Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Shenandoah Valley

I don't have any long story about these or spiritual insight or verbosity tonight.  

I just loved all of Virginia, and stopping to take pictures of these beautiful barns and smelling hay and cows in the air reminded me so much of Cache Valley which made me infinitely happy for a few brief moments before and after that crazy busy week in DC.  There is nothing more beautiful or calming, in my opinion, than rural America.  

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

MCO God and Country Tour

I'm not even sure where to start with all these DC posts, so I'm just going to start with the whole reason we even planned a DC trip in the first place...the MCO God and Country Tour.  

This trip was announced last year during that season when I cancelled my whole life because I thought I was moving to Alabama.  Last December, when I realized the relocation thing wasn't as imminent as I thought, I decided to re-join MCO and also to go on the DC tour.  There were a few conditions to be able to go on the DC tour, though:  

1.  You had to have been in MCO for the entire year, both Fall 2015 and Spring 2016.
2.  You had to have been in MCO for the To Be American season.  
3.  You had to attend the mandatory rehearsals in May or June after the regular spring season ended.
4.  You had to get yourself to Washington DC.  

I could only meet two of those requirements, so I assumed DC was not an option.  But, the great thing about being friends with the right people and asking a lot of questions is that you get to do stuff that you probably aren't entirely qualified to do... a DC plan started to come together for this summer.  

Craig and I had been to DC in 2007 and it was on our list of places to take the kids, so the adventurous people in my house were super excited to plan this trip.  We started early making reservations with the Capitol and the White House and all the other places we knew we wanted to secure appointments with.  (Those pictures will be coming in the next day or so...)

The (funny, frustrating, endearing...) thing about me is that stuff that sounds like an awesome opportunity in January often turns into stuff I'm dreading by the time May rolls around.  (But in my defense, I'd like to also point out that I moved a house, lived in a hotel for 14 days with three kids, drove 12 hours across the lower half of the country, survived torrential rainstorms, and was a single parent during a big chunk of that time.  So I think I've earned a little extra compassion for having to do everything all at once.)

After much dread, worry, panic and procrastination for two whole weeks, and a LOT of waffling about whether I even wanted to go on this tour anymore, I finally resigned myself to this giant thing I had committed not just myself to but also Emma.  So I packed my bags and dragged myself into the van.  And if you think there was anything delightful about traveling with me last week you would be totally mistaken.  

We had 2 1/2 days in DC before any of the MCO stuff started, and then it was a little insane after that.  Here's what our schedule looked like:

After a long day of driving on Sunday and two straight days of touring DC in the summer heat and humidity for more miles than my poor little FitBit has ever counted in it's life, I was a mess by Wednesday, physically and emotionally.  The meltdown started on Monday night, actually, and lasted until Wednesday morning when I got to the Strathmore.  I don't know why crowds and unfamiliar experiences freak me out so much lately, but they do.  By Wednesday afternoon when Craig and the kids dropped me off at the concert hall and left to go explore more Smithsonians, I was so nervous that I thought I might be sick a few times.  But I managed to keep it together.  The familiar Dallas faces helped a little, but I mostly didn't talk to anyone all during that rehearsal and recording session. I just followed all the other sheep to the places we were supposed to be, and sang when they told me to sing.  

They voiced us immediately and put us into rows with core singers in the center of the section.  This group is just Altos.  #eek
Right after we were voiced, we went up to the choir loft.  Because there were so many of us, the two tallest rows of Altos and Baritones in the back had to stand on the floor behind the orchestra. 

Thankfully I'm not one of those tall girls, so I got to stand in the front row of the loft.  #hallelujah  This was my perfect, unimpeded view, which is awesome if you have to be packed in a choir loft for three days like a sardine, but not so great if you want to meet any of the other 468 people singing with you in the choir.  (I was ok with not meeting anyone on Wednesday.)  
I opted not to spend my dinner break with food or people and just found a secluded little corner with a pretty view where I could just be quiet for an hour or so.  I watched people mingling and socializing and reuniting and wondered how in the heck they weren't having the same sensory overload I was having.  
By 10:00 when we were finished for the night, we had recorded only two songs.  

