Friday, October 2, 2009

Anticipating General Conference

I've been finishing The Book of Mormon this morning. While pondering, I found myself eagerly anticipating General Conference this weekend. I don't see it the same way I used to.

I often grew so jealous watching conference that I had to go do something else. I envied the General Authorities. I wanted to sit in their counsels. I wanted to be occupied full time in the service of the Lord. It looked so appealing to me to be continually associated with only the finest, the best. To be steeped in truth and service, rubbing shoulders with only the finest of Saints seemed so appealing, such a wonderful way to spend your days.

Instead I was consigned to spend my days with foul-mouthed people who thought more of beer than bearing testimony, focused their attentions on hunting elk and fishing for trout, rather finding folks with whom to share the gospel. I had a ministry all right it was all giving and no getting. There was no one there to lift and inspire me, it seemed like all the lifting was left for me to do.

Then one day I went to the Salt Lake Airport to see Sweetie off on a business trip. I bade her good-bye as she passed through the security gates. Watching her disappear down the long concourse I noticed Elder Neal A Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve coming the opposite direction. I thought I might like to shake his hand. As he and his companions approached, and I could see more clearly, it was obvious that Elder Maxwell was not well. He looked so utterly exhausted. Who knows where he'd been, for how long, under what weight of responsibility. Who knows what burdensome problems he'd dealt with, what long meetings and uncomfortable beds he'd had to endure. It was near the end of his life. He was suffering from Cancer - again. Still, he carried on, doggedly determined to give the full measure of his capacity to the service to which he'd been called.

My heart broke for this sweet, wonderful servant of the Lord. Watching, my mind raced back to the last time I'd seen him in person. We were in the Vernal Temple for it's Dedication. Sweetie and I were sitting in the Bride's Room, with her mother and our 8 year old daughter, watching the proceedings on closed circuit TV. As the meeting closed we could see on the monitor that President Hinckley and Elder Maxwell were leaving the temple via the hallway along which our room was situated. We urged our daughter to go stand by the door so she could see our Prophet pass by. President Hinckley was occupied in conversation and didn't notice little Katie standing there, but Elder Maxwell did. He approached her and then got down on his knees and gave her a great big bear hug, which she enthusiastically returned. There wasn't a dry eye in the room. The precious love and kindness that was felt in that brief moment, none of us, especially Katie, have ever forgotten.

As a much more weary Elder Maxwell passed by in the airport that day, I'd have liked to have thanked him for our precious moment in the Temple. I'd like to have shaken his hand and expressed my love and gratitude for his teachings and courageous example - but I didn't. I just stepped back against the wall and standing in awe, respect, concern and dismay, watched him struggle desperately for home and hopefully, rest. They had just gone around the corner, when Elder Ben B. Banks came quickly back. He took my hand and with tears in his eyes, thanked me for letting Elder Maxwell proceed without interruption. Another sweet servant of the Lord had noticed my respectful concern and had returned to acknowledge my gift.

As I drove three hours home I spent the time imagining the realities of being away from home weekend after weekend reorganizing Stakes, speaking in conferences, meeting with government officials, suffering jet lag, eating strange meals, meeting after meeting after meeting, always expected to speak, always bearing the burden of responsibility. I thought of all the birthday parties for grand kids, the ball games and school plays they missed. I thought of Elder Packer's statement, when asked of all the places he'd visited all over the globe, where would he rather go, to which he answered, "I would go home." Suddenly, the glamor of their most wonderful calling was balanced with an understanding of its attendant sacrifice. It clearly is not all roses and while there are things I'd love to enjoy, I'm not so envious anymore of the enormously difficult lives they lead.

I just, happily, received two new Councilors to serve with me in the Branch Presidency at the Detention Center. As we gathered for our first meeting, I heard them comparing notes about this missionary who's preparing to leave and that one, who's about to come home, and another who recently reported his first baptism. I was a bit startling. After serving exclusively at the Detention Center for the past five and a half years. I don't know kids who go on missions. I know kids who go to Rehab. I don't associate with many people who have burning testimonies. I don't go to Gospel Doctrine Class or High Priest's Quorum Meetings. I don't rub shoulders much with folks who are mature in the Gospel or who even understand much about it. Additionally, I attend a few 12 Steps meetings a week and while a few bear faith filled testimonies most are struggling with depression, addiction and despair. My employment is more of the same. The living waters Jesus offered run through the desert of my life and I partake freely and I am not complaining. But I am looking forward, with profound eagerness, to the next couple of days of spiritual feasting. I am anxious to sit at the feet of these wonderful men and receive the wisdom of their experience, the inspiration of their worthiness, the strength of their devotion and the insight of their companionship. They are not stingy with those things so laboriously obtained; and I am grateful.

And - part of me wonders - do they sit in those elevated seats and look down from the podium at us and also wish - that they could teach a little Primary class of bright-eyed Sunbeams; or hoe a widow's garden; or sing in a Ward Choir; or sleep under the stars with a handful of excited Boy Scouts; or watch a granddaughter blow out six candles? Does each of them quietly wish he could sit obscurely in a quiet down-home Sacrament Meeting, next to his wife, behind his best friend and in front of the recently reactivated family he Home Teaches? Surely, they get to do some of that, but mostly, they are counting on us to do that portion of the work.

Tomorrow and Sunday, I want to soak up their words and inspiration, ponder their meaning and bask in the Spirit the Lord will send to accompany them. Then, I want to carry those words and feelings to the little pregnant girl, locked up for joy-riding; and the bitter boy, whose father abandoned him and whose step father beats him; and the bewildered kid, whose parents are both locked up for drug dealing; and all the rest of those sweet kids, who've hardly known love and joy and who will most certainly miss out on Conference.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.

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