Monday, December 29, 2014

MIssion Christmases are the Best!!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! It was a really fun Christmas!! c: All day Monday we hung out as a mission in Gilbert, and we went to see the Basha southwestern art collection....which felt like home. I loved going to see that stuff with my mom. <3 Have you hear of it, mom? It was a really good gallery.
 Mainly we just hung out and got to know all the other missionaries. We never have time to just hang out and get to know each other, and sometimes it feels like missionaries are our only peers. It feels like THey're the only people who know exactly what we're going through, so it's fun when we get to do that. Oh, also we had like a talent show FHE thing, and that was really fun. I got to sing "Shephard's Carol" and "Beautiful Savior." Our whole zone got up and sang, "On the fifth week of training, my trainer said to me, ALWAYS LOCK YOUR BIIIIIIIIIIIIIIKE" and that number totally stole the show, haha! It was erally, really fun c:

 And it was so nice to hear everyone's voices!!! I was SO BUMMED I had to tell everyone that conference calls weren't allowed, it was almost tempting to just let it slide....I was sooo sad. But, hearing everyone's voices through speaker phone was seriously the greatest. I loved being able to tell my mom and dad and brothers and sister that I loved them, and to hear them say "I love you" back. That was the best part of Christmas.

 Shout out to HIllside ward, too, the package was the BEST!! <3 I looooved reading the card, and seeing all the little notes from the women in the ward, especially my young women's leaders. I miss HIllside a lot. <3 You guys are awesome. 

 Christmas miracles to record! So remember Terra? She's veeeery Baptist, but she also attends Catholic mass with her mom. It's always really interesting talking to her, because it almost sounds like she's just anti, and just wants to fight and argue, but then when we answer, she just accepts it and is like, "oh, okay. Yeah, that makes sense." She went from "that's the Devil's book" to "I really really love Moroni!" haha. A week or so ago, we had basically flat out told her, "This is Christ's church. This is where the authority to act in His name is found. THis is the church that has the authority to baptize." She believed that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and that the Book of Mormon was "inspired," and that he definitely was given authority, but she didn't believe that this was the only church to have authority. She had told us, "There's no way I'd ever be a Mormon. There's just no way." So, faith filled as we were, we were like, "Okay, she feels the Spirit, she's close to God, she loves her Savior, she'll find truth. Maybe she'll be baptized 5 or 10 years from now. But we'll probably have to drop her, she's just going to be one of those 'eternigators.'"

 The other day, we were walking up to her door, trying to think about how we'd have to tell her that we can't come by as often anymore. The door pops open immediately after we knock and she pulls us in and sits us down and says, "I threw away my cigarettes and took out the trash and I am never smoking ever again!! I was thinking about what God wants for me, and I realized that I had a window wide open to the devil. I never even liked smoking. My body's special, and I realized I had grieved the Spirit, so I don't smoke anymore. Nope." 

 Well, okay. Spirit just taught our investigator the Word of Wisdom. That's cool.

 Theeeen she started asking questions like, "If I was baptized by someone in your church, would that mean I was Mormon?" And then she opened up the Book of Mormon to the doctrine of Christ scripture (Faith, repentance, baptistm, Gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end), and read it to us, and asked, "Which one do you think I"m missing?" And we had a really good conversatoin about it all. When we pulled out Moroni 10:5, she was like, "You guys read this to me like three times already." We read it again anyway.

 ANd it just clicked for her. She realized, "I get why you guys were so persistent now. I need to do this. This is about me ad God and Jesus. It's about getting my answer from Him. If He tells me this is the church, then yeah, I'd join it. Of course, if God told me. I'm not afraid of being Mormon anymore. I got the sincere heart and real intent now. I don't know why I didn't understand that the three times you guys read this to me. I'm ready to pray this now." 

 so that happened. It was so neat. 

 On the flip side....Mandy got into some anti stuff. She went to the internet instead of reading the Book of Mormon and had a huge stack of notes. It's funny, you can really tell...when they're reading and praying and really earnestly seeking, you can see it in their face, they're brighter behind the eyes and their face is bright and it's obvious. When Mandy opened the door, there was a cloudiness or a darkness or something, I don't know. ANd I was thinking, "Oh no...." 

 But it was kind of neat, because she asked about the Articles of Faith, and when we started talking about them, she said, "That's not what I read...." She found someone's antagonistic rewrite of the AoF. And when we explained that to her, she was legitimately upset, she was like, "Wow, this guy really made it sound like this was official, that this was something you actually believed and taught." So, it was a good lesson in that it showed that the internet doesn't have a truth filter. We encouraged her to read the BoM and ask God. That's where the answer would come from. So, praying that she turns to the BoM and Bible and prayer for her answers. It's hard when you're so used to the internet having all the answers, though. 

 Let's see, Que mas....We had a neat street contact the other day. This woman looked down her nose at us, listened casually, then the first thing she said was, "you and I believe verrry differently." 

 Then she basically stated Church doctrine. So. :p Always fun when tht happens.

 Well, I should probably head off...love you guys!! Thanks for all you do for me! THanks for the Christmas wishes and the prayers and support!! I'm still loving it out here! Missions are siously the best thing ever. <3 There's nothing I'd rather be doing right now.

 See you all in 2015! Happy New year!

-Sister Stratford

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Writing this month has been a real struggle...there are seriously ALL these miracles all over the place and I don't remember anything as soon as I sit down.

 Mandy came to church!! YAY!! And what was really cool, she really wanted to go with her family. But her family couldn't come....but she still came alone!! WHich is really cool, if she really didn't want to come, she would've taken that excuse. IT'S SO COOL SHE DIDN'T! She looooved Sacrament meeting, and she especially loooooooved the Gospel Principles class. She would listen to the lesson, but then she'd flip through the book and find something interesting and read that for a bit, then come back to the lesson....we let her take hte book home, because she was so fascinated by what she was reading, and it's the basic stuff of what Christ's Church teaches. She's really gotten into researching it, and we're just grateful she's been going to good sources for her information. Like the Book of Mormon and Gospel Principles book. She's really getting excited by everything.
 
 We had a baptism yesterday! I don't know if they're named yet...they're the couple that walked into church one day because they prayed and God led them to this church. And they come to all the English sessions of Church, so 6 hrs of church. They got baptized yesterday!!!! :D it kinda reminded me of the Best Christmas Pageant Ever story, where everyone is thinking that everything is going wrong and it's all ruined (our cord didn't work for the TV, couldn't find a pianist, printer failed to print out the programs, water wasn't heating up, some freak traffic, font was too shallow, we were stressing bad)--but then it all works out and everything goes well. Not in spite of the things going wrong, but kinda because everything went wrong. I've never had a baptism plan smoothly, whenever we plan things something happens that makes it bumpy...but then it's really obviosu when God's hand comes in and just makes the mess work beautifully and it's perfect and you'd never have it be any other way. They were so happy at the end of it. I'd never seen bigger smiles...shallow font and all :p


....I don't have a lot of time, I need to get skype all ironed out so I can skype my family on Christmas. :3 I'm sorry these last couple of letters have been really lame and I haven't been able to remember all the cool stuff I've wanted to share. It's seriosly been the craziest transfer of my life. XD BUT Christmas has been awesome, and I love being a missionary. I still love working and I love Arizona and I LOVE CHRISTMAS and having htem all together has been really great. I wouldn't trade this time for anything. I know that this is the Lord's work. I've seen His hand in it too obviously to ever be able to deny that. Thanks for your pryares and your letters and your patience with me not getting back to letters. I love you all!! 

 -sister Stratford
 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Real quick, What's going on in California?!? Because seriously three people this week asked me where I'm from, and when I say "California," They got all concerned and asked, "Is your family okay?" ?!?!?!?! IS KOREA BOMBING MY HOUSE OR SOMETHING?!? :p haha. I had a little panic, apparently the weather is just going crazy, and I shouldn't say just, but y'know it is a relief when every worse case scenario ever just happened in the space of 1.8 seconds in your head. I strongly dislike being out of the loop on everything.  

SO this week has seriously been a blur and I haven't been able to keep up on my journal very well so my memory isn't very good. I don't remember anything if I don't record it first. :p But it's been an amazing, miracle-packed week. I'm so tired I feel like I'm falling apart, haha! But hard work and all, this is the best thing of my life and at the end o the day and through the stress, there's still nothing that has ever made me happier. MIssions are the best.

 But, some cool stuff. Mandy and her husband (I need to name him. Meet Dave) have been really progressing well. They came to the ward Christmas party and LOVED it!! They said everyone was unbelievably friendly. It was the first time they came to a church for the first time and weren't stared at. They wanted to go to the temple lights right after, but it ended up being too cold (you don't think that you get used to 110+ weather until you're freexing at 60) and they were so excited to get to church the next morning, but their car wouldn't start and they had no phone to tell us . :C next time for certain. But we went by their home last night and they were so excited to see us. We read the Book of Mormon with Mandy while Dave hung out in the back doing stuff pretending not to listen. Near the end he came in and sat down to ask us questions about what he heard. :P He's so fun, haha! But they've gone from really not interested but enjoying our company, to kinda curious, to wondering if it's true, to totally dead set on figuring out if this is true or not. What the heck. So cool. And we don't even feel like we've done anything special, we've taught about Christ and the Gospel and just watched the Spirit work on them. This is so the Lord's work, because as hard as we work, it's obvious that nothing gets done until God's working too. 

