Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Miracles Can and Do Happen...

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Monday it has established a relationship with the People's Republic of China. The Church expects it will now lead to what it calls "regularized" operations for the church in the most populous nation in the world.

It seems this is a significant milestone in the Church's efforts with the Chinese government, which have been ongoing for more than 30 years.

While the Church makes it clear its agreement with Chinese leaders does not mean LDS missionaries will go to China, it appears there will now be fewer restrictions for members of the Church who live in China as they practice their faith.

At a meeting held Aug. 24 at LDS Church headquarters, the First Presidency met with a senior official of the People's Republic of China. Together they established a relationship, which the Church expects will lead to "regularizing the activities of the Church in China."

"The Church deeply appreciates the courtesy of the Chinese leadership in opening up a way to better define how the Church and its members can proceed with daily activities, all in harmony with Chinese law," LDS Church spokesman Michael Otterson said Monday.

Both sides agreed to publicly acknowledge the meeting. LDS members with connections to China believe the announcement is a major breakthrough for the LDS Church.

"It's really exciting to me," Church member Justin Alder said. "I think it's a big step forward."

Alder worked in China last summer and attended LDS meetings in Shanghai with about 100 other Latter-day Saints. Chinese citizens who became members the Church while living outside of China were required meet separately from foreign Church members.

"[We] couldn't go to church with them, but there is a few there. Most of them [were] baptized out of China -- whether it was California, Toronto or New York," Alder said.

Some believe this agreement could mean members will soon be able meet together and the Church could own property instead of holding meetings in hotels or offices.

Church members with roots in China say LDS Church standards are similar to traditional Chinese values and believe the Church has respected regulations put into place by the Chinese government, thus establishing a level of trust.

"They have become thoroughly familiar with us through numerous contacts, and they have seen how we and our members operate in China. They know that we are people of our word when it comes to respecting Chinese law and cultural expectations," Otterson said.

"Based on the past 30 years, the Church has accomplished a great deal because of these ongoing efforts and also the good example of the saints over in China," said Church member Simeon Ning.

KSL News did ask if former the Utah governor and current U.S. Ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, was involved in the discussions. Church officials insist he had no role and say that no U.S. diplomats were involved. They say it is the result of direct communication between the Chinese government and Church leaders.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Broken Hearts

3rd Nephi
9:20 "And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit..."
9:22 "Therefore, whoso repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive, for of such is the kingdom of God..."

I've been pondering on this chapter in 3rd Nephi for the past few days. I've been thinking about the trials in my life and how essential they have been to "break my heart" and make me turn towards my Savior and my Heavenly Father. I believe that is why our Heavenly Father allows such things to happen to us and doesn't give us an easy out.

As parents we don't compel our children in their choices. We guide them, but we allow them to make mistakes, trusting that they need to learn for themselves. In looking at my little son Miles I've come to understand just a little bit of how our Heavenly Father must feel when we turn to him with our broken hearts. I do not enjoy my role as disciplinarian but I do want to give my son consequences for bad behavior so that he'll learn. And oh, how sweet and tender he is when he comes to me afterward, crawls into my arms, and says, "I'm sorry, mommy." How happy I am to see his remorse and hear from his lips that he is truly penitent and humble.

I as a parent can see how necessary these experiences are to my little son, whom I love so dearly. Shouldn't I also, as a beloved daughter of Heavenly Father, see how essential it is that I be given experiences that "break my heart" and make me want to turn to my Father in Heaven and to my Savior?

For the Savior also said, "...will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?"(3rd Nephi9:13)

What need have we of the Savior if not to be healed from our broken hearts?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Object Lesson

I have been thinking a lot lately about an object lesson my friend Christina and I taught years ago at laurel camp.

The object lesson goes like this:

You have a jar that represents how much time you have in your day. Just like the jar; your day can only hold so much. You have a bunch of sand that represents all the secular activities you have to do that day: grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, a job, hobbies, etc. You also have a bunch of ping pong balls that represent spiritual things. If you try and put the sand in first and then put the ping pong balls in last, you find that you run out of space for all of the balls to fit. Put if you place the balls in the jar and then pour in the sand you find that you can fit both the balls and the sand in the bottle.

The take away from this object lesson is that if we make time for spiritual things first (i.e. reading scriptures, family prayer, personal prayer), then we can fit all the spiritual things and secular things we need to accomplish in our days. If we leave spiritual things until the end of the day, they often get crowded out by other things that are more urgent. Many times we find at 11:00p.m. that we are too tired to read our scriptures, or if we do, we find that we don’t receive a lot of benefit from them.

I admit to using repetitive phrases in my prayers and one of them is, “Please help me (or us) to have the Spirit today,” But lately I’ve changed it up a little, “Please help me to do the things today that will bring the Spirit.”

It seems like this has always been a constant struggle for me (But then again, who doesn’t struggle to keep up their personal spiritual study?) but it seems like it is even harder in China where there is just so much more to do. Trips to the grocery store are a 3 hour round trip, dishes have to be washed by hand, laundry takes longer, hardwood floors that have to be swept with the dust mop every other day. In truth I have struggled with personal study. But how desperately I need to do the things that keep the Spirit with me, especially at a time when my church calling prevents me from attending Relief Society or Sunday School. At a time in my life where I don’t get to associate with Christians on a daily basis.

How can we expect to reflect the light of Christ to others if we aren’t replenishing our own stores of oil? For myself I feel a responsibility living in this land, to be a good example, but more than anything there is a joy and a peace that comes into my life by putting spiritual things first. My spiritual barometer has been falling lately and I need to “do the things that bring the Spirit”

Thursday, July 22, 2010

"The time is past..."

3 Nephi 1:5-6

5."But there were some who began to say that the time was past for the words to be fulfilled..."
6. "And they began to rejoice over their brethren, saying: Behold the time is past and the words of Samuel are not fulfilled; therefore, your joy and your faith concerning this thing hath been in vain."

I was reading my scriptures the other day and I came across these verses in 3rd Nephi. These verses and the verses that follow about the reaction of the people to the signs of the Savior's birth made me think. It struck me how quick we all are to explain away our spiritual experiences or to doubt our own personal revelations when the going gets rough.

I know for me there have been some really dark days this past year where I have questioned what I knew in my heart to be the right course, but my head and my logic said was impossible. I have to say one of the things I am most grateful for this past year was the journal I kept. It wasn't a daily journal, but when I did have a big spiritual experience I tried to write it down. It helped so much to be able to go back and sit and remember the spirit of what I felt and to feel peace and reassurance. To know that I didn't imagine those feelings and impressions; they were real. I remember hearing once, that peace is the only emotion for which the adversary does not have a counterfeit. The times that were the hardest this past year, that was what I was praying for: peace.

I simply loved Sister Beck's last conference talk and I've thought a lot about everything she said in it. One things I've thought a lot about was when she said, "Those who earnestly seek help through prayer and scripture study often have a paper and pencil nearby to write questions and record impressions and ideas." I wish I was better at this. I feel like I have grown to love the scriptures so much this year and I have a deeper appreciation for them because of the personal revelation and impressions I have received while reading them. I wish I had written more of my thoughts down.

