Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A homecoming to remember

The day finally came for Katelyn to return home from her mission.  But this homecoming was a little more special due to the fact that Katelyn's little brother was scheduled to leave in just a couple of days to start his mission.  But let's go back to Katelyn's last week of her mission.  One of the most outstanding things about Katelyn's mission was just how much she enjoyed every minute of it.  Katelyn was determined to enjoy every minutes of everyday up her very last day in Edmonton.  Her final email home was the perfect last letter.  If I haven't mentioned this before, Katelyn's little brother received his mission call to serve in the Winnipeg, Canada mission and was scheduled to enter the MTC two days after Katelyn's return home.  On the Sunday before Katelyn's final P-day her little brother gave his farewell talk in Sacrament meeting and we were able to get an audio recording of the talk.  We sent the recording to Katelyn so that she would be able to hear what her brother said even though she wasn't able to be there.  This is what Katelyn said in her final letter home:
"There could have been no greater way to end my last p-day in the mission than to hear the farewell talk that Brendan gave yesterday. I have tears pouring down my face as I am sitting in the library.
This past week has been great! This week is going to be even better! The reality of going home is beginning to really hit me. SO MANY EMOTIONS. I am going to make this email short and sweet but know that I love you all and I am excited to see you on Monday night!! Have a great week!! Love you"
Katelyn's return flight home was just the starting to a long day.  She started out leaving Edmonton in the morning of January 19th and flew from there to Los Angeles.  Then she had a five hour layover in Los Angeles until she was finally able to board the plane that would bring her back to Salt Lake.  Even though it was a long day of traveling, Katelyn found ways to pass the time.  First of all, she talked to several people on the way home, about the gospel.  It also turned out that there was a new Sister missionary that was traveling from Guatemala to Provo, Utah to enter the MTC and start her mission.  Because of the bonds of being a missionary, they immediately became friends and spent much of the time while in Los Angeles, talking about missions.  This new Sister missionary became the perfect traveling companion for Katelyn as Katelyn was returning home. 

Katelyn was due to arrive in Salt Lake later that evening and we all arrived at the airport anticipating that we would be there 15 to 20 minutes before her plane was scheduled to land.  After we parked the car and made our way to the baggage claim area, we found out that her plane was actually early by about 15 to 20 minutes.  This meant that just as we were arriving at the airport, so was Katelyn.  Then within just a few minutes, Katelyn came walking down the escalator and we got to see her for the first time in 18 months.  Katelyn's Mom immediately ran up to her and gave her a big hug.  I was next and then the rest of the family.  As soon as she was with us all, the tears started to flow.  The reality  finally hit that she was now home from her mission and her days as a full time missionary were coming to an end.  We spent quite a while in the airport collecting Katelyn's luggage and making sure that the new Sister missionary from Guatemala was on her way as well.  Then we all made our way back to the car and on our way home.  But this is only the beginning of a of the missionary experiences that were to come over the next couple of days.  Katelyn returning home was just the first part.  Her little brother who would be leaving in just a couple of days meant that we only had a couple of days with all of our family together again.

The next day started out fairly normally except we now had one missionary coming and one missionary going.  Katelyn's Mom had hung up several signs in front of the house that told of everything that was going on.  There was one sign that welcomed Katelyn home and another sign that bid farewell to her little brother.  There was even a third sign that said that for the Nicholes' family, this was transfer day.  We were receiving one missionary back from Edmonton Canada and sending another out to Winnipeg Canada.  Of course the one day that we had all together was also the one day that we had to take a family picture.  So we spent a couple of hours traveling up the canyon to have a family portrait taken.  Then we spontaneously decided that it would be fun for the whole family to go to a place called Nickel City which is a nickel arcade full of games.  We enjoyed our time playing the arcade games and spending time as a whole family.  But this still isn't the end to the day.

Later on that evening we had the rare chance to participate in the release of one full time missionary and the setting apart of another, all at the same time.  After returning home from our family day, we all got dressed in our suits and dresses so that we could meet with a member of the Stake Presidency.  Once we arrived, we were all ushered into the Stake Presidents office to meet with the first counselor in the Stake Presidency.  He proceeded to talk with Katelyn about her mission and with our whole family about how we felt to have Katelyn home with us.  Then he released her from her full time missionary duties.  There were a few tears as he read the letter that Katelyn's mission president sent to the Stake President which described the work that Katelyn had done over the previous 18 months.  Then the next order of business was to set Katelyn's little brother apart as a full time missionary.  Myself as well as Katelyn's two older brothers were able to participate in the setting apart of her little brother.  Again there were a few tears as he hugged each of us as a new full time missionary.  At this point the focus was switched from celebrating Katelyn's homecoming to looking forward to her little brother's departure.  I won't go into what happened over the next day because that story will all be part of Katelyn's little brother's blog that I will be starting in the next day or so.  But needless to say, it was a very enjoyable time for our whole family.  As much as we are going to miss Katelyn's little brother while he is serving his mission, we are also very excited to have Katelyn home again.

