Sunday, December 27, 2015

What a wonderful Christmas! December 27, 2015

For me, the best Christmas memories involve family.  This year, I have an extended family and loved being with them.

On Christmas Eve, we were invited to celebrate at Elder Dixon's brother's home in the Atlanta area. We were welcomed into the Giovine family for a delightful time.  Pete has a real talent for decorating an entertaining and it was beautiful.  I still can't imagine trying to get all of that done in a couple of days (since they went to Cancun on vacation just before).

 We asked if we could take a plate of food with us since Andreia, Kaitlyn and Titan were coming in on the airplane after a long flight.  They gave us those aluminum pans full of food!

At about 9:40 p.m. the girls and Titan arrived.  I have to tell you that there is no greater gift in the world than to have a child run to you and jump up to be hugged.  It was WONDERFUL to have them come and they did so at great sacrifice.  We hurried straight home so that Santa could find Titan.

Christmas morning was so fun.  Santa had found Titan and there are Legos in several rooms to prove it.  When we discussed how the assembled legos would make it to Utah, we all agreed that the Legos would probably have to be reassembled at James' house!

We then had a delightful time with Bala and his family, Elder and Sister Underwood, Elder and Sister Nebeker and the Assistants.  The Assistants prepared a message about the birth of the Savior with songs in between.  Well, I have to say that we were not exactly great at the singing!  Even so, it was wonderful.

In the afternoon, we assembled some appetizers and went to Dominic and Michael's home for dinner with the Giovines.  It was another beautiful meal.  Uncle Richard and Uncle Pete were very thoughtful to Titan.  He now has a nice iPad and has used it a lot.

We were able to talk to James and his family and Skype with Raf and his family.  I do miss being closer to them.

But the girls brought the smiles.  Every year when Andreia asks what Elder Dixon wants for Christmas, he tells her "obedient children".  So, this year, she had letters (almost affidavits, but not quite that formal) from people telling us how obedient she is.  What a crack up!
Kaitlyn also brought her "A" game.  She ordered 100 of these little flamingos and has hidden them throughout the house.  I am guessing those things will show up long after we have completed our mission.  I am sure my mother is having a great laugh over this one!

It has been a joyous Christmas.

But I can't end without sharing my testimony that Jesus Christ is our Savior.  And, like our Balthazar in the Christmas party, I have found him.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A special Christmas party December 20, 2015

Yesterday was the culmination of several weeks of planning for our Clear Springs Christmas party.  We began early in the morning in setting up the rooms for the Journey to Bethlehem and the fancy Christmas decorating in the cultural hall.  Decorating actually went pretty smoothly.  It is amazing how it all comes together when you have tents and sheets.  The Primary of the other ward had decorated the Primary room to look like a cave, and they graciously allowed us to use it.  That was a perfect place for our nativity to end.

The Journey part of the evening was wonderful.  I couldn't have been happier to see the Branch take it over.  They made it very special.  The rooms were great and the actors did a wonderful job.  For me, the most special part of the night was watching the people in the nativity.  The little girl who sang as Mary did a beautiful job in Portuguese and in English.  She was precious.  Then our Balthazar would come in.  He had been traveling through our Bethlehem in search of the Savior.  When he came into the nativity room, he would testify that he had found the Savior and that he had come to give his gifts.  The spirit he brought into the room was amazing.  One of the groups that came through had a sweet little four year old.  She nearly broke away from her parents to be able to give a gift to the Christ child.  It was so touching.

 The carpenter testified of the goodness of Mary and Joseph and talked about how the families would come to be taxed but there was not room in his home for more family.

The Centurions were there to gather the information from those who had come to be taxed.

Our Innkeeper was too busy to worry about the birth of the Savior. 

Our shepherd told of the star and the angels coming to herald the birth of the Savior.  

Our Sister missionaries served as guides to the travelers.

Our merchant was only interested in the money of the travelers and the riches of the Kings.  King Herod pressured people to tell him where the Christ Child was.  Only one child gave Him up!
I am so grateful to Malu for the beautiful job she did and the spirit she encouraged for the journey part.  It was wonderful.

After being treated to the spiritual feast, the attendees were then given a physical feast.  There were  many wonderful dishes.  I am amazed at how beautiful the presentation is.  We probably had about 100 people at the party, young and old, members and those who do not belong to our Church, those who spoke Portuguese and those who did not.  It was enjoyed by everyone who attended.

IMG_5260.JPGI  don't have a picture of all those who worked so hard on the food and festive decorations but the family on the left was certainly a large part of it. I am grateful to them for their hard work and continued service to the Branch.

 Our Young Women even got in on the act with Santa Claus.

Transfers December 20, 2015

Transfers came up faster this time, literally.  In order to not have them take place during Christmas week, the time was moved up a week.  We had a change of Assistants so Elder Gosar can go back to being a full-time proselyting missionary.  He was excited to do that.  We miss him, but are happy for him.  Elder Cottle has come to be the new Assistant.  We did not have an opportunity for our picture in front of the fireplace.  We love him, also!

We lost more missionaries than came in on this transfer.  Here are some pictures of those who returned home.
Love having the Mortons come to join as we have our farewell fireside.

Look closely at who is in the picture.  Our missionaries are alive and well, even after being released!


Sunday, December 13, 2015

It was a happy birthday!

