Monday, December 22, 2014

After much tribulation cometh the blessing

Have you ever given your child a promise that something good would happen to them if they chose to do something that was hard and then prayed really hard that something good really would happen?  As a child I always imagined that my parents knew everything and made all the right choices.  Now that I am a parent I understand that parents are on their own journey; trying to be the best example for their children while finding the strength to face and overcome their own challenges.

In Saint Petersburg I always looked forward to Tuesdays because Tuesdays were missionary days. We would make the long journey to the church which was a 1.5- mile scooter ride to the metro, then 30+ minute metro ride changing from the red line to the orange line, and another mile on the scooter to finally get to the church building. Since it was such an effort getting there and back we generally spent the whole day there.  I taught the missionaries Russian grammar classes while my kids ran around the gym in the church and got their wiggles out (remember our grumpy neighbor who didn’t want us to make noise while in the apartment?  We did our best but it was basically impossible with 4 wiggly little people sleeping in one room so this time each week was important for them as well). 
   On this particular Tuesday, I had gotten word that there were some brethren from Salt Lake that would be doing some training with the missionaries so we changed the lesson time to accommodate their arrival.  I also asked Chrissy to stay at home with the kids so that we wouldn’t disrupt the training but I thought it would be special to invite the older boys to join me in hopes that they would be able to meet with the leaders from Salt Lake. David was interested so I told him to wear nice Sunday clothes just in case we were able to meet the brethren. 

That day the water source for our whole building had been shut off so we did our best to look presentable without running water. We started off on our scooters through the dirty, wet rainy streets.  I always like to leave very early because you never know what may happen on the way but that day we had gotten a later start than usual.  I had brought David a pair of gloves knitted by a very dear woman which were completely irreplaceable and very special to me.  When I realized that the gloves had fallen out of my pocket we retraced our path all the way back to our apartment building.  We didn’t find the mittens and David became discouraged.  “Mom, we are going to be late, we lost your special gloves and  I went through a mud puddle that put mud all up the side of my pants.  Let’s just go home and forget about it!”

 I recognized a great teaching moment!  Life in Russia was anything but convenient and I understood the frustration that David was feeling but I also knew that most experiences that are worth anything take effort.  I told David that the missionaries were counting on us and that when we want to give up that’s the moment when we have to work harder to make things work.  He bravely agreed to keep going despite our setbacks.  I was so proud of him and wanted so much for him to know that his efforts were known by God.  I knew it would be a great day if we could just get to the church building.

When we got to our metro station David was surprised to find a metro token on the ground.  To really appreciate what this means you have to know that we are a family of coin collectors.  We collect coins everywhere we go.  We have been known to reach awkwardly under a dirty bench while people are still sitting on it in order to retrieve a kopek worth far less than a penny.  To find a coin that actually had value was a bonus.  Finding the metro token on the ground that day to me was pure evidence to David that God was aware of his maturing testimony and his desire to do good and to preserver despite the setbacks we had encountered that morning.  I told David to keep the token and never use it so he would always remember that moment.  

After our Russian lesson with the missionaries we decided to wait near the elevator to see if we could greet Elder Randy L Ridd and Jorg Klebengat on their way to the conference where the missioanries eagerly waited for their training.  I didn’t want to be annoying, but I really did want David to be able to shake hands with these amazing men.  When the elevator doors opened, we quietly approached the group.  President Childs introduced me to Elders Klebengat and Ridd along with his beautiful wife. I explained to them that David got dressed up and came on the journey with me to the church in order to meet them. 
 They were more than kind to David lovingly asking him about himself and taking time to care for the one.  Elder Ridd asked David about is mission fund and David reported that he was saving 40% of his earnings toward his mission.  Elder Ridd then reached into his coat and pulled out a card with a dollar coin on it and told him to save it for his mission!  Another coin! 
 And another testimony that God loves David! Then Sister Ridd gave David a Russian CTR ring of his very own.  I was able to tell Elder Klebengat  how much we enjoyed his talk in conference just a few weeks earlier (it was SUCH and inspiration!) He then invited David to attend the missionary meeting. Fortunately he was dressed appropriately (I had wiped the mud off of his pants and it wans’t even visable) so we were able to go and join the missionaries in the chapel.  At the beginning of the meeting Elder Kebengat called David to the front of the meeting and told the missionaries that David was his special guest!  He asked David questions about what he was doing to prepare for his mission.
 Here was my 10-year old son standing in front of a room full of missionaries as the special guest of a very special man called of God to do His work and to love His children, every one of them.  Although those men had been given the charge to go to Saint Petersburg to train missionaries, the spirit whispered to them that there was a future missionary that needed to be strengthened that day as well.  A future missionary and his mom, who had made a promise that all would be well if he would just do his best and trust.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Weak things become strong; Our journey to Moscow

If  you are looking for an amazing place to visit Moscow will never disappoint! 


