Monday, June 24, 2013

As a Little Child

Hello family and friends!

Guess who is really excited to write this email?? This missionary!! This missionary is a happy one. Strangest. Week. Ever. The whole week Sister Paxton and I were really struggling because our area is so dead. And then, all of a sudden, everything started turning around. This week turned out to be really good! There's so much to tell! I'm excited about this. =D
But first some pieces of random information. Do you know what I heard all the time around BYU campus, but never thought I would hear in Tennessee? "You're Chelise's sister!!" Yeah, that actually happened. I ran into one of Chelise's high school classmates. Crazy, right? Even on the other side of the country, people still recognize me as Chelise's sister. It was prety funny.
Also, (take note Riss) I ran into Atkin's MTC teacher out here. We had dinner with a couple members last night (the Krumwiedes) and he said he served in Albania. I asked him if he knew Atkin and he said he taught him in the MTC! Small world. I'm feeling this six degrees of separation thing.
Speaking of six degrees of separation, there were some members in my last area, the Cardalls, who are from Alpine. I think they're going to be visiting Utah pretty soon and asked me if they could drop by and see y'all. I gave them our home phone # and address, so you should totally meet them! They are the cutest family ever. I loved their whole family to pieces. Still do.
Also, I have to tell you about this crazy southern food I ate last night. I don't actually know if it originated in the South. But it tasted southern. I had beef wellington for the first time. It was steak, smothered in mustard and mushroom puree, wrapped in ham, and baked in a giant biscuit. My arteries started clogging just learning about what it was. But it was probably the tastiest thing I've had out here, aside from barbecue pork. That takes the cake. Southern food is so good! All y'all should be jealous. Go ahead. Be jealous.
I s'pose it's time now to tell y'all about my week! It was good. :) I guess I'll start with Monday. We actually didn't end up tabling. I would probably fall on my face anyway . . . we went to play basketball with the elders. And by "play basketball" I mean sit on the sidelines and write letters with the other sisters and injured elders while watching other elders practically murder eachother out on the court. It was good fun! We also had cake. Shaped like a temple. Bonus!
Tuesday was pretty slow. We had a lot of appointments fall through and we were feeling a little discouraged. So we tracted our guts out. Guess who is getting missionary tan lines?? I have a stripe across my feet from my shoes. And a farmers tan where my blouses sit on my shoulders and neck. It's pretty endearing, if you ask me. Also, if you were wondering, it's really hot here. I like people who offer us water bottles. Those people get extra prayers.
Wednesday was really good! We picked up an investigator that the previous sisters were working with. She had been going through some family trouble and wasn't able to meet with them. We found her records in the area book and dropped by her home. Oh my heavens. She is golden!! I have never seen someone so hungry for the Gospel. She was asking all the right questions and drinking everything in. She desperately wants to know what God's plan is for her, and she feels a little empty. She knows God wants her to do something, but she can't connect with it. Sister Paxton and I are so excited to teach her! Her name is Sylvia, and she is incredible. We taught her a little bit of the Restoration and Plan of Salvation, and she soaked it in like a sponge. We're going to go back and finish teaching her both lessons this week, and we are way excited! It's investigators like Sylvia that help me experience the joy that is missionary work.
Right after Sylvia's lesson we went to teach Cheryl. Cheryl is so ready to be baptized. She wants to be baptized, she wants to be sealed to her family, she wants this Gospel in her life so desperately. Still waiting on her husband. He's starting to warm up; he has been asking more questions and has been going to more ward functions. Our goal this week is to get them to church! That would be so good for both of them. They are in our prayers!
Thursday was so unbelievably slow. Probably our slowest day. Sadly, we were actually on a power-up. Instead of doing exchanges, one of the Sister Training Leaders (Zone leaders, but female) will join us for the day. Poor Sister Malloy caught us on our slowest day of the week, so she got to tract with us. All. Day. All our appointments, including dinner, fell through. I felt bad for her. But as a Sister Training Leader she probably sees this a lot. She should have come with us FridayFriday rocked. Something good did come out of Thursday though! We were driving around Thursday evening to meet potential investigators, and we met Alice! Alice is a really sweet, open-minded woman who happily invited us in when we asked if we could pray with her. We shared the prayer, taught a little about our message, and she invited us back! She even scheduled us on a day when she knew she would have family in town, so we can teach all of them! That 20 minute encounter made the hours of tracting more than perfectly worth it. That's how missionary work goes. You'll have days that seem to drag on forever and nothing seems to happen, and then in a short span of time, you will see a miracle that will make your entire week. It rocks.
Friday morning did not rock. Both Sister Paxton and I were really pumped in the morning; we felt like it was going to be a great day. By dinner time, we were at an all-time low. It was so discouraging. No one wanted to talk with us. We couldn't find anyone to teach. We had no appointments. Those days are hard on a missionary. But, when the going gets rough, you just need to keep pushing on! And that's what we did. Our day did a complete 180 after dinner. We teamed up with a returned missionary in our ward and went to teach some new investigators we tracted into last week, Haney and George. Haney and George are from South America, and they primarily speak Spanish, but luckily their English is good enough to communicate clearly. Sister Paxton, Sister Avery (the returned missionary) and I taught them the Restoration, and it was so powerful. It felt different. The Spirit was so strong in this lesson, and Sister Paxton and I clicked. I've never been able to click so well in teaching style; it comes naturally with Sister Paxton. We naturally teach in unity; I've never seen anything like it. Haney and George both said they believed that it could possibly be true, and we offered them both a copy of the Book of Mormon as a way to find out. They said they would read, and they want to come to church! Happy missionaries. That was one of the best lessons I've taught out here. I love those!
Right after that lesson, the three of us taught the Restoration to Chris. We tracted into Chris last week as well, and he invited us back. He has a strong Catholic background, so this lesson was a little more difficult. However, the Spirit was really strong, and he accepted a copy of the Book of Mormon and said he would read it. He didn't seem to have any objections to what we taught him, which surprised us a little, due to his Catholic background. We don't know if he will want any return visits, but we'll keep working with him and see if we can help him progress. I could feel the Spirit working on him as we were teaching him. Once again, we taught the Restoration in a way that was so different from any other way that I've taught it. The words just came. It's so interesting to see that when you truly listen to the investigator without thinking about what you'll say next, and then open your mouth, the words just flow. Then after the lesson, you can't remember anything you said. It's the neatest experience, feeling the Spirit speaking through you. I just love being a missionary!
