Monday, June 30, 2014

June 30th Another Month Down!

It’s Monday morning and I am just now getting to this blog. It’s been a crazy crazy weekend and I’m a tired Mommy! Yesterday we got our refund from the Bishop for our expenses this month. It was over 850 pounds.  I was blown away with how much it was until I sat down a reviewed our purchases this month. It was then I realized how much shopping and cooking we've done these past 4 weeks.
          Munch and Mingles (dinner for the whole ward after church on Fast Sunday and then last night for Bishop Gill leaving the ward)
·        Refreshments for a Multi-Stake Dance
·        Refreshments for a Multi-Stake Fireside
·        Dessert for the Stake Institute Graduation
·        4 Institute Thursday night dinners for 70
·        Treats for our temple trip

This doesn't include our Tuesday night “Seek for Supper” dinners we are having at our flat for less-actives and their Visiting Teachers (we keep it at 2 sets of people each Tuesday).  Luckily all this was spaced over the whole month. Nevertheless that is a lot of shopping and a lot of cooking! (Mind you most of this has been done without a car!!) No wonder I’m a tired mommy!

Three Re-activation Stories

Yesterday the Bishop contacted me and told us the Area Presidency is asking each ward to write up stories of reactivation within their individual wards. The month of June had been designated as the month to reactive by reaching out to the one. I’m including the three I wrote up yesterday for Bishop before church.

Three stories.

Cindy Yang: This summer Elder Phillips and I started "Seek for Supper". It's held on Tuesday nights and is an open invitation for the YSA in our ward to invite their less-actives to share dinner with us. It gives us a chance to share a meal and establish a relationship with them in an informal setting. Three weeks ago Megumi invited Cindy Yang, a beautiful professional Chinese woman who was baptized 4 years ago but has not attended church for the past couple years. We had a delightful evening with her and was able to talk deeply and invite her to come join with us once again. A week and a half later (this past Sunday) while sitting in Sacrament Meeting, Cindy walked in with her mother and sat down in front of us. We hugged and were genuinely so excited to see her and told her so. The meeting was wonderful. At its close I told her once again how we loved having her with us. She answered, I can't be here next week because of being out of town but I will be back the next week. I promise."  Music to our ears!

We have been working with a new member, Vivian, who was inactive a couple months ago. She has started coming every week for the last several weeks. I had a sweet experience this past Monday with her as she and her partner, Meggie, both fairly new Chinese converts, visit taught me. It was their first time to ever visit teach and both were really nervous. Having been a Visiting Teacher for 35 years it was a wonderful opportunity for me to bear witness of how and why we have visiting teaching. It was a tender, bonding experience. What touched me the most was when I found out that Vivian who had been totally inactive only 2 months ago, had traveled an hour on the tube to come that night to visit teach me! 

We became acquainted with one of our older YSA ward members who had become very sporadic in her attendance. When we asked her why she shared her feelings that she felt she didn't have a place in Britannia, she felt she had outgrown what Britannia had to offer. She was on a spiritual downward slide. Elder Phillips reached out to her, literally pulling her back in by his sincere caring. Because of this relationship she has been instrumental in helping us reach out to some of the other older YSA that have also slipped away. It’s been with her help that we have had a chance to influence them, as well. She has just now accepted a teaching calling in Relief Society and agreed to head a committee for a one day church history tour for the ward, all because someone reached out in love and let her know how badly she was needed here with us.

Ella’s Baptism

I need to share our story of Ella. I became aware of Ella only a couple weeks ago. She’s a beautiful 21 year old Brit who actually attends school in Manchester but is home for summer. She is a science major in geology and paleontology.  I assumed Ella was a member. She had such a sweet, glowing spirit about her. It was only last week that I found out she had been taking the missionary discussions and was getting baptized this past Saturday.

Ella didn’t know anything about the LDS church until this Easter when she saw the Mormon video about Christ “Because of Him”. It moved her enough to cause her to start goggling anything she could find about the church. It was she that went and found the missionaries. She had been taught some discussions in Manchester but then came home to London where our Sisters took over. (Our sisters here in Britannia are AMAZING!!! I adore them!) She was converted!

After Institute on Thursday night she asked Jim and I to participate at her baptism and then I was able to sit and talk with her about her testimony. I wish every person could have heard how she has been able to reconcile her scientific mind with her spiritual mind. In the end, for her, it is choosing to believe. She has the faith that one day she will see the whole picture of creation and understand God’s time. In her faith she doesn’t feel the need to know “all things” right now but has sweet assurance it will come. It was a beautiful discussion and I was filled up by her sweet spirit.

When Jim and I were walking home from church after our talk with her I mentioned to him that Ella’s conversion and baptism were not following the pattern we’d come to expect; the adversary going crazy! Little did we know!

The next morning, very early, we got a phone call from the sisters asking if they could bring Ella over to our flat. They explained that the previous night a very controversial TV station here in England broadcast a special on Mormon missionaries. It was HORRIBLE. It made the church look STRANGE and CONTROLLING, the worst possible image it could portray. It was embarrassing!

Ella had gone home after our discussion to find both her parents sitting there (they are divorced and live in separate houses. This simply never happened) waiting for her to come watch this program together. She watched and was mortified and her parents disgusted by what was presented. She was shaken.

After the phone call Jim and I knew it was going to be critical that we have the Holy Ghost present. We begin to pray. Jim felt strongly that it wasn't an issue of the T.V. broadcast as much as going back to what she had felt and whether or not the Book of Mormon was true.

When she walked in with the sisters we were surprised to see a young man we didn't recognize. When he told us who he was we realized he was one of the names the Bishop had given us to find but we had no contact information for him. His name was Lee, a member for just a year that had disappeared not long after his baptism.

