Last weekend I met an apostle of God. Elder Neal L Anderson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles came to Philadelphia this weekend for our stake conference. We have spent a lot of time the last month or two preparing for his visit and have been looking forward to it immensely.
On Saturday John and I had the opportunity to sit down to dinner with him, Sister Anderson, their daughters, the Stake Presidency and thier fabulous wives, our new Mission President and his wife and our other visiting authority Elder Gerard from the Quorum of the 70s and his wife. What a kind man Elder Anderson is! Unassuming and genuinely interested in us and our families and our lives, he took the time to answer questions and just sit and chat with us. He also enjoyed the time reminiscing with President Duckworth from our stake presidency who was a missionary in France when Elder Anderson was the Mission President there. What a small world the church is!
Anyway, the Saturday (adults only) session was great- practicly a date for John and I. The theme for the meeting was Temples. I want to share just one quick story then get on with the Sunday session.
Years ago, while Elder Anderson and his wife were living in Brazil, President Hinckley and Elder Faust came out to look for the perfect spot for a new temple. Elder Anderson was taking them around to look at several promising spots. He was sitting between President Hinckly and Elder Faust in the back of the jeep. President Hickly asked how big the first sight was and when Elder Anderson told him how big it was and that it was the largest of all the sites President Hinckley said, "We mow more than enough grass alread in this church." Then when Elder Anderson told him how much it cost, President Hinckley told him that it was too much. However, after they reached the site, walked around for a while, then visited all of the other sites, it became obvious that the first site was best. Elder Anderson wasn't going to say anything so he just sat quietly. Finally President Hinckly said, "In a few years we will not remember how much that site cost, besides, Nothing is too good for the Lord." And so that site was selected. I love that story! I wonder if that argument will work on John next time I want to get something for the boys?
Sunday morning was rainy and miserable but the chapel was already packed when we got there an hour and fifteen minutes early for choir practice. Since I am the stake Music Chair I got to put myself in charge of the choir. I love conducting the church choir and since we had an Apostle coming I simply couldn't resist. I also asked some very talented women to put together a children's choir from the city wards (P1 and P4) to sing for prelude. They were amazing! The kids (there were about 12-15 of them) sang their hearts out. Elder Anderson walked in when they were about halfway through their last song. He stood in front of them with a huge smile on his face while they finished singing and then warmly shook each one of their hands as they filed off the stand and back to their seats. He took the time to tell them how great they had sounded and how happy he was to meet them. You could tell that he was a proud grandfather (of 13 kids- two of whom he brought up on the stand to help with his talk) and that he loves kids. I had to blink back tears.
When the choir sang shortly after the beginning of the meeting I had to try not to laugh. I usually conduct from the left side of the podium (if you are looking at it from the congregation) which means that I was standing right in front of Elder Anderson. I almost got his toes with the music stand. Then, my stalwart choir members -who had done so fabulously in practice- were super nervous in his presence. I had to give them the cue to come in twice. Once they started singing however, they relaxed and did an incredible job. Elder Anderson and Elder Gerard were very complimentary after the meeting.
The talks from this stake conference were all engrossing and thought provoking.
President Coe, our Stake President, talked about the need for us all to administer to each other. A couple of his really good quotes:
"Relative weakness and relative strength are episodic." So true- at least for me!
"I think the scripture 'When you are in the service of your fellow men, you are only in the service of your God.' was mistranslated. At least, the word "only" was put in the wrong place. It should read, 'Only when you are in the service of your fellow men, you are in the service of your God.'"
I love President Coe! He gives the best talks!
President Brown, a member of the stake presidency, talked about his experience on Trek this year with the young men and young women. (For those of you who don't know, Trek is when the teenagers, 14 -18, go out in the wilderness for two days, supervised of course, and recreate the pioneer experience of pulling handcarts for several miles with what little food the pioneers would have had.) It was during a heat wave and the water had been over chlorinated and Pres Brown had gotten them started in the wrong direction. He was ready to be done after the first couple of miles but was impressed by the kids as they continued forward, step after step, despite the increasing heat, thirst and exhaustion. Unlike him, the kids din't know the destination or how long it would take to get there, they just kept going step after step. He likened that to our daily lives- how we just need to keep taking those little steps (read scripture, pay tithing, fast, pray, etc.) because even though we don't know when, those steps will take us home.
Sister Gerard, who I came to really admire in the short time we had to talk, said, "To be acquainted with God is to know his love." I honestly couldn't tell you much more about her talk but that really stuck with me. She and her husband were recently sealed to their youngest boys- five year old twins they had adopted from Guatemala. We talked together about the joy and anguish of watching our kids start kindergarten.
