Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Live in Thanksgiving Daily

"Those blessings are sweetest that are won with prayer and worn with thanks."
Thomas Goodwin
Palermo Missionaries with Members
I Am Grateful for English Course
Sorella Wiltbank and I have been doing a lot of Finding again, which has led to quite a few impromptu lessons on the street.  The bad news: We have been unable to get a hold of Giuseppe for another lesson.  He texted saying his phone doesn't really work.  The good news: We have a new investigator who is ALSO named Giuseppe!  He first came to English Course on Tuesday, and when we had a spiritual thought on the Plan of Salvation (thanks to a question asked by another investigator, Rosa Anna), he stayed after to ask more questions.  We ended up setting an appointment with him after Thursday's English Course.  He came armed with lots of questions.  Sorella Wiltbank taught this lesson with Sorella Bradford because we were having a day of scambi (exchanges).  They gave him a copy of the Book of Mormon, and asked him to begin his reading with the introduction.  When we called him on Sunday to give him news about English Course (we are adding more days to accommodate the influx of new students), he excitedly shared that he had read the introduction and testimonies of the witnesses and looked forward to discussing it with us.  When we see him this evening, we are going to ask him to write down a list of his questions so we can make sure we teach to his needs.

I Am Grateful for Investigators
Others of our investigators, Rosa Anna and Josie (adorable middle-aged gals) are both doing well.  We had a brief lesson with Rosa Anna before English Course on Tuesday and answered some more of her questions relating to the Restoration, specifically about authority and prophets.  We have other potentials we are working on, mostly through English Course.
"Praise the name of God with a song...magnify Him with thanksgiving."
Psalm 69:30
Thursday, we are having a Thanksgiving party to which we invited members to come and fellowship.

I Am Grateful for Visiting Authorities
Friday, three general authorities offered a special missionary fireside.  Elder Randall Ridd (General Young Men's President), Elder Osguthorpe (General Sunday School President), and Elder Patrick Kearon (of the Seventy) came and held a special meeting with the missionaries before meeting with Palermo Stake leaders.  It was a privilege to have been in attendance because they were here in Italy on limited engagement only to promote better teaching to local Church leadership, and visiting missionaries in Rome, Milan, and Albania, if I heard right.  The talks were super great.  Elder Osguthorpe's son had served in Italy, so he shared what little Italian he learned, which was fun.  Elder Ridd spoke on "Real Intent," and how Real Intent means asking yourself in various activities, Why am I doing this right now?  Then direct our actions to consciously fulfill that purpose.  For some reason, this was a huge breakthrough for me and helped me resolve some issues that I didn't even really recognize as that type of problem.
"Do...all things with prayer and thanksgiving."
D&C 46:7
Intentional Living
Here's how I figure it:  Most of us spend our days following patterns and habits we've developed through the years - living life, going through the motions at home, online, at work, without much thought to it.  Living with Real Intent means taking our days and tweaking it with focus, modifying it with purpose.  Many things we do have some kind of intent.  Take some of my missionary routine, for example:
     •  I wash dishes because I don't want a messy kitchen.
     •  I say my prayers because I want to have the Spirit with me.
     •  I peruse the city streets, Finding, because I need to broaden our teaching pool.
Repeating these actions every day causes the intent to sort of fade away, which makes me barely aware of them.  It's mundane.  Routine.  Nothing special.  The intent was established long ago, so I don't need to think about it anymore.  This puts me in automatic mode.  But...
     What if that changed?
     What if I established an intention for my actions?
     How would that affect my deeds?  
     How would it transform my activities?
What if I washed dishes, but first thought to do it as a service to my roommates - to make them happy? Then doing dishes suddenly becomes a meaningful task.  The only difference is my intention.

What if I said my prayers with the intent of opening a Divine line of communication - of offering my desires for the day and waiting to hear my Heavenly Father's specific guidance?  Then prayer becomes a sweet two-way conversation with the Lord.  The only difference is added intent.

What if I did Finding after, first, mentally resolving to use that time to help uplift others along the way - to make people happy?  The process of Finding then transforms into an exercise of spreading the Joy of Christ.  The only difference is my intention.

And, what if I began each day determined to "live in Thanksgiving daily" (Alma 34:38) - to look for blessings threaded throughout my waking hours?  Then a ho-hum day suddenly turns into an abundant garden of goodness.

This is Intentional Living.  Tackling tasks with intention.  It's easy to practice in small amounts. The more you apply a Purpose, the more you see a difference.  Life is different.  More productive.  More content.  More meaningful.
     Dishes go from mundane - to ennobling.
     Prayer goes from routine - to inspiring.
     Finding goes from drudgery - to joy.
The only difference is intention.

