Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Luke 2:14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men."

Merry Christmas everyone!! I cannot believe that this year is coming to an end and a new one is about to begin. It seems like just yesterday that my friend Ashley and I were celebrating New Years Eve dancing till almost dawn– and yet an entire year has passed. 

Christmas in Korea is literally foreign to me. For the first time in my life I am living somewhere where Christmas is not all consuming. Throughout my childhood I have been given some truly fantastic Christmases, (I'd like to add a very large thank you to my parents here for being so wonderful and creating a truly festive atmosphere in our home), the Christmas spirit has always been very strong in my life. As a missionary and being away from my family, especially in a country that is not predominately Christian, I have realized how much I adore the Christmas season. And I am missing it right now. I think the things that I miss the most are how it fosters a sense of togetherness, the way it opens opportunities for us to reflect on and remember the reason we are celebrating. I also miss the constant symbolism of the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. 

Not spending the season in my “traditional” way has helped me think a little more about the true meaning of Christmas. Being a missionary has helped me recognize that it is a wonderful way to celebrate Christmas. While whining a little bit (okay maybe a bit more than a little bit), to my companion about how this Christmas just wasn't going to be the same without what I believed was the way to spend the holidays; she said something that made me pause and reassess how I viewed the days ahead. She said "For missionaries it's Christmas every day." Of course she is so right. Christmas is meant to celebrate the fact that Christ came into the world for us, that He loved us enough to be born in such lowly conditions, then live as a mortal man, and ultimately, and literally, lay down his own life for our salvation. That is why I am in Korea, to share this “Good News”. As a missionary I strive to remember this and to teach it every day, not just through my words, but through my actions too. So though my Christmas season might not be what I am used to (and if I am being honest, what I long for), I know it has the potential to be incredible. I know that as we all strive to remember Christ this Christmas we can make this year the best Christmas we've ever had. I add my testimony to others that are shared this Christmas–"Glory to God", for I know Jesus Christ is the literal Son of God on this earth, that he was born of a righteous virgin, and mortal woman, that he obeyed His fathers will and laid down His life for all mankind, and that through His atonement and resurrection I will be made whole and can live with my Father in Heaven again. I bear record of this through my testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Love you all! 
Merry Christmas!
Sister Annie

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

"And there I will meet thee" Ether 1:42

Hello from my own little corner of the world. I apologize profusely for my lack of writing. Things have been a little crazy as of late and I just haven't found the time to write to you all. My great news of the week: Transfer calls came and went and our phone stayed blessedly silent. So... I get to stay on Jeju for another transfer! This also means that I have broken my streak of having my companion dump me every transfer. I'm so excited. 

Thanksgiving was of course this past week and I might have been the only one on this island who cared. However, all it takes is one enthusiastic celebrant, so it turned out pretty good. Since I was the sole missionary determined to suffer for food’s sake I cooked. I made us some stuffing and an apple pie in our little toaster oven. I may not have previously mentioned that Koreans do not bake as a general rule, so we do not have ovens. This has been the most difficult cultural practice that I have had to adapt to. Since my toaster oven could not fit a turkey we ordered some fried chicken. Anyway, I felt very festive, and it was a beautiful affair. 

As it has been a time to ponder all that I have to be thankful for, I have been thinking this past week about the many wonderful things in my life that I am grateful for. While I have been on my mission I have been daily thinking about the guidance I receive from my Father in Heaven and how much of a blessing that it is. 

It has been particularly evident on my mission that we need to look for inspiration and guidance from our Father in Heaven in order to receive it. In tuning my mind and soul to the whisperings of the Holy Ghost I have learned something a little better about how to recognize that guidance, and that is that it doesn't come without our work. Also, it doesn't always come at the beginning of the path; sometimes we have to walk a little bit in darkness before the light gets turned on. 

There is a wonderful quote by Elder Dallin H. Oaks about acting before guidance comes.  It says, "We will get promptings of the Spirit when we have done everything we can, when we are out in the sun working rather than sitting back in the shade praying for direction on the first step to take. Revelation comes when the children of God are on the move." (Ensign Aug. 2013)

There are many examples of this direction in the scriptures, but I found one in particular especially meaningful to me right now. In Ether, when the brother of Jared prays to receive guidance of where to go the Lord gives him specific directions of what to do and then instructs him, "And when thou hast done this thou shalt go at the head of them down into the valley which is northward. And there will I meet thee." Ether 1:42

The Lord gave him a task and then promised that after this had been done he would meet him. After the brother of Jared had done his part and worked on his own. Then he received the further help. 

If you are like me then sometimes when I am reading the scriptures I think “of course the Lord is instructing prophets, they are leading nations and peoples, but why would He care about my issues as they seem so insignificant”. I think one of the greatest opportunities that my mission has offered me is to travel. Traveling allows you to recognize how small you really are in a vast world. It shows you that your troubles are just a drop in God’s overflowing bucket of troubles–so many of which are proportionally greater than my own. If I can quote Oscar Hammerstein, “In my own little corner in my own little chair”, I know He still cares about mine. I have received comfort, knowledge beyond my own capacity, and inspiration to guide my daily life. This I cannot deny. And it testifies to me that even though I am a drop in an unfathomable pool of need I am recognized and loved as an individual. As I sit in “my own little corner” of the world He needs me to seek out my own personal inspiration, because this is the designated way that I can share my testimony of the Savior, and it is the way the message of Christ is spread–one drop at a time, to another drop, slowly filling the sea, and reaching every “little corner”, of someone else’s testimony.

