Monday, April 28, 2014

Better than Disneyland

Guys, this has seriously been an amazing week here in Sweden. In a lot of ways, I'm still trying to wrap my mind around exactly how much has happened.

I guess the first big news that I have is that I got to go to the temple last week. Still in English, luckily (I'm just a little terrified for the day I have to do a Swedish session), but so amazing and so needed. Remember a few months ago when I said that the temple is better than Disneyland? Yup, still true. The temple really is my favorite place on Earth. I miss having the chance to go about once a week at home, but at the same time, I'm grateful for the experiences I have had in the temple and how much they strengthen me even now that I've been on my mission for about seven months.

And it really was a good week; it was more than a little crazy and involved running all over Stockholm just about every day, but in the end, it was all really good. We met some of the amazing members in Stockholm and Hägersten wards, and we taught people all over the place. After the temple, we were even able to get two teenage boys to sit and listen to us on the street for about 15 minutes. That was amazing; it essentially never happens that anyone is willing to sit and listen to us in a street contact, but it happened this week. 

This week was also very special to me. About a week and a half ago, Najib said in a lesson that he wanted to move up his baptismal date because he KNEW it was true, so we did, for last Saturday. At parts of last week, we were absolutely and completely in doubt that it would happen, especially after he'd had to reschedule a lesson or two with us. EvenSaturday, we were having problems filling up the font (don't leave four sisters in charge of a font, because we have NO IDEA how that works), and getting towels, and a thousand other tiny little mishaps, but in the end, it all worked out. And from my perspective, it was absolutely perfect. The spirit was so strong in that room as the talks were given and Najib was baptized. At the end, he got up to bear his testimony, and it was amazing to see how  much of a change had happened. He was talking about how he wants to be a member missionary, because the church has changed and blessed his life, and how he doesn't care if he can help one person or ten find the gospel, he just wants someone else to be blessed by it.

It's a little crazy, but I'm so grateful for the people that I meet out here. I feel like coming out, everyone warned me that I would be surrounded by tall, blue eyed, blond-haired Swedes, and to a large degree, I am, but I also get to meet so many amazing people from all over the world, and I learn so much from their different experiences and looks on life. It really is such a blessing to me to be able to see so many people from so many places. 

This weekend was also super fun; we found a legit Mexican restaurant near Drottninggatan that I've kind of become obsessed with (seriously, I'm craving tacos even as I type this), and yesterday we were able to have dinner with a few Gubber (old men), one of whom had a very real flavor saver. It honestly was so much fun this past week, both with missionaries and members.

In other news, the plan for now is that I will be staying in Stockholm for a while yet. I guess this means I'll be spending half of my mission in the Stockholm area, which, quite honestly is fine with me. I really do love it here, and it's absolutely amazing to see it beginning to bloom with the spring time. Everything is finally turning green, and it's getting warmer and warmer every day. Gah. I just love Sweden!

So, there's my amazing week, I hope you all are doing great at home, and I love all y'alls stinkin' guts! Have a great week!

Syster Maxwell

Monday, April 21, 2014

Watering Babylon

Hey guys!
So, it's been an absolutely insane week here in Sweden! I'm not even fully sure where to begin..... Well, let's begin with Watering Babylon. Last week, we were really short on our contacts, so we decided to walk home from church so that we'd have more chances to meet people along the way home (sneaky plan, right?). One of those contacts was a very sweet old Arabic man who welcomed us to his garden a little later in the week. So, obviously, later in the week, we went to his Garden just as he'd offered. He proudly showed us around, pointing out the flowers and vegetables that he had growing. And in the center of it all was an... interesting self-made edifice he had named Babylon. It was about 8 feet tall, with blue and gold painted on it, and tiny little flower boxes down the sides that he told us we were welcome to help water. So, poor Syster Morris ended up walking through the poop that he was using as fertilizer to snake the hose through the rest of the garden, and I ended up standing in several inches of water in my ballet flats as I sprayed those poor little flower beds on Babylon. Afterwards, we had a very nice lesson on the Plan of Salvation; discovered he's not really all that interested in the church, and were invited back sometime to water Babylon again.

