Monday, March 31, 2014

Week 35: Choose to be Chosen (This turned into a pulpit-pounder. I'm not sorry.)

I guess I can start with the miracles.  We pushed "inspiration tracting" this week, to everyone in the district, because I know it works.  If you know any missionaries struggling to find people, forward them this procedure:

1) Pray for forgiveness, individually.  We all need repentance and this proves to be a very humbling experience.  God works with people willing to change.
2) Pray for inspiration.  Be specific in your requests so God can be specific in his answers.  Pray for your companion to be inspired too.  Believe that there are prepared people out there.
3) One missionary looks over the map and makes a list of ten streets.  Write down any street you have the slightest hunch about.  That's how the Spirit speaks - a still small voice.  A righteous hunch.
4) The other missionary then prays over the list and makes a list of five from the list of ten, then the companion does the same.
5) Compare lists.  At least one will match up, usually more than one.  Go out and tract these streets with hope and enthusiasm.

So we did it.  To conserve miles, we biked to one of these streets, only to find that it was at the top of a MOUNTAIN but we pressed on, and THEN discovered it was a private subdivision with an ominous and discouraging "no trespassing" sign - but, since we knew it was inspired, we knocked anyway.  The first door we just asked for directions for a couple of lost German girls touring the US who had stopped us on the road - not something that happens every day.  We gave them a Mormon.org card.  You're welcome, German missionaries.  The second door, a woman asked us where we're from, marveled that there was a Mormon church in Florence, mentioned that it was interesting we showed up right then because she'd just been thinking about God and her relationship with Christ and then started crying as she told us about her struggles, how she didn't attend church because she didn't fit in, how she can't find any good people to associate with, not a single good friend, how she's trying her best to raise her teenager as a widow - and we haven't been at her door for two minutes yet.  Of course she let us in when we offered to keep her company and share a message.  As we talked, she brought up questions she'd want to ask God when she gets to the other side, and I nudged Sister Creager, said "POS" which of course is code for Plan of Salvation, and we straightaway ditched the plan to teach the Restoration and pulled out pictures to illustrate the great Plan our Heavenly Father came up with and revealed to modern day and Book of Mormon prophets.  It answers so many of those big questions of life, like "What does it really mean that 'Jesus died for me'?" and "What are we all doing here?" and "Where does the soul go after death?" and "Was that whole deal with Adam and Eve actually supposed to happen that way?"  We read 2 Nephi 2 with her, and she reread verse 25:  "Adam fell that men might be; and men are that they might have joy."  She liked that a lot.  Sums up the meaning of life in one line.  She was stoked to read the Book of Mormon after that, turns out a friend gave her a copy back in the 70's.  If she gets baptized, we're looking up that friend.  Of course, every time we find someone this golden, they disappear on us.  She left town this week and we haven't been able to get ahold of her since.  Sigh.
Similar experience at our appointment with a young man in our apt complex (so much easier to keep track of them when you're neighbors).  As he answered our question about what he'd want to ask God, the Restoration demonstration we do with mini cups got pushed to the side and Sister C whipped out the POS pictures.  Likely due to his experience in the army overseas, his question was essentially, "What will happen to all the Muslims that live good lives?  Are they condemned because they don't know about Christ?"  Doctrine: The gospel is taught to the spirits in prison.  Everyone gets that chance.  Heavenly Father thought of everything.  He also asked, "Was Jesus Christ fully man?  Because there's no way a man could live a whole life without sinning and be normal."  He then said he thought it might be hard for some people to trust in Him and keep His commandments because "if you've never been a drug addict and you try to preach to one, he won't wanna listen because you've never been where he's been."  I tried very hard to contain my excitement.  You guys, even many of the best Christians don't fully understand the extent of the Savior's atonement.  We answered both of these statements with Alma 7, and our personal testimonies that Christ, as the divine Son of God, took upon himself all our sins AND infirmities, so that He can say truthfully to each one of us "I know how you feel" and then beckon us to follow Him and find joy and peace in redemption.  The Atonement was reason the Plan could happen.  And what an awesome plan it is.

