Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Feelings of Peace and Joy

We ended up having a wonderful Christmas season.  We did different things this year than last year, but it was all so good.  We definitely missed our family, but still tried to take advantage of this being our last Christmas in the mission field.  Most people don't understand what a wonderful blessing that it is to have some of the experiences at Christmas that you only seem to get on a mission.  Here are a few Christmas moments that we will always remember.....

Moment #1.....We got a call from Ian's parents from Texas

telling us that they would be in Pittsburgh with Ian for a few days for a follow up visit at the Children's Hospital.  Ian and his family are church members from Texas who came for a short hospital visit and ended up staying for months last summer when he went into heart failure.  We spent many sad and anxious moments with them then, so it was a wonderful experience to see him recover and to meet them at their hotel room during the Christmas season.  He was up and running around the room and being a very typical eight year old.  One of the elders who helped give Ian a priesthood blessing was still here in Pittsburgh and he was able to visit Ian and his parents with us.

Moment #2....Another small "hospital miracle" happened one day when we randomly found ourselves in the large waiting area of Children's Hospital on the slight chance that we would see a refugee family there that we really needed to talk with that day.  They had an appointment with us that had to be canceled because of one of the children's doctors appointments at the hospital.  We had a hard time communicating over the phone and we realized what a long shot it was that we would even run into them. But for some reason we decided to hang out there for a few minutes.  Then all of a sudden we saw the mom with her 4 year old boy walk in.  She had ridden the bus there alone because the older children who know English well were in school, her husband was at work, and she didn't have a phone.  She only had a paper given to her by the school and didn't really understand the reason for the appointment.  It is such a huge hospital that she was terrified of everything there. She said that she had been praying on the bus ride that she would somehow manage when she got inside.  Then she saw us!  We were so glad we were there.  We helped her and the little boy through the whole process from one office and floor to the next.  It was a very humbling and gratifying feeling to be an answer to her prayer.

Moment #3.....We had a very memorable day on December 17th with a zone activity.  We spent the first part of the time in a testimony meeting with the other missionaries in our zone.  It was a sweet experience to hear how each one felt about the gospel and some of their experiences on their missions.  Since Megan is in our zone now it was especially great to hear her testimony and share this spiritual meeting with her.  We then went on a Christmas

caroling "blitz" around Pittsburgh.  We did caroling at the Vintage Senior Citizen Center (our stomping grounds), the VA hospital atrium and halls, a hospice center, and another care center.  Megan played the grand piano as we sang at the VA atrium and it was really wonderful to share this time with her.  The faces of many we sang to were visibly touched and we saw tears streaming down some of their faces.  The spirit that the missionary force carries is unforgettable and tangible to others.

We then came back to the church and had a dinner together and a Christmas "white elephant" gift exchange.  We also took a picture with us, Megan, and Sister Allen.  Turns out that Sister Allen is a distant Butler cousin. Her mother was a Butler descended from one of the original Salt Lake Butler brothers (Philander).

Moment #4....We visited with our refugee friends and realized they had never celebrated any Christmas traditions either in Africa where they came from or here in America.  They seemed to really want to understand some of the traditions here and liked the idea of having a Christmas tree this year.  We invited a set of elders to come with us and we helped them understand the decorations that actually do have symbolic meaning and that

point to the life and birth of the Savior....the tree itself as a symbol of eternal life...the colors green and red to symbolize everlasting life and the atoning blood of Christ....a candle to mean His bringing light to the world....bells to announce the great event to the world.......etc. etc.  It was a super fun experience to be in their little home and enjoy putting up their new tree.  A few days later we came back and the littlest boy had made decorations at school and been able to bring them home to put on the tree also.  He was so proud of his work and the family loves having the tree!  Many thanks came from the family to anonymous donors who helped them have a modest but wonderful Christmas season.

