Still changing diapers and doing laundry. This post originally appeared Dec. 14, 2009
Snapshot 1: I entered Mutual the summer after 6th grade. We moved through the auxiliaries as a group then, rather than by birthdays. Seventh and 8th graders were Beehives. Mia Maids were 9th and 10th graders. The beautiful people, girls at the junior and senior levels of high school, were Jr. Gleaners. The few who remained single following high school graduation were Gleaners. Being with the sophisticated older girls who attended junior high and wore lipstick and bras was a heady experience. But lipstick and bras do not guarantee maturity. Three Mia Maids decided to haze the Primary brats after Mutual one night and my friend Linda and I were chased home with the threat of being “pantsed.” They caught Linda. I didn’t stick around to see if they’d make good on their threat. They didn’t. Scared the heck out of us, but the Mia Maids had noticed us.
Mutual was on Tuesday nights for every unmarried person in the ward over the age of 12. Opening exercises included singing time with Jr. Gleaners providing the harmony. When I made it to Mia Maid status, Judy, a Gleaner with a car, sometimes took a few of us dragging Center Street after class. Once she even took us to a drive in movie—letting us out to walk inside for a dime before she drove to the ticket booth. Bonding with my Mutual group developed my Mormon identity.
Snapshot 2: Except for my freshman year of college, I lived at home for my first 22 years. Marrying and moving to the wilderness of Wyoming made me feel as isolated as showing up at our ward meetinghouse on stake conference Sunday. The only person I knew within 400 miles was my husband—and once you marry, you find you don’t know your spouse as well as you thought. The first Sunday in Casper, we attended church and I entered familiar territory. Everything—the chapel, prayers, songs, sacrament service—nearly indistinguishable from my home ward. Much as I now complain about identical buildings and correlated curriculum, that sameness was a lifeline as I treaded unknown waters.
Snapshot 3: The only miracles parents really desire involve our children. When Aroo was just over a year, she contracted a serious case of viral croup. Her pediatrician gave her an inhalation treatment which helped, but he cautioned us that the medication was only effective the first 2 or 3 times. He sent us home. She spent the day in a makeshift steam tent, but we had to rush her to the emergency room during the night. We brought her home again, but by nightfall she struggled for breath. At this point, we doubted the efficacy of another inhalation treatment. We called our home teacher who came and gave Aroo a blessing. Before his prayer concluded, her rasping breath eased. She slept peacefully through the night.
Snapshot 4: Temple sealings are the epitome of Mormon worship. George and I had a civil marriage before being sealed to each other and our children in the Provo Temple. I suspect those who marry in the temple for the first time miss a lot. The temple ceremony is quietly beautiful, but first time brides and grooms are too caught up with the excitement of the wedding and anticipation for the reception and, of course, the wedding night to pay much attention. Making an eternal commitment to be together as a family after 16 years of marriage has a significance missing from couples who don’t yet know what they’re signing up for. Kneeling at the altar, the love we felt for each other, our children, and friends and family who attended was palpable—to everyone except 11-year-old Wort who resisted taking his sister’s hand at the altar.
My album of Mormon memories contains scores of memorable snapshots. Could I have received similar benefits had I grown up in a different religion? I believe so. Friends of other faiths have shared significant spiritual experiences with me—pastors who unexpectedly arrived at a moment of need, “messages” from loved ones who have passed on, healings in answer to prayer. The details and terminology of their church ordinances and customs differ, but the spirituality is the same. Possibly other kinds of organizations provide the same kind of sustenance to non-religious people. Non-believers seldom share experiences of personal enlightenment, so I don’t really know. I do know that love, compassion and spiritual light are not limited to organized religion. Still, I believe churches are uniquely suited to offer spiritual and emotional support. Caring for others is what religion is all about.