Saturday, April 30, 2016

Provo City Center Temple

A few weeks ago in one of those CSM conference calls, the Provo City Center Temple came up on the Immediate Needs list.  Honestly, I have no idea why.  Wouldn't you think they would already have been flooded with pictures of that one because it's new and popular?  Me too.  But, they asked, and I hadn't yet seen it completed, so I happily dragged Craig and my newly padded camera bag down to Provo the minute our plane landed.  

Um, tulip season in Utah in the spring is definitely a good time for a photo shoot of pretty much anything.  I might have gotten a tiny bit distracted by all the flowers.

Not only is it tulip season in Utah, it's also wedding season in Provo...which was an entirely different kind of distraction...

It was difficult to get very close to the temple because of all the wedding parties and families doing photo shoots.   So I just kept my distance and took pictures of other stuff...

What a stunningly beautiful temple and how grateful I am for the opportunity to be in Utah for the weekend to see it in person.

Friday, April 29, 2016


We're leaving this morning for a super quick, super impromptu trip to SLC this weekend for Craig's niece's wedding tomorrow.  As I ran around yesterday trying to finish a few things before this trip, I tried once again to look for the hand of the Lord in my life, and honestly, I couldn't find anything but busy-ness.  

This trip wasn't on the schedule a month ago.  It's sandwiched between a whole crapton of Craig's trips and a whole other crapton of stuff that needs to be done here in the next two weeks before we leave.  Repair people coming in and out to fix little things, appraisers, moving companies giving us estimates, last rounds of doctor visits for the kids, and the usual end of the school year stuff...

But last night when I fell into bed, and looked back on the whole day, I realized there were actually so many blessings that had come and that I had overlooked in my mad rush to pack and finish everything:
  • Signs of Life.  Even the tiniest ones are enough to breathe life back into me.  
  • Non-Overwhelmedness.  Like not at all.  Maybe because it's quick and because I've made this trip to Utah about 400 times before.  Or maybe because I haven't had enough time to stress out about it.  Or because I'm not flying by myself.  Whatever the reason, how grateful I am for a stress-free 24 hours before I get on a plane.
  • Craig's companion pass.  That was half the reason we did this.  Because of his ridiculous travel schedule last year, he qualifies for a free companion pass, which means I fly free with him wherever he goes.  Yep.  Whenever he gets on a plane, if I want to go to that place, too, I can.  Free.  So I did this time.  
  • Youth Conference.  We're leaving the kids here.  McKay is staying with a friend for the weekend which he is thrilled about.  But the girls are staying by themselves.  And the only reason we would even consider doing that is because they have Stake Youth Conference tonight from 6:45pm - 10:30pm and all day tomorrow from 9:00am - 10:00pm.  Church doesn't start until 1:00 on Sunday, so all we had to do was arrange rides for them everywhere, and they will be happily and spiritually occupied the entire time we're gone.  
  • Amazon Prime.  I need to take some pictures on this trip.  Like there's a specific CSM assignment and everything, but my new camera bag is way too flimsy and I needed one of those cool, padded, shock proof, waterproof liner inserts to go in it so my lenses don't shift around in flight.  And I needed it um...yesterday.  Oh, how I love Amazon Prime.  You can accidentally procrastinate stuff and it still gets here in time.  
  • Non-Theft-y Neighbors.  So I could see on the tracking portion of my email from Amazon that my camera bag insert thing had been delivered at 12:30 to "on or around my front porch" so when I got home at 2:30 I fully expected to see it "on or around my front porch," but it wasn't there.  By 7:00 when there was still nothing and McKay had checked all the neighbors' front porches, I was starting to get discouraged and also starting to think the worst of my neighbors who have never in the 5 1/2 years we've lived here ever given me any reason to think they would take something from "on or around my front porch."  But then at 8:00 the doorbell rang!  I could see through the glass that it was someone tall!  But I opened the door and it was just Joy, our little cutie pie neighbor from down the street, coming over to visit the girls. But then she handed me an Amazon box and said, "Oh here, I think this came to our house by mistake." (They're 314 and we're 414.)  And she wouldn't have even brought the box down last night except she wanted Emma to straighten her hair for a choir thing today and she happened to see THUNELL on the box that was sitting in her entryway.   Hooray! for last minute deliveries and for hope restored in honest neighborhoods.  
  • My camera equipment is now safely and happily and snuggly tucked inside its new camera bag and isn't going to shift anywhere on this flight.
The Lord is in very definitely in the details of our lives...He just sometimes thinks it's nice to wait until later in the day to manifest it.  

OK that's it...because I totally have to jump in a car now and get on a plane.  

How grateful I am for the opportunity to see this beautiful girl get married in the temple tomorrow and be sealed by her grandfather.  The hand of the Lord will be apparent in all of our lives this weekend, for sure.  

Thursday, April 28, 2016


In my opinion, people don't use enough words in their daily lives.  I'm not sure if that's a choice or just a general worldwide disability lately, but either way, I think people would feel better if they communicated more freely and generously with each other.  

