Sunday, April 19, 2015

If You Host It, The Building Will Come

About 9 or 10 years ago, when we were still considered newlyweds, we lived on the ASU East Campus.  The Bishop of the Gateway Ward asked us to be Institute Liaisons.  We were told that if we could get the attendance up high enough, that the church would purchase land, and construct us an institute building that our ward would be able to meet in.  This calling surprised us, but it also seemed to fit us perfectly.  As Seminary & Institute graduates, Mitchell and I both already had a love for it.  Not to mention, THE INSTITUTE of RELIGION changed our lives forever.  I'll never forget the night I met my husband in February of 2004.  We were in Bro. Kivett's Tuesday night Book of Mormon class at the Chandler-Gilbert Institute.  Mitch was fresh off of his mission.  He had been home for only 5 days, when fate...okay, DIVINE PROVIDENCE, led us together at the Institute building.  I was the Student Body President of Chandler-Gilbert Community College, and on February 17th, we had an important district meeting down town.  When it was over, I decided to catch the last half of my Institute class.  What would you know?  Seconds after I slipped into the back of class, this newbie raised his hand and made some sort of comment about how we shouldn't be late.  THE AUDACITY - he had no idea what I had been through to get there that night!  After class, he introduced himself to me by saying, "How did you get that scar on your nose?"  STRIKE TWO!  What the heck?  Way to point out the one flaw I've been self-conscious about for my entire life!  STRIKE THREE happened when he asked me my name.  Except, that's where the Divine Providence stepped in again, because I didn't know until years later that he was actually making fun of me.  When I told him my name was Debra Jo Tenney, he responded with, "Well then, I'm Mitchell Jay Borden."  Apparently, he didn't immediately catch that I go by Debra-Jo.  He thought it was odd that I would give him my full name, so that's why he threw his full name back at me.  But I was too enamored with his handsome smirk, and the glorious ring of his name to even realize he was trying to be funny.

But I digress.

So when we were asked to be Institute Liaisons - that was the last thing we were expecting - for one thing, we didn't even know that was a calling in the church.  But that was okay - we were ready.  We made posters to chart our ward Institute goals & made incentives for attendance.  We advertised, and we worked to make it happen.  I'm not going to lie - sometimes it was like pulling teeth to get people there.  Some nights it didn't feel like we were making any progress.  We were also in a unique situation.  Across the LDS church, Institute is widely known as something for YOUNG SINGLE ADULTS, but we were living in a married or family ward.  Our demographic included people of all ages with families who were enrolled in school.  Even though it's not necessarily a rule, the culture in the area is that once you're married, you don't go to Institute anymore.  So that presented some challenges.  Looking back, I believe that for our ward in those days, the call to build up the institute program at the ASU East campus was more about obedience than anything else.

Here's a snapshot of what Institute at ASU East was like back then:

