While cleaning the apartment, I felt a rush of emotion as I recalled moving in here sixteen months ago and feeling completely overwhelmed, wondering how I could ever make this place feel like home. Although my mom died fifteen years ago, her spirit was very close to me as I prepared to leave for my mission. I instinctively prayed for her influence as I settled in here, remembering her amazing example in home management as I was growing up. I was lonely and afraid and craved some familiar structure in my life. Poco a poco, as they say in Spanish, the pieces fell into place and I found I could comfortably call this my home.
The more structure I placed in my life, the more secure I felt in my strange surroundings. I was humbled to think about the homeless kids my daughter Jen works with and how often she and I have talked about the lifelong deficit a young person has when parenting is lacking. There was so much structure in my childhood home I squirmed for lack of freedom. Beds were made perfectly, closets organized, shopping was done on Saturday evening and the table was set perfectly every night but one, that being the night we went out to dinner. We were taught the importance of manners, which has been a blessing to me throughout my life. In hindsight, I realize that structure gave me comfort when life was difficult-something I could always count on. It made perfect sense that the structure I was craving in Guatemala was necessary to help me gain a secure footing in an unfamiliar place.
Three women have influenced my mission experience tremendously: First, my mother has helped me make this apartment a well organized and lovely home. She has also been with me here late in the night when I've been sick or in pain, comforting me. I have felt the veil between this life and the next is very thin on the occasions when I have needed her influence and she has been a powerful force for good.
My grandmother died when my mom was seventeen years old. She was ill most of her adult life and the comfort she found in life was from opera. During one of the darkest times in my life, this grandmother I never met introduced me to opera and it became such a source of solace to me that I can't verbalize it without tears welling up. Here in Guatemala, away from family and friends, I find that same solace in the music that I brought with me. The opera of choice for housecleaning is unquestionably either Donizetti's Daughter of the Regiment with Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez in the lead roles, or Rossini's Cenerentola performed by Cecilia Bartoli.
We are invisibly connected as families, even in death. My grandmother used to put her opera on the Victrola and have my mom and her sister name the aria that was being performed. She would reward the girls with her "special" chocolates if they knew these arias. When my children were studying Suzuki violin they would be required to do a lot of listening to classical music. I would buy "special" chocolates that I normally didn't share with the children, as they thought Hershey bars were the ultimate treat in life. One day I began quizzing them as to the composers of the classical music and if they could identify the composers I would reward them with one of my chocolates. It wasn't until many years afterward, when I felt my grandmother's influence on me to allow music to heal my soul, that I inquired of my mom about her life with grandmother. It was then, long after my girls had earned chocolates, that I came to know that my grandmother had played the very same game with my mom.
The other profound influence in my life as a missionary has been from my daughter Jen. She has been my counselor many nights on the phone, helping me through difficult times and encouraging me to do my best. She is a single mother to Matilda, now 18, and having us away has been a tremendous hardship on them. They tough it out without us and both of them encourage us and support us by shopping for items to send to Guatemala when we're in need (or want). That is the perfect example of charity: to help someone when you are suffering yourself, looking selflessly outside your own need. How fortunate I am to have the influence of these wonderful women in my life-along with my other daughters and daughters-in-law who have sacrificed and contributed to our mission experience in a hundred different ways, along with their husbands. They have little knowledge of how an unexpected email or video chat, an offer to send a package, or consolation to a grandchild too young to understand why we are still "on vacation", can hold the pieces of this puzzle together. Six months from now I will be able to thank them in person. I'm humbled to have been blessed with such a family as this.