Can you believe it's already the week of Christmas!! Oh my goodness it has come so fast. I love Christmas so much!! And this has by far been one of the most magical & special Christmas Seasons I have ever had. Every day has been entirely Christ-filled for me and with that, I have never felt closer to my Savior than I do right now. There is no greater way to celebrate Him than sharing His gospel and bearing testimony of Him to others. I truly cannot even express how happy it makes me doing this and how much stronger I feel His presence in my life while doing so. Even just having Him in our thoughts more consistently and making Him the top priority in our lives, there is such a profound difference. Speaking of this: yesterday at church I pondered over something during sacrament meeting. A sister briefly mentioned this in her talk but it left my mind wandering ... Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in our lives and put Jesus Christ in the back of our mind. It's easy to make up excuses for not reading the scriptures more, praying morning & night, going to all 3 hours of church services, regularly attending the temple, doing home teaching - visiting teaching, doing extra service, etc. and justify our actions. Saying we're super busy doesn't cut it. It's like we are telling the Savior, "I'm sorry but I don't have time for you right now." ... "Lord, I know you suffered & died for me ... I know you paid the price for all my sins and made it possible for me to become a candidate for the Celestial Kingdom but right now, I'm busy and I just don't have time for you at the moment." Can you imagine if the Savior Himself told us He didn't have time for each of us????? Can you imagine Him saying, "I know you are going through a rough time & need me right now but ... I don't have time for you at the moment." Well, fortunately for us that will never be the issue. Christ is & will ALWAYS be there for us. He is CONSTANT, unchanging ... the same yesterday, today & forever. He did indeed pay the price for our sins, pains and weaknesses too. Therefore, shouldn't we ... actually, we MUST make Him a priority - THE priority in our lives and ALWAYS have time for Him. We must set aside specific time for Him each and every day. I believe we even should give ourselves time to sit in peace & ponder over Him every day as well. Again, what a profound & eternally impacting difference that will make in our lives. I can promise you that it will change you & your lives because I have seen it do so in just the past 16 1/2 months of my life. And I will be eternally grateful for that. I love my Savior with all of my heart and will continue to make him the top priority in my life. For He is everything to me in my life. I know Him & He knows me. I love Him with all of my heart & soul.
Now for some UPDATES!!1. The craziest thing happened this past week. So, in our branch we have had Elders & Hermanas ... The Elders cover all of Chico and U.S. Hermanas cover Orland, Hamilton City & Willows. Well, recently we have had a trio for the Elders with one leaving at the beginning of this transfer. So, we were expecting to get a new Elder and drop the trio ... however, something very unexpected happened instead. we got a call from our Zone Leader telling us that the Elders from our branch were packing up & flying home that day. Yes, they received the news that they were being sent home that morning and later that day, they were home. SO crazy. But for how it affects Hermana Cluff & I, we now are taking over their area and covering all of Chico (which is very large) as well. Our area is HUGE!!! We know we can do it and we have been spending a lot of time planning but yeah ... super super crazy. The mission definitely throws random surprises at you sometimes! morning
2. we had such a wonderful night!! We went with Adriana & Waleska to Orland's annual "Avenue of Lights" where you drive through the fair park and see tons & tons of different light arrangements, decorations, a live nativity, Santa Claus etc. ... It incredible & so much fun!! I loved going with Adriana & Waleska because they ate it all up too and I also learned lots of new Christmas words in Español!! But then, what made the night even better, was after that beautiful entertainment, we invited them join us for the baptism the Elders were having. Hermana Cluff was playing the piano & I was conducting for it so we were going no matter what but to our great surprise, they came with us! It was so awesome!! The baptism was for a darling 13 year old named Destiny and it ended up being so so sweet & spiritual. She was super nervous/excited beforehand as well and Adriana noted on how cool it was to see her choose to be baptized. Well, then during the actual ordinance & while a Sister was giving a talk on the Holy Ghost, I noticed Adriana