Monday, April 18, 2016

Goodbye Louisville...Day 5

Church was at 9:30 that morning and I was excited to return to my old First ward that I had been a member of for five years.  I knew better than to return with high expectations.  I knew that I probably wouldn't know more than three people if they were even there that day.  With it being Fast Sunday back home, I was looking forward to bearing my testimony as my goodbye to this special place. Driving down Eastern Parkway brought back so many great memories.  I had always loved driving down that road and loved the area and the homes.  Then I saw the church building.  I remembered standing in front of it my very first Sunday 23 years ago having my picture taken with my little red headed boy in my arms and my husband next to me.  It was a refuge that day, knowing that I would be okay so far away from home as long as I had a ward family around me.

We walked into the building and found ourselves having Sacrament Meeting in a small carpeted gym/chapel.  The rows were made up of Relief Society chairs.  Where in the world was my small chapel with wooden pughs and just one center aisle?  With all that I had learned the last few days being back in Kentucky, I was disappointed but I wasn't.  Time had moved on and things had changed.  My small little ward was really now the size of a branch.  No more than fifty people were there.  But it was beautiful in different ways.  I loved seeing African American members there.  One of which was in the bishopric, a young man was there by himself and he helped pass the Sacrament, and another mother and her three children. I loved seeing that the truth of the Gospel was growing and reaching different people.  I admired that young man that was there all by himself and wondered about his story.  I couldn't help but sit there and just love him.

It turned out not to be Fast Sunday there.  It must have been the week before General Conference.  That made it that much easier to just drive the heck out of there.  I didn't know a single person there.  The building was different.  I wouldn't be able to share my thoughts and my testimony.  I wondered why in the world we had even chosen to go to that ward.  We could have gone to any ward.  It was a long meeting with just one youth speaker and the Stake Patriarch.  I'll admit my mind wandered and I was doing more people watching than listening.  Then it was finally time for the closing song.

I recognized the intro on the organ.  Could it really be?  Was I really so deserving of another, my eighth tender mercy?  The small congregation began to sing, "I Know That My Redeemer Lives".  It had been the song that was sung and touched me the first time I returned back to church after my accident.  The building had changed.  The ward and people had changed.  But the hymns, the songs, and my testimony had remained the same.  In fact, that special hymn that I had loved so much there in Louisville, had been a favorite of mine since then.  I could sing that same hymn anywhere in the world, hear it being sung in any language, with any congregation, with my family, or just by myself, and the truth of it would never change.  I knew my Heavenly Father loved me and was aware of me and my desire to be there.  He knew of my patience of wanting to return since the day I had moved away.  While I listened to the small congregation sing, I found myself praying, expressing such gratitude for His love for me.  Church had been perfect after all.

He lives to comfort me when faint.
He lives to hear my soul's complaint.
He lives to silence all my fears.
He lives to wipe away my tears.
He lives to calm my troubled heart.
He lives all blessings to impart.  

He lives! All glory to his name!
He lives, my Savior, still the same.
Oh, sweet the joy this sentence gives:
"I know that my Redeemer lives!"
He lives!  All glory to his name!
He lives, my Savior, still the same.
Oh, sweet the joy this sentence gives:
"I know that my Redeemer lives!"

As I got up to leave when the meeting was over, I heard my name.  I turned around and there were two old friends.  One of my young women, Elizabeth and a friend Lynne.  They had been sitting right behind me and wanted to surprise me.  I had been in contact with Elizabeth so she knew I would be there, but I hadn't heard back from her to know if she would.  What a fun reunion.  We were able to talk for several minutes before we left the chapel.  Before leaving the building, Elizabeth and I got to chat a bit more.  She got emotional and told me that I had been such an inspiration to her all these years.  She had remembered me smiling all the time despite the challenges that I had gone through while living there.  She was sad that I had gone out there so far from family, and had to have had the trial that I did.  She remembered my tights and didn't know quite what they were for, thinking they were to make my burned legs feel better.  It was so sweet to hear how she had remembered me and how I had made that kind of impression on her as a young woman.  It came to me that she was one of the biggest reasons it was so hard for me to drive away 18 years ago.  My small transient First Ward members had been my family for five years.  They were the ones that helped me and rescued my small family when we needed help the most.  They were the ones that visited me, prayed for me, brought me the Sacrament, and loved me.  How could you just walk away from that?  I felt like I had betrayed them driving away.  Like I had just used them while I was there.  After all, we were only there because of school.  And then it was time to move onto our real lives. But Louisville had become my real life and I didn't want to walk away from it and what it had become to me.  While talking to Elizabeth, it donned on me that I was with someone that knew me.  The before and after.  A true Louisvillian, not another student friend or a family member.  Heavenly Father knew that I was about to leave Louisville again, and I needed to be able to drive away feeling peace and not looking back this time.  Elizabeth wasn't sure she would be able to be there that Sunday, but insisted that she needed to be.

