Monday, June 30, 2014

Forward, not Backward

Hello Family and Friends and other Fantastic blog readers!!! (Just for clarification, I'm calling the readers fantastic, not the blog. Just in case some people were thinking that I'm getting a big head or something . . .)

This week was really weird and I have a weird mixture of emotions going on inside my skull (cuz . . that's where they're located?) that I can't really put into words, so who knows how this post will turn out?

But, for the most part, this week was good. So no worries there. :)

Monday we played basketball as a zone! And by "we" I mean the elders and the one sister who has basketball skills. I sat on the stage and wrote letters while trying not to get nailed by said basketball. I succeeded for the most part.

Monday night we had a cookout and a family home evening with some members in the ward. Do you know that a barbecue and a cookout are two different things?? More proof that I'm not from the South: I thought they were one in the same. A barbecue is when you put barbecue sauce on it. Because if there's no barbecue sauce, then it's not BBQ. A cookout is when you just "cook" things "out" on your grill. No BBQ. So that provides an explanation in advance as to why I'm going to be all picky about what I call food gatherings in the future.

Anyway.

The family home evening went really well! We met Joy and Gary, an older couple who have been investigating the church for quite some time. We watched a mormon message on the Atonement of Jesus Christ and talked about how it changes our lives, and how that change is made possible through baptism by authority and living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They both said they are still searching for the truth, but if they come to know that all this is true then they will be baptized. I have really high hopes for them; they are amazing people. The spirit was really strong and I could feel God's love for them. That's one of the incredible blessings of being a missionary; we have the opportunity to feel God's love for others. It's overwhelming to think about how much He truly loves us. I have felt that love so much this week. More on that in a minute.

Tuesday we volunteered at the Bishop's Storehouse in Knoxville and I saw ward members from West Hills!! And that is where Sister Roundy is serving so I got to say hi to her!! It was fantastic. :) It was like a family reunion! Except instead of eating tons of food we were putting it all in boxes. It was the first time I've volunteered at a storehouse, and it was really cool to see how much effort the church puts into providing relief for families. We volunteer every Tuesday, so I'm excited to go back tomorrow!

The highlight of Wednesday was dinner with David and Bethany! I love those two. They are probably the most lovely couple you could ever meet, and they are friendly and fun! They took us to Cheddars, which is one of my favorite restaurants in Knoxville, then we went back to their place for a lesson. David is going to be baptized this Saturday and we are really excited for him! He's excited too. They both have been blessed with incredible gifts that will bless the lives of those around them; I'm excited to see what the Lord has in store for them! The best part of this being my last area is that I won't have the cliffhanger problem when I leave! #facebook.

Speaking of leaving, Thursday was an interesting experience for me. We were visiting a member named Edie (who is amazing, by the way! She knows tons of government officials and she has formally introduced several missionaries to the mayor of Knoxville. She is one of the best public relations specialists I have ever met!) when we ran into a couple of sisters who were visiting some of their favorite places that they served when they were missionaries here. I actually knew both of them: Sister Cady and Sister Preston! I served with Sister Cady twice while I was on exchanges. On just those two exchanges, she taught me so much about how to be a missionary, and successfully changed the course of my mission. Twice. I've looked up to her since I first came out. It was so fun to see her again! Sister Preston was my first Sister Training Leader and I really look up to her as well. They were really solid missionaries. Sister Cady told me a lot about what it's like to not be a missionary anymore and it kind of scared me a bit. She got emotional as she shared her experience with losing the mantle of a missionary and having to rediscover how the Spirit communicates with her. It was a hard adjustment for her.

So that put my spirits into a weird state of affairs. I don't really know how to say this without offending anyone. So I'm just gonna tell it how it is; I may or may not have been unable to sleep at night due to nightmares, and I'm thinking that they're mostly caused by the stress I feel about going home.

But let me explain. No, it's too much, let me sum up:

I am really *really* attached to my calling as a missionary. This has been an experience, like I've said before, that I will always hold sacred. I feel so close to God serving as His personal representative that I'm scared to think of the differences that will occur in my own spirituality by losing my calling. Not that I think I will regress in my spirituality (I sure hope not), but that the growth won't be so rapid. And for some reason or another that saddens and scares me.

Plus, change is really hard for me. When I grow attached to people, my heart breaks to leave them. Losing myself in the service of God 24/7 has changed my life, and it will feel so different devoting my time to other things. It's hard to put into words, but to be honest I am really scared to leave this lifestyle behind.

At least I was all last week. I had to do yoga and meditation in the evenings to calm myself down so I could sleep. Every time someone brought up the end of my mission my heart sank a little. And it still does a bit. But! I'm feeling a lot better now. And that's because of Elder Holland.

Yeup! Elder Holland. He is the one that inspired me to serve a mission, and now he's the one that is inspiring me to end it with a spirit of gratitude.

The talk he gave entitled, "The First Great Commandment" is the one that inspired me to serve a mission, if anyone is curious.

I read a talk by him just this morning entitled, "Remember Lot's Wife." Oh heavens. Go read it.

Usually when people are discussing what happened to Lot's wife, they teach about the importance of leaving behind a sinful life. In this case, Elder Holland speaks about the importance of living in the present and looking toward the future with an eye of faith. Faith, he says, is "always pointed toward the future." In the case of Lot's wife, part of her sin was that "she doubted the Lord's ability to give her something better than she already had." Whoa. If that wasn't a personal call to repentance I don't know what was.

