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!