Thursday, July 11, 2013

Fourth of July and K's Baptism Pictures

Fourth of July BBQ with the members

Volunteering on Main Street

With K before his baptismal interview

K's baptism

July 8, 2013 - Sunrises

Hey cuties.

This week was MONEY! One of my favorites of my mission. We worked really, really hard. Tons of finding, which I always love. It's so cool to knock a door and be in a little bit of someone's life with them for a few minutes. It's even cooler when they wanna hear ze gospel!

Transfers are this week, and my mama (in missions, they do this whole creepy family tree lingo. I like it. Mama=my trainer) is headed up north to Duluth to be a Sister Training Leader, and I'm headed to Shingle Creek to finish my training with our area's Sister Training Leader. President called us this morning and talked to me about needing to be ready to train after these six weeks and be ready to be a leader. I was prrrretty horrified, but even as I look back on my brief mission, I can see the Lord's hand in every bit of it. I am going to miss Sister Q so badly. My setting apart was absolutely right - it was like finding another half of a whole. And we will be lifelong friends. But I know the Lord is in this change, too. I know He is hand-crafting the experience I need, and I'm just really grateful. I'm around so many good people, and it's really humbling to be in their presence. I'm learning so much.

Also, K was baptized! That happened. But also, it feels like it didn't. It was so surreal. No hiccups at all. His interview went awesome (are you surprised? Gash. I love him.) and as we taught him about temples and being able to be baptized for his late father, he almost cried. He was quiet for a long, long time, staring at his weathered hands. When he looked up, he looked steadily into the eyes of each person in the room for a moment. And then he sighed, like the first exhale he'd breathed in 72 years. He said, "I feel very happy."

When he walked into the kitchen on Saturday (we were baking cookies for his baptism, cause cookies are his favorite) in his suit, just grinning, it melted my stinking heart. We got him his jumpsuit, and as we showed him the baptismal font, he just whispered, "Beautiful." Ah. He was so ready. It was the most incredible, quiet spirit of peace. We read with him for a while before ward members started filing in. It was a small service, but he is already SO loved by the ward. Afterwards, by the cookies, we asked him how he felt after he came out of the water. He got emotional and nodded. "A new life."

His confirmation on Sunday was incredible, and he said he feels different - he feels light. I've never seen him so happy. I have no idea why or how we got so lucky to be able to learn from him and with him these past five weeks, but it has been beyond a privilege to participate in a very small way in his conversion. I admire him for his faith and his quiet love of God and desire to do good. More than I know how to say. BEST way to end a first transfer.

Also, he brought cookies to his own baptism because he was worried we would have to make too many. WHO IS HE?! My gash. Heavenly Father has been so kind to us.

Fourth of July was the weirdest, also! We went to an awesome barbecue in the woods that some ward members throw. Stinking Minnesota. Fetchin' best brisket I've EVER had. DAD. The sauces. I can't even talk about it. It was such a good day... just when the sun went down and we were chilling at our apartment while we heard fireworks go off.. Perrrrma stank-face. I want that. Seeya in 2015, fireworks. :/

But also. The nice thing about fireworks is that they come again. But opportunities like these 18 months don't. So. Heeeey.

Couple other highlights this week: We had a really good companionship study with one of our ward members this week. She's a returned missionary married to a non-member. She's from Chile and served in Columbia, and I love when she talks about her mission. She's an amazing example to us. She is so faithful and loving, and powerfully obedient. She worked SO hard on her mission. Every time we go, I want to be better. We actually do FHE with her and her son every Monday night, and it's the best thing ever. (Her 4-year-old son is my favorite brown-eyed cutie in the world.) I always admire her testimony, but my heart just breaks for her. Her husband is so uninvolved in her life and her goals and ALL she wants to do is build a home like she built her mission. She talked to us a lot this week about the importance of having a good companion - on your mission and after. Broke my heart. (Future hubs. Be a good one.) I'm so grateful for the people who share their wisdom and their experiences with us. I have loved this area and these people with my whole heart. Minnetonka will always have a special place in me.

ALSO. There was this kid named Z we talked to. Just got kicked out, really arrogant, really angry. He cussed me out muuuultiple times. But we read him some scriptures and prayed for him and with him. He kept saying how God was doing nothing for him, etc, etc. Wellllll. We've seen him like eight times since. And this last time we saw him, I remembered that we had our Costco TRAIL MIX from mama and some water, so we hopped out and approached him. He started to cuss me out again and said how God did nothing for him, and we gave him the food and just said, "He did this." He just got really quiet and took it with greedy hands. He wouldn't look at us as he thanked us. He'll make a good investie someday. When he's ready. I love him, though.

