Everything is the same, but completely different at the same time. I'm wearing my old clothes, sleeping in my same room...it kind of feels like the mission was just a dream... I'm going around doing the same things I did 18 months ago...but inside, I feel so different.
I have this urge to say "bonjour" to everyone I cross at the grocery store, and I get this weird anxious feeling before I talk to anyone...I realized it was because I was trying to think of what to say to them in FRENCH. Haha...yeah, I can just speak in english now... strange. Also, everything is so convenient here and HUGE. #supersized
But it has been just magical being back. My homecoming was yesterday and it was stressful/wonderful!! It was really good to see my family, friends, ward members, and mission friends...I love them so much... I felt like my heart just might explode.
But at the same time, I had a nagging feeling like something was missing... let's face it...I miss my mission! I'm irrevocably in love with the land, the language, and most of all... the people.
Well, today I wanted to thank everyone that supported me throughout my mission, and followed my blog... I felt your prayers, and they meant the world to me. Serving a mission was THE BEST decision I ever made, hands down. Sure things are weird and different, and I missed out on a lot of things here at home...but it was more than worth it. I have never felt so blessed in my life. I have been armed with power and knowledge from my loving Father, and things will never be the way they used to, but I wouldn't want them to. It's onward and upward from here. Every chapter can be better than the one before it... This is basically how I feel (thank you David Archuletta...you should all see this movie by the way):
So I just wanted to include my homecoming talk (reader beware, it's a little long...but if you want to understand the title of this post, you need to read the whole thing), and the Liege waffle recipe that I made for the open house afterwards. So, even if you weren't able to come, you can still have the experience!
Homecoming Talk: "I have never felt something like this before..." - Anna Joly
Good morning brothers and sisters, it’s been so long!
I’d really just like to thank all of my family and friends that came out to support me today, as well as for supporting me throughout my mission. And I don’t think I can thank this ward enough, you are all amazing. I couldn’t have done it without you…
So, about 18 months ago, I stood at this podium for my farewell talk and haven’t seen most of you since. Many of you probably wondered what happened next. Well, I packed up my bags, put on a dress and headed down to the MTC with my family. I kissed them goodbye, and then just as I was about to wave goodbye they handed me a baguette…haha so I tried to juggle it as well as all my luggage, as I took the first steps into my new life. It was a…unique experience…walking down the hallway, seeing brand-new missionaries dissolve into tears, getting a shiny black name tag, being ushered into a classroom, and hearing only French from my instructor. The MTC was a great experience, I met some of my best friends there, and I felt the Spirit stronger than ever before. I really felt like I was part of a royal army. It was exciting to be surrounded by so many great young people that were about to embark to missions all over the globe,. Naturally, however, there was a great feeling of apprehension among the missionaries, myself included. Were we going to be successful? Was I going to be a good missionary? Would I be able to learn a new language, a new culture, and help bring others unto Christ?
One day, as I was pondering these questions during personal study, and feeling kind of stressed out, I read in Moroni 7:46, which reads,
46 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—
Because I was thinking a lot about success vs failure, that scripture hit me pretty hard. Charity never faileth. In that moment, at least I took it to mean, that it didn’t matter what I achieved on my mission, like the number of baptisms, or if I had leadership positions, or if I was the best of the best, or whatever else could possibly be defined as “success,” but rather that if I had charity, there was no way I could be a failure.
I thought “great!” All I have to do is go over there and have charity, I just need to love everybody and then I’ll be a success…It seemed pretty do-able. So I decided then and there that that was my mission goal. I didn’t realize that I had just placed my feet on the most important path I’d ever walk. I didn’t know how far and deep this would all go, the things I would learn, the revelation I would receive, the places I’d go, and the people I’d meet. In the process I came to know myself, who I really am, understand more clearly God’s amazing plan, and begin to comprehend the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
So yeah, today I’d like to focus on charity and love.
What is charity?
Well, I began to realize over the course of my mission that charity is way more than simply giving service, or donating to charities, or even loving other people. So what is it then?
Let’s go back to Moroni 7. In verse 45 it says,
“And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”
continuing in verse 47, it says simply that,
“But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.”
Charity is the love of Christ, pure, perfect and powerful.
There is nothing more powerful than the love of God. It is the driving force behind every good thing, behind every miracle. I’d like to share a few examples that I saw on my mission.
First of all, I’d like to tell you about Sophie…
I met Sophie with my trainer, Soeur Kohlert, on my second day in the mission field. A bright, beautiful young student from China, Sophie immediately stole our hearts. We met her on the bus, invited her to a ward activity that night (which she came to, and loved), and then we set up a rendez-vous to eat crepes for the next week. During the rendez-vous, we taught her about God and prayer. It was the first time in her life she’d ever participated in a prayer.
What followed in the next few months was incredible. Her faith increased rapidly. She abandoned partying, quit her job, which she sorely needed, to attend church on Sundays, she read the Book of Mormon for hours at a time, and said that when she had children, they’d all be missionaries.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to be there for her baptism, but she sent me an email right after. She said, “I’m mormon now!! life is like magic, our first crepe, it was like yesterday, and do still remember that first time that we met?…life is so gorgeous!
