Thursday, December 19, 2013

Week 19: Angel Voices

First, my moment of true success:  Sister L, the less-active we've been working the most with lately, came to church last Sunday.  It's ridiculous how much I love and care about her.  I wanted to cry when I saw her walk into sacrament and I wanted to jump off a bridge when she didn't stay for relief society.  But it's cool.  There's always next Sunday.  But we'll make a point not to drive over the river that day just in case.
I feel like I talk about singing a lot - what can I say? I'm like Snow White or something - but I seriously have been doing some serious singing lately.
Last Sunday, I performed my own arrangement of "I Stand All Amazed" for the baptism of Olivia (i.e. my half-Filipino sister) and her mom Stacey, two of the elder's investigators from a part-member family.  It was so touching to see all the family they had there, all so excited to see two of their loved ones finally entering the fold.  That same day, we sang "Go the Distance" (not your traditional hymn) to the family that fed us that night, and a driveway solo for Rae, a less-active we've been seeing for awhile who texted us that night feeling really down about her rough financial situation what with the two little ones she's trying to take care of.  "Be Still My Soul" was the medicine of the moment.  I love how still everything gets when hymns of the kingdom are being sung.
Thursday we went on exchanges and I got to see other sister's side of Shreveport (also known as South Skreve; the true Skreets of LA).  Sister Harker took us to teach Donald, a man getting baptized this month, and she had me sing "I Am a Child of God" (I get volunteered way more often than I volunteer for this) but gee whiz I swear, boasting nothing of myself and entirely of my God, never before has anything so pure and angelic come out of my mouth.  Everything went still and the Spirit flowed through the room like celestial electricty.  It's like Heavenly Father straight up transforms my voice sometimes, especially when it's at a critical point in a lesson, and an angel lends me her voice for a moment so I can help invite the Spirit to touch the heart of a needy soul.  However it works, it's a true blessing.

We did a musical number together.

Christmas, as you can imagine, has brought even more opportunities to call for angelic help in the work of ministering.  Yesterday we sang carols at the doors we knocked and got a much warmer response than is typical.  At the stake's Nativity Celebration (i.e. cultural hall transformed into a winter wonderland, 250 nativity sets from all over the world on display, pictures of Christ everywhere) I went up on the stand with Bro Smith the piano genius and sang my little heart out as background music (btw somewhere on youtube is a spontaneous acapella duet of Angels We Have Heard on High by Elder Rose and I. Someone please find it.)  And yesterday departing Elder Lundgreen and I performed our rendition of Silent Night for zone conference.  He was nervous having never sung for an audience before, and never trusting me when I tell him his voice sounds good, but God blessed our voices once again and it was marvelous. 
But break-out-in-song moments are not the only ones that require the assitance of angels.  They're around us every day, pushing us in the direction of our next new investigator, or in the smiles of the members who give us fleecy blankets for our cold apartment.  As 2 Nephi 32 says, "Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore they speak the words of Christ."  Does that make me the angel everytime I share the words of the scriptures?  I certainly like the sound of that.  On top of that, charity in any form is the errand of angels... which is given to women (see: Sisters in Zion).  What it do, elders.

Departing Elders: Carpenter and Lundgreen.

Tuesday was one of the greatest miracles we've yet beheld.  We were about to tract a street, a little more scared out of our boots than usual, and after a prayer, decided not to knock every door but those we were drawn to.  We spoke first to a man already outside of his house, hanging lights, and he greeted us thus "Hey!  Are you girls missionaries?"  We totally are.  And he was totally a less active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, who wanted us to come back Thursday at 6pm to teach his nonmember wife.  Yes, he made the appointment without us saying a word - indeed I had very little idea of what to say when a golden contact is thrust at you without precedence or persuasion because this simply never happens.  As he would later tell us, he'd just prayed the day before for some spiritual direction for his family.  Next day, we show up on the driveway.  I am so excited to teach them, and so grateful to Heavenly Father for placing us there at just the right time.

