Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Week 43: Be Not Weary (easier said than done)

Sorry I'm late.  Libraries were closed for the holiday yesterday, and we didn't have enough miles to go to Clinton.  Instead, we used the time to join some of the members (Bishop and his wife, ward mission leader and his wife, and another young couple) at the church for a cookout and volleyball.  I was on a team with Bishop and the WML's wife, who's nine months pregnant.  We won both games.  I recorded some more of my songs (thanks for the recorder padre!) while the other three sisters napped/wrote letters, and then we went to the swinging bridge over Pearl river and did a mini photo shoot.  I was so in my zone. It was great.

Cool thing: while at the church, someone called the building asking for bishop.  It was a Protestant minister who wanted us missionaries to come teach him.  We called him back and set up an appt for last night, which the ward mission leader and his wife took us to.  It went real well, we taught in killer unity, he was super receptive, although we weren't sure what to make of his insistence that "dreams and visions" had got him there, what excited him most about the lesson was the First Vision.  A bright light like that, he said, is of biblical significance.  Apparently, he's had a similar vision.  He committed to baptism if he found out it was true, and in the closing prayer sounded most sincere in his plea to God to tell him if this was the true church.

Uncool thing:  Literally minutes after I arrived at the library today to tell ya'll all about it, he called us saying that these same dreams and visions have him convinced that he's got things God needs him to do that joining the church would keep him from, so he's going to hold off.  I had to restrain myself from shouting in the library bathroom where I took the call "BUT WHAT IF ITS TRUE?!?" and put on my best polite professional voice to say something like "Ok thank you for your time, call us again if you decide you want to learn more - and make sure you read the Book."  Now I want to crawl under a rock and give up.  But I won't do it.
Instead I'll pysch myself up again by telling you about the other things that happened this week.

We taught a couple young guys sitting outside some ghetto apartments (ghetto as in one of the guys, the tattooed one had just finished doin time) and were soon joined by two more who wanted to listen in.  Gave out three Books of Mormon in one shot.  One of them asked about Joseph Smith, "You said this guy found that book in the ground?"  Us: "Sure did."  Him: "That's wassup!"

Driving past a former investigator's home (the one we Bible bashed with), we saw a sheriff car outside and the guys teenage daughter being escorted out in handcuffs.  So sad.  He should've let us teach his family about the gospel.  And maybe this wouldn't have happened.

Our car got a super flat tire, courtesy of an enormous screw, but we discovered it before leaving the apartment lot, and the maintenance guy saw us and came over and put on the spare for us.  Nice guy.  We spent the next three hours stuck in Pearl while it got fixed at the Firestone, and a lady approached us at Kroger asking where our church was.  Then a guy who looked like George Clooney with a Persian accent approached us when we were studying outside of Church's Chicken, to commend us for reading the Bible in public.  He stayed to chat awhile and we got his number to pass on to the missionaries in his area.  Did I mention he's George Clooney with a Persian accent?  You're welcome, Madison sisters.

At a member's house, Brother C stood at the window watching the dog do something dumb and said "You are an absolute 300% idiot" to the dog and I laughed so hard because he sounded just like Dad.

In M-Hall, we visited two of our investigators who we haven't been able to see in awhile, and who we were pretty sure we would end up dropping because they hadn't kept commitments.  One of them told us she'd read 8 chapters in the Book of Mormon - and actually understood it all! She loved 1 Nephi 11, Nephi's vision of Christ's ministry that we read with her.  Always bring it back to Christ.  The second, a young adult, told us that he'd picked up the Book of Mormon quite a few times over the last few weeks because whenever he feels sad, reading it a little while makes him feel happy again!  He's one of our more childlike investigators.  Super meek, doesn't grasp everything we teach, but always feels the Spirit really strong.  We set him with a baptism date.

We were tracting on Sunday (always the hardest, especially when you need 2 more hours to make the weekly goal) and I was silently praying for someone who actually knew who we were, who'd had good Mormon friends, and who already had a positive opinion of the church.  With those, we don't have to worry about a bitter spouse or other nosy acquaintance raining on our parade with anti-Mormon rumors and literature.  That's the worst.  And it's happened a lot lately.  Anyway, one of the last houses we knock, an old guy answers and says "Ah yes the Mormons..." and we're like ooh boy here it comes, and he surprises us with "I had a roommate at LSU who was Mormon.  And a man I worked with was Mormon, who lives in Korea now.  And my wife and I were actually just about to turn on the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's program that we watch every week, would you like to join us?"  I near fell over.  We didn't stay, but we did set up to return.  Blessing of fasting.

