The Relief Society Lesson

Last week, my friend, Saren, told me she got on my blog to see some wedding pictures. . . but we are still in Africa. I told her I really need to keep things in sequential order, and I just haven't had time to write about everything. (I might have a problem.) She advised me to skip forward to what's going on right now.  "I just need everything to be in order. And I'm afraid that I'll never go back and record everything."

"Yes, you will," she told me. "You'll finish writing about your South Africa trip because it was a big thing. But you'll never go back and write about all of the little things that are happening now."

I didn't write on my blog all week.

So I decided that I should listen to her advice. She is, after all, the blogging expert.

. . . . .

Last week was difficult. Along with Derrick's marriage has come a lot of changes. In some ways, I feel like I just went from being a mother of six to a mother of three. We anticipated the transition, but we expected it to be more of a slow change. . . and less of a pack-everything-up-we-are-outta-here harsh shift. I certainly didn't foresee the way it would take place (or the way it would make me feel).

After being the "mother" to Kaleigh for the last few years, my role has dramatically changed. Gcobisa is now the mother, and I am grandma. (Kaleigh calls me Emily.) But instead of playing the grandma role where you fill in the gaps and help when needed, we have been dealing with a somewhat defiant son, who is eager and determined to try to prove his independence. This translates into me not seeing Kaleigh last week. Not even once.

After one particularly difficult day (which translates into being up half the night crying), I thought to myself that there was no way I could teach the Relief Society lesson. . . a lesson on marriage and family. I just about called to ask if there was someone else who could teach for me. But then I felt the impression that we aren't all part of cookie-cutter families, we don't always have picture-perfect family situations, and we certainly all have to go through trials and struggles within our families.

And then the lesson took on a whole new meaning to me. And I wondered if it was possible that because of my experiences over the past few weeks, that maybe I was supposed to be the one to teach the Relief Society lesson.

I was talking to my sister-in-law, Angela, yesterday, and she suggested that I go home and read my patriarchal blessing. . . and Derrick's. So I did. That helped put things into perspective for me. And it was such a powerful reminder of my Heavenly Father's love. So I modified my lesson to include my experience with reading patriarchal blessings.

This morning, I received this email with a Mercy River album from Steve (he had already left for a stake meeting):

Here are the lyrics: 

Better Than a Hallelujah

God loves a lullaby
In a mother's tears in the dead of night
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes
God loves the drunkard's cry
The soldier's plea not to let him die
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes
We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah
The woman holding on for life
The dying man giving up the fight
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes
The tears of shame for what's been done
The silence when the words won't come
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes
We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah
Better than a church bell ringing
Better than a choir singing out, singing out
We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

I have a good husband. 

And then I listened to the rest of the songs on the album

This one might have been written just for me: 


We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things
Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops?
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You're near?
What if the trials of this life 
Are Your mercies in disguise?
We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
And all the while You hear each desperate plea
And long that we'd have faith to believe
Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops?
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You're near?
What if the trials of this life 
Are Your mercies in disguise?
When friends betray us, when darkness seems to win
We know the pain reminds this heart
That this is not, this is not our home
It's not our home
Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops?
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You're near?
What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst
This world can't satisfy?
And what if the trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise?

I modified my lesson to include my experience with listening to good music. 

W. Douglas Shumway's talk is from the April 2004 General Conference and is entitled Marriage and Family: Our Sacred Responsibility. I actually think this talk might be one that my father-in-law taught us a family home evening lesson once. But I must have felt pretty good about our family situation then because it didn't have the same impact as it did this time. 

"Today we are witnessing an unending assault on marriage and the family. They seem to be the adversary's prime targets for belittlement and destruction. In a society where marriage is often shunned, parenthood avoided, and families degraded, we have the responsibility to honor our marriages, nurture our children, and fortify our families."

"Honoring marriage requires that spouses render love, respect, and devotion to one another. We have been given sacred instruction to "love they wife with all thy heart and ... cleave unto her and none else" (D&C 42:22)."

"Marriage is meant to be and must be a loving, binding, harmonious relationship between a man and a woman. When a husband and a wife understand that the family is ordained of God and that marriage can be filled with promises and blessings extending into the eternities, separation and divorce would seldom be a consideration in the Latter-day Saint home. Couples would realize that sacred ordinances made in the house of the Lord provide the means whereby they can return to the presence of God."

Now with that, and to avoid placing everyone into a box, I added the opening paragraph of Elder David S. Baxter's April 2012 General Conference talk, entitled "Faith, Fortitude, Fulfillment: A Message to Single Parents": 

"My message is for the single parents in the Church, the majority of whom are single mothers--you valiant women who, through the varying circumstances of life, find yourselves raising children and running a home on your own. Perhaps you have been widowed or divorced. You may be coping with the challenges of single parenthood as a result of having taken a wrong turn outside of marriage, but you are now living within the framework of the gospel, having turned your life around."

Now is the part that I wanted to emphasize, "Bless you for avoiding the type of companionship that would come at the expense of virtue and discipleship. That would be far too high a price to pay."

That's when I fumbled my lesson up and read a different quote out of order or forgot to read a quote or something. I was a bit distracted by the lady on the back row with the phone. The one that rang at least five or six times. 