And finally, this week was a week of sunrises. This morning we woke up at 5:30 to go watch the sun rise over Gray's Bay. Had some good cereal and even better study. (We did this because my companion turned to me last week and was like, "If you weren't a person, you'd be a sunrise. That's what you're like." Then I made her repeat it to herself and we were like.. that was the WEIRDEST. Hahaha. I love her.)

But really. With transfers, with K's new life, with our new knowledge, everything just feels like a beginning. Like a sunrise. :)

I like those.

And you! :) I love you all.

With all my heart,

Sister Ballif

July 1, 2013 - Duff's Barbershop and a P.S.

Heeeey, cute duffs. (I forgot how funny that word is. But mostly I remembered because on Main Street in Hopkins lies Duff's Barber Shop. Funniest old men ever. I love it!)

So hey. This week has been incredible. Extremely tender and full of instances where we just knew the Lord had guided us to exactly where we needed to be, when we needed to be there. Ah. Gash. MISSIONS. There's nowhere I'd rather be right now. Except maybe Duff's Barber Shop. 'Eyyyy. But really. This time means everything to me.

CRAP, I've learned a ton this week. One of my favorite things has been being able to be guided to how best to serve those around us in a way that helps THEM to feel their worth. Not just to feel humbled by our insight or like we cleaned their house while they were sick. There's a less-active Ecuadorian sister in our ward who is going through a really rocky divorce and has major health issues. (I love listening to her talk. We always ask her to pray in Spanish. Stinkin' beautiful.) Every time we call, she refuses help or a visit, but the Spirit was just SCREAMING at us to go see her anyway. So we stopped by. Her house was in total disarray and she looked miserable. We prayed with her and had a really good chat. It's such a basic need for people to be heard. And it's such a blessing to the listener. We shared different scriptures as we taught, but I still wanted to DO something for her around her house. She was so overwhelmed.

Well, the Spirit's the coolest. All the sudden, out of nowhere, I asked if she would teach us how to cook something like once or twice a week. Part of her illness causes really bad pain in her hands, and it breaks her heart because cooking is her greatest gift, she feels like. (Word in the ward says TRUE.) So she always feels embarrassed having us in the house because a) it's a mess, b) she hates accepting or asking for help, and c) she has nothing prepared for us to eat.

She LIT UP. She was so flattered! We came back the next day and deep-cleaned while learning how to make arrez con leche, an Ecuadorian dessert. She gave us all the instructions while saving her hands the effort. We had way good conversation and even played in the pouring rain a little. She was so happy after, that she'd had something to offer, and something to teach us. That who she was could bless US. That she's important. Ahhh. I love her. People. They're the bayyyyest.

(Moral of the story is, by the time she is reactivated... I'm gonna be an Ecuadorian DREAM in the kitchen. Some tiny man in Quito is praying for my skillz. Next stop: her county-famous empanadas. "Ay-yi-yi!")

K continues to progress. I am so continually amazed by him. Just the faith of this man. Every time we teach, I'm like... wait? Did that just..? He's such a miracle. Hahahah. Also, we taught him the Law of Chastity this week. It's like the only thing left to teach. Um. Let's reiterate that he's 72 and barely walks. It was the most awkward, glorious thing ever. After reading the whole pamphlet in silence, he looked up and said, "I think I keep this very good." And then he just wheezed and laughed. Stinkin' K. I think so TOO.

Sunday at church with him was super emotional. I think we've talked about how strongly I've been able to feel Heavenly Father's love for K, right off the bat. But this was like, whole other level. He came to church and was obviously really sick again. I mean, back to where he was before that miraculous healing blessing. He was really shaky, had a couple near-falls. His skin was like, see-through and his lips were pale. I was so stinking concerned, while at the same time, the Spirit of peace was incredible. We all sat in the chapel together before anyone filed in, and I taught him how to fill out tithing slips. (We taught him earlier this week and he kept saying, "How? How I do this? I need to do this." My gash.) I thought he would just take it as an example, but he asked for a blank one, and reached a shaking hand into his suit coat to grab his check book. I can't even describe to you the might of this man as he lovingly, with hands that looked a hundred years old, wrote out his humble offering. He fumbled to find a member of the bishopric, and then he just grinned. The kind of sacrifices he is making to follow Christ blow my mind. All these little things that people who are completely whole, and healthy, and without burden find excuses to avoid. He embraces everything we teach him. He loves the Lord so much.

