Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Antidote for Worry is Work

President Johnson's weekly email to all missionaries in the mission this week included a quote from one of our favorite prophets, President Gordon B. Hinckley.  It said, "Why are missionaries so happy?  Because they lose themselves in the service of others.....The best antidote I know for worry is work.  The best medicine for despair is service.  The best cure for weariness is the challenge of helping someone who is even more tired."

That quote will definitely become one of our favorites.  We've had a few worries recently and we have found the remedy of working and focusing on the mission to really help us out.  Besides Jim's slow but steady recovery from eye surgery, we have also had major concerns over our daughter Heather's health.  She has had some history of digestive problems which got to a crisis point during the last few weeks.  She couldn't even drink water without intense cramping and vomiting.  This went on for about 4 weeks until she was finally admitted into the St. George hospital on
September 16th.  Even with numerous scans and tests, visits to her primary care doctor, ER visits for fluids, and phone calls to her specialist at Huntsman Cancer Institute, she didn't really get any relief for most of the 4 weeks.  Friday night, the 18th, was her lowest point and she had another priesthood blessing while in the hospital.  That same night we got a call from Salt Lake telling us that Jim's sister was rushed to the hospital.

In the midst of our worries we had a wonderful missionary meeting with all the missionaries on the west side of the mission.  The featured speakers were Elder and Sister Stanfill.  Elder Stanfill is a general authority of the church from Salt Lake (member of the 1st Quorum of Seventy).  Their words were so uplifting to us.  It was especially fun to sit with Megan again and be able to visit with her.  She played the piano for most of the music in the meeting.  She has been very worried about her mom and so we tried to fill her in on what we knew about the situation.  Megan and I had an opportunity to speak with Elder Stanfill after the meeting.  We told him the situation with us being Megan's grandparents.  He said multiple times what a "miracle" that it is that we are all in the same mission.   We don't know all the reasons Megan is here in this mission, but we think being able to help and support one another during Heather's illness may be one of the reasons.  Just another 'tender mercy' and 'hug from above' that let's us know our Heavenly Father is truly aware of each one of us.

By Sunday night we talked with both Heather and Marie on the phone. Marie is home from the hospital and doing much better.  While Heather is still in the hospital for a while longer, it lifted our hearts to hear that Heather was not only feeling better physically, but she had received a lot of spiritual strength as well.  She had many visits and calls Sunday from family and friends.  She has had wonderful nurses including an extra special one that had helped Emily in the same hospital a year ago.  Her comment to us that night was that no matter what the outcome of all the tests, she feels their whole family has been very blessed and will continue to be blessed.

We know there will probably be lots of ups and downs with Heather's condition, but she said that she has felt such strength from everyone who has called, texted, and visited.  Even the smallest show of love and support seems to mean so much and lift her spirits.  

We also reminisced with Heather about all our family has gone through the last few years--Gram's declining health and passing away almost 2 years ago, surgeries, hospital & ICU stays and other ailments of immediate and extended family members.....the list goes on and on.  And yet with each adversity that we discussed, it was wonderful to recount how we had been and are still being blessed.  We just feel that the Lord is ever near to us.  It all seems part of the earthly experience that will help us one day return to our Heavenly home.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Opposition In All Things

So, as I mentioned in the last blog post, we had a really good lesson in District Meeting about how we receive promptings from the Holy Ghost, but then fear sometimes creeps in and we have to push through the fear to keep doing what the Lord wants us to do.  Little did we realize that we would have the opportunity to put this lesson into practice so soon after our meeting!

We drove away from the meeting with the plan to stop and visit
with an investigator named Annie. Annie is a great lady who is the Sunday School superintendant of her Baptist church that was started years ago by her now deceased husband.  She has taken lessons from various sets of missionaries in the past.  She knows that the Book of Mormon is true and that President Monson is a prophet, but it has been understandablly very hard for her to progress towards actually being baptized in our church.  On our way to her home, Jim mentioned to me that he had been having vision problems and seeing black spots in his right eye since the day before. The symptoms that he described sent up a red flag right away in my mind.  I started making phone calls to determine the best ER to go to in the city.   We went ahead to deliver a special edition of the Ensign about temples to Annie as I was calling doctors and hospitals.

