Monday, March 25, 2013

My homecoming talk. . . March 24

President Spencer W. Kimball said " God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other".

I am so very thankful for the calling I was given to serve as a Women's Auxiliary Specialist in the Washington DC North Mission. Whenever I talked to people about my mission , everyone was so excited about this new calling and wishing their wards all had sisters who were serving a mission like ours in their ward. I have loved my mission and the hundreds of wonderful sisters that I have gotten to know and serve and help. It was such an honor to be a part of this pilot program and be one of the 10 sisters who were called to launch this new program for the missionary dept of the church.

I started out my mission in the southern third of Maryland, from the Chesapeake Bay to the Potomac river.  Since this was a brand new calling and had no guidelines yet we met with the leaders of the Stake and the Bishopric and RS President of the 2 wards we would be serving in and shared with them what we thought we wanted to accomplish during our mission and they also shared ideas with we  reviewed the ward directories for both wards, they each highlighted those sisters that they felt could use a little TLC or special attention for one reason or another. 

Our main purpose was to help re-activate, help with retention and help Rescue those who have gone astray.

President Thomas S. Monson
 “I pray that we will have the courage to extend the hand of fellowship, the tenacity to try and try again, and the humility needed to seek guidance from our Father as we fulfill our mandate to share the gospel.”

 Shirley was a sister that we would see at church off and on and when we asked the RS president about her, we found out,  she is a very special sister who is suffering from severe pulmonary hypertension and was often very sick and not able to come to church. We called her or dropped by her home every week , most often she was not feeling well enough for visitors, but we kept coming and calling every week for several months. Then in March when we called she said she would love for us to visit. We had a wonderful visit and learned that she was taking the temple prep classes. . . and but she told us that she wasn't sure she was worthy to go to the temple.. ( we had talked to the Bishop  about her before our visit and he said she was so ready). We encouraged her during our visit and told her that when she went through the temple we wanted to be there.  We were transferred to another ward soon after that, but we got a text about a month later inviting us to join her at the temple.. What a blessing and a joy it was to see her in the temple and to be able to be a part of such a special day in her life.  She will always have a special place in my heart.  She was soon called to be the RS secretary and she is so happy. 

Sue is a sister who cannot walk and lives in an assisted living apartment. When we first called her to see if we could come visit her she was so excited. My companion was ill that day, so I went to visit Sue alone. When I arrived at her apartment.. she greeted me at the door in her motorized wheelchair..and promptly told me she had prepared lunch for us.  She had pizza all ready.. We talked for over an hour about her past and her family. She had joined the church many years before and was the only member in her family. She has one daughter and said that her daughter doesn't call her or send her pictures of her two grandchildren, but she knew they were very busy. Even so she hadn't heard from them in over a year.. I felt so sad and vowed to make her a regular visit. Each time we called she was excited to have us over.. She loved having the missionaries visit. What a joy she was and so much fun to visit with. She was a true southern lady and had so many wonderful stories. When we came around Easter, she was so happy, she had gotten pictures of her grandchildren and couldn't wait to share them with us.. What a choice daughter of God.. all alone with only those in the ward to really call her family..

We were asked by the RS president to go see Ada. She was a sister who was the primary care giver for her 50 year old son who suffered with many neurological disorders.  We arrived at her home and she sat very quite and answered our questions with one word answers never looking at us.. As we stood to leave I asked if I could give her a hug and she said "I wouldn't have traded this visit for a million $$$$".. We visited her many times and she was warm and welcoming and shared so many things with us.. What a joy.. to see such a change, in a wonderful sister.

An additional blessing was getting to work in the Washington DC temple every Wednesday as an ordinance worker. I served in the baptistery and also as the initiatory director..  I met so many wonderful people.. One family that I met in the baptistery was the Rivera family. President Rivera is a branch president of one of the Spanish branches in DC. He was there with his wife and three children and his father in law. As I talked to them I learned that his oldest son had just gotten his mission call to the Mesa Arizona Mission. I said "that's where I am from". They were originally from Peru and I shared with him that my grandson had just returned from his mission in Peru.  They were at the temple to do several family names and had waited until their youngest son turned 12 so he could be a part of this special day. I was so touched as brother Rivera baptized each of his children and would explain to them quietly who they were being baptized for.. a great grampa or an aunt.. The spirit was so strong that we all cried. It was such an honor to be a part of such a special moment for their family.  I had many special events like this when I was serving in the temple.

