Monday, November 24, 2014

Week 68 & 69: Out with a Splash & Baby Fever‏

Another one bites the dust.  Sister Schulthies left me today to go home.  Every time we did something for "the last time" this last weekend, (last planning session, got area book updated, packing completed, last hour of tracting), she would say most regally, "It is finished."  Or I would say, "You have fought the good fight."  I hope that's not sacrilegious of us.  She hit me a couple times with the car when I backed her out this week.  Fun final memories.  
As planned, K-dog was baptized on Saturday the 15th.  And it was the most beautiful service I've ever been
a part of.  We missionaries sang a medley I composed, of "Teach Me to Walk in the Light" and "Be Thou My Vision".  Sister Schulthies and I gave the talks as well, and K-dog's and his mother's home teacher, the member of the stake presidency, baptized him.  The Spirit was strong from the very beginning, but after the ordinance was performed, it just got stronger and stronger.  The feeling inside me swelled and intensified until, for the first time in my life, it felt like a "burning in the bosom" as described in the scriptures, like a fire had ignited in the center of my heart, and I knew his baptism was sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise.  I hope all in attendance will remember that feeling, that sweet message of mercy that let us know that the Savior had redeemed this man, and be able to say like the men on route to Emmaus, "Did not our hearts burn within us?"

So I got this revelation this week.  I was like, I wonder why it took me so long to see the fruits of my labors.  And then right after my morning prayer, the Spirit whispered, "You are the fruits of your labors."  And I was like, whoa.  You're right.  Like, maybe all those hard areas were soley to teach me patience and hope and humility, as well as to gain as much scriptural knowledge as I could, so that when I was placed in an area that was ready, I would be ready too.  Like the currant bush Elder Christofferson spoke of in his talk about the Will of God, I was getting cut down and cut down and cut down, but the Gardener knew what He was doing.  Even if I never saw any baptisms ever, I would still have what I learned there.  I'd still have those Christlike attributes.  And those are the fruits.  Those are the things we take with us into eternity.  We don't have gold or fast cars up in heaven, as rewards for our obedience.  What we become is our treasure in heaven.  Cool, huh?

I'm now awaiting the arrival of.... wait for it..... MY TRAINEE.  Yep.  It happened.  I'm gonna be a mom.  Am I terrified?  Yeah.  Does it feel right though? Definitely.  President told us over speaker phone and I jumped back (so the sound of my scream wouldn't pierce his eardrum) but he was laughing because he knew I saw it coming.  It's gonna be good.  It's gonna be fun.  I'll do my best to teach her everything I learned in 15 months over the next 3 and maybe she'll turn out ok.

Woohoo!  It's now a week later and so far so good.  Sister Matealona is a hilarious and humble, sassy and sweet little Polynesian girl.  From Utah.  (haha jk, she's originally from Hawaii).  The funniest thing is people trying to pronounce her last name.  They just call her Sister M.  Except little Guatemalan Maria who feeds us lunch every week, she said her name first time no problem.  And since Sister M knows absolutely zero Spanish, I've been relying even more on the gift of tongues to help translate our lunch conversations with Maria.
My biggest fear with training was that I'd get a bratty companion with whom I had nothing in common.  Thank goodness this was not the case.  We do a hecka lotta singing while we tract, and she does funky dance moves sometimes when she helps me back the car out.  Then at night getting ready for bed, she sings me the latest Beyonce songs and I pitch my screenplay ideas to her.  Yesterday I showed her the photo of me at age 18 with my hot pink A-line haircut and she laughed so hard she cried.
The work is going so well in Slidell, it's like not even fair.  For Sister M, I tell her it's beginner's luck.  For me, I think it's the Lord rewarding me for working all those months in Florence without throwing myself off a bridge.
We were worried about Lonnie, because he hadn't shown up to church, so I asked my companion if we should go see him.  She said yes.  (This is how I make decisions.  If my companion agrees, then the thought must be inspired of the Spirit.  Like if we pull up to a street and I ask her if she feels weird and she does, then we don't tract it.)  So we get to Lonnie's, and he's happy to see us.  While we're sitting talking with him, his 17 year old son comes home.  We ask if he's got any questions and he's like, yeah all the time, so he pulls up a chair and we teach him about the afterlife.  It's kind of astounding how teenagers get it even quicker and easier than their parents.  We only saw him that one time, but we taught Lonnie again later that week about the word of wisdom and he's so meek, he's doing the stop smoking program starting tonight.  He'd also been having a lot of problems with a shoulder that wasn't healing and was keeping him from working, so we had the ward mission leader and the elders come give him a blessing.  It was so sweet.  You could see and feel how humble Lonnie is, ready to accept whatever his Heavenly Father has for him.  Oh oh oh he actually prayed like we asked him to, to ask God if getting baptized was the right thing.  And he got his confirming revelation!  He said when he prayed about it, he got chills and then the wind started blowing and he knew.  Ha.  God always speaks to us in ways we'll understand.  He came to church again yesterday and even the members have noticed a change in his countenance.  He looks as happy as he feels.  And I must say, one of the highlights of my week, was when we knocked on his door and he got the biggest smile on his face when he saw us.  Is it weird that my best friends in the world these days are 50 year old white men?
Speaking of the elect, Sister C, the mom in the part member family, is set for baptism this Sunday.  We went through the baptism interview questions, and when asked what the restoration meant to her, she said "It means that the priesthood keys are restored that can seal my family, so I can be with them forever."  And I was grinning so hard my face almost broke.  It just always amazes me when people actually get it, because I guess I don't always expect them too.  Oh me of little faith.  She's ready.  Right after that, we had she and her husband stand and the member that was helping us teach, and like five of us were trying to teach/demonstrate how to baptize someone and it was the most hilarious thing. But they got it eventually.  Just remember, you dip backwards, do not dunk forwards.
I could go on about all the miracles in between, but my kiddo wants to go play some volleyball so I'll fill ya'll in next time.  Life is great.  Work is blessed.  Church is true.  Love ya'll.