Attached is the pop-punk version of the hymn Brightly Beams Our Father's Mercy.  It was Elder Webb's idea, he's the one on guitar.  He used to be in rock band like me.  But his band actually went places, unlike me.  I think he and I should do a few more like this and call it "Punk Goes Gospel."  Maybe we'll get famous.  Ignore the part where I messed up the end.

Most significant things I learned from zone conference this week:
 - Our member relations will improve (and the work will hasten) when we focus on them and their missionary efforts when we're at dinner appointments (which means only one companionship can be at each meal appt, no more six-missionary parties at members homes) and when I get over myself and actually talk to them at church and ask if we can go visit teach with them.
 - Be industrious.  Do many good things of my own free will, and there will be no time wasted to regret later.
 - If I don't leave a strong, specific commitment with each investigator, less active, member, that we visit, my teaching was vain.  They won't change unless invited to do so.

This next one's prob more for me than anyone else.  
31 And behold, I, the Lord, declare unto you, and my words are sure and shall not fail, that they shall obtain it.
 32 But all things must come to pass in their time.
 33 Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.
 34 Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days.  [Doctrine and Covenants 64]
I know it's not on my time.  I know my heart and my willingness are what matters.  It's a hard fight, though.  If I come home shattered and tattered, you can safely assume it came from 18 straight months of foundation-laying.  And if it is, so be it.  Maybe someday I'll get to see what it was all for.  I love you all.  Fight the good fight.
Sister Valdez

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Week 42: Discipline + Diligence = Difference‏

One time we met a baseball player. Plays for the Braves.

Status of my disciplined lifestyle:  I DID IT.  A week straight.  Still not broken.  Have not purchased Sonic or indulged in anything on the unhealthy side (without halfing it with my companion.  it counts.)  I did the first week of the Jillian Michaels workout Monday through Saturday and I feel fabuloso.  I don't look much different, but I feel ten feet tall.  And my biceps/triceps are a bit more defined.  20 miles of biking this week did the legs some good as well.  I know, this doesn't sound missionary related.  Why mention it?  Because of the principle here.  My workouts and my reformed diet would make no difference if I didn't have both, neither would they do any good unless they were consistent.  Discipline makes no difference unless applied with diligence.
Words of wisdom from Jillian:  "Transformation is not a future event.  It is a present activity."

Words of wisdom from the apostle Paul:  "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God."  [Romans 12:2]

He actually says just one verse prior:
 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

That's what all this is for.  To present my body (which is really just on loan to begin with) a living sacrifice.  To give it to the cause, to make me a better servant.  And it's working!  This week we have run (biked) and not been weary.  We have walked and not fainted.  We have found hidden treasures of knowledge (and muscles).  And glory be to a Heavenly Father who blesses the obedient in all things, both temporal and spiritual.

Despite Tuesday being a crazy hard day (I've had it up to HERE with sassy preachers) and getting dropped twice, mercy miracle hit us on Wednesday.  The missionaries have been working with a less active and his live-in non-member girlfriend for like 9 months and getting him to abandon bad habits and living the commandments has been the equivalent of potty training a hyperactive puppy. Frustrating.  However.  Our long-suffering was not for naught.  After all the sets of sisters that went over and won their hearts, after all the object lessons, acting out Book of Mormon stories, trying to show Mormon Messages without getting knocked over by his slobbering Doberman, they broke the news to us: he's quit smoking, he's quit drinking, and they're getting married!! We screamed.  Guess who gets to be the two witnesses?!

