Monday, March 31, 2014

Patience and Mercy

Hey Y'all!!

I! . . . Don't really know what to write about this week. Other than that this week was much better than last week. My brain has been running around in circles though, so I apologize if this email is going to look incredibly scattered.

I had a dream last night that everyone was making fun of me because I was so tired that I couldn't think or talk straight. Hmm. Can't be long now before that one becomes a reality.

Guess what?? Nobody out here has seen Simon the Lamb. Nobody! And! They all think I'm crazy when I tell them what it's about! I loved that movie as a child! What's so abnormal about a lamb that is socially rejected by his peers because he turns blue due to a tragic accident of an angel spilling blue paint on him in an attempt to paint a blue stripe on a rainbow? But it's okay because in the end the aforementioned lamb wins the hearts of his fellow lamb friends after he unintentionally saves them from a blizzard because the penitent little angel shines a flashlight on him.

I've been having some very random flashbacks as of late.

So. . . Mom and Dad went vegan. At first I thought that was really weird. And then I started thinking about my diet. And I realized that, when I'm not being fed by ward members, I totally eat vegan too. So we can be vegan together! Hooray for earth!

JASON! It's your birthday this week! Happy birthday my most favorite younger brother of them all! Nobody is a cooler younger brother than you are. I hope it's the best of the best. =D

I have an adorable new niece! I'm loving these pictures. =D She's so precious!! So excited to see that cute little girl in person!

So I kind of forgot what happened this week. I do remember a few highlights though, so that is what y'all are gonna get. :)

Monday we had a zone party to say farewell to the missionaries leaving the zone. There were a ton! We got several new sisters in the zone this transfer, and we said goodbye to many dear friends. We said goodbye to our district leader, which was actually fairly tragic, because he was awesome. Our new district leader is awesome too, though! This transfer is going to be good. My last one in Soddy Daisy. Sigh.

Monday night we dropped in on Daniel and Olivia because it has been forever since we've seen them. We're still finding ways to help them come to church. They'll get there!

Tuesday we actually saw Tori again. It was like visiting a long-lost friend. We had to put her on the back burner for a while because her life was getting really crazy and she didn't have the time to meet with us. We talked about eternal families and she said she still is really interested in learning more. It's just hard for her to focus or find the time to meet with us. It'll be slower than I initially expected, but she'll get there. :)

We also saw Ronnie on Tuesday! I don't know if I've mentioned Ronnie. Sister Day and I OYMed him while he was checking his mail. He as a pretty strong Christian background and wants to learn more! We've gone over a few times and he has agreed to be baptized!! He reminds me of Sherman a lot, actually. He's an interesting fellow, to say the least. He may or may not have ring-checked our member team-up like your average student in Provo. We were worried about his having real intent, but we've been bringing over couples as team-ups and his testimony has grown so much more since. I think he'll make it! We had a really neat lesson with him Saturday, actually. We talked about the importance of keeping our covenants, and how baptism is not just an action, but a lifelong commitment. He said he wanted to change his life around to follow Jesus Christ, and agreed to quit smoking and drinking. He's so humble and we're so proud of him! He has come a long way, that's for sure!

We also saw Shirley on Tuesday! She is well on her way toward the temple! We're so happy for her! I love finding the long-lost sheep. :)

Tuesday and Friday we met with Charlie, another new investigator of ours. He is pretty golden except for the fact that he's moving to the Philippines tomorrow. That kind of throws a wrench into things. But! We had a great lesson about the Restoration with him, so we're hoping we planted that seed deep enough in his heart for him to act on it once he moves. We told him he could request missionaries and that we have churches all over the Philippines. The coolest coincidence would be if Sister Beus got to teach him. I have no idea where he's moving to in the Philippines, but if she ended up teaching him, I would probably pass out, because I would share a common investigator with my two childhood best friends. Who knows? I've learned to expect really neat, non-coincidental miracles as a missionary.

Thursday we saw our recent convert, Angela. She's doing a lot better, which made me happy! Her life has been nuts, but she wants to get back into church. We taught her boyfriend while we were there, and he seems fairly interested! That would be exciting. There is still so much potential in Soddy Daisy; we're just trying to ignite the spark to get the blaze going. It's coming, though! Miracles are happening every day!

Friday we met with the Smith family. They are trying to get back into church, and we had a fantastic lesson the Restoration. We watched the First Vision together and the Spirit filled the room. They requested we come back next week and watch a movie about the construction of the Salt Lake Temple with them. We were excited about that!!! This family is coming along in strides, and before we know it, they'll be able to go to the temple together!! Families. They're the best. =D

This email has a lot of emoticons in it.

Saturday we tried to accomplish a lot but didn't accomplish much. Days like that happen fairly often, but it's always a learning and growing experience. We had the best time at the General Women's Meeting though!! It was so inspiring. I loved how October's had an emphasis on keeping covenants and this one had an emphasis on helping others keep covenants. No matter how old we are, we can link arms with our friends and fellow-saints and help them make and keep sacred covenants. I loved how unifying that meeting was. The line that stood out to me most was, "You are surrounded by people who are under covenant to help you." As a missionary it is so easy to feel alone, and although I was in a small little chapel with five other women in the congregation, I felt completely taken care of. That is a blessing we all enjoy in this Gospel; we are never alone. We always have our Savior Jesus Christ with us. We can surround ourselves with people who have also made a lifelong commitment to follow Jesus Christ, who have promised to lift, bless, and serve His children. As I thought about that statement, I turned it around and thought that I, too, am under covenant to serve those around me. People need my help to make and keep their covenants, no matter their age or their life experience. No matter where we are in the world, once we enter that building marked with "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints," we are among family. We are never, ever alone in this gospel.

Sunday we saw Ethan! He is coming along in strides. He is so fun to teach; I love teaching kids. We taught him the importance of attending church, reading, and praying. His mom has been reading his scriptures with him, which is fantastic! That's the miracle we were praying for. Now she just needs to bring him to church! Fingers crossed! Their family is always in my prayers.