Jared and I had a talk the other day about why it was so hard this past year. Why didn't the Lord show us immediately which path to take and open the way. Why were there seemingly so many roadblocks when we knew we were trying to follow the Lord's plan for us? Why did it seem like everyone turned against us just when we needed their support most? It could have been really easy to just turn back and say, "The time has past, it's not working out, it must not be the Lord's plan for us anymore." But we couldn't; we both had received too many witnesses that we needed to follow. If it had been easy, if everything had just worked out with no effort of ours, would we have been demonstrating faith in the Lord?

Faith means enduring, even when the taunting of the world and the lies of the adversary would have you believe that the "time has past." Of course we all doubt, we are human. Of course we forget the feelings. Of course we forget the words to that powerful blessing. I think the key thing is to do is to, as Alma put it, "Remember." For me that means writing it down, so I can remember.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

My Church Talk

The theme of my talk today is taken from D&C 58:27

“Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause”

I’ve been thinking about how to apply this phrase. This scripture could mean something entirely different to someone else, but I thought of each of our membership in this church and particularly the challenges of being members living in China.

In Sister Beck’s last conference talk she quoted President Kimball.

“Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world (in whom there is often such an inner sense of spirituality) will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world. . .”

Today I want to focus on that thought. I’ve been thinking lately of how I measure up to this standard. Do I truly reflect the Light of Christ? Am I doing the so-called duties and callings that I’ve been given cheerfully? Most of all is I seen by the people around me as different in “happy ways?”

Paul stated in 1 Timothy, “Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”

I remember just under a year ago sitting in a Relief Society meeting that had a profound impact on me. I don’t recall exactly what the topic of the lesson was, but I do remember an experience one of the sisters shared. This particular sister had a non-member friend who she frequently visited with while picking up their children from school or picking up them up from each other’s houses. One day this sister was complaining about how busy she was and how many demands she had on her time, and particularly, how much was required of her with regards to her church callings. It seems that they had similar conversations in the past as well. This friend made the comment, “So why do you belong to this church if it’s making you so stressed and miserable.” I still remember this sister relating her mortification at this response to her constant complaining. She had failed to relate the “good news” of the gospel and was not demonstrating the “happy ways” of being a follower of Christ’s true church. From hearing this story I became more determined to fulfill all my callings, in particular my callings as a mother and a wife, with less murmuring. I decided right then and there to try not to burden others with my trials, but instead to try to be more patient and longsuffering.

So why in particular is this so important here in China?

The Savior during his earthly ministry gave us this scripture found in both the New Testament and the Book of Mormon, “Behold do men light a candle and put it under a bushel? Nay but on a candlestick, and it giveth light to all that are in the house; Therefore let your light so shine before this people that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Brothers and Sisters I would like to share with you a series of quotes given in a 1974 talk by President Kimball entitled, “When the World will be Converted”

“The scriptures are replete with commands and promises and calls and rewards for teaching the gospel. I use the word command deliberately for it seems to be an insistent directive from which we, singly and collectively, cannot escape.

I think of the numerous nations that are still untouched. I know they have curtains, like iron curtains and bamboo curtains. I know how difficult it is because we have made some efforts. Surely the Lord knew what he was doing when he commanded.

I believe the Lord can do anything he sets his mind to do.

But I can see no good reason why the Lord would open doors that we are not prepared to enter. Why should he break down the Iron Curtain or the Bamboo Curtain or any other curtain if we are still unprepared to enter?

I believe we have men who could help the apostles to open these doors—statesmen, able and trustworthy—but, when we are ready for them.

We will need to make a full, prayerful study of the nations of the world which do not have the gospel at this time, and then bring into play our strongest and most able men to assist the Twelve to move out into the world and to open the doors of every nation as fast as it is ready. I believe we have many men in the Church who can be helpful to us, who are naturally gifted diplomats. I believe we should bring them to our aid and as stated before, I have faith that the Lord will open doors when we have done everything in our power.”

While we may not be allowed to proselyte or bear testimony to our friends, coworkers or neighbors, it is my belief that we all have a solemn responsibility to be emissaries of Christ. To reflect his love and light to all that we meet through our examples. The old adage rings true, “Live in such a way that people who know you but don't know Christ will want to know Christ because they know you.

I know things are stressful living here in China. I’ve only been here a few months, but I have definitely felt it. Husbands work hard long hours. Wires at times may feel isolated and homesick for family members and friends in other countries. Single brothers and sisters each have their own unique frustrations. Transportation can be a challenge. Many daily tasks are more difficult.

In Elder Martino’s talk from this last General Conference he commented on the struggles his youngest son had as he moved to a foreign country during his high school years. I quote from Elder Martino’s talk; “In an amazing turn of events, the experience went from one of trial to a huge blessing in his life. He accomplished this by changing his own attitude.

I daily have to remind myself that the Lord will not change my circumstances and that it is up to me to change my attitude.

I myself had -for lack of a better word- let’s call it a homesick day, yesterday. Jared had been gone to Hong Kong for several days and for various reasons, things had been a little hard while he was gone. Needless to say I was not in the best of moods. I went out to do some shopping, grumpy and already frustrated. The typical challenges of such a trip did not improve my mood and needless to say I was not very gracious to the people I encountered. Through adjusting my attitude and reading my scriptures later that night I found my mood lightened. I asked my sweet husband to forgive me which of course he already had. But unfortunately it was too late for the people I encountered while I was shopping. Instead of projecting Christlike love and kindness I just went about the task. Instead of my usual smile and “Xie, Xie, Ni” I just collected my change and went home. To us it is nothing uncommon to encounter the people native to this country, but if you think about it, the people you meet each day are truly having a one in a million chance to rub shoulders or exchange words with a member of the true church of Jesus Christ. I will probably never see those people I encountered again and what kind of an impression did I leave them with?

In the same chapter of the D&C where this scripture was taken it states in verses 6 and 7.

Behold, verily I say unto you, for this cause I have sent you—that you might be obedient, and that your hearts might be prepared to bear testimony of the things which are to come; And also that you might be honored in laying the foundation”

In D&C 64:33 it also states

“Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.

It is my prayer that we will take seriously the obligation we have to be witnesses of Christ at all times, and in all things and in all places. And above all that we will project the “happy ways,” the blessings and peace that comes from living the gospel of Jesus Christ. And that we will be anxiously engaged in sharing our testimonies not in words, but in actions and through our example.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Happy Ways

I need to start this blog back up again. I stopped because I was using other's computers and it was so hard to find a private place where I could write down my feelings. But it gave me something to keep me studying the scriptures, or the Ensign or conference talks everyday and I really need to be better at that. I am now a nursery worker in the branch and that means that I miss out on Sunday School and Relief Society. So in other words it is up to me to do my own spiritual study!

