Oh how grateful I am for cereal, potato chips and the FLU! And yes, I am especially grateful to have gotten the FLU. I honestly don’t know how I would be functioning right now without all three of those things in my life. Have any of you ever felt grateful for such odd or silly things? Have any of you ever felt that something was more than a coincidence in your life, more than an irony, but a literal GIFT? Well, that is exactly how I feel about cereal, potato chips and the FLU. Why you ask? Well, I thought you would never ask?
(Boxes of cereal are hiding on the second shelf, above the water. The stuff on the table, above photo, are all things we can’t fit in our teenie, tiny storage room, so we are using the table in the garage until we have eaten enough of the chips and cereal to make more room.)
Cereal goes stale pretty quickly here, as well as chips, and they are SO EXPENSIVE. But my sweet husband has a connection with someone here that has allowed us to purchase USA brands at “close to” USA prices. So my husband stocked up! Ironically, he stocked up the weekend we had our “Spiritual and Temporal Welfare” lesson in church. I was debating what to do about a food storage, here in humid, Costa Rica, but Paul fixed that problem, at least temporarily until I have better understand of what we CAN store here safely.
First off, without cereal and potato chips, we would have nothing to eat while we slowly recover from the flu. None of us seem to have an appetite lately but a simple bowl of cereal seems to hit the spot on a tummy that doesn’t want to eat. And when things get really uncomfortable, it seems that a bag of chips settles an upset tummy fairly quickly. Now, these are two foods that we don’t normally eat. Especially in Costa Rica. So these items have truly been considered a blessing.
I have never felt so grateful for packaged, processed food. Fortunately it is relatively “good” food but still, it is better than nothing for now. And I NEEDED to get the Flu. Yes, I NEEDED to! I needed some way to acclimate after a very wonderful yet emotional experience happened to me. Catching the flu FORCED me to lie in bed for 2 days straight and to stay at home with my family, instead of doing other things like church callings, grocery shopping or school work. The flu allowed me the mental rest and physical rest my body needed in order to prepare for the months ahead. I truly felt blessed while I was sick. Actually, I truly feel that the cereal, potato chips and the FLU were tender mercies!
Tender Mercies. What are they exactly?
Well, I was surprised to find that it was a bit difficult to find an exact answer. When searching on Google, I found the definition to state:
used ironically to imply that someone cannot be trusted to look after or treat someone else kindly or well.“they have abandoned their children to the tender mercies of the social services“
Well, I didn’t like that answer, so I searched on Google for “tender mercies definition lds” and I found the following link to a video clip of Elder Bednar, explaining what tender mercies REALLY are. I really enjoyed his definition,
“The Lord’s tender mercies are the very personal and individualized blessings, strength, protection, assurances, guidance, loving-kindnesses, consolation, support, and spiritual gifts which we receive from and because of and through the Lord Jesus Christ” (David A. Bednar, April 2005 general conference).
Now THIS sounds like something I can trust. There was something so hopeless about the first definition Google pulled up. But when I sought to gain further light, truth and understanding– my eyes were opened and my heart was filled with joy, happiness and love. I could tenderly FEEL that my Savior indeed did love me and that what I was noticing all around me, were in fact, tender mercies directly from Him.
Right now, I am sitting quietly at my dining room table/office/school room, Paul has safely arrived in Guadalajara, Mexico and the kids are all tucked in bed (I hope they are sleeping). So, I have nothing better to do than to take a few minutes and share a few details about the events that have led up to me SEEING so many tender mercies all around me.
Honestly, it all started to unfold the minute Paul booked my ticket for Salt Lake City, Utah. Since July, I had been tossing around the idea of going to visit Utah but I just didn’t know when, with whom I should travel with or for how long? But honestly, I always knew I was going to be in Utah on my 39th birthday. Even my own mother knew I would be there, she had just hoped she could be too.
As the weeks turned into months, the feeling grew stronger. As a human being, we seem to want to always make sense of certain feelings we have. I am no different than everyone else. I thought it was selfish of me to “go home” for my birthday, so then what was the reason? Was it so I could see my youngest brother’s first child, right after he was born? Nope. Was it so I could gather homeschooling curriculum for my oldest kids? No, that didn’t turn out to be it either. So what WAS the reason?
Well, it was driving me crazy because the dates weren’t working out with Paul’s schedule and my brother’s baby wasn’t due until 2 weeks after my birthday. So WHY was I needing to go to Utah? Honestly, I don’t have the answer yet but, to tell you the truth, does it matter? Because the motivational reason that FINALLY allowed Paul to book the ticket occurred in the temple. I was sitting in the temple, enjoying all the Spanish around me, when I was reminded of my home in Utah. I saw myself going to my favorite places to eat, visit with people I love, places to see but none of them felt “enough.” I searched my heart and asked myself a very truthful question, “Who is the ONE person you would want to see if you could only see one person.” Hands down, my Dad popped into my mind.