 9 For behold, by the power of [God's] aword bman came upon the face of the earth, which earth was ccreated by the power of his word. Wherefore, if God being able to speak and the world was, and to speak and man was created, O then, why not able to command the dearth, or the workmanship of his hands upon the face of it, according to his will and pleasure?
 10 Wherefore, brethren, seek not to acounsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand. For behold, ye yourselves know that he counseleth in bwisdom, and in justice, and in great mercy, over all his works.
[Jacob 4]

Our friends we sing to at the Gables :]

All is well, my friends.  Don't worry about the holiday homesickness - I'll get over it :]  I'll also cry so many joyous tears when ya'll remember to send me letters, too.  So make sure that happens.  As the season creeps in, let's all remember what our good deeds are for - to glorify Him who created us all, who saves us all, who loves us more than anything.  As Jacob says, "why not speak of the atonement of Christ and attain to a perfect knowledge of Him?"  As we remember Him, we follow his example, and as we follow His example, we know him.  That's what this is all for - to know Him.  To be able to recognize Him when he comes again.  So "Sing, choirs of angels, Sing in exultation."
Sister Valdez

Monday, December 2, 2013

Week 16 & 17 & 18: Ain't No Rest for the Righteous‏

side ponies
You know that song that is so catchy I want to rip my ears off when it plays, "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked"?  Talks about how "money don't grow on trees" and you don't really know what to think of it 'cause in a way it sounds like it's justifying people who commit crimes out of desperation - but anyway.  This is part of the chorus:
"No I can't slow down
I can't hold back
Though you know I wish I could
No there ain't no rest for the wicked
Until we close our eyes for good"
Yeah, don't listen to it, it'll get stuck in your head.  POINT BEING - I've recently discovered that the inverse is also true.  The wicked can't rest, and neither can the righteous.  You know why?  Because the second you quit striving and let your guard down, BOOM adversity trembles the placid waters or the adversary is up in your grill.  It sucks.  But that's life.
You familiar with the pride cycle?  Perfect example.  We see it all throughout the Book of Mormon.  Nephites' lives suck 'cause of the Lamanites.  They humble themselves and they pray.  God hears their cry and delivers them.  They prosper and are happy.  They get so prosperous, they start looking down on the poor.  They get so proud, they have to be humble again so God lets the Lamanites jump back onto the scene to give em heck.  They have to humble themselves AGAIN and the cycle continues for centuries.  We can't get lazy when things are going well.  We can't take the good times for granted.  We can't ever think we're "good" and can sit back and let salvation come to us.  As long as you are on this earth, the climb never stops.

pretty cat
I'll pause my discourse to start actually telling you about my mission.  Still no progressing investigators, still no baptismal dates, still no investigators at church.  But it's cool.  I kept the tears in until after church was over this time.  Back to the point -

the Brimley bun
Remember how I talked about becoming as a child?  Yeah.  Joey is a child.  A 23 year old child.  It's literally the greatest thing.  When we first knocked into him (I mean the door, not like a body-body collision) we explained who we are "we try to help people increase their faith and strengthen their relationship with God yadda yadda, is that something you strive to do?" and he said "Yes ma'am" which is a common answer and we gave him a Restoration pamphlet and he said we could come back whenever, cause he's there all the time (music to my ears, cause who knew how much I'd come to abhor the fact that people have JOBS that get in the way of their salvation i.e. learning from missionaries who represent Jesus Christ).  So we did go back, not expecting too much (on the outside; on the inside I was jumpin like a bean to see him again) and when he answered he wore a big smile and said "Hey!  You came back!"  I guess he didn't think we would.  Also surprising to him was the fact that we remembered his name.  We had a great lesson out there on the steps again, the Spirit did its trick.

