I am a Latter-day Saint. Last week, on Tuesday, January 2, 2018, our prophet, President Thomas S. Monson passed away. The news was released to the media the next morning, and I first learned of it that Wednesday afternoon on Facebook. My initial reaction was to be sad for us, as a people, but oh so very glad for him!  President Monson worked so hard – with all his heart – and has earned the promised victory. The rest he has obtained is well deserved. The reunion he now enjoys is the fruit of his faith, fulfilled and I know he really has not gone that far away from us; just into the next room.

It was surprising to me, how the memories flooded back, with the passing of President Monson. Back to the first time in my life when an LDS prophet passed away. But that is the Holy Ghost’s job, to bring all things to our remembrance (John 14:26), and when He does, there is always a good reason for it.  So I reminisced on it, like an old coin collector: re-examining and lingering over this valuable gold piece from the treasure box of my heart. It was the memory of my first experience with coming to grips with the passing of an LDS prophet, and the testimony still firmly engraved within it.

I was prompted by the Spirit to share this memory on Facebook. I didn’t want to. It was special. Pearls… swine…  I’ve been there and done that. But the impression persisted and so I obeyed. Here is the text of that post:

I know this metaphor isn’t a perfect one, but it first occurred to me when I was 12 years old; upon the 1985 death of the only LDS prophet I had ever known: Spencer W Kimball. Three years before, I had seen Jim Hensen’s movie, “The Dark Crystal”. I was and still remain a fan of the original movie; I guess I watched it at an impressionable age.

I noticed something very familiar in the succession of LDS prophets. I noticed that it was a lot like the succession of leadership among the Mystics in the film. There was no debate, no jockeying for votes, no fight for leadership. There was no gasping wizzened, ornament-encrusted living skeleton clinging to the scepter of power and screaming with his last breath, “MINE!”

Strange how a children’s movie helped confirm my belief and faith in the love, brotherhood and powerful gentle authority of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. And yes, I believe they have the power, authority and supremacy to do what needs to be done, at the best time and in the best way, to roll forth the Kingdom of God and his Christ on this earth. Let the Skeksis and Garthim tyrants of this world rage and reign in blood and horror, basking in their day of supposed ultimate and universal power. I know in Whom I have trusted. I know Whose power the LDS prophets hold – in noble and quiet dignity. They don’t need to prove it to anyone. And that, yes, “God is not dead nor doth He sleep. The wrong shall fail; the right prevail” no matter how grim the moment, at present, may seem.

I am so thankful for the love, service and example of President Thomas S Monson. Like Presidents Hinckley, Hunter, Benson and Kimball before him, these servants of God have been my guideposts, guard rails and watchmen on the tower. True presiding, protecting and providing fathers, all of them. I feel like an era is ending. My childhood guardians, seemingly always there, like the mountains, are moving on ahead of me, still preparing the way. Every man now serving are men whose individual calls to the ministry I personally witnessed. I am confident that this cadre of brethren, including the “new guard” recently raised up (and soon to be raised up, totaling a wave of 5 new apostles called up only within the last few years) will take the snag ship Zion successfully through what awaits us ahead.

I found a picture of the Mystics from the Jim Henson film to go along with my post and thought that I was done. But then, an associated memory came to mind, and the same thing happened with this second coin as had occurred with the first. I was reluctant to put even more of my heart on public display, especially from back in those silly days of my childhood. But the Spirit nudged again, and so I obeyed. Here is that text:

This musical lesson in symbolism that I first observed with the Mystics was also my first impression of what the “Harmony of the Gospels” was, lol.  I applied it to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. I applied it to the agreement between all canonized LDS scripture and their agreement to the words of the living prophets,seers and revelator. My sisters and I even used to imitate the Mystics as we worked in the kitchen or rode in the car or whatever. I guess their harmonic chord of many voices as one is my core definition of what unity looks like and sounds like. Yes, I know: I know I am weird. But that’s why you like me, right?

What I did not fully elaborate upon was the other concept that had been frequenting my thoughts throughout the previous holiday month of December 2017: Bells.

It was not the worst Christmas I’ve ever experienced, but I think it might have made it to the top ten list in that category. I don’t feel the need to rehash the specifics here about why it was so dark for us, but I will try to describe the struggle of our emotional-spiritual  reaction to the storm. I don’t even know, myself, what kind of label to put on the mood that reigned in our home and hearts last month, except to describe it as gloomy, despondent and resigned… without much optimism or hope at all.

