That's terrible news about the van! Was everyone okay? Did you see who did it? I would have turned around and run them over with my car. haha. Then again, they made it so you got to drive a Yukon, so that's pretty cool!
I have learned over the last two weeks that faith is the key to happiness. Sounds like a simple, basic truth, but there's a lot more to it than that. In Lectures on Faith, Joseph Smith teaches that faith is a principle of power. God is the only being in the universe that has faith in himself independently. When he says he will do something, he has the mental fortitude and energy and strength necessary to accomplish it. Faith is that mental fortitude and energy. Faith is a principle of power. I made it a point this week to meditate about my plans for the next day before I fell asleep. I would make a conscious decision to wake up energetic, to wake up hopeful, and to make my days happy no matter what the cost. Guess what? It worked. It wasn't easy, but every day this week turned out fantastic. And it was fantastic all throughout each day. Why would anyone NOT want to live like that? It's wonderful.
So here's what happened. Monday we had P-Day. At 6:00 PM the Stake President, President Murray, had us over for dinner. His family is really cool. The food was delicious, and we had a great lesson about the restoration of the Gospel. One of his daughters, at the end of the lesson, said, "Hey, I've been feeling impressed to tell you guys about a kid from school and to send you over there. Hold on a sec." So she went and grabbed this kid's address and gave it to us and explained the situation and asked us to go see him. She's not friends with this guy from school, but she would always say hi to him in the halls and she noticed he was going through a rough time. So we promised we'd go visit. Sue had us over for a lesson after that. She'd been really sick for the last week. I hope Elder Gerratt and I didn't give her our flu bug that we had a few weeks ago. I think we might have... anyway, I gave her some Halls Fruit Breezers and some Mint Herbal Tea. We had a fantastic lesson on the 10 Commandments and the Law of Chastity. She has finished 1st nephi and is loving the Book of Mormon. She is getting baptized October 13th at 4:00 PM. She thanked us for the lesson and started crying as she said the closing prayer as she was thanking God for letting us come into her life. It was probably the most beautiful, touching thing I've ever heard and felt in my life. I love Sue. She is an incredible woman and has such a pure heart and a love for everyone she meets. I'm so proud of her.
Tuesday was my first day alone in the area. Elder Shumway, my district leader, came out on an exchange with me. It was the easiest exchange ever, since they live just a few doors away from us. So none of us had to pack! haha we just swapped at 9:00 AM and then swapped back at 9:00 PM. Elder Shumway and I got a sad call from Nick during our companion study. Nick collects exotic fish and makes really cool underwater aquatic environments. It's really impressive. He grows underwater plants and buys special snails so that he never has to clean the tank. But because he spends so much time working on it, he gets really attached to his fish. His favorite fish died that morning, and he was really sad about it. Luckily we were going over to see him at 11 AM anyway, so we were able to share a lesson on the resurrection of animals. Not a very widely talked about doctrine, but true nonetheless. We read him some scriptures from the Bible, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Book of Moses. He was really happy to know that he will see his fish again, just like I'm really happy that I'll see Dakota again.
Elder Shumway and I tracted on Lancaster avenue for 2 hours after that. We did a whole block. We got hardcore rejected the whole time. We worked until our lesson with Derek and the Carter family at 3:00 PM. Derek is really cool. He's from South Dakota and moved to Pittsburgh to get away from his bad past. He had a rough child hood and wanted to come out here and start over. We taught him a lesson in the Carters' home. When we walked in, Sister Carter jumped out from behind the door and grabbed Elder Shumway by his shoulders and screamed. Elder Shumway jumped so high. It was hilarious. Then sister Carter said, "Oh. Whoops. I didn't know you had a different one with ya. I'm sorry." Poor Elder Shumway! Way funny. Anyway, the lesson was on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We discussed how faith leads to repentance, and repenting and keeping the commandments of God is what protects us from negative experiences and rids us of shame and guilt. We also discussed Baptism for the remission of sins and the reception of the Holy Ghost and then enduring in faith after that. He talked about how he wanted to come to church. We agreed to get him a shirt and tie. It was a good lesson.
