Monday, March 17, 2014

Peekture time

Sunshine and asphalt. Sights I had not seen since October. INCREDIBLE!

Sister Conference after zone training this week. We trained on personal study and had a wonderful discussion on the Atonement. If I look like I'm the tallest person in the mission, that's only because I AMMMMM. FEE FI FO FUMMMM BEING FIVE NINE IS SO MUCH FUN. 

Our teaching and finding led us through the woods to a hooorrrrrrse. HAYYYY.

Had a mildly successful Word of Wisdom lesson this week... :}

Mar 17: Top of the Mormon to ya!

Happy St. Patty's Day, people! Today is transfer calls and the verdict is: Still in Cottage Grove. Still with Sister B. Still having the best day of my life, every day. What the? I KNOW. :)

This week was as epic and climactic as the combined trek made in ALL THREE additions of Lord of the Rings. Think about that for a minute. 

Our story starts this week with a burrito betrayal. That's right. Food poisoning. Chipotle barbacoa, you done me wrong. I was up allllll night Tuesday. :/ Got maybe an hour of sleep. But no worries, because the next morning was ZONE TRAINING and we had a 20 minute training as well as an hour-long sisters' conference afterwards. Literally, have no idea what I said. All I can say is, guidance of the Spirit is real. Also, I have never seen the elders weirder. "Is food poisoning contagious...?" ...NO. Hahaha, GALL. I've never gotten so many handshakes out of concern in my life. We're talking multiple times in the conversation. THIS IS AN ALTERNATE REALITY. ARM PATTING IS UNACCEPTABLE WHEN CONCERNED. But I got a blessing and all was well. 

PLUS. We had the best training on asking inspired questions to discern and find needs. Oh man. If I typed it all out, it wouldn't even impress you, but we were being SPIRIT BOMBED up in there.

I loved Sisters' Conference! It is so cool to see them grow. We had each of them study a different talk on the Atonement, and then we had a wonderful discussion. It was so tender to see how the Spirit had directed us to choose a talk that could teach each of them what it was that they needed. I know that learning comes from Heavenly Father, and not at all from us. It was a blessing to see it! I love these sisters so, so much.

We got to do lots of service this week, in particular for our friend J, who has been meeting with the missionaries on and off for a YEAR. He's a flightly little guy, but we love him so much. He's so anti-norm. He's like the original hipster. I think I told you he's like Ron Swanson, and it's true. Anyway, this week, we worked in his junkyard with him. I USED A SLEDGEHAMMER TO DEMOLISH AN OLD ARCADE GAMING SYSTEM. Then I learned about screwdrivers and electrical wiring and took it apart. Unreal. But also, his love languages are definitely quality time and service, so it was so good. This information will be important later in the email. :) His heart just visibly softened over the course of those few hours. I love him so much! I love seeing the change in people when they really just feel loved. No alterior motives. Just Christlike love. Everybody's walls go down, because everybody's soul is yearning for that. 

Also, maybe we took some selfies with his German shephards while he grabbed us tools. I'm not even mad about it. 

We also found some Africans in Cottage Grove! The Lord does hear prayers. We knocked on the door of a potential I stopped in the library parking lot when I was backing Sister B a couple weeks ago, and SURPRISE. A jackpot of hilarious men from Camaroon. We didn't even get to teach them anything because they kept interrupting and laughing so hard and also quoting Bible verses. Oh, Africa. I have missed you. I was laughing so hard. The one kept coming in the back of the discussion and being like, "What's the address of your church?" Walks by again two minutes later. "I put it in my phone. It's 10 minutes away." Walks by again. "What time on Sunday?" But never stays still enough to be taught. Hahahaha. It was pleasant. Again. This is important later.

We got to visit with the P family this week! I don't know if I have talked about them yet, but they're the sweetest little African American family. Brother P is a baker, and is a single father of two teenagers, M and M. (M is 16 and I love her more than I know how to say.) We found them visiting a less-active. We felt like we should go knock upstairs in her complex, but didn't have much time, so we had to be really prayerful about picking the right door. And the Lord led us to the Ps. :) We got to share the Plan of Salvation with them this week, and they gobbled it right up. THIS IS IMPORTANT LATER.

We had a lesson with J, who was feeling super willing to meet after the service. J had a traumatic accident a couple years back and so as a result, has terrible short-term memory. That's been the biggest thing holding him back. That, and that HE WON'T PRAY. So anyways. We had a lesson with him on the Book of Mormon and faith, and he kept saying, "I try to read and I can't remember what I read. Why isn't God helping me?" And we were like... welll..... did you ASK him...? And he's like, "doesn't he just know?" So then I shared something I've learned a lot lately. That the Lord wants to counsel with us in ALL our doings. It's not selfless to only pray about the big things or to only pray about things you think He wants to hear. It's selfish. Because in reality, He knows everything in our hearts and minds every minute. And don't you think it hurts His great heart to see and feel these thoughts on our minds all the time, and then when we DO talk to Him, hear nothing about it? That has really hit me lately. And that really hit him. We promised if he'd ask, God would change his memory and help him remember what he reads. 

SO. We stopped by to have him look at our bike-rack (no big deal, all the missionary cars have them. By their bike racks, ye shall know them. Only ours got broken in the car-wash... so.... Eh.) and asked him how reading went. He said praying went great. That he talked to the Lord for so long. Then he told us all about Alma 32. You know. THAT HE REMEMBERED. :) God does answer prayers! I hope I never forget how good it felt to hear that, to feel the Savior's joy at J's humility in asking. As we sat on his porch and shelled peanuts together, talking gospel, I just thought, yep. I hope this never ends. 

We had a wonderful lesson with our investigator C this week about the Word of Wisdom. When we began teaching C a couple weeks ago, it was verrrrry apparent that she had Word of Wisdom issues. Her shelves were lined with alcoholic beverages and empty bottles, her counters with coffee, and she smelled like smoke. We were so stoked to finish the Plan of Salvation and invite her to receive these blessings! C is a single mom of a 17-year-old (whom we are working to get involved as well). After the death of her father especially, C suffers from depression and deep pain, which she self-medicates with addictive substances and false cheerfulness and ditzy-ness. 

I wish I could express what a tender blessing it has been to see her embrace the gospel and to see those facades fall away as she relies on her Heavenly Father for the joy and strength she needs. When we began the Word of Wisdom lesson, she told us she'd never give up coffee or anything else. However, she connected perfectly with the joint-teacher, and by the end, we were hefting a moving box of alcohol, cigarettes, and coffee to the car. The faith of this woman made me want to bawl. She's like King Lamoni.  She's giving away all her sins to KNOW Him. SHE GAVE UP EVERYTHING. She was radiant. Someone had given her the Gospel Principles manual, and she's been cross-referencing the Pearl of Great Price, the Old Testament, and the Book of Mormon...!! The ward is really reaching out to embrace her. We love her, the Lord loves her, and she is getting baptized in April! Oh man. She is seriously Mormon already.

P.S. Friday night, we have these little step-tracker things that help us track how frequent and far we are walking, because physical activity is linked to brain health. It also tells you how many calories you've burned a day. The research is being sent into Salt Lake right now, but every time we talk to an elder, we hear where they're at, and then we try to out-step them. Friday night, we were soooo behind on steps. So we came home and literally ran two miles of circles around the house. For like an hour. In our proselyting clothes. It was the weirdest, funniest thing ever. What's even better is that our member-mom joined us, and ran with us for that long. We were dying. Dipping around the coffee table. This cutie 50 year old is laughing and saying, "ooh, a new route!" as we run through all the rooms in the house. Maybe you had to be there. But. I like this place.

Okay. Now, Saturday. Biggest trial of our faith. We had a church tour? Fell through. No less-actives that we had prayerfully planned for were home. We'd feel the Spirit about somewhere, go there? Nothing. We drove all the way to Wisconsin. Nothing. But we stayed happy. We stayed positive. We kept praying with gratitude for the miracles that were coming. For the blessing it was to be guided, even if we didn't know at ALL why. We got to have a lesson with H again, and he's living the Word of Wisdom. (We snatched his coffee, though. I mean just in case...) He said the best closing prayer and prayed for a baptismal date. HELLO. Highlight of our long, wild-goose-chase-day. But still. Hard day.

COME SUNDAY, WE THREW THE RING INTO MORDOR AND RETURNED TO THE SHIRE METAPHORICALLY SPEAKING. Listen to this. We wake up to a text from C. It says, Good morning, see you at church! We go to try to wake up H. How many 21 year old kids want two random girls throwing shoes at them to get them to church? Not that many? Cool. Neither did H. It worked two weeks ago, but not that day. We did everything we could, but he wouldn't get out of bed. But we stayed positive, and called the Ps, because we'd said in their lesson that we would come by to show them the way to church. (We say that to everyone... very few people actually take us up on it.) No, so LISTEN. I call, and they're like, great, we're waiting outside. Proceed to follow us to church and be dressed perfectly, BLASTING GOSPEL BEATS. Is this real?