About a week before Christmas Eve Sunday, the melody and lyrics to a certain Christmas hymn kept returning to my mind. That song was I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day. It just seemed to fit. It fit everything. It described every feeling fighting within my breast. Of hope versus despair. Of love versus apathy. Of faith and trust versus doubt and fear. Idealism versus cynicism. Having real and pressing temporal need but also bearing the shame and self-recrimination of having it… again. Groveling, thankfulness… and rage at greed, ostentation and insensitivity. Overwhelm at stake conference that a Priesthood authority could somehow see right into my heart and speak crystalline, perfect words of comfort and peace to a wound I’ve long been carrying. Missing extended family but not missing the stress and contention. Melancholy and exactly opposing mixed feelings at the empty chairs of more than one of my children. Seen by eyes of compassion and given a miracle of relief by generous hearts, only to have it literally swept away by a flood. Numbness and fighting off bitterness as hit after hit after hit kept coming and coming. Longing for the salvation of the Lord and waiting upon Him versus locking him out and shrinking away to shrivel up in a dried-up ball of self-pity and enmity toward God and all mankind. Overwhelming gratitude mingled with humiliation and the desire but inability to repay. Anger at the apathy of so many of the Comfortable and Insulated who are blind to the needs – the perpetual, constant, more-than-December needs – that surround them everywhere. And the stress, perpetual stress. Helplessness and grinding frustration at how tied my own hands were; what I could not do but wished to.

I felt bad for my kids, but not bad enough, I guess, because I could not pull myself up out of my swamp of sadness. Both my husband and I were struggling under the weight of this overwhelming milieu of circumstance and feeling, and we were not doing a stellar job of concealing it. It was like there was absolutely nothing left inside us, not even to gloss things over; or slap on a bright smile and “fake it ’til you make it.” I felt deflated, but deep in my heart I know it was not like I was really doing all I could to maintain and uphold my spiritual air supply.

For our family, the 2017 Christmas Spirit really hadn’t entered our home until the Saturday just before. We turned on the Christmas music, made cookies and did laundry. My husband decorated as much as he could, hanging Christmas lights on the ceiling over the homemade Nativity scene our youngest daughter had made out of dressing up her dolls and putting them inside of a stable made from an Amazon shipping box sent by relatives in Michigan. I think we both felt guilty, seeing that simple display of faith and remembrance from our little girl. And so we finally tried, that day, to do our duty, even if it hurt a little bit inside. Even if my face felt like it might crack or splinter into pieces if I smiled. The cookies were for my husband, whose only Christmas request of me had been to have sugar cookies and eggnog for dessert on Christmas Eve. I baked a whole bunch more, though, for the people on our Visiting and Home Teaching routes. If we were going to finally forget ourselves and go to work, then we might as well do our duty at home and at church.

The Sabbath day on Christmas Eve dawned cold and bright and crisp. The Church authorities had requested that only sacrament meeting be held, so that families could spend more time with each other. With all that we’d finally done the day before, that Sunday morning felt like an LDS Christmas Devotional Sunday usually feels to me. The devotional is broadcast on the FIRST Sunday in December. Whoops. I’d known all along that by my attitude, I’d been short-sheeting myself and the kids. But all month I just had not even been able to muster even the desire to change it. I felt a little bad, that I was so late in turning my heart, but at that point I also knew remorse was futile. In all that happened during that hour of church service, which consisted mostly of singing, the thing that struck me most was that our branch president – a rather pragmatic man – selected as our opening song the very song which had been following me around all month: I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day. I do not believe in coincidences.

So with all these thoughts upon the death of President Monson; thoughts of harmony among men; men “firm as the mountains around us”, there still came repeatedly to my mind the thought, echoing and re-echoing like bells, of bells! Specifically came constant thoughts of that lingering song, I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day.

So I explored it on YouTube. Surely, I must live under a rock sometimes. It seems everybody has heard the new melody put to the new version of the carol that was written by the Christian band, Casting Crowns. Wow. That blew me away. Especially one particular lyric in a chorus they included in their version of the song:

But the bells are ringing (peace on earth)
Like a choir singing (peace on earth)
Does anybody hear them? (peace on earth)
Peace on earth, good will to men

I played the Casting Crowns song over and over again, sitting there, in front of my brand-new post about what I’d learned as a twelve-year-old from an elaborate puppet children’s movie that I’d seen when I was ten. And then another song softly “pealed, more loud and deep”, from the direction of that place from which the Spirit comes when He speaks to me. And it brightly, sweetly sang,

  1. We thank thee, O God, for a prophet
    To guide us in these latter days.
    We thank thee for sending the gospel
    To lighten our minds with its rays.
    We thank thee for every blessing
    Bestowed by thy bounteous hand.
    We feel it a pleasure to serve thee
    And love to obey thy command.
  2. When dark clouds of trouble hang o’er us
    And threaten our peace to destroy,
    There is hope smiling brightly before us,
    And we know that deliv’rance is nigh.
    We doubt not the Lord nor his goodness.
    We’ve proved him in days that are past.
    The wicked who fight against Zion
    Will surely be smitten at last.
  3. We’ll sing of his goodness and mercy.
    We’ll praise him by day and by night,
    Rejoice in his glorious gospel,
    And bask in its life-giving light.
    Thus on to eternal perfection
    The honest and faithful will go,
    While they who reject this glad message
    Shall never such happiness know

