Afterwards Refreshments Will Be Served


What? No speaker? This would not be your basic fireside.

Afterwards Refreshments Will Be Served

They met once a month at Bishop Taylor’s home. The ward was small enough that they could cram all the 16–18-year-old youth into his living room.

Lisa Rodgers, Laurel class president, conducted the meeting. She welcomed everyone, called on someone to give the prayer, and then turned the time over to the bishop.

The bishop waited for the few lingering whispers to stop, then began. “We’ve been having these firesides for the past two years now. For the past several months we’ve had a planned program, but tonight I thought we’d just talk. I want each of you to tell me what you love most about the gospel of Jesus Christ.” And with that he sat down.

The joking and teasing stopped, and then it was quiet.

The seconds ticked by.

Bishop Taylor thought about trying to fill the silence, but seeing the thoughtful expressions on the faces of the youth in his ward, he decided the time was being put to good use.

1. Jason Miller

Jason fixed his gaze on the carpet below him.

It had been only two months since he had started going back to church after having been a runaway for four months.

A lot can happen in four months when you’re just going with the flow, doing whatever seems like a good idea at the time. He had done things he thought would make him happy—and yet, strangely enough, they eventually made him feel worse.

He had quit high school, left home, and moved in with some friends across town. One night late, after he’d been drinking, he was hit by a car as he tried to cross the street.

The next thing he remembered was the sound of a familiar voice. “I’m Jason Miller’s mother. How is he?” she said to the nurse in intensive care.

“So far he’s stable, but he’s still unconscious.”

“My husband will be coming soon. He was out of town when we got the news. I phoned him, and he’ll be here in an hour. Is it okay if I stay here with my son?”

“Of course. I’ll get you a chair.”

Jason felt her hand on his. “Jason, I’m here.”

“He can’t hear you,” the nurse said.

Jason could hear his mother though. He just couldn’t let her know. There was some kind of a barrier.

“Jason, I love you. I’m sorry about your accident. Everything is going to be okay. As soon as your dad gets here, he’ll administer to you. He’ll be here in just a short time.” She paused. “Jason, you don’t know how many times I’ve prayed for you. Every day, several times a day. I’ve prayed that when you grow tired of being rebellious, that you’ll know we love you and come back. We made some mistakes as parents. Maybe we were too critical of you, too quick to find fault, but we did our best. There are some things we’d do differently now, but we did the best we could at the time.

“There’s a story the Savior told—I’ve thought so much about it lately. A father had a son who wanted to be independent. He asked for his inheritance and took it to live in another town. He lived a wild life. But then there was a famine, and he ran out of money and was forced to get a job feeding swine. He was so hungry he thought about eating the husks he was feeding to the pigs. But then he thought about his father’s servants, how much better off they were than he was. He decided to return home and ask his father if he could be just one of his servants.

“His father was in the field the day the son came home. The scriptures tell us he saw his son from afar off and ran out to greet him, and when he saw him, he threw his arms around him and welcomed him back and requested the servants to prepare a celebration dinner.

“I’ll tell you a secret. It was no accident that the father saw his son from far off, because I think he looked down that road for his son many times every day. Like your father and I have. Sometimes we’ve left the lights on all night just in case you might come home during the night. We wanted you to know you were welcome, but you never came.”

His mother broke down crying.

“I’m sorry. It’s just that sometimes it’s hard to be a parent. You’ll find that out someday. It’s hard to wait for a prodigal son to come home. We love you, Jason. All we want is what’s best for you. Heavenly Father loves you. Jason, please, when you’re able, come home. Live the gospel. It’s not too late to come back.”

Jason had heard everything his mother said, but he couldn’t seem to make any movement to tell her.

Later Jason was aware that his father had come into the room with another man. He felt their hands being placed lightly on his head. And then they administered to him.

The next day Jason came out of his coma. A week later he was well enough to go home.

And now he was working with the bishop on plans to someday serve a mission.

Jason stood up, cleared his throat, and began his testimony. “I’m glad that Christ gave the parable of the prodigal son …”

2. Lisa Rodgers

Lisa’s family had moved to town two years ago. She was so outgoing and friendly that she soon had become accepted as one of the group, both in high school and in the Church.

But she hadn’t always been the way she was now. In ninth grade, in another town, there had been some problems. She doubted if her parents were even aware of what they were. One night at a party some things had happened that never should have.

For the longest time, she had kept it covered up. Months drifted by. On the surface Lisa was the same as always, but on the inside, she worried that God had not forgiven her. She prayed every day for forgiveness.

But then one day the bishop gave her a birthday interview. She’d been in interviews before and had always managed to avoid talking about the thing which still troubled her. But in this interview, for some reason, her bishop made her aware of a scripture. Maybe she’d heard it before, but for some reason, this time it seemed to be just for her.

“Lisa, would you read this out loud?” the bishop had asked.