What inspired all of this? How did a young Chinese atheist, who had never prayed in her life, and who thought Christians were “jerks” (haha, that’s what she told Soeur Kohlert and I the first time we met), in just a few short months, completely change her life and be able to say boldly, “When people ask me why I am so happy all the time, I used to tell them that it was because my named means “sunshine,” and now I tell them it’s because I believe in Jesus Christ.”
Well, the answer is simple. At the end of my mission, my parents and sisters came to pick me up and we were able to go to Rennes and spend an evening with Sophie. She was ecstatic to see me! She even changed into a new dress for the occasion. She explained that when she met Soeur Kohlert and I, we were so nice, and just ‘like friends,” that she was very curious and wanted to hear what we had to say. She said that she was particularly touched when I asked her politely if we could say a prayer with her at the end of our first rendez-vous. She was intrigued…that night she prayed by herself and felt something more powerful and peaceful than she’d ever felt before. It was simply, the love of God. Little by little she came to realize that she had a Father in Heaven who understood her perfectly, and loved her unconditionally. Sophie became unstoppable, and her life became gorgeous.
The second story I’d like to share is about my friend Murielle. I had been in Arras for about a month before I met Murielle, but I had heard about her a little bit. One of the newest converts in the ward in Arras, named Dimitri, was her 19 year-old son. I was shocked to learn that he hadn’t been a member for even a year. To me he seemed like he’d grown up in the church, or had even served a mission. He had asuch a strong testimony… He and my companion talked to me a little about his mother. Apparently she put up with Dimitri’s religious choices, but thought they were weird and definitely didn’t want to get involved herself.
I finally got to meet her the week of Easter for a family home evening. Murielle was a short, blond, northerner, and smelled heavily of cigarette. We invited her to come to church, and Dimitri really insisted. She said she’d think about it… we were so pleased to see her walking up the steps to the church Easter morning. The first words out of her mouth were, “I’m only here because you and Dimitri asked me to come.” Said with a I’m-here-but-I-don’t-have to-be-happy-about-it, look on her face.
But, she must have felt something, because she never missed a sunday after that… as the months went on, however, she made very little progress. She never seemed to make time for prayer, or even take a minute to crack open the Book of Mormon. She looked at the members in wonder…how can they believe in someone they can’t see? Why are they so happy?
One day, when we were over at her house, again we talked about the importance of prayer. I testified that God loved her, that even if she had been the only person on earth, Christ would have suffered the atonement just for her. She broke down…she couldn’t believe that anyone loved her…she said that there were barriers, walls, around her heart, she couldn’t let God in.
Then my companion Soeur Liabeuf suggested that for the next week Murielle tried counting her blessings. What blessings? She asked. I have nothing! We told her to just try.
What happened next was absolutely incredible, I’m still in shock over it.
She began, as she searched for small and simple blessings in her life, to see the hand of God in her life clearer and clearer. It all happened so fast. She began to pray personally and in Sunday school. She started to read, and fall in love with the scriptures. She bought new clothes, did her hair, her face even looked brighter,… Only a week or two later she agreed wholeheartedly to baptism, even though she was terrified of water. She even quit smoking. She went from smoking 40 cigarettes a day to 0 in under three weeks. Every step towards baptism, and each new thing she learned afterwards she accepted faithfully and enthusiastically. Her life completely changed. She was a completely different person. It was astounding to watch it all unfold.
That is the power of charity, the love of God. For, as it says in John 4, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out all fear.” When we understand and feel our Father in Heaven’s unconditional love for us, we become unstoppable. Broken families can be put back together, addictions, temptations, and weakness can be overcome, and any trial lived through. When we understand God’s plan of happiness was inspired by His pure love for each of us, life becomes not only do-able, but beautiful, inspiring, and full of promise.
Now I’d like to tell you about Gigh. I met Gigh in Liege with Soeur Johns. She is a 23 year-old from Rwanda. She is so cool, she’s got this great british accent, and she won Belgium’s next top model like a week after I met her, also she’s brilliant, I recently learned that she was in her first movie like a month ago. But, on the other hand, she has had perhaps one of the most difficult lives I’ve ever heard of. At the age of 3 or 4 she saw her mom murdered right in front of her during the Rwandan genocide… it was a miracle that she herself was able to escape. Life as an orphan was extremely difficult and dangerous. She told me that what got her through, what still gets her through, is her relationship with God. She remembers, not long after the death of her mother, somebody telling her about God. That he was someone who she could pray to for help. She developed an extremely strong bond with Heavenly Father, ‘He’s my dad’ she would say.
When Soeur John’s and I met her, she was struggling to “exist” (as she put it). When we taught her the Plan of Salvation, it was like a giant light bulb went off in her head. She said, “I lived before this life? I chose to come down to earth? This changes everything! I just know that I signed up for all these challenges, I;m just the adventurous sort…I’m sure I said, ‘Yeah, bring it on!’’ This knowledge gave her the strength to continue. I got to see her with my family at the end of my mission. She said that things are still really hard, but that ever since her baptism, she has been filled with just this incredible sense of peace. She said, “My great daddy God helped me take that one hard step darling, right now he is growing and helping me the 99 steps left. Nothing is easy but I wish I could tell you how much satisfied and peaceful I am inside… nothing can beat it!”
God’s love is truly amazing. I saw it work many, many other miracles throughout my mission. I saw it change so many lives. And it changed me as well.
I came to realize that my role as a missionary was to simply be an instrument in the Lord’s hand to help reflect His light. My goal became that, through me, others would be able to feel His love and learn to trust Him, developing the faith necessary let Him help them change their lives.
