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!