Another picture

1) Me with another cat – This one is apparently normally very shy and unfriendly, but he hopped right up on my lap before I could even take my coat or bag off. I was thrilled, of course, and happily left my coat and bag on to accommodate Gary for the duration of the lesson.

Ramblings

I don’t really know how to start these messages – so much happens in a week that any summation like ‘things are going well’ seems so unbelievably insufficient. It’s kind of like looking at the overall arc or trend of a bunch of dots which, in actuality, are all over the place, with lots of extreme highs and lows. Drawing a line through the approximate middle just loses some of the reality I think, but, I suppose it’s important to know the trend and trajectory, which in this case is very positive. So there you go.

I had a bad cold this week, that was unpleasant and made things difficult for a few days, but the work goes on and there is no staying in or sleeping it off unless you’re on your deathbed, which I was not. I just tried not to touch people as we visited them and so far it doesn’t appear that I spread my germs to anyone else, not even my companion. So, if a cold can be considered successful in some sense, this one was.

There are a few interesting stories from the week though. The first is of a kid who I’ll call Alan, he just turned 16 and we’ve gotten to know him because we’ve met with his mom a few times (she hasn’t been active in years). At first he seemed to be a typical teenage boy in many ways, bad attitude, into video games, etc. and all the wonders of teenage life (hormones, identity issues, friend drama, etc.). But he has the added challenges of a really difficult home situation that I can’t really go into as well as drug/alcohol problems. He sat in on a conversation we were having with his mom about goals for this year and he mentioned that his goal for this year was sobriety, and he said it with complete sincerity. I’ve never met, that I’m aware of, a 16 year-old that had such a serious and difficult resolution for the upcoming year, but the four of us talked for awhile about how little daily things help us make progress toward our goals, even if we regress, forward progress is forward progress.

We ended up talking about prayer for a little while and when we asked him if he prayed much his mom immediately jumped in to say, "No, of course he doesn’t!" She didn’t say it in a mean way, it was more like she was saying, "He’s just a kid, and that’s not something we really do here, we’re not like you perfect types." But then he said that he DID pray sometimes, specifically he said he prayed whenever his mom had to work late and he knew she’d be driving home when she was exhausted. He said he prayed that she wouldn’t fall asleep and that she would make it home safely. And I was completely speechless. His mom was clearly surprised, but a very tough lady and quickly jumped in to tell a story of how she fell asleep behind the wheel once when she was a teenager and almost crashed. (See previous week’s message about survival stories). It was such a sweet thing for him to say, and to admit in front of his mom, and us really. We finished the conversation about prayer, both of us explaining how prayer is such a great tool we’ve been given, how it has been important for both of us personally, and encouraged them to use that tool more in their lives.

The next week Sister M. and I devised a plan to help save miles (we only get to use so many miles on our car every month – it’s not a lot and creativity is required to make it work) and this plan also was going to help motivate one of our investigators to come to church. But, to make the plan work we needed to leave our car at the church Saturday night and get a ride back to our apartment. So, we called Alan’s mom and the two of them very kindly agreed to pick us up and take us home (gas money and car reliability are both concerns for them so it was really generous of them to agree). Alan helped us carry our bags, and reiterated several times that we could call them if we ever needed rides, or anything, and warned us about various parts of Cleveland where we should NEVER go. Specifically ‘East Cleve’ – not the first time we’ve been warned about that, but it’s nowhere near our area so it’s not actually a concern for us. He even said if anyone ever gave us a hard time he and his dad would take care of things. Knowing his dad, and knowing Alan’s history, we quickly assured him that we were perfectly fine – we don’t want either in any more legal trouble than they are already in. You might think that maybe this teenager is trying to impress two older women with some kind of display of manliness or that he has ulterior motives. Or maybe you weren’t thinking that, and now you’re thinking the idea of a 16 year-old boy being at all into two sister missionaries like us is really laughable. Well, it is, and he definitely isn’t interested in us at all. Sister Missionary sex appeal isn’t a thing, and for good reason. He is just a good kid who was sincerely wanting to help us and make conversation, and I think I maybe found it even more impressive than I otherwise might have since he was smoking (is that the correct term?) his e-cig the entire time.

So none of that happened this week, but then we had Ward Council yesterday and we took a few minutes to talk to the Young Men President about Alan afterwards. We explained our recent interactions and how there seems to be a window of opportunity to help Alan go in a new direction, but that he probably needs some serious mentoring/help from some others, especially good male role models. His parents want him to go to church (they’ve made that clear) because they recognize how much trouble he is in and they want him to change, but they aren’t in a position themselves to really lead by example or help him the way he might need. His mom couldn’t come to church so his dad was supposed to bring him, but instead his dad spent the morning playing video games and was still intoxicated from the night before. Not exactly an ideal role model to help a teenage kid get sober.

Anyway, we spoke to the YM President, Brother R. and he thanked us for letting him know. His first reaction in fact was that he really appreciated and needed help from others to help him fill his role the way it needed to be filled, said not as an excuse but just as a statement of humility. It was my first real interaction with this man, and all I really know about him is that he joined the church in his 30’s maybe, was inactive for at least 20 years, but now fills this calling and participates in a major way despite his wife and grown children wanting nothing to do with the church at all. He told us that he had been a scout leader when Alan was younger, and he remembered being really worried about having Alan at camp due to all the medications and difficulties surrounding Alan and his life circumstances. He said he had been tough on Alan, along with the other boys, when they goofed off (as any scouts at camp will do) but that on the last day he had told Alan he was sorry if he’d seemed like a ‘crotchety old man’. Then with tears in his eyes he told us that Alan had responded, "It’s ok Brother R., we know you care about us." He explained how much that had meant to him, being a recently returned member, wondering if he was making a difference with the scouts at all or just being their babysitter and a nag. He thanked us again and told us he would do his best to reach out to Alan.