It is, and wait for this. I'm hanging up my coat and get a call from a weird number. It's the house-full of Africans. They say they're on their way (we haven't even TAUGHT THEM YET) and ask if they can sit anywhere. Um... Yeah, I guesssssss so. It was unreal. I had to pinch myself. Then, cutie Brother H in the ward scuttles over and tells me his daughter, who we teach once a week, is there. EVERYONE CALM DOWN, THERE ARE SEVEN INVESTIGATORS TO CHURCH. HOW DID THAT EVEN HAPPEN. It was miracle after miracle. The whole ward was just looking around and beaming at us. I wanted to run laps around the pews and high-five EVERYBODY!

So then that afternoon, we don't have much time, so we pray real hard and whooooop. Teach two people who happen to be home. First try. Then we go to the President's Fireside, because J promised to come again. But wait, he bails. We call the Africans. They're in St. Paul, but willing to meet us there. (WE STILL HAVEN'T TAUGHT THEM ANYTHING HOW IS THIS HAPPENING) We get to Bloomington and they call and say they'll be there in 15. They call back and say, "I said 50." We panic. We ask one of the assistants what we can do to be productive with the time while we send our members in to the devotional. They jokingly say, "Blitz the area?" Without a map or car. Cool. We grab our coats and run out. Totally led by the Spirit. Find some townhomes. First door we knock, lady invites us in, tells us her life's story. We share the restoration. The Africans call after the closing prayer. We sprint back to the mission home. They hear the final testimony. We teach them over the refreshments.


It was the most joyous, miracle-filled day ever. It felt not real. I know that it came from the Lord, and I know it came because we were faithful and positive through the hard days this week. I know that's true for all of us. During the hard times, we are storing up blessings. The Lord notes every faithful service and sacrifice. it's all real, it's all true. This is His work. I love being a part of it!

Goatin' Bowling. A photo series.

Hat hair and animal shirts has never looked soooooo good. Hahahah. BYE

A Texan, two sister missionaries, a South Korean, a Californian and cowboy walk into a bowling alley....

But. Really.

Mar 10: FAITH, everyone

IT'S SUMMER TIME, though. 45 degrees. I literally skipped every where we went today. And cried when we went outside. You think I am kidding, but I am not at ALL. Also, it's almost General Conference again. ALSO. Nope. Forgot what I was going to say. Anyway. I'm happy. :)

This week was faith BOOTCAMP! I loved it. Let's talk about trials, people. Trials of our faith, specifically, since that's what most trials boil down to. These trials are gifts from God. We agreed to them before this life. We knew there would be sickness, heartache, confusion, difficulty, loneliness, and yet, when the plan was presented, we shouted for joy at the opportunity to experience such tests. Faith is the first principle of the gospel, yes? But why? Why is it so important and foundational? 

Welp. Because faith changes things. We need faith in Christ to see changes, to be instruments of change, and to be changed ourselves. This week, we exchanged with the Red Wing sisters. They are INCREDIBLE. Sometimes, all the times, it is really humbling to think that we have any kind of stewardship over these sisters. They teach us so much. Our Red Wing sisters are BOSS missionaries. Red Wing has been super slow, to the point that President was going to shut it down last transfer, but the Spirit stopped him... :) I loved my time there! Sister Mis an incredible missionary, and working with her, I learned so much about following the Spirit and listening to our brothers and sisters. I know that seeking the Spirit and following it are essential, because every time we follow the promptings of the Spirit, we exercise faith in Jesus Christ. Every time we listen to others and elevate their vision, of Christ, their lives, themselves, we show faith in Christ's Atonement and ability to change us and others. SO. 

In their "dead area?" We found five new investigators in one night. :) AND a part-member family. It was so lovely. I was studying the war chapters before our interview, and it really struck me that Moroni is never like, "Well, this is a super tough battle..." or, "this is just a rough group of people." He has an awareness of the situations, but more than anything, a faith in Christ. Each situation, just like each area, requires a different strategy. Great things never happen the same way twice. We exercise faith in Christ when we allow our lives and circumstances to be different, but our faith and assurance only to increase. They did INCREDIBLE this week. Ahhh. Like a mama. FAITH, everyone.

This week, we were tested a lot! By Thursday, we had taught like 20% of our average lessons in our area. We were SO behind on goals. Things just weren't going through or happening. It was the weirdest. So then I thought about discouragement, and hurt. And how they are Satan's favorite playthings. Because they make us turn inward, rather than outward. They make us panic and fear, and those feelings are not from God. So, rather than listen to the panic that said, you're so behind on goals, you need to work your area, you need to think about your goals, I thought of our district leader's proselyting area. They've been really struggling to teach any lessons at all in their area, and I had never been to the area, but what I do know is that faith can change an area. And increased faith in a leader means increased faith in a district! Faith in a single individual is like a ripple in a much greater pond, its influence is immeasurable and continually spreading. 

And sometimes in the course of repeated tests and trials, which are meant to purify and build UP our faith, we destroy it ourselves by giving in to discouragement. And theeeen, we can become a little like a whirlpool. :/ It's cool. We've all been there a time or two. DROWNIN' in our woes. So I asked my companion if we could go work in the elder's area, like sneaky little blitz-elves. We prayed and we were both more than down. Spirit was bumpin'. That night, we found them three new people to teach, and got to share the restoration with wonderful people. The elders are remarkably good missionaries. You know what the difference was? We went to that area with faith rather than any worldly expectation. We believed the best in our brothers and sisters, and we saw the best. No one warned us about what the reception would be, how rough the area was, etc. We just sneaked right in and saw so many miracles. I know that has nothing to do with us, but everything to do with our Heavenly Father. There were still tests throughout the night, doors slammed, biting cold, whatever. But there were also prepared souls hungering for the light of the gospel. :) I'm grateful for the blessing it was to go work in that area, to help the elders with their goals first rather than our own. It was a beautiful opportunity to exercise our faith in Christ - that He would provide, that in our situation, He would do the same, and that we would be blessed accordingly. 

And we were! :) No need to panic. The week ended up fabulous. Day after day of miracles followed Thursday!

I know that God loves His children. I loved visiting with them this week and seeing the different levels of faith that people have. For instance, our investigator C. We could not convince her that she could go to the celestial kingdom. She didn't believe she'd be good enough. But we know that as her faith in Christ grows, her understanding of repentance and change will, too. And she will catch the vision. That we can make changes, and be changed, through Him. I know that's true. (HALSO, took her on a church tour and she cried the whole way through and the entire drive home. Brother C, one of our ward missionaries, just nodded after and said, "That's good..." She was at all three hours on Sundee. Yehoooo!) 

H, our RC's brother that we've been teaching? Tooootally exercising his faith in Christ and living the Word of Wisdom like a boss. Turning down coffee at work. FORGET ABOUT IT. :) He was so excited to tell us!

We got back in with MIRACLE M finally. She has been in the hospital with asthma stuff. The worrrrrrst. She had just gotten home from the hospital, and said to her daughter, "I wish someone would visit me. No one visits me. No one noticed I was gone." And then she prayed. And simultaneously, at a different place, where our appointment fell through, the thought popped into my head, "Let's go see if M is home from the hospital!" when our appointment fell through. And she was. The elders drove like wild men across town to come give her a blessing. She just cried after and testified that this is Christ's power and this is Christ's church. HOW DID WE FIND HER?!

We also were led by the Spirit to go find at an apartment complex, where NO one would answer. As we drove away, we saw a light on at a potential's house. His wife was sitting in the window. Ding, ding, ding. Rule of 3. :) We stopped by, and it turns out they had just put their daughter in a facility for depression and anxiety. They were heartbroken and praying right when we showed up. :) The Spirit was so strong as we talked about Christ and his ability to bear our burdens as we exercise faith in Him. When we went back for our return appointment, the wife said, "I will never doubt that you are from God. When you were here last time, I felt my faith grow. I felt the love and awareness of Christ." :)

C, our cutie single-mom who had a baptismal date-set, texted us asking to stop meeting. She knows this is true, but feels she can't give her all to it right now. We went and had a tender visit after church with her about the text and the feelings she was having. I felt so much gratitude for the blessing it is to know her. She is so courageous and strong. I have never met anyone so patient, forgiving, and good through adversity. She amazes me. I wish she could exercise the faith in Christ to see herself as He sees her. To know that her life can change. It takes so much faith in Christ to put Him and His ways FIRST, even when it seems logical to do otherwise. When you're a single mom at 25 and have FOUR kids and your abusive ex is getting out of jail, for instance. When we juggle our lives independently, or let the stresses of the world overwhelm us, with Christ as even second priority, we will at some point fail. We will feel overwhelmed. But when we can put our trust in Him first and foremost, He will carry ALL of it. "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it." I know that that's true. I know that will be true for C. And I know that she will realize someday. 

We are still meeting with her, but only once a week now. She cried as we said goodbye, and for the first time in a month of teaching, she called after us, "I love you." I am confident that God will continue to test and bless her so that she can rely on Him first. We have agency, but God will be persistent. He loves us too much. If we don't exercise our faith, if we're not tested, if we don't turn to Him, we live a small measure of the life and potential he offered us before this life - all through these different tests and trials and lives that we shouted for joy over. 

And something I really like thinking about as I talk to people, wherever they are at, is that they all have faith in Christ. Before this life, when God presented us with His plan, Christ had yet to perform the Atonement. And yet, every single person who is here on this earth - every single individual we pass on the street - exercised faith in Christ and His ability to redeem them, carry them, and change them, by coming HERE to this Earth. Everyone, every living, breathing soul, has faith in Christ. 