Elder Holland goes on to say that we shouldn't dwell on past mistakes either. This isn't too relative to what I was talking about earlier but it's good so I'm including it in this post anyway. As we dwell on our past mistakes and imperfections, or the mistakes and imperfections of others, "it stands in terrible opposition to the grandeur and majesty of the Atonement of Christ." It "rips out of [our] grasp that for which Christ has grasped [us]. God does not care nearly as much about where we have been as He does about where we are and where we are willing to go with His help.

But back to looking to the future with an eye of faith, Elder Holland concludes his miraculous address by saying, "Faith builds on the past but never longs to stay there." Change, at times, is hard to accept. Sometimes we long for the past. The past is meant to be learned from, but not lived in. We should not let our attachments to our past--or our fears from it--prevent us from obtaining the blessings of the glorious future God has in store for each and every one of us. As Thomas S. Monson once stated, "Your future is as bright as your faith." God has a miraculous plan for each and every one of us. That includes temporary interruptions that we see as endings. But, in the eternal scheme of things, these are not endings, but everlasting beginnings, as mentioned in this past General Conference by President Uchtdorf.

So, to me, going home means the end of my time as a full-time missionary, but it is not the end of my mission, and it certainly isn't the end of my life. It will be different, but if I welcome it with a spirit of faith and gratitude, it can and will be just as glorious as my mission. I feel inspired by the words of Paul, "For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content" (Philippians 4:11).

Now, this probably sounds repetitive, because I'm pretty sure almost every post for the last several weeks has been about me coming to terms spiritually about going home/not being a missionary anymore. Rest assured, I'm making progress. I'm just happy God is patient. :)

One last verse to finish:

D&C 128:22 - "Shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad."

As we walk through life, we should always look forward with an eye of faith and see the beauty of God's plan as it unfolds for each and every one of us.

And yes, I love you all and miss you all, so keep that in mind as you read these posts. :)

I wish I had more time to tell y'all about the rest of my week! . . . Sister Fox's week in 2 minutes GO!

Friday we helped someone move and then we had to push off weekly planning because we were so busy, then we saw a less active who is coming back to church (he came!!!) named Jordan and a recent convert named John who said he wants to serve a mission (YAY!!!)! Then we saw a member named Ronnie and his girlfriend Cassie whom we taught the next day and she agreed to be baptized (YAY!!!!!!!!!!)! And we met our landlord and he is really nice.

Saturday we went to the Irion's farewell at the church and we performed! I performed in a trio with Sister Gotchy and Sister Clark, and we sang a gorgeous rendition of Brightly Beams our Father's Mercy. Then as a district we sang the EFY medley. Sister Irion bawled all the way through it. I'm going to miss those two! I love them so much!

Sunday we went to the Bishop's house for dinner and he invited David and Bethany, so it was awesome! We all played Loaded Questions together to get to know eachother better and it was a blast. That game is hilarious! Y'all should go buy it. We laughed and had a good time, shared a message about eternal families, and went home.

Sunday night we were talking together as roommates and started wondering why so many of us were having trouble sleeping and didn't feel at peace. Then we found out our apartment hadn't been dedicated so we dedicated it and the atmosphere already feels so much lighter. It's amazing how the presence of the Spirit can change an atmosphere in a home!!!

I love you lots!!!! Have a wonderful week!!

-Sister Fox

Monday, June 23, 2014

Was it Worth It?

Hello Family, Friends, and Followers!

The Church is true!!!

Can I just say transfers are bizarre? Each time I'm transferred I find myself trying to adjust to a new ward, new companions, and new perspectives on how missionary work is done. I am in my fifth area and it feels like I've served five different missions. Each place is so vastly different but incredibly special in its own way. Each area becomes a sacred place to me, because each one stretches me in different ways and transforms my character into something more Christlike than I could have imagined. I'm excited to see what this new area will teach me!

Where am I, you may ask? CHATT BRANCH! I got transferred to downtown Chattanooga!!!!!!!!!

Just kidding. :)

Couldn't resist.

I am in Pellissippi! I actually came here once before on exchanges with Sister Cady over a year ago. The Pellissippi ward borders the West Hills ward, so I feel like I'm back in my second area. It is also quite surprising how close I am to Farragut. The mission office is only about 5 minutes away; I've never been this close to the mission office before. I have two companions again! We are in another trio. Companions #11 and #12, Sister Gotchy (Go-chee) and Sister Leifson (layf-son). Everyone pronounces their names incorrectly so I thought I would throw the correct pronunciation in there. Everyone gets mine right, though! =D

My companions are awesome. Sister Leifson was actually a missionary serving down in the Philippines but had to transfer to the states for health reasons. She's been out for about 7 months. Sister Gotchy goes home the transfer after I do, so we're all pretty seasoned missionaries.

Y'all would not believe the apartment. It's actually not an apartment; it's a condo. I feel perfectly spoiled. It's the size of a house! Huge kitchen, two floors, 2 bedrooms, 2 studies, 3 bathrooms, and a 2 car garage to house our 2013 Chevy Cruise.
Yes. We are spoiled.

