Episode 67: Sister Nelson on being an eyewitness to President Nelson’s four years as Prophet

Jan. 14, 2022, marked the four-year anniversary of President Russell M. Nelson’s leading The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Within that historic time frame, President Nelson has guided the Church’s almost 17 million members during the COVID-19 pandemic, issued powerful invitations, traveled extensively and built many bridges of understanding with community, government and religious leaders.

This special episode of the Church News podcast features Sister Wendy W. Nelson, the wife of President Nelson and a retired marriage and family therapist and professor. She shares her testimony, how to seek for truth in an age of overflowing information and what she has learned as an eyewitness to President Nelson’s extraordinary ministry.

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Transcript

Sister Wendy Nelson: In this war of words that rages all around us, I really think there’s only one way to keep ourselves safe, and that is to compare anything and everything we read, view or hear with the teachings of the prophets. I wonder what could happen to our level of peace, clarity of thinking, the amount of joy we experience, the amount of love, spiritual prosperity, if we questioned [everything from the media], and instead prayerfully studied, fully embraced and lived by every prophetic teaching we could find. I think we’ll be amazed at what we could discover.

Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

Jan. 14, 2022, marked the four-year anniversary of President Russell M. Nelson’s leading The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Wow, what an amazing four years it has been. President Nelson, a leader of almost 17 million Latter-day Saints worldwide, has traveled extensively, changed Church organization, issued historic invitations, used technology, and built many, many bridges of understanding. This special episode of the Church News podcast features guest Sister Wendy W. Nelson, a retired marriage and family therapist and professor, and the wife of President Nelson. She is going to share what she has learned during the past four years as an eyewitness to President Nelson’s historic ministry. Sister Nelson, welcome. 

President Russell M. Nelson and his wife, Sister Wendy W. Nelson, participate in a devotional broadcast to Latter-day Saints in Europe on Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022.
President Russell M. Nelson and his wife, Sister Wendy W. Nelson, participate in a devotional broadcast to Latter-day Saints in Europe on Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Sister Wendy Nelson: Thank you, Sarah. It’s great to be here. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, let’s just start and have you tell us what these past years have meant to you.

2:08

Sister Wendy Nelson: I hardly know where to begin with that question, a great question. But the last four years have been absolutely overwhelming at times, absolutely filled with joy all the time. There has been an abundance of light-filled, love-filled moments. With COVID, it’s been a little scary out there as we’ve watched the numbers of people who have been infected grow, especially recently. It’s been four years of doing all those things that keep the heavens open for me, and that keep me growing spiritually, and doing those things more intensively than ever before in my life. Though these last four years have been really complicated, and also really easy. That doesn’t seem to fit, but that is how it’s been. Some things, I’d say, in the last four years have been confusing, like the choices we’ve watched some loved ones make, and some things have never been clearer, like how to have joy, how to have peace, how to have love. We have also had some of the most wretched, sleepless nights, and we have also had some of the best Saturday afternoon naps of our lives. 

Also, I could say in the midst of all the COVID craziness, we have had a lot of fun. He keeps me laughing. I remember years ago talking to the wife of a mission president in Switzerland — this was before we were married, and before I even knew I would be marrying him — but talking to her about her husband and what she was drawn to, and I remember her saying, “Oh, he makes me laugh.” And I thought, “I need to add that to my list.” Because of course, I had grown up experiencing my parents in the kitchen. I remember just a classic visual of them in the kitchen. My dad is at the table. He’s reading her something or saying something and she’s puttering in the kitchen and laughing this classic laugh that she had. And so when this mission leader said, “My husband makes me laugh,” I thought, “Oh, that would be so lovely.” And then, very shortly after speaking to that mission president’s wife in Switzerland, my husband actually approached me as Elder Russell M. Nelson, and the rest is history. 

But I remember, oh, several years into the marriage, thinking one day, “Just a minute. I have a husband that makes me laugh,” and actually I do the same for him. In fact, from time to time, I’ll say to him, “Did you ever think it would be this much fun to be married to me?” And there were so many new experiences in those four years. We did so much travel. We visited 35 countries and 17 states in 2018 and 2019; that was a lot of travel. So, really intense travel, and you know what it’s like to get off the plane in some faraway place and fall immediately in love with each person that you meet, knowing that there’s no possible way this was the first time you’ve met them. So, all of that travel, all kinds of new experiences, including heightened security beyond anything I could have imagined. But we’ve been able to get very creative about how to breathe fresh air, take a hike around a lake in the summertime, take a hike in the hills in a really secluded mountain space, even a walk on the top of the Conference Center so my husband can observe the work on Temple Square. It has all worked. 

President Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his wife Sister Wendy Nelson tour the renovation work at the Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City on Saturday, May 22, 2021.
President Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his wife Sister Wendy Nelson tour the renovation work at the Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City on Saturday, May 22, 2021. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I’ll tell you, there’s nothing that warms my heart more than knowing that the two of you have each other, especially during this time of pandemic when travel is limited, when public gatherings are limited, when so many things that we’re used to doing are limited. Tell me, how are you both doing?

6:06

Sister Wendy Nelson: It’s scary out there with COVID and all of its variants, and I’m hyper vigilant about keeping President Nelson COVID-free. I’ve always been a germaphobe, and it’s only been heightened now with COVID and all these various variants. Several of our friends have had parents and siblings die or be on ventilators and be really, really ill, which brings me back to my need to be so vigilant about him and me. So we’ve followed the COVID protocol with exactness and actually, we have never been healthier. 

The other good news is that we have managed the COVID constraints because the Lord has really helped President Nelson use other ways to get his messages out. You are very aware of how, through social media and other media during the two COVID years of 2020 and 2021, President Nelson’s messages have actually been received by millions more people than ever before. We stand amazed at that, and we are just so grateful that COVID has not silenced the voice of the Prophet.

When I think of the specific messages that he has given: from general conference messages, worldwide Thanksgiving and Christmas messages, worldwide social posts, obviously worldwide presidential and prophetic messages. He’s also recently been able to record a message that is now part of each new temple dedication. We are just thrilled about this. So, imagine: President Nelson can welcome the Saints to the temple dedication. He can bring them his love, the Lord’s love, he can bring a message, a blessing. We’re just thrilled with that idea that was totally inspiration.

Also, he has commenced what he calls “broadcast devotionals.” The end of 2021, we gave an evening devotional with Elder [Dieter F.] and Sister [Harriet] Uchtdorf, and that was broadcast live to all the stakes of Oklahoma and Kansas; and just last week, we recorded a devotional with Elder [David A.] and Sister [Susan]  Bednar that was broadcast to the 48 countries of the Europe Area last Sunday.

So, the Lord is helping President Nelson to be with the people by way of technology during these COVID days, and, again, we are so grateful for that. 

President Russell M. Nelson addresses Latter-day Saints in Kansas and Oklahoma during a devotional broadcast from the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021.
President Russell M. Nelson addresses Latter-day Saints in Kansas and Oklahoma during a devotional broadcast from the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, Sister Nelson, all I can say is, from me and 17 million other people worldwide: Thank you so much for the care you’re giving President Nelson, and thank you for taking care of yourself. How are you staying connected with those you love? 

8:58

Sister Wendy Nelson: We are just like everyone else; we’ve had to be really creative to keep in touch with family members and friends. So, thanks to Zoom, we’ve attended, we’ve been able to — first of all — have great connections during the COVID days, years. For Thanksgiving, Christmas, huge gatherings and for my husband’s birthdays; and on other Sundays throughout the year, we’ve also gathered on Zoom with various sizes of gatherings and combinations of loved ones. Perhaps just a daughter and her husband, sometimes three daughters and their husbands, sometimes various combinations, permutations of people we love. And as I’m sure others have experienced, the Spirit is always present and it’s just so amazing to feel connected. We love seeing all these little families out there. When we do our Nelson family Zoom for major events, we can “visit” 60 or more households from Peru, to Hawaii, to Texas. So we could never do that in just real life, and I think the Christmas pageant was the best I’ve ever seen. So things are happening, and here’s what I love to say at the end of each large gathering that we have by Zoom — anywhere from 150 to 200 people — I say to my husband every time: “A good time was had by all. No refreshments were served, and no COVID variants were shared.” So, we’re grateful for that.

Sarah Jane Weaver: What a beautiful sentiment.

10:46

Sister Wendy Nelson: You know, that’s always the major quote after you have a gathering, right? “A good time was had by all. Refreshments were served.” Well, I love saying, “A good time was had by all. No refreshments were served and no COVID variants were shared.” Works for me. 

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints waves a handkerchief after a devotional at Estadio Cementos Progreso stadium in Guatemala City on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019. Sister Wendy Nelson, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and his wife sister, Mary Cook, look at the choir.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints waves a handkerchief after a devotional at Estadio Cementos Progreso stadium in Guatemala City on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019. Sister Wendy Nelson, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and his wife sister, Mary Cook, look at the choir. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Of course, Sarah, we have missed traveling to be with the Saints. We’ve missed being with family members and other loved ones up close and personal. But there has been one huge plus for us — actually, there’ve been several pluses — but one of them is we’ve been able to have more time together, just the two of us. It’s like we’ve been given permission to be alone together, and we’ve loved that. We love just talking together, playing Scrabble, working on a jigsaw puzzle for another great-grandchild or other children we love. I love listening to him play the piano. He’ll say “I’m wooing you.” It’s wonderful. He’ll play everything from “Elégie” by Massenet, to a great song out of the 60s by Connie Francis that says, “If it takes forever, I will wait for you.” I tell him: “That’s what I did for 55 years, dear. I waited for 55 years.” 