We weren't sure what his presence would do for our meeting with Ella but it ended up being a blessing having him there. He has a testimony. His life has been complicated and difficult. First he lives 1 ½ hours from the church. He’s had to help sustain his family with two jobs because his dad is sick and can only work sporadically. He is a full time student and shortly after his baptism the person that fellowshipped him into the church moved. All this happened right after he was baptized when he had only shallow roots in the gospel. But his heart is good. He was walking by church and felt prompted to go inside where the sister missionary who taught him a year ago just happened to be standing. She was the one that encouraged him to come with Ella to our flat.

There were tears, testimonies and love at that meeting. Even Lee bore his testimony that he knew it was true. Ella was able to totally recognize that the events of the previous night was too perfectly set up to be coincidence. She felt assurance and confidence to move forward and so the next day Ella was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was a joyful occasion.

Your dad confirmed her and gave her the gift of the Holy Ghost yesterday in Sacrament Meeting. She is truly a great one and will be such a blessing to the church. Great missionary moments!!!

The Letter to the Missionaries from President Jordan

We received this letter today from President Jordan in response to the awful program shown Thursday night. It’s a fabulous response from a VERY inspired mission president that I want to share.

Dear Sisters and Elders,

Forty years ago as a young missionary in Brazil, I attended a mission conference with a Seventy, Elder Asael T. Sorensen, from Salt Lake City. After his talk, he opened the meeting up for questions. One of the elders told how he and his companion were being persecuted by a priest of another religion, and asked what they should do. Elder Sorensen rubbed his hands together to indicate his pleasure and said, “That’s great! There’s nothing like a little persecution to get the work going.”

I was reminded of his words this week when Sister Jordan and I watched a “documentary” on TV called “Meet the Mormons.” (And, no, you are not authorized to watch it.) It takes a negative slant on the Church, and tries to depict the missionaries as brainwashed. The program follows a new missionary, Elder Field from England, as he enters the MTC in Preston and begins his service in the England Leeds Mission. (He had an especially rough time with homesickness in the MTC.)

This past week several missionaries called me to say they had been asked about the show by people on the street and wondered how they should respond. I told them to take a positive approach and say, “That was a TV show. If you would like to know what Mormon missionaries are really like and what we teach, we would be happy to meet with you so you can see for yourself. Would you be willing to do that?”

There always has been and always will be opposition to the work of Lord. Indeed, it is a sign of the Lord’s true church. As the old saying goes, “The Devil doesn’t kick dead dogs.” The great and spacious building has put on a new wing to accommodate demand in the last days. We should take the same approach to finger pointing as Nephi and Lehi and pay it no heed. (1 Nep. 8:33-34). Satan is busy, but so is our Heavenly Father. He covenanted with each of us before this life that He would do all He could, consistent with the laws of agency, to help us return home to Him. Just as in the days of Alma, God is working to prepare the hearts of His children for the gospel: “For behold, angels are declaring it unto many at this time in our land; and this is for the purpose of preparing the hearts of the children of men to receive his word at the time of his coming in his glory.” (Alma 13:24). Those angels are messengers of the good tidings of the restoration. They come in both heavenly and mortal form, and you are among them.

I have seen evidence this week of the Lord’s hand in the lives of people who saw a negative TV program and yet were moved upon by the Holy Ghost. I had a call on Friday from a member of Chelmsford Ward who told me about a work colleague who approached him and said she had watched the Meet the Mormons program. The member thought to himself, "Here we go." But instead of criticizing, she said, "I watched those young missionaries and I thought to myself, I want my own sons to grow up with that same kind of character. Can we have missionaries from your church come and teach my husband and me and our three sons?

I also spoke with a member from the Birmingham Mission who told me of man who walked into the chapel in Warwick last Friday. The chapel was full of members who were there for a funeral. The man introduced himself and explained that he had seen the program and it brought back memories of how homesick he felt when he first went into the army. He asked if he could learn more about the Church.

The Lord can do His work in spite of earth and hell, and so can you. As Joseph Smith said:

“The standard of truth has been erected; No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the great Jehovah shall say the work is done.”

We love you,

President and Sister Jordan

PS: I talked to the president of the Leeds Mission today and he told me Elder Fisher is a wonderful missionary without a trace of homesickness.

How blessed are we to have an inspired President Jordan at the helm of this mission!!!!

Bishop Gill’s Final Sunday and Munch and Mingle

Yesterday was a crazy day. It started at 10:30 when one of our precious 29 year-old girls came for some assurance, hugs and love. She’s had a deep friendship with a Muslim doctor she has worked with for a long time that is from Syria. She’s known for quite a while that it was moving from friendship into something much more. This week when a get-together with him fell through and she was devastated, she realized she couldn't let it continue. With great courage she was able to cut their relationship off on Friday but her heart was broken.

What is so terribly difficult here is the lack of boys to date. This special 29 year old girl knows there’s currently nothing here to replace him with. It’s bleak! That’s why this is such a courageous thing for her to do and a complete act of faith. It’s hard! My heart aches for these faithful kids.

In Sacrament Meeting the Bishop gave his final message, followed by one of the most beautiful musical numbers I've ever heard at church. It was the same girl, Katie, that sang Megan’s “My Gethsemane” so brilliantly. She sang “I Know That My Redeemer Lives”. The spirit just filled the chapel.

Our Stake President then spoke and was so gracious and expressed deep gratitude for the fine man that has been our Bishop. We are so sad to lose him. Then we had one of our Area Presidency there to speak. Our meeting went 1 ½ hours but it was a truly wonderful meeting.

From our Sacrament meeting I went directly into the kitchen to begin preparations for the dinner. For the previous 2 Sundays the Relief Society had passed around sign-ups for our Munch and Mingle that was to happen right after church was over at 4:00. They had planned to have a variety of summer salads and desserts. I told them that just salads wouldn't be enough to fill up hungry kids so when we went to Costco we got stuff to make ham and turkey sandwiches with all the fixings. Then Saturday night Jim and I went and got 200 different kinds of rolls and breads to put the fixings on. SO GRATEFUL WE DID!!!  When our Sacrament meeting was over I walked into the kitchen and there were THREE SALADS sitting there!!!! THREE!!!! This was to feed 160 people (including the Stake President, Mission President and Area President). There was a mix-up and no one had bothered to call and remind everyone to bring the stuff they had signed up for.

