Saturday, May 25, 2013

Week 47, in which I decide to be more like a cockroach, and in which I can't tell you how much love these people. Wow.

Did you know that cockroaches don't die even if you microwave them? In fact, I think they like it. Now don't get me wrong, I didn't do it on purpose. I just took out my water for my oatmeal (yes, I eat steaming hot oatmeal in 90 degree weather with 100 percent humidity) and I saw this cockroach just lackadaisically sauntering around our microwave. He didn't even care. And at that moment, I not only kind of liked that cockroach for his boldness, but I was also inspired by him. I had a pretty rough week. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself because things didn't quite go the way we'd planned, so naturally I took too much responsibility for that. So that led me to feeling really negatively about myself, and sometimes it's just hard to turn off that accusing voice inside your head. Yesterday was the worst, but today, that burden just disappeared. POOF! (Obscure reference to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I think. I've lost all confidence in my ability to reference Harry Potter movies. Lord of the Rings is still pretty good though, so no worries.) We went to the temple and I spent a good amount of time just pondering what I wanted to do with the rest of my mission. Time is flying by! I feel like I'm back at the YMCA on the treadmill. I'd always overestimate my desired speed at first, always a little too fast... that's kind of a scary feeling haha. But yes, it feels like time is passing faster than I want, and I have to run really hard to just keep from falling off the edge of the treadmill! But in a good way. But yes, I can't quite sum up what I learned today. I'm still pondering it, but I think Heavenly Father basically told me to just chill out and trust him a little more. I'm so worried about making myself the missionary that he wants me to become, but clearly I can't even do that. It's him that'll make me into the missionary he wants me to be. It's like a lump of clay trying REALLY hard to become a statue. Just ain't happenin'. So I think maybe I'll just relax a little. Heavenly Father's way smarter than me anyways.

We had a great moment in the apartment the other day after Sister L was jokingly complaining about something, and I told her to, "Be grateful Anya!" Then, because no one got the reference, I continued, "I am grateful... grateful to get away!" And then we all started singing songs from Anastasia and I felt almost like I was back home with Rebecca and Rachel. Wow, the sisterhood that comes from the mission is so so sweet!

I love the people in this branch so much! The Philippinas just make me so happy with their cute personalities and hilarious jokes and inability to understand sarcasm. Beautiful J (we call her that because she's GORGEOUS inside and out) keeps calling me Casper because my head always blends in with the wall when we take pictures together. I am seriously SO WHITE. I don't know, but I'm pretty sure I'm whiter than before my mission. But I don't mind, because it makes people smile haha. I'm sure Jesse understands, and he definitely gets way more white jokes than I do :)

I translated in Institute class this week! It was really hard haha, and at the end, all the boy said to me was, "Keep working hard." Then he left. Haha, I thought I did okay though!

Sister H , the sister who got baptized last week, spent the whole day with us on Tuesday, and it was such a special experience. She helped us teach and go finding, and during dinner we watched "Labor of Love," a beautiful, if cheesy, movie about the joys of missionary work. And at the end, she opened up and shared how happy she was sharing the gospel. She just kept saying it over and over again, "I'm SO happy. I just love it." She told us how much she loves reading the scriptures, and how she wants everyone she sees to know what she knows and feel what she feels. My heart was about to burst, and we all had tears in our eyes as we were talking. Wow, I feel like the Grinch. I mean my heart wasn't 9 sizes too small or whatever, but it's certainly grown so much on this mission. Heavenly Father stretches us a lot. And it sure hurts, but I love it.

Week 46, in which H IS BAPTIZED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

H   IS BAPTIZED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I know, I should probably be a little more enthusiastic, but wow did this week wear me out! In a good way of course, but I am just bushed. (Sister L says that sometimes, and it sounds so funny in a British accent, so I tend to say it that way now. She still thinks my accent is weird, but I think I'm making progress.) Anyways, H is just the sweetest thing, and the muscles in my face were so tired from smiling but I couldn't stop it all day. She asked me to speak at her baptism, and it was such a special experience. I can't remember anything I said, but I probably looked like a jack-o-lantern I was smiling so wide. Anyhow, I was sitting next to her during the next talk, and she put her hand on her chest, leaned over, and whispered, "I feel it. I feel the Holy Ghost." And it just made me want to cry. And when she came out of the water, completely clean, she just looked so happy. What a huge blessing, being able to start over, turn a new page through baptism.

