Monday, May 18, 2015

The Ecphonesis O

O Me! O Life!

By Walt Whitman

O me! O life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?


That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.


The poem "Oh Me! Oh Life!" was published in 1855 and part of a volume of poetry called Leaves of Grass. Click here for a copy of Leaves of Grass I fell in love with it after I saw “Dead Poet’s Society” the movie starring the brilliant Robin Williams (RIP).

Click here to see Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society

This is my favorite poem. Of the thousands and thousands of pieces of poetry that contend to be #1 on my list, this is it.

Poetry is special because the combination of theme, rhythm and word choice can elevate emotion like music. In fact, poetry should be read in silence to really feel what it’s trying to say. Every single time I read "O Me! O Life!" I am lifted. I feel better. It’s a like an old friend that hugs you and says “everything is going to be okay. You matter. You are enough.”

In the beginning it sounds like a poem of lament, or grieving, maybe self-pity. In the first line he summarizes his conflict: What is the purpose of my life (O me!), if life is so hard (O life!)? He comments about the “endless trains of the faithless” and “cities filled with the foolish” and then he humbly notes that he is the most foolish and faithless of them all and he is “forever reproaching” himself. I do that. So by beginning with a question, he makes an unusual choice by providing the answer to his questions:

Answer: (he gets the answer from himself)

That the powerful play goes on (choose life, powerful life)

And you may contribute a verse (everybody gets to equally contribute something, anything – a verse suggests something different from everyone else – if we were the same he would have said chorus)

What I love about the ending is that instead of wallowing in self-pity by leaving the question open and out there unanswered, he is strong enough (don’t we always have just a little juice in us to keep going?) to know the answer but there is no condescension about it. He pushes that universal button of empathy for life’s difficulties and his humility opens the door to us. He manifests his belief that life is powerful, but he doesn't offer a quick fix to humanities problems he intimates that we (everyone one of us) are contributing to society just by being alive…each one of us in a unique way.

But that’s not even half of the emotion it contains.

The tone of Walt Whitman’s famous poem starts with the very first word, which is in fact just a single vowel: O. This kind of O, the kind without the “h” attached to it, is special. You see it in the scriptures, in Greek theatrical texts, in Shakespeare too. We hardly ever think about its meaning because it’s just a single letter. But it’s so much more than just an O. It has been given the formal name “Ecphonesis O” by modern linguists. Sometimes it’s called the rhetorical O.

Ec-phonesis is Greek, and means “to cry out.” It’s derived from “exclameo,” to cry out. “Ecphonesis is a pathetical figure, whereby as the Orator or speaker expresses the vehement affection and passion of his own mind, so he also excites and stirs up the minds and affections of those to whom he speaks.” (JG Smith)

In Milton’s Paradise Lost the character of Eve, being told that she must leave her paradise, cries out, "O unexpected stroke! Worse than of death.”

This O elevates the emotion automatically! But why the heck is it missing its H?

Because I teach and study in Shakespeare’s world, when I coach our high school kids this is what I tell them when they ask the question “why doesn’t it have an H if you still pronounce it Oooooo?”

Well you really don’t pronounce it “o.” Early authors used the single O as a placeholder for emotional exclamations like “GRRRRR!” or “sighhhhh,” or “#!%*!” The Ecphonesis O is only used when the emotion is so high that there aren’t words for how troubled, or angry or happy a person is. Now days we might substitute the O with a piece of music and call it musical theatre. But Milton, Shakespeare, Sophocles and the authors of the bible didn’t write musicals. They couldn’t spell that moment in time when your body is wracked with torment and you expel a guttural “YAWP” as Walt Whitman would say:

The Song of Myself by Walt Whitman

The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains
          of my gab and my loitering
I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
          I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

Ever wondered why you never see movie or stage characters blowing their nose or going to the bathroom? We recreate life on stage or in a book for entertainment or education. We don’t watch a play about someone brushing their teeth or tying their shoes. There is no conflict in that. We don’t learn anything from it. It isn’t COMPELLING. However…add the Ecphonesis O to a script where Ruby the 8th grader goes to brush her teeth and she lets out a deep throaty “OOOOooooo” there’s something to that. She looks down and all her teeth are in the sink. WHAT IS HAPPENING? Now that's dramatic. That needs an O.

