Over the weekend, I had the amazing experience of attending a youth activity where we read the Book of Mormon in 24 hours. (Two days, 12 hours each day.) 25 of us spent the weekend in a lovely home, sprawled out on every inch of their living room floor. The kids brought pillows, blankets, snacks...whatever they needed to be comfortable and alert through the entire 24 hour marathon. (We did take a break to go home and sleep at night, but all waking hours for two days were spent together reading and listening.) There were scheduled breaks (and a few unscheduled ones) and plenty of food. I couldn't have planned a more ideal weekend if I had tried...reading the Book of Mormon uninterrupted, in a beautiful air conditioned home, with a fluffy blanket, slippers, unlimited snacks, and meals brought in by wonderful ward members! How could that get any better?
The reason I wanted to attend this event was because I love the Book of Mormon. I already knew that. I've read it in it's entirety a few times and each time I love it more. I love the way it feels to hear the words when you read along with the CD. I love the Spirit that comes from reading the scriptures daily with real purpose. I love the influence for good that it is in my life and in my children's lives. I knew all those things going into this. And I knew that all of those feelings that I have previously had about the Book of Mormon would only increase through an intense experience like the one that was planned.
What I didn't know was how much I would come to love the kids who participated with me.
There were 20 kids all together. And except for my two daughters who were going to participate with me, I hadn't even considered the rest of the group. I had planned to be in the background and take up as little space and discussion time as possible. I'm not a youth or a youth leader and I didn't want to usurp any of their time. But, as usual, my plans to be inconspicuous didn't quite work out the way I had planned.
On Friday morning, I parked myself in the middle of 5 Beehives. These girls are BRAND NEW Young Women...most of them have only been 12 for a few weeks which means that they were very recently my Activity Day girls who I hadn't seen ALL month. We all spread our blankets out and made ourselves totally comfortable on the floor and caught up on our summers during the breaks. During the reading part, though, they were attentive and reverent and SO eager to be part of this activity. It was inspiring to watch them dig into the scriptures. I was so impressed that even the very youngest participants were actively involved the whole time!
I sat next to both Spell Girl and TCD for a few hours each day. Spell Girl is very happily the oldest member of those Beehives, so she didn't have as much need for me as she usually does. TCD's friends, on the other hand, were all out of town, so she stayed pretty close (apparently I'm a better option than either Beehives or BOYS!) Each time we had a break, she would grab some snacks and plop down next to me in the giant recliner that I had claimed from one of the boys early Saturday morning. But when we read, both girls were totally attentive. Spell Girl had a terrible headache on Saturday, but she wouldn't let me take her home because she wanted to finish the whole book. And during one of our more moving discussion breaks after 3 Nephi, I watched TCD get very emotional across the room.
By Saturday night, we all felt pretty comfortable with each other and we were ALL getting a little giggly and squirrel-y. Just as we started Ether, I moved over to sit in the middle of a few of the boys who had been gradually losing their concentration. They painfully endured being quiet for 15 chapters before taking out their scriptures and reading along as we started Moroni. One of them asked me a question about something we were reading. And then the other one marked a few verses in his scriptures. You could see the change in their interest and intensity as we read the very last few chapters of the Book of Mormon.
When we ended the last chapter, the Bishop asked all of us to kneel close together in a circle and say a prayer. In the prayer, he asked that we would all take Moroni's challenge, that we would ponder the things we had read over the last two days, and that we would find out for ourselves if they were true. There is no greater power than to be kneeling in prayer next to people with one common goal. And after this weekend, I know of no greater power than kneeling in prayer next to YOUTH with one common goal.
After the prayer, the Bishop invited those who were willing, to bear their testimonies. And one by one, I watched almost every one of those kids stand and say something amazing including those two boys I sat next to at the end. They testified of the Savior. They testified of the power of prayer. They testified of the example of the prophets who have come before us. They testified of the feeling of the Spirit. They testified of the importance of keeping the commandments. I was overwhelmed at the things they already know...things that have taken me 40+ years to fully understand. And at that moment, I understood the awesome privilege that it was to be sharing that experience with those kids.
What I thought was going to be a perfect weekend turned out to be so much more than I expected. Ridiculously high expectations sometimes yield amazing surprises!
I know the Book of Mormon is true. I know that Heavenly Father intended for me to be in that home with those 20 kids this weekend for a very specific reason. And I'm so glad that's where I chose to be.