Ok. Saturday. Rocked. First, I got a call from Sister Mortensen, which totally made my day, because I've missed her so much! She called to tell me that Curtis was going to be baptized Sunday!! AND his sister, Courtney, was going to be baptized too!! That one threw me a little. I had met Courtney, but I didn't think she was interested in learning from the missionaries. Sister Mortensen said it was a complete miracle; Courtney sat in on a lesson and actually asked the missionaries when she could be baptized. Curtis and Courtney were baptized yesterday! I'm so happy for them! It's good to hear that my beloved Pleasant Ridge North area is still thriving. I knew it would, with Sister Mortensen there. I'm so happy for her! The Church is true!!
Saturday morning we finally had a lesson with Antoin again. He is a rock star. So, he has a huge smoking problem. He couldn't go an hour without smoking two or three cigarettes. But when we taught him Saturday, his ash tray was practically empty! We haven't even taught him the Word of Wisdom yet, but he's trying to quit! I think he felt bad for smoking in front of us, so he actually burned incense so his apartment would smell nicer when we came by. He has such a good heart.  We're so proud of him! We finished teaching him the Plan of Salvation, and then we took him on a tour of our church building. I think that helped him feel a lot more comfortable with the idea of coming to Church. Hopefully we can get him there next week! Fingers crossed!!
So you're probably wondering about the title. I think a lot about Christ's admonition to "become as a little child." I have learned so much from the children out here, as I have been on my mission. I wish that all people would embrace us as much as the children do. They are so pure, open-hearted, and easy to be entreated. It has been interesting to see how some children will recognize us immediately as servants of the Lord, and sources of help and guidance. I'm reminded of Crystal's little girls when they wrote us a note, thanking us for helping their mom. There was also a time when Sister Mortensen and I were tracting, and we found a single mom with two adorable little boys. Her little boys invited us in immediately. They wanted us to come see their bedroom and see their pet turtle. They invited us back immediately as well, and said we could come over at any time. If only the adults were like that! I've seen that over and over. The children will invite us in, but the parents are hesitant. If only all adults could recognize us as the children do. And I have to say, I absoltely adore the kids in this area. There are so many kids in this ward who are already friends with me and Sister Paxton. Kids are the best.
I bring this up because Sister Paxton and I experienced a little miracle Saturday night. We had an appointment with a less-active family, but when we showed up, they weren't home. There was a group of about 6 black kids, ranging from about 4-12, playing together in the parking lot. All of them came up to us and told Sister Paxton that she looked famous. It was the cutest thing! They immediately clung to us and said we could come over to their house sometime. At first we were like, "yeah, maybe someday." But then we realized we had no appointments and nothing to do. So we took them up on their offer. We went up to their door and got permission from their father to meet with his family for a moment. He happily invited us in, and we sat down with his kids (a couple of them were actually his nieces and nephews) and talked about Christ. That's when his wife came home, and she sat down and started listening too! They have a baptist background, so we agreed with the kids that if they sang us a song they learned from their church, we would sing them a song from ours. We sang I am a Child of God and they sang Jesus Loves Me. It was the cutest thing I've ever seen. Ever. We taught their whole family a little bit about the Book of Mormon, and every single one of them wanted a copy! Including the parents! The parents are open to learning more; they are so humble and open-hearted. We're going back to see them tonight! Sister Paxton and I just about died of happiness as we went back to the apartment. We found a family!!!!!! Happy. Missionaries.
Sunday was so good. We had an incredible lesson in Gospel Principles about parenthood. I loved the analogy that came up. Children strive to become like their parents, and good parents will love, encourage, and guide children to reach their full potential. But children make mistakes. They're still learning. When they're learning to walk, they will stumble and fall. Will a good parent ever frown upon a stumbling child? No! Compared to the glory and knowledge of our Father in Heaven, we are like children learning to walk. We will fall. A lot. But will God ever scold us for falling short?  He knows we're learning. He knows we're imperfect. He's not ever going to tell us to stop trying. The real problem hits when the child doesn't get back up. How will a child ever learn to walk if he refuses to get back up after falling? So it is with us. If we fall short and refuse to try again, how can we ever progress to become like our Father in Heaven? Satan would have us define ourselves by our failure. God would have us define ourselves by our little successes, each and every day. As parents cheer for their child with every small step, our Father in Heaven rejoices in every step we take that brings us closer to Him. We fall short. We're imperfect. We make mistakes. But Christ's atonement allows us to get back up. Some of us have weaknesses beyond our natural capacity to overcome. Some of us would think that it's impossible to get back up. Ether 12:27 tells us that we are given weaknesses to humble us. Our weaknesses allow us to become as a little child. Because when we learn that we are weak and cannot do it alone, we become submissive to our Father's help. We learn that we must turn to Christ and rely on His atonement. That is what allows us to develop faith and trust in Him. God does not set us up to fail and wait to punish us. He gives us weaknesses as a way for us to rely on Him. Christ's atonement fills the gap between us and our loving Father created by our weaknesses. And as we turn to Christ, we grow that much stronger. Paul himself glories in weaknesses and tribulations. I love, love, love the scripture in 2nd Corinthians 12:9. I came across this scripture in a moment of frustration, when I was asking, "Why weaknesses? Why are things holding me back from my potential?" Paul asked the same question. He asked God three times to remove the "thorn in [his] flesh." But God replies, "my grace is sufficient for thee." God's grace is sufficient. When we do all we can to access the Atonement of Christ, our weaknesses can be turned into strengths.
Well family, that is all I have for y'all for now. I hope you all know how much I love my mission. I am a very happy missionary. Not all day every day, but there are still reasons to find joy in every footstep. I know that God lives, and that this is His true Church. I am so excited to be a missionary at this incredible time when God is hastening His work. I would encourage all of you who didn't see the fireside to go back and watch it. The members are a critical part to the work! Pray for missionary opportunities and I promise you will find them. And you will be able to feel a happiness and joy beyond comprehension. It's not just reserved for us young folk with the name tags! All of us can feel the happiness and joy that comes from missionary work. So go tell your friends the good news!! I love all of you! Thank you for your prayers and support!! Until next week!
-Sister Fox

