Monday, December 16, 2013

I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas

I think I jinxed myself last week when I mentioned that snow had finally come to Sweden, because the day afterwards, it melted away completely, and while it snowed once last week, we haven't had anything that's stuck. I'm still hoping for a white Christmas next week, but we'll see what happens with that. As it is, it's been warm enough I can shed a layer or two, and rainy. Contacting in the rain has definitely been fun in the past few days. Some times I think the US Postal Service motto fits the missionaries better- Come rain or snow, we'll be there.... or something to that effect!

The work is progressing, we're still working with the guy who started cussing us out on the street. He actually is really nice when he's not having a bad day, and it's amazing how much progress he makes. We've been working to get more lessons every week, and we're slowly but surely making it there. We've also gotten to teach a guy from Africa this past week who is... interesting. He's a self-proclaimed evangelist, and he has an enormous faith in Jesus Christ, which has been fantastic to see and to feel. He has some of the most bizarre word choices I have every heard, and it's kind of funny sometimes when he says one thing, and we say another, and after a few minutes of back and forth, we figure out we really meant the same thing. He's a challenge to teach at times, because he LOVES talking, and he'll get distracted on tangents, but really, it's just great that he has such a strong faith already.
Oh, I  suppose I should mention last week's Christmas concert  had some unexpected side effects. A lady from Hägersten Församling was there at the concert, and she heard me play, and decided it would be wonderful if I could also play for our sacrament meeting on the 22nd. She wasn't, however, sure who in the ward had a violin, so after a little bit of talking around, she decided that she wanted to take me to a violin shop and rent me a violin- and I have to say, it was a very sweet thought, and I would love to have a violin all the time, however, that's not something I want to ask someone else to do for me. It is too expensive on a missionary budget, and it is too much to ask a member to pay for, and beyond that, while transfers typically happen every six weeks, it isn't impossible that I could get called to another area unexpectedly. So, I tried to tell her I didn't think it would work and that I didn't want her to do it, which I think she misunderstood as me saying I don't know that it would be okay by the mission rules, because she then called the District and Zone leaders to get me permission to go to this violin shop and to see if it was okay to rent a violin for me. Then she called the proselyting office to be sure I wasn't transferring. And just to be sure everything was okay, she called President about it, which resulted in President calling me to figure out what was going on. I explained the situation to him, and told him I would much rather borrow a violin for as long as it was needed then give it back. He said he would see what he could do, and the next morning he called back and told me he had found me a violin for this coming weekend.
Really, I'm touched that this woman wanted to help so much; I'm an American missionary who she's known less than a month, and she was willing to sacrifice a lot for me, and that means a lot. I'm also grateful for President, who was able to calmly and effectively help us all figure out this situation. And I'm grateful as well that I'm getting to use my talents here on my mission; I've said for years that I would much rather play in sacrament then give a talk in church. Now all I do is talk in or about church, and I'm starting to realize how special the violin really has been to me, and it's great.
Speaking of talking in church, we had an adventure yesterday. We had just sat down in Sunday school after talking with some of the members when Syster McCollaum jumped back up and said we needed to go right then because we were teaching the Relief Society lesson. Apparently, she had recieved a phone call a few days before asking us to teach the lesson, and in all likelihood, she told me, and I promptly forgot, which explains why yesterday afternoon I was completely lost, and had no idea we were even supposed to be teaching in Relief Society. So, with 20 minutes until the meeting began, we started preparing a lesson about following Jesus Christ's example in our own lives. And I must say, it actually went very well. I'm still not able to understand all of what people say in church or lessons (it doesn't help that everyone has an accent from somewhere besides Sweden), but I could feel the spirit very strongly as we taught. It was really amazing to look at those women and hear their testimonies and hear a little of where they come from, and to know we are all united in and of that we are all members of the same church, and that we are daughters of our Heavenly Father.
And the other most spiritual moment of the week was Saturday, as we were able to go with Angie to the temple. She was going in to do baptisms for the dead for the first time, and she wanted to have us come with her, for which I'm extremely grateful. As missionaries, we're not allowed to be baptized, so instead, Syster McCollaum and I were able to sit and just soak in the Spirit for an hour or so. It's true I've only been out here a month, but I all ready miss having weekly temple visits; the temple is one of my favorite places to be, and I love the peace and strength that I can feel there. Syster McCollaum and I also had the chance to do some confirmations while we were there, and it was really cool to get to take such an active role in someone's baptism. It says in Preach My Gospel that temple work and missionary work are exactly the same, and in that moment in the temple, I could understand that statement very fully. That was one of the best moments I've had out here, and while maybe I wasn't out teaching or contacting, I felt very effective as I was helping others come to Christ through temple work. I'm sorry, temples are just the best. Seriously, they've got it wrong, Disneyland isn't the happiest place on earth, it is the LDS temples. They're just awesome.
One last note: things are changing here in the next week. This week is transfers, and while I'm not going anywhere, one of our elders is leaving, while another is coming in, and the two elders we have will be training two of the twelve elders coming from the MTC this week. I'll miss Äldste Hills (but he'll be great in his new area), but I'm also excited to see who the new elders we'll get will be, especially as I was able to meet them in the MTC before coming out here. I'm also very excited for this because, while I may still be the youngest sister in the mission (in terms of actual age) for a few months, I'm not going to be the youngest group (in terms of when we got here) anymore! and it will be fun, because it means we'll have three greenies here in Hägersten, but it will honestly be great to have six missionaries here, and that in and of itself is great. Oh, and we'll also be having Zone Conferencethis Thursday, which means I'll get to see a fair portion of my MTC group, and that we'll get to have a ton of missionaries together right before Christmas.
And that about sums up my week! I hope things are going well for every one at home, and that I'll hear if it's otherwise! So, wishing you all a god jul, or a very merry Christmas from here in Sweden where I'll be eating clementines and peparkakor while drinking julmust and watching Kalle Anka. Lots of love and prayers, especially at this Christmas time,
Syster Maxwell

