Last month, our stake here in western North Carolina hosted an 11-stake women's conference. As a member of the Stake Relief Society Presidency, I was privileged to participate in planning and carrying out this wonderful event. Sisters drove from 5 states, some as much as 6 hours, to join us for our "mountain blessing" and hear from Sister Julie B. Beck, the General Relief Society President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Because of my calling, I had the opportunity to not only attend all four sessions at which she spoke, but also to interact with her and her lovely daughter in a more personal way.
Do I need to say the entire weekend was a fantastic experience? It was also a whirlwind. Her schedule was packed: a fireside for our stake on Friday evening, a training meeting on Saturday morning for Relief Society and Priesthood leadership for all 11 stakes, and two general sessions in the afternoon for the women of all 11 stakes. In all, nearly 2000 people attended at least one session.
I took six pages of notes. I'm not kidding. On graph paper, in very tiny script. She opened the floor up to questions in every session and I recorded every answer. I've been rereading those notes for a month now trying to figure out why I was so affected by her words, and I think I've finally figured it out.
Sister Beck is a normal person.
That sounds really strange. And maybe a little disrespectful. That's not how I mean it to sound. Let me explain. She talked about how many extremely qualified people there are serving in this church today, specifically in Relief Society: heads of corporations, great scholars, political servants, women who have experienced much and made invaluable contributions to society in general and to the church. Her qualification to serve as the General President of Relief Society? She worked on the PTA. She took care of her children and raised them in the Gospel. She served in many capacities in her local ward and stake.
I don't know this for sure, but I bet if we dug up some people who knew Sister Beck before she was the General RS president, they would tell us that she is still the same old Julie. That she laughs at the same things, that she still folds her laundry the same way, that her food storage is maybe a little out of date, that she gets tired and weary and worn out, and that she loves to serve the Lord. Just like she always has. And all of this makes her extraordinary.
So what is the difference? I think the key is in this quote from President Ezra Taft Benson:
“Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace. Whoever will lose his life in the service of God will find eternal life” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988], p. 361).
What I saw in Sister Beck was an example of a willing servant: someone who has turned her life over to God, and discovered the very thing President Benson spoke of, that He will magnify us if we will allow Him to do so.
I have since been pondering what keeps me from doing the very same thing, and I just might be lacking in faith. It requires a great leap of faith to give back to God the things that seem to be essentially ours -- the only things that will leave this life with us when we go, our essential characteristics and the knowledge we've gained as a result. But those very things that we will take with us are the direct result of those characteristics that were ours when our spirits were created -- in other words, He gave them to us.
This makes so much sense to me, and yet . . . and yet. I hold onto things that prevent me from being able to serve wholeheartedly. I cling to little pieces of the world while simultaneously trying to figure out why I can't find the time to do the most essential things in my life. I have a suspicion that were I just to hand it all to the Lord, every single piece of my life, the good, the bad, and the ugly, He would magnify me, as well.
I find great irony in the fact that we struggle to give ourselves up to the Lord, when what He would do with us is make us more essentially us, better than we can do alone, happier, stronger, more joyful, comforted, peaceful. Please, God, let me lose myself . . . so that I may become me -- the me that He can see even when I cannot.
And me, magnified? Well, I hope it will be even half as wonderful as Sister Beck.