Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Week 39: God's Not Dead and other old news

I discovered my major temptation of the moment: to be a smart aleck with many of the people we meet.  I mean, I've always had a smart aleck tendency, that's old news.  But I can't afford to be while I'm wearing this tag.  It's real hard sometimes to listen to people say things that make no sense whatsoever and then have them not listen to a word you say in response.  So it's super tempting to say something to make them feel silly.  But then the Spirit stays your tongue and you move on to someone who will actually listen who can be reasoned with.
I confess to another brief moment of soapboxing, this time with an old minister who happened to be at the house of a potential.  He wouldn't give a straight answer to the questions "How, in all your studies, have you come to determine truth for yourself?" or "Did you ever pray to know which doctrine was right?" or "Don't you believe Heavenly Father would want us to have a way to know the truth as it pertains to our salvation, and know it now, not 'at the end, when it all comes out in the wash'?"  After listening to his non-answering responses, I nearly said "Do you mean to tell me reverend, that in all your years of study, not once did you kneel in prayer to ask God, the author of all truth, which church was true?  Isn't that like picking a medicine off the shelf for an inexplicable and plagueing ailment without once consulting a physician?"
But of course.  Spirit stayed my tongue.  And at his first chance, that reverend hopped on his bike and zoomed away real fast.  Go ahead. Flee from the truth.  Just because it disturbs your lifelong tradition.
Someone pointed out at our missionary fireside (which no investigators attended despite our incessant texting everyone we knew) that the world is looking for something - for some sort of deeper truth that commonplace religion seems to only have slivers of.  Well, let me tell you.  It seems that way because that's how it is.  Slivers.  There is so much more.  And the restored gospel of Jesus Christ has it all, has the meaning and purpose you're trying to find by coming out with movies like Son of God, Noah, Heaven is for Real, and God's Not Dead (like duh, heard of modern day revelation? it exists.)  This gospel has a fabulous way of connecting the teachings of Christ and the stories of the Bible and connecting them to real life.  When we promise investigators that "no matter what challenge or concern you may have or go through, this message, the gospel of Jesus Christ, WILL HELP"  because it's the truth.  Old news, guys, this is an eternal principle.  It's a promise we can make.  So of course we take every chance to.  Why else would we take 18 months out of our lives to knock on the doors of people who don't want to look at us?
Best thing we did this week:  acted out the Book of Mormon for a less-active/part-member family.  He's in his 20's and has the same attention span as his 1 year old son, so play-acting the brother of Jared and Nephi and the brass plates seemed like a good way to go.  We were 100% right.  They loved it.  We tied ribbons around our foreheads like headbands, the pirate-sword pen Aaron sent me served as the sword of Laban, and a handful of gravel from the driveway turned into glowing rocks right before our imaginations.  Both times, he got the message.  After Bro of Jared, he's like "So you're saying that every time you have a problem, you pray about it."  And after the brass plates, he's like "So you're saying that the scriptures are very, very important." and we're like "YES now come back to church :]"  His girlfriend came to church yesterday of her own accord! She's also reading the Book of Mormon every day because it helps her calm down and not kill people at work :]
Which brings me to the best thing that happened to us this week: Two investigators at church!  Diddy also came.  Finally.  And she enjoyed it.  Getting members to pick them up is so key, when it comes to getting them there the first time.  No one wants to walk alone into a strange place where peculiar people have foreign customs and traditions and inside jokes.  That's why every time we missionaries come over to your house, members, we ask you to invite a friend to church.  Because they know you, and know you're normal... mostly... probably..,.
1st dangerous thing that happened:  knocked some apartments and two of people that answered looked like they were on something and wanted to murder us slowly.  (don't worry, they didn't. we good.)
2nd dangerous thing:  Free bread at church.  And then free margarine at an activity.  Hello carbs.  Goodbye diet.
I think i re-learned what it means to bear one another's burdens a couple nights ago.  While teaching an investigator, another member of the household mentioned in passing that she'd give anything to go to a church again.  I turned around and invited her, told her we could get a member with a van big enough for both her young kids.  She thanked us, said she knows she needs to be in a church because nothing was going right.  Next thing I know, she's pouring out her heart to me, about how she has nothing for the baby she's expecting in a few months, about a family that can't or won't support her because they're all living off one disability check (disability = the great plague of Mississippi), about drunk fiance who told her to walk to her own doctors appointment and would rather buy beer than clothes for the newborn or food for the toddlers.  I thought I knew what hard knock was.  I didn't.  Moments like this make you wish you could save the world, or at least one person, from all the small and great evils of life, but all someone like me could do at the time was listen, put my arm around her, and assure her as a representative of Jesus Christ, that God still cared and that everything would be ok.  Mourn with those that mourn.  Comfort those that stand in need of comfort.  This is what it means to keep covenants.  This is part of discipleship.
Cassie sent me this quote:
In addition to teaching, encouraging, and cheering people on (that is the pleasant part of discipleship), from time to time these same messengers are called upon to worry, to warn, and sometimes just to weep (that is the painful part of discipleship).
And this is what Alma told me this week:
" And he lifted up his voice unto heaven, and cried, saying...  O Lord God, how long wilt thou suffer that such wickedness and infidelity shall be among this people? O Lord, wilt thou give me strength, that I may abear with mine infirmities. For I am infirm, and such wickedness among this people doth pain my soul.
 O Lord, my heart is exceedingly sorrowful; wilt thou comfort my soul ain Christ. O Lord, wilt thou grant unto me that I may have strength, that I may suffer with patience these bafflictions which shall come upon me, because of the iniquity of this people.   O Lord, wilt thou comfort my soul, and give unto me success, and also my fellow laborers who are with me...
 Wilt thou grant unto them that they may have strength, that they may abear their afflictions which shall come upon them because of the iniquities of this people.
  O Lord, wilt thou grant aunto us that we may have success in bringing them again unto thee in Christ."
And He does.
 38 And the Lord provided for them that they should hunger not, neither should they thirst; yea, and he also gave them strength, that they should suffer no manner of aafflictions, save it were swallowed up in the joy of Christ. Now this was according to the prayer of Alma; and this because he prayed in bfaith.
Never underestimate the prayer of faith.  Of course God's not dead.  He's been here from the beginning, and will be with us, even unto the end of the world.

