29 February, 2016 23:00

All –

Anything that has been written prior to this note was not actually authored by me, but very kindly done by my parents with the best of intentions. It has apparently been about a week now since the big accident even though it feels to me as though I just barely sent my last weekly email and then had a lovely dinner with the Green family here in Ohio before leaving for an evening of full other appointments (the original plan for last Monday before the accident).

Since then…well I’m guessing my parents have provided some detail on that, more than I am aware of most likely -I remember very little. I am lucky to feel as good as I do I think, having seen pictures of the car and hearing about some of what Sis. M is dealing with health-wise. I feel pretty tired, a little bruised, but mostly just kind of diconnected from what is real and what isn’t. I can’t decide if my missionary experience is the dream, or if the last week and having parents and being touch (sort of) with more people from outside Oohio is the dream, or how on earth all of this makes any sense with what I remember from where I was at this time last year. But mostly I’m really, really grateful for all tha incredible people I have ghe pirveileGe of knowing, many of whom are invaulable additions through my time in Ohio (residents here, and other missionaries). I’m told I’m not quite keeping up with the happenings as well as I should be yet, and my energy isn’t very high, but all-in-all I feel good, grateful for every minute of everything I’ve experienced and, as far as I am aware, no long-term negative isssues are expected. Rest and reconnecting is all I have on my immediate docket, the next steps in life will be determined as time goes by. Looking forward to staying in touch with everyone though! (Sorry if I’m even harder to follow in these emails than normal- feel free to email my parents too if i’m not answering well enough- wmbwest and lisa.thewests).


Update from the horse’s mouth (if that’s not an actual phrase I blame the accident and the supposed ‘brain injury’)

All –

Anything that has been written prior to this note was not actually authored by me, but very kindly done by my parents with the best of intentions. It has apparently been about a week now since the big accident even though it feels to me as though I just barely sent my last weekly email and then had a lovely dinner with the Green family here in Ohio before leaving for an evening of full other appointments (the original plan for last Monday before the accident).

Since then…well I’m guessing my parents have provided some detail on that, more than I am aware of most likely -I remember very little. I am lucky to feel as good as I do I think, having seen pictures of the car and hearing about some of what Sis. M is dealing with health-wise. I feel pretty tired, a little bruised, but mostly just kind of diconnected from what is real and what isn’t. I can’t decide if my missionary experience is the dream, or if the last week and having parents and being touch (sort of) with more people from outside Oohio is the dream, or how on earth all of this makes any sense with what I remember from where I was at this time last year. But mostly I’m really, really grateful for all tha incredible people Ihave ghe pirveilee of knowing, many of whom are invaulable additions through my time in Ohio (residents here, and other missionaries). I’m told I’m not quite keeping up with the happenings as well as I should be yet, and my energy isn’t very high, but all-in-all I feel good, grateful for every minute of everything I’ve experienced and, as far as I am aware, no long-term negative isssues are expected. Rest and reconnecting is all I have on my immediate docket, the next steps in life will be determined as time goes by. Looking forward to staying in touch with everyone though! (Sorry if I’m even harder to follow in these emails than normal- feel free to email my parents too if i’m not answering ).

The Short Story – from Jennifer

The follow is a message that Jennifer asked me to write:

I am grateful for your love and prayers.  I want you to know that I am alive and well, but not yet up to writing letters.  I apologize for not being very communicative, but would love to hear from you.  While we are uncertain about what is next in life for me, I’m most grateful for the relationships both at home and in Ohio which I will continue to cherish and nurture no matter what.

An Unexpected Blog Post (By My Dad)

The following blog post entry (or more accurately described as a journal of the last week) was written by Will West, Jennifer’s Father.  Jennifer expressly disavows any authorship:

Warning: very long.  Sorry.  Jennifer hasn’t had the chance to edit it down yet.

Monday February 22nd will be a day I will always remember.  It started out normally enough.  After a morning of shadowing one of our company’s sales people in Chicago, I spent the latter part of the day meeting with venture capitalists who were interested in SilverVue.  All-in-all a pretty run-of-the-mill day.

Well, there was one small exception.  That morning Jennifer sent a very unusual note.  In a message that was extraordinarily uncharacteristic for her, she said:

Is there something going on that you’re not telling me? I have this feeling which, when I’ve had it before, has meant that something was going on that you were keeping from me. It’s possible I’m being paranoid, but hopefully you don’t think that just because I’m on a mission it is acceptable to keep things from me or that you think you’re ‘sparing’ me being upset or something. So – is there something?

It was clear that Jennifer had some awful sense of foreboding.  She felt like something was happening or was about to happen and she wanted to know what it was, enough to send an unusual email to her family about her feeling.  Jennifer isn’t the type to say “the Spirit is telling me something is wrong”, but that is what she was saying, and it was strong enough to reach out and ask about it in spite of her normal desire to not seem overly “spiritual”.  We replied back assuring her that we didn’t know what she was referring to and that things were good at home.

In another short message to me on Monday, Jennifer encouraged me to make time to meet with the Senior Couples from the Kirtland Visitor Center.  Some weeks ago Jennifer had encouraged me to consider hiring someone that lives in her area.  I never get to Cleveland, but said that if any business trip brought me close, I would make time to meet with the gentleman in question.  She thought very highly of him and his family, and felt certain that I would like him.  A couple of weeks ago I saw the opportunity to get to Cleveland.  I had to be in Chicago for a few days, and then in Boston.  The week of February 22nd was when I could make this trip work.  I could get to Cleveland in between the two other cities.

Jennifer’s note about the Senior Couples on Monday when I was in Chicago made me want to adjust my trip to get to Cleveland a little early.  That is, I was now going to try to get there on Tuesday the 23rd, instead of Wednesday the 24th.  To be clear about our intentions, Jennifer and I were both committed to not seeing each other because we didn’t want to violate mission rules, but if she felt like it was worthwhile for me to meet certain people, then I was confident it was worth making the time to meet them.  I have a lot of faith in her judgment about many things including business matters.

In addition to the short notes, Jennifer had posted her weekly blog describing her mission experiences of the past week.  I had not had a chance to read the blog during the day because 1) they are generally long and I knew I’d need more than a few seconds to read it, and 2) I try to wait until I have enough time to really savor her outstanding letters/blog posts.

At about 7:30pm I returned to my hotel room in downtown Chicago.  I was triaging email when the phone rang at about 8pm.  It was President Brown.  The President of the Ohio, Cleveland mission.  He asked if I was in town.  He had understood from one of the senior couples that I was there.  I told him that I was still in Chicago, but that it was my intent to leave for Cleveland the next morning.  I assured him that neither Jennifer nor I had any intention or desire to see each other and break mission rules.  He assured me that he knew we weren’t planning to see each other.

This is when he broke the news.  He told me that my daughter and her companion, Sister Morrison, were in a serious car accident and that they had been Life-Flighted to an area hospital.  Both Sisters were knocked unconscious at the scene of the accident, and had remained unconscious until they were flown to the hospital.   Unfortunately, that was all he knew.  President Brown didn’t know anything about their injuries or the accident.  While it seemed like they must be alive since he was at the hospital trying to see them when he called me, we didn’t know if they were on the verge of death, or if they were just about to be released with minor injuries … although the whole Life Flight thing wasn’t a good sign.