Monday, June 17, 2013

Mind and Heart

Family! Friends! Awesome followers of my blog that make me feel validated!
Hello, there! This is Sister Fox, after another *mostly* fantastic week in good ol' Tennessee. I'll get to that later. I really did have an enjoyable week, and we got so much work done! The area is picking up, and slowly but surely, the work is moving in West Hills North!
But before I get to that, I have a very strange request. First one to send me the science behind the firefly gets a box of candy shipped to them. Sister Paxton and I love them! It's firefly season, and they're everywhere! They're super cool up close; we were admiring a few just the other night. We were wondering how they actually light up. Are they generating electricity? What makes them glow? First one to answer, as I said, gets a box of candy. I'm a poor missionary, so the bribe doesn't get much better than that. That's all I've got. Plus, when we got to West Hills North, we found our cupboards completely packed with candy. And neither of us want it. So it's going home in boxes.
This email may sound a bit scattered as well. It's amazing what missionary work does to your brain. All the days blend together, and your brain is constantly going, but sometimes not generating much. The wheel is still spinning but the hamster's gone, you know what I mean (That's a saying I learned from a ward member. It's a keeper!)? I'll try to make this letter make as much sense as possible though. I'm just really happy it's P-day. I am physically and mentally exhausted, especially after this week.  I'll tell y'all all about it!
Last p-day was the first p-day I actually had time to sit back, write letters, and take a nap. It was so fantastic. Today we're meeting up with the elders to do some basketball. And maybe some tabeling?  Elder Sprague is a rock climber too. And the way he gets over his climbing cravings is to climb underneath tables from one end of the table to the other end without hitting the floor. We'll see how that goes. One thing y'all should know about missionaries: we're really easily entertained. And we do weird things.
Tuesday we met with two investigators on very opposite ends of the conversion spectrum. Oh heavens. First we met with Antoin (Antwan?), who is so solid! We brought him a Book of Mormon, and he got so excited to read it! He generally doesn't like reading, but he says he feels different when he reads the Book of Mormon. He prays for understanding and he just gets it. He knows that it's true. What a rock star. We taught him the Restoration and he agreed with every word. We invited him to be baptized and he accepted! He's not quite ready to set an official date yet, but we'll keep working with him. He's awesome! He can't quite explain it, but he can feel of the truth of the Book of Mormon. He accepts what he feels and he wants to follow that.
And then a few hours later we met with Scott. Oh Scott. It was probably the most irritating lesson I have ever had with an investigator. He's actually not much of an investigator. He invited us back for the sole purpose of converting us to his Baptist faith. People do that sometimes. I don't like it. But I try to be patient with them and help them all the same. He was a bit beyond help, though. We tried to teach him the Restoration, but we could barely get a word in, because he would cut us off mid-sentence all the time and question/contradict with everything we said. Yeup, my first real lesson with a bible basher. A bible basher who said he wasn't familiar with the bible. But he studied the book of Galatians really heavily before we showed up, and tried for over an hour to convince us that man is saved by faith alone. One thing I learned about bible bashers, they won't listen to reason. You can say what you want to refute, but they will always think of something to say in return, even if it makes no sense. We pulled out the verse "faith without works is dead," and he said Paul trumps James because Paul was so much . . . better. And then after expressing desire to learn more about the Book of Mormon, we tried to teach him more, and then he expressed that he would never, ever believe in the divinity of the Book of Mormon. Open-minded, right? I realized we were slowly falling into the "bible bashing" trap, and I didn't want to sit and argue, and every time I tried to bear testimony he cut me off, so for the next 30 minutes I tried to get out of there, but he would not stop talking about how only the most ignorant of people could read the Bible and believe that man isn't saved by faith alone. And that there is no right church, "the church is in your heart." And God doesn't speak to prophets anymore because he doesn't need to. Christ atoned for our sins, we're all saved. All we have to do is believe he'll save us and we're fine. After that he kicked us out of his house before we could say anything, because the "head of the house gets the final word." That went well.
The next day we met with Daniel. He is kind of like Scott. But . . . a little more open-minded. Cuz he let us talk. He used a lot of the same arguments that Scott used. But this time, we were prepared to bear pure testimony instead of going head to head with doctrine. Because the Spirit is the converting agent. If the Spirit isn't there, it's man for man, and we are left alone. "Brett, I had a class!! Oceanology!!!" "Oceanography!!!!" Yeah. Super productive.