Sister Valdez

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Week 38: Shake and Quake

Easter Pictures

On the Road!

Mom is thinking...I think that looks like you are in the back of a truck Sister Valdez!
Mom thinks that Sister Sabrina Valdez looks the prettiest when she is loving someone.
My head is everywhere but Ima try to make this coherent.
Have you read 1 Nephi 22?  Because it's talking about today right now.
23 For the time speedily shall come that all achurches which are built up to get gain, and all those who are built up to get power over the flesh, and those who are built up to become bpopular in the eyes of the world, and those who seek the lusts of the flesh and the things of the world, and to do all manner of iniquity; yea, in fine, all those who belong to the kingdom of the cdevil are they who need fear, and tremble, and dquake; they are those who must be brought low in the dust; they are those who must be econsumed as stubble; and this is according to the words of the prophet.
I may or may not have stood on a chair in the middle of companion study to shout this at the window like I was a preacher on a milk crate in the city.  THE TIME SPEEDILY COMETH!! TREMBLE AND QUAKE YE CITIZENS OF MISSISSIPPI!!
 Also we accidentally bashed again at the beginning of the week.  Argument: Joseph Smith can't have seen God because John says no man hath ever seen God.  Rebuttal: Why does the Old Testament mention five times that Moses spoke with God face-to-face?  He was obviously stumped.  Because he changed the subject real fast.
Last P-day, an elder lent me his voice recorder and I was in third heaven for three hours, playing and singing my heart out into it, just like old times.  Kinda sent me to Trunk City for a moment, but all the songs I recorded with it were gospel-centered songs I wrote while I've been in the mission field.  Family, you'll be recieving a CD shortly.
We did some of our best teaching on Saturday night.  It was a richie neighborhood, the kind that'll make any missionary quake and tremble, and the last door unexpectedly let us in.  Three of them seemed to be taking it all in, asking questions to understand - one of which was easily answered with an Article of Faith card, what makes our beliefs different - and the one that asked what's the point of religion if you can just believe in Christ and be ok? 