 24 But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who aknoweth all things.  [2 Nephi 2:24]

Got our hair did.
Nonetheless, when that "wisdom" doesn't line up with your own expectations, it's a tough pill to swallow.  One of the investigator's we're most hopeful for, who kept our appointment, had all his siblings there to listen too, who actually began to read the Book of Mormon when invited to, who listened intently to the POS and was spot-on in line with true doctrine every time he made a comment, who looked at the diagram of it and said "I've seen all this before" (to which I pointed to pre-earth life and said "There, you learned about this when you were there") and who even confirmed Saturday night, did not show up to church on Sunday.  Which means according to our end-of-the-week report, "not progressing."  I still don't understand how a people who have been taught since birth that going to church is a routine and necessary part of life have such a hard time coming to church when we invite them.  Sigh.

Though, I have seen the "wisdom of him who knoweth all things" unfold before, it's true.  For example, months after the fact, I realize that having a van that was so not dependable ended up being a huge blessing - because I never knew when it was going to give out on me, I had no choice but to make prayer a daily part of my commute and even memorized a few hymns that I would sing on my way to school every morning.  I might have found no need to do so had I driven a car with no faults or failures.  Similarly, our weaknesses and adversity prepare us for things to come, by teaching us how to rely on the Lord.  It could be worse.  I could be like Joseph in Egypt.  He had to be hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, and wrongly imprisoned for two years, just so he could eventually be discovered by Pharaoh and save all of Egypt and Canaan from seven year famine.  I had to be called to the Bible belt and serve 8 months without a baptism because..... well, I don't know the answer to that one yet.  But maybe it'll reveal itself eventually.

It's hard though.  And don't tell me I'm here to plant seeds, or strengthen my own testimony, or help out my companions, because while these are all naturally part of the work, that's not what I'm here to do.  I'm here to baptize.  Baptism is the first covenant that we make with our Father in Heaven and it is mandatory for progression.  We cannot have full access to the Savior's Atonement without the priesthood-authorized covenant of baptism.  If ordinances and covenants were not essential to eternal life, so much of the POS would be useless.  Don't think I'm giving up.  I've come way to far for that to be an option.  But I am going to make this known to all of you, my dear friends, because your non-member friends, relatives, colleagues, and co-workers will spend the rest of their lives barred from the full cleansing and enabling power of the Atonement UNLESS you put your faith before your fear and invite them to read, to learn, to meet with missionaries, to church, to partake in the fullness of Heavenly Father's blessings that come from having the fullness of the gospel in their lives.

Consider the attitude of the sons of Mosiah following their conversion:

Now they were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not abear that any human bsoul should cperish; yea, even the very thoughts that any soul should endure dendless torment did cause them to quake and etremble. [Mosiah 28:3]
When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.  We can't make the choice for them.  But we can choose to give them the choice.  "Many are called but few are chosen."  We are all called.  All of us.  A prophet of God made that known to us with the invitation to help the Lord in the work of salvation by joining with missionaries, pulling together. "Now is the time," he said.  It has also been said that the Hastening of the Work will go down in history as being of equal importance as the Restoration.  i.e. This is no small matter.  And though all are called, what determines who is chosen?  Answer: You.  Your choice.  You choose to be chosen when you choose to heed the call.  Then you "call" your non-believer brethren and they choose whether to be chosen.  It's not easy.  It's not comfortable.  I'll be first to attest to the pain of rejection.  However, in spite of it all, my conscience is clear, because I chose to be here.  There is no failure in the work of salvation.  Only peace.  Only blessings.  I love you all immensely.

Sister Valdez

 36 And thus they were instruments in the hands of God in bringing many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, to the knowledge of their Redeemer.
 37 And how blessed are they! For they did apublish bpeace; they did publish good tidings of good; and they did declare unto the people that the Lord reigneth. [Mosiah 27]

Monday, March 24, 2014

Week 34: Go Bold or Go Home


So I have this thing about acorns, right?  Because of my obsession with Peter Pan, he gave Wendy an acorn, she put it on a necklace, it saved her life, etc.  So I found all these acorns in Louisiana that I put on necklaces for my companions, and I'm making one for Sister Creager last night and ask her which one she wants and she looks at me and says "Go big or go home."  i.e. She wanted the big one.  I feel that this is a trait of Sister C's that's rubbed off on me, esp. concerning boldness, and has really started to affect our work, mostly in good ways.

