Sunday, January 31, 2016

January Weather

When it's 60 degrees in January, you can do weird things like sleep in hammocks out on the patio.  

I texted this picture to my poor father-in-law this morning who had just come inside from shoveling the snow off his driveway for the third time in 24 hours.  They're thinking it might be time for a trip to Dallas.  

Friday, January 29, 2016

Divine Compensation

Last night was the first rehearsal of the DMCO season.  I can't even tell you how happy and excited I was to be back there singing with that group.  I walked right back to my usual spot in the front row and it was as if I hadn't even been gone all those months.  

And look what we're singing!  Yep, I know...I had to hold back the tears while we sang it. 
"My mind was drawn immediately to Nephi’s phrase “the tender mercies of the Lord,” and I knew in that very moment I was experiencing just such a tender mercy. A loving Savior was sending me a most personal and timely message of comfort and reassurance through a hymn selected weeks previously. Some may count this experience as simply a nice coincidence, but I testify that the tender mercies of the Lord are real and that they do not occur randomly or merely by coincidence. Often, the Lord’s timing of His tender mercies helps us to both discern and acknowledge them." - David Bednar
Last September when I left DMCO, I couldn't see any possible way that I would ever have an opportunity to sing with them again.  And I poured out many, many tearful prayers to Heavenly Father saying that very thing, and wondering how in the heck I was ever going to find a way to magnify this talent He's given me that I have come to love so much.   But that's the great thing about Heavenly Father and His timing... there is compensation for every loss.  Every single one of them.  I know that for sure.  Whatever we ache for and are heartbroken over, He will compensate for in our lives with abundant joy somewhere else.  I'm sure it won't always look like my DMCO experience with the very thing returned exactly as it was before or as quickly, but I do know that I have had enough experiences with joy following loss that I now have a blazing testimony of divine compensation.  There are other things that I ache for regularly and shed way too many tears over, but this experience reminded me that somewhere down the road there is abundant joy waiting in some delightful form that my limited perspective can't even imagine adequately.  And that is a huge reason to have HOPE and to look forward to the future with joyful anticipation.  
"The Lord compensates the faithful for every loss. That which is taken away from those who love the Lord will be added unto them in His own way. While it may not come at the time we desire, the faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude."  - Joseph B Wirthlin

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


We spent the morning at the DMV, and these two girls are officially permitted drivers.  

Emma wants to drive to seminary tomorrow.  I'm pretty sure this whole drivers ed thing falls way outside my job description, but Craig is conveniently out of town almost every weekday.   And now that there's a piece of paper saying she can drive a car around, Emma is relentless about finding any opportunity to do that very thing.  Fortunately, Megan isn't as enthusiastic about driving a car so I may be able to put her off for awhile.   

At least the good thing about treating them like twins is that we just killed two birds with one trip to the DMV.  I don't think I could handle multiple visits to that place.

(don't worry, no actual birds were harmed today...)

Well, Emma drove to seminary this morning (in the dark!) and she did awesome!  We left at 5:45 just in case it took a littler longer than the 2 1/2 minutes it usually takes me, but we got to the church by 5:54.  She stopped for a full 20 seconds at the STOP sign.  She didn't hit any curbs or cars or seminary kids.  And she got up to 34 mph on an actual road outside of the subdivision.  She's pretty proud of herself.  And Megan and I are thrilled that we made it there in one piece.  :)

Monday, January 25, 2016

Welkommen zu Graz!

German moment of the week: Apparently in Switzerland the German word for "Christian" is "Christ," and Sister Jest has only served in Switzerland so we have just been innocently telling people here that we are Christian! But in Austria Christian is just Christian, and Christ means Christ.. Haha so we've actually been telling people we are Christ.. Oops...

In other news, I finally got my visa!  A long and painful process that I will have to do again soon.  My last few days with Sister Jest were really good, which I am extremely thankful for. We learned a lot from each other.  Our very last day together all of our appointments fell through, so we just went finding for the whole day and into the evening, which was FREEZING, but we talked to some super awesome people!  Then we went home and made dinner together and just kinda had a recap of how our transfer together had been, and what we both learned and what we could still both improve on, and laughed about our stubbornness. :)

Thursday was transfer day!  It was a day full of train rides for me, and I loved it! Just imagine riding in a warm train through the snowy alps, with beautiful trees, valleys, frozen lakes, and mountains surrounding you, little brightly colored cottages tucked in the snow in the middle of nowhere, and snow flurries fluffing up as the train passes, and that's exactly what I was doing :) it was like the Polar Express!!  I went to Salzburg to meet my new companion, Sister Fast, and then we traveled back to Graz together!  I'm not too good at the geography of where everything is here, cuz you know, I just go where the Lord wants me to go, but according to my calculations it was a very long way, and also a very long day.