On Monday, which is preparation day for a vast number of missionaries and the day most of their moms eagerly anticipate, we are blessed to receive long detailed emails from Savannah.  I have come to realize, though, that detailed emails are not a universal thing that all moms enjoy.  

I recently and reluctantly ventured back onto Facebook as part of my CSM responsibilities, and while I'm not totally sure I like being there yet, one of the great things I've discovered is the Alpine Missionary Moms FB page.  Holy cow! What an awesome way to get to know so many of the moms who have missionaries currently serving in the same mission as Savannah.  I have learned so much about Savannah's mission and made so many new friends.

One of the moms of an elder currently serving in Savannah's district posted this on that FB page on Monday...

I happened to be emailing Savannah so I took a screenshot of it and sent it to her and then thanked her for sending me more details because I would die if I only got two or three sentences every week.  She was horrified and said that from now on (until one of them is transferred) she would include an Elder Gibbs report with her weekly emails to me.  And then Savannah sent this (which I posted as a reply)  
For Elder Gibbs' Mom: Hello! Here's an update of what Elder Gibbs did this week:Monday they went grocery shopping at Penny after their studies, and then they went shopping at H&M and other stores because his companion Elder Bolt is a shopaholic. :) Then they went to the church to email and play basketball, and chair soccer (Elder Gibbs' favorite game that he bugs us all to play with him until we finally give in.) Then we all went to FHE where we played ping pong. Tuesday we all went to zone training and then toured Vienna together! Wednesday night we had an appointment at the Hirschmann's, a super cute family with three little girls, and ever since Elder Spencer left, Elder Gibbs has become quite the "child whisperer!"  He runs around and chases them and plays with them. It's super cute. We played with their turtles and had a little FHE lesson. Thursday they went to the hospital to visit a woman who is dating a less active member. She checked herself into a psychiatric ward because she had panic attacks, but they taught her the restoration and she wants to get baptized! She has been to church almost every week since I've been here, and she is lovely! They have to help her with a smoking problem though, and get her and her less active boyfriend married or moved into separate houses before she can be baptized. Friday they had appointments at the church all day, and taught a few German lessons. Saturday was his birthday and we called him about four times and sang to him in about 12 different languages. After our appointments for the day we met the elders at the church and gave Elder Gibbs some birthday presents, and then we all looked through some old clothes left at the church, and then we all headed back to our apartments on the same bahn. Sunday they didn't have any appointments so they went home for studies and dinner after church, and then went finding.
Wow. That's kinda creepy that I know their whole schedule for the week... But we just see them so much...haha!
Liebe Grüße,Sister Thunell
I know some people are super private.  I worried about posting that letter publicly for the whole FB page to see, but I didn't know where else to put it.  I worried a little about what the companion's mom would think about that "shopaholic" comment Savannah threw in. I worried that maybe people would think it was actually creepy that Savannah knew so much about this little elder's schedule.  But I've talked to that mom a couple of times, and I thought I would take the chance.  It felt like a generous thought to me, and since Savannah and I both had it, I just hit SEND and then held my breath for about 4 hours until she finally saw it and commented.  

Um, what a surprisingly happy stir that little email caused on FB!  All day long moms kept reading Savannah's email and the comments left by Elder Gibbs' mom and the happiness she felt knowing all those details.  She said she had never gotten such a detailed report about her son's week!  She had been so sad on the actual day of his birthday and then his actual email was a bit of a let down.  It took Savannah all of ten minutes to write that email and send it to me, but what a huge gift it was for his mom.  I'm not sure how Elder Gibbs is going to feel knowing that one of the sister missionaries is writing to his mom and giving her weekly reports of his life, but if it means that his p-days are freed up a little more so he can play chair soccer, he may be fine with it.  :)

I was so surprised at how little it took to calm that sweet missionary mom's heart, how grateful she was to Savannah for making the effort to send those details, and how much more she would have loved to have heard those things from her son!  

I know that words and emotions do not flow freely from everyone the way they do from Savannah or from me, and I certainly wouldn't expect that little elder to write a novel to his mom next week, but I think if we knew how much the smallest signs of life meant to the people who are looking for them, we might be a little more inclined to say a few more words...

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Waiting Gracefully

I'm not very good at waiting for things.  Like not at all.  But you already know that.  

The better the thing I'm waiting for, the greater the desire to just fast forward to the good part where we just get there already and I don't have to wait anymore.  After a lot of years of not staying the course, and not sticking with the plan, though, I think I've learned that not only is that not how it's intended to work, but I'm also pretty sure that there must be a graceful, balanced place somewhere between miserably impatient and infinitely happy.  

I thought today while I waited in my car for McKay to come out of yet another band rehearsal, "If I counted up all the minutes I've spent waiting in my car this year for my kids to come out of their schools, or the church, or wherever else they are, I probably could have an entire extra day."  And then the next thought I had was, "...and what exactly would I do with that extra day?"

