|It's such a blessing to spend Christmas time at Temple Square :) I love serving right next to a temple of God. The spirit is so strong here every single day. You can feel the difference coming onto and off of the square.|
I am really sitting here, staring at the computer in awe. Where do begin, I never know. I have felt the love of Christ for so many people I have met this week. These people will forever be precious and important to me, and I know they are important to our Heavenly Father, because of all the action He took to bring them closer to Him. I love that the attitude of our Savior is not a "catch me if you can," but a "come follow me," (Jesus of Nazareth talk). He doesn't care what hour of the day, what time in life we turn to Him, He just cares that we turn. As a missionary, if I can help others turn to Him sooner, to receive the blessings and the fullness of the joy that comes from the Atonement of Jesus Christ before years of possible heart ache and longing, then I will do all I can. Really though, what happens next depends largely on how we each choose to embrace our Savior, Jesus Christ. The choice is ours.
Last Friday, Sister Taylor and I had a short amount of time on the square before we had our scheduled time for weekly planning. We joked that we wouldn't get to do our weekly planning, because it seems to be that all of our biggest miracles together have been during weekly planning...and sure enough that happened for us again. We were walking on the temple grounds when we walked past 4 scruffy young men, all with tattoos, earrings, hats and sagging pants, along with a young 9-year old girl when we felt prompted to turn back around. Rick, Raymond, Anthony, Rodger and Chloe are their names, and they are all now new investigators of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
None of them knew each other until just a few hours before we had walked into them. They were all traveling separately by a Greyhound bus to different places when their bus broke down in Salt Lake City. They were told that they wouldn't be able to board the bus again until about midnight and felt that they should come to Temple Square. None of them had been here before. They all came from such different walks of life, and yet each of this men were looking for a new start and I think they found it here at Temple Square as the spirit spoke to them. We were with these men for about 2 hours, and I watched as their eyes locked on ours as we testified of the temple, of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ, of Joseph Smith and The Book of Mormon, of praying to know for ourselves.
|At the Christmas devotional! We were so lucky to get to go. If you haven't watched it yet, please do! It was amazing and so different from so many others before!|
I witnessed a miracle happening in each of their lives. For Chloe, the little nine year old girl, her miracle was seeing all the lights come on. She was the one that had felt they should all come to Temple Square. As we were walking, the brilliant lights of Temple Square all came on. She stopped, looked up to me and said, "Is this all for me?" I smiled and said, "yes! Merry Christmas , Chloe!" She said that just a few days before, she had been wondering if God was real, and told God that if He was there, if He really cared about her, she would really like to see some Christmas lights this year. Her family has always really struggled, and she's never been able to see too many lights, but they are her very favorite part of Christmas. You can only imagine the lights that went on in the eyes of this little girl. She may have just seen the lights, but for me I saw a more powerful light--the light that God gives to each and every one of His children when they ask. God lives, and God loves.
For her father Rodger, his miracle was learning that families can be together for eternity. I looked over to him as we spoke by the temple model in the South Visitor's Center. When we showed him the picture of the temple sealing rooms he said, "This is amazing. This gives me a whole new hope for my family." I saw him as he reached down to his young daughter Chloe, pull her over and give her a hug. I knew that he would do anything for his family and now because of the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ, he was realizing that he could.
For Anthony, it was hearing that the gospel of Jesus Christ is simple and that it makes sense. When we first came in contact with him, he had a million questions to ask, all of which were sincere but from more of a researcher's point of view. As we testified to him of the restoration, he was no longer asking--"what kind of proof do you have that this happened?" but rather, "how can I know for myself? This is the most wonderful news if what you have told me is true." He already has begun to read The Book of Mormon, which not only is convincing evidence that Joseph Smith saw what he saw, but also what teaches us of the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ along with the Bible. The Book of Mormon is a personal letter from God to each of His children, including Anthony :)
For Raymond, it was learning that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn't just teach us to do, it teaches us to become, and that was exactly what he was looking for.For Rick, it was seeing the hope in his eyes as we testified to him that God lives and really does hear our prayers. Rick was very quiet throughout our whole time with them. Sister Taylor was talking with Raymond, Rodger, Chloe and Anthony and Rick had taken a few steps to the side. I approached him and asked him about what he thought of everything.
He took off his hat and looking up at me said, "You've given me a lot to think about. This whole time I thought that God just didn't care."
His eyes had completely changed from when we first saw him. He told us that he used to pray as a kid, but stopped because he never heard God answer him.
I asked him, "Rick, in your life when you have been happy or sad, do you remember the words that people said to make you feel that way?"
"No," he responded, "I just remember how I felt. Things like that don't go away."
"Exactly," I said. "God's love for us is so strong, that He doesn't want us to just forget it right away, but He wants it to have a lasting impression on us. Instead of us often hearing His love, we get to feel it, that way, we can always remember that He is there."
Rick's eyes got watery as he said that he thought he could feel it right then. I know that this gospel changes people. I know that is is a gospel of hope, of second chances and of happy endings.
Just a few days later, I had this witnessed to me again as I spoke in a branch for a half-way home here in Salt Lake City. The branch is made up solely of women who have recently been released from prison. It is a place for women who are looking to really make some changes in their life and want to trust in God and the Atonement of Jesus Christ to help them do it. I have never felt the spirit so strongly in my entire life as I did at this meeting. I watched women walk up to us and tell them they were grateful for their time in prison, as it brought them to their knees and brought them to God. One women in specific asked if she could talk with me. She was an older woman who looked like she could have been the Relief Society President! She had such a glow and such a warm light to her, I had no idea she was one of the women that had been released from prison. She told me her story, how she had been in prison for 25 years for several accounts of crimes. She had never been religious, but now, after looking for a change in her life, she knew that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was Christ's true church on the earth again today. She said, "I wanted to change, and this is the only gospel that really did it. I thought I had nothing that I could give to God, but instead I gave Him my heart. Instead, I thought of what I could give up to come to know Him, and He gave me everything and more."
I realized then so powerfully, unlike any time in my life before, the importance of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We are the ones He died for, each and every one of us. He saw something in us that we couldn't see in ourselves.
Rodger, Chloe, Anthony, Raymond, Rick and this woman all taught me so very much this week. It is true what Sister Wixom says, "What happens next depends largely on how we embrace our Savior, Jesus Christ."
We were also very blessed to have an Apostle of Jesus Christ attend our Sacrament meeting on Sunday. After he left, I went back and read his talk from General Conference, and I would like to echo his words to each of you today, "We must always remember that we do not save ourselves. We are all liberated by the love, grace and atoning sacrifice of the Savior."
Always embrace the Savior, for in His arms, in His light, in His love, there is hope not just awaiting us at the end, but pulling us through every corner.
|Yayyy, Sister Orfila from Brasil made us all brigadero (Bry---not sure how to spell it, casey---I ate extra just for you!)|
P.S. Good luck with finals everyone!
SHOUTOUTS: Mom, Dad, Grandma Jeanie & Grandfather, Bryan & Casey, Jack, Carol, Marnie & Jeremy Briggs, Hermana Stanley, Alyssa Lamprecht ( I contacted your referral, she is amazing! Thank you so so very much!), Ashley Solosko, Courtney King, Stephanie, Sister Taylor's wonderful friends who came up to see us, Corbin Sterling, Eric Turner (congrats on the engagement!!!), Becca Hallerman and Lauren Miner :)
|Look at our fun Christmas tree surrounded with fun gifts from my parents! Thanks Mom & Dad!|