Saturday, June 9, 2012

One Heart in the Heartland (the Cultural Celebration)

May 5th:
Early Saturday morning, I dropped off my van full of girls at the Muni and then with help from Laurie Bliss (one of my counselors in YW) and Leslie Tucker (our RS pres. who came up to help chaperone) carried our ward's 'debris' and water bottles into the building.  It was incredibly hot in there!  I don't think the AC was functioning up to par.   Again I was amazed at the amount of kids and the craziness.  After french braiding some hair, I walked to the Marriott a couple of blocks away to work on my 5th grade end of year slide show/movie while Laurie and Leslie left for breakfast and shopping then meeting up with friends for lunch.

About an hour had passed when one of the girls called and said that some of the debris was missing.  I went back to the van and found the missing items - and walked them over to the Muni.  After visiting with Brother Stuart for a few minutes, I decided to stay for awhile (even though I wasn't supposed to be in there).  I was able to go with our stake for their practice time in the arena.  We walked up the ramp and waited... and waited.... and waited.... and waited.... The kids were supposed to stay quiet, but that just wasn't possible.  It was hot and everyone was crowded - very crowded.  Mike would have had to leave - too claustrophobic.  One of my YW was struggling with anxiety and Ilah was feeling sick.  After 20-30 minutes, they finally had the kids enter the arena.  I sat down and tried to stay out of the way.  The kids got to where they were supposed to be and then Kenneth Cope started singing "Broken" LIVE.

~Listen here~

Broken clouds give rain
Broken soil grows grain
Broken bread feeds man for one more day
Broken storms yield light
The break of day heals night
Broken pride turns blindness into sight

Broken souls that need His mending
Broken hearts for offering
Could it bee that God loves broken things?

Broken chains set free
Broken swords bring peace
Broken walls make friends of you and me
To break the ranks of sin
To break the news of Him
To put on Christ till His name feels broken in

Broken souls that need His mending
Broken heart for offering
I believe that God loves broken things

And yet our broken faith, our broken promises
Sent love to the cross
And still, that broken flesh, that broken heart of His
Offers us such grace and mercy
Covers us with love undeserving

This broken soul that cries for mending
This broken heart for offering
I'm convinced that God loves broken me

Praise His name, my God loves broken things.

Did you notice the progression of ideas?
"Could it be that God loves broken things?"
"I believe that God loves broken things."
"I'm convinced that God loves broken me." 

I hadn't ever heard the song before.  It just resonated with me.  Immediately the confusion of everything below the arena was forgotten, the frustration and tiredness were gone and the spirit washed over me.  Amazing...  I felt Heavenly Father's love for me, personally.

As he was singing a video was playing on the jumbo-tron.  Images of Joplin after the tornado, the helping hands yellow shirts, people I know and love.  At one point in the song, it becomes just instrumental.  Then on the jumbo-tron are little snippets of people from our stake and news reporters talking about the tornado and the aftermath.  The kids couldn't see the jumbo tron, but they could hear it.  Then Kenneth Cope finished the song.  I was already failing at holding back the tears as the kids started their 'dance' to "Rise Up" by Spencer Lee.

(I wish I cold attach my MP3 of the song here for you to hear.  All proceeds from his song go to helping tornado victims so if you feel like hearing the song, download it from iTunes.  It is definitely worth the $1.99!)

Most numbers for the cultural celebration were performed by 2 or 3 Stakes within the temple district.  Joplin was by itself.  We were 'Broken Hearts'.  You can read more about the different 'hearts' here in Emily's blog post.  I don't know her, but she did a wonderful write up about the celebration.

Besides the music selection, some of my favorite parts of the Rise Up piece were
*when the families ran to each other across the arena, the dad scooping up a little one and the mom grabbing another little one's hand then joining all together.

*the yellow shirt, helping hands running in to wrap the joplin kids in blankets and love

*reframing  homes

*raising the American flag

*watching the faces of the youth from our ward (especially when they paused from picking up debris to look up.)
*watching the faces of the youth from our ward (especially when they put arms on each other's shoulders - joining together)
*watching the faces of the youth from our ward (I just love each and every one of them!)
Ilah is in the pink shirt (center/front). Heather is in the orange shirt next to her.
Tucker is the third from the left

I could have gone home then... after their practice.  I was uplifted, edified, and so happy that the youth had come and participated.  I could see they had felt it too.

