Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Week 80: The Good Fight

Well.  This is it.  How surreal.  Yesterday was one of the greatest days of my mission, and probably my life.  It was a perfect ending to a glorious journey.
The whole weekend was stellar actually.  I spoke in sacrament about becoming Christlike, via the two great commandments, loving Heavenly Father and loving one another.  I hugged everyone goodbye, got my pictures, and everyone had kind things to say, thanking me for my service (and trying to predict my date of engagement, but we won't talk about that.)  Yesterday, I guess I should have spent the day packing, but there were too many people to see.  We taught three lessons instead.  We visited an investigator at the hospital, about the reality of the Resurrection through Jesus Christ.  Her poor health and tired body will be so relieved when that day comes.  We visited a member of the ward in the same hospital, and sang to her : Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing.  Words that have always been near to my heart.  "Here's my heart, o take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above."  We taught her about the Atonement and repentance.
This whole last week, we had many opportunities to testify specifically about the Savior and His Atonement.  Either that, or I took every chance I could to testify of such things.  My daily experiences have never been so joyful or fulfilling.  We dropped our young agnostic on a mutual understanding that maybe this just wasn't the right time for him.  But we testified of the Plan of Salvation, of a God who loves him, and made him promise to look up the missionaries when that day does come that his heart yearns again to know his Maker.  We taught twice more the woman who's working on being baptized, and she receives our message of the Plan of Salvation like a child  would - eagerly and gratefully.  She told us she feels so good after our lessons, like she doesn't have any worries anymore, and I wanted to shout for joy.  That's the Spirit!
Anyway, we finished yesterday at Lonnie's, and Junior was there!  Back from the dead!  We leapt on the opportunity to teach him again, asked him about baptism again, how we do it to follow Jesus Christ, and how the Father promises us the Holy Ghost.  For a moment I remembered what it was like to be seventeen as Junior pondered how such a gift could help him in his life.  "I know I want to be baptized," he said.  "I'm just not sure when."  He's on his way.  I have no doubt.  He knows Jesus died for him, and that's enough to get him started.  To top it off, we had dinner with K-dog who is already planning to see me next winter when he goes through the temple for the first time in Salt Lake City.  That's all a missionary ever wants to hear from their converts.  That their conversion is deep and will last.  So maybe I didn't get completely packed until 3:00 this morning and am currently running on two hours of sleep, but it's alright.  I wouldn't trade it for nothing. 

 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: [2 Tim 4]

I'd been praying for a feeling of peace when I reached the end and the Lord granted it.  He led me through the wilderness. He chose me out of the furnace of afflictions.  He worked miracles before my eyes in the lives of others and in my own.
20 My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep.
 21 He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh.
My bags are packed. My heart is full.  I'm ready for the next adventure. I love my Heavenly Father, I love my Savior, I know they live.  I love you all so much and can't wait to see you.  All is well.
Sister Valdez

