My heart is full, so I felt I should share this in a post, instead of on Facebook. I had an AMAZING experience happen to me one Saturday morning this March. Our Relief Society sisters were asked to go and visit an Elderly Home (Hogar de Anciaños) to play a game of bingo with them. They asked us to bring 2 gifts for the residents, wrapped as prizes. I am not familiar with buying gifts in Costa Rica, so I didn’t really put any thought into bringing something. The sister missionary translating for me, suggested that we give them jewelry or something like that. I was a bit shocked and didn’t feel comfortable purchasing jewelry – not knowing what “jewelry” meant here. So instead, Paul and I found some bubbles at the farmer’s market and put them into 2 beautiful bags.
We were to meet at the church so we could all walk to the nursing home, only a block away, together. Surprisingly, only the Relief Society President was there. I was subconsciously hoping that someone who spoke English would come as well, but that was not the case. So, I had to dig in my heels, take a DEEP breath of courage and just try my best to make the most of the situation. I must say, it was hard to watch Paul leave me. I wanted to change my mind and hop back into the car, but I resisted and waved a confident good-bye to him.
After a quick stop at the distribution building (located on the temple property with our ward building; pretty cool if you ask me) to purchase a “Helping Hands” yellow vest, we were on our way. The Relief Society President is an angel. I have tried to think about things from her perspective lately: new sister from North America, doesn’t speak the native language, comes to church EACH Sunday and EACH activity, and has a desire to be part of the ward – what is she to do to help this sister? Can you imagine the tables being reversed?!?!
It has been amazing to watch the Lord work with her, helping her to help me but only AFTER I have chosen to help myself and have done the best I could . . . i.e. – I MUST get myself to the activities and be willing to do whatever is asked of me. Complete humility and vulnerability is required. Not the best feeling in the world, but it has HUGE dividends.
As we walked to the nursing home, which I had NO IDEA how far away it would be, the Relief Society President, Vicki, tried to make small talk but I struggled to understand her Costa Rican Spanish. I thought I would do so well here with the Spanish because I did pretty well my 3 previous visits. But after a visit to the Marriott Hotel for lunch earlier that week, I realized a few crucial elements that are affecting me and my family as residents, rather than tourists.
“THE Marriott Burger!” This food was DIVINE! This hamburger served me in more ways than just satisfying my hunger. This burger tastes just like the burgers my Grandpa Wardle used to make me when I would go to my grandparents house for a visit. It literally tasted like HOME!
First of all, we are not staying in a hotel or in an English speaking neighborhood.
Look at this view! I miss being a tourist because in living here, I forget to “look up” and enjoy the view all around me!
However, we do live in a pretty tight community here but not with many ENGLISH speaking locals – mostly Spanish. Secondly, the Spanish I heard on our previous trips was slower, more tuned to English ears because it was spoken by people who were used to speaking in a way that tourists could understand them (i.e. – waitresses, hotel staff, tourist trap attendants, hired taxi drivers, etc.) They have had more experience with people from around the world, so they are MUCH MORE patient with tourists. I am no longer a tourist, so the locals EXPECT me to learn THEIR LANGUAGE. I don’t blame them. “We” do it too in the U.S. I am slowly coming to more fully understand HOW I can help others who go through this type of experience in the U.S. I hope to be more patient and respectful when the tables are reversed, more helpful and a friend, instead of waiting for them to come to me, I hope to come to them first. This has been a shock to me and has become a very humbling experience in my life. I pray I will never forget what this moment in my life has felt like!
The RS sister and I had to only walk a city block and we arrived at the Hogar de Anciaños. We walked in through the security gate and found one more sister waiting for us. YIPPEE! She doesn’t speak English but she has tried so hard to get to know me. I tenderly call her “THE Temple Sister.” Apparently she is a patron of the temple almost every session, yes session, they are open. She is AMAZING! She is very opinionated and will talk on and on forever but her heart is GOLD! She is a gift to this ward/area. She was happy to see me and she tries so hard to speak with me, though I don’t understand more than 2 or 3 words she says.
STOP – can you imagine ME, Wendi Wardle Whitchurch, NOT TALKING at a Relief Society Activity, family get together, ladies luncheon, PTA meeting, school parking lot, church parking lot, post office, grocery store, CHURCH?!?!? Well, I get to learn to be quiet now. It is literally one of the HARDEST lessons I have ever had to endure but I am pleased with my progress and that I am learning to control the urge to talk. Only Heavenly Father knows the goodness that will eventually come from these tough lessons. As for me, I am learning to listen more, even though I don’t understand very much.