I have been thinking a lot these past couple days about Sister Beck's conference talk from this past Conference and in particular this quote:

"Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world (in whom there is often such an inner sense of spirituality) will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world. . . ."

Being in China I feel some frustrations about the inability to be able to share my testimony or even talk about the church or my beliefs with others. I'm not saying that I was the best at it in the States, but just knowing that you are forbidden to do so is aggravating.

I've been thinking about what I can do while I am here and I keep coming back to this quote. I think that one thing I can do is project the "happy ways" of my life. So when I ride the subway or the bus, when I play with my children in public, or try to communicate in what little Mandarin I know, I try to do it all with a positive attitude and and a cheerfulness that might make people stop and take notice. It may not be much but at this time I feel like I'm doing what I can to "be an example of the believers." It helps me as well to moderate my reactions to frustrating things when I realize that I'm being watched all of the time. I hope I can reflect Christlike love and kindness to the Chinese people around me.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

So Very Thankful

When I knelt down on Wednesday night I said one of the most heartfelt prayers of gratitude that I have ever expressed.

I just can't believe how well everything went and how many blessings I had yesterday in my travels.

Two of my bags were a little overweight, but the guy at the desk didn't bother to weigh them.
He also let me in on a little secret- that I could gate check my carry-on bags at the gate all the way to Philadelphia and not have to mess with them in Phoenix. So I got the benefit of having checked bags, but didn't have to pay an extra $100 a piece they charge for a third checked bag.
My parents were able to get gate passes and helped me through security.
The lady at the gate took my bags down to the end of the jet way for me instead of making me take them.
The gates in Phoenix were 4 gates apart instead of the twenty the lady from the airline on Monody said they would be.
Colin didn't sleep that well, only really cat napped, but his fussiness was minimal.
Miles didn't sleep at all but watched his DVD player or played on the floor. He made absolutely no fuss about wearing his seat belt which was a first. He did just fine pulling his rolling backpack through the Phoenix airport and the Philadelphia airport.
(I asked for an electronic car in Phoenix,(ended up not needing it) but didn't in Philly. But there was one waiting when I got off the plane and we got a ride almost all the way to the baggage claim.
Jennie was there waiting for me with a hug and to carry some of my stuff to the car.
She pulled the car around while I went back to get the luggage. On the way I found an abandoned luggage cart and was able to use it to get my baggage back to the car.
One of my suitcases didn't make it, but it was kind of a blessing in disguise, because I don't think it would have fit in the car with the other 5 suitcases and duffel bags. And they delivered it to Jennie's house first thing yesterday morning, so we didn't even have to go back to the airport or even worry about it.

I could just feel my Heavenly Father's hand in so many things that happened during my trip. I just felt so blessed all day and so watched over.

Thank you for all the prayers and thoughts on my behalf. I know they were answered.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Another tender mercy

Today I was able to meet with both my bishop and a member of the stake presidency to get a new temple recommend.

It was kind of miraculous because they just got my records transfered today back from the Shanghai branch (evidently they transfer the whole family's when they transfered Jared's)
I really wanted to get it done today before I left for New Jersey, but up until this morning I didn't think it was going to happen.

I was grateful for the opportunity to meet with both Bishop Lewis and President Kotter. They are both such wonderful men. President Kotter is one of my dear friends dad's and I just love both him and his sweet wife. I had a nice chat with both of them and they were both so positive about my upcoming adventure.

But I think what was the best thing about both interviews was being able to answer for my worthiness to obtain my temple recommend. I felt such a spirit of peace as I answered the questions and a love for my Savior and my Heavenly Father.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Joy in the Journey

Lately I've been thinking a lot about finding joy in the journey. This phrase was a Young women's theme a few years ago in the ward where I served in the YW presidency and recently it's been coming to my mind a lot.

Jared would tell you that I have whined and complained and murmured my fair share about going to China, about the difficulties of being a single mom right now, and about all the challenges and frustrations we've had along the way. I told Jared when we made this decision to move to China, that I was "not going to be a martyr about it" and I've really tried to stick to that, although at times it all gets to me and I have a break down. But really I try to pick myself back up and plow ahead with more faith and determination after these episodes.

Through it all I think I've done a decent job of not complaining too much, but I feel like I still have been saying to myself, "Poor me, look at how much I have been through and how hard it's been" and "When will this end" and "I'll be so happy when...." That last one is the biggie. I have been saying that in my head for so many years:

"I'll be so happy when I get married"
"I'll be so happy when I graduate"
"I'll be so happy when the baby is born"
"I'll be so happy when Jared graduates"
"I'll be so happy when Jared finds a job"

The list is endless. If you look at that phrase it looks like I'm saying I'm not happy now. How sad to be always dwelling on the future and not living in the present and enjoying the moment.

President Monson gave a talk on this subject in the October 2008 General Conference.

"I believe that among the greatest lessons we are to learn in this short sojourn upon the earth are lessons that help us distinguish between what is important and what is not. I plead with you not to let those most important things pass you by as you plan for that illusive and nonexistent future when you will have time to do all that you want to do. Instead, find joy in the journey—now."

He goes on to say:

"If you are still in the process of raising children, be aware that the tiny fingerprints that show up on almost every newly cleaned surface, the toys scattered about the house, the piles and piles of laundry to be tackled will disappear all too soon and that you will—to your surprise—miss them profoundly."

I do look forward to being with my darling husband and having my own home again, but in the meantime, I'm trying to enjoy my family and friends and the time I have left with them.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Digital Detachment

Lately I've been really trying not to spend so much time online. It's a hard habit to break. It's a pretty strong addiction to check emails or Sykpe to see if Jared is online or has sent me anything.
But I've been finding that I am more productive throughout my day if I limit myself to only getting on the computer a couple times a day.

There was an article in this months Ensign to this affect and I really liked this quote:
"Being constantly “plugged in” can drown out the quiet whisperings and subtle impressions of the Holy Spirit, breaking our personal connection with God and making it difficult, if not impossible, to receive personal revelation."

I'm still not that great at holding to this resolution of limiting computer time, but days like today remind me of how productive I can be when I'm not constantly on the computer being distracted by "stuff."

Monday, March 1, 2010

Sweet words

Alma 32:23 And now, he imparteth his word by angels unto men, yea, not only men but women also. Now this is not all; little children do have words given unto them many times, which confound the wise and the learned.

I read this scripture last night and it reminded me of a tender moment I had with my son.

A few weeks ago I was having a rough time dealing with everything. My sweet dear little Miles came over and patted my back and said, "Jesus love you, Jesus love you, mommy."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

All things as a testimony

Alma 30:39-41, 44
39 Now Alma said unto him: Will ye deny again that there is a God, and also deny the Christ? For behold, I say unto you, I know there is a God, and also that Christ shall come.
40 And now what evidence have ye that there is no God, or that Christ cometh not? I say unto you that ye have none, save it be your word only.
41 But, behold, I have all things as a testimony that these things are true; and ye also have all things as a testimony unto you that they are true; and will ye deny them? Believest thou that these things are true?
44 But Alma said unto him: Thou hast had signs enough; will ye tempt your God? Will ye say, Show unto me a sign, when ye have the testimony of all these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets? The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.

