Sorry my email subject titles are so boring. :)
I'M STILL IN BOUNTIFUL! And I've decided that I'm never ever going to leave. Seriously leaving this place will be the saddest thing ever. The people here are so much like my friends back in the Columbia Stake. When my mission president placed me here he told me that it was going to be a hard area, but I haven't found that to be true. I love it here.
And now I have to say something that I never ever EVER thought I would say. I would move back to Utah. Uhhgh! Excuse me while I choke! :) But seriously. I love Maryland, and that's where my family is so I think I'll stay there for awhile yet. But if Heavenly Father needs me to come back, I absolutely would. In a heartbeat.
At the very least I think I'll be visiting this wretched state more than I thought I ever would. :) You may all commence with "I told you so"s. :)
This week was actually quite hard, but still wonderful. Last Monday when I emailed I was so heartbroken. I wanted nothing more than to go home, to be honest. After a lot of thought I realized that Sister Haddock had become a rock for me out here. It's the weirdest thing ever to be dumped in the field after time at the MTC. You go from being surrounded by 3000 other missionaries, to being alone with you and your companion. The only time we see other missionaries is on preparation days, and at district meetings. We only hear from home once a week, and as much as my wonderful friends have been sending letters and emails, it still broke my heart every Monday to have no emails from my family. So, like it or not, she became my whole support out here in the wilderness. ;) When we found out that she was being transferred I felt like I was totally alone again. It was just as hard to say goodbye to her as it was to my friends and family back home. And on top of her leaving, I suddenly felt the weight of carrying the responsibility for all of the people in this area that we love, and I was terrified that I would forget someone. Actual sobbing. I was seriously despairing. At that moment all I wanted to do was go home.
I had been upset for awhile leading up to transfers too though. We both had a feeling that she might be leaving, and it broke my heart. I was hoping that after she actually left on Tuesday at transfers that I would be okay. My new companion was so nice to me, and it was good in a way that she's coming from an area where she just spent 6 months, and had her last companion for 4 and a half months. She was sad too. By Tuesday night I knew that I had to do something though. I HATE not being able to control my emotions - I understood the point of transfers logically, but I just couldn't embrace them emotionally. I was having a hard time sleeping. It took forever to fall asleep at night and when I did I would wake up again after a few hours and not be able to get back to sleep. On top of that I had no appetite. I was eating at every meal because I know that I'm supposed to, but I wasn't eating very much. I know myself and I knew something was wrong and that I had to do something to regain control of myself. The first two things that came to mind were to get a blessing or to fast. I decided that I would ask Bishop Pierson (the best Bishop ever) when we saw him at our quilting group the next day for a blessing. I thought I might wait a day or so to fast - at least until I was eating normally again. :)
So after quilting we had a conference with Bishop Pierson. We talked about the work in his ward and what he would like us to do. Then I asked him for my blessing. Have I mentioned that he's the best?! In our church every worthy man can hold the Priesthood, which is the authority to act and speak in the name of God. As such they have certain responsibilities in the church which all involve service. One of the acts of service is to give blessing to those in need. A blessing is given to an individual for comfort or for healing and is dependent upon the faith of the person receiving the blessing. The words that are said within are not the words of the man giving the blessing, but they are the words of God to the person being blessed. I have had many blessings since I was baptized nearly 6 years ago, and each one has been individual and precious. When I asked for the blessing he asked simply, "What's going on?" Before long I was sobbing about all of the things that were hard for me in that minute. Some things, like "I just can't control my emotions!" were met with very straightforward responses like "Well yeah, you're a woman." that just made me laugh. Just chatting with him raised my spirits a ton and helped me to remember how capable I am, and also how normal my feelings really are. When I told him that I was worried about forgetting someone he laughed and said something like, "Welcome to the club." I don't know how Bishops do it. Especially when they work full time and usually have families to raise at the same time. Bishop Pierson gave me a blessing - he anointed my head with oil (I didn't know they could do that without a second Priesthood holder) and blessed me with a plethora of blessings, starting with "God knows you, and He knows the things that trouble you and cause you to struggle." I began crying again then, but now they were good tears. :) Among the many blessings I received I was promised that I would be able to be in control my emotions and have the strength to complete my work here.
And I have been.
Transfers were probably one of the hardest things I've done yet. Every missionary's experience is completely different, but since I've been serving and teaching for so long in the church I knew that the work wasn't going to be the thing that was hard for me. And it's not. For me it's leaving the people. But since I received the blessing on Wednesday I have felt SO much better! Even that day I felt lighter - as if a weight had been lifted. Nothing about my situation had changed, but I was better able to bear it. And that's one of the blessings that we receive from Christ's atonement. :)
Anyway. I don't know if that came out as clear as I would have liked. :) I learned so much from that experience but I can't quite verbalize it well. I must say though that I am grateful for trials. We grow so much throughout them. This week has flown by. And we've done a lot of great things!