The sisters say, “Que’ entiendes Hermana Whitchurch?” And I say, “Lo siento, no entiendo.” And then Hermana Azofefa (one of my favorite sisters because she gives me a kiss and hug every time she sees me and BELIEVES I will learn Spanish one day so we can finally talk and get to know eachother!) says, “Si!! Estås empezando a entender!” She gets so excited because apparently she has tried talking to me so much more than I even knew, but I never paid attention. Poor dear. I probably look like the walking dead when these sisters try to talk to me. But they are getting so excited because each time I see them, I am understanding a tiny bit more and they love it!! How much I don’t know that is really going on in my behalf. I KNOW I am being prayed for by these sisters. I can feel it and KNOW it is true. I wish their prayers could be answered sooner than later, for their sakes, I really do!
I stole this picture off of “What’s App,” an international free texting app that everyone uses in Costa Rica. This is Sister Azofefa (the younger of the 2 wonderful women shown). She is a beautiful woman and I can’t wait until we can really get to know each other better!
Back to my experience, I digress, just like my Dad! We were ushered into the BEAUTIFUL home by the director and he showed us the recreation room. Only one resident joined us but I LOVED listening to her. She is from Spain and I could actually understand a bit of what she was saying. It was so fun! After a few minutes talking with her, two more sisters from our ward joined us (Hermana Azofefa, pictured above, and her new daugher-in-law/my visiting teaching companion, Andrea). We were totally out numbering this poor resident but she LOVED the attention.
After about an hour of visiting with this one woman, more ladies started to join us. We finally had enough residents in attendance to start the game. I came to find out why we had to wait, many of the residents were taking a siesta. I wish I could take a siesta at 9 in the morning! I’m SO TIRED!!! Mental energy is exhausting and listening to Spanish is definitely a high use of mental energy!
As we arranged the room for the residents to play the game, the Relief Society sisters had me join in as well. I kind of felt silly having a bingo card while the other R.S. sisters did not, but I soon found out the reason why they felt the prompting to have me play as well . . . I got to practice my numbers! I don’t know what their intentions were, other than having me have fun and not worry about being in charge with them, but I KNOW I needed to play – no matter how silly I felt.
Okay, this might seem strange to you but I have had a VERY HARD TIME hearing the Spanish they speak here, it is a very different accent and they don’t roll their “r’s” and the end each word with a “SSSSSS” sound. My most difficult challenge lately has been hearing the numbers spoken to me and I get told numbers to me ALL DAY LONG: grocery store, clothing/supply stores, gas station, farmers market, school, anyone asking me the time, etc. I have needed to practice hearing how the Costa Rican’s say their numbers but I haven’t had the opportunity to, until that day! And I was surrounded in a loving, supportive, non-judgemental environment to do so. I literally wanted to start to cry when I realized the gift I had been given.
As the game got underway, we had many prizes to give out. My gifts were the first to be awarded. I had no idea what the other sisters had prepared, so when my gift was opened, I didn’t feel bad about my gift. Then the other gifts were given out and with such gusto and expressions of love and adoration that I was ashamed I hadn’t known better. I wished I could have turned back time and asked Sarene, my gringa friend who speaks Spanish but is actually moving to Guatemala the end of April, to help me find a gift. I was ashamed of my gifts because they were so simple and juvenile. I wanted to hide but I couldn’t. I prayed for relief from this shame and regret and received an answer. I was told to watch one woman in particular and SEE how she handled this situation she had been given. I was worried about what I would see, as I was the one who put her in this situation, but instead the most amazing thing happened . . . I got to see what being GRATEFUL looked like and how to APPRECIATE everything we are given, no matter how lame, for EVERYTHING in life is a gift.
As woman after woman was awarded a necklace with earrings or a personal hygiene kit with comb and brush, I watch the woman who received my 1st gift. I was terrified she was going to complain to the charge nurse that her gift stunk but she never did. Instead of complaining that she “ONLY GOT BUBBLES”, she looked to the positive that she did have . . . she was the ONLY ONE who got a BEAUTIFUL BAG (by the way, totally Paul’s idea! He picked them out and said that the people here LOVE their pretty sacks! Thank HEAVEN for Paul!).
I watched this woman, they call her Niña (yes that is little girl in Spanish but it is a nickname she received as a child and it stuck through adulthood) she constantly focused on her sack, each time someone won a prize. She would stroke the decorations, pull each sheet of tissue paper from the fan and admire it. I was so deeply impressed. I wanted to apologize for my lame gift but she didn’t seem to mind. I am sure she would have preferred a necklace or earrings instead, but she never said a word.