I read this scripture last night before I went to bed. It particularly caught my attention because of the discussion I had with Jared yesterday. Jared has been having email exchanges with one of his friends from Purdue about the existence of God. She feels empty and alone and she is wondering what is the meaning of life. She doesn't believe in God.

I'm so grateful for the testimony I have about that God lives. I can't imagine not knowing that. I love this scripture because it is so true. Everything in my life not only denotes that there is a God but that He loves me. I think of the daily miracle of just watching my children learn and grow. How perfect their little bodies are and how they have been sent here with their own personalities. I think of the miracle of both my sons births, the one being so peaceful and beautiful, the other being difficult but even more miraculous because of the things that could have gone wrong, but didn't. I think of answers to prayers that have come by my Heavenly Father prompting others to help me and take care of me. I think of things working out for my family even in the midst of trials and seemingly unbeatable odds.

I know my Heavenly Father is there. I wish Jared's friend would just begin by saying a simple prayer. Jared asked her about it and she said she felt embarrassed to try to pray when she doesn't even believe in a God. I think the sad thing is that too many people won't even put it to the test to pray and find out for themselves. It brings to mind another scripture:

2Nephi 32:8
And now, my beloved brethren, I perceive that ye ponder still in your hearts; and it grieveth me that I must speak concerning this thing. For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray.

I know that Jared is praying for this friend and I hope that (even if she has yet to say a prayer herself) she will still feel the Lord's hand in her life through the prayers of others, and that someday she will come to know for herself that God is real and that he loves her and is watching over her.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Keep Rowing

Yesterday I read an article in the Ensign called "Start Rowing."

It talked about the financial struggles of the author's family. It echoed a lot of Jared and my experiences over the past couple years. It seems like we have either been students, un-employed, or underemployed ever since we got married. I keep thinking that there must be some lessons that I haven't learned yet as we continue to be in these kinds of circumstances. I think a big part of it is trusting in the Lord that he will not forsake you, even in what "seems" like the hardest of circumstances. Too often my pride gets in the way of relying on the Lord for strength and trying to do it all on my own.

I loved the quote by Elder Groberg in the article:
“How often do we not do more because we pray for wind and none comes? We pray for good things and they don’t seem to happen, so we sit and wait and do no more. We should always pray for help, but we should always listen for inspiration and impressions to proceed in ways different from those we may have thought of.”

This quote made me think about how many friends I have where the couples are doing all they can even in the midst of economic struggles. I guess it's part of being students these past years, but there have been so many examples of friends that have done all they can to live providently. I have a lot of friends that are getting into photography as a way to make supplemental income. Many friends have other little businesses, and I think it's great that they've found a way to help their families by using their talents in these various ways.

Even now as Jared is not getting paid very much he is looking into teaching English or other ways of supplementing our income in China and I'm proud of him that he is not, as Elder Groberg puts it, "sitting and waiting" for things to happen. As for myself, of course being a dental hygienist is not an option right now and I don't have any idea when it will be, but I'm also trying to find another way to help with our income. If it's successful you'll hear all about it, if it isn't than you'll probably hear about it too, but right now I don't want to give too much away. While none of these little ventures may come to anything, I feel really good about the fact that at least both Jared and I aren't sitting around waiting for Heavenly Father to bless us, but instead we both have made goals that we are steadily working towards, at the same time praying that He will bless our efforts.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tender Spirit

Today was a difficult day with Miles.
He caught a cold a few days ago and he is one snot-nosed little boy.
Last night he only got 9 hours of sleep.
Today I did everything in my power to get him to take a nap, including giving him Benadryl in the hopes that it would clear him up a little and knock him out a lot.
He resisted and resisted and there was a lot of screaming and howling that went on for several hours while he did everything in his power to keep himself awake.

I was very frustrated by the end of the day.

And then again tonight I went in my room at about 10:00 and here he comes out of his room. He said, "I want another hug mommy" And while I know this is a delay tactic, it sure is a sweet one. I went in to tuck him in bed again and he told me that he wanted to say his own prayer.
We got back out of bed and my sweet little boy said his first prayer without help. I may be silly but I started crying. It was such a tender moment for me that my sweet little boy was able to say his own prayer.

I might get frustrated with him, but he really is such an innocent little spirit.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies.
-Proverbs 31:10

I'm so grateful for the privilege I have of having such wonderful women as my friends.
They have blessed my life immeasurably.

I was so blessed to have such wonderful friends in high school. I don't get to see these friends enough, but I'm so glad that I still get to keep up with them through their blogs. I still miss them and I'm so grateful I had such positive influences during my formative years. What darling girls they were back then and what amazing, wonderful mothers they are now. I'm so amazed when I look back at what we were then and how much everyone has developed their talents and abilities.

I had so much fun during my college years with my friends there. I am so lucky that my best college friend married my cousin and that I will always have her in my life. I love her even more now than I did then and ever time we get together I miss her more because of what good times we have together. We were the best of friends being single and dating, the best of friends being newlyweds together and now the best of friends being mothers to. Whether talking about our latest crush or talking about potty-training we will always be as close as sisters.

I'm so grateful for the friends I've made through my ward families. Today I was talking to one of my dear friends from my last ward and I just missed being surrounded by such wonderful women as I had in my last ward out in Indiana. They were more than my sisters in the gospel they were all such "kindred spirits." I learned so much from the friends I had there and I knew that I could count on them for anything.

It's funny how friend relationships change over the years. My relationships with my different friends have changed so much, but even though I hardly see some of them, I still love each and every one of them and miss them. Isn't it great that you can never have too many friends?And though I will never stop loving and missing my dear friends, there are more wonderful women out there that I can meet and befriend?

Saturday, February 20, 2010


Yesterday I was having a hard time.

It seemed like I just couldn't deal with all the concerns and worries and frustrations and trials anymore.
I broke down.
Really broke down.
Crying my heart out to my husband over the webcam kind of broke down.

It felt like I had hit rock bottom.

But then a miracle happened.
Jared has commented several times through these past few months that it seems when it feels like we can't take it anymore, Heavenly Father steps in and pours out a blessing upon us.

You think I would learn to have more faith and that know that He will never forsake us. But I am so weak. I'm just so grateful that even though there are times when I might forsake my faith, that the will Lord never forsake us.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Letter to a Friend

Since Jared is in China, he is unable to speak to any Chinese non-member about the gospel. So in other words he can't talk to our friend Penguin about church related things or he and the branch and district presidents could get in trouble or even deported. Yikes!

But I can still talk to him for the time being about the gospel! My letter to him. I pray with all my heart Penguin and his wife Cindi will decide to be baptized soon!

