So recently I had the opportunity to take my newest bestest friend for a special road trip to the Sydney Australia Temple for the LDS Church! It was an entire weekend of craziness and my very first road trip where WE were the adults!
There are plenty of pictures, so let's begin :)
It's been a few months since I've gone to the temple. Besides the fact that I can't drive, it's been a bit hard to organise the time to go and with people that I know (Family, close friends, etc) so that's why I was so excited for this trip. I'd be able to go with my BFFL, Cloe who is a recent convert to the Church, to the temple for the very first time to do baptisms for the dead. I was absolutely privileged to be able to go with her, so I wasn't going to decline this opportunity!
With every 'trip' that I take, I always find that I pack just the right amount but because of the size of my suitcase, it appears to everybody else like I'm packing to permanently leave home and travel the world. I even get jokes that they could just fit me in my own suitcase and take me around. It's hard to around 6 outfits (All individual!) into a suitcase, okay?! OKAY! You don't know the struggle until you have to look good on the go. It's a real trial in this life.
I arrived at Cloe's place at around 1:00pm with my suitcase, my handbag with my scriptures/phone, and a complete separate bag full of junk food for the trip to Cowra (To quote Cloe, 'You're the best person to take on a roadtrip, I swear' as she saw me pull out two cans of Schweppes Lemonade and Doritos chips as soon as we start out) and we get underway. It was such a short trip in my mind (I believe it was something like...2 hours or 2 and a half hours long) because of how much Cloe and I chatted about just basically everything (A lot about guys, but that shouldn't be surprising if you know us. What do we like about guys, what do we not like about guys, our histories of boyfriends (My all but 1 and a half...it technically still counts so I'll allow it) and certainly about guys that we know now) but Cloe has this cute habit of ranting and raving about Cowra and how awesome it is and how much she adores it. I've never been to Cowra, and before Cloe I had only ever heard of it but I couldn't place it on a map or say that I actually knew anybody from Cowra. It was kind of a phantom place. One of those stories that you tell your children people go there and never come back because you never hear from them again. Luckily Cloe has shown me the error of my ways and as we got closer and closer, her eyes filled with a wonder and she began to point out things and tell me the background story of it.
Now, I have this inside joke with our other friend who is a part of the Mormicorn Gang, Mon, that Cloe can't drive well. She CAN drive, but that doesn't mean she can do it well :P At first it started as just a simple joke, but when she almost pecked the back of another YSA's car while driving, our jokes got a bit more complex and detailed. It didn't get better as Cloe was driving and turning her head and as she is telling me the stories about that farm we just passed and who was living there, I'd be saying - 'That's so cool Cloe, keep your eyes on the road, woah is that really who lives there?' I'm a very nervous driver and passenger. I don't appreciate it when someone drives the car with their chest from excitement of coming home :P (Don't worry, I still love you Cloe!)
Something that I absolutely LOVE about Australia is all the outback scenery. I've grown up with it and have always kind of taken it for granted. Whenever my family and I would go driving a few hours to go to the beach, we'd be driving past miles and miles of farmland as far as the eye can see. During the silent moments of our drive, I'd just stare all dreamily out the window like I was in a movie and just think about how awesome and magnificent it is that we have that kind of scenery. Australia is wonderful and I hope that, despite my dreams of traveling around, I can raise my children with that same kind of beauty around them too.
We arrived to Cowra and Cloe was driving whilst watching my reaction. The way that she described it made me think of one of those country-bumpkin type of towns that when you pass through, you lock the doors, because you can't spot a single soul roaming the streets or veering in and out of the shops. I was pleasantly surprised when it looked like one of those cute suburban towns in those American TV Shows where every bit of grass is super lush green, all the streets are clean, everybody knows each other and says hi to each other as they pass. I felt like I was in some strange land, the twilight zone. I clung to Cloe as we dropped in to say hi to some people that she knew that all worked within the 'Main Street' because the town is so tiny there is a main street that has every shop and main necessary restaurant there. I'm not too good at meeting a friend of my friend, so I kind of stood there and admired this little town where Cloe's cousin can beep and wave at us as we cross the road, and then her uncle can drive past just in front of us as we hit the next part of the street. I felt completely out of my place as Cloe and her friend had to tell me not to look at certain people because I would get 'Shanked' for my shifty eyes. This poor naive city girl can't figure out all these social customs of not getting shanked by a gaze and having everyone saying hello to us as if we're family members too (Maybe I am and I just don't realise it...)
