Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Kentucky to Virginia

Two suitcases and backpack.  I love that my whole life can just be packed up in a few hours and the next day I can be living in a whole new place. #LiveSimply. I came across a scripture in the BOM the morning of transfers that talked about god watching over "us wanderers in this strange land." That hit me so hard. This land is strange, and I am wandering through it, but I have never felt more taken care of by God. Sister R-------, the woman who picked me up and took me to Ashalnd when I was just a tiny new baby missionary (that feels like eons ago,) took us to transfers again. She gave me 4 cd's she had burned of music she listened to on her mission in Belgium to be for my birthday! I wanted to cry, I felt like I couldn't leave the people of Ashalnd I loved so much.

Anyway, we got to transfers..... and President Pitt was there. I wish you could feel the power of that man's presnece in a room. He fills the chapel completely. And he fills it with love. I've never expereienced anythhing like it. Testimonies are born and goodbyes are given to departing missionaries. Then, the incoming missionaries are lined up against the wall. Just like I was 6 weeks prior. My heart started to pound just remembering my feelings from that day. I so badly wanted to just hug them all, tell them it would be alright. The trainees were all assigned their new companions and everyone split to go to their new areas. My new companion wasn't able to be there because Lexington is about 5 hours away from Charleston the way you have to come for transfers. (It takes so long because a train of vans and a huge truck for all the luggage have to come together and pick up everyone from the different areas along the way) Luckily, I got to travel with Sister Call, my favorite girl from my zone who plays rugby, and her new trainee. We got all our luggage in the truck and loaded into the vans and my all-day journey began. We left at about noon and I didn't get to Lexington until 7 that night. It was pretty exhausting,  but I saw two very important tender mercies happen on that ride.

Angels are among us. I know that for sure. And many times, those angels are actual people. On that long transfer ride God sent me two beautiful angels, the first by the name of Sister Herzog. I don't really know how it happened, but everyone in the van was kind of chatting with everyone and I got caught in this conversation with Sister Herzog. It's also interesting because I have seen her at different things throughout this last transfer, and I felt a weird connection to her that I didn't think of much or act upon at all. Well, now I understand that connection. We shared the warmest, most loving conversation I have maybe ever been in. It wasn't about anything deep, and she probably felt like it was just another conversation. But as we talked, I felt as if God was telling me, "Darcy, look at this girl. Look at yourself. You are sisters, you can be companions with anyone, and I have companions you will LOVE, just like you love Sister Herzog right now." I can't tell you how much I needed that. I was excited to be getting a new companion, but also so scared. I didn't know if I could go through another adjustment like I did last transfer. But again, God let me know that everything would be ok.

We continued travelling until we got to Virginia, there we stopped at a buffet to eat. We had gained and lost missionaries all throughout our drive at different stops, and at this particular stop we gained quite a few elders. As we were standing in line waiting to go into the buffet, I looked behind me just to see how many people where there. I did a double-take on a certain face in the crowd. A face that looked like home. As I looked back again, realizing what I had just seen, I didn't even think as I said "Justin???" Justin Maxwell, a boy I loved but never knew REALLY well in high school looked back at me in suprise. He kinda laughed and smiled as he said, "It's been a while since anyone's called me that, Sister Lytle." We laughed and shook hands. I had no idea he was in my mission! We had such a great conversation during dinner and I just felt so... happy. Easy happiness was not something I felt my first weeks. My happiness was hard won. I had to fight so hard for it, which made it mean so much more to me, but getting to feel that easy, home-y happiness, made a world of difference for me that day. It eased alot of homeisckness, and I know that God had placed Justin, Elder Maxwell, in my path in high school specifically so he could show up in my mission at the exact moment I needed that comfort he provided. God has a plan. It is so intricate and so perfectly planned. Never think that a single person you meet, or thing you say or do has no consequence, because I am here to tell you, IT DOES. God is a god of perfect order. Everything is for a reason.

