Friday, August 29, 2014

"Let Go and Let God" By Elder James K. Phillips

I knew the Lord wanted me on a mission after I graduated from BYU but then I had to figure out how to pay for it. This choice was going to make me face one of my greatest fears as a little boy, not having enough money. Money meant safety to me hence why I went to work for my dad at 10 years old and spent my summers and weekends at K.L. Phillips & Sons Sporting Goods Store and Gas Station until I was 19. Mom used to say that I saved every dime I ever made. Dad paid me very little the first two years but then I can remember doing really well in the Sporting Goods Store and getting raises over the years. I started out getting two dollars a day then five, ten and finally twenty. I saved every dollar I made. I was driven to go to work and couldn’t get enough, motivated by my savings account growing and feeling a real sense of accomplishment.

Looking back now with big boy eyes I realize that driving down to Pismo Beach with my dad was a big deal to me. Working with my grandfather, K.L. Sr. and seeing my tiny grandmother Andrea (my Ashlee’s middle name) at lunch every day mattered to me. I claimed my dad’s family by working for them. I always felt I was their favorite because I came to work in the family business my grandfather started and my dad ran his entire work life.

My father would turn over in his grave if he knew he was the one that introduced me to wanting to have my own business. When I got my first real job with Xerox that over 300 people interviewed for, dad was happy.   

When Xerox got down to the three final candidates from the 300 that applied, we had to be interviewed and approved by the Sales VP at Xerox in Los Angeles.  He was over all the offices and hiring in Southern California up to our Santa Barbara Office that included San Luis Obispo. The other candidates who were in the running were great so I asked the VP of Sales why he was giving me the job. He said you are all equally qualified but you had the best recommendation letter. I had forgotten that I had included my Mission President’s Recommendation Letter that told about me being his proselyting assistant. The Sales V.P. said that he was an inactive Mormon but he understood what that kind of experience gives. You obey Father and he always takes care of you.

Let me get back on track now that I was hired. Dad saw working for one of the best companies in America at the time as long term security. I saw Xerox as the best sales training I could get anywhere and that I would need it to start my own business. Over the next 18 months Xerox invested $87,000 in my training. It was considered the best sales training in the world at the time. After completing my training and working for them for two years I left grateful and feeling prepared for the next step, my own business. My poor father. When I left Xerox to start my own business he thought I’d lost my mind.

Xerox didn’t last long because of the seed he unknowingly planted in my entrepreneurial heart by letting me go to work with him when I was just a boy. My passion for business was born in that Sporting Goods Store, standing behind the gun counter as a 12 year old, envisioning a chain of K.L. Phillips & Sons Sporting Goods Stores all over San Luis Obispo County. I figured I’d build the business with my five brothers and they’d each run a store. I can remember gaining confidence in my ability to sell, doubling the surf board sales every year. My dad would shake his head as I would ring up another sale of our best clamming waders instead of the cheap ones, along with its matching clam bag and of course you had to have a new clam fork to get the clams to fill the bag.

I don’t remember Dad ever saying what a great job I was doing so I asked Mom what Dad thought. Mom would say that all he would do was come home and rave to her about how gifted I was as a salesmen. Those words were never spoken to me.

(Pap’s Lesson) Dads, don’t wait to tell your children what a good job they’re doing when they deserve it. They need to hear it from you, not their mom.

My dad withholding his approval was one of the main drivers in my life to excel in business and in athletics. I figured if I could be the captain of the team and the best player he’d come to my games. That never happened. Dad, continuously working, only reinforced my fear of not having enough money that would lead to no free time to be a dad.  I longed for my father to come to my games, my businesses or even my houses but it never happened. I just wanted to prove to my dad that I was successful so I could hear him say he approved of my life.

When my father was 73 years old I finally heard what I needed to hear from him. It happened when I announced I was taking my family to Utah. I was walking away from my mountain bike business, Alpine Stars. I was the managing director and it was producing 22 million dollars a year in revenue in Europe. I was living at the Country Club making the most money I’d ever made. I told dad that I knew I had to take my children to Utah so they’d be able to marry in the Church. When I told him he turned to mother and said, “He always succeeds so I don’t worry about him.” My mother almost fell off her chair but in that moment I knew my dad loved and respected me. That’s all I ever wanted to know from him.

(I’ll get back on track now) When I was a little boy I could remember feeling very afraid of not having enough money. I took on that fear from watching my father work 7 days a week 364 days a year (he took Christmas off) to provide for his family of six boys, two girls and mom. I remember being very aware of the old dangerous cars we drove and swearing that my wife and children would never be riding around in a dangerous car. 

