Monday, October 17, 2016

Just Another Week in Europe

Wow this week really flew by! People really weren't kidding when they said that time goes faster when you get closer to the end of your mission!  This week was full of some ups, lots of downs, and a couple emergency cartons of ice cream. But of course, Heavenly Father just poured out His blessings abundantly upon me every time I turned to Him for help! 

 On Tuesday we had Zone Training in Munich, and I was really stressing out because 
1. We had to get flu shots. President Kohler told us that he wasn't gonna make us get them, but he STRONGLY ENCOURAGED it. So I decided I wasn't gonna get one because I hate shots, and the one and only time I got a flu shot was also the one and only time I've had the flu. But then I looked at a picture of Jesus and told him I wasn't gonna get one (because that's what Sister Abram taught me to do when I needed to make a decision like that) and He said that I should probably get one :( I had to. 
And 2. because I had a little assignment to present for Zone Training, and for some reason that was making me super nervous! But everything went fine, mostly because I just asked Heavenly Father to take away my anxiousness so I could just get done what needed to be done!  It worked :)

After Zone Training I went to Rosenheim with Sister Phelps on tausch!  It was a weird tausch, but I went to Austria!!  Well, almost :) Rosenheim is right on the border of Austria, and we went to a member's house to do a service project, and she literally lives in the cutest little snuggly German cottage up in the Alps (dream home) and I could SMELL Austria we were so close :). I miss Austria! And the mountains! 

After tausch for a couple days, Sister Howsmon and I were back together and we RAN to a dinner appointment at a member's house in Augsburg! This week was full of lots of running. And planking.  But I may or may not be turning into one of those weird people who actually likes to exercise...we'll see.  Anywho, it was a great dinner appointment, and we challenged them to give out a Book of Mormon to someone as a family, and we role played a bazillion different times how they could bring it up with one of their friends or neighbors and then give it to them :)  it went really well and they all loved it! Thursday we had sport abend and we played hockey in the gym!  Lots of people showed up finally so it was super fun! And we made everyone plank with us for like 3 minutes...haha!

Sunday was one of those rough days.  Bad hair day, dirndl Sunday but my dirndl was all wrinkly, low self-esteem day, you know one of those "I don't want to talk to anyone and I just want to cry into a cup of hot chocolate" days.  But church was happening so I had to get over myself and be a good missionary.  Lots of complainy conversations with Heavenly Father happened in my head, but He told me to chill and so I did.  After sacrament meeting I felt a little better, and then ALL OF A SUDDEN THE MANNA STARTED FALLING FROM HEAVEN.  Members swarmed us and asked us if we had time to meet with them this coming week, and we literally made 7 appointments in the hallway before Sunday School! That was a normal occurrence in Graz, and I've been trying so hard to work better with these stubborn members here, but until yesterday it was slim pickins!  So hallelujah, and thank you for the tender mercies Heavenly Father!  

We had a super awesome lesson with Maile after church about the Restoration, and I guess all of a sudden she wants to be baptized, so keep her in your prayers!  We are shooting for December 11! :) 

I love you all and I hope you can look a little harder and dig a little deeper to see the many blessings the Lord gives to us every single second of every single day :) schöne Woche!

Liebe Grüße,
Sister Thunell

Monday, October 10, 2016

Motivation and Miracles

Hi family and friends!! 

This week was a week of miracles!  We had a goal this week of teaching 8 sonstige lessons, and by Thursday we still had zero!  So many appointments had fallen through, which was disappointing, but we were determined to do everything that we could to make these 8 random lessons happen!  So we hit the streets with tons of faith and started talking to people!  I don't know why we were so pumped about all this finding we were doing, but we were!  And it paid off!  By Saturday we had taught 7 lessons about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ to random people on the street, and talked to about a million more than that! Sunday came and we knew we needed one more lesson!  So we went out in the freezing cold, determined to not come home until we had taught a lesson!  Well, I was reminded of how sometimes Heavenly Father requires us to do all the work before we see the blessings. We had been outside for about an hour and a half, and tried talking to sooo many people, but still nothing!  Then, I decided to stop one more random man and then we were gonna call it quits so we could get warmed up and do our studies.  This man happened to be the chosen one to listen to our last sonstige lesson we needed to hit our weekly goal!  And fun fact: he's from the place where Noah's ark landed after the flood! we talked to him for probably 30 minutes, and in the end he told us he would come to church next Sunday!  So keep your fingers crossed and pray that he comes next week!  Heavenly Father truly blesses those who put their faith in Him and then GO TO WORK! :)  I'm so grateful for the opportunity I have to be a missionary.

