Sunday, December 28, 2014

"My Conversion" by James Kerwin Phillips

He said “Ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be open unto you, seek and ye shall find”. So that’s exactly what I did. Here’s the rest of the story that I’ve never written down.

This is about the night I was guided to receive the truth and the impact it’s had on my entire life ever since. Father in heaven chose to share it with me in a very specific way that I could never deny. I suspect I was blessed with an undeniable communication from God because of what I would be asked to sacrifice all throughout my life.

Everyone has gifts that God has given us before we ever began our sojourn here on earth. One of those gifts I have been given is to hear the voice of the Spirit and follow His directions. I have always been spiritually inclined and have never known a day I didn’t love my Savior. I have always been keenly aware of what’s right and wrong and wanted to follow the moral compass that was in my nature.  I was driven to know God more intimately and his son Jesus Christ, even when I was attending Mission Catholic High School. I wasn’t a good student but I was a good person and was drawn to my religion classes. The only A that I got that year was in religion and was given the Religion Award normally won by girls. That zeal for knowing the truth led me to Starla’s kitchen table that summer night and eventually to her driveway.

Mom has previously shared the events surrounding that summer when I began the discussions with the missionaries on the blog written January 20, 2011 "Love+Example+Truth=Conversion". The part that has been left out of the story is what happened that night at the table and between her dad’s cars parked in the driveway. I have never written my personal experience with prayer and the Holy Ghost confirming the truth of what I was being taught by the missionaries in any great detail.

I feel that it’s time to describe the experience that has shaped my entire life and each of yours. In the scriptures it says “If you’ve read my word you’ve heard my voice”. That was never as true for me as it was when the missionaries had me read the following scriptures.

Ephesians 2:19-20;
19. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
20. And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief corner stone;

They asked me to carefully consider what apostles and prophets meant to the Church of Jesus Christ. 
I, of course, said they were crucial in the organization of our Savior’s Church. Then they built a “flannel board” discussion right in front of me using this scripture to put up building blocks that had at its foundation apostles and prophets, with Jesus being the chief corner stone. Then they asked me to go to the next scripture to complete Jesus Christ’s Church that He built when he was on the earth.

Ephesians 4:11-14;
11. And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophet; and some evangelists (Patriarchs); and some pastors (Bishops) and teachers;
12. For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ;
13. Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;
14. That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;

I watched the elders use these verses to complete the Lord’s organization on the flannel board as the Master set it up when He came the first time.

Verse 11 was used to put the officers of the church on top of the apostles and prophets.

Verse 12 they then asked me what the role of the Lord’s assigned servants were. I told them it was to do what this verse said. They agreed.

Verse 13 they asked me if this verse had been fulfilled in the Lord’s Church yet? I said no. Of course not.

Verse 14 they then asked me does this scripture define the condition of the world today? I said yes it does.

Then it happened. They reached up to the flannel board sitting in the middle of the table and pulled the foundation of apostles and prophets from under the rest of the Church we had just built based on the scriptures we’d just read.

This was Father’s first revelation from the Holy Ghost to me that what the missionaries said was true. I watch in horror as the apostles and prophets and the rest of Jesus’s Church tumbled onto that kitchen table. I was stunned. The Holy Ghost reached into my heart and touched my understanding that this is exactly why the Prophet Joseph Smith was called in our day, to restore Christ’s church. And the Book or Mormon was God’s witness to the world that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God that had translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God.

I was speechless and just sat there stunned with the impact of what this knowledge would require. I understood what the implication of this truth meant regarding my Catholic belief. I had just been taught that everything that I thought was true was not God’s Church on the earth.

Starla asked me if I wanted to talk about it after the Elders left but I was in no shape to speak about what was going on inside of me. I just told her I had to go home and ponder what I’d heard. I left and got as far as the drive way. I went between the two parked cars and just fell down. I was totally overcome by the Spirit working on me. I laid there most of the night begging the Lord for understanding and then it happened. I can only describe it as coming out of a dark room. I looked up into heaven and my heart and mind was flooded with understanding that the Church of Jesus Christ was again on the earth. I can declare that I knew with a perfect certainty that left no doubt that I was being taught the way Father was willing to teach; by the power of the Holy Ghost.

Moroni 10:4-5 best describes my experience;

4. "And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost,
5. And by the power of the Holy Ghost, ye may know the truth of all things."

This is the best description I could ever give for what happened to my soul. It was like the veil was parted and I knew the “truth of all things”.

