Jenny Shunn/Ewing gave a talk in Sacrament meeting that was very touching. She graciously agreed to allow me to share her talk, but she worked from an outline (“Mom always told me not to read my talk”), and I was not focused on taking notes instead of listening. So here is the outline.

For what it is worth, my test audience for the post really enjoyed it in this form.

Lightly edited.

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Good morning.

I thought before I started my talk today, I would introduce myself. For those who don’t know me. I am Jenny Shunn/Ewing …

I am the oldest/number one daughter of Jane and Richard Ewing.

Which makes Marlena Oakes my little sister.

In heaven I agreed to come be the oldest child.

Marlena agreed to be the glue that held our relationships together through out the rough times. She has always been strong. Firm in her testimony. Along with deeply caring for not only others but also animals, she cares for everyone. She was the child at our house that brought strays home, and not just stray animals.

She brought home those in need of comfort and love. This deep caring has been a blessing for my family. She and Jared have opened their home up to allow me to come to Plano and make a fresh start with three of my five children. She is my cheerleader, the only one allowed to tell me how it is or that I am doing it wrong, and my eternal sister. What you see is what you get with my sister. She is very authentic and true to who God has made her to be, his warrior Daughter.

And she is an amazing cook.

As I have mentioned, I have five children.

Three of those five are here with me making a fresh start.

If I had time I would be doing something creative. I love art, architecture, music and most of all spending time with my family. Today what I am doing is giving this talk.

The topic I was given to speak on today, was Building The Kingdom of God.

Let me start with D&C 65 : 6

“May the kingdom of God go forth, that the kingdom of heaven may come.”

After reading many talks, praying lots, writing, re-writing, rehearsing and starting over, in this talk I am giving three ways that I believe we can work on building the Kingdom in these latter days.

The first way is to build a strong testimony of our Savior Jesus Christ. We build a testimony of Christ that is one that we can share in word and deed.

Jesus Knocking at the door
At home I have this beautiful statue in my room that has the Savior knocking on a door. There is a scripture that comes to mind when I look at that statue.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”

Revelations 3:20

I love the reminder that the statue gives me today, that all I need do is open my heart and Christ will come abide with me.

A tad longer than four years ago, I found myself at a crossroads. I had been inactive for a while. I had left the church due to hurt feelings our family had suffered. That is a story for another time.

But four years ago as I looked around, I was not happy. There was a deep chaos in my home. Our family seemed to be divided even when together. There was simply something missing. I found myself knowing it was time for me to decide whose side I was on.

The Lord’s side, or the Adversary’s side.  I realized I could no longer walk the path I was on. I knew the cost of making a decision was high: it meant the fate of my family was being decided with that decision. I just didn’t know it at the time.

I found myself on my knees pouring out my heart to our loving Heavenly Father. In response, the Lord sent his angels, in the form of a loving neighbor/Relief Society President to nurture me back into the gospel. As I started to pray again morning and night, the Lord showed me step by step how I needed to clean up my life.

Then one day something amazing happened. My son Brad came home from school wondering why he had never been baptized. We talked about it. He was 10 years old at that time. It made my heart sad that he didn’t have a knowledge of the gospel. I was sad that I had failed in teaching him and his two sisters, Becca and Annika. I prayed to the Lord and asked for help in fixing this error.

Within a few days the Sister missionaries were standing on my door step. Within 6 months Brad was baptized. It was a very special day.

The struggle wasn’t over. But, I allowed my visiting teachers to come over and bring messages. I started to do service for others in my ward.

I wish I could say that we all lived happy ever after.

But, this is only the beginning of my journey to restore back that which I had failed to accomplish. My testimony grew. I began to desire to go back to the temple. I wanted all my children to feel what I was feeling at church. I wanted to share hope, and love.

Brad fell back into inactivity. Soon, everyone was sleeping in while I would go to church alone.

Then, as I was meeting with the bishop and talking about what I needed to do to get a temple recommend, I learned that I needed to be more faithful in paying my tithing. When I started to be more faithful in paying, things really started to change in my home.

The Elders came to our home and started meeting with Brad and I. They sat with him in church. They taught him about the priesthood as he was 12 years old. The missionaries would be a part of our lives over the next 3 years.

I like this quote by Heber C. Kimball:

If we, like clay, are malleable in the hands of the Lord, we will find happiness.

As I began to seek God, I began to entrust myself to the hands of the Lord. I got to even saying in prayers to him “Lord your will, not my will be done.”  I was willing to be relieved of the bondage of self.

I was willing to bear testimony in word and deed of the love and grace of God and of the gift of God’s son, Jesus Christ.

God began to show me how to change; he even gave me the tools. My testimony was buried but never gone. Even now the Lord continues to help me fix my wrongs. I have changed so much that there are times that when I see people from my past, they don’t recognize me. These changes have also affected my family greatly.

