Sunday, June 21, 2020

Sunday Thoughts: One Magic Thing


            I know God answers prayers.  I know this because of the many, many times he has answered mine and for the stories I’ve heard of many, many, and others.  I had one prayer answered this week.  I was having a bad day on Friday and was struggling with a few things. I prayed that I could have just one fun surprise…one magical thing happen.  Things got better that night and I felt more comforted.  I thought that it would be fun to go to the farmer’s market the next morning and called up my sister to see if she wanted to go.  It would be nice to get some berries.  We got there and things sure were different.  No live music, no food vendors, no staying and mingling, and as it turns out, there weren’t even any berries that day.  Yeah, that was a bit of a dud.  But, just as we were leaving, we passed a family where a lady who looked awfully familiar was buckling a child into a stroller.  Her head was facing away from me so I wasn’t sure.  I peeked a look at her son who was standing next to her, and then I was absolutely sure.  “I think that’s Kim Machado right there!” I said out loud.  It is truly a wonderful thing in life to not only run into old friends you haven’t seen in years, but also to have them be as delighted to see you as you are to see them.  Kim was one of my favorite people in my ward in La Grande.  I had one of her daughters in my Sunbeam class and she was one of my sister Tiffany’s Young Women leaders.  She was always so full of life, love and energy. That same life, love and energy just poured out of her and enveloped me as we hugged each other. 
           
           Some may say that meeting was just a coincidence, a delightful one at that, but just a lucky coincidence. But, I believe that a loving Heavenly Father, orchestrated that delightful surprise in answer to a prayer for just one little magic thing to happen.  And…it was another witness of just how much Heavenly Father loves and how well he knows us, because this was just my kind of magic.  Later on the afternoon I received more magic when the chance to take a walk with one of my besties, which is always wonderful.  When I got back from that, Emily was out at the house with Alice and Arthur.  We had fun playing with them.  Our neighbors recently got some little goats, and one was bleating regularly.  All of a sudden and quite randomly, Alice started making a “Ma-aa-ah” sound like the goat over and over again.  She’s never done such a thing before and we were laughing sooo hard. It felt good to laugh like that!
            
            I love my Heavenly Father and my Savior so much.   I know they are in the details of our lives and delight to bless us.   As my friend Mike Rich once said, “God knows our favorite things and whenever possible, he loves to bless us with our favorite things.”



Sunday, June 14, 2020

Sunday Thoughts: Sticking with God in All Times and in All Things


            Do you remember the part on the classic “Fiddler on the Roof” where Tzeitel gets married and there is a terrible demonstration by the Russian soldiers? As the soldiers continue to destroy property throughout the village, the family sadly starts cleaning the broken mess of the wedding reception.  In the last moments before the intermission, Tevye looks up towards God as if to say “What the crap was that?” I have never experienced such a thing as was portrayed on that movie as the soldiers wreaked havoc on the village, but I know that such things happen.  I am so grateful to live in a time where I can practice my religion and live my life according to my beliefs.  However, there have been times this year when in a small way, I can relate to the look on Tevye’s face.  

While there were still many magical moments, this past December was a tough month.  As the association between the church and scouts was coming to an end, there was a massive amount of boys (and their moms) who pushed through to get the Eagle Scout rank.  It was an awesome sight to see, but it also made for very busy days.  While many of the people who came in were polite and delightful to work with, as the end of the year got closer, it seemed I couldn’t get through the day without somebody getting upset and proclaiming that they were so glad the church was leaving and couldn’t wait for everything to be over.  I tried to believe that they didn’t know what that did to my heart.  They didn’t understand the worry that pervaded my little office about the future of our jobs.  I was also very busy, writing a Christmas program, doing Young Women activities, working at the temple, amidst other December projects.  There were some personal things going on too. Christmas was a wonderful respite, but by the end of the month I felt worn-out, anxious, and broken. 

