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A lesson I learned from a seashell

The wave crashed up washing black sand and frothy sea foam onto my bare feet and with it came a little white shell. I bent down and picked  it up. Inspecting it carefully, I turned it around and around and then tried to return it into the ocean where it belonged. Rather than throwing it back I found myself whispering ‘just one more’ and guiltily stuffing it into my pockets.

I laughed aloud at myself. Every. Single. Time. I saw a shell or a sparkly bit of sea-glass I felt compelled to pick it up. IT’s like I was remembering my childhood and hadn’t yet grown out of the habit of trying to keep pretty things. In fact my own collection of seashells which sat neglected on the countertop at home, was bigger than both my other sea collecting daughters pile. This  obsession was becoming a problem and I’d have to stop soon!

My kids who were ahead me on our walk came running back with their hands full of large dirty and broken seashells that they had found at a burnt out fire-pit. They were the huge snail shells that the locals would catch when the tide was out and roast over the fire for dinner. I remembered clearly not too many nights ago when Eric and I had heard noises outside and gone with our flashlights and machetes to investigate.

We found a group of grown men squatted around a fire, laughing and joking. Eric and I were so entranced by their meal and methods had ended up staying and swapping stories until late into the night. When their rice was finally cooked in the heavy pot they had positioned overtop the fire, more men startled us both by seemingly appearing out of nowhere and throwing down their evenings haul. They had been out night diving and they had collected  one small fish and 5 large snails. This would make the perfect meal they told us with a grin.

We sat for hours visiting and watching as they taught us all the best ways to prepare snails and fish and rice. And then sometime after 10pm when their meal was finally cooked they divided it all up equally amongst themselves and dug in with their hands. Juicy snail water dripping off their fingers and contented smiles on their messy faces they offered us some of the food, but we declined.

My mind jolted back to the present and I looked at the shells in the kids hands. They were ugly, brown, and burnt from the fire. But as I turned one around I saw a hint of mother of pearl. I Remembered back to my old childhood days on the islands when I would bring shells to my father and as if by some kind of voodoo he would transform them into something so breathtaking I was sure it had been made by magic or mermaids. There was mother of pearl in these shells, I was sure of it.

I excitedly told the kids that we were going to do a science experiment. I had seen a bottle of Muriatic acid in the old shipping container out back and was sure it would do the trick.  They had no idea what I was planning but I bossed them around telling them to get bowls and gloves and glasses and shells and water. We set everything out on the table and filled up the first bowl with the strong acid. Careful not to splash we gently set the dirty shells into the clear liquid. Immediately it started to bubble attacking the impurities and eating away the calcium coating.  Only minutes passed before their hidden treasure started to show itself.   Layers of Calcium Carbonate which had taken years to create, quickly dissolved and in it’s place was an iridescent shimmery shell that looked incredibly more beautiful and valuable than anything the children had ever seen.  They were mesmerised by the transformation and began asking so many questions. Where had it come from? Why was it covered up? How did I know it was there?

I was having a proud mamma moment at having successfully impressed my kids as well as nephews when I realized that God had his own message He was trying to tell me.

I excitedly told the kids that we were going to do a science experiment. I had seen a bottle of Muriatic acid in the old shipping container out back and hoped it would do the trick.  They had no idea what I was planning but I bossed them around telling them to get bowls and gloves and glasses and shells and water. We set everything out on the table and filled up the first bowl with the strong acid. Careful not to splash we gently set the dirty shells into the clear liquid. Immediately it started to bubble attacking the impurities and eating away the calcium coating.  Only minutes passed before their hidden treasure started to show itself.   Layers of Calcium Carbonate which had taken years to create, quickly dissolved and in it’s place was an iridescent shimmery shell that looked incredibly more beautiful and valuable than anything the children had ever seen.  They were mesmerised by the transformation and began asking so many questions. Where had it come from? Why was it covered up? How did I know it was there?