On Tuesday we had a dinner appointment with the elders at the Winkworth's (my favorite family from Australia). We had a planking contest first thing, because Sister Howsmon and I are obsessed with planking now, and we totally won!  Haha...practicing every night pays off! 

Then after dinner we shared a spiritual thought that I stole from my dad :)  Each of us started playing super loud music on our iPads, and then we just started the spiritual thought like normal and asked them to share some experiences that they have had with feeling/following the voice of the Holy Ghost.  Well, obviously all the music was super distracting, and no one could really hear each other, and they were all super confused!  So we decided to get rid of some "worldly voices" and turn one iPad off.  Then, because it was still distracting, we turned off some "distracting media" and then we turned off our "constantly being glued to our phones,"  Then we told them to be very quiet and listen, and they would hear something very special.  On one of the iPad's we had President Monson's voice from a general conference talk playing, and finally after a little while of intent listening, everyone could hear it!  We explained how this is like how we need to have more time set aside in our lives to pause and listen to the Spirit and ponder and pray, and how distracting this world can be!  It was super awesome and they loved it :)

This week I have learned a lot about repentance and the atonement.  I feel like that was a huge topic in this past General Conference, and as a mission we are all reading the New Testament, so it has been the perfect opportunity for me to dig a little deeper and learn a little more!  I know with all my heart that Jesus Christ died for us because He loves us and wants us to return to live with our Heavenly Father again.  I was reading a little bit about Barabbas, and I found it interesting that Jesus Christ took the place of Barabbas by being crucified, while Barabbas was set free.  He, the perfect Son of God, was crucified to save an imperfect sinner.  And that's the message of the entire atonement for you and for me. Jesus Christ died so that we, imperfect, mistake-making, natural men, can be cleansed, saved, forgiven, and whole.  I am so grateful that I get to share this message of hope with these people of Germany!  What a unique time of my life :) 

Well, I love you all, and I hope you have wonderful weeks!  We went to Neuschwanstein again for pday today, so here are some pictures!

Liebe Grüße,
Sister Thunell

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Busy Days

If someone had warned me last year about all the things that would be waiting for me to do when I got to Birmingham, I don't think I would have been as anxious to move.  Instead of all that wallowing in self pity, I should have been taking bubble baths and enjoying my quiet house.  It's too bad you can't tank up on things like free time and save it for the times when you're up to your ears in stuff.  

In the four-ish months that we've been here, we've been inundated with opportunities to serve and to do things outside our comfort zones that have pushed us in ways that some of us (mostly me) didn't really want to be pushed.  

I'm pretty sure I've done more in the last four months here than I did in the entire 6 years we lived in Allen.  Since July (when the ward discovered us) I've given two talks; played the piano for four musical numbers (and there's a 5th coming up on October23rd;) taught three YW lessons and three Gospel Principles lessons; fed the missionaries a billion times; driven YW countless miles to and from camps, dances and youth temple trips; hosted multiple Family Home Evening groups, presidency meetings, a youth pre-dance party, and a Bishop's Youth discussion in my home; planned New Beginnings; visited the sick, the elderly and the hoarders on a weekly basis; and housed two missionaries in my basement for 6 weeks.  And right before Conference, the Bishop asked me to be on the Activities Committee to help plan both the Fall Festival and the ward Christmas party.  

And those are just the things on MY list.  Craig and the kids have ventured much farther out into discomfort than I have even considered going.   

I have a feeling this is just the beginning for all of us, though...  

This ward is small and a little bit flailing and not at all unified in their efforts.  It's super frustrating when I think about all the ways things aren't working during the week, but then I get to church on Sunday or I sit in someone's house and talk to them, and I instantly love the heck out of this dysfunctional little ward.  

Last week, before General Conference, I kept thinking that there was no possible way to keep up this pace...and also fit in necessities of life like doing laundry and taking regular showers.  And as I kept praying for balance, I kept getting more assignments and more little promptings to do things like walk with Gretchen on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and make that weekly trek to the Temple a priority, and be available for these missionaries who live in my house.

