Saturday, April 26, 2014

Our First Easter Sunday

I just lost 3 hours of work on this blog. I'm devastated! I really just want to walk away from this and wait to write next week...but I promised. This will be short. Still I need to make a  record of a couple things that have happened this week. (I really don't know how Nephi was able to make a SECOND set of records for the Book of Mormon. Obvious to me he was a far better person than I!)

I mentioned last week what a fabulous Easter week it had been. It was culminated on Saturday night. Jim and I caught a train that took us up to Watford, where we caught a taxi to meet up with the Johnsons at Toby's Carvery, a fun restaurant. They are the YSA Senior couple over the Watford stake. They have the next highest number of YSA at 35. We've been able to exchange ideas for activities, but no one in the mission can help me with the food. Even Sister Johnson doesn't do full meals, but more snack and finger food for their YSA. With them they had friends visiting from Boise who, by time dinner was over, were ready to put in their mission papers. This work is contagious! They were smittened yet overwhelmed at the same time with what we do. It's so fun to talk to other Seniors working in this mission to find out about what is working and  how they are accomplishing their goals.

After dinner we had to catch another taxi that took us to the Stake Center where Rob Gardner's "Lamb of God" was being performed. It was led by a young man (just aged out of YSA) and YSA from all over the UK. It had a full orchestra, solos and choir. I kept my expectations in check, having no idea what to expect. I already knew I absolutely loved the music. It's powerful and so spiritual, but it has to be sung beautifully and it's not easy music to sing. We had several instrumentalists and a couple vocalists from our ward in it and wanted to support them.

Was I in for a huge surprise. It was AMAZING!!! The soloists couldn't have been better. The orchestra was lovely and the spirit was abundant. It was so worth the hassle and money to get there. WE LOVED IT and were so grateful we had gone!! That night my heart was filled to overflowing in gratitude for the gift Christ gave to the world that Easter morn!

The next day, Easter, we tagged along with the Davis', our office missionaries, to the Stratford ward to hear Kenny give his farewell talk. It's no small thing to go there. It's an hour and a half tube and train ride. The actual chapel is in the suburb of Ilford, a predominantly black community that is full of gangs and graffiti. When we got there and had to walked to the chapel it felt a little dicey and intimidating, until we entered the chapel doors. Immediately we were sweep up by the members. We had a couple Britannia ward members that had come home for Easter, along with Kenny and Tai, take us and introduce us to everyone. Hugs all around! We met the very handsome, very young Bishop who we needed to get on our side for his support with the YSA. It worked!

In their chapel there were no pews, but folding chairs. They had no one to play the piano so they just came and grabbed me to play. Because it was Easter many of the African women came in their native clothes, headdress and all so the chapel was filled with bright colors and dark faces. Ninety percent of the ward is black, most the adults from Africa. When they sang it was off key but full of enthusiasm and zeal. IT WAS SO FUN! You all would have loved it!!

Kenny gave a wonderful talk. His mission will be blessed by his humor and enthusiasm. He's a darling young man. After we went to Elder Davis' Gospel Principles class that was filled with missionaries, 3 investigators, ward mission leaders and us. Elder Davis did a fabulous job and there was lots of participation. Then on to Relief Society. Girls you would have died to be there. The Relief Society President, one of only a handful of white members, gave the lesson on "Believing Christ". She did a marvelous job, very spirit filled. But the best part were the comments by the African sisters. These are women dealing with heart wrenching adversities (including the twins' mom) yet they are so faith-filled and passionate about the gospel and their comments were wise and deep. I was in heaven!

After church the ward did a Munch and Mingle in honor of the boys leaving. It was obvious they don't have many young men leave from that ward to go serve missions so Kenny and Tai going to serve was a BIG DEAL! What a spread! There was so much food, many dishes I'd never seen or tasted before, but all so good. It was noisy, wild and crazy. And there we were, right in the middle of it all, having a blast. Over in the corner was Jim inviting two of Kenny's friends to attend mission prep, with Kenny laughing as he told Elder Phillips they weren't even members. That didn't stop Jim. He told them to come anyway! We actually did get 2 young men to commit to come. 

When everyone had eaten they asked if Kenny and Tai would bear their testimonies. It was precious because, although they don't have a lot of teenage boys in this ward, there are lots of older primary boys. As these precious Elders bore their witness that they knew they'd been called to serve and then a witness that the gospel was true, the younger boys sat mesmerized, not moving. What a powerful example never to be forgotten by these young men. 

Being a part of this made me homesick for the family wards I grew up in out in the mission field. When you live in the mission field your ward truly becomes your family, your safe harbor from the world. It was so apparent that's exactly what this ward meant to all of them. It was their family! We loved being there and felt it an honor to be included.

