Hola, familia y amigos…
It’s been another terrific week in Kansas. I was going to talk about this in the usual bullet section of my email, but I’m too excited/happy about it to leave it until then, so I won’t bury the lead here…I. HUGGED. A. COW. My dream is fulfilled (hence the title of this email). I kid you not. It happened. Attached are the pictures to prove it (taken on my companion’s camera). It was SO cool!!!! (Look at me, using a bunch of exclamation points like a 12-year-old girl… :)) So, the story. My awesome companion, Elder Leighton, knew of my dream of hugging a cow, as I may have mentioned before. As I know I’ve mentioned before, we do service every week at the Deanna Rose Farmstead. This week, Elder Leighton was telling me that I was going to get to hug a cow this week…he’d figure out how. So a little bit after we got there, he told me to come with him, and we were going to find a way to do it. I was kind of bewildered (it was like 8 in the morning, mind you), and I wasn’t sure if we were going to be able to…we went to the dairy barn, and one of the staff members was in the back. Elder Leighton explained my dream to hug a cow (understandably, she thought it was a bit of a unique request… :)), and she asked me, “A cow or a calf?” I was still kind of bewildered, and I eventually told her a cow, and then she said, “OK, let me go get the cows.” I still wasn’t believing it…until we went out back and she was bringing two real cows out to meet me. That’s when the excitement kicked in. She told me that Heidi, the brown one, was much nicer than the other cow, so she brought her over to her pen in the barn, and I had her lick my hand a bit to get used to me, I petted her a little, she was a little jumpy, and then it happened. I got to hug a cow. She was so awesome!!! I totally could have spent hours with that cow. So the rest of the day, I was basically on top of the world. Heck, every time I think about it, even now, I’m on top of the world. I GOT TO HUG A COW!!!! I made sure to thank my companion over and over for helping me fulfill one of my dreams…he’s truly one of a kind. 🙂 So enjoy those pictures…they don’t do justice to how happy and over the moon I was, but they’re still a nice little snapshot of an unforgettable experience. :)Now, bullet time…
- Side note about Heidi the cow: I was walking over to the mining shack to get some receipt paper, and I walked past where the cows were. The first time I walked by, they were both eating some hay, but on the way back to where I was working at the fishing shack, Heidi was looking at me…and she almost seemed to be smiling. She had her tongue out and stuff, and it seemed like she was saying hi. (Yeah, maybe not. But I’m going to pretend that’s what it was. :))
- So right now while I’m emailing, I’m watching (well, mostly listening to) the Pioneer Day Concert by MoTab…it turns out, they have the video up still! Oh my gosh, Katherine Jenkins (the special guest, as I mentioned a few emails ago)…she is amazing. You have to watch it…she has an incredible voice. It’s really unlike her sweet little Welsh speaking voice, too, which is interesting. She has such a charming personality and infectious smile, too…it’s great to watch her. It’s a terrific concert…the theme is “The Joy of Song,” and they sing some pioneer songs, some songs from stage and screen, folk songs, hymns, that kind of thing. And just a few minutes ago in the video…Mark Ballas came out and they danced a paso doble! It was amazing. (And very surreal to see a little “Dancing With The Stars” meets MoTab moment there…the Orchestra at Temple Square accompanied their dance and everything.) So basically, I’m really excited I got to watch this, as you can probably tell. 🙂 (If you want to see it, which I highly recommend, just go to mormonchannel.org posthaste, and the video should still be up…it was on the main page when I looked it up today.)
