Sunday, September 3, 2017

Everyday Giants

I guess I'm a philosopher by nature.  I feel like I ought to fill this blog with details of our everyday senior-missionary life, like getting an oil change and enjoying the wall art...but then what I'm learning from it kind of takes over.

This time, though, I think I will just give y'all an idea of what we do.  We work with five pairs of young missionaries, two in the Pozzuoli/Flegreo area, and three in Naples.  One of those pairs is comprised of sister missionaries - in Pozzuoli...the mission president just can't bring himself to move sisters to Naples!  And even though there were four of us sister missionaries in Naples when I was here in 1973, I can understand this caution.  Naples is truly the best city I know - but it is not a "tame" place.  It is the mission president's responsibility to provide as much safety as is within his power.

What do we do with these missionaries?  We go with them to teach people who have expressed interest in the teachings of the church.  We are not the primary teachers; the elders and sisters have that stewardship.  What we are "good at" is sharing our own personal witness of the various principles being taught, as well as experiences from our looong life. 

For us these teaching opportunities are nearly always accompanied by awe, that these young men and women, so inexpert in so many ways, nevertheless carry a wisdom and an authority beyond themselves.  It is a marvel to behold.

They attain this wisdom and authority by being 1) "set apart" through priesthood authority for that calling and 2) by much daily scripture study, prayer, planning and studying together, and by practicing strict obedience to the regulations set up for missionaries.  They avoid distractions by focusing solely on the work that they gave 18 months-2 years to do, full time.  They are happy to do it (for the most part; some come because they feel pressured to do so, and until they undergo some kind of metamorphosis wherein they become self-directed, they can feel pretty miserable sometimes).  They also grow, very much, through service.  They try to help folks out in any way needed.  They are just the most light-filled, light-hearted young people I know, and it is a delight to work with them.

We also have fun.  We laugh a lot.  We eat pizza a lot!

The sisters in our zone, along with pre-mission Gioele

When we aren't with the missionaries, we are often visiting members of the Church who, for any variety of reasons, are no longer "active" members.  I think I've mentioned that work every now and then.  We get to know them, we try to see things from their perspective.  We learn to love them.  We try to encourage them.  We are all just brothers and sisters, "working out our salvation."

Sometimes we feel a fair measure of frustration with attitudes that get in the way, among active members as well as others.  Sometimes it feels like we're offering a major banquet, holding a door wide open and a chair ready, but one thing or another holds them back.   It's distressing...but it's also a great crucible of learning and growth.  How often I have walked - and do still -  those same paths.  Encourage and stay encouraged, that's the key.  And this cannot be done alone, no matter how spiritually strong a person is.

We all learn to walk by faith.  And power and grace come as a result.  What a marvel.

Last Saturday, another baptism at the sea.  Sapele, baptized by his friend Peter, a returned missionary/refugee, who is continuing the work he started in his native Nigeria.

Last week, we were so preoccupied with the goings on in TX, given that Andrew, Sara and their family were right in the middle of it and we hadn't yet heard how the night had gone for them, whether their house had been flooded or not - we had a hard time concentrating on anything.  So we drove about an hour and a half into the hills and went hiking.

At a certain point, we took a wrong turn and came upon this luxury resort/spa.  I loved the juxtaposition of the Rolls convertible and the vintage Fiat 500!

Had one of the most enjoyable meals yet, in Telese Terme, at Locanda della Pacchiana.

A week or so earlier, we went to Posillipo, overlooking Napoli on one side and Pozzuoli and environs on the other, here at the huge Parco Virgiliano.

Pozzuoli side, with Bacoli, across the bay, and the islands of Procida and Ischia in the distance.

Napoli side, with the Amalfi peninsula and Capri in the distance.

Here Sorella Abbate (born in Napoli, raised in Como) and I are gesturing toward Bacoli, Procida and Ischia from the patio of our church in Pozzuoli, showing our new Sorella Contreras (from Veracruz, Mexico) a bit of the layout.

Just have to put in this photo of our GPS.  It kind of shows why driving in Napoli is Blaine's greatest stress!  We always enjoy August in Italy, because practically everyone goes on vacation, meaning traffic and parking are, if only temporarily, a breeze.

I took the two photos below when we were out walking on a not-too-hot day, and there were clouds in the sky.  Silly me!  I thought that meant rain!  But I can say that yesterday, probably about 3 weeks later, we did finally get some good rain.

So Blaine has never been a cat person, really...but this is getting serious!

Yes, we are actually feeding her.

This bush grows multicolored, multi-patterned flowers.  In the heat, with no rain.  Amazing.

No words for this sweet photo

A few pics of those wonderful missionaries I was talking about, plus some others in the Napoli zone with whom we do not work on a regular basis, but see them at least once every six weeks.