There's more but I'm so done! I kept my promise.

I want you to know that we continue to minister. So many needs. But we are finding greater joy the longer we are here. There are many things we need to improve on and get better at, but the one thing we do well is LOVE THESE KIDS!!! And they know it! That's why we are here! Tonight we have a meeting with our Stake YSA REPS to finalize our plan we want to present to the Stake and Mission President for rescuing our Lost Lambs. How I wish I had our picture over the fireplace. It so represents our feelings about this. We have pondered and prayed and tried to simplified this plan for several weeks and pray it will be accepted and supported. This weekend is the final tweaking before presenting it to Presidents Phillips and Jordan next week. Pray for us.

Know we miss you EVERY day. It is a true sacrifice leaving you all behind! We pray for each one of you many times a day. Know that if we've earned any blessings from service we are sending them your way. Love to all.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Stake Conference, Easter Week and a Life Lesson on"Regret"

It's fun to be new enough on our mission to continue to have "Firsts". Last week was our first General Conference. This week it was Stake Conference and in two days our first Easter. Holidays and vacation time are going to be the most difficult being away from family. I treasure our traditions that bind! At one of our Family Home Evenings the YSA went around and asked what family traditions they had growing up and I was AMAZED at how few had any. It's such a high value for me to have "Events" that we can count on, cling to and depend on that make our family who we are. It makes me happy to watch our children using some of the traditions they grew up with and creating their own traditions within their new families. It really is powerful and I miss sharing them with you!

It's been a nice week. We've had no Institute because of Spring Break so that means no lesson on Tuesday and no dinner on Thursday; two huge responsibilities off our shoulders. I've needed the break but realize that the "LOAD" (as Elder Bednar calls it) is part of this experience and I need to more fully embrace it and be glad for it. Still this has been a very nice break.

Our Stake Conference Saturday night session was amazing. President Phillips wasn't there. He's been gone for 3 weeks so they proceeded without him. The highlight of the Saturday night meeting was our Helen. She's Chinese and the one whose mother was converted over Skype. Her mom was actually here to hear Helen speak. Helen has only been a member for 5 months but she got up and spoke as if she'd done that sort of thing her whole life. Her English is very good and she was articulate and so spiritual. After the meeting I went and hugged her and expressed my gratitude for what she's said. Her reply, "I just want to be worthy to be His mouthpiece." Then she burst into tears. I cried right along with her and told her she HAD been his voice that night. It was so sweet. I adore this young, beautiful woman.

You all know how I've been so concerned about the YSA choir for the Sunday Meeting. I'd had about 55 kids the week before but knew that several of them that attended were not going to be there the following week for Conference. (Spring Break; all the kids road trip). I had no idea what I was going to end up with that morning. Our rehearsal was for 9:00 a.m. To my utter amazement I had just as many kids there that morning than the week before. Our rehearsal went amazing and was SO MUCH FUN because we were actually making beautiful music. I know the kids loved it, as well.

Our Stake was stunned by the YSA's performance. It really was very beautiful, especially with only 1 1/2 rehearsals. They brought and felt the spirit. It was a true miracle. This experience should never have happened. I feel like it was such a personal gift to me. A tender reminder that after I've done all I can then I need to exercise my faith that He will provide. It was so sweet and I truly acknowledge His hand in it. (Every day in my prayers I'm pleading with the Lord that He will increase the faith I have to GREAT Faith! That, along with having the Holy Ghost always, is my daily plea.)

Monday nights are always fun here. It's our FHE and all we have to do for it is show up and bring energy and enthusiasm for whatever they have planned. For the first couple months they would have a short lesson and then play volleyball. I requested about a month ago that we need to change it up so that everyone has something to participate in. The last few weeks we've been doing silly all-inclusive games that have bonded our group. THEN we play volleyball. There's a real benefit in having just plain fun together. It's worked!

Tuesday was a gorgeous day and I asked Jim how about us taking our P-Day and taking the train up to Hatfield, about a hour away, and going to see the Hatfield House. It's the house that Queen Elizabeth 1 grew up in from the time she was a baby, basically under house arrest. She was the daughter to Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. Her mom was beheaded and Elizabeth was kept there until her late 20's when she eventually was informed she was the new Queen of England. (There was no male heir to the throne.) We heard it had beautiful grounds and that the house was used in lots and lots of movies and that it was a must see.