"Dear Penguin,

I've been thinking a lot about you and Cindi lately and I just wanted to send you a note to say hi. Or rather Ni Hao! I hope you had a wonderful Chinese New year and were able to spend some time with your family and friends during the holiday. I know Jared enjoyed his first Chinese New Year there. We miss him but we are excited that we will be able to join him in China sometime in April.

I just want you to know you are in my thoughts and prayers. I know that now Jared is over in China, he really isn't supposed to discuss religion with you or he could get in big trouble. But I know he is planning on a trip to the temple in Hong Kong in the next month. I know he would love to see you while he is there.

Penguin, I know Jared told you when he was in Shenzen that he thinks it is time for you to be baptized. I agree with him. It's been on my mind a lot lately. Jared would really like to be the one to baptize you and he can do it on one of his visits when he goes to the temple in Hong Kong. When you feel you are ready I hope you will make arrangements with him so that you can meet in Hong Kong and he can baptize you.

I know Jared has said that you really want to be able to go to the temple. As soon as you and Cindi are baptized you can begin going to the temple to do baptisms for the dead and in 12 months you should be able to recieve your endownment. Then you can be sealed to Cindi for time and all eternity.

Just to share a scripture with you;
Mosiah 18:8-11

8 And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
9 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—
10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?
11 And now when the people had heard these words, they clapped their hands for joy, and exclaimed: This is the desire of our hearts.

Penguin, I want you to know how very much Jared and I love you and Cindi. You will always be so dear to us. I look forward to seeing you in your own country. I'm so excited that we get to come learn of your land as you had the expierience to learn of ours.
God be with you til we meet again, my dear friends.
Love always,


Thursday, February 18, 2010


Alma 23:3,4
"3 And thus they might go forth and preach the word according to their desires, for the king had been converted unto the Lord, and all his household; therefore he sent his proclamation throughout the land unto his people, that the word of God might have no obstruction, but that it might go forth throughout all the land, that his people might be convinced concerning the wicked traditions of their fathers, and that they might be convinced that they were all brethren, and that they ought not to murder, nor to plunder, nor to steal, nor to commit adultery, nor to commit any manner of wickedness.
4 And now it came to pass that when the king had sent forth this proclamation, that Aaron and his brethren went forth from city to city, and from one house of worship to another, establishing churches, and consecrating priests and teachers throughout the land among the Lamanites, to preach and to teach the word of God among them; and thus they began to have great success."

As I said a few days ago, I have been reading about the sons of Mosiah missions to the Lamanites in my scripture study. These verses touched my heart, and made me think that it might just take a prominent person or persons in the Chinese government being converted to open up the gospel into China, just as it was opened up to all the Lamanites by their king being converted.

Our friend Penguin works for the Chinese government. Before we left Purdue we shared the Book of Mormon with him and his wife and he has been reading it ever since. He has a testimony of the gospel and he calls the church "our church." Jared and I both feel he is ready to get baptized.

In ready these scriptures it really made me think of him. I know he is just one person but everyone who joins the church has a ripple effect and I hope somehow his joining the church might someday influence the people he works for in the Chinese government.

I really hope and pray that in the next few weeks Jared can go to Hong Kong (the Shanghai branch is planning a temple trip) and that he can baptize our dear friend. I wish I could be there for it, but my heart will be there with them. I know I will be there when Penguin and Cindy are sealed to each other. I love them so much and look forward to that beautiful day.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Good Example

D&C 88:124 "Cease to be idle; cease to be unclean; cease to find fault one with another; cease to sleep longer than is needful; retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated."

I've been having some struggles with Miles lately.
For the past few months he has been fighting sleep. At first it was naptime, but now it has progressed to bedtime. He would keep going all night if he could. We have to flip the breaker or unscrew the overhear light because he will play all night.

I have agonized over this little parenting problem because it really affects his little cheery disposition. I would say he is fine four out of five days, but more than a little emotional. Then on the fifth day he crashes and turns into a terror.
The past two days were difficult with him reverting with potty-training and throwing a fit about absolutely everything.

Needless to say this has been the subject of quite a few prayers how I can be a better mom to him and help him overcome these behavioral problems.

Yesterday I was reading in my patriarchal blessing, as I have been doing more and more frequently during this difficult time with Jared away and not a lot of emotional support. I read something about being a good example to my children. It struck me that I was expecting my little boy to follow something that I was not doing myself( i.e. getting enough rest). I haven't gotten enough sleep since Colin was born over 5 months ago. I've justified it by always saying I have too much to do, but the truth is I haven't managed my time effectively because I am always exhausted.

I need to be a better example to my boys in temporal things as well as spiritual things. So I decided that I needed to start getting ready and going to bed the same time as my children do. I'm usually worn out by that time anyway and I don't really do anything that productive after they go to bed. While it might not work, I feel like it is worth a try. Nothing else seems to be working. If I can make this a good habit and start getting more rest, than maybe I will be able to get up before my boys and exercise and get more accomplished in the morning before I'm frazzled and worn out by the days activities.

Monday, February 15, 2010


Just reading Jared's post about Chinese New Year and the people he had dinner with makes me so excited to get over there.

I am so excited to have this experience. I'm not naive, I know it's going to be hard, but it is also so exciting!!! I really want to look at this as an amazing adventure and appreciate seeing life in a completely different way. How many people get this kind of an experience?

I have such faith that some day China will be open to the gospel and allow missionaries to proselyte. I don't know if it will be during the time we live there or later but I know it will happen. I've been reading in Alma about the sons of Mosiah and their missions to convert the Lamanites. It has strengthened my testimony that the Lord can work mighty changes in the hearts of men. The Lamanaites who were the vilest of sinners, a people who did not believe in God, were brought to the knowledge of the Savior and his atonement and were able to overcome the foolish traditions and beliefs of their fathers.

Alma 19:35,36
"And it came to pass that there were many that did believe in their words; and as many as did believe were baptized; and they became a righteous people, and they did establish a church among them.
And thus the work of the Lord did commence among the Lamanites; thus the Lord did begin to pour out his Spirit upon them; and we see that his arm is extended to all people who will repent and believe on his name."

Sunday, February 14, 2010


These past 6 years truly have been the best of my life. I'm grateful for my sweet wonderful husband. I'm grateful for his priesthood. I'm grateful for his forgiving nature. He is such a cute daddy to his boys and I love seeing them together. I miss him so much and I look forward to the day we are reunited as a family.
Thank you for the sweet reminder Jared of all the wonderful times we had over the past 6 years! Love always

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Akin to my situation....

My mother in law pointed out this article to me in today's Church News.

Living by the Scriptures

"Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest." — Joshua 1:9

My husband and I were married for a little over a year when he was offered a job in Shanghai, China. After praying about it, we decided to accept the offer. Three weeks later, I found myself in a foreign country. I did not speak any Chinese and had no idea how I was going to occupy my time.

I spent my first three weeks in China very discouraged. I could not find anything to do, and I felt frustrated at the inconvenience of not knowing the language. Simple tasks such as shopping or transportation were suddenly huge obstacles. I felt very isolated and alone. I started to wonder if we had made the right decision to come to Shanghai.