Well, the spiritual thoughts that have come to my mind this week have been all over the place, so it's hard to know what theme or title to choose for this email. I guess the biggest theme that has stuck out to me this week is mercy as a principle of patience. As I've been working on patience, I've realized that it's a little easier for me to be patient with myself or with circumstances, but when it comes to being patient with others who are falling short of expectations, I really struggle. I struggle to be patient with them simply because I love them so much. I try all I can to teach them and they still don't understand. They still don't keep commitments. Naturally we grow impatient with people who do not accept the things that are so near and dear to our hearts. It's hard to be patient with people who are unknowingly shunning the answer to all their problems. Chelise wrote me a lot last year about mercy, and I've been thinking about it a lot lately. Mercy really is a principle of patience. Mercy is what helps us be patient with others. All of us nurse some kind of spiritual wound. None of us are perfect; all of us have some kind of pain, weakness, or suffering. To have mercy on others is to acknowledge their spiritual wounds and choose to heal them rather than widen them with labels or with our choosing to ignore them. To label someone is to take the path of least resistance. They're falling short of expectations; they've wounded us in some way. So instead of reaching out to help these people, sometimes we tend to label. "Oh she's just so lazy." "He's so flaky." "They're always like this." "What a jerk." What we fail to realize is that if we label them, we're pushing them outside our realm of influence. We cognitively accept the lie that they are "just that way" and that they are beyond our help.

Mercy is shunning labels and seeing people for who they really are, whether or not they are transparent with you. Acknowledge the pain they hide and choose to love the package all the way through. Only then can you truly help them reach their potential, and your heart is changed in the process.

"For the Lord seeth not as man seeth, for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart."

That's what I've got this week. Thank you all so much for your love and prayers!! Have a week full of fun and adventure!

-Sister Fox

Monday, March 24, 2014

Grateful for the Struggle

Hello friends and family!!

Do y'all know what's incredibly interesting? The lessons that I learn every week are usually reflected in the majority of the emails I read Monday morning. When I have a good week, everyone else seems to. When I have a tough week, everyone else seems to. And when I have a very bi-polar week like this one . . . you guessed it! Everyone else seems to. But I feel blessed for the opportunity to write a general email in response to all of yours, filled with lessons that I learned this week that hopefully will ease the minds of those who have also seen some struggles. So! Here it goes.

This may not seem very cheery to begin with the hard things that happened this week, but I would like to end this on a positive note and I'm very picky about the structure of my emails.

We faced a lot of slow days this week. We made dozens of phonecalls and were told by a ton of people--mainly less actives and investigators--that they either wanted us to give them space for a month or stop coming by to see them entirely. I'm grateful for the ones who were open and honest about it though, because there is a particular less-active that I have grown really close to who has decided to stop meeting with us, but she refuses to talk to us to tell us why. We'll set up an appointment and the neighbors tell us she leaves 20 minutes before we show up. I've spent months in her home helping her feel the spirit again, and just when I thought she was ready to come back to church and support her family in the gospel, I watched the work I had done for months fall apart before my eyes. With no explanation as to why, how, or what happened. We had a lot of appointments drop this week and spent a ton of time in the car deliberating, or knocking on doors of people who were uninterested or simply annoyed. And to top it off, another cold front came in this week and left the sky a murky gray, which left me feeling discouraged and broken.

And then there was Saturday.

Missionary work never ceases to surprise me. Saturday we met with a very sweet, loving investigator who told us of a very disturbing and vivid experience she had in her past that has haunted her for 30 years. The Spirit fled the environment as she revealed a spiritual wound that I have never encountered before. Seeing her torment was almost too much to bear. To invite the Spirit back into the room, I boldly testified of the healing power of Christ's atonement with as much power and conviction as I could, and all three of us were in tears. It was the hardest appointment I have ever had, and one that will always stick with me.
The images of her story would not leave my mind. For the rest of the day, Sister Day and I both felt nervous, slightly ill, and uneasy. At the end of the day we were driving back to the apartment when I kept receiving the prompting to go to the Ward Mission Leader's house. I tried to shake it at first; it was getting close to curfew and I resolved to just turn on some church music in the apartment. The spirit spoke louder and louder until we decided together that we needed extra help. We told him what we had encountered that day and asked him for a priesthood blessing. It was one of the most powerful priesthood blessings that I have ever received, and feelings of peace, warmth, and light flooded directly into my soul as an immediate result.

1 Peter 1:7-9 - "That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls."

I learned so much from this experience. The adversary is real. He has real power. And no one is strong enough to toy with sin. But God is also real. Jesus Christ lives. And He has all power over the adversary. My testimony of the power of the priesthood has grown so much stronger just in the last few days. We are so blessed to have worthy men among us who can exercise the power of God to heal wounded and distressed souls. All darkness, despair, hurt, sorrow, and pain can be swallowed up in Jesus Christ if we just turn to Him. He wants us to ask Him for help. He wants us to follow Him. His yoke is easy; His burden light. My appreciation for the atonement has grown so much in the past few days. Jesus Christ experienced all the powers and torment of Hell completely alone so that we would never have to. There are so many occasions in our lives when we want to ask why. Why is this so hard? Why is God letting this happen? Why do I have to suffer? Why do my loved ones have to suffer? Where is God?

I promise God is always there. Sometimes we do not have all the answers as to why hard things happen. But I do know that the worst will never happen, and that is because of Jesus Christ. He knows exactly how to succor us. He did for me this week. He healed my wounded spirit and left me with feelings of the most profound peace and incomprehensible joy, even when surrounded by suffering as a result of the power of the adversary. And He healed our investigator as we sought the help of our ward mission leader to give her a priesthood blessing. All these things will give us experience, and will ultimately come out to our good, whether or not we can see it. I don't know why hard things happen sometimes. But I do know that Jesus Christ loves us and can always help us grow from these experiences if we let Him. I know that as a result of this experience, my love for my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has increased that much more. I stand more in awe of His atoning sacrifice and the darkness and despair from which He has rescued me. Rescued me, and all of my loved ones. I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me. Oh it is wonderful to me.

In district meeting this week, we all came together and talked about the power of testimony. We ended with a testimony meeting, and one of my fellow missionaries stood up and said, "I'm grateful for the struggle."