We panicked! In an hour and fifteen minutes we were going to have close to 200 very hungry YSA and leaders descended on us expecting to eat dinner! That’s when my crew that came to see if I needed help went into action. Immediately 3 kids volunteered to literally run to the store (this was an ox in the mire!) and get spinach, strawberries, mixed salad greens, tomatoes, grapes and some cookies. Dixon, the Chinese Brit who cooked an Institute dinner for me a couple months ago and whose hobby is cooking went down with me into my storage closet where I keep herbs, pasta, canned food, paper goods etc. and grabbed a giant can of tuna, 3 bags of bow tie pasta, 4 cans of corn, a big bottle of mayonnaise and herbs and spices. He took them up to the kitchen and cooked up a delicious huge tuna-pasta salad that fed thousands! We raided my Institute supply of Squash (a sweet drink they use here instead of soda) and we were set.

By time everyone arrived to eat, we had a feast waiting for them! It was an absolute miracle. I still am not sure how we did it but it worked with food to spare! (Still recovering from the stress, though!)

Tanner and Bri’s Houses

So today my prayers are with Bri and her little family. Oh how I wish I could be there to help her move into her new house they are renting IN OUR WARD!!!! Now we just hope they are still there when we get home from our mission. Dan is still in Washington so it’s all fallen on Bri. She claims she has it covered, but I've still got to worry. I’m her mom!!!

Yesterday we also got news that Tanner and Shelby have bought a house, also in Orem, close to our Junior High. It will be so wonderful having them all so close; a mother and grandmother’s dream come true.  This is when it’s so hard to not be there to help, but what a great opportunity for them to be the grown-ups they are and take care of their business without Mom’s interference. We are excited for these big happenings in their lives. Life truly goes on with or without us!!!

Well, I’m done. Another week completed. Another blog written. Feels good.

May you all feel our deep love for you and our precious grandchildren who we adore. God bless each of you with His love and assurance. Talk to you soon!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

June 22, 2014

Sunday morning, once again. It comes so quickly. I’ve been considering what I wanted to write this week. There’s a couple things from our week I want to share and then I have a long life experience I want to get put down on paper. Bear with me.

Two Unbaptized Converts

This week we’ve had some very frustrating experiences. You all know the price Jim had to pay to join the church. He gave up EVERYTHING to be baptized and to serve his mission. He is uniquely qualified to teach investigators here that now are coming from cultures that make it almost impossible to join the church. It’s even more complicated than what Jim had to face because of the cultural context these kids are coming from. It’s so frustrating!!!

Sanja, Elder Murdock (Elder Ballard's grandson) and Elder Hoe from Hong Kong

This week Jim has had the experience of continuing teaching two AMAZING people; a young Indian man and a young Malaysian woman. I’ve mentioned the young man before. He was born in Birmingham England to first generation Indian parents. I found out this week he’s only 19. If you met him you’d think he was in his mid-twenties. He’s handsome, brilliant (going to be a doctor), mature and deeply converted. He LOVES the Book of Mormon and every time we meet with him HE teaches US from the scriptures. He prays like he’s been a member for life. He’s converted and has borne his testimony many times to us.

In his Indian culture it’s an accepted tradition to follow the wishes of your father. This boy loves and honors his parents. Here’s the problem. His family is Hindu. He recognizes that if he joins the church his parents will be devastated and will, in all likelihood, make him drop out of one of the finest universities in the world, Imperial College, and be forced to move back to Birmingham to go to school there.

His parents come this coming week to help him move back home for the summer. He is hoping to tell them when they are here about his conversion and introduce them to the church and some of its members. He’s praying that he will, in some way, be able to persuade them of his sincerity and the validity of the church. But if he fails at convincing them I’m not sure he yet has the faith to defy his parents and be baptized.

The young woman from Malaysia had her baptism date set for yesterday. She’s a beautiful, articulate young woman, full of the light of the gospel, totally converted. If you met her you’d never believe she wasn’t already a member. We love her.

She shared with us that before she found the gospel she was a different person. Because of some betrayals in her family she was sent into a deep depression. Her life was full of darkness and despair and her trust was gone. Then the missionaries found her street tracking and taught her the glorious gospel plan. It brought light and life back to her. We have literally seen the power of the atonement heal her in front of our eyes.

This week Jim got a phone call from her. She was devastated and asked if she could meet Jim for some counsel. Jim went with the Elders to meet with her. She had just told her parents about her baptism the coming Saturday and bore testimony how the gospel had healed her. To her amazement her parents refused to accept her decision. They begged her to come home before she made that decision. They told her she had to wait the 40 days before she turned 21. Once again, in her culture you do not question but obey your parents.

After hearing her story and calming her down, your dad, the Elders and this young woman decided to fast and pray to know if she should go ahead and be baptized or honor her parents’ will.

After fasting 24 hours they gathered again. The young woman had talked to her parents once more and they promised her that, after being home and waiting the 40 days, if she still wanted to be baptized they would allow her to come back to London and be baptized here. Every one of them sitting there knew this was only a ploy to get her away from London and home so they could convince her to not join the church. But as they all talked together a peace came that she needed to abide by her parents’ wishes.

Before they closed their fast this beautiful, wonderful young woman bore a testimony. She told them she would go ahead and honor her parents’ wishes and wait 40 days but then promised Jim that there was nothing that was going to keep her from being baptized into Christ’s church. Still it’s very difficult to let her go. We will continue to pray for her and for her parents.

These marvelous youth; can you see the reason for our frustration?