Transfer day
Pro: Still inviting everyone to baptism, found two more who said yes (if they found out it was true.)  Both were young adults.  One may have the hots for us/wants to marry one of us to start a family with, which could present a problem.  We'll be wary.

Con: Sick of this one guy who obviously only wants to talk about the Book of Mormon and Mormonism so he can prove it wrong (same one who got all his Joseph Smith info from Wikipedia), I flat out bashed at our last visit.  Not like in the face, but like, verbally.  I Bible-bashed with no inhibitions while my companion thankfully kept calm and professional.  It's funny how we are actually never the ones who get super worked up, when those we talk to get red in the face and their voice elevates and they get all excited while we sit here like it ain't phasing us because it's not, because we have rock hard testimonies of the restored truth.  Those who claim we have no evidence obviously have not looked for it, because it's totally there (see BookofMormonTrial.com)  and maybe I shouldn't have bashed.  But I did stump him with Ezekiel 37, so I think it was worth it.  Needless to say, we're not going back.
Bye Sister Ray!

Pro:  I decided to not take a day off at the beginning of the week when my supposed allergies were feeling more like a cold, and one of those miracles happened where as soon as you leave the house to start working, the symptoms subside and you can breathe just fine, and then when you come in at night when the work is done, your nose is back to being congestion central.  Small miracle, true blessing.  When you go big, God makes it possible.

Con:  We set our goals for the month of March pretty high.  Five progressing investigators with baptism dates by the ends of the month.  No, I don't know what we were thinking.  Do you know how hard it is to get one to progress?  Real hard.  They have to be reading, praying, and attending church to count as such.  We're at zero and there's only one week left.  Halp.  We're going to fail

crawfish look like aliens
Pro:  We decided to fast on Sunday, even though it wasn't fast Sunday, because of this worry about making our goals.  Same day, we got a new ward mission leader who was just recently a missionary in 2011 and is still pumped about missionary work.  He's super stoked to take "hastening the work" literally, and we're super stoked to have his enthusiasm on our side.  Onward, Christian soldiers.  Got a new captain in the house.

Con: A large bucket of crawfish was placed before us Friday night by people we tracted into who said "yeah you can take our daughter to church with you, she likes church, also come back later if you want some food, we're cookin out!"  and yes, we ate the whole bucket.  I had to be instructed first on how to properly peel and extract the crawfish meat, but once I got over the fact that they look like large insects/mini aliens, we cracked and ate the whole bucket.  I also had my first Coke ever with this meal.  One of the most Southern things I've ever done.  I don't know how sanitary it was, but I'm not dead yet.

The Florence/Clinton District
Pro:  Diddy*, a woman we've been working with since I got to Florence, is making progress!  We check on her more often, part of the "go big" following-up plan, which works to motivate her to keep commitments when she knows we'll be back soon.  She's starting to read the Book of Mormon on her own, and not only that, she understands and remembers what she reads and can apply it to herself.  In an effort to get her grandkids to settle down, we watched the Lamb Of God movie with them on Saturday, and then while Sister C pulled the grandkids aside to entertain them with pamphlets and cheetos so they wouldn't tear the house apart, I listened to Diddy tell me how the movie made her really feel Christ's love, and reminded her how much she wants to live right and have Christ in her life.  Her heart tells her she wants to be baptized, she says.  I say, follow your heart.  That's the best idea it's ever had.  She's now on date to be baptized April 19th :]

In other news:
ate them all.
Manson played us a recording of a song he wrote about the light of Christ.  We were in the studio shack and it was a country-ish song and it all felt like a movie.  We also brought a member of the ward with us.  So we don't have to go into the murder shack alone anymore.  Also, he's crazy enough to believe what we taught about the Plan of Salvation but won't come to church because he still thinks President Monson looks too much like Donald Trump.  We told him not to judge by the outward appearance, for God looketh on the heart and referred him to a conference talk.

