Monday, December 30, 2013

December 30, 2013

Hey Everybody,
   This last week was pretty awesome. Christmas was great! This family that lives in our apartment complex called Elder Meline and my parents and figured out our family traditions and then invited us over for lunch to do them. It was pretty cool. Plus I got to talk to my family which made the day even better.
   Transfers are this week. Elder Meline and I will no longer be together. Our area is being split. Elder Meline will be taking Hampton Ward as a zone leader along with Elder Bostic and I'll have Baywood Ward. My companion will be Elder Cupp starting on Wednesday. I'm excited though. We have a baptism this Saturday and then he will be confirmed a member of the church on my birthday this Sunday.
   With New Year's coming up I've been doing a lot of thinking as to what it actually means. It's supposed to be a time of change but I feel like that is seldom the case. Why? Because everything worth striving for is always an inconvenience and we live too far in the past to progress out of the present.
   As I took this predicament to the scriptures it put a pretty cool meaning into some stories I hadn't picked up on before. A man here was kind enough to share with me his recent revelation from the story of Abraham and Isaac. For those of you who don't know, Abraham was a prophet of God. Abraham and his wife desperately wanted a child. It wasn't for many years until God let them have a son named Isaac. Isaac grew up to be everything a father could ask for. Abraham loved him. One day God commanded Abraham to take Isaac to the top of a mountain and sacrifice him. Torn between his feelings and his trust in God's will, Abraham finally decided to make the trek up the mountain with Isaac by his side. Now, you can imagine the thoughts going through Abraham's head as he climbed. I'm sure he was still trying to make up his mind as to whether or not he was going to kill his son. Isaac was everything to Abraham. The choice ahead was going to take everything he had to fulfill God's commandment to him.
   Abraham and Isaac reached the top of the mountain where they proceeded to build an altar. Once finished, Isaac obediently lay down on the altar and watched as his father picked up the knife to end his life. Abraham finally brought himself together enough to plunge the knife down in  an outward profession of his complete and unshaken obedience to God. But he didn't kill Isaac. The Lord had sent an angel to stop the knife before it could touch Isaac. Now just imagine the thoughts going through Abraham's head as he traversed down the mountain. Yes, the obvious answer was that he felt blessed and grateful that he could keep his son, but look further. What did The Lord want Abraham to learn?
   Through this act of total obedience, Abraham was giving The Lord all he had without the knowledge of what was to come. He was keeping a commandment that would try every fiber of his being to fulfill. And he did. He made the choice to obey God and sacrifice his son. The point is, Abraham knew this. God wanted Abraham to find out for himself that he had the ability to obey all of God's commandments, no matter how inconvenient and difficult they may seem. The Lord didn't want Isaac to die. He simply wanted Abraham to have enough faith in himself to have total faith in God.
   Keeping that in mind, another story in the scriptures is the story of Lot. Lot was commanded by God to leave Sodom and Gomorrah. God was going to destroy these two cities because of their wickedness and he needed Lot, his prophet, to be out of there first. So Lot gathered his things, got his family, and took off. Lot's family wasn't the happiest about this decision but they followed their father anyways. As they left that vile place, The Lord gave one more commandment. He said, "Look not behind thee". For whatever reason, Lot's wife turned around. Maybe she left her wallet, maybe she heard a noise, maybe she simply felt like walking backwards. But for whatever reason, Lot's wife turned around and gazed at the iniquitous home she was leaving behind. What happened to her you might ask? A pillar of salt she became. Literally.
   As simple a task as it was just to not look back on the city, she couldn't do it. It was just too much of an inconvenience to simply look forward and never look back. She probably didn't even stop to realize what could be in store for her and how much better it could be. She was living too far in the past to progress any further from the present. So a pillar of salt she became.
   So what's the moral of all of this Biblical rambling? How does this apply to us? Because we need to be more like Abraham this upcoming year and less like Lot's wife. We need to reasonably look past the inconveniences that Satan puts between us and significant blessings. That's the way Satan works. He puts logical and completely ethical reasons as to why we shouldn't do things. No matter how much they may benefit us. That way he lets us fight against our own discomforts in order to receive all that God has for us. Nothing worth while comes without stress, discomfort, and inconvenience. Convenience is a long sought after gift that rarely comes to those who search for it.
   In other, simpler terms, look not behind thee. Trust in The Lord in all thy doings. Choices become easier as we continue to choose them. That's the lesson Abraham was able to learn. As we put God first and move forward, the inconveniences that seem to be at hand will fade away and we will only be left with blessings. Don't look back. "The future is only as bright as your faith".