I gave a talk yesterday in sacrament about honesty.  A topic very close to my heart.  Bishop assigned it, and, in addition to some general authority quotes and the story of the people of Ammon, I ended up putting heart and soul into this talk.  Awkward moment when the ward your'e serving in now knows things about your life that your own family doesn't know.  (Sorry, not telling.)  In the talk, I also mentioned something we learned this week:  we are not the only ones affected by our commitment to our high moral standards and values, in school and the workplace.  Tracting, we met a woman and her daughter who both had nothing but good things to say about the church because of good friends they had or people they worked with who were LDS.  One basically told us, "I was amazed by the things I learned from them.  If it weren't for my husband, I would join that church."  The way you live is the greatest testimony you will ever bear.  Even if you can't see it, it makes a difference.
I've noticed a bread-trail pattern that occurs a lot when we get a good feeling about a particular street or area we should proselyte in.  We'll find someone the first time, go back and they're not there, meet someone else.  We go back for that person, they drop us or stand us up, but while we're there, we find someone ELSE.  This continues several times in most cases until we find The One.  The meek and humble person who's been praying for us to come.  In this week's case, it was an awesome woman who wears t-shirts that say "I <3 God" and "God Has Blessed Me Today", thanks "Lord Jeesuh" in her prayers at least 20 times, and told us she's prayed for someone to come that knew God's word better than she did.  Her prayers are the best.  "Thank you for sending me my sisters," she prayed,  "I didn't know they was comin here, and they didn't know they was comin here, but You knew, Lord Jeesuh!"
We found her the fourth or fifth time we revisited the area.  Diligence reaps results.

Sometimes, the mercy miracle is small. Like getting a good laugh out of an unfortunate event that's not as bad as it could have been, i.e. when a fellow missionary gets pulled over by a cop but there's nowhere to pull over on small country roads so she accidentally drives into a ditch and hits a pile of gravel and (after turning on the tail lights, which we got pulled over for) having two more cops show up, one to watch for traffic and one to help push us out.  They prob thought these outta-state missionary girls were nuts who wouldn't stop laughing in the backseat and taking pictures.

Oh, remember our guy who came to church last week?  We got to actually teach him this week, and he came to church again yesterday!  All you gotta do is get em once, and they're hooked.  The Spirit in our meetings is undeniable.  Why?  "One true and living church."  How blessed we are.

I'll close with the words of the ever-diligent Alma, who learned as I recently have to accept all that is within my calling and stewardship:

I know that which the Lord hath commanded me, and I glory in it. I do not glory of myself, but I glory in that which the Lord hath commanded me; yea, and this is my glory, that perhaps I may be an instrument in the hands of God to bring some soul to repentance; and this is my joy.
 10 And behold, when I see many of my brethren truly penitent, and coming to the Lord their God, then is my soul filled with joy; then do I remember what the Lord has done for me, yea, even that he hath heard my prayer; yea, then do I remember his merciful arm which he extended towards me. [Alma 29]
That arm is always there.  Be diligent.  Be disciplined.  He'll make up the difference, and together you make a difference.
Sister Valdez

Monday, May 12, 2014

Week 41: The Daily Ram

So first of all, skyping (well, google-hangouting) ya'll for Mother's Day yesterday was literally the BEST THING.  Don't let Cassie's emails fool you into thinking she's like a different person now.  She's obviously the same.  But Pants and Buddy are growing like weeds, and Mom hasn't aged a day (nor has Gma).  Padre and Brosk, I promise to give ya'll more attention next Christmas.  I care about your lives too.  Now to the mission stuff.

Remember that one time when God was merciful?  Haha.  It happens all the time.  Remember remember.  That God always comes through.  And stop whining.
No really, though, remember that one time when Abraham almost had to sacrifice his son but then an angel stopped him "STOP JUST KIDDING YOU DON'T REALLY HAVE TO DO IT" because he was just being tested for faithfulness, not just for God to see, but for him to see what kind of faith he was capable of. And THEN there's a ram in the bush for them to sacrifice instead.  We do hard things.  And God provides the ram.  Well, let me tell you.  We got a bunch this week.

On exchanges with Sister Keyes (STL), our car keys accidentally ended up in Jackson.. in Sister Creager's purse.  It's cool though, because we got members to drive us out last minute and though we had to walk all over the dickens to get from one neighborhood to the next, we found a girl in a trailer park who took very well to the idea of the Book of Mormon.
"So Mormons believe that you don't have to be a certain type of person for God to love you?"
"Uh... yeah."
"Oh my gosh, I think I might be a Mormon."
Older teenager, Guns and Roses t-shirt, multicolored hair, wooden plugs in her ears, sweet girl.  Lives with druggies in a crackhouse hood, so she told us to email her and we could meet up at the church.  Ram.

