Monday, August 18, 2014

ARRIVED and Serving

It's so weird to write just once at the end of the week - SOOOO much has happened last Monday! Let me see if I can get it all in. :) 

We arrived at the mission home last Monday evening. We spent the evening in the mission home before being assigned to our new companions and new areas. The mission home is literally ACROSS THE STREET from President Thomas S. Monson's home!!! What?! For those that don't know, President Monson is the current leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and he is called as prophet. It may seem strange to think of modern day prophets, or to hear people refer to prophets. It was for me at first as well. President Monson does not use his authority to manipulate, but rather to guide. He teaches the doctrines of the gospel and applies them to life today in the 21st century. If you read the old testament you see that God often called prophets to lead and guide His people, because He loves all of His children and wants them to safely return to him someday. It makes sense that He would call a prophet to lead and guide the people again today. For more information please feel free to ask me any questions, or to learn more on or :) 

There is my shameless missionary plug. ;) 

On Tuesday we were assigned to a new companion who would train us and teach us the area that we will be serving in. 


I didn't think that would EVER happen! I still have to remember to be humble sometimes and bow to her greater experience as a missionary, but that is definitely SO much easier coming from someone who is 2 years older than me, than it would have been with someone who is 6 years younger. Not that I'm super prideful. It's just... how would you like to be nearly 25 and have a 19 year old as your teacher and trainer? We get along great, and she is so patient and compassionate with me. 

So our area. We cover the Bountiful Heights Stake in Bountiful Utah. This is TEN wards (bigger congregations) and one branch (smaller congregation.) Which will actually become 11 wards because two of the wards are splitting this week and forming a third. Apparently this hasn't happen in 50 some years, so the people around here are not super happy. Our Branch is at a resident care center for people who have suffered traumatic injuries - usually car accidents or strokes or the like - and can no longer take care of themselves. It also helps to rehabilitate people as best as they can. Several members in the area have been called (assigned) to be full-time missionaries specifically for the people in this facility and we work with them to help care and uplift the people living there. I won't lie - it's kinda scary at first. There's a REASON that I picked crime scene investigation as a career... I personally find it easier to help people in that state. My first day in the care center was for a Relief Society activity. Relief Society is a women's group in our church, but at the branch it is open to all male's and females, and members and nonmembers. Before they share a short Spiritual message with the patients they spend time singing silly songs and otherwise helping to lift their spirits. I always thought "relief society" was a strange name, but in that moment I was so overcome with the love and goodness and grace that these women expressed as they visited the patients of the Branch. These women were TRULY providing relief to this society, and I was so overcome by the pure Christlike GOODNESS that I was brought to tears. I prayed for the ability to see each of these wheelchair bound immobile patients as people, and I was blessed to see them as God does. Again, it brought me to tears. South Davis is a really special place, and I feel SO honored to be able to serve there for part of my time here in Bountiful. 

In fact, I received one of the biggest compliments ever from a couple that serves in South Davis. They told me, "Sister Tipton, I am so impressed with how easily you have begun to interact with the patients here. It usually takes new people a few weeks before they begin to feel comfortable." I still don't always feel super comfortable, but I'm so glad that at least I am not allowing any personal shock to affect my demeanor towards the precious people there. 

So on the first day I got two "official unoffical rules" from my new companion. The first was to not ask the patients at South Davis about how they ended up there. The second is not to talk to the polygamists. 

Yes. You heard that right. There is a GIANT polygamist compound about a minute down the street from where I live. He has so many wives and children that he actually has stadium bleachers in his yards so that they can all be together for activities. Crazy! In case you were unsure, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints do not practice polygamy anymore. It has been abolished for over a century, and any members that practice it will immediately be excommunicated. There are a few other religious groups that we're not allowed to proselyte to, but the polygamists is probably the bigger one in this area. 

In Utah you run into all kinds of people. :) Jon Schmidt from the piano guys attends one of the wards that I serve. Be jealous. Be very very jealous. :D But yesterday the CRAZIEST thing ever happened! So we have 11 congregations that we serve in - we obviously can't attend their church meetings every week. Yesterday at the last minute we changed our plans and ended up in 50th ward sacrament meeting. The second I enter a little girl comes up to me and says, "Hi Sister Tipton!" I recognize her, but I've met SO many people in the last week that I just couldn't place her.... but then I look up and see her mom and dad and brother and I think my jaw fell to the floor! I didn't recognize her because I didn't expect to see her here!!!! This was one of my piano students from Maryland that I so painfully said goodbye to a few months ago!!!! THE OLSON FAMILY WAS IN MY WARD!!! I couldn't believe it! Dear friend Amanda was visiting her mother and I just happened to be called to serve in her stake, and we just HAPPENED to walk into the same congregation when they were visiting. Seriously brought me to tears!!!!