I cried in that moment of realization, as the Spirit of the Lord taught me, at last, what it had been preparing my heart to hear. My bells were the prophets and apostles, especially the prophets and apostles of my own dispensation. “Their old familiar carols” they’ve ever played in my life, “of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Upon further research, I learned that there were lyrics omitted in the song that were included in Henry Wordsworth Longfellow’s original poem. (A folk trio from Canada called The Once sings their own  beautiful version of the full poem. I was blessed enough to find and enjoy it on YouTube.) Again, the words of this particular poem seemed somehow to perfectly describe the state of things. In this case the dogfight we’d agonized our way through in December… and maybe even a great deal of my life, as a whole.

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

So I cried again. To be understood to the core by Deity is no small thing. Why is it that we are heard, but we will not hear Him? And I asked myself why men do not really, not consistently, anyway, hold good will toward each other.  I asked myself why they cry out for God to speak but then will not listen to the sound of His bells?

I mean, isn’t this partly why the American Civil War happened? The fruit of the Great Revival that swept this country; the multiplicity of pleadings to Heaven which poured forth from the mouths; pleadings to open and show the way, were heard and answered by the Lord; answered in the vision and the book given to a 14-year-old boy. “No, no, this is not the answer we wanted!” the children of this choice land then cried. And so they killed him, and he was taken from their midst. All the bloodshed and agony their little hearts could have, a smorgasbord of death and horror, erupted not long after for a nation that had rejected the solution to obtaining the peace on earth for which their lips, but not their hearts, had asked. I don’t think we ever were the same again, as a country.

Avoidable or unjust war seems to strip a certain something away. I don’t know whether to call it naiveté or purity or innocence, but once it is gone, you can’t get it back. I sensed this when I watched the PBS documentary, Death and the Civil War and the 2014 film Testament of Youth. I sensed it when I read books like Kate Seredy’s The Singing Tree and L. M. Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside. What a waste of goodness, life and hope! And still, the bells, they called, from however far away in the exile of Utah Territory.

Maybe all of this bell business was started in November, not December. I discovered an answer my paternal grandfather had searched for but never found in his family history research: Source materials led me to the learn of the little village in Pomerania where my maternal great-great grandparents had lived. I tried to find the church where the records had come from, and learned that many of the bells in Germany had been confiscated by the Third Reich. They were melted down for artillery, and only now, in recent years, are the bells finally being replaced. Long-silent churches have begun to sing again. It was made clear, however, that the bell in Marienkirche was not the original; that it had the same ring as the bell from another town. When I learned this, the victory of a new chime in the belfry seemed a hollow one to me. For the ancient, original, singular bell was still lost, stolen away by evil men, and probably lost for ever.

I was going to go on with my day after posting the hymn, We Thank Thee, O God, For A Prophet under my original comment. However, God was not done with me yet. I had the impression to go to scriptures.byu.edu and study what I could find that turned up when I put “bell” in the search box. To my great surprise, the search results had many talks mentioning a bell which were all by the same speaker: Thomas S. Monson. There seemed to be one story which he told the most, for it was repeated in the citations. I chose to read it in the context of an talk he gave entitled The Way Home. It beautifully addressed everything which I have discussed in the last few paragraphs and then some. It is near the end of this address that then-Elder Monson told a final, summarizing story; the one which referenced a bell:

From our youth many of us may remember the story of a very young boy who was abducted from his parents and home and taken to a village situated far away. Under these conditions the small boy grew to young manhood without a knowledge of his actual parents or earthly home. Within his heart there came a yearning to return to that village called home.

But where was home to be found? Where were his mother and father to be discovered? Oh, if only he could remember even their names, his task would be less hopeless. Desperately he sought to recall even a glimpse of his childhood.

Like a flash of inspiration, he remembered the sound of a bell which, from the tower atop the village church, pealed its welcome each Sabbath morning. From village to village the young man wandered, ever listening for that familiar bell to chime. Some bells were similar, others far different from the sound he remembered.

At length the weary young man stood one Sunday morning before a church of a typical town. He listened carefully as the bell began to peal. The sound was familiar. It was unlike any other he had heard, save that bell which pealed in the memory of his childhood days. Yes, it was the same bell. Its ring was true. His eyes filled with tears. His heart rejoiced in gladness. His soul overflowed with gratitude. The young man dropped to his knees, looked upward beyond the bell tower—even toward heaven—and in a prayer of gratitude whispered, “Thanks be to God. I’m home.”

