Tuesday, December 24, 2013

With the dawn of redeeming grace.

Well, I'm home! The past week has been a whirlwind of preparations for Christmas, and sometimes I still can't quite accept the fact that I'm home. I'm no longer in Hong Kong; I'm no longer a full-time missionary. The work will continue, but I won't be there for it. The adjustment is hard. Sometimes I make little comments in Chinese that no one understands. There are times when I just wander around the house, wondering what to do. I'll turn on a song and then turn it off five seconds later because it reminds me of the time before my mission and it makes me feel uncomfortable. But what a blessing it is to come home at Christmas! And what a blessing to be surrounded by the people that I love the most.

I've been meaning to share a special moment I had on my last night in Hong Kong, but, as usual, I'm struggling to put it into words! I'll try my best. President and Sister Hawks took all of us departing missionaries to Victoria Peak over on Hong Kong Island. After dinner, we walked a ways to a quiet stretch of road overlooking the city. It was dark and cold and windy, so few people were around. We stood there, lined up against the railing, talking and reminiscing; but after several minutes, conversation gave way to silence, and a reverence came over us all as we pondered all that had happened to us here in Hong Kong. 

As we looked over the city, the millions of dots of light, I thought about the people that each light represented.  I thought of the 7 million people in Hong Kong, the vast majority of whom I've never met. I thought of the people I had met, whose lives I've influenced and who've influenced my life. My heart felt a deep sense of completion, of mourning, and of gratitude--the feeling was heavy and surreal. Without really thinking, I broke the silence with something like, "We should sing." So there we were, a small group of old, tired missionaries, singing Silent Night to an entire city of people whom we loved,  people who were going about their lives, quite as usual, completely unaware of the sacred moment taking place 1800 feet above them. I've sung that song a hundred times, and will likely sing it hundreds more throughout my life, but never will it be quite as beautiful or poignant as that time on the Peak. 

That song seemed to put into words our whole reason for being there, the reason for all that has happened to me in the past 18 months. It all comes back to the birth of our Savior. Christ, the Savior is born--the dawn of redeeming grace. Because of the birth and life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, hope is kindled. We can hope for change, for a better world, for the future. We can hope that good will win and that light will overcome darkness. Luke 1:78-79 says, "The dayspring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." 

Let me tell you, very rarely were the nights silent in this bustling, loud, bright city. As we walked back to catch the bus, I thought about Bethlehem and what it must have been like on that night when Christ was born. It was probably much like Hong Kong in some ways--filled with people from all over, each with their own problems, their own reasons for being there. Most were likely unaware of the miracle that was taking place within their city walls. But that miracle would change their lives if they'd let it. And that miracle, the humble birth of the Redeemer of the world, can change our lives, if we let it. Believe me, it is changing mine. It doesn't matter where we have been or how dark it seems right now, because when we let Christ change us, the future will be filled with light and hope and heavenly peace.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Week 76, in which I resent the impossibility of accurately capturing in words what I'm feeling right now.

Well, this is it. I just had my final interview with President Hawks, and I can't believe that this is my last email, but it is. I don't know how to say what I want to say. I don't know how the prophets did it, spending their lives trying to describe what God has done for them. It would just get exhausting after a while! And no matter how many times you rephrase or rewrite what you've written, it's never quite the truth. But you have to keep trying, because you've just got to tell people about it. 

We met with Brother J, our hobbit investigator, this week, and oh how I love this man. He told us all about his childhood as we were reading together in 1 Nephi 3. The Book of Mormon has a way of opening people up and touching their hearts. He said, "I was born in Hong Kong, but during the conflict with Japan we moved to Mainland. During the Communist revolution, we moved back down and settled here in our village. I've lived in this house since then, but because of my childhood experiences, I've never felt like I'm home. I've never been able to put down roots and feel at home where I am. But I hope... I hope that your church can give me a place to put down my roots deep. I think it could be here. It could be like..." Me: "A family?" Him: "Yes, that's exactly it. Family." That's the miracle of the gospel. It allows you to bloom where you're planted, wherever you're planted. We can't always change our situation. But we can always change ourselves and meet the expectations of our Maker. Oh, Dearest Brother Jdoesn't know how high he can grow, what he can be, what adventures his Father wants to take him on. 

We had a hilarious encounter on the light rail train the other day that just sums up the ridiculousness of being a foreigner missionary who speaks Chinese in Hong Kong. A crazy-looking, extremely smelly man comes on the train and as soon as he sees us, his eyes light up. He makes his way over and I mutter something like, "Okay. Here we go again." He opens his mouth, which contained approximately three teeth. His front tooth was SO long. Then, with a rather insane smile, he spoke in relatively good English.

Old Man: Where are you from?
Sister Morgan: America. 
OM: America... You should have stayed there. Obama is there.
SM: Yes.
OM: (looking at our name tags) I believe in God.
SM: Good.
OM: But I don't believe in Jesus. 
Me: Well, we believe in God and Jesus.
OM: In Hong Kong, money is important.
Me: Mmmmm.
OM: YES, money is the most important. Then health is second.

At this point, a young, chubby boy in a school uniform looks at us and says, determinedly,

Boy: Good. Afternoon.
SM: Good afternoon!
Boy: You come from where?
SM: America.
Boy: America... New York is in America. (As you can tell, Chinese people like to show us that they're familiar with things from America.)
Me: Yes, that's right.
Boy: The buses are like buildings.
OM: (in a tone of disgust, mutters to himself) The buses are like buildings... Money is important! It would be great if you could give me some money!
Boy: The weather today is cold.
Me: Yes, it is. It is great. (I thought he said 'Good,' not 'Cold.')
Boy: No, it's cold. Because December is winter.
OM: (realizing that we're not even paying attention to him, turns to the little boy) Money is important, little boy!
Boy: (squaring his shoulders in a determined, heroic manner) NO.
Me: How old are you?
Boy: Twelve. 
OM: (as the train stops at the next station, and they're alighting) Money is important!
Boy: Bye bye.

The entire train watched this exchange with mixed amusement, confusion, and annoyance. Oh, need I even say why it is that I love and will miss the Hong Kong people?

Quote of the week, from a recent district meeting: "Sometimes when I'm in the shower, Elder F wants to put on his face cream, so he knocks on the door and I get mad and think, 'This has nothing to do with his face, he just wants to get on my nerves.'" Thanks, Elder P.

I attended my last mission leadership council on Wednesday, and at one point in the meeting, President Hawks talked about his call as a mission president. He said, "Elders and sisters, as your mission president, my primary goal is for you to be changed. I want you to leave this mission a completely different person from when you came. And I don't want you to ever be the same again." As he said this, tears came into my eyes. It has happened. I'm not the same as when I came. I'm far from where I want to be, but I'm where I need to be, and I'm not going back. Heavenly Father is a miracle worker. I don't know how he does it, but when we let him, he changes us. 

Sunday night we had My Conversion Fireside, where every departing missionary is allowed to invite a recent convert to share their testimonies, and lots of investigators and members come to listen. I'd asked Sister H (from Macau, she's working here in Hong Kong now!) to speak for me, but then her employer wouldn't let her. I didn't know who else to invite, but when I walked into the Mission Office on Wednesday, I saw Sister N, a recent convert from Macau! She's moving to Russia, but she said she'd be here until Monday morning! She was baptized before I got to Macau, but I worked with her a lot and I absolutely love her. She spoke and shared the most beautiful testimony about trials and the mercy of God. It sure was a tender mercy for me. I'd really wanted someone from Macau to speak, because Macau has so many special memories for me, and the Lord provided a way. I got to see Sister C (my companion when I was in Kwun Tong) and S, one of the members that I worked with a lot in Kwun Tong, and wow was it hard to say goodbye to Sister C. I will miss her so much, she will always be a dear, dear friend to me. All in all, it was a perfect evening. Just icing on the cake.

The last experience I want to share is one of the most humbling, special experiences that I've had on my entire mission. A month or so ago, we visited a family in the ward who hasn't been to church in a long time. We ate dinner with them, and I loved them right from the start. I feel like I love each person that we work with, but this family was different. I felt like the brother was my brother, that the sister was my sister, and wow do I love their little children. I wanted so much to help them, but I did nothing. We just shared a little spiritual message and ate dinner and left. Didn't ask any questions, offer much help. As we walked to the bus afterwards, I felt like an absolute failure, like I'd just wasted our chance. I prayed so hard for weeks after, just asking God to forgive me for being selfish and scared, and I did feel a lot more peace after that. But Heavenly Father didn't stop there. He gave me another chance.