I had plead with God to teach me and let me know if the gospel of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was true as verse 4 said. I had a “sincere heart and real intent” but oh did I learn what that would mean later. Real intent meant I would have to act on the knowledge God had trusted me with that night. I would have to be willing to tell my mom that I was going to be baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This meant that I’d be leaving the Catholic Church and I had to be willing to live with the consequences of that decision.

I was terrified to face the reality of my answer from the Lord. I was overwhelmed with the implication of knowing what I had to do. I was wandering around town a few days after my answer and ended up outside one of my friend’s house that I seldom visited. It’s amazing to me how aware Heavenly Father is of our needs and will send additional help when giant decisions have to be made. The angel I needed appeared in the form of Gary Stanwick, and old team mate home from Stanford for a few days. We sat out in front of my friend’s house and started to catch up. Gary asked me what was going on in my life. I couldn’t help but bring up the challenge that I was facing. Gary was never the most religious guy I knew but as I described my dilemma he listen carefully and finally said, “You know what you have to do with that kind of an answer!” It was as good as a real angel bringing that message from Heavenly Father.

Father Steinke became my final messenger of light. Mom made me promise to go see this very influential priest in my life. He was my teacher that I had received the religion award from. He was a mentor to me. He had a huge following from the youth and my mother was a real supporter of him. Mom asked me to go see him before I made a final decision to join the Church, hoping he would be able to talk me out of my decision. I promised her that I would and went ahead and made an appointment. During our visit that lasted several hours he listen carefully and asked important, probing questions. It soon became obvious to him the power of the answer I had received from God. He sat back quietly and reflected. He finally looked at me and said, “I would never try to dissuade you from following an answer like that from God.” This was the final test that I had to pass before finally facing my mother.

The only thing that Satan had left was to use the love I had for my mother to keep me from moving forward. I look back now and realize why I needed the level of spiritual confirmation that I received. I could have never hurt mom without knowing it was true. She was devastated and declared that she would fight me to the baptismal font and if I were baptized in the Mormon church I would no longer be welcomed in their home. She did exactly that and had all my worldly possessions waiting for me outside my room when I came home from my baptism. This was my first great test of faith and I needed to call on the witness that I had been given that night; the witness that it was true!

The week before I was baptized I remember sitting in Mom’s backyard with everyone that was important in my life surrounding your mom and I. My mom had questions that I had no answers for, but I did have my answer from God, my Father. I was so frustrated when mom kept asking me questions that I had no clue how to answer. I finally had the sweet peace come over me and I was able to look my mom in the eyes and say,"Mom I don't know the answers to these questions. I promise one day I will. But right now all I know is what God has told me, that the church is true. So you go and fight with GodlI also told her I didn’t know the answers to her questions now but one day I would answer every one of them

I kept my promise to my mom that I would be able to answer every one of her questions someday. It took five years and serving a mission after I graduated from BYU to get the knowledge that I needed to address her issues. It was never needed. The day I told her to go ahead and ask all her questions her response was how sorry she was and didn’t know what had gotten into her.

I am so grateful for my desire to obey the voice of the Lord no matter how painful or impossible it may have seemed at the time. I testify that the witness I received that night has been the foundation for all my major decisions in my life. “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free”. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

December; Busy, Spirit-filled Christmas

(Continued from last blog)


Hanging on the wall is the Santa Stocking I found in the basement garage. Perfect for our tradition we shared with our kids. Also notice my new keyboard. Such a precious gift!

                             Some pictures of the flat at Christmas Time!

I’m so grateful we need to only be gone one Christmas from our family. Of all the seasons of the year this is the one that makes me cherish our children and grandchildren the most. I’m so filled with gratitude for the gift of eternal families that is possible because of the birth of that tiny babe in Bethlehem. Yet being here in London this month has been so sweet, so Christ-centered, so full of service that we didn’t have much time to be too lonesome for our family.

This month has been full of really fun events. Very busy but without the intense stress of November. Some of the highlights of the month was an All-Sisters Missionary Conference. You know how we love the Jordans. This was all Sister Jordan and it was amazing. We posted a picture on Facebook taken of all 65 young sisters and about 10 senior sisters from just this mission. Our sister missionaries are such a power for good here. We get to watch them teach and fellowship at the Hyde Park Visitor’s Center. They rock it!

We had our Ward Christmas Party. After the insane month we had in November and as a gift to me, Bishop White had the dinner catered. We even had Hyde Park 2’s decorations to work with. Pretty much we just showed up and were fed a turkey dinner. After the meal we had a Scottish Kalleigh (spelled totally wrong). I’m sure our square dancing in America came directly from the Kalleigh. We had callers and a Kalleigh band come and teach us the different dances. Talk about a crazy workout. Everyone was dripping wet. What was so great about doing the Kalleigh was  EVERYONE was involved and dancing. We had at least 150 kids there for dinner and most stayed to dance. It was a wonderful, fun night. Everyone loved it.