Let me just say how extremely difficult it is to drag suitcases down cobblestone streets. And if you add snow and ice to that, it is a nightmare!  Definitely need to get rid of some stuff... SISTER FAST IS THE BEST! HOLY POOP! (are missionaries allowed to say "holy poop" because I still say that a lot..?) I am literally crying I love her so much.  She is from California and she is so happy and energetic and kind and such a hard worker, just everything I want to be as a missionary basically :) This is gonna be a great transfer, I CAN JUST FEEL IT IN MY BLOOD.  I don't think I have laughed or smiled this much my whole mission so far.

Church on Sunday was great.  This ward is super awesome!  In my last ward basically everyone was over the age of 80.  We had 4 primary kids, no young women, and like 3 young men. But this ward has children to spare!  And young women too!  Yay!!  Everyone in Graz ward is SO ENERGETIC.  Like I felt like I was being attacked by jumping beans the whole day (haha.)  I don't know if I can handle this much socializing every Sunday!  It's crazy!  

So I don't know what kind of rumors were being spread about me before I got here, but I had people coming up to me asking if Sister Fast is helping me learn English, too (seriously why does everyone think I can't speak English,) and what it's like in the Philippines, or if my family lives in Asia, and this one guy spoke to me in Spanish for a good 10 minutes before he found out I wasn't Hispanic.  I was just so confused the whole day. But I have already gotten to know the members so well, and I'm sooo excited and happy to be here!

So! Geistigen Gedenken! (Spiritual thought). In Wien, Sister Jest and I were sharing this "21 day challenge" with members, and I really think it's super awesome so I'm gonna share it with all of you! (It's attached at the end). It's in German so I will translate.  So first you need to write down a list of all your friends, family members, or neighbors who you would like to share the gospel with.  Then for 21 days you should pray for them, day and night, and read the scriptures that go along with each day.  Elder Robert E. Wells of the Quorum of the Seventy has promised that if we take this challenge and ACTUALLY DO IT then by the end of the 21 days at least one person from your list will be ready to meet with the missionaries! That's basically a promise from Heavenly Father himself, people!!  So now you have all officially been challenged :)

Have a lovely week! Ciao! Tschüß! Papa! Auf Wiedersehen! Bis später! Schönen Tag noch!

Random Austrian fact: there are a bazillion different ways to say goodbye here. And if you don't say at least 3 of them you haven't really said goodbye (haha.)

Liebe Grüße,
Sister Thunell

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Gospel Doctrine

I've been mildly obsessive about this whole Fitbit thing and keeping track of my steps and stats and calories every day...and whatever else I can get this thing to track.  Because I'm obsessive about it, I usually try to remember to take it off on Sundays so it's not a distraction.  I must have forgotten today.

I've been planning this Gospel Doctrine lesson for two weeks and it was just on the Tree of Life.  It should have been pretty straightforward.  But I had such huge inspirations all week about things like "gathering seeds of every kind" (1 Ne 8:1) and "diligently seeking things" (1 Ne 10:19) and having our minds "swallowed up in other things" (1 Ne 15:27) that by Friday it had become far from straightforward.  I think it went fine, but I stressed out a lot about it today before church.  Like A LOT.  Apparently so much that my FitBit recorded 36 minutes of activity this afternoon between 12:00 - 2:30 based on my heart rate.  

Who knew teaching Gospel Doctrine could be considered an aerobic activity? :)

Thursday, January 21, 2016


So this is a funny story...

I got this email last week from DMCO...apparently they've added a pre-screening voice recording to their audition requirements.  I can't even tell you how much I dislike recording my own voice...
Dear Singer,  
Thank you for your interest in auditioning for Millennial Choirs & Orchestras (MCO).  This email contains information you need to complete the pre-screening requirements for the audition process.  Please read this entire email so that you are well informed. By auditioning for MCO you are agreeing to abide by its Code of Conduct and Terms of Participation found in the Participant Handbook.  We require that you read the handbook before auditioning.  For more details about MCO or for a schedule of the semester, please visit our website and select the "Texas" location.  Please review the semester schedule to make sure you do not have major schedule conflicts, as 75% attendance at weekly rehearsals is required.  Additionally, 100% attendance at concert run-throughs, dress rehearsals, and concerts is expected of all MCO participants. PRESCREENING RECORDING AUDITION (mp3 format)You are required to send, via email, a brief recording of yourself singing the melody of one verse of a hymn from the list below.  DO NOT SUBMIT ENHANCED OR STUDIO-QUALITY RECORDINGS as we want to hear your “unplugged,” unaltered voice.  The easiest way to record yourself is to use “Voice Memos” on an iPhone, or any recording app on any smart phone, and then email the recording directly from the phone.  If you do not have this capability, you will easily find family or friends who can record you singing and send it for you on their phone.  The process can take as little as one minute. Your recording must be emailed in a separate email (not as a reply to this email) to no later than Friday, January 22 at 11:59 PM. The following are instructions for your recording:  
·        State your full name and preferred voice part.   
 ·        Sing the melody of only one verse of a hymn from the list below. 
This should be a cappella (no piano or instrumental accompaniment), you may start on any pitch, and the hymn should be sung in a sacred classical-choral style.  Most of these hymns can be found in standard Christian hymnals or online. 
 “America the Beautiful,” by Ward  
“Be Still, My Soul,” by Sibelius
“For the Beauty of the Earth, by Kocher 
“God Be with You Till We Meet Again,” by Tomer  
“It Came upon the Midnight Clear,” by Willis  
Also, it is not required, but it is highly recommended that all female singers refer a qualified male singer for an audition.  There are often women who are not accepted into the choir simply because there are not enough qualified men who auditioned to provide a balanced choir.  If you refer a male singer, please indicate the name of your male referral(s) in the email submission of your recording, AND​ on your​ audition form. You will be notified via email by Monday, January 25 and informed of the results of your pre-screening recording audition.  If you are invited to attend a live audition, you will be scheduled for an audition time and provided with any additional requirements for the live audition.  Live auditions will be held on the evening of Wednesday, January 27 at Messiah Lutheran Church in Plano. You will also need to block out the evening of the first Grand Chorus rehearsal, Thursday, January 28, in the event you are accepted. Should your schedule conflict with the above dates please let me know and do not let that discourage you from auditioning. Thank you, and we look forward to receiving your prescreening recording! Good luck!