We met this kid (our age) tracting, hair in dreds, bouncing a basketball down the street, who stopped to talk to us when we waved.  He later said, he thought we were a couple of teenage girls coming home from private school, and when we mentioned that we teach about Jesus Christ "it was like God put up a wall" that made him involuntarily stop and turn in our direction and he felt like he needed to talk to us.  We ended up teaching him and his younger bro in the driveway, and their three other siblings who came home from school stopped, sat down, and listened, five of them locked in on the message of the Restoration.  It was killer.

The investigator we set with a date last week dropped us, because she wanted to stick with her own church.  Obviously, "one true church of Jesus Christ restored in its fulness" didn't get through to her.  It's fine.  Cause we have Diddy now.

A potential investigator that also dropped us, told us she wasn't interested after all, texted a day later to ask if we could buy her a pregnancy test because she doesn't have a vehicle.  Some people take "let us know if we can do anything for ya!" a little too liberally.

It may seem to some to be a very bold doctrine that we talk of—a power which records or binds on earth and binds in heaven. Nevertheless, in all ages of the world, whenever the Lord has given a adispensation of the priesthood to any man by actual revelation, or any set of men, this power has always been given. Hence, whatsoever those men did in bauthority, in the name of the Lord, and did it truly and faithfully, and kept a proper and faithful record of the same, it became a law on earth and in heaven, and could not be annulled, according to the decrees of the great cJehovah. This is a faithful saying. Who can hear it?
Mini story: So we're driving home from interviews. Someone
punches "home" into the GPS. 20 min later we're in the town
of Utica. None of us have heard of it. Where are we going?
We realize that the GPS is Sister Creager's.
And her "home" is in Idaho.

In our recent studies, we've been looking a lot at priesthood authority, as it concerns the restoration and it's a primary difference between us and every other church.  It truly is a bold claim that we make, to say that we're the only ones with God's authority as established in ancient times and all throughout history, but here's the thing.  We know it's the truth.  We who have earnestly sought a testimony of the truth and then experienced the promised blessings know that we have something incredible.  We have every right to boldly proclaim it and invite all to find out for themselves.  After all, it's not exclusive.  Last night, a recent convert's family member who's never been to our church or even met with us missionaries, asked priesthood holders from the ward to give a blessing of healing before a surgery.  The Spirit was so strong.  It was awesome.  The blessings of the priesthood, and the restored gospel, are available to all who sincerely want to follow Christ.  The truth has been restored, friends.  Say it loud. Live it proud.  Tell your friends.

Sister Valdez

Week 33: Ten Feet Tall

I just want you all to know that you never have to worry about me going hungry.  On the contrary, people won't stop cooking us food and sending the leftovers home with us.  Two days last week we somehow had two dinner appointments on the same day and I want to die.  No jk.  Don't want to die.  Sister Creager and I are full-time on bikes this week AND we're starting a new diet that nixes dairy, gluten, and desserts (which is in effect as soon as we finish the second "crack pie" an investigator sent home with us.)

I am focused on the work, trust, but once in awhile I think about what it'll be like when I get home (quick trip to Trunk City) and I think about the music I used to blast in the car, and hear at dances (and PLAY at dances, for goodness sake) and I wonder what will have to change if I don't want to slip back into bad habits/dangerous ways of thinking.  You know how people talk about alcohol, and how when you partake, you "give up your agency to a bottle"?  I was thinking on this and it hit me like a train:  I used to give up my agency to a beat.  Loud, intense, and numbing, to the point where you might as well have been drunk because it makes you want to act in a way that you never would in front of your parents (or the Savior, for that matter).  I've decided I'm going to have to be very particular about the lyrical content of the music I listen to, because of it's sly and profound influence on the mind and spirit, and so as not to lose the progress I've made on my mission.  I've been out of the world for seven months, and I'll never be this happy again unless I make some of these changes permanent.  It might sound crazy, but I've also decided not to go back to DJ-ing when I get home.  The only reason I would, is for the money.  And we all know what happens when you choose money over virtue - you walk away from the Savior with hands full of riches and heart full of sorrow.  Eternal life is out of the picture.  (See: Mark chapter 10)