Later, during the meeting, little Mary was sitting next to me and she looks at my nametag which says "Sister Tipton" and then under it "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints." She points to it and says, "Now you're a real missionary!!" And I nearly cried again. LOVE that family! I still can't believe that happened!!! We're going over tonight to teach Family Home Evening before they fly home. I love that we can do that!!! 

We live on a mountain. Like a really BIG mountain. We can see the Bountiful temple from pretty much anywhere we go, and it never takes us more than 5 minutes to get to another area. Every morning we go on a walk for exercise... which would seem lame until you realize that we hike up a mountain every day! I am SO tired here, but it is so worth it!!! I love the people that I meet and work with, and it is truly such a joy to help bring a little joy to people every single day. It feels so good to center myself on this one purpose alone - even as it is a little overwhelming at times. 

The other day I was praying and studying the scriptures about receiving revelation. I read a story about a prophet named Nephi who after he prayed and studied the scriptures, and had faith that God would answer, received a huge revelation. In fact the scripture says, "He was taken up into an exceedingly high mountain." When my companion, Sister Haddock, and I studied together I said that I wasn't expecting THAT kind of revelation, but that I hoped I wasn't missing the little things... that it didn't always feel like I was learning anything. And she said, "So you don't feel like you're taken up into an exceedingly high mountain? It's because you're already there!!!" She of course meant literally, but I found that statement to be quite profound as well. Sister Tipton... don't look for things that aren't there, and don't forget where you already are. 

It is so good to hear from you all! I love my life and hope to be able to send pictures soon. :) My address for the next 5 weeks at least is:
Sister Ashley L Tipton
183 S Ridgeview Dr
Bountiful UT 84010

You can send packages and letters there. I don't have much time to email, but I will absolutely respond to every bit of snail mail I receive! 

Thanks for all of your love and support!
Sister Tipton

Monday, August 11, 2014

Not the Same Person

WOW! What a whirlwind of a week! Yesterday (Sunday) I was sitting in a church meeting trying to remember what had happened to the last week. The first few days in the MTC felt so long and overwhelming - each day felt like it was MONTHS long. They were all so great though! We learn SO much great stuff! I wish I could just take the time to write about everything I've been learning, but alas, I cannot. This last week FLEW by! Seriously. I couldn't remember what had happened on any individual day, except that it had been a lot of learning and a lot of growing. 

One statement that we heard on the first day is, "There is no growth in a comfort zone, and no comfort in a growth zone." It's true - it IS uncomfortable at times, but it's so so so worth it! 

So today I'm leaving the MTC. I was actually really sad about this. The kids - the MISSIONARIES - in my district are so great. We spend about 14 hours a day together studying, and we're all about to go forth with new companions and new areas and we won't have that time together anymore. I love my teachers, I love what I've been learning. I just love it here. I could stay forever. These people are going to be lifelong friends though. For sure.

I was thinking about this the other night - how we're leaving soon and how I don't really feel ready. I was thinking about this as I was trying to go to sleep when all of a sudden this very forceful thought entered my head. It said, "Sister Tipton, you are NOT the same person you were 12 days ago." 

Twelve days ago I was terrified. I was nervous as I put on my name badge for the first time. I didn't want to go up to random people to talk to them. Twelve days ago I had been in a "spiritual slump." I hadn't prayed consistently in quite awhile, and I've never gotten into the habit of studying my scriptures every single day. I have to say, THESE THINGS HAVE MADE ME SO HAPPY. Seriously. Opening up and truly communicating with my Father in Heaven. Trusting in Him and studying the scriptures to see what He has to say. Twelve days ago, I wasn't sure if I wanted to serve a mission anymore, but today I am READY. I'm still nervous. But I'm ready. I am bold. I am feeling completely capable of standing as a witness of God, and of doing my best to draw others to Christ. That is my whole purpose in life right now, and it is bringing me incredible joy. I have made new goals in my life so that I can continue to progress. It is SO FUN to grow! It's so fun to realize that you're a little better today than you were yesterday, and to make that goal to be a little better tomorrow than you were today. 

