October 27, 2014

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I keep forgetting to say it but I’M SO PROUD OF MOM for getting an iPhone!!! I never thought the day would come.

So I may have said Tennessee is weird in one of my emails…I take that back (white handbook pg 20)… and I’ll make it right by telling you about a breakthrough I’ve had. So my first 2 transfers, missionaries would talk about having dreams about being home and think "Nooo I’m not done with my mission, I need to go back to Tennessee!!" and I thought that was hilarious, because when I’d dream about being home I’d think "Wow, everyone said 18 months would fly and they were right, thank goodness… now I can go to school and date and have fun!!" and then I’d wake up and think "Nooo it’s only been 3 weeks!!" haha. BUT. Last night I had a dream that I was home and it felt terrible and I thought "Nooo I’m not done with my mission, I need to go back to Tennessee!! I need to teach Andrea and Judge and find for 2 hours every day and study for 2 hours every day and help the branch become a ward!!" So I guess whether or not Tennessee is weird, I am growing to love it and this is where I want to be.

My new companion is Sister Rindlisbacher. She’s from Fresno CA, she’s been out for a year, and she’s the kind of missionary I want to be. It feels good to do things right-er and it’s helping me a lot.

Here’s a story I’ve been sharing this week with members. It comes from a BYU devotional given by Terryl Givens…

"One of my favorite stories concerns a woman named Sarah Edwards, wife of the famous Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards. He was best known perhaps for his sermon that every early American schoolchild had read: “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” He told his audience:

The wrath of God is like great waters that are dammed for the present. . . .The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you. And, for the unregenerate, he continued: When God beholds the ineffable extremity of your case, and sees your torment to be so vastly disproportioned to your strength, and sees how your poor soul is crushed, and sinks down, as it were, into an infinite gloom; he will have no compassion upon you . . . ; there shall be no moderation or mercy.

I cannot help but wonder how such excesses struck the hearts and minds of tender people everywhere and of Edwards’ own devout and loving wife in particular. It so happened that on one occasion when Edwards was out of town, another local preacher came to visit Sarah and her children. He offered to have a prayer with the family, and she agreed. Afterward, she recorded in her journal that while the Reverend Peter Reynolds was offering his prayer, shef ound herself feeling “an earnest desire that,in calling on God, he should say, Father.” She asked herself, “Can I now at this time, with the confidence of a child, and without the least misgiving of heart, call God my Father?” In consequence of this reflection, she recorded, “I felt a strong desire to be alone with God,” and withdrew to her chamber. In the moments that followed, she continued: The presence of God was so near, and so real, that I seemed scarcely conscious of any thing else. God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, seemed as distinct persons, both manifesting their inconceivable loveliness,and mildness, and gentleness, and their great and immutable love to me. . . .The peace and happiness, which I hereupon felt, was altogether inexpressible."

Stories like this from Sarah Edwards, or from Enos in the Book of Mormon, or from Nephi who prayed to get his own personal manifestation of what his father Lehi had seen, are hard for me to understand. What does it take to get a divine manifestation, clearly unmistakable, from God? We are told we must ask with real intent, purify ourselves, repent, and love those around us as ways to help us receive revelation, even as qualifications to receive revelation, but in the end it is still up to God whether or not we receive the revelation we seek. I decided I don’t know if I can entirely control whether or not I receive revelation, but I can control whether or not I’m doing my best to be worthy of it. I’m glad revelation is so hard to get because then we have the motivation to change. I like this thought from Givens, that "The call to faith is a summons to engage the heart, to attune it to resonate in sympathy with principles and values and ideals that we devoutly hope are true, and to have reasonable but not certain grounds for believing them to be true." I am grateful my belief has come through work and study, because this has resulted in a lot of growth and change. So I am grateful that I am not forced to believe. I am also grateful that faith is intriguing and inviting and that I see evidence for my faith, results. Faith is a choice, and belief is a result of those initial steps and consequent study, personal change, and personal revelation.

I remember being extremely wary of words like "faith" and the "Spirit" not too long ago. I could not go off warm fuzzy feelings that people were labeling as the Spirit and revelation, that’s just silly, it might be nice but it’s like living in a warm dream and ignoring reality. What convinced me to have the courage to try faith was a promise that by qualifying for revelation, the answers we receive won’t simply be warm fuzzies that we put labels and explanations to. One of these promises is in D&C chapter 93: (https://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/93?lang=eng)

1 Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am;
2 And that I am the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world;

The promise is not that we’ll comprehend that morality exists, that goodness exists, but even more, that we’ll know what the source of that goodness is. If we do certain things–listed here as forsake sins, come unto Christ, call or pray on his name, obey his voice, and keep his commandments–we will know that He is, and that He is the true light, true morality, etc. that lights in us and motivates us to improve and better society. That promise was compelling and the promised result was concrete, and I knew I couldn’t cross it off unless I tried it out. I haven’t seen the face of God but I cannot deny that I would not be here without being pushed by someone that wasn’t me…otherwise I would not be here. haha.

