Anyway, I had a great switcheroo for the most part. I went to Hagerstown with a wonderful missionary who I went on an exchange with six months ago. It was cool to see my progress since then and Sister Sirrine was so sweet about pointing out all the progress I’ve been able to see in my mission. She is a missionary who has coached and mentored me a lot in my mission and she’s going home pretty soon so it was great to have this time with her.
In Hagerstown they have this terrible tradition of playing volleyball every morning with all the other local missionaries during workout time (we can’t do that kind of thing in the land of cucumber because we are so remote. Thank heaven for distance.). Normally when people want to play sports I just sit and read but we are required to work out during workout time so this case was a little different. As soon as I found out about the dreaded day of volleyball I started sweating and praying (every missionary’s favorite combination) immediately. To my credit I did not pray to get out of volleyball but to get through it, but the Lord is merciful and we were asked to teach seminary for a teacher who was out of town the first morning in Hagerstown. Thanks, God! Nice work! Teaching seminary was a little rough in many ways because seminary is inherently rough, being that it starts at6 a.m. and features a number of sleeping teenagers who you are trying to excite about the Old Testament. I think they all felt the spirit at least once, so I feel okay about that experience. And I got to read a few of the chapters about Joseph’s reunion with his brothers (Genesis 33 and 34, I think) which are quite lovely and moving. The second morning, I found myself being dragged into the cultural hall and trying/failing to be an active participant. I sincerely intended to hit the ball with my poor body parts but every time I saw the ball coming toward me my survival instinct would take over and I would just kind of step away. It was fine, though. The elders on my team just kind of took over while I slowly moved further and further against the wall. I did successfully serve, though! I liked that better because the ball was not moving.
The exchange provided many other wonderful adventures including:
– knocking on a door and awkwardly talking to the lady of the house while the man of the house walked by with a giant gun, cackling.
– knocking on a different door with two giant, angry-sounding dogs who jumped against the door until it OPENED SLIGHTLY. I was ready to back away but my courageous and diligent companion just held the door closed with her foot until the man of the house came and was not interested
– visiting a sister who had two cats. One cat was normal and the other cat really took a shine to me. This cat climbed onto my lap without asking for permission and started rubbing its face on my face for a long time while the owner told us that he has fleas. I was just kind of sitting trying to still be polite. I don’t think I have fleas but being that I am allergic to cats I came away with a beard of hives. Thanks cat. Happy baby animal day, everyone.
– going on splits, which means that a sister in our ward is our temporary companion for a few hours so we can do even more missionary work!!! This was kind of an extra adventure because I know nobody and nothing about the ward I was serving in and my normal companion/guide was on a different team. I showed up at the home of a family I didn’t know and made the kids pick ponderizing scriptures and write them really nice with crayons to put on the fridge. fun tho!
Getting back to Cumberlie was great, exchanges always remind you to miss your regular routine just a little. As my companion and I were strolling around town, we heard a voice from faraway shout “ARE YOU MORMONS?!” Which usually ends up either being wonderful or terrible. This time, it was wonderful. We turned around and said, “YES W E ARE!” and he said, “RIGHT ON!” and then told us about how much he loved Mormons and we made an appointment for him and the elders! We saw another great miracle when we were going to visit some members who are in the process of moving out. There was a fellow I had never seen before blowing leafs in the yard. He was kind of turned around and looking elsewhere so normally I might have left him to his noisy business but the Holy Ghost told me absolutely not to so I walked really slowly until he turned around. When we got talking to us he said that his wife is a member of the church but they had lost touch with the church in the past few years. He spoke so highly of his Mormon friends. The spirit is real!!
Love you all!!
Your Sister In Zion
In baby animal news, this week I had a wonderful visit with a less-active member of the ward who had invited us over. She has one giant puppy and one tiny puppy. I like small animals so I patted my lap and called for the little one, but instead the giant puppy jumped his front legs onto my lap, clearly thinking of himself as the same size as his brother. I petted him instead but the tiny puppy came to sit next to me on the couch. These brothers just wanted to chew on each others’ ears so badly (is that a thing that puppies do all the time?! I’m not well versed in the world of puppies yet) and they were “rastlin'” away on my lap. Slowly the giant puppy got his left hind leg and then his right hind leg on my lap too. There was probably and equal amount of human and puppy on that couch and I was on the bottom. The other delightful feature of this visit was when our hostess said, “This old world’s gettin’ to be a mahghty crule place anymore” and for a small moment the spirit of Dolly Parton was present in the room. This was all supplemented by the craterlike coal mining site visible through the window. Mahghty crule indeed.
Our other very exciting less-active member/baby animal event was when we FINALLY got in with a sister who has been wanting to come back to church for some time (according to our records) and who lives just about a mile away from us. We’d been trying and trying by and finally she opened the door and welcomed us in warmly. Best of all, she had five kittens in a playpen who were VERY frisky and playful. and had kind of sharp claws. This area is overrun with feral cats, and she explained that she semi-adopts all the local feral cats, gets them fixed and vaccinated, and feeds them as they live in her back yard. She’s the third member of our ward I’ve met who does this, except that the other people keep the cats inside. I like her system because it’s less sneezy. As we were leaving the appointment, I said, “Sister Madsen, she has the trifecta: location, desire, and kittens.”