It is the best blessing of my life to be able to see people remember and rekindle that faith and that light of Christ. I wish I could share it with you. I drive home every night SO happy. It's just... joy. Better than happiness. Cause happiness is skin-deep. Joy is soul-deep. I love this time, and feel so blessed to know all these wonderful, wonderful people. To learn from their faith in Jesus Christ. 

I know that He lives. I know that He loves us. I know Heavenly Father has a plan for us, for our general time in mortality, and our lives individually. I know that Christ's Atonement, and faith in Him, better and bless our lives. I can't language the love I feel for them or from them. But I know it's real. I know this gospel is the TRUTH. Through and through. And I testify of the incomprehensible capacity of Christ's Atonement. I know that faith in Jesus Christ changes, strengthens, ennobles and enables us beyond our ability to comprehend. I know we all have faith in Christ. I know we can all exercise that a little more, a little better. I'm grateful for every day that we have on this earth to wake up and do that.

I love you all! :)


Hello, friends!

I feel like I have approximately five minutes. Mostly because I spent all the times emailing Britty. IT'S HER BIRTHDAY THOUGH! Still 19 and lookin' fresh to death. Congrats, cutie pants! :)

This week was suuuuch a good one. I am so in love with this ward and this area. And I have the best companion. I feel like all we do is laugh and eat Wheat Thins. And missionary work. Last week during weekly planning, she just looked up at me after I asked when we should set someone's date for, and she said, "I just wanna let you know... you have like the most beautiful lips of anyone I've ever seen." WHAT. She was so weirded out at herself after and so was I. We were dying. Sensors. Who needs 'em.

Things are still going so good in the area! Miracle M is in the hospital with a super bad cold, so keep her in your prayers. I love that woman. C is still progressing well. She is so overwhelmed. Single mom of four. We spent an hour and half after our lesson Sunday cleaning her house. Cause sometimes, people, it's hard to be spiritually fed when your temporal needs aren't being met.  Oh, I love her so much. Pray hard for March 29th. Stinking cigarettes. She's cut back a lot, but it just breaks my heart to see her so bound by something she hates so much. I know Christ can help her to let that go, and I can't wait. It seriously destroys her self-worth. I guess that's one of the most disturbing things I've seen as a missionary - how badly Satan wants to destroy our sense of worth, and how tricky He is about doing it. And I guess that's why I love sharing the gospel all day every day, no matter the reaction. Because I know that for someone who is ready, this is the joy they can lay hold on. Only through repentance and conversion can we gain true peace and true identity. Christ can help anyone get there. He wants EVERYONE to get there. Anything He lays His hands on, lives, and triumphs. I know that.

We went on exchanges with Stillwater sisters this week! Stillwater is the birthplace of Minnesota, and all the buildings are old and painted colorfully and it's right off the river and it's BEAUTIFUL. Best Main street ever. Go take a walk-see on Google Earth. Cutest. In Stillwater I had the best burger I've had since coming to Minnesnowta, enjoyed winds of like 60 mph in subzero weather while contacting on main, had the BEST blackberries I've ever consumed, and saw the most beautiful stars life has offered me. There are so many happy little testimonies of God's love, every minute if we will see them. Also, it was just forest and antiques, far as the eye could see. Prime.

As much as I felt the Savior's love for my Stillwater sisters, I also felt His sadness as I talked with them. They label themselves and doubt themselves and put themselves in these negative boxes. That's not from God. He doesn't want that. He wants His children, His daughters, converted to the gospel and to the Book of Mormon and to daily repentance because He knows that is what will bring joy. He doesn't ask us things to overwhelm us, but to overjoy us. It's absolutely true. And negative or discouraging labels are a rejection of the redeeming power of the Atonement of Christ. We are His divine children. 

Hm. Oh. On the exchange, we visited this sweet old couple. Taught the husband, who's holding tight to coffee. Afterward, the wife pulled me aside and said, "You have such a calm presence." I was like... can I get that in writing for my mom...? ;) She said, "There's just something that goes all out and around you, even when you smile. It's very calming. It's very comforting to be around you." I told her that is the Spirit, not me! Gash, she was cute. That was one of those little tender things that makes your mission, you know? I love when people feel His influence and His love! I feel selfish, because every time we go to serve someone, I probably learn more from them and am blessed more than they are... so. Thanks for having me? Everyone here is so great.

REAL QUICK. We had a HOT DISH SOCIAL in my ward. Cause most people aren't from Minnesota, and everyone is hilarious. We all dressed up in our best lumberjack or stereotypical Minnesota gear. One wall was I heart Minnesota because.... with butcher paper, and another was, Best MN quotes. Including, "30 degrees?! This is a heat wave." "Doncha know." "A couple-few." "Crick" (creek) "Rutes" (roots) "Oh ya suuuure" "Uff-dah" and more. The bishopric also had lumberjack olympics, during which they had to saw a log fastest with a handsaw, layer up fastest for a subzero day, and carve an ice sculpture... AND we had awards for the best hot dish. This place is literally my heaven. I CAN WEAR BEANIES WITH SKIRTS AND IT'S FINE. Unreal.

I love you all! Homework assignment. Read, "In the Strength of the Lord" this week. We are giving it to our seesters to help them better understand the enabling power of the Atonement. SO GOOD. :)

More Picturesssss

I don't know why every baptismal picture always turns out so terribly... but hey. It's the memories. :) 

P.s. If I look like I've gotten ugly on my mission, it's only because I have.

Hahaha. THANKS.

Feb 24: Joe the overall angel, and MIRACLE MAXINE

Let's begin this week with a tale. Actually, there are so many. But let's begin with Miracle M. Last week, we went finding. Huntin', if you will. We pulled up to an apartment complex where we both felt directed. We did the usual missionary creep-status thing, where we just kind of LOITER (but let's talk about how gross and weird that word is. Hey, hey, hey. Come onnn, now.) until someone shows up and gets in with their key. It sounds worse than it is. Really, I'm just doing the shifty-eyed stank face, "checking" "our" "teeexts" (picture me doing the Chris Farley quotation marks), and "looking over our planners" etc. and praying silently until someone comes a-walking. Trust me. It works FAST. So we get in the building, and with our entrance comes this wave of overwhelming you've-been-here-before-ness. I can't explain it, but I think Dad told me once that he felt that way walking somewhere on his mission... Either way. I knew I had dreamt about it pre-mission. It came back clear as day and slammed me. My heart started beating faster and I was feeling the Spirit SO strong. It kind of weirded me out. I told Sister B and we got soooo excited to go find out WHY I knew the apartment. We had a great night, found a few new investigators, but still no great explanation of the feeling, except that the night ended with a woman buzzing out on a scooter in front of us so fast and suddenly that I thought it was a SCOOTERING MURDERER and jumped ten feet, and then I was laughing and she was laughing, and then she scooted away before we could share the gospel... :/ So... whoops.

WELLL. Here's where we have a plot twist. We went back this Monday for a return appointment with some of our new investigators, L and Z. When we got there, there was a beautiful older, larger African-American woman named M. M radiates wisdom and love, and quietly listened as we talked with L and Z. She looked familiar to me, too. Over the course of the discussion, it came out that she had met with missionaries in the past. She mentioned having a Book of Mormon upstairs in her apartment, and having loved everything inside... EXCUSE me?! Never say that to two eager missionaries. Or, ALWAYS do. We were ON TOP OF THAT. She kept saying, "I could have talked to those missionaries for hours and hours before I moved." M was seventh-day adventist until she moved here in the eighties, at which point she couldn't find a branch of the church she had been a part of, which was very confusing for her... WORD, cutie pants. 

 As the lesson went on, she said, "Man. Every time I talk to the Mormons, I feel this warmth... and tingles..?" Our joint-teacher, Brother T, said, "Well, M, you know what that is, right?" She shook her head no. He said, "It's the Holy Spirit. It's how God is talking to you." She started crying and kept crying for the rest of the lesson. I can't describe how beautiful that was. I feel like the longer I'm on my mission, the less I know how to language it. Just the way we could tangibly see the Holy Ghost surround her in a knowing, loving embrace, as it whispered that truth. That she, M, heard from God. Often. Frequently. That He cared about her individually and wanted to direct her. As we shared Joseph Smith's story, she interrupted several times and said, "I know this is the one. I know this is what God has been trying to tell me. I know this is where I belong." She interrupted the baptismal invite at the end to say, "YES!" She will be baptized on March 22. :) :) :) !!!!!!!! HI. HELLO. We were ecstatic that night. We came home and I may or may not have done somersaults during nightly planning... you know how it is. We went back this week, and she looooves the Plan of Salvation. We also realized that she was the woman who nearly made me shart myself when she popped out on her scooter last week. She was RIGHT THERE. And we dropped the ball. And the Lord loves her and us enough, that He placed her IN a missionary discussion, to make sure she would get His message.

