Monday, January 27, 2014

Going After the Lost Sheep

Hey y'all!

So, a couple nights ago I had a dream that the church instigated a new policy where all returned missionaries get an all-expense-paid trip to Florida for two. And I just happened to be a returned missionary. And then last night I had a dream that I went to the Marriott and enjoyed all-you-can-eat gummy bears. I think my body thinks it's time for a vacation. I can't imagine why. What better place to hang out than in Tennessee in January? Where the cold is wet and seeps down into your bones? Nothing spells vacation like Tennesee winters! BRING IT ON!

SO . . . this week was kind of a blur. I'll be honest, missionary work is hardest in January. It's kind of a hard month for all. The holidays are over, it's cold outside, and everyone and their dog is getting sick. Apparently there's a flu epidemic going around. But! We keep pushing cuz we know we're 'posed to. And it's impossible to be unhappy in the presence of Sister Schwab, so I've been doing really well this January. And January is almost over! Woohoo! I really never liked January. Anyway.

Well, Tuesday we taught early morning seminary. And it was early. I admire all these youth out here who get up so stinkin' early to get to seminary. They have really strong testimonies and several of them will be serving missions in the next one or two years. It's so fun to work with the youth out here. They are inspiring. We taught a lesson about faith and why it's necessary. It went really well, for being taught by a zombie. Sister Schwab was lively though, thank goodness. She's always lively.

Nothing else really happened Tuesday. We tried to have an open house at the church but nobody came. Silly January. I blame everything on January.

Wednesday we went on exchanges with Athens! They are a fun set of sisters. They are in a trio, so I exchanged with two of them. I stayed the night over there with Sisters Ellis and Wheelhouse. They are both awesome missionaries and incredible teachers. I love learning from the sisters; I am so spoiled! We had a couple really solid teaching appointments. The first person we saw was Crystal, who is a less-active who wants to come back to church. We taught her the Restoration and focused on the blessings of having this knowledge. It went really well, and she was so excited to come back to church! I don't know if I've ever mentioned how much I love working with less-actives. I love it so much. It is one of my favorite aspects of missionary work. Helping them get back to church and partake of the sacrament is like helping them be baptized all over again. It may not be recorded in the numbers we report every week, but that doesn't matter. We are still making a critical difference in people's lives, and I love it so much. I love seeing people remember how much the Gospel blessed them when they had it. It's interesting to witness first-hand the significant difference the Gospel makes in people's lives. When people fall away they may not notice it, but when they feel the Spirit again for the first time in years, they finally understand what they're missing. I love seeing that change. It's the best thing ever!
After Crystal we taught a mother and her two twin daughters, who are both ten. They. Are. SO. Cute. They have a thick, southern drawl, and the first thing one of them said to me was, "You are awful pretty!!" I just want to put them both in my pocket and take them with me everywhere. We went over the baptismal interview questions and made sure they understood the commitment they were making. That lesson was an adventure and a half, let me tell you. It's so difficult to take this doctrine and break it down so that a child can understand it. It does wonders for your teaching though. They passed with flying colors! And I believe they, along with their mother, were baptized yesterday! Woohoo!! Hooray for Athens!! They also had another baptism on Saturday--the investigator I had taught the last time I went on exchanges with Athens. He was the one who gave me the crucifix. Those sisters are having so much success, it's awesome! Fun to witness. :) Still feeling spoiled.

Thursday President and Sister Irion joined us for our District Meeting! It was fun seeing them again! It was really intimidating because we were doing the problem-solving investigator role-play, and Sister Schwab beat me to the role of investigator. She played one of our investigators and I picked a missionary at random to help me resolve her concerns. We decided to role play for Janet; her concern is that she has already been baptized and doesn't understand the need to be baptized again (Number one concern in the South, surprisingly tough to resolve). After saying a desperate prayer for revelation we taught her and the role play went really well!! I just hope when we actually teach her again that it goes just as well. We tried to see her yesterday but no one was home. I blame it on January. All our appointments also fell through Thursday except one. I blame that on January too.
That one appointment was awesome though! We taught Daniel and Olivia again. We taught my second-favorite lesson: The Gospel of Jesus Christ (Plan of Salvation is my favorite). It went really well! The Spirit, once again, was very strong. Highlight of the night was when their mother told us on our way out that we are making a difference in her home. I love it. She was asking the best questions during the lesson. We were talking about the Gift of the Holy Ghost and she was asking what changes she could make so that she could have the Spirit with her again. She is so humble. She is so ready to come back to church. I am so proud of her and I love her so much! We also received excellent news! Their dad isn't too fond of the church, but he is fully aware that they are being baptized and he's okay with it! I believe in miracles and the church is true!!!  