 It was really fun reading the Book of Mormon with them. She enjoys Nephi, and they both really like the story of the Zoramites and Alma's preaching to the poor. It's so funny how many people believe that Joseph SMith wrote it, or that it's a modern record, and then they get all confused when we explain how it's an ancient record from an ancient civilization who God loved just as much as His people in the Holy Lands. Then it makes a lot more sense to them why we like it so much. 

 ....I'm running out of time, dang it. Uh, Christmas is seriously the best as a missionary. It's the worst too, because we miss our families a lot. QUite a bit of trunky-talk going around. :p I don't know if it's easier or harder being so close to home. I joke about taking the 10 home everytime we pass the onramp. XD If you happen to see missionaries this week, seriously, give them a hug and tell them God's with them and their families are being taken care of.

 Sorry for the short letter, but I love you all and this is the best thing ever!! If you have the chance to serve a mission, do it, it's awesome. Christ lives and there's nothing better than telling everyone about it.

 -Sister Stratford
 

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Other Side of the Door

Christmas has been the BEST as a missionary!!!!! Seriously, I thought it'd be the hardest time of the year, and yeah I miss all of you guys, but the vast majority of myself is really bummed out I only get one Christmas in the field. :p This is seriously so fun. I feel a lot more comfortable talkin to people around the Christmas season, for some reason. I'm still talking about Christ and the Restoration of the Gospel, but...I dunno. THere's something different. 

 But we talked to so many strangers this week. It was awesome. :p Even if some were grumpy.

 I don't have a lot of time to write because I got SO MANY PICTURES *squee!* and had to stare at them. haha. But, I'll share the most important stuff.

 Email is so named because a few weeks ago, we knocked on this door, and this crazy guy answered. "You wanna talk about CHrist? Why? What did Jesus ever do for you?! NOthing, that's what! Absolutely nothing, and if you don't know that you're stupid!" Wouldn't even let us talk. Literally, all we could do is quietly testify and leave. When he paused for a breath, we jumped in to say, "Jesus CHrist saved us all. Here's a pamphlet. We'll see you around." It was not a good experience.

 So this week, the hermanas gave us a referral of someone they met on the street. "She's SO COOL!" They said, and just gushed about how golden and prepared she was and the miracle of God putting her in their path. We got really excited.

 So we drive up to the address they gave us, and we go, "Wait...." It's the SAME DOOR. And we're like, "well, there's a house in the back, maybe they meant that one," we really didn't want to go back to knock on that door again. But it was the same door, and this woman really needed us and wanted us to come by, so we knocked on it. Totally bracing ourselves.

 She answered the door and burst into tears. She was so glad to see us and shared so much...she needed this so bad. She asked for a scripture, so we sat and read for a little while. The Spirit was so strong, and she was seriously one of hte most prepared people I've met on my mission.

 And the guy was there hanging out, but he didn't have anything to say this time. :p

 Moral of the story: You never know who's behind the door. Even if the wrong person answers, don't count it out.

 Another cool experience with Mandy! She's really started to get into what we're teaching her, big time. By miracle another friend of hers is investigating the church and has called her to talk all about it, what she's learning and how she feels. We read some of the BoM with her.

 REmember her husband? He never sits in on our lessons, but he's often in the background doing something. He wasn't on his phone now, though. At one time in the lesson, he interrupts us (AGAIN) but this tiem he says, "I just gotta say something..." and shares all these really cool experiences and miracles. "I dunno if it's a sign or nothing, if there's anything to your church. It might be GOd telling us it might be true. But I dunno. Anyway." And he was gone before we could answer. :p Haha! 180s are so fun to watch. But you don't see them if you're not persistent.

 We had a cool zone conference this week. An elder in our mission is a veteran who can't go back to the army for a while until his legs heal up. He shared some really, really cool stuff. One thing I thought was fun is he told us how much he hates civillians. :p He says in the army, there are no strangers, there's a lot of trust, there's a comraderie and a loyalty. 4 million people in Phoenix and they don't care about each other. He said partly why he served a mission was because he needed that loyalty, and missionaries have that for each other. It's rare in this world. 
 
 ANd it got me thinking, I've studied and read a lot about Charity and have really tried to develop that attribute. But I hadn't really thought about loyalty. When a bomb goes off, are we instinctively mroe worried about the man on our right and left than ourselves? I hadn't thought about it, but loyalty is pretty rare. I've learned that no one's a stranger, and I want to keep that after my mission. I want to develop a loyalty to the whole human family and keep that for the rest of my life. Such a cool story. 

 Anyway, I'm out of time, but I love you guys so much! Thanks for your pryares and support! I'm still happy and healthy, and you guys are the best!! <3

 -Sister Stratford

Monday, December 1, 2014

PS

Just got a text from the leaders.....I'm supposed to remind my friends and family not to send me "unapproved books or excessive Christmas presents." I still need to fit everything into two suitcases and a carryon for transfers. ^^ haha

HE IS THE GIFT!!!

Names I now answer to:

Sister Stafford (most common)
Sister Strepford
Sister Shephard (I actually kinda like that one)
Sister Stratmore
Sister Straten
Hermana Estratford

I thought my name would be an easy one....it is very English...XD I did not expect so many variations. Haha.


 It's been a good but long week!! Thanksgiving was great, there's not a lot of work you can do on Thanksgiving, so we stayed home all day. That was a very nice break. Also kinda frustrating, except you knew you couldn't do anything anyway. We went to dinner at a member's house. In the evening, Pres Toone approved a movie....SO WE GOT TO WATCH FROZEN!!! AHHHH hahaha. It's really fun to watch a Disney movie with a bunch of people who haven't watched a movie in so long.

 Also, we painted our front window of our apartment. Sister Morris is a boss artist, so she painted a STUNNING Nativity scene. We painted "He is the Gift," "#ShareTheGift," And "Christmas.mormon.org." it was a really fun and relaxing activity. It's nice to have my hands all messy with paint again. I think this is something I will do with my windows in the future. *nods*

 Who else is looking forward to the first presidency Christmas devotional on Sunday?!? I AM!! I'm going to miss watching it in pajamas and cookies and hot chocolate with a bunch of friends from teh ward, but, it's going to be awesome <3 I'm so excited.

 Christmas time is seriously the best. Seriously. Everything is amazing. Especially as a misisonary. Everyone is a lot more open to talk about Christ and God and everyone's overall happier and nicer. Talking to strangers is a fear that never really died (yet....? *still hoping*) but it's gotten so much easier, now that I basically just talk about "CHRISTMASSSSSS!!! 8D Do you want to learn more about the first gift of Christmas?!? We'd love to help you come closer to Him!! Embrace the Gift!!!"

  it's really awesome to see the Christmas lights everywhere (Sister Morris laughed so hard when she saw a palm tree decorated with Christmas lights. :p Same as Rancho for me, haha. But it's fun experience Arizona Christmas with someone from Virginia) and all the decorations. I hope I get to see the Mesa temple Christmas lights. We've been inviting everyone to it, and for a lot of people, it's already a family tradition. usually it ends up with them telling us how great it is and how we need to go. Haha!

 Lacey has enjoyed her first week being Mormon a lot. It's so cool, she's so completely different, yet totally the same. She always had such an amazing spirit, but she just glows now. And she's so happy and excited about everything--especially sharing the Gospel. She prayed to God and came up with a goal of bringing 300 souls to Christ. She was excited about that goal for a while, but now she's started to say, "I dont' know if I can reach that number. That's a whole ward." We started talking about the Plan of Salvation again and the temple, and she's gotten SO EXCITED. In the middle of class in church, she raised her hand and asked, "How do I get a temple recommend?" haha. She's so awesome!!

 Terra was found by the Spanish sisters and invited us in right away. She's very fun to talk to...within two weeks, she went from "I would never have that devil book in my house" to "The Book of Mormon is God's word, too." :p Once we cleared up that no, Joseph Smith didn't write this book, it's a record written by ancient prophets who knew God in another part of the world, it just clicked for her. "Yeah, why wouldn't other people talk to God? Why wouldn't they write it down? They did with the Bible, sure, the Book of Mormon is totally feasible. Why's it called that?" It was neat. She says she'd never convert because she doesn't believe in eternal marriage, but everything else she absolutely loves. Even 3-hour church XD

 I think that's basically everything....I love you guys so much! Thanks for your support and your prayers!! I still love being a missionary, it's still the best thing in the world! I know that Christ lives and that He loves all of us, and watching that knowledge become such a power in people's lives has been the greatest experience of my life. <3

 MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! :D

 -Sister Stratford
 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Some quick levity, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I'm grateful for weather that I can comfortable wear a scarf every day of the week. :3 
 Also, there was a little boy who was staring at my nametag, sounding it out. He said all of a sudden, "I thought you were a sister missionary."
 And I was like, "I....am....?"
 "Then why does your thingie say you're a sister stratford?" Bahahahahahhahaha, kids are great. XD

Lacey got baptized this week!! It was so awesome, she came out of the water and gave a big "WOOPEEEE!!" hahahaha. She's worked so hard to get to this point. And she's so excited to share the Gospel with her whole complex and the whole world and all of Phoenix. She's seriously one of the coolest people I've met on my mission, and I'm so grateful for her.