Sis Brimley

hardcore service

Plot twist - during one doorstep lesson, this punk kid comes out, 11 years old, wants attention, etc. - Christian is his name.  Catholic, but hasn't been to church in a year.  He interrupted until my companion took him aside and showed him a magic trick, something about being baptized with fire, while I committed Joey to baptism (a date which will have to be moved cause he slept through church again.)  Cut to - next lesson.  Christian comes out again, and I'm like "oh great" but he's got his KJV Bible and says "I want you guys to ask my parents if I can learn with ya'll" and I was like nuh-uh you're eleven and you actually WANT to learn about the gospel?  We taught them both that day about the plan of salvation, and set up a time to come back.  When we did, Christian was already there, holding the book of Mormon we gave him, and yelling at Joey to turn off the xbox and get his scriptures.

sister cozy time
So all's looking great, and then obstacles tumble into our path once again in the form of "we don't know if Joey is ready for baptism" and "we don't know if Joey even knows why we show up to teach him."  I think we pounded in last time why he needs to read the Book of Mormon - to know if it's true, as he figured out.  So we committed him to reading every day.  He can't take our word for it, that it's going to bless his life, unless he partakes.  Just how it is.  Christian couldn't make it to any of our past lessons, as he wasn't home, but we won't give up on him either.  His parents gave us permission to teach him, so you bet your boots we will.  I might have a little bit more hope for the former if he wouldn't have stood up his ride to church third week in a row.  In the fourth months I've been a missionary, not a single investigator has shown up for church.  I don't know what I'm lacking.  The other missionaries are lining up baptisms like it's a turn at the water slide - splash, splash, salvation.

dinner at Sister Sheperd's
I think I should just stop being the one to call in numbers for the week (numbers of lessons, new investigators, investigators in sacrament, etc), because it wasn't until then that I saw our actuals lined up next to our goals and that same sorry row of seven zeros.  Zero new, zero in sacrament, zero progressing...  I had such high hopes that we'd finally get one progressing, especially after the last lesson we had with him, but church time came and no Joey.  Despite my ability to keep my head in the present work all day, disappointment hit pretty hard Sunday night.  I make it a point to always express profuse gratitude for the small miracles we recieve daily.  But when everyone around you is parting seas and turning staffs to serpents and you can't even get a mustard seed to sprout, it's hard not to think that you're doing something wrong.  Latest goal: flip out the blinders and stop comparing self to other missionaries.  Like I said, the improvement process never stops.  There's always gonna be a new goal.
hot dog!
So what if it's not as great as people tried to tell me ("hey you're going to the south! They already know about Jesus so your works half done!" yeah right) and so what if all this failure comes in like a tiger in the night once or twice a week to tear me apart? So what? I have not forgotten how merciful the Lord hath been to the children of men. To me.

During daily planning Saturday night, I had the thought to say a mini prayer as we tried to fill in one particular hour in the afternoon.  And as soon as I did so I saw a face in my mind: Sheila.  She's one that I thought was a miracle waiting to happen: when we tracted into her, she let us in immediately to share a message about prayer, felt the love of God so present when we talked about the Book of Mormon, took it and actually read it and when we returned told us how amazing it was that God would give us more of His word, how true the words were that she read.  And then we didn't see her again for three weeks.  She worked, she was busy with family, said she'd call, etc.  And we just hadn't seen her.  So we stopped by yesterday and she told us her niece had been killed in an auto accident this past week, and she was still trying to pick up the shattered pieces of her family's spirits. 