Everyday, I would make my usual list, like I used to in Allen, of ALL the things I wanted to get done that day, and every night I would look at a full list of things still left undone.  All the things I used to be really good at, I now can barely keep up with.  Like laundry and showers.

So, I waited and prepared for that answer to prayer that came in the form of a Conference talk giving me permission to say no to some things, or to stop worrying about laundry, or to just give up and move back to Allen.  

Guess what I heard instead...
"The opportunity to serve is one of the great blessings of membership in the Church.  As we serve, we draw closer to God.  We come to know Him in ways that we otherwise might not.  Our faith in Him increases.  Our problems are put into perspective.  Life becomes more satisfying.  Our love for others increases, as well as our desire to serve.  
The natural man or woman in all of us is inclined to excuse ourselves from serving for reasons such as "I am not ready." "I have more to learn." "I'm tired and I need a break."  or "I am simply too busy."
Accepting and fulfilling a calling is an act of faith...
Jesus Christ, our great Exemplar, gave His life to His Father's work.  He literally became the servant of us all.  Through Jesus Christ and the power we receive through His Atonement, we can also serve.  He will help us."  - Carl B Cook
I feel totally and completely inadequate to do all the things that are required of me in this place.  I have never in my entire life been a member missionary.  I've never invited anyone to come to church or to read the Book of Mormon.  I have no idea how to be balanced.  I'm pretty sure I've never actually served anyone outside my own family.   And I had just barely gotten used to the great plan I made up in my head that I would forever be part of the support staff and never the actual leader of anything.  

But guess what else I heard in Conference...
"Being ambitious for Christ means being motivated, focused, and dedicated to His work.  Being ambitious for Christ will seldom mean that we are singled out for public honor.  Being ambitious for Christ means that we serve faithfully and diligently in our wards and branches without complaint and with joyful hearts..." - Kazuhiro Yamashita
So that's my plan...Be ambitious for Christ.  Stop complaining.  And have faith that He'll help me with the stuff I definitely cannot currently do.

And despite all my complaining, the greatest tender mercy came in the form of a completely uninterrupted, quiet day with nothing that required me to leave my house.  So I've managed to walk 4.5 miles, read my scriptures, listen to a crap ton of awesome non-missionary appropriate music, catch up on laundry and the other million things on my list, write a blog post, AND take a shower.  #success  

The floods of activity start first thing tomorrow and last pretty much through the rest of my life, I think, so I'm glad I at least have clean hair.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Catching Up

You know that feeling when you've missed so many days posting on your blog that the thought of going back to catch up is completely overwhelming and so you keep putting it off for one more day and one more day?  Yeah...that's where I've been for the last two weeks.  One day turned into 14 days, and now I've had so many inspirations come and go that I don't even know which thing to start with.  

My days are insane and filled with interruptions, most of them happy ones, but distractions from my routine nonetheless.  I can't quite fit all the things into a day that I used to fit in.  I have to sneak in things like intentional MUSIC when I'm driving because if I don't, then I get to the end of a week and realize that five whole days have gone by and I've only listened to that mindless stuff that's on the radio.  And there certainly is a TON of driving time in this state.  Holy cow, everything is so far away here!  

So here's what's new in the last two weeks...

McKay now wears glasses...which means he can now SEE.  Um, I think he's been telling me for a LONG time that he couldn't read the board, but I had no idea he was serious!  Now that we're settled, I decided I probably needed to address that concern of his, and poof!  The world's cutest 13-year-old is now even cuter!

My mother-in-law inspired her whole family to read the entire Book of Mormon before the end of the year.  I'm sure I'll have to write more about this because it's been so great for so many millions of reasons, but for now, I'll just let you know that Megan and I accepted her challenge and we are happily feasting on the words of Christ every day.  

I've become one of those endorphin junkies.  I started walking in my neighborhood at the end of the summer and I liked it just fine, but I wasn't jumping out of bed or anything to get out and walk.  And then something shifted a couple of weeks ago.  One day, I realized that if I listened to the scriptures while I was walking, I could check two things off my list in the same hour.  I had gotten behind in my reading and I needed to read about 6 chapters to get back on track, so I just kept walking until I finished them.  But then I had to walk back home, so I listened to a couple of Conference talks and then some music, and all of a sudden my FitBit was buzzing on my wrist to notify me that I had walked 10,000 steps!  That's 4.5 miles!  So the next day, I did it again.  And then I decided to just add in the extra half mile and make it an even 5 miles a day...because why not?  This week I wondered if I could walk the same distance in less time.  And guess what!  I totally can.  

