Dearest family, 

thank you so much for the family history stories!! but wow…super intense and graphic with the indians. yikes. sidenote: i’ve been thinking about how i want to relearn spanish and french and keep up my russian and dun dun dun DUN! learn swedish, too. so i will learn swedish lullabies and sing them to my sweet avenlea and siena.
and mama-thank you for sharing that thought from ben’s talk–that was really powerful and made a big impact on me.
soooo….this week was crazy.
we got stood up quite a bit. and my dearrrrrrrest karina who was supposed to be baptized august 24th…then she had a new date for october 26th and on saturday we reviewed all of the interview questions and she was so so ready and i fasted for her on sunday and then we found out that she still needs to figure out things with her boyfriend and she’s going to wait until after their trip to holland together. honestly my heart broke and it was really hard—of course i dreamed of being there but it’s not about that. it just broke my heart because i’m scared that she keeps letting her fears hinder her and she needs to take that step of faith and i don’t want her to just keep pushing it back–the more we push away the Spirit, the less often He comes. BUT i still have so much faith in Karina. She is strong. and she is ready. mannnnn do i love her. i could never express how much i love my karina.
so anyways, sacrament meeting was a little rough but then we started teaching this girl named elena two weeks ago and she couldn’t come to sacrament meeting but came for sunday school and relief society and she is my new best friend! and she loved church! and after relief society, the door opened and there stood my NASTYA!!! she moved and is now in a different ward and since last week was general conference, yesterday was her first day in her new ward. it’s like sending my child to her first day of kindergarden. i worried about her and hoped the teachers would be nice and that she’d make new friends haha but i was SO happy to see her. she’s so cute and came straight after her ward and then she helped us with our lesson with elena about the book of mormon. it was so wonderful!! and elena asked nastya if she was in our ward and nastya said no and elena asked why she had come and nastya looked at me and smiled and said, “because i just really love sister hawkins” it was the sweetest ever.
tonight we’re having family home evening at our senior couple’s, the millars, and elena is coming and my other new best friend dasha is, too! i can’t wait. i met dasha on the metro on friday. her mother is a stewardess and she’s been all over the world! she’s been to california dozens of times and went to bali this summer!!! i told her that bali is my dream and that it was my mama’s dream for one of her children to be a stewardess or a pilot and that’s why she had 5–to make the odds better. but unfortunately, we so far have all failed her. blake! you’re our last hope! haha
i called dasha last night to invite her to fhe and she said she was SO excited and couldn’t wait and that she had wanted to call me but thought that I should be the first to call hahaha it was so cute. i told her she’s my new best friend and i can’t wait to introduce her to all of our other friends. woohooooo!!!!!!!
i’m feeling very strange. to be honest. but your love and support means a lot to me and i know everything will be great. prayyyyyyyy for me!!!

HAAAAAAPPPPPPPPPPPPYYYYYYYY BIRTHDAYYYYYY to the best dad in the whole wide world. your present will be coming to you in the mail relatively soon. it’s me.