In its 800 years of glory Moscow has provided a rich history, 

incredible architecture 

and all sorts of fascinating places to go...
....Where did Wesley and David want to go the most of all these places? Lenin's tomb.  Lenin (the founder of communism) died in 1924 but was never buried instead his body was preserved under a glass case for all his admirers to see and to this day he is on display in Red Square, creepy right?  Although the tomb was closed for a Russian Holiday we did get to visit the outside.  This was my 6th time in Moscow and I had never been able to catch the tomb tour, maybe I will have to make a 7th  trip to Moscow if I really want to see dead Lenin:).

Fortunately for me, I didn't go to Moscow to see the sights, instead I went to see a dear, dear member whom I had taught in Petrazavodsk (see the Petro Post) who had moved to the outskirts of Moscow.

This Stalwart young mom was just a teenager when I taught her family the gospel.  Now she has been on a mission, married to the temple had a daughter born in the covenant and is expecting her second baby. We had a lot of fun crashing on her couch and pampering her the next day with Chrissy's professional pedicure and facial skills.

This is a little picture I found in their house describing the order of their Family home evening.  I was so proud of her for being firm in the gospel and for raising a righteous family.  It was so sweet to me to hear her  pray with her little daughter Inna who was lucky enough to be born into a strong family.  

                It was so special to look through her mission photos!           
 One photo she showed me was of a girl whom she had taught who was currently also serving a mission.  Whoa.  Talk about amazing!  It then hit me like a ton of bricks.  I served a mission and helped teach Anya the gospel, she served a mission and helped to teach someone else the gospel who was currently on a mission teaching others the gospel!
 Why is this so completely overwhelming to me?  Because during the time that I taught Anya's family was one of the most difficult times of my mission and of my life.  During my time in Petro my grandfather passed away and I didn't receive word until he had been gone a month.  There were many other trials that I experienced there that were so very intense. We were so far away from the rest of the mission and from the world that I felt so very alone.  I read my patriarchal blessing daily and fell asleep each night looking at a picture of the Savior in Gethsemane.  I prayed constantly for peace.  I asked permission to call home to talk to my parents knowing that a few words of encouragement could be just what I would need to have the strength to keep going but I was advised not to call.
                                                  Anya at her own baptism 1998
 So despite the fact that I myself was super struggling, I did my best to share the greatest gift I had with others, and from my weakness God made something so beautiful out of it!  It reminded me of a tiny pebble that makes just enough of a splash to create a ripple which then gently ripples outward despite the weakness of its tiny beginning.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

An account of precious grandma, some rocking teenagers and the most romantic love story from Petrozavodsk

For my second area my companion (Sister Pashina, a convert of one year from Omsk, Russia) and I were called to be the first ever sister missionaries to serve in Petrozavodsk, Russia. Petro is North East of Saint Pete 8 hours by train (yes there are actually people living more North than Saint Petersburg believe it or not!) Our assignment was to start the Relief Society and Young Women's programs and to find new members. We gathered for church my first Sunday there in a music school.  There were nine people at the meeting not including the missionaries.  I would later serve with Sister Ackerson.  Both companions were super amazing workers and we covered a lot of ground in the 5+ months I was there.  We were privileged to teach two very special families and some of the most amazing people I've ever met.
Last week I had the opportunity of going back to Petro with Derek and Wesley (age 12) to see these dear dear people I love so much.  I was so nervous to see them, but being together it felt like only days had passed since we had seen each other last. Of those we taught some had moved away and others were sick or not in town.  I called all the people I could and asked them to meet at the church (yes, an actual official building owned by the Church with a font, chapel and all!)

These two sweet ladies used to help us out on splits only weeks after their own baptism.  When I was a missionary they were just teenagers.