We took the train, which is always an adventure, and got there around noon. When we walked through the gate to pay we were informed that the grounds were opened and they were having a sculpture exhibit through the gardens, but the house was closed. We were SO disappointed! We almost didn't pay to go in, but decided we'd come all this way we might as well. I'm SO GLAD we did. We had an hour woodland walk, another couple hours through amazing gardens, so amazing they made me cry with homesickness for my garden and the exhibit was extraordinary. We then had lunch there at an outdoor restaurant. It was a lovely lovely day, even without getting into the house itself.

Another first was on Wednesday; our first Zone Conference! One of the surprises for us about our mission is how little we have to do with our actual London Mission. We work with the missionaries, see them every day. We've become good friends with Pres. and Sister Jordan and the other senior missionaries, but our lives are really consumed by the YSA. So it was wonderful to feel like a real missionary and go to Zone Conference. We got to meet all the missionaries from our Zone and be TAUGHT and I mean TAUGHT by the Jordans. They are both fabulous teachers and leaders. I was blown away with the quality and depth of their teaching. I have a better understanding of why the Jordans have been called to preside over the London Mission, not a small assignment. It's a very high profile calling within the church. Now I know they were called because they are magnificent, even more than I had supposed. Now I understand why this is the mission in Europe that every pilot program, marketing idea etc. is past through first. They really truly are amazing and I'm so grateful to get to learn from them. It's an honor to be here in this mission at this time.

Last night was a rare first for me. We have, as one of our Visitor Center's senior missionaries, Elder Ohman. He was on the BYU Music faculty as an Organist and instructor. One of his unique skills is his ability to play the organ for silent movies. Last night the Visitor Center had an open night to the public showing Cecil B. DeMille's movie "King of Kings, a two hour black and white silent movie on the ministry and death of Christ. I LOVE Elder Ohman. We've become very good friends, but I actually wasn't too excited about sitting 2 hours through a silent film. OMG it was amazing! The movie itself was campy and old fashioned, but it truly testified of Christ. And Elder Ohman was unbelievable. You need to understand there is NO WRITTEN MUSIC. He just improvises as the movie unfolds, adjusting the music to what's happening on screen. It is a lost art form. It was magic to watch (they had a screen on his hands so we could watch him play, along with a huge screen with the movie on it). I also didn't know how many would come but we probably had 250 people there. It was a huge success and so appropriate for this upcoming Easter Sunday. Along with King of Kings we are going tomorrow to a production of Rob Gardner's Lamb of God. It's absolutely gorgeous music that I hope will be done well. It's being put on by Wadsworth stake with YSA participating from all over the UK. To top all this off I have been reading this week Bill O'Riley's "Killing Jesus", the historical and political history of the time of Christ and how all things collided to make the conditions perfect that would allow Christ to be crucified. Christ has been such a center of everything I've been involved with this week that I've actually been dreaming about the Savior for the last few nights. What a marvelous way to prepare for Easter. It's been powerful.


So this week I've been thinking about regrets and what we have said to each of our children as they went to serve their missions, "No regrets!" This saying has become our mantra, as well. My children know of an experience I had when I was at BYU that was a pivotal experience for me. It literally changed the way I have lived my life. As so many of my deepest learning experiences have been, I learned the horrible weight of regret from a tragic experience.

My sophomore year at BYU I lived at Sparks Apartments. Right next door we had a mom, her daughter and daughter's friend move in. The mom's name was Ladorna. She and her family had lived in Laguna Beach until a recent divorce sent Ladorna back to college to get her degree in Art. Her daughter was just starting BYU and was playing tennis on a scholarship. It was odd because it was Ladorna, not her daughter, who became my good friend. I found out that Ladorna's husband had been a Bishop who had had an affair with one of Ladorna's good friends in the ward. Ladorna had 3 daughters, the older two left the church over his affair and her youngest who she was living with was the only one who had stayed active in church. It was a such a sad situation.

We remained good friends that whole year. My junior year Ladorna moved into nicer apartments and I didn't see her again until our Senior year when we were placed in the same Teaching Certification module for the whole semester. I would see her everyday. It was there that she told me about another tragedy that had come into her life. Her tennis star daughter had just been diagnosed with cancer and was very sick. I was heart-broken for Ladorna. I remember thinking how much can one woman take? Through the semester LaDorna kept me appraised of her daughter's status.

It was a cold late afternoon in the dead of winter when Ladorna took me home from our class in her car (I walked everywhere. No car for me!) We were sitting talking when she turned to me and said she had a favor to ask. She told me what a difficult time she was having keeping her daughter's spirit up, especially with the cold, dreary winter weather. She told me that I was such a bright force of energy that she just knew I could make a big difference to her daughter if I would just come visit her and bring some light. I told LaDorna that I could do that for her and I really intended to.