actually real life side note–if anyone wants a souvenir, now is the time to put in your order. i have no idea what to get anyone.
but back to my ode to my father. dad. you are the best. and i am SO honored to be your daughter. thank you for being the kind of earthly father that teaches me about and reflects the love of my Heavenly Father. thank you for loving God and mom and us. thank you for teaching us to appreciate good music (from led zepelin to barbara streisand. gotta love barbara). thank you for coming to my soccer games and all daddy daughter activities. thank you for instilling in us incredible dance moves. thank you for playing “giant squid” with us when we were little. thank you for honoring your mother and holding grandma’s hand when we’d walk to the park. thank you for always listening. thank you for being worthy–thank you for being the patriarch of our home and teaching us about Jesus Christ. thank you for serving honorably as a missionary in bolivia. thank you for giving us priesthood blessings. thank you for holding my hand in the temple. thank you for doing your home teaching. thank you for fulfilling all of your callings. thank you for saying personal prayers–i never realized how sacred those memories would be to me now when i would walk into your room and see you kneeling by your bed. thank you for being kind and patient with mom and kissing her in front of us. i am the luckiest girl in the world to have a dad like you and i love you soooo much! 
i got your letters! mom, dad, blake and jess. dad–thank you so much for sharing stories from your mission!! why have you been holding back?! keep them coming and expect me to nag you about it everyday when i am home. i love hearing about your experiences! and your humble, simple testimony you shared when others were trying to argue helped me to be patient and calm on the phone last night when this lady wanted to tell me all the reasons i’m not really helping anyone and that what i’m doing “just isn’t right.” i wanted to pull a Hot Rod and say, “no i heard what you said, it was just really mean” but instead, i wanted to be like my dad and so i waited and at the end i just bore my simple testimony and wished her the best.
blake–your “dearelder” in response to nicole’s questions was the best!! like nicole said, you are so mature and wise and i am so proud of you! not only because you listen to fleet foxes and mumford and sons instead of katy perry, but also because you say prayers in your head when you feel tempted to make a wrong choice. you have no idea how proud of you i am!! and i read 2 nephi 32 in your honor 🙂 i’m so sorry that you are sick and i hope you feel better soon and get to spend some time with grandma! send her my love and adoration.
mama–you crack me up. i love picturing you lifting up your students over the rocks. how symbolic….
anyways, this week was sublime and conference was the icing on the cake. in between sessions, i asked my dear friend elder naylor to give me a blessing because the thought kept coming into my mind that i needed one and i know that such thoughts are not my own. i felt the power of God so strongly as Elder Naylor laid his hands on my head and spoke His words. i was flooded with comfort and reassurance and direction and revelation as to how i can be better. and i have such a strong testimony of the priesthood! i can never deny that it is the power of God restored through a prophet. these last few weeks, sister tolbert and i have been focusing on being more bold. and obviously elder naylor had no idea. and i almost laughed when half way through the blessing, he blessed me with boldness! and counseled me that such boldness needed to be through gentleness and love and charity and kindness. i thought of these words again as i listened to elder soares’ talk about meekness. I met him by the way! elder soares came to our mission and spoke to us in july and it was awesome!
ahhhh i loved conference so much and was so edified and in between sessions on sunday, we met with karina who is preparing to be baptized, and lada helped us (who was baptized the end of august). as we sat down, karina said, “i need help. this whole ‘revelation’ thing just isn’t working out for me..” i was delighted to tell her that serendipitously enough, that was what we had planned to speak about that very moment. we helped her realize that the Spirit teaches us truth so much more simply than we expect. we read in john when it talks about the Spirit teaching us truth and bringing things to our remembrance and then in galations 5 when it talks about how the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, charity, patience, etc. and then we asked if Karina felt any of those feelings as she read the Book of Mormon…we asked her if the Book of Mormon helped her develop those qualities in herself. and she said yes. and we asked her what she thinks the Spirit is telling her. she was so surprised as to how simple it really is. but the Lord delights in plainness. His plan for our happiness is so simple. We just have to listen to His Spirit and heed all that is good, and ask for Him to give us the strength to follow His Son. and that’s it! woo hooo!
i love you my family! and i hope you have a happy week!

My family!!! i really love you. and each monday is like christmas, hearing your words. you have no idea how much you inspire me and uplift me each week. this morning i woke up with a ton of energy and obviously i am always always happy but today i am just ELATED! and i don’t even know why. probably because i’m a missionary and it’s the best. and this week was miraculous! and i was already in such a good mood, so much so that i was a little strrrrranger than usual haha and then sister carver called me and told me about our flights together!!! now i am drunken with happiness. but in a sober way. in a quiet dignified way hahaha. 

