Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Monday, August 11, 2008
August 10, 2008
Dearest Elder Paul that I love,
I’ve enjoyed your letters home so much, and I’m thrilled with the things you’ve accomplished on your mission and they great personal growth you’ve shown. I haven’t been able to write as I’d have liked, I’ve had so much on my plate, but my life is settling down to a roar, and life is sweet.
We had an awesome sacrament meeting today, our new stake partiarch, Brother Neve, and his wife spoke, both lacing their talks with stories from their pasts. My husband, Bob, was reaching for a Kleenex before I was. They both spoke on how how small things can bring about great blessings, and it’s so true. The small acts of service we render to each other can have eternal consequences. One story Sister Neve told was of being impressed during one meeting to get up and go sit by a woman who was sitting alone. They exchanged a little small talk and a hug. She said that 20 years later, this same woman, by now a dear and long time friend, very active in the Church, told her that if she hadn’t come and talked to her that morning (and Sister Neve was the only one who did) she’d have never gone back to church.
It reminds me of the old adage, "They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care."
When we were in the Santa Fe 2nd Ward in Norwalk, Les and I were "Fellowshipping Chairmen," and under Bishop Cottrell’s inspired instruction, when any member of the ward planned to bring a non-member friend to church, they’d call us, we’d call the Home Teaching leader, he’d call his home teachers, and before the next Sunday came around, everyone knew that so and so was coming, and they’d be met at the door with smiles and welcomes, not by one person, but by many, invited to dinner after the meeting, invited to a beach picnic, had offers of rides and babysitting, etc. Bishop Cottrell told us that for two years in a row, our ward was number 1, worldwide, in referral baptisms. It was really fun, with missionaries coming over all the time, eating, getting their hair cut, their shirts ironed, etc. It was a happy time. Our family was instrumental in getting 11 of our kids’ friends and three of their mothers baptized.
I’m telling you these things so if there’s a need in your area, you might suggest the ward members go all out in fellowshipping non-members, not with preaching, that’s your job, but with real, honest to goodness love and service. One friend of mine, Marian Hewey, was stricken with severe rheumatoid arthritis, had gone through four sets of missionaries with no intention of being baptized. It wasn’t until she called me one day, I went and found her alone and in terrible trouble, carried her into the shower, then took her to the hospital where she began a road to recovery. That experience softened her heart, and she and her children were baptized and she bacame a great strength in our ward. I talked with her a few years ago, she was completely bedridden, unable to even hold the phone without help, but she was providing a home for sister missionaries. She was a great lady.
I hope these last weeks of your mission will be wonderful and you’ll come home trailing glorious clouds of your missionary mantle. I love you, Grandma Gay
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
August 6, 2008
Well, we managed to survive the weekend, which was rather a hectic one. I told you that — and — were getting married on Saturday. It was also newsletter weekend, and since Sister — didn’t take us up on our offers to help her out with the reception, I procrastinated getting the newsletter finished, which was entirely normal, of course. However, as it happened, while I was putting the newsletter together on Saturday morning, she called to get Ginger’s phone number which started me worrying. About an hour later, Ginger called me from down at the church and said, help help! So, Dad, Dani and I went down and helped out for a while. (Dani is home for the summer missing Jeffrey who is now in Madrid. She'll go back to school at the end of the month).
Once they started setting up for the wedding the night before, the — realized they needed to to cut the gym in half (of course). They had hit upon using the volleyball standards and nets and some pink cloth Ginger said she had scads of, but once she got down there it was obvious that was noy going to work. So, we put our heads together, tried a few different things, figured out what would work and what wouldn’t, called Jeanette to run and get some other stuff we needed, and then Dad and I took off, leaving Ginger alone again because Dani had taken Braelynd with her to the store or something.
So, Dad and I grabbed some lunch, then headed back home to get the newsletter done. Dad was incredibly patient with me, I must say. Friday he swore he was going to shut down the shop whether I was ready or not, but I managed to get seven pages finished, take a shower, wrap their present (We have enough paper! Hallelujah!!) and then get back down to the wedding just as — and — were getting into their car to drive away. I don’t think they even saw me, but that wasn’t important anyway. They really had quite a good turn-out and it was a nice little wedding. Best of all, Matt was standing there on the curb so I got him to lug in the stoneware we got for them. It about killed Dad getting it from Sam’s to the car to the house, and I could only get it from the living room to the back door again. Dad had to take it the rest of the way. Matt’s response was, ‘What the heck is in this thing?!’ He was rather disappointed when I told him it was just dishes.