In any case, the Lord has led us to be able to savor these days, to make the most of these days, and I was thinking just this morning because of an email that came through at about 7 o’clock, that this COVID restricted time, where we’ve not been able to travel, we’ve not been able to do a lot of things, has really allowed me to reach out to some people that I might not have reached out to, and had some meaningful connections. 

I think of this young friend — I first met her with her family when she was a teenager. This was in California, and now she’s married, having her third son. But she wrote to me in November and just said, “Oh, life is hard, and what can I do? I’m overwhelmed.” And let’s see if I can find this from November. She said, “I’m so tired physically, emotionally, mentally, I don’t know how you and President Nelson have made it so far in life.” (That means she’s saying, “Whoa, you guys are old.”) “And still have the kind of energy you both do.” So, she was feeling really, really overwhelmed. She said she was in her third, very high risk pregnancy. And Sundays, which had been such a break for her, now were just stressful as she wrestled two little children. So I thought, “How could I possibly help her?” So in November, I, first of all, just said, “You’re right, life is hard. And you’re in the throes of a lot of problems and to have high risk pregnancies so close together and jeopardizing your own health, it’s just a lot.” So I gave her a suggestion that she actually followed through with: I invited her to take a question that she most needed to have answered, on whatever day. So, for 30 days, to take the question that was on her heart for that day, to the scriptures, and thank her Heavenly Father for the scriptures, tell him the one question that she needed to have answered that day, ask for the Holy Ghost to be with her as she read, open the scriptures and read until she finds the answer, and then to record what she found. Well, that was in November, and she just wrote on Jan. 19, and said — she apologized, first of all for taking so long, but we can imagine, here’s a young mother with her third high risk pregnancy — and the title of this email that she sent was, “Life is hard, but it’s happy.” Now, don’t you love that? 

Sarah Jane Weaver: I do.

During a 45-minute virtual gathering on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Sister Wendy W. Nelson, watch as Nelson's daughters sing a Christmas carol.
During a 45-minute virtual gathering on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Sister Wendy W. Nelson, watch as Nelson’s daughters sing a Christmas carol. Credit: Screenshot Nelson family

Sister Wendy Nelson: Yes. So she said, “I’ve learned a lot over the past couple of months. I’m not even sure where to start. In regards to your challenge, I feel so much more peace in my life right now. By focusing on one question a day, and really listening to what Heavenly Father was trying to share with me and writing it down, made me love the scriptures even more. I found I had more direction and purpose in my daily study. I have also been able to focus on what matters and not stress over the little things. As such, my stress and anxiety have improved immensely. One thing my OB-GYN is very grateful for seeing, as it has helped to lower my blood pressure.” Well, she goes on and on, but that’s the difference that can come to us when we really do seek the answers that are in the scriptures, seek to hear the word of the Lord, talk to our Heavenly Father, tell Him what is the one big question on our heart that day. Then go to the scriptures, which, of course, modern-day prophets that we have right now speak the word of Lord, go to their voices as well. So one of the advantages, again, as I say, about COVID, for me, is it has allowed me to connect with some people that I might not have connected with.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, that really is beautiful. And I love that you’ve made her problems simple for her and for all of us, and given us sort of a guide of what we can do to get through this challenging time. 

I was also so grateful that you mentioned yours and President Nelson’s talk last Sunday to Latter-day Saints in Europe. I loved that the topic that you chose to speak on during that broadcast was follow the prophets. So, why did you select that topic? Why does this topic matter to you, and by extension, to each of us?

Read: The Church has an ‘unparalleled future’ in Europe, President Nelson tells Latter-day Saints from 48 European countries

16:41

Sister Wendy Nelson: Well, it’s a jungle out there, as you know, and it’s almost impossible to maneuver through the morass of information that is out there. I can’t imagine that there has been a more important time in the history of the world or the Church, not a more important time to follow the prophets than right now, because prophets speak the truth, and when we follow the prophets, we can be safe. So, following the prophets is the key to safety. There’s all kinds of safety: Spiritual safety, to be sure, but maybe physical safety, your health, maybe emotional safety, because you don’t need to fear when you follow the prophets.

