Sunday, September 24, 2017

In Praise of Failure Sept 24, 2017

Sue’s lesson in Sunday School this week is on the pioneer trek west.  While there are many lessons that one might learn from that heroic movement, it struck us that perhaps thinking about the pioneers gives us a model for how to deal with failure.  
One of the portraits in our family history that always intrigued me is that of Stephen Winchester.  I wrote about him last July so I won’t go into all the details again.  In the picture he is an elderly man, but it is the look in his eyes that is so interesting.  He is gazing to one side, grim, wary, and perhaps suspicious or maybe just defiant.  When I made that comment to my mother one time she replied, “Yes, but look  what he went through!”

Stephen was typical of the early Mormon converts who stayed true to the faith.  They were working to establish “Zion”, that ideal society of harmony, peace, love, and communal sharing in worship of God and Jesus Christ.  First they gathered to Kirtland OH, but that didn’t work out.  Many went to Missouri for a few years until they were forced to leave homes again and were refugees in Nauvoo where they built a beautiful city.  That didn’t last more than 7 years before they were leaving again, this time through the mud and storms of Iowa and eventually across the plains to Utah.

How did they keep going in the face of the successive failures to achieve Zion (while many others didn’t continue on)?  How did they find the strength to keep starting over?  What does their experience teach us about failure in our own lives, personal and otherwise?

Perhaps we need to think about failure in a more positive way, to change our expectations.  It is a normal part of growth and development.  Who is the writer who wrote the perfect book without revision, the artist whose first work was a masterpiece, the musician who played perfectly on picking up the instrument, the athlete who performed a 10 on the first attempt?  If we think about failure as missing the mark of perfection, then we are all failures, over and over again.  

I have always liked the quote from Oscar Wilde that  experience is the name that men give to their mistakes.  Without mistakes, we can gain no experience, show no improvement, make no progress.  The question then becomes not “have we failed?, but what have we done because of that experience?

The scriptures are plain with the answer to failure: faith and repentance, prayer and action.  To exercise faith is to believe that Christ has the power to redeem us from our errors, and to try again.  To repent is to turn toward God and goodness in that trying.  There is something of euphoria in starting over, in making another attempt using what we have learned from our experience.  I think about all the rebuilding in Texas and Florida that will occur in the wake of the recent storms.  To build something new is wonderful, if we learn from the errors of the past. 

Above all perhaps, enduring failure only occurs if we quit, if we don’t try again.  That is the true tragedy of life - not that someone has tried and failed but that they have given up.  The pioneers never did quit.  They kept moving on and rebuilding until they accomplished their best version of Zion, imperfect as it still was.  And if we keep trying in this life, in faith, turning to the good, we will be able to continue the process in our next existence.  Becoming complete, or perfect, may not be possible here.  “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sept. 17, 2017

One of our few spontaneous acts in the last 17 months happened on Friday. We invited the institute class to our apartment for pancakes .  We had some of our favorite whole wheat pancake flour to share (imported from Hutterites in Magrath, Alberta, thanks to sister Pudge) along with whipped cream and mixed berry syrup, bananas  and pecans.  We didn’t realize what a cultural experience we were providing . Few had ever seen a pancake, and no one had ever seen or tasted whipped cream or berries before. They asked where whipped cream came from and what it was. Berries do not grow here—our syrup was made from frozen blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and some little red berry that I did not recognize.  They told me that peanuts and cashews were the only nuts grown in Ghana. They were cautious as they spooned a little of each on a pancake.  I am not sure if they liked it - the berries most people thought were weird but they were very polite.   It was very fun!

Charles comes to Sunday school and Institute when he can.   He is in Art school and was showing me his first projects.  We purchased one and it sits above our bed.  It is a wood cutting with extra texture added [mosiacs and paper mache] I really like how it looks in our room.  I told him that when he is a rich and famous artist that I can tell people I was the first to buy one of his works.  What a grin that produced!

If you have listened to  Elder Bednar’s talk to young adults last Sunday, you have been introduced to Pres. Antwi who we live and work with every day.  He is on the same floor of the Ancillary Bldg, as we are and serves as Pres. Graham’s counselor. He is a wonderful man, very positive and very patient. We are honored to serve with him and his wife Victoria.

By Saturday night we are ready for a bit of a diversion and frequently go out for an early supper.  Zion Thai is one of our favorite places to retreat. This is a picture of the whole fish that we ordered - Sister Graham, Sister Roy [our new single temple worker originally from Quebec] and myself enjoying our food.

