July 9, 1976.
As I quietly, joyfully, acknowledge an eternity-sized anniversary, one that changed the course of generations to follow, the math is inescapable.
I was baptized at the age of eighteen, nineteen days after I first met the full-time missionaries, on July 9, 1976; I had to wait because America was caught up in the Bicentennial celebration. I know you’re too polite to do the math, so let me help you: that was forty years ago.
FORTY. Four Whole Decades.
I try to deny it with every product in my bathroom cabinet, but it’s true: that skittish 18 year old is far in the rearview mirror.
Looking back over that 40 year long trail, was it worth the cost? I had decided to be baptized into a Church where I knew no one, had no connections, and knew little about, beyond knowing it was what a God I didn’t know existed the previous month wanted me to do.
Who did that teen become?
In the last forty years, I’ve attended university, married a good man, designed a house to raise our family in, reared three kids and grieved the four others who were born too soon to keep. Along the way, I found my voice and built my confidence a brick at a time by serving in many Church callings and community positions.
I’ve learned big things over the four decades: how to pray, how the Holy Ghost speaks to me, and I’ve made covenants with a God I count as both father and friend. I’ve come to trust my Savior, those around me, and mySelf. I’ve learned my voice and opinion is every bit as valuable as the next person’s. Sometimes, I’ve been an answer to prayer, and a few times, I even noticed it.
My first bishop had an annoying habit of greeting ward members with “Welcome to sacrament meeting. You’re our second speaker today.” Because of him, I learned how to confidently speak in public, even if my stomach felt like it had a herd of frogs in it – and to always have a talk in mind, at least a rough topic. (Want to hear about sponges?).
I quaked at first, but I learned to teach and, eventually, to improvise a memorable lesson on the fly. I know what’s required in organizing a ward dinner; I can plan a ward social in ten minutes flat.
As a shy teen who had no LDS friends, I leaned on stronger women in the ward, learning to serve by watching their example, the example they didn’t suspect they were setting. From those glorious, ordinary women, I learned to be a strong woman myself. I learned that God values his daughters as much as his sons, and to take my place because there isn’t room in the Last Days for wimpy women.
By participating in the Church, I learned to reach out to new people, to work those with whom I’d never associate with under other circumstances. I learned that relationships matter most.
I learned that every soul on earth has something to teach me; the fourteen year old mother, the 88 year old artist, the sleep deprived woman finishing her PhD while homeschooling her seven children. I’ve learned that I’m of worth, too.
Of course, it hasn’t been easy; learning never is. I’ve suffered breathtaking losses, mopped many mascara-cheek-streaks, and repeatedly stumbled over bumbling humans. I've often been one of the bumbling humans.
Through all four decades, I’ve stayed active and involved and enthused about the Church for one reason: It’s real, all of it. The Church is literally God’s kingdom on earth, restored and complete, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it. Sure, I’ve been tempted to step aside, take a breather, "go inactive" for a few years. But knowing what I know, believing what I believe, I’d have to come back, and how embarrassing would that be?
My patriarchal blessing was received four months after my baptism, so long ago the envelope has a 12 cent stamp on it. It promises I would be a strong influence for good in the lives of women. As an innocent teen forty years ago, that sentence was baffling. At this end of the continuum, I catch glimpses of its fulfillment.
Looking back, I’m awed by the courage of the 18-year-old girl who squared her then-slim shoulders, set her hand to the plow, and didn’t look back. Getting Old isn't so bad.
July 9 is a date I silently mark each year. Even though I’m Old, today’s a great day to start my new role as one of Marsha’s Friends on this blog. Thanks for the welcome!