 A lot happened since Wednesday. Lots of lessons fell through, people we love that we didn't get to see this week, Bernardo dropped us (Which was a sad day for us. He knows the Book of Mormon is true and loved Nephi (they have a lot in common, those two) and loved the baptism we went to and felt the Spirit so strong and had all these super amazing spiritual experiences I wouldn't broadcast over the internet, but he sent us a text that as much as he loved it all, he needed to stay Catholic), and a lot of rejection. But it's so funny, because I can't even complain, I saw God doing so much for us. So many little miracles (and even a few big) and tender mercies. Even when things seem like they're falling apart or things are "failing," it's clear that God is behind everything. And everything just works out for the best when God's behind everything.

We met so many cool new people. A cousin of a recent convert told us she couldn't fall asleep at night unless she was listening to the Mormon Channel online. She loved the music especially, and her favorite hymn was Joseph Smith's First Prayer. She said she felt so much peace when she heard that song and the words and she knew he was a prophet. Just didn't feel ready to make changes in her life yet. She was so much fun to talk to.

 Sometimes as missionaries we come just at the "wrong time" (or how it seems).We knocked a door of a woman who had met with missionareis before but had dropped off the radar for several months. She was super abrupt and scary at first, and we were worried that we had just ruined everything and now she hates missionaries and maybe we weren't actually supposed to knock on that door even when we both felt good about it.....well, missionaries don't like being rushed off without offering a prayear first. So we said we'd come back later and asked if it was alright if we left her with a prayer. She surprisingly agreed, and it was an amazing, amazing experience. The Spirit led the prayer stronger than I had ever felt before, and when we looked up, she was in tears. She had been waiting for us and wanted to bring God back into her life again. She told us that us showing up on her doorstep had been an answer to a prayer she had been praying all day, and she wants us to come back. Things that wouldn't have happened if a lesson hadn't fallen through.

 Don't allow yourself to get rushed off away from the scary people. They need their prayers answered, too.

 There's a woman we're teaching named Mandy. We actually met her the first week I came here, i wish everyone I talked to could make it in the letters (these people here in Phoenix are seriosuly so awesome!) but so much craziness has been happening. Mandy is going into surgery tomorrow and we've been meeting with her to give her support and encouragement. We had someone from teh ward come and give her a blessing, and it was a powerful, powerful experience. God had actually given her some amazing experiences to prepare her for it, and hearing her talk about it....God's doing all the work out here, I'm just lucky enough to show up and see it. It's so neat. The blessing was the perfect thing for her, and she was told some very powerful things. God knew what was in her heart, and told her He did, and totally soothed her fears and promised everything would be okay. She was glowing afterwards. Her husband was there to see it, too. He actually had given us a lot of flack about things--the first lesson we had with Mandy, he was sitting on his smartphone reading about Mormons on the internet (:I) and he would interrupt our lesson midsentance to ask us some wierd question about polygamy, freemasonry, or something. He had told us he wasn't interested because he had "done his research" and was very disenchanted with the Church. But that blessing had a powerful impact on him, too. The Spirit was so strong. He expressed a lot of respect that these men would give of their time and would live in a way that they could perform a blessing for his wife. He also respects us more, when he learned that mission work isn't just something Mormon kids do after school in their free time. God opens doors when the Spirit is there. It's incredible to experience.

 I think that's it for this week. I still love being out here, and it's still the greatest thing of my life. There's nothing better than meeting a whole bunch of new people and reminding them who they are and they have a Savior. I love you all! Thanks for your support and your pryares!! <3

 -Sister Stratford

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

LET'S JUST BAPTIZE PHOENIX

Let's just do that. There is SO MUCH to do here, and so many people who are actually looking for God, and want to listen, there are so many that we don't get to see them all in a week and we're trying to hard to not leave anyone behind. It's really fun, this is how I imagined the mission to be. We're being run ragged, talking to everyone, teaching lessons all day, gettig rejected and running into people who don't want to listen, but also experiencing AMAZING miracales as God leads us to those people who do want to listen....I'm tired and I feel a little fried, but it's been such a great time and I love it!! Nothing I'd rather be doing right now. <3 This is the best. The hardest and the best. 

 Trivialness, it's freezing here. Got down to 40 a couple nights ago. Yup. I never thought I'd get used to 120 weather, but then winter comes and you realize you really did adjust.

 So Bernardo had gone to the phoenix temple open house with some friends and was so impressed, he requested missionaries to come and tell him more abou it. He said he felt like a different person in there. Teaching him was the neatest thing, it all just made sense to him. He loved the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith's first vision. We took him to a baptism and he loved that. The idea of a premortal life just clicked. It was so cool. Lots of amazing spiritual experiences with him.

 We're also teaching a HS junior named Lupus. Though we may have to have the SPanish sisters teach him, the rest of his family speaks mostly Spanish. (It was SO FUNNY, the Mom came in and saw we were Missionaries and started speaking Spanish....she was so surprised we didn't speak Spanish. "All the Mormons I know speak Spanish, I just thought you all knew how." haha!! Not far from the truth though.) But he really caught hold of the truth that God could forgive everything. He could be clean. He had been struggling to be a good person but was still haunted by stuff he did back when he didn't care. It was really amazing to see that hope turn on behind his eyes and that eagerness to learn more about Christ. There's really nothing like it. The Spanish sisters went to talk to his mom and said she was very similar, too. She loved what they were teaching. Moments like that make everything worth it. I'm too exhausted to function anymore, but Lupus knows God loves him and he can be forgiven.

 We met with another woman who had been listening to missionaries for 3 years.....man. :p She said she believed in God but not Christ. So while trying to figure out what her problem was, it came out that she had tried to repent before and didn't feel like it had done any good. SHe couldn't believe in a perfect God, since there was evil in the world, and therefore, she couldn't believe in perfect love and therefore she couldn't be forgiven because God could get tired of her and stop caring. It was the saddest thing I've ever heard, and I felt like there was so little I could do to help her. She had decided to believe in God because she was studying philosophy, and had determined that there had to be some kind of divine organizer. But.....well, one thing that's really important is, as a missionary, I'm not here to answer questions. Techinically. I'm here to help people develop the kind of relationship with their Father that they can recieve their own answers straight from God. But I think people feel so very intelligent when they're confused. They think that it's okay to be confused because it shows how open their mind is. They don't want to have any absolute truth, they feel so wise if they can present a question no one can give them an answer to. It's really sad to be trying to offer the answers to someone who just doesn't want the answers. She told us to not come back until after the holidays because of all the busyness going on. I hope I get to see her again. 

 The world needs to know there's a Savior. :c

So we have a baptism on Saturday!!! :) Lacey is seriously the coolest person ever. She's come so far, she's quit smoking, she's changed her whole life. She's gotten so excited about the Gospel, and she's one of those people who just wants to save the whole world. She's always so busy trying to help out the people in her neighborhood or rescuing animals. She is so eager to introduce us to people. "Everyone needs God," she says. "You'll have to come with me after I'm baptized, I know where to find those people who are hurting. I know, I've been there. I know what they look like." She's eager to teach hundreds of people. :p She's so much fun!!

 I'm running low on time, BUT you're all awesome and I love you!! Thanks for your prayers and your letters, they mean a lot to me <3 I'm grateful to be out here and I'm grateful for the people and I'm grateful for the Atonement of Christ!! Being a missionary has been the best thing of my life.

 Love you all! <3

 -Sister Stratford

Monday, November 10, 2014

Still in Phoenix!!! <3


(before I forget, next week p-day will be on Wednesday so we can go to the temple. So I wont' be able to write until wednesday next week)

I literally moved RIGHT next door to my old area. It's so weird, I know all the street names and gas stations. And We're driving, and I'm thinking, "Man, just down this street, so-and-so lives there...." it's kinda frustrating to be so close to those people and not be able to go visit them, but I'm excited to meet and fall in love with these people, too!

 I even know a few of the people. I'm comapnions with Sister Morris, who's an STL, so I've been on exchanges with her and I met some of these people last transfer. SO WEIRD.

 Also, we're covering two wards. I've heard of htat happening before, but I hadn't realized just how crazy that was. I feel like I've been hit by a bus, especially after 6 hours of church on Sunday, hahaha!! 6+, because of a ward meeting and a stake meeting. It's reeeeaaaally different, going from a place where you knew all the members to where you know no one and twice as many of them and you have to keep straight who's in what ward and even....we share one ward with the elders, so only half of that ward....htekljrdf I might explode. XD But at the same time, it's an adventure, and I'm enjoying it. I have an amazing companion that I already kn ow and get along with, I'm somewhat familiar with teh area already...if God was ever going to do something like this to me, this would be the time. He's cushioned it very well. 

 We've talked to so many people, I dont' even know what to write about....the main adventure this week has been trying to get my feet under me. There are A LOT of people in this area, it's a little overwhelming. But having an enormous teaching pool is as bad of a problem as having not enough storage for all your chocolate :) Good problem to have.

