The best of both worlds: Living in Utah and California

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sunday, Jun. 07, 2009

To some, my life might seem unusual, as I live in Utah for eight months and California for four months of the year. In California I have my job, countless memories, longtime associations, one brother’s family and my parents. In Utah, I have my house, my other brother’s family, friends and my church responsibilities.

I have the best of both worlds. I love both places. Each has its advantages.

I recently arrived in California to begin my job. As I attended church for the first time since my return, a flood of memories came back, as they often do when I arrive "home" each year.

Being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the San Joaquin Valley -- otherwise known as the "mission field" -- was and is an experience in and of itself. I sat in church on Sunday and thought back to the days as a youth, when a general authority would come within an hour's drive and we dropped everything to go listen to him speak.

We usually arrived at stake conference well over an hour early, to get a good seat, so we could hear everything the stake president had to teach us.

My brothers and I would travel a half-hour or more to go to a youth dance, so we would have the association of other LDS kids. We drove several miles to seminary at 6 a.m., five days a week.

Though I wasn’t crazy about any of those things at the time, they developed into righteous traditions that have turned into great memories.

As I sat in sacrament meeting, I watched how the youths lead the music and play the organ. By tradition in the ward, a sister is called to train and teach these young men and young women alike. Any mistakes are covered up by their courageous efforts.

Then I looked across the chapel and saw my former Beehive adviser, Sister Soldani. She loved me so much -- well, at least she acted like she did. I am sure I wasn’t the best-behaved youth she ever had, but she made me think I was.

She was awesome. I remember that she was a young mom, and her husband was trying to get through law school. I wanted to do anything I could to help her out because I loved her so much, so I sent her $10 in the mail. As a 12-year-old I was certain it would ease their financial burdens. I was so surprised when she called and told me that she wanted to spend the money on me and take me out to lunch. I couldn’t believe her generosity.

As I looked around the congregation I noticed that some families were missing. Oh, wait, they are on their two-year assignments to serve in the Hmong ward. Everyone who is asked to take their families and serve in the Hmong ward comes back with so much love for the Hmong people. It is considered a privilege to be asked to serve in that ward.

I remember my dad was bishop of the Hmong ward more than 20 years ago when the people arrived from Laos and started settling in the valley.

They were set in their traditions. Just as church leaders thought the Hmongs understood God, Christ and eternal marriage, they would find immigrants still worshiping their own god, or a 16-year-old would get married over the weekend in a marriage arranged by her parents; which would end her activity in the church.

Now, many years later the principles are finally taking root. We have seen boys go on Mormon missions, and temple marriages. The Hmong people are an important part of our stake. It always has been a reminder of the great lengths our Heavenly Father will go for each of his children.

In Relief Society I learned that the presidency had been challenged to live for two weeks off their food storage, which means no shopping for groceries, to see how prepared they are. The bishopric had just met the challenge, now it would be the Relief Society presidency’s turn. I will soon find out who will be next. I hope it's not me; my food storage is in Utah!

The church has grown tremendously over the years. There are two LDS buildings that sit between my house and the church where I used to go to seminary. I had about 15 Mormon kids in my high school; now there are five high schools in our town and more than 200 LDS kids in one high school alone. The youths have stake musicals, they have their own Especially for Youth sessions, they are standouts in the community.

The saints are strong here, and I consider it one of my greatest blessings to have been raised where the gospel is lived and enjoyed. I am grateful for my memories of going to church in California!

Going to church in Utah has its advantages as well.

The chapel is a stone's throw away from my home, musical numbers in church often are sung by a former member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and I can learn what is happening in the church and even hear the prophet's voice on the evening news.

Gene, my home teacher, lives five doors down from me. He drives by my house daily. One day he noticed that my American flag was tattered from the wind. Before I knew it, he had attached a new flag. He is always stopping in to see what I might need. On top of that, he still comes and gives me a lesson once a month while I am in Utah, and e-mails me while I am in California.

My bishop lives across the street from me, and occasionally I am invited over to dinner. His wife insists I sit with their family during sacrament meeting each week, which I truly appreciate, and I have taught each of their daughters -- I have watched them grow up, as if they were my own.

When I am out in the front yard pulling weeds, or getting my mail, someone driving by usually puts on the brakes and visits for a moment. I never knew my neighbors when I had my own home in California.

Right before I left to California for the summer, I was at my friend Melanie’s house. She looked out her back widow and noticed an ambulance down the street. She suggested we hop in the car to see what happened. We soon learned that a man in our ward in his 70s fell while he was riding his scooter. He was not seriously injured; however, his pride was crushed as he had just gone against his wife’s wishes and wanted to show her that he was still capable of riding a scooter safely. My friend walked his scooter home and told his wife that dinner would be delivered that night. My friend is the compassionate-service leader, but she would have brought dinner anyway.

Utah is full of good people looking out for one another. One doesn’t have to look very far to find a helping hand or a kind neighbor. I love the safe, warm and loving environment of Utah, not to mention the beauty of the mountains and the cleanliness of its people.

Many people will comment how Utah is a culture of its own, and I would have to agree. It is a culture of kindness, love and service toward one another.

This isn’t what I expected to be doing at this time in my life, moving back and forth between California and Utah, but I guess it could be said that I am one lucky girl: I get to enjoy the best of both worlds!


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