The miles wore on and the sun slipped below the horizon. We continued to lose people until the last stop, Roanoke Virginia. There we dropped off Justin and it turns out that his new companion was Elder Hamburg, the boy I rode next to on our flight from Atlanta to Charleston. Because we had our first glimpes of West Virginia together, he will forever hold a special place in my heart. It was so good to get to say hello to him and shake his hand. After that, me, another sister, and two elders got on the last van that would take us to Lexington. It was about an hour ride... and when we got there, I got to meet my new best friend, Sister Pierson. It's kind of a joke that your companion is your forced best friend, but really, we are best friends. She took me to our little apartment; we live in the basement of a member's home. I LOVE where we live. It's adorable!  Sister Pierson helped me hang up pictures above my bed and this apartment just really feels like HOME to me. Sister Pierson feels like a sister. We have so much in common. She is a total tomboy like me and we are constantly laughing! REALLY laughing--good solid belly laughs.

The elders in our area are also really great. Just like in Ashland we have two other sets of elders in our ward, one of which is a set of zone leaders who are amazing. The other elders in our ward are really funny. They have to come through our area sometimes, and my second night here.... we get a weird text from them and hear some weird noises at our door as we are doing training. We go to our door to see what's going on... and find a HUGE pile of leaves blocking our door so we can hardly get out. And then we hear laughing and steps running away and getting in a car. 

Not only are the missionaries and ward members here great.... but EVERYONE is great here.  It feels like home. I wish you could see downtown Lexington. Everything is very colonial and beautiful and almost a little bit hipster. I could live here forever. Virginia Military Academy is right downtown and so you see military men everywhere. But then, here's what really gets me. Our area goes out into Collierstown, and more rural areas. I have literally never seen country as beautiful. It's very different from Ashland. The mountains are bigger, there are more fields and more cows.... more little rivers and.... I can't even describe it. It's heaven. I think maybe I got it wrong, West Virginia is almost heaven because VIRGINIA is heaven! And I got to see my first possum!! They walk really slow and play dead... and they're actually pretty creepy! Apparently Sister Pierson got to have possum stew the other week... So I'm gonna see if I can get me some of that too!  

Lastly, EVERYONE needs to check out "The Lower Lights," it's the unofficial CD of the West Virginia Charleston Mission. Everyone here either has it or has heard it. That music will forever be connected in my heart to the beautiful veiws in Collierstown... and the beauty of this mission. But seriously, check it out. The music is absolutely beautiful. Know that I couldn't be happier. I'm where I'm supposed to be, and I love it. 

My "mom," her mom, and her mom. . .

Kentucky Snowsister

The elders baked me a cake!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

So Good

The more I am out here, the more I realize, God is in everything.  The gospel IS life.  No need to separate the two, because then it makes living the gospel seem hard.  Just be you, have fun, and try to be a good girl or boy.  That's really all there is to it.  The gospel is like a symphony, and we all have different sounding parts, and we live it and love it just a little bit differently.  As long as it's all in tune and harmony, the differences are what make it beautiful.  Be you!

We had an appointment with B----and H----- set up and plans with Sister H-----.  Sister H------is amazing.  She is from the West and served in the West Virginia Charleston Mission like us, and ended up marrying a boy from here, which was her last area.  Anyway, we went to B-----and H------'s and no one answered.  (I'm so used to that at this point.  We get stood up about five times a day it feels like.)  So we got to go visit another investigator.  We had a good visit with her, but on the way back, Sister H---- said some really important things.  She talked to us about the culture here, and how truly different it is than "out West."  

She told us how people out West are taught to put their best self forward, and tend to put on this face of perfection, which is totally true, especially in Utah.  People here don't do that.  The are who they are and they don't hide anything.  It's really beautiful, but because of those cultural differences, it's easy for Southern people to feel like Westerners look down on them.  She gave us this advice--be real.  Don't put on the perfect missionary face.  Work hard and people will see that without you needing to put on any kind of act.  Have interests.  Share what you love with the people, invite them into your space and they will invite you into theirs.  Truly be interested in their lives.  Truly love them.  

