This week was a great week! I had a fantastic Christmas, which included getting letters from many of you. THANK YOU SO MUCH. You have no idea how much that meant to me. Sooo Christmas Eve (when Finns celebrate Christmas), we were at a member's house and had a blast! They are seriously sooo great! They invited over all of the recent converts that didn't have places to go. It was so fun! They even bought all of us presents. I was so touched. We also had a brunch on Christmas day with some of the temple couples. They have become my family here and they too gave us gifts. Also we went to a family's house for Christmas dinner and had traditional Finnish Christmas food and they gave us homemade Finnish socks! We're soo spoiled. And we finally got snow and have been walking in a BEAUTIFUL WINTER WONDERLAND! And the SUN SHINED on Christmas! It was a Christmas miracle. We also had an AMAZING lesson with this less active family. We asked the mom how long ago she was baptized and she said 3 years ago (her husband has been a member his whole life). It turns out that RIGHT after she was baptized they went on a study abroad to Austria and there was no church there. So basically she was forced into being a less active. They came back, had 2 cute little girls, and her understanding of the gospel is paper thin. I had the thought come into my head and I asked her "were you ever taught the new member lessons?" she responded "no..." the Spirit became way strong and I asked her "can we go through and teach you all of them again?" she said "yes please!" The Spirit was incredible. They are going to become an eternal family! I'm sooo excited. They came to church yesterday to hear my farewell talk and she texted us to set up her first lesson with us. YAY! Church is true. I gave my farewell yesterday and bawled my eyes out. Voi että... The members were soo kind to me and friends from other places came to support me. So cool. Gosh I love being a missionary :). I have learned so much on my mission! I wanna quickly make a list of some of the lessons I've learned:
1. I can do [hard] things through Christ which strengtheneth me- Philippians. Learning Finnish: hard. Being away from loved ones: hard. Following a rigorous schedule everyday including holidays: hard. Talking with strangers everyday: hard. Experiencing trials daily (sometimes hourly): hard. Being with somebody 24/7 that you just met: hard. And yet, I've learned that with Christ, not only can I do hard things, I can ENJOY doing hard things. I can LOVE doing hard things. I can take what comes and love it. He gives me the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual strength that I need. He strengthens me.
2. It's okay to be awkward. Being a missionary is sooo AWKWARD. I've learned that it's okay to do awkward things and say awkward things. And to just laugh at yourself the whole time. It makes things so much better.
3. Family is the most important. It has really hit me while I've been here how important my family is to me. How much I love and appreciate them. How much I just want to spend time with them. And how I will settle for nothing less than a temple marriage for my future family.
4. The big 3 are CRUCIAL for our eternal salvation: DAILY PRAYER (individually and as a family), DAILY SCRIPTURE STUDY (individually and as a family), and WEEKLY CHURCH ATTENDANCE are ESSENTIAL. These will be 3 of the things I will constantly evaluate myself on when I go home. If one of these slips, I know I need to make a change because that means I'm slipping away from God. They may seem like small things, but they're not. They're so important. As my mission president reminded me in my final interview this week, I need to make a list of "red flags" that will signal to me that I need to make a change in my life (like am I still studying my scriptures daily?) and I can evaluate those things as I take the sacrament. That's what the sacrament is for. To help us evaluate how we're doing. If we set out specific things, then we have something to measure ourselves with. It's a lot easier to ask yourself "did I pray morning and night everyday this week, read the Book of Mormon daily for at least 30 minutes, and did we have Family Home Evening this week?" then "am I being a good person?" Evaluate your life and ask yourself how you are doing with these three things. If one of them is weaker, then make a change and evaluate yourself next time you take the sacrament. This is CRITICAL.
5. Laugh. When things are hard, laugh. When you're not happy, make yourself laugh (at least force yourself to smile). Laughter makes everything better. It relieves stress and makes you feel happier.
6. The Atonement is so much more powerful than we can even imagine. We must come to KNOW Christ and His Atonement in order to apply it to our lives. We must put in the effort to know Him. Daily sincere prayer, deep scripture studies, and learning of His life are the best ways. As we experience trials and turn to Him during those times of despair, that's really when we come to know Him in a very real and personal way.
7. Be a true friend. There is a difference between being friendly and being a friend. A friendly person says hi to investigators, recent converts, and less actives at church or when they see them. They might even say that it's great to see them and they're glad they're in church. A true friend sits by this person, tells them how grateful they are that they're there, gets their number and invites them to dinner, an activity, or texts them before church the next week and says they're saving a seat for them. They give them a ride to church or an event, involve them in what is going on, and introduces them to more people. They are there for this person when this person has questions, concerns, or misunderstandings with the gospel or life. Especially with recent converts. They know so much LESS than we expect them to know.This is a whole new world for them. So take their hand and walk with them along this path back to our Heavenly Father. We're all just walking each other home.
