Sunday, February 1, 2015

Returning Early - Three Weeks Later

I have been home from my mission for 2 weeks and 6 days, and I have spent most of that time trying to put the words together to write this post. I don't know if I will continue to use this blog, but everything changed so quickly... I felt that I needed at least one more entry to provide some closure.

But even now it's hard to find the words I want...

The truth? Coming home early from a mission is HARD. Despite the fact that I knew without a doubt that this is where I'm supposed to be. Even though I felt such peace and such confirmation that coming home was part of Heavenly Father's plan, and even though this is the choice I would have made if they hadn't made it for me... It's still a million times harder than it would have been to continue to serve with Depression. And it's harder than I ever imagined.

The feeling is a little hard to describe. It feels a bit like your heart has been ripped out of your chest and put through a blender.

Taking my nametag off and putting it on my dresser after I was released actually broke my heart. For the last two months I had feared this outcome, and had done everything humanely possible to prevent it from happening. But here I was. My mission was over, and I wasn't ever going back. My nametags sitting there were a clear reminder of that fact. They are still there, but have since gotten buried by piles of papers that accumulated as I unpacked my mission life. I think that I'm okay with that for now... seeing them still brings pangs of hurt.

My mission President, President Hansen, encouraged me in my exit interview to talk about my experiences as often as I could - especially with my family. But at lunch the first day I was home, when my dad asked, I had to run and hide after I began to tell him about a family that I knew in Utah so that he wouldn't see me cry. I was really glad that I wasn't asked to give my homecoming talk that first Sunday... I don't think I could have held it together. But the two homecomings and one farewell talk that day really didn't help much. I did not want to think about missions.

I simultaneously wanted to connect with Utah as much as possible, but also not think about it at all. I wanted to text and email and hear from friends there, but each contact I had felt like another knife to the chest.

I do not blame any missionary that struggles or makes poor choices after returning home early. Because I GET IT. I didn't want to think about my mission, but I wanted to be back in Utah more than ANYTHING. I did NOT want to be here. I felt repulsed by the world - getting online to take care of some necessary evils of putting my life together actually made me sick to my stomach. I didn't want to unpack; I didn't want to see the things that would remind me of the months I spent there. I didn't want to watch tv. I didn't want to read (I know - what's wrong with me, right??) I didn't want to listen to music, other than my mission approved music. I didn't want to play the piano or crochet or cross-stitch. I didn't want to put on pants. I didn't want to see my friends here. I mean, I did. And a lot were really excited to see me! And it was really a good thing that I see them... but each encounter made me feel really nervous and anxious. That's also hard to explain - I knew that my friends would only have love and support for me. I knew that no one would judge me. But seeing the people here... it just was a really sensitive thing for me at first, and it took an actual concerted effort to force myself to be social; I knew that it would be good for me.

I could tell for sure that I was definitely not living "of the world" anymore, but I really had no idea how to live "in the world" again. And a big part of me didn't want to try. A big part of me wanted to leave that luggage unpacked and lock it away somewhere, to push away all of the people in my life, and to go to sleep and never wake up.

And these are all feelings I had despite knowing that I was honorably released. Despite the peace and assurance that I felt. Despite the fact that I knew that NONE of this was my fault.

But all I could think was HEAVENLY FATHER, I NEVER WANTED THIS!!!!! I wanted to stay! I wanted to serve! I never wanted to go on a mission at 25... but now that I did, I never wanted to leave! I did not want any of this!!!

But this is what I have.

That first week I had a "well, now what?" feeling. My life had literally been turned on its head, and I had no idea what to do. I was one of the lucky ones - I had a solid 5 days in Utah to prepare myself for this transition... many missionaries that are released early have less than 24 hours. But even with that extra time... I still had broken pieces of my life to pick back up and patch together into something that I could live with. That is what drove me the first week: applying for school this semester, finding a job, getting a cell phone, getting transportation, getting involved with my Branch.... Picking up the pieces.

It was a week before I was able to go to the temple since it had been closed for cleaning. I went with one other friend on a Tuesday morning, and when we got to the Celestial room I sat down and just cried. For the first time since getting home I was able to cry out all of the emotion that I had bottled up and pushed through, just so I could hold it all together. After a time I opened the scriptures and found some powerful verses that spoke directly to my heart at that moment. Again I felt His love and His comfort and His peace. I felt the confirmation that I was doing the right thing, that I was on the right path. I thought that maybe, just maybe, now that week one was over that I would be okay. Maybe I could hold on to that good feeling that I had in the temple and carry it with me. Maybe the pieces would start to fall into place and everything would be alright.

But then the unthinkable happened.

The next day I received word that my Mission President's wife had passed away. Still, all I know is that she collapsed at the mission home and died. I could not believe it. Sister Hansen who I had hugged goodbye just a week earlier was... gone.

I wanted nothing more than to hug Sister Cox - my last mission companion - and to cry with her. Probably the greatest temptation I overcame was the temptation to text her that day. After all, I know the phone number, it's the number that I used for the last 5 months. I kept thinking I SHOULD BE THERE. Why did this happen? Why was I in Maryland? Why couldn't I be there and go through this with everyone?? Why wasn't I there for my companion? I had been doing an okay job of adjusting to life in Maryland again, but all of a sudden I was thrown back into Utah. I wanted to be in Utah. I mean, my heart ACHED with how much I wanted to be there, and how much it knew that it couldn't.

