Just to clarify who I am: I’m “the other Michelle L.” here at Segullah’s blog, not to be confused with the lovely Michelle L. who helps this blog run so smoothly. Because online there are so many Michelles (and ‘Chelles…see yesterday’s post), you’ll usually see me comment with my handle, m&m.
Curled up in bed, I spent an hour praying, crying. I needed to be sleeping, but, as is so often the case, sleep wouldn’t come. I felt that panicky, desperate feeling. Four hours of shut-eye is not enough for any normal person, I thought, let alone someone with chronic fatiguey illness issues. I knew if I went to church today, I would pay for it. Big time. But I also knew I wasn’t going to get any more sleep, especially now that I was so worked up. I was conflicted about what to do.
My husband called from the church; he had left early with the children to get a soft seat. The poor guy got an earful as I vented my frustration and voiced my indecision about whether wisdom and order or diligence and desire should win out today.
“Maybe you should just stay home,” he suggested, concerned, as usual, for my health.
“But I need to be there!” I yelled in his ear. (Poor guy, again.) Today was a regional conference. I ached to be taught at my leaders’ feet. With love and patience in his voice, he expressed his support of whatever I decided to do and left me to sort through my thoughts.
Still torn, but running out of time before the meeting began, I dragged myself out of bed and started to get ready. I looked at my puffy, red-eyed self in the mirror and felt anger about my situation. Anger and self-pity. A ten o’clock meeting is nothing for most people, I thought. I knew life had to be lived and scheduled according to what “most people” can do. But I felt that familiar despair that can come from being the exception, from feeling so broken, so different.
I cried out in prayer again. “Please, Father, please — please help there be something at these meetings today that can make this effort worth it.” I remember thinking how much I usually welcome the usual teachings and talks, but today, I needed something special, something personal. Something different.
Hoping beyond hope, I headed off to our building — late, as usual. The chapel was already dark, the satellite broadcast illuminating the big screen at the front of the room. As my eyes adjusted to the light change, I scanned the congretation to see if I could find my family. Oh, great, I thought as I saw them: second row, dead center. Embarrassed, I walked to the front of the room, and slid over the multiple pairs of knees between me and my seat.
I was grateful that I hadn’t missed much, and waited with no small measure of anxiety as the talks began; I really felt I had reached beyond my usual comfort zone of faith as I had made the choice to come, and especially as I had asked specifically for something that could help me today, now.
Elder Marlin K. Jensen began his talk sharing stories about his brother, who had multiple handicaps, and had required a great deal of loving care and service when he was alive. I was touched by the stories, and the message about the importance of service, but then was stunned by the direction his talk took.
He started listing all of the ways people can feel different: being single, or divorced, or faced with same-sex attraction, or struggling wtih mental illness, or…. The list went on — ways that lives can fall short of ideals that are necessarily taught in the Church of Jesus Christ.
He reminded us that, sadly, sometimes such situations are not treated with sensitivity in our culture. While he was unapologetic about standards and ideals that are necessarily taught (reminiscent of Elder Holland’s talk at last year’s Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting), his message about the need for charity was clear.
The message I got from his message was also personal and powerful, meant for me.
At some point, each of our lives will be different in some way. God loves us in our imperfection, and we need to love each other.
Elder Jensen ended his talk by reading these words:
If you don’t walk as most people do,
Some people walk away from you,
But I won’t! I won’t!
If you don’t talk as most people do,
Some people tak and laugh at you,
But I won’t! I won’t!
I’ll walk with you, I’ll talk with you.
That’s how I’ll show my love for you.
Jesus walked away from none.
He gave his love to ev’ryone,
So I will! I will!
Jesus blessed all he could see,
Then turned and said, “Come, follow me.”
And I will! I will!
I will! I will!
I’ll walk with yoyu, I’ll talk with you.
That’s how I’ll show my love for you.
(Children’s Songbook, #140)
After the meeting ended, I had friends walk away — afraid, perhaps to talk to me after such a dramatic show of emotion. I didn’t fault them; it’s uncomfortable to reach out when someone is obviously struggling. But I will never forget sitting there, waiting for the chapel to clear. (I was still so emotional that I didn’t trust myself even to casual conversation.) My husband had busied himself with clean-up to give me some time to calm down. I felt an arm slide around my shoulders, and turned to see my friend, Lisa, who had obviously seen my tears. She was there, ready with a listening ear, a loving heart, and a willing shoulder, all of which I accepted with a grateful heart.
I still get teary-eyed when I think about the miracles of that day. Heavenly Father answered the cries of my soul through a talk prepared long before my prayer was uttered, and through the kind, loving, simple, unhesitating actions of a friend. I pray that I can be that kind of friend — that I can be more aware, more willing to reach out, more sensitive to those around me. And more accepting of those who may seem “different.”
How might people around us (in or out of the Church) feel “different”? How can we reach out more effectively to those in our midst? How have people reached out to you in times of loneliness and trial?