That's when we saw the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints sign, and I immediately gave Cloe the eyes to go and take a picture next to it. Completely disregard the fact that I can't control how I point so there is one finger pointing at the sign and another finger being an idiot and pointing at the ground. Sometimes different parts of my body have moments of awkwardness and just spaz out uncontrollably. Today, my finger decided to point at nothing. Tomorrow, my butt could look extra flabby. Who knows.
Then once Cloe stopped talking to the entire town, it was time for a tour! Because we were running behind on time, Cloe informed me that the tour all would take an approximate of 10 minutes. I asked her if that's all we had time for, and she said 'Oh...no, that's just how long it takes to take a tour of the town.'
She showed me the Maccas (Oh, bless you my dear. Now I can actually put Cowra on my mental maps because I know where the nearest Maccas is!), the Subway that she worked at and her missionaries met her in, Goat Hill with a distinctive rock that Cloe couldn't stop giggling at as she described to me and I knew immediately why as it approached towards us (Rocks apparently only get remembered if they resemble certain body parts), and then she took me to the Cowra Chapel. I've been to a few branches (Smaller than a ward, so pretty tiny!) where their chapel as been above an ice creamery or a Chinese restaurant (Fast Sunday would be SUCH a struggle. You'd be eating strugglepuffs for breakfast if you had afternoon church too) and where the members only tallied up to about 30 or so on a good day. The Cowra Chapel was the most adorable thing I have ever laid my eyes upon. As soon as Cloe drove up the drive way (Yes, this chapel is an actual house with its own bit of farmland) and I saw the large Visitors Welcome sign, I kept a long and high pitched 'Awww' going the entire tour. It's basically my dream family home, with its porch that wraps around the house, its wide open yard for play, and scenery to die for, I couldn't resist taking a few pictures of it too. Unfortunately we couldn't go inside because we didn't have a key, but we got to peer inside through a window and see the classroom where the Primary meet. I almost died from cuteness. I went into Cutediac arrest. Cloe had to pry me away as I awwed myself into a trance-like state and Cloe had to remind me to take funny pictures with the sign (As you can clearly see, I did. I'm not one to be too ashamed of a challenge such as an ugly picture/pose)
With me officially cuted out, Cloe reminded us that we had a schedule to keep and that we had to go exchange cars so that she could get her baby back (Her car has been in repairs for a while, and totally not by the fact of Cloe's bad driving. It just needed repairs*) I got to see Cloe's mum and sister, who are just amazing and adorable and so sweet <3 I even got to see Cloe's old room which looked like hell had spawned from the depths of the piles of clothes thrown around the room. It was like getting a glimpse of my own bedroom.
