Tuesday, December 30, 2014

How to School Satan

"30 pounds of cookie dough!"

Our investigator placed a massive pan piled high with cookie dough in my arms and sent me off to the kitchen table with half a dozen cookie cutters and enough wax paper to wrap a mummy, before flipping on Beyonce Christmas and dancing out of the room.


We'd asked our investigator to "help" us make cookies to give out to ward members, people in need, and some friends for Christmas, in hopes that we could spend some "quality time" together and warm her heart with some service. 5 hours, 30 pounds of dough, WAY too much "sampling" of the goodies, and a whole sink full of dirty dishes later.....we sat down in front of almost 150 cookies, ready to then be decorated. 

Our investigator picked up the first cookie, started drizzling on the icing, and then announced, "And, girls, the fun doesn't end here! We still have the cheesecakes, the cake pops, and the brownies to make after this!" 

My stomach just about FLOPPED

Luckily, we'd arranged to go caroling as a district that evening, so we were "forced" to cut out early, but not before we'd loaded our entire trunk full of cookie bags.....AND our investigator proved that night that she'd make a GREAT RS Compassionate Service Coordinator. All we have to do is get her baptized now.... ;)

Speaking of caroling, we all went out that night, chose a member to visit, and then decided to carol to a few of their neighbors as well. We grabbed cookie bags and then hit up their neighbors across the street. We began singing, and after a LONG wait, an older woman came to the door. She waited till we'd finished a rather rough verse of "Hark the Herald Angel Sing," before opening the screen door and snapping, "Who are you?!" Sis Green extended the bag of cookies and said we were just wanting to bring some Christmas cheer and asked if she'd like some cookies. The woman retorted, "Nope! Can't have them!! I'm not interested! I suppose you guys think you're pretty....pretty....  what's the word you all use now days?? 'Awesome'....yea, awesome. All that means is that you think you know everything.....and you don't. So no, I'm not interested! And that goes for your singing too!" and slammed the door (which....I should mention, had a bright red banner reading "JOY" hanging across the front.....I'm confused;). 

.....Well....Merry Christmas anyways....

We all walked away kinda stunned, not sure if we should laugh or cry. Instead we just visited house after house until an adorable African American couple opened their door, came outside, and started singing along, swaying, and praising God (Baptist style:), till we'd finished our performance and then gave us an enthusiastic applause. AND....they actually took the cookies:)


Christmas was another adventure:) On Sunday, the widow in our ward who was going to host us Christmas day, came up and introduced herself to me, and then added, "Oh...and did Sis Green tell you?? We're going to have a jammy party on Christmas Day!"

.....I'm sorry, what??.....

She continued, "I'm 76 years old....and I've never had a jammy party....so on Christmas Day, be sure to wear your best jammies, because we're going to make a day of it, ok??"

Yep. On Christmas Day, I had a "jammy" party with a 76 year old:)! hahaha! It was unforgettable to say the least! She was so grateful, though, to have us over since this is her first Christmas as a widow and it was so rewarding to see the impact it made on her holiday. I really did feel like we were serving the Lord that day, as we sat there and she shared pictures and stories with us about her life, her late husband, and her family. 

We also got to SKYPE HOME!!! AH!!!! It's still SO weird to think that the next time I see them, I'll be walking off the plane (as an oh, so awkward RM:)!! I was already awkward enough over Skype.....especially when meeting the new in-laws:) Yea, sorry Zach and Rachel....I'll try and make up for it in person;) hahahah! It really was SO good to see everyone's faces and to reconnect, though. I miss family a lot out here, so Christmas Day and Mother's Day mean the world to me:) love you fam!! 3 months....3 months!!

The Lord's also been blessing us with people to teach this week as well. On Monday, as we were sitting in Panera writing friends and family, one of the waiters came up to clear our table, and as he turned to go, he read my name tag. "Sister?? Are you from a church or something??"

That's our cue.

