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.

Baptisms, Visitors, and General Conference

Our area of the mission has been blessed with baptisms

recently.  We missed the baptisms of Rob, Elihu and Sean on September 5th due to Jim's eye surgery.  We were recently able to attend the baptism of Aimee and Belle.  Then one night we had Elihu to dinner with Elder's Ord and Wadsworth.  It was great to hear this young man's conversion story.  He just walked into the First Ward's sacrament meeting one Sunday during the middle of September.  I noticed him sitting at the back of the chapel all alone and I asked him if he was visiting with someone.  He said "no".  I asked if he knew anyone there and he again said "no".  I quickly summoned some of the elders to get to know him.  Then last night we heard the rest of his story.  He attended many different churches over the years and even recently converted to Islam. But he still felt that something was missing.  He was just searching for the right thing when he looked up the Mormon church and decided to attend that Sunday morning.  After he heard about the restoration of the gospel and the Book of Mormon, he commited to baptism on the first lesson.  Three weeks later he was baptized. He is a student at the University of Pittsburgh and studying to be a criminal attorney.  He attends the YSA (Young Single Adult) ward in our church building and he is really an asset there.  It was wonderful to get to know him better last night.

Elder Davis, Aimee, Elder Whitney
Aimee is also a single adult who was in an accident at one time and now must use a wheelchair most of the time.  She has been studying with the elders for many months---almost as long as we have been here. We attended lessons with the elders in her home several times.  She had many misgivings for awhile, but she was just radiant and had the biggest smile when she announced in Relief Society one Sunday that she had decided to get baptized.

Belle is a single mom raising a young son.  Janelle, Luke, and Heidi were here visiting on the night of her baptism and they were all able to attend her baptism with us.  The
Elder Davis, Belle, Elder Whitney
Relief Society room was filled with people at the baptism and her comment to us was that she couldn't believe they had all come to support her.  We told her that she is really part of a great big family now!

The visit of Janelle, Luke and Heidi only lasted for a few days, but we were able to fit a lot into those days.  We spent time at the Carnegie Science Center, a day in Kirkland, the Pittsburgh Children's Museum, and a ride on the riverboat.  They were also able to  attend our weekly district meeting with the elders.  Janelle attended the whole meeting which Jim taught to two districts. They all heard everyone's weekly "highlights" and then during the lesson portion

Luke, Heidi, & I walked to the Natural History Museum where they had a wonderful time.  Jim's lesson was one he has taught many times at home and now many times here.  It is a lesson about implementing the atonement of the Savior in our lives to improve our relationships and bring us peace and comfort as we navigate through the challenges of life.  He has come up with a little chart that illustrates what he is talking about really well.  It seems like some of the principles that he teaches all begin to fit together for most people who hear it.  He really enjoyed having Janelle be there to be part of the lesson.  Jim has taught the lesson to the MLC (Missionary Leadership Council) and at various other times.

President and Sister Johnson have been very encouraging and supportive of senior couples having their family members come to visit.  Their comment to us was that each of our children and grandchildren are really our most important "investigators" in the gospel.  They feel that having them spend time around missionary life is a wonderful teaching opportunity.  When Heidi was asked what her favorite part of the trip was she said "meeting the elders".

Our fun family visitors left Pittsburgh Saturday morning and flew home to enjoy the rest of conference in Salt Lake.  We spent the day Saturday watching conference in our apartment and then
Jim attended Priesthood meeting that evening with the elders at church.  On Sunday we had 8 elders to watch the afternoon session with us and have dinner.  Two more elders (our zone leaders) showed up for dessert afterwards.  Tuesday is transfer meeting so it was a fun way to get together before all the changes go into effect.  Elder Whitney is going home and Elder Johnson is being transferred, so we will have two new elders to get to know soon.

General Conference was amazing.  It was hard to pick a favorite talk.  The teachings about the Sabbath Day as a sign between God and man and also the many references to dealing with adversity in life especially resonated with us at this time.  Hearing from the three new apostles, Elders Rasband, Stevenson, and Renlund was also a highlight.