Speaking of what a jungle it is: I had an experience just the other day, I got caught in the net of the internet when I took just a simple question to the internet. That’s the contrast vs. taking a question to the scriptures. So, I was just trying to find out, how could we watch a basketball game? And oh, my goodness, what I had to maneuver through to get that information. No, I didn’t want to buy a blouse. No, I didn’t want to see a movie. No, I didn’t want to watch a dog comfort a baby. Yes, I’d like to know what is the podcast that’s related to the new, the upcoming “Come, Follow Me” for this week, but not right now. I just want to know, how can we watch the game? Have you had that experience?

Sarah Jane Weaver: We are laughing so hard here because we’ve all had that experience. We all have that experience every hour of almost every day.

18:23

President Russell M. Nelson, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his wife Sister Wendy Nelson are interviewed in Salt Lake City on Friday May 29, 2020.
President Russell M. Nelson, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his wife Sister Wendy Nelson are interviewed in Salt Lake City on Friday May 29, 2020. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Sister Wendy Nelson: So, the distractions when you’re seeking information on the internet are just overwhelming, and you can get tangled up just so easily. 

And then let’s talk about the quality of the information out there: All the half-truths, the bold-faced lies, the deceptions, all the silly ideas that are offered as truth. So to me, again, the way to have the questions of our hearts, the important questions in our lives answered is to say, “Well, what did the Prophet say?” And then follow what they have declared. One of the most distinctive features of the Savior’s restored Church is the presence of prophets, and today we sustain 15 men in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as prophets, seers and revelators. Each one has been called by God, to testify of Christ and teach the truth. So, I think the topic of following the prophets so that we can find truth is the most important thing we could do.

Sarah Jane Weaver: In your address to members in Europe, you shared something that I found really, really interesting, and that was using the analogy of a story by Hans Christian Andersen called “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Certainly, this story actually represents a type of gaslighting or manipulation. Are you willing to share that story again with our listeners today, and then explain why this topic matters to you, and by extension, each of us?

20:10 

Sister Wendy Nelson: Of course. Well, the literary folktale “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, and in that, swindlers convinced the emperor that the new attire they made for him is of the most exquisite material, pattern and colors. They emphasize that anyone who cannot see the extraordinary clothing is unworthy of his office or simply stupid. Everyone in the tale is duped by the charlatans — even the Emperor’s most trusted officials. All the townspeople join in the chorus, telling the Emperor how magnificent he looks as he proudly parades in front of them. “Love the robe!” Yeah, no one wants to be thought of as stupid. However, one child boldly proclaims, “The emperor has no clothes on!” And that was the truth. So when we’re looking for truth, it can be tricky because so many people are touting their ideas as truth, and a whole lot of people are definitely seeking truth.

Sister Wendy Nelson and President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints walk out to Safeco Field to speak to a crowd of more than 49,000 people in Seattle, Wash., on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018.
Sister Wendy Nelson and President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints walk out to Safeco Field to speak to a crowd of more than 49,000 people in Seattle, Wash., on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. Credit: Rex Warner, Deseret News

I was thinking the other day about a wonderful wife and mother who had been gaslighted by her husband for years as he tried to hide his adultery from her. One day she went to the temple, just desperately seeking the answer to one question on her heart: “What is true?” And in the Celestial Room, she was shown. I think of a really important former government leader of another nation with whom President Nelson had a brotherly connection. Now, I don’t often accompany President Nelson into meetings with government leaders, but I did in this case, and we each felt such a fondness for this man that went beyond our mortal experiences with him. When we greeted him at our last visit, he told us he had been really ill and had spent weeks in bed. He said that during his time of illness, there was only one question on his mind. He said, “I would look up at the ceiling, and wonder what is true. So people are seeking the truth, and where can we find it?”

When I think about sincere people seeking truth, I think of an experience we had several years ago. We were on our way to a stake conference in California. We passed an establishment. The sign read “God’s gym.” Well, I don’t know what the fines are for false advertising in California. But that sign about “God’s gym” started me actually to think about God’s bookstore. I started to wonder if God did have a bookstore on earth, how many of the things we love to read and talk about as though they’re true, would be shelved in God’s bookstore under fiction? When I listen to some people, it seems that COVID isolation and constraints have wreaked havoc with some people’s ability to discern what is true and what is pure fiction, pure nonsense.

So where can we turn for truth with all of these half-truths, bold-faced lies, deceptions? Where can we turn? I say, right to the words of prophets of God. I thought about this this morning. It’s as though some people are working on a 1000-piece puzzle, and they placed 500 of the pieces, and then they go online, and profess they know everything about what the picture is, what the full picture is of that 1000-piece puzzle. There’s no way — or they may even only have 50 pieces, or 10.

