Thursday, June 21, 2012


Change.  I don't particularly love change.  I am not saying that I enjoy being in a rut in my life but change is not always comfy...not familiar.  I remember when we moved to a new house and a new life when I was eleven years old...that was hard.  New school...I was scared and a little hesitant but after a couple of weeks, that new life seemed ok.  My new bedroom became my friend, the neighbors seemed nice enough, I could find my way around the house in the dark, I became accustomed to the new and the change became the norm.

As of this week, our lives have changed drastically in our mission. Last week President Carlos called us into his office for a pow wow and told us of his desire to change our assignment for the remainder of our mission. His concern was the Roxas District and after he counseled with the District President and took his concerns to the Lord, he made his decision.  My first reaction was a simple 'NNNNOOOOOOO'....that will be hard...we can't leave the familiar and walk into the dark!  But...this week our new life began.  Randy will no longer be a member of the District Presidency...we will no longer be bouncing from Branch to Branch, enjoying the association with so many wonderful saints here in this wonderful country but now, we will be serving in ONE branch as their full-time senior couple.  Our main focus will be helping train the leaders while building up the core strength of the active people.  The young missionaries are on a 'rescue' mission, finding and helping the inactive members return to activity and when that occurs, the church wants strong units for them to integrate back into.  We will also be working one-on-one with the young missionaries and the members to reach out and help train, encourage, inspire and love the members in Mallig.  That little town is about the size of the town we lived in when we joined the church in 1973...probably 1,500 people.  We do not have a meetinghouse in Mallig but instead, we gather in an old transformed home for our meetings and activities.  Their goal is to qualify for a meetinghouse and we hope through our efforts the next year, we can help them come closer to achieving that goal.

We spent three days this week meeting and visiting with many of the members in that sweet branch-last night I fell into bed in a state of sheer exhaustion!  Never the less, I felt so spiritually fed and rewarded.  It was a wonderful week and we know in his wisdom, our precious Mission President has made the correct decision for this branch.  Having a senior American couple there to help them understand and grow will be so beneficial.  

That said,  I took NO pictures of our encounters this week-shame on me!  I will try to repent and remember my camera next week..promise!

Aurora is a great branch filled with wonderful people.  Imelda was a member in that branch and through her and her insistence that I teach piano to the members in that branch,  I have been spending many hours with those saints.  While attending that branch, we met one couple who are raising their granddaughter while her parents work abroad, a common occurrence in this country.  Young couples will often have a baby or two then leave for 4-5 years to earn money, leaving the children in the care of grandparents.  The poverty here is so overwhelming and young couples feel this gives them a 'leg up'.  Lots of families have a large age gap between their first and last children, a sure sign they worked abroad for a number of years.  It is common for just one parent to go, leaving the other home to work here and care for the children.  At any rate, there is this little lady in Aurora who has just stolen my heart.  Her name is Julianne and she is 3 years old.  The first time I met her, she walked up to me [not a bit shy] and said 'Hi Sister are you today?' in PERFECT English!  I was astonished!  Most small children don't understand any English, let alone speak it!  Her wise grandparents decided to speak only English to her at home and in her outside environment she hears Tagalog.  What a wonderful gift they have given her.

Julianne showing me her new dress
Branch Family Home Evenings are always such fun.  The members gather and after a song, prayer and a short lesson, the games begin.  Elder Griffin and Elder Velez are great at coming up with games and last week was no exception.  They had two people hold a rope, forming a 'net' and with a cotton ball and puffs of breath, played 'volleyball'.  It was hilarious.  Elder Shaner and Elder Griffin came 'head-to-head' at the 'net' a couple of times and in the end, our team won!  These Filipino's love games more than any other group of people I have ever seen!  Such fun loving people who enjoy the associations of each other.
Elder Griffin and Elder Shaner at the 'net'

Elder Griffin and Elder Velez have been our Zone Leaders since the early this spring and do a great job of training this group of elders and sisters.  Weekly we have District Meetings [where the district leaders leads the meeting] and monthly we have Zone Meetings [where the zone leaders are in charge]  Our young leaders do a great job of teaching and always have an activity to reinforce or introduce their topic for the day.  We value their leadership and enjoy those meetings.