            I prayed desperately for relief and it just seemed like things kept getting worse.  My car was hit by another car. I had problems with a friend. I was down twice with terrible stomach issues and came down with a cold which caused pleurisy issues again.  On my way home one night, I decided to stop at DI to look around for a minute.  I had a lot of fun and came out with a new outfit.  I felt peaceful and happy.  I started driving away and within a few minutes, I knew something was wrong.  I had a full tank of gas but my gauge read empty.  The speedometer was going crazy and suddenly the power steering went out.  I pulled over to the side of the road and called my dad.  Both my parents were at a baseball game and didn’t pick up their phones.  It was dark, my car wasn’t working, and I was stranded.  But…strangely, the feeling of peace didn’t go away.  I was calm and had a feeling that everything was going to be okay.  I knew that was the Holy Ghost helping me. The next Saturday my dad and my neighbor worked on my car and put a new battery in.  The problem was gone and I was overjoyed.  I prayed with gratitude for God’s help.  But when I went to go to work that next Monday, it was doing the exact same thing.  Over the next few days, they worked on it and the problem was gone.  My dad drove it to work and I gleefully drove it home, stopping to get a treat to celebrate and rejoice that the problem was really fixed.  Only the next day…it wasn’t.  This happened several times over the next month.  We tried several things.   After one experiment that left the car working, before I left for work I asked my mom to pray with me that the car would work.  It did and I drove to work and back gratefully and with no problems.  The next morning, I asked my mom to pray with me again…and the car had the same problem.  It was about this time that I started having problems with a tooth, which brought a lot more troubles.   

One night I broke down at the kitchen table, telling my dad that I knew Heavenly Father is real, I knew He loves me, but I had no idea what He was doing and it felt like He was far away.  Shortly after that moment, I read something that Al Carraway wrote and it really struck me.  Listen, I know sometimes life can get crazy or scary or overwhelming or confusing but—your faith and hope and efforts are not in vain.  All of this isn’t just wishful thinking, it’s real. Real-life strengths, real-life promises, real-life God. Take time to step back from what makes logical human sense & remember that our God is much greater than all that. We have a God who is oh so good. He is good because He keeps His promises. Wherever you are and whatever you may be navigating, just remember, God’s promises to us are not only fulfilled, but magnified. Do not let time and trials dim your faith or diminish the truthfulness of His promises to you.  Because OHHH what a feeling it is when we see these phases through & realize that the best things can only come from sticking with God at all times & in all things.” At the end of her thought she quoted this thought “When I can’t see the hand of God, I should trust his heart.  I know what kind of heart he has.  It felt like a message that was inspired just for me.  I had a choice.  Amidst all the craziness, and the uncertainty of the future, amidst all fears and unknowns, I could choose to trust God’s heart.  I had made that choice many times before and wanted to do it again. My prayers became different.  My focus wasn’t the resolution of my problems, but an added expression of trust and a plea for my patience and faith to be strengthened.  I focused on all of the times in my life I had recognized God’s hand and came up with clear moments, spiritually concrete evidence that I was not alone.  Even in the moments when I still couldn’t feel it, I chose to show up because more than anything, I wanted to stick with God at all times and in all things. I paid specific attention to all that was good; all that brought peace.  I prayed gratitude for those things and for all the others, including an aching tooth, and a car that wouldn’t make up its mind if it wanted to stay fixed or not. 

One night I was delivering something to a friend and she mentioned a car repairman who was very reliable and fixed the electrical problems with their car.  We took my car over and he worked on it.  The problem seemed solved and…then it wasn’t.  Finally the diagnosis was that the car computer needed to be replaced.  He found a great deal on the computer and installed it.   Finally, the problem was completely solved…although it took about a week before I really felt secure that it was.  Looking back, I feel so grateful for the lessons I learned during that time.  One lesson was that I had this whole preconceived plan on how things were going to work out, the way Heavenly Father was going to help me.  When that didn’t happen, I felt alone and a little angry.  My expectations weren’t bad, only like a child who wants the sucker right now, when the promise of dessert is in the future if I’ll just wait until dinner.  Everything would be okay, just like I felt that night.  Heavenly Father had prepared the way and until that time, I would learn a lot about patience and trust, and a little more about the maintenance of cars.  The added faith, trust, patience, and ability to see the good was something I needed very much as the pandemic hit and I lost my job.  I am so grateful.

A few weeks ago, I was up during the night due to my dog whining in the kitchen.  I came in to a scene from a horror movie.  He had scratched an irritated and infected bubble on his eye and there was a lot of blood. My first thought was “Heavenly Father, please help me. I don’t know what to do.” I felt comforted and specifically instructed throughout the long night as I took care of him.  Yesterday I went to the Rexburg area for a wedding reception and stopped at the Blackfoot Wal-Mart to walk around for a minute and stretch out my foot that has giving me some trouble.  As I headed into Wal-Mart, the pain became intense and during one of the aisles, I just had to stop because every step I took caused shooting pains through my foot.  My phone was in the car.  I couldn’t call anyone.  “Heavenly Father, please help me.” I said. “I want to get to this reception so badly. Help me to know what to do.” Almost instantly, the pain subsided.  I walked over to the pharmacy praying for instructions on what I would need.  I felt clear instructions in my mind on what to do and I was able to continue on with no other problems.  Sometimes the answers are instant.  Sometimes they are not.  I imagine that I will have other “Tevye” moments in my life, looking towards Heaven and thinking “What the crap was that?” But…I know that God is our Father.  I know He knows much more than I do.  He always has a plan for our happiness. I know He may not fix a problem immediately or ever, but He can ALWAYS consecrate our troubles for our good.  I really hope for the rest of my life whenever I am in trouble, my first thought will always be “Heavenly Father, please help me. I don’t know what to do.” I do know that the best things always come, when we stick with God through all times and in all things.