So I thought of ways I could make that small waiting period better... 
  • Intentional music.  Sometimes when I know it's not going to be a long trip, I don't bother to connect the Bluetooth and the Spotify.  I connected everything today and just listened to better music.  Life is too short to settle for whatever happens to be on the radio.
  • Blog Posts.  Inspiration strikes in the craziest places.  I know better than to hope it'll still be in my head when I have time to write a complete post.  I've gotten really good lately at texting myself a thought or two that I can turn into something complete later.  
  • Lists.  I'm sort of already a freak about lists, but there's so much to do lately that I feel like I'm constantly forgetting stuff, so I now just keep a giant pad of sticky notes in the car.  
  • Conference Talks.  I have this great and frustrating habit of looking up all these awesome Conference talks on my phone on Sundays when people refer to them in Sacrament or other meetings, and keeping them forever on tabs in Safari so I can go back and read them during the week, but then never going back and actually reading them.  Today, while I was waiting for McKay, I read one! 
  • Texting/Calling/Making Appointments.  Um, I have an iPhone, a planner, a list and five minutes in a car.  Why do I need to wait until I get home to do that stuff?  
  • Being Still.  This one is so much harder.  Sometimes the lists and the phone are such a distraction that I never really stop and just roll down the windows and smell the air (which happened to not be rainy and grey today.
If I can figure out how to make 5 minutes of waiting in a car a little less miserable, then probably I can figure out how to make the next 5 weeks more meaningful and happy, too...and the next five years, and the five years after that, and the five years after that...finemaybe I'll stick with smaller chunks of time... 
"God prepares [us] in a slow-cooker, not in a microwave oven.  More important than the awaited goal is the work God does in us while we wait.  Waiting deepens and matures us, levels our perspective, and broadens our understanding.  Tests of time determine whether we can endure seasons of seemingly unfruitful preparations, and indicate whether we can recognize and seize the opportunities that come our way." - Ben Shockley 

P.S.  This morning I thought about that President Eyring talk where he looked for the hand of the Lord in his day.  And so I took it as instruction to make more of an effort to look for those things in my own life today.  By 3:00, though, I hadn't found anything.  I was pretty frustrated with the day, pretty discouraged at the length of time it was going to take to get to the things I want most, and pretty desperate to get to people I just cannot get to right now.  I hate that feeling...desperate, inconsolable, agonizingly impatient.  It's also a bit of an obstacle in being able to see evidence of the Lord's hand in my life.  But, at 7:30 tonight, I had an appointment with the Bishop to set me apart in my calling as a CSM Photographer.  Since this isn't a ward calling, it's taken a little while to figure out who exactly was supposed to do that, and I've been impatiently wanting to get it done before we move to a new ward.  I think there may have been some divine planning in the timing of that blessing, though, because it could not have been more relevant or perfect for this very day.  Not only did the Bishop include things pertinent to this calling that I've been specifically worried about, but he also mentioned things about this move and this particular time in my life.  He blessed me with organization, with discernment, with the ability to be a light to the people we will meet in Birmingham, and with an added measure of personal peace in this season of waiting.  

I think that qualifies as evidence of the Lord's hand in my life today.   

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Letters from Home

When I emailed Savannah yesterday she sounded a little down.  She said she doesn't typically have bad days, just occasional bad hours, which is amazing for the girl who used to call me from BYU wanting to just camp out in her dorm room for the week and not go to class and lock all of her roommates out!  t think the change in weather, and the change in companions, and being out for 6 months has made her a little more homesick than usual this week.  

I asked her what we could do to help, and she said:
1.  More emails from the whole, um MY SISTERS! 
2.  Not so many updates on wedding and baby announcements from home, please.  I kinda don't want to know about that stuff right now.  It makes me feel like I should be at home planning a wedding or a baby, or something instead of tromping around Austria.  
3.  Pop Tarts
4.  More actual letters
Guess what!  I already had a box of random stuff ready to send right on the dining room table right that very minute, and it actually had Pop Tarts in it, even before she said that, and even before the little hint in that last email.  But it didn't have actual letters in it...well, except for the one from me.  

So for FHE (family home evening) last night, I dragged out my box of cards and stickers and pens and we all wrote letters to Savannah.  Craig even wore his BYU Dad shirt and didn't complain one time about it.  

That box of cards has all of the home made cards that I used to make when I was crafty and did stuff like that, and stuffed in between them, I found this little treasure...

Holy cow, those backwards S's and those goofy little stick people she always drew with the arms coming out of their heads...I can remember those like they happened yesterday!  I might have cried just a tiny bit thinking that when she drew that little picture 100 years ago, who would have ever thought we'd all be sitting around a table in Dallas writing letters to her in Austria?!  My limited perspective now can't even handle the things I know for sure are coming; there is no way I could have handled that thought when I was barely 30!  It's probably a good thing we can only see a few feet into the future.  

Monday, April 25, 2016

A Baptism!