Elder Griffin explaining to the zone the object of the lesson-they had different
items [a paper airplane as well as balls] to try to get into laundry baskets,
talking about what it takes to have a true conversion.  The object was that
sometimes they miss an important part because our aim was off.

Last week Elder Rocaberte, our disrict leader, taught us about trusting
our companions and this activity was a great way to introduce that lesson.
This random picture will only mean something to our family or close crafting friends-many years ago [maybe 1976-1977] my good husband, who is VERY thrifty, saw some local telephone workmen changing out cable in the area behind our home.  He talked them into giving him the soon-to-be discarded cable and it has hung in our garage/storage room/shed for the past 35 years.  I teased him incessantly about his 'hoarding' but over the years have eaten my words as the children and I have found many uses for this strong but very thin wire.  He was rummaging in a box we sent to ourselves here before we came, mostly tools he thought he might need and guess what he found!!!  WE LAUGHED AND LAUGHED!!!!!  Hey kids, daddy magic wire is in the Philippines!!

I don't know about you but sometimes, I feel very alone in a world full of people!  Everywhere I look, I see children, moms, dads, grandpas, grandmas, aunts and uncles and still I feel alone.  Not alone in the sense that I have nobody to talk to but just empty inside.  I think it is because I miss my family so much!  Something in my very core is gone.  I try not to dwell on that.  It is not in my best interest to dwell on the things I cannot have or the snuggles that I am missing but I have found when I get to that point, and I do feel that way often, I can turn to my Savior for comfort.  He died so we could all have the opportunity to mess up, fix it and move on.  He knows my heart and he knows my aches.  He is here to help me work through the earthly trials and He will ensure my success if I just turn to Him in my times of need.  Like this carabao in the picture below, we are alone.  We are all individuals working through this earthly experience...Stephen R. Covey once said, "We are not human beings on a spiritual journey.  We are spiritual beings on a human journey."  I am hoping to make THIS journey the best in my life and with the help of my Savior and the comforter He sends in the Holy Ghost, I am confident the next year will be the best one yet as I forget myself and focus on His children...the precious Filipino people he has sent me here to serve!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Hi Ho! Hi Ho! It's off to work we go...[cue the singing birds].

 The past month has been a difficult one for us, both physically and emotionally.  We have had our regrouping time and now...let's get back to work!!!  Both Randy and I have missed our working schedule.  On Tuesdays, we go here and on Wednesdays we go here and so forth.  Well people...IT IS TIME TO GET BACK ON SCHEDULE SO...........onward and upward.

President Carlos has decided to make a dramatic change in our assignments for our last year here-yes, it is almost our 'hump' is so hard for me to realize we have been out on our mission for almost 11 months!!!  It goes by so fast!  Our grandson's birthday on July 14th will actually be our half way point-we can celebrate together, Ike.  As of next week, our focus will change and we will welcome [maybe that is a bit strong as we will really miss the familiar] our new challenges and opportunities as we move to a full-time assignment in Mallig.  We have loved the saints in the Roxas area but there are some struggles in the Mallig branch and President thinks having a senior couple there to focus on them and only them for a year may make a significant difference in their lives we come Mallig!!  Currently Elder Nay and Elder Llorin serve there and we absolutely LOVE both of these fine young men.  Elder Nay is actually in our batch from the MTC. 

