Is this real life?! Two weeks from today I will be on the saddest plane ride I will ever take! I can’t believe how quickly time is passing. Can’t I just be a missionary forever?! After this, I will only have 1 more e-mail to write home…this…is… DEPRESSING!!! Ha ha…ok, ok…I am excited to see everyone and share my joy with you, but oh how great it is the calling to be a missionary!!! I don’t want it to end!
This week has been a full one! Lots of fun & lots of tender mercies. It started off with a visit to the Natural History Museum at Balboa Park last prep-day! I have wanted to go my whole mission! Unfortunately, there wasn’t a super cool special exhibit like horses or chocolate, but it was fun to learn about Mammoths and Mastodons a little bit. Mostly we just had a ball taking fun pictures and going around and saying, “These people are so silly! God did all of this!” Ha ha, it was wonderful to have a very present gospel perspective in our minds and look at just how amazing Heavenly Father is. He sure must have had so much fun with His creative mind as He created all the creatures and beauties of this earth.
That day was followed by one if the sweetest experiences I have had yet on my mission while serving at the Mormon Battalion Historic Site. We had just finished our preparation day and the Battalion was very slow. I was sitting at the front working on a little note and one of the senior sisters was trying to talk to a man who barely spoke English. She got him to agree to go on a tour and since it was just 1 man by himself, 2 sisters needed to go. I was asked to join Sister Rex. I was thinking a little inwardly and in my weakness I thought, “This is going to be pointless…he is barely going to understand anything.” I went and began the tour with a little bit of reluctance and not the right attitude (I know, I’m terrible). I was a little detached from the tour throughout and not very focused. Sister Rex was an incredible example of love and selflessness to me. Our friend, Felipe, was from Aracatuba, Brazil and spoke Portuguese. Sister Rex is here speaking Spanish and so for a few words that were alike, she helped him; relating Spanish to Portuguese. He was following along and although he was probably missing a lot, he was very engaged. I started to think, “You know, he may not understand the English very well, but everyone can understand and feel the spirit no matter what language they speak. We are all children of the same Father, and we can all recognize His love in the same way.” After the tour, we were talking with him in the resource room as he looked around at the artifacts. Honestly, now, I can’t even tell you how it happened or what triggered the prompting…but after we had taken his photo we were talking and asking what he thought of the story…I don’t remember what he said but something he said allowed the spirit to prompt me to go and get him a Portuguese Book of Mormon from the back. I ran and got it and came and just showed him the cover so he could understand what we were trying to talk to him about. He looked at it and confirmed he understood. We asked if he believed in Jesus Christ. He told us he knew who he was and then, in almost perfect English he testified of who Jesus Christ was to him. He told us that he knew He was real because He had helped him through the most difficult times in his life. “During my darkest days…He, He was here (gesturing to his side) beside me to help. I felt him come down on my heart (and he clutched both hands to his chest.” As I listened to Felipe, the spirit helped me realize that after struggling for English words throughout our entire 40 minute tour…as He testified of Jesus Christ, he didn’t stammer or struggling at all. His testimony was so simple, and beautiful. My heart burned…I knew immediately what He needed to read. I had him open his new copy of The Book of Mormon and read Alma 7:11-12…He began reading…
“11 E ele seguirá, sofrendo dores e aaflições e tentações de toda espécie; e isto para que se cumpra a palavra que diz que ele tomará sobre si as dores e as enfermidades de seu povo.
12 E tomará sobre si a amorte, para soltar as ligaduras da morte que prendem o seu povo; e tomará sobre si as suas enfermidades, para que se lhe encham de misericórdia as entranhas, segundo a carne, para que saiba, segundo a carne, como bsocorrer seu povo, de acordo com suas enfermidades.” As he read, my heart felt like it was going to burst and I thought to myself…as I stood there with him in the resource room and watched him set his eyes on The Book of Mormon for the first time, and heard him read about Jesus Christ and what He suffered for him in his own language…oh! How I am going to miss this. I had a moment of realization then of just how sweet and sacred this time and this calling has been. I’ve always known, but in that moment my heart swelled with gratitude and I think it literally broke a little bit realizing I won’t have those moments at the Battalion in just a couple of weeks….As Felipe stopped I asked him to read verse 13 also…he read on, “ 13 Ora, o Espírito asabe todas as coisas; não obstante, o Filho de Deus padece segundo a carne para btomar sobre si os pecados de seu povo, para apagar-lhes as transgressões, de acordo com seu poder de libertação; e eis que agora este é o testemunho que está em mim.”