new pj's

This odd moment happened where the word "lesson" didn't even cross my mind, nor did our goal of three lessons for the day, nor did any of the bullet points for the Plan of Salvation - we just opened the scriptures and shared what we knew according to her needs, and said a prayer, not because that makes it count as a lesson, but because she needed a prayer like nothing else.  It was one of those great moments you walk away from knowing you were in the right place at the right time doing the right thing.  You'd think your whole mission would be like that, and it is, but still.  This was different.  This was unmistakably divine.  Later that night, we stopped at a less-actives home and I was pleading with God for an inspired question to ask, principle to share, and somehow, our discussion on faith got her asking what you do when you feel like you don't deserve all those blessings because you haven't been doing your best, because it's hard for you to "live up" when other members look like they're doing everything right - I yanked out 2 Nephi 26 so fast.  It's a miracle that scripture was still in my mind from last week's study.
 "Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: aCome unto me all ye bends of the earth... Behold, hath he commanded any that they should adepart out of the synagogues, or out of the houses of worship? Behold, I say unto you, Nay.  Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his asalvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but he hath bgiven it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to crepentance."  [2 Nephi 26: 25-28]
Preach My Gospel says that a successful missionary is not determined by numbers, but by his/her dedication to the work, including whether you were able to feel the Spirit working through you.  Yesterday, that happened twice.  Yesterday, I was a successful missionary. 

being a ninja to keep warm

 8 Be not thou therefore aashamed of the btestimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God... [2 Tim 1:7-8]
I said something like "It is a privilege to suffer for the cause of Christ" when my companion was feeling particularly afflicted by how cold it was outside  - the worst is when it's cold and rainy and windy.  Literally no escape from discomfort and then you lose feeling in your toes.  So I don't know why it's so easy for me to suffer things like hunger and cold and tiredness and soreness, but when it comes to things like rejection, missed appointments, and an investigator's failure to read the Book of Mormon or attend church, I'm a mess.  A real Hannah-at-the-tabernacle if you will, dumping the contents of my heart onto the bedside and soaking my pillow in eye-water.  We all have our own mountains, I guess.  And since God knew this would be the hardest test for me, he gave it to me.  All I need to pass it, is faith.
 "And Christ hath said: aIf ye will have bfaith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is cexpedient in me."  [Moroni 7:33]

ready to go!
 This I also shared with a few people yesterday.  "Ye SHALL have power."  That's pretty...powerful.  Faith in Christ in this instance is hope that He is there and that He will make more of you than you can of yourself.  If He could heal Hannah's womb and help her raise a prophet, he can pick me up off the carpet and help me deliver His word to His children most in need.  The work never stops.  And there's ain't no time to rest.  Except at night.  When you crawl under the covers after a good dramatic moment of prayer, and the words of Be Still My Soul come into your mind, and you feel that filling feeling in your chest that you know can't be anything other than the Holy Ghost taking on his role of "the Comforter," that is the rest of the righteous.

"There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God... Let us alabour therefore to enter into that rest..."  [Hebrews 4:9,11]

Sister Valdez

Service time!

We spent Thanksgiving decorating planners and watching the Testaments.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Week 14 & 15 pictures

on a swing
Sis Brimley on a swing

made waffles and chicken


we found candy on the street on Halloween!

made Oreo Dessert

rainy day!

beautiful scenery


doing service

serving together

yo yo!

bracelet gifts from my Primary friends!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Week 14 & 15: Open Your Eyes

