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

Week 70 & 71: Shake Heaven

I just want you all to know that I have been working hard - despite the countdown to my death that ya'll betimes remind me of - and the proof is in my shoes.  Another piece of the sole just came off as I sit here and the sides are busting open with holes.  Just the sight of them fills me with joy and satisfaction.

These last two weeks have been stellar.  I told my greenie, "Don't get too excited.  This is beginner's luck.  Normal missions here involved weeks and weeks of fruitless finding, stagnant investigators, and no-shows at church.  Not a baptism your second week and multiple progressing investigators."  But in the meantime, I'm letting her bask in the glory that is Slidell, Louisiana.

Thanksgiving here was a blast.  We spent the day raking our ward mission leader's yard (still fit in my jeans, small victory) and partying at Sister W's house (K-dog's mom).  There was way more pie than even 12 missionaries could handle (that's six senior missionaries and six of us young'ns).  I was assigned to prepare a program, so I played the piano and had the elders sing with us sisters Because I Have Been Given Much, A Child's Prayer, and Silent Night, complete with scripture verses to precede each song.  We're not professionals.  But the seniors enjoyed it. Sister W and K-dog are like my best friends in the whole world, right now.  We called her last night because we wanted to watch the First Presidency Christmas devotional, and she said "Come over!" and she made us hot chocolate because she's the best.  The devotional was wonderful, I recommend looking it up on LDS.org if you missed it.  It lifted my heart.  Come on, Christmas.  We ready.

Sister C's baptism was wonderful.  The Holy Spirit of Promise was there to seal it, and I got the feeling that this was just as much, if not more, for her formerly less-active husband who got himself worthy to be ordained a priest so he could baptize his wife.  When the bishopric welcomed them into the ward at the end of the service, they both ended up talking about the priesthood, the blessing it is to families, and being worthy at all times.  I sensed that Brother C could feel this new responsibility to take his role as spiritual leader of the home and lead his family into the gospel he knew as a child and is bravely returning to.  They're going to be eternal.  I just know it.  #operationeternalize
My trainee was walkin on air all day.  First baptism your second Sunday is not even fair, but you know, whatever :]  I was happy she got to experience this (so when her time comes to go for months with downpour of disappointment and zero success, she'll remember this and that baptisms are possible and have hope).  But then again, with the way this mission is going, this whole "being successful" thing could become the norm.  Imagine that.  It's come leaps from where it was when I first got here.  We as a mission fasted yesterday that we'll reach our mission goal of 300 for the year.  That would mean 50 convert baptisms in the month of December.  Eesh.  We think we can we think we can!

Perks of my new comp:  she's had real world experiences.  Real world problems.  So when we're teaching, say, a woman who's depressed and alone and still grieving the loss of her mother, I'm like "Um, the gospel, it help" but my companion can be like "I know what you're going through" and suddenly what we're teaching is 100% more relevant.  Second, she's still got that fire they instill in you at the MTC and is not afraid to boldly ask in the middle of a lesson on the plan of salvation and agency, "Have you been making the right choices?"  and this less active sheepishly admits that she should be coming to church instead of making excuses and I'm like - Whoa.  That just happened.  High five for calling to repentance.

So cool thing in gospel principles yesterday: the elder teaching is on the subject of missionary work in the millenium, then looks at our two recent converts and says "So you were just baptized, how has missionary work blessed ya'lls lives?"  And their replies are basically what you see in the missionary training videos or read about in the Ensign stories.  "It gave me a second chance, and I feel great knowing that the past is in the past and I can start again.  It's made me excited to share the gospel with others now."  "The sisters knocked on my door and I let them in and I don't know why.  But they helped me find exactly what I'd been looking for, for me and my family, and that sense of belonging.  I'm so glad they knocked on my door."  It was a lot more amazing-sounding in person.  But yeah, I was floored.  They never told US these things!  I guess cause we didn't ask.  Imagine that.  What's better, is that our investigators, Linda (been investigating forever), and Lonnie (currently succeeding in the stop smoking program and on the edge of glory) were both present for that.  You're next!  Into the celestial kingdom we go!