It occurs to me that maybe this story isn’t very exciting – if you were hoping it ended in a baptism or something then I apologize for getting your hopes up 🙂 But I’ve been thinking a lot about these two people and they have made me think about the following:

-I can and actually do believe there is happiness and change to be had in spite of difficult circumstances. There is certainly something to the hierarchy of needs – it’s hard for people to care about or find spiritual fulfillment if they have major obstacles to having their basic needs met. BUT – my understanding of how basic needs can be met has changed. I like to think I wasn’t as snobby or sheltered as I maybe ought to have been given my background and circumstances, but I most definitely still thought that there was something better about not being in a trailer or not being on disability or any number of other life circumstances that we encounter regularly here. Not that anyone in these circumstances would say no to opportunities to change those circumstances, having a good-paying job might be better than relying on disability payments. But it’s not the kind of better that matters. Goodness and happiness and peace and faith and love can all be found in places and in people who are surrounded by meanness and misery and chaos and despair.

-Openness is a requirement for any real change or progress or certainly for any spiritual experiences. Alan and Brother R. were both more open and vulnerable than I would have been in their situations. I probably wouldn’t have admitted I prayed in front of my mom, let alone that I prayed about her, unless I was using it to make myself look good or make her feel bad somehow. Those were not his motives, he was open and honest even though he might have seemed uncool and been criticized, and that comment opened up a conversation that was much more meaningful than if we had tried to preach about prayer. Brother R. apologized to teenage boys for simply trying to make them behave – I wouldn’t have done it. As a YW leader I remember feeling frustrated at not being listened to and I’m sure I had more than one ‘crotchety old man’ moment, but I never apologized. His apology lead to his feeling appreciated, which seems like such a counter-intuitive result.

Having a crusty exterior is a protection I employ very well, but I realize more and more how much of a barrier it is. It’s kind of like the difference between a chunk of marble and a chunk of clay -getting the beautiful sculpture out of the marble requires a lot of chipping, which can be painful, can lead to bigger pieces being removed than intended, more exposure in a less controlled way. On the other hand clay is softer so it’s easier for external forces to make an impression and mold the raw material. I’m not sure that analogy works quite the way I mean it, I just came up with it and don’t have time to revise, but the idea for me is that if I want to change and if I want to connect with people I need to be better at allowing impressions to be made. That of course applies to my relationships with the people here, and those are coming along nicely I think. It also applies to my relationship with God, something I will continue to work on, but also my relationship with Sis. M.

Hopefully she wouldn’t describe me as ‘organized’ if asked today, because I have made an effort to be more open, though I still have a long way to go there. It’s hard for me to remember that other people can only go on the words I actually speak, despite the fact that those are such a small and inadequate representation of all the stuff happening in my head. It’s kind of like the dot/arc idea I suppose. Sis. M, and others, really only see sporadic dots all over the place and draw their own conclusion about the trend. I’m working on either exposing more dots, or being more explicit about the trend. And it’s working, which is great!

Alright, so I’m almost out of time, again. One quick funny thing from Sis. K this week – we were talking to her about forgiveness and she ended up telling us all about her ‘temptations’ which are specifically related to men. She is sincerely worried about ‘relapsing’ when she ‘gets back out there’ despite the fact that it seems fairly unlikely that she will be leaving the rest home. She explained how she ‘tested out’ her husbands (and maybe others) before she married them (btw she is endowed and has been married in the temple at least once) and gave lots of her other details which I don’t need to share. It was really difficult not to laugh out loud at being talked to about ‘lovemaking’ as though we could empathize. I’m actually wondering if the full moon somehow brings up these feelings for people because we meet with several older single people (mostly women) and they all brought up something similar this last week.

Final thought…thinking about the parable of the Good Samaritan (in Luke somewhere…) I think it’s interesting that we don’t really get such obvious opportunities to be good these days. I don’t think I know anyone who wouldn’t at least attempt to help a half-dead person on the side of the road, but we just don’t come across that much anymore. Being a good Samaritan requires a lot more searching I think, though I’m not sure exactly how you go about it. Too bad there isn’t a Facebook group for half-dead people laying on the sides of roads, or in similar circumstances, I bet googling something like ‘people who need help’ would return lots of results, but how meaningful and how actionable in reality I’m not sure.

Thanks again for the letters and prayers!

Ramblings….

I don’t really know how to start these messages – so much happens in a week that any summation like ‘things are going well’ seems so unbelievably insufficient. It’s kind of like looking at the overall arc or trend of a bunch of dots which, in actuality, are all over the place, with lots of extreme highs and lows. Drawing a line through the approximate middle just loses some of the reality I think, but, I suppose it’s important to know the trend and trajectory, which in this case is very positive. So there you go.

I had a bad cold this week, that was unpleasant and made things difficult for a few days, but the work goes on and there is no staying in or sleeping it off unless you’re on your deathbed, which I was not. I just tried not to touch people as we visited them and so far it doesn’t appear that I spread my germs to anyone else, not even my companion. So, if a cold can be considered successful in some sense, this one was.