Because of time, I'll just point out the highlights of my life from here.  You've heard enough of the discouraging tales of tears and trials.  So we'll leave it thus summarized:  the "progressing investigators" slot in the weekly report continues to be graced with a zero.  But I've finally learned to not slump into a weepy depression every Sunday when 9:05 hits and not a single investigator/less-active has shown up to sacrament.  Now to the good stuff!
First door we knocked last night, a kid named Robert answered and we talked to him about the Book of Mormon, and I mentally shoved myself into a state of boldness sufficient to get me asking questions I normally wouldn't for fear of rejection.  For some reason, I can talk to teenagers freely and no one else.  So I read from 3 Nephi 11, where Christ speaks and declares his Messiahship and mission, and asked Robert if that sounded like the Christ he knew.  "Yes," he said.  So we asked, "Will you read this book?" and "Would your parents be interested in this message too?" and the answer to both was another "Yes." and a "hold on, let me get my Dad."  We have an appointment with their family for Saturday, because he wants to make sure the mom is there too.  Um, holla fo a dolla, best news I've heard all week.
And that's the state of the work right now - meet a hundred people, teach fifty Restoration lessons on the doorstep, hand out a dozen Books of Mormon.... and never get return appointments.  Or they call the day of asking to reschedule and then never call back.  Or we go and no one answers the door, or answer and say they haven't read or don't have time.  It's enough to make you want to pull your own teeth out.  But!  I'm sticking to the positive, remember?
Last week on P-day, we walked into Krispy Kreme, each picked out two, went up to the register to pay up, and the lady hands us the donuts and wishes us a good day.  Um lady, did you forget this is the part where we give you money?  I guess not - we concluded she had to be an angel disguised as a donut maker.  When free Krispy Kremes happen, you know God is on your side.
Since I've already explained why Sundays are great and awful at the same time, I was feeling particularly low when a brother in the ward, old rascal Charlie, shook my hand after Sunday school and said "You look beautiful today." I think I cried.  That same week, an old lady we sang to at the assisted living home gave me a hug and kiss and called me "her beautiful child," and a gentleman in the library remarked about my "coloring" (you'd think these Southerners never saw a Hispanic/Filipino ethnic mix before, I'm like a bengal tiger or something) and also told me I was beautiful and I had to laugh (after he left) because it's really dumb how much girls want to be called beautiful because it matters very little especially in my current line of work, i.e. being a missionary, and yet Heavenly Father knows what a difference it makes to me because guess what - I'm still a girl.  And if anything silly little comments like these remind me that He's looking out for me.
Other miracles you kind of have to open your eyes to, and I don't really know if I had anything to do with this at all, but it's a miracle nonetheless.  My first Sunday in Shreveport, the chapel was less than half occupied.  There were so many open pews I couldn't decide where to sit.  Last Sunday, there wasn't a single empty row.  The chapel was packed and, because it was fast and testimony meeting, the Spirit was strong.  The ward went from scarce to brimming in twelve weeks.  Maybe our active member visits, calling them for splits, and visiting less-actives has paid off.  Maybe Heavenly Father knows we're about to get hecka baptisms and they'll need a strong ward to welcome them in.  Whatever it is, I've never seen anything like it.
Last Saturday was something special.  I had the opportunity to address all the youth in the stake that showed up to a special activity, the Missionary Training Academy - a day-long activity at the stake center that cycles them through classes that teach them how to teach their friends, what to expect on fulltime missions and how to be missionaries now.  Me and three other missionaries got to teach one class, each of us taking ten minutes to tell a bit of our "conversion stories," or when the gospel took on new meaning in our lives and how that influenced us to be missionaries.  I taught the principle of obedience, and how when I became "converted" I started living the commandments not out of fear of consequence but because I love Jesus Christ and how that has made all the difference.  It always will, so long as I remember whom it is I am serving.
58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye asteadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
[1 Corinthians 15:58]
We never know what difference is being made, whether externally or in ourselves.  And who knows?  Maybe one of those precious youth I had the privilege of addressing will choose to change their mind, like I did, and serve a mission.  And serve for the right reason.  For the love of their Savior.  Anything done for that reason brings immeasurable fulfillment like nothing else can.
Sister Valdez

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Week 13: As A Child

I mean, we technically didn't dress up... okay maybe we did.

On a recent Tuesday night, I found myself sick to my stomach after a long day.  Against my better judgment, I and my fellow missionaries of Shreveport had gorged ourselves on Domino's pizza and other accompanying food items at a members house in Historic S-Port to a point that definitely satisfied the natural man and definitely offended the virtue of our callings.  I glanced down at a remnant of that poor decision in the car beside me: half a chocolate chip cookie.  Flustered and upset with the adversary, who often disguises himself as sugary goodness, I grabbed the evidence, opened the car door and chucked the cookie into the dark abyss yelling "Get behind me, Satan!"  I think it scared him off.  My cravings have substantially subsided since.