See, storytelling is only interesting when compelling things occur. So the Ecphonesis O is very useful for a playwright to give the actor/reader a clue about the grand emotion that is happening. There are upwards of 2400 Ecphonesis O’s in the Shakespeare canon alone.

Here’s a few good ones:

O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo!
O what a rogue in peasant slave am I…
O no! It is an ever fixed mark…
O you beast! O faithless coward! O dishonest wretch!
O reason not the need!
O let me be not mad, not mad sweet heaven!
O brave new world that hath such people in it!
O, O, O, I have lost my reputation!

The O didn't die with Shakespeare and Whitman. We've all used it at points in our life. There were a couple of times in my life when I tested the magnitude of the Ecphonesis O. One real doozy come to mind. I was living in the basement of my parent’s home trying to save money to buy my own home and I got a letter from one of my student’s parents rebuking me for not casting her daughter in a play. Her daughter was a loud, angry and negative soul. I think she reveled in creating drama backstage and I just couldn't face another show adding “put out [this girl’s] fires” to my to-do list again.

So I didn’t cast her.

I think that’s what parents don’t understand. They think by not signing their name to a steaming, stinky letter like that they are saving their child from some kind of retribution or retaliation from a teacher that can cast their children in plays. What they don’t know is that we need the system to function and I save myself a lot of trouble by not casting your kid. It’s never about you. I don’t care what you say. I know what I know.

Anyway... I digress. That's another blog for another time.

I was working late hours trying to put up the show, give kids an opportunity, seemingly by myself, and I was exhausted to say the least. In the middle of the night, I walked through the dark school up to the faculty room to buy a Diet Coke to keep myself awake. I grabbed my mail from my box and sat down on a comfortable chair and started going through it while I drank my precious Diet Coke. There was the letter. It was addressed to me but no return address, and no signature, though from its contents I knew exactly who it was. In a nutshell it said I was emotionally abusive and didn't know how to handle kids because I wasn't a mother myself. She called me “useless” because I was “free-loading” off my parents by living with them. (Everybody knows everything in a small town I guess.) She punched and kicked and stabbed. When I had finished digesting the letter I let out a cry that certainly defined the Ecphonesis O. It wasn't because the letter hurt me. It was because I suspected the letter was true. I was at that point in my life where I suspected I was useless except as a machine to showcase other people’s kids. And since I had chosen not to showcase her daughter this time, she had chosen to stab at my insecurities as an older, single, childless, Mormon woman with no prospects in sight to complete her version of who I should be. (You can only cut so close to the bone if you are also Mormon, which she was.)

I sat in that chair for a good hour, spilling Ecphonesis O after Ecphonesis O in heaps all over the floor. Crying out "...The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?" It was the kind of crying that makes your eyes pop out. It turns your face into a swollen flat surface. It gives you a migraine. It's wet and slobbery and you don't care. It makes you bend in half toward yourself, hug your knees, wipe snot on your pants because you might be the only one that can offer comfort in that moment. It makes you heave and gulp for air and whimper, all at the same time.

In the midst of it all, I started praying. I prayed that I could find out who I was and why I was truly alive. What purpose did He have for me and if this was it – just being the machine – I wanted o.u.t. I cried until I was finally able to ask Him to help me stop crying. I felt the Spirit wrap its arms around me and I fell asleep.

Around 5 AM I was awaken by the sound of custodial keys in the door. I bolted upright and looked at the clock. I sat there for a minute in a fog as the custodian laughed. I tried to remember why I was there and then I saw the letter – still clutched in my hand and it all came back to me. I laughed it off with “boy, that was a comfortable chair!” or something lame like that, and went home to shower so I could come back and do it all again. My eyes were two tiny puffy slits but I was emboldened with the kind of motivation that makes you write letters of resignation, which I did, and never submitted. I needed someone to notice me. I needed change. I needed my absence to count. I needed to be enough. Something.

My parents, long accustomed to me spending the night at the school, were still in bed when I got home. No one would know I had been gone all night. No one would care. No one would even raise an eyebrow… except the laughing custodian.