I prayed and fasted so hard before we visited the sister, just hoping that God would tell us what to say. We spent a while planning, but it was so hard, nothing was coming. In the end, we just decided to each think of some personal experiences to share and some scriptures, and we each wrote down a couple. When we got there, she was so nice and sweet. She's so worn down by taking care of her children. Her husband works long hours, and she is just endlessly patient with him and their children. But from the moment we sat down on the floor, I had no idea what to say. I felt so stupid, everyone kept looking at me, and I just could not speak to save my life. I felt like I was a brand new missionary, and kept thinking, "Good grief Sister Cutler, what is wrong with you? Have you been a missionary for 17 months or haven't you? And you don't know how to fix this?" I just kept telling her that we loved her and her family. Then I opened up the Book of Mormon, trying to find the scripture that I'd been thinking of, one that I share all the time, and then all of a sudden, I couldn't remember if it was in 1 Nephi or 2 Nephi, and then I just opened up to a different one, 1 Nephi 21:14-16. We shared it, and then the Spirit just filled the room. I asked her what they were struggling with, why they'd decided to stop coming to church, and she explained it and was so grateful for our love and concern. She said that those verses were a good reminder that they haven't been forgotten. It'll take time for them to be able to start attending church again, but she is so happy to have us come visit and share all the missionary lessons and help them. She felt the Spirit, and she knew she was loved. It didn't matter that I was likely the most ineloquent person in all of Hong Kong at that moment, because the Lord took over. He sent the Spirit and taught all of us in that moment. I don't know how he filled me with so much love for this family. I don't know how he touched her heart the way he did. I don't know what the future holds for this family or for Tuen Mun or for me, but I know it will be glorious. I know this because I know God lives. And because he lives, the future is glorious. Things are better than ever before, and things will be better eternally. 

President Hawks said that some returned missionaries look back on their missions longingly and say, "Those were the best two years of my life." He said, "That makes me sad. The best two years should always be the last two years of your life." I'm determined to be that way. This has been the best almost 18 months of my life, but the next 18 will be better. And I know that's true because I know God lives and loves his children. I don't know the meaning of all things, but this much I do know. And that is enough. 
Good bye Hong Kong

Monday, November 25, 2013

Week 74, in which I am absolutely FREEZING COLD, and in which we find Bilbo Baggins.

Clarification: it is only when I go indoors that I'm freezing cold. Outside is lovely, like Virginia in early May (all you need is a light jacket! name that movie). But for some reason the Chinese people like to crank up the air conditioning to the point that I can barely move my fingers and I almost feel like not typing this email. But I'll endure.

T-shirt of the week! I think it might be for a good cause, but I can't be sure. "Rocku, Keogae, Jazz, Rock acanst ranism." 

We've had some rough moments this week. Sister N, who was planning to get baptized in January, cancelled her lesson last week, didn't come to church on Sunday, and isn't answering the phone. We're not sure what is going on, and we're really worried about her. But Sister M and I both feel like God is taking care of things. I'm so grateful for him. Sometimes when you care about someone, you want to just be with them all the time, helping them and keeping them safe and happy, but you can't do that. That won't really help them in the long run anyways. So we're just doing our best to trust the Lord with it, and things will work out.

Do you remember H, the Filipina sister that was baptized in Macau? I talked to her on the phone this week! She is working in Hong Kong now, and she's still going to church and reading the Book of Mormon every day--I'm so proud of her!

Sister M and I taught English class on Friday, and it was so fun! Our topic was "Breaking News!" and we taught all about what the news is like in America. Then we broke off into groups and each came up with our own news report, which we then shared with the rest of the class. It was so funny, and our news stories ranged from deathly typhoons to Justin Beiber in McDonalds fighting over a Big Mac to an escaped convict who used a spoon to dig himself out of prison just so that he could steal a Book of Mormon (he didn't realize that missionaries give them away for free). 

I met Sister L's mom yesterday! She is here visiting family, and when she walked into the church, she gave me the biggest hug! It was almost as good as having MY mom walk into the church! She's such a sweetheart. When she left, she said, "See you in Canada!" I guess I'll have to get up there someday.

Miracle! We were wandering through one of the villages near the church the other day, knocking on doors and evading dangerous bees and barking dogs, when we happened upon the Burrow. Or Bilbo's Hobbit Hole. Well, not quite, no round door, and it's not in the side of a hill. But it is the cutest little cottage I've ever seen. It is surrounded by flowers, and on one side is the most beautiful tree with fantastic branches that embrace this whole house and create a little canopy under which one can sit and, say, teach the gospel. We knocked on the door, and who should come out but the cutest, old man with a gap in his teeth and the sweetest smile. Brother J really is the Chinese version of Bilbo. He's 72, divorced, and lives by himself. He traverses the countryside with his pack and stick, and he chuckles in the most hobbit-like way, I can't get over it. He was so willing to sit down with us under his canopy, and he listened so intently as we taught about the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. He was so grateful when we gave him his own copy of the Book of Mormon, and tried to pay us $100 for it. We said no, obviously. 

The next time we visited, we brought one of our members, and they are already the best of friends. Brother J is so humble, he kept saying that he didn't know why God would send so many wonderful people into this poor village to find a lonely, little man like him. He then said, "Many years ago, as I was lying in bed one night, I thought to myself, 'I'd really like a Book of Mormon.' I didn't really know much about it back then, but I never tried to get one. And now God has sent one to me!" I almost cried as he was saying that. I still don't understand why I'm so blessed to witness miracles like this. Heavenly Father's plan for his children is so absolutely perfect, beyond comprehension, and yet so simple. I need to be needed, to share my beliefs, to feel useful, and Brother J needs a Book of Mormon and someone to tell him he's a child of God. So God sends us to him, two birds with one stone. I'm blown away sometimes. You'd think after being a missionary for so long I'd just get used to miracles. But I still can't get over it! And I don't ever want to get over it. Heavenly Father lives! He loves us! I don't know much, but this much I know.

Week 73, in which it turns out that people in Hong Kong actually count differently than the rest of the world does.

So I'm officially 23, and it feels just like 22 except when people call me pohpoh, which in Chinese means grandma. Yeah, thanks guys.

T-shirt of the week: "Honey Buns do what good." AH MAN what does that even mean? The next one: "It thinks about the nature of the earth." I don't know what that means either, but it had a kitten on it.

My birthday was an adventure, to be sure. We had one appointment scheduled, but that fell through, so we did finding all day. I think 'searching' would be a better term, though, because we didn't find much! We were wandering around T Village for hours searching for a few members who haven't been to church in a really long time. We literally spent hours looking for house number 125, and we could NOT find it! We found number 127 and number 130 and number 123, but good grief, I'm pretty sure 125 doesn't exist. Or it's hidden under a giant pile of rubbish or in a bamboo thicket. I wish you could see these places, they're incredible. You get off the light rail train in the middle of some apartment buildings in the city, walk through a random construction site for about 10 minutes, and then take a sharp left-turn down into the banana trees, and then you're there. Some of these houses, honestly, I don't know how they stay up... sheer willpower or magic or something. And the numbering system is ridiculous. We could never find house number one. The first number we could find was 14... then 23... right across the street was 82... turn left and you see 247...   And no one knows how the number system works or what their neighbors names are! 

We asked so many people for help. Some of them stopped and tried to help (they all said, "Well, why don't you call them?" "Their phone number isn't working." "Oh... have you actually tried it?" "Yes, we have. That's how we know it isn't working." "Oh... have you tried asking someone?" "Yes, that's what we're doing right now."). But quite a few people just completely ignored us. We got to house number 124 (so close!) and I saw someone in the window looking out at us, so I said, "Excuse me, but we need some help, we're trying to find--" and then she just disappeared. Her dog kept barking, but she would not even look at us. So yes, that was a little frustrating. The way many Chinese people here interact with strangers is so cold, and I think a lot of the reason is because they just expect other people to be cold back. They're so suspicious and on edge whenever you talk or smile, and really it is just a cold feeling. And only the gospel, the pure love of Jesus Christ, can ever change that. So we just gotta keep going! 

But a couple great miracles happened that day. The first: we met the sweetest girl, S, who is about 16 years old and just adorable. She came with us to a youth BBQ on Saturday, and she was so shy, but I think she would really like to get involved with the youth and make friends in the church. I love her already.

The next miracle: I was so happy. Sure, we spent hours wandering around, getting ignored by people and not having much success, but I felt like I was walking on air. I felt so grateful for everything: the blue sky, the big banana leaves, the way the dogs didn't chase after us in an angry fashion, the escape from the noisy city, the weird old guys on bikes carrying huge random pieces of sheet metal and bamboo... It's such a special place, Hong Kong. I love it. Sure, we might not have made much progress, but I felt at peace. I think that's one of the greatest gifts the gospel gives to me: internal peace. No matter what the outside world brings, I can feel good inside. And one of the other greatest gifts? Hope for a better world, a brighter future. I'm scared to go home and leave missionary life behind, but God's plan isn't to have us peak at the age of 23. No, it gets better, and harder, and more worthwhile each day. So when it's done, it's done, but not until then! I love this place, and I love this work, and I love my Savior, because he's the one that brought me here.

Week 72, in which I learn more than I knew before about how much I don't know.

What, week 72?! UGH this is the worst. Whose idea was it to number my emails anyways? I can't believe it's mid-November--I feel so old! Seriously, I'm one of the oldest missionaries here right now. Hong Kong is filled with peppy, super cool 19-year-old sisters, and I feel like the awkward old lady in the corner, SO last year, just like Angry Birds or Twilight or JBiebs. (Actually, let's be real, I have no idea what's cool and what's not anymore, I'm just guessing.) Anyways, that's enough about that.