I tell you this story because sacrifice has been on our minds a lot lately.  What kind of sacrifice will make you a saint?  One way to think of it is this:  what kind of sacrifice will make you become a child?  As Matthew 18 says,

"Except ye be converted, and become as little achildren, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall ahumble himself as this little bchild, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven."

And then the Savior tells us how.

"Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire."
Trunk or Treat

I understand.  You may love your foot.  It's been there for you a long time and got you many cool places, but if it gets horribly infected (i.e. with sin, the kind of sin that sticks and maims) cut it off.  No other option.  You may have a vice.  Big or small, if it is not a virtue it is not pleasing to God.  And He's asking you now to cut it off because just as you wouldn't want one little infection of the foot to spread and kill you, so also would it suck if one little sin ended up being enough to keep you from the presence of Heavenly Father.
We've met some amazing people this week.  Jen's husband was finally home (he works out of state) and she had us teach them a lesson together.  She's said before, she's willing to let go of whatever it takes to reach celestial glory.  And if her husband is willing, she wants them to get baptized together.  My heart flew when I heard this of course, certain that the love of a woman would be enough to soften his hesitant heart so they can make the sacrifice that precedes the covenant.  We still have to tell them about the word of wisdom, a common problem here, but if their desire is sincere, they will find the strength to quit those dumb substances.

We could proselyte like this, right?

For the part member family, it may be other kinds of sacrifice.  The physical demand of coming to church, for the father who has MS, or the social sacrifice their kids will have to make.  But the sister from the ward who came with us told an amazing story about how she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and recieved a blessing telling her that this test would be not only a strength to her, but to all who she bore testimony to.  Driving home from that blessing, she gripped her steering wheel with newfound resolve, and said to Heavenly Father, "If this is Your will, okay. Let's do this."  Within a year, she was healed.  And her faith is mountains high.


The Atonement is the key to all of this.  It is the reason we can find the strength to make the sacrifices that are asked of us, the reason we can do the seemingly impossible and cast off the things of this world and revert back to the humble, teachable, pure children we once were.  We taught a woman we thought was a promising potential investigator, and it turns out she's a lost less active that we had been miraculously led to - her records were nowhere near this area.  As she expressed her pain and feeling of being so far gone, and we opened the scriptures to explain the Savior's Atonement, that transformation again occured, her face softened, her eyes glowing with hope, and she looked pure as a child who's faith is wholeheartedly in Jesus Christ.

As the children of Shreveport ward so simply taught us all in the primary program yesterday,
"I am a child of God.  And He has sent me here."
So will He provide for and help us while we are here until that happy day that we live with Him once more.

Sister Valdez

Ladies and gentlemen... the Shreveport District.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Week 11 & 12: Many Sparrows


puddle jumping!

Here's the thing about precipitation in the South.  When it rains, it pours.  Buckets and rivers and more than your feeble jacket and non-waterproof boots can handle.  So it's been with the blessings.  Great tribulation --> great blessings, indeed.  So much that I'm overwhelmed a little bit with how many people we have to keep tabs on, lest a single soul be lost.  But I have hope.  It all started with exchanges.

Look how long my hair has grown!

Prior to the visit of the Sister Training Leaders, with whom we went on exchanges with, Sister Brimley and I had a rough weekend.  If there's one thing worse than tracting in the sticky heat, it's tracting in the rain, covered in bug bites, during the time-o-month (TMI? not sorry), after multiple doors have slammed unkindly in your face.  I didn't really believe in seasonal affective disorder before, but on that gloomy day, there was not a thing I could think of to smile about and I blame it wholly on the awful gray color of the sky.  And then it was Monday, exchanges.  We put off P-day because interviews were the next day, and it was the most amazingly productive not-P-day I've ever had.
My new temporary companion, Sister Zemp, and I got 7 lessons and 3 new investigators in a day.  That's like, how many we aim to get in a week.  And that was just the start.  The next night, we got into a house with an older couple we met on the driveway who like would not have invited us in had it not started pouring cats and dogs the minute we introduced ourselves.  And this couple, old Baptists, had questions about the Bible - the third heaven - that opened right into the Plan of Salvation.  They may be tough ones to crack, but I'm up for the challenge.
Exchanges with Sis Zemp

