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:
To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called : Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
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;
Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.
For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual , to the end ye may be established;
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,