Monday, December 30, 2013

Some ends and some beginnings

It is 4 a.m.  The world is still sleeping, it is dark outside and there is white snow covering the earth, and trees.  I am sitting in our quiet, dark kitchen in a sweatshirt, sweat pants, hat, long socks and a blanket trying to fight off the bitter cold that has become so foreign to my body.  My fingers haven't gotten warm since I landed in the Salt Lake City airport three days ago.  Everything around me is still - but my thoughts wander to a small city off the coast of Bagasbas beach; a world away from where I am now that is wide awake. The people there are in the late part of the afternoon. I think of them and my heart swells a little bit with love.


The past few days have been a blur of smiling and hugging, feelings of joy and excitement from seeing family and friends; those individuals whom I have been so distant from for so long. But there are other feelings; there is the loss and the pain that I feel from losing others that I love so much.  I keep looking at the tall ceilings of our home or the three soft pillows on my bed wondering if it was all real.  Did I really live in the Philippines? Everything here is so different from the world I left behind: hot showers, the electricity doesn't randomly go out, I am not a giant, and doing the wash takes only moments.  It seems that nearly everything has changed.

Last Friday morning I placed all of my things in my Mission Presidents car and they drove me to the small one room airport.  They hugged me, shook my hand and wished me luck.  I boarded the small plane and took my seat feeling slightly alone heading for a city (Manila) which I knew nothing about but I felt a little grateful that at least this time I could speak the language.  We fastened our seat belts and listened to the flight attendant instruct us in Tagalog about the flying safety procedures.  It was as though only a few months ago I was on that same plane flying into Naga. Staring out the small oval window I looked down at the miles and miles of green rice fields and hills of coconut trees. I remember wondering about the people that lived in the midst of all that green, their lives and their stories.  I remember hoping they would be accepting of a tall blond Sister who spoke very little of their language but who was going to try to love them and to serve them.  As the airplane moved higher into the air I watched the fields and the trees and the people with their stories who now I did love very much grow smaller and smaller.  I put my face into my hands and let the tears run freely.

It has truly felt like Christmas seeing friends and loved ones again.  I don't seem to be able to hug my parents enough, and I also can seem to put enough layers of clothing on. It's freezing.  Everything seems the same in some ways, but in others, it is completely different.  Time is funny that way I guess.  As I lay in bed this morning I thought about this new world I am in now. I was running the same questions over and over in my mind of how to find balance; how to merge my two worlds.  How do I keep the memories and the feelings of Naga alive and real in my memory? How do I strive to feel the Gift of the Holy Ghost directing me every day now that the name tag and the perfectly planned schedules are gone? And where do I go from here?

In Bruce C. Hafen's book. "The Broken Heart" he quotes Anne Lindbergh in saying, "I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. if suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers.  To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness and the willingness to remain vulnerable."

So I guess that would be the secret. That is the formula. I must continue to place myself in situations that are not comfortable, that push me, remaining open and vulnerable.  One point, this dear miss Lindbergh did not mention though is that in order for this formula to be truly successful and to answer my concerns I must be vulnerable as I submit to small bits of guidance from my Father in Heaven.  This makes perfect sense because that is what a mission is, a 24/7 experience miles away from the comfort zone.  And as we pray and study the scriptures and serve and love, we find fulfillment and joy; placing ourselves in the refining fire over and over again.  It is easy to write about doing this but much harder to do.  Even only being home for a few days I can see how easy it could be to just slip back into life, as if nothing had happened.  So now the challenge will be to continue to push myself out of that comfort zone; staying vulnerable and fighting the urge of ease... the urge to slip back into the world and go with the crowd. It will take discipline and determination to continue to seek out my Father in Heaven and do his will.  These are the ways I will always remember and how the memories will stay vivid.

My heart is truly full of gratitude this week as we celebrate the life of our Savior.  I am grateful for the gospel that leads us in the direction of becoming more like Him.  and I will forever be grateful for the 18 months of my life that I was able to learn of my Savior and to share his warmth and light.  Merry Christmas and Happy 2014!

              Its good to be home.

Monday, December 23, 2013

updates coming

my dear friends,

due to jet lag (haha).... I will post an update later today or tomorrow! thanks for all the support and love.  its great to be home.

Monday, December 16, 2013

She's Coming Home (Like it or Not)

Dearest family, 

So they have little BBQ stands everywhere here... and these BBQ stands sell every body part from the chicken. I have never bought meat from these stands because I have been worried about the implications. But, it was on the bucket list. This last week I ate BBQ chicken head and intestine. The head is surprisingly better than the intestine. Just so you know. . .  

