Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Fete de Bayonne and Talkin to People

People are fascinated by the weather here. All you have to say to get someone to start talking to you is, "Il fait chaud" and holy cow the floodgates open. My favorite is when people tell us the temperature, because they use Celsius and we of course have no idea what that translates to, so we fake looks of shock and disbelief--"No, c'est pas vrai! 40 degrees?!" All the while we're thinking, "Look lady, you don't have to tell me how hot it is--I've soaked through all my layers of clothes, my hair is matted and sweaty to my forehead, and I have a watch-tan line like nobody's business. Are you not seeing this?!" It's so humid that when we run in the mornings, it's misty outside and you can't see very far off. It's so humid that we sleep with all our window open and the fan going constantly so we don't suffocate in the night! We're drinking tons of water.

And also we're evacuating the city. This week is the Fete de Bayonne, which means that tomorrow, one million five hundred people will descend upon this frying hot city, drink beer, jump off bridges, dance, eat Basque food, and otherwise party for the whole week. ONE MILLION FIVE HUNDRED. That makes it the fourth biggest fete in all the world, just after the one in Munich and Pamplona. So we're heading to Pau, to eat nems and stay with the sisters there and contact like fiends.
And on the subject of contacting, the goal for the mission is that every companionship talk to ("contact") 50 people everyday. Most days we meet this goal. Somedays we far exceed it. Somedays we drastically don't. I think this last week we had one day when we talked to 2 people. Eek, not good. Those are the days when I feel really lame. But guess what: we were watching the missionary training videos this week, and in them, the standard that was presented for missions worldwide was to talk to 10 people everyday (so we felt 5 times awesomer), and then after that, Soeur Swenson asked me how many people I contacted everyday my first transfer, and so I went back to my first planner, thinking I'd be disappointed by how many days this transfer we haven't hit our goal of 50 per/day. Guess what our numbers were like that first transfer: 10, 14, 7, 22, 12... In short, HOLY COW I'M ACTUALLY BECOMING A BETTER MISSIONARY!  I wonder how often in our lives we're actually leaps and bounds ahead of where we just were, but we don't realize it, because we're constantly reaching beyond ourselves. The reach is so important--it's what pulls us upward. But oh how sweet and comforting it is to look back from time to time and see progress happening in yourself--to see that you aren't the man or woman you once were. I'm grateful for every little moment when I see these tiny changes in myself and in my nature and in my capacity to do more than I've done before.
So in the spirit of reaching, Soeur Swenson and I, since we'll be in Pau with nary a person to visit (as it's not our area), we've set the goal to contact 1500 people this week. This is impossible. But I guess that is just the ground needed for a miracle to happen!

And on the subject of miracles, I'm seeing a funny pattern in our days: we set up really awesome plans, the plans fall through, and then even better things present themselves. For instance, one night Soeur Swenson suggested that we pray to try to find someone specific, so we prayed we could find someone who felt lost and wanted to know how to figure out which Church was true. Five minutes later, we stopped a couple who was walking through a park. The guy cut us off mid sentence, and in good old Mid-west States American English said to the woman, "Oh, these are the Mormon missionaries. They are the nicest, happiest people you will ever meet. And they're everywhere! So if ever you need anything--if you're lost or hurt and need someone to take you to the hospital, just look for a couple of these missionaries, and they'll save you! Or they'll at least call an ambulance for you." What a reputation! Thank you, whatever missionaries you were who gave this man such a glowing experience with Mormon missionaries! We started talking to them about our beliefs, asked them if they'd like to learn more, and the woman says, "I am so lost. I have been looking so long for the truth, and I don't know where to find it. I've tried every Church." Coincidence that we'd felt inspired to pray for this? I think not. So we taught her about how there IS a true Church on the earth and how she can know this by beginning to pray to Heavenly Father. Right there on the bridge by the park, we taught her about prayer and about finding truth. We set up an appointment for the following evening to see her again, in the same place.
The following evening, we showed up to the same place, all set to teach her a little more about the truths God has restored again to the earth, and what do you know, they never showed up. This happens from time to time. Right as we're leaving, another couple who we taught a couple of lessons to but haven't been able to get in touch with again walked by. They live really far out of town, and were just in for the evening to go to dinner or something. Coincidence that in those thirty seconds before we were leaving the park, they'd walk by the very place we were? I think not. So we chatted with them, made them laugh a little, and set up another time to come by.
A similar thing happened two days ago: we were supposed to meet someone else in the park, and he didn't show up either, but instead, we ran into a man we'd talked to the day before, who'd had all kinds of questions about what happens after this life. He had more questions again for us (despite his insistence that he didn't want to learn any more about our Church...heh heh I can see right through that, Mister). So we told him about the resurrection, about how he would be resurrected with a perfect body someday. And then right after that, we met another man named Daniel who from his bag pulled a Bible with dogeared pages and all kinds of leaves and pictures stuck in the pages. He loves that book, he said. And so we told him about the Book of Mormon and we're going to meet up with him this afternoon to give him a copy so he can love that book like he loves the Bible.
In other words, what I'm seeing is that we make our plans, and then those plans fall through, but it's because there are different, perhaps more important plans that Heavenly Father has for us. It's not just that when He closes a door, somewhere He opens a window. It's more like when He closes a door, it's because He's going to knock down a wall and give us a garden and an orchard and a greenhouse instead. So we don't worry when our plans go through. It means there are better plans in the works.

