May 2015 Visiting Teaching Message: Teacher’s Choice from Conference
I confess that the past 12 months have not been easy for me. We moved house twice in this 12 months, and each time, waited 3 -4 months after each initial move for our things to arrive on moving trucks. I feel like I have been packing, unpacking and setting up house constantly for a year. With a perpetual feeling of displacement and clutter—in my physical home as well as in my mind, it has been hard for me to focus on General Conference.
In the place before where we are now, we were in a remote area; though it took us an hour and 45 minutes each way on a twisty, sometimes slippery canyon road, we attended every other week or more. I was excited to be in this ward at first, but began to feel less and less welcome as the weeks passed. My husband and I were not given callings, not asked to speak, and I began to struggle to feel the spirit at church. I was cornered on one Sunday by two women, one who professed with acidic sweetness that I should follow the “Strength For Youth” pamphlet when making comments in Relief Society. They clearly didn’t like my comment (something on prayer), and were trying to “correct” me. The other woman backed away, sensing the lack of spirit in the other’s words, but the snake still spit at me until I shook myself free. I did not feel safe at church after that, and guarded against being cornered again.
As Kate Kelly was excommunicated, and I began to fear for my own safety within the church, my daughters began to be bullied at school. Their tormentor? The only other LDS child at their school. He was the same age as their ages combined, and he seemed to aim his venom most upon my youngest, who was 5 years old. His parents refused to meet with us, though his mother called to blame me and my daughters for tormenting him. She also contacted the bishop, blaming us for making their lives harder– in what way I do not know, as I barely knew her and had little to no interaction with the family. Soon the principal and teachers all became involved and I began driving my daughters to school and picking them up, lingering in the car both times, to ensure they were safe.
Before the October General Conference, I started to notice that I had not felt the spirit in that ward…ever. I had made a friend in the ward; she was the only member of her family who still attended church. She was familiar with the locals, and gave me comfort. Still, when the October Conference came, I struggled to feel like any of the talks were meant for me. With nationalities that were different to the locals, I felt increasingly out of place. I felt I was being alternately bullied or ignored at church, whilst my daughters were being bullied at church and school. My husband began skipping Sunday School and Priesthood to run errands, but mostly to avoid the Social Darwinism of the ward. It was at this time, for the first time ever, that my husband and I discussed having our records removed from the church. The members here did not want us around. We were treated like pariahs at church.
This time, we moved even more remotely, where there was no ward or branch. I made contact with the Regional President as soon as I could, because I vehemently needed my records to not be associated with that previous ward. Though we gained official permission to share the sacrament at home (we do “home church” on most Sundays), we decided to associate ourselves with a branch that is a 3 hour drive away. We decided this after we attended the branch once. This tiny branch hosted 3 sets of missionaries, making up a significant portion of the congregation. At quick count in a room of 40 or fewer people, 6 nationalities were represented. People of diverse ethnic, economic and spiritual backgrounds were present. Different ideas were welcomed, and we shared the common spirit of Christ. In this, I felt comfortable. We weren’t going to be the only “foreigners” who “thought” differently. It felt comfortable and welcoming, like we were meant to be there.
For the first time in 12 months, I felt protected. And to be frank, I felt like a part of the protection afforded to my family was to give us rest from attending a ward regularly, but without the threat of being labelled “less-active,” or judgement based on my (apparent) lack of adherence to the Strength of Youth Pamphlet. This branch has been a Godsend. When we attended the first time, we were welcomed. The second time, we were welcomed back. Then and each time since, someone has sat with me– not just beside me– but *with* me– in Relief Society. We’ve even been invited to, and stayed with, members of the branch so we would not have to pay for a hotel. We’ve been invited to teach and participate, and it has been lovely. It is the polar opposite of our previous ward.
So when I heard Elder Holland’s talk, about the brother who leapt and felt death was upon him, I cried. I cried because I recognized that this talk was for me, and I overwhelmingly felt the spirit. This is a snippet from the story Elder Holland shared in his talk:
“Giving [my brother] enough time to be out of sight [searching for an impossible tree branch as I asked], I said my last prayer—that I wanted my family to know I loved them and that Jimmy could make it home safely on his own—then I leapt. There was enough adrenaline in my spring that the jump extended my arms above the ledge almost to my elbows. But as I slapped my hands down on the surface, I felt nothing but loose sand on flat stone. I can still remember the gritty sensation of hanging there with nothing to hold on to—no lip, no ridge, nothing to grab or grasp. I felt my fingers begin to recede slowly over the sandy surface. I knew my life was over.
“But then suddenly, like a lightning strike in a summer storm, two hands shot out from somewhere above the edge of the cliff, grabbing my wrists with a strength and determination that belied their size. My faithful little brother had not gone looking for any fictitious tree branch. Guessing exactly what I was planning to do, he had never moved an inch. He had simply waited—silently, almost breathlessly—knowing full well I would be foolish enough to try to make that jump. When I did, he grabbed me, held me, and refused to let me fall. Those strong brotherly arms saved my life that day as I dangled helplessly above what would surely have been certain death.”
For me, I think God knew I was on the verge of spiritual death. I was considering not only leaving the church, but in leaving all spiritualism behind. At the end of last year, all of my fail-safe spiritual safety nets had been exhausted and were not working, and I began to no longer seek the spirit. But….when I made that final “leap” by attending that branch, the strong arms of Christ reached out to hold onto me, and I felt the love of Christ. I felt like God wanted me to be in this church, and I felt like God was giving me rest in attending this branch as often as suited me and my family.
So when I heard Elder Holland’s words, I felt like *this talk* was for me. But I also know that this talk wasn’t just for me. I know so many dear and beloved friends, who have taken a “Mormon vacation” (i.e. a break from attending church), sometimes never to return. I know others who are clinging to their faith as a matter of survival, but need a friend to grab their arms and hold and listen to them as they progress through that trial. In the end, in my heart of hearts, I believe all of us are being held by the hands of Christ because of all of the trials we are facing. Further in Elder Holland’s talk:
That first Easter sequence of Atonement and Resurrection constitutes the most consequential moment, the most generous gift, the most excruciating pain, and the most majestic manifestation of pure love ever to be demonstrated in the history of this world. Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, suffered, died, and rose from death in order that He could, like lightning in a summer storm, grasp us as we fall, hold us with His might, and through our obedience to His commandments, lift us to eternal life.
The inclusion of “excruciating pain” spoke to me, because if you have not yet, there will be a time in your life when you will be in emotionally, spiritually or physically excruciating pain. And, in my recent experience of being removed from a place that was quickly becoming a spiritual disaster, to a place that could give us rest—I know that Christ can manifest a massive lightning-bolt change in our lives. But this lightning bolt change isn’t absent of our part; for me, it was trying to attend a branch– any branch– at least one last time. And in the grand scheme of things, considering two international moves coupled with a major career change in 12 months, my attending church *one time* wasn’t a big deal. But it was what I needed to recognise that God knew me, and my troubles, and that this change was as much for my spiritual survival as it was for anything else.
So right now, I don’t have an assignment to visit teach because my family and I are the only ones who attend church at my house. But I wanted to share this and invite you to leap! And trust that Christ’s arms will be there to steady you, no matter who or where you are.
Have you ever felt like you don’t have the energy to leap?
What talks struck you from this past General Conference?
What Conference talk do you plan to share with the women you visit teach?