I could see his chubby cheeks, just like mine. His bushy beard. His curly hair and his smile from ear to ear. Oh how I missed seeing that smile. That was when it hit me . . . I NEED to go back to Utah to SEE my Dad!
So, I pondered that thought for a few days, all the while preparing two meals to feed 140 missionaries over 2 days with my family. As we were working in the kitchen one night, I turned to Paul and poured out my desires to him. He had the ticket booked faster than I could second guess my feelings. It was finished. Now what!?!
Well, I didn’t have any time to really think about it, until the missionaries were fed and happy. The ironic thing is, I remember completely the Area President saying thank you to me and my children for the service we gave to the missionaries and to him, and him saying exactly, “Now you watch because the Lord is going to DUMP blessings upon your heads for what you have done today.” To be honest, I thought that rather bold or exaggerated of him to promise. But deep in my heart, I knew I was wrong to think such a negative thought. I KNEW that Heavenly Father and our Savior had the power to bless those who serve them. That is where a scripture from Elder Bednar’s clip fits perfectly with my experience. He quoted:
“But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance” (1 Ne. 1:20).
I quickly repented and told myself that Heavenly Father was allowed to bless us in any way that He saw fit but we didn’t expect a “reward” or blessings for our service, only His Spirit to be with us. But something in me challenged me to WATCH for these blessings that will be “dumped” upon our heads. So I did.
Well, the first wave of blessings came immediately after the luncheon. I was accompanied home by the 3 “helpers” who served with us both days and our newly hired maid. The maid cleaned up the kitchen, while I received a foot massage by one of the female helpers. This sweet sister is so sweet and so humble, that allowing her to massage my feet was a bit too much for me to allow. Except, I was reminded of our Savior washing His disciples feet. They didn’t refuse His love and care for them. Why should I? So as I pondered a moment if I could really allow her to serve me, I heard in my heart, “Thank you for serving me. Now won’t you allow me to serve you in return?”
Ouch. The truth can be so cut and dry. He was right. I can’t expect Him to serve me if I won’t allow Him to in “His way.” So, I allowed her to serve me and I believe that THAT decision allowed me to begin to not only see the blessings as they started to come but I was also blessed to be able to look back and SEE how these moments were perfectly orchestrated to bring about my happiness. Truly.
If I were to honestly describe each and every tender mercy I have been shown, over the past 4 months, you would be reading a small novel. So, I will spare you the details but I will share a few of my favorite tender mercies. This is where the cereal, potato chips and the FLU come into view.
First, looking back . . .
As the days lead up to me leaving on my visit to Utah, I began to see my life rewind with a much clearer perspective. I started with the most recent event, feeding 140 missionaries. I saw that we had been “given” a new maid who had experience in culinary work, a family in the ward that also homeschooled and allowed their 3 oldest children to come and help serve the missionaries but also came to our home and helped prepare ALL of the food for the 2nd day – so my family and I could get a GREAT night’s rest. Their mother also watched my youngest 2 during the luncheons and into the evening so we could work without them under foot but didn’t just plop them down in front of a tv set but actually PLAYED with them, something they both really NEEDED!
I saw that my husband, who was neck deep in work, CAME to my rescue (without me asking) to help deliver hot food and even STAYED to help serve it the first day but left me the 2nd day when he saw I had everything under control, “just like Wendi does!” I remembered the gentle praise I received from one of the temple missionaries when she realized all the work our family had done to put such an event together and all without the ease of speaking the native tongue. Her praise was golden to me.
I then saw the years of preparation that went into being able to perform such a task as this. The RS callings, the ward dinners, funerals, family parties, cooking classes with Grandma Ice Cream and the newlywed “hunger years.” I laughed as I realized that I had been given gifts and talents that made this experience possible and that I had NOT be set up for failure. I then remembered how the first time I had been asked to feed the 140 missionaries, I had been given only 5 days notice but I was willing to do it, even if I could possible make the missionaries sick. Thankfully the first event was cancelled, due to illness but I was then prepared to “plan” this event out and had plenty of notice for the second time they called, 10 days before the event was to take place.
I then saw how I was blessed to have my children home with me, homeschooling, because if they had been in private school, they would NOT have had this experience. And then I remembered our “cherry on the top.” We were blessed to see one of our dear sister missionaries, Sister Holmes. I hadn’t realized HOW MUCH she had touched our children or myself. Seeing her was truly a blessing to behold.