        Sincerely, Elder Earl

Monday, December 23, 2013

December 23, 2013

Hey Everyone,
   Well, Merry Christmas. It doesn't feel like Christmas whatsoever here in Mesa. It's still in the 70's on a normal day. I'm not sure if I enjoy being in the nice weather or if I miss having a white Christmas. That said, I've gotten to the point where I have to pull out a sweater as soon as it hits 60 degrees...
   This week went extremely well. We had lots of teaching opportunities and we found some new investigators. One of them even lives just a few apartments down from ours. Pretty much every lesson went well but I definitely had a favorite. Elder Meline and I have been teaching an elderly woman for about two weeks now. She has kept every commitment with just one slip, she didn't show up for church a few Sundays ago. This was somewhat concerning given the fact that she had promised to be there. Especially since her promising to do things has always meant that she will do it. We finally were able to catch her on Saturday. Brother and Sister Martinez from the Hampton Ward were kind enough to join us. We came in and, as usual, she had us make ourselves at home while she fended off her two chihuahuas with a fly swatter. 
   Ultimately, the goal of the lesson was to help her understand the importance of the commitments we were helping her to make. However, as we began to teach, it quickly turned into us letting her vent about the problems she has been facing ever the years. This woman has recently had her seventh heart attack. That by itself is incredible to me, but the list doesn't stop there. For two years she had watched her husband fight and eventually succumb to cancer. She has had multiple strokes, one of which took away her ability to speak. Either due to an amazing threshold of willpower or just an impressive amount of stubbornness, this woman taught herself how to speak again by watching television. She would lay there and simply repeat everything they said on the T.V. until she had the ability to talk again. But her biggest burden is her granddaughter Aubrie.
   Aubrie is a four year old little girl who is suffering currently from cerebral palsy. She can't walk, she can't talk, but according to this woman, "She's an angel". She has long dark hair that this woman braids every chance she gets. It make's her day. Even with all the perfection a four year old could possibly have, Aubrie will be spending Christmas in a hospital bed. That fact alone breaks her grandma's heart.
   After she let everything out, it left an immense opportunity to teach this woman. We explained how Aubrie won't have to worry about the pains her disease causes her forever. Because Aubrie has a Father in Heaven who loves her more than any of us can comprehend, He has made it possible for this little girl to have a perfect body one day. She'll be able to talk, she'll be able to walk, she'll be even more perfect than she already is. Also due to the plan of happiness that God has prepared for us, this woman will be able to see her husband once more. He as well will no longer be suffering from the cancerous pains which caused him to leave his wife behind. He will be perfect, and so can she.
   We opened the Bible and read John 15:2 with her. It says, "...every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit". We then proceeded to read Job 23:10 which reads, "But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold". The lesson we were able to help this woman understand helped myself learn tons as well. Because bad things happen to us, it doesn't necessarily mean that we are doing anything wrong. "Obedience to God's commandments is not insurance that bad things will never happen". As it says in John, when we do the things the Lord commands us to do, and see success because of it, at times we need to be purged. Sometimes to humble us, sometimes to protect us, but always to help us grow. The decision we have to make then is whether or not we will use the tools the lord gives us "come forth as gold".
   We followed that up by switching to the Book of Mormon. One of the stories told there is about a people who lived at the time of the Tower of Babel. They were commanded by the Lord to leave Palestine and sail across the sea to a new land. They were commanded not build their boats how they usually built them. Instead, for their protection, God instructed them on how to build these ships so that they would survive the voyage. Following the council of God, they built the ships in exactness to His commandments, made preparations, and departed for their new home. The sea was terrible. Storms beat them 24/7 yet they prevailed. All because of their faith and exact obedience in using the tools the Lord had provided them with. In Ether 6:7 they say, "And it came to pass that when they were buried in the deep there was no water that could hurt them, their vessels being tight like unto a dish, and also they were tight like unto the ark of Noah; therefore when they were encompassed about by many waters they did cry unto the Lord, and he did bring them forth again upon the top of the waters".
   The lesson we were able to help her with became simple. Was she allowing the Lord to help her? The church is the tool which Lord is providing her so that she can let Him take some of her burdens. She cannot do it by herself. In the previous scripture, God instructed the vessels to be made "tight like unto a dish" so that "when they were encompassed about by many waters" they would be safe. The waters around them would not be able to destroy them. That's what the Lord has intended for us. We go to church so that we, as parts of the vessel, can be made tight like unto a dish when brought together. When we are obedient and follow this council of His, there is no room for the waters or trials that surround us to seep through the cracks and sink us, whether it be physically or especially spiritually.
   This woman ended up coming to church this last Sunday. She stayed the entire time and before she left came over to me with teary eyes and thanked me for letting her come. She proceeded to say,"You were right. I needed that". I'm so grateful for the tools the Lord gives us to make our lives more bearable. He does not give us things such as church simply to inconvenience us. He gives them to us to prevent us, His children, from falling through the cracks. This world is not built tight like unto a dish. It is up to us, and us alone, bring ourselves tight unto the Lord. There is no other way to protect ourselves from the waters which encompass us. Don't fall through the cracks.

