Good Bishops

In our church, the leaders of the individual congregations or wards as we call them, are called Bishops. Our church is a lay church which means that nobody gets paid for any service they provide. I honestly believe that an LDS Bishop does more then any paid clergy-man I know of. The responsibilities and expectations of this calling are so far reaching, all-encompassing, unrelenting and intense as to be completely mind blowing if you think about them for more then a moment. (I get a bit panicky on their behalf when I do).

And let us not forget that an LDS Bishop has to do all this in addition to his paying full-time job and taking care of his family. In short, an LDS Bishop is a miracle of nature, and they are one of the greatest testimonies of the truth of this gospel to me, because without the inspiration and mantle they are given to do the job, I honestly do not know how any of them could survive the experience. But the amazing thing is that they do not just survive, they help others, many who feel that they are at rock-bottom, to survive, and thrive too.

I have had many wonderful Bishops. They are generally just wonderful men to begin with, which is why they are called to be Bishops. I can't think of any bad Bishops I have had. But I have had a few Bishops who have gone well over and beyond their call of duty for me and my family. Tonight I am thinking of three who are particularly memorable to me.

My current Bishop had his last Sunday in our ward today. I was horrifically unprepared, finding myself tissue-less as he bore his last testimony, and they sang God be with you 'til we meet again as the closing hymn. ARGH! Can you even imagine what type of complications that created for my face? Thank goodness I do not wear eye make-up.

He and his wife will be moving to Utah after 25 years of living here. For most of our time here, he has been our Bishop and she has been the Bishop's wife. Their leaving is a huge loss to our ward and to our community at large. The gratitude I personally have for these people is tremendous. My Bishop saw me through one of the darkest, most confusing periods of my life a couple of years ago. His patience was infinite (I was often infuriating and exhausting to myself, so I can only imagine what it was like for him). His kindness was beyond description, his wisdom was profound, his restraint in allowing me to come to my own understandings and discoveries was incredible, and the many, many hours of counsel and friendship he gave me alone have earned him a really nice piece of real estate in heaven. Remember that my case was just one of so many hundreds of other responsibilities and (often extreme) concerns he had for others in the ward. But I never felt like "one of many". He is not a trained counselor, but he helped me more then any professional ever could have. He exemplified the love of Christ in all his dealings with me, in the most pure manner, and this helped me to discover my worth and understand the depth of God's love for me on a completely different level to that which I ever had before. At the same time his wife, (who as a Bishop's wife essentially says goodbye to her husband the day he is called), became a good friend and confidante. She too sacrificed many hours and put much care and energy into my emotional and spiritual well-being. They truly and literally were a God-send to me and my family. I honestly could not say where I or we, would be without their help, love and guidance. My children have felt loved and protected by our Bishop and he and his wife have given them a sense of extended family, and have been a marvelous example of love and leadership to them. I once asked them what they thought Heavenly Father might say or do if he were in our living room and they all said, "he would love us so much and teach the Bishop".

Enduring Ohio winters makes a little more sense when I consider what I would have missed out on were I to have gone through this crisis elsewhere. The ward that gets them next is very blessed indeed.

Tonight we watched the live broadcast of a Christmas Devotional given by our First Presidency. It was beautiful and touching. Elder Eyering spoke of a Bishop who exemplified the true spirit of Christmas by inviting destitute strangers to eat Christmas dinners with his family at their table each year, and sending them away with another hot meal and a warm coat. I recognized his name and his location (Rexburg, Idaho, which makes Ohio look like Hawaii) as the Bishop Aaron and I had in our college ward. He was another Bishop who made a profound difference in my life and I think of him with gratitude often.