As he read this verse the spirit could not be constrained. I knew he was receiving a spiritual confirmation that what he was reading was true, and although I couldn’t understand the Portuguese, I knew what he was reading was true. He looked up at me and saw me wipe away tears. He said, “That is beautiful.” I testified that I knew it was true and he said, “I do too!” What an incredible moment! I invited him to meet with the missionaries in Brazil that could teach him much more clearly than we could and he agreed to have them come. Sister Rex was by my side the whole time…as Felipe left she and I had a great big hug and I started to cry. She said, “Sister Riggs, I hope you know what a powerful missionary you are. You are exactly what he needed. He didn’t even look at me while he talked…you were able to connect with him in a way he needed and I am so glad. In the middle of the tour I had a prayer and I felt like you needed to have a special experience, so I prayed for it, and I am so glad Heavenly Father answered that prayer.” I told her it of course was not all me and that I was so undeserving of such a sweet experience after the attitude I had going on the tour. I thanked her for being so kind and self-less and told her how sweet of a moment that was and how I really needed and longed for it. I will never forget Felipe, and I will never forget the way my heart burned with the fire of the spirit.
Something I have learned to feel as a missionary is what it truly feels like to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort. I felt this as we met with sweet Netta this week. As we began I could see it on her face…I asked how everything was and she started wiping away tears as she said she was just so tired…that it’s so frustrating for her to feel like every time she makes a little bit of progress, something happens and she is right back where she started again. She feels she just doesn’t have it in her anymore to try and expressed further feelings of hurt and depression. My heart ached for her as I recalled a time in my life I could relate to perfectly. She had told me a couple of weeks ago that she couldn’t stop listening to a song called “Again.” This was the very same song that I played on repeat to get me out of bed and out of my apartment when all I wanted to do was disappear. I reminded her of the words… “I trust you to lead me and show my heart where to begin. All of the pain and confusion I’m going through, I’m turning it over to you. Willing to trust it’s the right thing to do. Again and again I ask myself why, I don’t think that I have any tears left to cry. My soul is so tired and I’m longing for rest. I’m giving my all and I’m doing my best. It hurts to move on from the place I am in, but you understand where I’ve been, and you reassure me it’s time to start over again.” I promised her that there was and is always hope. That I am living proof of it. If the healing power of the Atonement were not real, I would not be here on a mission. I told her that I use to feel the same way about starting again and again or repenting again and again and feeling like I didn’t deserve and couldn’t possibly ask again and again for forgiveness or help when I had failed so many times. I shared with her the answer to my prayers from Elder D. Todd Christofferson when he said, “…repentance means striving to change. It would mock the Savior’s suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross for us to expect that He should transform us into angelic beings with no real effort on our part. Rather, we seek His grace to complement and reward our most diligent efforts (see 2 Nephi 25:23). Perhaps as much as praying for mercy, we should pray for time and opportunity to work and strive and overcome. Surely the Lord smiles upon one who desires to come to judgment worthily, who resolutely labors day by day to replace weakness with strength. Real repentance, real change may require repeated attempts, but there is something refining and holy in such striving. Divine forgiveness and healing flow quite naturally to such a soul, for indeed “virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; [and] mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own” (D&C 88:40).” I hurt for her as we both just held her and let her cry…but she was able to feel at peace as she left and headed off to work. It is no wonder our Savior asked us to bear one another’s burdens that they may be light. How would any of us survive without the love and support we feel from one another on our hardest days?
We had the blessing of adding a new investigator this week. He was a referral from our mission president! Yeah, no pressure! He told us a member called from Alaska and that a friend of his son was here for a couple of months going to flight school and was feeling anxious and lonely. He said he had a bit of contact with the church through the family and that he loved basketball! Welp! Great! We were able to meet with him and Mason is wonderful! He told us how he wrote his buddy on a mission every week! What a loyal friend! He said he just knew if he contacted the church here he would have people to turn to so he wouldn’t feel so alone. What a tender heart! He said he was feeling like he was in a dark place and just wanted to have peace and get away from the path he was going on. I opened to John 14 and had him read 26, 27, & 18…
“26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
18 I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.”
He looked up and said, “Yeah I need that…I feel like this is exactly what I need right now.” We were SO HAPPY to hear that! He is being a little timid about coming to church and activities, but we know the Lord has sent him here for more than just flight school and we are excited to help him receive the restored gospel and see the light of the spirit glow in his eyes as he finds what he’s looking for.