The time has come the walrus said......

I can’t believe this is the last email I will send from the Pines as a full time missionary. This week has been sublime and a bit heart wrenching. We have been on the go all week trying to get everything done. Yesterday, the Daet Ward gave me a goodbye party. It was one of the true highlights of my mission. All of these people I love were there and we sat in a circle and one by one they said the nicest things and wished me well. I was a mess but I am so happy that I got to be part of their lives. It was very nice.

President Monson gave a talk called "Finishers Wanted." In this talk he poses this question: "shall I falter or shall I finish?" It is something I have been thinking a lot about these past few months, wanting to give my all.  Yesterday, I felt abundance come back to me again. None of us are perfect missionaries, but I am so grateful for the places I have been and the experiences I have had as I have tried to share this wonderful message. As these people change their lives, they have helped me see the person I want to be. I have felt God’s love and joy every day out here. Life, like missions, is not easy but with the gospel... things work out. There is a pathway made bright and we are able to rise above trial and fears.  


We had NINE investigators at church yesterday. NINE! I haven’t had nine at church ever, my entire mission. It was such a wonderful blessing. One woman we met has not had any of the lessons yet but she delivered a still-born baby on Friday and she decided to come in search of peace. I hope she felt God’s love for her. The members were fantastic and greeted her and sat with her. I know she didn’t feel alone – at least for just a little while.  

I have loved going on exchanges over the last 6 months. As we travel we end up sleeping on various surfaces. These are all "survivor moments." This week we had to borrow the elders extra mattress on an exchange.  The pictures tell the story. We survived. 

But, I always learn so much from these darling women who are my sisters here in the Philippines. It is hard now because I really do want to stay and continue working with these amazing ladies. This week I worked with two young American sisters. One has been in the field for about three weeks and is feeling the same way we all felt at that stage of our mission; overwhelmed, alone, confused, and trying to stay positive. I have been thinking about the similarities between how I felt as a new missionary and how I feel now: scared, excited, confused.... it’s all one big cycle.

I am feeling a deep sense of loss as I prepare to leave my friends here. In his talk about missionary work, one thing that Elder Holland said is that the Atonement will carry investigators and missionaries.  That is true.  The atonement pulls us through on the days that are difficult; the days’ people don’t want to listen; the days’ people do listen and we need to teach beyond our ability; and now the days I have to say good bye to these people. Elder Holland also said that this experience is supposed to require something of our souls.  I think all missionaries would agree that missions are not easy. There has not been one day out here that has been easy for me. But because it takes a piece of you or requires something of your soul - you become different; hopefully someone moving in the direction God wants us to move. We leave parts of ourselves behind but hopefully somewhere along the way we change and become better.  

In Ammon’s mission, Alma described his suffering, sorrow and incomprehensible joy.  I felt that joy several times this week.  We were giving it all we could, moving back and forth on exchanges and trying to work in our area between our travels. Yesterday morning when I stood to bare my testimony in front of those beautiful dark faces, I felt so full of joy and happiness.  I have realized though that we determine our own happiness.  We taught a family this week whose home has no door. The entrance is covered by pieces of ply wood patched together. The parents and two of the 7 children are members. As we talked about how the gospel blessing families over a small fire pit I felt that same joy. Then on Sunday we stopped by to invite them to church and all 7 kids, ages 14 to 5 were dressed and ready to walk the few miles to the chapel. Our happiness has everything to do with our perception of our situation and being grateful for what we have and looking for the good.  In the movie "The Pursuit of Happyness" the main character tells his wife to "go get happy."  She was looking for it in the wrong places. To me, we need to look in the right places and then cultivate it from what we chose to prioritize in our lives.  I have come to understand that lasting happiness comes from applying the gospel to the most important things in life - the people we love and the things we do. When we find our 'treasures' within the gospel context, even when we have dirt floors, cook over outdoor fire pits and wash our clothes in the river, great happiness can still be there. I hope that I don’t lose sight of seeing the beauty in the world and see it looking for deeper meaning with eyes of gratitude.   

We have a baptism on Wednesday!! Three siblings! I am so excited. It is also the birthday of the youngest of the three. It is also the night before I leave to return home. Perfect timing right? The next morning we head to Naga for a Christmas party with the entire mission! I will get to see all my friends and I am so excited. Then we go to straight to the mission home and will have our closing devotional on Friday. I will then head to Manila. On Saturday I will return to Utah. I can’t believe it’s really here. But, I suppose the time has come. Please pray for me this week. It has been so hard to say good bye to these wonderful people and I can’t really imagine actually leaving the country. I am excited to see you though.  

