I have been reflecting today on some of the spiritual experiences or things I've thought about over the past month. Hope you don't mind my sharing:
* While we were in Prague, we had the opportunity to attend church at a branch there on Fast Sunday. We listened to church through headphones with missionaries interpreting the words into English. They prayed for a stake, when they don't even have a ward yet. One man shared an experience of praying for missionary experiences as they had been instructed to and sharing the gospel with a coworker. Another, more elderly, lady shared how times were tough and she didn't have much money that week. She had to decide whether to buy groceries or use the money to pay for the public transportation it would take her to get to church that Sunday. She bought a loaf of bread and it sustained her through that Sunday. She was grateful to be able to come to church and was so blessed to have the gospel and be able to meet with other church members. I thought about how these are modern-day pioneers. I thought about how so many take church attendance as a slight inconvenience but something we should do. We don't recognize what a great blessing it is to be able to meet together and to be able to attend church. We should be looking forward to it and making every effort to partake of it just as this lady had. I thought about the faith of these members who believed they would have a stake if they just continued to pray for missionary experiences and act on them. And they will. I thought of the sacrifices they make to be able to attend church, to congregate together and lift each other up and learn more of the gospel. They give up food. They travel hours or more. And they do it gladly. I thought of the light of Christ and how it literally shines through them.
* The day after returning from getting the kids in Arizona, we had a family on our street who were being sealed together. We had been torn about attending because we really wanted to, as they were friends of ours and we wanted to support them. However, we had just been reunited as a family and didn't want to leave the kids again with a sitter. We also knew we were likely to be really jet-lagged after all that traveling. After much debate we both felt that we really needed to go. It was decided that DH would go to the session where the parents were receiving their endowment and I would meet him at the temple to attend the sealing while he waited outside with the kids. It was a sacrifice to go but one worth making. I barely made it for the sealing but it was beautiful. While it was wonderful to be a part of it, the most wonderful thing was what happened later. A friend and I got to chatting afterward in the locker room. Do you ever have one of those conversations where one thing leads to another and next thing you know you're spilling things that are weighing you down that you don't even realize are weighing you down? It was one of those times. I know that she was inspired to attend the session and the sealing. I know that she made sacrifices as well to be there. I also know that she was inspired to talk to me and, I tell you what, she said exactly the words to me that I needed to hear. I had said a prayer the very night before out of frustration. A prayer that I truly could not figure out an answer to, nor could I see getting one. And she said, word for word, an answer to that prayer. She was my angel that day and I probably bawled the whole night thinking about it.
* The very next day we had a wonderful lesson in Relief Society. We talked about the scripture in Malachi about the hearts of the fathers turning to their children and the hearts of the children turning to their fathers. I knew the scripture was about genealogy but always felt like I was missing a little something from it. Then someone shared their understanding of the scripture as also being those in our family who have passed before us being turned to us. That they are our ministering angels and that the priorities we have in this life will still be the priorities we have after this life. Meaning that our families will still be our priority and we will still be there with them. Do you know that I have spent 10 years wondering about this? I have always felt like my mom was busy doing missionary work and that sort of thing on that side of the veil. That she would be anxiously engaged in a good work and that it would mean not really being around me because, I guess, I would be an inconvenience. I have heard many a person say that they felt otherwise...that those people are there with us, looking after us, that we can talk to them etc. But I felt like there was never anything really to back that up and that we tell ourselves those things to make us feel better about it all. Don't get me wrong, I've always known there is life after this and believed that we will live again and live as eternal families. But this was different. Well, when that thought was shared I just knew she was referring to my mom. That she felt she needed to share that for me and that she was absolutely right. It wasn't even something that had been on my mind recently but boy did it hit me like a ton of bricks. I talked to her later, not telling her my thoughts but just thanking her. She said "I was thinking of your mom and I know she wanted you to know." I can't tell you the weight that literally lifted off my shoulders. I felt this light through me. There is no other way to describe it. It was an 'ah-ha' moment and I knew that this was truth. 10 years I have gone feeling alone and left behind by my mom. It's fine, it's all been for the best. I know God has a plan and that things happen for a reason. I say these things often and I do believe them. There have been the very occasional time here and there where I have felt my mom's presence, but never as anything constant. It's always been sad to think of her not being a part of my life. Especially since she was 'my person' and we were such good friends. But to think...10 years I have felt alone and I didn't need to! If only someone would have explained that scripture that way so long ago. What heartache would it have spared? How grateful I am for that person who was in tune with the spirit, who listened to the spirit, and who acted on that prompting to share that thought. And then I thought... Isn't the gospel the same way? Gospel means 'good news' and what good news it is indeed. I wonder if those who have converted to the church feel the same... 'why didn't this get explained to me so long ago?' and what can we do about it?