That leads me to a funny story of the first new car I bought for your mom. On her 25th birthday I had gone out and bought her the #1 safest station wagon available. It was a great car and had every extra you could ever dream of. Her B-Day arrived and I had her brand spanking new “station wagon” parked in our driveway waiting for her approval. I was so proud of myself for keeping my promise that my wife and kids would never be riding around in an old, unsafe car with my children in it. (It’s amazing how we’re driven by our fears.)
I guided your mother out to the driveway to see her big surprise. When I took off her blind fold, she took one look and begin to cry. She told me later that she wasn’t ready for “a station wagon. She felt like that car represented that she was an old lady now driving a station wagon around with her kids. Wrong message on a woman’s birthday. 

The lesson here is that when we let our “fears” DRIVE us we usually get it wrong.

Heavenly Father knew all my fears and wanted to teach me who I could really trust very early in my life. He knew it would take great faith for me to be baptized, knowing that I would be thrown out of my home. He also understood how terrified I was of not having enough money so what does He do? He asks me to invest it all in my mission.

I accepted His call to serve in the England Central Mission. I had most of my money tied up in a new green El-Camino that I’d paid cash for and Pacific Gas & Electric stock that I bought in the 11th grade. The El Camino was a 300 hundred horse power, police special engine under the hood and was the coolest car ever. I bought it for college transportation at BYU my senior year. But when I made the decision to serve my mission I knew I had to sell it to fund my mission.

I HAD to sell the green ram (named by my best friend I played football with at BYU, Steve Facer). With time running out I tried every way I could think of to sell it.  But my car was still new and expensive. The day came when I needed a miracle given I was supposed to leave the next day to go up to Salt Lake City to enter the Mission Home. That last morning before I was to go a “Polly Dolly” showed up. Her rich daddy was funding his little cow girl’s car while she went to Cal Poly. She loved everything about the car except the most important part for a girl, the color. She said, “I love the El Camino because it will pull my horse trailer but the color just won’t work.” I was shattered because I knew I couldn’t leave without the “Green Ram” selling. After she left I went into my bedroom and prayed. I pled with Heavenly Father to help me. I reminded Him that all the proceeds were going to fund me in His service.  A few hours later the Cow Girl came back and said, “I don’t know why I’m buying this because I don’t love the color but I’ll take it.” She handed me $3,800 in cash that allowed me to leave the next morning. 

God always takes care of his servants. Always!

I arrived at the Birmingham England train station and was picked up by the Assistants for our Mission. One of those assistants was Elder David McDougal who became my partner in Digital Gateway 35 years later. (Selling DGI funded my second mission to the England London Mission along with the rest of our life. That’s a miracle for another blog). He use to tell the story that I was the only missionary that arrived with all their mission funds waded up in their pants pocket.

I had to make that money last for my entire mission. I lived on $75 dollars a month when the mission average was $125 at the time. My budget would have worked if I could have continued riding a bike. It failed because I was called into leadership early. Seven months into my mission I was made a district leader and at 9 months a zone leader. These callings drained my already limited funds because of fueling a car. I think the Lord called me to be an assistant at 11 months because the mission paid for the assistant’s car, housing and food. I served President Reed L. Reeve until I had four months left of my mission. After pestering President he finally put me back out in the field as the Zone Leader in Birmingham. This was the happiest day of my mission when I got to go out again and do the work with so many of the elders that I had come to love.

One of my best mission memories was having the opportunity of having my first greenie while I was a Zone Leader at the end of my mission. It was in my 21th month of my mission when President Reeve gave me the chance to help one of his dearest friend’s son that was struggling with his testimony. President asked if I would take the son for a mini-mission while his father did business in Birmingham for two weeks. Mark Schwindeman dropped his son off at the Mission Home and my companion and I picked him up just like a real transfer. The Lord went to work on his testimony. The Lord allowed this young man to awaken to the truth during his time with us. He went home totally converted to the gospel. I was later informed that my greenie went on to be an assistant in his mission in Paris, France. I always knew I could be a good trainer but my calling early in my mission was to serve with the elders that President Johnson gave me that were going to be sent home if I couldn’t turn them around. I was 23 years old convert, a graduate from BYU and still at my football playing weight. I was still a little scary and totally focused on the work. I wasn’t going to let any companion stop me from doing the work I’d been called to do.

All of this leads back to Father requiring me to give all I had so I would learn to rely 100% on Him. My fear of running out of money before I was released came true. I ran out of money with three months left. Your mother has shared the story of Brother Schwindeman being sent back to my door after the spirit turned him around while going to the airport the very day I ran out of money. I testify that as I knelt down the night before to pray and explained to Father that I had just enough money to fill the car, I was peaceful and knew I would be taken care of. I had no idea how the Father was going to do it but I knew he would. I had told no one that I was out of money except my Father in Heaven. He sees all things and I testify that when I opened the door and saw Brother Schwindeman standing there with his son asking me what I needed it just was one more confirmation to me of our Father’s faithfulness. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

August is Over!!! September Here We Come!!!

I've been putting this off all day, trying to find excuses not to start but now they are all gone and it's time to get to this. This blog is kind of like getting ready to go exercise. Once you're doing it you're glad, it's just starting that's hard.

