Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Great Night!

February 13th, 2017

A wonderful night with sushi, friends, and the Gospel


"What is done in love is done well" -Vincent VanGough

February 13, 2017

Hello everyone!

This is my last email home...it still does not feel very real to me. Tims has gone faster and faster, especially this last week. We worked so hard, every moment of every day we squeezed out every last drop we could. I am really proud of Sister Kitahara and I for it. Speaking of which, Sister Kitahara is being transferred to Modesto and my old companion Sister Talbot, who I trained, will be coming to Mountain House and training! So that was exciting to hear. But we really made this week count, I feel a lot of peace about how I served and how I ended. This week was one of the best on my mission, we taught so much. Doors were opened to us that haven't been previously. 

One miracle was we got back in touch with our friend Monique. It has been some months and we had a really powerful heart to heart. She wants to get back to her relationship with God, and has felt an emptiness without us teaching her so frequently. I am really happy to see her turning to God more, I know her well and I just know it will help her be more happy and peaceful in life. We also taught another one of our investigators again this week- which was miracle in and of itself because we didn't have an appointment with him planned. He read the Book of Mormon and had so many good questions. He loves the Bible and has a beautiful testimony of it already, as he has been reading he said he feels like everything he already knows is being enhanced and strengthened. The footnotes from the Book of Mormon to the Bible are super helpful to him. The most important part he read he said was in the introduction where everyone is invited to pray to God themselves and ask if these really are His words. He is anxious to continue to learn more, and has an open heart. Lesley's lesson this week was powerful as well. She has become very close with one of the other sisters in our ward who was just called as the new ward missionary. Callings to serve in the church are inspired and from God, my testimony of that has been strengthened. Lesley came to church and with her kids too, they had a great time. We were so happy to have them there with us. It was the best last sunday ever. There were many other lessons that were special to us this week. I felt very blessed to have many opportunities my last week to teach and bare testimony of Jesus Christ.

One fun thing that happened this week was that we got to go to the Lunar Festival (also called Chinese New Year). Mountain House has a huge population of Korean, Chinese, and Filipino people, so this was a very big deal here. I learned a lot by going and met a lot of really wonderful people with amazing stories to tell. A lot of people moved directly to America from their home countries in the past years because of many different circumstances, it was inspiring to hear some of those stories. Sister Kitahara says in Japan they don't celebrate this holiday, but she still felt at home with all of the Asian culture around. The cultural diversity of Mountain House has really enriched my life and opened my heart in many important ways. It has been a huge blessing for me and will continue to be as I reflect on these experiences here. 

This past time has been one causing me to really reflect as I end this phase and move into the next in my life. There has been an indescribable growth in my heart the past 18 months. I am eager to implement all of this into my life as I continue to serve, just in a different way. The one part of my testimony I want to share in this last email is that Heavenly Father's plan for each of us is always the best one. He knows us best and He loves us most. We can trust in that love even in the midst of disappointment, failure, heartache, illness, or any trial. Times when we think to ourselves, how is this out of love? I have such faith that if we could even catch a glimpse of His plans for us we would sacrifice anything- go through anything- to get where He plans for us to be. He only does things to help us, He is our Perfect Loving Father. I bet when we meet Him face to face one day, we will be overwhelmed with His mercy and have endless gratitude for His perfect wisdom in directing our lives- all of the seen and unseen blessings, all of the answered and seemingly "unanswered" prayers. How different would our lives be, how much more joy would we feel, if we could all keep that truth closest in our hearts? One of the scriptures that speaks deepest to me is in Matthew 16:25 where Jesus Christ tells us "for whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it." There is freedom in letting go and putting our hopes, dreams,goals- our whole lives- in His hands. We can always trust Him. He loves us. He will do better things with our lives, than we ever could. We can be so much more with His plan and with His will. There is peace when we stop trying to plan the perfect life and just turn it over to His hands. There are a lot of things about my mission and on my mission that happened "not according to my plan". Things that were even opposite of what I was l pleading to Him for. But I am so grateful for the answers He gave me, that were not always the one I had hoped for, but the one that I needed most, and would make me happier in the end. I am grateful that Heavenly Father loves me enough to give me His plan, instead of mine. He makes me so much more than I could ever even hope to be on my own. I know that to be true, and that is why the mission vision here means so much to me. It is, "We are One with the Savior in doing the Will of the Father". It's not just a mission vision, it is my life vision. I hope to always be working on being one with the Savior in doing Heavenly Father's will for me. And I know Jesus Christ is the only way I can do the Father's will, because on my own I do not have the strength or capabilities, but with Him I can do anything. 