With Daniel, the Spirit was there, but not all the way. What's interesting about Daniel is that he is so rooted in logic. He doesn't trust how he feels, or in emotions. He doesn't believe you can feel truth; you can only know truth. FAAAAAAAAACCCCCCCCCCCCCCTTTTTTTTT. So getting him to read and pray about the Book of Mormon to find out if it's true didn't stick with him. He has studied the bible all his life. He knows its origins, he has a whole timeline set out, and he calcuated the chance that it could be false and came out with an actual percentage. He's a scholar. He really clicked with Sister Paxton, but I didn't click with him at all. He said he saw a spark in her, and that's why he invited us back. Well, at first, I was kind of offended. I wondered why he didn't see the "spark of Christ" in me that he saw in her. But as Sister Paxton and I were talking later, I came to learn that she clicked with him because she's a lot like him. She tried to come to know of the truth of the Book of Mormon through intensive study. She studied it from an academic perspective and dove into the doctrine to learn that it was true. She doesn't trust feelings nearly as much as she trusts logic and fact. Daniel called her a "seeker." I, on the other hand, trust more in emotion than logic and fact. I came to know of the truth of the Book of Mormon through feeling. I didn't have to know it from cover to cover or be able to map out the story before I knew it was true. I could read it and feel of the mighty truths there. Daniel called me a "revealer." Kinda weird. But  So together, we make a very interesting team, but a pretty strong one, if I do say so myself. I get irritated when investigators demand facts, logic, and intensive study. She gets irritated when investigators say they know before they've read the entire book. So together, we can click with just about any investigator. And after thinking about which way is a better way to come to learn the truth, I realized the error lies at the extremes. The strongest conversion, in my opinion, comes through both study and feeling. Study it out in your mind, ask God if it's true, and pay attention to the feelings in your heart.  The Holy Ghost, according to D&C 8:2, bears witness to both the mind and the heart, but it dwells in your heart. The heart is where conversion occurs, because conversion is the desire to align your heart with God's will. When the mind and heart are unified, testimonies grow stronger. You have to trust in what you can understand with your mind. You should look at logic and facts. But they will still leave a gap that only faith can fill. God will not prove His existence through fact alone because there would be no room for faith. Our trust in Him fills the gap that logic cannot fill. And when we choose to fill that gap with trust and take a leap of faith, our testimony grows so much stronger.
I would actually love to hear y'alls thoughts on the subject. Please and thank you!
Do you know what chapter defined this week? 2nd Nephi 29. Do you know what I learned? It's really hard to refute their beliefs based on evidence and scripture. Because they won't listen. A missionary doesn't do the converting. A missionary creates an environment where the conversion process can occur. Missionaries invite the Spirit through bearing pure testimony and allow the Spirit to speak through them to touch the hearts of others. And that's pretty difficult when the people you're trying to teach keep cutting you off with, "A Bible! A Bible! We've got a Bible! And there cannot be any more Bible!" They refuse to even look at the Book of Mormon. They pull *evidence* out of the bible that disproves the divinity of any other book of scripture. And they don't trust in Moroni's promise because they don't trust how they feel. They feel comfortable with what they know and won't connect with how they feel. And when someone's heart is so closed off to the Spirit, even though it's hard to give up on someone, you just have to leave. A heart that refuses to be touched is a heart that needs to be left alone until it's ready to be touched. And that was the hardest thing for me to learn as a missionary. We can't touch everyone. But there are people who are ready, and we need to spend all our time and energy finding and teaching them.  I'll be honest with all y'all, the Bible Belt is a hard place to serve a mission. But I am learning a ton! I've experienced a lot of growth out here, and my testimony has grown exponentially. I thought my testimony was strong before I served a mission, but I had no idea of its potential until I came out here. It's cool how that happens.
So, where was I? That was all Tuesday and Wednesday. Daniel said he'd read the Book of Mormon by the way. So that was pretty cool. Scott didn't. We gave him one anyway. Maybe one day, Scott. Anyway. Thursday. Good news: I experienced my first tornado warning (that means a tornado has actually been spotted). Bad news: I didn't actually get to see said tornado. More bad news: we had to stay inside ALL DAY. So we didn't get much done. Friday was better though. Our schedule randomly exploded, and we filled our day with appointments. We also met a new investigator, Michelle! The elders helped her move in and she is currently church shopping. We're meeting up with her this week! Pray it goes well! I don't remember what happened on Saturday. Two days ago. That's missionary work for ya. I'm sure it was a good day.
Yesterday was awesome!! So, Sister Paxton and I have stubbornness issues when it comes to goals. We set a goal to have 20 other lessons, and we got 29 last week. The Elders challenged us to get 30 this week. Well, we were at 29 again last night with 5 minutes left to go before we had to turn our numbers in. So what did Sister Paxton and I do? We literally sprinted from house to house trying to find someone to teach. We asked everyone we could to pray with us, to no avail. We almost got this young couple to listen, but they turned us down. Blessing in disguise!!! With 60 seconds left, we knocked on our final door. That's how we met Kathy. She is such a sweetheart. She happily agreed to pray with us and told us her family has been going through some hard times. We prayed with her for her family, and she invited us back to teach her more!! We got a new investigator!! It just goes to show that if you set goals through revelation by the Spirit, and you put enough faith, prayer, and diligence into it, the Lord will help you accomplish what you have set out to do. After that experience we happily submitted our numbers to the elders. =D
So . . . yeah. That's my novel. Hope y'all enjoyed it. I also wanted to wish you all a belated Happy Fathers' Day! My Fathers' Day wasn't all that great until the experience we had in the evening, so that made it a very happy Fathers' Day! Rest assured. :)
Thank you all so much for your letters! I love them so much! They help me hear y'alls voices and I feel just a little closer to home. Even if it's just a couple paragraphs, I would love to keep hearing from y'all! Thank you so so much also for your prayers and support. I can feel it every day, and it makes all the difference. Love y'all so much! Until next week!
-Sister Fox