The top news of the week is this past Sunday we finally got our new Bishop. When his name was announced Jim did a raised fist celebration right in sacrament meeting. It's Rick White, our high councilman who came to our home in Orem. We love him. He knows the kids and his wife is as wonderful as he is. It will be such an easy transition. He has two young single adult counselors. When President Phillips (Stake Pres.) asked Rick if he was sure he wanted two unmarried young adult counselors he replied, "Don't forget President. I have the Phillips!" That made us very happy he feels that way because that's how we feel about the Whites. So grateful!

Dinners at our Flat

This past week could have been low-key but we managed to fill it up nicely. We had four dinners in five days at our flat. Last Tuesday we had a Brazilian, an Argentinian, a Chinese, a Portuguese and an American for dinner! I still continue to be amazed at how international our experiences here has been. It's interesting how each country has its own distinct flavor and attitudes. It's such a wonderful complex growing experience to blend them all together to make a cohesive group that makes up our Britannia Ward. One of the things I've been most impressed with is the absence of any bias towards specific groups. There is simply no barriers to different races, color and creeds. I love it!

On Thursday we had our Institute dinner. There is no class for the next four weeks so we just gather and eat and then play. Tomorrow we are going to watch Elder Bednar's talk on using the electronic media for missionary work and then see  figure out something we could present on-line about Britannia Ward. It should be really fun.

Friday we had our A.P.'s over with a darling Chinese girl investigator. She is such a character. Very smart ( final year of her Doctorate) and asks some very very direct questions. (One day I'll tell you about a question she asked Sister Jordan in a discussion on chastity. Sister Jordan DIED!!!)  We love Chili and she makes us laugh. It was also a going away dinner for our precious Elder Gonzales. He left yesterday to return to Spain. A great Elder.

Saturday we had Jade, our Stake YSA Rep, come with her sweetie whose visiting from the states. We wanted the chance to meet him and see them interact together. We feel like parents to Jade. It's so funny to watch Jim. He's like a protective daddy. It lasted until 11:30 and we got to really see them together.

Do you now understand why we keep gaining weight. I am never NOT cooking! But just like our very best conversations at home take place at the kitchen table, the talks at our table here are the best and so invaluable. Usually they last 3-4 hours. Where are we ever going to have a chance like that if we don't bring them together in small groups with the excuse of dinner. Each dinner group is unique but every one of them is amazing, with our guests leaving feeling loved and connected to us and us to them.

A Tuesday Night Dinner Miracle

I need to tell you about the dinner we had last night; the most amazing one yet! It had been a frustrating day. We had invited 3 girls but two had called and had to cancel because they were sick, leaving only Debbie, a young 19 year old, new to London. She had only been to one meeting at church, had canceled the week before, but we finally got her last night.

We had invited 2 guys. When the two girls canceled I called another girl to come but hadn't heard back. We had a baptism at 5:00 last night so we went to church and there was Sanje, our Indian investigator that we adore that had gone home to Birmingham for the summer. We knew it had been a very rough summer with his family and his friends and he was vacillating if he would continue with the lessons, even though we all knew he'd had deeply spiritual experiences in the Book of Mormon. The news had broken our hearts. No way did we want to lose this very special young man!

After the baptism we hurried home to get dinner ready and the barbecue going. As we entered the door I turned to Jim and said, "Why didn't we think to invite Sanje to dinner? He needs to come." That second Jim got up and called the Elders who were still with him, talked to Sanje and he was thrilled to come over. It ended up being absolute inspiration.

One of the other boys was Joye; a young charismatic Nigerian born in London who had joined the church 4 months ago, came for awhile but we hadn't seen him for almost 3 months. He's a fabulous young man converted by one of our best sister missionaries who told me that Joye was the reason she came on her mission. That he hadn't been coming literally broke her heart. Two weeks ago to our surprise he was at church. We bee lined it over to him, loved on him and got him to commit to come for dinner. He canceled last week but agreed to come last night. Again, absolute inspiration. (Interestingly enough Sister Gibson was just transferred back to to the Visitor's Center yesterday!)

The last one was George. He's Bulgarian and actually aged out of Britannia last year (he's 31). His conversion story is very similar to Dad's. He was totally in the world, actually drunk when he met the sister missionaries. But as he was taught the gospel over the next months he recognized the truth of it and desired to be baptized. When he told his mom he wanted to be baptized she and all his friends disowned him. After his baptism he was immediately fired from his job for being a Mormon. His sacrifice to join the church was absolute. He made his way to London and then to Britannia where he became completely immersed in the ward, even serving as Elder's Quorum Pres. But since leaving the ward last year he had become discouraged and had become less active. We got to know him through our Catherine and made an effort to become friends. He started coming once in a while to Institute and then last testimony meeting bore an unbelievably riveting testimony.