T-shirt of the week: this one's just a little weird, I don't know. It says, "Mind if I have a bite?" Oh, and on the way to the library I saw a shirt that said, "WINNING," and it reminded me of that celebrity whose name I cannot remember who said that a lot. 

This week I learned several things. The first is how simple this gospel really is. In K T, they had a gospel class every Wednesday night, and we called it the Kolob class, because they just loved to get into deep, ridiculous doctrinal speculations. Sometimes people just look for the most complicated things and debate these minor points and get all caught up in things that aren't as important. But really, it's simple. We had a lesson with Sister N this week, and we set up three chairs in the room, each several feet further away than the one before. On the first chair we put a mint; on the second, an onion (our fridge has a limited variety of food, okay?); on the third, three delicious homemade cookies (courtesy of Betty Crocker cookie mix). And we asked Sister N which one she wanted. After asking if the mint was some kind of medicine (as if that would make a difference in her decision?), she said that she wanted the cookie. We pointed out that she'd have to put out extra effort to get it, wouldn't it just be easier to settle for the onion? But she walked all the way over to go get the cookie. (This object lesson is more poignant because earlier this year she had a stroke which left her unable to walk for quite a while; but in the past few months, she has been able to go from using a walker to walking without any help at a completely normal pace. Miracle? Absolutely.) Isn't this life the same way? Our joy is positively correlated with the effort that we put forth. 

But the trick is this: as Elder Joseph B. Worthlin said it, "Those who make happiness their chief objective in life are bound to fail." In our leadership meeting this week, we discussed this quote, and I've thought about it ever since. It seems so illogical, but it makes sense to me. Who was the happiest person to ever live? I'd say it was Jesus Christ. Yes, he experienced all the pain and suffering for all of our sins and our trials. But because of that deep understanding and capability to feel pain, his understanding of true joy was more complete and perfect than any other person who has ever lived. A newborn baby can only experience so much joy, because he has no real understanding of what joy isn't. But Christ completely understands what it means to have a fullness of joy. And what brought him a fullness of joy? Doing the will of the Father. When we turn our will over to Heavenly Father, he can make so much more out of us than we ever could. If our focus is always on getting the things that will make us happiest, we'll fail. But if we focus on doing what God wants us to do, we can't help but be happy. And it's a real happiness too, not anything that the world can give us. I've only started to understand this concept, and I feel like the more I figure out, the more I realize I don't understand! But I guess that's life, right? I wonder if there's ever a point in the eternities where that reverses? Probably not. Which is great.

We had another great lesson this week--we had a family home evening with a member family, the bishop's family, C (who recently got baptized), and C's dad, who doesn't really know much about the gospel. We taught about how important the simple, basic gospel habits are, and compared our lives to Jenga. If we remove just one block, it doesn't seem to make a big difference, right? Just like not reading scriptures for a day or two doesn't seem to make a difference either. But as you keep removing blocks one at a time, the tower becomes less stable, and you realize the difference that one little block can make. We talked about Helaman 5:12, about building ourselves on a sure foundation, on Jesus Christ; when we do so, the storms are still going to come, but we won't fall. And again, it hit me how simple the gospel really is. It all comes back to these simple building blocks. That's what builds a powerful testimony, consistently making small, daily decisions to build on Christ. Just like Aristotle said, "We become what we repeatedly do." 

Well, now that I've written way more than I planned to about all that, we're headed to buy Christmas presents! Thank you to Granny Kate and to Uncle Marcus for the package and birthday card, I'll open them on Wednesday! I love you all, hope you have a great week!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Week 71, in which I celebrated Halloween, faced more killer bees, and met Mister O

Happy November! Turn on the Christmas music! Sorry this email is later than usual--our P-day changed to Thursday so that we can go to the temple! I'm so excited, I haven't been for six months now!

This week we had a couple really good t-shirts of the week. The first: "Captain American." Nice try. The second: "Let's go to space, brother." The third (worn by a Chinese woman): "Black girls rock." 

I've had several moments this week that took me back to my childhood... We celebrated Halloween by switching clothes with the other sisters in our apartment. I dressed up as Sister T, and I must say that I love her style. We discussed our past Halloween costumes over lunch, so naturally we ended up talking about my awkward years when I dressed up as a stoplight... and a mailbox. And a few days ago we were walking to the church when I noticed a stick lying on the sidewalk. My first thought? That stick would make a perfect Harry Potter wand. Oh yeah, those were the days, when you'd go out searching for the perfect stick to use as a wand! Not too fat, nice and straight, a little flexible, 11 1/2 inches long. Classic.

We had another encounter with the killer hornets outside our house. Last time we were merciful... we caught him in a cup and then freed him out in the wild. But this time, I had had enough. That was the last straw. The audacity, coming in again after we'd gone to all the trouble to free him. He came in right during our evening planning, so I just went to bed early and prayed SO hard that he would just die in the night. I prayed and prayed and prayed. But when I came out in the morning, I could still hear his merciless buzzing. He was camped out in the corner right behind my desk. So after much squealing and close calls, we caught him in a cup and then tied him in a grocery bag and then smushed him. That's what they call karma. Or something.

Anyways, this experience taught me an eternal principle. Heavenly Father heard my prayer, I know that for sure. But why didn't he answer it? Why didn't he just get rid of the bee? That's not usually how he works. God typically doesn't just take our problems away. How are we ever supposed to learn and grow and man up and just kill the bee ourselves if he just takes away our problems every time, as soon as we ask? So instead of killing the bee, he gave us the courage and protection that we needed to kill the bee ourselves. I'm grateful God does that. Otherwise I'd just chicken out of everything and never learn or grow.

And for all those who think me wimpy for being so scared of this bee, I want you to know that he was aggressive! And Dad told me that people have DIED from the aggressive Mainland bees! They're much meaner than the tame, Virginian bees. So yeah. 

Mister O is the friend of J, the old man who wants us to ride motorcycles with him. But he's much more normal than J. J brought him to the church the other day, so we gave them a tour. During the middle of the tour, J insisted that we go take pictures in the lobby immediately, "before all the people come" (it was a Thursday morning... no one was coming). So then we took pictures, and I must say they turned out quite awkwardly haha. As they left the chapel, J turned around and said, as he creeped backwards and waved extravagantly, "For you... sweet... lovings. SWEEEEEEEEEEEEET lovings." Yes. I almost died.

We were having a rather fruitless afternoon of finding in drizzling rain a few days ago, and right before we went home, Sister C (one of our members) appeared out of nowhere and said, "Come here quick!" She pulled us into 7-11 and bought us ice cream. What a blessing! Heavenly Father really does look after us missionaries, sending angels in all forms to brighten up our day. Sometimes those angels are named after fruit, and sometimes they are just sweet, loving members who have experienced finding before and know that it's hard. But he always sends them right when they're needed. 

Week 70, in which I see some miracles (no surprises there) and in which I experience the first human car-wash. Yeah, it's weird.

Remember how I got my hair cut last week? Well, it turned out great, but let me tell you, it was the weirdest experience EVER. First, the majority of hair stylists in Hong Kong are men, so that's weird. When I first got there, they led me to the back corner were there was a strange chair resembling a dentist's chair, but with a weird sink contraption where my head was. It wasn't a normal shampooing chair, no. This was the Human Car-Wash 2000. I didn't really know what was going on (strangely enough, I didn't understand most of the technical terms the dude was saying... I need to brush up on my hair-cutting vocabulary). The man handed me some earplugs and gestured for me to put them in my ears. After I did that, I laid down and he put my hair into this sink thing and put a lid over it that framed my face and covered my hair. And then these lights started going off and a weird beeping noise started and these jets started spraying my head at a rather alarming pressure! My head started being moved up and down and back and forth, and the jets kept spraying from different directions, first hot water and then cold water. I was trying so hard to not laugh and my neck started hurting after a while because my head kept getting jerked up and down. This machine lasted for over ten minutes, and it felt like ETERNITY! Then it finally ends and I keep trying to just get up and out of there, but the hair guy keeps stopping me to do things like towel-dry my hair (weird) and fish my earplugs out of the sink (they got shot out by the water jets). But he finally let me go. When I got to the mirror, I almost burst out laughing again--my hair was a MESS! It was so knotted and frizzy and horrible! And then the guy spent at least 15 minutes combing my hair and watching a Korean rock concert on the tv. But finally he cut my hair and it turned out fine. It was a very... interesting experience, and I think it set the tone for the rest of the week.

That night we had a really cool miracle! We were trying to find a less-active family who hasn't been to church in a couple of years. We got past the apartment guards (the first miracle) and then we found the right door and they were home (the second miracle). They were so nice (the fourth miracle) and turns out they don't even LIVE there anymore; they were just visiting a family member who lives there now. That's the best miracle! We just happened to drop by at the exact time that they were visiting. That's miraculous. I love that feeling, when I realize that Heavenly Father really is guiding us. I don't always know if he is, but it's experiences like this that really build my trust in Him.