Ok I thought I had a funny story but I guess I don’t. I’m still in La Follette and we’re teaching Judge Herman about the Book of Mormon tonight!!!

Gotta go, love you all, bye!

– Sis Hale

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October 20, 2014

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This week has been a little slow in teaching but one of the best weeks of my mission. We have been doing a lot of fun things and saying goodbye to people for Sister G (transfers are Wednesday). We’ve also spent a lot of time with Judge Charles Herman and his family.

Charles’ wife Evelyn was told at the beginning of the week that she had about a month left, but the cancer moved faster than that. On Wednesday she could hear but not talk, on Thursday she went into a high fever and shallow breathing, and it was about the same on Friday. Sister Godlewski and I had been going over every night and we brought the Elders with us on Friday. We talked to the family for an hour in the cafeteria…he has 2 daughters, Angela and Christy, who each have 2 little kids…and then we all went into Evelyn’s room. We got there right as 6’9″ Father Joe, their Priest, got there, so we let him step in first, with Judge behind us saying to his daughters, “It’s the face-off…the Mormons versus the Priest” haha. Father Joe didn’t hear but his daughters laughed about it. Father Joe was a little uncomfortable with us at first it seemed, but I think he warmed up to us a bit after Elder Udy told him we’ve been praying for his sister at our weekly prayer circle.

Evelyn looked pretty bad that night. I know this whole story will make Mom cry no matter how much I tell so I’ll just tell all of it. I told Angela about my Grandpa Burke dying of cancer, how I remember the last time I hugged him and he kissed my cheek, and I can still feel that kiss on my cheek. 🙂 I told her how hard it was for Mom, how she’d say “No matter how old you are when a parent dies, you’re still like a little girl who just lost their mommy or daddy.” When we had to leave we asked Judge if we could pray. He shut the door, walked over to Evelyn and said “They’re going to pray for you,” kissed her, “we love you!” and held her while Sister G prayed for peace and comfort for Evelyn and Judge and their family.

We went home and got the text at 4 am that she had passed away. Judge asked us to come over to the house so we were over there by 8 am. It beats me how 2 random young girls end up in the front scene of a family’s huge trial of their mother and wife dying of cancer. He was awake and his daughters were sleeping, so we just sat there with him and looked at old and recent family photos of Evelyn. He would say “Isn’t she foxy?” haha and tell us about the pictures. Life is way too happy and way too sad.

So the funeral is on Wednesday…so is Transfer Meeting… so Judge called up President Griffin about it, haha. Earlier we were telling him that Sister Godlewski was going to be transferred, and he called President Griffin to tell him she needed to stay because his wife was dying, and we told him she was still probably leaving but that Pres. Griffin is a nice guy. Judge said “He sounds like a peach” haha. So after we got permission to miss transfer meeting for the funeral (which is kinda a big deal) Judge says “He’s half a peach.” Judge loves us a lot and we love the family.

At zone meeting this week we talked about the difference we make as missionaries. It’s kinda up to us if we want to impact people deeply and personally or to be remembered pleasantly. It’s been hard for me to love people on my mission. I had to kind of harden myself at my job at Provo Canyon School (treatment center for teens), harden my heart to the girls’ problems and feelings and past trauma, and not be as sympathetic to them as I wanted to be even though I did care about them, because that wasn’t my job. I think that’s carried over into my mission a little bit. This week I’ve had a couple breakthroughs…I am starting to love people and because of that I’m starting to love my mission.

We’ve had a lot of meal appointments this week now that Sister G and Elder Udy are leaving. Good thing we joined a gym!! It is sad they’re leaving, I’m really good friends with Sis G, and Elder Udy is super similar to Laura Austin so it’s like I’m hanging out with her all the time, party. I don’t know what I’ll do without Sister G though!! I have no sense of direction! I’ll get lost all the time!! They gave me a GPS but you know me… where is Provo Mountain when you need it??