In one of our many miracles that we see every week, a highlight happened on Wednesday. We had been advised to seek more referrals from our investigators and as Sister Madsen and I were about to leave our apartment for a lesson with one of our investigators, the thought came in to my mind (spoiler: inspired by the Holy Ghost) that this investigator knew someone whom we should teach. I said to Sister Madsen, “We need to remember to ask for a referral today.” Toward the end of our lesson, I remembered that I had intended to ask this investigator for ideas of friends of hers we should teach, but before I could say it she said, “You know, the other day my neighbor asked me if I went to church and I told him that I do. He said that he is looking for a church and asked if my church was good. I told him it is very good and that he should come to church with me.” Sister Madsen and I made very unsubtle eye contact trying to communicate telepathically (as every missionary tries to do with their companion) and we left with a really solid referral. There is nobody you should obey more strictly than the Holy Ghost.
I have decided to start ponderizing scriptures that would be relevant in teaching situations because I’m trying to be better at using the scriptures when I teach. The very first principle that we teach is that God is our loving Heavenly Father and to that end, I discovered Malachi 2:10 “Have we not all one Father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother by profaning the covenant of our fathers?” I like the one because it has such wonderful words as “treacherously” and “profaning” and also because it is a great reminder that when we understand the divine heritage that we share with every other person we should have no reason to treat each other badly. Or rather, we should have a reason to treat each other well that would override any desire we might have to “deal treacherously” with our siblen.
Another scripture that has stood out to me this week is 2 Nephi 2:2. 2 Nephi is kind of a hidden gem. 1 Nephi mostly consists of a very compelling narrative and 2 Nephi is kind of the ~moral of the story~ if you will. For a little background, after trekking through the wilderness for a long time in search of the promised land, Lehi (the patriarch/prophet) is talking to a son of his who was born as they were traveling and after reviewing all the struggles they have had as a family says, “Thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.” I LOVE this one and relate to it a lot. During my mission sabbatical when I was hoping to go on a mission but was not sure if my mental health would allow it and was just waiting and unsure and everything was confusing and hard, many people would tell me one of two things: a. that my “wilderness” if you will was a blessing in disguise from God who had important lessons/work for me previous to my mission, and b. that the delay in my missionary service represented an attack from Satan who wanted to prevent me from doing God’s work. These are both valid theories and they are also complete opposites. I didn’t and I don’t know who or what was behind the time that delayed and interrupted my mission but I do know that as I turned to God, he was able to consecrate my afflictions and this time of affliction has definitely been for my gain, and more importantly for the gain of those loved ones who I was around then and am around now. Looking forward with faith was key to letting God consecrate my afflictions.
I love you all. I hope to hear from you. I hope to write you really good letters. My address remains 923 National Hwy, LaVale MD 21502.
Hugs and Handshakes,
.5 of Team Madsplund
I really love concrete direction, so as soon as I heard that prompting, I thought: how? How do I elevate my thoughts? It’s easy for me to understand why my thoughts would be a great place to begin progressing, but how do I do it? A few hours later Brother Durrant stepped in and answered my question. He invited us to “ponderize” (80% pondering and 20% memorizing) a scripture every week. I loved this advice not only because I love it when people make up words but also because it was exactly the concrete answer I needed. Brother Durrant promised specifically that having a designated scripture to ponder and memorize every week would help us have uplifting thoughts. This answer left me with a final question: what should I ponderize first?! My transfer theme is gratitude, so I went to “thanks” in the Topical Guide and found a really beautiful verse I have never noticed before, 2 Nephi9:52 “Behold, my beloved brethren, remember the words of your God; pray unto him continually by day, and give thanks unto his holy name by night. Let your hearts rejoice.” What are you going to ponderize this week? I want to know!
The way this direction from God unfolded was so instructive to me regarding how revelation works. I began with a question and faith that a combination of direct personal revelation through the Holy Ghost and worldwide prophetic revelation would answer this question for me. I was then given a little bit of direction as to how to refine my question in personal prayer: “What is keeping me from progressing?”. I was given an answer as well as another question: “YOU NEED TO ELEVATE YOUR THOUGHTS… but how?” and finally another answer with yet another question: Ponderize a new scripture every week, with only the question of which scripture to start with left, which was answered by my beloved Book of Mormon. This is exactly how learning “line upon line and precept upon precept” (Isaiah 28:13) works. In my experience we learn question upon question and answer upon answer. Never fear the questions you have. When we know who can deliver answers from God to us and when we have faith that they will be answered by God, our questions are the foundation of personal revelation as long as we are willing to diligently seek rather than idly speculating. Wondering and praying sometimes feel similar but their results are very different.
