Sunday, January 30, 2011

72 hours and 37 minutes

January 28, 2011

In 72 hours and 37 minutes I'll be taking off for Paris! I still can't wrap my head around that. I have my travel plans. I've started packing. We're signing 'Bye-bye book' (basically the MTC version of yearbooks.) But it seems so dang surreal that this is actually happening! Pretty sure I couldn't be more excited and more nervous at the same time ha ha.

Despite all the excitement, this week, like almost every week, has had it's hard moments. But as Elder Bednar said at a fireside a couple years ago here, "You will encounter opposition because the message is true. If it weren't, the adversary would not fight against it." Pretty sure, we've all gained a pretty strong testimony of that. As I've said a thousand times before, my district has completely become my family. I love them. So it's heartbreaking to see them go through struggles in their lives. On top of that, I epically fail at goodbyes. So when we lost one of our elders this was rough. But on the good side, we seem to have come out of that experience fighting. (He made us promise we would.) Seeing him off yesterday morning was hard, but it's a good thing. He's absolutely doing the right thing with his life now, and I couldn't be more proud of him AND he promised he'll be coming back as soon as he can. =) So, hard though it may have been, it's going to be a good thing in the end.

We just got back from our last session at the Provo temple. Cool experience I have to tell you about that kind of caught me off guard. When I was in the Celestial room, I didn't want to leave. At first I thought I was just savoring the moment knowing that I'm going to miss going to the temple for the next 16 months, but it was different than that. So I sat for a bit trying to figure out what I was feeling. Ever want to know the truthfulness behind the title "The House of the Lord?" I realized I felt like I was at "home." And I was with my "parents." And just as it was difficult to leave my home in Taylorsville along with leaving my family, I was feeling the exact same. I realized we're not alone just because we aren't in the temple, but it's different. Does that make sense? It's hard to explain, but it was really cool to me at the time. =)

Our meeting with Romain Sermain was pretty sweet. The room was packed with people. and he and his wife were just awesome. Definitely not an experience that anyone of us will be forgetting anytime soon.

I know there was one other thing I wanted to tell you and I can't think of it. Don't you hate that?! How crazy is it that my next email will be coming from France?! But until then, love you!



Sunday, January 23, 2011

T-minus one week and three days

So much has happened this week, but I have absolutely no idea where to begin. I almost think it was one of those things that you might have to experience personally to ever comprehend.

The weeks here are now absolutely flying by! It honestly seems like I just got here, yet yesterday at dinner, Elder Wolfart handed me my travel plans. I'm kind of freaking out about that one ha ha.

I'll have to fill you in on it more next week seeing as it hasn't happened yet, but this coming Tuesday (the 25th I think) Romain Serman is coming to the MTC and is coming to my district. If you're like me, the name Romain Serman means absolutely nothing. ;) So...if that's the case with you too, let me fill you in a bit. He is the Consulate General of France. Basically that means he's they guy right under the ambassador and he's the one that signs our visas. Based on his visit with us, things can either open up even more for missionaries in French owned territories or...a bit more negative of an effect. (But no pressure, right?) We are going to have to individually introduce ourselves, state where we're from, where we're going and ask any questions we can think French. Good thing we learned how to do that the first day, huh? ha ha. Brother Spencer Chistensen, who works for the MTC and gave us the news of Romain Serman's visit said that we have to have questions to ask. Just nothing political or personal to Romain or his wife. So...anything you want to know about France? (You'll have to dearelder it to me before Tuesday - he's coming around 9:30am)

Not only is Romain Serman going to be there, so will his wife, Madame Laura Serman. Ivan Bertoux, the Attache Cultural Adjoint. Jacques de Noray, the Press Attache. Erlend Peterson, the BYU Associate International Vice President. President Brown, the MTC President. And, apparently, loads of security assigned by Governor Herbert. Yup....apparently it's kind of a big deal... ;)

Kathy Whithers is the bomb! She sent us two loaves of bread, butter, and jam. Our district has been dealing with a good bit of illness this week. Two of our elders were having a hard time even stomaching the food in the cafeteria and decided it would be better if they just avoided it altogether that day...until I got Kathy's bread. They're half way certain she saved their lives that night ha ha. ;) Along with that box, she wrote me a letter. Mom, had you heard that Judy Whitaker passed away last week? I knew she had cancer, but I hadn't heard anything until recently. But just like Joe, it wasn't what she was initially sick with that took her life. Instead, the same as Joe, it was a blood clot to her lung. Crazy sad, huh?