Week 79:Glory In It

So you know how oftentimes people talk about how God never answers when you want or in the way you want?  Well that may be true.  But still, there are other times where he does.  Just in time, and just how you had hoped.  It's rare, but it happens. 
Nearing the end here, I've had occasion to bring up in my prayers a sentiment like unto the following:  "I'm super grateful for the success I've been given and the miracles that have occurred, and I don't need to have one more progressing investigator to feel successful..... but like, if it be Thy will, I'd really really like one.  If it's already in Thy plan, that is, I would enjoy and appreciate very much to help just one more person."  I expressed this a couple of times.  And then I kind of left it alone and kept on working.  Then guess what happened. Guess!  So we'd decided to drive up to the boonies of our area, far from everything, to visit the address of a woman who we thought had moved into our ward and we'd met once.  What we didn't know was that by now, she'd already moved back to where she came from in Waveland ward.  So we get to this address and meet her mother, who lives there, and knowing better than to pass up an opportunity, asked if she'd like to hear our message sometime.  She accepted, and though we didn't think it very promising, we returned two weeks later.  And what does she tell us before we even start the lesson?  That she wants to be baptized.  UM OK WOW WELL I MEAN DON'T LET US PUSH YOU OR ANYTHING.  It was amazing.  She's a very humble woman, of humble understanding and circumstance, but what she does understand is that she needs to change her life if she wants it to get better and she needs to do what's right if she wants God's help.  Because of her daughter's example, who is a recent convert herself, she has a lot of trust that this church is going to help her do just that.  February 28, she's due to enter covenant waters.  She can't read well, so we gave her a set of Book of Mormon on CD.  We called and got her a ride to church, and she came!  And stayed all three hours, even with a squirming grandson who didn't leave her side.  When asked how she liked it, she said "It was wonderful."  The Spirit was there, so it was.  The blessings don't stop there.  A woman we've been working with for a few months now finally came to church with us - why? Because my companion called and woke her up and said come, so she came.  What's more, it was fast and testimony meeting and I went up to testify, praying for the Spirit to help me do articulate justice to the testimony the Lord has helped me develop these past 18 months.  It did.  And two of our investigators got to hear it.  Majorus blessing.  I love these women so much.
I think my companion will be okay without me.  (Whenever we talk about... the end... we talk about what will happen when I "transfer to Hattiesberg" so that's the story we're sticking with, probs until my plane lands.  I don't imagine it will seem real until then.)  We had a specialized training meeting that day for trainers and new missionaries, and I turned to her randomly and said "I trust you with our area" and she almost cried.  So I think that might have been significant to her maybe.  I also had my final interview with President McDonough, and it was very chill, nothing to be nervous about, though Sister Creager and I were shaking in our boots.  Why?  I'm not sure.  We expected some grand dramatic moment, some profoundly sage advice, but it was pretty low key.  At the same time, his simple advice was very significant and profound to the receiver.  He told me I've done very well.  And that he and Sister McDonough will love and remember me forever.  And that was what I needed.  Sister Creager and I went on our both of our last exchanges ever, and it was with each other - meant to be - and talked a lot about our missions and what we've learned and what the future holds (in between dragging our shoes on the gravel as we walked so they'll be more indicative of all the hard work we done).  We both have had occasion to wonder if anyone will remember us.  We both worry that we'll be able to keep up our spiritual health when it's no longer the entire and full focus of our existence.  But we both have strong, faithful families to return to.  We both have a sense of peace about all the work we have done, and a hope that many of these changes we've made will be permanent.  And we have each other.  Friends in the gospel are of the greatest gifts we have on earth.

 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4]

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. [Alma 29]
Enough said.

Sister Valdez

1. After church
2. How we actually look at doors
3. Best friends forever
4. Doggie in a ditch

Monday, January 26, 2015

Week 77 & 78: Love 'Em and Leave "Em

 Rain tracting
We find weird things in ditches.  Like hogheads.
Street beads
Our fave lil friend found the baby in the king cake!

So here's the week I missed, in a nutshell:

I figured out that what it's taken for me in the past to feel like a successful missionary, is taking risks.  Not like dumb and dangerous risks, but things that I know I should do that are just slightly out of my comfort zone.  When I do those things, like trying potentials I'm not sure about, being bold with non-progressers, or tracting apartments after dark, I go home feeling like I did my darndest.

Some of my mission friends that have gone home send notes to the rest of us still laboring, and say things like "don't worry about rejection!  this is the Lord's work!"  or "it's gone way too fast, savor every day!"  or  "getting released is the worst thing ever!"  it really helps me to get pumped all over again.  Like the dead crying from the grave not to waste the days of your probation, a Scrooge and Marley deal.

A less active that I've visited just a few times, who said outright that he'd be fine to get a "passing grade" and inherit terrestrial glory (the bacca and the bottle are a hard thing to give up) told us he had promised the senior missionaries who visited that he'd come to church.  Reason?  They'd helped him provide Christmas for a needy family he wanted to help out.  See that?  A little love goes a long way.

We dropped an investigator that, while confessing that he never talks religion with anyone, is hermetic, and doesn't know what compelled him to ask us to return, also admitted that he hadn't prayed about the things we taught because he's comfortable with the non-religion-specific faith he has now, his passive faith of thanking God daily for his blessings and trying to treat others respectfully.  You can't change the stubborn and comfortable.  It was my companion's first drop experience and quite sad.  But had to happen.  The only good thing about having experience breaking up with people, is that you find out it's better to nip it right when you know things won't work out, instead of dragging out with a non-committer.