I couldn't even wait till the end of my letter to tell the news, NADINE IS GETTING BAPTIZED!!  For those of you who don't remember the story of how Sister Fast and I found her, or don't know the story, I will tell it again... :) 

So once upon a time, a couple months ago, Sister Fast and I went through our phone and called every single person in our contacts, because we didn't even know half of them!  We scheduled a bunch of appointments and tried to find some new people to teach! (Because we were desperate and starving for investigators at that time.)  Well, this one girl we called, Nadine, said that she had been WAITING for us to call her and that she wanted to meet  in a couple days!  Of course we were so excited, but on the day we were supposed to meet she texted and said she was sick :(  so we rescheduled!  Well, we did this same thing for about 3 weeks.  Every time we made an appointment, she would forget, or she was sick, or something last minute would come up.  I personally felt like after a couple of failed appointments we were wasting our time.  But we didn't give up hope!  We made one last attempt at an appointment, and she came!!  We taught her the Restoration and she said she wanted to be baptized!  We were so excited about that, but then we found out that she had to wait till she was 18 because her parents think that religion is the source of all evil (that doesn't even make sense.)  So we scheduled the baptism for a year and a half from then, and kept pressing forward!

Then Sister Fast was transferred, and Sister Staack came!  We were trying to figure out one day how we could push her to tell her parents that she was meeting with us, because she was keeping it a secret from them.  Then she came to church last Sunday and after she marched up to the bishop (see last week's email for those details) she realized that she needed to tell her parents if she was going to get anywhere with this!  So the next day, Monday, we got a text from her saying that she had prayed that Heavenly Father would soften her parent's hearts, and then she told them!  SHE IS AMAZING!  We didn't even tell her to do any of this!  She already has so much faith!!  Throughout the week we were waiting for daily updates of what her parents were deciding as they thought about it.  On Saturday she said she had some good news for us, but she wanted to tell us in person!  Well, we met her at the church and she said, "They said yes!" and we were like.."yes to meeting with us?" and she said, "No, yes to getting baptized! THEY SAID I COULD GET BAPTIZED!!"  And then we just started jumping up and down and crying and just being so excited for her.  I am so lucky to have met this amazing girl, and to be able to be a part of her conversion experience!  So the official date is May 21!!  Please pray for her that she will continue to progress and work towards that date!  The time in between now and then is where it gets scary and Satan tries everything he can to get in her way!  I am so so so happy.  This is truly a miracle, and an answer to my prayers, and sooo many other people's prayers for this area!  We haven't had a baptism in Graz for over two years!

Well, that was the highlight, so the rest of this email will probably be pretty boring compared to that!!  On Tuesday we had Zone Training, and I was able to train the missionaries in my Zone about what I learned in Munich at MLC a couple weeks ago!  It was super fun :)  After Zone Training we had a celebration as a Zone, because we made our mission baptismal goal for last quarter!  We all did a GIANT tour of the city of Vienna!!  It was sooo fun!  Even though I've already seen most of it, it was still super awesome :)  

The rest of our week we saw countless miracles that I wish I could tell, but it would take FOREVER!  

One in particular that was a little funny, though, happened on Friday. We were visiting a member, and had to quickly take the bus after the appointment to another appointment on the other side of town!  We saw the bus coming, but we weren't quite at the stop yet, so I started running and hoped that the bus driver would see me and wait for us!  Well, he didn't. And the next bus didn't come for another 20 minutes.  So we plopped on the bench and began waiting.  Then all of a sudden this random car pulled up beside us and this lady was like, "Hop in!"  So we did!  When we were in the car, Sister Staack whispered and asked if I knew who this lady was, and I said I didn't.  And then I realized it probably wasn't a good idea to get in the car with strangers.  But OH WELL!  Nothing we could do about it now!  We started talking to her, and she asked us where we needed to go, and she drove us all the way there!  It was awesome!  Unfortunately we didn't really have time to get through all 5 lessons or commit her to be baptized while we had her captive (or I guess while she had us captive) but it was a really awesome little tender mercy. :)

Well that's all I have for today :) Unfortunately we have momentarily lost contact with Matej and Romana, so if you could pray for them too that would be great! 

I just want all of you to know that I KNOW that Heavenly Father knows each and every single one of us personally, and that He really does hear and answer our prayers!  I mean just look at this miracle that has happened!  We prayed for a WHOLE TRANSFER to find someone to baptize, and here is Nadine right in front of our noses!  We will always receive answers.  It just is not always in our own timing!  Sister Fast and I would have LOVED to have a baptism while we were still together, but I guess it just wasn't the right timing.  And now it is! I don't know why things happen the way they do, or how, but I KNOW without a doubt that the Lord is in control of every single part of our lives, and I have seen too many miracles to ever deny my testimony of Heavenly Father, and His son, Jesus Christ.  I LOVE THIS GOSPEL. I don't know where I would be without it!  That's why I'm here!  That's why I'm in Austria, where I can't speak the language very well, and I have no family, no friends from home, no Walmart or Pop Tarts, no American flags, no Oreos. That's why I've chosen to wear a skirt and super uncomfortable tights every single day, and never be seen in sweat pants and a hoodie outside of my apartment for 18 months.  BECAUSE I LOVE THIS GOSPEL!  Because I love the Lord, and I know that I need to be helping people and sharing what has brought me the most happiness in my life. 

