Monday, July 28, 2014

Everlasting Beginnings

Hello Family, Friends, and Fantastic people!

So I signed on my email 20 minutes ago and this is what I find:

"Last one!"
"Last letter!"
"The last of the emails"
"Last letter"
"Tato Po"

Silly Nate.

Well this is kind of surreal. I just read everyone's last emails to me on my last p-day after my last full week as a missionary and I feel like the word "last" is following me everywhere like a lost puppy. My emotions are so erratic right now I don't really have the words to describe what's going on in my brain. Plus I got about 3 hours of sleep last night so who knows how this email is going to turn out?

Story about that in a minute.

This has been a good week for the five of us in our little condo. It is so fun sharing a place with other missionaries, and I'm really happy that one of those missionaries is Sister Day. Because she understands *exactly* how I feel at just about any given moment and it is incredibly validating talking with her about what is going on in my brain. Plus our companions are awesome! We've been having little parties every night (that stop at 10:30 of course). My favorite was the one we had last week when we were all playing in the kitchen and I said, "We could have so much fun with a can of whipped cream right now." Guess what? We had one!! And none of them have seen the whipped cream trick (launching whipped cream in the air from the back of your hand and catching it in your mouth)! So guess what we did for the next 30 minutes? It was delightful.

Last night we were all doing a puzzle of the golden gate bridge while belting the lyrics to "Through Heaven's Eyes" and "Miracles" from Prince of Egypt. Sister Leifson was downstairs talking with the District Leader and sneakily held the phone up the stairwell so they could hear our crazy singing. I regret nothing.

Well, I don't really know what to say in this email. There seemed to be a theme in a few of the emails I received today; writing the last email is accompanied by the desire to share something incredibly profound, yet my mind is blank. So we'll just see what comes out. How can one possibly sum up 18 months of life-changing experiences is one simple email?

We'll start with Monday, as is tradition. I don't actually remember what happened. #Nosleep. I think I took a nap. Monday evening we had dinner with David and Bethany, and it was delicious! We also started the New Member Lessons and the first one went really well. I'm going to miss those two so much. I've gotten closer to them than to anyone else in the area. Bethany actually majored in psychology and gave me some of her books on relationships! Score! That was so nice of her! It made me excited to jump back into my major. Adventure awaits in Family Life department at BYU!

Tuesday was my last appointment with Karen. It was a neat experience because Sister Griffin, the new mission president's wife, came with us! It was her first time teaming up with missionaries and she did a wonderful job. We taught Karen the Plan of Salvation. She was very sweet and open, but she told us that she wanted to remain Catholic. We told her that we would love her no matter what choice she made. Our purpose is simply to share the knowledge that we have and invite people to experiment on it to find out if it is true. She said she would pray about it and she invited us back. On Wednesday. Which is the day I'm going to spend in the mission home. #cliffhangers.

Tuesday we also saw Michelle, who dropped us. She is pretty busy and she is not quite ready to experiment on the word just yet. But she will be. She is an incredibly kind and loving individual and one day she'll be ready.

Tuesday evening we saw our neighbors, who graciously invited us in. They are so kind and hospitable! They gave us cookies and let us tell them about Joseph Smith and the restoration of the Gospel. One of them is a Buddhist and the other is Agnostic, but they said they wanted to learn more and they invited us back! We won't have time to see them until probably Wednesday or Thursday. #cliffhangers.

Wednesday we saw Joy and Misty, another pair of investigators we have been teaching for a while. They have been investigating the church for a little over a year, and right now they are working on gaining a testimony of the Book of Mormon. We had a really good conversation with Joy about our purpose as missionaries and the blessings that lie in store for those who obtain this knowledge that we have to offer. They're still searching but they'll get there. We probably won't have time to see them until after Wednesday. #cliffhangers.

The same day we also went to see a less-active family and we taught them the Plan of Salvation. It was so fun! They have two adorable little kids; one is around 2 and the other is about 4. The 2 year old girl sat quietly and nodded the entire time we were teaching. The only time she shook her head and said "no" was when we asked her if it was important to be nice to her brother. Kids. They're the cutest! Their parents want to attend the temple; their life is just crazy right now and it's hard to put spirituality first. One of the many lessons I have learned on my mission is the importance of making your personal spirituality your top priority. When we put God first, all things fall into place.

Wednesday afternoon we saw John, who is preparing to serve a mission. We went over chapter 1 of Preach My Gospel and it made me all sentimental and stuff. It is one of my favorite chapters; it is all about the purpose we have as missionaries and where our power and authority comes from. I'm going to miss it.

Wednesday evening we had our last correlation with the Ward Mission Leader, who also took us out to Pei Wei for dinner. Meetings like that are hard to attend when you know you're going to be across the country in the next seven days. But! It was a good meeting nonetheless. Pellissippi is in good hands. The best of the best. :)

Thursday we contacted our golden referral from the Nashville mission. We received a personal phone call from the Nashville mission president requesting that we contact this referral ASAP. He was taking lessons from the elders over in that mission, but he is moving to Pellissippi for the summer. We were all way excited about that! His name is Will, he's about my age, and he's awesome. We taught him the Gospel of Jesus Christ and he was asking a ton of questions about baptism. He had a ton of profound insights too! We taught him about the Sacrament, and before we described what it was, he said, "So we can renew the promises we make with the Lord at baptism, right?" Whoa. Not too many investigators know that before we teach them. He's ready! He wants to be baptized!