A number of factors aligned up and prevented me from returning for the funeral - another blow. I hated that I had to process this completely alone; I felt so detached from absolutely everyone. I felt alone, and I felt forgotten. It was exactly two weeks after I had returned home.

That evening I saw a large envelope addressed to me, from the Utah Salt Lake City Mission. My heart jumped into my throat as I opened it - in it I found several pictures of me and other missionaries at missionary events over my time in Utah. The largest was a nice one of the missionaries with Elder and Sister Arnold (of the Seventy) at the Mission Tour during my first week as a missionary - I was shocked and excited to discover that all 3 of my companions were in this photograph. Definitely frameworthy! The others were from the Christmas party just a month earlier. I also found a white handkerchief and a smaller envelope with "Sister Tipton" on the front. I opened it to find a card written by Sister Hansen herself, that included a wallet sized photo of her and President Hansen. She told me how much she enjoyed serving with me, and said that she had made this handkerchief for me to take to the temple.

I was dumbfounded (and sobbing again, of course.) I gathered up my letter and ran up to my room to enjoy it by myself. I had received a letter from "beyond the grave" and that was just so special for me! I have something that no other missionary that served in the Utah Salt Lake City Mission has - this gift received in this way. I was known. I AM known.

That was 6 days ago.

So what now?

Well it took me 2 weeks to put a patchwork life together. I did unpack. (Well, the suitcases... I haven't made it to the packages that I mailed home... but that's more a procrastination thing than a "I don't want to see it" thing.) I got a cell phone. I have 10 piano students and counting, so I have an income. I bought a car. I reenrolled in Towson and was able to register for a class that began the same day as Sister Hansen's funeral. I received a calling to serve in my YSA Branch. The stress and uncertainty that filled my life the first two weeks as I worked all of that out is gone. Now I must simply live this life that I've put together.

Easier said than done.

The Depression did not magically disappear with my release, and that is something I have to face now too. Also easier said than done. Recovery from depression is not a simple happy pill like the world would have you believe... It is truly a cancer of the mind, and just as difficult to treat. I am not looking forward to the experience, but I want to get well, so forward I go! In the meantime, I have enough to keep me busy without overwhelming me, but I also have huge gaps in my schedule that are tempting to fill with naps. :) (Not a great option - turns out you have to be awake to live life... :) I sometimes feel painfully lonely, and feel like I want to be surrounded by people constantly. But at the same time, the thought of being around others is exhausting. It's a conundrum that makes me feel isolated and confused.

I realized this week that I spent exactly 5 months in Bountiful, Utah. I arrived on August 12, 2014 and left on January 12, 2015. I had 3 companions, I experienced every single weather pattern, and made more friends than I can number. President Hansen told me that I learned more in those 5 months than some missionaries learn in 18... and that was really special to me.

As for my friends, I am so grateful for all of the support that I have received! Notes, texts, emails... these have each been deeply appreciated and cherished. The Words of Affirmation have done so much to combat the blackness of depression, and to carry me through this time of trial and transition. Really, if every person with depression were as well loved as I am then we could say that the 'stigma' no longer exists!

Months ago a friend sent me a note that said, "Sister Tipton, you are really good at not giving in and I love you for that!" I took that note and taped it to the wall above my desk to remind me every time I needed that extra boost. So here it is friends, in all of its glory. The emotion, the trials, and some of the things I have been facing. I can't tell you how many times a day I want to quit... but I haven't. I will not quit! I will plug forward and take on life. One moment at a time.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Mission Accomplished

Today is not a normal email day. This is not a normal week. Sister Cox is currently filling out our progress record and I am taking the time to notify you all of a major change. 

I'm coming home! 

I don't have a flight scheduled yet, but my mission President said that it will probably be for a late afternoon arrival on Monday. Monday as in 3 days away Monday. 

The missionary medical department has decided that it would be better to handle my depression at home. I am actually feeling a lot of peace about this decision, even though I had no say in it.. A week ago I did not. A week ago I was adamant to stay out here. A week ago I was thinking about this in the natural man. The natural man in me was very frustrated. After all - I asked for help for 6 straight weeks before I finally received it, and then they want to send me home before they give that help a chance to work? I began medication about 2 weeks ago - it takes a full month before you can usually feel the effects of it. A week ago I was pushing for them to let me stay until transfers in 2 weeks - by then the medication would have either kicked in and I would be fine or it wouldn't have and I would know that I needed to go home. 

I think Heavenly Father was waiting for me to realize that this is His will. There is a sister in our stake who was not able to go on her mission because she was diagnosed with leukemia. One of her leaders said to me, "I guess we just have to embrace the fact that her mission is different from others." And mine is as well. 

Sunday night I met with my mission president. I was feeling pretty devastated because it looked like I wasn't going to be able to stay. Sister Cox suggested that I get a blessing, and so we asked Brother Eubank if he wouldn't mind. 

He spoke with us for awhile. This man is very inspired and very in tune! Most people would offer words of comfort or hope and say, "Maybe you'll get to stay." Or, "It'll be okay." Instead, he looked straight at my tear-streaked face (many a woman has had a breakdown in Kevin Eubank's home! :) and asked me, "Why are you fighting this?"

What do you mean?

He then proceeded to talk about our human ideal. We like to plan our lives. We like to think of certain things happening in a certain time frame. College should take 4 years. A mission should take 18 months (or 2 years if you're a boy.) We want to be married and have children by a certain age. Etc. But God doesn't work that way. God doesn't work within OUR time frames. His plan is usually much different than our own.