Sitting there, sharing scriptures and reading a few, the Spirit told both me and Sister Q really specifically that his time is running short. We kept recalling the words of his first blessing and we just had to wonder, is he going to make it to July 13? Is he going to make it through sacrament meeting even? As we were whispering, he just looked over with his wise eyes, and his little grin and nodded a little in affection. I lost it. Straight-up bawled. He just kept smiling. The Spirit around this man is incredible, and I can't tell you what it has meant to me to see him completely submit to everything the Lord asks him to do, however painful, difficult, or uncomfortable.

As church went on, we could tell he was in a LOT of pain. Really struggling. I leaned over and asked if he needed to go home and rest. He said, "No. I need to be here." K has been looking for this all his life. And now, right at the close, he has the opportunity to partake. He testified in gospel principles about God blessing him, making him feel better and be better. It was such a halting mumble, and yet, the most beautiful testimony I've ever heard.

Also, he knew every word to the Star Spangled Banner. Get it, K! AMURRICA.

After church, we had the elders give him another blessing. He was so excited. In this blessing, as in the first, it was affirmed to him that we were sent at this time in his life as a way for God to show him he loved him. That he had done well. That we specifically were the ones, and that God waited for US to give His love.

I can't describe how humbling that is, that kind of trust and privilege. As a missionary, I feel so lucky to be interacting with and learning from all the people we teach. God loves them SO much, and it's a testimony of His love for me that He is allowing me this time with them at all. I love K. And I love every investie we meet. They're all so good, in so many different ways. I could go on forever. Buuuut. Because of the mutual promptings, and some prayer, President is willing that K is probably getting baptized this weekend, is the moral of that update. It's going to honestly be the best day of my life.

God is there. He hears you. He loves you. He wants to help you. :)

I love my mission. I love ALL of you cuties. And I'll see you soon!

Have ze best week!

Sister Ballif

P.S. - We got to go to the St. Paul Temple this week... and it was SO tender and so beautiful. I love temples. And this gospel. And also youuuuu. Pictures to come. It's TINY. I was like, HOW WE GON DO THIS. But so peaceful inside.

Okay I love you! Have a good week!

Minnesota in Peektures

 Spending time with ward members

 And wrestling chickens...

Teaching K

June 24, 2013 - BOOM

Hey cutie

Ope. That didn't land. I tried, though. That's what counts.

What a week in the MN! Full of earthquakes, near-tornadoes, flash-flooding, and alllll kinds of miracles. Only on a mission! It's nuts.

At the beginning of the week, I was on exchanges over in Shingle Creek. AKA West Africa. Kidding NOT kidding. It's insane. Everyone there is an refugee from Liberia or Kenya. They are SO tight. Ah. I wanted to talk to them all day. Good thing that's what missionaries do...? I just so enjoyed teaching them and hearing about all their different life experiences. With the living conditions and warfare going on over there, these people have really seen the hand of God in their lives. Also, I'm considering putting my hair in corn-rows/and/or dreds after that exchange. Let's have a poll. Call it in, like American Idol or Dancing With the Stars. Keep me posted, team.

While we were out teaching, besides running into a million beautiful children (I will have an African baby, or so help me...), we met a really awesome girl named J. She was 20, and it sounded like she'd had a really rough life. She hinted at a lot of pains, and that she'd only just gotten her GED, been expelled a lot. She invited us in to teach restoration. Let's talk about an African house... gorgeous textiles everywhere, SO much color. I loved it. And the smells in the kitchen. Can't even talk about it. Amazing. As I taught with Sister M, my companion for the day, we both started naturally emphasizing the Atonement and forgiveness, with no idea why. I felt really prompted to ask her certain questions, and she was just really hesitant and shy. We couldn't really see the fruits of the direction, questions, or focus, but the Spirit was definitely there. So we testified and invited her to pray. At first, she wouldn't, but I felt prompted to push it (in a loving way. I DIDN'T SPIRITUALLY SHOVE). So Sister M gave a quick prayer, and then we knelt for J to pray.

She started out pretty hesitantly and then she started apologizing. She apologized to God for not knowing him. And then she started to bawl. I mean full-on wail. It was personal and it was powerful. This went on for, I kid you not, 15 minutes. She pressed her forehead to the floor, and she couldn't speak out loud anymore, but her lips kept moving. You could tell she was repenting. It was crazy. When she finally looked up, she was in AWE. Like struck dumb. Alma the Younger or King Lamoni status. I asked her how she felt, and she just said, "Better." And let out a huge sigh. She was exhausted. She asked if we could come back tomorrow.

