Monday, September 29, 2014

Week 61: Down To The Wire

So I've been working on courage, right?  Well I shared this goal with my companion because that's how this works.  So she can push me to work on them.  Well push she did.  In fact, she stopped the car and told me she wasn't going until I got out of the car and ran after the man on the sidewalk and gave him a Mormon.org card and if I didn't do it she was going to.  So I begrudgingly (and gratefully) jumped out of the car and sprinted down the road to give a card to this guy and he didn't even speak English so I clumsily told him I was from la iglesia del JesuCristo de los santos le los ultimos dias, handed him a card, and jogged back to Sister Rocha, smirking in the driver seat.  True comp love is forcing me to succeed especially when its super awkward.

This was a very different week.  As in not typical.  My birthday was super fun, of course, we met up with all the missionaries in the zone in Picayune and I played piano while they played sports (typical) and Sister Rocha made everyone strawberry shortcake because she's the best.  And then we went to our dinner appointment and I guess a little bird had told them it was my bday because there were balloons and party hats and candles stuck in a brownie.  I must've been quite a sight, biking down the road in the dark with two balloons trailing behind me.  The bummer side was that we had to drop Didi because she's not shown up to church when she said she would and all she wants to talk about are 1) how hard she and her sister have it health-wise and financially and 2) what she's making for dinner.  So we concluded to shelf her until further notice (until she gets professional help and can actual make the gospel a priority).  Such is the case with many.  They'll profess love for God and trust in God all day long, but then they can't bring themselves to keep the commitments they make.  You can't say you love someone and then not make time for them.  Sigh.  But maybe someday, her time will come.  

Wednesday we went to the doctor and he told Sister Rocha she can't kneel, bike, or do any sports and then had a nurse put a leg immobilizer brace thing on it.  So she literally cannot bend her knee.  For a week.  She liked to have punched something and leveled it with the earth.  Tracting has been interesting.  We take it a little slower.  Stairs are the worst.

Thursday was a funeral for a dear old lady in the ward who passed away last Sunday.  I didn't know her all that well, of course, but she was the one who was tickled by Lil Z's comment about me and Sister Rocha being "the tan one and the white one."  A very positive, upbeat, smiley, enthusiastic woman til the end, despite her age and physical infirmities.  She was the organ player too, and very passionate about it.  Bishop said he was sure that the angels' chorus of harps had just been joined by an organ.  Her funeral service at the church was the most beautiful service I've ever attended.  The four of us sister missionaries sang "Families Can Be Together Forever."  Her son gave the most tender tribute; he read her journals after her passing and she  had ended every entry with "we are truly blessed."  He finished and closed the journal for her.  "From your friends and family," he said.  "In the end, it was we who were truly blessed."  The bishop and then the stake president also spoke, both making mention of the wonderful blessing of eternal marriage and families and the temple sealing.  The organ played "God Be With You Til We Meet Again," the crowd stood, they wheeled the casket out, and a strange feeling came over me, the same one that had when the casket was first wheeled in, and similar to a feeling I got a few weeks ago when we stumbled upon a small family cemetery while tracting.  I would compare it to the Spirit because of the strength of the feeling, which filled me from the inside out and felt like a definite presence, though what or who I can't say.  What I can say is that I know now more than ever that there is, in fact, an afterlife.  I have a true and unshakable assurance that this mortal probation is not all there is.

Sunday definitely wasn't typical.  Each companionship had two investigators show up to church.  SIX investigators!  At church!!!  Well, nine if you count that the elders' was a family of four.  Lil Z (our 8 year old investigator who's parents don't come because they work) still gets antsy in sacrament, but it's real cute how he sprints to primary as soon as it's over because he loves his sunday school class.  The other was Sandra!  Funny story, we found a teaching record for her in our area files.  Our zone leader served in this area about two years ago, and when we called him he told us he remembered meeting her and teaching her.  Said she loved the missionary visits, but didn't keep commitments well.  So her showing up to church means she's made major progress since then.  She left pretty quick after first hour though, so I think it's either because she and her husband really did have somewhere to go to, or she felt the Spirit and it scared her off because her heart is still unrepentant and not yet willing to change.  Time will tell.

