Attending the Ward to which we are newly assigned. Learning it is a Ward with a high turnover of members and visitors for that matter. Young families, young people just starting out in family life live in the area temporarily for a couple of years as interns in new jobs, as college students, as military families assigned to a military base, and what other reasons that would bring people to a short term living arrangement for a long-term goal.
It seems to me that because of this dynamic, there is an effort on the part of the members in being extra friendly, warm and welcoming to new members, visitors, with the constant flux of people coming and going. It has a familiarity to it that resonates with me for perhaps the very reason that I'm familiar with the lifestyle of having grown up in a military family that moved every two years or so, leaving friends behind, making new friends, and knowing that we would be on the move again within a couple of years. Makes an indelible mark on the mind of this child, always knowing that there will be a next duty station, another new situation, meeting new people, a new school, making new friends (not easily I might add) leaving things and people behind. But in this Church, that is not so much the situation, as relationships continue, irrespective of the comings and goings. It's intriguing to me.
My husband, who knows more of a rooted lifestyle, having grown up in a small, rural town in Idaho, knowing everyone who lived there, has introduced me in our later years together to a similar lifestyle in what was to be our permanent living arrangement in a small, rural county with small rural towns. I think I did fairly well adapting for the thirteen years we lived there, but truth be told, there were many times I yearned for a more urban lifestyle with the plethora of urban choices, while at other times I valued immeasurably the quiet and beauty of small town living in rural setting off the hyper busy beaten path.
This evening, we attended a Stake viewing of dvd that was created of their Stake Pioneer Trek with the young people pulling the handcarts, the Ma's and Pa's giving guidance and the jubilant joy throughout the filming of the dvd. This will be my second time sharing in a Ward's young people's experience of a pioneer handcart trek. I delight, with emotional tears, in their experience and in a deep yearning for myself for something that continues to elude my conscious thought.
Tonight, it came to me that it was exactly that element that reached out to me from the very beginning of my relationship with my husband. In reading the book he wrote, I was compelled to empathize with the hardships of the handcart pioneers, and more than that I found their deep faith in their great adversities to be a strong testimony of what I believe faith means. Not as much the faith in the God as defined by their Church in that era (19th century) but for me, clearly a faith that was beyond anything I'd known to date. I realized after twenty years with my husband who struggled through his own disenchantment with the church and the recent three years I've had as a convert to this church, struggling with owning a testimony of my own, that I DO, in fact, have a testimony.
I'm proud that the young people are doing these pioneer handcart treks, as I think the depth of value in respecting what their ancestors went through all those years ago resonates with the young people more deeply than the lessons and the talks given in the church settings. Experience somehow seems to trump inspirational stories but that would be my opinion, not church teachings. Given that these are the tomorrow's members of the Church, they will have families and be bringing up their children, I love the concept that the younger members will have a deeper appreciation for their heritage because of their experiential knowing of the ancestors handcart experiences, and thus will be able to teach it to their children from a place of knowing, not as much a place of repeating stories.
It is not difficult to appreciate the wide array of choices facing today's young people. It is equally not difficult for me, in my aging years, to appreciate that some of yesterday's ethics and values still carry weight in these harried times. I like to think that taking a breath, harkening back in time to re-enact the courage, strength, faith of yesterday's pioneers can only help to strengthen the young people of today bringing to them some of those character traits they will need going forward in their lives. I see it as a positive step the Church is taking in offering up opportunity for young people to bond in what could perhaps be called renewed old ways of the ancestors.
I have often said to my husband that I have long had a testimony of faith, and if I lacked the language to express it well, nonetheless the testimony was not diminished because I lacked language of expression. Even so, I yearned to have a language of faith expression. When I read the book my husband wrote, I recognized the faith I so wanted to express. The book he wrote is a fiction based on history of his own heritage as descendant of Martin Handcart Company survivor. When I met my husband, he was in the throes of struggling in his own faith crisis, and I well remember my amateurish advice to him when he recounted his faith crisis to me. Lacking the command of religious language as he might have and feeling quite shaky in offering any advice at all, the phrasing not to throw the baby out with the bathwater was the best I could come up with at the time. He can speak and write circles around me using expressive faith language and I could feel the absence of knowing how to express myself in faith terms, wondering how I would carry on faith conversations with him. I resolved that I would grow my own faith language in an effort to deepen the conversations we shared.
Over the years as he and I have explored so many avenues in exploring, seeking, deepening our own faith journeys, I was ever reluctant to fully embrace the LDS faith, fearing any number of things but primarily how I would be viewed both by people in the faith and people who saw the faith in a less favorable light. I think I've written it before, and if I haven't written it, I've certainly shared it in conversations with my husband - my sense of logic fights with my sense of emotion. They do not share the same playing field at all, however it seems safer to remain in my head (logic) than to let go and let my emotions rule. And given the trauma of my young child years, I was not easily given to the quivering lip, it had been beaten out of me, scared out of me, terrified out of me and strongly considered the wrong behavior to have according to my persecutor. Tears were not permitted, or tolerated as acceptable to any situation, even though the situations called for more than tears, called for a howling of the soul.