so i said that this week was a week of miracles. and that is the truth. and actually yesterday i bore my testimony in sacrament meeting and shared an experience i had about a year ago when i realized that i believed in miracles…of course. i believed in the miracles in the bible–i really believed that Moses parted the red sea and that daniel spent the night with lions. and in the book of mormon. i really believed that angels appeared to nephi and to his brothers…and to alma the younger and many others. I of course believed that Christ was born to the virgin mary and that miracle started His life of miracles which climaxed with the greatest miracle there ever was–His resurrection. And i believed in miracles in the lives of others….when other missionaries would share stories about the last door in their last 20 minutes of knocking and that person had prayed earlier that day etc. etc. I always believed in such miracles. But then i realized that I, myself, didn’t really expect miracles to happen for me. and that haunted me. and i decided to change. and i worked at it–I worked at building my faith and focusing on noticing the miracles that were all around me and expecting them to continue. and then yesterday i bore my testimony about my absolute certainty that God lives. and He is a God of miracles. And this last year I have been overwhelmed with the reality of what that really means. Of the reality that the same spirit of revelation that gave Moses the power to part the red sea is amongst us and tells us in our minds and in our hearts what we should do (D&C 8:2-3). and the reality that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. the reality that He is aware of me, Sister Hawkins, in Moscow Russia amongst millions of people, and He hears and answers my prayers. And this last week I was just inundated with the Spirit witnessing to me that I am a part of this–I am a part of this work of miracles. And the mercy of God just made my eyes fill with tears and my jaw drop and my knees a little weak and my heart very very full. I will share one such experience:
On tuesday morning/afternoon sister tolbert and I were booking it to the metro and we were about to turn the corner and enter, when sister tolbert reminded me of our new goal we had just made the night before. we had discussed how we could improve and we realized that we live really realllllly close to the metro and it’s hectic and there are TONS of people and they are all in a mega hurry and we are, too, and so usually, we just run across the street and push through the herds into the metro and then we have a goal to talk to someone on each leg on the metro ride to wherever we’re going. But we want to be better and we decided that we could plan better an dgive ourselves more time so we wouldn’t have to always be booking it to the metro. and even though the crowd is daunting and everyone is in a hurry–we pass tons of people everyday who need to know what we know and so we made a goal to talk to someone on our way to the metro every day and from the metro to the church or to wherever we’re going. but we totally forgot about it and had been caught up in the rush, when sister tolbert reminded me. and she’s just an angel. and so so inspired. and makes me want to be a better person everyday. and i will especially forever me indebted to her for this moment–for this moment of memory. And so I said, “oh yeah!! well it’s not too late!” and then a woman turned the corner, and sister tolbert said, “let’s talk to her.” so we asked this woman if we could ask her a question. Her name is natasha and she later told us that when we asked her, she assumed that we were lost and needed directions and she wasn’t expecting anything different and just wanted to help. we assured her, that she indeed helped!!! we told her that we were missionaries here with a message about God and then honestly, i don’t remember what happened from there. it’s all a blur. such a beautiful blur! but the next thing we knew, we were testifying about the reality of God and the reality of prayer, and her countenance changed. I will never forget her hood of fur and her piercing light blue eyes. oohhh how i love the Russian blue eyes. Natasha totally opened up to us and i think some of the most powerful moments as a missionary are when people say, “you know, I usually don’t just talk to people on the street” or “I’ve never told anyone this before, but..” or “I don’t know why I’m telling you this, but…” and such was the case with Natasha. She shared with us the questions of her soul. she said she usually fights tears, but she let them come as she told me that I looked so much like her daughter who died 5 years ago at the age of 18. I also let them come. we talked a lot about the Plan of Salvation and she just kept thanking us…in awe of the fact that we are two young girls who came to Russia to help people strengthen their relationship they have with God. 
i once again, thought about all the ways that i was prepared to come on a mission. and in that moment it seemed like my entire existence was for this woman. that i lived just to help Natasha…to help her feel the Spirit and to find peace. It even seemed to me, in that moment, that brian and mindy met and fell in love and got married and started a family and the way their genes combined to make me…and the way i look…is just so that i could look like Natasha’s daughter….so that I could remind Natasha of her and that it would soften her heart and so that she would listen to the very precious message that I shared–so that she could know that the sting of death is swallowed up in the victory of Christ! He broke those chains and He opened the gate. That He lives! and that means that Natasha’s daughter lives, too! death is not the end. and their family will be reunited and they can live together forever. 
we talked to natasha for 30 minutes and we were very late to our district meeting, but obviously, that wasn’t even remotely important. i walked hugged natasha and walked away, physically trembling because i was so full of the Spirit of God and so in awe of His mercy and grace, His kindness…..I just couldn’t believe He would bless me with such a miracle, that He would trust me with something so sacred. I will never ever forget that experience. 
And honestly, I have such experiences every day. Because we pray and ask the Lord for His guidance, and He surely does guide us. and it is so beautiful and so sacred and I am so so grateful. I am so so honored. and I know that there are miracles all around us, every day, and we just have to open our eyes and seek them and create them. I was so touched by Nicole’s story from last week about dancing with Christina. Because I was reminded that the same Spirit that dwells with her, dwells with me. And it made me feel so close to my nicky, even though she is on the other side of the world in Argentina. We are both blessed by the mercy of the Lord every day. And i’m so happy for her. and for myself, haha. this is euphoria i tell you. this is the work of God on the earth.
i am SO SO excited for general conference. and whenever this thought comes into my mind, i just have to shout it out loud in that very minute. except right now i can’t because i’m in a library. but anyways, we’ll be watching it..not this weekend but hopefully the next. probably part in english and part in russian. and we’ll hopefully watch the relief society broadcast, but i’m not sure…i’ve never been in moscow for conference so i don’t know how it’s done. but anyways, family–you should read this talk from october 1992 conference called “becoming wise unto salvation” in order to prepare for conference. it’s awesome.
 