On a similar note, Manson*, the M-Hall killer, expressed his concerns when we invited him to baptism after our lesson this week.  He saw on LDS.org pictures of our leadership in suits.  See, Manson lives dollar-to-dollar out of a trailer and doesn't have a job, save for the few gigs he plays with his band here and there.  So in his mind, middle-class is the "other" and the enemy, and denotes wealth, power, greed, pride, and unrighteous dominion.  He's afraid of organized religion, because he doesn't want to be robbed by tithes, feeding corruption, or mind-controlled by a prophet.  I know.  He's yet to actually listen to anything our prophets or apostles have said.  That's the commitment we left him with, was to look up General Conference.  Like it says in Matthew, "by their fruits ye shall know them."  No one in this church wants your money or power over you.  We just want you to have ultimate happiness, which is found here in God's kingdom on earth.  (See Pres. Uchtdorf, "Come, Join With Us.")

Inviting everyone to baptism this week was wildly effective.  I'm pretty sure that since God saw how serious we were taking this, and that we have the faith to ask, He decided this week to put people in our path that would say yes.  And even if not, most of the rest were hopeful maybes.  I did a tally yesterday and out of 13 people invited to baptism in the last 12 days, we got 3 no's, 4 yes's, and 6 maybe-I'll-have-to-think-about-it's.  Nothing to lose.

After last week's depressing breakups, new doors have opened (ha, literally) and even more prepared and open people have allowed us in to teach them.  One was a former investigator who we've been trying forever to get back in touch with (she was initially found in 2009), and when we taught the Restoration lesson and invited her to baptism she said yes!  And she set a date and everything!  Just like with fiances, you know it's for real when they set a date.  Another woman, in spite of her young adult daughter's comment that we sound like Children of the Corn with all our talk of Joseph Smith, said that she wanted to read the Book of Mormon and find out for herself.  She was one of the maybes.  On that same street (which was a gold mine), we knocked into a young man with long fluffy hair and missing teeth who classifies himself as agnostic, and allowed us to share our message on his porch out of sheer curiosity.  He was raised Christian but it never stuck, and all he knew of our religion he'd seen on an episode of South Park (typical) so as we began to teach he began to ask questions and then more questions and then MORE questions.  To answer them, we ended up teaching the full Restoration lesson, and the entirety of the Plan of Salvation over the next hour and half until he finally said "I have no more questions."  Guys, the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Saints is the true church.  It literally has ALL the answers.  This was prob one of the greatest teaching moments I've had on my mission so far, answering the questions of someone who actually GOT it.  His understanding of free will and continuous progression is the finest I've ever seen in a nonmember.  All he has to do is find out that God is for real, and the rest is a piece of baptism - I mean... cake.  Another young man took very openly to the Restoration and asked where he could get a Book of Mormon.  Forgetful me forgot to re-stock, so we said "come to church on Sunday and we'll have one for you."  Would you believe he actually did it?  Yeah!  And not only that, a member of our ward is good friends with him so he has an automatic fellowshipper!  Gold is falling from the sky, you guys, and I am in no wise responsible and every wise grateful.

The final story, taking place on the golden street, I am actually hesitant to tell because it might be too good to be true and I feel like Aaron with a new girlfriend - do not want to tell until the deal is sealed because maybe I might jinx it with collective excitement.  So.... just know this.  I walked away from one new investigator's house feeling ten feet tall, so incredibly grateful that we had committed to the full seven hours of tracting, because otherwise we wouldn't have found this person who was as happy to see us as we were to see them, who was placed in our path only because of our long-suffering and obedience and of course, God's unfailing mercy.  Only in His light am I able to walk this tall, this confidently.  Only as a representative of Jesus Christ have I ever found this much joy in hard work, or felt so empowered with His support.

34 Behold my aSpirit is upon you, wherefore all thy words will justify; and the bmountains shall flee before you, and the crivers shall turn from their course; and thou shalt abide in me, and in you; therefore dwalk with me. [Moses 6:34]

We never walk taller than when we walk with Christ.