I took me awhile to figure this out, and it wasn’t an easy thing to do. I learned eventually that having charity is not something that you can do half-way. Charity isn’t giving of our money, time, talents, or even our love…it is the gift of ourselves…our whole self…just like our perfect example. Christ right before performing the greatest act of charity that ever took place, humbly said, even though he wished there was another way, “not my will, but thine, be done.” He gave himself completely over to the Father. It was complete consecration of self. This is charity. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” The hallmark virtue of discipleship is charity. Christ said, “By this shall men know, that ye are my disciples, if ye have love, one to another.” Charity is all about discipleship…it means following in the footsteps of the savior, by giving over our whole selves. It is only then that Christ can begin to mold us in His image, and we can truly be instruments in His hands.
What I didn’t expect was what I would get in return. It all began to be so much easier. As I focused on others, and, as Moroni encourages, as I “prayed unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that [I] may be filled with this love…” wonderful things began to happen. Things got so much clearer. I saw people, at least in part, the way our Heavenly Father sees them… Everything became so beautiful, even the hard times. My trust in God and His timing gave me this incredible peace that everything would work out. I began to see miracles everyday. When I tried to have charity and be an instrument, I felt unstoppable, like nothing was impossible. I have never felt so blessed in my entire life. I would say that “I feel like I just get up every morning, head out the door, and I have the privilege of watching God work.” Doctrine and Covenants 123: 17 became one of my favorite scriptures, which reads,
17 Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.
There is no better feeling than being an instrument in the hands of God. It’s amazing. I had moments of just profound joy. There were times that I felt so surrounded by His love, it hurt, like there wasn’t enough room in my heart to hold it all.
I felt like Ammon, when he said to his brethren in Alma 26:
“And now, I ask, what great blessings has he bestowed upon us? Can ye tell?
3 Behold, I answer for you; for our brethren, the Lamanites, were in darkness, yea, even in the darkest abyss, but behold, how many of them are brought to behold the marvelous light of God! And this is the blessing which hath been bestowed upon us, that we have been made instruments in the hands of God to bring about this great work.”
“15 Yea, they were encircled about with everlasting darkness and destruction; but behold, he has brought them into his everlasting light, yea, into everlasting salvation; and they are encircled about with the matchless bounty of his love; yea, and we have been instruments in his hands of doing this great and marvelous work.”
There is nothing more powerful than the love of God. And it is all around us, all we have to do is look. This very earth we live on is a product of it. Every flower, tree, everything witnesses to it. And the greatest proof of His love is the gift of His son, through which we can not only overcome any obstacle life throws at us, but we will one day overcome death itself, and we can return and live with our Heavenly Father, surrounded by our loved ones.
I don’t know how many of you were here at my farewell… but in my talk I talked about one of my friends Anna who lives in France. A lot of you know her because she lived with my family here summer 2012. In my farewell talk I recounted the experiences that we had together and how she had felt the Spirit at our family reunion. I had even read the little “testimony” that she had shared the next day describing how she had felt and the experience she had while staying with us. Well, two days before flying home, my family and I went out to eat with her family. My family had prepared a gift for her. It was a picture book of her “great American adventure.” She loved it! I’ve never seen anyone so happy about a present. She read it with awe as the memories and feelings from her trip began to flood back. Then she came to the last page, where her testimony was written… it said,
“As you maybe know i’m sort of an atheist so i’m not believing in God…but i could feel something (at the testimony meeting)…I don’t know how I should call it…I think you call it the Spirit… I felt love…soo much love in one place… I never felt something like this before.”
I watched as Anna read those words over again…she lingered on the page and said to me, “I remember this so clearly…I have never felt anything like that before…never.” And then she closed the book and held it close. Anna was right, there is nothing like that feeling. I saw the power of that feeling over and over again on my mission. We have all felt it before. The prophet Alma calls it the “song of redeeming love.”
In a CES devotional, I Will Give Myself to Him, Russell Osguthorphe said, “I know that we can accept Christ’s invitation to come and be strengthened, to come and be forgiven, to come and feel His infinite love. Then, with a smiling heart, we will want to sing the song of redeeming love. Not just once in a while—we will want to sing this song always. When we feel strength to do something difficult, we will sing the song in our heart. When we allow truth to find us and enlarge our soul, we will sing the song. When we feel forgiven, we will sing the song. And when we feel His love, we will sing the song.
Each time we sing it, we will be giving our will to Him, the only gift we have to give Him. He will not only accept this gift, He will expand it and deepen it. He will cause us to feel more capable. He will help increase our capacity to love and be loved. He will lead us out of darkness into light. He will heal and help us in ways that permit us to forgive and be forgiven.”
And so I would ask you all, as Alma questioned, “If ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” I hope that you can all feel it. It is 100% free and is always, always available. just as our dear prophet said in General Relief Society meeting, speaking of God’s love, “It is simply there. It is there for you when you are sad or happy, discouraged or hopeful. God’s love is there for you whether or not you deserve love. It is simply always there.” just as I learned in the MTC.. it never fails.
