Monday, September 8, 2014
September's Arrived and We're Off and Running!!!
Well, so much for a calm, low key summer. It's amazing how you can literally feel the energy rising and we are only through the first week of September. School doesn't actually start for another 3 weeks but kids are setting up house and getting ready for school to start. We have new kids arriving daily. I've got to kick start my memory chip so I can remember all the new names (I've been truly amazed at how well I remember the names of our kids. Believe me it's not my memorization skills, but an endowment.) I love the energy! It's motivating and fun to add new YSA to our circle of friends!
This has been one of the sweetest weeks since we've been here. We've had almost daily miracles, sweet promptings and seeing the hand of the Lord at work in the lives of our youth. Also I truly never believed I could love Jim more deeply, but my love and respect just continues to grow as I watch him magnify his priesthood, give wise and prudent counsel and continuously serve and support me. It's almost scary how in sync we have become. One of us can't even have a thought that in that instant it doesn't come out of the other's mouth. What a privilege it is to able to serve with my sweetheart and feel our love expand not only to include our kids, but one another. It's been one of the many gifts of our mission.
Thursday Dinners? Meeting with the Stake Presidency
We had a meeting this past Saturday with our Stake Presidency concerning the Institute and YSA program for the upcoming year. We love our Stake President but we have come to realize that words of affirmation are not the British way and not to expect it. What a sweet and tender surprise when Pres. Phillips started the meeting by saying, "In my memory and I've been involved with Britannia Ward one way or another for 17 years, I have never seen two Senior Missionaries more loved and having greater impact than the two of you. In those 17 years I've seen a couple periods of time that I would identify as a golden era where things just clicked and we saw amazing growth with the YSA. We feel that we've entered it once again with you and newly called Bishop White. We are so grateful you are here! You are making a difference." It was such a sweet confirmation that what we are striving to do has had an impact. It was very tender.
This meeting was called because our CES Institute teacher, Mark, is wanting to eliminate the dinner on Thursday nights. He feels it take too much time and puts a limit to how many kids can come to class (we are up to 80 and I don't know if I could personally cook for more than 100 so it actually could become an issue.) The Presidency wanted to get our opinion.
It's so interesting the evolution of our commitment to this Thursday dinner. When we first got here my opinion was that I hadn't come on a mission to cook. I was sure we could find another way to minister without having to cook for that many. Initially it was overwhelming. But it took only a couple weeks for me to see its value and what an amazing tool dinner on Thursday was. We all know how food draws us together. I watched as YSA would come hungry from a day at school or work and gather together for both physical and spiritual nourishment and fellowship. I watched as the missionaries at the Visitor Center would have a place to bring young investigators to dinner where they would see kids their own age talking and loving each other and feel the spirit. The kitchen became my personal counseling center, with kids helping me with dinner or sitting around the island just talking and laughing. Quickly I realized that dinner was not optional, that whatever work it required was SO WORTH IT!!! I still feel that way seven months later. Along with Bishop White, that's what we said to our Presidency.
There has been no decision made. They will let us know this weekend. I pray that we can continue and if the numbers get to a point it's no longer feasible THEN we can adjust. I have to smile to myself. Who would have ever thought I would be fighting to keep dinner for 80 going!!! NOT ME!!!
Another Tuesday Dinner Story. The Best One Yet!
I need to preface this next part by saying I asked and received permission from "I" to share this unbelievable experience on my blog.
This past Tuesday dinner was divinely orchestrated. The previous Sunday a girl I had been trying to meet for 3 months showed up at church. I'll call her "I". She's 28 years old and has been inactive for 10 years. She was a good friend of our Catherine's. Catherine knew of my futile efforts in trying to reach out to her so when Catherine saw her at church the first thing she did was drag her over to meet us at the close of Sacrament Meeting. It took only a few minutes before we all felt like we had known each other for years. We found out she was a corporate consultant; instant connection with Jim. They had so much to talk about. By the end of our conversation we had gotten her to commit to come to dinner with Catherine and another one of our amazing YSA; Lola. Lola is a beautiful woman of Nigerian descent. Her father is our stake Patriarch here in London. Lola also had a couple years of inactivity but found her way back and is now one of our most valiant members. We adore her! It was the perfect trio for dinner.