Sister Valdez

Monday, March 17, 2014

Week 32: Break-Up Call

The Clinton Zone :]

I can't say I know where to start.  Except that this week was break-up central.  The G family we were stoked about dropped us like a bass.  Via text, too.  Feels a lot like getting dumped.  A few of our potentials were way too under-enthused about our actually returning when we said we'd return for them (if someone gives us an inch, we take it, doggone it) for them to be interested.  It's even better when it happens on the same day you're on bikes and spend the afternoon walking in ditches and getting shoes full of mud.  Yeah.  The best.
Most traumatic thing of my life:  We're in this trailer park and see this pack of dogs, like a gangbang of dogs, hustle after and corner this stray cat (stray animals are everywhere in this town) and then we see them all barking up this tree - they had literally chased this cat up a tree - and the cat was scrawled around this tree trunk hanging on to the bark for dear life.  So we laugh and stuff cause it's a funny sight, but right after this picture was taken, the worst thing ever happens THE CAT FALLS off the tree and six dogs jump on it and the feline that had just minutes before been following us around, is no more.  It was like the Hunger Games or something and I will never be the same.

Speaking of trauma.  We knocked this house last week, and the guy who came out was clearly out of his mind.  It's a good thing we didn't leave right away though, because then his brother comes out, who explains that he's never been the same since the motorcycle accident and his ramblings about Vietnam and '72 are normal, and we make a return appointment with T-Bird* (the sane one), who says he'll hear our message.  So we go back last Saturday, and, to our surprise, T-Bird* came outside and said everyone else was busy, but he'd listen.  So right there on the porch we gave the full message of the Restoration, and he said he'd be interested in reading the Book of Mormon, and if he found out it was true, yes, he would be baptized and join the church.  We were hoppin excited.  And then his wife Cher* drives up and looks at us with this accusatory no-nonsense look when she finds out who we are and asks how many husbands we have, and I'm scared outta my pants but keep my cool as we explain the Book of Mormon and who we are.  Then she's like, "Well, I guess I have no problem with you talking to my husband" and SHE ends up chatting with us for another 20 minutes and invites us to dinner the following week.  How?  I don't know.  But we went over to do service for her yesterday (house needed it, her husband, son, nephew, brothers in law, and two hobos live there), and she taught us how to cook and talked with us for two hours.  I guess when your household is Snow White and the Seven Drunks, you get desperate for female company.

Other highlights:

Bye Elder Larson!
Zone conference.  I learned that one of the main reasons we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, is because we're trying to align our will with the Father's like He did, i.e. we're trying to pray for the things Christ would pray for.  Whoa.  One of the departing elders who everyone looks up to because he went from being average Joe to gospel scholar in like a year on his mission, said these two things I have to quote:
"There is no 'bad day' in the mission, because it will make you who your Heavenly Father wants you to become[...] There is no failure in the work of salvation."
The same applies to real life, everyday disciples, my friends.  Remember it.

MTC sisters

And one more was this:  "You have nothing to lose by inviting people to baptism in the first lesson.  So just do it."  Ha.  Let me tell you.  Me and Sister Creager are for real going to take this to heart this time.  It's been a goal of ours for awhile now.  And it's true!  We have nothing to lose but people who don't want to progress anyway.  Had two lessons tracting last Sunday, invited both to baptism, both rejected.  Cool.  We know not to waste our time going back there.  And T-Bird gave a tentative yes!  It's a win-win.  Like, hello McFly, wake up, why haven't we been doing this all along?

they call him...Ugly.

A member took us out to Mexican for Sister Diehl's birthday, and they put a sombrero on her head and sang and brought a free dessert.  My question:  is it actual Mexican tradition to smear whipped cream on someone's face while you sing them a birthday song or did Mississippi Mexicans come up with that?  Because I ain't never seen it before here.  Same goes for deep-fried, sugar-covered "sweet biscuits" all the Chinese restaurants have in the South.  I seriously question their authenticity.

Someone actually called us from the pass along card we left at their door.  This happens never.  He thought he called to teach ME about Christ.  This happens often.  I gave him the skinny, about how we really are Christians, testified of the divine role of Jesus Christ, and he was confused cause "it's not what my religion believes" cause a bishop he talked to told him something different one time, .  Sister Creager laughed because I was using my "phone-voice" that makes me sounds like a Disneyland employee.  Same week, I got a call from a very distressed less-active who was "locked up," "at the bottom," and "not worthy."  Yes, he called from jail, crying because he was scared and didn't know what to do.  Perplexed, I think I just told him to remember to pray and that he's still a child of God, then sent his info to the missionaries closest to his location.  Confession: I've always wanted to minister in a prison.

