Monday, July 29, 2013

Pure in Heart

Family and Friends!

Ola! Como vai? This is Sister Fox! Apologizing in advance for the shortness of this letter because I feel somewhat ill. It happens.

This week was pretty hard, but I think part of me is finally getting used to it. Missions are supposed to be hard. So I guess we must be doing something right? Makes sense in my head. Anyway. We saw a lot of good things this week though! A lot of tender mercies amidst the hard times as well. Let's get started, shall we?

Monday was good. We spent the day writing letters so I could finally catch up. Thanks to all who wrote me this week! Your letters were much needed and appreciated. Love you all! I try my best to get back to as many of you as possible, it's just hard to find the time. P-days are short.

Monday night we saw Lucas and dropped what Kelsey (a returned missionary who likes to team up with us a lot) refers to as the "spirit bomb." We went in there, dove into the Book of Mormon, read a lot of our favorite scriptures, and testified of the power and divinity of the Book of Mormon. Lucas soaked it all in like a sponge. He loves it! He started reading right as we left. I love that kid. He's rock solid.  Two days later we took him on a church tour and he walked all the way to the church building!! That shows dedication. After touring the church with him, we ended in the chapel, where I played a rendition of "Come Thou Fount" while everyone else sat and pondered. After that we invited Lucas to be baptized on August 10th and he said yes!! Wooohoo!! Hurrah for Israel!!

The only slightly sad news is that our ward actually has a singles' branch attached to it and the Assistants are in charge. So we're giving Lucas to the Assistants to teach. But the important thing to keep in mind is that he has a testimony and he wants to be baptized. That's all that really matters.

Tuesday we had exchanges with the Sister Training Leaders. Sister Paxton went to work in a new area and we had Sister Preston come and work with us. I love Sister Preston! She was Sister Mortensen's trainer. She is so awesome; I learned a lot from her. It's always fun learning from new missionaries for a day. It was a rough day though; we had every appointment fall through. It happens. I'm glad Sister Preston is a really good sport! She knows how missionary work is.

Wednesday and Thursday every appointment fell through as well. Except Lucas's church tour, which was perfectly awesome. Thursday night we decided to drop in on Haney to see how he was doing. We read the Book of Mormon Introduction with him and committed him to read. He's pretty open! He's just hard to get a hold of because he works a lot. But we committed him to be baptized and he accepted! We don't have a date for him yet. We were hoping to get him with one on Saturday, but the appointment fell through. It happens. Hopefully this week! Fingers crossed!

Friday we spent most of the day helping people move. First we went to help Cheryl and Kyle move. Cheryl really appreciated our service and was a lot more warm and open toward us. The elders said they had a really good conversation with Kyle too. They want us all over for dinner. Hopefully we can open another door with them again and help them progress. We're not ready to give up on them just yet!
After Cheryl we helped another ward member pack up her apartment to move. It was a lot of hard work, but there is a lot of joy that comes with serving others!

Friday night all our appointments fell through. It happens. But we went on another faith walk and we ran into Dustin! We officially concluded that the only way we will ever run into Dustin is on a faith walk. We talked with him and he's still interested in learning more. He finally got a job! Which is good because he needs money. Makes it hard to get a hold of him though. But we're happy for him! After we committed him to keep reading the Book of Mormon and to come to church with us, we began walking away. Then he called after us so we turned around. He then told us that he had been praying for the past several nights thanking God for us. He said his life has been much better since he met us! That made my day. Friday was a not-so-good day, so I was grateful for that tender mercy! It's always a blessing to know that you have been an instrument in the hands of God in blessing the life of another person. That's why we're out here!

Saturday I fell ill. It happens. Woke up with all sorts of funny stomach and flu-like symptoms. The beautiful thing about trios is that when one gets sick, proselyting can still happen. We called a young couple in the ward and asked if I could spend the morning there. They were so nice about it! They let me sleep on their couch and watch the Testaments and stuff. Then Ashley (Chelise's friend from high school) picked me up and let me spend the rest of the day at her place. I'm just grateful for good ward members. They really take care of the missionaries. Ashley let me sleep for three or four hours on her bed, gave me food, and had her husband and another member give me a blessing. What a sweetheart!! Though I hate being sick, Saturday was kind of a tender mercy. My body was so broken down and exhausted from the accumulation of the past 6 months, it was nice to finally take a full day to sleep. I felt much better in the evening, so my wonderful companions took me out proselyting for an hour or so. Turns out they had a really slow day because all our appointments fell through. It happens.

Sunday we *almost* had 2 investigators at church, so that's a start. Lucas got sick and Dustin had to work. It happens. One of these weeks we'll get investigators to come to church! Lucas really wants to come next week, so we're hoping he'll be there! After church we went to drop in on Maryann to see how she was doing. She had a rough week, so we had the Assistants give her a priesthood blessing. It was good to know that we ran into her right at the moment she needed us. That was a tender mercy for everyone! She is so solid. She's coming back strong. I lean on her, Larry, Marlene, Travis, Marty, Shane, and Caitlin a lot during the hard times. I may not be touching many people here, but at least I know that I have touched many others through my efforts. I feel so richly blessed by my merciful Father in Heaven. Whenever things get hard, I find that He always lets me know in some simple way that He is there. Tender mercies everywhere!
Today I still feel a bit under the weather. Good thing it's p-day! I really just wanna go home and sleep. For like, 3 months. But a couple hours will do. There's work to be done.

