After her husband died, incoming Primary General President Susan H. Porter realized she had a new label — a widow. Though she was someone who had experienced the passing of a spouse, she felt that label didn’t define her.
“I thought to myself, that’s not who I am,” she said in a Church News podcast interview that will be released Tuesday, July 19. “That’s an experience I’ve had, a very important experience, a very profound experience. But who I am is, I’m Susan.”
President Porter said that realization helped her reframe how she thinks about life experiences and how she interacts with others. She was reminded there are universal identifiers that are more important than and not dependent on what happens in life — first and foremost that she is a child of God.
It’s a truth she has taught children worldwide in the last year while serving as first counselor in the Primary general presidency and will continue to underscore as she begins service as Primary general president on Aug. 1.
“I hope that in our interactions with one another … we use President [Russell M.] Nelson’s recent invitation when he talked about the three most important identifiers,” she said, referring to the Prophet’s message to young adults about who they are as children of God, children of the covenant and disciples of Jesus Christ.
Her husband’s passing
President Porter’s husband, Elder Bruce D. Porter, battled kidney failure for nearly 15 years before he died in December 2016. He was a General Authority Seventy who had been presiding over the Europe East Area.
President Porter had been baptized and received the gift of the Holy Ghost at age 8. “Never in my life had that meant more to me than at that time when my husband passed away,” she said. “I felt literally the strength of that gift. I felt I was being held up in the loving hands of our Heavenly Father through that gift of the Holy Ghost.”
During the years Elder Porter experienced serious health challenges and since his passing, President Porter said she has come to understand the sorrow there is in the hearts of Church members when life doesn’t unfold as they hoped.
“As I’ve spoken in various locations over the past year, [I’ve seen that] people want connection,” she said. A variety of sisters have come up to her and opened up about their challenges — such as losing their husband, losing a child, having a family member step away from the Church, not having the opportunity to marry.
“They want to connect with someone who might know what it feels like to not have perhaps every blessing at that particular time in their life that they desire. And to see that we can still move forward, and we can still offer something to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
The 3 most important labels
President Porter is a mother of four children and a grandmother of 12. She is a wife and daughter. She was raised in a part-member family, where the gospel of Jesus Christ was taught by her mother and her father was not a member of the Church. At different times in her life, she has been a student, lab assistant, math teacher and volunteer. Now she will be a Primary general president.
Though reflective of life experiences, these designations are not President Porter’s most important labels.
As President Nelson taught: “... No identifier should displace, replace or take priority over these three enduring designations: ‘child of God,’ ‘child of the covenant’ and ‘disciple of Jesus Christ.’”
These “three enduring designations” apply to all who have been baptized and made covenants with God — regardless of age, marital status, nationality or any other identifier.
“What’s most important is how we honor those three most important labels,” President Porter said. “The most important thing is not if I’ve had the opportunity to marry or if I’ve had the opportunity to have children. It’s how we honor those most important labels of being a child of God. How are we honoring our covenants? How are we being a disciple of Christ?
“Let those be preeminent, and then other life experiences certainly inform our lives and our outlooks and our experiences, but that’s not actually who we are.”