Thursday, June 13, 2013

How to Train your Golden

Hello friends and family!

Well, here I am in the West Hills North area. I am probably 10 minutes from my last area, so it's kind of weird. But I'm still in a completely different zone, so I will be seeing a lot of new faces. This email may sound a little scattered, because the stress that comes from training, transfers, and whitewashing kind of makes all the days blend together. It was a really good week though! So this is gonna be good.
Monday and Tuesday were spent saying goodbye to some of my favorite people in the universe. It was super hard to say goodbye to Larry and Marlene. I would say they were probably the hardest. They have become my second set of parents, and I have grown so attached to their family. I am so excited to come back and visit though! It will happen. And it will be fantastic. :)
Tuesday we had an awesome lesson with Patrick. It had been a couple weeks since we had seen him, but we were able to go over the first half of the Plan of Salvation. I loved seeing his face light up as we testified of the peace and the healing that can come through Christ's atonement. He wants change in his life so badly. He had actually been praying 3-4 days before we showed up. He said he felt stuck in his life and had no idea what to do. He wanted guidance. Just a few days later, guess who knocked on his door?? Coincidence? I think not!! We also committed him to be baptized! It'll be sad to miss that one. I have absolute confidence that Sister Mortensen will do a great job seeing that through, though.
Wednesday we got up early and headed to our leadership training meeting at 8:00 am. There we learned principles of effective training and then we were assigned to our "goldens." You may be wondering why we call them Goldens. Well, the term "greenie" is a bit derogatory. And these new missionaries truly are Golden. They are fresh out of the MTC, with fresh views and ideas on missionary work, and they are so ready to do the Lord's work. I was actually slightly terrified of training, but my fears vanished when Sister Paxton stood up with a huge grin on her face and immediately started talking about how excited she was that I was her trainer. Who am I kidding? I don't need to train Sister Paxton; she came pre-trained! It has only been a few days, but I feel like she's training me more than I'm training her. She is super enthusiastic about the work, and she is a really hard worker. I never thought I would have a missionary beg me to go out and proselyte. It's true; it happened! Every Thursday after transfers we have a Zone Meeting, and that is followed by an hour long activity. She didn't want to stay for the activity; she just wanted to get out and work! So we left early and went to work. She reminds me of Elder Calhoun from Best Two Years, minus the nerdiness. She came out ready to go! And it has been go-go-go ever since.
I just love Sister Paxton! She's super cute. And she looks exactly like Anne Hathaway. If you don't believe me, look at the picture of us on the mission blog. True story. It's amazing how alike we are! For example, we both love peanut butter. I kid you not; we have 4 jars that each serve a different purpose. She has one she eats out of with a spoon, and so do I. Then we have one jar that we share when we make sandwiches. And then we have a backup jar for our sandwich jar when that runs out. Yeup. That's the life.
Wednesday afternoon through today is all kind of a blur. We have been doing a TON of tracting. West Hills North is a beautiful area and has an incredible ward. I have never seen a ward that is so focused on missionary work. We are fed every night and members come out and work with us every day. The only problem is . . .no investigators. You win some, you lose some. No area is perfect I guess. It was a hard transition to go from my last area, where we had 4 baptismal commitments and about 10 investigators, to this area, that has 1 progressing investigator. But! That's what we're here for! Sister Paxton and I are bound and determined to pick this area back up, and we have been tracting pretty much all day to pick up new investigators. We've met quite a few people with a lot of potential, so we are hoping to get the ball rolling! It kind of feels like being back in square one all over again, but we're excited to see the miracles that will occur here. It'll pick up, I just know it will!
But, as I said, we have one progressing investigator, and she is absolutely golden. Her name is Cheryl, and she originally came in contact with the church because of a school project. She wanted to learn more about the LDS church to help her with her research, but then she started gaining a testimony of its truth. She has been reading the Book of Mormon and is pretty much on board for baptism. She really wants this. The trick is getting her husband on board. He is a great man with an open mind, but his family is strong in the Catholic faith, and he's afraid of upsetting them. But once we get him on board, Cheryl will happily be baptized. Prayers on her and her husband's behalf will be much appreciated!!
Saturday Sister Paxton and I were on fire. We tracted for 2 1/2 hours straight in the hot Tennessee sun. But, it was so productive! We picked up 3 new investigators, and we're hoping these ones will really progress. Sometimes it's hard to tell what their commitment is when you first meet them, but we're hoping their doors are still open to us!
Poor Sister Paxton had to experience her first bible basher though. It was only her second day! That kind of surprised me, because it took me 3 transfers to meet my first bible basher. This one was a lot more cordial than the last one, though. These people are just funny. They always quote that same scripture in Revelations. Yes, that one. And no matter what you say to refute it, they'll ignore your rebuttal and throw something else at you, sometimes entirely unrelated. But, as we all know, the spirit of contention is not of Christ, but is of the adversary. So, instead of arguing, we testify. Which, I have seen, just makes these people angry. Go figure. Some hearts aren't ready, and some simply cannot be convinced. But it makes me all the more happy when I meet a heart that's open and ready. That seems to have happened a few times this week, and we're excited to teach those who have been prepared to receive the Gospel. Some people give you a hard time, some people give you an easy time, but all of it is a joyful experience when you keep your purpose in mind, and that is to invite others to access the Atonement of Jesus Christ. As long as we are doing God's work, we are happy. Missionary work is so hard, beyond what words can describe. But it is the most fulfilling thing I have ever done, and a decision I will never regret.
Chapter of the week is Moroni 7. I feel like it's really fitting when talking about those who judge us and refuse to listen because they think we're children of the devil. This chapter outlines perfectly the righteous way to judge. If it invites us to do good and to love God, it is inspired of God. Plain and simple. I think this is a great outline to go by when we have to make judgments about anything or anyone. It's not about where "the line" is. It's about who is making the offer. Take media for example. There are some perfectly good movies out there that are tainted by a few select scenes and words. But the rest of the movie is good. Does that make it justifiable to watch? Does it invite us to do good and to love God? Who is offering us this material? Is God offering it to us? Or the Adversary? How do we know? By the fruit. Food for thought. :)
So many people will believe the Adversary is the one offering them the Book of Mormon. It's crazy what kind of rumors spread out here, and how repulsed some people are when they see us carrying the Book of Mormon around. But the way for them to know who offers it is to experience how the Book of Mormon can bring them closer to Christ. That is what marks us as representatives of Jesus Christ; our desire to help others draw closer to Christ as well as our own desires to draw closer to Him. If you want to draw closer to Him, lay hold upon every good thing, and you will find His presence stronger in your lives. That's a promise.
The second half of the chapter about how faith, hope, and charity all relate is also inspiring. That chapter tells us step by step how to strengthen our faith and increase our hope. It's one of my favorites! That's going on the memorization list. After I finish Moroni 10. :)
Well family and friends, I guess it's time to close this letter. This one seems a little shorter. But like I said before, this week was a complete blur. It was really good though! The initial stress of training and whitewashing has pretty much dissipated, and now we're doing all we can to pick this area up. I love my companion, I love this ward, and I love this area. So no need to worry; I am happy and well! I love you all so much, and I appreciate your support, your letters, and your prayers. I hope y'all have an excellent week, and know I am always praying for all y'all!
Much love,
-Sister Fox

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Farewell to Clinton

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Family and Friends, ALOHA!