We tracted some more after that. Elder Shumway has a bad knee - when he was playing football in high school, he got hit in the leg and it twisted his knee all the way around - 360 degrees. It tore all the ligaments in his leg and broke the bone. He had to have surgery and has something like 4 screws and two metal plates on his bone. The weather is changing, and so the plates got cold on his bone and it hurt. Unfortunately, we had planned to go tracting in the hilliest part of our area. TONS of stairs! The poor guy. I felt bad for him.
Anyway, right before dinner we got shut down in the most hilarious way I've ever seen. We knocked on this one door, and a lady answered. She was all smiles. She was about 60, with short brown hair and squinty eyes because she smiled so big. Her teeth were REALLY white, which made her smile seem bigger. She said, "WHY HELLLLOOOO THERE!" We enthusiastically responded hi. She grinned, bent over slightly and put her hands on her knees like she was talking to kindergarteners and said, "Well, you two aren't from the Book of Mormon musical, are you?!" I said no, but we were just as happy and just as nice. She said, "Oh, well ISN'T THAT SWEET?!" We laughed and asked her what she thought of the musical. She suddenly looked very serious: "It was well produced, but I found it derogatory and mean to you people." Her seriousness didn't last long. It was soon replaced with giddy, energetic sunshine: "...BUT IT WAS FUNNY!" Then she smiled some more. We laughed. Then she said, "I'M A BORN AGAIN CHRISTIAN!" We said that was great! She said, "Yes, but you see, I don't want to learn about Mormonism right now......" A long enough pause followed where I was about to say a response, but then she cut me off and happily said, "OR EVER!" Then she slammed the door. She didn't just kill us with kindness. She hit me in the face with an axe, cut me up into a billion pieces, and buried me in her backyard with kindness. It was awesome.
We had dinner after that with Elder Gerratt and Elder Lovejoy in the home of the mental health specialist and his wife, Elder and Sister Gehring. They made a delicious dinner and we had a good time. Sister Gehring made this crazy good dessert: a browny, covered with a layer of chocolate, covered in a cocoa crispy rice crispy treat, covered in peanut butter and more chocolate. I almost died, it was that good. After that, Elder Shumway and I tried to make contact with the referral we got the night before, but he wasn't home. So we proceeded to thoroughly freak people out by walking up to strangers on the street after dark and offering to tell them about Jesus. It wasn't a successful hour of my life, but it was fun. Then we stopped by Kris and Eric and set up an appointment for Thursday.
Wednesday was great as well. We visited a cool couple named Luke and Angie. It was just a brief visit. They're way cool. Just had a baby daughter named Mila (Mee-lah). Then we tracted (kind of a recurring theme to this letter...) and then taught Derek a lesson on the restoration. I also gave him one of my dress shirts and Elder Gerratt gave him one of his ties. Derek put on one of our name tags and looked like a missionary. We took a picture. It was funny. The lesson was great. Nick and Jess took us out to Olive Garden for dinner. We had an enjoyable time. After that we went to the church and had to have an activity with the youth. I signed up for it like a month ago, but we didn't have a whole lot of time to prepare. We put something together that was actually pretty good - it was about how to make Mormon.org profiles and helping the youth make them. Then, an hour before the event, we realized that in order to make profiles, the youth had to have their membership record numbers, which we didn't know or have access to. So we had to throw together a plan B in like 20 minutes. Luckily it all turned out.