I have no idea how they’re going to get their boodle home. They flew out to his post in South Dakota early Sunday morning. Dad was rather freaked about the whole thing, in his quietly skittish way. There was far too much deja vu at the Hafer building on Saturday afternoon. He rather got stuck in a time warp.
So, after the new Couple — drove away, I had set the copy machine going, Dad remained to the library rather than have to deal with the crowd, and I had greeted Sister — and effused over Ginger’s handiwork which really was absolutely marvelous and didn’t look a bit like the last minute slap-dash that it was, I went back to the library and set to. Fortunately, Ginger and Sister Lewis (I’m not sure if you met the newly arrived Lewises while you were here) brought back two plates of food which was very considerate and well-timed, as Dad was spiraling down into an insulin reaction. But, we got one hundred copies printed, collated and stapled, then stashed in the RS closet until the morrow, and then managed to get some shopping done after that. I think it was pushing eight o’clock by the time we got home, and I’m really, really, really glad Dad had already had his dinner and I didn’t have to fix it after the day that we had.
And, all this time a little tropical depression was brewing out in the Gulf, acting rather erratic and petulant in its youth. Sunday came and went and the tropical depression became Tropical Storm Edouard. Meh.
I think we’re probably going to be driving [a neighbor family] down to church every week for a while—at least until [their grandparents] come back down in the fall. Their car broke down over the weekend and so they had no transportation. They split their family up between us and [another family], but once I got into the car I realized there’s a middle seatbelt in the front where [the youngest] would fit quite nicely, so I can accommodate the whole crew. Their financial situation and the price of gas really can’t peacefully coexist, so car-pooling makes all the sense in the world. I don’t think it will take [the husband] much to convince [the wife] of the wisdom of it.
The Relief Society newsletter was as effective as always as a Fast Sunday reverence inducer, and we’re getting less and less particular about the gender of the recipients. I’m starting to get back into the groove after taking back the publishing duties from Sister Elsasser. The April issue was pathetic, May was a complete wash, and June and July were only two or three pages long because I tried wrangling with Word which is impossible. So, because that won’t work, I removed the program that WordPerfect couldn’t get along with and now things are working marvelously. Besides, do I really need Visual C+++ on this computer? I think not.
Monday morning came with tropical storm warnings and hurricane watches which continued all day. The silly little storm sidled up to the coast as close as it could and still maintain its form, then slowly skittered along it west by northwest for the better part of the day. Making a beeline toward Galveston. Then it stopped and parked southwest of New Orleans (I don’t think they got a drop of water out of it), and Dr. Neil began to fret. The longer it stayed out to sea, the better its chances of reconsolidating its tattered edges and then be an out-right hurricane once it landed at Galveston. They predicted landfall at 1:00 pm on Tuesday but weren’t issuing any evacuation orders or anything—not even Galveston.
We watched it all day, and after Adam had done a walk-through of the house with their own personal inspector without anyone looking over their shoulders, he sent Ariane and the kids up here. They got here about 10:30 pm and we all went straight to be—except Ariane, of course, who hasn’t had the internet for a couple of weeks, at least, and so had a lot of make-up stuff to do and she set to it.
Tuesday morning I was awakened at 6:30 am by Adam calling me to ask what they were saying on the news about Edouard. Danged if I knew. Dad turned on the beast and we cranked up the volume so Adam could hear the forecast, etc, for himself. What a change overnight! Edouard had all of the sudden sped up, sliced heavily to the right, and made actual landfall at Sabine Pass at 7:00 am, but all the forward stuff was already hitting when we turned on the news. And, it was totally weird in that the left side of the storm provided the most wind and rain, leaving the towns that had actually evacuated (Sabine Pass, Port Arthur, etc) relatively unscathed. Ironically, because it landed at Sabine rather than Galveston, instead of Stafford being square in the storm’s path, it passed north of them, putting us in the more exposed position.
