Subject lines are the bane of my existence

Next week we have transfers, which means things will get switched up, though one of the perks of being a VC missionary is that transfer possibilities are pretty easy to predict, at least to a degree. There are only 12 possible areas (7 Wards) where VC sisters serve, unless they get sent to ‘full proselyting’ areas, though that only happens when there is an excess of sisters or an odd number, which is not the case for this upcoming transfer. Of those 12 possible areas, several of them are always immune from transfer change-ups for various reasons, most often because a missionary is being trained there (meaning that companionship doesn’t change for at least twelve weeks). Then there are certain missionaries who are pretty likely to stay or move from a given area due to the length of time they’ve been there – for example, Sis. M is likely to get transferred next week because she’s been here (in Perry) for six months, and I am likely to stay because at least one missionary in every area needs to be familiar with the people, etc. So, with all that there are only about three or four missionaries who are likely to be transferred to where I am, and because we see all the VC sisters at least once a week, I know all of them at least somewhat and I am really happy to say that there aren’t any who I am worried about having as a companion. Sis. M and I have come a long way in the last month or so, and we’re in a pretty good rhythm but I think she’s ready to move on, and it feels like the right time. There is always at least one odd/unexpected move that happens every transfer, so technically anything is possible, but it’s very, very likely that I will be staying here with someone new. Next Monday we should have a pretty good idea of exactly who will be coming here and where Sis. M will be going.

So, in addition to the fact that I just like to reflect and look backwards, it seems like an appropriate time to reflect on my training period with Sis. Morrison. The first little while was really, really rough – everyone told me that having a companion would be the hardest thing for me and at the beginning that was absolutely true. Sis. Morrison and I don’t have terribly compatible personalities, and being companions isn’t just like being co-workers who have to deal with those personality differences and get the work done. We have to get work done, live together, eat together, pray together, and form weird three-way relationships together. All relationships are between others (members, investigators, etc.) and ‘the Perry sisters’. Plus, the work we do is very, very personal in nature, it’s really impossible to separate the personal from the work (I know this because I tried). All that makes personality differences exceptionally difficult, to say nothing of the trainer/trainee dynamic which was much harder for me than I cared to admit. I didn’t make things easy on Sis. M, though my difficultness was largely unintentional, and she didn’t make my transition into real missionary life very easy, though that was completely the opposite of what she wanted. The point is, it was rough, but here we are after three months functioning at a pretty good level, I think. I feel I ought to say something about how I’ve learned that it’s possible to get along with and work well with anyone, and work through any problems if both people are determined enough to make it work, but I’m not actually that convinced. I definitely can say, however, that I’ve learned a lot from her, and even just as a result of her, much of which I hope I won’t have to learn again.

That brings me, I suppose, to the thing that I might consider to be the ‘theme’ of the week – that being humility. I see impressive examples of humility almost every day, and on the days I don’t see those I see examples of the opposite (hubris, arrogance, etc.). I don’t have a definition of humility handy, but if I were to define it myself I would say a humble person is one who doesn’t get in the way of goodness. Some people generate goodness themselves, but humble people facilitate goodness and facilitation goes much farther than generation. Facilitators can take goodness generated from all kinds of sources and spread it around to all kinds of people – their own concerns don’t get in the way. It’s possible the examples of humility strike me because it seems so counter-intuitive, but here are a few examples:

-Sis. Morrison – Every week as part of our weekly planning session we have ‘companionship inventory’ where we have to make individual and companionship goals, share a strength about the other person, and also share ways the other could improve. If it doesn’t sound completely awful I challenge you to try it with someone and then see how you feel. It’s awful. And I’m bad at it – both taking feedback and giving it is difficult for me. Sis. M on the other hand, when I’ve shared something that has been bothering me, has ALWAYS been extremely gracious, apologetic, and committed to try and change. She hasn’t been defensive or difficult or offended even once which I still am amazed at. There is nothing she could do that would make me want to try and improve myself more than how she handles this – I find humility to be pretty inspiring.