  • We met in a classic campus house - they came in reddish orange, faded salmon, or yucky yellow, and the interior contained grocery-store tile flooring.  It's the kind of place you complain about living in, but then cry when you have to leave it.
  • We cleaned dead cockroaches out of the tub & swept them up from corners in the house.
  • When we tried to decorate, we couldn't use any of the external walls, because they were made of brick, so we could only hang pictures of Jesus on the interior walls...that is...until Mitchell Jay purchased some anchors, and used his awesome tools.
  • All the windows were dark & tinted.
  • We had florescent lighting throughout.
  • The kitchen was where we ate refreshments.
  • The Living Room is where we set up desks and a white board.
  • One of the bed rooms was turned into a nursery in case parents needed to bring their kids & we took donated toys for the closet in that room.  The problem, however, is that the whole house had grocery tile flooring, so when kids would play or scream in the other room, it still echoed throughout the entire house.  I remember Deanna Rasmussen patting her pregnant belly during class one night as some one's little kiddo was screaming in the nursery room..."We're doing just fine," she said...happy that her next child was still contained in utero.
  • One of the bedrooms was turned into an office for the Institute teacher.
  • Another bedroom had rows of skinny tables that the relief society sometimes hosted activities in - I still have a little bag that I sewed from one of those activities.
  • There were weeds in the front & back of the house & not many choices for parking.  Mitchell said he was told that the back "yard" of this house was the designated location for where the Institute building would go if we were ever able to meet the goal.
  • We cleaned it up, but it still seemed a little run down - the rooms were a little too stark white, the noise traveled through the house a little too easily, it was simply the classic ASU East Campus Housing.
  • Despite the location, however, there was joy, there was happiness, there was excitement, and the Spirit was present in our classes.  Friendships were made, and even though we met in a cold/white room, the feeling was warm. 
  • Vernon Dickson would teach us lessons, Deana Rasmussen would sit and rub her pregnant belly gratefully while people who had crying babies were in the Nursery.  The Udall's, the Tryon's, the Shumway's, and many others would answer questions.  There were always great friends there, and we always left uplifted.  It was a beautiful place to be.  
I remember one night explaining to the Bishop & his wife why some people told me they would not be attending.  Some of them had just had babies in the last year, and so they couldn't make it.  That's when I learned from Deana, as I looked at her...a mom pregnant with her 6th child, her husband was called to be the BISHOP while he was still in a Master's Program of school.  They had every reason to not be attending the Institute classes, but they were there with us each week. Deanna said to me - "Life doesn't stop when you have a baby."   I've never forgotten that.  I'm grateful I had that experience with them at Institute, because I've been able to remember that at times in my life when I was tempted to sit back and sit out.  I've been able to remember the Rasmussen family and what they taught me through their selfless service and their commitment to be obedient even when it's not easy.  They always followed the Spirit, and they always chose to rely on the Lord for their support and their guidance.  They always chose to give of their time and talents whenever they could make it work - they were and are still CAN DO people, and I am sure their lives have been all the better, all the more beautiful, and yes, all the more crazy because of it.  But those are the kind of people I want to be like.

6 years ago, we left campus, and it seemed we were no where closer to having an Institute building - it seemed a little like we failed.  

But we didn't. 

My mom gave us a phone call this morning.  And I got a little lump in my throat.  Today is the day that the ASU East Polytechnic Campus Institute building was being dedicated.  We didn't fail. We remember the days when the vision was started.  We were invited to be a part of it.  The ball has continued to roll over the years, and now there's even a Young Single Adult STAKE with 9,000 individuals for this institute building to serve.  The Gateway Ward is even able to meet in this building as well - as was promised all those years ago, but this time the Nusery is carpeted to soak up the sound, and there's a mother's room (I felt as I walked through it, as if those rooms were made just for me).

Tonight we were able to take our kids to this special place - a place so important that the church sent an APOSTLE to dedicate it.  So many years ago, we didn't know how important our calling was - we just did our best.  All those years ago when we were told what COULD happen if we succeeded, but I didn't imagine how beautiful the building would be, or even that I would be able to attend the dedication and have my boys get to shake the hand of Neal L. Anderson.  He asked them their names.  Emmett & Tyson talked to him with shy faces and quiet voices, but Miles grinned and almost shouted to him, "Mine Miles!"

During the dedication I was amazed to see just HOW BIG this experience really is.  I thought of the wide influence this one place will be able to have in the world as lives are changed.  Hundreds and thousands of people will be able to come to the Institute building to learn about the Lord.  Perhaps even our own 4 boys will walk those halls in 20 years, and become all the better for it as they build upon their spiritual education.  I hope and pray all my children will attend and graduate from Institute and that they will make spiritual matters a priority in their lives.

Sometimes people think that "If you build it, they will come."  That might be true sometimes, but not always. In this instance, the opposite angle is true - If you host it (and keep trying despite the obstacles you might face) the building will come. Having a building first is not an indicator that a program will succeed.  In this instance, having a building is an indicator that over the last decade there has finally been success.  It goes to prove that "by small and simple things are great things brought to pass" (Alma 37:6).  I am so happy that in our small way, Mitchell and I (and the others from the Gateway Ward), were able to do the part we were asked to do in order to contribute to this building and to this special day for the church in this area.

I'm so grateful for this day. I know that this ASU Institute building will be the means for our Institute program to continue to bring light and inspiration to those trying to come closer to Christ.  It's a place where friendships will be formed, and where testimonies will be strengthened.  It's a place where lives will be changed for the better, where people will learn obedience, and as this building will host many more functions for the young SINGLE adults, I believe that perhaps in this new building, maybe...just maybe, some more happily-ever-after stories will be started - just like what happened for me and my Mitchell Jay.