Stewart Henry Gifford

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A wonderful blessing entered our lives on Tuesday, June 3, 2014. Stewart Henry Gifford was born in the American Fork, Utah Hospital at 3:38 p.m., weighing in at 8 lbs. 9 oz. and measuring 21 inches long.

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I had spent several hours watching the love of my life go through such excruciating pain in preparing to deliver Stewart into this world. I was almost in tears seeing her suffering like that and feeling so helpless to do anything to help her other than be by her side reassuring her. So when Stewart finally made his appearance, I was so overcome with relief that the hardest part for Jill was over and with joy that Stewart was finally here that tears came to my eyes. I was so relieved that Jill was okay – she was my superhero! She was absolutely amazing! I was also overcome with such joy at our newborn son, so innocent and fresh from heaven, and new to this world. Words cannot describe to emotions that I went through in seeing such a miracle as the birth of my son!

Stewart didn’t cry much when he was born. They brought him up to snuggle with Jill right after the delivery and then he stopped breathing and started turning blue. One of the nurses grabbed him and put him onto the little bed for newborns that has a heater above it. She immediately started rubbing him down to stimulate him to breathe. He responded and started breathing again and pinked up, but his breathing was fast and shallow. We were all concerned for him.

They monitored him for 20 – 30 minutes in the room, watching his breathing rate and making sure his vital signs were okay. After that I went with him down to the nursery to be with him while he was “checked in.” This means they had to enter all his information into the computer, take his footprints, give him the newborn physical screening, give him his newborn bath, and get him dressed. Stewart and I waited for probably half an hour in the nursery before they could get to him because of about five other newborns ahead of him to get the same things done. Of course, Stewart didn’t mind because he was laying under a heat lamp on a little bed sleeping.

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When the nurse got to giving him his bath, he didn’t mind too much, except when they took off his diaper and washed that area down. That was the most I heard him cry since he was born, and even that wasn’t much. It was just a short little cry.

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After he was bathed, we had to wait some more while the nurse entered his information into their computer. However, it was fun to see all the babies in the nursery, and to be by Stewart as we waited.

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With all of our other children, they’ve had fairly large feet at birth (for a newborn), and Jill had just been saying to me that we always got comments from nurses saying, “Wow, his/her feet are really big!” She didn’t want to hear anyone say that about Stewart. In fact, the nurse that checked him did NOT end up saying anything about him having big feet. I was happy to report this back to Jill. Of course, the next day Jill had a nurse tell her that exact same thing – that Stewart had really big feet.

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Finally Stewart was ready, and I was able to take him to the recovery room they had moved Jill to so he could see his mommy. Jill was so excited to finally have her baby back in her arms.

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…to be continued…

Mission Stories

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The other day, as I was sharing some stories from the time I served a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Mendoza, Argentina, my son, Seth, was asking a lot of questions about the story I shared. I said to him that I realized that these stories have never been recorded. My journals have a lot of experiences in them, but not a lot of the stories I shared over and over agains with my children as bedtime stories when they were younger. Thus, I felt that I should begin a journey to record these experiences. I’m not sure yet if I want to do it in such a public venue as this blog – I’m still trying to figure out exactly what I want to do, and how I want to record them. For now, I thought I would share a story that I don’t mind sharing on this blog:

When I first arrived in Argentina I had been studying Spanish in the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, Utah for four months (for those of you familiar with LDS missions, the usual time in the MTC for a foreign language mission was two months). I had been delayed because I had to have surgery to have a cyst removed before being shipped off to Argentina. I was anxious to get to the country to start preaching the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was a 13-hour flight from Los Angeles (we had to go to the Argentinian Consulate in LA to officially obtain our visas to be able to remain in Argentina for two years) to Buenos Aires. My first shock was going from three feet of snow in Provo in January to the middle of a hot, muggy summer in Buenos Aires. I stepped off the plane with my big heave trenchcoat on and quickly realized that I needed to strip down to just my white shirt and roll up my sleeves. I had been told about the seasons in the southern hemisphere being opposite, but it never really sunk in until I experienced it.

The next shock to me was getting into the airport with the small group of missionaries I was with and realizing that everyone but us was speaking in Spanish, even the announcements over the loudspeaker. Despite having studied it intensively for four months, I could not understand any of what people were saying. It was one thing to hear an instructor speak it in the classroom, but it was entirely different to be thrown into a place where my native language was no longer being spoken by anyone but those in my tiny group. Everyone seemed to be speaking so fast – I couldn’t make out where one word ended and the next word began. Only here and there was I picking out words that I could understand. I was more than a little nervous and scared. I realized that I was going to be here for two years.

