Attending General Conference—a Balm of Gilead for My Broken Soul
June 2024

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Attending General Conference—a Balm of Gilead for My Broken Soul

The author lives in Colorado, USA.

After the loss of my mother, the kindness, music, and shared wisdom I experienced while attending general conference were a blessing to me.

Rabbi Joe embracing Elder Carpenter at general conference

In graceful embrace: Elder Matthew L. Carpenter of the Seventy (right) and Rabbi Joe Charnes (left) at the October 2019 general conference.

Photo courtesy of Michael Law.

A week and a half before the October 2019 general conference session, I, along with family and friends, had to bury the loveliness of my mother, Eudie (YOU-dee) Charnes. My heart was broken, grieving, and empty beyond empty. The beauty of Eudie, the beauty that was Eudie, was, simply and sadly, no more. She was no longer before me to hold, to hug, or to nourish—to bless, to sing to, to cry over, or to pray with. The life and the light that had given me life had died, her blessedness now gone and beyond. And so too a part of me died with her also, a part deep within, leaving me forever without. With grace she died, embraced by faith, interlaced in the loving arms of her beloved family: of my wife, Sarah; of our daughter, Yael; and of mine, her newly orphaned son.

We were all together, yet completely alone—each alone in our individual loss, but bound together in our shared loss. And that fragile togetherness that we shared with each other was helped, and at times was even held together, by the kindness and presence of two living Latter-day Saint community treasures: Brother Mike Law and his eternal celestial companion, Sister Debbie Law, of Colorado, USA. Their humble hearts overflow with a love that can only be described as being inspired from above, and we are forever grateful for the light of their accompanying presence during our walk through the darkness and the despair of death.

It was during this time, a mere two days after burying my mother, that my desperate cry for the blessed was answered—answered in the form of a simple phone call and offer from my treasured friend Brother Mike Law. He was again reaching out and reaching in, as always, to see how I was faring and wayfaring along, in loss along this long and lonely journey of woe.

While we were speaking, I noticed a subtle tenor of uncertainty entering into Mike’s voice as he asked me the following question: “Joe, I know the answer is probably going to be no, but would you like to go to general conference, if I can get tickets?” My response was simple, immediate, direct, and urgent: “Mike, there’s actually nowhere else that I’d rather be.”

Those were my words, friends; those were my words—words sung forth in solemn song and solemn sorrow. I just knew that general conference would be that consecrating moment of graceful uplift for my heart. I knew the generous arms of every Latter-day Saint–inspired heart would be unconditionally extended and extending in love—that the arms of their loving hearts simply would not fail.

At general conference, people simply smile from the heart. They say hello from the heart, and they glow from the heart. There is an unspoken language of presence of heart. Their presence says hello. Just being there says hello. Just being there is being embraced.

That was the balm my aching soul needed—that heart-embracing balm of general conference kindness. That is why general conference would truly be that healing balm of Gilead for my soul in need.

And this is a general truism of your grand faith. Wise, loving, nurturing kindness is the service anthem of the Latter-day Saint community; it is the emblematic hallmark and legacy of your faith. If the old adage is true that “the highest form of wisdom is kindness,” then general conference is truly a gathering place for some of the wisest human beings on the planet.

You are “a light unto the nations,” and a light unto my heart. Bless you, Mike, for following the promptings of your heart. Your devotion to helping me restore peace within has the heavenly choir above singing, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).

The glory of general conference continued with its hymnal wisdom. And I emphasize hymnal wisdom, not just hymnal beauty. All sacred hymns are works of poetic and melodic majesty that inspire our souls to soar, in and through song. But hymns are also deeply profound meditations, always to be pondered and prayed from the heart. Their lyrics are meant to shepherd our lives, to model for us wisdom, holy and Divine. From the glory of hymnal wisdom, we move into the glory of wisdom itself, as Saints and sages now come before all to enlighten our life with true soulful call. In what can only be described as a series of grand wisdom offerings, men and women of sage and saintly heart gift humanity with a scenic tour of the sacred, offering and uncovering a universe of true light.

In a longer article, “General Reflections: A Rabbi’s Meditation on General Conference,” I have shared some of the messages that stood out to me, followed by comments of my own on a few of those holy highlights.

I leave you now, friends, with one final offering of glory. It involves a saintly sister and Brigham Young University (BYU) student who blessed me with words of gratitude from a place deep within. I repeat and reflect on her words often.

On the glorious Monday following general conference, I had the privilege of visiting Professor David Seely’s class on ancient Israel at BYU–Provo. After an opening prayer to help open our hearts to the heavenly, both above and within, we began class by sharing our thoughts on general conference and the nourishing gift it had been. After sharing some of my personal reflections on experiencing moments divine, our saintly Latter-day Saint sister responded with, “Thank you for reminding me of the beauty of my faith.” To this day, her words still echo within.

To you, dear sister, whose name is unknown to me, and to the entire Latter-day Saint community, let me also say thank you to you. Thank you for the beauty of your faith. Thank you for reminding me of the beauty of faith. Thank you for reminding and inspiring me to live and express my own faith more beautifully. Thank you for reminding me of the beautiful potential that faith can produce and blossom into. Your faith is truly a “light unto the nations” and a bright shining star in my heart.

Your way is a way of melody, and a way of melodious grace. It is a melody that inspires its faithful followers to live lives of service, with love of service, in loving service to all. That is your gift, that is your blessing, and that is your Latter-day Saint glory.

General conference is General Glory. I bless you in all that you do, as you “Go Forth with Faith.” “God Be with You Till We Meet Again.”