Friday I learned a personal lesson about the character of Jesus Christ and His emphasis on the one. We had several appointments lined up after our weekly planning and they all fell through. Usually I get pretty discouraged or frustrated when that happens, but I've been trying as of late to learn what it truly means to serve with your eye single to the glory of God. I knew He must have wanted us to focus on someone else. During weekly planning we found that someone; we got a text from a recent-convert saying that she was going through a really rough time. Her activity in the church has been faltering a bit. What's funny is that text wasn't even meant for us; she meant to send it to a friend of hers. I knew that us receiving that text was no accident; we offered to have the elders give her a priesthood blessing. She was hesitant at first, but she accepted. It was harder than we thought; we had to find a time and a place where all of us could meet up and we had to find transportation for everybody. The whole endeavor took the entire evening, but it was necessary. We finally ended up at the church after hours of planning and coordinating, and she received one of the most beautiful blessings I have ever heard. I felt a sense of peace that our evening was supposed to go this way. We had to have three appointments fall through for all of this to take place. And that is how the Lord works. He is willing to leave the ninety and nine to go after the one. I learned that serving with an eye single to His glory means to let go of your own will and plans and follow that which the Lord will have you do. I was humbled and touched by God's love for this daughter, as well as His love for all of His children. He has all the time in the world to focus on us and our needs, and somehow He helps everything fall into place for us every single day to maximize our chances of learning and growth. And nothing feels better than knowing that He used you as part of His plans one day to strengthen one (or more) of His children. Every day I grow more and more overwhelmed as I come to learn just how much God loves us. It's enough to make all of us fearless every single day, if we truly understand. 1 John 4 comes to mind, "For God is love . . .There is no fear in love . . . for perfect love casteth out fear."

It was fun to write "every appointment fell through" in my tender mercies journal that evening. :)

Saturday was good! We volunteer at a nursing home every Saturday and it is the highlight of my week. We visit all sorts of people. This week we obtained a list of people who haven't had visitors in a long time. We talked to each of them and sang them a hymn. I love watching their eyes light up when they are reminded that they are loved. We even met a Mormon! She hasn't been to church in years, but she recognized us when she saw us. Her records disappeared somewhere. I love finding the long-lost sheep!
Saturday night we went to see another less-active who knows she needs to get back in church. She came Sunday!!! With her less-active friend!! Victory! I believe in miracles and the Church is true!

And guess what happened yesterday? All our appointments fell through!! Trying to keep the same mindset I had on Friday, we went out looking for the one. We found her! She is a less-active who hasn't been to church due to health reasons. Her husband isn't a big fan either; in fact, she's the only member of the church in her family. Well at first she wasn't home. But just as we were pulling out of her driveway she and her husband pulled in! Coincidence? I think not!! We got to talk to her for a few minutes and learned that someone had taken her Book of Mormon. She begged us for reading materials. We just happened to have a whole box of Book of Mormons in the car!! We gave her one and she started to cry. She was so touched, and she knew that God had sent us to her that day. She really needed us. She is so solid. It doesn't quite make sense how she can't make it to church every week; there has to be more to this outfit than meets the eye. But I knew that we were supposed to see her and remind her that God is mindful of her. I feel like that characterized my whole week. We didn't have a single day where our plans stuck. But in the process we were led to those who God would rather have us bless. It's so humbling to be one of His servants and be led by His hand every day. Just another testimony that this church is true. If it wasn't, we wouldn't receive this kind of divine guidance from day to day. But the church is true, we are divinely guided, and the Gospel blesses lives. I'm a witness!

So, all in all, good week. Now for the challenge. It's been a while since I've given out one of these. It's easy to fall into a mindset in Utah that there aren't very many missionary opportunities; I know I had that mindset growing up in Utah. But to all who are reading this, even those in Utah, there is someone who needs you this week. One of the ninety and nine needs you to reach out to them and remind them that God loves them. I challenge each of you to pray for inspiration to find who it is. Be sensitive to promptings and see God work His miracles through you as one of His servants. I promise you that you will be able to touch someone this week if you pray for the opportunity. Your life will be greatly blessed in turn. And let me know how it goes!!

That is all for now! Thank you all so much for your letters, prayers, and support. I couldn't keep going each and every day without them! Also, quick note, due to a conference with Elder Perry on Saturday (AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) we had to postpone our Zone Conference to Monday, pushing p-day toTuesday, so basically next week y'all won't be hearing from me until Tuesday. So don't freak out when there's no email on Monday. :)
That is all! I love you all so much and you are always in my prayers! Until next Tuesday!

-Sister Fox

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Happy One Year!

Hey Y'all!

I! Am out of words. I'm at least 9 kinds of tired. I counted them yesterday. This past week just felt weird. I tell everybody this a lot -- I get really weird around milestones. My mind goes into this existential phase where all I can think about is where I am as a missionary versus where I want to be as a missionary and if I've given enough the past 365 days. But it all turned out splendidly. I've been able to talk to Sister Schwab a lot about my personal growth and I can say with confidence that I'm where I want to be, and so excited to reach the point where God wants me to be in the next 6 months. It feels so strange to say I've been out a year. I feel like I've been doing this for a lifetime, yet I feel like the MTC wasn't that long ago. I've been going back through my journals and it's so humbling to see the growth that occurs, especially during the points of trial and hardship. I've learned so much this past year and one lesson sticks out to me: if you have a vision for yourself and where you want your character to be, and you ask God to help get you there, He will get you there. Each month I've been trying to pick a different Christlike attribute or character point I want to work on, and it's interesting to see how these attributes and characteristics are actually finding me. God has blessed me with experiences and trials that have truly turned weaknesses in my character into strengths and have helped me become the person I've wanted to be. It's amazing how missions can do that for you.
Anyway. Sorry if this is all over the place. My brain is still kind of in some philosophical/pondering mode. It may be stuck there for the next 6 months.

Guess what I learned this week? If you tell the world via blog that you have finally internalized the principle of hope, God is going to put it to the test to make sure you didn't just post a lie all over the internet. I hope I passed though! I'm feeling 90%. Several days this week proved to be difficult but I still felt an inner peace of mind that is usually foreign to my anxiety-prone . . . self. A lot of good things happened this week though to make up for the slower days. It's cool how that happens.