I have been pondering that line ever since. Am I grateful for the struggle? I realized that in a way, I am. I truly am. If my mission had been a walk in the park up to this point, would I have the relationship with Jesus Christ that I have now? Would my strength of character be the same? My conviction? My testimony? My sense of identity and purpose? No. He let my heart break again and again so that He could create a stronger whole through the healing and cleansing powers of His atoning sacrifice. I am profoundly grateful for every experience; easy or hard.

Alma 7:11-13 - And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.

Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.

We did see a lot of miracles this week. We found a golden family of four who are excited to hear the message of the restored Gospel. Barbara finally came to church. We found a new investigator, Ronnie, who wants to be baptized. Tim prayed out loud for the first time in desperate search for God. Greg's daughter agreed to the discussions and took a Book of Mormon. And Sister Day and I will remain companions for another six weeks.

The transfer of miracles is over. We have seen so many miracles, from subtle tender mercies to life-altering experiences. Amidst the suffering and hardship, we have found success, we have grown closer together as a companionship, and our testimonies have grown so much. But the greatest miracle of all is this: I have experienced the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

I know God lives and loves us. I know that Jesus Christ is the son of God, the Savior and Redeemer of mankind. No principalities or powers can separate us from His love. It is never too late to take His hand and walk alongside Him. He will never leave us alone and will always lend us His divine strength as we turn to Him. And I close this email in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

The sun is out. :)

God bless you all! Until next week,

-Sister Brianna Fox

Monday, March 17, 2014

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Hello Friends and Family!

So no joke, a random guy just walked up to me 5 minutes ago and asked me what I thought the purpose of life was. That's a hard question to answer in 2 minutes or less. Though OYMing is so much easier when they come up and start asking YOU direct questions. I told him about the Book of Mormon and Mormon.org. He's interested but not really. We'll see if that amounts to anything.

So . . . This week was really weird. It felt productive, but it didn't, but it did. It is also one big blur in my memory. But! Good news! I feel pretty energized today. I've been doing everything I can to catch up on sleep this week, which is hard for a missionary, but it mainly entails sleeping as much as you can during your lunch and dinner hour. I feel back to normal and ready to hit off a brand new week!

I guess I'll start off this week with Tuesday because that was P-day and that is probably the reason why this week felt so weird. Tuesday we went walking down by the river with a member in the ward and her 4-year-old daughter, who I have concluded is the cutest thing under the sun. There is a beautiful trail by the river near downtown Chattanooga, so we were able to enjoy the sunshine for a few hours. I even got sunburned!! Woohoo!!! It is a sign that spring has sprung! It has been up in the 60s and 70s and I'm extremely happy about it. I'm tired of winter. It makes everybody cranky. But the trees are blossoming, the sun is shining, the tank is clean, and we are having a grand ol' time here in Soddy Daisy!

At random intervals Sister Day and I have been saying, "Guess what? We're companions" as of late. Because sometimes it starts feeling normal that we're companions, and then we remember that we've been best friends since childhood, and then it gets weird again, and it's fun to reflect on how weird and fun it is. She is an awesome companion! She is so fun! I have learned so much from her already. She is super organized and is always on top of everything. She always knows what is going on and is incredibly dilligent. I am so lucky to have her! I even made up a companionship logo! As missionaries we leave a flipping ton of sticky notes on peoples' doors. I have taken the liberty as of late to draw a little cartoon fox sitting on a cloud with the sun behind it on every sticky note. Fox and Day. It's our logo. :) Daniel thinks we should make it into a t-shirt. Hmmm. Possibilities.

I'm in a very strange mood right now.

Wednesday I went to Chatt Branch! Chatt Branch is a really fun area to work in. It's located in Downtown Chattanooga, and the missionaries there have to abide by a few extra rules to be kept safe. It was totally fun and safe though! Sister Jack is from New York and knows how to live in the city. She's also a fantastic missionary; I learned a ton from her! Their apartment is super cool; it's actually attached to an old manor which is now the LDS Church Building. They live in the old slave quarters! Coolest apartment ever. We had a blast throughout the day walking around downtown and OYMing people. We mostly spent our time on campus, where we found a new golden investigator! Tons of fun. :) We also took the bus to the outskirts of the city to meet with some less-actives. It was definitely a new cultural experience; I haven't been to downtown anywhere for a long, long time. And no worries, it felt perfectly safe. The missionaries never go to the questionable areas; the ward won't let them. So we stayed in the safe areas and stuck with members. It was way fun!

Thursday I don't really remember. This week we had a hard time planning because the entire week was thrown off. I'm sure it was productive though. :)

Friday was good! We were able to see Ethan again. I love this kid. He is so funny! We were able to show him Finding Faith in Christ and he loved it. He has been retaining a lot lately and is getting closer and closer to being ready for his baptism! I'm so excited for him. He's the son of a less-active who has been starting to sit in on the lessons. We're hoping that Ethan's baptism will bring his family together. We've been praying for his mom to get back into church so he could have the family support he deserves. She is dating a non-member who took the lessons once but lost interest. We're praying for a miracle! It's actually a bit heartbreaking. I love working with kids, but it is hard to see them grow up in a rough environment. Hearing him ask his mom if she would start reading the Book of Mormon and praying with him every night made my heart swell with pride and break at the same time. It has stregnthened my personal testimony of the importance of family in this gospel. I have grown so much more aware of the impact of parenthood and the importance of building a family around Jesus Christ. I wish we could fix all the broken families out here. I love seeing them come together again. It's heartbreaking to see families fall apart and struggle. I am so grateful for this Gospel, and how it provides means for families to grow in love and unity in this life, as well as to be united eternally in the next. Ethan is always in my prayers, and I am hoping we can get his mom back into church. During this transfer of miracles, that would be the miracle I desire over anything else.