President Brown explained that he would not have tried calling me at this point with such little information if he had realized that I wasn’t yet in town.  He apologized, and promised that he would get back in touch with me as soon as he knew more.

The next couple of hours were horrible.  I couldn’t do email, I couldn’t watch TV.  Nothing seemed right except prayer and watching my phone for more news.  I had decided not to call Lisa because I didn’t want her to suffer the way I was suffering waiting for more information.  My hope was that any minute now I would know more, and then I could call and give Lisa real news rather than just frighten her to death.  This is when I received a text from Lisa saying she missed me and wanted to know if I was feeling better (I had been sick on Sunday).  That broke my will, and I called home.

I told Lisa everything I knew, which wasn’t much, and promised I would call her as soon as I heard more.  We also discussed plans for getting us both to Cleveland as fast as possible. This is about when I received a text from President Hunt saying “Praying for the Wests”.  What did that mean???  Had he learned about what was happening?  Was it horrible news?  I called him immediately to find out what he knew.  He explained that he also didn’t know much.  I told him that I was planning to get to Cleveland immediately, and that Lisa was looking into how to get there fast via flights.  President Hunt wholeheartedly agreed that this was the right next step.

By 9:30pm, there were no more flights to catch from Chicago to Cleveland and no more trains I could take.  With all the downtown rental car agencies closed for the evening, I headed out to the Chicago O’hare airport to get a car as I knew Hertz at the airport would be open late.  By about midnight I was on the road.  Jennifer and her companion had initially been taken to a hospital in Madison Ohio near the scene of the accident.  Madison is a suburb that is about 45 minutes East of Cleveland.  Unfortunately, the hospital there was not equipped to handle the injuries and trauma that either young woman had suffered, so both were Life-Flighted from Madison to the Metro Health Hospital on the West side of Cleveland.  Actually, Jennifer was sent in a helicopter about an hour ahead of Sister Morrison because Sister Morrison was not even stable enough for the flight yet.  Metro specializes in trauma and was apparently an even better place to go than the Cleveland Clinic for car accident victims.

As I drove from Chicago to Cleveland I contacted the hospital to find out what was happening with my daughter.  The first time I called no one would tell me anything because “the tests and reports” weren’t back yet.  They promised to call back as soon as they had more information.  Two hours later they still hadn’t called.  In the mean time I was able to speak with President Brown.  He informed me that he and President Haymond, the local Stake President, had given both girls blessings of healing.  I had also begun to feel the tangible effects of many many people praying for Jennifer and her companion all over the country.  It was incredible how fast word had spread and people were beginning to pray and fast for these girls.  I had a very definite feeling that Jennifer was going to be ok.

By roughly 5am I arrived at the hospital.  Jennifer had been moved from the Emergency Department to the Trauma Intensive Care Unit.  When I got to Jennifer’s room she was not conscious.  In fact, she had not been conscious since the accident.  Both girls were knocked out in the crash, and did not regain consciousness for days.

We have since learned that the Sisters had stopped at the intersection of Lockwood Road and McMackin Road in Madison Ohio.  It is an intersection with a 2-way stop, with the stops applying to the traffic on Lockwood.  McMackin is a rural highway with a 40mph speed limit.  After the Sisters stopped, Sister Morrison who was driving, pulled into the intersection.  She clearly did not see the minivan coming down McMackin at 45mph (the speed reported by the driver of the SUV to police).  The SUV did not see the Sister Missionaries’ car pull out, so he did not slow down.  He hit the Sisters car at full speed right in the center of the left or driver’s side of the car.  When you send 4,000 lbs of metal into the side of a small car at 45mph it has a tremendous impact.  The girls’ car was thrown sideways far down the road.  Every airbag was deployed, and when both cars came to rest and the dust settled, the 24 year old male driver of the SUV was able to get out and walk away from the scene.  The two Sister Missionaries weren’t so lucky.  Both were unconscious and slumped forward.  Jennifer had apparently thrown up in her unconscious state before the ambulance arrived which seems pretty scary, but she was alive.  Sister Morrison was the most badly injured.  She had a crushed pelvis, two collapsed lungs, many broken ribs, and a cracked skull among other terrible but less serious injuries.  Jennifer had a non-threatening break in her L2 vertebrae and a partially collapsed lung that eventually self-corrected.  Both girls had mild bleeding inside the brain (as opposed to around the brain), and generally banged up.

No matter how you look at, the fact that these two sister missionaries were not killed instantly is nothing short of a miracle.  What was more amazing is that as they laid there in their hospital beds when I arrived early Tuesday morning, you couldn’t even tell that they had been in an accident … aside from the fact that they were being kept alive by breathing machines.  Their faces look perfect.  Beautiful.  Angelic.  Like they had just finished getting ready for church.  They certainly didn’t look like they had come from a car where the jaws of life had been necessary to extract one of them (Sister Morrison had been pinned in pretty badly).  I guess there was one sign on their faces of having been in an accident.  Both girls had big fat lower lips that we believe must have been caused by the airbags.  I LOVE AIRBAGS!!!!  The girls would not be alive without them!

I’ll admit that it was difficult for me to see Jennifer laying there with tubes coming out everywhere, but I was just glad that she was alive and in good hands.  Speaking of being in good hands, there had been many people including the Mission President and his wife, the Stake President, the Wynders who run the Kirtland Visitor Center, and members of the Perry Ward who were there most of the night that first night … some were there the entire night and the next day so that Sister West and Sister Morrison would never be alone until their parents’ arrived.  Sister Morrison’s parents weren’t able to get there from Edmonton Canada until Wednesday, so the sacrifice of being at the hospital was no small one on the part of these loving people.

During the day on Tuesday both Sister Missionaries were still out cold.  The doctors and nurses would come in periodically to poke and prod them to test their condition.  It would usually take loud/harsh talking and kind of mean poking or pinching to get them to respond at all.  I was with Jennifer all day so it was Jennifer that I saw being subjected to this treatment.  Although I was grateful and knew the medical professionals were doing what was necessary, it still hurt to see.  After the right “stimulation”, Jennifer would usually respond somehow.  Her eyes would open just slightly, or she might even lift her right thumb or move her right toe.  The left side was not responding at all to commands, but we knew there was some function because the limbs did move involuntarily some times.  After any response, she would return to a deep comatose state.  It was as if lifting one thumb, even with her eyes still closed, took every ounce of energy she could muster, and that she was completely spent when it was done.

While I had been driving, Lisa had been on a red eye flight to Atlanta.  She arrived at the hospital by around 11am.  The Mission President, who had all of 2 hours of sleep, picked Lisa up from the airport and brought her straight to the hospital.  Any service we needed was being offered before we could even ask for it.

Even though there was a mountain of service being provided on our behalf, it was just the tip of the iceberg.  There was an absolute torrent of emails and text messages from people expressing their love for Jennifer and our family, and promising that they would be praying for us and putting Jennifer’s and Sister Morrrison’s name in the Temple.  By Tuesday night their names were in Temples from Madrid Spain, to California.  One woman who had been reactivated along with her husband by Jennifer and her companion visited us in the hospital and told us that she had called to put Jennifer’s name on the rolls of 15 temples … and this woman didn’t even have her Temple Recommend yet.  We also had multiple wards starting ward fasts within 24 hours of the accident including the Perry Ward where Jennifer and Sister Morrison were serving, the Lone Hollow Ward, and the home ward of the Morrisons in Edmonton Canada.  I had business associates, former business associates, and friends of all faiths expressing messages of love, faith, and prayers.  It was overwhelming.  I knew that no matter what Sister West’s and Sister Morrison’s ailments were (and we didn’t yet really know) that they would be no match for the powers of heaven that were being called upon by so many wonderful caring people.  I bear witness to the fact that the power of prayer is real and tangible, and that it has played a role in the recovery process for Jennifer and her dear companion.