Hampstead Heath

This past Thursday we had a blood drive at our building that was held in the Cultural Hall and kitchen so I couldn’t make dinner for Institute. We ordered pizza for the night and Jim and I went on an outing to my new favorite place in London; Hampstead Heath. It’s a wild, woodsy park right in the middle of the city. But you would never dream you were near civilization. It’s gorgeous. 

We went with Catherine Wilkinson. We want to adopt her. She’s 29, has a rugrat voice like our children and was raised in Sulihull, a suburb of Birmingham.  She’s such a Birmy with lots of slang and phrases that are SO BRITISH! She cracks me up. We adore this girl. She took us on a hike that was literally breath taking. On the highest hill in the park you can look out over all of London. The park has several ponds of water, one designated for a women’s swimming hole, another for a man’s swimming hole and the last for both men and women. (It comes from old school English tradition. So funny!) 

We ended up doing more talking than hiking but it was a wonderful day. I HAVE to get back there. It’s glorious! (Forget old buildings. Give me nature any day!)

Relief Society and Elders Quorum; Our Dating Discussion

Jim and I had an amazing experience last Sunday. Our Bishop’s last week is next Sunday. He’s had some strong feelings that he wanted to address some things with the kids before he left around standards, doctrine of marriage, and same gender attraction, just some light- weight conversation! He decided to take the Sunday school hour for him to teach. Then 3rd hour we would separate and Jim would teach the guys and I would teach the girls on dating.

Now you need to understand this is a mine field here in Britannia. It’s one of those discussions that are almost taboo in this ward. I think they’ve been so hounded and guilt-tripped on the need to date (because the majority don’t) that there’s a palpable resistance and push back about discussing it. This was no small assignment from the Bishop and we knew it.

Jim and I discussed it the week before any chance we got and then on Saturday sat down to make an outline of what we wanted to discuss. We recognized that it HAD to be a discussion, not us TELLING them. It was amazing how quickly it came together. The spirit was definitely directing us. We narrowed it down to four areas of discussion

1.    The Doctrine of Marriage
2.   What is your responsibility toward dating
3.   What do YOU control
4.   Red light, Yellow light, Green light

All these topics we adapted to those we were teaching so Jim’s focus was very different than mine

Bishop’s first hour went great and he was very candid. He’s a wise, gentle, righteous, intelligent man. What he taught led perfectly into what we had to discuss.

Before we started I prayed that I would leave my sisters with a deeper testimony of marriage and a greater degree of hope and desire to do all they could within their control. I will just say that is was pure magic! I felt the flow state I get into when I’m conducting a choir. It was electric and SO MUCH FUN. By time we were done there was an energy and a hopefulness I had not felt since being here about dating and marriage. Jim said he had the same experience.

I realized how grateful I was that we hadn’t done this before now. We have been here now long enough, have spent enough time with them individually, and shared enough love with them to earn their trust. It allowed them to be open enough to truly hear what we were saying without being defensive. I felt it was a very powerful experience for them and for us. Is there anything better than knowing you’ve been led and given voice by the Spirit? There’s nothing better to me!!!

MUSIC; My Heavenly Gift (Next blog)

Last week’s experience leading the discussion with our Relief Society and feeling “flow state” has made me reflect on where I’ve experienced that kind of energy the most in my life. Of course it’s been when I’m doing music, whether singing, teaching music and leading a choir or accompanying my kids singing. There’s nothing that puts me there like music. It’s made me realize I need to record some of the experiences I’ve had from my very beginning with music.

It’s going to be long so I’ll put in into a new blog and close this one for today.

Yesterday practically killed me knowing you are all together there in our house in Orem. Yet I’m so grateful that you love one another and that you CHOOSE to be together. Just take care of one another while we’re gone. That’s all I would ask of you. Know we miss you and adore you and pray for you every single day. Hug all those babies for their Maga and Baba.

I’ll keep working on my music blog. Loves

Friday, June 13, 2014

Finally! Another Post! June 13, 2014

Janice emailed me yesterday (Wednesday June 11th) and made a guess that we must be swamped if there was still no blog for last week. Oh how right she was! It’s been a crazy couple weeks. Tonight is our big dinner but I have a couple hours that I hope I can write up this blog to get it up to date.

I think I’ll just give an overview of what’s been going on and then you’ll all understand the reason for this late blog.

I finished the last blog on Sunday morning June 1st. That day was Fast Sunday and after writing our experience in Centerville I felt impressed to share it with our kids (I’ve never given my testimony in Sacrament Meeting before. I have never wanted to take away the time from the kids, but I felt strongly to do it that day.) I had several kids come to me after to tell me that they desperately needed to hear and be reassured the Lord knows us and hears our prayers.

After the meeting I taught the last marriage class in the 4 week series. All the participants are getting married this month. It was sweet and I think very helpful. After the class I went to part of Relief Society and then had to leave to go help prepare our Munch and Mingle. It happens every Fast Sunday. I don’t know what I was thinking when I suggested we do it when we first got here. It’s more work and more cooking, although the kids really contribute bringing stuff.  It’s just another chance to gather, fellowship and of course EAT!! It turned out very fun. Lots of fun, enlightening conversations. It’s amazing what our YSA will share over food.

Monday Elder Phillips and I took a P-Day and did the tourist thing. We went and saw Westminster Abby. It’s considered the finest cathedral in the UK. IT WAS AMAZING!! It’s beyond my comprehension how that massive high structure could be built with the tools they possessed when they built it. It was awe-inspiring! Dozens and dozens of royalty and not so royal are buried there, along with famous poets, musicians etc. It really was a must-see.