Soeur Woodruff has been sick again. So the last two days, we've gone back to our room right after dinner. So last night I recorded a bit more on another tape, explaining the events that unfolded yesterday. So I won't go into a ton of detail here, was a tough day. One of our elders got some very hard news from home. It was so hard to see him going through it. But just like with me dealing with the news of Joe's death, this recent news brought out the absolute best in our district, and once again proved that we were meant to be together. It's amazingly incredible to experience the love that we have been able to share as a group and the spirit that that love allows us to feel. Despite all the hard things that lie before each of us, none of us can deny the love and support that we've been able to feel from the other side. - We are known. We are loved. And we are cared for, especially in our darkest moments.

Sorry this email is a bit jumbled. Weeks like this are very hard to make sense of enough to explain to "outsiders." But hopefully, you'll understand enough. Have an awesome week!


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Epicness for the week

Epicness for the week: Elder Holland was the speaker for the devotional on Tuesday! And not only was Elder Holland there, but so was Elder Richard G Hinckley, Lowell M Snow, (one other member of the missionary department) and Kathy Hinckley Walker. Epic n'est pas?! Wow, could I ever love Elder Holland any more? He's absolutely incredible! When he walked in the room, our district may or may not have been flipping out a little. ;) That being said, here's a quick few things he said over the course of his talk...

-"Be a little persistent. Sister Holland's got an Avon lady that's more persistent than some of you, and she's just selling mascara! After all, how many times did Christ have to visit the Nephites? - Don't give up that easily!"

-"Tell me how obedient you are and I'll tell you how your mission will be." That was one of my favorite comments that he made. All through the time that I've been in the MTC, I've heard a never of different times and ways that the MTC is training us to become the people (not just missionaries) the Lord wants us to be. So literally everything we learn here, connects to how we should run the rest of our lives. So after Elder Holland made that comment, he quickly said "And that is an eternal principle."

-"The last days are upon us. And as exciting as that may be for this Church and it's members, for the rest of the world art large it's not going to be pretty. And that will affect us. Don't kid yourself about that, but as hard as these times may be, you are God’s answer. You are his hope. You are the hope of Israel. - So remember who you are!'

-After retelling the story of when Jesus visited the apostles after his resurrection, specifically when Christ asked Perter if he loved Him, he said, "'I do love you. More than anything!' And that's when Peter became the great apostle. That's the question 'Do you love me?' Elders and Sisters, do you love Him? You need to decide tonight if you're on the course you're on because you love him. 'When I asked you to leave you're nets it was forever. When I called you to be an apostle, it was forever' When He called you to be a missionary, it was forever. And now, you can't go back. This is a new life. If you do you will break my heart and you will break the heart of your Heavenly Father. You've left you nets - for eternity. So 'feed my sheep' and do it forever."

- "God bless you on the greatest adventure of your life that will shape you and should shape - if you let it- the rest of your life and the rest of your eternity."

I absolutely love Elder Holland's passion. =) He fully knows what he knows and he’s not   even slightly ashamed of it, nor does he hold back when he speaks. He just such a cool guy!

So this week, we changed from 39 to 35 new missionaries. And we changed from 7 to 6 sisters. Luckily, we didn't "lose" our seventh sister. But because she's already fluent in French, she'll only be in the MTC for three weeks. (She'll fly out the day after Soeur Woodruff and me.) Her name is Sister Murray and she'll be going to Paris. As for the other six, they're wonderful. I seriously am so excited that they are finally here. Tuesday night was like Christmas for me - knowing they were coming the next day! =) Of the remaining six, four are from Utah, one is from California, and one is from Alaska. Two are going to Paris. One is going to Toulouse. Two are going to Switzerland. And one is going to Tahiti. The two going to Paris and the one going to Tahiti live with Soeur Woodruff and me. And I love them. Sister Buswell, the one going to Tahiti, went to Weber High. And, small world that it is, she knows Katie Stitt! I don't have enough time in this email to tell you about each of them, but I'll try and fill you in on more details later. Overall, the sisters are great! And I absolutely adore them! Not even to mention the new Elders - also incredible. =] All-in-all our zone fully rocks.

However, the one major thing I realized in meeting the new missionaries was how dang glad I am that that moment in my life is behind me. The constant feelings of being lost, confused endlessly overwhelmed...yup...I'm not missing that. But luckily, they all seem to be taking it rather well (considering what's being thrown at them.)