As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.

10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.
 11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. [John 15]
Sister Valdez

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Week 67: Faith On

tryin on silver and diamonds

bein creepy in da fog

Man, this week went on for days.  And yet, Preparation Day snuck up on me, I feel like it was just Monday.  We did a lot of stuff I guess.  Got lost in the work, as they say.
Tuesday was super different, cause we got permission to go to the career workshop at the LDS employment center so Sister Schulthies can get a job when she goes home in a week (p.s. transfers are next Tuesday, if I end up training I'm gonna scream I'm so terrified).  Two realizations.  First, while going over how to pursue employment and follow up and present yourself to potential employers, I discovered that nearly everything in the career workbook is actually in Preach My Gospel.  Because principles for finding people to teach and presenting yourself as a representative of Jesus Christ are evidently the same.  Next, while talking about all our skills and accomplishments, the way we would to a potential employer, I discovered that I've done a lot more in my twenty-three years than I thought, despite being sheltered and never having to work for other than myself or my bro.  Also, learned that it takes a lot of impressive skills to do what I've done up to this point.  We all did this exercise, list the attributes and skills required to graduate from college, be a missionary, manage that one place, other accomplishments we'd listed.  Then read em aloud:  I am diligent, creative, motivated, a team player, positive, a problem-solver, etc.  Makes you sound a lot better than you probably see yourself.  Oh, and I got it into my head during this workshop that I want to own my own photo studio.  One day.  We'll  see.

  best idea yet: fruit cubes city hall Sister P's blinged out CTR ring

Cool thing though.  There was this less active sister in Waveland, that Sister Rocha and I ran into at walmart on two different occasions.  She was only less active because her casino job make her work every single Sunday. The second time we saw her, Sister Rocha handed her the info on the LDS Employment center and told her to call them if she ever decided to quit her job and needed help finding a new one.  Then I left Waveland.  Guess who was at the workshop?  That sister!  The casino had been bought out and her position dissolved, so she no longer had a job.  And could now get a better one that would let her go to church!  Prayers are answered and blessings arrive in a variety of ways.  Sometimes via unforeseen unemployment.
Hey did ya'll know the scriptures talk about and therefore verify the existence of sea monsters?  At least in the Jaredite era?

And thus they were driven forth; and no monster of the sea could break them, neither whale that could mar them; and they did have light continually, whether it was above the water or under the water. [Ether 6]