For heaven's sake.  "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the adevils also bbelieve, and tremble." [James 2:19]  Because, my dear friends, prophets are as crucial to our salvation now as they were in Biblical times.  And what if it IS true?  is the critical question that quiets the room.  What then?  Maybe Joseph was a prophet, you say, how does that change my belief in Christ?  Well listen, I don't know how many churches were on the earth during Isaiah's lifetime, but I do know that Isaiah knew more about Christ than anyone else alive at the time BECAUSE HE WAS A PROPHET, therefore I would have been in whatever church he led.  None else.  If Isaiah speaks for God, I want to be on his team.  Team Isaiah all the way.  If there was a prophet on the earth today, why wouldn't you want to be on God's team today?
Anyway.  I may not have rambled quite as much in the lesson. But that's the point I made.  Sister Creager wrapped it up with a power-testimony of the Savior and we got out of there.  They call it "spirit bombing."
No one showed up to church on Easter.  I know.  Sad.  However, several less actives were there.  More importantly, the Spirit was there full force as speakers and teachers testified of the reality of the Resurrection and the divinity of the chosen Messiah.  It's all real, friends.  As the true Son of God, only Christ could have endured what he suffered, and taken up his life again as perfected, glorified being.  Only Jesus the Christ had love great enough, powerful enough to overcome all fear, to resist all temptation, and to last until the words, "It is finished."
We showed the Restoration movie to a 10 year old girl we're teaching with her mom last night, and she loved it.  She asked questions about it, about the boy, about baptism and the priesthood and prophets until she understood.  Ten years old.  And she really wants to come to church now because she's pretty sure we're the only ones with the complete truth.  People who WANT to understand are the greatest.
We got another investigator to commit to baptism!  She also asked about Joseph Smith until she understood the need for a Restoration, and then said "Well none of this sounds unbelieveable.  I'm open to it."  So we were like, hey will you follow the example of Jesus Christ and be baptized by the proper authority? She said yes.  So we said, hey can we set a goal date for you to recieve your answers by, say the 24th of May?  She said yes.  Sometimes all you gotta do is ask.
Diddy still hasn't made it to church, but she did say that if push comes to shove, she'd move out of her boyfriend's house if they can't get married so she can get baptized.  So she can live by God's laws.  That's very important to her.  She'll get there.  Though she didn't make it, she did inform us that her boyfriend, having run out of beer and cigarrettes was going through a withdrawal period.  Painful as it probably is, shaking and quaking, it's also his chance to see that he can do without those substances.  We're rooting for a double baptism.  Following a marriage of course.

Another cool lesson: a woman and her daughter (with gauged ears, a shaved sidecut, and purple streaks) let us sit and teach them about our church because theirs was judgmental and gossipy.  I told the daughter I loved her hair and would probably have the same style if I wasn't a missionary.  Then we taught the restoration and the mom flipped out at the great apostasy "I was just arguing with my husband about this! He didn't believe me!" well you were right this round, an apostasy did occur.  Also, unauthorized changes were made to the Bible- "I SAID THAT TOO he didn't believe me!"  Oh man.  Love how some of the most perceptive people are found in trailer parks.  People who have experienced things that have shaken them up enough to want to question tradition in the search for truth, are a lot closer than those who have lived comfortably and unafflicted.  Never disregard a shake-your-world experience - they're good for you.  You come out stronger and brighter.
That's about it.  Sister Creager and I get another transfer together.  We've been doing pretty well I'd say, working hard and focusing in on the big goal - baptism unto repentance for the searching souls.  We intend to keep shaking things up in Florence.  Declare some truth.  Call to repentance.  Invite into the fold.  Rejoice greatly. 

Repeat.  “Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust” (2 Ne. 1:23).
Whatever's holding you back, shake it off.  Go and do.  Your time here is short.  Happy Spring!

Sister Valdez

Monday, April 21, 2014

Week 37: Uncharted Waters

Rapid fire update.  Ready go.