Ok gotta go!! 🙂

– Sister Hale

p.s. look up Vincenzo Di Francesca on wikipedia in your spare time

 

pic 1: a generational photo…? I don’t quite get it but apparently these are my mom, grandma, cousin, uncle, and grandpa

pic 2: my trainee graduation/3-month mark party!!

pic 3: tldr;

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October 13, 2014

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Tennessee is so WEIRD!!!
I have never ever ever dealt with people on so many levels of extreme. I go to prayer circle where there is no question of doubt in anyone’s minds that the Bible is truth and God lives and is a God of miracles. I find even more extreme people (/less realistic people) who feel like they’ll be condemned just for reading something about other religions that isn’t the Bible… like, that it’s not even something they could explore just to learn about other religions. Half the time those people are the ones who don’t actually read the Bible enough to know what’s in it though, haha.
So it was kind of refreshing to find someone who was on the opposite extreme a couple weeks ago. We tracted into a guy named Skyler, he’s probably 24ish and he’s engaged and he’s smart. He grew up in a religious environment (#biblebelt for the win) and in his later teens realized all the contradictions and loopholes of religion and the Bible and God. So it’s fun because I feel like I’m talking to myself or Kyle and it’s always a good break from… others. Sister G and I literally have to argue every time after lessons with him about whether or not he’s a “progressing” investigator, haha. She thinks he’s not because he doesn’t believe in God, but I think he is because he continues to meet with us and he reads what we tell him to read and he is probably way closer to a balanced truth than a lot of our other “progressing” investigators (minus the Spirit). I have been really trying to figure out where we need to go with him. It has been cool to rethink my own journey from going in circles for months over whether or not God exists. We are just trying to back things up for him….no we’re not trying to convince you that the earth is 7,000 years old, or that the sexism in the Bible is good, or that God is portrayed completely accurately in the Old Testament. No we’re not trying to convince you that the reason we believe in God is because we pray and half the times our prayers are answered, so it must be God. I think the differentiation we need to make here is the difference between seeking signs and seeking revelation. Seeking signs is like…we pray we’ll be able to find something and half the time it works. We could pray to a milk jug, and the same thing would happen. Seeking revelation is seeking answers to questions and prayers, but the difference is the kinds of things we pray for, the condition we are in when we pray, and the way those prayers are answered, through the Spirit. We qualify for that by purifying ourselves and developing charity and seeking revelation.
Occasionally we’ll find someone who believes in the Bible AND will talk to us like we’re human! We found a guy named Ben who sells tools. He talked to us for 45 minutes and gave us Bible riddles and in the end said he could read the Book of Mormon and tell us within 6 months whether or not it’s scripture.
We dropped in on Judge Charles Herman (our Catholic friend from the food pantry) the other night. His wife Evelyn has gone downhill with her cancer in the past couple weeks as well as mentally, so he’s pretty stressed about it. We asked if he wanted a blessing and he said he did so the Elders came on over and gave him one. He was blessed to love his wife the best he can and that his wife will feel and recognize that love, and that as he listened to the Sister missionaries, the gospel they bring will bring him peace and he will undoubtedly know what God sees that he can do and become. That was kinda big because we haven’t taught him at all yet, just been their friend.
We went to Mass with Judge last week. It made me miss my roommate Danielle!! Shoutout to you wherever you are!! We were also invited to a Baptist church by our friend, the police chief, Jeffries. My first real Southern Baptist experience!! We’ve gone to a couple actually. I love the music, the yelling is interesting, and the people are lovely. I think I will drop in on Baptist churches for the rest of my life, at least for the music.
The other week at prayer circle, Cormac was going off for 20+ minutes to me about the usual. I stopped him and asked why Catholicism is important and special to him. He talked for another 10 minutes about his belief in God and how John 17 is really special to him and had a big impact on his faith when he was a young man, and then he said “All right I hope you have a wonderful day, we’ll see you next week!” I said “Wait! You didn’t let me talk, at all. You don’t listen to me at all.” He tripped over his feet and said “Oh I’m sorry, were you going to say something?” haha. I told him that if I wanted to learn about Catholicism and why it is special to people who are Catholic, I would talk to those people and listen to them. OR I could read an anti-Catholic book that talks about corruption and massacres and the evils of Catholicism and on and on and on and assume that anyone who is Catholic is ignorant of its history and brainwashed. I told him we could have very similar conversations about our religions’ histories and how we have to account for different events and actions and policies. We could also talk about how our religions have policies and beliefs that are very different today than in the past. And about how they might improve in the future. But he won’t let that conversation happen because he won’t listen to me. He said…well he didn’t really say much after that, so I asked if he would be willing to read something noncritical about the Church to understand why it is special to such a large group of people. He said he’d read whatever I gave him… I haven’t given him anything more yet, so more on that later…
Pretty much missions are like high school basketball…the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Except it’s not as fun and a lot more boring. haha. I remember being so mad at everyone who told me to go on a mission or said they felt like I was going to go. And I was mad at everyone who was going on missions because everyone was making a big deal about it and making them seem like they were so cool and righteous. I hope no one feels like they’re not cool or righteous for not going on missions because I felt like people felt that way about me for not going sometimes, and now that I’m on a mission I realized I’m not cooler or righteouser than before.
So in case anyone had the idea that I’m a perfect missionary… after lunch on Saturday, Sister G and I decided to fast for Francis Kurowicki that she could make it to church so she can get baptized on her date. We had a team up with 13-year-old Kaitlin and pulled up to Sonic to get ice cream together and then remembered we were fasting…and then looked at each other and said “eh…we’re eating ice cream, she’s a lost cause.” haha. SOME DAY i will be a perfect missionary. maybe. p.s. she didn’t come to church haha
Might be able to send pictures today. Thanks for the love and emails and support and letters!! 🙂
– Sister Hale
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October 6, 2014