So, again, if I go to the hypothetical “God’s bookstore,” there needs to be a section for silly, just ideas that are silly. And perhaps these days, we should be looking at the shelf in “God’s bookstore” that would be labeled “looking beyond the mark” because these are amazing days of personal revelation. Personal revelation is crucial so that we can discern truth from error, so we can continue to learn but we need to remember that it is personal. I remember a dear friend to me, teaching me this truth about truth one day and saying, “Just because it’s true, Wendy, doesn’t mean you should say it or write it.” So, there are some people right now who believe they have been taught truths, and I say, perhaps we all need to be like the mother of the Savior, we need to be like Mary, who kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.

President Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, center, President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, left, and President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, right, enter the Saturday afternoon session of the 191st Semiannual General Conference at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021.
President Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, center, President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, left, and President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, right, enter the Saturday afternoon session of the 191st Semiannual General Conference at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Sarah Jane Weaver: Oh, Sister Nelson, that’s such good direction and such good advice, and it actually leads us into my next question, because these are really difficult times. They’re hard times. They are certainly the winding down of the last times. And in addition to doing all the things that prophets do, they have also been called by the Lord to do some very difficult things. I’m sure in the last four years, even probably before that, since the very beginning of your marriage, you have seen President Nelson wrestle with difficult things. And what have you observed in him during these times of difficult decisions?

25:54

Sister Wendy Nelson: Absolutely. Right off the top, of course, he has been wrestling with difficult decisions. Can you imagine what he and the other brethren have been through to bring forth these over 90 adjustments and corrections that the Lord wanted to have happen? So he’s wrestling with difficult decisions all the time. I never know what the decisions are until after everybody else knows, you know, the wife is indeed the last to know. But I love it when President Nelson says, “I’m on call with the Lord 24 hours a day.”

And then I love it when he does the necessary work to receive the instruction from the Lord on whatever topic it is. But I love when sometimes he will say, “The Lord showed me exactly.” And that phrase caught my attention the very first time he used it, because just the day before, I had been studying from the life and teachings of President Wilford Woodruff and President Woodruff used the very same phrase. He said, “The Lord showed me exactly.” Now, again, I don’t know what the issue was or is when my husband wrestles, nor when he says, “The Lord showed me exactly,” but the rest of the sentence for my husband sometimes is then, “The Lord showed me exactly how to proceed,” “The Lord showed me exactly what to do or say,” “The Lord showed me exactly what would happen if a certain course were followed.”

So, again, I never know what the Lord has instructed him to do, but I love to hear him say those words. And my husband is really quick to respond to the Lord’s instructions. For example, when people thank President Nelson for an adjustment and policy or procedure that has just blessed their lives immensely, he will turn to me after they walk away and say, “I was only following instructions from the Lord. I do know how to follow instructions.” So there is a prophet in the land and his name is President Russell Marion Nelson. If we go to wrestling with difficult decisions related to people that he knows, or perhaps when we read in the news of the latest trend in how to break a covenant or commandment with the Lord, with deep compassion, absolutely zero judgment, but with deep compassion, he will say, “I wonder how they will explain that to the Lord when they report in.” So, President Nelson really wants to help people prepare for their personal interview with the Savior.

Wendy Watson Nelson, wife of President Russell M. Nelson, speaks during a Jerusalem District Conference sisters' meeting at the BYU Jerusalem Center in Jerusalem on Saturday, April 14, 2018.
Wendy Watson Nelson, wife of President Russell M. Nelson, speaks during a Jerusalem District Conference sisters’ meeting at the BYU Jerusalem Center in Jerusalem on Saturday, April 14, 2018. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Sarah Jane Weaver: I love that you use the word “exactly.” It was also the same word that you used in your address to members in Europe, because you asked a question that I think is so relevant to all of us, and it has that same word in it. What would happen in only 30 days if you choose to follow the prophets with exactness? Tell us about that question, and what prompted it, and what that really means.

29:28

Sister Wendy Nelson: Well, I was intrigued with a statement made by my husband decades ago. It was several years before he was called to be a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, and he said that he stopped putting question marks behind what a prophet would say. Instead, he put exclamation points after everything a prophet would say, and that started me to think: Imagine in this time when the media, social and otherwise, is so filled to overflowing with ideas that are offered as truth that are just silly, just like the emperor’s new clothes. Imagine if we used the words of the prophets to help us detect specious notions, as well as their intentions. In this war of words that rages all around us, I really think there’s only one way to keep ourselves safe, and that is to compare anything and everything we read, view or hear with the teachings of the prophets. If it’s not in harmony, we should run away, actually, we should run screaming into the hills. So I think there is a question we can use as a litmus test to discern what is true, what is not, and that question is, “What did the Prophet say?” I started to think, “How would our lives improve if we used prophetic words as our standard of truth?” And I started to think about — imagine if we did follow the prophets with exactness. Imagine if, for example, for 30 days, we put an exclamation mark after every statement from a prophet, and we put a question mark after everything else we read, see, or hear. What could happen in only 30 days? My guess is the amount of stress we experience would actually decrease, because false philosophies of man, false philosophies, partial truths, silliness, produce a kind of tension and anxiety that’s almost immobilizing. I think we’ll be amazed at what we could discover if, for 30 days, we chose to follow the prophets with exactness.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I think all of us want to do that. I love that. 

