Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Some peektures

The first picture is Sister E. We've never served together. But we both agree that jazz-hands is an acceptable door approach. So in other words, we never will serve together. 

Second is Sister H, one of my Andover seesters. I loved having her in my sister group. She's great. We also coordinate often. Herrrrooooooo SEESTER.

I also like to cradle those I serve. I'll include that, too.

 The first picture is my favorite hermana, Hermana P. We've been roommates for the past 6 months. Sometimes, when personal study is a little sleepy, she puts her scarf on her head like a turban and puts on a show. I like that.

Next up is Sister T. We are the same height and she's the most beautiful person in the world. Solid obsessed with her. HI SISTER T. She's right next to me. I lobbbbe her.

The District Christmas pic. Someone had to coordinate it. You guessed it. That someone is ALSO wearing a holiday sweater. MERRY CHRISTMAS.

This is me on my way to go contact a park. I always accidentally speed-walk ahead of Sister Toone and frolic while I wait. (If there is no one in sight.) Look at that SKY. Every reason to frolic.

With my Nigerian friend, Cheye

Hermana P again. It's her birthday Tuesdeeeeee. We're going to MLC, cause she's a Spanish Sister Training Leader. ROADTRIP TO BLOOMINGTON.

December 2: It's Nemo, FOSHO

My favorite part about this week, was the whole thing. I loved it! You know that feeling you get, when you hold a puppy or blow bubbles with laughing children? Or when you hike an especially great hike and catch the sunset, and everything is just silhouettes and happy thoughts? Okay. Yes. That feeling. But every second of every day! I love my mission. I seriously never want to come home. But actually that's a lie, because I am the most baby-hungry I have EVER been. GIVE ME ALL THE AFRICAN KIDS IN THE WORLD, please. Thanks. So I'll come back in ten years, Mom. G'head. Turn my room into a bowling alley. It's FINE.

Things I want to tell you about/update-you-on/rant-about/dance-about-but-I-can't-because-it's-against-the-White-Handbook:

One: Mama, you asked if T got baptized this weekend. She did not. She's been in and out of the hospital and figuring out different meds for her emotional challenges. :/ I know. Breaks my heart. But the Young Women are doing a great job at fellow-shipping her, and for now, we've passed her off to them. The key with her is to keep inviting. Her mood changes day to day, and some days she might not accept, and some days it might be her saving grace. So essentially, she's just like the rest of us, only a little more extreme because of the challenges Heavenly Father has trusted her with. I'm grateful for the opportunity we have to love her and serve her and learn with her. I think generally speaking, we can summon all the charity and service in the world for those with physical or developmental challenges, but I think we shy away from people's emotional and mental challenges. The ways they manifest themselves might be more delicate or trying, sometimes, but it's still a wonderful opportunity to give and still a very special spirit that has been trusted with such difficult daily challenges. I firmly believe that. :) When she is ready, the gospel will be a wonderful coping mechanism for her. So that's T's update!

Two: Thanksgiving as a missionary is FUN. But really. We were supposed to have two Thanksgivings, but the first is elderly and adorable forgot and then the elders' phone was off when we texted them to tell them, so then they still showed up, and we were trying to leave, but then we couldn't, so we had this sort of not... Thanksgiving, in which we shared a message with her and her non-member family and had pie and her thirty-five-year-old son hit on me and also asked me if I'd ever considered waitress. Huh. (To answer his question, I have, a little.) Sooooooo, then we went to the J house. It was magical! I love them so much. They're both brilliant, with a whole slew of redheaded children. Sister J had emailed all our families and found out our Thanksgiving traditions and made ALL of them. No, like, she's superwoman. She had created an hourly time-plan on when to bake what at what temp and how to prep things and set them out accordingly. It honestly made me think of Tori a lot. Hahaha. You would have a master plan spreadsheet. Incredible. Anyway, we got there early, and since it was a P-day, we got to help! I learned how to make gravy, yams, and all kinds of sauces. It was straight-up quality!

Three: The C FAMILY. This is the real point of this email. I talked about them last week. I am so in love. I had my favorite lesson of my mission with them this week! Here's how it went down. We planned this huge lesson, full of Starbursts and by-number involvement and art and ALL kinds of magic to get the kids super engaged. And then, the lesson that happened was nothing like what we planned.

It was so. much. better.

We went in, and the kids wouldn't focus. They had friends over and were in and out. Sister C is having labor pains (yeah, ask me how scared I was that she'd just shoot a baby into my arms as I knelt to pray. Pretty scared.), there is music blasting from their teenager's room and I'm just like... all right. This is not going to WORK. Except, we gave ourselves a challenge this week and said we would only say gratitude prayers. So instead, I thanked Heavenly Father for everything great about the situation - being in their home, having a joint-teacher, being able to teach Plan of Salvation with such perfect timing.

Brother C lost his mother back in Liberia last week, and he was just so sad this week. He hasn't slept, and he said the only time he's felt peace is when he read Alma 40. As we talked about the Plan of Salvation, and the lesson went on, seriously every distraction just dropped away. It went from being stuffy and smelling like African food and buzzing with activity to being as still as a celestial room. I honestly don't know how to describe it. The things were still going on around us, but for each of us in that lesson, there was absolutely nothing else. With every word, Brother C sat up more and more straight, until finally he was leaning so far forward he was almost off the couch. He hung on every part of the lesson like he'd been waiting his whole life to hear it. You could visibly see it heal his heart.

As we talked about the Spirit World, the impression came to my mind that his mother was hearing the same truths he was, and that she was so much a part of our being there that day. No sooner than I thought it, did I hear my voice saying it aloud. (I freak myself out so many times a day as a missionary. Word vomit galoorrrre.) As soon as I said it, the Spirit just slammed us all with the confirmation of that truth. Brother C started to cry and I started to cry, and there was the most powerful presence there. Finally, he just looked at us and thanked us. He assured us that every time we open our mouths, to strangers, to children, to people who don't take away more than two words, we bring them closer to God. He just kept mumbling, "Tank you, oh my, tank you." He always calls us angels. 

As Sister T taught about Kingdoms of Glory, he just cradled the little Plan of Salvation we'd drawn out for him like it was the best thing he'd ever seen. (Not like it was drawn on the back of a turkey place-mat. Which it was.) His closing prayer was my favorite African prayer I've ever heard, which, if you knew African prayers... you'd know how significant that is. Every single one of them is like a natural preacher. PRAISE THE LAWD, YES JESUS. But really. They just talk like that. He said, "God, I am done asking you for things. I only want to know who I am, and how I can serve you and build up your church." WHAT. It was such a King Lamoni prayer, like when he tells the Lord in Alma that he would "give away all his sins to know him." The Spirit was so strong. THEN, our joint-teacher wipes the tears from his face (cause you know we are all bawling at this point) and tells him he felt impressed to offer him a blessing of comfort. He goes on to explain the priesthood perfectly, and then gives Brother C the best priesthood blessing I have ever heard. So personal. So specific. 

GUYS. God knows us. He knows who we are and what we need. He loves all of us, and He wants all of us to be comforted. To understand His plan and His perspective. I walked out of that appointment BAWLING just tears of joy, that I get to be here. That I get to do this and be a part of this every day. It's so real. And it's so important. Maybe I cried for like the next twenty minutes. I felt weird about it.

(Then I answered the phone about something unrelated our district leader made me tell him why I was crying and then he had spirit chills and then the zone leaders called and wanted the story and now everyone in my zone knows I'm a crying MAYESSSSSS when it comes to tender things. SORRY I HAVE FEELINGS.) 

Four: According to the powers that be, I have apparently been upgraded to zone mom. That included making me head a conference call about Christmas projects this week and boost morale. :/ so weird. I felt like Elf. "Now, zone. Treat every day like Christmas." (Best part is that the zone leaders approved my plan to get President and Sister Clements matching African outfits. FORGET ABOUT IT! Can't wait to see them rock those.) 

Five: What I don't feel weird about is that we've Chrismasfied our apartment. It's glorious. Twinkle-lights as far as the eye can see. Ornaments. Illogical bows pinned to the General Authorities. We even put jingle-bells on our flusher, so that every time someone tinkles, it sounds like SANTA'S COMING TO TOWN.

Six: A little girl we teach was showing me her pictures from going to the aquarium at Mall of America this week. We were categorizing the animals. "Squid! Shark! Whale! Clown-fish!" She snaps her tiny fingers. "Oh, UHHHH-uhhh." "Yes, that's a clownfish." "OhhhhNO, gur, that's Nemo FO' SHO." Hahahaha. WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE. I love them.

And you. :) Have the best week! This is all real. It's all true. Keep the C family in your prayers. We are so excited for January 4th!!!!!

Have a happy December! Enjoy the balmy weather! Here, it is about 10 degrees. Thanks.

November 25: Trust in the Timing

This week was straight-up boot-camp for understanding the Lord's timeline, and trusting in every step of the way.