We taught them how to use mormon.org and make a profile, but then we talked about how to share the gospel at school and do it through example. Then Jessica bore her testimony for the first time. And she did it in front of all the youth and the bishopric! She was super nervous, but it was SO amazing. All the young women were crying, especially because of one of the stories she told. Last month, a young woman who was new to the ward bore her testimony about random acts of service and how she had been blessed because of the charity of the young women. Some of the young women (they did it anonymously) wrote her a card that said, "We are so glad to have you with us in our ward! Can't wait to be friends!" and left flowers on her doorstep. She said it meant the world to her - after leaving everything behind and going to a new place, she said it felt good knowing that she had friends in the gospel. This had a big impact on Jess, and it inspired her to go out and buy flowers for 3 families in the ward who had really blessed her life. One of the people she had gotten flowers for, who didn't know she had done it, told her that it had inspired them to do something nice for someone else. Jess bore her testimony and said, "Even though I'm still working on getting baptized, I just wanted to let you know that the church is true. The way you live your lives as young men and young women have inspired me and blessed me and helped me to keep going. Your example got me to be more christlike and helped others to do the same. You never know just what kind of effect you will have on people, especially someone like me who is new to the gospel." Elder Gerratt and I just wanted to stand up and run down the street and do cartwheels or something. I cannot describe to you how proud we were of Jess in that moment. She was shaking the whole time she spoke, but she spoke so powerfully and so simply. It was a great moment for everyone. The whole event turned out well, and then we all ate cookies.
We had district meeting on Thursday and I was having an off morning. I had some really discouraging dreams the night before, and so I was in a bad mood. But I remembered my goal to be happy no matter what and so I did it. Elder Gerratt and I tracted, yet again. This time it was in the pouring rain. We had umbrellas and we were going from house to house, puddle to puddle, preaching the gospel like total heroes. haha! That's how we felt anyway. We were happy to be doing it, and we met some great people. This one elderly couple from Greece let us come in out of the rain for a bit. They were nice, but they didn't speak much english. Their names were Sophia and Nik. They were REALLY old. Really old. haha. Bless their hearts.
The Root family had us over for dinner. It was great getting to know them since they just moved in. After that we had a lesson with Kris and Eric. It was really good. They are both really interested, and Eric had some great questions. Kris is recognizing the need for change and she said, "I'll just tell you right up front guys, it's gonna be hard to change." We haven't taught them any commandments yet or brought up change. That's when you know they're being taught by the Spirit. We had a great lesson on the introduction of the Book of Mormon and the translation process. We also invited them to general conference. After the lesson they told us they loved us and loved the spirit they feel when we come over.
Justin called us right after that. He's such a miracle. We answered and he said, "You guys, I'm done." Our hearts sank and we looked at each other like, OH NO! WHAT HAPPENED!? But then he said, "I just threw away my chew and my cigarettes. I've gotta start living the word of wisdom." We hadn't taught him that yet. He continued, "I know you guys haven't mentioned this before, but I was talking to the mormon.org missionaries and they told me about blessings. Can you guys give me one so I can quit chewing and smoking? That would be great. I'll see you guys in a bit." We were stunned. Of course we agreed, so we went over and gave him probably the most spiritual blessing I've given in my life. Justin is a special dude. Right after that, he offered to help us out the rest of the night. We were helping our friend Dave move out of his apartment. So Justin spent the next 2 hours moving a stranger out of his apartment. He even brought his truck to help move. It was amazing.
Friday Morning he texted and said, "Guys, you wanna go to lunch? I've gotta keep busy so that I don't smoke." So we went to lunch and had french toast. And then he agreed to go out with us the rest of the day! He drove us from appointment to appointment, he went tracting with us. He bore his testimony. We had a great lesson with Nick and Jess on some really deep doctrinal questions, and he followed along perfectly and accepted our answers and even gave insight. Dave needed some help moving a washer and dryer after that, and so Justin helped us do that. Dave would always tease us for being Mormon and was never interested, but after that he and his girlfriend Lori said, "You guys are coming over next Thursday night for dinner. Plan on being here for two hours. I'm going to give you guys haircuts, too, and we'll talk about becoming Mormons." ANOTHER MIRACLE!
We had a lesson with Shayna after that. When we got out of the car she told her neighbors, "Hey guys, I gotta go. Those are my missionaries!" We had a great lesson about the Tree of Life and modern prophets. At the end, Justin said, "I haven't read the whole book, and I've only been reading for a month now, but it can't not be true. This book is the real deal." The spirit was overwhelming. Shayna got really excited for general conference and she's going to come this saturday. She told us, "I've had people from other denominations stop in and give me literature and want to talk to me, but I've always gotten an unsettled feeling and their words didn't ring true to me. But you guys are different. I always seem to want you to come back. And this Book is bringing me closer to God and getting me to understand him better." It was an incredible lesson.
