Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Progress, Not Perfection

Last Wednesday we had "specialized training" which was really only a super District meeting since it included Palermo's two Districts and the Zone Leaders.  But it was good.  We watched the awesome video Because of Him (so good).

President Waddoups has a couple of new rules: all meal appointments can only be an hour and a half, and we can only go as one set of missionaries.  I can see why this would be a good idea, but I don't think Sicily is going to like this.  For instance....

Festa della Liberazione: Liberation Day 
April 25, 1945 marked the last day of World War II for Italy.  That was the day she was liberated from German Nazi occupation and Mussolini's fascist Social Republic.  A radio broadcast announced the national strike against both oppressive forces, signaling a wide-spread revolt.  Two months later Italians held a constitutional referendum choosing to abolish the monarchy, allowing the country become a republic.

April 25th is a big holiday for Italians - their version of our Fourth of July.  What happens on this day you ask?  Generally, the day is celebrated with marching bands, political rallies, music concerts, and food festivals.

In Palermo, however, everyone and their dog (no joke) leaves Palermo, emptying the city entirely of any life form, and heads out to the countryside for a barbeque fest.

Kidnapped on Liberation Day
Friday (the 25th) happened to be our day of weekly planning, meaning: we stay inside and plan for the next week.  Well, it was until we got a call from Fratello Simoncini.
     "Hey - are you coming?" he asked.
     "Coming where?"
     "To the activity in Bacarella."
     "What activity in Bacarella?"
     "Half the ward is going out to have a barbeque and we're bringing friends. There's going to be good food, people to talk to..."
     "No, we are doing weekly planning, and I don't think we can go."
     "Do you have any appointments for the day?"
     "...Maybe..." (we didn't. No one was left in the city!)
     "Then why not?"
     "We just can't, but thank you! We will see you on Sunday."
     "Ok sister.  See you later."

Not five minutes later we get a call from Sorella Giambona.
     "Pronto. This is Sorella Nef" I answered.
     "Sorella Nef, I heard you think you're not coming today."
     "Hi Sorella Giambona. Nice to hear from you!"
     "We can't come today. We have things to do."
     "Oh, do you."
     "I asked the other missionaries and they said they are all helping with the activity in Palermo 2, and that's why they can't come. Are you helping with the activity in Palermo 2?"
     "No. We decided they didn't need all the missionaries to help."
     "Well, we are having an activity and we need your help!"
     "Sorella, I don't know..."
     "There's going to be people - non-members!  And there is lungomare where you can do Finding."
     "...And what time would we be getting back?"
     "The afternoon."
     "Really? The afternoon?"
     "Yes!" she promised.
     "Ok good," she said, "I will call Fratello Simoncini and have him pick you up ok love you bye!"

Not 30 seconds later Fratello Simoncini called.
     "Hi. We are already here to pick you up. We decided to come and get you anyway."

And that is how we were kidnapped by our members and swept away to Bacarella for this "activity".
The Good News:  Half the ward really was there, and there were non-members and a lungomare (promenade) where we could do Finding.  The Bad News:  They didn't get us back until late.

It Wasn't a Bust of a Day in Bacarella
But, we seized the opportunity, talked with non-members and in down time we went out to the lungomare and did some Finding.

So it wasn't a bust of a day.  In fact, we got more work done that day than any other day of the week!

Near the end, John (our future apostle) started introducing the Book of Mormon to friends at the party. We joined in, explaining it further and concluded with a spiritual thought and asked the members each to talk about their favorite parts of the Book of Mormon.  The members loved doing it!  The friends responded positively.

The next day, we found out that President Waddoups had actually said not to go to that particular party, but no one had mentioned it to us.  Oops.  Sorry President. :\

New Rule Anxiety
We had a meal appointment with Erika and her family (non members) on Sunday.  We let her know very very clearly that our time there could only be an hour and a half.  But since this is Sicily and they do meal courses, which they bring out one at a time, we didn't finish eating until the 1 1/2-hour mark.  Then we did the spiritual thought.  Then they needed to show us the garden.  So we didn't get out until the 2 1/2-hour mark. :\

Honestly, this put us in a conundrum.  We kept saying we needed to go, but they kept finding new ways to make us stay.  I even stood by the door for the last 10 minutes as they kept talking to us.  Sicilians love visiting.  And this family loved having the missionaries in their home.

Other missionaries are having these same issues.  I think every one of the companionships has had a meal appointment and no one has gotten out on time.

