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

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