all my love,
Sister Eleanor Neeley

The Little Things

February 7, 2017

Hey!

This week we got to teach a lot which was such a blessing. We were in the homes of a lot of struggling members of the ward and were able to express not only our love for them, but more importantly Heavenly Father's love for them and build their faith in Jesus Christ. It strengthened my testimony of how important the "little things" are to do for our souls, like praying (not just saying prayers but really praying), studying the scriptures daily, and actively participating in sunday worship- starting first and foremost with sincerely taking the sacrament each week. I quoted "little things" because in reality.. they aren't little at all! Not even in the slightest! Just like our physical bodies need air and water and food, our spirit needs those crucial things to be fed and to be happy. As I reflected this week, it used to be so overwhelming and intimidating to me sit with people everyday, who more often than not through tears, talked about how their faith was breaking. Some felt they didn't even have any anymore. Although it is still always a really humbling experience to be trusted with such sensitive feelings in those situations, it all comes back to the those "little things" I just mentioned. There isn't a magical cure, there isn't a one size fits all answer, there isn't a complicated equation to fix life's trials and problems. But I know that as we start to feed our spirit, and not just our body, that we open up our heart and mind to the One who can cure and heal our hearts. Jesus Christ. He knows us perfectly and He knows the way up and out of any despair. As we feed our spirit we can feel Him closer to help us at all times. I am so grateful for the fact that although I can not change anyones heart and I do not have all the answers, I can invite others to come unto the One who does. Jesus Christ tells us, "come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give ye rest...and ye shall find rest unto your souls." I know that to be true.

We got to teach Lesley this week twice, we brought a new member from the ward with us this time around and they really connected! This lesson had a totally different spirit to it. We watched the restoration Dvd and had a really powerful experience talking about it after. Her kids are always so energetic through our lessons, but we are learning how to keep them playing and still teach at the same time. They really liked the movie. She was so motivated to make some important commitments after the lesson. She didn't end up making it to church this week, but her kids came with the member so that is a baby step! Good things are happening and I know more are yet to come. 

The ward here is focusing extra on prayer this month. There is a true power to prayer, and it really got me reflecting about my own prayers lately. I found these two verses from the Book of Mormon that I love about prayer from Jacob 3:1-2 and it says, "...look unto God with firmness of mind, and pray unto him with exceeding faith, and he will console you in your afflictionsand he will plead your cause, and send down justice upon those who seek your destruction...all ye that are pure in heart, lift up your heads and receive the pleasing word of God, and feast upohis lovefor ye may, if youminds are firmforever.". I don't know how it all works, but what I do know is when I am in a hard or low place I get down on my knees and pray for relief. My trial or problem or feelings are not always (or usually) resolved in that moment, but I feel my Father's peace and love strengthening me to have faith to hold on a while longer. He is aware of me. He hears me. Seriously think about it for a minute, Heavenly Father is a King, He is creator of worlds, He knows everything from eternity to eternity...and still- He knows your name. And He knows your heart. And He is ready to hear from you at anytime. I am overfilled with gratitude for that truth. I feel so loved. Prayer really can be our lifeline to personal peace and revelation if we allow it to be.

all my love,
Sister Eleanor Neeley

He Knows Our Heart, He Pleads Our Cause

January 31, 2017

Hey!

