Once upon a time there was a girl who always wanted to go on a mission. She always knew what she believed in a religious sense and she had an innate desire to share that with others. She also desired to learn more about tender mercies. So she put in her papers (fearing that she would be called somewhere as scarey as Japan or Idaho), and was delighted to be assigned to the Italy Catania mission.Her mission didn't turn out exactly as she had always pictured. The language was difficult (bless the hearts of those who actually went to Russia or Hong Kong!). It was really really really hot and humid (again, bless those in the rain forests and much worse climes). The companions were sometimes challenging, sometimes a barrel of laughs (consider "The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota" sung every day on the streets of Foggia). Her family at home presented all sorts of strange new configurations. And the people were passionate, crazy (Laura di Bari), warm and welcoming, downright rude (think stones and spit), hilarious, wonderful, nurturing, and incredible. The work was exhilerating, heart-breaking, exhausting, slow, and invigorating. Just nothing like she had expected. She learned all about patience and charity, about hope and faith, about work and walking and work and more walking, and prayer--a lot of desperate, heart-felt, heart-rending prayer.
The tender mercies were small but steady in coming. Like she learned she could do hard things. She learned how to laugh at ridiculous situations (you try having no water for a week in humid September in Palermo). She learned how to figure things out (like Italian and Siciliano and mafioso). She learned how to eat A LOT. She learned how to sit through church meetings with kids swearing really loudly or crazy ladies giving crazy speeches, or people doing really crazy things. She watched some people come to church and some people leave church. She learned how to deal with rejection. She learned how to love and to give and to hope. Oh she learned a lot. But she still did not come home with all the incredible mission stories that so many missionaries bring home. Just a lot of really really funny ones. And she still did not come home to the life she thought she would come home to. And though she was really really really grateful for the experience, and she knew it had somehow changed her, she sometimes wondered what it all meant and how all the craziness fit together.
Well one day, years and years later, she turned on general conference, only to hear President Monson announce a new temple to be built in Rome, Italy. At first she thought she heard wrong, because after all, she had just run 22 miles and was joining the session a tad late. Then she wondered if any of those men in Salt Lake City had ever been to a sacrament meeting in Italy, and how in the world they would be able to staff a temple and deal with the laws of the land (and the laws of the Micky Mouse Club running the land) and just keep it open with enough patrons when the bus doesn't even run regularly and where in the world can you find air conditioning other than gelato freezers.
Then she remembered the people that she had come to love: the Spatolas and the Simoncinis and DiSalvos, Fratello Aloisio ("c'e una scrittura scritta nel mio cuore!"), Sabina Mattia, Mary Minichetti, the Valentinis and DiCarlos, the Ferrezanos, Elisa and Esther and Nunzia, all the dear, dear people that she had prayed for and worked for and cried for and spent time with and ate with and loved. All the people who stayed in Italy when she came home. All the people who persevered and pressed forward and struggled and tried their hardest, even in the craziest of circumstances. And she realized that this, indeed, was a Mighty Work. That God knows these people and He loves them and wants to bless them, even in the far corners.
And then the girl realized that she had planted seeds, that they had grown, and that they were good, many of them. She realized, so many miles away and so many years later, that fruit must have come from some of those seeds, that a temple would be built. That it was partly her temple. And those were her people.
And she realized that seeds take time and that good things do come accordingly, and that time does tell. And she walked a little taller and looked ahead, once again, with hope.
(And I promise to never again wear a dress that looks like a tablecloth. Oh how I loved that pink dress back in the day!)