True friendship is when two of your close missionary friends settle who gets to have me as a post-misson roommate with an arm-wrestle.  I love Sister Creager and Sister Ray.  I'll be roomies with both of them.  Somehow.

M-Hall Serial Killer update:  When we went over last, as promised he plugged in one of his guitars and played us some blues.  "If it weren't for bad luck, I would have no luck at all."  That's a catchy one.  And then I played him an acoustic version of How Great Thou Art and the Spirit was there, so we taught him some.  He'd done some more reading, so we have no choice but to return and pray that he doesn't snap while we're in his shack.  Oh, and he wears his hair long because Jesus did, and He's his role model.  Can't judge em by covers, goes to show.

Jaco update:  We broke up with him.  Sister C, who like never gets emotional, was hiding tears when he asked why we seemed sad.  I was just ticked by this time and so over it I had no room to be sad, except for when I think of the welfare of his soul.  But we gave the "drop talk."  We-can-still-be-friends, and call-us-when-you're-ready-to-commit, and all that jazz.  Maybe someday he'll realize that there's much more joy in gospel truth than man-made philosophies and he'll come around.

I know this isn't a scripture, per se, but it's the words of Oliver Cowdery concerning the day the priesthood was restored to him and Joseph by an angelic messenger, because it's just so beautiful and it struck me to the heart with inexplicable joy and renewed perspective:

I shall not attempt to paint to you the feelings of this heart, nor the majestic beauty and glory which surrounded us on this occasion;[...] nor has this earth power to give the joy, to bestow the peace, or comprehend the wisdom which was contained in each sentence as they were delivered by the power of the Holy Spirit! Man may deceive his fellow-men, deception may follow deception, and the children of the wicked one may have power to seduce the foolish and untaught, till naught but fiction feeds the many[...] but one touch with the finger of his love, yes, one ray of glory from the upper world, or one word from the mouth of the Savior, from the bosom of eternity, strikes it all into insignificance, and blots it forever from the mind. - [Oliver Cowdery, from Joseph Smith History 1.]

A lot of crazy things happen out here, both strange and wonderful, both frustrating and miraculous, and I add my declaration of faith to Oliver's in this expression of hope and eternal perspective:

In those mansions where perfection dwells and sin never comes, I hope to adore in that day which shall never cease.

Sister Valdez

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Week 31: Marching On

viva Florence!
It's March!  And if all goes according to plan, that means winter is over.  Considering we almost turned into froze-nose sistersicles on our fast-walk to the grocery store this morning, this may not be an accurate conjecture.  Also, we're on our bikes.  Please pray for the preservation of our lives.
I must say, though, Heavenly Father has been doing a great job keeping us alive this week.  Last night, we had a half hour bike ride home in the dark.  One particular street had a long stretch of no houses, no streetlights, just trees and swamp on either side of the road, and no moon, not even starlight could reach us.  For ten minutes, we were riding into a pitch black abyss, only thing visible was the few feet in front of our that our bike lights could reach.  It was like a fever dream nightmare, or a creepy movie or something, like biking into outer darkness itself.  I had the thought, maybe this is what death is like.  I started singing Lead Kindly Light to distract myself from thoughts of things that could be hiding in the woods, and it was oddly fitting.  "Lead kindly light amid the encircling gloom... The night is dark and I am far from home... Lead thou me on... I do not ask to see, the distant scene, one step enough for me."  And for some odd reason, not a single car appeared those whole ten minutes.  If one had, we could have easily been knocked into a ditch and left to perish.  But we didn't.  Conclusion: more angels.