As soon as Brother Eubank began speaking it I mentally kicked myself. Of COURSE I know this! I've known it for a long time! College took me longer than I wanted. I didn't get married and have kids when I wanted. I was called to serve a mission when I was much older than I wanted!

Brother Eubank asked me why I was here. "Because God told me to come." Alright, you came. You did what you were supposed to do. Now you need to figure out what God wants you to do next.

He continued by giving scriptural examples. In the Book of Mormon it begins with a family feeling impressed to depart into the wilderness because Jerusalem was going to be destroyed. After they are camped a great distance away, God instructs Nephi and his brothers to make the several day journey to return to Jerusalem to get the scriptures. It takes Nephi 3 attempts to get the scriptures - the first two times he tried to do it on his own, and it wasn't until he trusted God that he was successful. Scriptures in hand they make that long trek back to the wilderness, and soon after God tells Nephi that he must return to Jerusalem again - this time to gather another family that will travel with them. Why didn't God tell Nephi everything that he needed on that first trip? For that matter - why didn't He tell them what they needed before they ever left Jerusalem in the first place?? All we can say is that those trips back and forth and back and forth in the wilderness prepared Nephi for challenges that He would face later on. It taught him to listen to the promptings of the Spirit, and to trust God. Even when the instruction seems redundant or exhausting or kinda crazy.

Before that point it hadn't occurred to me that it might actually be God's will that I go home now. Not because I can't handle the mission or because I'm "emotionally unstable" but because God needs me home. It seemed crazy for me that God would call me on a mission and then send me home an entire year early. But it also seemed crazy that God would send Nephi on his journey, and then make him return. Twice. "Wasting" weeks of his life! Friends, that was not time wasted. That was time of learning and growth and it did serve a purpose in God's plan.

Brother Eubank told me again that I had to figure out what God's plan was for me - not what my plan was. My plan was to stay on the mission until next year. Brother Eubank used another scriptural example - Jonah and the whale. Jonah ignored the promptings and ended up spending 3 days in the belly of a whale until he was placed on the beach where God wanted him to be in the first place. If he had listened to those promptings originally, then his journey would have been much more pleasant. Brother Eubank told me that if it was God's will that I go home, that He would get me home! Wouldn't it be much better to pray and find out for myself? That I could choose to go willingly, rather than being dragged in the belly of a whale?

Finally he looked me square in the eye once more and said, "Sister Tipton, I feel that I need to tell you that I have felt all along that you KNOW what the answer is. You know what God wants, and you have known all along."

Three months ago I felt very strongly that Bountiful would be my only area. I couldn't explain it - I joked that I would be here for 18 months. Or I thought that I might be transferred to another area for 6 weeks and then return to Bountiful (that's happened.) But I felt strongly that Bountiful would be my mission. But now, with the perspective that God wants me home, that feeling makes much more sense! It doesn't surprise me that Bountiful Heights was my 6 month mission. :) 

Everyone has said that they are making this decision for me because they want to do what is best for me. But I have to say that I have full confidence that as far as the depression goes, I would be completely fine once the medication begins to really work. (I can already feel its effects) That was why my natural man was so annoyed. I think that the depression is simply a means to an end - my purpose here has been fulfilled, I have learned the things that I need to learn, and it is time for me to continue on somewhere else. I feel VERY strongly that that is true. 

I then received a powerful blessing that confirmed those feelings. I got to the point where I knew that if Missionary Medical decided not to send me home, that I would make that decision anyway because I felt so strongly that I am not supposed to be here anymore. 

I probably would have waited until after I was transferred away from Bountiful though. ;) Have I mentioned how much I love it here??

I don't know what Heavenly Father will call me to do next. I do know that it's not going to be easy! My blessing promised challenges and tasks that I would feel completely inadequate for, but reminded me that "Whom the Lord calls, He qualifies." I am excited to see what the coming years hold for me.

As for my immediate future: I will be phoneless and carless (for at least the first few days!) But like every other returned missionary I find the idea of having NOTHING to do both appalling and terrifying! So if you have a long list of tasks to do, or want help with something, or simply want company please let me know! I promise - you would be helping me more than I would be helping you. It's really best that I not sit still for long periods of time - I'm too prone to wallowing. :) This email address is good for another month, but I should be back on facebook Monday evening. ;) 

And yes. I will be teaching piano. ASAP! 

Love you all! See you soon!
Sister Tipton

Monday, January 5, 2015

Good Feelings, Friends

Because of the move and the holiday there's really not much to write about this week. :) We had a crazy wind storm last week - 70mph winds reported on our mountain! I texted Brother Eubank - our trusty weatherman - and asked him what the heck was going on and whether or not it was safe to go outside. We get high winds in Maryland... but usually only in hurricanes. And people don't go outside in hurricanes. :) 

But a cool thing happened with that wind. On Monday we drove up to Farmington to do some shopping. The snow is so dry that the wind was blowing it all over the place! The highway (er, freeway ;) was clear, so I was going the 65mph speed limit. (Actually... probably closer to 70... Tiwi - our little box that yells at us and reports us for speeding and other violations - allows up to 7 miles above the speed limit. It's possible that I push that envelope a little.) But when we got on the exit ramp it was COVERED with snow. I realized a second too late that it was actually very dangerous, and had no time to slow down before we hit it. I slammed on my breaks and held tight to the wheel with both hands as I repeated over and over "Oh shoot oh shoot oh shoot oh shoot!" I think my companion was white knuckled in the passenger seat. But somehow - miraculously! - we were able to stop before we rear ended the SUV in front of us! Really there was no way I should have been able to stop that car that quickly. We felt for sure we were protected. :)

It wasn't until after we had stopped at the top of the ramp that I noticed that other vehicles had not fared so well on that ramp - two had collided and driven off the road. We were so blessed. :)

New Years Eve was probably more depressing for me than anything else as a missionary so far. This is the first New Years EVER that I have not celebrated! We weren't allowed to go out to work after 5pm, so instead we got together as a district and watched "Frozen" and "Ephraim's Rescue." Then we went home and I decided to go ahead and go to bed early. 