A less active gave us a bottle of ombre hair highlighting product she'd mixed and wasn't going to use after all.  Sister Matealona and I spent an enjoyable evening ombre-ing our hair.

 House used in filming "The Best of Me"
ombre-ing hair

A woman opened her door and asked if we could come back another time, when her friend came to the door and asked us to pray for the woman because her husband had recently passed.  We prayed right there and they were super impressed.  When you pray 10+ times a day, I guess you get pretty good at it.  The lady's neighbor, a sixty year old black man, didn't really want to listen to the message we shared, but did ask me to touch his grout-ed thumb so it would heal.  Instead of explaining that I don't have the priesthood and also I'm not Jesus, I touched his thumb.

And here's this week!

We had a second lesson with an agnostic kid, my age, who's a total hipster.  Plays guitar, has a beard, works in a coffee shop.  Except he's also super quiet and soft spoken and not sure if there's a God.  We thought to ask him last night, "have you any reason to believe there isn't a God?" and he admitted that he did not, and he'd never thought of it that way.  But after wholly relying on the Spirit to know what questions to ask, we got him to give us answers more than one sentence long, and found out that he's just never felt like there was something greater outside himself, feels more comfortable placing his focus on things he can see, but if there is a God, he doesn't want to believe until he's felt it.  We'd asked him to pray before, which he did, so we read to him Aaron's experience with the Lamanite king in the Book of Mormon, bore testimony that God hears prayers and answers with love, and he said "That's something I want to feel."  So we committed him to pray again.  Pour your heart out this time.  Put yourself out there.  Act in faith, and it will come.  Sometime.  I wish I knew when.

Same night, we visited Brother R, the nonmember husband that's stubborn as a tick.  Last week he'd asked, "So what was it that ya'll used to teach in the 70's about us coming from the stars and returning to the stars when we die?"  This week, I had the nerve to tell him not to believe everything your past preachers told you about Mormons because often other people will put us down or teach skewed things to make us look weird and make their teachings look better.  Also, we stated that the teaching of the plan of salvation, as we explained it, has not been changed since the doctrine was first established in the early days of the church.  Isn't it cool that we can say such things with complete confidence?  In the restored church of Jesus Christ, some policies may have adapted over the years according to the Lord's word, but the doctrine has remained 100% unchanged.  This same fellow, when asked, told us the reason he doesn't ever make commitments to pray about the things he's learned, or to come to church, or be baptized, is because he doesn't want to be pressured.  So we asked, "Do you know why we come?"  he first said "Because we feed you" but later said "Because it's your job.  You're supposed to convert people."  False.  We don't get paid for this.  We don't get points for every baptism or praise for higher numbers.  In the words of Lehi, "I have none other object save it be the everlasting welfare of your souls."  We're here because we love you, ya geezer.  To seal our point, I said, "And we would still come even if there was no food."

To be 100% with ya'll, I would rather have a full schedule of splits with members of the ward, or better, referrals from them, than have meal appointments with them.  I love the dinners they make us, they're wonderful and I'm grateful.  But if the choice is feed the missionaries or go out with the missionaries, I would rather they choose the latter.  Salvation first.  Food second.  People have a tendency to worry about whether the missionaries get fed, but not having dinner is not what stresses us out.  Having investigators not progress, or recent converts go less active due to no fellowship within the ward is what stresses us out.

In other news, Mardi Gras is everywhere.  Purple, green, and gold on everyone's door.  Jester hats on the pelican statues in front of the businesses.  Yesterday we left an appointment only to get stuck in post-parade traffic, which we wouldn't have known had just happened if it weren't for the fact that the streets were COVERED in beads.  I made Sister Matealona get out and grab some off the sidewalk when we stopped at a red.  Depicted below.