We had a really funny visit with an old pohpo this week. A member invited us to go visit the old lady that lives next door to her, but wow was she not interested in having us there haha. Here's how our conversation went: "Thanks so much for letting us visit you today!" "I don't have anything else to do!" "Could we open with a prayer?" "I don't like to pray!" "Oh, you don't have to pray, I can pray." "I don't want to pray!" "You don't have to, I can do it." "Okay, but I don't want to pray." "Okay, you don't have to, I can do it." "I can't pray!" "Don't worry, I'll say it." "What!?" "I'm going to say a prayer." "Okay!" Later... "We picked out a hymn to sing for you, is that okay?" "I don't know how to sing!" "You don't have to sing, we can do it." "I never sing!" "You don't have to sing, we can sing." "I won't sing!" "Okay, we can sing though." "Okay, but I won't sing!" "Okay, we're going to sing now..." Later... "And Heavenly Father loves and teaches us just like you love and teach your children." "What?! I didn't teach my kids anything!" "I'm sure you helped them learn how to be good people and help others and be good parents." "No, I didn't help them at all! They figured it out by themselves!" "Well, I'm sure you help your grandchildren now." "Nope, not at all! I don't tell them anything useful!" "And you're humble too!" Anyways, it was a fun lesson, but I don't think we'll be getting frequent visitor passes any time soon.

We had a miracle walk-in family this week! And they are so cute: they have two daughters that are 4 and 6, and they all stayed for our English class. We met them after a few tough days of finding, so I really feel like Heavenly Father answered our prayers and is aware of our work.

Anyways, I had about 5 more miracles I wanted to write about, but I'm out of time. We're going ice skating now, so I'll talk to you next week! I love you!

Week 69, in which I'm wading through the Book of Job, but other than that having a great time!

I can't believe I'm almost to week 70! Where has the time gone? I'm loving ----, Sister M, our investigators, and our weird, random, creepy, old men that we meet. Seriously. This is one of the major trials we've had this week, the only people who want to talk to us on the streets are the old dudes with crackly voices and relatively good English. We met J this week, completely by accident, and he gave us his number and told him to call us for English class. So I called him and here is the conversation we had:

Me: Hi J, how are you today?
J: I just got off work, have you eaten dinner?
Me: Yes, we have. How was work?
J: It was good. Do you want to go to eat dim sum?
Me: No, we've eaten. What job do you do?
J: I drive a motorcycle. Do you know how to drive a motorcycle?
Me: No. We have English class tonight if you want to come, it starts in--
J: I can teach you to drive a motorcycle. Let us go ride a motorcycle.
Me: No, missionaries don't ride motorcycles, especially with strangers. Anyways, hope to see you at English class ton--
J: How about on Saturday? We can go ride motor--
Me: No, I won't be doing that, thank you. Have a great evening!
J: Okay, next time we'll go eat dim sum thanks bye!
Me: No---

Yeah, just my luck haha. But we've met some really great people this week, including a sister named S, a referral from a friend back home! She is so prepared, it really is a miracle. We ate lunch together and then showed her around our chapel. She has been looking for guidance and direction in her life, and wants to know if this can help her. She said she'll read the pamphlets and the mormon.org website and call us soon. It really was a special meeting. I'd been kind of nervous about it all week, and I'd prayed hard that I would know what to say and how to help her. And then afterwards I realized that it didn't matter that I don't really know what to do or how to help people, because this work isn't about me. It never is. It's Christ's work, and he knows exactly how to help her. I'm so grateful that he trusts me, despite my imperfections and weaknesses, to take care of some of the precious people here in Hong Kong. It is a privilege.

T-shirt of the week: "Spooky. Stretching it a bit. Foo." It had a kitten on it.

I've learned more about following the Spirit this week, although I haven't quite come to a conclusion of what I've learned yet. We were getting on the light-rail the other day when I saw a lady looking at us. I felt like maybe I should talk to her, but the car was so crowded and there was literally no way that I'd get over to her before our stop came. So I just got off and we switched trains, and I saw her again! Still pretty far away though. So I prayed and told Heavenly Father that if she gets off with us again, I'll talk to her. And then she did. I walked up behind her, having no idea what to say, and so I just opened my mouth and said, "Hi, I'm Sister Cutler, and I really want to help you--" and then she said, "NO NEED!" and booked it away. I was kind of taken aback for a second. All these doubts came, and I thought maybe I was just wrong. But then Sister M told me, "I felt like we should talk to her too." So I have no idea what that was all about, but for some reason or another it needed to happen.

In other news, I was dumb this week and cut my finger pretty badly on a seemingly harmless butter knife. Don't ask. Anyways, I've been sporting a pretty sweet band-aid which has been more than averagely annoying. It got me thinking about that scripture in Isaiah 49 where Jesus Christ says, "For can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee on the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me." I've been noticing my cut all week, I just can't forget about it. And in the same way, Jesus Christ always remembers us. (Well, not exactly the same way, he doesn't feel irritated every time he remembers us, the way I am with my cut, but it's just an analogy.) He really doesn't ever forget us. 

I've thought a lot about this verse this week as we go up into the small villages in the mountains to go finding. These villages are incredible, I don't know how they survive typhoon season. The little squatter huts are perched so precariously one on another that I feel like if I kicked out one loose board, the entire neighborhood would collapse. The huts range from reasonably sturdy to held-up-by-sheer-will-power. And sometimes it's almost impossible to even find a door, because you have all these random gutters and alleyways and secret stairways. These people out here really are forgotten in a lot of ways by the world. But not by the Savior. He loves each one of them, and their trials and sadness and joy and successes are continually before him. I love him for that.

Well, Sister M and I are off to get hair cuts! I'm a little nervous. We've heard several horror stories about various hair-cutting experiences that went awry. But I've been praying for protection, so I think we'll be okay. And something I've learned on my mission: time and the Atonement are great healers. If you take Jesus Christ's sacrifice and apply it to your life, then just add faith, anything will be fixed: broken hearts, lives scarred by sin, even cut fingers and bad haircuts. And that's why I'm here, because I've felt that healing power and want others 

Week 68, in which I become a little more like Legolas and in which I receive several much-appreciated beauty tips

Well, I can't believe it's P-day again! It feels like this week was about five seconds long. First of all, let's talk about the t-shirt of the week! This one isn't my best, but it kept me thinking for a while. It says, "Texture in a painting is the feel of the canvas." I think it might be really deep and philosophical, but I can't be sure. It might just be ridiculous. Anyways, then I saw an advertisement today that said, "Tattoo is not just a piece of art, but a state of mind." How can one be in a "tattoo" state of mind? 

Good news! Or bad news! I haven't yet decided. The QUEST gang has struck AGAIN! This time they're right here in ___! Their sphere of influence extends beyond the borders of Macau. Who knows where they could strike next?

One of the sweet pleasures that we enjoy here in the mission are our excessively low-tech cell phones. These beautiful Nokias (we call them "daew dou mh laahn ge," an adjective which means "throw still won't break") have this cool feature where you can make little tunes and then use them as your ring tone. So our current ringtone is "Called to Serve." It's sweet. Every time someone calls, I roll over in my profesh office chair, answer with a classy, "WAIH?!" And wow do I feel like I'm on the latest episode of the 'The District.' I love it.

In other news, my Chinese is coming back at a miraculous rate, although I still have times where I say something like, "This hand sanitizer tastes really good" when I mean to say that it smells good. But hey, that's life! 

There are some really elaborately decorated security gates here, and sometimes we just stand there for a few seconds with feelings of awe and frustration. We just KNOW that there are prepared people waiting behind those gates. And we try lots of different ways to get through them. My most recent attempt: speak "friend" and enter. Yeah. Elvish style. But here, we say, "Pahngyauh." It hasn't worked for me yet, but it'll work one day, I have no doubt.

We had a really great lesson with Sister N last week. We talked about the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and I shared about how he has helped me throughout my mission, especially during those times when I felt alone and so useless and helpless. It was a powerful lesson. As I finished sharing my testimony, she was just staring so intently right at my eyes, and I was sure she was about to say something really profound. Then she said, "You shouldn't crinkle your eyebrows like that, it looks really ugly." Haha, it took me aback a little, but it's amazing how much comments like that don't bother me anymore. That's just the way the Chinese people are! I really appreciate her advice, I've been trying my best not to crinkle my eyebrows so much. 

I had a really enlightening personal study yesterday after General Conference. I was reading 2 Timothy 3 (which was quoted several times during the conference) and in verse 7 it talks about people who are "always learning but never come to the knowledge of the truth." And then I thought about the verse in John 8 that says, "If you do my will, you are my disciples indeed; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." And then I remembered what Christ had once said about himself, that he is "the way, the truth, and the life." He is the truth. That verse might as well say, "You shall know Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ shall set you free." There are so many people in the world that are searching for truth. For thousands of years, philosophers and scientists have debated about the meaning of truth. Some believe that there is no truth, nothing absolute or unchanging. But I've seen and felt the truth and the love and the power of Jesus Christ. As we come to know him, we know the truth and we attain true freedom. We're free from the burden of sin and past trials. We're free from who we were before and we're able to become a new, better person every day. I have met so many intellectual, educated, experienced people here in Hong Kong; they have learned so much and yet they haven't to come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ. 