It had already started raining so Dad decided to work from home and had his morning meeting over the phone. The news folks were telling everyone it was safest to stay off the roads and were showing some shots of the rain falling in buckets, only blowing sideways. We had a good steady rain all day, enough to bring the sorely neglected grass back to life, but I don’t think we heard a clap of thunder nor saw any lightning, and had a breeze, at best, not even a stiff one.
Alora and Aaron knocked about the house all day being bored to tears. The weather wasn’t severe enough to be interesting to them, but it never let up enough so that they could play outside. We all lived, though, and are very grateful. Unfortunately for the Robinsons next door, they had chosen Monday as the day to rip up their driveway and have it completely replaced. Now I don’t know when they’ll be able to replace the concrete.
Fast and Testimony meeting on Sunday was fabulous, as always. This week most everyone spoke about missionary work, especially since the Thursday before the ward had a missionary activity sponsored by the ward missionaries. Brother Sulski arranged it, so you know it had to work out well.
First, they sent around sign-up sheets for the activity (no ward activity can even be announced without sign-up sheets). Then, Thursday night, about 36 people congregated at the Sulskis’ house (even some who didn’t sign up), they broke up into the pairs to canvas the streets Brother Sulski assigned, and then they went out and tracted some subdivision, I can’t remember the name, but a small one with only 700 homes. They tracted the entire subdivision in a matter of 60-90 minutes, and came away with 15 different names/families for the missionaries to visit. How cool is that?!
In Fast and Testimony meeting, Brother Kent first got up and talked about his regret in not being able to attend. I’m sorry to say that Brother Kent is starting to show his age a bit. You can tell his pain is getting increasingly difficult to deal with, but he keeps chugging on. It may take him a bit longer to get up the aisle every month, but it’s difficult to imagine Fast Sunday without him. I know he’s pushing 80, but it’s always seemed to me like he’d go on forever.
At any rate, he bore his testimony, as usual, with an appropriate homily or remembrance, but then announced that surely Brother Sulski would get up and tell us all about the ward missionary activity. We went through several ward missionaries, including Sister Brighton and Brother Rucker, then Sister Erickson spoke about her increased appreciation for the concept of visiting teachers, and Sister Mahana who needed to bear her testimony publically to her girls before Deneka went off to BYU later this month. Sister Santana brought everyone to tears, as she usually does in speaking of her sadness that people won’t open their ears because of their pride. Sister Parker testified of miracles, prayers, and the strength of families. Gavin was in a severe boating accident requiring major surgery, but when the doctors got in there, what they had seen on x-ray was there no longer. The doctor told them it was a miracle, but they didn’t need his word for it to know it.
Finally, just as everyone was glancing at the clock to see if he had time, Brother Sulski got up and told us all about it, including the fact that once everyone had gone home, Blake tried to convince his dad to go back to a certain house they had visited and talk some sense into a guy who refused to listen to the truth. As he spoke, I looked around the room and counted how many people I know who have joined the Church as adults: the bishop, the Kellers, the Sterns, the Mixas, Sister Santana, the Kents, the Sulskis, the Johnsons—the list goes on and on, and these people are the stability and strength of our ward. How marvelous it is that some valiant and faithful young men set aside the doubts, fears, and uncertainties which are prerequisite with coming of age, and sacrificed all the common pursuits of their peers to share with those people their own testimonies of the gospel! How little a sacrifice it was for them when they were rewarded with such treasures beyond price! And, what did they sacrifice? Absolutely nothing of any lasting value but gained blessings unmeasured and some otherwise unattainable but essential to their eternal progression.
When I realized the day had come and gone (Friday or Saturday), I was feeling guilty that I missed the activity, and guilty that I felt relieved that I didn’t go because doing the same absolutely terrifies me and I know I shouldn’t be. However, the Lord told me that he was pleased with my own part and my offering was acceptable to him by a few affirmations he allowed me. The joy and gratitude I felt in gaining that knowledge is beyond description.
I keep plugging away at these silly blogs, hoping that someone gets some good out of them somewhere. I know that the urgency I have felt in starting and maintaining them is a direct answer to my prayers for missionary experiences, and so I do it. However, that little doubt always hovers about me and I cannot help wonder if I am only deceiving myself in order to excuse any more active participation in missionary work.