You know, you'd think I'd have learned after the whole relationship-before-mission thing that you're in for a world of hurt if you let yourself fall in love right before you leave a place.  These two previously mentioned individuals are going to break my heart when I say goodbye.  Love em and leave em.  It's the worst.

8. And no one can assist in this work except he shall be humble and full of love , having faith, hope, and charity, being temperate in all things, whatsoever shall be entrusted to his care. [Doctrine and Covenants 12]

So really, you're supposed to love em like crazy.  So much so that it hurts to leave.  But I trust that they will not be forgotten.  And lately the endtimes stress has been going down, as the Spirit has been whispering reassurances that the work I did here was not for nothing, that the unseen effects of my efforts are real and eternal.  And that's a wonderful thing to feel.

Sister Valdez

 Sushi night
 That pole slipped right before I made it across
 Mardi Gras glasses
 scraping ice is not my favorite thing


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Week 76: Above That of the World

Remember that one time I wanted my hair trimmed and decided to do it myself over the sink but the problem was I was like three years old so it didn't turn out so great?  Yeah well apparently at twenty-three years old, it still doesn't turn out so great because I'm not a professional.  The good news is, if I flip em back in a poof and hairspray it, you can't even tell my bangs just got chopped up.
I made notes on a hundred things to tell ya'll about but now not one of them sounds as exciting as it did when it happened.  I'll tell ya anyway.
We had this older couple we were so excited to find and start teaching, the ones who invited us to their huge NYE bash at their baptist church.  I've made this goal (one of my "sprint to the finish" goals) to not shy away from asking every investigator to be baptized in the first or second lesson.  So we did and could tell the husband threw a wall up.  At his age, he's not just comfortable in his religion, he's clinging to it because it's a long time tradition for both himself and his family that came before.  He'd received us the first time we knocked because he'd been praying for a way to come closer to Christ, for guidance to know what the Lord wanted him to do.  And then when we put it in front of him - learn about and unite with the true church - he drew way back.  We were bold, as the Spirit directed, in telling him that if we were truly an answer to his prayer, he ought to figure it out by praying about the things we teach instead of immediately writing it off.  We're not here just to "fellowship" or do "Bible study", we're here to present restored truth and help you figure out if its the real thing.  I even had the nerve to remind him that the reason the Jews completely missed Jesus, the Messiah they had been waiting for, was because of tradition.  Because they too had a religious practice that was so ingrained into them, that when present with something new (the fulfilling of the law) they couldn't accept it.  I know, right?  Boldsauce.  I explained to my companion though, that if they are humble enough, they will pray about it and they will receive that confirmation that the restored gospel is true.  But only if they're willing to change.  100% dependent on humility level.
As missionaries we do a lot of detailed planning for each day the night before, and then when we go about the day, we adjust plans maybe twenty times depending on what falls through and what area we end up in.  One day this week I got this thought - "Actually stick to what you planned this time."  I wrote it down so I would remember to do it, and apparently that was a prompting from the Spirit because Sister Matealona had got the same thought that night.  So we stuck to our plans and backup plans and had a four-lesson day.  That's a rarity.  And one of those became a new investigator.  Because it was dark, I wouldn't have had the courage to knock on his door at the time we'd planned to, but because we'd committed, we knocked. And he stopped watching Fantastic Four to let us in and listen to our message.  If that's not elect, I don't know what is.  When we'd first found him, I remember looking in his eyes and seeing something very familiar.  He's Guamanian, so I thought he looked like he could be an uncle or a cousin of mine, but beyond that, there was something in his face that just made me like him a lot and want to follow up with him.  I got that same feeling about Lonnie when we first met him, and turned out to be golden.  Here's hoping it'll happen again!
We visited the nonmember husband we'd got to quit smoking last week, and in place of his evening glass of tea was a glass of blue powerade.  Word of wisdom!  It stuck!  He even quit the coffee too.  Plays it off like he could go back to it whenever he chooses, but we know he's smarter than that.  We taught him and his wife the Restoration last night and his wife bore testimony over and over of the blessings of the gospel, and he even admitted that we Latter day Saints all seem to be at ease with ourselves and have this radiance about us.  "You can have that too," Sister M pointed out.  I then proceeded to open my mouth and have it filled, like the scriptures promise, with things so wise and coherent I know they couldn't have come from my own brain.  That was the Spirit speaking.  Telling him that he too could have a testimony of the gospel that he's already familiar with if he simply applies it and lives it, just as he did with the stop smoking program.  The information is there.  We know it will bless your life.  But you won't know until you try it.  "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself."  I don't know if I'll ever see the end of his story, but he's one of those I feel like I came to Slidell for.  Because being up-front with him as been easy as cake since my first week here.