As I kept looking back, I started to realize that there were no coincidences or ironies, but TRUTH! EVERY SINGLE moment I experience, every day, is a gift. It is created in such a way, IF I PARTICIPATE, to bring about not only other’s happiness, by mine as well. That was when I jumped to present day and started to really look for the tender mercies that would come.
The first tender mercy was Paul being able to upgrade me to first class. Being able to be treated in such a loving way was such a treat. I had not been treated this nicely, or at least I had not felt I had been treated this nicely, since the day we moved to Costa Rica. Sitting in 1st class reminded me of the POWER behind a smile, a polite gesture and good, old-fashioned manners. For a kind black man, dressed like he was going to a Kenya West concert, stood up and offered to assist me with my luggage. I was blown away at his kindness as he gently asked the man in front of me to step aside so he could assist “the lady.” The WAY he spoke about me blew me away. Such gentleness, such respect, such reverance for who I was.
I thanked him kindly and took my seat but I couldn’t help but look back and get a better look at his face. I could SEE the tangible light in his countenance. I knew this wasn’t “just for show,” he felt GREAT about treating people this way. Later on the 6 hour flight, I heard him speak to the flight attendants and other passengers with such respect and tolerance. I finally had to turn around and compliment him on being THE NICEST and MOST WELL MANNER person I had ever met. I told him I wished my children could meet him. He was deeply touched but just let the compliments land around his feet, as if I were throwing beautiful flowers along his path to enjoy.
Well, I thought that was going to be it, but the blessings just kept on coming. Not only was the meal on the airplane pretty tasty but the SkyClub was INCREDIBLE! I was able to use the internet, eat all the vegetables I wanted (and I didn’t have to prepare them) AND I was able to catch my flight without missing it. I was then blessed to be picked up by my sister-in-law and given the car she was driving, my father’s “new” car, for the weekend. We had a lovely light dinner together and made plans to see each other the next day.
That night I slept at my “oldest” brother’s house and had a great night’s rest in their king-sized bed. The next morning, I was able to SEE my brother and he gave me a hug before he left for work. Now THAT was a MIRACLE in itself! I hope to always remember his patience, kindness and respect towards me in that moment. Sort of reminded me of that young man on the airplane. Hmm.
It just so happened to be my birthday but I was without a working phone. I made a few calls on my brother’s landline and then headed out for a day of shopping and visiting with those closest to me. I only had 3 days to fill my suitcases with what our family needed back in Costa Rica, so my sister-in-law Alissa helped me get the job done. BOY was I grateful to have her by my side. The sheer over-stimulation of Walmart could have caused a seizure. I had NO IDEA that Walmart was a mini world in itself. My goodness! Thankfully we got through with the shopping in one piece, and a good laugh from her, with a delicious Cafe Rio pork salad for lunch.
After a long day of shopping, I was blessed to see my “middle” brother (remember, I am the oldest of the siblings). He delivered my father’s phone to me and that allowed me the wonderful opportunity to visit with him one on one. We had a GREAT talk and I was able to look at his sweet face and tell him I loved him. What a blessing words can be, especially words that have such deep meaning!
Next, I was off to visit with a dear, dear friend. LeAnn has been my guardian angel for more than 3 years. She has seen me through some pretty dark days and she has done it with light, truth, love and loads of forgiveness. Just as I arrived at her house, another friend of mine just felt like she should visit my friend’s home because of the Haunted House they were holding. That Haunted House allowed me and this other friend to give each other a warm hug and also allowed me to see how much her sweet kids had grown – something my oldest daughter was hoping to find out.
This sweet friend then took my family in Costa Rica, via Facetime, on a tour of the Haunted House. My family LOVED and then serenaded me with “Happy Birthday,” surrounded by friends in Utah. THAT was a bit much for me to handle but when the love started to overwhelm me, instead of fighting it, I just let it wash over me. That was when I started to realize that THIS is what “and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” (Mal. 3:10.) actually feels like. But to be honest, I am pretty sure I only scratched the surface on what Heavenly Father has in store for each of us.
After a quick good-bye, my dear friend LeAnn and I were off to have dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Red Lobster. My mom treated us to dinner and we went all out – Lobster Pasta for LeAnn and an assortment of shrimp for me. We even had clam chowder and fruit smoothies. It was a real treat. Then the gifts for the kids started to pour out upon us. Books, books and MORE BOOKS! LeAnn lent us enough to fill a backpack, but then my mother and the Whitchurch family sent their donations too. I had enough books by the end of the trip to fill two 70 pound suitcases. WOW was our family blessed!!!