It is through our struggles that our testimonies grow. However, in order for them to grow we have to build them, and in order to build them we have to seek instruction, and in order to seek instructions we have to study the scriptures and pray, and it is through searching for divine guidance that we recognize our blessings, and it is through recognizing our blessings that we become grateful, and it is through our gratitude that we share the message of the Savior and His love for us with others…in their “own little corner”. 

My greatest struggle, as I am sitting in my own little Korean chair, has been to learn the language. It has been a blessing that my companions have all been able to speak Korean fluently. I do not know what I would do if I had to navigate the language on my own. I have often thought about the Apostles who went to preach of Christ to what was considered the ends of the earth at that time. They went alone and without an interpreter. I have thought how powerful their desire must have been to spread the news that “He is not dead–but lives!” It puts into perspective the training and guidance I have received to prepare me to serve in a foreign land. One major bonus I have is a companion who speaks the native language. But if my companion were to take care of me all the time, speak for me, read for me, figure everything out for me, I would never learn the language for myself. I would never have to struggle to share my testimony, and I would never be required to meet the lord half-way there. When your words are limited it really makes you think of exactly what you want to say about the gospel. It forces you to define your testimony. This has been one of the unforeseen ways that my testimony has grown. This has helped not only in my personal progression, but it has strengthened my testimony of the Savior. It has shown me that when I do all that I am asked then the Lord will "meet me there" and fill in the gaps. It is the same in our lives. Sometimes God allows us to struggle and work on our own so that we can learn and grow. I also know that although we often feel like we are in our corner–facing the corner–in our chair–feeling a little punished, He will help us turn out and see that we are part of a room that encloses all of humanity, where each one is numbered and each of us is counted in His Kingdom ..."and there [He] will meet [us]". I am grateful for the scriptures and thankful for the opportunity to seek personal revelation, which guides and directs me in my daily life.

I love you all and hope that you recognize the love of your Savior in the small things. I wish you a wonderful holiday season!

Sister Annie

Thursday, November 14, 2013

"…and God has not ceased to be a God of miracles." Mormon 9:15

Good morning everyone! (at least its my morning as I write this) 

I hope everyone had a great Halloween. Sadly, I had to miss out on my favorite holiday next to Christmas, but I celebrated in my heart. I might have to dress up next year, even though I will get home after Halloween. 

Moving on. I actually never thought that I would be one of those missionaries who said that time just flew by, however I have had to change my mind on that. This transfer has gone incredibly fast. Today is the halfway point in the transfer and I feel as though it has barely begun. My father said that I shouldn’t be concerned with the passing of time because it is not productive. However, that is how I have always structured the way to reach goals. I have tried to devise a different goal setting strategy, but nothing else works for me. So at the beginning of every transfer I set new goals for my own growth, for my companionship, and for my area. I check my progress at the beginning of each week and either thank my Father in Heaven for helping me reach my goals, or, reassess and restructure my goals to be more productive. So even though it may seem like I am counting days, that is not how it feels. Instead, it gives me a sense of accomplishment, and reminds me that my time is limited and I better use it wisely. So as I took stock of the last few weeks I felt that it was a little bit tough, because we really didn't have anything that was defined. That is always hard for me, because I do better with a strict schedule. However, in hindsight I decided that not being handed a schedule and needing to structure one yourself builds character. And for my companion and me it has fostered creativity. 

Because we had nothing laid out for us we had to really look at our work, and ourselves. We had to examine what we were doing to teach of Christ, and what more we could do to share the gospel. In the end we began thinking about talents, about all of the many talents that our Heavenly Father has given us. As my companion and I discussed this we realized that we had been blessed with more than we realized and that we had not tapped everything that the Lord had blessed us with. It was through this reassessment that I began to see that I had more to give to the work. My companion plays instruments very well, and even brought her guitar with her. Additionally, we both studied French in school (I am working for a minor in French Language Teaching). So from our discussion we decided to start offering a French class and a guitar class in addition to our English class. I need to explain that in some missions, missionaries teach English as a second language as a community service. We teach these classes at the church, and while we do not preach the gospel directly, it serves as an introduction to our Church. We decided that if we used these talents wisely we would be blessed for our efforts.  

We only started this week, but from the community interest we have received so far it appears to be successful. Now I could be quite self-satisfied with this success, but my time as a missionary for the Lord has taught me to look beyond the obvious and immediate outcome. It was while we were discussing our brilliant idea to offer classes that we began to see the many miracles that have surrounded us. Not just in the classes, but in every part of our lives as missionaries. I believe this is because we really looked at what we were giving to the work and decided to make an effort to give more, and we were determined to find a way to really try and give our all. I know that it is when we loose ourselves in the Lord that we are showered with miracles. I also believe that we have to look for miracles to see them.