32:07

Sister Wendy Nelson: I love something else President Nelson said years ago, again, before he was called as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. He said this: “I never asked myself, ‘When does the Prophet speak as the Prophet, and when do they not?’ My interest has been, ‘How can I be more like him?’” 

Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m so grateful for you to give us sort of a window and some insight into his life and his behaviors and his qualities. And before this podcast, you gave me a list of several qualities that I want to review as we complete the podcast today, and let’s just start by talking about the Prophet’s voice in your own home. What does he do in his own home that we can all emulate in our homes?

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, talks with children while meeting with a three-generation family in Singapore on Nov. 20, 2019.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, talks with children while meeting with a three-generation family in Singapore on Nov. 20, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

33:01

Sister Wendy Nelson: Oh, I’d love to do that. The voice of the Prophet in his own home is kind and loving and lifting. I love my husband’s love of words, and I love his respect for words and his respect for the power of words. He’s so mindful of that, and he uses his words, in our home and with others, to love and to lift and to lift me. 

I’ll give you just a homely little example, but if I’m seeking his opinion on something that might be good for us to do, he uses it as an opportunity to let me know how much he trusts me. I’ll give you an example: I might say, “Honey, do you think it would be good if we—” and then he doesn’t even let me finish the sentence before he enthusiastically responds, “Yes.” And usually, when he did that, I said, “Oh, how can you say yes when you haven’t even heard of what I’m proposing?” His response was, and I love this: “Because I know you. I know you’ve thought it through, and if you think it’s a good idea, so do I.” So, he’s really easy to love.

Sarah Jane Weaver: That’s so beautiful. 

Sister Wendy Nelson: Also, let me give you another example. You know, he loves me with his words. As soon as he walks in the door, he’ll kind of sing, “I’m home.” That’s exactly the pitch. Then we sit together for a few minutes before he changes out of his suit and I love watching him unwind right before my eyes. At that point, he says in the most warm and grateful tone, “I’m home.” That’s payday for me every day.

Also, imagine having a husband who, when we’re working or playing together, he’ll say, right out of the blue: “Have I told you adequately today how much I love you?” Or he’ll say, “Thanks for marrying me.” And I love when I ask my husband, anytime during the day, “How are you today,” dear?” He answers, “In love.” OK, that melts my heart every time 

Sarah Jane Weaver: And everyone else who just heard it. That’s so sweet.

Sister Wendy Nelson: Yeah, he’s great, very expressive, very loving. 

Every member of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints posed for an iconic photograph in the Rome Italy Temple Visitors Center in Rome on Monday, March 11, 2019.
Every member of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints posed for an iconic photograph in the Rome Italy Temple Visitors Center in Rome on Monday, March 11, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Sarah Jane Weaver: And he has great joy in his relationship with you. We’ve also seen that in his relationship with the brethren who he serves with. I remember in an interview he was doing in Brasilia, Brazil, he spoke about the joy he finds in watching his brethren dedicate temples.

35:49

Sister Wendy Nelson: So, what has he done for four years? He’s honored their callings as Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ. He has loved them, and he’s given them opportunities to grow. And yes, you mentioned how much he loves giving them opportunities to participate in temple dedications. You’re probably aware — my husband always found far more joy when his children would catch a fish than when he would. So, he loves to give the experience to his brethren to dedicate a temple also. He loves what he sees in his brethren after they dedicate a temple. He will say to me, “They are changed through the experience. They are more like the Savior when they return.”

Sarah Jane Weaver: He’s also so attentive and alert when he is out among the people.

36:49

Sister Wendy Nelson: He absolutely is. He’s always leaning forward to listen to what’s being said or sung. I’m sure you’ve watched that, even with the Tabernacle Choir, when we’ve been in the Conference Center, he wants to turn around and see their faces. This is not to compensate for a hearing problem, he hears just fine, but it is an issue with his heart. He wants to take in even more of what is said, he wants to see and to feel more. 

