Monday, July 27, 2015

Wanderers in a Strange Land

This was another very special week. I have been shocked, for some reason, that the work hasn't slowed down the entire time I've been here. It has picked up and taken off;  I feel like I've been running for the last six months. But I wouldn't change it for anything, especially not this ward or my companion. She and I have grown together so much. She is purely a Christlike example and being able to learn from her has been one of the best experiences of my mission.

It's been a rush of a week! Jayme was finally able to get baptized and confirmed! There were a lot of weird events that popped up and kept it from taking place, but at last Brother Anderson got the priesthood and was able to baptize his wife. We were both so happy we waited until he was ready to baptize her because it made it such a special experience for them and for the ward, and it was indeed a blessing to be able to witness it. She looked so happy. Yesterday, they met with the bishop and this weekend we're planning to go to the Temple with them! And we're taking Amber to the temple this weekend as well. So it's going to be a wonderfully busy week!

Yesterday, at church, I spent a lot time looking around and feeling the spirit as I looked into the faces of these people that I love. I identified all the people that have grown so much since I have met them, people whom the Savior has truly taken and given direction, forgiveness, and mercy to. All of the members in this ward are kind-hearted, and loving, and have treated us so well. Between the two sets of missionaries in this ward, we've had 8 baptisms since I've been here, and that number would feel completely irrelevant, except for that this ward was slowly shrinking, and it needed people who would play a big part in it, and these 8 people have. They each have huge hearts, firm testimonies of the Gospel, and a desire to serve. I watched as Jayme ran after other people's kids even though she has her own to worry about, I watched as Conor passed the sacrament and gave the most heartfelt talk on keeping and living true to your covenants, as Lance passed the sacrament, and several other of these new members received callings.

We had a lesson with Conor this week and we made him pretend he was street contacting us as a missionary and then he would teach us the first lesson. It was awesome. He's so much more prepared than I ever was to serve a mission. But toward the end, we got to talking about his experience, and he said, "In the second lesson, the missionaries invited me to be baptized and that freaked me out. Just for future reference, it really freaks people out when you invite them to do it so early."
We looked at him for a long time, and both of our eyebrows were raised, and we didn't know how to respond, but finally I said,
"Shame on the missionaries for not inviting you to be baptized in the first lesson."
Sister Garner and I laughed and we explained, "Conor, we don't just invite people to be baptized so we can say that we did it and get another member in our congregation. We do it because we love these people. We meet them, and we love them, and we desire that they have the blessings of the gospel in their lives. We want them to learn how to repent, so they can receive true joy. And when they are baptized, only in and through the priesthood, then they can enter into God's presence. And we don't want to keep anyone from God's presence. This is His work, He controls it. All we do is invite people to follow Him."

We were both kind of startled at our words, because I don't think, until this moment, either of us realized what clear desire we have to fulfill our purpose. But I think that's why Sister Garner and I have been able to see so many miracles together. And I hope I don't come across boastful, that truly isn't my intention, I've just been praying my whole mission that my desires would be pure, that I could serve and teach for the right reasons, and it wasn't really until this moment that I realized that I have no other motives but that of bringing others closer to Christ.

This morning, Sister Garner said, "I just don't like when people tell us it's such a great sacrifice to serve as missionaries." I laughed, because I knew exactly where she was coming from. In the beginning, it did feel like a sacrifice, because everything was different. We left the things we love to come to a place that we weren't familiar with. But now it feels like we do so little to receive such great blessings and witness such great miracles, and the amount that we grow and change, and the amount that we see others grow and change, is beyond description, it makes anything else in life, aside from your own loved ones back home, seem trivial.

The most prevalent thought on my mind this week has been about the Savior and His overwhelming friendship. He is my best friend and my brother. Not just mine, He gives anyone His undivided attention and love, anyone who seeks it. He is the ultimate source of truth, light, and comfort. Nobody says it better than Ammon.

Alma 26
35: "There never were men that had so great reason to rejoice as we, since the world began; yea, and my joy is carried away, even unto boasting in my God; for he has all power, all wisdom, and all understanding; he comprehendeth all things, and he is a merciful Being, even unto salvation, to those who will repent and believe on His name."

36: "Now if this is boasting, even so will I boast; for this is my life and my light, my joy and my salvation, and my redemption from everlasting wo. Yea, blessed is the name of my God, who has been mindful of this people...blessed be the name of my God, who has been mindful of us, wanderers in a strange land."

