Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to all of you who emailed me this past week or so--it means so much to me to have you all in my life, and know that there are people at home (or wherever you may be!) that support and care about me. Really, each of your messages, no matter how short, make a difference. Thank you for remembering me!
On that note, I caught myself trying to think of something I might need, just so I'd have another excuse to see Mom's handwriting again. Then I realized that was ridiculous! But handwritten letters mean a lot...so I know all of you are so, so busy, but every once in a while if you get the chance, know that handwritten things mean a lot! But I also love that email allows me to hear from you more frequently, and that we can write more to each other. So whatever ends up working best for you, I will love and appreciate it!
To start, I feel the need to clear a few things up--like what it means to "open an area". I realized when I read Sterling's letter that I didn't do a very good job of explaining it before! But it doesn't mean that missionaries have never been in this area, just that this "area" hasn't existed--missionaries haven't been specifically sent to Coffeyville. The Independence area has covered Coffeyville (and still does...it's a little weird, and I still don't understand it well enough to explain it) forever, and so missionaries have been in Coffeyville. They just haven't lived here! Does that kind of make sense? Also, Sister Cook and I found out that someone had been exageratting to us when they told us there were 800 people in the ward, and since we didn't know anything, we believed them. Whoops? But there's a little over 400. I think. Either way, not a lot of people that actually come!
This week, one of the things that I was able to appreciate more and more was the sacredness of a gospel centered home. The Bible Dictionary teaches us that the home is next to the temple in sacredness, and it's incredible to feel how real that is! When a home is centered around Christ and His teachings, the Spirit is there, and the home becomes a refuge from the world--a literal heaven on earth. And it holds such a sense of relief and peace to sit in one of these homes and feel love encircling you, comforting you. It really is like sitting in the temple, and I am so grateful to have grown up in one of these places. How much I've learned from that! I've been studying from "Daughters In My Kingdom" a little this week, and had a neat experience of what I learned from the "Guardians of the Hearth" chapter with some of the families we've visited. My favorite part is a quote by Julie B. Beck. She says,
"In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have a theology of the family based on the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonment. The Creation of the earth provided a place where families could live. The Fall provided a way for the family to grow. And the Atonement allows for the family to be sealed together eternally."
I love that the Plan of Salvation--the great plan that Heavenly Father has made to help us to be able to live with Him again--is completely centered around families. That His work and His glory is to "bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man", but that we get there together, as families. What a blessing our families are to us! I am so grateful for mine, and the knowlege I have that through living the gospel of Jesus Christ, we can move forward together with the hope that because of our Savior, we can live together forever.
Another lessons I lived this week is "teaching people, not lessons"--something that's drilled in your heads every day in the MTC, but takes on a different meaning in the field! How true it is! One of our investigators knows the Bible backwards and forwards (and upside down), and has been meeting off and on with the missionaries for 6 years. And this woman makes it almost impossible to plan a lesson! Instead, we think of what her questions may be, and come prepared to answer them as we teach the lesson. Boy oh boy, have we had incredible experiences with her. On Thrusday, we were going over the plan of salvation again, and she brought up baptisms for the dead. "I just feel like the only thing that talks about it is your scripture, not in the Bible." So I said, now wait. What about 1 Corinthians 15? And she said, what's that? :) Silly Mary. I explained the context of verse 29, and then we read it together. Then she read it again. And then she read the whole chapter. And then again. And then she looked up at us and quietly said, "Well, I guess I have some pondering to do tonight." And suddenly, the Spirit was just there, so strong. It was like you're standing under one of those buckets at a water park, and all of a sudden it's pouring all of the water that was just waiting to spill aaaalll over your head! It was so neat! We finished that lesson, and felt like we were walking on treetops together--I could have sang for days! It was so special.
We visited a couple on Saturday where the husband isn't a member, and the wife is dying of terminal cancer. Our ward mission leader and his wife know them pretty well, and drove us out to meet them. It was heart breaking to see. This poor woman only has weeks left, and her cancer has spread up to her brain. It affects her ability to talk and think, so she'll start a sentence and then forget what she was saying, and just abruptly stop. She was so emotional, and cried as she hugged Sister Dimond, saying, "I didn't think it would be like this." It was enough to break my heart. And the husband was such a good man, and is just serving her the best he can, and making all of us life in the mean time. But you could tell that they were just holding on, and it was hard to see. We were able to read part of a conference talk with them, and talk about the enabling and healing power of the Atonement. We are promised that through the Atonment of Jeus Christ, all that is unfair about this life will be made right. We can receive the strength to carry on long after we think we can't. And as we trust in the Lord, we will be blessed.
I am so grateful for the Savior in my own life. We were teaching the Sunday school class at Church called Gospel Principles, and were talking about agency, or the ability to chose between good and evil. At some point during the beginning, we used the example of a kite, where while it may seem as though the string keeps the kite from soaring to greater hights, its function is to hold it up, to keep it from crashing down. In a similar way, being obedient to what God asks of us in no way limits our potential, but helps us stay up, reaching greater heights than we could alone. The rest of the class went great, with a lot of really good input from everyone there. Towards the end, one of the men provided an incredible example of how bad things happen to good people, and how even when we are obedient, it doesn't mean we won't have trials. He's had a hard time lately, and is actually homeless right now. He said how he didn't think he'd done anything wrong, but he must have to be in the situation he is now. It was such joy to testify to him that though trials come to all of us, we can turn to our Savior and grown stronger! I was able to bring it back to the example of the kite--how even with the string, sometimes the kite will dive bomb, and get stuck in a tree. Where did that come from, right? But if we, as that kite, are still tied to that string that represents our obendience, then that means there's someone at the other end. The very same one who would leave the ninety nine to search for the one is connected to us, acting as our anchor and our hope for rescue. The person flying the kite would retrieve it from whatever tree it ended up in, mend its broken parts, and send it up again. The Savior is there for us, and will help us when these trials come. In a talk Elder Scott gave last Conference, he said,
"When you feel that there is only a thin thread of hope, it is really not a thread but a massive connecting link, like a life preserver to strengthen and lift you. It will provide comfort so you can cease to fear. Strive to live worthily and place your trust in the Lord....I bear testimony that living an obedient life, firmly rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ, provides the greatest assurance for peace and refuge in our homes. There will still be plenty of challenges of heartaches, but even in the midst of turmoil, we can enjoy inner peace and profound happiness."
How amazing is the knowlege that we have, because of the restoration of the gospel? I am so grateful to be a missionary now, to be gaining a deeper testimony of these things every day!
I had a couple other stories I wanted to share, but I guess they'll have to wait for a handwritten letter. Hopefully I'll have time later today for that. I love you all so very much, and genuinely am grateful for your impacts in my life. Karalee, I think of you all the time. I hope you're doing great! I'm sure your busy, with your new jobs and all! Are all your new swim kids as cute as the ones you used to teach swim lessons to? "My favorite's broccoli!!" Hahaha. Anyway, know I pray for you. Love you so much,