Super fun time was our air conditioner breaking on us.  Our apartment was 82 degrees, when it was like 78 outside.  No bueno.  The thing had iced over, low on freon or something, so we left it off one night to defrost it and couldn't even open our windows because we don't have screens and bugs exist.  Yes, it was a sleepless night, thanks for asking.  Anyway, we told one fam in the ward who sent their husband and sons over to see what they could do (they diagnosed our problem) and then somehow the whole ward found out our AC was on the fritz and offered to send people they knew who could fix it or invited us to stay the night at their house so we wouldn't have to burn up all night again.  I love this ward.  We ended up spending the past two nights in the guest room at our neighbors - super convenient that they're members and around our age and without children -  and this morning, someone else from the ward sent over some professionals and they fixed it in like ten seconds.  Mercy.

It's been a trip and a blessing to see Sister Rocha to the end of her mission.  We spend our tracting hours exchanging number one lessons we've learned on our missions - or else she asks me to tell her stories from the Bible to test my knowledge and keep my head outta the clouds.  Now that she's on her last week, of course afflictions are abounding (her leg, the AC, losing investigators) but at the same time we've laughed much, loved much, and has some fantastic lessons with earnest people.  And it's like the inconveniences ain't even a thing.

 For thou shalt devote all thy service in Zion; and in this thou shalt have strength.
 Be patient in afflictions, for thou shalt have many; but endure them, for, lo, I am with thee, even unto the end of thy days.   [D&C 24]
One mission lesson we discussed was this:  The only way you will find real happiness and satisfaction in the mission is through two things:  living purely (obedience to rules and commandments) and working hard (anxiously engaged in doing difficult things).  Like I told her, my whole life has been a cakewalk compared to most people's.  The mission is the first time I've had like, real trials and tests of my faith, and demanding work and hard things to do and all for someone other than myself.  And I've never been happier or more satisfied.

Sister Valdez

Monday, September 22, 2014

Week 60: I don't know about you but I'm feeling twenty....three.

delicious ice cream cake from ward mission leader and his wife
Elder Hunstman promised me a hat when we served in Shreveport together and he got me this one just in time for my birthday!  ^_^ Saints!!!
What up!  I'm 23!  Crazy.  And at the same time, not.  It feels like not that long ago I was singing Taylor Swift to my roommates in Shreve to celebrate my 22nd birthday, and at the same time I have had so many experiences since then and learned and changed so much that I hardly feel like the same person.  So it was a good time to turn 23.  New age.  New place.  New me.  But doggone it, I am so flippin old.  There are no silly pop songs about being 23 so hopefully it means I've finally reached real adulthood.
driving through Gulfport after Sis Rocha's MRI

This week has been pretty balanced, with a fair share of extraordinary moments.  We have four investigators with a baptism date at the moment (I know right?  Crazy.  Never happened before in my mission)  None the less, everyone has their own challenges:
PJ is slack in keeping commitments which I guess we attribute to his being a working single father, but when he does read he feels something; Bobbi finally returned from her two week trip, which she took right after we set her with a date, and hasn't read since she left but she still plans to and we're set to see her again tomorrow.  She at least took the Book of Mormon with her on the trip, so that counts for something right?  ahh... ; Didi loved the Restoration movie and always feels the Spirit when we come, said she was excited that she'll get to be a member of the church, but slept through church yesterday, second time in a row.  Our poor member who's so eager to help us with the work got stood up twice now by investigators set to come to church; and then Sammi was a spontaneous miracle case.
our district at interviews - the classing laughing shot

