Monday, August 5, 2013

August 5 - Good times and a bad case of the giggles

HI, cuties!

This week has been hilarious. I honestly feel like I don't have that much to say... and then also I have way too much to say. Princess Bride quote, anyone? "Let me 'splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up."

Welp. Our week was full of contacting magic and meeting so many funny people. I LOVE contacting. I just want to talk to every single person I meet, allll day. It's the bayest. It was also full of SO much learning, a lot of which I don't even know how to put into words, other than that I feel different, in a good way. My favorite investie, B, dropped us. I was heartbroken, just because she's had a direct confirmation of the truth... but then it's like. There are so many other people who need this message. Maybe now is just not her time. I can accept that. That agency thing, I tell ya. It's a killer. WHY CAN'T WE JUST TAKE IT AWAY? Not like the entire Plan of Happiness hinges on it or anything... so, yeah.

Let's talk about some gems from this week:

-I bought a headwrap because we always teach African ladies in headwraps. We went to the African fabric market and got it DONE. I like to wear it while I do casual things like eat applesauce. 

-We were stopping by a less-active, when I noticed a man like yelling in the parking lot and flailing his arms above his head in frustration and talking to no one in particular. Naturally, I gave him a solid head nod and smiled. He came over and then proceeded to vent about how charitable organizations ask too much of volunteers. When he was done and I was still smiling, he smiled too and pulled out the card for his CD. "Gimme Some Christmas!" Underneath, it said, "It's ORIGINAL, FRESH, and HOT!" I feel like this is a great time to mention that he was in his sixties and suuuuper flamboyant. Someone please. YouTube this guy.

-We had African food that looked like diarrhea and was the best thing I ever ingested. Spinach rice. Can't even talk about it. The cook was like, "What this look like to you?" I... can't answer, ma'am.  

And those are just a few of the daily funnies, but they lead into the other part of the week I mentioned - the learning. Richard G. Scott has said, "A good sense of humor helps revelation."

That's the gospel truth. This week was so inspired. There are no coincidences, and I have the firmest testimony that God can do this work. He can accomplish his purposes. He just loves us enough to allow us to be a part of it, so we can learn along the way.

On Tuesday, I was in charge of the area while Sister M was at Mission Leadership Counsel. It was pouring rain and like eight of the roads were under construction. Sister S from my MTC group came here and worked with me and we had so much fun, but we were so disoriented. Every single time we said a prayer, we got pointed in the right direction. And the more specific we were with our prayers, the more specific our answers. We prayed to understand turn-by-turn where we should go, and when we pulled over to look at the map, some construction workers came over and asked if we needed help. I showed them the address, hoping they could just point us in the general direction. Nope, he pulls out his GPS and is like, "Can I write it down for you turn-by-turn?" Um, hi.

When we got to the neighborhood where our next stop was, we decided to knock doors. After some rough rejections from some STAUNCH Lutherans, we decided to pray for inspiration. I felt like we should cross the street and knock this house that was all dark. Just really strongly. We knocked and this lady who was going through a divorce answered, and talked all about how her kids were sick, the divorce was so rough, etc. We both felt prompted at the same time to share a Proclamation to the Family. She loved it and said she actually had a friend who was Mormon. We asked, and it was the woman feeding us dinner later that night. When we got to the car, my sticky from Sister M
had said to follow up about the ward member's friend she'd mentioned before, and challenge her to give the friend a Proclamation to the Family. So... there's that. We went to dinner and shared the experience, and the ward member told us that the day before, the lady had called her and asked to go to lunch and talk about her religion, because she felt lost.

AND THEN WE KNOCK INTO HER WITHOUT KNOWING. And the best part about missionary work, is stuff like that happens all the time.

When I was on exchange with Cedar Lake this week, we went to stop by a former investigator's address, and she'd moved out. In her home was a perfectly prepared family who loved the message of the restoration, asked incredible questions, and made me laugh like nobody's business. If someone living there before had never investigated and rejected the gospel, they may never have found what THEY were looking for. I absolutely love the way that works.

I've also really enjoyed this week seeing our companionship grow. Just the knowledge that when you trust another person with your weaknesses, together you forge a strength. It's a simple truth, but it's so true, and it applies to all our friendships and relationships. Most of all, it applies to our Savior Jesus Christ. He knows us. He can help us. As soon as we share our struggles with him - whether they are regrets, sins, habits, a need we don't think we can fill, He can help us get to where we need to be. And the Lord will provide a means for it to happen, every. single. time.

I love this work and I love all of you. :) I hope you have the happiest week.

