Today, in a place called Marburg, I walked on stones that have been walked for more than a thousand years. These stones are worn and old. If they could speak, oh the stories they’d tell! I wondered about those stories and the people in them. I tried to imagine the shoes on the feet of the people that walked here–the women and children, the soldiers and guards, the shopkeepers and buyers. Years and years of them living lives we know little about today.
And then I thought about words, and how something as simple as a word can also last for centuries. But unlike stones, words communicate. They tell the stories. They explain. They describe. They detail. They evoke emotion. They enlighten.
Words are more powerful than stones.
I’ve shared this before and will share it again because all day today, these words went through my mind: ““You know, there are poems, there are stories, whole books, about people who lived hundreds, even thousands of years ago. Those people still live because of words. Words! Words are the most wonderful things in the world. As long as there are words, nobody need ever die.”
– Betsy Byars, Keeper of the Doves
Stones preserve structures, but words preserve people and thoughts. We are more important and words are more powerful and more enduring, but only if we preserve them.
Another reason for writing my fingers to the bone.
On my nightstand at home is a small book by Nicole Johnson that I’ve read and re-read many times as a wife and mother. And now that I’m living in a land of cathedrals, I’m thinking about it again as a grandmother. The Invisible Woman. We are many and we are not alone in this feeling. There have been plenty of times when my tears have wet my pillow at night because I was invisible on any given day. This message has helped me get through those days and years. Maybe they will help you too.
It started to happen gradually…
I would walk into a room and say something and no one would notice. I would say , Turn the TV down, please.” And nothing would happen. So I would get louder. “Turn the TV down please!” Finally I would have to go over and turn the TV down myself.
And then I started to notice it elsewhere. My husband and I had been at a party for about three hours and I was ready to go. I looked over and he was talking to a friend from work, and I walked over and he kept right on talking. He didn’t even turn toward me.
That’s when I started to put it together. He can’t see me. I’m invisible. I’m invisible. Then I started to notice it more and more.
I would walk my son to school and his teacher would say, “Jake, who’s that with you?” And my son would say, “Nobody.” Granted he’s just five, but nobody?
One night, a group of us gathered and we were celebrating the return of a friend from England. Janice had just taken this fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in.
And I was sitting there, looking around at the other women at the table. I’d put my makeup on in the car on the way there. I had an old dress because it was the only thing clean. And I had my unwashed hair pulled up in a banana clip and I was feeling pretty darn pathetic.
Then Janice turned to me and said, “I brought you this.” It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I did not understand. And then I read her inscription.
She wrote “With admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.”
You can’t name the names of the people who built the great cathedrals. Over and over again looking at these mammoth works you scan down to find the names and it says, “Builder unknown, unknown, unknown.” They completed things not knowing that anyone would notice.
There’s a story about one of the builders who was carving a tiny bird on the inside a beam that would be covered over by a roof. And someone came up to him and said,
“Why are you spending so much time on something no one will ever see? And it’s reported that the builder replied, “Because God sees.”
They trusted that God saw everything. They gave their whole lives for a work, a mammoth work they would never see finished. They showed up day after day.
Some of these cathedrals took over 100 years to build. That was more than one working man’s lifetime. Day after day. And they made personal sacrifices for no credit.
Showing up at a job they would never see finished for a building their name would never be on. One writer even goes so far as to say no great cathedrals will ever be built again because so few people are willing to sacrifice to that degree.
I closed the book, and it was if I heard God say, I see you. You are not invisible to me. No sacrifice is too small for me to notice.
I see every cupcake baked, every sequin sewn on and I smile over every one. I see every tear of disappointment when things don’t go the way you want them to go.
But remember, you are building a great cathedral. It will not be finished in your life time. And sadly, you will never get to live there. But if you build it well, I will.”
At times my invisibility has felt like an affliction to me. But it is not a disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my own pride. It’s okay that they don’t see. It’s okay that they don’t know.
I don’t want my son to tell the friend he’s bringing home from college, “You’re not gonna believe what my mom does. She gets up at 4:00 in the morning and she bakes pies and hand bastes a turkey and she presses all the linens.”
Even if I do all those things, I don’t want him to say that. I want him to want to come home. And secondly, I want him to say to his friend, “You’re gonna love it there.”
It’s okay they don’t see. We don’t work for them. We work for Him. We sacrifice for Him. They will never see, not if we do it right, not if we do it well.
Let’s pray that our work will stand as a monument to an even greater God.
I’ll check in here from time to time, though. Maybe to introduce our new home, I’ll post here my first letter back to some of my dear friends, sent after or first week or two.
The pic below shows the old Area Church Offices on the left and our apartment building in the middle. We live on the 6th floor.
This is the view from our window:
Here’s a bit of news:
Well, we’ve been here more than a week now and we are loving it! This is a bit of a group letter to you, my dearest friends, just to let you know all is well and we are really happy.