Tuesday evening we even received a call from Dallin Oaks, one of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.  He talked to Lisa and assured her that the Brethren were staying very close to the situation and that Sister West and Sister Morrison were on the prayer roll for the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency for their meeting that upcoming Thursday.  He also said that they were being remembered in the personal prayers of every member of the Twelve.  Wow.  Talk about firepower.  No wonder I had the feeling Jennifer was going to be ok.

When she was told about the Twelve and First Presidency praying for them, Jennifer later commented in true Jennifer fashion “Gee, that sounds like overkill for a little accident”.  She still didn’t understand how serious the crash had been, but we all found it to be pretty funny.

If all the prayers, Temple Rolls, and Church leadership attention wasn’t enough, we were already seeing some of the small miracles of missionary work taking place in this process.  The Community of Christ held a special meeting in the Kirtland Temple (which they own) on Tuesday to pray for Sister West and Sister Morrison.  Wow.  How often does that happen?  To have the Community of Christ gather in the Temple to pray for Mormon Missionaries???  That has got to be a first.  And if that wasn’t enough, there is a Muslim Mosque in Germany that is praying for the girls this week.  Truly incredible.

Even with all the prayers, this was a serious accident with serious challenges.  The worst part of the ordeal, at least for me, came on Tuesday morning when the doctors thought they might be able to remove Jennifer’s breathing tube.  Actually, it wasn’t just a breathing tube.  There was also a tube going into Jennifer’s stomach to suck out the fluids that collect there.  The whole thing was gruesome, and I was excited at the prospect of getting as many tubes disconnected from Jennifer as possible.  However, to make this possible, Jennifer had to be able to breath on her own, which meant she had to demonstrate the ability to breath, which meant she had to be conscious enough to demonstrate that she could breath.  To make this happen, they stopped giving her sedatives and pain killers.

While turning off the various medicines had the desired effect of creating pain that would wake her up, it also made her aware of the tubes going down her throat into her stomach and lungs, and she DID NOT like it.  Jennifer was constantly pulling at the restraints, choking, and tearing up.  She was pleading with her eyes to have the tubes removed, and trying to get at them herself.  The restraints were just part of what looked like nothing short of torture, but if she had pulled the tubes out herself she would likely have done damage to her throat and airway.  They couldn’t let that happen, so the restraints were necessary.

Finally on their second pass by the room on Tuesday morning the doctors came in and tested Jennifer to see if she had enough control of her body to breath on her own.  While she was thrashing and pleading, they told her very firmly that the tubes would come out if she would raise her right thumb, then if she would wiggle her right foot, then she had to move her left thumb and wiggle her left toes.  There really wasn’t much movement on the left side still, but they could tell she was trying and that was enough.  The tubes were pulled out.  It was truly a horrible process.  Hard to even think about again, but as horrible as it was, it was just that wonderful to see her laying back with only oxygen being delivered to her under her nose through a very small and simple tube that wrapped around her ears.  No more tubes going deep insider her.

Once again, Jennifer was out like a light.  She was breathing, but the extubation process took all the strength she had and she was out for the day.  By that evening she was starting to open her eyes and even started moving her left hand and foot on command … sometimes.  Progress was happening.  She was getting better, and it was just 24 hours after the accident.  The prayers were working.

At the same time, Sister Morrison was getting good and bad news that was confusing the process about when and which surgery she would have.  The worst part of all this indecision was that it was delaying when they could consider removing her breathing tubes, which everyone knew would only make recovery harder for each day they were left in.  The good news for Sister Morrison was that her family was finally able to make it to Cleveland Wednesday morning to be by their daughter’s side.  I should add that we spent part of a morning in Jennifer’s hospital room with the Morrisons reading some of Jennifer’s blog posts.  We shared laughs and tears as we read a small portion of the stories that entertained and inspired.  Jennifer is a gifted writer, and I suspect that she will be able to simply put her letters together in a binding (if she is able to complete her mission), and she’ll have one of the best missionary books ever written.  Through this and other experiences this week, we have come to love the Morrisons.  Judith, Jeff, and Isabella (Sister Morrisons 14 year old sister) are all special people.

The final happy event for Tuesday was the arrival of my sister Kate and her husband Tony Strike.  They live in Cincinnati and knew that we could use some moral support, so they got in the car and drove up.  They were with us for two days, and their help and company was priceless.  Sweet President and Sister Brown made room for both the Wests and the Strikes at the mission home.  They did this not only without complaint, but with welcoming arms.  We had actually received offers to stay in many homes in the Perry Ward, and in the apartments at “The Sites” (referring to the Kirtland Visitor’s Center related sites), but staying with President and Sister Brown seemed like the right thing.  Their beautiful home was there to house missionaries as they came and left, but they wouldn’t need rooms for missionaries for another week or more.  Nevertheless, it was still a sacrifice for them to house us, and we were extremely grateful.

It was Wednesday morning when it was clear that Jennifer could move her extremities on command, and use her right thumb to respond to commands/questions.  For example, she could say what her pain level was by the nurse counting down from 10 and stopping when Jennifer put her thumb up.  The eyes were still shut, but she was communicating.  Actually, Jennifer’s eyes would sometimes open just a little, and just for a few seconds.  Usually when the medical staff was sort of yelling at her, and then sometimes when one of the senior couples from the Kirtland Visitor Center would come into the room to visit her and she would recognize the voices … Jennifer obviously has a wonderful connection with these fantastic senior couples.

In one of the many small miracles, Jennifer was out of the ICU by Wednesday night.  For someone who had survived a violent car crash and was mostly comatose for the better part of two days, it was remarkable that she was recovering as fast as she was.  By Wednesday night we were communicating regularly with Jennifer and she was using words to tell us what she wanted.  She even stunned us by being capable of taking a short walk outside her hospital room.  Ok, she was being heavily supported by two physical therapists, but anything other than laying on her back with her eyes shut was a marked improvement, so a short walk was outstanding.  She was still not fully coherent, and when they put her back in bed she was out cold, but the progress was still amazing.

Thursday morning the miraculous recovery continued.  Jennifer didn’t do well with her physical therapy evaluation (at that point we were being told she would have to be released to an acute rehab center).  The good news was that she was communicating with short sentences, and her eyes were opening for longer periods of time.  By Thursday afternoon, Jennifer actually had a long conversation with President and Sister Brown.   That again took all her energy and she was out afterwards for many hours, but later in the evening she was talking again.  In fact, she couldn’t stop talking about all the people she and Sister Morrison had to get in touch with.  People that were counting on them.  People that needed them to show up for appointments when they had promised, or that were going to be there for the Book of Mormon Club, or just needed a visit.  Jennifer was all business.  I had to start sending some messages to members to reassure her that the work would continue and that people would not get dropped or ignored.  Caring for the people that she and Sister Morrison had been working with was all Jennifer could think about.

