Monday, July 25, 2016

"I believe in Christ, so come what may"

Loving the 20 minute insane rainstorms that make me feel 6 years old again

The cute Papania kids before their baptism

Another beautiful week in Opelousas, Louisiana. 

Saturday was a special day for six of my favorite people in this area. The Papania's baptism was wonderful! The kids were glowing after the baptism. The spirit was strong. My favorite moment was when 16 year old Chloe Papania came out of the water laughing and said, "I can't stop laughing because I have never felt this happy in my entire life". Wow. These kids are so strong; they are excited about the gospel and they set such a good example for our other investigators and ward members.   Their dad, Maverick, was the first to get up during the testimony meeting as the kids were changing. I am excited for him to be baptized. He is so ready! 

Some favorite moments from this week include:
- When we were reading the Book of Mormon with our investigator Brenda and she proceeded to replace all the "ye"s and "you"s with "y'all"
 - When the mother of two adorable girls we've been teaching came up to us after the baptism and asked, "So how do my girls get baptized like that? Do I just need to sign something?" 
 - When Sister Amezcua and I sang in church and our investigators gave us a standing ovation.....we obviously forget to mention we don't clap in church
 - When we had a ward activity for Pioneer Day and more people showed up to the barbecue than usually attend church

This week was a harder one. Sister Amezcua's neck is in bad shape. We finally went to urgent care this week and she got an X-ray that showed how far her vertebrae is out of line. She has a high pain tolerance and is super tough but she is in a ton of pain. She's going to see another doctor today so we are praying that it goes well. 

I don't know why challenges come just when we seem to be making a lot of progress. Life can be hard. But even though I don't know "the meaning of all things", like Nephi I know that God loves us (1 Nephi 11:17). I know our Heavenly Father always has our best interest, our eternal interest in mind. He is mindful of us and He will always be with us. Sometimes faith isn't about doing more; it's about caring less. It's about letting go and leaving it in God's hands. I am trying to be better at taking a step back and trusting in Him. "I believe in Christ, so come what may".

This gospel is so true. God is good. 

Have a blessed day y'all!
Sister Thomas

Sweet Jazmine Papania is just the cutest thing

A pinata hung on an extension cord for the ward barbeque

Monday, July 18, 2016

"My strength is made perfect in weakness"

The best street name in Alexandria

The best rain storms are southern rain storms

I hope summer is treating y'all well! It is always great to hear how y'all are doing. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

This week was packed full of some great experiences. Good news: we will have a baptism this next week! The Papania's are a wonderful family we have been teaching. Five of their six kids will be ready to be baptized this Saturday. We have seen God's hand over and over helping this family make the steps toward baptism. The mother and father still have some legal hurdles to jump before they can be baptized, but they are working toward it as well. We are so excited for this family! They are incredible. We know baptism will bless them immensely. 

We spent a few days in Alexandria attending Zone Conference and going on exchanges with the STL's. It was hard to leave Opelousas for a few days because there is so much work to be done, but we are learning to be patient. Zone Conference was beautiful and much needed. This mission is full of some stellar missionaries.

Sister Amezcua is one of the toughest people I have ever met. She is resilient and she doesn't let anything keep her down. I watch her prove that over and over and over. One of her mountains to climb this week has been her back pain. Her back has been in really bad shape for a while but this week it got much worse. We called the mission nurse on Friday and she told Sister Amezcua to lay low and stay on bed rest for 24 hours. That was hard. I hate seeing anyone in pain, but I especially hate watching people I love most hurting. Sister Amezcua continues to be the most loving, positive, and selfless person. She is doing everything in her power to recover (including "cupping", where a ward member basically put flames and cups on her back to remove toxins) and she keeps the work going. Mercy, I love this sister! She is someone I aspire to be more like someday. 

This week I have been studying a lot about weakness. Specifically, the difference between weakness and sin. I had always imagined that sin and weakness were just different levels of being unclean. I was so wrong! While sin leads us away from God, weakness can lead us toward Him. When we accept our weaknesses and turn to Him in humility and faith, our weaknesses teach us how to trust in God.   "And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." (Ether 12:27)

I see this scripture in a completely different light now. I used to think that this scripture was telling me that God would fix my weaknesses and that is how I would become perfected. But God doesn't always "make weak things become strong" unto us by eliminating our weakness. Usually He is not offering to immediately change what we are weak at. Instead, He offers to change us. God turns our struggle with human weakness into the virtues and strengths that make us more like Him. He helps us learn charity, compassion, meekness, patience, courage, long-suffering, wisdom, stamina, forgiveness, resilience, gratitude, etc. These are the very attributes we came to earth to learn. Mercy, isn't God's plan just perfect?

