Thursday, January 2, 2014

Week 20 & 21: Shingle Bells‏

Goodbye Elder Huntsman!

Another transfer gone...
Packing up

Transfers certainly make for a whirlwind of a week, especially the unexpected (i.e. international) kind.  I was mentally preparing to finally be transferred out of Shreveport, getting my tears out, bracing for goodbyes, when my companion gets news she wasn't even looking for.  She'd called the mission office to order some Finding Faith in Christ dvds and the lady answers, "Sister Brimley!  I just got all your papers and it looks like you're all set for Brazil!  Oh... wait, that's not why you were calling?  Didn't President talk to you?  Whoops."  Cat was outta the bag, though.  After waiting nearly half her mission, my companion's visa had arrived.  Too bad she doesn't have a Twitter, so her original mish president could have just tweeted "Plz come 2 brazil."  (I hope you tweeters get my joke.)  We spent a less-than-productive few days shopping for last minute items and three days later, she shipped out to the mission home with Sister Harker (who's been with me this whole time in Shreve, and is now to spend her last months in Hattiesberg, MS) to be put on a plane to Salvador, Brazil.

We waved them off with some good old "Hurrah for Israel!"  and then Sister Benjamin had a couple days to party.  The day before transfers is typically spent deep cleaning the apartment, eating out because we don't want to dirty our clean, clean kitchen, and braiding each others' hair while watching Zion's Camp and other Doctrine and Covenants seminary videos before bed.  Don't worry, we got a solid visit with Sister L, returning member, somewhere in between all that.

Transfer day, we hurriedly purchased and shipped out Christmas presents to California (did I mention Sister Benji's from Cypress? we've been at the same YSA dances and just never met) and hitched a ride to T-point where I met - guess who - Elder Kyle Dalton.  At long last.  He's in my zone now, our first time crossing paths since I've been in the mission, and as you might guess, he ain't much different.  Dresses the same, hair the same, still knows everything :]  He encourages every missionary here to be more bold and straightforward.  I can only assume it's worked out well for him so far.  Me and Sister Sellers are still working on it, though we've yet to straight up tell someone that they're worshipping the devil.

Sister Sellers!

Sisters Sellers!  She's my new companion.  Elder Dalton was her district leader in their last area I believe, so she knows him pretty well.  And I told her he and I were in the same YSA ward back home.  Such a small world among Mormons.  Sister Sellers is fabulous.  She reminds me of a little bird or squirrel.  Happy.  Chipper.  Laughs heartily and loud during down time, which keeps me smiling, and then temperate and focused when it's business time, which is a relief.  She's easygoing and flexible, which makes us very compatible as companions and keeps the stress level to an all time low :]

Before transfers, Sister Brimley and I had asked for priesthood blessings from our elders.  Mine was a blessing of "comfort, and joy" as the elder stated, and I was blessed with all the happines and success that Heavenly Father was ready to give me.  A great weight was lifted from me that day, one that I hadn't fully noticed was there.  I treasure every miracle and moment of learning I've experienced the last couple transfers, but we all sense it was time for a change.  My God had heard my cry, and was ready to deliver me.  It's been a week, and I've already seen great things come to pass in the fulfillment of that blessing.

For starters, I'm really happy.   I smile a lot more than I used to.  I don't wake up depressed anymore.  Which was a straight bummer, but something I didn't know how to cure.  I think my new companion's attitude is infectious.  We've seen three major miracles in our work.  Lex, the only non member in her family, who we've been teaching has been keeping her reading commitments!  So happy.  She missed church yesterday, but I didn't let it get me down.  She wanted to come and just happened to not be woken up in time.  But she's reading the Book of Mormon, and so far the existence of it and the concept of Joseph Smith as the prophet of the restoration makes logical sense to her.  Now, once she gets the spiritual witness, she'll be gold, headfirst into that water.  Well, maybe feet first.  She's still super pregnant (which I think works to our advantage; they say with expectant mothers, the veil is especially thin.)  Lexi is such a sweet girl, and I'm sure it doesn't hurt to have four testaments of the blessing of gospel living walking around her 24/7 (her mother and brothers).

Corn row life.

Sister Sellers and I have had great experiences tracting with Christmas carols, seen many hearts soften as people reluctantly agreed to let us sing for them at their doors, and then sincerely thank us after the strains of Silent Night or Away in a Manger touched their spirits and changed their countenances. Miraculous, what music of the kingdom can do.   We found a family, the dad of which my companion had met on exchanges; his wife was just as interested, just as humble as he. They'd let us in to share our Christmas message: the Nativity story from Luke 2 and three accompanying hymns interspersed throughout the reading. They must have felt the Spirit, because I sure could. We have an appointment to teach the wife, Trishell, next week. They were our main miracle, plus a woman named Andrea, who Sister Brimley and I met right before she left, the day we were treking through rain and had zero success but for this woman who chatted with us a minute and said we could come back anytime, pointing out her apt number.  When we went back to see her, turns out she had an LDS uncle, who passed away, but who's family remains a wonderful example to her of good, Christian people. She wants to take the stop smoking lesson with us. Hopefully we get to do that soon!

I don't know how many of you heard of my recent health bother, but I want you to know I refuse to let it dampen my spirits.  Did I ever mention how I got this sudden ache in my left shoulder area and Sister McDonough (mish president's wife) and I concluded it was from doing push-ups wrong (thank you, Jillian Michaels) so I'd started walking around the apt with a bag of frozen veggies in my shirt?  Well, a few days later that bothersome ache was replaced by a weird red and blistering rash with accompanying shooting pains that showed up on my left side and the doc told me I have a case of the shingles.  Yes, an old people disease.  I don't know if you've ever experienced shingles (which you shouldn't if you're under the age of 60) but it appears along a nerve due to a weak immune system and simply cannot be rid of, nor can be relieved by any topical treatment;  you just have to wait it out, 2-3 weeks.  So for a few days, I was grimacing through every activity, constantly praying to be able to focus on the work, frustrated that no medication was taking effect.  Weird, because I never have health problems. Ever.

This was Heavenly Father throwing me a curve ball, something I'm not used to at all - physical pain. But I endured as best I could, and when I couldn't take it anymore, when the pain was so distracting I couldn't focus on anything, I asked for a priesthood blessing and the four elders in my district together provided that for me, as it was administered by a caring district leader.  When the blessing was given, I immediately felt wrapped in the arms of love, though the pain was nearly as prominent as before. But I was told in the blessing I would be healed according to my faith - as well as given the opportunity to grow closer to my Savior through this experience. So I poured out my heart that night, feeling a strange and new closeness to Jesus Christ as I pleaded with my Father to let this pass... if it be His will. For I knew He'd the power to take away pain. Of that, my testimony was sure. But if not, I painfully agreed to submit to whatever test He saw fit to inflict upon me.   If this was an experience to give me empathy, a test of my dedication, a chance to brush the grounds of Gethsemane, so be it.  However, God is merciful.  That night, I slept better than I had in so long, and when I woke the shooting pains and burdening ache were gone, replaced by a trivial discomfort, not even close to what I'd heretofore been experiencing.

"Yea, [I was] encircled about with everlasting adarkness and destruction; but behold, he has brought [me] into his everlasting blight, yea, into everlasting salvation; and [I am] encircled about with the matchless bounty of his love; yea, and we have been instruments in his hands of doing this great and marvelous work.
 Therefore, let us aglory, yea, we will bglory in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice, for our joy is full; yea, we will praise our God forever. Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his cmercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men? Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel."
[Alma 26:15-16]

I wish you all the merriest of Christmases, as we remember He who was born to set us free.

Sister Valdez

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