The final thing I’ll mention about Thursday is that Sister Morrison was able to have the major reconstructive surgery done on her shattered hip.  The surgery went perfectly.  What that means is that Sister Morrison will likely be able to walk … after 6 months of rehab in Edmonton … after waiting three months before putting any weight on her hip … after waiting three weeks in the hospital in Cleveland before being medivac’d to Edmonton.  And this all means that Sister Morrison’s missionary journey is through.  She will be released very soon, but she is already done as a missionary.  She served for one year, and she served very very well.  She worked hard, and she was happy.  The Lord is happy with her service, and the people of Ohio that knew her are grateful for her and love her very much.

Thursday night Lisa decided to take a turn sleeping overnight at the hospital, and I went to sleep at the Mission Home.  It was great to sleep in a bed for the first time since Sunday.  Friday morning we were all in pretty good shape, including Lisa who had managed to sleep pretty well in the chair in the hospital room.  Jennifer was awake for a number of hours on Friday, with a small nap in the morning, and a big nap from about 1pm to 6pm.  Apparently one of the important aspects of healing from brain trauma is sleep, and Jennifer’s body knows it.

Friday morning the physical therapist took Jennifer on a little walk, and helped her to the bathroom.  She passed the evaluation and the therapist said that for her part, she was ok releasing Jennifer to go “home” rather than to an in-patient facility.  Friday afternoon the “Cog Eval” doctor came by to do the Cognitive Analysis.  I’m embarrassed to say that Jennifer not only passed, but she did a better job than Lisa and I did as we took the exam in our minds while it was being administered to Jennifer.  Things like remembering the words “Tulip, Square, and Healthy” in that order while another word puzzle was being administered.  Be being able to repeat the words in the right order was one of the things we would have both failed, but Jennifer did not.  Jennifer was asked very difficult things like remembering what happened just prior to the accident, and her first memory after the accident.  If you asked me about my evening a week ago, I’d be hard pressed to give you details, but Jennifer did a great job.  The evaluation was thorough, and in the end the doctor declared that she was definitely ready to be released as long as the medical people were ok with her release.  Pending the appropriate functioning of her intestines, we received the medical ok that she could go.  Since that final checkbox didn’t get taken care of on Friday by the 7pm shift change, we knew we would be leaving on Saturday.  All clearances were given with the caveat that she still needed 24 hour care by me and/or Lisa.

Now all of a sudden, and certainly more quickly than any of us expected, we needed to figure out what we were going to be doing once Jennifer was released.  Were we going home?  Were we going to Jennifer’s Madison apartment?  Were we going to one of the apartments at the Kirtland Visitor’s Center.  I pinged President Brown (copying President Truman Hunt, our home Stake President) asking if we could meet to determine the next steps.  The final disposition of things has yet to be determined, but for the next two weeks it looks as though Jennifer will be staying on-site at one of the small homes on the Church’s property next to the Visitor’s Center.

Yesterday (Saturday) was a comedy of errors.  After something of a long drawn out process in getting released from the Hospital, we determined that we would meet Sister Morrison’s family at the Sisters’ apartment in Madison.  When we got out there, we discovered that the key chain which had been recovered from the crash site had no keys on it.  We had no way to get in to the apartment.  A long chain of phone calls led to us to going to the Towing Facility to see if we could look through the wreckage of the car to find keys.  No one was there, so as we looked around we found the car that had crashed into the Sisters’ car.  It was mess.  It was a new Chevy mid-sized SUV or “crossover” vehicle.  From the driver’s seat and back, it was in perfect condition.  In front of the windshield, everything was compressed to just a foot or two.   The Sisters’ car was in a locked area, and when someone arrived he told us the police wouldn’t allow anyone in.  He couldn’t even tell us if there were other keys attached to the ignition key.

So, we went back to the girls apartment and called a locksmith.  About the time the locksmith had given up (he was no Sherlock Holmes), we got a call from the sergeant at the police station that had been working this case.  He apologized profusely for our having been turned away at the tow yard, and assured us that if we returned, we would have full access to the vehicle.  So, back we went.  It was amazing to see the car up close and personal.  The driver’s seat was, well, not a seat.  It was shrunken and angled up so that you really couldn’t sit in it.  There was no room at all for the driver’s legs.  The cupholders between the two front seats was big enough to put a straw in, but certainly not a cup.  It is a miracle that Sister Morrison wasn’t torn to shreds, and I do not understand how either girl survived.  You can call it whatever you’d like, but to my way of thinking, the only logical explanation was that there were angels watching over these young women.

Well, we found the key to the apartment and again drove back to Madison to where the Sisters lived.  The Morrisons set to work packing Juliana’s things, and Lisa and I packed up Jennifer’s things while Jennifer slept in her apartment bed.  We didn’t get everything, but we got almost everything.  Certainly as much as our car would hold given that it already had Lisa’s luggage, my luggage, and a bunch of flowers.  Lisa will go back during the next couple of days to get the apartment cleaned up for the next pair of sisters who will live there starting this coming Wednesday.

This morning, as a wonderful conclusion to the week’s events, Lisa and I were able to attend a special YSA sacrament service held in the Kirtland Temple.  The Mission President, the Stake Patriarch, and the Stake President spoke.  The truly special part of the meeting was during the testimony session.  The Young Adults that spoke ranged from returned missionaries to a young man that bore the final testimony that wasn’t yet a member.  One young sister talked about giving her baby up for adoption.  She happened to be African American, so I was doubly impressed with her testimony because of the Church’s history.  The next sister talked about her mission, and how her mission president used to always say “What a blessing!” whenever anything bad would happen to one of his missionaries.  She said the he would seriously say that for all bad things.  Even when she had diarrhea.  What a blessing! He later made the point that hard things are the things that get us on our knees talking to God, and are therefore great gifts.

I’ll never forget this young man who talked about how all his friends are either dead or nearly in the gutter because of drugs and other issues.  As he looked across the group, he said “I didn’t think people like you still existed”.  He closed by saying that he believed the Church was true and that not only had he quit smoking, but that his mother has as well.

It was an incredible experience to be in that building where so much of the Gospel was revealed.  Where so much of Church history was created.  Where the Savior stood.  It was indeed one of the many tender mercies of this difficult and wonderful week that we could be in this great building and partake of the Sacrament.  Once again, we felt blessed.

Jennifer isn’t yet ready to be on her feet or do anything resembling a missionary schedule.  However, she is recovering at a speed that is amazing everyone.  Many minor concussion patients respond less well than Jennifer has, and Jennifer is not a minor concussion patient.  She was hit broadside by a car going 45 mph.  Nothing minor about that.  When I now see pictures of the accident scene, I truly can’t believe that either girl survived.  Their little car was thrown 30-40 feet sideways down the road.  Almost 4,000 lbs smashed into them at high speed, and yet they are going to be ok.  It seems very likely that in a couple of weeks when they do the follow up brain test, they will determine Jennifer is largely recovered.  But, brain injuries are tricky things and it may be some time before Jennifer will be able to resume a full work load.  Regardless of the timing and direction of her missionary work going forward, it is a nothing short of a miracle that Jennifer is alive and doing as well as she is right now.  We feel blessed beyond measure.