 .....I'll figure out who all I should write about next week, I guess, when I know everyone a little better and all that is happening. So I'll send pictures mostly this week, I guess. 





 Lego temple!!!! OH MY GOSH YES



Birthday fun :p




This Haboob was not nearly as cool as the first one. We ran inside to get in the church as fast as we could, but it was very anticlimatic.






Leaving Laveen was really really hard, but I'm excited to still be in Phoenix and continue working out here!!! By Christmas, I'll be halfway through my mission....and we're beginning to play Christmas music in the appartment! AHHHHHHHH

 You don't think it goes by quick, but then it actually does. 

 I'm so very exhausted, especially after this weekend, but I've never been happier in my life. I love being a missionary. I love these people and I love the Lord. I love sharing these truths wtih people. I love seeing them understand that God loves them for the very first time. I've grown to embrace and even love the awkwardness of talking to strangers, haha. My testimony of the Gospel has grown so much. I'm grateful God let me serve a mission. It has been the greatest thing of my life.

 I love you all!! <3

 -Sister Stratford

 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Leaving Laveen!!! :c

Sister Nelson and I are both leaving this area....:c neither of us want to go. It's been so hard to focus and do work. We've been stressing all week about all that needed to be done for these people, everything they need, and now we're both leaving so we can't do anything for them anyway. *flop* Totally fallen in love with these people. I'm so grateful home is only a 5-hrs drive away. Too far to come over every weekend after my mission, but it's not impossible to come and visit. Also grateful for Facebook, so I can still send them a message here and there and still see how they're doing.

 It's been such an awesome week!!! It was the last week of the open house. We had this AMAZING investigator we were going to take. We had just met her that week, and it was crazy because when she was telling us her "personal relligious beliefs," she was basically just quoting restored truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That's always a kick as a missionary. We were so excited to talk about the idea of eternal marriage and we were so excited to introduce her to the temple--then she completely fell off the face of the Earth and we learned she didn't really live there, only came there every now and then. We had no way of contacting her. :C it was really frustrating.....

 But even though we couldn't get ahold of her, we were still faith-planning the trip, trusting someone would want to go. It was the last weekend, come on, everyone should get the chance to go to a temple open house and see the inside of the temple. Even though it's not dedicated, the Spirit is SO STRONG and it's such a beautiful, peaceful place. 

 While we were stressing about her, Sis Nelson came up with an idea to invite another really awesome incredible investigator we had met that week. Meeting him was a miracle and a very interesting experience. It was undoubtable that God wanted us to talk with him more. So we took him to the temple. It was SO COOL. God makes miracles happen.

 Something I"m learning as a missionary....no one's a stranger. That's slowly starting to set in, which is great. XD No one is a stranger, they're a best friend you just haven't seen in a really really really really long time, so they don't recognize you. But you start treating them as a best friend right away anyway. It's really weird, haha, but it's really fun. 

 We had stake conference this week!! Elder Christofferson shared a really cool story about a wise old man who had one son, one horse, and one acre. When his only horse broke out and escaped, he told his friends, "I don't know whether it's good or bad." His friends would have to assure him that it was a very bad thing to lose his only horse. Later, the horse got thirsty and came back home, bringing ten new wild horses with it. Again, the wise man couldn't say if it was good or bad, and his friends had to tell him it was good. His only son broke his leg while trying to tame one of those horses, and the wise man's friends again had to inform him that that was a bad thing. Then war broke out, and the son didn't qualify for the draft because of his broken leg. The story could go on forever, and the lesson I got was anything can be a good thing if you decide it was a good thing, and see the hidden blessings that come from it. Another thing I got from it is to not make final judgements so quickly. God designs our lives, God works with our weaknesses and mistakes, and everything will work out in the end. 

 ....I'm really sad to be leaving Laveen. :( But I know these people will be in good hands, and I'm looking forward to meeting and loving new people. It's been a really good last week!

 Thanks for your prayers and your love! I love you all!!

 -Sister Stratford

Monday, October 27, 2014

Families and Halloween!

The awkward moment when you forget everything you were excited to tell everyone on Monday. XD

 So, Cindy has been in the hospital most of the week. Her health had really taken a turn for the worst. She came home just a few days ago, and we've been trying to go visit her. But her friend in the congregation has been visiting and taking care of her. She says Cindy has finally hit that point where being sick is worse than recovering, and she finally wants to quit drinking! :) Yaaaaay! 
 
 I don't remember if I wrote the story, but a few weeks ago she asked for a priesthood blessing. She said that blessing has been carrying her through a lot of the hard things, and has been on her mind. It was so hard for her to believe God loves her, but maybe she's starting to feel it now!! We're excited for her. Things were looking really grim for a while there.

 Remember the two teenage girls?! Turns out the most talkative one didn't actually live there, so we haven't been able to talk to her,  BUT when we came back (we brought the Young Women president with us, we wanted her to meet the girls) we met Monica and her family. Monica has only just recently discovered God after ignoring Him all her life and realizing she needs Him. She's started to look for a church for her and her kids. She's struggling as a single mom trying to take care of 11 kids (5 are hers) and she was very, very grateful to hear our message....it was seriosuly the coolest thing. She was getting so excited, and she felt the Spirit so strongly and told us she was feeling something incredible that she only feels in churches...and all her girls were outside listening and participating and getting really excited to hear about Jesus!! They're such a sweet family, I've totally fallen in love with them. The girls were too shy to talk to us, but they came close and listened and got really excited when we asked them a question or asked them what they thought. When we visited them again last night, Monica was gone, but one of the girls was home and she wanted us to stay and wait for mom to come home. She sat outside with us. 

 Families are AWESOME. Two of a family is cool and everything, but watching a family grow close to God together, and to learn together....there's nothing like it. I've really grown a testimony of families, and why they're so important to God. He's so strict about it because this is how we grow, learn, practice, find support in one another. It's just amazing.

 Merry has a strong testimony of a Gospel-centered family, as well. the YW pres really hit it off with this family, but we're really excited to introduce her to Merry, as well.

 Merry and her family are doing great! They got to see the temple open house and were so excited!! They loved every bit of it, and asked so many questions! Cari isn't 12 until the beginning of next year, but she's so excited to go there when she's old enough. Merry really wants to get a recommend and get started!

 And a funny side note for Merry....the kids have no idea that there's such thing as "boy missionaries." All they've known are sisters, so the girls are excited to grow up and serve missions, and whenever we bring it up to the boys, they're like, "but boys can't go, can they?" Bahahaha!! We tried to get them to meet the elders who are also in our building at church, but they didn't have time. Next time. :p

 We finally got to see Lizzy! She's not doing well. She still feels like God is being silent to her and she doesn't know why....it's a little frustrating, because she was making such good progress....miss church for a couple of weeks, and she's back where she started. :/ but, she's still reading the BoM, or listening to it...quick side note, I LOVED what Elder Scott said in General Conference this year, "Don't yeild to Satan's lie that you don't have time to read scriptures. It's more important than sleep, school, work, or social media. Get your priorities in order." Man, I loved that!! Haha. And Lizzy is such a testament to that. Soooooooo much is going on in her life, and she still finds a way to read the BoM. 

 Saturday was the trunk or treat!! it was really fun!! I actually stressed about it all week, because I am NOT a social person, and I felt kinda responsible for everyone who wasn't a part of hte ward to feel included and have a good time. But it went really well. Lizzy and her daughter seemed to have a really fun time! Merry got to know a few more people in the ward, and it was so nice to see her kids running around with their friends. It's a relief when a new family seems to be solidly in the ward. Sister Fox convinced her family to come, even though they don't really like her coming back to church. I was very sore from standing and walking the whole time (and earlier that day we had done a service project), but it went really well.
 
 Also, funny side note.....two 9-year-old friends were missionaries, wearing their dads' old nametags. :p And it was actually really good, because I was watching, and they never left each other's side the WHOLE TIME!!! Hahahahahaha. 

 I think that's everything...I love you guys!! Thanks for all you do! :) Missions are the greatest thing in the world, and I love being out here! 

 -Sister Stratford

Monday, October 20, 2014

Miracle week!!!

Literally, everything went right this week. It was insane. What the heck.

 Unfortunately, we weren't able to contact a lot of hte people we were working with. They were busy, or they cancelled last second, and everything with them fell through. Really hoping that meeting with Cindy would be the start of weekly lessons again, but I guess those things can't be rushed. She's still feeling down. Lizzy was dealing with a lot of things all week.

 BUT, we had a TON of RANDOM miracles, so many I couldn't even get them all down into my journal, and I definitely won't be able to record them in the short amount of time I have left. :p But I'll kinda try....let's do three. Just three.

 So there's someone who's been on our list forever. He's a recent convert, apparently. and we don't know how we missed him, we look through that list all the time and we knew everyone there, and all the sudden one day we realized, "holy cow, who is this guy? Why dont' we know him?" So we had to go over there and see.

 Turns out he doesn't live there. The guy who does has lived there for years and years, so....we still don't know who that guy is. We were feeling like horrible missionaries, but we were talking to this guy and had his attention, so we started talking to him. We asked if he believed in God or practiced any kind of religion.