I wait to tell you all about our investies because I fall in LOVE with these people, and then they work a part-time, and a full-time, and go to school, and get antie-d and I'm like, "FRODO NOOOOO DON'T GIVE IN." But really. However, I have the total comfort and assurance that as I do well the things in my control, the Lord does the rest. 


A and his family. A is a man I contacted on his way to take out the trash. I kept thinking about A, but also, I was pretty sure he gave us a fake number. Never got one bit of an answer. Well, months went by, and I wanted to stop by the address he gave us. He wasn't home, so we prayed with his kids in the doorway, and asked when we could come back to see him.

He called us, and was so excited that we had tried to invite his children closer to Christ simply by praying with them. We set up a return appointment and Sister C went and taught him while I was exchanging in Andover. She raved about him - saying he was completely prepared. He came to church that Sunday despite having gotten home from working at the hospital at 7 a.m. (Our church is at 9. I know, right. You're telling ME.) In that month where we couldn't get a hold of him, his confusion with the different churches around him had built and built. He said he kept praying for direction and revelation, and then he'd always see us walk by. (He points at me at this part, his dark face full of light.) "And they always walk by. Rain or shine. Preaching the gospel. Always so happy. And I think, maybe they are my answer." GET OUT OF TOWN. Upon hearing about Joseph Smith, he felt a strong confirmation that this was the right place. This is a place where we believe that the individual matters to God. That we are entitled to communication with him, not through a pastor, but through the very real spirit that lives in each of us. 

His wife, E, used to be super religious. With her work schedule the past few years, she has been out of church, and now, with a baby due any day - she is looking for a church in which she can raise her family and strengthen her children of all ages. Their daughter T - a sassy 15-year-old - has never wanted to be baptized. A and E have left it up to her, but have been praying and praying for the time to be right. When we taught her about Joseph Smith, she agreed to January 4th like nobody's business. :)))))))))))))))))))) I KNOW.

And their two other sons are totally on board. Even the six-year-old, who is pretty outraged about the whole age of accountability thing. His two most used sentences in lesson are, "Can I be baptized sooner?" and "Pizza." (He always wants me to draw him pictures of pizza. It's super weird and I love it. Hahahah. PEPPERONI PIIIIZZZAAAAAPILLAROFLIGHT. I'll work it in the lessons. It's fine.) And the 9-year-old has glasses and a heart-of-gold. I am so in love with this family. Please, please keep them in your prayers. They are all set for January 4th, but setting the date is when it begins. :) PRAY HARD. Aaaaaalllllso. Their home is clean and totally looks like a Mormon home. 

Which is exactly what I was thinking when I went in their bathroom and was PEEPED on by a life-size portrait of a deceased rapper. Entire wall, status. It was huge. And it said in capitol letters underneath, "ONLY CAN CAN JUDGE ME." Touche, Tupac. Touche. 

What ellllllse? I want to tell you about our friend C, but I am out of time... so next week? She fed us fish and bought us groceries and we had a lesson with her every day this week. Miracles, people. Miraclllllles. The timing was perfect. She is a potential investigator's girlfriend, and we stopped by only to find that she had recently welcomed a new baby girl, and that the Lord has prepared her perfectly for this message at this time. She wasn't ready when we met them 2 months ago. Now, she is. I love it. Also, when she fed us, it was fish that still had scales and eyes. Hahahahhaahhaha OH MY GASH. I feel like I don't really notice those things after China, but Sister T. It was the cutest.

I've been dubbed District Mom because I brought snacks to last district meeting and talks for people's investigators and was the first one there with FIRST AID after one of the elders had a bike crash. SORRY GUYS. Sorry I'm not at all sorry. They're 18 out here! Someone's gotta. We're taking a District Christmas card this week, and the Zone Leaders have me in charge of the zone gift from President and Sister Clements. You can just call me Martha Stewart over here. Not. Bless these elders. I blew their minds with frozen grapes and brownies from a mix. Hahaha. GUYS. You just need water and a freezer. 

Sister A, my old lady we read with? Said the following this week:

"Ohhhh, you know. It doesn't matter if your husband is talented or wealthy or even if he's good at making love." (I make my Jim Halpert face.) (She worries I don't understand.) "You know. Good in bed." Hahahahahhahaa NO NO NOPE. That's not a thing. NOooooooot a thing you can say to a missionary. I loved it. Sister T was PURPLE. She's the cutest. 

Annnnnd in closing, we went to visit a less-active who is completely incapacitated with our Relief Society President this week. She has a live-in nurse, and a tube to breathe, but she is this incredible African lady who used to be a kick-butt progressive social worker. Loved hearing about it from our RS Pres. So, usually, we sing I'm A Child of God when we go a-visiting. This time, I knew we needed to sing "I Need Thee Every Hour." Which was kind of random. But. We were prompted. So we did. Even though she doesn't have use of any limbs or anything, she pulled her neck up a little straighter - and this woman who goes months without saying a sentence - sang every word of every verse. I asked her after if she liked it. She said, "It's. My. Favorite."

The Lord knows us. He knows the timing we need to be ready for the lessons we have to learn. He knows our favorite songs. He knows what needs to happen individually to bring everyone together as a whole. He lives. He loves us. I know that's true, and I trust that. This is so random. Having ONE HOUR TO WRITE GIVES ME PANIC HANDS.

I love, love, love you. :) Keep being the wonderful people that you are, and keep trusting in the timing. It may not be what we want or expect, but it is always, always right. I LOVE THIS MISSION!

November 18: Subject

Hahaha. I wrote Subject for the subject. That's humor. Creativity at it's finest.

Well, anyways. This week was literally the best, so giddddyuuUUUuuPPP. 

(Prepare yourself for so many random things. My cohesiveness in emailing today is at an all-time low.)

1. My companion. Nope. She's the best person in the entire world. She reminds me so much of my darling MTC companion, Sister U. Sister T is from a small-town in Utah that has gas station and a main road. (Just like Hatch!) She's taller than me, and has little glasses and long blonde hair. She's been home-schooled her whole life, and so I know that the things that are hard for a new missionary anyway are even more difficult for her. The good news? She is just about the most beautiful, most courageous person in the entire world. I see her going out of her comfort zone about 200 times daily, and always to help someone else. She has the most gorgeous singing voice and so many talents that lend themselves so well to helping people. She lives her life so close to the Spirit, and she's ridiculously sweet and sincere. She's like a unicorn among companions. She's majoring in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing, and she wants to write LDS Young Adult novels. No. Like. Sorry if you thought anyone you knew was better. They're NOT. :) I am so happy!!! She is super obedient, works really hard, and loves the Lord. Those are all my favorite things. BOOM. Not a companion. An angel. THANKS. I see what you did there, Heavenly Father. HIGHLY appreciated. So.

2. This week has been the week of promptings. Monday, Sister C's last P-day with me, was probably one of my favorite nights of my mission. During the day, we were running around crazy, trying to get her ready and packed to go. I killed time at Target and got to looking at layers. (If you were here in this weather, you'd understand that knit sweaters are like a siren's call.) I picked out one and went through the check out line while Sister C wrangled with returns. Upon buying it, I immediately walked over to the return counter to join her and returned it. Why? I absolutely had no idea. It was so weird. I was on auto-pilot. I just knew I needed to do it.

Our night was slow. We didn't teach anyone. It was 11 degrees out, and in the African community especially, that's hibernation weather. Everything fell through, and no one would answer their phones. We ran to the gas station for a quick bathroom break, and as we went to pull out, we were approached by a woman in a red coat.

This woman had tears frozen to her cheeks, and snot running down her face. Her eyes were wild and every movement was frantic and desperate. Her hands were chapped, and fresh tears ran down her face. I felt the most overwhelming love for her as she related her story. Her name was C. C's daughter had been stabbed seven times in Chicago, and so she'd been given charge of her grandson just as she lost her job. The two of them had been living out of her car, but she'd left it parked illegally in North Minneapolis, where it was towed. She didn't have the money to reclaim it, but she took the bus to the area because it's highly populous as far apartment complexes and people in the African community. She had ID and an obituary, but honestly, I didn't need to see those to know I wanted to help her. She didn't ask us for money, but she did ask for any food, and for pull-ups for her grandson, who'd been sitting in his mess for about a day and a half.

We called one of our ward missionaries. She's like the ward grandma, and the literal best joint-teacher in the world. She came and met us, with a coat small enough for the woman's grandson. As we waited for her, we ran to Walgreens to buy pull-ups. We couldn't bring her with us in our car, because of mission policy, but we told her to wait inside the nearest gas station. As I went through the check-out line with the pull-ups, and the woman rang me up, all the sudden I had goosebumps and tears in my eyes. The Spirit was so strong, as I looked at the price on my receipt, and thought about the sweater I had returned. They were almost penny for penny the same. 