GUESS WHAT? Because our apartment/condo is so huge, we share it with another set of missionaries. So I have two extra roommates! Sister Clark and . . . Sister DAY! They live upstairs and we live downstairs. It has been so fun!! Having Sister Day here as I finish my mission will be a huge help to me, and I'm sure it will be helpful for her as well. It's nice to be surrounded by amazing people!!

So! This week, like most weeks, was awesome and perfectly difficult. Change is always hard, but it builds character. Missions teach you to adjust to change, that's for sure. Once you get comfortable they boot you out to another place! But everywhere you go, you know it's where the Lord wants you. That's what is so fantastic about the mission. You know, without a doubt, that wherever you are is exactly where the Lord wants you to be. It's an incredible blessing.

Monday we had Family Home Evening with Dominique again. We taught the Plan of Salvation and talked about baptism by Priesthood Authority. It definitely gave her something new to think about, but she's open to finding out for herself if these things are true. She left town, so Sisters Lee and Johnson won't be able to teach her for a couple weeks, but I hope they find success.

Do you know what's great about a mission? You get to meet so many people and hear all their amazing stories. Do you know what's hard about a mission? You have to leave people right in the middle of the story so your life becomes a series of endless cliffhangers. Like Lost.

Anyway.

Tuesday we spent the day saying goodbye to all my favorite people and it was hard because I love them like I love my own family. The Hixson ward truly became my family and I am so grateful I had the opportunity to spend such a long time with all of them. I'm coming back to visit! It's happening.

Funny story about saying goodbyes, I went to say goodbye to Sister Adamz, one of the older widows in the ward. She is a sweet old woman but she's not afraid to tell you how it is and what's on her mind. Every time we visit her she sends us off with ice cream, pie, cookies, brownies, you name it. She sent us off with pie this time and I said, "Sister Adamz, I'm going to miss all your delicious stuff!! . . . And you, of course. I'll miss you more." To which she replied, "Well I'M delicious STUFF!!" I don't think I stopped laughing until I went to bed that evening. Seniors are the best. :)

Tuesday we also said goodbye to Shirley, and that was a tough one because I've grown really close to her. She is so close to feeling well enough to come to church, and she said she would come if we got her a ride. I hope she came yesterday! #cliffhangers. I'm just grateful for the opportunity I had to teach her, and I'm excited for her to go back to the temple and be a fully active member again. I can already tell it has brought her so much peace and joy. That is what the Gospel does, you know. :)

Tuesday evening I said goodbye to the Smiths, which was also hard because I love that family. They are progressing pretty well, and they said they would come to church. So. I hope they made it yesterday. #cliffhangers.

I'm not coming back to the area for another year; I feel like I'm waiting for the next Harry Potter book or something.

Wednesday was transfer day. Sister Phillips drove us 2 hours to Farragut, where we all met for our transfer meeting. This one was particularly tough because President and Sister Irion had to give their departing testimonies. I will miss them so much, but I am excited to meet President and Sister Griffin. What's cool is that the mission president is in the ward that shares our church building, so I ran into President and Sister Irion yesterday, and we will be throwing them a goodbye party this weekend. So I will get to see them again!! It's awesome.

Wednesday evening we went to see a couple of investigators, David and Bethany. They are a young married couple with very strong testimonies about the restored gospel. They're amazing! They know it's true, but they're facing a lot of opposition right now. They're so solid; David's favorite thing is to look up old General Conference talks online. He'll spend hours reading and watching Conference talks, studying up on Church history, and learning as much as he can about the Church. He was even reading Conference addresses given back in the 1970s. He is going to be baptized next Saturday! Best birthday present ever!

Thursday we had our weekly planning, we met with the Ward Mission Leader, and we started to familiarize ourselves with the area. This ward is pretty big, and we are the only set of missionaries. This is the first time on my mission that I have had a ward to myself; I've shared my 4 other wards with at least one set of missionaries, sometimes 2. So, we have plenty to do! It's quite nice. The people are amazing and incredibly helpful. They refer to this area as the Promised Land; I believe it! It's fantastic.

Friday we had our first district meeting and I love my district already. The missionaries in this area are incredible and I'm excited to learn from them. This is going to be an amazing transfer!

Saturday we had our Sisters Conference Call. We have it once per transfer to build unity among the sisters in the mission. We hear the testimonies of the new sisters, the testimonies of the departing sisters, and whatever trainings President and Sister Irion want to present. This time there were 14 departing sisters so the entire call was dedicated to them.
I mean us. Because. I'm one of those. :(

It was an incredible call though. Because hearing testimonies takes a little too long, Sister Irion had us answer this question, "Are you happy you served a mission? Why?" She also sent out a little text saying that if we aren't happy we served a mission we could text her and she wouldn't call on us.

I was happy to see that all 14 sisters were called upon to share their thoughts. :)

Why is that? Because missions are *amazing*. This was one of the hardest testimonies to put together for me. How could I possibly sum up why I'm happy I served a mission? Given time and paper, I could write a book of reasons why I'm happy I came out here. But I had to sum it up in two minutes.

