Sunday, March 11, 2012

Our Amazing Stake Conference with Elder Russell M. Nelson

I am going to do something on my blog that I rarely do, which is talk about my religious beliefs. I rarely talk about them here because I like to keep them private, and also because I don't like opening myself and my faith up to criticism. But lately, I've been undergoing a real spiritual transformation and the events of the last two days have brought all of my feelings to the surface.

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a lot is required. For a long time, I focused on that a lot. I also focused on other things, petty things, that were seriously impeding my spiritual progress. I felt it, and I knew it, and I still allowed it to happen. And for about 10 years I let this pettiness have more power than it deserved.

But something has happened to me this last year. I finally decided to shed the weight of those unimportant things that were keeping me from focusing on the Lord, on the Church, and from moving forward as a devoted daughter of God.
Yep, that little lost lamb up there is kind of the way I felt. And it wasn't like I had turned into a worldly, wild person, but I was not holding fast to the things I knew were true. Pride can do some real damage if you allow it.

I attribute this change to a number of things. Getting married has taught me a lot--much more than I ever anticipated--about being humble, patient, and unselfish. Not just the actual act of getting married, but WHO I married, because my husband has taught me so much about being a better person. Moving to a new state where the pace is slower, and a bit less competitive, has allowed me more time for reflection on what is important. And, yes, going back to church after many years away has had a big influence. I've been so fortunate to be in a ward (congregation) that has embraced me so much. I love the friends I've made and have learned so much from their examples. What started out as a social lifeline has become much, much more.

And, despite the fact that I'm annoyed at myself for wasting those 10 years, in some ways I'm grateful for them. The conviction in me of what it means to be a member of this church is probably stronger than it has ever been, and I don't think that would've happened if I hadn't come full circle. I have had to really humble myself, which doesn't come very naturally to me! But this way it feels more like a choice. And when you choose something without having it imposed upon you, you are able to take more ownership in it.

All of these feelings culminated in this weekend's Stake Conference. Now, if you're reading this and you're wondering what a Stake Conference is, let me quickly break it down. An LDS congregation is called a ward. Several wards make up a stake. We meet in our ward buildings each week for church, but once a year we meet together as a stake and have several special meetings that are meant to edify us as a larger congregation. That is called Stake Conference. And, twice a year, in April and October, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has General Conference, which is held in Salt Lake City, Utah and broadcast all over the world. At that time we hear from church leaders such as our living prophet, Thomas S. Monson, members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and other church leaders.

Now, I'm sure that if you are not LDS, you suddenly have a lot of questions, and that is OK. But, yes, we believe that we have a living prophet on the earth today. We also believe that prophet is supported by 2 counselors and 12 apostles. These men have the same authority and responsibilities as the apostles of old. But with the existence of these leaders, it is important to reiterate that ours is a Christ-centered church. Everything we teach, learn, read is all about living our lives in order to return to our Heavenly Father and his son, Jesus Christ.

Which brings me to our wonderful weekend. We had the incredible privilege of having an apostle of the Lord, Elder Russell M. Nelson, visit our little city in southern Washington yesterday and today and address us at our stake conference. The last time this area has received a church leader of this magnitude was 29 years ago.

Elder Russell M. Nelson
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

I was very happy that Eric, my sweet and supportive hubby who is not LDS, agreed to go with me to the session for the adults last night. We have had numerous talks about religion and, although we don't see eye to eye on everything, we do agree on many of the most important things. I was so glad that he went with me.

When we arrived (2 hours early--had to get a good seat!) the session in progress was for the men of the stake. Elder Nelson was conducting a question and answer period, and Eric and I watched it on the monitors in the gymnasium at the stake center, where we waited until the chapel was opened up for the next session. Most of us are so used to seeing Elder Nelson in a very formal way, at General Conference, surrounded by the other church leaders, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and the thousands of people in attendance. It was great to see him last night in such an informal and personal way, addressing a group of about 100 men who were seeking his counsel on being good husbands and fathers.

When the session ended, we had another hour to wait while the local church leaders and our important guest had dinner and rested. Eric and I were lucky enough to get seats with a great view to sit next to my good friend, Mary Alice, and her husband, David. I loved a comment that Mary Alice made to me last night, "Just think, in all of the world, there are only 12 apostles. And one of them is here tonight to speak to us."

As the session grew nearer and the chapel and gym started to fill up, it got pretty exciting. The night's speakers entered, as well as the stake presidency, to take their places up on the stand. I am very impressed with our local leaders and they are good, good men. But... as Russell M. Nelson came into the room and everyone stood up in respect during his entrance, we all knew we were in the presence of a special servant of God.