On Saturday in class we had a few moments to walk the halls and appreciate all of the artwork that depicts Christ's life and ministry. We were told to ponder and pray about what Christ means to each of us. I noticed particularly a picture that depicted Peter's denial of Christ the night before His crucifixion. Peter denied Christ three times. In our safe homes when we are separated from this story by 2000 years it is easy to judge Peter... but in that moment I realized that I too have denied Christ many times. Even from just being too shy to share how much He has changed my life. My life has been changed by Christ's atonement. Through Christ I can become a better person. I can have hope and joy and I can be freed from the guilt of sin, as well as the anguish of trials. 

I'll share two more things that I learned. 

One was about the natural man. In the Book of Mormon there is a scripture that states "the natural man is an enemy to God." This basically means that it is in our natures to sometimes rebel against things that are good. One of the leaders of our Church, Elder Bednar, described the 'natural man' as the cookie monster when he exclaims, "I want cookie NOW!" The natural man is selfish and self-centered. Our goal is to shake off, gradually day-by-day, that selfishness and become more Christ-like. Even in Christ's worst moments He was thinking about others. Elder Bednar also explained that the natural man is prideful and boastful. When something goes right, we generally say "Wow! Look how awesome I am! I did that!" But when something goes wrong, what do we say? *pointing to the side* "The woman thou gavest me!" 

It was a hilarious moment. Elder Bednar said that he was only quoting Adam (as in Adam and Eve) Which is true. But we tend to do that too. 

The other thought I want to share can be applied to spiritual growth, but also to any other type of growth. We were preparing to enter the field and had a chance to hear from a Mormon 'celebrity.' There was a missionary reality show filmed a few years ago that is used for training and to help people understand more of what it is like to be a missionary. It is called "The District" and is on (I think so - you can find it online if you're really interested in seeing what I'm doing now.) One of the missionaries on the District - Elder Christensen - taught us last Thursday. He spoke to us about setting goals, and really helped a lot. He spoke about a time a few months ago when he was getting ready to be married. To the best of my memory this is what he said:

"It was about 2 weeks before the wedding, and I decided that I'd like to get in better shape. So I went to the gym one day, and I saw the bench press, and I said, "Bench press, I'm going to press you so good!" And I put about 10 pounds on it, and I was feeling great! So I went home that night, and my arms were a little sore, but I thought 'man, I'm never going to get ready for the wedding at this rate.' So I went back the next day and I thought, 'Well yesterday went so well, I think I'm just going to push myself a bit today.' So I put about 300 pounds on the bench press and I said, "Bench press, I'm going to press you SO GOOD." And I sat down, and I couldn't move the bar.... and it's a GOOD thing that I couldn't move the bar, because I would have been decapitated!" 

It was pretty hilarious, but illustrates the point perfectly. Too often we see where we want to be, or what we want to accomplish, and forget to do that little bit of growth everyday and try to lift 300 pounds in one go. 

So I am not the same person I was twelve days ago. Last night I stood up in front of about 300 missionaries that are leaving for their missions all over the world this week and quoted Joseph Smith's first vision from memory. I've learned. I've grown. I'm ready to go forth and serve!

SLC, here I come! Two hours and counting. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

I Want to Learn it all NOW!