I love you all, and I hope you will pray to know for yourself too, if this gospel is true. Add to your fire and pray for a confirmation of your testimony!  Or if you don't have one, pray for one!  IT WORKS...NOT LYING. 

Have a great week!

Liebe Grüße,
Sister Thunell

Sunday, April 24, 2016


Well, I was officially released from all of my callings today.  

I taught my last Gospel Doctrine lesson this afternoon.  Lesson 14 (Enos, Jarom, Omni, and WofM, but seriously, no one expected me to get past Enos, did they...??)  Last week, I had this remarkably calm feeling while I was preparing this lesson.  It was weird and unsettling to feel so calm on a Saturday night.  All I did all week was read those four chapters several times, and then read a couple of relevant conference talks.  I didn't write out every word of my lesson.  I didn't find a million quotes.  I didn't drag a TV or a chalkboard from the library.  I just had my scriptures and a bunch of green sticky notes with all the questions that had occurred to me while I was reading Enos, and that's all I used.  And I had that same remarkably calm feeling all through church this morning and the whole time I taught.  Weird...

This is the quote that kept running through my head...
"You will feel at some time, perhaps at many times, that you cannot do all you feel you must. The heavy weight of your responsibilities will seem too great.  You may feel discouragement and even guilt after you have done all you could to meet all your obligations. I have had such days and such nights. Let me tell you what I have learned.  It is this: I only think of my own performance, my sadness deepens. But when I remember that the Lord promised that His power would go with me, I begin to look for evidence of what He has done in the lives of the people I am to serve. I pray to see with spiritual eyes the effects of His power." - Henry B Eyring
I know that my little calling does not carry the same weight of the callings that President Eyring is referring to, but I think with every calling that you're trying to do well, there is a weight.  And for me, I can turn even the smallest weight into a crushing burden.  What a relief to know that if I stop examining the details of my performance and start looking for the evidence of what the Spirit is doing while I'm teaching, or directing the choir, or taking pictures, or whatever I happen to be called to do, then I'll find a whole lot more to feel confident about.  This whole calling thing isn't really about me.  It's about letting the Spirit work THROUGH me.  Holy cow, that's so hard to figure out how to do, especially when you're a control freak

So that's what I did yesterday.  We just started reading through Enos.  And then I started with the first green sticky note and asked a couple of questions and a couple of hands went up and then more reading, and more questions, and more hands started flying up all over the room...and then people just started answering each other's questions.  And really, after awhile I was just the one standing in the middle directing traffic.  It was pretty awesome.  And I loved it.

If I did what I normally do on a Monday morning, and replayed the whole lesson looking for ways I could have done better, there are definitely things I could find.  For heaven's sake, we didn't even make it through half of Enos!  I didn't ask as many of the questions as I had written down, and I skipped some of the best ones because they just didn't fit with the direction the class was going.  I messed up the momentum with this personal story I felt compelled to share right in the middle.  And there were still those handful of people in the back of the chapel who always look at me like I'm some kind of alien speaking a foreign language.  BUT...there were more than a handful of people fully engaged in that lesson.  There were one or two who contributed this time who have never ever spoken in Gospel Doctrine before.  And there were one or two that I know connected with me and even better, with Enos and with each other and with the Spirit!  And that makes up for all those people in the back...who sort of disappeared after awhile.  

So, here's what I learned this week:

1. Relax! 
2. Stop replaying and examining everything after the lesson is over
3. Have more confidence in what I've prepared because it's enough
4. Invite the Spirit into the lesson and then get the heck out of the way so it can do the work

(not necessarily in that order...)

Oh, wouldn't it have been great to have known all that stuff 6 months ago or a year ago?? or even a couple of lessons before I was released so I could have at least tried it out a couple more times??? How many agonizing Opposition Mondays could have been avoided if I had just had those four little things in my head?  :)

Well, if part of the reason we needed to be stuck in Allen for a few extra months was so that AT&T would go on strike and my GD counterpart would be stuck in Pennsylvania for two weeks and I would be able to hear the Gibbons' talks last week and then feel compelled to teach this Enos lesson for him, and these little life lessons would be forever seared into my head, then it was all worth it, I suppose.  :)

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Grs and Technology

In February when the Grs were here, I sent my father-in-law home with a stack of blue cards so that he could help me do some of the mass amounts of temple work that needs to be done.  I don't know why there are so many more blue cards than pink ones...

This morning I got the sweetest text from him on his way out of the Logan Temple...

I love that with everything else that dear man has to do, he has still felt compelled to go the temple every week and do this work for me that I cannot do myself.  I love that the Grs have iPhones and use them freely and often.  And I love that this man I love so much texted me  these beautiful pictures today from this place I love so much!  

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Rainy Days

All the rain we've had here this week has reminded me of rainy days in Mendon a long time ago and McKay's little boots that he used to wear every day of his life.  

Holy cow, those boots...  

