It was so good to see the family on Christmas!!! What a wonderful time to talk and catch up a little bit. Thanks for your questions and telling me about all the great things that are happening in your life. It was cool for me to reflect on how I've grown as Monterrey just left (cousin) and Caleb (brother) leaves soon. Our Christmas day was pretty great. The Garlicks were kind enough to invite us over because everyone else in our ward was gone. It was fun to spend time with them, we made bread and played Quelf, had a delicious meal and skyped our families! We did a lot of caroling this week and met a lot of sweet people. This week has gotten really cold. We biked a half hour to church yesterday in the cold and rain, but then as I was reflecting that this was a pretty cold day for me I realized that this would probably be a warm day for Caleb and I stopped complaining :P
We went on exchanges this week too and split to go help some of the sisters in the surrounding wards focus on the YSAs in their area. It was pretty effective and we got to talk to a few people. We also spent a good chunk of time just calling all the people on this giant list of YSAs that are on the records of the surrounding wards. We found a whole bunch of numbers that either don't work anymore, or that are the wrong number, we found a few people who would be interested in coming to Institute, and a few that had moved, but that we got forwarding addresses for because we called! I wonder why we don't just call down the list more often, it's amazing the things you find!
I hope y'all have a wonderful New Year! Sister Flanery and I invested in some martinellis and we're excited! As the New Year approaches I would invite you to watch this video cause it's awesome, and then read this talk that it's based off of. Remember, Faith is always pointed toward the future.
So I have to brag about all the wonderful people in the ward and my wonderful companion for how well they took care of me on my birthday. I woke up that morning and went to open the door (6:30am) to see how cold it was outside only to be drowned in balloons! Brooke headed the effort but the night before at FHE they got a bunch of people to sign balloons and then they put plastic around the door frame and filled it with 80 balloons!! So when I opened it, it was quite a surprise. Then my wonderful companion made me breakfast and we went to go talk to people on campus!
We have a huge fold-out board that we've used for various initiatives in the past, so this time we had it all decked out with "He is the Gift" stuff. Several of our members came out with us and one brought her Ipad so we could play the video and Tiffany and Melane who were just recently baptized were super gung-ho about handing out cards and inviting people to come write something to put on the board. I was so impressed and proud of them. They are doing amazing things and growing so quickly. Also, as we were talking to people a huge tour group walked through and Elder Visser convinced them all to sing me happy birthday! What a surprise! And then I got a surprise lunch from Laci and Haylee, and flowers from dad, cards and gifts from people. And I have legit cowboy boots now!!! It was a really wonderful day. I don't think I've ever been so well taken care of on my birthday.
That evening we had dinner with Taylor, one of our recent converts and we got to sit and talk with her and her roommate, Tia and read the Christmas story from the Book of Mormon and gain additional perspective to see what was going on there. Isn't it wonderful to have additional light and knowledge and Truth from the Book of Mormon. We were talking with Kelly the other day and she told us how she tried to explain the BoM to her brother. She said, if you tried to tell the history of WW2 without the American side, it would still be correct, but you'd miss a lot of important details and depth. It's very similar to why we have the Book of Mormon. It provides so much depth and additional insight to what we already have. I love the Christmas story because the Nephites were about to die if Christ had not come, but He came that night, as he said he would and his first act in just coming to Earth was to save people from imminent death, and isn't that His entire mission?
Our Christmas Conference this week was wonderful. The entire mission got together and it was a lot of missionaries. They really put a lot of effort into it--we each got handmade TX stockings with notes from home and a little gift, what a wonderful time. We had a sing-along with Christmas carols and seasonal songs, but I really liked just listening to President Mortensen teach us more about the symbolism of shepherds, especially as portrayed in the Christmas story.
The shepherds were abiding in the field, keeping watch over the flock (sound a little like missionaries?) The angels came to them to tell them the good tidings and then they went with haste to spread the news of a Savior, of Jesus Christ. There's a lot of symbolism there, but that might get you started. There is great depth to the scriptures that sometimes we miss when we think we know the story well.
I've also been thinking about consecration a lot recently, really turning our will over to God because our will is really the only gift we can give him. I'm reading through the Book of Mormon right now looking for how consecration (aligning our will with God's) leads to transformation, and how much God can really shape us and perfect us when we let Him.
Have a very Merry Christmas!!! I love y'all!! Enjoy the season, share the gift!
