Monday, April 17, 2017

La Semana Santa

Or, the Holy Week!

The past week was full of miracles and great experiences. There were hard moments too, of course, but the Lord has really supported me through those as I've turned to Him as my strength and for comfort and guidance.

One cool thing about this week was that not only was it "La Semana Santa" for Christians, but it was also Passover! And I just happened to be reading in Exodus about the flight from Egypt and the Lord's institution of the Passover in my scriptures study this week. It was really profound, and caused me to reflect even more on the life and miraculous gift of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and the battles he won for us. It also made me think of how much gratitude we should have to our ancestors, and remember all that the Lord has done for them (as the Book of Mormon is ALWAYS reminding us) to increase the foundation of our faith. 

Friday morning we had some fun as a zone and had an Easter Egg Hunt at the stake center! Sisters Anderson, Hanson, and I got all the eggs and filled them with jelly beans, then hid them around the grounds of the church. It was sooo much fun to watch everyone else hunt for them, and to see the smiles on their faces (especially some of the elders, they were just like kids haha).  

We got to go to the Easter Pageant a second time, this time in English! (Though I'll admit, I kind of preferred it in Spanish for some reason!) We went with Sandra and Syra,

two sisters who are investigating the church. They have a younger brother and sister who are also really interested, but their parents don't really seem interested in listening to us even though they have no problem with their kids taking the lessons (and there's an older brother who doesn't live with them who's actually a member). We were supposed to go to the pageant with them the week before, but it ended up falling through. On Thursday, we called a member who's a friend of the family and asked if they'd worked out a time to go - since there were only three performances left - and he said he didn't think it was going to be possible. We were pretty bummed, but moved forward.Just about thirty minutes later, we got a text from him: "Ok. The Spirit wins again. We've worked it." They'd somehow worked out their schedules and were taking Syra and Sandra to the pageant THAT NIGHT!  We immediately scrambled to find a ride from a member there (since it's out of the mission, we're not allowed to drive our car) and miraculously were able to find one with los Perez.

We got to the pageant, visited with them and took some fun pictures with members of the cast, then sat down to watch it.  Just before the pageant started, I turned to Syra and Sandra and said, "Now, remember how we were talking about how to recognize the Spirit? Pay attention to what the Spirit is telling you while you watch the pageant tonight."They both said that they would, and we sat back to watch. Syra had been multiple times before, but it was Sandra's first time. At the end of the pageant, I went up to Sandra and gave her a hug (she gives the BEST hugs) and asked her how she liked it. She couldn't stop smiling and said, "I'm really, really happy. It was really amazing."After a minute or so, I said, "So, what are you going to do when you go home tonight?" intending to just remind her to say her prayers.  She immediately said, "I'm going to pray to know if everything you guys have been teaching me is true."I smiled. "Do you believe God will answer that prayer?" She got a little bit more quiet and her smile softened. After giving a small nod, she said, "Yes ... in fact, I think He already has." In that moment I'll admit, I felt my heart beat a bit fast because I felt a huge rush of joy. And I know I probably looked silly with how much I was smiling. "And what was the answer?" I asked her.  She got even more quiet. "It's true," she said, beaming. "It's all true." That was probably one of the best moments of my entire mission. She recognized the truth. She felt the Spirit testify of it to her, felt Him answer her question, and recognized it. She still has a lot of questions and a lot that she wants to learn, but she knows that we're working towards baptism and she wants to prepare herself and really understand as she moves towards that. Since she's only ten we'll also be talking to her parents about it, of course, and there's still a ways to go, but it was a huge moment for me to see her truly recognize the answer to her prayer, and helped strengthen my own testimony!

We had the special privilege of going to the temple with Hno De Miguel for his first time doing baptisms for the dead this past Saturday. It was pretty busy because there was a youth temple trip, so we waited for a long time. He looked around and said, "Wow, that's an amazing way for young people to spend their Saturday morning." He was really touched by the Spirit throughout the whole thing and could feel the significant difference of being in the House of the Lord.