We got to hear our recent convert K-dog bear his testimony at stake conference this last weekend.  That was the first time we'd actually heard him plainly declare that he believes The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is God's restored church, that our doctrine is the true doctrine, that President Monson is a true prophet sent by a loving God.  It was the greatest thing.  I can leave this place well assured that at least one of my fruits will remain.
We had more "right place, right time" moments this week.  We caught an older less active sister at home who wasn't going to let us in, but we talked to her on the porch and helped her discover that she hadn't been going to church because all her life she went for other people.  And now that her kids are grown, she has to do it for herself, at least as a thank-you to God.  We tracted into a woman who was widowed and living alone and having a really hard time with it who just needed a prayer and a hug.  It may not have been a typical missionary experience, where we shared the restored gospel and stuff, but it was still work the Lord needed done, a child of His who needed to be ministered to, so what better people to send over to her than the sister missionaries.  I'm gonna miss this.
26 And I saw that I must soon go down to my grave, having been wrought upon by the power of God that I must preach and prophesy unto this people, and declare the word according to the truth which is in Christ. And I have declared it in all my days, and have rejoiced in it above that of the world.  [Enos 1]
There's no greater joy in the world than knowing that you're exactly where Heavenly Father wants you to be, doing exactly what He needs you to do.  Love you all.

Sister Valdez

1.Bookmark a member made me
2.Sunrise over the marshes

3.Sleepy comp

4.The bangs

Week 75: On The Rise

Time is wearing thin and it's freaking me out a little bit.  As in, I don't know what happened to this week.  One minute, it's Transfer day, the next minute, it's a week later.  GAEQASPODHAL:FHLADFJKsd!#!!!!!!  It's okay.  Everything is fine.
We had a better week.  Nice that the holidays are over - as much as I love them, the people around here like to party so like holidays get in the way of missionary work.  But now things have calmed down and we're buckling down and getting serious.  Our recent district meeting was about recommitting to our purpose.  I feel like I've gotten more focused on my purpose than ever, or rather since I was a new missionary, now that I'm training.  I spend a lot of time and energy trying to teach my companion everything I learned in seventeen months, and it's really helping me focus as much as it's helping her learn.  So there's no better way to end a mission than by training a new one, in my opinion.  But despite the progress we've made as a district, it's time to bump it up another notch.  Which inspired my new theme of the moment:  On the rise.  Weird how that only is used to describe, like, crime.  Crime on the rise.  Evil on the rise.  Well guess what.  Now it's righteousness on the rise.  Brought to you by Slidell's full-time missionaries.