Well, the thing is due tomorrow so yesterday I realized that I probably needed to stop procrastinating and just get the darn thing recorded and sent.  But it was SO hard because I wanted to be able to hear something in my ears and not just sing it acapella, and because I really don't like the sound of my own voice, and because...well, I'm just ridiculous and make easy things way harder than they need to be.  

So I spent the ENTIRE day finding a recording of one of those five song options (in my range) that I could use as a crutch (after an entire morning on YouTube and Spotify, I settled on a VoiceMale arrangement of Be Still, My Soul,) finding the Voice Memos app on my phone (I had to text Emma at school to get help with that,) figuring out how to use one device to plug earbuds into and have the song play in my ears while recording my voice onto another device, practicing it for an hour with and without earbuds, and then actually recording it...257 times.

Seriously...THE. ENTIRE. DAY. on a 90 second recording of my voice.  So much for "this process can take as little as one minute."

Finally, at 8:00 last night when the kids were off at a youth activity, I picked the recording I hated the least and sent it to the DMCO audition folks.  I can't even describe the amount of courage it took to hit the SEND button.  And then I spent the rest of the night trying to actually make my soul be still, and not think about all the possible ways DMCO could tell me that I'm not going to be singing with them this season.  

It was a long, restless, worry-filled night.

This morning, I received this email...
Hi Haunani-
I emailed Stephanie for some clarification, but I think you can skip the prescreen and move to a live audition (that is, if you even have to reaudition at all). I meant to follow up when I saw your audition request but it slipped my mind. So sorry. She should get back to me tomorrow and I'll let you know if we both remember protocol the same way.
Welcome back ;o)

Sarah Ferguson
Grand Chorus Auditions Coordinator  
DMCO l Dallas Millennial Choirs and Orchestra

I'm sure there's some kind of life lesson in there, but I haven't yet figured out what it is...probably that I need to just calm the heck down about stuff and RELAX.  

But at least I lived through a hard thing.  Eleanor Roosevelt would have been proud.

Hey Haunani! 
I am so excited to hear that you are able to be back singing with us this semester. I made an executive decision that you do not need to reaudition. Please register ASAP by following the link here (it's a new program so you might need to sign up before you can sign in): 
Can't wait to see you!
Hooray!  There are not enough smiley emojis to convey the amount of relief and happiness I feel right now.   

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Glenn Frey

Last Monday, the girls came home from seminary and told me that David Bowie had died.  (Apparently their seminary teacher is a big fan.)  They didn't even know who David Bowie was.  ugh...what have I been doing for the past 15+ years but trying to broaden their little musical horizons and somehow I missed David Bowie??  So we didn't read scriptures that morning and instead had a David Bowie tribute on Pandora while everyone got ready for school.  It was enlightening for them and fun for me to reminisce.  I don't know that David Bowie will be played any more regularly in our house now than he was before Monday, but every now and then it's good to have a little Ziggy Stardust in the background.  

Glenn Frey is totally different, though.  The girls didn't recognize his name at first until I told them he was one of The the whole reason we have The Eagles.  And then there was much commiseration and genuine concern for my well being.  Aren't they sweet?  Craig's out of town, so they hovered for awhile just to make sure I didn't need any special assistance to make it through the night or anything.  It's cute how they think they need to take care of me.  

I had a little Glenn Frey tribute all by myself in my car on the way to 15th Street last night.  And today, we'll probably read scriptures, but it'll for sure be an exclusively Eagles day everywhere else here in honor of Glenn Frey.  What  a huge loss...  