Saturday we were able to see Shirley again. She is well on her way toward the temple! We are waiting for her to get well again so she can attend church, and until then we have been visiting her and teaching her the lessons. She is so cute. She is like another grandmother to me; she calls us "My little Mormon girls." I just love her! Ah! That's the best thing about serving a mission; you grow attached to so many people and change their lives from simple to profound ways. I know I say it in just about every email, but there's nothing better or more satisfying. :)
We also found a new investigator on Saturday named Erica. We found her through a member, and she is really open! We taught her the Restoration, and I'll be honest, it wasn't the best lesson we've ever taught. For some reason we struggled to find the words, but she wanted to learn more and gladly accepted a copy of the Book of Mormon! Her son is also interested; he's 11 and he's read the bible twice. I don't even think I've read the bible twice. I haven't even read the bible from start to finish once; just the New Testament. That takes a lot of dedication. Anyway. We're excited to teach them!

We also saw Nina on Saturday. She is moving right along! Just need to help her get to church. That. Is the hardest commitment. To help people keep. We have tried absolutely everything, and it all comes down to their agency. The biggest problem is helping them get up in the morning. It can be a real challenge for people. They are always in our prayers! We'll keep pushing until they make it!

Yesterday we had a fantastic Sacrament Meeting on the power of the atonement, and then we taught Ethan the importance of prophets. We also tried to see several other people, but our appointments fell through. That happens sometimes. We were able to see Janet again though; she has been struggling with her health, and we were able to lift her spirits with scriptures from the Book of Mormon. Another one of those "going after the one" experiences. I like those. :)

Well. This email is short, but I honestly and truly cannot remember anything else that happened this week. The work is moving along, we are tired, but so happy to be companions and be working in Soddy Daisy. The ward is great, the area is fantastic, and we keep on pushing every day. This work is the best. It's the greatest. It's so fulfilling. If you want to experience it, go out this week and touch someone's heart. You won't regret it. :)

I love you all!! Thank you for the prayers and support! Have the best of weeks! Until next week!

-Sister Fox

There Are No Words

Hello friends and family!!

I am SO tired. I'm at least 14 kinds of tired. I don't think I've been this tired in my entire life. But it's a good kind of tired, and the Spirit is particularly talented at giving you the exact amount of energy you need every day to be productive. So! Still happy and well!

This week was so different. It was perfectly amazing. We saw so many miracles, and I saw a lot of changes in myself. I love missionary work. I love experiencing the rapid growth and witnessing rapid growth in others first-hand. Every single day my appreciation and love for my calling increases more and more. My heart grows more and more attached to the people here in Tennessee, and it breaks a little more at the end of each day knowing that it won't last forever. Turns out when you give your whole heart to a work, it's bound to break when the work is done. But it's the most glorious heartbreak one can ever experience. It's more than worth the difficulties that surround you on every side. The rewards cannot be put into words; they can only be felt through experience. I wish I had the eloquence to adequately express the profound joy that comes from being a missionary. It's this kind of joy that I wish would last forever. It's comforting to know that one day it will. :)

Monday we met with Austin and Megan again. Austin and Steven are so similar. They believe there could be a God, but they have little desire to really find out. I try to relate the best that I can, but I can't connect with the apathy. That is probably the strongest force that is keeping people from their potential, and the hardest thing to combat. It is so rewarding though, when desires and behavior change through learning the doctrine of Jesus Christ. They have a profound effect on people. Though Austin and Steven are not progressing very quickly, I still see a change in them. A little bit of light begins to grow as they decide to read the Book of Mormon. Even if I do not get the opportunity to witness their conversion, I feel pretty confident that they will gain a testimony for themselves one day. One step at a time. :)

Tuesday we spent most of the day finding and didn't have much success, but Sister Day and I have seen success in ourselves. It has been easier to go outside the boundaries of our comfort zones to spread the Gospel, and our approach is really improving (even though "Come here often??" is pretty hard to beat . . . ).

Wednesday we went on exchanges with the Signal Mountain sisters. They have been together for three transfers, so it was fun bringing Sister Crapo back to the area for a second time. She worked here with Sister Schwab in the past, so it was fun showing her how the area has grown and changed since our last exchange and since she served in the area herself. She has grown a lot too! Best thing about being a Sister Training Leader is witnessing the growth and the confidence boost in other missionaries. She is a firecracker! We spent the day going from one appointment to the next, which felt like a breath of fresh air compared to the slower pace of the past couple of weeks. One lesson that was particularly noteworthy was the one we had with Barbara. She is very in tune to the spirit and really wanted to know what happens to us after we die. We had a powerful lesson on the plan of salvation and she agreed to be baptized! We set a date for the end of March, but she really wants to gain her own personal testimony before she makes any life-changing decisions. So the date is subject to change, but I am glad that she understands the importance of gaining her own personal witness. That helps us know as missionaries if people are truly ready to be baptized. I'm so proud of her and excited for her progress!! She's like a grandmother to me. I love her!

After we talked to Barbara we OYMed a couple people in the facility and got a couple new investigators! We were also able to see Shirley; a long-lost member we recently found. She expressed her desire to get back into church and go to the temple once she gets well again. It truly is a miracle that we found her. We were able to hunt down her records and get members to fellowship her back into the church. The one of the ninety and nine has been found. There's no feeling like it. :)

Wednesday evening we were able to meet a new investigator for the first time, whose name is Vivian. Turns out she knows Daniel and Olivia! Small world. :) We taught her the Restoration and she accepted a copy of the Book of Mormon along with the challenge to read and pray about it. She is pretty promising; I'm excited to work with her. She won't be around all next week, so we'll have to wait for some time before we can teach her again. Bother.

