Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Week 22 email: in which I almost witness a death, but it was alright, and in which Frodo and Sam are reunited at last

Hello family and friends and acquaintances and enemies and strangers! Or as the crazy ward correlator would say, "Bonjour!" (He really loved French class. Like, really, really loved it. Like, he's considering starting his own French class even though he has the worst accent I've ever heard. It's hilarious.)

So first things first: have I mentioned how crazy Hong Kong transportation is? Well, it's crazy. I've never seen a car wreck, miraculously, but the buses and taxis and ridiculously expensive-looking cars weave in and out so quick, it's like they're being chased by a t-rex or something, and it's every man for himself! And what makes it even scarier are the pedestrians! Seriously, the Hong Kong people walk so slowly on the side walk, like they have all the time in the world. But when it comes to waiting at crossing lights... yeah, like they have time for that! They book it across these streets, standing in one lane while waiting for the bus to pass, hoping that the taxi doesn't try to use their lane to overtake it. It's just plain crazy! We gotta get these people baptized before they kill themselves! So yes, this brings up two adventures. Well the first adventure is a pretty common occurrence actually. I've been designated bus-runner. And you should see me run for buses in a skirt! (I know, I know, that is a very poorly worded, ambiguous sentence. Am I running in a skirt, or are the buses wearing the skirt? I apologize, but give me a break! I'm speaking Cantonese every day of my life!) Anyways, I'm pretty much a skirt-running pro now. Elders just don't understand. And the second transportation adventure involves that death I mentioned earlier. So here's what happened. A little boy was pushing his bike across the street when the very front of the bike got hit by a bus! And it totally messed up the bike and threw the boy on the road, but he survived! And the bus driver got out and freaked out at him, but the boy just stood up and ran away! It was a very startling way to start off the day.

T-shirt of the week: the strangest shade of orange I've ever seen with these words: I yam what I yam. Seriously, I wonder if the people here know what their shirts mean. A girl on the MTR (named Bread, by the way) was wearing a "I mustache you a question" t-shirt, and I asked her if she got the joke, and she had no idea what a mustache even was.

We've been doing a lot of finding recently, which is sometimes fun, and sometimes stressful, but always, guaranteed, no exceptions, AWKWARD. As one of our zone leaders says, "The mission is 90% awkward, 10% miracle." I've been thinking a lot about Jeremiah 16:16, where it talks about how some missionaries are like fishermen: you just pull up nets and nets of fish! And that reminded me a lot of Jesse's experiences in Africa. And then there are other missionaries that are like hunters, searching everywhere for that one person. And wow, do I feel like a hunter! We had such an awesome miracle a couple weeks ago, and her name is Lorna. So we'd been finding for about an hour, and no one wanted to listen. But then I saw a woman sitting on the side of the road, so we went up and talked to her. She was from the Philippines, so we asked her in English if she was waiting for the bus. She said, "No. Where's the nearest LDS church?" And we were shocked! So we told her, and turns out she was baptized 20 years ago in the Philippines, but hasn't been to church in a long time because she doesn't speak Cantonese and didn't know where to find our church! Wow, what a miracle. The Lord is so aware of his children, and I know he arranged our schedule so that we could go finding and so that we could bring back one of his lost sheep. Hers was the only phone number we got that day, and it was so incredibly worth it.

English class is always one of my favorite times of the week, but last week's was more special than most. One of the elders' investigators asked them to give him an English name (many Hong Kong students have them), so after much pondering and praying (or not), they named him Frodo. Yes, I about died. Frodo is hilarious, and not because he means to be. He showed up to church last Sunday 2 hours late... wearing fleece pajamas. Classic Frodo. And he can't speak a lick of English, but he comes to English class every week and tries his best haha. And this week a new kid showed up. He has perfect English. And his name? Samwise Gamgee. No joke. Actually, yes. Kind of a joke. His name is Sam though! We thought it was so funny, so we four missionaries were dying of laughter, and then everyone else thought it was so funny that we thought it was funny, so they laughed too. It was a good day.

Our Thanksgiving day was awesome! We had a zone Thanksgiving meal, including the most delicious turkey I've ever eaten, courtesy of Elder Christensen, our district leader. We four sisters make pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, which were incredible, of course. So we stuffed ourselves, rested, and then our elders and we went to the bishop's house for more Thanksgiving! We were so stuffed by the end, but it was such a good day.