Sunday, June 7, 2020

Sunday Thoughts: Two Constants Amidst a LOT of Change


 I had a job interview a week ago Friday at an eye doctor’s office.  It’s a lovely office with gold-colored d├ęcor and a large patch of daisies outside.  The doctors and the staff are very friendly.  The interviewer was very friendly and it all started out well.  She asked me what I like to do and I told her how I love to bake.  I told her about how I would bake for all the birthdays and holidays at the Scout office.  I started to talk about the “Muffin Monday” tradition I created…and then I started to cry. 
            
Muffin Mondays—Oh I loved them. I loved taking out my muffin tins every Sunday evening.  I loved searching for new recipes.  The last few months I adapted recipes my own way and it was always great fun to choose my recipe for the week and what embellishments I wanted to add.  I loved the smells of blueberry, cinnamon, lemon or pumpkin that filled the air every Monday morning.  I loved chatting with my friends as we came into the kitchen to get our muffin hot out of the oven. 
            
Thankfully, my voice just quivered a bit as I told the interviewer and then I recovered myself.  I don’t know if she even noticed as I had to wear a mask why we talked. The rest of the interview went well and then she introduced me the staff and told me that she would be calling people back for second interviews the next week.  I told her that I would love to work with them at their office and looked forward to hearing from her.  And then I went out and got in my car, and started to cry again.  This is just tough.  I miss my job.  I miss my friends.  And, (this is classic “me”) I want what I know.  I want what is comfortable and familiar.  And though I can’t have my job back, as I drove around after that, I thought about the constants amidst so much change. 
           
I thought back to five years ago, when I was at my job at the call center.  While I had good friends and enjoyed them, I was so stressed out at my job, I hadn’t slept through the night in over a year.  I was having other health problems due to stress and dreaded going to work every day.  I prayed desperately for relief in a new job and direction as to where to go next.  I didn’t think I could really do anything but market research. From my limited vision, the world didn’t hold the possibilities it once did. 
            
I hoped there was a job out there waiting for me that would help me feel fulfilled again, like I was contributing something meaningful.  I hoped there was a job where people would be honest and open with me again, and wouldn’t question my motives, where I could trust and be trusted.  I had no idea that God was preparing just such a job at the time.  I had no idea that it would also come in a beautiful office with large windows and a river flowing right outside.  I had no idea that the job would bring me one of my best friends, and several surrogate “big brothers” to watch out for me.  I had no idea that such a job even existed where I would be free to say “Merry Christmas” as much as I wanted during the Christmas season, where I could put a picture of the Savior up on my desk, and where every staff meeting would begin with prayer.  I had no idea that was what God was preparing for me, and all the time…it was right across the street.
          
  It was a wonderful four years, but things didn’t last as long as I hoped they would and I am once again praying and looking for another job.  I know, that God is preparing a place for me, somewhere I need to be for me to grow and somewhere I will be needed.  I have no idea what things will be in store, blessings I didn’t know were even possible. I know there will be tough times, just like there was in the scout office and at every other job…ever. But I know there will be wonderful times.  There will be friendships that will bless my life forever.  There will be happy memories and good times. I know that because I trust Heavenly Father.  I also know that because I trust myself.  In times of change and uncertainty, I can be a constant.  I know it may take a while, but the magic will happen again.  I spent probably about the first six months at the scout office wondering what in the world I had gotten myself into, but gradually the magic happened, and I felt like I was home.  Maybe it won’t be “Muffin Mondays” or “District Executive Appreciation Day” but there will be other traditions, other memories to be made.  Just knowing that, helps to face my fears of the unknown, but gradually let go of the pain of losing my job and let my heart just be filled with good memories.
          

 I didn’t get called back to the doctor’s office for a second interview.  I was disappointed, but am trying to learn from the experience on what I can do better next time.  I know that God is aware of us.  I know he is in the details of our lives and though we at times may not have a plan, he ALWAYS does. Even though it is hard some days, I trust him and know the future is bright!





