Friday, March 15, 2013

A Priceless Gift

When I first moved into my present ward I did NOT want a calling in primary. I hadn't really been in primary much since I was a child. It was a foreign land and I was intimidated. I also hadn't interacted with children very much over the past seven years while going to school. I kept my fingers crossed that I would be passed over.

I was called to be on what was then called the Enrichment Committee. I could handle that. I felt a sigh of relief that I had gotten away with not being put in primary. But then Tom was extended a second calling, and it became apparent that in our ward if you didn't hold a leadership position you usually had more than one calling. I didn't feel so "safe" then.

The dreaded day came. I was asked to team teach what was then CTR 6 (now CTR 5). What a huge blessing it was to have someone to follow and observe for a couple of weeks. I started to learn the names of the children in our class and even other children in Jr. primary. I began to teach every other week. We had a large class with a couple of children with special needs, so at times it would get to be pretty crazy. But I loved every single one of them. I loved watching how they grew so much in that second half of the year. Because I joined them late I moved up to CTR 7 (CTR 6) with them as their teacher. I was excited to be able to spend more time with them.

There was always the intention of calling another teacher to help me out. On a typical Sunday I would have probably about seven children. I was down to one now with special needs. I have to admit that there were Sundays that I went home crying thinking that I hadn't accomplished anything. I struggled with finding the balance of disciplining but also not letting one child disrupt the learning of the other children. I had a smart class, and I wanted it to be fun for all. Eventually I would pull Tom in with me while I taught if it looked like I was going to have a big class. He came to love every one of those kids too. I never did get a team teacher, but I was sad to see "my" kids graduate to Sr. primary.

I was excited to get a new class and to get to know other kids in the primary better. I had a small class now, and they were all sweethearts. I came to love them quickly. There were no more Sundays of crying. It didn't mean that every Sunday went smoothly. But compared to the year before my class was easy to work with. The kids were eager to learn and gave insightful answers to questions. I was happy right where I was.

Besides enjoying teaching I also enjoyed sharing time. I loved to hear the different children participate. Sometimes I would be blown away by their answers to questions asked. I also liked having the opportunity to relearn the primary songs. I had pretty much forgotten most of them. During my difficult year of teaching by myself I would always remind myself to be grateful that I didn't have to teach sharing time. That task seemed daunting. Not only did you have to teach the lesson twice, but you had adults observing you as well. I liked the fact that it was just the kids and me when I taught. If I botched it I knew that they would forget by the next Sunday, and they would love me no matter what.

I had a dear friend move out of the ward boundaries. She had been serving as first counselor in primary presidency. She asked me what I thought about being in the presidency. I was blunt in the fact that I did NOT want to be a counselor. I didn't want the stress of teaching sharing time. My friend passed the word onto the primary president and once again I felt "safe." I went out of town for two weeks and on my return my friend asked me if I had thought about primary at all. My answer was an emphatic no. She asked the question a couple of times. I knew then that I was in trouble. I was able to escape the first couple of Sundays back, but the fateful day came when I was called to be the first counselor in the primary presidency.

I knew that I was going to be pushed out of my comfort zone multiple times. The women I served with were loving and wonderful. I felt welcome right off. I don't remember what my first sharing time was about, but I thought I was going to pass out I was so nervous. Yet I survived and continued to do so as time went by. I became known for going a little over the top with my lessons. I felt that if I was bored preparing the lesson, then the kids would be bored hearing it. I always worried that I wouldn't have enough material to fill up my time, but I almost always took up the whole time. I think our music leader just came to expect that when it was my turn to teach. I couldn't help but look for creative ideas to teach. I was still nervous before teaching, but the minute I started all fear disappeared as I would get immersed in the lesson and the kids. I honestly loved teaching sharing time.

I cornered the 1st counselor in the bishopric one Sunday as I was checking in on nursery and found out that the bishopric would be considering whether or not to change the primary presidency after the children's program (Nov 2012). This program was both the president's and my third time, though this year I ended up being out of town. I still put the rough draft together; I shared the information with the president (who is also a friend), and we would laugh and guess at where we would serve next. She felt that she may be called to Young Women's. At the time I had a feeling that I may be called to nursery. We had been needing more help, but we had a hard time coming up with names. My last few months in primary, when I had the strength to make it to church, were mainly spent in nursery. I missed my interaction with the older children but I loved each of the kids in nursery too.