This week was such an exciting and busy week for us. The rain stopped which made everything easier. It felt like spring a little with all the sunshine, I was thankful for the good weather. We had two new families move into the ward here, and we were able to visit with them and really connect to them. The ward has also really done an awesome job helping them make friends, feel loved and welcomed, and helping them with whatever needs they have. Both families are fairly recent converts of just a few years, and have older kids who aren't baptized and who have not really been to church much. In both homes, they were so welcoming and happy to have us continue to come over and teach. We are excited to keep strengthening those friendships, and to have new teaching opportunities. We feel really blessed by it all. We got to teach Lesley this week again, and really grounded our lesson in the scriptures. She has a hard time reading and understanding them. We went through a chapter verse by verse together and taught from the principles we read about. We felt like she understands better now how to read the scriptures, and really learn principles from it on her own. It made me think of that saying- if you give a man a fish he will eat for a day, but if you teach a man how to fish he will eat for a lifetime. When we go over for a lesson there is a sweet spirit there and we all learn together, but that lesson is such a small portion of her time. We want her, and everyone we teach, to know how to invite that sweet spirit into their lives everyday, and that is where the process of true conversion begins. 

This week was busy with some meetings too. We went to Modesto to watch a worldwide missionary broadcast, which was really refreshing, and surprising. The missionary daily schedule got changed around for all missionaries, everywhere in the world, for now on. Instead of a more regimented schedule that we had- at this time you do this, at that time you do that- it is much more flexible. We now get to use more agency and decide when and how to fit in all our activities and studies throughout the day. And each mission will be unique in their adjustments, as well as each companionship in the mission, according to the area's needs. Our morning and our evening before we go to bed are a little less intense or hurried I feel like personally, and I have more time to really get things done and done more thoroughly. The purpose and the principles are the same everyday, but we are entrusted to use the Spirit to help us decide when things are done. I am really thankful for our inspired leaders who love the missionaries so much, and care for them, and prayed about them day and night, it will be a great benefit to all missionaries moving forward. We also had our president interviews this week which is always special to me. I love president and sister palmer so much, and I love getting to council with him one on one. I can just feel how much he loves me and cares for me, and it inspires me to do and be better. 

This week was also a stake relief society activity, which was very special because we combined with the women of the Islamic Center of Manteca. We all had a brunch together, the spirit was so strong in the room as we made new friendships and found common ground together on our beliefs and morals with so much love and respect. It was really special to get to know our Muslim sisters so closely. There were some talks after the brunch by some of our members and also by their Imam (I think I spelled that right?). In a world where we tend to constantly focus on the differences of race, ethnicity, religion. etc between us, we were able to break those bands together and just love one another. It was a beautiful experience for everyone. 

Oh yeah, and one more cool thing this week, we went on exchanges. I went to Stockton with hermana Dayton and worked in the Spanish ward. It was so fun, I loved it! I really got to practice my Spanish, I was so nervous at first but got more confident as I just kept trying. At this one lesson in particular, hna. Dayton would teach most the time, and then the man we were teaching would turn to me and say okay now what does the juarita (little white girl haha) think. So I would then teach and bare simple, but fervent testimony to him of the principle we were talking about. I felt the spirit so strong. They were all very encouraging to me with my Spanish, and really helped me out a lot! I got to say a lot of prayers and bare different parts of my testimony many times. It was a great last exchange.

A scripture in my studying has really been on my heart this week, it is in 2 Nephi 8:22 where Nephi is quoting Isaiah from the Old Testament and it says "Thus saith thy Lord, the Lord and thy God pleadeth the cause of his people; behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, the dregs of the cup of my fury; thou shalt no more drink it again.". It is just a really beautiful verse. I am just filled with love from Jesus Christ as I read it. He knows our hearts, He pleads our cause for us. He doesn't want us to suffer, that is why He suffered for us. We still will have trials in life that are hard for us to handle, but we do not need to suffer it solely on our own, Christ is here for us. He is willing to take the cup from us, if we will let Him. I just have such a testimony that nothing is ever too heavy that the atonement of Jesus Christ can not lift. Out of love for our eternal growth, somethings are not totally taken from us, and we will have to suffer in an imperfect world, but we do not need to suffer spiritually as well- Jesus Christ can give us hope and healing despite all that is going on around us. I know that every tear and trial we face will be taken one day from us through the love and grace of Jesus Christ. Keeping the bigger picture of that promise can help us face trials and disappointments with faith and hope. 

all my love,
Sister Neeley

Big Trees!!

