Monday, October 27, 2014

Week 65: The Choice Land

I can't believe this place sometimes.  I mean, we still have those moments where some old man at a door tells us we're going to hell or a less-active-turned-Anti-Mormon starts mocking things about the temple and telling us Joseph Smith was an insane person or a lesson with a truly interested contact gets interrupted by his loud spouse who likes to yellingly argue why baptism is supposed to be done in the name of Jesus with no other names of diety mentioned, but really that's all small potatoes compared to the whamo miracles that have been happening. #trulyblessed

The part member family we're teaching, with the less active dad and nonmember mom, came to church yesterday!  Guess what else.  WE HAD FOUR INVESTIGATORS IN CHURCH!  Know why?  Because it was the primary program and can't nobody say no to thirty cute little kids singing songs and saying parts like "I show my parents I love them when I brush my teeth" or "I can be like Jesus by not fighting with my sister."  Sooo many nonmember or less active relatives came yesterday, it was the best thing.  Among them was the C family we're teaching.  We taught them this week, went over the Gospel of Jesus Christ (faith->repentance->baptism->holyghost->enduretotheend) and finally spit out the invitation to be baptized - you're always more reluctant to do it with a more legit investigator, because you're so scared of them saying no.  But it was more like a maybe.  She knows she needs to change something, for her family's sake.  And that God can only work with us when we try to do as He says.  She shows a tremendous amount of faith for someone who wasn't raised in a real religious home.  I'm so stoked for this family.  #eternalize

I met a member of the ward who's Filipino!  Super heavy accent.  Goods delicous food (chocolate mousse pie with almonds gahhhh).  Courageously and admirably shares his beliefs on Pacebook.  And was just tickled to find out I share his nationality.  I told him my grandma served a mission in the Philipines and that she was from there, and he said "Oh!  So you are hap Pilipina??"  And I smiled and said, "O'po."  I knew he'd get a kick out of that.  #ricelife

We visited a less active last night, who we'll call Edna Mode because she looks like the Incredibles character to a T and has just as much feist.  She told us how uncomfortable incidents with other members made her not want to go to church anymore, and then the elders that came into the area were immature so she didn't want them at her house either, and then something said in a talk weirded her out.  But despite all that, when we showed up years and years later, she says she knows God's working on her.  She loved hearing the Restoration again after all these years, and got chills when we shared the First Vision.  In her prayer, she asked God to help her get back into church.  Amazing how it really is all just about timing.  This happens to be the right time for her.  And we happened to just be here.  #theLordstimingisperfect

In other news, we've started jogging in the morning (thing I hate most) and I've lost three pounds of extra-dessert-weight.  A less active that only calls us when he's got food had us over last night and I slurped a raw oyster out the shell.  My N'Orleans accent is getting better (thanks to Edna Mode who's accent is A+).  I stepped in an ant hill and got five bites.  A member of the ward likes to do this thing where he holds his hands out in front of you and reads your aura and tells you what you need to do to cross paths with your future husband and how it's going to happen and where and what he'll look like.  Sister Schulthies is now planning on taking public transit when she gets home and will be on the lookout for a 5'7 man with a scar on his face. #dullmomentnever

From my study this morning:

42 And when thou hast done this thou shalt go at the head of them down into the valley which is northward. And there will I meet thee, and I will go before thee into a land which is choice above all the lands of the earth.

43 And there will I bless thee and thy seed, and raise up unto me... a great nation. And there shall be none greater than the nation which I will raise up unto me of thy seed, upon all the face of the earth. And thus I will do unto thee because this long time ye have cried unto me. [Ether 1]

So basically, this verse is about Slidell.  And me.  And how I had no idea what I was doing coming on a mission I just knew I had to get to the MTC (the valley which is northward) and there He met me and went before me, and led me through some trying areas until I was finally able to land in Slidell, Louisiana.  A land which is choice above all the lands of the earth.  Or at least, at a point where there's a lot of work for me to do and exciting things about to happen.  I mean, I guess it was because of this long time I have cried unto the Lord.  Just goes to show.  He does hear.  He does deliver.  Just be patient.
Love you lots!

