I watched General Conference with the kids this past weekend. The dad was in DC on a business trip, so I made the cinnamon rolls and prepared and monitored the Conference Bingo sheets with the younger kids on my own this time. Since the comfortable places to sit in the family room are fewer than the number of people needing to use them, I also decided to try letting the bigger boys watch on the big tv in the playroom, then report to me after each talk. (One of the boys paid better attention and got more out of the talks than I think he ever has before; one snuck to his room and read The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It's not a bad thing to be doing, but it's not what he was supposed to be doing, either, and he missed out on some really important lessons. He soon joined the rest of us downstairs.)
As conference came to a close and I discussed the things we had heard and learned with the kids, I started to reflect on the things I learned not just from what the speakers were saying, but also the things that were personal messages for me to learn straight from the Spirit. I wish I had a way to write them down immediately and exactly as they came to my soul. For now, I am just glad to be able to try to put some of them into words a day later. I hope I'll always be able to remember these feelings I've experienced.
For example, I remembered how very much I love Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. Each of the Apostles is unique and each of the speakers had something special to add that most certainly touched each listener in his or her own way, but I have a tender place in my heart for Elder Holland. I used to think it was because I've met him, because I have special memories of visiting with and admiring his sweet wife, or because I know and adore his clever & compassionate son, gorgeous & kind-hearted daughter-in-law, and beautiful grandkids. The more I consider, however, the more I realize my admiration for him is a much deeper thing. He's that apostle who speaks to my soul most directly, I think. When I was trying to recount to Michael (my out-of-town husband) what I'd heard and learned from Elder Holland, all I could really say was that his message was powerful. Powerful is a feeble, human word to describe what I felt, but that was the closest I could come to putting a word on it. I also tried to express to him the overwhelming love I felt as I listened.
I felt love for Elder Holland, for all the Apostles, and certainly for President Thomas S. Monson, but there was something else going on. I felt an even greater, stronger love coming the other direction. I felt a powerful love coming from behind that podium, out of that Conference Center in Utah, through the satellite signal, right out of my tv, and straight to me. To my kids, my whole family, the neighborhood, the town, state, country, and whole world, but specifically and definitely to me. I think in that moment I might not have been very surprised if we had seen Elder Holland actually burst into a bazillion pieces of light that could shower each and every living person. That feeling was a rare and beautiful thing which I was blessed to have filling my soul. I wondered if other people felt it, too. I hope I will remember it and perhaps even be able to draw from it in times when I'm faced with my personal struggles.
As I write this entry, I realize that I've felt something similar from Elder Holland on another occasion. When we lived in Gaithersburg, MD (in the early 2000's) he was the visiting authority for one of our Stake Conferences. I sang in the choir, so I listened to the talks he delivered in each of the two sessions we held to accomodate all of the wards in our area. I won't go into the specifics of what he said or how each meeting went, as there's no way I could sufficiently convey the messages he shared with us or the Spirit that was present in each session. For now, all I can say is that I was amazed at how different the tone was from one meeting to the next. His first was almost jovial, filling me with a light, bright, optimistic and hopeful spirit. The second was intensely deep and almost - for lack of a better word - pained. There was definitely love and still hope in that second session, but more of a comforting, consoling hope. I sat behind him and a bit to his right, so I looked out onto the same congregation as he saw. I soon realized that I wasn't SEEING the same thing he saw, however. He saw and felt something very personal in and from each of the individuals in the room, I believe. The Spirit spoke through him to each congregation in the way each needed to be addressed. My testimony grew in many ways that day, not the least of which was in my reaffirmed sustaining of this special man of the Lord.
Are you still with me? I haven't even gotten to the reason I started writing this entry - the point of today's title. I mentioned Conference Bingo way up there in the beginning of this post. This game is one tradition we've practiced during every General Conference for approximately 10 years. We make a 5x5 grid of blocks for each child, mark the center block with a heart and the word love, then let them use our bank of special words to fill in the 24 remaining blocks. When they were pre-readers, we gave them a stack of pictures that illustrated the words so they could fill in their grids in a way they could understand. We've used a variety of markers and rewards over the years, including but not limited to mini marshmallows, pennies (other coins being the rewards), balls of scrap paper, pebbles, plastic and glass beads, regular and mini-M&M's, and... you get the idea. I've decided that an important word has been missing from our word bank. Can you guess what it is?
As President Monson was closing the Conference, the word 'companion' kept coming to my mind. Like an exercise we'd done at the GO Center (a gifted & talented program I attended in my elementary school years) where we chose one word and wrote a story using as many thesaurus-researched synonymns for the term as we could, I thought of how many ways we use 'companion', especially in a Church context. Each missionary is never without his or her companion. I have been paired with several precious companions as I have fulfilled my role as a visiting teacher over the years. The Book of Mormon and The Bible are companions, both testifying and telling stories of our living Savior. I try to keep the Holy Ghost as my constant, comforting companion. I always hope that my kids will each have that companion, as well. Leaders at many levels have counselors who are their companions. President Monson clearly has an abiding and tender love for his wife, his eternal companion. Especially then, I missed having my own eternal companion at home with us. When October's General Conference comes around, I'm going to recommend that the kids place this important word on somewhere on their grids so we can all be sure to listen for it. Maybe I'll even give a bonus treat when someone gets a BINGO with that word in the line-up. I think it's even worth a Reese's egg!