Stake Conference Sunday


Stake Conference Sunday

“It’s no good, Eve. I just can’t believe in God.” Robert held out his hands, imploring me to drop the subject. “I wish I could, but it’s no use. How can I pray to somebody or something that I can’t even believe exists?”

He sat by the kitchen table, his boots caked in mud from the garden of our West Midlands home.

Wiping my floured hands on the oven cloth, I opened the stove door. I swallowed and bit hard on my lip. The conversation had turned the wrong way again. It was no use pursuing it.

I answered, “That’s all right, love. I just thought you might be curious to see what a modern Apostle looks and sounds like.”

The hot cake he sneaked from the batch just out of the oven burned his tongue. “Take Jill with you for company tomorrow. I’ll look after Peter for the day.”

I watched him walk back to the vegetable plot at the top of the garden. He called to the playing children and kicked the ball they threw him.

A mist covered my eyes. I would not cry! I was not going to snivel about it just because I couldn’t have my own way. But how I wished we could be a united family in the Church!

Like the Joneses. They trouped to Sunday School and sacrament meeting together every week. Sister Jones was always smiling, and nothing ever seemed too much trouble for Brother Jones. The children were not perfect, but they were all growing up in the gospel. Their house was a Latter-day Saint home.

Jill and Peter burst in. “Can we have some cakes?”

“Please?” Peter lifted his cherub face and smiled appealingly.

Jill had been baptized this year, on her eighth birthday. Would Robert still have an easy-going attitude about the Church in five years, when Peter would be baptized? Why weren’t we of one mind on religion? Why had I accepted the gospel when Robert was unable to do so?

I knew the answer, of course: Because I had prayed for enlightenment, but my atheistic husband had not been ready for it.

I remembered praying before I learned about the Church, “Please, God, send us a religion in which we can be truly together. And make it the right one so that Robert will be able to see the sense of it.”

For several weeks I had visited local churches of varying creeds and was about to begin trying others, when my continual request for guidance was answered.

Standing on my doorstep, the two young men had looked me straight in the eye. “We have been sent to teach you the true gospel.”

My heart leaped, and the hair at the nape of my neck seemed to stand on end. “Come in. That’s what I’ve wanted to hear.”

Robert raised no objection to my baptism. In fact, he attended it. Members had assured me, “He’ll soon be coming to church with you.”

I thought so too. The spirit I would nurture in our home would teach him the joy the gospel brings. But it was a bittersweet existence.

Tomorrow would be no exception. I had firmly promised myself that I would go to stake conference and hear the visiting General Authority. However, I would go alone. I enjoyed Jill’s company, but she would create a distraction; I wanted to take in every word that was uttered there, to bask in the Spirit, to let it build me up so that the lingering memory would strengthen me in the following weeks.

The bishop’s twelve-seater van was to pick me up on its tour of the ward. Local buses did not run early enough on Sunday mornings to bring everyone to a central spot.

My family were still sleeping when I crept along the landing to the top of the stairs. My coat and bag were over my arm, along with the typing I had done for the bishop. Peter whimpered. I looked into his room.

“I’se got a tummy ache.” He was still half asleep. “I’se sick.”

His forehead was cool; no fever. I remembered saying to a friend over the telephone that I would be at conference unless either of the children were sick. Peter had overheard. Tiptoeing out of his room, I crept downstairs, avoiding the steps that creaked.

Winifred Owens was already installed in the van when it arrived at the end of my road. She had four of her six children with her. They delved into her seemingly bottomless shopping bags for bacon sandwiches and sausage rolls.

We shook hands. “It’s a lovely morning, Winnie. You made it, then.”

She grinned and pulled a face. I knew what lay behind her sunny exterior. She made the best of each moment. On her return home, she would have a self-centered bully to face. Her half day out would cost her dearly. I had much to be thankful for with Robert as a husband.

After everyone had been collected, the journey to conference took half an hour through industrial, residential, and rural areas. But the young people sent the tune of “Oh, How Lovely Was the Morning” ringing through the coach; everyone joined in, and the time went quickly.

Green fields, blue sky, cattle grazing under leafy trees, an occasional whitewashed farmhouse. Everything was perfect. Robert would love to be on the open road on a morning like this.