In other words, I now have historical grounds for believing in Nessie and the Cracken.
We had the coolest finding experience this week.  We tracted a street, pleasant fall weather, cold comin in and perfect for breakin out the scarfs and cardigans, and had finished one, completed our hour, and were ready to head back, but then I stopped us and said "That house we skipped.  Should we go knock it now, or come back another day?"  Sister S confirmed my prompting:  "Let's do it now."  So we go back to the house we had skipped because we'd seen people out front engaged in conversation and didn't want to interrupt.  Now that one of them had left (the spouse that prob wouldn't have cared to let us in) we went back and the mom came to the door, who I think was probably a swimsuit model once, she was so pretty.  But so down to earth.  And she looked familiar to both of us, though neither of us have met her (though I hate when I get that thought about someone and then they don't progress).  In any case, she seemed intrigued by our 20 second explanation of apostasy-->restoration and said "I think my son would be interested in this" as she herself was believing but not religious.  So we speak with the 16 year old who looks like a total care-about-nothing-but-sports it-guy, could be on a magazine if he wanted, but turns out he recently started going to the local christian teen fellowship and reading the Bible every night even though no one else in his household does.  Talk about judging by cover.  They let us into their nice house, they were the only two home, and we taught them the restoration.  The mom loved the story of Joseph Smith on his search, because his story is basically her son's story.  Parents didn't agree on religion, confused about where to go, attended churches by himself looking for answers...  When we told them about the Book of Mormon, and said no, you don't have to buy it we'll give it to you free, the boy lit up and immediately reached for it.  It just... I don't know.  It was awesome.  It was perfect.  They didn't set a specific return appt. because they don't know when they'll be home and I'm terrified we'll never see them again.  But such is mission life.  You do what you can when you can.  And pray that they don't become lost forever.
We got three on date now!  We had a killer lesson with Lonnie at the storehouse with a brother from the ward, the one that embraced him that first time at church.  Went through the whole plan of salvation and hopefully the poor guy could keep up.  But he committed to a baptism date!  December 6.  And then he came to church again!  Brought his two grandkids too.  Took himself to Sunday school and then to priesthood with no guidance from us, like he already belongs!  Love that guy.  The C family is on track, we watched a super cheesy 90's video clip about priesthood power and the investigating wife's husband met with bishop about being ordained a priest so he can baptize her.  He's just gotta kick a coffee habit and he's good to go.  And he's the kind who that wouldn't even be a problem for, he knows how important this is.  K-dog is still stoked for his baptism this Saturday.  He asked his good friend who happens to be a member of the stake presidency to baptize him - and who told us that years ago when K-dog would occasionally come to church with his mom, that he showed him the baptismal font once and said "I'm gonna get you in there one day."  Dreams do come true.
We had a really tender lesson with a fourteen year old girl yesterday, who had been to other churches a few times and believes the story of Jesus really happened.  What she doesn't know is why.  She was asking really deep questions, like "How is God our Father?  Why did they kill Him?  Why did He let them kill Him?  Who did He die for?  Have you ever loved someone enough to die for them?  Have you ever prayed and it came true?"  We explained pre-earth, God is the father of our spirits, which appeared to enlighten her.  She said "Oh, so I have two fathers.  But one of them is forever" and smiled.  Melted my heart.  Then we explained the Godhead, how they are three separate beings, one in purpose, and how Jesus came to die for us, so we could live again and live with God, like paying a bail when we imprisoned ourselves in sin.  We literally only talked about Jesus Christ for like half an hour.  It was awesome.  It's crazy for someone like me to try and imagine what it would be like for someone like her, to have grown up not understanding who Jesus was or what He did or how much He truly loves us.  I hope she continues to learn and eventually feels for herself what that is like.  It'll change her life.

For it was by faith that Christ showed himself unto our fathers, after he had risen from the dead; and he showed not himself unto them until after they had faith in him; wherefore, it must needs be that some had faith in him, for he showed himself not unto the world.
 But because of the faith of men he has shown himself unto the world, and glorified the name of the Father, and prepared a way that thereby others might be partakers of the heavenly gift, that they might hope for those things which they have not seen.
 Wherefore, ye may also have hope, and be partakers of the gift, if ye will but have faith.  [Ether 12]
Faith on.  Hope on.

Sister Valdez

1. NASA science center!  rocket engine thing!
2.  "...which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor for the soul"
3.  Baseball wit da zone

Monday, November 3, 2014

Week 66: Operation Eternalize

All is well in Slidell.  All is super magnificent.  Sister Creager and I had a blast going on exchanges in Diamondhead (she's my sister training leader now, which is still kinda weird but cool).  She seems to look older, more mature every time I see her.  I got to help her drop an investigator, find and teach a new one, and set a current investigator with a baptism date!  I guess that's more success than usual for her are, kind of an opulent one and filled with old people, but that's exchanges for ya.  Expect miracles.  And my only question for Sister Creager after our post-exchange evaluations was, "If I'm not stressed out, does that mean I'm doing something wrong?" Her answer was no. She affirmed my conjecture that perhaps after a major challenge, and we've adapted to a particular kind of stress, the Lord betimes gives us a little break to glory in the accomplishment of feeling like we're on top of things... before he throws another one on us. So I'm fully expecting more hard things to come.  Like that maybe I'll train a greenie next transfer. But for the moment, all is super well.