- This past week we had companionship exchanges for a day with the zone leaders…for those of you don’t know, we do exchanges every so often like that, so the district leaders (my companion is actually our district leader) and zone leaders can kind of check up on the district and the zone and all that. I was with Elder Schofield, one of the zone leaders, in their area, and to be honest I wasn’t completely thrilled…he’s probably the more strict of the two zone leaders we have, but he’s actually a pretty nice guy, and was great to work with for a day. We had a few crazy experiences on our exchange…we started off in the afternoon, and had someone from their ward driving us around on a team-up. At one of the apartment complexes we went to, we saw a bit of the, ahem, darker side of Overland Park…a kid, about 10 or 12 years old or so, was running from the cops (they had already handcuffed him). Yeah. Not something you usually see every day. 🙂 (They both ran into his apartment and caught him by the time we had come out of the apartment building we were visiting.) A bit later, we noticed that the member’s front left tire was going flat…it turns out, the little valve on the tire had been getting pinched somehow for a while, so eventually it snapped and was leaking out air. So Elder Schofield offered to change the member’s tire, so we could at least get back to our car, and so he could get home and everything. (He has experience, apparently…his dad’s a mechanic and now teaches auto repair at a community college, so Elder Schofield was taught well.) A cop chase on foot and a flat tire…definitely not your usual companion exchange. 🙂
- Two more stories from that exchange…first, I got to do a few street contacts in Spanish! They actually went really well…we got return appointments with both of them (it wasn’t my area, of course, but still a very good thing), and since Elder Schofield doesn’t know much Spanish, I actually kind of ended up taking the lead, which was different. I know I had Heavenly Father’s help there…I didn’t really feel any fear at all, I kind of just jumped into it. (Elder Schofield started off the conversations, but usually had to turn to me often, since neither of the people we were talking to knew much English.) I know that I couldn’t have spoken and understood as well as I did (I most certainly wasn’t perfect, but it went well) without the Spirit. It was great to see that principle in action…it really strengthened my testimony. As for the other story…eh, let’s put that in the weekly food bullet. You’ll see why in a moment. 🙂
- So, food. Our dinner appointment while I was on the exchange was with a fun older couple, the Aggens. Apparently they feed the missionaries about once a month or more…he runs the missionary dinner calendar, so if there’s a cancellation or empty space, they usually take care of it. Guess what they had for dinner? Oh, just a thing I absolutely love. Salad. They were pretty laid-back people, and said at the beginning, “We have a rule in our house…if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it.” Still, you’ve taught me well about being polite, Mom and Dad, and I said nothing and just went to work on trying to eat that salad. There was some chicken in the middle, some tomatoes and other things I could eat, so I thought I was doing OK…then I noticed Elder Schofield and the Aggens had their salad almost eaten, and while I was eating steadily, and trying not to pick around as much as I could…yeah, I still had a bunch left (and like 90% of the lettuce at that… :)). I was still eating it as much as I could, and Brother Aggen said…”Elder…we don’t want you to starve. What do you want to eat?” They noticed my struggle with the salad (as much as I tried to hide it), and while I replied I was fine at first, they got the truth out of me (I don’t like salad), said it was no problem and heated up some rice and pork for me, which was very kind of them. I kept apologizing, but thankfully they were fine about it…but yeah, I still felt pretty embarrassed for a bit. Still, that’s the only dinner appointment where that’s happened so far…I promise I’m being a good boy on that. 🙂 (Hey, you’ve heard all the things I’ve eaten that I haven’t before.) I was fine with dessert, though…it was brownies and ice cream, and Sister Aggen asked if we liked strawberries, and I was able to say yes, since I like them now! Strawberries and ice cream are pretty good, btw. I would say you should try them sometime, but I’m sure you already have. 🙂 (Something you should try if you haven’t already, though, is strawberries with sour cream and brown sugar, like I mentioned in a previous email. Delicious.) And now it’s something I can laugh about. A bit. 🙂