Monday, January 18, 2016


Nut-Shelled Week:

Tuesday we had Zone Training, and it was awesome to finally see and meet the whole zone! There are 4 sets of sisters, and like 10 sets of elders, and two senior couples!  I learned a TON during zone training, and it was so spiritually uplifting, but I had a mental breakdown afterwards because I just realized how much more I need to be doing, and how I can't speak German, and I don't have all the scriptures or points to the lessons memorized, and all the organization and planning and obedience stuff, and it was just super overwhelming. But the other sisters were very nice and came to calm me down.

Wednesday we had a giant lunch called "The Rosan Lunch." Apparently this man in Wien 2 Ward likes to buy lunch for the missionaries in Wien once a month at his super fancy and GIANT tennis club!  it was the funniest thing ever!  But he is super nice, and it was super fun! (...and I promise that's not beer in my glass...haha). Then we went to this lady's house to help her peel off her old wallpaper, and I think I have found my new future career! I love peeling off wallpaper!

Thursday we went to a Chinese restaurant with Tao to teach him a new member lesson, and because he wanted to buy us "real" Chinese food. Tao is a newly baptized member from a ward in Switzerland who has either had extreme amnesia or he just wasn't ready to be baptized because he still can't tell us who Joseph Smith is... But we're trying to reteach him.  Anyway he bought us lunch and the menu was only in Chinese and German so I didn't know what I was ordering, and apparently I ordered cow stomach.  LIKE WHAT THE HECK. OUT OF ALL THE THINGS I COULD HAVE ORDERED.  I didn't know what it was when I got it, but it looked like a stringy grey tongue.  But I didn't want to be rude so I ate a tiny bit, and I almost threw up.  Then I asked Tao what it was and he confirmed my suspicions (cow innards), and I have no idea why but I decided to eat another tiny piece to make sure that it was actually as disgusting as it was five seconds ago, and yep! It was!  SO YEAH NOW I HAVE SOMEONE ELSE'S STOMACH IN MY STOMACH.  GROSS!  At least I'm learning to expand my tastebuds' horizons...

Saturday we received transfer calls.  You know, it's really funny how Heavenly Father works sometimes.  Because Friday was seriously the best day with Sister Jest.  I think we finally became friends that day, and the rest of the day we were able to see so many miracles come because we were finally in harmony with each other!  We even hit the standards of excellence for the week!  Neither of us thought we would get transferred, because I'm still being trained, and if anyone, it would be Sister Jest to leave and I would take over the area.  But crazy news!  I'm leaving!  I'm being transferred to Graz (grats), still in Wien zone, but like 3 hours away from anything. :)  Honestly, I just burst into tears when I heard.  I don't want to leave Wien!!  I'm just barely getting to know the ward, and love our investigators, and know how to get around the city!!  But it's true that as soon as you learn what you need to learn (how to love your companion) something changes!  I'm leaving on Thursday, so I still have a little time left here and believe me, I'm gonna juice everything I can out of those last few days!

I love my mission. I really honestly do. Even though there are very hard times, there are way more happy times, and times when I can really see clearly the path I'm on.  I really feel like I am growing closer to my Savior with every step I take, and I am learning more and more about myself every day!  As I lose myself in the service of others, I find myself more :)  Weird how that works.  I'm so excited to meet my new companion, Sister Fast, and excited for this new adventure I'm going to have! 

The church is true, the book is blue, and God loves YOU! 

Love y'all and have a great week! :)

Liebe Grüße,
Sister Thunell

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 2

Don't you just love how the scriptures continue to be relevant no matter what stage of life you happen to be in when you read them?  I'm amazed that even after many, many times of reading the Book of Mormon, there is always something that stands out in a different way to me. 
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, returned from speaking with the Lord, to the tent of my father.
 And it came to pass that he spake unto me, saying: Behold I have dreamed a dream, in the which the Lord hath commanded me that thou and thy brethren shall return to Jerusalem.
 For behold, Laban hath the record of the Jews and also a genealogy of my forefathers, and they are engraven upon plates of brass.
 Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me that thou and thy brothers should go unto the house of Laban, and seek the records, and bring them down hither into the wilderness.
 And now, behold thy brothers murmur, saying it is a hard thing which I have required of them; but behold I have not required it of them, but it is a commandment of the Lord.
 Therefore go, my son, and thou shalt be favored of the Lord, because thou hast not murmured.
 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.
How many times have I read the first four chapters of Nephi?  Hundreds probably.  And today, for the first time EVER, it occurred to me that the Lord could have told Lehi and his family to get the brass plates before they even left Jerusalem the first time.  He could have whispered to Lehi in the first dream, "Oh and by the way, you're going to really need those brass plates for your family's future, so make sure you get them before you leave."  But He didn't.  Why is that?  Why didn't He just remind someone as they were packing up the caravan.  Did He forget?  I don't think He did.