Thanks to all for all your letters, love, and support! I hope you know that I am still enjoying myself out here, despite the difficulties. There's no greater feeling than knowing that you are doing exactly what God wants. And when it comes down to it, that's all that really matters. I realized that one of the most important tools of missionary work is your source of motivation. I've been studying about what it really means to be "pure in heart." Inspired by a letter that I received from a wise and loving family member, I concluded that being pure in heart means that we sacrifice all those desires that are not in harmony with God's will. It's a huge act of faith. I feel missionaries are most effective when their hearts and motives are pure. I feel like we all come to a point when we have to ask ourselves why we want success. Is it so other people will think we're good missionaries? Is it so our families and friends will be proud of us? Is it to please others? Or to please ourselves? Or do we want to please God? D&C 4 specifically outlines the attributes that qualify missionaries for the work. One attribute is having an "eye single to the glory of God." When your eye is single to the glory of God, you find that you feel satisfied with your best. When you're not trying to please the world or elevate yourself with success, you feel confident. You find that you stop apologizing for low numbers and stop feeding others excuses for your dead area. You rejoice even more in the small footsteps others take toward Christ. When you focus on pleasing your Heavenly Father, as Christ did His entire life and ministry, you increase in confidence, faith, and optimism. James warns that a "double-minded man is unstable in all his ways" (James 1:8). In all aspects of life, when our motives are pure, and our mind is centered on bringing glory to God, we find so much more satisfaction, even when things aren't going well. Purifying your heart is easier said than done, but when we make that a personal quest, we will be happier, and I know that to be true.

Thanks again to all of you! I miss you all, love you all, and pray for you all daily. I truly am happy. This is hard, but still good. Yeah, still good. And I feel that I'm on my way to a quick recovery. I truly am in good hands! The best of the best. Until next week!

All my love,

Sister Fox

Monday, July 22, 2013

Two Becomes Three

Family!
Friends!
Others!

Why, hello, there! This week was pretty good! We had all sorts of adventures. I have another companion! So, I have two boff of em companions. Training two at once is harder than I thought, but it's also really fun, and really rewarding. They're both practically pre-trained anyway, and they're the sweetest, cutest companions I could ever ask for. So we really like our trio! We teach pretty well too. This transfer is gonna be fun!

So I'm actually pretty excited to tell y'all about my week this week! But first, I have to tell y'all about this week's greatest adventure. I call it: The Climbing Fairy Takes on a Table.

So I've mentioned in past emails how Elder Sprague taught us about tabling. Well, last p-day, Elder Lynn and I decided we would try the table challenge. We went to the church, set up a large, rectangular table, and had our companions hold the ends while one of us attempted to "table." Yes, this is how missionaries entertain themselves on p-days. If any of you were wondering. The trick is to start on top of the table, travel underneath the table, and climb back on top of the table without touching the ground. Pretty easy, right? Wrong. Elder Lynn kept falling in his attempt to even get underneath the table without touching the ground. I tackled that part. You just swing your body underneath the table and hold on to both sides. Getting back on top of the table from underneath the table is the tricky part. It's kind of the same rock climbing technique as climbing a ceiling. It's harder though, because your only handhold is the other side of the table. So you have to swing your whole leg around, swing your hands to one side, and reach up to grab the other side. I got to that part. Sadly, my arms aren't long enough to grab the other side of the table. After I taught Elder Lynn the art of getting underneath the table, he actually mastered the second half. It's because he's taller.
In the words of Howl: "That can't be good for the table."

And sadly, the Climbing Fairy had to admit defeat to a table. Temporarily, anyway. I will get all the way around it. Right now I have to nurse a couple bruises. And by a couple I mean several. That travel all the way down both arms. It was worth it.

Quote of the week comes from Sister Paxton: "So there's spirit . . . in paper?"
Took me a long time to recover from that one. If you want the backstory just send me an email.
Also, Sister Paxton is trying to give up sweets. I'm so proud! I told her about Chelise's diet and how when I followed those guidelines I felt better than ever before. Sister Paxton wants to try the same thing. She's having cookie withdrawals though. We decided we would hold a funeral service for her sweets. I was assigned to write the eulogy. I'm entitling it: "Life of Pie: A Tribute to Sweets." I'll let y'all know how it goes.
Speaking of which, Chelise, Sister Paxton would like to know the science behind diet soda and why it's so bad for you. I told her Aspartame is bad for you but I don't know why. Could ya send me an email or something later this week? Please and thank you!

Wednesday was a pretty awesome day! In the morning, Sylvia needed help getting her things to the dump. We couldn't be there because we had to go to transfer meeting, so we called around asking members if anyone could take a truck up there and help her. Well, turns out, there was only one member with a truck, and he was out of town. But when we called him, he said he had the feeling that he needed to leave his keys in the truck, and he said we could use it! So we called a couple members to take his truck up to Sylvia to help her out, and it all worked out great! Tender mercies. I love them. :)

The transfer meeting went really well. I got to see Sister Stone and Sister Mortensen again, which totally made my day. It was so fun seeing them again! We got to reminisce about old times serving together in Clinton. Good times. Clinton will always hold a special place in my heart. And, as I said before, I got another companion! Her name is Sister Walker, and she's perfectly adorable. She is actually waiting on a visa to go to Brazil, so we don't know how long she'll be with us. It's so cool; she is learning Portuguese, so she's teaching us a few words. She also prays in Portuguese all the time. It's legit.

After transfers we finally met with Alice, an investigator we tracted into a couple weeks back. I was a little hesitant at first because her husband, James, was a retired minister, but he loved everything we taught! He kept saying, "What you're saying is good . . . keep talkin'!!" Her 11 year old grandson, Julian, was there too. He got really excited about the Book of Mormon when we told him about it. When we challenged them to take on Moroni's promise his hand shot up in the air and he said, "I'll do it!!" Kids. I just love them!
After that we met with Chris, our Catholic investigator. He is opening up more and more! We taught him about the first half of the Plan of Salvation, and he's pretty open to it. He's been reading a little bit out of the Book of Mormon, and he's willing to learn more. He wants to come to church too! He couldn't make it yesterday because he's out of town, but hopefully we can get him there next week!