I need to tell you about Irene Barker! I asked this wonderful woman if I could have permission to write home about her, and she agreed, so we don't need to remove her name this week! Irene is one of the most incredible people that I've met! Her family was the last family that Sister Haddock and I taught together. We taught about the Book of Mormon - what it is and the blessings we are promised from studying it. Usually we use the first paragraph and the last two paragraphs from the Introduction. Read those and test it - I promise that you will receive a testimony of this book! Typically we teach a lesson and then leave a commitment - something for them to do that will strengthen their faith in Christ. With the Book of Mormon it should make sense that we ask them to read from it every day. But, as the Barkers typically are, they said "Oh yeah, we've already started. I read a chapter every day, and we've started studying it as a family too." Seriously, where did these people come from! Heavenly Father has absolutely worked with this family. When Sister Haddock first arrived in this area 6 months ago she was told not to go by this home because the Barkers weren't interested. It's truly incredible how much has changed in the last few months! It's incredible to witness their fire and excitement for the gospel. It has very little to do with me and any talent I may have as a missionary, and it's all about the Savior. They are determined to not return to the lifestyle that they led before and they know and understand that the best way to leave it all behind is to turn their hearts toward Christ.
They are absolutely amazing.
On Thursday Sister Alaiasa and I taught another lesson to the Barkers. This one was a quit smoking program that we teach. It sounds like a gimmick, but it is a 15 step program that helps smokers to rid their body of nicotine and turn off the triggers to grab a cigarette. It's simple things like brushing your teeth after a meal, having healthy snacks handy, and loading up on the Vitamin C. It was developed after lots of study, fasting, and prayer from some Elders serving in Ireland in the '80s. And it's incredible! At that lesson, they admitted that they had already QUIT and were on Day 2 as non-smokers. What?! Who does that?? So we taught the program to help them. :) For half of the steps they said things like, "Oh yeah, we're already doing that." Their kids - 11, 13 and 15 all sat in and have been a great support for their dad and step-mom. We had invited a lot of fellowshippers to learn about what they had to do so they could be a support. So we had a two-doors down neighbor (who is in the Relief Society Presidency), their old home teacher, and the new elders quorum (one of which is their new home teacher.) Each of us arrived in waves though, so they kept getting a knock on the door and laughing each time. :) Finally at the fourth knock the BISHOP walks in. Ha! He actually wasn't planning on being there for this so he left, but we all thought it was hilarious. There were many jokes about the next knock being the Stake President. :) Each time the kids scrambled around trying to find more chairs. It was so fun!
At the end of the lesson the whole family received blessings. Irene and her husband Michael both got healing blessings and were promised that they wouldn't even like the taste of cigarettes anymore. The Spirit in that room was so strong, and it was one of the most incredible things that I have had a chance to witness as a missionary. I am so glad that I'm here now, and I'm so glad to be able to help them! They barely need any help at all - they are speeding down the right road. They have now been smoke free for 6 days. Please keep this wonderful family in your thoughts and prayers.
This week we also had another wonderful experience - we got to see M. Twice!! We finally caught him at home and he agreed to let us come back to teach on Friday! We were teaching this man when I first arrived. He had made some poor choices in his life, but he was really changing. He's a less active so he's been raised in the church. But then after my first few weeks he started cancelling lessons and quit responding to our texts. He had a job that caused him to work on Sundays and so he hadn't been able to go to church. It's crazy how quickly that little choice draws you away. When Sister Haddock and I stopped by a month ago, his mom said that he had relapsed. It was very sad. So when we saw him on Friday he admitted to making bad choices, and that he had gone back to old friends. But he said that he had stopped hanging out with those friends again and was trying to do good things. He's agreed to let us come by and teach him lessons, and to have people over to read the scriptures with him once a week! I'm so excited. Definitely pray for this man!