Diddy opened up even more when I came over with Sister Keyes that same day.  Her story goes deeper and deeper, about why she felt she couldn't get married because of financial consequence.  But after flipping from scripture to scripture, trying to decide which to read to her, while she tearfully explained her fears, I finally stopped at John 14:27.
"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.  Not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."
"I needed to see this," she said, through more tears.  She breaks my heart.  The Spirit told me to share it.  The Spirit knew.
Then she received revelation!  Told us the next day she'd been praying, and then God got her to thinking, that she doesn't have to think she needs to save the world, because that's HIS job!  And although a lot of people depend on her financially, maybe this is their chance to exercise faith and rely on God!  Yes!  She got it!  A+, Holy Ghost.  Way better teacher than we are.  And THEN next day, one of their huge financial problems just went away.  Literally was gone.  Guy came over, said, oh you don't need to spend a lot of money to upgrade your plumbing, sorry bout the misunderstanding, here's several hundred dollars you don't have to spend.  Can you say, "ram in the bush"?

In M-Hall, we knocked into a mid-age couple who came downstairs and let us in after we shouted up to the balcony for a minute about who we were and what we do.  After we taught the restoration, asked what they thought, he took the pamphlet we'd been teaching from, pointed to the picture of the first vision and said "This.  I've never heard about this before."  We're like "Yep, it's awesome huh?  That's why we come around and share it.  The heavens are not sealed."  This guy who'd been stone faced and skeptical up to that point was merry and smiling when we came by an hour later with a Book of Mormon for him to read.  Ram.

Our investigator on date for May 24th let us dig holes for her plants after our awesome spiritual lesson.  The awesome kind are the kind totally directed by the Spirit as the investigator pours out their true feelings and insecurities.  She felt like she was losing her faith, used to study scriptures daily, wishes she felt like she could praise God all the time but just doesn't feel it.  2 Nephi 31, after recieving the Holy Ghost, "then can you speak with the tongue of angels and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel."  Just gotta get baptized first!  But step one, get back into daily scripture study and you WILL be happier.  "Then you think I'll be ready to get baptized?" she asked, still on the fence about her own readiness.  Yes.  The answer is yes.  Ram.

I found a legit Polaroid One Step land camera (rainbow stripe included) for 20 bucks at an antique shop in M-Hall.  Does not pertain to missionary work, but made me very very happy.  (Little ram.)

We tracted another trailer park (only place to find success) and that awkward moment of "Can we share a message about Jesus Christ with you?"  "I'm a Mormon."  "Oh...."  Super sweet lady, hasn't been to church in years, lives with her husband who's Alzheimers has him back to the mind of a 2 year old.  Sometimes he wanders out to the street thinking they still live in another city, and other times talks about his wife and doesn't connect that his wife is the woman sitting next to him.  It's so sad.  But we taught her about faith, hope, and charity.  This life is just a minute.  In the next, all ailments of body and mind will be gone, and they can be truly together again.  She's still nervous about coming to church again, but she likes us a lot and will receive us anytime.  Ram.

With the returning member/part member family, we sat down with him as he was having dinner, got to talking about how difficult it was for him to re-discipline himself to do the things he knows are only hard because they're the right things to do.
"Do you want to change?" we ask.
"Yeah.  I need to."
"You want someone to make those choices for you?"
"That'd be easier."
"Can we help?"
So I reached past his pile of quesadillas and plucked his Bud Light from the table.  Then proceeded to dump the contents down the drain and recycle the can.  My companion applauded.  She had been wanting to do the same thing since we walked in.  He despairingly committed to not drink anymore, his girlfriend laughing and "I told you so"ing in the background.  Ram.

Remember that one time we tracted into someone who didn't have time for a message but asked where church was (a lot of people do this) and then actually showed up at church yesterday (not a lot of people do this) !?!?!?  He totally came, listened to the sweet talks by humble people on faith, hope, and charity, then the teacher of gospel principles, seeing an actual investigator in class, launched into a Restoration/Plan of Salvation/Gospel Of Jesus Christ mega-lesson, covering every principle in Preach My Gospel.  I fear our inv. may have suffocated under the weight of the entire restored gospel in one sitting.  But I think it was good!  The Spirit has this way of filtering for people, so they get out of it what they needed to.  He asked some good questions and by the end was stoked to start the Book of Mormon.  Maybe NOW he'll make time for a message from us.  The best part, though, which made all the difference, was the number of brethren in the ward that put their arm around him or warmly shook his hand that day, to let him know how much we loved that he was there.  Ram.

We worked like mad this week.  And we're going to work even harder, now that my companion and I have both committed to daily Jillian Michaels workouts, and healthy eating (I had to buy stuff like kale and almond milk today, this is for real).  We give our all, and Heavenly Father gives back.  We put forth the will, and He provides a way.  Just as He has from the foundation of the world.

