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!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Leaving the MTC

I finished my last day in the MTC!  I can’t believe it’s already over, but at the same time it really has felt like years.  I’m so sick of sitting for endless hours and not seeing the sun or having much time to run, but I have become almost addicted to the spiritual high I was constantly on.  As much as I hate admitting it, I was beginning to feel at home in the MTC.  I loved it.  And it will be an experience I’ll cherish all my life.

I’m writing this from the sky.  I’m finally flying!  This morning we woke at 2:30 and we were bussed from the MTC to the Salt Lake Airport.  I’ve never felt such excitement in my life.  My flight to Atlanta left at 7 a.m., just as the sun was beginning to break over the mountains.  My mountains.  I have literally never seen anything as beautiful as my Utah mountains, glowing in the dawn light, clouds a brilliant pink, but this time instead of being in my mountains, I was above them.  It was breathtaking, and in a small way, heartbreaking.  I am so lucky to call the Wasatch Front home, and I will miss it with everything that I am.  God has created such an incredible world, and although I’ll miss my little corner of it, I’m excited beyond words to see a new piece.

I’m already in love with West Virginia.  On our last day in the MTC we got to talk with an MTC teacher who had served in West Virginia.  She was describing the people there, how there really are backwoods people, how they are so humble, and how there is a week every fall that everyone takes off just to hunt.  I almost cried when she was describing them, because I knew like never before that I was meant to serve those people.  No one else.  I am going where I need to be, that I know for sure.
The last day in the MTC was probably one of the most incredible and spiritual days of my life.  Sister Reed and I got to share an amazing role-play together that ended in testimony and tears of love and joy, and my day ended with one of the most powerful blessings I have ever received.  My district ended our last night together with a prayer, kneeling in a circle in the classroom we had called home for the past two weeks.  I wish you could meet the elders and sisters of my district.  They are the most powerful young people I have ever met, and we have formed a bond like we are family.  Because we are.  We are brothers and sisters, and I’m almost positive I knew them in heaven.  God put us together because I needed them, because God know me, as he knows us all, and he knew that these elders and sisters would change my life.  After we prayed, my district leader offered the sisters blessings if they felt they needed or wanted one.  Of course we all took him up on the offer.  That’s when the magic happened.
I watched five boys lay their hands on the head of a sister and give what, for most of them, was their first blessing.  All of a sudden, these 18-year-old boys were no longer boys.  They spoke with the power and authority of people twice their age, and offered wisdom and comfort that was unbelievable.  I suddenly saw them as men.  Men that will change lives in the mission field, men that will become great leaders, and men that will become great husbands.  After my blessing, with tear-filled eyes, I got to shake the hands of those men I so desperately wanted to hug, and felt a blanket of comfort come over me like I’ve never felt before, and again the spirit testified to me that God loves us so much, and is more aware of our situation and feelings than we can ever comprehend.

The elders in the MTC have a way of making you forget they are only 18-year-old boys, but they also have a way of making you remember.  Word on the street is the MTC is basically a black market for trading ties (which is forbidden) and the jokes when I gave Elder Mason a candy kiss from a package from mom got pretty ridiculous.  #EldersWillBeElders.

I was extremely blessed to go through the MTC when I did.  I had the opportunity to spend conference weekend there, as well as attend an amazing fireside done by Vocal Point, a BYU acapella group.  I got more out of conference than I thought was possible.  The spirit in the MTC is just so amazing.  It was also pretty funny to hear people cheer when Elder Holland was announced to speak as well as when we all got to stand and sing “Called to Serve.”  Missionaries get excited about funny things!  My personal favorite quote from conference was, “Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.”  Or perhaps “Never look back.”  Both so relevant as a missionary.  Also, everyone should go look up Vocal Point!  They were so incredible!  All of them served missions and have amazing testimonies and amazing singing voices.


Sit, Study, Sit, Study, Repeat

P-Day Fun

My Beautiful Sister Reed