Speaking of Lonnie, coolest thing.  We were teaching him with a member, outside in front of his trailer, and his son Junior comes home from school and kind of lingers by the door while we talk.  We'd met him once before and answered his questions about the afterlife - which only intelligent teenagers take time to think about.  So we invite him to sit with us and he runs to grab and chair and join our lesson.  We turn the lesson more to Junior when he arrives and hand him Alma 7 to read, and I could almost see the wheels turning in his mind, evaluating the choices he'd been making (peer pressure to do dumb stuff, normal high school) and calculating what he must change to live a more meaningful life.  So naturally, we then invited him to be baptized.  And he accepted.  You know it's been a good day when it includes a moment of you and your companion getting in the car, and right when you shut the doors, screaming and pounding the ceiling.  Pure joy.

 5 For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.

 6 For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory.  [D&C 21]

The prophets and those in leadership may at times ask of us hard things.  Increase your faith!  Work harder!  Do better!  E.g. Our mission's leadership in the push to reach 300 by increasing faith, which comes of improvement in four areas: study, prayer, work and obedience (#SPWO)  If we make some improvement in each of these areas, faith increases.  Rather, Heavenly Father grants us more faith, because faith is a gift from God.  And we exercise it, and we push, and we stretch, and we make ourselves do things we don't want to do, but it's an act of faith, and miracles happen.  Heaven shakes and WHOOSH send down more power upon us, so our labor in the Lord's work can be an upward climb.  It'll require daily sacrifice and constant reevaluation.  But it's all worth it.  Pray for us.  I love ya'll, I pray for ya'll.

Sister Valdez

1. me scissoring Lonnie's last bit of tobacco
2. rake warriors
3. Thanksgiving crowd


Monday, November 24, 2014

Week 68 & 69: Out with a Splash & Baby Fever‏

Another one bites the dust.  Sister Schulthies left me today to go home.  Every time we did something for "the last time" this last weekend, (last planning session, got area book updated, packing completed, last hour of tracting), she would say most regally, "It is finished."  Or I would say, "You have fought the good fight."  I hope that's not sacrilegious of us.  She hit me a couple times with the car when I backed her out this week.  Fun final memories.  
As planned, K-dog was baptized on Saturday the 15th.  And it was the most beautiful service I've ever been
a part of.  We missionaries sang a medley I composed, of "Teach Me to Walk in the Light" and "Be Thou My Vision".  Sister Schulthies and I gave the talks as well, and K-dog's and his mother's home teacher, the member of the stake presidency, baptized him.  The Spirit was strong from the very beginning, but after the ordinance was performed, it just got stronger and stronger.  The feeling inside me swelled and intensified until, for the first time in my life, it felt like a "burning in the bosom" as described in the scriptures, like a fire had ignited in the center of my heart, and I knew his baptism was sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise.  I hope all in attendance will remember that feeling, that sweet message of mercy that let us know that the Savior had redeemed this man, and be able to say like the men on route to Emmaus, "Did not our hearts burn within us?"

So I got this revelation this week.  I was like, I wonder why it took me so long to see the fruits of my labors.  And then right after my morning prayer, the Spirit whispered, "You are the fruits of your labors."  And I was like, whoa.  You're right.  Like, maybe all those hard areas were soley to teach me patience and hope and humility, as well as to gain as much scriptural knowledge as I could, so that when I was placed in an area that was ready, I would be ready too.  Like the currant bush Elder Christofferson spoke of in his talk about the Will of God, I was getting cut down and cut down and cut down, but the Gardener knew what He was doing.  Even if I never saw any baptisms ever, I would still have what I learned there.  I'd still have those Christlike attributes.  And those are the fruits.  Those are the things we take with us into eternity.  We don't have gold or fast cars up in heaven, as rewards for our obedience.  What we become is our treasure in heaven.  Cool, huh?

I'm now awaiting the arrival of.... wait for it..... MY TRAINEE.  Yep.  It happened.  I'm gonna be a mom.  Am I terrified?  Yeah.  Does it feel right though? Definitely.  President told us over speaker phone and I jumped back (so the sound of my scream wouldn't pierce his eardrum) but he was laughing because he knew I saw it coming.  It's gonna be good.  It's gonna be fun.  I'll do my best to teach her everything I learned in 15 months over the next 3 and maybe she'll turn out ok.