The following weekend we had a delightful experience going to a Balleywood Dance-Off with 8 University dance teams competing.  We went because Sanjay had killed himself for 3 months learning the dance routine that represented Imperial College. It was such a fun night. Great dancing, great costumes, beautiful Indian women and fun competition. Best of all Sanjay’s team took first place. They now go and compete in the all UK competition this summer.
Sanjay at his Ballywood competition. He's the one on the far left. They did such a marvelous job. It was amazing!
Yet another fun event was traveling 1 ½ hours to see Katie Morrill act in one of her Master’s Production. I so wish all of you could have seen this play. It was actually written by her team of masters students. It was taken from the two true life stories of those that were responsible for the creation of the Grimm’s Brothers fairy tales. The life stories were so fantastic that you could hardly believe they were true. It was amazing to see what these students were able to come up with in the way of dialogue and blocking. Their acting was amazing and the stories truly astounding. Even Jim LOVED IT!!! It was worth the trip to get there. So fun!

Another Christmas highlight was our ward choir. It was very dicey since my two strongest sopranos had already left for Christmas and I had only 2 basses (ended up borrowing two missionaries who were great basses to fill in.) We sang for our Christmas Sacrament Meeting. One number you all know well; “Sing with the Angels”. The second song is one I never did for Sing Noel but the choir loved it. It was called “If This Child was Born Today”. For the talent we had the choir did amazing. (With the varying circumstances of kids going home for Christmas or not being able to get to practice because of transportation I’ve had to let go of my perfection. It’s been good for me.) We also had Katie (my substitute Megan) and a phenomenal tenor studying opera; Robin Dick do “Christ Child, Christ Child” as a duet with the tenor on melody and Katie doing alto. It was stunningly beautiful and knocked everyone’s socks off. (Tanner and Megan we really need to do this when I get home. I’d never thought to do it before but it would be beautiful with your voices!)  

That night the Stake had a Christmas Devotional and asked for musical numbers and the choir to sing. We did all the above and added another number; a French Horn solo by one of my favorite girls; Emily Bier. She is doing a master program on horn at the Royal Academy of Music here in London and she is AMAZING!!! You all would have loved what I had her play. We took my choral arrangement of “What Child is This?” arranged by Howard Helvey (It’s delicious) and turned it into a horn solo. It was actually a duet. The piano part very very difficult and is equal to the solo. It was deeply moving.

Sister Jordan had a missionary choir do several numbers. They sounded beautiful, especially the Elders. Some real talent. Instead of talks the stake showed portions of Christmas videos. It was probably the best thing I’ve been to that the stake has done since we’ve been here. Our Stake President was totally thrilled. The first thing out of his mouth was “So what are we going to do for Easter?” This is from the man that didn’t trust me to know how to choose a musical number for Stake Conference. FINALLY I think we’ve won him over.   

All this happened the first two weeks of December!!!! I kept thinking once the Dec. 14th Christmas Devotional was over we’d have a open week and then Christmas Eve would be here with our kids for dinner. Nice try!!! Even though we had no firm commitments we had kids here every day. One of our older single Chinese members (not YSA but teaches our Chinese Institute class) begged us to go on the Hop On Hop Off bus to sight-see London. It was such a fun and meaningful day with Jin who is an amazing converted Chinese Muslim.
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I also made, with Sister White, 50 Christmas ornaments to give to our kids coming for dinner on Christmas Eve. I spent hours trying to find Christmas paper to type up a couple Christmas stories and ended up having to order paper on-line (and it was still pretty ugly.)

Getting together with Bishop White and Jenny we had divided those kids that were going to be here over Christmas with no where to go. We ended up with most the Chinese coming over to our house for Christmas Eve Dinner. What was so exciting about that is most of them had never had a Christ-centered Christmas before because they didn’t have Christ in their lives a year ago. I felt committed to making it memorable for them. 

One thing I really wished for was a keyboard to sing Christmas carols with. Out of the blue one of our girls, Marita who is a recent convert from Latvia and attends the Lea Valley Ward, heard I was looking for a keyboard and offered me hers. She had gotten it free from her school and never played it. Last Saturday she hauled it here herself. How precious it that? It didn’t have a stand or cord so that very day we got on line and ordered one, hoping we’d get it in time. It arrived late afternoon on Christmas Eve just in time for our dinner!!! Merry Christmas from your dad to ME!!! (You can see it in the pictures of the flat!)