Moment #5....We wanted to give a couple of small gifts to Megan and her companion.  I started to put a couple of gift bags together and found some cute scarves online to include.  They were ordered in plenty of time, but weather delays and other Christmas postal problems held things up.   So we ended up having to make a last minute trip to Monongahaela to deliver what we had of the gifts to Megan and her companion.  It all turned out wonderful though because they had scheduled a lesson with a new investigator named Mike.  Mike is very interested in learning more about the gospel and we were able to sit in on the lesson with them.  It was a very unexpected opportunity to participate in the discussion and watch both girls teach a powerful lesson where we all felt the Lord's spirit very strongly.

Moment #6....We had a very enjoyable phone conversation with Bishop Carsey, our home ward bishop.  It was fun to reminisce with him since he served his mission here in Pittsburgh around 1982.

He even lived on the same street that we do now... just a few blocks away.  We talked about the many changes in the growth of the church here.  It made us realize that the growth sometimes seems slow to us, but what missionaries and members do really does make a huge difference after a few years.  There are 2 family wards, a Young Single Adult ward, and a Spanish group here now as well as a large church building in Oakland.  They are all new since he served here 30 years ago.

Moment #7.... We were invited to a dinner on Christmas eve in the Stoddards home and another on Christmas day with Sister Eldridge.  Both times were very nice and appreciated so much.   We also especially enjoyed hosting all of the 10 elders in Pittsburgh here at our apartment on Christmas morning.  We had a brunch that, of course,  included breakfast casserole, sweet rolls, fruit, chocolate milk and eggnog.  We ate, relaxed, visited and the elders spread out in rooms around the apartment to skype home to their families.  Sister Causey also was able to join us that morning and we had so much fun visiting and interacting with her and the elders.  Then, of course, during various times of Christmas eve and Christmas day we were able to Skype home with each of our kids and their families.  All of them seemed so happy, peaceful, and joyful.  As we see these feelings in our family and others around us it gives us so much of the same feelings.

Glad tiding of great joy.......that's what we felt this year....the whole purpose of us being here on earth.  Amidst  a world of chaos and confusion.....Christ was born.......he lives, loves us and died for us to live again.  Peace and joy......that's what Christmas is all about!!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Christmas Begins Again

We had a wonderful start to the month of December with a trip to the Washington DC Temple with LaShaun and Mari.  We all had a great time and even got the bonus of being able to stay late enough to see the Christmas lights around the temple and enjoy the nativity scenes from around the world in the visitors center.

We seem to appreciate the temple more here.  It might be because of the distance we have to travel to get there.  The extra sacrifice of time and effort probably makes it more meaningful.  Also, I think we have studied more for our temple and seminary classes about the original tabernacle of Moses and other ancient temples.  We have come to value the ordinances and covenants we make in the temple even more than we ever have before.  Jim was actually able to drive to DC this time in 3 1/2 hours.  We talked and read an insightful article on temples by President Benson most of the way so our travel time seemed to go by really fast.

We also had a special zone conference on December 8th.  Since Megan is now in our zone it was really awesome to be able to share this spiritual meeting with her.

She was asked to play the prelude and postlude music and also accompany for the hymns sung and a vocal solo sung by her companion.  We enjoyed seeing the mission video at this zone conference and also many wonderful talks and testimonies.  The Christmas initiative "A Savior Is Born" was also discussed.  The initiative involves an internet website that is amazingly good at bringing the true spirit of Christmas into the season.  The web address is  We highly recommend making it a part of Christmas.

President Johnson's weekly letter today said that there have been 16 million views of the video on the internet in the first 10 days.  It is great to be a part of sharing the message of the Saviors birth with the world.

Another unforgettable Christmas season memory was the baptism of Nick.  He is such a nice man and so anxious to be of service in the church.  He bore his testimony at the end of the baptismal service and he made an interesting comment.  He said,  "I put the missionaries to the test as I wanted to see if they would live the principles they taught.  When they showed they lived what they were teaching I took a new interest in their message."  Nick was referred by his neighbor, Debbie, who is a member.  She is a great member missionary!  Elders Simmons and Howard were able to assist with the baptism and confirmation.  They along with Elder Gille who has been transferred were wonderful examples for Nick.

