Why We Walked Away
I'm ashamed to admit that my husband and I have not attended our Sunday meetings for well over a year. Occasionally we would go to Sacrament alone, leaving one of us home with our son, Joshua, but to go as a family had been too difficult. It all started when Joshua, who has Autism, OCD and an anxiety disorder, was not allowed to receive the Aaronic Priesthood. He had just turned twelve and was graduating from Primary, but because of his behaviors it was felt he was unworthy to receive the calling of deacon. Those involved in this decision expressed opinions that were based on what a normal young boy would have been expected to achieve and did not take the time to consider Joshua’s disability or his individual needs.
As we sat in the bishop’s office expressing our concerns, we suggested other church authorities be contacted for their opinions and experience in the situation and that research on the subject be done within the church guidelines. We encouraged the decision be brought up in fervent prayer and that, even though we felt Joshua was ready, would follow their lead and support what decision was made. Knowing how we felt about giving a child with a disability every opportunity to have the same privileges as a normal child made it very difficult to leave that choice up to someone else, but ultimately exercised our faith in God’s plan and hoped things would work out.
After six months of meetings, taking Joshua to class with us and hearing words of discouragement from other ward members about our son’s predicament, the decision was made to allow Joshua to receive the priesthood. The following week he was ordained a deacon and there was not a dry eye in the room. Those involved in seeking counsel to make the decision affirmed that it was indeed the right thing to do and felt the spirit confirm it that day. The week after that, Joshua passed the sacrament for the first time. That was our last meeting as a family. It was like the end of a heart wrenching battle and when it was over we took a huge sigh of relief and walked away.
I guess for most people it would have been a celebration of victory, but after spending years fighting with the schools, community, friends and family about the fact that Joshua's behaviors were a direct result of his disability and he wasn't just a bad kid, it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. My own father said, "There's nothing wrong with that kid, it’s just a lack of parental supervision and discipline." OUCH! I always believed, however, that Joshua would receive unconditional love and acceptance from his ward family and that he would be welcomed with open arms. It was supposed to be a safe place, but the constant comments from ward members and then the refusal to let Joshua attend class with his friends and piers, made our son feel unwelcome. He is very high functioning and is aware of his surroundings, so knew what was going on even though we tried to explain it away to spare his feelings.
Why We Are Back
Last year our ward was split and we not only received a new bishopric but every calling in the ward was new. Those who received positions of leadership had a vision of change in their hearts and a renewed conviction to reach out to those who were less active and needed help. Not a month has gone by that someone from the ward hasn't tried to contact us or make some kind of attempt to encourage our activity. In November it increased to a bi-weekly occurrence. Every Wednesday and Sunday we would get a phone call in hopes that we could set up a meeting with the bishop or one of his counselors. Then the High Priest Leader started calling and showing up at the house. We put him off for a couple weeks and then finally he decided he wasn't going to take no for an answer and pushed his way (gently) through the door. It didn't matter that I was just putting dinner on the table, he said it could wait. He'd known us for years and had struggled with inactivity at one point himself, so knew exactly what it would take--tough love. I don't remember ever feeling the spirit in our home as strong as it was that day. He and his companion were noticeably nervous, but they trudged on with their message, telling their stories of re-conversion and bearing their testimonies. By the time they were finished, we'd committed to attend church and were making plans to visit with the bishop to go over Joshua's needs.
We started going back to church on January 4th and haven't missed a Sunday. Our main concern was with Joshua and what kind of program they would set up for him and if they would be able to call someone to sit with him in his classes. There was no need to call someone because the Elders Quorum and High Priests have taken it upon themselves to volunteer their time to sit with him. The bishop has a long list of brethren who are eager to help. For the first time EVER, Joshua loves church and is actually being good. He loves the variety of helpers and they are gearing the lessons to his level of understanding. They have a room set up so that he can be pulled out if need be and have collected materials to keep him involved, yet still learn about the gospel. I truly believe it is the first time since he was born, that both my husband and I have been able to enjoy Sunday School, Relief Society and Priesthood without worrying about what trouble Joshua is getting into or having him brought to us by a frustrated primary teacher.
In addition, it had been years since we'd had home teachers that came more than once a year (if that) and now, not only have we been given WONDERFUL home teachers, but one of them is that same High Priest that pushed his way into our home and into our hearts.
I've never felt that our inactivity had anything to do with losing our testimony or that we'd stopped believing the gospel was true. It was always a defense mechanism to keep my son and my family from experiencing the unfortunate and sometimes unintentional cruelty of individuals who didn't understand what it was like to raise a child like Joshua. I am so grateful to my Heavenly Father for sending his messengers to our home and for the constant prodding it took to keep them from giving up on us. Since we made the choice to return to church we have been blessed far beyond what we deserve and see more and more blessings coming everyday. Our new dedication to the gospel has found us praying together as a couple and making the Lord a partner in our marriage. The decisions we've made about our business, home and family in the past few weeks have found us marveling in the abundance of direct inspiration we have received.
Although we still have a lot of work to do, we are well on our way to having our temple recommends restored and are anxious to attend the new Twin Falls Temple. I long to sit in the celestial room with my eternal companion and thank my Heavenly Father for not giving up on us, even though we had given up on ourselves.