My stomach was in complete knots as I waited in the mission home... It had been quite a week already... saying goodbye to Soeur Whisler, the Elders, members, amis etc. in Bruxelles, a last minute service project when I should have been packing, early train ride into Paris, Paris p-day with my MTC soeurs, interview with President, testimony meeting, Chinese buffet, slumber party in the Mission Home, woken up by Soeur Jackson at 5:45 am, saying goodbye to the Soeurs as they headed off to the airport, waiting with Soeur Hunsaker, not able to go back to sleep, Soeur Hunsaker's mom coming and then the two of them leaving...then there was just me...I couldn't have been more anxious. Was it really over? Was I really going to see my family at any moment?
Then, a knock at the door. It was Elder Wall (senior missionary), and behind him was the most beautiful sight....my family.
It was such a great reunion! We got to chat with President and Soeur Babin, take pictures etc. I was just... filled with joy. It was so good to see them again.
So, I am still a missionary. And let me tell you, this is my kind of missionary work. We just go happily along, visiting Paris, Versailles, the Paris temple site, Bruxelles, Liege...spreading the gospel as we go. We've already had lots of neat experiences together. We met a nice lady at a grocery store the first day. She was kind of smiling at us, amused by our American accents, we struck up a conversation and we got to tell her about the temple that is being built just 100 meters from where we were! We saw Gigh in Liege and watched general conference with her. It was AMAZING. She was glowing. She has really seen the difference in her life since making the decision to be baptized. She is going to do great things. I'm so proud of her. Then today we were just wanting some hot chocolate and we ended up talking to quite a few people at Starbucks, even giving away pass-along cards and brochures. I was so proud of little Natalie who went up and put a pass-along card into a street performers tin... it was adorable.
And so I continue, doing missionary work, WITH MY FAMILY. Could life get any better? I'm here visiting my favorite places on earth, visiting my best friends, with the people I love most, and I still get to be a missionary. So just call me, the un-returned missionary. ;)
Well....I'm feeling...kind of like Ammon in the scripture above. "I cannot say the smallest part which I feel."
I guess I'm glad that I opened my heart just enough to listen to that little voice that told me "Go. Don't worry about where you'll go or what you'll do. Just trust me." I'll admit that I was scared, that I shed a lot of tears... but I'll be forever grateful that I was just humble enough, courageous enough, and faithful enough to take this leap of faith... And it wasn't a lot. Just eighteen months of service. In fact the "sacrifices" I made, the "hardships" I went through...though they were real, so real, they were nothing compared to what I got in return....
As I look back at my mission I am just filled with wonder. He was with me the whole time. I took a step into the darkness and He led me from one majestic place to another.. places more beautiful than I could imagine, He introduced me amazing people, and He taught me about who I am, and who I can become.
I see so much more clearly now. Things that were blurry before have suddenly come into focus, brilliant focus. And that is because I know Him, the way, the truth and the light.
I don't know what lies ahead for me...but the beautiful thing about the gospel of Jesus Christ is that we don't have to be scared. He's already shown us the path, we just have to follow Him. It's is so simple. And when we put our lives in His hands, every day is an adventure, an opportunity to learn and grow and serve. We can learn from our mistakes and plan for our future. Every chapter can be better and more brilliant than the one before. That is the gospel. That today can be better than yesterday...eternal progression, you know? And it is all possible because of one who loved us so much "He laid down His life for his friends." Let us share this love. It's all that really matters.
Anyways, this last week was full of joys and challenges, just like anyother week on the mission. I'm tired...my back hurts, even my toes hurt. But there were miracles everyday. Like a member hoping we would call her, just to have us randomly show up at her house. Or Anastasia coming to church and thinking tithing and the temple was "chouette." Or our new friend Nuria coming to all three hours of church and just loving it... Or the opportunity I had to give another talk and play my violin one last time. It was a beautiful end to a beautiful journey. But it's not over. It's the beginning. My brother Bradley shared this quote with me a few months ago, it's the last paragraph in the last book in the Chronicles of Narnia...changed my life, no big deal:
"And as He (Aslan) spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion, but the things which began to happen after that were so GREAT and BEAUTIFUL that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the REAL STORY. All their life in this world and their adventures in Narnia (the mission) had only been the cover and the title page. Now at last they were beginning CHAPTER ONE of the GREAT STORY which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before." - C.S. Lewis
And although it will break my heart to leave all of this behind, I know that even greater things are ahead, on and on for eternity. "If God be for us, who can be
against us?" Romans 8:31
This is the truth. I know that Heavenly Father lives and loves us and I am so grateful that I had the amazing privledge to serve Him as a missionary. I'd encourage any of you who haven't served to do so! It will change everything.
Pictures: Soeur Hafen, back to Liege, an invincible summer, Soeur Hosking (matching dresses!!!!!)
This week was...exhausting, yet exhilarating at the same time.
My body is so tired, but God is seriously carrying me through. I saw miracles EVERY DAY this week. He even gave me a companion who loves giving back massages! He is with me every step of the way. I feel Him next to me.
"Therefore, that we should waste and wear out our lives in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness, whereinweknow them; and they are truly manifest from heaven—" Doctrine and Covenants 123:13
But it is all worth it because I am "bringing to light all the hidden things." There is nothing more important than this. This was the best decision I ever made... to be a messenger.