- More with food…I forgot to mention this in a previous email, but about two weeks ago, a member took us to Oklahoma Joe’s, a legendary BBQ place around these parts. They have stuff like pulled pork sandwiches, brisket sandwiches, that kind of thing…and oh my gosh. It’s to die for. The hype was huge (Elder Leighton and a bunch of people in the ward had talked about how good Oklahoma Joe’s is for weeks before I got to go), but it so lived up to it. Heck, it probably exceeded it. The BBQ sauce they have there is incredibly delicious (I’ve really fallen in love with BBQ sauce here…remember how I used to not want to try it?), and I piled it on my pulled pork, and I think I may have died and gone to barbecue heaven. Anyways, definitely a place to go to when you’re ever in the Kansas area. We’re going there again for lunch today (it’s a traditional first P-day of the month spot for our zone), and I’m quite excited. 🙂 Also, so I don’t have to start a new bullet…more about Shatto, that amazing dairy company I mentioned in a previous email. It turns out they make ice cream…and it’s delicious. It tastes pretty much homemade ice cream you’d make, in the best way. (Looking at the ingredients on the side, it made sense…they pretty much just put what you’d use for homemade ice cream. No preservatives, artificial stuff, anything. Just eggs, milk, cream, sugar, etc.) We also tried their cotton candy-flavored milk this week…we got little bottles, since we heard from a member of the ward who’s tried it that it’s really good, but really strong…we haven’t had much of them yet, but we really liked what we have had. It is pretty sweet, and it does taste just like cotton candy. You wouldn’t think it would work in a milk, but it does. 🙂
- Ariel, I sent your letter, so hopefully it will get to you rather soon. (And I just got your most recent one today. The mail is speeding up a tiny bit, it seems. :)) Granny, I finally sent off yours too, so look for it at Aunt Susie’s. 🙂 Mom, I got your email, and I responded about the package (I think I may have got it, I’ll find out later today), and the money. Crazy that Livi had to get some blood tests…I looked over her letter again, and she told me about that. (Of course, very adorably. :)) I bet she wasway more calm than I was when I had to get my blood drawn…have I told you I had to hold Dad’s hand? (Yep, I’m putting that piece of info out into the world…sigh.) I turned to him, couldn’t even try to look at the needle going into me, and told him to start talking to me…”Distract me! Quick!” It was funny. Well, horrible at the time (stupid needles), but funny thinking about it now. 🙂 I can’t believe the kids are growing up so fast…they’re all going off to different schools! And I don’t know about running not being evil…but I guess you have a point. 🙂 Like I said in the email I wrote back to you, yours and Geo’s letters will be coming as soon as I can lovingly compose them. It’s always awesome to hear from you…those emails were a nice surprise. 🙂
- This past week, my companion had a district leader training meeting (for the whole mission) and headed off to Independence for a few hours with the two other district leaders in our zone, Elder Rowley and Elder Eldredge. We stayed in the Kaw River area, over in Kansas City, Kansas (called here KCK…Kansas City, Missouri, the much larger city across the border, is called KC-Mo here)…me, Elder Manusauloa (he’s from Samoa/Utah), and Elder Bennett, since all our companions were at the meeting. It’s Elder Bennett’s area, and he’s a Spanish-speaking missionary (Kaw River has three sets, for some reason…Spanish elders, English elders, and sisters), so after we did some of our morning studies, we headed out to visit a referral. To put it diplomatically, KCK is…different than Johnson County. 🙂 (Read into that what you will.) We saw a dead cat while we were walking, among other things…and there’s hardly any cars or people out there, which kind of gives it a ghost-town feel. Anyways, the referral ended up being, of course, someone who spoke Spanish. Her name was Carmen, and she had three little kids with her at the door…she actually let us in! We taught her the Restoration, and as you may have guessed, it was all in Spanish. Elder Bennett (who’s a really great elder, btw) led the way (thankfully…I’m a little rusty on the lessons in Spanish), but I was able to bear my testimony in the lesson about prophets, and I also gave the closing prayer. It went very well, and she was very receptive and open, and agreed to have Elder Bennett & Elder Eldredge come back. (Poor Elder Manusauloa was sitting with us, and didn’t say a word the whole lesson…he barely knows English, since he grew up in Samoa, so with Spanish he was utterly lost.) The Spirit was definitely present, and it was a terrific experience…even a little taste of what it’ll be like in Peru, when you think about it. I’m really glad I got to be a part of that lesson. 🙂