speaking of general conference, my precious Nastya who was baptized a few weeks ago gave a talk this sunday and the theme was, “The Soul”. intense. i know. but it was the most beautiful talk i’ve ever heard. i was entranced! and the Spirit was so strong. i was just in awe watching her flip through her scriptures with post-its and hand-written notes and watching her cross reference and analyze scripture and testify. as always, i learned so much from her. ahhh i love her so much!! i can’t even explain it.
 
this week we went to lipetsk and voronezh and they are the farthest cities we go to and they are south and thus should be warmer but NOPE! it snowed in voronezh. snowed in september! it was comical. we obviously were not prepared for such weather and we were on the streets allllll day with such strong winds, our umbrellas were useless and snow was just swirling about us and when frozen, it is even harder to speak russian but all of these elements just made it hilarious to me for some reason i just couldn’t stop laughing. the sister i was on a split with didn’t appreciate it when my laughter proceeded her slipping into some icy mud hahahhaha such good times. nothing can rain (or snow) on my parade!
 
also, i forgot to tell you that when i went to a russian ballet in the kremlin on red square a few weeks ago, it was the best thing that has ever happened to me! it was so beautiful. i’ve never seen anything like it. i realized it was my first real ballet. and it was in russia. i’m pretty lucky to say the least!!! and i was “bewitched body and soul”. mesmorized. but maybe it was a bad thing because afterwards, i was trying to understand this feeling i was feeling and i realized that watching a russian ballet made me feel the same way as when i’m in love! hahahah so that was probably distracting to the work. but what was beneficial to the work was that it made me feel like i could fly and do anything. it was awesome.
 