I feel like this pretty well sums up the randomness of our days. We meet people. They are or aren't interested in the gospel. They have us do something strange like watering a gigantic tower they've built in the middle of their community garden. And somehow, we learn and grow a lot from those experiences out here. One thing I can definitely say I'm learning out here is that I'm grateful to have grown up in America. It really is such a blessing to have grown up with the freedoms that I have always taken for granted. I meet so many people from all over the world who never had that, and it makes me realize a little more everyday how very blessed I've been all of my life.
Look -- it's the same place as the picture I picked for my blog background.  Pretty cool.

We had several other interesting lessons this week, including an incident where a girl was visiting a member of a family we were visiting stopped mid-sentence and ran to the bathroom to throw up. Loudly. The thin doors that a lot of Swedes have on the bathroom doors just aren't quite enough sometimes to cover things like that. Oh well.

Things continue to go well here. We were able to get our investigator Najib to church this week and move up his baptismal date a few weeks! We're super excited, and it's going to be a lot of fun in the next while to really prepare him for baptism and help him understand how important the church is.
I found a Tardis!!!

And, my favorite part, I got to play the violin a butt-load and a half this week. Is that okay to say as a missionary? Butt-load and a half? Oh well, we'll stick with that terminology as it pretty well portrays the idea. This past Thursday, I had the chance to be part of an Easter Concert in Västerhaninge, as well as a concert for the senior couples in our mission the next day. I cannot explain how good it felt to be able to play for a few hours last week; it was exactly what I needed, and it was a good reminder of how much I love the violin and music. If not for the blisters I started getting on Friday, I would have played all day (although it was a little traumatizing to discover that the callouses I spent years building up had disappeared in just six months).
It's amazing how many gifted musicians we have right now in the Stockholm area. The pieces were beautiful, and the Spirit was VERY present. It was very special on Thursday as we were playing to be given the opportunity to see how the songs reflected the Savior and His life and sacrifice for us all. Truthfully, this whole week as we've been celebrating Easter in Sweden, it's been amazing to reflect a little more than usual on the Savior's sacrifice for us and the amazing amount of love He has for each of us.

One thing I remind myself of often out here is that if there had just been one person who needed the Atonement, Christ still would have done it. For you, for me, for the people I contact, the people I teach, the people who cuss me out or say I've been brainwashed, the people who love the missionaries.... The list goes on. In any case, the Atonement has specific blessings for them personally, and it was done as much for them as for me. It helps a lot to realize that as I go out talking to people- to pause to reflect that they're only imperfect people like me, but that God saw something in them that was worth sending His son here to suffer for them. It makes the most enormous difference in contacting and in lessons to try to see someone as God sees them- with the potential to be a perfect, eternal being, and who is loved more than we can even begin to imagine. The people I meet every week come from an amazing diversity of backgrounds, and they all have such unique stories- some of which I don't understand very well with my own background. I'm grateful for the opportunity to widen my view of the world while here in Sweden and to see so much more of the world in a much more personal way.

Spring is here.
And, for the record, Easter Sunday was fantastic. It was the first day in about 6 months that I didn't need to wear tights, and it was beautifully sunny all day. We were able to go to dinner with another companionship of sisters at the home of a senior missionary couple in our ward. It was PERFECT. Seriously, I was so happy to be getting 1) riktigt (true) American food and 2) some of the best company for the day. The spirit was amazingly strong as we were able to talk a little about Easter and what it has meant to each of us.

I'm so grateful for the time I get out here to learn and grow. I love the church, and I love getting to spend all day every day telling people why. There truly is no greater blessing. I love you guys tons, and I hope you have a great week!