Woohoo!  It's now a week later and so far so good.  Sister Matealona is a hilarious and humble, sassy and sweet little Polynesian girl.  From Utah.  (haha jk, she's originally from Hawaii).  The funniest thing is people trying to pronounce her last name.  They just call her Sister M.  Except little Guatemalan Maria who feeds us lunch every week, she said her name first time no problem.  And since Sister M knows absolutely zero Spanish, I've been relying even more on the gift of tongues to help translate our lunch conversations with Maria.
My biggest fear with training was that I'd get a bratty companion with whom I had nothing in common.  Thank goodness this was not the case.  We do a hecka lotta singing while we tract, and she does funky dance moves sometimes when she helps me back the car out.  Then at night getting ready for bed, she sings me the latest Beyonce songs and I pitch my screenplay ideas to her.  Yesterday I showed her the photo of me at age 18 with my hot pink A-line haircut and she laughed so hard she cried.
The work is going so well in Slidell, it's like not even fair.  For Sister M, I tell her it's beginner's luck.  For me, I think it's the Lord rewarding me for working all those months in Florence without throwing myself off a bridge.
We were worried about Lonnie, because he hadn't shown up to church, so I asked my companion if we should go see him.  She said yes.  (This is how I make decisions.  If my companion agrees, then the thought must be inspired of the Spirit.  Like if we pull up to a street and I ask her if she feels weird and she does, then we don't tract it.)  So we get to Lonnie's, and he's happy to see us.  While we're sitting talking with him, his 17 year old son comes home.  We ask if he's got any questions and he's like, yeah all the time, so he pulls up a chair and we teach him about the afterlife.  It's kind of astounding how teenagers get it even quicker and easier than their parents.  We only saw him that one time, but we taught Lonnie again later that week about the word of wisdom and he's so meek, he's doing the stop smoking program starting tonight.  He'd also been having a lot of problems with a shoulder that wasn't healing and was keeping him from working, so we had the ward mission leader and the elders come give him a blessing.  It was so sweet.  You could see and feel how humble Lonnie is, ready to accept whatever his Heavenly Father has for him.  Oh oh oh he actually prayed like we asked him to, to ask God if getting baptized was the right thing.  And he got his confirming revelation!  He said when he prayed about it, he got chills and then the wind started blowing and he knew.  Ha.  God always speaks to us in ways we'll understand.  He came to church again yesterday and even the members have noticed a change in his countenance.  He looks as happy as he feels.  And I must say, one of the highlights of my week, was when we knocked on his door and he got the biggest smile on his face when he saw us.  Is it weird that my best friends in the world these days are 50 year old white men?
Speaking of the elect, Sister C, the mom in the part member family, is set for baptism this Sunday.  We went through the baptism interview questions, and when asked what the restoration meant to her, she said "It means that the priesthood keys are restored that can seal my family, so I can be with them forever."  And I was grinning so hard my face almost broke.  It just always amazes me when people actually get it, because I guess I don't always expect them too.  Oh me of little faith.  She's ready.  Right after that, we had she and her husband stand and the member that was helping us teach, and like five of us were trying to teach/demonstrate how to baptize someone and it was the most hilarious thing. But they got it eventually.  Just remember, you dip backwards, do not dunk forwards.
I could go on about all the miracles in between, but my kiddo wants to go play some volleyball so I'll fill ya'll in next time.  Life is great.  Work is blessed.  Church is true.  Love ya'll.

As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.