We were trying a less active who wasn't home and both Sister Rocha and I got the prompting to tract the street.  So we did and the first door was Sandra, who let us right in, told us she wanted to go to a church but didn't know which one so she'd been praying about it.  She later told us she prayed three years ago for God to send someone to her to give her direction, and she decided that our arrival had to be an answer to that prayer.  We were ecstatic when she told us, and we taught her about the Restoration and afterward invited her to be baptized.  She smiled when we did, and said "That tickled me!"  Apparently, the Spirit touching her heart felt like a tickle to her insides, but she recognized it as being from God just the same.  And she accepted a baptism date for October 25.  She has some smoking and drinking habits that she needs to get rid of and wants to get rid of, and she might have been a little bit under some sort of chemical influence when we taught her, but we're pretty sure - well, we're hoping - she still was able to feel the Spirit just enough to still want to act on it.  She missed church yesterday, but she called to apologize and ask if we had any other services.  When we told her it's just the one on Sunday, she committed to come next week and set up a time for us to teach her again this week.  Considering that we give our number away twenty times a day and tell people to call us all the time and NO ONE ever calls us, the fact that Sammi did I think means she's elect.  At least, more so than the ones who sleep through church, get concerned voicemails from us, and don't call.

So that's our main people!  It's a lot to keep track of and there are a lot of needs to address, but we're up for the challenge.  This is Sister Rocha's final stretch, after all.  Go big and go home.

a member showing us legit polaroids from the 70's
Some ultra cool things I did this week because I'm a genius:
- Sprayed dog repellent out the car window at a boxer who kept walking in front of our car and then whined in pain when the wind blew some of it into my face and Sister R pulled over so I could lean out the door and pour the rest of her water bottle into my eyes.
- Made a goal to AI (additional inviting - it's when you talk to strangers in public places as opposed to knocking on their door) and then when we picked out someone to talk to at Walmart I clucked out and made Sister Rocha talk to them while I hid behind her.  I don't know why but I could knock on any door in the state, twenty of them every day, and I still can't talk to a lady with a baby in the DVD aisle.
- Almost fell asleep fifty times while an 80 something year old lady in the ward told us stories of her life and the lives of her every family member and had to pinch myself in the ear multiple times to keep from passing out on her couch.
Sis Rocha reading the best book ever!
wearing Sis Rocha's tag, watch and CTR ring while she gets an MRI
helped a family move...I've always wanted to do that!

Remember the crazy little monkey girl I talked about last week?  We prepared a special lesson just for her.  It was about the Godhead.  We told her that her pawpaw represented Heavenly Father.  He loves her and wants her to come and be with him, but first we have to get sent to earth and find our way back - moved her to the back of the room.  While we're on earth we try to get close to Heavenly Father but we get tied up in our sins and mistakes - tied her wrists and ankles together with rope.  Also, we can't even see Heavenly Father while we're here - put a blindfold on her.  She tried to escape many times in spite of her bonds and blindfold, but we held her down for the sake of this important object lesson.  We taught her that Jesus Christ, the son of God, came and sacrificed himself to free us from our sins - untied her ropes.  And that even though we can't see God, He sent the Holy Ghost to help us find our way back by telling us what to do - held her hand and whispered to her where to walk until she finally made it back to her pawpaw and clambered into his arms.  It's possible she didn't get every point we were teaching, as she quickly turned her attention to a marine life encyclopedia.  But if anything, she'll remember that we taught her that God made dolphins.

Have ya'll seen the new Mormon message called "You Never Know"?  About how we sometimes feel overwhelmed by all that is asked of us and we feel we fall short most of the time but probably don't even realize how much good we do?  Well I was feeling like that yesterday.  We tried everyone in the books and taught no lessons.  And none of our investigators showed up to church.  But we finished Sunday evening as we usually do, at the home of an elderly lady in our ward who shows very little expression or emotion, gives us instructions dryly as we fix her supper and perform other chores, and occasionally tells us "before Katrina" stories while we sit at her counter and eat cookies.  We always close the night by showing her a Bible video or Mormon message, and last night was the "You Never Know" one.  Afterward, she offered to say the prayer.  She then took us by surprise, as she thanked Heavenly Father for us, for all that we do and all we have accomplished, prayed for the area we and all the missionaries in the ward work in, and finished by saying "I love Thee, I love Thy church, and I love these girls like my own daughters..."  Was I cryin?  You bet.  And what did she say after 'amen'?  "Now be off with you."  We sure love her.