sister tolbert and i prayed and planned a lot and decided on what our training was going to be on for this transfer when we go visit the other sisters. we start off by reading the scripture, “many are called but few are chosen. and why are they not chosen?” but we change the words to, “and why ARE they chosen??” and relating it to us. why were we chosen and blessed enough to be here in our mosssst beloved Russia. at THIS time? and then we have one companion tell the other why she thinks she was chosen–because it’s so much easier to see it in someone else than in yourself. and then i read one of my favorite favorite quotes: “fear of the unknown or fear that we don’t have the scriptural skills or language required (and i would add–or that we don’t fit the ‘perfect missionary’ mold–which is arbitrary by the way) can cause reluctance to serve. But the Lord has said, ‘if ye are prepared ye shall not fear.’ Your life is your preparation…just go and be yourself” Robert D. Hales. And then we pulled that last part apart. firstly: just go and be yourself. sister tolbert’s trainer told her that she worked her entire mission to be someone she could be after her mission. and her trainer was 100% herself and not your “typical missionary” but she was awesome. and so often we feel like we have to be perfect and we stress out so much and then what? we go home and sigh in relief as we take our tags off and put on our jeans and say, “Finally i can be myself!” that’s sooo sad and that’s not what it should be like. as missionaries we are set apart to a higher standard. a more strict way of life. a higher plane of thought, speech, and behavior. and i cannot simply be “erica.” But “sister hawkins” can help “erica” be her better best self. but i’m still myself. if that makes sense.
we talked about joseph smith and how we was called to be a prophet and to restore Christ’s church, but he would run around with the kids and play games. he was himself. and that’s why WE were chosen–to be ourselves. to use our personalities and our spiritual gifts to connect with these people and help them be their better selves. but then there might be the question–well who am i? ha. zoolander. “i don’t know….i guess i have a lot left to ponder”. that was assignment one. to ponder about who we really really are and why WE, personally, were chosen to come HERE. and the next assignment goes along with the other part of that quote: “your life is your preparation.” In “the 4th missionary” it talks about how we are the sum total of everything we have seen, heard, thought, said, and done. and we will be the sum total of everything we will see, hear, think, say, and do. the Lord has been preparing us for THIS for a long time. once again, I thought about the “Work of Salvation” video when it had that video and the song, “I hope they call me on a mission” is playing in the background and it shows children in primary and throughout their lives and their spiritual growth and life experiences that lead up to their missions. so we tell the sisters to think about their own version of such a video–think about your life from sunbeams to seminary to now. think about your family and friends and relationships and jobs and education and experiences that lead you HERE. and write down  some of these experiences that prepared you for this.
so i took my own challenge and started to do this. i started by answering zoolander’s question, “who am I?” and thinking about why I was called–what i have to offer. and i started writing about things that prepared me for what i have experiences here. I didn’t get very far because I started with: “my mom” and wrote about things you taught me, mom, and the example you are to me, and obviously started balling. and honestly, this will be an infinite endeavor. because though i had no idea, i really have been preparing for this my whole life–my life is my preparation. there are so many sacred experiences that solidified my faith and my conversion that changed everything for me. and then there are silly things like, my love for snickers (they have kind size here called Super Snickers that are way more delicious than any snickers in america and do you think it’s a coincidence that it”s been my favorite candy for a long time? i think not.). also my ability to sleep anywhere and through anything.also, not tooo long ago i found out regina spektor is russian. i had no idea and had been listening to her music a lot before i came–secretly preparing to go to her country. also, i found out the really annoying song, “Maya Hee Maya Ho” is in russian. i thought it was alien language. and who knew that i was singing along to russian words at stake dances for yeeeears.
but anyways, this is quite the novel. just wanted to share these things that i’ve been thinking about. i’m soooo infinitely grateful for this time here. it’s the most treasured gift the Lord could have given me. i love you very very much.