Then, as I went to the temple with Sister — and she told me how she couldn’t thank me enough for my example and the blogs and how they have touched her life, made her want to get closer to the Lord, and helped her see how she needs to improve in her temple attendance and her scripture reading to accomplish it, I knew that in itself was worth the effort. After all, there I was in her car going to the temple with her, and she had called me to ask if I wanted to go with her. That has never happened before.
Then, Monday morning, I was fairly dancing in the streets when my Facebook friend told me of her experience at Fast and Testimony meeting that Sunday, and how she knew beyond doubt that she was supposed to go on a mission. Son, when I first knew her, she was a brand-new convert and had made the astounding choice of ending her live-in relationship with a boyfriend who refused to marry her, so that she could be baptized into the true Church of Jesus Christ. She had helped raise his children, her own children were attached to him as well, but she made the choice and was really struggling with it, particularly since Christmas was coming on and she would be all alone. I believe I was one of the few Mormon friends she had at the time, but now she is an integral part of her ward, is strong in missionary work herself, and knows the Lord wants her to be willing to sacrifice that time to him. She isn’t certain if she will clear the physical requirements (she has some health issues), but her desire burns within her.
All that keeps running through my head is ‘how great shall be thy joy’, especially when I consider the lives she will touch and is now touching as she serves, and I know I cannot begin to fathom it. More and more I catch glimpses of why the prophets have such urgency for the work to go forward, why President Hinckley traveled so far for so long and why he scattered temples across the globe, building at an unprecedented rate. Surely his own joy was commensurate to his sadness in contemplating all our Father’s children who yet remain in darkness, all those who desire the temple blessings but cannot gain them because of geography. Surely he spent hours on his knees each day pleading with the Lord to pour out his blessings upon the people. Surely President Monson is just the same. I know that the pure love of Christ motivates them, and, like Lehi did to his own family, they beckon us all, member and non-member alike, to come and partake of the pure love of Christ and know its sweetness and glory.
In RS this week, Sister Brighton gave a lesson about relying upon the Lord and recognizing when his influence is working in your life. She quoted something from the World Leadership Meeting which was included in last month’s Ensign, which was that if you feel the influence of the Holy Ghost, the Atonement is working in your life.
That really hit me because I had just been reading in 1 Nephi 10:1 where he relates the state he was in when he received the revelation of the Tree of Life. He wanted to know for himself what his father, Lehi, had seen in the vision. First, he had desire—real and true and strong, and I have to believe of the most sincere variety and for the purest of purposes. He wasn’t just curious. I have to believe he wanted that same testimony of the gospel which he felt so strongly in his father. He wanted to know.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, he had faith. He believed all the things his father had told him. If he had not, the desire would have been the weakness of idle curiosity or nonexistent. But his faith not only in his father but in the Lord was strong enough to effect all that was to follow.
Third, he pondered. I’m certain he just didn’t say, ‘that’s cool. Can I see?’ I’m sure he pondered all the words his father said, all aspects of the dream, examined it from every different angle, and I’m sure hitting upon the right answers as he went, all of which became a part of the revelation process. If it were not so, he could not have answered the angel as he did when he asked him ‘do you know what this or that is.’ But, Nephi answered correctly. He knew because he had thought it out and the Spirit had born witness of its truth.
Back to the Holy Ghost again. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of time to really study it out, but Moroni serves my purpose here when Mormon says in Moroni 8:
Moro. 8: 26
26 And the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God.
The remission of sins bringeth meekness and lowliness of heart by which comes the visitation of the Holy Ghost. We cannot receive the Holy Ghost unless we are worthy through the Atonement. I think too often we fail to recognize the significance of each and every moment when the Still Small Voice whispers comfort and truth to us. We look forward to ‘someday’, when we will be as near as perfect as we possibly can, that then, and only then will Christ’s Atonement take effect in our own lives. Perhaps we admire others whom we see as spiritual giants and feel assured that their souls have been washed clean with the blood of the Lamb and aspire to become like them so that we may enjoy the same grace. Perhaps in looking beyond ourselves, we fail to fully appreciate what transpires within our own souls.