   Sincerely, Elder Earl

Monday, December 16, 2013

December 16, 2013

Hey Everyone,
   This week went really well. We have another woman on date to be baptized now. I'm extremely excited about her. We also just had a very productive week. It makes it all worth it when you get to see the fruits of your labors.
   This morning a man from one of the wards we cover took us on a hike. The Superstition Mountains are beautiful from a distance but their even better when you're on them. We went on a hike called First Water. It was pretty sweet. We found a bunch of Native American pottery on the ground next to some ruins. It was awesome.
   Some of the best parts about the Superstitions are the stories behind them. One I heard today was about the Peralta family. Back in the mid 1800's they migrated from Mexico to Arizona to pursue the gold rush. As they were crossing the Superstition Mountains the found gold ore just lying on top of the soil. So obviously, they began to harvest it. Pretty lucky strike right? Well, while they were mining their way to fortune the natives began to raid them. They came every few days until they eventually killed all except for one of the Peraltas. This last Peralta escaped and ran to little town called Tortilla Flats. There he met a Dutchman who agreed to go back to harvest the gold with him. They went and were never heard from again. The word is that they hid all the gold in the mountains somewhere. All who go after it seem to come back with physical, financial, or mental problems as a result.
   It was a cool story but as I think about it, it all goes back to my thoughts regarding greed. Especially during the Christmas season. "Happiness isn't having what you want. It's wanting what you have." Greed is easy, it's contagious, and it's extremely destructive. Happiness will not come from wanting more. True satisfaction comes from doing everything you can with what you already have.
   It's interesting that the people I meet here that are the least happy seem to have all they need. They simply haven't gone out of their way to help someone else have the same. I have never been more happy then I have been serving here in Arizona. Every moment is busy and even the hard moments become purposeful as I continue to serve. Selflessness expels greed and ushers in a sense of peace and satisfaction that can be found in no other way.
   I remember growing up that every Christmas season my parents would get us all in the car one night and we would head out and deliver gifts to families in need. I still remember the thrill came from leaving a gift at the door step and then running for cover. I never knew the families but I knew that we were helping them have a Christmas. It meant that we wouldn't have as many gifts but I wouldn't have traded it for the world.
   This Christmas season I would simply invite you to search for ways to serve others. Happiness most easily comes when you aren't striving to keep yourself happy. It comes when you see the happiness in someone else that you helped provide. I guess, simply put, I'm inviting you to be a little happier this Christmas season. And still, it's completely up to you.

         Sincerely,  Elder Earl

Monday, December 9, 2013

December 9, 2013

Hey Everyone,
   Life hasn't changed much since my last email. Actually, it hasn't changed at all. Which isn't a bad thing. I love how it is right now. Life's pretty great as a missionary.
   We decorated for Christmas sort of. We have a two feet tall fake tree on a table. That's about it though. We went to the Christmas lights at the temple with some investigators. It was really cool. I love working with kids. I got to explain to a four year old named Raja about how he has a Father in Heaven who loves him and the story of how his brother Jesus Christ was born while we sat beneath the Christus. He just simply looked at me as I told him and then back at the statue of Christ and then reverently said, "I wish someone had told me that before." 
   I've been thinking about what he said all week. It pretty much broke my heart to hear that. He comes from a family where his mom has had a child out of wedlock three times, all with different dads. In fact, Raja doesn't know his dad too well. He doesn't have a fatherly figure like I've had growing up. And to top that all off, his mom is moving with them to Illinois to get back together with his oldest brother's father. As I talked to His aunt, she doesn't know the next time Raja will be able to see his dad. It definitely won't be soon.
   This last Thursday, Raja's aunt's boyfriend took him to the church Christmas party. Raja was hyper and loud the entire time, just like a four year old should be, until the primary kids put on the nativity scene. Raja suddenly got quiet and stared at the stage as Joseph and Mary walked on. In Mary's arms she held the baby Jesus. Raja tapped my shoulder and then quietly asked, "Is that my brother?". All I could do was smile and nod. The grin that Raja had on his face after that made my day.
   I'm so grateful that I have a dad who's been there for me my entire life. Even while I'm in Arizona. He still manages to write me every week. I can't imagine what life would be like without that support. Especially if I was four years old and being taken around the country due to my mother's continuous romantic mistakes, living a life completely void of the peace and security that the gospel brings.
   In this Christmas season I promise that true happiness will come from paying attention to it's name. With that also comes the need for gratitude. Christ wasn't born in a fancy hotel, He was born in a manger. Among the lowliest of the low. Following His birth, Joseph and Mary were forced to flee to Egypt due to the impending massacre in Bethlehem, completely intended for the death of Christ. With that knowledge, who are we to expect gifts of any more value than a manger and a target on our heads? The fact of the matter is we've already been given the only gift we truly need.
   We have a Father in Heaven who loves us enough to give us His only begotten son to live and die for us so that we can live with Him once more. I'm so grateful to have been brought up with that knowledge. I'm also extremely grateful to have the opportunity to share that gift with people like Raja. I know that the knowledge of Christ's gift for us is the ultimate source of happiness as long as we live worthy of it. That's all he asks in return. It's up to you to decide whether or not that's too much of gift for Him this Christmas.