"My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:7,9). 

Life is beautiful, people are good, and the gospel is perfect. I love this crazy little piece of heaven called Opelousas. Hope y'all have a great week!

Sister Thomas 

Sweet Sister Amezcua obeying Nurse's orders

Monday, July 11, 2016

Becoming Something Greater

87 year old Sister Cloward's "garage sale"

Stay classy, Louisiana

Typical mission life, this week was crazy. It's a good thing I love crazy!

It is so cool to see how God always has a plan. It doesn't matter if we understand it or not. He has got everything under control. There have been a few days this week where we have had all of our appointments cancelled (or in other words, people just forget and are not home - a very common occurrence) just so we can be in the right place at the right time to share the message of the gospel with one of God's children. And God's way is always the best way! Our new investigators this week are BOMB. We love them a lot.

Saturday was a very special day. We were able to attend the temple sealing of one of the members of the Opelousas ward, "Mama Cat". There have been some serious miracles in her life lately. A few months ago, she was really frustrated. She hadn't been married for over 20 years and she was super lonely. So the missionaries in Opelousas decided to fast for her. They called it the "Great Cat Fast". They fasted for 15 days. They alternated who would fast for each meal. Two days after they ended the fast, Cat had a boyfriend. Two weeks later she was engaged and on Saturday, one month after the fast ended, she was engaged. Mercy, sometimes God answers prayers really quickly! The power of fasting is real y'all.

I love a lot of things about mission life. One part I especially love is how much missionaries grow. I can honestly say I am not the same person I was last week. I'm not even the same person I was yesterday. And I love it! Growth is good for the soul. Following Christ may not always be the easiest path but it will always be worth it! He never wants to take anything from us; He just wants to give us something greater. And I sure do love being made into something greater. "A person cannot give a crust to the Lord without receiving a loaf in return." - Melvin J Ballard

I love y'all! Trust in the Lord and keep on loving.

The Elders brought us ice cream to celebrate my
one month mark as a missionary!

The Opelousas ward has "cake day" once a month to celebrate
all the birthdays in that month. How cute!

Teaching Brother Carrell how to selfie

Monday, July 4, 2016

Peace, be still

We got permission to go to a fireworks show in Lafayette with some
members last night. It was hot, humid, and wonderful!

I never know what to think of the food here.

Lunch with the new district (minus one)

The District: Selfie
Hey y'all!

Happy 4th from Opelousas, Louisiana! My goodness, what a place to be. The area is crazy beautiful, the people are incredibly kind, and the missionaries are taking care of business! I know I am going to be so happy here.

Opelousas is in what is known as "exile" in the LBR mission. It is pretty far away from a lot of places and it's a little out in the boonies. This wonderful place always has the best stories! Sister Amezcua (my outstanding companion) always tells me that "every person who is the craziest person ever migrates to Opelousas". So far I would say that is pretty accurate. Mama Cat, a member in the Opelousas ward, explained it to me like this: "Opelousas is the celestial kingdom at a circus". Amen. The people are wonderful, kind, and sometimes a little wacky. I am loving every minute of it!

My new companion is Sister Amezcua. I am convinced that I have the best trainer in the entire mission! She is no doubt one of the most Christ-like people I have ever met. We have the best times together and I love every second I am with her. She is teaching me so much and is always patient with me. I love her to pieces!

Some favorite moments:
 - When one of our investigators told us she won the Nobel Peace Prize
 - When the same investigator told us she is a prophet and her father killed Abraham Lincoln (whaaaat?)
 - When Sister Amezcua and I became professional cockroach killers (practice makes perfect)
 - When we taught a man who was sitting in a truck in the middle of the road while we stood out in the pouring rain

This week I have been thinking a lot about peace. Isn't it incredible how peace is the one feeling that Satan can't mimic? (thought cred: Sister Amezcua). Satan can try to confuse love with lust and temporary happiness with joy, but peace is something that can only come from God. It truly is a divine gift. It is always incredible to me how much God cares about us at every moment. He sees it all from the end to the beginning and because of that perspective many of our worries are small and frankly laughable to Him. But in His infinite goodness and mercy He sends us gifts of comfort and peace to help us find joy in the journey. My favorite song of the week is hymn 105, "Master the Tempest is Raging". Whatever happens, God is with us. We need to trust in Him.

 I am just the happiest here and I know it will only get better. I hope everything is going well for y'all at home! My love and prayers are always with you. God is good!

Much love,
Sister Thomas