The week actually began with a huge miracle, so in reality there is no room for complaint. We had our first lesson with Daniel and Olivia. They are two kids of a less-active who wants to get back into church. We had a Family Home Evening with them and their grandparents, who are active members. Daniel and Olivia have been taking lessons from missionaries for years. I want to say at least 4. We taught the Restoration, watched the DVD, and let the Spirit soak in. The conversation moved to baptism, and Daniel and Olivia finally accepted a baptismal date!!! Woohoo!! This truly is a miracle. Their grandparents have been praying for this for years. They have been learning for so long and now they are finally ready! We saw them again Friday to teach the Plan of Salvation, and we did another Family Home Evening with them last night. Last night's lesson was perfectly fantastic. We focused on Faith and showed them the DVD Finding Faith in Christ. I've seen that dozens of times and it gives me chills every time. Something new sticks out to me every single time. We had an amazing discussion following the video, and it was cool to see how different scenes stuck out to different individuals. This time what stuck out to me was the definition of faith the man gives to his daughter: "Faith is knowing that good will come of whatever happens to us." The first time I saw that movie I thought that definition was weird. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and not seen. But after all my studies and experiences with hope that definition sank into my heart. Faith is trusting in the Savior and His promises of eternal life, and with that comes the knowledge that all things, whether good or bad, ultimately work together for our good. The resurrection stood out to me too. It sank in this time as I watched it just how miraculous the resurrection of the Savior was, and what that means for us individually. Because He lives, we too shall live. Every single one of us. And if we do our part to access His atonement in this life, we will be received into a state of never-ending happiness. We tend to forget how miraculous that promise is. I love the principle of faith. I love this Gospel. I love my Savior. And I'm so grateful for all the learning experiences I have had that have helped me grow closer to Him. After the lesson there was a thick spirit in the room. I had the feeling I should point it out, and it the result was marvelous. The kids realized there was a change, but they didn't know it was the spirit. And neither did their mom. She stopped me on my way out the door and said that she felt a change in the room, and it was a feeling she had never felt before, even though she had been a member all her life. She loved it. She loves having us come by. The gospel is truly changing not just her kids, but her. It's so cool to see! I love this Gospel!

So you're probably wondering where the test of faith comes into play this week. It wasn't really that bad. Tuesday and Wednesday were just incredibly slow.Tuesday we literally got nothing accomplished. We tried, though. We spent a lot of our time looking for Sherman. He has a tendency to hop on his bicycle and disappear. His phone has been off for 2.5 weeks and his baptism is supposed to be this Saturday. We'll have to cancel it because we haven't been able to teach him everything. We can't find him anywhere. It's peculiar that after we had such an incredible lesson with him and he was so excited to come to church that he just disappeared two days later. None of his family members have seen him. It's frustrating when this happens, but strangely enough I feel at peace about it. We'll find him eventually, I hope. He's in our prayers! When we couldn't find Sherman we spent the rest of the day trying to contact everyone and their dog. Everyone and their dog was either not home, or sick. Then we went on exchanges with the Chatt Branch sisters, and I stayed in the area. An STL's worst nightmare is when you bring a sister into your area and have a day where absolutely nothing happens. Well, I thought it was an STL's worst nightmare until it happened Wednesday. It wasn't that bad. I'm just glad Sister Whatcott was a good sport when every single appointment fell through and nobody was home. We got a lot of time to talk about Gospel principles during our hours and hours of driving though. So . . . bonus? Then we had a frustrating teaching appointment on Thursday with the parents of a less-active in the ward. He wasn't home, so we talked to his mom and dad for a while, who aren't members. We were trying to introduce the importance of our message and the blessings of eternal life that it offers when his dad stopped us and said, "You girls have nothing to teach me. You are so young. There is nothing more that you could possibly offer me." My heart just sank. These people just don't understand what they're turning down. It is ironic that today's youth have more knowledge pertaining to eternal life than the majority of the population on the face of the earth. It's also interesting how the Lord calls upon the weak and the simple to proclaim His gospel. Though it was sad, I left with the assurance that I was called to teach those who would receive us, and the scripture "let no man despise thy youth" took on a whole new meaning. Though we are young, and we haven't been around the block as many times as a lot of these people, we are truly representatives of Jesus Christ. And our success lies in our invitation to others to follow Him. One day he will have the opportunity to learn, and that is what gives me hope for the people who are so deeply set in their ways.

Though Sherman dropped off the radar, a couple more investigators came back on the radar this week! We FINALLY saw Tori. Oh heavens. She is so hard to get in contact with because she has a lot going on with her family and her health. Good news is that she still really wants this Gospel. She wants to learn, she wants to be baptized, and she wants to be married in the temple! Sad news is that I will probably never see it happen. She's going into surgery in February and will be put out of commission for 6 months. We would help her be baptized before her surgery, but we want to make sure that she is ready, and it would be best to wait until after. Though I will probably never see her baptized, I know that she will be one day, and I am just so grateful for the chance we had to find her and teach her a little. She will be one of those people I will keep in touch with for the rest of my life; I love her so much. And I'm so grateful that she has this opportunity to get this surgery. We will still be visiting her in the hospital and teaching her when we can. Who knows? Maybe she'll get baptized right before I get home. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

We have a new investigator! Haven't met him yet, but his name is Ethan. He is the son of a less-active who just moved into the area. He wants to be baptized! His mom told us. So we will start working with him this week! It's fun to be working with so many kids all of a sudden. They really refine your teaching. You are forced to simplify the doctrine in a meaningful way so that they understand it, and that helps you eliminate the fluff that we tend to bring into the lessons. It's tons of fun. I love kids. And you learn so much from them! It's the best.

