Wednesday, March 30, 2016

We Are Products of Lives Who Have Touched Ours March 28, 2016

Wow, I can't believe I forgot to flip out last time about being AN AUNT!! WOOO!!! Dani and Denny you've done well :) I literally printed out a photo of her and laminated it and carry it in my scripture case to show people. I make everyone look at the photo. Never in history was there a missionary more excited to be an aunt than I am! Can't wait to meet THE Gwenster it kind of sounds like gangster which fits perfectly with my next story.

This week we were walking by this stone wall on our way to our next appointment when this old lady comes out from behind the wall and starts cursing at us and calling us gangsters- I know I should have been more concerned at the things she was saying but I couldn't get over the fact that she called us gangsters.

Every time I show someone a photo of my family here in Ecuador the old women just comment on how good looking my dad is, one lady even made the comment that he looks like Tom Cruise.

This is the first time I am hearing about the terrorist attack, I am not joking you when I say I live under a rock. That is so sad but so cool how God takes something that seems awful and turns it into a tender mercy that creates another way to spread this wonderful Gospel.

This lady cut an orange in half the other day and rubbed on my forehead because I am breaking out.  

Have you ever seen a chicken shut its eyes? It's so freaky. Chickens eyelids freak me out because they are so thin so it looks like they still have their eyes open.
We were asking for directions when I noticed the shirt of the lady we were asking it said "Smile God is judging you now." Umm A. that makes no sense B. that still makes no sense and C. don’t smile REPENT!

This week I learned a lot about Charity. There is this lady in our branch who has schizophrenia. My companion and I are always nice to her when we see her but other than that I have not had many conversations with her. Another missionary who served in this area a while ago gave us a photo to give to her. As I handed this lady the photo of her and these missionaries she jumped up and hugged me. She started to cry and just kept saying thank you over and over again. I was totally caught off guard! She continued to cry and so I just held her and this overwhelming feeling came over me. I felt the Saviors love for this woman. It reminded me of what we all want is to just be loved. Whether it's being accepted by our classmates, coworkers, receiving recognition at work, school, or even at home. We all at some degree or level just want to feel accepted to feel like we belong somewhere. I felt so much love for this woman. It was a moment where it hit me again why I came here.

Looking back at my life (a whole whopping 19 years...) I can think of a few distinct moments that have really impacted my life. My senior year of high school I went to a dance with a boy named Justin who has down syndrome. I will never forget looking around as everyone was dancing. I saw my friends in a circle near the front dancing. I saw groups of people huddled in the back, some sitting on chairs on their phones, people running in an out of the room until I turned to see my date dancing harder than I have ever seen anyway dance. He had the biggest smile on his face :) I remember seeing how happy he was. He was so happy that just looking at him made you happy no matter what mood you were in. I remember in that moment all my worries went away. Like in this moment I FINALLY got it! I was battling depression and illnesses but in this moment nothing mattered. IT WAS PURE JOY! Seeing the way Justin treated other people. There were no popular kids, no nerdy kids, no jocks, no drama kids they were all his friends. He treated everyone like his best friend like he had known them his whole life! 

Sometimes I forget just how important people’s feelings are. People's FEELINGS are important!! The way we treat each other is really important. "We are products of lives who have touched ours." Charity = the pure love of Christ. I love being able to testify of my Savior Jesus Christ every single day. His love has the power to heal all wounds.
His grace is sufficient.

You are never alone.

Con amor, Hermana Israelsen

I Am Nothing Without Him, But Through Him I can Become Something - March 21, 2016

The amount of siblings whom I've thought were boyfriend and girlfriend is mind blowing! *see's boy and girl holding hands. Girl is giggling and is resting her head on boy's shoulder*
Me: Are you guys a couple?
Girl: No, he is my brother.

During a lesson last week 4 of the little kids took off their shirts and the grandma helped them tie their shirts around their heads because they wanted to be ninjas.
Me: Oh look a parade!

Comp: That's a protest they are all on strike.

The little 2 year old girl I always write about slapped me again this week but immediately followed it with a kiss. I am telling you this girl she also looks like Boo from Monsters and Inc so you can't not love her.