We've experienced a lot of rejection lately, and it's a miracle how much it doesn't hurt me. I love these people and it just makes me sad. I wish I could just stand on a great big box somewhere and shout really loud so that everyone here could understand and feel how important this is. But we just keep on going, one person at a time. That's how Jesus Christ did it anyways. He didn't just stand on the roof of the temple in Jerusalem and holler at all the people at once. He went city to city, door to door, setting people free from physical and spiritual burdens one by one. I love him so much for his example. He is real, I'm so so sure of it. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Week 67, in which I'm not in Hung Shui Kiu, and in which I move YET AGAIN, and in which I've rung hundreds of doorbells and sneezed hundreds of times.

So yeah, I'm not in Hung Shui Kiu. But that shouldn't really be a surprise to anyone, I mean really. Expect the unexpected. That's the moral of this week. But wow am I happy! I love my new area, love my apartment, love my companion, love the sisters I'm living with, love the investigators we have. Need I say more? Well, I will anyways.

So last Monday night, the zone leaders called me. Here's how the conversation went:
Elder L: So President Hawks just wanted me to tell you that you will be leaving on Wednesday morning after all.
Me: Okay, I figured. Thanks for letting me know. Anything else?
Elder L: No, I think that's it.
Me: Haha, are you sure? Any surprise changes? Last minute moves?
Elder L: Oh, yeah. Well you're going to a different area. With a different companion.
Me: Oh, that might be worth mentioning.
Elder L: Yeah, maybe.
So now I'm in Tm with Sister M! I love it here, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, New Territories. The mountains here remind me of Provo in April, so rugged and green. Although mosquitoes are more abundant here, and the bees are HUGE. I've only seen one. Unfortunately, it was flying around our study for about 10 minutes, and I kept swinging one of my dresses at it for about 8 minutes until I realized that it was a GIANT, VICIOUS BEE. Then I turned off the light and ran out of the room. It left eventually.
I got to my apartment on Wednesday night (after lugging my suitcases around Hong Kong for a couple of hours) and started to unpack when I realized that the apartment didn't have any extra hangers. It's a brand new apartment, in a complex called Uptown. And it fit the name perfectly--there's a chandelier in the bathroom. And then on Saturday night, the assistants called us to tell us that Sister M and I were moving. AGAIN. Due to my fortunate lack of hangers, I'd been living out of my suitcases for a few days, so the move didn't affect me that much. But now we're in a slightly less fancy apartment and I'm living with Sister P, who I'd lived with in Macau. So I feel much more at home.
I love Sister M, we get along really great. I really hope this is my last move and my last companion, although I'd naturally do whatever they needed me to do.
When I moved into the first apartment, Sister M and Sister C(the sisters we were living with) were speaking straight Chinese, and Sister C (American-born Chinese) pretended that she was from China and didn't know any English. I'd already been told that she was ABC, but I went along with it for a while, pretending like I believed it. That night they said, "Sister Cutler, we have something we need to tell you..." "Sister C knows English already." "What? You knew? AW MAN!" It was so funny. "AW MAN!" is one of the catchphrases in our zone, the second one being, "I'm so sorry about that." They say it all the time.
One thing that has taken a little adjusting: going from teaching 20 lessons a week to doing 20 hours of finding a week. But it's good for me. We went proselyting for a great 6 hours on Saturday, and wow did I need to go to the bathroom. We were knocking doors in a small village which didn't have any public bathrooms. But that's life, I guess. Anyways, these buildings are about three or four stories high; all of the doorbells are at the outside door at the ground floor, and I'm pretty sure 90 percent of them were broken. Of the remaining 10 percent, about half had ridiculous doorbell tones, Jingle Bells being one of the more popular ones. My favorite thing is when we ring a doorbell and then hear a voice from three stories up yell, "WHO IS IT?!" I yell back, "Church missionaries! We have a very important message to tell--" "NO INTEREST, GO AWAY!" It really feels like I'm doing real missionary work. I think we rung a good 150 doorbells.

I'd inherited a cold from Sister L right before I left Macau, and during our finding session I was sneezing up a storm. I think my longest sneeze fit was seven in a row. But here's the miracle: I only got the cold on Tuesday, but it was completely gone as soon as we got home from finding. Now that's what I like to call a tender mercy of the Lord.
We actually do have a couple of investigators, and we found a new one on Friday! We were on the trolley headed back to the church when Sister J asked if she could attend our church! For a while, I was kind of worried that she was crazy. She acted normal--she's really nice actually. I just thought, "Wow, SHE asked US if she could come. She MUST be crazy." But hey, God told me off a little about that. I mean yeah, a lot of people aren't interested, but there are prepared people out there too. I've been praying really hard recently for more people to teach, especially families, and Sister J said that once her husband's health improves, she'll be bringing him to meet us! Such a miracle. God really is taking care of us.
I've learned a lot recently about what kind of person I want to be for the rest of my life. Moving to this new area for the last two months of my mission has really helped me to set a good tone for this last move, to change the things that I want to change. I mean, I could change at any time, but it's easier to make small changes when a big changes happens too. I thought I'd be really distraught or stressed out in my last couple of months, but so far I'm just really happy. I don't want it to be a stressful time, so it's not going to be. I've already decided.

Week 66, in which we have a surprise guest at District Meeting, and in which I might have actually crossed the line from 'normal missionary exhaustion' to 'excessively ridiculous--but don't worry, Mom--exhaustion.'

The girl next to me is watching an Indonesian soap opera on Youtube. It's kind of distracting.

Anyways, yet another crazy week in Macau! But before I get to that part, it's time for t-shirt of the week! And this week has been great. Here's the first one: "Terrorist pug. Make a noise." And it had this really cute (or ugly? I can never tell with pugs...) pug on the front with its tongue hanging out of its mouth. The next one: "Shop after brunch." I completely agree, the only thing better than brunch is when you go shopping afterwards. The last one: "Love a fair." Clever. I do love a good fair.

So here's the scoop on my week in Macau. The craziness all started in the midst of district meeting. I had a rather unfortunate lunch, which led to quite an uncomfortable stomach ache. So I was going back and forth to the bathroom between trainings, hoping to just get sick and have it over with. But it didn't happen, so I just went back into the room, looking rather pale-faced and pathetic. And to my alarm, President Hawks was there. Fantastic. Now don't get me wrong, I love President Hawks, but he doesn't just show up in Macau for no reason. Well, turns out he was there for an interview with one of the other missionaries, but he said, "Well, since I'm here, I might as well announce that Sister Cutler, you're moving out of Macau on Friday (in three days) and Sister L, you're switching back to International." I couldn't really understand what was going on at first (I was pretty out of it), but my tear-ducts realized what had happened before my brain did, so tears started just coming out without my permission. President Hawks said, "There is wisdom in this," and mysteriously walked out of the room. He's so good at making an exit. I hope that I can exit Macau the same way he exited the room at that moment. So classy.

Well, let me tell you folks, I always knew I loved Macau, but I never knew how much until I was told I had to leave. I literally had no time to pack everything, see everyone, write all the records I'd slacked on, and process what was going on in my mind. Seriously, I felt like I was being sent home from my mission early. This time in Macau has been like a mission within a mission, and how strange for it to come to a close so quickly! At first, all I could think was, "But Sister J's baptism is on Sunday! And Sister D and Brother R are coming back Friday afternoon! And Sister T is just starting to make real progress!" But then I realized that this kind of mindset was not healthy, so I cut it out and quickly realized that I'm really excited to go back to Chinese work. I'll be going to Hung Shui Kiu, which is in the New Territories, basically the boonies of Hong Kong. It's beautiful out there and the people apparently are wonderful. I'm excited to get my Chinese improving even faster (although it has improved a lot here in international too!) and I'm excited to get to know a new area. 

Saying goodbye to all these people was so hard, but it was so so rewarding. Sometimes you get down on yourself, thinking that you haven't made a difference. But this week I really found that yes, I have made a difference for some of these people. And wow have they made a difference for me. I have learned so much from them, and I sure do love them.

So on Thursday night, right as I finished packing, I received a telephone call... "Sister Cutler, you won't be moving until October 7th." By that point, I was so incredibly exhausted that I just sat down laughing hysterically, not knowing if I was happy or sad or what. Eventually I figured out that I was happy, so so happy! Except for the fact that I'll have to live out of a suitcase for a while haha. So I saw Sister D and Brother R and baby A the next day! And they really are just the most beautiful family. I sure do love them. 

And on Sunday, Sister J got baptized! It was a rough journey for her. Her relatives gave her a hard time about becoming Mormon, but she's pushed through it and was so happy at her baptism. Our last lesson with her before her baptism was about Lehi's Dream in 1 Nephi 8. We drew it on the board, and had the most fun discussing ways that we can keep holding onto the iron rod. Sister J is so sweet, and it was so hard telling her that I'd have to leave before her baptism, but I'm glad I managed to stay. Such a blessing. 