I did have this funny conversation with Bishop Pierson.
Me: "What are you doing for New Years?"
Bishop: "Party with the family at the church building! But you can't come. We're going to do things that missionaries aren't allowed to do!"
Me: "Like what? Stay out after 9pm? :P"
Bishop: "Um sure."
Me: "Listen to worldly music? Watch movies? Drink caffeinated beverages?? You can't get into TOO much trouble... you are a Mormon Bishop after all..."
Bishop: "Um. Right."

Yeah... I didn't know quite what he meant... until the world EXPLODED around me at midnight!!! Seriously our new neighbors are pyromaniacs!!! Fireworks were happening in every direction! And sure enough, some were at the church building (which we can now see from our bedroom window) Missionaries are definitely not allowed to play with fireworks!!! But it was really fun to see! I watched them all from my new bedroom. And it reminded me of the time that I was in England during Guy Fawkes day and I watched all the fireworks from my attic bedroom. Good times. :) People in Utah celebrate better than we do in Maryland. :) 

Yesterday we had 6 hours of church, and I got up to bear my testimony in all three sacrament meetings that we attended. I had been reading the lyrics to hymn #112 "Savior, Redeemer of my Soul." They are, "Thy pure word, hath it not been my one delight? My joy by day, my dream by night. Then let my lips proclaim it still, and all my life reflect thy will." I wish I could somehow express just how much the Savior means to me. This gospel is TRULY my one delight. It is the thing that centers me and helps everything else to fall into place. Even when life is just really really hard, it can still feel like everything is right. I hope I will always open my mouth. I hope that I will always live according to His will. Therein lies true happiness. :)

After church I spoke with my favorite Schmidt family again. We talked about a boy that we are teaching in their home and the struggles he is facing. I said that I felt that he needs to just feel the Spirit - the other struggles can be faced later. When I was baptized there were certain things that I was concerned about. But I knew the church was true. Without a doubt. There was no WAY I could deny the feeling that I had! So I decided to put those concerns on a back burner and address them later (which I have since done) and just go ahead and do what I knew to be right. This statement caused Jon to marvel and say, "You have such incredibly strong faith!! It's great to hear you speak." :) Good feelings friends. Good feelings. 

Alright. Love you all! Speak to you next week!

Sister Tipton 

Monday, December 29, 2014

White Christmas?

It's not quite like "Christmas Eve in Washington" America's hometown. Wow I missed hearing that song this year!

Everyone kept saying how strangely warm the weather had been this year. Just last week it was still raining because it wasn't cold enough for snow! That is so not like Utah! The end of December and not having a significant snowfall?? So last week we asked our beloved weatherman, Kevin Eubank, what the chances were of having a white Christmas.

I had never had a white Christmas in my entire LIFE, and I was really hoping we would get one!

He broke into weatherman mode. He told us that the statistics are as follows: 58% of winters in Utah have snow already on the ground on Christmas, but only 24% of Christmases have snow falling on Christmas. That doesn't sound like good odds. Especially on a weird weather year. But. He told us that there is this weird pattern that every 7 years it snows on Christmas. He asked us to guess how many years it had been... 7 years!! He then said, "Sisters, if you have faith, it will snow on Christmas!"

Christmas eve rolled around though. And it was still warm. No sign of a storm approaching. We doubted.

Christmas morning we woke to snow on the ground! And snow falling!! I was like a little child. We got about a foot of snow that day! It was incredible!! We apologized to Brother Eubank for our lack of faith when we saw him that afternoon - he kindly opened his home for us to Skype our families! Sister Cox said, "This is all based on Brother Eubank's faith! Because we DOUBTED!!!" I gave Brother Eubank a snowflake ornament that I crocheted. 

I had also doubted the white handbook. The white handbook is a missionaries "rule book." It has a lot of helpful advice and tips and clarifies some of the rules that we should live by while serving. (I have a hard time resisting the Pirates of the Caribbean perspective of, "They're more like guidelines than actual RULES." :) The white handbook says that holidays are PERFECT times to visit people because they are all home with their families. 

Yeah. But who wants a missionary in their home on a holiday?! 

Sister Cox and I got creative though. We got permission to take her guitar caroling and sang a version of "Silent Night" that we had arranged. (By we I mean she - she's so talented!) On Christmas eve we visited so many people that we haven't seen in such a long time! It was the most successful day we've had in this area since Sister Haddock was here 2 months ago! Many, many people thanked us for our visit and said that it helped to bring some holiday cheer into their lives. It felt so good to be able to provide that. 