He was one of the most positive, indomitable spirits I have ever met. For much of the time I knew him he was fighting a serious illness. Some of the medication he had to take made his face swollen, and I imagine he felt dreadful a good deal of the time, but he never stopped smiling or being bouncy. He was.. bouncy. It could have been irritating I guess, but it wasn't because he was just so genuine. He came into my life at another extremely dark period. I was dealing with a variety of major traumas (which I still marvel at having retained some shreds of sanity through), and truly did not know whether I was coming or going. I felt exceptionally alone, being far from my family and too poor to even speak to them on the phone regularly. Poor Aaron felt powerless to help, and essentially he was. It was sheer hell for us both. Somehow Bishop Sellers figured out that all was not well (I thought I'd been putting up a pretty good charade up until the time that I could not get out of bed or even turn my head to look at a different wall over the course of a day). He would show up at our tiny apartment unannounced at all hours. He would sit on our couch and we would all laugh and joke like old friends. He was very matter of fact and would tell me, "oh your place is not such a mess today, last time it was awful, you must be doing better" or "how are you?- no really how ARE you? Because you look terrible! Wow you look bad." but strangely, I was never offended. One of my fondest (in retrospect) memories are his 7am wake up calls. I would awake to his bouncy voice telling me to get out of bed and go for a run. I hated those calls, but I loved him for making them. I rarely went for the run but he persisted.

Yet another Bishop we are eternally grateful to, was our Bishop in California. When Aaron lost his job 2 weeks after we had Caroline, we went directly to speak to him. We were scared and confused and we felt drawn to his calm strength. He was concerned but reassured us that we would be taken care of as Aaron searched for employment. Over the course of 9 months he provided for us in the most generous and loving way. Once our money ran out, the church stepped in (they wanted to do so before our money ran out actually). We did not have to move out of our house to an apartment, we did not ever want for food, toiletries or household supplies, our utilities stayed on and our car payments were made. Other members of the ward inundated us with clothing and gifts. This, together with the fact that my sister and brother in law who lived relatively close by (in Canada) and would visit as often as they could to lift and support us, had us feeling surrounded by love and care during a time where we could have felt completely desolate and isolated. What I appreciated most is that our dignity was always preserved. The Bishop would assure us constantly that it was "fun" to help us, he would thank us for our contributions of time and help to others in the ward (since we did have a lot of time to spare), and he alleviated the anxiety we could have had, by always assuring us that we would have help for as long as we needed it.

Between his exhaustive (and often exhausting) job-search Aaron would volunteer at the Bishop's Storehouse to help offset the abundance of good food and supplies we received from them every 2 weeks. Our Bishop would encourage Aaron not to over-do it with volunteering there, and advised him to enjoy the time with his wife and young children, and take full advantage of this opportunity to be with them. I look back on that time with such fondness. We really united as a family, and our testimonies were greatly strengthened. I feel that our foundation as a family was solidified during that time and our children, especially Benjamin were exposed to values and experiences that helped to shape the incredible kids they are today. Don't get me wrong, the stress of that time was often very intense and I had mini freak-outs aplenty, but it never completely overwhelmed us , I do not remember ever being in utter despair, and the value of what we took away from that experience far exceeds any salary we could have been earning.

Spiritually, emotionally and temporarily, during times of crisis in any of these areas, we have always been blessed with amazing Bishops. I think of them as angels who God put in our path at just the time that we needed them, and for this I am grateful to Him, and to them, more then I could ever say.

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Samantha said...

Wow Kirsty--the Bishops you wrote about do sound like exceptional people. I'm particularly impressed by the one who could see through your emotional facade and who called you to tell you to go running. A wise man indeed. I also enjoyed reading more about your last decade and a bit... you've certainly had some trying times in your life.

Jen Lynn said...

very cool. You made me miss those McClanahans.

So who's the replacement?

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful post, Kirsty. The McClanahans are wonderful people. I'm sure it will feel like a core of the ward is missing. If you think of it, give them hugs from us.


april kennedy said...

Kirsty, I enjoyed reading this post about Bishops. We have been touched by our Bishops too. They are indeed angels!

Kallie said...

what? really? utah? (i wish i had all the time in the world to read your blog -- i love how you "put things".) and i'm definately going to check out those miracle lamps...