Thursday, May 7, 2020

The Parable of the Pot-Bound Plant


          If you have known me for longer than about a half an hour, you probably know that I am not a fan of big life changes, particularly ones I didn’t choose.  Eventually I adapt and learn to love and thrive in the new circumstances, but it is a hard process and leaving the familiar is very difficult.  Moving has always been that way for me.  We moved five times as a family and I was devastated every time.  I eventually came to think of a big change in my life as if I were a plant that had been pulled out and left without roots.  Eventually as I was planted in a new place, my roots would grow deep again and I would learn to thrive…knowing that it was entirely possible that eventually I would be pulled up again and have to regrow roots and the cycle would just continue over and over again.

I will always remember being in the kitchen at a Young Women/Young Men activity on May 8th, 2018 when someone said “Hey, did you hear the announcement that the church is leaving Scouting?” I read the news article on my phone and while I was excited for the new program, I was sad to see the association end, and more than a little nervous for my job future, particularly in Utah.  As time went on and Friends of Scouting donations drastically declined and people showed less and less interest, my worries grew, but I had faith that Heavenly Father was aware of me and my friends and would help us.  As time went on and things drastically changed, I prayed and prayed for a miracle that somehow all four of us at our office would be able to stay.  But that was not to be.  On March 31st, the decision I had been dreading for almost two years happened, three out of the four of us, including myself, were let go.  I had definitely had struggles and difficult times over the four years I was there, but I really loved my job and the people I worked with.  Despite having faith and trust in Heavenly Father that it would all work out, I was heartbroken.  Once again, I felt like I had been ripped up and left without roots.

One of the last fun things I had done at my office was start my little flower garden plant.  I moved it around to different windows in the office depending on where the light was, misted it 2-3 times a day, and one of the first things I did in the morning was check to see how it had grown over night.  It was great fun.  About a week and a half after I had been laid off, my plant started to wilt. One single flower bud had opened up but the rest of it was dying.  With my recent loss, I was desperate to find a way for my plant to be okay and thrive again. I researched what the problem might be—was I watering it too much, was I watering too little? Maybe it seems silly, but I began to pray that my plant would be okay again. After a few days, it didn’t look any better.  Finally my dad suggested that maybe it needed to be re-potted.  I hadn’t thought of that, as I don’t have much experience with plants.  That night, as I went to bed I had a clear picture in my mind of running a butter knife around the edge of the pot to help re-pot the plant.   I knew that was what needed to happen.   The next day, my mom helped me.  As we moved the plant from one pot to the other one, my mom said that the plant was definitely pot-bound.   “What does that mean?” I asked. She explained that the roots didn’t have any room to grow and that’s why the plant was wilting.  Within in a few hours of being put in another pot, my dear little plant perked up and I was so relieved.

The next morning I was getting ready for the day, when something extraordinary happened.   I saw in my mind the way my plant looked when we transplanted it to another pot…the roots were still intact.  Then came a sweet revelation into my heart that not only comforted me, but completely changed the way I think about change.  It went something like this.  You haven’t understood.  I am trying to preserve and protect your roots, not destroy them.  You have never lost your roots, they are the core of who you are.  They will always be with you.  You have just been moved from pot to pot sometimes because you have become pot-bound and can no longer grow in this place. There are other places and people you need and who need you.  I know you feel sad.  I know you wish you could have stayed.  But trust me, you are not without roots.   I’ve got you.  I am the Master Gardener and I am preparing a wonderful new place for you to grow, thrive and blossom. “
  
Today my plant has dozens of blossoms on it and has and grown so much that I will be re-potting it today.  I am so grateful for this goal and for a loving Heavenly Father who timed things so perfectly that I will always have this precious parable to treasure and learn from all my life.  I am still sad about the loss of my job but I know that when you lose something you love it’s okay to be sad.  I know that I will be okay.  I know my friends will be okay.  I know that Scouting will be okay. God is the Master Gardner and He is always creating something beautiful. 




Monday, May 4, 2020

"Live Love Now" One of the Most Successful Books I've Ever Read

How do you measure a successful life? Ralph Waldo Emerson once defined it this way: “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, this is to have succeeded.” Could the success of a book be measured the same way? Yes, it can.  Inside the summer-sky-blue cover of “Live, Love, Now” lies a safe haven for parents, grandparents, and anyone who loves a child.  Think for a moment about the precious children who are within your sphere of influence. What do you want most for them?  Do you want them to savor and experience their one precious life to the fullest? Do you want them to love and be loved, and use their unique gifts to bless the world? Do you want them to live fully present, knowing with assurance that who they are today matters more than they were yesterday? Then “Live Love Now” is the book for you.
           