We had to disembark at the Ezeiza International Airport in Buenos Aires and then catch a bus from there to the other airport closer to downtown Buenos Aires.

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Ministro Pistarini Ezeiza International Airport, Buenos Aires, Argentina

I don’t remember how that worked, but someone in our group knew where to go to catch the proper bus that would take us to the other airport (I think somewhere I still have the ticket from that bus ride). It was a ride that allowed us all to stare out the windows and get a good look at what Argentina was like. It took us on a freeway that went right past the LDS Buenos Aires Temple.

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This was taken from the bus we were riding in (Buenos Aires Temple)

We also drove past residential areas and into the heart of downtown Buenos Aires, heading for the Aeroparque Jorge Newbery, another airport very near the bay of the Rio de la Plata, the large river that separates Argentina from Uruguay on its other side. From this airport we would catch another flight to the province of Mendoza on the other side of the country. It was an awesome sight seeing huge docks and shipping yards along the river as we neared the airport. Everything was so new and so beautiful.

Upon arrival at Jorge Newbery, we had to find our way to the right terminal for our next flight. In struggling to find our way around in a new place without the language skills to understand anyone, we were all a bit overwhelmed and scared. To our surprise and great relief, a woman who spoke English came to our rescue. She lived in the United States but was flying to Mendoza to visit her family there. She guided us to the right terminal. We were very appreciative of her and thanked her profusely.

While waiting for the next flight I decided I would go to the restroom before we had to board. The facilities were right across from where we were waiting. I entered and had another shock. There were no enclosed bathroom stalls whatsoever. There was one big urinal wall that was open all the way across. Then there was another wall, also all open, with holes in the floor and feet marks in front where one would squat to poop into the hold in the floor. This was too much! I wasn’t about to relieve myself openly in front of complete strangers, with absolutely no privacy. I turned around and left, deciding I’d wait and relieve myself on the plane.

It was about an hour and a half flight from Buenos Aires to Mendoza (about 700 miles). We boarded the old-fashioned way – walking out from the terminal across the tarmac to the plane, going up the staircase that was set up against the side of the plane. I was happy to get on board and finally be able to privately relieve myself in the restroom. I was very aware as the flight attendants served us Sprite from glass bottles, realizing that soft drink brands here were very much the same as at home, but in glass bottles instead.

As we came in for a landing in Mendoza, I remember looking out the window and thinking that it was weird to see a large airport surrounded by what looked like ghettos and dirt roads. Strange to have such modern forms of transportation and yet find such poor conditions right next door. The mission president met us at the airport – he was from the United States. We loaded up our luggage into his car, a fairly newer model Peugeot, a popular make of car in Argentina at that time. We rode with wide eyes, staring out the windows and taking in all the new sites, to the mission home in downtown Mendoza, leaving the ghettos region behind as the freeway drew closer to downtown. We got into areas of smaller skyscrapers, busy with traffic. The mission home was in a fairly nice area of the city, and it was nice to be there with our mission president and his wife (President Charles Eastwood and his wife), both of whom were from the U.S. Sister Eastwood served us a delicious dinner and we received instruction from the mission president.

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President Charles and Sister Eastwood, Mendoza, Argentina

Later on we were taken by the assistants to the president (the APs) in the mission van to a small hotel nearby for the night. This was a very old hotel, with a small office at the front for check-in, and narrow halls and steep staircases to the rooms. The APs got us checked in and showed us up to our room on the third or fourth floor – a shared room with several small single beds (4-5 of them) with hard matresses and no box springs. Then they showed us the bathroom, telling us all about the bidet attachment on the toilet. It was a lever that when moved, made a sprayer slide out into the middle of the toilet. It was for washing oneself off after doing “number 2 in the bathroom. The APs swore up and down how awesome the bidets were, and how they loved to use them instead of toilet paper. I was skeptical because I had never tried one before. Later on, I actually did try it, but I held the hot water lever too long and slightly scalded my rear-end – ouch!!! Looking out the back window of our room, I through the center of the block and saw the ruins of some very old brick buildings there. It made me wonder how long it had been that way.