Okay, so SUNDAY. Sunday's are our craziest days ever!! I somehow managed to guide my new companion through our routine, and to not forget anything. Sister Haddock and I had scheduled a musical number in one of our wards, even though we told the ward that one of us might leave before then. This ward just happens to be the ward that Jon Schmidt goes to. ;) Sister Haddock and I had so many fan girl times and we were so looking forward to playing in that ward; it seriously broke my heart when I had to start thinking about what I was going to play without her. I was able to find a violin player from another ward who played a Celtic Hymn Medley with me (If you could hie to Kolob and Adam Ondi Ahman.) And honestly, I was kinda glad that Brother Schmidt was gone - touring Europe with his mad piano playing skills. :) I was less nervous for one thing, and for another - that was supposed to be mine and Sister Haddock's thing. So it hurt less too. :) Even though we only had a day of practice, we did a pretty good job. And we kept getting compliments!! THAT meant a lot, to get compliments on my piano playing in a ward with such talented musicians. (Jon Schmidt isn't the only one! He's just the only famous one... ;) My favorite was from Sister Schmidt! She told me that I am a very accomplished pianist! Seriously?! I mucked it up and said something like, "Well, not as good as your husband" which she actually couldn't deny. So I texted later and said something like 'I'm working on accepting compliments, and what I meant to say is that it means a lot to hear you say that I play well when you're so used to hearing such wonderful music! So thank you!' She replied with, "You are so welcome and you deserved the compliment, so drink it in and give thanks!!!" Seriously, that made my life. :)
My companion wasn't feeling well yesterday, so she napped during lunch while I prepared a Gospel Principles lesson that we were teaching at the 8th (mid-singles) ward. They had a non-member from China attending church for the first time and wanted a class that would be simple and straightforward enough for her. (Um. WHY is it so dang hard to have a simple Gospel Principles lesson?! If you want to delve deeper or talk about more obscure things, go to Gospel Doctrine! Sheesh!!) I was suddenly SO grateful for the year and a half that I taught Relief Society... and for all of those times that I procrastinated to the point of preparing a lesson the same day that I taught. ;) It definitely made this experience much more fun and less stressful! :) So I taught the lesson, and we had a great discussion - about 10 people had been invited to this class so that the Chinese woman wouldn't feel singled out. The points were simple, but the discussion powerful. The Spirit was strong in that class, and nearly every single class member thanked me sincerely as they left. Saying things like "That was a REALLY good lesson!" And "Well planned! Well done!" I didn't do much - other than follow the manual, follow the Spirit, keep it simple and ask questions. :) But I was grateful for the compliments all the same.
Once I finally stopped moving yesterday the stress and burden that I had been carrying all day finally hit me. I took Bishop Pierson up on his offer to text him any time I needed - even if it was late at night. He's such a good man. Really, have I mentioned that he's the best? :) He told me things like, "You always struck me as really confident" and "You know, you really are doing a great job." I like that he noticed. He's so Christlike! Sometimes it feels like there is so much to be done and that there's just not enough of me... it's good to remember that Christ - and the leaders here in Utah - don't expect me to run faster than I have strength.
I love Bountiful Heights. Best place ever. :)
This morning I studied the exact scripture that I needed today. Alma 26. This chapter is all about Ammon rejoicing in his God. From the moment I read it today, for the first time in a few weeks, I feel like my heart is singing with joy! Among all of the praises that he sings, and the discussion of the trials that he has faced and overcome with the help of the Lord, he says "Who can glory too much in the Lord?" I laughed out loud. Really, we cannot praise God enough! He HAS been so good to me! I've realized now that though serving a mission was never in my plans, and though a big part of me really didn't want to come, that I LOVE IT here. I wouldn't trade these experiences for the world. I am so glad that His wisdom is so much greater than my own!
"Now have we not reason to rejoice? Yea, I say unto you, there never were men that had so great reason to rejoice as we, since the world began; yea, and my joy is carried away, even unto boasting in my God; for he has all power, all wisdom, and all understanding; he comprehendeth all things, and he is a merciful Being, even unto salvation, to those who will repent and believe on his name." Alma 26:35
I love you all. I am sorry friends that I am not a better individual letter writer. I so appreciate all of your love and support though. It means the world to me each time I receive a letter or email. I love you dearly, have a great week.
PS - I can't believe that I learned to love Utah! What is WRONG with me?!? ;)
PPS - Here is a picture of me and my new companion! Her name is Sister Alaiasa (Ah-lie, ah-sah) And she is from Hawaii. She is part Samoan and part Maori. So even though she was raised in Hawaii she has a cool New Zealand accent that I tease her for. :) Just this last week I helped teach her how to properly pronounce the letter 'z'. :D She kept saying it "zet" It was really hilarious when she learned this though. We have leaders that are called "zone leaders" but that we usually call "ZL's." She's been on a mission for a year, and thought that everyone was calling them "CL's" all this time!! Hilarious! She and I have good times... and we have a tendency to stay up talking too late. I miss Sister Haddock, but Sister Alaiasa is awesome too. :)
And just to rub Sister Alaiasa - this picture is in front of an American flag! :D She likes to pretend that she's not American... hahahaha, silly girl. :)
We did a service project on Saturday morning where we went around with the youth from one of the wards and raked as many lawns as possible! (It's so cute how few leaves they have here... ;) We loaded the leaves into a trailer, and then all climbed in to crunch down the leaves and drive to the next location (since we're, you know, on a MOUNTAIN, and it would be too hard to hike up and down the roads when we can drive there in a minute. ;) If you know Utah, we started on the houses just below the 'B' and worked our way down. It was super fun!!! The Spanish sister missionaries in our area came to help as well. :)