Behold, am disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. have been called of him to declare his word among his people, that they might have everlasting life...
have reason to bless my God and my Savior Jesus Christ, ... that he hath given me and my people so much knowledge unto the salvation of our souls...
And as surely as the Lord liveth, will he gather in from the four quarters of the earth all the remnant of the seed of Jacob, who are scattered abroad upon all the face of the earth...
And then shall they know their Redeemer, who is Jesus Christ,the Son of God...  [3 Nephi 5]

What a blessing it has been to have lived my entire 23rd year in the service of my God, in such a way that I can make these words of Moroni my own.  I have yet more to learn, but I have learned so much.  I have felt to sing of redeeming love, and still feel so now.  I know that the promise of redemption is available to all, no matter where on the earth they may be, and I know that this work of gathering is truly the Lord's work.  It is a privilege - and a joy - to be a part of.
Thanks for the gifts and letters, family!  Proudly wearing my Cali necklace right now ^_^  I love you guys!  Hurrah for Israel!

Sister Valdez

Monday, September 15, 2014

Week 59: Lost, Saved, and Losing It

My goodness, this past week lasted a month, I'm pretty sure.  We did in 7 days what I averagely would have accomplished in 15-20 in previous areas.  Mostly Florence.  That place was gettin a lil slow.  But here, we taught hecka lessons this week.  More than I have room to talk about.  And I get scared that we have so many investigators or potentials that I'm going to forget about someone and they'll be lost forever but the Jesus said "I know my sheep, and they are numbered" and "none of them that my Father hath given me shall be lost."  So I think it'll be ok.

The investigator, Didi, who set a baptism date, is still legit.  She expressed a desire to stop smoking.  So for our third lesson, we taught the word of wisdom.  I've never seen anyone on the verge of tears from reading Doctrine and Covenants 89.  We read the promised blessings at the end and she's like "sniffle.... that's beautiful...." and when we committed her to live it, she shook on it.  Didn't make it to church yesterday, and we're hoping it's not because she or her sister (both cancer patients) had to be rushed back to the hospital.  Health problems are literally the devil.  They are the number one thing keeping people from progressing in the gospel here lately.

We tracted an apartment building that was like a gold mine, up until we met a guy who looked like he wanted to murder us.  He said something about how he doesn't know why his prayers aren't answered because he's not a bad person, then he says "I don't do any killings... or rapings.... or things you see on tv" and like right when he said that, me and Sister Rocha both looked into his eyes (could accurately be described as "serpent eyes") and got the sickest, darkest, most demonic feelings inside and said "well here's a picture of Jesus k bye!" and booked it out of there.  If any of ya'll wanna look up the sex offenders list for our area and send it to me, feel free.  Because neither my companion nor I would like to end up stuffed in a sack and shoved in a closet in five pieces.

Same apartments, we went back a few days later for a return appointment with a lady there.  Her husband was a straight up hater, was like "Oh we thought you were Jehovah's witness.  Ya'll believe in the guy that found a book in the woods?  Cause I don't believe in that."  We were just like "Yep!  Book in the woods!  That's us!"  but he let us talk to his wife anyhow.  She was super open and super sweet, three cute lil kids jumpin all over her, and she committed to a baptism date!  We freaked out, screamed when we got in the car, but of course keep in mind it may be too good to be true cause she didn't show up to church and I'm praying it wasn't because of her hater husband.

Our WML took us out to lunch on Saturday at a swank place on the beach where I had the best seafood pasta I've ever had in my entire life.  It felt like being in California again and I decided I have to live by the coast.  It is in my future.  Then he came with us to see our investigator who's older, divorced, major qualms with the government and consequently anything else that is an organization, sits with us out on his second story porch with no safety railing, and wears the same puppy t-shirt every time we see him.  He's fascinated by the Book of Mormon, but indoctrinated by one tv preacher, is very open to hearing our message, but tends to go on tangents about Adam and Eve and what really went down in the garden.  This took a long time to get over, but we finally got to our main points.  That it doesn't matter how many kids they had or what the fruit was or who Cain married what matters is that YOU have freedom to choose because of it so don't make the wrong choice.  Haha.  Not what we said.  But that was the point we made.