We also had more "tender mercies" in regards to one of the refugee families we work with for their housing needs.  They had financial and transportation needs that led them to decide to move to another area of the city that is known as "scary and dangerous." We weren't too happy about their decision at first, but they felt it was something they need to do. There were major problems at first with the lease not including their 18 year old son.  We decided we needed to find out for ourselves what could be done to help them.  The day we started to tackle the problem we ended up getting lost in the city trying to find the Housing Authority office.  We weren't even sure how to find the help we needed once we got there.  After going from one place to another we finally found the right place we were supposed to be.  We were SO surprised to see a member of the church we know there at the reception desk!  She made the comment that she was only filling in at that desk for an hour that day. It was awesome that we were there at just the right time.  We think this was not a coincidence.  She was so helpful in referring us to the exact person we needed to answer our questions.   Later on as we helped the family navigate through the paperwork at the apartment office, her help again proved to be invaluable and literally made the difference in whether the son had a place to live for a couple of months. It is so humbling when things like this happen.  It is wonderful to feel the Lord's love for His children.

Then a week or so later we helped the family move into the apartment.  President & Sister Johnson ended up being there too.  They have met the family before and love them as much as we do.  I had a great time that day helping Dorcas learn to use a sewing machine that she had  previously bought at a garage sale.  It turned out to be an amazingly great machine. We mended a pair of her brother's pants and sewed some curtains together to make them fit their windows.  We are hoping we can help them have a wonderful Christmas holiday this year.

I also had the time of my life at the first of the month recycling a little Christmas tree for our apartment.  A member was throwing it and some Christmas ornaments away because the birds had eaten red coating off the artificial berries on the tree.  My eyes lit up when I saw it.  I snatched it right up and had Elder Butler put it in the car trunk.  I did a little resurrecting work at home and.... I think it is the best tree that I have ever decorated!  We also have a few special decorations that were sent to us last year. They have helped make a festive little corner in our apartment!!!  Merry Christmas!!!

I also forgot to include info about a great P-day that we were able to spend with Sister Welch and Sister Wall during this month.  We did Christmas shopping in the "Strip District" and had lunch at a really good Mexican restaurant there.  We
especially enjoyed

the Mexican soft drinks along with our meal.  Then we took off to the Science Museum for awhile.  I think I have finally gotten my fill of this museum since we have visited it many, many times now!!

We ended up going downtown for a quick trip to Market Square where they have an awesome Christmas tree with an ice skating rink around it.  There is also a German Christmas village set up with many booths of unique Christmas gifts being sold.

 We ended our day by taking some great pictures of the two cute sister missionaries in front of the tree.   The tree looked so great with the PPG (Pittsburgh Plate Glass) buildings in the background.  But of course, we think the girls in front were the highlight of the picture!

A Savior was born to bring light into the world!!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thanksgiving and More

The Christmas season in Pittsburgh actually starts before Thanksgiving.  We had a very fun night on November 20th.  Gregorie is one of the members we are very close with and he is a very talented young man.  One of his talents is playing the drums.  We were able to attend the Pittsburgh "Light Up Night" downtown to watch Gregorie play the drums in a jazz band.  The atmosphere and weather were wonderful and we had a really good time taking it all in.  We have never been walking downtown at night before so it was a new experience for us.  The large tree in the PPG plaza was lit and it will have ice skating around it all winter.  A German Christmas village of shops is also set up and of course we did a little shopping.  We don't normally like crowds and traffic, but we found a great parking garage and then took the "T" (subway/trax) to maneuver from one place to another.  There are actually other tree lightings and fireworks and just lots and lots of fun things going on everywhere during this celebration.  Last year we watched the city from a viewpoint at Mount Washington, but it was fun to be a part of things even more this year.

The next day we were so happy to be able to make temple trip to the Columbus, Ohio temple with members from the 7th Ward.  Our sweet friend, Winnie, took the temple preparation class that we taught last spring.  She went to the Washington D.C. temple at that time to do baptisms, but she was so excited to be able to go this time to complete her own ordinances.  Amiee is a recent convert and she was also elated to be able to go to Columbus and do baptisms.  Nadja is another sister who went to do baptisms. She also found it to be a very satisfying experience, and we are looking forward to going again soon with her and others.