We went back, and no matter where we looked, we couldn't find C again. I pray that we someday, we do cross paths. The opportunity to serve her and love her, regardless of how it ended, was something I thought about the rest of the night. I thought about the prompting I'd had to return that sweater, and as a missionary, it got me to thinking about my Savior Jesus Christ. It made me think of how Jesus Christ gave up His will, His want for comfort or for another way, and took upon him the sacrifice to pay the exact price for each and every one of us. And returning to that neighborhood, to that street corner, and feeling the ache when we couldn't find the person who had asked, made me think of each and every one of us. 

That help, and that sacrifice, are available to us. The price has been paid. It's been done. We've been provided for. But are we willing to ask for that help, and then give that help time to work? Are we fully aware of the help that IS there for us? 

The rest of the night, I kept thinking of the words of the scriptures. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. I know that our efforts, whether successful in a way you can measure or not, were a success to the Lord, and I am so happy I got to feel His love for me and for my sister C on Monday night. 

3. We sing in all our lessons now. I KNOW WHAT. My companion sang in President's fireside. Solo. Unreal. I cried. It's fine. Proud mom. 

4. This week, in our last hour of the night, everything fell through, and none of our less-active stop-bys would answer their phones. I asked Sister T where we could go on a Friday night that was missionary appropriate. She said, "The grocery store?" We prayed and felt good about it, so I said, if we taught a quality restoration lesson and helped someone, I'd buy her froyo. WE DID IT AND IT WAS WONDERFUL. Frozen okra and miracles. Highly recommend. President Clements texted us and said, "I love to hear of miracles in the frozen foods." Hahahaha. Also, as we were doing her training eval last night, Sister T and I shared that story and our Zone Leader was super quiet for a minute. Then he was like, "Sister T

, come here, I need to talk to you." I was like, awwww SNAP what'd I miss?

And then he said, "You are the luckiest missionary. You have a great trainer. You need to learn from her. She knows how to have fun AND do the Lord's work."

:) It made me so stinking happy. We DO have fun. Maaaaaaaaybe I had like 800 more stories to tell you. Miracles are poppin' out of the snow. LIKE DAISIES.

Gotta go. I love you and I like you!!!!!

November 11: "Sometimes, they need helps"

Herrrroooo! Happy day of transfer-calls, eh? The verdict is: Shingle Creek for life, baby. I'm training a brand new missionary on Wednesday. Sister C is off to open an area on the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin. I have full confidence in her and I am so excited to see how she grows. I will miss her dearly. She's my longest companion in the field! WEeeeeeird. She's a good one, that kid. :) 

So this week, Elder Carlos A. Godoy of the Seventy came and visited our mission. I absolutely loved him. He is from Brazil, and has the most quality accent you ever heard. He was quick to laugh and quicker to cry, and testified deeply without ever taking himself too seriously. He is exactly the kind of disciple of Christ I hope to be someday. He... may or may not have interrupted a role-play that was going badly by putting his hands out in front of him like a zombie and saying, "Oooooooh, it's the Holy Ghost coming." We were all like... Can he DO that? Oh, he DID. It was prime. First of all, Elder Godoy has extra love for sister missionaries because he was found and taught by two back in the day. Therefore, the conference was peppered by comments about how the Lord notes the sacrifice of sisters coming, and how we should know it's not because we don't have anything going for us - marriage, school, etc., but because the Lord needs angels to do his work. PREACH. Hahaha. We loved it.

One thing Elder Godoy really hit on was the importance of our relationship with our mission president and his wife. He talked about being foreordained for this mission at this time so we could learn from their examples and attributes specifically. He said it's a huge part of why missionaries are called where they are. I loved that perspective so much! I love my mission president and mission mama. I guess if I want to emulate their examples, I'll have to start spinning out a lot of WHB clarifications and ban music with beats. But really. They are both wonderful examples to me. I am so, so lucky to be in this mission. Also, we had an hour leadership-guy-thing-meeting after the conference with him. General Authority in the FLESH. I always feel lost in those meetings. Like... will the real sister training leader PLEASE step forward? Everyone's bustin' out inspirations and I'm just back there like.... "Yeah, so I think it'd be a good thing to start with the restoration when we teach people. Have you guys read the Book of Mormon? It's GREAT." Hahaha. But anyway. He was doing this crazy object lesson about a man on a dam, seeing the waters rise and the rains come down, and looking down with anxiety on the city below. He asked what we could do. I feel like this is a good time to mention that he full-bodied EVERYTHING. Like lunged at the pulpit, arms flailing at all times, wild voices. South Americans are FUN, Mom. Anyway, everyone was throwing out these wild and creative solutions, and I just kind of raised my hand from the back and shrugged. "Why don't we just pray for it to stop raining?" He LOVED it. He like lunge/leapt/levitated and was like, "CHYES! CHEEEYESSSS! This is the faith this mission is lacking!!!!" Pretty sure I ruined the object lesson, but I loved what he said after - about how we have all this unseen help - families, and angels, and our Savior Jesus Christ, and every day, we just take it for granted and play victim to our circumstances. We need to be praying constantly, and including him in our every-day crises. Even when God can't change the circumstances, He can change us. I know that's true. I love it. :)

T continues to progress like a champ towards baptism. To be honest, I have had hesitations about her progression, since she is VERY much a sassy 14-year-old girl, and one with specific and special challenges for someone of any age. However, this week, she progressed MILES. It warmed my heart like nobody's business. The Young Women joint-teaching with us kept remarking that they couldn't believe her understanding of doctrine and how much it had grown. She LOVED the investigator fireside President set up with Elder Godoy and took frantic notes, which she then showed us later. They were tremendous, and reflected great understanding and growth. Also, she wrote our names in hearts and said, "My guides." Let's throw down here. Let's be straight up. As we have met with T, I have been unsure about why we feel so specifically prompted to continue. It has been rocky, to say the least. I always wonder if she is ready, or if we should wait. I just want to do right by her, and the Lord. I'm certainly not here to force anyone to be on a specific timeline. Then it becomes way more about me than them, and that's 89564% not cool.

 Then, in meeting with Elder Godoy this week for mission conference, I recognized that my faith is lacking. Something he said really stuck out to me. He said, "Sometimes they don't looks like church material. But there is a spirit in there - there is someone inside there, even if they don't mentally or emotionally know - that is CRYING out. Help me here. Find me here." He started to cry, and told us about his attitude and appearance as he took the discussions at 15. He said, "You're not just wasting your time. You're finding a CARLOS." (read all of this in an accent; it's infinitely more endearing, I promise.) It was extremely humbling and I felt the Lord's love as He.. kiiiiiiind of chastened me. This girl has so many struggles. Who am I to deny her the gift that will help her most of all as she fights through them, based on my doubts? When we met with T this weekend after Stake Conference, she was glowing with the light of Christ, eager to show us more entries in her study journal about the changes she felt taking place. She is on top of personal progress, dressing modestly, and I am so thankful for the opportunity I have had to love her and learn with her. I am also grateful for the Lord's loving guidance as He directs me towards the ways I can change and improve. President Clements suggested writing miracles and praying with gratitude right after, every. single. night. I've written in my journal every night since the conference, counting miracles and expressing gratitude in my prayers. I have seen a mighty change in only a few days. I love my Heavenly Father SO much! Every day is a good day on a mission.

A miracle this week was in referral from the Hmong elders. Hmmmmoooooooong MONEY. The elders had just gotten to the area Tuesday night, and found it too dark to creep out Hmong homes. They went to knocking-town anyway, and met a man - H - who is Vietnamese and Buddhist. He was rude at first, but let them in and began to cry as they shared the restoration. He kept saying that was what he needed. We were able to do a pass-off lesson with the elders the next day. I was so impressed with their level of love and focus for the investigator as we taught. To be honest, it was super weird, because pre-mish, Elder H and I knew each other from high school and promised to throw each other any solid referrals - Hmong and English. Looking back on that as we sat in someone's home, listening to his inspired dreams and experiences with God, I thought about how not-real life off the mission is. You get so caught up in the things that truly, do not matter. And I used to refer to off-mission life as real life, but now I stand with Elder Holland in feeling like... this is as real as it gets. That hiding behind monitors, dreaming about the good you can do, checking social media, being attached to TV series... That's the actual weirdest, in the grand scheme of things. Why are we doin' that when we're surrounded by our brothers and sisters who need our help? That's not real living of this life. And standing there in H's driveway, listening to Elder H now, going on and on about this man with his eyes all bright, I just felt like. Yep. This is real life. This, is how it's done. 

ANYWAY.. H is truly golden. He learned about God in jail as he read the Bible. His fiance has stomach cancer and is currently undergoing radiation. It's extremely serious and the timing of this message into their lives is perfect. We met with them every day from then on, sharing the message and discussing with H and their family. He was so eager, asking to be baptized in five minutes. He had prayed after the visit with the elders and had had a dream, about a door with bright light behind it. He had it three times in the same night. No matter how many times he tried, he couldn't open the door. But then he said, "I couldn't open the door. Yet." Ahhhhh!!!! YET is right, sir. We invited them to attend the baptism of R, the Medicine Lake elders' investigator. H was so excited he was up at five! They fetching loved it. Vietnamese people and me... who knew? We had a lesson after in our ward mission leader's home. It was so wonderful. So... keep you posted. Asians are my favorite. XIE XIE FOR THAT. Just kidding. That's Mandarin. Vietnamese. Can't. (Mandarin, though? Also can't.)