This week has been hard. Really really hard. Not that any bad things happened, I'm just emotionally drained, and I feel Satan really trying to get me down on myself. I've learned a lot about forgiveness, particularly forgiving myself for my weaknesses. And I learned this week that weaknesses are NOT the same as sins. No duh, Sister Cutler. But really! But I know that the Lord is watching out for me and helping me grow, and I know that the task ahead of us is never greater than the power behind us. The Lord is in charge, and I love it!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Week 21: in which I explain what I said last week about Waitrose, and in which I find a lost sheep

Hello everyone! It's been an interesting week, that's for sure! Moments of joy, moments of sorrow, and then moments of joy caused by the realization that I was feeling that sorrow! This incredibly insightful conversation between Ron and Hermione just came to my mind: "A person can't feel all that at once... they'd explode!" "Just because you have the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn't mean everyone does!" Well, let me tell you, I've learned that I have the emotional range of one of those giant blue water drums we have stored in our garage! What are those for anyways? Are they actually filled with water? I never really thought about them before...

In other news, I bought myself The Testaments last week at the distribution center for 5US dollars! So that's what we'll be watching for the next few mealtimes at church! Happy birthday to me!

And another birthday surprise: Sister Fernelius and Sister Kelly made me chocolate chip pancakes!!!! They were amazing! And so are those sisters. Seriously, I love them to death. Speaking of death, Sister Kelly is actually "dying" in December, and we'll miss her so much! She has imparted so many words of wisdom, and has really helped me feel more comfortable being a baby. I love that woman.

T-shirt of the week: Brown. Huge. And it says, "Everything is make by me." Uhh, okay?

Sometimes it seems like people just take a dictionary, put it into a cannon, launch it, and then have a few five year olds run around, pick up the words, tape them together, and turn them into t-shirts. Seriously. Here's an example: "Eleven o'clock. Reception to the world or knowledge. I love to fun you are my heart too. See me." I think that might have been it. It's hard to remember the ones that don't make any sense.

So you know how I mentioned Waitrose last week and then didn't say anything else about it? Well, I apologize haha. So the other day, one of our investigators brought some crackers to our lesson and offered them to us. "These are Waitrose crackers," she said, "So you know they're good quality." So I took one, ate it, and thought it was delicious. Then I look over at Sister Taylor, and she was placing her half-eaten cracker in her lunch bag saying, "I'm full, but I'll save the rest for later!" And I figured maybe she had a stomach ache or something? So when offered, I took another... and another. And then when we got home, Sister Taylor said when she'd taken a bite of her cracker, a small herd of weevils poured out. (I don't think it's a 'herd' of weevils, but I can't think of anything better at the moment.) So yes. That was a nice experience haha. Oh well, I probably haven't eaten enough protein recently anyways.

Anyways, so Raven's baptism is definitely postponed, and one of our other investigators, Christy... well, we pretty much said goodbye to her a couple nights ago. She is such a sweet woman, and her life is super hard. Family, health, and work problems compound upon each other, and she just despairs. We've told her over and over again that she has the option. She can quit this job, she can come to church, she can be happy. She KNOWS this gospel makes her happy--she's said it herself over and over again. But she just chooses to not do the things that will bring her happiness. And we've done all we can. So we'll keep inviting her to things, we'll keep talking to her when she's really upset... But we can't be spending time teaching her when there are those out there who are ready to act on what we're inviting them to do. And as we were going home after meeting with her, I was so sad. And I realized that this sorrow wasn't originating from me. Just like the love I feel for Christy doesn't originate from me either. This love and sorrow is Christ's. I wanted so badly to help Christy. But our Savior wanted to help her infinity times more. He died to help her, that's how much he loves her. And it hurts me and hurts him to see her walk away from the only thing that can heal her: The Atonement of Christ.

But there were also times of rejoicing this week! On my birthday, one of our investigators, Teresa, called us out of the blue! We met her once, a month ago, and since then she's been too busy to schedule us. But she remembered my birthday! And she called and asked if we could celebrate together! So we met her at the church, and she brought a cake, a card, and the sweetest little wooden keychain of an angel with my name carved on the back of it. Wow. I was so incredibly touched. She is the sweetest thing. And while eating, we taught her about the Restoration of the Gospel, and she just sat there and nodded and smiled and was so agreeable! I mean, who knows if she believed a word we said haha, but she is definitely a light in my life, and made my birthday so very special.