We told him who we were, and started giving him a brief explanation of what we believed and why we were out serving as missionaries. He'd listen for a little bit, then excuse himself to go back to work, then he'd come back ten minutes later and ask more questions, and back and forth until finally, we asked him if we could meet sometime to talk about religion. He agreed, gave us his phone number, and accepted a Book of Mormon. I'm now a firm believer in Panera. That's the second investigator I've found on my mission by eating at Panera:) We're meeting with him this week, and praying that he accepts the invitation to be baptized!!

Our other....unique.....lesson of the week was with our investigator, Norine. She's a hoot:) She's around 50 yrs old, has fiery hot pink hair, and when I first met her, she went off for over 15 minutes about her recent appearance on Judge Judy where she sued her granddaughter......and won:)


We finally got to the lesson portion of our visit, where we'd planned on showing her the Restoration DVD. We started by introducing her to various scriptures in the Bible (her father was a Baptist minister so she knows her Bible well) that prophecy about the restoration of the gospel. We hadn't gone far, when we heard moans and rustling noises coming from the nearby bedroom. The door was open and we could see the foot of the bed, where a man was lying. Then, almost out of nowhere, we heard him turn over and start violently puking off the side of the bed into a trash can. 

Sis Green and I just looked at each other, tried to focus again, and continued, until Norine yelled into the other room,"Willie!!! You wanna go to the hospital?!?!" We just sat there awkwardly while he brushed her off, and she turned back to us with, "That's my brother-in-law. He's REALLY sick, girls. Sorry.....continue..."


We managed to get past the scriptures and introduced the video. She popped it in and pretty soon the First Vision scene was starting. I swear.....Satan does E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. he can to ruin that moment....and therefore, disrupt the spirit. Kids getting hurt, pets making noise, the phone ringing, gunshots firing outside, spouses barging in, the fire alarm going off.....yep, seen it all. It's actually an unusual experience to have the First Vision read, recited, or watched without something--anything--in someway or another becoming a distraction. THIS time around, though....it was a whole new ballpark. The closer the "humble kneeling, sweet appealing" moment got, the harder I started praying for 3 minutes.....just 3 minutes....of break time before the hurling began again. 

BUT.....that didn't happen.

RIGHT before the heavens opened, Willie's stomach decided to do so first. Just as the Mo Tab started swelling, so did his dinner from the night before,  and it was by NO means quiet. Sis Green and I just sat there praying for divine intervention and trying our best to focus on Norine and the movie. Norine, without breaking focus on the screen, but clearly aware of the background bedroom noises, picked up the remote and FLOORED the + volume button. 

That brought back the spirit soon enough....the whole complex probably heard it:) hahaha! 

Whatever works, right?? Sis Green and I are still getting lots of laughs over that one:) By the end of the film, Willie had rolled over, and we enjoyed the last 10 minutes of our visit without distractions, as we asked her, "Do you think a boy--Joseph Smith--could have been visited by God and Jesus Christ?"

She thought about it for a moment, and then smiling, responded, "Absolutely! God can do anything!!"


Sis Green and I definitely walked away from that visit, with a firm testimony of the Spirit's ability to testify......despite all odds:)! Norine was touched by our message and agreed to come to church, read from the Book of Mormon, and pray about it's truthfulness!! 

The work is working:) Our area is difficult, but Sis Green and I are setting goals and making plans to find and teach more. We're enjoying the companionship of the Spirit on a daily basis, and it is carrying us through. This week of Christmas prompted me to reflect on the gift of my Savior, as the feelings of loneliness and homesickness became harder to ward off. As I thought about Him, His birth, and the lonely circumstances in which He was born and lived, I was reminded again that He knows my situation and my struggles perfectly. The scripture in Moses 6:34, where the Lord beckons, "Walk with me" came to my mind as I laid in bed Christmas Eve, missing home and family. 

I've felt Him extending that invitation to me many times this week, as I've allowed my thoughts and feelings to drift inward. He's reminded me to walk with Him....and in doing so, I find myself turning outward. And it is such a sweeter experience! I truly do have the opportunity and blessing every day of my mission life, and beyond, to walk with Him as I choose to walk the path He wants me to walk. It requires effort and sacrifice, but I see evidence of His appreciation and love all around me as I do so. It is rewarding! And the relationship I'm developing with Him because of it.....I wouldn't trade for the world!