She read from the 58th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, verses 42–43 [D&C 58:42–43]: “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.”

The scripture gave her the courage she needed to tell the bishop about what had happened, and with his counsel, she was eventually able to complete the steps of repentance.

And now she knew for certain that the Lord had forgiven her, and she wasn’t weighed down with guilt any longer. She would never forget how wonderful it was to feel all the guilt and shame being lifted off her shoulders, to feel that Father in Heaven had accepted her repentance, and that the atonement of the Savior made it possible for her to be forgiven of the mistake she had made.

After that experience, lessons about the Savior became very important to her, for she knew that she herself owed so much to him for what he had done for her.

Lisa stood up. Nobody in the ward knew about her past. And she would never tell them either because it would serve no purpose. But there was one thing she wanted them to know about.

“I’m grateful that Jesus loved us enough to take upon him our sins and make it possible for us to repent …”

3. Todd Anderson

Things had not been easy for Todd. He was the only member of the Church in his family. He had come in contact with the Church over a year ago through Lisa.

Lisa was the warmest, most enthusiastic, most Christ-centered person he had ever met. They were in student government together. He was president of the student senate and she was vice president. He’d spent many hours in her home, working on various student projects, and it was like being in heaven as far as he was concerned. Her mother always baked cookies for them when she knew they’d be meeting. And even if the house wasn’t always perfectly neat, there was a good feeling there.

One day he had asked Lisa why she was so different, and she had told him about her membership in the Church. He was interested in what she had to say, and so she invited him to church. Soon he was taking the missionary lessons at her house.

In a month’s time he was ready to get baptized. He asked his parents for permission. They had no religious preferences themselves, so they gave their permission and he was baptized.

A short time later, his uncle heard about what had happened, and he came all the way from Illinois to try to talk Todd out of being a Mormon.

After his uncle had spent half a day being critical of the Church, his parents were finally persuaded to forbid Todd from attending church.

No matter how much Todd complained, his parents would not budge. He could attend any other church, but not that church.

It’s not fair, Todd thought. I’ve never given my parents any trouble, and all I’m asking is for them to let me worship God in the way I want to.

He considered pretending to go on a walk and then sneaking over to attend sacrament meeting. He phoned the bishop and asked for advice. The bishop told him to honor his parents and to set a good example and to try to win their confidence.

Todd followed the advice. At first it was hard to show love to his parents when they wouldn’t let him do the thing he most wanted to do, but he worked on it. He quit talking back to them and tried to be someone they could depend on.

One day Lisa’s family invited them over for a barbecue. It was good for his parents to see that Church members could be very nice people.

Just before Todd turned 17, his mother asked him what he wanted for his birthday. He said, “For you and Dad to go with me to church.”

She looked at him closely. “Is it really that important to you?”

“Yes.”

“All right, we’ll do that as our birthday present to you.”

Once his parents had gone to church, they softened in their opposition and let him attend. Sometimes they would even go with him, especially if he had a talk to give in sacrament meeting.

Todd stood up. “I’m glad that Jesus has restored the Church back to the earth, and that he’s given us men like our bishop to help us when we have problems …”

4. Julie Bateman

Julie sat and listened to the others talk. She wondered if she would be able to say anything without crying. It would be difficult. But then she decided that maybe it didn’t matter if she cried or not. These were her friends and they’d understand.

Above everything else, Julie was so glad to be alive. Each day when she woke up, she took delight in things she’d taken for granted before—the sun, the blue sky, the song of birds—it was such a wonderful world.

Julie was a senior. In two weeks she would graduate. Her senior year had been something she would never forget. She and her friends had been together all through school, and they realized that this was their last year to be together. They all wanted to have some good memories.

Julie had been in the pep club since she was a sophomore. She’d made some very good friends. Most of them weren’t LDS, but they were still great friends. They respected her beliefs and didn’t complain if she didn’t drink when they all got together after a game.

One day Vicky Kramer, her best friend since the eighth grade, talked to her. “Julie, after lunch tomorrow a bunch of us are going up to Daryl’s cabin to have a party for all us seniors. Daryl’s dammed off a section of the creek so we can go swimming. You’ll come, won’t you?”

“I don’t know, Vicky,” she began.

“I know what’s bothering you. Okay, there will be a keg there, but we’re getting diet soda especially for you. C’mon, we just want you to be with us. This is one of the last times we’ll have to all be together. Please.”

It was hard to say no to Vicky.

The afternoon with all the seniors had been a lot of fun. These were some of her best friends, and they all knew their time together was growing to a close. In the fall, they would scatter to colleges all across the country.

There was not just one keg, but two, and near the end of the party, there was still a lot left in one of the kegs. “C’mon, everybody, let’s finish this up,” someone kept saying.

