Monday, January 26, 2015

Week 77 & 78: Love 'Em and Leave "Em

 Rain tracting
We find weird things in ditches.  Like hogheads.
Street beads
Our fave lil friend found the baby in the king cake!

So here's the week I missed, in a nutshell:

I figured out that what it's taken for me in the past to feel like a successful missionary, is taking risks.  Not like dumb and dangerous risks, but things that I know I should do that are just slightly out of my comfort zone.  When I do those things, like trying potentials I'm not sure about, being bold with non-progressers, or tracting apartments after dark, I go home feeling like I did my darndest.

Some of my mission friends that have gone home send notes to the rest of us still laboring, and say things like "don't worry about rejection!  this is the Lord's work!"  or "it's gone way too fast, savor every day!"  or  "getting released is the worst thing ever!"  it really helps me to get pumped all over again.  Like the dead crying from the grave not to waste the days of your probation, a Scrooge and Marley deal.

A less active that I've visited just a few times, who said outright that he'd be fine to get a "passing grade" and inherit terrestrial glory (the bacca and the bottle are a hard thing to give up) told us he had promised the senior missionaries who visited that he'd come to church.  Reason?  They'd helped him provide Christmas for a needy family he wanted to help out.  See that?  A little love goes a long way.

We dropped an investigator that, while confessing that he never talks religion with anyone, is hermetic, and doesn't know what compelled him to ask us to return, also admitted that he hadn't prayed about the things we taught because he's comfortable with the non-religion-specific faith he has now, his passive faith of thanking God daily for his blessings and trying to treat others respectfully.  You can't change the stubborn and comfortable.  It was my companion's first drop experience and quite sad.  But had to happen.  The only good thing about having experience breaking up with people, is that you find out it's better to nip it right when you know things won't work out, instead of dragging out with a non-committer.

A less active gave us a bottle of ombre hair highlighting product she'd mixed and wasn't going to use after all.  Sister Matealona and I spent an enjoyable evening ombre-ing our hair.

 House used in filming "The Best of Me"
ombre-ing hair

A woman opened her door and asked if we could come back another time, when her friend came to the door and asked us to pray for the woman because her husband had recently passed.  We prayed right there and they were super impressed.  When you pray 10+ times a day, I guess you get pretty good at it.  The lady's neighbor, a sixty year old black man, didn't really want to listen to the message we shared, but did ask me to touch his grout-ed thumb so it would heal.  Instead of explaining that I don't have the priesthood and also I'm not Jesus, I touched his thumb.

And here's this week!

We had a second lesson with an agnostic kid, my age, who's a total hipster.  Plays guitar, has a beard, works in a coffee shop.  Except he's also super quiet and soft spoken and not sure if there's a God.  We thought to ask him last night, "have you any reason to believe there isn't a God?" and he admitted that he did not, and he'd never thought of it that way.  But after wholly relying on the Spirit to know what questions to ask, we got him to give us answers more than one sentence long, and found out that he's just never felt like there was something greater outside himself, feels more comfortable placing his focus on things he can see, but if there is a God, he doesn't want to believe until he's felt it.  We'd asked him to pray before, which he did, so we read to him Aaron's experience with the Lamanite king in the Book of Mormon, bore testimony that God hears prayers and answers with love, and he said "That's something I want to feel."  So we committed him to pray again.  Pour your heart out this time.  Put yourself out there.  Act in faith, and it will come.  Sometime.  I wish I knew when.

Same night, we visited Brother R, the nonmember husband that's stubborn as a tick.  Last week he'd asked, "So what was it that ya'll used to teach in the 70's about us coming from the stars and returning to the stars when we die?"  This week, I had the nerve to tell him not to believe everything your past preachers told you about Mormons because often other people will put us down or teach skewed things to make us look weird and make their teachings look better.  Also, we stated that the teaching of the plan of salvation, as we explained it, has not been changed since the doctrine was first established in the early days of the church.  Isn't it cool that we can say such things with complete confidence?  In the restored church of Jesus Christ, some policies may have adapted over the years according to the Lord's word, but the doctrine has remained 100% unchanged.  This same fellow, when asked, told us the reason he doesn't ever make commitments to pray about the things he's learned, or to come to church, or be baptized, is because he doesn't want to be pressured.  So we asked, "Do you know why we come?"  he first said "Because we feed you" but later said "Because it's your job.  You're supposed to convert people."  False.  We don't get paid for this.  We don't get points for every baptism or praise for higher numbers.  In the words of Lehi, "I have none other object save it be the everlasting welfare of your souls."  We're here because we love you, ya geezer.  To seal our point, I said, "And we would still come even if there was no food."

To be 100% with ya'll, I would rather have a full schedule of splits with members of the ward, or better, referrals from them, than have meal appointments with them.  I love the dinners they make us, they're wonderful and I'm grateful.  But if the choice is feed the missionaries or go out with the missionaries, I would rather they choose the latter.  Salvation first.  Food second.  People have a tendency to worry about whether the missionaries get fed, but not having dinner is not what stresses us out.  Having investigators not progress, or recent converts go less active due to no fellowship within the ward is what stresses us out.