There are a few interesting stories from the week though. The first is of a kid who I’ll call Alan, he just turned 16 and we’ve gotten to know him because we’ve met with his mom a few times (she hasn’t been active in years). At first he seemed to be a typical teenage boy in many ways, bad attitude, into video games, etc. and all the wonders of teenage life (hormones, identity issues, friend drama, etc.). But he has the added challenges of a really difficult home situation that I can’t really go into as well as drug/alcohol problems. He sat in on a conversation we were having with his mom about goals for this year and he mentioned that his goal for this year was sobriety, and he said it with complete sincerity. I’ve never met, that I’m aware of, a 16 year-old that had such a serious and difficult resolution for the upcoming year, but the four of us talked for awhile about how little daily things help us make progress toward our goals, even if we regress, forward progress is forward progress.

We ended up talking about prayer for a little while and when we asked him if he prayed much his mom immediately jumped in to say, "No, of course he doesn’t!" She didn’t say it in a mean way, it was more like she was saying, "He’s just a kid, and that’s not something we really do here, we’re not like you perfect types." But then he said that he DID pray sometimes, specifically he said he prayed whenever his mom had to work late and he knew she’d be driving home when she was exhausted. He said he prayed that she wouldn’t fall asleep and that she would make it home safely. And I was completely speechless. His mom was clearly surprised, but a very tough lady and quickly jumped in to tell a story of how she fell asleep behind the wheel once when she was a teenager and almost crashed. (See previous week’s message about survival stories). It was such a sweet thing for him to say, and to admit in front of his mom, and us really. We finished the conversation about prayer, both of us explaining how prayer is such a great tool we’ve been given, how it has been important for both of us personally, and encouraged them to use that tool more in their lives.

The next week Sister M. and I devised a plan to help save miles (we only get to use so many miles on our car every month – it’s not a lot and creativity is required to make it work) and this plan also was going to help motivate one of our investigators to come to church. But, to make the plan work we needed to leave our car at the church Saturday night and get a ride back to our apartment. So, we called Alan’s mom and the two of them very kindly agreed to pick us up and take us home (gas money and car reliability are both concerns for them so it was really generous of them to agree). Alan helped us carry our bags, and reiterated several times that we could call them if we ever needed rides, or anything, and warned us about various parts of Cleveland where we should NEVER go. Specifically ‘East Cleve’ – not the first time we’ve been warned about that, but it’s nowhere near our area so it’s not actually a concern for us. He even said if anyone ever gave us a hard time he and his dad would take care of things. Knowing his dad, and knowing Alan’s history, we quickly assured him that we were perfectly fine – we don’t want either in any more legal trouble than they are already in. You might think that maybe this teenager is trying to impress two older women with some kind of display of manliness or that he has ulterior motives. Or maybe you weren’t thinking that, and now you’re thinking the idea of a 16 year-old boy being at all into two sister missionaries like us is really laughable. Well, it is, and he definitely isn’t interested in us at all. Sister Missionary sex appeal isn’t a thing, and for good reason. He is just a good kid who was sincerely wanting to help us and make conversation, and I think I maybe found it even more impressive than I otherwise might have since he was smoking (is that the correct term?) his e-cig the entire time.

So none of that happened this week, but then we had Ward Council yesterday and we took a few minutes to talk to the Young Men President about Alan afterwards. We explained our recent interactions and how there seems to be a window of opportunity to help Alan go in a new direction, but that he probably needs some serious mentoring/help from some others, especially good male role models. His parents want him to go to church (they’ve made that clear) because they recognize how much trouble he is in and they want him to change, but they aren’t in a position themselves to really lead by example or help him the way he might need. His mom couldn’t come to church so his dad was supposed to bring him, but instead his dad spent the morning playing video games and was still intoxicated from the night before. Not exactly an ideal role model to help a teenage kid get sober.

Anyway, we spoke to the YM President, Brother R. and he thanked us for letting him know. His first reaction in fact was that he really appreciated and needed help from others to help him fill his role the way it needed to be filled, said not as an excuse but just as a statement of humility. It was my first real interaction with this man, and all I really know about him is that he joined the church in his 30’s maybe, was inactive for at least 20 years, but now fills this calling and participates in a major way despite his wife and grown children wanting nothing to do with the church at all. He told us that he had been a scout leader when Alan was younger, and he remembered being really worried about having Alan at camp due to all the medications and difficulties surrounding Alan and his life circumstances. He said he had been tough on Alan, along with the other boys, when they goofed off (as any scouts at camp will do) but that on the last day he had told Alan he was sorry if he’d seemed like a ‘crotchety old man’. Then with tears in his eyes he told us that Alan had responded, "It’s ok Brother R., we know you care about us." He explained how much that had meant to him, being a recently returned member, wondering if he was making a difference with the scouts at all or just being their babysitter and a nag. He thanked us again and told us he would do his best to reach out to Alan.

It occurs to me that maybe this story isn’t very exciting – if you were hoping it ended in a baptism or something then I apologize for getting your hopes up 🙂 But I’ve been thinking a lot about these two people and they have made me think about the following:

-I can and actually do believe there is happiness and change to be had in spite of difficult circumstances. There is certainly something to the hierarchy of needs – it’s hard for people to care about or find spiritual fulfillment if they have major obstacles to having their basic needs met. BUT – my understanding of how basic needs can be met has changed. I like to think I wasn’t as snobby or sheltered as I maybe ought to have been given my background and circumstances, but I most definitely still thought that there was something better about not being in a trailer or not being on disability or any number of other life circumstances that we encounter regularly here. Not that anyone in these circumstances would say no to opportunities to change those circumstances, having a good-paying job might be better than relying on disability payments. But it’s not the kind of better that matters. Goodness and happiness and peace and faith and love can all be found in places and in people who are surrounded by meanness and misery and chaos and despair.