We were trying to teach at a member's house this week, and while we attempt this spiritual conversation about faith and repentance, this little girl is being a monkey climbing over her grandparents and spilling a pixie stick all over the place and sticking things in her mouth and it was distracting, it was hot and I wanted to die, but then she's like "I made a cake" and she goes and gets a pineapple upside down cake she had her grandparents help her make because she knew we were coming and asks when we'll come back next week because she wants to be there.  The point is..... I should have had more charity for her.  Even though she was fidgety and sticky.  Because she's still pre-accountability, still a pure soul, and children are an heritage of the Lord and theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  I hope I always remember that, when I have kids later in life, no matter how monkeyish or fidgety or sticky they get.

We dropped by another member one night and we were just straight chattin, then she tells us this long history of some misunderstandings between members in the ward and we're not sure what the purpose was, until she starts crying because she doesn't have any friends in the ward and just feels so out of place there.  In church.  In the true church.  Whereas, at her nonmember family's church, she feels welcome and a spirit of love there, always.  And I was super sad.  Because it does happen sometimes, many times, even within the church because people are people are humans are flawed and we were almost crying right along with her because no one should feel friendless in the fold of God.  We assured her that keeping her baptism covenant and staying in the church was worth it.  We shared every encouraging scripture we could think of, and this one stood out to me:

Verily I say unto you, all among them who know their hearts are honest, and are broken, and their spirits contrite, and are willing to observe their covenants by sacrifice—yea, every sacrifice which I, the Lord, shall command—they are accepted of me [D&C 97:8]

We're always going to be asked to sacrifice something.  Keeping our covenants is never going to be easy or convenient.  Something's gotta give.  But the reward is worth it every time - being accepted of the Lord.  And His acceptance is more important than anyone else's, it's the only one that will bring peace and lasting happiness.  Elder Kopischke of the Seventy gave a talk on this and elaborated on what it meant to observe our covenants by sacrifice, among them being partaking of the sacrament worthily every week and serving faithfully in our church callings.  He then gave this indicator of how you can know if you're doing it right:
"Having the Holy Ghost as our constant companion is the ultimate indicator of being accepted of God."

So there it is.  If you're observing your covenants by sacrifice (well, doing your darndest), and you can feel the influence of the Holy Ghost working with you in your daily life, then you're doing it right.  You're doing fine.  You're doing great.  So don't freak out.

I'll close with my favorite lines from last night's devotional by Elder D. Todd Chirstofferson of the quorom of the 12 apostles.

The way you live your life should be a 'confession of Christ.'
The best way to show your love for your family (or others) is to love the Savior first.
Learn to want what the Lord wants.

His point being: Losing your life in the service of God and accepting His will and His plan over your own is the only way to go.  Because if you don't do it, you're not living up to your incredible potential as a child of God.  And you just won't be happy.  So do it.  Lose it.  I can testify.  It's the best thing.

Sister Valdez

Monday, September 8, 2014

Week 58: Get Swole

High five to the Waveland district for an all-time high in lessons taught in a week!  I don't know what it is, but the six of us missionaries in the ward are going hard (and not going home) to get this deal diggity DONE.  Waveland ward has some awesome members.  One makes us sandwiches every time we go over.  Others who have trucks come pick us up with our bikes when we have a long way to ride.  And another gives us massages after long hard days; one sister gets knots worked out in the chair while the other
reads to the member out of the Book of Mormon.

Fun facts about Waveland.
- Sister Rocha likes to start sentences with "Fun fact about Sister Rocha" followed by things I didn't know about her yet.
- We teach a lot of black men.  I don't know why that is.  But 72.6% of our lessons this week were with black men.  If there's something about them that makes them receptive, all the better.
- Flat.  Everything is flat.  We can bike for miles and not feel like we're going to collapse and die because NO HILLS it's glorious.
-Most people actually have porches, in addition to stilts under their homes.  I got to paint a porch last Saturday while Sister Rocha mowed an enormous yard.
- People here not only give us free eggs, but free bread as well.  Our member neighbor works at Jimmy Johns and gives us bread.  We then get to make amazing sandwiches without even having to find a Subway.
- I tried to see how many conversations we could have with strangers without someone bringing up hurricane Katrina.  Still at zero.
- The bugs here are no joke.  They bite and show no mercy.