We were in the middle of this lesson with H... spiritual climax. Reading Alma 7. Atonement. Spirit is HOT. Spirit is BUMPIN'. Then.... we hear this CRY and look over and his ILLEGALLY OWNED PYTHON IN THE TANK NEXT TO ME AS I TAUGHT IS STRANGLING A LIVE RAT. We just... watched it open-mouthed. At the end of our leadership session with Elder Godoy, he asked if there were any questions we'd always wanted to ask a General Authority. If I could go back... that'd be one. "So... say you're in a lesson and a 9-foot-snake STRANGLES THE SPIRIT RIGHT OUT OF THERE. Do you acknowledge it? Make a joke? Keep teaching? Keep me posted."  

Also, I tripped up the stairs so hard before a lesson this week, and then to cover, asked to go the bathroom once we arrived to make sure I didn't pee my pants from repressed laughter. Spoiler alert? There was a comb in there, and on a whim, I parted my hair on the opposite side, and came out like it was normal with the creepiest smile on my face. My companion noticed and tried not to laugh. Then she used the bathroom, and came out with HER hair parted on the wrong side. Great lesson, also. :) But anyway. We are suuuuuper weird. I am going to miss this duffer. I am so excited to see what she does, and sooooooo beyond grateful for the time I have had with Sister C.

Have a happy week!!! I love you, and I like you.

November 4: Have I Done Any Good?

This week, I gained the biggest testimony of the littlest things. Those thoughts, walks, and moments that are so human, but more eternal and lasting than we know. Let's bust it out, shall we?

This week, I had MLC. Mission Leadership Conference. (To be honest, I go for the food. Bloomington Relief Society.... Slow clap. Psych! It's pretty magical on all counts. But really. Sub sandwiches. Don't mind if I'll always do.) But I mostly look forward to seeing Sister Q. They'll probably never put us together again because we love each other too much... but I mean. If you want to throw it in your prayers. :) That woman is amazing. I have no idea how I lucked out with her my first transfer... but yep. We should never sit together in reverent meetings, though. We made President Clements laugh at the pulpit. (If you knew him, you'd know how wild that statement was. It's like saying Dumbledore is a muggle, or Sauron was misunderstood. You just.. don't.)

I got to exchange with my sisters in Andover finally! I love those women. I wish they were still in our zone. Their Zone Leaders and District Leaders have been talking to me a lot, so I anticipated struggling missionaries. Nooooo, SIR! They are doing such amazing things. Sister H, who came out with Sister C, is amazing. She never said a negative thing the entire exchange. Every time someone was unkind to us, she put herself in their shoes. I so loved working with her. She was such a hard-worker and her teaching was straight-up celestial. Can't say enough about it. Their area is essentially miles and miles of woods with like three houses, and we exchanged at the end of the month, so they were mostly out of miles in the car. So we walked for like hours to get to our appointments. And there I am, in 30-something degrees, bundled to high-heaven, walking with this girl who should by rights be a stranger, and I feel so incredibly happy. It's all misty, not-quite-raining but soaking wet, and everywhere I look, it's little hills and green fields and fall leaves and pine trees. Ah, man. Nature is like scripture itself. Mmm.

Something I love about exchanging with my sisters is the opportunity I have to realize and re-realize how little I have to do with the work I am able to perform. As we walked, questions came to mind to ask, that helped me to understand the root of Sister H's concerns and struggles - questions I know came from the Holy Ghost and not from me. Likewise, experiences came to mind that I would not have thought to share on an exchange, and certainly not that I'd freely throw out. But they were what she needed to hear. And as I listened to this sister, the things close to her heart, and shared the things close to mine, I felt the love of my Savior so strongly. 

My friend T wrote me an email last week that I found so beautiful. He basically said being on a mission is like looking at the sky. And these are stars you've been seeing your whole life, but somehow on a mission, you can finally connect the dots and see the constellations. The pictures start to align. And every single point in your life, big or small, starts to connect and before your eyes, you have a little hint of the big plan and potential that the Lord has for you. This exchange was that, for both of us. That's another great thing about the mission. When the Holy Ghost is there, there really isn't a difference - missionary or investigator, training leader or trainee. Everyone is learning together. 

We've had little thoughts and promptings all week that led us to go help someone connect the dots, to understand their experiences and rely on the Lord's knowledge of the picture or plan He is putting together. This week, we went and taught our investigator J, and we kept focusing on her roommate B, a recent convert. I could not look away. Her countenance was just different. Finally, I went over while Sister C showed J her reading assignment, and I asked what was wrong. She said, "Oh nut-ing, nut-ing." She calls me daughter, or "baby Ballih," so I mischevious-eyebrow-ed the heck out of that and said, "I know my mom." She broke down and showed me a text from her children in Africa, saying they were out of food and wondering why she didn't have a job and more money to send to them. It broke my heart. But I know the Lord has a plan and is aware of her. He'll help her connect the dots. (Also, to cheer them up in our small, human way, we let them braid our hair African-style and feed us fried plantains. Generally just fried-anything is what they love. I love these people SO much.)

Sister A is another who needed that extra attention. We go and read with her. She's in her 80s, with glasses that magnify her eyes times a billion. She loves, loves, loves words. She took a shorthand class like 40 years ago, and ever since, writes down and types up - on her typewriter - everyone's blessings. She's such a living legacy. I adore her. Anyway. The family that takes care of her the most is moving, so we promised to go read with her once a week to help her stay in activity. It's the highlight every week. She always wants to read about womanizers. It's the best. This week? 
Sister A: "You have a real aptitude for teaching. Maybe you'll marry a General Authority."
Me: "Maaaaaaaaaybe!"
Sister A: "Or never get married. And sell books in an LDS bookstore. Like Sheri Dew. I have her on tape. Maybe I'll have you on tape someday." (Cue the sweetest grin in the world and like four minutes of smile-silence. Bless her soul.)

We temple-d it this week with our District. TEMPLE. I loved most of all sitting in the celestial room with my sisters, who are struggling, just listening to them. Right before we left, one sister just started crying. I gathered her hands in mine and we bowed our heads together and just said a little prayer, for a little extra love and understanding for the experiences she was having. This week? They had two baptisms come out of nowhere. It's exactly what they need. I love it, and I love them. I was so happy when I heard. Their success is as good as ours. It is all the same work, and I just want to see them happy. :) I hope with all my heart this helps them connect the dots between the struggles, and the miracles.

We stopped by a former investigator yesterday. She kept coming to mind. She had a tragedy in the family this week, and was devastated. She was also really disturbed about something she'd heard at church that day. We went in thinking we would talk restoration, but all the sudden Plan of Salvation was coming out of our mouths. It answered her exact question before we even knew it. We talked with her, and she said she felt so much relief. The Lord was mindful of her and ready to help her connect the dots.

We knocked into a lady, R, this week. She opened the door, and all the sudden out of my mouth was, "This is the answer to your question." She got teary-eyed and invited us in immediately. In my head, I was panicking like an 8-year-old with A.D.H.D. on Pixie-stix at bedtime. But it ended up being such a great lesson. Not because of me or anything I can do, but because the Holy Ghost and the inspiration that come guide us to help others connect the dots. SO cool. 

We taught A, one of our recent converts yesterday. We stopped by and she was having an incredibly lonely day, missing her two deceased children. We just happened to have planned on reading about resurrection. I loved listening to her connect the dots. 

T is still progressing towards November 30, and it's all because of the Young Women. They love her, they show it, and it helps her to see the pictures in these stars. :) And helping her, is helping all of the Young Women to see the constellations in their skies, too.

I have loved this week, and the past (almost) 6 months. There is not one experience in my life to this point that I regret right now, because they have all helped me to help someone else. Not that I've been perfect at it. But as I follow those little thoughts, and sacrifice my comfort zone so others feel understood, empathized with, and loved, I feel there is a point or a picture in everything in my life. Which leads me to believe that everyone could feel that way, too. Everyone could feel that peace and that purpose if they could get out of their own way, and get out there and make use of those experiences to do good for someone else.

The more we serve and love others, the more closely we walk with our Savior. The more we know our Savior, the more we understand our experiences - how to love them, live them, and share them with joy, no matter how they look or feel or looked or felt. That kind of calm, happy living is available to all of us through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

I love, love, love it. :) And youuuuuuuuuuu. BYE CUTIES. Theeya on Trissmuss.

October 28: Lost Sheep

Oh. Hey... It's me again. Some people call me "shawty", "ma," or on especially dark nights in big groups, "little mama," buuuut. You can call me Sister Ballif. It's fine. This week? Hilarious. Cat stories, ward Trunk-or-treat Minnesoooota-style, all kinds of magic. 