Actually I am not in Hawaii. But I figured it would be appropriate to begin with a Hawaiian greeting. You know. For kicks. Bet all y'all it's hotter here than in Hawaii.
Oh my heavens!! My third transfer is finished? What the deuce?? That was the fastest six weeks of my life! I feel like Sister Mortensen and I just got started! I'm kind of sad to see it end. Sister Mortensen and I, if you haven't been able to tell already, have become super close friends. I will miss her lots. Luckily we're going to the same university when we get home, so we can move into the same apartment complex!! But that's a little while down the road. I still have lots to do here.
Yes everyone, I am getting transferred. I had mixed emotions when that call came. I have been feeling for the past couple weeks that my time here is up, and I have touched the lives that I have needed to. It'll be hard leaving these people behind, especially before seeing them enter into the waters of baptism. I'll miss Caitlin's, Kathy's, Emma's, and Curtis's baptisms, but I'll rest easy knowing that they are in good hands. Sister Mortensen and her trainee (yeup, she's training!) will take good care of Clinton and all the people that I love here. It'll just be sad to leave them. Larry, Marlene, Marty, Travis, Sheila, Shane, Caitlin, Kathy, Jerry, and so many others here have taught me so much and have changed my life for the better. Serving a mission is such a tremendous blessing, because you are able to build close ties with some incredible people. And as you help one another come closer to Christ, you are filled with a happiness beyond description.
Though I am excited to see what lies ahead. I'll be whitewashing an area, and that idea has kind of intimidated me since I received the call on Saturday. Because guess what? I'll be training too! It feels like the transition between trainee to senior companion to trainer went a little fast. I hope I've been prepared though, and that I can help this brand new missionary experience the immense joy that is a mission. We'll both be taking on a new area with new people, but with it will bring new opportunities to grow and serve! So I'm unbelievably nervous, but also quite excited!
I figured I would start this email off with a few funny quotes from the last couple weeks.
"It is hotter than death for the unsaved sinner." -Caitlin
"You don't have the Priesthood Authori...why did I just turn into a vampire?" -Sister Mortensen
"The problem with eating apples is that I always get full."-Sister Mortensen
" . . .Isn't that generally the case when you eat anything?" -Me
So we were looking for a less active the other day in the backwoods of Clinton, and we passed this super sketchy abandoned barn. It was totally falling apart and junk was piled up everywhere. And we saw a dead animal carcass nailed to the wall. Only in Tennessee. We couldn't resist, we had to get a picture of it. So that's the picture I'm attaching to this email, if you were wondering about it. There was also a sign that said "No Trespassing." It was kind of intimidating. But we went past it anyway. Sister M saw the dead animal skin and asked, "What . . .is that?" I replied, "A trespasser." That kept us laughing for hours.
There was another night we were super tired and stir-crazy because we had been in the apartment doing our weekly planning all day, plus we had to stay in longer to switch out our bunk bed for a regular twin bed. So we went a little nuts that night as we were tracting and we were quoting everything in the book. We were having a really hard time finding a place to park, because you can't park on the road in Tennessee, because there's no dang room to drive past a parked car on the super narrow roads. So we started mimicking Doofenschmirtz, "So I was driving down the roads and I couldn't find a place to park. I started getting so tired of having nowhere to park. BEHOLD! The Parkinginator!! It will destroy all the No Parking signs in the whole Pleasant Ridge Area!!" That's when I learned that Sister M is super good at imitating Doofenschmirtz's. Which made me laugh so hard I started crying. We were both doubled over laughing when we officially decided we've lost our minds.
We had some pretty cool things happen this week! It's funny how many times we ran into people who asked us if we get paid to be out here. We happily report that we pay to be out here. It gets them interested every time! We had one person in particular ask us, "Do they pay you to walk around in the hot *expletive* sun all day?" "Nope, we pay to be out here!" " . . .Why??" "Because we love our message and we want others to experience the same joy!" "Well . . .what's the message?" Score. We placed a Book of Mormon that way this week, and got a new investigator out of it. Awesome!
This week we had an incredible lesson with Kathy and Jerry about the Plan of Salvation. Kathy is excited for her baptism, and she's pretty ready. She just needs to come to church one more time. Sadly she was feeling really ill yesterday and couldn't make it. Hopefully she'll be there next week! I'll have Sister Mortensen keep giving me updates so we know when she's officially baptized. We also saw Curtis, Kathy's grandson, a couple times this week. It was really neat actually, we were talking about how sometimes God answers our prayers through other people, and his face lit up. He said God was answering his prayers after all. I asked him to explain and he said that we must be an answer to his prayers. That was a neat experience. I can't say it enough; so much joy comes from serving God's children. I love it so much!
We also had a really good lesson about the temple with Marty and Marlene. They want to go as a family pretty soon and do baptisms for the dead. I'm so excited for them to go! I wish I could be there when they officially get sealed as a family in the temple, but hopefully I'll at least hear about it. I just love their family so much. They have grown in profound ways that defy description, and I cannot be more grateful for being an instrument in God's hands to bless their lives. I love this family to pieces, they've become an extension of my own family. I hope to see them again one day. I know I will!
We had a couple good lessons with Billy too. Though he intends to stay Lutheran, he's reading the Book of Mormon and getting a lot out of it. He likes learning about what we believe, and he seems to be more and more open each time we come. I think he will really progress. I'm sad to say goodbye because I would love to see how his story turns out, but I know Sister Mortensen will do a great job teaching him. He's super awesome.
We had a really neat experience Saturday night! What began as a not-so-neat experience turned out all right in the end. We were tracting around a new neighborhood that we found Saturday night, and we ran into my very first bible-basher. Now that was a humbling experience. Because before I came out here I had the impression that I could handle bible-bashers. This one was fairly cordial compared to the ones I've heard about, and still he said things about Joseph Smith and Mormons that crept under my skin, made my blood boil, and the veins in my neck throb. Which surprised even myself, because I consider myself a pretty mild-tempered person. In the MTC we were always told, "Don't bible bash. Just bear your testimony." That's pretty hard to do if they keep cutting you off mid sentence and verbally tearing everything you are saying apart. Things that you know, love, and care about. I'll admit, it was hard. First time is probably the hardest. After enduring about 10 minutes of his somewhat polite verbal abuse we bade him good evening. I felt a little heavy hearted after that. The result was interesting. He didn't make me question my testimony, but it actually grew stronger as we walked off that porch. He helped me understand just how vital it is for people out here to receive the truth. The people out here are good people, and they're trying to follow Christ, but they do not truly know Him. We are personal representatives of Jesus Christ, and as such we are here to stand in His place and invite others to come unto Him. It's hard being rejected by people who think they're already with Him, on top of receiving some pretty rough insults and being politely told you're going to Hell. Though I feel that when we are rejected, we stand shoulder to shoulder with Christ. He understands better than anyone the heartache caused by a wayward soul and the sorrow of rejection. So though I was saddened by an encounter with a heart I could not help touch, I was touched with the peace of knowing that I am truly on the Lord's errand. I felt so much closer to Christ in that moment, and I grew to understand even more my purpose as a missionary. My testimony also grew of the Plan of Salvation. Some hearts may not be touched here, but they will have more chances in the life to come. I've always loved that doctrine, but I have come to love it even more as a missionary. No one is out of our reach or beyond hope. The Plan of Salvation is one of hope, happiness, and healing.
The neatest part of that evening was what happened next. First, we got a healthy Tennessee downpour. And all of you who know me should understand how excited I was to be tracting in that. We got soaked! It was awesome. And, it got us in a door. We decided to try one more door before heading home, and the woman who answered looked us up and down with a confused/amused smile on her face. She asked us what in the world we were doing. I would imagine it would be strange opening the door and seeing two completely soaking wet girls on your front porch. Naturally she let us in so we could dry off a little bit. We told her we were missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and after asking her if she knew about the Mormons, she said she was one. Wait . . what? It was amazing! She had lived there for 9 years and had never seen Mormon missionaries knock on her door. Apparently we found an area that hadn't been tracted in 9 years. Or she just wasn't home when the missionaries were around. Her records had gotten lost somewhere in the system, so we had no records of her on our roster. She still says she is a Mormon, though neither her, nor her family, are active. Her husband isn't LDS, but he's a good man. She looks back on her childhood with fond memories and has no qualms with our religion at all. She agreed for us to come back and teach her! We found a lost sheep who had been wandering for 9 years. Now that was probably the neatest experience I had this week. Plus, missionaries had tracted into her brother in Texas 2 weeks before. Coincidence? I think not!!
Well family and friends, my time is up. I hope you all know that I am absolutely adoring it out here. Tennessee is beautiful, the people are incredible, and the work brings tremendous blessings. I am excited and nervous for transfers, but I know the Lord will send me wherever He wants me to go. Thank you so much for the letters and prayers, they mean a lot! Until next week!
-Sister Fox