Pause on Purpose
So, before you do your next activity, pause a moment, and mentally articulate your purpose.
     Why am I doing this?  Is it out of compassion for others, or self?
     Will this enhance the world around me?
     How is this going to bless another?
Then go and do, be mindful of your intentions, live in gratitude, and you will be living a life with Real Intent. (see family blog nefchronicles.wordpress.com Life with Real Intent April 2014)
"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough, and more.
It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, and confusion to clarity.
It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend."
Melody Beattie

I Am Grateful for President Waddoups
President Waddoups showed up by surprise to the Fireside.  We had no idea he was coming.  He came rolling up in a taxi, paid the driver 50 euro, and grabbed my companion and I to come out and talk to the taxi driver.  We introduced ourselves to the driver and talked with him for bit.  Turns out, he lives nearby, so we invited the man to our English Course.

Starring, the Palermo District
During the meeting, President Waddoups spoke highly of us missionaries to the visiting authorities.  He intruduced Anziano DiCaro (our District Leader) as a new Capo Zona (Zone Leader).  A pleasant surprise!  From then on, our District seemed to be the star of the meeting.  Elder Osguthorpe used Anziano Nickle (from Orem, Utah) and Anziano Duffin (from Salt Lake City, Utah) as examples as they talked about their investigator Francesca.  The rest of our District couldn't help but chime in and talk about her because we all know her.  Other companionships participated in other aspects of the evening - always our District.  The authorities seemed impressed with our unity.
Sister Waddoups, Robinson, me, Bradford, and Wiltbank
Sister Waddoups borrowed Anziano DiCaro's coat to match us in the picture
I Am Grateful for My Sisters
After the fireside, Sorella Bradford decided to corner President Waddoups and ask him about transfer calls, "I mean, they are only tomorrow," she said, "and he is here right now so why not?"  He was very open and told us sisters we were all staying together.  "What about the elders?" we asked.  He looked at us (our whole District, at this point, gathered waiting for the axe to fall).
     "One of the elders is leaving," he said.
     "Which one?" we asked.
     He looked very thoughtful for a bit and said, "You will have to see tomorrow."
On the way home, Anziano Nickle debated back and forth as to which one was leaving.  They had been here the longest, so he and his companion figured it had to be one of them, especially since Anziano DiCaro was promoted to Capo Zona.

I Am Grateful for My District
Saturday - the dreaded Transfer call day - we got the news:  EVERYBODY IS STAYING!  Apparently, in the call to Anziano Nickle and Duffin, President Waddoups said, "I couldn't split you up.  Merry Christmas."
WE ARE SO EXCITED.  OH MY GOODNESS.  We had all been dreading having to say goodbye.  I can't believe we get the blessing of spending Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years together.  Eight missionaries are now on Cloud 9 and couldn't be happier.  Considering the huge gift we've been given, we plan on stepping up our game.
"He who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious;
and the things of this earth shall be added unto him,
even an hundred fold, yea, more."
D&C 78:19
With Christmas around the corner, we expect the Lord to bring to pass some great miracles for the great city of Palermo.  Personally, I am the happiest I have been so far in my mission.  I love these missionaries.
Color coordinated Palermo District - Aren't we precious!
Anziano Duffin, Anziano Nickle, Sorella Robinson, Sorella Bradford, Sorella Wiltbank, me, Anziano Hurlburt, Anziano DiCaro

Where Much is Given, Much Will Be Given
I am so grateful for this Gospel.  My gratitude has driven me all the way to Italy to proclaim its truthfulness and declare it as the means to happiness and peace.  I am thankful to be in this city with these missionaries at this time.  It's truly the golden age of missionary work right now, and I feel incredibly blessed to be wearing a badge that names me as one of the Lord's laborers in His Vineyard of the final Dispensation.  One of the things Elder Kearon said was that the Lord does not send just any missionary to a country preparing for a temple.  "You must have done something right in the Pre-Existence for you to be here in Italy at this time." My heart is full.  Because I am so blessed to have the Lord's trust to send me here now, I intend to serve with all of my heart, might, mind and strength to help prepare these people for the blessings of eternity.
Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing...
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise:
Be thankful unto Him, and bless His name.
Psalm 100
I am Grateful for All of You.  Have a Most Joyous Thanksgiving,
Sorella Ashley Nef

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Forza Palermo!

Look how beautiful she looks!
Baptism of Maria Rita
Guess What?  Maria Rita was Baptized November 3rd!  My heart is full.  I am so happy for the blessings that will come into her life.  What a great example she will be to her family and to the Cagliari Ward family, who already loves her so much.  Prior to the baptism, Maria Rita had sent me an email, letting me know of her decision to finally enter the waters.
I was so excited.  Wish I could have been there to celebrate her day with her.