 "Yeah, actually," he said, lighting a cigarette. "I'm actually a Latter-Day Saint. What church are you guys from?"

 Well. XD 

 He was SO EXCITED to talk to us!! he was baptized when he was a kid. there was a foster family he was just so impressed with, and he loved the Church, and he still considers himself Mormon even though he doesn't attend church or live the lifestyle at all. He was happy to talk to us and really liked the idea of coming back to church.

 Another miracle, we ran into some teenaged girls the other day. Normally we don't lilke to talk to minors because it can be pretty dangerous and you don't want to freak parents out, but we've been really working on talking to everyone and they were super willing to talk. They were older teens, anyway. At first they really weren't interested in listening. Wehn we asked about tehir beliefs, they said, "We believe in God, and we're Christian, but we don't like any of the churches. They're all wrong, the original teachings of Christ have been so screwed up and twisted to fit what people want. Like, don't get me wrong, I"m sure your church has a lot of good stuff--most churches have some of the truth. But we don't go to any church in our family." 

 They got so excited when we talked about a Restoration of the Gospel. they got really excited when we talked about prophets and apostles. They were just really excited about the whole thing. It was really fun to talk to them! 

 ...jk, I'll only do 2 miracles. :/ It was a reeeeaaally good week, though! Even though everything fell through and it wasn't the week we were hoping for....honestly, it was WAY better than the week we were hoping for. :p It was a good reminder that God's in control, that when we are trying our best and things are hard, He's there every step of the way. After all, in the parable of the Lord and His servants working in the vineyard, the Lord works alongside His servants. And I love that. This is His work, and we are not left alone. I love being a missionary! It's been an amazing experience with the ups and downs, and I'm grateful I still have so much time left! Thanks for your prayers and for your letters!! I love you all!!

 -Sister Stratford

Monday, October 13, 2014

Phoenix Temple and Meet the Mormons!!

The temple is GORGEOUS!!! Love the baptistry, especially!! None of you are in Arizona, BUT if you ge the chance, go check out the Phoenix temple when it's in its open house, it's amazing!!

 We also got to screen the Meet the Mormons movie that came out on Friday. Missionaries aren't allowed to go into the theaters, so we got to see it early. and it was seriously so much fun to watch!! President Toone told us to beware of the last segment because it was going to get us trunky. Honestly, the football one made me the most trunky, haha. The Football and the Ping Pong tournament. 
 
 Though yeah, hearing a mom talk about how much she misses her missionary and how hard it'll be to part with him did make me miss home a little. But whatever, my parents write me awesome letters, so it's cool.

 THIS WEEK WAS SERIOUSLY NOTHING BUT MIRACLES!!!!!!!! It was an insane lineup of miracles that made it possible to go to the temple with a handful of investigators (we had to go on splits!).

 So, remember Lizzy? Having a Biblical Job kind of experience? Going through a lot, fell in love with the Gospel Library app? She's been enjoying the BoM and the Bible and all the videos on it. She still doesn't like organized religion, so whenever we've invited her to church it's been a flat no.

 So something happened in one of our lessons, where the Spirit COMPLETELY took over the lesson, and we invited her to church again. Which was crazy, she doesn't like church, she wants to worship in her own home.

 This time, it was like she was just waiting for the invitation. She said she'd love to, that maybe that's the thing that was really missing in her life. God had been silent for her, and if Church was a place where she could find answers and feel the Spirit, she'd go.

 So she came to church with a notepad and pencil. I was a little nervous because the topic was missionary work, but she was writing like crazy! And she LOVED it!! She said things were finally making sense that didn't before, things were starting to click! She asked if it was alright to come every week! OF COURSE YOU CAN!!! 8D 

 AND WE FINALLY GOT TO TALK TO CINDY!!!!!!!! YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!!!!! She still doesn't ever want to come to church ever again, which is sad. Working with her has been really sad...when we finally got to sit with her again, it's been clear she is not doing well at all. Spiritually, emotionally, physically. Working with her has been both the best joy and the biggest heartbreak in my life. We had a lesson prepared about how much God loves us and how we can know it, and she asked out of hte blue, "can I get a blessing? I really need one."

 it came out of nowhwere, we had hardly even explained what a blessing was. So we called someone over and explained about priesthood blessings to her. And it was everything she needed. The room was so full of the Spirit, and tears were running down her cheeks. She feels so unlovable, like she's botched her life for good and there's no way out, but every now and then she sees those glimpses of how much our Father in Heaven really cares for us. I just want to give her all of it, everything, please receive the Gospel of Christ! :c

 Talie and Tammy are doing good! They loooove being in the cultural celebration! And it's incredible, they're slowly pulling their inactive family back into activity. Scripture reading is common in their home now, even their grandma who wasn't a big fan of the Church (hasn't gone in 20+ years) has been reading the war chapters in Alma and discussing them with us like a good book! Which it is, I love the stories in the war chapters, haha. Moroni and Teancum are boss.

 I don't have a lot of time left, but I love you all!! thanks for everything you all do!! I still love being out here, and wouldn't trade this time for anything!

 -Sister Christina Stratford

Monday, October 6, 2014

October's the BEST!!!

One of the reasons this is true is because I can wear scarves. :) Back down to the 80s, and the scarves can come back out!!

 Today is the 6th. In exactly a year I will be flying home. Weird. I have exactly a year left.

 So general conference was AWESOME!!!!!! We call Elder Robbins a mini Elder Holland, haha. (Or was it Elder Klebingat? The suuuuper to-the-point just-lay-it-out-there, six steps to happiness talk) And Elder Bednar always hits it out of the park, and Sister Esplin might have just changed my life forever. Conference is always awesome. October 2013 remains my favorite Conference ever, though.

 We still haven't been able to contact Cindy. At all. Which is awful. And absolutely heartcrushing. I don't think I can properly express how heartcrushing that is for me.....she was starting to be so happy again, and for a week she was so hopeful and excited, and now she's sunk back so low. It really is the saddest thing.

 But, we have been able to meet with David a little. Most of what he talks about is his missionaries who taught him years ago. He misses them...he was almost baptized several times, but just never went through with it. And we were finally able to hear from of those concerns from him, he was finally comfortable enough to talk about that. He may be willing to try again...he lost his BoM, so we gave him another one and we'll see if he reads from it. 

 So for some news taht I didn't get to tell you last week, there's a sister we've started working with, Sister Fox. She had a wrong address in the Church records, so there's no way we ever would've found her if it hadn't been by miracle. The Spanish sisters were working in her area and she was outside, so they started talking to her. Learned taht she had been baptized years and years and years ago but had never gone to Church, really. So we went over to see if there was anything she needed and if she had any interest in coming back, and....well, it was every excuse you ever hear from a less-active member who is visited by missionaries, and she didn't seem so happy to see us, so we figured she wasn't interested and we didn't want to bother her. We gave her a BoM and later asked if she had read it, she said it was too hard to understand, so we offered to read it with her, and she said no. So....okay. We got her a ride to church, and when her ride came, she said she had hurt her foot and couldn't come, and we just kinda left it at that.

 Well, one of our ward missionaries has family who lives in that neighborhood and decided to stop by. When the door opened, Sister Fox burst into tears and gave her a huge hug and said, "I've been waiting and praying that someone would stop by!!!" Her phone really was broken (it really was!) and she hadn't been able to contact us. But she had started reading the BoM, and she remembered why she joined. She felt the spirit so strongly when she read, and she remembered that it was true, and she plowed through 1st and 2nd Nephi in like two weeks. She missed the Sacrament and she was eager to come back. She had never been to the temple her entire life and wanted to get her lilfe in order so she could go.

 She came with us to the Women's session of Conference and they had a display for family history work, and with the help of the specialist she found a name she could start with. And she was absolutely ecstatic, couldn't stop talking about how excited she was to finally get started on HER family, HER line, the people that had made her HER...she was just so excited. She's been a whirlwind, it's crazy.

  I love you all! Thanks for your prayers and for your support!! I'm still very happy here in Arizona, and there's still nothing I'd rather be doing with my life!! This Gospel is incredibly, and sharing it with others has been the best thing ever!! You are awesome, love you all!!

 -Sister Stratford

Monday, September 29, 2014

Conference!!!!

Happy Birthday, Daddy!!! I love you!!!!! <3

 So I have like 20 minutes left hm what can I write

 Merry and her family threw a surprise birthday for me on MOnday. :) That was sooooo fuuuuuun....I'm so glad I'm not leaving this area. Too many families I love here. I can't imagine saying goodbye to anyone.