It was a tender and humbling experience, and a testimony to us that the Lord is able to do His work. What a blessing that He allows us this time and effort for the wonderful people like M, that He has been talking to all along. I think sometimes we forget that, when we think of missionary work, as members or as full-time missionaries. We look at the people around us and we feel like our invitations and testimonies will be abrupt. We forget about the Spirit guiding this work and guiding our lives, sometimes. This isn't new for these people. This is a call to that bright little light inside of them, this is a reminder of something already there. This is a pair of eye-glasses on someone already squinting and straining to see truly. The Lord doesn't need us as members or missionaries, to do everything. He simply needs us to be in the right place, listening to the right voice, doing the right thing. On vein of Elder Holland's talk, The First Great Commandment... If God wants miracles, i.e. prepared investigators, baptisms, changed hearts, personal earthquakes, He can make those happen. What He needs are disciples, people who love Him and love what He has commissioned us to do. He needs our faith. He needs our patience through trials of our faith. He needs that unfailing love. And then He will show forth that He really is over all. That He really is doing His work. We are just blessed by participating.

We were also able to have a wonderful lesson on baptism and the Holy Ghost with C, the single mom of four we've been working with. Ahhhh MAN. Good lessons. YES. She really connected with the older couple we brought with us, and as the brother gave her a priesthood blessing and promised her blessings, I was so touched. God loves that daughter. And every child of His with whom we speak. The Lord promised to bless her as she continues reading the Book of Mormon, that the elements will rearrange and her desire to smoke will be taken from her. Heavenly Father expressed His gratitude for her seeking Him, stating that His hand has been outstretched all her life. She set a date for March 29th! We are so excited for her!!!! MIRACLES.

Our baptism this weekend was beautiful. Sister C. was so ready! She radiated joy and peace, and couldn't stop smiling, even the literal second she came back up out of the water. It was tender to see both the love and urgency in her husbands eyes as she was confirmed on Sunday, and he sat out of the circle. We are very excited for his re-baptism this summer, and are so grateful for the good blessing it has been from Heavenly Father to see how intricately woven our lives are. How she found Christ, but not Christ's church, and Brother C. grew up in Christ's church, but couldn't find an understanding or relationship with Christ. And when they came together, they found both. They found their way home, together. It was a lot of twists and turns, but He got them there. God is a God of miracles. I know that He loves each of us. I know He is over all. I know that as we express faith, Christ can carry us as far as is needed. I know we are helpless without His Atonement. I love Him! I love telling everyone.

What else? It snowed 2 feet this week. I mean straight-up dumped. The family we live with is out of town, so now I am pleased to announce that I can successfully navigate a snow-blower. We were cooped inside for a day and a half while we were on exchanges. :/ Awkward. Sorry, Eagan sisters.... so... what did you learn from watching me update the area book and call every less-active and potential...? Good. I hope that was good for you. :/ Hahah BYE. But really, the worst part is when the snow plow comes by, because then you have like four feet deep by five feet wide snow drifts at the very bottom of your drive-way that CAN'T be snow-blowed. So shoveled it. While my companion dug out the car. I'm still sore. Minne-snow-ta. You little scamp. I love it here. :)

Finally... a funny story. We went on another impromptu road-trip to Wisconsin. PRESCOTT, Wisconsin to be exact. We were trying to find a member referral that we felt prompted to visit. That member referral turned into an hour and half of lost-ness, on country dirt roads, many of which HAD THE SAME NAME AS THE OTHERS. We prayed and prayed and prayed and took turn after turn after turn that ended up being NOT the referral. And it always ended with a pleasant exchange, a planted seed, and another twenty minutes back out on the road. I mean, it was just snow and occasional dairy farms, far as the eye could see. Everything stereotypical and hilarious that you can imagine. Then we finally found her, and she wasn't at all interested. And I guess what I learned from that is, that there is purpose in everything. :) Planting seeds is just as good. We don't have to know why always. We just have to obey, and we're happy. And we were!

AND ALSO THAT WE SHOULD LISTEN BETTER TO PROMPTINGS BECAUSE LISTEN TO THIS. We were flipping around on yet another wrong road, and the thought came to me, just get out and back her. Oh, yeah. Have I told you guys that? As missionaries, you stand behind the vehicle and back it up like you're one of Darth Vader's white guys in the Death Star hanger. And you do this, every time someone is in reverse. Even an inch or so. It's GREAT. Often, I like to throw in a little dancing to spice it up. Pretty good. Anyways. It was SOOOO cold and there was so much drifting snow that I thought, ehhh, better not. Sister Breedlove went to flip around and the SIDE OF THE ROAD GAVE OUT. No. Like, our tires were half buried and the front of our car rested on the snow. Awww, nah. So I turned to her and said, as she said at the same time, "I knew we should've backed." She'd had the prompting, too. :/

So THEN. I get out to push her back on the road, which I have done a couple times the past few weeks. I get outside the car in the snow, lean in to push, and all the sudden I drop two and a half feet. Hahahahaha. No. Imagine Sister Breedlove behind the wheel watching my little beanie-d head drop two and half feet below the car. Spoiler alert: Hidden irrigation ditch. Not the warmest. Not the easiest to get out of. Hahahaha. I literally grabbed the hood of the car and pulled myself back up out of it. It was up to my mid-thigh, people. We were laughing so hard we were crying. So we prayed, and decided we would walk up the road aways to the next house. We switched from our classy church boots to our snow boots and locked things up to head out, silently praying we could find help. We weren't two feet away from the car before a truck came down the road, with an angel driving. 

His name was J, and he'd looked out his window right as we turned and got stuck. (I didn't ask if he saw the rest, but for his sake, I kinda hope so. It was prrrretty quality.) And he'd just had a feeling to look. He came with his truck, shimmied under our car in his OVERALLS over his HOODIE and whistled, "whooooo-weeeee... looks like we gotta hitch-er upppp." We got his information for the elders. Way to be better than us and listen to promptings. He was an overall angel! Like. As in. An angel wearing over-alls and also... just overall, a pretty good guy. So.

Anyway. It's. REAL important to listen to promptings. :) Hahaha. Lesson learned. I hope you all have the best week! I love you!

Feb 17: I Got A FAT DAD

Happy week, everybody! But really, it was. Let's talk about the fact that Sister B and I have been deathly ill, all week, every day. Hi. Like if I was home from my mission, week-long bed-fest. Skipping school. All of that. On the mission? We were up at 6:15 every day and working until 9:00. No excuses. And we were SO blessed. The Lord took our efforts and moved them soooo far beyond what we can do. I'd get sick every week if it meant murrrracles like this.

Also. It's the most beautiful, serene blizzard outside. Good thing we live in the woods. Just call me little Red. 

HHhhhhhupdates/things I want you to know:

I have been a giggly mess all week. I don't know if it's the flu-cold-bubonic-PLAGUE we contracted, but everything everyone has said has been, so funny. We have an Elder from Roosevelt, Utah, who talks like 'Mater on Cars. Every time he talks, I say, "I'm so glad he's real." Direct quote from district meeting this week: "Many times, life isn't peaches n' cream, it's apricots n' skim milk." He has a heart of actual gold. Also, he played the guitar in one of our appointments this week with a song he wrote, "haulin' hay." It was quite literally beautiful, and all about the ministry of Jesus Christ. The Spirit was incredible. To quote how he wrote it when we are not allowed to have instruments in our apartments, "They'c'n take the gee-tar out of mah hands, but they cayan't get the tune out of mah heyead." He'll definitely be an apostle. 

SO. Sister C is being baptized, Saturday at 10 a.m. TEN A.M., SANTA'S COMIN' TO TOWN. But, really. Although I haven't witnessed the majority of her conversion process, I have seen remarkable growth in her in only a week. Personal prayer has continued to solidify these truths, moving her from home, to belief, to real surety. It's a beautiful thing to witness. She is so zen, it's insane. Soooo. Happy Saturday. See you in white, Sister C!

I mentioned C last week. She's our sweet single mom that came to church last week, by herself, with FOUR KIDS. By herself, though. WHAT. Anyway. I'm pretty solidly in love with her. She is GETTIN' baptized. She's this tiny little African American woman, looks like a top model, and has the most beautiful, bright smile. Also, she's always scratchin' her WEAVE and it moves like eight inches around her head and the first time, our joint-teacher was like, "WHAT." Hahaha. I am so well-versed in weaves and corn-rows and wigs and caps and du-rags and all of that, it's not even funny. When I get back, I'mma open a barber shop. I'll be so skilled people will definitely question how I spent these 18 months. It's fine. Anyway. I love her smile. It just lights up her face. Her second oldest, nicknamed Peanut, has behavioral problems and he is just a HOT HANDFUL OF WHAT. But I love him. All of her kids, really. Her daughter S is eight, and wants to be baptized as well. She draws us 7-17 pictures every time we come. They contain beautiful colors and happy words, such as, "I love going to the church!" "I love Jesus Christ!" and "You guys glow! You sparkle!" Hahaha. Oh my. 

And then there's her daughter, M. She's tiny, and she's the only one who has a different dad. Constance was telling us that, and M interrupts the story and says, in her tiny Thumbelina voice, "Yea'. I got a FAT DAD." And starts to pout-face and almost real-cry. Hahahaha. We asked her after one lesson, "Do you know you're a child of God?" "Yeah." "Well, how do you know?" She shrugs. "He tol' me." Stoooop it. Sweetest.