Monday, December 9, 2013

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

So, it finally snowed in Huddinge this week! I've been waiting since I got here in November to see snow, and it finally came this week, which made me ridiculously happy. That is until I realized that Swedes don't believe in snow plows or shoveling their sidewalks, and they don't do anything to really get rid of the snow. Because this means that I'm walking on 1/2 an inch of solid ice everywhere I go. Actually, I'll be honest, I'm just glad that it finally snowed, and I'm willing to pay for that by learning how to ice-skate in my boots every day. I haven't slipped yet, so we'll hope that pattern continues in the next few months.
Sweden continues to be beautiful. I love all the candles in the window for Advent, and we're starting to get little
blurbs of Christmas music in the stores. I miss American Christmas songs, but I've found a few Swedish ones to love, and every so often, we hear a little bit of an American song in the grocery store or coming from korv carts.
I actually had an amazing experience with music this past week. It's been really strange for me not to have a thousand concerts and rehearsals for Christmas this December, and I'd been missing it when Äldste Lambson asked me if I'd be willing to play with him in the Stake Christmas Concert that was in Västerhaninge last night. It took a little finagling, but we were able to find me a violin, which was absolutely gorgeous, and I was able to play a song called 'Betlehems Stjärna' last night, which was also absolutely gorgeous. It was absolutely amazing to get play and rehearse, and to get to share my testimony with others through music again. I love getting to do that, and I'm doing everything I can to get more opportunities like that.
However, we were only a small part of the concert; most of the concert was a local sånggrup who were absolutley amazing to listen to. They had the most amazingly in tune and pure voices, and the arrangements of songs they sang were stunning. The spirit was so strong in that meeting, and I consider it a privilege to have been a part of it. One of the songs they sang was a more traditionally Swedish song called 'Bereden väg för Herren.' We're supposed to be singing it in Sakrament in a few weeks, and I'm excited to learn it. They also sang 'Believe' from 'The Polar Express' and 'O Holy Night' in Swedish. It was amazing. I feel like I've said that a lot, but really, this was one of the most amazing concerts I've been to in a very long time.
We've also had a lot of fun in normal missionary work this week. We continue to contact all sorts of lovely individuals (some may not always seem so lovely, but I'm sure that they really are when you know them). I actually got a lesson on humility this week from that; we contacted a Turkish man on the street near our apartment, and he started freaking out on us and swearing at us because of how people of other faiths have treated him in the past. I was more than ready to leave, but Syster McCollaum patiently waited for him to stop swearing, and asked him if he wanted to meet with us. I was still not entirely sure I wanted to go through with this, but I didn't say anything. Friday, we met with him, and it was the most amazing lesson. Really, he would talk and talk and talk, but as he talked, you could feel the Spirit so strongly. We're continuing to meet with him, and we're hoping that he'll continue to progress.
Obviously, I don't know everything, because if I'd had my way, we probably wouldn't have met with him.
But luckily for everyone involved, I have an amazing companion and a Heavenly Father who understands much more than I do. I don't think we've had a single investigator so far that I would have really sought out so much before my mission, but they've all been amazing to talk to and teach.

