Saturday, February 9

Stuttgart Stake Women's Leadership Training & Morocco!

I wake up almost every morning and try to get out of bed before everyone is awake so I can study. I got off track with this in January, but am recommitting myself to it. I've missed it and I wake up hungry to learn. This morning I wanted to watch more of the LDS Leadership Training videos for my new calling in the Primary presidency. 

These are really amazing training videos that bring the Church Handbook to life. I felt strongly that I needed to take notes on impressions I had while watching them. The Asian and Latin American women in the Primary videos were so inspiring to me as they "prepared spiritually, participated in councils, ministered to others, and taught the gospel." The Church is doing such great things to help us feel the love of God and share it with others! It's such an exciting time to be a part of the Church!

I didn't get as much study in as I'd hoped because the kids got up not long after me. And they were chatty. And they wanted to know what their chores were so they could have the rest of the day to play. This was all fine until a bowl shattered while McKay was clearing the table and cleaning it up made me late. I always forget to invite Ryan to help me with the kids so I can get out the door. He's oblivious while my frustration is mounting over silly things. I've really got to work on my communication.

Our German stake held a Stake Women's Leadership Training meeting this morning. I love being a part of training meetings, especially seeing how it is done in different areas. The first hour was brunch - rolls, cheese, meats, fruit salad, yogurts, butter, jams, juice, hot chocolate and Caro. I really liked that it gave us an hour to spend chatting because it was enough time to eat and to really talk, sort of like a mini-presidency meeting for us. Then we were invited to leave the brunch and congregate in the chapel. A few husbands of the wives who'd planned this event were there to clean it all up and it was such a great and odd thing to leave it to them.

In the chapel we sang the hymn, "Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel." After the prayer, the Stake Relief Society President spoke while her counselor translated into English from the pulpit. I am so grateful they do this for us! She spoke about their concerns for people in the stake and our need to see others as the Lord sees them and serve them and with them in that manner. They are dismayed to see partners leaving, divorce is happening, youth are not staying strong in the gospel, young adults are finding it hard to find and commit to marriage. Harmony among people in the stake and wards is lacking. She hoped that by bringing us together, we can increase our love for one another and those we serve.

Then Stake President Thomas Schneider spoke to us. Sitting on the stand among the women of the Stake Relief Presidency, Stake Young Women's Presidency, and Stake Primary Presidency, he looked wholly outnumbered! I have always loved how warm and kind he has always been to me in passing or when we've met with him for temple recommend interviews and then Ryan's call to be Elders Quorum president. He told us he would speak to the German sisters first and then have a few things to say for the Americans - he's bilingual. Obviously and sadly, I don't know what he said to the Germans, but I was very touched by what he shared with us. He thanked us Americans for our examples of service and influence in the stake. He acknowledged the challenge it might be to be so far from home and in a strange land with strange people. He was especially thankful and proud of our ward's management of the Primary that was over a hundred children strong in recent years. The German women gasped when they heard him say we have 80 children! I wasn't aware that was so different from the other units in our ward until later. 

The other point he wanted to make with the Americans was to thank us for our example of loyalty to our male leaders, the priesthood brethren. He said Germans see each person as an individual first and so if one doesn't get along with that individual, it is hard for them to be loyal (or to sustain) them as a leader or priesthood leader. He chuckled, saying he thought that must be owing to our largely military background as members here. In my heart, I was glad this is something us Americans have exemplified in Germany. It is so important to a healthy ward atmosphere! President Schneider was just so very gracious to us that I was glad I was there to witness such an outpouring of validation for the efforts of the women I was sitting with. They work so hard in their callings to serve our ward and I am excited to serve with the Primary presidency in Primary -- President Emily Garlock, Sister Cami Ray (of Seattle), and Sister Tish Simmons.

We then went to the rooms that we serve in our auxiliaries. The Stake Primary presidency wanted to make our time together productive and fun rather than boring and preachy. They had five stations set up for us to make visuals for our Primaries: the visual reverence reminder jar with beans to go in and out, emoticon faces for sticks, rain sticks, a wooden dog to paint that will slurp up spaghetti (yarn) during singing time encouraging the children to sing louder, and a musical tic-tac-toe game created also for use during singing time. It was a lot of fun chatting and getting to know each other. 

A couple of the sisters from the German ward wanted to be near Emily and myself to speak English. One gal was from Utah and served her mission in Berlin where she met her husband. She was so happy to joke around with some American sisters. She said having brown sugar from a friend on the base kept her happy. You can't buy brown sugar on the economy here. Guess you could make it easy enough, but it's not the same, a simple thing missed from home. Another sister went to university in the US and is from Bavaria.

The Pfahl Stuttgart Stake here is comprised of 6 wards and 5 branches. I hadn't realized how big an area our stake covered or that some of the units were such small branches. I got to know two women newly called to the Primary presidency of the Waiblingen branch. They have just 12 primary children. Two babies in nursery, 2 CTR classes (one class for 3-5 yr olds, another class for 6-7 year olds), one Valiant class for the 8-11 year olds. In contrast, our ward has 80 children. Almost 10 in nursery (now including Jake!), 30 in Junior primary and 40 in Senior primary. Our military ward will lose 20 families this summer which is actually typical and we'll see how many new families we gain. 

I have really enjoyed being part of this serviceman's ward, even with the high turnover each year. The ward changes so much each year with the introduction of new families. We will soon get a new bishopric as ours has been serving for 5 years. That is the longest any bishopric has served here in the Stuttgart military ward because a standard military family assignment is 2-3 years here. When we lived in northern Virginia, we also had a high turnover ward because of the nature of education and work opportunities right there near the Pentagon and DC. Our primary had been very small because it was hard for families to afford living there. When we moved out to Leesburg, the first thing that I noticed was all the youth and that they had enough young men to utilize passing the sacrament AND being ushers at the door.

A serviceman's ward is different from many wards we've been in before. There are much fewer welfare needs because everyone here has a job, benefits, and is mostly packed and moved by the military. Our ward has been referred to as an international ward, but it is not. Non-German speaking members of the church that live here and are not associated with the military are encouraged to attend the German wards because if they need assistance with local social services and jobs, our ward isn't as able to provide that network and base of knowledge. Some Americans associated with the military have joined the German wards as a way to absorb more local culture and language. Sometimes I wish I was that brave and studious in studying German, there are great people in the German wards. But we are where we are and it is working for us. If we end up with an international job opportunity somewhere else, I hope I'll have learned how to take on that challenge and dive into the language. It really stinks to not be able to communicate with my German neighbors and potential friends to show that kind of respect to them.

I needed a nap after the activity and some errands I ran afterward. Ryan and McKay went off on a father-son date McKay had earned in our merit/chore system. Ryan brought home a pizza for dinner and now we're introducing the kids to "Lawrence of Arabia" in preparation for our family trip to Marrakesh, Morocco next week. McKay is enthralled, Easton has lots of questions and Morgan doesn't dare go to bed and let the boys stay up for all the fun without her. It's fun to share a new culture with them, even if it is a Hollywood introduction. 

I found a beautiful children's book called "Mirror" by Jeannie Baker. Her amazing textured panoramas and depictions of family life in two parts of the world is photographed as spreads in the book. As you flip through both sides of the book, you see a day in the life of one boy's family in Australia and another boy's family in Morocco. I love that the Moroccan part is flipped, read right to left, true to the culture it is portraying.

Marrakesh will be quite an adventure for us, different and more fascinating than anything they've ever experienced before and I hope they'll remember it forever.