Justin had to go home after that, but he said, "you guys still coming over at 8 for our lesson?" We said of course! The Taylor family had us over for dinner. Brother Taylor makes incredible lasagna. He served his mission in Italy and picked up a sweet recipe there. Their little boys were in the front yard shooting each other, pretending sticks were guns like I used to do as a kid. So I picked one up and started shooting them. They didn't know what to do, so they all turned and yelled and said, "HEY!" and started shooting me. It was really funny. We had a good time.
Brother Match came out with us after that and Elder Gerratt and him taught Guille about Thomas S. Monson. I sat patiently.
Then we had a great lesson with Justin. We talked about temples, about the Word of Wisdom, about the Law of Chastity, about everything he had questions about. He had just finished reading Ether and Moroni before we got there. We pretty much just bore testimony back and forth the whole time, and he agreed to be baptized.
Saturday we helped Brother Daugherty move with the Elders Quorum. It was fun. Then we had a lesson with Guille's whole family. Then we had lunch and studied spanish and did weekly planning. We bore powerful testimony everywhere we went. Around 5 we felt impressed to go meet with Melissa. We called her and she said she was free and asked us to come over. Last time we met with her we just talked about repentance, which was powerful, but this time we felt it would be great to teach her about the Restoration. She brought her bible out onto the porch (she's been reading it all the way through for the first time and had a lot of questions - she's in Numbers). "Why has God changed?" she asked. "Why was he so full of vengeance in the Old Testament and then so full of mercy in the new? Where are the prophets today? Where are the miracles?" It was a perfect lead in to the restoration. We answered all of her questions by the time we got to the Great Apostasy. Before we could even tell her about Joseph Smith, she got bright eyed and asked, "So, are you here to tell me that there's a prophet again today! Please tell me that!" We told her to hold on and be patient! We all laughed. Then we told her the story of the first vision, and as we spoke the words of God the Father to Joseph Smith, tears filled her eyes and ran down her cheeks. She said, "How can I know this is true? What do I do? How do I ask?" We told her about the Book of Mormon and how to pray to know if it is true. Then she said, "So who is the prophet today?" We told her about Thomas S. Monson. "He's actually speaking next week!" we said. She said, "What time? I'm coming." We made plans and arrangements and then she said, "When are you boys coming over to see me again? I'm going to be reading this book and I want to talk about it." We made more plans. Then we knelt in prayer. The spirit was poured out in great abundance and we were all beaming and smiling. She said, "I love you guys. Thank you. I will see you next week!" And she pretty much skipped inside. It was the greatest. Elder Gerratt and I sat in the car, just overwhelmed at what we'd just experienced. We said a prayer of gratitude and went on our way.
Justin had us over again after that. We started watching Prophet of the Restoration with him until we had to go in for the night. Sunday was fantastic. Sue came, Luis and Tatiana and Estella came, Nick and Jess came, and Justin came. Gospel Principles class was on missionary work. It pretty much turned into all the members talking about how much they loved the people they taught and the areas they served in, how much they loved us and the people who were preparing for baptism, us telling our investigators how much we love them, and our investigators telling us how much they loved us and the ward. It was great. The best Sunday of my mission by far.
After church Justin said to me, "The more I think about it, the more I realize that you guys are like the special forces for Jesus." I laughed. He said, "No, seriously! Think about it! You guys have already eaten the fruit of the tree of life. Now you guys have your night vision goggles on, and you're strapped to the iron rod, and you're just going out into those mists of darkness trying to find people and bring them to the rod and the tree. You guys are fearless. Thank you for doing what you do."
I know I said last week that the week before was the greatest week of my life. But now this is the greatest week of my life. I love everyone. I love the gospel. I love God. I love the seasons and how they change. I love that I'm alive. I love that I can be forgiven when I make mistakes. I love that I can forgive others. I love everything about everything.
Hope your week is great.
I love you with all my heart.
I discovered a cool place called Dormont Dogs at dinner time and I had a hotdog on a toasted bun with BBQ sauce, baked beans, and PepperJack Cheese on it. Greatest thing I've ever tasted.