I kinda like looking at all those little green circles at the end of the day.  

...I also got this cute giraffe award...whatever that is.

I've made it to the Temple twice without getting lost or showing up too late to get into a session, so that's been a huge success!  I love being back into a regular weekly temple schedule.  

Um...I also accidentally dyed my hair black.  Like super black.  I think it's starting to fade back to it's normal color...or maybe I'm just getting used to it...

That's not everything, but it's at least a good start.  Hopefully the act of coming here and typing words will get me back into the habit.  There's stuff to write later about sister missionaries and General Conference and Young Women's stuff, but those will be longer posts, so they'll have to wait...

Thanks for being patient, and not giving up.  

Monday, October 3, 2016


Hello everyone!! 

Another crazy week here in Germany has come and gone! So yes, my birthday at Oktoberfest was literally one of the best birthdays I have ever had :) basically the whole zone was there, and we all kept running into each other and having such a great time! The real Oktoberfest is not exactly what I expected it to be, but trotzdem super fun :) 

Wednesday was transfer day, and we got elders here in Augsburg! 

So most of the week has been spent showing them around, bringing them to our appointments with members and investigators, and updating them on all the important stuff they need to know! (z.B. Don't go finding in the park with all the weirdies in it. You might get kidnapped). 

Wednesday evening we went to our favorite Peruvian family's house and ate some really yummy Peruvian food! Then we played some games and answered some of Lizabeth's questions about temple marriage! Sister Howsmon and I showed her pictures of our parents, and she was like "did they get married in the temple?" And we said yes, and then she said, "yeah I can tell. They look happier!" So hopefully now we can teach her husband about temples, too and they will have the desire to eventually be sealed together as a family!! Thanks mommy and daddy for being sealed in the temple so I can show my investigators and teach them how their families can be together forever like mine will be! :) 

Thursday we went to a member's house with the elders for lunch. We were playing some games with the little girls to keep them occupied while the food was being made, and at one point one of them asked me if I was good at math because she knew a really fun math game! I figured that a 9 year old math game couldn't be too hard, so I said yes!

Livvi: "okay what is 1+1?"
Me: (psh I've totally got this) "2"
Livvi: "2+2?"
Me: (wow this is an easy game) "4"
Livvi: "10 times 10?"
Me: (wow I'm so good at math) "20"
Livvi: "umm no. Well I guess you're not very good at math so we are gonna find a simpler game for you to play okay?"

I guess I'm not as good at math as I thought!  But it was a fun appointment :) 

Friday we had an awesome lesson with Izu! We were trying to read The Book of Mormon with him and teach him a few things, but he's already read the chapter we chose apparently like 50 times, so he ended up just giving us a pep talk the whole time about how we are such great people for giving away a piece of the prime of our lives to basically be scorned and ridiculed in the name of Jesus!  Imagine a tall black man who just got converted to the gospel preaching to the missionaries about how they can be better missionaries and how they are doing a good thing and to be proud of what they're doing and to not let anyone pass them by without the name of Christ coming out of their lips!  And that's what was happening. It was intense but I sooo needed that!  Such a pump up :) 

...and speaking of pump-ups, GENERAL CONFERENCE!  Because of the time difference here, we watch the Relief Society Broadcast on Saturday afternoon, and the Saturday Morning Session live on Saturday night, and then we watch the Priesthood Session, Saturday Afternoon Session, and Sunday Morning Session all day on Sunday, and then we are just left up to ourselves to find and watch the Sunday Morning Session later.  But man, it was such a great weekend. The whole time, I was just thinking that this is literally how the Nephites felt when King Benjamin was giving his really long speech to them! My eyes were glued to the speakers, and I didn't want to get up to go to the bathroom or even whisper anything to Sister Howsmon because I was afraid I would miss something! Every single thing I heard in General Conference was exactly what I needed, and I am so grateful for a loving Heavenly Father who knows ALL of His children perfectly :)

