A Letter From an Apostle

It was the summer of 2003 and change was in the air.

First of all Scott and I discovered we were expecting our first babies. Yes, babiez.  Then Scott got accepted to a PhD program that was 2,000 miles away (2,103 miles, to be exact). I would leave my full-time library job and all my friends and family in Utah and move to North Carolina where I didn’t know one person in the entire state, and become a full-time mom to twins.

Job change, place change, role change, life change! So exciting! We did not see it as something that would be hard, we saw it as an adventure!

But an unwelcome change was also on its way.

It was during this period of transition that Elder Neal A. Maxwell, one of the living twelve apostles, came to visit our ward (congregation).

Now, for those of you who are not LDS, this is a very significant event. Since we believe in modern-day apostles this is like having Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John walk into your church service.  Usually the only time we get to see or hear the apostles is twice a year at a big mega-conference that is broadcast all around the world. Each apostle is loved and respected, and the sounds of their voices are as recognizable to us as the voices of our own family members.  This particular apostle, Elder Maxwell, was coming because his granddaughter was in our ward and her son was being blessed, and by some miracle I was asked to give the closing prayer. I lumbered up to the stand with my big twin-belly, gave the prayer, and felt pretty exceptional that I was within winking distance of an apostle.

Soon after that my life took a most unexpected, untimely and unwelcome turn. My father passed away. Yes, you know him. My dad: the firework salesman. The builder of log homes. The creator of Him.

Now all those happy changes we were looking forward to suddenly darkened. My father would never see my babies–neither the two I was carrying or any more that would follow–and I was moving away from a mother who needed me about as much as I needed her.

The next week we travelled up to Idaho for the funeral. The day we got back to our apartment we checked our voice mail and heard a familiar voice:

“Hello? This is Neal Maxwell. I hope I have the right number. I’m trying to reach Chelsea Dyreng. I heard that her father passed away and that she is having twins soon and she moving across the country, and I thought I would call . . . “

Scott and I looked at each other, our eyes humongous. We checked the next message:

“Hello? This is Neal Maxwell . . . again. I’m still trying to get a hold of Chelsea Dyreng. It sounds like you have a lot on your plate right now. I’m sorry I missed you . . . “

Two messages–from an apostle–and I missed him!

I was totally disappointed that I had missed my one chance to speak with a living apostle, so I immediately sat down and wrote him a letter (this was back when people wrote letters), a letter that ended up being much longer than it probably needed to be. But I had to write and tell him all about my dad.

Then, a week or two later I received this in the mail:

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(You can see how carefully I opened it . . . )

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His letter was wonderful and sincere. How exceptionally kind it was for him to go out of his way–an elderly man, a cancer survivor, a man very busy with many other responsibilities–to take a moment to acknowledge my grief! What was I to him? I was just another church member, one of millions. He didn’t have to do anything for me, there was no benefit in it for him. But he persisted, not just calling me, but leaving multiple messages and then answering my long, circumlocutory letter with a compassionate letter of his own. Who does this?

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In the Bible Jesus Christ designated twelve men to be his apostles. Their primary job was to be special witnesses of Christ.  It means that they have a duty to tell people about Him. The word apostle means “one who was sent.” It means that they spread the good news and they act in the name of Jesus Christ, doing what he would do if he were here.

It would be enough for the apostles to just speak every six months at conference. It would be enough for them to travel around the world, organizing congregations and training leaders. It would be enough for them to be at the helm of the church, teaching people to be like Christ, but to go out of his way and to actually do something that Christ might have done?

Elder Maxwell passed away a year later. He was 78 years old. I can picture him up in heaven, meeting my dad and telling him, “I already know everything about you, thanks to your very thorough daughter.”

By seeking to comfort an insignificant pregnant woman in mourning, Elder Maxwell gained nothing . . . except a true and loyal follower.

I know I am not the only one who has had an experience like this. If you are LDS I bet you have a story, too. The apostles are always saying good things about us . . . let’s return the favor.  #imetanapostle

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24 Comments

Filed under Strange Mormon Customs

24 responses to “A Letter From an Apostle

  1. Heidi Jensen

    Such a sweet and beautiful gesture from an amazing man. So sorry for your loss …
    Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Kimberly

    Thank you for sharing this tender experience and your testimony of living apostles! They truly do represent our Savior.

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  3. Great story! Gestures like that from our leaders are so meaningful. I had a stake president in Fort Wayne who would randomly call people (including me) just to check in, passed out little loaves of sweet bread at church, and even sometimes held interviews just to see how I was doing. It was one of the things that kept me from getting lost during those years.

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  4. Brooke

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I remember that sacrament meeting very well because it was our last Sunday in the ward and I had planned to share my testimony. Then Elder Maxwell walked in and I became even more nervous, but I did it! We both will remember that day forever, won’t we? 🙂

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  5. Kim

    What a wonderful story! It brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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  6. Annia

    Loved hearing your experience Chelsea, I have always had a particular fondness for Elder Neal A Maxwell and the way in which he expresses himself so well through his words.

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  7. My mission companion who had leukemia got a similar call from Elder Maxwell while in the mission field. Good to hear it wasn’t an isolated event. He was always one I admired and I miss his every-line quotability.

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  8. That is absolutely beautiful! My great-grandpa is Pres. Benson. When he died, the apostles opened their homes to our ginormous extended family so we would all have a place to stay. My family stayed with Elder Perry and his sweet wife. I will always remember how kind he was to us. I have pictures with my grandpa, but no personal letters. That would be very meaningful. I know you will cherish that letter forever. Thanks for sharing something so wonderful.