Mom in the letter I got from you yesterday, you made a comment about how you miss me, but you're grateful for this experience (more or less.) And I'm not sure if I ever shared this quote with you, but when I read your letter, it popped into my head. So I thought I’d share it. "Missionaries: people who leave their families for a little while, so that others can be with theirs for eternity." As much as we may miss each other, this time is absolutely flying by (at least from my end.) We can’t believe we've all been gone for six + weeks already!

I realize this is kind of a weird place to end this email, but with 1:03 second left, I can only say so much ha ha.

So I love you all,

Saturday, January 8, 2011

News you never want to hear!

News you never want to hear, especially when you're not at home: there's been a death in the family.

I got all three days worth of your letters on Monday. That was a "fun" night. I had such and complicated mess of thoughts swirling around my head, but I learned to love my journal that night. It was so nice to just get (almost) everything out on paper, so that I didn't have to try and sort through everything mentally. Joe's passing have definitely made for an interesting journey - even though I've been physically removed from the rest of the family as a whole.

Part I: I love getting mail. It's such a nice change in the day. And it's more wonderful than you can know, to know that there is life outside of the MTC walls. However, I don't worry nor am I all that bothered if I don't get mail, but last Thursday, for reasons I couldn't understand at the time, I was almost antsy for mail. Which was rather strange to me. I just couldn't justify my feeling that way. I didn't have anything I was waiting to hear about. I wasn't excited to hear anyone's response to something I had said. Or...anything. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't figure out why I felt the way I did. But at the same time, I absolutely could not stop feeling that way. And because of the holiday, I knew I wouldn't be getting any mail for several days. Which made my feelings even more peculiar to me.

And the last time Soeur Woodruff and I went to the temple, I put Julie and Joe on the prayer roll. That was well before Joe was even in the hospital. Again, I had no idea why I did that, until this past Monday.

Moral of the story: it's not fair for my spirit to understand so much, well before my head ever catches on.

Part II: I love hugging. Hugging is easily one of the most comforting and natural things to me. Everything else in the world can be going wrong, but for even a brief moment, something as simple as a hug can make all the difference for me. (I know that sounds super cheesy, but it's totally true.) Thus...I hated being a missionary on Monday. After finding an empty classroom to read the letters in, I cried. I cried to the point that I was looking all kinds of "awesome." When it was time for us to head back to our dorms, I went back to the classroom to gather my things. Soeur Woodruff was with the tutor though. So I still had to stick around for a few more minutes. In that time, Elder Wolfart (who, as of Sunday, is our new district leader by the way) asked me if I wanted a blessing. Definitely not a time I was going to refuse that offer. Knowing I had to find a way to deal with this loss without the help of my family around me, I was happy to take whatever help I could get. But as much as I wanted to hug them before, it only got worse after the blessing. There are times when handshakes just don't cut it. ha ha ha Despite that though, they are just neat guys!

We had gym after class on Monday night. So grateful for that. Playing four square is officially the world's best distraction.

After a very sleepless, prayer filled night, I woke up with worse bags under my eyes than I think I could get if I lived to be 1,000 years old. ;) But, because God loves me, we have gym in the morning on Tuesdays. So yet again, awesome distraction (and always better than sitting in class. ha ha)