 Lizzy's been so stressed it's been causing some bad medical problems. We got a priesthood blessing for her. it was a super powerful experience. She still doesn't like the idea of organized religion, or hte idea of one true Church or one right religion, but she seemed to really enjoy that blessing. I don't know if I wrote about it last week, but we showed her the Gospel Library app and she FLIPPED A LID, she was so excited about everything there!! And she was excited to hear about the women's conference, too. She had a conflict and was sad until we told her it was a broadcast. Then she got excited again that she could listen to it while she did stuff. Technology is so great, guys :)

 We've been trying to contact David and Cindy all week. Cindy left us a voicemail that sounded like a not-goodbye, like she expected us to cut her off and never talk to her again so I'm saying goodbye but I don't really want to. She really embarrassed herself, we don't think she's comfortable around us anymore. :C Which is reaaaally sad....we really, really don't want to give up for her. I saw what this did for her, for just a few weeks she was a little bit happier, a litlte more hopeful, a little more certain that there was a Father in Heaven who loved her. it's hard to give up on someone when you've SEEN that. We're going to keep leaving her notes and trying to convince her tat we still love her and we're not going to cut her off just because she was drunk at church.

 The women's broadcast was AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!! The women here basically partied all day, haha!! We ate salads and cakes and ice cream and made crafts and we had display tables for family history, history of the scriptures (one sister brought a 200-year-old German family Bible, SO COOOOOL!!), and the temple open house coming up this month. :D We've been handing out invitations to that like candy, btw. Lots of people didn't get to see the Gilbert temple when it was open, so they get another chance! Not to mention, people have heard how "secret" our temples are, so they get kinda surprised and really intrigued when we hand them an invitation and say, "Do you want a guided tour?!?" haha. 

 Anyway, the broadcast. I know I had so many questions answered. We had Tanya there...it was really kinda cool, I loved hearing hte women speak, but she felt a difference between them and when President Ucthdorf talked. There's really a difference when an Apostle of the Lord speaks. 

 Tammy and Tallie and their mom (who was baptized years ago but has been struggling with church attendance) were there too and loooooved it. They're getting more and more excited about the temple celebration!! And their mom was hit hard, too. She;s got a sudden fire to make her home more Christ-centered, to read scriptures and to pray (she struggled with that hard before) and help her daughters feel the Spirit more. That was really cool to see. 

 I have so much more to say, dangit, but I love you all and you're all amazing!!! I'm still happy, I've never been happier! The mission has been the best thing of my life! I know Christ lives, I know God loves us, and I love the scriptures! I know the Bible and hte Book of Mormon are true books containing the Word of God! 

 You are all awesome! <3

 -Sister Stratford

Monday, September 22, 2014

Awesome Birthday!! C:

I need to keep a better note of what I want to share in these letters. Things happen, and I think, "haha, better write about that on Monday!" Then Monday comes around and I only remember what happened since Friday. Especially when it's as crazy as it's been. 

 btw, we got transfer calls, and Sister Nelson and I are staying another transfer. :D Good....i love Laveen, and I love these people, and I didn't want to leave.

 One of hte really fun things I love about being a missionary, is people make me think. People ask questions I've never thought about, because I've always considered them so obvious, having grown up with religion, but then when I'm asked to answer them, I really have to think. Questions like, "What does it matter to me if there's a prophet on the Earth? How would that affect me and my relationship with God?" "What was the point of Christ's horrible death on the cross?" "What can Christ and His sacrifice offer me?" "How can He help me change?" "How can I be happy?" "How do I know if heaven is worth it?"

 And one of hte most valuable things I've learned, is why Christ answered questions with questions. At the beginning of the week I started just answering them because I've known and lived the answer my whole life, should be pretty simple to talk about. Mm, nope, doesn't work. That's not how Christ taught His disciples, that's not how God answered my questioning prayers, that's not how people find their answers. And when I stopped and listened, I questions began to form in my mind that I could share with these people to help them understand. When I was asked, "Why did Christ have to suffer so much? What was the point?" I was able to ask, "What would've happened if He had NOT suffered? Where would we be then?"

 And she thought about it, and then she realized that there really is such a dire need for a Savior. Everyone needs a Savior. And once people see that need, they immediately start to listen for the voice of the Shepherd. They get that desire to come closer to Him. 

 You guys, it's the most incredible thing to see people light up with that desire. I can't even describe it. It's just amazing, and I'm so grateful that I get to see it. I'm grateful I get to be the messenger and bring the good news.

 Cindy was one of those people. She got so thirsty for the Gospel and loved to hear about Jesus Christ, and it was neat to see her start to come closer to Him. She misses her Bible, so we were able to give her a Bible and a Book of Mormon, and she was eager to read it.

 There was an incident on Sunday, sadly...I won't tell the story, because I'm positive it's not one she would want on the internet, even with the name changed. But if I had a "mission bingo" board, I get to put a marble on the "Drunk Investigator at Church" square. She absolutely loves church and looks forward to it every week, but right now we're hoping she'll still be willling to let us come and talk to her. We really hope she's not too embarrassed and that church is still something she wants. We love her so much, and we've seen what good it can do for her--we've seen a little glimpse during lessons, when she feels the Spirit and desires that relationship with her Savior. We want this for her so badly. 

 We invited Tanya to the General Women's broadcast this Saturday (YOU GUYS I'M SO EXCITED WHO ELSE IS EXCITED?!?!? GENERAL CONFERENCE IS STARTING AHHHHHHHHH) and she sounded really excited to go. She really likes Yoshi a lot and asked if she'd be there. So glad God knows better than us; by our logic, we never would've guessed those two would click, but hey, God's the one in charge and not us. Thank goodness. Tanya is soooo neat, though....we're mainly hoping she's patient enough and not too frustrated to hear those quiet impressions from the Holy Ghost. She wants her answer so badly, right now, clear as day. She just wants to KNOW, now. What she's heard, though, she loves the doctrine. She loves the idea of eternal families and a prophet and apostles and continued revelation and the Book of Mormon and especially the Plan of Salvation. She loved the visitor's center at the Mesa temple and wants to take her daughter, her sister, her mother, everyone to go see it. 

 And speaking of temples, the Pheonix open house starts...October, I think? :D Super excited. That's always a great opportunity for people, to be able to walk through the temple and see everything and experience it. Soooo excited!

 My birthday was awesome!!!! 21 on the 21st, it's my golden birthday and my golden year!! Definitely golden, because I'm spending it entirely on a mission!!!!!! Everyone should be jealious, hahahahaha. So excited for this year in my life!! I have about a year left....I go home first week of October next year, so yeah, I've got a whole year left to go. That feels nice. C: Going home will be hard.

 Yesterday was busy, so we're more celebrating it today. We're going out to dinner :)

 and you wanna know what made it the BEST BIRTHDAY EVAR?!?!?!? Besides being on a mission?!?!?!

 So on the 20th, Elder Christofferson was like, "I'm in the area....can we just gather the whole Tempe Arizona mission together so I can meet them and talk to them?" And not just him, but also Bishop Davies (Presiding Bishopric) and Elder Corbridge (Quorum of the Seventy). It was basically General Conference early, which is basically Christmas early :D It was so awesome!!! I get General Conference three weeks in a row!!!!!!

 .....I don't have a lot of time, why did I save that for the end? Well, it was awesome and he said some suuuuuuuper cool stuff, had a little Q&A, as well. Which is always exciting, when an Apostle has a Q&A. :)

 I love you all!!! Thanks so much for your love and your letters!!!! God bless!!

 -Sister Stratford

Monday, September 15, 2014

How many letters have the word "miracle" in the title?!

So this week was AWESOME!! A little rough and very exhausting, but awesome!!!

 So we got to talk to Tanya, and she brought up the stuff she read on the internet. It was really simple stuff to discuss and resolve, and while it seemed at the beginning of the conversation she was prepared to drop us, she quickly decided that wouldn't be a good idea. She feels so confused, because the internet is saying one thing and we're saying another. 

 Here's kinda the cool thing, though; the reason she went on the internet hunting for so long and read and watched so much stuff is because she is just SO HUNGRY to know the truth for herself. She's been praying and reading and studying, and she really wants to know which way she's supposed to go. Which is great. We encouraged her to go straight to the horse's mouth and read from teh Book of Mormon, and listen to General Conference.

 There's a recen convert (Yoshi) we've been talking to (she's been baptized for like two years now) and we kept getting a prompting to see her....like, everyday. And we started thinking, "alright, is this God telling us to do something, or do we jsut really like to be around her?" But, she needed us everyday that week. Badly. 

 When we're in a lesson with Tanya, we kept getting the impression, "She needs to be friends with Yoshi." Which, honestly, defied logic for me, because Yoshi talks a lot, and Tanya needs to be listened to. Yoshi was a reverand before she converted and actually joined the Church because she knew the Bible so well, and it was the only religion that had everything the Bible had. She knows everything, and tells us everything and is always explaining scripture and what this prophecy meant and this and that, and we love it, but the last thing we want to do to an investigator is firehose her to bits.

 The problem is, Tanya kinda has been wanting to be firehosed. ANd she's been firehosing herself with the wrong stuff. So, as always, turns out God knows better than we do and they hit it off. Yoshi took her and us to the Mesa temple visitor's center. We watched the videos and she talked all about temples and prophets and apostles and the Book of Mormon and everything. Tanya really seemed to enjoy it. She also relates a lot with Yoshi, and they seem to enjoy being together. 