I was a little worried as General Conference started because I didn't have any specific questions that I needed/wanted to be answered! I had been thinking all week and nothing was coming! So I just sat and listened with faith, and questions that I forgot I had from a couple transfers ago, or questions that I didn't even know I had, were just answered like jelly beans falling from the sky! One after another! I just sat in awe, with my mouth wide open to catch all these jelly beans, and thanked Heavenly Father the whole time for his love and mercy :) 

One question in particular I remember being answered was from a few transfers ago back in Graz. I wanted to know why we are commanded to have the faith to move mountains, and how I could keep trying to convince myself that I have faith to move mountains, when we weren't even getting anywhere with the progress of our investigators, and we had no baptismal dates!  I remember going into multiple lessons and praying soo hard, "okay Heavenly Father. Here I am, your official mountain-mover. Let's get this thing rolling."  And then NOTHING would happen, or the lesson would go awful, or the investigator wouldn't even be home. I was always so frustrated with the concept of that kind of faith, because it never seemed to work for me!  

And then yesterday, President Uchtdorf gave the greatest talk ever about faith :) "There are two things faith CANNOT do. It cannot violate another person's agency, and it cannot force our will upon God."  WELL, THAT'S GOOD TO KNOW!  

I am just so grateful for answers to prayers, for the whisperings of the Holy Spirit, and for General Conference. 

I love you all, and I hope you all have a wonderful week!!

Liebe Grüße,
Sister Thunell

(Companion planks after companion prayer every idea where she got that awesome idea!)

Monday, September 26, 2016

Exact Obedience Brings HAPPINESS

Hello everyone! 

Today is a pretty crazy full pday, we are having a blast at Oktoberfest!! So this email might be a little jumbled/short. 

This week I have learned so much about how being exactly obedient not only brings blessings for missionary work in your area with you and your companion, but how it also bring happiness!  This week I decided to try EXTRA hard to be EXACTLY obedient, and it was so amazing to see all the many miracles!!  

I don't know what possessed me this week, but I decided to go running for früsport in the mornings with Sister Howson   She likes to run, and the first thing I said to her was that I don't run. (haha)  But I guess now I do!  And I hate it, but it makes my days better somehow!  So it's gonna stay for now!  

Also, this week was transfer call week! Sister Howsmon and I are staying together so I can finish her training, and we are getting elders!  Exciting stuff!  

On Tuesday we went by a potential that the elders found for us a little while ago, and he is older and just lives with his wife who is suffering from depression and Alzheimer's. He's very lonely, and we had such a great visit with both of them!  We are trying to teach them a bit about the Plan of Salvation and just bring a little cheeriness into their lives :)  They're so wonderful!  We got to visit them every other day, and I just love it!  

We also got to see Izu get confirmed and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost on Sunday!  We were a little nervous because sacrament meeting started, and he wasn't there. Then they started passing the sacrament, and he still wasn't there.  And then the first talk started and he STILL wasn't there!  So we went into the hall to call him, and he was so sad and thought that church started at 10 instead of 9:30!  So he came pretty late, but he was still able to be confirmed, which was good :)

Okay, well I forgot my planner, which means that this week is just a jumbled up mess of stuff in my head, and I'm so distracted by all the fun things we are doing today!  So I'm sorry for the lame email!  But thank you all for the birthday wishes :)  They meant a ton!! 

And I love you all so much! 

Have a wonderful week!

Liebe Grüße,
Sister Thunell

Monday, September 19, 2016

TAUFE!!! (Baptism!!!)


This was a crazy week! 

Tuesday was Izu's baptismal interview!  Of course he passed with flying colors, and we had fun planning out his program and getting everything ready for Sunday!  The interview went a little long, so after that we just helped Maili paint in the evening. I found out that I'm really good at painting things. I painted the walls, the ceiling, my hands, arms, feet, and even a little bit of the floor! Maili loves how helpful we are. 

Wednesday was a day full of vorbeis (visits) in the beautiful countryside of Germany.  I can't even describe how amazing the views were!  Rolling hills as far as you could see, green grassy fields, corn, wheat, red and pink flowers everywhere, I was in heaven!  I love nature! We had to stop a lot along the way to do some photo shoots because we felt like we were in the Sound of Music or something, but we eventually went by our vorbeis, and sadly neither of them lived there anymore, but at least we found that out!  