Elder Gerard shared a story he heard at the National Day of Prayer meeting which he recently attended in Washington DC along with President Obama and ministers from all different faiths. It was a story shared by Admiral Molin (sp?) from the Joint Cheif's of Staff. (I'm paraphrasing) There where some soldiers in Afghanistan who came under fire as they were going up a hill. They found some large boulders to shelter behind until they could get some reinforcements. Every time they were being fired upon the corporal in the group watched the lieutenant dissappear around the other side of one of the rocks. When the shooting would stop the lieutenant would come back into view. Once they arrived back to base safely the corporal asked the lieutenant what he had been doing. The lieutenant responded, I was asking myself three questions. 1) What am I doing right? 2) What am I not doing? and 3) How do I make up the difference?
Then Elder Gerard quoted 3 Nephi 17:3 "Therefore go unto your homes and PONDER these things..."
Sister Anderson told this great story about when her kids were young she had wanted to do FHE on the conference talks. So she went to make a copy of her Ensign from General Conference so everyone could have their own copy. When she went to pay the total cost was $50. At first she was kind of upset. $50 is a lot of money. But then she thought about it for a second "What is it worth to me for my children to have the words of God's prophets?" Really, what is it worth to us? I love that!
Finally Elder Anderson got up to speak. The first part of his talk was a self-effacing humor that although he appreciated everyone's enthusiasm to have him there, he was just an ordinary person like everyone else. He said that he and the other apostles were just ordinary people blessed with the opportunity to serve the church as a whole- however, he said, President Monson is not an ordinary guy. You can tell that the mantle of his calling has changed him- he is something more. Since we have so little opportunity (OK, none) to see President Monson, Elder Anderson shared some of his favorite stories about him with us. (I am paraphrasing them- any mistakes or misquotes are mine.)
President Monson has an amazing memory. Years ago, when the Berlin Wall was still in existence, President Monson went to East Germany to visit members of the church. Since he was not able to bring any official church materials, he was asked to memorize the entire Church Handbook of Instructions (approx 150 pages then) so that he could type it out for the East German saints when he got there. When he arrived he felt totally overwhelmed and had them take him right to a typewriter. As he sat down and started typing he looked up and saw the Church Handbook sitting on the shelf just above the typewriter! He was both frustrated and relieved.
Another story: President Monson loves indiviuals and values each individual person he meets. Years ago President Monson sent Elder Anderson to give a blessing to a boy who had had a terrible accident with a gun and had been shot in the face. Elder Anderson kept in contact with the boy over the years and was surprised when President Monson (then in the Q of 12) approached him and asked where the boy's mission papers were and why he hadn't sent them to SLC yet. Elder Anderson talked to the boy and the boy sent his papers in. The boy had been reluctant because despite the 50+ surgeries he had gone through, his face was still badly scarred. On the day of his farewell, Elder and Sister Anderson went to his farewell. As they pulled in to the parking lot, they saw that the Stake President was setting a chair in a parking space to save it. Elder Anderson thought it was for him and started pulling in but was waved away. He looked behind him and there was President Monson coming for the farewell too. During the farewell President Monson spoke and quote D&C 84 "And whoso receiveth you, I will go with you... and I will go before your face."
One more: When President Monson was a bishop he got a phone call one day that one of his ward members was in the hospital and was very sick. President Monson promised he would visit that night. Later as he was at a priesthood leadership meeting he had an impression that he should leave and get to the hospital. The Stake President was talking and President Monson did not want to be rude so he waited until the end of the talk, ignoring the prompting. When he got to the hospital he raced up the stairs and met a nurse. He asked if she knew where he could find the brother from his ward who was ill. She asked if he was Bishop Monson. When he responded in the affirmative she said, "He was asking for you right before he passed away." That experience has stuck with him and President Monson strongly urges "Never, never, never delay when prompted by the spirit."
Elder Anderson continued his talk emphasizing the importance of parents- especially mothers- teaching their children the stories of Jesus. He said we need to pray for our children that they feel the spirit and that these stories will always be a part of them. He said that sometimes bad things will happen but that we should "Be not afraid, only believe." If we 1)keep the commandments 2) read scriptures 3) pray in faith 4) seek to do good 5) repent and 6) seek Jesus we will receive needed revelation that will help see us through.
All in all a spiritually filling conference and a great opportunity to have one of our apostles here. I am grateful I had the opportunity to meet him and I can attest that although he says he is just an ordinary guy, he is truly all that is best of men. His kindness and spirit were easily apparent as were his love for his family and our prophet and our Savior. We look forward to seeing him speak again- although it will probably only be on the tv during General Conference.