The circumstances leading up to general conference last spring were no different for me than the session six months prior to that, except that I found myself in a new leadership position in my ward. As I prepared to participate in conference, there were a couple of specific questions surrounding my new calling that lead me to seek answers from the Lord during that special time of instruction, which, as has been promised by our leaders, were revealed to me by the time conference was over.
One morning, a few days after the conclusion of conference--and another wonderful weekend of "manna from heaven" (John 6:35), I was reflecting on some of the messages that were shared. I don't even recall which talks I was contemplating at the time, and I had yet to reread any of the messages at that point. I was simply letting the effect of that spiritually-charged weekend wash over me. What I do remember, though, is how unexpectedly unsettled I felt about a previous decision my husband and I determined conclusively.
Our four-year-old son, JJ, would be turning five a few months later in August, just days before school would begin. His birthday would qualify him to start kindergarten. At the time he was born, however, we had mostly decided, due to JJ's gender and late summer birthday, that delaying kindergarten that first year would be in his (and the school's) best interest. When JJ turned eighteen months old, he was identified as having speech issues. For the next three years and in two different states, JJ labored hard to master the speech skills that he lacked. Even though he had made great strides, this developmental set back sealed the deal for me and my husband. In March of last year, with kindergarten registration on the horizon, we were adamant about not sending JJ to school less than two weeks after he turned five. My training and experience as an elementary school teacher was a second witness to our decision. It was a no-brainer, and we felt good about it.
Until I didn't--just a few days after general conference last April.
The feeling I received was completely out of the blue, and the words that came to my mind were, "Keeping JJ home this year isn't in his best interest." I was so stunned by this opposing idea, that I did a mental double-take and had to literally stop myself to make sure I understood it correctly. The uneasy feeling didn't change or go away, so I started to mentally and, in my solitude, even verbally, debate my viewpoint. How is this NOT in his best interest? He's too young. There are books and studies that show the older a child is when they begin school, the more successful they are. He needs another year to grow and develop. Never mind the fact that he can't communicate very well. But the stupor of thought (D&C 9:9) kept persisting. I finally realized I could keep repeating the argument to myself or I could listen with a little more intent to see if there was anything else to this sudden impression. I cleared my mind and opened myself up for more revelation. There was no mistaking the next thought that came. "If he stays home with you all year, his speech won't progress."
(Long pause). Huh. I actually hadn't thought about that. We figured that because he was so behind in communicating on top of his young age, that it just made sense to keep him home. It never occurred to us that our well-meaning intentions would actually impede his speech development.
Before he was two years old, JJ has been the recipient of special services through the school districts we lived in and the programs have been wonderful. Once he turned three, JJ was bussed, twice a week, to and from the campus where he attended speech class. The eligibility requirements for these services state, however, that once a child turns five and they are allowed to begin kindergarten, they no longer qualify for the specially funded assistance JJ was currently receiving. However, as a public school student, JJ would still have interaction with the speech therapist on site, though the frequency would be much less than his experience in speech class. Yet if we chose to keep JJ home, he would miss out on occasional speech services at school. JJ is our youngest child, so he would be stuck at home with me without anyone else, especially young siblings, to talk to. When I reached out to JJ's teacher in the speech program and informed her we were considering starting JJ in school after all, she was thrilled. She told me that one of the best ways for JJ to practice his speech and language skills is to interact with same-age peers and a kindergarten classroom is a great way for him to generalize the skills he's learned. All things I could not offer him, regardless of my love and dedication, if he stayed at home an extra school year. Despite his great efforts to reach the level of communication he was at, JJ was still a good nine months to a year behind average peers. After receiving the redirecting revelation to reconsider our decision, coupled with extensive research, my husband and I realized that keeping JJ home would indeed be a hindrance to his speech development. And then where would we be?
Nearly a year later, I still remember how the prompting had come to me suddenly--like a flash of lightning on a clear day. Just as quickly as it came, however, it was followed up with another impression. "This is because of general conference." The additional phrase was equally startling to me. President Uchtdorf has taught that, "Members of the Church are entitled to personal revelation as they listen to and study the inspired words spoken at general conference. Answers to your specific prayers may come directly from a particular talk or from a specific phrase. At other times answers may come in a seemingly unrelated word, phrase, or song. A heart filled with gratitude for the blessings of life and an earnest desire to hear and follow the words of counsel will prepare the way for personal revelation." (No Ordinary Blessing, Ensign, Sept. 2011). I have always had a testimony of the powerful impact general conference can have on us when we participate in it and when we reread and study the messages. Yet for some reason, I was not prepared for revelation to come after general conference and before reading and continuing to ponder and apply the inspired words. But that is precisely what happened.
I am happy to report that JJ has had an incredible year in kindergarten. When JJ was just barely twenty months old, the speech pathologist working with him, told us to prepare ourselves for the hard reality that he would mostly likely need a machine in order to communicate with the outside world for the rest of his life. We were devastated. Yet three years later, and after being in school for almost a year, JJ's speech has exploded and he is reading on levels we didn't think would be possible for him right now! I will always credit this success as a miracle borne directly from the incredible blessing of general conference.
There are blessings that will be ours as we reread and study the words of the prophets and leaders given twice each year because "the words spoken at general conference should be a compass that points the way for us during the coming months" (No Ordinary Blessing, Ensign, Sept. 2011). However, I also know there are exceptional blessings we receive only through taking an active part in conference as it happens. I gained a powerful witness a long time ago about the significance of uniting with Saints all over the world to participate in and witness general conference when it's broadcasted. What I didn't anticipate was the powerful, carryover effect general conference can have on you, like positive aftershocks from a spiritual earthquake, directing your path and helping you solve problems you didn't even know you needed help with! What an incredible gift from our loving Heavenly Father! I watched conference in April just like I've been doing every six months for decades before that and this was the first time I've had such an experience. We just never know when the Lord needs to intercede to help us see a better way for His children--all of whom He knows far better than we do--and who can see the end from the beginning. General conference is the extraordinary conduit through which answers can arrive during the actual proceedings or at any time after that--and sometimes when you least expect them to!