I think perhaps one of life’s great struggles and one of the Adversary’s greatest tools is doubt—not doubt in Christ but in ourselves. To believe in Christ is marvelous, elevating, and beautiful, and simple to embrace, but to believe Christ when he tells us all our sins are forgiven is far more difficult because we also have to believe in ourselves. We cannot entangle ourselves in the snares of self-condemnation and self-doubt, or debates within ourselves if we have offered true repentance worthy of his forgiveness. We have to know he speaks truth when he promises us that no matter how often we slip and trip and stumble, no matter how great is our struggle to overcome our own personal weaknesses, he has forgiven us and will continue to forgive us as often as may need be as long as we are willing to accept that inestimable eternal gift.
He forgives us now, not off in someday. He knows we need that forgiveness now. We need his purifying grace that we may be meek and humble in our gratitude and in his praise, submissive as a little child in our willingness to follow his example and follow where he leads, as we know he desires nothing but to lead us back to the Father. He knows far better than we the intensity of our need for direction, prompting and guidance, and so he grants his forgiveness and cleans the vessel which he would fill to overflowing with the Holy Ghost, our Comforter.
That is an astounding concept to me, especially when I consider when I have felt the Holy Ghost so strongly it nigh well overwhelmed me. To feel that burning in my heart and the surety and peace in my head tells me not only that what I am pondering is true, but with each prompting joyfully professes that Jesus is the Christ, the Atonement is real, and my sins are forgiven me that very moment.
Once we realize this for ourselves, that fire of understanding spreads out from us to encompass all those in our sphere of influence and beyond it. In knowing our own redemption and its divine simplicity and eternal nature, without beginning and without end, we cannot damn others who have lived lives far more distanced from God than ourselves. The Lord forgives all, and we should not be waiting for others to prove themselves worthy of our love and friendship. Once we are forgiven and filled with the pure love of Christ, gentle and generous treatment of others becomes part of us. It strengthens the more we emulate Christ and deepens our understanding of our Heavenly Father and his Only Begotten Son. What a marvelous blessing that is, the Gift of the Holy Ghost testifying of the Atonement and our own redemption.
There you are. Your little blue dot has popped up saying you’re on line. I love you.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
I am so sorry to neglect your requests. I will try to get to the garment store this week and do that for you.
We had a small but very important miracle happen this week, the explanation of which must be that the Lord hears and answers your prayers. We have had troubles with cameras. I bought a nice digital camera with my Costco rebate about a year ago, and it was apparently stolen from Kids Korner after a staff meeting in January. I was so unhappy, especially since I didn't have the discretionary funds to replace it.
When we finally got our new rebate, I went down and bought another camera, just before Ben and Megan came to visit for the 4th of July, so I would be able to take pictures. I have been so distressed ever since they left, because I haven't been able to find it. Well, I got a call from Ben yesterday, asking if I had lost the camera. The kind people at the gym we went to on the 4th found a camera and have been asking around to try and find the owner. I called the girl at the desk yesterday, and she said when none of their regular patrons or employees identified it, they started calling the people who had had birthday parties there, and kept working their way back until they called Ben, who thought to call me and ask! I am so grateful that she would take the time to do so! I am going to pick it up today, and then we will get to work taking all of those pictures.
Following your example of putting the most important things at the beginning of your letter, please fast and pray for Brother Roger Morris, Camille's husband, Sam's and Rachel's dad. He has been on dialysis for several weeks now, and has finally been approved for a kidney transplant which is being donated by his nephew. He goes in for surgery on Aug. 15th.
My goodness, we have such a lot to do! I read from the BofM [Book of Mormon] this morning, about Ammon and the Lamanites who came over to live with the Nephites, and I am impressed with how many times throughout history the Lord has led his people from one place to another. It's like when I was pregnant with my first baby, really struggling with the difficulties of pregnancy, and I sat in the Marriott Center for a fireside and looked around and thought, 'Oh my goodness, some woman birthed every single one of the people!'
In a similar way, while I know the Lord from time to time has led many of his children from one place to another, the immensity of the undertaking nearly overwhelms me! The faith to leave everything behind that is known and loved and needed, and strike off into the wilderness, not knowing where you are going, when you will get there, or how you will survive when you get there -- the faith of those amazing people is nearly incomprehensible to me! This is the second time in my life I have moved somewhere sight unseen, following the inspiration of my husband and the confirmation of the spirit in my heart and the assurance of the reasoning in my mind. Alpine was a good place to come to, it has been difficult and filled with struggles and opportunities for personal growth, sacrifice, and learning, and now it is good to go forward.