Onward and upward,

Sis Anna Parker 

(pics to come soon........these library computers won't let me upload:/)

Friday, December 26, 2014

Staying Alive

Bishop got up in sacrament meeting yesterday, and announced, "Brothers and sisters, just as a reminder, starting at the beginning of January, our meeting time will change from 1pm to 9am with leadership meetings being held before church."

*you've got to be kidding me*

I knew it. I knew this was going to happen....I'd get transferred from a ward that met at 9am to a ward that met in the afternoon, just to have it changed at the beginning of the year back to 9am. Called it:) I guess I'll never get my wish of being able to "sleep in" till 6:30 on Sundays, so in the mean time, I'll just appreciate the fact that I'm an early bird:)

This week has left me brain fried and bone tired, but I made it:) Leaving Buffalo Grove was one of the hardest things I've ever done on my mission. I cried myself to sleep that last night, feeling like my heart was breaking and wishing more than anything that I could just stop time and never leave. But, the Lord has a plan and with that plan He gives us the strength to overcome and achieve. I've felt Him so near--SO near--as I've taken every day since leaving BG, one step at a time.

I still miss it. I can't see an Oregon ducks bumper sticker without thinking of the O'Briens. I can't drive past Harding st. without thinking of the Kumars. I can't hear a Georgian accent (or visit the hospital:) without thinking of the Robisons. I can't pass Bass Pro Shops without thinking of the Kuffers. I can't notice Taco Bell without hoping for a reunion with the Eyres. And when we were at the mission home this week, and President Woodbury offered me an "amazing Austrian cookie from the Lex's," I just about cried.

Those members, those investigators, those people.....they have my heart! And it hurts to be so far from them. I wondered as I sat in church yesterday, surrounded by people I didn't know and who didn't know me and feeling sorry for myself, how I'd ever be able to let go of my old area, those relationships, those memories and to move on. Almost immediately, the spirit reminded me of a letter Pres Woodbury had written to the missionaries a short while ago. He wrote about receiving a new heart from the Lord (Ezekiel 36:26) as we turn over our hearts to Him: "He will give it back to you new and refreshed, full of hope for good things to come and full of love for Him and all mankind."

I realized in that moment that I didn't need to forget.....I didn't need to forget those people I loved, those memories I cherished, or those relationships I'd formed. Those will always be close to my heart. All He asks of me now is to continue to love even more. That loves never runs out, and I DO have more to give, because He'll fill my heart with love for these new people as I strive to be His hands here in Westchester.

*Keep Calm. Love On*

That's what I'll do:)

This area is a 180 from Buffalo Grove. I'm back to buzzing buzzer boards, smelling weed in almost every apartment complex we visit, ignoring the cat calls and whistles while walking the streets as the only two white girls around, and....of course....life isn't complete in Chicago without getting honked at every time we change lanes or the light turns green.

>>TBT to the Evanston days<<

We're having fun though...and every day is an adventure......like when the elders texted us Saturday evening asking us if we could go to the church building THAT night and find a baptismal dress for their investigator who was getting baptized the NEXT day. Nothing quite like cramming at the last minute, elders:) So we naturally head over there, and Sis Green goes to open the baptismal closet only to find that it's locked. Well....only one thing to do. While Sis Green starts scrolling through the phone to locate someone to open the closet for us...

.....I pulled a credit card out of my wallet.......

Hey, ya gotta do whatchya gotta do sometimes:) I explained to Sis Green later that at college, it was easier for me to pull my student ID out of my pocket when I got back to my apartment than to go digging for my keys in my dark abyss of a backpack. Sooooooo....i got pretty good at the push-and-slide technique. You never know when stuff like that is going to come in handy.....just saying:)

AND...the elders' investigator had her outfit pressed and ready for her by the next morning.

Mission accomplished. hahaha!

