Rachel Sterzer Gibson: How I’m striving to follow my dad’s final counsel to me

Like the aging prophet Lehi, my dad gave his children blessings before he died. Ten years later, I hope he knows I’m trying to follow his counsel

A little over 10 years ago, my dad passed away after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

About a year before he died and as his needs for care intensified, my mom decided to retire from her career as a nurse and sell my childhood home so that she could devote herself more fully to taking care of him.

My dad realized they were moving, and he wanted to help but was often confused. I remember watching him pack and unpack the same box over and over and over again. His physical abilities were deteriorating — but so was his mental acuity.

The Sunday before we were going to move my parents into a small rental, my siblings and I gathered with them one last time in the place they had called home for 25 years.

In her personal study at that time, my oldest sister, Terri, had been reading 2 Nephi, where the aging prophet Lehi gathers his children and blesses and counsels them. She asked our dad if he would provide each of his children with a father’s blessing. We weren’t quite sure how he would do, but he readily agreed. I’ll never forget the sweet spirit that filled the room as he spoke with power, if not perfect syntax.

| Sterzer family

I am the seventh of eight children, so by the time it was my turn, my dad’s voice as well as his hands were shaky and heavy. The blessing was short — less than 2 minutes long. Among other things, he told me to “let the world know that there is a Rachel Sterzer in this Church.”

That would be the last time I had the privilege of receiving a father’s blessing. My dad passed away the following July.

I’m generally not the type of person who likes to speak up. I’m much more comfortable letting someone else — someone smarter, more articulate, funnier or more spiritual — offer a comment during a Sunday School class or give an opinion during a work meeting.

I’ve often joked that there is a drawbridge between my brain and my mouth. When I get nervous or tired or flustered, the drawbridge goes up, and I’m never quite sure which of the thoughts in my brain are going to make it across the chasm to my mouth … or in what order they will arrive.

But in addition to my dad’s counsel, my ears have also been pricked by the words of Church leaders in recent years.

In a talk titled “A Plea to My Sisters” in 2015, President Russell M. Nelson, then the president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, told the women of the Church, “We, your brethren, need your strength, your conversion, your conviction, your ability to lead, your wisdom and your voices. The kingdom of God is not and cannot be complete without women who make sacred covenants and then keep them, women who can speak with the power and authority of God” (October 2015 general conference).

In 2017, I helped write about the women’s session of general conference where Sharon Eubank, then a counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, challenged the women of the Church to be better at articulating their faith. “Use your voice and your power to articulate what you know and feel — on social media, in quiet conversations with your friends, when you’re chatting with your grandchildren. Tell them why you believe, what it feels like, if you ever doubted, how you got through it, and what Jesus Christ means to you. As the apostle Peter said, ‘Be not afraid … ; but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you’” (1 Peter 3:14-15).

| Screenshot from YouTube.
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So I have tried — and am trying — to do better about saying “yes” to opportunities to share my testimony, to speak up and articulate my faith. Raising my hand during a gospel discussion, teaching a lesson, participating in a podcast, bearing my testimony during sacrament meeting, offering an opinion during a meeting, answering sincere questions, even writing a column and, most recently, speaking during a session of BYU Women’s Conference have all been out of my comfort zone. They’ve also been stretching and growth-filled and have filled me with a deep sense of responsibility to become a better leader, to learn — despite my weaknesses — how to step up and speak “with the power and authority of God.”

In a special Worldwide Relief Society Devotional just this past March, the Prophet said, “Sisters, we need your voices teaching the doctrine of Christ. We need your ability as women to detect deception and to articulate truth. We need your inspired wisdom in your family, ward and stake councils, as well as in other places of influence throughout the world. Your family, the Church and the world need you” (“The Influence of Women,” 2024 Worldwide Relief Society Devotional, March 17, 2024).

This was reiterated to me recently as my 13-year-old stepdaughter came to my husband and me wondering why we obey certain commandments when many in the world do not. President Nelson is right: My family, my children, my friends and loved ones need to know why I believe and why there “is a Rachel Sterzer in this Church.” And each time I give an answer, I hope my dad knows I’m trying to follow his counsel.

— Rachel Sterzer Gibson is a reporter with the Church News.

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