Like the peal of a remembered bell will be the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the soul of him who earnestly seeks. Many of you have traveled long in a personal quest for that which rings true. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sends forth to you an earnest appeal. Open your doors to the missionaries. Open your minds to the word of God. Open your hearts, even your very souls, to the sound of that still, small voice which testifies of truth. As the prophet Isaiah promised: “Thine ears shall hear a word … saying, This is the way, walk ye in it.” (Isaiah 30:21) Then, like the boy of whom I’ve spoken, you too will, on bended knee, say to your God and mine: “I’m home!”

May such be the blessing of all, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

And so I blubbered some more. Bells are like vessels, really – just a hollow holder of a spirit and a voice – and so are the bodies that house our spirits (1 Corinthians 3:16). In all the workings made by that great Smith of Our Souls, the Lord God Almighty, He “who sitteth like a Refiner of Silver” and watches over us in the heat and the blaze, I know He sees – beyond the molten metal – the Belle in me. Then I thought of President Monson and all the other prophets being like a bell. I thought about famous bells like our now-mute, cracked Liberty Bell. I checked to see if there were any special bells in Mormon history. In that search I stumbled across an image of a horse with sleigh bells on it’s neck and the following scripture verse:

In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD; and the pots in the Lord’s house shall be like the bowls before the altar. – Zechariah 14:20

Wait, what? This phrase is what Latter-day Saints inscribe upon the outer wall of all of our temples. But to put that saying on an everyday object?! Where had I heard that before? I remembered I had heard this in a recent General Conference address. I thought Elder D. Todd Christofferson had been the speaker, so I went back and checked. Yes, the address is called The Living Bread Which Came Down From Heaven. This talk discusses the depth of the dedication of the early Latter-day Saints who settled Utah. Perhaps they were trying to fulfill or bring about the description of Zechariah, but whatever their intent, it was sincere and it soaked through and left it’s mark on the physical artifacts these people left behind. I think Elder Christofferson was making a call for that kind of completely immersed and dedicated heart in us. It also happens that this apostle personally visited our stake recently. Again, I do not believe in coincidences.

Such dedication as an ordinary believer is not an impossibility. I know of 15 men in this world, and even more in the next, whose “lives proclaim devotion to the Savior’s name.” I know of 15 men in this world, and even more with us, on the other side of the veil, who are willing to be reciprocate in their relationship with our Lord. The Savior said, “Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.” These men have answered, “Behold, I have graven Thee upon the tablets of my heart; Thy walls are continually before me.” Purified and called up to serve in their high calling, they have given their souls to God, like bells to be rung in His Hands, and according to His will. Dedicated vessels, all, with HOLINESS TO THE LORD engraved for all to see and to hear their special witness of Jesus Christ. I thought of the clapper of the bell, and remembered two scriptures from the Book of Mormon:

And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, , and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins. – 2 Nephi 25:26

Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do…  – 3 Nephi 18:24

I thought of how our covenants are like that engraving that says Holiness to the Lord. I thought about how our covenants are meant to be more than just outward perfunctory expressions. I know there is something to pitch and harmonics in the familiar expression about bells “ringing true”. But what if a bell was engraved with an assertion that it did not keep or demonstrate? What if there were bell created that read  “SUPPER TIME”, because it was meant to call a family together every evening for meals? And what if,  instead of being put to that purpose, the bell was kept silent and only rarely used for emergencies, like to warn of a fire? The bell wouldn’t be “ringing true” then, would it?

Perhaps we were created to be like a bell. Perhaps this is the challenge of our lives: to decide if we are willing to go all the way to the end of the process. To determine to be molten by the hand of Lord, willingly take and carry His name upon us, and then really ring true to what we profess to be, for as long as we exist. This type of honesty toward Maker and Man is the challenge of a lifetime, but I think that is what the test is all about . The clapper of our deeds and the rope of our agency are still all ours. If we will rest in our Savior, his yoke is easy and his burden is Light.  I truly believe that we don’t need to be a Prophet with a capital P to fulfill this measure of our creation. We just need to love God, serve our fellow men, and tend to the care and maintenance of our own discipleship.