Blessings and love to you, Maria Rita
and Giuseppina!
Giuseppina and Maria Rita with the Cagliari Missionaries (I'm there in spirit)

Syrup Goes...Where?
Anziano Di Caro
Last P-Day was a casual day: I made pumpkin pie (DELICIOUS), we met up with our District and watched 17 Miracles while eating the pie and Bruschetta, made by Anziano Di Caro.  It was so much fun.  That evening, we had a dinner appointment with the American Couple living in Palermo - the Alders.  They are the ones who moved into our palazzo (building).  Such fun!  It was great to have a meal with members IN ENGLISH.  Anziano Di Caro (from Milan, Italy), felt a little stress with the evening.  For meals, Italians are used to a hostess plating the food for you, so he didn't really know what to do when food was passed around the table American style.  For instance, we had to instruct him on how to eat pancakes and eggs (yes, we had breakfast for dinner!), "Put syrup on the pancakes, but not the eggs."

District Meeting:  Bingeing with Purpose?
Speaking of Anziano Di Caro, he is our brilliant Capo Distretto (District Leader), and for District Meeting he decided that as an act of unity we 8 missionaries were going to guzzle down 9 liters of ice water from a bucket with giant bendy straws.  The point being: the 6 (1.5 liter) bottles of water, each represented an aspect of our work (investigators, less-actives, Relief Society, Quorum etc.).  And we missionaries were going to down it all.  So we did - in under 5 minutes. The most painful and hilarious 5 minutes of my life.  Things that really shouldn't be funny become way too funny when you are a missionary (especially when grouped with a bunch of people you REALLY enjoy). About half-way through guzzle-down when Anziano Hurlburt (from South Carolina) pointed out that this was an absurd task (thank you Captain Obvious), we lost it.  After regaining control of our laughter, we continued drinking as much as we could as fast as we could, and Hurlburt jumped in again with, "You know, this would be a lot easier with the help of the members."  Again, shouldn't be that funny, but it was that funny.  Water was the only thing we were drinking - I swear!  We're simply a ridiculous group who loves each other.  For the next few hours we were shivering and making frequent trips to the bathroom.  But then came Pizza, so it was all good.

The Elders moved into their new apartment putting them only about 100 meters from the Church!  The downside: they have 5 flights of stairs with no elevator.  Yes!

"Casa Isn't Very Effective, Is It?"
We did splits with a couple of members in the ward (our companionship splits up and each of us goes with a member, doubling our activity).  The members wanted to visit meno-attivi (less-actives), but after calling every member on the less-active list, we still didn't have anyone who was willing to schedule.  So we asked the members what they wanted to do and they said, "Casa."  Joy!  So we hit the streets doing casa for an hour and a half or so.  Not much happened other than the heavens started to drop the whole Mediterranean Sea on us.  My coat is still drying a half-week later.  "Casa isn't very effective, is it?" said the members on the way back.  Ding!  We have a winner!

Large Family - Small World
Sorella Claire Bradford, one of the sisters here with me in Palermo, lived in Singapore for a time. When I told her my uncle lives in Singapore and, quite possibly, they could have known one another, she said, "Wait.  Paul Nef is your uncle?"  Turns out, he was her Bishop when her family first moved to the far east. Their family's, apparently, were friends.  Hey, uncle Paul, isn't this something?  The very accomplished Bradford family now lives in Germany.  I swear, wherever we go, there is always someone who knows someone from my dad's family: a Nef from Rupert Idaho.  What a great connection to make half-way around the world!
Palermo Sorelle: Me, Wiltbank, Robinson, and Bradford
Zone Conference:  No Comments from the Palermo Peanut Gallery
Friday's Zone Conference was my best Zone Conference ever.  What made it so great is our tight-knit District.  We were hosting conference here in our city, so half of Sicily's missionaries gathered in Palermo. Our District sat together, which became especially entertaining when we'd make comments and laugh at inside jokes (which are many), while everyone else wondered what was going on.

Don't Get Your Knickers in a Twist
For instance, Sorella Bradford was assigned to give a training session on how to use pamphlets, and she asked Anziano Di Caro to act as an investigator.
Unbeknown to the rest of the Zone, Di Caro has a British book of slang that he has been studying, but it has been teaching him some very interesting words that are never ever used by Americans.  Words like, Razzmatazz (which I only know as a flavor at Jamba Juice), and Hoity Toity.  We dared him to use these words during the role play thing, thinking he wouldn't take us up on it.  Except he DID! We all died laughing.  What a hoot!
Translate: "Please friend, give me some money for the phone"
A good time was had by all at Zone Conference: food was great (from Ganci's near our house - best sandwich I have ever had), the talks and training sessions were brilliant, and we sisters sang an interlude number, Anima Mia (Be Still My Soul). Last verse was a capella and sounded very pretty.

After Conference, we had a lesson with the Anziani and President, which went well.  Then everyone, Zone and President, topped the day off with gelato. I'd have pictures, but I've lost my camera cord :( .