The idea for “Live Love Now” was born out of an inspired exercise Rachel did when she gave a speech to a middle school audience.  She gave them all index cards and then asked this question, “If you could give your parents or the world one message, what would it be?” The answers came…and they changed her world.  Thanks be to God for that divinely inspired question and for this woman who decided she wanted to listen, really listen, and then lend her own unique voice to be an advocate.   Through her classic storytelling of real life examples, soul-searching reflective questions, and examples of index-card messages, Rachel inspires us as she talks about topics such as phone and social media usage, grades and self-esteem, mental health, and unconditional love.  She uses her background as a special needs teacher, an author and motivational speaker.  But at the heart of it all, she is the parent of two teenagers; who just like the rest of us, is doing the best she can, learning from her mistakes, and trying to be a little bit better today than yesterday, as she inspires her children to live, to love, and to be present in the here and now.
            
 “Let nothing distract us from doing the most wonderful thing are here to do—live.” 
             
No matter what mistakes you make today, tomorrow, or throughout your life, I will always love you.  I will never turn my back on you.  We can get through anything together.”  

Don’t get ahead of yourself—stay right here.  Don’t get lost in the past—stay right here.  Love in the moment.  This is where life is.”
           
 Beautiful words aren’t they? They have a way of helping you inspired, anchored and comforted. As you read and let Rachel’s words absorb into your heart and mind, don’t be surprised if before too long you discover soul-building words and phrases coming forth in your own voice, inspiring, anchoring and comforting your own people.  Don’t be surprised if old wounds of the heart find a soothing balm in the pages.  Don’t be surprised if while you read about how to strengthen children against an inner bully, you find your own inner bully losing its power.  I’m not the same person I was after reading this book and after years of savoring Rachel’s blog, and her books, I know perfectly well the reason why.  It is because to choose to read Rachel Macy Stafford’s words is to choose to let your heart blossom and change for the better.  I invite you to read “Live Love Now” and discover for yourself.  Again, don’t be surprised if you find yourself letting go of “successful” expectations you had for you and your children.  After all, “to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, this is to have succeeded.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it could be the people we love the most? 




Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Tale of Arnold Armstrong

It was the phone call that would change everything.  I had almost been on my mission for a year and I was struggling.  It was bitterly cold and I was dealing with seasonal depression and anxiety.  It was a difficult time for me and I was feeling very discouraged.   After one particularly frigid morning, my companion and I were home for lunch when the phone rang.
           
            “Hello, Missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,” I said, trying to sound cheerful.  No joke, this is the conversation that greeted me on the other end:
            “Hello, you’re the Mormon missionaries right? Well, my wife is a member of your church, well…she’s kind of a jack Mormon, she hasn’t been to church for fifty years but she recently had a stroke and she really wants us to get bonded in one of your temples.  Well, I understand that in order to get bonded, you have to get baptized first.  Here’s the thing, I love my wife and want to make her happy but I’m 78 years old and I have emphysema and have to be on oxygen and wouldn’t really survive going under water so we’re going to have too skip the water part, is that ok with you?”
           
Honestly, at that moment I was strongly tempted to laugh, but I set up an appointment to meet with him.  He actually lived in the apartment building right behind us.  My companion, Sister Elliott, and I met with him the next day. His name was Arnold Armstrong and we had been with him for about five minutes when it was clear how much he absolutely adored his wife, Dolores. After her stroke, she was living in a care facility in downtown Winnipeg and it broke his heart not to be near her.  We also met that day with Arnold’s daughter, Barbara, a delightfully sweet lady who loved both her parents dearly and took tender care of them.  We taught them the first discussion about Joseph Smith and the restoration.  He listened politely but it was clear he felt no emotion about the story of the First Vision.  As time went on and we met with him more, we could tell that he had little interest in the church itself, he simply was willing to do whatever it takes to make his wife happy.  He was a little offended when we told him there was simply no way to get around the water requirement, baptism by immersion was what the Savior taught and that was the way it was in his church.  We began to pray that not only would the baptism be able to take place, but that Arnold would have a change of heart and become truly converted to the Savior and his gospel. 
            