I love H so much, and I just know that we'll be friends forever! She's like a little girl in so many ways, so giggly and silly and random, and we just have the best time. She introduced us to her friend A last week, and we taught both of them every day leading up to the baptism. The first time we met A, she was really shy, but she opened up and is so fun and crazy and we love her. They both read the Book of Mormon every day and love talking about it with us. It's amazing how serving a mission teaches you to see people differently, and to love them and hurt for them when they hurt and cheer for them when they succeed. I know that Heavenly Father is a perfect example of that, and he gives us opportunities to learn to be like that for ourselves, for which I am so so grateful.

Sister L had one of her less graceful moments this week while we were out running. I'm just facing forward, jogging, and one minute she's there and the next she's gone! I looked all around on my eye-level, but then checked the ground and there she was! She was thinking so hard that she just fell over! The first thing that popped into my head was the line what's-his-name says in the Prisoner of Azkaban: "Wha choo fall over for?" (No, but seriously, what's his name? All I'm thinking is Oliver Wood, but I know it's not him, it's the guy on the bus. Wow, I'm so embarrassed.) But she seemed a little out of it, so I figured I'd better save the joke for a better, more alert audience. So for the rest of the week all of the people at church were telling her off for being so clumsy haha, but I find her clumsiness endearing.

So here's an experience I never imagined happening here in the mission: teaching about prophets and Joseph Smith to a forty-something year old Pentacostal man from the middle-of-nowhere Missouri. But it's true, it happened, and it was the most interesting lesson I'd ever taught. I don't really know how else to describe it but that. He asked a lot of really deep questions and it showed that he was really thinking about our lesson, and I loved that. He returned home just a few days afterwards, but he said he'd try to find out if it were true, and I really believe him.

Today Elder and Sister S, two of the senior missionaries here, treated all of us missionaries to a buffet in the Venetian hotel/casino, and WOW was it the classiest thing I've ever been to! As we were eating, I said, "The only buffet I've ever been to before is the Golden Corral!" And Sister S laughed and laughed, and then I remembered that I'd also been to Shoneys, but I didn't think that would be worth mentioning, considering Golden Corral was laugh-worthy. The food at the Venetian was beautiful, just about everything a sister could want... except for an ice cream bar. Yeah. So I guess Golden Corral wins after all! Boo yah! But seriously, we were so grateful to the S-s, and we showed it by eating WAY TOO MUCH food. I'm kind of used to it now though, although I made the rookie mistake of not wearing a skirt with an elastic band. Yeah, I know right. Really embarrassing.

We had a few activities last weekend, so I sent out a mass text to a lot of people that we'd contacted last month (oh how I love having a cell phone! How did missionary work ever get done without them?), and we got this as one of the responses: "Sorry I was slept before just now come to work and then u saw message from u! Thanks for invite to me! I will try to my best come there! Thank you for remember to me! Any way happy mother day to you and your all friends!" I read it out loud and we both thought, "Who was the adorable Filippina who sent that?" But then we checked the number and turns out it was from a thirty-something year old Indian man who we'd taught about a month ago haha. I guess their texting languages sound super similar! But we laughed and laughed, it was just the funniest moment.

I've been thinking a lot about the principle of sacrifice, and how interesting it really is. How it's only by losing our lives that we can find them, how we can only receive everything once we give everything. What we give to others is what we truly keep. The more love we give, the more we have--wow, have I felt that on my mission. I know that the times I am the happiest are the times when I'm completely focused on another person. The times when I think about myself and what I want and how I want things to go, that's the time when I feel the least satisfied with my situation. We need others to reach that highest level of happiness--we can't do it by ourselves. I love this line from Edwin Markham: "There is a destiny that makes us brothers, none goes his way alone, All that we send into the lives of others comes back into our own." There's a plan, and all of our individual lives intertwine so beautifully, create the most beautiful masterpiece, that NO WAY JOSE that it could all be coincidence. I know that's the truth!

Anyways, thank you all so much for your letters and support and prayers! I can't believe it's May already--time flies when you're in Macau!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Week 45, in which I get a haircut (but sorry, no pictures yet), and in which I might have been a sniper target, but I'm not sure.

Hello from Macau! Yes, that's right, I'm still here! I'm so incredibly grateful for every week that God blesses me with here in this special land of miracles. Honestly, it must be something in the water, but miracles just pop up as soon as you look for them here.

T-shirt of the week, worn by a really buff Asian guy (Sarah, do you remember that one time with the buff Asian on campus? I hope you do, because I thought of you when I saw this guy. Anyways...) "They and week need to become strong di dovolop more power in the gym doing specific."