One of the best parts of the day happened on the bus ride to Westminster. We started to talk to a handsome young man who was with an older couple that was obviously his parents. We found out he was Syrian and his parents were there visiting him. They had to come to England to see their son because it was too dangerous for the son to go back to Syria. As we talked the conversation turned to religion (of course). They informed us that though they were Muslim they were from a small sect that was at odds with the teachings of the militant Muslims from their country. We shared about why we were here as missionaries and then about our beliefs. They had heard of Mormons but it had all been very negative. As we talked there was such a sweet spirit of sharing and finding common ground. We invited the son to come see us at the Visitors Center, which he told us he would. We left them with a very different impression of what Mormonism teaches and it was likewise eye opening for us to not lump together all Muslims. They were a wonderful family.

On Tuesday we found out our favorite Elders; Elder Anderson (who has been here since we got here and who we adore) and Elder Hou were BOTH being transferred. (Elder Hou is the first mainland Chinese born and converted Elder to come to England.) We were devastated! We took them to lunch to say our goodbyes. When they left they handed us letters expressing their love and gratitude for us. I want to share a letter to your father from Elder Hou in his own words.
       Elder Phillips;
This is Elder Fubo Hou from middle of China, which is the chicken stomach. Haha. Is really nice serving around you. You know I love you sooo much! I love your testimony and your story about your life. Every time, when you share your experience about our church, about Savior and about your faith in God I will thinking: WOW. This is the man I should to be! Through you and your example I was learned a lot of things from you. You help me to be a better missionary. You help me to understand that what kind of man I should to be, what kind of family husband I should to be. I have long way to go, but I promise you that I will do my very best, keeping faith in God, help others to come unto Christ.
I love you so much. I pray for you have a good time in your mission. Hope to see you again!  Elder Hou

How adorable is that!!!

That night we had Samni, Dorothy and Samni’s little 17 year old 6’5” brother come over to say goodbye to their Elder Anderson. I had made a new dessert (I got the recipe from Sister Jordan. It’s DELISH!!). When Dorothy walked in she had 3 plates of food. It was the dishes that Dad had raved about when he’d gone to their house for dinner a few weeks ago. It was a feast!!! So much for me serving HER!!!

I love this family!! They are the Ugandan family that lost their dad years ago. This Mom has single-handedly held on to these very handsome young men. It’s obvious they adore her, as do I! I’m so sad Elder Anderson has left. He was their missionary! But your father has taught the last several times, thank heavens, and hopefully the work will continue!

Thursday night was our Institute Recognition Night for our stake. Once again I did dinner but for that night they wanted a dessert, as well. They told us the previous year they had around 30 people show up. Just to be safe I cooked enough pulled-pork sandwiches and coleslaw for 60. The dessert I did for 50. Well, to everyone’s surprise, we had over 70 show up. It was crazy. Our pork held out, but the dessert was never going to feed everyone there. Then in walked Eugenia from Moldovia with a large apple pound cake. We cut that sucker up and served it with my Eaton’s Mess (my new found dessert, that’s what it’s called) and everyone got a dessert. Such a sweet blessing. (BTW that has NEVER happened before that someone brought a dessert on Thursday night!)

Friday was a Multi-stake Dance. Of course Britannia was in charge. (We are in charge of everything!) We had two new activity committee members assigned to do food. Both are new converts who have never done anything like this. Neither of them had a car or money to purchase the food ahead of time. It meant the fourth trip to the grocery store for us in a week. But this time Elder Phillips DROVE THE MISSION CAR!!! It was our first time out, all by ourselves. The girl, Annick, and her friend came with us. I forgot what a luxury it is to have a car!!!! No hauling a 100 lbs of food in a trolly. Loaded in the car and unloaded it at church. SO SIMPLE!!!

I learned a great lesson last Friday. After we purchased all the food we unloaded it at church. I went into the kitchen with the girls and made sure they had trays and peelers and knives. When they were all set to prepare the food I LEFT!!! We came back that night and everything was neatly placed on trays and organized on the table. They had done a wonderful job. The food for the evening was the perfect amount. Clean up was easy (although we didn’t get home until 1:00 am) and when it was all over Annick said, “I’m very proud of myself!” I’ve never done this before and it all worked perfectly!” I’m proud of her, too! Lesson; trust these kids to do their job!

I think I’ve mentioned our concern for the over 26 year old YSAs. We had noticed that many had disengaged from Britannia; burnout and feeling too old for the ward. Jim and I have really worked hard to go after them and get them reconnected. We adore these kids, with all their maturity and experience. They have so much to offer the ward.

When the dance started it was so slow and only really young kids were there. Around 9:30 our Catherine (one of the older girls we have been working closely with and who we absolutely ADORE. We want to bring her home with us) came with her roommate, Sarah. They came for us but they took one look at the crowd and were ready to leave. Of course we wouldn’t let them leave and instead got them into fun conversation. Gradually more and more of the older kids started to arrive, until the whole lobby was filled with the senior YSAs. IT WAS A BLAST!!! They stayed until the janitor finally kicked us out! And in our true humility we took full credit for getting them there!!!! I’m telling you, they simply can’t resist the love we have for them. They are so adored and valued by us. They know we see them and recognize who they are! It was a real victory!

Got to bed around 2:00 am but needed to be up to get picked up for a temple trip at 8:20 am. This trip we had the luxury of riding up to the temple in a taxi. Our 2nd counselor in our Bishopric is Ionuts. He’s a darling young man from Romania who is a professional taxi driver. He offered to drive us there and back. WHAT A DIFFERENCE from last time. We were able to go early enough to do a session and then do baptisms with the rest of the kids when they got there. It was a beautiful day at the temple

Sunday I WAS EXHAUSTED. Jim kept asking me what was wrong. I just didn’t have it. My emotions were depleted and I really just needed to sleep. I was DONE!

Monday was my 63rd birthday. I awoke, prepared to be homesick. NOT A CHANCE! From the moment I woke up I started to get messages on Facebook, Instant Message (first one of the day from Jami) and precious love letters on email. I felt literally embraced by family and friends all day long. It was so incredibly sweet!