Sister Valdez

1. Free haircuts from a member
2. The elders sent this pre-mi in training from the ward to come knock on our door and invite us to hear a message
3. oyster time

Monday, October 20, 2014

Week 64: A Kick Outta Zwick

Ya'll remember G-Con last spring, the Seventy that gave the talk "What Are You Thinking?"  He came and spoke at our Zone Conference.  I think he's related to our mission president somehow, because they go way back and he's spoken to our mission before, but I wasn't there for the last one.  So I was stoked I got to hear him this time.
He taught us how to simplify and intensify our teaching.  You state the principle, share an experience, back it up with doctrine out of the scriptures, and testify.  Bam.  Done.  He had us practice, then called a companionship from each zone to come up and demonstrate.  Guess who got chosen - (points to self) - mmhm.  In front of four zones and a member of the Seventy.  My heart was pounding out my chest, but I felt the Spirit really strong as I testified of a simple truth - that the Book of Mormon testifies of Christ.  Elder Zwick gave us feedback, and showed us where he wrote mine and Sister Schulthies names in his Preach My Gospel, right next to the principle.  I'm in a Seventy's personal PMG.  Page 105.  Hollaaaaa.
Sister Zwick taught us about prayer, and showed us a short video her adorbs little granddaughter had recorded on Sis Z's phone for us when she heard her grandma was going to speak to a bunch of missionaries.  "If things get stressful and hard and maybe people don't let you into their house, just say a prayer and everything will be fine.  Heavenly Father will be close to you and you will be close to him."  Out of the mouths of babes.  She also reminded us if there wasn't a way, God wouldn't ask us to do it.  We just need to pray for the faith to do it.
Elder Zwick then called us to repentance multiple times.  Very powerfully.  He basically told us we're spinning our wheels and it's time to sanctify and sacrifice.  Our mission hasn't made expected progress because we lack member involvement.  And if they're not stepping up their game, we have to push where we can.  Elder Bluth, who was also present, said "We will never improve anything unless we step out of our comfort zones."  For me, that means I have to talk to more strangers on the street, introduce myself to more members at church, and make more phone calls to follow up with them.  Elder Z had us make this promise:
I will never limit myself by what I think is my capacity.  I will allow the Lord to expand my capacity.  <-- And He will.
He gave us one specific piece of instruction to immediately apply:
Change the entire complexion of your preparation day to one of spiritual preparation.  Write to our families about spiritual experiences.  Do not let p-day activities distract us from getting back to work.  Teach one or two lessons in members homes every Monday evening and this mission will double in convert baptisms.  <-- That was the promise.  Get lessons on Pdays = get twice the baptisms as we would otherwise.  Dang.  That definitely caught our attention.  It seems simple, but I really believe it's a much needed focal point.  We missionaries have a tendency to really want to enjoy any time we get for leisure or to ourselves, including time we spend in members homes.  Those visits can get real casual real fast.  By cutting the fluff and teaching solid lessons in members homes, we can get them feeling the Spirit and getting as stoked about the work of salvation as we're all supposed to be.  By becoming a little less selfish, by keeping our focus throughout the day, and ending it right at 6pm so we can go teach a lesson, we'll be able to keep our minds from wandering into Babylon and instead staying lost in the work of Zion.  If we observe our covenants by sacrifice, the Lord will make our hearts to rejoice.
So that was zone conference with Elder Zwick.  Gave us a little kick in the pants, and that's good.  We all need to try a little harder to do a little better, always.  Upward and forward, or else you go backward.  And we don't want that.  We gave up too much to get here.  NO GOIN BACK.  So this week we actually did get to see a member family who we committed to think of someone to invite to church.  They thought seriously about it as we were sitting there with them, and each came up with a part-member family they know.  They felt that this could be the right time for them, and got really excited to invited them back to church!  Gospel zeal!  Hurrah!
In trivial news, Sister Schulthies let me darken her eyebrows and last night had me teach her how to use all this makeup this one member gave her.  We did makeovers.  It was a good time.  Also, remember how I've had the bad habit of picking and peeling my fingernails since I was like five?  Well I've kicked it.  My fingernails are currently the longest they've ever been in my entire life.  As in, actually long enough to file.  It's taken a crazy amount of discipline, but it makes me feel, like, super good about myself.

