Thursday, September 24, 2009

Who We Really Are

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she laughs at the same things, that she still folds her laundry the same way, that her food storage is maybe a little out of date, that she gets tired and weary and worn out, and that she loves to serve the Lord.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.

19 comments:

  1. Wow, what an amazing experience that must have been. And I liked how you said that she's just a normal person. I think that's important to remember about our church leaders that they are still regular people, and any of us can be in that position.

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  2. I love this, Inkmom. Just what I needed to read at the moment. I love that quote by Pres. Benson. Sprung tears to my eyes.

    Why is that indeed that we can't let go?

    By the way. You are wonderful. Really and truly wonderful!

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  3. I'm sure that, due to my last several posts, there's no need for you to tell me what an admirer I am of Sis. Beck. And you've captured why. She is genuine. She gets overwhelmed and falls back on her faith. And you are absolutely right: We ALL have that in us. For me, it's just a matter of the right kind of discipline because I believe everything she believes and I love the gospel. I just need to focus my life to be totally in line with that. It's a great challenge, obvious ripe with blessings.

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  4. major editorial error (rolling eyes): That was supposed to say, "There's no need for ME to tell YOU..."

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  5. My mother-in-law was Sister Beck's predecessor. I can totally affirm the "same as" idea...still laughs at jokes and gets up early in the morning to run, still cleans house with a vengeance, still cries. She herself would declare, "I'm just basic." BUT--being so close to her also allowed me to see the mantel come and rest on her when she was truly speaking as the General Relief Society President. There were times, even just talking with her in her living room about an idea she was mulling over, that I would literally see that mantel come over her, and had no doubt she was the Lord's mouthpiece for the women of the church in that instant.
    It was at once humbling and exciting to witness her service first-hand.

    Stories. I have so many stories.

    I'm really happy you had such a great experience with Sister Beck.

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  6. p.s. At their core they are ALL just normal people. Growing up, I lived in a ward with a lot of general authorities. We saw Pres. and Sister Kimball walk around the block holding hands, met with Elder Maxwell on the front porch in his jammies, saw dear Sister Kimball start an oil painting class at age 94, had Elder Maxwell jog over on a Saturday morning with a plate of brownies. But they also do things that are completely extraordinary. Pres. Kimball was so affectionate. Kissed everybody on the stand. Elder Maxwell would literally sing every sacrament hymn with tears streaming down his cheeks, and he and Colleen would seek out those who didn't quite fit in and invite them to their home for dinner. Astounding examples of true discipleship.

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  7. p.p.s. Please forgive me for taking over your comment box. I was just so touched by your post and it is such a deeply personal topic, so true to my own experience.

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  8. I've been struggling with some of the same thoughts lately. Why am I not serving more? What is holding me back from laying hold on the promised blessing in a more full measure?

    You gave me some great thoughts to ponder on and, more importantly, to act upon!

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  9. That was so beautiful...and I enjoyed the thoughts and insights of the other commenters so much that I feel a bit lacking in words to express my own reaction. Thank you for sharing this...for inspiring with how genuine and striving a person you are.

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  10. Thank you, thank you for this post and I also really enjoyed the other comments. I attended one of the sessions with Sis. Beck and it was one of the best experiences of my adult life as a woman in this church. Kudos to those who worked so hard to bring her out!

    There is so much I want to say about the thoughts you shared, but just know that they touched me, Sis Beck touched me, and for that I am grateful.

    PS - When you played your viola it was beautiful! I know you must hear that all the time, but seriously, it is not often that one hears lovely sounds coming from stringed instruments in my neck of the woods!

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  11. Thank you so much for this post. I have been waiting and waiting for someone to post about her visit. I SO wish I could have been there. I am also sad to hear that I missed you playing the viola. I would have loved to have heard that.

    I loved reading the other comments as well. It is amazing what can happen to ordinary people when they turn their life over to the Lord...they become extraordinary.

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  12. I know I say this all the time, but dang, girl, I love the way you write. Thank you for sharing this experience with us and for giving me some great things to think about.

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  13. I needed to hear that today, because lately, more than ever, I need some encouragement to hand over more of myself to the Lord, to give more than I keep, so that I can trust Him to make me better. Thank you.

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  14. Very True. Mark your calender Jan 9. PJ and I are goin' to the temple!

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  15. What a fabulous post, both this post and the last. I have been thinking about them both for 24 hours now. Thanks for reminding me that "called" doesn't necessarily mean perfect and that we can work harder.

    And I want that soup for dinner.

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  16. Such great comments on such a great post. I love that opportunity to see that "those people" are real people, and that even though there is a HUGE mantle of authority, they are really still the same real people that they were when the Lord called them to serve. Great post.

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  17. I actually went to high school and ballroom-danced with Sister Beck's son, Joseph--she was a totally fun mom and was always really interested in us. She really was just a regular mom. Her son was great, too. One of the nicest guys ever. So, yep, she's normal. It is weird to see her on T.V.!

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Sock it to me!