There was a lot of discussion about Laman and Lemuel today in Gospel Doctrine about whether they were capable of becoming the kind of spiritual giant that their younger brother, Nephi was.  I personally think they were capable of that.  They weren't just born hard-hearted and unwilling.  Thousands and thousands of decisions made over an entire lifetime turned them into that, and eventually separated them permanently from the Lord.  But they didn't come that way and that was never the Lord's plan for them.  They were born into their lives with full potential and an innate divine nature compelling them to be good and to return to their Heavenly Father just like their brother, Nephi and just like the rest of us.  

I think the seemingly random instruction to go back to Jerusalem after they had already gotten halfway into the desert was the Lord's way of giving Laman and Lemuel yet another opportunity to turn toward Him and to finally have an understanding of their full potential and their place in His plan.  It was also a way for the Lord to secure the rest of the family to Him more fully.  Nephi may have already been obedient and willing, but after receiving the Lord's help with the unbelievably unlikely execution of such a difficult thing, how could he not have been completely converted to the Lord?  And after Sariah felt the hand of the Lord in her life and the life of her sons as they came back unscathed and with brass plates in hand, how could she not have complete confidence in her "visionary" husband from that time forward?  Without that trial of their faith, the impact of Lehi's dream might have faded in their memories, and they may have felt like they were just wandering aimlessly in the desert for some unknown reason.  

And isn't that exactly what all of our challenges in life are for?  To give us the opportunity to learn to rely on the Lord and to turn to Him in all things.  How often does that happen in our lives that we're asked to do something really hard and then right in the middle of it, Heavenly Father asks us to do yet another hard thing?  We each have the potential within us to become a spiritual giant like Nephi and have the "mysteries of God revealed" to us, or to make a lifetime of decisions that lead us away from Heavenly Father and toward a life of murmuring and discontent.  

I talked to a woman after church yesterday who asked me about Laman and Lemuel and a few other things, and finally if I've ever had challenges that seemed to stay with me for years and years that felt impossible to overcome.  Um...absolutely YES!  I have the same weaknesses I had when I was fourteen years old.  I have good stages of my life where the Lord's voice is louder than the voices of doubt in my head, and I also have more vulnerable stages of my life where the weaknesses and doubts seem to live on my doorstep and I choose to pick them up and carry them around for awhile.  We all do.  That's part of the plan.  And that's the only way we would ever be driven to our knees to plead with the Lord for help.  

What I've come to learn from years and years of struggling with the same insecurities and weaknesses is the same as what I assume Nephi learned from having to return to Jerusalem and get the brass plates.  When I ask, Heavenly Father always comes to my rescue.  Always.  His plans are always infinitely more effective and successful than whatever I might come up with.  If He requires something of us, He will always provide a way for us to achieve that thing, no matter how hard.  We just have to be willing to ask Him for help and then do what He instructs us to do.  

There is no limit to the number of times we can ask Him for help.  There is no limit to the number of times we can fall and have help getting back up.  There isn't a point where Heavenly Father gives up and leaves us.  And there is never a time when the atonement is no longer useful in our lives.  
"However late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or distance from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.  There is no problem which you cannot overcome. There is no dream that in the unfolding of time and eternity cannot yet be realized. Even if you feel you are the lost and last laborer of the eleventh hour, the Lord of the vineyard still stands beckoning. “Come boldly [to] the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16), and fall at the feet of the Holy One of Israel. Come and feast “without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1) at the table of the Lord. . . ."  - Jeffrey R Holland

I'm grateful for insightful Gospel Doctrine lessons, for continued inspiration from the scriptures, and for a loving Heavenly Father who knows exactly what each of us needs.  

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Family History

Well, when you take your house off the market for a time and it doesn't require the constant cleaning schedule that it used to, and when you've eliminated all the fluffy and formerly time-consuming things from your life, you have to replace all that stuff with something.  

I'm a little bit obsessive ( you didn't already know that..) and when I find something I'm mildly successful at, I tend to want to do it all the ALL the time.  I happened to wander back to early in the week to see if there were any places in that family tree that could be filled in.  And apparently some floodgate in heaven has opened because I've been able to find SO many names!  (Seriously, where were all these people over the summer when I tried to get back into family history?)  

So, my desk looks pretty much like this every day now.  Covered in family history stuff in various stages of readiness for the temple.  I get up in the morning and have to force myself to take a walk, get dressed, eat something and read scriptures FIRST otherwise I'll get distracted by family history all day and forget everything else.  I'm trying really hard to find a balance with it and also have a desire to do other things, like eat and sleep, but it's been a nice thing to be able to throw myself into for awhile, and probably more productive than watching all the past seasons of Downton Abbey or checking Instagram every five minutes.    

Friday, January 15, 2016

Vienna Snowflakes

Savannah sent these pictures of the snowflakes in Vienna.  Do you really think it's possible that they can look so much prettier than the plain, old American snowflakes we have here?  Or maybe I just have never loved a snowflake enough to take the time to look at it.  That's probably it.  The next time it snows in Dallas, I'm catching one and looking closer.  

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

January Inspiration

I tried really hard to capitalize on the inspiration I felt after my little road trip on Friday night and jump in the car over the weekend to hunt for some beautiful thing to take a picture of.  Unfortunately, Dallas in January isn't very inspiring.  