Lately I've taken to making bread at the Institute. We made mom's artisan bread a few weeks ago as part of the free lunch on Fridays after one of the Institute classes and it was a hit! So Brother Garlick, our institute director thought it would be a good idea to do that a lot more often, so we have. He actually does most of the work now, but artisan bread is becoming a favorite among many here. I need to figure out some varieties, right now we've just been doing whole wheat :)
The Christmas season on campus is an interesting thing because most people are stressin over finals and then heading home soon, so we're trying to talk to people about it as much as we can before they leave. President Mortensen is really pushing the YSA work and we just bought 9 A-frames to put signs in and use on all the campuses in the mission. This area is really the pilot area for the rest of the mission and so anything we're experimenting with to see if it might work we try up here. So we've been brainstorming ideas with Brother Garlick and coming up with new ways to find and invite others to "come and see" to come learn more. It's super exciting. The Christmas break is our time to prepare and to sharpen the saw so we can hit it hard when school comes back in session :) And even though most people are leaving we still have some phenomenal investigators who will be here over most of the break that we get to keep teaching and I guess we're going to be doing a lot of calling to help all of our recent converts stay strong over the break, it's a very unique situation for sure.
My favorite part of this week though, was going to the temple, once for endowments and once with a bunch of our recent converts for baptisms! We went on Thursday with our Relief Society President for her second time ever. (she's getting married in 2 weeks) and with Bro Garlick's daughter who just got back from her mission in Peru! She hadn't been to the temple in 18 months! Whew, I am so grateful to have one in my mission and to be able to go so frequently. I'm so excited Caleb gets to go and receive those blessings this week too! This trip was very insightful for me. I went looking for patterns of becoming. Something that hit me was the same pattern God used for creating the earth, he is also using to create me. I am still very much in the creation process, still growing and developing, and just like God separated the light and the darkness in the earth's creation, He can do that for me. Also, when God put plants on the earth, he didn't just transplant full grown plants and *poof* the earth suddenly had plants everywhere. He placed seeds there to grow and develop. Just like God placed seeds in the earth, he has placed them in me and in you. We have so many talents and so much potential that needs to develop. The process of creation is glorious and God is turning us into something beautiful.
The baptism trip was also amazing. We had 3 people who went for the very first time and the temple president came and talked to our group for a bit. He talked about some of the symbolism of baptism and how much we can really learn through symbolism as we are seeking and asking. Our recent converts loved the trip and it was incredible for me to be able to talk to them and hear of their testimonies and the Spirit they felt while they were there. That will definitely be a strength to them, especially over the holiday. This Sunday was also really great because it was our Christmas program. I performed in 2 of the numbers. I did the medley of What Child Is This and Carol of the Bells that I've played before and then I accompanied someone else as they sang Oh, Holy Night. Both pieces turned out pretty well even though I had a lack of practice time. The best part of that program for me was the speaker. Bishop spoke at the end, and Jacob gave a talk after only being baptized a month and it was phenomenal! I was so proud of him and so happy to be there! :) We also taught part of the lesson in Relief Society on missionary work with a couple of people who had never taught before. I am so happy to be a part of this ward and to be working with leaders in the Relief Society who are inspired to ask people to try something new and help them be successful. Making someone feel needed is an incredible way of helping them.
I hope your Christmas season is great! Share the love and the light with someone else, reach out and help someone succeed. Invite someone--member or nonmember to come to Christ.
So big news I forgot to mention last week is that Sister McLean got transferred. We get calls Sunday night, pack Monday and leave Tuesday morning. It's a little crazy. So we were just running around saying goodbye and getting everything done that we need to. I am going to miss her dearly, she was one of the greatest companions and friends ever and we had a lot of fun and got a lot done while we were together :) My new companion is Sister Flanery! She's from Layton, UT and was going to Utah State before she came out, so she's now a double Aggie I guess :P and she is just as sweet as can be. She's on her last 2 transfers...so there's a possibility I could stay in this area until the end of my mission! But speculation will be the death of me, so lets not go there. She's never been to a YSA before and it's definitely an adjustment. I was reading past journal entries about my first time in a YSA and it's given me more empathy for that transition, sometimes it's just hard to remember so thank goodness for journals. I haven't missed a day of writing in it on my mission which I think is a real accomplishment.
Anyway, so transfers are always stressful, not just if you're moving and packing and have to say goodbye, but also for the one who's staying (that was me this time) because your knowledge of the area is tested, you have to provide everything that goes into planning and following up with everyone until your new companion gets her feet under her and learns a little bit more about the area and who we're working with. To make it even weirder we were in limbo with another sister in our area for a couple of days as she was waiting for her new little trainee to get here. Transfers happen tues and we don't get the newbies till thurs, so it's a weird couple of days for those who are training. But despite it all I think I handled it okay, and it turns out I know the roads and the area better than I thought I did. It's really been interesting to look back on when transfers happen on my mission, and they always come right as I feel myself start to plateau in my progression and the Lord sees fit to put something else on my plate :) I've gotten to the point this week where I feel like I can handle things on my own and so now there's the challenge of balancing with my new companion and catching her up to speed. I think the transfers where I stay in the area have been harder for me looking back in mission history, but this one should be good and I've gotten better at this whole transfer thing over time :)
Sister Flanery complimented me on my organization yesterday and told me I was one of her most stressed companions. Now that could partly be from the week of transfers, but it was also slightly shocking because anyone who knew me before the mission could tell you that I am not a stressed person, nor very organized for that matter. That weakness is definitely something I have seen the Lord make into a strength since being out here. At the same time I think I've lost some of my other skills, or they've gone dormant to make room for this one. It's a hard balance, but I'm glad to learn so much and to see the results of over a year of effort on the mission.