On Thursday morning, our call time was bumped from 9:00am to 10:00am so I slept in a little and Craig and I had time for breakfast before he dropped me off at the Strathmore.  The kids all slept in until he got back to the hotel.
We recorded all morning.  Two more songs done before lunch.  That's me in the front row right in the center making absolutely no attempt to talk to anyone.  I was just concentrating.  At our break, Craig and the kids picked me up and we had lunch together before Emma had to check in at 1:30 with all the youth choirs.  By 3:00 when the kids all came in to join us, they looked like an ocean out there filling all the front row audience seats and also several of those little "boats" in the balconies.  It was truly an awesome thing to see them come in.  There were twice as many children as adults!
We recorded for 3 hours before our dinner break which was slightly more crowded than mine had been the night before.  Emma and I found a table in the lobby and ate the dinner we had brought with us.  Singing that beautiful music all day was starting to help me feel a little more calm than I had been on Wednesday, even with the crowds.  And a little walk around that beautiful pond outside helped, too.  Maryland is gorgeous!  
We finished recording Amazing Grace at 9:45pm and then we started I Stand All Amazed.  That's a HUGE song (which you'll be able to hear when it's released in the fall!) and at that hour, after two grueling days, it's next to impossible to muster up enough energy to sing it well.  But...when you have limited time in a recording session, and you know everyone including the directors are as exhausted as you are, somehow you gather what you need and make it work.  We did it in four takes.  #shocking #miraculous  It might be the best song on the whole CD.  We finished at 11:00pm and went back to the hotel.  That was the night the fire alarms went off and we had to make an emergency evacuation down nine flights of stairs and then wait for the fire department to tell us we could go back to bed.  It was about 1:00am when we finally got to sleep.  #zombiesthenextmorning 

And then Friday...

I was tired.  Logistically it just made sense for me to be the driver that day to get Emma and me where we needed to be, and for Craig to take the other two on the Metro into DC for the day.  I'm not great with navigating in unfamiliar areas.  I'm not very patient after only a few hours of sleep.  And I'm not at my best when I have to rush around.  

Emma had to be at the church for a youth activity at 9:00am and my call time at the Strathmore was at 9:30am.  They're only a few miles apart, but traffic in Bethesda, MD is not speedy at that hour.  And I think DC must be the location of the world's most traffic lights and intersections!  

I got Emma to her activity right on time...but then it took me 25 minutes to drive 6 miles.  :(  

And then I had to find a parking place in the Metro station across the street.  :(

I was about 15 minutes late for my call time.  For a second, as I was shuffling through 400 people to make my way into my front row center seat in the loft, it occurred to me that if I had made any friends, probably all the people around me would have known that I had had to evacuate my hotel room at midnight the night before and also drive my youth to her activity that morning, and they might have been a little patient and understanding.  But I hadn't.  And they weren't.  

When we got out of our recording 30 minutes late, and I realized I still had to stand in a mile long line in the lobby to get the newly issued and mandatory jewelry for the concert that night, get to my car across the street, and pick up Emma from the church 5 minutes ago, I was done.  I decided I was just not coming back.  I didn't stand in the jewelry line.  I wasn't calm driving to pick up Emma.  I tried to call Craig but he was unavailable.  And so I just drove and cried.  And halfway there, I decided I was done with this whole ridiculous tour.  It was too much and I didn't have anything left to contribute anyway.  

It turns out, Emma wasn't the only youth left in the parking lot like I had envisioned.  Of course she wasn't because most of their parents are in the Grand Chorus, too, and we were all stuck there in that same recording session that got out 30 minutes late.  Emma wasn't mad at me for leaving her stranded, and they had arranged for a Kona Ice truck to be in the parking lot for the kids so not only were they not mad, they were totally happy to be hanging out there for a little longer.  

So that little relief made me realize I might not be able to do the concert, but I could at least go back to the hotel and put on my dress.  

There were some other little frustrations during our two hour break... 
Like Emma forgot her black shoes, and the Target that was 2.2 miles away from the Strathmore took us 18 minutes to drive to.  ugh...
And the Dallas Alto II's sent a group text that we were all to meet 5 minutes before call time to take a group picture.  also ugh...
And that blasted parking garage across the street...this time in a floor length gown with hair and eyelashes that needed to stay pretty for 8 more hours!  
And I still didn't have my mandatory jewelry.

We made it.  I wasn't happy or pretty, but we made it.  

We sang and sang for 2 1/2 hours for the video recording and a little rehearsal for the concert and then they let us break for dinner.  # exhausted #hangingonbyathread 

Emma and I found each other in the lobby and by some miraculous chance the little cafe that had been closed all week was open and making food!  And I realized that I hadn't eaten anything since dinner the night before.  After a really good dinner and two giant bottles of water, my disposition improved significantly.  I even talked to some new people and made a couple of friends! :)  (I'm not sure why eating is always last on my list of survival essentials when I'm miserable.)  

I worked out the jewelry thing right before the break.  I had eaten food and drank water.  I took a selfie with my cute daughter.  I connected with people who also felt like they couldn't sing one more note, but showed up in their dresses anyway.  I reapplied more red lipstick.  And I got back into that choir loft. 

And just like I anticipated before I left, it was in the last few hours that all the effort was finally worth it.  I saw the familiar face I always see in the audience when I can't take one more step or sing one more note.  We sang all the songs that breathe life into me.  And I had what I needed.  