And he's a YSA so we had to hand him over to the assistants because they are over the YSA ward in the Knoxville stake.

Upon leaving his house I turned to my companions and said, "I feel like a little girl who just found a lost puppy and is beginning her mom to keep him."

But the important thing is that he wants to be baptized.

And I guess I wouldn't have been able to teach him much . . . 'cuz . . . you know.

Thursday evening we went to see Kirk, a member in our ward who hasn't been to church in a while. He is a very kind man, and he's incredibly brilliant. He's rewiring his entire house so he can control the garage, the lights, and all his cameras from his cell phone. We had a really good discussion on the power of the Atonement in our lives and he opened up a lot. He wants to come back to church, but he wants his wife to be involved too. Hopefully we'll be able to start working with both of them! He wants us over for dinner sometime this next week. #cliffhangers.

Friday was my last district meeting, and Elder Crestani asked me to share my favorite miracle story from my mission. My mission has been 18 months of miracles, so it was kind of hard to choose. I ended up telling the story of my very first transfer, which to me was the transfer of miracles. I saw the most success in my first transfer. I told the story of Marlene and Larry and how they changed their lives around to accept the Gospel. I love and miss that family so much.

After District Meeting we saw Anne, who loves missionaries almost as much as she loves Harry Potter. She has an entire room devoted to her Harry Potter merchandise and I felt like I was looking into Paige's bedroom. Just fewer movie posters. ;) Anne is Presbyterian but she is open to learning about our faith. We scheduled an appointment for next Friday. #cliffhangers.

Friday evening we had all our plans fall through and we still had about an hour left. When everything falls through, that means there is a lost sheep out there that Heavenly Father wants you to go after. After some prayer and meditation we received a text from a less-active member who we hadn't been able to see in 5.5 weeks. She invited us over! Out of the blue! It was awesome. We had a really good lesson with her about how nothing can separate us from the love of God. Feelings of unworthiness should only lead us to seek Him, not to increase the distance or to put up a wall between us and Him. That really clicked with her; we're praying that she will decide to come back to Church. She feels out of place because everyone at church seems like they are on top of life. I told her that everyone is sheltering some kind of burden or pain, no matter what we see on the outside. No one is exempt from the temptations, trials, and challenges that life throws at us. That is why we go to Church. We go to seek refuge from the world and to strengthen our spirituality in order to face the challenges that life throws at us. The sacrament rejuvenates our Spirits and gives us the boost we need to stay strong throughout the week. Everybody needs it, and it is meant for everyone. Hopefully she comes next week! #cliffhangers.

Saturday we manned a booth for the Church at the Karns Fair. We handed out free pictures of Christ along with a 4-question survey asking people whether or not they would be interested in our message. Out of 25 surveys filled out, none of them were in our area. Sad day. But it was still fun meeting people and sharing a little bit about what we believe. I was kind of surprised at how much I've grown in the past 18 months. Had I attended a fair at the beginning of my mission I probably would have cowered under the table instead of approaching people. It's cool to see how much you change!

Saturday evening we taught the Plan of Salvation to Amber, another one of our investigators. She has been coming to church regularly and really enjoyed it. She is still searching to make sure she knows it's true before acting on it, but I'm sure she'll get there. I'm kind of sick of typing "#cliffhangers" so I'm probably going to hold off for the rest of the email.

Saturday afternoon we spent about two and a half hours helping a member move out of her house. I felt so bad for this poor woman. She and her ex-husband tend to hoard things, so her house was packed with all sorts of stuff. It was a ton of work and the environment wasn't the cleanest I've seen, but it felt so good to make a dent and, most importantly, to help this woman out. It is sometimes difficult to have a positive attitude when doing some of the dirty work, but into my mind came the question, "What would my attitude be like if I were doing this for the Savior?" That made the project immensely more satisfying. As the Savior says in Matthew, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have also done it unto me." I collapsed into bed that evening but it was the most satisfying feeling.

Sunday we said goodbye to a lot of wonderful people and got a new investigator! We also had a family of members sign up to feed us the last hour of the evening. That was so kind of them! Sister Rainey came to pick us up for dinner, and as we were driving to her house I looked at the sky and thought, "Man. It looks like we're going to have a tornado."

GUESS WHAT? We got a text 20 minutes later containing a tornado warning.

Do you know what this means??? I'm a real Tennesseean because I can look at the sky and predict tornadoes!!!!! I'm really excited about this!!

Except then we got a text from the Zone Leaders that we needed to get home ASAP and we had just arrived at our dinner appointment. So we stayed the full hour and then Sister Rainey drove us home. The power was out, the wind was blowing, and it was hailing, but luckily no damage was done. No tornadoes touched down in the area or anything. We were kept up all night by the thunder. It was the loudest thunder I have ever heard. I'm going to miss that! Utah doesn't have real thunderstorms. Like ever. Except now I'm tired because I didn't sleep last night because there was a strobe light of lightning coming nonstop through the window for several hours. It looked cool though!!

And that was my week. And I'm super tired. I am SO tired. I have reached a new DEFINITION of tired. I am at least 18.5 kinds of tired. At least. And it's the best kind of exhaustion I have ever experienced.

I have one more day of proselyting after today, and then I spend all day after the transfer meeting in the Mission Home. I'm not sure what I'll be doing there, but I guess I can tell the story on my next blog post, which will be all about coming home and stuff. We fly out Thursday morning and then what happens after that is a whole new kind of adventure that I am extremely terrified of and profoundly excited for.