By now, it was nearing 6:00pm and we still had to drive to Sydney for accommodation with the Paki family. My love for the Paki family knows no bounds. Cloe has introduced me to A LOT of people that I absolutely adore but wouldn't have gotten the opportunity to meet if it wasn't for her. The Paki family are one of them. We (once again) threw our stuff/my 'enormous' suitcase into the Paki's car and headed off to Sydney at around 7:00ish or so. I was completely deadset on sleeping through the car ride, after being exhausted from all the socialising (My poor introverted self needs quiet time to her own thoughts and just to not be overwhelmed, or else I become physically exhausted. It's a rough life of balance) but that wasn't on the agenda! While the Paki kids completely conked out from their excitement over chicken nuggets at Maccas, the adults stayed awake to talk. Once again, I go all super shy and quiet because I don't really feel like I have much to add to their conversation and I don't like to fill the air with useless nonsense, but Cloe has such a way of including me in all conversations and telling our funny stories together like a perfect companionship. You wish your relationship goals were as strong as ours, you wish. Extrovert/Introvert relationships for life <3
Sooo...I have this game that I like to play to get to know people who are kind of friends, kind of acquaintances still, who need to push towards that much closer friendship. Generally, it works all the time when people participate. Sometimes people decline, and that's perfectly fine, but the ones who do always leave this game feeling much closer to each other and really understanding each other as a person and another human being. I like to call this game - 20 Questions - even though in my entire time playing and using this game to get to know people, we've never really made it to 20 questions. Simply, the game is that you can ask ANY question that you like, and everybody (including yourself) has to answer the question in the group. The questions can range from really silly ('If you ban a specific clothing item from ever existing, what would you pick? Jeans with runners.') to really deep ('What, at this moment, is troubling you or are you worried about?' I'm worried that I'll make decisions about my future that, in the future, I will regret choosing)
So I LOVE this game because you really get to know people better. You get to see what they fear, or what they are truly passionate about, in a way that you couldn't really just by sitting in a cafe together and talking. Normally this game is done in those car conversations or when you sit in a cosy and alone place together. We don't ever really hit past 10 questions because we spend so much time discussing the questions we've already done. One game I played we lasted on only one question because everyone wanted to discuss their own answer and other people's answers too.
After we had made a Maccas stop, and the kids fell back to sleep with BBQ sauce still smeared on their cheeks, we began to play 20 Questions.
One particular one that I remember, because it was a cool eye-opener for me, was this question: What do you like physically on the other people playing? Answers of Cloe's eyes and freckles flew around, an answer about Brother Paki's sideburns got a mention, Sister Paki's strong jawline that could cut down her enemies was another good one...but the answer for me was of my smile. I've always been self conscious of my smile, so I always do this thing where I will smile/laugh genuinely at what someone does/says and then I remember what my smile/laugh looks like and then I resort back to this "normal" and basic smile that I have. It's such a silly thing to be self conscious about, but there are many factors to it. Not liking this tooth that likes to stand taller than the rest because of my small jaw, my big lips, and full contortion of my face that happens when I laugh. It was something special for me to hear from somebody else that their favourite physical thing about me was my smile! the thing I'm a little self-admittedly self conscious about. It definitely put a real and genuine smile on my face :)
We arrived at the Temple Accommodation at around midnight, and had to sneak into the YW's room with all the other sleeping Relief Society women who were all sleeping soundly. Because the women are so beautiful and thoughtful, they had already set up our beds for us ready for sleep. Cloe and I are so close that I just crept into her bottom bunk and snuggled with her. She fell asleep within seconds and curled into herself like a cat in a perfect sleep, whereas I struggle to sleep anywhere that is too loud or I know that there are HEAPS of other people in the room, so I woke up around every 30 minutes to toss and turn, but getting that precious sleep that comes so futilely.
I'm not the type of person to wake up well. I slowly pull myself up like a zombie coming out of a grave, my eyes don't open for at least 5 minutes, and I just clench my jaw over and over until I can will myself to pull myself out of bed to pray and actually make movement. If anyone talks to me in between those times, I either won't respond or it'll be grunting and whining like an injured animal. Luckily I had Cloe to wake up to all bright and early at 6:00am for our 8:00am baptistry session which we had to be outside and waiting at 7:30am. It was absolutely freezing, so while I'm changing in the YW's room (Yes, I didn't care anymore, and no, there was only like one or two of the women in the room so I wasn't going to be scarring any old RS women who'd shun me on Sunday for my harlot ways) I'm shivering and trying to make myself look somewhat presentable. I was so excited to be able to return to the temple after having not gone in a while. Just the outside and seeing Angel Moroni got Cloe and I arm-wrapping and skipping into the temple (Not literally skipping, we were in high heels and that'd be dangerous. I will not die just outside of the temple. No, thank you)
It's an experience you don't forget when you get to take someone to the temple for the first time. You share their nervousness, their excitement, their awe and wonder. You share it all with them as you guide and help them in any way that you can, but also giving them the space to just realise where they are and to feel that Spirit that comes so strongly in the temple of the Lord. The first person I helped assist for their first temple trip was my mum, and that was a very sacred and special experience for me. For Cloe, I knew what I was doing now and what to point out and what to explain to her. To see her smile with this light just beaming and you know that it's pure joy, it brought that same smile to my face. I went before Cloe to do baptisms, so that she could watch and that I could also do a few extra names (Woo!) and I had a very peculiar experience. I normally close my eyes because the chlorine in the font can really sting, but also because I like to focus on the words and the names of those who have passed on that I'm being baptised on behalf of. One particular name stood out, and time kind of slowed as I had this moment of imagining her on the other side, literally rejoicing and crying. I felt how long she had been waiting, how eager she was to accept but needing someone to do the work, and how happy she was at that very moment. As soon as the baptism was over, the next name held up, the feelings vanished. It was a moment that almost brought me to tears in the font and it's something I couldn't explain. I was shaking though the water was warm, and my beads of tears meshing with the font water. It's been awhile since I have had a moment so spiritually uplifting and just completely unexplainable unless you're listening with your spirit.
