Thursday, February 17, 2011

Jordan, Paula, and the Holy Spirit

I wish my mind was capable of recalling every detail, every word, exactly as it happened because it was far more perfect in reality than in the re-telling. I know it’s tempting, when re-telling a story, to add embellishments that could render the story inaccurate. As “embellishment-like” as the things I’m about to share may sound, they actually happened. If anything, this is a grossly toned-down version of actual events.

I’m not entirely sure why our family was a good twenty minutes early for church for the first time in…ever (not an embellishment.) It’s possible we over-estimated the time it would take to detour and pick up Kennadi’s friend on our way. Suffice it to say, we were so early that there was ample parking and the ward that meets before us was still in sacrament meeting.

We were chatting and joking in the empty lobby when in walked Paula. She was easy to identify as a visitor because she, not-so-timidly, announced, “I’m here!” to no one in particular. As Jason made his missionary-instilled approach, she said, “I’m a visitor. The Holy Spirit led me here today. Where do I go?” I left this sharply-dressed black (I would later learn specifically, Creole) woman to the pros since I wasn’t quite sure yet what to make of her. What meeting was she here for? The 11:30? Was she meeting someone? The questions didn’t have a chance to move from my brain to my lips as I witnessed my personable husband, who everyone loves and thinks is pretty great, get denied by this woman. Rudely denied, to be honest. She looked Jason in the eye and said, “I don’t like you. I don’t want to talk to you.” She clearly wanted direction, but not from Jason, or the missionaries who approached her next, or pretty much anyone. Except me. She took my arm, told me I looked like a nice person and that she’d talk to me. It’s possible my eyes bugged out as if to say, “Me?" In the more-than-ample time we had, I did my best to explain what sacrament meeting was (she’d never attended an LDS meeting) as well as introduce the woman I came to know whose name was Paula to anyone who could better help her, including a member of the bishopric. She was not interested, so I was on my own.

I promised I would sit with Paula on the last row (the pew with the huge isle in front of it, with the curtains directly behind it.) Before we could make our way to our seats, and before anyone seemed to need to talk to me (Where were all my friends? Where were the people who usually have something to discuss with me?), Paula fixated on someone and said, “Who’s that? Are they all like him?” I turned to see a small group of men and a sixteen year-old boy, my son. I asked who she was referring to when she pointed out my son and said, “I want to talk to him.” I introduced her to Jordan. I didn’t know what to expect from this sudden interest from the out-spoken, slightly rude woman next to me. Had she seen Jordan do something unseemly? Would he, in his unpredictable Asperger way, say something to send this self-proclaimed visitor packing, never to return? Admittedly, both of those thoughts were less predominant in my mind than the relief I felt that I now had someone to “share” Paula with.

Jordan, Paula and I sat in the middle of that last pew. And something amazing began to unfold. Actually, it had already been unfolding unbeknownst to me. Time slowed down, the congregation was a muffled blur as it filed in around us, and I prayed for time to slow down more. I witnessed the incredible orchestration of my Heavenly Father. A tender mercy. The birth of a testimony.

With a remarkable calm, Paula looked Jordan in the eyes and, with earnest, told him the Holy Spirit had led her there that day to meet him. She said she was looking for someone (I wish I could remember the descriptive words she used) and Jordan was that person. She told Jordan he had greatness in him. She pointed to his head and said, “Not up here. That’s the devil’s playground.” Then put her hand on his chest and said, “In here. There’s something in here. You need to share what that is.” Jordan proceeded to tell Paula that, as a matter of fact, he was speaking in sacrament meeting that day. Paula’s eyes lit up, and the only way I can think to describe it is that she appeared to feel and act as though she knew she was in the presence of greatness. I don’t recall how many times she said, “The Holy Spirit led me here today”—one time going into as much detail as to describe how the Spirit told her which streets to turn on since she’d never been to our building, much less as LDS church, and didn’t know what she was looking for. There was no question in Jordan’s and Paula’s minds that the Holy Spirit had indeed led Paula there. There was no question in mine, either, and tears streamed down my face to prove it.