July 29 - The 70 Cent Miracle

This week. Whaaaat? I can't even handle it. Missionary work is the literal best thing. 

My exchange with Minnetonka made me SO happy. I can't even tell you how good it felt to know where I was going, to know how to contact and WHO to contact, to have prayed for a whole transfer about their needs... man. It was the biggest miracle, and it was peppered with little tender mercies in between. Sister H was my companion, and she was Sister Q's other trainee, so we worked together like PB and J! Straight-up magic. We had so much fun. Our first day, we taught eight times our restoration goal for the day. And honestly, numbers aren't important, but helping THAT many more people than we planned?! Nothing better. 

Also, our first appointment of the day was with K. :) She'd told him I was coming, and he was so excited. He kept saying how happy he was and kept thanking me for the baptism book I made him that the new sisters dropped by. (Did I email about that? I just had everyone at his baptism write their testimony and took a picture of them with him, wrote out a timeline of his conversion with different dates and pictures... and put it all together the morning of transfers as we were white-washed.) It just brought me incredible peace to see him doing well, and that these new sisters LOVE him. The new sister who just came from the MTC cried when she first met him. :) They are everything to him that I prayed for. They stop by whenever they're in the area and teach him at least once a week. He also drives himself to church every week and attends all activities, without a ride. Oh, it does my heart SO much good. He was seriously glowing. He said every day, he's happier. Also, he was wearing a white button up shirt, halfway unbuttoned. With jeans. Corporate casual. K, look at you GO. He invited me to a Chinese buffet. I had to decline because it was out of our area. Hahaha. He wanted to take us out on the TOWN! There's a special place in heaven for him. He's quite possibly my favorite 72-year-old Vietnamese man in the world. No. Definitely. He's so special. Before your mission, you never picture the way your world can revolve around these random and complete strangers. But man. They get all up in your heart like I can't describe.

Alsoooo, it was my first day biking because President called them mid-month and said he needed to take 100 miles off their budget. I got SUPER sunburned. Made me happy. It's been beautiful outside. The Africans back in our area like to tease us about how brown we're getting. And then they like to hold up their arm next to ours and shame us. And maaaaybe we tried biking to our dinner and realized we were on a no-bike highway. SORRY MOM. It ended up fine. So.

One of my favorite miracles this week was seemingly small, but probably something I will remember the rest of my life. We finished lunch early the first day in Minnetonka and I felt prompted to walk around the corner and take two minutes to print a certain talk. As I pulled it up, another talk came to mind - one I hadn't read for a year, nor that applied to my situation. Still, I followed the prompting and queued them both up to print. I had two dollars, and both were lengthy talks. I inserted the first dollar into the machine, and it accepted. When I went to put in the second, it had a rip and wouldn't work. I had no change on me, and the Spirit kept pressing on me the importance of printing that second talk. I was only supposed to have thirty cents returned, and I needed seventy. I closed my eyes briefly and prayed to understand how to accomplish the prompting, and right then, exactly seventy cents fell out of the machine. Sister H and I both had chills. We kept looking around like we were being punked. The change belonged to no one, and it had been and instant and specific answer to my prayer. I printed the second talk with the exact change I needed and had been given, and we were back on our way. 

The next day, in a lesson with another one of my favorite investigators, he brought up a concern that was addressed almost verbatim in the second talk. We had chills again. We both knew what to do, and handed him the talk. He read the first line, and was stilled. It was a small thing with huge consequences, and a testimony to me that the Lord brings to pass miracles in specific and inspired ways in our daily lives. He knows us, and beyond that, He knows how we can help others. He shows us every day, if we'll see, through little things, like 70 cent miracles. 

AND, there were about fifty million lemonade stands as we were out and about knocking doors. If you know me, and my chronic lemonadestanditus, you know what a tender mercy that was. Sister H looked at me and said, "You know, I think people forget that side of missionary work. And I think you never will. If Christ were walking this street, He'd take the thirty seconds to make their day. And so would you. Every time." There must've been some ONIONS in the lemonade, cause my eyes were all sorts of watering after that.

I got to see all my favorite families, and we contacted into a lady named I right at 8:50 (we have to be home by 9:00 if we're not teaching a lesson.) She was really tired, and Sister H was just going to give her a card and then all the sudden I was like, "Hey, we'd love to come in and share this message with you." What words are coming out of my mouth? You don't invite yourself in? But she let us in. Cue the most spiritual lesson of my mission. She was bawling from the first prayer and said she'd been praying that very night for help and knew this was it and that it was true. Sister H was SO inspired in that lesson. GUH. Minnetonka is full of magic. :)

There were so many little things SO intensely for those two days, but another moment that was a huge blessing was our visit with Sister S. She's older and less-active, and for some reason, my first week in Minnetonka and as a missionary, I felt prompted that I was just gonna be obsessed with her. That's cool as a missionary. Anyway. Just saw her name on the ward list and made it my goal. She came to church every week of that transfer but one, and we always saw her twice a week! Before that transfer, she hadn't been for five months. It was awesome progression. We went with the elders to give her a blessing before we had to exchange back, and it was powerful. She just cried, and it was so specific to her. I was just so happy to be in her home again. As we left, she came and grabbed both my hands and just looked at my crying and told me I was what brought her back to church, and that no matter what people told me for the next 18 months, to remember she loves me. That she would never forget me as long as she lived. Now, I know with all my heart, I didn't do anything. Her coming back to church had nothing to do with me and had everything to do with her good desires and open heart, and the Spirit. But it was exactly what I needed. 

Things in Shingle Creek are awesome as well. I love Africans. I love the tiny, daily opportunities to help someone and to increase their faith. I love being in peoples' homes and understanding how they live and how they know Him - or want to. I love hearing, "Ooooh, honey-girl, you coo'," at the end of teaching evaluations with less-actives. I love every little kid that yanks at my hands as we walk and shows me their braids and their beads for summer. I love my companion and all she is teaching me. She is incredible. And we keep finding families! I love teaching with little kids there. And seeing whole families make changes is so sweet. (Also, eight cuties at church this Sunday! Our investies. All chillin' in their hoodies and jeans. Hahaha. We'll talk dress-code sometime. Soooometime. I personally feel like the Lord was just happy they were there. I know I was!)

Other happy tidbits:
"And thank you that the girl elders could come. And that we're having my favorite pasta. Amen." - The most sincere prayer I've ever heard.

"I know, like a mission is preparing me to be a better mother and all that, but I just feel like it's preparing me to be a serial killer. Like I know how to FIND people and HUNT THEM DOWN." - My hilarious companion.

"Are we gonna pray?"
"Are we gonna cry?" - the best 4-year-old ever.

Annnnd, the Spanish ward in our stake photoshops Jesus into group photos. I'm not even kidding. The cultures and subcultures here make me so happy. 

Life is gooooood, and even when it's hard, I feel like the Lord is so much kinder to me than I deserve. :) I am happy.

The Lord is so good to reassure us, through the daily miracles and happenstances, and through other people. I have been really blessed this week and it humbles me like nobody's business. It makes me want to be the kind of person who can bless others like Sister H and Sister S - like the Lord - blessed me. I love this gospel, and I know it's true. Nothing makes me happier.

I love you, and I like you. 

Have a good one, eh?!

July 22 - You got a degree in BIBLE?

Hiiiii, there. 

This week has been awesome. I love being a missionary. The highlight was definitely in seeing a whole family be baptized and confirmed together. The J family, as I mentioned last week, are an African family who my companion has taught from the very beginning. I think it's so cool that she has gotten to see their entire journey. I got to come in for the fourth quarter, but they have still blessed me so much. They're from Liberia, and they have such a thirst for the gospel. They read the Book of Mormon together, and they have three little girls. (Just exactly like our family!)

To see them all dressed in white (even little G, who's not old enough yet) and beaming as they prepared to take this step... I know I'm pretty wordy, but I don't really have words. We don't realize when we grow up in this how much it can change us, if we let it. And even if we did grow up in the church, we have to make that same decision the J's made, to accept it, and to LIVE it. The blessings that are waiting for us, even as we just TRY to believe, or try to learn more are incredible. I can't describe the good spirit that is around them. Suffice it to say, I cried prrrretty much the whole baptism. And Sister J kept making comments to the side while her family got baptized, and they echoed in the tile stairway. "Mhmm! This right. Yep." Hahaha. I love them! They are so excited to go to the temple together and to know that it truly means they are together forever. And when they all got confirmed, and G was given a name and a blessing, you just KNEW the Lord was so happy. Ahhh. Man. Baptizing a family. Nothing like it. 

Happy things from this week:

1. We usually have someone teach about the Restoration at that awkward midpoint (where everyone's shuffling and trying to be reverent while the newly-baptized folks change out of their wet clothes) and the Medicine Lake Sisters were supposed to come and do that. Theeeen they called two minutes before the baptism started and said their investigator bailed and they weren't coming. So! We taught it. I was reaaaallly nervous, because the J's are so loved. That baptism was HUGE. And President was there. And no matter how many times a day I teach the Restoration, it's still horrifying in those circumstances. 