Sunday, June 2, 2013

"More . . . Tracting?"

Hello there family and friends!

If 1 in 22 mosquitos have West Nile Virus, I'm in serious trouble.

Happy Tuesday! This week went by so fast all the days kind of blurred together. So quite frankly, I'm not sure what I'm going to write in this email. So . . . we'll see how that goes.

When I Skyped all y'all a couple weeks ago Chelise asked me 5 things that I found different about Tennessee. At the time I couldn't think of anything because I've been here long enough to think everything here is normal. But this week I've been thinking about it a lot, and now I have a sufficient answer to that question.
1. The roads are super narrow! Every road has room for about two cars. Sometimes a car and a half. So if you're going down the road and a car is coming toward you, you have to drive off in the grass sometimes for it to pass. Of course the highways have more room, but if you're in the neighborhoods, there is no room to get anywhere. And being the directionally challenged person that I am, I am always having to turn around. Turning around in a road in Tennessee requires about a 50 point turn. Sister Mortensen doesn't really like to get out of the car and back me when I have to turn around. She's probably sick of my navigational skills.
2. The driveways are ridiculously long. Some people have driveways that we can't even get up unless we have a truck or hiking boots. We ate dinner with a family in the ward, and the elders told us to call them when we got to their house because they have a truck. I found that piece of advice terribly confusing. Until I got to their house, that is. Their driveway is somewhat of a hiking trail, and there is no way our car could get up it. It's so funny! Tons of houses are way back in the woods, and their driveways are ridiculously long. In fact, this week we even got lost in the woods looking for somebody's house. We thought we were on their driveway, but I guess it was something different, because it didn't end. Only in Tennessee.
3. It's ridiculously hard to tell the difference between the front door and the back door. We have this problem all the time while tracting. A lot of houses were built backwards and they don't face the street. What looks like their front porch is on the back side of the house, but the door facing the street still has a doorbell. So a lot of the time it's guesswork. We've knocked on a few back doors accidentally. That can get pretty awkward pretty quickly.
4. The lawns aren't really lawns here. They're just weeds. Not much grass. It's super funny when we hear people tell us they need to mow their lawn. I just look around and think to myself, "You mean . . . your weeds?" I don't know why there's no grass here. There just isn't. \
5. The baptist churches are huge! I expected churches on every corner, but not churches like these. I thought a few of them were official government buildings when I first saw them. Nope. They're churches. Some of them have several floors and playgrounds in the back. It's pretty interesting.

