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

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Week 9: We Didn't Start The Fire

      Goodbye Sister Haviland!

Birthday :]
Bye Sister Ray!  hello, creepin Elder Spence

  It's my golden birthday.  22 years old on
                   September 22nd!

Remember how I said the rains would come in due season?  This week was a monsoon.  Both literally and regarding missionary work.  I've never been happier or more excited about life.

Tangled? I will fix.
Sister Brimley really is a princess.  And no, she was not too good to be true.  She's basically a combination of Giselle from Enchanted and Rapunzel from Tangled with a little Snow White and Pocahontas in her - she has some sort of spiritual connection to willow trees I think.  Every time we pass one, or any tree for that matter, she has to touch it.  Also, I love her immensely for making sure we plan effectively, adhere to those plans, pray together often, and waste not a moment.  Sometimes, I show that love by making myself run in the mornings because she is an athlete and it makes her feel good (while it makes me feel dead), other times by manually untangling the knots in her beautiful red hair.  As pictured.

New companion!

Just as I suspected, with transfers came a change in the work.  What I didin't suspect was how immediate and amazing it would be.  We have one solid investigator, one part member family with kids more excited to learn from us than their parents, and we found a family headed by a stellar woman who desires to make hers an eternal one.  We've had two lessons with Jenn, who initially was just someone looking for a good church to go to and now, if nothing else, knows that we were put in her life at this time for a reason.  Her life is a whirlwind and we did our best to teach her a principle that I'd always taken for granted.  That God is her Father, that He loves her and knows her, and that He does both hear and answer prayers.  That's a principle we've been teaching a lot lately, that no matter your circumstance, no matter how long its been or what you've done in the meantime, your Heavenly Father wants to hear from you.  He wants you to pour out your soul to Him in prayer, because he cares.  Not only that, he wants to bless you with peace, with comfort, with love, and with whatever else you stand in need of, according to His will.
"...for I do know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials and their troubles and shall be lifted up at the last day."
Sister Benjamin's Owl Towel
{Alma 36:3}
We taught this to the children of a less active member, who were not raised in the church, but who's Baptist friends have introduced them to the idea of God and Jesus Christ.  Their curiousity sparked when I told them that they could pray about anything, even help with tests, because of the nature of our relationship to God.  We taught this to the stellar woman I mentioned, who feels the exact same way about her children - our feelings for our families are a reflection of our Heavenly Father's feelings and desires for us. 
I know, right?  I've done so much teaching in the last week, probably as much as I've done the whole last transfer.  And I've been thinking a lot about an expression others missionaries use to describe the work in those areas that have been having a lot of more constant success - "It's on fire!" they say.  "This town is on fire.  This ward is on fire.  These missionaries are on fire."  But what does that take?  Are all these incinerating areas a result of freak lightning accidents, sent down by God's hand alone?  I don't think so.  Rather, I think he's been dousing every part of the mission field in gasoline, preparing it as He has promised.  So who starts the fire?  We do.  God placed the fire in our hearts when we, as missionaries or members, decided to serve and become a part of His great work.  So we as missionaries must be always holding torches, being that bright and set-apart standard, making our testimonies loud and present.  We must also be handing out matchsticks to members, for the desire is in them too.  They just need a task to do, an invitation given with love, a place to strike and drop the match.  Yesterday, for example, two less active sisters we'd been visiting finally came to church, because members of Relief Society had visited beforehand to make them feel welcome and loved before they even stepped that cautious foot back into a chapel.  Others have accompanied us to lessons a couple times, offering little more than sincere friendship and humble testimony to back us up.  And maybe these are just matches, just trifles, but drop a match in the right place and the flames will jump and spread.  Shreveport can be on fire too, I truly believe that.  We just have to start it.
The Shreveport Sisters
"Teach them never to be weary of good works, but to be meek and lowly in heart; for such shall find rest to their souls."
{Alma 37:34}
Ain't that the truth.  With all the walking, and planning, and prayer, and diligence, and keeping time commitments, and spiritual exertion, I've never slept better in my life.  Be not weary in your pursuit of obedience, and you will never be weary in spirit.  Keep your good desires burning, and your Father in heaven will prepare a place and way for it to give light.
Sister Valdez