We also had a four hour meeting with Bishop Gill. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that Bishop is moving back to the states at the end of this month. TRAUMA!!! He is such a precious, wise Bishop. He will be sorely missed by the kids AND us!!! He called us around 11:30 on Monday morning from the states to go over EVERY NAME on our Britannia rolls. It took four hours to review. He KNEW every name on that roll. What a gift and preparation for us to have him share insights and background of some the kids we don’t know. Jim and I both feel strongly that we are here at this time to help bridge this transition for the new Bishop. This is no small calling to walk into this ward. How intimidating this would be. So many kids and so many needs.  It was a very valuable and sweet experience with our friend, Bishop Gill.

That night was FHE and once again I felt like Queen for the Day!!! Presents and flowers and hugs and loves!  Surprise; my very own recipe carrot cake gotten by Lindsey from a call made to Megan. I also got a happy birthday song from 50 of my closest friends as I walked in the Cultural Hall. It was magic! I felt the lOVE!!!

There was only one thing not fun on Monday. One of our dearest Chinese members is Ling Ling! She is a tiny little thing that has stolen our hearts. She’s been a member not even a year. This past month she graduated with her Master’s in translation and was hoping to find a job. No luck! Now her visa is expiring and she is forced to go back to China in August. It’s killing me! This is the one thing that’s the most difficult thing about this calling here in Britannia. When you love these kids like we do it’s devastating when they leave. It’s the price you pay to love them so deeply.  

With the Chinese it’s even more difficult. When they go back to China they are given a letter from church headquarters explaining how they need to live the gospel in a communist country. Everything is above board. They need to register with the government. They can only meet with other Chinese (no ex-pats). They can’t have more than 50 Chinese gather at a time. They absolutely CANNOT proselyte in public. In the letter is given the name of the area president who will guide them to the nearest congregation, something that had me worried for the kids going back. With all this the main concern is the difficulty in simply living the gospel in China. It’s so difficult in their culture to live the standards of the church. It’s so misunderstood and unimaginable to their families (many are communists). It just doesn’t conform to their culture. We lose some who go home to China. My heart would break to lose our Ling Ling!!!

On Monday night Ling was teary about going home. After talking to her it finally came out that she was terrified that she wouldn’t be able to live the gospel with the pressures that were bound to come from her family. Then she broke my heart by saying that if it came down to choosing family or the church she would have to choose family. I wanted to cry. She could tell I was so sad.

Late that night I got an instant message from Ling. This is what she said:

I think I was wrong about choosing between the church and my family. Firstly, I don't think I need to choose because my parents always trust my decisions. Secondly, if I have to choose, I will go with the church because I know it is true and what I am doing is right. I don't need anyone to see my change or something. I know it deep down inside that I have changed so much because of the church. And that's all I need to keep me strong.

I wanted to do back flips! That’s my girl!!! She’s amazing!

Tuesday night we had our first “Seek for Supper”.  It’s the replacement for Tuesday night Institute Class. Kids can bring less-active friends or non-members here for dinner. We have a limit of 4 people. Tuesday we had Megumi, an amazing Japanese YSA that’s our best fellowshipper in the ward and works at MeKenzie (the largest consulting firm in the world) came with a beautiful Chinese convert of 4 years that I’d never met before. Cindy is an actuary at an insurance company here in London. Tola, a Nigerian who got her masters from Oxford and has a prestigious job at Accenture brought a young new Chinese convert Rainy who we’ve been working hard to get fully active. All are lovely articulate young women.

The dinner was border-line disastrous! In our flat we have this wonderful narrow balcony off our main room. We got this great idea to buy a barbecue and use it for these Tuesday night dinners. Problem was we haven’t used coals in 50 years! Jim was gone getting some last minute stuff for dinner so I thought I’d start the fire and get it hot in time to cook the hamburgers. I noticed it was pretty windy but figured I had a lid. I lit the bag of coals and flames started climbing higher and bigger than I ever thought they would. The wind started catching the ash, blowing it into our kitchen through the French doors that were open to the balcony. I was sure I was going to burn down the whole building. It was very scary and I was the idiot who didn’t know what the heck she was doing.

On top of that the coals never did work properly. We eventually got the burgers done, but by time that happened I was fried! It was one of those times when you realized you should have probably tried the barbecue out before we had dinner guests. (I still can’t believe I didn’t start a fire! Whew!!!!)

Last night was another dinner for the masses, except the masses never came. We had so much left over. Welcome to summer. Our numbers are cut in half, but then we have kids traveling through so we never know how many to count on. This is going to be interesting!

Today is Friday and we just got back from taking Tom and Lindsey to lunch. Tom is the young man that has written you kids and thanked you for sharing us with them. He and Lindsey just got engaged but he has to leave for a job in Wales for the whole summer because he can’t find a job here in London. It’s devastating because he’s our YSA Stake Rep and Jim’s bestest! We just got back from saying goodbye.

Tonight I get my real birthday present. We are going to Mathilda, the Musical. I’m so excited. It’s gotten rave reviews. Cute Jim went and stood in line this morning to get great seats. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Well, I think I’ve bored you enough! I’m not sure if you will want to even read all this. It’s very “newsy” this week. I keep thinking if this is noteworthy enough to record. I’m going to have to evaluate what needs to be recorded and what’s only important to us.

I love you all. Bri asked if we still get homesick. ARE YOU KIDDING?!!! There’s not a day that goes by that my heart doesn’t ache at some point of time. We miss you all like crazy! But we KNOW we are here in this season of time for a purpose. It’s being made manifest to us. It makes it so much easier to do. And I know the Lord knows our hearts and accepts our sacrifice, because it truly IS a sacrifice being away from all of you!

You are adored, loved and prayed for a hundred times a day. LOVE LOVE LOVE!!!!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

First Day of June, 2014

It’s Sunday morning and I haven’t had time to get to the blog. I have a couple hours before getting ready for church so I thought I’d take advantage of this time and catch up.