This week one of our investigators got baptized. It melted my heart like how fast the ice cream melts from McDonalds.

But I also had a really tough few days. I know that I am prideful. I know that pride is a great stumbling block and can keep us from progression. My companion and I had a really long talk yesterday about how we can improve. I realized that I talk the talk but I don't walk the walk. Meaning I talk big game about how I want to be more humble but when someone tells me what I need to change I fall flat on my face. It's super hard for me to face my weaknesses. But then I think about the cup that Christ drank. I think about the bitter cup and why he drank it. It was never about him but the will of the Father. Never once did he glorify himself or say "Look! Over here! Look what I did!" All he says is come unto me so that you may live with your Father again. I mean if he can do that, I can drink my polly pocket sized cup. But do I seek to glorify myself? When I serve do I seek self recognition? "Look! Look over here! I am a missionary and it's hard so tell me I am awesome!!" But where in there did I recognize my Savior. I talk the talk but I don't walk the walk. I am prideful, but that doesn't mean that I am just going to give up and complain about how it's just too hard so what’s the point! Because of the Atonement of Christ I know He will help me drink my Barbie sized cup and he won't compare my cup to your cup or your cup to his cup. He will only say "Come Unto Me. Follow me." He is humility. He is charity. He is hope, the only begotten son of the Father. He is the reason. I am nothing without Him, but through Him I can become something.

Now being humble doesn’t mean that you just stink at everything and you are helpless and talentless. No, I know I have strengths. I know that God loves me. I know who I am and that I have divine potential. At times we may forget that but He will never forget us. As long as we keep fighting to overcome our sins, weaknesses, fears etc. HE WILL BE WITH US! I know I can keep going. I can try one more time because He will carry me and He will carry you. I can't say it anymore clearly than I know I am NOTHING without Him. But with Him I am a divine daughter of my Heavenly Father. We may have to fight harder to overcome a battle than someone else and they might have to fight harder to overcome a different battle. We are ALL fighting against the adversary. Every single day we are fighting. And it can feel really heavy, and we might feel weak. But Christ will always say "let me help you." I testify that He loves you. 

You are not alone.
Con amor, Hermana Israelsen

Come Follow Me Home - March 14

Well this week I got hit by an old man's cane, I ran into a metal pole while reading my emails I printed out, while waiting at the bus stop I watched a guy fight against himself in the street, while another guy screamed every time a bus pulled up. One of our investigator’s kids got kidnapped but was then returned later that same day and in the middle of them telling us this story the other kid started choking on her food like to the point where she wasn’t breathing so I tried to give her the Heimlich, so you could say it was a very productive week :) 
Taxi driver: How old are you guys?
My comp: I'm 24 and my companion is 16
My comp told me I look like a celebrity this week and so I finally decided to break the news to her that, "I'm really Hannah Montana."
We are teaching someone that has a lot of challenges in their life.  To help her open up we went over to the edge of this cliff and starting throwing rocks. For every rock we threw we had to say something that was bothering us like, "I don't like it when I am trying to speak Spanish and people get annoyed and pretend like I am not even talking." Then I went to chuck the rock but there was this poor guy walking his bike up the hill but I didn't see him haha luckily it didn't hit him but we were all laughing and it was so cool to just see her open up about her feelings and dang the girl can throw!
A phrase I find myself saying a lot here in the mission is, "This is so real!" I just want to buy a microphone and run around and tell everybody that this is real! That Christ will come again so we all gotta repent right now because this is so real. The gospel is true! I talk about it so much that my comp goes "ya ya I know this is real He will come again." Haha I just want everyone to know THIS IS TRUE! Mom do you think you could fit a megaphone into my next package? Seriously though.
This week I realized I've been looking at this whole language thing like the cup has been half empty instead of half full. Like the fact that I understand these people sometimes wow that's really cool!! And they can understand me sometimes even if I sound like this, "I was 17 very sick died almost God loves you pray to know truth." I guess it's easy sometimes for us to only see what we lack. Sometimes we are our own biggest critic. But the truth is all we can do is try and try and then try again. After someone lets us down over and over again we tend to give up on them to stop believing in what they say they will do. I know before my mission I was like "lie or die," jk not that extreme but I was afraid to let people down so I would say I would do something yet I never followed up with my commitments. My words spoke louder than my actions. I cried wolf way too many times and slowly people stopped believing in me. I stopped believing in me. But when I said I wanted to come on a mission going into it I didn't even know if I would stay the whole time. I know my family was worried about my past illnesses and hey in the MTC I was like everyone is right I can't do this. But the one person who never gave up, never said “You've said that before," or never told me I was out of tries was God. He always believed in me even when I stopped believing in myself?
This week I found myself being a bit of a hypocrite judging people for doing things or acting a certain way and I wanted people to see me and think "wow, look what Hermana Israelsen has to deal with." Ha like what? I wanted some reassurance that what I was dealing with was really difficult and I was doing a good job. But I can't do that. You have to turn the other cheek. You have to "gird up your loins" (haha I love that phrase) and use the Atonement of Christ. To recognize your weaknesses and recognize "hey I was wrong, I am sorry." Or "Yes, I need help." Man it's hard to be humble, but I know that this will be worth it. Christ´s invitation has always been "Come Follow Me," He has always believed in us. Always. No matter where we are or who you are he believes you can do it. To me that means everything. The only perfect person believes you can do it. I don't know what it is but whatever you are struggling with turn to Him. He loves you.
"Come Follow Me Home," The words on the front of my planner this change. I know this really is the only way home!
You are never alone,
Con amor, Hermana Israelsen
PS They watch too many soap operas here. 