K-dog, the member's son, came to church again yesterday. And so did a new investigator!  Lonny*, who's only been taught once, showed up right on time, and dressed to the nines.  I just wanted to hug him, I was so happy.  This one brother in the ward is the best ever - he immediately put his arm around Lonny, complimented his hip, classy suit, and got to know him and invited him to priesthood after sunday school.  i.e. what should happen to EVERY investigator/less-active that shows up to church, because if it did, we'd have significantly more baptisms, new members retained, and less actives reactivated.  Lonny is a super meek and humble soul, and seemed to really enjoy church.  He smiled the whole time.  I have this secret hope that he is the friend I knew in the pre-mortal life who I promised to find, and that we'll be friends for eternity.  K-Dog set his own baptism date, for November 15th!  His mom's so funny, she's like "I think he might be nervous about baptism still, I haven't told too many people, I don't wanna him to feel pushed"  and we were like, "Um, well, he actually announced his baptism to everyone in gospel principles class today."  In that same class, a brother asked him if we sisters had been visiting and teaching him, and said "They're just too hard to resist, aren't they?" and K-dog responded, "Yeah, they really are pretty wonderful" and I pretended not to hear but was screaming on the inside with glee.

The C family, that part member family, is also doing really well.  Sister C told us she feels that something's been guiding her to this church, and said she'd considered a baptism date and asked if November 22 was too soon, and of course we're like "UM NOPE NOT AT ALL."  Like come on, don't be ridiculous, you live the word of wisdom, you live all the standards of the church, you want to strengthen your relationship with God and have an eternal family, let's just make this official!  So we're going to do our best to make sure she's ready by that date. She really wants this for her family's sake, but I still feel that she needs confirming revelation, like that one apostle talked about last conference.  Her husband responded well when we mentioned that his getting active in the church now means he could possibly baptize his wife, and eventually his kids.  He liked that idea.  He just needs to be ordained a priest and boom! - commence operation: eternalize.  They made it to church last week for the primary program and they plan on coming from now on. We're overjoyed. Their member relatives in the ward are going to flip.
Halloween was pretty bomb.  Well, the ward trunk or treat was.  We had a mini zone conf that day, and got to eat cookies and watch Meet the Mormons.  It was so good.  I'm 100% that I'm going to be a boxer/MMA fighter when I get home and also that I'm going to marry David Archuleta.  Then we had our progressing investigator and her son at the ward party, as well as the C family's little boy.  Sister Schulthies and I came up with one of the best team costumes I've ever done.  We put on pressed white shirts, black skirts, borrowed ties, pulled our hair back, covered the SIST with ELD on our names tags using tape and white out, and went as Elder Valdez and Elder Schulthies.  The ward loved it.  Our mission president did too.  I mean, I think we're kinda clever.

Sister Schulthies is a most excellent companion and is trying really hard to stay focused, to make the most of The Last Days. She's doing really well. We resist the urge to talk about boys and home while tracting and try to talk about favorite investigators or mission experiences - you know, keep up the blissful illusion that there's no such thing as life outside the mission.  I'm super nervous for when I have to take over, but I try not to think about how stressful that will be and just focus on preparing for it.  Every night when I pray for help learning the area, the Lord keeps yellin back, "GET A MAP" and I just keep forgetting so hopefully I locate one of those today so I can follow our routes on paper while Sister S drives and get the area memorized, instead of daydreaming/resting my eyes between appointments.  Aint no rest for the righteous.  The next big thing for us will be getting members involved.  Like, really really involved.  We read the general handbook for members regarding missionary work, retention, and activation this morning, and guess what?  90% of it is actually NOT the job of the missionaries, contrary to popular belief.  The members are advised to occasionally request our help teaching the new member lessons, but it's ultimately the job of priesthood and auxiliary leaders to be the first to fellowship newbies and then to assign other members to fellowship and visit/home teach.  I wanted to scream as we were reading this, but then I remembered most members probably don't read this manual and therefore don't know that missionary work is actually their responsibility, not missionaries, and that is absolutely will not succeed - no matter how hard we missionaries work - without their help.  Our mission pres pounded this at our last meeting.  This work will not work without the members.  We can work ourselves to death and still no progress will me made without the members.  So now you know!  And hopefully more will catch on as we teach them, boldly and lovingly, that building the kingdom is a team effort.  An introduction, an arm around a shoulder, an invitation, do infinitely more good that you realize.  We actually called the bishop and asked if we can speak in sacrament this month.  Is that backwards or what!  I mean, I've never heard of such a thing.  But this is serious business.  This is eternity.

Behold and hearken, ye elders [and sisters] of my church, who have assembled yourselves together, whose prayers I have heard, and whose hearts Iknow, and whose desires have come up before me.
 Behold and lo, mine eyes are upon you, and the heavens and the earth are in mine handsand the riches of eternity are mine to give.  [D&C 67]

Sister Valdez
3 hours straight - all the doors we knocked on

hipster kittens sleeping in a vintage suitcase

me holding a tiny kitten and being sniffed by a dog

tracting door

giant dictionary

hanging moss

rolling like a big shot

our Halloween costumes - dressed up as Elders

carving pumpkins!