I laughed when the missionaries told me they felt I was ready for baptism and that the Holy Spirit had told them it would be good for me to be baptized and confirmed before general conference. I really thought they were joking.
I had been meeting with them long enough to know what I needed to give up if I really wanted to prepare for baptism, and the impossibility of it seemed too daunting. Worse, they had just finished a lesson on eternal families, and I had spent the past 10 years running away from mine.
There seemed to me to be little reason to feel myself welcome in this family-oriented-good-girl church, much less actually prepared to try it out for a while.
It took me until the next general conference to choose to be baptized, but when the mission president asked why I wanted to be baptized now after all this time, I told him it was because I knew general conference was in a few weeks and my first missionaries had promised I would receive more if I had the Holy Spirit to teach me.
I was baptized the weekend before October general conference, confirmed the same day, spoke in seminary the following Friday, took my first temple trip that night, and showed up in the chapel Saturday morning for my first general conference.
It was indeed a powerful experience, and I cried most of the way through. That's when I first realized I had joined the crybaby church. It was as if I had soaked up all the water from my baptism, and now my soul had to wring it all back out. It was a wrestling that was just this side of painful, taking notes on things I learned with a separate column for specific things that came to mind that I needed to do — these new promptings I was learning to receive.
The most consistent pattern in what I felt confirmed the message specific for me: It was time to return to my family. I had been gone a long time, and did not feel that they would want me back or that I was welcome enough even to try. I was ashamed, and alone, and it felt too big and too hard. I did not deserve to be welcomed home, and wasn't sure that I would be.
I began to use time on Sunday each week to write to my parents. My mother was first to respond. She began exchanging letters with me, and even accepted the invitation to go with me to visit Nauvoo, Ill. The time together in the car was so powerful for healing that we began taking other road trips to visit other temples.
This began to rebuild our friendship, and ultimately led me to move her into my home and care for her following a surgery. Those hard days are days I would not trade for anything, a most sacred experience for me. It changed our relationship, and changed who we were, and made us each more of ourselves. Through time and service, we found not only healing but deep love and sincere friendship that was most precious.
My father wrote one email in response to my weekly letters, so I kept writing even when I did not hear back from him. When he found out that he had cancer, and that it was not getting better, he permitted me to visit him in the hospital. I spent all the moments with him I was able and permitted those months, and these were also sacred moments of sharing. It was the working of the Atonement, with apologies and forgiveness and healing that only the Savior can bring. We did not have time to learn to be father and daughter before he died, but the Lord did bring us to be at one again.
General conference last fall was a year since my father had died, and as my family prepared for a trip to the temple, I was also preparing to be married. Excited for these positive experiences, I knew that general conference would be powerful for me and I fully expected to receive all the perfect counsel I would need to rejoice in these experiences.
Yet as I listened to the sessions, it seemed that one talk after another spoke of death and testimonies of the gospel even through the pains of grieving. I thought maybe this was intended to help me with closure after the death of my father, but the feelings I received were feelings of warning and of preparation. This confused me, because I knew I was finally entering a happy time in my life after so many hard years. The gospel had changed my life, and life was happy for the first time in years. It disturbed me to receive the promptings about preparing for grief and the instruction for maintaining a strong testimony through grief experiences.
As I prepared for my baptism, I thought it was my preparation that brought meaning to general conference; but with this most recent conference, I learned it was general conference that prepared me to find meaning in life.
Thanksgiving week of last year, my husband and I had our first miscarriage. We celebrated my father with a family trip to the temple right after Christmas, and two weeks later my mother was killed in a car accident. Five weeks later, my husband and I had our second miscarriage.
These months since our last general conference have been brutal and difficult, sometimes feeling like a direct attack and often feeling as if there is not even air to breathe.
But we were warned, and prepared, and instructed ahead of time for what we needed to know to endure these hard days.
My lesson was that the Holy Spirit not only corrects and instructs, but also comforts and strengthens. I learned that the Atonement gave me a greater capacity to endure, even when it meant forgiving the man who caused the accident that killed my mother. I experienced the promise of eternal families that gave context to my grief so that I was not swallowed up.
More than anything, I saw that obedience to promptings from general conference several years ago prepared me to receive difficult warnings in the present. It was because of obedience to promptings to that first general conference that I experienced so much healing during these years, and because of temple blessings that my family was gathered in time to learn to love well. As hard as these months of grief have been, I cannot imagine how difficult it would be without the healing of the Atonement, comfort of the Spirit, or promise of eternal families.
Emily Christensen, Ph.D., lives with her husband in Oklahoma. Her Ph.D. is in marriage and family therapy, and she is pursuing a second degree in Hebrew and Jewish studies. Her blog is www.housewifeclass.com; her email is [email protected].