After 7 1/2 months of us serving in only the White Plains 1st & 2nd wards, President Matsumori our mission president and our Stake President decided that they wanted us to branch out and serve in all the wards in the Suitland Stake. So that the sisters could get  a feel for our mission and encourage other senior sisters to see the wonderful opportunities senior sisters have to serve missions.   We would serve for 2 months in each of the other 5 ward buildings. (some buildings had one ward and some had 2 wards). 

 We fell in love with the sisters we served in each ward and served them in so many various ways.

 Some of the things we did:

·    visit those sisters who couldn't get out

·    take sisters to doctors or dentist appointments or run errands with them

·    sit with a sister who was in the hospital.

·    help pack a family that was getting ready to move

·    help clean a house for a moving family

·    encourage sisters to take those steps necessary to get to the temple

·    be a support to single moms and to those whose husbands were deployed

·    grocery shop for those who couldn't get out

·    be a listening ear to a sister who was struggling with personal issues

·    we helped a sister decorate her house for Christmas

·    we took sisters to special events at the church or visitors center

·    we took sisters with us to the temple

·    we sat and read the scriptures with sisters

·    we followed the promptings of the Holy Ghost to visit a sister who we hadn't planned on visiting that day, and always she asked how we knew that she needed a visit or that she was hoping that we would come by.

We recommended any special needs to the bishop or RS president when we found them as we visited the sisters.

Someone asked me what my mission was and I told them " We are like full time visiting teachers on steroids". 

Twelve months into my mission, President Matsumori decided to switch up the  two companionships, so I was transferred from Southern Maryland up to the DC area.

In the Silver Spring Stake we were assigned to serve in 3 wards. There were some sisters that we called on each week and  several sisters we called on every month and many that we are trying to find that were on the rolls of the wards. We also called on sisters whose names we received from the RS president or bishop or ward missionaries each week. We spent most of our days visiting sisters all day, some weeks we called on 85 to 100 sisters.. Hoping to find some home and those we did find at home were always such choice visits.

We had standing appointments for visits with several sisters each week.
Two of those we met each week are:

Barbara who lives in an assisted living facility and is in a wheelchair and cannot walk or get out to church. We met with her each Thursday and read the Book of Mormon with her. We covered 2 chapters each week.  Barbara would read it during the week and then we read it together and would discuss it when we got there. She always had wonderful thoughts about the scriptures she has read. She looked forward to our visits as much as we did. She is such a devoted sister. I loved her conversion story. She was setting on a bench waiting for the bus and 2 elders were talking to the lady next to her about the church and that lady was not interested, so Barbara leaned over and told the elders that she was interested and asked if they would share what they knew with her.. She is so dedicated to the gospel and such a joy to visit.  I loved to see the smile on her face as we would arrive.. She told me, she knew my walk and could hear me when I walked down the hall.  

One of my very favorite sisters on my mission was Tigadunka Bangura or Tigi, a 36 year old young woman from Sierra Leone, Africa. Her family moved to the US when she was 14. She graduated from BYU with a nursing degree. Tigi suffers from  diabetes , she has a heart problem and had a stroke 3 years ago, so she has limited use of her left hand & foot. Her kidneys are failing so she has dialysis 3 days a week. Her living conditions are extremely poor, so when we visited we would take her fruit and sometimes cooked rice and hard boiled eggs and protein bars, so that we knew she had a little something good to eat. She has such a strong faith in her Father in Heaven and knows that he will heal her and help her get a kidney transplant. We started taking Tigi to breakfast each Monday to make sure she had a good start to the week. I loved to visit her, she has touched my heart and helped me to have greater compassion for those who are suffering. She is truly an inspiration to me of her strong faith and has helped my testimony grow.