We got word that one of our recent converts is wanting to get into visiting teaching, and another may be made assistant to the ward mission leader - that or a ward missionary - very soon.  That's what I like to hear.  As for Lonnie though - as you heard in my voice recording message - his kiddo Junior is a little bit in a pickle with the law and just not where he was when we were teaching him and everything was great.  In my fast yesterday, I was praying that Lonnie's kids would both find their way to the same path he is on.  At the moment, that's one of the only things that I can see keeping him on the covenant path.  Like I've said before, for so many people I've met, it seems that their family is the biggest motivation for righteousness.  Which makes sense.  God put us in families for a reason.  We're here to help each other be eternal.
New Year's Eve in this part of town is not the ideal when you're a missionary and you want to go to sleep on time, because this happens to be a state where fireworks are legal and in the ghetto they just don't stop from like 9 to 12, constant popping explosions and zero sleep.  Unless your name is Sister Matealona and you clock out the moment you lay down.  However, earlier that day a little miracle happened, that shows me how God is truly in the details of our work.  If we had been there just a few minutes earlier or later, this exchange may not have occurred.  A less active saw us on the street as we were about to start tracting, and stopped us, even stopped her car to get out and talk to us - and this was a woman I'd heard didn't care a bit for the church anymore.  But instead, she told us her health had prevented her from having the sisters over in the past and she invited us over for New Year's Day dinner.  Apparently black eyed peas and cabbage is well-known tradition, it's supposed to bring good luck for the new year.  And her husband who's not really about organized religion at the moment, ended up being really fond of us.  Prob because we listened to his stories for 3 1/2 hours.  When we finally got a spiritual thought in there at the end, he started talking about looking at the fruits of a religion, like Jesus said to do about prophets, as in what kinda kids you'd want your kids to be friends with, what kind of people you'd trust in business, what kinda guys you'd want your daughters marrying.  "Mormons win," he said.  "By a long shot."  My optimism is taking that as a sign that his effectual door is opening.  We just have to jump in before it closes again.
Speaking of effectual door.  We taught one sister's nonmember husband the stop smoking program last week and he finishes tomorrow.  This is the one that has to have coffee every morning and tea every night and swore he'd be homicidal if he had to give up all that plus cigarettes at the same time.  Well, so far his wife's still alive and he's six days smoke-free.  And I think his heart is being softened and his door is cracking open too.  He smiles more than he used to.  This guy's on the rise for sure.

23 Awake, my sons [and daughters]; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust.

Shake it off!  Rise up!  Do work!  All is well, my dear family (and friends).  Love you tons.

Sister Valdez


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Week 73 & 74 : Joy To The World

family photo at Zone Conference
gingerbread houses with the G fam
pore strips and teeth whiteners 4 funz
Lonnie and his kids at his baptism
Lonnie was baptized on Saturday!  Greatest thing ever.  He's the first whom I've been able to find, teach, and baptize (as opposed to doing the first half and leaving, or coming in halfway through the process.)  So that was super special for me.  When the bishopric member gave the welcome to the ward and asked him how he found the church, Lonnie answered, "Sister Valdez" and I wanted to cry.  As usual, there was a unique feeling to the service.  The Spirit was there, but the feeling was different from the past few baptisms.  It felt so much more like a beginning.  Lonnie's two youngest children were there, his 17 year old son and his 19 year old daughter.  Neither had ever been to the church before, but both really loved the baptism.  Even though it was nearly disastrous - our ward mission leader baptized, and his back gave out mid-dunk and we panicked a moment thinking they were about to drown, but it's cool, he caught them and they both came back up.  Didn't even have to repeat it, because the slip had ensured a definite complete immersion.  I talked to his son and daughter afterward and both said it was awesome, they'd never seen a baptism not on TV before.  Sister Matealona is sure she saw the daughter get moist-eyed when we and two of the elders sang A Child's Prayer.  The Holy Spirit of Promise was definitely present.  And with it, this exciting hope that this truly was only a beginning - that Lonnie's children would be next to follow his example in taking that step of faith, joining him in the gospel.  Operation:Eternalize commenced.

I had my first experience re-booting a former investigator.  We went to see a less active family, who's daughter, never baptized, had previously taken the lessons.  We got to talking with her and she opened way up, telling us she feels down all the time and doesn't know how to fix it, she doesn't know what she believes because she only went to church for certain people, it's hard to care about faith when your parents don't, and she doesn't even know if there's a God.  First thought, my goodness, past sister missionaries, how did you teach her that long and she never even had a testimony that God is real, like no wonder she stopped progressing.  Second thought, I'm so glad I get to be here to help her find that.  I've tried praying, she said. Felt nothing.  Tried reading the scriptures, still nothing.  Have you ever listened to a song, I asked, and felt something?  She's a singer.  Loves musically.  Naturally, yes, she answered.  I sent her to Lds.org, youth music.  If that stuff doesn't make her feel something.... well, nothing will.  It gets better.  Her dad who's basically gone anti, goes anti on us, shooting us with questions like "where in the bible does it say you need to go to the temple to go to heaven?" and things of the like and I know better than to contend when my throat feels like a fireball is about to shoot out of it and I kinda "psst! don't say anything!" to my comp who's never been in a bash before, and then this awesome moment where the daughter, who's not even a member but getting equally upset, stands up to her own father and tells him off- er, I mean, defends the faith.  States things concerning the importance of baptism and the love of God, among others.  It's kind of amazing how you don't know how strongly you really believe something until it's challenged by a straight up hater.