Lost in Translation
I think the President has me slightly confused for another sister, because he said he was very impressed with how I taught, saying, "Your Italian has greatly improved from the last time I saw you.  I am very happy for you because I heard you had been struggling with the language."
     Perplexed, I told him "Thank you."
But I realized afterward that he must have me confused for someone else.  I mean, I am not perfect at Italian, and I am doing what I can to always improve, but I have never struggled with the language. Languages are one of those things that come fairly easy to me and studying French and Italian at BYU made me pretty fluent for my mission.  In fact, there are two things that inevitably come up when I speak with Italians.
     1.  They love pointing out how tall I am "Altissima!"
     2.  They comment on how good my Italian is (which makes me feel great).
Can't say I blame the President.  I mean, I've been stuck on islands since arriving in Italy, and he has 193 missionaries to keep track of, plus members and leaders, governments and policies, and so on and so forth.  It's a super tough job that carries an enormous amount of responsibility.  With a calling that demands every bit of ones wit and wisdom, who has time to keep tabs on a missionary's language skills?

Stake Conference in The City of Enna
photo: mauro61
Saturday and Sunday was Stake Conference. Sicily has only one stake.  To make Conference attendance convenient for all members, they hold it in the central-most point.  In Sicily, that means traveling to the very center of the island to the city of Enna, also known as Belvedere (panoramic viewpoint), or, Ombelico (navel) of Sicily.  Enna was recently opened for the first time to missionaries (aka - there are no members there and the missionaries are starting from Ground 0). Stake Conference talks were great.  Especially moving were the words and testimony of Stake President Nudo.  He has such a love for the members and for this land.  He is convinced that we can help Sicily grow to include 2 stakes.  President Waddoups backs him 100%.  In fact, the tone of the conference was a sort of Call to Arms, "the Time is Now" for members working shoulder-to-shoulder with missionaries to help enact this spiritual revolution that must take place.  Very motivating.  Let's go take Palermo!  CHARGE!
Here we are again: Robinson, Bradford, me, Wiltbank
photo: sorellawiltbank.blogspot.com
Angst of Transfer Calls
This week is transfer calls.  I'm anxious because I do not want any of my District to go.  I love these missionaries!  We work together so well, it would be a shame for things to change when we are finally gaining momentum in the work.

Palermo is Ready to Blossom
President sent me quick response to my email from last week saying, "I'm convinced that Palermo is ready to blossom.  You will be part of it."  I believe it!  The Lord has great things in store for Sicily's capital and I am so happy to be here and involved.

A District of Multipliers
After Zone Conference, the President's Assistants seemed genuinely surprised at the camaraderie of our District.  As my Brit slang-loving District Leader would say, they were gobsmacked by the Palermo bond and commented that we were the most united District in the most united Zone of the mission right now. Why, thank you Assistants.  I certainly feel that way.  And what a great feeling it is!
photo: sorellawiltbank.blogspot.com
I'll let you in on a secret.  The key to our unity isn't mere chance, a roll of the dice, or dumb luck. The secret to Palermo District's closeness is the same prescription that the Apostle Paul used for the church in Corinth:  Love.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind;
charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemingly, seeketh not her own,
is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil. 
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Charity (which is love) never faileth.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
Multipliers vs Diminishers
The secret to unity begins with a personal quest to act with loving forgiveness, selfless compassion, and noble strength.  This is a love that takes us beyond ourselves.  It's a recipe for not only living a Christ-like life, but these are some of the qualities of what my mom's friend, Liz Wiseman, calls "Multipliers" (from her best-selling book by the same title).  Multipliers are those who build and uplift, inspire talent, and multiply productivity from those around them.  I try to be a multiplier.  I'm in a District of Multipliers.

Counter to Multipliers lay the Diminishers - those who tear down, self-absorb, stifle, and neglect.  They are the ones who spend their days looking for the negative, seeing only the wrongs, focusing on the blemishes. They diminish people and productivity.  How exhausting!  Life is so much sweeter, so much more fruitful and fulfilling when we all learn to multiply what is good and worthwhile in the world, the work, and with each other.

I love my Palermo District.  We don't want to be known for what divides us.  Instead, we want to be known for what unites us - our common Father, His singular Plan, our One and Only Savior, and His Gospel that gives us a recipe to guide us back Home.  What of Palermo blossoming and Sicily growing into two stakes? With this group of multipliers, the work can't help but...well, multiply.

Sorella Ashley Nef

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Offal Truth of Palermo Tradition

Antica Focacceria San Francisco
Antica Focacceria San Francisco is the oldest restaurant in Palermo.  Formerly the chapel of the San Francisco Palace, it was gifted to the royal chef in 1834, which he turned into a restaurant.  Five generations later, it is still in the family.  The place is just about as famous as the traditional Offal food
U Pani ca Meusa - Spleen Sandwich
on its menu.  What is Offal?  It's only the entrails and organ matter of an animal.  All the throw-away stuff.  Believe it or not, offal has become a stylish cultural symbol of culinary tradition in Palermo.