It is in times like these I am tempted to go on auto-pilot and tell myself that even my least passionate work, just my instinctual work, is still good enough. And then the guilt of working halfheartedly adds to the building disgust I have for myself. I create a fantasy world where I have 3 kids and a mini-van. Where people say “you’re kids are gorgeous!” or “your kids are so well behaved.” I crave teaching my own children how to walk, ride a bike, sew, bake… (grass is always greener). But the only thing I could really do to take my mind off of it, to fill the time, was disappear into a dark movie theatre by myself where I didn't have to talk to anyone and someone else could entertain me. (Ironic that I ended up teaching film.) Silly me, those moments only made me feel more sorry for myself. 

You can imagine that the other Ecphonesis O's in my life are not surprising and involve the years of bitterness, loneliness, finally getting married and then subsequent miscarriages and burying a baby. Those are obvious. But most of those O's were filled with hope, faith and a knowledge that those blessings will be restored if I am faithful and endure my trials. Some of those O's were bitter, but not for long. They taught me so much. They actually increased my faith and gave me strength, depth and empathy for others. Is that it? Is that it's function? I might be on to something.

My favorite Ecphonesis O is taken from the New Testament. The teacher in me appreciates what the O does to elevate emotion, but the human in me, the person that has utilized the Ecphonesis O a few time in my life as I have spoken in desperation, grief or gratitude to my Heavenly Father makes this particular "yawp," this cry, so significant to me.

At the close of Jesus’ public ministry, He found himself at the top of a hill overlooking Jerusalem, the Holy City, lamenting. The children of Israel had rejected Him and the safety He brought to them. As He looked out over the soon to be destroyed city, He was overcome with emotion and expressed His anguish:

          “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!”

Just a few years later, the city was obliterated by the Romans, fulfilling the prophesy. Imagine being able to see that in the future and not able to prevent it because of the hardness of the hearts of your people. Jesus Christ knew the Ecphonesis O. He probably invented it; for "Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted." They who saw Him suffer, instead of seeing the sacrifice in it, imagined that He was suffering at God's hands. In His greatest agonies, they scoffed at His alleged parentage, yet in His death He would save them all.

I often wonder who the atheists turn to in the depths of an Ecphonesis O moment? What Omnipotent power comforts them in their darkest moments? To whom are they grateful? I'm ignorant here and I admit it. Who sustains them, makes them powerful? Maybe that's the big idea here. The trials that bring on the Ecphonesis O are a necessary evil. They brings us to our knees, they reminds us who we are and that we are not alone. We are simply building an unbreakable connection and life line to the endless power from whence we came.

Let the mighty trials and tribulations roll forth...BRING IT! Though I will probably always feel "foolish...faithless...intertwined in the plodding and sordid crowds" its my verse.

And I'm enough.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

In the Guise of Sacrifice

Me and Sister Ratana, my first companion. I love her so much!
She was very patient. They called us the "monster and the mouse."

I read a post on Facebook the other day that disturbed me. It was a man responding to a post about the how he felt the LDS church stunts the growth of its youth by making them go on missions. He said " the guise of sacrifice...they stall their education, careers and lives by serving God when really they are just proselyting for more members to fill the churches coffers."

Helping a member deep fry grasshoppers and sell them. We
thought if the Americans helped her, she would sell more.
She did. Never refuse a bit a service, even if it includes a
morning or pulling the wings off insects.
I served a full-time mission from 1984-1986. No one MADE me do it. Contrary to this man's belief the church does not make anyone go on a mission. I never thought I would go. I thought by the time I was 21 or 22 I would be married. Most of my friends were. I was a junior at Southern Utah University at the time and I was just sick of school. At the same time I didn't want to stop my life by dropping out of school to work for minimum wage but I had been in school since I was 5 and I was burned out. I also needed some time to reevaluate my major. I decided that a mission might give me some time to refocus and it might divert my attention away from ME for a while. I also looked at it as a way to keep learning but NOT in a classroom.

It worked out well for me.

I submitted my application to serve and just one week later I received news that I would be serving in Bangkok, Thailand.
I did not choose to go to Thailand. I firmly believe that it was the place God chose for me to serve with my skill set. I was given a "language aptitude" test at the time (which they no longer do) and I guess I passed that with flying colors because learning Thai was like walking a tightrope in heels. I wanted to go somewhere Spanish speaking. I already spoke a lot of Spanish and I thought it would be cheaper for my parents to send me to a Spanish speaking country. Now days all missionaries pay the same each month, but in my day, you paid based on the cost of living in that area or country. My brother was serving in New York and my parents were already paying a fortune to keep him out. I needed to go to a mission that was next to free. No such luck. See, if you didn't know, missionaries aren't paid for their service - they or their families PAY for the opportunity.