Although miracle-filled, this week was still not easy. Last week I was sick with some sort of food poisoning (I think), and this week I got sick again with some sort of cold/flu, and I ached and sniffed and sounded like a teenage boy with my voice cracking all over the place. No exaggeration, I used an entire roll of toilet paper to blow my nose this week. But nevertheless, we carried on! I'm pretty sure Ammon and Alma and Samuel and all those other Book of Mormon heroes didn't slow down when they had colds. We had a ward barbeque at the beach on Wednesday, and wow are our members awesome. They brought so many friends and kept telling us to teach them and meet with them. They are such good examples to me, and I hope I can be better about sharing the gospel with my friends when I get home.

On Friday we had a really weird experience that turned into a miracle. So on Thursday night the house phone rang (it rarely ever rings), and this random person who spoke okayish Cantonese said that her name was Y and that she'd met us once at Senado Square and wanted to meet us again there the next evening at 9pm. I know we'd never met anyone named Y before (that's a pretty memorable name), but we agreed. So the next night as we were walking to Senado Square, we hear someone say, "Hey, sisters!" And we see a member from Hong Kong who's visiting for a couple of days. He said he'd come with us to go meet this mystery woman, so he walked with us all the way there, even though it was raining. When we arrived at the fountain, we called Y and she said she was almost there. We waited. And waited. And waited. We called her again after about 20 minutes, and she said, "I'm here. I see you. But I don't know..." and then she hung up. And so we waited. And waited. And called her back. No answer. We waited for about 20 more minutes, and as time passed, I started imagining all sorts of explanations, but the one that kept coming back to my mind was like something out of a Bourne movie, or maybe James Bond. Senado Square is a beautiful, open square with a pretty fountain and lots of Portuguese-styled buildings, all old and tall and gorgeous. And I started scanning the tops of the buildings for snipers, because it felt like this Y character had lured us to the square for some mischievous reason. I told Sister Lau, and she immediately agreed, said perhaps someone was there to mark us, and to follow us home so that they could find the sister missionary residence. So by around 9:45, we decided to turn around and go home, but right before we left, I just felt like maybe there was a REASON we were there. So I said, "Okay, here's the plan. We walk one lap around the fountain, making our name tags as prominent as possible. Someone here needs the missionaries. And we walked less than 20 feet before someone said, "Hey, sisters!" Yeah, a member had been standing there for about 30 minutes. She'd just gotten here from the Philippines and didn't know how to find the church. We told her, "Sister, you have no idea how much God loves you." It's just such a blessing, to be able to serve others like that, to see evidence that God really is guiding us. We don't always see the results of our actions. I like this quote by Albert Schweitzer: "No ray of sunshine is ever lost, but the green that it awakens takes time to sprout, and it is not always given the sower to see the harvest."

We've had a wonderful week working with some of our investigators. H is preparing to be baptized next week! Happy Mother's Day! I am so incredibly proud of her. She has overcome so many self doubts and has decided to have faith. And that's what it's all about, right? We all will have moments of doubt and moments of faith, but it's which moments we decide to act on that counts. We choose to act in faith, to take a step even if we don't know if it will work. And Hjust glowed after she decided to get baptized. I can feel Heavenly Father's love for her, and wow is it a blessing to be able to feel that love for others.

We helped Sister W, one of the senior missionaries, teach a lesson this morning, and it was a very memorable experience. This man, R, has an autistic son that he has taken care of for a long time. R is around 80 years old, has about 1 tooth, and has lost his faith. He was raised as a ____, but he had so many awful experiences that he has no faith in religion. He has so many questions, and can't even find it in him to try to pray to God. He can find nothing to be grateful for, and the weight of his trials is now more than he can bear. And wow does he need the gospel. He kept interrupting the lesson, kept bringing up more and more concerns, kept arguing and then leaning back and sighing and apologizing for being so argumentative. I just want to help him so bad, but his faith is so far gone that it will take a lot of patience and love and time to bring it back. But I'm so grateful that God has blessed us with opportunities to meet people like R. He wants so badly to believe, to find faith and hope. But he can't see how a loving God would create such an unbearable "valley of tears." There are so many people like this out there, so many people who need the gospel and the knowledge of the Atonement. That's what I've learned from all the hard times on my mission, is hope. Granted, my trials seem trivial when compared with the trials of others, but something else I've learned is how useless it is to compare your trials with others. When we find the light of the gospel, it doesn't matter what kind of trials we've faced, what burdens we've had to carry. We learn that we're not alone, and that Jesus Christ is there, waiting for us to give those burdens and cares to him. Elder Holland said, "Man's extremity is God's opportunity." It's when we stand at the edge of what we can do and raise our leg to take the next step into what we're sure we can't do, that's when God can really show his power, prove to us that he's there. I've seen that this week as I think, "I am so tired and achy and my mind is cloudy and I sound like a man. How can I make it all the way to Senado Square in the rain? Or how can I help this sister feel that God actually cares about her? Or how can I sing to this person over the phone and help her feel the Spirit? Or how can I survive 6 hours at the beach?" But as I just got out the door, dialed the number, opened my mouth, I felt that little extra strength. It's real! I know it! And I'm so grateful for this chance to see miracles here.