Saturday was spent doing the ONE THING I had hoped to do on my trip to Utah . . . I got to SEE my Dad. He met me at my brother’s son’s football games and that allowed us to spend the day together. We talked, just the two of us, and I was able to be comfortable in my own skin, believing what I believe and not being ashamed of it one bit. My dad was so respectful and let me share my thoughts. It truly was the BEST DAY EVER! To top it all off, I got to be invited to come over and see my newest nephew. If that isn’t a treat to SEE your own brother have a child of his own, I don’t know what is.
That night, my Dad arranged for my 2 other siblings and their families to come and have dinner with us at The Cheesecake Factory. Who could say no but an excited nephew, dressed to match his friends for a night of trick-or-treating. I had the nicest visit with my family, all around one table, and not one thing upset me in the least bit. I felt nothing but love and gratitude for everyone of them and I am so grateful for that gift!
That night I got to sleep at my in-law’s house. It was SO QUIET and the perfect temperature to sleep in. But before I could get to bed, my phone started to make the strangest noises. I thought for sure that my phone was melting down from all of the travel it had experienced and foreign numbers but no, it was downloading 3 days worth of messages, mostly Birthday Wishes for my birthday the day before. Either I have NEVER received so MANY birthday wishes at one time or the sheer amount of them coming in, all at once, overwhelmed me with feelings of ingratitude and humility. How could SO MANY PEOPLE love me all at once. Is this possible to bare? Again, another window of heaven pouring in blessings for me to enjoy!
I had the BEST SLEEP that night; I hadn’t slept that well in weeks!! I awoke the next morning, started unwrapping the packages Paul had ordered and headed off to church in ENGLISH!! It was a strange experience though. Instead of “wishing” I could attend church in English, I found myself quite uncomfortable, wishing I was at home with my home ward. That was the first time I realized that Costa Rica was HOME to me!! During Sacrament meeting, I was bothered that NO ONE was getting up to share their testimonies with the ward. In Costa Rica, well at least in our ward, there is a line in 5 minutes and if you don’t walk up to the stand, you won’t get a chance to bare your testimony. So, after many minutes of no one getting up, I finally got up and bore my testimony.
Sadly, I think the people in Costa Rica understand me better than the people did in native English. The looks on their faces were ones I just didn’t understand. They looked at me like I was strange, weird or even “wrong” for thinking everyone should WANT to bare their testimonies. I think a gentleman even scolded me in his closing prayer, by defending those who just couldn’t get up but wanted to and instead said a testimony in their hearts. I felt bad if I pushed too hard but after thinking about it, I only encouraged everyone to view their testimonies and lives in the USA as a gift, something to be grateful for and if anyone took offense to that, that was THEIR problem.
After church, I was again invited to visit with my “youngest” brother and see his baby one last time. I was so grateful that his fiance’ would allow me in their home twice in one weekend and allow me to hold their new child. I was then able to present them with Kimber’s gift, a Book of Mormon. I had to use all the courage I possessed to present this gift to them but I did it with ALL of my heart. For I KNOW for myself that THIS BOOK IS TRUE and because I CHOOSE to read this book, each and every day, I have found that I am closer and more happier with my relationship with my Father in Heaven. I have also found that when I slack off on my reading and daily prayers, that I find myself getting distracted from my priorities and I begin to become ungrateful, selfish and even easily offended by the situations surrounding me. The POWER of this book is tangible; so why would I not share it with those I love the most.
I was grateful for the example and memories I have of the missionaries in Costa Rica. Feeding the sister missionaries since May has been such a blessing to our family. I have found the courage to be more bold, more truthful and more open with my testimony of our Savior, His Restored Church upon the earth and the reality of the Book of Mormon being another testament of Christ. I am SO GRATEFUL to have had the sisters testify to me of these truths and then for the opportunity for me to “test them out” for myself and SEE them work in my daily life. What a gift that was for me to share this with my brother.
That night I returned to my in-laws for a delicious, favorite meal of Fast Sunday Stew and a delightful rehearsal from the Sterling Singers as they prepare for their concert, the night they turn the lights on Temple Square. I truly wished my youngest son could have been with me . . . he would have eaten the experience up. The next morning, after another WONDERFUL night’s sleep, I was helped to get into see my dentist and have my teeth cleaned (in order to save my retainer from being broken off in Costa Rica). After the dentist, I had my most difficult task ahead of me . . . seeing my sisters-in-law in person for the first time in over 9 months.