Now, because of that attentiveness, it takes us a long time to enter or exit an event. Of course, he has an eternal perspective, but President Nelson also seems to have a wide angle lens, and a zoom lens on his eyes so that he can see those in need. As we exit a meeting, large or small, he’ll frequently say to me, “Who’s in a wheelchair?” or, “We need to greet that young man,” usually a young man who looks out of place in a chapel. Or, he’ll tenderly say, “Oh, there’s a little girl.” He’s irresistibly drawn to little children. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: And we have all seen that, how he just notices every small detail, he seems to minister right in the moment that he’s in. In your Europe address, you also mentioned that he’s in constant awe of the laws of God. Talk to us more about that. 

38:14

Sister Wendy Nelson: Yes, President Nelson is always seeking to know and understand more of God’s laws. Of course he is, and he honors God’s laws by being obedient to them. Of course he does, but what I love is how in awe of them he is. He is totally enthused by the dependable connection between keeping God’s laws and receiving God’s blessings. He’s got a background as a scientist, medical researcher, and he loves things that are dependable and repeatable. When, and as we read together from the Book of Mormon everyday, we marvel at the many times the Lord’s promise is repeated: “If ye will keep my commandments, ye shall prosper in the land.”

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pauses to talk with Ammon and Emma Schar, of Basel, Switzerland, in Rome, Italy, on Saturday, March 9, 2019. The Schar family is in Rome for the temple dedication.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pauses to talk with Ammon and Emma Schar, of Basel, Switzerland, in Rome, Italy, on Saturday, March 9, 2019. The Schar family is in Rome for the temple dedication. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

I have a husband who believes that. We believe that, and there’s all kinds of ways to prosper. You can prosper with ideas, with insights, with personal revelation, you can prosper with associates that the Lord raises up to help you. You can prosper with your health, maybe even prosper with ideas to increase your health or with being led to great medical care when you have a health challenge. So we marvel and love that connection that the Lord has so clearly given to us. If you keep the Lord’s commandments, you will prosper.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And you’ve also noted that President Nelson finds such joy in serving others. 

Sister Wendy Nelson: Yes, absolutely. For the first 12 years of our marriage, we lived in North Salt Lake and in the winter, it snowed a lot. We often measured the accumulation of snow by feet, not by inches. I remember one Sunday when the high priest group leader came, ashen-faced, to me and said, “Oh, Sister Nelson, we’re so embarrassed. We just learned that Elder Nelson does his own snow removal.” Well, of course, I thanked him for his concern but added with a little grin, “If you really want to help him, clear the neighbor’s walks.” Because after each snow storm, my husband would bundle up, spend hours removing the snow from all the sidewalks in our neighborhood. He loved every moment, he would say, “I’m going to go out to play in the snow and help our neighbors.” Also each Monday throughout the year after garbage pickup, he would roll each neighbor’s large garbage bins from the road back up to their home. Some people had more than two bins, several had long sloping driveways. Now, these are really simple, neighborly gestures, but the consistency of them by President Nelson softened the heart of one of our neighbors, a great woman who had convinced herself and others that she was really committed to not liking Latter-day Saints. However, President Nelson’s consistent kindness and thoughtfulness reached her heart, and one Christmas, she left a loving note and a handmade item on our porch to thank him.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And I just feel like we should note here, because the service happened in his 80s and 90s, that President Nelson is 97.

Sister Wendy Nelson: He is 97, and he was doing all of that in his 80s and 90s. You’re exactly right. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: So, he certainly knows that the Lord loves effort. 

Sister Wendy Nelson: He does. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Let’s talk about that quality. 

Sister Wendy Nelson hugs Nguyet Minh Nguyen as she and President Russell M. Nelson meet with youth in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019.
Sister Wendy Nelson hugs Nguyet Minh Nguyen as she and President Russell M. Nelson meet with youth in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

41:55

Sister Wendy Nelson: President Nelson knows that the Lord loves effort, and therefore, he requires it of himself and admires it in others. He really admires those who pay the price to accomplish something really difficult. People like those who, due to chronic and life-threatening illnesses, have to work diligently every day with their health routine, just to stay alive. He admires those who diligently search the scriptures to find answers to their sincere questions. He admires those who really work with the Lord, and if appropriate, their priesthood leaders to overcome weaknesses, increase their self-mastery, truly repent of their sins, so they can receive all the blessings that God has for them. And with President Nelson, it’s always about that he wants people to receive all the blessings God has for them.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And President Nelson knows how to relate to people with deep compassion, people who might be struggling.

Sister Wendy Nelson: I think also of another group of people he admires: He admires those who are willing to wrestle with a problem generating possible solutions before they approach someone else for help. I remember every time he would speak to missionaries, he would always say, “When you call your president with a problem, make sure you have some possible solutions that could help.”