Syster Maxwell

Monday, April 14, 2014

Attitude is Everything

Well, I'm going to do something atypical for a Syster Maxwell letter and NOT start with the weather. Duh-duh-DUH! Shocker, I know. I just felt like mixing it up today. We'll see what happens.

It's been a super good week. We were able to meet a few more times with our Persians, which was eventful in several ways. For one, one of our lessons took us back into my greenie area. That was weird. I was getting flashbacks to my first few weeks in Sweden, being completely lost as Syster McCollaum led me around Hägersten (by the way, she was angel to put up with me at the time, because I was a clueless, stubborn greenie). But it was also really good; we made it through the Plan of Salvation, which went over fairly well. Then we had a little more fun on Thursday. We were on Sister Splits, which were super fun. We had a lesson with our Persians and the local translator. I think she'd had a rough day, and I fully admit that there were things we could have done better, but five minutes into the lesson, she announced she had other things to do that night and left. It was a bit frustrating. However, things still went pretty well, and we were able to get a baptismal date with Najib! I'm so excited for the next few weeks as we help him prepare for his baptism and to learn more and more about the gospel. 
Yes, they have Dwight Schrute's face on a wall in Årstaberg!!

Sister Splits, Friday morning was a bit of an adventure. There is a very sweet less active lady in our ward named Solveig. She's... well, quite honestly, she's crazy, but she is beyond sweet, and absolutely adores the missionaries. Friday morning, I took the sister I was on exchanges with to go meet her. We went on a walk in the rain, and then stopped to talk a little about a scripture. It's always a little interesting, because we never know exactly what she'll say or do, but today, she was on fairly good behavior. We talked a little about general conference, and she was very happy to say that she had watched several sessions. It's hard to put into words exactly how a meeting with Solveig goes, but it's always fun to see what happens. This time, she decided to follow us into Stan, and then have us follow her into a store, where she looked around for about 3 minutes, and then said she had to go, and walked away in her enormous coat, pencil skirt, and running shoes. What can you do but love her?

We also had some fun this week visiting with Dorothy. Have I mentioned that I love her? She really is so adorable. She'd been in the hospital this week, so the day after she was released, we came knocking at her door. She was beyond excited to see us, and welcomed us in right away. We got to talk a lot about conference and how great it is to hear a living prophets voice. Unfortunately, she didn't get to watch while she was in the hospital, but we have plans to watch the women's conference with her. As it is, in all of her adorableness, she sent us out with VERY yummy recipes for soup, and plans to come back soon and help her in her apartment.

Now for the realization of the week: attitude is everything. I always felt like that was just a stupid cliche growing up, but in the last week, I've really been able to see how true that is. Whether it be in relationships with your companion and investigators, or in choosing to contact 20 people in a day while walking home from church (my feet hurt for a while after walking that one- we were walking for a few hours easily), or loving the crazy members all around you, your attitude determines everything that goes on in a mission. I tell myself all the time that no one wants to talk to a crabby sister missionary- we get scary when we're crabby, I can't deny it. But it's undeniably true as well that when you take your mindset and change it to trying to see the potential of people on the street, to see them as God sees them and how the gospel will change their life, it's hard NOT to be a missionary. You have that desire to go and contact people, even if they have 30 piercings or are smoking in your face, or maybe don't speak a bit of English or Swedish. It's all just details and an excuse at that point.

I cannot claim to be perfect, and I had a bit of a rude awakening to that this past week. But even in just the past few days as I've been trying to see the work I'm doing just a little bit more as the Lord sees it, it's been amazing to feel the difference and see how dramatic an impact it makes. 

I hope everyone at home has a great week. 

Love y'all!
Syster Maxwell

Monday, April 7, 2014

6 Months Down...

Guys, I'm freaking out. I've been a missionary for 6 months. It does NOT seem like it was only 6 months ago that I went to the MTC and hugged my family goodbye for a year and a half. It's crazy. Absolutely crazy, but also amazingly good.

