Before I left Saturday morning, I prayed that this second Lamb of God performance weekend would be inspiring, uplifting, and encouraging for me. I so desperately needed to feel at peace with all of the uncertainty I'm currently facing. Since I broke my leg I've mostly been in survival mode, and it's been difficult to really feel the Spirit as much as I've needed to. With the looming cloud of my assignments no longer hanging over me, I knew that this was the weekend I'd been needing.
So Saturday morning we drove up to Newcastle-under-Lyme, and the weather was GORGEOUS. As an added bonus, my leg was feeling pretty good. We had a tech rehearsal and then went off to the Monkey Forest for the afternoon. Jon was kind enough to wheel me around the park... The paths weren't actually paved, so this was even trickier than usual. But he was so gracious about helping me, and never once complained about getting stuck with the cripple rather than hanging out with the rest of the group. It was SO nice to:
- be out of the house!--I can't adequately express the extent of my cabin fever over the last 6 weeks;
- spend the afternoon with a really great friend;
- be doing something NEW again!; and
- not feel bad about needing someone's help--not sure why, but the guilt of dependency was gone, at least momentarily.
Enjoying the monkeys was an added bonus, obviously. They really were fascinating and entertaining to watch. I'm sure they feel the same way about all the people they get to watch in return. Jon and I saw a couple showdowns between the males, but for the most part the monkeys were pretty chill. Birthing season is from May to August, and they had one baby born about 4 weeks ago, so we got to see him. ADORABLE.
|Seriously, could he be any cuter?! I don't need to own one, but I REALLY want to hold one someday. I need to figure out how to make that happen.|
After the Monkey Forest we went back to the chapel to eat dinner and get ready for the performance. The orchestra did not come up for these performances, so we sang to just a piano and the occasional cello. We performed in the chapels at both N-u-L (Saturday) and Manchester (Sunday), but the overflows were open with chairs all the way to the back. I think the total combined audiences for the weekend was about 1000 people, including a lot of nonmembers. Incredible! Both stakes worked so hard to put together these special musical firesides, and all the members really pulled together to invite as many nonmembers as they could. Such a great missionary opportunity! I'm SO grateful that they didn't waste it.
Also, because they were special musical firesides rather than just concerts, we were able to start and end with congregational prayers. They still applauded at the very end (which I kinda wish they wouldn't have), but regardless, the Spirit was so incredibly strong. I honestly can't remember the last time I felt the Spirit strong enough that my heart felt like it would beat out of my chest. But both nights (and Saturday especially), had the most palpable Spirit, particularly as we sang the Savior's prayer in Gethsemane. The choir actually sings in Aramaic, so the audience doesn't exactly know what we say, but the Spirit is so powerful at that moment... the meaning of the words is not lost on anyone.
These performances were also different because all the lights were on. The audience could see all of us clearly, and more importantly, we could see them. This led to some very emotional performances as we could all watch the audience' reaction to the Spirit. Oh man. It really was an honor to participate in this incredible experience yet again.
Four other girls and I stayed with the Manchester Stake Patriarch and his wife, Brother and Sister Knipe. They were so lovely. I had to stay on the couch downstairs, but I slept great! I woke up to a glorious Sabbath day and really felt ecstatic about the day ahead. Probably a combination of no looming deadlines, a really fun Saturday, a powerful performance the previous evening, another full day ahead with so many friends, and the chance to partake of the Sacrament... I can't explain it but I was so filled with JOY. And even better than that was the overwhelming PEACE I felt in facing the many unknowns in my future.
We went to the Manchester YSA ward, and I really enjoyed all of the meetings. However, Sacrament was Testimony meeting, and it was so great! I'm not sure the last time I participated in a Testimony meeting that was actually focused on the Savior like it should be, but it was. I was deeply touched by the Spirit and the testimonies of my peers. I feel so blessed to know so many wonderful YSA men and women who are so diligent at keeping their covenants. It inspires me to be better, and I'm grateful for their examples.
We had lunch at the stake center, where we performed Sunday night. However, we had awhile to just relax, so I got to LAY ON THE GRASS IN THE SUN. Seriously, it was a notable highlight.
As I was crutching my way to the car, I was stopped by President Preston, the Manchester Mission President, who wanted to thank me for participating, in spite of my obvious excuses to stay home. We had a brief chat, and I told him my brother was one of his former missionaries, which he just loved. As soon as I said "Elder Skylar Blackburn" I heard a "YOU'RE A BLACKBURN?! I KNEW YOU LOOKED FAMILIAR!" from behind me. I turned around, and who was standing there but none other than Sister Mady Clawson, who's currently serving in Manchester. Her family was in my ward in Indiana for a few years, but I hadn't seen her in about 12 years. I babysat for her and her younger sisters a few times, so that made me feel really old to see her on a mission. haha But it really was SO GOOD to see her! And to meet President Preston, who I'd heard so much about from Skylar.
All in all, it really was the most spectacular weekend, full of peace and joy, the Spirit, and incredible friends. I really couldn't have asked for anything better. I'm grateful for an ever merciful and loving Heavenly Father who answered my prayers in the way I needed.