Cloe came in after me, and I stayed to watch her. My heart was bursting for her, in how much I adore her but also knowing how much this moment meant to her. There are many people you are going to meet in your journey through life, ones that will come and go but teaching you a valuable lesson you couldn't have learnt any other way. Sometimes those lessons are painful, and sometimes you don't even realise it until years later. Then there are those people that you just know are meant to be in your life for a specific reason at a specific time, and as I watched Cloe I felt that we were meant to be in each other's lives especially now. Especially now. The Lord watches and plans for every one of His children to meet people they are either needing or are needed by. I can most definitely testify of that as I've seen His hand throughout my life and leading to people who push me, who encourage and uplift me, who trial me and help me to see life a different way.
After the baptisms, we took photos outside of the temple (As you do!) with nearly every sign. The sun was burning my retinas off, and I loved every bit of it (If you couldn't tell from my painful squinting in the pictures...). It made me reflect on how I stood, taking pictures with my big brother and my uncle, for the first time nearly 5 years ago. It's a miracle I made it past the 1 year mark, and then even the 4 year mark. I don't know what 14 year old me was thinking as I stood near the temple, probably not reflecting on where I would be 5 years from now. Even as I stood there as a 19 year old preparing for a mission, I don't know what I'll be doing in another 5 years standing in front of the temple as a 24 year old, possibly married or at least hopefully dating someone *Crosses fingers and prays with a mighty desire of heart* but the temple definitely gives me one thing on every single trip - Perspective.
After the temple and buying things at the Distribution Store, we all jumped into the car and drove to my favourite restaurants in Sydney - Pancake on the Rocks - I wasn't aware that we were going THERE so when we pulled into the driveway I just had to bite my knuckle and try not to hug everyone and everything around me. The last time I came to Pancake on the Rocks was before my brother served his mission, so it's been a while!
Obviously I ordered the Devils Delight (Iroooonic...) which are - 'Chocolate pancakes with strawberries, cream, chocolate ice cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce' - I'm already drooling again and must return sooner. Strawberries and chocolate are my weakness. My romantic weakness, my emotional weakness, everything weakness. I will go from 0 to Bae in a heart beat if chocolate and strawberries are brought out. #Struggleischocolateandstrawberriesrightnow
After we went to that brunch, we had an organised lunch (And you all say that I'm not a Hobbit...you're a bunch of liars right now) with Elder Fitzner, one of Cloe's missionaries that taught her. Looking back now, I regret not changing but at the same time I don't regret it because I looked hella fine but the pain was there. It was real, and it was constant. In my heels, we trudged across a park and across multiple roads to get inside of an extremely packed out Westfield Centre. The pain that I experienced that day can only be compared to the pain that I felt when I tripped down the grassy area in the front yard of my house and probably twisted my ankles combined with scrapping my stunner legs in patchy areas - but all of that was condensed down into the balls of my feet. Cloe and I leant on each other for support, but as the weak were whittled down (The Paki's could walk fast while Cloe and I trotted along, trying not to crack our ankles in the process), Cloe kept tripping and I was gritting my teeth against the pain. To quote Elder Fitzner, 'The price of pain isn't worth it'.