 Cindy and David loooove going to Church. They absolutely love the Church. They just don't see any reason to be baptized into it, when they can just attend. Haha. Well, it's a start. Sometimes Cindy is hard to teach because she talks so much, and tbh, we can't always tell if she's sober or not, but when she wants to listen, she REALLY listens, and she feels the Spirit, and you can see that she wants to be forgiven and she wants this badly. She struggles with the idea of a Savior, the reason why Christ had to go through what He went through, but while she can't really name that that's what she wants, the way she talks and asks questions, you can see that's exactly what she wants in her life. I love working with these people, so much. I love seeing them grow and watching God's hand work in their life.

 Tammy and Talie haven't been coming to church. :C BUT They've been practicing for the cultural celebration (Phoenix temple is opening up soon!!) and they absolute love that!! 

 It was really fun, we're close friends with the members who divied up the partners. And we were asking who Tammy and Talie's partners were, and also the Amary teenaged girl (She's not a member, but she enjoys mutual). And when we heard, our jaws droped, because THEY WERE SO PERFECT!!!!! And we were jumping and getting all excited, it was just so amazing how they got exactly the kind of partners they needed to make this a good experience for them. So we asked these members how they decided on partners. They said they prayed about it and did it kinda like how they assign Visiting or Home teachers.

 Boy, was it clear. It was SO COOL. Only God could make it that perfect.

 We ran into an interesting fellow last night. We were walking passed to knowck on a door of a person we were looking for, and he was really warm and friendly and waved. He asked if we were Mormons, and we said we were. Apparently he had met with missionaries about a year and a half ago. He absolutely loved our Church. He loved the Book of Mormon and the doctrines and the standards and the culture, loved everything about it. "If I had the choice between your church and hte one I'm going to know, I'd choose the Mormon Church," he said. Then he gave an apologetic shrug and said, "But....I'm Catholic. Always been, always will be. My whole family's Catholic. My parents are Catholic. My kids will be Catholic."

 So we probably won't be able to teach him, which is sad, but we hope to visit him maybe once or twice. He was SO NICE. Maybe next time we have treats to give out, we'll give them to him. So many people I just want to hang out and be friends with and bake treats for htem and their family all the time. I can't wait to have neighbors.

 yesterday was the primary program, btw. Merry was told a few days ago that she had the most kids in primary out of the whole ward.

 "I don't know if I should laugh or cry," she said. "Can I get a medal or something, at least?" haha. 

 ....I think that's it for the week. More stuff always happens, but that was the main stuff. Thanks for the leters and the prayers! I can feel the prayers, and it's a little crazy and weird, but I really appreciate them!! Thanks for being awesome people!! I love you all!!

 -Sister Stratford

Monday, September 8, 2014

Level-Up!

It feels like the difficulty level in this area has cranked up a notch, haha. But we have a good handful of people to teach now!

 shoot, I haven't named her...her name's Tanya, she's the one who said that whenever something happens, we show up. We were teaching her more about the Restoration of the Gospel, and she was basically a textbook lesson, the kind that you see happen in seminary videos and in roleplays in the MTC but you know actually aren't real. It was the coolest thing. She had read both the pamphlets and started on the BoM, and was really liking what she was reading. She said she's be willing to pray to know if it was true, and she even asked how she'd get her answer. It was really fun, talking about the Spirit with her. She talked about the day we knocked, how she was in tears and didn't want to deal with ANYONE that day and wouldn't have opened the door, but "something" told her to anyway. She talked about the times she knew Jesus Christ was real and that He was her Savior, and she even said, "Wow, I've recieved a lot of answers, and I've felt the Spirit a lot...I guess I just never realized what it was." It was super exciting. She wanted to get baptized.

...Then she went on the internet. :/ Suuuuch a tool for good, and then suuuuuch a tool for bad. We're hoping to go back sometime this week...she said she'd be at church, but never showed up. :c *shakes fist* All you can do is bring the Spirit in and testify of truth, and the rest is all up to their agency, their right to choose for themselves. 

 Speaking of Internet, have I ssaid anything about my Facebook adventures? They've been pretty awesome....our goals on Facebook are different, if they're interested in talking with us we try to get them to meet with the missionaries in their area. So, there was one intellectual kid who was asking about archeological evidence of the BoM....which got my fingers itchy, because I googled that obsessively for a little bit and I had good stuff to say. But all the "evidence" in teh world doesn't amount to a testimony. I learned it was true because I read it and asked God, and because my answer came from God, I know with an absolute assurity that I can trust that answer, and it is true. So he got real interested and said he'd be alright with missionaries coming over to give him a BoM and talk more about it. :) That's something that's really fun for me, watching certain people go from intellectually interested to spiritually interested. Way fun.

 Lizzy is still struggling...she feels very abandoned by God. :c She still doesn't understand why bad people can get away with their bad stuff and the good people get trampled under. She liked some of hte plan of salvation, but doesn't feel like it answered her questions. She was interested in the BoM, though, and agreed to read it. We're mobilizing the Relief Society to make her feel loved and make it clear she doesn't have to go through anything alone.

...the funniest thing is, she really doesn't like organized religion. Well, this is the purpose of organized religion--to help out struggling sheep. So many people we meet, and I'm just like, "you know what you need? Relief Society." I felt that way with Hapi, too. But Lizzy likes to hear about God and likes to feel the Spirit, she just....doesn't know why God seems to have left her all alone to suffer....dangit, I just want people to be happy. :c

And someone who's REALLY fun!!!! Her name is Sindy, and her boyfriend David. David is no stranger to missionaries; he was almost baptized three times several years ago. Sindy is new, though. She's a little strange...I don't know how to describe her. But teaching her is difficult because she always goes waaaaaay off topic and just says whatever's on her mind for however long she wants to say it. XD Makes Gospel Principles class really fun (any missionary knows that that second hour of church gets really stressful). She talks to the speakers at the pulpit while they're giving their talk, too. XD She's a blast. It's these kind of people that makes transfers really scary....I never want to leave these people. I grow to love them SO MUCH, and I worry that whoever replaces me or my companion won't love them the way I do. I just want to work with them forever, I've totally fallen in love with them.

 We taught them some of the Restoration but had to kinda migrate onto the Plan of Salvation since that was their concern (no one ever wonders if the Gospel was restored, they're more interested in why they're there and what God's plan for them is and where they're going and why tought things are happening and why they should care about what Christ did for them...we try to teach the Restoration first, to show the significance of what we're teaching, but lately we keep teaching the second lesson first because those are the questions they're asking). But they seemed to really liek what they were hearing and reading. We had Sindy give the closing prayer, and she was all geared up to ask God all these questions and give Him a piece of her mind....but as soon as she started, she just burst into tears and started thanking Him for everything, even though she was still unhappy about her situation. She just felt so good and so loved and grateful that God had still given her these tender mercies in her life. It was so, so amazing. She's strange, but when you work with these people, you can just feel how much God loves them, and she feels the Spirit so strongly. She drinks it up, she absolutely loves the Gospel. 

 I love teaching people!! missions are the coolest thing ever!! Sisters don't have an age limit....if I wanted to, I could essentially become a "Mormon nun" and just serve mission after mission my entire life....somedays it gets tempting. :p

 But then you eat dinner with a young family and you think, "oh...I want this...."

 And then you miss your friends and family.

 But there are some moments where it is tempting. XD Missions are AWESOME.

 The other day we got to help the Amary's plant fruit trees! Sister Amary twisted her ankle at a camping trip, and farm deadlines need to be met, so we helped out.

 I can't wait to be able to plant things again!!! I want a farm, guys. Haha. Another thing I can't do as a "Mormon nun"....ah, well.

 I think that's it for me...I love you guys so much!!! Thanks for the letters and for the prayers, I can very much feel them! There is a God in Isreal and Jesus Christ is our Savior!!! It's been the coolest experience to watch and feel the Atonement at work. Thanks for sharing it with me!!

 -Sister Stratford

Monday, September 1, 2014

What's Changed Since Wednesday

The principle is still true; when it's hardest, that's when the coolest miracles come. It's been a HAAARD week, especially with p-day getting all messed up (thankfully it's all back to normal now, haha). I've never been so exhausted in my entire life. But I've also never been happier. I'm still in love with being on a mission, and there's still nowhere I'd rather be. It's the greatest. 

 We were finally able to meet with Lizzy again! It's hard to get with her because she's so crazy busy, and so much is happening in her life, but she really works hard to try and have us over. One of the hard things about being a missionary....you just want everyone to be happy, but you keep running into these broken people who have a real hard time believing that God loves them and that everything will be okay. We hope we can continue to have miracles in finding her home, and keep trying to give her this amazing gift we have. She wants to believe God loves her, but she just doesn't see the evidence. She's doubtful, but she's reading the Plan of Salvation pamphlet again (she lost the one she marked up--it really stressed her out. :C) and the BoM, because she says she's willing to try anything to find out if He's really there for her.

 We found a woman named Angel! We've knocked on her door several times, and eventually she said, "I know when God's trying to tell me something. I figured I might as well let you guys in and hear what you have to say." haha! So that was fun. She set up a time we can meet with her every week. She has all sorts of Christians in her families, including Mormons, and she loves hearing about God. She started going through some rough family stuff right before we showed up, so she's eager to listen about the doctrine of the family. We're excited to work with her!