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  9. Nina Hansen

    Elder Maxwell visited the Augusta, Maine Stake a thousand years ago (or so it seems now.) I had the privilege of meeting him, and I, too, wrote him a letter. At that time, my testimony was in the cellar and I said so in my letter. He not only wrote back, but he sent me a copy of one of his books, which he had autographed for me. He’s a very, very special man and one I hope to be able to sit down and talk with in the not too distant future. (I’m 72).

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  10. korinne nelson

    Very Very Nice. Well said. Just like Elder Maxwell would do.

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  11. Dan and Debbie Moldenhauer

    Thank you so much Chelsea for sharing your feelings and thoughts while also jogging our memories of sacred experiences with apostles.
    When my husband was to be released as Stake Pres. in Oct. of 2005. Elder Uchdorf was assigned to our stake. Prior to conference Dan had two sweet husbands come to him and ask if it might be possible to have Elder Uchdorf come into their homes to visit their home bound wives. Both were very humble and not wanting to be a burden, but felt the deep desire to lovingly have their wives receive edification this conference weekend along with the rest of the stake. My husband, Dan promised to relay the messages, but felt that he could make no promises based on time and scheduling. Calling a new stake Presidency requires many interviews and much time for extending calls and reorganizing a stake. Through the process Elder Uchdorf was told of these women and never hesitated in his desire to find the time to visit in their homes. One of the wives was a woman who had suffered with MS for many years and had been cared for by her loving husband and ward for a very long time. When Elder Uchdorf, Elder Phippen, and Dan knocked at her door she was not surprised, but was joyously pleased to have them walk into their home. She told them that she had been praying for this experience and knew that though she could not come to them, she knew that the Lord could bring them to her. The power of the priesthood was felt as she was surrounded and given a blessing from an apostle of the Lord. Faith did indeed proceed the miracle that day in her life.
    The next experience came as they visited the home of a woman who was in the final stages of cancer and was struggling to leave this life. That evening she was surrounded by family and the priesthood and was blessed with comfort and the ability to move forward. The miraculous healing came a few days later as she quietly left this life and entered into that sweet rest of the Lord, no longer burdened with a diseased body. In the weeks and months ahead this husband would share his gratitude in experiencing his wife being taken home through the gift and power shared while having an apostle in their home.
    Our stake was very blessed, not just by the words of an apostle of God, but by his Christlike deeds in fulfilling his divine role. We shall never forget!

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  12. I hope you don’t mind, but i attached this to my blog. Bless your heart, I know exactly how you feel. Shortly after my mission, several people kept prompting me to write my autobiography. I tried, but it was so negative, you would not believe it. Anyway, I swallowed my pride and sent it to Deseret Book and they did not accept it, which did not surprise me. However, what did surprise me was a post card I got from then, Elder Monson, who encouraged me to “be more positive, then resubmit.” I treasured his kind remark to me. I mean, here was a man of God who took the time out of his busy schedule to respond to me with words of encouragement. Then, when President Hinckley became the prophet, I wrote him a letter, expressing some concerns I had. Bless his heart, he was kind enough to respond and gave me some beautiful advice, which I took, and I have been so blessed by him, that now I have an eternal family, thanks to him, my entire attitude changed. I too love the men whom Jesus himself has chosen to lead His Church while here upon the earth. Thank you so much for sharing your sweet letter. Hugs from a distance. (psst. I also loved and admired Elder Maxwell. A great human being, in my humble opinion.)

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  13. Cindy

    These experiences are just what I needed today! Thank you everyone!

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  14. Thanks for the post. I was in tears because of the tender nature of this story and because of my own experiences with Elder Maxwell.
    (Also D.T. Bell’s story was a kick too.)

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  15. Tina

    I too, had a similar experience when my mom passed away back in 2003. She grew up in Salt Lake City right down the street from President Monson. He knew everyone in the neighborhood, and many years ago, spoke at her mother’s funeral. At the time she was married and living in Northern California, where I grew up. That funeral had a tremendous influence on my then-non-member dad, who many years later, joined the church. My mom had fond memories, and some of the same stories and poems quoted by President Monson. She was so very grateful that He also looked after her step brother in Salt Lake City, who was handicapped, and never married. Fast forward to 2003… I was caring for my ailing mom, and she passed away in the spring. We were all out making funeral arrangements. When we got back home, my nephew, who stayed to watch over the house, said “Oh, by the way, someone called while you were gone.” We asked who it was. “I don’t know… I wrote the name down on a napkin by the phone.” On the napkin was written: “Thomas Monson”. He was too young to really know who he had talked to! We were sad to have missed his call, but felt so blessed that our sweet mother had been honored by his call.

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  16. Patsy

    Thank you for this beautiful blog post about one of my favorite friends. I met Elder Maxwell and his lovely wife, Colleen through a friend twenty years ago. They became instant guardian angels for me and I have received wonderful letters like the one you showed us. They are priceless. He is priceless. I never could figure out how he did it, but he was always concerned about “the one”. I’m still friends with his beloved wife and talked to her on the phone a couple of weeks ago. I just went through a very hard time and was given his book “All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience”. It was like a personal visit from my everlasting friend. In that book he says that families are not the only thing that last forever, friends are forever, too. I believe that and can tell you to look forward to seeing him again some day. Patsy Lamb

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