is contrary to the plan of happiness.

"Individuals are not eternal," he said. "In the sense of progression, growth, expansion and worlds without end, it's the family that’s eternal."

The Eyres told conference attendees that according to their research, children's sense of entitlement is the most difficult parenting problem facing the world today.

"Nothing destroys like entitlement," Eyre said. "The actual, practical effects of entitlement are always the same: the loss of initiative, motivation and creativity at the onset of instant gratification and higher and higher expectations."

Michael A. Goodman: Seeing the family's role in the plan of salvation

Michael A. Goodman presented a doctrinal approach to understanding the role of marriage and the family in the plan of salvation.

Comparing eternal marriage to a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, he said that it would be nearly impossible to complete such a puzzle if we are unable to see a picture of what the end result should look like. Quoting President Boyd K. Packer, he said, “It’s much easier to figure out where we are once we figure out where we are trying to go.”

Relating this to the doctrine of eternal marriage, Goodman said, "If we don’t keep clearly in our mind the end goal, sometimes we lose the motivation to do what’s needed."

Goodman, who served as president of the Bangkok Thailand Mission and has a doctorate in marriage, family and human development, said the diagram Latter-day Saints often use to represent the plan of salvation should rather be called a map because it says nothing of the Atonement of Jesus Christ or of the eternal family.

Quoting President Spencer W. Kimball, Goodman said, “The family is the great plan of life as conceived and organized by our Father in Heaven.”

He explained that the “three pillars of eternity” — the Creation, the Fall and the Atonement — more accurately describes God’s plan of salvation because they outline the necessary requirements for us to become like God.

“Marriage is the very definition of our theology,” he said. “If you and I are to become as God is, live with God and be like God, we are to learn to live a married life."

Scott and Angelle Anderson: Loving those around us

The Andersons discussed the challenges and joys associated with marriage, family and parenthood, teaching that we should love those who are most important to us with Christlike love.

A faculty member at the Sandy and Jordan, Utah, Institutes of Religions with a doctorate from BYU in marriage and family therapy, Scott Anderson likened Lehi’s dream in the Book of Mormon to our journey through mortality.

“Sometimes (life) can feel like a dark and dreary waste,” Scott Anderson said. “Promises that aren’t being fulfilled; relationships that might be struggling; children that might be having a difficult time; people you love dealing with illness; unemployment or whatever.”

Nephi had been to the Tree of Life and felt the power of the Atonement.

“The foundation in Nephi’s life that made the difference was his capacity to love, to see things from an eternal perspective and to see things as a wilderness not a waste,” he said. “I testify it's because he’s been to the tree.”

By outlining the pattern for loving God in Doctrine and Covenants 59:5-6, the Andersons taught that we must seek to love with all our heart, might, mind and strength in all of our relationships. This is Christlike love, they said.

Angelle Anderson explained how applying this pattern of love for several years to a son struggling with his testimony eventually bore fruit when it seemed that there was no hope. Through her faithful efforts to display Christlike love, her son would go on to serve a mission and bear testimony that his mother’s love changed his life.

Barbara Heise: Faithfully endure the end

Barbara Heise, who received a doctorate in nursing from the University of Virginia and specializes is gerontology and end-of-life care, focused her remarks on the importance of faithfully enduring to the end of our lives in order to reap the blessings of eternal families.

She described some of the many hardships she has faced and the faith required to endure them as she cared for and nursed several family members through illness and eventually death since converting to the church 36 years ago.

Quoting President Brigham Young, Heise reminded participants, “Every trial and experience you have passed through is necessary for your salvation.”

While struggling financially on a small Missouri farm and caring for four children, including one with Down’s syndrome, and a chronically ill husband, Heise sacrificed and worked her way through nursing school by trusting in the Lord, studying in an unheated outbuilding from 2 a.m. until 6 or 7 a.m.

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“Please don’t think that all was hard on our Missouri farm,” she said. “We had many, many happy and joyful memories there of laughing, of riding horses, of becoming closer as a family and of many spiritual experiences.”

Over time, Heise lost a son to leukemia, as well as a younger sister, her husband and both her parents to death. Despite the pain of these tragedies, she said she has learned to look for lessons to be learned and to glory in her trials.

“When challenges come — and come they must because that is why we are here to learn — we choose how we will respond to those challenges,” she said.

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