That guy smiling directly at the camera is Anziano/Elder Draghi, who is about to finish his mission.  We knew him a year ago here in Pozzuoli - but we knew him even before that, because he comes from Rimini, which is in the area where we served our first mission.  He helped us there with the camps we put together for the Young Women and Young Men.  Man we love these guys!

In the pic below are two special people (besides Blaine of course, and good ol' Anziano/Elder Friedman, who is now starting a new adventure at BYU):  Gioele, a Napoli girl who will leave this month for a mission in Lyon, France; and Sam, who is the branch mission leader in Napoli, and always comes to zone conference.  Great guy.  He's from New Zealand; his wife Lori works at the US Embassy.  Missing is Giuseppe, a Napoli guy who leaves in November for the Milan Mission.

 Below is Mamadou, from Senegal, though I'm not sure I spelled his name correctly.  We met him selling hand drums and other wares at the Fourth of July spectacular in Carney Park, the place where the US military holds all their activities.   We ended up buying ten djembes from him last month, with monies from the church humanitarian fund.  There are three (at least) refugee camps near the church in Naples, with around five or six hundred Africans who have virtually nothing to do but wait for their documents.   The week before last we started a drum circle in church on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, followed by Italian class.  We've had about 8 - 10 participants so far.  If it takes off we'll buy more drums and other instruments.


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Out of Focus

I like to take a photo when I get a new hair cut/color.  Call it vanity.  This one's a little out of focus.

Like our lives can become sometimes.

Here's a little tip:  if you ever notice more than the average amount of floating things on your eyeball, get help fast.  I owe the vision in my left eye to our longtime family eye doctor, William P. Lee of Millington, TN, for that little tidbit.  It happened to me about ten days ago.  It's a long story, filled with little tender mercies.  Not only did the eye doc here in Naples find a vitreous tear (repaired the next day with laser), but he also found, IN THE OTHER EYE, a far more serious problem that requires monitoring every three or four months.

Had I not had the vitreous tear, and known what to do about it, I might never have known that a greater danger lurked in the other eye until it was too late to do something about it.   I could in short order have lost the vision in one or both eyes.

You may have had such an experience, where suddenly you're looking at a major paradigm shift.  What would my life - this life, the one I'm accustomed to - be without vision?  I know, I know, blindness happens.  Of course.  But it doesn't happen to ME, not up til now, when I'm faced with that very real possibility.

All sorts of what ifs.  All sorts of conjectures about how I would be treated by others - how I have treated others?  Not maliciously of course - just dismissedly.  Now that could happen to me.

I'm going to break here to say I've been pondering a lot lately about how I would handle it if I were called upon to suffer.  As, in fact, we all are.  I've suffered before, haven't you?  I guess the big question is, will I be able to handle what I'm asked to do?  Or maybe I'm asking all the wrong questions.  Maybe it's not a matter of what ifs.

Maybe, as Billy Joel sings, it's a matter of trust.

I've been following President Russell M. Nelson's invitation to study everything that Jesus ever said or did, in all the scriptures (  That's a subject for a great many blogposts, I suppose; I will just say that I am already plumbing new depths.  Luke's rendition of the Rich Young Man (Luke 18) really caught my attention.  This young Jewish leader is apparently a huge, over-the-top fan of Jesus as "the best Rabbi ever":

"Good Master," he begins.  Before Jesus responds to his question at all, he sets things straight.  He will not have any hero worship:  "Why callest thou me good?  none is good save one, that is God."

He repeats very often a phrase found in John 6:38, that He came into the world to do the will of Him (the Father) who sent Him.

So - application to the story at hand.  If I remember under every circumstance, that I, too, came into the world to do the will of Him that sent me ... then I'll be ok.  Under any circumstance.

Now I feel more focused.

On a lighter note:  lots of photos that I've taken in the considerable amount of time since last I wrote.   Sorry folks.  I won't claim busy-ness because we make time for what's important to us.  I will say I have a hard time with priorities.  Anyway:

When Tamra was here in May, we got tickets to four attractions in the Pozzuoli area, all of which have to do - of course - with Greek and Roman ruins.  These are taken in and around Bacoli, across the bay from where we live.

 That's Tamra in there, hangin out with the ghosts of the past.

We also visited the great National Archeological Museum in Naples.  It's fabulous and I took lots of photos that you can find on my Google + because it's easy to download from there to my laptop.  It's on Linda Hyde whatever - not sure how that works.   This particular piece of statuary tells the story of what happens when one woman offends another, more powerful one - the sons of the powerful one tie the offender to a wild bull...  the fact that the story is memorialized in this scene (and also in a painting from Pompeii) illustrates that a thirst to be entertained by violence is nothing new.