We also had a cool experience when we were exploring part of our area this week. We decided to bike for the afternoon and were heading down this road. I was in front, and we kept passing houses. I thought some of them looked like they might have Spanish-speaking people there, but I didn't feel impressed to stop at any of them. Finally, I saw this one house and pulled up to it, and we went up and knocked the door. She didn't speak Spanish, but as we talked about the Book of Mormon and offered to give her one she was completely receptive. We offered to send the English missionaries to her house, and she said that she would like that, that she was interested in learning more. Sister Anderson and I both felt like she was the essence of a golden investigator - truly prepared to receive the Gospel and looking for that light in her life - and it was humbling to know that we'd been used as instruments in the Lord's hands to bring her that knowledge.

And last but not least, D&C 58:3-6 brought me a lot of peace this week as I went through a bit of a rough emotional patch for seemingly no reason: 3 Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation.  4 For after much tribulation come the blessings. Wherefore the day cometh that ye shall be crowned with much glory; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand.  5 Remember this, which I tell you before, that you may lay it to heart, and receive that which is to follow.  6 Behold, verily I say unto you, for this cause I have sent you—that you might be obedient, and that your hearts might be prepared to bear testimony of the things which are to come;  

Hermana Garner

Monday, April 10, 2017

Easter Pageant

So, somehow on Saturday I managed to get both a sunburn and a cold ... don't know how I got a cold in Spring in Arizona, but I guess I'm just talented that way. I've been struggling with that yesterday and today, I look forward to sleeping it off during P-day!  Other than that, my health is pretty good. I had a few attacks this week, but we're figuring it out. I've sworn off all nuts and ice cream (yeah ... that second one was a hard one) and am being more and more cautious about what I eat.  It's been frustrating thinking that you have it figured out and then all the sudden doubling over in pain again, but I know the Lord is supporting me.

This was a crazy week full of awesome experiences and miracles! The Easter Pageant is going on at the Mesa Temple, and this past Saturday was Spanish night, so we were inviting EVERYONE to it! The person we really wanted to be sure went, though, was Luis, so Friday night we stopped by his house to make sure he was still planning on it and to have a quick lesson with him. We decided while we were there to watch President Monson's talk from conference, and prefaced it by explaining how sick President Monson is and that he can't speak for very long. When it was over, Luis just stared at the screen for a long moment and then said, "I'm really surprised." We asked him why, and he quietly explained that knowing that this man was a prophet, he expected to hear something more profound, not so simple as reading the Book of Mormon. Also, he's been wondering how to get answers for so long, and he said, "And this man, who's so close to God, is telling me to do the exact same thing that Hermana Garner and Hermana Cedeno have been telling me to do from the beginning." He even admitted that it scared him a little bit, because he hasn't been doing it, and because he knows that he's been making excuses. But very humbly on Friday he acknowledged that he needed to read the Book of Mormon, and even said, "Right now, I can't even think of any of the questions I have, I just know I need to read!" The Spirit was SO strong, and I could see his desire and his motivation to act change in that moment. And every day since then, he HAS read! It's hard for him to understand, but we're encouraging him to keep going and that the Lord will help him and we're here for him along the way as well.  It was a special experience being able to go to the Easter Pageant with him.

He brought his cousin as well, who we might start teaching (he seemed interested when we were talking at the pageant). It was such a beautiful production, and really moving! What really impressed Luis was that it was the same stories and the same thing he's always believed in, which I think helped to increase his faith that he's not turning his back on what he's come to know about God, only adding to that knowledge. 

I personally really enjoyed the pageant - as soon as I saw the stage, I felt like I was home! Pageantry is slightly different than theatre, but still.