When Elder Holland was here, he talked about the verses where angels spoke to people and the earth shook. He said he didn't think there were real earthquakes, maybe there were, but more likely, for that person - learning what they were learning and feeling what they were feeling - there was a personal earthquake. The earth shook where they stood. Or in J's case, the earth shook where she knelt. I smiled the rest of the day. Seeing a personal earthquake was SO cool.

Speaking of natural disasters... Minnesota decided to pull a fast one and we had craaazy storms all week. Being a missionary, we're real out of touch with reality. We ran in to Walgreens and they were like, WHY ARE YOU HERE, IT'S A TORNADO WARNING AND FLASH FLOOD RISK. Whaaaat? That lack of radio or reality. It'll getcha every time. Hahaha. We had to park a block away so our car wouldn't be around trees, cause they were just SLAPPIN' into the road left and right. How we made it home alive and calm, I'll never know. Boom. Miracle. The thunder was so loud and we didn't have power for two days. Which is fine, and gave me flashbacks to Chiners... but also. There are no windows in the basement where we live... And with the spider hunger games are nearby. Nothin' but a sketch-fest. So much hungry fun. (WHY DOES ALL FOOD HAVE TO BE MICROWAVED. STOP.) Anyway. It was fun running around in that to make it to all our different appointments. My shoes went flying and I'm running barefoot in like a foot of water, just splashing along while branches are flying. We were laughing so hard. Maybe Colors of the Wind went through my mind. Living my childhood DREAMS, here, guys. Anyway. I'm safe and sound and all is well. Just some unexpected planning and replanning, and expenses. Things are good, though. :)

My favorite miracle of the week though, is K. Good ole K. Remember when we met him and he was in his death pajamas? And how ever since his priesthood blessing, he's blossomed like a flower? Word. Okay, well, this week, in talking a lot about Word of Wisdom, he said he felt better when he was living it. We talked about prophets and modern-day revelation, and we watched a Mormon Message with him. It was the most spiritual lesson of my mission. Another personal earthquake. The earth SHOOK where he sat, as his old weathered hands took the little DVD player from mine and I watched his face as he saw a living prophet. He just grinned and I cried like a baby. I could NOT stop smiling. We asked him to show his trust in the Lord by getting rid of anything contrary to the Word of Wisdom, so it wouldn't even be a temptation. He hopped right up off the couch (KEEP IN MIND HE COULDN'T WALK AND THIS IS 72 YEARS OF CULTURE-CONDITIONED WORD OF WISDOM PROBLEMS) and led us to the cupboards. He dumped on us all his teas, coffees, and alcohol. We made him promises, as representatives of Christ, that he would have greater strength, understanding, ability to walk and speak without difficult. Really bold stuff. I was a little nervousy to say stuff like that, but it just kept coming out of us. He agreed, thanked us, and sent us on our way into the rain, arms full of the problems he would never have again.

(We dumped it pretty fast, because let's face it... it's kind of counterproductive to wear the tag but carry armfuls of contraband materials. Sooo...Yep.)

Anyway. K came to church on Sunday. It may have been the happiest day of my life. Like honestly. We picked him up, and he looked fresh-to-DEATH in his little suit. Not like before when he was dying. But like. He was looking sharp. He smiled the whole day. Introduced himself to everyone. Asked such good questions during sacrament. Made me laugh so hard in the backseat on our ride to church. Walked completely upright. We had gotten him a walker so he could make it the three hours, and instead, he walked even without his cane. GUYS THIS IS REAL LIFE MIRACLES ARE A THING. I can't even explain the kind of difference. The elders that blessed him that day were in shock. They couldn't even speak. Hahaha. They said he looked like a DJ in his little outfit. The ward adored him. I loved it. Also, his favorite food is Mexican (I know. What? K. Stoooop.) and he's teaching me Vietnamese. I feel like he is our adopted grandpa. We joked about church being long and needing snacks last lesson with him, and he actually packed us snacks and laughed so hard at how much we loved them.

MY GASH, IS IT POSSIBLE TO LOVE ANYONE THIS MUCH?! Our investies are the absolute best people in the world. I thought he'd be exhausted after three hours, but all he said was, "Wuss next?" in his little Asian accent. I love him. When we dropped him off, we told him to get some rest because it was very long. He said, "Not too long. I feel good. It felt good." STOP IT. I am SO happy. His baptism is July 13. :) I love it because people didn't have faith in him. Not even the elders who blessed him. But the blessing wasn't contingent on other peoples' faith in him. It was contingent on K’s faith in God, and he has a LOT. Which is why, no matter how poor his health was, we felt prompted strongly to keep going back. And look at him now!!!! What the heck. Missionary work, you've done it again. Kills me.