In a general sense a prophet is anyone who has a testimony of Jesus Christ by the Holy Ghost – Prophet, LDS Bible Dictionary

But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not. – Mosiah 4:30

Another bell quote cited often by President Monson were the lyrics to a song written by Rogers and  Hammerstein for the musical, The Sound of Music:

A bell is no bell ’til you ring it
A song is no song ’til you sing it
And love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay;
Love isn’t love ’til you give it away

I love how the Heavenly Father so tenderly speaks of his love to our hearts in deeply personal and individual ways. He has done that with me, more than once. God did this with Alma the Younger, by tenderly sending the same angel to comfort a repentant and righteous Alma who had originally been the messenger of warning to the lad. I found public evidence of that kind of relationship between Heavenly Father and President Monson. It is a beautiful account to me because now I understand something deeper of what it must have meant to President Monson:

On a Sunday morning, April 27, 1975, I stood on an outcropping of rock situated between the cities of Dresden and Meissen, high above the Elbe River. I responded to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and offered a prayer of dedication on [the German Democratic Republic] and its people. That prayer noted the faith of the members. It emphasized the tender feelings of many hearts filled with an overwhelming desire to obtain temple blessings. A plea for peace was expressed. Divine help was requested. I voiced the words, “Dear Father, let this be the beginning of a new day for the members of Thy church in this land.”

Suddenly, from far below in the valley, a bell in a church steeple began to chime and the shrill crow of a rooster broke the morning silence, each heralding the commencement of a new day. Though my eyes were closed, I felt a warmth from the sun’s rays reaching my face, my hands, my arms. How could this be? An incessant rain had been falling all morning. At the conclusion of the prayer, I gazed heavenward. I noted a ray of sunshine which penetrated an opening in the heavy clouds, a ray which engulfed the spot where our small group stood. From that moment I knew divine help was at hand.”

It has been a few days since my Facebook post about harmony and unity. But I still have been knitting things together in my mind. I haven’t had the chance to blog for a few months, what with our new baby and the Mac going kaputt.  But all these strands are coming together to teach me that where there is unity with the Lord, there is unity with our brethren. I have been watching a documentary series called Saints and Sinners. It’s all about the history of the Popes of the Catholic Church. In some part of my brain, I still can’t help but think about Skeksis when I watch this (MINE!). One of the most appalling accounts was a time in their history where the church had a schism. One pope became two popes. There was a genuine, all-out, full-bore power struggle. So along with the emperor, these bickering brethren of God, so-called, took their cherished spirit of contention and went to Germany.  They met at the Council of Constance, where everyone finally… uh, “united”? They not only elected a third pope but were also serviced by the over 1500 harlots who had followed them to town. Then, because a bunch of celibate guys can’t really have a ball, I guess they decided to go for something a little showier: fire!  Instead of a marshmallow or weenie roast, they all got together and burned up John Huss, a truly righteous man of conscience and courage. (Without chocolate or graham crackers or anything! ) So, you see, the hallmark of unity was not there, so how could the Lord be there?

Definition of hallmark
1b
: a mark or device placed or stamped on an article of trade to indicate origin, purity, or genuineness
2: a distinguishing characteristic, trait, or feature

The second thing I have learned is that where there cannot be unity with our brethren, there still must be unity with the Lord, and, with faith in that Lord, an honest and truly loving forbearance of our brethren. Because that is who we are and need to choose to be if we are to remain the children of God. Who are the children of God? These are they that both proclaim and live with peace and good will toward God and all men (Revelations 12:11, Helaman 10:4)

So, yes, I stayed up most of the night January 11-12 writing this. I was glad to do it, because of the importance of what I have learned. Maybe it will help somebody else like it has helped me. The body of my friend, President Monson, will be buried today at noon. I know it is only a temporary parting from him and the rest of his brethren; those who I count among my true friends. God be with you ’til we meet again.

I thought I was done with all the Aha! moments and realizations about bells and discipleship, unity and agency… but I wasn’t.  I was working in the kitchen yesterday (January 1, shredding some carrots and thinking about other things. A memory was gently laid on the surface of my mind.

I once was a girl, a very angry girl. The kindest way to describe my upbringing was that, while not completely void of it, my home lacked the level of compassion and empathy which I needed. I guess I was an “over-sensitive”, “romantic”, of “flowery language” in a world of right angles, stainless steel and Exacto knives . In this environment I learned that getting mad hurt less, numbed the agony and shielded the heart more than getting sad did, even if the true emotion really was sadness. All the more reason to get mad. So, as a teenager, I was mad a lot.

I saw that girl again, as I stood, a 44 year old woman, in my kitchen. I saw her getting screamed at most of the way to a special Young Women’s church meeting that she did not want to attend. She was behind on her homework, there were big tests and projects looming, and this meeting was just another stupid waste of time. This girl secretly wondered if the real reason she was being forced go to this Music Man Meeting of the Grecian Urns was so that her mother could save face, and not because her mother really cared about her at all. At least Ardeth Kapp might be there. For whatever reason, this girl believed that the LDS Young Women’s President really did love her, some Midwestern girl the woman had actually never met.