I wanted to wrap this up with a quote from President Uchtdorf, which I'm pretty sure I've included before but I want to include it again:

"In light of what we know about our eternal destiny, is it any wonder that whenever we face the bitter endings of life, they seem unacceptable to us? There seems to be something inside of us that resists endings.

Why is this? Because we are made of the stuff of eternity. We are eternal beings, children of the Almighty God, whose name is Endless13 and who promises eternal blessings without number. Endings are not our destiny.

The more we learn about the gospel of Jesus Christ, the more we realize that endings here in mortality are not endings at all. They are merely interruptions—temporary pauses that one day will seem small compared to the eternal joy awaiting the faithful.

How grateful I am to my Heavenly Father that in His plan there are no true endings, only everlasting beginnings."

This rings true to me. Almost everything inside of me has tried to resist this ending. *Almost* everything. My mission has meant more to me than any other experience I have had in my life. I have learned so much about my Savior Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice. I have learned how to access the healing and enabling powers of the atonement. I know what it means to repent, I know what repentance feels like, and I have tasted the joy of receiving divine forgiveness. I know what Jesus Christ expects of me, the blessings that lie in store for the faithful, and the blessings that await those who live the Gospel. My testimony has grown substantially, my character has grown more divine in nature through the grace of Jesus Christ. My love for others, for the Gospel, and for God has grown substantially. I have learned how to succeed and how to fall, how to lift and how to be lifted, how to teach and how to learn. No words in any language can summarize the experience, the learning, the growth, and the change that I have experienced in the last 18 months. All I can say is that I am profoundly grateful. For each and every moment, both hard and easy. I am grateful that each experience in my mission has been tailored in such a way that would allow me to experience the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I love this Gospel. I love my Savior. I love that He has allowed me to serve Him with all my heart, might, mind, and strength for the last 18 months. I will never regret this decision, nor forget this experience. I will always cherish this testimony and the people with whom I have been able to share it. I thank everyone back at home for their love and support this entire time. Never have I ever felt so encircled with love, both from heavenly and earthly angels. I hope and pray that I can touch more hearts as my journey comes to an end. My next journey awaits, and I can't wait to see what lies in store. As long as my future is in God's hands, I know that it is safe. Everlasting happiness awaits those who put their trust in the Lord.

God bless you all!

All my love,

Sister Bri Fox

Monday, July 21, 2014

Miracle of Change

Hello Family, Friends, and Blog Readers!!

So I just realized I took my own sweet time responding to everybody's emails and now my time has been shortened. Whoops. So I'm either going to have to type really fast or this email is going to be particularly short.

This is my second to last email! How depressing is that? I'm going to miss these. They give me a wonderful opportunity to look back on the lessons that I learned throughout the week and share them with the people I love, hopefully for their learning and benefit. But! I do intend to keep these going. My life back at home probably will not be as exciting as my missionary life, but there are still so many lessons to learn and to be shared. So I fully intend to start a new blog with weekly adventures and insights. I haven't thought of a title yet, but it will be announced in the near future.

This week was much better than last week, and I feel much more chipper! Which is good. So! Let's get started, shall we?

Monday: Monday was p-day! As it is every week. Unless you're in Chattanooga and people keep scheduling zone conferences on your p-day. But I'm not in Chattanooga so that's no longer a problem. We went bowling! And by "we" I mean everyone in the District plus the West Hills Sisters! I sat in the back with Sister Day and Sister Roundy and talked about life and how enjoyable it is. Many people asked me why I wasn't participating in the bowling festivities. My response? Why on earth would I want to pay money to chuck a ball at some pins and miss? I was there for the social aspect. And to cheer on my companions. Except every time they got a strike I actually wasn't looking. Whoops.

Monday evening we had dinner with the Moss family, and they are such a sweet couple. They also had David and Bethany over, and together we had Family Home Evening. We are just getting started with the new member lessons. It was a very enjoyable evening! It's so nice being surrounded by several of my favorite people. :)

Tuesday I don't remember what we did, but I'm sure it was important. We did volunteer at the Storehouse again, which is something I look forward to every week. We also got to see Karen, who is an investigator that sisters started working with last year. She really began to open up to us about her concerns and we had a wonderful lesson on the Plan of Salvation. We're seeing her again this week! And Sister Griffin is joining us! I've never proselyted with the mission mom, so that should be a lot of fun! Just another perk of being ridiculously close to the mission home. :)

Wednesday we saw one of our less-actives who struggles with depression. The weather this past week has been *beautiful.* It was 80 degrees and sunny, so we did the lesson on the lawn, which was glorious. We had a great lesson about the enabling power of the atonement of Jesus Christ, and how the Savior can help us through the challenges of everyday life. He can give us the strength and the motivation to do important things when we cannot find the desire or motivation within ourselves. I've felt it over and over on my mission. Some days you just don't feel like working, and the energy and motivation to work is gone. Yet, when you rely on the Savior and pray for strength, He gives you exactly what you need to get the work done and to bless the lives of others.

Wednesday evening we saw Joy and Gary again, another pair of investigators who have been looking into the church for a while. We went over with our ward mission leader and talked about David A. Bednar's "Patterns of Light" found on mormonmessages.org. Those videos bring a lot of clarity to how the spirit works and how revelation is typically received. We talked about the importance of looking to God as the source for truth and praying with an open heart and open mind. They're still seeking for answers but I'm confident they will find those answers in time.

