Gravity (4 of 5)

In an attempt to establish a new life, Teresa enrolled in a self-realization program. There, her new spiritual advisor directed her to “face her childhood values” by attending, just once, an LDS sacrament meeting. And so, for the first time in many, many years, Teresa showed up at a ward in Denver, Colorado intending a short, perfunctory visit. The Bishop, however, invited her to talk. The gentle conversation that followed ended: “Teresa, you’ve done nothing for which you can’t be forgiven–please come back.”

Not unlike that of Alma the younger, Teresa’s return journey began with a cascade of prayers ascending to heaven: in Salt Lake, her father, sister, and brother prayed for her return to the Lord; in Logan, where he now directed an Institute, Brother Christensen prayed similarly; and, just as real, my Father recorded in his journal, “Mom has to be pushing hard from the other side….”

References to Teresa and her new husband, Nathan, pepper the next few years of my Dad’s journal. Nathan, not a church member, exuded a contagious charisma that quickly won over my family. He married Teresa in Denver, though they would later move across the country. They visited occasionally and my father records small steps in Teresa’s progress: one entry has her asking for a blessing, another attending a ward meeting. At this point my memories of this story begin. Most are somewhat vague, but I have in my mind’s eye a vivid picture of Teresa’s bright red hair, long blood-colored finger nails, glowing staccato laughter, and wonderful presents.

Teresa called my Father from Denver one March morning in 1983 and said: “I want to go to General Conference on Easter Sunday.” My father’s initial response: “you want to go where?” When he knew she was serious, though, he eagerly agreed and they headed to the Tabernacle–my straight-laced RM Father and his flamboyant ex-hippie sister. Part way through the session, Elder F. Burton Howard began:

“Let me ask each of you to picture two crystal goblets…. They differ in size and shape. They are both of good quality…. One has been carefully kept in a china cupboard. It is clean and polished. It is warm and inviting in appearance. It sparkles in the light and is filled with clear water. The other glass is coated with grime. It has not been in the dishpan for a long time. It has been used for purposes other than those for which it was made. Most recently it has been left outside in the weather and served as a flowerpot. Although the flower is gone, it is still filled with dirt. It is dull and unbecoming in the light.”

Then, coming to his purpose, Elder Howard asked: “Is not each of us like a crystal glass?” and proceeded to explain how the owner of the goblets finally recovered the second one and, with great difficulty, returned it to its original luster.

My Father’s journal entry from that day rings with surprise, delight, and hope:

“Today is conference. I got up at 4:00 am to go with Teresa to Temple Square to attend the ‘Easter Sunday’ conference session. Can you imagine that—Teresa insisting that we go to conference—at 4:30 am, no less? There is truly something different about her. Her countenance has changed. Elder F. Burton Howard’s talk today was on repentance. He made an almost perfect (for Teresa, perfect) delivery. She turned to me part way through the talk and said, ‘this is the one I came to here.’”

A couple of days later, my Father and Aunt visited Brother Christensen in Logan, this would be the first meeting since that night spent sobbing in the janitor’s closet. My Father recorded:

“Teresa and I drove to Logan today to see Bro C., her old seminary teacher. What a marvelous experience. One which I shall always remember! A miracle is occurring in Teresa’s life. She and I had a wonderful talk on the way up. She told me of the numerous times she has felt the closeness of mom and dad. In fact, she said that while she was thinking of mother after an extremely trying day she heard Mother’s voice singing ‘ere you left your room this morning, did you think to pray?’ With tears in her eyes she knelt down and prayed. She was overwhelmed by a flood of the Spirit. Her testimony was strengthened…. Her Bishop…has determined that she should write on a piece of paper, (many pieces if necessary), all of the things she can remember doing since age 8 for which she needs to repent. I think that would be difficult. At any rate, we had a marvelous visit with Bro. C. He seems to say all the right things. He gave Teresa a blessing which was just right. He blessed her with strength to continue. One very important thing he said was, ‘I bless you that you will be able to do things which will motivate your husband to come into the Church. But remember it must be his decision to come. And when he does become a member of the Church you will be very happy.’”

My grandmother’s death, the night with Brother Christensen, the welcoming Bishop, the prayers from many quarters, Elder Burton’s conference talk, the visit to the Institute in Logan, Teresa’s irrepresible spirit, and innumerable other unrecorded influences combined to guide Teresa toward home. In between these more remarkable events, she met over many months with her Bishop, working to “return the luster” to her soul. In those quiet moments in the Bishop’s office, Teresa spoke of a long night of wandering and of years spent empty, spiritually wan. Soon, however, the night was receding before the gentle light of Jesus’ love: the Bishop pronounced Teresa clean, restored to full faith and fellowship in the Church.

As if to give substance to the symbolism of her spiritual journey, Teresa returned, about a year after Elder Burton’s talk, to her childhood ward. My Dad wrote about the experience this way:

“Today I had a most amazing experience. 2 Nep. 27:23. Teresa is here to visit from Texas. She attended the old 5th ward…for fast and testimony meeting. Our family was also there. Shortly after the time for testimonies came she stood up and quickly walked to the microphone in the front of the hall. ‘Brothers and sisters,’ she began, ‘It’s so good to be here…It’s been such a long, long time.’ She then bore an exquisite testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, of repentance and of the Kingdom of God on Earth. She has truly been through the depths of Hell, having suffered much because of her sins (we’re talking here heavy-duty sins of the ‘you-name-it’ variety for 10 or 15 years)…. Now, the light she gives forth, the joy that is hers… She bore such a beautiful testimony. It is indescribable how good it is to have her back. After Teresa spoke, the rest of the meeting seemed to revolve around her and her life’s story…. Sister Williams, holding back tears, said ‘Teresa, I don’t know you, but how I love you for the change you have made. And how I loved your mother. When my son was doing things I knew he shouldn’t, I felt all alone. I felt as if no one had ever been through what I was going through. Your mother would come to me, tell me of your situation and then go on to tell me of her love for you. That’s what she talked about most of the time when we talked was her love for you. Oh how she loved you. She said, “that’s all you can do, is love them and love them and love them some more!” I know she has been loving you from the other side of the veil since her death. How happy she must be today.’ Bishop Nelson…echoed some of Sister Williams’ thoughts. He then went on to note that it was her parents’ faith that made it possible for Teresa to make it through her life…. Brother Canon said, simply, ‘I am so grateful to have been here today and witness the results of the miracle which has taken place. Thank you, Teresa. Thank you.’ I have no words to describe my feelings. The veil was thin. There was much rejoicing on both sides of it.”

A year or so later, Teresa returned to Bro. C. to hand him a stack of paper about an inch thick. “If ever you meet someone who thinks she cannot come back, please show her this,” she said. “But, what is it?” he asked. “The Bishop asked me to write down all the sins for which I was seeking forgiveness—that’s the list.”

Published in: on February 2, 2007 at 11:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

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