-Douglas – He is not someone who would think of himself as ‘humble’. This is a guy who, when he was in his 20’s, put someone in the hospital for not saying ‘Good Morning’. His life circumstances have forced him into humility and now, in his late 50’s, he’s having to work his way out of all kinds of terrible baggage. But he’s doing it! Alma talks about being filled with ‘great joy’ because the afflictions of the Zoramites had ‘truly humbled them’, which sounds kind of mean I think. But he was happy because their humility allowed them to be open to making changes which could lead them back to happiness that their rich brethren who ‘esteemed them as dross’ because of their poverty wouldn’t have. Addicts talk about this concept as having to hit ‘rock bottom’ – humility forced upon them. Douglas says this is his third time hitting rock bottom but this time he’s trying to stay down there for awhile to find the thing that’s really going to allow him to avoid hitting it again. He’s not trying to avoid the consequences of his actions and he’s focusing on trying to ‘piss off the devil’ (see quotes below).

-Leaders – We work with all kinds of church leaders in our area and in our mission, and without fail the ones who are the best are the ones who demonstrate humility. They’re not the smartest ones or the ones with the best ideas or the ones who can think outside the box (though many of them meet these descriptions too). They just magnify whatever seems to be good, or whatever the person in charge deems to be best, and are willing to jump in to help. We have three men in our Ward who have all volunteered (without being asked) to drive Douglas to and from community service every day just so he can avoid breaking the law by driving on a suspended license. Not only that, but one man in particular, who has been out of work for several months and has three kids at home, volunteered to drive him to AA or NA meetings several evenings a week, and even to take Douglas to Cleveland to see a doctor or counselor. (Not that it should matter at all, but I also think this is especially impressive because Douglas isn’t even committed to joining the church.) This man (Brother Ring) also volunteered to coordinate all of this with Douglas directly so we could focus on other work AND wanted to make sure it was okay that he was doing this because he didn’t want to step on our toes. WOW!

I’m going to stop talking about this now because I think it might be one of those things that I like thinking about but isn’t terribly exciting for other people to read. Bottom line is….humility. I want more of it for myself and for people around me because it just makes things better.

Some notable happenings for the week:

-Douglas told us that he "really pissed the devil off this week" for a variety of reasons. In one case his microwave broke this week, which was something that would have really set him off before since he doesn’t have the money to fix it, but instead he said, "The Devil is really trying me but he’s not going to get me!" And when he felt like drinking he told us he started reading the scriptures because he said he wanted to "read that temptation out of me!" He hasn’t had alcohol in a month, drugs, for five weeks, and coffee for six, plus he’s trying to avoid caffeine even though we told him that wasn’t necessary, he just thinks it’s a good idea. He’s still smoking but the Word of Wisdom really hasn’t been hard for him to believe or understand at all, which was unexpected.

The much, much trickier discussion was around obeying the law. I never could have imagined teaching someone who, of the various commandments we talk about, would have the hardest time with ‘Obey and Honor the Law’. The trick is that his license is suspended so it’s illegal for him to drive, but he has to do community service and he lives with his mom and sister, neither of whom are well enough to drive, so he has to get groceries, etc. for them and he lives beyond reasonable walking distance to any sort of store. But, Douglas committed to obey the law and trust that things would work out with this rides, etc. and now, because of Brother Ring and the others in the Ward, things are working out. Plus, when he went to court on Thursday he found out that he won’t actually have to do ANY jail time, which was completely unexpected. He told us on Friday and I was as visibly excited as I ever get, even almost got carried away and clapped my hands, while he just sat there stoically. I was thrilled though, I just love Douglas as much as it is possible to love someone to whom you are not related and have less than zero romantic interest in.

-Book of Mormon ‘Book Club’ – This is our second week doing this and it was a blast! We have a small group, by design, and they are all older women (between 65 and 80…my people!). A few are members, newer to the church or have been less-active, and one is an investigator. All we do is take turns reading a verse and then we pause when people have questions or comments or to clarify what’s going on. This week two women expressed great concern and confusion at how Nephi and his family traveled a great distance on a boat without ‘oranges and lemons’. Not sure why those two items of produce were focused on specifically but I am sure this is going to be a highlight of each and every week.