I knew it was going to be a magical night when "I" brought me a pot of my favorite flowers; blue hydrangeas!! The dinner began. It was perfect chemistry at the table. It's like we all had known "I" forever. She felt the same. And as the night proceeded she opened up and with complete candor told us her story. When she was 18 she became interested in a missionary that served here. He came back after his mission and they fell in love. "I" followed him back to the states where they got engaged. Her family was concerned, cautioning her to wait but she was sure it was right. Two weeks before the wedding, when everything was bought, plane tickets purchased and wedding arrangements made, her fiance broke off the engagement. She had to come home with her tail between her legs.
That experience hardened her to the church and to the spirit. She begin by breaking the Word of Wisdom, then on to worse things. For the past 10 years she has been living as far from church standards as you could get and she didn't try to make any excuses for it to us. But through it all she admitted she has never been able to deny the church or her belief in God. Even so she has had no interest in living it.
One experience she shared was indicative of how deep her beliefs went without her even knowing it; beliefs planted by righteous, caring parents. She meet a guy at a party that invited her and one of her friend back to his place to do something illegal. She went and as they walked into the house there on the wall was a very "Mormon" picture of the Savior. She turned to the guy and asked incredulously, "Are you a Mormon?" He answered, "No, but my mom is." "I" said to us, "Can you imagine trying to do what I was there to do with that picture of Christ in the same room?" She had to get out of there. As she left she made the decision she would never do drugs again. And she hasn't!
The experience at dinner was an amazing thing to behold. It was like an onion peeling back, one layer at a time. With each layer the spirit just kept getting stronger and stronger, until there was no denying the feeling that was there at the table. Finally in tears "I" admitted she felt her actions and lifestyle had taken her beyond the reach of the Atonement. She felt she was too far gone, too unworthy for even the Savior to save her. She had lost all confidence in her ability to change. Oh how I wish you all could have been at the table to hear the sweet testimonies each of us were able to share with her, expressing our own stories of how He has redeemed us. Lola told her to read the talk on Grace by Brad Wilcox. She bore testimony it would give her the hope she needed to go forward. Lola was so inspired. As the night went on I felt her begin to believe us when we said that the Lord loved her and no one is beyond His reach.
The night ended. We hugged each other, everyone filled with love and the spirit, and said good night. When they were all gone I turned to Jim and said,"Whether she comes back now or later, there's no doubt she will eventually come back." Jim looked at me and said, "She's not going to wait. She's coming."
Three days later we got an email from "I" asking if she could have a favor from Jim. She asked Jim for a priesthood blessing and a chance to tell us about what was happening in her life. I was blown away. She came to church yesterday. We ended up missing both Sunday School and Relief Society as she shared with us.
She said when she got home from dinner at our place she knelt down for the first time in years and prayed. She said it was hard and uncomfortable but she felt compelled to do it. The next morning after the best night's sleep she had had in years she awoke and said another prayer, this time much easier than the previous one. Then without a thought, she got up and started to clean. She begin by throwing things away, things she no longer wanted in her life. She recognized that it was symbolic of what she wanted to do in her personal life. She was able to resist her cigarettes. Throughout the week people would ask her what was different about her, most recognizing there was something spiritually different about her. She received a letter from a girl from the states who feel impressed to write her a letter encouraging her to take back her life, sending her an article about how vices in our life give us the excuse to not live up to our divine potential . She had an atheist brother-in-law ask if she had gone to church or something because she felt so different and then ask if he could meet with us to understand what had happened to her. She DID read Brad Wilcox's talk on Grace and it filled her with hope. This went on every day. She was flabbergasted. It was so divinely personal. She turned and there He was. In Him she found hope. She gained the courage to try. She is coming back! We feel it such a gift to be a part of and to witness the Atonement at work. I can't wait to see what the Lord has in store for this beautiful soul who has become so dear to us.
So excited to Diane and Charlene coming to stay with us. We are going to get a little taste of home. We have some fun things planned. I'm trying to get my 8 pork shoulder roasts cooked and shredded for Thursday night dinner before she gets here so we can play. Poor Di is bringing a suitcase full of things we can't get here. I should be paying for her ticket with everything she's bringing for us. Poor Megan has had to gather and buy a bunch of stuff for her to bring. You would think England and American would have mostly the same things, but they don't. Thank you Di and Meg.
My blog is acting funny so I'm going to close before I loose what I've written. I just want you all to know that we are happy to be here and we are seeing fruits of our labor. We love serving the Lord and His children. We love the YSA that are so badly in need of example and parents. We are striving to do both. Most of all we love and adore you. We pray every day for each of you by name. I testify He lives. He's real. He keeps His promises if we keep ours to Him. I know these things are true. Mom