Thursday morning we met with Nina before district meeting. We were able to teach her the Restoration and she believed everything. We gave her a copy of the Book of Mormon and told her to read and pray about it the lesson before, and she had! She says she believes it's the word of God. She accepted to be baptized in April! And the date we extended just happened to be her birthday! She was surprised that we didn't know beforehand that it was her birthday. She knew that it was inspired! She's pretty solid. She has had people after her on all sides, attacking our faith and beliefs. She has stood her ground and has defended our faith with every verbal attack. She is so solid. I'm so excited to see her progress. There is already a light in her eyes that wasn't there before. I love seeing the change in others, as well as in the atmosphere of their homes. The Spirit can create miraculous changes in people. Witnessing those changes first-hand is the most incredible experience of my life. :)

Thursday night we also got to see Ethan and teach him the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That kid is still a crack up! He said something about being a "human bean." We asked him what kind of bean. We started brainstorming what kind of beans that he could be, "Black bean? String bean? Kidney bean?" Sean, his mom's boyfriend, said, "More like a kidney stone. . ." And the three of us just busted up laughing. This family is the best. :)

Friday we did our weekly planning and then met with Barbara again to read the Book of Mormon with her. We also met with Shirley, then went to go see Daniel and Olivia. We had a really good lesson with Daniel and Olivia about Lehi's dream. We talked about the symbolism and the importance of continually holding fast to the rod throughout our lives so we can make it to the temple and ultimately the kingdom of God. Daniel was blowing my mind with the interpretations he pulled out of the scriptures. His spiritually has increased so dramatically and it has been the coolest thing to see! I just love this family so much. :)

Saturday we had a really good women's conference as a stake. We went to three different workshops and I learned more about maintaining peace in the home, family history, and fighting depression. Three very different topics, but they were all very interesting. I would go into detail but my time is going a lot faster than I would like. Bother. We also had a fantastic lesson with Amanda and Anthony, a couple less-actives in the ward. Sister Day and I have discovered that it helps investigators keep their commitments when they have a vision for where they want to be. Helping them set goals helps them change. We thought we would do the same with the less-actives in the ward and we have seen a few breakthroughs. We plainly asked if they wanted to go back to the temple and Amanda expressed her feelings that she wants to have her family sealed in the temple. We told them we want to help them reach that goal, and I think they're pretty excited! Sadly they didn't come to church due to getting sick. Everyone gets sick on Sundays. I think that if people get up and go to church anyway, they wouldn't feel sick anymore. Just my two cents.

Sunday was MLC! It was the best MLC I've been to since I became a Sister Training Leader 7 months ago. We talked about chapter 11 of Preach My Gospel and I received a ton of personal revelation as to how to help my investigators make and keep commitments, because that is one of the biggest roadblocks we have had to deal with. We also talked a lot about what it means to be a consecrated missionary, and being willing to sacrifice everything in order to do God's work. I also got to see Sister Schwab! And there was much rejoicing. :) She nailed me so hard with a hug that she knocked off my nametag. It was so good to see her! We did a lot of catching up and it was cool to report all the miracles occurring in Soddy Daisy. :) I just love her so much! I have had. The BEST. Companions. :)

We had the area seventy come to MLC this month and it was cool hearing his remarks. I've seen him dozens of times, simply because he's the area seventy. Well, Sunday morning we had to get up at 5:30 for correlation. Which really felt like 4:30. #daylightsavings. 4:30 + 3 hours of meetings + 2 hours of driving = braindead missionary. So the Area Seventy comes up to me as I walk in the door and shakes my hand and I say, "You look really familiar; have I met you before?" And then he said he was the Area Seventy. To which I replied, "Oh. That's embarrassing." He laughed really hard. :)

After MLC we met with the Area Seventy (I forgot his name so that's why I keep calling him that. #braindeadmissionary) and the Stake Presidents in the mission. We had a fantastic meeting about setting goals for number of baptisms per missionary per year. We set a goal together and all prayed together about it. Words could not describe the spirit that entered the room as we, the leadership of the mission and of the area, bowed our heads in prayer and sought revelation from God. Spiritual experiences like these are hard to describe, but they leave a strong imprint on your heart. Like I said, there are no words. Just profound feelings of love and gratitude.

Monday I was especially tired because it was supposed to be p-day but it wasn't and we didn't get to bed until 11:00 the night before due to MLC. So . . . still a braindead missionary. But! We had a fantastic zone meeting. It was one of the most life-changing zone meetings I have been to. And I couldn't really tell you why or how. We received revelation that really helped us click with our purpose as missionaries: to help others come unto Christ by helping them receive His restored gospel. I walked away with a greater sense of purpose than ever before, and it has shown in the way Sister Day and I have been approaching people on the street and how we work with them in lessons. The spirit is so much stronger, and I feel a greater love for the work and for these people than ever before. We had an incredible OYMing experience outside of Sister Ward's house. We met Tim, who has been struggling with his spirituality. We began to talk with him about Jesus Christ and His atonement, and Tim agreed to take the lessons and be baptized! He profusely thanked us and said no one has been so concerned for the welfare of his soul before. I had just met him and yet I felt a profound desire to see his life turn around. You develop a love for people as a missionary that cannot be put into words. It is the best work. Ever.

We also had a really good lesson with James and Hayes, and yet another successful OYMing experience. Things are clicking into place, and Sister Day and I are so tired but happier than ever to be missionaries and to be working together. This really is the greatest work. I love it so much. I wish I could adequately express it. I am so grateful that God has given me this opportunity to aid Him in His work, and for the incredible experiences I have had thus far. More is yet to come! It's not over yet and I am fixed with a determination to make the most of every second God has given me. I love this. I never want it to end, but when it does, I am excited to use the things I have learned to continue blessing lives.

Family and friends, I love you all so much. No words to describe that love either. :) Thank you so much for your emails and for your love and support. Have the best of weeks and I will write y'all again next week!

-Sister Fox

Monday, March 3, 2014

What is a Miracle?

Hello Friends and Family!!
 
This week was also painfully slow. Because when you get on the internet and tell the world you're trying to learn patience, God seizes that opportunity and showers you with plenty of experiences that will allow you to exercise patience if you choose to. But I still stand by what I said before, praying for patience is not praying for trials. You will get trials regardless. Praying for patience is praying for strength when the trials hit. End of short sermon.

Sister Day and I wrote a new song! It goes to the tune of the beloved Primary Children's Song, "What do you do in the Summertime?" It goes like this:

What do you do when appointments fall through,
As a missionary?
Do you sit in the car
And deliberate
Watching the time go by?
Is that what you do?
So do I.

