We are mostly through our hopscotch-style journey across the US: Salt Lake City, Denver and the San Luis Valley of Colorado, Corpus Christi, Texas, and now Washington, D.C. (Fayetteville North Carolina will come next.) We have loved visiting with family and friends, creating new face-to-face connections and strengthening old ones. We have also found some new purpose in our conversations.
I need to start an “It’s been nice to find out that…” list. So here are a few items that belong on that list:
1. It’s been nice to find out that our perspective mattered. While reporting in New Zealand, we discussed some needs at Liahona, and through emails from friends there since we left, we have found that the issues we brought to the attention of our leaders in Auckland are indeed being addressed.
2. It’s been nice to find out that we are missed. Some of our Tongan friends loaded us up with gifts just as we were leaving, and since then we have received notes, emails, and cards that have provided wonderfully sweet and tender moments. And I have given myself a Tongan name, now that everyone is telling me things are too quiet with me gone – I am Sister Loud-As-A-Truck!
3. It’s been nice to find out how personal connections matter. Reunions with family, relatives, “shirttail relatives”, and friends who might as well be family have been wonderful. There have been sweet moments when we have shared our recognition of the Lord’s hand in our lives, funny moments when we discovered or rediscovered peculiarities in our habits, and moments of heartfelt gratitude when we acknowledged the influence we have had in each others’ lives. We are not meant to live in isolation.
One minor illustration of a funny moment: We told Lindsey, RC’s wife of 5 months, about his habit of doing shots during friendly “poker” games (they really didn’t know the rules, but that never stopped them) when he and Kai were 12 or 13. The circle of boys would sit around our dining room table, and at the end of each round, would drink from a 12-oz cup of water that had an entire package of Koolaid stirred into it. Strong stuff! After we laughed about it, Lindsey said, “That explains a lot about my husband.” Ha!
4. It’s been nice to be exposed to the abundant blessings here in the United States. The first time I walked into a grocery store, I was stunned. I walked up to the deli counter, where there were about 12 kinds of cheese for sale, and right next to the counter was an oval bank, about 10 feet long, filled with another 50 kinds of cheeses. (Now, you have to understand that cheese is an expensive rarity in Tonga, so we had it only very occasionally.) The kind lady at the deli counter asked, “May I help you?” and I looked at her with a bewildered smile and said, “I don’t think so!” I just had to walk around and stare, in the whole store. About halfway through the store, the thought came to me, “There’s enough food in this store to feed everyone in Tonga for a week!” I continue to preach that every American needs to go live outside of the US for a year, functioning like a native of any other country. Then we could come back and be a lot more content with what we have here.
5. It was especially nice to visit Monte Vista, Colorado again. Two years ago, we left under than less than optimal circumstances, but coming back and giving our mission report at our “home” ward was wonderful. People welcomed us with open arms, spent time with us, expressed joy and anticipation at the next chapter in our lives, and wished us well. We left with a very warm feeling, a very positive feeling about the people in that place. We even got to take a tour of the new school that Jim helped design, that has been up and running for year. We purchased pieces of the old gym floor (the grant money ran out due to cost overruns) to help raise money for the surfacing of the athletic track, and were very pleased at the way the school has turned out. May the years be good, Pirates!!!
6. We knew this before we left, but it’s been good to recognize that the skills we developed in Tonga are exactly the skills we will use in Kazakhstan. In Tonga we spent most of our time coaching teachers and helping them teach in English to students who grew up speaking Tongan. We taught them research-proven strategies to use in their classrooms to help their students succeed. And now we will be doing exactly that in Kazakhstan. It’s been good to acknowledge that we NEEDED to go to Tonga, in order to qualify for these jobs. And it’s good to acknowledge that we had enough faith to trust that the Lord would take care of us. He certainly has.