We arrived in Frankfurt on Tues 22 August. We are living in an 11 floor block apartment building that houses several of the senior missionary couples here and a few of the young missionaries. The apartments are right next to the old church office building and Frankfurt Stake center, but this month the big move is happening for all the church employees—we’ve gone to a large very nice office complex about a 15 min drive from home. It’s called the Phoenix Haus.
The Phoenix Haus will be the Church Office Building for Europe. The church purchased the building a few years ago and major renovations have been happening. I’ll attach a pic of the building and our apartment building. We (the Church) don’t occupy the entire building, but the hope is that as the church grows here, in time we will. The inside looks like brand new and it’s all beautifully finished with beautiful photo murals on the walls and quotes etched into the office windows and state of the art workspaces.
We go to the office every day 8:30 or 9:00 to about 6:00. Slowly we are learning what they want us to do and it’s a little overwhelming. Communications (formerly Public Communications or Public Affairs) is the department in the Church that shows us off to the world. For us, the focus is from European countries to all the rest of the world. It feels rather like a newsroom or a place for journalists. We have to find stories and write them, so we stay tuned in to all of the other departments and what they are doing. We have communication directors in about 15-18 of our 34 countries. Some of the countries in our central European area don’t have many members or national directors. We’re having a big conference with all of the national directors in 1.5 weeks, so we’re spending a lot of time getting ready for that.
This is our Central Europe Area:
One of the jobs they’ve just given me is to create content for the 7 large flat screen TVs in the building that the employees will see. I need to gather interesting news items and information that will quickly summarize what’s going on in the area and it will be shown on a rotating or revolving screen for all the employees to see. There are about 260 employees working in the area offices now, with an additional 26 missionary couples and quite a few interns, many from BYU.
This evening we’re going to the Friedrichsdorf Temple with our small office staff. (We joined one other Sr couple and have 2 bosses and a new BYU intern.) The temple is about a 15 min drive from the office. I’ll be doing the temple work for a dear relative I knew, my Tante Hilde.
One of the fun things about this mission is that we have our evenings and weekends free. We can do whatever we want and go wherever we’d like. Last Saturday we went to a town called Hanau, where the brothers Grimm were born and lived. We visited the castle/ palace there and the old churches and enjoyed wandering around the town. This coming weekend we’ll join a group of missionaries going to visit Wartburg, a town with a castle where Martin Luther hid out. While there he translated the New Testament into German. Every week there are outings and fieldtrips or we can do our own thing. All the missionaries have lists of places to go and see. There is so much interesting history here!
The grocery stores are great. We’re eating simply and well. We love our small apartment with a sitting room, small kitchen, small bathroom and a bedroom. We keep our windows open day and night. They look out over a huge old cemetery a block or two away. It’s a lovely place to walk. We are enjoying this simple focused life. And I’m enjoying being surrounded by German words!
The weather has been beautiful, in the 70s. The air feels crisp with a touch of Fall. We will love the seasons here. We’re happy and grateful for this fun opportunity to learn and to serve. I hope we can do all they need us to do. It will be fun (and a little scary) to figure it out!
Love to you from Frankfurt,
This is our little apartment, cozy and nice.
I can walk from one end of the apartment to the other in about 15 steps. It’s just perfect for our needs. We’re going to be very happy here.
Well, that’s a first taste of our new world. If you’d like to see more, including more about the work, daily life and our fun outings, look in on the mission blog from time to time. I’ll be over there now. Love to you all.
It’s 10:30 p.m. Tomorrow we depart. My bags have been packed for a few days now. John’s bags are still standing empty. We’ve had visitors dropping by all day to wish us well. It looks like we’ll use every inch of space we have to take our things across the ocean. I’m really tired and there’s plenty left to do (like cleaning out the fridge). I will take a big breath once we’re on the plane, flying away. Farewell dear home.
John and I go about preparing to leave in very different ways. He’s been working all day every day in the yard, (granted we did have another wedding reception here last weekend). He’s gotten every weed out, trimmed every bush, transplanted every overgrown plant. He planted 1,960 Vinca plants in the mowstrip in front of the Farm House this last month. Yesterday he replaced some bushes that died with these new Boxwood shrubs so they grow up while we’re away. His thoughts and energies have been in the yard and in cleaning the garage.
In the meantime, I’ve been stewing about what projects to take to Germany for months. How much time will I have in the evenings to work on my things? How much hand work and sewing should I take? What books are my highest priorities? Which can be found in my devices? Which of my Germany language texts will be most helpful? Then I stew about clothing–clothes for winter, clothes for summer, clothes for the office, clothes for travel, clothes for special events. I worry about fitting my stuff into 2 suitcases.