My first Sunday back at church after the Thanksgiving break I was notified that I would be released the following Sunday. I was notified at the same time as another counselor, and I acted cheerful. I knew right away who the president would be and that the counselor I was sitting near would be called back into primary. I expected to feel a huge sense of relief. With the decrease of my health and just the different things that took place the first Sunday's of the months, I hadn't taught sharing time since July. I thought knowing that I wouldn't have to teach sharing time would make me feel less stressed and less guilty. My reaction surprised me.

As I sat sitting in church as the meeting went on it slowly began to sink in. I looked around the room at the different children. It began to dawn on me that the world of primary would no longer be mine. I wouldn't have the children running up to me to give me a hug, to show me a loose tooth, to tell me about their birthday party, to tell me how many teeth they had lost, to show me their very first pair of heels, etc. Such small moments that I would no longer have.

It took all I had to hold in the tears until I found an appropriate time to get up and go out to my car. It wasn't sitting in a very private location, so I drove off and parked in a parking lot that was mostly empty, and I sobbed. I'm not sure how long I sat there, but my heart was breaking. The laughter I had experienced at the idea of being released was forgotten. The following Sunday I didn't go to church because of health reasons but also because I knew I couldn't handle sitting there as my name was announced and another's to replace mine.

My time in primary was a priceless gift: a gift that Heavenly Father knew I needed even though I dreaded it at first. As most know, primary can get to be noisy and pretty crazy, but stepping through the primary doors at times was like walking into a piece of heaven. Children eager to learn and share. After my time in the Johnson Unit last year Sister Roderick had the children draw something that made them happy. Those drawings can still be found hung up above my closet. It is amazing how much love and healing can be found in a child's arms when you have a hard time finding it anywhere else.

I have to be honest and say that at times it still hurts. I happened to be looking at instagram, and I saw a picture of a Sunbeam giving her first talk. A child who had just been in nursery last year. In the photo I could see some of the presidency sitting where I once sat. I found myself tearing up. I miss them. I know that the timing of my departure was right. My health started to decrease even more quickly after that, but yet it was another loss. One that I didn't realize would hurt. It is a huge feat if I make it to just Sacrament Meeting now. I know the children are in good hands and are loved very much by their teachers and leaders.

     Heavenly Father, are you really there?
     And do you hear and answer ev'ry child's prayer?
     Some say that heaven is far away,
     But I feel it close around me as I pray.
     Heavenly Father, I remember now
     Something that Jesus told disciples long ago:
     "Suffer the children to come to me."
     Father, in prayer I'm coming now to thee.

     Pray, he is there;
     Speak he is list'ning.
     You are his child:
     His love now surrounds you.
     He hears your prayer;
     He loves the children,
     Of such is the kingdom,
     The kingdom of heav'n.

"A Child's Prayer", words and music by Janice Kapp Perry

(*Note: The majority of this blog post was written before I was officially released. I was planning on publishing it shortly after, but because of health issues writing takes so much out of me physically and emotionally.)


LeaAnne said...

I love you so much! I understand what you mean about not being able to be there the day you were released, I too wasn't there the day I was to be released. Even though I was the one who asked to be released. It just hurts. Now not having a callng is good, but I am looking forward to a day I will be able to do that again. I am sure you understand~ I will always remember the day you were at our house and I wasn't watching Lilly close enough, and she disapeared.. just you being there made my other kids feel safe. I know three kids who love you.. so do I.

Rhonda Armstrong Bell said...

Amen! I did NOT want to be in Primary, but not only asked to stay in this year (for my 4th year) but to move up with my class- the most challenging class in Primary. I love them! My first Primary class is starting to move up to Young Women. Weird.
Still don't know if I could do the Presidency again. Maybe a counselor.... :-)

Thomas said...

Melissa, I know this has been way hard on you, but you will always be important to children. You have a way with them, and they love you dearly. Also, I'm so excited to see (hopefully) Bryce and Josalyn at the beginning of April. Yay!!!