Probably the biggest miracle happened with the Barkers. Irene was just baptized a few weeks ago, and we had planned on going to temple square with them on Christmas eve to see the lights. When we arrived she came outside and said that the family was all fighting and that we wouldn't be going that night. We were bummed. We asked if we could instead sing to them, and they agreed. So we sang "Silent Night." Almost immediately the feeling in the room changed. You could feel the heaviness when we entered the home, but while we sang M. began to cry. (He's such a big Teddy Bear - for people that know my family, the Barker boys are like the Taylor boys. Super tall and large, but gentle giants. :) At the end of that song we felt like we needed to keep going. So we asked them for their favorite Christmas hymns, and Sister Cox whipped out a guitar part on the spot. You could just feel the peace wash over the room. They are having a hard time right now, but it was so good to be able to help lift their spirits in such a way! They also thanked us for bringing the Spirit into their home on Christmas eve. I love that family so much! I'm a little sad that I never got to Temple Square, but that impromptu caroling visit was so perfect and exactly what all of us needed. 

This week we were so loved and so cared for. And we shared our love as much as we could! We had wonderful meals, and even got to spend time Christmas day with some families. It felt so nice. I had thought that I'd want to ask for permission to go home early next year to be there for Christmas, but I LOVE that I get to have two Christmases as a missionary! 

Speaking of - if I've calculated correctly, and if I really do go home an entire transfer early (for school) then I will be headed home one year from today. Wow. Can't believe how much time has gone by already! 

PS! Don't send me any mail this week! There is a very strong possibility that we may be moving in the next few days. 

This week I started medication for my depression. It was a bit of a bumpy week but I think we're going to start seeing improvement. I sometimes get very depressed around Christmas, and especially on the 28th. Yesterday marked 10 years since my friend Caitlin passed away. I really am learning how to be patient with myself and to recognize what I am capable of and what things I can just not worry about. Last week I met with my mission President and he reminded me of the scripture in Mosiah 4:27, "And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order." 

I have often remembered and contemplated the line "it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength." That is good counsel for us all! I am SO PRONE to overdoing things. (I said that to Bishop Pierson and he sarcastically responded with, "No! You're kidding!!!" Ha. Oops... definitely need to learn to pace myself...) But this week as I studied that verse I came to realize that it's not just about slowing down, it's about pushing on. Be diligent. Don't try to do things that you're just not capable of! A refusal to give up, no matter how much I want to is what this means. And I'm not just talking about giving up in terms of the mission - I am honestly praying and doing my best to consider what the best course would be for me. Some people need to go home early, and I may be one of them. That is real life, and it's nothing to be ashamed for. However, I need to continue making good choices! I need to continue doing my best! I am also so prone to "turtling" as the Pierson's call it. I have spent days, weeks and sometimes months of my life sitting on the couch not doing anything but watch tv and make something. Those times are good sometimes, but really being a depressed mess is no way to live a life. I am learning that being diligent is THAT kind of refusal to give up. Sitting on the couch watching tv or reading a book would be the easy way to endure a depression episode. And, as stated, we all have days and days are allowed. But I'm really grateful that now I am learning how to cope with depression and still be a human being. One day I will be a mom, and my kids deserve more than me checking out of life until my head is back in shape. 

So. Have realistic expectations. But still try to be a little better tomorrow than I am today. That's what I'm learning. :) 

I love you all! I hope you had a Merry Christmas and are going to have a fantastic New Year! We will be in by 5 and spend the evening watching Frozen and Ephraim's rescue with our District. Can't wait!! 

Sister Tipton

Monday, December 22, 2014

THAT Has Totally Happened

I got a new companion this week! Her name is Sister Cox. She's 20, she's been out for 15 months and she's Gilbert, Arizona. FINALLY a companion who will lament the cold with me and rejoice in the warmth!!! All of my previous three companions LOVED the cold. I don't know what's wrong with them. :)
I think I realized awhile ago that mission companions wouldn't be what I had always envisioned... that like any other relationship they would take hard work and patience and lots and lots of prayers. :) I recognized how ridiculous it is to put two complete strangers together, tell them to not only share their lives but to spend EVERY MOMENT OF EVERY DAY glued to each others hip, and NOT think there would be problems. :) I realized that I may, if I am lucky, once in my mission have that companion where we just click instantly and become besties at first sight.