In Thailand atee rice three times a day and killed cockroaches the length of your palm. I served as diligently as a person can who serves in the land of the Golden Buddha. I obeyed my mission rules and kept busy. I wrecked three bicycles while I was there, twice by my own stupidity and once I was hit by a motorcycle and thrown into a sewage canal. He didn't stop to help me out. I had a few hospital stays with dysentery and passed my first kidney stone while I was in Thailand. But it was the greatest adventure of my life.

Eventually I learned to speak Thai. I don't think I ever learned to speak it like a native, but there was a day, about 5 or 6 months in, that I knew I was reaching people with my Thai. I had so many blessing in learning that beast of a language.

I was living with my "companion" (another missionary serving in my area - my roommate and
Leaving Chiang Mai. I served in that incredible city for
6 months. I was so lucky. Amazing missionaries - all.
working partner) in Chiang Mai, Thailand way up North in the country when one morning, before I had a chance to put my tag on, the doorbell rang. Standing on our porch were two women that looked an awful lot like Mormon missionaries, but I didn't know them. One was a young Thai native and the other was an older German woman. They were wearing skirts, white shirts and name tags just like us...but not, somehow. The older German woman asked me if I was American and I said yes. Her English wasn't great, but her Thai was worse, so we went with English. I asked the Thai girl if she spoke English and she didn't. So we settled on Thai. The Thai girl's eyes got big and she said "are you from Thailand?" and I said "No. I'm from the United States. I've been here about 5 months." I explained that I was always asked if I was Thai or part-Thai because my black eyes and dark hair are very Thai. I noticed that she really took that in. She was looking at me as if I was some kind of freak. She said "your Thai is very good..." with a kind of question mark? "Are you CIA?" I did not understand that word see-aye-ehhhhh. I need to write that down for later, I thought. I said I was sorry I didn't know what see-aye-ehhhh was in phasaathay
(the Thai language). She explained "you know, cops shoot-em-up bad guys FBI." She has her finger stuck out in a gun position. "OH! CIA! THAT CIA. Hahaha! No sorry. We are missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." WHAT A LET DOWN! You have me confused with some 007 type that could crush you with her index finger. I pump a bicycle 40 miles a day. I have the thighs of a good kickboxer but that's about all. (I didn't say that last part.)

They were Jehovah's Witnesses I found out. Having never run into any people from this religion, I was fascinated that I had to come all the way to Thailand to meet the "JDubs" as I had heard them called. (I hope that nickname isn't offensive. I don't mean it to be.) We exchanged pleasantries and they asked me to buy their pamphlets, which I was happy to do. I went back into my room to find some change and gathered about 15 of the LDS pamphlets and handed them to German woman with the 50 baht that I owed for her pamphlets. The German woman said "Oh no, we can't afford your pamphlets, we are only volunteers," to which I replied "me too! But go ahead, they're free."

No caption needed.
It's very rare to meet other Christians in Thailand and I was smitten immediately and asked them to come back when we could sit down and talk. I thought that would be fun. (Ah youth is wasted on the stupid.) About a week later, the young Thai woman did return. But she was alone. We learned her name was Lai. We invited her in and she listened to me talk about the Mormons for a long time. At first I thought she just wanted to make sure we were real. But after a while, she relaxed and stopped asking me why I could speak Thai after only having been in the country 6 months. It was like a magic trick to her. It was the perfect opportunity to tell her about the Gifts of the Spirit. I explained that I had been given a blessing before I left for Thailand and another one just a few months later when I became a Senior companion that I would be blessed with the "gift of tongues." We read some scriptures that talked about it. I knew the power of that gift! It was as if someone had dumped a Thai dictionary into my head. I spoke without a problem. I understood what people were saying to me and anyone that knew how easily it came to me, was truly shocked. Did I study? Of course I did. Like I was on fire. But if I studied a certain group of vocabulary words that day, I noticed that I would "just happen" to hear those same words used in common conversation. I would connect them to their context and in this way, my inner vocabulary exploded daily.

