As Mike has said - it seems that everyone has a story, and all of those touch our hearts and remind us of the personal care our Father takes of each of us. Wednesday afternoon the elder's brought an inactive sister probably mid to late 50's who they think was somehow offended, and so has not been to church for about 6 months; yet she is one who comes every week to help clean the church, feeling correctly that you show your love for your Father in Heaven by the things you do. Her demeanor at first was accusatory as she talked of those who "take the sacrament every week but don't help other people, and don't allow 'down and out bums' in church." Not sure what makes her think that because we have all kinds of investigators.
We had prayer and began talking again, but now she was quieted a bit and a better spirit was there as we talked of people not being perfect and most often not meaning an offense. The Elders then talked of the importance of coming to church and taking the sacrament and by the time she left there was a peaceful feeling. She even said she would try to come to church. (Sunday note - she did come today and was welcomed by many.) We're hoping that leads to coming back to church for good.
But, to her story. She married young and had her first baby at 19, a little boy. The doctors told her the baby did not live, but she was never allowed to see the him so she always felt they had taken him and sold him, which apparently was not completely uncommon then. Over her lifetime she had wondered and often, she said, "asked God to let me know if he was OK." They had two more children and she and her son and daughter joined the church in 2000. When her children were at the temple in Helsinki, Finland some years later - she was at home - she was praying and had a quiet confirmation and the comforting knowledge that her baby had died at birth, that he was fine and that she would see him again.
We are so grateful for the comfort the Holy Ghost brings. From lds.org:
He is the Comforter (John 14:26). As the soothing voice of a loving parent can quiet a crying child, the whisperings of the Spirit can calm our fears, hush the nagging worries of our life, and comfort us when we grieve. The Holy Ghost can fill us “with hope and perfect love” and “teach [us] the peaceable things of the kingdom” (Moroni 8:26; D&C 36:2).
I had the Fun Fact for one of the District Meetings so went to that knowledge-filled source, the internet (which the young missionaries can't use) for Russian Fun Facts and found The Russian Blue Cat, which we have only seen a couple of, but they really are beautiful cats. They are considered a "royal breed" and as legend goes were kept as pets by the Russian Tsars who liked their "plush fur coats and vividly colored eyes." They were considered to be a good luck charm and stories are told of a Russian Blue healing a sickly Russian prince and tsars placing the cats in newborns' chambers to ward off evil spirits.
Their famous coat of fur is in fact a double coat. It is thick and plush and shimmers with reflective light. The undercoat is soft and downy. The topcoat can be a soft black, but usually is a shade of blue with silver at the tip which gives it the trademark fur color. Their eyes, another stand-out feature, are normally a vivid green or yellow in color. They are also called Archangel Cats because they are believed to have come from the Archangel Isles in northern Russia, and in the late 1800's were taken, probably by sailors to Europe - specifically Great Britian.
They are a natural breed of cat, not coming from cross breeding and also don't have many health problems. But the best is .. in the Tom and Jerry cartoons, Tom Cat is widely believed to be a Russian Blue because of his blue-gray fur. How fun if a fact is that.
The ice is starting to melt so it will begin to slip off the roof with the new snow on it. It is quite pretty, also can be quite dangerous if there are chunks of ice mixed in with the snow. This almost looked like a lace ruffle.
The view from the sister's 9th floor apartment
It is really fun to see what people here do to have fun with the not so fun weather - here someone has cut these stairs into the huge pile of ice and snow.
The two young ladies in the picture below, Dasha a member for about a year and a half and Alyona, a little over a year was baptized since we've been here. They attend university here and are roommates now. They have been in and out of our apartment for various activities and for lessons with the missionaries. They asked last week if I would teach them how to make cookies. It is kind of funny that anyone would ask someone with my level of cooking skills how to do anything. However, it is also true that, over here, the blessings for me in that area have truly been poured out, answers to prayer being the main source, with the internet and recipes and food from home other sources, and I'm grateful. The other lady, Ulia, and late thirties is the one whose husband was in Moscow on business about five years ago and had a heart attack while there, I think we've mentioned her before. We used to see her quite a bit, investigator of sorts, just a good woman, with an absolutely delightful personality, but she hasn't been around for several months. Just recently she has been more in our prayers, wanting to be able to make contact again before we left. Dasha "just happened" to run into her, they knew each other from activities at the office, and Dasha emailed us to see if it was OK for Ulia to come too. Amazing how prayers are answered. It was a fun afternoon, we made brownies and are going to try to get together when we can on Saturdays. Ulia is a very good cook and has agreed to teach us some of her special dishes. Dasha and Alyona speak quite good English, Ulia continues to get better. She and her 16 year old daughter often watch English movies with English subtitles so they can learn more.
Referring back to the story at the first, here, as everywhere else, we find people who have been offended for one reason or another - although sometimes they can just be excuses not to come. There is one mother the elders recently talked to (our missionaries have been concentrating some of their time each week on inactives) whose last time at church was about five years ago. The reason she doesn't come is because her son, about 5 at that time and in Primary, was hit in the head by a block that another child threw, so she determined it wasn't a safe place for her child to be. (just for interest - the red letter that looks like an "A" on the bottom row is a D, the yellow letter next to it is an F, the spidery red image on the side of the top block is a "zhe" like in pleasure.
After finishing the Book of Mormon in the missions 65-day challenge, we started Jesus the Christ, reading aloud together 15 minutes each night. It has been a "don't-have-the-words-for" experience. It moves amazingly quickly, almost reads like a novel and the testimony we have of Him has deepened as have our testimonies of the truthfulness of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It has been a happy time, even though sometimes it is hard to be so far away from home and family but that is no different than so many others who serve. Everyone likes President Hinckley's story of his father's reply .. "Forget yourself and go to work." And the song .. "Because you have been given much, you too must give." And we have been given much -- grateful to all of you who have added so much to our lives and the lives of our children and for the people from here from whom we have learned so much.
So closing with another favorite thought from President Hinckley: