Have I mentioned how exhausting it is to be worried about other people all the time? On the one hand it’s nice to realize that my own little worries are so pathetically small compared to the things others seem to be dealing with, but on the other, it’s tiring to feel the weight of those others’ needs and not to be able to fix them. With our own problems we can take action and have at least some degree of control, with others we don’t . Sometimes it feels a little like we’re standing looking at one of those machines on that show Wipeout, we’re looking for an opening to jump in and do something but the wheel keeps turning and we feel a little overwhelmed about where to start, and when we do jump, we often feel like we miss.
That said, the problem we have is a really good one – we’re working with too many people and there just aren’t enough hours in the day to help them all. Every week we report on our ‘key indicators’ – different numbers that tell our mission president and others what we’re doing, but also help us to measure the effectiveness of our efforts. Not that numbers are the end, but if we’re not meeting the goals we set for ourselves for these indicators, chances are we’re not using our time very effectively. Specifically, we track how many lessons we’re teaching each week, which includes lessons to members, recent converts, less-active members, and investigators. A ‘lesson’ is essentially defined as talking to someone about a gospel principal and extending an invitation of some kind – this could mean asking them to see us again, read something, pray, write something, etc. We’re teaching just over 20 lessons per week (on average) in our proselyting area and about 10 per week in our two days at the Visitors’ Center. Those lessons are divided up between about 40 people/families that we see (or try to) every two weeks, some more frequently.
That maybe doesn’t sound terribly overwhelming but the problem is that we kind of care about all of these people, and we really don’t meet with anyone that doesn’t have hard stuff going on and who we don’t worry about. They’re all on our minds all the time, we’re constantly trying to figure out what to talk with them about that might be helpful, if there’s anything we can do (last week we made mashed potatoes and several batches of brownies – making food is often the only thing we can come up with in the ‘doing’ category), or just what these people need to help them be happy. Constantly thinking about that is tiring and sometimes painful and often makes me feel inadequate.
For example, on Tuesday we got a call from a woman (Shakira – not her real name but not that far off either) who was working at some kind of facility. She said that a resident at that facility (Hannah) wanted someone to come and read the Bible with her so Shakira thought of us. We assumed that this facility was some kind of nursing home and that maybe the word was spreading about the two sister missionaries that frequent nursing homes, and maybe our singing prowess was even the thing that was getting people interested in seeing us (definitely not the case – see story below). Anyway, we showed up and discovered that this facility is a group home for people with mental illnesses. We sat down with Hannah who told us, as she rocked back and forth on her chair, that she wanted to read the Bible because she hears the devil barking in her head and she wants it to stop. Hmmm. I’d not ever talked with a schizophrenic before, that I’m aware of, so it was a really interesting hour. She was so sincere in wanting to understand what we were reading and talking about and even had a notebook to take notes – I think she was worried that if she didn’t pay enough attention we wouldn’t come back again. In fact when we asked if we could pray with her before we left she said, "If I tell you I’m Catholic are you not going to be able to come back and see me?" with such a worried/distressed look on her face that I could hardly stand it. We of course reassured her that we would be happy to come back again, and we will be going back tonight. As far as ‘indicators’ our time with Hannah will count as service, which is fine, and we’re happy to do it if it will help her, but it’s pretty hard to see how we can make any sort of lasting difference with Hannah.
That night Sis. Morrison and I spent a long time talking about how hard it is to be in positions like this. Even if I really make a concerted effort to seek out opportunities to help other people for the rest of my life, I’m pretty sure I won’t ever be in a position to help so many people in a personal way ever again. Hannah, John, Douglas, Alan, and on and on. Over the last few months I have gradually lost some (maybe a lot) of the confidence I used to have in my own abilities, especially in my ability to help other people. But at the same time, strangely, I feel very confident in the fact that people WILL receive the help they need, whether it’s through me or not, because God will make it happen. He loves these people and if I don’t get in the way, good things are going to happen. If l look at the moments, tiny as they might seem, where I felt like I helped someone here, those moments weren’t a result of my being smart or having made a great lesson plan or anything of the sort…those moments almost feel like accidents, where I happened to say something that struck a chord or happened to be in the right place or the right time. But I don’t really think they were accidents, I think God just cares about the people we happen to be talking to.
