Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Building Zion Ward & Stake Family Part 1

I had a unique experience a few months ago that has been settling more and more on my soul.  It has been the means for me to reflect more deeply on my past and see God's hand in ways that I had previously not recognized.  It gives me excitement for the future, now being on the other end most days.  I have written down parts here and there over the past few months. The rest has been swimming around in my head.  After a great discussion with Mark last night, I can now string these thoughts all together and it is time to write.  I have broken this up into 3 parts to make it more digestible.

We want our wards and stakes to feel like family, right?  We want everyone to truly feel welcome not only in our meetings, but in our ward family, right?  We want to establish a place where all will be "[kept] safe on Zion's hill," right?  Although there are several functions to stakes and wards, it is my intent to focus specifically on how we can serve and reach in meaningful ways that can give us a deeper connection to feel more like ward & stake family and how to establish a safe-haven of Zion.

I took my kids to the park.  At first we were the only ones there, but after a while a member of my Stake Presidency showed up with his grandkids.  We knew who each other was, but have never talked before other than a handshake and a hello.  I have never interacted with a member of my Stake Presidency in an informal setting before and I really enjoyed our visit together.

We began to ask each other the get to know you type questions.  He asked me where we are from.  Sometimes it is really disappointing to tell people we moved from Rexburg, ID and have them react like I just said any old place.  To us Rexburg is an incredible place AND it is where we grew our deeply rooted conversion.  I wish they could be as excited about it as we are, but most people usually aren't.:)  When that question came up, I couldn't help but add, "and the ward and stake we were in were the closest to Zion as we have ever experienced."  We truly lived in a ward that has now been divided into 3 wards in such a unique window of time.  There was a heart's core that was eager to learn and teach pure truth, serve in meaningful ways, and a desire for things of The Spirit that I have never seen in any other ward (collectively speaking).  In this unique window, we were able to dig deep in our discussions during the church block because teachers and class members came prepared.  We were able to be taught "hard things to hear" because of seeking to be changed.  It was just such an amazing, amazing time and place to be that has shaped and influenced many of us for good. 

I didn't tell him any of that, but that is where my mind quickly went in speaking of our beloved ward and stake.  With tagging that on, I am not sure why I was just expecting the conversation to move on.  He thought for a moment, then with great intrigue he asked, "What did they do to make it like that?  Name three things."

We only got part-way through a discussion of my number one before all three of my boys were soaked in muddy water from a broken sprinkler.  When Gavin complained about being cold and tugged on my arm to go I handed him the keys to get warm in the car and he purposely hit the car alarm button.  Because of my "inner peace" lol I was good to keep talking, but I could tell my kids and this Stake President member were done.  

I went home pondering on the conversation that didn't get finished.  In our 7 years in our ward in Rexburg we had 4 miscarriages, 2 pregnancies where I was on light bed rest for a few months for each one, Mark went through 2 rounds of unemployment, and our lives were shattered by addiction, not mention the day-to-day challenges of raising a small family.  We had many heavy burdens during this window of time and felt stretched to our capacity to bear each one by itself, let alone fiery trial after fiery trial.  After what we went through, I honestly don't know how people do it without a good ward family!  (Be that the ward not functioning well collectively or the individual struggling pulling back by self-isolating).  Looking back with hindsight it is miraculous that we not only had the support we needed to bear these burdens, but that these burdens were able to be for our good and to encourage the now deep roots of conversion.  I had a counselor who said something like this, "If someone looks like they are doing well, maybe it's a good year."  Meaning: we all struggle.  We all have challenges that come in different forms.  Each one of us is in need of a ward family that is made up of individuals who know how to help those around them not only bear up their burdens, but to do it in a way that points them to Christ. I am writing this post from the perspective of someone who, although I never missed a week of church, at times was drowning.  My family was in great need of rescue efforts.  Some situations more so than others.  I write this from the receiving end of a ward and stake that were functioning well to reach and rally around those who were struggling. Mark and I know that ward members can make an eternal impact.  We are living proof of that!

Sharing the conversation I had in the park with Mark that night generated some great discussions between us.  We would guess there were individuals who were in our Rexburg ward during that amazing window of time who didn't feel the way we do.  From the heart's core of the heart's core, I would be surprised if there aren't many others who felt part of Zion like we did.  I don't think there is a "right" top 3.  Even my top 3 was different from Mark's top 3.  I can only speak from my experience. In sharing what I would list as my top 3, I want to make it clear that it isn't intended to be an all inclusive list.  I don't by any means claim to have all the answers.  I am just sharing our experience of being on the receiving end of a ward and stake that worked well in this regard.  I would invite you to take some time if you haven't before and jot down your own thoughts.  Maybe you have been blessed to be in such a ward as I will describe.  Maybe you have had the unfortunate opposite experience and can draw more from what hasn't worked.  In that case I would invite you to consider changing negatives to positive for example "not being judgmental" to "accepting."  Take some time to really ponder and generate what would Zion look like?

What Does a Zion Ward Family Look Like?

My number one is that the members taught pure doctrine and supporting principles.

"Behold, I am God; give heed to my word, which is quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, to the dividing asunder of both joints and marrow; therefore give heed unto my word." (D&C 14:2)

"And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just---yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them---therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God." (Alma 31:5)

It can be really easy to spend precious lesson time or Sacrament meetings focusing on things like "How can we have more faith?"  Although a great question, we were blessed by the bulk of the time being spent on the doctrines and principles (such as "What is faith?" "Why do I need faith?"  "Why should my faith be centered on Jesus Christ?" etc).  We learned first-hand that the application (the "HOW" questions) will be different for each of us, both in the ways to apply it, but also in the order we need to focus on things.  When we had a sure foundation on the "WHY" and "WHAT," the "HOW" seemed to flow more naturally and with more power.  Before I was in that ward I had missed that.  Understanding that the doctrines and principles are unchanging, yet the ways we apply them will be individually tailored has helped the gospel come to life for me.  It has helped me to engage in helpful discussions with others.  Writing that out in a paragraph is a bit disappointing because it seems flat on the screen,:) whereas in experiencing it, I will never forget how life changing it was for me.  I was blessed through those 7 years by teachers who came prepared in this way and responded to the change in direction from the Spirit while the lessons unfolded.

Lumped for me in teaching pure doctrine is that collectively leaders and teachers addressed the "tough stuff."  They didn't dodge or try to soften with extra fluff.  For example, The Fall can be a very hard doctrine.  I am grateful that The Fall as well as other topics such as grace, and agency were taught directly.  When a teacher and a class come with The Spirit, The Spirit can teach all these precious truths that can be taught in no other way.

I am excited to see many of these things reflected in the new teacher council training.  Things we have recently discussed in our new ward here are asking open-ended questions and waiting for answers, teach people not lessons, prepare ahead of time so you can go class members need to go with the topic.

Teaching pure doctrine built up a frame-work in our minds and hearts that once we hit our rock bottoms and things were finally bad enough that we were desperate enough to try something new, it simply took connecting the dots for us.  Once we recognized that "our life had become unmanageable..." (step 1 of 12 step program) that we couldn't fix ourselves or the mess...we knew exactly what to do.  We just had to figure out HOW that looked for our personal situations. We had been taught well about The Fall and turning to Christ.

Continued in part 2...

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