I turned to the scriptures for comfort. One day as I was reading in Joshua, I found a verse that touched my heart: "Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest" (Joshua 1:9). The Spirit reassured me that we had made the right decision. Heavenly Father wanted me to have faith in Him and to be hopeful. I was not alone. The Lord was with me even all the way across the world. With time, I adjusted to the difficulties of living in China and found activities to participate in. I am very grateful to a loving Heavenly Father who offers comfort through the scriptures in times of need. — Carissa Lewis, Shanghai Branch, Shanghai China International District

I know that it's going to be hard, but I find comfort that there are other families that have done what we're doing. I know the Lord can and will help me through the difficult times if I turn to Him.

Friday, February 12, 2010


"You've got to dance like there's no one looking,
Sing so they hear you near and far,
Making the most out of every moment,
Be happy being who you are!"

Okay, it might seem a little cheesy, but this is a song off one of Miles' kid music CD's and I love it!

Confidence in myself and my abilities has been on my mind a lot lately. Up until a few months ago I would have said self confidence and self esteem were things I struggled with. As it is I still fall into the trap of putting myself down too much.

About the time we made the decision to move overseas, Jared gave me a blessing which said that I needed to stop looking and relying on strength in others and start finding it in myself. I've really tried to take it to heart and ponder how best I should accomplish this.

In the past I've spent a lot of wasted energy being embarrassed or apologizing about things that I've said or done. These past few months I've had lots of people tell me how stupid or crazy I am for moving with my family to China. At first it was very hard to take, but as time has worn on I've been able to ignore the voices of the "world" and focus more on the promptings of the Spirit. As I have learned to tune out the opinions of others on this particular issue and focus on the will of my Heavenly Father I've found that I've been able to focus less on the other voices around me telling me I'm not of worth.

I've been thinking a lot about Matt 5:14-16
"Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
Let your alight so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."

In a way I think this scripture is talking about confidence. Not hiding your talents, abilities or testimony!

I'm so grateful for my Heavenly Father's love for me and the knowledge that I am a beloved daughter of God. Just knowing and believing that makes all the difference.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Trying to accentuate the positive

It's stretching a bit trying to find the positives about today, but I'm grateful that we're here and not in China right now. I know that Jared really needs to focus on work and with Colin teething and Miles up at various times of the night to go to the bathroom, I'm glad that he doesn't have us as distractions.(That being said I miss him more everyday especially with Valentines coming this weekend)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Something from Jared's last email

My morning study has been based off of the “Preach My Gospel” manual for missionaries. Just the other day I read the chapter about how to manage your time and be effective. The manual identified “leading indicators” of missionary work. The counsel was to identify what these leading indicators are and then set goals to improve these numbers. However, the focus in not on a number but on people. It suggested that you review your daily activities and focus your efforts on those activities that improve these leading indicators and discard those that do not.

I decided that I should do something similar for my life. I came up with a few subjects and identified leading indicators. I thought that it might be good to identify some leading indicators of my spiritual progression. After thinking for a while, I seemed to come up with only two indicators:
1. The number of spiritual promptings received
2. The number of spiritual promptings followed

That was yesterday. Today after waking up I received the prompting that I should record every prompting that I receive and then mark whether or not I followed it. I think this will be an interesting exercise. I hope that this will help me to be more effective in following the voice of the spirit. I believe there are more indicators of spiritual progression, but I believe this is what the Lord wants for me at this time.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Short Hiatus

Due to the fact that I will be at my grandma's for the next few days where there is no Internet, I won't be posting for a while.

I know that not many people are reading this blog (according to my sitemeter account) and maybe it's mainly for me I'm writing it, but I'm really glad I started it. It's helping me to maintain a more cheerful and grateful attitude. It's helping me to try to focus at least a small part of my day on spiritual things in my life.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Is this what I was born to do?

It has been one of those days...
I was woken up at 4:00 in the morning (after being up with Colin until 1:00) to the sound of Miles crying. He told me he needed to go potty so I took him into the bathroom. When we got back to bed he wouldn't let me put a pull-up back on. I have been leaving his door open at night lately and so I told him not to wet the bed, but to go potty if he needed to go again. From then until about 7:00 he came in my room every 20-30 minutes and told me he needed to go potty. I took him the first few times then I just started calling to him that he needed to go by himself. Then Colin woke up at about 8:00 and Miles came in about ten minutes later and we were officially up for the rest of the day. I put Miles down for a nap at 12:00 and he finally fell asleep at 3:00 in the afternoon. Colin had horrible naps today, thanks to my in-laws dog barking and his brother's crying waking him up. On a day when I really needed a nap after only getting four hours of sleep, my boys sleep schedules did not coincide at all and one of them was alternately up all day long.

Not my best day as a mom.

I know we all have days like this. I was reminded of a small book I read not too long ago by Marjorie Hinckley, entitled "Is this what I was born to do?"

She first discusses the Bible story of Esther. How she saved her people the Jews from extermination by her strength and her fortitude. Esther's uncle Mordecai encourages her by saying, "Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"

Sister Hinckley gives examples of different women's difficult situations. The challenges of our day to be homemakers amid the pressures of the world. The challenge of raising children in these times.

I have a very strong willed little boy. Lately I have been very frustrated in knowing how to raise him in love and with patience while still being firm.

In this book Sister Hinckley quotes Elaine Cannon, "A women's significant role is that of being an influence wherever she is. It is her role not only to give life, but to shape life."

She goes on to say;"Let us not waste our time saying with bitterness, "Is this what I was born to do?" Let us rather ask ourselves the question that was asked of Esther: "Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"

I remember a conversation I had with a dear friend in discussing our children and their strong wills. That friend expressed her opinion that the Lord is sending his strongest children at this time because they are going to need that strength to resist the adversary and his snares in these last days.

I hope when the temptation comes again, as it did today, to say "Is this fair? Is this what I was born to do?" I can remember "Who knoweth whether (I) am come to the kingdom for such a time as this. " To be Miles' mommy and to "shape" that strong will of his and to help him to grow into a righteous man.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Guest Authors

If you have a spiritual experience that you feel you'd like to share, I would love to post it on the blog. Other's testimonies are such a strength to my own.
Just email me your post to the email listed on the side bar.

More Diligent and Concerned at Home

This is the post I started on Saturday night and then when I went to publish it, Blogger ate it:

I was flipping through my scriptures on the way to Alma where I am currently studying and this phrase in D&C 93 caught my eye, "more diligent and concerned at home."

For those of you that don't remember, Elder Bednar's last conference talk was focused on this very phrase. I love how Elder Bednar can take a obscure phrase and give such meaning to it. "Tender mercies" is a prime example.

I'm glad that I saw this phrase because it gave me an opportunity to go back and read the conference talk again, something that I probably needed to do as we were in the car on the way to SLC when it was being given.