We've started exploring some of the less explored areas of the branch as well, trying to find new people, and are having fun with one another while doing it. I just keep loving my companions more and more, and whether I like it or not, they're always looking out for me. On Friday, they used the 'How to Begin Teaching' points from Preach My Gospel to get me to eat a carrot ... it was surprisingly effective.  Hnas Anderson, Hanson, and I are working on a musical number for the branch. We found a beautiful arrangement of "Abide with Me," but it's a little complicated, so I need to practice every spare chance we get! (I'm the only one who plays the piano)

So, funny story for the week - we've been working hard on contacting less actives and reaching out to them. We met with this older brother who has cancer and has a hard time getting around at times, and while we were there his pet bird suddenly flew into the room. It started walking on the floor towards us, and I put my finger down to let it climb onto my hand. Well, it climbed up my arm and onto my shoulder, and I was totally calm the whole time and was just continuing with the lesson. Then, all of the sudden, it starts ATTACKING my lip! It bit and pulled at my bottom lip and I put my hand up to keep it from continuing, but then it just started attacking my fingers! We were all laughing about it later because I got a peck on my mission ... :P 

Hermana Weyand gave Hermana Garner a new haircut

 In addition to my regular scripture study, I've decided to implement something that was talked about at General Conference. I believe it was President Nelson who said that he'd challenged the members in a CES fireside to read through every scripture listed in the topical guide under every single heading about Jesus. I was struck by that and decided to try that exercise, and I've barely scratched the surface and already learned SO much! So many questions I've always had have been answered and I feel like I'm coming to know my Savior in a way I never before imagined I could.

One thing that really struck me was reading through all of the scriptures under "God, Creator" in the Topical Guide. So many people look at us like we have three heads when we say that Jesus Christ created the earth, but ALL THROUGHOUT the New Testament it is written very plainly and clearly that this is the truth. In fact, there were more direct references to Christ as being the Creator in the New Testament than any other book of scripture.

I was also really struck by 1 Corinthians 10:4. It reads: "And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ." That phrase - "drank of that spiritual Rock" suddenly brought to my mind remembrance of the story of the Children of Israel when they were in the wilderness and Moses smote the rock and out came water. I've always understood the symbolism of Christ as living water and also the symbolism of him as a rock or foundation, but I never really realized how deep that symbolism went in that story - that out of the rock came the living water. It blew my mind a little, and I realized just how much more symbolism there is in the scriptures and how much deeper we can learn the principles of the gospel as we come to understand it more and more.

Also, this week we got some fortune cookies. I opened mine and it said, "Hear with your ears but listen with your heart." I immediately thought about missionary work and how important it is to listen with the Spirit so we can truly discern what our investigators need!

 Hermana Garner

Monday, April 3, 2017

I love the Branch!

I love the branch so much, and I love my companions! I can't tell you how much fun we have together, and I feel so blessed to be in this companionship with them! Yesterday, I received a blessing from my zone leader, and in it he said that the Lord loves me and has called me specifically to this area with these specific companions. I know one of the many reasons is for how much my companions are teaching me and how much they support me.

This week has been a bit rough as far as teaching goes. It feels like no one's progressing, despite the love and hope we have for them. Luis promised us he would come to conference on Sunday ... and he didn't show up. I was sure he would be there, and it was incredibly disheartening when he wasn't. To a certain extent, I've felt like a failure as a missionary this week because NO ONE is progressing, and despite knowing that they have their agency and that the success of a missionary isn't determined in the number of people baptized, I feel like if I were in tune with the Spirit that wouldn't be the case. Hearing about Wilson really lifted my spirits.(Wilson is a friend we met in Boston who is investigating the gospel) I wish that I was there to teach him and help see him through to baptism, but knowing that I had the smallest part in that story is special. I just hope I get to experience some of that joy here and see the change first-hand.