A few weeks ago we were in the Mallig area working with a branch member missionary and the Elders had a couple of special cases they wanted us to help with.  Both families were new investigators with many questions. The first couple lived in a very humble home in the middle of the most gorgeous field-when I saw it, I wanted to sing 'the hills are alive...with the sound of music...'  It was such a glorious setting.  We left them after their appointment and because we still had energy, they invited us to visit another investigator family who lived across the highway.  As we walked up to cross the highway, the young pups [the nickname Elder Ward gave to the young missionaries when they were working with us old cronies] noticed the tatay [father] sitting in a waiting shed, just chillin...they approached him and were informed we couldn't meet with them because they had JUST had new piglets and the nanay [mom] was busy with that.  Curious me...I asked..'can we see the babies?'  Now this city girl had never seen brand new anything except kittens that were born in her daughter's sleeping bag [with the daughter in it!] in 1979!  I was so amazed-the nanay was protecting the piglets so the mama wouldn't roll over  and crush them-she had already lost four to smothering in the 20 minutes before we arrived.  They handed me one and that little gal just squealed and squealed...reminded me a little of Sister Carlos when we are playing cards!!  Those little oinkers were so darling and we look forward to meeting the family and watching them grow as we serve in Mallig.
Isn't this the cutest little gal???

The upside of our new assignment is being able to work with
these amazing young elders...Elder Llorin and Elder Nay.

Nanay watching over the babies and keeping them safe
Shortly after we arrived in the mission field in August, we were asked to attend and play for a funeral.  We knew nobody, had no idea where we were going but followed someone in the rain and found the house of Sister Mina.  Her husband had just died and we greeted her [seated in her wheelchair] and gave our sympathies.  

Time went on, we became involved in our branches and our projects but in the back of my mind I was always remembering that sweet sister who had lost her husband and she was confined to a wheelchair.  Fast forward to about two months ago.  President Munoz, one Wednesday night as we went visiting members with him, brought us to this house of a lady who had a tragic story.  She was in the outside CR [toilet] in the mid 90's when a huge typhoon was bearing down on this area.  A nearby coconut tree was toppled and fell directly on the CR, trapping her and crushing her vertebrae in her back, paralyzing her from the waist down.  At the time, she was a young mother of active boys.  Her husband gave up his life to tend to her every need and between them, they raised a family of good boys who have become good men.  When I walked into her bedroom to meet her that night, I SUDDENLY REMEMBERED THIS WOMAN!!!  I had thought about her so much, not remembering where she lived or even her name and because of this good branch president, I had the chance to meet her again!  She and I connected and formed a friendship.  Weekly, I go visit her, sit with her, take the computer and show her General Conference in Tagalog, etc. and recently, I taught her how to crochet using the plastic bags.  She is having such fun!  I don't think she realized how creative she was and is enjoying her new skill.  She hopes to market them and give her a little income.  Now I must tell you one more thing about Mina...she is the most positive, happy, adjusted, contented person I have met in a long time-she always meets me with a smile.  A couple of weeks ago when we were visiting, I commented to her on her attitude, praising her for not being angry, hateful, bitter, etc.  Her response was 'those feelings would do me no good-I have accepted the will of the Lord and decided a long time ago that my attitude will make all the difference in MY life'.  What a woman!  She is an inspiration to me and so many others who have the opportunity to meet her and feel her great spirit. 
Sister Mina with her first completed purse-she is SO proud!!
I love dirt...well to me more specific, I guess I should say I love soil!  I love to work with it, play in it, stir it around and watch the earth give back!  We lived in Utah for a few years and one of my neighbors was [and still is] a master gardener and boy was she!!  Her yard was like something out of a magazine.  Gorgeous..well, my skills are not that grand and I have mostly tinkered with flowers but moving to a tropical climate that would allow me to plant year round...hhhmmmm.  Think I will!
We will be moving across the street from our current home in a couple of weeks and on that property is a perfect place for a garden.  However, the area was so overgrown and untended, I thought NO WAY!!  Then we had a brainstorm...the young branch president in Cabatuan was laid off from the FM group job in March and has been out of work.  His training is landscaping so we offered him a temporary part-time job and he jumped at the chance to earn some income for his family.  He is amazing!  In two weeks time, he trimmed up the vegetation and the trees at our property then moved across the street and cleared, burned, hauled away, tilled, prepared and had my garden spots ready to plant!  I was so excited.  In March also our son was sending us a box and I asked him to include some US sweet corn and beefy tomato seeds.  I was able to find other seeds here and my garden has: corn, okra, onions, carrots, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumber [green and the native white], sitao [pronounced see-tow, like cow] which are native string beans, green peppers, red peppers and hot peppers.  I have been babysitting for it when I have a few minutes and yesterday, some little greenery poked through!  I only planted it last Thursday so was surprised.  I am an early riser and Randy isn't so this will give me a great opportunity to get out when it is cooler and work.  Thanks son for the great seeds!!!
Planting corn

