So, really the best thing is the fireflies. I sit on the porch whenever I can to watch them as it gets dark. They start out near the ground then rise a little higher and higher as it gets dark until they are like little stars twinkling in the skies. There are only a few where we are at. Just little random sparks in the dark.
All right, so maybe the really best thing is the missionaries. It turns out that we have over 200 -- just so you know - that's lots. Most missions have between 100 and 150. We went to zone conferences two days after we landed and it was a really overwhelming experience. When you get 100 missionaries together in one place and begin to shake their hands and look into their eyes and hear their names and little wisps of their stories, you begin to be a little overcome by their collective sacrifice. Each individual and his/her family has willingly sacrificed a significant amount of money for their support and every missionary has sacrificed time - time with family, friends, school, sports, jobs -- some have given up scholarships, some athletes give up their hardcore conditioning, some give up being at weddings of siblings, births of nieces and nephews and on and on. It brings new insight to my understanding of keeping covenants.
I had a similar experience in the MTC. I arrived there feeling the weight of our own sacrifice. We had just left baby Julia (only three weeks old) and our other grandkids, and of course our own children in various situations. I was worried about the ones we were taking and worried about the ones we were leaving and weighed down with worry about the house and financial details.
Shortly after arriving at the Mission Training Center we began meeting our counterparts. As I met each sister my self-pity began to fade into a faintly embarrassed puddle as they said words like, "...Africa" "....Argentina" "....Russia" "....Mongolia" ----REALLY! Mongolia! Really.
I was talking to one sister trying to get a little sympathy about leaving our little baby Julia and what I got was empathy!! Yes, she understood -- her last little grandchild was born only a few days ago -- they were so happy he was born before they left -- but they wouldn't be able to be here for the little one that was due in a few weeks. We shed a few tears together for our grandbabies.
I began to feel some profound realization rumbling and growing in my mind - but I was still so weighed down with worries and sorrows I couldn't really look at it.
Then a few days later, we sisters were in a special session with Elder and Sister Holland. When Sister Holland spoke to us she spoke with so much emotion. She is a very sweet and gentle person that exudes profound love when she speaks. She told us that she knew how heavy our hearts were. That we were worried about our kids and about our aging parents and about our grandchildren - that we were frightened of the languages and cultures we were facing, that we felt inadequate -- and that she knew how we were feeling because she has been where we are now.
At this point we were all weeping. We had all had on our party faces for most of the week. You know how it is -- you just move forward pretending like you can do what you've been asked to do -- and because you've had some experiences in the past with forging ahead (i.e. hard callings that you thought you couldn't do) - you try to have faith that the Lord will help it all happen the right way? Well, we had all been forging ahead for several days -- with our "brave" faces on -- pretending like we could do what we've been asked to do. Now, Sister Holland pulled back the cover and hauled it all out in the open. There we were - 114 of us - not quietly sniffing and dabbing our eyes - but weeping openly, as if our heart were breaking -- because they were.
Then she read out of the New Testament - in Mark 10:29 & 30 - "And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life."
This loving woman in one quiet, masterful teaching moment - gave us the courage we needed to move ahead. She reminded us that the Lord knew our situation - that He loves us - and that He was going to take care of our families while we were gone - and that blessings would come because of our service. That was a moment of clarity for me - and that profound realization that had been rumbling in my sub-conscious burst forth into my conscious mind. I looked around at all of those women and was completely overwhelmed at the presence of personal sacrifice. We were all covenant women and were-- right then at that very moment -- keeping our covenants. Then as one thought leads to another I began to realize that I have been living in the presence of that same sacrifice for my whole life without really appreciating it.
When we sit in sacrament meeting we are in the presence of covenant sacrifice. From the Bishop to the deacons, from the Sunday School teachers to the Nursery Leader, from those who cleaned the building that week to the Young Women who weeded a garden for a service project -- when we meet together we meet in the holy presence of sacrifices made - and because we make these sacrifices for each other and consequently for the Lord -- that's what makes them holy.
I look at gatherings of saints in a whole new way now. And when I see those missionaries gathered in the chapel -- it makes me weep just to feel the spirit of covenant service that rests upon them. They are amazing to behold -- in groups and as individuals. And all the more amazing because of their youth. I love them.
We will write more as we can. We love you all and miss you. Pray for us -- we need it!