Right after we left Annie's home we went to the UPMC emergency room which is the one in the First Ward where we go to see members of the church who need visits and blessings.  All of a sudden we were there for ourselves instead of to visit someone else and it was a weird feeling.  So many blessings then started to unfold.  We were there in the hospital on a Thursday afternoon right before a holiday weekend.  There is a major eye institute right next to the hospital.  The eye clinic personnel were starting to leave, but we were seen really quickly by a resident, attending ophthalmologist, and finally a retinal specialist.  UPMC is a teaching hospital and many people looked in Jim's eye within a very short time.  It was determined that he had some tears in his retina and it was beginning to detach.  We were told over and over that it was good that we had come to the hospital right away or blindness could have been the result.  They tried to use a laser on the tears, but that didn't work.  When we asked what caused the retinal problems we were told something we are hearing all too often....."old age"!!!  He was put on the surgery schedule for later in the afternoon the next day.

The problem with the surgery time was that we had been working for weeks and weeks to help get Sister Page ready for going to the Columbus temple to have some sealings done for her to her deceased family.  Her living family are not members of the church, but have become more supportive of her desires to attend the temple at least once in her later years.  One extended family member drove her quite some distance to talk to a stake presidency member and then she was willing to make the 6 hour round trip to Columbus since they were worried about her oxygen and wheelchair needs.

When we realized what a conflict this was, Jim said he felt a strong impression that I should go ahead and go to the temple as planned. He said that he felt everything would work out.  I definitely didn't feel quite so peaceful about being almost 200 miles away while he was waiting to be called into surgery at any time.  He kept reassuring me that he was absolutely sure everything would be just fine.  I ended up riding to the temple in a van with the First Ward bishop, Elder Gille, Elder Simmons, LaShaun, and Vikkiy. We had a wonderful experience in the temple and the workers there were so patient and kind to help Sister Page with her special needs.  As we started home I got a text from Jim saying that he had been taken to the hospital early by the elders.  The hospital was able to fit him in for surgery and he expected to go in around 4 PM. I knew it was good to get the surgery done as soon as possible, but my heart sank because I knew we could not make it back in time.  An hour or so later I got another text that said there was a surgery that was more of an emergency put ahead of him.  They didn't expect that he would go into surgery until 6 pm or so.  We got back to Pittsburgh at 6 pm and I had the bishop drop me off at the hospital.  The surgery ahead of Jim went slower than expected so he didn't actually go into surgery until 8:20 pm.  I had time to visit with him, talk with the doctors and the anesthesiologist.  We felt relatively peaceful about everything and I was so relieved to be there with him.

My peaceful feeling started to give way about 3 hours

later when I hadn't heard anything from the operating room.
 They told us earlier that the surgery would only last about 2 hours.  I was nervously waiting by myself in a lonely surgery waiting room when all of a sudden Elders Ord and Wadsworth showed up.  They waited with me for another few hours as the doctor came to reassure me that everything went well and Jim spent time in the recovery room.  We didn't leave the hospital until 2 AM.  The elders drove us to where our car was parked at the church and then helped us into our apartment.  They live in the same apartment building that we do.  What a blessing it was for us to have the elders close by to help us through this ordeal.  Getting to know such great young men has been such a bonus of our mission.

The next day we called Sister Page to see how she was feeling after such a big day.  We all missed having Jim there with us, but it made us both so happy to hear the pure joy in her voice.  She told us that it will be a day she will never forget.  She said it was so healing for her to be sealed to her husband who died over 50 years ago, her parents, and her two babies who died in infancy.  One of the babies was her only girl and I was able to stand in as proxy for her daughter.  She said she will always feel close to me because of that.  Somehow we feel that the Lord wanted those ordinances done in the temple that day.  The experience in the temple was worth any fear or uneasiness that we felt.  What a mission payday!