About a month after that first phone call, Barbara called us to let us know that Arnold had been hospitalized with some lung complications. We went to visit him that night and he was pretty discouraged.  We didn’t try to teach anything that night, just listened to him and then said a prayer together.  We were just about to leave when I had the feeling I should sing a Primary song to him.  I sang him “I am a Child of God,” and for the first time, I felt like he had truly been touched by the Spirit. He was in the hospital for about a month and we would come to visit him several more times.  We taught lessons, sang songs, and just bore testimony.  I think it was one the most extraordinary things a person can experience when you are teaching and the words just flow into you, a complete conduit for the Spirit.  I knew how much Heavenly Father loved Arnold and how much he cared about him being taught the gospel and being baptized.  During this time, Arnold and Barbara gave me the nickname of “Sister Cool” because I was always responding with “That’s cool!” to stories he would tell.  It was one of the sweetest experiences of my life to watch little by little as Arnold’s testimony grew and blossomed. 
           
After he was released from the hospital, Arnold went to live at the same care facility that Dolores lived in.  It was wonderful that they could be together again, and we made several visits to them both during the first few weeks.  But, the care facility was out of our area, and eventually we had to turn the Armstrongs over to the elders in the area.  It was hard to let them go, but we trusted the elders and knew they would be great for the Armstrongs.  As time went on and his health declined, it wasn’t looking like Arnold would be able to have a baptism in this life.  He would start feeling better and then decline rapidly.  But then one day we got word that he had finally decided to set a baptism date with the elders.   He believed in the church.  He loved the gospel.  He loved the Savior, and he wanted to be baptized…no matter what the cost. 
            
A few days after Arnold had set the date, President Limoges, a counselor in the stake presidency came with us and the elders to meet with Arnold and Dolores.  While he was talking to Arnold, I sat and chatted with Dolores, but I caught one thing that Arnold said, something that changed my life forever.  “You know,” I heard him say, “I’ve been meeting with missionaries since 1959, and I never really listened to any of them, until she came along.” The words were some of the most important I’ve ever heard in my whole life.  I knew his conversion had nothing to do with me, and he knew that too, but for some glorious reason, Heavenly Father had called me to come on this mission and be the one to reach one soul, one lost sheep, a 78 year old man and help bring him to the Savior. What a blessing! What a privilege! My mission was tough for me with several health issues, depression and anxiety and terrible homesickness at times.  But at that moment, it was all worth it. 
            
The baptism was scheduled for two weeks before I was to go home.  The night before his baptism, Arnold starting coughing up blood and was rushed to the hospital.  They were able to stabilize him and we went to see him a few days before I left.  He was doing much better but he still looked so pale and week.  I asked him if he was sure that baptism in this life was something that he still wanted to do.  He could have his work done for him.  I would be sure of it.  He looked me in the eyes and said “I don’t care if I have to crawl down into the font, be baptized, crawl out of the font and die on the way home, I am doing this because I know it’s true.   It’s what I have to do.”  
It was the last time I would ever see him in this life.  I left to go home two days later.
            
On July 28th, 2001, Arnold Armstrong was baptized and confirmed a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  My mission president called me after the baptism to tell me the story.  There were two missionaries in the font, one to baptize him, one to hold his oxygen tank.  The missionary raised his arm to the square, said the prayer, and then the other quickly removed Arnold’s oxygen and then replaced it when he came out of the water.  Unfortunately, he was not immersed all the way and so they had to do it again.  Already exhausted, Arnold prayed out loud for Heavenly Father to help him because he wanted this so badly.  There was not a dry eye in the room.  The second time worked, and Arnold Armstrong came up out of the water reborn. 
            
He went home to God four years later.  Dolores passed away later on that year.  I still am in contact with Barbara and when we talk, I remember so many of the sweet experiences I had working with her parents. I have no doubt that Arnold and Dolores are involved in the work on the other side.  If I had one message to give to missionaries it would be this:  If you are struggling, don’t give up.  The person or people God sent you to find could be calling you tomorrow.  You can be struggling and God will still use you to find his lost sheep.  Twenty years ago today, I entered the MTC.  My life was never the same again.   I am so grateful for the chance I had to serve as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and I am so grateful for my dear friend Arnold Armstrong and that chance that I had to share the most precious thing in the world to me.