Later that night, Sister Zemp and I got in, and both felt (her more than me) that we came in too early.  That our work wasn't done.  So, hearts on edge with some strange sense of urgency, and hearts tingling with the Spirit, we set back out, praying for guidance.  We ended up on street we visit frequently, and tried the neighbors of one of our investigators.  Whether Mike (the one who easily made a return appointment with us) is going to lead anywhere great is yet in question, but the greatest thing I got out of that night was putting every bit of my trust in the Holy Ghost's ability to lead us where God wants us.

yoga poses at a house we were tracting 

I admit, being literally guided to those elect had been something I'd yet to get a testimony of, though I really wanted to.  It just took convincing myself to stop doubting myself.  "Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith" as Elder Uchtdorf said.  So I did.  I cast aside my timidness and fear of being wrong, and just went for it.  That's how we found Mike.  Later that week, tracting a neighborhood rich enough to make any missionary tremble, that's how we found Susan, who's openness to us and eagerness to read the Book of Mormon was a result of listening to Mormon host Glen Beck on the radio (who'da thunk, huh?).  And yesterday, I believe it to be by that same faith and power that we found Stacy, a woman who answered the door on a street we'd just been passing through to get to our destination; she not only told us that we could return, but she told us this wasn't her house and gave us her address on street over.  No one does that.  No one offers their address without our asking.  We were led to her.
"Be thou humble, in thy weakness, and the Lord thy God shall lead thee."
yes, we left a contact card at 5 Guys
This is a silly thing maybe, but last Saturday we were going to visit a less active who's toddler was in dire need of clothes.  Because it was Saturday and I was low on funds, I prayed and asked Heavenly Father for a garage sale with little girls clothes so I could help.  Then I took a detour on the way to the house, and boom.  Garage sale.  With tiny girl clothes.  Holla.  And after the huge sigh of relief, I was like "Okay God, I know you got this.  I know you got the little stuff and I know I should be trusting you a lot more than I am and just ACTING on all these thoughts I get instead of questioning everything because as long as it's a good thought, something beneficial will come of it and you got this."  So that's my latest lesson in a nutshell.

A missionary activity with the Activity Girls!
And still, there's that worry of "Do I think of every one of these fifty investigators as ones that are gonna get baptized and then get disappointed when only one or two do, or do I lower my expectations and run the risk of being 'o ye of little faith'?"  It's a struggle.  But I know now I can only let myself think of the task at hand, the people I'm going to go see this week, the lessons I can teach today, and stay on my toes so that I don't get comfortable or cocky and forget about anyone.  I definitely am happy about all the work to do, to be sure.  I can honestly say my heart is full and my joy is sweet, such as I've never before known.  And I know that Heavenly Father is watching out for every soul I come across.  I may not be able to hold every hand, but He can.
"Yet will I not forget thee, O house of Israel.  Behold I hav graven thee upon the palms of my hands."
the bayou
And if his eye is indeed on the sparrow, and not a single one falls without Him knowing, then,
trailer park
"Fear not, ye are of more value than many sparrows."
Sister Valdez