George's Testimony

His mother is a Bulgarian Jew. George had lived in Israel when he was a child and loved the country. Last month when the bombings were taking place he was deeply concerned for family and friends still there. One afternoon he was working the desk at the hotel where he has a job. In concern and worry he had made a call to his best friend that still lives in Jerusalem. As they were talking George heard a huge boom on the phone and the line went dead. Then up on the T.V. they had breaking news that a missile had made it through Israel's defense shield and had bombed part of Jerusalem where George's friend lived. Stunned George told how he walked into the middle of the lobby and could go no further and simply fell to his knees and in desperation begin to cry and pray out loud that his friend and his family would be safe. He testified in that moment he recognized what a lie it is we tell ourselves that we are in control of our lives. He recognized his complete reliance on the mercy of God. He prayed the Lord would accept his supplication. As he opened his eyes there was a circle of strangers around him, praying with him and offering their concern and their compassion. It was a deeply spiritual experience for George. An hour later he received a phone call from his
friend telling him that the missile had landed very close to where his family was but that they were all safe.

So last night we ended up with three guys and one very young girl. None of them knew each other! I wasn't sure how it was going to go. Oh me of little faith.... how we need to trust the Lord when we are anxiously engaged in his service!

The conversation and banter was so natural! I felt a little bad for Debbie. It was definitely a guy's table conversation, but was so fun.  There was four very powerful males at the table. It went through the gamete of sports, school, job opportunities and naturally flowed into the gospel. At the table sat struggling George, in-active Joye, non member Sanje and inactive Debbie. How could this end well? But it did. It was beautiful. Between Jim and I and the powerful testimony of George and what he had sacrificed to join the church (who strengthened himself as he strengthened the others) the spirit came and bore such a powerful witness. Each of them were able to remember the spirit they had felt before. Joye and Sanje were able to opened up about the persecution they were under from their family and friends simply because of their interest in the church. Sanje turned to Elder Phillips and said, "Elder Phillips you've shared with me who you were before you joined the church and what you went through to be baptized. But who I know you as now I can't reconcile to the person you were then. I can't imagine it. But hearing George and Joye share what they are going through gives me strength. I know I'm not alone in this, that others are going through it like me and I don't feel so alone."

They were here for four hours. As they got up to leave Joye told us he would see us at Institute Thursday night! Sanje hugged Jim and whispered in his ear, "Elder Phillips I'm back in." When they left Jim and I just looked at each other and marveled how miraculous a night it had been. We truly recognized the Lord's hand in orchestrating it perfectly. I love the Lord and I love this work!!!

Today we received this letter from George. I'll share just a part of it.

Elder and Sister Phillips,
     Thank you for having me! It was good to spend some time with members of the Church and be reminded of all those experiences I have for some reason allowed myself to forget about. 

     Both of you have something, call it a gift if you want to, but you two have the ability to go above the mormon-ish stigma and connect with all sorts of different people. It reminds me of the pure love of Christ.  I can see why the Lord has send you here. You're vitally needed in a city full of so much confusion. People need to hear your testimony and good example in order to be guided to The Lord.

We can't take credit. We pray for that kind of love EVERY SINGLE DAY! We recognize that it is an endowment from God. We both KNOW that's why we are here, to love them safely home! What an unforgettable night!

Well it's now the next day, Thursday. I was trying to finish this yesterday when we got a phone call from Catherine Wilkinson asking Jim for a blessing. She's had terrible flu and is slowly getting better but needs to be good enough to run a workshop at work today. (She had gotten sick over the weekend and was supposed to teach Relief Society on Sunday. It was a lesson that Jim had taught last month to the Elders so he went and taught it for her to all the girls. It was magnificent. Had all the girls in tears. Only Jim!!!) Catherine's blessing was so tender. Just what she needed. We love her like a daughter. There will be a bond of love eternally with her and I'm positive we will have her visit us when we're home. Right after she left Leslie, a girl I visit teach, came over for me to visit teach so I wouldn't have to leave Jim alone with Catherine (inappropriate). Leslie is from the states and just one of the pillars and great ones of the ward. Three minutes after she left we had our precious Chinese Helen and Ling Ling just drop by (at 9:30 pm) for a "quick" visit. They left at 11:30. So much for getting back to the blog last night.

One last experience. Monday afternoon I get a phone call from Hollie (R.S. President) and her best friend Rachel who had been outside playing in the rain. They were both sopping wet and asked if they could come dry their clothes in our dryer. It was a crack up when Jim got back from running an errand and found the girls, one in my PJ bottoms and one in my PJ top siting on the couch talking. Rachel ended up leaving an hour later. Jim had to go and cover for us at FHE and was laughing when he returned hours later and found Hollie and I still sitting on the couch deep in conversation. We talked about the girls in the ward and their needs, we talked about relationships, about marriage and motherhood. We talked about all of you. It filled up such an empty hole in my heart. It was almost like having you girls here for the day. Hollie is another relationship that will be eternal. We are dear dear friends. She is a magnificent Relief Society President. I've made her promise she will serve there until we leave. I love her!