Saturday night was pretty interesting. We volunteered to help a member with her daughter's wedding reception and she put us in charge of the dessert table. I was in charge of the dessert table at Nate's wedding, so I guess that makes me pro now. Except I may or may not have been snacking on the cheesecake bites the entire time. It probably wasn't the best idea to put Sister Missionaries behind the dessert table. There were a lot of non-members there so we had a field day OYMing. Didn't find anyone interested though. But hey. The success is in the invitation.
After that we had a very interesting lesson with an investigator named John. He was a referral from a family of members in the ward. We taught him the Restoration a couple weeks ago and we were planning on moving on to the Plan of Salvation when we started talking about the importance of the Book of Mormon and the implications behind it being the word of God. We talked about baptism by authority and the conversation got really interesting. We talked about the Priesthood again and it finally started sinking in. He asked us if that means his baptism didn't mean anything. That is the hardest question to answer in the South. Thank heavens for the MTC, right? We told him that when we are baptized it is a wonderful way for us to show God that we are willing to follow Him, and He loves and honors that. We are here to help people make a new covenant, and this time it is a binding, everlasting promise between ourselves and God because it's done with God's permission. He seemed to like that. Hasn't accepted a baptismal date yet, but we're working on it. One step at a time!

Sunday I got to give a talk in sacrament meeting! I thought I would be doing that a ton as a missionary, but it took an entire year. It was so fun. I love speaking in sacrament meeting! Never thought I'd say that. I got to choose my topic so I chose . . you guessed it! Hope. A thank-you to Chelise for inspiring 85% of it. I may or may not have copied and pasted paragraphs from at least 3 different emails into it. I gave you the credit. :) It felt so good! Several people came up to me afterward and said that it was exactly what they needed. I love it when that happens! Hooray for the Spirit!  Right after the talk Sister Schwab and I did our piano-flute duet! That was also a party and a half. Then Sister Schwab taught Gospel Principles. I guess it was the Fox and Schwab show on Sunday. It was tons of fun!

Oi there's never enough time to write these! Real quick. Yesterday was awesome! It was a holiday, and it was GORGEOUS outside. Like, short-sleeve weather. Perfect weather for .. . hiking!!! Finally!!! I got to go on a hike!! And it was gorgeous! And I saw rocks! Real rocks! And cliff faces! And natural bouldering sites! No, I did not boulder. Page 21 in the white handbook. Bother. One day I'll come back. We hiked up to a coal mine and it was way cool! There were bats hanging all over the walls, and I probably got within a foot of one of them. They're interesting. I was going to take home a piece of coal and then I realized that coal is not that fascinating. It was way fun! Didn't realize that hiking was good here in Tennessee. Granted, the mountains aren't that high, but there are some really pretty trails down here still. I've accidentally offended a lot of people by calling these mountains hills. Whoops. In my defense, they are.

AND that's a wrap! So this week was good, interesting, weird, I don't even know. I just love being a missionary and that's all that matters. Scripture of the week is found in D&C 50:40-44. Whenever you feel like you are fighting a losing battle, reflect on the Savior and His promises to you. I love you all! Thank you so much for being amazing! You all mean so much to me and I appreciate the support! Until next week!

-Sister Fox

Monday, January 13, 2014

Inner Peace

Clean ALL the things!!!!

Hello friends and family and other fantastic people! You may be wondering why this email is a bit later than usual. Actually you're probably not wondering that at all because I doubt you pay that close attention to when my emails usually show up in your inbox. But I digress. We are at the library a little later today because we spent the last 2 1/2 hours cleaning. ALL. The things. And our apartment looks perfectly fantastic! It's strange. As a missionary I have found that sometimes I miss just taking time to do all the fun household chores and stuff. The Elders think we're nuts. I think it's a p-day well spent.

Oh HEAVENS! I feel so FANTASTIC! This week was just . . different! In a good way!!! I have never had more energy nor more drive to get out and do good things! It's a night and day difference from last week, when I was tired all the time and had to motivate myself to walk from the car to the front door. There are a lot of things I attribute to the sudden increase in stamina and motivation, but I attribute most of it to the power of prayer. So thanks to all of you for praying for me! I can feel them each and every day. And I have made personal and spiritual discoveries about myself and about life that have physically given me energy and excitement. I'll get to more of that later. But it's hard to really 'splain it. This week was just so good! We'll start off with my favorite quote:

Member: Are you Indian?
Elder Houghton: Yeah, I'm a quarter Navajo.
Member: (in awe) A full-blooded Lamanite . . . we are so HONORED!

She was completely serious.

This week got off to a good start! On Monday we got permission from President Irion to watch The Best Two Years, so we watched it together as a District/Zone. That movie is twice as hilarious if you watch it as a missionary. It was so fun!

Tuesday was MLC! A.K.A. Extended P-day! We had lunch together as leadership in the zone, then we drove up to Knoxville for a 6.5 hour meeting of pure joy. We discussed changing the Standards of Excellence in the Zone as well as different teaching techniques. This month we are focusing on Chapter 10 in the mission, which is all about Teaching Skills. It is one of my favorite chapters in Preach My Gospel. We received several incredible trainings on how to begin teaching, asking inspired questions, listening, and focusing on your purpose. For those who don't really know how to approach someone with the gospel, Chapter 10 is a good chapter to look at. The meeting was fantastic as always, and after it we got to eat dinner at the mission home! Best part of the evening. We visited and had all sorts of fun before we drove 2 hours back down to Chattanooga. We got home at 10:30 pm. Not bad for MLC!

