The LDS/Mormon church is more than just a Sunday thing--we live it every day. We read scriptures with our kids and say prayers--we have since they were born. We have Family Home Evening every Monday night (a family time where we share a spiritual lesson and enjoy being together). Joel and I serve in church callings, sometimes very demanding ones. Our kids are blessed to attend their primary classes and boy scouts and activity days and fun primary activities. We have lived here since Joel graduated from BYU 11 years ago. This is our home. The ward family, or congregation that we attend, has seen my children grow up. They have helped me when I've struggled, and believe me, it's been a lot. So in short, being a member of this church is our livelihood and our strength. I know I haven't talked about it much here, but I owe so much to my religion and beliefs for my courage and hope in the face of so many trials.
When Julianna turned 12 years old in December, I was given a new calling: Young Women Secretary. This means I serve with the Young Women Presidency in our ward, and attend Sunday meetings and events for the Young Women, aged 12-18. It has been so wonderful watching Julianna experience mutual (Wednesday night activities), Personal Progress (a goal-setting program for Young Women) and the Young Women class on Sundays (the third hour of church.)
But there was one thing I wasn't planning for, or didn't even think about, after she turned 12: the fact that 12 year olds have the opportunity to give talks in church. Would the Bishopric (leaders or pastors of the ward/congregation) ask her to give a talk? Or would they assume that she couldn't? But can she even give a talk? This is Julianna, the girl who has never gone up to bear her testimony on Fast Sunday (every first Sunday of the month, the ward members fast and during Sacrament meeting, have the opportunity to bear their testimony). So I just waited to see if it would happen, and lo and behold, one Sunday last month, a member of the Bishopric approached my husband and asked if Julianna would be willing to give a talk. He came home to tell me.
Honestly, my first thought? Complete and total fear. How could I even possibly help her gain the courage to get up in front of over 100 people when she's never done it before? Luckily, we had 3 weeks advance notice, but we weren't given the topic yet, so the first week, we talked to Julianna about how she felt. We asked her if she wanted to give a talk, and she shrugged her shoulders and quietly said, yes. She's watched her friends give talks, and this girl truly wants to do whatever her peers are doing. So we went forward, trusting it was the right decision.
In that time, I also let her stand at the pulpit on a Wednesday night. I wanted to make sure she had at least stood there before she gave her talk. She did not want to talk into the microphone, but listened as I did.
Once we got the topic, personal revelation, I set out to write the talk for her. I knew I had to keep the sentences short and to the point. I also knew I had to type in out in larger font, and divide each sentence into separate lines so she could visually read it better. That night, we had our first practice after our family scripture reading. We told her that we were going to practice it every night until she gave her talk. This gave us 10 days to practice, and she was not always agreeable, but we persevered!
A few days into practicing, I noticed that when she read, she would not separate the sentences with a pause, and this made it hard to comprehend what she was saying. So I took a red pencil and drew bold lines between every period and comma as a visual cue for her to stop and pause at those parts. This seemed to help a little bit. I also blacked out some words that I thought weren't necessary--in the end, it was just the right talk for her. The funniest part was she didn't want to start her talk with "Good morning, brothers and sisters," like so many people do. She made me cross it out! Here's a picture of her talk below.
The big day came, and Joel got home from his morning meetings before church with enough time to give her a Priesthood Blessing. I asked him to do this because I felt like we had to do everything in our power to give Julianna the best chance for success. His blessing of comfort was wonderful, and we left for church, still not knowing what might happen.
When we got there, we sat closer to the front than usual. I asked her if she wanted to sit on the stand until it was her turn to speak, or if she wanted to stay with the family in the pews. The speakers don't talk until after the sacrament is administered, so I wasn't sure if she would want to sit up there alone for close to 30 minutes. Joel suggested that I sit up there with her, so that's what I did. Before I sat down, though, I told the bishopric members that they would probably have to adjust the microphone so it was in the right place for her to be heard clearly, and they would also have to turn up the volume! I told them we had done everything on our part to prepare her, but that I still didn't know if she would do it. They were fine with this, so I sat down with Julianna and waited for the meeting to start.
A brother (man in the ward) sitting up there asked if Julianna was giving a talk, and I said yes. He asked me if I thought she would be brave enough to get up there. In that moment, I had to tell him I wasn't sure, because really, all the practice was great, but you just can't practice giving a talk without taking a leap of faith and doing it. The first time doing something is always hard, and for Julianna, this was going to be a HUGE first. I told him that I really hoped she would do it all by herself.
As we sat there during the sacrament portion of the meeting, I prayed that I could hold back the tears long enough to hear her speak. Being a mom is such an emotional journey, and sitting there with her, it was hard for me to believe that she was old enough to be doing this, and that she was actually willing to. It was really tough to keep my composure.
Finally the sacrament ended, and a member of the Bishopric announced the speakers. He then turned it over to Julianna. She looked at me, and I said, go ahead, you can do it! And I watched as she walked the 10 feet to the pulpit, placed her talk down, and began speaking after the bishopric member adjusted the microphone. I held back the tears as she said every word, more clearly than she ever had in any of our practices. I looked out into the congregation and saw huge smiles and even tears on the faces of the ward members. Julianna gave her talk, all by herself, and I couldn't have been more proud.
When she was done, I walked with her back to where the rest of my family was sitting, tears in my eyes. It was like she grew up in that moment, like she became a young woman. She did something that, 5 years ago if you had asked me, I would have never imagined it possible. But it was possible, and I owe a huge part of this to our faith and prayers, and even the prayers of some of you that read my post on Facebook the night before. I could truly feel your prayers!
It wasn't just prayers, though. It took a lot of work on our part and her part to make this possible. "Faith without works is dead." Without all the practice, Julianna wouldn't have had the courage to do this, either. Prayer and works really do go together. If you show the Lord all that you can do, he will make up the difference. I know for a fact that Julianna was helped as she gave that talk. To me, it was a miracle. She far exceeded our expectations!
When Sacrament meeting was over, I told Julianna that lots of people will want to come tell her what a good job she did, and that she should try to thank them when they do so. Well, it didn't take long before people were gathering around her to congratulate her, and it continued for the remaining two hours of church. I think she was getting overwhelmed by the attention! But I really appreciated all the kind words that were said. And even though she wasn't able to thank you herself with her words, I know she appreciated it, too.
I am so glad that she was given this opportunity. I know it has helped boost her confidence and testimony, and it certainly has helped mine. I have learned, once again, that I can never deny my daughter an opportunity to do anything. Autism does not limit her, it only makes things more challenging. As parents, we have to be willing to help our kids overcome obstacles to reach their potential. What seemed impossible to me before is now possible because of hard work and prayer. I'm so proud of her, and look forward to more opportunities for her to grow as she gets older. Next on the list: girls' camp this summer!