Because. That's what we were reduced to this week. A lot. After all our plans and backup plans fell through and it was too dark to knock on random strangers' doors. But!! Good things still happened and I still learned a lot. God is so good to us. :)

Do you know what slow days do to a missionary? Or slow weeks, I should say? They make missionaries work harder. Because missionaries get desperate for teaching opportunities. So they try to be even more obedient. And even more diligent. And go way outside the boundaries of their comfort zone because at some point they are desperate to build their teaching pool. So these past weeks have been good for me. With Sister Schwab it was easier to talk to strangers because I would let her do all the talking. She is very social and loves talking to random strangers. I was not born with that talent; Sister Day and I are both fairly shy-ish. We've definitely improved in the last 14 months, but there's plenty of room for more improvement. We've been trying so hard to increase our teaching pool that we have gone out of the boundaries of our comfort zones multiple times this week. There was one moment in particular that was my favorite:

Sister Day and I were at a gas station, and I decided I should talk to the guy getting gas across the parking lot. Only problem was, he was across the parking lot. And we were filling the car with gas. And cars were whizzing past the busy highway. It was noisy. So I stood my ground and decided to project. They tell you to just open your mouth and words come out, so I found myself doing that and ended up saying/shouting: "COME HERE OFTEN????"  Brilliant. He thought it was funny and laughed, and I asked him his name, and then we exchanged small talk, and then we offered to share him a message about Jesus Christ and the Restoration of the Gospel and he said no. But. I am really proud of myself for being able to do that because that is not something I would have done back at home. I've learned that really awkward conversations aren't even that bad. And they're a way of showing God you're willing to act on promptings, no matter how awkward the situation may seem. So. Learning experience, I guess. "Come here often?" is now the inside joke of the district.
Monday night we did have a really good experience with a less active named Steven. He left the church years ago and we're not sure why, but we know he was really bitter and against it for several years. He went completely athiest. He really opened up to us though, and he committed to reading the Book of Mormon! Woohoo! His dad was thrilled; he's an active member of the church. I really do love working with less-actives. I feel like that is where we find most of our success in Soddy Daisy.

Tuesday we found a potential family of four. One of them is a less-active who had the wrong address on the roster. We found the right place and met her husband and two kids, who are looking for a church. So . . . potential! Hopefully that works out. If not I'm sure God has something else in store, even though He's not showing us right away.

Wednesday we went on power-ups with two different areas. Sister Day went to Athens, which was fun for her because she served there for a while. I went to Cleveland. Cleveland is doing really well; they were struggling at first with their teaching pool but they have found several golden investigators who are about to be baptized! Woohoo! I got to meet one of them, and he's awesome. He referred himself on mormon.org. That certainly doesn't happen often. I'm really happy for them. We're having a lot of success/miracles in the zone right now, so that's something to be excited about!

Thursday we met with Gatona; the less-active who cried when we gave her the Book of Mormon. She desperately wants us to teach her husband, who is fairly open to taking the lessons, but every appointment we made with them fell through this week. I guess it's not time yet or God has something else in mind. Sometimes missionary work feels like a lot of guesswork. But we try the best we can and wait for God's arm to be revealed. And it always is, even if it takes a while. Everything else fell through on Thursday and I don't really remember what we did instead. I'm sure it was important though.

Friday we had an appointment with the aforementioned family of four but it dropped. We had the feeling to drop in on a less-active before returning to our weekly planning, so we did and she ended up needing a lot of help in her yard. So we drove home, put on our work clothes, and helped dig out bulbs from her dead garden. It was actually really fun! I miss doing yardwork (yes, I know, I'm crazy). She even let me take a hammer to her planting boxes to take them apart! That was the fun part. Great way to relieve stress. :)

Saturday we had another really good appointment with Hayes. We took a couple members of the ward with us and we taught him the Plan of Salvation. When people aren't coming to church or doing anything to feed their spirituality, it's because they lack eternal perspective. It went really well, and it helped him understand the importance of the decisions we make here in this life. He and his dad promised they would be at church, but they didn't show. :( In fact, we were expecting 3 less active families, a family of recent converts, and 3 investigators and none of them showed. Rough day yesterday. Once again, lesson in patience. God's will, God's timing. :)
Saturday we also had a really good lesson with the Smith family, who are also less-active. We taught them the Plan of Salvation as well, and it was cool to see them get involved in the lesson. At first they weren't progressing at all. They wouldn't keep appointments and would get annoyed when we would drop by. But lately they've been holding appointments, contributing to lessons, and reading their scripture assignments. Slowly, but surely! They just need to get to church. All in due time.

Sunday, despite the lack of attendance at church, was actually pretty good. Well, before all our appointments fell through. We did get to see Shirley again though!! She's back in the health center we volunteer at. It was great to see her again; we've been trying to find her for two weeks. She agreed to have us come back and teach her the lessons (she's inactive and she's forgotten mostly everything) and her roommate (who is not a member) said she would love to learn! Her granddaughter (who is also not a member) said she would be interested too! So . . . potential!
Sunday evening, because our appointments fell through, we decided to drop in on Ethan and his mom. His mom was home and let us in to teach him! I don't have time to explain why that was a miracle, but I'm just going to take the liberty right now to say that it was a miracle. We taught him the Plan of Salvation and he loved it! We had him draw it out on a piece of paper as we went along, and he took the liberty of drawing Sister Day and I burning in spirit prison. Disclaimer: He really loves us. He's just a goof. :) He's way fun to teach; he is the funniest kid with more spunk and vitality than I have seen in any other child. Teaching Ethan is always the highlight of my week!

So, there ya have it. Slow week, with good things still happening here and there. This week I actually focused a little less on patience and a little more on miracles. I was thinking about the email I wrote last week about wondering what happened to the miracles. I took the liberty to study miracles this week and loved the definition I found in the bible dictionary. It says that miracles, basically, are manifestations of God's hand in our lives. When God is with us, miracles happen naturally as a result. I decided to write down all the miracles--or all the times I've seen God's hand working in my life--so far this transfer. Though it has been extremely slow since the Transfer of Miracles has begun, I still was able to get a solid page of miracles I have seen.

Do you know what's a miracle? The fact that my best friend since elementary school is my missionary companion, who has been assigned to me during the transfer uncoincidentally dubbed, "The Transfer of Miracles."