Well I'm done just in time to go finish Ashlee's Chicken Barbecue Salad for our Thursday night dinner happening in 4 hours. We pray you feel our love for you. We want to testify that we feel the Lord pouring out his blessings upon our whole family. We can never get ahead of Him but we can certainly show our gratitude by doing all in our power to serve his children. Your sacrifice adds power to our service here. We feel your prayers and your love that fills us up and allows us to turn around and love others. It's a circle of love. Loves and Hugs to each one of you! Mom

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Family at Lake Powell and Our Week Here in London August 16, 2014


Since leaving on our mission there have been two events that we have dreaded and knew would be the most difficult part of our mission; two Lake Powell trips and Christmas. Well, we can now cross one of those off the list. The Lake Powell Trip was as difficult on us as I thought it would be. We were so sad to miss it, especially since our precious Allie and family went this year for the first time. But mostly it was made unbearable because of the nervousness we felt for their safety, especially the littles; Codi and Fiver.

The families all met on Monday, slept in the houseboat at the dock and then pulled out the next morning. We didn't hear anything from them (no reception) until we received the following email from Allie early Saturday morning. Waiting for word from them was the longest 5 days EVER!! Here is the email we received:

"To my favorite second parents ever, we wanted to tell you this trip is going AMAZINGLY perfect! We haven't had service so have been waiting to take a trip out to email you guys! It is unreal! Everything has been incredible! Ash was awesome parking house boat and anchors going in was flawless! Perfect weather and boats working perfectly! The kids are literally soul mates like their mamas! Your legacy is so beautiful, you two! Your kids are carrying on the traditions you have set in place and it is the perfect formula for family closeness. I said the prayer last night and was overcome with the spirit as i prayed that you two would know how much you are missed and how much your children honor you while you serve!!! We love you so much, and the Monsons could never thank you enough for blessing us and our kiddos with this opportunity of a lifetime to be in such a beautiful place with such incredible people. We will leave here better bc of these people you raised. Love you, admire you, honor you, miss you more than I can say! Love, Allie and Sean"

Here is our response back to all of them:
What can I say about Allie's email!!! For three days I checked my email every hour. I couldn't figure out why my shoulders were so tight and sore and why I felt light-headed. I finally realized I was figuratively holding my breath, waiting to hear from someone that you were all safely tied in.

I got Allie's email at 6:00 a.m. here Saturday morning when I had gotten up way too early. I was by myself and first thing went and checked my email. As I read I burst into tears, so filled with gratitude for the precious words of love and the huge relief that all was well. I could finally breath again!  All day long I was thanking Father for your protection and for the chance you have to share as a family the experience of Powell. It also made my heart hurt a little (a lot) to not be there sharing it with you. But I couldn't stay being sad. I was too full of gratitude.

Allie I assume the email was from you. When I read your email to Dad he laughed and said, " How could Allie hit every single concern you have had and touched on everything that really matters to both of us?" It was such a perfect answer for this fretting Mom and Grandma. Oh how I wish we could have been there for your first Phillips Family Lake Powell trip. No one would appreciate it more than the Monsons. Isn't it the most AMAZING place?!!!
It was also such a wonderful love letter. We both felt hugged after reading it; hugged by our Allie and loved and appreciated by our family. We couldn't have asked for more.

I would be lying if I said this was no big deal missing this trip. I've talked to the Lord and pointed out what a significant sacrifice this has been. Still, we could never trade what we are doing right now. This trip and every other good thing in our lives are gifts directly from Him whom we serve. We owe him everything! We continue to pray for your safety. And we pray that your relationships with one another will be strengthened into eternal bonds of love.

Once again thank you Allie for your message of love. You'll never know what it meant to us.

Love Every One of YOU! FOREVER!!!
Mom and Dad, Schmarty and Pap ,
Maga and Baba, Elder and Sister Phillips

Blessedly the trip was as close to perfection as it could get. (As hard as we prayed I'm not surprised!) Everything ran smoothly and the siblings had a blessed, grown-up bonding experience that was remarkable. And the grandkids had a blast (OMG Codi who is only 2 and Fiver who is 1 1/2 learned how to ski!!!)  What more could we ask for!

Tuesday Dinner with Ling Ling

It's been two weeks since I last blogged. I hate when I do that because there's too much and it's hard to choose what to share. I guess I'll just hit the highlights

It's been so successful having our Tuesday night dinner. It's going to be difficult letting it go when we start Institute next month. Last week's Tuesday dinner was a perfect example. We had invited 4 of our Chinese girls to dinner. Two were Helen and Ling Ling, two of our most faithful AMAZING members. Along with them was Kelly, a newly activated fairly new member and Maggie, a young woman that has been taking lessons for a year but not yet baptized. (She's totally converted but there's some legal items that need to be cleared up.) We were ready to focus on Maggie and Kelly. 

As the night progressed the spirit directed us in a surprising way, dealing with some anit-mormon stuff that is circulating here. Jim and I both came to realized that the dinner was for our beloved  Ling Ling. It was a magical night that was totally led by the spirit. Everyone of us at the table were energized and filled up with renewed testimony. It confirmed and finalized what I had been feeling for a couple weeks. 