January 23, 2017

Sister Kithahara and I in the trees


Robert and Trisha :)

 A giant Redwood that fell during the storm 

The Redwoods are SO giant!


Snowman Fun


The Crew


A Rainy Winter, But Never Happier

January 23, 2017

Hey!
This winter has been one of the most rainy for this part of California. We are getting poured on lately. All this week we got rain. We have flash flood warnings in our area, but I think we are safe from what I hear. It is mostly the bay area (over the hills from us) that is getting most the flooding. The rain here is different than the rain storms back in PA though, no thunder or lightening ever and it doesn't ever really come down as hard. It has made things interesting for us this week, but we are happy for the rain. They have been praying for it.
Last Monday we got to go to Big Trees Calaveras State Park! It was so beautiful. It is a huge forest of redwood trees up in the hills north of us. There was a ton of snow there which was cool to see, I have only seen snow three times on my mission- and each time it was when I visited Big Trees. A lot of the path was blocked off because this huge, famous redwood tree fell down in the storm the previous week, but there was still a lot to see and do. The tree that fell down was the redwood with a cutout in the bottom so big that a car could drive through it. It was massive to see all in pile on the ground, we were allowed to hike up to it. We went with Robert and Trisha, one of the couples I taught in Ripon, and it was so nice to be with them again. The day trip was so so fun, but visiting with them was my highlight. I love them! 

This week was pretty exciting for us. Were were able to get back in touch after a few weeks with two of people that we taught before. We had a great lesson with Washington in the beginning of the week. He is from Kenya and just so open to hearing more. He hadn't really done any reading over the holidays, but will now that things calmed down for him. We also got to teach Lindy again, and her and I really get along. I love lessons with her, she is such an example to me of having faith even when life turns out not the way we have hoped. She loves her kids more than anything and is dedicated to making a better life for them. Our lesson with her went really well and she is open to meeting again too. Lesley was out of town with her husband this week so we didn't get to teach her, but we went over and taught her older daughter and the grandma who was watching the kids. So that was still a really cool experience to have. Good things are happening all the time, I am so grateful to be serving here.

I am really grateful for the opportunity to help people find hope in Jesus Christ and His Gospel every day. Not much is more heart breaking to me than talking with people who truly think that they are just too far down another path to ever be different. People who have been carrying heavy, heavy burdens of mistakes and weakness for years and just don't know any other way to live. People who just don't know what value and divine potential they have in them, that they truly are a child of Heavenly Parents who love them so much than they will ever know with a perfect, unfailing love. On the opposite nothing has overwhelmed me with more joy than when I get to help something realize the truth that because of Jesus Christ they can always change and choose a better path. No path is too far from the healing love of Jesus Christ. That they can be free and happy and that they are a valued child of divine, eternal heritage. Pondering this brought to mind some beautiful verses from the Book of Mormon, Alma 5/33-34, "Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you. Yea, he saith: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely; ".