Thursday we met with Suellen again. She's doing really well! We taught her the second half of the Plan of Salvation, and she seemed a little hesitant. It's all so new to her. She wants to experiment, though, and she's willing to read and pray about it. We brought a member, Leilani, who invited her to church. Sadly she didn't make it because something came up (that happens a lot) but again, hopefully we can get her there next week!
We met with Maryann twice again this week. She is progressing really well! She has already had another interview with the bishop, and she wants her patriarchal blessing. I'm so proud of her and how much she has progressed since we first met with her! She's fantastic.

Saturday we met with Lucas again. We tracted into him several weeks ago but never could make a solid return appointment. We went over there to teach him the Restoration, and he was really open. He got excited when we taught him about the Book of Mormon! It was awesome. He really wants to come to church but he ran into family trouble yesterday and couldn't make it. Hopefully next week (I say that a lot. 0 out of 3 investigators for whom we secured rides didn't come to church yesterday. Agency. It happens.)!
So, yesterday none of our investigators came to church. BUT! Maria's whole family came to church yesterday!!! Oh Frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! I chortled in my joy! (Sorry. Literature withdrawals.) Maria has been coming every week, but her mom and her sisters stay at home. We finally convinced her mom to come! So she came with all three daughters. Maria's dad didn't come though; he's not into our religion very much. Hopefully we can start teaching him soon! Maryann came as well and sat with us in the front row. She loved every minute of it. We also had the opportunity to teach the Laurel class! Both of them. There's two active laurels in the ward, it's kind of different from Utah. We taught them about missionary work and we role played the Restoration with them. They did a fantastic job! They'll be great missionaries!

Well, the clock is ticking, and I best be wrapping up. This week was better. Some weeks are good, others are not, but you're always learning and growing. I've learned so much about the principle of faith this week. I've been intrigued by it, trying to learning everything that I can about it. I've been studying Joseph Smith's "Lectures on Faith" recently, and I absolutely love them. Lecture 6 in particular. He talks about how in order to exercise faith unto salvation, we need three things: An idea that God exists, a correct perception of His character, and the assurance/knowledge that our lives are in harmony with His will. Everyone in the South has the first one down. The second one is where the problem arises. Too many people down here have the "sinners in the hands of an angry God" perspective. They think He is too quick to condemn them to Hell. How sad is it that people do not understand how just and merciful our Heavenly Father is? One of my favorite principles to teach is the first one outlined in Preach My Gospel: God is our loving Heavenly Father.
Sometimes the problem swings to the other side of the spectrum. They think God is too permissive and they can sin and do whatever they want, as long as they accept Christ as their Savior. But what does that mean? That brings us to the third pillar of faith: a knowledge that our lives are in harmony with His will. The biggest question I've been asking myself lately is, what is faith? What is the measure of faith? Where does faith stem from? What is the difference between someone who has strong faith versus someone who has weak faith? In Lectures on Faith, Joseph Smith says, "A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for, from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things. It was through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life.” For me, I believe that the foundation and measure of faith is sacrifice. How do we know that our lives are in harmony with God's will? By what we are willing to sacrifice to draw closer to Him. I have found this to be true in my own life. I knew God was pleased with my decision to serve because of the things I sacrificed to come out here and build His kingdom. When we sacrifice our lives and wills to God, we feel more and more accepted by Him. We know our lives are in harmony with His will. This knowledge feeds our faith. That's why it is so hard for people out here to accept our message. This Gospel demands sacrifice. But without sacrifice, we cannot have the faith necessary to lay hold upon eternal life. I've been studying in the Pearl of Great Price too. One of the primary differences portrayed between Cain and Abel was that Cain was not willing to sacrifice, whereas Abel was. Cain refused to exercise the faith necessary to lay hold upon eternal life, and he lost it. From the beginning, God has asked us to make sacrifices in order to strengthen our faith in him. No wonder then, that faith is the first principle of the gospel.

Joseph Smith explains it so much better than I can. When y'all have time, look up Joseph Smith's seven lectures on faith. They are so good. I found them on the Joseph Smith Papers website.

Thank you all for being awesome! I just love you all so much. Thank you for the letters, the prayers, and the encouragement! It feeds my enthusiasm and energy every single day. Until next week!