getting touched by the Spirit. She was getting watery eyes and I could just sense it in her countenance. Then after the baptism she even commented on how wonderful & beautiful it was and how it was hard for her to keep the tears back. Adriana is one tough cookie too - not the typical person you'd see get emotional - so this was huge. Also, what made it even better ... was after the baptism we gave them a tour of the church building. Then when we were in the actual chapel, we had a very quiet, sweet & spiritual lesson. We read from Moroni 7 and had a discussion on faith, hope, charity & love and ended it with watching the Mormon Message, "Gordon B. Hinckley: Lessons I Learned as a Boy." I am sure you can all imagine how heart warming & full of love that lesson was. Dad, I can still remember when you first showed me that video. It was after dinner one night and you were talking to us about charity & sharing stories about Grandpa Barth and all of the secret acts of kindness & charity he performed. I remember you getting choked up talking about all of that and to this day, that video brings me so so close to tears. It cannot not send chills up your spine & bring such warmth and peace into your heart. So it did just that to Adriana & Waleska as well. Especially Adriana. It was amazing!!! The spirit was so so strong in the chapel and I know their hearts are touched. Adriana knows all that we are teaching in true. I know it & she knows it. We are getting closer & closer to baptism as well but nothing is set in stone yet. More updates to come! night
3. We have have done a lot of fun Christmas activities this past week. we made gingerbread man cookies with Ana before our lesson and then we had the young women decorate them that nightnight, we made these darling nativity ornaments with la Sociedad de Socorro - Relief Society - and a ton of the Sisters came so that was a great success and then night Hermana Cluff & I, Ana, Mercedes, the Elders & their recent convert Destiny decorated gingerbread houses!! Which was so so much fun. The girls loved it, they all had never decorated them before either, and then the Elders said they were very pleased with their first "young women activity." Haha so that was great. We had an awesome lesson afterwards with them as well and we really emphasized on each of them figuring out what they want to give to Christ this year. Then it was really cute because Mercedes said the closing prayer and listed what she wanted to give Christ. I loved it!! night
4. We had an awesome lesson with Marco this past week as well. He has progressed soo much!! It still is amazing me. He is so much more serious & sincere now during our lessons and I can tell he is coming to truly know that all we are teaching him is true.
5. we had our Christmas Conference with the Chico, Anderson, Redding, Red Bluff & Mount Shasta zones up in Anderson. First off, that was as far north as I have ever been and it was beautiful!!! Wow. It is so so green & lush up there. Even at this time of the year. I loved it so much and love how different of a feel it is being up North by Redding vs. South by Roseville. It almost feels like two different missions. Up farther north it is more of a pine tree, forest, cabin kind of feel. I love it!! But so we had our Conference up there and it was lovely. Also fun fact: each Zone had two musical numbers and Hermana Cluff & I sang with a group from our Zone for one & in a quintet for the other!! Only 5 of us sang and ahhh haha I never thought I would ever do such a thing. In front of such a large amount of missionaries too. But we did it and I loved it. We sang "Away in a Manger" but the primary version and Sister Kimura & I harmonized it. Not going to lie and say I didn't get awfully blushed, which some missionaries even mentioned to me afterwards, haha but I loved participating in it. All of the musical numbers were very beautiful too and they came between the Nativity story that was being told in increments from missionaries. There was definitely a wonderful spirit felt in the chapel. Then after the program, President & Sister Marston spoke which was, of course, very wonderful as well. They are such incredible people and I love them both so much. I know it may sound weird and I am sure many missionaries feel the exact same but I really feel do feel as though I have a special relationship with the both of them too. I just feel so close to them & I can't fully explain it but they just make me feel very very special. I love them so much!!! Also, after the Conference we each got gifts and one was a wooden plaque that has on it a picture of the Sacramento Temple and our mission theme "Invite other to connect to Heaven." It's so special!! It was also a ton of fun visiting with lots of missionaries so I guess you could say I had an enjoyable day!!