And then today, all the missionaries went to MGM for one final buffet before I leave and before Elder L finishes his mission. It was so great. There's something about serving in Macau that brings everyone together. No hard feelings, no problems. These are some great missionaries, and I'll sure miss them. We had a great time talking about our favorite childhood memories and turns out we were all pretty awkward kids. I shared about some of my more ridiculous Halloween costumes growing up (what a weird kid I was) and it was just great. Oh, and the food was delicious, of course. I love eating, especially eating with friends.

But wait! The turmoil isn't over! We got a call from President Hawks this morning, and he said that I might be leaving on Wednesday instead of on the 7th! So we'll see what happens. Luckily I haven't unpacked yet. And either way, I'll be in Hung Shui Kiu for my next email. It didn't even faze me (is that how you spell 'faze?'), I'm just used to having my fate up in the air I suppose.

The mission just keeps getting better and better. Sometimes I think, "Gee, what was wrong with me at the beginning of my mission, why didn't I just feel like this the whole time?" But then I realized that it's not a problem with me, it's just the way life works. If the best was here already, life would be super lame. But it'll just keep going, getting better and better. That's how the gospel works. The best is always yet to come. Leaving here is hard, and leaving my mission will be hard. 

But I feel like I've learned to be more like Paul. He really is my hero, and in the past few days, this verse has become my motto: "But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment, let us be therewith content." 1 Timothy 6:6-8. I have great food (especially today) and I have plenty of clothes (although I'm kind of sick of all of them, but that's life as a sister missionary I suppose). I'm good with where I am (in an email place, by a nice Indonesian girl, trying to not watch Indonesian soap operas). And in a week, I'll be good with where I am (in Hung Shui Kiu with Sister C, pretending I'm Chinese). And in 6 months, I'll be good with where I am too (somewhere in Provo as an awkward RM, pretending that I know what my plan for life is). It's a good feeling, loving where you are, no matter how much time you have left in that place. 

Sometimes I might feel like Frodo: "I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened." But I'm slowly learning to become more like Gandalf: "So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." I think if everyone were more like Gandalf, the world would be a better place. Actually, President Hawks kind of reminds me of Gandalf. Tall and mysterious, stern if necessary, but kind, sometimes even jolly, when speaking to sister missionaries, Hobbits, or small children. And I'm certain he has a hidden stash of fireworks somewhere in the mission office. I'll let you know when I find them.

And on that note, I'll sign off. Goodbye Macau! Hello Hung Shui Kiu!

Week 65, in which I head over to the good old Hong Kong to celebrate one year in the field, and in which I enjoy the pleasure of participating in yet another harmonica duet.

Well, this was an interesting week. The mission goes through phases--I think C.S. Lewis called it the undulation cycle. You're up and happy and everything goes right. And then you're down and struggling to keep optimistic. And Sister Wilson (the visiting General Authority's wife) told us something very wise. She said, in effect, "Life naturally goes through cycles. These cycles aren't caused by our personal error. They are very natural. But Satan will tell us differently. When we are up, he will tell us that this is the way it should always be. If we believe him, we start to wonder what is wrong with us when we pass through the up phase and head for the down phase. And when we're at the down phase, he tells us that it will always be this way, that it will never get better. If we expect these ups and downs, then when we experience them, we can deal with them better and become a more balanced and steady person." It's so true, I've seen it on my mission. In the past, I've not dealt very well with the down times. I've been frustrated with myself because I thought that they were my fault and that I was being silly. But as my mission has progressed, I've learned to rely on the Lord through those hard times, and when I relied on him, yeah, those times were still hard. But I got out of them. And I didn't beat myself up the entire time either, which I think is important to avoid.

Anyways, the point is that I think my life is just in one of those down swings at the moment, but I'm learning so much from it! I was studying grace this morning, and I've studied it many times before, but it seems like every time I study it, I realize that I'd forgotten how essential and powerful grace really is. Grace is the power that comes from Jesus Christ. It enables us to make and maintain positive changes in our lives. Ether 12:36 has made me think a lot: "I prayed unto the Lord that he would give unto the Gentiles grace, that they might have charity." I need that grace so that I can maintain the charity that I feel here in the mission. Sometimes I have these great spurts of love and desire to serve, and then it kind of fades a little, and then it comes again in another great spurt. I don't want to be a spurty missionary--I want to be consistent! So that's what I've been working on recently, consistency.

In other news, Tuesday was my 'one-year-in-the-field' mark! And I celebrated by going to Hong Kong for a leadership meeting with Elder Wilson (in the Asia Area General Presidency). All the missionaries that I served in the MTC with were there! It was so great to see them all again, to see how we've all changed! One of the changes: we love each other so much more now than we did back then haha. 

Elder Wilson is just an awesome man, I learned so much from that leadership meeting and from his trip to Macau that he made on Saturday. He's the first General Authority with whom I've had any sort of real extensive interaction. Here's how our first conversation went down:

EW: And where are you from?
Me: Yorktown, Virginia.
EW: Where is that?
Me: Do you know where Williamsburg is?
EW: Yes, I've been there before.
Me: We're very close to there. I worked at Busch Gardens before.
EW: Really? I've ridden on Apollo's Chariot.
Me: I love that one! You should try The Griffin: 90 degrees straight down.
EW: Not really my style. But Apollos was really good. Very smooth.
Me: Did you hear about the opening ride of Apollo's, when that male model got hit in the face with a flying duck?
EW: Yes, I seem to recall hearing something about that.
Me: But yes, Apollo's is usually very smooth.

Yeah. I felt a little silly afterwards. But he was really nice, so wise and inspiring. I really appreciated what they taught about, especially their focus on the relationship between the Fall and the Atonement. He's really good at making people want to be better while not making them feel bad about where they are right now. That's a talent that I really want to develop.

Today we visited M M, an  lady in the Chinese branch, and after lunch we played harmonica together for about 20 minutes! It was so fun! I had to play as fast as I could to keep up with her, it was just hilarious. I sure do love the people here, they are just a blast.

We've been working a lot with that sister that I talked about last week. She is really struggling, and I think this week she hit rock bottom. At least, I hope it's rock bottom. We got a call one morning and found out that this member was in the hospital. During the night, she'd drunk so much alcohol that she was dangerously intoxicated. Her blood pressure was so high and she was a wreck. After I hung up the phone, I did all I could to keep from just plunging into despair. That sounds very dramatic. But it's true! We'd just talked to her the night before on the phone; we prayed with her, sung a hymn, read the scriptures, gave her the best pep talk I could give. And I felt like I'd failed. But then this little voice came into my head and said, "NO. I do not give you permission to take responsibility for this. You stop feeling sorry for yourself right now. Self-pity will not change anything, so just buck up and deal with the situation! Also... I love you. Thanks for what you're doing for my daughter. She's going to be okay." Yeah. I'm not exaggerating, that's really what I heard. So then I said a little prayer and just waited to hear about what was happening. One of our members took this sister back home, took care of her, and now two sweet, sweet sisters are staying over at her house to just to help her feel like she's not alone. She has made a huge transformation in the past few days. She has finally realized how EVIL alcohol is and she doesn't want anything to do with it. And because she hit that rock bottom point, now she realizes that she has to do everything she can to rely on God, because no one else is able to fix the situation she's in. It has been a miracle, really. The love of these members have saved a life. I hope that throughout my life the Lord will bless me with opportunities to serve the way those two angels have served. And I hope that I'll be paying attention and I'll be prepared. She's still not out of it yet, and there's a long road to go. But there is light and hope and it's all because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I can't find the words to express my love and gratitude for him. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Week 64, in which we eat miracle cornbread and in which my heart has never felt more hope in the midst of a seemingly hopele

Serving a mission in Macau is unique in many ways, one of them being that you're very isolated from the rest of the mission. There are 10 full-time missionaries here right now, and we're really close. Wow, do I love these missionaries. They are so fun, so hard-working, and so in love with this work and the people. It's such a pleasure to be here. We had a district potluck lunch today, so everyone brought whatever food they had available... needless to say, we had a pretty interesting array of sustenance. I've had two packets of cornbread mix sitting temptingly on the counter for about two months now, so we went down to brave the Macau kitchen and cook them. To describe the Macau oven as temperamental would not an exaggeration. Anyways, I was a little worried about the cornbread. And you might shake your head and say to yourself, "Good grief, Sister Cutler, you are a ridiculous person" but Sister L and I bowed our heads in prayer to bless that cornbread as it cooked. And it was miraculous. It cooked in 10 minutes (the packet said 16-18 minutes) and was beautiful. Perfect. I was almost in tears as I took it out of the oven. Cornbread with honey butter. It really was like a mouthful of warm, loving Virginia. What a wonderful day.

I think I will remember this week for the rest of my life. No, not because of the cornbread. But because of what I've learned and what I've seen as I've been working with one of the less-active members in our branch. She joined the church many years ago and then when she moved to Macau she lost the church and slowly forgot everything she'd learned. I've worked with her regularly since I came (six months ago!) and I love this sister so much. She recently has had really awful marriage problems, and I won't go into much detail, but it is absolutely heart-wrenching. She has lost all that is dear to her and is on the verge of hitting rock bottom. Satan is just getting to her, taking away all of her hope, leading her to make bad choices and think bad thoughts. We visited her earlier this week and read with her in 2 Nephi 4, and as we talked about trusting in Jesus Christ and his atonement, the Spirit was there more strongly than any other lesson I've ever had. I don't want to sound like a drama queen, but this is real, I really saw it. When we got there, it was dark and Satan was there. And when we sang a hymn and prayed together, it was like a wave of something more powerful than light came through and swept that darkness away. It was the power of God, I know it.

