It began with Fast and Testimony meeting, which consisted mostly of members of the ward sharing some of their trials and struggles, and which ended with my sense that their testimonies of the Gospel were essential in helping them get through them. A young man shared his testimony of prayer, which revolved around an experience of a successful fishing expedition. A bit humorous, but it reminded me of the Apostle Peter, hauling so many fish into his boat that it almost capsized. In this case it was just one, good, healthy sized bass. A sister shared her testimony of eternal life, in light of her mother's death, which took place at 3 a.m. this morning. Church, surrounded by brothers and sisters who love her, is where she needed to be today, even with a loss so recent and feelings so raw.
In Sunday School, Brother B. from the Sunday School presidency arrived to make sure we arranged the chairs into a smaller, more circular configuration, so we could converse with each other more intimately. In a small group discussion, Sister S. and I discussed Mark 14:32-42 with each other. We talked about the difficulties of keeping watch with the Savior, even when we are not facing the imminent tragedy the disciples were facing in the Garden of Gethsemane. (In Luke it says they were "sleeping for sorrow.") Our conversation actually helped me. Sister S. helped me.
After Sunday School, her daughter M. came up to me and wanted to talk. She had seen my interview for the Far Between project on line. We talked for a while about Far Between and about Kendall Wilcox, and about my story. The subtext of the conversation was her love and concern for me and for others in my situation, and anguish about the predicament we find ourselves in in relation to the Church. She got a bit teary. I found myself reassuring her. "This is a great ward," I said, "Bishop C. is a great guy. This is going to be OK."
We went into the chapel and found our places. I sat down behind Sister J. and a sister I've never been formally introduced to, but whose testimony I admire, and whose missionaries stories shared in Sunday School have been an inspiration to me. They saw me sitting down, and smiled and reached out to me. They asked what I had been up to, and I briefly shared my experiences at Affirmation conferences in South America and Europe. They were very interested in what I had to say. More love, radiating in their smiles. The sister whose-name-I-don't-know-yet expressed her gratitude for the Supreme Court ruling. She expressed her happiness for me and Göran.
The meeting was called to order. We sang "Lead Kindly Light." I felt the words deeply. It was the right hymn for this moment:
The night is dark and I am far from home;Bishop C. seemed a little nervous. He prefaced the reading of the letter by acknowledging that many members of the ward are struggling with this issue. He said he had met individually with members "across the spectrum" on this issue. He acknowledged that some were struggling with the Supreme Court ruling, some with the Church's response to the ruling. Then he read the letter.
Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet;
I do not ask to see
The distant scene-- one step enough for me.
After he had finished reading it, he bore his testimony of the doctrine of the plan of happiness. He shared his sense that the central thing here is to understand "God’s eternal plan for the salvation and exaltation of His children," that this was the key thing. I felt the Spirit, reaffirming that I have a place in that plan.
Then he opened the forum up for questions. Then, he paused to remind people that the purpose of the forum was not to discuss doctrinal issues. He encouraged individuals to approach him one-on-one if they had those sorts of questions. Then he opened it up for questions again.
Not a single person raised their hand. Bishop C. waited maybe fifteen seconds to see if a hand was raised, and when none was, he called the meeting to a close. But not until Elder Rulon Stacey of the Quorum of the Seventy (a member of our ward, and presiding at the meeting) offered his testimony that everything our bishop had told us was true.
After church, Bro. H., a member of the bishopric, chatted with me outside in the parking lot. He chuckled when I pointed out that the bishop hadn't allowed much time for hands to rise. But we both agreed that we didn't expect a lot of questions. I felt prompted to share what was in my mind.
I said that while there was seeming clarity in the doctrine of which the Bishop and Elder Stacey bore testimony, I am force to live in a world of unresolved issues. If my relationship of almost 23 years with my husband is sinful, why has it brought us so much joy? Why have I learned so many positive lessons from it, from being a husband and a father? Why, when I've prayed about it, have I felt blessed by the Lord in that relationship? I have a testimony of the Gospel. I can't deny it. It's why I'm here at church, why I been coming for almost 10 years now, why I'm living as much of the Gospel as I can.
I said that the contradiction I felt in listening to the presentation today isn't new. It's a contradiction I've been aware of every day of my life since I've been active in the Church again. I don't have an answer to that question. All I know is that I have a testimony, I am where I'm supposed to be.
He said he knew I had a testimony; that my testimony has strengthened his testimony.
I said I did have some sense in which this situation is part of the Lord's plan for perfecting his Church, and it's for us to love one another and stay faithful and learn what we need to learn.
Odd, but as I left I realized that I think everybody else in my ward was more nervous about today than I was. I've been practicing walking through this fire for ten years, and they're only just starting. It was reassuring to me. I no longer feel so alone in this. There are others in the Church who are now starting to wrestle with some of the contradictions I've had to live with my whole life. And the one thing that is crystal clear to me is that they want to do it in a way that is utterly harmonious with the highest principle of the Gospel: Love.
I think we're going to figure this out together.