We seriously had to pry them off of his little feet at night.  He wore them everywhere, everyday.  Except to church.  And when they were just too smelly and gross to keep wearing, I had to find another pair of the EXACT same ones on eBay, order them, receive them, and show them that they were EXACTLY the same before he would let us throw the old ones away.  And even after he had the new ones on his feet it was still mildly traumatic to say goodbye to the old ones. :( 

McKay has always been happier outside than inside.  Always.  And although he was blessed with an outdoor kind of a dad, he was not blessed with an outdoor kind of a mom.  I spent most of his preschool days trying to think up creative ways to keep him inside where I could see him.  After several days of continuous rain in the middle of a particularly rainy fall in 2006, though, he had had it with his indoor captivity, so I finally gave in and set him free to play in the puddles.  

I don't know that there's ever been a more gleeful little boy.  

He just splashed...

 and ran...

...and splashed...

...and ran.

 ...every now and then he would stop moving long enough for me to get a decent picture.  

 ...but then he'd run off again.

Eventually he was just too tired to jump and splash anymore... we peeled off all the wet, muddy clothes...

...and left those boots out on the porch to dry...

...and we spent the rest of the day inside snuggled up on the couch reading books and watching Bob the Builder until the girls came home from school.  

Sometimes I miss those Mendon days and that little preschool McKay.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Miracle of the Invisible Dog Hair

So in keeping with my missionary daughter's example, I'm sharing the following faith promoting experience I had today.  It's possible this miracle thing might be contagious... 

I happen to be really, really allergic to dogs...actually to anything with fur...which makes my moppy dream dog kind of a ridiculous thing to wish for, but I'm holding out hope that there's a hypo-allergenic version of him somewhere because I just love that face so much!  

I had a VT appointment scheduled today with the sister who has that giant beautiful dog who happens to be in love with me.  I really like visiting teaching.  And I really like this sister.  I don't know her very well, and I'd like to have the opportunity to get to know her better.  But I can't do that if I'm sneezing my head off because her dog wants to sit in my lap.  

I also happen to stink at remembering the details of people's lives.  I had been trying all morning to remember the name of the camp this sister had gone to with her daughter last month, but I was getting nothing.  And even her daughter's name wasn't sticking in my head.  I had to keep looking it up on my phone.  pitiful...

A couple of years ago when Craig and I flew to Utah for his 25th mission reunion, I was shocked that Elder Andersen was able to remember not just every single missionary's name, but he also remembered every area they had served in and who their companions were.  He also knew where they were currently living, any callings of significance they had held, ALL their spouses' names, all their children's names and where any of their children had received mission calls.  Holy cow!  I remembered thinking then that that must be some kind of spiritual gift he had been given with that calling and he just somehow managed to hang onto it all these years. 

Knowing that I was already working with a few limitations, but really wanting to make an effort to connect with this woman today, I decided to try Savannah's technique of asking for a small miracle...or two.  

Just before I left, I knelt down and prayed for the Gift of Remembering Things so that I could remember the details important in this sister's life.  And I also prayed that my dog friend would be in some other room or that she would at least leave me alone so we wouldn't all be distracted by my constant sniffing and sneezing.  

And then I drove to my VTing appointment.

When she opened the door guess how surprised I was to find that instead of one dog, they now have two!!  hmmm...this was going to be interesting...

The dog that thinks she's married to me sat right next to me just like last time and would NOT let me stop petting her...just like last time.  Every time I moved my hand, she would just stuff her giant furry head back underneath my arm to let me know she was still there.  I was unfazed and unsniffy, though, and just kept asking questions.  I asked my friend about her trip to SKY RANCH with her daughter (whose name I totally remembered!) #MIRACLE  
I also asked about their new little dog, which prompted her 4-yr-old to pick it up and plop it in my lap!  So now I was entirely surrounded by dogs (with fur) and yet still happily and unsniffily carrying on an enjoyable and interesting conversation with this sister who I was learning so much about!  #MIRACLE

By the time I got up to leave, I had spent 30 lovely minutes there not bothered at all by any allergies, I had remembered every detail I needed, and I had asked more questions than I answered!  Yay!  That sweet sister even hugged me before I left!  (That's never happened before!)  And then just before I walked out the door, her little boy screamed, "WAIT!" and came running from the other side of the house to HUG me, too!  #MIRACLE  We sit right in front of this family at church nearly every week and he has never even wanted to make eye contact with me before!  