So, when visiting the historic Focacceria, I had to go for the house specialty: U Pani ca Meusa - Spleen sandwich.  Yep.  It was pretty good - only the texture was slightly rubbery.  I heard someone call it a "spleeny panini."  Here's how it's made:  They take the spleen of a cow (and a little lung in most cases), boil whole, slice, cook a little more - this time in a round pot of lard.  Place a few slices in a fresh roll and top with Parmesan cheese.

Offal Beginnings
Offal history spans to the middle ages.  In the 5th century BC, a significant Jewish population came with the Greeks from Athens to Sicily.  By the middle ages, the Jews of Palermo were part of the wealthy elite, their community numbering to 5,000 at its peak.  Yet, there is hardly a trace of them today.  What does remain is Palermo's classic offal cuisine.

Offal Food:  It's a Tradition
Stigghiola - Small Intestine Kebabs
photo: siciliangodmother
When Jews slaughtered an animal for dinner, they would give the offal scraps to the community's poor.  Hats off to the Palermo underclass - they not only learned to survive on the "undesirables," but from it they used amazing ingenuity to create a palatable menu which they relish to this day.

Fast food in Palermo, which you buy on the street the way a New Yorker buys a hot dog, or a Californian orders from a chic Food Truck, is exclusively made of offal.  You can pick up a spleen sandwich, fried subcutaneous fat chunks on a bun (frittola), or small intestine kebabs (stigghiola).  Tongue and hoof salad can be found at the local supermarket.  Apparently, roadside offal chefs of Palermo are local celebrities, working their culinary wonders over open-air fryers and smoking grills.  So, at the heart of all Palermo Offal fast food is a legacy of a now-vanished Jewish community. (extra source: siciliangodmother).

Sicily's Odd Flag
What do Medusa, wheat stalks, and a trio of conjoined legs have in common? Why, Sicilian patriotism, of course. The Sicilian flag has got to be the oddest combination of symbols.  Odder still, is the fact that the strangest part of the flag (spiraling legs) is found on another national flag - that of the Isle of Man. To appreciate Sicily's Standard is to understand it's meaning, so let's take it piece-by-piece.

Red is the color of Palermo.  Yellow is Corleone.  Both cities were the first to form a successful revolt against French King Charles I back in 1282.  Three stalks of wheat honor Sicily's fertile land.

Three legs relate to ancient Greek history.  Spartans carved images of bent armored legs into their shields as a symbol of strength.  When seeing the shores of Sicily, the Greeks were reported to have been "taken by its beauty and likened its shores to the legs of a woman," and adopted the strength/womanly beauty image in triangular form for the island.  Romans call it the "Trinacria" (meaning, triangle), Greeks call it "Trinakrias," which was the ancient name for Sicily.

Now we get to the winged head of Medusa.  The story behind her image carries lengthy mythological roots surrounding the Gorgons, but I'll give you the short version.  Medusa's face implies protection from Athena, patron goddess of the isle. Medusa was the destructive aspect of Athena, who became a monster beheaded by the hero Perseus, whose said head then became embellished on Athena's shield.  Medusa's center position on the flag is somewhat of a threat and warning to all would-be invaders:  Don't mess with fertile, strong, beautiful Sicily! Capeesh?

When We're Helping We're Happy
Friday, we helped a woman in our ward who is actually American but living here in Palermo with her husband (an American chiropractor).  She recently moved, so we were helping clean out some finals things from the old house.  Then we headed to Palermo 2 area to sing at a baptismal service.

Saturday, we headed to Monreale for an evening at the Bishop's house - all the missionaries.  We got to know them pretty well.  Turns out the Bishop grew up in Springfield, Illinois, and he surprised us with his great English.  It's almost never that you run into an Italian who speaks with a perfect American accent (they either have an Italian or British accent).  The whole evening was super fun!

Chiesa del Gesu:  Church of Jesus
photo: travel.michelin.com
We ventured into the Chiesa del Gesu (pronounced Kee-essa del Jeh-zoo), also known as Casa Professa.  In 1549, Catholic Jesuits came to Palermo, settled their Order in Albergheria, the old stomping grounds of the Jews (who had been expelled in 1492), and began building a church.  A couple of additions and nearly a century later, it was eventually completed in 1636.  Then came World War II when bombs destroyed much of Palermo's historic buildings, including this church.  Rebuilding was slow, taking another half century, when finally they were able to re-open in 2009.  Some of the brightly colored paintings are noticeably 1970s era, but the restoration, as a whole, is quite fitting.  Baroque.