Along with effort, he really celebrates the excellence that is produced by that effort and will often say to me, “I love watching an expert at work.” So when a service professional comes to our home to assist us, President Nelson absolutely cannot restrain themselves from leaning into their field of operation to observe those work. The plumber, the electrician, or computer specialist may be totally traumatized, thinking that President Nelson is adjudicating their work. Actually, he’s celebrating their skills and their efforts.

Sarah Jane Weaver: I absolutely love that. Next, let’s talk about another quality of President Nelson. Certainly, President Nelson never delays.

44:13

Sister Wendy Nelson: You are exactly right. President Nelson never delays, he never puts off anything. I learned this early in our marriage. We would be drifting off to sleep, and I would think of something I needed his help with. I’d softly mention it to him as something that we might do on the weekend. And he would bolt up in bed and say enthusiastically, “So what’s wrong with now?” And suddenly, we would be in the garage looking for a hammer and nail to hang a picture.

So it’s absolutely no surprise to me that in the last four years, a multitude of important adjustments have been made to Church policies and procedures. “What’s wrong with now?” will always be President Nelson’s response when he knows that an adjustment in policy or procedure is the Lord’s will. 

President Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his wife Sister Wendy Nelson wave to attendees after the Sunday afternoon session of the church's 191st Semiannual General Conference in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021.
President Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his wife Sister Wendy Nelson wave to attendees after the Sunday afternoon session of the church’s 191st Semiannual General Conference in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Sarah Jane Weaver: And his brethren have on more than one occasion described him as being decisive, that decisiveness, probably, it contributes to his willingness to just move forward without delay. The last thing I wanted to focus on is his focus on the future. 

45:19

Sister Wendy Nelson: He’s always looking to the future. I think I’ve told you of an experience of returning from a really important history-making trip. We arrived home about 3 a.m. Of course, the first thing we did was to kneel and thank the Lord for the once-in-a-lifetime experiences he had provided for us. My husband was voice for our prayer, and he was very thorough in enumerating the various experiences we’d had and thanking the Lord for them. As I listened, I had such vivid images of all that transpired. Miracles, really, and I was looking forward to reviewing those experiences in my mind and with my husband, over and over again. So, I was jolted when he continued his prayer with these words: “And please help us put those experiences in our memory bins,” “What?” “So we can move forward, and do what thou needs us to do.” My husband is always looking forward. I think of the day, it was only a day after general conference one year, when someone thanked him for his message and really for the entire conference. He turned to me after they walked away and said, “That’s ancient history.” So, while the rest of us are learning from and reviewing recent words of President Nelson from a recent general conference, he’s always and already on to the next topic. He just has to be. There are so many projects that are on the move, and so much that needs to be done, and that the Lord needs him to do. 

Here’s something different that I’ve noticed about his future orientation lately. He now looks 50 to 100 years ahead. That’s new to me. One day he recently said to me, “Oh, I wish I could tell you one of the decisions we made today, it will be thrilling.” I said, “Well, when will I know?” “Oh, you’ll know in about 50 years.” Great. Can’t wait. So, he is always looking forward, and he’s always looking up. Just like in the photo from one of our walks taken where he is looking up. It’s a very natural position for him. So, that’s why we say, “Onward and upward.”

Sarah Jane Weaver: He also shared a photo with him looking up with his social media posts on New Year’s resolutions, and we’ll include this in this podcast because it is a beautiful photo. 

President Russell M. Nelson shares a photograph of himself looking us with a 2022 New Years Day message containing counsel and direction.
President Russell M. Nelson shares a photograph of himself looking us with a 2022 New Years Day message containing counsel and direction. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Sarah Jane Weaver: And on that note: Sister Nelson, as we’re looking into the future now and 50 years from now and 100 years from now, we like to end each Church News podcast with the same question. It’s actually a question that I once heard Sister Nelson and my boss, Sheri Dew, talking about early in President Nelson’s ministry — and it has inspired everything we do in this podcast — but the question is, “What do you know now?” And so, Sister Nelson, as we leave — and I hope you’ll share your testimony with us — what do you know now after observing the Lord’s prophet, President Russell M. Nelson?

48:42

Sister Wendy Nelson: Thank you, Sarah. What I know today, even more than I know four years ago, is that before the foundations of this earth — that’s a long time ago — that Russell Marion Nelson was foreordained by God to be the Lord’s prophet to the world, and president of the Lord’s church at this precise time. I’ve learned that when precision is involved, you always know the Lord is involved. I’m struck with President Nelson’s really unique preparations, his unique abilities, his unique sensitivities that have helped him and continue to help him do exactly what the Lord needs to have done.

What I know for sure is that prophets speak the truth, because the Lord speaks to His prophets. And I know for sure that following the prophets is the only way to stay safe during these latter-days. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer, KellieAnn Halvorsen, and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on TheChurchNews.com.