Sister Creager's birthday was on Thursday.  We were in M-Hall that day, wore matching dresses we got at Walmart, super cute.  We talked to Manson on the porch for a long time, he thinks Jesus at the second coming will be a hippie who recycles and hangs out with potheads but doesn't chastise them, just passively tells them they don't need the weed.  Manson is off his rocker.  And I conclude he's scared to read too far into the Book of Mormon and pray earnestly about because then it would disprove his assertion that there is no such thing as an incorrupt organized religion.  The C family we stay with surprised Sister C with fabulous strawberry shortcake.  We chatted with a lady at the burger wagon over sliders and by the end she was interested in having us come over and talk sometime.  I think if you talk to anyone long enough and show that you actually care about their life, that could be all it takes to get a foot in the door.  We brought a Finding Faith in Christ dvd to a referral (the kind we get by text), and it was a little girl that the C family's 8 yr old daughter have given a pass along card to at school.  Guys, if an 8 year old can do it, you can too.  Come on.

Funny story.  Remember the curious kid we taught that asked questions until we'd relayed the entire Restoration and Plan of Salvation in one sitting?  Well we went to recontact him twice, second time talked to his mom, she wasn't interested, asked if she knew anyone who needed help she said "My sister needs her roof fixed" and gave us her info, we were like "Ok leaky roof, here we go" and we meet the lady, she's kinda interested in our message, lets us teach her, we go back the next day and her daughter is there, who saw the Book of Mormon in her mom's house and wanted to read it and has been looking for a church and loved learning about the Restoration.  She accepted a baptismal date for May 10.  She was a potential's mom's sister's daughter.  Right?  This neighborhood she was in was not even on our incomplete map, i.e. we probably never would have found her otherwise.  God's got it all figured out though.  Leads us along a breadcrumb trail until we get where we were REALLY supposed to go.

We tracted a lot in that same neighborhood, it being uncharted waters, it was bound to be riddled with gold.  Which was correct.  We found another lady, who, since we talked to her awhile and actually cared about her life, was open to hearing about the Plan of Salvation.  People really like this.  Know why?  Because it makes more sense than clouds-or-fire heaven-or-hell.  Because it's both just AND merciful.  We found another woman, same hood, who's attention was caught when we mentioned a modern day prophet.  Even when her obnoxious neighbor walked up and tried to tell us our Book of Mormon was adding to the Bible, she rolled her eyes and said "Well it makes a lot of sense to me, even if it doesn't to.. some people..." and I felt victorious because this neighbor's unwelcome presence just made us look even better.

Sometimes I just wish we could soapbox this place.  Problem is, there are no big cities where people just walk around in crowds.  But how awesome would it be to stand on a crate and shout the verses of Alma 5?  Real awesome.  Some days, all I wanna do is rebuke.  All day.  But it's okay.  Because I still get to cry repentance.  Usually not until after someone's begun to have a testimony of the restored gospel, and then you bring up the commandments, where many people have to slow down and reconsider how much faith they have.  Such as with Diddy, who's roadblock is still the law of chastity.  Marrying her live-in boyfriend and thus potentially sacrificing her pension, which they've been living on.  However!  She reads and prays everyday, AND receives comfort and revelation AND found out that she may possibly get to keep her income even if she remarries. Finally!  Someone who can move forward because they're actually keeping commitments!  That's the only way to build faith, and only faith will keep you afloat when you step into uncharted waters.

Speaking of faith.  We had an awesome discussion with an atheist this week.  For real, it was a rush.  Felt like I was in college again.  So this guy, late 20's, an attorney, is asking all these questions about "if there is a God, how do you justify such and such," but he's sincere, like he wishes he had evidence enough to believe in God cause he knows he'd be happier. So we answer as best we can using Plan of Salvation and eternal perspective, and then he asks "If God is all knowing and already knows what we're going to choose in the end, then how is there free will?  Are we not already pre-destined?"  Not the first time I've heard this one, so I looked at my comp like "I got this" and gave my view on the matter.  "First of all, no matter what we're going to choose in the end, God never stops working on every single one of his children, in hopes that they will ALL choose Him in the end.  Secondly, while Heavenly Father may know the outcome, we do not.  And He's not going to tell us.  Therefore, so long as WE don't know the outcome, it's still a choice for us.  We still have to choose."  Well, he told me that was the first coherent answer he'd ever received for that particular question, and I boast not of myself but very much of my God for that.  Because I came up with that answer when I was like 16 and what 16 year old could do so without having received it divinely.  Like we studied this morning, all truth and light which giveth understanding, come from God.  He's the one with ALL the answers.  And he's given us SO many of them through ancient and modern day prophets in the gospel we have today.  That's how I know I have the right one.  That plus, the confirmation from the Holy Ghost.  God wasn't going to let us sail into this mortal world without a reliable guide, no matter how much remains uncharted.