Quite a bit of preparation and coordination in travel plans are always necessary for these temple trips.  Each of these sisters has a few health concerns so it was especially gratifying to be able to help with the preparation and see them all be able to accomplish this goal.

We also recently heard a great story from the elders at district meeting.  Our district leader, Elder Kocherhans, and his companion, Elder Gull were out walking in a neighborhood here called Braddock.  It's a steel mill town that still actually has a functioning mill.  They came across a group

of young teenagers playing basketball and asked if they could join in.  The teenagers reluctantly let them join with obvious disdain for two guys with white shirts and ties wanting to play basketball.  They didn't realize that the two elders are actually very good basketball players and by the end of the game, the elders had definitely earned the respect of the kids.  They finished with a challenge game.  The challenge was that if the elders won then the kids would have to listen to a missionary lesson.  The elders ended up claiming victory and the kids all sat down and listened to a short lesson on the Book of Mormon.  The elders offered them books and gave out all of the Book of Mormons that they had in their backpacks.  They recounted this story to us in our "highlight moments" of district meeting and shared the picture they took with us.  Fun experience to hear about!!

During this month we were also able to have another P-day with Megan and her companion.  Megan's companion, Sister Wall, has not spent much time in Pittsburgh so we went to the Cathedral of Learning and also spent a little time at the church where Jim and Megan got to compete a bit in ping pong.  Sure didn't think we would ever see a picture like this taken on our mission!

We had another great family history experience while giving one-on-one help to Sandra at the Vintage Center.  Sandra is one of many non member of our church who has attended the classes that we presented at Vintage.    We were finally able to sit down with her and get her signed up for Family Search.  We had a short prayer with her before we started because we explained that our experience has been that the veil is very thin when we do family history work. We told her that we feel that we need the help from those on the other side of the veil.  We put her father's name into the program and had a couple of historical records pop up.  We went into the Find-a-grave index and when she recognized her father's name and information she got tears in her eyes.  Of course, I got a little teary at the same time.  It just seemed that he was very near to us at that moment.  Anyone who has done much Family History will know the feeling that we all experienced at that precious moment.  She is now busy trying to gather more information at home and we plan to have another meeting with her next month.

Thanksgiving day we had another "first" holiday experience with Margaret and Janet.  Margaret is an African American member of the church who saw the elders in her neighborhood several years ago.  She called to them and invited them into her home to explain the dangers of the neighborhood that she lives right beside.  Before she knew it, she was embracing the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and after studying it for many months Margaret joined the church.   Margaret became interested in family history and began searching for a lost brother.  Unbeknownst to her, her brother had died, but his daughter, Janet, had been searching for any extended family for 20 years.  At one point she even hired a private investigator with no success.  Her father had not kept in touch with any relatives nor even ever talked about his family.  Several months ago through the help of Ancestry, Family Search and Facebook,  Margaret was able to connect with her niece, Janet.  Margaret went to North Carolina last spring to visit Janet.  This Thanksgiving Janet and her 3 year old daughter made the trip to Pittsburgh to visit with Margaret and meet all of the extended family.  She was just so happy to meet aunts, uncles, and cousins that she didn't know she had.

Thanksgiving dinner was held at a restaurant on the Northside and we, along with 4 elders, were invited to attend the dinner.  We met so many warm and wonderful members of the family that day. a Margaret said it is only a small part of her large extended family.  It was great to see Janet introduced to all of the rest of the family.  We missed having a more traditional dinner with all of our family, but we will definitely chalk it up as one of our very enjoyable and memorable holidays.  We felt very honored to be included.