                      Sincerely, Elder Earl

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

December 2, 2013

Hey Everybody,
   Just finished another great week in the AMM (Arizona Mesa Mission)! It's still around 70 degrees here. It's weird to think that it's December. People here start putting their Christmas lights up pretty much the day after Halloween so most of the place is already lit up. We went to a member's house for dinner and walked into a winter wonderland where their living room used to be. I don't really understand it. I guess you have to compensate for the lack of snow somehow.
   Thanksgiving was good. We started out the day with the Hampton ward turkey bowl at 7am. They had already been playing since 4. They're insane. We played with them until 10 and then we rode our bikes 8 miles to murder the YSA zone in their turkey bowl. Then we just got fed the rest of the day. It was great.
   We had another lesson this week with the man getting baptized on my birthday. We talked about the Book of Mormon and how all his answers will come from reading it. Apparently he hasn't had the time to read it. He also told us he has a problem smoking. It ended up being a really good lesson. We promised him that if he would read Moroni 10: 3-5 and pray about it that he would know that it's true. I also promised him that as he read the book that he would be able to stop smoking. He said he would but he's said those exact words before and he never did it.
   The next day he showed up at church with his son and pretty much slept the entire time. After the meeting he pulled me aside and thanked me for the night before. He said he took me up on reading it and he couldn't put it down. He stayed up all night reading. He said he knows it's true, he hasn't smoked since he picked it up, and he wants us to come back. It was a pretty cool experience for me.
   It's funny how everything I study seems to apply to someone I teach that day. This past week I've been studying charity. I guess it was just something I wanted to apply in my life but there's really no set definition that I could strive for. The only definition I've ever heard is that charity is the pure love of Christ but that's a huge goal to strive for and something that will take a lifetime for me to perfect. If not more. So as I studied this week I came up with a simpler, attainable goal for me right now. So, for me, charity is patiently expecting the best out of others.
   As I read about Christ, that's how he treated all of his disciples. Not only his disciples, but all mankind. For example, look at Peter. Peter tried to rebuke Christ on multiple occasions, fell asleep only a stones throw away from where Christ was atoning for all of our sins and sorrows, cut a man's ear off, denied Christ three times in one night, and then after all he had seen simply went back to fishing.
   In John:21, Christ comes to Peter and His other disciples and patiently expects that they do what they were asked to do before, and feed his sheep. In every single instance with Christ, Peter is corrected not with harsh words, not with stern criticism, but with patient expectations. Because of the way Christ dealt with him, Peter rose to those expectations. It came to the the point where crowds lined the the streets, praying that the shadow of Peter would fall upon them so that they might be healed. This not only happened with Peter. Paul of Tarsus became one of the most renowned missionaries of all time. John became the Revelator. Moses became the leader of the Israelites. But why does that matter? Because people rise or fall to the expectations you have of them.
   So for me, charity, simply put, is patiently expecting the best out of others. If I expect someone to be annoying I'll probably act according to those expectations and they'll do the same. But if I act how Christ would, it will be a whole lot more beneficial to them and to me in the long run. That man who I taught this weekend proved that to me. He used to be...well...really bad and now he doesn't even swear. The best part about it is he doesn't realize it. It wasn't until we talked about it that he said "I haven't dropped an F bomb for a month". I know that if it wasn't for the expectations that Christ has for him he wouldn't be where he is at today. God knows our potential and knows that every single one of us can reach it. Those are His expectations for you. Reach them.

      Sincerely, Elder Earl