Here was the problem. I was carrying 21 credits that semester. I was Activities Chairman for our ward AND bottom line I really didn't know the daughter and had no idea what I should say. It was an uncomfortable situation to walk into. It was very easy to just put it off. Our semester ended and so did my daily interaction with Ladorna. Eventually I forgot all about it.

That is until my last semester at BYU, a summer session that would allow me to graduate in August. I was sitting in a General Ed Class; Humanities 101 that I needed to finish up. I was bored so I opened the Daily Universe, BYU's newspaper, and there on page 4 was an announcement that Ladorna's daughter, BYU Tennis Star, had succumbed to cancer at the age of 20. I sat there stunned and then the tears came. I got up and walked out of class, got on my bike and begin peddling to Ladorna's apartment, crying as I rode. My heart was broken for her and I was filled with shame.

For the first time in my life I recognized what true regret felt like. I would go and beg Ladorna for forgiveness for not doing a simple act of kindness. I would offer her my sympathy and tears. But no matter what I did or said it was too late, eternally too late to do the one thing that would have made any difference for Ladorna. Her daughter was gone and anything that mattered that I could have offered was gone with her.

I realized that what I was feeling is what hell would be; the recognition of what we might have been. I made a vow that day that I would never shy away from a difficult situation simply because I was uncomfortable or didn't know what words to say. I vowed that I would try to live my life that at its close I could look back and not regret the choices I had made or actions I had taken. I NEVER wanted to feel the way I was feeling that afternoon ever again.

Forty years later I can say that my regrets are limited. My main regrets are not for the things I've done, but more for the things I was not diligent about. I have truly tried to keep my promise to myself to not shy away from hard situations. I've come to realize that there are no right words, only love, that matters. I've learned that no matter how careful I am to do what's right I make mistakes. But those mistakes can be swallowed up in the gift of the atonement. It's only deepened my gratitude for the mercy and grace of my Savior. For all these lessons learned I am grateful. And it all started with Ladorna.

I hope and pray that someday I can thank Ladorna, face to face, that though I failed her in her greatest time of need the lesson I learned was not in vain. It changed my life forever!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

First General Conference on our Mission!

It's early Saturday morning and I'm just now getting started on this blog. It's been an intense week of counseling, teaching and feeding our kids, but it's been good! I just couldn't make myself sit down yesterday and do this. Writing this blog takes more energy and focus than you would suppose. I'm grateful I promised to write because I think otherwise sometimes I would let it go. I remember feeling the same way with missionary letters. But the love overrides the fatigue. And I KNOW how much I would regret it. Also your sweet encouraging comments help motivate and keep me writing! Thank you for taking the time to let me know you are reading and enjoying our experience with us.

How about last weekend's General Conference? It was amazing. And you are right Tanner! There is something so precious about hearing the words of the prophets when you are serving full time.

Our schedule for conference here is crazy. Our first session was live of the Saturday morning, only our first session started at 5:00 p.m. Sunday morning we had Priesthood session from 10-12:00. Saturday Evening session was from 1-3:00 p.m. on Sunday and Sunday morning session was live here from 5-7:00 p.m. Sunday evening. They don't broadcast the last session because it would be from 9-11:00 so we have to pick it up on-line. (It was so fun. I had 18 lbs of chicken to shred for our Thursday night dinner so I took my pot of cooked chicken breasts and sat in front of the computer and listened to the last session of conference. Just as the session ended I was finished shredding all the chicken. Now THAT'S the way to make a job go quickly.)

You all know that I'm suppose to conduct a choir for Stake Conference tomorrow morning. It had been a total disaster. Last Saturday we ended up going to Costco with the Jordans. I expressed gratitude for letting us use a few of the sister missionaries to sing and then jokingly asked if they had any Elders that could sing. Sister Jordan was so cute. She offered to call a few Elders that she knew could sing that were serving in our stake and since they were all going to be at conference anyway she would ask them to come. I had personally emailed anyone I thought could possibly sing in our ward and told them that I would be offering our traditional conference breakfast of Swedish pancakes, strawberries and cream or homemade syrup if they would come rehearse between the conferences; 3-5:00 p.m. on Sunday.

Sunday morning I got up at 6:30 and made about 75 pancakes. I'd made the syrup and cut up the strawberries the night before. I went in to church at 11:00 to set up and was there when the men came out of Priesthood session at noon. Dad felt it was the BEST priesthood session he'd ever been to. (I have since watched it online and feel the same way. Elder Oaks' talk on priesthood, keys and woman will be a landmark talk. I loved every single talk in that session!) We then attended the session from 1-3. After it was time for choir. I truly had no idea what to expect. Well, between my emails and Sister Jordan's phone calls was I surprised! We probably had 50 kids there Sunday. It was a miracle. I went from a handful of kids to a full choir. I had 1 hour to teach two songs. Luckily they were both pretty simple and they picked them up pretty fast.