She's so laid back, and I'm so laid back - in good ways. We have a comfortable friendship and a fun existence. We are "co-senior" companions, which means that the mission even recognizes that we are equal in absolutely everything we do. We are both so GRATEFUL to be co-senior because it's just so NICE to share the burden with someone else. (I wasn't *technically* senior companion for the last transfer, but I absolutely was...) ("acting senior" I guess. :P) (and being senior with a companion that doesn't want to work is HARD.)
Also MUSIC. I never realized how important music was to me in my life until Heavenly Father started giving me all of these companions that are so ridiculously passionate about music! Sister Cox wants to go into composition, and she definitely has the talent to do so! She was given permission to have a guitar on her mission, and we have been given permission to discreetly use it for caroling purposes this week! We came up with a version of "silent night" to sing (a few others as well - but silent night is our favorite!) and we started practicing on the Ward Mission Leaders and Bishops that she has to meet. One of them said, "You've only been together FOUR DAYS and you came up with this??" Uh yeah... We're awesome. :)
Sister Cox and I play music all the time. We love the same types - she is so floored that I love MoTab (The Mormon Tabernacle Choir.) Apparently I'm her first companion that likes MoTab! We've been listening to my Sissel MoTab cd in the car (thanks for finding that for me Sister Haddock!) And we have my Steven Sharp Nelson (cello guy from the Piano Guys) cd on in the apartment all the time. (Thanks Sister Haddock's mom!!!) Another thing Sister Cox and I have in common is that we never get tired of listening to the same thing over and over. :)
We both love herbal tea, and I have been sharing my Herbal Chai with her (thanks Kellie!) I am one of the few companions that she has had that understands her humor. And we both like dipping our french fries in mayonnaise! (It's a celestial sauce. :) All white and clean and pure!) We already have so many inside jokes and it's just so good.
I love Christmas. Last week we had our mission Christmas party (only it was 3 parties since they decided not to get everyone together...) At the party we were able to hear from an area authority named Elder Chidester (sp?) and he and his wife spoke about Christmas. :) One of my favorite parts was when they talked about the symbols of Christmas. We have all of these traditions that we keep and sometimes we don't really know why!
A Christmas Wreath - is a perfect circle and symbolizes eternity. Eternity that we will get to live because He came to us!
A Christmas tree - the trees that are used have pine needles which all point upward (never knew that!) The symbol is that the needles are pointing up to heaven. :) 
A Star - the star that appeared to announce the birth of Christ.
A Candy Cane - is shaped like the staff of a shepherd, and shepherds were some of the first witnesses of the newborn Savior.
The colors red and white - symbolize the atonement of Christ. Red for His blood, white for the cleansing purity of His love.
Candles - (and other forms of light) He is the Light of the World. He is our light and hope!
Angels - the Heavenly Host that sang praises to announce His birth.
Life is hard sometimes. For every single one of us. There is so much that is imperfect and fallen about this world. Even when you are making good choices and doing your best to do the right thing you can still face trials. Sometimes you can't sleep, or you have a hard time waking up or you feel foggy and sad, or you have a panic attack before church starts, even though everything is so good in your life. Sometimes you just miss home darnit! But I am so grateful to be here now. So many choices I have made in my life because they felt right - I can't explain it other than the feeling that I had was so good that I really had no choice but to follow it. But now that I'm here I feel as if I am getting the chance to really grow closer to my Savior. I am getting to know Jesus Christ in a way that I never was able to before. I trusted Him and I loved Him, but I didn't really know Him. I didn't really understand the depth and significance of His atoning sacrifice. I still don't. :) But I am learning and it is wonderful!
Above all else, I feel a burning within me that wants to shout from the rooftops. Jesus IS the Christ. He IS our hope. He is our peace. He is our life, and our love. He is Christmas, and HE is the Gift. I know that with my whole soul.

I love Christmas. :) I hope you all have a happy one. <3
Love always,
Sister Tipton

PS - sorry for a lack of pictures. I have temporarily misplaced my camera cord. I'm sure it will turn up eventually... Sister Cox and I are also both a tad bit messy in our living spaces... so maybe when we clear the clutter. :D

Monday, December 15, 2014

I'm Staying!

I'M STAYING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I love Bountiful Utah with absolutely all of my being. It reminds me so much of Columbia. And I am SO incredibly happy that I will be staying for another transfer! 6 more weeks! 

So I'll tell you a secret - I was a little worried that I'd leave. I actually knew last week that ONE of us would leave. Logic would say that I would be the one to be transferred since I have now been here for 3 transfers and Sister Alaiasa has only been here for 1. But nope. She's going to Mueller Park and I'm staying!!!!! (Don't feel sad for her - that's the stake that President Eyring lives in! If I ever leave Bountiful I really want to go to Mueller Park. :) 

Yesterday I had an interesting thing happen. On Sunday mornings we have 20 minute correlation meetings with each individual ward mission leader. These meetings are back to back and usually pretty stressful - they never end on time, we're always running late, and it's HARD to try to get everything done and to make them feel like you really care about them individually when you're 10 minutes into the next meeting. Skills, I'm learning skills friends. :) During one of our correlation meetings with one of the twelve ward mission leaders in our stake, he decided to take the time to focus on how offended he was over something that he thought we did horribly wrong instead of on the missionary work. You know. In front of the senior missionary couple AND the two high-councilors in our stake. It was a little bit mortifying until I realized that they didn't blame us at all. Brother Eubank - who I respect a lot and who is very VERY eloquent in speech (much more than I am) - jumped right in to help smooth over the situation. 

I somehow maintained my calm. I somehow managed to not yell at him for being so ridiculously prideful. I really REALLY wanted to tell him to suck it up and to get over himself. (He was upset that we invited someone other than him to a lesson with an investigator. Seriously?? You're the ward mission LEADER, not the only option we have for member present lessons...) But I didn't. I somehow managed to be in control of myself and my emotions and to handle the unfounded criticism like a responsible adult. 

After he left though, the stress of the situation came out. His temper tantrum caused us to be 15 minutes late for the next meeting, which meant that we had one ward mission leader who had been standing out in the hall waiting, and another whose meeting was supposed to start in 5 minutes. I felt the anxiety hit though and started pacing after he left the room. You know, again, in front of everyone. Brother Eubank was so kind! He told me that I handled that situation really REALLY well (which meant a lot, coming from him...) and he basically reaffirmed that the claims were unfounded, but that I had to pull it together because, well, work. He and Brother Burningham made a quick executive decision - this day only - to take one of the ward mission leaders that had been waiting into another room to correlate and we would take the other. This way it didn't make us late for the REST of our meetings that day. The point is for them to correlate with the missionaries, but this was the best thing for this week. I was very grateful for that leadership and quick problem-solving! And I was able to pull it together again.