Do you know what else is a miracle? The fact that I could escape the bounds of my comfort zone this week and approach completely random strangers in the most awkward and uncomfortable situations to share the Gospel. #Comehereoften??? (Yes, Sister Schwab got me in the habit of speaking in hashtags. Deal with it. :P)

Do you know what else is a miracle? That even though every appointment fell through this week and we had the hardest time finding something to do, we were always able to find something to do, or find something to learn, or basically find a way to accomplish our purpose each and every day.

We have three less-active families progressing in the gospel.

We have two athiests who are praying again.

We have a child who wants to be baptized and his family is finally starting to rally around him for support.

I saw a gorgeous sunset a few days ago.

The weather has been gorgeous every single day.

I have more energy than I have had in a long time.

Millions of people are praying for me.

Several friends are still writing me despite my inability to return their letters.

And I'm learning patience.

This week I have learned so much about the key to patience. It's looking for miracles in our lives. They happen every single day. Obvious and subtle. Happiness really comes from increasing our efforts to look for God's hand in our lives and acknowledging His hand each time it is manifest, whether it be grand or subtle. It's a great attribute to have, actually. I think I'll call it gratitude. :) When we are grateful for what we have, it is easier to be patient. Are these the miracles I was expecting and hoping for? Some of them. Not all of them. But they're enough to let me know that God is still walking beside me each and every day, He is hearing and answering my prayers, and He is still guiding and directing His work, even if it's something I cannot see with my natural eyes. I can feel that every day God is subtlely clicking pieces into place to allow for growth and change to occur in the hearts of His children in this area. I can't see it, but I know it's happening. I may not be able to reap what I've sown in this area, but I know I'm making a difference, because I've been doing all I can to do God's will. These are some of the slowest weeks I've had, but I still have the comfort of knowing God is with me and Sister Day. So we keep pushing. Good things are coming. And we're learning in the waiting. :)
I think back to the scripture in Nephi where Nephi explains why Laman and Lemuel were complaining all the time. I don't have time to look up the reference, but it is something along the lines of, "They murmured because they knew not the dealings of God." Points to whoever finds the reference. When we don't make the effort to try to understand God's will for us in our lives, of course we are going to complain and be impatient when the hard times hit. But when we allow ourselves to hope, and we try to see God's hand in our lives, we can be patient and be happy here and now, while we are waiting. Through small and simple things great things are brought to pass. :)

Well friends and family, this email is pretty short, but so is my time. So! I hope you all know that I love you. I'm praying for you. I'm grateful for all that you have done for me. All of you are personal miracles in my life. Each letter/email is a miracle because each one contains something I need to hear to keep me going. They serve as gentle reminders that God is aware of me and He wants to help me. :) So thank you all so much! God bless! Until next week! Which, by the way, will be Tuesday again because of Zone Conference on Monday (I don't know why they're doing that to us again but I can't complain). So, until next Tuesday! Love y'all!!

-Sister Fox

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Let Patience Have Her Perfect Work

Hey y'all!

Guess what? This email is going to be a bit short. For several reasons, but the biggest one is that this week was *painfully* slow. But. I learned a ton, so it goes to show that slow weeks are still good for missionaries. Yeah. Still good.

Monday and Tuesday I don't really remember. I remember sleeping and writing letters on Monday. I also had the opportunity to introduce Sister Day to Daniel and Olivia! We had another good lesson with them. I think I wrote about it last week. Everything in my mind is kind of a blur. Tuesday was really slow after emailing; I honestly don't remember a single thing that happened. Ah well, stuff that happened that day will probably be important in the long run.

Wednesday we had a fairly good day. We teamed up with Sister Ward, who took us to see her friend Nina. She wants to learn more about the Gospel! We taught her about the Atonement and how the Restored Gospel helps us access the powers of the Atonement to be made clean, to have our burdens lifted, and ultimately qualify for eternal life ('Cuz that's what the Gospel is about, right? Took me 9 months to figure that out). We asked her what she was looking for in a church, and her answer was a perfect fit to our our message! So we're gonna go back and teach her. Pretty exciting!
Wednesday afternoon we proceeded to drop 3 of our investigators. And I'm really attached to all three. That was kind of painful. I learned a lot this week about yielding one's heart to God, and accepting His will with His timing. Sometimes when investigators don't progress you have to drop them. It's kind of heart wrenching, but necessary. I also learned if you show God you are willing to follow Him, even when it's painful, good things follow. :) Still waiting on those good things, but I know they'll come. It is the Lord's work after all.

Thursday every appointment fell through, though we did have another ministering to "the one" moment with Austin's mom. She has been going through a rough time and we helped her know that God loves her and is mindful of her. She will be moving soon, so we're going to be giving her to the elders, but I'm just glad that she appreciates us and wants to learn more about the Gospel. That's all that matters.

Friday we had a really good lesson about the Gospel of Jesus Christ with a less-active family. That lesson has been working wonders with our less actives. It really is the doctrine of the Atonement that changes lives. Once people gain a greater understanding of the Atonement, their motivation to walk the path of righteousness increases. They wanted to make it to church yesterday, but they overslept. It happens. Hopefully they'll make it next week! They're coming along pretty well. We also had a lesson with Hayes again. He loved coming to church last week and wanted to come yesterday. I'm not sure what stopped him. We only had one person come yesterday out of the expected ten. At least one came!

Saturday we went to man a church booth at the local Emergency Preparedness Fair. We handed out surveys to non-members to fill out about their interest in learning the Gospel. It is a really easy, pressure-free way of inviting people to learn the Gospel. We had three people from Soddy-Daisy express interest, so we have potential! We'll be contacting them this week. Fingers crossed we add new investigators to the teaching pool! Saturday night we taught John and Teresa again with the Johnsons. John is actually pretty far along. We talked about the difference between immortality and eternal life and put an emphasis on baptism by priesthood authority in order to obtain God's greatest blessings. He said he would be baptized once he got a spiritual confirmation that this is all true, so right now we're helping him obtain that confirmation. He loves the Book of Mormon, so he's coming along quite nicely! He works a ton, so we don't get to see him very often. I can see him accepting the Gospel within the next few months though. He's in our prayers!