We had our brunch and cleaned up. Then we were back to our last session (your Sunday morning) that was fabulous. When conference was over we had a baptism (we have a baptism EVERY Sunday). By this time (around 8:00 p.m.) I was drooping and ready to go home. It had been a long, intense day that had begun 14 hours before. As we were leaving one of our girls that we knew, but not well, grabbed my hand and asked if she could just walk home with us, that she badly needed to talk to parents. As we walked and I heard her story my heart was filled with compassion. I hurt for some of our kids. Their stories would break your heart. I can't go into detail, but this beautiful 28 year old has been keeping her family together through horrendous trials for years. She was tired, lonely and just wanting to get married and let someone else carry the heavy load. She ended up staying for a couple hours. It was magic watching Jim be a daddy and give wise and prudent counsel to her. I literally watched as her shoulders came up and light filled her face. She had some hope as she walked out the door. How badly these kids need hope. The world presses hard here. Lots of our kids have little or no family support, especially financially. They have to work SO HARD to simply get by. It's such an added stress. So many broken homes. Because many are converts they are having to figure out how to apply and live the gospel on their own. I realize how badly they need our example of what marriage looks like and to just have access to a mom and dad. That's being called on all the time. That's why we both live in fear of not having the Spirit. We never know when we will be called on for help or to give a blessing or just listen and advise. It's a huge responsibility that we don't take lightly.

As the first girl left, there stood another at the door. Our crazy Sunday ended after midnight. What a day; our first General Conference as full time missionaries!!!

Tuesday night was Institute here and it was a great class. Our numbers were down to 19 because Spring Break has begun here. In fact for the next two weeks there will be no Institute and NO DINNERS!!! What a wonderful break for me. I think our Tuesday class is so much more than a gospel class. It is such a sweet opportunity for kids to gather in a home, once again to feel like family. We have to kick them out or they would stay all night.

Thursday was a new experience. I have a young Chinese man, Dixon, who has helped me in the kitchen since I came. His background is crazy. He was born in Hong Kong where he lived until 10. His parents, who were already members, moved here to London where he has lived ever since. His accent is a mix of Chinese and British and I have to really listen to understand him. I LOVE DIXON! He single handedly shepherds our Chinese members and he watches out for me. All he knows how to do is serve. Because it was his spring break this past week he offered to make dinner Thursday. His whole family's hobby is cooking. Dixon is a master chef and cooks amazing Asian dishes. So I bought the ingredients and met him and a couple of his Chinese friends Thursday afternoon and it began. We ended up with 5 people chopping and chopping and chopping. We made enough Vietnamese chicken salad to feed 70. That is no small feat. And it was GOOD!! (Dad didn't touch it. The base was cabbage). I was so pleased that almost all the kids LOVED it! They were so cute with him. After he told me it was a lot of work but if they enjoyed it then it was worth it. It was a fun experience working in the kitchen with a few Chinese YSA, an American YSA girl that I've adopted and then two Senior missionaries came in to help. It was crazy and fun.

As you know Jim teaches on Thursday nights the Mission Prep class. He's had in his class two twins. These are BIG black young men that are like giant teddy bears. They are 24 years old and both decided together it was time to go serve. I told you about their girlfriends and Jim's plea to the girls to help get them safely on their missions. He promised they would all be blessed in this life and eternally by Kenny and Tai's choice to go serve. They received their calls; one to Manchester England the other to Scotland. Easter Sunday is Kenny's farewell in Stratford, a ward on the outskirts of our stake. It's great timing. We want to attend to hear Kenny's farewell, but also to have the boys introduce us to the YSA in their ward. Since we have the next two weeks off from other time-consuming activities we want to focus on the inactive YSA from the wards outside of Britannia. What a better way than to meet the Bishop, talk to prospective missionaries and be introduced to some of the kids by these boys we adore and have invested in. We will sorely miss Kenny and Tai's enthusiasm for the gospel and their love they share with us.

Let me tell you about yesterday. It was a day of miracles. We've told you about Ziyed, the 34 year old Lebanese man that Jim has been teaching. He has continued to progress. There has been a hitch though. Last week we found out that Ziyed, like every other Mid-easterner, smokes. What's added to the difficulty is he lives with a chain smoker that never quits smoking all day long. It's made it almost impossible for Ziyed to stop.