Holy cow the Missionary Training Center (MTC) is INCREDIBLE. I arrived last Wednesday at noon and was immediately paired up with a companion. Her name is Sister Hano (Hey-no) and she is super cute. She is 19 and from Alaska, so I keep teasing her every time she complains about the heat. It's really dry here, so even though it's hot, to me it feels PERFECT.
The MTC is a wonderful little gated community. We have our missionary name badges that identify us as missionaries, as well as a badge with a barcode that gets us into each of the buildings. There are 19 or so... it's pretty much like a nice little college campus. Smaller than Towson. Perhaps the same size as HCC.
Our schedule is pretty insane. The first day or so it felt kind of overwhelming. They don't schedule travel time into the schedule - one class will end at 2pm, and the next class in a building across campus will begin at 2pm. That really stressed me out until I realized that the teachers take it into account - as long as you're not more than a few minutes late. If you're TOO late, then they make you do a "door approach." See, we do a lot of role playing here at the MTC - people take turns as the missionary and as the "investigator" (someone who wants to learn more about the Church) In a door approach our teacher will pretend to be a random citizen, and the tardy missionaries have to knock on the door and introduce themselves and talk to the person to see if they can come in to share a message. I've only seen a pair of missionaries late once. Poor sisters. ;)
We're up by 6:30 (I've been waking up naturally before our alarm at 6:15... I don't know what's up with that, but it feels GREAT to not have an alarm wake me!) And we begin studies in our classrooms at 7. Then breakfast around 8 or so. The rest of the day is packed with classes - our two main classes are taught in one room by two different teachers. The teachers are all young - people who have already completed a successful mission. One teacher is named Brother Roberts. I'm pretty sure he's younger than me, but he's a SOLID teacher and I've learned a lot. Our other teacher is Sister Hutchings - she's 10 months older than me (we discovered this when I pulled her aside to ask for advice on how to be a good mature adult-type leader person to the younger missionaries in my district.) We actually graduated high-school the same year, and I find that pretty hilarious. She is INCREDIBLE. I've learned so much from her about being patient and a stern yet loving leader.
I mentioned the word "district" before. This is a group of 8 missionaries who all came into the MTC at the same time. We have 4 Elders (boy missionaries) and 4 sister missionaries in our district. All of the sisters share one dorm. Of course I'm the oldest. All three of the girls are 19. The elders are all 18 or 19.... sometimes I just need to close my eyes and patiently wait out their antics. ;) After all, half of the missionaries in my district JUST finished high school. All of us but one sister are going to the same mission in Salt Lake City, so it's really great that we'll be able to see and probably serve with each other again. :)
The atmosphere here is SO great. In Mormon lingo I would say that the Spirit is very strong. I kinda don't want to leave the MTC. I have learned more in the last 5 and a half days than I have in the last year. Seriously. Not really about doctrine - the only thing I've had confirmed to me is that the doctrine of the gospel is SIMPLE. Seriously. I could lay it out for you in 30 seconds (I know because we had to do that in one of our classes) But I've learned a lot about how to teach. How to lead. How to develop a true Christ-like love for people. I am growing closer to my Heavenly Father, and changing in ways I never thought possible. I have made so many commitments to myself in the last week, and just trying to remember to take it a step at a time. There is a scripture in the Book of Mormon that talks about learning "line upon line, precept upon precept." I want to learn it all NOW. Ha.
The really cool thing is that there are hundreds - probably thousands - of missionaries here, but it is SO highly organized that you can't really tell. I spend most of my time with my district - those 7 other missionaries. We sometimes have classes with the other districts in our Branch (small congregation - I think there are 4 districts in our Branch right now, so there are only 24 or so members.) But for the most part, it's just the 8 of us. Which is great. I was talking about their youth before, but it's really cool to see how much they are growing and maturing here too. They're really anxious to get out in the field, but I think another week here will help them tremendously.

Ok - some silly things! You may be a Mormon missionary if you quote scriptures and sing hymns with random people in the shower room. You may have been at the MTC too long if you are willing to sniff a tree to see if it smells like Cream Soda (it does.) And that's about all we have time for because we actually study 14 hours a day. The only times we're not in class and studying or practicing teaching (or preparing for a mock or REAL lesson - we have our first lesson with a real life non-member tonight!) are when we are eating or sleeping. Today we had time off this morning to go to the temple and right now we're doing laundry. :) But we have class again right after dinner today. And we still had some study times scheduled into our day. We're busy, but it's awesome. It feels really great to just lose yourself in a good purpose.
Wow this is long! I don't know if I'll always be able to write so much. Hopefully it's cohesive and not too boring. ;) It's hard to describe what we've been doing, but I promise you it has been life changing. I wasn't looking forward to the MTC - I thought it was going to be really tedious - but now that I'm here I'm SO grateful! Oh, and one last thing. You probably noticed that I mentioned "become a better leader." My companion and I were assigned to be Sister Training Leaders here in the MTC. That means that we check up on the welfare of the other sisters in our Branch. We only have the two that we share our dorm with right now, but tomorrow a sister comes in from Tobago that we have to meet and take with us to our evening devotional, and on Wednesday we receive three new sisters! Life is pretty exciting!
Sister Tipton