Dear Friends and Family,
Okay, so this week was definitely the biggest miracle of my mission so far. I can’t explain how crazy, exciting, terrifying, and overwhelming is was, but it was. Monday was normal, we hung out with the STLs and ASL sisters in the morning, and then, because they were both walking that day, we let them borrow our car so the 4 of them could go shopping. While they were shopping we just stayed at the church and emailed, etc. we also hung out with the Bartlett Elders for a while and just talked with them, which is kind of against the rules since it was just one set of sisters and one set of elders, but they had gotten ditched by a bunch of elders who were supposed to come hangout and play basketball with them, and I felt bad just letting them sit in the gym alone, especially because I knew they had gotten ditched. Other elders can suck sometimes.
Tuesday was district meeting, and we talked about true discipleship vs. Sunday Christianity, and it was an AMAZING lesson. We focused on the things in our faith that help and encourage people to become true disciples, and how we can get better at focusing on those things in our teaching in order to help guarantee that those we teach stay active and are truly converted. We also talked a lot about how sometimes we really just need to push those we are teaching who are ready for baptism, but that for some reason, are hesitating to take the plunge (literally, ha!). The whole district meeting I had J running through my mind. I couldn’t stop thinking about how ready she was for baptism, how solid her testimony had become, and what a blessing she would be as a newly baptized member in the Lakeland Ward. After district meeting, when we got in the car, I expressed my thoughts and feelings to Sister L, and it turns out she had been thinking and feeling the exact same things that I had! We took it as a sign and resolved to have J baptized by November 28th, this past Saturday. We prayed about what course we should take to accomplish this, and received the answer that we needed to have a lesson with J where we went over the baptismal interview questions. We knew that based off her responses to these questions we could know whether or not she was truly ready. We went over to J’s that day and had the lesson we planned. Her responses to the questions were intelligent, spiritual, and heartfelt. She was ready. I knew it, Sister L knew it, and J knew it. Just to be sure, we knelt in prayer with J as she asked her Heavenly Father about getting baptized on the 28th. Coming out of that prayer there was no doubt in my mind she needed to be baptized on that day. She felt confident in the date as well, and we knelt one more time in prayer as she asked for strength and guidance in discussing it with her mother.
Tuesday night we had Book of Mormon class, and it was really fun. J was there, and after class she asked Elder M if he would be willing to perform the baptism, and of course he happily accepted. We had resolved to go forward with faith, assuming that baptism would happen, even before we knew whether or not her mom would say yes.
Right here I need a side note in order to tell my next story. The heat in our apartment has been broken for over a week now, so Monday and Tuesday night we stayed with the Bartlett Sisters. That night we arrived back at the apartment well before the STLs and we were already finishing up our nightly planning session when they burst through the front door yelling. Confused, and a little frightened by the situation, we asked them what was going on, and they informed us that A & B, their wonderful investigators, and set their own dates that night and were getting baptized! With tears in our eyes we congratulated them, and we were so excited about A & B, that it took us a full ten minutes to remember to inform them about J! Once we got that out none of us could hold back the tears, it was clear then that all our sacrifices throughout the month of November had paid off, and we saw miracles.
Wednesday morning was very intense. We texted J to let her know when her baptismal interview would be, and to ask if she had talked to her mom, and her response sent a literal pain through my heart. She told us that while she HAD talked to her mom, and her mom actually had given her permission to be baptized on Saturday, she now felt herself that she wasn’t ready, and told us that she wanted to postpone. I couldn’t believe it, it was like all my hopes had been dashed in that one text. Thankfully, Sister L was far less despondent. She suggested that we dedicate our companionship study to a lesson that would remind J of the importance of baptism and get her back on track for Saturday. We did just that, and by the end of the hour we had more material than we would possibly be able to use in a 45 minute lesson. We asked J if we could meet up with her at 4:00 and she agreed. Before we went to see J at 4:00, though, we stopped by Sister W’s. While we were there we told her about the situation with J, and when she found out she was having second thoughts she asked us to record a video message for J. We agreed, and as I recorded the video it took everything I had to keep my crying from shaking the iPad too badly. Sister W spoke directly to J’s soul. Her words addressed almost every concern J had ever expressed to me. I was so thankful to be privileged enough to witness that miracle.