The District kickin it at Chinese buffet
It didn't got build, guys.
There was another time our lives were saved, and this was in M-hall, the smaller town we work in once a week since it's so far.  We tracted into this guy last week, and he seemed interested in reading the Book of Mormon and learning more about what we believe, so we returned this week.  When we first met him, scruffy with long dark hair in a ponytail, I thought he reminded me a lot of the crazy guy in Billy Madison and the psychopath in The Changeling.  This second time, he came out, said "My dad's in there takin a bath, let's go out to my studio!" so we follow him like two naive little girls, from the crumbling house through his backyard wilderness to a rink dink shack.  He wrenches the door open and we're like "cool, we're about to get murdered" and then we peer inside and.... it really was a studio.  Drums, guitars, amps and all.  He's in a band, I guess.  We got to teach him a little bit and answer his questions, though his eventual forcing the door shut to "keep out the cold" and then warning us about unsafe neighborhoods and recommending we take an armed body guard everywhere we go didn't do much to calm our nerves.  But he had read what we left him, and we made it out of there not in a body bag, so we have to go back at least once more to see if his interest in the gospel continues.  I'll keep ya'll updated on the M-Hall serial killer.

The G family is still stellar, and we took a member over there who happened to know the dad!  He and her son had been good friends.  It worked out so perfectly, and he'd actually done research (on lds.org not wikipedia! :D) and had questions about the Plan of Salvation.  I love talking about the Plan, because I feel like most people go their whole lives looking for the purpose of everything, the meaning of life, and we have it summed up in one lil pamphlet.  We stopped by the S family to buy girl scout cookies from their several daughters and they insisted we stay for dinner, so (with the slandering father not present), we got to share a message with them, about God's love and how the gospel blesses families - basic stuff.  Next time we go over, we'll go deeper into the Restoration.  Baby steps.

one of our investigators is a professional clown. tru story.
The Jaco drama continues:  First, we had this super poetic moment with him, when we were having a porch lesson and it got cold so I told him to build us a fire and he did it.  Straight up picked up an axe, chopped some wood, poured gasoline on it, and lit us a bonfire right in the front yard.  (I don't know if I told ya'll about this, but Mississippi is so wet, like it rains once and the whole state turns to mud, and stays wet all the time, so when people rake their leaves here they can just drop a match and FROOSH burn it up then and there.  Smoke everywhere.)  So we spent the evening watching sparks float and throwing dry leaves into the flames until Jaco opened up, and gave us another good question, one that he would ask God if He were sitting there with us, "Do you really want me in your kingdom?"  Heartbreaking, huh?  It would take pages to go into the details of our subsequent lessons with Jaco, but in short, we had another lesson with him assuring him that ALL are invited to partake of salvation (2 Nephi 26) and then answered his question of "how do you attain salvation?" (Alma 7, Acts 2) and he said he'd be baptized, then met us the next night saying he couldn't do it, because he'd be separating himself from his family, but then he doesn't actually care what his family thinks, then later said he can't fit himself to a type of lifestyle because then he'd lose who he is, at least I think that's what he was getting at.  He says a lot of things and I get confused.  And our lessons, which are now nighttime chats at a picnic table outside our apartments, have gotten increasingly informal as we've already taught all the lessons and just answer his questions now, like yesterday it was something like "What do you got?  Do you really think you're here to save souls? You need to give me something more" and we were like "JACO!  We don't say things to you because we read them out of a manual, we don't say anything that isn't from experience and from our hearts and souls, we MEAN IT ALL!! Of course we believe this is God's work, we've given up way too much for it not to be; we get laughed at, scoffed at, and rejected EVERY DAY for what we do, there is NO ROOM for pretense and the only reason we haven't dropped you like a hot rock is because you asked us to meet your here and we care about your soul because you're a child of God and if we think there's even a chance we can help in the littlest bit we show up!!  For goodness sake!!"  For some reason, he enjoys it when we get excited and yelling pulling our hair out because we seem like real people to him and he feels like he can trust us cause we're not robots.  Me and Sister Creager may or may not have each eaten half a box of girl scout cookies last night over frustration with Jaco and out of emotional/physical/spiritual exhaustion.  This is a very demanding and very strange work we do.
roads to goodness-knows-where

None the less.

We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;
 Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;
 14 Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus...
16 For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.
 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;
 18 While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.  [2 Corinthians 4]

bookmark I made for a recent convert
Sister Creager and I (who are very likely to stay together this next transfer as well) are, against all odds, pumped for our companionship goals for the month of March - Five progressing with baptism dates by the end of the month.  Here's to working like mad for the cause of truth.  "Glory, hallelujah....His truth is marching on."

Sister Valdez