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This week mine and Sister G’s goal was to feel more like missionaries than we have our entire 9 weeks together. I’m not really sure what we did differently but we had a really good week of teaching and finding. Transfers are coming up in a couple weeks, we think I’m gonna stay in LaFollette and Sister Godlewski is gonna leave… which is sad because we are really good friends and have a lot of fun but still get work done.

For the past few weeks I’ve struggled to have time to write a good sum of my week and the mission. I have had so many people emailing me and my head is kinda spinning with all the thoughts and struggles and insight that people have given me about their testimonies. It is really quite beautiful to have access to such a variety of experiences within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and to set them side by side and look at them.

There are a handful of people who have significantly altered my path in the church, both believers and nonbelievers, critical and noncritical. They have not been the deciding factor as to whether or not I stay or leave, but have helped me stay balanced in my perspective of the church, its strengths and its imperfections. One of my life goals (if I make it out of my mission alive haha) is to be one of those people, to mix up the pot. I want to help nonbelievers see that the church makes sense, and I want to help believers see that the church doesn’t make sense, and hopefully as more people see both of these things, we’ll all come to a greater understanding of each other. And more importantly, of what the Church is. What it isn’t. How it’s evolved, how it is to be understood, how it could possibly bless some and torment others.

Bishop Turley (from my BYU single’s ward) sent me an essay by Richard Bushman called "The Nature of Unbelief." Bushman uses a metaphor describing the phenomenon of seeking without balance:

"Why the certainty, why the passion, why the lack of nuance and balance? Hearing the stories of lost faith over and over again, I was reminded of the famous Punch cartoon of the lady and the hag. This is the one you see first as a beautiful lady, her face turned away and her head adorned with a sweeping hat. Then when you look again, you see a hag with a large nose and a wizened mouth. In an instant, a picture you saw one way turns into something exactly its opposite….The fundamental question in the struggle over belief [may be]: what is the nature of the Church? The doubters interpret ‘one true church’ to mean constant and complete divine guidance at every point with little room for human error. Joseph Smith could not have been misled about the nature of the Book of Abraham scrolls they would say. The Lord would not let his prophet work in ignorance on so important a point. Brigham Young would not have been allowed to let his own racial prejudices affect his position on blacks and the priesthood. There is no place for mistakes in a divinely guided church."

"This sureness has puzzled me. There is a huge Mormon intellectual establishment assembling evidence to support the Church’s claims and answering objections. Does all this count for nothing? Take the problem of Joseph Smith’s Book of Abraham manuscripts, for example. Egyptologists have translated the fragments that were found in Metropolitan Museum and found they do not refer to Abraham at all; they are a funeral document of a type commonly buried with eminent Egyptians. This discovery surprised many Mormons, and disturbed not a few. But Kevin Barney, the learned Chicago attorney, has given a plausible account that considers all the scholarly findings and still leaves room for inspiration and a divinely inspired text. The Book of Abraham, Barney argues is no more a translation in the conventional sense than the Book of Mormon. The Egyptian scrolls were the occasion for a revelation. Both books were given by the gift and power of God; both resulted in truly remarkable texts. I can imagine a critical investigator disagreeing with Barney, but with such finality and certainty? Other apologetic arguments receive the same treatment. It is as if all the explanations in support of the Church are not really worthy of serious consideration."

I have a lot of questions and I have yet to fully understand the Church. I have had my fair share of both blessings and torment over things I do understand and things I don’t understand. I am grateful for General Conference and I love the Church, even being aware of its imperfections. We were encouraged to do what it takes to receive revelation throughout conference. Ultimately I know that that is what will stabilize me in my efforts to understand the Church and the Book of Mormon. We receive revelation by repenting, being pure, being humble, being teachable. By accepting the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

I love you all!!

– Sister Victoria Hale