When we met up with J we read her our scriptures and our quotes, we taught and read, and asked questions, but without a doubt, the thing that touched J’s heart most, the thing that turned her again towards the waters of baptism, was the quiet testimony, the gentle admonition, and the loving words spoken in the hushed tones of Sister W’s sweet voice. She recommitted to Saturday, and as we walked out of the church building that evening we were greeted with the most beautiful harvest moon I have ever seen. It felt like the Lord had provided a beautiful gift to reward all three of us for our faith, and to let us know that he was there, present in our discussion that night.
Thursday was Thanksgiving, and by divine design unknown to us at the time, Ja had asked that J spend Thanksgiving with us, because she would be working, and she wanted her to “be with people she loved”. That morning at 11:00 we went over to the S’s home to have our first Thanksgiving of the day. We told them about J’s baptism, and they were over the moon! Sister S is a great cook, so we ate well, and when we walked out I definitely had to loosen my belt. Then, at 1:00 we headed to the church for J’s baptismal interview. Elder Ma & his companion had driven up from West Memphis for the interview and when we got there he had set up a classroom with two puffy chairs he stole from the foyer, and a table with a tablecloth he had taken from a RS closet! It was so funny, and J loved it.
Once she was in the interview my nerves really set in and I couldn’t sit still. I paced the church twice, and by the second lap she was already done! She passed with flying colors, and Elder Ma later told us he couldn’t believe the power of the spirit that accompanied her testimony, we are so privileged to teach her.
At 4:00 we headed to Thanksgiving round 2 at the V’s, and they had also invited the N’s, the K Family, The Y’s, and a family from the neighborhood. Needless to say it was a full house! But I loved it so much. The mashed potatoes, the vibrant conversation, the mildly stressed hostess, the screaming children, the overly competitive game of Pictionary we played, and even T Y throwing up because he had spun around too many times on the tire swing, it all felt so right. It reminded me of home, and all of the people that I adore, but I wasn’t sad. As I sat at my table next to J and observed the good natured chaos going on around me, instead of feeling homesick, I was struck by how lucky I was to love so many wonderful people back home, to have a family that was loud, and silly, and perfect, and then, I was struck by how lucky I am to have the opportunity to serve a mission, and to add to that wild, energetic, perfect family. The Lord is so good at giving us exactly what we need.
Friday was a good day, but it was relatively uneventful, so I am going to skip right ahead to SATURDAY. So the baptism was scheduled to take place at 11:00, and we were driving up with Brother M and J at 9:15 to make sure we had plenty of time to prepare and fill the font, etc. well, Brother M was running super behind, and by 9:30 he hadn’t even stopped by to pick us up yet. This meant we wouldn’t be to the building before 10:00 and we would never had enough time to fill the font before 11:00. I was freaking out!!! But, I called the Arlington elders because they serve close to the church building and I asked them if they could possibly run over and start the font right then. They then informed me that they had been studying at the church that morning, and because they knew about the baptism they had started filling the font the moment they got there and it was already halfway full! What a miracle! The baptism was AMAZING. The spirit was so strong, J was glowing. The one mark on the whole day was that her mom didn’t show up. I was so sad for J, but she handled it so well. We took the funniest baptism pictures of all time and had such a wonderful time.
After the ordinance, she stood up and bore her testimony. She said a lot of really great things, but the thing that struck me more than anything, was when she stood up, she smiled at all of us and said “I’m officially a part of the family now.” I can’t even explain how much that warmed my heart to hear. She gets it. She understands the gospel, and she loves it. I am so privileged to have been able to teach her. Sunday morning she was confirmed and the Spirit was there just as strong. The Ward is overjoyed to have her, and I am so thankful to have been able to facilitate this. She insisted that everyone call her Sister J W at church, and I was on cloud nine all day. I am so blessed. Miracles are real. God’s hand is in each of our lives. I love this gospel, I love J, and I love my Savior.
Hannah Kathryn Thomas