A couple of funny stories for the week:
This week there was a family from the Netherlands visiting church. Their daughters spoke English but not French. So they asked if I'd translate for them. Ahem. Funniest thing ever. Mostly I just made up stuff that was basically on the same subject as what the speaker was talking about. This is because I don't speak French. Hahahaha
Also, last night we stopped a family on a bridge (bridge contacting is my favorite). I said, "On est missionnaire de l'Eglise de Jesus-Christ..." to which the father said, good-naturedly, "Oh, I'm terribly sorry, but we don't speak French!" To which I said, "Oh, I speak English!" To which He said, "Damn! I thought that would work!!" Haha, we all laughed about it for a while. They still rejected us. Ha.
The pictures:

The first one's of all the signs for the Fete. The top one says things like: don't jump off bridges, don't jump off buildings, don't climb the lightpoles and jump off. Such is the fete.
The second one is of me and Soeur Swenson down in the city. We got gelato right after and were even happier, if such a thing can be imagined.
The third is of me in my leopard/rhinoceros grandma skirt, which I realized yesterday also has giraffes and elephants on it!!!!!!!!                                             
And the fourth one is of zone conference, of all the missionaries waiting at the busstop. We are strong. We are many. I love these moments.

Monday, July 15, 2013


each one of us is a record.
our experiences are carved inside
inscribed cave paintings on our walls.
is lost.
and each carries around with him with her
these records of living,
these heartbeats of their days.

you're building an epic poem, you are.
an epic poem, you are.
-11 July 2013
Bayonne France
Little by little, I'm starting to have these small realizations--tiny tiny changes in the way I view the world, God, and myself. They aren't significant to write down, just a small change in perspective here, a little opening of horizons there. But they're starting to stack up. I hope and maybe, by the end, they will have changed my very nature and rendered me a new, more lovely, more holy creature.


I have some funny stories this week. Mostly people are just really funny.

At the market I found this truly incredible skirt with pandas and rhinos and leopards on it. It is also pleated. Yep, awesome. So I hold it up, and the little market man (I think his name is Jacques) says, "No no no, you can't buy that. That skirt is for grandmas. Not for you. You can't buy it." Hahahaha, yep I bought it.

We received a referral from a lady in Paris asking us to stop by one of her friends in Bayonne. We call up the fried--her name is Ester--and ask if we can stop by. She was super friendly and had a really thick Spanish accent. So we go over and she's really welcoming, sits us right down, tells us her whole life story, gives us big glasses of mango nectar, all the while talking in this rich, thick, super fast Spanish French. Then she's like, "Come, I want to show you something!" She takes us into the back room of her apartment and there's two couch/beds back there. She strats to explain how in thsi room it's too loud with the trains right next to the window, and so she prefers to sleep in the other room, but it isn't too bad at night because no trains go by, etc. All the while we're being so kind and interested in these sorts of details about this woman's life, asking her about the room and so on. Then she points to one bed and says, "So, you can sleep on that bed, and she can sleep on that bed! (pointing to Soeur Swenson)" Me: "Ummm...oh we actually have an apartment..." ?!? So turns out this whole time she thought we were coming over because we didn't have anywhere to stay in Bayonne, and so she was offering her house to us! We all had a really good laugh about that, and then we had a really good talk about church and God, and then she sent us on our way with the blessing that God be with us. We're going to see her again tonight.
Saw it.

