President Nelson’s family gathered virtually to celebrate his birthday and hear his hopes for them

With his 96th birthday approaching, President Russell M. Nelson promised his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren that “great spiritual growth, faith and joy” can be theirs as they keep the commandments of God.

“God has made a timeless promise to those who keep His commandments,” he said. “He will bless your children and your children’s children through the third and fourth generation.”

President Nelson, 17th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, joined the massive virtual birthday celebration on Sunday, Sept. 6. Held via videoconference three days before his Sept. 9 birthday, the celebration included 276 participants in 61 locations — each wishing their father, grandfather and great-grandfather the happiest of birthdays.

Sister Wendy Nelson and President Russell M. Nelson participate in a virtual birthday celebration on Sept. 6, 2020.
Sister Wendy Nelson and President Russell M. Nelson participate in a virtual birthday celebration on Sept. 6, 2020. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the party offered a glimpse of the legacy President Nelson has given his posterity.

Family members shared love and memories through music, photographs and handwritten messages. Typical of a large family connected via videoconference, they struggled with technology, muted and unmuted their microphones, wrangled wiggly children and laughed often — demonstrating a connection that transcends physical distance. Many spoke of President Nelson’s influence as they served as missionaries, welcomed spouses and children to the family, and faced challenges. Each called President Nelson’s love constant.

Video: In honor of President Nelson’s 96th birthday, here’s a glimpse of his fast-paced ministry and historic leadership

Born Sept. 9, 1924, President Nelson is the son of Marion C. and Edna Anderson Nelson. He and his late wife, Sister Dantzel Nelson, have 10 children. She passed away in February 2005. In April 2006, President Nelson married Sister Wendy Nelson.

President Nelson has 57 grandchildren; a new baby born just one day before the celebration is President Nelson’s 140th great-grandchild.

Members of President Russell M. Nelson’s family participate in a virtual birthday party — via video conferencing — three days before his 96th birthday on Sunday Sept. 6, 2020. President Nelson turned 96 on Sept. 9, 2020.
Members of President Russell M. Nelson’s family participate in a virtual birthday party — via video conferencing — three days before his 96th birthday on Sunday Sept. 6, 2020. President Nelson turned 96 on Sept. 9, 2020. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Calling President Nelson “the most magnificent man I have ever known,” Sister Nelson said a song represents her feelings for her husband — “You light up my life.”

“You light up my life with the joy you have for each new day — and especially the next. You’re always looking to the future!”

Sister Nelson said President Nelson is compassionate, resilient and undaunted.

“And, you light up my life because you are always seeking instructions from the Lord and seeking His help.”

She spoke of an experience last year in Alaska when a dense fog moved in just before President Nelson’s plane was to take off to return to Salt Lake City. The situation was serious because he needed to fly to another important engagement.

Members of President Russell M. Nelson’s family participate in a virtual birthday party — via video conferencing — three days before his 96th birthday on Sunday Sept. 6, 2020. President Nelson turned 96 on Sept. 9, 2020.
Members of President Russell M. Nelson’s family participate in a virtual birthday party — via video conferencing — three days before his 96th birthday on Sunday Sept. 6, 2020. President Nelson turned 96 on Sept. 9, 2020. Credit: Screenshot

When those in the traveling party suggested they “move to Plan B” and return to the hotel, President Nelson said, “Plan A. I pray.”

“And so you did. You prayed,” said Sister Nelson. “You pleaded with the Lord, and suddenly, for just a few minutes, a hole opened up in the dense fog, and your plane took off. On schedule.”

Addressing his family, President Nelson shared the “ABCs for spiritual growth — A: be attractive, B: be bright, C: build character.”

Be attractive. Noting that he was not speaking of physical appearance, President Nelson said, “I am speaking of your spiritual appearance. Think what a smile can do.”

President Nelson told his family that their physical appearance reflects their spiritual feelings. “Does your countenance radiate love and encouragement? Please make people glad to see you and especially glad to spend eternity with you. Families can be together forever. We thank the Lord for making that possible. Now, it’s up to each of you to help us to make that eternal life enjoyable.”

A birthday celebration for President Russell M. Nelson, held via video conferencing on Sunday Sept. 6 — three days before his Sept. 9 birthday — included 276 participants in 61 locations.
A birthday celebration for President Russell M. Nelson, held via video conferencing on Sunday Sept. 6 — three days before his Sept. 9 birthday — included 276 participants in 61 locations. Credit: Screenshot

Be bright. President Nelson emphasized that a person’s face is a reflection of his or her spirit. “Brighten the room the moment you enter it. Learn something new each day. You choose — another language, how to sing, how to play musical instrument. Increase your own light’s wattage with each day’s time.”

Build your character. “How do I define character?” questioned President Nelson. “Your character is what you are when no one else is near you. Character is your spirit in action. It has several components. At the top of the list is faith. Remember, one of the fundamental reasons for which you came to earth was to develop faith — faith in God, faith in Jesus Christ and faith in yourself as a child of God. … Your strong faith will bring spiritual power to you.”

President Nelson said after faith comes virtue.

“Virtue also means power, including strength and morality. A virtuous person is a joyful person. Build into your character the quality of patience. Be patient with other people. And be patient with yourself while you are learning and growing. Be obedient.”

A birthday celebration for President Russell M. Nelson, held via video conferencing on Sunday Sept. 6 — three days before his Sept. 9 birthday — included 276 participants in 61 locations.
A birthday celebration for President Russell M. Nelson, held via video conferencing on Sunday Sept. 6 — three days before his Sept. 9 birthday — included 276 participants in 61 locations. Credit: Screenshot

President Nelson praised Latter-day Saints across the globe. “They generously contribute fast offerings, humanitarian aid and effort. They contribute that as free will offerings, more every year. It’s just amazing to watch this happen.”

Other attributes of character include honesty, integrity and dependability, said President Nelson. “One of the joys of my life is the privilege of working every day with honest men and women who are truly and totally dependable.”

President Nelson said his expectations — and the Lord’s expectations — for his family did not change or intensify when he became Prophet. President Nelson said his hope has always been that his posterity would keep the commandments and be good men and women. 

In closing, he added, “Wendy joins with me and expressing our deep feelings of love and gratitude for each one of you now and forever.”

President Nelson also wishes to express heartfelt love and thanks to members of the Church throughout the world who have sent him birthday greetings.