Speaking of addictions, we taught the stop smoking program to K-dog, a member's son who she's been trying to get off cigarettes and into the church for years and years and years.  We're all super excited because we're pretty sure it's finally his time.  He's been asking the member he works for questions about the gospel and he's thinking he wants to be baptized.  I hope he does, because he's one of my new favorite people and I want us to be friends for eternity.  I don't think I've ever laughed as much in a lesson as we did in our stop smoking workshop with K-dog.
Oh hey, last week I failed to mention the baptism the elders in our ward had last week.  A woman in her 80's had slowly and steadily - and readily - accepted the gospel after her LDS caretaker had invited her to meet with the missionaries.  She doesn't hear too well, and had to plug in her headphone and amplifier when I played and sang for the service - I Stand All Amazed.  And she's paralyzed from the waist down, so it took five men to get her from her wheelchair into the font.  A brother from the ward baptized her, and all four of our elders stood in a circle around her to catch as she went down into the water and lift her smoothly back to her feet.  It was flawless and beautiful.  The Spirit was so strong and one of my favorite verses came to mind:  "I will be on your right hand and on your left.... and mine angels round about you, to bear you up."   Missionary work - the errand of angels.

We showed the full length Prophet of the Restoration movie to a progressing investigator, who was really touched by it (she was also tickled to learn, being a black woman, that there were African Americans among the very first members of the church. shoutout to the Southern States mission!).  She's been taught for awhile, but according to Sister S, she's making step by step progress with every visit.  She told us she feels that Joseph Smith had to be a prophet inspired of God - there's no other way he'd have been able to endure what he did for this cause. 
I'll close with the words of my dear brother, J-Smith:
19 Now, what do we hear in the gospel which we have received? A voice of gladness! A voice of mercy from heaven; and a voice of truth out of the earth; glad tidings for the dead; a voice of gladness for the living and the dead; glad tidings of great joy...
22 Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad. Let the earth break forth into singing. Let the dead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the King Immanuel, who hath ordained, before the world was, that which would enable us to redeem them out of their prison; for the prisoners shall go free. [D&C 128]

I love ya'll.  I pray for ya'll.  I thank the Lord for the blessing of being born into such a time as this.

Sister Valdez

Week 63:Edge of Glory

Current status:  All is well in Slidell!

I admit, I thought this was a random place for mission president to throw me after tearing my beloved Waveland away from me (jk I know it was the Lord who did the tearing) but after orienting the new Waveland elders on the way back to our apartment (while a beautiful sunset fell over the coast) and handing off the keys, we made it to Slidell after dark and pulled into a gas station; when my companion got out of the car to fill up, there was this very quiet, very significant moment, where I felt what I assume was the Spirit (funny how it can feel slightly different every time) filling the space inside the car, and inside my chest, with this warm reassurance that "Yes, you're in the right place.  This is your home now.  This is where you're needed."

And boy am I ever.  There are SO MANY part member families in this area, people who have living examples in their homes of the blessings of the gospel, many who have taken the missionary lessons or currently are still, who have or are reading the book of Mormon, who are SO CLOSE to conversion, they're right there, right on the edge of glory (shout out to Lady Gaga) and I guess I'm here to - whoosh! - flick em over the brink.  It's weird

My companion is sweet Sister Schulthies, from Utah.  She's dying this transfer - I know right?  Told Pres to just call me Sister Grim Reaper - and she's super cute and blond freckled and floats around like Sleeping Beauty or something, all soft and graceful.  Every night when I turn out the lights she says, "Good night!  I love you!"  I, on the other hand, have become somewhat of a bold-faced slammer.