After walking allllllll day long in the scorching heat (Germany can actually get pretty hot surprisingly), I felt like one of the wise men walking to visit baby Jesus. Way more appreciation for those guys! Also, I've got some awesome Oreo tan lines. Brown arms and feet, and a wholeeee lotta white in the middle. That night we went to Kaufbeuren to help the elders with an appointment with a less active lady!  She is American, and taught us how to cook meals for like 60 cents per person, and then she sang some gospel choir songs for us. It was so cool and so fun!

Thursday we had Zone Conference in Munich. This was really one of the best Zone Conferences I've been to!  I feel like throughout my mission they have just been getting better and better.  We talked about how to face opposition, motivation and working hard, and role played the Restoration a ton!  I have grown to LOVE role playing on my mission, so that was really fun :)  I love President and Sister Kohler, and that they care so much about us and teach us exactly all the things we need to hear!  

For Zone Conference, President Kohler usually asks all the missionaries to prepare a 5-7 minute talk about a certain topic, and then he randomly chooses a few people to speak during the conference!  Well, unfortunately I didn't have time to prepare a talk during the week, but I figured that I probably wouldn't get chosen.  Bad figuring.  I was the only Sister chosen.  Ugh.  I just got up and hoped that the spirit would say something coherent through me, and all I remember is that I said the word "poop" over the pulpit and Sister Kohler's face was like "😳😂" haha oops. Lesson learned, ALWAYS PREPARE A TALK. Goodness... 

Luckily Heavenly Father gave me a second chance to give an actual prepared talk, because that night our Bishop called and asked me to speak in Sacrament on Sunday!  

Speaking of Sunday...BEST DAY OF MY LIFE!  HOLY COW!  I literally cannot describe the feelings I was having that day.  But my cheekbones have grown ten times in size from BEAMING so much throughout the whole day!  Everything for Izu's baptism went so smoothly and so perfectly!  I teared up a couple times through the whole thing, just because I am so happy and proud of him, and so grateful to be a part of this experience for him! What a wonderful thing missionary work is!!  We also decided this week that we are going to help Izu start an account on because we got him so excited about temples and eternal families, that now he wants to find an LDS girl to take to the temple :)) HE IS SO DIFFERENT FROM WHEN I FIRST MET HIM. Just goes to show how wonderful the gospel is, and how great an impact it can have in people's lives!

This week I have been learning and studying a lot about gratitude!  Sister Howsmon and I decided to fast this weekend in gratitude for Izu and his baptism!  And it was such a great experience. Fasting in gratitude is so much easier than fasting for needs! 

I also read a talk by President Uchtdorf called "Grateful in Any Circumstances," and one of the things he said that I really liked was, "We sometimes think that being grateful is what we do after our problems are solved, but how terribly shortsighted that is. How much of life do we miss by waiting to see the rainbow before thanking God that there is rain?"  

Being grateful through hard times definitely makes life happier, more fun, and more enjoyable! Instead of turning to my natural-man self and complaining about every little thing that may go wrong throughout my day, this week I decided to try harder to have the spirit of gratitude about me!  And it's crazy the beautiful things surrounding you that your eyes are opened up to!  

So I hope we can all try harder this coming week to be more grateful for our lives: Our trials, the gospel, God's beautiful creations, and all the tender mercies that for sure help you throughout every single day! 

I love you all so much!

Liebe grube,

Sister Thunell

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Sister Gondwe

The missionaries living with us are Sister Training Leaders, so every Friday they exchange with another set of sisters in this area.  Last night when Craig and I came home, our cute red-headed, Idahoan Sister Pyrah had been replaced by this beautiful African sister missionary.  Her name is Sister Gondwe and she is from Zambia.  

Holy cow!  She was so stunningly beautiful, I had to just go tell her and give her a hug!  I instantly loved her.   We didn't get to visit much last night because it was late, but she sang Love at Home for us in her native language before we all had family prayer and went to bed.  Amazing.  

This morning, over piles of pancakes and bacon, we asked her a million questions about her life and her family back home.  (Poor Sister Bradford...the novelty of being from Hooper, UT didn't capture our attention for quite as long as Sister Gondwe's amazing story.)  She has 17 brothers and sisters!  Her mother is 70 years old, and she has had two sets of twins.  She and her twin sister are the youngest in the family and they are both serving missions right now along with her older brother.  Her  sister is serving Kenya and the older brother is serving in Uganda.   Her father met the missionaries and joined the church first and then her mother and all the children were baptized after.  In the 16 months that Sister Gondwe has been in Birmingham, both her father and an older sister have passed away.    

