Warning: It may take you a week to get through this. It wasn't easy for us to get through it either.
Remember the little quote that went around awhile ago that went something like, “Dear God, today I haven’t said an unkind thing, been sarcastic, passed up an opportunity to help, or said or done anything I regret. But the alarm just went off and now I’m going to get out of bed. I’m going to need all the help I can get.” I used to think that was funny. Now it sounds a lot like my prayers. I've had a few revelations lately about the distance between who I am and who I thought I was. A good friend told me that her children said that they learned a lot about themselves on their missions. It certainly is true for me. I’ll spare you the details.
I started writing an email a week or so ago, sharing the progress I’ve made and the confidence I had gained in using the Samoan language in the temple ordinance. “Fate” intervened and the email disappeared before I could send it. Today at church, a Samoan brother who serves in the temple said good-naturedly to me, “Sister Crowley, you need to learn the Samoan language.” At first I didn’t realize his reference because I didn’t recognize him as one who had been at the veil with me this past week when the patron needed help and all of a sudden I needed help. It seems I am still in the learning phase. So much for confidence. I could go on and on, but neither you nor I want to relive any more of my revelatory moments.
This past week was significant in our lives here and has left me humbled to the core. On Monday after our housekeeping chores at the temple, we gathered for a potluck at the Fitisemanu’s home Sister Fitisemanu invited us by phone on Saturday, saying that a man and his wife were going to entertain us with music after lunch and that this would serve as our scheduled FHE. As it turned out, the ‘man and his wife’ turned out to be every man and his wife. Something obviously got lost in translation. It was evident that the others were aware of this. Fife’s and President and Sister Pauga (counselor and assistant) both had lyrics to their songs printed up to hand out to all of us. President Pauga (say Pa-oonga) conducted in Samoan and we somehow missed that we were to follow the Fife’s contribution. Neither of us caught that. But we did get the drift that at some point it would be our turn to sing, so we whispered our plan to each other and relaxed and enjoyed listening. All of these temple missionaries sang songs from the hymn book as Sister Fitisemanu accompanied on the piano. It was a sweet time and we were enjoying it very much. Then Pauga’s led us in a rousing song that you are no doubt familiar with, but I can’t for the life of me tell you what it’s called. It is a song that repeats the chorus, adding a musical instrument each time after a verse, complete with pantomime. Sister Pauga is quite a character and everyone was laughing and having a great time. Then President Pauga called on us. I said, “You want us to sing after that??” Everyone laughed as the mood had changed and it seemed to be a fitting end to a song fest. We were willing and ready anyway, but he took that to mean we were declining to participate. He quickly called upon President and Sister Fitisemanu to sing the final song and then asked Leon to offer the benediction. We were stunned. Not forewarned, but willing, then passed over, being the only people in the room not contributing. Again,“Sister (and Brother) Crowley, you need to learn the Samoan language.”
Tuesday was a busy day with 4 proxy baptisms, back to back, with ward youth groups of approximately 24 boys and girls participating in each. That generates a lot of laundry, which was still going on at 9:00 p.m.. Leon and I took pity on our faithful counterparts, the Sauni’s (next door neighbors) and Sister Moaga, who hold up such a standard of service and consecration that we are working in their shadow, and will never be able to keep up with them. They work both shifts at the temple every day. Brother Sauni is also included in the demanding schedule they choose to keep. He celebrated his 80th birthday one week ago. Sister Sauni, his wife will celebrate her 46th birthday this Thursday. I could do an entire post introducing these valiant souls to you.
I realize that I never let you know that the Ho-Chings (counselor in the temple presidency and assistant to the matron) were released after their emergency flight to the states for her surgery and are back living in Arizona. We have been w/o a fully functioning temple presidency since then. I’ve written about Chuck and JoAnn Fife, temple missionaries who with the Ho-Chings helped us transition into mission life. In yet another hurried departure, the Fife’s caught a midnight flight home Friday and have been released from their mission. Their son, Tony, has somehow beaten the odds of pancreatic cancer life expectancy by living more than a year since his diagnosis shortly before his parents received their call in the spring of 2012. On Wednesday they received word from their children that they were needed at home. Now. They came by our apartment with the news that night and the thing we feared was now a reality.
I woke around 2 a.m. Thursday with the ramifications of their leaving swirling in my head. We invited them to lunch and prepared a nice meal that morning. That was inspiration as that was the only quality time we had with them in the very busy two remaining days of their stay. Soon after our shared lunch, Leon and I reported at the temple where we served until the temple closed at 9 p.m.. It was a difficult day which was made more difficult by challenges to our focus and purpose which I choose not to elaborate on, only to say I exerted great energy to remain focused. It was on this day that I lost that focus at the veil, resulting in the comment quoted above of the need to learn the language.