But we did it. And the Spirit was SO strong. We had to listen SO closely to each other and to the Spirit. I have no idea what we said or how we said it. Just that we were both crying at the end and so was everyone in the room. Not that tears are always an indicator of the Spirit. It was just really powerful. As we taught I just kept thinking, "I KNOW this is true. I KNOW this is true." And having seen the change in that little family, everyone there, member or nonmember, did too. I just really know that if we have faith, it's enough. Even if we didn't plan a lesson and even if faith is all we have, we can do what we are called on to do. Faith is enough.

2. I went on exchange with Medicine Lake and got to work with Sister S. She's hilarious and also we had more inside jokes in a day than I do with most people in a month. That was due partly to the fact that we got along so well.. and partly to the fact that Medicine Lake is a GOLD mine of people.

Example: ... I wanna say his name was S? At any rate, he came up while we were teaching this really awesome Native American Marine named M, and just kept wandering in and out of our discussion. You think I mean verbally, but I literally mean he was walking in between all of us all floaty-like, waving his arms and zoning out. He had an electric guitar with broken strings and he was super old and shirtless, just strumming along. He offered me two kinds of whisky and told me to check out his YouTube channel, Catpudding Kittylitter. "The language is profane, but the message is pure." Hahahah. GET OUT OF HERE. I loved him!

Example 2: We taught a family of little Native American kids whose grandma is a member, but inactive. Their mom isn't a member, but she's fine with them learning. It's the sweetest thing in the world. They remember EVERYTHING. We watched the restoration video with them and when it ended they were like, "WAY TOO SHORT! COME ON!" 

3. You don't appreciate Matisyahu until it's being blasted from an oldschool boombox at an African barbecue (barbecue is a liberal term. Smoking-grill-on-a-balcony-with-dancing-Africans-and-music is just cumbersome).

4. Sometimes Africans come here having been sponsored by a church, and so they're required to go "Bible College" to pay part of it back. So people are always surprised that we know things and haven't been. I can't tell you how many times we get asked, seriously, "You got a degree in BIBLE?!!" Hahaha. I love it.

5. We ran into a man named F two nights ago, on our way to stop by someone else. We ended up talking to him for a long time, and it turns out his brother is a missionary from our ward who is out. His sister joined later and is in Young Womens. He talked about changes he'd seen in their lives as they lived it, and he kept saying he knew it was true, but the timing just wasn't right yet. He wanted to change. We told him that this was how to do it. He was so embarrassed to be seen with a beer since we knew his family. (Obviously, we didn't care about that. He was straight-up amazing.)

I don't know how to explain it other than to say that as we talked to him, you could FEEL how much his siblings were praying for encounters like this to happen for him. It was really humbling knowing that the Lord trusted us with that. The prayers of that elder, somewhere, the prayers of his sweet little sister. Both wanting him to have the happiness they have. 

His sister spoke in church the next day, actually, and in her talk, she told us she prays for F every night. The Lord hears our prayers. He knows us where we are. And He is waiting to bless us. 

6. We were teaching our investigator B this week, this African grandma. She's the best. We were reading in Mosiah 18 about baptism, and after the part where she read, "What have ye against being baptized in his name," she stopped and said, "Shoot. Ain't nothin' wrong with that!" Then she laugh-cried. It caught her off-guard, but it was so good. She's a cutie. She knows it's true. And she has, of her own free will, before the missionaries ever met her, turned from a life of drugs and neglect, to being the person all her kids dump their kids on, the person who encourages her family to stay sober, and the person who prays whenever she's frustrated. I LOVE her. Also, she's the sassiest woman alive. 

7. Tonight, I go on a 48-hour exchange with Minnetonka. Back on my HOME TURF. Weird. Gotta check in, see if K's still going strong. All of that. I'm excited! :) 

This transfer is so different, but so good! I am so grateful for the good things that are happening, for all the good days. I am so thankful for the hard things, too. The Lord is giving me Mountains to Climb. (Please see video link below., you've done it again. My gash.) It's hard, and I'm really lucky.

I love you all! :) Have suuuuuch a good week. Please have a Slurpee (or ten) for me. MINNESOTA PLEASE, JUST SELL THEM. IT'S A HATE CRIME AGAINST SUMMER. (Not that I could have one anyway. Eh. Stupid commitments)

July 15 - Shingle Crick

Heeeey. I love you. 

SO! Leaving Minnetonka was the equivalent of putting my heart in a dryer. (I don't know, guys, it just came to me. My fingers are FLYIN' on this keyboard) I loved that ward and those people so much! Crying ward children. :/ And K was pretty heartbroken that we were both leaving. Also, sending my best friend on up to Duluth was rough as well.  She'll do great things, though. The Lord knows where I need to be. I trust that, I love that, and I'm happy. 