And speaking of angels, I'll tell you about Sister Choih, who I've never actually met her in person, but I call her each week, listen to all of her problems, and then express how much we miss her and want to visit her. And she's always too busy (along with every person in all of Hong Kong!) but she always says to keep calling because our calls make her so happy. And this week she called me her angel. Wow, did that touch my heart. I feel so useless sometimes. Like I don't know what I'm doing. Awkward, as if I were some weird third arm coming out of someone's side, you know, like, "Gee, what do I do with this thing? I don't even have a sleeve to put it in!" (Does that make sense? Maybe not haha.) But one day I was feeling extra useless when this thought came to me: "Sister Cutler. Oh dear, silly Sister Cutler. Do you realize the effort that I put into convincing you to go on a mission? Do you understand how much effort it takes to teach you Cantonese and fly you halfway around the world? Do you realize the effort I invest in giving you the energy and conviction to wake up every morning and go out into a foreign country and smile and actually try to talk to people who may or may not understand you? I don't waste my time. I don't waste my breath. Why would I do all that and then just not use you? I use you every day, and sometimes you can realize it. But sometimes you don't need to know. Sometimes, you'll never know whose lives you touch. And that's faith. You staying here and pressing forward, trusting that I'll guide you. Just keep having faith, because I'm in charge and I need you to be who you are, where you are." I'm learning a lot about forgiving myself for my weaknesses. If the Lord needed my Cantonese to be perfect, it would be. I have no doubt. Read Jeremiah 1:1-6. I feel just like Jeremiah sometimes. But I know that it's not me doing the teaching anyways. It's the Spirit, and the Spirit speaks the language of the heart. And everyone is fluent.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Week 20: in which I discover that Waitrose is not to be trusted, and in which I become an amazing chef, and in which I learn to trust in the Lord just a little more than last week

Needless to say, a lot happened this week, and most of it will be too hard to explain. Plus, I only have 20 minutes left of email time. But here goes nothing!

Firstly, thank you for all the birthday wishes! I'm so excited to be 22! And tomorrow is going to be a busy day, which is a great present from the Lord! I have this new restlessness-- it hit me about a month ago, and I can't stand being still for too long. I want to teach and talk to people as much as I can! I'm also very excited to open my package, so thank you Mom and Dad! I hate to brag, but I have the best family in the world.

And since I'm in bragging mode, can I just say that I made the most incredibly delicious, well-seasoned, melt-in-your-mouth fish ever? It was hands-down the best seafood I've had in years. Yes. I've been in Hong Kong for two months now, and the best seafood I've eaten was made in my own, cramped, wonderful little kitchen. It brought tears of joy to my eyes.

T-shirt of the week: Worn by the sweetest looking little school girl, about 15 or so. It's black with white writing, and says, "READ. WRITE. EAT. KILL. SLEEP." Yeah, I don't know. Is she an author by day, vampire by night? Beats me. People here seem to have a thing for vampires. I saw another t-shirt that said, "Follow me to my coven." I was like, "Uhh, pass."

So Cantonese? It's awesome. I have been so blessed. Honestly, it can't be me, because I'm learning it far too fast for it to be me. I mean, French took me forever, and I'm already better in Cantonese than French. The fun thing about Cantonese is if you say the word with wrong tones, it has a completely different meaning. Like "Sataan" (both high tones) is "beach", but "Saatdaahn" (mid tone, low tone) is "Satan." So that's cool? And the word for "turkey" is "fogai:" "fo" means "fire" and "gai" means "chicken" haha. I love it! Speaking of French, French class is going so well, and I love teaching it. But it is so strange teaching French in Cantonese and English. Speaking three languages in one lesson just makes me a little crazy haha, but the miracle is that I can do it! And I love seeing the people who attend the class during the week, because they always say, "Bonjour! Comment ca va?" And it makes me so happy!

I had some really weird dreams this week, and some of them were actually really depressing, so I won't share those. The best dream: I was walking down one of the markets when I saw a huge instrument stand. And I bought a set of bagpipes for $400HK!!! Seriously!? Best deal ever. I was so happy that whole entire day.

So Raven won't be getting baptized this week, due to family problems. She was really sad, and so were we... For a minute or two. But then this wave of peace came over us, and we just knew that everything is going to be alright. God knows the desires of our hearts, and he is in control. He has our entire Plan of Salvation lined up for us, and as long as we just trust in him, everything will work out for the best. I love Philippians 4:&, which says, "And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." I love that. We always want to understand why things happen. Why do we have to be sick? Why did our loved one have to pass away? Why can't I find a job? Why are things unfair? Why do bad things happen to good people? But no level of understanding can bring to us the same comfort that can come from the love and peace that we can find from our Heavenly Father. Life is going to be tough, and sometimes we're going to wonder how long we have to wait before the miracle will come. But it will come. And in the mean time, we can find peace in knowing that we're on our way to the promised land. We left the land of our inheritance, just like Lehi and his family. We're wandering through the wilderness, and sometimes it's hard. But God has a promised land waiting for us, "And in this I do rejoice!" (1 Nephi 5:5). I'm so grateful for the peace that this gospel brings. It's true. It changes lives. It changes hearts.

