WARNING: this email is going to be lengthy. it was such an eventful week!
to give some background context, last week i had two experiences that really prepared me for this week. one night after a rough day of tracting, sister parry was in the shower and i was having one of those moments where i just felt kind of alone and distant from the Lord and I wasn’t sure why and I wasn’t sure why the things that were happening were happening–why nothing seemed to be working out. and i was asking myself if maybe it was because of me–maybe i wasn’t being obedient enough or working hard enough, or maybe i wasn’t good enough etc. so then i prayed out loud and poured out all of these feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness to the Lord and when I finished, I sat up and turned on some music and this song came on that quotes the scripture from Isaiah 54:10 “for the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee” and I was just flooded with the reality of the kindness of the Lord. that He would visit me in this moment of loneliness and confusion and would remind me that He’s with me, and He’s not going anywhere. I thought about the hymn “Abide with Me” and the words resonated in my mind: “O Thou who changest not, abide with me!” and I truly felt that He was. And I thought about His devotion to me, as strange as that sounds. But how truly, everything changes…the very structure of the earth can change–mountains can depart and hills be removed. But our Heavenly Father is consistent. He never changes. and His kindness will never leave us. He has promised His everlasting devotion to us, His children–He will never give up on us. And then I asked myself about my devotion to Him: am I an unchanging friend? loyal servant? does my kindness depart from Him? I thought about these questions and my level of committment to the Lord and that ended up answering the question I had begged of Him moments before–He is happy with the work that I am doing, the work that I am worthy and able to do-because I am devoted to Him. and I’m devoted to His work. and I’m doing my best.
The second experience happened on Sunday evening when we had dinner at one of my favorite family’s house who are members and it was Elder Hamp’s few days so they invited us over and we had a testimony meeting with this family and us four missionaries in their family room and it was truly a sacred experience. And Elder Hamp shared something that confirmed the answer I had received a few nights previously, and served as the foundation for the following week (this last week) and the things that happened. He shared the scripture Ether 12:27 and said that it’s a famous scripture, shared often, and is often quoted. We all know the second half: “weak things become strong,” but what about the first half? The verse starts with: “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness.” Period. and he talked about how often when are weaknesses are “shown” unto us, when our inadequacies are most apparent, we feel that we are being punished, that maybe we’re not doing the right things. When in reality, often it means that we’re on the right path, that we have come unto the Lord, humbled ourselves before Him, and He is showing us that we need to improve, because soon He will fulfill the second half of the verse–soon He will help us overcome our weaknesses and turn them into strengths. This newfound understanding was so enlightening as I looked back at the weak before and all of the trials we had faced.
Then this week happened. And everyday was FILLED with miracles. I don’t even know how to explain it and my heart is just so FILLED with gratitude. I cannot sufficiently thank my Heavenly Father for these blessings.
On monday a member invited us over to her house for dinner and told us she was inviting her friend Sveta over too. Sveta had come with Marina (the member) to a relief society conference in Moscow and so we had briefly met her there but then we had left the conference because it wasn’t really for us. Anyways, we had a lovely dinner and got to know each other and then after dinner, we had planned for just a brief spiritual thought about how the gospel blesses families and the gospel is revealed to prophets, but Marina just said, “so, do you guys have a lesson?” and once we started it just naturally flowed into the entire first lesson so me and sister parry and the elders ended up just teaching all about God and prophets and the priesthood and the restoration and the Book of Mormon, etc. and Sveta’s face was just lit up and she was smiling the whole time. She’s a mother of two and has never really been religious–she has a Bible but has  never opened it but she’s just such a genuine and open person (and spunky and we are soul sisters). But I’ve been in Russia for…9 months now (AH!) and I’ve never taught a lesson to a member’s friend with the member there. it was incredible. for all missionaries, I felt like I was on “The District!” We included Marina as much as possible and asked her input/asked her questions and she shared her conversion story and the Spirit was so strong and it was just incredible! To all you members who have helped the missionaries on lessons, I can’t thank you enough–you have no idea how much it means to us missionaries. At the end we talked about meeting again soon but all the sudden the thought came to my mind, “I wonder if she really actually is interested and wants to meet or if she feels obligated because there are 5 of us and one of her and she really likes us…” but then after the closing prayer, she turned to me and put her hand on my arm and said, “Don’t forget to write down my number! write it down right now!!” I felt like a choir of angels was singing hallelujahs!!! then to top off the night, on the trolleybus back to our apt, I met this BEAUTIFUL family from Tajikistan  and we just started chatting and i told them why I’m here and invited them to church and then we found out we live off the same stop and as we got off the bus, they stopped in front of us, kinda blocking our path and were fussing over something and then turned around and handed us a bag of strawberries and said, “these are for you! thank you for your service.” I almost cried. This is why I love Russia. there is so much kindness, my goodness, I am just inspired to be a better person every day. Strawberries have never tasted so good.