But that wasn’t the only moment of true love that I saw, there is one other moment that occurred that I would like to share and it involves “THE Temple Sister!” This is when I saw for myself that this woman has a heart of Gold. As the bingo game prizes were diminishing, I wondered if every resident would be able to win a prize? I wondered if the RS sisters would even recognize that or care? Well, they did! This wonderful sister ran to the kitchen and grabbed snacks to pass out as a prize, but she still felt it was lacking. All the other sisters received jewelry or hygiene kits. Just snacks would never do. So . . . she went for her own silver, SILVER, earrings and took them off, without anyone “seeing” but those who knew what was going on, and handed them to the last winner as if they were saved for “LAST WINNER IS BEST OF ALL PRIZE!”
The resident lit up and everyone oohed and ahhhed for this last resident who finally won after a very long game of bingo! I was so touched. The other RS sisters tried to offer up their cheaper earrings to “THE temple sister”, but this sister refused, only her earrings would bebgood enough. I felt even more crappy for my bubble gift but I knew that my Savior would make up for my lack of performance. I did the best I knew at the time, I can only do better next time. What a wonderful experience to have had.
Many of the residents didn’t know I didn’t speak or understand Spanish, but it didn’t matter because they spoke with their hearts to me. I could see their love for me in their eyes, just like a grandmother does with her granddaughter. Just as we are taught thatn ANY WOMAN can be a MOTHER or GRANDMOTHER! I was TRULY blessed for sacrificing my own comfort to receive so much in return – the witness of pure, Christ-like love in the form of many grandmother figures. I was so touched by the experience that I started to cry when it was time to leave.
Throughout the morning, I would take moments to ponder how I had been prepared for THIS MOMENT in my life. From a very young age my mother and my grandmother Christensen had taught me to love the elderly. They taught me by example, more than by word. They felt honored to be in the presence of the elderly, I felt that as well that morning. I had not felt that loved, that appreciated in a VERY LONG time and it FELT GREAT!
I hated to leave but it was time. I had to walk away quickly because I couldn’t hold back the flood of emotions that came over me. The Relief Society President saw me crying and was deeply touched by my tender emotions. In that moment I saw something change in her mind about me; a love and concern for me came over her that she hadn’t had before. She was changed in that very moment. I witnessed her have a change of heart. I saw a tender mercy happen in my behalf, and in her behalf as the Relief Society President over me, for I am one of her sisters she has been called to serve.
That day was truly a gift. I came home uplifted and fulfilled. I have pondered this experience ALL WEEK and have realized an important lesson. Most of my life changing experiences have first had to come with a sacrifice on my part. Usually, the greater the sacrifice, the greater the blessing. I have felt I have given up SO MUCH to live here. I have wondered if I would ever “balance out?” But truly, after all the service I have received over the past 4 months, I have balanced out – maybe a bit more on the receiving end than I had expected. I feel truly blessed!
The next day, Sunday afternoon, we had been invited to come and join the nursing home residents as they received a flute concert by one of the resident’s great-grandson’s. We, the RS sisters, felt so touched to be invited that we all made an effort to attend. We encouraged other sisters from the ward to join us, but only 2 were able to come on such short notice. I was blessed to have Paul and my two girls come with me (I KNOW how little ones bring such joy to the elderly.) It was a LONG wait for the concert to begin . . .
This is what littlest did to entertain herself – the residents loved watching her!
. . . but I felt it was worth the wait. I made sure to introduce my girls to each of my “new friends” and the ladies LOVED it! We did need to leave before the concert was finished, Paul needed to be to his High Council meeting and with only one car, we had to go with him. But the residents didn’t seem to be offended – they waved a fond farewell, blew kisses and wished us to come again. I hope I can!! Such love! It truly was a beautiful weekend!
Look at the color on this bush. Isn’t it remarkable!?! This bush is on the corner of our neighbor’s property. While everything else around us is dead or lifeless, this plant is flourishing. Funny how nature is constantly teaching us, everywhere we go.
I wish I could blog about my entire week but my post would never end. Paul and I are continually receiving blessings every day. The weight of moving here has been heavy, but we feel we are not alone in carrying this burden, our Savior is with us – every steop we make. I feel hopeful now that we WILL figure out how to live our lives here, that I WILL learn Spanish and that we WILL be able to serve others and look back on this time with happiness and triumph. We are so grateful that this earth life was created to bring us joy THROUGH experience, and what a wonderful experience has and will continue to be!
All my love,