I guess that's it! Other things I've noticed are that there are no sidewalks, so tracting is an adventure. We walk through weeds a lot. There's also torrential downpours, lots of mosquitos (hence the opening statement) and everyone says "y'all be careful." Every time we leave someone's porch, no matter if they said yes or no to our message, they say "y'all be careful." I don't know if that's the Southern way of saying goodbye, or if they seriously are concerned for our welfare. Huh.

This week was pretty good! Tuesday was the first time I conducted an exchange, which felt pretty weird to me, but I was able to spend the entire day with Sister Jones, who is an awesome missionary. She came out the transfer after I did, and she is a little firecracker. She has a way of connecting with people; I learned so much from her! I probably learned more from her than she did from me. She connected instantly with several of our investigators, and we had a fun and productive day! We taught Patrick the Restoration together, and he loved it. We haven't been able to see him since because he has been out of town, but he is pretty golden. He's 22 and has been through a lot, but he truly wants to get closer with God. I love helping penitent souls out here through their repentance process; it is an incredible blessing of being a missionary. There's nothing quite like it.
Tuesday we also saw Ruby, and Sister Jones connected really well with her too. We taught her the Plan of Salvation and she really seemed to like it. Hopefuly we can get her out to Church!

Friday we saw Curtis again. My brain is so fried I don't remember who I have and haven't mentioned, but Curtis is the 16 year old grandson of Kathy and Jerry. He's pretty solid too. He has a rough life, but he wants to grow closer to God. We taught him the Restoration and committed him to be baptized in June! Hurrah for Israel! I love watching people's lives turn around as they accept the Gospel. He has seen some rough times, but I know his life will grow so much brighter as he turns to Christ. It's an incredible thing to witness.

We saw Caitlin too! She is still super solid. I just wish she could get work off on Sunday! She just needs to come to Church one more time before she can be baptized. And hopefully she can get every Sunday off so she can keep coming to Church. She is an incredible person with so much faith. I just love her to pieces!

We saw Billy a couple times this week as well. We tracted into him a couple weeks ago, and he is Lutheran, but super open to learning more. The first time we visited him it felt like we were just being Mormon dictionaries, and nothing seemed to come out of that visit. I have learned that the presentation of the material matters. You can teach the same doctrine, but the words don't necessarily matter, it's how they feel. Teaching according to individual need is so vital. They have to be able to understand how the Gospel can bless their lives, and why they need it. So when we went back, we really focused on helping him understand and apply the doctrine, and he became more open. We committed him to reading the Book of Mormon and praying to know if Joseph Smith was a prophet. I think he's really progressing!

The rest of the week we had tracting adventures. We did a ton of tracting this week. With school out and summer vacation here, we are losing a lot of people because they're going out of town. We had a lot of appointments fall through this week too. Sister Mortensen and I have a little inside joke going on. Every time an appointment falls through or we are not sure how to make good use of our time, we'll quote Kronk from Emporer's New Groove when he says "More . . broccoli?" Only we'll say, "More . . tracting?" We like to picture him holding up a plate of pass-along cards. Yes, this is how missionaries entertain themselves. We get a kick out of it.

We also adopted another saying that we stole from the blog Hyperbole and a Half. Every Friday when we do our weekly planning, we plan for the investigators we want to see, the investigators we want to get with a baptismal date, the investigators we want to get to church, etc. Every Friday we take on the attitude, "Baptize ALL the people!!!!" and by the end of the week it's more like, "Baptize ALL the people?" So we say that a lot. Or sometimes it's "Tract ALL the streets!!!" Yeah. We quote things a lot.

Guess what I learned this week? A turtle shell can withstand the weight of a car! Do you wanna know how I know? Because I ran over a turtle on Saturday. I saw a turtle in the road in Lake City the other day. I tried to drive around it, but I heard a very sickening grinding noise under the tire. Sister Mortensen looked mortified. "Did you just run over a turtle?!?!?" She wouldn't let me keep driving until I would let her check on it. So she got out and checked on it. He was totally okay!! Silly turtle. Don't know why he decided to chill in the middle of the road.

Oh I almost forgot to talk about the adventure we had before I ran over the turtle! We got a referral for a family up in Lake City from one of our members. He said they had a lot of children. Yeah, he was right. We only met 8 of them while we were there; they were actually on their way out the door when we dropped by. Just guess how many kids they have. Nope, higher. Higher. Higher. 19. You think I'm kidding. They have 19 kids! Ages 26 and younger. And I didn't believe it either, but it's true; their mother birthed all of them. None of them are adopted, and all are healthy. There are several sets of twins I believe. We were talking to some of the kids outside, and one of them said, "Yeah, I have 18 siblings." Like it was completely normal. They have a smallish bus outside their house; I'm only guessing that's the family car. Pretty crazy, right? They have a really strong religious background, but I would probably die and go to heaven if they let us teach them the discussions. They invited us back, so that's a good sign!!

Well, that's all the adventures for this week! I wish I had more time, but I really don't. I do hope you all know that I love you and I'm praying for all of you! The Church is true, the Book is blue, and Moroni is still on the ball!

Though I won't close without my spiritual thought. This one comes from D&C 123:16-17. All of us have a part to play in God's eternal plan, even if it seems small. But it is through the small and simple things that great things are brought to pass. Even though our efforts seem small, we can help steer our brothers and sisters through the storms of life. Sometimes all it takes is a smile, or a phonecall, or a note of encouragement, but we can help lift our brothers and sisters in dramatic ways through small means. So listen carefully to the Spirit this week. Somebody needs you. Yes, you. So this week, as you pray, ask God who specifically needs you, look for opportunities to serve, no matter how small, and see whose lives you can bless this week. The best way to weather the storms of life is to help others through theirs!

Love you all! Have a splendid week!

-Sister Fox