The next day we had an experience that made my day.  We were walking down the street and an older man waves at us from his yard.  His big pit bull runs up to the fence and starts barking at us.  He yells to us from his porch, "She's just a big baby.  She won't hurt ya."  So we stop and pet the dog, who turns out to be super sweet.  As we pet her, the man comes over to us.  He's older, I would guess in his 60's, and thin and wiry.  He was sporting a very worn Universtity of Kentucky hat and a plaid shirt over a very worn black t-shirt.  His hair was dark, peppered with grey, as was his scruffy beard.  But his eyes. They were blue, and kind, and they twinkled!  

He started talking to us about his puppy, who you could tell loved the man to the very core.  We spent a few minutes with small talk and petting his dog and then we asked what his name was.  The man took a seat on his lawn and leaned back on his elbows and he grinned and said, B---, B--- K----.  It's my birthday today."  And with that twinkle he added, "I'm 25 today."  After some happy birthday wishes and laughing, he asked us who we were, and of course, we told him.  He told us he was Baptist, and Sister Boldrin said, "Well, we love Jesus Christ just like you."

Then it started.  From this point until we left, B---'s yard that day, the words spoken to me, from B---'s mouth, pricked me to my very core.  I firmly believe that God put me in the path of B--- K---- that day, because B--- K----- was the only one who could tell me what God wanted me to hear.  

B--- looked us both in the face and said, "You girls are doing a good thing.  NEVER LOSE THE FAITH YOU HAVE.  Cling to it your whole life."  That line hit me so deep.  He continued, "You girls are different.  I wish more girls around here were like you."  He went on to explain how sad he thinks it is how so many girls these days fall in love with some boy and get pregnant without getting married, and their babies grow up without a dad.  He told us "You girls don't do that.  Find a good fella and make sure your babies have a good home before they come."  He repeated his line, "NEVER GIVE UP YOUR FAITH," and added, "Stay YOU.  You are good girls.  You don't need to be like everyone else."  In reference to the lack of morals in young girls he added, "If you could just help one of those girls.  Boy, if you could just help one.  After a bit more talking he asked us how old we were.  We said 19 and he looked right at me.  He said, "You still have that little girl in your face.  I know because I've had a little girl.  You've still got it.  You've got the face of a young woman as well though; you've got the best of both worlds.  You're beautiful."  My eyes threatened to tear up.  I've thought a lot about why he would have said that this week, and I'm still not sure, but I definitely left his yard that day feeling like I was worth just a little bit more.  Like I really was a daughter of God.  That being a "good girl" really is a beautiful thing.  God just keeps putting people in my path to tell me how good it is to be good.  Good to be on the Lord's side.  Good to be me.  So good to be in Kentucky. 

What Does Satan Look Like?

 Today we talked to an investigator who taught me more than I taught her.  She asked us this question during our visit:  What does Satan look like?” 

She answered it herself.  “He’s beautiful.  SO beautiful.  No horns and tail.  He is beautiful like that girl, the blonde, 100-pound model on the Harley eating a greasy cheeseburger in the commercial.  He is beautiful like her, and he lies beautifully.  He says we can do things without consequence.  Like the girl—she could never eat that cheeseburger and be that thin.  We want to be that girl, but we eat the cheeseburger, and for us, there are consequences.  We get fat.  And when we get fat, we wonder what is wrong with us?  Why can’t we do what she does and look like her?  Because that is how Satan lies.  He is beautiful.