I was having a proud mamma moment at having successfully impressed my kids as well as nephews when I realized that God had his own message He was trying to tell me.

I grabbed my scriptures and started flipping the pages. I remembered reading about this somewhere. The book fell open to Joshua 3: 5

And Joshua said unto the people, Sanctify yourselves: for to morrow the Lord will do wonders among you. 

I read another scripture:

The Savior said: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, I give unto you to be the light of this people. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. “Behold, do men light a candle and put it under a bushel? Nay, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light to all that are in the house;“Therefore let your light so shine before this people, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Image Credit: Wikipedia

The mother of pearl had always been inside that shell. It took a process that I am sure would have been painful to that shell if it had feelings to feel. But it was worth it! It’s light was shining. I want to be like that shell, broken and covered in sin and sorrow but humble enough to turn my life over to He who can heal. He who can make whole. He who can erase my sins and make me new again, even Jesus Christ.

True Independence

37 years ago today, the combined governments of both England and France agreed to give Vanuatu its independence. (How generous, right?) Vanuatu does not take it’s independence lightly. It’s been non-stop parties for the last 7 days. (Trust me, I know, I’ve been at all of them) Music, Dancing, Kakai (food), Wrestling, pig wrestling, Karate, Soccer, Basketball, Boxing, Singing. There is an never ending list of talents that are on display for the 8 days celebration. It goes from early into the morning each day to early into the morning the next day. Live music ends somewhere between 3:00-4:00am and then starts again between 6:00-8:00am. The entire thing is broadcast via 6 massive speakers. You don’t even have to be anywhere NEAR the celebrations to HEAR the celebrations!!

Entire villages  show up to enjoy the festivities and little children and old grandmas share woven grass mats that are strewn across the field for days on end. It’s quite a site!

Photo Credit: Dan McGarry

Because of all the celebrations, our local church leaders asked each group of saints to meet as early as possible, so that families would be able to participate in the community celebrations for the day. Our branch chose 7:30. Yes that’s 7:30 AM! Did you even know that you were allowed to meet for church at that time?! There weren’t as many people as usual this morning at church. LOL. But for those of us that were there it was a treat. Sister King gave  talk that was really special.

 

She talked about a story that she heard last week from president Basille (he’s the leader of the local church branch we attend). President Basille said that 44 years ago there was no Mormon church on any of the islands of Vanuatu.

Missionary work began in Vanuatu in 1974 after several Latter-day Saint Tongan families moved there. Elder Harman Rector Jr., of the Seventy (one of the highest governing bodies of the Church) and President Davis visited Port Vila in April 1974 to determine the possibility of assigning full-time missionaries to the island. Elder Rector felt it was essential that the area receive missionaries”

http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/facts-and-statistics/country/vanuatu

After prayerfully considering the possibility of sending full time missionaries to Vanuatu, the church leaders determined that that is exactly what God wanted. They gave the assignment to an LDS French ambassador to come to Vanuatu and meet with both governments to ask permission for the Mormon Church to send missionaries. When the LDS ambassador arrived in Vanuatu his meeting with the English government went well and they agreed to allow missionaries. However, the meeting with the French government did not go so well. The government official representing the French government was rude and disrespectful to the  LDS man telling him that there was absolutely no way that missionaries would be allowed to preach in Vanuatu. Discouraged, the LDS ambassador went home and reported to the church that they would not be able to send missionaries to Vanuatu.

Several months later the French LDS ambassador was back in Vanuatu on business of his own. As he was finishing up his business he felt like he must go and visit the French government official again. He wondered at this feeling due to the very rude way  he had been treated last time, however, determined to follow this prompting he made an appointment to meet with him.

To the LDS ambassadors great surprise the French official was overjoyed to see him. He was very kind and welcoming and invited him to sit down with him for lunch where they could talk. After just a few minutes of visiting the French official gave his official invitation for the Mormon church to invite missionaries to come to Vanuatu.