Yesterday we had a teaching appointment with him at the church where he shared this story. He told us the day before, unbeknownst to him, his flatmate went to his doctor requesting nicotine patches. The roommate came home and informed Ziyed that he was going to stop smoking! Joyfully Ziyed said he wanted to quit also so they are going to share the patches and work on this together. Now you must understand the flatmate has no idea of Ziyed's gospel quest. He's doing it simply for health reasons, but what a tender mercy that was totally recognized by Ziyed as a gift from God. He also bore a witness to another whispering of the spirit. A little context first. Ziyed is a student of the bible. This man KNOWS the scriptures and has studied them his whole life. His questions for the sisters and for Jim are DEEP and penetrating, not superficial EVER! Two days previous as he was reading the Book of Mormon he said very clearly the spirit whispered, "Stop making this difficult!" He said he heard it twice. He looked at us and said, "So I am believing!" My answer to him was that the Lord WANTS us to ask questions, that questions are good. But it's the way we ask that makes all the difference. One who questions without wanting to find answers will never find the truth. But one who asks questions with the desire to find and understand makes it possible for the spirit to testify to the truth when they hear it. I told Ziyed that his questions have always been ones seeking to know. We love this man. He will be a great leader and we feel God's love for him. It was such a sweet meeting.

Last night we had another miracle. I can't go into detail, but we have two young people in our ward that used to date. They broke up a year ago and it has caused the young woman to go into a tail-spin, to the point that she's had difficulty coming to church. This young woman has been one of the pillars of our ward. It's a huge loss to not have her feel she can come to church. They really haven't spoken since the break up. We realized that in order for understanding and healing to occur we needed to get them together and do a GROW session.

We knew it would truly take a miracle to undo a year of deep hurt and misunderstanding. We gathered together last night at 7:00. It took four and a half hours, but at the end there was resolution and forgiveness. You have no idea how powerful it was to watch two truly wonderful, but hurt YSA that we love able to tell their truths and be reconciled. Your father did a masterful job that was totally driven by the spirit. I felt the spirit striving with us the whole night. It was this power that allowed the healing.

Today I awoke to this email:
Thank you sincerely for making a miracle happen. With most sincere gratitude and respect and love from my heart!

It really, truly was a miracle that again confirms to us the great love the Lord has for these young people and how we must be willing to give our best to serve them any way we can.

Tanner, once again we hope you had a wonderful 30th birthday. Dad said he saw you all on Google at dinner together. That's when I'm so sad we can't be with you to celebrate and rejoice together. THIRTY YEARS OLD!!! How in the world is my baby 30 years old? It just tells me how OLD I AM!!! Tanner you are now truly and officially a GROWN-UP!

We ask for your prayers. Pray that my kids in choir from last week will show up tomorrow morning! Pray we will have the energy, both physically and emotionally, to continue in this work. Pray that Ziyed will be able to stop smoking. Pray for Kenny and Tai as they go out to serve. Pray that each one of you individually will hold tightly to the rod of iron, that you will continue to love and serve the Lord. And pray that all our grandchildren will be protected from the world and grow in their testimonies. Our deepest desire is that we can all sit down together in the Lord's presence when our life is done. Heaven won't be heaven without each of you there with us. We love and pray for you daily. I hope you can feel our missionary prayers in your behalf. I've always known how blessed we are as a family but never more than now! We owe the Lord EVERYTHING!!!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Forty Years!!!!

I haven't much time today to devote to our blog. We are taking a Costco run (1 hour 15 minutes there; 1 hour 15 minutes back) with Pres. and Sister Jordan. If we keep these up the Jordans they will be our best friends! (Actually we truly love ALL the Senior couples here. They are diverse in talents, personalities and gifts, but every one of them love the Lord and are committed to serving Him with their best stuff! How can you NOT love people like that?)

Last week was devoted to writing down our family miracles. It was such a sweet experience "remembering". The day I wrote that blog just happened to be our 40th Anniversary. Forty years!!! Now THAT is a significant number. Ashlee I truly loved your anniversary post. It made me cry. Those same words have come out of my mouth! I, too, don't know where Starla ends and Jim begins. Who we are is so entwined that I truly believe my heart would cease to beat without him. He is the love and light of my life and now, more than ever, I rejoice and thank the Lord that my life is linked ETERNALLY with his.

To celebrate our anniversary we decided to see "Wicked". I've seen it with all the girls, but it's been years ago. Jim had NEVER seen it so I was very excited to take him. Another plus is the lead, "Glenda" is played by Savannah Stevenson who just happens to be a YSA member of the Britannia ward. (I'd never met her. The show's schedule keeps her from attending right now). She's been a huge endorsement for the church here in London and is a beautiful girl.

The Whites (the couple that came to see us at Christmas) told us a clever plan. They said that if we were willing to go at 8:00 am and stand in line the box office would open at 10:00 am and usually had left over front row VIP tickets that they would sell for discount of only 29.00 pounds. Since I was writing the blog that morning Jim volunteered to go and stand in line.

