The Faces of London
So it's 2:00 pm and I'm having the hardest time sitting down and getting started on this. I know how long this requires and each time I have to gird up and fresh courage take!
Our weeks are beginning to get some cadence to them (now that we've been here all of 3 1/2 weeks). And I realize I will probably be to some degree in a continuous state of fatigue. Like any job or vocation there's work and then there's WORK. And always there is sweet reward. A mission has all the above. More and more I recognize this is exactly where we should be, doing what we should be doing and doing it at the time the Lord needs us here. We are grateful and humbled by His awareness of us personally.
This past Saturday we had our first real tourist adventure riding the tube to Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square. We are so insulated here in South Kensington that this was the first time I really got to see what the rest of London holds. The buildings, the churches, the statues, the museums, the history and age of these buildings are all beyond an American's comprehension. Our country is just a baby in comparision. Even our flat we are living in was built in the mid-1800's. It's very fun.
The other thing that continues to blow our minds is the degree of diversity found not only in the Britannia Ward but everywhere you go. There are so many languages been spoken that it's almost a shock to hear someone speaking English. The area we live is filled with young people or young families with one or two children, at most. We feel ancient walking down the street. Rarely do you see anyone our age here.
A few days ago Jim came bouncing in after a walk so excited to tell me he had found gardens for me so I won't miss mine so much. He had just returned from walking the Kensington Gardens (connected to the Palace) and was blown away at its beauty. And it's not even Spring yet. But we do have some bulbs beginning to bloom; a sure sign of spring coming. I can't even imagine how beautiful it will be here in Spring. Of course when it gets watered EVERY DAY it should be beautiful!!!
On Tuesday night we had Institute again at our flat. I think the kids like it a little too much. They stayed until after 12:00 and Meg(umi), one of the older YSA in our ward, finally escorted them out. We are finding that each YSA has such incredible life stories, many of them tragic. I'm amazed at their courage and determination to move forward. So many are converts with very few years in the church. For example Megumi has been a member only 4 years. She joined the church while attending Harvard and was actually baptized by Clayton Christensen!! She has totally committed her life to service and furthering the work, even though she has a big time job with McKenzie Another name; Arrit is a Brit from near Birmingham who has been a member 4 months. She's had such a hard life but is filled with enthusiasm and love of the gospel that has totally changed her life and her relationships. The YSA in Britannia's ages are as diverse as their cultures. It's got SO MANY professional singles working big time jobs, SO MANY working on their masters and doctorates, all trying to be in the world but not getting caught up in it. Such great courage
I wanted to share a couple experiences from this week. The first one happened at FHE on Monday night. One of the young men brought a video just out about bullying with Elder Uchtdorf speaking. It's really a timely message, especially now with the ability to cyber-bully, which it addressed. After the video was over we had a powerful discussion about their experiences. Over 90% of the young adults in that room had been bullied at some time in their lives. I was shocked at the high number.
I felt inspired to share one of my most shameful memories growing up. I want to share it with you, as well.
Cruelty and it's Tragic Consequences; The Shirley Corder Story
When I was in sixth grade my parents moved across town to a home we lived in for the next 30 years. I was the new kid on the block. It's hard to show up that late in elementary school because kids have made their friends by then. After a very awkward first couple months I begin to make friends. One, in particular, whose name was Shirley Corder, was especially nice and included me with all her friends. We became good friends and I came to love not only her but her mom, as well.
When we started 7th grade there were two girls that had gone to a different elementary school than me, Melinda and Connie. They were little, cute, sassy, girls with a bit of an edge and attitude to them that made them seem very "Cool" to me. We became a threesome and besties for that year, but by 8th grade I realized that these two friends were continuing to go a direction that I couldn't go if I wanted to keep the standards my parents and the church had taught me. It was in 8th grade that I made the decision to stay true and I turned to the girls my age at church and begin to hang out with them.
Through all of this I had remained friends with Shirley, although we didn't hang out together anymore. I could tell she would have loved to be part of our group. Through the next few years into high school I would see her and always go out of my way to say hi. I was disappointed to see that once we hit high school she started hanging out with "the Hoods", kids that were in to bad stuff and dark things.
And then Shirley was gone. Our junior year I heard she had dropped out of school and at age 16 had married a guy in the army and had left San Luis Obispo. I remember thinking "What a loser!"