THEN the next day we had a lesson with our dear Hope. We had planned to talk about the doctrine of baptism–why we are baptized, but as we sat down and started talking, she just completely opened up and told me her whole life story and all of her trials, etc. it was like a Nicholas Sparks book times ten! She was crying, I was crying, and my heart just ached. If you ever want to hear the greatest most tragic love story ever, just ask me about Hope and white flowers. holy cow. I may or may not ask permission to publish it/turn it into a movie because it’d be a bestseller! Anyways, the whole time as she was talking, I just kept thinking, “if only she knew about the blessings of the temple!” Honestly, every lesson I’ve ever taught I deviate from “the plan” and just say what I feel inspired by the Spirit to say…and often it’s something completely different than what i had planned. But I’ve never experienced anything like this before. it’s really hard to describe the temple even in English because it’s such a sacred place, it can’t be compared to anything in the world. In Russian, it’s 10x harder and you can’t make any mistakes because it’s so important that they understand, or rather, that they don’t misunderstand. I have rarely had the chance to teach about it and have heavily relied on Sister Carver and Sister Daniel, but I knew it was what the Lord wanted me to teach because it was what Hope needed to hear. So I opened my mouth, having no idea what I was going to say, and the words just came. And a sacred spirit just filled the room and I knew that my words were not my own. I really don’t have any idea what I said, and I have no idea if it was at all comprehensible. But even if Hope didn’t understand what I was saying, she definitely understood what she was feeling. At the end, she kept just thanking me for this “heartfelt discussion” and i don’t really know how to describe it in English, but she said that things had become easier for her–she felt so much better. And I just kept thanking her for her openness and that she trusts me enough to share the things she did. It was an experience I will never forget.
Those two experiences were definitely the highlights, but the week continued to be glorious and we’ve been working really hard to that we don’t get too confident/comfortable and so we can be worthy of these blessings and so they will continue. One night we were walking back from tracting and I said good evening to this grandma on the street and she stopped and asked how we knew each other (which happens ALL the time because people don’t acknowledge strangers)…but I always just say, “I simply wanted to wish you a good evening” or wanted to say hello. The grandma’s face just lit up and she hugged me and kissed my cheeks hahhahhaha which never happens! and she asked what we were doing and so we told her and she’s super Orthodox but was so kind to us and said she was so proud of us for helping people know more about Christ and we asked what her name was and she said, “sister nina” and we thought maybe she was making a joke about our nametags, but then she said, “well nina, but we’re all brothers and sisters–we’re all children of God–what are your names?” and we said, “well, nina! we believe the same thing–my name is sister hawkins” and I showed her my tag and she just LOVED it–and of course wished us health and luck and a good and handsome husband that loves me, etc. (I truly think that the reason i’ve never been sick on my mission is because so many grandmas on the street “wish me health” –i don’t know how else to explain it in english….but i’m just hoping all their wishes for me for a good husband will also come to pass).. Anyways, “Sister Nina” was just the absolute sweetest and made us write our names down so she can pray for us everyday. haha. I had to just Irish dance a little after she walked away because i couldn’t keep in all this joy i’m feeling.
speaking of joy, i can’t WAIT to watch general conference!!! i’ll be watching it this weekend and I’m so anxious. truly, like you said dad–it’s a whole new experience watching it on the mission and you hang on every word. I will never again take it for granted.
I love you all and hope you have a great week! sorry this is a complete novel!!
also, read 1 corinthians 2: 9 and then John 14: 15 and then Mosiah 2:41. think about it.
then read John 17:3 and then 1 John 2:3.
truly, if we keep the commandments, we can’t possibly imagine what the Lord has in store for us and we will be happier than imaginable. Life eternal is to know God and we know Him when we keep His commandments.
I know with all my heart that this is true because I am who I am, and I am the happiest me I can be, because I strive to keep the commandments.