My mission has been hard. Leaving behind the life I loved and everything that I wanted was the hardest thing I've ever done. For almost 18 months I have struggled against the power of the adversary, facing heartache after heartache as people I love have failed to make the changes that would bring them the happiness that I enjoy. I've been laughed at, ridiculed, and screamed at. My faith has been targeted and torn apart like it never has before. My heart has broken on so many occasions as I have had to watch people that I love struggle under the weight of the world and give into temptation. All 14 of us faced these challenges and more. Was it worth it?

In the end, it was worth it to each and every one of us. More than worth it. There was no question. Of course I wasn't going to send a text to Sister Irion to ask to not be called upon. And as I listened to the conviction of those other 13 sisters who came out to the field with me, I pieced together in my heart the reason why.

Every single sister talked about the Atonement.

Missionary work is centered on the Atonement. Our purpose is to help others change through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. In the process, we, too, are changed through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

The first lesson I learned as a missionary after a really rough night in the MTC ( I would elaborate but I don't have time) was that your mission is not about you.

The wonderful paradox of serving a mission is that it really is all about you. Our missions are tailored to our personality and character to help us experience the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Every single experience I have had, both challenging and easy, has pointed me toward my Savior Jesus Christ. I have overcome weaknesses I never thought I could overcome. I have been able to weave Christlike attributes into my character like I never have before. My testimony has been fortified like it never has before. No matter how challenging our lives may be, each of these challenges can point us toward the Atonement if we let it. That is why my mission has been so sacred to me. Though challenging, it has helped me experience the Atonement. It has made me so much stronger. It has helped me develop a commitment to the Gospel that I will never lose. It has helped me understand that change is possible for anyone, no matter where they are on the path. It has helped me see how the Gospel--how the Atonement--changes people. Words cannot describe the blessings that flow from serving a mission. It is something I will always hold sacred and something I will never ever regret.

It is the hardest thing I have ever loved to do. :)

So I used those two minutes to testify of the healing and sanctifying powers of the atonement, and the joy that comes from seeing it in others and seeing it in myself. I wouldn't trade this experience for anything, even the times I found myself sobbing on my knees. Each experience has shaped me into a person I have truly come to love, and has helped me come to love and trust my Savior in profound ways. I love this Gospel. I love this work. It is absolutely and perfectly worth it.

Serve a mission. :)

I love you all!! I hope you have a great week and I will update y'all on my adventures next Monday!!

-Sister Fox

Monday, June 16, 2014

Questions of the Soul

Hey Y'all!!

Greetings from Chattanooga, Tennessee!!!

*Sniff* And probably the last greetings that will come from Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Yes, yes. It is time for Sister Fox to say goodbye to the beautiful town of Soddy Daisy, and the incredible ward family here in Hixson. I am so incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to serve here for so long. It has been one of my favorite wards, probably because I have been able to serve for so long and get to know the people so well. I have so many people here that I now consider family. I have seen so many people grow and change, and these 5 transfers I have spent here have been packed with miracles. In two days I will learn of my fate for the last 6 weeks of my mission. It seems a bit strange that I will be going to a new area for only 6 weeks, but I am more determined than ever to bless as many lives in that area as possible. My current companions have certainly showed me that a lot of positive changes can occur in six weeks with the arrival of new missionaries! It's gonna be good. :)

Last six weeks. Hasn't really started to sink in yet. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

I am happy to report that each missionary in this trio has lived her dream in Chattanooga. It was Sister Johnson's dream to go to Aretha Frankenstein's, it was Sister Lee's dream to visit the Chattanooga Choo Choo, and it was my dream to visit the Aquarium.

And it rocked.

What's so exciting about looking at fish for 3 hours? Nothing really. But when you're a missionary, everything is exciting. Especially when it's free. So. It was still a dream come true.

Plus they have this butterfly pavilion where there are dozens of butterflies flying around, and they land on you and you can hold them on your finger and stuff! I held a butterfly. My life is complete. I also saw otters wrestle each other, almost got to hold baby penguins except they hadn't hatched yet, and I got to pet a shark and a sting ray! So. Pretty cool. Worth $26.50? Probably not. But it's okay because it was free.

Monday evening we had Family Home Evening with a family in the ward and some nonmember neighbors. It turned out really well! We got a new investigator out of it, whose name is Dominique. She came to church yesterday and seemed to enjoy most of it! She had a three-year-old who had a hard time paying attention, so it was a little tough to get through all three meetings. We're going back this evening to teach the Plan of Salvation for FHE, so it should be good!

Tuesday everything fell through and so we decided to go heart-attacking and we got caught in the pouring rain. Gotta love that Tennessee weather!

Wednesday I went on my final exchange as a Sister Training Leader. I have absolutely loved this calling, but now I can breathe a sigh of relief. I have been a Sister Training Leader for almost a year and I am really kinda tired. It'll be nice to be a regular missionary for the last six weeks of my mission. I have only been a regular missionary for one transfer, and this one will make it two! It's gonna be good. :) Guess what? I found out that I have been on 47 exchanges since the beginning of my mission. I've been so blessed. Exchanges are way tiring, but you get to learn from so many missionaries, and I have worked with some incredible sisters. It has been fantastic, but I am ready to pass the torch to the new Sister Training Leaders taking my place.