Yeah, she said that.  And I was in Kentucky to hear that.  Missionaries aren’t always the missionaries.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Taking an Investigator to Church

I have realized that I need to have more faith in people, because if they are ready, they really will keep commitments.  One of our investigators committed to come to church on Sunday--the Sunday I was speaking.  Thoughts, and doubts, and fear plagued me until that Sunday morning.  A sister in our ward picked us up and we drove to pick up our investigator.  I had been preparing my talk on fasting all week and I held it in my hands as we drove.  My breathing was uneven and I was stressed.  I’m still not sure if it was nervousness for our investigator or my talk.

The sun shone that morning more brilliantly than it had all week.  The air was crisp.  It was a beautiful morning.  We finally got to our investigator’s trailer and knocked on his door.  And guess what?  He answered and was ready!  The conversation when we all got in the car went smooth and easy and I couldn’t stop smiling.  When we got to church we took him to the chapel and sat down.  We talked about what would happen and also just chatted as friends.  I expressed my nervousness about speaking, and he told me I was brave to even do it.  Then he looked at me and said, “You’ll do great.”  I’ve never actually been comforted by that line until it was spoken in that sweet southern accent.

I went and sat on the stand and looked out at the congregation.  It looked like any Utah church at home.  Except for our investigator’s blue eyes in the back,  next to the girl with the tag with Jesus Christ’s name on it.  It was beautiful to watch their conversation.  Their eye contact, the smiling, the looks around the room.  There’s nothing quite as gorgeous as a missionary and an investigator together.  I avoided our investigator’s eyes.  I was worried I would either laugh or cry.  Both seemed very possible.

I was glad when my talk was over, but to my surprise, the stress wasn’t over.  In Gospel Doctrine I sat next to our investigator.  Every little thing that was said got my mind racing.  I would think things like, “oh no, we haven’t taught him that yet,” or “I hope he doesn’t think that’s weird,” and “how is he feeling?  Is he okay?  Should I say something to him?”  It was definitely the most stressful Sunday school class of my life!

After Sunday school we had to let the elders take our investigator to Priesthood.  I felt like a mother watching her baby go off to school.  Luckily, I serve with some fantastic Elders, and I knew he was in good hands.  My thoughts all during Relief Society were on our investigator, and I could hardly stop myself from running to him when afterwards, I saw him in the foyer.  Turns out he really enjoyed Priesthood and liked the Elders a lot.  I was so happy.

We had a good ride back to take our investigator home.  We shook his hand good bye.  I hope he felt the Kentucky sky get a little bigger, and a little brighter that day as I watched him walk back into the trailer.  Because let me tell you, it sure did.

Running at Blazer High School


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Familiar Faces

This weekend was Stake Conference.  It was in Huntington, West Virginia.  I was having a real bad day—homesick, and doubting that I can really do this, but then we go with a member, Sister Brown, to conference and the first thing I see as I walk in the door is my District Leader from the MTC, Elder Banta.  I basically ran to him and he gave me the warmest handshake of my life.  My MTC District really is family now.  Friends for life.  It turns out Elder Banta is in a trio with the Zone Leaders in Huntington.  As we’re talking, I hear, “Sister Lytle,” and it is the Bountiful missionary who comes and shakes my hand!  But wait, it gets better.  When we all go into the chapel, lo and behold, Sister Frehner (my instagram girl) is on the other side!  She sees me and we basically push everyone over to get to each other.  Longest and best hug of my life.  Oh my gosh, and apparently her adjustment has been hard, too.  I got her address so we can write!  Anyway, seeing all those people, and finally feeling loved, completely changed my day. 