10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.
 11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. [John 15]
Sister Valdez

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Week 67: Faith On

tryin on silver and diamonds

bein creepy in da fog

Man, this week went on for days.  And yet, Preparation Day snuck up on me, I feel like it was just Monday.  We did a lot of stuff I guess.  Got lost in the work, as they say.
Tuesday was super different, cause we got permission to go to the career workshop at the LDS employment center so Sister Schulthies can get a job when she goes home in a week (p.s. transfers are next Tuesday, if I end up training I'm gonna scream I'm so terrified).  Two realizations.  First, while going over how to pursue employment and follow up and present yourself to potential employers, I discovered that nearly everything in the career workbook is actually in Preach My Gospel.  Because principles for finding people to teach and presenting yourself as a representative of Jesus Christ are evidently the same.  Next, while talking about all our skills and accomplishments, the way we would to a potential employer, I discovered that I've done a lot more in my twenty-three years than I thought, despite being sheltered and never having to work for other than myself or my bro.  Also, learned that it takes a lot of impressive skills to do what I've done up to this point.  We all did this exercise, list the attributes and skills required to graduate from college, be a missionary, manage that one place, other accomplishments we'd listed.  Then read em aloud:  I am diligent, creative, motivated, a team player, positive, a problem-solver, etc.  Makes you sound a lot better than you probably see yourself.  Oh, and I got it into my head during this workshop that I want to own my own photo studio.  One day.  We'll  see.

  best idea yet: fruit cubes city hall Sister P's blinged out CTR ring

Cool thing though.  There was this less active sister in Waveland, that Sister Rocha and I ran into at walmart on two different occasions.  She was only less active because her casino job make her work every single Sunday. The second time we saw her, Sister Rocha handed her the info on the LDS Employment center and told her to call them if she ever decided to quit her job and needed help finding a new one.  Then I left Waveland.  Guess who was at the workshop?  That sister!  The casino had been bought out and her position dissolved, so she no longer had a job.  And could now get a better one that would let her go to church!  Prayers are answered and blessings arrive in a variety of ways.  Sometimes via unforeseen unemployment.
Hey did ya'll know the scriptures talk about and therefore verify the existence of sea monsters?  At least in the Jaredite era?

And thus they were driven forth; and no monster of the sea could break them, neither whale that could mar them; and they did have light continually, whether it was above the water or under the water. [Ether 6]

In other words, I now have historical grounds for believing in Nessie and the Cracken.
We had the coolest finding experience this week.  We tracted a street, pleasant fall weather, cold comin in and perfect for breakin out the scarfs and cardigans, and had finished one, completed our hour, and were ready to head back, but then I stopped us and said "That house we skipped.  Should we go knock it now, or come back another day?"  Sister S confirmed my prompting:  "Let's do it now."  So we go back to the house we had skipped because we'd seen people out front engaged in conversation and didn't want to interrupt.  Now that one of them had left (the spouse that prob wouldn't have cared to let us in) we went back and the mom came to the door, who I think was probably a swimsuit model once, she was so pretty.  But so down to earth.  And she looked familiar to both of us, though neither of us have met her (though I hate when I get that thought about someone and then they don't progress).  In any case, she seemed intrigued by our 20 second explanation of apostasy-->restoration and said "I think my son would be interested in this" as she herself was believing but not religious.  So we speak with the 16 year old who looks like a total care-about-nothing-but-sports it-guy, could be on a magazine if he wanted, but turns out he recently started going to the local christian teen fellowship and reading the Bible every night even though no one else in his household does.  Talk about judging by cover.  They let us into their nice house, they were the only two home, and we taught them the restoration.  The mom loved the story of Joseph Smith on his search, because his story is basically her son's story.  Parents didn't agree on religion, confused about where to go, attended churches by himself looking for answers...  When we told them about the Book of Mormon, and said no, you don't have to buy it we'll give it to you free, the boy lit up and immediately reached for it.  It just... I don't know.  It was awesome.  It was perfect.  They didn't set a specific return appt. because they don't know when they'll be home and I'm terrified we'll never see them again.  But such is mission life.  You do what you can when you can.  And pray that they don't become lost forever.
We got three on date now!  We had a killer lesson with Lonnie at the storehouse with a brother from the ward, the one that embraced him that first time at church.  Went through the whole plan of salvation and hopefully the poor guy could keep up.  But he committed to a baptism date!  December 6.  And then he came to church again!  Brought his two grandkids too.  Took himself to Sunday school and then to priesthood with no guidance from us, like he already belongs!  Love that guy.  The C family is on track, we watched a super cheesy 90's video clip about priesthood power and the investigating wife's husband met with bishop about being ordained a priest so he can baptize her.  He's just gotta kick a coffee habit and he's good to go.  And he's the kind who that wouldn't even be a problem for, he knows how important this is.  K-dog is still stoked for his baptism this Saturday.  He asked his good friend who happens to be a member of the stake presidency to baptize him - and who told us that years ago when K-dog would occasionally come to church with his mom, that he showed him the baptismal font once and said "I'm gonna get you in there one day."  Dreams do come true.
We had a really tender lesson with a fourteen year old girl yesterday, who had been to other churches a few times and believes the story of Jesus really happened.  What she doesn't know is why.  She was asking really deep questions, like "How is God our Father?  Why did they kill Him?  Why did He let them kill Him?  Who did He die for?  Have you ever loved someone enough to die for them?  Have you ever prayed and it came true?"  We explained pre-earth, God is the father of our spirits, which appeared to enlighten her.  She said "Oh, so I have two fathers.  But one of them is forever" and smiled.  Melted my heart.  Then we explained the Godhead, how they are three separate beings, one in purpose, and how Jesus came to die for us, so we could live again and live with God, like paying a bail when we imprisoned ourselves in sin.  We literally only talked about Jesus Christ for like half an hour.  It was awesome.  It's crazy for someone like me to try and imagine what it would be like for someone like her, to have grown up not understanding who Jesus was or what He did or how much He truly loves us.  I hope she continues to learn and eventually feels for herself what that is like.  It'll change her life.