-Sister Fox

Friday, July 19, 2013

Reality Check



Family! Friends!
Hi! This week, like many weeks, was no walk in the park. Thought I'd just throw that out there. But I'm learning a lot. In my first area, part of me knew that the success we saw wasn't normal. Clinton truly was a statistical anomaly, especially for the South. This area has given me a reality check of sorts. This is what it's really like serving in the South. But, I still love my mission, and love the things I'm learning. Combining lessons from both the successful and the slow times has really helped me grow in patience and character.  And that's something I will never regret. Even if I don't get any converts in this area, at least I will have myself. I can say this transfer has brought me closer to God than ever before. And that's something I will always look back on with fondness and appreciation.
The South is hard. People are so comfortable here. They're comfortable with their religion. They don't feel like anything is missing. They feel like their relationship with God is perfectly fine, and they could not ask for more. Some churches here are even so extreme that they will preach against our church over the pulpit. We show up at their door and they either freak out, send us away, or graciously pray with us and then send us away. A lot of rumors spread here, and it's hard to put a stop to them. The scripture that comforts me most is D&C 6:33-37. God promises us we will reap what we sow. It just takes a ton of patience. I may not see the fruits of my labors here. It may be several years in the future. It may be the next life. But I know that as long as I'm on the Lord's business, even if I feel like I'm not doing much, I am still abundantly blessed. I'm doing what God wants me to do. And that's all that matters.
Yeah, the work is slow. Yes, I'm struggling. But I am so grateful for your prayers. Seriously, they make the biggest difference. Sister Paxton and I have been in a bit of a funk lately, but this week, even though it wasn't a very good week, we have been abnormally chipper. The last few days we've been laughing nonstop, enjoying eachother's company, and happily working our tails off trying to get this area going. We concluded that people at home must be praying for us! And we appreciate that a lot. Your prayers really are making a difference. The work may not be changing, but at least we feel so much stronger and happier. Thank you all so much!!
I do have highlights from this week I would like to share. First of all, I discovered a new game. Now it may not seem that interesting, but it's really fun! It's called Quarto. It's like tic-tac-toe on steroids. We played it with some members last week. It's really fun! And it takes a lot of strategy! I won every game I played by the way. Just thought I'd throw that out there. ;)
Monday was p-day. Like I said in my last email, we really like p-days.
Tuesday we had a return appointment with a new investigator. Her name is Mary; she's an older woman and she's really nice. She invited us back and we started getting into a pretty good conversation about her religious background when her daughter-in-law barged through the door. She not-so-politely asked us what we were doing. We politely told her we're missionaries and we're here to help bring people closer to Christ. She said she had taken down our license plate number, that this was a private neighborhood, and it would be in everyone's best interest if we left the premises. After that Mary politely told us she was no longer interested in further visits. Not every lesson has a positive outcome, I guess. But it's okay, because a couple hours later we visited Maria, and she has a knack of making my day. She's the cutest little girl! She really is like a little sister. After teaching her another great lesson, she put on a little dance for us, which resulted in tons of laughter. Tender mercies everywhere!
Wednesday it downpoured!! Tennessee rain is something else. I went out to the parking lot for probably twenty seconds to get Sister Paxton's umbrella and raincoat from the car, and I came back completely soaked! The parking lot itself had actually turned into a small creek. We get flash flood warnings on our cell phone all the time, and now I understand why. I love it though!! I've always been one who likes the rain. Wednesday night we saw Dustin again! Last week we thought we had lost him, because he didn't shop up to appointments and wouldn't answer the phone. But he's still interested! We ran into him outside and said he would like to keep meeting with us! We had a great lesson on the Plan of Salvation with him this week, and he loved it. He even taught it to his little sister! He also said his friends had tried to throw away the copies of the Book of Mormon that we had given them, but he didn't let them! Now he has about 4 at his house. He's awesome. :) We have to hand him over to the assistants because they're in charge of the singles' ward in our area, but we'll still see him around. It just makes me happy that we didn't lose him!
Thursday we met with a part-member family! I love those. Bro. Fraser was born into the church, but he went less-active and his wive is Methodist. She said she would be interested in hearing the lessons, though! We're going to go back and teach them this week. We hope it goes well! Thursday night we had dinner at a member's home and invited Cheryl. Cheryl has been pretty closed off lately.  She was bringing her husband to dinner, so we asked her before-hand if she would feel comfortable with us sharing a 10-minute message about the Book of Mormon afterwards. She declined. So after dinner we just did a little spiritual thought about the Fall of Adam. Cheryl didn't really listen to it though. We think she found some anti-Mormon material. We're going to put her on the back burner for a little while and see if she's still interested in learning more at a later period. Seed planted.
Friday we met with Suellen again!! If you remember a few weeks back, we found a group of kids in a parking lot and they invited us to their home. That's how we met Ti and Suellen. I didn't realize they weren't married until just this past week. Suellen had broken up with Ti and he took his 5 kids with him. So now Suellen and her daughter live alone, but now her heart is so much more open to the Gospel. We began teaching her the Plan of Salvation, and she was asking all the right questions. She got pretty interested in reading the Book of Mormon! After leaving her with a commitment to read the Book of Mormon, we left. We're going back to teach her tonight, so we're hoping all will go well! Friday night we had dinner at Nina's. I don't know if I've mentioned Nina before, but she is an excellent cook, and Sister Paxton and I look forward to eating there like a little child looks forward to Christmas. She is the sweetest person and she cooks for us once a week. It's always wonderful having some incredible members to associate with!
Saturday we had transfer calls. This one threw me a little bit; I didn't think they would change anything around. But! They did! I am training not one, but TWO people. Now that'll be different. Training Sister Paxton has been pretty simple though. Like I said, she came pre-trained. On Wednesday we're going to Farragut to pick up another brand new missionary. She's actually a visa-waiter, so we don't know how long I'll be training her. It depends on when she gets her visa. It'll be interesting being in a trio again! And training two people! Maybe she'll bring with her a spark that this area needs. Who knows?
The rest of the day wasn't that good. Nothing negative happened, but nothing good happened either. We had all our appointments fall through. That happens sometimes. We named Saturday "Beula." Because, you know. Days like that need a name. For being a Beula kind of day though, Sister Paxton and I were in a surprisingly good mood, as I mentioned before. We've been pretty happy this week, despite all odds. So we're grateful for that!!
Sunday! All y'all will be so proud of me!! Guess what I did?? I totally went completely outside all the boundaries of my comfort zone and sang in church. For all who know me really well, you know that I don't sing in front of people. I sang a couple solos in front of my Chamber choir in high school, but this was the first time I have sung a song from start to finish behind a microphone in front of a large congregation. It scared me half to death. But at the same time it was really fun! And I got a TON of compliments afterwards. People kept coming up to me and told me I have a beautiful voice. I'm not used to getting that. I even got compliments on how composed and calm I looked up there. It was so validating! This is a very nice ward. And I'm pretty proud of myself. That was the accomplishment of the week!
Well, like I said, even though this week was hard, I've learned a lot. This week I've focused a lot on God's purposes for His children. I look at how important the work is and sometimes ask myself why things aren't happening. People need this. Why don't they see it? Why do investigators fall through the cracks? Why aren't people flocking to the font? Logically, they should. This is eternal life, this is the greatest gift of all, this is God's work, why is nothing happening? These are probably the most common questions missionaries ask. And yeah, I struggled with them a little bit this week. But I've learned so much from prayerful research. One of my favorite talks is a talk by Elder Holland entitled, "Missionary Work and the Atonement." Y'all should look it up. He addresses these very questions. He talks about how salvation is not a cheap experience. The work has never been easy. Securing salvation for us was not easy for the Savior, why would it be easy for us? The price to pay for us to be saved in the Kingdom of God is a price beyond what our mortal minds can comprehend. It has never been easy. But the Savior is always there to help us when it feels like it's getting too hard. We are walking shoulder-to-shoulder with the greatest Life who ever lived as we do His will and carry on His work. It's hard not to see the fruits of your labors. But as long as you know you are doing the Master's will, that's all that matters. That enough should keep you going. I've thought a lot about Zion's Camp this week. God will never give us commandments or instruction for no reason. There is a purpose behind everything He asks us to do. And though it may seem like we are running around in circles or not accomplishing anything, we are learning more than we can ever imagine. As we do His will, we are being prepared for greater callings. He is always blessing us with the things that we need, and through the power of His atonement, we can accomplish everything He commands us to do.
Well, that's it for this week. Thank you all again so much for your prayers and support. And your letters. They mean everything to me. I feel so loved! It makes a huge difference, it really does. Honestly, we're really struggling, but at least we're really happy here. We're doing God's work and that's what matters. Love you all! Until next week!
-Sister Fox