Paul says it best in Romans:

And adeclared to be the bSon of God with cpower, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection dfrom the dead:
 By whom we have received agrace and apostleship, bforcobedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:
 Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ:
 To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be asaints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that yourafaith is bspoken of throughout the whole world.
 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;
 10 Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.
 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual agift, to the end ye may be established;
 12 That is, that I may be acomforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.

Last night we were able to watch the First Presidency Christmas devotional. As the choir sang Away in a Manger, I had tears in my eyes.  All the new missionaries think I am crazy.

"Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,
And fit us for heaven to live with thee there."

Thank you for your letters and love and support over the last 18 months. I thank my Heavenly Father every single day for letting me come to this beautiful place and spread his gospel.  I know that the church is true. I know God is our father and he knows each of us. I know that the Book of Mormon is true. Above all, I know that our Savior Jesus Christ lives. I am so grateful to have been a representative for him and spread a little light here on this wonderful island. 

I will be seeing you soon.  Please bring me a coat to the airport.... all that white stuff in the pictures you sent looks mortifying. And bring Cafe Rio too :) ha

Love from the pines, for the last time, 

Sister Meish

Monday, December 9, 2013

18 Months

hi po fam ko and friends --

Well, I turned 18 mission-months old this week! Oh man, I don’t know where the time went. I feel like I was just an inexperienced young missionary only a few months ago and now I am the oldie that's about to "die." Unfortunately, everyone here keeps reminding me about this fact - haha. I have outlawed these hymns: "the time is far spent," and "God be with you till we meet again." My dad tells me that we use missionary jargon that may require some definition. There is a missionary word called "trunky" which means a missionary has her trunks packed and is ready to go home - emotionally. It is generally a negative term because it means you don’t focus on the work anymore. We are so busy I don’t have time to think about what is ahead of me .... I asked sister Pal when my trunky day was and she told me it was on the 20th when I am by myself in Manila waiting for the flight to Tokyo haha. But we have been very busy and the days and weeks seem to blur together but it has been wonderful.  

On Tuesday we were in Naga for Mission Leadership Conference and at the end of the meeting President had those of us going home share our testimonies. The missionaries that are going home with me are all Filipino and there are 5 of us. The 2 elders are zone leaders and there are 3 Sisters – all of which are Sister Training Leaders (Responsible to work with a regional group of female missionaries). We all stood and shared our testimonies.  President had me go last which was a horrible idea. It was tough listening to some of my closest friends share their simple words and faith and then for me to try to speak without waterworks... I was able to keep it under control luckily.  Then at zone training all the new and departing missionaries bore their testimonies.  I remember all those months ago struggling to piece together a scrambled-bad-tagalog testimony and now, somehow through the process of time and constant effort, the words came naturally. My mom is reminding me to talk slowly when I get home because Tagalog moves very quickly. It is beautiful to look back on the way the Lord has helped me every day for 18 months. I prayed this morning thanking my Father In Heaven for the 18 months he has given me here; for the hours and hours of studying and praying and the tears and the struggle to learn a new language; for the people I have met and the stories they now represent for me. I got a stack of Christmas cards from a family in Goa this week - the perfectly cut paper shapes and the scribbled writing of small children reminded me again of the joy I have found here in the work of the Lord.  

During one of our exchanges we spent the entire day knocking on doors. This can be incredibly exhausting but it is also enjoyable. People here open up to us easily. They tell us of their trials and of the ways they know God.  Each person on this earth has a story and I love hearing these stories and seeing how God is a part of all of our lives.  

I have been receiving a lot of really good advice about this time of transition. The most common advice is to remember everything and to take it in and enjoy the 'lasts.' I was thinking about one of the classic FM 100 Christmas Songs "do you see what I see?" Here is what I can now see and the things I want to remember: 

·         Being the whitest, tallest, blondest person everywhere I go.
·         Being called Joe,
·         The looks on tiny children’s faces as the giant white lady passes by
·         The small shops connected to houses that sell candies and chips
·         Fresh bananas, mangoes and pineapple
·         Buying groceries from the market,
·         The  rows of crates and barrels of vegetables and fruit
·         The miles and miles of rolling coconut trees
·         The woman on the side of the road holding the leash to her grazing caribou 
·         Men on the bus in worn shorts and flip flops with a well used machete around their belt.
·         The man with black hair to his shoulders that sells us quail eggs on the bus
·         Colorful canoes that row up and down the rivers.
·         Walking through the muddy rice fields
·         Always having a minimum of three insect bites on my skin
·         The shock of a freezing bucket shower in the early morning every morning
·         Always carrying an umbrella 
·         The humble smiles and laughs of my friends 
·         Teaching by candle light