I love being a missionary. I love when you feel like you're exactly where you are needed, and like the Lord loves you just as much as you can feel He loves that investigator, because he is trusting you with them, and they are pretty dang important.

I don't know. This is rambly. But.

Update: I am happy.

With all my heart,

Sister Ballif

June 27, 2013 - Snow in June

Hi, cuties!

What a great week it has been. CRAP, I've learned a ton. I love being a missionary. And Minnesota is so beautiful right now. The cottonwood trees all blow in the wind, and it's like snow in July. The cotton fluff gets caught in the light and it's honestly so stunning. Also, the critters are CRAWLING. We have so many large and poisonous spiders in the basement where we live. They're bizarrely beautiful, so I don't have the heart to kill them. I've been catching them under small glass bowls. This week I got brave and transported them all to a smaller, upturned goblet. We watch them fight. Like the Hunger Games. Some have handicaps from the move. But so did the kids in the Hunger Games. 'Specially Katniss. EMOTIONAL handicaps. She had to learn to looooove. I'm rooting for Earl. He's horrifying. But another spider, Henry, is also a contender. Something to keep an eye on, for certain. I almost tripped on their goblet the other night when I got up int the night to use the bathroom. Intriiiigue.

Things I want to tell you, because time is brief:

K is a miracle. I love him so much. On Monday, the elders came and taught with us. He was really, really weak and extremely embarrassed that a lot of what they taught about the priesthood was over his head. We simplified it and asked if he wanted a blessing of health and strength so that he could work towards keeping the Word of Wisdom, because we mentioned that he was in too much pain to do so. He said yes, and after I asked him how he felt. He smiled a little and said, "Good." I said, "Me too."

We stopped by Wednesday to reschedule our appointment and I felt like we were talking to a different person. He had perked up SO much. He had so much color, moved so much more quickly, and spoke in full sentences. And smiled SO much. I couldn't wait to teach him this Friday. When we taught on Friday, we saw that even since Monday, he's gained weight. He is happy and as we talked about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and I drew a map for him about our earthly journey, he was meticulous about understanding each step. When we talked about baptism, he kept grinning and asking, "When?" and "Who can do this for me?" ... Um. Can you die from loving someone too much... or?

Sunday we talked about the Sabbath Day and he asked to come to church next week. We recommitted him the to Word of Wisdom, and after the blessing, he was all about that. Seriously. He had felt strengthened by the priesthood and didn't want to rely on those substances. THE LORD IS SO COOL. Also, he kept making us laugh. He was so joyous and in so much less pain. The Lord is very good to His missionaries in letting us be apart of it.

Elder Holland was AWESOME. I shook his hand. Nbd. He said so many things I needed to hear, about using who we are to do missionary work, about missions being difficult so we can understand the Savior. AH. I loved it, but I'm so short on time today. I will send you a letter with Papa's Father's Day package. Anyway. He like beat the heck out of the pulpit and yelled and cried and I felt like I was in emotional shock after like SIGN ME UP FOR THE NEXT WAR. It was such a privilege.

I've been thinking a lot this week about the power of the Atonement, too. About how it can not only help us to overcome sin, but overcome insecurities and injustices, and help us to feel understood. One of Satan's greatest tools is to try and get us stuck in the middle, in feeling bad about what we did, or what someone did to us, or what happened to us. But God doesn't want that. He wants us to realize and reach back for Him. He is already reaching for us, every day, in so many ways. And so through that Atonement, we are able to overcome. We are enabled in weakness. We are divinely helped and understood. It's so important in our daily lives, and it's not just for big sins. Also, I love that the fruits of truly understanding the Atonement are charity, for ourselves as God sees us, and others, despite their faults or actions, as God sees THEM.

Ummmm, what else...? Saw the most beautiful sunset of my life this week. Forgot my camera AGAIN. I'll send pictures in the mail. And, on a really bad day, we tracted into TWO Chinese people, and Chinese was coming from NOWHERE. It was the weirdest thing I've ever experienced. Where was that when I lived in... oh, you know... China? Hhhhhawkward. So anyway, we are taking them Mandarin Books of Mormon, and it was a humorous little acknowledgement from God, like, I know you. I know where you are, and I know what you love. And I love YOU. Ah! One of our investigators dropped us, but I prayed and wrote her a letter thanking her for all her time and her testimony and she called and wants to meet! We truly can't do anything without charity. I love this gospel. The Lord is so good to us.

He does that all the time, in so many ways. Anyway. I'm out of time, but I love you all dearly. :) Life is good and missions are the beeeeeest.

I love you and I like you! Have a  great week!

P.s. One month, whaaaaaaaaaat?