Held Hostage to Hospitality
Sorella Bradford and her family had this same predicament.  The Bradford family had a lunch appointment with a member family in the ward.  The Bradfords warned their hosts that they needed to leave by 2:30 so they could reach other scheduled appointments.  The family promptly told the Bradfords, "You will not leave our house until 4pm!" And, that is precisely what happened.
The Bradford Family treat the Missionaries to Pizza
photo: Melissa Bradford (giving the thumbs-up)

I'll tell you, Pronzo (lunch) is sacred time to Sicilians. They are clearly not happy about this new rule.  I will have to work on how to obey the new rule while not offending our wonderfully hospitable Sicilian friends. Such is the saga of the new rule anxiety amongst us all.

Bradfords are Cool
The Bradford family is really cool.  They stuck around for a couple more days and got us some beautiful pink hydrangeas.

I realized this week that at the end of this transfer, I will be at the point in my mission where Sorella Bradford was when I first met her here in Palermo.  I am getting old in my mission.  I've been in Palermo forever.  Palermo Sicilians are so great and friendly and kind - it's a shame that more of them won't listen to the gospel and try it.  With as great as people are here, you would think the Church would be bigger.

Progress, Not Perfection
Marsh and I at the top of Mount Pellegrino
I was thinking a lot this week about how God doesn't require perfection of us, but progress.  Sometimes we get caught up thinking that we need to do things Right, or accomplish things Perfectly, all the while forgetting that God just wants us to Do.  God requires that we Try.  He wants the Effort.  Yes, we should shoot for the ideal, but when we fall short (and we will), don't get down.  Just pick yourself up, and move on because any little progress is still PROGRESS.

The effort that God is looking for is simply to become a little better today than you were yesterday.  Sure, we'll make mistakes.  Of course we'll stumble a little, but all He asks is that we keep dusting ourselves off. Keep trying.  Keep overcoming.  It's the progress we make, not our current state, that determines how God judges us.  It's all about progressing.

But that's hard.  How do you always, every day, progress?  Improve EVERY day?  Sounds improbable. Even, impossible.  But is it?  As I pondered this the other night while I was thinking about how cool the universe is and my own problems on becoming better, I thought about how our progress is tied to a complicated physics lesson.

Progression and Kepler's Law of Planetary Motion
The way I see it is like this: Progression and Acceleration are alike.
     Progress is change in advancement.  
     Acceleration is change in speed and/or direction.
If we're moving along, and our course is linear (a straight line), maintaining a constant acceleration is next to impossible.  BUT what if our progress was like Kepler's Law of Planetary Motion?

German Astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) was the first to discover that all planets move in elliptical (circular) orbits around the sun.  This mind-blowing discovery in the 1600s proved crucial to Sir Isaac Newton in 1684 when he formulated his Law of Gravitation.  Kepler's discovery of elliptical planet movement can prove crucial to understanding our progress as well.
"The chief aim of all investigations of the external world
should be to discover the rational order and harmony 
which has been imposed on it by God
and which He revealed to us in the language of mathematics."
Johannes Kepler
There is a rational order to the universe. Every planet in the solar system orbits around the sun.  But the cool thing about elliptical (oval/circular) orbit is that it promotes constant acceleration. That's right. Because the planet is maintaining a constant change in direction as it orients itself to the sun, it constantly accelerates.  How does this happen?  Well, let's just say that the sun is the key.  In fact, the sun is so important in this movement/acceleration process that the maximum acceleration of planetary motion is when a planet is closest to the sun.

The Lesson for Us?
What would happen if we oriented ourselves toward the Son?  We spend so much time and energy trying to accelerate through life as we focus on other things.
     Running after this to get ahead
     Chasing after that to keep up with the Joneses
     Jumping through hoops to find perfection
What if, instead, we left the linear rat-race and began orbiting ourselves in elliptical progression?
What if we centered our gravity on the One who is the center of the universe - the Creator of the Universe? I think, little-by-little we'd find amazing progress.  Continual progress.  Accelerating progress.

Kepler's Law of Planetary Movement: it's a scientific fact of the universe, and a metaphor of growth for us. Elliptical movement around a greater power-generating source is the only way to continual progression.
God expects Progress, not perfection.  No one's perfect.  No one can be or will ever be perfect in this life. The only perfection we should be seeking is the only One who was Perfect - Jesus Christ.  Look to Him.

By the way, Johannes Kepler, our genius Astrologer man of science was also a faithful man of God.
"Great is God...great is His power and there is no end to His wisdom.
Praise Him you heavens, and glorify Him, sun and moon and you planets.
For out of Him and through Him, and in Him are all things."
Johannes Kepler
Focusing on Christ changes us.  Couldn't we use a little change?  What do you say we give it a go.  A little bit better every day - and, who knows?  We just might progress to heights and ways unimagined and discover our place in the Universe. (also featured on family blog: Progress, Not Perfection May 2014)

Love to You All, and Have a Progressively Great Week!
Sorella Ashley Nef

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Because of Him

Picnic Day at Bishop Ganci's home.  Sorella Bradford and her brothers visit (front right)
photo: Melissa Bradford (Sorella Bradford's mom)

This week was a great one of strengthening members and supporting fellow missionaries.