 When we first taught Marina Byelova the gospel she was only 18.  You can see  by her million-dollar smile that she lights up a room when she comes in.  How I love her!!!! She has been the Relief-Society President and is currently serving as the Young Women's president.
                                                                            Age 18
                                                                  Marina now

                                                                      Ira Kazakova
We contacted Irina Kazakova on the street and taught her family the discussions.  After I was transferred she  and her husband along with her 3 sweet children joined the church.  She has been a rock in the branch and in her family.

        Derek               Luba         Sara     Katya             Dima

I still remember the day we knocked on the Timofeevy family's door.  They are an amazing family! I have to share the most beautiful and romantic love story ever!!! We began to to teach them the gospel and hings were going great.  Then when we taught them about the law of Chastity we could tell there was something wrong.  They explained that although they had been engaged and intended to marry they learned that under communist law they would lose one of their apartments if they married.  Instead they decided to commit to each other as though married and forgo the legal marriage process.  17 years later they were still together and had grown to be a beautiful family of 5 (with 2 daughters and a son).  Having already committed them to baptism we were so sad to tell them that being unmarried they were actually not eligible for baptism.  The only solution we could come up with was for them to get married for real.  It would take effort and money, something that was scarce in those post-communist days, but they made the commitment to do it! It was pretty strange to have to commit these devoted adults to living the law of chastity until their wedding day! They chose to be married and baptized on the very same day!  August 29, 1998 was one of those days you never forget!!!  Dima and Luba were baptized along with their younger daughter Katya.

Because Misha and Anya were away at a Summer camp they were unable to be baptized with their parents.  A few weeks later they were able to be baptized by their own Father!

Little Katya (then 10) is now 27 and served a mission in the Baltic States Mission, she is now engaged.
Misha is a Lawyer and lives outside of Petrozavodsk. He is married and has 2 kids.

Anya also served a mission and is now married and expecting her 2nd child.  She lives in Moscow.



Nadezhda Petrovna Kuznitova is my precious grandma.  She has endured years of trails and sadness with a husband who was always taking her money to buy alcohol.  She has the purest heart.  When I arrived in Petro the Elders informed me that she had asked to have her records removed from the church.  I arranged a visit with her but when she didn't show up I asked the Elders to take me to her home but she wasn't there.  As we walked back to the church I asked the Elders to pray that we could find her.  We walked and walked and then I saw her, we had just missed each other!  As we met with her she hugged me so close telling me that I had changed her life.  I wondered what had happened to pull her away from the church.  She told us that she was sick, old and poor and unworthy to be a member of the church from not paying tithing.  The inspired Elder explained that she was still a daughter of God.  I suggested that the elders could bring the sacrament to her in her home.  She resisted but we convinced her to try it once.  After the Elders left I listened to many stories of her difficult life and just loved her.  I told her that I could feel God's love for her so strongly along with my own love for her.  I wished I could just stay there forever or take her home with me so she could always be with someone who loved her.  As I admired her beautiful stitch work she insisted that I take a hand-stitched pillow (one of her very few earthly possessions).  I assured her that I wold love to have it but that I couldn't take it and would have very little room to take it home.  She then went to a drawer, pulled out some scissors and told me to cut the pillow out.  I begged her not to give it to me but she was not going to change her mind.  I was fighting back the tears then as I am now remembering the tenderness of that moment.

This little pillow case as the widow's might was given with the purest love.  I will always cherish it as I cherish Nadezhda.  She didn't allow me to take a picture of  her because she considered herself unfit to be photographed.  To me she was a picture of beauty,  I took a mental picture instead.  She did allow me to take a picture of this old Soviet-Era photograph of her with her family. Nadezhda is on the middle row, second to the last on the right.


  If God wanted me to come all the way to Russia just to see this grandma and tell her how much she is loved it was worth it!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tallinn, Estonia is Europe's secret treasure!

I bet you don't meet people very often who are planning their next European Vacation to Estonia...
                                            Which is too bad because it's the coolest place ever!!!
                        For the 3rd part of our trip, we took a day-trip to Tallin on a huge Ferry! 

                                          Every where you looked was just breathtaking!
                  It was so amazing to be on the other side of the world with my 2 dear sisters!!!!

                                                 Going to Church was a highlight for me!
                                           We even met an Elder from Rexburg, Elder Simkins!

My biggest highlight was spending special time with David. I always secretly wish I could raise each child separately so that I can love them with all of me and not have to feel torn about how to distribute myself....well this trip came pretty close as David was the only kid traveling with 5 adults.  What an awesome kid he is!!!