He gave three suggestions to becoming more diligent and concerned at home.
1. Express Love- and Show it
2. Bear Testimony- and Live it
3. Be Consistent

I feel like I do pretty well on the first two, but it's that third one that gets me.
Morning prayers are the ones I need to say the most, yet all too frequently I am pulled out of bed by the sound of crying children. Sacrament meetings are difficult and it seems like I spend more time in the bathroom with Miles or the mother's room with Colin and when I am in the chapel it seems like I am constantly distracted by my boys. FHE is sometimes forgotten especially since Jared has been gone. I used to read scriptures or play Friend Audio stories to Miles during breakfast, but sadly, I haven't done it since I had Colin. I'm not making excuses for myself, but I know part of the reason for a couple of these sins of omission have been the lack of our own home and the moving around.

I like this quote from Elder Bednar's talk:

"In my office is a beautiful painting of a wheat field. The painting is a vast collection of individual brushstrokes—none of which in isolation is very interesting or impressive. In fact, if you stand close to the canvas, all you can see is a mass of seemingly unrelated and unattractive streaks of yellow and gold and brown paint. However, as you gradually move away from the canvas, all of the individual brushstrokes combine together and produce a magnificent landscape of a wheat field. Many ordinary, individual brushstrokes work together to create a captivating and beautiful painting.

Each family prayer, each episode of family scripture study, and each family home evening is a brushstroke on the canvas of our souls. No one event may appear to be very impressive or memorable. But just as the yellow and gold and brown strokes of paint complement each other and produce an impressive masterpiece, so our consistency in doing seemingly small things can lead to significant spiritual results. “Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great” (D&C 64:33). Consistency is a key principle as we lay the foundation of a great work in our individual lives and as we become more diligent and concerned in our own homes."

If doing all these things consistently has such an amazing impact spiritually on our families, shouldn't the lack of them have an significantly opposite effect on our families?

I feel that I too, as the scripture says, "hath need to be chastened, and set in order (my) family, and see that they are more diligent and concerned at home, and pray always." (D&C 93:50) I continually struggle with this, but I hope I can work towards getting better at doing the things that I know I must to accomplish this.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sick Day

I had a post all ready last night, but when I went to publish blogger wasn't working and I lost it all. I would redo it tonight, but we have been hit quite suddenly with stomach flu and I'm going to bed. I'm just grateful that mine hit after I got the boys to bed and that so far Colin hasn't shown signs of it yet.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Counting my blessings

Just grateful today that I was able to get some much needed, long put off clothes for Miles on sale today. I have never paid full price for kids clothes and I thought I was going to have to; Miles really couldn't go any longer without some pants that fit him and it is so hard to find white church shirts so I'm glad I was able to find them today. I wish I would have bought one for Colin as well. I can make do with my clothes for the time being, but my boys seem like they grow out of things over night! Bless their sweet little hearts!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

"I need something to do"

Today was such a delightful day. Miles was such a joy!
We spent the morning playing with play dough, playing with Colin and reading books. He got to watch a PBS show and we took a little excursion to the store.

He didn't throw any tantrums or have any accidents. He didn't once say to me the phrase I have been hearing quite a lot lately; "I need something to do." Usually he says this phrase after I tell him not to such and such or don't play with that. I've been thinking lately that if I focus on giving him good activities to occupy his time, he has less opportunity and less motivation to seek out trouble.

I think this is a metaphor for adults as well. If we occupy our time doing things that are worthwhile, we are busy being engaged in doing good and less likely to fall down destructive paths. If we fill our days with wholesome activities, studies and uplifting pursuits we feel less temptation to waste away our days.

This is an area I constantly struggle with. Time management and organizational skills are not my strong suit. Everyday I feel like I'm fighting against my nature in being more focused and less scatterbrained and half the time it feels like I'm losing the battle. But I hope (even though it may be years and years down the road) I can work toward this goal and become better at focusing on the most important things. Not spending my time on the things that don't matter, don't have value and distract me from what's really important.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

To the Edge of the Light

Tonight I was glancing at my bookshelf and "Memorable Stories with a Message" by Boyd K. Packer caught my eye. It took me back to almost a year ago when Jared had turned down one job offer and he didn't have anything else in the works. One night I was telling Jared I was so tired of all these trials and how hard it was to have faith that something would work out for us. Jared pulled down this book and read this short story to me:

"Shortly after I was called as a General Authority, I went to Elder Harold B. Lee for counsel. He listened very carefully to my problem and suggested that I see President David O. McKay. President McKay counseled me as to the direction I should go. I was very willing to be obedient but saw no possible way for me to do as he counseled me to do.
I returned to Elder Lee and told him that I saw no way to move in the direction I was counseled to go. He said, "The trouble with you is you want to see the end from the beginning" I replied that I would like to see at least a step or two ahead. Then came the lesson of a lifetime: "You must first learn to walk to the edge of the light, and then a few steps into the darkness, then the light will appear and show the way before you" Then he quoted these eighteen words from the Book of Mormon:" Dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith" (Ether 12:6)"

After Jared read this to me my prideful self retorted that I felt like we had already been walking in the darkness for a long time. Jared replied, "No, we're not; we know exactly what is going to happen up until graduation, Then we'll be walking in the darkness."

I've thought about this many times since then. When the second job offer came and we had to make a decision Jared received a blessing from our friend Jeff in which he said that we needed to "walk into the darkness." That was the end of last April- one month before graduation.

Even with Jared in China I still feel like we're walking in darkness only we now have been given a flashlight. So many variables are unknown such as visas, travel plans, living situations, etc. But hopefully soon we'll find the mouth of the cave and really step into the light.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I know it's long but read it, you'll be glad you did!

This account is actually about how some friends of ours in Hong Kong spent this past Christmas. I think it is so amazing and I hope someday I can do something half as wonderful as this:

Our 2009 Christmas service project was probably at once the most demanding and most rewarding experience our little family has yet had together. I have written below a brief account of this year's trip, and have posted some accompanying pictures at HelpOneFuture's Flickr page. Actually, you might want to think twice before reading and clicking through the pictures, as odds are you'll end up deciding to join us next year!

Our project this year was focused on children's books. This came about partly because we know how much our own kids love books and partly out of a desire to give something that would last longer than the current school year. After spending some time thinking about the location for the project, we decided to concentrate on the areas around Bayombong, in the Nueva Vizcaya province. Initially, this was because we decided that it would be nice to spend Christmas with the family of a Filipino who works for us and has become our friend, Elnora Cadauan. The thinking was that this would not only allow her to see her children (left behind in the Philippines when she came to Hong Kong seeking work, and with whom we would fall in love), but would take us to a relatively remote, mountainous area of a country that we mainly associated with beaches. However, after we told her we were going to her hometown for this year's Christmas project, we soon realized the fantastic but unintended consequences of our decision.

Elnora immediately set to work contacting her former colleagues and friends in town and in the surrounding provincial governments. She found out which of the nearby schools had chronically received the lowest levels of funding. We learned that funding levels are typically determined by three variables: 1) distance from major city, 2) size of school population and 3) average per capita income of the area. In sum, those schools that are the smallest, farthest from town and among the poorest segments of the population are allocated the least amount of government spending on a per pupil basis.