Sunday evenings are always exhausting because we have evening church and don't eat dinner until about 9, and then we still have to do planning and lots of preparation. I was so tired, and that's when she called me in tears and told me that she'd never felt more alone or hopeless. She was by herself because her husband took away her baby, the baby that her entire life has revolved around. And it was all I could do to not start crying too, but God gave me the strength that I needed. I've promised her over and over again that God will help her, that she needs to trust him and put her faith in him. And I've been believing this promise on one level, a very general one. But I had to decide this week whether or not I really believed what I was saying. If I didn't believe it, then I had to stop saying it, because empty promises will only make things worse in the long run. So I did a lot of thinking. And I decided that I really did believe it. No, I knew it. I'd witnessed God's power too many times to not believe it. And then I decided that my attitude needed to reflect this belief. And that decision changed this entire week for me.

It could have been one of the saddest, most hopeless weeks of my life. But instead, I've felt the Savior's strength more than ever before. I've been able to think clearly and be guided while talking to her. I've never been in a situation similar to hers. I really had no idea what to say. But every time I've opened my mouth, the right thing has come out. And it's not from me, it really isn't. I don't say this to say Wow look at me I'm so wise and have all the answers. Because I really don't. It's God and he is wise enough to work through silly, imperfect people like me.

My heart has felt so much sorrow for my sister this week. She really is my sister, and although we come from very different backgrounds and have very different experiences, I feel so close to her and I love her so much. This is a huge blessing, and also a huge challenge--loving people this much. I can't imagine how God must feel. He knows each of us infinitely and intimately, and loves us for who we are. How it must hurt him when we hurt. But the joy that he feels when we have joy must be worth it for him. I love my Father in Heaven, and I know he is real. He loves this sister infinitely more than I do, and I know that he will take care of her better than I ever can. This is his work.

Week 63, in which I feel a little heat coming from that refiner's fire, and in which I think my WPM count is getting smaller

I don't know how I'll survive going back to college one day, my typing ability (as well as my spelling ability) has been degenerating rapidly, especially over the past couple of months. That's life, I suppose.

Also, I recently realized that "That's life" has become my new catchphrase, and I keep saying it after something unfortunate has happened. I guess that shows you what my concept of life is. Pretty sad. So now I'm trying to turn it around by saying, "Now THAT'S life!" every time something good happens.

Well, this week has been a trial of our faith, but I just keep saying, "FEEL THE BURN!" every time that refiner's fire starts licking at our ankles. Lots of cancelled lessons, lots of plans and goals not happening, and then throw in all of those little things that aren't stressful by themselves but added all together it gets a little frustrating... But you know what! I'm feeling pretty calm and faithful and I know it's all going to be okay. I made a new resolve last week to really work on faith, having a more faithful and positive attitude... so naturally something problematic has to happen, otherwise how would I learn to have more faith, right? Some miracles are waiting... just around the riverbend! So I'll just enjoy the heat from this refiner's fire... hey, maybe I'll even get a tan! People here keep telling me that I'm really REALLY white. "Casper!" they call me. Well, I'll show them!

But seriously, I was pondering the whole refiner's fire analogy a lot this week, and it really makes so much sense. Each of us has this innate potential as a spirit child of our Heavenly Father. So just like a chunk of gold fresh from the ground, all that worth is already there. But it takes heat and pressure to get out all the dirt and dross. And when you invest the time, effort, and resources to really make that gold pure, then you have an incredibly valuable product. The value was there all along, but it's the refining process that brings out the worth. And in the same way, Heavenly Father invests time and effort and resources to refine us, because he knows we can be better and purer than we are. So sure we have to endure heat and pressure (I've felt it a lot this week!) but it's so worth it. And Heavenly Father does it because he loves us and wants us to be the best we can be. I'm so grateful for this time I've had on the mission--I'm far from being pure gold, but a lot closer than I was last year!

Elder S's Chinese is so great, as well as his English. But when he jumps back and forth too much, he gets a little confused. Yesterday he was trying to tell me that someone's secret had gotten out, and he said, "They've given the cat away." I wouldn't laugh as hard if I didn't have the same experience sometimes.

T-shirt of the week: "Shoop. It's time to pay. A fun time. I thought you said you want to change?" I love shooping, it's one of my favorite things to do!

A while ago, I suggested that we do a combined branch talent show, all of the Chinese members and the Filipina members together! And so naturally, since it was my idea, I ended up being put in charge of the whole thing haha. It was a blessed way to end this slightly disappointing week, one of the most wonderful church activities I've ever attended. There was so much inter-branch unity and everyone cheered and supported everyone else. Isn't that wonderful--we don't have to speak the same language to love and encourage each other. We had so many different acts: Christmas songs on the saxophone, piano duets, break-dancing, Gangam style (whatever that is and however you spell it)... The 10 full-time missionaries wrote a rap called "It's Easy to be a Missionary" and I don't want to brag, but it was a HUGE hit. So many people told me that I was 'fly' afterwards. And you know what? I think they're right. It was such a warm, loving atmosphere, and I'll definitely remember it as one of my favorite mission moments.

Great news! Next week Elder Wilson of the Quorum of the Seventy is coming on a mission tour, and so that means I get to go to a special leadership meeting in Hong Kong with him and Sister Wilson and President and Sister Hawks! I am so excited, it's going to be some major spiritual revelation time! And then they'll be meeting with all the different zones in the mission. Zones usually consist of about 45 missionaries, but since Macau is small, our zone consists of 12. That means we'll have some real one-on-one time with Elder Wilson! And boy do I have some big questions for him. The meeting will last all day, and I am just so excited. I love being a missionary! I love being here in Macau and goodness gracious do I love my Savior, for making all of this possible!

Week 62, in which we be gangstas in the hood, and in which the potential for miracles is so thick that you could cut it with a knife

Yo yo yo! Pardon me, I'm feeling particularly hoodlum-esque at the moment. The first and second branches will be having a talent show this weekend, so we missionaries have been working on a performance that will knock their socks off. We spent a while brainstorming, and eventually decided to write a rap called 'It's easy to be a missionary.' It's all about member-missionary work, and it's gonna be off tha hook. I'm so excited for our performance, I know it's going to be a hit. Some of the missionaries in the district aren't natural rappers, but you know what, we have faith that we'll bring down tha house. Downside: last night we all laid awake for hours (exaggeration) because we couldn't get our different raps out of heads. Upside: the same thing will probably happen to the members. They'll have "It's easy to be a missionary, all ya gotta do is not be scary" running through their heads all day and night, and then they'll go out and start sharing the gospel with everybody! It'll be great.

T-shirt of the week: 'The difference between style and fashion is vanity.' It's a little vague; I'm not quite sure which one is vain and which isn't. Another interesting one: this shirt had a giant skull on it, and on the skull's forehead was written: 'One hand washes the other.' Creepy.

Sister C went back to Hong Kong this week, so I have yet another new companion! Sister L has been out for about 11 months and I lived with her when I was in Kwun Tong, so we already knew each other. Her Chinese name is 'Lau,' so that'll be the second Sister Lau I've served with! We had a crazy evening on Thursday, the first day that she arrived. We had a member visit scheduled, and they took us out to Pizza Hut! Yeah, you might not think that's anything special, but Pizza Hut here is FINE DINING. There were chandeliers and fancy utensils and millions of people waiting for their reservations. Yeah. The word 'hut' would usually connote more humble circumstances, but I suppose that it doesn't mean much to the Chinese. Anyways, we had to wait FOREVER (yeah, on a Thursday night, so strange). We finally got to our table and the waiters started bringing out the fancy pastas and the cheesy mashed potatoes and the salads and the meatballs (where's the pizza? I just wanna have some meat lovers'!)... and then our investigator called to tell us that she showed up to her appointment early and that she was at the church with a friend who wanted to meet us. So we ate as quickly as we can, and when they finally brought out the pizza (seafood special) we took some to go. And then we RAN for about 15 minutes all the way back to the church. Shouldn't have eaten that last helping of mashed potatoes. Anyways, we got there and Sister J and her friend had already left. I was so sad. But then Sister J said that she'd come back to see us! So we taught her about the commandment of Tithing, and wow was it the easiest lesson ever. Here's how it went:

Me: Today we're going to talk about Tithing. What does the word 'tithing' mean to you?

Sister J: Heavenly Father gives us so many blessings, and then we give ten percent of our income to help him, and then he gives us even more.

Me: And that's our lesson today, thanks for coming.