6. we had an incredible lesson I want to talk briefly about. We had a lesson with Mercedes, which was on her own request - she texted us asking if we could have one - and our set appointment fell through so we did just that. We had our lesson at the Warmoth's, made some hot chocolate before to keep us warm & cozy and then we read the beautiful Bible account of Christ's birth and watched the Bible video, "Nativity." Wow. What a wonderful lesson it was. The spirit could not have been stronger and it got even thicker as the lesson went on. After we discussed the video & what we read, I bore my testimony of my Savior Jesus Christ and words cannot describe how much I felt while bearing what I treasure most. Every time I bear my testimony, I feel the spirit so so strong in my heart, this time my cheeks got all rosy which often occurs because I feel so much warmth, my heart seems to get a little bit softer & full of love and I just feel my testimony & faith grow even stronger. It is incredible and I have learned how crucial & important it is for us to bear our testimony often. There is such great power to doing so. Also, after I bore my testimony, Hermana Cluff shared hers, Elder Warmoth did so as well while also including an incredible personal story of when the Lord made Himself manifest to him and then Sister Warmoth shared a heart wrenching, emotional and incredible personal life story & testimony as well. I'll have to tell you more about Sister Warmoth's life history one day. Wow. By this time the spirit was strong you couldn't help but feel it completely envelop your body. And many of us were getting teary eyed as well. Also, after we all shared our testimonies ... Mercedes completely opened up to us as well and shared her own testimony and life story. It was amazing. She is truly so so strong and I couldn't feel happier for her. I have seen such growth & progression in that girl since I first arrived here in Orland, she has blossomed an incredible amount and I cannot wait to see where life takes her. We also discussed a lot how the Lord truly is in complete control of our lives and we must trust Him & allow Him to shape and mold us into becoming our true divine potential. Ahhh the lesson, discussion and overall night was so amazing. I will never forget it and something about it being Christmas time made it even more magical. There is no better way to feel the spirit of Christmas or the spirit of Christ than bearing testimony of Him, speaking of Him and striving to be like Him. I love being a missionary and doing this all day every day!!!!!!! There is nothing better!!!!! night Hermana Cluff & I went to a baptism in Chico and I had to translate for it! The father was Hispanic & I translated from English to Spanish, which was a first, also he isn't a member - more pressure - haha no but it was a very fun experience and the baptism was beautiful & super spiritual. Then,
7. Yesterday was an incredible day!! It truly could not have been a more Christ filled & it was so wonderful. We started off our day with personal & companionship study in which we discussed & studied much about our Savior, we went to church early and rehearsed for the Christmas program ... We read the nativity & then for two of the musical numbers, Hermana did a beautiful piano piece on "What Child is This?" & then we sang a trio!! It was supposed to be a duet but Hermana Cluff wanted another soprano to keep her singing in the high key and then I harmonized while singing alto. We sang "Away in a Manger" again, the primary version, and I loved it so much. I have never sang solo parts in front of a crowd of people in my entire life, so that was new haha and although my cheeks got as rosy & red as Santa Claus's, I enjoyed it and felt the spirit super strong while singing. It also took me back to last year when Hermana Piggott & I sang a duet in sacrament meeting to "It Came Upon a Clear." Ohh the best of times. I'm telling you ... I will never sing like this again in my life so I have to take the spontaneous opportunity to do so while I can! But the talks given by the Fairbanks were incredible incredible too and I just felt the spirit oh, so strong throughout the entire meeting. There truly was a special spirit of Christ felt. Then after Sacrament Meeting, Hermana Cluff & I taught a primary class. Oh yeah, we got called to be primary teachers! So we now teach primary class, help with music time in the primary, I am the ward chorister & yeah!! We do a lot with this branch and I love it!!!!!! We get to be so involved, it's the best. But we have the most darling little ones in our class, including my sweetheart Nelida (you would die if you met/saw her - she is the tiniest, sweetest, most loveable & loving thing in the world!!!! I completely light up every time I see her and she gives me the longest, tightest, biggest hugs) ... and today we read the Children's version of the Nativity and then watched the Nativity from the Bible Videos. The kids loved it and I really did feel the spirit while teaching them. There is such a strong spirit felt by being around faithful, innocent & sweet little ones. No wonder the Lord commands us to become as little children. But so that was a lot of fun, then primary - sharing time - was great. Whenever it gets loud I always stand and ask the kids who's house we're in and they'll say, "¡la Casa del Señor!" haha I love it. One little boy complained later though after we asked him to be quiet and he said "it's hard being in the house of the Lord." Haha too good. But then after all of the meetings we had a lesson at the church with Martina & Jorge. We did the Nativity lesson we've been doing as well and at the end we all shared our testimonies of the Savior ... it was absolutely incredible. The spirit was sooo strong in the room and I just felt so so much love & gratitude in my heart. Wow. Martina & Jorge were super emotional too. Especially Jorge. As he was bearing his testimony he could barely speak and then Martina expressed her love & appreciation for us and Jorge couldn't hold the tears back at all. Then he expressed his love & appreciation for us as well and he said, "You Missionaries have done so much, so much for us and have really helped us grow closer to Christ. So thank you thank you. We love you and appreciate you so much." He said this in the most choked up & shaky voice while having tears run down his face. It was so heart warming!! Ahh I loved it. So that was amazing.