dearest family, 

first off, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY PRECIOUS BLAKE!!!!!! i know that boys probably don’t like being called precious, but that’s what you are and i will never call you anything else. blake, i can’t imagine our lives and our family without you. actually i can–those first ten years of my life were the dark days. then you were born and brought so much laughter and love and i miss your big blue eyes and eye lashes and i hope you’ll still let me hold your hand always. you’re my best friend and i can’t wait to go on adventures just you and me.
also, happy birthday to troy! i forgot to sing to him when he was here. it was pretty surreal having a part of my world in my other world, if that makes sense. it made me realize i desperately i want to show EVERYONE my russia, especially my family. he gave me a lot of advice and helped soooo much bringing us christmas and bringing home christmas. thank you soooooooooo much for sending all that stuff with him! it was so so sweet! and i made the chocolate chip cookies this morning because we have a little “game’ with our neighbors. one time at night our door bell rang while i was on the phone with my district leader and obviously i hearts stopped. hearing the doorbell ring is one of the scariest sounds ever. and it’s super forbidden to answer the door for ANYONE! except a fireman. so i just started whispering on the phone and asked elder hermansen, “what do i do?!? should i call looba? (the legal representative)” and he was like, “I don’t know” . not helpful. so i looked through the peep hole and much to my horror, it was a man! around our age! but then i think he could tell i was right by the door and so he said, “it’s your neighbor!” and i said, “oh okay…well i’m not allowed to open the door, what do you need?” and he was like, “i wanted to tell you there’s a new lock on the door to our hallway and so if you want you can borrow my key and make a copy of it” i said okay and then realized i’d have to open the door so i did and was kind of embarrassed haha because we had ignored the door bell for awhile and hid in our rooms haha and i was obviously wearing my genie pants but he was super nice and handed me the key and then asked if i knew his wife and baby and i said no and then he poked his head in his apt and brought them out and the wife was so sweet and their baby was adorable. the next day we made a copy of the key and we decided to make them zucchini bread (one of our specialties. we are famous for it. thanks mom) and so we brought them both over. then the next night there was another door bell ring and i looked through the peephole and saw the adorable family standing there and the wife had a plate of homemade jam-filled croissants! soooo sweet! now we have to give the plate back, but it’s super forbidden to return an empty plate or tubberware or anything of the like, according to russian tradition. so the cookies will be perfect! thank you so much! i just hope they then don’t feel then obligated to make us something haha gift-giving is serious business in russia.
ohhhh my russia. i love her. i also love my new companion, sister tolbert. she’s quarky and adorable and a ballerina and should be a jcrew model and she LOVES the work. i feel bad for her because this is her first time serving in moscow and i remember how overwhelmed i was when i first moved here and how strange it was to say “ward” instead of “branch” and “bishop” instead of “branch president” and to come on sundays realizing that you weren’t in charge of everything and trying to study the area book and realizing there was no way you could memorize everyone’s names after the first sunday…. that you wouldn’t be asked to speak every other week and that you probably wouldn’t be teaching relief society and maybe primary and sunday school too. it’s a totally different world and sometimes you feel like you’re not as needed. BUT i’m trying to help sister tolbert fall in love with moscow because i have big time…i’m head over heals and it’s all because of the people here my goodness i love them!!! and now the city itself is stealing my heart more and more. i am so very very happy. and we saw so many miracles this week! our dear lada who was baptized a few weeks ago is on fire and she said she was at the computer store and the man working there helping her was so kind and she felt the Spirit burning inside her and she wanted to share the Gospel with him but she was too scared. Then he offered to walk her and her mother home because she lived really close and it was really heavy and as they walked, he asked permission to light a cigarette, which is super rare and she was even more impressed by his politeness and said, “this is my chance!” and asked him if he wanted to quit and talked about how the Lord wants us to be healthy and happy and that God would help him find the strength to do it and then she told him about the missionaries and he was soooo confused as to why there would be people who would want to help him, for free. but she got his number and told him she’d give it to the elders and she told us how happy it made her and showed us the victory dance she did afterwards! haha she’s the cutest. and i told her that that’s the same dance i do after most of our lessons or awesome conversations on the street. she said that earlier she didn’t really understand why we were so happy at her baptism–but she just thought it was nice. but she says that now she understands! and she testified of the unique joy that just filled her and how she could hardly sleep because she was so excited to see the elders on sunday and give them the number. 
i was the same way. i remember reading the verse, “inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my bretheren, ye have done it unto me” and i understood it to mean that when we serve man, we serve God and when we offend man, we offend God, but i never, until i experienced it for myself as a missionary, understood the reality and depth of what that means. when husbands make their wives cry, they make God cry. and vice versa. And the more we, as disciples of Christ, become like Him, the more we experience that. When i see someone suffering, i really ache and suffer as well. But when i see a child of God show kindness and mercy to another, i feel way happier than when they do it to me personally. and when those i love are successful and happy and are learning and growing and rejoicing, boy do i sing the hallelujahs! compassion is such an incredible experience. the word “vicarious” has taken a whole new meaning for me. 
anyways, 
love you! have a wonderful week! 
p.s. lada is also my soul sister because we were talking and she was like, “sister hawkins, I found the most beautiful song. i just listen to it and read the lyrics over and over and it makes me cry!” and i said, “what song is it?” and she was like, “It’s called, “i was here” by beyonce” hahhahahhahahahahahhahahaaaa i accidentally started belting it on the street with her. it’s more than ever my theme song. hahahah i love lada so much.
AND nastya (who was baptized two weeks ago) came back from italy and told me that when she was there she found a ward to go to in Florence on sunday! i feel like a proud mama. so proud of my lada and nastya who earnestly take notes throughout sacrament meeting and are anxiously preparing to go to the temple. AHHHHHHHHHHHH i am so so happy
 