All of the talks were very good last night. Because it was the adult session, the topics were geared toward adult issues. It was very interesting to watch Elder Nelson during the talks. This is man who has probably listened to thousands of talks, yet he still gave each speaker his full attention. The only time he didn't, was when he was looking out into the congregation. I watched him as he scanned the face of each person, one by one, amidst the sea of people in front of him. I really like that I got to witness that.

When it was his turn to step up to the podium and address the congregation, everyone sat up a little taller in their seats and tuned in with a little more focus. The love and spirit in the room was palpable. I watched my husband listen to every word and soak it all in for us to discuss later.

Elder Nelson spoke of the whirlwind of depression that people sometimes get into as they think of the words "Be ye, therefore, perfect," knowing that this is an unattainable thing in this life. Ironically, this is a subject that Eric and I have talked about many times. He spoke of the path to perfection, and the things that are required of us in this life to travel that path. He spoke of the Atonement and the difference between eternal life and eternal glory--one is a gift and the other is a reward.

I wish I could remember every word. I do remember the feelings welling up inside of me as I sat, listening to him, with my husband at my side, and the thoughts that darted through my mind about things that I need to work on in order to achieve those great blessings.

By the time Elder Nelson was done and it was time to sing How Great Thou Art, I was a mess, tears flowing, and not one Kleenex in my purse. I looked over at Mary Alice, who was the same way and we both just whispered, "Wow." Eric looked at me and asked if I was OK. I was. I was very OK. So many things that Elder Nelson talked about felt very personal and exactly what I needed to hear, it almost felt unfair to the rest of the congregation that his comments were so tailor-made to my needs. And yet, I knew that couldn't be true. His words had touched everyone, and we had all just experienced something very special.

After the closing prayer, I took Eric's hand as we waded through the sea of people. Before I knew it, I was shaking the hand of an apostle and thanking him. How I dearly would've loved more time.

When we got home, we talked about the conference meeting. We talked a lot. And we were also tired. It was late, we had a snack, and the clocks had to be sprung forward an hour.

Still, I was on a spiritual high. And this morning's meeting was very good too, with many spiritual moments. But last night's was singular and the words that were spoken touched me very deeply.

Now, some who may be reading this might be thinking that this is awfully personal for a blog post, and perhaps it is. But faith IS personal. And it requires work. And it feels so good to be on the right track again.

If you have questions about what we believe in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, here are 3 links that may help. Remember that knowledge is power.


LDS Newsroom: "Mormonism 101: FAQ"


lovinglife said...

Just beautiful Kristie! Thanks for sharing!! I love Elder Nelson!! How wonderful that you got to have him at your stake conference!! Darcy

Karen said...

Granted, I'm a little biased, but I love this post! How amazing and wonderful to get to hear an apostle speak in person - that definitely doesn't happen very often! And as someone who loves you dearly, I'm so thrilled to hear about your return to Church and the obvious peace and happiness that it's bringing into your life. Love you!

Steve Taff said...

I appreciate your comments very much and agree that this weekend was a spiritual feast. I also got to shake his hand.

I shook Pres. Hinckley's hand abuot 10 years ago at an area conference. I had a PPI with L Tom Perry about 30 years ago in California.

What strikes me so much about these men that run our church is their genuine humility, and total lack of self. It would be very easy for them to become "rock stars".

I can't remember which general authority it was, when traveling with the Prophet was told this:" enjoy the adulation, but don't inhale it!.

I really enjoyed Elder Nelson's comments about his parents and the idea to never give up on our loved ones coming back into the gospel, as we have several children in that position.

Steve Taff

Tracey Evans said...

What a wonderful experience for you both to share! And I'm so happy for you and proud of you!

Sally said...

What a wonderful experience, thank you so much for sharing it. Like Karen I am so happy to hear about your happiness and peace and to feel it in your blog writing. I feel kind of like how I felt in college during a fast and testimony meeting and I got to hear my favorite slooks bear their testimony and I felt so lucky to be able to be edified by my friends.

You've mentioned several times how lucky you are to be in such a good ward. Well, I think they are equally lucky to have you!

Kristie said...

Thank you everyone. I am so happy with the responses that this post has brought. It is amazing when I think of my growth over the last 20-some years, because we would have apostles come to BYU and talk to us and I don't think I really got the spiritual importance of who we were seeing. We did have the chance to host Pres. Hunter in Pasadena, CA right before he died and I sat right behind him and got to talk to his wife. What a sweet woman she was.

Tricia said...

This is beautiful, Kristie. I'm trying to type through my tears. =)