I could not figure out what was going on . . . someone was calling her, and then it looked like she was trying to find a number or something up on her phone. My friend, Janelle, said she was just about to go up to the lady and take her phone away. That would have been funny. Almost as funny as when the man sitting on our bench answered his phone during sacrament meeting today. And then Steve leaned over and asked me, "Would it have been equally inappropriate if I would have pulled out my phone and taken a picture of him talking on his phone during sacrament meeting?"

But anyhow, back to my lesson. . . 

"Parents have been given the sacred duty to 'bring up children in the nurture of the Lord' (Ephesians 6:4). Our responsibility, then, not only is for the well-being of our spouse but extends to the watchful care of our children, for 'children are an heritage of the Lord' (Psalms 127:3). We can make the choice to nurture our children accordingly and 'teach them to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord' (D&C 68:28). As parents, we must regard our children as gifts from God and be committed to making our homes a place to love, train, and nurture our sons and daughters. 

And that's when an 80-something year old lady in the front row raised her hand and told me she had five miscarriages and will those babies be waiting for her in heaven?

Yikes. . . I didn't see that one coming. Teaching in this ward keeps you on your toes.

I tried to answer it as best I could, without completely detracting from the spirit. I told her that we wouldn't fully understand that until after this life, but I think that whatever brings us greater peace in this life is what we should believe. When I had my miscarriages, it was better for me to think that the fetus didn't develop properly and the miscarriage was my body's way of terminating a unviable pregnancy. So I don't think of those miscarriages as babies waiting for me in heaven. . . just trials that I had to go through. . . that ultimately strengthened my testimony and brought me closer to God. But since there are lots of women who believe otherwise. . . I tried to answer it the best I could. (Miscarriages are different than stillbirths.) For more reading on this subject, go here

And then it was back to the lesson. . . 

"Loving, protecting, and nurturing our children are among the most sacred and eternally important things we will do. Worldly belongings will vanish, today's number-one movie or song will be irrelevant tomorrow, but a son or a daughter is eternal."

Our Relief Society president added some comments about how nurturing our children changes as they get older. It was perfect. 

"The family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children. ('The Family: A Proclamation to the World'). Therefore parents and children must work together in unity to fortify family relationships, cultivating them day in and day out. 

We added prayer, teach the gospel, scripture study, and family home evening to the last column: 

Another lady raised her hand and told us of the mistakes she made raising her children. And that holding family home evening once a week is not enough. . . I tried to explain that's why we should also have daily prayer and scripture study. . . but she went on for at least five minutes before we could continue. 

I concluded Brother Shumway's talk: 

"Although the adversary seeks to destroy the key elements necessary for a happy marriage and a righteous family, let me assure you that the gospel of Jesus Christ provides the tools and teachings necessary to combat and conquer the assailant in this war. If we will but honor our marriages by imparting more love and selflessness to our spouses; nurture our children through gentle persuasion and the expert teacher we call example; and fortify the spirituality of our families through consistent family home evening, prayer, and scripture study, I testify to you that the living Savior, Jesus Christ, will guide us and grant us victory in our efforts to achieve an eternal family unit."

Then I added a new column. Because that all seems so basic when life is sailing along smoothly. But what happens when it feels like life is falling apart?

You go to the temple. Not the Tetons, not Vernal, not Moab. The temple. Even if you don't have a recommend or can't go inside for a session, just go there. The spirit seeps through those walls. 

Remember the Atonement. Our salvation depends on it. It has the power to cleanse, the power to heal and comfort. 

And remember that "All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ": 

(Thank you to Chloe Garza for making this image for me! I put it in a frame and displayed it on the table during my lesson, along with the family picture from above.)

Read your patriarchal blessing.

And your spouse's.

And your child's.

Listen to good music. And really pay attention to the words. They might have been inspired to write them for you. 

And things will start to feel better. 

I promise. 


i'm h.mac said...

you are a good egg and an amazing student.

Courtney said...

Thanks for this. I am in primary and miss the RS lessons, so this was a good uplifting moment to my day. And I think not being cookie-cutter and trying to pretend that everything all fits neatly into these categories is so refreshing--we are all in different stages of life and dealing with different things--the gospel applies to us all, no matter what.

The Ballard's said...

That was beautiful. I am so glad you choose to share and not wait. There was something for everyone in that beautiful lesson.

Kayli said...

I'm so sorry things are not working out as smoothly as you had hoped. I hope it starts going better!

But- thanks for the beautiful lesson and all the good things for me to ponder.

You're pretty cool. :)

Rebecca said...

I have the song Blessings from Mercy River and it is one of my favorites. If you liked that one you may also like these from Jenny Phillips: He Will Not Fail You, Keep the Faith, To Become Like Him, and True to You. When I was really, really sad during my separation I would fall asleep listening to Italian Pop Opera by Andrea Bocelli.

Lisa said...

Great lesson! Just like Heidi said, you're a great student too. Thanks for sharing, and I am now making a purchase on itunes:)

Gloria said...

What a wonderful lesson. It is amazing when you are teaching how you actually experience things that add so much insight and depth to the lesson. The Lord needed you to be able to share these experiences.

I also loved all the family sharing. So sorry things don't go smoothly often but you can count on a day here or there!

I also can't tell you how many times people have come to the visitors' center just to feel peace. Some members and some not. It makes for interesting conversations.

Aneesa Bee said...

I think I got more out of your lesson than the last month of my own ward (I do a lot of baby walking in the hall). Thank you, Emily. Thank you so much!