Tuesday was my last zone conference, where I gave my departing testimony, a moment that you dream about when you first experience as a new missionary the older and wiser missionaries who bear these powerful testimonies and seem like the most experienced and spiritual people in the world.  Yeah, I don't feel like that.  But I can look back and easily see how far I've come, and how miraculous it is that I've progressed and learned as much as I have.  It's tempting to say as an older missionary "I've been out so long and I still don't know anything" or "You'd think I'd figure out what I'm doing by now" - you know, comments of modesty.  But for me to say so, I think, would be not giving God enough credit.  I don't know everything, it's true.  But I've become so much more than I thought I could in so short a time, so much closer to the person Heavenly Father wants me to be, and so much happier and at peace.  It's all because of Jesus Christ.  That's why He is the gift.  As our Redeemer and our Counselor, he is our chance for growth.  He is our source of hope.  Joy to the world, indeed.

delivering cookies
Christmas eve was wonderful, we baked and delivered cookies and sang Christmas carols.  What
you'd typically expect sister missionaries to do.  And at dinner, I got my fortune told, or rather, prophesied.  Bro G, just as he did for Sister Schulthies, told me how I was going to meet my one and only.  Something about a mall, a karaoke machine, and a duet.  In other words, he was spot on.

It's now four days later.  Christmas was great.  Opened presents with the Walkers' little kids, then we six missionaries got to open our boxes from home.  Sister M got two huge boxes of chocolate covered macadamia nuts from a secret santa in Utah and nearly exploded with happiness.

 Talking with ya'll was the highlight of my day.  My cool realization of the day was that I have the greatest family on earth, like I can't imagine being eternally linked to any group of people better suited to my personality.  It's like we planned this or something.  We also got to see Sister Tracy, who happened to be having a bummer Christmas and was by herself for the evening - perfect because we needed someone to read Luke 2 with before Christmas was over and we love her and her hyper licky pitbull.

Brother C, who recently baptized his wife, bore his testimony on Sunday in sunday school, in which he testified that he knows the gospel is true and he's thankful for the missionaries for showing up at his house to get him back into a place he never thought he'd return to.  I was rejoicing on the inside.  Greatest blessing of being a missionary is seeing evidence that changes you helped people make are becoming permanent.

At zone conference, I got to sing a duet with the very talented Elder Joseph, a pretty Christmas song called "Peace, Peace, Peace."  We hadn't much practice, but it turned out really really nice-sounding (angelic assistance).  As I read through the words before we performed, a sweet calm came over me as I took these words to heart:

"Peace, heavenly peace
Rests on men at His birth
Peace beyond understanding
Gift of God to the earth
Peace shines in our hearts
Bright as the star that shines in the east
To guide us all as we seek
the Prince of Peace, peace, peace"

Because it's a true thing.  Like, no matter what's going on.  Whether worthy or struggling, firm or shaky, high or low, pure or penitent, when we seek the Prince of Peace, peace he grants.  Every time.  If you pray long enough, with real intent, it comes.  One of the greatest blessings of serving this mission is having such quick access to that peace, every night at the end of a long workday, when I can pray and be close enough to the Spirit to feel so strongly that I'm being heard.  "Peace foretold through the ages, promised peace from on high."  There's nothing like it in the world.

Sister Valdez

Zone Pday at the beach in Gulfport

District Meeting on Faith in the Work me and Sister M taught

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Week 72: Finding Fruit By Feel

For your listening pleasure, I've attached a song I partly re-wrote.  The elders think they can just call me and ask me to learn a song so I can play and sing it for them.  Well apparently they can, because I did it.  The last two verses you'll notice allude to the Book of Mormon, because I didn't like the originals and wrote up new ones.  It's a rough recording, but yknow, it's me.  Merry Christmas!

