I am so excited to share this special story with you! Today would have been my uncle's 83rd birthday. In his honor, I want to share with you a remarkable MTC experience of two of his grandson's (cousins) and their connection to Elder Bates, who served his mission in Mississippi in 1885, as told by my cousin, Jennifer, her son (Elder Norwood), and her nephew (Elder Nail). This history is amazing. More installments coming. Happy Birthday Uncle Hilton!
Wow! There are so many emotions as I wrote this. I think I was afraid that I would be sad and cry, but it ended up just bringing happy memories.
Background: Elder Norwood is serving in the Kentucky Louisville mission. He is currently serving in the Tell City Branch in Indiana.
Elder Norwood received his mission call in February. The envelope came to our house while Elder Norwood was attending Texas A&M Texarkana. We made arrangements, left work and school early one day, and made the 2 1⁄2 hour trip to deliver the envelope in person. We gathered in his Texarkana ward’s building. Several of his YSA group as well as missionaries and ward leaders came to watch him read his mission call opening.
We did the tradition of making guesses of where he might be called by placing Post it notes on a map. When the call was opened, his sister Julie was proud that she had guessed the closest with Ohio.
As we researched and read more about the area he was attending, we knew it was truly inspired by Heavenly Father. Over the past semester at Texarkana, he had grown quite close to the members and the missionaries in the ward. He even stated that he often spent more time with the missionaries than he did in his dorm room. He went on splits with them as often as he could. He loved the Texarkana area with the green hills and a special lake right near his dorm. He also loved the people in the area which were so open and welcoming to having people in their homes.
Fast forward to now—Elder Norwood is officially serving in Tell City, Indiana. He says that the parallels of Texarkana and Tell City are remarkable. He once again loves the rolling green hills and the beautiful Ohio River nearby. He loves working with the branch which he says is so kind and open just like his Texarkana ward. We know that year of college prepared him to be able to preach in the wonderful area.
Another amusing coincidence is with a service project. Elder Norwood went with his fraternity at Texarkana to do a service project. Out of all of the groups and all of the assignments, his small group was assigned to help on a horse ranch. Now it only seems appropriate that he is called to serve where raising horses is so important to the people.
As a family, we flew to Utah a day before Elder Norwood was to enter the MTC. We spent the afternoon walking around the Salt Lake Temple and touring the visitor centers. The next morning, we drove to Provo to await his drop off time. We took pictures in front of the Provo Temple and then the Provo City Center Temple. There was only one other family there at the time. They were with a young man that was going to enter the MTC that day as well. As we introduced ourselves, we find out that young man was also going to the Kentucky Louisville Mission. As a mother, I felt like it was another tender little mercy to meet a fellow missionary that would be with my son during those two years. I know it is not a mere coincidence that both families were the only ones touring the gardens of the temple at that particular time.
The tender mercies began to overflow as we drove in line to the MTC parking garage to drop off Elder Norwood. The line was moving steadily, and we see missionaries start running along the sides of the cars to great the new arrivals. All of a sudden, we see Elder Nail running along the side of the car right in front of us. Elder Nail is Elder Norwood’s cousin. They are five months apart and have grown up more as brothers rather than cousins. We shouted through the rolled down car window, and Elder Nail quickly switched his position to be with our car.
The hugs that ensued as opened the car doors are beyond words. The Spirit was so strong as our family embraced once again. The two young me embraced each other, and there are no words to describe the feelings we all had. Elder Nail had entered the mission field 3 weeks earlier to prepare for his mission to the Philippines. I don’t think I could say it any better than he could.
Elder Nail wrote of the experience:
For everyone asking me how I was the one able to host Tyler into the MTC, go ask someone else because I truly don't know.
First let me explain how hosting works. Each week the MTC asks for a couple of zones to sign up and host new missionaries. One Elder in my district told a leader he'd like to do it, so they not only put him down for hosting but also our whole zone. I was unaware and had no say in the week we could host. This was just a "happy accident" (spoiler alert for the end of the email none of this was accidental). So for the total amount of missionaries hosting they got about 50 Elder's and Sister's to host that day and we were expecting about 400 new missionaries come over the course of about an hour and a half. Ideally one missionary would host 4 new missionaries (Ik I can math very well thank you). We all got there at 12:15 to host, and the first half I didn't host one person. The line system for hosts got all messed up, and some missionaries hosted like 3 times before I got my time to shine. I was not ok with this, but whatever because there was a happy ending.
The whole time I was waiting I was trying to look for Tyler. I knew I'd get to see him in the Mtc, you see everyone you know in the MTC a lot ha-ha, but I still kind of hoped I could be the first face he saw that could also guide him into the training center. Also, I had heard before I left for my mission that Jennifer, Matt, and Julie would be up there too to drop off Tyler, so while I was on the side I kept thinking, "what if I somehow got to see them all?" By the time I could finally host I was so eager I ran out without seeing who was in the car. For a second I had completely forgotten about Tyler coming. Next thing I know, I turn around because I could hear Uncle Matt calling my name. I got to be Tyler's host for the little while they let me and I got to hug some of my family one last time...
Let me explain those odds. 1/50 chance I get to host a missionary. There were 4 lanes to drive in so 1/4 chance I was even in his lane. Over the course of an hour and a half there was about a 1/5 chance I was even supposed to be in the garage at that time. 400 missionaries so 1/400 chance it was him. If you multiply these all together, maybe carry a four over here and there, you can see that the odds were overwhelmingly against this dream coming true.
This was no coincidence. I have worked really hard for just over 3 weeks now and this was the perfect gift Heavenly Father could give me at this time to keep me motivated. This just goes to show you God knows us all individually and perfectly. He will lighten our burdens when there are necessary burdens that we need to take upon ourselves in order to do His work. Matthew 11:28-30 "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
I know Heavenly Father was answering all of our prayers that day. As I prepared to leave a piece of my heart at the MTC, Heavenly Father showed me an incredible tender mercy. There is no way Elder Nail knew what time we were coming or even what car we were driving seeing as it was a rental car. Heavenly Father knew to put those two elders together for both of our families. I was able to hand over my son to his other “brother” and let go a little easier. The drop off ended up being a tremendous joy rather than a sad goodbye. I can never thank my Heavenly Father enough for that sweet tender memory that our family will always have.
Stay tuned for the rest of the story.