But, horror of horrors, as they committed the cardinal sin of arriving late; as they committed another one of interrupting the meeting already in progress in the chapel; as she looked around at everyone fancied up in their floral dresses, hair-sprayed poof-ball bangs, lipstick and nail polish, and scowled, since she’d been required to get all dressed up too; the girl was handed a cheap metal bell attached to a thin ribbon. It looked like some necklace a Primary child would bring home from Sunbeam class. She instantly glanced at the roomful of people again and saw that everyone was wearing one of these bells around their necks.  Mooooooo! Visions of Bossy the Cow – no, a whole herd of them! – danced in her head. What the HECK was going on here?! What kind of WEIRDNESS are they doing now? She had no idea. No idea at all. All she knew was that everything was getting crappier all the time with stick-in-the-mud President Benson at the head of the Church. He was no President Kimball. She missed President Kimball, waaaah! It was hard to feel like President Benson loved her when he was so different from President Kimball. She had not been ready to let him go.

Until I looked it up yesterday, I’d still had no idea what was actually going on that night. New Beginnings? A Young Women’s Session of Conference? In my memory it was just another one of those Kumbaya things for Young Women, to promote unity and oneness, to insist that we were not alone. When for me, the undeniable reality was that I still was. O holy church leaders, methinks thou protests too strongly, else why dost thou invoke the constant group-think gas mask to keep stuffing this message down my throat? Almost as if you don’t believe it yourselves? The leaders came up with another, similar idea the year later, another one of their themes:  “I see a wave, a mighty wave!” Yeah, full of indistinguishable droplets, but who cares, because, well, THE WAVE is what is important. They beat this dead horse another year with a balloon launch. At that occasion, all I could think about was the film, The Red Balloon… yeah, dead balloon! That’s what will happen to all these balloons, and hopefully they won’t cause a plane crash or something. I hated being forced to write my testimony to attach to a stupid balloon. I mean, who does that? Who comes up with these ideas? Does anybody force the grown-ups to pull their personal feelings about “all things God” out of their hoo-has upon the royal orders of the local authoritarian in charge? And then just cast them away to a world that doesn’t care and will probably mock and reject a testimony of faith, anyway?

With all these ridiculous efforts of the late ’80s, my heart screamed, “Why are you putting this great pressure of expectation upon me? Why are you forcing me – through this attempt to wrest the power of peer pressure away from the world and twist it to fit into an ecclesiastical setting in the scepter of your own power over me – why are you attempting to force me to commit to things against my will – just now and immediately – right in the very moment that I am even learning of them? Where, now, is that free moral agency you tout? Would that I could treat you this way and see how you like it!! I did not participate in your counsels nor write the pledges nor design the plans that you so self-servingly created for all of us girls in the name of Love, God and ‘your best
interests’. Why do you leaders all assume I even want what you want? Maybe I am still deciding! Maybe I don’t know yet! So why do you rush me? Why do you think me so brainless that I would commit to devotions so serious just because everyone else is, without even the time to study out and consider them for myself? Yet here again is another meeting where – surprise! – I can now damn myself even further by making commitments under duress which I do not intend or even know how to keep.”

They screamed this drum beat UNITY, UNITY at mixed gender youth activities, too. To which my heart always screamed silently back at them about their own hypocrisy, unkindness and unfairness. Okay, all of us kids did your stupid 3 mile midnight hike through the pitch-dark woods without any light, stumbling around on narrow, steep trails with drop-offs while clinging to a rope you told us to trust but which was so loose and shook so much from the weight of all of us, that we were afraid it would snap, which made the hike feel even more terrifying, even life-threatening. I know you wanted us tired and hungry, on purpose, because you denied us dinner and made us wait until after dark to even drive to the location. So the whole way there, we WERE exhausted, and our fearful, resentful feelings were not helped at all by the angry, unsympathetic barking within that darkness, from our tired, impatient male adult guides to “HURRY UP!” Once I got there, starved, expecting kindness and a warm dinner waiting from sister leaders, I was sorely disappointed to learn that we had to work to set up our own camp and come up with our own meals, ourselves. But not without also being given a huge block of wood first, and being told to carve ourselves a spoon to eat with! I did not know how to carve or whittle! Is THIS why we’d all been required to bring pocket knives? I just had a tiny, simple jackknife and by the time I had gouged out a sliver-y scoop that passed leader inspection, all the hot food had been gobbled up by the Boy Scouts who knew how to carve. I was left, without a can opener, and without sympathy, trying by myself to open a can of cold beans to eat. That was just the beginning of those three days of hell.

