Monday, May 27, 2013

Children of Light

Sheesh what a week it's been! We've spent most of the week NOT in Bayonne. We were in Lyon for three days, Bordeaux for one, and now we're just getting back and getting into the routine again. Our conferences last week were so encouraging--I came back knowing exactly where I wanted to throw my efforts these coming weeks:

GOAL 1. So I've been wanting to change my nature, you know, as is wont to happen when you immerse yourself in the holy writings and realize just what a crude being you are. I've still been thinking about that Yoda quote my dad sent me, and how the scriptures say we are children of "the father of lights." So here's what I've done: I've put a centime (penny) in my shoe everyday this week. And every time I feel it, I pray in my heart to be filled with light and with love, so that everyone who sees me can feel God's light and love for them. Oh WOW have crazy things started happening:

One day I as riding the bus and I was talking to a lady, but there were 4 other people standing nearby or sitting, just looking at me and smiling. One of them even tapped me on the leg and waved goodbye as he got off the bus.

Later that day, I smiled at two women with umbrellas as they got on the bus, and they smiled back, and then as they were walking to the back of the bus, they were still smiling at me and staring at me, and as they came to where I was sitting they sorta slowed down, and finally stopped and just stood there staring at me! And I'm like, good-naturedly smiling back at them...and finally I'm like, "...Bonjour..." and they kinda snap out of whatever trance they were in, and start giggling to one another, and I say, "You can sit here if you'd like!" And they both look at each other like, "I want to, but you can if you want to..." and there's this awkward moment where both of them want to sit there, and then they start laughing again, and thank me and walk giggling to the back of the bus.

Then there was a bus driver who I smiled at and talked with for a second when I got on the bus, and later that day we barely missed his bus on our way go back home--he drove right past us--and I don't know how he knew, but when we got to the next stop, he was there waiting for us...with the whole bus of people. Hahaha

Other favorite contacting moments where when I stopped a lady on the street and she was so nice and friendly, and then I said the word missionary and she jumped back a few inches, like she'd been shocked or something hahaha, best reaction ever. And I teased her about it and then we laughed together, and then we talked for a minute.

And also there was the man who was leaning out his window, watching all the cars go by on the busy street below, and I yelled up to him, and we had this really delightful conversation(yelling) over the noise of the street, about how his brother is a Catholic priest, and how we Mormons don't drink wine, and how that's how he knows it is not the Church for him!, and other such hilarities.

What all this means is that the universes are conspiring to bring cool people to us! People are wonderful, and everyday I love them more and more. It is terrifying to open your mouth, but you know what I've found the secret is to a good conversation, or to a good friendship? Just opening your mouth. Twenty seconds of bravery, as Soeur Pfost would always say. At the beginning of my mission, I thought I needed to have a perfectly thought-through approach, to fully express how wonderful the Church was and why I was wanting to talk to them and so on. Now I'm realizing all people really need as a reason is a smile and a genuine heart. So we're working on that, and laughing a lot on the way.

AND THUS MY CHALLENGE #1 FOR YOU ALL: Think of a character trait you'd like to develop. It can be anything. Then stick a penny in your shoe for a week (this is not a metaphor. A real penny. DOOO ITTTTT.) and every time you feel it, say a little prayer to be that trait. Magic will happen.

GOAL 2: Talk more to people. See above. The 20 seconds of courage. I'm learning that the people around me love talking. Give someone a reason to build a bridge, a friendship, and most often, they will take it. Usually the reason I give goes something like, "Have you had a good day?" I've met a lot of cool people this last week doing that.

GOAL 3: Be perfectly obedient to the mission rules. Any guesses on what I have a hard time with? Being in bed on time. Not true, actually. I'm always in bed on time, but typically the 4 minutes before bedtime are a lil crazy. Hahaha, I'll be sitting at the table writing in my journal, look up at realize it's 10:26, say, "Oh mince!" (how French people say "Shoot!"), run into the bathroom and floss (every night because I'm terrified of having to go to the dentist here), brush my teeth vite vite, and then jump in my bed. Yeah. So this week I'm reversing the order of those things and so far it's been really lovely. Also, I'm sleeping all night, for the first time so far on my mission, so that's a lil happy thing too.