In the stake center chapel, I absorbed the prelude music and settled my thoughts to receive the words the Lord would send us that day. The first hour passed far too quickly, and then the Apostle was delivering, in gentle tones and winning wit, his important message. My parched spirit drank.

The priesthood was all-important, we were told. Auxiliaries would benefit if this fact was observed and upheld. Families would be united in the gospel if they were obedient. Many sisters whose husbands were not yet members of the Church would see their families united in the gospel if they were patient and obedient.

A shiver ran the length of my spine. I knew this message was for me. This was the church that brought families together. The Apostle said so.

The closing hymn and benediction came, and still I sat, longing for more. People passed along the aisles. The high council and stake presidency dispersed to their duties.

A tap on my arm. “Sister Eve. Can you spare a moment?”

It was the bishop. He led me to the cultural hall, partitioned off so that friends could meet there.

“Would you mind not traveling home by the van but leaving at once with Sister Jones and her family?”

“Anything to help, bishop.”

“I’m sorry to upset things, but Brother Jones and I have to stay on for a setting apart, and Sister Jones needs to get the family home. I thought you would be just the person to exchange seats with him.”

I laughed. “We were a bit cramped this morning in the van. But it was worth it. It’s all over too soon.”

“You are so right. I know it was a sacrifice for you to come today. At least you’ll be back with your family a little sooner than you expected.”

“I do so wish I could attend all my meetings, bishop, but I have a divided duty.”

“Continue to wear the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, Eve.”

I handed him the typing.

He looked very relieved. “Thank you, Eve. I appreciate your dependability. You do so much back-room work for the gospel that few people know about. The Lord will reward you in his good time.”

He escorted me to the car-park and with a cheery wave hurried off to check on the rest of his flock.

The Jones children had left the front passenger seat for me. Marion was handing out biscuits and fruit. “Like something to eat, Eve?”

“I don’t think I’ll bother, thanks. I’ll be home earlier than expected, so I should be just in time for lunch.”

A child pushed an open packet in front of me. “Oh, just one biscuit then.”

“Robert is head cook today, I suppose.” Marion was watching for a gap in the traffic in order to enter the main road.

“I left a salad in the fridge. Less work for them. I’ll probably cook later. I suppose you all had Sunday dinner yesterday.” I turned to smile at the children.

“Actually, no,” Marion took a paper handkerchief from a box at her side and passed it to a wailing child. How cool she was. Nothing ruffled her. “With leadership meetings, we couldn’t fit it in. It’s been a fairly lean weekend so far. That’s why I want to get this howling lot home.”

We laughed, and she said, “How is Robert?”

“Very well, in health. But I worry about him. I’m sorry for him too, I suppose.”

“With no guiding star, life must be very difficult—and seem pointless often.”

I looked at my gloved hands. “Take last Sunday for instance. I was going to change for church when I spotted him walking around the car. He’d just cleaned it, and I could read his thoughts. It was perfect weather for a drive and a picnic. I almost melted. In fact, if Jill hadn’t come and said daddy was giving us a lift to church, I might have gone.”

“It’s so hard for you sisters. Sometimes I feel such a fraud, I’ve got it so easy. I often wonder if I’d be half as faithful to the Church as you are if I had your problems.”

“I’m sure you would. But at times, I have wondered if I should stop attending church. You know how we are taught that the father is the head of the family and we should always support him. I know that by remaining active, I run the risk of driving Robert away from me. There’s a part of my life in which he can’t share. But again, if I desert the gospel, the chances of him ever joining, at some remote point in time, would be fewer.”

We traveled slowly now. A line of cars stretched ahead as far as we could see, along the narrow, winding road. Marion was quietly concentrating, her mind divided between the unpredictable traffic, the children in the back, and my problem. I was silent for a while, but when we reached a dual carriageway, I went on.

“I fasted and prayed for his conversion once. I think I expected some miraculous overnight change of heart.”

She laughed kindly. “You forgot that Robert has his agency.”

“Yes. I was wrong to want to make him join the Church. I should have been praying for him to gain a personal conviction of God’s reality and wisdom.”

“We all fall into that one at some time or other. I’m getting into the habit of adding, ‘if it be in accordance with thy will.’”

“It’s the children I worry about most. My own parents always seemed united in everything, including their religion. As a child, I felt the comfort of that foundation. I never thought anything could harm me. I’d love having a united, spiritual family. It must be wonderful to hold a proper family home evening and to be sealed together. I suppose I’m guilty of envy.”

