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.