We were visiting this one less active, who has all the missionaries that come over sign baseballs while he makes them food and reeks of alcohol.  I figured this passive visiting had been going on too long, and found myself hardcore testifying of God's love for him while rebuking him at the same time.  He kinda shrunk in his seat and made a good cop/bad cop joke to my companion.  Better believe it, buddy.  We were at a members house whose husband isn't a member but has taken all the lessons and read the whole Book of Mormon, and he said all us Mormons have a unique glow about us, all of us, and I said "Well, would you like to join us?"  His wife got a kick out of that.  And then in a family we're teaching, the mother was worried about people being prejudiced if her kids were Mormon, and I almost said "I'd sooner be arrested, imprisoned, and killed for my beliefs than think to complain of persecution or cease to do what I know is right in God's eyes" but didn't.  I said something about eternal perspective and God's approval.  But hopefully, they'll figure on their own that if this is true, nothing else matters.  I don't know where all this courage and confidence and bluntness came from, but I like it.  As long as it's like, doing more good than harm, that is.  Can't never tell sometimes.

The apartment is super clean and tidy and has wood floors which makes sliding around in your socks really fun.  Also, we got locked out today and the elders came over to try and help us break in, failed, damaged a few old ID cards in the process, and climbed trees while we waited for someone to come unlock it for us.  A member owns the house at the address, and we live in the little pool house out back.  It'd be even cooler if we could like, you know, use the pool.

There's a good number of Hispanics here (one set of elders in the ward are spanish speaking) and one lady, 92 years old, feeds us lunch every week.  She doesn't speak English and we have very pieced conversations, but I was able to say a few things to her and understand some of what she says (two years in school + gift of tongues).  I was reprimanded by someone at church for having a name like Valdez and not knowing Spanish.  Thanks, el padre.

Wish I could tell you everything, but I'm outta time!

So in honor of Columbus day,

 12 And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land. [1 Nephi 13]

God doesn't send us anywhere just for the heck of it.  Always got a purpose, always got it under control.  Love ya'll!

Sister Valdez

p.s. will send pics next week

Week 62: Shell-Shocked

Once upon a time, we was mindin' our own business, cruisin back to our apartment after a lovely lesson with our Columbian lady investigator who had read - and likened to herself - the story of Lehi and his trouble children and told us she and her daughter were trying to get work off together so they could finally come to church with us.
Then the mission president called us up, said "if you're driving, pull over a minute" and dropped the bomb.  "First of all, Sister Rocha I can tell you where you're going but I can't tell you who your new companion is-" (that's the joke, she's going home and Pres doesn't make assignments for eternal companions) "- Now let me tell you two what's happening to your area.  First, let me tell you where Sister Valdez is going."

Boom.  Me --> Slidell, Louisiana.  Waveland --> being made into an elders' area.  Poor Pres got an earful of sister-screams of despair as we watched our world blow to bits.  All this time, all this hard work we put into this area and these people... the whole time we were making it ready for a young elder and his greenie.  And we have to say goodbye to everyone I'd told I would see next week.  Heartbreaking.  When president hung up, we screamed a little more and banged our heads on the dashboard in disappointment.  Ate some chocolate, and got back to work.  Among our final preparations before transfers today included cleaning the massive amount of girl-hair from our bathroom floor and the shower drain (the wad I pulled out was literally the size of a rat), throwing out all the hair products and accessories past sisters had left behind, and updating the area book and teaching records in painstaking detail.  You're welcome, elders.

Once we got over the initial shock of the impending whitewash (what you call it when they put two missionaries into an area that neither of them is familiar with), we were able to really enjoy our final days as the Waveland sisters.  I had exchanges with Sister Borja, who does not have an injured knee so we got to bike all day, it was fantastic.  And she loved loved loved teaching our 8 year old inv, Lil Z, who understood the Spirit World when we taught him about it and then said,  "I want to be like Jesus one day, I want to be a son of God."  We said, "Do you know how?"  he said "No but I bet ya'll can teach me."  100% correct.  Last night Sister Rocha and I read to him out of the Book of Mormon about baptism, and how Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness.  He immediately looked to his mom and said "Mom, can I get baptized?"  She answered in the affirmative.  This little boy's faith and desire to be closer to God is astounding.  We're hoping and praying that his example will influence his parents in time, to change their lives so they can walk that path to eternal life together.