I left there feeling so grateful for a successful visit, prepared to go straight home and change into some different clothes, but instead took a quick detour to the high school because Emma texted about a dire emergency.  (It wasn't actually all that dire, but every now and then it's good to respond to their calls for help.)  I picked her up, helped her solve her problem, and then drove her back to the high school within about an hour.  As I was pulling out of the parking lot, I happened to look down at my navy blue sweater which was TOTALLY COVERED in dog hair...and realized that I had not sneezed or sniffed or coughed one single time...not once.  #MIRACLE  

So, apparently all of our senses can be coated in the pure love of Christ, there is such a thing as a Spiritual Gift of Remembering Things, and miracles are everywhere! 
"God has not ceased to be a God of miracles. Behold, are not the things that God hath wrought marvelous in our eyes?  Yea, and who can comprehend the marvelous works of God?" - Mormon 9:15-16

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


A few weeks ago, I got a little yellow card in the mail informing me of my upcoming responsibility to participate in JURY DUTY on April 18th.  Craig and several other people I know had received similar cards in the mail weeks before and had each gone through the process of registering online and then calling 24 hours in advance and receiving the notification that they would not be needed.  So I just assumed the same thing would happen with me.  I registered online.  I checked Sunday night.  And my notification said to report at 8:30am Monday morning.  :(  

Honestly, I would have been just fine with Jury Duty had it been scheduled for any other time except Monday morning.  Monday mornings are when I talk to Savannah.  I have a tiny hour long window every week that I get with her, and the thought of having to sacrifice that to sit in a courtroom ruined my entire Sunday night...and everyone else's.  Really.  I was completely unbearable to be around.  

Not knowing what to expect, I emailed Savannah Sunday night to warn her that as of 3:00 Austria time I would probably be unavailable for the rest of the day.  Sometimes she's available earlier in the day or she can split her emailing time, so I hoped some advance notice of my schedule would help.  I woke up at 3:00 to check for any downloaded pictures.  Those are usually the first signs of life we get on Monday mornings.  Nothing.  I woke up and checked again an hour later.  Still nothing.  :(

It's unusual to not hear anything from Savannah by 8:00am on Mondays.  Typically we've already talked to her at least once by then and gotten a few dozen pictures.  But at 8:00 yesterday, there was still nothing.  Craig had taken the kids to school, I was down to 30 desperate minutes left of free time before the rest of my day was sucked up by the Collin County Courthouse, and I was pretty much in a complete state of despair.  I always start there.  I'm not sure why.  Doubt, despair, worry, fear, and tears first.  Then I think to pray.  And then the relief comes.  

I prayed first that Savannah was ok and that nothing had happened to her (because that's also where I always start...rehearsing tragedy) and then I prayed that I would get to hear from her.  And then I started to calm down, and I remembered that I had a jillion things to be grateful for, that even if I didn't get to have an email conversation with Savannah yesterday, I would at the very least get to read her generic email at some point in the day and that would be enough.  And then I prayed to be nicer to Craig who I had been bickering with all weekend, and who has pretty much gotten the very worst of whatever I've had left over after too many long days for the last month.  And then I prayed to be nice to the people I would be stuck in that courthouse with all day because probably they had other places they would rather be, too.  And then I prayed to be able to at least use the time there in some productive manner, and so I remembered to throw my scriptures and my iPad in my bag.  I felt better after the prayer and drove myself to the courthouse.  And I knew it would be fine.  

Typically if I can't see a thing or talk to a person or hear them say the words I think I need to hear, the day wears on and the doubts eventually take over.  But part of the miracle of yesterday was this overwhelming sense of calm and peace that I had throughout the entire day. 

I write to Savannah every day.  Even though it's been crazy busy here and some of the past few days I haven't exactly been at my best, I write to her anyway because I know she reads my emails every night.  I know they lift her and connect her to home, and yesterday morning I knew that even if I didn't get to hear from her this Monday, she had definitely heard from me.  I had told her more than once last week that I was so proud of her, that I loved her, and I had updated her on things that were going on at home. 

The windows are small.  Sometimes they open and then close again so quickly that I can barely even get anything in. But how grateful I am that there are windows at all.  How grateful I am for even the smallest of opportunities for reassurance and details and the connection we both need. 

I sat down in the giant jury holding tank at 9:00 with about 200 other people, and in the 90 minutes we had to wait for the lawyers to decide whether or not they needed us, I used the Collin County Courthouse's free wifi to read the email I had just gotten from Savannah and to have a nice long conversation with her for a little over an hour.  I was mostly uninterrupted except for the little movie they showed on the History of the American Juror and the two rounds of selection lists they read that did not include me.  At 10:30, I was dismissed and thanked for fulfilling my civic responsibility for the next 24 months.  My $6 check should be coming in the mail in 2-4 weeks.  :)

Prayers were answered.  Miracles came in ways I could not have even expected.  I didn't miss a single minute of my window with Savannah.   

What I am sure of after yesterday's handful of miracles is that Heavenly Father is absolutely aware of even the smallest things we need.  He sends answers in the form of miracles, both great and small, that will increase our hope in Him and secure us more fully to Him.  I know that He is nearer to us than we even realize, that He answers every prayer, and that He wants to pour out blessings upon us, not just in a tiny trickle but in a torrential such great quantities that we don't even have buckets big enough to hold them all.  I know that there is absolutely nothing to worry about, that Heavenly Father has every part of this under total control.  I know that this relationship is solidly in tact.  And I know that no matter the distance or the length of time, He's not going to let us miss a thing.  Not one thing.  He hasn't so far.  