We had some fun with our branch decorating the San Diego Temple with Christmas lights on Saturday! We did some good with wrapping the trunks of trees exactly 2 fingers apart the whole way down = ). It was such a sweet experience to be at the foot of the temple and putting up lights to draw visitors and add extra beauty to the Lord’s house!
I sang at my last Mission President’s Fireside on Sunday. What a night that was! The chapel and overflow were filled and as I stood to sing, what my last testimony in song would be, my heart leapt as I looked out and saw several members, investigators, and recent converts that I had taught and worked with and seen baptized in La Jolla and Santee. I couldn’t believe it! I had my dream song come true thanks to Sister Breckenridge and Sister Sadleir…two amazing women from my Stake who came together and helped me make a fully orchestrated song with an 8 part harmony choir part into a piano and organ duet. The song says, “Gloria! My Savior Lives!” and I couldn’t think of a message or anything better that I would want to leave in the mission than that. It felt incredible to sing such an anthem of praise. Two of my recent converts, Kelsey and Jackie, also spoke and shared their conversion stories and testimonies and I sat and listened in amazement, remembering the sweet experience it was to see their faith and testimonies grow and to now see had steadfast and firm their testimonies are! Ahh! I love being a missionary! To top it all off, I had the incredible honor to stand and sing “When He Comes for Me” with 5 of the most elect women I will ever know…Sister Rasmussen, Madsen, Miller, Davies and O’Neill stood at my side as we sang together with all of our mission experiences behind us. We all entered the MTC together, and we will all depart together in 2 weeks. I have been companions with 3 of these 5 and we have all served here at the Battalion and have been through everything you can imagine together. What a sacred and powerful moment. I hope you enjoy the video of it. I felt the same spirit of joy while I was up there with them that I felt on my drive home after I had told Bishop Mills that I wanted to start my mission papers!! No greater JOY!! The best part about it all, was when President Clayton stood up after with an unexpected comment. He said, “I just have one thing I need to say after watching the missionaries down here in the front row…and that is, Elders…lock your hearts!!!” There was quite the outburst of laughter for about 30 seconds before President Clayton was able to continue! Ha ha…too funny. I saw many faces from the past months of my mission. Many who wondered if I remembered them…many who heard I was singing and said they wouldn’t miss it…many I didn’t even know but told me how much they were going to miss hearing me sing. What a tender mercy for the Lord to allow me to see some of the fruits of my labors!
I got to see that in an additional way last night. The La Jolla YSA came to the Battalion for FHE and requested that I and Sister Miller take their tour. It was a great turnout of 38 people from the ward and so wonderful to see so many I loved and worked with. During the tour I leaned over and whispered to Sister Miller, “Doesn’t this just feel like home? I love these people so much!” We were in heaven! When we finished the tour, Randilynn got up and said they wanted to be there and requested us specifically because they wanted us to know how much they loved and appreciated us…that we had touched their lives and hearts and made such an impact. We both wanted to cry but then felt so much joy we couldn’t! I told them that they were the people we would one day tell our children about when we spoke of our missions and how I couldn’t wait to show my children pictures of them and tell them how I had served among them and they had changed my life. They had cake afterwards for us and cards of love! I have never felt so special! I love these people more than I can express!
Well…those were the most precious moments of my week! It has been amazing and I can’t wait for all that will come this week as I go and do!!! I got to record in a “home studio” today and it was a blast! Once in a lifetime chance to record a song about the atonement as a full-time missionary! Sister Salinas and I also recorded a little missionary shout out that I will always treasure!
I love you all! Can I ask a favor?! I would love to get mail on my last P-Day!!!! I’d love to hear from you! You’d need to mail it by Friday to get here in time! 7404 Armstrong Place, San Diego, CA 92111!!!
Until next week!!!