Last night James and I were invited to a small dinner with Elder M. Russell Ballard. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is organized using the same structure as in the New Testament, which means at the head of the church is a prophet (Thomas Monson), and helping him are twelve apostles. Elder Ballard is one of those apostles. He was in town for a training conference for local church leadership and last night he attended a dinner at the church in Brampton, with about 30 other leaders. James was asked last week to attend the dinner to perform a song, a little spiritual entertainment. Usually I would be his accompanist, but this time the song he sang is much more powerful when it is sung a capela, and so I was able to simply attend as his wife.
It was a little overwhelming to be in such company. The local Stake Presidents, Temple President and Mission Presidents were all in attendance, with their wives. These are spiritual giants; leaders who are spiritually in tune and working really hard to guide people to the gospel of Christ. They are all much older than James and I, and although they are humble people, it is easy to sit in awe of the life progress they have made.
We all arrived about 15 minutes early, which allowed for some casual social conversation among us all, and we stood in small groups, learning about each other. James and I stood with our Stake President from the previous stake we lived in, with whom we are good friends, and he and his wife were standing with Barbara Ballard, Elder Ballard's wife. What a sweet woman she is! Her manner was gentle and kind, her eyes twinkled as she spoke of her 40 grandchildren and 30 great grand children. She is truly the matriarch of her family, and I could feel her strength of character and spirituality she has developed over her nearly 80 years. To be in a room with so much to aspire to was inspiring.
James sang just before dinner was served. He was asked to sing "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief," a beautiful poetic story that speaks of service to our fellow men. It is 7 verses long, but tells a moving story that captivates as you listen to the lyrics. When sung a capela, you truly have a chance to hear the words, without the added fancy of piano. I can brag as both a wife and a musician - James was brilliant. I coached him through the song as he rehearsed, fine-tuning the dramatic presentation, working on dynamics and speed and shading to help give each sentence its greatest impact. Afterward, several people, including Barbara Ballard, noted that this was the first time they had ever really internalized the entire story. Most complimentary of all, however, was Elder Ballard's question: "Have you recorded that yet?" When James answered no, Elder Ballard replied "You need to - just as you just sang it. A capela." Elder Ballard's words soft and genuine. The comment was not about James being a world-class singer; he's good, but admitedly not a Josh Groban or Andrea Bocelli. No, the comment was about the interpretation, a simple way of singing this song that touches the spirit inside us.
The dinner was scrumptious and the company interesting. While we weren't sitting at the Ballard's table (we were just the entertainment, after all, and so we held back and let everyone else sit first), the four other sitting with us were good company. There was a grandparent husband and wife, he being the Stake President of the London area, a single man in his forties (an artist) and the Stake President of the Oshawa area, a man also in his forties whose wife was on vacation in Mexico. We laughed a lot, discussing all sorts of topics. That morning, a mutual friend of us all, Graeme Hingston, passed away, and we spent some time reminiscing about this quiet, strong man who was an inspiration to us all, touching each of us in the different ways he served in the Kingdom of God.
The two hours passed in the blink of an eye and before we knew it the Ballard's were speaking a few words of gratitude and love, bearing their testimonies of the work we are all doing, and heading out to spend some time in the mission home, where they served three years as Mission President nearly 40 years ago. In a wonderful "circle of life" moment, they announced that their daughter, who spent three of her teenage years in that home back when they served here, will be arriving in July with her husband, the newly called Mission President of the area. What an experience for her, as now she will be the "mission mother" to the young men serving as missionaries, rather than being the teen daughter of the mission president. Her husband served his mission here back then, also.
We lingered as long as we could, speaking with old friends (including the Brampton Stake President and his wife, the Goobies, whom I used to babysit for all the time when I was a teen), before needing to get back to Benjamin. I am grateful for my sister and her fiance for coming in to watch Benjamin so James and I could both attend this amazing opportunity. Although I felt young and inexperienced in life among such company, it helps to inspire me in my own personal growth and commitment. It will be an evening to remember for a lifetime.