This must have been early on because I was still wearing shoes.
I also noticed that when I got home from Thailand and went back to school to study theatre, I would merely have to pass over a script once or twice at the most and it was memorized. My mind had been expanded somehow. I was shocked at how my study habits had been clarified too. My college transcripts testify of a girl that struggled to get mediocre grades before her mission and then returned to sail through school afterwards. It was so much easier. I had really learned to focus but more importantly I had learned how to listen.

I left Chiang Mai shortly after we started teaching Lai. Not sure if she was ever baptized but I know she was lead to our door so we could introduce her to the Mormons.

I thought I would give Mr. Negative on Facebook a little list of the things I learned while I was
Rod Hinck as Santa. He had the suit made, then we stayed
up all night and made bags of popcorn and delivered them to
the polio wards and orphanages on Christmas day. Best
Christmas e.v.e.r.
"putting off my education." This "sacrifice" he calls it might be the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard and I'm sorry if he's reading this...because he might...but he needs to know how goofy he sounds to the thousands and thousands of us that have taken the incredible opportunity to serve a mission for our church.

Things I learned on my mission that I had not previously learned while in college:

  • I learned about several other beautiful world religions
  • I learned that it can rain so hard your skin crinkles up under your clothes
  • I learned that being fat is good everywhere but in the United States
  • I learned that everything can be eaten. Everything.
  • Women can have babies next to a rice paddy
  • I learned to appreciate world music
  • I learned that toilets can also be stood on
  • I learned that hospitals do not provide toilet paper
  • I learned that there is real hunger in the world
  • I learned that in some cultures people give away their children if they are born with disabilities
  • Polio ward.
  • I learned that you don't have to have stuff to be happy
The teachers in the refugee camp. This is the side wall of
one of the classrooms. What an amazing group
of people! They were always happy!
Happy people! I didn't meet a native
Elder that wasn't incredibly happy and
so positive to be around. 

No gears, basket, bell, seat on the back for passengers.
  • I rode and slept on a train many times overnight and I had never done that before. 
  • I learned to get up at the crack of dawn everyday at the same time to study and pray
  • I learned how to ride a bike in a dress and feel grateful for the transportation
  • I learned that if you have a wok, you need no other pan (I have three)
  • I learned how to get the best exchange rates for the American dollar
  • I learned to drink soda pop from a plastic bag...without ice.
  • I learned to wash clothes out on a rock
    Try to look happy while you eat
    crickets over rice. Mmmmm. Disgusting.
  • I learned to make spring rolls (believe me this is a valuable skill)
  • I learned that you can't ride a bicycle immediately after riding an elephant 
  • I learned that dysentery can be obtained for 40 cents and how to avoid it
  • I learned that there are 400 kinds of bananas (and I ate most of them)
  • I learned how to barter for better prices
  • I learned to make rice like a PRO!
  • I learned how to make khaawniawmamuang (yes - come over)
  • I learned how to make somtum and curry and amazing fried rice (yep - its true) 
  • I learned a thousand ways to use sweetened condensed milk
  • I found out you can survive a national water fight on a bike, wearing a dress
  • I learned to de-wing grasshoppers and fry them up in front of the movie house
  • I learned that rice is very powerful
Dysentary #1 (or 2). (There are 2 more
dysentary events....heehehe!)
  • I learned how to live and get along with another human being that is with you 24/7
  • I learned that deodorant is optional in some countries
  • I learned how to potty train orphans
  • I learned that polio still exists
  • I learned humility for myself and patience for all people
  • I learned that you must love even the people that are hard to love (the guard at the camp)
The greatest learning experience of my mission service was the time I spent as an English teacher in the Phanat Nikhom Transit Camp for Vietnamese and Cambodian Refugees. Those people had fled the oppressive governments of the North Vietnamese and Pol Pots ethnic cleansing regime. The Killing Fields. Remember that movie? Those were my students.

They were doctors and lawyers, students and moms. They got in big and little boats and crossed the Gulf of Thailand with nothing but their birth certificates and marriage licenses. Some of them walked into Thailand for refuge, carefully avoiding (or not) mine fields and open fighting. They were assigned to a series of United Nations refugee camps along the Laos and Vietnamese border. Once their paperwork was in order, they would come to our camp to await acceptance from another country - we were the "transit" camp. At our camp they learned to speak English from the Sisters of the Mormon church through the churches Welfare Services Unit for Refugees in Thailand. WSURT. I was one of four or five sister missionary teachers that continually served in that unit. I was there seven months. I was so blessed by this experience.