I got one moderately good shot of Lake Lavon covered in grey clouds.  

But what was inspiring was jumping in the car with just my camera and the music and no schedule and no place to go.  It's been months since I've gone on an adventure with my camera.  And forever since it's been quiet enough in my car to listen to anything but Taylor Swift.  It was great to spend a couple of hours just being quiet and wandering.  

Quiet is good.  Even in Dallas in January, quiet is good.  

"...I never stop hearing the music after the song is through..."

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


One of the great blessings of having a daughter on a mission is that she recommends great reading/pondering material.  I read this Tad Callister talk last week at Savannah's suggestion, and it made a huge impact.  It's lengthy, but so worth reading.  

The talk is directed to missionaries so I honestly wasn't expecting it to apply very well to my non-missionary life, but it did.  I may not be serving a full-time mission, but I definitely have desires for my life and things I need the Lord's help with.  I have a desire to be more articulate and clear when I speak and when I write.  I want to be a better Gospel Doctrine teacher and magnify my calling better than I currently am.  I want to have the Spirit with me more often to help me understand the scriptures, have more fulfilling days, parent better, and serve more willingly.  I have a desire to have greater discernment; sometimes it's hard for me to distinguish between the voice in my head and the voice of the Lord.  I want more confidence and to be more sure of my instincts.  I want to increase my talents and use them to "fill the measure of my creation."  I know, it's a lengthy list...  

After I made that list of desires, and read Elder Callister's talk, I thought about what the Lord requires of us when we want to know Him better.  Sacrifice.  There always has to be some part of our old selves that must be sacrificed to make room for the better self that Heavenly Father has in mind.  Savannah has chosen to sacrifice comfort, family, education, her boyfriend, her phone, social media, TV, independence, her opinions and her pride, and even her native language for 18 months in order to achieve her desire to serve the Lord and gain a greater testimony of His gospel.  And in the process, He is answering her prayers and keeping His promise by offering her life-changing experiences which will become eternal treasures for her.

When the girls were little and a few of them shared a space, a lot of their "treasures" ended up living all over the floor.  When I cleaned, it was hard to tell the difference between a 4-yr old's treasure and a candy wrapper that needed to go in the trash.  So I thought of a brilliant plan to contain things and eliminate some clutter.  I found storage boxes small enough for each of the girls to carry around with them, but big enough to satisfy the need to keep a few things safe from their ever-tidying mother and her trash bag.  I printed their names on labels in fun fonts with bright colors and each girl personalized her own box with stickers and decorations.  The Treasure Box Rule was that they could keep anything inside that they wanted (well, except food or other perishable bugs and lizards, which we unexpectedly had to clarify for one of the girls) and the box contents would be safe from other sisters and more importantly, safe from being thrown away.  The girls loved their boxes and my decluttering plan worked amazingly well...until eventually one box became too full to fit anymore treasures.  We had to teach the value of purging and add a new Treasure Box Rule: once a box reached capacity, the treasures inside would have to be reconsidered and some eliminated to make room for additional treasures. This new rule was especially hard on Megan.  For Megan, everything was (and still is) a treasure.  It was heartbreaking to watch her cling to her little box of treasures, agonize over every scrap of paper and every broken toy in it, and then have to decide which things to discard and whether the new treasures were worth the trade.  There were many, many tears shed on those dreaded purging days.

There are a few things in my personal Treasure Box that I have been clinging really tightly to.  Like Megan, I wanted to put more treasures in the box (like that long list of desires I have up there,) but it was overwhelming and agonizing to think of taking anything out.  Some of those treasures have been tucked away in that box for a long time and the idea of sacrificing any of them was heartbreaking.  
"There is no escaping it. God will demand our all. If we are shy or reserved – God will compel us to change, to be bold. He will jerk us out of our comfort zone again and again. If we are lazy or idle, he will push us and pull us even when we are exhausted. If we are disobedient, he will press us until we have a child-like submissiveness. He will not let us be content with our weaknesses."
With the help of a lot of prayers, and a difficult week of detoxing that I hope I never have to repeat, I managed to purge a few of those things I've been hanging onto.  Some of them, I can honestly say, I am happier without (like Candy Crush and Netflix.)  Even a short time away from them has made that clear.  But others, I just have had to close my eyes, exercise faith, and hand over to Heavenly Father for a time.  
"Whatever the weakness may be that holds us back from becoming (what we are supposed to be), the Lord has promised that if we have faith in him, and humble ourselves before him, that he will make weak things become strong unto us (Ether 12:26-27). I believe that. I do not believe there is one (person) whose weaknesses are greater than the potential strengths within him. Why? – because each of us is a son and daughter of God, with his divine nature and divine potential woven into the very fabric of our souls. I do not think the Lord expects immediate perfection of us, but I do believe he expects immediate progress, and with that progress comes consecration. I believe that he recognizes and appreciates every step we take forward, however small it may be, striving to put our whole souls on the altar of sacrifice."
I don't know what Savannah will be like when she returns from her mission or which of her treasures she will get to be reunited with and which she will no longer have a need for, but I do know that Heavenly Father has a plan for her.  And for all of us.  And the more willing we are to give Him everything and set aside our treasures in exchange for His, the more we will be blessed for our efforts.  There are a few things I needed to set aside...some forever and some hopefully just for a while.  But however difficult last week was and however challenging the road ahead will be, I'm sure it will be worth it.  This life isn't about getting to a place that's comfortable and happy and just hanging out there.  It's about continually drawing closer and closer to the Savior until we are like Him.  And I really want to be like Him.