That is exactly how I feel. Oklahoma is a blessed place, one of devoted, faithful people. My time here is quickly coming to and end, and I think I'm in denial, but I am grateful for every second of time I have been given to serve among the people here.

I love you all! I don't think I ever thought I'd live to see the day where I would write, "See you next week!" But I'll see y'all next week. :)


Sister Best

Monday, July 20, 2015

Amber's Baptism!

This is what exhaustion feels like.

I've been around quite a few companions in their last couple weeks, and they always express how tired they are. Or they get really, really sick, as if their body has given up. I already surpassed the really, really sick part. That was last month's problem. But I think the tiredness is kicking in. Maybe it was just a stressful week and all of this is just spilling over from that.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." ;) But it's not defeat or surrender. I love this work. And I think that I would go into Anaphylactic Shock if we ever took time to just sit down and rest. So to work we go! Because the work is moving SO fast down here! Amber got baptized and confirmed this week!!!

Satan tried really hard to convince her she wasn't ready, that she wasn't worthy, or that she was making the wrong decision. He even made sure she got a flat tire on her way to church yesterday. But she's too strong. She wants too badly to change her life, and to prove to God that she wants to follow Him, so she didn't let that stop her. :) And after her baptism, it seemed like so many of her fears and doubts melted away. She seemed more confident, more understanding. And she was ecstatic about the choice that she had made. I have a good feeling that we will be friends with Amber forever. We've been there to help her through a countless number of issues, and to see her change, truly change, for the better has been remarkable.

Bishop Gillespie was able to baptize her, so the photos are kind of a scattered mash up of his kids and hers. So the blonde kids are his and the Hispanic ones are hers. :)

And Jayme is getting baptized this upcoming weekend! Then we've made plans to go to the Temple with both of them by the end of July, and we're so excited for that! The temple has such an unmistakable spirit inside of it, and to be able to take people there and show them how special it feels inside is one of many ways to help them verify the glory of the covenants they have made.

This week we were able to take a Recent Convert to the temple named Brother Arthurs. He's about 80 years old and the sweetest man I've met to date. He only has the stamina to do one baptism at a time, but that one baptism on behalf of his half brother had him grinning from ear to ear; I'd never seen him smile quite like that before.

I think I've only scratched the surface of the miracles we saw this week, they have become too numerous to express, but I've learned something about miracles in the past little while; they come to those who believe in miracles. Not just because you believe them and they appear, but because you're more aware that all that is given to us is, indeed, a miracle from our father in heaven. He loves us so much more than we can comprehend. And because of that, he actively involves himself in the details of our lives. If it's important to us, it's important to him. Be it work, school, or play, He's helping us call the shots.

The other day, one of the High Councilmen said, "You know what I don't like about you missionaries?" we laughed, because he's a pretty straightforward guy. "What's that?" "You guys use the word "miracles" way too loosely. You call every tiny thing a miracle!"

Naturally, whenever he's around, we poke fun at that comment. "Sister! I found my last Altoid! It's a miracle!"

But I've thought a lot about that comment, because he's right...and he's wrong. I am way more aware of God's hand in my life now than I ever was before my mission. I basically attributed everything to myself or to the people around me, but every good thing does indeed come from God. Maybe we used our agency well in order to earn it, but it was still God's doing that we received it at all. So I have redefined the word miracle, which I previously thought of as a marvelous, magical display of God's power, to now mean anything that happens in my life or in the life of others that could not possibly have happened without God's help. Which is pretty much everything. :)

This seemed to be an overarching theme in church yesterday. The talks were all centered around not just doing, but BEING. You can't teach children not to yell by yelling at them, or not to hit by spanking them. In that same regard, what we constantly think about, we will become. If we fill our lives with Christ and His teaching, the perfect example, the perfect leader, then we will truly be perfected in Him. You'll have to forgive me if my letters all sound incredibly redundant; it must be that spiritual progress and perfection are fascinations of mine, and so opportunities to learn about them are particularly encouraging for me.

In conclusion, one of the speakers shared Hebrews 12:6. "Whom the Lord loves, He chastens". And why wouldn't He?! Why wouldn't He give us opportunities to grow? When a parent corrects a child, it isn't to exercise unrighteous dominion, or to put down the child so it feels lower than them. It is because the parent knows that child can live up to a higher standard, and they can see, from experience, how tweaking the minor things can make a big difference in the overall outcome. I know that's why we're here; striving to perfect ourselves and be better each day so that we can feel God's love more abundantly in our lives.