It was the phone call that would change everything.  I had almost been on my mission for a year and I was struggling.  It was bitterly cold and I was dealing with seasonal depression and anxiety.  It was a difficult time for me and I was feeling very discouraged.   After one particularly frigid morning, my companion and I were home for lunch when the phone rang.            
            “Hello, Missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,” I said, trying to sound cheerful.  No joke, this is the conversation that greeted me on the other end:
            “Hello, you’re the Mormon missionaries right? Well, my wife is a member of your church, well…she’s kind of a jack Mormon, she hasn’t been to church for fifty years but she recently had a stroke and she really wants us to get bonded in one of your temples.  Well, I understand that in order to get bonded, you have to get baptized first.  Here’s the thing, I love my wife and want to make her happy but I’m 78 years old and I have emphysema and have to be on oxygen and wouldn’t really survive going under water so we’re going to have too skip the water part, is that ok with you?”
            Honestly, at that moment I was strongly tempted to laugh, but I set up an appointment to meet with him.  He actually lived in the apartment building right behind us.  My companion, Sister Elliott, and I met with him the next day. His name was Arnold Armstrong and we had been with him for about five minutes when it was clear how much he absolutely adored his wife, Dolores. After her stroke, she was living in a care facility in downtown Winnipeg and it broke his heart not to be near her.  We also met that day with Arnold’s daughter, Barbara, a delightfully sweet lady who loved both her parents dearly and took tender care of them.  We taught them the first discussion about Joseph Smith and the restoration.  He listened politely but it was clear he felt no emotion about the story of the First Vision.  As time went on and we met with him more, we could tell that he had little interest in the church itself, he simply was willing to do whatever it takes to make his wife happy.  He was a little offended when we told him there was simply no way to get around the water requirement, baptism by immersion was what the Savior taught and that was the way it was in his church.  We began to pray that not only would the baptism be able to take place, but that Arnold would have a change of heart and become truly converted to the Savior and his gospel. 
            About a month after that first phone call, Barbara called us to let us know that Arnold had been hospitalized with some lung complications. We went to visit him that night and he was pretty discouraged.  We didn’t try to teach anything that night, just listened to him and then said a prayer together.  We were just about to leave when I had the feeling I should sing a Primary song to him.  I sang him “I am a Child of God,” and for the first time, I felt like he had truly been touched by the Spirit. He was in the hospital for about a month and we would come to visit him several more times.  We taught lessons, sang songs, and just bore testimony.  I think it was one the most extraordinary things a person can experience when you are teaching and the words just flow into you, a complete conduit for the Spirit.  I knew how much Heavenly Father loved Arnold and how much he cared about him being taught the gospel and being baptized.  During this time, Arnold and Barbara gave me the nickname of “Sister Cool” because I was always responding with “That’s cool!” to stories he would tell.  It was one of the sweetest experiences of my life to watch little by little as Arnold’s testimony grew and blossomed. 
            After he was released from the hospital, Arnold went to live at the same care facility that Dolores lived in.  It was wonderful that they could be together again, and we made several visits to them both during the first few weeks.  But, the care facility was out of our area, and eventually we had to turn the Armstrongs over to the elders in the area.  It was hard to let them go, but we trusted the elders and knew they would be great for the Armstrongs.  As time went on and his health declined, it wasn’t looking like Arnold would be able to have a baptism in this life.  He would start feeling better and then decline rapidly.  But then one day we got word that he had finally decided to set a baptism date with the elders.   He believed in the church.  He loved the gospel.  He loved the Savior, and he wanted to be baptized…no matter what the cost. 
            A few days after Arnold had set the date, President Limoges, a counselor in the stake presidency came with us and the elders to meet with Arnold and Dolores.  While he was talking to Arnold, I sat and chatted with Dolores, but I caught one thing that Arnold said, something that changed my life forever.  “You know,” I heard him say, “I’ve been meeting with missionaries since 1959, and I never really listened to any of them, until she came along.” The words were some of the most important I’ve ever heard in my whole life.  I knew his conversion had nothing to do with me, and he knew that too, but for some glorious reason, Heavenly Father had called me to come on this mission and be the one to reach one soul, one lost sheep, a 78 year old man and help bring him to the Savior. What a blessing! What a privilege! My mission was tough for me with several health issues, depression and anxiety and terrible homesickness at times.  But at that moment, it was all worth it. 
            The baptism was scheduled for two weeks before I was to go home.  The night before his baptism, Arnold starting coughing up blood and was rushed to the hospital.  They were able to stabilize him and we went to see him a few days before I left.  He was doing much better but he still looked so pale and week.  I asked him if he was sure that baptism in this life was something that he still wanted to do.  He could have his work done for him.  I would be sure of it.  He looked me in the eyes and said “I don’t care if I have to crawl down into the font, be baptized, crawl out of the font and die on the way home, I am doing this because I know it’s true.   It’s what I have to do.”  
It was the last time I would ever see him in this life.  I left to go home two days later.
            On July 28th, 2001, Arnold Armstrong was baptized and confirmed a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  My mission president called me after the baptism to tell me the story.  There were two missionaries in the font, one to baptize him, one to hold his oxygen tank.  The missionary raised his arm to the square, said the prayer, and then the other quickly removed Arnold’s oxygen and then replaced it when he came out of the water.  Unfortunately, he was not immersed all the way and so they had to do it again.  Already exhausted, Arnold prayed out loud for Heavenly Father to help him because he wanted this so badly.  There was not a dry eye in the room.  The second time worked, and Arnold Armstrong came up out of the water reborn. 
            He went home to God four years later.  Dolores passed away later on that year.  I still am in contact with Barbara and when we talk, I remember so many of the sweet experiences I had working with her parents. I have no doubt that Arnold and Dolores are involved in the work on the other side.  If I had one message to give to missionaries it would be this:  If you are struggling, don’t give up.  The person or people God sent you to find could be calling you tomorrow.  You can be struggling and God will still use you to find his lost sheep.  Twenty years ago today, I entered the MTC.  My life was never the same again.   I am so grateful for the chance I had to serve as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and I am so grateful for my dear friend Arnold Armstrong and that chance that I had to share the most precious thing in the world to me.