Cabatuan branch president planting the sitao


As I look at this beautiful area that I will be enjoying, I remember back a few weeks ago to a tangled, weedy, scrubby mess.  It was not even possible to walk through that side of the property because it was so impassible.

 It reminds me of the process our lives go through as we change and accept our Savior into our lives.  For many years my life was a tangled mess, full of weeds [sin], thorns [anger], tangles [bitterness] and lots of insects [the little things that prevent us from fully living the lives our Heavenly Father has wished for us.]  In 1973 all of that changed as I was baptized and got a fresh start.  Our souls are like my garden, if we nourish them with prayer, fertilize them with the scriptures-word of the Lord, cleanse them with daily repentance, and continue to water them with service to our Heavenly Father through church attendance and ministering to each other, we will all gather together in the greatest garden of all to have an eternity to plant and reap the rewards we have earned here on this earth.  My responsibility here and now is to help the Lord with His ministering in this part of his glorious vineyard...what a great blessing and privilege for this old midwestern lady!!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Bittersweet Farewell

I have known for weeks that this day would, on my 64th birthday, we, along with many other people who loved this precious woman, placed her in her final resting place.  For three weeks, I have been telling my sweet companion that I just knew her funeral would occur on my birthday!  Let me tell you about the experience of this friendship that has changed my life!

Imelda Natividad was born on September 12, 1966 [three months after I graduated from high school] in San Manuel, Isabela, Philippines.  At the time, she had two older sisters, one older brother and shortly after her birth, the family added another brother.  Imelda never married but spent many years working abroad..a custom in this country for young women and a way to help the family earn additional income.  She worked in Malasia, Hong Kong, and recently in Dubai.  It is tradition for the young woman to work for a family as a house maid, nanny, etc. for many years, coming home only once a year for a couple of weeks.  During her experiences in these countries, she met many wonderful people, had many opportunities and enjoyed the families who employed her.  A few years ago, Imelda was home for a visit and through a miracle, was taught and baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  She LOVED her new church and told everyone she saw about it, bearing her testimony of the truthfulness of the restored gospel frequently.  

A year ago, while working in Dubai, she found a lump in her right breast.  After going to a local doctor there, she followed his advice and traveled home for treatment.  A mastectomy followed as well as chemo and radiation.  I first met Imelda halfway through her second round of chemo when she joined my District Choir for our District Conference.  We became friends immediately!  I fell in love with her positive attitude, her bottomless ability to love and lift those around her and her contagious smile and giggle.  

On April 13th of this year [a Friday..] she found a small leak around her surgery incision and went to see the doctor.  At that appointment, she was told she had stage four liver cancer and without treatment, would possibly live six months.  She lived seven weeks and one day...she decided not to have treatment because of the expense [they are not a wealthy family and she didn't want to be a financial burden on her brothers and sisters again] so with the most positive attitude, she fought her hardest and finally succumbed to her disease last Saturday.

The Sunday after her diagnosis, she met with our wonderful Mission President, Rudolfo Carlos for a temple recommend interview.  She had never been to the temple and wanted to go, receive her endowments and give the opportunity for her parents and grandparents to also receive their temple blessings through her efforts.  He interviewed her [the plan was for her to go with her Branch in May] and found her very worthy to enter the Lord's house but instead of waiting until May, he INSISTED she pack a bag and after he had made some calls to receive approval from the Area Presidency, put her and some of the members of her branch in a private van.  On Tuesday, they headed for Manila where she spent a glorious week serving in the house of the Lord.  When she returned, she told me she was feeling fine and was fine waiting until May but President Carlos [this GREAT inspired man!!] insisted she go that week.  If he would have allowed her to wait, she never would have gotten the chance to attend the temple in this life...that man is a man of God!!