 14 Now I say unto you that ye must repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness.

Look to the Lamb.  And God provides the ram.


Sister Valdez

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Week 40: Halfway to Glory

Thanks for the letters ya'll!  Yeah, I hit my hump day last Thursday, May 1st.  My mission is half completed, which means I'm halfway to GLORY!  And by glory, I mean, returning with honor.  Sister Creager and I may have spent half our weekly planning session looking at our planners and freaking out about how we have fewer days left in the mission than we've already spent.  In other words, we can't afford to let a day go by that we don't work hard enough to render a nightly report of "Well Heavenly Father, we did our darndest."  That's the goal.  Full dedication, heart, might, mind, and strength.  Not a hundred baptisms.  Although that would be nice too.
Diddy missed church this week, but she's still all for baptism.  Cool thing, we stopped by for a quick lesson about faith and hope (courtesy of the marvelous lesson we received from our zone leaders that day) and before we started, her boyfriend said "Do ya'll mind if I listen too?" and we were like UM NO PLEASE DO there's nothing we would love more than for the two of you to be learning and making this journey together (coughdoublebaptismcough).  And that's not even the best part.  As Diddy was telling us how she enjoyed church last Sunday and how she wants to come again, I noticed for the first time something different about her.  Her countenance was changed.  She was smiling.  She was glowing.  All the dark lines of distress and worry were gone.  It's like she didn't even need that lesson that day; faith and hope were already changing her.

The lesson we'd had on hope has actually been driving us all week.  We talked about the difference between what we hope FOR and what we hope IN.  For example:
I hope for the ice cream truck's speedy arrival before I perish in this heat.
I hope that guy we committed to baptism at the retirement home is actually elect, and not senile.
I hope Sassy really comes to church and brings her family like she keeps saying she will. (She didn't.)
I hope no bugs fly into my eyes on this five mile bike ride. (They did.)

But what do we hope IN?  We hope in Christ.  We hope in God's promises.  We hope in the work of salvation, that it is not all for naught, that good things will come of our efforts.  Every time something great happens, both Sister C and I are tempted to get excited.  But I have to calm her down.  "Don't get excited.  We can't afford to."  (our hopes and dreams get crushed a lot)  "We put our faith in Christ, and our hope in good things to come."  But hope is what drives us to work.  We don't know exactly what the good things are that will happen, or exactly how God will fulfill his promises, we just know that He will.  So we work as if every person we talk to could be the one that accepts our invitation to the celestial kingdom.  One of them will.  One day.

Another blessing by way of Miss Diddy: Right when I was beginning to think the only soul I'll ever have saved was that turtle I picked up off the road and place safely in a ditch, Miss Diddy offers the closing prayer in a lesson and thanks Heavenly Father for "my girls, who have made a world of difference in my life."  She said some other nice things too I can't immediately recall.  I just recall feeling "all sparkly inside" as Sister Creager put it.

Interesting moment:  we were teaching this guy (former gangsta, come clean) outside some ghetto apartments, first lesson, he'd just come outside and asked us what we believe, and near the end of the Restoration, he looks at me and is like "I can read people, I been around Wiccans a lot.  And I can tell you been through somethin, I can see it.  You wide open.  And you come a long way."  Well.  Um.  Thanks?  I ain't nearly been through as much as this guy has, having had the guardrail of the gospel in my life from day one, but nonetheless.  It's been a non-stop growing process all these years, and I guess you could say I HAVE come a long way.  That's the power of hope.  It changes people.

 32 And I also remember that thou hast said that thou hast prepared a house for man, yea, even among the amansions of thy Father, in which man might have a more excellent bhope; wherefore man must hope, or he cannot receive an inheritance in the place which thou hast prepared.  [Ether 12]

 41 And what is it that ye shall ahope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have bhope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life ceternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.
 42 Wherefore, if a man have afaith he bmust needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope.  [Moroni 7]
Hope is what drives us to do.  And when we do, we change.  That's what grace is about.  Allowing Christ to reach into your life, clean off the sin and weakness mortality marked you with, and shape you into the person God always intended you to be.
Concerning this little year-and-a-half part of the process I've been blessed to experience, I've only got 9 months left to get there!  Time to make it count!
And wherever you are on the journey, make today count for something.  Mortality is but a fraction of it.  Glory is ahead, and we're halfway there.


Sister Valdez