We ended up having two non-members, four Americans and 12 newly converted Chinese members here. It was a magical night. We had a wonderful dinner and then did the Nativity with carols interspersed. We asked the question, “Who was this baby Jesus and what does He mean to you? Sweet testimonies. We watched The Piano Guys Video of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and then did our Santa Stocking (found a huge Santa Stocking sitting in our garage at Church that worked perfectly.) By the end we had every one there in tears. Everyone loved it. It was a sweet and holy night! Then we had a raucous time eating dessert. We weren’t done cleaning up until 1:30 a.m.

We had to be at church by 9:00 Christmas morning to make waffles and bacon for the 65 missionaries close enough to walk to the chapel (there is no buses or tubes running on Christmas day. I love it!) When breakfast was cleaned up we got to go and watch “Meet the Mormons” that will begin to be shone at our Visitor’s Center January 1. I loved it but midway through fell asleep for a few minutes. So tired from the night before

After the show we came home to find a priceless gift from Ashlee waiting on our blog. Unbeknownst to us Ashlee had gotten hold of all our old pictures and mission letters written by me to Jim on his mission and put together a gift that means more than anything we could ever have received. She hacked into our blog and left the previous blog telling our 48 year love story. I cried and cried as I read her sweet words; words that made any sacrifice we’ve ever made so worth it! The power of remembering. I couldn’t get to sleep last night because I was so caught up in the pictures and memory of our life together. Ashlee thank you from the bottom of our hearts. It is a true treasure!

After reading the blog we got to Google Hangout with ALL our favorite people in the whole world, received a report from each of the grandkids on what Santa had brought them, watch Marin and Skyler open some presents and take a visual tour of Tanner and Shelby’s new home. All in all a very perfect day.

Horrible picture taken at night of a ice skating rink they put up in winter that's two blocks from our flat with a giant Christmas tree in the center. Fun!

England doesn't go all out with Christmas decoration but this is the closest giant mall not far from our flat that was pretty darn amazing!!
I’m sorry this blog has run on and on and on, but so much has happened and too much time has gone by to make this short and concise. I apologize. This might be just for us so we won’t forget. I’m finally coming to appreciate the power of journaling that lets us never forget the Lord’s continuous hand in our lives. Ashlee’s gift is an especially poignant reminder of that!

At this season I am especially grateful for my Savior. I did the 30-Day Devotional; listening every day to a different conference talk about this man Jesus. I don’t think I’ve ever loved Him as much as I do this day. I pray EVERY DAY that this testimony, this unchanging conviction, will be yours. That you might know with all your heart that He lives, that He loves YOU and that He know you by name. We need never be desolate or weighed down with burdens too heavy to carry. I testify He is there to help carry your load and lead us all gently home. I love and adore Him. I live for the day I can kneel at his feet and wash them with my tears of gratitude for the gifts He has given me my whole life; the greatest being all of you. I witness this to each of you and send my love this sweet Christmas season. Your mom and Maga! (Pictures will be coming shortly!)

WHEW!!! One Intense November!

I realize it's been almost 2 months since our last post. It has weighted heavy on me and yet there simply has not been a long enough pause to sit down and write an update. As each week has gone by I have felt more and more guilty, until now it's a matter of where do I even start. Yet there are things I can't loose or forget. So I sit down the day after Christmas to begin to try to reconstruct the last two months. I'll divide the months into two separate posts.

We have continued to have our big weekly events of Family Home Evenings on Monday nights, Tuesday night institute at our flat (which has become such a sacred experience and the highlight of our week) Thursday night Institute feeding 100 and Jim teaching his Mission Prep Class (he's having an incredible experience) and our busy, insane Sundays full of Ward Choir getting ready for the Christmas Sacrament Meeting and Stake Christmas Devotional, Ward Council, priesthood blessings, personal counseling and trying to love on every one of our 160 kids that attend. Every Sunday we get home after 7-8 hours of church frustrated that there isn't more of us to go around. We've had 3 kids say to us that we are very different from other Senior Missionary couples because we aren't always together. That's because we are trying to double up our efforts ministering to our kids. And still we come home frustrated because there's not enough time to meet all the needs of all the kids. Yet we continue to try!