  • I learned how to love every kind of pepper that can be grown and I lost most of my taste buds in Thailand
  • I learned to look out for snakes in the grass literally and figuratively
  • I learned how to ride a bike with no gears while carrying an easel, a film projector and a bag of books
  • I learned how to fix a flat tire in the middle of nowhere
  • I learned how to deworm refugee children
  • I learned not to climb into a house that was on stilts (if the family still wanted to keep their house) Consequently I learned how to teach a gospel discussion in mud up to my knees
  • I learned to eat fruits that smell like stinky feet
  • I learned to eat all kinds of things I didn't know could be eaten...and then say "thank you!" (See dysentery above)
This pic should be flipped. "Quinn" was headed to Toronto.
I think. I wish with all my heart I was still in touch with
all my friends from the camp. They are literally all
over the world now, resettled in different countries. 
  • I LEARNED HOW TO TEACH! (I did NOT learn this in college.)
  • I learned rejection and how to crawl back from it
  • I learned true joy and how to reach for it
  • I learned how to study
  • I learned how to use a day planner
  • I learned how to write a letter and use a real post office
  • I became a better pianist (because I had to)
  • I learned get up from the floor with both legs completely asleep and pretend everything was fine
  • I learned to speak another language fluently (for my survival) 
  • I learned why organized religion is so crucial to the world
  • I learned how lucky I am to be alive and healthy
  • I learned that freedom is not free
    My class at the camp. Knees to back. Sitting on the hard
    cement. No desks, no complaints!
  • I learned that its not what you get out of life, its what you put into it that's important
  • I found out that what I believe is true
  • I set a path for the rest of my life based on opportunities I was exposed to while on my mission
  • I learned that there was so much more to learn - I now crave education
  • I found out that Jesus Christ has saved the world and me - literally, not figuratively
  • I found God
  • I learned to love someone else besides myself and consequently...
  • I found ME
And after I learned all that I was only 23 years old. I spent the next two years in college, and the next 26 years in a classroom - working and putting money into a pension that won't be enough and a social security system that looks iffy. Believe me, if I had it to do all over again, would I skip the mission
This is the Southeast Asia version of "knocking on doors"
This is a street board sign. It's meant to attract interested
people and give away books. If I had a nickle for every
hour I stood at a street board...
and rush into the work force at 21? GAH! NOOOOOOOOO! I wish I could have served for years and years. Living simply on meager means (missions cost approximately $450 a month), driven by the love of God, doing good continually because you can, studying scriptures and good books because you have time, making eternal friendships all over the world and feeding your brain at the same time?!?!?! Why wouldn't you take that opportunity?

So Mr. Negative, you said we serve " the guise of sacrifice..." and I say - if that's sacrifice then I want to keep doing it all my life. Initially I went in to the mission field to pay God back for what I owed him and all it did was make me more indebted. I can't wait to serve another mission with my husband; we are already saving for it. 

Dried squid anyone?
You also said "they stall their education, careers and lives by serving God..." Education doesn't only happen in a classroom! In fact most of it doesn't! Serving God?! Could you work for a better boss? When can a person learn another language fluently without spending time in the country? When can a person test their brain, their courage, their instincts and everything their parents taught them all at the same time over and over again for two years?

Finally you said "... when really they are just proselyting for more members to fill the churches coffers." O! if you only knew how many people in the world are sustained by the "coffers" of the church and don't fill it at all. If I could tell you what a blessing it is for me to give 10 measly percent of what I earn, back from whence it came...well that's another blog for another time. But if you are really in need of some blessings, give 10 percent of what you earn to a charity each month. You will be shocked at the kind of person you will become and the windows of heaven will open to you. I challenge you to try it. Karma may be a b@!*ch - but it goes the other way too.

Half way through my mission I was transferred to work in a refugee camp teaching English instead of the proselyting the gospel. I've already talked about my time in the refugee camp. There are Worse Things than Miscarriages LINK  Next to holding my tiny son before he died, it was the most precious time of my life.
Residences in the United Nations refugee camp in Thailand
I will never forget how it felt to share my language (we were not allowed to proselyte) with those amazing Vietnamese, Laos and Cambodian people while they waited to be accepted to another country. I felt the magnitude and miracle of the scripture in Jeremiah 3:14 "I will take you one of a city and two of a family and will bring you to Zion." I can't explain it, but every teenager should have to serve in a refugee camp in their lifetime just to learn the true meaning of gratitude. We are so blessed in these United States! We must remember the people that founded, fought and fight for what we have here. It is not an exaggeration to say that we are blessed beyond measure.