Which brings me to the title of this email.  If you thought I was going to bring up my workout regimen and get-ripped plan one more time, think again.  You'll see a photo of me knocking on a door (not connected to a house) attached to this.  Fun fact about that photo.  It was in this spot that Sis Rocha stepped in an ant hill and got a series of miniature stinging bites, and I got bit by either a very large ant or a very small spider.  It left two white dots on the top of my foot and only kinda stung for a while but I didn't think much of it until that night when Sis R was like "Is your foot swollen?" and I looked down and sure enough, one was noticeably fatter than the other.  I was just like "huh weird, swole up foot" at first, but the next day it didn't get any better, and after walking and biking on it all day, the swelling went up my ankle.  A kind member gave me some epsom salt and Sister R had some benadryl, so the past two nights have included me sticking my puffy foot in a bucket of salt water and sleeping with it propped up on a stack of sweatshirts (and occasionally waking in the night because it randomly itches like crazy).  And all this from one dumb bug.  Sigh.

However - I don't know if I brought this up when I got shingles last winter, but this is a theory that I have.  There must always ALWAYS be something going wrong.  If not so, the universe would be thrown out of whack.  It keeps us humble, necessary for this work to be meaningful.  Therefore, if I'm going to experience major victories here in the mission, there must also be some major inconveniences to balance it out.  In this case, it's physical injury.  One the one side, Sister Rocha has been dealing with a knee that is constantly in pain, so we bike around with a bum knee and a puffy foot all day and then yesterday our water bottles got stolen off our bikes.  I mean, not like we needed em in this sweltering weather or anything.  But on the flip side, we hit twenty lessons for the first time in FOREVER this week AND we set a new investigator with a baptism date!

Other victories:  We taught a little girl who's 12, who's devout Catholic mother had to excuse herself because she kept interjecting but let us teach because she really wants her daughter to be able to choose her own religion.  It was kind of uncomfortable at first when the mom walked out, but we kept teaching.  At the end of the Restoration lesson, the girl said "I think I believe you more than I believe the other church I went to."  I asked why and she said, "Because you explain things a lot more.  And I feel like my faith in Christ is growing."  Bah!  What!  I almost fell over.  She's 12!  And yet, she recognized the Spirit when she felt it.  We were blown away.  She was stoked to come to church after that, but ended up not making it. However, she did call us Wednesday night to ask for a ride to the young women's activity!  We screamed with joy.

From that same household, the 8 year old and his 7 year old brother came to church yesterday!  Don't worry, we'll get their busy parents to church with them, as soon as possible.  Turns out a member of the ward knows their family, who used to be the boys' school bus driver, so he picked them up for church.  When the boys were introduced in Primary, one said, "Our mom is good friends with two of the sisters, the white one and the tan one."  Booyah.  That's us.  I am the tan one.  ^_^

A couple other moments occurred that just reminded me that every little effort, every extended hand counts for something.  We paused in our biking, so Sister Rocha could give a woman a Mormon.org card before she got in her car, invited her to visit it for some uplifting videos about faith in our Savior.  The woman said, "Thank you.  I needed this today.  I'm on my way to a funeral."  My gosh.  Heavenly Father knows.  When we were tracting, a really nice friendly guy pulled up next to us and invited us over to his house for cold water - much needed - and was not at all interested in changing religions but had met missionaries before so we just chit chatted a little.  When we got ready to go, he told us he'd had a really cruddy day at work and that talking to us had lifted his spirits.  Snap.  I was humbled by that.  Sister Rocha is really good at talking to everyone we see, and at making conversation about anything.  I initially thought we were wasting our time, but it turns out in both instances that we were exactly where we were needed.  Even if these people aren't ready for the gospel at that moment, we're still being used as instruments in the Lord's hands.  I remember praying that morning before we went out, "help us find someone to uplift."  And afterward wondering where that statement came from.  Goes to show, when you pray by the Spirit, you get what you pray for.  Because it's already the Father's will.  Praying by the Spirit = aligning your will with the Father's (see Bible Dictionary: Prayer).