Now side note: I fully adore the elders in my district. I think I told you on the tape I sent, but in case you haven't listened to it yet, I love them for reasons far beyond how funny they are. After a very short amount of time here, it became blatantly apparent to Soeur Woodruff and myself that we all knew each other before coming here. And we were all meant to go through this MTC experience together. As I was purging my thoughts into my journal Monday night, one of the bullet points that I wrote was "I miss my parents. I really don't like going through this without my family." As soon as I wrote that, I audibly heard, "Your district is your family." How cool is that? Since day one in the MTC, I've been repeatedly told (much like I was on Monday night) that we as a district were meant to be here to experience this together. But on Monday I couldn't help selfishly feeling that part of that "planned existence" is that I needed them to be here.
Part III: How much of a "coincidence" is it that literally all week we've been practicing teaching The Plan of Salvation? Especially on Monday. We honestly were teaching it all day long, over and over and over. One of the coolest parts was when I got paired up with Elder Wolfart. Taking turns as to who was the investigator and who was the member, we taught the same lesson over and over. The teachers really wanted the lesson drilled into our heads. So they let us teach in English. Since English isn't Elder Wolfart's native language, I told him to teach me in German. I absolutely love feeling the spirit testify of the truthfulness of something when it's in another language (that I don't understand.) Elder Liao got to teach in Mandarin. Same thing. It didn't matter what language it was being taught in, just listening to the words of who ever was speaking, you could feel of the truthfulness of what was being taught. I'm so glad I got to have that experience just hours prior to getting your letters. As I said...coincidence?
 On Tuesday, I fasted for a couple reasons. One, obviously was for the comfort of the family - specifically Julie's. But I had a personal question at the same time. While one of my strongest testimonies is of the Plan of Salvation, I needed to know of Joe's current state. (If that makes sense. I just needed a personal witness that what I know to be true, is true of Joe's life right now as well.) After praying and fasting all day, I turned to the scriptures. Not even knowing where I wanted to start looking, I prayed and resolved myself to read whatever I encountered upon letting my scriptures just fall open. The scripture my book opened to was Alma chapter 40. Get this, verse one reads, "Now my son (or daughter), here is somewhat more I would say unto thee; for I perceive that thy mind is worried concerning the resurrection of the dead." Now I realize that experience could be labeled as another coincidence, but for me it was a very personal answer that God was aware of me and how I was feeling personally.
Another part of my prayer was to understand how to deal with this whole situation alone. All day long the thought kept playing over and over in my mind, "Loose yourself in the work." In our fireside Tuesday evening, David S Baxter of the seventy came with his wife. He's Scottish and she's English. Having just said goodbye to their children that morning (they were visiting them for Christmas) Sister Baxter said, "I've been a bit melancholy today, but all  day I've been thinking, 'At least I get to go to Provo tonight.' Because bearing one's testimony and being involved in mission work will bring joy and lift your spirits. My dear missionaries remember that. Especially on the days when you are melancholy - and believe me you will have those sad days." Again confirming what I'd been feeling.
Overall, with all the stuff with Joe, even without experiencing any miraculous visions or anything of the sort (not that I was expecting, or wanting that, in the first place) I've definitely felt God leading my thoughts. Even in small things, still, it's enough to know that he's absolutely aware of my feelings and my family.

Now jumping back a bit, I told you that I adore my district. Honestly, I can't even begin to tell you how much I have come to love these amazing young men. They have been absolutely adorable. On Tuesday, after gym, they were a bit late getting back to class. Little did we know, the reason for that lateness: they had gone to the bookstore to buy a card that they all signed and gave to me. Yup, I cried again. ;) Where else in the world could you find seven 18-21 year old guys that, without the prompting of anyone else, would even think to do that?! Seriously I can't even find the words to explain how grateful I am for them. They've been absolutely incredible. I've been more blessed to even associate with them than I have ever deserved.
Yet another expression of how amazing people are here: on Wednesday, Soeur Robicek pulled me into a classroom and asked me how I was feeling. I didn't even know she knew about Joe. The night I found out, another teacher heading out the door, saw me crying and stayed and talked to me for a few minutes. Well apparently she texted Soeur Robicek immediately after she left. People here are kind of awesome. Favorite part of my conversation with Soeur Robicek - she told me that she tends to have a hard time dealing with trauma. Her dad is a psychologist. So he always tells her, "Go sit on the toilet. Let it all out. And when you're done, flush and leave the room. No matter how gross and messy the bathroom got, life is still going on outside those walls. So go join that life again and don't look back. But you have to visit the bathroom. It can't get better until you do. So be human." (Doesn't that sound exactly like something Grandma Bjork would say?! ha ha Must come with the profession.)
Last quick couple thoughts on this whole situation (because what would a letter from me be without a quote or two in it? ha ha) "The only way to take sorrow out of death is to take love out of life." ~True to the Faith. And "Some of life's hardest lessons are the most important...Don't give up. Don't ever, ever give up." ~ Elder Holland.

p.s. when news occurs like Joe's passing, do you realize that families are allowed to call the MTC and talk to their missionary? Not that it would have been easier to take, but you're not expected to deliver that kind of news in letters. Soeur Robicek was actually shocked that I hadn't spoken with you yet.