Monday, July 8, 2013

This is Life Eternal

Hello family and friends! 

Remember how in my last email I said I like to tell it how it is? Well, here goes. This week was worse than last week. But that's okay. Because I learned more about myself this week than I ever have before, and self epiphanies make every trip through the refiner's fire something you will always cherish and never regret. So though this week was not that good, it will always be remembered. Everyone hopes that their missions will be both a growing and successful experience. And they are. You are filled with feelings of joy as you see the fruits of your labors, and you are also filled with joy as you grow through trials and times that are perfectly irritating. Though you certainly aren't happy every day of the mission, in your heart there exists a glimmer of joy and peace that comes with the satisfaction that you are serving your Lord and Savior. In the words of Preach My Gospel, the Atonement makes up for everything that is unfair about life. You encounter a lot of things on your mission that seem anything but fair. But that gives you an opportunity to access the enabling powers of Christ's atonement. And that helps you grow more than anything else. At the end of the day, no matter what happens, as long as you have felt the Atonement in your life, it has been a good day.

My intention isn't to have any of you worry about me; I'm fine, and I'm still absolutely in love with Tennessee and my mission as a whole. And a lot of good things still happened this week amidst the not so good things. We saw miracles and tender mercies this week, as we do every week. I'm excited to tell y'all about them! We'll start with Monday.

Monday I played frisbee and basketball with the elders. At the same time. It's really hard to catch and throw a frisbee and weave in and out a game of basketball. But that's what missionaries do when it's raining outside on P-day. It rained every day this week. It's a good thing I like rain! Thank heavens for my rain boots and Fang (that's what I named my umbrella. It's perfectly normal to name your umbrella.)! Anyway. Monday night we were supposed to have a lesson with Xavier and Dustin again. Apparently Xavier went beyond just mormon.org and lds.org in his curiosity and found some rumors that freaked him out. He wouldn't tell us what they were, so we didn't have much to work with or clear up. After talking with him for an hour, we finally had to let him go. He's not ready yet. Dustin wouldn't even join in the lesson. We rescheduled with him and he didn't show up. Think we lost that one. We lost Fred too. And Bianca. Still have a testimony of faith walks though.

Tuesday was kind of funny. We taught Cheryl again, and she is still interested in learning more about the Gospel, so we still have room to work with her. We taught her again about Moroni's promise, and we told her that she needs to learn of the truth for herself. We challenged her to immerse herself in the Book of Mormon to find out if it's true. We left her with another invitation to attend Church. Yesterday she decided to take her husband to the Methodist church. She still wants to try them all. We'll try to get her to convince him to come to ours. If a mission teaches you anything, it's patience! After Cheryl we washed and vacuumed our car for our zone conference the next day. I was feeling particularly irritated Tuesday morning, and I was called to repentance while we were vacuuming out the car. I said a little prayer thanking God that it wasn't raining. Not 5 seconds later it began to downpour. I just started laughing. Sister Paxton and I crammed ourselves in the back seat with our vacuums trying to clean out the car without getting soaking wet. I testify to all of you, God has a sense of humor. And I actually felt better the rest of the day and decided not to be so irritated. And that's when our little miracle occurred!

