Tuesday, April 14, 2020

A General Conference Weekend to Remember

Do you ever cruise along doing an amazing job at life, and then in the middle of congratulating yourself you realize you've also forgotten something very basic?

That was me last weekend.

I was so busy arranging the General Conference Snacks™ and getting out the kids' coloring pages and moving the furniture around to give everyone a good view of the TV that it wasn't until conference had already started at noon that I realize I'd forgotten to feed everyone.

So we all had popcorn and chocolate milk for lunch. Don't judge.

No one seemed to mind.

Twice a year, my family sits down to watch general conference, a weekend-long event where the prophet and apostles at the head of our church speak on different spiritual topics.

We always look forward to conference, but this year was a definite upgrade for us in terms of living room seating.

We got new living room furniture a few months ago. Our old couches were so worn-out they looked dirty even when they weren't (but they usually were,) plus they were too small for the whole family to sit down at the same time (even before one broke a spring and the kids started calling it "the pit of doom.")

This time we were able to get through conference with no one fighting about seats!

I mean, there was still plenty of fighting. But not over where to sit.

Taking a silly break during conference.

Because of social distancing, general conference didn't take place in the 21,000-seat conference center in Salt Lake City like usual. Instead, it was broadcast from an empty auditorium in a church office building with all the speakers seated carefully 6 feet apart.

That was pretty different, especially when no one chuckled at the little jokes the speakers sometimes inserted in their talks.

But you know what? It still felt the same. Just like when Phillip and I went to church in French Canada and didn't understand the words, or when we suddenly had to do church at home when services were cancelled due to COVID, it made me realize all over again that what I love about church isn't in the ritual or the familiarity; it's in the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This conference also marked a special anniversary for us as a church.

If you don't know, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn't see itself as a product of the reformation, but as a restoration of the church Jesus set up in the Bible.

The events that led up to the restoring of that organization began 200 years ago, and in honor of the occasion our prophet released an official statement about our church's beginnings. If our church was a superhero, this would be its origin story in a nutshell.

I think some people were expecting this general conference to focus more on COVID-19. After all, we are kind of in the middle of a worldwide pandemic right now.

It was, of course, mentioned but it wasn't the main focus of any speaker's talk. Instead, many of the talks seemed to be about what will bring us lasting peace in turmoil.

In fact I noticed this theme running through several of the talks: Jesus is the master healer. He loves to fix what's broken beyond repair. I can't think of a more important message for a hurting world right now. My favorite talk was this 10-minute listen on the subject (watch for my favorite quote at 4:03.)

My kids listened to conference quietly (I can lie to you about it because you weren't there) while they colored, but I was told several times they were unhappy about the selection of coloring pages I provided.

Apparently, they are now coloring snobs. Every one of them, even the 3-year-old, turned up their noses at anything that didn't resemble an adult coloring page and said it was "too basic."

(Pardon me while I find my white gloves and fetch m'lady some fancy coloring material that won't offend her delicate sensibilities...)

And of course, there was the kids' most beloved conference tradition of all: General Conference Snacks.

Before conference, I lay out an assortment of treats with pictures of the speakers on them. Every time a new person gets up to speak, the kids find the right picture and divvy out the attached snack.

Theoretically, this helps them pay attention. In practice, it's sort of a trade-off. They listen, but only after the first few minutes of every talk which is completely drowned out by their intense debate about how to divide each snack fairly. 

My 6-year-old, clearly living his best life.

When we passed out Elder Holland's SweeTARTS, my son looked at them quizzically and asked, "Do you suck on these or bite them?" 

Luckily, the people at SweeTARTS had already anticipated that question and printed instructions directly on the candies:

Apparently, there had been some confusion.

We also pass out blank slips of paper to every family member who can spell and ask them to take a few notes on each talk. We collect them with the speaker's picture in a Ziploc bag to review later.

My 8-year-old did a great job taking notes.

On Saturday evening, President Nelson called for a special fast to ease the suffering caused by COVID-19. While I fully supported the idea and was happy to participate, for a moment I was terrified he would say "starting tomorrow."

Because we still had a table full of snacks! The kids would revolt! There was a tin of homemade chocolate chip cookies hanging in the balance. 

Luckily for the kids, the special fast was designated for Good Friday, so their ability to enjoy Elder Cook's cookies the following day wasn't impacted.

Meet Elder Cookies. I mean, Elder Cook.

By the end, the kids were getting antsy. The 3- and 5-year-old were making monster truck noises while crashing a colored pencil into a tape dispenser from opposite sides of the room. Extensive conversations about what parts of the new couches you can and can't put your butt on were had.

But in spite of all that, they really were listening!

The next day I was helping my 8-year-old put together a quiz for Family Home Evening and I asked her, "One of the talks told a story about someone who lost something in the ocean. Do you remember what it was?"

Before she could answer, the 3-year-old yelled out from the other room, "Glasses!"

They can be taught!

I'm grateful for all the inspiration and hope I got out of this weekend. I can't wait to go back and re-read the talks.

I'm grateful for the prophet at the head of our church, and for the guidance we receive on how to teach our families the gospel (especially since we may be at home doing this on our own for quite some time.)

Most of all, I'm grateful for Jesus Christ, whose message is simple enough for a 3-year-old to grasp but also miraculous enough to study for a lifetime.

That's why I love conference: it's all of that, topped off with a buffet of snacks that lasts all weekend. Life is good.

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Unknown said...

When listening to the talk about the list glasses I thought about Jenny. She had the experience of losing the glasses and then she and I both praying about finding them and a lot of time spent walking back and forth peering into the waves. To no avail. I decided it was because she was not responsible to driving a car if kids home!

Unknown said...

Sure was a great conference weekend. Exactly as needed.