Which brings me to the second way we can build the kingdom in the Latter days:

Through our family.

When we personally seek after the kingdom of heaven and desire to change, it trickles down to those we love. This is because we don’t want to do anything alone.

We have a need to feel accepted and loved, and to share our experiences with each other. When those things are good, we want others to have the same experiences too.

The more I began to seek after and live the gospel principles, the more I desired my family to do the same.

Recognizing our house was divided, I attempted to make change in the physical appearance of our home.

The first change was my relationship to the 13th article of faith.  That surprised me.

I love it now. I haven’t always loved it. In seminary or other classes if asked to memorize it, I refused. It was too long, hard and “AGH” was what came to mine. I had rejected it without thinking.

Now I love it. It has a special place in my heart.

We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul — We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.

13th article of faithI love that part at the end “WE SEEK AFTER THESE THINGS”….it summed up my heart. As I put the thirteenth article of faith up in a place I would see everyday, I put it in the kitchen. I started look around at my home. Cleaning out the things that weren’t important. I started taking piles and piles of useless things to DI (a thrift store donation location).

I began to search for things that would invite the spirit into my home.

Pictures of Christ made their way onto our walls. I would search a thrift store, buy a picture, spray paint the frames, and put those pictures and found quotes up.

The defining one was the scripture I put on a large canvas. It hung above my fire place. I put the words from Joshua 24: 15:

“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Then I began extending an invitation to all my children to attend church with me each week. Saturday night I would prepare clothing for everyone, and then pray they would come with me. See, my husband
didn’t want anything to do with the church. At first, I didn’t understand why. Later the Lord would unmask things to show me why. (That, too, is a story for another day)

But, as I began to grow in the gospel, I wanted to care for my children more. My desire to have my family partake was great. One of the greatest blessings that has come from moving to Plano and living with Marlena and Jared is seeing my children grow in the gospel.

Sister Chieko Okazaki spoke in the late 1990’s in a ward I was attending. It was one of the last Relief Society conferences I attended before leaving the church for a while. But today I remember her words. She stood up with her ukulele and had us sing the simple song “You are my sunshine”. She used it to teach us about doing small and simple things each day to bring the spirit into our homes.

Which brings me to Alma 37: 6-7:

Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me, but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass, and small means in many instances doth confound the wise. And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.

Sister Chieko Okazaki reminded us as mothers that it is one prayer said at a time, one verse of scripture, by one time turning the radio off in the car and praying before going to the park that we teach our children the gospel. It isn’t just one day at a time, or one hour at a time, it is one mindful moment after another at a time.

It can be having a simple family night and playing a game. Even if it can’t be on Monday — do it on another night of the week. Pray and invite the spirit into the hearts of our family. Let the spirit teach them. Love them and be kind to them.

The third and final way we can build the kingdom of God in the latter days …. Is through service.

When I first arrived here, I was struggling. It was the start of many struggles that I have had. But, we had the pleasure of going and cleaning someone’s home to help out someone in need. I was determined to do a really good job. It gave me something to think about other than what was going on personally. That is what I love about service: it takes your mind off you and puts it on someone else.

When I serve, I remember Mosiah 2:17:

And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.

My parents have been really great examples and taught me well about serving others. We were given many opportunities to learn service when we were growing up. I spent many years as a youth driving to the worst parts of Oceanside California to pick up people who were learning about the gospel and drive them to church. Mother took meals, had me babysit and dad volunteered to help people move, fix things and offered friendship to many.

I remember a time after I had begun my journey back.  My neighbor/Relief Society President got really sick. She was in the hospital and it looked like she might die. Her two youngest boys were about the same age as Brad and they had been friends with him since we had moved into the neighborhood. Their family had shown us lots of love and kindness. I prayed for what I could do. There were plenty of meals being brought in, so they weren’t going to starve. Their house was being well cared for. But, I desired to be a service to her in some way.

As I was working one day at the elementary school that our boys attended, I overheard a conversation about her boys and their homework. They were struggling. The spirit showed me what I needed to do to help was make sure every day that the boys got their homework and reading done. I made arrangements for them to walk home with us. We had snacks and did homework. I never had the chance to ask her if I could do this or talk to her.

Later, we would sit on her front porch as I prepared to move here to Texas. As sisters in the gospel, I would find myself thanking her for helping me in my journey back. But, she would be thanking me for listening to the spirit and helping her boys.

Building the kingdom of God in these latter days can be accomplished in many ways, but first, we have to be willing to change ourselves to be in line with our Heavenly Father’s will so we can hear the promptings when they come. Then, we need to be willing to share in kindness and love, to bear our testimony through our actions and through service.

I can say now that have a testimony and I can say it in the name of Jesus Christ.

Note:

Krista Ralston Oakes died and left a husband and two children behind.  The husband remarried and Marlena is part of that blended family.  A number of our readers will have known Krista.  Locally, everyone who knows Marlena loves her.