The work here continues. Sometimes it gets frustrating because it seems so slow. Yet looking back we are slowly moving forward with the work of serving the YSA in front of us and seeking the ones that are NOT in front of us. Along with re-activation is missionary work, the chance to fellowship and teach investigators.

Samni and Dorothy

Two weeks ago Jim was asked by our Elders if he would go with them to the home of a young Ugandan man who has been investigating the church for months. He’s 19 going on 40. Jim was gone all evening and when he came home he was full of enthusiasm for this amazing boy. Samni comes for a family of 3 boys and a committed, hard working mother. The father died 14 years ago at the age of 35 from cancer so the mother had to step up and be both parents.

From this meeting Jim was able to determine why Samni, even though he is totally converted, has not joined the church. In Uganda the culture is that the wife takes on the religion of the husband when they marry. Dorothy’s husband was Catholic so that’s what the 3 sons were raised as. For Dorothy it was a matter of respect to her dead husband’s memory to keep his religion. Samni, who adores and honors his mom, hasn’t known what to do.

Jim came home loving this Mom. They had totally hit it off. From that meeting Jim was positive that if Dorothy and I could meet it would help to break down her resistance towards the church. We were supposed to go this past Wednesday to their house for a discussion, but Samni ended up having to work. I was so disappointed.

Thursday night I was in the kitchen with kids helping me serve and trying to feed 80 kids when in walks the Elders and Dorothy!!! My first thought was how in the world am I going to friendship her and still feed my thousands?

We gave her a plate of food. Jim sat and visited with her but then had to leave to go teach Samni. She sat and watch this controlled chaos with kids coming in and out of the kitchen, kids lined up to be fed and my helpers and I serving up food. There was no way I could sit down and talk to her. Instead as each YSA came into the kitchen I would introduce them to her and they were DARLING!!! Every one of them engage with her, all so gracious and friendly. Then the next one would come in and it would repeat. 

Finally I was free enough to sit at the island. Jim returned from teaching Samni and we sat and talked and laughed and laughed for another 1 ½ hours, with still more YSA coming in and out and loving on her. I kept thinking to myself that if I were a mom of a 19 year old son who would I want for his friends if not these amazing young people. It could not have been more PERFECT!!!

What a great lesson for me. I was being my “Martha” self, worried about all the things that needed “doing”.  But God, in His goodness, saw it clearly. It was so obvious it had been orchestrated by One who loves and knows His children!

Dorothy and I are friends!!! I’m so excited to see what is next. And I don’t even need to know how it will play out. The Lord, once again, has made it plain that He is in charge!!! So sweet!

Week Full of MUSIC!!!

I feel like my soul has been fed and filled this week. The past two weeks have been finals for all our students. It can get really stressed and sometimes sparse attendance as the kids are buried on projects, dissertations and tests. But there is an upside to this. We have 2 YSA that are getting masters at the Royal Academy of Music. Their finals are short master recitals that are adjudicated and graded, but family and friends are allowed to attend.

We have two young women who had their recitals this week. Tara is a vocalist and Emily is a french horn player. What a delight to go and listen to extraordinary musicians perform. They were amazing.

One of our senior missionary couples is the Ohmans. Elder Ohman was assistant dean of music at BYU. He’s the one who played the organ for the movie “King of Kings” at Easter. We adore both he and his wife. These young women took classes from Elder Ohman at BYU and were friends even before they got here. On Friday night after Emily’s recital the Ohmans had us to their flat for a gorgeous dinner and a fun night of musical discussion. (Afterward Jim said he felt like he was listening to a foreign language. He was totally lost. Made me smile.)  

Then yesterday another one of our YSA, Rich Smith, invited us to a dress rehearsal for a recital he is preparing for. He is a euphonium player. Now when I heard that was the instrument he played I scoffed. When I was going to BYU a euphonium was kind of a joke of an instrument. No one took it seriously. Well, have I had a change of opinion (along with the rest of the music world). It is called the cello of the brass instruments. It was GLORIOUS!!! I was truly blown away by not only Rich’s playing, but the instrument itself.

After, we were walking home and I started to cry. Jim was surprised and asked why. I 
told him I was just so filled up by the beauty and gift of music in my life. This music had just fill all the holes in my heart I didn’t even know were there. I was so deeply grateful that I have had this gift in my life. To me music is like nature. It’s simply a gift from God. Its purpose is to enrich and bless our souls with beauty and to testify of His love for us. I cherish His gift to me!!!

Elder Phillips Driving to Costco

Elder Phillips is now officially a driver in England!!! For the past 4 months we’ve had to mooch rides any time anyone is making a Costco run. (It takes 1 ½ hours to get there.) Sometimes we’ve just had to make do with what I can get at the local stores, but it’s so much more expensive and no one sells quantities we need, except Costco. Costco is my BEST FRIEND here in England.

Now we can go when we need to go. It’s more liberating than you can imagine. So proud of his courage (There’s no way I want to drive! It’s so CONFUSING!!!)

Bri and Dan’s House

Your sweet Daddy has had late nights this whole week working with Bri and Dan trying to figure out what they should do with their housing needs. Of course it has to take place very late here because of the time difference. (Not that your dad minds. It’s a great excuse for him to get to stay up late!)

We are waiting to hear if an offer has been accepted on a house they are bidding for. We hope it will work but what is so great is they have other options that are available, in case it doesn’t work out.

We’re so glad we have a home they can come stay at. There is even a house that was for sell in our ward that they are now going to rent. It would be a perfect alternative if the offer is not accepted. We just want Bri and family safely home. What a gift and a blessing to have them close once again. That’s the most exciting thing of all!!!