For it was by faith that Christ showed himself unto our fathers, after he had risen from the dead; and he showed not himself unto them until after they had faith in him; wherefore, it must needs be that some had faith in him, for he showed himself not unto the world.
 But because of the faith of men he has shown himself unto the world, and glorified the name of the Father, and prepared a way that thereby others might be partakers of the heavenly gift, that they might hope for those things which they have not seen.
 Wherefore, ye may also have hope, and be partakers of the gift, if ye will but have faith.  [Ether 12]
Faith on.  Hope on.

Sister Valdez

1. NASA science center!  rocket engine thing!
2.  "...which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor for the soul"
3.  Baseball wit da zone

Monday, November 3, 2014

Week 66: Operation Eternalize

All is well in Slidell.  All is super magnificent.  Sister Creager and I had a blast going on exchanges in Diamondhead (she's my sister training leader now, which is still kinda weird but cool).  She seems to look older, more mature every time I see her.  I got to help her drop an investigator, find and teach a new one, and set a current investigator with a baptism date!  I guess that's more success than usual for her are, kind of an opulent one and filled with old people, but that's exchanges for ya.  Expect miracles.  And my only question for Sister Creager after our post-exchange evaluations was, "If I'm not stressed out, does that mean I'm doing something wrong?" Her answer was no. She affirmed my conjecture that perhaps after a major challenge, and we've adapted to a particular kind of stress, the Lord betimes gives us a little break to glory in the accomplishment of feeling like we're on top of things... before he throws another one on us. So I'm fully expecting more hard things to come.  Like that maybe I'll train a greenie next transfer. But for the moment, all is super well.

K-dog, the member's son, came to church again yesterday. And so did a new investigator!  Lonny*, who's only been taught once, showed up right on time, and dressed to the nines.  I just wanted to hug him, I was so happy.  This one brother in the ward is the best ever - he immediately put his arm around Lonny, complimented his hip, classy suit, and got to know him and invited him to priesthood after sunday school.  i.e. what should happen to EVERY investigator/less-active that shows up to church, because if it did, we'd have significantly more baptisms, new members retained, and less actives reactivated.  Lonny is a super meek and humble soul, and seemed to really enjoy church.  He smiled the whole time.  I have this secret hope that he is the friend I knew in the pre-mortal life who I promised to find, and that we'll be friends for eternity.  K-Dog set his own baptism date, for November 15th!  His mom's so funny, she's like "I think he might be nervous about baptism still, I haven't told too many people, I don't wanna him to feel pushed"  and we were like, "Um, well, he actually announced his baptism to everyone in gospel principles class today."  In that same class, a brother asked him if we sisters had been visiting and teaching him, and said "They're just too hard to resist, aren't they?" and K-dog responded, "Yeah, they really are pretty wonderful" and I pretended not to hear but was screaming on the inside with glee.

