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.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

More Beautiful Than I Could Have Imagined

Our little Ace Carson was born last week--the day before the Easter Pageant performances began.  He had given us some false alarms, and I thought he would be born sooner - we even hoped that if he were born early, that he could possibly be Baby Jesus in the Easter Pageant.  But he didn't come until the last minute possible.  He was so brand new, and he was tiny, so last week I got to enjoy him at home while my husband and children performed in the Easter Pageant night after night.

After more than a week of this routine, I began to get tired of being home alone.  I was missing my family.  And not to mention, I was missing the Easter Pageant itself.   The Easter Pageant has been a large part of the way my family celebrates the Easter season - it has affected every Spring Season & Easter holiday for more than half of my life.  I have personally been a cast member 11 different times in the pageant.  To me, it just doesn't feel like Easter without the Easter Pageant.  So when I returned to the cast this week with my newborn baby, a lot of people called me crazy.  But I felt at home in the Easter Pageant cast, and I felt like the 517 other cast members understood me.  I didn't return to be in the pageant for attention.  I didn't do it to be crazy.  I didn't do it to make anyone look bad, or to make myself look good.  I returned on Thursday, because all I wanted to do was be a "follower of Christ" in the crowd.  Truthfully, it's something I needed to do, too.  I was watching the scripture stories I love come to life, and I was bearing testimony on stage with my family.  It felt so good.  

Not to mention, I found some newborn sandals that matched the baby's costume.  It would have been a shame to let those go to waste, so I simply had to return to the cast. 

On Good Friday, I had the routine with my scenes and the baby figured out enough that I got to sneak a few peaks of my husband portraying Peter.  It was so beautiful.  I love watching all of his scenes, but my favorite that night was getting to watch him run to the tomb.  When he exited the tomb, holding the burial cloths in his hand, I saw him say to the apostle John, "It's true!  It's true!"  I loved watching them run back to the other apostles to share the news.  

On Saturday night, we were given the opportunity to have Baby Ace play the part of Baby Jesus.  We dressed him in a white onesie with white pants.  My husband and I met behind stage with Mary and Joseph, who wrapped him up in a white blanket from Bethlehem.  We prayed together that the Spirit would be able to work through us to reach out to the audience.  They took took my baby boy to the manger scene, and a kind Stage Crew man told us where we should stand to get a good view.  We had the best seat in the house. From the first flicker of the lantern light I could hardly hold back the tears.  I felt like I was in Bethlehem that night.  I saw the shepherds on stage - I didn't know I could take a picture, so I didn't have my camera.  But honestly, I don't think I could have captured what I saw and felt watching the shepherds greet the Baby Jesus.  I wish I could explain the looks on their faces.  One shepherd in particular was standing, and as Joseph took my baby to him, he really looked like he was meeting Baby Jesus for the first time - his face was glowing and sincere.  And then there was a darling little boy, named Devlin who has been in my Easter Pageant family group before, and he was so cute meeting the Baby Jesus.  Another little boy was holding a lamb, and as he looked at the Baby Jesus, my baby's face was about an inch away from the lamb.  I was a little surprised and thought - "Well, that's the first time he's met a lamb!"  I, of course, was concerned about  temporal things - how animals are cute, but also dirty.  I thought about how Mary may have felt while sharing her brand new baby from the get-go with strangers and shepherds, and even sheep.  I wondered at that, but my husband had a better mind-set.  He looked to spiritual things.  Lambs without blemish were used for sacrifices, and at the manger scene was the sacrificial lamb for all mankind.  He marveled at how symbolic it was to have lambs there to meet the Lamb of God.  

Mary and Joseph held my baby so tenderly, and Joseph calmed him tenderly when he cried. My Baby Ace's face was so darling in the lights as he furrowed his brow, and had wide eyes in the lights.  His feet were so cute kicking around in the manger.  Then Joseph scooped him up and shared the baby with the shepherds with such fatherly love, excitement, and kindness.  It was so beautiful.  When we met Mary and Joseph after the scene they told me how neat it was to have a baby so fresh from Heaven to do the scene that night.  And the kind stage crew lady who guided us from the beginning, kept my baby baby bundled in the beautiful blanket they used on stage.  She told me to keep it - that it was from Bethlehem.  And then I just cried more.  I could hardly compose myself for about half of the pageant last night.  It was such a beautiful experience.  I didn't think my baby would be able to be Baby Jesus at all, and we were okay with that.  But then for it to work out for him to be Baby Jesus, on the closing night, no less, to close out the entire Easter Pageant Season, and to feel the Spirit so powerfully, was more than I could have hoped for or asked for, it was actually far more beautiful than I could have imagined.  

While the stage crew lady who guided us told us part way through the scene that we could and should take a picture - this picture doesn't do it justice.  For one thing, you can see the stage flooring in this picture.  But you should know this. Last night, there was no stage and there were no floor markings.  Last night, standing in the wings, the only thing I could see was Bethlehem.  And still even now, just thinking about it, I can feel Bethlehem from that sacred moment in time.  It was so moving.

I love Easter.  It means so much to me, and I am grateful, honored, and humbled at all the ways we've been able to have the message of Jesus Christ's love, life, and sacrifice sink so much more deeply into our hearts this year.  I know He lives.