I am SO THANKFUL my mother-in-law came with me, she kept me grounded. But being around these AMAZING WOMEN brought me MORE JOY and HAPPINESS than I could contain. I was able to SEE HOW BLESSED I had been in my 19 years of marriage and how perfectly we all fit together as a family. Those women are truly more precious to me than anything this world could offer me. Just knowing that they believe in me, support me in homeschooling and living in Costa Rica and miss me was MORE than I could ask for. Hugging each one of them was THE BEST GIFT I could receive from them or from our Mother in Heaven. I truly felt her gift to me, through them.
After some tearful good-byes, my mother-in-law and I were off to try and pack 2 suitcases, a large duffle bag and a carry-on with more than 200 pounds of books, groceries, knick-knacks, medicine, toys and clothing. How it all fit is due to my father-in-law’s patience and gift of packing. And NOTHING broke on the way home!! Nor was anything taken from me at Customs. I was also blessed to be upgraded all the way home to Costa Rica, so I could check 3 bags, 70 pounds each for FREE!!! SERIOUSLY!
That last night in Utah was truly the BEST MOMENT of them all. Things between my father and I were the perfect “temperature.” Neither of us seemed nervous or uncomfortable to be around each other. It honestly felt like I was 10 years old again, hanging out with my Daddy. I can’t thank my Father in Heaven enough for His gift to me of having a father for a weekend. My father showed me the ultimate amount of grace, respect, loyalty, tolerance and truth. I can’t thank him enough for what he gave to me.
After a delicious dinner of Manicotti (one of my favorite dishes) and at one of my childhood favorite restaurants, Olive Garden, my father drove me to the airport, to send me back “home.” I looked into his eyes and saw nothing but love, a father’s pride in his daughter and hope that things would only get better for me and my little family. He didn’t hop into the car and drive away. He waited with me, making sure my bags were checked properly and then waited to see me start to walk away. That was my moment.
I stopped my Dad and said, “Dad. Do you know why I came back to Utah?” He said, “I don’t.” I looked deeply into his eyes and said,” I came home for YOU! You were the reason. You always have been. I knew it since July.” That was when I proceeded to tell him about the day my youngest was being brought home from school and she felt she needed to tell her grandpa she loved him. She NEVER talks to my Dad but I allowed her that privilege and it turned out to be on a terribly difficult day for my dad. We ended up simply having a note from a co-worker handed to him saying, “Tell Grandpa that Lexi says she loves him! Very much!” And that was it.
My Dad remembered that day instantly and smiled. He didn’t tell me what had happened that day, he didn’t need to. I KNEW that he KNEW she had listened to the Spirit and that the prompting she received was because the person prompting her loved him and knew he needed that message. He gave me a hug, with tears in his eyes, and said good-bye. And he drove away.
The entire trip home I couldn’t believe ALL that had happened to me in just one weekend. I KNEW that the tender mercies and miracles I had experienced were not only for me but for EACH PERSON that was involved. I FELT the tangible love that Heavenly Father, Heavenly Mother and Our Savior have for each of us. We are NOT sent here to fail. On the contrary. We are sent here to SUCCEED! So how can we know this for ourselves? Get to KNOW Heavenly Father. He is truly, dare I say, AWESOME! He really does KNOW EVERYTHING and HIS WAYS are the BEST ways.
Yes, those ways can hurt us as humans but as Sister Reeves said this last conference, “Sisters, I do not know why we have the many trials that we have, but it is my personal feeling that the reward is so great, so eternal and everlasting, so joyful and beyond our understanding that in that day of reward, we may feel to say to our merciful, loving Father, “Was that all that was required?” I believe that if we could daily remember and recognize the depth of that love our Heavenly Father and our Savior have for us, we would be willing to do anything to be back in Their presence again, surrounded by Their love eternally. What will it matter, dear sisters, what we suffered here if, in the end, those trials are the very things which qualify us for eternal life and exaltation in the kingdom of God with our Father and Savior?”
I am truly hoping that as I put my faith in Jesus Christ and practice more often turning my life and my will over to my Father in Heaven, as that is truly the ONLY gift I can give to Him, I will find more peace and more resistance to stand against the storms of this life and find an inner peace that surpasses all understanding.
I’ll close with Elder Bednar’s parting words from his video clip found below . . .
“As one of His servants, I declare my witness that Jesus is the Christ, our Redeemer and our Savior. I know that He lives and that His tender mercies are available to all of us. Each of us can have eyes to see clearly and ears to hear distinctly the tender mercies of the Lord as they strengthen and assist us in these latter days. May our hearts always be filled with gratitude for His abundant and tender mercies. In the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.”