This year was a very unique Christmas than any other Christmas I've had before, but it was still so good. I felt so blessed to be so well taken care of by the ward members and to have such advanced technology to be able to see your faces! The rest of my day after we Skyped was pretty low-key. We had dinner with the Martins, then we went caroling with the elders in our district. We went to some members/investigators in all our areas. It was fun.
I forgot to mention about something we'd been doing with the Douglas family in our ward. The last hour of the 3 nights leading up to Christmas, Sister Cook and I went over to their house so they could read "The Forgotten Carols" by Michael McLean with us. Have you ever heard of it? I hadn't before they introduced it to us, and I was so touched by the story and music in it. I couldn't believe I'd never known about it... But I was thinking we should start that tradition in our family - reading from the book every night the week before Christmas. It's really powerful.
We had a couple miracles this week that were just really amazing. First, we had a lesson with our investigator named Rick, and brought Brother Cox (a member of the bishopric) with us. Rick is in his 40s and is married with a few kids. He grew up in a home where his father was Mormon, his mother was Catholic, and they went to a Baptist church (crazy). So he's seen the whole spectrum of religions, and he's never been able to settle with one. He started meeting with the missionaries before I got here, but initially he was only interested in learning more facts about the Church. Last time we met with him, he hadn't read and he wasn't really progressing. We weren't really sure what to expect meeting with him again - we hadn't seen him in 2 weeks and hadn't been able to keep up much contact with him. As we sat down for the lesson, we asked about his Book of Mormon reading. Not only had he been reading everyday, he'd also downloaded it onto his phone so that he could LISTEN to it on the drive to work every morning! "It has been bringing me a lot of peace," he said. "And I've read parts of it before, but I started from the beginning this time, and it's all really making sense to me. It never made sense like this before, and for the first time I really feel like I'm on the right path." He then went on to share a story about how he has an LDS friend he works with that he went out to lunch with a few days before Christmas. They'd gotten into a long conversation about the church, and he didn't share many details about it, but he said it was really, really good for him and that he felt so good about pursuing this path further. We watched the Restoration video with him and he loved it. Afterwards, we asked him if he'd be baptized if he found out that it was true. "Yes! Absolutely," he said. "That's actually what I'd talked about with my friend at lunch. I've never been baptized before - its just never worked out - and I feel so good about this. I'm happier now than I've ever been in my life. I feel like you sister showed up at just the right time. I'm really ready to learn more, and I want my family to be in on it with me." Wow! It was a miracle. We are excited to continue teaching him, and he will be a really solid members when he joins. That experience was witness of how Heavenly Father gives us experiences to humble and prepare us to receive His truth. It's Rick's season to learn - it took time and years of thought and study, but he has now found the desire to really dive into the Gospel. He wasn't ready at other points in his life, but he is now. It's just so rewarding getting to be a part of his experience.
A similar experience happened yesterday. We've been teaching a woman named Mona since I got here - she's in her 30s with 8 year old twins. She lives in a really low-income apartment complex in our area. The whole place smells horribly of marijuana and smoke and many of the people there are humble, but really flakey and not really solid. We've taught some people in there, but it worries me that they may be meeting with us for the wrong reasons... a lot of the time, the Church is seen as a great welfare source because most of the time we're so willing to help anyone in need. But it gets complicated when people regularly turn to us looking to get something for nothing. We've seen that with a few people here. We have showered Mona with love - we've done her laundry, baked her cookies, arranged rides for her, given her giftcards for food, and we even gave her our small Christmas tree in our apartment because she didn't have one. Which we really don't mind doing! But I was worried that we were beginning to be seen as a source of temporal aid to anyone who needed it, rather than a source of spiritual help, which is what we're really here for.
We've met with Mona about 4 times since I've been here, and we still haven't really been able to get through the first lesson with her, so I was beginning to worry that she wasn't really grasping why we were there. She just loves talking to us and she goes off on tangents that make it hard to redirect the discussion. We saw some real progress in her last Sunday, though, when she came to a "Why I Believe" fireside (which are held every month. Recent converts to the church speak and give their conversion experiences. They are really powerful!). She loved it and seemed really touched by it. In the lesson yesterday, we asked her what her thoughts were about it and she said she'd felt the spirit and really began to understand that this was the real deal. She expressed how grateful she is that we've helped her out so much. Then SHE brought up baptism and said it's something she's really been thinking about and that she really wants to work towards that. Of course we were thrilled. And then, later that night we received this text from her (I'm typing it word for word from her, so excuse the grammatical errors):
"I just I just want to let you know that I appreciate everything you guys have done for me and my family I'm more than grateful for everything they put it on my shoulder still gotta try to figure out how to get some more food but what you guys did was amazing and I just want to say thank you thank you for coming into my life somewhere private event ever and I'm ready to learn more and really get my head into the church."
AH! A miracle. We are being so blessed.
I love you all,