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Picture taken from the hotel room of the ruins behind the hotel

This all made me think that all the modernity of Argentina was sort of tourist trappy – all show on the outside to make a good impression on the visitors, but then deep down on the inside of everything there were run-down neighborhoods, dirt roads, old adobe brick houses with cane walls plastered with mud and dirt floors, and widescale poverty. This is what I started prepping myself for as I lay in that hotel room and dozed off to sleep. I wondered how the Lord would help me learn the language well enough to be able to communicate with people. I was anxious and nervous, yet at the same time, ready to dive into the Lord’s word in harvesting souls for his cause.

Don’t Forget to Pray

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This evening I enjoyed being with my boys as they worked on the dishes. At our house, Sundays are the days boys are responsible to do all the dishes. Gavin, without fail, always pulls up and turns on some Sabbath music. He was playing different hymns through YouTube. That got me wanting to create a playlist that I could use for this – one with good Sabbath music. So, I added it to my YouTube channel and started searching for a lot of the songs Gavin likes to hear on the Sabbath. Then, after most of the kids were in bed, I continued adding some songs. This one in particular really strikes a chord with me every time I hear it:

So here’s the story behind it: The year: 1992. Location: General Alvear, Mendoza, Argentina. It was a Sunday morning and church services were starting. The branch president had asked me about a month previous to give a talk that day in sacrament meeting. I spent several hours over the previous week preparing a talk. However, when the branch president got up and announced the program that day, he announced different speakers, completely leaving me out. A flood of anger washed over me. How could he do this to me? I spent hours preparing my talk. He asked me in advance to do this and now he forgets? I was boiling inside, yet I knew I shouldn’t be.

The opening song started, and it was this one: Did You Think to Pray? I was just singing words that didn’t mean anything to me as the anger simmered inside. Then came the second verse:

When your heart was filled with anger, did you think to pray?
Did you plead for grace, my brother, that you might forgive another
Who had crossed your way?
Oh, how praying rests the weary!
Prayer will change the night to day.
So, when life gets dark and dreary,
Don’t forget to pray.

It hit me like a steam train. This was a message from God right to me at that very moment. I needed to pray for grace to forgive the branch president. I knew he didn’t do this to me maliciously. It was just a simple oversight, a human bout of forgetfulness. We all have this happen at one time or another. Tears rolled down my checks as God’s love rushed into my heart and I looked up with love at the branch president. He had no idea that this had even happened to me, and yet my heart swelled with love for him and his diligent service to the Lord.

Now every time I hear this hymn, it is like I feel God’s voice speaking directly to my soul. It moves me still almost to tears. I am so grateful that Heavenly Father loves us enough to help us get past our human foibles and has mercy enough to forget what we’ve done wrong in the past and see what we can become – he sees our potential. I am grateful that he loves me enough to encourage me on despite how many times I’ve let him down in the past. He loves us all this much. Let’s hear his voice and strive harder to be what he knows we can become. He reminds us all, “Don’t Forget to Pray!”

A Hundred Miles An Hour

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My thoughts are going a hundred miles an hour. They are racing between so many different things right now. My 16-year-old niece, Reesa Kammerman, passed away last Sunday and her viewing is today, with her funeral tomorrow. She will sorely be missed. Also, I’ve been working on my wife’s website for her business, trying to find the right e-commerce software to use. Things have been crazy busy for everyone, with hardly a moment to just sit and ponder.

Lord, Hear my prayer!

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As I sit here listening to John Rutter’s Requiem, I am flooded with feelings of love for my Savior, Jesus Christ. I marvel at how he could love me and want to redeem me when I continue to disappoint him and our Heavenly Father. I am a sinner – imperfect. I feel as Nephi exclaimed:

…my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.

(Book of Mormon | 2 Nephi 4:17 – 18)

I was overcome with the Spirit and overwhelmed with feelings of marveling in Sunday School today as I gazed at a picture of Jesus Christ in the garden of Gethsemane while a brother in our class read this scripture:

For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.

(Doctrine and Covenants | Section 19:16 – 19)

The image of a wine press, pressing the juice out of grapes came to mind. Christ, under the weight of the sins of the universe, was crushed so that blood came out of every pore in like manner. It is beyond comprehension the excruciating pain that must  have been.  But how thankful I am that because of his love for me, his brother, he finished the task and bore that pain.

 

 

I pray that I can always live worthy of being able to bring this atonement into play in my life. As the hymn, Lead Kindly Light says in plea to the Lord, “Remember not past years.” Help me go forward and serve God with diligence and faith.