Woah! Sorry about the downer e-mail last week. I think I just forgot to include all the good that happened because it really wasn't as rough as I apparently made it sound. Stillwater is doing REALLY WELL.
It's a beautiful fall morning over here. I'm used to October 25th being the first snowfall, but it was 85 degrees on my birthday. So odd. I love it. This week was insanity.
We got to go on our first exchange of the transfer to Woodward. The exchange itself was wonderful, a lot of walking around to find people for them to teach and allowing the spirit to guide and direct conversation in an attempt to aid struggling missionaries. We also found a windmill museum in the middle of nowhere. And a sign that said, "Slapout...Population 8". It's always an adventure here in the middle of Oklahoma.
I was really pleased to have had this opportunity because it helped me apply a lot of what I've been studying... trying to strengthen my testimony in an attempt to utilize it for the growth of others. I think back on all the people in my life who solidified my testimony by sharing theirs with me. I want to be a part of that. I know that the closer I get to Christ, the more easily I can reach out to others. So I've been attempting to change my mindset to have an outlook of "It Matters Not". If I can live constantly in the service of others, listening to what they have to say and valuing their ideas and opinions, and losing myself, being less inward-centered, it will be easy to help others draw unto Christ. Because my own pride and selfishness won't be getting in the way. It makes me think of Alma as he is just caught in a trap of wanting to scream the Gospel but feeling restrained. He says, "I do not glory of myself but I glory in that which the Lord has commanded me; yea, and this is my glory, that perhaps I may be an instrument in the hands of God to bring some soul to repentance; and this is my joy." I've been thinking about that a lot lately.
We spent about 6 hours in the car driving to and from Woodward, which was a lot of glorious companionship bonding time, and can I just say, I really appreciate and look up to my companion. Sister Roberts has such a solid head on her shoulders and a huge heart. She is constantly trying to help me see my worth and strengthening others as well.
We had a few lessons this week, one with one of our investigators named Leroy who is trying to give up dipping, but he is so sincere and it is such a pleasure to see his heart softened every time he comes to church. Hearing stories from his past, I'm reminded of how merciful our father in Heaven is, and how individualized each of our purposes are. Leroy has had a lot of near-death experiences, and it is such a blessing to be a part of watching his change. He has set up a baptismal date in December, a little ways off to give him time to ease off his addiction, but I have a lot of faith that the Lord will make him stronger than his desires. Because the Lord's done it for me. :) And I've seen him do it for countless others.
But THIS WEEKEND WAS INSANE. We got to spend it with Sister Barlow, the office missionary, who came down to hang out with us.
Stillwater is a college town, home to the OSU Cowboys and this weekend was homecoming. We spent a lot of time out on the streets trying to contact people that way, getting people to take surveys, handing them pass-along cards, and trying to gather their information. On Friday night, we walked the streets of the "Walk About" where the sororities and fraternities have these massive, elaborate displays outside of their houses to show their devotion to the university and there were 90,000 PEOPLE there. We had to start narrowing down who we spoke to pretty specifically because the first several people we talked to just wanted to Bible-Bash with us. One woman told me she didn't believe my faith was real. I'm going to start making a tally of how often I hear that. I always thought hearing people rip apart our beliefs would be hard and damaging, but it's really not. More than anything, it makes my heart hurt for them, not doubt how firmly I stand.
WE WERE EXHAUSTED. But the next day was my birthday, and day two of homecoming: Game Day. We, once again, drove downtown and walked blocks and blocks until we got to the homecoming parade. This was the Okiest parade I've ever seen. There were a few floats, but most of it was semi-trucks, tractors, and lawn mowers (the kind you ride, and the kind you don't...) My companion, Sister Barlow, and our roommates, the Hermanas, all told me this parade was for my birthday, and I have to say, it was a blast. I'll attach a bundle of pictures. We also got to chat up a storm over there as the parade was letting up. Then we took off to beat traffic and handed pass-along cards through car windows.
We had a young single adult named Lil' Breezy take us to lunch at Braums. It was the best. He wrote me a birthday rap, and I don't think my life will ever be the same because of it. We ended up doing our studies in the middle of the day due to the game, doing some service for a sweet elderly lady, and then Brother and Sister Pettingill from Wichita Falls and my trainer, Hermana Gonzalez, came up to Stillwater to take us out to dinner with the Elders. It was a blast. Overall, it was a terrific day. A lot of commotion and joy in the air.
I had a chance to open my presents, all of which were so heartfelt, useful, and thoughtful, and the package of letters that was put together for me. It made my day. I almost wept as I read them. If you're lost, my mother and Dane Goodwin collaborated to contact just about every person I've ever met in my life to write me a birthday note and send it my way... and it meant so much to me. If I don't get a chance to write you back, just know I love you and value those notes so much. So thank you so much to everybody who participated in any way in sending something my way for my birthday. It was, indeed, the best birthday I've ever had.
I'll leave you with one more thought. I've been re-reading the Book of Mormon, this time highlighting Christlike Attributes as listed in Preach My Gospel and trying to follow the story line more exactly and how it applies to us in our day. I found a verse that has been weighing heavy on my mind. Lehi has seen the vision of the tree of life, which I talked a bit about in my last email, but several chapters later, as Nephi is explaining the symbolism of everything to his brothers...
"26. And they said unto me: What meaneth the river of water which our father saw?
27. And I said unto them that the water which my father saw was filthiness; and so much was his mind swallowed up in other things that he beheld not the filthiness of the water."
I was so impressed by Lehi's display of virtue in this instance. His mind is so focused on God's love and his words and doing all he can to gather his family and keep them close that he doesn't even take the time to glance over and comprehend the filth of the river. He saw that it was bad, and that was about all the energy he wasted on it. What a great example. Sometimes we let our minds wander, or even our actions revolve, around that which is not expedient to the Lord; things that are trivial and have very little eternal impact. But if we seldom take the time to acknowledge the filth of the world, we will have so much more time to focus on that which uplifts.
I love you all. I know God loves you all. I felt that very strongly this week. The Lord confirmed to me that everyone back home is being taken care of in His own way. I hope you feel it. I love you from states and states away.
Notable missionary gifts:
Elders Wilcox and Gonzales gave me a tie + directions. Photo attached
One of the Zone Leaders gave me the calculator watch from off of his wrist. Woah. Life made.
The Hermanas got me some leather-scented scratch-and-sniff stickers.
As for the photos...
Me and my sculpture buddy. If you look closely, you'll see a woman I had just given a pass-along card to checking out the pass-along card. Woot! (Oh, and wearing possibly one of the cutest dresses of all time. 1 of 2 adorable dresses I received for my birthday.)
Me and a semi-truck... in a parade... What?
The glorious tie + directions.