In other news, Mardi Gras is everywhere.  Purple, green, and gold on everyone's door.  Jester hats on the pelican statues in front of the businesses.  Yesterday we left an appointment only to get stuck in post-parade traffic, which we wouldn't have known had just happened if it weren't for the fact that the streets were COVERED in beads.  I made Sister Matealona get out and grab some off the sidewalk when we stopped at a red.  Depicted below.

You know, you'd think I'd have learned after the whole relationship-before-mission thing that you're in for a world of hurt if you let yourself fall in love right before you leave a place.  These two previously mentioned individuals are going to break my heart when I say goodbye.  Love em and leave em.  It's the worst.

8. And no one can assist in this work except he shall be humble and full of love , having faith, hope, and charity, being temperate in all things, whatsoever shall be entrusted to his care. [Doctrine and Covenants 12]

So really, you're supposed to love em like crazy.  So much so that it hurts to leave.  But I trust that they will not be forgotten.  And lately the endtimes stress has been going down, as the Spirit has been whispering reassurances that the work I did here was not for nothing, that the unseen effects of my efforts are real and eternal.  And that's a wonderful thing to feel.

Sister Valdez

 Sushi night
 That pole slipped right before I made it across
 Mardi Gras glasses
 scraping ice is not my favorite thing


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Week 76: Above That of the World

Remember that one time I wanted my hair trimmed and decided to do it myself over the sink but the problem was I was like three years old so it didn't turn out so great?  Yeah well apparently at twenty-three years old, it still doesn't turn out so great because I'm not a professional.  The good news is, if I flip em back in a poof and hairspray it, you can't even tell my bangs just got chopped up.
I made notes on a hundred things to tell ya'll about but now not one of them sounds as exciting as it did when it happened.  I'll tell ya anyway.
We had this older couple we were so excited to find and start teaching, the ones who invited us to their huge NYE bash at their baptist church.  I've made this goal (one of my "sprint to the finish" goals) to not shy away from asking every investigator to be baptized in the first or second lesson.  So we did and could tell the husband threw a wall up.  At his age, he's not just comfortable in his religion, he's clinging to it because it's a long time tradition for both himself and his family that came before.  He'd received us the first time we knocked because he'd been praying for a way to come closer to Christ, for guidance to know what the Lord wanted him to do.  And then when we put it in front of him - learn about and unite with the true church - he drew way back.  We were bold, as the Spirit directed, in telling him that if we were truly an answer to his prayer, he ought to figure it out by praying about the things we teach instead of immediately writing it off.  We're not here just to "fellowship" or do "Bible study", we're here to present restored truth and help you figure out if its the real thing.  I even had the nerve to remind him that the reason the Jews completely missed Jesus, the Messiah they had been waiting for, was because of tradition.  Because they too had a religious practice that was so ingrained into them, that when present with something new (the fulfilling of the law) they couldn't accept it.  I know, right?  Boldsauce.  I explained to my companion though, that if they are humble enough, they will pray about it and they will receive that confirmation that the restored gospel is true.  But only if they're willing to change.  100% dependent on humility level.
As missionaries we do a lot of detailed planning for each day the night before, and then when we go about the day, we adjust plans maybe twenty times depending on what falls through and what area we end up in.  One day this week I got this thought - "Actually stick to what you planned this time."  I wrote it down so I would remember to do it, and apparently that was a prompting from the Spirit because Sister Matealona had got the same thought that night.  So we stuck to our plans and backup plans and had a four-lesson day.  That's a rarity.  And one of those became a new investigator.  Because it was dark, I wouldn't have had the courage to knock on his door at the time we'd planned to, but because we'd committed, we knocked. And he stopped watching Fantastic Four to let us in and listen to our message.  If that's not elect, I don't know what is.  When we'd first found him, I remember looking in his eyes and seeing something very familiar.  He's Guamanian, so I thought he looked like he could be an uncle or a cousin of mine, but beyond that, there was something in his face that just made me like him a lot and want to follow up with him.  I got that same feeling about Lonnie when we first met him, and turned out to be golden.  Here's hoping it'll happen again!
We visited the nonmember husband we'd got to quit smoking last week, and in place of his evening glass of tea was a glass of blue powerade.  Word of wisdom!  It stuck!  He even quit the coffee too.  Plays it off like he could go back to it whenever he chooses, but we know he's smarter than that.  We taught him and his wife the Restoration last night and his wife bore testimony over and over of the blessings of the gospel, and he even admitted that we Latter day Saints all seem to be at ease with ourselves and have this radiance about us.  "You can have that too," Sister M pointed out.  I then proceeded to open my mouth and have it filled, like the scriptures promise, with things so wise and coherent I know they couldn't have come from my own brain.  That was the Spirit speaking.  Telling him that he too could have a testimony of the gospel that he's already familiar with if he simply applies it and lives it, just as he did with the stop smoking program.  The information is there.  We know it will bless your life.  But you won't know until you try it.  "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself."  I don't know if I'll ever see the end of his story, but he's one of those I feel like I came to Slidell for.  Because being up-front with him as been easy as cake since my first week here.