The LDS ambassador was stunned by this sudden change in attitude. He finally had the courage to ask the French official “Why are you allowing us to have missionaries in Vanuatu?” The official replied “When I last left Vanuatu I had to walk to work everyday. Each day I passed a beautiful church building that said ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’. The people were always smiling and saying hello to me. They planted gardens and made the area clean. They had many activities and were always respectful, getting involved and helping out in the community, making it a better place to live.  Every time I saw people go in or out of that building they were filled with a special light and happiness that I’ve never seen anywhere else. If we have missionaries in Vanuatu will they do that here as well?” The LDS ambassador assured the French official that they would do that here and ever since then missionaries have been allowed in Vanuatu. Isn’t that such a beautiful story?

There hasn’t been a Sunday that goes by that at least one or two or three people are getting baptised. Our little branch on the island of Efate is growing faster than we can fit inside the building. On the other islands the church is welcomed with open arms as well. One man I met on the beach last week explained one reason why this is the case.

Jacob’s family was from Tanna- they knew Nathaniel’s mother (that’s my nephew). He said that after Cyclone Pam (an absolutely devastating cyclone that flattened the island) there was many aid organizations that came in to help our their island, but there was one that came first and left last. They wore yellow t-shirts and they delivered shipments of food, water, money and supplies. They not only rebuilt the houses of their own members but they rebuilt the houses of entire villages. Now, whenever someone finds out that someone is from the Mormon the church, they kiss them and hug them and thank them. And many, many people have joined the church because of that.

Of course our goal is not for people to join our church, our goal is to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ and allow it to change hearts and lives in others as it has in us.

Watching the way Vanuatu celebrates their independence humbles me. These island people are truly, emphatically, and deeply grateful for their independence. They know that the only way to be truly free is to be with God, and they are. And so today, because church was over so soon, do you know what the entire island is doing? They are raising their flag together, and singing their anthem together, eating together and then they are going to listen to 10 hours of preaching together. Yes, that’s the activities for the entire island. Every store is closed and every family is on their mat in the big field. And it doesn’t matter which church you belong to because today everyone is together worshiping God through those same 6 big speakers that have been blasting out music for the last week.

True independence comes from knowing who you are. True independence comes from recognizing that every man is and every woman is your brother and sister and that Pappa God really is our Father, all of us.  God doesn’t see as Mormons or Catholics or Muslims,  or as black men or white men, he sees us as His children. The message from the preacher in park today was that as brothers and sisters we need each other. And we need to be our best selves, so instead of focusing on the mistakes from yesterday or last year we need to take care of being the best that we can be today and unite in our respect and honor of God.

Happy Sabbath 🙂

XOXO

Rebecca

   

Gods Perfect Plan of Happiness For Our Family Includes My Teenagers!

“You are ruining my life,” she shouted as she slammed the door behind her. Now both my teenager daughters hated me. The one because I was taking her away from all her friends, and the other because I was preventing her from earning money for college.

Just a couple hours later, and only one night before we were supposed to leave on our big family adventure, my daughter ‘borrowed’ the car, and with her little sister unbuckled beside her, she turned on the music and took off down the gravel road. It was only minutes before she started skidding across the loose gravel. She was going way too fast and  by the time she realized it, it was too late. The car swerved as it careened off the road and flipped into the ditch.

‘Breath deep mom, you can do this’, I told myself again.

God was watching out for my daughters that night because although the car was damaged badly enough that it couldn’t be driven, miraculously they were both without injury.

I prayed and asked God again to give me strength to go through with this. With the extra financial burdens that had been placed on our family over the last year, (since Eric fell off the roof and shattered his foot), taking our family on a trip half way around the world was clearly not practical. Financially speaking, the timing was all off, but emotionally speaking it was just what we needed. Friends and family by dozens pulled me aside to give me advice and shed light on the obvious flaws in my plan. ‘Your kids could get raped’, ‘you might catch an infectious disease’, the ‘you can’t just stop your kids schooling in the middle of the year’, ‘wait until you have more money’, ‘go somewhere closer’, ‘don’t go for as long’. Then there were my own fears ‘how will we pay for it?’, ‘what if the kids react to the vaccinations?’, ‘what if your daughters won’t come with you?’ ‘What will we do when we come home’, ‘We can’t speak the language’, ‘What if we have a medical emergency?’ They were all valid fears, but that was just it. I refused to make my decision based on fears, and inside I felt something urging me to do this.

