When I was fifteen years old, my father lived in the studio apartment down the hall from my own Manhattan 2-bedroom which I shared with my mom. This is about as separated as a New York City couple gets when real estate prices trump any emotional need for distance. And so my family lived this way, with me and my mom in one apartment and my dad down the hall on the 10th floor of our building, for about seven years.
Visitation, such as it was, meant ringing my dad’s doorbell and standing awkwardly at the foot of my his bed at the end of each school day, giving the noncommittal answers any teenager gives about what happened in school and what the weekend plans might include. Although I might have seemed dismissive and uncaring in these interviews, inside I was in turmoil, alternately mourning my broken family and just wishing my parents would just end things once and for all. I inevitably returned to my own room, my beloved own room, and sank on my knees and begged my Heavenly Father to fill me with charity or strength or resilience or whatever it was that I needed to get through our 10th Floor charade of family life.
And whatever it was that I needed always came. Sometimes it came in a warm peaceful feeling as I knelt, sometimes it was a passage of scripture that I felt spoke just to me. Sometimes it was something said in a Sacrament Meeting or a seminary lesson. Sometimes it came from the tremendous individuals and families that took me under their wings, showing me what family life could be. My spirituality was my refuge, truly my comforter.
Growing up in an area of the Church that was almost immune to Utah church culture, I enjoyed an easy unity between the personal manifestations I was experiencing privately and the communal expressions of that spirituality in my ward and stake. Church was simply a mechanism for celebrating and magnifying what was blossoming in my personal journey. And thus my testimony was broad, including both spiritual and organizational practices. But as I grew older and moved to various locations and wards, my trust in the organization’s ability always to be the most appropriate conduit for exercising my spiritual gifts was weakened. I didn’t — and don’t — agree with some of the tactics for reaching Zion. I didn’t — and don’t — resonate with some of the ways we express our communal faith. But while the foundations of my faith may have narrowed, those things which have never failed me — those memories of youthful spiritual outpourings and the continued glimpses in my adult years, the power of the Book of Mormon to touch my heart, the ancient continuum of temple ordinances and covenants — have become deeper and more firmly rooted. I describe my testimony today as focused: distractions have been whittled away by experience and perspective, and I am left with something small, dense and precious.
A few months ago, I was asked to speak at a New Beginnings evening for a local ward’s Young Women’s group. As “Stand Ye In Holy Places and Be Not Moved” is the Young Women’s theme this year, I chose to spoke on the second, less heralded commandment in that scripture: Be not moved. I hope in future posts on this blog, I can discuss in detail some of the five suggestions I made for finding gospel roots and staying actively tethered to them. In the same breath I encourage deep gospel roots, however, I encourage constant evaluation of what is not among those roots. It is in this exercise of eliminating distractions that, I believe, we find our strongest convictions. We may find those convictions are small and dense, but they are enough.