I have known Jesus since I was a small child. There has never been a question in my mind of that - never! Over the years, youth to teen to young adult, I looked for language to describe my sense of Jesus as defined by dominant faith practices, thinking religious people knew better than I how to define and express Jesus. I wasn't raised 'churched' as the saying goes, so it was hit and miss for me often along the way, coupled with moving every two years and availing myself of whatever church or faith offered itself to me where we wound up living. I think I can take solace in the recognition that I never stopped looking, and while I tired, I didn't stop. In that regard, I like to borrow some of the phrasing I've heard describing putting one foot in front of another even when the circumstances look bleak. I could empathize strongly with the handcart people pushing and pulling their handcarts in extremely bleak circumstances.
My eager young child enthusiasm would be fired up when a preacher called people to come down and be saved, be baptized, be born again, and down I would go, feeling the strength of my sense of Holy Spirit touching my heart. Sadly, in retrospect, too many religious faiths were too eager to baptize new members, with little recognition or regard to what I was feeling, looking for, wanting, hungering and yearning for - the connection to the Jesus of my child years - the Jesus who comforted me, kept me safe, got me through some exceptionally tough and extreme situations. I was disappointed more often than not, and knowing that my sense of Jesus was very real, willing to keep exploring, keep seeking till I found a match. I'm not sure I ever did find a match, and it certainly gave me cause to do a lot of research over the years, digging, contemplating, praying, searching, yearning.
This very evening, taking personal delight in the dvd of the young people re-enacting the handcart experience, I realized in a round about way, in what might be called a personal revelation or a prompting that I Had already found a match, I had already found a people with faith, as deep and great as my sense of my own faith. A recognition that I wasn't looking for definitions to define what I already knew, a revelation if you will, that what I had already found some twenty years ago with my husband was not so much borrowing from his heritage as much as it was owning my own testimony, owning aloud my own faith. I was elated with feeling to realize I could stand alone even in his faith of birth, on my own in my own testimony, and elated to recognize that his ancestors didn't leave it only for him and his posterity, but she left it for me as well.
After watching the dvd tonight with my husband, I pulled him aside out of the din of the jubilant noise of young people, to share with him what I believed to be personal revelation for me. I can own a deep and abiding faith, the one I have always had, and in much the same way that I can deeply respect the St John's Episcopal Cathedral building in Spokane has application from the time it was built for the longevity of the generations that will come after, so can I deeply respect that Mary Jarvis and her children left a heritage for the generations that will come after, myself included. Recognition that I don't have to borrow from my husband's heritage, I don't have to continue to feel extraneous or peripheral to the community because I wasn't born into the church, rather a convert, therefore not of the heritage, somehow less authentic because I wasn't a lifetime member of the church, didn't have family in the LDS faith, didn't have the family relationships. I think the Bishop of my home Ward tried to help me to see that some years back when I expressed to him how inauthentic I felt in my calling as a Relief Society teacher and he went down the list of members who were converts, not born in the church.
Appreciation as of tonight in recognition of something that has been eluding me all these years; Mary Jarvis gave her all that I might have this opportunity to own my faith as well as the language in which I choose to express my faith. It's not a newly acquired faith, not even a conversion, more a recognition of what I have owned since my child years. Jesus talked to me then and when I listen, I can still feel the presence, the depth of unshakable faith, Jesus gave it to me to own, the means, the venues in how that message is driven home to me is the gift Jesus gives - to us all. Mary Jarvis was mirroring a message Jesus gave us long ago, and there was more than a kernel of truth for me to learn in recognizing a message coming to me through my husband's heritage.
I don't have a testimony of this church as is popularly cited when members share their testimony as this being the one or only true church, but I do have a powerful testimony of this church for reasons I haven't fully allowed myself to entertain or own. And with that, I can say I, in fact, did hear the oft quoted 'still small voice' talking to me this evening, wrapping up for me years and years of rigorous studies, rigorous research to find expression for the Jesus who came to me as a young child whispering in that small voice the words of comfort that I desperately needed. He walks with me still, yet today, and I can own my sense of Him, no matter where I find myself. That is, I believe, the truth of my testimony, that is what I believe Mary Jarvis gave of herself in her faith given the travails, the traumatic challenges she and her children along with the others of the handcart companies faced in their journey to Zion. And quietly in the lyrics of one of my mother's favorite hymns, what she sang to us at bedtime when I was a child, even as I heard the lyrics the way I wanted to hear them - 'I come to the Garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses, and the sound I hear, coming on my ear, none other has ever heard. He walks with me, He talks with me, he tells me I am His own -----------
and with that may I say Amen.