Since we're just two new ("bleu") missionaries stuck with each other, we have no idea what's going on. There's something called the bleu card, you know, which means when you mess us, you can pull the bleu card. For instance, you go to a dinner with a family, and you say nothing the whole time, because you can't understand anything that's going on. Bleu card. And everyone understands because you're bleu. Well usually missionaries have a good 12 weeks to use this bleu card. Not so with us. We don't have older, more experienced training missionaries with us any longer to carry the weight. We're forced to carry conversation at dinner appointments and lessons and in Church. So since our bleu card time was cut 6 weeks short, we plan to use it every chance we get. For instance, we show up in Toulouse to spend the night with the other missionaries on our way to Lyon for our conference. We get to the train station, wait for the missionaries to pick us up to take us to their apartment, and no one comes, and no one comes. So I call the Toulouse missionaries and say, "Hey, this is the Bayonne soeurs...we're here in the Gare..." And they say (classic gentlemanly missionaries), "Oh super! We're so glad you made it! Now, why are you here, exactly?" Hahaha, turns out they had no idea we were coming, which means it also turns out that we were supposed to be the ones to notify them, not the mission office. Bleu card. Awesome.

And as for phone calls, yeah, they're just generally horrifying and terrible. This week we get a call from an unknown number, so I answer it, and it's this man asking to meet up with us to talk about our Church. And I'm thinking, 'Okay, who is this? He's acting like I know him, but I have no idea who this is..." So I finally decide the best thing to do is just to ask who it is. Ahem. I couldn't for the life of my figure out how to ask that: "Comment est-ce que c'est? Qui...est-ce que c'est? Vous etes qui?" And on and on, for probably a good 30 seconds, and he couldn't for the life of him figure out what I was trying to ask. Wow. So funny. (Turns out all you have to say is "C'est qui?")

Also, one evening, after a day full of talking to cool people, we walked home, and voila, a rainbow over the field by our house, and guess where the end of the rainbow was. I kid you not, it was right to our front door. That's what all week has felt like.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Luminous Beings

My dad sent me a quote from Yoda a few weeks ago: "Luminous beings we are, not this crude matter."

I think about that all the time.
Everywhere we go we are trying to radiate light and goodness and delightfulness. On our way into a grocery store last week, there were four women talking in a circle in the parking lot, and as we passed them, one looked over at us, so I waved at her and said bonjour, and she came over and said, "I recognize you! You're down in Bayonne usually?" And I said yes... and she said, "Yes, I have seen you down there. I recognize your face, because you have a purity in your face that is extraordinaire." I then of course asked her if she wanted to know where it came from, and she said no, she's Israelite, or something, but anyways, that was really awesome, and here's why: President Roney told us to pray every day that everyone we talk to and everyone who sees us (but we don't have a chance to talk to) will see the light and love of God in us. And voila. He promised us this would happen if we prayed for that. And it did! He said the requirement though is that when it starts happening, you have to always point the people to God. You can't keep it for yourself. Wise man. So yeah, my companion and I felt really awesome after that, just knowing that people notice us and they see goodness, even people who we never talk to. We're trying to rally more of that power so we can be proselyting even when we're not specifically proselyting.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Comme Un Petit Oiseau

We finished our first transfer--the first six weeks of the mission-- this week, and then my trainer Soeur Pfost got moved to Bordeaux, and now I'm with Soeur Witt. Let's talk about this for a second, because it is more or less the happiest thing that I could have imagined. Soeur Witt and I were in the MTC together. There, we said to each other that we would pray our whole missions to get to be companions. Voila. Second transfer, we are companions. Tender mercies.
Now let's talk about a few implications of this change:

Soeur Witt was a ballerina. She likes doing things like yoga and slow jogging.
She does all different kinds of painting, brought her SLR camera on her mission, loves art museums, France, and eating strawberries. Her favorite free time activity is going to old bookstores and vintage clothing shops.
And her favorite food is salad.
None of these things we knew about each other in the MTC. We just had a feeling we'd be 'amis du coeur.'