On Wednesday, we were invited to gather as a zone downtown at the Kris Kringle market to carol and give out hot chocolate. After an hour of driving and another half hour of trying to find a parking spot, we finally started off on foot to walk about a quarter mile to where our zone was caroling. Before we'd gone very far though, we stopped in at a CVS to use the restroom, but before we'd even made it to the back of the store, a man bumped into us, saw our name tags and said, "Mormons!" We were a bit surprised, but told him that's who we were to which he responded, "I need to talk to you."

Well ok....

He escorted us out into the metra food court and sat us down at a table. Then, for over an hour he talked and talked and talked.....all about his life, serving in the Vietnam war, his struggle with PTSD, giving us life advice (including how NOT to "run off after our missions and marry the first guy we meet":), his relationship with God, and a million other topics (not the least of which was his view on physical fitness, how "beautiful and angelic" our faces were, the ingratitude of younger generation "yuppies," and the corrupt politicians of America). In any other circumstance, I'd have been totally creeped out, eyeing the closest exit, and possibly speed dialing the elders. However, as we sat there with him, the spirit prompted, "Just listen."

Our zone was waiting for us, we were already half an hour late, and it was getting dark, but the spirit spoke, so we sat there. Honestly, I couldn't take my eyes off him; I was totally intrigued by this perfect stranger sitting in front of me, telling me all about his life and struggles. He fascinated me, and though we didn't say hardly two words during the whole hour we "visited" with him, I knew that's where we were supposed to be. He began wrapping up, talking about how he was haunted every night by the memories of his time in Vietnam. His eyes clouded as he told us he'd wake up in cold sweats, see the faces of those he had been forced to kill, and hear Vietnamese phrases screaming in his dreams. "But, he said, there's nothing you or I can do about it. I've asked God to take it from me and He hasn't......so that's the way it is."

Immediately, the spirit spoke directly to my mind, "PROMISE him, right now, that his PTSD will be taken from him if he reads the Book of Mormon and pursues this course." I was taken off guard. I've always wanted to have an experience on my mission where the spirit directed me to promise a specific and....let's be honest....impressive…blessing to an individual. However, when the prompting came, I instinctively questioned it. "I don't know the ins and outs of PTSD. If doctors and psychologists can't help him, how am I supposed to make this promise to him?? I don't want to get his hopes up. Maybe this prompting isn't from the spirit, it's just wishful thinking."

But that prompting kept coming and coming, until I KNEW that it was undeniably given by the spirit. I finally spoke up, "Dave, you said just a moment ago that we couldn't do anything for you....and to a point that's true. But I KNOW that your Savior, Jesus Christ can and will." I testified to him of the divine mission of Christ to administer to those in need, and to save us from our pain and suffering. Then, I extended a Book of Mormon to him and said, "As messengers of Him, I can I promise you that if you read this book....and follow its teachings and continue to progress towards Him...your PTSD will be alleviated."

I'm sure my companion was a bit shocked, but once the words left my mouth, I knew they were meant to be said. He just looked at me for a second, his eyes bloodshot and teary....and then said, "I'll give you my word, I'll read it tonight." Before he walked away from us that night, he told us, "I can't tell you enough what this has meant to me." We hadn't solved all his problems, given him every answer to all his questions, or even taught him earth-shattering doctrine.....but we had LISTENED. We'd loved. And through the spirit, we'd promised him a blessing that only God could give.

I walked away from that conversation, so deeply grateful to the Lord for giving me the opportunity to be His servant.....His messenger....to a man who needed two young girls to just listen. It took an hour long drive into the city, a half hour of driving in circles to find parking, and a quarter mile walk on foot, for the spirit to bring us to him.....but he did. And there's no better feeling than knowing you were in the right place at the right time, for the one person that needed you. How grateful I am that I was the one given that incredible opportunity!


The rest of our week consisted of an amazing (and much-needed) trip to the temple, a Christmas lunch and uplifting devotional at the mission home, a beautiful blessing and interview with President Woodbury, and a lot of introductions to investigators, members, and ward leadership.