It has been a week since Jim's surgery.  We have managed to get along with him sleeping in a recliner (not fun and not much sleep), eyedrops four times a day, and our biggest challenge of having me be the designated driver in Pittsburgh traffic. The doctor says Jim needs to take it easy for another week or so and then can probably start driving again.   All in all, we are surviving and are so grateful for our blessings.  Our hearts go out to others with challenges in life, but our testimony is stronger than ever that the Lord is right beside us through our pain and sufferings.  We are anxious to get back to work with full steam.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

End of Summer Highlights

It is really hard to take pictures of some of our missionary experiences and also really hard to actually put these experiences into words that do justice to the situation.  Most of the time, for every missionary highlight,  it takes many visits and phone calls and countless hours of effort by us and others.   Sometimes all the work leads up to a little moment of joy and happiness.  That little moment, though, makes all the work worth every minute spent.  It is just an indescribable feeling.

We have had a few of these experiences come up over the latter part of the month.

HIGHLIGHT #1 We have been working so hard since June 30th to help the Matembu family get into a low cost internet program.  They were taken advantage of by telemarketers to sign up for an internet package that was way beyond their budget and so we decided to step in to help out with the situation.  We made trips to the provider and eventually went clear up to the corporate headquarters with phone calls.  It took us almost two months of wrangling through privacy laws, company bureacuracy, and MANY ups and downs.  We were blessed many times along the way to make calls or visits at just the right time or to the right person.  FINALLY, on August 28th, with the help of Elder Johnson, we got their internet up and running on a new computer for a very

affordable price.  It will help them so much with schoolwork, job searches, church work, and budgeting.

That same day we took the Matembu family to the Carnegie Science Center with our passes.
They had such a great time and it was fun to see them enjoy each other together.  We spent the whole day there with them and really enjoyed it.  One of their favorite parts was finding a room of African musical instruments.  They all joined in and came up with some really good rhythm in just a few minutes.  They also enjoyed the roller coaster simulator, the climbing wall, and the weightless space walk.

HIGHTLIGHT # 2 We were able to attend the Columbus Temple with Mel.  Mel is a recent convert
to the church and is so excited about all that he is learning.  He has now given a prayer in stake conference, received the Melchizedek Priesthood, stood in the circle for a confirmation, and received a calling as assistant ward clerk.  It is great to see how quickly he is progressing.

HIGHLIGHT#3  We had another fun P-day where we went to Ohiopyle and did some biking along the Great Allegheny Passage.  The section of the trail we rode was incredibly beautiful, level, and shaded with tall trees on each side. Our kind of biking!  On our way home we happened to see a sign for a Visitors Center for Fort Necessity.  The fort is one hastily constructed by George Washington for a battle that started the French/Indian War.  We are finding that the history here in Pennsylvania is so rich and interesting

HIGHTLIGHT #4 On September 2nd Elder Whitney and Davis came to our apartment with Elder Whitneys favorite recipe from home -- his mom's Manicotti.  They brought all the ingredients and cooked it up for us and we provided the extras.  It was a fun meal together.  We feel like we have
acquired a few dozen extra grandsons as they come and go in our area.  What a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the youth of this church.  A few days later the two elders were walking in a park and stopped to play basketball for a few minutes with another couple of young men in the area.  A newspaper reporter happened to be at the park and snapped some pictures of them.  It was in the Pittsburgh Tribune the next day!

HIGHLIGHT #5  Then on September 3rd we went to District Meeting and were surprised to have President and Sister Johnson drop in. We had a great lesson by Elder Whitney on overcoming fear and following promptings.   The Johnsons even went to Chipotle for lunch afterwards with all of us.  It was such a big group that there wasn't room for everyone in the restaurant so we brought it back to the church and all enjoyed lunch together.

 It was right after this meeting and lunch that another set of circumstances exploded!  Another post will be needed to explain.