The classroom at the refugee camp
Every single day I walk into my classroom with its carpet, desks, endless whiteboards, video projector, computers (I have 34!), printer, podium, bulletin boards, etc.... I remember teaching English to 90 Vietnamese students at a time. They sat on banana mats if they had one, and if they didn't they pulled up a piece of the hard concrete floor. There was one whiteboard at the end of the "classroom" which was surrounded by woven bamboo mats with big holes in them for "air conditioning." They listened as if their life depended on it. Because it did. My student today only listen if I say the words "extra credit," or when the bell rings. Everybody hears that.

A "kitchen" in the refugee camp. Isn't she gorgeous?!
In the refugee camp we were able to teach the refugees about the customs and traditions that they would also have to go through in their new countries. We did an Easter egg hunt, a Halloween party, a Thanksgiving dinner complete with chicken, purple Thai yams and rice flour bread dressing (thanks to the cook at the American Embassy for letting us have a bottle of thyme and sage.) Everyone thought the idea of seasoned wet bread was terrible and I only have two things to say to that: "fish heads and chicken feet." So there. I learned to appreciate my traditions and my culture by learning and living theirs.

The constant thriving learning environment turned me into a teacher. It was because of that experience in the camp that I solidified my journey to become a certified teacher when I got back. It was because of that experience that I was able to focus so easily and stay on track when I returned from Thailand.

It is because of that experience that I cried like a baby when I heard the announcement about an LDS
Boot. She was a college student that we taught for a long
time. This was such a happy day! That's the Chiang Mai
branch president in the background (1986)

Temple being built in Thailand. There was not a conference that went by that I didn't pray like a crazy woman for a temple announcement and in April  - we got it! I've been praying for that event since 1986. I know it is because of the good members of the church in Thailand that they are finally going to get their own temple. I have seen on Facebook the burgeoning church meetings and heard from the missionaries that the church is rolling forth in Thailand just as the mission dedicatory prayer predicted it would.

We called this dog "Nuke." He hung around our house
(because I fed him). Yes, it's a dog.
I wasn't afraid to serve. I wasn't afraid of the people or the culture or even the food - though seeing a rack full of drying snakes makes you a little queasy at first. I wanted to see the world and selfishly, I was glad that I got called to see part of the world, this school teacher would never get to see (and has never been able to afford to go back). But in the end, I learned that its not where you go, because all of those things on my list can be learned in Idaho or Indonesia... but the greatest thing of all is that the Mormons have the truth about God and Jesus Christ and I learned that. We have the whole truth, we really do. Despite crazy stories about the church that may turn you against it, or incidences of offending remarks or actions made against you that made you leave  - it is true. I'm not even hoping for the truth - I know it. It's a sure foundation for me. It grounds me. It keeps me focused. This mission gave me the foundation that I have needed just to get through my crazy life. And contrary to what they say - life is not short - it's tricky and it comes one day at a time. We need all the help and knowledge we can get.
Planting and watering for a future harvest...

I'm proud to say that I was one of those missionaries that planted a lot of seeds back in the 80's and now I have the blessing of looking back to see the harvest. It's wild! A temple in Thailand! Who'da thought?! Can't wait to be there for the dedication!

Hmong siblings at the camp, always
taking care of each other.

My favorite service project! Every Wednesday we got to
go out and help with the babies at a huge orphanage in Udorn!

Durian. Elder Anun. I loved that guy!
He would eat anything!

Feeding many babies.

Leaving Udorn!

Udorn! I loved this branch! Incredible members. They even
had a keyboard. What is my hair? 1987.
Never underestimate the power of rice
in a refugee camp.

Phanat Nikhom across from our house. Rice fields everywhere.

Lesson #488: You don't have to have stuff to love life!
I thank God every day for this experience and for making me who I am today! What a blessing to have met and known so many amazing people. I highly recommend serving a mission! It will bless your life a thousand times more than
you can bless others through your service. You don't want to regret not having taken the opportunity to learn and grow through this kind of experience. If you are still thinking about whether or not to serve... what are you waiting for?