Hymn writer tells of penning words to `I Am a Child of God'

When Naomi W. Randall woke up in the middle of the night and penned a children's song more than 40 years ago, she never dreamed that one day it would be sung in 90 languages by millions of people around the world.

She had no idea it would bring peace to a man struggling with the Church or comfort a prisoner of war in Vietnam.She did not know then that Primary children everywhere would learn, from her words, a basic principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ: that they are children of God.

Speaking with reporters at BYU Oct. 13, just weeks after her 90th birthday, Sister Randall recalled writing the words to "I Am a Child of God." For this and other major contributions to the Church, Sister Randall was honored that day with a BYU Presidential Citation.

The woman, who led the Church committee that instigated the CTR ring and helped write Primary manuals and lessons, said penning the lyrics to "I Am a Child of God" was just part of her calling on the Primary general board - where she served for 27 years.

Recalling the experience in 1957, Sister Randall explained that she wrote the words while preparing for a Primary conference program to be held in the Salt Lake Tabernacle. She was given the assignment to write a song on the program's theme: "A Child's Plea."

That night in her North Ogden, Utah, home, Sister Randall prayed that she might know the right text for the song and then went to bed. Around 2 a.m. she awoke and as she lay there "in the darkness and the quietness the words started to form in my mind."

Without hesitation she got up. "I went in the other room and wrote as fast as I could write."

The first verse came, then the second and then the third.

Sister Randall, knowing where the words came from, immediately "got down on my knees and said, `Heavenly Father, thank you very much.' "

That week she mailed the lyrics to Mildred Pettit in Pasadena, Calif., who composed the music.

"I am so grateful that the song came about," she said, humbly explaining that she still receives letters from people all over the world who have been touched by the music. "I feel like I am just an instrument. I don't take credit for [the song]."

She said everywhere she goes people comment on the song - one of the first Primary songs to be added to the Church's adult hymn book.

Even her own family members have had numerous spiritual experiences while listening to their mother's and grandmother's lyrics.

After sharing experiences, they eagerly showed reporters books containing her numerous other contributions to the Church - including dozens of children's stories, articles, poems, hidden picture activities, and the "Barnabee Bumbleberry" comic strip which ran in The Children's Friend. And then they talked about her role in instigating the CTR ring.

Sister Randall said she enjoys seeing so many young people wearing CTR rings. "It helps them remember who they are and that they should still choose the right," she said.

But she knows that her most important contribution was "I Am a Child of God."

Sister Randall said that several years after she wrote the text, President Spencer W. Kimball, then of the Quorum of the Twelve, heard the words and offered one suggestion: Change the phrase "teach me all that I must know to live with Him again," to "teach me all that I must do to live with Him again."

"Knowing is not enough," said Sister Randall, explaining the future Church president's concerns. "It is doing that prepares us to return to our Father in Heaven."

Sister Randall said years later, when she was being released from the Primary general presidency, President Kimball spoke of writing "I Am a Child of God" with her. "He said, `She wrote most of the words, but I wrote one.' "

Sister Randall told reporters she doesn't expect praise for her work. In fact, she noted that receiving the BYU Presidential Citation was "the farthest thing from my mind."

"I have never experienced anything like this in my whole life," she explained, giving credit for her achievements to her Heavenly Father. "Every thing I did was proceeded by prayer. I had no assignment that I didn't pray about."

Before presenting Sister Randall with the Presidential Citation at a campus devotional, BYU Pres. Merrill J. Bateman asked all the students that own CTR rings to stand. Thousands - a clear majority of those attending - did so.

Pres. Bateman, noting the far-reaching effects of Sister Randall's influence, called it an honor to pay tribute to such a great woman.

At 90 years old, Sister Randall is enthusiastic about life, reciting poetry for reporters and laughing with her children and grandchildren. Just last year, at the request of her grandson, she wrote the words to another song, "Return with Honor," urging Church members to live so they can return to meet their Father in Heaven. Music is currently being composed to accompany the lyrics.

Today, Sister Randall loves to spend time with her family. A native of North Ogden, Utah, she currently lives in La Mesa, Calif., with her daughter and son-in-law.

She also enjoys hearing children sing "I Am a Child of God" in any language and is happy her words have not only communicated an important message to Church members worldwide, but also to her family and to her.

When asked by a Church News reporter what she wants others to know about her, Sister Randall did not hesitate:

"That I am a child of God," she said.

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