Where to begin! Well thank you so much for the letters and emails and the love I feel everyday from your side of the world. Spring is blooming here in Kofu! We are going out to take pictures today of the Sakura (cherry trees) and all their snow-like blossoms. It is just as beautiful as everyone says! This is such a looked-forward-to season for everyone in Japan. I love experiencing the seasons. As the air warms and the flowers bloom there is a tangible feeling of hope and new beginnings in the air. Perhaps more so for those of us who hold in our hearts the hope of our Savior and the truth of his Resurrection. Trevor was good to remind me to turn me thoughts to him as we approach Easter. :) And Conference! Ah! I was thinking the other day that I'll probably end up listening to at least a few sessions in Japanese, and I wonder how much more I'll understand compared to October, and then I was like AH! Conferences are six months apart....which means I've added 6 months to my mission since the last Conference! That is insane.
Speaking of Japanese and Conference....I was sitting next to the bishops wife in Relief Society yesterday as we studied the talk by David A. Bednar from October Conference. The teacher was writing up stuff on the board and I couldn't read the kanji so I asked the bishop's wife what something was and she read it out of the talk for me. A few minutes later I was taken aback, realizing that I understood every word she said, completely, and that compared to a few months ago church is so much more enjoyable. For a moment I felt elated and then quickly was overcome and humbled by an outpouring of gratitude as I realized that God lets me understand and has given me such an incredible gift. No I still don't know or speak Japanese perfectly, but for the most part, I understand, and I can connect with people through language. Their language. It is so beautiful! I started to cry right there (I'm telling you, being a missionary does something funny to my emotions, and I get all leaky) and my heart was so full. It is strange being at this part in my mission. I never thought I would actually get here.
On that note...I really want to share something fantastic I learned from my mission president in my interview last week!! This was a huge light-bulb-on moment for me. I was asking his advice on how to make the most out of the last months of my mission, and how to really be the best I can be while I'm in a position to be a huge influence on the people around me. President Budge is an incredible person and has a head full of so much knowledge and experience, as well as a solid testimony of the gospel. We are so lucky to have him here! Anyway. He said he's been reading a book recently called 'Falling to Heaven' and it's got him pondering a lot about humility. He got up and wrote on the board 'Exact Obedience' then went on to explain that the Lord demands no less then exact obedience from his missionaries, and from members of the church. But....we are incapable of this. At one point or another, we fall short, we mess up, we miss the mark, and we 'fall short of the glory of God.' This is inevitable. So why does God ask us to '...be ye therefore perfect...' when it is impossible?
Next he opened up to Ether 12:27. We all know this scripture. He then said that when we hit those moments where we fall short, there are two choices we have of how to react. He wrote these on the board under 'exact obedience'. The two possibilities are: humble or humiliated. On the humiliated side, it is a hit to our pride. We turn inward and feel inadequate and feel sorry for ourselves and decide we aren't enough and can't do it. This is a downward spiral that is so easy for us to fall into! We feel like we aren't good enough. We feel like we can't do it. And we turn inward. This is actually a form of pride! We all know about the 'uppity' pride. This is the other side to pride. And it's not good!
Ok so now to humility. When we choose to be humble, we accept that we aren't enough on our own. We accept we aren't perfect. But we also acknowledge and give ourselves over to the grace of the Savior. Because he already paid the price. All of it. He doesn't just come down to the line of our very best; he comes down all the way. We humble ourselves before him, accept that even if we aren't enough, Christ is. We turn outward. And we draw a little closer to God. Somehow our falling short actually brings us nearer to Him.
I'm sure this isn't a new concept to you...but it was such an eye opener for me. I feel I've been searching a long time for the line between humility and beating ourselves up for not being good enough. There is a line. And now that I understand that we don't have to make ourselves miserable and feel worthless in order to be humble....it has become a sort of secret-to-happiness. Humility is beautiful! And I love to concept of 'falling to heaven.' I was so excited about this. Last week the two of us spoke in church on Sunday, directing our words to the up-and-coming missionaries, and this is what I spoke on. It was cool because a dude from the Stake spoke after us and elaborated on the same subject. Then the lesson is Relief Society was from Lorenzo Snow about becoming perfect one day at a time. Such an amazing lesson! What an incredible principle. Anyway...I really wanted to share that. :) It's been changing me drastically.
Now a little about my week...did I tell you last week about the 82 year old less-active we found right here in Kofu city? Well she was so pleased at our visit and invited us in her home. She used to be a super-active member and even talked about attending the temple weekly. She remembers the name of her missionary who baptized her 60 years ago...Elder Price from Utah. She still has the Book of Mormon and loves the church. We think she stopped coming because she can't drive on her own, most of her friends in the church have passed away, and her sons aren't members and won't bring her. Anyway we brought her to the relief society activity this past week, and she brought her 80 year old younger sister along. Her little sister, Hosaka Kikuko san, isn't a member but has apparently been to our church before in Hawaii. She is SUPER suteki, and an artist. She accepted a Book of Mormon and is already reading it, and told us to come over today. We are really excited about her. :)
You know the second Emily we told you about? Well she is back from France and met us for Indo Curry on Friday. We learned she was actually a music major (piano and voice) and loves music. At one point she got up to get a drink and Soda Shimai and I turned sneakily to each other and decided that maybe if we were singing in church on Sunday, she would come. When she came back to the table we announced that we were doing a special musical number on Sunday, and that she should come to English class that morning and then to Sacrament meeting to hear us right afterwards. She happily agreed. Haha. Later that night we called Brother Harada and then the bishop to ask if we actually could sing in Sacrament on Sunday....they said yes. And she came! We put together a pretty version of Come Thou Fount with the Elders, acapella, using both English and Japanese. After only practicing it once it actually turned out really well. Thank heavens for all the practice we get singing in the church!
The rest of the week was spent gardening with members, teaching English class, going to Japanese class, running around with members searching for less-actives, teaching a lesson on a train here, a lesson on the street there, and walking down dusty country roads amidst cherry tree orchards and Japanese temples. Unfortunately Satomi san got sick and wasn't able to come to church on Sunday. I've seen this over and over again on my mission. Someone makes a good decision, they start turning their sights and their footsteps down the right road, and Satan gets upset. Luckily his attempts are nothing compared to the love God has for his precious children. But he does get annoying!
On Tuesday after the temple Iida Shimai came to meet me. :) She looks wonderful! We had so much fun and enjoyed cherry-hamburgers and a lot of sunlight. Did you know that the day I come home will be her 1-year-anniversary of getting baptized? We are trying to get her temple goal set for the week before so that I will be able to come.
Well I'm sure I've written enough to get your eyes tired. I will send pictures soon. Some members in the ward are going to take us to a hill with over 2000 Sakura trees on it this week!
I LOVE YOU SO MUCH.