Monday, April 18, 2016

"Ye Shall Reap the Rewards of Your Faith"


Another week has come and gone! What a wonderful week full of miracles :) This week was transfers, and Sister Fast is now in München and boy do I miss her!!  We went to Salzburg on Tuesday afternoon to spend the night with the sisters there so we could be to the station on time the next morning for Sister Fast's train!  I LOVE SALZBURG!!  And it was so fun getting to know the sisters there and having a big sleepover party! Wednesday after Sister Fast's train left, I was companions with Sister Hofmockel until my new companion, Sister Staack, came in a couple hours later! Sister Hofmockel is from France and she is SUCH a great missionary! We had a few hours to kill so we went finding along the river in the heart of Salzburg. It was so beautiful!  At one point we felt like we needed to walk down this one random street, so we did and this lady that was walking towards us randomly smiled super huge and said, "Hi sisters!"  We were like, "WOAHH, WAIT! How do you know us??" And we found out that she was a lady in the Salzburg ward who got baptized five years ago and shortly after became inactive!  We got her number and invited her back to church, and she said that she wanted to start coming back regularly!  It was such a miracle!!  There has not been one single day lately where I have not seen a miracle like that!  Heavenly Father is definitely blessing me!!

So Thursday was Sister Staack's first day in Graz, and we had a CRAZY busy schedule!  We had a wonderful lesson with Najla, our recent convert, and then a lunch appointment with a very sweet old lady from our ward, and then that night we had another lesson with our Slovenian couple, Matej and Romana!  I really had the feeling we needed to teach them the law of chastity, but then I started second guessing myself as we got closer and closer to the appointment because this was only going to be our second lesson with them!  I didn't want to scare them away with the law of chastity if we haven't even taught the basics or gotten a real baptismal commitment from them!  So we switched the lesson to the Plan of Salvation and decided that we would only bring up the law of chastity if they asked about it.  Well, the second we sat down Matej says, "So..tell me about this law of chastity you kind of talked about last time."  WHAT!  It turned out to be such a wonderful lesson, and they committed to living the law of chastity!!  It went sooo smoothly, and I've definitely learned my lesson about second guessing spiritual promptings!  They also committed to being baptized!  It was just such an awesome lesson, and we are so blessed to have such golden and solid investigators!!  Speaking of golden investigators, Nadine randomly texted us on Friday saying that she wanted to meet up with us because she wanted us to explain to her exactly how church would go on Sunday.  We asked why, and she said, "Because I'm coming to church on Sunday DUH!"  We were so surprised, and SO HAPPY!  So we took her on a little tour of the church, and taught her a little lesson, and it was just awesome! She's so prepared. :)

Saturday we had a ward service project with a group of refugees from Iran! We built planter boxes for a giant refugee house, so they can grow their own fruits and vegetables! It was AMAZING working with them, and they are so kind and so fun!! The men all did the dirty work, and the women played with the children and cooked TONS of food!!  We were there for about 4 hours, and I made so many new friends!  I can't even explain how great a day it was, but just remember what was said in General Conference: We should be doing all we can to help these refugees, because it wasn't long ago that we were refugees ourselves!!  And if you don't have refugees nearby, then do all you can to serve your neighbors because we are all refugees at some point in our lives from something! 

Sunday, Nadine came to church like she said she would, and she LOVED IT!  After sacrament meeting she marched up to the Bishop and said, "Hello Bishop! I'm Nadine and I want to be baptized. But my parents won't let me be baptized until I'm 18.  Do you know how I could be baptized earlier than that?"  I literally just stood there with my jaw on the floor. She's like the perfect investigator that every missionary hopes to have!!  I just love that girl! 
Then after church we went to Familie Sanders for a delicious dinner, and so many rounds of musical chairs. (haha) It was so fun :)

You know, I think right now the most frustrating thing about being on a mission is that I see SO MANY miracles, and I'm a part of so many amazing things that I just want to be able to tell all of you, but words just can't really describe even 20% of what actually happens during my week!  Especially not in a quick little email!  But I know that this experience is really just between me and my Heavenly Father, and I know that He knows how much I am changing and growing from every single little thing He places in my path!  I was thinking the other day, "Why am I seeing so many miracles and blessings right now? Why do we have three perfect investigators and SO many appointments throughout the week now, when just a couple weeks ago I was feeling like a starving camel in the desert?"  I'm definitely not complaining about it, but I was just wondering why? And then I stumbled upon Alma 32:43 "Ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and your patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you."  Sometimes, in order to get the abundance of miracles and blessings showered upon us, we need to go through the dryness of the deserts!  We need to have faith that Heavenly Father will provide, just maybe not in our timing.  It's hard to see the sunlight through the trials, but if there is one thing that I've learned this week, it's that Heavenly Father really does hear and answer our prayers.  He really does listen, and when we sincerely go to Him for help, He will bless us! 

I challenge you to pray to see the hand of the Lord in your life every day, because when you ask, He will hear, and He WILL show you miracles and the abundance of blessings that you have in your life!! 

Love you all so much :) Schöne Woche! (Have a nice week!)

Liebe Grüße,
Sister Thunell
Last District picture...with mustaches, of course!