 

My family! as usual, i am either cracking up or sobbing reading your emails–pretty sure the people in the library must think i am bipolar hah i just remembered when i had my interview with my bishop at byu for my mission and i balled the whole time and he told mom he’s worried i suffer from emotional problems hahahhahahahaha i swear i don’t! but members of our ward might not say the same. we found out on friday night that sister carver is being transferred and going to smolensk which is about a 6 hour train ride away. luckily, it’s one of our areas so i will get to come visit! but it was so hard to find that out–especially because i had had a feeling this last week that i was the one leaving so i had been preparing myself mentally/emotionally and she wasn’t at all! and i just feel guilty almost, that i get to stay. i totally lost it yesterday watching her say goobye to the members. our mission president was visiting our ward yesterday so it was probably awkward for him hahah. but i think it just hasn’t really hit me yet that i’m not going to be with my sister carver 24/7 anymore. but it comforts me to know that we will be best friends forever. and my new companion is incredible–which almost makes it worse because everyone who finds out sister carver is leaving is devastated, but then they find out sister tolbert is coming and they sing the hallelujahs and victory dance which doesn’t exactly make sister carver want to do the victory dance. 

anyways, she will be incredible in smolensk and i”m really happy for her. we have been through soooooo much together, it’s out of control. and i’m still in denial that this will be my last transfer. breaks my heart.
this week was verrry busy–we did two splits and i was able to go back to podolsk (which originally wasn’t one of our areas). it felt so good to come home and i am so happy that i feel just as much at home in ryazan and in podolsk and in moscow and in laguna niguel…..and provo and peru and ireland haha. but it was so touching when this lady I taught (i don’t know if you remember me talking about her, but her name is Hope)…she walked into the branch and she started crying as we embraced. we talked for awhile and had a lesson, and unfortunately, she’s drifted quite a bit and has lost a hunger for truth. but i will never forget everything i learned from her and the Spirit I felt as I taught her, and hopefully she won’t either. she started crying again as we said goodbye and told me that I am a daughter to her. it was one of those moments i will never forget. i also got to see our little natasha who is 15 and preparing for baptism. she is so shy and sweet but we were able to open her up a little bit. and mayyyyyybe we had a dance party to efy music. maybe.
like dad said, it has been verrrry rainy in moscow. poor troy. but tonight we have a culture night and i am going to my first russian ballet!!! dream come true! i can’t wait! it will be the perfect way to say goodbye to my sister carver. and the next few days will be crazy because president asked sister carver and i to accompany the assistants and do orientation with the new greenie babies that are coming tomorrow and we will be giving them training and taking them our contacting and sister carver and i are going to make them cookies and tell them about the miracles we’ve seen and we get to sleep over with them and do studies with them and i can’t wait to just absorb as much of their energy as i can and try to help them absorb my love for this country as much as they can. 
also. remember lada? the miracle woman who fell into our laps and was baptized the week before nastya was? so her mom is from ryazan, i think i mentioned, and came to her baptism. then i hooked her up with the missionaries in ryazan when she went back and after the first lesson with the elders, she agreed to be baptized! sooooo exciting! she started the Book of Mormon that day and is already in 2 Nephi and will be baptized October 5th. she came to visit Lada this weekend and so she came to our ward on sunday and we met with her and lada after church. It’s literally deja vu because we just taught Lada the Gospel of Jesus Christ three weeks ago (more like, reviewed it…she knows everything), and then we got to watch Lada share the same scriptures we shared with her, and she bore her testimony to her mom and when I asked Lada’s mom, Loodmeela, what she was going to do tomorrow (which is now today), she said, “family history!” they are already preparing to go to the temple together. i obviously have no words to express what it feels like to be a part of all this…to be a part of the salvation of souls. maybe i do have the emotional problems haha because i am crying as i write this. but i just want to thank you, my family and all of my friends and loved ones. for teaching me and preparing me for this. and for praying for me. i am SO so so happy. and it is my DREAM to be in the kiev temple with lada and her mother and i know that dreams come true. wooohhooooo have a great week!
SO i can’t send pictures from nastya’s baptism but let me just tell you, it was one of the most sacred experiences of my life–just the Spirit there. I literally can’t even imagine my wedding day because i don’t think anything could be happier than this day–the day of nastya’s baptism! she received the Holy Ghost yesterday and left today for italy for ten days and my heart definitely broke into a million pieces saying goodbye to her yesterday because she comes back two days after the transfer and who knows where i’ll be. honestly it’s not real to me at all that in a week, i will begin my last transfer as a full-time representative of the Lord in russia. it fills my whole body with kind of an ache. and transfers are always a surprise, but this time it’s just so weird that MAYBE yesterday i just said goodbye to someone who has changed my life forever or MAYBE i’ll see her in 10 days. MAYBE i’ll see troy simmons at church a week from sunday and i’ll translate the meetings for him, or MAYBE he’ll just meet sister carver without me. so so strange.
 