Now you all know your dad. Within a couple minutes he'd made friends with the people waiting. On one side was a girl that had literally seen the show over 100 times. Her name was Amanda and she was actually there to buy tickets for a friend. They became fast friends. She was the one who told Jim the exact BEST SEATS in the show. On the other side was Sasha and Mandy. Sasha was from Croatia and Mandi was a Brit. They had met at a hotel in Canada because Mandi is a flight attendant and Sasha worked at the hotel she would stay at. They had such a darling friendship and were outrageously funny and flamboyant. They, also, had seen the show dozens of times. Jim said it ended up being a party as they waited in line.

Jim got there early enough to get his pick of tickets. We were dead center, front row. When the show started we were probably 12 feet from the actors. I felt like we were onstage with the cast. IT WAS AMAZING! More about that in a minute.

Jim came home with the tickets, I finished the blog and we got ready and went to The British Museum. It is an amazing building full of artifacts from Egypt, Greece, Rome etc. We went through the ones that followed up on what we'd seen on our cruise. We decided that for it to be meaningful you really need a guide. Poor Jim has a very hard time just looking! Then we went to Covent Garden. It's an area of London full of shops, restaurants and street shows. It's electric with energy and showcased different performers on every corner. We ate dinner there and then made our way to the theater.

The show was fantastic. We sat next to Mandi and Sasha who loved watching Jim as much as the show and had continuous commentary that was almost as entertaining as the show itself. Savannah was amazing; a perfect Glenda. Elsaba was the understudy but I thought she was fabulous. Being so close you could see every nuance, facial expressions, details of the amazing costumes and feel the energy coming off the actors. It really was fabulous. Best of all, your father LOVED the show.

Afterwards, Sasha and Mandi took us up to the stage door where the actors come out from so we could meet Savannah. While we were standing there a very handsome couple walked up and in American accents asked where we were from. When we said Orem, they told us they were from Pleasant Grove. Our tags gave us away (it happens ALL the time. Mormons are always stopping us and asking where we're from and what we're doing here). When we told the Pleasant Grove people whose name was the Singers that Savannah was LDS they stayed with all of us to meet her. We were not disappointed. Apparently Amanda (from that morning) had emailed Savannah that two Senior Missionaries were going to be there to see her. Savannah came right over and said she's seen us on the front row and had actually winked and waved at us during curtain calls. She was so gracious and allowed us to take pictures and talked with us for several minutes. We were able to meet all the leads of the show. Every one of them were so down to earth and unpretentious. By time we were done we had two new Utah friends and Mandi and Sasha will be friends forever. It really was a memorable evening; our 40th wedding anniversary spent on our mission in London topping that off with seeing Wicked! Can't get better than that!

I want to share just two experiences from this week that has been full and fruitful. We are truly establishing meaningful relationships, giving prudent counsel and gaining the trust of the kids and the leaders.

Also your father has begun to be found out. He has done all his teaching with the two elders assigned to our Britannia ward. Well, I think the word is getting out. He's teaching more everyday as the missionaries realize what a treasure he is and how he can teach ANYONE! That brings me to our latest story.

Three days ago a set of sister missionaries had called to ask if Jim would come teach with them. When he walked in the building the sisters told him their investigator was late. As he walked by the other set of sisters he heard them teaching a young Christian man from Lebanon; Ziyed. This 34 year-old man really KNEW his bible and the sisters were having a hard time staying up with him. Jim introduced himself to Ziyed and they began to talk. Jim found out that for two weeks he had a strong spiritual impression to enter the church but had resisted until that moment. He had only been there for 10 minutes before Jim entered the building. That introduction ended up being a full hour long discussion and it ended with Ziyed begging Jim to stay and keep talking. He was hungering for what he was hearing. He had spent his life searching for the truth. Right on the spot he made an appointment for the next day.

When they met yesterday Jim said it was an amazing experience. One of Ziyed's first questions was how were those who never had a chance to receive the gospel going to be saved. Jim went to a scripture from the bible that he hadn't used in years but that came to his mind; 1 Peter 3:18-19 and 1 Peter 4:6. When Ziyed read it he proclaim, "This is in the bible!!! How have I never seen this in the bible?!!!! The hair on my arms are standing up!!!" Jim was able to testify of a loving Father who will give EVERY ONE OF HIS CHILDREN a chance to hear and understand. Jim taught baptisms for the dead and again showed him the scriptures in the Bible that testified of this principle; 1 Corinthians 15:29. Ziyed was overwhelmed. The whole lesson was one of questions answered and Ziyed's joy in finding answers he'd searched for his whole life.

