I've been thinking about a question my Bishop asked me when he told me I was being released as Relief Society President. He asked me what I've learned. There is so much, that I didn't really give him an answer. I've spent the last couple of days mulling over in my mind how I would answer that question now.
Lesson #1: I've learned that no matter how hard a person tries to live gospel principles now, and how completely she/he repents now, that the consequences for past actions still have to be paid. It has been difficult to see people who are struggling so hard to be obedient, yet their lives are so messed up because of actions they took prior to learning the gospel and/or prior to the repentence process. The consequences for past actions must always be paid. The point has been driven home to me so many times, that I'm positive Heavenly Father wants me to pay attention to this. When I make a choice these days, I'm acutely aware that if I mess up, it will come back to bite me in the behind.
Lesson #2: My dad used to say, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." So many times we've nurtured and prayed for people who had such great potential; and so many times we've seen people not live up to that potential and go back to old ways. I've had to remind myself over and over again that they have their agency. Even Heavenly Father can't take away their agency. How our Heavenly Father and Mother must cry for us at times!
Lesson #3: No one really knows what a Bishop or Relief Society President goes through until you have walked in his or her shoes--and unless you've walked in those shoes recently. I've heard from sisters who served 20-30 years ago who were charged with the responsibility of Christmas bazaars and fundraisers who think it must be so easy now. I would have killed for a bazaar or a "dime-a-dip" dinner instead of some of the things we handled. The world is not the same place in 2010 as it was 20-30 years ago. As a result, every Bishop will always have my utmost respect, and every Relief Society President will have my love, compassion, and service.
Lesson #4: Everyone has a story. I don't look at people the same way I used to look at them. Behind every cute, crusty little old lady there is a history. It is never just normal life of marriage and family; there is always something else. Everyone has a story; everyone has trials, adversity, and sadness. In the past when I looked at an elderly woman, or an elderly man, I just saw a long life. Now, I wonder if they buried children, or lost a loved one in a war, or lived through a house fire, or whether they raised a critically ill child. I wonder how much heartache and sadness it took to solidify their marriage and carve the laugh lines in their faces.
Lesson #5: Sometimes we all need kindness. I've never been a demonstrative person. I've never been a hugger. I've never been one to say, "I love you" -- except to a chosen few. I've learned that it's okay to hug and say I love you. I've learned that not only is it okay; but sometimes it is just plain necessary! Sometimes the only way we can help people is to hug them and say, "I love you." Whether I like it, or not, sometimes I need a hug and someone to say, "I love you." Sometimes the person I need to give me a hug and tell me they love me is not in the chosen few.
Lesson #6: I am a survivor. I think I always knew that, but it has been reinforced. I can withstand criticism. I can withstand lack of understanding. I can withstand long hours of worry and insomnia. I can withstand a seemingly endless line of problems presented to me. I can endure to the end.
Lesson #7: My husband is a saint. I always knew that, too, but we sure put it to the test! Not once did he falter in his support of my calling. Not once did he ask me put aside a responsibility in lieu of extra time for the two of us. Not once did he complain about my lack of attention to him or household matters. Not once did he complain about my constant grumpiness caused by pure exhaustion. On the contrary, he always put my needs first. He seemed to know what I needed before I knew.