After our correlation meetings though, I asked our two high councilors for a blessing. Sundays are actually are most packed high-stress days (irony, right?) I was feeling okay about not being the one to blame for what that ward mission leader was accusing me of. But it had destroyed my calm enough that I knew I would need help to make it through the day. Blessings always bring such peace and calm and affirmation into my life! This one promised me that like Alma, my burdens would be made light. God wouldn't take them away, but I would be able to bare them with ease because of the atonement. What a wonderful promise! And it was absolutely true. I had so much strength and energy for the rest of the day, and it's bled into today as well! We had a wonderful event last night in our stake where 150-200 nativities were on display for people to come and see. It was so wonderful to see all of these depictions of the Christ-child! Such a wonderful Spirit in that room! We estimated that 1000 people showed up! It was an incredible experience - I never could have made it without the blessing though. :) 

In case you missed it - I TOTALLY got a blessing from the weatherman! :) I'm working on that autograph for you Deborah! I was at a ward Christmas party on Saturday and ended up at a table with the current stake President, two former stake Presidents, and another weatherman (they're everywhere!). They said they'll make it happen! :D 

Love you all! Have a great week! 

Sister Tipton

Monday, December 8, 2014

OH My Goodness! That's My Home!!

Holy cow! Can you believe that another transfer is about to end?? Where the heck did the time go?! 

Oh sorry. We're not supposed to say things like that. "Replacement" curse words are apparently still curse words. Oh dear. Our mission loves rules. And I am quite the rule follower... but I gotta say. Even I'm having a hard time keeping track of them all! 

So if you want to send me letters, please wait until next Monday so we can find out if I'm staying in Bountiful or not. 

I hope I stay. It would be incredibly lame to leave right before the holidays. ;) 

Okay, awesome things this week. First off, I.  GOT BAPTIZED! Her new husband  was able to perform the ordinance. And there was great ward support. The evening was really just so beautiful. We sang "A Child's Prayer" and watched the new video, "He is the Gift." Her family friend gave a talk on Baptism, and her father in-law talked about the Gift of the Holy Ghost. The feeling of love was so strong in that room! I was completely unprepared for how overwhelmed I would feel. The joy was indescribable. I've been able to see plenty of baptisms at home, but really it was so wonderful to be able to be a part of her story. We had time allotted for sharing testimonies, and I got up and bore mine. As I stood there I realized that the single most important thing to me that I wish I could express clearly to everyone in my life is my love for the Savior. HE is the gift! He is the reason we will have the opportunity to return to live with our Heavenly Father. Through Him everything. EVERYTHING that is wrong with this world can be made right. I know this with all of my heart, and thinking of it makes my heart ache it is so full! Seeing Irene baptized wasn't a "woohoo! Look what I did! I convinced her to bend to my will!" No. That's not why I'm here. I'm not here to persuade, bribe or convince anyone to do anything they don't want to. I'm not a salesman. I am here because I love my Savior so much that it wouldn't matter to me if everything else in my life fell apart. It wouldn't matter if everything else in life was taken away from me, because I know that He has already overcome it. He has carried it so that we don't have to. He has promised that we will have everything restored to us. He is my joy and my peace and my hope. I didn't do much for Irene but share these things with her... and the joy of seeing her embrace this great hope was overflowing. :) I now understand the phrase "my joy is full." 

We were also able to see that same day the baptism of a little girl that we had taught. Her family doesn't really attend church, but they wanted her to be baptized at 8. She has 4 older siblings in a "yours/mine" family so some of them are more active than others. These kids though. Two are completely active, the other two are returning to activity, and then there's her. :) It's kinda crazy sometimes how kids are such a good example to their parents. 

So I mentioned that "He is the Gift." This is a video that you should ALL watch! And share it! We have hundreds of pass-along cards that we are supposed to hand out over the month of December. It's hard to find people in Bountiful that aren't members of the church, but Sister Alaiasa and I are showing our faith by deciding to walk each day, and we've had the opportunity to pass out a few! There are still hundreds though. ;)

Funny story though - last week we walked to the church building. (WE WALKED TO THE CHURCH BUILDING!!!!!! There are actually THREE buildings within walking distance that hold a total of 9 wards. Utah is crazy. :) We were just about to turn around to walk home - just a 15-20 minute walk or so - when I saw a person sitting on the ground by the bowery. (Another Utah word... means pavilion.) I couldn't tell how old he was, and I couldn't even tell at first if he was alone or not. I thought, "Well, we're running late, and we've been able to hand out a ton of cards today, and this interaction would probably be really awkward, so I'm just going to go home." Then immediately I had the thought, "Turn around and go talk to him." Done. I literally did an about-face... my poor companion was so confused! As I approached it was clear that there were two people - a boy and a girl - who were very tightly wrapped. Well the second he saw us he sat bolt upright and said in a slightly annoyed voice, "Sisters!" Yep. That's us. They were so young! I asked if they were in school. She said that she was in college. He said that he wasn't right now... he just got back from his mission the day before. Oh really? Where did you serve? Maryland.


As in, Maryland Baltimore?


With President Richards! Yes.... 


He was not nearly as excited about this as I was. :) This was Elder Martineau. I don't know if I ever officially met him, but I sure heard about him a lot! He served in C2 for awhile last year, and I remember the missionaries from our ward mentioning his name sometimes... It was clear that he wanted us to leave just so he could snuggle his girl some more. So we showed him our cards and said, "Well then you probably know all about this?" Yep. He did. He took a card to share with someone, and then we disappeared. 