The concert was absolutely amazing, and it was so worth it.  

And this concert Saturday morning...holy cow! It was the most amazing thing ever to be standing on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial singing Amazing Grace and God Bless America while tourists walked by and Secret Service helicopters flew around in the air.  

There were really difficult things about last week and parts of it that I wish I could do over again with a better attitude.  But that moment when How Great Thou Art ended and the audience loved it so much that we had to do an encore in the Strathmore, and that other moment when we sang patriotic songs in the National Mall totally made up for any tears, frustration, discouragement, exhaustion and chaos that existed before.

My voice is on a CD.

I sang with a magnificent and enormous choir under the direction of not one or two, but 5 musical geniuses.

I'm in a music video with Jenny Oaks Baker.

I survived all those things I thought I couldn't do before we left.  

Sometimes I can do hard (and amazing) things.  
"Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." - Philippians 1:6

Monday, June 27, 2016



On Tuesday morning we met Victor at a little water fountain in the middle of the city and we taught him the Plan of Salvation. 
It turned out to be one of the most spiritual experiences of my life because as I was testifying to him and teaching him how he is a child of God, and that there is more to this life than just being on the earth and then dying, I felt the spirit SO STRONGLY!  I KNOW that we are ALL children of our Heavenly Father! I looked around to the bustling streets of Graz, Austria and I couldn't help but feel so much love for everyone around me, and know that this gospel that I was testifying of right then was exactly what everyone around me needs! I can't really explain exactly what I felt, but I just know that it was a tiny bit of what God feels for all of us :) 

Then we went to a member's house for lunch and her home was HUGE (for Europe) and a combination of something from Pride and Prejudice and Pier basically my dream home :) She was so kind and so lovely, so it was a great appointment! 

Then we welcomed the Wien 1 sisters to the beautiful city of Graz and started our ultimate tausch! I worked with Sister Price, the best sister missionary ever, and as usual we had a lot of fun together! Just love that girl!! Best part of our tausch: WE GOT A SELFIE WITH A NUN. A WHITE NUN. (Dress color, not skin color...but actually her skin was also white.) Graz goal: check! 

On Wednesday around 12:00 Wien 3 arrived in Graz, and we were going to start our second ultimate tausch of the week, but before Wien 1 left we decided to all have lunch together on the top of Schloßberg! I don't think Graz has ever had 6 sister missionaries in the city at one time, so it was super fun! Hamburgers on top of my favorite mountain, can life get much better? Yes it can.

We said goodbye to Wien 1, and then I got to work with Sister Gunderson from Wien 3 for the next ultimate tausch! She is brand new in the mission, but man she is a fireball! It's good to have some golden fire around every once in a while to keep your motivation burning :) we also had a lot of fun together! 

Wednesday night Schwester Ollendorf took us to the holy well with holy spring water, and we got to see nuns singing around the well! It was like the Sound of Music! I think this week was so good because I had so many nun interactions, mensch! And then she took us on the ultimate drive through the mountains and we got the BEST views of the whole city, and found some pretty cool things up in those hidden mountain fields and forests :) 

We got a selfie with some Austrian hunters wearing traditional Austrian hunting clothing (didn't know that was a thing), and I even got a selfie with a llama! Who knew you could find llamas in the mountains of Austria!! Wednesday was probably the best day of my whole mission! And I spent it with the cutest new missionary ever :) 

Thursday we had a couple other appointments, and then the four of us sisters helped Najla decorate the church for the YSA dance this weekend for like 5 hours! We hung streamers, blew up balloons, painted posters, made a photo booth, cut out pictures, set out food... it was so much fun!! But it was pretty exhausting! After decorating we said goodbye to Wien 3, and finally Sister Brinkerhoff and I were back together again! I missed her during our four days of tausching! Even though we still were in the same area haha. But it was nice to get back into our normal routine! Friday we did weekly planning all day, and popped into the YSA dance to check on some of our investigators we had invited (but really it was so we could listen to the cool new music that isn't missionary appropriate and bob our heads a little).

Saturday was Sister Brinkerhoff's year mark! We celebrated by helping Gina move and carrying lots more heavy things down a lot more stairs, and then we had a couple lessons at the church with some investigators! Sunday we went to the Sander's for dinner, and because we don't have elders here anymore, Sister Brinkerhoff and I had to be the ones to entertain the little boys. So we happily let them capture us and beat us up and tie us to the couch and shoot their nerf darts at our heads. All part of a missionary's job! 

This week I finished the Book of Mormon for the second time on my mission! I read it with the question of how I can be a better disciple of Christ, and I learned so much! I just love the Book of Mormon! I'm now reading it in German for the first time all the way through! It is going a little slower, but I can finally understand everything, so that's awesome! 