Wednesday rocked. We started off the day by visiting Sherman with his half sister, who is a member. We taught him the Gospel of Jesus Christ and mingled it with the Word of Wisdom, because he needs to be done smoking by this Saturday to be prepared for his baptism. He is so solid!! We asked him if he believed God could help him quit smoking and he replied, "Well He created this world and put us all in it, didn't He?" I love that! He knew that with God anything is possible, and he quit cold turkey the next day!!! Woohoo!! He is so prepared!!

We saw Tori on Wednesday! It's a miracle. Amazing news. I don't know all the details, but her doctor discovered that they can do a certain surgery on her that will increase her life expectancy 5-10 years. I cried. She will be out of commission for 6-8 weeks, but we are so unbelievably happy for her! Now we just need to find out if she wants to get baptized before or after said surgery. The church is true, miracles happen, and prayer works.

Wednesday night we teamed up with a ward member to go teach Janet, Chad, Megan, and Austin. It couldn't have been more perfect. Right as we pulled up Austin was on his way out (not that we didn't want him there, but he tends to detract from the lesson by trying to prove us wrong at times), Chad and Megan pulled in, and Austin's mom was in the room!! At first I was a little worried. We had a room full of people at different stages in their spiritual progression. They all had different needs, questions, and concerns. But Austin's mom started asking questions about what sets Mormons apart and we scratched our lesson plans to reteach the Restoration. It was the best Restoration lesson that we have ever taught. The three of us taught together in unity, and the spirit was so strong you could cut it with a knife. It was so cool! Even though all of them had different levels of understanding, they were all completely enthralled. It just goes to show that no matter what your needs or concerns are, you can connect with the Gospel. The Gospel is there to help you, and the Spirit will touch your heart as you listen to pure, simple doctrine. All of them wanted a copy of the Book of Mormon and said they wanted to come to church! They didn't come Sunday, but that is to be expected. It takes a lot of patience and hard work to get investigators to church, but they come when they're ready. After the lesson the three of us sat in the car and rejoiced/screamed for a little bit. It rocked. We were on cloud nine for the rest of the night. Then we went to Ward Council and I had that fantastic aforementioned epiphany that I will write about at the end of this email.

Thursday we had Zone Meeting. It was one of the best I've been to, and I say that about every Zone Meeting, which is good, because it means that they get better and better each time! Plus, as I said before, Chapter 10 is one of my favorite chapters. We had some excellent trainings on teaching and listening skills. Sister Schwab and I gave another training at this one! This one was a blast. In Preach My Gospel is says over and over to "Teach People, not lessons," meaning that we shouldn't just dump doctrine on people when we come in contact with them. We have to develop a relationship with them and gain their trust or they won't care what we share. Well, some missionaries take that too far and fall into a "buddy-buddy"/hangout trap in teaching appointments, so Sister Schwab and I trained on the importance of teaching people AND lessons. We talked about how to avoid both extremes by teaching doctrine according to needs. As a missionary I have learned, as I stated before, that there are thousands of different needs and desires out there, but no matter what our needs or concerns might be, the Savior and His teachings, the Gospel, can help us. We began our training with a visual. We had three glasses of water. We called up a Sister missionary, started talking about how great the water (or doctrine) was, and then started talking about her and her family. Then we "ran out of time" so we told her to go sit down and we would give her the water later. I got to do the second example; we had a cup of water and we called up one of the missionaries who just happened to be my first district leader. I asked him if he was thirsty, and he said yes, so I said, "Well this water is delicious!! Here! Try it!" And emptied the cup all over his face/tie/suit. Yes, we did warn him to wear a polyester tie, but he had no idea why we asked him to. He found out. The only problem was I was laughing so hard at his priceless reaction that I could hardly teach the application. Basically, when we dump doctrine all over people, it doesn't quench their spiritual thirst. Presentation matters. Third person was scared to come up, but all we did was offer him the cup so he could drink it. Best object lesson ever. The training went well! We got a lot of positive compliments about it, and I thanked Elder #2 profusely for letting me dump water all over him. He was a really good sport about it. We had a fantastic role play as well. Usually missionaries role play for investigators, but we had them be themselves and teach doctrine according to their companion's personal needs as a missionary. It was a revelatory experience for everyone; most of the sisters were crying. It was awesome! I love the spirit!

After Zone Meeting we did a power-up with the sisters in Signal Mountain and weekly planned with them. It was really effective; we got a lot done and we all learned a lot about how to plan out our weeks effectively. We also took a trip to Smoothie King and found a couple of people who are interested in the Gospel! They're everywhere!

Friday was a good day as well! After Thursday's power-up we actually did an exchange with the Signal Mountain sisters, so I spent the day in Hixson with Sister Hansen. She is a firecracker; we had a lot of success! We had another lesson with Sherman and taught him about the atonement and the plan of salvation. He loved it. He expressed how much he cared about us and how grateful he was for our love and support. It was the best moment ever. In the words of Thomas S. Monson, "What a prescription for contentment, for inner peace--to have inspired gratitude in another human being." That's what makes missionary work so invigorating--we are on the Lord's business and we are blessing the lives of our brothers and sisters. What could be better?