* A few days after this experience I had a friend who was being sealed in San Diego. I had struggled for some time with the decision of whether or not to go. It would have to be a day trip because it was in the middle of the week, making babysitting a problem, and because we couldn't afford a hotel. I was horribly behind because we were barely home from a 2 week trip and I was just plain tired of traveling. Plus, I had a stepsister's drill performance in Utah that I really wanted to attend and was feeling guilty about not being able to...and I felt like I couldn't really justify going to one and not the other. The morning of the sealing I still felt torn. I had decided not to go but hadn't actually prayed about it and felt like I should pray about it if I was not going to feel bad about my decision not to go. Well, as I said my prayers that morning I got the overwhelming feeling that I should go. Time was of the essence and I called DH to let him know. He was thankfully able to head home from work (I thought he'd just take the kids till finding a sitter but he just stayed home all day with them). I took W to school and then hit the road. I made it to the sealing with 10 minutes to spare. It was a beautiful sealing and the sealer gave some great words of wisdom that I felt like I needed to hear. I wondered if that was why I felt so strongly about going but then felt like it wasn't quite it. I visited with my friend and her family before planning to turn around and go home. I wanted to see the beach before going home though. I have rarely been to the beach. In fact, I've spent more time on a beach in North Carolina over the course of 2 summers than I have days added up on a beach in Cali in all my years living in Vegas. So I looked on my GPS for a place to go. Turns out you can't look up beach, or ocean for directions. So I looked for what looked like a good landmark and typed it in. I had seen a place called Bird Rock on the map so I searched for that and headed there. Bird Rock Park turned out to be a park behind an elementary school, but it did put me in a general vicinity. I found a neighborhood just to park in to check out the view. There was a couple making out that I didn't care to interrupt their 'moment' and I could see that if I drove further down where I knew there was an actual beach with parking then I would miss the sunset. So I just drove up a couple more neighborhoods where I found another outlet to the water and a place to park. It was empty. There wasn't sand, just rocks. But it was a cool view and I have cool pictures to post later. There is a point to this though.... I had climbed down to the rocks and upon coming back up on to the street I met a man who was also watching the sunset. I said hello and we talked about the beautiful view (he lived up the street and had come to watch the sunset). It is so hard to leave a sunset. It is so hard to leave the beach. Put the two together and it is nearly torture trying to pull yourself away. I don't recall how but we somehow got to talking about church subjects. He had asked why I was there. I said it was for a friend's special day. When he asked if it was a wedding I told him that in our church we had something called a sealing and that was what I was there for. He asked if I was Mormon and it sort of went from there. I am not one to just go around sharing the gospel. I'd say it's not my style. But we had a wonderful 3 hour discussion on nearly every subject imaginable. This was a man who 'got it' and didn't even know it. He loved the scriptures. He commented on how there is so much bad in the world and things are so terrible...and yet, how can you not believe in a God when you look at the beauty in the world, like the sunset, and how can you not believe that He is good when He would create such a thing for you? He is a single guy and asked me about my kids. He reminded me just how lucky I am to have them and how I should cherish each and every moment with them. I could tell you about all the wonderful things we discussed and what a nice and great guy he was...but that would probably be a 3-page post. But I will tell you that the Spirit was with him and he already knew things that he didn't realize he knew. He kept thanking me for saying hello and for stopping to talk to him. I got the feeling that he had been feeling very lonely. And I told him, as I feel very strongly, about how I had gotten up that morning and had not planned to go to San Diego...but that I prayed about it and felt like I should and that I felt like he was the reason why..... Oh, and in talking to him I learned that the very place where I was was called Bird Rock.
* I asked one of my brothers recently about church in China. He is there teaching English for a few months. This is what he said: "We can only meet with other people who have passports from foreign countries. So we meet at someone's apartment and go through the same motions of opening hymn, announcements, etc. but we listen to 2 talks from general authorities instead. About a third of the time you call in on a phone or skype and it's a mass teleconference where they un-mute whoever is going to give the prayer or talk or whatever. The church site isn't blocked so I can see conference there. I'm just not allowed to refer anyone to it." The things we don't think about. It got me thinking again about what a blessing it is to have the gospel and to have a testimony. I thought of the testimony that these people must have, even if they are not aware of it, to go to these lengths to have a church meeting. I thought of how blessed we are to live somewhere where we are allowed to congregate, allowed to share these thoughts that I have, allowed to openly lift each other up in the gospel. I thought about the way that those members must live their lives to literally be a shining example of Christ because they can only answer questions if they are asked. They cannot bring up a church subject.
* I have always wondered about teaching my children gospel principles. I don't want them ever to feel like they have simply believed things because it is what I believed. I don't recall specific gospel teaching moments in my home growing up. Much of the life I remember my dad was not an active member of the church and it was a point of contention between my parents. So it was a difficult path for me to navigate as I became a teenager and wanted to think for myself and had questions about my dad's actions versus beliefs and my mom's. I see and hear the ways that friends teach their children and wonder if I am doing enough and how I can do it correctly. I have had experiences with my kids, particularly W and P, that have taught me that those moments come up and that the Lord will bless you to recognize them and to know what to say. As parents, we are responsible for teaching our children truth and for helping them become responsible adults and capable of finding their way back to Heavenly Father. I still feel like it is very much each individual's right and choice to find their way on their own. Isn't that what Christ died for, that we would have that agency? But we are entrusted with their care when they are sent to us and we must lay the groundwork and do all in our power to help them so that when it comes time to choose they will make the right choice. I see so much of me in P and so much of DH in W. The two of them recently got in an argument about heaven. P told W that she didn't believe in heaven but that she did believe in Jesus and Heavenly Father. W was arguing that you couldn't believe in one without believing the other because they are one in the same. We were able to sit down and talk about how we believe that is where they live but that they aren't the same thing. We were also able to talk about how just because one person believes something does not mean that the other has to. Then we were able to talk about how the Spirit can talk to us and tell us these things, if they are true or not. We talked about how there are different ways to feel the spirit and what they are. And then we talked about praying for answers and needing to ask the questions. P immediately dropped to her knees and said a silent prayer. I hardly knew what she was doing. She jumped up and was so happy, she was nearly ecstatic. She said she asked Heavenly Father and Jesus about heaven and that she knew it was real because she could 'hear it in her heart'. Now, I don't know what she really felt and what was really going on in her head...but I'm grateful for the teaching opportunity and I have no doubt whatsoever that Heavenly Father would hear the prayer of that little girl and answer it for her. I'll bet He just plain gave her a hug. You would believe it too if you had seen the change in the look on her face and the look of pure joy when she was done praying.