Wednesday, December 25, 2019

The Tale of the Time the Temple was Vandalized on Christmas Eve


           My heart sank as I read the news report; broken windows, damaged walls and mirrors, paintings taken off the walls and damaged.  I felt sick as I thought of someone walking the halls and hurting the place I have come to know so well and love so dearly…on Christmas Eve of all days.  I started to wonder, when I go to serve on Saturday, which paintings would gone, never to brighten the halls and bring cheer again.  The more I thought about it, the more heartbroken I felt.  I saw my dad and he gave me a big hug.  He then said with faith, “It doesn’t matter.  Satan can do whatever he wants, it still won’t stop the work of the temple.” His words brought me back to an experience I had years ago. 
           
           I was at BYUI and took advantage of an amazing deal to see some of the church history sites.  It was a whirlwind trip, but we had a chance to spend some quality time in Nauvoo.  That is such a special place! I loved the peaceful feeling I had.  I felt like I was home.  I had a delightful time walking around the houses and then headed up to a little street that had several little shops.  I was enjoying myself a lot when I saw a little white church across the street.  Anti-Mormon paraphernalia was plastered all over the windows.  I was ticked.  How dare they? They had no business coming into our town and spreading those kinds of lies! What if a new member came to feel the spirit and was led away by that? I was still bugged as I went to the fireside that night at the Joseph Smith Center.  The fireside talk was amazing.   I felt the Spirit strongly. At one point, the speaker talked about the Saints leaving Nauvoo and he said something that I’ve never forgotten.   “When the mob killed Joseph Smith, God was not up in Heaven saying ‘Oh no, what do I do now?!’ When the Saints were driven from Nauvoo, God was not saying ‘Well, now we’re finished!’ Brigham Young turned and looked on their beloved city with everything they had worked so hard for being destroyed and he prophesied that they would back.” The speaker leaned forward with conviction and said powerfully, “We’re back.” Suddenly it was like a shot of electricity went through me and I realized that the little church down the lane could do whatever it wanted, because it didn’t matter. It was good for me to look back on that experience after hearing about the vandalism at the temple.  My dad was right, in the long run, the vandalism doesn’t matter one bit. 
            
          Today I was thinking about the “Light of the World” prompt for the day, to list some of the things the Savior has done for me.  Honestly speaking, I’ve been struggling with anxiety lately, worrying about the future and about other problems.  One particular anxiety demon I have always struggled with, is being afraid that I have disappointed or angered the people I love, and that they are going to walk away from me.  That has really been a struggle for me lately.  I thought about today how anxiety and depression are kind of like a vandal.  They break in and cause havoc, taking the beautiful pictures of your life and damaging or destroying them.  It’s easy to feel invaded. It’s easy to give into the negativity and to believe the lies that anxiety paints.  But just like the early saints, I know that God has a plan for me. I know that he is very much aware of me.  I know that because of Jesus Christ, it will be okay in the end, and if it’s not okay, then it’s not end.  I know that just as workers lovingly fixed windows and walls in the temple, and artists will lovingly paint more pictures, the Savior works within me, to repair damaged thoughts and a hurting heart.  I know he will use beautiful memories and loving moments with dear ones to paint more beautiful pictures for me to hang on the walls of my heart and mind.  The Savior heals.  I am so grateful for all that he has done for me.  Merry Christmas 2019!