Right now we are in an apartment in a little house Kirtland right next to the Kirtland Visitor Center.  It has been wonderful to meet so many of the special people who are associated with the Ohio, Cleveland Mission, and the Kirtland Visitors Center in particular.  To live for just a couple of days in historic Kirtland right next to the Whitney Store where the School of the Prophets was held, and where the early Saints made their home is be a very special experience.

In our meeting in the Kirtland Temple this morning, the Stake President referenced a scripture in Section 88 of the Doctrine in Covenants.  In verse 3 we read “Wherefore, I now send upon you another Comforter, even upon you my friends, that it may abide in your hearts, even the Holy Spirit of promise; which other Comforter is the same that I promised unto my disciples …”.  Lisa and I have felt this Comforter this week.  We know that we have a Father in Heaven that loves us.  We know that it is indeed his work and his glory to attend to our eternal happiness.  For Jennifer’s well-being, and for the great love of our Eternal Father, we are more grateful than words can express.

Subject lines are the bane of my existence

Next week we have transfers, which means things will get switched up, though one of the perks of being a VC missionary is that transfer possibilities are pretty easy to predict, at least to a degree. There are only 12 possible areas (7 Wards) where VC sisters serve, unless they get sent to ‘full proselyting’ areas, though that only happens when there is an excess of sisters or an odd number, which is not the case for this upcoming transfer. Of those 12 possible areas, several of them are always immune from transfer change-ups for various reasons, most often because a missionary is being trained there (meaning that companionship doesn’t change for at least twelve weeks). Then there are certain missionaries who are pretty likely to stay or move from a given area due to the length of time they’ve been there – for example, Sis. M is likely to get transferred next week because she’s been here (in Perry) for six months, and I am likely to stay because at least one missionary in every area needs to be familiar with the people, etc. So, with all that there are only about three or four missionaries who are likely to be transferred to where I am, and because we see all the VC sisters at least once a week, I know all of them at least somewhat and I am really happy to say that there aren’t any who I am worried about having as a companion. Sis. M and I have come a long way in the last month or so, and we’re in a pretty good rhythm but I think she’s ready to move on, and it feels like the right time. There is always at least one odd/unexpected move that happens every transfer, so technically anything is possible, but it’s very, very likely that I will be staying here with someone new. Next Monday we should have a pretty good idea of exactly who will be coming here and where Sis. M will be going.

So, in addition to the fact that I just like to reflect and look backwards, it seems like an appropriate time to reflect on my training period with Sis. Morrison. The first little while was really, really rough – everyone told me that having a companion would be the hardest thing for me and at the beginning that was absolutely true. Sis. Morrison and I don’t have terribly compatible personalities, and being companions isn’t just like being co-workers who have to deal with those personality differences and get the work done. We have to get work done, live together, eat together, pray together, and form weird three-way relationships together. All relationships are between others (members, investigators, etc.) and ‘the Perry sisters’. Plus, the work we do is very, very personal in nature, it’s really impossible to separate the personal from the work (I know this because I tried). All that makes personality differences exceptionally difficult, to say nothing of the trainer/trainee dynamic which was much harder for me than I cared to admit. I didn’t make things easy on Sis. M, though my difficultness was largely unintentional, and she didn’t make my transition into real missionary life very easy, though that was completely the opposite of what she wanted. The point is, it was rough, but here we are after three months functioning at a pretty good level, I think. I feel I ought to say something about how I’ve learned that it’s possible to get along with and work well with anyone, and work through any problems if both people are determined enough to make it work, but I’m not actually that convinced. I definitely can say, however, that I’ve learned a lot from her, and even just as a result of her, much of which I hope I won’t have to learn again.

That brings me, I suppose, to the thing that I might consider to be the ‘theme’ of the week – that being humility. I see impressive examples of humility almost every day, and on the days I don’t see those I see examples of the opposite (hubris, arrogance, etc.). I don’t have a definition of humility handy, but if I were to define it myself I would say a humble person is one who doesn’t get in the way of goodness. Some people generate goodness themselves, but humble people facilitate goodness and facilitation goes much farther than generation. Facilitators can take goodness generated from all kinds of sources and spread it around to all kinds of people – their own concerns don’t get in the way. It’s possible the examples of humility strike me because it seems so counter-intuitive, but here are a few examples:

-Sis. Morrison – Every week as part of our weekly planning session we have ‘companionship inventory’ where we have to make individual and companionship goals, share a strength about the other person, and also share ways the other could improve. If it doesn’t sound completely awful I challenge you to try it with someone and then see how you feel. It’s awful. And I’m bad at it – both taking feedback and giving it is difficult for me. Sis. M on the other hand, when I’ve shared something that has been bothering me, has ALWAYS been extremely gracious, apologetic, and committed to try and change. She hasn’t been defensive or difficult or offended even once which I still am amazed at. There is nothing she could do that would make me want to try and improve myself more than how she handles this – I find humility to be pretty inspiring.

-Douglas – He is not someone who would think of himself as ‘humble’. This is a guy who, when he was in his 20’s, put someone in the hospital for not saying ‘Good Morning’. His life circumstances have forced him into humility and now, in his late 50’s, he’s having to work his way out of all kinds of terrible baggage. But he’s doing it! Alma talks about being filled with ‘great joy’ because the afflictions of the Zoramites had ‘truly humbled them’, which sounds kind of mean I think. But he was happy because their humility allowed them to be open to making changes which could lead them back to happiness that their rich brethren who ‘esteemed them as dross’ because of their poverty wouldn’t have. Addicts talk about this concept as having to hit ‘rock bottom’ – humility forced upon them. Douglas says this is his third time hitting rock bottom but this time he’s trying to stay down there for awhile to find the thing that’s really going to allow him to avoid hitting it again. He’s not trying to avoid the consequences of his actions and he’s focusing on trying to ‘piss off the devil’ (see quotes below).

-Leaders – We work with all kinds of church leaders in our area and in our mission, and without fail the ones who are the best are the ones who demonstrate humility. They’re not the smartest ones or the ones with the best ideas or the ones who can think outside the box (though many of them meet these descriptions too). They just magnify whatever seems to be good, or whatever the person in charge deems to be best, and are willing to jump in to help. We have three men in our Ward who have all volunteered (without being asked) to drive Douglas to and from community service every day just so he can avoid breaking the law by driving on a suspended license. Not only that, but one man in particular, who has been out of work for several months and has three kids at home, volunteered to drive him to AA or NA meetings several evenings a week, and even to take Douglas to Cleveland to see a doctor or counselor. (Not that it should matter at all, but I also think this is especially impressive because Douglas isn’t even committed to joining the church.) This man (Brother Ring) also volunteered to coordinate all of this with Douglas directly so we could focus on other work AND wanted to make sure it was okay that he was doing this because he didn’t want to step on our toes. WOW!

I’m going to stop talking about this now because I think it might be one of those things that I like thinking about but isn’t terribly exciting for other people to read. Bottom line is….humility. I want more of it for myself and for people around me because it just makes things better.

Some notable happenings for the week:

-Douglas told us that he "really pissed the devil off this week" for a variety of reasons. In one case his microwave broke this week, which was something that would have really set him off before since he doesn’t have the money to fix it, but instead he said, "The Devil is really trying me but he’s not going to get me!" And when he felt like drinking he told us he started reading the scriptures because he said he wanted to "read that temptation out of me!" He hasn’t had alcohol in a month, drugs, for five weeks, and coffee for six, plus he’s trying to avoid caffeine even though we told him that wasn’t necessary, he just thinks it’s a good idea. He’s still smoking but the Word of Wisdom really hasn’t been hard for him to believe or understand at all, which was unexpected.

