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!