Instead, the kids went back to the chaos - down the ramp.  As we were exiting, the jumbo-tron was being lowered to the floor.  The video froze a few times while the Joplin piece was playing.  I didn't think it was that big of a deal, but later I would hear about a miracle involving that jumbo-tron.

When it was time for our kids to go to lunch, I figured I'd better sneak back out since I wasn't supposed to be there.  I went back to the Marriott to work on my school project.  Later I found out that the program never was practiced from beginning to end in the arena due to the jumbo-tron problems.  That meant that the parts of the program that involved all of the kids (about 3-4 songs) were going to be performed blindly (kids not knowing where to stand, etc.  Scary).  Here is a quote from an email I got from the Cultural Committee a few days after the program:

Thank you for patiently working with us Friday evening and all day Saturday as we encountered one obstacle after another.  The turning point came when we all dropped to our knees at about 1:00 pm on Saturday, and asked our Heavenly Father to touch the various audio/visual challenges we were facing so we could continue our preparations.  Similar to the story of the Brother of Jared in the Book of Mormon, a prayer was offered, help was extended, and we were able to continue forward.  At about 2:00 pm when the problems were resolved I asked the technician that was working on the jumbotron how he was able to get the lighting panels functioning properly.  His answer was very interesting.  He said, "I don't know.  I just tried experimenting with the connections.  I guess you could call it dumb luck."  I smiled.  We all know that it was more than "dumb luck" that saw us through that challenge.  From that point on, we all began to feel greater confidence that the Lord was going to assist us in having a wonderful evening together.  After the show, I visited with the head technician and told him of the special prayer we offered for his team.  He smiled and thanked us for calling on additional help.

(Brother Stuart later told me that kneeling with 3000+ youth and leaders asking the Lord for help was an experience he will never forget.  He bore a wonderful testimony Sunday about being able to see God work a miracle that afternoon/evening.)

About 4:30 I met Mike outside the Muni in line with friends Danette Stuart, Bill Tucker, and Emily Tucker.  After waiting for over half an hour, we couldn't understand why we couldn't go into the arena.  Apparently that is when the last 'heart' group was getting its only practice in the arena.

We rushed for good seats only to be told three different times that we 'couldn't sit there'.  I'm sure it was quite comical watching Danette and I try to climb over bars to get to a different section.  We finally found somewhere we could sit and waited. It wasn't long before the orchestra and choir (including Tucker) filed in and began the prelude.  Here is what I wrote on Facebook that night:

Wow! It more than came together - it was amazing... tears started flowing with the first note of music when I realized that it was being played by the youth orchestra - it sounded like a professional recording... the tears continued when everyone stood as Pres. Monson walked in and we sang 'We Thank Thee O God For a Prophet'...the tears never really stopped.

I couldn't control the flow of tears - watching the youth radiate faith and goodness.  The pieces weren't perfect, but it didn't matter.  This is from Emily's blog post mentioned earlier:

The next stake was Joplin, and I cried and cried – no, I sobbed – through the whole thing. It was the most emotionally powerful of the evening, and I think most everyone sobbed. It was beyond incredible. As you know, a year ago one third of Joplin was wiped out completely by a tornado, including their stake center. My brother’s family was driving through on their way to drop off and pick up kids from weekend visitation, and they missed the tornado by minutes. I was called as a first responder, and spent the next three days in the storms and wind trying to help find survivors. In the first 24 hours, we pulled out 120 people and only 7 of them were alive (you can read my experience HERE). A few weeks ago, we met with the survivors and spoke with them, and I so love them and am so bonded with them through this experience, though my experience of the aftermath was nothing compared to their experience of surviving it. But for all of us, this moment in the cultural celebration, even the restoration of a temple in Missouri in historical context, was healing to all of us after the purging and cleansing that had to happen first.

In this song, Joplin told their story. In this song, Joplin proved itself beyond survival. In this song, we cried together and we healed together.
The song opened on a dark scene with houses flattened and debris everywhere.
Then separated families searched for each other, running to embrace as they found each other again. This is when we all lost it, sobbing as we felt the power of the experience following the tornado, a temporal example of our frail and difficult mortality, a spiritual symbol of how the temple blessings gathers our families together again, and heals us, and unites us, and brings us peace.
Then the people began to pick up debris.
Then the kids formed a circle around one of the torn down homes, and built a shelter:
While they finished the shelter, more kids came on and wrapped blankets around the survivors:
Then kids wearing “Mormon Helping Hands” t-shirts showed up, packed up boxes of food and supplies, and passed them out to the people.
While they worked, more kids showed up and built more shelters.
When all three frames were put back together, the kids encircles each one in arms of love, and another climbed a ladder and put an American flag on top of the middle one. The crowd roared, still sobbing, but standing to their feet and cheering and crying.
It was so moving, and so powerful, and absolutely the highlight of the night.