We got to hear our recent convert K-dog bear his testimony at stake conference this last weekend.  That was the first time we'd actually heard him plainly declare that he believes The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is God's restored church, that our doctrine is the true doctrine, that President Monson is a true prophet sent by a loving God.  It was the greatest thing.  I can leave this place well assured that at least one of my fruits will remain.
We had more "right place, right time" moments this week.  We caught an older less active sister at home who wasn't going to let us in, but we talked to her on the porch and helped her discover that she hadn't been going to church because all her life she went for other people.  And now that her kids are grown, she has to do it for herself, at least as a thank-you to God.  We tracted into a woman who was widowed and living alone and having a really hard time with it who just needed a prayer and a hug.  It may not have been a typical missionary experience, where we shared the restored gospel and stuff, but it was still work the Lord needed done, a child of His who needed to be ministered to, so what better people to send over to her than the sister missionaries.  I'm gonna miss this.
26 And I saw that I must soon go down to my grave, having been wrought upon by the power of God that I must preach and prophesy unto this people, and declare the word according to the truth which is in Christ. And I have declared it in all my days, and have rejoiced in it above that of the world.  [Enos 1]
There's no greater joy in the world than knowing that you're exactly where Heavenly Father wants you to be, doing exactly what He needs you to do.  Love you all.

Sister Valdez

1.Bookmark a member made me
2.Sunrise over the marshes

3.Sleepy comp

4.The bangs

Week 75: On The Rise

Time is wearing thin and it's freaking me out a little bit.  As in, I don't know what happened to this week.  One minute, it's Transfer day, the next minute, it's a week later.  GAEQASPODHAL:FHLADFJKsd!#!!!!!!  It's okay.  Everything is fine.
We had a better week.  Nice that the holidays are over - as much as I love them, the people around here like to party so like holidays get in the way of missionary work.  But now things have calmed down and we're buckling down and getting serious.  Our recent district meeting was about recommitting to our purpose.  I feel like I've gotten more focused on my purpose than ever, or rather since I was a new missionary, now that I'm training.  I spend a lot of time and energy trying to teach my companion everything I learned in seventeen months, and it's really helping me focus as much as it's helping her learn.  So there's no better way to end a mission than by training a new one, in my opinion.  But despite the progress we've made as a district, it's time to bump it up another notch.  Which inspired my new theme of the moment:  On the rise.  Weird how that only is used to describe, like, crime.  Crime on the rise.  Evil on the rise.  Well guess what.  Now it's righteousness on the rise.  Brought to you by Slidell's full-time missionaries.

We got word that one of our recent converts is wanting to get into visiting teaching, and another may be made assistant to the ward mission leader - that or a ward missionary - very soon.  That's what I like to hear.  As for Lonnie though - as you heard in my voice recording message - his kiddo Junior is a little bit in a pickle with the law and just not where he was when we were teaching him and everything was great.  In my fast yesterday, I was praying that Lonnie's kids would both find their way to the same path he is on.  At the moment, that's one of the only things that I can see keeping him on the covenant path.  Like I've said before, for so many people I've met, it seems that their family is the biggest motivation for righteousness.  Which makes sense.  God put us in families for a reason.  We're here to help each other be eternal.
New Year's Eve in this part of town is not the ideal when you're a missionary and you want to go to sleep on time, because this happens to be a state where fireworks are legal and in the ghetto they just don't stop from like 9 to 12, constant popping explosions and zero sleep.  Unless your name is Sister Matealona and you clock out the moment you lay down.  However, earlier that day a little miracle happened, that shows me how God is truly in the details of our work.  If we had been there just a few minutes earlier or later, this exchange may not have occurred.  A less active saw us on the street as we were about to start tracting, and stopped us, even stopped her car to get out and talk to us - and this was a woman I'd heard didn't care a bit for the church anymore.  But instead, she told us her health had prevented her from having the sisters over in the past and she invited us over for New Year's Day dinner.  Apparently black eyed peas and cabbage is well-known tradition, it's supposed to bring good luck for the new year.  And her husband who's not really about organized religion at the moment, ended up being really fond of us.  Prob because we listened to his stories for 3 1/2 hours.  When we finally got a spiritual thought in there at the end, he started talking about looking at the fruits of a religion, like Jesus said to do about prophets, as in what kinda kids you'd want your kids to be friends with, what kind of people you'd trust in business, what kinda guys you'd want your daughters marrying.  "Mormons win," he said.  "By a long shot."  My optimism is taking that as a sign that his effectual door is opening.  We just have to jump in before it closes again.
Speaking of effectual door.  We taught one sister's nonmember husband the stop smoking program last week and he finishes tomorrow.  This is the one that has to have coffee every morning and tea every night and swore he'd be homicidal if he had to give up all that plus cigarettes at the same time.  Well, so far his wife's still alive and he's six days smoke-free.  And I think his heart is being softened and his door is cracking open too.  He smiles more than he used to.  This guy's on the rise for sure.

23 Awake, my sons [and daughters]; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust.

Shake it off!  Rise up!  Do work!  All is well, my dear family (and friends).  Love you tons.

Sister Valdez