Dennis and Dionne Newton

Dennis and Dionne Newton
Dennis & Dionne Newton

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Thanksgiving... more than the Turkey

The last couple of weeks have been full of blessings for us here in the mission. Today I spoke in sacrament meeting on gratitude and one of my favorite quotes I referenced this morning was from a talk given by President Monson, "feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." So today I want to express the gratitude I have been feeling.

First, I was very grateful to Elder Rasmussen for translating for me this morning so I didn't inflict pain upon the Bosanski speakers in the congregation! I'm still not quite ready to give a talk in the local language, although we are progressing slowly! I appreciate those in our tiny branch whose testimonies shine brightly as they welcome visitors with open arms and strive to live the gospel in a country where it is not easy. I'm grateful to our young missionaries who serve day after day to share God's message of love and joy. Their perseverance amazes me! I'm also grateful for the opportunity to serve along side them for the next little while.

Because of a special mission conference on actual Thanksgiving, we got to spend an early Thanksgiving with 4 of these special young men and 2 incredible young ladies gathered in our small apartment for a makeshift Thanksgiving meal. It was so fun to watch them interact with one another, to see their personalities come out and to know that they are offering 18 - 24 months of their lives to serving their Heavenly Father and his children. They didn't care that we had boneless turkey breast, lousing stuffing and under cooked yams. They didn't care that they only had 5 hours of "free time" and they didn't care that we only have 5 chairs and some of them had to sit on the couch. They did care that they got to spend time together... and that they got to play basketball, football and well... some of us went to the spa. I did get a call from the mission president later that day, after we posted a few pictures on Facebook, just checking to make sure there were no injuries sustained during the Turkey Bowl. Fortunately, I was able to truthfully say no one ended up in the hospital!

We had a wonderful time in Verona, Italy at the Fieracavalli. There were so many beautiful horses doing such amazing things. We had the opportunity to watch some of the top riders in the world compete in the Longines Jumping prelim rounds. Such amazing athletes, both horses and riders. I am grateful for our new friends here in Sarajevo for inviting us to join them for this once in a lifetime event! I'm also grateful for a husband who understands my passions and went above and beyond to make the trip happen. Funny enough, he was the one who bought the extra tickets for jumping after watching the first day for free! It really was like watching the Olympics, with many Olympic riders in the competition. I could write an entire post about this horse expo, but I will refrain from boring my non-horsey friends with the details. Needless to say, also on my list of things I am grateful for is the experience of Fieracavalli!

It was amazing to watch the competition live, up close and personal!

Anyone else ever had a cone of cheese?

A kiss for a Twister look-alike

Senada and Emin posing with top Italian FEI rider Lorenzo DeLuca

The opportunity to teach an occasional therapeutic riding lesson at Rider's of Hope is also on my list of things I am very grateful for. This week I had the pleasure of teaching a bright young woman who has mild physical challenges due to a stroke. Her determination is very impressive as she grooms, tacks and rides her favorite horse, Gypsy. She is full of joy and her smile brightens my day! Thank you, Rider's of Hope, for the opportunity and thank you to my special student who impresses me more and more each time I see her ride.

I am also grateful for being guided to an amazing group of individuals fighting for a cause close to my heart, inclusion for individuals with disabilities. Last week our project for Mala Sirena was approved! We had the pleasure of visiting them again this week to discus how they want to use their project budget. Lucky me, I got to play with the kids and test out some fun iPad educational apps with them. They were very excited with this new technology. In only a few minutes one little girl, who is nonverbal and rarely participates in activities, was reaching for the iPad and attempting to tap the barn doors along side her typically developing peers. It was amazing! Even her teachers were excited to see her intentionally engaged. We are very excited that this project has been approved and will contribute to many miracles in the future. I am grateful for the opportunity to play a very small part in making big things happen!

While we love the humanitarian role we play in the mission, we were blessed to have the opportunity to actually meet with and teach an individual who is interested in learning more about the gospel. He lives in a small village about 2 1/2 hours from Sarajevo. The young missionaries are not able to travel that far to meet with him, but Denny and I already had a humanitarian meeting scheduled about 30 minutes from him so we asked President Grant for permission to meet with him when we were in the area. This was the first time on the mission that we have had a full length gospel discussion with someone who wants to know more about God's love. He has a sincere desire to love others and do God's will. As Denny was sharing his feelings of a gospel principle with this individual, the man rubbed his arms and exclaimed, "I have chicken skin when you talk about that!" I have to admit, although we were having a fairly spiritual conversation, I almost burst out laughing at his reference. I have heard it called "goose bumps", but never before have I heard feeling the spirit referred to as "chicken skin".  I'm not sure if that is a Bosnian saying or if that was his English version of "goose bumps". Regardless of that brief moment, it was a very touching experience and I am grateful for the opportunity to share God's message with someone who is seeking after goodness in his life. Between our meeting with another wonderful potential project partner and sharing a message with our new friend, Denny declared it as "the best day of the mission, so far!"

There are so many more things I am grateful for... my husband who knows my many flaws, but loves me anyway, our children who are all kind, loving individuals, our grandchildren that make us smile with their funny antics during Skype sessions, parents that love and support us, my grandparents who send cards and words of love, our siblings who we cherish, my friends who keep in touch, who take care of my horses and let me know I'm missed but understand why I'm here.

I'm grateful for the tender mercies that have been granted to me while we have been in Bosnia. But most importantly, I'm grateful for a Heavenly Father and his son, Jesus Christ, who love me and bless me daily as I strive to follow their example. I pray that as you gather with your families this Thanksgiving, you will remember President Monson's quote,  "feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." Give that wrapped present to those around you and thank God for having people in your life to thank.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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