She glanced over her shoulder and pulled a face. “I imagine you were a regular church-goer until you married.”

“Yes, my parents’ church. But except for our wedding, and my and Jill’s baptisms, Robert hasn’t been inside a church since he was thirteen.”

An overloaded, long-distance lorry had been pouring out black fumes at us for the last half mile. I tried not to look ahead at the oncoming traffic as we overtook it.

I noticed that Marion breathed more calmly. “You enjoyed conference?”

“It was marvelous.”

“I thought of you when the Apostle mentioned wives whose husbands would eventually join the Church.”

“It’s given me hope.”

The children started to sing “The wise man built his house upon the rock,” and we all joined in.

Grey clouds were building sky mountains as I ran up our front path. I was searching for my key when Robert flung open the door.

“Eve!” He pulled me inside.

“What’s the matter? Robert, what is it?”

“Upstairs.” He grabbed my arm and pushed me up the dozen steps to our room.

Peter lay under the bedcovers.

Robert whispered. “I don’t know what’s the matter. I’m so glad you’re back.”

Peter was moaning and pulling his knees up to his chin.

“Mom—my, Mom—my.”

My arms were round him. “Mommy’s here, darling. Don’t worry any more. I’m back with you.”

I looked up at Robert.

“He’s been sick with a tummy ache all morning. I’ve tried all the usual things. I was about to phone the doctor when I heard you on the path.”

“Phone him now, Robert. Mention appendicitis.”

The hospital waiting room was cold and impersonal after the rush we had experienced. We came to a sudden stop. Robert held my hand, but I couldn’t sit still. My little boy was desperately ill. What a blessing to live in the twentieth century. Yet, though modern surgery was clever, it wasn’t infallible.

I couldn’t pray eloquently. All I could wrench out was the plea, “Please, Heavenly Father, keep him safe. Let him live.”

Robert moved to the door.

“Where are you going?” I asked. “Please don’t leave me. I need you.”

“The telephone,” he said. “I’ll only be a minute.”

A nurse came back with him to take particulars of name, address, age, and so on. “What religion?”

“Mormon,” I said.

She raised her brows but wrote it down.

“Whom did you call?” I asked Robert.

“Your bishop.”

“Was he back already?”

“Just arrived. He’s coming at once.”

“Thank you, Robert.” I wept then and let him hold me close.

“Something happened today, Eve,” he said, as he cradled my head in the curve of his shoulder. “I was so desperate that I talked to your God. I told him that if he was really there, if he did exist, then to jolly well get you back, at once, because you were needed urgently at home.”

I stared at him through my tears. “You did that? You talked to our Heavenly Father?” I overlooked his ordering God about.

“You were back within the half hour. Long before I could have expected you.”

“There was a difficulty, and the bishop asked me to travel in Sister Jones’s car. She puts her foot down on the straight roads.”

The bishop walked in. “I’m sorry about Peter, Eve.”

“You’ve been so quick,” I said.

“There was a change of plan. We left the stake center on schedule.”

“Will you give Peter a blessing?”

“I’d be pleased to. Brother Jones is here to help.”

The blessing was simple and sincere. He was blessed that he would recover completely, that he would continue to bring happiness to his family, and later help spread the gospel.

My fear fell away like a discarded coat under a warm sun.

The bishop took my hand. “Go home and rest now.”

The trees around the hospital swayed in the breeze. I held Robert’s arm as we walked across the lawns to our car. He was silent. The first hurdle had been crossed. He had discovered the need to believe in a God.

It would not all be plain sailing. My logic-loving Robert would not capitulate easily. But there was a crack in his theories. The Lord would bless him and our family if I was carefully obedient to the principles of the gospel and sought the Lord’s guidance.

I thought of the bishop’s remark, “The ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.” Scriptural, no doubt. The scriptures could teach me so much.

Robert nudged me. “You’re quiet, love. Shall we go home?”

We could serve no further purpose at the hospital, and Jill was waiting for us at a neighbor’s house.

I held my husband’s arm a little tighter.

“Home!”

Illustrated by Howard Post

Margaret Woods, mother of two children, serves as music chairman and Relief Society counselor in the Walsall Ward, Lichfield England Stake.