Thursday we had a really good lesson with our investigator named Travis and his son Gabe. They have been looking into the church for quite some time, but the hustle and bustle of life tends to get in the way. We talked about living the Gospel of Jesus Christ and how it needs to be a pattern for how we live our lives. There is a difference between going through the motions and changing as a result of the Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about becoming like our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We need not just be baptized and stop our progression there, but we must work each day of our lives to change our characters into something more beautiful and Christlike. This is only made possible through the atonement of Jesus Christ. The Gospel that Jesus Christ set forth -- faith, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end -- is the path we take to access the changing/healing powers of Christ's atoning sacrifice. That is the beautiful miracle of this Gospel. Change is possible. Our characters are never stagnant or "stuck." We never have to say, "I can never change" or "it's just the way I am." Change is always possible; that is the purpose of life and the purpose of the Gospel. And it doesn't need to occur all at once either. The Lord accepts our every effort to come unto Him, even if we start small. Just like a perfect parent rejoices with every small step that a new child takes, our perfect Father in Heaven rejoices over the baby steps we take toward Him. I love His infinite patience and love!

Friday was my final exchange of the mission, and it was fantastic! It was fun being on the other end. Sister Whatcott joined Sister Leifson and me in Pellissippi, and though we didn't get to see many people, we learned a lot from one another. Exchanges do wonders for my energy and enthusiasm levels. It's fun to learn from new styles and hear the insights of sisters that you love and admire. We also had a wonderful district meeting about charity and love. When you lose yourself, you find yourself.

Saturday we met a less-active who reminds me a lot of a less-active in my last area. He grew up in the church, but over time he left. Faith is a hard concept for him to grasp. He thirsts for certainty and looks only for physical evidence of God's existence. It is hard to share with these people that faith *is* certainty. Faith leads to greater certainty than miracles or signs. Logic comes from your own intelligence, which is imperfect. Faith is communion with God, who is the source of all truth. Faith roots us deeper than physical evidence ever could. But, you cannot force anyone to have faith, it must be developed, so we simply bore our testimonies and encouraged him to try the experiment outlined in Alma 32. Blessings and understanding await those who seek the Lord on His terms.

Saturday evening we met with a family of members who have been going through a rough time lately. The father has been having a lot of health issues and he recently moved to a nursing home. His wife is going in for knee surgery this week, and their daughter is the only one left to take care of them both. We had a really inspiring conversation with her, though. She told us that her favorite Gospel principle was hope. So, naturally, we instantly connected. She had written her entire masters thesis on hope. We talked about all the discoveries on hope that we have made and it was one of the best lessons of the transfer. I just. Love that topic. So much!

Sunday we had an incredible Sacrament Meeting. We had a member of the high council address us, and it was the same member who had given the "no coincidences" address over in West Hills a year ago. He is *fantastic* speaker. He likes to pick a phrase to weave throughout his talk. Last year it was, "What a coincidence!" This time it was, "Things don't change, people do." He talked about the miracle of change and how it is made possible through the atonement. He gave the example of the US Hockey team in the 1980 Olympics when they played against the Soviets, who had an impressive winning streak for the past several winter Olympics. The US coach tried to implement on changes in the team's strategy. They went back to their original plays because those plays were comfortable and familiar. Before the Olympics they lost to the Soviets 10-3. After deciding to trust their coach, they implemented the changes in their strategy and beat the Soviets in the finals. This game became known as the "miracle on ice." I think there's a movie about it.

Here are some thoughts that he gave after telling the story: They would not have reached their goal if they refused to change. The same is with us. We cannot reach our goals if we do not align our strategy with God's. All things are possible to them that believe. Christ has the power to transform and change people, no matter their disposition. Sometimes the Lord gives us the strength to change instead of changing our situation. During those times when we wish He would remove the trial, He is helping us learn how to become the person that we need to be. He has not abandoned us and He never will. God knows what is necessary, but He always shows compassion. Our problems do not just disappear, but in the midst of such times, God sends angels to strengthen us as He did for our Savior Jesus Christ as He suffered for our sins in the garden of Gethsemane. We are angels to support each other. It is not the suffering that leads to change; lasting change comes through acceptance and reliance on the Atonement of our Savior. To return to live with our Heavenly Father we must not only be cleansed, but changed. The Atonement is not just about paying a debt, it's about transforming debtors like us. It's a miracle.

Well family and friends, that is all I have time for this week. I love you all so much. Thank you all so much for supporting me throughout my entire mission. Thank you for the letters, the emails, the prayers, the words of encouragement and love, and for all the effort you have put into supporting me. It means the world to me. I cannot thank y'all enough. My mission has been such an incredible journey and I am so sad to see it end. But I am excited to be reunited with all my loved ones, who have given me everything so that I could give my everything to God. I love all of you!! Have a week full of miracles and I will send my final email next Monday. God bless!

-Sister Fox

Monday, July 14, 2014

Prayer for Humility

Hey Y'all!!

This email is probably going to be a bit shorter. Either because people back home are praying for me to feel excited about coming home, or that I prayed for humility this week. I can't really decide which. #slowestweekever.

But! This week was a very memorable one in my own character development so I will always be grateful for it, all the same. :)

Many of you may be asking, "Why on earth did she pray for humility?" Well. If it makes y'all feel better I had to devote an entire hour in personal study to talk myself into it.