Sister Madsen and I had a wonderful encounter with our mission president this week. He was passing through the area on another errand and he called us to ask where a good place to eat would be. My personal favorite is right next door to where we live and it just so happens that we were at that moment parking our car at home so we could spend a few hours on foot walking to our visits and talking to people. President pulled into the parking lot of this beloved diner right as we were walking by and we got to chat for a minute. It was wonderful to talk to him because he immediately wanted to know how our investigators were doing. He offered us specific advice for those whom we are teaching and asked if he could attend the baptism we are hosting for one of our investigators at the end of the month. I could see that our area and every person in our area was important to President Christiansen even though he has six stakes worth of areas, missionaries, and investigators to worry about. Bless his heart. After we talked for a little while, one of our favorite couples in the ward walked out of the restaurant in question and approached us. We had a wonderful little conversation and I felt such love for those members and leaders who contribute to the work and who take good care of us little missionaries while we’re out here trying to fend for ourselves. We have amazing resources.
Another sort of unexpected miracle we saw this week happened when we were at the church puttering around. The hall phone started to ring which is always kind of a strange and surprisingly frequent occurrence. On the phone was a sister in the ward whom we had met once or twice but hadn’t visited for quite some time. It’s been many years since she’s been to church. She called and told us that she needed a visit from us, an appointment with the bishop, and a ride to church next week. We said, “Yes ma’am!” obviously. Everyone has their own winding path to God and you never know which moment on their path you’re going to intersect, but it’s always fun and magical when it’s a big moment like for this sister.
Another big moment and a very bittersweet one was the funeral of a dear sister in the ward. She was someone who we visited often and who had been a widow of 25 years. When I came into the ward she was living in a nursing home and spend most of her time in bed. Her health was very poor and she would often express that she was looking forward to the next life and to seeing her husband again. For this reason I tried to keep a happy perspective even though I am selfishly very sad that we don’t get to see her. At her funeral two of her long-time home teachers spoke. It was so touching to hear of their love for her. To me home teaching and visiting teaching are exactly why we need religion in addition to our spirituality. Hearing a fellow in our ward (who is usually a very manly football coach) tearfully express that this wonderful little old lady had changed his life was a reminder to me that the gospel is all about challenging us to get out of our comfort zones by loving people who are different from us.
Faith and belief have been a big theme for the week. The elders have been working with someone who is really starting from square one in terms of what he believes, which is a wonderful place to be and a wonderful place to begin. I’ve realized that there is a major flaw in how we are used to talking about God. The norm is to talk about “believing in God” like we would “believe in” an idea (“I don’t believe in libertarianism” or whatever). But that’s not what faith in God is like at all. God is a person, not an idea. A more accurate way for me to describe my spirituality would be to say that I know God. God is someone we can get to know, not an idea we can be persuaded is accurate or inaccurate. Anyway, if you’re wondering about God try getting to know Him rather than reasoning about the idea of a God.
We are presently working with two different young women who have pink hair. Often before my mission I wondered if my quirks would make me a different missionary than most. I’ve discovered that I mostly follow the tried and true methods but at the same time it seems like a lot of offbeat investigators come my way. With that said, I think everyone who meets with missionaries has to transcend a lot of social norms and be really open-minded. I’m just impressed with anyone who investigates because you have to be brave and cool and I just love every investigator I’ve ever worked with.
Finally… this coming week is general conference woo!!!!!!!! You’ll love it! ~tune in at lds.org~ it’s kind of a big conference season for our ward right now because this week was ward conference (aka regular church taught by the stake leaders and we sang “Called to Serve” in the choir :’)) and next week is General and then two weeks later we have Stake Conference. Why do Mormons love to confer? I don’t know.
You sweet peaches, I love you so. Write me a nice letter at 923 National Highway, LaVale MD 21502.
Your Sister in Zion,
Sister Apple Butter
This week we had zone training, wherein the Cumberland missionaries have to drive many hours (I am stationed in the most remote and most isolated area in the whole mission!) and then listen to the other missionaries for many more hours. It’s actually great, contrary to how I am making it sound. Lots of inspiring instruction. Because we have the privilege of following the instruction of teenage boys, the fellows in our zone got obsessed with these novelty-size Big Gulp cups that have ties printed on them for some reason (maybe they are left over from Father’s Day) and they commanded that every missionary in the zone purchase such a cup. These things cost $10 and there’s no way they would fit in our limited luggage space but on the other hand, Sister Madsen and I are obedient missionaries so we decided that we would follow-ish the rules by purchasing small wastebaskets at the dollar store and decorating them with Sharpies. We put several straws together. Now we have handy, thrifty, and decorative wastebaskets. I have learned a lot from my time in relief society.
Transfers are this week, but not to worry: everyone in Cumberland is staying put. Team Madsplund Abides. I have a lot of vision for the area so I’m very excited for the upcoming transfer. Last night I jumped out of bed in the middle of the night and wrote down a bunch of notes/ideas that the spirit or maybe a delirious dream whispered to me about the area. I haven’t read any of them yet so maybe they all just say “fax me some halibut.” We’ll see. It’s been a while since I got more than one transfer with a companion. I have a lot more to learn from Sister Madsen and I think we share our sense of vision here.
Hugs and Handshakes,