-Openness is a requirement for any real change or progress or certainly for any spiritual experiences. Alan and Brother R. were both more open and vulnerable than I would have been in their situations. I probably wouldn’t have admitted I prayed in front of my mom, let alone that I prayed about her, unless I was using it to make myself look good or make her feel bad somehow. Those were not his motives, he was open and honest even though he might have seemed uncool and been criticized, and that comment opened up a conversation that was much more meaningful than if we had tried to preach about prayer. Brother R. apologized to teenage boys for simply trying to make them behave – I wouldn’t have done it. As a YW leader I remember feeling frustrated at not being listened to and I’m sure I had more than one ‘crotchety old man’ moment, but I never apologized. His apology lead to his feeling appreciated, which seems like such a counter-intuitive result.

Having a crusty exterior is a protection I employ very well, but I realize more and more how much of a barrier it is. It’s kind of like the difference between a chunk of marble and a chunk of clay -getting the beautiful sculpture out of the marble requires a lot of chipping, which can be painful, can lead to bigger pieces being removed than intended, more exposure in a less controlled way. On the other hand clay is softer so it’s easier for external forces to make an impression and mold the raw material. I’m not sure that analogy works quite the way I mean it, I just came up with it and don’t have time to revise, but the idea for me is that if I want to change and if I want to connect with people I need to be better at allowing impressions to be made. That of course applies to my relationships with the people here, and those are coming along nicely I think. It also applies to my relationship with God, something I will continue to work on, but also my relationship with Sis. M.

Hopefully she wouldn’t describe me as ‘organized’ if asked today, because I have made an effort to be more open, though I still have a long way to go there. It’s hard for me to remember that other people can only go on the words I actually speak, despite the fact that those are such a small and inadequate representation of all the stuff happening in my head. It’s kind of like the dot/arc idea I suppose. Sis. M, and others, really only see sporadic dots all over the place and draw their own conclusion about the trend. I’m working on either exposing more dots, or being more explicit about the trend. And it’s working, which is great!

Alright, so I’m almost out of time, again. One quick funny thing from Sis. K this week – we were talking to her about forgiveness and she ended up telling us all about her ‘temptations’ which are specifically related to men. She is sincerely worried about ‘relapsing’ when she ‘gets back out there’ despite the fact that it seems fairly unlikely that she will be leaving the rest home. She explained how she ‘tested out’ her husbands (and maybe others) before she married them (btw she is endowed and has been married in the temple at least once) and gave lots of her other details which I don’t need to share. It was really difficult not to laugh out loud at being talked to about ‘lovemaking’ as though we could empathize. I’m actually wondering if the full moon somehow brings up these feelings for people because we meet with several older single people (mostly women) and they all brought up something similar this last week.

Final thought…thinking about the parable of the Good Samaritan (in Luke somewhere…) I think it’s interesting that we don’t really get such obvious opportunities to be good these days. I don’t think I know anyone who wouldn’t at least attempt to help a half-dead person on the side of the road, but we just don’t come across that much anymore. Being a good Samaritan requires a lot more searching I think, though I’m not sure exactly how you go about it. Too bad there isn’t a Facebook group for half-dead people laying on the sides of roads, or in similar circumstances, I bet googling something like ‘people who need help’ would return lots of results, but how meaningful and how actionable in reality I’m not sure.

Only one picture today – apparently two would exceed the maximum file size.

This is me in front of Lake Erie – not a great picture but the only one I have with the lake so far – it’s much colder than it looks. Also, the hat was made for me by one of the senior missionaries at the Visitors’ Center – a great Christmas present though I’m not sure it’s my color. Our area includes 15-20 miles of the Lake Erie coast.

Thanks again for the letters and prayers!

Two months since I left home…woah

It has been two months since my phone died unexpectedly, I last checked Instagram, I last saw my family, and since I first put on my missionary name tag. I actually feel a little bit worried that I only have 16(ish) months left because I feel like I’m just now really getting into it. Well…some days I feel that way, some days certainly still feel like I’m not in it and not sure I want to be in it. But the former were more frequent than the latter this week. All I can say about that is Hallelujah.

I think I’ve mentioned this booklet we have to read from every day ‘Adjusting to Missionary Life’ which gives tips for coping with the mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, etc. demands of being a missionary. It’s a little silly, mostly in the way that anything which seems and sounds like common sense seems silly, but things that seem obvious and like common sense are so often overlooked. Or maybe that’s just me. Here are a few phrases which are repeated throughout its 40 pages which I am embarrassed to admit may only now really be sinking in for me:

-It usually takes about six weeks to adjust to a new environment. (Proud to say that I think I’ve adjusted in just over five weeks – always did like to be better than average.)

-Not all of life is deeply meaningful and exciting. (I laughed out lout when I first read this three weeks ago, as though anyone would possibly assume that all of life is deeply meaningful or exciting. More of it is probably less meaningful and less exciting than I assumed. Oops.)

-Accept the reality of some boring routines (To ‘boring routines’ I would add inefficient rules. Not all that familiar with the Lord’s prayer but I think there’s a line about being granted strength to accept things we cannot change – accepting rules that seem completely counterproductive might be harder for me than accepting the amputation of a limb.)