I have been reflecting back on my mission and have realized that the most meaningful experiences I have had on my mission have been a result of my efforts to weave Christlike attributes into my character. I have found as I have prayed for them that I'm not really choosing which ones I need to work on, they choose me instead. For the past while I have felt a strong need that I should start focusing on humility, but then I got all scared because praying for humility, from what I hear, doesn't end well. However, Alma 32 tells us that it is better to humble yourself rather than being compelled to be humble, and sooner or later you'll have to make the choice between the two. So I prayed for it.

But I'll include most of my notes about humility at the end of this email.

Monday everyone in the district wanted to go to the driving range to play golf. Golf? Nope. Sister Day and I stayed home and took a well-deserved nap. When people ask me why I respond that putting a golf club in Sister Fox's hands is never a good idea.

Monday evening we had a great lesson with John, who is a recent convert to the church. He gets so excited about the Gospel and he is preparing for a mission! He has made so much progress since he first joined and it is fun to see how enthusiastic he gets about the Church. Monday evening he actually taught us a lesson out of Alma. He focused on chapters 17-19 and talked about how awesome and faithful Ammon is. That lesson was tons of fun! He is going to make a fantastic missionary! He already wants to do all he can to serve in the church and he wants to share the Gospel with everyone. He's the best!

Tuesday we probably did something important. All I can remember is volunteering at the Bishop's Storehouse and then having all our plans fall through. Ah well. It builds character. :)

Wednesday we probably did something important. All I can remember is that all our plans fell through. Ah well. It builds character. :)

Thursday we probably did something important. All I can remember is going to an awesome district meeting about asking inspired questions. Then all our plans fell through. Ah well. It builds character. :) At least the district meeting was awesome.

After the district meeting we all took personality tests. Why? I don't really know. I don't know who instigated it. All I remember is walking into the kitchen and everyone in the district is pouring over this personality test. I learned that I am still very much an ISFJ. I have changed a lot on my mission, but I still remain a strong ISFJ. I was reading about this personality type in the results and my life started making a lot more sense and I had several epiphanies about myself and the way I approach missionary work. It was very enlightening.

Friday we met a part-member family visiting from North Carolina. The father is an active member of the church, and he has three boys ages 13, 15, and 16 who all want to be baptized. The sad part of the story is that their mom is completely against the church and refuses to let them join. :( We taught them about Mosiah 24 and how the Lord sometimes won't take away all our burdens at once, or provide immediate solutions to all our problems. This is how he tries our faith. However, He will make our burdens bearable if we drop them at His feet and take His yolk upon us. In time, He will help us get past our roadblocks in life. All we need to do is trust that His ways are higher than ours. That is the first step to humility. :)

Friday afternoon we went to see Karen, who has been investigating the church for quite some time. I think she initially started investigating when Sister Cady was serving in this area. Karen is an incredibly talented individual; she's 91 and an incredible artist. She held an art show at the retirement home she lives in and we had the opportunity to admire her work. We also got to meet with her briefly, and we talked about what Jesus Christ meant when He told us to take His yolk upon us. Our burdens are too heavy to carry alone, but with the help of Jesus Christ, we can pull any weight that is placed upon our shoulders. We just need to rely on Him for spiritual strength and guidance. Another step to humility. :)

Saturday the Bishop's Storehouse held an open house to the public, and we had several investigators planning on coming, so we were able to attend. It was awesome! There were a lot of people there who were not members of the church and we were able to share a little bit about emergency preparedness along with our basic beliefs. I also got to meet the mayor of Knox County! Our public relations specialist, Edie, pretty much knows everyone in Knox County. She's known as "The Queen of Knoxville." She's out of town but she still managed to get the mayor to come, so that was cool! And it turns out that the mayor is really good friends with David!! David came too. Poor Bethany was at home with a migraine. :( The welfare missionaries gave the mayor a starter kit to a home food storage, and they gave David one too! I don't remember if I've mentioned that David is on talk-show radio. He announced the open house on the radio and has been doing a lot to share the Gospel with people in the community. The mayor said that he trusts only a few people on the radio, and David is one of them. That whole exchange was really cool to witness. I can just tell that both David and Bethany are going to have a strong, positive influence on a whole lot of people in this area.

Another highlight from the Bishop's Storehouse was seeing Erica!! She and her husband walked right in and I was super excited. It had been over a year, so I extended my hand and said, "Hi! You probably don't remember me, but . . " She cut me off, "Of course I remember you!!!!" That made me particularly happy! Validated. I also saw a ton of other members from past areas and they all remembered who I was! Sister Fox has not been forgotten. :) That's always a good reminder. That reminder actually came a lot this week, with answered prayers and very timely letters. And cupcakes. Courtesy of David and Bethany. :) Thank you both!

So, after praying for humility, opportunities to humble myself came very subtly and I almost missed the entire point. All of a sudden, weaknesses started emerging. I found myself getting stuck in old patterns that I thought I had cast aside. New flaws started emerging. I started feeling incredibly inadequate with my calling, and with being a person in general. Feelings of confidence started giving in to feelings of guilt and shame. It really wasn't a pleasant experience and I didn't even know why it was happening.