but i was so touched my our little nicky’s email, and SO proud to read about her via that other sister missionary. i am so so jealous that that sister gets to be with MY sister. nicole, i want to be you when i grow up. i wish you could be my trainer. i’m so excited to hear what’s going to happen to you and who your next companion will be.
 
yesterday in relief society, the lesson was in unity and we talked about unity in the moscow stake and in the arbatski ward and in our relief society and then in our families. I raised my hand and told about the power of prayer. I unexpectedly got a little emotional as I testified about the reality of prayer and it’s ability to unify and bind us as families. I talked about how though i’m on the polar opposite side of the world, i have never felt closer to my family. i have never felt more gratitude towards them. i have never felt so unified. I am so strengthened hearing from you each week and my heart is always just so filled with humility–i am so humbled to be a part of our family. your stories and your testimonies and your faith embolden me and i feel your support. And my heart is so full as i think about all those memories of us kneeling as a family in prayer–praying for each other. and now i think about my family praying for me and for those i teach and for my companion….i think about siena and avenlea reminding each other to pray for their aunts on missions and tears just stream down my face. I really reallly feel those prayers. I need them. I know that i have been so safe, so protected, so healthy, so happy, so strong, so blessed, because of your prayers. I know those i have taught have felt your prayers–though they don’t know it. and i’m praying for you!! and i hope you feel it. and i talked about how right now, sister carver and i are a little family and our companionship is so unified as we pray together and when i pray personally, i pray specifically for her and for her family and i know she does the same. I know that as we turn to the Lord and show Him our desire to be unified as a family, He will bind us together. Whenever I talk about how the Gospel blesses families, I use my finger to make a point in the air that represents the Lord. and as we grow closer to the Lord as inidividuals (my hands move in upwards towards each other to make a triangle kinda…can’t explain it), we grow closer to each other. I know that that’s true.
 
before Nastya was baptized, she said to sister carver and I, “I’ve been thinking about why you are here….and I think you are here to gather spiritual families” what an honor! to gather spiritual families. that is so true. and my testimony of that has been strengthened one hundredfold throughout my life as I felt the unity and unique love and closeness we have in the marina hills ward–we really really are a ward family. traveling together as a family, we were able to feel the same Spirit and right at home, even if we were in Mexico or in Hawaii or peru. Nicole and I felt so much love for the 8 people who were at church in galway in a little rented office room. at byu it wasn’t as hard to be away from home, because i had a spiritual family there. and i can’t even begin to explain the kinship and the eternal relationships i have formed with people here in russia…they are my family. nastya is my sister and we are eternally soul sisters. the youth here in moscow inspire me so much and the babooshky treat us as their own. I feel so at home here, so much peace, so much unity and love.
i am so so happy. and im so happy that our family will be together forever. i really love you, and best yet, i really like you!