Monday, October 7, 2013

Week 10: Extraordinary Things

Most Sunday nights, when my district leader calls to get our numbers (of lessons, investigators, baptisms etc.) for the week, he won't let me dictate my list until I've told him a story first.  This was our most recent:
Once upon a time, Sister Brimley and I were lost.  We'd been walking around a few neighborhoods for hours, looking for someone to minister to, getting work done but not as much as we'd like, and were now in search of Schaub street.  We spotted a couple teenagers coming toward us and asked if they knew where Schaub was.  They did not.  So we walked on.  And there in front of a nearby vacant house was a beautiful naturally-occuring wish opportunity - a fairy ring.  A fairy ring is, of course, a circle of mushrooms that around here tend to pop up on people's lawns after a rainfall.  This one was new, the mushrooms still pure white and puffy.  So of course, I had to get a picture of Sister Brimley in one.  Everyone knows that fairy rings are magic and by standing in the middle of one, one may be granted the desires of their heart.  Ours must have been so collectively strong that we didn't even have to vocalize this wish before it was granted.  No sooner did I snap the photo than we heard the pattering of running footsteps behind us.  The teenage boy had run back outside after learning where Schaub was, that he might offer us the previously sought direction.  We learned his name, Justin, and thanked him and I almost waved goodbye, but Sister Brimley had other ideas.  As he began to retreat, she ran after him and said "We're missionaries!"  Without her boldness, we never would have learned that Justin, young as he was, was a fervent prayer-sayer, a proficient reader of the Word, and a seeker of truth in the Christian religion.  We straightway invited him to read the Book of Mormon, which he gratefully accepted, saying "I could probably finish this in a week."  The plan is to return on Tuesday and test the truth of that statement.
This was just the beginning of the manifestation of a motto that my companion and I have come to adopt:  "I BELIEVE IN EXTRAORDINARY THINGS."  This line is taped to the front of my planner, and garnishes most of our conversations, particularly at the end of the day when we search the day's memory for small miracles that made the toil worthwhile.
"The way Jen's tangents about ghosts led perfectly into the spirit world and Plan of Salvation."
"The fact that we're always at her house right as something catastrophic happens in her family life - and that she recognizes it as divine intervention."

My General Conference embroidery square

"The less-active (of several years) father of the family we're teaching offering the closing prayer at our last visit."
"Reconnecting with Susie, just as she's waiting to be taken to the ER."
"Having a scripture on hand that spoke to her soul, affirmed to her that we're sent by a loving Heavenly Father at the right time, and caused the perpetual look of worry in her eyes to soften to one of peace and gratitude."
"Getting answers to all four questions I wrote down at General Conference."
"Happening upon a man I'd met weeks ago who'd asked for our church's address and lost it, but wants to come."
"Sister Burton's fruit pizza."

All of them, seemingly coincidence at times, but all of them divine.  And all of them, extraordinary.  Not least of which is the news I recieved this week, that my first investigator, a dear friend of mine back home, had finally, after two years, made the choice to enter onto the path home by entering the waters of baptism.  The news was met with much rejoicing in the form of screaming, floor-pounding, and shoe-throwing, and a loud declaration of happiness that must surely seem a trifle in comparison to the joy our Father in Heaven feels when another one of his children has entered into a covenant with him.
 On the subject of covenants, some of you that listened to General Conference and particularly the General Relief Society broadcast may have recognized the emphasis on keeping our covenants, and the power that we recieve from them.  After that broadcast, I was doing some dream-studying (like when missionaries teach lessons in their dreams, except I was studying in my dreams) and was given to much pondering on the subject of covenants - What's a simple way I can explain and teach covenants?  They are unique to our faith in a way, when paired with ordinances, that much I know.  And the last thing I saw before I woke up was this written on a page:

We promise to try.  God promises to help.
We covenant to trust our Father in Heaven, to follow the example of Jesus Christ and to keep the commandments to the best of our ability.  And God, knowing our imperfections and weakness, covenants to "pour out His spirit more abundantly upon us" so that we may know He is with us and so we might have the strength and ability to keep those commandments.
We promise to try.  God promises to help.
May the words of our prophets continually give us all encouragement and inspiration, may we recognize the words of God's servants as messages from a loving and Eternal Father, and may we choose now to set our personal goals with the hope that when we hold fast to those promises, we are connected to, or yoked with an all-powerful God and our mighty Redeemer who will help us reach them.
As quoted multiple times in the last weekend,
"Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
It is only together, yoked with Christ, that we truly will see and accomplish extraordinary things.

There's a storm abrewing!
 Sister Valdez