After, we had a meeting at the B----- house at about 7:30 expecting to teach R----- and her husband M------.  They live at the B-----house, which is what we call it only because B------ is the last name of R-------, a man Sister Boldrin and her companion baptized only a week before I got to Ashland.  SO many people live in that house!  It really is the epitome of an Ashland, Kentucky home.  So many people are always going in and out, with kids constantly slamming the door or crying.  And of course, someone is ALWAYS out on the front porch taking a drag on a cigarette.  B------, who seems to be the head of the house, is a sweet old lady who calls every kid “baby.”  I just love going over there.  In a weird way it feels like home.  This particular night was a little chilly, but we all sat on the porch for our lesson.  At the B------ house, you make an appointment to see someone specific, but you usually end up getting a few more people listening in than expected.  Tonight, we had three.  We tried to teach the Restoration, but they were a little more interested in making jokes.  We taught a little, and laughed a lot that night.  Normally I would feel lame for not keeping on topic, but tonight I was comforted, as if God was saying, “It’s okay, Darcy, you’ve got to love these people if you’re going to teach them.”  That night, I really did love the people of Kentucky.

A day or two after that, my tender mercy came very unexpectedly.  We were trying to contact a referral who wasn’t there, so we were knocking a few doors around where the referral lived.  We knocked on a door and an older lady answered.  Sister Boldrin used her go-to move and offered to pray with her.  She began to pray, and when she finished, I opened my eyes, and the woman at the door had tears rolling down her cheeks.  As an almost automatic response, we both hugged her.  She then said, “My husband has cancer.  We just found out.  We’re actually headed to the hospital just now.”  She caught her breath and wiped her eyes, and said, “I wish I had more time to talk.”  We’re going to see her next week.  It was such an amazing experience to watch the spirit work like that, and such a lesson to me, to trust my companion.

I also got to meet J----this week.  J----- is an 81-year-old lady who Sister Boldrin and her trainer tracted into.  She believes everything we teach, she just is so old and frail that she doesn’t want to get baptized.  She also has Alzheimer’s.  We go visit her once a week and help her clean her house.  She goes on and on about how “precious” we are.  Her gratefulness and love can’t help but make a person happy.  All we did was vacuum and move a few things for her and by the way she thanked us, you would have thought we saved her life.

This week I have begun to love the mission.  A lot of the time I don’t like it, but I do love it.  I’m also learning the importance of losing myself.  The times when I am happiest I’ve noticed, are when I’m focused on others.  I’ve also grown to love and respect my companion, despite our huge differences.  The week ended on an especially beautiful experience.  Sister Boldrin and I were at the church early to speak with the Bishop before an amazing Book of Mormon class taught by a professor from BYU.  We were just waiting for Bishop and we happened to look into the chapel.  The 5 o’clock light streamed into the room through the white curtains, spilling onto the dark wood of the pulpit and illuminating the entire room.  We took a moment and prayed together there, on our knees, in the early evening light.  I couldn’t hold back the tears.  It’s times like that, and feelings like that, that make me believe this is truly where the Lord wants me to be.

The church is true.  Thomas S. Monson is a prophet of God, just as Joseph Smith was.  Jesus Christ truly did atone for all of our sins and weaknesses.  God is so aware of each of us.  You can know that for yourself, just ask him J . Everything will be okay.  God loves us.

Someone left us cookies!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Transfer Day

Transfer day brought every feeling I felt the day I left my family at the MTC back again.  Missionaries from all over the mission met us at the church in Sissonville where we had spent the previous day.  We had a little testimony meeting in the chapel.  All the missionaries gave incredible testimonies with amazing stories.

After this, they lined up all the new missionaries against the walls.  It honestly felt like an execution.  Again, I was being ripped away from the people I learned to call family, and going to a place I didn’t know, to do things I didn’t know how to do.  

They began calling out missionaries’ names and assigning them companions, sisters first.  I was about the fifth sister called, and lo and behold, I was assigned.  It was hard, but I squared my shoulders, and went to hug my new companion.  And so it began.

We were assigned to the Ashland, Kentucky South area.  It’s a city, but a poor city.  Driving there I got to drive through West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky.  We live in a little apartment next to Blazer High School.  My companion’s name is Sister Boldrin.  She was homeschooled and loves musicals and singing and dancing.  As President Pitt would later say, we are “polar opposites.” 