What has taken these last two months over the top has been all the added events we've had to our already full weeks. Just in the month of November we had: 
-a Family History Conference (I wasn't in charge, just got to participate and it was wonderful!) 
-We had a Break the Fast Dinner, followed by a CES Fireside. 
-We had our two Stake YSA Reps to dinner. 
-With Sister White and some YSA we set up, prepared, and served food to 160 people that attended our precious Tom and Lindsay's wedding (Two full days. It was a killer.)
-We had a dinner at our flat for our Visiting Teaching sisters. 
-We got to attend a special conference for just the London missionaries that Elder Quentin Cook presided over and spoke at. 
-We taught at a YSA Senior Missionary Seminar. 
-I begin Ward Choir rehearsals for Christmas.
-Taught a 4 ½ Temple Prep Class to 4 of our Chinese Converts preparing to go to the temple. (for my information; Evelyn, Danielle, Emily Du and Maggie Luo) It was a precious experience. It was in this class when we were talking about the pre-existence and how babies came straight from God that Evelyn explained that in Chinese the soft spot on a baby’s head is call "heavenly gate". As it closes so does the veil of forgetfulness!
-Last but not least, we were in charge of food for a first time ever 3-day Chinese Convention in London. Six Meals in 3 days (plus Institute dinner for 100 the night before)! I wasn't sure I was going to survive!

Seth's Birth
This picture slays me. It captures the special love and total caring between two sisters who have always adored each other. Oh my heart!
Aunties at the exact moment of Seth's entrance on earth!!! Look at each of those faces! What a priceless picture this is, so full of joy and love!
All these events were significant but none more than the safe arrival of our 13th grandchild; Seth Lorenzo Hoopes. He was born on November 6th at home surrounded by his father, his Aunties and friends that already loved and adored him. Even his Auntie Ashlee was able to make the drive from Las Vegas to be there when he made his entrance into the world. It was one of the most difficult days for me on our mission to not be there to participate. My heart ached. Yet I had to rejoice that my daughters could be together to  share in this sacred event. It was a magical, deeply spiritual experience for every one of them. In answer to our prayers, Seth is a calm, happy little guy that has brought only joy and light to his family. He is such a gift!

London Chinese Convention 2014

I wanted to share some of our sweet experiences around the Chinese Convention. We began planning it clear back in June. It was the first convention of its kind here in London; a very big deal. I knew I would be asked to do the food but also knew I had no idea how to cater to the Chinese palette. On our committee was Dixon, a Hong Kong born, London raised YSA from our Britannia ward who had become a close friend and helper in the kitchen on Thursday nights. He was a fabulous amateur chef who loved to cook and was gifted at it. AND HE WAS CHINESE! Thankfully he agreed to help even though he was a full time student. Together we took on the responsibility to provide food for the Convention.

We spent several hours deciding on the menu, several more hours making a comprehensive list of what we would need and then there was the actual shopping for it. Monday morning, the week of the convention, we went and got the Mission van and headed out to Croydon, a suburb of London where we knew there was an Ikea, an Asda (Walmart), a very large Chinese grocery store and a Costco close to each other. It took us an hour and a half to get there. Dixon, who lived in that direction met us at Ikea. We left at 9:00 in the morning and didn't get home until 10:00 that night. (We had gone to take Dixon home and the traffic was so bad that we went in and Dixon prepared a lovely dinner for us. Thankfully it allowed the traffic to settle down so we could miss London rush hour; a nightmare.)

We arrived back at the chapel with the van loaded full of groceries and exhausted after 13 hours of shopping. Luckily there were still a handful of YSA from Family Home Evening that were still in the building who helped us unload the van and store it in a cool storage room right off the parking garage.

The next 2 day I cooked and shredded 12 pork shoulder roasts and 15 pounds of chicken plus having Tuesday Institute. On Thursday we took another 6 hours to go to Costco and get the remaining produce, meat and food for dinner that night for Institute class. We went back to church and made dinner for Institute and then asked all the kids if, after class, they would bring up all the groceries for the conference from the basement.

That's when the magic began; an outpouring of love and service to the Chinese and to us from our YSA. Within 30 minutes, with the help of many hands, they had brought up everything and loaded it on tables we had set up to accommodate all the stuff we needed.