-Find things to enjoy. While respecting the dignity of your calling, rediscover humor… (Note the use of ‘rediscover’ as though humor was once present but has been lost…the loss of humor in myself, and in other missionaries, is kind of astounding, but it’s also nice to know that it comes back, and that its recurrence isn’t against the grain of the rules, but encouraged.)

I’ve also received much comfort and counsel from friends and family (thank you!) and been reminded that lots of people have a difficult time here, even some of the greatest missionaries. I’ve never found much comfort in knowing that others have experienced what I am experiencing becuase on the one hand, I like to think that I ought to handle things better than others (have I mentioned that pride is something I am continuing to try and work on? That darn Christlike attribute assessment in the MTC keeps coming back to haunt me…). On the other hand, I like to excuse myself by saying that those amazing people who dealt with this and survived are much better than I am, and I’m totally comfortable with not doing things as well as they did, or quitting and giving up. President Hinckley forgot himself and went to work, and it worked out really well for him, but I am not delusional enough to think that I can do anything President Hinckley could do. Nope. But here I am, and feeling more happy than not, more optimistic than not, and that is awesome.

This week Sis. M and I had a breakthrough of sorts which has really made all the difference in our experiences with people here. My cousin Hugh wrote that missionary work is really impossible without the spirit, and I have realized that more this week and would add that for myself, it was impossible for me to understand and love people while feeling preoccupied by misunderstanding and feelings on the less positive end of the love scale. This week was a breakthrough in that while I certainly have cared about people here, I haven’t quite been able to really feel it through and let it make a difference in what I say or what I do while I’m with them until this week. Faith, hope, and charity – the greatest of these, absolutely the most powerful is charity/love. (Scripture reference…can’t remember off the top of my head). Here are a few experiences:

-Sis. K. lives in a nursing home and has been pretty down recently, in fact she’s been asleep or half-asleep every time we’ve stopped by in the last month. She is in a nursing home at age 67(ish) but is here partly because her daughter with whom she had been living tried to kill her. But last week we went by and had a great chat. We talked about Christ, which she appreciated, but as is usually the case, gospel discussion is always mixed in with a variety of wild tangents. This time we heard about facial hair removal, colonoscopies, and the effect of ‘red juice’ on certain waste (she knows about that because her mother always told her to check before flushing). In reference to her post-mortal plans, she explained that she wants ‘to go to the second one (meaning the terestial kingdom) at the beginning’. I can’t remember her explanation but I do remember thinking it actually made some sense. Then she said the prayer before we left (something she hasn’t been willing to do since I arrived, despite the fact that she has been a member of the church for 30+ years) but in her prayer at one point she stopped and asked us what the next part was. She had opened the prayer, thanked God for blessings, asked for things, and was convinced there was something else she needed to do before ending it. We reassured her she was doing a great job, so she folded her arms, closed her eyes and resumed the prayer by saying, ‘Sorry about that Heavenly Father, I’m back’. It was awesome.

-We have been teaching a lovely woman, J., who has been aware of the church for years and years and a very good, loving, giving person, but has some curious ideas about sitting back and waiting for things to happen according to God’s timing. I’ve never known anyone who is overly patient or is too ok with waiting for things to happen in God’s time, my experience is generally the opposite, but both can be problematic. Anyway, she recently discovered that she has a serious tumor in her neck that needs to be removed in a procedure that could damage her ability to speak, leave her with some serious facial deformities, or even kill her depending on the proximity to her main artery (blanking on the anatomical term). She’s a very positive person and talks about being wrapped in a spiritual blanket, but also had made some comments about being more prepared to die than to continue living. We visited with her yesterday and in the course of the conversation I actually cried!! Not tears running down the cheeks or anything, but as I was talking to her about my own experiences with people I loved having potentially dangerous surgery, and then some experiences where I felt as though death was the best outcome for me, and shared a scripture or two, I actually got choked up to the point that I couldn’t speak, twice! Previously that has only happened to me when speaking to my parents/family (like on Christmas over Skype) and as a result of my being sad. This was not that – I just really care about this woman and I wanted her to be able to avoid some of the pain that I had felt when I had had similar thoughts to hers. Woah! Before we left she thanked us for coming and told us that we had no idea the spirit that we brought to her with our visits, and that she thinks we’re really good humans because she can ‘feel our hearts’. Hopefully I don’t have to cry to get people to feel that way, but hey, I’ll take it.

-We also met with Doug, a semi-recovering alcoholic/drug addict who requested a free Bible (when people do that we are the delivery service). He had a court date that afternoon which would determine whether or not he’d be going to jail, but he told us (without our even having the chance to ask) that he wanted us to come back, and that he’d call us to let us know how court went. That may not sound exciting, but in my experience people NEVER bring up having us come back, we always ask and they are either somewhat interested or too polite to say no. But he actually said that having us there gave him hope. And we are seeing him this week.

There are more stories….we see a lot of people every week (20ish ‘lessons’) along with other interactions, but I don’t have time to talk about them all. So many fascinating characters and meaningful exchanges, but I have seen this week that what we say has almost nothing to do with how we’re received and whether we’re helping people. The feeling of the interaction, in other words whether the spirit is present, is what matters. I am finally getting that for myself, and able to focus more on facilitating that for others. Good stuff!

I have so much more to say but not much time to write as the library is closing early today due to weather….there is a foot of snow on the ground and another foot is expected today, plus it is 8 degrees out but feels like -5 with the windchill. The temperature actually even dropped a degree as we drove the 8 minutes from our apartment to the library.