The much, much trickier discussion was around obeying the law. I never could have imagined teaching someone who, of the various commandments we talk about, would have the hardest time with ‘Obey and Honor the Law’. The trick is that his license is suspended so it’s illegal for him to drive, but he has to do community service and he lives with his mom and sister, neither of whom are well enough to drive, so he has to get groceries, etc. for them and he lives beyond reasonable walking distance to any sort of store. But, Douglas committed to obey the law and trust that things would work out with this rides, etc. and now, because of Brother Ring and the others in the Ward, things are working out. Plus, when he went to court on Thursday he found out that he won’t actually have to do ANY jail time, which was completely unexpected. He told us on Friday and I was as visibly excited as I ever get, even almost got carried away and clapped my hands, while he just sat there stoically. I was thrilled though, I just love Douglas as much as it is possible to love someone to whom you are not related and have less than zero romantic interest in.

-Book of Mormon ‘Book Club’ – This is our second week doing this and it was a blast! We have a small group, by design, and they are all older women (between 65 and 80…my people!). A few are members, newer to the church or have been less-active, and one is an investigator. All we do is take turns reading a verse and then we pause when people have questions or comments or to clarify what’s going on. This week two women expressed great concern and confusion at how Nephi and his family traveled a great distance on a boat without ‘oranges and lemons’. Not sure why those two items of produce were focused on specifically but I am sure this is going to be a highlight of each and every week.

-Schizophrenic Fan Club – We went back to read the scriptures with our friend Hannah and ended up adding two new people to our scripture study group – Tia and Leslie. Tia doesn’t seem to be schizophrenic though it’s possible she’s just better about her medication, and Leslie….well Leslie we’re just not sure about. Is not all that clear whether Leslie is a man or a woman, though I think Leslie is a man who has had some surgery done but who can’t afford whatever hormone pills/treatment might help him lose some of his more masculine features. Regardless, he sat down across from me while Sis. M was talking with Tia and Hannah, and he ended up telling me how much he wanted to change, even starting to cry. When Hannah said it was okay that the other two join us, they immediately told us they had Bibles and asked if they should go get them right then, so eager to talk with us and be involved in something. We said a prayer before leaving (as we do every time we leave anywhere) and after Sis. M said ‘Amen’ Tia added ‘And thank you for the sisters coming to talk to us, Amen.’ Pretty sweet.

I had this weird epiphany in Ward Council yesterday, sitting with all these smart, capable leaders in the Ward as well as the Stake Presidency (they were there for Ward Conference), where I realized that I would rather be with the odd collection of people we’re working with (like Hannah, Tia and Leslie, or the heavy-smokers who make my clothes smell, etc.) than with these ‘normal’ Ward Council types. So strange, but definitely a good thing given where we spend most of our time.

-The Bigelows – My aunt Allison and uncle Sean came to Kirtland on Wednesday. They took us to lunch and we took them on a tour, which was fun. I really enjoyed getting to know them a little bit better and mostly enjoyed being reminded of various family members, especially my mom. I had forgotten how similar Allison and my mom look, and it definitely made a me a little homesick. As they were leaving one of the senior missionaries asked them how we did and Allison said, "They were great tour guides. She’s (gesturing to Sis. M) a little bit better though." Always a nice thing to hear from one’s relative, but she was completely right. I was nervous about the whole thing and ended up trying to avoid mentioning much of anything of a religious nature, which meant I ended up talking about a bunch of boring facts that I actually don’t really know as well as I should. But it was still nice to see them, and lunch was good. (Picture of three of us attached).

I think that’s it for today…sorry there wasn’t a lot to report. It was a busy week but I didn’t write much down and it’s hard to remember back more than a day or two.

Before I finish though, I did read something interesting today – 1 Cor. 11:31, a verse I’d never heard before. "For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged." I like the idea of constant self-correction and the potential to avoid correction from other sources, but also just appreciated the positive spin on checking ourselves and trying to change (aka repent). A little self-examination/criticism is a good, healthy, productive exercise.

Hope you’re all well. Thanks for the letters and prayers, as always. I pray for all of you as well, though I admit not all of you every day. I made a prayer list the other day and it’s got over 200 people on it, so I’m trying to come up with some kind of rotating schedule. Anyway, I look forward to hearing from all of you soon, especially those who are less-frequent communicators 🙂

PS – I could use some exercise suggestions, the current routine is getting pretty boring. Exercises must be doable in an apartment living room and not require too much exertion 🙂

Exhausted but content

Have I mentioned how exhausting it is to be worried about other people all the time? On the one hand it’s nice to realize that my own little worries are so pathetically small compared to the things others seem to be dealing with, but on the other, it’s tiring to feel the weight of those others’ needs and not to be able to fix them. With our own problems we can take action and have at least some degree of control, with others we don’t . Sometimes it feels a little like we’re standing looking at one of those machines on that show Wipeout, we’re looking for an opening to jump in and do something but the wheel keeps turning and we feel a little overwhelmed about where to start, and when we do jump, we often feel like we miss.
That said, the problem we have is a really good one – we’re working with too many people and there just aren’t enough hours in the day to help them all. Every week we report on our ‘key indicators’ – different numbers that tell our mission president and others what we’re doing, but also help us to measure the effectiveness of our efforts. Not that numbers are the end, but if we’re not meeting the goals we set for ourselves for these indicators, chances are we’re not using our time very effectively. Specifically, we track how many lessons we’re teaching each week, which includes lessons to members, recent converts, less-active members, and investigators. A ‘lesson’ is essentially defined as talking to someone about a gospel principal and extending an invitation of some kind – this could mean asking them to see us again, read something, pray, write something, etc. We’re teaching just over 20 lessons per week (on average) in our proselyting area and about 10 per week in our two days at the Visitors’ Center. Those lessons are divided up between about 40 people/families that we see (or try to) every two weeks, some more frequently.

That maybe doesn’t sound terribly overwhelming but the problem is that we kind of care about all of these people, and we really don’t meet with anyone that doesn’t have hard stuff going on and who we don’t worry about. They’re all on our minds all the time, we’re constantly trying to figure out what to talk with them about that might be helpful, if there’s anything we can do (last week we made mashed potatoes and several batches of brownies – making food is often the only thing we can come up with in the ‘doing’ category), or just what these people need to help them be happy. Constantly thinking about that is tiring and sometimes painful and often makes me feel inadequate.

For example, on Tuesday we got a call from a woman (Shakira – not her real name but not that far off either) who was working at some kind of facility. She said that a resident at that facility (Hannah) wanted someone to come and read the Bible with her so Shakira thought of us. We assumed that this facility was some kind of nursing home and that maybe the word was spreading about the two sister missionaries that frequent nursing homes, and maybe our singing prowess was even the thing that was getting people interested in seeing us (definitely not the case – see story below). Anyway, we showed up and discovered that this facility is a group home for people with mental illnesses. We sat down with Hannah who told us, as she rocked back and forth on her chair, that she wanted to read the Bible because she hears the devil barking in her head and she wants it to stop. Hmmm. I’d not ever talked with a schizophrenic before, that I’m aware of, so it was a really interesting hour. She was so sincere in wanting to understand what we were reading and talking about and even had a notebook to take notes – I think she was worried that if she didn’t pay enough attention we wouldn’t come back again. In fact when we asked if we could pray with her before we left she said, "If I tell you I’m Catholic are you not going to be able to come back and see me?" with such a worried/distressed look on her face that I could hardly stand it. We of course reassured her that we would be happy to come back again, and we will be going back tonight. As far as ‘indicators’ our time with Hannah will count as service, which is fine, and we’re happy to do it if it will help her, but it’s pretty hard to see how we can make any sort of lasting difference with Hannah.