Monday, January 11, 2016

We Are All Enlisted


So this week has been a complete whirlwind of craziness! Monday night we had a weird lesson with some crazy people who believe in black magic and something about his dead mother haunting him...(haha) but luckily we kinda swerved the subject back to the restoration somehow! We will see what happens with them. Tuesday and Wednesday we went on another tausch! (tausch = splits) This time I stayed in Wien and Sister Hollesen came to be with me.  It was so fun!  But also scary because I was the senior comp for the tausch so I was in charge of getting us everywhere on public transportation and taking charge of the lessons and talking to people and stuff. But I feel like I did a good job considering I can't really speak German that well yet!

German update: one day I just randomly woke up and I could understand like 75% of what people say, so thank you to whoever has been praying for me to receive the gift of tongues! Now I just need the actual tongue part (haha) because I still can't communicate that well. 

Wednesday, we went to the Johnson's for dinner, and they're from Texas so it was like stepping into heaven for me! We had cornbread and chili, my kind of meal :)  Finally a break from potatoes!! Thursday was super busy, and super awesome.  Friday was like one of the best days of my mission so far!  We got so many contacts in the street, and stopped by a former investigator and had a great lesson, and brought another investigator to a member's house and had a super awesome appointment, and then we went to waffle night at the YSA center!  I wish I could give more details, but 1. I can't really remember a lot of this week because it was just such a blur and so exhausting, and 2. it would take pages and pages to write!

At this point, I'm pretty much exhausted every single day. We get home and plan and then I just flop and die on my bed, but I sleep really well because I'm so tired! And I love being so busy with the work of the Lord.  It's way better than being bored and unproductive (haha.) I've learned to work through the exhaustion, and love it!  If I had to pick a theme song for the week it would be "We Are All Enlisted" by the Lower Lights.  I have it on my iPad and every time I have felt like throwing in the towel and giving up, or been impatient with Sister Jest, or homesick, I've just blasted that song and danced around a little and poof! All better!  Y'all should really listen to that song, it's a good one.  I have to remember that I signed up for this!  I'm officially enlisted until the conflict is over, so I just have to suck it up during the hard times and remember all the blessings I have, and keep an eternal perspective!  And really, even if you're not on a mission you are still enlisted till the conflict is over! :) so just "joyfully march along!" I mean might as well go through it happily, right?

I feel like each week of my mission just gets better and better, but at the same time harder and harder!  I've learned so much about myself, the gospel, and the love our Savior has for each and every one of us. I've been reading this super awesome book, it's called the Book of Mormon, and I've been reading it with a question in mind, "how can I develop stronger faith in Christ?" Let me tell ya, reading the Book of Mormon with a question in mind is the most powerful way to get an answer. Because it's over a longer period of time, and you are really studying and searching daily for an answer! My faith has grown soo much already! So if you want an answer to something you have been struggling with, then write it down and start reading :)

Love y'all and I hope you have a great week!

Liebe Grüße,

Sister Thunell

Oh...P.S. Farshid got baptized!!  I don't know how I forgot that small detail.. But yes, here we are with Farshid and the Elders in our ward. Best day ever!

Saturday, January 9, 2016


Craig has officially started his life of commuting to Birmingham every week.  He leaves on the same flight every Monday afternoon and returns late Friday night...except when there's weather in HOU and then his plane might have to be diverted to Oklahoma City.  

Last night, McKay was on a camp out and the girls and I were invited to a neighbor's house for a little birthday party which I was totally looking forward to because it's been a long week of moping around and I really needed a distraction.  We got there around 6:30 and I had planned to leave around 10:15 to pick Craig up at the airport.  Plenty of time to eat birthday cake and play a few games.  An hour later, I checked my phone and found about 20 messages from Craig and a bunch of those angry, red emoji faces. 😡 ...that's never a good thing.  

His flight from BIRM to HOU (where he was supposed to catch a connecting flight onto DAL) had been diverted directly to OKC because of weather in HOU.  There were no seats available on the direct flight from BIRM to DAL and no flights from OKC to DAL until Saturday morning.  So he was texting to let me know he wouldn't be home until sometime Saturday morning and that he would be spending the night in the OKC airport.  Blah...that sounded horrible, especially after a whole week on the road, and Oklahoma is only one state away from us, so how far could the OKC airport really be??  

