It was just a typical and very ordinary Sunday, but today it was if my eyes were opened and I began to see what has always been there before me with new eyes, with greater insight, greater appreciation, and yes, with greater gratitude.
My husband and younger children left early since my son had some responsibilities to take care of in preparation for the meeting and since I would be staying later, we went in separate cars. As I arrived, I saw across the parking lot that Sister Schain had also just arrived and Hyrum was helping her with her wheelchair as others in the Butterfield family helped her to carry things in. I smiled as I waved a cheerful hello to them. I smiled because of course who could not smile to see a 12 year old boy cheerfully helping a sweet sister like that. I smiled because Sister Schain and the Butterfield family are all dear friends of mine. Memories of moments shared with them flashed through my mind. Serving with Myrlene in Relief Society. Rushing Susan to the hospital just in time to meet her husband there 20 minutes before their last child was born six (?) years ago. And I also smiled because my own children have often been the ones privileged to be the ones giving help with the wheelchair when we arrived just as Sister Schain was arriving.
As I walk into the building, I smile again and say hello to 10 year old Benjamin who is holding the door for me. I settle into my seat next to my family and we sing the opening hymn. Danielle is leading the music and though she is only 16, she leads the music with the easy confidence of someone much older and more experienced. There is a prayer and some announcements. A new family is welcomed into the ward. We all smile because the Freeman/Lewis family is not really new. They lived in our ward previously and have just moved back.
We sing another hymn and the Sacrament is blessed and passed by our young men amid the reverent hush of people contemplating upon promises, prayers, and progress. This has grown to be my favorite part of the meeting. Each Sunday for the last 20 years, I have sat in this particular chapel to partake of the Sacrament. Before that, there were other chapels much like this one, such as the chapel of my childhood…where I was the wriggly child much like the one in the pew in front of me today. And though the chapels have changed, the spirit that I feel in my heart never changes. Over the years my family has changed as new children were born to us and as they have grown. And I have changed as I have, in these same pews, prayed and contemplated over challenges, blessings, and struggles…some my own, some those of friends and loved ones…and I have changed, and I have grown. Yes. This is my favorite part of the meeting, much like a touchstone to me which I keep coming back to week after week, each time finding myself changed in increments into something better…into someone more understanding of myself and of those around me…and hopefully into someone of greater use to those around me.
The mother in front of me, Lauren, sits with six children of various ages, at least two of them not her own. Lauren is somewhat new to our ward and I don’t yet know her well. I see that she has the two youngest Goodrum children with her. Lauren quietly helps her children to take the sacrament and keeps them busy with small activities. The youngest is a little more restless than the rest and walks back and forth across the pew. We smile and wink at him, retrieving the toy he has dropped.
And I remember when mine were that small.
Lauren’s little one wants to stand in the pew in front and she places him there where he walks down to Bro. Brown, who receives him with a smile and quietly takes him on his lap until the toddler tires of it and heads back to his mother. Beloved by all, Bro. Brown was just released after serving for a number of years as our Bishop in this ward. He now has another calling and Bro. Fortin is serving as our new Bishop.
As Lauren and those near her care with quiet acceptance for the needs of the toddler, we listen to those who have been asked to speak. Sam, the youth speaker for today, speaks with poise, humor, and understanding about obedience, particularly admonishing youth to be obedient to their parents and to the Lord. The next two speakers speak about choosing the right. I jot down a couple of notes which I want to remember and ponder on in the next couple of days. “You will move in the direction of your current most dominant thoughts.” And “You can only coast downhill.” Small thoughts but full of portent for my own needs in the coming week in which I can use some help in keeping focused on what matters most in my life as I seek to not be distracted by the trivial or false urgent things which tend to crop up and derail my efforts at living a Christ centered and meaningful life.
We then dismiss to attend our Sunday School classes as the youngest ones go to their Primary classes. Here the meeting is less formal and we actively discuss the lesson topic which is taught by Bro. McKinley, a long time member of our ward.