This week was not what I'd call smooth.  More what I'd call "chastening."  Both by the Spirit, and by the zone leaders and our mission president.  Of course, when the mission president does it, you can't hardly tell because he loves you so much and smiles so much you basically chasten yourself in his presence.  What I learned, is that I need to apply more faith in my work.  Faith to find when we tract, not just tract for obedience sake.  Faith to talk to strangers outside of tracting. Faith to apply principles that are in Preach My Gospel that I failed to continue with just because they didn't work the first time.  Faith to not sleep in for five minutes in the morning (for some reason that makes an actual difference.)  From the zone leaders however, it was a more direct, "Your numbers last month were terrible, find more people."  So yeah.  We're recommitted to finding.  We know they're out there.  We just gotta be more diligent about seeking them out.  When you're teaching one or two elect people, it's easy to forget that you need to be replenishing your teaching pool now, not after the baptisms happen and you're like "ok cool now what."

21 Nevertheless the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith.
 22 Nevertheless—whosoever putteth his trust in him the same shall be lifted up at the last day. Yea, and thus it was with this people. [Mosiah 23]

11 Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.  [Hebrews 12]

Yeah!  Peaceable fruit!  So with this new attitude, we found someone this week!  Really chill young man who agreed to hear our message out on the front step, since we couldn't go in.  He accepted the Book of Mormon with a smile, "Hopefully this will lead me to something fresh and good."  He wasn't actually on the street we'd chosen to tract, but on a little court connected to it.  Lately, I've felt that our work has been more led by the Spirit, as to where we go.  It really helps me feel more at peace while we tract, instead of nervous.  Feels like I'm in the right place.  And then sometimes there's fruit.

So either we've become more sensitive to the Spirit's promptings, or I'm simply remembering to listen more often.  We listened the other night.  Anyone who knows me well knows I run by logic, not by feel.  For me, feelings are hard to trust.  But since the Spirit so often comes by feelings, I'm learning to trust it.  We decided to go visit a sister who comes to church sometimes, when her health allows, and when we got there she told us she'd just gotten out of the hospital the night before and was awaiting two priesthood holders to come give her a blessing.  They came a few minutes later, and administered the blessing.  She asked us sisters to sing her a Christmas song - she loves Christmas more than anyone I know, has an entire movie case full of Christmas movies and her house is cluttered with holiday decor - so we sang a couple Christmas hymns for her.  The room was very still and the feeling very reverent, as the Spirit entered to comfort her.  It was very sweet, and especially for us just to know that we'd been led there at the right time.  The Lord knows His sheep.  Find by feel, and ye shall find.

Last night we got to go to the Gulfport Stake Christmas fireside.  Made me miss going to the one in Anaheim, hearing Dad sing with the Chorale.  In Slidell ward, our choir did our best, probs had angelic help for performance time.  I loved being able to sing with them though, got us super ready for Christmas.  Every ward choir that performed was made up of mostly, if not all, full time missionaries.  I don't know why, we all either sing or learn to on the mission.  Part of the calling, I guess.  There was an amazing trio, two little boys and their dad who played Jingle Bells and Silver Bells, bluegrass style with guitar, fiddle, and banjo.  It was pretty incredible.  And then our extremely dignified Stake President, in the middle of his closing remarks, busted out Cajun Night Before Christmas and read it in his best Deep South accent.  It's about Santa coming down the bayou on a skiff pulled by alligators with French names.  Had the whole stake laughing, esp when he ended saying "I was going to do this two years ago but decided to wait until right before I got released, because what could they do?"  I do love our leaders.  Our hearts were lightened and the Spirit remained with us as he closed with a testimony of the Savior.  Christmas is the best thing ever.

Speaking of Christmas, I'ma call ya'll on Thursday morning, the 25th, around 9am your time.  Then we'll coordinate when to Skype.  I was planning on morning, but let me know when Cassie will be on so we can do what we did on Mother's day.  I won't be emailing you next Monday because we're foregoing P-day in light of the holiday (part of the whole sacrifice/consecration thing).  So await my call :]

Sister Valdez