It seems ironic that after several years of hurricane and disaster preparedness training in Jacksonville , we found ourselves listening and watching from a long distance as the Irma went through. The vicarious experience is quite enough for us!  So sorry to see the images of someone kayaking through San Marco, and the houses washed into the ocean.  However we would have loved to have met Pres. Eyring who came to visit for support and encouragement!

We also followed with horror the fast moving Kenow fire as it swept through Waterton Lakes Park in Alberta.  The townsite and Prince of Wales Hotel were only saved by the diligence and perseverance of the fire crews.  We pray for all those who are suffering and all those who are cleaning up and all those who are firefighting  to save some of the most beautiful parts of the continent.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sept. 10, 2017

As we write today the Florida Keys are experiencing the eye of Irma, and the rest of the state will get the wind and rain over the next 36 hours or so.  We are grateful that the storm track has shifted westward from our home in Jacksonville but feel bad that this means Tampa-St.Pete will be hit harder.  As one friend in Jacksonville expressed, this means that he will be able to get out sooner to help those who are hit harder by the storm.  We are grateful for the Bridegans, who are taking care of our home while we are away and who decided to shelter in place.

Two stories from the institute class:

A young woman, now a medical student, told about her conversion and love for the Church while in Jr. High School.  She attended a school run by a denominational church, and one of the school requirements was that every student must attend worship services there on Sunday.  Those who did not attend that church were caned on Monday morning when they came to school. She had been asked to play the keyboard at her LDS ward so did not attend the required Sabbath meeting. She spoke about how even the anticipation of that punishment every week could not take away the wonderful feelings she had in her attendance at her own ward.  This lasted for two years.  One of her school teachers eventually asked why she would choose a whipping every week rather than just attend the school’s church.  She replied, “Because my church makes me happy”. 

Another young man spoke about life before joining the church.  He and 2 other boys had a friend who was a member and this friend would always read the Book of Mormon before school.  Even though they mocked and teased him for reading it, he always stayed calm and never got angry.  Once day Joseph snatched the member’s scriptures and threw them across the room but still he didn’t lose his temper.  The friend later gave him a copy of the Book of Mormon and asked him to just read some passages.  As he did, he felt the spirit testify that this book was true, and that led to his own conversion and later a mission call.

This week we celebrated Sue's 68th birthday with friends at a French restaurant. It was great to visit  over  authentic French bread and butter, tagine, and crême broulée. Being together, serving in Africa, and doing the Lord’s work binds us together. We are creating memories which will last longer than a life time.  We missed the Tolleys who were supposed to be with us. They will not be returning to Africa due to ongoing medical care.  We already miss them a great deal and pray for a new assignment that will be rewarding and challenging for them.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

September 3, 2017 - A Very Busy Week

This has to have been one of our more interesting weeks in the temple.  The group that came was from several different districts in one of the missions in Cote d’Ivoire, and there was not good communication amongst themselves.  Also, the people were mostly from “la brousse”, or as we would say in English, “the sticks”.  They were less familiar with organization, time and appointments, and following directions.  About 3 weeks ago the mission leaders sent us a list of all the people needing their own endowment and sealing.  It was over 100 endowments and about 50 sealings.  We sent information back asking them to reduce their numbers by about half, along with some sheets to help us organize the sessions.  What we received back was busy but doable in the three days (Tuesday through Thursday) that they would be here. 

We went through the usual planning and organizing and thought that by using every session possible on Tuesday and Wednesday morning we could get all the endowments done in time to have those same people then sealed as families, finishing Thursday afternoon.  Unfortunately their buses didn’t arrive until midnight Monday so we couldn't have our usual planning meeting with the leadership and confirm the plans.

Tuesday morning one of the leaders arrived in the temple and greeted us with one handwritten page full on both sides with names of people left off the schedule.  So we took a deep breath and said “We’ll do what we can”.  We reorganized the schedule to include everyone.  Patrons would often arrive about an hour late for their appointment, which meant that they were delayed into the following session.   Despite being asked beforehand about children to be sealed to parents, when the family arrived for the actual ordinance they would want to add more names - a time consuming request.

However, with much help and diligence from all the leaders and temple workers, by the time Thursday evening came we found that all the work was done.  In the three days we had helped over a hundred members receive their endowment and 38 families to be sealed together for eternity - more than we had ever done before in a whole week.  And everyone was exhausted.  Fortunately the next two days were light and a full recovery has been made.

We were surprised to hear that the Tolleys, executive secretary to the area presidency, were leaving Tuesday for medical tests in SLC. We  really miss them and hope all goes well enough that they might be able to return. We all fasted for them today.

A happy family after their sealing