Since the day Wilson was born, he has been my teacher as much as my child. I watch in amazement as he faces the daily challenges of life in a wheelchair with optimism and joy. One Sunday in Primary, he taught me how to stand when I didn’t think I could.
It happened not long after Wilson suddenly decided that he did not want to go to Primary anymore. He was still in junior primary and screamed in resistance as we left the chapel to go to Primary. It continued for a few weeks with no real explanation or improvement. His teachers suggested that it might have something to do with singing time, since that was when he usually became irritated and upset.
Loud noises irritate Wilson, so I thought the piano might be too loud where he was sitting. I went to Primary with him to assess the situation. He was, indeed, fine during sharing time. The reason for Wilson’s anxiety became clear to me the minute singing time commenced.
The Primary chorister introduced the theme for the day and then immediately asked the children to stand up to sing the first song. At the conclusion of the song, they were instructed to sit back down, then directed to stand again for the next song. This pattern was repeated with each new song.
The chorister also asked the children to perform different actions during the songs. She asked that they turn around, stand on one foot, or bend their knees. Every instruction given to them that day could only be performed in a standing position.
My eyes filled with tears of exclusion as Wilson became more and more agitated. When he also began to cry, we left. My heart ached for my sweet little boy.
I know that excluding people with disabilities is usually not intentional. In most situations, like this one, there are other children involved who have needs, and I never fault anyone for not seeing my son’s needs. Catering to the “one” is a difficult task, but I knew that we had to come up with a plan get Wilson involved in singing time.
The next Sunday, we went back to singing time with a plan. When the children were instructed to stand, Wilson would sit tall in his wheelchair, lift himself off his seat with his arms, raise his hands high in the air, or simply sing as loud as he could. He would figuratively stand, even though his legs could not.
I noticed that before I attended Primary with Wilson, he was not able to pinpoint why he was feeling uncomfortable in singing time. He lacked the ability to see the situation for what it was or to recognize what he could do with his own abilities and talents. He needed my help and encouragement. Together, we found a way for him to participate so that he could feel accomplished and included. He was simply not able to do what the other children were doing, but he could do something. When he did, it was just as profound for him as standing on his feet.
“I suggest to all believers everywhere that we have a solemn religious duty to be witnesses of God. We must affirm our religious faiths, unite to insist upon our right to the free exercise of our religions, and honor their vital roles in establishing and preserving and prospering nations” (Dallin H. Oaks, Stand as Witnesses of God, Ensign, Mar. 2015).
They ring in my ears as a passionate call to action. We have been directed to “Stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places.” (Mosiah 18:9) We are living in the last days—no doubt we will be provided with plenty of opportunities to proclaim our beliefs to those who boast the message that religious belief is not important.
In my life I know that I have had moments of uncertainty about my ability to respond to this call. Like my son, I felt unable to do what was asked of me. However, I believe that internalizing how we will defend religious liberty as individuals will lead each of us to a different course of action. The call is as unique and individual as we are.
My son was successful in singing time because he found a way to do what was asked despite his individual circumstances. If we compare ourselves to others and what they are doing to stand for truth and righteousness, we may end up frustrated, as Wilson did. We will be unable to imagine what the Lord would have us do to share our beliefs and defend our faith.
But if we put our faith in God, we can stand in unique and powerful ways. “We are daughters of our Heavenly Father who loves us and we love him” (Young Women Personal Progress, Young Women Theme). I am learning that if we earnestly seek in faith for His guidance and direction in how we can respond to the call to defend religious liberty, He will certainly prompt us, prepare us, increase our abilities, and magnify our talents so that no matter how hard our task may appear, we will be enabled to STAND as His witnesses.
Eleah Boyd is the mother of five great kids and caretaker of their 2 Leopard Geckos, 1 tarantula, two dogs, and endless piles of laundry and dishes. She and her amazing husband, Robert Boyd, are the owners of Robert A. Boyd Fine Art Gallery in Houston, Texas.