We also met several new investigators by simply OYMing. We had a goal to talk to every single person we saw, and we did! I have a testimony of approaching completely random strangers now! I hated it before, especially at the beginning of my mission, but now I love just waltzing up to anyone and sharing what I know. You never know who is prepared to hear the Gospel, especially in the South. It's so easy to bring up religion because they love God so much in this area. I love Southerners. They are the best people ever!

Saturday was our service day. We spent the morning helping the bishop's wife (who is very much pregnant) clean out her closet and her kitchen. We got a free bread pan out of it so . . . bonus! Then we went to the Care Center and visited with people there. Sadly, we couldn't find Barbara, but we did talk to three guys who seemed fairly interested. So. We'll see where that goes.Saturday night we had a fantastic lesson with Daisy, who is an investigator that we haven't seen in six weeks. She needs the gospel so desperately and wants to take the lessons! So there's potential there! Then we went by to see Janet and the rest of her family. We had a great lesson on family history and church attendance (it all connected somehow . . .) and invited them all to church. Like I said, none of them came. But. They will one day.

Yesterday was good as well, and the day of more epiphanies, which I can finally get into. This week I felt so different. So much happier and more at peace. I realized that no matter how stressful the situations I found myself in, I felt an overwhelming sense of inner peace that I hadn't felt since the MTC. I attribute it all to the power of prayer, as well as the lessons I have learned from several different sources about hope. Yes, I'm going to talk about hope again. The more and more I ponder on this principle, the more it sinks into my heart and gives me a sense of renewal and peace. I have fallen in love with this doctrine more than any other doctrine of the Gospel. I've talked a lot about it, so I'll try not to repeat myself.

I guess it all starts with Sister Schwab. Y'all just have to meet Sister Schwab. She is so different, but in a good way. The first thing I noticed about her is how happy she is. She is happy all the time. And when she's not happy, she's happy. And it's genuine. She never fakes it. Sure she has weaknesses, and she struggles, and she feels negative emotions, but she never, ever, lets them rob her of happiness. So the last transfer and a half I've just been watching her in awe. Now, I consider myself a fairly happy person, but I've never met anyone like Sister Schwab. I had one of those moments from "You Are Special" about the little Wimmecks and the stickers. The adversary has worked so hard on me and I've succumbed to discouragement a lot over my mission and over the past couple months. I watched Sister Schwab face the same trials with an optimism that was foreign even to me. It was like the adversary was trying to put discouragement stickers all over her and they wouldn't stick. I was confused about this. This just wasn't normal to me. Nobody is that happy. She must be immortal. Or magic. I want to be that happy. Is it even possible? I pondered over this. And I asked God about this. And I learned through the process that people really can be that genuinely happy. Yes, we all face trials, and challenges, and fear, and weakness, but we can choose to rise above these things. We can rise above these things because Jesus Christ first descended below all things. Moroni 7 teaches us that hope comes through Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice. The victory is won. Because Jesus Christ paved the way for us to return to live with God, we can rise above all challenges and trials in life. Not with just an attitude of endurance, but one of joy and peace.

I was talking to Sister Schwab about this yesterday. She gets unhappy at times but it doesn't last, because she knows that in the end, everything is going to work out. Everything works together for the good of those who love God (Romans 8). In the end, Jesus Christ is in charge, it is in His hands, and He wants our happiness even more than we do. There is no reason to fear. Cognitively I knew this. But I feel that as I have been Sister Schwab's companion, I've finally been able to experience and internalize this. Together we are like Marlin and Dory. I'm the fish who has anxiety all the time, who is worried that bad things are going to happen because I've seen so much suffering around me my entire mission. Sister Schwab has seen that same suffering, but she moves forward with a "Just Keep Swimming" attitude. And when I find myself completely trapped and wanting to escape my weaknesses and fears, she is right there beside me saying, "It's time to let go! Everything is going to be alright!" My reply, "How do you know that? How do you know something bad isn't going to happen?" Her reply, "I don't!"

It is a bit of a cheesy reference to Finding Nemo, but it is so true to our companionship and true to life. Bad things will happen, but we can always rise above. We can let go of our fears, anxieties, and doubts. And when we finally let go, we find that we are finally free and have reached the destination in life that we've been searching for. Jesus Christ makes this possible. He is our infinite source of hope. Here are some epiphanies I had about hope this week:

Optimism is an exercise of faith. If you find it hard to be optimistic, faith it 'till you make it.

Hope is the knowledge that the happiness you feel now will one day last forever. Some good moments may be fleeting, but one day, those feelings of happiness and fulfillment will always remain with you.

Hope is having joy in every good work, both big and small, knowing that no matter what happens you have made a critical imprint on a human soul, whether it be your own or someone elses. Hope is refusal to yield to anxiety or fear that your good works will be countered by the adversary, but rather the assurance that God will take the good things you have done and multiply them to accomplish His work. We can conquer our fears and doubts through works. Each good work we do is recorded in Heaven. In the words of Hope of Israel, "Every stroke disarms a foeman, every step we conquering go" (Hymn 259).

We can choose to have hope, just like we can choose to be happy. And when we choose to have hope, that is where we find our energy. That is where our renewal comes from. That is where success comes from. When we make hope the foundation of our thoughts, motives, and actions, we find so much more joy and fulfillment in everyday life.

So poof. There you have it. Choose to have hope. It's your portal to peace.

And I am so out of time. I love you all! Thank you so much for your prayers on my behalf; I have felt a significant difference. Y'all are the best family and friends ever. The best of the best, the salt of the earth. I feel so blessed each and every day. I feel so blessed to have this Gospel and have the opportunity to share it. Nothing makes me happier!