So yes, that was my wonderful week! Transfer calls are on Saturday!! So we will see what the future brings for me :) 

Love you all, have a great week!

Liebe Grüße,
Sister Thunell

Sunday, June 26, 2016


We're home...  

It's been a super long, crazy exhausting, and mostly great week.  We turned a 12 hour drive home into 15 hours so Craig could drive us through Shenandoah National Park, which was totally worth it, and so we could drive some back roads and look for a few barns.  They have awesome ones in Virginia!  I have a million pictures to download and edit and about 3 blog posts to write before you'll be sufficiently caught up on all of our adventures.  

But for tonight, I'm just going to unpack, start a load of laundry and go to sleep.  I feel like I could sleep for three straight days and it still might not be enough.  

I'm so grateful for a safe, uneventful trip home today. for my own bed to sleep in with all 5 of my favorite pillows, and for the rest of the summer to finish getting settled into this house.

Goodnight. ❤️

Monday, June 20, 2016

Faith is Like a Little Seed

Guten Tag!! Time for the weekly recap! 

So this week we found two new investigators!  That makes for a grand total of 12, which is so awesome!!  Our week was full of a bazillion appointments, but I will just highlight some of my favorites.  On Wednesday we went to the Trieb's house, they're an older couple in the ward, and it was the most fun I've had at a member appointment in a long time! We were just talking and laughing the whole time and it was awesome!  Bruder Trieb showed us super old pictures of people in the ward, and pictures of their children and all the fun trips they've taken to America.  It was just really fun to be with them and get to know them :)  Then that night we had an appointment with Victor!  He was one of the elder's investigators, but I taught him a couple times while they were still here.  He's from Spain and he is just the nicest guy!  Like the big brother I never had :)  He asked some pretty tough questions, and I think he is struggling getting started with a testimony about the church, but it was a great lesson in the end.  And he taught us a little Spanish so that was fun :) I tried reading a couple verses in the Spanish Book of Mormon, and I was just pronouncing everything like a German!  It was so embarrassing!  I've lost all of my Spanish!

This week we also got to meet two brand new babies!!  Ketty, our less active from Peru, had her cute little girl, and the Hirschmann's had their little boy! I love babies!! Unfortunately as missionaries we can't hold babies, so I had to be content with just patting their tiny little tummies and watching them sleep. 

On Saturday we had Zone Conference in Salzburg!  President Kohler and his family came, and it was literally the BEST Zone Conference ever!!  I loved it so much!! We learned about the 12 tribes of Israel, and the duties of the descendants from those tribes, and also about being the first-born in a covenant and having a double portion of the birthright.  It was just so enlightening, and he connected it all back to why we are here as missionaries, and why this is our job to share the gospel, and why we even care about helping people.  We talked a lot about being a successful missionary, a motivated missionary, and an obedient missionary, and those were all things I needed to hear!!  

We also have some exciting news in our mission: we are getting the mobile area book! That will make things sooo much easier for all of us and I'm so excited!  Because of the European privacy laws, we haven't been able to have it on our iPads till now, so it will be so great to finally have it!

Yesterday we had a goal of having 9 investigators at church.  We invited 12 so we were thinking that it would be no problem to have 9!  In Preach My Gospel we are taught to make goals with faith, and expect the Lord to fulfill His promises to us, so I literally had SO MUCH FAITH that 9 people would come to Sacrament.  Well, church starts at 9:00, and when I looked around at 8:56 we only had three investigators!  Which is still amazing and so wonderful, but I thought I had enough faith that we would have 9!  As Sacrament Meeting started, I realized that we would not reach our goal, in fact we would miss it by a long shot.  I was a little disappointed and wondered what more I could have done, how much more faith I needed to have to move these mountains in my life, and why these people had chosen not to come.  It's hard for me to have faith that things will happen because I've kind of programmed myself in life to not be disappointed if things don't work out, and even expect them to sometimes not work out!  And now that I finally put that aside and had a ton of faith, I thought things would work out.  But they didn't. 

BUT...I learned a really important lesson :) Wie immer. Faith is not only to hope for things to work out exactly the way you want them to.  Faith is to trust in God's plan, to trust that He knows better than we do, that He can see further ahead than we can, and that He is in complete control!  Faith means that you know who you are, a child of God, and that you love and trust Him above anything else!  To quote the primary song: "Faith is trust in God above. In Christ, who showed the way." Faith isn't just hoping things will happen, and having your wish come to pass.  It's being okay when things don't go according to your own plan, but instead according to the way of the Father's plan.  It was a great lesson to learn, and one that I will probably continue learning over and over throughout my mission and throughout life. 

Okay I can't English anymore, but I love you all and I hope you have a wonderful week!

Liebe Grüße,Sister Thunell