My change in approach of how to do the dinner started with a comment I remembered that was made to us the first day we got here by the outgoing Institute Director. He told us that reaching out to inactives is part of our job but the real focus needs to be on the ones in front of us. I would have never dreamed that Ling needed to be at our table that night. We think that as long as the kids are coming we don't need to worry. How wrong we are to assume that. There are so many unseen needs. More than ever I am praying to have eyes to see past the outside into the inward parts and recognize who needs our fellowship, whether they are active or not! This Tuesday dinner confirmed what I had been feeling. It's changed how we are approaching who we invite. And I know it's the right way.

Lunch with Wiola

I have been trying for 2 months to establish a relationship with Wiola. She is a beautiful girl from Poland who joined the church last September. She was active when we first got here but quite coming soon after we arrived. She was one of our original 5 that we were going to go after. I had made contact through friending her on Facebook. Finally I asked her if she was interested in going to lunch with me last week. She agreed, but when I called to set up details she told me in very direct terms to LEAVE HER ALONE! I was shocked since she had just agreed a couple days before. I quietly told her I would honor that and we were just reaching out because we cared. She softened and we hung up on good terms. Two days later she emailed me and asked if we could go to lunch. By now I was totally confused. (I think she thought I was someone else on the phone) but agreed to meet her on Monday.. 

We met for lunch at a restaurant close to our flat and had a delightful couple hours. She's a lovely girl with such a darling sense of humor. We saw someone fall off a step and both of us just looked at each other and started to giggle, then laugh, then guffaw! It was horrible but we couldn't stop laughing.

As we ate she shared one of the most difficult tragic stories I've heard so far. She was born in Poland, the youngest of 7 children. When she was 21/2 her mom left the family. She was raised by an absent father until she was 10, then given to a sister to raise until she was 15 when she went out on her own. The last time she saw her father was at 15 when he was in prison.  Literally this girl has had to do her life with no safety net and virtually NO emotional or financial support. She struggles with sadness but is amazingly OK considering what she's gone through. (So many hard hard stories. I don't know how they do it!) She works as a Nanny and still manages to save money so she can go to school. Dad met me at the restaurant after lunch so we could leave from there to go shopping. Wiola said she needed to use the restroom before we left, but we discovered she had gone and paid for lunch. I was so upset! But Dad was sneaky. When Wiola bent over to get stuff off the floor he dropped some bills in her purse. No way were we letting her foot the bill. My heart breaks for the hard lives these kids live. I don't know how Father can watch all the heartache in this world and not flee to the furthest corner of the universe.

Trip to the Temple with the Sisters

This past Tuesday was packed full. The night before we got a call from Pres. Jordan asking if we would be willing to take two sister missionaries to the temple the next day. One of them was leaving to go home, back to the Marshall Islands where she has no access to a temple. (Meg she's right next to your mission. She had such a familiar face! We told her all about you. Darling sweet girl) We also took Hollie, our Relief Society Pres. who is newly endowed with us. We knew we had our dinner that night so we left early to get to the temple so we could be home in time for dinner.

The session was the strangest session we've ever attended. We got to see the 3rd of the 3 new temple films (Not a fan of the film, at all!). The session was stopped 2 times for about 20 minutes each time. The first was to allow a couple to attend the session (this was after the session had started) and the other was because a guy got up and went out so we waited another 20 minutes until finally one of the workers went and found him and brought him back into the session. It was crazy! Nevertheless, the girls were delighted and grateful to be there. 

We got home in time to get dinner ready. We barbecue but that night it started to rain hard. I looked out the window and there was Jim with our huge Tahitian Noni umbrella we inherited when we got here, covering the barbecue as rain poured down all around him. It made me giggle.We had another amazing dinner with a very random group of girls; Chinese, Irish, and two Americans (one inactive, but all needing some love and care). I was worried about the dynamic of the group but it ended up being delightful. These dinners just continues to build bridges. We love it!

Wonderful P-Day at Dover and Canterbury

Wednesday we took the day off to go with our friends, the Ohmans, a senior couple that work at the Visitors Center. We took the tube and then the train to the white cliffs of Dover, made famous from World War 11 and the rescue of Dunkirk. Above the cliffs is one of the biggest, most strategic castles in all of England. It was built by Henry the Second for defense against the French. It is on the English coast that comes closest to the coast of France. In fact we were able to see France's coastline as we stood looking over the English channel. 

Looking across the channel to France

The castle was huge and amazing. Even more interesting were the tunnels that ran through the cliffs that were started with Nepolean and added to over the years, culminating in World War 11 where the tunnels were used as command centers to house the military leadership running Dunkirk and  D-Day. It was fascinating.