It's three hours away.   

I thought the girls would want to stay at our neighbor's house for the night, but Megan wanted to come with me and Emma was thrilled to stay at home by herself (...something about playing her music really loud, which is exactly what Megan and I did in the car, so I don't know why she couldn't have just come with us...

After changing into more comfortable clothes, consulting with the GPS, and making one quick stop at Sonic for large Diet DPs (it's been months since I've had one of those, but I wasn't about to drive three hours at night without one,) Megan and I started our adventure.  We made it exactly 5 miles before hitting the biggest wreck I've ever seen.  20 minute diversion off and back on the freeway 2 exits further south.  

Megan was in charge of navigation which is not a great job to give a 17 yr old who's never driven a car before.  I had three places to exit one freeway and get onto a new one, and exactly three times I got off and headed in the wrong direction.  Another 15 minutes of u-turn delays in our already long drive.

We hit major construction a couple of times which also held us up for awhile.  

But at 11:30pm...3 1/2 hours from the time we left home and one hour after Craig's flight had landed, we pulled into the OKC airport terminal to rescue him from what probably would have been a long, uncomfortable, sleepless night.  He was so happy.    

Megan and I slept almost the entire way home while Craig drove and listened to his book, but guess what was the best part of this whole crazy adventure...well, besides the part where I rescued my was going on a late night, spontaneous road trip with Megan.  She was so chatty, I'm sure in an effort to keep me awake.  We talked about everything, which isn't unusual, but the part where we were uninterrupted for three whole hours was unusual...and great!  She also may or may not have said that she would like to tattoo "ELO" across her forehead, she loves them so much.  I discouraged the tattoo know, our bodies are temples and all, but how cute is it that on the way to Oklahoma she discovered how much she loves all that music on my Spotify?  I adore that girl!  

I think that road trip...and Megan and the music and the Diet DP were exactly what I needed to breathe life back into me after a gloomy, pitiful week.  How grateful I am for spontaneous road trips and husbands who occasionally need rescuing.  

Friday, January 8, 2016

Ring Out Wild Bells

This is kind of a funny story.  Or a ridiculous one.  But either way, worth writing down.  I'm sure someday my kids will be interested to know that I often go to great lengths to make easy things extremely difficult.

I've been playing the organ in church on the first Sunday of the month for the last 5 years.  I'm not sure how that came to be.  Probably just a conversation that turned into an offer and then later a habit.  I don't mind playing at all.  In fact, I love being able to keep up my organ skills (because you never know when you'll need to play the organ in an emergency, right?)  But I'm not naturally an organist so I require a little more practice than the average person.  Unfortunately, our current Ward Music Chair typically selects the hymns for the week on Friday or Saturday, leaving me with about 48 hours at best to practice.  I'm familiar enough with most of the hymns in the hymnbook that usually it's enough time.  But last Sunday, she picked Ring Out Wild Bells.  Um...I've never even heard of that song.   I had to look it up on and listen to it to even get the tune in my head because it's just odd.  

And here's the other thing about my organ playing...
I can't actually SEE the music.  Even with my giant hymn book and my glasses, it's still blurry when I'm sitting at the organ.  Something about the angle of the hymnbook on that stand and the distance from me to the organ and progressive lenses...anyway, I just can't get it to work.  So I don't use my glasses when I'm playing the organ anymore.  I just memorize the music instead.  If I play through a song enough times it eventually just sticks in my head and my fingers will almost always memorize where they're supposed to go.  And then on Sundays, I put my glasses on right before I have to play, scan through the music one more time to make sure I have the right key and I know where the introduction starts and stops, and then I take my glasses off and just play half-blind.  Convoluted, I know, but it works.  Usually...

No amount of playing through Ring Out Wild Bells was making it comfortable or familiar to me.  My fingers and my head were completely resistant to everything about it.  I tried playing it with glasses on reading the music, and with glasses off memorized, and it was pretty much the same mess every time.  After three days of practicing, I finally just said a hefty prayer before church and hoped that I wouldn't butcher it too badly.  

My settings were wrong  The organ was too loud.  I completely missed the end of the introduction and ended up playing the entire first verse instead.  And no one else knew the song, which was good because they didn't realize how badly I was playing it, but not good because it was pretty much just an organ solo for three whole verses.  Epic fail.

I can always tell when I've made too many mistakes because people comment to me afterward on my playing.  It's always kind.  They always say things like, "Great job on the organ today."  Blah.  When I play well, I'm just background and no one notices, which is how it should be.  My job at that organ is to bring the Spirit and accompany the singing.  That's it.  i prefer when people don't even realize that we've switched organists.  But on Sunday, I got lots of very polite, very sympathetic attention after my organ fiasco.  Blah.  Apparently, I'm  either going to need to become a lot more familiar with Ring Out Wild Bells before next year,  or just make sure I'm not the one playing if we ever have to sing it again.  Maybe we'll get new hymn books and they'll just take that song out?