Funnies first: 

-We stopped by a former and knocked our hearts out. No answer. Saw part of a stuffed animal halfway under the door. Got sassy and reached down to yank the rest of it out so I could have a look-see. Went to grab the stuffed animal. NOPE IT WAS A REAL CAT. Let your imagination take you through the rest of the story. You're not wrong. Hahahah. Oh my. Sister C and I were crying. Never a dull moment when you're Sister Ballif's companion. :/ Can't even do it.

-We taught a member referral this week, and the dad was SO not down. They've been to church twice and come to ward activities, but he told us, "I'm never going to convert. Ever. You can't convince me." Sweet, I won't. THE SPIRIT. By the end of the lesson, he was almost emotional. Got so embarrassed. It was so awesome. They're the sweetest family. (Their little girl has given me SO many leaf drawings. I'll probably wall-paper a wall in home someday. THANKS, cutie.) Anyway. He just said, "I have... a lot to think about." And I said, "YEAAAAAH! But also, to pray about." And he tried to play it off, (he's black with a great muuuuustaaaaaCHe.) by saying, "Yea', well. Flip a coin or somethin'." "Nope, say a prayer and let the LORD flip the coin!" (I bet everyone really regrets sending me English speaking.) He laughed so hard. And also committed to pray. Promise I'm not irreverent. It's fine.

-We were driving to a lesson and I pondered aloud how Halloween got started while speculating our glorious tracting success Thursday night. Trick-or-treat, it's the GOSPEL. STATESIDE. YeahhhhhBUDDY. Our joint-teacher then filled us in on how Anoka, Minnesota is the birthplace of trick-or-treating, and went on the most glorious Halloween-lore-filled-rant I ever heard. It involved missing the turn twice for our lesson and soooo many hand-gestures. And a Minnesota accent. I love these people. :) I am so lucky to be where I am.

-We taught one of our recent convert's roomates, and these sweet African ladies, (who call me "baby Ballih" and "daughter," because their kids are back in Africa) mention that they have only eaten rice for the past few days, and only one meal a day, and that they're completely out of food............... I knew it would be a minute before we could hop on bishop's storehouse, since it was a Saturday night pretty late... so on the way home, we stopped at an African foodstore. No idea what was happening. We just grabbed things that looked fun. Peanut oil. Fish in a bag. (Pronounced baaaage.) Come along. Went back and tried to just knock and run and leave it on the porch. Couldn't do it. They kept asking, "WHO IS IT?" And not answering. We tried everything. My African man voice got perfected, after like 6 tries, and they finally answered. They saw us driving away, though, and these two huuuuuge, beautiful African ladies leaned out the window and yelled, "Sista Balleh, I didn't know it was you, I was SCAAAAAAAAAA'ED!" Hahaha. Bless their hearts. It's not a serial killer, it's some killer cereal! Open up! Gash!

Welp, to be honest, I have been frustrated with our area for the past little while. (I feel like frustrated is an exaggeration. Nothing is ever that unhappy when you get to talk about the Savior's love on the daily. But. You know. Frustrated as in the way of meaning "stuck." Our progress is frustrated. That obese kid in the slide, is frustrated. Boom. English teacher. Bye.) I can't even express how hard it is to get back in with the African people. They are SO busy. They are working 3, sometimes 4 jobs, to scrape a living and help their families back home, so that eventually, they have the money to come be all here together, free from the wars and corruptions they experience back home. I feel like we have these amazing first lessons, people open up so much and the Spirit is there so strongly. We absolutely fall in love with these people. And then we can never get them on the phone or at the door again. And of course, never is an exaggeration. But the Lord is reeeeeally teaching me persistence through difficulty. :) I love it.

Our Zone Leaders called and gave us some correction about it.. and man. Hurt my little heart. They felt like we were all about numbers - teaching all these first lessons and sooooo many lessons, and then not seeing as much success as we should as far as progressing toward baptism. They felt like if we were more teaching to people's needs, we would be having more success. It made me so sad, because that's the main comment we get from joint-teachers or investigators. That we are genuine, that we get in the details of people's lives without prying, but just by lovin' on 'em. That they feel understood. I feel like I've never given a lesson on my mission. Only love. So... the tricky part about mission life is that you can't really talk feelings or explanations with elders, cause you have to keep it about ten miles back from anywhere emotionally-connected. So... conversations where people have the total wrong perception generally go like, "Mhmm... mhmm. Yep. Thank you so much. Bye." It's weird, to be honest. But it made me grateful for my good Zone Leaders, nonetheless. That they are so concerned about those in our area that we teach. That they are doing the absolute best they can to be proactive and helpful with what they observe and perceive about each of us. That's a huge blessing.  

One especially hard part is that they felt like I wasn't doing enough to help the sisters I am over, especially the sisters in our district who are struggling. The Zone Leaders came to our District Meeting and the set of sisters in our district was super quiet, so they thought that was because they're intimidated of me or not getting love from me. That was a rough one to swallow, too. I love my sisters. I pray for them so many times a day, and am in contact so much. It's hard because again... the tricky thing is, what you can't say in District Meeting is, are you nervous for your doctor's appointment? Or how is your new medication? How can I help you stay happy and healthy and working throughout the day instead of crying and missing home? They're just not generally things you bust out in a District Meeting with all elders. Just feelings in general, also. These are delicate situations. These are people's hearts and feelings. Sometimes, you show people love by letting them feel, however they are, and listening later. When someone's blown up to bursting with stress, sometimes it's not best to prod them and pick at them in a group setting - especially if you know they'll call you one-on-one right after. 

It was all just a lot on my shoulders, but it made me really grateful for my companion, and my cute hermanas (the Spanish sisters we room with), who help me remember that no matter people's perceptions of us and our missions, the Lord knows our heart. He knows the work we are doing. In every situation, that's enough. You just have to put yourself in people's shoes, recognize that they're doing the best they can, with what they know, and that they're doing it because they want to help, in whatever way they perceive they can or will. You just love 'em and let God show you how it is. It's such a peaceful, happy lesson to learn.

So. Miracle City. Let's take a trip:

At the end of last week, Sister C went through and made an organized list for us to refer to of who is in each building, so that as we meet with those who do keep appointments, we can stop by those whom we've lost. We set goals to move forward. She's wonderful. I love her so much. This week, we saw many potentials. To be able to connect with these lost sheep, and to know that the love and the lessons the Spirit taught them as we spoke before had stayed with them, was such a blessing. We were able to get a man, L, to church . We hadn't seen since Sister C's second week here. Another man, one of my favorite lessons of my mission, whom we had never gotten ahold of again, let us in this week. We caught him just in time. He goes to school, works a full-time and a part-time job, and has a one month old baby, and a four-year-old daughter. He told us he literally only has 15 minutes a week, but now that he has a number and we can get in touch, he wants to give that to us. He attended the church back in Liberia, and loved it. He is so eager to learn more. His name is PC, and his wife T, is so down as well. (The only tricky part? She doesn't ever change her vocal tone. I... never have any idea how our lesson is going and suddenly she's teary eyed and also breast-feeding. Hahaha. AFRICA. I love you.) I am so grateful for that miracle, the tender mercy of a reminder that these people, are so, so willing, and so good. We just have to be extra, extra, extra, months-and-months, persistent in working with their schedules and understanding their sacrifice and their spirits. I love them so much! I'm grateful for the Lord's patience working with me as I work with them. 

Our investigator T, with sickle-cell anemia, who kind of started to fall of the face of the map, came to the Halloween Party! She missed church Sunday, and so we went in with the YW and had a lesson on Christlike love and service, in remembering and looking for the one - befriending and fellow-shipping those who are on the fringes. One of the YW who is 16 picked her up for the party, and afterward, when T was locked out because her mom was out with her boyfriend, the YW seized the opportunity and had a movie night together!!! She has already had a change come over her in the three days since. She feels comfortable and capable and most of all, she feels the Savior's love. That's something she's never felt in her life. That's something that we, as members of this gospel, know and can provide. We can all offer that to other people. I love these girls and am so proud of the work they are doing for this girl, this lost sheep. 

All right. Challenge time. We met with our bishop this week and went through an updated version of the ward list. One third of our ward is active. That's right, people. For every person in church, there are two people at home. Two lost sheep. That's 210 people in a ward NOT going. There is one bishop. There are four missionaries. It's not enough. The Lord needs all of us. Our recent convert, Brother B, is a member because for 20 years, members of the ward reached out to him and his family. There was never even a hint that it affected him, but every day, it did. We can all reach out and rescue someone. There is no one who is lost to the Savior, and therefore, no one should be lost to us, as a people who bear his name. 

So this week. Visit someone who's struggling with their testimony. Pray about who is feeling lonely or anxious. Bake some cookies and anonymously love on someone. Or non-anonymously sit on someone's porch and pray they let you listen. We can all make that journey, however short and simple, to rescue a lost sheep. Every effort counts, and no matter how it is perceived or what comes from it, the Lord knows your heart. He knows your work. And He has rescued us all, in so many ways. :) It's the least we can do, am I right?!