The grand finale to the physical abuse was the spiritual abuse, which was even more insulting to my soul. Now do you do you honestly, seriously believe that making us all go out in the woods, with the instructions to spread out and find a private spot and to pray like Joseph Smith, in broad daylight, during a hot, miserable, mosquito-infested Wilderness Youth Conference, will really increase our testimonies of the Restored Gospel? What? Did the Father and the Son actually appear to the youth in some other stake that you tried this canned program in and now you think it will work again here, in my stake?  YOU CAN NOT FORCE SPIRITUAL THINGS!!!” Did you expect after all that mistreatment that we would be, somehow, humbled?! Or were you more realistic, hoping simply for a hallucination? I felt like my intelligence was continually being 
assaulted and that the only thing that mattered to my LDS leaders was my being an obedient, will-less cow
!  A cow carefully being led to the slaughter while being taught the insulting illogic that I must praise my killers the whole way there for the privilege of being “utterly swallowed up in the Will of the Father.” Why, then, I screamed,  was I even created as an individual at all, if my doom was to disappear into unity? Either God was crazy or he was a cruel despot.

You see, because of my experiences, the bitter lessons of before were repeated for me in the lesson I taught myself the night of “the Bell Meeting”. What was actually going on was something much less sinister:

“Local LDS Church leaders all over the world [rang] bells on Saturday, 18 November 1989, to mark the 120th anniversary of the founding of the Young Women organization…

The worldwide celebration [commemorated] President Brigham Young’s ringing of the prayer bell to call his daughters together at the Lion House on 28 November 1869. At that time he challenged them to set aside the things of the world and improve in everything that is good and beautiful… 

…  [To that end, he formed] what was then known as the Young Ladies Retrenchment Society. The same bell he used to summon his daughters was used again by President Ezra Taft Benson as part of the anniversary celebration.

Special messages to Young Women were delivered by President Benson, and Sister Ardeth G. Kapp, Young Women general president.”

Oh. Okay. Well, that is still not what I remember. COW. MOO-COW: I remember feeling like an insignificant she-cow in a herd of she-cattle. So when they asked us all to lift up our bells and ring them in unison, I was absolutely insulted and incensed! Who did they think they were and who did they think I was? A mindless robot without a will? Without feelings and dreams and hopes and desires of my own? An automaton among automatons? My, my, but we are feeling just a little overconfident about every young woman in the room being made over in the express image of their mothers and replacing her within your precious Church, aren’t we now? 

When the time came for us to lift our stupid plastique-metal bells, I pulled what I thought was a clever one: an act of supernal brilliance and passive aggression all rolled into one. I thought it, and then I dared it. Making sure my mother was not watching, I fiercely tore the clapper out of my bell! I was not caught! No one had seen! It became incredibly hard, then, not to chuckle. I had to hold my breath to keep myself from making a snortle, out loud, in pure malicious glee. As my mom beamed over at me, the suddenly miraculously obedient and grinning child, cooperatively ringing her bell along with all the other dodos in the room, it had all instantly become just so hysterical! You want a pioneer? You’ve got one, and my trail is headed the other direction! You want a united voice? Well, you can’t have mine! What difference would it make to you to lose me, anyway? I am just one of many in the nameless, faceless mass of your followers. My leaving doesn’t even matter to you or to anyone else anyway.

I continued to shred the carrots, thinking about this experience, when the Spirit lovingly asked me, “Katie, do you hear the bell now?”

And then I cried again, because I knew God already knew that answer. But He had wanted me to feel the sweet assurance of knowing what He already knew.

I am thankful that my Heavenly Father’s faith in me was greater than my own. I am thankful for my Brethren in the Gospel who continued to ring their bells of Holiness to the Lord, regardless of what the world said or wanted. I am thankful for all the Latter-day Saints who have touched my life, personally, with the bells they have and are. This is because when I decided to turn around and head for Home, finally listening for His voice, I found the sound because of all of you who sang your songs and gave your love away. O blessed hope! O tender mercy! It was still there: the Bell that rings true.

I close with words of comfort that Thomas S. Monson once gave to others,

Such knowledge will sustain you in your heartache. You will never be in the tragic situation of the disbeliever who…  was heard to say, as she watched the casket lowered into mother earth,… “Good-bye forever.” Rather, with head erect, courage undaunted, and faith unwavering, you can lift your eyes…  and whisper, … Good-bye—until we meet again.

And the words of Tennyson may come to you as though spoken by [me, your prophet and your friend]:

“Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea . . .

“Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

“For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.”