If it's Baroque, Baroque it Some More
The Church of the Gesu is the most ornate church in Palermo.  Marble carvings, exuberant patterns, layers of stucco reliefs, gilded embellishments, precious stones, colorful frescos, and hundreds - if not thousands (I'm not kidding) - of cherubs adorn every inch of the interior.  Nothing understated here.  This enormous 3-nave, 10-chapel church spares nothing in the way of outlandish opulence.  Take a look.
photo: passagetosicily.com
Gotta hand it to the Jesuit priests.  Instead of commissioning artists, they did a great deal of the craftsmanship themselves.  Thing is: they simply didn't know when to put on the creative brakes.

Honestly, it's difficult to appreciate artistry when it's stuffed, crammed, layered, and bedazzled.  If you can tunnel-vision your way through the church and isolate a sculpture here and a painting there, then it becomes a little more palatable.  Notice the beautiful cherubs on the right, for instance.

For fans of Baroque, this is Baroque on steroids. For me, it was a bit much.  Okay...a LOT much.

"I Love Challenges!"
Had several lessons this week.  Two of the four people taught have no interest.  Giuseppe's lesson was awesome.  He brought his brother, Toni, and we asked about their conversion stories (from Catholicism to Evangelism).  They shared some very cool experiences in which they strongly felt the Spirit when reading the Bible.  This was the perfect segue to the lesson we planned on The Book of Mormon, giving a scriptural "tour" using images at the beginning as an introduction.
     After explaining the book as being another Testament of Jesus Christ, and before we could share Moroni's promise, Giuseppe turned to Toni and said, "We might as well read it and see.  Then we can decide for ourselves."
     "That's exactly right," we said, and asked him to read Moroni 10:3-5.
     As soon as Giuseppe finished reading the promise, he said, "It's a challenge!  I love challenges."
     We bore testimony on the Book of Mormon and assured them that they would feel the Spirit as they read the book and prayed about it.  I have no doubt that Giuseppe will receive his answer since it's evident that he knows and recognizes the Spirit when he feels it.

"These Missionaries are Angels"
Our District has teamed up on helping each other's investigators, doing kind acts and nice deeds.  For instance, this week we got them each a little something and attached a note.  For Veronica (who really is only still an investigator because she is awaiting her mother's permission for baptism), we got her some chocolate.  Francesca (who has been struggling), we got her a flower.

Turns out, Francesca got our note and gift the very day she set a baptismal date with the Anziani, and our note made her teary-eyed.  She then started bearing testimony to another potential investigator standing nearby, telling her, "These missionaries are angels.  You have to meet with them.  They just bring the love of God with them."  It was very touching.
Temple Baptismal Font
photo: lds.org

"Will You be Baptized for Me?"
Alessio, the golden investigator, pulled the other sisters aside to mention a dream he had.  His friend had recently been in a terrible accident which left him in a coma.  The other night, Alessio had a dream in which this friend's spirit came to him and asked, "If I die, will you be baptized for me?"

When Alessio awoke, he started searching for baptisms for the dead on lds.org and found out that, indeed, we do them.  He asked the sisters if he was crazy, as he questioned more about the temple and saving ordinances for those who have gone before.  The Spirit was soooo strong as they talked and bore testimony on the blessings of the Temple.  He's amazing!

Bundled and Happy
I am having a blast here in Palermo!  Today is a rainy day.  In fact, I am wearing my coat for the first time.  Woohoo!  Later today for our P-Day activity, we plan on watching 17 Miracles as a District.  Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming up and I am sooo excited (of course, Thanksgiving is not a holiday here, but I can still celebrate).  I am happy to report that pumpkin has been found, which is ready to be made into pie once I find pie plates.  They are already setting up Christmas lights throughout the city (Italian lights are supposed to be Amazing), which makes me anxious for my Palermitano Christmas!

Offal Tradition and Our Heavenly Father's Plan
Palermo's Offal tradition shares something in common with our Heavenly Father's Plan.  No, really.  They both have a history of working with what's on the inside.  I'm not talking spleens and intestines.  I'm talking mind and heart.
The Lord seeth not as a man seeth;
for man looketh on the outward appearance,
but the Lord looketh on the heart.
1 Samuel 16:7
He looks on the heart because that's where real change begins.  You might altar things momentarily with programs and systems and finances, but deep lasting change - the kind that matters - is always a matter of the heart.   
Hearts are changed through faith on His name.
Mosiah 5:7
Here's the problem: we are separated from our Heavenly Father.  We are cut off from the Source of Love and Life.  A new purchase or policy or president won't fix that.  It can only be solved by God.  That's why scripture uses terms like softening of the heart, feelings to the mind and heart, conversion, repentance, and re-birth.  That's why He tells us to love Him with all of our heart, might, mind and strength.  Because, in His hands, only He can comfort and heal, expand and lift and renew.  The world may offer band aids, but only God and our Savior redeems, restores, and re-creates.
And they did declare unto the people the self-same thing-
that their hearts had been changed;
that they had no more desire to do evil.
Alma 19:33
Giuseppe and Alessio are beginning to see: Change is an inside job.  All we have to do is reach in and believe.