Here’s an excerpt from my journal yesterday:
2:39 p.m. It’s so interesting to me that John doesn’t worry about taking ANYTHING except his few clothes and his laptop. I’ve spent months agonizing over projects–applique and handwork, books to take and read, documents that need to be typed (I have a 4″pile of them), histories that I need to write like Dad’s. My own Encyclopedia to gather, write and organize. Little items for living, meds, vitamins & supplements, a few favorite spices and more. It’s taken me weeks to get everything ready. It doesn’t occur to John to take something to do there. He’ll work and he’ll watch tennis. That’s his life. So easy. I feel very complicated next to him.
This week I finished prepping the last of my applique projects–the flags that will go in a project I’m working on now.
This is a quilt I’ve been working on for many years. I’m taking the last 3 or 4 blocks to finish appliqueing and then I’ll go to work on the borders. The bazillion leaves are all cut, turned and pressed, ready to go, along with the vine and berries.
It’s taken me weeks to prep and prepare just the right projects to take. Here’s what it’s boiled down to–here are the sewing projects I’ll be taking:
John, on the other hand, has cleaned his office and his workshop. The yard is ready to grow without him. And he’s really helping empty the cupboards in the kitchen.
He’s worked his way through this whole tub of fudge from a neighbor and is finishing the last of the stale Peeps (he prefers them old and dry).
Yes, we do things, each in our own ways, but that keeps our lives interesting. I packed my suitcases today to make sure everything would fit. I filled each to 50 lbs. My carry-on is full of books and stitching. John will carefully pack his suits and shirts this weekend. I’ll bet his stuff will fit in one suitcase. I’ll be grateful to add any overflow I have to his.
By the time we go, the Peeps will be gone, my sewing room will be quiet, and the yard will look fantastic. We have 3 more days.
Here’s a post I wrote in January 2015 as we were preparing to leave for 3 year to go to Yakima. I woke this morning, remembering these words, feeling every single one of them again. I’ve been feeling nostalgic all day, wondering how I’ll leave this place I love.
There are some minutes and even some hours in some days where I just sit and stare out the window, thinking about my life and my family and my friends, and I feel a huge sadness that I’ll be leaving this place for awhile. I won’t see what’s out my window, or see my children very often, or see my friends for 3 years. It’s a feeling that pulls my heart down into a sad achy place. I wonder how I will do it. I wonder about all the things that will happen while I am gone. I wonder what excitement in the lives of my friends will be missed. I wonder if some of my dear older friends may go and be gone when I come home.
I will miss out on conversations with friends, or weekends with children home from school. I will leave behind piles of books in every room I intended to get to this next year. Quilt projects that have been on hold will stay on hold. My front door will be locked and no one will come visiting.
Who will pull the weeds? Who will welcome children to the playground? Who will hang Christmas lights or take them down? Who will plant pumpkins for Halloween, or harvest the grapes in the Fall? Who will love the things around me that I love, every day I’m here?
It’s an interesting thing to consider going away for awhile. Life will carry on here, day by day, as it has before, as it does now. I just won’t be here to feel it in this place.
I wonder what I’ll be thinking after 3 years in Washington. I’ll bet my feelings will be similar, on a quiet day like today, as we take down the Christmas tree. I will be thinking about who I’ll be leaving behind in that place, wondering how I will ever live without being near them.
So here’s another nostalgic thing we did this morning as we are preparing to depart. We went down to pick out which travel-worn suitcases we’d use this time. We ended up emptying the corner in our storage room that was stuffed not only with suitcases, but with travel bags of every size and variety that have accompanied us all over the world these last 30 years or so. It was time to send these travel bags and cases to the local thrift store.
We filled the entire back of our car–probably with 50-60 pieces. Many were BYU Travel Study bags and fanny packs from our international trips (one was my trip to Israel not long before I met John in 1990). There were old WordPerfect bags and totes (today they call them “SWAG”), given out at special work events. There were dozens of the kids’ old school backpacks, sport duffels and gym bags. We had hanging garment bags no one uses anymore. There were several of my old camera bags that held all my lenses and camera equipment in padded compartments. I lugged those large bulky bags to every sporting event the kids participated in and I lugged them all over the world. Now I slip my camera (phone) into my pocket (or bra). We found computer bags that matched the sizes of old laptops, now dead. I found the bag I carried to BYU every day for about 10 years when I was an old student. It held my notebooks filled with the treasures I was learning. All these we once used and loved and carried with us. Today we let them go.
It was interesting going through the bags and cases and zippered pockets, emptying them out. I found a camera zoom lens. There were lots of cough drops and old gum. I found an old film canister. My favorite was a toothpick holder full of toothpicks (before we had floss pics). These forgotten little odds and ends accompanied us on our trips and to campus or work and back. So many memories. So many adventures. So many things we carried with us.