And then she has a baby J, who is 6 months. He is adorable. I just love seeing the changes she's making. She's keeping a study journal, of her OWN ACCORD, and writing down everything we teach. Even in lessons. She's juggling four crazy children, and still scribbling notes with the one hand. I think she is the most beautiful, capable person ever. I am so excited for her. I was so moved as she shared with us the times she's felt closest to Christ, and shared how seriously wild her life has been. Abuse, neglect, near-murder. We are so blessed, and we don't even realize it. We saw her three times this past week, and in the first lesson, after we taught the Word of Wisdom and repentance, she said, "I just don't know if I can believe that. If I can believe that I can change." We promised that she could, and took her cigarettes. THAT'S RIGHT. Happy Valentines, to us! I had them in my purse all afternoon and was juuuuust terrified that they'd fall out in lessons. :/ Hahahaha. I was pretty gleeful about the snatch. I'll include a picture. I kept sliding around our kitchen in my wool socks saying, "BLESSINGS." 

(Except, I made the mistake of committing with her for solidarity and now we can't eat sweets. WHOOPS.)

We came back, and she hasn't been able to quit yet, but she has cut back significantly. That is amazing, since she's been smoking since being about 8 or 9. She was a little discouraged, and so we asked her again, "Do you believe that you can change?" And she said, "No. I don't know if I can believe that." We asked, "How did you feel when you prayed?" She was quiet for a moment, just chewing on her lip and staring at her hands. Then she looked up, her eyes brighter. "Like I could do it. Like He could help me." 

And he CAN! I have such a testimony of the Savior's grace. We saw that time and time again this week, light-headed, near-throw-up, coughing up our lungs, etc. We gave all we could and He just worked alongside us until we couldn't any more, and then he stepped in and we went the whole way. I know that He will do that for her. I know that Christ is willing, eager, and able to do that for all of us. I testify that His grace is sufficient. That as all of us do our level best, as we show our gratitude by trying, and when we slip up, trying again, we show Him our love. He doesn't expect us to play the masterpiece of life perfectly the first time we sit down at the piano. Or the second. Or the third. Or the three-hundredth. He just expects us to keep, striving. To keep practicing. So she recommitted. She's getting a blessing Wednesday and we expect miracles! Also, our next step was Law of Chastity, and she just casually busts out in our lesson that her and her boyfriend broke up after our Word of Wisdom lesson. Nephi was sooo right in 1 Nephi 3:7. God doesn't give any commandments without first providing a way for us to obey them. I LOVE seeing people catch a little vision of what they can become through Christ. It's the best thing.

Also, we went on exchange to Wisconnnnsin this weekend to work with our sisters in Eau Claire. Roadtrip! Sister B and I were prrrrretty hilarious in all our head cold stupor for that hour and half, juuust driving in the snow. Hitting allll the bass parts with Vocal Point. :/ I've sounded like an elder on the phone allll week. Good old Wisconsin. We slept on the floor, and I had the best bleu cheese of my life. But also. I got to work with Sister B, and it felt like such a testimony of God's love and knowledge that I got to spend my halfway mark with the girl who made me feel safe even before we started it all. We laughed over pizza in some hole-in-the-wall restaurant (where a man kept grabbing his wife's bum and I literally thought they were going to have to scrape me off the ceiling. I jumped so hard. PHYSICAL CONTACT. They were a solid 10 feet away and I still wanted to Spiderman it up onto the CEILING to avoid seeing it. So, yeah. I'm still pretty normal, guys. Thanks.) and just reflected on how cluuuuueless we were, meeting up to go through the temple, going to each other's farewells, loving the MTC. It feels sooo long ago and also like yesterday. I could go on, but I'll spare you all the weird missionary time-warp-y rambles. Just. This time has been so precious. It continues to be even more so. And I know that God has given me every inch of it because He loves me. I'm grateful that my mission is different than Sister B's mission and vice versa. I'm grateful each of our lives are different, and catered to our needs. I'm so thankful for a Heavenly Father who prepares our hearts, opens our minds, asks for all of us, and through Christ, carries us further than we can imagine. I love the gospel, and I love this week.

P.s. Our investigator J is literally Ron Swanson and he came to President's fireside last night, which is about 40 minutes away, and the whole time he talked about how much he hates taxes and how he just wants to work in his private junkyard and hunt things and also told a wild story about pyrotechnics and shooting puppies to put them out of their misery and I was sooooo giggly the whole time. I FOUND HIM. J Swanson. We're going over on Thursday to work in his junkyard and groom his horses for service. I promise you he's made the statement, "I like fishing. It relaxes me. It's like yoga, but I still get to kill something" at least two to four times throughout his life, without EVER having seen Parks and Rec. Keep him and Constance in your prayers!

Wowwwww, I had way more miracles I wanted to say. We almost tripled our member presents this week! Go Cottage Grove ward! Yeeee-hoooo! Okay. My head is still foggy. Enjoy pictures of Eau Claire's main street and the blizzard outside my window at this very moment. :) I LOVE YOU! 

Feb 10: But Now I See

Hooooolllllly crap. I LEFT Shingle Creek. I left! It was like leaving on my mission again. The late-night packing. Different cries with every different friend. Crying after everyone went to bed. The usssghh. (How do you write the shortened version of usual? Eh.) Anyway. I could run through every gut-wrenching goodbye, or I could tell you that I actually journal-led this one. (Which would be a lie. But I WILL.) So, rather than tell you how it felt as Brother B enveloped my hand with both of his, and couldn't do anything but cry and say, "I really love you," or talk about the way my heart kind of felt like roadkill as the J family walked me out of the 5900 building at the Willows for the last time... I'll just share one thought, people.

It's really true what they say about your mission being holy ground. As we went to appointments Monday and Tuesday, and told people the news, I felt a reverence for these people and this place like I have never known. It was so, so sacred. And fare-welling all of these divinely-given people felt like walking through a dream. And to sum up what it means to tread holy ground, I'll tell you about my friend M. 

I went to say goodbye to Sister K-S, an older less-active woman from Sierra Leonne that we go and sing to every Sunday. I LOVE Sister K-S. Her home feels like a temple to me. M is her granddaughter. She was baptized a few years ago. She is beautiful and hilarious and has the best smile. She is also deaf, so I love so much every Sunday watching the interpreter share church with her through their hands. We walked in, and like always, M was beaming to see us. She signed that her grandma was asleep, and from sheer cry-marathon exhaustion, I just had to laugh a sad laugh. I finger-spelled that I was being transferred. The room was dead silent, and before I was even finished, the sound of M's rumbling and vague, "No. No, no, no," started to fill the room. She started signing in a frenzy and then we locked eyes. I smiled a silent, I love you, and she just started to cry. I cried, too. She pulled me in and hugged me for about fifteen minutes, while we both full-on sobbed. She kept pulling back to wipe the tears from my face and push my hair out of my eyes, all the while saying, "No, no, no." She kept holding up the sign for I love you. (Incidentally how Spiderman shoots his WEBZ. Coincidence? I think NAT.) 

She and I cried steadily as she reached behind the couch and pulled out a box. At first, I was crying so hard I had no idea what was happening. The next thing I knew, she was rifling through this box of beautiful, beautiful jewelry - glass and wood necklaces and bracelets. "I make," she told me through her tears. Then she held piece by piece up to my eyes, picking the ones that matched best, putting bracelet after bracelet over my hands and up my arms, necklace after necklace clanking around my neck. She signed beautiful, I love you, friends, and then pulled me in again. It was silence and sobs and an absolute symphony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Pure religion.

I wrote her a note and gave her a picture of us together, telling her we would forever be friends. We had an appointment with an investigator after, and couldn't stay longer. I felt for-real physical pain as I pulled out of her embrace, and I'm guessing any returned missionary can remember the feeling I'm trying pretty hopelessly to language. And as I walked down the snowy wheelchair ramp from their porch to our car, bawling, the last image I saw of my friend was her shadow on the porch, the silhouetted, wild African curls, and the sign language for I love you. And although I didn't see it with my eyes, I promise you the Savior stood beside her. I felt His love and presence so strongly as we wept together, out of pure, un-languagable mutual love and appreciation.

It was dead-silent and pitch dark as we drove to our next appointment, and the CD in our car was playing a violin arrangement of Amazing Grace. On my last night in Shingle Creek, the lyrics felt particularly poignant. 

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.
That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind, but now I see.

When we got to our next appointment, before I got out, I heard my voice say in wonder, "I've never even talked to her. I've never even talked to her, and we love each other so much." But the Spirit speaks every language, and love is the core of its message. So, again... It's really true what they say. Your mission becomes holy ground. And ghetto apartments and Walmarts have never felt more sacred.

COTTAGE GROOOOOOVE! I love it. My companion Sister B... we are in companionship LOVE. She's an inch taller than me and looks like Jennifer Lawrence and also a fox and also McCall Simmons. The literal BEST. I have loved all my companions, and Sister B is no different. I love her AND I like her. She is a remarkable missionary, and a Christlike friend. I feel like we have been companions for a loooong time. Comfort levels are at an all-time high. I feel the Spirit so strongly in every lesson, and I love her optimism, no-excuse hard-work, sense of humor, and just her JOY for this work. She is totally focused. We love talking about our investigators and sisters, and goals we can set to improve. We've set goals for the next two transfers for baptisms and specific individuals in the area, and we're excited to work and learn together. 