After cleaning the car we had an appointment with Maryann, a recent convert who also recently went less-active. She was baptized around last November, but a few months later left the church and refused to make contact with anyone. She let us in and we began getting to know her. I felt a really special connection with Maryann, and we began talking about her conversion story and her testimony of the Gospel. She opened up to us and told us that she had come in contact with some deep doctrines of the church that had really troubled her. Being a new convert, it freaked her out. It was a "milk before meat" kind of problem. She asked a particularly troubling question that I had no idea how to answer. Oh Sister Paxton. She never ceases to amaze me. She immediately connected with the Spirit and gave such a profound and meaningful answer, I just sat back and watched her in awe. I chimed in with my testimony, and we were able to help Maryann with her concern. She has such a sweet and tender heart. She loves the Gospel so much, and she wants to come back. She asked us if she could come back to church, and we enthusiastically invited her to come to church with us Sunday! That lesson, my friends, was a breath of fresh spiritual air. She told us that we were heaven sent, and she truly has missed coming to church and feeling that spirit. That meant just as much to me as a baptism. We helped a sister in need keep those special covenants that she made, and she is coming back so strong! We went back twice more this week to teach her the new member lessons, and those were the best Restoration and Plan of Salvation lessons Sister Paxton and I have ever taught. The Spirit is so strong in Maryann's home, and she has a truly inspiring testimony. She came to church with us yesterday! All three hours. And she absolutely loved it. We are fast friends already, and I am incredibly grateful that we could be there for her. And those experiences made this week perfectly worth it.

Maria came to church too! She is doing really well. She considers Sister Paxton and I to be the older sisters she has always wanted but has never had. She's so cute. I love that little girl so much. I'm sending pictures today!

Wednesday we had a really neat Zone Conference. The assistants gave us an inspiring training on how to come to learn, know, live, and love the doctrines of the Gospel. When you truly connect with a doctrine of the gospel and come to love it, you are that much better at teaching it. It's so true. On my mission I have really come to connect with, and love, the Plan of Salvation, and that is my favorite lesson to teach. The Assistants invited us to come to love every principle taught in Chapter 3 of Preach My Gospel, and it has been so fun studying and falling in love with every single doctrine. For those of you who are preparing to serve missions, I encourage you to do just that. Don't just read chapter three of Preach My Gospel, but come to know it and love it. You will be a much better teacher if you come to love every single principle. And it makes studying so much more fun when you ponder about what the principles mean to you in your own life. It's great fun. Y'all should try it!

Thursday was my birthday. It actually was surprisingly entertaining. Sister Paxton and I made a cake with the cake mix mom sent, and put all the candles and decorations on it that Sister Paxton's mom sent. We even sang happy birthday together and I blew out the candles. Sister Paxton took a video. She became my mom for the day; she was so cute! Then I opened presents. Thank you all so so so much! The skirts are adorable! Sadly the striped pink one doesn't fit modestly. Maybe a Medium will? Everything else fits great and looks adorable! I love the jewelry, the watch, and I'm almost half-way through The Continuous Atonement already! And thank you Grandma and Grandpa for the brownies and banana squares! They were so delicious. Sister Paxton can also attest to that! And the elders in our ward even got me a little present! They are so great. I love them so much. They got me flavored bubbles and a box of Mario gummies. They're the best! The rest of the day was pretty much a normal day. We had an appointment with Maryann that was perfectly awesome. And then we tracted in the rain. That was a little less awesome. But we had dinner with the Huangs and it was delicious! Authentic chinese food. We had chow mein, some kind of delicious tofu soup, rice, and beef with broccoli. It was so tasty. It was certainly a different cultural experience; I went over to the kitchen to put my plate in the sink and found a huge bucket of live crabs, just chillin' there. That was normal. No, we did not eat the crabs. After dinner we met up with the elders and zone leaders to watch a couple firework shows. We stood on their little hill and watched them from a distance. In the rain. It was actually great fun! And Sister Paxton and I belted southern gospel music all the way home. I love companions. :)

The rest of the week wasn't really that great. Nobody is returning phone calls or answering the door. Literally, no one. We got a hold of Sylvia, but she is going through a really hard time right now with her divorce and trying to find a place to live, so she doesn't really want to meet with us right now. We've been tracting a lot, but every time we find someone who has potential, they don't show up to our return appointment. We're pretty sure we lost Antoin; he dropped off the face of the planet. We're kind of back to square one in our finding and teaching efforts. We've learned a lot this transfer though, and I'm so grateful for everything I've learned and all the ways that I have grown.

Which brings me to the title. If I could sum everything up I've learned and taught this week, it's John 17:3- "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." This is what has been so precious about my mission. It has given me the opportunity of a lifetime to truly come to know and love my Heavenly Father and my Savior. It is through studying their teachings, emulating their example, communicating with them, and doing their will that we can come to know them and love them. This is what life is all about. Coming to know of the perfect character of our loving Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. When we come to know them, we come to trust them. This week I learned how to internalize the principle of trusting in God. It's one thing to know intellectually that we can trust in God. We can read about times He has provided for His children in the past, we can put two and two together that He is our perfect Father and will lead and guide us. It's another thing to feel that we can truly trust Him, to make our trust in Him part of who we are as individuals. What makes my mission so precious is that it has helped me internalize the glorious truth that I can place my faith and trust in God. It's not perfect yet, but this is what life is all about; to perfect our faith in God. And internalizing this principle comes from getting to know our Savior. Learning of Him. Following Him. Praying to Him. It comes little by little, but the closer we draw to Him, the more we can trust Him, and the happier we are. I have said it before in a previous email, but I'll say it again. Is coming to know Christ the focus of our lives? Or is it something important we do on the side? How devoted are we to building up the most important relationship we could ever have in this life? Food for thought. :)

Everyone says the mission is the best 18 months to 2 years of their lives, and also the hardest. I never quite understood that, but I understand that now. I have been out 6 months, and it has been the most trying 6 months of my life. But I wouldn't give them up for anything. They have been the best 6 months I've ever lived. 1 Peter 1:7-9 summarizes perfectly my feelings on the subject. Missions are hard, but they are something you will never ever regret. They are more than worth it. And they are definitely something you can and should look forward to with great anticipation.