OH mission tours were this week!! Elder Schwitzer came and spoke to us, and that was really fun. Something that really stuck with me was what he said about testimonies, that they shouldn't just be an "I testify" thing. He talked about being a living testimony. Not just something we believe, but someone we are. Which was something I really needed to hear; I struggle with being a personable human being but also a missionary here to teach the Gospel. I shouldn't be balancing the two, I should be mixing them. And that way I can actually keep everything I learned and everything I became when I go home from this mission.

 Tammy and Talie and their mom have been slowly warming up to church. Tammy started going to seminary again, which is awesome! We had dinner at tehir house the other day (the grandma is DETERMINED to make me fat....>.> lol) and grandma pulled out the BoM and said, "I have some questions." which blew out mind, because she really doesn't care much about the Church and doesn't like reading scriptures. She's still reading about Amalickiah and the struggles, and she's actually getting into the stories. She's trying to figure out who the judges are, the king-men, who Alma and Helaman were, etc. 

 The scriptures are super cool, guys!! haha. They're so not boring. I have a lot of fun introducing people to scripture.

 I don't remember if I gave her a name, or even if I talked about her, but one woman we were hoping to teach (she was so excited about the Gospel and really interested in the idea of becoming Mormon...who actually says that the first time they talk to missionaries?!? SO COOL!) answered the door and said, "My husband was really unhappy that I was trying to get more information about you guys....so...I don't want to waste your time...." Argh, devastating. :C But she said she's still reading the BoM and she's really liking it, and she still has our number. we still have high hopes for her.

 Not a lot of time left, but thanks for everything you guys do! I love you and I love hearing from you! If I can't tell Lizzy, I"ll tell you: GOD LOVES YOU and He IS there for you!! Christ died so that you could live! <3

 Love you all! :3

 -Sister Stratford

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Lord Provides!!!

Longest week of my LIFE!!! P-Day was moved from Monday to Wednesday so we could go to the temple, and we weren't told until after p-day last week, so I didn't get to warn anyone....BUT I STILL LOVE YOU ALL and I am still alive! haha. 

 Not having p-day on Monday was reeeaaally hard, especially when you didn't get to mentally prepare that previous Monday. But so worth it; I love the temple. it's worth every sacrifice to get there.

 And, remember how whenever something gets reaaaally hard, that's when Heavenly Father drops all His miracles on you?! Even though I was absolutely exhausted and spent in every way possible--spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally, etc--I was SO EXCITED  and happy and eager to see the miracles!!

 I don't have a lot of time, sadly, so I'll just be quick:

 Merry met with Bishop and she's getting her Patriarchal blessing, on my birthday!!! I'm so excited for her!!Her life has changed SO MUCH and her family is happier and she's happier and oh my gosh it's insane, it's the difference between light and dark and you can just see it. It's so visible.

 Tammy and Talie haven't been reading scriptures because they insist they're boring. 
 Nothing about the scriptures are boring, except maybe the begats, but they don't count. So we sat down and asked, "What kind of story are you in the mood for?"
 "Something with deception and betrayal," they said, confident we couldn't come up with a fun story.
 We sat down and read in the BoM the story of Amilickiah's plots and schemes to become king of the Lamanites (because that has a happier ending than Samson and Delilah), starting with the story of Lehonti. Which I loooove to read and tell. Sister Nelson didn't know the story (WHAT?!?!?!) so I got to tell most of it, and they got into it. After the end of Lehonti, I said, "It keeps going, and the story keeps getting better, but I'm not going to spoil the rest of it, You have to keep reading," and they said they would.
 Their Grandma, who hasn't been in a church for decads because she just doesn't have a testimony anymore, got to hear the tail end of it. She hasn't had a desire to read scriptures in teh longest time, she's told us how she's never going to church again and she won't study the scriptures anymore, but hearing the last bit of the story, she said, "well, now you've got ME curious!"

 As we were leaving, they had stepped outside under the porch light (because it's loud in that house, and sometimes it's hard to get the Spirit in there) and were reading the sciptrues together again for the first time in years. It was powerful.

 There's a woman we've been trying to contact to no avail for weeks and weeks. We didn't want to keep going there when there was never an answer, but something kept telling us to keep knocking on that door. eventually, through a series of pure miracles, we've been able to bump into her and teach her a little bit. THree times, three miracles, over the last two weeks or so. And finally we open the doors, and she's in tears, and she gives a little laugh and says, "Whenever something happens, you guys show up."

 On Monday, we caught her home (again, only by a miracle) and was able to teach her the Plan of Salvation. She looooooved it, drank every bit of it. it brought back that hope that God hasn't abandoned her, that trials have a purpose and an end, that just because you're feeling down all the time and everything seems to be going wrong, it doesn't mean that God isn't there for you. 

 I loooove teaching the Plan of Salvation. Life gets more bearable when you get that kind of persepective, why we're here and what the whole purpose of life is. I love seeing that change in people, watching that hope turn on behind their eyes. 

 It was a long week, but the Lord is there. It's His work, and when things are hard, that's when all the miracles pop up, both small and big. I have such a testimony of that. 

 Thank you all for your kind words and your prayers! I love you soooo much!! God bless! C:

 -Sister Stratford

Monday, August 18, 2014

Call-A-Mormon

So we had some really bad flooding this week!! XD It rained for about three hours and there were insane flash floods, walls of water, streets that became rivers (1-2ft deep), and there are still big lakes in the retention basins all around the landscaping of the city. They're designed to be empty within 36 hours, but we were hit HARD with rain.

 We were at a member's house for dinner, and the rain was so thick we had about ten feet visibility. We were going to try and muscle through it and get to Lizzy's house, because we really really wanted to talk to her and we didn't have her number, so we couldn't really call and cancel, buuuut....we were basically boating, so we didn't. We ended up at the Amary's for the rest of hte night and almost couldn't get out. Their fields had all flooded.

 So that was an adventure.

 One of the members of our ward had a sister whose house flooded really bad. several inches deep all throughout the house. Lots of mud and debris...it was really sad. But this member called everyone in the ward to come help out her sister, so everyone was there whenever they had time, trying to drain it out and shoveling mud and getting posessions to higher ground or bringing the biggest fans in their house. Her sister isn't a member, and she shook her head and commented to this member, "you and your call-a-Mormon."

 We have limited miles, so we can't drive a lot, but we looked for people who may have the same problem and needed help. The Elders found one, someone who had no connections and had to clean up the flood all by themselves, but we weren't able too.....we hand out our number to almost everyone and say, "call us if you need something," and I always wonder how many actually take us seriously. As we were shoveling mud down the driveway, I kept thinking about people who didn't have any connections in the area, no church and no family, and didn't know that there was a force of missionaries who came to Arizona for this singular purpose, who also knew most of the members in their ward with trucks and fans and shovels or whatever. I wish more people had our number and knew they could call us for stuff like this.

 About six hours before the big storm, we helped a family from Washington move in. They aren't members, either, but their friend is a member in Chandler and called the missionaries (us) in the area they were moving to and asked us to help out. We got quite a few people there and some other missionaries, and we got a 56' long moving truck empty in less than two hours. The guy was stunned, haha. 

 And, here's a miracle, I carried heavy boxes (for me anyway) up and down stairs for several hours, and was only a little stiff and muscley sore (the good kind of sore.) And, remember, there was a rainstorm coming. It's crazy to think that five years ago I wouldn't have been able to get out of bed, never mind help move a family, if a rainstorm was coming. I am getting stronger! Sometimes it's hard to see, but then miracles happen and you can see how far the Lord has taken you.

 Last night was a mission president's devotional!! We took some new investigators, and guess who I saw.....!!! I SAW MY MOMMY!! Not my actual Mommy, but my trainer, Sister Hutchison!!!!! SHE CAME BACK!!! She's been done with her mission, but she came back!! <3 And I saw my twin sister, too! Sister Eggleston is still in Maricopa, never been transferred yet! haha. It was good to see them all there again.

 And the reason they were there....I don't know how much I talked about him, but his name has been replaced in my little list, so I know I have....Do y'all remember Mitt?! He was baptized, and he was bearing his testimony at the devotional!!!!! It was SO COOL to see him again and to see him come so far!! He talked about how his life has changed so much, and how thankful he was that missionaries knocked on his door. We found him from tracting, remember, so that in and of itself is a miracle! Haha. 

 It was a slow week for teaching, unfortunately, because of the flood and because of transfers. But it was still a very productive week, helping people out...we still talked to a TON of people, they just haven't wanted to invite us back to learn more. :C There's a delicate balance between trying to figure out what you could've done better, and just accepting that people have agency and it's a God-given gift that people can make choices. It's satisfying to teach and to share something that's so special to me, something that I know will help everyone in any circumstance, but you have to push through a lot of people not even hearing you out to find those who are ready to listen.

 It's been a good start to a good transfer. C: I'm grateful I get to stay with Sis Nelson and I absolutely love this area. I still love being a missinoary. It's tough, but I've never been happier. C: I know that God lives, that Jesus Christ is our Savior, and that this is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Being sent here to Arizona to teach and help has been an amazing gift from God.

 Thanks for all that you are and do! You are all amazing, and I love you! C: Here's to another good week!

 -Sister Stratford