There seem to be a number of disaffected Mormons lurking the Bloggernacle these days.
I am not one of them.
Here is why.
Feb. 24, 2008 – 9:05 a.m.
My wife and three of our daughters are already at church; I’m lagging behind at home with a straggler. My six year-old still can’t find her other church shoe (again). When we finally find the shoe, we go back and forth for an eternity over whether to buckle her shoes through the first or second hole in the straps. With her shoes finally on, I make for the front door, but she’s not behind me. Now she tells me she has to find her coloring book, and now I’m more than a bit irked. I get her in the car and deliver a stern lecture about getting ready for Church before she watches cartoons.
Still grumpy, I grumble about my fellow ward members’ parking jobs as I hunt for one of the last open spots in the parking lot. We’re going to miss the sacrament, I just know it. We park and as we walk through the parking lot toward the chapel doors, I hold out my hand for my daughter to take it. She puts her soft small hand in mine, and we silently make up for this morning.
We enter the foyer outside the chapel and it’s standing-room-only. The chapel doors are closed, and the foyer seems unusually quiet. As a deacon enters the foyer with the emblems of Christ’s sacrifice, my daughter reverently folds her arms. I cradle her face in my hands.
A few minutes later, a sister comes out of the chapel and into the foyer. She’s struggling with two of her small children. The Primary President is at her heels, asking whether she can help with one of the children.
When my daughter and I join the rest of our family in the chapel, we sit down behind an old friend I haven’t seen at church for a few years. He’s sporting a goatee that suits him; he looks like a movie star. I pat him on the shoulder and whisper to him: “You’re lookin’ pretty tough with that goatee; remind me to stay on your good side.” He laughs. “Don’t worry,” he reassures, “you’re always on my good side.”
As I juggle my daughters on my lap and try to keep them from bumping the people sitting in front of us, I catch glimpses of the speakers’ talks. A sister in our ward is talking about being perfected in Christ:
Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him . . . love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ . . . .
Then she quotes from Elder Bednar’s most recent General Conference address:
We will not attain a state of perfection in this life . . . . The Lord’s pattern for spiritual development is “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little.” Small, steady, incremental spiritual improvements are the steps the Lord would have us take.
The sister’s husband speaks next. He tells a story about a priesthood blessing he received that didn’t come true, and talks about the lesson he learned from that experience:
Faith is not so much about believing strongly enough to make the Lord do what we want Him to do for us. It’s about continuing to believe even after things haven’t gone the way we’ve wanted them to be.
The brother’s words bring to mind a favorite quote from Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk:
If we are not humble, we tend to demand that faith must also bring with it good health, peace of mind, good luck, success in business, popularity, world peace, and every other good thing we can imagine. . . . If we insist on other things as the price of our believing, we tend by that very fact to undermine our own belief.
10: 20 a.m.
I’m in classroom number 6 with my Primary boys. We cover the usual first order of business: we share our good news from the preceding week as I dole out handfuls of Skittles. Then comes the prayer and the lesson. We read about the voyage of Lehi’s family to the promised land. At the end of our discussion we summarize what we’ve learned:
Even though Nephi was doing everything God had asked him to do, God allowed his brothers to keep him bound for four days until his ankles and wrists were horribly swollen and sore. But Nephi did not murmur; he thanked God when he was finally released from his hardship.
As I shuttle my boys towards the Primary room, I stop to thank one of the other male Primary teachers for wearing a blue shirt today and making me feel comfortable. He laughs and tells me he’s disappointed I’m wearing a suit coat over mine.
As we file into the Primary room, I sit behind another blue-shirted brother. He’s sitting in his usual position with his arm gently around a boy in his class who has Asperger’s Syndrome. He’s a sweet boy but can be quite a handful at times. But no matter how rowdy the boy behaves, the teacher lovingly calms the struggling boy down without showing an ounce of irritation. Words come into my mind:
Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto me.
Then I begin to feel slightly jealous of this teacher sitting in front of me. He gets to wrap his arm around Jesus every Sunday.
I feel a tug on my shirt sleeve and look down. “Which verse did we end on?” asks one of my Primary boys who usually pays the least attention in class. “I want to finish reading the story from class,” he says. As I guide him to the verse where we left off, I notice a familiar-looking name written on the outside edge of the triple combination he borrowed from the church library. I hold up the book to read the name written it and I’m dumbfounded.
It’s the name of one of my high school buddies who, 16 years earlier, veered off the “strait and narrow,” dropped out of Seminary, and got hooked on meth. Apparently his seminary scriptures have spent the last 16 years in the church library getting loaned out to Primary children each Sunday. As I leaf through my buddy’s old seminary scriptures, my eyes catch a comment he had written on one of the pages in bold purple ink:
Christ suffered for our sins.
For a moment I think about what has happened in my friend’s life since he wrote those words as a seminary student. His meth addiction, his brushes with angry drug dealers and with death, his father going to jail. And now, the pending divorce he told me about when I last saw him a couple months ago.
I decide to reclaim my friend’s old seminary scriptures from the church library and deliver them to him in the afternoon.
I make the rounds to pick up three of my daughters, the other having already gone home sick with my wife. I walk into the nursery room, pick up my two year-old, and thank the sister Saint who has worked in the nursery for 10 years now, by choice. Over the last seven years she has taught all four of my daughters some of their first lessons about Jesus.
As we walk outside I catch a Guatemalan brother in our ward and ask him how he and his wife are liking their new Primary calling. “It’s a challenge,” he says, “but we are enjoying it. The little children make us happy.”
When I arrive home, I find my wife taking a much-needed nap. I change my clothes, change my two year-old’s diaper, and make my girls lunch as they play with their new pet frogs. After lunch, I call my old high school buddy’s cell phone number. Although it was working just a couple months ago, the number is no longer good. I call the restaurant he manages and I’m told he no longer works there.
I sometimes lose track of him like that. I’ll give him his old seminary scriptures when I find him again.
I pay a visit to the Nigerian family I’ve been home teaching for 7 years now. A single mother who admirably nurtures and provides for the three of her five children still young enough to be living with her. She shares with me an experience from today’s Gospel Doctrine class. Although she’s often had difficulty getting into the Book of Mormon, today Nephi’s Psalm was like “a bucket of water being poured over a thirsty soul.”
Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.
She confides in me some spiritual struggles she’s been having. Although we come from completely different sides of the world, I’m struck by how similar her spiritual struggles are to my own. I listen to her words, and try to return words of comfort and encouragement I’ve drawn from my similar experiences. As we pray together before I leave, the Spirit of God consumes us.
My family and I arrive at my uncle’s house to celebrate his 50th birthday. The house is filled with family. My parents, brother’s family, two uncles and aunts, three cousins, and a slew of children. We celebrate all the special occasions together: birthdays, Thanksgivings, Christmas dinners, Fourth of July’s. And, of course, baby blessings, baptisms, missionary farewells and homecomings, and marriages too. We’re always together, and I hope we always will be.
We’re back home now. The kids are sleeping soundly in their beds; my wife is knocked out too. As I sit at the computer writing these thoughts for tomorrow’s post, I look back on another beautiful Sunday.
And I’ve never felt happier to be a Mormon.