 He that aascended up on high, as also he bdescended below all things, in that he ccomprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the dlight of truth;
 Which truth shineth. This is the alight of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was bmade...
 11 And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your aunderstandings;
 12 Which alight proceedeth forth from the presence of God to bfill the immensity of space—
 13 The alight which is in all things, which giveth blife to all things, which is the claw by which all things are governed, even the dpower of God who esitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.

God governs by light, and light is everywhere.  Find it. Walk in it.  Sail by it.  Like the primary song says, it is "the light of his love."

Sister Valdez

Week 36: Cleansed By Storm

Mississippi takes April showers very seriously.  Every other day it seems, we wake up to thunderstorms.  I mean, it's kind of exciting to be lulled to sleep by the clatter of hail-like rainfall or the long rumbles of thunder (occasionally interrupted by bluish lightning flashes through the blinds - that's just God taking pictures of the scenery) but there's something about waking up to these that just makes one want to cocoon under the covers, sleep, and not do any kind of work until the sun comes out.  Friday was one such day.  Prior, however, Tuesday proved to be one of the hardest days I've yet endured.  It began just fine, with a lesson with Diddy (who's baptismal date will need to be put off, since EVERY WEEK without fail, Satan comes up with some way to keep her from getting to church) and she confided further to us that she has anxiety, which only adds to her reasons not to come.  But she wants to.  And she still wants to be baptized, because she really wants to do right by God.  After her though, the rest of the day was Shut Down City.  Set appointments cancelled, none of our potentials were home, we tracted a private neighborhood where no one wanted to talk to us and everyone wanted us to leave, we checked on that golden from last week and saw her truck start to come up the hill, stop, turn around, and drive the other way when she saw us.  Sigh.  By this time we'd biked about 20 miles, give or take, so we went to see a recent convert who's always glad to receive us, choosing to travel those last two miles on foot.  It gave me a lot of good time to think, while we trudged through ditches to avoid getting run over.  I had a brief commune with my Heavenly Father during this, admitting defeat basically.  "I'm sorry for whatever level of pride I may have risen to that warranted a day like today."  The scripture in Revelations came to mind:  "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten."  I knew it wasn't my fault.  I knew it wasn't punishment.  It was just part of the polishing process - the refiner's fire.  Tough love.  If this work can only be done by humble servants, He's gotta keep me on my toes somehow.  A little rain is not enough and some terrains can only be cleansed by repeated storms, I guess.

Friday, after a long stormy morning spent indoors for our weekly planning session, both my companion and I felt sufficiently depressed.  It's really hard to plan for a whole week when your investigators are dropping like flies and no one seems to want to progress.  When it was over, I rolled up in my blanket for a 20 min nap during lunch hour, praying in my heart as I drifted into a light sleep.  "I'm out of ideas, Father... I don't know what comes next... whatever you can give, I'll take..."  The song, "Consider the Lilies" as performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir started playing in my head.  It was surprisingly comforting.  For the next 20 min, I had a more restful and refreshing sleep than I've had in weeks.  I woke alert and energized, prayed again, and got this simple answer: "Go forward with faith."  Somehow the perpetual overhanging nervousness/depression was gone, and I was like, excited to go out and start the day.  I don't know how He does it.  But that's the enabling power of the Atonement right there.  Minutes later, a man stopped us on the street and asked when we were going to come over again.  He was a potential we'd briefly met once, said we'd return to when he wasn't busy, and never followed up with.  We have an appointment with him tonight, I don't know what'll happen, but if anything, that instant I felt very clearly the Spirit reminding me "Remember how I promised that I got this?  Well I got this."