Good times! Life as a missionary is so awkwardly hilarious sometimes!!! 

Ok ok. Now for those of you that hung in there for all of my missionary talk. Here's something fun. Christmas parties. Christmas ward parties. Christmas ward parties that do really cheesy lip syncs that have Jon Schmidt!

Well Jon didn't do a lipsync. Darn. :) But we had a pretty neat interaction! (And yes. Here I am. Talking about Jon Schmidt again!!!)

So we arrive at the party and I remembered that we were supposed to contact the Schmidt's about a lesson that we were going to teach at their home on Sunday. I found Michelle (his wife) and asked her my missionary-totally-acceptable-reason-to-be-talking-to-the-Schmidt's question. To which she responded, "Sounds good to me! Go check with Jon. Tell him I said it's okay with me if it's okay with him..." "Okay... Wait. Jon your husband, or Jon your son?" "Jon my husband, he's right over there." Yeah thanks. Like I didn't pick him out the second I walked in the room. And you want me to go talk to Jon Schmidt?!? Okay!!! 

So I go ask Jon my missionary-totally-acceptable-reason-to-be-talking-to-Jon-Schmidt question and he responded that he thinks it'll be okay... he just has to check his travel itinerary. Right. Famous musician. Travels the world. No big deal. 

Then I kinda got absorbed in the conversation at the table. He was talking with a guy that I will refer to as "computer guy." Here is what happened. 

Jon Schmidt: (to computer guy) You're only 28?? 
Computer guy: Yeah...
Jon Schmidt: But you're too smart to be 28! How'd you get so smart?
Computer guy: I'm not that smart....
Me: So what are you smart with?
Computer guy: I work with computers...
Jon Schmidt: This guy is like a genius!
Computer guy: I'm knowledgeable. Not smart. 
Me: Hey! I know how that is! I'm studying chemistry... people always tell me how smart I am, but the more I learn, the more I learn how much I don't know!
Jon Schmidt: Hey, chemistry. That's impressive. I studied really hard and could only pull C's. You must be smart too. 
Computer guy: But see, I'd probably pull C's in music.
Jon Schmidt. Okay... true. 
Me: See... I'm just REALLY good at following directions. I can play music... as long as I HAVE music.
Jon Schmidt: You play the piano?? 
Me: Yeah actually, I teach it too!
Jon Schmidt: Right on! (then he fist-bumped me.)
Brother Fisher (our Ward Mission Leader for that ward who is AWESOME): She said that she's better than you Jon!
Jon Schmidt: I believe it. I'm waiting for my lessons.
Me: Pretty much. I played in your ward a few weeks ago. Sorry you missed it.
Jon Schmidt: Aww man!
Brother Fisher: Yeah. She got up to the pulpit and said, "This is for YOU Jon Schmidt! Jon Schmidt?? He don't know JACK Schmidt!!!" (That trash talk Brother Fisher put in my mouth still makes me roll with laughter. :)
Jon Schmidt: Hey! That was a good one! I always knew I couldn't name my son Jack...
Me: Yeah. I'm actually trying desperately to learn one of your songs right now, so I'm not as awesome as you... yet.
Jon Schmidt: Well thank you for that! Which one are you working on?
Me: From the Christmas book - "Good King Wenceslaus"
Jon Schmidt: Ah yeah... 
Me: I sometimes have to cheat and listen to the cd to make sure that I have the rhythm right...
Jon Schmidt: Well thank you for playing our music!! (He says that so sincerely!)
Me: Thank you for writing it! I especially appreciate the "do this for small hands" comments.
Jon Schmidt: How small? (Then he held up his hand so we could compare hand sizes. His is TWICE as big as mine!) Woahhhh!!! Can you even reach an octave??
Me: Yeah! I can reach a 9th! (I'm proud of my small hands. :) 
Jon Schmidt: Impressive.
Me: What can you reach?
Jon Schmidt: Oh... I think like a 13th or something...
Me: What?? So when they put 12ths and such in hymns, people can actually play those??
Jon Schmidt: Yep! I can hit them. 

And then we had to stop talking to watch the fun lipsync. Which was really SO FUN. Though when the Relief Society did a goofy song that used rubber chickens dressed up in Christmas costumes, and the Elders quorum laid upside down on the edge of the stage and wore a goofy costume that had eyes on their chins and a little puppet costume on their heads, I really couldn't help turning around and saying, "Mormons are SO WEIRD sometimes!!" But they're my people! I love my people. :) 

Okay, last thing. Last night was the Christmas Broadcast from the leadership of our church. It was all so incredible, but Elder D. Todd Christofferson shared a wonderful message about how Christ descended below all things so that He could rise above them. Doesn't it make sense then that we should descend below SOME things so that we could gain experience? So that we would know how to succor each other? So that we could rise above? It was exactly what I needed to hear. I am truly doing much better this week. Life has all sorts of ups and downs, but the downs make the ups that much sweeter. And the downs make it so that we can help others. I was able to do that this week, and I am truly oh so grateful for all that I have endured just to be able to be the strength that someone else needed. 

There is a song that is on one of our cd's that really resonates with me. It's called "We all need saving" By Jon McLaughlin. The version we have is sung by Vocal Point - a LDS a capella group. And it's incredible. :) My companion and I sing it all the time! 

Alright dear friends, thank you so much for all of your love and support! I hope that you all have a great week, and find something that will bring you joy! 

Sister Tipton