I love you all! Thank you for the prayers and support! Family and friends, especially cousins in distant lands, you are my light!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Week 19: in which I eat enough food to keep the entire Hooper family happy for days, and in which I learn just a little more about patience

Hello everyone! It's November! The start of a MONTH OF MIRACLES. Sister Taylor and I were setting monthly goals last week, and we both got very quiet and were pondering what we wanted to happen this month. And we had a feeling that this month is going to be special. We're not quite sure why, but we both just know that we're going to be seeing miracles, and not just the usual the-bus-shows-up-right-when-we-need-it miracle, or even the I-can't-believe-God-helped-us-eat-this-much-food miracle. This month is going to be different. It will be miracle month. So we decided to write down daily miracles during each evening planning session, and we're going to make a big, beautiful poster of them to put on our wall. I'm so excited to see what will happen, because it's gonna be HUGE!

Our first miracle in progress is Raven, probably the sweetest, most adorably Christlike girl I've ever met. She's planning to get baptized later this month, and we are so excited! Her family isn't too thrilled with the idea, but she doesn't want to let that stop her from doing what she knows is right. Her older sister asked her the other day why she doesn't just take her time, and wait awhile before baptism; don't rush into anything. And Raven told her, "I've waited long enough already! Why put off what's right?" I told her that I loved her cardigan (a light, pastel yellow, and super warm), and then she went all the way to Mong Kok to pick one up for me! And she showed up to our next lesson and, with the sweetest little grin on her face, pulled it out with a flourish haha. It was such a surprise! And such a good deal too, under $5US. I think I might have to get another one sometime.

T-shirt of the week: Black with bold, white print, worn by the female version of a sumo wrestler: "Belle of the Brawl." I believed it.

So the week before last, Sister Taylor had a really bad virus, and I forced her to stay home to rest (which was a struggle--that girl does not keep still!). And that Sunday we'd had a member invite us over for dinner, the same member who fed us pig's feet. This woman is the most generous, loving person you'll ever meet. A little too generous sometimes. Her table is COVERED with food, and she expects it to be eaten. All of it. So I was really concerned for Sister Taylor's stomach. And that afternoon we were just considering calling to reschedule (we hesitated because we really didn't want to offend her) when she called us and, very apologetically, cancelled. It was a miracle of epic proportions, and we were overjoyed. But the miracles don't stop there! She rescheduled for this past Sunday, which just happened to be fast Sunday. Perfect! So we loosened our belts and prepared to fill every nook and cranny. Every time we've eaten with this sister so far, we've had to clear the table, and on this day, it just wasn't happening. My stomach must have shrunk because of the lack of food or something, but either way it wasn't going to happen. As I'm on the verge of tears (drama queen alert!), she just gets up and clears the table. Out of nowhere. It was incredible! And then she comes out with a couple persimmons which I was able to eat easily. It really was a miracle. And then the biggest miracle: she sent us home with a BEAUTIFUL bar of Swiss chocolate with almonds. Worth it. I thought a lot about Drew and Clayton during this meal, and prayed my heart out that God would help me eat as much as Drew (or Clayton) could eat. And I also thought about Jesse and all of his companions, and wished that I could just take that meal and Apparate it to Sierra Leone. They'd probably really appreciate it! But each mission comes with its own trials, and each mission is custom-made to fit the missionary's strengths and weaknesses. I'm so excited for the day when the Hooper missionaries are reunited! Hilarious stories will abound. Tears and laughter. It'll be like when Paul got to meet up with Titus and Apollo, or when Alma and the brothers of Mosiah ran into each other in the wilderness. And I CAN'T WAIT!

I've had to learn a lot about patience this week, especially patience with myself. Sometimes I get frustrated with myself because I'm not learning as quickly as I want to. But as I was studying the New Testament, I realized that Jesus Christ understands that feeling too! He came to this earth as a child, and learned line upon line, precept upon precept, grace by grace, just like I am right now. I was thinking about that last part: "Grace by grace." A grace note is the smallest little note you can play-- it's practically non-existent! But it's so incredible important, because it completely changes the feel of the song. It adds beauty, emotion. Sometimes it's a nice little surprise, breaking up the monotony of an otherwise calm piece. These little steps that I'm taking, grace by grace, are seemingly insignificant, but they're actually essential to my growth as a person and a missionary and a future mother, wife, teacher, and whatever else I may become! I'm so excited by all these little steps, because I know that each one is taking me (and everyone I'm teaching, meeting, working with) one step closer to our Heavenly Father! It's true! All of it! And I'm blessed to play a tiny, tiny role in the biggest, most important work of all! I love it, love the people of Hong Kong, love you all, and love the Lord!