For the final meeting of the day, I head to meet with all of the young women in our ward where I am serving as one of the leaders. We meet first with all of the young women ages 12-18 and then divide into three classes by age. It is not my turn to teach, so I sit in as Sister Hermann teaches our small class of 12 and 13 year old girls, and as April signs for Darby who is deaf. April does not live in our ward and is a member in another ward, yet she gives up hours of her time and the opportunity to meet with her own ward in order to sign for Darby. She does this of her own free will and as a volunteer. In doing this she makes it possible for our girls to communicate more fully with each other and for Darby to receive and participate in the lesson.
Finally, with our regular church meetings over for the day, I send my family home as I meet with the other young woman leaders. None of us asked for our callings, but we each gladly…even joyfully… accepted the calling to serve and now we meet to discuss the needs of the young women. How can we strengthen them in their testimonies of Christ? How can we help them to place His teachings foremost and center in their lives? What is needed to help them to become good leaders?
As our meeting began, we learned that Lori who serves with us has been diagnosed with a stage four melanoma and will be having surgery this week. She slips into the meeting a little late looking like she needs a hug. After the meeting, there are hugs, a few tears, and words of encouragement along with promises of prayers for Lori in the coming week. We have been serving together for a short time, but have become quick friends.
I attend one more meeting this day. One of my students (from when I served in a different calling as a seminary teacher a number of years ago) is leaving next week to serve as a missionary for our church for the next 18 months. Before she leaves, she is speaking one last time in her ward…a sister congregation to my own ward which meets in the same building but at a different time. I attend to hear her speak and to give her a hug and tell her what a wonderful missionary she will make. I am so proud of her.
This Sacrament meeting is much like the one I attended a few hours ago, complete with a wriggly, yet obviously tired toddler who gets passed around among the patient adults sitting nearby until he finally falls asleep in his grandmother’s arms. This meeting is also different because it is the yearly Primary program in which the youngest of us (ages 3-12) put on the program with the songs they have learned in Primary over the course of the year. These sweet young ones, both the timid and the confident, also give short talks. The very youngest may speak only a line or two which they have carefully practiced. It is a wonderful program in which we adults can be taught in the spirit of “a child shall lead them” if we only listen carefully with open hearts…which is so easy to do with children. In this particular program the more confident children seemed to outnumber the timid ones in the singing. There was even one sweet boy whom I’m sure is destined for opera. The final number was sung by the children with a counterpart by Danika, my former student, and one of our best tenors in the stake, Bro. Quinton. Beautiful, sweetly sung, and full of the spirit which I always feel in our meetings.
After the meeting, even though this was not my “home” ward or congregation, there was much fellowship and lots of hugs from friends whom I see less often because they meet in a different ward than I do.
So what was it that I found to be so suddenly extraordinary in this ordinary Sabbath? It is so hard to put into words, but I will try. I suddenly felt and recognized with new eyes this incredibly timeless sense of community amid the sweet spirit of worship that I have already so often recognized and felt. A sense of each person being there for the others. A recognition of each person serving in small and in larger ways. An acceptance of all from the smallest to the oldest…a recognition that though we each have our challenges and imperfections, we are all in this together. A feeling of “it takes a village”, but in the proper way…the way which recognizes the importance and preeminence of families even as we quietly do what we can to help, strengthen and uplift both individuals and families. And even as I saw with new eyes the things before me, I was also aware off the “things not seen”…the behind the scenes things that few people see and that we so often take for granted.
In a word, I saw charity in action at every turn. I saw acceptance and people who serve quietly and selflessly. And even with all of our personal imperfections, all together it becomes somehow perfect…a ward “family”.
A typical, ordinary, and very extraordinary ward family on a typical, ordinary, extraordinary Sabbath. There is no place I’d rather be on a Sunday morning or afternoon!