After touring all of Dover and seeing the ocean for the first time we got on a train to go to the city of Canterbury and its amazing Cathedral. I think it's my favorite place so far. It's a charming town with walls surrounding the cathedral and the old part of the city. The shopping area is all in cobblestones, no cars and it leads to the Cathedral. When we walked into the church I turned to Jim and said,"This cathedral almost convinces me to become a Catholic." It was gorgeous and truly amazing. I continue to be stunned by what builders were able to create with no modern machinery. You could just feel this building was their prayer and offering up to God. We were fortunate to be there in time to hear Evensong. It's when a choir of boys and clergy sing a liturgy (a prayer in song) in the early evening. Elder Ohman was on BYU's faculty of music. We were all in heaven. It was deeply spiritual. We didn't get home until almost 10:00 that night. Great day with great friends.

Precious Ella

Yesterday we had our precious Ella and the sister missionaries for lunch. Ella is the girl that Jim confirmed after her baptism whose parents had watched that horrible "Meet the Mormons" the very night before her baptism. She has been on a two week vacation with her family. It was rough! Her family can't understand her need to be a member of the church. She needed to just talk. She's leaving in two weeks to go back up to Manchester to school and is nervous on how to handle her new membership in the church with her old friends. How I wish you could all meet this girl. She is exactly what the Lord  meant when He said "My Elect will hear my voice"! She was here for 4 hours and we could have continued talking. She could be one of my daughters. She's only 20 but her spirit is old. I love this girl. If we were here only for her it would be enough!!!

Helen's Mom and her Baptism

This afternoon we have another amazing event. I've told you about our amazing Helen. She is the Chinese girl who has been teaching her mother who lives in China the gospel. Her mom has been converted and has come to London with Helen's father and is being baptized today at 4:00. Tomorrow Helen asked Jim if he would confirm her mother. Helen's mom speaks not one word of English, but the spirit can be understood without words. What an honor to be asked to perform this sacred ordinance! So excited.

(I just got home from the baptism. I cried from the first word spoken. There was such a beautiful spirit there. The talks were in Chinese (one by the daughter Helen). We didn't understand a word but it didn't matter. It was so so sweet and so tender. Truly we were "no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints of the household of God." It was AMAZING!)

OK so there's more on my list but I'm out of time and you are all probably so sick of so much detail. But these are people and events I don't want to ever forget. We are blessed and so fortunate to have these relationships that will be eternal. What a gift to be able to serve here in the middle of the world; London. Oh how we love each of you! What gratitude we need to feel for the blessing of a family that genuinely likes, loves and adores one another. It's so much more rare than I had ever supposed. Thank the Lord tonight in your prayers for the gift of our family and the gospel that has made it all possible. I've said it before and I'll say it again. We owe Him EVERYTHING!! Love to you all.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

"Music; My Heavenly Gift" Part 2

Catch Up For This Week August 2, 2014

We are in the midst of the summer doldrums. Things have been pretty low-key. When we aren’t as busy it is much easier to get homesick, especially with all of you going to Powell this coming week! I guess we need to enjoy it while we have it. We are blown away by how much time the Europeans take for vacation. It’s not 1-2 weeks, but 4-6 weeks of travel, mostly in the months of July and August. By the end of September we will be back in the thick of things!

It’s been a great time to really organize and get our reactivation program in place and trained. Things move slowly here. Today we are actually writing our two wards without reps, giving suggestions we’ve gotten from some of our kids on names that would work from their wards. Hopefully that will be enough to get the Bishop’s response. The rest of our reps are trained and ready to go.

We had a very sweet experience this week attending a Zone Leader Training Session which included not only the Zone leaders but the Sister Trainers (equivalent to zone leaders, only they train the sister missionaries.) We were there to explain how we are going to use them on Wednesday nights to go out with the YSA reps finding and locating our less-actives.

Your dad and I sat in that room and looked around at an amazing, powerful, handsome group of young men and women that would impressed anyone, in the church or out! And what was more amazing was they represented countries from all over the world. What a mission and what a set of complexities that most missions don’t have to deal with. It was truly impressive. It made both of us get teary just looking at all of them!Another amazing thing from that meeting was how this mission is utilizing technology.  I’m glad I got to see how it is assisting the work because sometimes I feel bitter with all the misinformation that is available on-line that really effects and hurts the testimonies of our kids. I realized at that meeting what an astounding asset technology can be in its capacity to record, graph, compare and store data. Our mission is using Facebook. That’s how my sister missionaries has helped me locate and connect with dozens of YSA from our ward by friending them. Also we’ve been able to vet dozens of names that no longer belong on our rolls through finding them on-line. It’s astounding. And no one is doing it better than our London Mission. I can’t tell you how impressed I am with Pres. and Sister Jordan. What an honor it is to serve in their mission!

We continue to feed, teach, counsel and love. It’s unending but we would have it no other way. We are blessed to be able to do it!

On the tube with Lindsay Briggs and Keanan Cantrell, two of our favorite YSA. We are on our way home from watching another one of our YSA, Katie Morrill star in a production of Shakespeare. Fun night with fun people!