Tiffany got baptized this Saturday and it was phenomenal. Sister McLean got to come back and it was nice to see her again so soon, if only for a little while. The whole baptism went smoothly even thought it was at a weird building because they were setting up for the Christmas concert at our normal building. She bore her testimony on Sunday about her conversion experience and then the whole rest of testimony meeting was on missionary work. It was so great. I just love serving here with so many incredible people. :D
Also, the Christmas devotional last night was amazing. Y'all should go watch it if you haven't. Elder Christofferson's talk was my favorite. He talked a lot about Christ's condescension and how we are to follow His example in that. The night before we went to a Inter-faith Musical Celebration of Christmas concert thing at our stake center. There were many people from other faiths in attendance and performing and it was wonderful!! There was an all black family from a Baptist church that sang that was by far my favorite. They got every one clapping and just sang with power! I was sitting next to a recent convert, Taylor, who grew up in a church like that, so that was such a cool experience seeing her get into that too :) Another beautiful part of the evening was walking through an exhibit of nativities. I have very fond memories of doing that as a family and really love the unique depictions of Christ's birth.
Merry Christmas to y'all! Hope you're enjoying the Christmas season. This season is one of the greatest times to share with others what means so much to us. Take some time to share that with a friend #SharetheGift :)
Mission Leadership Council is always awesome. I learn so much and always leave wanting to be better, but also having ideas and ways to do that and principles to focus on in helping lift, encourage, inspire, and bless others, especially other missionaries. Something we're trying to focus more on is keeping track of all our new converts and making sure they are getting follow up lessons and care and attention and love and a calling after they're baptized. The ultimate goal is receiving all the blessings of the temple, so we're tracking their progress until they get there. Another part of that is helping them to find the joy that comes from sharing the gospel, especially since they are such a ripe source of finding. They have tons of non-member friends and we need to be asking about that. Most of the time when I go hear President speak it's things that should have been startlingly obvious to me, but that don't really come to mind till he talks about it.. and then I'm like, "oh, duh! why haven't I always been doing it that way?" It happens all the time. #3 is focusing more on the Book of Mormon as the tool for missionary work. Picture working in a wheat field. If we're gathering them in, the Book of Mormon = the sickle. There's no way we can gather effectively without it. So I'm trying to focus on that more and help those around me realize the importance of that too.
Thanksgiving was super awesome. It's different being away from home and comfortable traditions, but it's fun to be with new people and see new traditions. It was warm enough that we ate Thanksgiving outside. I don't know how many of you can say that :P But we were at the house of Brooke, one of our recent converts and her family (22 of them there at the house), Brooke, Melane, and 8 missionaries. It was super fun. Some of the dishes were different than home, but still good, and let me tell you, Texans know how to do their meat. They had 3 turkeys and a ham and 1 of the turkeys and the ham were slow cooked in a smoker for hours--mmhmm and then they fried 2 of the turkeys--whole turkeys in a fryer. Soo good. It was good to be with so many friendly people and learn new traditions.
So Maddie came to the Mission President's Fireside last week and loved it and has since been meeting with the family ward missionaries. She and her husband went to church this Sunday in the family ward. I am beyond excited that they are learning and growing and for the truth and light and happiness they are finding, and I am so happy for Melane for having family learning about the gospel after some of the initial opposition she had. The Lord works in simple ways :)
The biggest miracle of this week is probably Laci though. 2 of our members, Blythe and Brian met her at an inter-faith dinner. Laci has a boyfriend on a mission and was excited to learn more. So we got in contact with her and she came to church and we met her and she stayed all 3 hours, and then we talked after church for 2.5 hours! We were waiting to teach the Restoration till Blythe and Brian could be there in the evening, so we just answered questions and talked about the Godhead and ended up going over the baptismal interview questions and setting a baptismal date before we had even taught the first lesson! She is so funny and thoughtful and enthusiastic and eager to learn. As we talk about things they "just make sense" It is so wonderful to be able to teach her and I only met her yesterday, albeit we had 2 lessons totaling 4 hours :P
I am also grateful for the Christmas season and the additional opportunities it gives us to share our beliefs with others. What a wonderful time of year, and what a wonderful message we have. The church has put a lot of effort into the #SharetheGift initiative, so hop on board! Discover, Embrace, Share! christmas.mormon.org has the video, it's on youtube. Check out Youtube Dec 7th, the church will be the main ad. Whoo!! :D Let me know how your sharing goes this season and who you can touch or what miracles you see.