Anyway. This exchange was good! Sister Eckman from Dayton came to work with us in Hixson. Something we have been studying as a mission is how the Book of Mormon can answer questions of the soul. There is a section in Preach My Gospel that lists different questions of the soul to which we can find answers in the Book of Mormon, and President Irion has been encouraging all of us to come up with new questions and find the answers in the Book of Mormon. We have been doing that every exchange, and we have been seeing miracles happen! In just about every exchange at least one less active or investigator has asked us one of the questions that we had been studying. Coincidence? I think not!

Our lesson with Shirley was a really good example of that. Shirley lost two of her sons several years ago and has been wondering ever since where they were and what they were doing. She has some knowledge of the Plan of Salvation, but she still had tons of questions. In our morning studies Sister Lee had studied the answer to the question, "Where are my relatives who have passed away?" which she wrote herself. It was a powerful lesson and Shirley burst into tears as Sister Lee testified of the reality of the Spirit World and how our loved ones have the opportunity to hear the Gospel there.

I have had a blast writing questions of the soul and finding the answers in the Book of Mormon. The question I have been studying lately is, "How can I conquer the natural man/develop self-mastery?" There are answers all over the Book of Mormon! Doing studies this way has been a party and a half. Y'all should try it.

In fact, I am looking for more questions of the soul to study for and want some opinions. Could all y'all think of some questions you have had and send them to me? I want more questions. :) Then maybe we can both study them and answer them together. #studyparty!

Thursday we had our last District Meeting together as a district and then taught one of our new investigators, Anna. She came to church this past Sunday and it was a very pleasant surprise! She was there when we taught the Restoration to Mickey's family but we didn't think she was interested. Lo and behold, she showed up at church! On Thursday we taught her about the Book of Mormon and gave her a copy. Wanna hear something funny? Remember the "service tract" we did a few weeks ago? When we went around offering our service projects to random people? We weeded Anna's yard. Did we know it was Anna's yard at the time? Nope. Her dad had answered the door and we didn't recognize him until we came back and taught her at her house. The Lord works in mysterious ways!

Friday all our plans fell through because that happens to missionaries a lot to build character.

Saturday we had the conference call, where I learned that I was being transferred. And then we were sad. But I feel really good about it. 'Tis time to depart Soddy Daisy and embark on another six week adventure. So we went to say goodbye to lots of people. Like Angela. And Amanda and Justin. That one was really hard. I love that family so much. We went out to frozen yogurt and talked about what a miracle this journey has been in all of our lives. Amanda even bought me a picture frame and a candle! She is so sweet. I really *really* want to come back next Summer. It's happening. It was hard to say goodbye but I know I will see them again. They have all left an imprint on my heart that I will carry with me into the eternities. Developing these kinds of relationships and experiences these kinds of things is what makes missionary work so completely and perfectly fantastic. Have I mentioned that missionary work is the best thing ever? Cuz it is. If you don't believe me go serve one. You won't regret it. :)

Sunday was Fathers' Day. Happy belated Fathers' Day to all the incredible dads out there! I know I certainly wouldn't be where I am without mine. =D

And that brings us to today. Today was wonderful because we spent the whole morning cleaning but then we participated in a free yoga lesson because the instructor is a member of the Hixson ward. It was 60 minutes of heaven. And now I feel *fantastic*!

So . . . that's kinda it for this week! It wasn't actually that eventful, besides the news of the transfer and saying a plethora of goodbyes. Each day I reflect on the things I have learned as a missionary and I grow more and more overwhelmed with gratitude for this entire experience. I didn't realize until recently how many questions of my soul have been answered as I have lost myself in the service of God. Questions about where faith comes from and how it's developed, how I can strengthen my relationship with Jesus Christ, how can I find the strength to conquer temptation, how can I increase my spiritual receptiveness, how can I become an effective instrument in God's hands, and so many more. I can only hope and pray that the learning and growth will continue after I take off the name tag.

A new question of the soul that I have been thinking about is, "What comes next?" I'm certain everyone asks that question at least once during their lifetime. When we have devoted so much time to serving a mission, or raising a family, or fulfilling another life calling, it is so hard to watch it come to an end. Yet, our life story keeps unfolding and new chapters lie before us. Bishop Isaacson recommended an incredible talk by President Monson entitled, "Patriarchal Blessings: a Liahona of Light." It talks about how our Patriarchal Blessing includes our mission in life, and how we should strive to fulfill it. It's the best source to turn to when we have the question, "What comes next?" We will always have missions to accomplish throughout our lives, and our lives will always have purpose and meaning. Turning to the scriptures and our Patriarchal blessings can help us discover what our purpose is and what God would have us do. As Joseph Smith states in Lectures on Faith #6, faith comes from the knowledge that what we are doing is acceptable to the Lord. And I know for certain that happiness comes from knowing we are on the Lord's errand. :)

Well that's it for this week friends and family! Thank you so much for the letters, emails, prayers, and support. It means so much and makes a difference each and every day! I love you all so much and pray for you daily. I hope you have the best of weeks and I'll write again next week!

-Sister Fox

Monday, June 9, 2014

Enjoy it While it Lasts

Hello family, friends, and fellow citizens who read my blog!!

Guess what?? I met one of my readers this week! It was a very interesting experience. I went on exchanges with the Athens sisters, and one of them is brand new; she just came out into the field a few weeks ago. She asked Sister Johnson and me what our first names were, so when I told her my name was Brianna she got all wide-eyed and asked me if I was the one with the blog. It turns out that she had been reading my blog before she left and wanted to meet me! Whoa. Validated.