In summary, family and friends, my area is dead, my mission is hard, but I am happy and well. I am so grateful for all of your letters. Coming home at the end of the day to a letter in the mailbox is one of the most glorious feelings a missionary can have. Thank you so much for your love, your support, and your prayers. They mean everything to me. I pray for all of you as well, and I hope you all can feel the difference I love y'all so much!! Until next week!

-Sister Fox

Monday, July 1, 2013

Water Your Faith Plant. And Share the Gospel.

Hello my favorite family and friends! 
And others who may or may not fit into those categories!

Happy Monday! I love Mondays. Sister Paxton and I have decided Tuesday is the new Monday and Monday is the new Saturday. We don't like Tuesdays. We didn't have a good day Tuesday. But that's okay because it's Monday now. And we like Mondays. A missionary's week is a little askew. Everything revolves around Monday. Tuesdays are hard because it's 6 days until Monday. Sundays are great because Monday is the next day. And Thursdays are okay because Monday is only 4 days away. You know what I'm sayin'? When you're in school everything revolves around Friday and Saturday. Not anymore. Those days are actually the hardest because we have proselyting (no meetings or planning) from sunup to sundown. So we like Mondays.

So, this week was pretty good. Could have been better, but still good. Yeah, still good. I figured I'd start out with a couple quotes that really hit my funny bone this week:
"We didn't talk about computers!"

"You talked about C++ and how the semi-colon represents the Church. That's computers!!" -Elder Sprague
"Don't cook pancakes in a pot." -Elder Davis (Yeah. They tried. My zone leaders are silly.)
"Some people will turn against the Church and say, 'you killed my faith plant!' But really, they killed their own faith plant. You have to water your own faith plant." -Me (trying to explain Alma 32:38-39 to a 10 year old. That was a party and a half.)

Hmm. So. Monday. We went out to lunch with the Assistants to a place called "Taste of Thai." And it made me a very happy missionary. I have missed Thai food so much! I'm glad there's still places out here. The Mexican restaurants need work out here. But the Thai is delicious! So that was fun. I don't remember what else happened. So it must not have been that important.

Monday night we did get to work with one of our recent converts, Maria. She is the cutest little Hispanic girl ever! She's about 10 years old, and she loves having us over! We taught her the Plan of Salvation on Monday night, and we drew her a little picture. In return, she had drawn several pictures and gave them to us when we went to see her Thursday. She's pretty good! The pictures are adorable, and I'm excited to hang them up. She drew me a little picture of a chick and labeled it "chica." She got really excited when I told her that was my nickname. I'll take pictures of it and send them home! So cute. She also drew me a picture of Monsters University. Score. She came to church yesterday too! Her mom is also a member, but she doesn't like coming to church. We finally found a member to take Maria to church, and she loved it. She's a rock star. And she liked my faith plant analogy.

Monday night we also committed another less-active family, the Marions, to take the lessons. They are so sweet; we're so excited to start working with them! This area is kind of slow, so we do a lot of work with the less-actives. Though we are doing our best to pick up the pace and get some new investigators! We have been doing pretty well; we pick up several new investigators every week. The trick is retaining them. New investigators tend to drop like flies. But with enough prayer and dedication, a lot of them can be retained! That's the hard part. It's a challenge, but it's rewarding when they stay and grow in the Gospel.

Speaking of difficulty retaining investigators, we met with Cheryl on Wednesday. And it didn't go as well as we had hoped. We had committed her to pray for guidance on how she could get her husband to Church. Wednesday she told us she had woken up Sunday morning with a really strong prompting to take her husband Kyle to a Lutheran church. Wasn't expecting that one. She and Kyle went to a Lutheran church yesterday, and we haven't heard from her yet. It was kind of disappointing; I don't know why she's getting promptings or strong feelings to attend another church, but I hope that this is a way that Kyle can start feeling comfortable with going to church in general. Then maybe they will sense the emptiness that can only be filled by the spirit present in God's true church. We're hoping to get them to Church next week so that they can feel the difference. Hopefully this will be a step forward and not a step backward! She's always in our prayers.

Wednesday actually wasn't that good of a day. They tell us to stay positive in emails, and I generally like to, but I also like to tell it how it is. I'm kind of forward like that. Wednesday was rough. After teaching Cheryl we went to teach T & Suellen and their kids (the new family we found last week) but only Suellen and a couple of her kids showed. She didn't seem nearly as interested as the first time we went, and her kids are going out of town to stay with their grandpa for a couple weeks, so the excitement of the gospel is quickly dying in their home. We're not giving up on them though! If we only tried to work with the easy investigators we wouldn't have very many conversion stories to tell. Or any really. Some people seem closed off to the Gospel at first, it takes time for conversion to occur. That's why I love Alma 32. Faith begins as a seed. All you have to do with investigators is spark a desire to believe. Then you commit them to change and act on that desire, to nourish that seed and let it grow. Then you help them recognize that seed is growing and how delicious it really is. It takes time, and it's hard, but it's worth it if you don't give up on them. It takes so much time and patience to plant a seed and watch it grow. But it's worth every minute of the wait.
In other words, never give up on anyone. Everyone has a seed of divinity in them. We just need to help it surface and grow. And it will, if you help them nourish that seed with love.