The next part of the story is that Janet soon realized that Margaret was a member of the Mormon church.  Janet says she actually studied with the Mormon missionaries many years ago, but became distracted and didn't continue.  She is very knowledgable with the Bible and has really enjoyed having two lessons with the elders that we were able to attend.  She is excited to get connected with the church in North Carolina and to continue taking the lessons there.  She is even considering baptism if she continues to feel as positive as she does now about the things she is learning.  She feels that the teachings from the Book of Mormon fits in so well with her present knowledge of  Bible teachings.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

November News

We started the month of November by seeing a small flock of wild turkeys walking down one of the sidewalks here.  Of course, I had to have Elder Butler stop the car so we could get a picture!  We were only quick enough to catch one of them with the camera, but it was a fun moment and very appropriate to start this month

                                                                                                                                                                                    We also held two Family History Workshops at the Vintage Senior Citizen center.  The people we help there are not members of our church, but we have
loved getting to know them and help all we can with their search for their ancestors.  At the end of the second session we offered to schedule one on one help.  We had several people sign up.  Two of the people who signed up were Sonja and her friend, LaVerne.  We were so happy to help them because they are so excited about family history.  We referred them to one of the Family History Centers in one of our church buildings near their homes.  They got lots of help there.  We later met with them to sign them up for FamilySearch and give them a little tech help----yes, we are actually helping someone else with technology!!!  Sonja was so excited to show us pictures of  her 2nd great grandfather that she had found at the library along with a picture and biography.

Then on November 8th Damoni was confirmed a member of the church.  He was baptized a few days earlier but we had to miss his baptism due to a senior conference.  His grandmother, Vikkiy, has been in and out of the hospital so we were especially glad that she could make it to the confirmation.  He looked so good in his new white shirt and tie.

A few days later the Southside Spanish speaking elders had a missionary's dream come true--a whole family coming into the church.   Missionaries and ward members  were able to help arrange for the marriage of Armando and Remelios after months of paperwork problems with the Mexican government.  Then right after the marriage ceremony the couple were baptized along with two of their oldest children.  They have the cutest little family. They will be such
a blessing to the Spanish group here.

We also had a great P-day this month by visiting a place called McConnell's Mill.  It is an old mill and covered bridge.  We went on a beautiful hike on both sides of Slippery Rock Creek.  It is hard to describe the peace and beauty that we experienced that day in nature.  It was such a great break for us.

On our way to the mill we also stopped by a members home who had recently moved out of one of the wards here in Pittsburgh to a new ward in the suburbs.  Her name is Martha and when we met her almost a year ago she was totally inactive in the church.  She was also a little antagonistic and resentful about past wrongs she felt had been done in the church.  We tried to be accepting of her feelings and just tried to become friends with her.  As we visited several times with her we ended up having some spiritual discussions especially relating to her

Utah pioneer ancestors.  One of those ancestors was Dr. Shipp who is pictured on the right.  We are now seeing positive changes start to happen in Martha's life.   She just seems much happier and more at peace.  We get glimpses of her underlying testimony of the gospel.  We feel that a few things led to this change. One was that she started working on family history.......she had a couple of people in the ward reach out to her who related well to her......and the ward young men's group provided service to her by helping her move.  She is now attending church in her new ward!!  We had a wonderful visit with her and her mom.

We feel some of her ancestors on the other side must have gotten very busy after our visit because a few days later, we happened to meet a woman in her new ward at the grocery story here by our home.  As we talked to this woman we realized that she is a perfect fit to be a new friend to Martha.  She said she only comes into Pittsburgh every 4 or 5 months to shop!!  An interesting side note is that Elder Butler was going to go to the store alone, but at the last minute we both had a feeling that I should go too.  As we spoke to the woman at the store I was the one who made the connection with her about the fact that she lived close to Martha.  We realized that (as usual) it was a good thing I didn't send Elder Butler to the store alone.  Then, that night after we got home,  guess who called on the phone just to talk.....Martha!

We had a fun zone training on November 12.  First we had a good meeting together and heard about the new Christmas initiative that will go into effect on November 29th.  We can hardly wait.  We are already getting ready to put the cards on little gifts and thinking of any other way we can to share the beautiful video that we saw.  It really got us in the Christmas spirit a little bit early.  Everyone wore yellow or black shirts commemorating the "Stilers"(local pronunciation) and then we signed and decorated each other's shirts.  They also played a new game (to us anyway) of toilet paper dodgeball in the gym!  Lots of fun!