But then I came across a verse in Ether that I have read probably 86,000 times in my life, and it took on a whole new meaning. Ether 12:27 tells us that if we come unto Christ He will show unto us our weaknesses. If we were to jump in a mud puddle and then wander around in darkness, we would have no idea how unclean we really are until we start walking toward a source of light. The closer we get to the light, the more dark spots we see in our own character. As we come unto Christ, we may find that weaknesses start emerging and that our flaws are put under a magnifying glass. It's all terribly frustrating. At this point we make a choice: let feelings of guilt and shame lead us to despair, which is the plan of the adversary, or let feelings of guilt and shame lead us to humility and reliance on the Atonement of our Savior Jesus Christ.

The verse continues, "I give unto men weaknesses that they may be humble." The purpose of having flaws is to help us remember that we are nothing without the strength of our Savior. All of our gifts and talents come from Him. When left to our own strength, we can do very little. In the strength of the Lord we can do all things. My favorite part is the promise, "If men humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." The Lord promises us that if we are humble, and if we exercise faith in our Savior, that He will help turn our weaknesses into strengths. Having weaknesses gives us the opportunity to grow stronger through reliance on the Atonement. My favorite verse of all time is in 2 Corinthians 12, when Paul glories in weakness after realizing that weaknesses help us rely on the grace of our Savior.

At first I took humility a little too far as I focused too much on my weaknesses. I learned that humility is not thinking less of yourself, but less about yourself. It's honestly acknowledging your weaknesses and then leaning on the Savior to give you the strength to exercise your gifts and bless the lives of others.

The greatest tender mercy was Sunday. After feeling particularly awful Saturday night, I plead with the Lord for spiritual strength and guidance. For some reason I felt a strong impression that I needed to bear my testimony. I knew I would feel so much more confident and more spiritually rejuvenated if I could just bear my testimony. I had no idea how that was going to happen because testimony meeting happened last week and I'm pretty sure I ignored that prompting to bear my testimony last week. The next day, right before sacrament meeting started, the first counselor in the bishopric came up to our companionship and says, "Ok, which of you three wants to bear your testimony at the start of the meeting?"

Whoa.

I was more terrified than ever before for some reason, but I got up and bore my testimony and it was the best feeling ever.. I talked about how frustrating it was to have weaknesses put under a magnifying glass, but how it gives us opportunity to lean on the Savior and acknowledge that we can do anything with His help. I prayed fervently beforehand that it would touch somebody, and after the meeting I got a lot of positive comments on it. It was a gentle reminder to me that God is aware of me, and that, though I feel weak, I can still be a strong instrument in His hands to bless the lives of others.

The irony of humility is that humility is confidence. It's confidence that in the strength of the Lord you can do all things. To pray for humility is to submit your will to God's will. It's to pray with a spirit of gratitude. It's petitioning for spiritual strength, a defense against pride, which is the greatest destroyer of man's spirituality. Pride is the real terror here. It divides relationships, destroys unity, hardens hearts, and strips of charity. Humility brings about mercy, which unifies and strengthens. It feeds man's spirituality because it leads them directly to the Source of spiritual nourishment, and that is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I know He lives and loves us. There is nothing we could possibly do, no weakness that we can possibly have, that can separate us from His love. He is mindful and aware of all of us, and we can see His influence as we begin looking for it. As we humble ourselves and recognize that we need His strength, He will give us the strength we need to overcome any weakness or obstacle.

I would like to close with a quote by Richard C. Edgley:

"Humbly submitting our will to the Father brings us the empowerment of God--the power of humility. It is the power to meet life's adversities, the power of peace, the power of hope, the power of a heart throbbing with a love and testimony of the Savior Jesus Christ, even the power of redemption."

I love you all! You are all in my prayers and I am so grateful for all the love and support I get from back home. Thank you all for following spiritual promptings and sending me letters. Over and over these past couple weeks I have received letters right at the moment I have felt alone and forgotten. So thank you all! :) I love you all so much and hope you have an excellent week full of adventure!!

-Sister Fox

Monday, July 7, 2014

You Never Know

Family! Friends! Fantastic Folks!

Greetings from Knoxville, Tennessee! It is a beautiful, clear morning and it's probably going to get hot today. Because guess what? It has hit 100 degrees several times in the past few weeks. 100 degrees. Paired with humidity. I know you're all secretly jealous of me. Y'all just won't admit it.

This week was really good! This one will go in chronological order again because my brain is so scattered this is probably the only way I will remember to include everything. Because lots of wonderful things happened this week and I don't want to leave anything out. So here it goes!

Monday we spent the day with the elders and sisters in the area playing sand volleyball in the elders' apartment complex. We also played get to know you games, and I learned all sorts of interesting facts about all my fellow missionary friends. The only interesting fact I could think of for myself is that I can whistle like a bird now. Later I thought of a few facts that are far more interesting, like having lived by dream by being a rock climbing model. I can never play those games because I can never think of something good on the spot. But hey. I can rest in peace knowing that all my friends know that I can whistle like a bird.

Monday evening we had dinner with a family in the ward with a ton of kids. I mean, a ton of kids. They have a pair of twins and a pair of triplets about 2 years apart. Their mother is a saint; she's amazing! They are such a solid family. The twins and triplets are 2 and 4 I believe. It was fun getting to know their family!

After dinner we had an appointment with one of our investigators named Christian, who has been investigating the church for quite some time. He is incredibly brilliant and probably knows more about church policy and history at this point than I do. It's hard for him to connect with the doctrine on an emotional and spiritual level, so we're trying to help him do that. That has been a challenge for me my entire mission; I can tell other people what faith is all I want, but helping them experience it presents a whole new kind of challenge. It has been really interesting though, and Christian is a wonderful kid. I kind of want him to meet Chelise because she could say lots of brilliant things that he would connect with.