The next evening was when the conference begin with a dinner and games. The magic continued. For the next 3 days there was never a time that we didn't have a crew of YSA there assisting us, chopping for us, organizing for us, doing dishes for us, helping set up tables for us and laughing with us. When one person would leave another would show up. We had some of our kids there with us the whole three days!!! IT WAS SO TENDER AND SWEET! There was such a spirit of service and cooperation in that kitchen. There was such love!
Some of our helpers; Jade, Madera and Hannah from Ireland, standing right next to me was there all three days. She never left us. She has become such a special person to us.  We could never have done this without all the YSA's help. It was such a tender mercy!
A tender experience happened Saturday morning, before I left at 7:00 am to go up to the church for breakfast. Because of the intense week and especially the two previous day I woke up Saturday with three meals ahead of me to prepare and an exhaustion I had never felt before. I truly didn't know how I was going to do it. I got on my knees and begged that the Lord would endow me with His grace, enough power to see me through that day. I offered up to the Lord every ounce of energy I had left to do His work and prayed for an extra portion to see me through until that night. I had my own personal, private miracle. I testify that for the rest of the Convention I never felt exhaustion!! I don't know how He did it, but I was carried by Him and by our YSA angels that continued in their support of us. It was a very tender experience for me personally.

Saturday night, after the workshops and activities they had a dance. It was the first time we got to go out and watch them as they were taught how to do different types of dance steps. Every single person there was dancing. It was wonderful and so obvious how much fun they were having together. 

The next morning was Sunday. We made them breakfast and then they went to have their very own Sacrament and Testimony Meeting. We prepared them lunch bags to take with them as they traveled home, but none of them wanted to leave. I was able to talk to some of our own Britannia Chinese kids who expressed deep gratitude for having this chance to gather as Chinese members and for all our work. One girl, Danielle, cried to me and said she'd never been in a Sacrament Meeting that was done in Chinese. She shared how when they all sang "I am a Child of God" together in Chinese she broke down in tears. 

Dixon came and told me how he was able to attend the meeting and how deeply touched he was when one girl from up north stood and bore her testimony saying how she almost hadn't come to the convention because she couldn't believe there would be others that felt the same way about the church as she did. Then in tears she told them that now she knew she wasn't alone, that there were others who loved the church like she did. Dixon went on to share with me how deeply touched he had been by all the kids in the ward who had come so willingly to help with the convention "with nothing in it for them." He expressed to me the anxiety he had felt for the past 3 weeks, not sleeping, worrying about all the things that could go wrong. He said how amazed and humbled he felt as he watched how smoothly everything had gone and how sweet the spirit had been in the kitchen. Then he looked me in the eye and with tears welling up in his eyes said in a powerful voice, "What I've come to know this weekend is that when we on the Lord's errand He will not let us fail!" I, too, can testify to that with a grand AMEN!

One more sweet experience. I’ve talked about our Maggie who got baptized this summer. She has gone to school for fashion and design. I thought she would be perfect for decorating a large wall on the end of the cultural hall. After the Convention she confided in me how she had absolutely no idea what to do. She pondered and stressed over it for several weeks. Finally the weekend before the convention she was looking through sites on-line to get inspiration and came across a picture of a Chinese gateway into a garden. She roughly sketched it on a pad and later went to look at it again, but was never able to find it. The picture was gone. But Maggie said that from the point forward it all just fell into place and when she finished the wall from her rough sketch she had drawn it was beautiful, exactly what we needed. It became the central point for all the pictures and activities. Maggie told me it was her first experience to feel the Lord directing her to accomplish what she needed to do. She was deeply touched. Again the Lord doesn’t allow us to fail when we are on His errand. (Continue to the December blog) 

We are standing in front of the wall Maggie put together for the Convention. On the left is Dixon who I could never have done it without, in the middle is Hannah who was with us all three days helping in the kitchen and on the right is the keynote speaker who flew from Hong Kong to be with us all three days. She was an amazing speaker/teacher and friend. On the last day she gave me the gorgeous silk scarf I'm wearing to thank me for all the hard work. Amazing!
Standing with my Maggie Luo. On the far right is Jin who we went on our London Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour. Love all these kids!

My Maggie!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Unending Love Story

I have vacillated for months about what to give my parents for Christmas this year.  I made them their annual photo calendar, but wanted to give them more. What do you give two people who are on a mission?  Two people who have everything they need and don't have room for anything else?  I also really like to give gifts that are meaningful rather than of the check-the-box sort.  So the last time I was in Utah I brought home their box of old photos and letters to see if there was something I could do with them.  We have relatively few photos from our past and the ones there are have been sitting in boxes aging for years.  

As I sorted through all the old photos I was flooded with memories of old homes, old friends, fun vacations, etc; but the overwhelming feeling I experienced was love. Emotion for a family and especially parents who created a life where love abounded.  Then I began to look through photos of my parents and a love story unfolded; one that began long before I was ever present in those family pictures.  The photos of this story have aged and diminished in quality from the years of wear, but the love has done the opposite.  It has morphed and expanded and become more beautiful through time.  This is a story that needs to be told.  Photos and words need to be used to preserve something as rare and unique as the relationship between my parents.  Toot and Pap, for Christmas this year I have scanned and edited old photos and written your story.  I may get some of the details and timelines wrong, but here is the gist of what I remember.  

