Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Capturing Perfection - Carl and Nalani Fonoimoana

Carl and Nalani Fonoimoana are favorites here at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Carl is of Samoan/Tongan descent. Nalani’s heritage is old town Laie, born and raised. Their love story is inspiring and beautiful, and Carl would be happy to tell you all about it. Nalani, on the other hand, is far too humble for such things. She would rather do what she does best; share the blessings of talented hands and a loving heart.

Carl has been a powerhouse throughout his lifetime. He served his first mission in Samoa, and later served as the Samoan Temple President. He has also worked in administration at the PCC as well as far too many church callings to possibly list here. Much of their lives have been split between their homes in California, Oahu and wherever the Lord has called them to serve. 

Their latest assignment has been to come back and work at the Mission Settlement, an area we consider the heart of PCC. Even with the fact that Carl just recently turned 80, they accepted the call and moved back to the island. 

Every morning they walk through the back gate, hand in hand, past the lagoon and over to their stations in the Settlement. Carl plays the ukulele and tells stories. Nalani sits with her latest piece of handiwork, answering questions and being beautiful – the type of beauty that draws you to her side simply to bask in it.

Just this March, we had a professional photoshoot at PCC. Pictures were taken of our landmarks, buildings and merchandise. It was so much fun, playing dress up with the beautiful models and selecting and arranging our best items from the stores. Our goal was to create pictures that represented our Polynesian paradise with grace, humor and heart - and yes, to sell some products. 

The Mission Statement of the Center begins with the words "The Polynesian Cultural Center is a unique treasure created to share with the world the cultures, diversity and spirit of the nations of Polynesia." 

We who work here know where that treasure lies. It is in the hearts of our staff and volunteers. There are so many of our colleagues that radiate this precious spirit. But, for me, no more so than this humble little couple sitting on the front porch of our chapel inviting guests to rest for a moment while they share a story and a song. "Welcome to paradise," they seem to say. "Welcome home."

Could our photographers capture such a moment? It turns out that the answer is yes. Better than I could even imagine.

Within the next week we will place one of those pictures on our merchandise website, Shop! Polynesia. This particular shot focuses on Nalani hand-stitching a quilt. Towards the left you will catch a glimpse of Carl’s ukulele. If you listen carefully, maybe you will hear him singing a sweet Hawaiian love song to his bride. It seems to have captured that perfect moment we are all seeking. 

But a moment is the most you can ever expect from perfection and now, the Funiomoana's world has tilted.

A few weeks ago it became clear that all was not well with Nalani. Her shoulder began hurting and grew progressively worse. We received word that she has been diagnosed with cancer. It has been difficult to reconcile. It may not be unexpected, but when you love your colleagues as much as we all love the Fonoimoana’s, we cannot help but pray for a miracle. Now, don't get me wrong. If I were a betting gal, my money would definitely be on Nalani, but no one would say life is a bowl of cherries right now.

Nalani has been in and out of the hospital, balancing her medications, getting further tests and obtaining the rest and nourishment she needs. She gets frustrated. She has things to do, people to serve. She wants to shake this off and get back to work.  

Our department had a decision to make. We are sensitive to the needs and feelings of the Funoimoana family. Yet, to not share this beautiful portrait seems like such a waste. How could we not use it? So, out of respect, I went to visit Nalani, show her the artwork and again seek her approval.

When Elder Jones and I entered, she was sitting on the couch, surrounded by family, cared for like the queen she is.  Two granddaughters greeted us at the door, graceful little teen-angels who sat us down and quickly brought out refreshments. Then they quietly stepped back to allow us some time and space - patiently watching for any opportunity to serve. It dawned on me that this is the true definition of ohana - which means far more than the simple translation of family. In absolute terms, ohana is the connecting cord of eternal lineage binding hearts together while honoring and serving one another with respect and love.  

On the PCC campus, one of our luaus is called Hale Ohana, which roughly translates into The House of Family. It is a place our guests come to have a great meal and wonderful entertainment. 

But now I had the opportunity to experience true Ohana inside a sweet little home where love transcends mortal limitations. The miracle of it all filled my heart to overflowing.

She took some time to study the photo, I think, perhaps reliving that perfect moment once more. "Yes," she replied. "You have our permission to use the picture." 

A photographer's skill is not in creating perfection, but in capturing it. Nalani and Carl are the true artists here. They took the cord given to them from faithful parents and wove a net that they cast out across the seas, binding thousands of hearts to them through love, service and example. How truly humbling it is to have this opportunity to share them with you. and marriage under the revealed plan of the Lord are not like the rose that withers with the passing of summer. Rather, they are eternal, as surely as the God of heaven is eternal.                                                                                         Gordon B Hinckley


  1. Beautifully written, Sister Jones

    1. Thank you so much. It's easy when the people you are writing about are as lovely as the Fonoimoanas.

    2. iI really enjoyed and appreciated your blog. I am sorry I have done so poorly in corresponding with you dear folks. We surely do have warm aloha for you and for our Island friends. Dennis's work with Iosepa surely tied us closely to the Polynesians. You are surely blessed to be able to serve there and they are blessed to have you.

    3. We would very much like to learn more about Bishop's ties to the Iosepa. We're going over there tonight to hear some Hawaiian ocean tales. Tell us more!!!! Email is a good for of communication for us. Love you as much, if not more than ever!

    4. Thank you for sharing this story. thank you for serving your mission. god bless.

  2. Thank you for sharing. I love Carl and Nalani. Carl was the bishop of my ward when I joined the church and their family quickly became my family. Nalani's passing is so incredibly hard and I wish I could be there for the family. This was a beautiful article to read at this time.

  3. Thank you for telling this love story of two wonderful people. When Carl and Nalani returned to Samoa for their temple mission, he introduced themselves as 'church folks...we serve the Lord'. And that has been so true, whether on or off an official mission, they have set an example of serving Our Father in Heaven, by example.
    Our family has been blessed with their love. I have missed them so very much, since they left Samoa. Thank you for this wonderful tribute to them.