It felt good to free the space and send these to new homes, but I also felt a little sad and nostalgic at the parting.
This evening I charged my old iPad and Kindle, thinking I might use those in Germany. I asked Aaron to take a look at my iPad to see if it was working OK. He took a look, then laughed at me. “How OLD is this??” he asked. I can’t remember. Maybe 10 or 12 years?? He said “you should just throw it away and get a new one.”
Then I showed him my Kindle, new since our last mission, but not used much. No one told me you have to keep the battery charged or it DIES. “You can throw that away too,” Aaron said. What an interesting day it’s been, seeing all the change through the years in what I have carried with me.
While we were on a roll, we decided to part with this pile of old X-Box controls and games. I’m not the only one with outdated technology. These haven’t been touched since the kids moved out.
Then at the last minute, I threw in 3 or 4 of my old beloved German Dictionaries. We now have Google Translate in our phones–words at our fingertips. Dictionaries are obsolete. I had my favorite dictionary ready to pack, then it occurred to me that I’d never use it. It’s not needed anymore.
I did hang on to this pictorial dictionary. It has the words for every imaginable machine, process, sport, workplace, mode of transportation, household item, or event you might imagine, with diagrams and pictures, down to the smallest screws. It offers a lot more than Google Translate.
So now, I am filling my bags one more time. Some of my things are new, some have been with me in other places. We are leaving behind the obsolete. I wonder when it will be my last trip. I wonder when that day comes if I’ll know it’s my last. I hope I never know.
I’ve been trying really hard this week to clean and organize my office, my work space. The hard part is that some things need to go, or I might be called a Hoarder. I buckled down today and did a really really hard thing, as described in this journal entry:
I went to work in my office, sorting and organizing. I had 3 rather large boxes stacked in front of my filing cabinets full of cards and letters that I’ve saved. Proof that I existed and was nice to people. I suppose I’ve had visions of my children someday reading each one, thinking, “Wow, all these people really liked my mom. She must’ve been a really cool person!” The cards dated back to 2005. So many. People used to send cards of thanks for so many reasons. One box was entirely from the Yakima missionaries. Love notes to their Mission Mom. So many dear expressions.
With a heavy heart, I am parting with them. I can’t keep them all. No one else will ever take the time to read them. So I must move on. I’d like to think that my kids might read them someday when I’m gone, but I know they won’t care what anyone said to me back then.
As I read through every card and letter, remembering my dear friends, I thought about the time John & I were seated at a BYU President’s Dinner next to Elder and Sister Holland shortly after he was called to the Twelve. We were new at BYU then, and loving our experiences there. (Elder Holland was called as a general authority and member of the First Quorum of the Seventy in 1989, bringing an end to his term as president of BYU. He was ordained an Apostle in 1994.)
I asked Elder Holland how he missed being at BYU (naively thinking he’d gush on about how much he missed it). He said to me that he really didn’t have time to think much about BYU anymore. Life moved on and he was busy now with so many other things. I remember feeling a little let down that we were no longer his focus, the place he longed to return to, or his happiest memory. He had moved on to more important things.
I, too, have moved on. As I read the names on the 100s of cards and notes, I had to think that these dear friends have moved on too since our time together. They’ve moved on from my Institute classes, my Family History classes, my quilt activities, the kids’ school classes, Young Womens and ward activities, visiting teachers, the elderly in our neighborhood we delivered soup to every week, and so many more (nice) things I did for my friends. There were so many sweet notes from our Yakima missionaries. There were notes from my Dad.
I feel sad, now, just looking at the boxes filled to the top and my trash can ready to be emptied. It’s like saying goodbye to all of those friends, many of whom are no longer with us. One was a card from Mrs, Day, my kindergarten and 3rd grade teacher at Windsor School. Several cards were from neighbors who have since died. So many were from missionaries–birthday and Mother’s Day cards and notes. Their words to me will not be read again. It’s really hard to throw them away. Mostly because their words meant so much to me at the time, and partly because they are evidence that I was here and that I lived and that I loved every single person who at sometime in my life sent me a card of thanks.
I’m trying to channel Elder Holland’s words. He moved on. I must move on too. I did save a small pile to hang on to a bit longer. A few family pictures from relatives. A few especially meaningful ones. But, they will probably sit in another box for the next 10 years before being thinned out again.
I have a really hard time throwing away words. It’s contrary to everything in my documenting heart. I’m going to walk away from those boxes now, as they sit in the middle of my office floor. 5:01 p.m.
Tonight was our neighborhood Cookie Walk. This has been one of the most successful ward activities we’ve organized while we’ve headed the activities committee. It’s been so much fun each month. The kids love it, the parents love it. Everyone gets out of the house on a Sunday evening and we wander through our neighborhood to the 4 designated cookie host homes, where we snack on homemade cookies or other treats and visit with our friends.