Near midnight they decided to head back to town. Somehow Julie and Vicky got separated, and Vicky ended up in a car driven by Ross Turner, a senior basketball player who’d received a full-ride scholarship to the state university.

Julie was in the car driven by Bruce Seeley. Bruce had been one of the most eager to help finish up the last remaining dregs from the keg.

“Bruce, why don’t you let me drive?” Julie had asked.

“I can drive perfectly well.”

“You’ve been drinking all day but I haven’t. C’mon, it’ll be safer.”

“No girl can outdrive Bruce Seeley.”

“She’s right,” someone said, “she’s the one who should drive.”

By this time the first car, the one driven by Ross, had already taken off.

They switched places, and Julie got in the driver’s seat.

“Did you ever hear the story,” Bruce said, “that ends, ‘You’d better drive. You’re too drunk to sing’?”

It was a gravel road heading down a steep mountain canyon leading to home, so Julie drove slowly.

“It’s going to take us forever to get down at this rate,” Bruce said.

A few minutes later when they rounded a corner, they saw the first car. It had slid off a curve and hit a large tree.

Vicky Kramer died in the accident.

Julie stood up, tears streaming down her cheeks. “I’m so grateful to know that life goes on after we die. You all know about Vicky. Well, I miss her so much …”

5. Craig Matthews

Craig didn’t know what he was going to do or where he would end up. That afternoon after church his mother had informed him that his parents were getting a divorce. His father would be moving back to Iowa. He could live with whichever parent he chose.

He had listened to her news and then asked, “Is that it then?”

“Yes, that’s it.”

Craig had gone outside and ridden his ten-speed all afternoon, his feelings churning up inside him. He loved both his parents. How could he choose between them? What was he going to do? He never would have thought that his parents would get a divorce. They had even been married in the temple. Why would they want to break up after all these years?

He had never felt so alone in his whole life. It was like his entire world was coming unglued.

At the fireside now, still in shock, he wiped a tear from his eye. Julie noticed, and reached over and touched his arm.

He wanted to tell how much her concern had meant to him. Right now he felt like his friends in the Church were the only thing he could count on. He loved them all so much. He knew some of them had had problems, and they had seemed to get through okay. Maybe if they all stuck together, he’d be able to get through this crisis.

He knew he couldn’t stand up and say anything to the group, but he wished everyone in that room knew how much he loved them.

6. Chrissy Peterson

Chrissy Peterson had her arms folded neatly in front of her. She knew that some of the other girls were crying, but she knew she wouldn’t cry. I’m not like these others, she thought. I don’t have a problem. I have everything under control. I get good grades in all my classes, I have a boyfriend, my weight’s under control now, I got a superior rating on my piano solo, and I’m a National Merit Scholarship winner. Everything’s under control. I’m not like some of these others. Like Jason Miller. He really had a drinking problem. It’s a miracle he’s still alive.

I don’t have a problem. Other people have problems but not me. There’s nobody who’s been able to achieve what I’ve done this year. In any area you pick I’ve done great.

But what am I going to do if they have refreshments? I can’t eat anything or my weight will go up. All I’ve had today is a piece of toast, and that was just because my mother made me have breakfast. I weigh less than 100 pounds now. That’s good progress. Another ten pounds or so ought to do it. And to think I used to weigh 128 pounds. I was so fat. It’s funny that even though the scale says I weigh less, I still look fat.

Julie is crying and trying to talk at the same time. Doesn’t she know how messy that looks? Somebody should at least give her a tissue so she can wipe her face.

I wish I could have refreshments. I guess I could. But then I’d feel guilty and maybe I’d go into their bathroom and throw it all up again. What I wish more than anything is that I could have refreshments without feeling guilty. Yesterday my mother said she thought I was anorexic. I don’t have a problem though. She has a problem. Everything is going my way.

Now the bishop is talking. He’s talking about the Savior. I wish he wouldn’t talk like that. What does he mean, everybody has problems? Not me—I don’t have any problems.

Who am I trying to kid? I have a problem all right. Father in Heaven, can you hear me think? I have a problem. I know it’s not right, but I can’t eat. I feel so weak all the time, trying to push myself all the time, trying to be perfect in everything. Oh Father, I can’t do it. I’m crying now. Everybody can see me, but I don’t care. I can’t handle this anymore. I’ve got to ask my parents and the bishop to help me out of this. I think I’m going to die if I don’t change the way I feel about food.

I do have a problem, and I can’t handle it all by myself.

I’ll ask the bishop if I can talk to him right after the fireside. Oh Father, please help me, like you’ve helped the others.

The fireside came to a close. The things that were said came from the heart. Not everyone spoke, and sometimes what was not spoken, but only felt, contributed to the Spirit of gratefulness for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Life is not easy, but it is always better with the gospel of Jesus Christ to help.

Afterwards there were cookies and ice cream.

[photos] Photography by Steve Bunderson