Shingle Creek is deeeelightful. It's a major refugee area. I can't remember if I talked about that when I was on exchanges here. I thought when I got called to Minnesota I'd be teaching straight old ladies in cat sweaters for eighteen months. When in reality, I haven't talked to a single white person besides my companion and a family in the ward ALL week. Everyone is from Africa, South America, or Asia. And they're all so cool. Stinkin' Minnesota. Where did you even come from?!

A typical street here has stores like Boss Kuts, with a sign that includes African braiding, adjacent to a fried chicken joint, a gas station, and a Family Dollar. Everyone we teach wears bright colors, like African cloth with beautiful headdresses. I am so in love with it. 

Hhhalso, I had the first LEGIT Chinese food I've had since December this week. House of Huiiiiiii. (There aren't really that many I's... it's just how I say it.) The lady there reminds me of my second-mom in Changyi, in the sense that she discounted my food after I slaughtered all the tones on a Mandarin phrase at her insistence and loved on us the rest of the time. (Out of pity, probs. I DON'T SPEAK CHINESE.) She kept hovering and told me she'd make mine extra-legit since I had lived in Shandong. Also, she kept watching us eat, grabbing my shoulders and saying, "You skeeny. You good body. That good." She wants me to marry an Asian so he can help me with my Chinese. I'm down. I need a translator when I return to China. Hahahahaha. So. People. House of Hui. Hit it up. To quote the Kenyan man a table over, "They sauces is off the CHAIN!"

What else? I got the most creatively rejected this week that I ever have. We went up and the guy just closed his eyes and froze like a statue. For like ten minutes. That's commitment. I wasn't even MAD. So good. Get it, sir. 

My companion, Sister M, is incredible. She's Sister Training Leader, so I'll be on exchanges like... every week, if not multiple times. But it'll be cool to see more of the mission! She's so hard-working and has such a passion and urgency for the people in this area. We are CONSTANTLY moving or making phone calls, and we don't even sit down while we eat lunch. She's working me like a dog, but I'm way happy. I love this area. She is a great missionary. I have so much to learn from her.

...Also, she's super organized and controlled, so things were kind of formal between the two of us until the second day, when I mumbled, "Man, it either smells like really good Mexican food or really bad B.O." We were hustling up some stairs and I said it more to myself than anyone... but she laughed SO hard and loosened up. She's a cutie. Best laugh errrrr.

Hmmmm. What else? OH. An African family they've been teaching here for four months is getting baptized this week! We've met with them twice and they have the most beautiful children. They're SO cute. African babies just run wild here, with their little braids and diapers and bare feet. Sometimes they have beats bumping and just dance around on their chubby legs and laugh. Can't even do it. Melts my flipping heart. All of their family except the youngest are being baptized on Thursday. Keep them in your prayers. :) They are aMAZing. 

Honestly, seeing all the kids here makes me homesick... for China. I know. Weird. They're just all so good and have no idea how great they are. I really miss those kids. There's not a day that's gone by since I've been home that I haven't thought of them and what they taught me. 

(But who knows. I could be thinking of China because we had to sign a waiver when we moved in that we wouldn't sue if we got sick from the tap water. :///// Also, it's grossly humid. Whoops.)

Hm. OH! I am not eating sweets or desserts this transfer... Wait for it. I'm not dieting, cause let's be real. I'd never commit to that. Nope. Buuut. I want to understand what that's like, for our investies with Word of Wisdom problems or other addictions. Cause I've never really had that in my life, where I wanted to do something that was so in my face all the time, and knew I shouldn't. The first day I was like, "Hey, this is the easiest!" Then it hit nine o'clock and I was SO HUNGRY. That's when I realized that 99.9 percent of my daily intake is cooookies. Hi. Anyway. I just really want to better understand and help them. It seems silly, but it's important to me. I can't ask anyone anything I'm not willing to do.

(So. Am I counting down the days to August 21 so I can vacuum whole sleeves of Oreos in my mouth? Maybe. But I'm trying! :/ A Shelby without daily dessert just feels like an identity crisis. Gash. At least they don't sell Slurpees here, or I'd be DONE for.)

Things are really good. I am happy to be here. It weirds me out that we're already two months into this thing. There's SO much I don't know. But I do love these people. I know my Savior lives. I know He helps us and that God knows us wherever we are and however we feel. And I love every moment in this work.

I love you all! You're in my prayers. 

Have the best week!!

With all my heart,
Sister Ballif