all my love,
Sister Neeley

Spiritual Endurance

January 16, 2017

This week I have been pondering about this phrase that keeps coming to me, "spiritual endurance". Every time I open the scriptures, hit my knees in prayer, and sacrifice my will for God's will, I am building my spiritual endurance. Spiritual endurance increases our capacity to hold fast to our faith when trials and test hit us. My answers don't always come in the timing I hope for, but my spiritual endurance helps me to stay strong until those answers or at least peace can come. It is like running a race, when our own personal strength runs low, that is when the training kicks in and carries us through. When every muscle in our body is aching for rest and to give up, we can keep going because we know we have run this distance time and time again, we know we can do it so we keep going. It is the same in our spiritual race, when our faith starts to dwindle from the weight of trails we can rely on our diligent scripture study, our relationship through prayer with God, our knowledge of things to be true that maybe we can not feel at that particular moment- our spiritual endurance keeps us moving. And just like with any sport, if you stop practicing and stop building that endurance, it will be gone much faster than the work it took to acquire it. We never know when the next race in our life will be and we will need to rely on that spiritual endurance so I hope we can all do the hard things now to be able to keep going when time get tough. I love this verse from the New Testament James chapter five verse eleven:
11 Behold, we count them happy which endure
Ye have heard of the patience of Joband have seen the end of the Lord; 
that the Lord is very pitifuland of tender mercy."
 
all my love, 
Sister Neeley

Monday, January 9, 2017

God is Good

January 9, 2017 
(part 2)

This week has been so rainy here, and looks like it will be for awhile. This winter is supposed to be pretty rainy, which is such a blessing because of the drought going on. I think maybe it is what people are calling el nino or something, but everyone has their own opinions about that here haha. Point is, it is pretty rainy for awhile. It is hard because missionary work in the rain is tough, but nice because the clouds trap in all the heat so it has been a little warmer out. Of course it is California so it never gets that cold in reality, but I am thoroughly acclimated to the weather here so it feels bitter cold to me!

We continue to teach Lesley and small progress continues to happen. We love her family so much, they are so cute. She can be a shy person, and we feel like as she gets more comfortable with people from the ward, and makes some true friends, that things will start to progress much more quickly for her. This week her husband listened in to our lesson which was huge. The Spirit was there and we have faith it was softening his heart. We got some referrals (or miracles as we think of them) from Salt Lake this week and are still trying to contact them. These are people who went online and felt inclined to learn more from missionaries in their area after watching a video or looking around on lds.org. A self-referral essentially. These are very special, and we are so excited to get to meet both people as soon as possible.
  
We had our stake conference this weekend which was just amazing. I was filled with the Spirit. I always love going to big meetings like that, it is a time for me where I am so open to personal revelation. I receive so many answers, and strength to keep enduring until other answers can come in God's timing. One really sweet moment of the meeting was on Saturday evening at the adult session, Elder Clayton from the Seventy called all the full time missionaries up to the stand, and the whole congregation sang with us called to serve. I could barely sing because of the Spirit that filled the room brought me to tears. I felt so loved and supported, and I looked out over the crowd as we sang and saw so many families that I have gotten very close with in both the areas I had the blessing to serve in. Their examples of faithfulness and true Christ like love as I have gotten to serve along side them hit me so hard in that moment and I felt overwhelmed with gratitude to be apart of this stake for my whole mission. It was a really powerful stake conference. 

Some fun things about this week was that Sister Kitahara taught me how to make sushi rolls. It was so fun and easy and delicious. We have been eating sushi rolls all week long. Also this thursday as we volunteered as usual at the senior center, we got to help them put on a tea party for the residents. It was an old Hollywood theme and they all dressed up with hats and fur coats. It was super cute and the residents loved it. I love getting to know the people there, both workers and the residents. They each have really special stories to share.

I am feeling very accomplished this week. I finished reading Jesus The Christ. There is so much depth to that book, I know I need to read and re read it over and over again. It has helped me understand better the teachings of Jesus Christ particularly from the Bible. And most importantly, it helped me get to know Him as my Savior and Redeemer in a closer, personal way. I also finished reading the Book of Mormon for the third time on my mission. As I start my study of it again, I am focusing on a single question, Who is Jesus Christ? This was inspired from my study and experience of reading Jesus The Christ. Also inspired from my study of the New Testament I finished a few weeks ago, I also posed this same question as I read through it and it was powerful. I just want to mark this fresh new Book of Mormon all about Jesus Christ. I want to know Him deeper and better. I am not exactly sure how to go about this to be honest, I don't feel particularly skilled in how to really focus my study effectively, but I have a desire and a willing heart. The Spirit will teach me the way as I just jump in and try. I'm going to not worry about "am I doing this right?" and just focus solely on what touches my heart personally. I feel like I am starting on a long trip and I am not sure where it will take me, but I trust I will end up closer to Jesus Christ.