They only eat meat about twice a year, mostly just on holidays.  And she was planning to go to college when she goes home (she wants to be a pharmacist) but since her father died she will now stay home for awhile and help her mom until her sister and brother return from their missions and then they'll decide what they'll do about their careers and education.  

While she was in the MTC she fell down a flight of stairs and broke her leg really badly, like the bone was protruding out of her leg! But since it was so far to send her home, she decided to just stay and start her first transfer in Alabama with her leg in a cast on hobbling around on crutches!  And now she has a GIANT scar down her leg from where it happened.    She said it'll make for a really good story when she gets home.  :)

We asked her if it's a lot different here than in Africa, and she said that there are too many trees here for her comfort.  She doesn't know what's hiding back there.  :)  It's too green.  Not enough dirt.  :)  And it's much more humid here than in Zambia.  (Evidence that this is indeed the most humid place on the planet, just as I suspected.)  

When we asked if she had anyone waiting for her at home, she said, "Oh no, I'm never getting married.  The world is too crazy to get married and have babies."  And I said, "Well, sometimes Heavenly Father has a different plan for our lives than we do.  He might send someone who you can't resist."  And she said, "It's ok.  I can run fast!"  (bahahaha...she's quite possibly the spunkiest missionary I've ever met)

We asked if she had eaten anything unusual here, and she said, "Oh yes, I've eaten alligator and possum and chitlins and you know, it all just tastes like chicken."  She said  she doesn't mind any of the food.  She'll eat anything "except frogs and people."  (haha...!)

She's super funny and I seriously could have sat at that kitchen table this morning and talked to her for hours, but they had to get on with their day.  There are apparently several missionaries in the Birmingham mission who are from Africa.  Like about the same number of African mishs as there were Poly mishs in Dallas.  I'm sure they have a great connection with the people in Birmingham.  I can't imagine what people here must think when they open the door and see a stunningly beautiful black woman with a thick African accent.

I have stopped counting the blessings we feel each day from having these sister missionaries in our home.  There are too many.  But meeting Sister Gondwe and hearing her amazing story have definitely topped my imaginary list.  What an amazing young woman!  What hope there is to be found in her and in her family for the rising generation of the Church in Africa and around the world.  What a privilege to have crossed paths with her before she flies back to her life in Zambia in two months.  

Thursday, September 15, 2016


McKay and I have been going on adventures in the afternoons lately. 

He bikes.  I walk.  He takes the longer, less traveled, dirt covered paths, and doubles or triples around me.  I walk in straight lines, mostly on the road unless he leads me onto other paths.

Last weekend he led me to the new construction part of the subdivision and we explored in some of the unfinished houses.  I don't know what it is about empty houses that's so appealing to me, but I love them.  New, unoccupied ones.  Abandoned, previously occupied ones.  I really don't care.  I just like wandering around homes without residents.  

It turns out, McKay and I not only like the exploring part of our adventures, but we also really like collecting things.  I think my spirit animal must be a magpie or a blackbird or whatever those birds are that drag every sparkly thing into their nests.  We found tons of useless, but interesting treasures on our adventures this week.  Some of them we brought home with us, and some we just took pictures of.  His backpack and my camera are essential exploring equipment for us.  

That thing up there is a totally random podium, like the kind in church buildings, that we found out in the middle of the forest.  There's a microphone and a radio sitting on top of it.  And even though it's mildly creepy to think about what kinds of weird gatherings might be going on out there in the woods, it was definitely interesting enough to cross a suspension bridge to get a picture of. 

Holy cow, that kid is super fun!  Half the reason I like to explore with him is because I'm a little nervous to send him off by himself because he's adventurous and I'm a worrier.  If I can see where he's going, I'm less likely to worry about it.  And the other half is because he invites me?  What normal 13-year-old wants his mom to come with him to look for treasures in construction sites?  So, as long as he's inviting, I'm going.  Every time.  

Unless it's raining...because I hate getting wet.  