Quick final thoughts:

-There are a lot of things I have done as a missionary that I’m not sure I’ll ever do again, but the one thing I am CERTAIN I will never do in post-mission life is shovel snow in a skirt. It’s unpleasant and just plain weird.

-In a lesson this week with a less active family, a 10 year-old kid asked me what my favorite ride at Disneyland was and when I said ‘Small World’ he said, "You and my grandma would be best friends." He’s probably right and I’m cool with that.

-We had mission conference this week – Elder and Sister Gong (member of the presidency of the seventy) came to do some training. He actually came to the Visitors’ Center for a tour and guess who was asked to give it? Sis. M and I – so it was the two of us, plus our mission president and his wife, and the Gongs. I don’t get all that intimidated by things like that usually, but I was VERY intimidated – I am still really new to this and don’t know enough of the history, and this guy is very smart, and this was a very small/intimate setting. We spent a little over an hour with them, a good portion of which was spent sitting in the School of the Prophets. I think it went well overall, there were a couple noteworthy moments which I don’t have time to describe, but one less-than-stellar moment was when I asked them if they had any ancestors that had been in Kirtland. (Something we do as part of most tours). Sis. Gong’s wife replied that she didn’t, and when I turned to Elder Gong his wife replied, "There weren’t many Chinese people in Kirtland…" She was very nice and laughed about it, as did I. Oh well.

Final comment for today is about faith. I read in Matthew (17ish?) the other day about when the disciples were asked to heal someone but weren’t able to, then when that person went to Christ He was able to heal them. The disciples asked why and Christ explained that they needed to have more faith, and that if they had as much faith as a mustard seed they could move mountains. Well, here’s a faith dilemma….is faith believing God CAN do things? Or that He WILL do things? I fully believe the former, but don’t ever assume that because things I or others ask for don’t come to pass that it is a reflection on God nor does it damage my faith. So I wonder maybe if I don’t have as much faith as I should, allowing that God will do what He is going to do and my opinion about it really doesn’t matter all that much. On the one hand it takes a great degree of faith to believe that God can do anything even though we don’t necessarily see Him doing the things, especially the seemingly very good things, we hope for. But on the other, maybe more things would happen if we had more faith that he WILL do things that we ask for, in faith. I don’t quite know what the correct balance is there.

I also have pictures this week – more than I can include in this email, but here are a few.

The first is of the Lice Removal Center (mentioned last week) and the second is of Sis. Morrison and I preparing to brave the weather, complete with the snow shovels we keep in our car in case we see a need. I expect we will be seeing a lot of that sort of need this week – maybe I’ll try to get a picture of us shoveling in skirts. Seriously….so weird.

Thanks again for the prayers and letters/emails!

One Month in Ohio!

I have officially been in Ohio for a month. On the one hand it seems like I just arrived, and on the other I wonder how on earth I will make it through seventeen more…but I think maybe the total feelings average out to thinking that a month feels about right. Progress has been made, lots still to figure out, missions are hard but I’m as certain as I’ve ever been that I’ll be sticking it out for the long haul. (That degree of certitude is not at 100%, but getting closer.)

Not much of note happened this last week, though I did have a good breakthrough moment as it relates to ‘the rules’. I was standing in the middle of the Visitors’ Center, sort of in a random awkward place, and one of the senior missionaries asked me why I was standing there. I explained that my companion was in the bathroom and I had to be where I could see the bathroom door. I didn’t want to stand right next to the door in the hallway, but if I stood in that exact spot I could see down the hallway to the door while still being out where I could talk to people. He kind of laughed and I replied, "Life really isn’t about the spirit of the law for the next 18 months." He laughed some more and I did too, and I didn’t even feel a tiny bit resentful or annoyed about the ridiculousness of that rule, or any other.

We also got to go to dinner with the Wynders (the site directors here – they’re in charge of all the church sites in and around Kirtland). They took us and two other sisters to Red Robin (I’ve had a reality check about the fact that I will not be eating at good restaurants for 18 months, even if I have my own credit card – such places are not easily accessible) and we had a great conversation. After I told my story, and my age specifically, Elder Wynder said, "Well I’m impressed. And all of that makes me think that you’re here to meet someone." We all sort of paused, thinking that he meant I was here to ‘meet someone’ in the romantic sense (and I panicked a little bit in my head…spouse prospects here are…well I guess it’s unlikely I’d be asked out to Nickelcade, better than the norm pre-mission, but I’m afraid the alternatives here might be worse). Anyway, he clarified that he meant ‘meet someone’ in the ‘meet to help and teach them’ sense. Much better. It was just nice to spend time with some older people in a non-teaching situation.

As far as teaching goes though…We talk to a lot of people about how God loves them, and we often ask if people have felt that love in their lives, or if they believe that God loves them. That seems to be seen as an invitation to share survival stories….lost while hiking, car accidents of varying degrees of severity, pinned by the door of a semi-truck, etc. Or even just stories about the avoidance of pain, as one woman told us that she experienced no pain whatsoever during the birth of her first child, and went into great detail about just what was happening while she was not feeling any pain. Despite the fact that these stories don’t reference praying to be spared or any element relating to God at all, apparently the fact that people are alive or pain-free is evidence that God loves them. I haven’t yet asked how they think God feels about people who do experience pain or don’t survive harrowing experiences, but am trying to learn how to redirect these conversations into a discussion of other ways to feel God’s love.