This past week, after seeing so many miracles around me, I started to think about all of the many miracles in my life that perhaps I didn’t or haven’t recognized. God is a God of miracles and until now I know I didn’t always remember to look for the miracles in my life. We are taught that miracles are wrought by faith, but it also takes faith to see the miracles that happen around you. I believe that miracles are intensely and uniquely personal. They are meant for our benefit and spiritual growth. Because of this, I do not think that they should necessarily be shared with others routinely. Rather, they may be shared when you feel like they would help build the testimony of the one that it is shared with. Usually, that means someone very close to you. I know that miracles attend all of us. They come as often as we look for them, and they stop when we stop looking for them. I also know that the more you recognize the miracles in your life, the more you will see them. When we stop and look at the miracles around us, not only in our lives, but the lives of those around us, I believe that we will be able to see many many incredible blessings that surround us. A basic law of the natural world is that if our eyes are closed we cannot see. This is true for the basic law of the spiritual world too. If our spiritual eyes are closed we cannot see the miracles that attend us.

Especially as we approach Thanksgiving, I hope we can all take time to look for the miracles in our lives and be thankful for all the gifts and talents that our Heavenly Father has given us.

Lots of love! 

Sister Annie

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"…and with his stripes we are healed." Isaiah 53:5

Hello Hello! I apologize for not writing last week. It was transfer day, which always turns out to be much more hectic than I either anticipate, or that I would like it to be. I was not transferred, but my companion was so once again I got a new compatriot (not literally, but spiritually-our country is the Church of Jesus Christ). For those of you who have either lost count, or haven’t felt the need to keep a tally, this will be my fourth companion in four transfers. So far I don’t seem to have staying power. Perhaps there is something someone isn’t telling me... regardless, we have lots of fun. 

In addition to my companion leaving me, both of the elders in my area were replaced too. Hence, I was left the lone soul who was to help all the new transfers find their way around our little part of Jeju. Frankly I wanted to cry a little bit. I could feel little tears start to well up but I took a deep breath and tried to remember that I wasn’t really alone. However, I felt like I was not prepared to be the only person with all the information about the area. I did not know nearly enough. In hindsight I should have paid attention more to some details that will not escape me again. Surprisingly, I found myself acting and speaking like I knew exactly what I was talking about. Now I am not saying that the past week ran the smoothest, but it wasn't a complete train wreck. I was able to traverse our way to most of the places that we needed to go (though sometimes we took the scenic route, but I made it seem like they were getting the extended tour), and we always made it home at days end. This is a new me. I use to believe that as far as navigating goes that I would always be the co-pilot, as I am directionally challenged, but no more.

About a week and a half ago we were lucky enough to have Elder Scott D. Whiting come and speak to all the missionaries in Busan. There was something he said that I remembered as I was reflecting on my new found ability. The general idea of what he spoke about was to be careful about thinking you can't change. Just like we can muster the ability to find our way through unfamiliar places, we can also summon the ability to climb out of life’s pits that we find we have fallen or jumped in. To say that we can’t change is like saying that the sacrifice Jesus made for us was not adequate.   

I had never thought about it that way before. So many times when I find myself facing a challenge that requires me to make changes in my thinking or my actions I use the excuse that “I can’t change-this is how I am-this is how I have always been-this is how I was born-I do not have the potential to change-and so it is hopeless to even try”.  As I thought about this idea I came across Isaiah chapter 53. It is a beautiful chapter that describes how each of us “like sheep have gone astray: we have everyone, turned to his own way”. It explains how Christ, being both the son of God and the son of man knows what we are capable of and in spite of our refusal to change our errant behavior, He “hath laid on him the iniquity of us all”.  Nonetheless, “…he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities…and with his stripes we are healed”. When I read this it moves me in a way that I feel guilty, but these feeling are not bad, rather, they encourage me to grow. I see that when I say that I cannot change because it is too hard, or insist that I am not capable of change, then I have shown disdain for His silent and willing sacrifice. The entire message of the atonement is that we can change. Otherwise, Christ’s sacrifice would not have a purpose, and since the atonement is infinite it must mean that we can always change. Although this doctrine is relevant to sin, we can also apply the principles to any aspect of our life that we recognize needs modifying or revising. No matter what it is about our character, habits or traits that we want to improve, we are divinely instilled with the capability to change. We have been so endowed in order to create more distance from our “natural” self, and reach closer to our “divine” self. Really, when you think about it the whole purpose of our being here is to change. We should constantly be trying to change. That doesn't mean that we will never have set backs. But it is comforting to know that it is our nature to change, and that we can do it. It is through the Atonement of Jesus Christ that we can accomplish this. We should never tell ourselves that we are stuck the way we are. That goes against everything we have learned about our Heavenly Father's plan for us. He wants us to progress and improve and has provided the way for us to do so, and our Savior has given Himself to fulfill His Father’s plan. 

Since I began serving my mission I am often overwhelmed by the insuppressible desire to shout that I know our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ live and they love us more than we could ever comprehend. There is nothing in this life that we cannot overcome if we turn to them and let them lift us up and guide us through the process. 

I love you all and hope you are happy and well.

Sister Annie