Fast forward to our first High School Reunion. It was 5 years after graduation. I had just married Jim and was excited to go see all the friends we'd lost touch with. To my surprise Shirley was there. I immediately went over to her, excited to hear about her life. She gave me a very cool reception, which surprised me. But I continued to press her about her life. For dropping out of school at 16 and getting married at such a young age it was surprising how she was still married to the guy, but they had been unable to have any children. I asked about her mom and generally just caught up. Even after talking I could still tell she felt distant.
Jim had to leave earlier than I wanted and because Shirley's mom lived over close to where my parents house was I asked if she could give me a ride to my parent's home where we were staying. Reluctantly she said yes.
I can so clearly remember sitting in front of my parent's house and turning to Shirley and asking her what was wrong, why was she so cold to me. She looked at me incredulously and asked how I could ask a question like that after what I'd done.
I was shocked! What had I done? I truly had no clue what she was talking about and told her so. She looked at me with disbelief and said, "You know what I'm talking about...the birthday party in 8th grade." I still was clueless. That's when she told me the story that haunts me to this very day.
In our 8th grade year Shirley was in a math class with Melinda, the girl I'd been such good friends with the year before. Somehow in their discussion it came up that Shirley was turning 14 in two weeks. Melinda jumped all over it, asking Shirley if she would like to have a BIG party to celebrate. Shirley was elated that someone like Melinda would want to do that for someone like her. For the next two weeks every day in class they would discuss what they were going to do. It was Shirley's job to provide the music and food for 40 people and Melinda would get out the announcements and get everyone invited. Shirley's mom went all out, with a DJ and tons of food and decorations. Shirley felt like a Princess.
The night of the party NOT ONE person showed up. NOT ONE because I'm assuming Melinda never told anyone about the party. I have such a sick feeling every time I think of Shirley and her mom sitting there with enough food to feed and army, decorations and music and not one person showing up. It makes me want to throw up.
Of course Shirley assumed I was in on "The Joke". She assumed I was still close friends with Melinda, not realizing that I had stopped hanging with them before this ever happened. I'm sure her thinking I was involved was the greatest betrayal of all because of our previous friendship and how she had been the one to reached out to me two years before. She just knew she was the brunt of this very "funny" joke and the whole school was laughing at her behind her back. She didn't come to school for several weeks and when she finally did return she determined if the "Pop" kids wouldn't be her friends she knew a group that would. That's when she started hanging with the rough crowd at school and eventually dropping out and leaving town.
I sat in that car horrified and I begin to cry. At first she wouldn't believe me. To this day I pray that she eventually believed I had nothing to do with it, although I will never know for sure. When I left her car I went into my parents house and fell to my knees and asked forgiveness for my judgement of her, my lack of compassion, my blindness. I was so self-centered I had never taken the time to find out what was really going on with my old friend. To this day I pray there were no other incidents, that in my self absorption I never saw or just let pass and did nothing about.
Since that night in the car with Shirley I've tried to live courageously. If I've seen unkindness or cruelty I don't let it pass. I speak up. I defend. I try to reach out. I seek to be kind. I do it for HER!
I'm out of time. We have our first multi-stake dance and I have to be there to receive the food being delivered and Jim has a teaching appointment with the Elders. They are teaching Shane; an amazing young Chinese man that has hit it off with Jim. He's very close to joining and will be such an amazing asset to the church. At 8:00 Jim and I get our first time ever to act as chaperons. Our lives are being filled with "Firsts"!!!
One more thing I want to share on behalf of my companion. As you all know Jim and I work well together because he's always done his thing and I do mine. We have very different strengths. To his credit Jim has become my very depended on partner. I've been shocked at his decision to assist me in any way I need. He actually looks for ways to serve me since my callings here are very demanding on my physical efforts. He's been irreplaceable. It's such a testament to how we can change if we simply have enough reason to change. I could never do what's required of me without his help. He also is doing his Jim thing with the guys here that are truly stuck. He's been a true blessing to them as he coaches them how to move forward. He's loved and adored by the girls and so needed by the guys here. Our relationship is growing even after 40 years of marriage on March 28th. Just think what it will be when we have eternity to keep growing!!!
My Shirley Corder story is written specifically for our grandchildren. I NEVER want any of you to live with the feelings I STILL have over that experience! Learn from your Maga's mistakes, I pray!
Loves to each one of you!