ALSO, we skip between every door because it's SO COLD and have maybe not-laughed for twenty minutes tops since being together. And as much as I love Shingle Creek and as sad as it is to not see the two baptisms we worked so hard for... I am happy. I am totally and really content. I love it here. My time there ended. And it was beautiful and it's okay. It was a heartbreaking and happy blessing from my loving Heavenly Father. What could be better? 

When Elder Holland came, he talked about how many missionaries don't see miracles because they don't go out where miracles happen. Well, tracting for hours in -10, miracles are happening. It amazes me that we can feel so much joy and happiness in such miserable circumstances. Door after door gets slammed. And you can't feel your lips or your face, and it all goes away the second someone listens. It's so, so gooooood. Our first day together, we had five new investigators, more than the weekly average here. So many good, prepared people. We set a date with someone they've been teaching for MONTHS. Went African BOLD with her. (but honestly, I'm relearning how to teach. I'm used to just CALLING people on their crap and being scolded and fed rice after. Culture... teach me.) She'll be baptized on the 22 this month. :) So, in two weeks. Her name is Sister C. I love her.

ALSO, our investigator C, a single African American mom, came to church with her four kids. She LOVED it. And, just as an added testimony of God's love and knowledge for us... when we left our lesson with her this week, I said to Sister B, "She NEEDS to watch Mountains to Climb." (Biggest spirit bomb of a Mormon message EVER.) In Relief Society Sunday? What should we watch, but MOUNTAINS TO CLIMB. She was bawling. She loved it so much. Hiiiiiiiiiii. Miracles. :) 

Final tender mercy of this week. Here she be. Saturday was the funeral of an investigator the elders taught for a few months. He and his sweetheart were baptized last month. He was dying of cancer, and he and his wife requested that the elder who baptized him speak at his funeral. And I just had this moment, while the Spirit was simmering and this elder was testifying of Plan of Salvation from the pulpit, where I just felt like, his mom would be so, so proud of him. Little 18-year-old boys coming out here and sounding like apostles from the pulpit, in rooms of hundreds of strangers. As this elder talked about this man, I couldn't help but feel so reminded of Grandpa Ballif. Just a good, handy, heartfelt old man, always willing to serve and do the Lord's work. The funeral was basically all non-members. The elders have really been struggling to find people to teach in their area, and the thought came to me, that this sweet old man, humble enough to accept the teachings of Jesus Christ from an 18-year-old kid, was helping the elders out again. 

So many things. Every word he said about the Plan of Salvation meant the world to a withered, white-haired widow in the front row. She said, she'd found home, just in time. Famiry. Friends. This gospel is real. It's true. And this mortal experience is painful and poignant and so heartbreakingly, stretchingly, good. I know God lives. I know He is our father. I know we are all brothers and sisters. I know He is over all. Every twist and turn. I know that as we are faithful, we learn the things we need to learn that will bring greatest joy. We are here, to have joy. I know that Christ is our Savior. I know that we always have a friend, always have a brother to lean on. And, to quote Elder C's funeral speech, "I know God is a God of miracles because He let me meet this family." 

I feel that way about every family I know. Every investigator we find. Every area I've had. Every companion I've been given. God is so, so good. I love this gospel. I testify that Heavenly Father is there. We may not always see it. I haven't always seen it. I've been blind. But now I see. That all will always be well. Always. (Alwayssss, and forever. SORRY I AM SO TACKY.)

I love you all!

My friend Beatrice

This is Beatrice. We go and sing with her every Sunday. I gave her my chapstick a while ago cause her lips looked dry, and then she just clutched it for the past two weeks. Nivea. It gets everybody.

She is my heart. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Holiday Photos

Hanging out with grocery store Santa. He/she was a little handsy...

Christmas sweaters with Sister T

Sister Ballif's friend from Sierra Leone

In Sister Ballif's words: "A little somethin' somethin' we found at the Gifts of the Heart Exchange this week. I've served in this ward long enough that someone set it aside for me rather than put it out for the people in need.... :/ Hahahaha. WHOAWHOAWHOA."

February 3: Cottage GROW-ve

Welp, it happened. I am leaving Shingle Creek. Transfer CAAAAAAAaaaaAAAaaaaaAAALLLS! Never thought I'd see the day.

So I'm off to Cottage Grove! My zone leader used to serve there, so I just got off the phone with him about it. It sounds wonderful! It's the best established ward in the mission. They have three sets of missionaries there. My new companion will be Sister B, and we'll be sister training leader companions over four sets of sisters in the Oakdale Zone. It's gonna be magical. Word on the street is, it's an adorable city. And although it squeezes my stomach and breaks my heart to leave all my beloved Africans, favorite less-actives, cutie-pants ward members, etc.... I know this is where I need to be. I feel peace and excitement about it. The Lord is so good to bless me with this change and this chance to grow. And while the good-byes will be sad, it will be miserable joy. The best kind of hurt. Because these are people I sacrificed for, people I got to feel a hint of Christ's love for. What a privilege. They have blessed me so much.

Annnnd, I don't know Sister B, but word on the street is, she believes in making forts and watching church videos after nightly planning on bad days. I am more than down. Off we go. :) A new adventure! Also, I can't say enough, how hard I have prayed for this for Sister T. I am so thankful that the Lord is blessing her with this growing opportunity. It's going to be the absolute best thing for her. :)

This week. Random things first:

-Last Monday we went and scampered around the Skyways for P-day to stay out of the cold. I loved seeing Minneapolis, city-walking and shopping. It was so good to spend time with the Hermanas. They're my best friends.  Hermana P and I have been apartment companions for eight months of our missisons! That's significant stuff. We got new clothes and post-cards and fro-yo and you know what? It was fun, but as soon as we got to go back to our area and see our investigator, I felt so much happier. Like. Nooo comparison. There is NOTHING that compares to how good it feels to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. F'real. There is nowhere else I'd rather be, nothing else I'd rather be doing.

-We found a little Thai place that looked so wrong, but tasted so right. I want to preface this story with the fact that my coat smells like an African kitchen at all times. (Which is maybe not the smell I'd wish on someone going to serve in a city of white people. But. I digress.) So we have some great Thai food, Sister T is in a whole new world, and we check out. We contact our waiter and talk a little about the gospel. I'm thinking, wow. He is a smiley guy over there! NO. We get outside, turns out, I had spilled curry ALLLLL down my coat. I kept looking down in shame and finding new dribbles. NO WONDER HE WAS SO PLEASANT. I made a stank face and said to Sister T, "I'm like Joseph." She said, "What?" I said, "Yes sir, Joseph and the amazing techniiiii-cultured DREAM COAT. I smell terrrrrible." She giggled so hard. I will miss her so much. I feel like my little bird is spreading her wings. There's no one I'd rather pass this sacred place off to.

-We go and read with Sister A, and she always gives us granola bars and General Authority quotes. Cutest. She's pretty elderly, so she loses things in her house a lot, so I decided to heart-attack her while we went over to read this week... and the only place I could think of that I KNEW she'd see it was the bathroom...? Soooo. I put them on the wall all around her TP dispenser. There's a sure-fire source of attention, AM I RIGHT? Hannnnyways. She came up in Gospel Principles, stood at the front of the class, and said, "Thanks for that note. That heart in my toilet. It was... it was my Valentine, wasn't it? That heart in my toilet?" Yes. Yes, it was.

-MOM! I have finally mastered your chocolate chip cookie recipe. I make a batch - I kid you not - every other day, and we deliver them by the masses. Crowd favorite. Makes me feel close to you. :)

It was a beautiful week to finish my time in Shingle Creek. PITCH-perfect. I can't tell you how good it has been serving here, learning persistence and patience and falling in love with these wonderful, spiritual people, over and over again. I have also loved seeing hearts soften in the ward. I have loved seeing time and again that this is the Lord's work, and that He loves us enough to let us participate in our small, human way. It has been a privilege working with these people and these ward members. I have spent allll morning just thanking the Lord with all my heart for blessing me with the past 7 or so months here. 

I have loved every inch of it. 

We had three wonderful lessons with N this week! N is a cutie Liberian investigator we picked up from the elders. They've been working with her family since September. The family has kind of fallen off the map, and there's a lot of unhealthy communication. The mom especially has some serious issues, which makes things really hard for everyone else. The elders went over to teach with President a few weeks ago, and N, their 16 year old, had run away from home. The mom had gotten police involved and was flipping out. So President told the elders to call us and send us in. WHAT? Ask me if I was horrified. So we go. And somehow, praying our guts out and relying totally on Heavenly Father, all these communication exercises and conflict resolution techniques are brought to my remembrance. Literally, no idea where they came from. It's so humbling. I had no idea what we did or said, but by the time we left, this place of yelling and betrayal and suspicion had turned into a place of prayer and study. It's incredible what the Lord can do. Afterward, N and her family asked that we teach them instead of the elders. (Ask me how awkward I felt. Prrrrrretty awkward.)

N is the most progressing in the family, and I loved her lessons this week. The first was with a sister in the ward who served a mission in Arizona. She's the most BOSS joint-teacher. We talked about fears she had about praying to know, talked about revelation and different ways we feel the Holy Ghost. (She's only been to African churches, where people "catch the Holy Spirit" and jump around screaming and falling to the floor. Don't even get me started.)  We loved seeing it click for her, that not only was it something we shouldn't fear, but that it's something she already feels. Realizing that she wasn't broken or disconnected, but that she can feel and recognize the Spirit, changed everything for her.