They grew up in the same small town in California called San Luis Obispo. 

                                          Starla                                                                        Jim

My mom was raised by these three people: her mother Joyce (on right), father Sten and grandmother Nellie who lived in a house directly behind the home my mom grew up in.  She lived in a strict LDS centered home where there were many rules she was expected to follow.  She was the middle child in a family of five.  My grandpa owned a small gas station and was a mechanic.  They never had very much money, but due to the talent to make things lovely my grandma possessed and the ingenuity of my grandpa to fix anything, they lived a nice life.  My grandpa could be demanding, but was fiercely loyal, loving and so fun.  My grandma Joyce was kind, gentle, and a good listener. Both were hardworking.  My great grandma Nellie was independent, capable and patient.  My mom was the combination and culmination of these three role models in her life.  In addition, she oozed with a talent for music, was fiercely independent, had a fear of nothing and was a bit of a spit fire!     

My dad was born into a devout Catholic home.  He was the second child in a family of six boys and two girls.  Rules were basically nonexistent and self expression was highly honored.  The children ran wild and were known throughout San Luis for their exploits!  His father and grandfather owned a sporting good store in Pismo Beach.  Like my mom, he grew up in a home where money was sparse.  He had a wonderful mother, Ysabel, with wisdom beyond her years, but who lacked in implementation at times.  She was a strong woman who taught her sons that women are equals and to be honored.  She was an incredible listener and non-judgmental mother.  His father Ki, was a workaholic.  He was rarely home.  My dad went to work with his father and grandfather at an early age at their sporting good store just to have interaction with them.  My dad spent his life seeking the approval of his father.  My dad was a great athlete, a talented listener, incredibly loyal, wonderfully naive, good to the core and a bit of a ruffian.  

My parents first met because my mom liked my dad's younger brother Pete.  They didn't really hang out until a later time when my mom needed my dad's help.  My mom was at Avila Beach trying to get a guy to leave her alone (she was a babe).  She recognized my dad and sought him out for help.  She asked him to pretend to be her boyfriend so that the guy would leave her alone.  My dad was more than happy to oblige.  They spent the day together, then the day after that, then the next day...   This was the start of their long love story.  My dad was just seventeen and my mom fifteen.

They dated all through high school.  My dad went to the Catholic Mission Prep and my mom to San Luis Obispo High.  When my dad graduated he went to the local community college, Cuesta, and played baseball and football.  When my dad was almost 20, he started to read the Book of Mormon and to meet with the LDS missionaries (this is an amazing story for a different blog post).  He joined the church, much to the dismay of his family and friends.  After two years at Cuesta he transferred on scholarship to BYU to play football.  My mom, a recent high school graduate, went to BYU on a music scholarship.  There they continued to date.  Well, kind of...

To say they had a perfect relationship and always knew they would one day be married would be a lie; at least for my mom.  My dad always knew.  He wanted to marry my mom from that first day at the beach.  My mom, on the other hand, felt a pressing need to "do her homework" and make sure he was indeed the best option.  They dated on and off, but kept in steady contact throughout college.  My mom broke my dad's heart time and time again.  Yet, he was incessantly forgiving and felt she was his "one" so he kept taking her back.  My dad at age 23 and a recent graduate finally decided he should go on a mission.  He got on an airplane knowing he was leaving my mom in the arms of another.  In fact, she got engaged to Rob Holiday soon after he left.  That decision to leave is so telling of the character and faith of my dad.  He left my mom, the greatest and most important treasure in his life, to go and serve the only One whom he held more dear than her.  This pattern of always trusting in and putting God first has held true throughout his life. 

My mom took Rob home to California to meet her family.  While they were there she quickly realized he was not a fit.  Her parents and especially her grandmother did not approve.  They loved my dad.  They had from the beginning.  She broke off the engagement and started to slowly realize just what she had in my dad.  She began to write him in earnest.  Below are some excerpts from some of the letters she wrote to him on his mission. 

“When I got the tape I had to sit there and literally rejoice inside.  Only the day before I had sent you a letter containing essentially the same things.  I sat in awe when I realized how much the Lord is guiding us both – giving us experiences that lead us in the same directions- preparing us apart for the things we will need together.  It just makes me so happy and excited to know the Lord loves us and wants us together – enough to lead us toward the same goals and experiences.  Oh Jim, I am just so thankful.”