I'm exhausted. But I'm alive:)

Quick health update: all the tests are in, and still no answers. After a lot of prayer, I've felt that the Lord's will for me is that I endure these challenges for these last few months I have left. It's frustrating to not feel at my best all the time, especially when all I want is to go fast and hard till the end, but the Lord has a plan, and for now, I'm putting it in His hands. I've decided to put further tests and doctors appointments on hold until I'm back home, and to instead just take it a day at a time, trusting in His strength to pull me through:)

Thank you for your love and prayers! They work miracles out here!! This work is hard and demanding, but it is oh, so rewarding!

Onward and upward,

Sister Anna Parker

i saw santa in his.....honda..... #theregoesmychildhoodfantasy

our missionary christmas tree:)


Beautiful Heartbreak

I know, I know....I've missed like 3 weeks.....you can fire me. AND.....on top of it, the computers won't let me upload pictures sooooooo....stay posted for pics when I get it figured out:) 

(I'm posting two posts today to make up for the past 3 weeks....so go check the other one out too:) 

Ok moving on........

Over the past few weeks, the medical issues have been getting worse, so I finally agreed to go in for an MRI and an EEG. I called, scheduled an appointment, and then the nurse explained that they wanted me sleep-deprived for the EEG. No problemo. SOML. BUT.....she had to take it a step further by telling me that I could only have 4 hours of sleep the night before.

kill joy

Wednesday night was the big legal late-night.....and it consisted of watching every church-produced movie in the apartment, writing letters to missionaries, soaking in the tub, doodling, cleaning the kitchen, and painting nails. That's the STRAIGHTEST late night I'll ever have:) lol!


Needless to say, I was more than tired the next day, but after getting to the hospital, having over 20 electric wires attached to my head after what felt like half my scalp was scrubbed off, and talking to the nurse for over 30 min trying to clear up her firm belief that we practice polygamy, all the while she had "Pregnant and I Didn't Know It" on on the tv.....it was a little more than hard trying to sleep on command. I managed to "rest" through it though, and ended up giving the nurse a He is the Gift card before leaving.

The MRI went well.....no where near as bad as I thought it would be, and after that was done we went back to the front desk to contact Peter. We'd met Peter that morning when I went to register, and he'd been standing there talking to one of the receptionists. When he saw our name tags, he asked us a bunch of questions about what we did, where we were located, and some of our basic beliefs. Between signing medical forms, getting fitted with a hospital wrist band, and showing ID, I managed to tell him about our purpose as missionaries. When he found that we believed in the Bible, he offered, "That's fantastic! Y'know a group of my friends and I get together every Tuesday night for Bible study, and we'd love to have you join and share some insight."

Where do I sign??

hahaha! We were surprised, but readily accepted his invitation. That very morning as I'd been getting ready to head to the hospital, as I put my name tag on, I got the impression that there was some one at the hospital that day that needed me to be there. Turns out, it didn't take us 10 minutes from walking in the door, to meet Peter!! God has a plan. And though it perhaps took a lot of stress, anxiety, worry, pain, frustration, and lack of sleep on my end......if He needed Peter to find the truth through me in that way....then this is all worth it.

When we finished the tests and went back to talk with him (he works in the hospital), he met us with, "I was hoping you'd come back!" He handed over his information to us and announced loud enough for the entire waiting room to hear, "We'd love to have the Latter-day Saints at our Bible study! You Mormons are great!"

He's going to make an AWESOME member missionary when he joins:)

We're so excited to have this opportunity and Peter just seems like one of those people who's been prepared to receive the message! God works in mysterious ways;)

The next morning, I woke up early around 4am and couldn't sleep. I was completely weak, shaky, and yet so anxious that I couldn't lie still. Around 7:15 that morning, I passed out on my way to the living room and had another muscle spasm episode that lasted longer than any previous episodes. This time, Sis Carroll called 911 and the EMT's soon showed up (come to find, one of them was the EMT we met and visited with Thanksgiving night when we delivered goodies to the firehouse..... AWKWARD ......yep, I'm as lucky as 13, I swear:). After taking my blood sugar, heart rate, and blood pressure, they told me I needed to go to the hospital. Not again......

But, sure enough, after receiving orders from my neurologist to go in, we ended up at the ER.....again. And just like times before, they didn't find anything seriously wrong. They even reviewed my tests from the day before and reported that the MRI and the EEG were both clear.