During the past five weeks, Randy and I have visited her everyday.  She did not live far from us and because it was in the direct path to our beloved Roxas, it was a simple thing to stop and visit.  We took her yummies, fresh fruit, veggies, flowers but mostly, we took her our love.  At every visit, we always shared a prayer, a scripture or other message and if it was a Sunday, Elder Shaner often blessed and gave her the sacrament.  On Sundays, we would share the messages of the meetings she missed.  She attended church until the last four weeks when she had become too weak to withstand the trip to church or the time involved.  Her faith never waivered...she knew the Lord loved her and all of her trials were a part of His plan.

Last Saturday, her battle ended.  I had the precious opportunity to stop earlier on Saturday and visit with her for about 45 minutes before going to an activity in San Pedro with their Relief Society.  She hugged me, [actually just about strangled me..] and kept trying to whisper in my ear messages for other people.  She was so weak, her voice so faint that I could not understand everything she said but I just let her cling to me and talk.  She was in such pain, I rubbed her back and tried to help her.  When I left, I kissed her and told her I would be back in a bit...when I returned with Randy at 12:30, she was in the final stages of leaving this mortal existence.  As Randy and I stood at the foot of her bed, we watched her face and together, we actually think we saw the moment her spirit left her body-we looked at each other and we eyes found the upper corner of the room, I gave her a quick wink and it was over.

This woman was an amazing example to me of a choice daughter of our Father in Heaven...she knew who she was, she lived every day with vigor and enthusiasm, she LOVED her family and served all mankind.  She will be missed and remembered by many people.

Imelda with Sister inactive sister who connected with her and has returned to church as
 a result of their friendship...

Two weeks before her death, Imelda asked Randy..'you are always asking me what
you can do for me Elder...could you find me a rocking chair because I cannot
sleep in the bed..I need to sit up.'  We went immediately to Roxas and bought
the only one in the city.

When someone dies, the family and friends gather in a tented area close to the
house and remember...

She did not have a huge hearse, only a car to carry her the 2 miles to her final resting place..
the mourners walk behind the entire way.  I walked for quite a bit then rode with Randy
who was following behind in our truck.

It was a sight to see the umbrella parade of mourners..

This is the vault that was built for her casket.  It will remain above ground and after
the casket is placed in the vault, it will be sealed.  People here don't visit the
cemeteries like we do in the US.

All cemetaries are above ground-if the family is wealthy, they will have a separate
crypt where their entire family will be buried. From the highway, the
cemetery looks like a housing development.

Elder Coleman and Elder Rocaberte also attended.  They were assigned to
her branch and had become acquainted with her while they served her.

The direct family wore white lace wrapped around their head like an Indian

After the casket is placed in the vault, family and friends placed flowers
in with the casket and when they were finished,  all of her earthly
possessions, which had been loaded into cloth bags, were placed in
with her...
Life is so fragile...our time here on earth is but a nanosecond in the scope of eternity.  It is our responsibility to find our purpose and do the very best we can to fulfill it...we will be accountable to our Father in Heaven for the stewardship he has given us.  How have we done?  Have we been good daughters and sons?  How did we do in our parenting?  Have we taught our family about Christ and instilled in them a firm testimony of His divinity?  Have we tried to serve our fellowmen?  Have we kept His commandments?  Have we succored the weak and lifted the downtrodden?  The questions are endless but each of us will have the opportunity, when we meet Christ, to account for the time He gave us here to learn the eternal lessons He needed us to learn...

It is the sunset of MY life and while I have been on this mission, I have had time to reflect on my life.  I am not sure if I have done everything He needs me to do, have learned everything He needs me to learn, served everyone He needs me to serve but I know one thing...each day is a new opportunity to start again and He needs us to keep on keeping on until He calls us home.