That night Sis. Morrison and I spent a long time talking about how hard it is to be in positions like this. Even if I really make a concerted effort to seek out opportunities to help other people for the rest of my life, I’m pretty sure I won’t ever be in a position to help so many people in a personal way ever again. Hannah, John, Douglas, Alan, and on and on. Over the last few months I have gradually lost some (maybe a lot) of the confidence I used to have in my own abilities, especially in my ability to help other people. But at the same time, strangely, I feel very confident in the fact that people WILL receive the help they need, whether it’s through me or not, because God will make it happen. He loves these people and if I don’t get in the way, good things are going to happen. If l look at the moments, tiny as they might seem, where I felt like I helped someone here, those moments weren’t a result of my being smart or having made a great lesson plan or anything of the sort…those moments almost feel like accidents, where I happened to say something that struck a chord or happened to be in the right place or the right time. But I don’t really think they were accidents, I think God just cares about the people we happen to be talking to.

In my interview with the mission president this week (a quarterly occurrence) he talked about the difference between ‘obtaining’ a change of heart and ‘receiving’ a change of heart. As I’ve thought about that I’ve realized that the ‘change’ I felt last Spring/Summer that lead me to sign up for this thing was more of the ‘obtaining’ variety – I was seeking something and found something. The change of the last few months has been the ‘receiving’ type. I wasn’t really looking for something, but I think I’ve changed, even if I can’t identify exactly how, other than to say I feel a little like some rough edges have been worn away. I was so worried about losing the self that I knew and liked (and that other people seemed to like) and becoming a weirdo (maybe I sound like one and I don’t realize that my worries were warranted) but I’m kind of liking the feeling of it so far. Good stuff. Lots more to do and figure out, but no doubt about it, the trend is positive.

I haven’t lost all of the rough edges though, sense of humor is still in tact. Here are some funny experiences from the week:

-We took a call from a woman (at the Visitors’ Center) who was a disillusioned member, wanting to talk about the things she does believe (her words). Over the course of the conversation she told us about her son’s funeral and how it was actually really beautiful, and I made a comment about how I thought funerals could be really positive experiences. Her reply was, "Oh, well your funerals (meaning any LDS funerals) suck!" Lovely. She also told us about how she jabbed a pen through her own throat last year so clearly she’s got a hard life and we weren’t offended by the funeral comment.

-We walked into the kitchen at the Visitors’ Center where some other sisters were sitting with their recent convert (about age 20). We grabbed a snack and were walking out when the girl stopped me and said, "How old are you?!" I asked her how old she thought I was and she said, "Well all these ones (the six other sister missionaries in the room) seem like children compared to you." Not sure it was meant as a compliment but I was secretly delighted. She explained that she was wondering about going on a mission but didn’t want to be an old weirdo, and I told her that even though I was 27, no one had made me feel like an old weirdo, until her 🙂 We all laughed and explained that if she went at 21 or 22 she probably wouldn’t even be one of the older ones – there are quite a few sisters who are 22, 23, or 24 around.

-At the end of one of our lessons with John this week he said the prayer, which was exceptionally sweet: "Dear Jesus, thank you for my guests. (long pause) I can’t say much, but I hope the holy spirit will come into us and do what it’s supposed to do. (long pause) Please help the world to know they need faith, even as small as a mustard seed…" He continues to be inspiring.

-We met with Roger, a former investigator from a few years ago who we have recently picked back up, at McDonalds last week and had a good discussion about the Plan of Salvation. He’s fascinating – really smart, knows the Bible like the back of his hand, and maybe has a form of Autism. He’s a rare one in that he probably could be on disability (at least he seems as qualified as all the other people we meet who are) but he isn’t and instead works as a handyman and does snow removal. He’s never been married or had a serious girlfriend apparently (he’s in his 50’s) but has three requirements for a future wife: 1) She must be a Democrat. 2) She must love cats. 3) She must believe in God, it would be nice if she was Christian, but mostly he just doesn’t want an atheist. Doesn’t seem like an unattainable standard, though I’m not sure I’ve met someone who meets all three yet. Not going to say which one is the trickiest here, but it definitely isn’t #2!

-At the end of our discussion Roger looked at Sis. Morrison and said, "You have a joy and light in you." She says, "Oh thank you!" He says, "Yeah, you just have a bubbly, effervescent joy, like a beautiful blonde!" Then he looked at me and said, "And you have peace." I think he felt obligated to say something about me, but it didn’t take him long to come up with ‘peace’ so I’ll take it! It’s actually a pretty good description of the difference between Sis. M and I. Joy and peace.

-Last night we were visiting with our recent convert (in her 60’s but with some disabilities – was recently tested and found that her reading is 4th-grade level) and Sis. Morrison asked her what one word she would use to describe each of us. For Sis. M, no surprise, she immediately said, "Cheerful." Then looking at me she thought for awhile, said something about how she wished she could just use the same word for me too (clearly not because she actually thinks I’m cheerful, but because she didn’t have anything else to say), but ended up saying, "Happy." Once again, I’ll take it, though I think in this case it had nothing to do with what she actually thinks of me. But I must be making progress…people aren’t commenting on my grumpy resting face anymore!

-Sis. M then asked her what word she would use to describe Heavenly Father and her response, in no time at all, was, "Pleasant." When we asked for an explanation she said, "He’s very pleasant to get along with." So great.

-Someone this week pointed out to me that 2 Nephi 18 talks about ‘peeping wizards’. I couldn’t believe I had never heard about this before. That might be my new favorite chapter. Awesome!

All-in-all a good week, but prayers are appreciated! Mail as well, it’s hard to explain how nice it is to come home after a long, very, very cold day to find a letter in the mailbox, though it’s an occurrence that is becoming more and more rare…

Only picture is a shot of us in the car on one of these very, very cold days – the high that day was 11 I believe.

Hope you’re all well.

Ohio is full of surprises

Hi all –

I don’t feel very prepared to write this week, which is weird given that it was a good week with lots of interesting (I think) happenings, but I’ll just start right in:

On Tuesday we received another online referral, this time it was a guy named John who had seen an ad about Mormons on his tablet while downloading some random app. He filled out the form and requested more information and next thing he knew, there we were at his house. We were excited because the last online referral was Douglas (who continues to be great) and we John had requested more information about the church specifically, not just a Bible. We knocked on the door and it was answered by an older man who clearly had some mental disabilities. We asked if he was Joe, he said no, and walked away, though he left the door open. Then an older woman came to the door and as we explained who we were she said, "I had no idea he’d asked to meet with anyone….come on back." She walked us back to John’s room and we met John, age 62, wearing a pilot’s cap and playing some sort of helicopter video game. We were both disappointed….we discovered that John has cerebral palsy and lives with us mother (Vicki, age 84) and his brother (Jimmy, age 59).