This week was really good!! I thoroughly enjoyed it, though it was a week of a ton of emotional extremes. But you get used ta weeks like that as a missionary. It's kind of nonstop emotional extremes for 18-24 straight months. So there ya have it. In the end, though, the emotion that comes out on top is always happiness and gratitude. Or at least, those are the emotions that should come out on top. Anyway.

Monday! We toured the Chattanooga Choo Choo; a famous train that was converted into a hotel. One thing about the South, they convert everything into hotels. You can sleep in the train cars! And it's absolutely beautiful. I would love to come back and vacation there but I'm guessing it's incredibly expensive. It was cool to walk around though! And guess what we're doing today?? We're going to the funny-shaped aquarium!! I'm so excited. It's a pretty famous place, and tickets are usually $17 a piece, and by divine intervention we scored 10 of them for free! Woohoo!

Tuesday was MLC. That was a tough meeting, but it was also incredibly good. President and Sister Irion are about to be replaced; this is their final month in the mission field. So this was the last MLC that we had with the both of them. Several of us got emotional throughout the meeting; nobody likes goodbyes. It was also a really inspiring meeting though. We received incredible trainings on love as a principle of Christlike leadership. Sister Johnson, Sister Lee, and I gave a training as well! It was kind of intimidating because we were training all the Zone Leaders, Sister Training Leaders, Assistants, and President and Sister Irion, but it ended up going really smoothly. Our topic was on being exactly obedient and how to lovingly correct the conduct of other missionaries. We got a lot of positive feedback, so I'm pretty happy about that!

What tugged at my heart strings most during MLC was when Elder Erekson got up and shared an experience he had at a Spanish-speaking missionary training meeting. He is about to return home at the end of the transfer, and the one giving the training pulled him up to the front and asked him about what it will be like for him to return home. He then took off his name tags and talked about becoming a lifelong representative of Jesus Christ. The reality of how little time I have left hit me with surprising force, but it left me even more determined to enjoy it while it lasts. After all, that is the first third of my personal mission motto: Enjoy it while it lasts, hope for the best, and focus on the Savior. That's probably why I found this week, and last week, so enjoyable. We've been through a lot of rough things, yet the only experiences that stand out to me are our successes and our miracles, even if they are few. I've come to learn how to live in the present. At the beginning of my mission it was hard to stop focusing on the past, and at the end of my mission it has been hard to stop worrying about when it will all come to an end, but this week I've discovered the joy that comes from living in the present and being grateful in your circumstances, whatever they may be.

President Uchtdorf's talk from this past General Conference has been ringing true to me this week. It is so important to feel grateful in every moment, no matter the difficulty that is before us. It is hard for us to face endings because we are eternal beings. The ending of my mission approaches rapidly, I am about to say goodbye to President and Sister Irion, and I may be transferred from the area. All these things leave me incredibly sad, but I am overwhelmed with gratitude as I contemplate how merciful the Lord has been to me and my companions throughout my entire mission. I'm grateful to be on a mission. It is when we feel gratitude that our troubles seem to melt away. No matter what our situation or what endings loom before us, we can feel the joy of living in the present and being grateful in our circumstances. That is how we can feel true happiness and peace.

So those are my thoughts that come from MLC and Zone Conference. Yes, we had Zone Conference this week too! It was a busy week for all of us. We gave another training at Zone Conference as well; this time it was praying often for yourself and for others, as well as relying on the Spirit to show you where to go, what to do, and what to say. That training went well! We got a little carried away and went overtime, but the meeting went smoothly. And I learned a lot! One thing that stood out to me most was a clip they played of Elder Holland's address he gave in the MTC in January of 2011. It was a lot like the talk he gave in the October 2012 General Conference about leaving your nets and feeding Christ's sheep. He firmly talked about lifetime discipleship and how we can never go back. We cannot drag our nets with us, nor can we return to them. We are to become new creatures as we devote our lives to serving our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Have I mentioned Elder Holland is my favorite apostle? He has changed my life. A lot.

Before Zone Meeting was my "exit" interview with President and Sister Irion. It's only about 2 months early. It was hard though. I interviewed with both of them at once, and it was a rather tearful experience. They asked me about one spiritual change I had experienced since the beginning of my mission and I said the list was way too long for me to narrow it down to one thing. I did tell them something very similar to what I said in my last email, how I have come to love aligning my will with God's and serving Him with everything that I have. They turned to a scripture in Helaman (10:3-4) and had me replace Nephi's name with my own, and that's when I lost it. The Spirit was so thick you could cut it with a knife. And then I got a hug from President Irion! And he said he would be at the airport in July! Woohoo! It'll be fun to introduce him to everyone!

After my interview Sister Johnson gave me the "raised eyebrows" look when she saw my state of being. She makes fun of me for crying all the time. I blame genetics.

Thursday evening was our miracle for the week! We met with Mickey and Jennifer as well as their daughter Jessica, and two of Jessica's friends! We weren't expecting that! Jennifer is still recovering from back surgery and she almost cancelled the appointment, but we needed to be there, so everything worked out! We also brought a couple members of the ward with us and they clicked instantly. It was awesome! One of them, Eric, is 18 and is preparing to turn in his mission papers. He did so well! He became instant friends with Jessica and invited all three girls to church! And one of them came!! Jessica would have, but her mom wasn't feeling well because of her poor back. They do want to come though!