This week I had two awesome exchanges. The first was with Soeur Hafen. She is from Michigan. We saw incredible things together. The best was when we taught this lady in the street and she accepted a Book of Mormon. I noticed there were two people hanging around behind us...after we started to walk away, they approached us and asked us if we were lost. The pointed us in the right direction and then just stood there... They asked if we were preaching the word of Christ. Turns out the Elders had found them a few months ago and promised to send the Soeurs... they never did. They said, "we saw you over there and thought, those must be the Soeurs!" So yeah, we have two new friends! They let us into their home and we taught them a lesson and prayed with them!
Then I had my last exchange...with Soeur Hosking!!!!!!! She was trained by the one and only Soeur Johns! It was an incredible exchange! We taught the Restoration to this girl named Nayolie. She really felt the Spirit and asked great questions.
Soeur Hosking should go into motivational speaking. She is seriously inspiring. She's the one who told me to "Make sure you step on Satan's face on your way out the door."(aka finish strong) I really learned a lot from our exchange... It just the perfect way to end my STL run.
THEN the best part, I got to take her back to Liège!!! It was so surreal to walk those streets and to ride the bus and see the apartment. Everything was the same, yet so different. I was just knocked over by a flood of memories and emotions... I realized that Liege was pretty much the same...but that I was different. I can't believe how much I've changed... What a blessing.
Then the weekend. All this running around this transfer with exchanges and what not finally caught up with us...Soeur Whisler and I both got really sick. It hurt to walk, and everything got dizzy when we went outside. But God helped us! We tried our best to get the necessary rest, but we also tried to work. And God just sent people to us... We even had a member's daughter tell us she is ready for baptism!
This sunday we had two amis at church. One of which was muslim and we got to give her an Arabic Book of Mormon...so cool. Also, I'm giving ANOTHER talk this next Sunday. Two in the same transfer!
This week was crazy, as usual. We kicked it off with zone conference. The most I've ever done in a zone conference before was lead everyone in the mission song, but this last week Soeur Whisler and I gave a 40 minute formation about teaching with the scriptures, I gave my dying testimony (I was the only one too!) and then I played my violin for the musical number. It all went really well, but man was I stressed right before!
Then I headed straight off to Villen d'Ascq for an exchange with Soeur Tane (a tahitien!) Then the next day Soeur Bennion and I came up to Brussels for our exchange. She is incredible. We had a marvelous redhead exchange (yes she's a ginger too) together and really learned a lot from each other and met some cool people and taught lessons in the street...so awesome.
Then this weekend was pretty crazy... we did some service so we ended getting to wear jeans...it was so strange...haha.
But the best thing was today for p day the senior couple here took us to the gorgeous park to the site where Belgium was dedicated by Elder Holland. It felt like the sacred grove. It was these three giant stone in the middle of a clearing lead to by 12 paths...symbolic? Then we read the dedicatory prayer together. It was a really amazing moment. It really helped me remember why I'm here and that what I'm doing really matters... And just the potential of the church here in Belgium...
Anyways I chose 2 Timothy 1:7 today because Soeur Whisler and I have been talking about fear lately. And how if we have the gospel in our lives we have no need to fear. Perfect love casteth out all fear. We don't need to worry about our futures or if everything is really going to work out in the end. God LOVES us and if we trust him and his plan, EVERYTHING will work together for our good... there isn't a more beautiful message than that. And I have the pleasure and blessing to share that with everyone I meet, everyday...
This was maybe one of the craziest weeks on my mission. Like Soeur Whisler says..."everyday like we are in a movie..." But really, Brussels is absolutely nuts. We just walk outside and the cameras start rolling. If they made"The District: Brussels" it would definitely be interesting.
This week started out with...going back to Arras!!!!!!!! It was absolutely magical. The train pulled in and I just led Soeur Whisler to my old apartment, where I had just lived for the last six months, rang the door bell and was greeted by a giant hug from my dear daughter Soeur Liabeuf! Then I got to meet my Granddaughter, Soeur Rasband. She is absolutely adorable. She's from American Fork and she's already an amazing missionary. Our exchange together was a dream. The Lord blessed us with some crazy miracles. I am just so grateful that I got an extra day as a missionary in my beloved Arras.
When I got there Soeur Liabeuf handed me a stack of books and said they were for me! They were from Isabelle and Jean-Pierre. They had even wrote me a touching dedication in the front. I'm so excited to read them. Then for dinner we went to the Engelen's home and, frère Engelen, who's from Bruxelles, told me all about how the quartier where the Soeurs live is dangerous...great. Good thing we have special missionary protection. Then the next day Soeur Rasband and I did some contacting and met a woman named Christine. She started out pretty defensive, but quickly invited us in and we taught her and two of her friends! She accepted a Book of Mormon and a return appointment. Then we went to the Marechal's home and she had invited her neighbor over at the last minute. She isn't believing at all, but her baby grandson is really really ill. So we prayed for him. The Spirit was really strong and she ended up agreeing to try and pray and even asked some questions that led to a discussion about the plan of salvation...It was amazing. I am so happy that I was able to go back to Arras and spend the day with Soeur Rasband, she's soooo great. So yeah, of course we took some 3 generation photos!
Then on Friday we had the baptism of Steve and Gabriel Kwenge! I LOVE BAPTISMS. This one was really really special. Those two boys have just won my heart. They have such a deep and sincere faith in Jesus Christ and they will do great things. I am so happy to have been a part of all of this... haha but it's been such a comedy of errors getting them to this point. Their mom Patricia is always like at least an hour late to everything...including their baptism... and then to top it off the water was FREEZING. Oh well, the spirit warmed them right up afterwards.