We can hardly wait to have time to read, listen to, and try to digest the printed talks. Before you know it we will spend our last General Conference here in April!

We also attended the transfer meeting in Greentree on October 6th.  Megan sadly said goodbye to her companion, Sister Sears.  Megan will stay in Butler with a new companion, Sister Bills, and Sister Sears will be quite far away in Hanover, PA.  We feel that we got quite close to Sister Sears and so it was hard for all of us to make this change.  We are learning all about making lots of changes on our mission--but not nearly as many as the young elders and sisters have to make.

Anyway....change is good...we will keep telling ourselves that!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Family Updates

Many fun things have gone on at home recently.  We have sure missed being there and also especially missed summer in Utah.  But there is also an overriding feeling that we are doing what we are supposed to be doing right now.  Luckily, we have pictures, emails, phone calls, and Skype.

We have been busy enough that we haven't really thought too much about the house, yard, and cabin.   We are really glad that Jared and Janelle and their families are taking care of things for us.  We know that it is ALOT of work in the summer and we are so thankful for their help!  We are glad that some of them have been able to enjoy the Utah summer there for us.  We got these cute pictures from Jared's family that did make us miss High Mountain Drug, the good ol' Smith and Morehouse, and good times at the cabin.  We will be looking forward to next summer!

We think Carson looks like he has grown two feet and is almost as tall as his dad, Jared.  We are glad that Jared is teaching his family to fish since being fishermen has never been a strong point with Jim and I.  Out talent seems to be eating the fresh mountain trout that others catch.

Another fun family activity that we heard about this summer was Grandma's Irresistible Raspberries.  This little business was started by Janelle, Luke, and Heidi.  Since they were already helping to take care of our large raspberry patch at home they decided to make the most of it.  They asked our permission to advertise, pick and sell our raspberries to some of their neighbors and friends.  The kids each put in an initial investment to order containers.  With Janelle's business and accounting background, she helped them to plan their business strategy, advertise, make a logo, and even created financial statements!!
The kids said it was a lot of hard work, but they both think it was worth it.
We think it was a wonderful learning experience for all of them and it makes us feel good that the raspberries have again had a successful summer.

Another big family event was Kennedy's baptism on
September 5th.  It was wonderful to talk with her, receive pictures, and hear about the event from other family members.  With Emily's help, we continued our family tradition of giving each of our grandchildren a "Heritage Book" at their baptism.    We were able to get most of the book done before we left on our mission and her mom finished it up for us.  We got a "thank you" note from her the other day saying that she has been reading the stories in it each night before she goes to bed.  It sounds like she is almost done with the whole book!  All these things have really helped to make us feel like we were "almost" there for this important time in her life.

Most everyone is back in school now also.  We got some good pictures sent to us of Courtney, Jackson, and Natalie as they started their first day of school in Georgia.  Courtney is a junior in high school (yikes!!).  She is a straight A student and loves science.  She is also playing the flute in the school marching band this year.

Jackson is also a very good student and is growing tall... right along with Carson.  We have heard that he and Carson are looking and acting more and more alike even though they live across the country from each other!  Jackson is in 9th grade and is still really involved in basketball and scouting.  From what we hear one of his other outstanding talents is "eating, eating, and more eating"!

Natalie is in 7th grade this year.  She tried out for cheerleading and was delighted to make the basketball cheerleading team at her school.  She has also been excelling in science and last May received a special award as "Student of the Month."  She turned 12 at the end of August and has really been enjoying being part of the "Beehive class" in the church Young Women's organization.

We are hoping to write some more "family updates" about other family members again soon.  The only bad part of them all growing up is that it makes us feel SO old.   I guess we can't do anything about that though.

 We hope that we will still all feel close as a family even though the years and the miles separate us at times.  We just LOVE everyone SO much.