“Honey, I appreciate you so much.  For the righteous desires of your heart – for your determination to succeed at a vital calling: being a father and husband.  I cherish the love you have for me.  It’s almost sacred to me; something I’ll guard and tend and nurture for all eternity.  Honey, only now am I beginning to even comprehend the magnificent opportunity I’m going to have to lose myself in loving and supporting you.  It’s not idealistic or unrealistic, I know what it is going to take to achieve it.”

“You mentioned praying about our children – that made me cry.  Ever since whenever I pray I ask the Lord to bless them, to give them patience, so that we can prepare our home for them to come to.  I want them to know how much we love them and want them eternally.

“There are three periods of time that hold so much excitement for me: the day you come home to me, the day we are sealed for eternity and the day our first child moves within me.  I cannot even comprehend the joy these occasions will bring.  I love you so.”

“You make me happier even at 8,000 miles than anyone can even being here.  I love you sweetheart.   I pray you will know how much.  God bless you.”

“Oh dear Jim, how do I tell you all the personal revelations of you I had last night, all the new light and all the new insight into the future I had, all the longings I had filled that I wasn’t even aware of: spiritual needs, a need to communicate and be understood, to have another speak and I comprehend, to be lifted up by the Spirit the way that only you have ever been able to do, To glimpse at all we have, you and I, to look and see the great sacrifice ahead with you, to literally realize the future and know you are vital in it, to understand and be thankful for my strength rather than asking why so much (because I will be doing much alone), to KNOW Jim, I mean to really know we can make it and will make it, to work toward the goal in this life of our calling and election made sure.  We can do this honey! The most important revelation of all is within me.  Jim I trust you.  Can you believe it?  I really trust you enough to hand you my spirit and know that you’ll take me back.!”

“I love you Jim – the all of you.  The Jim 6 ½ years ago.  The Jim of two years ago at a crossroad; frustrated and unchanneled.  I love you now at 23, an age I will never see you as.  And, I love the future you from 25 to 80.  I love you pure and simple, more than I've ever loved anything in my whole life…  I’ll eternally love you.”

The rest is history.  My dad came home from his mission to my mom who had recently graduated from BYU.  Four months later, after 8 years of dating, they got married in the Los Angeles Temple.  They moved to San Luis Obispo and had their oldest daughter Jami just 13 months after they were married.  Their life has been filled with ups and downs and in betweens.  Through all of it they have always had each other. Their love is the constant.  They have loved each other almost their entire lives.  It is this love that has molded and shaped them into the individuals and couple they are today.  It has and will be there for eternity.

When I found the love letters from my mom to my dad on his mission I was blown away by the depth of the love they had even then.  I sobbed as I read the past, knowing that the promises that were made years ago had come true.  I was born into a home where the power of this committed love was always present.  My parents taught and gave me many wonderful experiences and lessons growing up.  I always had a home, food, and a faith in God because that was all just part of being a Phillips.  As I have grown older and look back on my life and the blessings that have been in abundance throughout it, the one thing that brought me the most daily comfort and assurance was that my parents loved each other.  This in turn made it easy for me to feel that they loved me too.  I have heard the phrase "Jim and I" so often growing up that the phrase has almost become a single word that sounds like "gemini" when my mom says it.  I worried a bit about them going on a mission and being together 24 hours a day.  I wondered if they would drive each other crazy.  The opposite has been true.  Unbelievably, they have grown even closer.  Their love has once again expanded and grown more pure.  More beautiful.  More powerful.  

There is such transforming power in the phrase my mom wrote to my dad so many years ago: I cherish the love you have for me.  It’s almost sacred to me; something I’ll guard and tend and nurture for all eternity.   This is something I have witnessed my entire life.  So this love story does not end here...

I have been the recipient of this love for so long, that now I too get to write my own love story.  I understand the importance of "guarding," "tending," and "nurturing," the love of a spouse.  It is a love I know is possible because I have watched it up close and personal my entire life.  The love I share with my own husband is familiar in its power and beauty.  I too can give this greatest of gifts to my own children.  Because Jake and I first love God, we are able to love each other in a way that transcends our differences.  My own children, your grandchildren will grow up with the lingering of your story permeating their own lives.  

Thank you, thank you, thank you for loving each other.  Your love is such a gift to me, to my children, to their children and on. Thank you for allowing me to be a part your love story.  I promise it does not end.  Even after you are gone your story will continue in the relationships of your posterity who know that kind of love is possible because it was gifted to them by you.  Merry Christmas!  I love and adore you both!                                                                      -love Ashlee