Also, I’ve decided there may be something in the water here, other than whatever seems to be causing half the population to be on disability. Ohioans seem to have an abnormal number of visions. Actually, even in the history of the church, the number of visions and revelations that happened in Kirtland and the surrounding area is higher than any other location in the migration from New York to Utah. I haven’t yet had one myself, but have heard about deceased relatives floating through ceilings of hospitals, strange ghosts using bathrooms, grandmothers sitting on the ends of beds…and those are only the ones from this week.

Speaking of church history…I’ve gotten a few questions about that portion of my mission. I think I mentioned that we are in Kirtland two days a week, and during that time we do online teaching and take people on tours of the sites. So far I’ve been on about six tours, but I’ve actually spoken in maybe two. We don’t get much time to study and learn the history, but it’s coming slowly and what I have learned is really interesting. However, I won’t be sharing much of that here because I feel like that would be giving away the tour – if you’re dying to hear about it all, you’ll just have to come to Ohio. I hear the spring here is quite nice, as is the Fall.

I’ve also gotten some questions about my companion, Sister Morrison. She is from Canada, is very nice, smart, and a very committed missionary. We are very different and our relationship has been a struggle, but that is probably to be expected. The whole idea of companions is pretty strange, you meet for the first time and from that moment on you are together 24/7. Your job is to go to peoples’ homes and meet with them, help them with whatever they’re dealing with, plan ahead but also be flexible in the moment, and do this in a way that feels unified. In lessons it sometimes feels like playing cards with a partner that you can’t really look at (sitting next to each other rather than across), having a slightly different end goal each time, and with a complete and total wildcard sitting across from you who has no idea what the end goal even is, or has a very different idea of it than you do. And all three (or more) of you are trying to get to the same place or reach the same objective or even just share a common feeling. That’s difficult and I’m bad at it.

Sister Morrison and I will continue to figure each other out though – we both want to help people so we’ll continue to focus on that common goal. I haven’t made it all that easy for her to get to know me (partly because I didn’t really think that mattered all that much – yeah….it does), but I only realized just how difficult I’d made it and how little I have opened up when we were in a lesson the other day. I had asked the person we were talking with to describe themselves in one word, and Sis. Morrison volunteered that both of us would do that as well. I didn’t have one on the tip of my tongue but she jumped in and said the word she would use to describe me would be….organized. Oh dear. Beyond the fact that I’m not sure I’ve ever been described that way in my life, and rightly not, who wants to be summed up in one word as ‘organized’? It was a wake up call of sorts…the person I have apparently become after one month is so dry that my one-word descriptor could just as easily describe a filing cabinet.

No quotes this week, but here are some things I’d never seen/experienced before coming to Ohio:

-A lice office – There is an entire business/office dedicated to dealing with lice, and I’m told the one near us isn’t the only one. So that’s a little concerning…going to try to take a picture of it next time we’re near it during the day.

-Kerosene pump – Next to the regular gas pumps at the gas station, there is a kerosene pump. I am not exactly sure what kerosene is for but it seems as though it’s somewhat old-fashioned…didn’t people in the olden days used to use that for lamps and such? Anyway, I’d never seen that before.

-Knee calluses – We pray a LOT, and we kneel when we pray a LOT. I looked down at my knees a few days ago and noticed that I am developing calluses on both…not sure if that’s something to be proud of, or if it’s concerning that I feel the need to spend that much time praying.

No pictures this week (I have taken almost none since arriving here) but I’ll try to take one of something interesting before next Monday.

For this week’s spiritual thought….not sure I have one that is worth writing about at the moment. If you’re looking for something to read, I recommend Sister Marriott’s talk from last conference ‘Yielding Our Hearts to God’ – I’ve read that one a couple times in the last two weeks and I really like it for a variety of reasons.

Life in Ohio goes on….still believe in the joy that can come from this gospel, just trying to figure out how to help other people access that joy for themselves.

Thanks for all the prayers and the mail – I’m really behind on responding but I’ll get to it I promise!

Happy 2016!

I don’t have much of note to say this week, but I do have a few pictures (finally) and some random thoughts.

1) 2 Tim. 1:8 – this verse says to "be partakers of the afflictions of the gospel" which I think is interesting. The gospel is often discussed as a source of strength in times of affliction, not so much the cause of affliction, but it certainly can be. Of course I am feeling a little bit that way as it relates to the challenges of being a missionary, but there are all kinds of ways the gospel can cause ‘afflictions’ in regular life I think – burdens of callings, guilt, etc. But, I think, as it sort of says in the remaining verses in that chapter, the afflictions are the sort that are worthwhile and allow us to remember and keep focused on the things that really do matter. Back to my favorite verse of my favorite hymn (How Firm a Foundation) – distress isn’t necessarily a bad thing, overtime we gain understanding and perspective such that we value our deepest distress.

2) As I’ve mentioned before, making sure people know that we care about them is an important part of being a good missionary, and I continue to realize how terrible I am at this. In a conversation a few days ago my companion was talking about this and letting me know that some people in the Ward possibly think that I don’t want to be here or that I don’t like them. Well….this isn’t the first time in my life that people have assumed I didn’t like them. I know much of it is due to the way my face is – I once had a YW leader who, when I told her I had a job interview, said, "What are you going to do about your face?" I responded, "Uh…" and she explained that I have a face that she described as the ‘I’m not sure I like you and you don’t know what you’re talking about’ face. That continues to be an issue here, though I suddenly care about the effect of my face, and I’m not altogether sure how I can fix it. Smiling isn’t terribly natural even when I am really happy, and while I wouldn’t say I’m miserable here, I haven’t yet arrived at a state I would describe as generally happy either, so the thought of smiling incessantly sounds fairly exhausting if not straight up impossible.