Week 44, in which I can hardly believe it's week 44, and in which Dairy Queen is probably the most trivial, least exciting thing that happened this week (and that's saying a lot)

That's right, Dairy Queen again! It just transports me to another time and place--magical, really. But that's all I have time to say about that. We just have had so many miracles this week that I don't really know where to begin. So I think I'll just leave it at that and go buy another blizzard.

Okay, maybe not. My waistline would not appreciate that.

T-shirt of the week! "Mickey is the natural leader." And it's so true. I think it's his charisma combined with his genuine love for others that makes him just so easy to follow.

So you know how in Moroni 10 it lists gifts of the Spirit? It tells us that "every good gift cometh of Christ" and that "he is the same yesterday, today, and forever" and that if we come unto Christ we can "lay hold upon every good gift" and "be perfected in him." I've studied this chapter several times on my mission, and I've really learned how true it is. One of the gifts that I've really been seeking for is the gift to recognize faces and remember names, and wow has Christ blessed me a lot. Everywhere we go I see someone we've met before, and even though we meet so many people every day, a name just pops out of my mouth and it's always the right one! Except for the one time where we saw this man that Sister Lau had contacted on the bus, and I was sure that he was a man that I'd contacted forever ago, so I just stood behind him and said, "Chabhindra, hello!" And he didn't turn around, so I said, "Or maybe Chrisna?!" And then he turned around and started talking to us in Cantonese, and so then I realized that it was neither Chabhindra nor Chrisna, but Mr. K. So I felt a little foolish, but the fact that I was even able to pull out those names (I think they're Nepalese) is pretty impressive anyways.

So last Tuesday I must have eaten a bad noodle bowl, because I had the worst stomach cramps for about three days. But good grief, were those miracle days! And one of the biggest miracles was that every time we taught a lesson, the stomach cramps went away. As soon as we said the closing prayer, they came back and were just really awful, so I was just like, "Come on, hurry up, let's get to the next lesson quick!" But it was so worth pushing through the painful bits because we had so many miracle lessons.

My favorite lesson this week might have been with H, our investigator who is preparing to be baptized on May 12th (Happy Mothers Day!). She loves the Book of Mormon and reads it every day, and that's why I knew she was ready to be baptized. When you love the Book of Mormon, you can face any unknown, any doubts. That's one thing I've learned on my mission, if you read the Book of Mormon daily, you'll have the power to do anything you need to. And people don't always believe me when I say it, but if they would just try it out, they could know with just as much surety as I do.

One day when we were on the bus, we met a girl named K, and she was so excited to see us! She said that her friend, who was a church member, just arrived from the Philippines two days earlier and had been praying to find missionaries so that she could know where the church is! So we went with K to go meet D, and we scheduled to meet with them a couple days later so that we could teach K more about the gospel. But after a few hours of finding, I was feeling really tired. As we were walking into a different park to do the last half hour of finding, I was thinking, "Heavenly Father, I don't know if I can do another thirty minutes." And apparently he agreed with me, because who should we run into but D and K! And they were standing there talking with R, a lady that we'd given a Book of Mormon to a week earlier! It was a miracle! So many "coincidences" that you just know couldn't be a coincidence. We just taught them right there in the garden, and the Spirit was so strong that I couldn't stop smiling. My cheeks hurt so bad at the end of the day, but I guess that's the price you pay for miracles right?

We have the cutest people in this branch, I just love it. One of the elders' investigators came up to us at the activity on Saturday night and said, "I have goosebumps, and all the hair on my arms is standing up--look!" And we looked. And then we said, "Is it because you're cold?" And she looked at us like we were so weird and said, "NO, it's because the Spirit is so strong, can't you tell?" I just love these people :)

Sister Lau and I might receive the award for the silliest missionaries that have ever lived in Macau. We have the silliest little conversations that make us laugh until we cry. The other sisters think we're crazy. They're probably right. We've given each other all sorts of titles, based on our various accomplishments. One of mine is the Cockroach Slayer, because of my impeccable timing, my adept wielding of whatever weapons are at my disposal, and my limitless bravery when it comes to squashing The Big Ones. They also call me the Apartment Magician because I can break an apple into two with bare hands, and then make the apple disappear. Oh, and I'm also the PingYam Master because my PingYam is rather baller, if I do say so myself.