I'm grateful for this knowledge, and I am grateful for all of you!
I hope you see the miracles in your lives every day.


Sister Best

Monday, July 13, 2015

"All these things shall give thee experience"

Man oh man oh man.

I just realized I only have about three weeks left in the great land of Oklahoma! And that's hard to imagine. It feels like, and has felt like, I'm never going to leave. But it kind of sunk in this week. We had interviews with our President, and before I even sat down he said, "are you gettin' nervous?" I hadn't thought too much about it. But in a way, I am. Not in the ways I thought I would be, though. I figured I would feel like I hadn't done enough. I figured I would be fearful that I would fall into old habits upon returning home. But to be honest, I really don't feel that way at all. My mission has been the most rewarding event of my life to date, but it's taught me skills that I will use to continue to progress throughout all of my life. Everything from work ethic to how to repent.

So the scariest part of that to me is how to retain all of that information. How can I take the countless lessons I've learned in Oklahoma and apply them wherever I may be? Then I realized, my desires are different. My mentality is different. I can recognize the spirit, I can feel whether something is right or wrong, and when I need to get out. The best way to keep those feelings of the spirit is to heed them. Diligently. When you ignore the promptings of the spirit, they get quieter and quieter until they dissipate altogether. This is the Gospel. Living the Gospel, being obedient, striving to be more Christlike each and every day will change a person. Not just the things that they do, but ultimately the way that they are, and then the things that they do will reflect that.

I shared some of this with President Walkenhorst. He shared with me a series of scriptures that were all spot on.

D+C 38:30: "...If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear."

He asked, "Ultimately, who's in charge? Who makes sure you can't fall too far?" I smiled, and he pointed up. "He has a plan not only for you, but for everyone that you know. Your family, your friends, do you believe that?"

I do. Because I've always been taught that. And it's easy to see that God has a plan for His children when we spend so much time hearing miracles about how so-and-so prayed that God would send someone to help them, and then the missionaries knocked on their door. In fact, that's how we found Amber! But sometimes, even with all those witnesses, it's hard to personalize that promise. That he has a plan for ME individually.

President peeled open his scriptures again (he's good at that). He shared Acts 17:26 "+ [He] hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, + the bounds of their habitation."

He created us, he sent us to Earth exactly when we were supposed to be here, + He will not let us step outside of the boundaries that have been set for us. We have our agency, but He knows us better than we know ourselves. He's not going to let us get ourselves in a situation that we can't get ourselves out of.

D+C 122:7-9 also illustrates this point really well. Christ, addressing Joseph Smith about his hardships, says,
"if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good....Thy days are known and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever."

I was appalled at how personal this scripture is when I read it. If we are prepared, if we are obedient, NOTHING anyone else can inflict upon us will ever be a set back. All things give us experience. Everything. People always ask the age-old question, "why do bad things happen to good people?" Because that's the purpose of coming to Earth in the first place! If bad things never happened, our faith would never be tested. All things are for the benefit of mankind. ALL things. Too many people take to hating God, or ignoring Him when he allows hard things to happen. We can't always see the full picture. We can never see what He sees, and we will not always be able to identify how something that happens is for our good. But we have His promise that it is.

It reminded me of Alma 42:29. "And now, [insert your name here], I desire that ye should let these things trouble you no more, and only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance." It makes no sense for us to agonize over that which we cannot control. But we can control our own obedience and worthiness, and that is the only thing we're responsible for.

We teach Amber that principle pretty frequently. That she is only responsible for her own decisions, and as she sets an example, her family and friends will follow. She's been working hard to resist temptation, which I can imagine is incredibly difficult; she's surrounded by it. But she came to church yesterday with her sweet niece Mia and her son, Julian, and they announced her baptism. She's so excited. She's getting baptized this Saturday at 2!

Jayme is also taking great strides of progress! Her husband, Brother Anderson, got ordained to be a priest yesterday! So he can finally baptize her! It's kind of a long story why she's not getting baptized this week (aparently they paid a bunch of money to fly in this Japanese karate legend for some karate workshop... I don't even know), but she's getting baptized the 25th. :) And Jayme let us rip up all of her packets of sweet tea and throw them in the trash. (all 140 of them...)

We met a new family this week as well (the continuation of prayers answered) Maleah was a referral from one of the Moore sister missionaries' investigators. There's some solid work happening over here. Maleah met this girl at rehab, I think they were roommates. She's thrilled to be able to turn her life around. As we talked about Joseph Smith and the Restoration, she said that she felt "spiritual goosebumps". The Lord has definitely prepared her to receive the Gospel at this time.