One of the joys of my mission has been the interaction with the 28 young sister missionaries, we got to work with at the Washington DC Temple Visitors Center. They are such strong young women in the gospel. Each one was an example to me.  We got to work at the visitors center for the Festival of Lights every day 3:00 to 10:00 from Thanksgiving until New Years Day. I loved the wonderful spirit I felt when I was there.

During the Festival I was put in charge of getting the meals out and served for the sisters and the senior couples who work at the VC. Then if there was enough left, I was able to feed the elders who helped with the parking. Each day the complete meals were provided by a ward. On one particular day a ward brought all the fixings for sloppy Joes.  I was getting it all heated and ready to serve and I counted the rolls, there were only 38 and we always served at least 40 each day, not including the elders.. I was a little concerned and so I said a quick prayer that it would all work out.  As the sisters and the seniors finished I looked at the basket with the rolls and noticed that there were 4 left, I knew that every sister had taken a roll, because I had put meat on each one. So I told Elder Hardy who was in charge of the elders and the parking that I would only have half a roll for each elder, but that we would make it work, with the other things I had to go with it. To my surprise, by the time the last 2 elders came in to eat I still had 4 rolls left.. So it truly was a blessing like the loves and fishes.

When I moved up to the DC area, I was assigned to work in the Family History Center every Weds. morning instead of working in the temple.  I have grown to love family history and since we got to attend the temple once a week I have been able to do the work for many of my ancestors that I found while serving at the FHC.  Which was a blessing and a wonderful opportunity to serve those of my ancestors who have passed on and also to support the temple.  We often took different sisters from the wards to the temple with us, which was an added joy.

M. Russell Ballard:
"The Savior's words are simple, yet their meaning is profound and deeply significant. We are to love God and to love and care for our neighbors as ourselves. Imagine what good we can do in the world if we all join together united as followers of Christ, anxiously and busily responding to the needs of others and serving those around us -- our families, our friends, our neighbors, our fellow citizens.   As the Epistle of James notes; service is the very definition of pure religion.

There are so many stories of the wonderful sisters that I have had the honor to serve and be a part of their lives and I could go on for hours to share the blessings of serving a mission. Each day my heart was touched by a visit, or by an event or a tender mercy that helped my testimony to grow. As we would leave a home after a visit,  I always turned to my companion and smiled and said " isn't she wonderful".  Each sisters story was different and they all lived in different conditions and under different circumstances but the one thing that was the same no matter what home or apartment we stepped into & that was the love we felt from these wonderful sisters. They were warm and welcoming and eager to share their stories with us and let us share the gospel with them.

 President Monson has taught that in many instances Heavenly Father answers another person's prayer through us... through you and me...through our kind words and deeds, through our simple acts of service and love. 

One simple practice is in your morning prayers each day, ask Heavenly Father to guide you to recognize an opportunity to serve one of his precious children. Then go throughout the day with your heart filled with love.
At the end of each day, may we all be able to say yes to the question. "Have I done any good in the world today?" "Have I helped anyone in need?"

As we come unto our Savior Jesus Christ, and serve each other we will be blessed, of this I testify in the name of our beloved savior Jesus Christ ..Amen

Monday, March 4, 2013

Home in Arizona. . . . .

"God be with you til we meet again". . . .  As we sang this song in church today..I thought of those of you in my mission and those of you here out west that I am beginning to see gradually.. The best of both worlds..