Completely changing the subject, Wednesday night was when Sister Paxton and I received news from a member about the Supreme Court ruling. The only thing I will say is this: more than ever, we need to strengthen and protect the family. That seemed to be theme of our previous General Conference, and I have seen the need for strong families everywhere out here. Satan is making an attack on families; he will do whatever he can to tear them apart. All of us, individually, need to apply Helaman 5:12 to our home and family. When we build the foundation of our home and family on Christ, we will not fall. We have been given the tools to protect our families: family home evening, family prayer, family scripture study, church attendance, the list goes on. Let's utilize them to the best of our ability. So many problems I see out here can be solved by these simple tools. They may seem small, but by small and simple things great things are brought to pass. The smallest of acts can fortify our families against the greatest of storms.
Thursday we taught Sylvia. I love teaching Sylvia. She is so thirsty for the Gospel. She asks all the right questions about what we need to do to return to God, what's in store for us, and how we can know God is talking to us. We taught the Restoration, and the Spirit was so thick you could cut it with a knife. She loved it. She asked us why no one else seems to know about Joseph Smith and his story. We told her that's why we go door to door, and we have thousands of missionaries all over the world sharing this message. She's so solid. We invited her to baptism and she accepted! We haven't set an official date yet, but we're hoping that it will be before she moves; she's moving fairly soon. She needs this gospel. She wants us to teach her kids too. Hopefully that will happen this week!

I totally forgot to tell y'all about our faith walk last Sunday! So cool. So we are supposed to proselyte until 9:00 pm. We shouldn't go home before then if we can help it. Last Sunday it was 8:30 and we had literally nothing left to do. We were going to go home and update the area book, but something inside me said there was no way we were going to stop proselyting before 9:00pm. I shared my feelings with Sister Paxton and she suggested we do a faith walk. We basically go on a walk and talk to anyone the Lord puts in our path. So we started walking around our neighborhood. After 5 minutes we see a group of teenagers coming down the road. The one in front, Dustin, asked us what church we were from. We told him, shared a brief message, and asked to pray with them. They actually seemed pretty excited about that. After we all prayed together, Dustin agreed to taking the lessons! I have a testimony of faith walks now.

We tried to meet with Dustin three times throughout the week and were never able to. For some reason, he was never home. Thursday night we ran into the same 8:30 pm problem. So what did we do? Another faith walk. Who did we run into? Dustin. The Church is true. And I have a testimony of faith walks.
Dustin was with his little sister Bianca, and they were excited to hear what we had to teach them. So we went to the nearby pool and taught them the Restoration. While we were teaching, Dustin's group of friends showed up and started chatting among themselves, but one of them, Xavier, asked us if we were talking about Jesus and happily joined in on the lesson. The Spirit was really strong, and Dustin, Bianca, and Xavier all accepted a copy of the Book of Mormon and promised to read it. Saturday night we went back and taught Fred (Dustin's friend) the Restoration with Dustin and Xavier there, and they seemed to really like it. Fred didn't seem to excited though. I don't know if he will stick around. Dustin seems really solid though. He said he really wanted to come to church. We found him a ride, but sadly, he didn't come to church yesterday. The member who was supposed to take him said he didn't show up. Don't know why. I never realized just how difficult it is to get investigators to Church until I came on a mission. It's the hardest thing! They'll read the Book of Mormon, they'll pray, they'll happily change at times, but they won't come to Church. We have about 8 or 9 investigators now, and we plead with all of them to come just once, but none of them will! In my last area it was tough because the church was an hour away, but now it's just 5 minutes away! And still they don't come. It's kind of irritating. But, if missionary work teaches you anything, it's patience. And it will be a very sweet and happy Sunday when we can finally get these people to come to church! Sister Paxton and I are looking forward to that. One day.

Friday we met with Antoin again. We found a member of our ward who could be a good fellowshipper, and the two of them totally clicked. We're hoping that will help Antoin come to church. He still didn't come to church yesterday, but he said he would go out and buy church clothes! That's a step in the right direction at least. Sometimes members don't realize how vital their role is in missionary work. Coming to church intimidates so many people. People don't want complete strangers coming into their home and talking about religion. But, if they have a friend in the gospel, someone to invite them to church, or invite them into their home to listen to the missionaries together, people are much more open to the Gospel. We cannot do missionary work without the members.

Which is why we put together a missionary fireside last night. It went so well! We gave a pass-along card to every member and told them to write down the name of a friend, family member, or neighbor who may be ready to receive the gospel. Then we had recent converts share their conversion stories, members share family mission plans, and other members share missionary experiences. It got everyone really excited for missionary work! We probably got about 30 referrals last night! Yes. Member referrals are the best way to find people to teach. Tracting is so ineffective. I have yet to baptize a convert I have found while tracting.
Share the gospel with your friends! Pick a name, and then get with missionaries and ask them to help you take the next step. Whether the next step is inviting them to meet with missionaries, or read the Book of Mormon, or come to church, doesn't matter. You have something your friends need. You have knowledge that will give them so much advantage in this life and in the next life. I love an approach that a member gave me the other day. He said when he invites his friends, he starts out by saying, "If I had some information you didn't know you needed, information that would give you so much advantage and happiness in this life and even in the next, would you be angry with me if I withheld that from you?" Then, "That information revolves around the three claims that my religion makes that makes it different from any other religion." Then he starts talking about modern-day revelation, priesthood authority, and the restoration of Christ's church. Then he invites them to learn more from the missionaries. He said they say yes 90% of the time. Brilliant.

So, where was I? I'm going off on a lot of tangents. So, Friday. We met with another less-active family, the Huangs. They are so sweet! Their daughter is a laurel, and her birthday is on Thursday too! They invited us over for dinner! Yay!! I get real Chinese food on my birthday! I'm really excited. :) I can tell this birthday is going to be a good one. Sister Paxton's mom is so sweet. She sent a whole package of decorations and birthday stuff. And she sent me a card with a huge bag of peanut butter m&m's. What a sweetheart! I just love my companion. And her whole family. I feel so lucky!!

Well, those are basically the highlights of my week. This email is kind of all over the place, but that is kind of how I felt this week. It was still pretty good though! We're hoping to find more success this next week. Thank you so much for your prayers and support, they mean everything to me! I love you all! God Bless America!

-Sister Fox