I couldn't describe it any better.  I hope Emily from Springfield doesn't mind that I shared her words.  She also has some good pictures from the evening.  My camera doesn't take very good pictures in that kind of lighting and from that distance - hence, no photos.

It wasn't just the audience sobbing though.  Every one of the kids were in tears.

Besides Joplin's number - other favorite moments from the program:
*the first piece "Arise" ~Listen here~ if you haven't heard it yet.

*the Polynesian group

*the Hispanic group

*the German group

*the Russian group

*the tribute to the military

*the tribute to the missionaries

*"We Believe" ~Listen here~ if you haven't heard it yet.

This picture was actually at the very beginning of the program when President Monson spoke to the youth.  I wanted to include it to show how packed it is.  The youth were even lining the stairs... see all of the white shirts?

From the first time that I heard about the Cultural Celebration,  I knew that it was something Taysom would have LOVED.  If she had been in town, she would have been able to participate since she is still 18.  But since she was away at college, that wasn't an option.  I knew she would have loved to have watched it.  But since we couldn't afford to fly her home, that wasn't an option.  So when I saw a picture of her on the jumbo-tron toward the end of the program, I knew that was a tender mercy from my Heavenly Father just for me.  I don't know who submitted that photo or why it was one of the photos chosen to be part of the program.  It made me feel like my whole family was together.  Heavenly Father knows us individually, of that I am sure.

President Monson wiggled his ears for the kids and saluted and then left the arena before everyone else got up to leave.
I think he liked it!

We thought he did that so he could get out of the Muni before the huge crowd.  But as we were waiting to pick up Ilah and Tucker at our designated exit, there were a few men in dark suits with sunglasses keeping the exit free from people.  We couldn't stand within so many yards.  We waited for a good chunk of time.  Then some of the men started blocking traffic.  We started wondering if President Monson was going to come out our exit.  We waited for another good chunk of time.  Tucker, Ilah, and Heather left through some other door and somehow found us.  We had just crossed the street and were getting ready to walk to the van, when President Monson walked out.  The kids and Mike ran back over.  President Monson shook a few hands including an 8 year old from our ward.  Mike snapped a couple of pictures before we left and I will upload them tomorrow.

I feel so blessed to have been able to be in Young Womens during this time - to not only experience it as a parent, but to watch the progression from practice to practice and eventually to performance - and to see the strengthening of testimonies.  What an amazing experience.

I found all of these pictures searching the internet.  They are not mine.
For more pictures check out this photo essay from Meridian Magazine.


Rachel said...

I get tired reading about all the work that went into this! I'm sure it was wonderful, and kudos to you guys for putting so much effort in!!

Grandma and Grandpa Crosby said...

Jenn, What a treasure and gift this and your last post are! Thanks so much for sharing your experience and testimony in this way. I am so touched. I feel almost as if I had been there and witnessed it all personally. I am also appreciative of all the links you provided. I listened to or read everything. The music is beautiful, and Emily's first responder story was incredible. No wonder the Joplin Stake's contribution at the cultural even was the most "emotionally powerful" of the evening. I'm SO grateful that you and your family were privileged to be part of it in one way or another. I think your efforts were well rewarded!

Adrienne said...

That was an incredible post and an incredible experience. Thank you for taking the time to put that all together. I love the fact that your kids were immediately interested in being involved in something so inspiring. We had a Youth Spectacular in St. George that seems kind of similar and it was interesting watching the kids from our ward - it seemed more forced to get them involved. Once again I hope my kids will be like yours and want to do good and want to be good and have fun being good. I love you all so much and wish I was more involved in your lives. You guys are awesome!

Russ, Nat, and Z said...

Holy cow...what an amazing experience for you and for the youth. They will treasure it always and draw upon the feelings they experienced throughout their lives. Fantastic!

Taysom Wallace said...

I really love how you point out that Heavenly Father knows us all individually and loves us all individually. I also know that He blesses us according to our needs and gives us those moments that are just for us. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

The Wallace Family said...