Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Week 73 & 74 : Joy To The World

family photo at Zone Conference
gingerbread houses with the G fam
pore strips and teeth whiteners 4 funz
Lonnie and his kids at his baptism
Lonnie was baptized on Saturday!  Greatest thing ever.  He's the first whom I've been able to find, teach, and baptize (as opposed to doing the first half and leaving, or coming in halfway through the process.)  So that was super special for me.  When the bishopric member gave the welcome to the ward and asked him how he found the church, Lonnie answered, "Sister Valdez" and I wanted to cry.  As usual, there was a unique feeling to the service.  The Spirit was there, but the feeling was different from the past few baptisms.  It felt so much more like a beginning.  Lonnie's two youngest children were there, his 17 year old son and his 19 year old daughter.  Neither had ever been to the church before, but both really loved the baptism.  Even though it was nearly disastrous - our ward mission leader baptized, and his back gave out mid-dunk and we panicked a moment thinking they were about to drown, but it's cool, he caught them and they both came back up.  Didn't even have to repeat it, because the slip had ensured a definite complete immersion.  I talked to his son and daughter afterward and both said it was awesome, they'd never seen a baptism not on TV before.  Sister Matealona is sure she saw the daughter get moist-eyed when we and two of the elders sang A Child's Prayer.  The Holy Spirit of Promise was definitely present.  And with it, this exciting hope that this truly was only a beginning - that Lonnie's children would be next to follow his example in taking that step of faith, joining him in the gospel.  Operation:Eternalize commenced.

I had my first experience re-booting a former investigator.  We went to see a less active family, who's daughter, never baptized, had previously taken the lessons.  We got to talking with her and she opened way up, telling us she feels down all the time and doesn't know how to fix it, she doesn't know what she believes because she only went to church for certain people, it's hard to care about faith when your parents don't, and she doesn't even know if there's a God.  First thought, my goodness, past sister missionaries, how did you teach her that long and she never even had a testimony that God is real, like no wonder she stopped progressing.  Second thought, I'm so glad I get to be here to help her find that.  I've tried praying, she said. Felt nothing.  Tried reading the scriptures, still nothing.  Have you ever listened to a song, I asked, and felt something?  She's a singer.  Loves musically.  Naturally, yes, she answered.  I sent her to Lds.org, youth music.  If that stuff doesn't make her feel something.... well, nothing will.  It gets better.  Her dad who's basically gone anti, goes anti on us, shooting us with questions like "where in the bible does it say you need to go to the temple to go to heaven?" and things of the like and I know better than to contend when my throat feels like a fireball is about to shoot out of it and I kinda "psst! don't say anything!" to my comp who's never been in a bash before, and then this awesome moment where the daughter, who's not even a member but getting equally upset, stands up to her own father and tells him off- er, I mean, defends the faith.  States things concerning the importance of baptism and the love of God, among others.  It's kind of amazing how you don't know how strongly you really believe something until it's challenged by a straight up hater.

Tuesday was my last zone conference, where I gave my departing testimony, a moment that you dream about when you first experience as a new missionary the older and wiser missionaries who bear these powerful testimonies and seem like the most experienced and spiritual people in the world.  Yeah, I don't feel like that.  But I can look back and easily see how far I've come, and how miraculous it is that I've progressed and learned as much as I have.  It's tempting to say as an older missionary "I've been out so long and I still don't know anything" or "You'd think I'd figure out what I'm doing by now" - you know, comments of modesty.  But for me to say so, I think, would be not giving God enough credit.  I don't know everything, it's true.  But I've become so much more than I thought I could in so short a time, so much closer to the person Heavenly Father wants me to be, and so much happier and at peace.  It's all because of Jesus Christ.  That's why He is the gift.  As our Redeemer and our Counselor, he is our chance for growth.  He is our source of hope.  Joy to the world, indeed.

delivering cookies
Christmas eve was wonderful, we baked and delivered cookies and sang Christmas carols.  What
you'd typically expect sister missionaries to do.  And at dinner, I got my fortune told, or rather, prophesied.  Bro G, just as he did for Sister Schulthies, told me how I was going to meet my one and only.  Something about a mall, a karaoke machine, and a duet.  In other words, he was spot on.

It's now four days later.  Christmas was great.  Opened presents with the Walkers' little kids, then we six missionaries got to open our boxes from home.  Sister M got two huge boxes of chocolate covered macadamia nuts from a secret santa in Utah and nearly exploded with happiness.

 Talking with ya'll was the highlight of my day.  My cool realization of the day was that I have the greatest family on earth, like I can't imagine being eternally linked to any group of people better suited to my personality.  It's like we planned this or something.  We also got to see Sister Tracy, who happened to be having a bummer Christmas and was by herself for the evening - perfect because we needed someone to read Luke 2 with before Christmas was over and we love her and her hyper licky pitbull.

Brother C, who recently baptized his wife, bore his testimony on Sunday in sunday school, in which he testified that he knows the gospel is true and he's thankful for the missionaries for showing up at his house to get him back into a place he never thought he'd return to.  I was rejoicing on the inside.  Greatest blessing of being a missionary is seeing evidence that changes you helped people make are becoming permanent.

At zone conference, I got to sing a duet with the very talented Elder Joseph, a pretty Christmas song called "Peace, Peace, Peace."  We hadn't much practice, but it turned out really really nice-sounding (angelic assistance).  As I read through the words before we performed, a sweet calm came over me as I took these words to heart:

"Peace, heavenly peace
Rests on men at His birth
Peace beyond understanding
Gift of God to the earth
Peace shines in our hearts
Bright as the star that shines in the east
To guide us all as we seek
the Prince of Peace, peace, peace"

Because it's a true thing.  Like, no matter what's going on.  Whether worthy or struggling, firm or shaky, high or low, pure or penitent, when we seek the Prince of Peace, peace he grants.  Every time.  If you pray long enough, with real intent, it comes.  One of the greatest blessings of serving this mission is having such quick access to that peace, every night at the end of a long workday, when I can pray and be close enough to the Spirit to feel so strongly that I'm being heard.  "Peace foretold through the ages, promised peace from on high."  There's nothing like it in the world.

Sister Valdez

Zone Pday at the beach in Gulfport

District Meeting on Faith in the Work me and Sister M taught

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