As Jordan and Paula shared their time, that no one else would ever appreciate, I experienced an entirely different moment, just between me and my Heavenly Father. It was a moment of sheer gratitude and love. A tender mercy for me. I have to pause Jordan and Paula’s story to share a little background of my own.

While getting ready for church that morning, Jason and I had spent close to an hour discussing Jordan. I’d been in tears, and we seemed to be getting nowhere. This was a very familiar scene behind our master bedroom doors. Without going into detail about Jordan’s history, suffice here to say that as his mother, I feel a desperate need to help him understand his worth. I’ve said it a million times in Jordan’s 16 years, and it has become my mission for Jordan to know he has greatness in him. I have never been able to adequately express these feelings to others, and I was failing to do so again that Sunday morning. It is more than a mother knowing her child has potential and wanting him to reach it. It is not a case of wanting a lazy teenager to get off the couch and make something of himself. I can’t even put my finger on what the “greatness” is other than to say that I know Jordan is here for a specific reason, it’s important, and it’s something only Jordan can do.

Up to now, Jordan’s life hasn’t exactly demonstrated this greatness I’ve always professed, other than giving us glimpses of quirky genius here and there. In fact, it would be accurate to say that Jordan’s life has included as much heartache, confusion, and sadness as it has hope, promise and happiness. My tears that Sunday morning in the bathroom were mostly because the feeling I’d had about Jordan for 16 years was beginning to dim, and I was scared. I knew I was the last person to have that feeling, and if I lost it, who would be Jordan’s champion? I cried to Jason, “My greatest fear is meeting Heavenly Father and having him show me Jordan’s mission that he’d been unable to fulfill because I’d failed to help him recognize his worth.” I’d left our bathroom discussion the way I’d started it—still desperate to somehow get Jordan to see the greatness within him.

As I enjoyed my own personal moment with the Spirit, Jordan and Paula wrapped up their conversation, and Jordan took his place on the stand. For a brief moment then, Paula fancied herself a psychic or something, turned to me, placed her hands firmly enough on mine that I couldn’t have broken free if I’d wanted to and said, “People will want to know him and what he has to say. Don’t try to shelter him from that. Do you understand?” I’m not sure of my response. I think I just nodded.

As the meeting began, I resumed my role as Paula’s tour guide and explained each part of what was happening—prayers, singing, the curtain opening up behind us for latecomers, why a woman with an accent was “preaching” from the pulpit. Paula didn’t seem to know how to whisper when she expressed her disdain for “you people” needing the words (hymnbooks) to sing praises. Paula was less than impressed with many things, and she let me know. I tried to reassure Paula that even though our meeting was probably quite different from other church meetings she may have attended, the Spirit was there, and she would feel it.

When the young men passing the sacrament lined up in front of us, Paula asked what they were doing there and told them they looked like they were ready to take her to jail. Huh? Needless to say, several members of the congregation turned around to find out who this irreverent woman was. Someone may have said something, I didn’t hear it, but Paula sharply told them to turn around and shut up.

I didn’t know at this point what to make of Paula. She’d made it abundantly clear that she needed and wanted to be there, but she didn’t seem to be getting much out of the meeting. Again, I put my arm around her, and I silently begged of the Spirit what I needed to do for Paula. I didn’t receive an answer of what to do, just the assurance that things would unfold as they should.

Finally, after being able to pay very little attention to the meeting due to the energy it took to educate Paula to her satisfaction, it was Jordan’s turn to speak. This brought on a whole new set of anxious feelings because my unpredictable son was about to give a talk that he hadn’t allowed me to preview. A talk that the woman sitting next to me, who was not shy about expressing her feelings, was convinced the Holy Spirit had led her there to witness. Would Jordan embarrass me? Would his talk “deliver” for Paula? When will I ever learn to quit worrying and let the Spirit do his work?!?

