SALT LAKE CITY — There was no hesitation on the part of Sister Julie B. Beck when President Russell M. Nelson issued his invitation to the women of the Church during October's women's session.
"I absolutely accepted the invitation," she said.
Sister Beck, who served as Relief Society general president from 2007-2012, was nearly finished with the Book of Mormon at that point but opted to start over and eagerly embraced the other parts of the prophet's challenge.
But the experience became much more meaningful when Sister Beck recognized the need to help a loved one fulfill the same task — her 94-year-old mother, who suffers from dementia and other causes incident to age. As mother and daughter sat together in a sacrament meeting at an assisted living facility, a high councilor pointed out that President Nelson didn't place an age limit on his invitation.
Although Sister Beck considered her mother to be a "finished soul," the speaker's words left her "shaken by the Spirit" and she "went home humbled," she said.
"I got on my knees and repented and said, Heavenly Father, my mother can't do this on her own, so I will help," Sister Beck said.
With some creative thinking and family collaboration, a plan was formed to help their elderly mother follow the prophet.
"Those kind of things have been touching my heart," Sister Beck said. "I’m grateful for a prophet. We're trying to find ways to apply his counsel with all of our family and not excuse anyone. My mother does not know that she is fulfilling the challenges of the prophet but I sense that her spirit is feeling the blessings that were promised."
The tender experience was one of many Sister Beck recently shared in an interview with the Church News. Among various topics discussed, Sister Beck described life since her release at Church headquarters, taking care of her family, memories and lessons from her time as a Church leader and the power that comes with keeping covenants.
The last six years
Sister Beck and her husband, Ramon Beck, served for about five years at the Missionary Training Center in Provo before she spent the next 15 serving in the Young Women and Relief Society general presidencies.
When released in 2012, the biggest changes involved getting more sleep and becoming reacquainted with her family.
"I didn't sleep much as Relief Society president. I actually trained myself not to sleep because I didn't have time to sleep. I would sleep for two hours and get up and work. If I had time, I'd sleep for two more hours, then get up and work. Bodies don’t readjust." Sister Beck said, "But I do sleep more."
While she served at church headquarters, their children grew up, married, had families and built careers.
"We focus a lot on securing our eternal family, as much as we can, and supporting our children in their heavy responsibilities now."
Sister Beck has also assumed the role of lead caregiver for her 94-year-old mother, with the assistance of siblings and some professional help.
"In her decline, I've learned a lot of lessons about patience, compassion, and helping someone who is a burnished soul live out the plan honorably and with dignity as much as possible," Sister Beck said. "The concern for her is never away from me."
An inspired project
When asked if she missed serving at church headquarters, Sister Beck said she missed the "close association with prophets, seers and revelators."
"All 15 of them are my friends. I consider them to be friends, and yet, I don't presume on their time now because I realize they have these monumental responsibilities. But those associations are always in my heart, and will be," she said.
She did not miss the commute or constant pressure of deadlines and assignments, which felt "relentless," she said.
Yet there was one mammoth-sized assignment that Sister Beck will always appreciate — the production of "Daughters in My Kingdom," a resource published in 2011 to strengthen women and their families. Sister Beck devoted a chapter in her book to telling about the experience.
"That project was heaven-directed and prophetically administered. It was not a project I contemplated or proposed. I pondered it for a long time. I knew we needed something that would help sisters," Sister Beck said. "Then out of the blue one day came an assignment from the First Presidency to do that. They were feeling it too."
Sister Beck described the process of producing "Daughters" as "amazing." She thought writing her own book would be similar, but not even close.
Listen to a podcast where Sister Beck talks about her new book, "Joy in the Covenant," with Boyd Matheson.
"As we went to work, it was just nothing but a miracle every day. Stiff opposition every step, but a miracle every day," Sister Beck said. "That was when I came to know the Lord better than I've ever known him in my whole life because he wanted to speak to me. I had to work so hard to be a worthy vessel and not miss the messages. When I didn't miss them, he parted the seas. It was a revealed work and very much aided by heaven."