Monday, July 8, 2013

to build a home / rugby

This week I wanted to write about gifts. The members in the ward here are giving them to us all the time:

On Sunday, Frere W. from the ward gave me a flashdrive on which he'd recorded himself reading slowly the first 7 chapters of the "Gospel Principles" manual in French, so we could listen to it and practice our comprehension and pronunication. This must have taken him hours to do.
Soeur M. brought me British cookies before my long train ride to Lyon because I once mentioned in passing that I loved them, and she happens to have special access to British treats.
Last week, when we were feeling a little overwhelmed with all the French that we don't speak, the S. family had us over for lunch and spoke all in English so we'd feel comfortable.
Soeur L. brought us a huge tomato salad and pear cake.
Frere D. drove two hours to bring us over for lunch.
Soeur L. said we could come over any Mondy night we wanted to...or any other day that would work for us.
Soeur P. fed us at a ward luncheon.
Soeur G. puts her arm around us and winks at us to help us feel at home.
These gifts are incredible to me. Every time someone does something kind for us, I'm so surprised and so grateful: we're just strangers to them, but they open their homes and their lives and their schedules to us. They do things like spend hours reading gospel manuals so we can maybe learn the language a little better. These things are real gifts. They are things we could never do for ourselves. And when we receive kindnesses like this, I'm astounded. These kinds of gifts drive me to ask what in the world I could ever do to show my thanks. And of course, there is nothing I could do. Just keep smiling and loving them and trying to help them feel the Savior's love.
In other news, we are working super hard to reach our contacting goals. We try to talk to 50 people everyday. All I can say is this is seriously hard for me. Somedays it's easier than others. Some moments it's easier than others. But most of the time every morning when I'm practicing my French and I think about how I have to go out into that big scary world and talk to people I don't know, my stomach drops and everything inside of me cowers and shrinks. But then we suit up and go out and pray pray pray for courage and French skills and somehow one person at a time, we're building bravery.

And we see miracles everyday. My favorite miracle of the week was when one day we'd set the goal to talk with 75 people. We only had 20 minutes left of the day, and we were only at 50, so we set out to find 5 more people we could invite to learn about Jesus Christ. And what do you know, just at the last second a team of rugby players comes waltzing around the corner. I say to Soeur Swenson, "I'm gonna do it." And then I stopped the entire rugby team, explained we were missionaries, invited them all to learn about Christ, not a single one of them wanted to, but we shared a little moment together, they saw our badges and the light in our eyes, and every single one of them walked away smiling.
Other news:

I've decided I've gotta quit eating pots of yogurt (oooh the chestnut one is my favorite) because I'm turning into a pot of yogurt.
Sometimes I wonder at what point everyone around me's gonna quit the charade and start speaking English already. Never have I loved my native tongue more. For the most part, I never have any idea what people are saying. But since I'm training now, I get to pretend a lot, and that's fun and entertaining and such.
We've made our apartment super girly this week. We finally got a shower curtain and it has mangoes on it and fish (random. awesome.) We also bought a lace table cloth and some flowers and we made some TexMex curry (see picture of Soeur Swenson with hair blowing in the fan--very Martha Stewart I'd say) and now chez-nous feels like a home.

Monday, July 1, 2013

baby girl

When I was in fourth grade, we did Idaho History Month where we learned about the trappers and the golddiggers and the mountain men. We learned how to stretch a bear skin tight and then comb it thin until it turns into vellum. This week I was that bear skin. A little stretched and little combed into transparency.

First I left my English scriptures on the train. It goes like this: I spent two days traveling from Bayonne to Lyon to pick up my new companion (more on this later), and then two days traveling back. Four trains, two floods, a fire, two unplanned buses, and one set of train robbers (not kidding*) later, we pull into Toulouse where we're spending the night. There were eight of us missionaries on that train (half of which were bleus) so there was a lot a lot a lot of suitcases. We all sort of tumbled out of the train with all the suitcases and our packages and backpacks and scriptures and fell into a big heap on the train platform just before the train left. (A little shoutout to the elders: were it not for them and their gentlemanly help in getting us sisters with all our luggage everywhere we'd be in dire straits. There'd probably be a lot of sister missionaries stuck at train platforms all across Europe because our suitcases are too heavy for us to carry up and down the Gare stairs (dear France: they invented something called elevators a few years ago. Google it.)**).
So we're in this big heap of missionaries and suitcases and DVD players and packages from home on the platform when one of the sisters realizes she's missing a suitcase. Me and a missionary next to me shake our heads in pity..."Wow, that's rough. I don't know what I'd do if I lost a suitcase. Or worse, if I lost my camera...or worse, my journal or scriptures." Lalala we all descend the Gare stairs, we all take the metro into town, and there, halfway up the Metro elevator (Toulouse is advanced in terms of Gare standards) I realize: I left my scriptures on the train. Worst. Feeling. Ever.
It's especially bad because I'm training this transfer, which means I'm gonna be bear-skin-vellum stretched and I'm going to need every word in those sweet sweet books to anchor my soul and my heart when things start getting crazy.