Sometimes Peace is God’s Greatest Answer to Us – March 7, 2015

We had a family home evening the other night and the member who gave the prayer said, "And please bless our prophet Gordon B. Hinckley."
The little girl who slapped my face last week during a prayer bit my companion this week several times. My comp was wearing this lace dress and this little girl comes up and bites her and rips part of the lace in her dress making a hole. She then walked over the wall where the paint was peeling off and started picking off the pieces and throwing them at us.
We were making American (crushed up chocolate bar) cookies with one of our part member families the other day to hand out to people. I kept speaking in an Italian accent and said "bienvenidos," (welcome) when her kids walked through the door, which made no sense because it was their house but I thought it was funny. They didn't have measuring cups so I was just putting in different ingredients and thinking "yeah, that looks good!" We burned them in the end.
My bed is by the window and the other night I woke up in the middle of the night to a cat staring at me through the window.
One of our investigators thought our tags were like in the military where you can move up ranks. He asked us when we were going to become elders.
While my sister Jessi saved a human girls life, I made a yummy grilled cheese sandwich.
My comp got revenge on me for playing the recorder to her every night. She started singing sad Spanish love songs haha.
A random dog appeared in one of our lessons the other day. I was just talking when one of the little girls we were teaching yells and there is a random dog just chillin in their house.

This month and last we are sacrificing different things to see miracles in the work. Like less time to email, waking up earlier, only speaking Spanish. My companion sacrificed not wearing makeup.
Other missionaries: Is that your sacrifice too Hermana Israelsen?
Me: No..
Other missionaries: Oh.
You know those little kid shoes that light up. Well I have this Disney movie “Frozen” watch that does the same thing. Before my mission my sister was helping me pack and because I brought a pharmacy worth of pills that I haven’t really taken (sorry mother I love you) I had to leave out some things. I decided to take out this watch because I already had one but when I threw it out I saw that it had lights and of course I had to take it! But I am so glad I did because when I am having a moment in the day where I just feel blah I hit the button and it lights up. I mean could the mission get any better? Well, I actually hope so but as of right now I am enjoying my light up watch and trying to find God in my every day.
Comp: You are Hermana Israelsen and Hermana Israelsen can't speak Spanish! So what that's just who you are?
Me: Oh, umm thank you..?
I have been STRUGGLING with this language. Like people are learning Chinese faster than I am learning Spanish. Which doesn't surprise me because learning English was hard for me, like I love writing but can I spell? No :)
Last night I was feeling overwhelmed with my weaknesses. I was so confused why it says in my blessing that “the language will come easily to me.” I am getting a reputation here in the mission for how slow I am at learning this language. I was comparing myself to other missionaries and feeling like "woa is me." I couldn't sleep last night and just gave my heart to the Lord through prayer. Sometimes peace is Gods greatest answer to us. Sorry I don’t have a lot to say this week.