On our first day together we met the bishop, and had dinner with the ward mission leader and the two other sets of elders in our ward.  I had never felt so overwhelmed in my life.  It only got worse when, after dinner, we went to visit a new investigator named P----.  The missionaries had never officially met with him.  We sat down on his porch and began talking about what we each believe.  (Side note:  Porch sitting is a big deal around here.  EVERYONE has a porch with some chairs and maybe a swing and there is a great deal of porch sitting that goes on.  Also a lot of porch smoking!  It feels like almost everyone smokes here.)  Anyway, this man, P----, was extremely firm in his beliefs and called us heretics because we believe we can become like God.  The lesson went awful, and I was terrified.  As we left he said to Sister Boldrin that there was something in her eyes that he thought was special even though he thought we were wrong.  Then he looked at me and said, “I’m not one to be mean, but I just don’t see that in you.”

What a way to start my mission!  When we got back in the car I broke down.  I cried so hard I think Sister Boldrin was freaked out.  I felt hopeless in a way I had never felt hopeless before.

Arriving in Charleston

 On the way to Charleston, West Virginia, we had a layover in Atlanta.  Biggest airport ever!  It was weird to be in public with our nametags on.  I got to call mom there.  Not gonna lie, I cried the most out of anybody.  I never really understood how important family really is until I got out here.  It’s everything.  EVERYTHING.  Our second plane, that took us from Atlanta to Charleston, was TINY.  I got to sit next to a boy going to my mission who was from Duchesne, Utah who grew up farming.  The poor kid had to endure me in his space the whole time as I watched out the window.  

As we got closer, the flat of Georgia turned to hills, and the hills got bigger and bigger.  You could almost feel the excitement of the plane full of missionaries as we landed on top of a hill in Charleston, West Virginia, in the country we would call home for months to come.  The thing about it, was that it really did feel like home.  I had a hard time holding back the tears, and I knew I was where I was supposed to be.  As I, with over 30 missionaries, got off the plane and took our first steps in our new homeland, I was greeted by two angels, by the name of President and Sister Pitt.  Sister Pitt caught me up in a hug only a mother could give, and President’s soft eyes spoke to me every word I needed to hear.  I brought him a hello from Trissy Salisbury, and he went on and on about how fabulous the Salisbury’s are.

From the airport we went to the mission home in Charleston.  I’ll never forget how it smelled there.  It was a smell I’ve never experienced before, but I’ll always associate with West Virginia.  It was an almost bitter smell, a bit like the cabin at Bridger Lake, but mixed with the smell of warm food coming from the kitchen.  They fed us a home-cooked meal at the mission home and we had a testimony meeting with President and his four assistants and Sister Pitt.  Then the elders went down to bunk beds in the basement and the sisters were taken to a hotel in downtown Charleston.

Let me rewind real quick and tell you about my first view of Charleston.  We drove down into the city from the airport on the hill at about 5:30 p.m.  The sun shone on the yellow and brown leaves of the trees that completely cover every hillside, making them shine gold.  It was breathtaking.  The city itself was beautiful, right on the Kanawha (pronounced Kuh-nah) River, with beautiful bridges everywhere.  At night when we drove back , the city along with its bridges, was all lit up.  In the morning, a fog hung over the city that was like nothing I’ve ever seen before.  The air was thick and wet.  As we drove out from the hotel to a church outside Charleston in Sissonville, where we had training all day, the fog receded until it only left wisps between the hills.  And the hills.  Oh the hills.  They are covered with trees and undergrowth with a suprising face of rock every now and again.  West Virginia isn’t almost heaven.  It IS heaven.

My first full day in West Virginia was spent in training and interviews with President Pitt.  We got to eat the famous West Virginia slaw dog (a hot dog with cole slaw, onions, and chili on top) for lunch.  It wasn’t bad!  The next day, was transfers. 

From WB to WV!