I have been racking my brain trying to figure out how the people who do know that I care about them (mostly people at home) came to know that I care about them. All I can think of is emails, and that isn’t an option here, so I’m at a bit of a loss. I know I am unlikely to win any missionary cheer-miester awards but I need to do better. Thankfully the problem is not that I don’t care about people – it’s the outward evidence that’s the trick. Any tips/advice on how to communicate ‘caring’ would be appreciated.

3) Along similar lines, we spend a lot of time here trying to figure out how to endear ourselves to the members. We don’t want them to see us as referral hounds – though we do of course always hope for those, but I’d love some ideas from regular people about how missionaries might make inroads with you, what things missionaries do that drive you nuts, things you’d wish they’d do, etc.

If I could say one somewhat obnoxious/preachy thing about that subject it would be that I wish people who interacted with missionaries remembered that we are regular people, not church robots. I have really appreciated it when people here take an interest in me as a person, recognize that I might not be having a terribly easy time, or even just treat me like a human being more than a church obligation or a pest.

We went on exchanges last week (where we swap companions for a day) – I went to be with Sis. Allen down in Chardon which admittedly has a very different vibe than Madison/Geneva, but we met some great people who, I felt, treated us like people and it was a nice thing. We knocked on their doors, and none were really interested in the church, but they were nice and civil and friendly.

At one house we were invited in, fed delicious cookies (with grape jelly in them – grapes are BIG here) and given water bottles for the road, despite the fact that this couple was watching the Ohio State/Notre Dame game. At another house we were invited in and given prayer shawls by a woman who has a degenerative muscle disease and is home bound, but feels that the path the Lord wants her to take is to make these shawls – the count to that point was 2,222 prayer shawls that had made it to every continent except Antarctica. At another house we talked with a nice Browns fan (even though I’m near Cleveland, it still surprises me how many people are actually Browns fans) who said he didn’t have much of a relationship with Jesus, but was satisfied with the way things were. He listened to us talk about how important having that relationship was and thanked us for coming very genuinely and wished us a happy new year as we walked away. At another house the woman who came to the door was clearly very, very upset (we had heard her wailing as we walked by the house) but even as tears ran down her face and she expressed that she didn’t think anything could help her, she listened to us and thanked us for coming.

Who knows if any of these people will do anything with the videos/cards/numbers we left them, but they were all very nice and didn’t seem to see us just as interruptions, which was great! I doubt I would have been as kind as they were if people knocked on my door out of the blue. I’m not sure that we did anything which made us less obnoxious than any other missionaries, or than we had been with the other people we met, but I’d be curious to know if you, as ‘regular people’ can think of anything that two random strangers knocking on your door could do or say to help foster cordiality and maybe even spark an interesting conversation. With temperatures the way they are now (winter has arrived in Ohio!) people aren’t likely to want to talk for long while we’re on their porch but we want to make even those cold moments as positive as possible 🙂

4) A few quotables for the week:
-A woman we visit was telling us about an outing she’d been on (from her nursing home) in a Ashtabula (a town not too far from our area) and she described the place as "Not a nice town, it’s going downhill, but we went to the nice part with the K-marts and the Red Lobster." I haven’t been to Ashtabula but I know that in our area, places of business such as these do indeed indicate a nice area. #theohiolife

-A woman who we are teaching over the phone who is really excited to get baptized, but really doesn’t understand much about the church yet, was saying a prayer and said, "Thank you Lord that I have been saved, and that I might be a Mormon."

-This same woman, when asked whether she’d prayed about the Book of Mormon and about Joseph Smith, "Nope." Our response, "Why not?" Her reply, "I already know Joseph Smith is a prophet. So is my pastor." I really thought the idea of a modern prophet might be a hard thing for people to swallow, but the problem we seem to encounter regularly is not that people don’t believe there are prophets, it’s that they believe EVERYONE is a prophet. Their pastors are prophets, their brother or sister is a prophet, and missionaries are definitely prophets. Interesting.

5) Pictures
-The first picture is of me with an extremely large cat named Ginger. He weights almost 30lbs and belongs to a lovely couple in our Ward. I had to get a picture because I’ve never seen a cat that large, and I was really happy to be holding a clean, well-taken care of cat again. Just about everyone here has at least two pets, even if they live in a small trailer or live on disability or welfare. Most of these pets are not ones I get excited about touching, but it is nice to visit this couple and get some quality cat time in.
-The second picture is of me with President and Sister Brown (mission president and his wife) the first day we arrived. I hesitate to even share this picture but I have taken almost no pictures since arriving in Ohio, and I think this one captures how I was feeling that day pretty well – sleep deprivation and all kinds of other emotions…I was in about as much pain as my facial expression implies.

There have been several pictures taken of me at the Kirtland historic sites (including a few from our Christmas breakfast I believe) and those get posted on the Historic Kirtland Facebook and Instagram pages by Sister Wynder (one of our site directors). I haven’t actually seen any of them but I know she posts a lot, so feel free to check them out if you’re dying for more pictures.

I think that’s it for this week…hope you’re all doing well and that your year has started off on a good note. Prayers are appreciated and felt, and as for letters….there is a saying about people who write missionaries getting a special place in Heaven and I’m not sure there could be any other people more deserving, so thank you!