But I know God lives and this work is so real. Don't give up. Don't you quit. You are you and God needs YOU! Not Nancy, or Debby, but you.

You are never alone.
Con amor, Hermana Israelsen

It Will All Work Out…It Will All Be Okay - February 29, 2016

Before the mission I hardly ever ate meat and if it was still on the bone I wouldn’t even touch it. Now I am like if there isn't meat it isn`t food.

Mom thank you for the musical instruments you sent me. I am not sure what to do with the 4 mini flutes, the harmonica, and the recorder but I am sure having fun playing a song to my comp before we go to sleep every night even if she doesn't like it.

The other day we were walking to our next cita when these two old ladies greeted us as if we were long lost friends and one of them grabs my arm and says "Que quapa!" Then she starts to pinch my arm. I am like "what the?" But the harder I laughed the harder she laughed and pinched my arm. No joke I had a bruise on my arm from where she pinched me. My comp said to me in English while still smiling  “who are they?" and I just go "I have no idea?" Turns out they just wanted us to buy their bread and pinch my arm fat.

We were using this pulley system to lift buckets of dirt on to the top of a roof and the family we were helping thought it was hilarious that my face was turning red from lifting the buckets. After about an hour I turned to casually sniff my armpit and someone saw me and started laughing and saying “Hermana Israelsen needs to bathe!" Ok you lift buckets for an hour and not sweat! Then I tripped and almost fell off the roof. Earlier that day I ran into the bus door as they were closing and stood up after our morning prayer only to ram myself into a table. My comp started calling me "Butch" because there is an elder (Elder Butch) in our mission who has terrible luck. He got bit by a pig, stabbed in the eye with a broom, and accidently drank bleach.

During my prayer the other day with a part member family their 2 year old daughter came over and slapped me in the face just as I was about to bless their family. I tried so hard to keep my composure but I was so shocked that I started laughing and after about 5 minutes I was able to restart the prayer.

My comp will whisper something to me in English about what we should do when something goes wrong in a lesson. I always whisper back in Spanish and she goes "You just said that in Spanish..." Yet other times when I should be speaking Spanish I speak in English. I am like Thing 1 and Thing 2 from Dr. Seuss who do the exact opposite of what they are told to do.

This week I felt like I got a better work out from how much I laughed than from my "morning sit ups." The mission has taught me how to love the little things of each day. I used to think being depressed, sad, and negative meant that I was being real and deep. Like optimistic people didn't know heart break. Like happiness was an illusion and I was the only one who could see that and "my calluses grew tired from exposure," only Tara Johnson will get that last one. But I tried so hard to prove all happy people were fake but I WAS SO WRONG!!! "Wickedness never was happiness."

I'm not saying it's all just rainbows and butterflies and I just want everyone to be happy! ("She doesn't even go here!") In other words, we have to pass through sorrow in order to appreciate joy. Our life is a series of moments. Some that pass by without a second thought and others that stay with us just a while longer. Some change us maybe even define who we are. Times of fear and sorrow followed by moments of joy and wow it’s good to be alive. But all of these moments put together create our stories. I am learning it isn't our age that brings maturity it's experiences. For example, a 54 year old has probably had a lot more experiences than a 13 year old. So no matter how long this moment right now might feel remember that "this too shall pass." I have had a lot of good and bad times to know that the good times will always come and the bad times will always pass and if we choose to let them they can define us and help us learn. "You either win or you lose." The only way you lose is to stay on the ground and believe in that voice that says you failed. "You only fail if you don't get up."

“It will all work out, it will all be okay.” Sometimes before I go to bed at night I repeat these words over and over again because it brings me peace of mind. It might not all work out or be okay right now but it WILL. So in the meantime take time to laugh at the little things in each day and CHILL OUT if you need to.