Eventually we found our way, got into the Westfield, and excitedly raced to find Fitz (I'll be writing Fitz 'cos writing the whole thing is just so time consuming [As I write at 120 WPM...] and I prefer Fitz) in a sea of people that were all around for lunch time. Yikes!
You could tell we were nearing as everyone took off at lightning speeds and Cloe and I were jumping back and forth between the idea of taking off our shoes and giving ourselves that extra "hot mess" look or keeping them on and maintaining our dignity, but also the pain that joined along that ride. We finally found Fitz and his companion (Whose name escapes me for some reason...We shall call him Wheelie for the time being, because this poor Elder had broken his leg while playing sports and had been put in a wheelchair for 6 weeks) Wheelie standing near the escalators, and it was an explosion of squeals and excited handshakes from the girls and a bromantic hug from Brother Paki. I took a step back while everybody talked excitedly, seeing as I was the 1+ in this situation and also I was already draping myself against the wall to take a breather and release the death contraptions that were on my feet. A decision was made to have Oportos for lunch at the nearby park (That we trekked past miles ago, I saw it as I nearly crawled past in agony). We got lost (Again) on the way back to the pack from the Westfield, but sure enough we DID find our way back with some help of getting the Elders to do what they do best and ask people around us for help. This is why I cannot live in a big city, I am 4'10 and easily stealable. Also, my internal maps don't exist and I have to use the maps on my phone for even the most basic of navigations.
We had such a wonderful time at the park. I WISH we had parks like that in Canberra, with an awesome section where water jets shoot out from the ground and kids/some adults can run in and get a bit soaked :) Instead all we have in Canberra are lots and lots of statues. So many statues.
We had a spur of the moment lesson that was secretly led by Fitz but had Cloe teaching us. I still remember my missionaries doing that to me and how fervent I was about not teaching by letting them know with tears in my eyes. Looking at Cloe and being a part of what she is going through pulls me back to all the things I experienced as a recent convert, and just HOW much has changed since then. I was so shy when I first joined that I couldn't even read scriptures out loud in class without getting tears in my eyes from anxiety and shyness, but now I can go up and bear testimonies as I weep and feel comfortable while talking. I can hardly recognise the person I was 5 years ago to the person that I am now, and I'm glad. I am so glad that it is that way, and not one full of regrets and realising I hadn't changed in the slightest.
I joke with Cloe about this now, but at that time I was definitely feeling awkward as the 1+. These people had such a connection to Elder Fitz, whereas I had only met him for Cloe's baptism weekend and connected with him over books. I didn't want to interrupt or push my way in, so I did take a step back and just observed. It's funny how when you take a step back and observe, how you can see who needs to be served in that time. Elder Wheelie was obviously Fitz's 1+ too, so I decided to talk to him and help him out as the 1+s to this party. It turns out that Elder Wheelie is hilarious and we had a lot to talk about when it came to missionary work and being a convert. Something I'll never get over is hearing conversion stories (Regardless of whether they were born into the Church or not, everyone becomes a convert sooner or later) I absolutely adore hearing them, and I love being able to share mine. Something I realised over this weekend was just how cool and different it is to be a convert. When I joined the Church, I definitely did feel a bit of pressure as a convert from the other Youth. It's not to say that they made me feel bad about being a convert, not that at all, but sometimes people can get sick of hearing the same conversion story and hearing people ask you to share certain parts of your conversion in class and you can tell. Especially having all the other youth being able to recite certain Articles of Faith whereas you're sitting there in the corner like, 'What the heck is an article on faith?' it makes you stand out whether you want to or not. I don't like drawing attention to myself, so when I'd get asked a lot of things because I'm a convert, I'd try to dismiss it or put myself down so that I didn't appear different to my peers.