We did have one miracle experience with a new investigator! Her name's Patricia, and we actually randomly knocked her house our first day as a companionship. We had a lesson with her on Friday night, and she is a GOLDEN investigator in every sense of the word. She has a history with many different religions - Catholic, Jehovah's Witness, Baptist, Nondenominational Christian, to name a few - and has been looking for a church where she can feel the joy of God and feel comfortable, and where she can tell the people are there for God and not for money or anything (she talked a lot about collection plates and how they bothered her). She told us that she wants to learn "poco a poco" because she's been to so many churches, so not to push her, but actually wants to learn and is actually investigating the church rather than just letting us come over. She said that she'd read the entire Book of Mormon before our next visit, and we all know the power of the Book of Mormon, so we're confident that if she does so with a sincere heart that Moroni's promise will hold true! I thought of her as President Monson was talking in conference and have been praying for her often.

There were a few days this week that were slower because of my health - I'm not really going downhill, I've just been discovering more things that don't agree with me. My companions are always on the lookout for if I'm having a flair-up or not and constantly remind me not to feel bad if I need to sit for a bit. I want to work, and I'm determined to work and have been able to keep going and bounce back fairly well, but my companions have been very patient and loving throughout this struggle and remind me not to "run faster than [I] have strength.

We had some AMAZING dinners this week - a lot of authentic food! Saturday night we had dinner with the Westbrooks, and Sister Westbrook is from Chile. She made us chorrillana, something that they eat all the time in Chile! It's basically fries, cheese, beef, chicken, and fried eggs all thrown together. It looked a little weird, but it was SO good!!

Then, between sessions of conference yesterday, we had authentic pupusas from Hna Erazo, who's from El Salvador. They were SO good (she gave us some extras and I had one for breakfast this morning). She made enough for all of the missionaries in our zone, and I did a lot of translating for the English elders and sisters, which was a fun experience.

 I had a moment this week where I realized that I actually SPEAK Spanish, which was cool. My confidence in the language is growing more every day.

It's been really fun to get some more authentic dishes, and dishes that I haven't really tried before, this week! And I love that I get to sample things from all over through people from different places in the ward. 

All in all, despite how rough things have been, I'm enjoying myself. I'm keeping my spirits up, and I know the Lord is supporting me. I kept getting that message throughout all of conference, and through the harder moments when I've wondered how I can keep doing this without seeing success I've been lifted up by those around me. I also know that I've been lifted by your love and prayers, so thank you for that!

I hope that you all enjoyed General Conference as much as I did! I would love to hear some of your favorite quotes or thoughts from conference from each of you! I was really struck by the messages of hope and light throughout the entire conference!

Anyway, here are some of the things that I wrote down:
M. Joseph Brough - "[Repentance] is a privilege."
Dale G. Renlund - "Should the scabs of the sheep cause the shepherd to recoil?" (quote from Les Miserables)
Ulisses Soares - (my summary) Trust in God, even in times of great difficulty
Mark A. Bragg - "Even in the most difficult and darkest of times, there is light all around us." 
Robert D. Hales - (my notes) Knowledge + Temperance + Patience = Godliness
Jeffrey R. Holland - the WHOLE talk, but this is the one I'll share: "Diversity is not cacophony!"
Valeri V. Cordón - (my note) The language of the Gospel IS our Mother Tongue!
Neil L. Andersen - Overcoming the world is "a lifetime of moments that define an eternity."
M. Russell Ballard - "The key to happiness lies in deciding what destinations matter" and planning accordingly.
President Monson - "The testimonies of others will only carry you so far."
Yoon Hwan Choi - "Do not lose your faith because of the people around you ... don't look around, look up!"
L. Whitney Clayton - For the Lord to direct our paths, "we have to walk!"
President Uchtdorf - Be liberated from fear by the "divinely appointed antidote to fear - the perfect love of Christ."
D. Todd Christofferson - "Stop feigning neutrality."
Joaquin E. Costa - I just want everyone I've ever taught to hear this talk!!S. 
Mark Palmer - "Let it go and follow Him."
Gary E. Stevenson - "Stay close to the Spirit, and the Spirit will stay close to you."