Tuesday nothing really happened with the work in Pellissippi, though we tried our hardest. But! I received some excellent news at the Bishop's Storehouse while I was volunteering there! I was talking to an elder who is serving in the West Hills ward right now. He asked me if I had taught an investigator named Erica and I said that I had! Guess what?? She was baptized this past month!!! Quick flashback: We met Erica while we were trying to meet all the part-member families in the West Hills ward. Her husband was a member but hadn't been to church in years simply because he fell out of the habit. They are a beautiful family with two incredibly cute kids. Being new missionaries, we didn't really know how to get our foot in the door other than asking if we could "practice the lessons" on them. Note to future missionaries: don't do that. So when we asked her if she would read the Book of Mormon and stuff she was a bit confused because she thought we were practicing and we had failed to establish our purpose. However, we were able to commit her to take the rest of the discussions right before I was transferred. Now, one year later, she's baptized! Her husband was reactivated and he was able to perform the baptism. You just never know which of your planted seeds are going to grow!!! That piece of news made my life!!!

Wednesday we had dinner with another member, who told us about her conversion story. It was so inspiring; the moment she saw the missionaries on the porch she knew she wanted what they had. They asked her if they could come back and she told them no! Even though she knew that she needed them to! But after several years of moving around and meeting with missionaries, she and her husband were baptized. Those first missionaries who showed up on her doorstep probably still have no idea she was baptized. You just never know where you've planted a seed, and which of your planted seeds are going to grow!! That brings me so much comfort as a missionary. Through small and simple things great things really are brought to pass. The Lord works in mysterious ways, and sometimes another's conversion can be instigated simply by a knock on the door. Love it. The Church is true!!

Wednesday evening David had his baptismal interview and passed with flying colors! Elder Crestani, the District Leader, was really impressed with David's knowledge and testimony. I have a funny story from Wednesday as well! I was standing in the middle of the foyer reading a flyer about an open house at the Bishop's Storehouse. Suddenly, out of nowhere a hand extends into my peripheral vision. I look up to shake it and see a complete stranger wearing a nametag. I figured it was one of the welfare missionaries because they're everywhere and I never recognize them. He asked me how I was doing and I guess I looked kind of confused because he had to clarify who he was--it was President Griffin. I was so taken aback that the look on my face had the elders laughing for hours. So. That was my first impression on my new mission president. Score 1 for Sister Fox.

I LOVE President Griffin though! He is fantastic. But I'm not quite there yet because I didn't get to know him until Friday. So on with Wednesday evening.

Wednesday evening we had an appointment with a set of investigators that turned to be a bit disappointing. We thought they were a lot further along, but it turns out they have a lot of qualms with the Prophet Joseph Smith, and one of them openly admitted to reading anti-mormon material on the prophet and to believing Joseph to be a con artist. Appointments like that are always very upsetting to me. I have a strong testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith and every time I hear someone speak out against him I take it as a personal blow. But, all you can do is bear witness of his divine calling, which we did. I know he was a prophet of God, and he has done more, save Jesus Christ only, for the salvation of man than any other mortal who has lived on this earth. I just pray for both of them that they will gain a personal testimony of the divinity of Joseph Smith's calling through reading the Book of Mormon. If that book is true, then so is everything else!

Thursday our plans were a bit shaky, but we ended up at the home of a certain less-active by no coincidence. She struggles with depression and was having a particularly rough day. Luckily our team-up that we brought with us was good friends with her, so she offered to clean her house. We threw open the blinds, let some light in, and deep-cleaned her living room. She was so grateful that she offered to say the closing prayer and thanked God for sending us to her that day to brighten up her day. You just never know who needs your help! There are people to bless every single day! There's a new philosophy I like to go by: every good thought is a spiritual prompting unless proven otherwise.

Friday we had our Zone Meeting! This is when I can tell all y'all about President Griffin. He is from Spring City Utah (I think that's the name) and he has a beautiful family. He brought three of his daughters with him out to Tennessee, and they are 15, 11, and 9 or something like that (now all y'all are probably starting to wonder how closely Sister Fox was paying attention). I love President and Sister Griffin so much. It's a little strange adjusting to a new mission president after having President and Sister Irion my whole mission, but it has strengthened my testimony of priesthood keys. The moment I sat down with President Griffin for our first interview I could see that he had the mantle of a mission president. I could already feel his love for me, and I knew instantly that he was here to help me for the last few weeks of my mission, and that his advice would help me for the rest of my mission and for my next phase in life. He and his wife are both incredibly nervous, but they have a strong desire to serve and I am so grateful for them being here.

Friday was also my last Zone Meeting. :( It ended on a good note: the trainings were great, and I had the opportunity to bear my testimony as the meeting came to a close, as tradition holds in the TKM. I love these missionaries so much and I will miss them dearly. We also had the opportunity to perform the same musical number that we had performed at the Irion's farewell, which was fun. I will miss all the special musical numbers. Those have been a huge part of my mission.