So this week has been rough in many ways--I can feel my body breaking down (don't worry about my teeth though, Dad, I still floss daily), and I'm tired all the time. We've taught so many lessons the past few weeks that by the time we get to the end of the day, the morning feels like weeks ago. And being sick this week made me even more tired, but WOW are the miracles worth all the sacrifice. WOW are the windows of heaven open over Macau, because WOW are the blessings pouring out. I love serving here with Sister Lau because every day we have at least five or six moments where we just look at each other with our mouths gaping open, because we're just so amazed at what happened. The gospel is true, there's no other explanation. It's not just good, it's not just a way to be happy, it's TRUE and THE way to have happiness. And people here in Macau believe it. And WOW does that make me happy. Dairy Queen may give us several minutes' pleasure, but sharing these blessings of the gospel give us lasting happiness, happiness that can last through hard times or sadness or bad dreams or times of sickness or any of those other less pleasant things that this life is guaranteed to bring.

Week 43, in which I exhibit phenomenal brute strength and mental prowess, and in which I learn more than I'll ever need to know about professional massages

Hello everyone! I'm still in Macau! Honestly, I get surprised every week when I find out that I have another week in Macau--it's such a miracle. I love this area, love the people, love the food, and love my companion! We have so many fun times, and so many weird, WEIRD things happen. It's just weird.

But first, t-shirt of the week! This might be my favorite. It's really cute actually; I almost bought it, but it was too expensive. But maybe I'll still buy it. But it's a man's t-shirt. So maybe I'll buy it and then make a man wear it. Or maybe I'll wear it anyways. It has a picture of a cute little mini scooter, and here's what it says: "Mint Green. But the are best used if you just want to have some fun. They're right for getting around as well. If you have a mini van you don't really need a scooter. The motor scooter on the sidewalk."

So this week, I broke three apples in half with my bare hands, just because I could. Turns out this whole serving a mission thing has greatly increased my upper-body strength. Maybe it's from carrying all those Book of Mormons (Books of Mormon, copies of the Book of Mormon, take your pick).

I don't think I can explain to you exactly how much I love these sweet sisters from the Philippines. They are just wonderful, so generous and loving and willing to smile and serve. And they are just so funny too! We had a health and wellness activity on Saturday, and one of the sisters is a professional masseuse, so she taught all about the history of massage, the importance of massage, how apparently Swedish massage actually came from China, just about everything but the one thing that I wanted to learn: how to convince your companion to give you a shoulder massage (those Book of Mormons really do weigh you down sometimes). She even listed off every part of the body that should never be massaged... including the orbitals haha. And after her 30 minute lecture, she looked at the clock and said, in the most serious tone of voice, "Do you really want me to do a demo? It would take over an hour..." It was just so funny. Trust me. It was.

Sundays are always great, but always incredibly exhausting. We have to try to talk to so many people while still taking care of our investigators, paying attention in lessons, running around trying to organize classes, taking pictures with everyone EVERY WEEK (they love taking pictures!), and still trying to maintain the dignity of the missionary calling. But it's so fun, a real mental challenge, trying to fit everything and everyone in. I love it! Yesterday was especially crazy, because there was a baptismal service, Sister Lau was giving a talk, and I was playing a musical number. But it was such a great sacrament meeting. The Spirit was so strong, and as I was playing, my mind flashed back to Poquoson ward, playing in the huge empty chapel. I had some of my greatest spiritual experiences there, some of my greatest growing moments.

We've worked with a less-active named T a lot this week. She's from Mongolia and hasn't been to church in years. She seems very depressed, and she misses her home country and her family a lot. Her husband is Portuguese, and neither of them are very proficient in English, so it's hard for them to communicate very well. She's lonely and is home all day with her little baby and three yappy dogs, and my heart just hurt for her when we visited her. But by the time we were leaving her home, it was like a light turned on and she was saying how happy she was and how much she felt the Spirit. She committed to pray every day and to come to church on Sunday. She hasn't come to church in years, and she said she was scared of all the Filippinas, because she has had bad experiences with people from the Philippines in the past. But we just testified of how much church will help her, and she really did have a desire to come. She said that for the next few days after the visit, the Spirit was with her, but it slowly started to fade away, so we called and prayed with her and then read a scripture and sang a hymn, and she said it really helped. We'd planned to visit on Sunday right before church to help her get there, but she texted us to tell us not to come. Then we called her and talked with her for a while and helped her to overcome those depressed feelings enough to get out of the house. And she came to church! And had a great experience! She loves the members and says she'll come back next week. It's such a miracle. I love this calling. I love it so much!