And while adventuring with McKay has rapidly become one of my favorite pastimes, I wouldn't advise following him anywhere without adequate shoes on.  After that first adventure, I learned my lesson.  No more flips.  Only tennis shoes or rainboots on all future adventures.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Temple Wednesday

Well, I've been telling myself for over a month now that I needed to get back into a regular temple schedule. The Birmingham Temple is tiny, though, and only has limited sessions each week, so I looked up the temple schedule and decided I would make Wednesdays my new temple day. My neighbor, Gretchen and I sort of talked about going together but I really prefer going to the temple by myself, especially the first few times, so I haven't pursued that much with her.  Yesterday, I felt like this would be a really good Wednesday to start my new schedule. I was super excited and energized about it yesterday when that thought came, but this morning when I realized this was first day in a LOT of days that I would have the whole house to myself (no missionaries, no Craig working from home, no kids, no appliance repairmen or delivery people to wait for...) I almost talked myself into staying home.  That would have been a whole lot easier.  But I didn't.  

And then, while I was getting ready this morning, I specifically heard that familiar little voice in my head say, "You need to do an actual session today and not just initiatories because you need to hear the words in the endowment."  


So I found my tiny pile of names that were ready for endowments and I left the other GIANT pile of pink cards that still needs initiatories laying on the bed. I made sure I had everything in my temple bag, grabbed my keys, and my camera at the last second and made it out the door right on time at 9:45 (like Craig had advised this morning before he left for work.)  It takes about 45 minutes for normal people to get to the temple, probably slightly longer for me, so that would have given me plenty of time to get there, park, and change before the 11:00 session. 

I've been to this temple three times. Once with Craig and twice driving by myself without him. So I sort of knew which way I was going and what to expect.  But I put the address into the Jeep's GPS just to make sure because I never trust myself with directions. It directed me to the first freeway and then told me to get off at the first exit. Um...that totally wasn't right.  The only way I've ever been to the temple is ALL freeway.  First, the one by our house and then another one for a little while and then the long one directly to the temple exit.  I didn't know where the heck the GPS was taking me, but because I'm a dumb sheep when I'm driving, I just followed it. 

About five miles down Sweeney Todd road (or something like that) I texted Craig and asked him, "Where in the heck is this GPS taking me?" He said it was probably a back way and yay for me that I would get to explore a new way to get to the temple. 😕 

And then there were all these road construction guys and a giant sign... 

...and the long line of traffic waiting for a tiny little man in an orange vest to move out of the way. 

...and the truck with 500 gallons of milk baking in the sun.  

...and then it was 20 minutes later...  😓

I mostly cried for at least 15 of those 20 minutes because all I wanted to do today was go to the temple.  So why in the heck wasn't I getting to do that?  Why is everything I want to do so darn hard?  Why can I never go someplace without getting lost? 😡😓🙄💦

And then finally the little orange man moved and we could drive again...more Sweeney Todd road winding and winding through beautiful Alabama to who-in-the-heck-knows-where.
25 minutes later, I did actually pull into the temple parking lot at exactly 10:57am (so the GPS was correct, just creative with its choice of routes today, I guess.)  I'm pretty speedy changing into my temple clothes, but not that speedy!  I didn't even try to make the session. For a minute I thought about just doing initiatories, but then I realized I had left all those cards on my bed and couldn't do those either. 😓

Instead I drove to the far end of the parking lot, cried again for a minute or two, took a couple of pictures of the temple, and then listened to today's Book of Mormon chapters for Grandma's Challenge. I'm on 2 Ne 15-16...the Isaiah chapters. 😕 

Then I said a prayer and apologized to Heavenly Father for being a dumb sheep and not having any sense of direction. And prayed that I would learn whatever I was supposed to learn from this frustrating experience.  And I committed to trying again next week. 

And now I'm just waiting...for what exactly, I'm not really sure.  

What I thought this day would look like hasn't happened...not the disappointing morning I've been dreading all week.  ...not the enlightened and uplifting afternoon I expected either, though.  

Maybe this is a sign that I need to pursue that Wednesday temple date with Gretchen?  Maybe I need to start the temple trek earlier in the event of future construction?  Maybe I need to always carry every kind of temple card with me just in case?  Maybe I need to trust my instincts more and turn around before I get five miles down Sweeney Todd road the next time?  Or maybe I just need to give myself credit for a valiant effort and calm down?  

I bet Heavenly Father would pick that last one.