*tell me, tell me, tell me something i don't know, something I don't know*

Geez laweez.

So after being discharged, I was sent over to out-patient services to get hooked up to a 48 hr halter monitor......classy, I know. For the first 24 hours I felt like a jihadist every time I brushed against the device.....gawl.

Then, Saturday night, we finally had a lesson with Harry (our referral from our Indian library friend:). We met at the church, and began teaching him the Plan of Salvation since he doesn't have any Christian background. We brought a member of our ward who is also from India and it was incredible to feel the spirit and see the unique interactions between the two of them! By the end of the lesson, HE COMMITTED TO BAPTISM!!!!  We were blown away by his willingness to accept the challenge to follow Jesus Christ and to change his life. We were bouncing off the walls after he'd left and couldn't help but do the awkward hug-laugh-cry-jump up and down-and-scream act. It was pretty legit:)

That night also turned out to be the night of transfers. We got the news.......I'M LEAVING BG2:( My heart literally feels like it's breaking. After 9 months (half my mission!) in this area, these people have become family to me, and it is ripping my heart out to have to say goodbye. However, after we got the call, I was overcome with peace and assurance that this is what needs to happen. I'm heading down to south west Chicago to Westerchester. It's going to be a complete 180 from my rural buffalo grove experience, but I'm just striving for the faith to put one foot after the other.

Sunday I was a wreck. SO MANY. TEARS. I seriously don't think I've cried and hugged more in one day. I doesn't quite feel real yet. I feel so welcome, so loved, and so.....at home.......it's SO hard to leave it all behind!! These people have ALL of my heart.....and I wouldn't have it any other way.

One of the last highlight moments of our weekend (even though I was a mess trying to say goodbye to everyone) was when we visited Rita, an investigator who's been interested in the church for a long time, but has just never actually taken the plunge. We stopped by and I sensed that something was wrong. She opened up to us about some health and mental issues she's been facing, and the spirit began pounding me with promptings: suggest that she get a priesthood blessing. I could NOT ignore the prompting, it was so strong, so I asked her if she'd like to receive one. We ended up having a lengthy conversation about the purpose, organization, and strength given through a blessing. After considering it for a while, she agreed and we arranged for her to receive a blessing.

The next night, at a Christmas devotional at the church, she came up to me with tears in her eyes, took me in a hug, and said, "I got my blessing......and all I can say is thank you! Thank you!! Because you offered that to me, I was brought into the presence of God in a way I've never been before. It was like, I was SO close to Him! And it was all because you were close enough to the holy spirit, to know that that's what I needed! So thank you!! Thank you for being obedient, for coming on your mission......for me! You have truly changed my life and become a daughter to me!! Thank you, thank you!!" and she and I just sat there together and cried in each others' arms!

AH!!! It's hard to describe why a moment like that means so much to a missionary--to me! But it's moments like that that I can't help but feel, "I'm doing something right! I don't have it all figured out, I make mistakes ALL the time, I question and doubt myself.....but right here, right now, I did something right. I made a difference. And it's all worth it!" All the struggle, the pain, the heartbreak, the difficulties, the criticism, the fears, the effort......it's not wasted. I knew in that moment that I'd made Him proud, and that's all I want out of my mission.....to make Him proud of me.

I believe that that experience softened the blow of transfers, because it put into perspective for me, the fact that this work is not about me. It's not about what I want, and that's the way it should be. Because the greatest--the purest--joy in this work, comes not in making myself happy, but in making others happy eternally.

I can't even express how grateful I am for the months I was able to spend in Buffalo Grove. My heart, I know, is going to long for this place for the remainder of my mission, and beyond, but it gives me SO much peace knowing that the relationships I've grown, the friendships I've gained, the experiences I've had, and even the heartache and sorrow I've endured......it's ALL been worth it. And no one can take that from me!

Onward and upward,

Sis Anna Parker

 packing the night before leaving BG..... :'(

 gotta get my kisses in<3

 <3 these girls!

Here we go again.......