Yesterday we had another solid lesson with another less-active family about the Atonement. If any of you are struggling with less-actives, study the Atonement. It really works miracles within the walls of their homes if you can get in the door. Then we had an awesome lesson about the Restoration with Ethan, our 9-year-old investigator who is anxious to be baptized. He is so cute. It was a long, slow, hard week, but Ethan made the entire week perfectly worth it. :) He has so much energy and had me cracking up the entire time! We brought a cup visual to help him learn the Apostasy and he was SO excited. He saw the stack of cups and started bouncing up and down on the couch. His grandmother asked him if he would be able to pay attention. His eyes got all wide, he got up close to her and said in a serious tone, "Maayybeee....." It was. SO. Funny. I love this kid to pieces. I love working with kids in general. It's the best thing ever.

So, honestly and truly, that was my week. That's as exciting as it gets. Most of the week was painfully slow, but we had some good things. I learned so much though. So that's what the next half of this email is going to be about.

So, this transfer this mission is going through a sanctification process where each of us is striving toward exact obedience. They tell us "exact obedience brings miracles." Thus, we are calling this transfer, "The Transfer of Miracles." It seems that many companionships have seen instant results. We have a companionship in our district that committed 6 people to be baptized just this past week. Well, no such luck here. Instead we have lost almost every single one of our investigators, and the rest aren't progressing and are headed down that same path.

So, I thought this week about what was missing. I thought maybe I should study harder for investigators. Nothing really happened. Maybe I should pray more sincerely. Nothing happened. I'm exactly obedient. Nothing's happening. Maybe I should improve my planning. Nothing happened. So now by the end of the week one of us is getting a little frustrated. Where are the miracles? Where's the success? I got down on my knees and asked God, "What am I missing?"

Immediate answer. One word. Patience.

As I said a couple weeks ago, I've been praying for patience. I've learned that praying for patience is scary. I've also learned that praying for patience really isn't that scary at all.

The scriptures say that the trial of our faith is what works our patience. So we tend to think that when we pray for patience, trials will rain down upon our heads so that we are compelled to learn how to face these trials calmly and hopefully. Well. Sometimes that happens. But that's not the only way to learn patience. And praying for patience goes a little deeper than just praying for trials.

I've studied a lot this week about what makes us impatient. Sometimes we are impatient with ourselves. We have these weaknesses, fears, and anxieties we can't seem to let go of. And we feel like we should. We should be better at this. So we get impatient and want this change instantly. Because really, we feel empty. Our own shortcomings leave us empty. And we want this emptiness to be filled, and we want it now!

Sometimes we are impatient with others. Sometimes they are harsh, cruel, or impatient with you, uncaring, unforgiving, or apathetic toward things you love. Their shortcomings create empty spaces of unmet needs within us. So we tend to get angry or frustrated with these people. We wish they would just comply, cooperate, or be different so our needs can be met. Or even so their needs can be met. We want this emptiness to be filled, and we want it now!

Sometimes we are impatient with our circumstances. Life just doesn't always go the way you want it to go. Frustrating, right? You have righteous desires, why aren't they happening? Aren't you doing everything right? Stealing this thought from my favorite sister of mine, sometimes we look for a magic button to get us out of this maze and to a place where our needs are all met (I just want ONE. BUT-TEN! THAT'S IT!). We think there's one answer that will fix all our problems overnight. Maybe we need to pray more. Or study more. Or be more obedient. Really, we can be doing everything right and still not see results. Life sometimes leaves us empty. We want this emptiness to be filled, and we want it now! But we have to learn patience.

President Uchtdorf's talk, "Continue in Patience" is exceptionally good. I would recommend it to everyone.

I've learned this week that patience is more than simply waiting. It's more than suppressing or ignoring thoughts of anger, frustration, or anxiety until our needs are met. Instead, patience is all about applying the Atonement in our lives. And that's why praying for patience isn't really scary at all. When we're praying for patience, we're praying for a greater understanding of the Atonement. We're praying for the ability to turn to Jesus Christ and lean on His atonement when outside forces leave us empty, until that ability becomes a natural response.

Patience, Hope, and the Atonement are all related. I've talked a lot in the past about hope and how important that principle is to me. Hope comes through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Because of the Atonement, we know that we really have nothing to worry about, as long as we follow Jesus Christ. Patience is the same; it comes from the Atonement. Romans 8 says, "If we hope for that we see not, then we do with patience wait for it." When we truly have hope, we have patience. We know everything is going to turn out okay, so we have the ability to wait for it.

Right? Wait. We know things are going to be good. But they're not good right now. Still empty. What good does patience do me?
I learned this week that patience is what fills the emptiness. Patience isn't just succumbing to those empty spaces created by yourself, others, or undesirable circumstances. Patience is relying on the Atonement to fill those empty spaces. It's turning to Jesus Christ for healing. James 1:4 states, "But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." Wanting=lacking. When we are patient, we aren't lacking anything. There are no empty spaces. There's a scripture in Romans 5 that states that trials work patience, which lead to hope, which "maketh not ashamed." Hope fills the emptiness. When we are patient, we are relying on the Atonement to fill our empty spaces and bind up our broken heart. We are relying on the Atonement to meet all our unmet needs. Because it meets every need if we let it.

Now I'm not really talking about the ability to wait in line at the grocery store or not swear at a driver who cuts you off on the freeway, but eternal perspective can help in those cases too. Whenever you feel empty, abandoned, hurt, or impatient, know that the Atonement will fill those empty spaces and Christ will give you the strength to overcome all things. In the words of Paul in Phillippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me."

So, there ya have it. Praying for patience isn't all that scary. It's actually pretty important. Because when we're patient, we are never left empty.

That is all for this week family and friends! Thank you all for the prayers and support. I appreciate everything all of you do! I love y'all so much and wish you all the best. Missionary work is still the best thing ever and I love nothing more than being out here and serving God every day, no matter what it entails. God bless you all! Until next week!

-Sister Bri Fox