Sunday was full of miracles too! We had our ami Anastasia show up to church...we didn't even know she was coming! She LOVED it. We had a little lesson with her afterwards and she prayed for like a good ten minutes, thanking God for leading us to each other. She even called us 'prophetesses." haha. AND we finally got Fujiko a Book of Mormon in Japanese!
Well, for those of you who know me well...you know that I talk in my sleep. Soeur Whisler said that the night of the baptism I said in my sleep, "God is so good. God is SO good." And that came from the heart people. God is really so good. I love this gospel and I love my mission! God loves us all, let's share this love with everyone!!!!!!!!!!!!
So when I was serving in Liege, Soeur Johns and I were often in Brussels. Whenever we came here we just felt like everything moved so fast. Everyone running around through the metros, jumping on trams etc. So I dubbed the fast-paced Brussels' way of life....The Brussels Hustle.
Well, it is still an acurate description of Brussels! Life here is super fast, and the work is moving even faster! With four equipes of missionaries we are always getting referrals from the Elders, meeting new faces at church every week, and finding new people almost every day. Not to mention we are running around going on exchanges too!
This last week was super fast. We started out with Week 2 District Meeting where Soeur Whistler and I gave a presentation. We shared this video. I absolutley love it! Watch it! THIS is why we do what we do.
Then we headed out to VALENCIENNES for our first exchange! I got to be with Soeur Doyle. She's only one transfer below me and is whitewash training. It was an amazing exchange and I really learned a lot from her. Her blue is super cute too! She is so excited to do missionary work and it makes everyone else pumped too.
Here in Brussels we saw a lot of miracles. We are preparing these two boys, Steve and Gab (12 and 10 years old) for baptism this next Friday. They are AMAZING. They are just zooming through the Book of Mormon and they understand and apply what we teach really quickly. They are really a miracle. Their mom, Patricia, just called us one day and asked if her boys could get baptized...(she's a less-active member).
Then, we've been working with this other family, the Pistaceci's. They parents are inactive and their 9 year old daughter isn't baptized. This last week we went over and watched "Finding Faith in Christ." Sophia, the daughter, got really really quiet...I don't think I'll ever forget the look on her face...or on her father's. The spirit was really strong, I felt like all of us were just surrounded in the loving arms of our Heavenly Father. Afterwards they agreed to come to church and Anders (the father), told us he'd like Sophia to get baptized:)
Then we met this lady named Anastasia. We taught her the first lesson and it was incredible. She is so prepared, she kept saying how "curious" she was and how she was going to pray and read the Book of Mormon. She's from Rwanda, just like Gigh!
Then on Sunday, I was asked to give a talk. I talked about hope...I've really been studying that this week and it's been really interesting. I don't have a lot of time to talk about it, maybe next week. Yesterday was the last Sunday in this building at Louise! It was so sad watching everybody carrying out books and manuals and taking last pictures... but the church here is on to bigger and better things! As our leader said yesterday, "we are living a miracle."
Well, sadly that's all the time I have...you know, the Brussels hustle and all! I'll talk to you next week!
Also, if you want to send me any letters, my new address is
Well everybody, I'm back. Back in Brussels. And I am beyond excited to be here. When I got off the train in Bruxelles-Midi I was overcome with emotions... I felt like I was coming home. And ever since, I've just had this crazy sense of peace, and energy. I'm here for a reason. And Soeur Whistler is just GENIAL. We are going to work so hard this transfer. We're already seeing the hand of the Lord in our companionship and in this ville. There are eight missionaries here. And we are just ready to go. Especially the new equipe that just got whitewashed in. Elder Bailey and Elder Gutelius. They are just bouncing off the walls. I feel that way too. I just can't wait to get out and talk with EVERYONE. This city is magic.
That doesn't mean that there aren't a lot of problems. In fact, I've never seen a ward in such bad shape. We have no ward mission leader or Relief society president, the bishop is leaving in a week, annnnnd they just announced at church yesterday that the building that we meet in is going to be shut down next week. That means everyone has to travel extra far to the Flemish side of Brussels for church. This is seriously a trial of faith for the members here. We had some major freak-outs yesterday. (Mainly on the part of our Japanese Ami, Fujiko). But I know that this is inspired. It is going to unite this ward... Side note: I need to learn Spanish. Half the ward here is Hispanophone. Yesterday at church I heard English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian and Japanese. My French just doesn't cut it anymore, haha. Not to mention half the people we contact speak spanish or latvian or some other crazy language. Welcome to Europe's capital!
So, now I'm an STL...and it's... a lot of planning and meetings... it's good, but right now I feel like it's cutting into proselyting time. We are going to have to be really, really efficient with our time. BUT it is such a blessing to be able to work with all the soeurs and to be able to attend mission council and everything. I'm already learning so much. We were planning our exchanges, and I'm going to be able to work with some really amazing missionaries. What a dream. I also am going to be able to go back to Arras next week!! That is going to be a miracle. As much as I'm excited to be here in Brussels, my heart just broke leaving Arras... Such a tender mercy that I get to go back so soon.
