Sunday, July 28, 2013

Not so coincidentally

After a sort of long few weeks, this last week was just what I needed.  Last Monday morning my mom called and asked if my kids and I would like to join her and my sisters' girls at the water park in Missoula.  When I called Doug to tell him our plans, he suggested that we just pack up and go over for the week, since we were planning to go the following weekend anyway.  I'm so glad he suggested it.  Time with my mom is always good for me--she so very patiently endures the over-talking and downright babbling I am prone to when I'm around her :)

The kids and I had a lot of fun hanging out with their grandma and cousins, spending the mornings in the yard and the afternoons at the dam (because no one should really do anything but swim once the temperature hits 90).  We spent lots of time visiting with my grandma, too, who looks the best she has in months.

Over the weekend, the current bishop in my parents' ward and his wife hosted a ward reunion (both of my parents grew up in the ward, as did my maternal grandparents, so we have relatively deep roots there).  The first night there were a lot of people who could comfortably be classified as "old timers" now, many of whom left the ward before I was born, but it was fun to put some faces to names that I'd heard my whole life.  The second night, it was much more fun for me, because there were a lot of people there who were in the ward when I grew up, people who were my teachers and leaders and friends.

As I listened to the testimonies on Sunday morning (a meeting that was a little over two hours long), and heard people talk about growing up in the ward and/or raising their kids there, and how many people helped them, taught them, served them, I looked around and thought about all the people in that room who had been, at some point or another, key influences in my life.

There was Rod, who was the first Bishop that I remember, and was raising his gaggle of boys next door to us (or as "next door"as rural life gets, anyway) when I was a small child.  His home was the first place away from my own family that I felt love and affection and security.  He was my Bishop when I was baptized, and was the one who confirmed me.  As a teenager, he was my seminary teacher, and to this day I remember clearly many of the lessons that he taught.  More than that, I remember how much I enjoyed being there, even at 6:30 in the morning, when he was teaching.

There was Karen, who was the parent of a friend and was always so kind to me, and so funny.  I always remember her smile clearly.  At a hard but strangely wonderful moment in my life, she was there:  my cousin and I were charged with dressing my grandmother's body for her funeral, and Karen was there, having just finished Grandma's hair and makeup (something she'd done many times for Grandma when she was alive).  Since this responsibility was new to Alyssa and I, she stayed and helped us complete the task.

Teri was there at that moment, too.  I think she may have been the Relief Society President at the time.  She raised three girls that were close to my age, who I loved.  She was a wonderful, supportive friend to me as I transitioned my family back into my home ward for a time.  Her sense of humor  and sensibilities are so very similar to my own in so many ways, and I have enjoyed her friendship immensely.  My kids ask to go to her house every time we go back to Yaya and Papa's for a visit.

There were the Mikkelsens, as well, of course.  Alan was my Bishop for many years when I was a youth, and Lynette was one of my favorite teachers in high school, and definitely the best teacher I've ever had.  She was also one of my Young Women advisors, and I always loved her so much, mostly, I think, because it was obvious that she loved me.  She has a wonderful combination of no-nonsense discipline and affable good-naturedness and openness that I so admired as a youth, and still do.  Alan has been a generous and kind friend to my husband during one of the most difficult times in his life, when he was new to the area and didn't know many people yet, for which I will forever be grateful.

And, of course, sitting right in front of me, there was Brett and Erica.  They moved away a few years after I left home, but how could I possibly overstate how wonderful they were to me when I was a teenager? Erica served in Young Women off and on the entire time I was a youth, and Brett was in the Bishopric from the time I was 10 or 12 until I left home for college, but they went so far above and beyond.  They were so involved and affection and attentive, always expressing their love, always ready with encouragement or advice or a blessing.  Brett essentially became a second father to me in those years, and I couldn't have asked for better friends than I had in the two of them as a couple.  When I went through the temple for the first time, my Grandma Umphrey went as my escort, and my mom and Grandma Lettie went with me.  The only other people in the temple with me that day (besides Doug) were Brett and Erica, and I loved them for it, as I did for a thousand other things.

And there were many others, of course, some of whom have moved away and didn't make it back, or who have passed on, but as I looked around that room, a favorite quote, from CS Lewis, kept coming to mind:  "In friendship...we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years' difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another...the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting--any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you," can truly say to every group of Christian friends, "Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another." The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.” 

To think that just a few of these people being in my life when they were was mere coincidence would be foolish.  To believe that all these people have been in my life when they were is mere coincidence would be ingratitude of the highest degree.  

That blessing did not stop when I left home.  I started thinking about the souls I encountered along the rest of my path to this point: at BYUH, a few kind friends when we lived on the coast, and of course those we said good-bye to in Lindsay, not to mention my family and in-laws, and I was overcome all over again at how undeservedly blessed I have been in who the Lord has placed in my life, or in whose lives the Lord has placed me.

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