I love you and I like you. Seeyaaaaa soon, then!

October 21: Promise-keeping and the Purpose of Pain

This week. What??! MISSIONS. 

So, this week was a doozy. Each week is so full, has so much, that it feels like a year. I love how much life we get to LIVE. Probably, I'll just extend my mission for another five YEARS. How's that, Mom? :) Yes? No? Pray about it.

This week, I exchanged with some sisters in my sister group who are really struggling. Neither sister wants to be here, both struggle with the rules, with attitude, etc. It makes me so sad for them, because I want them to feel the happiness that comes when we give up our will and embrace God's. It's the best thing I've ever felt. It's only unhappiness when we don't. It's a constant conflict between what you want and what the Lord is asking, and it rubs you raw. I don't want that for these sisters. They have remarkable talents and both have the potential for great good in this mission, and also, ALL THEIR LIVES. I want so much to help them. We all learned a LOT from exchanging, and I'm so happy to know them. I'm also thankful that Sister C is my companion. She has such an ability to lift and motivate those around her. I know it was a big help to those sisters. I lucked out. She trained herself. 

One thing I especially loved, was seeing how much purpose there is in the pain in our lives - earned, unexpected, or uninvited. It's all for a great and simple purpose - to provide us with an opportunity to be strengthened in Christ and guide others to do the same. We taught about ten different people over the course of the exchange; obviously, each had such unique needs and questions. And in every situation, something came to her mind or my mind from our lives - something that caused us a lot of pain, something we didn't understand. And in all these lessons, all these people NEEDED our pain to understand Jesus Christ. 

And it's like... in that moment, when you see understanding cross someone's face, when you see them glimpse a hint of this huge plan God has for them, personally.. it's like you would do every part of that excruciating experience, every moment, all over again, just to lift them up. It's a miracle.

Another miracle? Taught a Muslim man an entire restoration lesson. That's unheard of in our area. Muslims always want to teach YOU. They do NAT want to be taught. Hahaha. It was such a rodeo. We're talking about prophets and I take my pencil out of my bag and next thing I know is he's going on a rant about multiple wives and treating them all equally and the ups and downs of communicable diseases and I was like WAIT SO PROPHETS. Hahaha. I love talking to different people! Mom, Dad, as a special heads-up, I feel like this is a good time to say I have given about 6 different Muslims our home address at this point in my mission. They've promised a package with a covering and a Qur'ann. Keep a weather eye OPEN. 

Other favorite day this week:

M and her family, our investies who were on track to be baptized Oct 6, finally let us in this week. They've been dodging us like a fat kid and gym class. We had a lesson that absolutely broke my heart. We talked about God's love and she began ranting and laughing about how God isn't even there and no matter what we read, said, prayed, or listened to, she was so hardened and angry. As we sat with her, the impression came to my mind to share with her the scripture in Alma 32, about the desire to believe. She said she felt the desire. Then she said God wasn't answering her prayers. Sister C bore beautiful testimony about humility and God's timing and love, and M's son, who wants to be baptized so badly, came over and handed me a tissue, and sat close on the couch, patting my back. He'd seen me getting teary-eyed as she mocked us. As we talked, all her children gathered in, sitting close to us and listening with wide eyes as their mom denied the faith she had had only a month ago. As I looked at the pure, Christlike light in their faces, and the darkness of their situation, I was overcome. I felt like the Lord of the Vineyard in that one scripture, for just a moment, and I wept. M listened to my testimony, and to the honest call to repentance and to the Savior's love through my tears, and said nothing. 

I know these experiences are part of the mission, and afterward, I felt such gratitude for that kind of unselfish heartbreak - the kind that doesn't come from dating or a scholarship or from wounded pride, but that very real and genuine ache for someone as they turn from truth. There is a privilege in that pain and that understanding. And for a moment, we experience the love and devastation of our Savior and our Heavenly Father, every time we turn from what we've been shown. I know she will find the truth, if not now, again. And her children will remember the love they felt as they listened to the message.

We were having kind of a slower day afterward, and we drove past an apartment and knew we should stop. The door was open, and there was a girl sitting on the stairs. She looked pretty young, and we often avoid teaching teenagers until we've at least met their parents. (Situations have gotten TRICKY in the past. We're not from MySpace. We're the Mormons. It's FINE.) We both felt prompted to talk to her. So, we did. Cue the littlest acknowledgement possible. We invited her to church. She shrugged. We both felt prompted to teach her the restoration. So, we did. She barely made eye contact and was so not feeling it. I felt like, what are we doing here? Am I gonna end up on YouuuuTube? Come on. We extended the baptismal invite, and she just nodded. Stilllllll felt the need to linger. I had no idea where it was going or why we were both feeling like that. So I asked her if she would pray. (We'd asked her earlier.) She nodded again without looking up. I asked her if she prays often. She said she did. I asked what she prays about. She said, "I pray for strength for me and my family." Something about the way she said it just pierced me. I sat down on the step below her and looked up at her, so she'd have to look into my eyes. I asked her why. She then told me how her favorite cousin was shot six times, and died last week in North Minneapolis. ("There's a boatload of gangs at this school." - Napoleon Dynamite. But. Really.) She told us how her family is breaking, how she goes between her mom's house and her brother's apartment. 

I honestly have no idea what I said to her, but it wasn't me. We had a good talk, and she agreed to pray. She paused for about two minutes at the beginning, and after, let out the deepest sigh, like she'd been holding that in for a hundred years, and continued on with the most beautiful, heartfelt prayer. We sat in silence for a long time before she brought her eyes, all liquid and brown, up to meet mine. And her tense little shoulders, her arms wrapped around her knee, relaxed, just a little. The smallest smile played across her lips. I said, "K, have you ever heard the poem Footprints?" She shook her head, trying to hold the tears back. 

"It's about a man who looks back on his whole life," I told her. "And he sees his life like a beach. And all throughout his life, there are two sets of footprints on the beach for the places he's been. But he notices something that really hurts him. He sees that in the hardest times, there is only one set of footprints. And he asks Jesus Christ, 'why, when it was the hardest, did you let me walk alone?'" Her eyes were huge, staring straight ahead with this juxtaposition of complete disinterest and painful vulnerability. I went on. "And Jesus Christ told him, 'those times in your life where you felt alone, where they were the hardest, those were the times I carried you.'"

"I like that poem," she finally whispered, the smile coming back. We sat in silence for a little bit. The Spirit was SO strong. After setting up a time to see her again and meet her family, I gave her a hug. What broke my heart, in the best, best way, was that every time I went to let go, she clung tighter - this girl who had nothing else to hang onto wouldn't let go of me. I absolutely love her. There was so much privilege in that pain.

Afterward, we found someone named E. She LOVED the Restoration. She was clapping her hands, and after we said the first vision, she was in tears and sunk like a mile into her couch. (She was also Nigerian and wearing an oversized beanie. It adds to your visual.) She gripped the arm rest. "WOW. No. Wow. No. No. WOOOOOOOOOOW. Wow." She starts fanning the air. Hahaha. I LOVE teaching Africans. She got emotional and asked, "What happens to people of other faiths? What do they do? They don't know? Why don't people KNOW this?!" Aaaaaaamen, sista-friend. We are really excited to go back and teach her. She accepted baptism for the next month, so we will keep you posted. :) The thing I loved, was that as soon as she was happy, she was sad, for the people who didn't know. That her husband hadn't listened in to the lesson. And she loved feeling that pain, because she understood what he was missing. She told us, "I've known God and Jesus Christ my whole life. But this. This." She put a hand over her heart. "This is different. Ohhhh, I hope my husband listens."

And as we shared these experiences, the what of the pain, we realized, or re-realized the why. Every hurt, every pain, is to help us become someone, who can then help others - who can truly be that understanding representative of Jesus Christ. We have a responsibility to shoulder the smallest fraction of His burden as we bear His name. And not just missionaries have that name on them. It's everyone and anyone who has every been immersed in a baptismal font. It's a promise, we made with God. I LOVE that! We are given trials to help us, help Him, help someone else. :) What in life is better?

Well, I've got to run. Today's District P-day. The elders finally let us plan. Call me crazy, but, watching them play basketball and tackle each other isn't quite my ideal get-away. Soooooo. Gospel charades, soup and biscuits, mandatory-letter to their mamas, and a pumpkin-carving contest to see who can whip up the best likeness of President Clements. Pumpkin Clements. We'll send him the photos so he can judge. AND SISTER C AND I BOUGHT MATCHING MAJESTIC GOAT TEES GET READY. They were on clearance at Walmart. The majestic blue color and pose of the goat were too much for me. I had to do it. I feel they will add to our craftsmanship. Sorry I went to Spirit TOWN on this email. I'm still normal I promise. Schoobidy-doop, apple-a-day, when-in-Rome, seeeeeeya.