8. Real quick, other super awesome miracle/lesson. So after our lesson with the Rodriguez's at the church, we were going to go to our house to finish weekly planning because we didn't get much time for it the other day & hadn't finished (with taking over Chico we have more too plan too) ... our schedule has been a little off but I had the strongest feeling come over me that there was somebody who needed to see us instead. I was even driving to our apartment but couldn't shake off the feeling I had in my gut and I said to Hermana Cluff, "I'm sorry but we can't go back to the place or I will have anxiety ... there is someone we need to see." At the moment I had no idea who that was either but as I was looking through our area book the name, "Marie Cruz" stood out to me. Hermana Cluff & Hermana Briggs had OYMed her while on an exchange a while back so I had never met her but I quickly decided we should try to contact her. Well, we did just that and immediately her & her husband invited us in. We chatted & got to know them a little and then shared with them the wonderful "He is the Gift" video & message. They loved it so much and after that, they trusted us more and completely opened up to us. They told us that José's (the husband) brother was in the hospital and in critical conditions. This then led into many other topics of discussion - parts of the Plan of Salvation, prayer, etc. which they completely ate up as well. They are Catholic too however they thanked us over and over for coming by, they absolutely loved all that we taught & they even happily invited us to come back to share more. We all bore great testimonies of the Savior too and Marie even got super emotional while talking about the Savior & prayer. It was amazing!!! I love them and am so excited to teach them again!!! What a miracle!! So anyways, the Spirit prompted me very strongly to visit them and I am so pleased to know I was in tune with the Spirit and followed those promptings. There is nothing that makes me happier than knowing I was a tool in the Lord's hands.
9. Also, last night we went caroling with our district in Willows and it was wonderful! We Caroled at Maria's house too and although at first her mom opened the door, saw us and shut & locked the door immediately (she still is extremely upset with us) a few minutes later Maria came out and thanked us over & over for coming. She had tears in her eyes & the biggest smile on her face too so that made my heart pretty happy. I love her so much. You really won't find a sweeter human being. She is the ultimate sweetheart.
Okay, well I will end my novel there. But Merry Merry Christmas again to all of you my loved ones!! Can you believe we get to Skype in just a couple of days!?! I can hardly believe it. I am very excited to see all of your beautiful faces!!! Have a wonderful Christmas Eve & Christmas though and make sure to take the time to soak in the true meaning of Christmas. Ponder over our Savior & think of what gift you are giving Him this year. I LOVE OUR SAVIOR!!!!!!!! And I will not only celebrate His birth & life during this time of the year but every day for the rest of my life. I love Him so much. Also, I was recently pondering over when we read about a multitude of Heavenly hosts appearing at Christ's birth, singing & shouting praises to the Lord for the glorious event that was taking place ... and I truly feel as though I was amongst that multitude. That we all were. Or at least I would like to hope we were. Can you even imagine being present at the birth of the Savior of the world??? It's fascinating & very special to ponder over. Okay well again, I love you so much and will see you in a few days!!!!!!!!
I LOVE YOU.