Love y'all! Until next week!

-Sister Fox

Monday, January 6, 2014

Spirit of Elijah

Hello Family and Friends and Fantastic People!

Another week come and gone, and this one felt particularly slow. Which is funny because usually they fly. After all the holiday commotion, life, and missionary work entirely, has slowed down drastically. We spent the first half the week looking for things to do, which is something I havne't been used to for a couple months. The rest of the week sped up though, so that was nice. I'll be honest, the first few days after Christmas were rough. It seemed as if the work hit a brick wall, and all I really wanted to do was hit my head against it repeatedly. But! It did get better. After the trial cometh the blessings!

So, this week was New Year's Eve. It wasn't very eventful, but I say we get points for effort. We had another delicious dinner at the Isaacsons, who were the ones who fed us on Christmas eve. It was delicious! Their father is a professional cook, so he always makes delicious things. He made a ton of different kinds of finger foods, and then they sent it all home with us. I love that family! No special exceptions applied to New Year's Eve, so we went to bed at 10:30. But! Come on. You have to usher in the new year. So Sister Schwab and I set the alarm for 11:57, grabbed some sparkling cider from the fridge, and took a sparkly plastic ornament off the Christmas tree. Atmidnight we chucked the ornament down the stairs. It was the closest we could get to seeing the ball drop. Stop laughing. Happy 2014!!

So, question! This is perfectly random. But. I'm unusually tired. Nothing to worry about, but I thought I'd ask RMs and family members for advice? We stick to the white handbook and get 8 hours of sleep every night, and I'm trying my best to eat healthy, but I feel unusually exhausted. I exercise too, 20-30 minutes a day. Insanity is wearing me out, so I do the warm-up and then do my own stuff for 15 minutes. I bought a multivitamin today in case I'm deficient, but does anyone else have any extra advice? I'm way tired. And my eye has been twitching on and off for 2 weeks. You think I'm kidding. No, I am not going insane.

Despite being tired, I am very happy! The work has been going well. Granted, this week got off to a rocky start, but things have been going well and I still love being a missionary! It is, in fact, the best thing ever. And I'm excited to write this email!

Might as well start off with the less-than-good things so we can get to the good stuff. We lost six investigators this week. One of them came as no surprise. He's a 17-year-old boy and started hitting on us hard core. We told him we don't date as missionaries and since then he has made no contact. Silly boy. It happens. Maybe we'll send some elders his way and see if he's interested in the message instead of the messengers. We lost Kim and her two daughters as well. Kim is very open minded and friendly, but her mom is a strong Methodist, so she is going to start attending the Methodist church with her mother. Ah well. She has friends and support in the ward so I know she's not gone for good. It's kind of sad though. And we lost John and Johnathan. I don't think I've even mentioned them. Sis Schwab OYMed Johnathan in the library and he seemed very interested in learning more. But this week we found out that he feigned interest so he could try to convert us to his faith. Sister Schwab taught him the Restoration on exchanges and said it went well, and this week was our return appointment. So we met up with him and his friend at Starbucks and they started subtly trying to convince us that our message is false. They pulled out the famous scripture in Revelations and tried to cross us with questions. I love the Spirit! I was praying my heart out at the beginning of the lesson that we wouldn't be confounded, because I could see instantly what they were trying to do. No matter how hard they tried, they couldn't cross us in our words or confound us with questions. I attribute it all to the Spirit, and I'm so grateful that it was there! We finally left after one of them started pulling out false "evidences" that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon himself. I don't typically get angry until someone insults the prophet and denies the divinity of the Book of Mormon without cracking it open. It made my blood boil a bit, but I didn't let it show. We bore testimony of the prophet Joseph Smith and his divine calling, as well as the divinity of the Book of Mormon. God is the source of all truth and cannot lie. If the Book of Mormon is true, our message is true. If you want to know our message is true, pray to God and ask if the Book of Mormon is true. The formula is provided for us. So many people try to discredit the restored Gospel by looking at "facts" and scriptures that they do not fully understand. If you want to know that it's true, put it to the test! It's like discovering for yourself whether or not you've found a real diamond. You can look up diamonds on the internet and see if it looks like the diamond you found. You can measure it, weigh it, and start philosophizing with other people about it. Or you can put it to the test and see if anything will scratch it. Same basic principle. Ahem. Anyway. Sermon over. We told them to pray about it and left. I hope they do. People deny themselves of so many incredible blessings simply because they do not want to continue searching for truth. I pray that one day they will!

We didn't see Tori this week. We haven't been able to meet with her for 2 weeks because her life has gotten crazy. Opposition strikes right after the baptismal commitment, every time. She is in our prayers, and we are desperately praying for a miracle to get back in the door!

But once again, the good outweighed the bad this week! It always does. :) We had a ton of miracles this week, and I attribute it to the truthfulness of our Gospel message and the Spirit of Elijah. The central theme that popped out of the work this week was eternal families. The message that our families can be together forever penetrates hearts and awakens in others a desire to find out how. We saw that over and over this week. I have a testimony of eternal families! Here it goes:

Miracle #1: Chad and Megan
We have been working with a family of investigators for the past few weeks, but we mainly focus on Austin. He is the athiest who doesn't really have a desire to believe in God. His uncle usually sits in on our lessons, but he hasn't said much. Once again we went over, and the lessno almost once again turned into a "let's try to convince Austin there is a God." As much as I wish we could, he will only receive that witness once he has a desire to exercise his faith. So we turned to Chad and started focusing on his faith. His wife Megan sat in on the lesson for the first time and asked a question about our doctrine concerning family relationships after death. She grew up Baptist, and they believe that we will recognize loved ones in the next life, but the relationship will no longer exist. We told her that family relationships can be perpetuated beyond the grave through sacred covenants we make with God. Our families truly can be together forever, and she will always be Chad's wife and the mother of her children. That penetrated her heart and we both started to cry.The Spirit was so thick you could cut it with a knife. She and Chad want to learn more! Ah! I love this Gospel!