I really felt like the Lord was watching over me this week. Giving me what I need to finish out strong. The most amazing was on Wednesday when I dropped of Soeur Liabeuf at St Merri to go get her blue. I was just surrounded by some of the people I love most in this world...Sr Cameron, Tupai, Henson, Holmes, Walker, Hales, Jackson... it was magic. I even got to see all the new missionaries come in...15 SISTERS. I felt so old...That was me not that long ago...or at least it doesn't seem that long ago. Anyways, the only one I hadn't seen was Soeur Bitter. But we had to go catch our train to Brussels. As we were heading out I saw her across the street...and there was a Chinese young woman standing right next to her. I was speechless. But even from 50 meters away Sr Bitter knew exactly what question was running through my mind. "It's who you think it is!!!!" she yelled. Immediately the tears came, it was SOHPIE. We embraced and thanked God for this tender, tender mercy. I told her, through tears, that I was coming to Rennes soon. "I'll see you in Rennes." she said, as I was whisked away to Belgium... miracle. I felt like Alma when he runs into the sons of Mosiah after 14 years...they were still his brethren in the Lord... overcome with a joy so profound it hurts. (I didn't fall to the ground like Alma, thank goodness...Paris is dirty, haha.)
I can't even explain to you how beautiful the mission/life is. Moments like that are... glimpses into eternity. May God bless you all and may you be able to see the little miracles all around us. I love you, until next week,
Yes, you read that right, I am going back to Belgium. History is repeating itself. But this time instead of finishing my training, I'm finishing Soeur Liabeuf's training. Instead of heading to Leige, I'm going to Brussels. And instead of being a young, inexperienced missionary, I'm going into my final transfer as a Sister Training Leader. The symmetry is pretty neat. I am beyond excited. It's going to be an action packed, high speed, big city end to my mission. I'll be running all over Belgium and Northern France. I may even get to do exchanges in Liege and Arras... is this seriously real life? I feel super blessed. The Lord prepared me for this one. When I served in Liege I was in Brussels pretty much every other week...exchanges, zone conferences, stake conference etc. I already have met some of the amis and I know that apartment like my second home. It's kind of overwhelming, but I have just an awesome sense of peace actually. I'm pretty humbled by this, but God's helped me out so far, he's not just going to abandon me at the end:) I feel like it's going to be perfect, and it's going to be just beau, quoi.
In other news, I am going to be a GRANDMA. Yep, my darling daughter Soeur Liabeuf is going to be training!!! I'm so excited for her, she is going to do so great. Soeur Tupai is also training... seriously she's going to be amazing too.
I am really sad to be leaving Arras... I have never loved a place more. I feel almost like I've had a glimspe into eternity. Heavenly Father has pushed, stretched and refined me over the last 5 months, and my future will never be the same. I have learned about Him, and I've learned about me. I've learned that faith is a REAL POWER that can change the world. It can knock down the highest walls and collapse the strongest barriers: time, addiction, heartache, unbelief...all is surmountable with faith in Jesus Christ. And faith cannot be developed until we feel God's love. Without charity this work is impossible. We can't do anything. But with it, we are unstoppable. I will be forever grateful for my time in Arras. We've been having miracles up until the last minute. The Rivierre's are beyond active, Murielle is excited to do her "archeology" (geneology), and Estelle is glowing brighter during each lesson. Even Soeur Liabeuf's brother and sister-in-law are opening up... And I just feel so blessed to have been able to see it all happen. Comme quoi, le Seigner nous connait.
It is amazing to look back at where I was when I arrived in Arras and see how much I've progressed. Yesterday at church two lost, Australian ladies showed up for church and I was able to translate for them... I realized how far I've come in my French. But the language skills don't really matter, I feel like it was a symbol of just how far I've come on my mission... I'm excited to take what I've learned and lift and fortify the Soeurs around me. This is it. It's go time. (haha, yes, I'm being a little dramatic, but that's what happens when you're a missionary, haha)
Hello everyone, we had some BIG miracles this week, so buckle up! haha, but seriously we were really blessed this week. You know that you're doing it right when you feel like you had nothing to do with it. Let me explain: There is nothing I love more than just feeling like an instrument in the Lord's hand. None of this "success" is because of me, or because I'm a "great missionary." Never is, never was, never will be. It is such a blessing, exhilarating at times, to wake up, get out the door and just watch the Lord use you in His work. Once we let go of our own plans, ideas, pre-conceived notions, the Lord is able to fulfill his designs. And when He is able to use me, imperfect little me...that is the best feeling in the world. That's why it is so important to have the spirit. How can we be lead if we aren't listening? And how can others feel it, if I don't live it?
Going along with that, this last week we watched a David Archuletta return missionary interview/video thing. It was super inspiring, I'd invite you all to watch it. Anyways, there was a part that really struck me. When he was on American Idol, for one of the performances he performed "Imagine," (The Beatles). I don't know if you all watched that, but I remember when he sang it and that it was pretty moving. Anyways, his vocal coach recounted the conversation they had the day after:
"That was a really good performance last night David, congratulations. But you and I both know that it wasn't perfect."
"It wasn't my goal to be technically perfect."
"Oh really, what was it?"
"It was that they would feel the Spirit..."