These last 18 months have gone by so quickly.  None of us could believe just how fast the time had passed.  It seemed like we just dropped her off at the MTC just last summer and now she was returning home.  But the reality is that a year and a half had gone by.  Katelyn has really grown and the experiences that she had on her mission will forever be a part of her life.  There are so many people to thank and we hope that at some point we will be able to thank them in person.  To all of the Ward Members in the places where Katelyn served, thank you for taking care of our daughter.  To all of the companions that Katelyn served with, thank you for being such wonderful companions and mentors.  And to all of the people that Katelyn was able to meet and teach, thank you for inviting her into your homes and listening to the message that she and her companions had to share.  These last 18 months have been a wonderful time for both Katelyn and our whole family.  They have been full of experiences that we will all never forget.

The Nicholes Family

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Christmas call home and a change of plans

Christmas time is very special.  Not only for the time of year and the season that Christmas represents, but also because missionaries get to call home on Christmas.  Actually in Katelyn's case, she got to skype home for Christmas.  It was really great to skype with Katelyn and get to see her face for the first time since last Mother's day (which is also a special time for parents of a missionary).  She is doing really well and enjoying every last second of her mission.

As I mentioned before on this blog, Katelyn's little brother received his mission call a couple of months ago and will be serving in the Winnipeg, Canada mission.  The timing of when Katelyn's little brother would be going into the MTC and when Katelyn would be returning home, was 10 days.  That meant that they would actually miss each other by 10 days.  During our skype call with Katelyn she dropped a bomb and said that she really wanted to be home when her little brother got set about as a full time missionary.  What that would mean is that she would need to return home 10 days earlier than expected.  She said that she would talk to her mission president to see if there was any way that should could return home in time to be there for the setting apart.  The next Monday after Christmas we got a call from the Missionary Dept. telling us that Katelyn's return flight from Edmonton would be 10 days earlier than previously expected.  By the time Katelyn emailed home on that Monday, she told us that she thought things were going to work out but didn't know for sure.  We told her that the Missionary Dept. had called and the plans were confirmed.

So here is what this change really means.  Katelyn will be returning home from her mission 10 days earlier than before.  That means that she and her little brother will have one day together before he enters the MTC.  Obviously that day will be packed with family pictures and a lot of catching up.  It will also be filled with Katelyn unpacking from a mission and her little brother packing to leave on his mission.  Essentially we will be  trading one Canadian missionary for another and we wouldn't have it any other way.  But here is the real treat.  Both Katelyn and her little brother will be released and set apart by the Stake President at the same time.  In other words, when we met with the Stake President as a family, he will release Katelyn from her responsibilities as a full time missionary and then turn around and set her little brother apart as a full time missionary.  How often does that happen?  Anyway, there will be more on that event later.

Getting back to Katelyn's mission and Christmas, this time of year also means that all of the missionaries get together for an all mission Christmas conference.  This is a time when they all get to enjoy the Christmas season together as missionaries and share in the spirit of Christmas.  It is also a time when each missionary receives some specially written letters from their families.  Katelyn wrote home and told us a little bit about the conference.  This is what she said,
"This years was really spiritual throughout the whole conference. We had lots of musical numbers and President called some of us missionaries to bear our testimonies. The second he said that he was going to call some missionaries to come and share their testimonies I knew he was going to say Sister Nicholes. And so the first round of missionaries he called went up and most of them were missionaries who were going to be leaving in January.. and then he got back up and said lets hear some more! And there came the words.. Sister Nicholes will you come up and bear your testimony.. As i began to walk up to the pulpit and walk pass Sister and President Manion, the tears began. It took me a couple of seconds standing in front of the pulpit before I could even speak. It is so surreal to know that this is all coming to an end. It really doesn't feel real until moments like that. It all kind of hits you and its hard to know how to control all of the emotions that come with it. I was reading through a past notes I had from mission tour and having down at the bottom of the page.. We are going to be teaching the gospel for a lot longer than just in this life... So lets get good at it now! Isn't that the truth!! And such a blessing!"
Katelyn told us a story about some of the experiences that she has had during the Christmas season.  Katelyn said that she and her companion had been out tracting when they knocked on the door of a woman who let them in and wanted to know more about what they were doing.  Katelyn and her companion asked this woman if she had ever met the missionaries before and she said that she had.  Several years back she was moving out of an apartment and a couple of missionaries just happened to be walking by.  The missionaries stopped and asked if this woman needed any help.  She said that she did and was very appreciative for the help that they gave.  Now several years later two sister missionaries just happened to knock on this woman's door and because of the service that was rendered several years back, this woman was open to learning more about the Gospel. As Katelyn put it,
"It's comforting to know that no effort is wasted. Those elders had no idea that the service they gave would years later turn into a teaching opportunity. Those elders were able to plant the seed and we are now able to harvest it. We really never know the impact our small acts of service or small conversations will lead to down the road."
 Obviously, missionary work isn't just about teaching and baptizing.  It is also about service and planting seeds that may take years before they are ready to harvest.

Again, Katelyn told us about the miracles that happened over the Christmas season.  Different miracles from a chance meeting of someone that was house sitting and wanted to know more about a Mormon pamphlet that she had picked up, to a member of the Ward that had been praying to know how to teach a friend about the church because this friend had been asking a lot of questions.  Then to have the Sister missionaries show up at that moment to lend a hand.  I can safely say that Katelyn has enjoyed every minute of her mission.  We are sure that there have been some bad times along with the good times and she will probably tell us more about those times after she gets home.  But it will be the good times that Katelyn will remember the most.  In fact it will be all of the miracles that Katelyn has talked about that will be the greatest memories.