The very first verse of the Book of Mormon is powerful and perfectly placed. Nephi starts out by saying, "I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days. ". 

Nephi had so many trails, that I am sure tore at his heart. He had to abandon his home and everything he knew, he had to wander in the wildness without much food which was physically painful, his family was constantly tearing apart, he was almost killed multiple times by the people who were supposed to love him the most. Yet Nephi says he feels still favored of the Lord. He still knows God is good. That He never left him once despite his low times. That message exactly is what the Book of Mormon does for me, and can do for all of us. Despite the sorrow and despair we may feel at times or the trails that stretch us past our flexibility, when I read the Book of Mormon I am reminded God is good. Christ is my friend, and never leave me to walk these paths alone. There is a purpose to our trails, and as we turn to Christ He will help us see them.I have a testimony that God is a loving Father. Although we can't usually see the full plan He has for us, or the means He uses to help us grow, we can trust as we keep following we will one day find ourselves at His side. If we could even catch a glimpse to all He has in store for us I am sure walking this path would not be so hard. But we are to walk by faith not sight here on earth and so we need to trust Him. The Book of Mormon gives me the faith and the courage to have that trust and remember always God is good.

Transfer Call

January 9, 2017 
(part 1)

I got my last transfer call! I will be staying in Mountain House with Sister Kitahara for my last transfer. The ward is crazy excited about it, I have been with them for so long, and they knew me when I was brand new to the mission. I feel a lot of peace about it too, and I know this is where Heavenly Father needs me right now. 

This week a lot of people were out of town, but we still got to teach and bare testimony to others. We continued to teach Lesley, and her husband (in little ways) is softening his heart. We taught her twice again this week. We are trusting in the Lord's timing with that, but praying so hard everyday for a miracle to happen. This next week we will get to teach Washington again, and we really look forward to that lesson. He is an amazing guy with such a big heart. Everyday we get to bare our testimonies to others, whether on the street or in a lesson or at a dinner, and through that we can feel we are doing the Lord's work here. Sometimes it takes humility and trust to have that assurance, but I know when I try my best to follow the Savior He is proud of me, and with me. It takes a lot of humility to keep diligently doing the small things, but the small things add up and that is how the Lord accomplishes His work. I trust that.

I hope everyone had a happy new year. As I reflect on my 2016 I am over filled with gratitude. This past year has changed my heart. I've spent every moment of everyday in the service of the Savior. Not only have I learned a lot about myself in the process, but I have learned so much more of who my Savior is- in a very personal, in depth way. It has been much more than just learning who the scriptures tell me He is, I have had my own personal experiences to teach me of His loving character. Him and I have created our own story together. Some of those experiences have been some of the hardest in my life, but I can truly testify that it is exactly those times that brought me closest to Christ. In my weakest moments where I feel I have not much else left in me, I am at the greatest capacity to feel the Savior's healing love. Our struggles have the potential to bind us to the Savior. I feel like every time I use the atonement to console, strengthen, or forgive myself I get to know the Savior a little deeper. It makes me think of Ether 12:27 from the Book of Mormon, "And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." I know we all have a perfect loving Heavenly Father. He is so aware of each of us, and has a plan for us. He gives us weakness to draw us unto Him. I am grateful for my weaknesses and trials that have helped me have a more authentic and meaning experience with Jesus Christ and His atonement. He is my perfect friend. My weaknesses have also helped me connect more deeply to those I am teaching, to have more empathy and compassion towards them. I hope to in 2017 continue to trust and allow my weakness to draw me closer to the Savior, and give me greater capacity to connect with others around me.

all my love,
Sister Eleanor Neeley