My birthday was great (except Elder Dixon got sick).  It was so fun to hear from missionaries and have them sing to me.  Elder Castro made up an excuse as to why he called, then sang Happy Birthday to me.

So, we had to reciprocate and sing Happy Birthday to Sister Abram.
The Sisters kept asking how I was able to keep the hat on my head.  I told them my head is flat. Elder Dixon thinks it's the hairspray!

Stake Conference- more of the feast December 13, 2015

Our weekend of great messages did not end when Elder Holland left.  We then had Stake Conference.

It began with such a sweet thing.  In 1988 and 1989 we lived in Worthington, Ohio.  During that time, we became close friends with some of the other couples in the ward.  Our children were about the same age, so we started a babysitting co-op.  One of the couples would watch all of the children on a Friday night so the other three couples could go out.  I loved those couples.  One of them was Randy and Becky Bluth.  Randy is now Elder Bluth, a member of the Quorum of the Seventy of our Church.  It was great to see him.

He shared a message on Friday about the sacrament.  It was a little video that the Church had done.  It had a powerful effect on me.  I was taught that if I do something wrong, like yelling at another driver on my way to Church, I should repent of that, but then I should take the sacrament.  We should not fail to take the sacrament unless our sins are such that we need more than personal repentance.  The sacrament is to renew us, to strengthen us and to help us.  We should take the opportunity to renew our covenants every week.

There was also a message today in conference about the sacrament.  We were asked how we would view taking the sacrament if we had been there in that room when the last supper was given.  What would we have thought? Certainly we would not be looking at our cell phones.

I found a picture at Deseret Book that depicts it well.  In the picture it shows the congregation as we typically are behaving during the passing of the sacrament.  But in the front row depicted is a young family.  The person passing the sacrament has wounds in his hands and is wearing a robe.  A small child is reaching for him.  The father and mother are completely aware of who is serving them the sacrament.  It is beautiful.

There were many great things I took away from conference.  I will just share a couple.  I believe that part of the reason that people are not better about sharing the gospel is that they do not realize how many miracles occur.  President and Sister Bennion shared two stories that reinforce the knowledge we have that God loves His children.

 In one story, a young woman belonged to another church, but had a strong feeling that she needed to be baptized again.  Her father, who is very active in her former church, told her she could be baptized in any church but the "Mormon" church.  She came to church anyway, but was not setting a baptismal date because of her family.  Then, a newly returned missionary went with the missionaries to visit her.  He indicated that she knew it was true and that each of them should pray that she would have the strength to act on her knowledge.  They did, and when she prayed she said she felt like "Jesus kicked me in the ribs".  She joined the church and is very happy.

Some of you may remember that we had a sweet young sister missionary who was killed in a car accident in our mission.  She had been working with a couple in one of her areas, but the couple had been dragging their feet on setting a date.  Finally, the missionaries who were following up after Sister Barnard died, asked the couple to choose a date.  Without even realizing it, they chose Sister Barnard's birthday.  In another of her areas, one of the less actives had been struggling with some addictions.  The missionaries who had begun working with her had suggested she choose a date as a goal.  Without realizing it, she also chose Sister Barnard's birthday.  Seems that Sister Barnard is still busy as a missionary.

Elder Bluth concluded the conference and part of his message was about not being deceived.  He told a story that when he was a child, his family did not have a lot of candy around.  So, when he was about 7 and his mother came home with a grocery bag with what appeared to be a large chocolate bar, he was excited.  On the wrapper it had a picture of a big bar of chocolate  with a bite out of it.  His mother explained it was baking chocolate and that it did not taste good.  She put it away in the cabinet.  When she was away, he got the bar and proceeded to take a big bite.  It was awful.  When he later told his mother, she basically said "I told you so".  Elder Bluth related the story to our lives today and that Satan uses things like the internet to make things appear to be something they are not.  It was a great message.

By the end of Stake Conference, though, it was good I had taken notes because I felt like I was drinking from a fire hose!

The magic of Christmas- December 13,2015

What a week!  It has been incredibly busy, but I have learned many things.

It began with a delightful package from Marshall McArthur and his family for the office missionaries.  What a surprise!  It was filled with delicious Wyoming delights.  Thank you so much for your kindness!  We LOVED it!

On Friday night, we had the opportunity of having Elder Holland, an apostle of the Lord, address the women of the Atlanta area.  He had invited the women to send questions in advance.  It was clear that those questions weighed heavily on his mind.  He spoke of how he had prayed about us and we were on his mind.  He talked about the purpose of trials, that we need them in order to be prepared to walk in God's way.  If we are to be disciples, we need to have walked where he has walked.

On Saturday morning, the missionaries were allowed to have an early Christmas present.  We often talk of the magic of Christmas.  Usually it is associated with Santa Claus and the sense of magic that children feel about the surprises on Christmas morning.  For many people, as they grow older, the magic of Christmas, the sense of wonder, is gone.  It was so amazingly sweet then to watch our young missionaries as that sense of wonder was intensified this week.  When these young missionaries have the opportunity to see an apostle of the Lord, to shake his hand and hear his words in person, they are tremendously happy!  Little children at Christmas are no more excited than these missionaries were.
His message to us was strong.  Do not think that the mission is the high point in your life.  The mission is the pattern for the rest of your life.  Elder Holland talked about how we must have firm testimonies and not be afraid because we have been given authority to teach in His name.  
Lest you think our spiritual feast ended there, it did not.  Then, came Stake Conference.