With these facts in mind, we selected 12 schools located in the mountains to the west of Bayombong that could use some help. We contacted the principals of each school, as well as the mayors of the municipalities in which the schools are located. We queried them on the state of the schools, with particular focus on the condition of the library. As we suspected, none of the schools had any library at all. The most that any of the schools had was a few ancient textbooks to be shared among all the pupils, and only used during school hours. We told the principals that we would like to help their schools with a small library of children's books. We asked the principals to help provide logistical support to get the books from Bayombong up into the mountains, as well as coordinate help from from the administration, faculty and PTA to help cover the books with a plastic covering to extend the book's life and implement a book check-out system.

A great source of unanticipated help came from Elnora's cousin Dax, a law student living in Manila with a real love for books. After hearing of our trip from Elnora, Dax asked if he could join our efforts by helping us select some appropriate Tagalog/English books in Manila. We agreed, and he spent numerous days in bookstores in Manila, negotiating prices with the stores and picking out the best books for elementary students. We picked these books up when we flew into Manila on our way to Bayombong. Dax also was of great service in finding accommodations for us while we were in Manila, as well as giving us good running commentary on government and politics.

The second day after we arrived in Bayombong, we came into contact with the leaders of a local church group. After we told them what we were doing, and mentioned that we were open to anyone who wanted to help, they introduced us to the folks in charge of the youth section of the church. Since the youth were all out of school on Christmas vacation, they predicted that there may be a few who would like to help out. This turned out to be an understatement, to say the least. We asked them to instruct any interested youth to meet us the next morning to make the first trip up into the mountains. The next morning, more than 20 teenage (and 20- and 30-something) Filipinos were waiting for us when we arrived.

The targets for the first distribution were four schools in the Ambagio municipality. We set off that morning in a jeepney. It had been raining the night before, but we did not clearly understood what implications this had for the roads leading up into the mountains. The driver of the jeepney mentioned nothing (although clearly aware of the roads' conditions), but after driving for 45 minutes or so, up a dirt (mud) road, we were stuck. After trying for a half hour or so to get the thing unstuck (bouncing up and down on the back bumper and trowing rice husks under the spinning wheels), we resigned ourselves to the fact that the jeepney was going nowhere soon. The group, now up to around 30 people, got out and started walking up the muddy, steep road leading to the school while the driver made phone calls to try and find someone to pull his jeepney out of the mud. Because he was also the son of the former mayor, he was able to call in a few favors and get the baranguy captain to come and load the group into the back of the town four-wheel-drive dump truck.

The dump truck took us to the first two schools. The reception at each school, which would eventually be repeated at every school we visited, was unexpected and touching. Tables had been set up for the book covering work, teachers and students were waiting, and piles of food were laid out. We were moved by their gratitude and expressions of hospitality.

After working on covering the books for some time, we realized that the dump truck was no longer waiting for us outside the school, and we started trying to figure out how we were going to get to the place where we were supposed to spend the night. This was the source of confusion for about the next 4-5 hours, as night and rain fell. Apparently the dump truck driver decided that he had other things to do and left, considering his work done. Everyone was in good spirits except for those in charge, as plans needed to be made for 30 people to spend the night on the school floor, and all we had for food was a few packets of ramen noodles. Picture that these schools are only accessible by dirt road and are bare-bones with wooden floors and cinder block walls. A second dump truck was eventually sent to collect us after a few semi-heated calls to the mayor were placed. Although many in the group wished to go back down the mountain, we were told that the roads were unsafe and that we needed to continue up to the next town, where we had made arrangements to spend the night.

The house we had planned to stay in was relatively large, but we had not anticipated a group of 30. People sprawled out over the floors and the few available beds, and most spent a chilly night on the hard floor with a smattering of threadbare blankets for protection against the misty chill. Through it all everyone remained in good spirits and, in classic teenage style, most of the youth spent the time singing, laughing and joking around.

The next morning our group split in half, with some of us staying at the house to cover books that were to be picked up by teachers from a nearby school. On the advice of one of the school principals, these books would be placed on a quarterly rotational system among 4 different schools, none of which currently had books. The other members of the group headed off on a hike to Ammoweg, which was down in the bottom of a steep, winding river valley.

The Ammoweg elementary school was situated on a flat area the size of a couple of (US) football fields in a bend of the river, the type of shallow, wide and swift running river that is common in the western mountain regions of the US. It was serenely beautiful -- and more than once we thought about just not going back to Hong Kong. The round trip hike took around 5 hours, all of it through gorgeous jungle forests, interspersed with the occasional sweet potato, rice or other vegetable farm.

The next morning was December 23, and we visited three schools that day: Magapuay, Paitan and Amococan. This time we started out riding in the back of a dump truck. We later found out that the driver committed to stay with us the entire day, missing his Christmas party, so that we could visit all of the schools without further transportation difficulties. Again we were humbled by the gratitude of the schools, their staff and the children. Some had put up banners to welcome us, some sang us songs and all fed us. Although maybe to the eyes of an outside observer the gift of a stack of books that would hardly fill up a full-length shelf in the libraries of their elementary school would seem underwhelming, to those we visited it was magical. Students would sit with us the entire day, poring over the books and exchanging excited recounts of the stories they held. We sometimes sat back and just watched them, thinking about our own childhoods filled with books and warmed with a joy that came from knowing that something we loved had been shared with a truly grateful recipient.

Christmas eve and Christmas day were spent with Elnora's immediate and extended family. Christmas day was particularly fun for our family, with lunch and activities out on an old family farm. The farm was literally overflowing with dozens of kind welcoming people, with children running all over the place and way too much food.

The day after Christmas, we headed back up into the mountains, this time in the province of Kayapa. After some consideration, we decided that we should follow the example of the rotational system that we implemented in Ambagio, so that the books could be used by an even greater number of students. We contacted the principals of the schools we had planned on visiting, and they agreed it was the best use of the new resources.

With this plan, our group (large again and packing two jeepneys to the brim with teenage volunteers) met the principals, teachers and some students at the central town in the Kayapa municipality. There we spent all day covering books and preparing the checkout system. Again, I was amazed at the level of dedication and selflessness demonstrated by the group of youth, laboring with love throughout the day and into the night to provide unknown children with the gift of books (while many of them also went to schools where libraries didn't exist). We eventually made it back to Bayombong late that night, and took the entire group to the local pizza joint to thank them and celebrate a job well done.

This was a bitter-sweet moment for us all. We had done a decent amount of work, and now our stacks of books were gone - over 4,000 books were now ready to check out at 12 different schools. We had spent the majority of our Christmas vacation traveling through the tree covered mountains and hunched over dilapidated school desks. We had witnessed a real spirit of giving by a group of selfless teenagers, and had been overwhelmed by the gratitude of the schools we visited. We had hopefully spent a Christmas deserving of its namesake.