Now the majorus victory of the week was last night.  The whole theme of yesterday was "expect the unexpected."  We said that to each other multiple times yesterday after something serendipitous happened.  An investigator we had been planning to drop had actually kept his commitment to read and expressed a desire to change.  So we're giving him another chance, stressing that it's 100% his choice to act on what we invite him to do.  We came in contact with a group of five or six young adults, guys, while tracting and ended up having a very civil conversation with them (except for the stoned one) instead of like, getting made fun of, which is always the fear when we pass a group of people our age.  Then we recontacted a woman we'd met in passing at some apartments, who remembered briefly meeting Sister R a few weeks ago, started telling us how much her life sucks and hugged us and cried, and told us she'd love for us to come talk to her sometime.  Not expecting much, we went over yesterday.  She's talking about the Bible, and asks "Now does your Bible read the same way?"  We start to explain the Book of Mormon, and she goes over to the counter and picks up a copy of it and says "I know. I've been reading it."  We near fell over.  Sisters had given the book to a homeless guy that used to stay at her house.  He'd left it behind and she'd picked it up.  So when we taught the Restoration of the gospel, she was ready for it.  Sister R recited the First Vision, and the woman started to cry.  "That's so beautiful," she said.  I started to invite her to be baptized with the usual, "If you come to find that this message is true..." and she says.  "Oh, I believe it!"  "Can you feel the Spirit testifying to you?"  "Yes!  I can feel it in my heart."  I could too.  The Spirit was strong, we could all feel it.  It's such a real thing.  She committed to be baptized October 18.  But of course, we're secretly planning to prepare her weeks beforehand, so she'll be baptized before Sister Rocha goes home.  All she has to do is stop smoking and the rest of the lessons will be a breeze.  We left that lesson screaming on the inside.

As I drifted off to sleep last night, I thought about all the choice souls we've had the opportunity to teach, people who let the Spirit work on them and speak to their hearts, and my own heart experienced an expansion similar to that of my currently elevated foot.  Only instead of pain, twas accompanied by joy.

And their hearts were swollen with joy, unto the gushing out of many tears, because of the great goodness of God in delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; [3 Nephi 4]

 23 And now, my brethren, I desire that ye shall plant this word in your hearts, and as it beginneth to swell even so nourish it by your faith. And behold, it will become a tree, springing up in you unto everlasting life. And then may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of his Son [Alma 33]

And of course, the goal is to be like unto Moroni.... a man whose heart did swell with thanksgiving to his God, for the many privileges and blessings which he bestowed upon his people; a man who did labor exceedingly for the welfare and safety of his people. [Alma 48]

Gratitude and love.  That's what this particularly swelling was.  It filled me up like nothing else, and I am eternally grateful for my call to serve, my time to labor in the Lord's vineyard.  Puffy foot and all.

Sister Valdez

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Week 57: Love Like Mad

Waveland, baby!  The Mississippi coast!  Also known as the Gulf coast, cause the ocean is there but it's actually a gulf but that's still the ocean right?  I guess.  All I know is, I walked on sand today and it was like being home.  Except better because I'm a missionary.  Only downer, still can't go in the water.  But we can walk on the beach on Prep days and that is a great cause for my heart to rejoice.
Funny story.  Someone asked where I wanted to get transferred to and I said, "I've always wanted to die on the coast, so I hope I get sent there," and they said something about going to Biloxi or Waveland, both areas I've heard other sisters tell me about.  My district leader asked where I wanted to go, I said my money's on Texas or the coast, he's like, Yeah I could see you going to like.... Waveland.  Boom.  After I got the call, I texted my DL to inform him that he's a visionary man.

Everyone told me serving on the coast was going to be way different.  They were 100% right.  The people here are a lot more diverse.  There's more laidback folks, more young folks, and more New Orleans accents (which are crazy, it's like Northeastern/Eastcoastern almost).  We met an older lady who was Buddhist who let us come in off her porch when the rain started randomly comin down in buckets, and asked us questions .  People build their houses on stilts here, which protect from floods, but not from hurricanes.  When they talk about recent history, it's all either "before the storm" or "after the storm," referring to Katrina.  This town got hit pretty bad.  There's a bunch of lots that are just stilts. No houses on 'em.  Swept away.  Whoosh!  Oh and know what else?  There's an ocean breeze.  ALL THE TIME.  It's not a cool breeze, but it's a breeze.  Makes the 100 degree weather that much more bearable.

