For the past two months we have been settling into a big change in the church life of our family. In February, Brendon was called to serve as the president of the LDS Spanish branch in our city.
A quick run-down for any non-LDS here. Our church operates through a lay ministry. Instead of pastors or priests, a bishop is called to lead a congregation (what we call a "ward") with the help of two counselors and many other volunteers who lead, serve, and minister in various capacities ("callings"). These bishops change every five years or so, and when I say "called" I mean that they are prayed over and called by inspiration by the local area ("stake") president. A branch is a smaller congregation, usually established in an area where there are not enough members for a ward, or to serve a special population, like in this case, Spanish-speaking members. And branches have "presidents" instead of bishops. So when I say that Brendon has been called as the Spanish branch president, it is like saying he has been called as the bishop or pastor of a small ward or congregation. Are you with me?
So what does his new calling mean for the rest of the family? Well, we could have just said, "See ya!" and stayed in our home ward while he served in the branch, but we have chosen to treat it like a family calling and have all moved over to the branch with him. This means we go to church at a different time (trading the 8:30 time slot for 1:30 was not a difficult decision) with all new friends that we are getting to know. It means the kids and I do not understand a whole heck of a lot of our sacrament meeting service (though all the kids from the branch do go to an English-speaking primary). It means I have a new calling myself, as primary chorister. (!!!) It means adjusting to a new "ward culture"--and let me tell you, this branch likes to get together. A lot. It means Brendon is gone much more as he tends to the needs of branch members and goes to various meetings. It means I plan to spend a good chunk of my summer break studying Spanish.
It means change, which can be hard. As I sat down for our sacrament service today--fresh from another humbling round of leading the children's music, and knowing that I was not going to understand most of the meeting ahead--I admit that I allowed myself to miss the comfort of our old ward, the familiarity of the faces and the words. But only until I remembered that becoming refined, becoming more like the person the Lord knows we can be, rarely happens by hanging out within our comfort zone. It comes from being stretched, from doing things that are hard for us, and from trusting that He is in control.
So that's what we are trying to do. Trusting. Allowing ourselves to be used in His service in whatever small way we can offer. Allowing Him to work us into different people through this experience, for however long it may be. And enjoying it. Loving our new friends and church family and appreciating the great influence for good they will be on all of us.
One blogger I read regularly posts "Sunday Thoughts" entries to share some of the messages from church or other events that really spoke to her or touched her heart. I've always wanted to do something similar, and having just returned from TOFW as I mentioned in the last post, I thought it might be the perfect time to start and to share.
My Uncle Dean was one of the TOFW presenters, and he talked about how we can create Zion or unity amongst God's people. He said, "Unity happens when we think well of one another." I'm going to be chewing on this one for a long time. It might just be me, but it feels like a tall order to go beyond doing good and being kind, to thinking good and mentally being kind to everyone. But he's so right; it will change us.
He also mentioned that loving one another takes being willing to sit and talk to another person long enough to get beyond the surface level. This really struck me. I think I am guilty of keeping things at a small talk level with most people. Recently our ward Relief Society published a book with little life stories contributed from many of the sisters in our congregation. I l-o-v-e the book, mostly because I learned things about women I only thought I knew, some of whom I've known for over twenty years! I really want to be someone who knows, and loves, people beyond the surface level.
"Before we can successfully undertake a personal search for Jesus, we must first prepare time for Him in our lives....In these busy days there are many who have time for golf, time for shopping, time for work, time for play--but no time for Christ." (President Monson, "The Search for Jesus")
Julie de Azevedo Hanks gave a fantastic presentation on emotions. She's a clinical therapist, and she talked about how to get better at feeling your feelings, expressing them in a healthy way, and using them for good. She said that many Christian women feel like and have been taught that expressing emotion is not Christlike. She used her presentation to turn that idea on its head, using scripture to show how the Lord has expressed a broad range of emotions, and even suggested that his willingness to feel emotion is what allowed the Savior to be able to complete the atonement--He couldn't have borne our sins without being willing to feel. It was such an interesting perspective and especially made me think about how I can teach my kids to be able to identify their emotions and express them in an appropriate way.
One final note, Emily Watts used a swimming analogy to talk about how all of the energy we use "treading water" would have been enough to propel us to the other side of the pool if we had just started swimming instead. In real life terms, how much time and energy do I waste thinking, planning, analyzing, doubting, re-thinking, making lists, etc. etc. that I could use instead to just get whatever it is that needs to be done, done? Total lightbulb, "Duh!" moment for me! :)
(It doesn't take me long to fall right off that wagon again, does it?)
Because of all the new babies in my extended family in the last month, it fell to us to host the Easter festivities that are usually at Nana and Papa's house. The egg hunt, the confetti egg fight, Easter dinner. I even made my first Easter ham. So proud!
Gracie's "programs" she made for the occasion.
Our yard doesn't have nearly as many good hiding spots for the hunt as my parents' does, but we still managed to have some fun with it.
I love these next pictures of Alex. The second one perfectly expresses the mayhem and fun of the egg fight. Look at that wild hair!
(Click on picture to enlarge.)
I do have to say, it was very strange to sit down to a holiday dinner with just our little family. Our first time ever, I think. No pictures of our yummy meal, but I wanted to share the link to these bacon-wrapped green bean bundles from Our Best Bites we tried for the first time. So good, y'all.
Many of you probably saw the picture I posted on facebook of the kids in their Easter finery. Just so we're clear, as evidenced by the pictures above, candid pictures in bright sunlight are no problem whatsoever for our kids. Ask them to stand, look, and smile, however, and you get the following...
More evidence of their vampire-like aversion to sunlight and the camera. We were in a hurry to get out the door on time, or maybe I could have asked them to run around and play and been able to get fantastic pictures. At least you get a general idea of how adorable they looked. :)
In other news, I went up to Arlington this weekend for Time Out for Women with my Aunt Helen and a couple of friends from Waco. I think it may have been one of the best I've attended in terms of the program and the things I took away from it. Lots of good things to share, which I'll try to do soon.
The smell of sawdust and graphite are in the air...it's Pinewood Derby time again!
Shayne was determined, determined to get his car into the finals this year after just missing out in the last. So he (mostly he, I promise) and Brendon watched youtube videos for tips, worked hard, and hoped for the best with his space-themed creation.
I'll let this series of pictures show you the result:
That, my friends, is about as emotionally reactive as you'll ever see the kid. It was so. fun. to watch him.
He won all three of his initial heats and did indeed make it to the finals. There he fell to fourth place out of 35+ cars, just shy of a trophy. But I don't think he could be more proud.
Even though his more stoic expression had returned by the time I took this picture ;)
Gracie celebrated her milestone eighth birthday with a cat-themed family party at the end of January.
We scrounged the internet for ideas, and after tossing out all of the kitty-litter cakes (sick and wrong) and lolcat photos, we ended up with this cake idea, headband cat ears, and some feather boa cat tails.
And there was lots of JustDance-ing and Calico Critter playing to celebrate the occasion.
Eight years with this girl.
She is smart, determined, and so hard on herself. (I don't know where she gets these things.) She loves to laugh and be with friends. She is a budding fashionista, but doesn't like anything "fancy" done with her hair. She satisfies her burning desire to have a REAL pet by drowning her bed in stuffed animals. But while she still has one foot fimly planted in that little-girl world of stuffed toys and make-believe, we've also had some "real life" conversations over the past few months that have taken my breath away at the realization of just how much she is growing up. This look at the road that lies ahead both scares me to death (teenager!) and cheers me. It's going to be fun, and not a little bit terrifying, to watch her fly!