The Restoration lesson we had with them was incredible. We asked Jennifer (the mom) what it would mean to her if she knew that this was all true, and she got emotional and said it would mean everything to her. They accepted a copy of the Book of Mormon and committed to read and pray together as a family! Woohoo!! I. Love. Teaching. Families. There's nothing better than seeing the Gospel bring family members together in a spirit of love and unity. Like I've said over and over, that's what this Gospel is all about! It blesses families and binds them together forever. I love it so much! Oh! And they said they would be baptized! We're going to try to set a date this week! Missionary work is the best thing ever. :)

Friday-Sunday were the rough/slow days, but we still saw some really good things happen. We finally got to see Angela and her son Whyatte again, and they both came to church on Sunday!! I was really excited to see both of them there. We also saw James and Hayes and taught them the Plan of Salvation and set a goal for them to get to the temple together. We also met a less-active we've been trying to locate for several months, and she is way awesome! She just works a lot. That gets in the way for a lot of people. They work a ton and don't have time for anything else. It's hard to know how to help them!

Update on Amanda and Justin: Amanda is about to have her baby any day now. Justin is about to receive the Aaronic Priesthood; he'll probably be ordained next Sunday! We heart-attacked their house a couple nights ago, and Amanda texted us and said, "I've been vandalized with love!" It was really funny. Hopefully by this time next week she'll have a brand new baby girl! We're so excited for their family!

Well! That's really all the updates for this week. I love my mission and I love the Lord. I've been living in the moment as much as possible, and each day becomes special to me, even if nothing that special happens. I am more determined than ever to give my all to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ every single day. President and Sister Irion gave us all a slap sign of the state of Tennessee with the words, "I will give my all to the Lord today" on it. Just like football players slap their sign before each game, we slap our sign before we leave the apartment each day. We've received funny looks from neighbors as all three of us have smacked something above the door frame each time we've left, but it's okay. By now I'm more than used to funny looks. Especially with the backing rule. But I digress.

There's a set of scriptures in Alma 31 that I absolutely love. I've probably talked about them before, because they are near and dear to my heart, and I discovered them during a rough time I was having in West Hills. Near the end of the chapter it talks about how Alma and his fellow missionaries had suffered no manner of afflictions, save they were swallowed up in the joy of Jesus Christ. I feel like that as a missionary now. I have come to learn that when you embrace each day with a spirit of gratitude for your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the things/experiences with which He has blessed you, you feel a profound sense of joy each and every day. We've had rough times, but I'm just so darn happy. Like Sister Schwab!! It IS possible to be THIS happy ALL the TIME! And it's awesome. It's all possible through our Savior Jesus Christ and accessing the powers of His atonement through living the Gospel. Nothing can be more satisfactory or fulfilling. Words can't describe it. I just love this Gospel a lot.

Well, that's it for this week!! I love you all and hope that each of you can feel the same joy that I feel every day in the service of my Lord and King! I pray that miracles follow all of you wherever you go, and I hope you feel the effects of my prayers in your lives every single day. I know I feel your prayers with me!! And they mean everything to me! I love you all so much and will write again next week!

-Sister Fox

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Gospel of Change

FAMILY!

It's JUNE! Oi! WHY is it JUNE? "I know it's [June] . . . but what else is about it . . . ?"

I'm not happy about this.

But! I had a fantastic week so I guess that makes up for the fact that it's June and not May anymore. Time is taunting me and it needs to stop. Literally.

Why was this week fantastic y'all might ask? Because some fantastic things happened to some of my favorite fantastic people!!! What's funny is the fact that this week was actually incredibly slow. We had almost every single appointment, including dinner appointments, fall through. Yet it didn't feel slow to me. My love for my mission has increased so dramatically just in the past week that I am in love with the work even on the slow days. Missionary work just. Makes me happy. WHY is it June??

Ahem. Sorry. That should be the end of the June outbursts.

Do you know what June means? Summer heat!! The weather is trying to make me question my love for Tennessee. But it's NOT going to work!!! I still love it here. But it's. Really kinda hot. It got up to 95 degrees a few days ago, and paired with humidity, it's . . . hot. Whoever figured out how to install air conditioning in automobiles should be translated. Along with the person who made Girl Scout Thin Mints into ice cream.

So . . . where was I? This week! It was good. I already talked about P-day in my last email. #pancakesofglory. Today we're in Downtown Chattanooga again having a picnic at the park as a district. Fun times! Every day was really kind of slow this past week, so instead of going in chronological order this time, I'm just gonna talk about all my favorite people.

Kyla! Kyla is a less active that we have been working with for 6 months. She has been a difficult one to read, but we had a really good Restoration lesson with her this week and she opened up. I believe that she still has a testimony and a love for the Gospel, she's just scared to put her heart into it because her husband isn't a very religious person. I think she will be a really strong influence on him, though. He'll come around!

