I stood on the front steps of the Church Administration Building in downtown Salt Lake City on July 13, 1999, and pondered my value as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I felt important and recognized.
During a Church News interview held minutes before, President Thomas S. Monson had just spoken to me about the phenomenal growth of the church during the 20th century — a 100-year period when church membership mushroomed from 271,681 in mostly Utah and the West to almost 11 million in more than 160 countries.
"During the past number of years, more missionaries have been called," he had said. "More people hear about the church, see the church in action and desire to know more about it. What a glorious time to be living and serving the Lord."
The interview, held at the end of the day, had started late but was impactful.
Just as we were finishing up, a man from church security walked into President Monson’s office. He said that he was going to lock the front door of the Church Administration Building and turn on the security system. He wondered if I — accompanied by President Monson's secretary — would mind leaving through the parking garage below. Of course I didn't mind.
As President Monson's secretary gathered her things, President Monson asked me a few questions. “Where did you go to school?” “How long have you been at the Church News?” “Tell me about your family.” “Do you have children?”
Suddenly, I felt a wave of insecurity and self-doubt wash over me. I wondered if I was good enough to be interviewing the prophet. I tried to explain my decision to be a working mother.
President Monson held up his hand and stopped me mid-sentence. Then he picked up the phone.
His words weren't what I expected. He simply said to the person on the other end of the phone, “I need you to open the front door and turn off the security system.” After a brief pause he added, “Because she is a mother.”
He hung up the phone and said he wanted me to leave the Church Administration Building through the front door and not the dark parking garage. He counseled me to never again put a disclaimer on my role as a mother.
Because he treated me with respect, I felt important and more valued by my Heavenly Father.
I have returned to those steps dozens of times as a reporter and editor for the LDS Church News. Each time I walk up or down them, I think of President Monson’s words. I feel important all over again.
In my job, I have watched President Monson do the same thing for so many others. It was part of who he was.
In 2010, I interviewed President Monson because it had been 25 years since a church-wide fast facilitated aid being sent to Ethiopia and set in motion the church's emergency response program.
In preparation for the interview, I memorized many statistics about the church and its relief efforts.
Since Ethiopia, the church had donated $1.1 billion in humanitarian relief in 167 countries. That relief had equated to 61,308 tons of food, 12,829 tons of medical supplies and 84,681 tons of clothing.
But President Monson didn't answer my questions the way I thought he would. He was very aware of every aspect of church aid distributed during the last 25 years and where it had gone. But he wasn't concerned with the statistics. He wanted to talk about the people — specific tsunami victims in Southeast Asia, a little boy victimized by flooding in the Philippines, children blessed by measles and polio vaccination efforts, and women helped by clean water projects.
"I think we should not put an artificial border around need," he said. "The Lord didn't, and we shouldn't."
I left his office after the interview with a full box of chocolates, along with a second box containing a few additional candies. President Monson had learned that I was serving in my ward Young Women presidency and sent one chocolate to each of the teens I was called to work with. The note on the top of the box said, "From President Monson."
President Monson had a unique ability to respond to all kinds of needs.
In 2008, three young men and their mothers entered the Church Administration Building for a quick photo with President Monson. The photo was to run with an LDS Church News story on the Aaronic priesthood.
President Monson had advice for the tens of thousands of Aaronic priesthood-age young men in the church: “Be the very best of which you are capable in all things,” he said.
Then he addressed the three young men in the photo as if they were the only young men in the church. He spent more than an hour with the teens.
The time for the photograph was scheduled. The time he gave the boys after the photo was not. His secretary explained that they made the room in his schedule because he felt that was what he should do.
President Monson’s greatest gift — in a busy world — was time. The time he shared with three young men was indicative of the time shared every day; he gave his time to the elderly and the lonely, to the sick and the downtrodden.
One evening in 1999, he made time for me.4 comments on this story
On that day in his office when I exited through the front door instead of the parking garage, President Monson told me something else. His words that day seem to have new importance today — when we can make a difference by becoming more like President Thomas S. Monson and, by extension, more like Jesus Christ.
President Monson said it was every member's responsibility to make certain the work of the church continues to move forward.
"We have the privilege to witness the inspiration of our Heavenly Father and his Son, Jesus Christ,” he said. “All of us are builders of the church. Our responsibility is great, our obligation is real, our duty calls us to the colors of the church in our time."