“Music: My Heavenly Gift” Part 2

My Years at B.Y.U and Its Aftermath!

I was fortunate to receive a partial scholarship to BYU. Between my scholarship, working two jobs during summer and help from my parents I never had to work during the school year. As a music major that is almost impossible because of all the practice time and extracurricular activities associated with being a music major.

I had high hopes for being a vocal major at a school such as BYU. There were many wonderful musical events for me; singing and touring with some of the best college choirs in the country and solos in a couple operas. But it was never what I had hoped for. It all started with the choice of my voice teacher.

One of the things I did upon arriving at school was to go and find a voice teacher. I went to the Music Department where the first person I met was the head of the Opera Department. When he heard me auditioned for him he accepted me as a student that very day. Looking back I wish I hadn’t acted so quickly. I think I was overly impressed with his position as head of the department. It would prove to be a big mistake.

I had always had a very big, powerful voice. But I was still only 18 years old when I arrived at school. This teacher took my voice and had me performing arias from opera that I should never have touched for several years; big classical arias from Wagner etc. By the middle of my second year at school I HATED what my voice had become!! As it got worse and worse what had previously been nerves performing solos developed into an absolute phobia of singing. The thing I had most loved in high school became my most terrifying experience at BYU. I realized I had to change voice teachers or my voice would be beyond repair!

My junior year a miracle happened. The music department got a new Artist-in-Resident. His name was Ray Arbazu. He was a glorious Italian bel canto style tenor. He was short and round with a typical Italian personality; all emotion. And he could SING!!!!! In desperation I went to him and asked for his help. Gratefully he took me on as a student.

I will always feel Ray rescued my voice. We pretty much started over. I had to relearn how to sing under his tutelage. By graduation I was singing much more to my liking.

Yet a HUGE problem remained. I was singing better but the damage to my psyche was done! I was left with a horrible fear of soloing that plagued me for the rest of my life.

I’ll never forget singing at my final Senior Recital, a prerequisite for graduation. There was a panel of 4 faculty members who judged your performance on whether you had enough vocal proficiency to graduate as a voice major. So much pressure. I was terrified and sick with anxiety for the week preceding the recital.

I did my program and when I had finished one of the judges asked me in a surprised voice, “Where have you been hiding with THAT VOICE?” What could I say? That my vocal teacher ruined my voice and now I was terrified to sing? For me it was a horrible personal tragedy.

I graduated in music from BYU and for the next three years I didn’t sing a note, not even the hymns. It was such a heavy burden of guilt. I felt such shame at not being able to share my gift. It was devastating.

In all of this there was something beautiful that emerged. I didn’t recognize it at first. It started when I became a student teacher at Hillcrest High School in Murray, studying under the fabulous teacher of music; Leo Dean. He had the top music program in all of Utah. It was an honor to be chosen to go work under him. As part of my student teaching he allowed me the chance to work with one of his choirs and ready them for their spring concert. I had never really conducted a choir before. It was love from the moment I lifted my hand and conducted my first beat! That love affair and passion has continued to this very day!

Eventually I would begin to sing again, but it was usually in duets or trios. Solos were so painful that I would do whatever I could to avoid doing one. There was one exception. I did many musicals through my adult years and sang many numbers on stage. Somehow the terror didn’t apply when I was playing the part of someone else. What a powerful thing the mind is!!

I’ve pondered through the years on what was the purpose and learning for me of this suffering and loss. I’ve come to a realization that there were some important things I needed to learn and do.

First I don’t think I could have ever understood or have had patience for other’s fears. Things always came so easy for me. Being in front of a group of people never phased me. Talking, teaching, acting, all were second nature. This phobia allowed me to truly empathize when others suffered from their own insecurities and fears.

Second I don’t know if I would have ever fully embraced directing choirs like I have if I had been a performer. And I KNOW that choir is where the Lord wanted and needed me to serve. Performing would have been all about me. Conducting has always been about others. My sphere of influence with others has been multiplied hundreds of times by my choice to direct instead of perform.

Third I feel the Lord compensated my sadness with an even greater joy by sending me children who loved music and could sing and perform in the way I always dreamed I would be able to. Through the years this has brought me such incredible joy. I can’t count the times I’ve sat playing the piano with tears running down my face in complete gratitude to Father as we have shared music and the spirit music brings with each other. Their voices have thrilled me, filled me and healed my soul. This has truly been one of my most precious gifts from God. I will thank Him and praise Him all my days!

Before we left on our mission Jim commissioned Annie Henrie to paint a picture symbolizing what I have expressed above. The picture shows a woman holding music in her hands looking up at 5 heavenly beings singing and reaching out toward her. That picture is a symbol of the hundreds of choir members I’ve worked with and shared deeply spiritual experiences with through the years. But even more specifically it represents my five angel children who have restored and healed my broken heart through their voices and the music shared together around our piano. They will always be my greatest heavenly gift!