Honestly, I love Sweden so much. It is so beautiful, and I have some of the most amazing experiences as a missionary. It's a little interesting; everyone warned me coming out here that I would meet a lot of tall people with blond hair and blue eyes. Guess what? While those people do exist, I have met people from every continent on the globe- I finally got Australia in there this past Saturday. Really, I have so much fun over here meeting with African members and trying their food and seeing how much joy they have. I love teaching our Persian boys every week and seeing how strong their testimonies are becoming. And of course, there are people from everywhere who I meet, whether it be trying tofu while visiting a less active or meeting with some of the Spanish Speaking members. It's honestly something that I'm super grateful for; I knew there was a very very tiny chance I'd ever get to go to anywhere besides Europe, Canada, or the US on my mission, but I'm grateful to be in Sweden where I get chances to meet the rest of the world anyways.

So, this week was super good as missionaries. We were able to begin teaching our persians with a translator, and that has been super helpful. We have two who are already members, and a third who we're hoping to get a baptismal date with soon. But I have to say, it is such a blessing to have translation, because it makes so that we're able to communicate so much more than just the simple words to these men who really are just  dying to learn more about their Savior.

We also got to meet with an investigator we have named Godwin. It's been a little hard to meet with him lately because he's been looking for a place to live, but he loves meeting with us and loves getting to hear more about the gospel. By the time we left  last week, he was asking us when we could meet again and talking about how interested he is in church and baptism. It nearly blew me out of the water quite honestly; the fact that he was taking the initiative in wanting to meet with us again and talking about all the things that he wants to do to be coming to church. I really hope that we're able to continue to meet with him, because he has an amazing desire to learn more about the gospel and to do the things that he knows are right.

And then, we had several minor miracles this week. The first happened on Tuesday when we were out trakting in one of the un-portcoded apartments I'm really starting to love. It's pretty average that if someone's home, they either say they're not interested or else they slam the door as soon as they realize we're missionaries. But on one door, the lady who answered was actually very sweet and let us in to talk a little about the Book of Mormon and how important it is in our lives. It was amazing to see what a sweet spirit was in that room. We're hoping to meet again with her soon, whether that be by getting her to answer her phone or going to knock on her door again, I don't know, but I really hope we meet her again soon.

The second miracle is one that was experienced by many members of the church. It is called General Conference (and be super proud of me that I spelled that correctly, because I really wanted to spell it in Swedish). On Saturday, we were able to watch the women's broadcast and the Saturday morning session. Just 10 minutes before the broadcast, we actually weren't able to get a picture going, so we were all so grateful to be able to see the broadcast and then conference at the same time it was happening back in the States.  It was a little funny, just because it was 6 pm when the conference started here, and every one was saying 'Good morning, brothers and sisters!' 

As it is, let me explain how conference works here. We watch the Saturday morning session at the church at about 6 p.m. on Saturday, then on Sunday, they show the  Priesthood,Saturday Afternoon, and Sunday Morning sessions (yes, I still haven't seen Sunday Afternoon- don't ruin it for me!). All the missionaries sit in the English room unless we have investigators watching Swedish, and we get huge bags of Godis, and eat them while sitting in our fold-out chairs.  It was so much fun, and it was so amazing to see conference and hear President Monson and the Apostles speak. I loved it so much, and I'm counting down (okay, not literally, because we don't count the days of our missions unless we want to get trunky) until next Conference!

I loved their words on enduring to the end, and I especially loved Elder Ballard's invitation to read Preach My Gospel. It's kind of amazing that he would say that; I would talk about that a lot with my trainer, how so many members would ask what they could be doing to help in the work, and we would say we wished they knew what was in there. Honestly, Preach My Gospel is an amazing study tool, and it helps in so many aspects of life, and not just missionary work.

Okay. Wow. That turned out a little long. But hey, there it is. I hope that you all have a great week! I love you tons, and I'm so grateful for all you do!

Syster Maxwell