On a happier note: the rolls were awesome! Just to smell real bread was practically like looking in the celestial kingdom. ;)

This week Soeur Woodruff and I got to become progressing investigators for Elder Wolfart, Elder McLean, and Elder Andrus. Wow. Flipping cool experience. I'm so excited to be able to do that the rest of the time we're here. It's just crazy interesting being able to sit on the other side of the missionary discussions. The "best" part was when Elder McLean asked if we were married. Soeur Woodruff said she was, but that her husband had died. Elder Wolfart and Elder Andrus immediately said, "Désolé." When Elder McLean asked me the same question, I said I was married. His response: "Désolé." (Désolé means "sorry") He didn't realize at the time what he had said. ha ha ha
In class, all of our teachers have been stressing how important it is for us to speak French all of the time in order to learn it.Fr. Rees was really pushing it the other day. The most motivational part of his lecture: he counted up our remaining MTC days. 24! We're going to be flying to Paris in 24 days. And somehow we've all got to find a way to speak French. This is absolute madness. ha ha

Well, it's been an interesting week, for sure. But it's part of life I suppose. I hope everything goes as well as possible tomorrow for the family. I love you all.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

December 31, 2010 (Happy New Year's Eve)

December 31, 2010

What an awesome/crazy weekend!

So updates since the last email: Our Christmas Eve devotional was handled by the MTC mission presidency. It wasn't anything super original, but still great for a change. Probably the best part was when Sister Brienholt had everyone sing "The 12 Days of Christmas: in the MTC." It may sound lame to you, but you'd be wrong. ;) It was crazy funny. =) After they wrapped up their talks, they handed out individual bags of kettle corn for each missionary. Count them: that's 2,000+ bags of popcorn! And we watched "Mr. Kruger's Christmas." Again, that may sound lame, but being that it was ever slightly Gentile made it awesome.

Christmas was kind of the bomb. We got to sleep in (sort of. Soeur Woodruff and I are always up well before 6:30. So sleeping until 6:30 on Saturday was sleeping in for us.) We opened presents with Soeur Scott and Soeur Reed and headed off to the MTC talent show. The MTC talent show: freaking hilarious! =D Where else in the world do you get to see eight Russians who are learning English sing: "I'm a missionary now" to Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" - dancing included?! After a couple of hours in there, we ran to lunch. Ate, then picked up our sack lunch for dinner just in time to run back over for the first devotional of the day. Did you get to listen to an apostle for Christmas? Because I did! Russell M Nelson and his wife were our speakers. Wow! They are amazing.

The most shocking part for me about that whole experience: having grown up in Utah, I've been to plenty of events where general authorities have been present. So as cool as listening to him was going to be, I wasn't that worked up about it. However, the second he walked into the room, the spirit absolutely exploded. There's no other way to describe it. I've never doubted the truthfulness of the origin of his apostolic call, but after that experience, absolutely no one in that room could ever deny that he is called of God. Almost the entire room was in tears. So dang cool!

As for his wife, I'm basically in love with her. =) Quick couple comments she made:

"The Lord loves you. Isn't the truth of that stunning?!"
"As we go through life watch for the road signs." - she described a sign she saw inside and elevator, "Before entering the elevator, check if it is on this floor." Funny though that may have been she said, "Don't just laugh and say 'Well, duh.' It's the smart thing to do. Give credit to the obviously logical guidance we're given in life."

Quotes from Elder Nelson:

He told us that this year has been an extremely exciting time for missionary work. In the past three months, eight new countries have been dedicated for missionary service. I didn't get all of them written down, but the five I remembers: Croatia, Kosovo, Angola, Bosnia, and Albania. So cool, huh?!

"The doors of the nations are opening. And that's great for you because right now, your purpose is all about the gathering of Israel."
"We have a tradition in our family of reading the Christmas Story...I thought you might like to have a member of the twelve read it to you." How awesome is that?! ha ha
"Armed with the power of the Lord and the medium of prayer - nothing shall be impossible."
"Being called as missionaries, you are put in a position to bring about God's greatest desires. You are the peacemakers of the world." (Bring about God's greatest desires - but no pressure right? ;) )
And then my absolutely favorite part of the evening: "I invoke the powers of heaven which I hold and confer upon you, my dear missionaries, my friends, a blessing. I bless you that on your missions you will be safe, as well as your families. You will return to your families joyfully after what will feel like a very short time to you and them.You will powerfully share the gospel with people of all nations, kindreds and tongues. And you will come to feast upon the words of Christ." Is that not the COOLEST Christmas present ever?!?!

That evening we watched two men act out a shortened version of "A Christmas Carol." Elder and Wendy Nelson were there for that one too.

And THEN, they came back on Sunday and were the teachers in Relief Society and Priesthood. Best. Weekend. Ever. =D

I wish I had twice as long to write. So much more has happened , but there's only so much I can say in 30 minutes!

Love you all,