Dal Mio Cuore al Tuo (From my heart to yours),
Sorella Ashley Nef

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

You Can't Take Everything With You

"Never Go in Against a Sicilian When Death is on the Line!"
photo: entmood.blogspot.com
The Capuchin Catacombs here in Palermo gave us the perfect pre-Halloween excursion.  What an eerie place!  These catacombs are filled with thousands of preserved corpses, most wearing the tattered remains of their finest garments, and arranged in the macabre museum's narrow halls.  How does a morbid place like this come to be, you ask?  Well...

photos: entmood.blogspot.com
In the 16th century, the Capuchin Friar Monastery was forced to find a solution to the over-crowded cemetery.  Since the catacombs beneath the church had just been excavated, it only made sense to designate this as their new resting ground.  Originally, the catacombs were kept for resident Friars only, but word got out, and soon the wealthy began reserving post-life real estate in the catacomb corridors.

Fun Fact:  Cappucino gets its name from the Capuchin Friars whose brown hoods resembled the Italian coffee.  Cappucino means "little hood."

What makes the Capuchin Catacombs unique from other ossuaries is that these mummified/embalmed cadavers (in various stages of preservation and unpreservation) are clothed, stuffed, posed, and propped in grotesque reception lines as if awaiting their guests.  In the time of internment, as families of the deceased donated funds, they could visit and pray with their dead loved one. When contributions for that person ceased, the body would be shelved until payment.  
photo: gorestruly.com
photo: bigpicture.ru

Today, visitors merely walk through and stare face-to-skull with people who lived some 200+ years ago.  The 8,000 mummies are arranged according to social status and gender.  The first section contains monks, and includes the corpse of Brother Silvestro da
Gubbio, the oldest resident, whose remains have been welcoming visitors since 1599.  
Rosalia Lombardo, interred 1920
photo: lifeinitaly.com

In 1881, the Italian government nixed all mummification, but made an exception in the early 1900s for 2 year-old Rosalia Lombardo. Rosalia died in 1920 of pneumonia, and because of a secret chemical embalming process, she looks as though she's napping. Encased in a glass-covered coffin, it's hard to believe that this sleeping beauty died almost 100 years ago.  The doctor, her father, who developed the potion for preserving her quasi-perfetta, took the recipe to his grave (which is about a foot from hers).  No one knows how he did it, though some physicians believe it to have been arsenic-based.

Taking photographs is strictly forbidden in the catacombs (we borrowed photos for this post) because it is, in fact, a cemetery and considered sacred.  Though, I had to laugh at the Monk who periodically came on the intercom to yell at individuals who disobeyed the rules. 

Reality Check
Touring the catacombs was a great reminder of the economy of life. You can't take everything with you.  Strange, isn't it, that some people have the sense to amass fortunes and properties and stuff, and even plan what fine clothes they'll wear at burial, but they don't have enough sense to prepare for eternity.  Stranger still how most of us forget that truth.  I mean, it isn't that God has kept the end of life a secret.  One look in the catacombs is a clear reminder - you can't take anything with you.  The only things that'll go with you are the intangibles; the Love you've given and received, and your Character - the Token of what kind of life you've lived.  Best to decide now to Live a Christ-like life and to reach out in Love toward family and fellow-man.  With thousands of bodies down here, the catacombs sure will be hopping in the Resurrection.  
Behold, verily I say unto you, before the earth shall pass away,
Michael, mine archangel, shall sound his trump,
and then shall all the dead awake, for their graves shall be opened,
and they shall come forth - yea, even all.
D&C 29:26
In fact, there in the Catacombs, Sorella Bradford spoke on the Resurrection with Alessio.  He loved it.
The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form...
Now, this restoration shall come to all,
both old and young,...bond and free,...male and female, both the wicked and the righteous...
Every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame...
and shall be brought and...arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, 
and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit...
to be judged according to their works,
whether they be good or whether they be evil.
Alma 11:43-44

"In Sicilia, When There's Food, There's a Good Time"
Thursday, we had a great Halloween party.  My companion and I dressed up as twins (Ya, I know, there is only so much one can do as a missionary that's appropriate for Halloween).  A lot of people came. Lots of English Course students and most of the ward members showed up - it was fantastic!  We did what we could to get members to interact with non-members, and it worked.  It was an AWESOME time. In fact, everyone came up to us afterwards and talked about what fun they had, so I deemed the whole effort a success.  Though as a member told me only yesterday, "In Sicilia, when there's food, there's a good time!"  She isn't kidding.  There was a lot of food.  Food and Music - magic ingredients for successful activity in Palermo.