Week 18: in which I slowly step ever closer to Mordor and in which I have a couple of pretty good ideas (if I do say so myself)

Hello everyone! Get ready for an awesome, and slightly scatter-brained email, because it's comin' atcha!

First off, t-shirt of the week! You thought I'd forgotten about this, didn't you? Well, you're right. So remember how I was talking about everyone's attempts to be philosophical? Well, here's yet another example of existentialism turned... well, I don't exactly know. So it was this hipster-esque character, you know, with the big, black-rimmed glasses and the skinny jeans. And the t-shirt was light gray with big print: "If the door isn't open, it must be closed." At first, I assumed it was yet another failed attempt at being deep and enigmatic. But then it occurred to me that maybe he's just trying to learn opposites in English, in which case, SUCCESS! See, that's something I've learned on the mish: never make assumptions, because although you're probably right, the alternative is kinder.

Oh, and before I forget, let me take this opportunity to publicly wish Uncle Tom a Happy Birthday! Or maybe it's Nick's birthday that's coming up? Well, I can't actually be sure, but it's someone's birthday and I hope it's happy and full of our world-famous, seven-layer, chocolate-frosted cake! Love you, mystery relative!

In other news, I ate the world's best muffin at Mrs. Field's the other day. Yeah, you know her. That pleasant old woman who lives in the vending machine and pops out okay-ish cookies when you pay a buck or two? Well, turns out her fresh stuff is incredible. And totally worth the $12 you pay for it (less than $2US, but you could also find a pair of Hong Kong jeans for that sort of money).

On Saturday I taught my first French class! And it was awesome! Really, I had so much fun, and the French came back so much more easily than I anticipated, thank goodness. We had about six or seven people come to the first class, so I thought that was pretty good! And they picked up so quickly-- I made them talk a lot more than was comfortable for them, a trick that I learned in the MTC, and they were awesome. And may I say that attempted French in a Chinese accent is so adorable.

Sister Taylor and I decided that we would put in a requisition order to the mission office for 1 LEMON YELLOW MOPED, EQUIPPED WITH 1 SIDECAR. It would be perfect. We'd get around so quick, and the one in the moped could be making all the calls while the other weaves gracefully through traffic at an alarming rate. Plus, we'd look just like they do in Aristocats, which is always a plus. That movie is classic.

Speaking of classic movies, I have been seriously pondering Lord of the Rings this week. Yes, that probably comes as a shock to those who know me best, but hear me out. So Frodo is the hero of the epic trilogy, but as he daily took his tiny steps closer and closer to Mordor, did he ever feel like an epic hero? Probably not. He probably felt dirty, small, lonely, and inadequate. Those days where he and Sam wandered around in the mist for hours (We've been here before!) probably seemed like a huge waste of time. But from the viewer's perspective, his adventure was epic. When he finished, he could see that yes, he succeeded. Yes, he actually accomplished something and made a difference. And my mission is the same way. Sometimes everyone will cancel last minute or a person we're teaching will take about ten steps backward in one lesson or I'll say something dumb or call someone the wrong name. And I'll feel like I haven't gone anywhere or done anything worthwhile. But big adventures consist of little steps. And every day, I manage to do something good. I do something worthwhile, however small. And that's enough. The Lord doesn't expect us to work huge miracles every day. Those little steps, those little good things, they turn into the big miracles. That's how life is supposed to be. We rarely do one big, amazing thing. It's the little steps that get us There And Back Again.

Something else that I've learned this week is that good things just keep on coming. When I was younger, every time I left Scotland to come back home, I cried because I didn't want that time to end. When I was getting ready to go to college, I cried because I was scared of that change. And choosing to leave on my mission was a very difficult decision because I gave up things to go. A period in my life ended, and it was a very happy, fun period of my life. I was scared that I'd never have that time back, and guess what. I was right. But it doesn't matter, because good things keep on coming. We can mourn things ending, but let's not forget to look forward to those new, exciting things. New people to love, new areas to serve, new things to learn, and new ways to become more like Jesus Christ. Miracles just keep happening!