Our second lesson was on baptism and repentance, with one of the YW testifying about the blessings of the baptismal covenant. Aftewards, we gave her her study journal and asked what the Spirit had taught her. She said, "That I need to get baptized, REAAAL quick." We all laughed and I wanted to cry. A miracle! Someone who is ready after laboring with all I could for the last 5 or so months and seeing NOTHING. The Lord just threw her in our path. This truly is His work.

We left her with two dates to pray about. And I wish I could language the sweetness of sliding into the church bench next to her on Sunday and having her lean over, all smiles, pushing back a handful of her long blonde and black cornrows, and whisper, "I got my answer. It's going to be February 26th. I have permission, and I asked Brother E to baptize me." 

Our new investigator L continues to progress well, although she couldn't meet or make it to church this week because of double shifts, mediation, and clinicals. She is reading in the Book of Mormon and is in frequent contact with her fellowshippers in the ward. Also, we went classic 12-year-old and heart-attacked her door to brighten her week. :) Sister T and Sister A will continue helping her work towards March 15. What a blessing it has been to me to see two choice souls with courage and love of the Lord press forward despite adversity. I would do every exhausting, disappointing, heart-wrenching day the past few months all over again to feel the amount of Christlike joy and love I felt hearing N's answer this week, or taping flimsy foam hearts to Sister L's door. I'm so happy Sister T gets to be here to see these baptisms. :)

I feel like I can best sum up my feelings today by plagiarizing Alma. You know how it is.

 9 I know that which the Lord hath commanded me, and I glory in it. I do not glory of myself, but I glory in that which the Lord hath commanded me; yea, and this is my glory, that perhaps I may be an instrument in the hands of God to bring some soul to repentance; and this is my joy.

 10 And behold, when I see many of my brethren truly penitent, and coming to the Lord their God, then is my soul filled with joy; then do I remember what the Lord has done for me, yea, even that he hath heard my prayer; yea, then do I remember his merciful arm which he extended towards me.

 11 Yea, and I also remember the captivity of my fathers; for I surely do know that the Lord did deliver them out of bondage, and by this did establish his church; yea, the Lord God, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, did deliver them out of bondage.

 12 Yea, I have always remembered the captivity of my fathers; and that same God who delivered them out of the hands of the Egyptians did deliver them out of bondage.

 13 Yea, and that same God did establish his church among them; yea, and that same God hath called me by a holy calling, to preach the word unto this people, and hath given me much success, in the which my joy is full.

I know what God has asked of me, and I love it. The same God of Moses and Noah, the same God who appeared to Joseph Smith has called me here. He has blessed me with the past five transfers in Shingle Creek. And now, He is calling me to Cottage Grove. To Cottage :/ Sorry I'm tacky.

I know I'm where I need to be. I know that every time I see someone come unto Christ and feel His love, I am reminded and re-reminded of the immensity of what Christ has done for me. So, off to Cottage Grove. That I may be in an instrument in the hands of God to bring some soul to repentance. 

This, is my joy.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

January 27: Errand of Angels

This week. HERRROOOO! Miracles. Fattest tender mercies of my entire mission, right here, right now. (I feel like I want to start this post by mentioning that it's negative FORTY OUTSIDE. Hahahahah BYE. Dead.) But anyway. Miracles. I'll try to budget my time WISELY this time so it's not long-winded and suddenly GAME OVER like every other email I've ever sent. Sorry about it. Thanks. Thanks for playing. I should probably pick two.

Every Tuesday, we go and we work at CEAP - Community Emergency Assistance Program. It's wonderful. I really love teaching people the gospel, but sometimes it's also just as satisfying to see people's temporal needs met as well. That takes about four hours every Tuesday, sorting food cans, packing food orders and delivering them to cuties in the waiting room (Oh... how'd that card fall in your Wheaties... Oh. It has our number...? I can't... wait. Oh? I guess?) and so on. (They let us label the boxes for the cans when it's our shift. I always write captions like, "Tomato THINGS" and "Pasta Stuffs" and "Bea...ns...?") It's a great time. So, we are allotted about five service hours a week as missionaries, ten if our area is slower. Welp, Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center is not what I would call slow. Rather, there are people everywhere, every day, all the time. It's the best. (I feel like we can't go anywhere without teaching or contacting someone! Sometimes I tell Sister T that I picture us in overalls, just... throwing seeds out in the snow. We are sowin', WE, are sowin'. Word.) So even five hours a week can feel like a stretch, because we need every minute we have here.

Well, in our ward, our ward mission leader's wife was putting on Gifts of the Heart Exchange. It's an annual event that she's done since college where she collects donations upon donations of clothing (sans underwear. Ain't nobody want nobody else's DRAW'S.) and household goods. Then, all sisters on her committee or members of the ward who sign up come and sort them into tables and racks by size and gender. It's all set up in the church gym, and Sister J puts flyers out in shelters, immigrant-populous apartment complexes (so, the whole area). She has pastors of other faiths advertise it over the pulpit, and people from all walks of life come by. Anyone can come take anything they need, totally for free.

Turns out, we prayed and felt prompted to sign up for both the set up and the actual event. It felt like a lot of time, but we knew it was also a way to serve, and if our goals weren't met this week and our number of lessons was crap, at least we were where we needed to be.

And then we go. And we start with a prayer and read a little about service as a group. And then we're setting up tables and sorting through donations and rubbing shoulders with the wonderful women in our ward, and this feeling of joy just bubbles up in my chest. Just total joy to be serving side by side with our sisters. And we're sorting through donations and I'm picturing all the people who will be blessed. Serious, straight-up happiness rolling through us as a companionship being there.

Next day? 200ish people file through. Kids hungrily grab at Dora the Explorer coats and moms get misty eyed holding up pairs of jeans. It was the most intimate, beautiful, tender thing to observe. I loved hearing each of their stories and seeing each of their easy joy and sincere gratitude. There was so much humility and just total faith and charity up in there. Turns out that combo is a lot like onions, because my eyes were a-mistin' like it was my JOB. 

So the event ends, and all the leftovers are boxed up haphazardly to go to Goodwill or Africa. And that's that.

Fast forward to Sunday. We get a text from the Hermanas that we live with (who are our very best friends) and they tell us that one of their investigators, who has five children under the age of 12, had a house fire. Burned to the ground. Lost everything. They ask us about sizes and ask us to look. We ask Sister J, and I can tell she is exhausted to death of sorting and packaging and repackaging. She tells us the boxes are getting hauled off right after church, and that nothing is sorted, so we'd have to dig through fifty or so boxes and bags to even look, and it's probably not going to happen... Which is totally legit. Fast forward five minutes. We were sitting behind her in Relief Society, and you could visibly see her listening to the Spirit and discerning direction. All the sudden she passes back her planner with a little note. "What size and what ages? I'll see what I can do." We check the text, write back, and she's gone without a word. We look at each other, make sure our investigators are with their fellowshipper friends, and peace out right after her. We find her in the gym, on the stage, shoes kicked off, just rifling through the boxes with the remaining half hour.

We take off our boots and start digging as well. About four more sisters from the Relief Society walk by, and ask what we're doing. Sister J relates the story of this investigator family, and each sister, without a word or further comment, slips off their high heels or boots, checks the sizes, and digs in as well. And I was just overwhelmed by it. It felt like pioneer times, when people help push each others handcarts. Just by the sheer goodness of all these sisters, who were no doubt sorted and serviced out, we ended up with about twenty bags of clothing for this family with nothing. Miraculously, pretty much all of it left was in the specific sizes and ages and genders that we needed. All of us wanted to cry. I was amazed at what we accomplished and the good things we found. The Spirit of love and urgency for this family, who were strangers, was exquisite

And what are the odds of that, you know? Of that clothing exchange, that weekend, when they had that need. Of those sizes, being the only ones left. I'll go ahead and tell you, the odds are impossible. Because they aren't odds at all. They are evidences of a loving Heavenly Father, who has a plan of personal relief and healing for each of His children. Not one of us is lost to Him. Not any trial we have is insignificant. 

Our eight o'clock fell through, and we were able to go with the hermanas to deliver the clothing to the family. The drive over, most of our vision was obscured by blowing, drifting snow at 40-45 mph winds. Wind chill was in -20s. The hermanas were packed into our backseat by bag after bag of donation, frozen and totally cramped. And none of us could've been happier. 

Until we actually got there.

These beautiful Hispanic kids were hopping up and down, and holding dress after dress up, just giggling. They stomped around in their new shoes and teased each other as they couldn't zip jackets fast enough. And watching them absolutely devour that show of mercy from the Lord testified to me that God knows us and loves us. His plan and His love are so perfect. So individualized. There is nothing we can do to lose that love and that help. Even when we make mistakes. Especially when we make mistakes. It is there for us. It does not change. It does not end. 