In my interview with the mission president this week (a quarterly occurrence) he talked about the difference between ‘obtaining’ a change of heart and ‘receiving’ a change of heart. As I’ve thought about that I’ve realized that the ‘change’ I felt last Spring/Summer that lead me to sign up for this thing was more of the ‘obtaining’ variety – I was seeking something and found something. The change of the last few months has been the ‘receiving’ type. I wasn’t really looking for something, but I think I’ve changed, even if I can’t identify exactly how, other than to say I feel a little like some rough edges have been worn away. I was so worried about losing the self that I knew and liked (and that other people seemed to like) and becoming a weirdo (maybe I sound like one and I don’t realize that my worries were warranted) but I’m kind of liking the feeling of it so far. Good stuff. Lots more to do and figure out, but no doubt about it, the trend is positive.
I haven’t lost all of the rough edges though, sense of humor is still in tact. Here are some funny experiences from the week:
-We took a call from a woman (at the Visitors’ Center) who was a disillusioned member, wanting to talk about the things she does believe (her words). Over the course of the conversation she told us about her son’s funeral and how it was actually really beautiful, and I made a comment about how I thought funerals could be really positive experiences. Her reply was, "Oh, well your funerals (meaning any LDS funerals) suck!" Lovely. She also told us about how she jabbed a pen through her own throat last year so clearly she’s got a hard life and we weren’t offended by the funeral comment.
-We walked into the kitchen at the Visitors’ Center where some other sisters were sitting with their recent convert (about age 20). We grabbed a snack and were walking out when the girl stopped me and said, "How old are you?!" I asked her how old she thought I was and she said, "Well all these ones (the six other sister missionaries in the room) seem like children compared to you." Not sure it was meant as a compliment but I was secretly delighted. She explained that she was wondering about going on a mission but didn’t want to be an old weirdo, and I told her that even though I was 27, no one had made me feel like an old weirdo, until her 🙂 We all laughed and explained that if she went at 21 or 22 she probably wouldn’t even be one of the older ones – there are quite a few sisters who are 22, 23, or 24 around.
-At the end of one of our lessons with John this week he said the prayer, which was exceptionally sweet: "Dear Jesus, thank you for my guests. (long pause) I can’t say much, but I hope the holy spirit will come into us and do what it’s supposed to do. (long pause) Please help the world to know they need faith, even as small as a mustard seed…" He continues to be inspiring.
-We met with Roger, a former investigator from a few years ago who we have recently picked back up, at McDonalds last week and had a good discussion about the Plan of Salvation. He’s fascinating – really smart, knows the Bible like the back of his hand, and maybe has a form of Autism. He’s a rare one in that he probably could be on disability (at least he seems as qualified as all the other people we meet who are) but he isn’t and instead works as a handyman and does snow removal. He’s never been married or had a serious girlfriend apparently (he’s in his 50’s) but has three requirements for a future wife: 1) She must be a Democrat. 2) She must love cats. 3) She must believe in God, it would be nice if she was Christian, but mostly he just doesn’t want an atheist. Doesn’t seem like an unattainable standard, though I’m not sure I’ve met someone who meets all three yet. Not going to say which one is the trickiest here, but it definitely isn’t #2!
-At the end of our discussion Roger looked at Sis. Morrison and said, "You have a joy and light in you." She says, "Oh thank you!" He says, "Yeah, you just have a bubbly, effervescent joy, like a beautiful blonde!" Then he looked at me and said, "And you have peace." I think he felt obligated to say something about me, but it didn’t take him long to come up with ‘peace’ so I’ll take it! It’s actually a pretty good description of the difference between Sis. M and I. Joy and peace.
-Last night we were visiting with our recent convert (in her 60’s but with some disabilities – was recently tested and found that her reading is 4th-grade level) and Sis. Morrison asked her what one word she would use to describe each of us. For Sis. M, no surprise, she immediately said, "Cheerful." Then looking at me she thought for awhile, said something about how she wished she could just use the same word for me too (clearly not because she actually thinks I’m cheerful, but because she didn’t have anything else to say), but ended up saying, "Happy." Once again, I’ll take it, though I think in this case it had nothing to do with what she actually thinks of me. But I must be making progress…people aren’t commenting on my grumpy resting face anymore!
-Sis. M then asked her what word she would use to describe Heavenly Father and her response, in no time at all, was, "Pleasant." When we asked for an explanation she said, "He’s very pleasant to get along with." So great.
-Someone this week pointed out to me that 2 Nephi 18 talks about ‘peeping wizards’. I couldn’t believe I had never heard about this before. That might be my new favorite chapter. Awesome!
All-in-all a good week, but prayers are appreciated! Mail as well, it’s hard to explain how nice it is to come home after a long, very, very cold day to find a letter in the mailbox, though it’s an occurrence that is becoming more and more rare…
Only picture is a shot of us in the car on one of these very, very cold days – the high that day was 11 I believe.
Hope you’re all well.