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!!