We saw Mickey and his family again this week! I think that was this week . . . Yeah! I don't know. I never remember things anymore. But yeah! The Dillards! They're totally still interested in learning the Gospel! Mickey and his son are really into Boy Scouts and their troop just ended. We told them that our church does Boy Scouts and they got really excited about it! Mickey's wife Jennifer just had back surgery, so that's why they haven't been able to investigate the church much. She really wants to learn more about it though, so we set up a return appointment for later this week! This family is pretty solid; I think they'll progress relatively quickly after Jennifer starts feeling better. Woohoo!! I love teaching families! Best! Feeling! Ever!

And then we saw Daniel, Olivia, and Melanie!! All our appointments kept cancelling with them, but this one held!! It was so good. We showed them the John Tanner Story after teaching them the Gospel of Jesus Christ with an emphasis on enduring to the end. Enduring to the end requires a great deal of sacrifice. We may not be asked to give up $250 million worth of property, but we are asked to sacrifice a great deal of time and talents to the growth and progress of the church. However, these sacrifices help us reap life's greatest joys and blessings. As we keep the commandments and live the Gospel of Jesus Christ our lives grow brighter, our families grow closer, and we have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost which will lead us down the paths that ultimately lead us to the Kingdom of our Father. Living the Gospel is a small price to pay for such a grand reward. And in the end, it's not a price to pay at all; it's another one of life's sweetest blessings.
We're hoping to get Daniel, Olivia, and Melanie back to church. The kids haven't been back since they were baptized in February. They want to go, but something stops them every Sunday. They need a lot of prayers and encouragement. They'll come back; I know they can do it!

But the highlight of the week was Saturday and Sunday. Hands down. Best weekend. EVER! Saturday was the day Justin was baptized and the service went smoothly. Brother Thomas gave a fantastic talk about baptism and eternal families. Amanda was beaming as she watched her husband go into the waters of baptism. I am so excited for their wonderful family!! They already set a date to attend the temple! June 2, 2015, they will be sealed in the temple together as a family. So before anyone plans any reunions or vacations, know that I will be in Tennessee the first week in June next year. No exceptions. :)

Sunday I attended the best sacrament meeting of my almost 22 years of life. This is where writing this email will get difficult because words cannot begin to scratch the surface of the pure and exquisite joy I felt throughout that entire meeting. I played the piano for the congregation, so I was privileged to sit on the stand while Justin received the Gift of the Holy Ghost and was confirmed a member of the Church. It was the sweetest confirmation blessing that I have ever heard. I don't want to go into much detail because it's personal for him and I probably shouldn't post it all over the internet, but I cried through it. He is already a valiant servant of Jesus Christ and he will play an important role in building the Kingdom.
After Justin's confirmation he got up to bear his testimony and I just about lost it. I have heard people in every testimony meeting testify of the truthfulness of the Church, but something pierced my heart when my recent convert got up in front of the congregation, shared how the Gospel had brought his family closer together, and testified of the truthfulness of the Church and of the divinity of the Book of Mormon. There were few dry eyes in the congregation. Something about his testimony was so powerful. I am so excited for him and his family. It is an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life and into the eternities. Words can't even describe it! Missionary work is simply awesome.

I love Justin and Amanda's story. It all came from one member in the congregation opening her mouth. That simple! Sister Larose got up to bear her testimony and said that all she did was invite Amanda to church. Now Amanda and Justin have been baptized and they have set a date for the temple. Great things are brought to pass through small and simple things. You never know who is ready for the Gospel!!

And it gets better! James and Hayes came to church! AND they both bore their testimonies! They said that even though they don't attend church much, they still have great faith, and they thanked all of those who have been reaching out to them. My heart was practically bursting with joy. I got up to bear my testimony too and I broke down because I can't ever seem to bear my testimony without breaking down. I said the same things I usually say when I bear my testimony, but this time with a love and conviction that runs deeper than it ever has before. After the meeting Brother Adamz (our Ward Mission Leader) came up to me and said he was deeply touched by my testimony. He said he could tell that a drastic change has occurred in my life and that my testimony is not what it used to be. I was deeply touched by his comments. My testimony is nowhere near what it used to be. The Gospel has changed my life completely. Though I had a testimony when I left, I didn't understand the Gospel nearly as much as I do now. My mission has changed my life and has changed my character. I originally left because I knew God wanted me to. I left out of obligation. And now I don't want to leave. I serve God out of profound love for Him and His Gospel. I love this work. I love how the Gospel changes hearts. Though all my efforts are expended trying to change the hearts of others, my heart has been changed in the process.

This truly is a Gospel of change. It always changes lives for the better. It has the power to soften hearts. It heals broken hearts. It heals broken relationships. It binds families together for eternity. It refines our character and changes us into incredible people with incredible potential. All we have to do is choose to live it. Blessings immediately follow. We certainly are not exempt from trials and tribulations, but these things can soften us and refine us. The Gospel gives us the strength to overcome any hardship. I am so grateful for the opportunity to share what I know with others so they can make changes in their lives to bring their lives in closer harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ. These changes leave them more happy and more complete. And I'm incredibly grateful that I have become more whole and complete in the process. I love my mission. I love my Savior. I am so grateful I am here; there is nowhere else I'd rather be. The Church is true!!

I love you all so much! Thank you for all your prayers, support, and letters. I am nothing without my dear family and friends. Y'alls support means everything to me!! I pray that each of you will have an incredible week full of miracles and tender mercies from our Lord. Until next week!!

-Sister Bri Fox