As Jordan approached the stand, Paula and I simultaneously sat up straighter. Jordan proceeded with confidence, eloquence, and a little bit of humor to deliver a great message on love. I cringed just a little at Jordan’s sarcastic first example of showing love to his neighbors. He said, “When the rocks from the neighbor’s yard get pushed into the street, I show them love by going over and letting them know.” Most of our ward understands Jordan’s sense of humor, but would Paula? Fortunately, I didn’t waste much time wondering because Paula slapped her hand on my knee just then, made an “mmm mmm” sound and said (again, NOT in a whisper), “He tells it like it is!” Apparently Paula was getting what she came for, and I was settling into a proud, relaxed smile. That was my boy giving an amazing talk.

Near the end of his talk, as Jordan bore his testimony, he, and of course I, teared up. Jordan spoke about meeting Paula that morning. He shared what Paula had told him about being led by the Spirit, one street at a time, to be there that morning. Jordan explained how he knew it was the Spirit because Paula walked into our hard-to-find, somewhat hidden, building instead of the grand, hard-to-miss, Greek Orthodox church next door. His emotions deepened when he touched his chest and said, “The Spirit led her here today to meet me. To hear me.” I’ll never forget Jordan’s next words, “My testimony skyrocketed.” What a crowning moment! I wept. Jordan wept. Paula wept.

It was out of character for Jordan to cry, during a talk no less, and he said as much, “I don’t cry…”

The next words were…

From Paula! She jumped to her feet and, from the last pew (which was now the middle of a crowded room since the curtains had opened up) announced before the entire congregation, “It’s okay! I’ll cry for you!” I felt my eyes bug out of my head as I, once again and for the umpteenth time that morning, witnessed entirely too many thoughts and emotions.

Paula carried on as she announced her name and that what Jordan was saying was true—that she had been (say it with me now) “led by the Holy Spirit” there that day.

Will she stop talking? Should I stop her? I can’t hear Jordan. Will Jordan be rattled? What is everyone thinking? She’s still standing. Do people think Paula is my guest? Is the priesthood on the stand going to do something? Is anyone going to do something? My heart is going to jump out of my chest. My mouth is dry. Keep going, Jordan.

The thoughts just scrambled over each other inside my head when, all at once, I noticed the entire ward was acting as if this was a completely ordinary meeting. Jordan was carrying on with his talk as if Paula’s comments were part of the plan. The surrounding calm took hold on me, too, thankfully before the chaos in my mind started to show on my face, and I gently touched Paula’s elbow. It wasn’t immediate, but she finished her words and sat down. I put my arm around Paula I think to comfort her but maybe, just a small maybe, it was to hold her down.

Jordan continued his talk by sharing his feelings about President Hinkley’s example to him right up until he died—feelings and inspiration Jordan had felt that I was learning about for the first time. My heart was enlarging with pride at every word Jordan spoke. My ugly cry face was far beyond repair, and that was the furthest thing from my mind.

All too soon, Jordan closed his talk. No sooner did Jordan utter, “Amen” than Paula proudly rose to her feet, once again, with her own sustaining, “AMEN!” and a one-woman standing ovation. Because, for Paula, amen wasn’t adequate to describe her emotions, she made one last announcement to the congregation before sitting down, “That boy is an apostle!”

I could only imagine what everyone was thinking. Probably something like, “Sure glad I didn’t sleep in today. Of all the Sundays to miss, this definitely wasn’t it.”

The meeting continued on in what now felt a little anti-climactic, and Paula quietly (seriously, NOW she found her whispering voice) told me she needed to leave. I knew without question that is was okay because Paula had done and experienced that day what she’d come to do and experience. She asked for my phone number, and I gave her mine. With my head still spinning and my heart as full as it had been in a long time, I hugged Paula hard and thanked her for listening to the Holy Spirit. I told her it was a gift, that not everyone listened to it, and I was grateful to her because she did. With tears in her eyes, Paula hugged me back, thanked me, and reminded me one last time, lest I ever forget, that my son was filled with greatness. And she was gone.

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