Have the happiest day!! :)

October 14: Muffins and Magic

This week was so jam-packed with miracles and magic that I literally, have no idea where to begin. Let's roll, people. MISSIONARY WORK. (For reference on how to say that last sentence, I've gotten in a really bad habit of yelling things in my Batman voice. I don't know, but it's really working for me and my companion. Cool.)

So many happy things this week! The only thing that could've taken it to the next level would be... if Dumbledore came joint-teaching. It was THAT good. 

Tender mercies and happy things, in no particular order:

On Sunday night last week, we found a man named I. He didn't speak great English, but he had a GREAT mustache. Don't mind if I always do. We weren't sure how much he understood of the restoration as we talked on his doorstep, but he was so incredibly smiley during the whole thing. After the Jose Smith story, we asked him what he felt. He put a hand to his chest and said with tears in his eyes, "I feel so happy. I feel... SO HAPPY!" He was thrilled. Us too. Before we could go on, he looked into each of our eyes and said, "You so happy too!" :) Cuuuutest. We went back with our roommates, the Hermanas, and got to be there this week as they taught him in Spanish. He shared the experiences in his life that have humbled him, and talked about going from atheism to knowing God and Christ are there. I'm going to tell it to you straight and say I understood maybe 7% of what was said, and lot of that was "bien." I loved seeing the Hermanas teach, because we only ever get to talk about our missionary work, rather than do it together. The Spirit was SO strong. I loved that. I love that God speaks to us of us in our language, whether that's English or Spanish or Chinese or Cantonese or whatever. I love that He knows each of us so delicately and deeply that He knows the experiences that will speak to us, too. As he learned, I learned. The Spirit testified to me, in my language, that I am where I need to be. And that no matter where you are in the world, this work isn't our own. It's the work of the most loving and diligent parent of all, and He loves us enough to let us help. I loved sitting and learning with I this week.

We also had MLC and Zone Trainings this week. I rode with Sister S, and I loved talking to her. It was so weird, and also so beautiful, to feel how much each of us have changed since the MTC. She is an incredible leader and I'm so grateful for her friendship. We took the creepiest pictures of all time together upon our reunion. I think my favorite part of Mission Leadership Counsel, besides learning more about how to help my sister group, was seeing my trainer. Sister Q. There honestly aren't words. Sister S and I were walking back from the mission office and she said my name across the parking lot and we both started crying so hard. She really is like my other half. I think that's one of the most beautiful things in the world, on a mission or off. Knowing, and loving someone, so much that you can look in their eyes after a time away, or before, or in a moment that means something to the both of you, and simply cry because of the pure, incommunicable Christlike love you have for that person, or those people. I got to feel that a lot in China, for my kids. I feel it even more on my mission.

Another happy about this week? I returned from MLC to find that Sister C had taught five lessons in my absence before dinner. ATTA GIRL!!! Everything had fallen through, so Sister C, wanting Sister M to have the absolute best experience in Shingle Creek, got to work and made it happen!  Coming home and hearing that truly warmed my heart like nobody's business. I'm so thankful for her and I probably say this every week, but it has been a privilege to see her grow and learn with her. When you love someone, their success is your success. There is truly no difference. It made my WEEK to see the missionary she has become and is becoming still. What a winner.

ALSO! We taught a less-active who hasn't been for like five years this week, and we taught her about the temple. She got SO excited. Her cats were too. It's only funny when you factor in that there are like six and they all try and scratch themselves on me while I teach. No, this is fine. G'head. Keep doing that. :/ But also, my favorite part of the lesson was when she said, "You know, you're so happy. It's why I always let you come back. It's this light. And I just... can't stay away." She was in church on Sunday. :))))))  

We taught a Liberian family this week who are both different religions, and talked about how being a part of the restored gospel is what will ultimately unite them. The Spirit was SO strong. Then she whipped up her shirt and started breastfeeding and the Spirit was.. still strong. Welcome to my area? 

Our ward is so full of gems. I hope I never leave. I'd be completely satisfied to serve my whole mission here. We wanted to love on them this week, and we have five service hours a week, so we bought rakes. Service sticks, if you will. Raking up a storm. Leaving pumpkin bags and thank you notes like our lives depended on it. Hahaha. Missionary work is so much fun. But honestly. Also, one of our Liberian members came teaching with us this week. He was baptized in Africa and he has been a member for 24 years. He's SO great. A.J. for MAYOR OF LIFE. Like, is there a suggestion box for General Authorities? Every word out of his mouth. When I look at him, I'm reminded of Jesus Christ. Really and truly. He's awesome.

We are teaching this man named P. I love him. The Spanish sisters found him. He was super hesitant to come to church, so I woke up earlier and cranked out muffins for him and our other investies, and we went to his house bright and early to wake him up to follow us in his car. I was thrilled. It's a whole house full of Laosians, and they are all hilarious and won't stop offering me rice and complimenting me and I feel like I'm back in China alllll over again. It's so great. He has a little brother A that is as wide as he is tall. I LOVE them. Anyway. We get to church late because he took a minute getting ready, so we're trying to make him feel less bad in the foyer. The conversation went like this:

Me: "So, P, what do you remember about what you and the sisters talked about?"
"Oh, nothing. I was suuuuuuuuuper drunk." (stone cold stare.)
Me: "Welp. Great! Today'll be a whole fresh start."

(We taught him last night and he wasn't drunk. It was magical.)

AND, in closing this week (how random has this email been, though? Sorrrrry about it. Sorry I'm not sorry.), we got to have dinner with the B family this week! The ward has been taking over on Brother B's new member lessons, and so we haven't seen him since he got ordained to the priesthood last week. Aw, man. So good to be in their home again. Walking in, it was like a whole new house. It was so clean and bright, and the Spirit hit you like a ton of bricks. Temple waiting room status. It was amazing to see the change that has come over them. And not only did they invite us for dinner, but they invited their neighbor. They've been reaching out and getting to know her, and they have listened carefully as she's shared about the trials in her life. They asked if she believed in God and in Jesus Christ, and she said yes. Boom. Had her over with the missionaries. He shared his conversion story and bore his testimony and I got to re-remember every lesson and the Spirit was so strong. I loved it. It truly is what everyone hopes for for their converts. :) I am so happy for him and the changes he's made.

Annnnnnnd I gotta go get a flu shot. Love you alllll! :) Church is so true. Be good. Do good things. Seeeeya never.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

October 7: Urgent Care

So this week, was awesome. Mostly, every week as a missionary. Even when it's so, so bad, it's bad in the best way. I don't know how to explain it other than that. :) I love it.

I went to urgent care! Hilarious. So... this week, my knee started getting stiff. No idea why. I didn't do anything different than we always do, running in the morning, knocking and walking. Occasional comedic lunges. Nothing new. But it kept getting more and more stiff and painful, until on the third day, I couldn't get up from my prayers or from sitting for lessons. After lessons got SO weird. Just stuck on the floor trying to act normal. MAN... that Spirit was strong. Physically DISABLING. No, it's cool. Go ahead without me. I'll just stay here. Round two? Another lesson? On the floor?

Well, my companion is a sweetheart and also probably got tired of tugging me up every appointment/taking fifty years on the stairs, so she peer-pressured me into calling Health Lady and telling her what was up. (I'm pretty sure Health Lady is her official title, guys.) She said she'd get an appointment set up for me this week after Mission Leadership Council, and I was more than down. 

Then she called back, because they have to run all appointments through Salt Lake, and said she had told them my symptoms and it was similar to someone with a bloodclot, and to get into urgent care ASAP, and if anything was wrong, to go ahead and go to the emergency room. Hahaha. WHAT. I was like, hm, and we headed on with our day as usual, until around eight after our appointment fell through. 

Let me explain you a thing. Urgent care is a sketchy place anyway. But in the ghetto of Minnesota after dark? My, my, my. It was such an adventure. I sensed it'd be good, thus my "Hi, mom" sign. Basically, the doctor came in and looked just like Cosmo on Seinfeld. His scrubs looked like he was an oil mechanic, and he didn't make eye contact with either of us. He slapped my knee up on the table, literally patted both sides and said, "seems sturdy" and went to leave. This SMELLED like, I printed my doctorate off PBS.org, but we stayed tuned and asked for an x-ray. 

After an x-ray, it was determined that it's a strain and that I need to stay off my feet as much as possible and ice it every fifteen minutes. I don't think the doctor will ever know why my companion and I thought that was so hilarious. Anyway, we grabbed a knee-brace from Walgreens and some Icy-Hot and called it a day. But also, J, the security guard. He was maybe 90. Playing solitaire. Tried to teach him about the gospel and it ended with a picture with his arm around me and him proposing I be his girlfriend. Not my MOST successful contact persay, but.. He gave me some slammin' Sesame Street stickers for being so brave? Eh.

So, a lot of the sisters I am serving are struggling with the desire to be here. They know they are supposed to be here, but they didn't want to be or plan to be. All of them made individual sacrifices to be here, unique things they loved and had to let go of. I've been thinking about that a lot this week - the amount of sacrifice that is required for a disciple of Christ, and why we do it. If we want some semblance of His character or the love He had for others and for the Lord, we have to give things up. We have to change. And as we do, we need acknowledgement that who we are and what we have to offer is enough to do what He is asking us to do, in whatever capacity. We need to know we can help. And we all can.