My sweet Elizabeth,
Seeing you and talking to you that day, was the ninth tender mercy I had received on that trip.  The Lord knew I needed you and to have some more of my feelings validated.  That I needed just one more thing to happen for me to drive away this time with closure.  So that I could have the opportunity to tell you that God is good.  That my years there were a blessing.  I have always loved saying that I lived in Louisville, Kentucky.  I loved living there.  Every single day.  I have always been grateful for the experiences that I had while living there.  Louisville was very good to me.  I grew so much while living there and even grew just returning back for those few days.  I love you.  I love your sweet mom and grandma.  Louisville and the First Ward will always be very special to me.  They were my home and family and I can't thank Heavenly Father enough for those years in my life.  Thank you for being your cute self.  It was so good to see you.  XOXO

Go to the First Ward.  CHECK
See Elizabeth.  CHECK

I got one last picture of me in front of my church building, busted out the burek for breakfast, and then we drove away.  Goodbye Louisville.  It was a trip of a lifetime.

Our flight was out of Cincinnati again, so we made our way up there with just one more thing to check off of our bucket list.  We had tried to see a cathedral in Covington, Kentucky on the first day we arrived, but it was closed.  We just crossed our little fingers that it would be open on Sunday.  It was St. Mary's Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption.  When we arrived it was closed with not a car to be seen.  Sheri took a few pictures and was ready to head out.  I noticed a building next to the parking lot saying something like Pastor business building.  I was determined to see inside the cathedral so I went and knocked on the door.  I was buzzed in, and heard a voice coming from somewhere in the building asking if they could help me.  I helped myself in and looked into every room until I found the voice.  I told him that we were visiting from "far away" and that we had hoped we could see their beautiful cathedral.  He told me that someone would be over in a just a minute to open it.  I turned around, walked out with a smile and told Sheri that we would be seeing inside the cathedral.  haha  Sure enough, about three minutes later, someone showed up and we walked right in.

We stood there for a minute not really knowing what was proper, then I asked if we could just walk around and possibly take pictures.  We were told yes, except we couldn't take pictures in their Sacrament room and we couldn't walk up onto the alter area.  The artwork was amazing.  Huge stained glass windows all the way around, mosaic art, beautiful wood work, amazing architecture, etc.

Look at these pipes for the organ.  The choir sings up there with the organ.  You know how I know?  Well, showing interest in people earns privileges.  And possibly mentioning that I play the organ for my church probably helped a little  We got a personal tour that the other "tour people" don't get to see.  It was pretty neat.  Spiral staircase up, four levels of keys on the organ with I don't know how many stops, and the view of the cathedral looking down was amazing.  

 See St. Mary's Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption.  CHECK

You know there's nothing quite like seeing this sign at Walgreens just before you jump on the plane to head back home.  I mean we were about to leave the land of tobacco fields, bourbon country, drive up betting and wagering at the horse track.  So why not add free HIV testing to the list?

 Sheri's husband picked us up at the airport and dropped me off at home.  D and the kids ran out to greet me and it was a great reunion and I knew I was right where I was supposed to be.  I hugged Sheri and thanked her for going with me.  For being the best travel buddy I truly could have ever asked for.  No one has ever shared that many intimate details and special experiences with me before as they were happening.  She was easy going, always happy, my direction buddy, the list goes on and on.  I told her that I loved her and meant it from the bottom of my heart.  I don't know how we became such good friends other than the Lord just led her to me.  He knew that I would need her the last two years.  That I was going to have a hard time, that I needed someone positive in my life,  someone that would have time to be a friend, and the perfect travel buddy when it came time to head back to Kentucky.  I love you Sheri.  Thank you so much for being you.  Thank you for being my final and tenth tender mercy.  I know I already counted you as a tender mercy just going on the trip with me.  But I'm so grateful that I was blessed with such a good friend.  Thank you for whatever promptings you've had to help me, serve me and my family, and just being you.  You are one of a kind.

I sat with the D and the kids for a couple of hours telling them stories that night.  Thanking D for letting me go.  Telling my kids that Heavenly Father loves each of us.  That He continued to tell me that throughout my trip.  I couldn't wait to kneel by my bed that night and pour out my heart.  He had given me the perfect trip.  The trip of a lifetime.

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