….and so much more

I feel so grateful for the hard and wonderful last 18 months of my life and for the way I have come to know and understand my Savior and for the way I can step back and see how this has changed my life and the lives of people I love dearly. I am grateful for the Christmas season and I am grateful to be here, teaching about my Savior. I know that this gospel points us to happiness and joy. This week we were asked the question: “what will you give for Christ? This is my last full week in the Philippines. I hope I can reflect the light of the Savior to his children that need him dearly. Enjoy this wonderful time of the year!! 

I love you all, 

From the Pines, 

Sister Meish

ps. start looking for a place to hang the hammock up in the house... don’t worry Bug. I bought another one so we can both swing together 

Monday, December 2, 2013

It is Christmas Time!

Hello family! Happy Thanksgiving!!! And even happier December! It is now Christmas time. Okay, honestly it has been Christmas here since September but now it feels close. For our Thanksgiving dinner... we ate rice! 
We have been on the go this week. You know things have changed when you set your alarm clock for 6:30 a.m. and are excited because that counts as sleeping in. On Tuesday we were off to the area  farthest out in the region we cover for exchanges. Then on Wednesday we went straight to the next exchange. Our last exchange for the week was on a Saturday. Nearly all of the sisters we work with are training and opening areas so they need a lot of help with increasing their teaching pool. A lot of what we did this week was tracting and finding and O.Y.M.-ing (opening your mouth and talking to people). We do this every where we go. 

On Saturday I was working with a darling sister from Canada.  She had been in the Philippines for exactly 8 days and is still adjusting through that tough transition mode we all go through during the first month.  That is where everything seems like a blur and you don’t know where you are going or what anyone is saying. Those are good memories - mostly good because now they are memories and not my life every day today. The rain had been pouring that entire day with no signs of letting up.  We grabbed our umbrellas and out we went to try to find new investigators for them to teach. We were able to find a few people that let us in but for most of the day we walked through flooded streets talking to anyone that walked by us. Most of the responses we get when people don’t want to talk to us are: "I’m never home, I’m always busy. Sorry." "I already have my religion." "We all worship the same God anyway, it’s just different paths we do our worshiping." 

Neither of us really knew the area or where we were going so we just kept walking and talking. We walked past a man pulling a tarp over the store outside his home, he was looking at us, probably wondering why to white girls were walking back and forth in the pouring rain. We stopped and introduced ourselves. His daughter peeked out from under the tarp and then his wife as well. They invited us in and offered us coffee. We said "no thanks" so they brought us orange soda instead.  We taught about the Restoration of the gospel. The father had a lot of really good questions.  There are 2 types of investigator questions: debate questions and sincere questions. This man had sincere questions. It was one of those experiences that I could feel the Holy Ghost testify to me that what I was saying was true... it gave me the courage to not back down but bare my testimony boldly.  They were kind. They were really interested in discussing our beliefs about family. I was happy to reassure them how important families are. We closed and were getting ready to go when I realized I forgot to invite them to church (rookie move - I know); so we told them were it was and that everyone is invited. The sisters told us last night that this family of three came to church.

I know that this is God’s work and that he knows us all. It is a wonderful feeling knowing that God wants to use us to help others. It’s inspiring to know that somewhere in us is the power to do good things and to make a difference. 

I have come to realize that somewhere inside us we want there to be something greater than us - because if it’s just us and our lives here on earth - then there is only so far we can go. There is only so much that we can do.  But if there is something greater than us then the possibilities are endless.  Over the last eighteen months I have seen God's hand in my life and in the lives of those I have come to love.  I know that he can make our lives meaningful and give us purpose.

I turned a small 5 sentimo (or a filipino 5 cents) into my own widows mite so that
I will always remember to give all I have to the Lord so he can make me better. 

One way to spot new foreign missionaries is that all of their stuff is in plastic baggies. Haha - soon they will realize that Pinoy rain is stronger than ziplock and their stuff will get wet anyway. Then the plastic baggies go towards hiding food from ants.
I had to go get a lung X-ray today to make sure I don’t bring home any deadly diseases.  They told me I am disease free and will be allowed back into the U.S.

We are in Naga today and tomorrow and then back on the road for exchanges. Well, I love you all! Have a wonderful week.

Love from the pines,

Sister Meish

My Friends