Defenders of the Faith: Giuseppe and Nazareno
Sorella W and I spent one morning doing Finding as usual, and we agreed that before going in for lunch, we would treat ourselves to gelato.  So, on our way home, we stopped at one of our favorite Gelaterias.  As we began eating our very delicious gelato (cinnamon is my favorite flavor, and this place made the best I've had), we decided to sit on the bench immediately outside, next to an employee from the Gelateria. Turns out, he actually owns the place and makes the gelato himself.  We got to talking with Nazareno (that's his name), and when he heard that we had a message on Jesus Christ, he invited one of his employees, Giuseppe, to come and talk to us.  Giuseppe is Pentecostal and loves discussing religion.  It became apparent that he is very open and clearly seeks for the good in what others believe.  In fact, when another worker came out to pick an argument with us, Giuseppe stood up and defended our message.  Way to defend the faith, Giuseppe!  By the end of our visit, both Nazareno and Giuseppe agreed to meet with us for a longer discussion, asking if they could bring their girlfriends along.  Why, of course!  The more, the merrier.  We set an appointment for later this evening.  Fingers crossed!

Exquisite Culture Clash
The other evening, I was in Albergheria, one of the more run-down, ghetto-ish parts of Palermo, and a car drove past blasting Andrea Boccelli.  Ah, contemporary opera echoing from the walls of old, dilapidated buildings.  Gotta love Palermo!

Monreale Cathedral
Monreale is one of the greatest extant examples of Norman architecture in the world and stands as a national monument to Italy, and one of Sicily's prominent attractions.  I know, you're looking at this picture and saying, What is the big deal?  Well, first of all - it's age.  Construction for the Duomo began in 1174 under the most powerful Norman King, William II (also known as William the Good), making it 840 years old.  Amazing!  After centuries of Arab and Byzantine preeminence, the Normans finally moved in, made Palermo their capital, and immediately began the task of building a Cathedral.  King William IIs vision was to combine artistic architectural styles from all three dynasties, as he employed the greatest craftsmen of his time.  The result is an awe-inspiring fusion of style, tradition, and religious symbolism.  Still don't see it? Though the Cathedral is unassuming from the outside, one has only to step indoors to behold the treasure that awaits.  If Palermo Cathedral is the jewel of the city, then Monreale Cathedral is the exquisite gilded jewel box.  Scroll down and behold....
Entering is a jaw-dropping experience.  Every bit of surface of this relatively small chapel is stunningly decorated.  From floor to ceiling are rich murals, gilded motifs, sumptuous designs, and swirling golden mosaics.  Can we just talk MOSAICS for a moment?  OH MY WORD.  The colored glass tiles are purposefully inlaid in varying slanted angles to allow maximum refraction of light.  Truly extraordinary.  The centerpiece of it all is the colossal picture of Christ (called the Christ Pantocrator, meaning "Creator of all things") in the half dome above the altar.
Christ's right hand extends in a Greek form of blessing.  In his left hand, a verse from the Book of John.
I am the light of the world:
he that followeth me
shall not walk in darkness,
but shall have the light of life.
John 8:12
The Greek letters on either side of his head, ICXC, are symbols for Jesus Christ.  I studied this Cathedral in my college Art History Class.  Very cool to be here in person!
photo: wikipedia.com
The floor, walls, and ceiling are inlaid with Middle-Eastern mosaics.  Two lines of granite Corinthian columns line the central nave.  Lancet arches leap from column to column, drawing the eye upward to the astonishing display of art.
Crypt of William I (The Bad), father of William II

The main ceiling is a staggering labyrinth of painted coffered wood in Arabic design.  Are there any more superlatives to describe the craftsmanship?  How about - Mind-boggling.
photo: for91days.com

The walls hold depictions of stories from the Bible.  Lift your eyes upward, move clock-wise around the chapel, and you'll see almost every story from the Bible, from the Creation and Adam and Eve, to Noah, to Abraham and Isaac, to Jacob, to the New Testament stories of Jesus Christ with his Apostles.  You could say the inside of the church is the Bible.  BEAUTIFUL.

Monreale Cathedral Grounds
The Cathedral grounds are an architectural masterpiece.  Built in 1200, the Portico in the cloister is supported by 108 pairs of columns.  Here's the kicker:  Each of the 216 columns is uniquely carved and/or decorated with glass tile mosaics.  No two columns are alike.
photo: Jeff Piers
Though the records containing the identity of the engineers, artists, and craftsmen who worked on Monreal Cathedral have been lost through time, there is one who wished to be remembered.  A north-side capital has this inscription: "Romanus, son of Constantine, a marble worker."
photo: Jeff Piers

White marble crypt of William II (The Good)
He died at age 37

King William IIs crypt rests peacefully inside the Cathedral.
A statue of him holding his Monreale Cathedral looks as if he were offering it as a gift to the ages.  Gift, indeed.  William certainly couldn't take his beloved Monreale with him, but what he left behind was a treasure of beauty and inspiration for future generations.  

Grazie, William the Good, Grazie.
Sorella Ashley Nef