*God’s Love Learned in Centerville

Time for a couple of life lessons learned while we lived in Centerville. These are stories that my children have all heard before but it needs to be written for my grandchildren. It’s been on my mind because I shared one in our Institute class a couple weeks ago and once again felt the impact of what I learned. These are experiences that every one of us needs to experience some time in our lives because it changes the way we perceive ourselves and God’s relationship to us individually!

We moved to Centerville in the summer of 1984 when Tanner was only a couple months old. It was a very difficult move because we left behind an almost Camelot existence in our neighborhood in Mission Viejo. We lived on a cul-de-sac with five other LDS families, all with children the same ages as ours. I was heavily involved with all things musical, having started Sing Noel there. I also was teaching Relief Society. My dear friend lived right next door. We loved the pace and flavor of Orange County and we were only 4 hours from San Luis Obispo, where the rest of our family lived.

When we moved to Centerville, our home was down the end of a street, all by itself. When Jim brought home his first paycheck I burst into tears exclaiming, “You brought us here for THAT?!!!” It was by far the least income we ever had in our marriage. The financial stress put Jim’s body into a spin. He almost died from a horrendous ulcer (another story).

In Mission Viejo the ward was family, but in Utah everyone was related to each other. We were definitely odd man out. It took 6 months before I was even called to be a Visiting Teacher! I went from being the center of all the action in our Mission Viejo ward to being an outsider that was “one of those California Mormons!” It was ROUGH!!!

Eventually we made some friends and very gradually were accepted into the ward.  I got called as ward choir director that helped break the ice. The dearest friend I have in the world came from Centerville; my Stana Lou!!!

I need to share how that came to be. We had been there a few months. I still felt lonely and a little lost when we had a new woman who had just moved into our ward teach the Relief Society lesson. She got up and started to teach and I remember thinking to myself, “Where has this woman been? How have I not known her? She’s way too happy to be from Centerville!” 

She was loud and enthusiastic and so converted and a little over the top; just my kind of person! I LOVED her spirit! I LOVED her essence. I KNEW I KNEW her! After the class was over I went up to her and said these words, “Stana, you don’t know me, but you and I are going to be best friends!” AND WE ARE TO THIS DAY!!! She was worth the whole Centerville experience, just to find my Stana!

We had been there a couple years when Jim and I were called into the Bishop’s office. I need to give some context to this. Growing up I had acquired an aversion to being in charge. I really don’t know where it came from. I don’t know if it was knowing if I accepted a responsibility I would have to follow through or if I just was not wanting the burden of being the person in charge. Whatever it was, I did everything I could to avoid being the chairman or President of anything!!!

In the Bishop’s office he looked at me and then said the words I had dreaded my whole 34 years of life, “We want to call you as the new Relief Society President.” My internal gut reaction was a resounding “NO!” I didn’t voice the NO but fear coursed through my whole body. I bowed my head and started to cry. Then came a VERY STRONG message to my soul, “You are not being because you can lead. You are being called because you can LOVE!”

I stopped crying. And in my heart I knew I could do that.

I can testify, and have many times through the years, that my accepting that call was one of the most important decisions of my life. I am living proof that the Lord can make more of us than we ever could dream possible. I WAS able to truly love and unify my sisters in that calling. But He also took my weakness and turned it into one of my strengths. I laugh. I feel like I’m in charge all the time. And that’s O.K. The Lord can use me wherever he chooses. All because I said yes to a servant of the Lord!

Our financial situation continued to worsen Jim became deathly sick with his ulcer because of total lack of control at work. He went and received his blessing from Elder Ballard who healed his ulcer and then told Jim to go back and do what he loved in California. Feeling the inspiration in his words we put our house up for sale.

Our timing trying to sell the house couldn’t have been worse. Utah was in a recession and the housing market was a disaster. Yet we just knew it was time to move. Jim found a job that took him back to Southern California and he begin to commute every week back and forth between the two states. He would fly out Sunday and then fly back to Utah on Friday night. It gave him a Saturday and half a Sunday to be home with us. Then the waiting begin.

One month, three months, 9 months, a year; still no buyer. We were showing the house several times a week, usually right at dinner time. (Artic Circle became our best friend). I had to keep our 5,000 square foot home immaculate. With 5 small children that was a full time job. On top of everything I was still serving as Relief Society President. All of this was going on with no husband home to help.

As the months past it became more and more difficult to stay positive. It was no way to live; half in Utah and half in California. Then 12 months into our ordeal the Realtor called and said the next day we had not one, but TWO offers coming in! I remember falling to my knees in gratitude for this miracle.

The next morning I was busily trying to get the kids ready for school when the phone called. It was the Realtor informing me that one of the offers had backed out. I thought to myself how grateful we had two or this news would have been devastating.

It was only 30 minutes later that I got another call. Once again it was the Realtor telling me the other offer had also backed out. There would be no offer coming that day.

I remember sitting at the desk in the office, hanging up the phone and letting out a long scream and then starting to sob. My poor children came running and gathered around me and up on my lap, trying to comfort me. But I was beyond comfort. I felt it was simply too much. I could not keep going.

Then it happened. Through my sobs I felt a warmth start to fill my body and I heard a voice, “Starla”. Then I was literally embraced in the arms of His love. I was so shocked I stopped crying. My children didn’t know what was happening. I sat there and felt the heavy burden of fear and despair lifted off me and I knew three things perfectly. I KNEW that God knew my name. I KNEW He loved me. I KNEW that He was aware of what we were going through. And I KNEW if that was true then all this was part of my curriculum and for my growth! I had assurance that I could do this because He would help me carry the load.

We didn't sell the house for another three months. It didn’t matter. That experience changed everything. I’ve never again doubted the Lord’s love for me. I KNOW He knows and loves us individually and is aware of the challenges we face. Each of us needs to come to truly know that for ourselves. In the end that knowledge makes all the difference. With all my heart and in the name of Christ I can testify that this is true!!!

Love to all!