Steve and I left North Carolina on our way to South Carolina bright and early Monday morning.. It was overcast, but not raining and we had a great drive to "Boiling Springs", South Carolina.  This is the first area that my grandson Elder Kelly Harper served in on his mission in South Carolina.  We drove through the small town that reminded us of Prescott, Arizona.  We found the apartment that he lived in and the shops that he shopped at and I found my first "Sonic", since I left Arizona.. so we  were both happy.. Diet cherry limeade is my favorite and it was sooooo good.  We took lots of pictures and then headed west toward Jackson, Mississippi.. We thought we might miss the huge storm that was wrecking havoc in the mid-west but as nightfall came so did the rain.. it was pouring and strong winds and very dark and the lines on the roads in Mississippi were non existent.. I felt so sorry for Steve, he was white knuckled as he drove through the torrential rain, not really being able to see the road ahead, more than 10 feet in front of us, for 3 hours.. We finally got to Jackson and found our hotel and a great dinner right next door..

Boiling Springs, South Carolina.. my grandsons first area.

 Steve at Elder Kelly Harper's first apartment on his mission
 SONIC. .  My first diet cherry limeade in 18 months
Fireworks stores everywhere. . . 

We awoke on Tuesday to sunshine and were so happy.. It would probably be our longest day as we crossed the rest of Mississippi, Alabama and Texas.. Loved it when we hit Alabama, the landscape was wide open and really pretty.. Loved being able to see beyond the sides of the road.. Steve was giving me a tutorial in roadside billboards.. Since he is in the field of marketing, he was showing me the good ones and those that were to hard to read as you drove by at 75 mph.  As we crossed the border into Texas, I was surprised  at how green it was and that it wasn't completely flat. We saw an ostrich walking down the road and long horn cattle..which were both really fun to see.. We smelled the oil fields  when we got close to them.. the smell of sulfur is so strong.. It was dark by the time we neared Odessa, where we were staying that night and we could see hundreds of red lights in the distance surrounding us as we drove. We couldn't figure out what they were, so when we stopped for gas we asked and found out they were the oil derricks in the oil fields.  We ate and settled in for the night and I was so tired, I didn't even read that night..
 This is what I call a fully packed car
a packed car top carrier

 We saw lots of trailers bringing their race cars to Phoenix for the upcoming race
 Oil fields all over west Texas
 Our Mascot "Dash".. Steve got him for Alli at the Good Will in Boiling Springs
Getting closer to home.. I see yucca plants
Wednesday would be our last day of  driving.. Our GPS said we would arrive at my home at 7:00.. We still had a little of Texas to go through then New Mexico and finally Arizona.. As we neared New Mexico the road runs right along the border and we could see Mexico and  parts of it looked like the part of Peru my grandson served on his mission.. In Las Cruces we ate at another favorite of the food network chef  Rick Baily.. Chicos Tacos.. rolled tacos served in a spicy sauce.. very good but definitely different.  Then we were on our way home..

 My family all met me at my condo when we arrived and had my car and car top carrier unpacked in a matter of minutes.. So good to see everyone and get my hugs from everyone.  It was really good to be home and really weird too.. As a senior missionary, we did things on our own, so being alone wasn't the problem.. it was just unreal being here in Arizona.. like I didn't belong here..

 Thursday I met with my stake president, President Rizley to have my exit interview and be released from my mission.  I didn't think that I would be emotional, but when he said that I could take off my missionary badge, I did tear up..

I have been cleaning and organizing and unpacking and getting thing back in order.. I heard there were a couple of the huge haboob dust storms while I was gone and they left a fine layer of dust on everything.. so I am constantly cleaning and wiping things down.  It is starting to look like home again. 

Saturday I had my first outing since getting home.. I went to the Phoenix Marathon to see my son Steve race.. He did a great job and it was a very fun event.. thousands of people and lots of booths and interactive things to do.  A tradition with Steve and marathons is to go to Cafe Rio after the off we went.  A great day..  
 Steve & Scott Brady running in the Phoenix Marathon
 The finish line
Lots of booths and fun interactive things to do

It was very fun to see everyone today at church.. so many hugs and many told me of some of their favorite things from my letters.. The ward had really grown and there were so many new people, that I didn't know. But so many I did know and was happy to see again. 

Sunday evening we had our monthly family get together and dinner.. I just love these evenings when we all get together and spend some quality family time, to catch up and share what is going on in each of our lives

This will be my last letter, so I'll say "Until we meet again"......