These are all artifacts from Pompeii.  Astounding.  We're talking 2000 years old.

There was also a contemporary exhibit all centered around the iconic Napoli figure Pulcinella.  I liked this one in particular.

Here are ruins of a Greek temple, less than 5 minutes from our house.  I took the pic as we were walking back from accompanying Tamra to the ferry, which she took to Ischia for three days and had a ball.

I enjoy driving down a street and seeing a big ol' church ahead.

After hiking to Vesuvius with Tamra one day. we stopped in for a gelato at Torre del Greco, a port community.  This is a humongous statue of Jesus right on the port; I couldn't step out for a better perspective because I'd have been in the water!

We finally took the occasion to eat pizza at the most famous pizzeria in the world, Sorbillo.  We had the classic margarita.  It was definitely good, even after a bit of a wait.  And inexpensive.

Another time we took a hike to the old paper mills of Amalfi.  Beautiful drive, perfect weather, fascinating story, lovely path.  Afterward we went to the paper museum in Amalfi and saw the process.

These shots are more on the mundane side.  Often when we come home - and we usually come home somewhere around 9:00 or 10:00, the parking lot in our little piazza is beyond full - evidently folks come here to park, then head downtown.  People are very creative about their parking.  This is not officially a parking space, and if we did not have a permit for this area we could get a fine parking here.  As it is, it works.

The view from one of our bathroom windows.  Hmm, I just realized, that was probably the last time I saw rain clouds, and it was taken probably mid May.  Yeah.  I think we're in a drought.

This is not our cat, though this is our kitchen.  Blaine and the cat have become fast friends, so it feels perfectly at home in our apartment, even though we never feed it.  It must be lonely; in fact, now that the kids are out of school, we don't see it as often!

Mothers Day rose.  It bloomed so beautifully.

The local sister missionaries and I took a Pday excursion (preparation day - once a week, till 6 p.m., young missionaries clean, write to their families, shop, and go sightseeing, play soccer, etc.)  to a church in the historic center of Napoli called Pio Monte della Misericordia.  There we saw an amazing painting called The Seven Works of Mercy by Caravaggio - you can google it and see a better photo than I took!  But I did take some others that I thought were fetching.  Here are four of the sisters doing a major Pday activity, reading emails from home.

Most of the paintings were dark and unenlightening, I'm sorry to say, but I really liked these:  The first is Mary with the Baby Jesus, and little John the Baptist.

This one is of Hagar and Ishmael with the angel

Re:  my last post.  Even in the 1700s when these paintings were done, there were ruins!  This is hard to fathom for us Americans.

This was my very favorite:  the Holy Family on a picnic, with Joseph handing cherries to the Child Jesus, and Mary with bare feet.  Absolutely endearing.

Okay, so I don't feel 100% right about posting these, because I took advantage of someone else's mourning.  This is a very traditional funeral procession.  All the mourners were walking behind.  I took the photos quickly then stood solemnly.  

Again at Sorbillo.  The sorelle (sisters) weren't willing to stand in line so they ordered carry out and sat on the window ledge outside the restaurant!

A sweet couple in the Naples Branch, the Tucci, gave us a very elegant 42nd anniversary dinner on June 12.  They really went beyond the necessary to make it special.  We felt loved!

And the members here are so kind, we are invited to dinner often (my burgeoning paunch attests to it).  Here's the Ariante family (plus kittie and Anziano/Elder Perfili)

Here's Blaine on Fathers Day, when thanks to American friends who can shop the post exchange, I made chicken enchiladas and he also got to eat pork and beans.  We had the rest of our anniversary cake for dessert!

Saturday evening we had an event that Blaine said is what he's been anticipating for the last almost ten months:  a resounding success.  The "Serata Napoletana" held at the Napoli Branch was filled with great neapolitan music, dancing, poetry, crafts, food and wonderful, wonderful people.  Here at least half the attendees are singing "U surdato nnammorato" - hope I spelled that right.  It means the Lovelorn Soldier.

The Young Women did a dance called the Tammurriata; I wanted to share a video but it isn't working.

Blaine and I have been working for months on a presentation that would bring the story of the Great Apostasy and the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ home for the people of Napoli in particular.  It was presented beautifully with the help of these missionaries and especially Brother Granata, the actual Neapolitan in the skit.  Wish he were in the photo.

And here's a fun last pic.  Most every Sunday, the Relief Society president Sorella Camassa brings loaves of fabulous artisanal bread for us missionaries.  Here's Anziano Pesci, the district leader, showing how he feels about that (that's Sorella Tucci in the background):

Every day we put our heart and soul into helping others and ourselves grow nearer to Jesus Christ.  It is an unqualified privilege to be here.  I'm sorry I don't think to take more photos during our many visits and classes.  We love these people, we love each other, and we love you!