So, anyway. This was a really long week. I keep having a flood of memories come back to me, but trying to document them is getting out of hand. Let me tell you this, though: The Lord knows us. So much more than we think. He listens to our prayers. And because they're a conversation with Him, He tries to talk back to us. So listen for that. The spirit heals all wounds. If ever you're going through a tough time, do all you can to feel the spirit.

"These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." -John 16:33

I love you all.

Hermana Best

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Plan of Happiness! :)

Hmmm. If you were Sister Best, what would you write about this week? I'd probably just spew out every thought that comes to my brain.

This week was busy. We had meetings and lessons scheduled nearly every hour of every day. They were all insightful and wonderful. The weekend was spent preparing for and running a booth for the City of Moore's 4th of July event, which was incredibly successful! Our ward mission leader, Brother Lusk, is one of the most dedicated saints in the world, and he let us borrow a TV and an iPad to show Mormon Messages, and he had made these signs to put up, so we looked pretty official. It was fun to hand out Book of Mormons all day and clarify our beliefs to thousands of people! We got sunburned, so President let us wear these nifty straw hats. I keep saying "these", hopefully I remember to attach the pictures, and this will all make a mountain of sense. Inbetween shifts at the booth, we went to the Judy's for a cookout and they invited Amber and her family, and they came! It was a blast. We were all a little bit tired... My companion fell asleep in a recliner and the elders fell asleep on the couch... Hahah. Oops!

There was a day this week where Sister Garner and I had the opportunity to teach the Plan of Salvation four times in one day. Being able to teach such profound truths over and over and over again, and seeing them bring tears to peoples' eyes over and over and over again, is not only a rewarding experience, but a faith building one as well. I don't have all the answers to my questions, I wish I did, but I do know that there is comfort and peace in waiting patiently to receive answers. And I know that no matter how difficult it is to be patient sometimes, the Lord will always help us understand our individual purpose.

We had a leadership meeting earlier this week and President Walkenhorst showed us the training that the apostles gave to the General Authorities before General Conference this year. They talked a lot about Sabbath Day observance and how when we evaluate out own sabbath day, and begin to make changes to devote ourselves more fully to use it as a day of rest and to think about Christ, then our overall spirituality will increase, as will faith and endurance of families. It was mentioned in this training, among so many great points, that "Covenants are not stagnant". When we take the sacrament, when we renew our covenants, those things don't stand still, we're always either moving forward or backward. But it's a path to perfection. Our lives are a path to perfection.

Then President Walkenhorst said something among discussion that will stick with me infinitely. He said, in essence, "The Doctrine of Christ is never giving up on trying to be perfect." We may never achieve it in this life, but when we continue to act faithfully to repent, renew our covenants, and increase the spirit in our lives, and we don't give up because we become immobilized by our weaknesses, then we will progress, we will move forward, and take steps on the path toward our Father in Heaven. Our purpose in this life is striving to be like Him more and more so that we're comfortable in His presence.

Telling people this, helping them see there is purpose to life and that we all have divine identities, changes a person. It has changed me, it changes the people we teach, but ultimately, it changes our desires and we begin to refine ourselves to align our will with God's, because therein lies true happiness.

Hmmm. This is messy and scattered. Updates on people:

Amber: Is still incredible. She has finally begun reading the Book of Mormon and she loves it. She's feeding us this week and she has begged us to show Victor the plan of salvation afterward, so that we will do! I've never seen anyone change like this family has.
Jayme: Still a saint. She and Brother Anderson have truly folded themselves into the ward. He's in the process of advancing in the priesthood so that he can baptize her. They're SO close!
Conor: There are no words. Except that one of the elders accidentally threw a basketball at his face and he had to get new glasses. But other than that, he's made the decision to go to BYU next year, so that's going to be awesome. And we had a lesson about preparing to serve a full time mission and he's excited. "If this church wasn't true, no one would do this for 2 years and feel good about it." Amen, Conor. Amen.
Chasadi (Amber's next-door-neighbor): We had another lesson with her! This time we finally got to teach her the Plan of Salvation and it was exactly what she needed. It helped her understand the priesthood and we have her praying about baptism. She has had a tough life, but she is strong and willing to continue learning. She's wonderful.

Anyway, there are a lot of miracles going on over here! Emails don't do it justice, but I wish you all a happy week! Happy July! Love you bunches!


Sister Best