I was really touched by that. I thought about it over and over again. It goes along with what's been on my mind a lot lately. Perfection and the gospel. I've come to the conclusion that there are two ways to live the gospel/serve a mission. The first way, the hard way, is perfectionism. This way is all about looking inward, cutting yourself down, trying to never ever make a mistake...it leads to misery and depression. The second way is to look outwards, it's hard, but it's easier and we are richly richly blessed for it. This is Christ's way. As soon as we stop thinking about ourselves and focus on others, forgetting about "technical perfection," that's when we will actually, (eventually) achieve it. This week, more than ever, I've tried to focus on "helping others feel the spirit"...in every lesson, every contact, every conversation. AND WOW, I've felt completely unstoppable. I've got a long way to go, but the road just gets clearer with every step.
So here are the miracles:
1. Taught Philippe and Aline about the temple and geneology... turns out they've been doing geneology for YEARS. Philippe has BINDERS full of it. "Each sheet of paper is a person," he said. By baptizing Philippe we opened the door for hundreds.
2. MURIELLE WAS BAPTIZED! And Dimitri (her son) baptized her. He was pretty scared and kept saying he didn't want to, but in the end he did it, and it was really a great moment. He also confirmed her the next day. Seriously, Murielle is a completely different person. She went from 40-0 in just 3 weeks. She went from hating prayer and religious discussion, to shouting out answers in Sunday School, giving beautiful prayers, accepting principle after principle with ease, and just glowing with the Light of Christ... and Soeur Tupai was there so double miracle.
3. And the biggest of all. Soeur Liabeuf's brother and sister-in-law came to church yesterday. I don't even know if I can describe to you what that meant to Soeur Liabeuf. It really taught me the power of prayer. Of course Soeur Liabeuf was praying for it. I talked about it with Soeur Cameron on our exchange, and we decided to pray about it. AND the bishop, and his counselors prayed about it together... incredible. This is a huge step, HUGE. This will change her life.
4. And a hundred other tiny miracles, like meeting a young catholic family that just GLOWED with the light of Christ, bearing my testimony to Eliane from England who has questions about the church, praying with two teenage girls who have no idea who they really are, the Paulian's friend Latitia coming to church and now wanting to learn about Christ, train conductor Giles says "If you know Christ, you have truly understood. If he is for us, who can be against us?", and our mission president raising the vision of the mission...we need to BECOME not just do, we need to CONSECRATE not just sacrifice...
So yeah, just another week in the life, right? I am so blessed.
29 And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s,
30 But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.
Sometimes revelation comes line upon line, precept upon precept...but sometimes it feels like it comes truckload by truckload. This week I feel like I've gazed into heaven. My entire mission I've been learning. I've learned about faith, patience, the Atonement, the commandments, grace vs.works, the resurrection, the temple, how to contact people, how to feel the spirit, you name it, I've probably studied it, experienced it, thought about it, taught it. Up until this point they've felt a little like disconnected principles, floating around in my head. Now they are beginning to merge together into a beautiful, magestic whole. I've been searching and praying for answers for awhile now...and seriously this week, God has just been throwing down sacred truths, one after another.
And I know that they are true, because each one makes life/existence/the gospel, more and more simple, clear, beautiful.
I know they are from God because they make sense, and because I feel like I've heard them before.
"If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal." -D&C 42:16
My mission is not about "changing." It not a fight against true myself, struggling to reach a perfection that is simply out of reach. It's not taming the natural man, It's getting rid of him completely. I'm not changing into something new or different or against my nature. Rather, it's giving myself to God, and allowing Him to pull back the layers...the layers of worldly distractions, culture, ignorance, unbelief, appetites, passions, dependancies, all the baggage we collect in this earthly existence, all the walls that we build, to reveal who I really am and what I am really destined to become. The mission, (life and eternity for the matter) is about becoming whoI really am.
And who am I? That is a question we must all ask. And then we must spend the rest of our lives becoming who we really are.
And it's not easy. That is why God offers His help. It would be impossible with out Him, we are too weak, too imperfect and too human. That is where Jesus Christ comes in. Every day He is there, waiting for us towant to know. To want to know badly enough that we ask. And to ask sincerely enough, with the determination to do. Then he'll take us by the hand, show us the path, and then we will become. And what will we become? Moroni says it more eloquently than I ever could:
"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen."
We will become like Him.
And the best part is...that this isn't hard. This is the easiest way. The path of discipleship may be rough sometimes, but it's a road of contentment. It's an exciting path. It's the only way to true fulfillment, profound joy and lasting happiness...
Wow, well that's enough of my thoughts. Anyways, those are just my musings for the week. In other news. All those things that I just explained are happening in the lives of people all around me. And that is profound joy. I see Murielle not just giving up cigarettes so she can get in the water, but becoming a refined woman, a true disciple of Christ. I don't see Philippe just giving away Book of Mormon's because it's what "everyone does" in the church, I see a changed man sharing something precious that he's found with others.
This week has been beautiful. I had the best exchange of my life this week. With Soeur Cameron. Yes, Soeur Cameron, my MTC angel. It was seriously a tender mercy. Estelle and Charlotte came to the baptism of Rene, Cedric and Yann. When we showed up for church yesterday morning there was a whole crowd of people waiting to get into the church...who was it? It was our recent converts...half an hour early. I felt the Spirit put words into my mouth, I saw wall after wall fall down as the spirit testified to people in the street and in their doorways. This is real. This is powerful. And it is possible for each one of us.
I love you all and I wish you all a great week!
Soeur Lorraine Hilton
"Only as we spend the time to think deeply about the questions asked in
the Book of Mormon will the Spirit help us find answers - answers that,
when internalized and acted upon, have the power to help us grow and