On Sunday, as I considered that it was my last Fast Sunday in this ward, I wondered if I should bear my testimony, and determined that if the Spirit prompted me, I would do so. I sat in the meeting for some time without feeling the prompting, until I saw Pres. Cory Bangeter walk forward to speak. At that time I knew I should stand up, though I didn't know what I would say. Pres. Bangeter was in the stake Sunday School presidency for a long time when Dad was the ward Sunday School president for a long time (10 years, maybe, at least 3 different wards). Pres. Bangeter was then called to the stake presidency, and one year ago he and his wife were called to serve in New York City in the Church Educational System (CES).
Pres. Bangeter was born and raised here in Alpine, although they lived away out of state for a long time and then only moved back maybe 15 years ago or so. Anyway, his example of faith and courage has always been a role model for Dad, who has felt a connection of love and brotherhood with him. And here, in our ward, there were very few people in the congregation who even knew who he was -- interesting. When he stood up, he spoke of the intense need throughout the Church for mature, seasoned couples to go out and serve. He said it was like passing out candy to children, people were so grateful for their light and knowledge, wisdom, and service. Then he concluded with his powerful testimony of the truthfulness of the restored gospel.
As I stood to follow him, I felt impressed to share the sacred experience that my priesthood leader, my husband Brad, received the direction nearly two years ago that we should go. I shared a bit of my struggle in accepting that counsel, how difficult it is to leave what you love, and how I couldn't imagine a nicer place to live than somewhere where you know and trust and love your neighbors on every side, and feel their love in return. I thanked the many youth leaders who have served our children over the years, both in this ward and in others, who had given up personal vacations to take Scouts and Young Women on experiences that would build their testimonies. I shared how we have been in 9 different wards without moving once, and how I have seen the pain and difficulty of separation, followed by the love and bonding that comes from serving together in the gospel. I related how we have seen neighbors die, and many struggle with difficult, and even horrible illnesses, and how we have seen the youth struggle against the world and grow and overcome.
And through it all, the constant in our life has been the House of the Lord, how when we have been low . . . , and lower . . . , we have been able to come to His House each week and be fed at His Table. I am so grateful for the tender mercies of the Lord, in providing a Church for me to belong to, that blesses my life, that feeds and nourishes me spiritually, that gives me friends to love and serve, and others to love and look after me and mine. It is truly a privilege and the constant in my life, the iron rod that has without failing guided and protected me. And that now, it's our turn to go out and spread some candy around.
Afterwards, it was easier to talk to people. Instead of having to explain why we were going, we could just express love and sorrow at saying goodbye. Bro. Robert Cummings, whose wife Dalene died of cancer several years ago, who was in the Bishopric with Joe Nilsson while Ben served his mission, who came and helped up finish the basement apartment so we could rent it when we were desperate for income, gave me a hug and actually shed some tears while Dad and I spoke with him. I had shared in my testimony how we had seen Joe Nillson return from his mission, court his sweetheart Jill Harley who had just left my Laurel class, marry her and go on to serve as the Elder's Quorum president in our ward, and he is now our stake president.
Our lives have been blessed by many wonderful people who have been stalwart in their testimonies and their examples of constant love, faithfulness, service. It has truly been formative for us to live here. I remember when I was younger, struggling with my role as wife and mother and member of the church, and seeking role models to follow. I remember watching Elaine Devey sitting on the bench in the chapel with several grandchildren around her, week after week, year after year, and realizing that that was what I wanted in life, a family that endures, that spans the generations, that earth and hell combined cannot shatter. And I learned that that is worth every sacrifice.
There is nothing, NOTHING else in life that can satisfy the deepest yearnings of the soul, except to be sealed in the bonds of the priesthood with those that you love and who love you, trusting that their faithfulness will overcome every possible affliction and tribulation, rejoicing together in the faith that through the atonement of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who has overcome all things, that we too will one day overcome all things, and be reunited in His Kingdom to go no more out.