Miracle #2: Sherman
Sherman is so humble. His life is rough, and he doesn't really have a family. What I love about this Gospel is that it's all about relationships and building unity with other people. Our family situations may be less than desirable, but we are to love and care about each other as we all go through life together. We told him that our congregation is like our family. As we have been away from our own families, we have felt the connection and the love from other ward members. We told him that he will find family-like love and support as he attends church. He has come the past couple weeks because his half-sister is in the ward. We taught him the Restoration and focused on the blessings we receive when we follow the prophet and keep the commandments of God. After the lesson he responded, "You girls are gonna have to tell me what I need to do!" It was a King Lamoni's father moment. He understood how this Gospel would bless him in this life and in the eternities, and he was willing to do anything to get it. We invited him to be baptized and he accepted! It is a miracle we found him in the first place. And this ward is incredible. They have reached out to him so much already, and they are willing to help him get back on his feet. I love this Gospel. It really does bless your life! We learn "by their fruits ye shall know them." I have seen nothing but good flow into the lives of those who accept the Gospel. It doesn't erase their challenges, but it provides them with the strength they have desperately been searching for throughout their lives. The Church is true!

Miracle #3: Barbara
Barbara lives in a nursing home that we volunteer at every weekend. The man in charge had nothing for us to do, so we decided to go around and visit people. We popped in on Barbara and decided to sing her a hymn. We're done with Christmas carols, so we just started pulling out our favorite hymns. We sang one of them, I don't remember which one, and she requested that we do another one. Sister Schwab opened up to "Families Can Be Together Forever." So we sang that one. The Spirit was incredible. We finished the song, "I always want to be with my own family, and the Lord has shown me how I can." After we finished she said, "How?" We replied, "Pardon?" She replied, "In the song, you said that the Lord can show us how to be with our families forever. How? I want to know how!" We were not expecting that. We told her that our message teaches us that through making promises under God's priesthood authority our family relationships can exist throughout the eternities. We invited her to take the discussions and she accepted! The Church is true and the Gospel blesses families!

Miracle #4: John
Different John than the one mentioned above. We sang a Christmas carol to him last week because his neighbor, who is a member, requested it. At first he didn't let us in, but after his 7-year-old granddaughter started nailing us with questions he invited us in. At first he wasn't interested, but we started talking about families and family history and that sparked his interest. He requested a return appointment, so we went back to his house this pastSaturday and taught the restoration. It went really well! We sparked his interest in the Book of Mormon and he said he would read and pray about it! Woohoo!! The Church is true!

Miracle #5: Melanie
Melanie is a less-active member of the church, and her kids aren't baptized. It has been hard for her to get to church because her husband is so against it. It has been hard to even get in the door. We knocked on her door yesterday and there was no answer. We were turning to leave when we saw her mom, who is an active member of the church, pull up in the driveway. She said, "I can get you in the door," and she did! We all sat down and talked about how the Gospel unites families in this life and in the next. Christ's message truly is centered on the family. Our words penetrated her heart and I could tell she desired these blessings for her family. She invited us to come back and have a family home evening with her and her kids! Her husband is against it, so we are still praying that his heart will soften. This was a huge breakthrough though; we have been trying to get in her door for months. The Church is true and the Gospel blesses families!

Miracle #6: Smiths
I attribute this miracle to the Spirit of Elijah. Some people may not be interested in hearing about what we believe, but millions of hearts are being touched by the Spirit of Elijah. Peope want to know about their ancestry. People love their families! It's a fact of life! If you ever get stuck in a conversation, always ask them about their family, and more than likely (especially in the South) they will want to talk to you for hours about their families and their family history. It is a FANTASTIC missionary tool. familysearch.org is an incredible website; I've been checking it out during the extra hour of computer time we are allotted each week. I didn't realize how cool it is! I have such a strong testimony of using family history in missionary work. We shared a lesson about family history with the Smiths, a less-active family in the ward that we have been working with for months. I talked about my favorite family history story from They Came Alone about Mary Wanlass and they thought it was pretty spectacular. They want to start looking up their roots as well. They agreed to meet with the bishop to get their membership records and get started! This may not seem like a huge step, but it is quite the breakthrough.

So POOF! There ya have it! The Gospel message is not just a message of hope for individuals; it's a message of hope for families. Families can be together forever. We can be with our loved ones for eternity, never subject to the possibility of permanent separation. This is why I'm on a mission. I've left my family for 18 months so I can help other families be together forever, and that is the message that brings hope back into people's lives. That is what sparks interest. Eternal life is family life. And I am so grateful for this opportunity to share it with people!

Well, sadly, I am out of time. I love you all! I love being a missionary. I'm exhausted but I'm happy because I'm doing the will and work of the Lord. Nothing is more satisfying. I can feel the strength of y'alls prayers every single day. Thank you for offering them on my behalf. I hope and pray that mine reciprocate. Love y'all!! Have a fantastic week!

-Sister Fox