Then before we knew it, November 17,  "transfer day", was here.  A change in procedure was made and this time everyone got news of changes in areas and companions on the Saturday before. We had one last lunch with both Pittsburgh districts together at Boston Market.  It was a great time together.

At the transfer meeting we met Megan's new companion, Sister Wall.  Megan's new area will be Monongahela which is about an hour away from us.  Yeah!  We are so blessed.  It is also in our zone!!!  This means we will see her at even more meetings and be able to still spend P-days with her and her companion.  It still doesn't quite seem real to us.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Halloween--a weird sort of holiday!

We enjoyed a few Halloween festivities the week before Halloween as we participated in an activity after our zone training.  We went to Schenly Park as a zone, had a barbeque and carved pumpkins.  It was really fun to all be together.  We feel like we could get to know some of the zone members that live outside of Pittsburgh and who we don't see very often.  The elders and sisters have long, hard days sometimes.  They have appointments that cancel at the last minute, people who say rude things, and many times they just feel a little down and rejected.  We have to admire them for being upbeat most of the time no matter what they encounter.  A few activities of fun and relaxation really help them cope too. We try to support these activities as much as we can.  This particular activity even attracted nearby kids who came to join us.

We also took some leftover pumpkins to one of the families we visit and taught them what Halloween is all about. We have always thought the concepts behind Halloween are a little strange ourselves, and so it was a little hard to enlighten them on it's meaning.  Anyway, we tried to make some sense out of skeletons, ghosts, begging for candy, and destroying food that they are used to using every last bit of in South Africa.  In the end we tried to just convey that rather than trying to figure it out that it might be better to just have fun with the holiday and enjoy an excuse to do something a little different.

While we were carving pumpkins with them it was interesting to see the mom of the family snatch up the seeds.  She said one of the foods that they enjoy in Africa is to dry the seeds, grind them into powder, and then make a soup from the powder and other ingredients.  The kids also told us that they usually pick the pumpkins green rather than orange and that they eat the leaves as a spinach type dish.

So the week before Halloween President Johnson's weekly letter told us that all missionaries should be in their apartments by 6 PM on Halloween night.  He encouraged everyone to clean our apartments, get caught up on study, or just try to find useful things to do.  Obviously, missionaries in the past may have pushed the envelope

just a bit too much with

Halloween activities.  Anyway, that didn't really cause too much of a problem for us since it's been quite awhile since we have had the urge to go trick or treating.  The thing that seemed strange though is that no one trick or treats in our apartment building either because of all the locked doors and security.

So we spent Halloween evening cleaning, organizing and getting texts of pictures from home.  We really enjoyed seeing the costumes of our crazy kids and grandkids.   It turned out to be a very fun night for us.

Just have to include some of the cute costumes that we were able to enjoy.......

Luke and Heidi-----a hunter and hunted..........

Brynlee just had to be the cutest mermaid ever.....

Jenna was Pedro from Napolean Dynamite----vote for Pedro!....

         McCord and his friend as  
                really cute nerds......

October in Pennsylvania

Theres always so much to do that I have been delinquent in keeping up with the blog...but hopefully I can get caught up now.

We have savored the talks from General Conference ever since the first of the month.  Two of my favorites were given on Saturday morning. Elder Richard J. Maynes talked about the joy of living a Christ centered life and used the example of a potter needing to keep the clay exactly centered on the wheel for the pottery to be successful. He quoted the prophet Isaiah---"But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we are the work of thy hand."  Sister Neill Marriott who is from the South and has a VERY cute southern accent talked next.  She began her talk on yielding our hearts to God by quoting a song that said "Have thine own way, dear Lord! Have Thine own way! Thou are the Potter; I am the clay. Mould me and make me after Thy will, while I am waiting yielded and still."  