 

Consider the Lilies, O Divine Redeemer, and Dear To the Heart of the Shepherd were sung during the funeral service for President Thomas S. Monson. Wow: These pieces all hold a spiritual significance to me, too, and are among my favorites.  It felt to me as if President Monson were still speaking friendship and love to us, through these songs, which both embraced us as we were and challenged us to be more than what we were. Following the closing song, Do Not Weary By The Way, the closing prayer was delivered by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. Here are some personally significant excerpts from that benediction:

Our holy and beloved Father in Heaven,

With that marvelous anthem ringing in our ears and as we come to the conclusion of a magnificent service celebrating a magnificent life, we thank Thee for the gift of Thomas Spencer Monson to us and to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We will cherish forever the wisdom of His teachings and the example of his life…

We thank Thee for the transcendent music selections chosen by President Monson himself. And above all, we thank thee for the gift of thy Only Begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, through whose Atonement the resurrection and eternal life of President Monson is as certain as it will be glorious…

Now as we go to lay the mortal remains of President Monson to rest for a season, we ask from Thee, through us, a continuing blessing on every widow, every fatherless child, every discouraged and downhearted and struggling and suffering soul, whoever she may be and wherever he may be, that we might, without fear, someday look President Monson in the eye, as surely we will, and then have a good report of our having learned that lesson from this magnificent man. May we, without ever being weary, go forward doing good, in Thy name we pray, even the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.”




TAKE A STAND FOR TRUTH

Address delivered by Young Women’s General President, Ardeth J Kapp
28 November 1989

This is no ordinary time and you are no ordinary youth. Today we unite together across continents, the oceans, across cultural differences and language barriers. We stand together as daughters of God bound together by our common commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Together we take a stand for truth and righteousness on this 120th anniversary since the founding of the Young Women organization that took place on November 28, 1869, in the Lion House in Salt Lake City, Utah. On that day the great prophet-leader Brigham Young took from the shelf the family prayer bell. He rang it loud and clear, calling his daughters together for a special meeting. The important part to be played by the young women of the Church was seen by President Brigham Young in the early history of the Church. With the vision of the great influence and contribution young women could make and the challenges they would face, he felt to establish an organization which would provide identity and a worldwide sisterhood, an organization which set young women apart from the world. He asked them to “set an example before the people of the world worthy of imitation … to get a living testimony of the truth … and to gain a knowledge of the gospel for themselves.” He called upon them to unite in strength and power and to commit to stand for truth and righteousness.

That original organization was known a the Young Ladies’ Department of the Cooperative Retrenchment Association. The young women voted to sustain the president in his call to organize. They wrote articles committing themselves to “uphold and sustain each other in doing good … that we should not condescend to imitate the pride, folly and fashions of the world, but rather to set examples for others instead of seeking to pattern after them.” It has been 120 years since that early beginning. We are greatly blessed by a prophet-leader in our day who has a vision concerning young women. Listen to the words of President Ezra Taft Benson when he said “You are not just ordinary young women. You are choice spirits. Many of you have been held in reserve for almost 6,000 years to come forth in this day, at this time, when temptations, responsibilities, and opportunities are the very greatest.”

He has encouraged young women to live up to their divine potential. He has said, “Remember who you really are and the divine heritage that is yours. You are literally the royal daughters of our Heavenly Father.”

And prophetically he has declared, “You have been born at this time for a sacred and glorious purpose. It is not by chance that you have been reserved to come to earth in this last dispensation of the fullness of times. Your birth at this particular time was foreordained in the eternities. You are to be royal daughters of the Lord in the last days. You are the youth of the noble birthright.”

This morning we are gathered together with young women, parents and leaders in branches, districts, wards and stakes. We will hear that same bell ring loud and clear once again. Our great prophet-leader, President Ezra Taft Benson, will issue a call to young women—not only those gathered in the Lion House, not only those in Utah or even the United States, but young women around the world.

In behalf of the Young Women Presidency and Board we ask each of you to commit with us to respond to the call of our prophet, to sustain and accomplish the mission which he sees for young women.



WE LOVE YOU

Address delivered by President Ezra Taft Benson, 28 November 1989

 

My dear young sisters, how grateful I am to greet you. Today young women around the world are gathered together in a great sisterhood. I want you to know of my deep love and appreciation for each of you.

Building on the foundation of the past and with a vision of the future, I issue a call to you dear young sisters: Prepare yourselves that you may be fit and pure vessels to bear triumphantly the responsibilities of the kingdom of God in preparation for the second coming of our Savior. Make a commitment to read the Book of Mormon. Apply its teachings so you will be able to stand straight against the wiles of the devil and you will be a mighty tool in the hands of the Lord.

I invite your priesthood leaders to join with me in ringing a bell for renewed commitment to set aside the things of the world. We call upon you to unite in strength and power as you commit to stand for truth and righteousness.

We love you. We pray for you. We have confidence in you. I feel impressed to leave my blessing upon each one of you dear sisters. May you always remember that it is possible to live in the world without partaking of the sins of the world.

Determine to live in such a way “that Christ’s true light through me may shine – His name to glorify.” May that be the clarion call for each of you as you stand for truth and righteousness I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

 

 

 

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