Ya'll ever heard of the sister missionary mall?  It's like a store in Utah.  Except guess what.  The real sister missionary mall is the three large bags of clothes I found in my apartment that past sister missionaries left behind. I now have three new outfits and didn't pay a cent.  What's better, there's a sewing machine a member left at our apartment, so I can alter them all to my size.  Best thing.  Also, a young couple in the ward live in the apartment adjacent to us, so they're now our adopted mom and dad.  Sometimes we go over when we come in for the night and they give us cookies.  We were told that our apartments were connected by the attic, but a quick experiment last night involving a cooler, a chair, an ottoman and a Sister Rocha stacked on top of each other revealed that our attics are not, in fact, connected.  We would have used a ladder if we had one.

We sang "We'll Bring the World His Truth" with the young women in sacrament meeting yesterday.  A missionary was giving his farewell talk.  It was really awesome, because we four sisters missionaries in the bunch were all singing "we will be the Lord's missionaries" and then it hits us - we ARE the Lord's missionaries.  We're bringing the world His truth.  Right here, right now.  Also, I have an awesome district.  There's Sister Borja from Paraguay, Elder Ah Ching the Samoan greenie (from Utah), and me!  To mix it up.  Give it some color.  Some cultural diversity.  And then Elder Eidson, a hoot, Sister Tebbs, adorable, and Sister Rocha, my cool companion.  There was an instant spirit of love and unity I felt in our first district meeting, that was a huge relief.  Super grateful for that.  It's great to not feel alone.

We did a lot of teaching this week.  We were super blessed.  There are more open people here, some of them "compelled to be humble" but not all of them.  Some are just of normal circumstance and with normal understanding, which is great.  I love when they understand what we teach.  One was one night when we were walking through some apartments we stopped a young guy who sat down in the gazebo with us and let us share the Restoration.  His friend came over, pale dude with long black hair that I'd initially mistaken for a chick, and listened in.  They both said they wanted to come to church with us, but didn't show so maybe they just listened to us because we're young and attractive.  Hate when that happens.  Regardless, it was a good lesson.  Even better was yesterday, we stopped at a house of a woman we found and she told us she'd invited us back because our timing had to be by divine intervention.  She's searching.  Booyah.  She received the first lesson very well, despite all the interruptions by her two sons.  One of them, cutest boy I've ever seen in my life, kept coming up behind Sister Rocha and I, playing with our hair, whispering in her ear, touching my arm - at one point, he came up to me holding out his hand.  "What's that?" I ask. "My hand."  "What does it want?" "Can you hold it?"  Sister R and his mother both think he's got the hots for me.  As we were leaving, he told us not to leave without him, he had to go pack his bags because he's coming with us.  My heart has been stolen by a four year old.

Also, a bunch of little girls who flocked over to us in the ghetto one day started combing my hair with their fingers and telling me it was tangled.  I think I could solve this problem if I do like them and get my hair did in braids or cornrows.  It would never be tangled again.  These same girls asked to have my water bottle and started cat-fighting over a picture of Jesus we gave them.  I love children.

Love has been my big theme lately.  During the diligence phase, it was "be industrious."  Now in my charity phase, it's "love like mad."  Heavenly Father has helped me re-ignite my zeal by sending me to this fresh new area, and sent plenty of people to love in the five days I've been here.  It's the best.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. [1 Corinthians 13]
Love is what gives my purpose a purpose.  What gives my words validity.  It gives me a reason to truck on while the sun is high and hot, and a reason to smile when the day is over.  Because the things we do for love are never lost on us.  This is a "labor of love," as Paul calls it.  If I didn't love them, I wouldn't be causing these awkward experiences at their front doors. I wouldn't be interrupting their long winded stories to call them to repentance.  What's funny is, it's not a natural love.  It's a gift that is given, but you do have to work for it.  I have no reason to have such unreasonable regard for these strangers, save that I know our Savior DOES have that for them, and for me, for all of us, and as His representative, I cannot do His work if I don't pray for a heart full of charity. Because all things must fail.  But charity doesn't.

Sister Valdez