Now I've learnt that being a convert is something I have been given to help others, to use as an example in any form or way, and to be proud of it and be open to sharing that. Your experiences are going to help and touch someone else that needs to hear your story.
On the topic of my conversion story, every single time Fitz asks me to share with him my personal conversion story and my family's story, something will always interrupt. Whether it's having to go to the next destination, or having to say goodbye, or someone comes up with some interesting news, I can only ever get up to the part of my brother first going to Church and then we have to postpone the story. So, Elder Fitzner, if you ever happen to read this, I am so sorry that I haven't been able to actually tell you my story in full, but let's just say for now that it adds mystery to my overall persona :) As to quote Patrick Star from Spongebob Squarepants, "The inner machinations of my mind are an enigma...."
It was a hilarious farewell (Something about trying to find my personal blog and my insistence that he only visit my book blog and never ever speak the words of my personal blog and then waving goodbye over my shoulder as I try to run and hide my mistakes of my blog. The truth can never be revealed that I'm actually SUCH a dork.) and you could definitely tell in the drive back to the Croft's home that everybody was already really missing Elder Fitz and Elder Wheelie.
The food that we ate was absolutely divine. I'm a MAJOR sucker for steaks, potatoes and, veggies. An absolute sucker. I will devour the entire plate, serving plate, and anything left over if it's this meal. I have an inner worry (Partly because of the preparing for a mission side of me) that because I'm a bit of a fussy eater, I'll suffer on a mission with having to eat foreign foods that I've never had before. I proved myself worthy of a mission and discarding those worries when I happily nommed away at everything that was on my plate as I listened to the dinner conversation. Worry of not being able to eat at other people's houses? Destroyed.
The end of our magnificent Saturday events was my other favourite thing to do besides play 20 Questions - Bed Conversations. Those conversations that you have when you're just laying on the bed all together, cozied up in each other's presence trying to fit on this itty bitty bed and stay warm in the fluffy sheets. It's one of my favourites because people get personable. Brother Paki, Sister Paki, Cloe, and myself all laid on the bed and had some really fantastic conversations before we all departed off to bed for the night, and I absolutely conked out.
Sunday - Backwards Is Everything.
If you saw Cloe and I waking up, you'd easily mistake us for a Sister Missionary Companionship. Easily. We both awoke around the same time, and groggily pulled ourself into the prayer positions. I prayed on the floor on my knees because I can't get out of bed otherwise, and Cloe pulled herself onto her knees in a kind of a turtle pose from Yoga with her blanket on her back but her knees tucked underneath her and prayed with her face and hands in her pillow. Then we got ready for Church in a Sydney ward! I've never been to another ward's sacrament meeting in Sydney, so this was an adventure for me. Unfortunately, it was Mother's Day weekend, so it was dramatically smaller than I expected. The thing that also got me completely twisted was that their meetings were all backwards! Relief Society was first, THEEEN Sunday School (For YSA), and THEN Sacrament Meeting. It was so weird for me, and I had to be led everywhere 'cos I was so confused. There's a first time for everything, it seems! :)
After Church, we made the long drive home and I nearly fell asleep in the backseat multiple times but managed to keep myself away to text my mum who was eager to come to the Maccas we designated the drop-off-and-pick-up of me at :P
Overall, this whole experience was such a blessing to me and an opportunity I am so happy I was invited to have a small part in. It's not every day that I get to go on a roadtrip with a bestie, get to take her to the temple for the first time (Yes, I did crack MANY jokes about being the person to take her to the temple and that I was subtly suggesting that we were going to marry. We're too close, I swear), and have such a special spiritual experience in the temple. I couldn't be happier at this time in my life, and I have Heavenly Father to thank for sending Cloe into my life to help push me to be a better person, and also to help Cloe in any way that I can by being her friend :) The Lord knows how exactly to bless His children.
I shall leave you with my favourite quote about the temple! <3
P.S If you're reading this Cloe, you're my Bae and absolutely adorable. Thank you for taking me to the Temple <3 Now the next portion of going to the temple is marriage ;)