Something special happened when the project was ready for Church leadership approval. The small team had stapled every page of "Daughters" to the wall so they could visualize the entire book. Before printing copies for church leaders to review over the Christmas break, they needed approval from their advisers in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Robert D. Hales and Elder Neil L. Andersen.
Elder Hales was ill at the time, but Sister Beck learned he was planning to attend a Christmas social and requested he and Elder Andersen come see their project. Elder Hales' secretary said "it was a maybe," Sister Beck said.
Fortunately, Elder Hales and Elder Andersen were able to come. As Sister Beck greeted them, Elder Hales was in a wheelchair and not looking well. But as he entered their room, the apostle appeared energized. Elder Hales stood, walked around the room and examined each page.
"The minute he went into the room, you could tell he was struck by the Spirit. It was powerful," Sister Beck said. "He went all the way around the room and then sat back down. He said, 'The Spirit is in this, print it.' … The Lord quickened Elder Hales long enough to give the approval."
During her time at Church headquarters, Sister Beck delivered 15 talks. She estimates spending between 100 and 150 hours preparing each talk, which gave her great appreciation for the work required to receive revelation.
"It’s about work ethic and somehow in the middle of that work, the Lord begins to reveal his will. But if I just laid on my bed, hummed hymns and waited, I wouldn’t get the talk," she said. "There are a lot of drafts I never used."
What's it like to stand at the Conference Center pulpit and deliver a talk?
"It’s terrifying," Sister Beck said. "The first time I went up to give a talk … my husband said, 'Don't trip.' I thought thank you very much. That was his only advice and I thought I would be the first person to die up there."
Sister Beck recalled one time when she thanked Sister Susan W. Tanner, the Young Women general president from 2002-2008, for reaching over to squeeze her hand and express support before Sister Beck's turn to speak.
Sister Tanner told her friend she was moaning as if in pain, and she worried she might pass out. Sister Beck wasn't aware she was doing that, she said.
"I was unconscious of how much pain I was in," Sister Beck said. "I think it got easier in that regard. I grew to trust the Lord, that he would help me. I knew he'd helped me in the process of preparation, and he would help me in the process of delivery."
Speaking became easier when Sister Beck could visualize a person she wanted to speak to directly, such as a friend, grandchild or someone met in her travels. It helped reduce the crowd of millions down to a personal, intimate level, she said.
"It's not a comfortable place, but it's a holy place," Sister Beck said of the Conference Center pulpit. "I didn’t know that the first time. I realized it after that first experience. I recognized that I had not approached it with enough faith. And I was thinking too much of myself, and not enough about the Lord and being his agent and what he wanted me to do. I recognized looking back how he had helped me through that process. So I made a determination to trust him more in subsequent opportunities."
Work versus ministering
As a Church leader, Sister Beck tried never to forget that the work of the Church is about individuals and families.
"A leader who does not understand the ministry of the Savior is just doing work," she said. "As I travel around the world, I tried always to visit people in their homes, learn about sisters and their situations, their struggles, their trials, their traumas, and have a good grasp about what life was like for people. When you know what life is really like, then you can scale what you're asking people to do to what their moral experience is and help them to cope with what they have and stretch just a bit more keeping their covenants."
The covenant path
For a decade now Sister Beck has felt strongly about the importance of keeping covenants. She recently published a book titled, "Joy in the Covenant," that she felt President Nelson summarized the message perfectly with the catchphrase, "Keep on the covenant Path."
In her writing, Sister Beck uses personal experiences to show different ways her parents taught her about keeping covenants.
"If you want to raise a child in the gospel, the only way to do it is keeping covenants. There is no other path," Sister Beck said. "You can read books about it. You can get advice from people. You can follow examples, but it's all about keeping covenants. … You can't orchestrate agency, but you can stay on the covenant path. That provides the power in your parenting."
It's a message she now wants to pass on to her own children and grandchildren.
"It's what I hope my grandchildren take away, that they're part of a magnificent covenant heritage. They have a great obligation. This book was written with them in mind," Sister Beck said. "They don’t remember the years I was away. We spend time now trying to cement relationships with them and teach every chance we get."