Had I not had these experiences to force me into humility, President Uchtdorf's conference address might have been pretty chastening.  Instead, it was very reaffirming that my choice to force a smile through the kiln was Heavenly-Father-approved.  Speaking of General Conference, it was amazing.  I have a growing love for Elder Anderson.  When he spoke this last time, I felt like he was looking right into my soul a couple times.  His Apostolic power was so apparent and gripping, it was awesome.  You can just tell that these men have seen and heard things that we can't even imagine.  They truly are God's prophets, seers, and revelators in the latter days.  We're so fortunate to have them.  It amazes me how much we have that other people just don't know is out there.  After conference Saturday, we tracted one of those rich neighborhoods that always make me nervous, and met a kid about our age who happened to be house-sitting for his parents.  He was raised Catholic but currently is not religious, nor is he even sure who/what God is, and allowed us to share a brief message with him.  We testified that God is his loving Heavenly Father, that He has a grand plan for all of us, and that the reason we're here is to be happy.  That's all our Father wants for us.  Well, this kid seemed to like that.  He said even though getting to know God isn't really a priority for him (sad) he would be interested to read the Book of Mormon and maybe someday call us up to talk about it more.  We also promised that anytime he chose to reopen communication with his Heavenly Father again, He'd be eager to listen and ready to answer.  He thanked us for that.  As if no one had ever so earnestly stressed such regard for his personal relationship with God.  See?  Simple things like the plan of happiness.  The meaning of life.  WE KNOW IT.

We spent the Sunday sessions of general conference in M-Hall.  The family that houses us there once a week hosted a potluck and invited all the members and less actives and investigators in the county to come.  One active family, one part-member/less active family, and two investigators came.  It was a miracle.  The kind that only members can work.  (Seriously, you guys are so important. After awful Tuesday, we ended up having 10 lessons this week where members were present, that my friends is like a mission record.)  The two investigators, one YSA one primary age, cousins, ended up hanging out with the family all day.  Fellowship!  Although it was hard for them to focus on conference (shoot, it took me like 19 years to truly appreciate four hours of old men talking) we're pretty sure they could still feel the Spirit.  I'm certain nonmembers in member's homes can always feel a difference, even if they don't know what it is at first.

Other moments:
We taught like three or four super spiritual lessons and none of these individuals wanted to be baptized (not even when we stumped them logically with inarguable truths), but that just goes to show, some people you can whack in the face with the Spirit, and they still won't heed it if there's just so scared of the thought that the "traditions of their fathers" were false this whole time, that they decline learning more.  Sad story.  But we gave them a fair chance.

Didn't get to see Manson in M-Hall, but I did talk to him on the phone for awhile and he's still hating on organized religion and the idea of the prophet (I think he equates "prophet" with "tyrant") and insisted he only sticks to what Christ says in the Bible, no one else, even when I made the point using the example, "What if you lived during the time of Isaiah, who was the only one who knew about Christ at the time, would you have listened to him?"  Manson's like "Well yeah, but...."  and gives some other excuse.  Sigh.  Sister C says their easy to stump because they're wrong.  Small and simple doth confound the wise and confound the lies.  

Driving to M-Hall on Wednesday night, the baby was crying and the only way to get him to calm down was if everyone in the car sang songs.  We sang "Love One Another," "A Child's Prayer," and "I'm Trying to Be Like Jesus" at which point I choked a little at the overwhelming reverence that filled the car.  The Spirit had lulled the baby to sleep and wrapped the rest of us in a calming peace and sweet sense of purity, if that makes sense - like the tainted, confusing, outside world just didn't exist for a moment.

 Let all the saints rejoice, therefore, and be exceedingly glad; forIsrael’s aGod is their God, and he will mete out just recompenseof breward upon the heads of all their coppressors.
 And again, verily thus saith the Lord: Let the work of myatempleand all the works which have appointed unto you, be continued on and not cease; and let your bdiligenceand your perseverance, and patience, and your works be redoubled, and you shall in nowise lose your reward, saith the Lord of Hosts. And if they cpersecute you, so persecuted they the prophets and righteous men that were before you. For all this there is reward in heaven. [Doctrine and Covenants 127:4-5]

Sister Valdez