We also had one last lesson with JP, who accepted the Word of Wisdom well and committed to live it.  With, of course, the help of the incoming elders who will teach him the Stop Smoking program.  Said he hates grapefruit juice (and the unsweetened kind truly tastes like liquid death) but he'd drink it if it would help him quit smoking.  Thank goodness for his teenage son, who he really wants to be a better example for.  Man, if some people didn't have kids, I don't know where they would get any motivation to live better lives.  Huge thing I've noticed is just how much purpose having children adds to a persons life.

Oh snap.  General Conference.  Almost a disaster since the satellite at the church wasn't working, and three investigators had shown up, but we were able to turn conference on in the family history center and had six of us crammed into that tiny room watching one computer screen.  Our investigator, Rick, was enthralled the whole time.  And the talks that were given by Elder Christofferson and Pres Uchtdorf were PERFECT for him.  About the existence of absolute truth and moral responsibility, and having patience and faith to find and grow in the truth.  Rick is going to be a slow, steady one, very cautious as he learns new things, but he'll get there.  Because he's sincere.  He told us listening to the story of the man stricken with palsy being brought to Christ made him think of his own paralyzed spirit.  And that me and Sister Rocha were the ones who came and rescued him.  I wanted to cry when he said that.  It was confirmation to us both:  We done good.  And our work here is done.
Other cool thing, Sunday session, a man no one recognized appeared in the back of the chapel, after finding out he was none of our investigators, the elders talked to him.  Found out he was homeless, has stopped in to use the restroom, and decided to sit in the chapel and listen.  He wore a dirty tshirt and jeans, thick untrimmed beard, was missing the top half of all his left fingers, and smelled like.... well like you'd imagine someone who hadn't access to a shower in a week or two, and we seized the opportunity to act on Elder Holland's exhortation to care for the impoverished and invited him to have spaghetti with us.  Great, great feeling.  A little nuts, but a good guy and let the elders teach him a lesson even.

We got fed almost every night by members who'd heard Sister Rocha was going home, and in the after-dinner devotionals we had with them, tough-it-out Sister R got to tears as she testified of her love of the gospel and expressed her gratitude for the marvelous examples of these families.  Seeing her of course got me all leaky-eyed too.  She's been an awesome example to me.  Taught me how to force myself to love everyone.  How to express that love while testifying of the gospel.  How to have faith in people despite their weaknesses and setbacks.  How to shoot a basketball.  And how to break into our apartment when we get locked out.  You know, the important things.  Really though, she's been a great example of one who gives their all to the Lord til the very end, and I hope I can be like that when my time comes.  Nearly our whole district got split up so there were a lot of goodbyes this morning.  I shed a single tear for them as the vans drove off.  You know, just to be dramatic.  And because I love them a lot.  Weird thing about a mission.  You realize your capacity to love is literally limitless, when it's through the Savior.  His is infinite.  Which means, plenty to lend the rest of us, and then some.

32 And also remember that thou hast said that thou hast prepared house for man, yea, even among the mansions of thy Father, in which man might have more excellent hope;wherefore man must hope, or he cannot receive an inheritance in the place which thou hast prepared.
 33 And again, remember that thou hast said that thou hast loved the world, even unto the laying down of thy life for the world, that thou mightest take it again to prepare place for the children of men.
 34 And now know that this love which thou hast had for the children of men is charity; wherefore, except men shall have charity they cannot inherit that place which thou hast prepared in the mansions of thy Father.  [Ether 12]

Anywho, off to Slidell with me.  I'll have some friends in that district, Elder Huntsman (Huntsdawg) which will be fun, and guess what!  Sister Creager is the new Sister Training leader on the coast!  Together again.  Exchanges are gonna be a hoot.  Love ya'll with all my heart.  Hope on.  Journey on.  The best is always yet to come.

Sister Valdez