Though we were working the afternoon/evening shift this week, we reported Friday morning at 5 a.m. in order to attend a missionary buffet at the Tanoa Tusitala Hotel, which was already scheduled and would serve as an opportunity for all the senior missionaries to say their good-byes to the Fife’s before catching their midnight flight home. There is a brief preparation meeting in the matron’s office/bride’s room at 5:20 a.m.. When I entered the room and sat down, Sister Fitisemanu welcomed me and immediately said with great enthusiasm, “You will be our shift coordinator today.” Please understand, dear reader, that this has been my greatest fear. I have witnessed the great challenge of covering all the ordinances and other service given to the patrons with very few workers to cover these assignments. It is a game of robbing Peter to pay Paul and I have observed Sister Moaga in particular, working every moment to see where she can borrow from one area to cover a more immediate need. Those who have known and served with me in our home ward or stake know that I spend great effort in planning and preparing well in advance of any assignment. This is a situation where you must do the best you can with who you have to work with and what the schedule is for the day. You don’t know the schedule until you arrive, and never how many workers will be there that day. With guidance and support, I successfully navigated the shift with no apparent disasters.
You can stop reading any time. Later during this Friday morning shift, Sister Fitisemanu called me into her office again and said she would like me to take this as a regular assignment on Friday mornings. As she saw the terror in my eyes, and listened to my concerns, she relieved me of that assignment and left it as just for today. Then once more I was summoned and asked if I would accept an assignment as assistant to the coordinator on Friday mornings, serving with Sister Merrick. Brother and Sister Merrick are here w/o an official mission call. Brother Jim Merrick has leukemia and Sister Fiesta Merrick has congestive heart failure. Knowing they would never pass the physicals required to be issued a mission call, they came on their own to serve in the temple. They have been here less time than we have. She accepted the call, knowing less than I do since her main assignment has been in the baptistery and laundry with assignments in other areas. When offered the assignment, Sister Merrick responded, “Yes, Auntie, you know me. I will figure it out. But I want Sister Crowley to serve with me as my assistant.” [Fiesta is niece to President Fitisemanu.) I told Sister Fitisemanu I was happy to be an assistant and to serve with Sister Merrick.
I have shed tears over my lack of faith. I have thought of the Savior who did not ‘shrink’ from the awful suffering required of Him in order to protect my agency. I am ashamed that I shrank from the assignment. I will say that I told Sister Fitisemanu that I would accept if that was the Lord’s will, and was surprised that she reacted to my reluctance and concerns by removing the request. He who hesitates loses out. So, while I am comforted by sharing the assignment with a sister I love dearly, I realized as we talked that I understood the assignment better than she. That may have played into her willingness and my reluctance. Nevertheless, the Lord will help us both to grow and help His work go forward.
Saturday is the longest shift we work: 4 a.m. until the temple closes at noon. My assignment was the baptistery. We had 3 baptisms, and the laundry to go with it. I was often alone, which was fine as I was able to sit quietly in between duties, and enjoy one-on-one quiet conversations with workers who came and went by assignment. I learned many things as I asked about their lives and also about the original temple, which burned down and led to the construction and dedication of this temple in 2005. I was thankful to serve in the baptistery for the first time because as assistant coordinator on Fridays, that will be part of my responsibility to oversee.
At church on Sunday a visitor introduced herself in Sunday School as Ann Howell from Holladay, Utah, on a tour of the islands of Tahiti, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and American Samoa. After the meeting, I asked her to tell me more and we sat together in Relief Society. I learned that she was widowed 2 years ago after caring for her husband for a number of years due to a stroke and eventual dementia. She is traveling alone and had no plans for the rest of her Sabbath, so we invited to spend it with us. She is a delightful soul who loves to travel, mostly because of the people she meets. What a privilege for us to be part of her memory of Samoa. After lunch, she and I made a pot of a wonderful Samoan treat, supoese. [ Say soup –o- essay] Mostly we heard about her experiences on this tour, gave her a ride back to her hotel that she described as a Motel 1 [think Motel 6].
That was our week # 13.5 in Samoa. Below are pictures of people I’ve mentioned in this post. No post should ever be this long. I apologize. The good thing is you can just stop any time and I’ll never know.
Brother and Sister Sauni, two of our heroes.
Sister Nele Moaga (She teaches us Samoan words and laughs at us.)
Brother and Sister Fife, now of Idaho Falls, ID.
Ann Howell, our Sunday visitor.