However, as we stood in John’s bedroom talking with John and Vicki, we discovered that they are both incredible people. John does have cerebral palsy – he has physical limitations that seem to include trouble standing for long periods of time and really shaky hands, and he is probably not quite as mentally mature as a typical 62 year-old man. But, he is also smart and genuine and interested in learning and really, really kind. His mom was telling us about various health struggles he’s had and how miraculous his life has been, but my favorite thing, which I will never forget, is when she told us about how he handled being teased when he was growing up. When people would give him (or his brother) a hard time or when he was dealing with pain and other physical difficulties he would just say, "Testing…1, 2, 3…testing," because he knows that life is a test to help us learn. After Vicki shared this, John proceeded to talk about how we are taught to have faith, even if it’s no bigger than a mustard seed, and how even that much faith can help us do hard things, even move mountains. Wow! Talk about unexpected…

Our initial reaction (not shared in the moment but discussed afterwards in the car) had been one of disappointment and that this referral was a bust. Because of his situation we didn’t think we were going to be able to teach John anything. After listening to him I had the same thought but for very different reasons, what could we possibly teach someone like this? I just wanted to listen to him talk! (He also made a great comment, paraphrasing a televangelist he had heard once, about how God has given us each day so we should wake up and rejoice in it!) But he was somewhat familiar with Joseph Smith and was really excited about the Book of Mormon that we gave him. Vicki also seemed excited about our being there – she made a lot of comments about how she didn’t think there were any believers left out there, and how cool it was that we were taking time to talk with people about Jesus, especially at our age (not an uncommon reaction here actually). She said she raised her kids to believe in God and Jesus and that they would read the Bible together every night even though they never went to church. At the end of our conversation she even said, "Wow. I feel like someone who has been really thirsty and I’ve just had a drink of water!" My jaw almost hit the floor when she said that…nobody says stuff like that in real life! We didn’t ask her what she thought or how she felt or anything, she just blurted that out.

We went to visit them on Saturday and John agreed to be baptized in March, assuming he learns all the different things we have to teach and comes to feel that it’s all true. Unfortunately Vicki told us right when we arrived that she was happy with where she was at and she didn’t care to participate. Such an interesting experience and so typical of missionary life…people are so unpredictable. I don’t really understand how a person can feel the way Vicki seemed to feel on Tuesday and then react the way she did on Saturday (very friendly and kind, happy for Joe to learn more, but just not interested herself). It makes things tricky with John because he can’t drive, and getting him a ride to church will be logistically difficult because they live on the very farthest border of our Ward (the houses across the street are in a different Stake) and because of his physical limitations. But, as John told us Saturday when we asked him if his mom might want to come to church with him, "People have to make their own decisions, we all get to choose."

He’s so right, and I’m really glad that’s the case. Watching people make choices can be difficult (especially when those choices are destructive, but also when they’re just even a little bit off from what we might think would be best) but I’m also glad that compulsion isn’t a part of this job. There is no quota we have to meet (though we definitely set goals) and we’re not operating under the direction of some sort of dictator trying to bring people under his influence or force them to follow some narrow set of rules. The missionary purpose statement says our job is to ‘invite’ and to ‘help’ and we are operating under the direction of a father (God) who loves everyone and wants them all to be happy, and we won’t be happy if we don’t get to choose good things for ourselves. Not sure how things will work out with John and Vicki but I hope more happiness lies ahead for both of them, and I hope we can help somehow.

Here are some other quotes from this last week, not in the profound category like John’s, but still worth mentioning:

-We were having dinner with an older, single woman in our Ward, and she was admiring Sis. M’s hair and wondering if we could teach her how to do some different things with her hair. I told her that I wouldn’t be of much help as I don’t know how to braid and don’t do anything fancy with my hair. Her response was, "That’s ok. You have a very business-like look. Very professional." I was feeling pretty good about that, I’ll take it. Then she told Sis. M. that she was very feminine and very personable, so she’ll make a great dentist (Sis. M’s planned career). Hmmmm…is ‘business-like’ not compatible with femininity and personableness?

-We encountered this same woman at church on Sunday in the library where she made yet another comment about my appearance being very professional, and another woman standing there immediately jumped in to say, "Oh yes, you always look so professional and organized." I don’t dislike the idea of that perception, but I’m not sure it’s a look that is well-received in these parts…

-A woman we have been meeting with for awhile was talking about some of her tenants who are being needy and wanting her to paint rooms three different times, for no good reason. She was telling us how she likes doing things for people and being accommodating, it makes her happy, but then burst into tears and told us that right now, "these people are stealing my joy!"

-Sis. M had met this man named Daniel (50’s) and we were finally able to set up a time to meet with Daniel this week. We met him at the library and started talking to him about prophets. We asked him if he was familiar with the prophets in the Bible, like Moses, Isaiah, Abraham, etc. He was staring blankly at us so I said, "Or like Noah? You remember him…he build an arc because of the big flood?" His response was, "I don’t know much about floods but I know about mudslides…" I was trying really hard to contain my laughter, the conversation up to this point had contained similarly unexpected responses, so Sis. M said something like, "Yeah, mudslides, avalanches, etc. are all natural disasters and prophets have taught…" when Daniel jumps in and says, "Floods….yeah, lots of people drown in floods."

So then, as we’re both trying to contain our laughter, we realize that the Noah example isn’t helping, so we tried asking him what he thought a prophet was. It was reasonable for us to assume, I think, that he might have some concept of the role of a prophet because he is in his 50’s and had gone to a Methodist church for a long time in this 20’s and 30’s. So he says, "Uh…they’re the guys who grow the corn and stuff for people." And I couldn’t speak because I was shaking with laughter….Sis. M was laughing too, but she is more practiced at speaking through laughter so she said something about him maybe thinking of the word ‘profit’ when we meant ‘prophet’, but he just stared blankly again. Needless to say the lesson didn’t get very far.

-We were reading the Book of Mormon (alternating, each of us reading a verse at a time) with a woman we are teaching over the phone at the Visitors’ Center, and it was her turn to read a verse in Alma 7, talking about the birth of Christ. She read, "And he was born…." then stopped and said, "Oh YES! That’s beautiful!"…and then she kept right on reading. The ‘mute’ function is so nice when we’re teaching online/phone lessons.

-I was making small talk with someone about Groundhog Day because I heard that Puxatawny (sp?) Phil hadn’t seen his shadow and I was informed that Phil only counts for Pennsylvania, not Ohio. Apparently Ohioans have their own groundhog named ‘Buckeye Chuck’ and he DID see his shadow. More winter for us I guess, though it’s been very nice and pretty warm here this week.

Pictures this week are from the Visitors’ Center, I don’t think I’ve shared any from there yet.

-The first one is of some of us singing around the piano, something we do every morning and occasionally when we need a quick break from the computers. This is late at night after a long day so we’re not looking our best.

-The second is a selfie a really nice couple wanted to take with Sis. M and I after we took them on a tour (longest tour I’ve been a part of here, over two hours!). They’re from northeast PA, he’s a carpenter from NYC (and sounds like it) who joined the church in 2004 and is now a Bishop, and she’s from Tennessee getting her Masters in Education. They’re both really nice people – he surprised her with a quick overnight trip to Kirtland for their anniversary.