I've seen that so much this week as we go into people's homes. We are teaching T still, the 14-year-old with sickle-cell anemia. (We got her to two sessions of conference. If I had to hash-tag her facial expression after the first talk, it would #instantregret. Hahahaha. Priceless. Bless her soul. But she came back! General Conference is kind of like being thrown in the deep end before you know how to swim... So.) T is super shy and insecure, especially because the right side of her body is visibly crippled. She gets teased a lot in school. It has been the most beautiful thing to see her sacrifice her time and her defensive pride to learn more about the gospel, to defend the things she learns to her family, and to in turn feel accepted and loved by the members of the ward. They absolutely fall in love with her. This week, we had a lesson on the Plan of Salvation after having her for dinner in a members home. The member is older and recently-widowed, and it was so sweet to see her share her personal witness of this plan - to see T drinking it all in, and then to see T switch gears and try to make this woman laugh after her emotional testimony. 

Man. Genuine human connection and honest fellowship and care. It's seriously the most beautiful thing. 

We found a 16-year-old from Liberia this week and were able to meet with her twice. She has a 5-month-old baby, and the father is back in Africa. She is so hungry for the truth, but just as much, she is hungry to hear it from people who love her, who can acknowledge her sacrifices and give her that urgent care that she so desperately needs, spiritually and emotionally.

We go and read with an elderly woman in our ward every Wednesday. She loves the Book of Mormon. The family in the ward that cares for her most is moving this week, and she is terrified. We helped her write out questions for conference, and she was so thrilled to be acknowledged, to be served, cared for, and loved. We talked to her Sunday night and she said all the questions we helped her write had been answered. :) God had given her that urgent care.

We meet with a less-active woman every other week. Her husband left her in the middle of this summer and she works two jobs to support her kids and grandkids. (She also wears a do-rag and says, "Ain't nobody got time fo'dat" at least once a lesson. Can't even do it. I love her.) We read about the Savior in the 3 Nephi with her this week, and helped her to write specific questions for conference. She hasn't been to church in years, but she sneaked into the back of Sunday session and scooted right up next to me. It did my heart so much good to see her scribbling furiously, receiving the answers and urgent care she had needed from the Lord.

I LOVED the messages from the Lord this weekend.So much. So good. The need for all of us to sacrifice our pride - our fear of other people's opinions before our fear of God - really stuck out to me. That's something we have to focus on, especially being in the same country, speaking the same language. We have to love these people more than we love their perceptions of us. We have to love the Lord the most. I know that when we sacrifice what the Lord asks us, and simply reach out - simply take the time to show Christlike love, we can be guided by the Holy Ghost. And when we have that guidance, we can receive promptings that help us to receive and to give the urgent care that is needed in this life. I know that that's true. It's the best thing in my life. I love it. 

I love the gospel, I love my mission, and I love all of you cuties. :) Have a happy day!

P.s. I'll grab pictures from Brother B's baptism next week. :) 

Monday, September 30, 2013

September 30: Santa's COMING TO TOWN

Hey, cuties! I hope you are having the best week. :) The leaves are starting to turn, and my cute ghetto area, which we lovingly call Africa, is looking a lot more like the woods of Lorien. Spring of 1820 status. Lord of the Rings jokes! Restoration jokes! Aw, yeah. I love this place! MOM, I'm a woodsman!

Today is transfer calls, and Sister C and I are together one more transfer! Get to finish her training. Giddy on up! But also,after personal study today, I checked the phone and we had four missed calls from the office, and a text from the assistants chastising us for not answering our phone. My GASH. Honest to goodness, I thought one of you DIED. Called back, sat on hold for ten minutes, and President got on the line and blew my socks off by saying that I'm now a Sister Training Leader for the zone. ...... I was like... So wrong number, or...? Is there another Sister Ballif? Anyway. After feeling reaaaaally humbled and majorly inadequate, I felt so excited to be able to go on exchange with all the different sisters, get to know them and learn with them. Honestly, if there's anything I've learned from training, it's just that if I can be obedient and offer pure and honest love, the rest is the Lord's job. And all these sisters are pretty easy to love. I want with all my heart to help them be happy and successful mish-canaries. :) I know all their light will help me to do the same! They'rreeeeeeGREAT! (Tony the Tiger FIST PUMP.)

SO, moving on! Brother B's baptism. I absolutely loved it. We bought him a tie, since they can't afford one right now, and the bishop bought him a white shirt. He walked in, I gave him a thumbs up, and said, "General authority status." Hahaha. (It's so much funnier if you know his laugh. It's like a machine-gun.) He also called when he was late and tried to freak us by saying us he changed his mind. Really, he forgot something at his house and had to run grab it on the way. Pure sass. I LOVE him. 

His baptism was amazing. It was incredible because he knew what it meant, just exactly what that baptismal covenant requires and promises. And he is so ready and willing to live it. It has been an absolute privilege to meet with him for the past 12 weeks, to learn and to grow together. Honestly, 80 percent of the time, he is teaching me. I have no idea how we got so lucky to be a part of his conversion. His relationship with the Lord and with our Savior Jesus Christ has grown exponentially. Three things about the morning really stick out to me. One, is how well-attended it was. As a part-member, non-active family, they have received so many visits in the last 20 years from various members of the ward, and never once did any of those members see that the visits were helping or meaningful. But at his baptism, as he stood and bore his testimony, he talked about each one. About how they had impressed him, or affected him, even years after the fact. We truly don't realize the impact of following those promptings, even when we don't immediately see or understand that there is a positive effect. 

Two, his whole family came. They are all non-members besides his wife. They started the baptism with arms crossed, all dressed in black. None would smile for pictures, and all felt extremely uncomfortable. Throughout the service, each visibly softened, breaking into huge, uninvited smiles, getting misty-eyed, singing along and sharing hymn books. The Spirit was so strong, and I was so grateful they were able to share that experience as a family. This gospel is all about that family love. Mm. :) My heart was so full. FEELIN' it.

Three, Brother B has incredibly kind eyes. He has always had the light of Christ in his person. But when he came out of the water, and especially as we sat in our lesson Sunday night after he'd received the Holy Ghost, I was taken aback at the visible glow he had. There was a constant, subconscious smile at his lips. His eyes were bright and clear, and so full of understanding and love. AH. I can't really describe it, but tangibly seeing the conversion to the gospel in someone's person over time is seriously the most beautiful thing in the world.

Other great things about this week:

-Finally got to the temple!!!! It is such a tangible lift. So much peace. I love that tiny temple. I loved the new video. Also, I love the gift of personal revelation. And old people in the temple. I never wanna SEE a session without a funny little duffer there to make it even better. Sweethearts.

-The Relief Society Broadcast was amazing! We had a big stake-wide dinner at the church and watched it in the chapel. I love our prophet. But also, our table was all African ladies with do-rags and loud jokes and I felt so much love for the different people and cultures in this gospel and this area. As a side note, one tried to force a second helping of soup on me. She all slaps my thigh. "Le' me tell you a secre' fo' afte' y'mission. A real man LIKE a fuller woma'." Hahahaahahaha. THANKSsss.

-We taught someone named I this week. I love him. He's Russian, and in the army. Answered the door shirtless and flexing. I gave him a stank-face and he grabbed some clothes and quit being creepy. Mama don't play those games.

As we talked... I mean, I literally don't know how else to say it, but I knew things about him. It was so weird. And the knowledge didn't come from anything he said or anything I saw, but it came from the free-flowing love I felt for him. Not in like a, take-me-home-to-Russia-and-make-me-a-babushka kind of love, but like I truly saw him as my brother. As the lesson continued, Sister C had incredible insights, and we were connecting with him and his pains in a crazy way. There are some things that the people we meet can't express, or won't language. But when we have the Holy Ghost and allow it to work, we can see miracles and help people so much more. I'm so grateful for that.

It reminds me of the testimony a woman from Zambia bore on Sunday. She talked about how in Africa, people sing while they work. She said the African people do this so that when they work, they're not just working with their body, but with their Spirit. She then related it to the gospel. How when we go about God's work, we shouldn't just go through the motions to fulfill our callings, to do it just because it's the right thing to do. We should "sing" while we work. 

We should engage our Spirits, we should bring an open heart and a loving soul, to connect with others. I know that to be happy and to truly be an instrument for God, that's exactly what we have to do. Wherever we are. Knocking doors, teaching lessons, in every day occupations, God needs us to "sing." To be present with our Spirits and to give our whole souls. That is when the miracles happen. :) I love this gospel and I'm so grateful for my mission, and for another transfer with my cutie-pants companion.

This time means everything to me, and so do all of you! Go crunch some leaves, make some days, and getouuuuuuuuuttttTTTAAAheeeeeeeeeere. 

I love you!