The expedited American passports we ordered months ago had still not come in, and less than a week before we were supposed to leave we decided to drive to Calgary and get last minute Canadian ones printed. At this point- where every penny counted, the extra $600 seemed like a big price to pay for something we might not need (we were sure those US ones would arrive any day) but we did it anyways. It’s been 4 months and those American ones still haven’t arrived! The Canadian ones ended up arriving the night before we were to fly out, the night my daughter flipped over the car.  I was sure that the stress couldn’t get worse. I was wrong. 5 days before we were to leave we accepted an offer on our house. This gave us less than a week to pack up the entire thing and get it ready to change hands. It was a crazy thing to do but it felt just right.

My kids NEEDED something different. They needed a place to find out who they were without all the pressures and expectations of our North America society. Our family needed a break, some time to just BE together and block out the world. Endless texts, tweets, phone calls, Instagram stories, FB Messages, Disappearing Snap Chats…it was all just taking it’s toll on us.

I knew that God had created me to enjoy life, but I wasn’t enjoying life at all. I was stressed out and depressed and unhealthy, and so was half my family. Things just weren’t  going the way I had always imagined my life to be, and I wasn’t ready to give up. No, I really believed that our family had a mission,  and in order to accomplish that mission we needed to DO something together. Not just something ordinary, but something CRAZY, something BIG.

My little kids were easy to convince- you know how trusting young ones can be. My husband loved the idea, but wasn’t sure how we could possibly pull it off, and my teenagers down right hated IT, and now they hated ME! In fact there were SEVERAL times when I was sure that one or both of them would run away before we had a chance to even step foot on that plane. We compromised and instead of going for a year we decided to go for just 4 months. Instead of going to a 3rd world country where they didn’t know ANYBODY we decided to go to a 3rd world country at the same time as two of my siblings and their children.  And instead of living in a tin shack, like I had wanted to,  we found the perfect house on the beach right beside my brother and sister.

I tried to sell everything I could possibly think of to earn extra money as we carefully prepared for our trip. People on our local buy and sell saw the stuff that we were selling and started asking me questions . I was scared to tell people what we were doing.  I was worried that if I told people what I was doing and didn’t end up getting enough money to actually do it, then they would make fun of me.  I was wrong. For the most part the people around me were wonderful. When they saw how serious our family was about going they really pulled together and helped us out.  Neighbours helped us mow our lawn and pack our house, friends stopped by with meals, and teachers worked extra hard to help us creatively let the girls finish courses and take tests early.

Honestly, this wasn’t anyones dream but mine, and a million times I questioned the rationality of it. WAS I going to ruin my kids lives? Would it REALLY be a disaster? I just kept hoping that God would bless this dream of mine and make it all work out.  For the first month we were here in Vanuatu, Analaea, Eliza, & Mireyah were often in tears.  They hated it. They hated the bugs, the heat, the language barrier, the food, all of it.

I felt terrible. What had I done? I kept praying that God would take our hard work and our sacrifice and He with His infinite wisdom and grace would purify it and magnify it.  The online work that my husband was supposed to be able to do here didn’t work out.  Our expensive, brand new Mac computer suddenly wouldn’t turn on, and the internet was too slow and unreliable even if it had been working.  That meant that money was tighter than I had hoped it would be.

One month had passed and everyone was still pretty discouraged. After infectious diseases, dog bites, boils and blisters we were getting tired. There wasn’t much to keep Eric and I busy, we didn’t have enough money, and things didn’t seem to be improving with the older girls. I had hoped, and prayed so many prayers that things would be better here. That people would be happier and that our family would discover its purpose.