We have been told that no one who speaks at conference is given a set topic and so I thought it was very cool that the two talks fit perfectly together.  Both talks really "spoke to our hearts" as we considered some of our most personal experiences here in the mission.  It has given us so much peace in difficult situations to feel that we must be pliable in His hands and and flexible to His will for us.  As we still await news of some of our family's health outcomes and also as we have felt the loss of our sweet nephew, Jake, these teachings have comforted and sustained us.

Our mission this month has been especially busy.

We have spent a lot more time teaching lessons with the elders and have had many interesting experiences.  Here is a short synopsis of some of the scenarios that we have encountered.

  • Alecia.  She was converted to the church in Las Vegas a few years ago--almost by accident.  She was dating a man who belonged to a different church with a name she mistook for the LDS church.  She started to investigate our church without telling him.  She said she just wanted to understand him better.  Before she knew it, she was really feeling the Spirit.  She was baptized,  became immersed in ward activity, and made many friends in the church.  Alecia eventually moved back to Pittsburgh and has had some rough times.  She has just started to come back to church here and we are excited to be her friends and help her any way we can.
  • Loretta.  She is investigating the church and is a devout Catholic.  She wants to learn more about what we believe.  She loves to go to mass, but says she doesn't feel a connection with other people there.  The Spirit was very strong as we attended a lesson with her and the elders.  We talked about things we believe that can add to the spirituality she already feels.
  • Ed.  He is an accomplished keyboard musician and past hairstylist and makeup artist. He is currently working as a music producer which takes him around the world for various ventures.  He is disillusioned with what the world has to offer and loves the tabernacle choir.  He says he meets many members of the church as he travels and he really admires them.  He even sometimes attends our church meetings in different places around the world as he travels  Ed says he really wants to be baptized into the church, but he has a medical issue that needs to be solved first.
  • Damoni who is a new nine year old member of the church.  His immediate family has been less active, but his grandmother is active in the other ward we attend. Through her influence and help from missionaries and ward members he was able to be baptized recently.  He is a very sweet boy with a lot of potential in his life.

October is a favorite month of ours and as we have walked, driven, and bicycled around the city and state I have loved the gorgeousness of the autumn colors here. I think I might have just made up a new word there!

We have traveled quite a bit.  One trip to Gettysburg was particularly sobering and spiritual.  We visited the battlefields of Antietam, Gettysburg and the historic town of Harper's Ferry.  I have a couple of ancestors who were in the Civil War and so being on the battlefields was particularly touching.

At the end of the month we also took a trip for a "Senior Couples Conference" to the new Priesthood Restoration church history site in Harmony, PA.  We stopped in Johnstown, PA to pick up one of the senior couples who serve there.  Johnstown is such an interesting little town to me, because I once read a book about the flood that occured there in 1889.  We learned that there were actually two more floods--one in 1936 and another in 1977.  Visiting museums there really helped to tell the amazing story of the survival of this town.

In Harmony we visited the shore of the Susquehanna River where Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdrey were baptized by John the Baptist.  We also saw the grove of trees where they received the Aaronic Priesthood from Peter, James and John.  The home of Emma Smiths parents (Isaac and Elizabeth Hale) and the home where Joseph and Emma lived for a short time have been restored.  We also saw the cemetery where their infant son was buried.  Seeing it all and hearing the history in the new visitors center really brought church history to life for us.
A highlight of our trip was hearing the Visitor Center sister missionaries sing acapella to us

Lots of interesting people and places.  We love serving in PA!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Twists and Turns of Life

Now for an update about our daughter, Heather.  Through all of the past month we have been watching our phone for daily updates and texts about her condition.

There is a long version to the story that probably only Heather and Mike know.  They have had many personal spiritual experiences that they have related to us, but those experiences are just hard to put into words and should probably only be told by them.  The trouble is that telling just the the short version of the story just doesn't do justice to the many blessings that have come through this experience..... so we will tell what we can of a medium version!