Well, more or less how our lesson was. She's wonderful. And although we didn't meet her friend on Thursday, she came to church on Sunday! H is a really wonderful, powerful woman. She has been a widow for many years, and never remarried after her husband left. She is working to support her two children, whom she absolutely loves. And she really has a desire to know the truth and to come closer to Jesus Christ. We talked about eternal families, and how God has made a way to take our earthly families and make them heavenly, and tears came to her eyes. Mine as well, actually. I felt even more love for my family as we were teaching. Really, there's nothing more special to me than you all, Mom, Dad, Rebecca, Rachel, Rowan, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles. I love you so much and I'm so grateful that we really can have eternity together. Important things will take us away from each other during our lives, but it's only for a short time, and if we endure it well, it'll all work out!

Sister D and Brother R made it back to the Philippines this week, and I think the highlight of my week was when Sister A (one of my favorite people ever) called them on Saturday morning! The signal was really poor, but they talked long enough for Sister D to say that they'd located the church in their area and that they'd attend on Sunday morning. And I gave Sister A the biggest hug and just danced around in the lobby for a couple seconds because wow am I so happy! I don't know what'll happen for the rest of my mission, but if no one else even wants to talk to me for the next 4 months, I'll still feel like this time was more than worth it. I'd serve 20 missions if I knew that Sister D and Brother R were at the end of it. I love their little family so much.

Another interesting moment of the week: had my first really Jehovah's Witnesses encounter! Ask me about it when I get home, it was great!

I love being here--my mission has never been more full of joy. And yes, we're having miracles, but I don't know if that's exactly why I'm so happy. We still have trials and I still lose my temper and get impatient and have bad days... but I think I've really changed. I'm not the same as I was at the beginning of my mission. I'm not as worried or nervous or anxious. And I think it's because I've learned to trust Heavenly Father more. He really is there, and he's waiting to help us. Elder Lee once told Elder Packer that, "The trouble with you is you want to see the end from the beginning. You must learn to walk to the edge of the light, and then a few steps into the darkness; then the light will appear and show the way before you." And that has always been my trouble too, but as we read the scriptures and really pray and come closer to God, then we really can develop more of that faith. Sure, I have no idea what classes I'll take or where I'll live or what I'll do with my life when my mission finishes... but I can walk to the edge of the light (the end of my mission) and into the darkness (BYU) and then the path will come. And I'm not worried about it. I love my Savior so much, because he already walked my path for me anyways. He knows the way, and he'll show me the way, one step at a time.

Week 61, in which our beautiful family gets baptized, and in which I'm more tired than I've ever been, even after my movie marathons with Sarah during freshman year

I am so tired. SO. TIRED. I spent about two hours last night just laying in bed and walking around the apartment eating crackers. Stress combined with a killer headache and a hard mattress (but hey, at least I have a mattress, right!) doesn't make for the best sleep.

And that's it for my complaining. I said I'd limit myself to three sentences, so I'm not going to count the SO and the TIRED as sentences. Really, I'm probably the most blessed missionary in the world right now. Sister D and Brother R, our sweet little family, got baptized yesterday, along with another sister named L (although for some reason I always call her 'Victory' haha). It was such a special experience. After Brother R was baptized, he was just glowing. He was dripping wet, but he came out and watched as Sister D was baptized. The love in the room was tangible, and I could hardly hold back my tears. I am so proud of them. Their faith and love for the Lord is so strong, and they will go on to change lives as they serve within their family and the church.

One of the factors that played in my decision to serve a mission was that Dad was taught by sister missionaries, and so many blessings have come to me because of their service. I wanted to pay it forward. I wanted so badly to teach a father. And even though I'm not a perfect missionary and I can be silly and frustrating sometimes, our merciful Heavenly Father blessed me with that opportunity. I told this to Brother R last night after church. They don't realize now all the blessings that are in store for them. But I know that they're coming. I love this family so much. I could go on and on, but neither a 10-page essay nor a masters dissertation nor a three-volume novel could accurately express my feelings on the subject. They have a special part in my life, and I am so excited to hear all about their future. We gave them the illustrated Book of Mormon storybook for baby A, and we wrote little messages for her inside. I'm so excited to watch her grow up and be baptized by her father and serve a mission and get married in the temple. I love this family.

The members were so excited and emotional yesterday. So many people came to support Sister D and Brother R and Sister L. Some of the members brought refreshments, and some of them even bought church clothes for them to wear. I love these members so much, and I'm so grateful for their service. They are wonderful examples to me, and I have learned so much from serving with them.

In other news, although I've been serving as an English-speaking missionary for five months, my English is still steadily declining. A couple of days ago, I told Sister P (one of the sisters I live with) that I felt as 'fit as a whistle.' And I described someone as 'bones and skin' instead of 'skin and bones.' Honestly, I've had to consider changing my focus from editing to something else... Maybe I'll finally fulfill Dad's dreams and become an engineer. The RM version of myself would fit right in: awkward, poor spelling skills, super nerdy. Wow, I'm sorry, that was rude. Plus, it's not really true, Dad has great spelling skills, and he's probably more socially adept than I am at this point. I mean sure, if we're talking about our recent lessons or food or how to improve member-missionary cooperation, I'm a great conversationalist. But if it's anything else--politics, celebrities, the weather--well, let's just face facts: I'm awkward. Bright side: I don't have to worry about that for months and months!

T-shirt of the week: "Comes when the true value is asked of it." Yeah, I don't even know.

We had a really challenging lesson Saturday night. We met for the first time with an investigator that the missionaries had taught once before I arrived in March. A M just showed up to church and then texted us the next day to ask if she could see us. She's Indonesian, so she doesn't know English, just Chinese. I walked out into the lobby and said hello, asked how she was doing. And she told me that her mom had just passed away in Indonesia. I had no idea what to say. I just stood there and hugged her for a long time while she was crying, praying with all my heart for some kind of inspiration or guidance or something. We shared some scriptures with her and sung 'Abide with Me.' And although the Lord's resources are limited to this white girl with limited Chinese and a Filipina with no Chinese or Indonesian, I think he helped her. She's so special, and she has such great faith. I'm struggling to know how to help her, but I know

Week 60, in which I LOVE FAMILIES!!!!!!!!! And in which I have this weird craving for Nilla Wafers. Oh how I miss them.

Did you know that in the Philippines, they pronounce 'wafers' like 'wah-fers'? Tomato, tomah-to, wafer, wah-fer. The Brits certainly have had a profound influence on the Tagalog language, and I suppose that's why I get along so well with the Filipinas. I think I'll write my thesis on that next year.

I hope you know that I'm joking.

T-shirt of the week: 'I HEART JUSTIN BIEBER.' I'd completely forgotten that he existed. Is he still famous? And the other t-shirt of the week: "Nobody's equal. Kiss somebody 'SHINY,' that's my philosophy." These shirts never cease to amuse me.

This week I received an amazing, beautiful gift (and by 'gift,' I mean I paid precious money for it, but anyways). A three-column, Chinese characters, Cantonese ping-yam, and English Book of Mormon! Language study has never been more fun! I can read the entire Book of Mormon introduction in Chinese characters now! It really is a miracle, and wow are characters addictive! I've been practicing writing as well, and now everywhere I go I look at characters and practice writing them with my finger. I love Chinese!

Anyways, this week has been so full of miracles that I can't even believe it! Firstly, Sister D and Brother R, our beautiful, beautiful family. They have to leave on the 27th, because their visas are running out. But on Saturday night, they called us because they had a question about baptism. So Sunday morning, we met with them, and turns out their question was, "Can we be baptized before we go home?" They'd talked together and prayed, and they felt like that was the direction that their family should go. As we've talked with them since then, I have been so amazed over and over again at the miraculous change that has taken place in their lives. I keep asking God, "How is it done? How do you do it?" Because it's certainly not Sister C or me. Only God could touch someone's heart this deeply. Brother R has always been quiet and a little more hesitant about the entire process, but we met with them this morning and he shared with us about a special experience that he had last night. He got out of bed last night after the others were asleep, knelt down, and prayed. And when he was done, he knew what he needed to do. He said, "If the Book of Mormon and these commandments were revealed through Joseph Smith, then he must be a prophet, and this really must be the restored church of Jesus Christ. I think I believe it." They both are so humble and full of love. When talking about tithing, Sister D said, "When I learned about tithing, I already knew it really. It's like this: if you have, you give to God. And if you can help other people, why would you want to keep it to yourself?"

I thank them over and over again, and they keep saying, "No, why are you thanking us? You're the one who is teaching us." But honestly, they have taught me so much. I've learned about humility and true charity. And they've been a beautiful example of a loving, united marriage. They support each other, period. Sister D says over and over again, "I am him and he is me and we are one." I love this family so much, it's hard to even express it. I just reread this paragraph and feel so frustrated because I can't put what I'm feeling in words. In the Bible, it describes this feeling as, "Peace that passeth all understanding." And that's what I feel right now. There really aren't words in the English language (or Chinese language or any other language for that matter) that can explain or contain the feeling that comes when we serve Heavenly Father and love his children. And it has nothing to do with my own abilities, because on my own I'm really not much. But that's what I love about the gospel. With God, we don't have to do it on our own, and our own abilities don't have anything to do with it. I love this work so much, and I'm grateful that it doesn't have to end when my 18 months are up. No way am I stopping here! I love this work. I know that God lives, that he's in charge, and that he loves his children.