Of course, after all these years I am still so slow to learn. I just needed to quiet down a little and exercise some PATIENCE and FAITH. God’s timing has always been perfect, and when He is ready to bless us, He blesses us! And when He is ready to show us His vision, He shows us His vision!

I can’t identify which minute, or hour or even day it happened, but slowly, gradually it did happen. The MAGIC, the MIRACLE and the BEAUTY of God’s plan unfolded and one by one it changed our hearts.  God took our tiny dreams and made them big.

He sent wonderful, happy, friends who spoke English into my daughters lives.

And he sent people ready to learn about God, and he sent people who needed service and love into our lives.

He sent an iguana and a baby chick into my 13 year olds life which made leaving her horses and cats just a little bit easier. 

We have been here for 3 months already, and my 17 year old doesn’t ever want to leave because she loves it here so much, and my 15 year old spends her days smiling a bit more often while she teaches an 18 year old how to read who never had a chance to go to school.  

Our little boys get filthy while drawing pictures in the dirt with their best friends whose skin is brown, and although they don’t speak the same language they understand each other perfectly .And our whole family laughs or argues as we sit in the hot sand or go for a swim under the stars at night.

There is no doubt that God loves us. That He knew that this was just the right time and just the place for our family to come. And all those tears, and all that money and all that sacrifice was worth it. And even if we get blown away by a cyclone or swept away by a tsunami, or attacked by wild dogs this is an experience that was meant  just for us and it’s perfect not because WE are perfect but because GOD is perfect!

Silencing our Fears

There are not even words to describe the perfect day we had today.

As we flew down the road yesterday bumping along in the back of the truck we saw beautiful canoes all carved in the custom style lining the road. The sign said blue hole and our driver told us that if we paid 1000vt ($10USD) then we could have a ride up the river. It sounded pretty fun and so today when we passed the canoes again we stopped to take a ride.

A rusty chain hung around the gates and nobody was to be seen. Not to be discouraged our driver said he knew where the owners would be. So we went on a bit of drive checking in and out of different village houses until we finally found someone who knew where the owners were. I guess they were napping in the grass. After explaining that we would like to canoe up the river on one of the boats and paying him the advertised fee we all climbed in. It was simply amazing!

Once we got settled and the chatting and laughing subsided, (with our group that rarely happens) Ben (our guide) paddled us up the river. It was like magic. The birds were singing in the trees and the only sound was the paddle hitting the water. The words running through my subconscious brain spilled into my consciousness.  Peaceful. Tranquil. Magical. Sacred. If nature could pray it was like witnessing the prayer of the earth to Papa God. It really was a extraordinary.

We got further and further into the jungle and now vines were dangling in seemingly mid air with oversized pods and spiders and other creatures living with them. The white sand of the river bottom was visible the entire time and schools of tiny  fish made appearances here and there, dancing around the boat and going on ahead without us.

After probably 20 minutes of paddling, and much sooner that we wanted we turned the corner and there was the blue hole.  A glistening pool of deep turquoise blue in the middle of the jungle.

So out of place amongst all the greens and browns that we had been seeing, the blue hole looked like a secret hiding in the forest.

After playing, rope jumping, feeding fish and exploring the surrounding gardens and paths we persuaded Ben to take us all the way down the river and to the open ocean. It was nearly just as beautiful  as our trip up the ocean and a few times during the trip Dan or Eric or Lindy burst out in song unable to express the reverence for the surroundings in any other way.  Sometimes I wonder what it would do for the soul to be constantly surrounded by so much beauty. It certainly agrees with my soul!

I also considered how lovely we thought the river was and not knowing what was at the end of it, all of us could have happily stayed and played in the shallow pools all day. However, just like God’s plan for us, He knows what is ahead, and He has much greater, and grander plans for us than we could ever imagine.

How could my life be transformed if I would quiet down for while and trust in the Almighty?