Oh yeah, and Friday was my birthday. Y'all know what's funny? I kept forgetting it was my birthday throughout the whole week until someone else would bring it up. But all day Friday I remembered. I'm not that brain-dead. My lovely companions gave me a friendly little reminder at midnight on Friday morning that it was my birthday. It went like this:

Random voices in the dark: Should we do it? No. Maybe we should do it tomorrow. No we should do it now! What if it scares her? Let's just do it.
Me (in my head): What in the blazes is going on in the middle of the night . . . ?
Companions: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU!!! HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU!!!

And so on and so forth.

And then I found myself being sung to in the middle of the room at Zone Meeting. And I'm sure it happened again several times after that, but I didn't commit it to memory.

It was a good birthday! My lovely companions and fellow missionaries made me french toast, we decorated the apartment to look all festive, and I had two packages to open (one from Mom and the other from Marissa--thank you both so so so much!!!!!) full of food!!!! The cliff bars are already gone. :) Yeup. I love cliff bars.

It is also tradition at Zone Meeting to have a zone activity after the meeting. So after it was over we played kick ball. Which is the sport I probably dislike above all other sports. Actually, omit the word "probably" and replace it with the word "definitely." But! We played Tomahawk right after and I love that sport. And guess who made the winning goal??? BIRTHDAY KARMA! And there was much rejoicing. :)

They tell you on your mission you discover your talents. I had no idea that some of my talents would include whistling like a bird and being able to throw a football into a basketball hoop.

After Zone Meeting we tried to meet with a few people but it was the 4th of July so nobody really wanted to meet with us. However! We had a member in the ward sign up to feed us, and he took us out for dinner at Chiles! It was perfectly delicious. :) And he secretly told the staff it was my birthday, so I got free ice cream and a little song that sounded something like:
HAPPY HAPPY BIRTHDAY, FROM ALL OF US TO YOU! WE WISH IT WAS OUR BIRTHDAY, SO WE COULD PARTY TOO! I felt pretty validated.

THEN! We had nowhere to go for fireworks. At least at first. Then David texted us five times and called us twice while we were in an appointment to invite us to go downtown with him and Bethany and watch fireworks!!! They have no idea how much that meant to me. I was kind of worried I wouldn't get a good fireworks show, because I haven't really gotten a good show in a couple of years and I was starting to miss it. They were an answer to a prayer! I talk about David and Bethany a lot because they are the sweetest couple ever and I feel close to both of them already. Bethany told me several times that she had hoped that I was having a good birthday, and that really meant a lot to me. They made it amazing! They took us to downtown Knoxville to a park right by the Sun Sphere, and there we enjoyed funnel cakes and good company. Then we made our way to the top of the parking garage, where we had an excellent view of a spectacular fireworks show. I got it all on camera! It's probably not as cool on camera but at least I have it. So poof! There ya have it. Best birthday ever.

Saturday was David's baptism! Best belated birthday present ever! It was an excellent service. David was very excited, and afterward he said that he felt so much spiritual energy he felt like he was vibrating. I haven't been here very long and I haven't taught either David or Bethany very much, but I am still so grateful to be a part of their story. I felt so much joy as David came up out of the water and hugged Brother Moss. Now all David wants to do is share the gospel with everyone, and it is incredibly inspiring! He received the gift of the Holy Ghost on Sunday and he is incredibly happy. Missionary work is the best! I love being able to witness events like this. :)

What is so cool about their story is how they came in contact with the church in the first place. When they were looking for a place to go, they thought about trying the Mormon church because Bethany had worked with a couple Mormons and was impressed with them. You never know how your example will help in the conversion of another soul down the road! It builds my testimony of the importance of always being a good example to others, and treating them as Christ would.

Another cool little story that happened Saturday involved a letter I received in the mail from a fellow missionary from the Chattanooga zone. Flashback: As a Sister Training Leader I made it a goal to write a letter to every sister missionary with whom I had gone on exchanges. I wrote a letter to this particular sister and had every intention to give it to her at transfers. But! I left it in the car and forgot about it because I'm a space case. Then it got lost among all of my random possessions. I found it several weeks later while I was unpacking, and I felt a bit sheepish, but I sent it off anyway with a little prayer that she would benefit from it somehow, even though it was really late.

Flash forward! I get a letter from this missionary saying that my "late" letter had actually come right on time; she had been having a really tough day and had just had an emotional breakdown before checking the mail. Her companion was praying that someone would say something nice to her, and that's when she got my letter in the mail! She said it helped her a lot and that it had come at just the right moment.

You never know which of your good deeds will end up blessing someone's life! You never know which seeds you have planted will grow. It is a testimony builder to always act on a good prompting, to never get discouraged if it seems like your seeds aren't growing, and to trust that God can take your small and simple acts and use them to bless the lives of others. Because you never know what is going to happen. All you can do is do your best to show charity and Christlike love to the people around you. You never know who will be touched by your good deeds.

To end, I would like to include a poem that President Thomas S. Monson included in his latest General Conference address:

I have wept in the night
For the shortness of sight
That to somebody's need made me blind,
But I never have yet
Felt a tinge of regret
For being a little too kind.

My challenge for all of you is to pray for charity this week and go out and serve somebody. The Lord will multiply your efforts and you will be the means of blessing lives and bringing people closer to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As you do, you will feel an increase of His love for you.

Thank you all so much for your love and prayers on my behalf, as well as the advice. I feel so much love coming from everyone back home and it means so much to me. It means a lot to know that the things I am learning are blessing people back home, and I am also blessed by the things that all of you are learning and sharing with me. I love you all and hope you all have an excellent week! Until next week,

-Sister Fox