8. I've learned what it means to be truly converted to the gospel. When Elder Bednar came to our mission he said, "you can't trick yourself into the gospel and you can't fake yourself out." If we are truly converted to the GOSPEL, not to our spouse, family, young woman leader, bishop, neighbor, young men's program, temple marriage, or the other organizations of the church, then we will NEVER fall away. And not only that, but we will strengthen our brethren. "when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren". We will do the little things: the big 3 always, be full tithe payers, fast monthly, dress modestly, be 100% in our home and visiting teaching, keep the Sabbath day holy (the whole day), always be willing to serve, live the gospel 150%, and share the gospel with all those around us. We will not be ashamed, embarrassed, or hesitant. How could we be? We're true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are converted to Him. We understand what discipleship means. Elder Bednar said something that hit all of us really hard. He said "there are many more members that would die for the gospel than live for it." What kind of member will you be? Will you live it in all that you do?
9. How do to missionary work as a member. So many members think of missionary work in the wrong way. They think it's something scary, something that will overwhelm their lives, or something they "just don't have time for right now." That's not what it is at all. It doesn't mean that you call up your friends out of the blue and say "hey you want the missionaries to teach you?" (unless of course the Spirit tells you to do that, then by all means do it!) It means you invite people into your gospel centered lives. You don't edit the gospel out of your speech. When somebody asks you how you're doing, you say "I'm doing really good. I've been preparing all morning to teach theSchool lesson in my church " When you have a talk in church, you ask your friend to come support you. When there's an activity at the church, you invite your nonmember neighbors along. You talk with your friends so they know you're a member. You ask them "do you know why we're called Mormons? It's actually a nickname because we have this book. Have you ever heard of the Book of Mormon before?... I'd love to give you a copy as a gift...." You pray everyday for missionary opportunities and TAKE them. So many members have told us that "well yeah I'll talk with people about the gospel when the opportunity arises." Here's the big secret friends.... YOU CREATE THOSE OPPORTUNITIES. It's something that you make! So make that decision today. Make a mission plan with your family. Call up the missionaries and ask for ideas for your mission plan. Don't make excuses. Just do it. The Lord needs us on His side. And not to just sit there, but to go out and bring more. Every member really is a missionary!
10. How to trust God. I think this is one of the biggest lessons I've learned. How to just take a deep breath and turn my will over to Him. To let Him take control of my life. To trust that He knows better than I do. To be willing to follow the promptings I receive, especially when they are different from what I want to do. I feel like I've had a weight lifted off my shoulders as I've done this. Put your trust in Him. He won't let you fall.
I could go on forever about the lessons I've learned, the miracles I've witnessed, and the people I've come to love. I could go on and on about the food I've eaten, the weather I've experienced, and the beauty I've seen. I could talk for days about the tears I've shed, the laughs I've had, and the moments when I've been still and known that He is God. But even that wouldn't be enough to express my love, appreciation, and gratitude for my Savior and my Heavenly Father. At the beginning of my mission, I kinda had the mindset that I had to give this mission my ALL or it would be held against me at the last day. That I would stand before Heavenly Father at the last day and He would say, "Well Sisar Nielsen. You did well, but when you were on your mission, you didn't do all you could have to bring people the gospel. You didn't talk to that one person, and you really messed up that one day, and you totally missed the point of that trial on that other day." I had this thought that "I MUST do everything in my power because this is not my mission or my time, it's the Lord's and I will be held responsible." But as my mission progressed, I realized I thought about it completely wrong. When we are baptized and make covenants with God, we take His yoke upon us meaning that we become a pair, a team. It means that Christ will help us in all we do. So at the last day when I stand before God, Christ will stand next to me and pointing to me say "Heavenly Father, we served a mission in Finland together. It was really hard. It was cold, dark, and lots of people didn't want to listen to us. We got doors slammed in our faces, foul language towards us, and many people rejected and mocked us. But WE tried our best to take the gospel to them. We didn't baptize everybody. But Sister Nielsen sure gave it her all and we did it together."
Christ lives. I love Him. This is His work. Miracles happen all around us, if we will just look for them. CHURCH IS TRUE! Thank you for all of the love, encouragement, and support over these past 18 months. You have no idea the help you've been to me. See you on the other side! Over and out. The name tag never comes off. We're in this for a LIFETIME.
With sooooooo much love!
ps I'll probably post one more post next week so you can see more pictures of this beautiful land.. love you all!
pps IS THIS REAL LIFE?!?!?!?!