After the discussion Jim brought him to our Institute dinner, introduced him to many of our kids, took him up to our precious Job Search missionaries; the Garners (Ziyed just lost his job. He'd managed 4 restaurants that had just been sold and he was laid off. It was all a part of God's plan. Ziyed would never have had time to search out the church working 100 hours a week. God loves and knows each of His children and opens the way for those that truly are seeking to find the truth!) And today they meet again. Jim loves this righteous man. It's been such a sweet experience.

This past Tuesday was a very difficult day for me. I woke up feeling very blue and homesick. I was tired. I felt stuck in the routine of cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping! I was feeling like I wasn't making a big enough difference. Just feeling sad. But it was more than that. I also knew I had Institute that night and that I couldn't begin to teach that class without the spirit. Yet I struggled all day. I finished preparing the lesson, finished making our dessert and cleaning the house. Then I just begged to have the spirit. The lesson was on redeeming our dead (temples), one of my favorite topics, but it was very deep subject. Right before the class was to start I had 2 different sets of missionaries call to tell us that they were bringing investigators to class (this had never happened before). I panicked. This was not a lesson for investigators but I had NO TIME to change. People were already arriving. I just prayed to be sensitive to who was there and asked Jim to add explanation as he felt inspired.

I was concerned as I taught, but the spirit came! I was very aware that it was in that room. I knew it. And the darkness I had felt all day was GONE (and has not returned!). After class the kids stayed, fellowshipping one another. There was such a sweet spirit of unity and love for each other and for us. I realized that the darkness I had felt all day was directly from the adversary bringing despair and overwhelm to dissuade and discourage. When I fully recognized what was going on I was so angry. But I'm also glad. Now I know that through the priesthood I can have the darkness cast out and keep moving forward. It was something I really needed to understand and a great learning for me.

One last thing; last night Jim and I gathered with our stake presidency counselor, Pres Stephenson, and a roomful of Chinese YSA to begin planning a Chinese YSA Conference to be held in November at Hyde Park chapel that will include Chinese members all over England. It will be a 3-day affair. It's a very big deal with very big implications. What wonderful, amazing chinese we have on this committee. They continue to amaze us with their valiancy and testimonies. It's powerful to behold. A great work is abroad on the land!

Well, Pres. Jordan just called and canceled our Costco trip. Darn! I'm needing to go again, badly! I've had to bribe kids to come practice choir for Stake conference next Sunday after General Conference. We are meeting between sessions; 1-3 and 5-7p.m. I told them I'd do our traditional conference breakfast; Swedish pancakes, homemade syrup, or strawberries and whipped cream. Need stuff from Costco. Hopefully we'll go tomorrow.

This choir business here has been hard. It's such a different set of circumstances than what we deal with in the states. Most our YSA lives at least 45 minutes away by tube, many live 1 1/2 hours away by tube. Not only is time involved but it's VERY expensive for them to travel, costing up to 5-6 pounds one way. It's no small thing to be active in the church for these youth! This makes it impossible to call rehearsals that are not attached to another meeting that they need to be at. But by doing it that way you run into the problem of conflicting meetings, home and visiting teaching that they do at church etc. And doing the choir this time for Stake Conference has been especially difficult because of the number of valid conflicts; last week was Mother's Day, which many of the local members go home for, university spring break which allows the kids time to go travel, general conference and then the very next Sunday is Stake Conference. Not a good combination for trying to rehearse. IT'S BEEN SO FRUSTRATING!!! That's why the bribe for brunch between sessions. Luckily I have two very easy hymn arrangements that we can hopefully pull together in basically one rehearsal hour. It is what it is! Just praying we get enough kids there to pull it off. I've been sending out emails the last two days to every person that might sing. (I finally got a ward list that allowed me to do it.) I'll let you know how it goes. I definitely have a new appreciation for the difficulties that the church faces here. NOTHING is simple or easy! I witness TRUE sacrifice EVERY DAY here just to be an active member of the church! It humbles me!

That's all for now. I've been smiling every time I think of our new granddaughter; London! Love the name! Now Bri let's make sure it's a girl, O.K. We got to finally see Skyler with open eyes and a darling smile. Made us very happy! We just love you all so much and continually pray that you will take advantage of this weekend's general conference and listen and apply the words of the prophets to your individual lives. How blessed are we to hear God's direction for us NOW! Don't take it for granted. (You should see our crazy schedule of when the sessions are broadcast! They are all over the place. Just grateful we can go and feel the spirit of the sessions, no matter what time it is.)

The work continues. We are being blessed and recognize the privilege we have in being called to this place at this time! We are so blessed. Love to all!