Doctors were stumped when Ken and Rebecca O'Donnell's son, 3-year-old Kenneth, suffered from swelling of the optic nerve. At one point the family was sitting across the desk from a neurologist who had examined Kenneth.
The perplexed doctor folded his hands and dropped his head."Are you going to say a prayer?" asked Kenneth, who later recovered from the ailment.
"That made us think we are doing something right," Sister O'Donnell said during a Church News interview.
Making prayer a family priority is one way the O'Donnell's are striving to make their home in Grove City, Pa., a haven from evil influences in the world. They are members of the Slippery Rock Branch, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania North Stake.
Phil and Patty Barzee of the Kansas City North Ward, Liberty Missouri Stake, make certain they gather their seven children – Jason, 16; Kim, 15; Alysia, 13; Erin, 11; Brian, 7; Brigham, 4; and Jacob, 2 – together on a regular basis to build barriers against Satan's influence.
"We always have family home evening," Sister Barzee said. "With our children of so many different ages with so many different things to do, family home evening gives us the opportunity every week to be together."
The O'Donnell and Barzee families, and others like them, understand the importance of the words spoken by President Spencer W. Kimball in the April 1979 general conference: "We need continually to fortify our homes and families and defend them against the onslaught of evils such as divorce, broken families, brutality, and abuse, especially of wives and children. We need to constantly guard against immorality, pornography, and sexual permissiveness that would destroy the purity of the family members, young and old.
"Such evils are very real and very threatening. One has but to read the headlines of our newspapers and magazines to become frighteningly aware of the crumbling, destructive influences which surround us."
According to Sister Barzee, a lot of the stories she and Brother Barzee read in the newspaper reinforce over and over the need to build a strong base in the home for children.
President Kimball continued: "If we could but suggest you go home and lock these evils out by closing and bolting the windows and locking the doors of your homes securely, it would be a simple matter.
"However, such security would be ineffective against the evils of which we speak. They come into our homes on ether waves by radio and the television screen. We find these evil forces almost everywhere we go. Exposure is almost constant. We track them into the home from the school, from the playground, from the theater, the office, and the marketplace. There are but few places we go in our everyday world where we can escape."
Brother and Sister O'Donnell started at the beginning of their marriage to fortify their home against the evils spoken of by President Kimball.
"I don't know how people can do it starting when their children are older," Brother O'Donnell said. He then noted: "When Kenneth was young, I felt like he could feel the Spirit when we would pray or sing a Primary song. He would calm down. I believe he could already recognize spiritual things."
In addition to family prayer, the O'Donnells are using proper Sabbath Day observance and service to others as building blocks as they strive to protect their children, according to Sister O'Donnell.
"Music is another big thing for us," Brother O'Donnell said. "We sing a lot of songs together and try to teach the kids Primary songs and hymns."
Sister O'Donnell added: "Once when we went for a ride, Kenneth thought I looked sad while I was driving the car. He said, `Do you want me to sing?' He knows to sing when he is sad."
Brother and Sister O'Donnell also read scripture stories to Kenneth and Megan, 18 months, and have pictures hanging prominently in their home that include one of the Savior and one of the Manti Temple where they were married.
They are careful to shield their children from influences that bombard the home. Brother O'Donnell said they are basically anti-television. They do recognize there are some good television shows, but they feel it is important to carefully screen what they and their children watch.
For the Barzees, family home evening is the principle fiber of a protective fabric, but it is strengthened by other family activities such as working together on household chores. Sister Barzee said the end result of that activity is not only a family closeness, but also a clean home that is inviting to the Spirit of the Lord.
"We also try to have family prayer and family scripture study every day even if everyone can't make it every time," she said.
While emphasizing the need for family activities, Sister Barzee added: "As parents, we try to spend some individual time with each child, depending on what they like to do and their interests. It may be walking around the mall, going to a movie, reading a book together or playing a game. It makes the children realize they are special and important to us."
The O'Donnells and Barzees affirmed that by striving to live the principles of the gospel, their homes become havens from the evils of the world.
Brother O'Donnell concluded: "Our home feels like a different place from the rest of the world. We have a lot of friends who are not members of the Church. Many of them can feel a difference when they visit our house. And when we go places together as a family, the spirit goes with us."