I'm excited for Christmas to come. It means a lot more clementines, pepparkakor, and julmust for one, but for two, there's a different spirit in our meetings, and I feel like people are a lot more open to talking about faith and Jesus Christ.
Anyways, I hope people are enjoying the start of the Christmas season back at home! I love you all, and I think you're pretty amazing.
Syster Maxwell

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

December's finally here

Hey, family and friends, love you all, and I miss you like a fat kid misses chocolate cake. I heard that from my companion this week, and I've been dying to use it on you, because I thought it was hysterical.
It continues to be cold and dark here in Sweden, and I know that I'm being blessed in and of that I'm learning to love the cold. I really am; I don't know what I'll do the next time I'm in hundred-degree weather, because the cold is just so beautiful! We were out contacting the other day, and I thought it was the most fantastic thing that every time I breathed, I could see my breath come out in a cloud of fog and that my scarf was growing icicles because of it. Any and all water freezes, and so the sidewalks glitter when you walk, because tiny little water droplets get stuck in the cement.
I'm also learning to love Swedish houses. They are so VIVID. I love the colors, and the variety you'll see when you're walking down the streets. Syster McCollaum probably gets a little frustrated that I do it so often, but I love stopping to look at the fantastic colors the Swedes have everywhere. It does get dark and grey by about 2:30 here, but there are so many colors around me that I hardly notice.
There's also a ridiculous number of Christmas lights out. It's different from the States in and of that they don't put so many lights on the actual house. Instead, they have candles in the windows for advent. It's so different, but I love it.
I also got my first taste of Julmust this week, which is the soda the Swedes drink just for Christmas. YUM. I don't usually drink soda, but I may make an exception at Christmas time for Julmust, because it's amazing.
It was an interesting week for missionary work. We are still working with our druggie investigator. He progresses really well, quite truthfully, and we're hoping to see him baptized by the end of the month. We had fun with another investigator this week when he informed us he supports polygamy and thinks the church was wrong to end it. That was an interesting lesson in SO many ways, but that was definitely not the least of them.
We had a rough(ish) experience with one of our new converts this week. She wanted to go to the temple, so we set up a time with them for her to go do baptisms. We got there and talked with the front desk, and she told us she was planning on going through a session. It was a little heart-breaking to have to tell her she couldn't go through the temple yet, but she was sweet about it, and patiently let us explain to her that she would have to wait a year, and that she could do baptisms for now.
And I would also like to say, we have the most AMAZING ward. Angie is just one example of our amazing ward members, but there are others. Last week, we went to a dinner with a member family, and they noticed that I was wearing my big thick boots. The wife asked if I was cold, and we told her that quite honestly, it wasn't that I was cold, it was that I had another pair of boots, and they were making it impossible for me to walk without limping, and that none of my ballet flats work for contacting in the snow and rain. So, she put out a facebook notice, and today, I am wearing a pair of the most wonderfully broken in, fitted perfectly to my feet boots. And that's not the only expample I have of how wonderful the Hagersten ward is, but that is the most clear example I have of what a blessing a ward family is, and how much my Heavenly Father must love me. Seriously, it's awesome.
Love you all, and I hope everything's going well for you!
Syster Maxwell