We had an excellent fast and testimony meeting yesterday. It might have been my last week in the ward…if I get my visa this week, chances are I’m leaving on Saturday (the target date I mentioned, August 11th…by the way, I’ll definitely notify you guys when it does come)…so yeah. That was kind of crazy to think about, but as usual, who knows what will happen. (It’s most certainly nothing new to be uncertain of where I’ll be, and when I’ll be there. :)) The ward gave some excellent testimonies, and it was a really spiritual hour. We also had some less-active members we’ve been visiting with, the Garcias, come to church, which was great. They got baptized back in October in California, and moved here a few months ago. They’ve been having some difficulties, and were feeling like they really needed to go back to church…and they had a very nice experience yesterday (they hadn’t actually been to the ward here since they moved to Kansas), so hopefully they keep coming back. It’s wonderful to see how the Church really changes lives…attending every week is something that’s pretty much in my blood by now, since I grew up in the gospel, but it’s something we really shouldn’t take for granted. You can feel the Spirit so strongly every week in sacrament meeting (especially when everyone bears their testimonies), and it’s something that really helps us strengthen ourselves so we can do better throughout the week. We all need Sundays…and I’ve really seen how great they can be, especially since I’ve come here to Kansas. 🙂
I’ve had some great scriptural insights this week, so I’ll share a couple from my reading in 2 Nephi. In chapter 5, Nephi talks about when his people first separated from the Lamanites, were working hard, centered on God and His teachings, were righteous and obedient, listened to the counsel of their prophet, all those things…and they were blessed. He uses an interesting phrase in verse 27 that stuck out to me: “And we lived after the manner of happiness.” That’s not something you say every day…”Hey, I’m doing great. I’m living after the manner of happiness!”…but to me it kind of illustrates how they kind of patterned their lives after what makes us truly happy. They were doing all the things they needed to do to have joy and fulness in their lives, and because of that, they were blessed…they truly lived “after the manner of happiness.” Like many things in the scriptures, this isn’t just true for the Nephites…we can be blessed ourselves if we center our lives on these same things.
In 2 Nephi 9, Jacob is talking, and it’s a chapter where he gets pretty darn blunt and intense. (Most of you are likely familiar with the somewhat infamous “Wo unto the liar, for he shall be thrust down to hell” verse in this chapter. Jacob wasn’t playing games here. :)) In verse 42, he talks about how the Lord will answer if we knock…but if we’re focused on the things of the world, He won’t listen to us. That kind of reminded me of two things…first, my experience in the MTC with that tough practice investigator, “Oscar.” That taught me such a valuable lesson about how we need to let the Spirit in for us to receive help…sometimes we think we’re doing our best, but we still end up shutting it out somehow. We need to do all we can to invite it in. It also reminded me of that picture of Christ knocking at the door…and as I’ve heard mentioned in various talks and things, that door in the picture has no handle on the outside. Christ can’t let Himself in…we have to do it. He’s right there, ready and willing to help us and to be there for us. But if we’re caught up in ourselves and don’t listen to Him…He won’t listen to us. It’s sad, but true. I’m incredibly grateful for my Heavenly Father and my Savior, and for all they’ve done for me…Christ even died for me. Crazy, flawed, stubborn old me. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that He loves me and will always be there to help me, to guide me, and He’s given me the gift of His Spirit, if I stay worthy of it. That’s an incredible promise, an incredible gift, and I know I wouldn’t be here today, on my mission, incredibly happy, without it. I know this Church is true, and I know my Savior lives. I know my Heavenly Father loves me…and like I talked about last week, I’m working every day to trust more and more in His will. Last week, I kind of got a little personal about my feelings about going to Peru and leaving here…and I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week. And my feelings are still the same…it’s going to be hard to leave, but I’m excited to go to Peru, and one thing won’t change…the Lord will always put me exactly where He needs me. I don’t know yet if He needs me in Peru now, or in a little while longer. I didn’t know back in the MTC, and I don’t know for sure now…but I know that He’s got it all covered. As that song says (did I mention this in my email last week?), “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” That world includes me, a little 20-year-old missionary serving in western Kansas, and I know He’s watching out for me. When it’s time for me to leave here…I know the time will be right, and I’m very thankful that I’ve been able to get to that point. Many twists and turns and all kinds of things lay ahead…but like I said last week, I know if I keep growing and learning, I’ll be ready when they come.
Con mucho amor,