As we mentioned a couple of posts ago, Heather was admitted to the hospital in St. George on September 18th.  Since she had a bout with carcinoid cancer in 2008, a return visit of the cancer was one suspected diagnosis.  She had numerous tests and ended up being scheduled for a 3 day radioactive scan.  The scan was stopped on the second day because the doctors were sure that they saw cancerous cells near her pancreas and liver. The
news of a return of the cancer really shook us all.  President Johnson was out of town when the diagnosis came and suggested that we drive to Butler to deliver the news to Sister Welch (Megan).  It was a hard message to deliver, but we all knew that the only option we had was to trust in the Lord's plan.  It was such a blessing that we could be together with her at this time for a little while.  While we were with her, Megan's companion, Sister Sears, brought out a letter from a young man who is a recent convert.  It helped to lighten and shift the mood to see them get so excited about this convert's testimony of the gospel.

Meanwhile, in St. George, all of the doctors felt that Heather eventually needed to go to her original cancer specialist at Huntsman Cancer Institute for possible surgery.  But they told her she needed to get her nutrition and strength built up first.  They submitted her name for a spot at Huntsman, but things weren't looking too promising.  On September 28th, the social worker came in her room and started making plans for Heather to be transferred to a Rehab facility.  She was on IV nutritional supplements, but was still battling nausea most of the time.  Heather dreaded having to spend weeks trying to battle the nausea and not being able to get some treatment for the cancer.  She was just so discouraged and we felt so bad for her.  Then came the first of many turns of events!

Heather and Mike's ward in St. George held a ward fast for her on this Monday.  Many other family and friends were praying for her.  Then a little while later in the day, the social worker came back into her hospital room and said a space for her was found at Huntsman!! She called us with tears of joy with the news!  She had to be transferred by ambulance because it would be considered an impatient transfer.  She only had about an hour before she needed to be ready to leave!  It was just then that some of her friends from her neighborhood who were fasting for her showed up unexpectedly.  They quickly helped her get everything organized.  They had just come for a visit and had no idea she was being released.  Mike was home sleeping after having worked all night.  He usually never wakes up early, but on this afternoon woke up suddenly and said for some reason he got the idea that he should start to pack his things to leave!  When Heather called to tell him she was being transfered he was already mostly packed!!  Mike called his work to tell them of the change in plans.  His shifts were covered for him right away.

Mike drove to Salt Lake with Brynlee while Heather was riding in an ambulance.  Jenna decided to stay in St. George with neighbors so that her school wouldn't be too interupted. During the ambulance ride Heather started conversing with the ambulance attendant and found out she was a good friend of Sister Sear's ---Megan's companion (they grew up in the same ward).  The two bonded right away and exchanged many personal experiences on the five hour ride to Salt Lake.

The stay at Huntsman meant more and more tests and doctor visits, but it was a blessing that Heather's cancer specialist was available.  Dr. Scaife usually travels a lot during the fall.  Finally, another turn of events!  On Oct. 1st word came that doctors felt the diagnosis in St. George was a false positive for cancer!  Instead they felt she had SMA (superior mesenteric artery) syndrome which is very rare.  It is basically a defect in the main artery to the duodenum.  The artery is pinching  off the intestine and food does not empty the stomach correctly.  Finally........they felt they had found out why Heather had not been able to eat anything for so many weeks.  It took a few more days for her to be weaned off of the IV nausea medication, but on October 6th she traveled back to St. George after 22 days in the hospital.

Heather still has a feeding tube and can't eat anything by mouth.  She has a long road ahead to get strong enough for possible surgery.  We are all hoping and praying for an eventual successful  recovery.  In the meantime she is still struggling to live in a world that revolves around food and not be able to eat a thing.  On one of Heather's hardest days I happened to mention a video from called "The Refiner's Fire".  She said watching it really helped her cope better and put things in perspective. It's an amazing video that we highly recommend.

During all of this there were so many tender mercies from the Lord that came through family and friends.  We are so very thankful for all who helped so that we can continue our mission.   It is kind of ironic, but as others were serving Heather, we have been trying our best to help others here.  At the same time Heather was in the hospital, our friend, Ponga, had eye surgery for a corneal transplant.  We helped her through the process and helped her small son get to preschool also.

It just seems that the Lord has a plan for us all to serve one another.  He truly uses our hands to serve one another and give us His blessings.