You are never alone.

 Con amor, Hermana Israelsen

 PS. Haha I really do love the mission it’s full of so many surprises some wonderful and some not so wonderful... but hey “it will all work out, it will all be okay!”

There Are People Lost at Sea…Will You Turn On Your Light to Lead Them Home? - February 22, 2016

We don't have an oven so I have invented pancookies. They are cookies baked on a stove that look like pan cakes but taste like heaven :)

So turns out that dog whistles just make dogs more angry. Ecuador has the whole pet thing a little backwards then from the States. Chickens and roosters live in the people’s homes, they take their cows on walks, and the wild animals here are dogs.

Have you ever looked into someone's eyes and felt like they could see the very depths of your soul? That's what shaking hands with Elder Holland was like. He told us he wanted to interview us by looking into our eyes. It was only about 3 seconds long but it was long enough for me to think "I am staring into the eyes of someone who has seen Jesus Christ." I got to hear him speak twice. Once in Otavalo with 3,000 other people, and again with all the missionaries in my mission. 

The only way we had permission to hear Elder Holland speak to the people of Otavalo was if we brought an investigator. I prayed all day and kept visualizing us hearing him speak that night. We made plans to meet one of our investigators in Otavalo because he was working over there until 6 which was right before Elder Holland would be speaking. We got to Otavalo when we received a phone call that he wouldn't be able to make it. I was crushed because I knew if we didn't have an investigator we didn't have permission to stay and listen. My comp and I started praying that we would change his mind and come back, but it was then it was definite that he wouldn't be coming. I am not joking tears started to form in my eyes. It's like someone putting a giant peperoni pizza freshly out of the oven right in front of your face and right as you are about to take a bite they say sorry wrong order this isn't for you. We were just about to leave when our ward mission leader informed us that his nephew one of our investigators was there which meant WE COULD STAY!!!! Turns out the delicious peperoni pizza was for me (I am sorry I really shouldn't write emails while I am hungry I always end up relating things to food).
Elder Holland talked about their being a power to our words. That there are people lost at sea and when they can see the light house they know God exists but they don't know how to dock their boat to reach the light house. We are the light that leads people back home. "A man or a woman who work by faith work by words."
When he talked to our mission he got close up and personal. He was walking between isles he even chocked and elder like I am not joking it was hilarious. He was talking about how frustrating it is to him to hear return missionaries say "The mission isn't real life, this is real life." Then he said "I could just choke them!" Then he started (nicely) choking an elder. Hahaha it was awesome!
I guess what I got from all this is that only the Gospel will save the world. Our hearts are constantly breaking in several different directions. We leave parts and pieces of our heart with certain people and places. Suddenly items of possession develop meaning through experiences and memories. We are all fighting quiet battles in the chambers of our hearts and outskirts of our minds. We are pushing and pulling and laughing and crying. We are on this merry go round that goes around and around picking up new passengers each time and leaving old ones behind. So in the midst of all the heart break remember that there is really only one way to mend a heart. There is only one person who knows what you are going through because he went through it even before you did. Christ is the reason to keep going. Our words have the power to bring light into darkness all we have to do is OPEN OUR MOUTHS! There are people drifting at sea and you have the flash light to lead them home, but will you turn it on?
"We don't believe in cheap grace. We don't just say I love Jesus and we are saved. It's not that easy. We have no records of Jesus laughing although I do believe he was happy. Do not expect other than hard if you say you are a disciple of Christ. A disciple does as Christ did. If we cry a little then we have good company because Jesus cried a lot. Don't wait a minute wondering why this is hard? This is a FIGHT! The war in heaven isn't over. There was a fall and there is a devil. Talk to everyone, be true forever, fight a good fight, and have the spirit to be with you. I can demand one convert from you. At least you can be a convert forever." - Elder Holland speaking to the missionaries.
This gospel means everything to me. "We are after the salvation of human souls!" We worry about losing friendships but do we care more about temporal relationships with others or eternal? This is your friends, family, and neighbors salvation! We are a part of something greater than all of us. I love this work.
Please remember that you are never alone!!
Con amor, Hermana Israelsen