So I've prayed a lot this week. At first it was that they'll find my scriptures (I'm going to Bordeaux on Thursday so I can check the Gare then), but then my prayers turned different, because I think I realized that maybe I was starting to rely more on the scriptures than on God. Huh. Now there's an interesting thought. I love the words in them and I love the things the scriptures inspire me to do, and I know they are the words of God, but I also know that they're meant to help bring you to God, not to be a god in themselves. It's almost as if all my lifelines really are going to be taken away until all I have left is just me and Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Spirit. And the four of us can figure out how to read the scriptures in French, and how to use those scriptures to help others, how to teach simply, how to be kind and loving and faithful, and not merely scripturally academic. I love those scriptures, but I love God more, and this experience is teaching me how to do that better.

I played the organ again on Sunday. Similarly disastrous.

Now, because I spent so much time in transit this week, I wanted to write about that. Like I said, I went to Lyon this week to get the sister missionary that I'll be training. My whole first two transfers I was flooded with ideas of things I wanted to do if ever I was a trainer, and luckily I wrote them down, thinking they might be preparation for things to come. Good thing! So all the trainers met up in Lyon, went to McDonalds (a Big Mac and fries and Fanta and a Peanut M&M McFlurry never tasted so good. Ha and my parents were worried I wouldn't keep my weight up), slept in a fancy shmancy (not really) hotel in Lyon, and met our new missionaries the next morning! My new companion's name is Soeur Swenson. She's from Utah, she's the youngest of seven kids (2 boys, 5 girls), did ballet a bunch, has a really close family that likes doing things like playing games and being silly and eating dinner together, and I am so so so grateful to have her with me. She waves and says hi to everyone we pass on the streets, she is always open and candid and inquisitive, and she's already jumping in to speak French as much as she can. And I feel super protective of her and super concerned for her and just want her to feel happy and comfortable and proud of herself every second. In the mission, they have all kinds of weird lingo for training--for example, I'm Soeur Swenson's mom, I birthed her, she's my baby, blah blah blah. All of it creeps me out and I try not to use any of it, but then when I've had her this week, her eyes big with wonder and anticipation and joy for all the things she's learning and all the things she hopes to do in her mission...well, I can see the metaphor. She is absolutely delightful and all I want to do is help her be happy.
On Saturday we cleaned the church with the whole ward. One lady had brought us a big cake and a big salad and when we thanked her, she said "C'est normal" and then explained tha tfor her, we represent the Savior. Oh how those words sank deep in my chest. Everytime someone here opens up to me about their fears and their worries and their hopes and desires, I think about this--that I'm not here as me listening to this, but I am here as a representative of the Savior. Oh the things I would want to say if I had Him here to comfort me and listen to me. So I try to listen like He would and comfort like He would and inspire and love and bless like He would.

In all the stretching and the pulling and the long days of French I don't speak and people I don't know and the constant affrontment with all the things I am not yet good enough at, I am grateful for the quiet and sometimes few and far between moments where the wind or the cobblestone or the night air reminds me how old my soul is and how much I have done and how much I have become and how deep and urgent the promises of the Lord are. I know the Lord is with each of us, and that in a future day we'll understand just what that really means.

 End Notes.

*We always have train delays. This week, as I said, we had delays for fires, for floods, for robbers who stole the train cables... I'm hoping for pirates next. Deep down I think that none of these reasons are actually legitimate. I think the train conductors probably just get bored of explaining that sometimes trains are slow, or sometimes they want to eat a sandwich before continuing on, and so they make up dangerous and fascinating reason why the trains are delayed. I like this way of living. Constant intrigue.

**As for other inventions that are surprisingly unseen here, this week were in a meeting and a man in the ward asked for a sheet of paper. I handed him my perforated notebook and he gasped and said, "Wow! Would you look at that! Those Americans are just always ahead of us in innovations!" Hahaha, I think I looked at him like, "Seriously?"
The pictures are me at McDonalds and Toulouse.