We met a woman this week who I know without a doubt I was supposed to find. She's part of why I was sent to Minnesota and why I have stayed in this area. I know it. After the initial contact, we had Relief Society sisters, each of whom had a perfect experience for her concern and pain in the lessons. AHhhh. Like how does this even work out?! But it does. Lakisha is going through the process of a divorce after ten years of marriage. Her husband shows no interest in her or the kids, and comes home when he has no place else to stay. We knocked on her door by total inspiration. We had passed it many times. And we visibly SAW the Spirit prompt her to let us in. Usually she's very private and protective. But Heavenly Father told her she could trust us.

 She has two young children and is going to school to become a midwife, while also working as a CNA. She was unable to come to church because her replacement didn't come in, and her babysitter brought her kids to the hospital while she was still on shift. Right?! I wanted to go help. Gall. She texted us and was heartbroken about missing church! But so excited for the lesson Sunday evening. Seeing her embrace the gospel so quickly and seeing how very much she needs the Atonement has been a huge blessing to me. She is hungry for the truths in the Book of Mormon. She GETS that it is how God is trying to heal her. We left her with Mosiah 24 and listening to her apply it to her pains and testify that the Lord could make her burdens lighter was incredible. She is working towards baptism March 1. She is incredibly humble and good. All her friends and family are in Chicago and she feels so alone. The Relief Society sisters have just circled around her already. There is so much good going on in this ward!!! I am SO excited about teaching her! Being able to help someone come closer to Christ, in the midst of a divorce, is a huge testimony and gift to me that Heavenly Father knows the pain of those we love and how badly we want to help them. I love all of our investigators, but I can see His hand in helping me better understand and empathize with Sister L. I can feel her pain, and I can see the Lord help her. I love that. I LOVE how the Lord works. It is a privilege to be a part of His great work. We are so blessed!

With all these extra things, we somehow increased our average lessons per week by 50 percent and had four cuties to church. The Lord has been so good to us! I testify that this is His work. I love it. I can't believe this is the last week with Sister T. I love her! 

And I love you GUYS. Happy week, eh?! Stay warm.

PSYCH YOU'RE IN UTAH. Gall. Love you!!

January 13: We Did Not Stand Alone

I'm just going to start this email with the pre-cursor that I have been a tenderhearted, cry-baby mess this week. Cool? Cool. But literally, soooo cool. So cold. No worries, I didn't cry on the inside days. We just got weeeeeird. We were inside due to dangerous cold from SATURDAY NIGHT TO TUESDAY AT NOON. Oh HECK no! Hahaha. Thank goodness we live with the hermanas, so it was more of a party... It was all area books, deep doctrine discussions, and phone calls as far as the eye could see. Also, we ate an entire batch of no-bakes and learned about SCIENCE. For INstance. If you blow bubbles in -30, they freeze immediately, and clank together like little golf balls in the air. Next science experiment. If you boil a large VAT of water, and throw it in the air in -30, it turns to powder upon impact. Yes, sir. These are the life lessons I'm learnin'.

But really, this week was wonderful. On Sunday, since we live close, we got invited with a few other missionaries to have a sacrament service in the mission home. (SINCE CHURCH WAS CANCELLED.) It was so intimate and special. Each missionary shared their testimony and the Spirit was so strong. I am so thankful that I was able to have had that moment, with my fellow missionaries and with my Savior. My GASH. My heart is so full of joy and gratitude today. For the past 3 months of not-quite baptisms, for the weekend of wild cold, for the week of warmer temps, for my companion, and for the African people. 

I found this video today, and I just cried. This is my area. These are my people. This is their story:

The part I want to talk about today is the part where she holds up the torn blanket, and says, "And so, I've decided to keep it. As a remembrance. So whenever I have important visitors, this is what I will show to them. That I am not finished. I am still alive.

That faith, that belief, that hope, was within us." 

The past three months of my mission have been incredibly difficult. I'll be straight-up. I've improved as a missionary and as a person (you hope, right...? Eh.), and worked harder than I ever have in my life - harder than I was when we were baptizing once a month. And yet, things still fall through. Wonderful new investigators turn into eternal stop-bys and date-sets turn into hostile conversations and dropped investigators. And it's heartbreaking. Because whether you teach someone once or one hundred times, you feel the love Christ has for them. And you want this for them more than absolutely anything else. And you have this urgency, that the words you are saying, however humble and simple, are backed by eternal truths - by an all-knowing God who loves this individual child so much. You know that it's the most important opportunity they will ever have placed in front of them, and when that doesn't so much as register for them or go anywhere, it is heart-breaking. Every single time.

This week, as I slide waaaaay too close to having used half of this time already, I've been reflecting on the parallels between my earthly mission and my 18-month mission. In almost every way, it is the same. We were shown this opportunity to learn and to grow, and we were so excited at the prospect of being able to grow closer to God and closer to the people He needs us to be. We knew it would be miserable at times and joyful at times, but we had absolutely no clue just how gut-wrenchingly miserable and how soul-alteringly joyful it would be. And then we get here. And there are challenges and tasks so much bigger than us, lots of learning and growing to do. And the only way we can accomplish them, the only way to stay hopeful and full of light, is by calling on the name of Christ. By using His Atonement. You work your absolute hardest, do all you can to be faithful and obedient, and when your mission is completed, you "die." And based on how you used that opportunity, you are different. But so much better. 

Our cute investie J, who was supposed to get baptized on the 25th, had a whole landslide of doubts and discouragement. (Which is pretty typical before a baptism, but stay with me here.) Her main fellowshipper is my friend A. Another one of my African mamas. She's from Zambia and is the sweetest, best person in the world. Honestly. (She'd never heard of hand-warmers and doesn't own a real coat or boots in this weather. Therefore, some of our dinner hour this week was spent sliding handwarmer after toewarmer after handwarmer under her door. ALWAYS CREEPIN. Buuuuut. She knew it was us. Hahaha. She thinks we're hilarious.)  Her faith is incredible. Her family is half in Zambia, half here - and the half here have mostly distanced themselves since she joined the church. And yet there she is. Every activity. Every Sunday. In our lesson at her home, when J said she couldn't be baptized because she didn't have a job anymore, Sister K threw down with her. (Old African lady throwdowns are the literal best thing. Better than anything on TV.) 

She testified about not having a job when she joined two years ago, and staying faithful and still not having a job now. She told J it was a flimsy excuse and quoted the Savior. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you." She told J she was chasing the spirit away by focusing on spiritual or temporal problems. She said, "If you go tomorrow, does it matter to God if you had a job or if you were cleansed and promised something to Him?" ... Hi. I love her. 

Well, J shared more concerns, and every one of us - the Relief Society President, A, Sister T, etc, walked away saddened. (We're still working with her, but the date is pushed back again.) The next day, we get a call. It's A. She is asking for J's number because she's out and about looking for jobs for J. Let me reiterate, A is jobless herself, and they're both seeking the same nursing position. But she called and said, "I found some places that are looking for help and other places that could help her with her resume. I don't think it's a good reason, but if it is holding her back, I want to help. I want to call her today, so we can get to be good friends. So I can help." 

Naaaaturally, I started crying. African people, guys. I literally can't put them into words. I said, "You are wonderful." She said, in her little Zambian accent, "'Eeeeeey, Sista Balleh, you are wonderful TOO." 

And then after that show of true discipleship, of true conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ, literally no discouragement mattered. All we could see were miracles. And I felt like my African friends, who start every prayer and every testimony and every Sunday School comment with, "I just want to be tankful to GOD." 

A member had the courage to refer her friend and their whole family and we met with them twice this week.

An older member who had his records removed about 12 years ago has been reading the Book of Mormon with us, and keeping his outside reading commitments. We started through the discussions with him, and we had an incredible lesson last night about the Atonement and the restoration of the gospel. We talked about how his cancer had humbled him and brought his heart back to God. 

We've been promised that as we increase lessons with members there, we will increase church attendance and baptism. This week, we worked our butts off and more than doubled the number of member presents.... And had one fifth the church attendance, none of which were our progressing investigators. And rather than be discouraged, I felt so joyful. Because rather than watch the door, I watched Brother B bless the sacrament for the first time. 

These are only a few, and maybe seem small, but I was filled this week. And when Brother B blessed the sacrament, I just started crying. And it wouldn't stop until I got up and shared my testimony. Yes, I just want to be thankful to God. 

And going back to that video, when the woman held up the tattered blanket, a small gesture that represented something so much more, I thought of all my weathered and beat up missionary planners. Things I will not throw away for the world. Because those lessons planned, those goals set, those days spent... I will keep them in remembrance. I want to show them to everyone. (I won't really. I won't BE THAT GUY.) That no matter what happens today or tomorrow or however long it takes until the Lord is ready to bless us, because of the Atonement and gospel of Jesus Christ, I am not finished. I am still alive.

And that faith, that hope, that belief, lives within me. 

And I will wake up tomorrow and with the Lord's help, fill that next blank page with lessons taught and received.

I love this work. I love this beautiful area and for the incredible training ground for life it has proved to be. I love my mission president. I love my companion. She has grown SO much. I feel like a mama. My mission is everything to me. I have loved so much seeing the changes in people's lives. But I have loved just as much the beautiful privilege in loving those who weren't ready to change. 

I testify that no matter the opposition, no matter the discouragement, no matter the mountain before us, the Lord is over all. These things are tailored individually for our profit and learning by a Father who loves and knows us perfectly. And Jesus Christ, our brother and friend, has overcome. He will take us by the hand and help us do the same.