You know what this means? That this is going to be the best transfer of my life! We already have a million ideas for how to bring the things we love into our missionary lives. We got on the train together on our way to Bayonne and then preceded to talk nonstop for the next 2 hours about all our goals for how to bring the ward closer together, how to use our love of art to begin conversations and friendships with people, how to learn French faster and more lovelily, how to attract all the world to the joy we feel in living the Gospel, how to soak up more of the fact that we're living in FRANCE for Pete's Sake yeah! etc. etc. I woke up this morning comme un petit oiseau.
Oh and one other implication: Soeur Witt has been on her mission as long as I have, which means neither of us speak French. Which means everyday we get to witness miracles of God helping us speak. Yesterday when we were on the train back from Bordeaux, I started talking to this man across from us, and I don't know where it came from, but suddenly my brain stopped fussing and fighting and my mouth just started talking openly and freely, in French. I told him about the Restoration and about prophets and the Book of Mormon and priesthood authority. I got off the train and said to Soeur Witt, "I had no idea I knew that much French." And then of course I try to have a normal conversation with someone in a shop and can barely say anything. Interesting how that works. 
Our mantra for the transfer is Moroni 7:33. I love the clause at the end: whatsoever thing is expedient in me. That means that though our French and missionary skills are so tiny, they will be enough to do the things that are necessary for us to do here.
A few highlights:

1. I ate mussels this week for the first time. We were at a member's house, and she brought out a heaping bowl of mussels (all bowls or plates or dishes in France heap. SO.MUCH.FOOD.), sets it down on the table, and immediately her 8 year old daughter starts in on them. Like they're graps, she starts pulling them out of the bowl, popping them in her mouth, sucking them off, and tossing them on her plate. I have never seen anything like it. By the end of the meal, her plate was then heaping with empty mussel shells. (Oh and I really liked them. I was a little nervous, but

2. For the last two weeks or so Soeur Pfost and I decided to sing Christmas carols every morning as part of our morning studies. Best decision of my life (other than serving a mission of course). So do not fear, the tradition of beginning to sing Christmas carols earlier and earlier each year is still going on. Last year it was June when I started, I believe. This year it's May. Huzzah and fa la la.

3. Will someone please go see Great Gatsby for me because the billboards for it are everywhere here and it's killing me.

4. I'm finding new ways to conduct Nutella to my mouth. For a while it was wheat toast. This week it's a spoon.

5. There are several phrases that I love that the French people say:

First, 'C'est pas grave.' The closest equivalent is something like 'No big deal' or something. They say for everything--if you drop something, if you can't make a decision at the patisserie, if you cancel an appointment. I'll have to make a list of the weird times they use it, the times when it really isn't necessary. I love this phrase because my brain translates it as 'It isn't grave.' Which makes it seem like it actually, probably is.

Second, 'C'est gentil.' This is what they say when you offer to help someone, or when you offer to share the gospel with them.
Third, 'C'est normal.' This is what they say when you say 'C'est gentil' for helping you. Again, my brain translates this as 'It's normal.' Which is a really funny thing to say about someone going out of their way to help you get your enormous suitcases off the train. No, sir, that isn't normal behavior. C'est gentil et chivalreux.

Fourth: comportement. I think it means demeanor or something. And it's also a wordin English, but one we don't use enough. Let's change that, shall we.
Fifth: chercher, which means to fetch. This is what people say about other people-- I have to fetch my daughter from school, let me go fetch my husband, etc. I should look up how to say "fetching" so I can tell all these people helping me with my suitcases and what not that their comportement is fetching.

Sixth: "Dit-moi." Tell me. As in "Tell me everything." People tack this on to greetings of friends all the time and I love it.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Cinderella Dressed in Yella (Bayonne, Week 5)

Last week I bought a jumprope. It is bright green. Every morning this week I have woken up super happy because I get to jump rope for the first 30 minutes of my day. I am really bad at it. But I am improving. This week, it took 135 doctors. (And yeah, I totally do "Cinderella Dressed in Yella" in my head. Every time. Six years old, me.)
I want to write about a lady out here that I'm getting to know. She brings joy everywhere she goes. She hugs people and shares beauty with them and love and whenever she walks in a room (no exaggeration here--I saw it at least three times in the last 2 days), people run to her and hug her and kiss her cheeks and giggle they are so happy to see her. I'm trying to learn from her how she does what she does--how she can make every person she comes across feel lighter and happier. She loves everyone, exactly as they are, and for some reason, they can feel that and it brings out the best in everyone. It brings out the child in everyone.

Today was our preparation day and we had lunch at a creperie just around the corner from the cathedral. There we were, in the middle of this cobblestone rue, and there was a breeze coming down way, and pigeons overhead, and the cathedral bells. We went inside the cathedral too for a moment, and I remembered that cathedrals have a beautiful smell--one that you really only find in cathedrals. Maybe it's the old wood pews and the cold stone and the maroon paint in the frescos...I stood in the doorway and just smelled it for a while, remembering the other cathedrals of a couple of summers ago.