-Schizophrenic Fan Club – We went back to read the scriptures with our friend Hannah and ended up adding two new people to our scripture study group – Tia and Leslie. Tia doesn’t seem to be schizophrenic though it’s possible she’s just better about her medication, and Leslie….well Leslie we’re just not sure about. Is not all that clear whether Leslie is a man or a woman, though I think Leslie is a man who has had some surgery done but who can’t afford whatever hormone pills/treatment might help him lose some of his more masculine features. Regardless, he sat down across from me while Sis. M was talking with Tia and Hannah, and he ended up telling me how much he wanted to change, even starting to cry. When Hannah said it was okay that the other two join us, they immediately told us they had Bibles and asked if they should go get them right then, so eager to talk with us and be involved in something. We said a prayer before leaving (as we do every time we leave anywhere) and after Sis. M said ‘Amen’ Tia added ‘And thank you for the sisters coming to talk to us, Amen.’ Pretty sweet.

I had this weird epiphany in Ward Council yesterday, sitting with all these smart, capable leaders in the Ward as well as the Stake Presidency (they were there for Ward Conference), where I realized that I would rather be with the odd collection of people we’re working with (like Hannah, Tia and Leslie, or the heavy-smokers who make my clothes smell, etc.) than with these ‘normal’ Ward Council types. So strange, but definitely a good thing given where we spend most of our time.

-The Bigelows – My aunt Allison and uncle Sean came to Kirtland on Wednesday. They took us to lunch and we took them on a tour, which was fun. I really enjoyed getting to know them a little bit better and mostly enjoyed being reminded of various family members, especially my mom. I had forgotten how similar Allison and my mom look, and it definitely made a me a little homesick. As they were leaving one of the senior missionaries asked them how we did and Allison said, "They were great tour guides. She’s (gesturing to Sis. M) a little bit better though." Always a nice thing to hear from one’s relative, but she was completely right. I was nervous about the whole thing and ended up trying to avoid mentioning much of anything of a religious nature, which meant I ended up talking about a bunch of boring facts that I actually don’t really know as well as I should. But it was still nice to see them, and lunch was good. (Picture of three of us attached).

I think that’s it for today…sorry there wasn’t a lot to report. It was a busy week but I didn’t write much down and it’s hard to remember back more than a day or two.

Before I finish though, I did read something interesting today – 1 Cor. 11:31, a verse I’d never heard before. "For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged." I like the idea of constant self-correction and the potential to avoid correction from other sources, but also just appreciated the positive spin on checking ourselves and trying to change (aka repent). A little self-examination/criticism is a good, healthy, productive exercise.

Hope you’re all well. Thanks for the letters and prayers, as always. I pray for all of you as well, though I admit not all of you every day. I made a prayer list the other day and it’s got over 200 people on it, so I’m trying to come up with some kind of rotating schedule. Anyway, I look forward to hearing from all of you soon, especially those who are less-frequent communicators 🙂

PS – I could use some exercise suggestions, the current routine is getting pretty boring. Exercises must be doable in an apartment living room and not require too much exertion 🙂


2 thoughts on “Subject lines are the bane of my existence

  1. Loved this letter Jen, as I do all of them. You are always in our thoughts and prayers. This letter is a precious letter for all who know you and love you. Because it was right before a significant event in your life. When I read this in your letter “Bottom line is….humility. I want more of it for myself and for people around me because it just makes things better.” when I read that line, I thought, never wish for more humility, you might just get it. I pray that you will be ok. Wish we lived close enough to see you in your mission! Love – Jan


  2. Great update (as always)! Sorry, no exercise suggestions from me – but I could pass on to you the ones my wife continually gives to me! The photo reminds me of our visit to Kirtland and visiting the Newel K. Whitney store – still can’t believe you are there, especially after our dinner table discussion (pre-mission call) about our observations of the sister missionaries serving there. You better save all of your updates as they will make great, real-life, missionary training material for new sisters! Jeff K.


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