The C family, that part member family, is also doing really well.  Sister C told us she feels that something's been guiding her to this church, and said she'd considered a baptism date and asked if November 22 was too soon, and of course we're like "UM NOPE NOT AT ALL."  Like come on, don't be ridiculous, you live the word of wisdom, you live all the standards of the church, you want to strengthen your relationship with God and have an eternal family, let's just make this official!  So we're going to do our best to make sure she's ready by that date. She really wants this for her family's sake, but I still feel that she needs confirming revelation, like that one apostle talked about last conference.  Her husband responded well when we mentioned that his getting active in the church now means he could possibly baptize his wife, and eventually his kids.  He liked that idea.  He just needs to be ordained a priest and boom! - commence operation: eternalize.  They made it to church last week for the primary program and they plan on coming from now on. We're overjoyed. Their member relatives in the ward are going to flip.
Halloween was pretty bomb.  Well, the ward trunk or treat was.  We had a mini zone conf that day, and got to eat cookies and watch Meet the Mormons.  It was so good.  I'm 100% that I'm going to be a boxer/MMA fighter when I get home and also that I'm going to marry David Archuleta.  Then we had our progressing investigator and her son at the ward party, as well as the C family's little boy.  Sister Schulthies and I came up with one of the best team costumes I've ever done.  We put on pressed white shirts, black skirts, borrowed ties, pulled our hair back, covered the SIST with ELD on our names tags using tape and white out, and went as Elder Valdez and Elder Schulthies.  The ward loved it.  Our mission president did too.  I mean, I think we're kinda clever.

Sister Schulthies is a most excellent companion and is trying really hard to stay focused, to make the most of The Last Days. She's doing really well. We resist the urge to talk about boys and home while tracting and try to talk about favorite investigators or mission experiences - you know, keep up the blissful illusion that there's no such thing as life outside the mission.  I'm super nervous for when I have to take over, but I try not to think about how stressful that will be and just focus on preparing for it.  Every night when I pray for help learning the area, the Lord keeps yellin back, "GET A MAP" and I just keep forgetting so hopefully I locate one of those today so I can follow our routes on paper while Sister S drives and get the area memorized, instead of daydreaming/resting my eyes between appointments.  Aint no rest for the righteous.  The next big thing for us will be getting members involved.  Like, really really involved.  We read the general handbook for members regarding missionary work, retention, and activation this morning, and guess what?  90% of it is actually NOT the job of the missionaries, contrary to popular belief.  The members are advised to occasionally request our help teaching the new member lessons, but it's ultimately the job of priesthood and auxiliary leaders to be the first to fellowship newbies and then to assign other members to fellowship and visit/home teach.  I wanted to scream as we were reading this, but then I remembered most members probably don't read this manual and therefore don't know that missionary work is actually their responsibility, not missionaries, and that is absolutely will not succeed - no matter how hard we missionaries work - without their help.  Our mission pres pounded this at our last meeting.  This work will not work without the members.  We can work ourselves to death and still no progress will me made without the members.  So now you know!  And hopefully more will catch on as we teach them, boldly and lovingly, that building the kingdom is a team effort.  An introduction, an arm around a shoulder, an invitation, do infinitely more good that you realize.  We actually called the bishop and asked if we can speak in sacrament this month.  Is that backwards or what!  I mean, I've never heard of such a thing.  But this is serious business.  This is eternity.

Behold and hearken, ye elders [and sisters] of my church, who have assembled yourselves together, whose prayers I have heard, and whose hearts Iknow, and whose desires have come up before me.
 Behold and lo, mine eyes are upon you, and the heavens and the earth are in mine handsand the riches of eternity are mine to give.  [D&C 67]

Sister Valdez
3 hours straight - all the doors we knocked on

hipster kittens sleeping in a vintage suitcase

me holding a tiny kitten and being sniffed by a dog

tracting door

giant dictionary

hanging moss

rolling like a big shot

our Halloween costumes - dressed up as Elders

carving pumpkins!