Welcome Andersons!
Me with the Andersons
A senior couple arrived this week - the Andersons from Vernal, Utah.  They are pretty great, but had a pretty rough welcome.  Sickness set in the day they arrived in Italy (from which they have not yet recovered), which made the ride down from Rome to Sicily even tougher, diciamo (we will say). Unfortunately, the apartment our landlord said was set up (yes, him) and promised was "ready for them" when they got here - was "ready" alright.  The water heater was not on, nor the gas, nor the heater, and there were no blankets, or sheets, or covers, or food, or drinking water, nor garbage can, or towels, or washcloths, or soap, or anything to make the place livable.  And, though the Andersons got in touch with the landlord a few times asking for help, he did nothing :| .

Luckily we showed up with a house warming gift and Mikesell has turned into quite the handyman.  We were able to set things straight in the house, and then we bought them food and other living supplies.  Poor things don't speak Italian, and Palermo is NOT Vernal.

Hazards of Sicilian Driving
Italian Traffic - an adventure in survival
Take driving, for instance.  Elder Anderson had never driven in Italy, and then he was put in PALERMO with a set of keys and a Good Luck!

He was a little overwhelmed.

You see, driving in Sicily is a venture in survival. Every day behind the wheel, you take your life in your own hands. There are no rules nor rhyme nor reason to the chaotic mess that makes up the Palermo roadways.  Look at the picture.  It's a crazy free-for-all!

Freeways, for example, have two lanes. If there is even the slightest traffic, most Sicilians solve the problem by driving along the hard shoulder of the road, making 3-point turns in the middle of the highway, or simply putting the car in reverse. Sometimes there is the occasional car traveling on the shoulder in the wrong direction breaking land speed records.

City Traffic
City traffic fares no different. Double-parking, triple-parking, pot holes, gridlock. The shoulder on your right has a red Fiat zooming past, while a 10-ton truck is overtaking you on your left, thus testing the emergency braking powers of your white Fiat, and hoping the driver of the silver Fiat behind you (with rosary beads dangling from the rearview mirror) has sharp enough reflexes to go from 60-0 in 5 seconds flat while talking on his cell phone which, since he's Sicilian, makes him look as if he's conducting Beethoven's 5th with both hands.

Pedestrians - the Final Hazard
Pedestrians are the final road hazard in Sicily. Most of the population is sensible enough to keep clear of traffic, yet you will find there is a steady supply of the logic-deficient waiting to jump in front of you as you barrel toward them.  Most often, though, the ones who defy any Fiat to cross his path will be a little old man about 4 feet tall, carrying a colossal box of lemons, or bread, or eggplant from his delivery truck to his shop. You don't know if he has a death wish or if he thinks the dozen or so pictures of saints posted in his shop is protection enough.  (added source: siciliangodmother)

Ya, Elder Anderson was a bit overwhelmed with driving in Sicily.  I think Sorella Anderson was expecting Tuscan countryside, but they don't put missionaries in the countryside.  Senior couples especially are always in big towns.  And this is Palermo - one of the biggest cities in Italy.  It's urban. So I think that was a shock to them both.

To help them settle in, we took them to get their Permesso paperwork done at the post office.  I also made them soup a couple of times as they are still recovering from their illness (soup always makes things better).  Hopefully they will soon be out and about and comfortable with Sicily.  In the meantime, they have been very sweet and grateful for the help were able to offer.  And we have been happy to give it.

Church is a Hospital for Sinners, Not a Retirement Home for Saints
We have a less-active we met with this week: Lorella Albamonte.  She hasn't been to Church in 20 years, and her reason for leaving the Church was seeing hypocritical members - people who said they lived Church standards, but she knew weren't.  She thought members of the Church should be above all that. Well, that's the ideal.

But really, people will be people whatever church they attend.  Just because you belong to the true Church does not cloak you in perfection and make you immune to trials, nor invincible to temptations.  Isn't this the reason we all go to Church?  We're all just trying to be better people.  So, we have started working with her.  She has 3 teenage daughters who love Sorella Marsh and I because we are American (hey, we'll take our cool points where we can get them :)).  Lorella is a seamstress who has recently had to move, so we have been helping her set up house as well.  Just call us the Move-In Committee.

Back to Seminary Class
We have been enlisted to help an 18 year-old in the ward named Riccardo.  He is the son of Sorella Giambona, but he does not have a testimony, has no desire to attend seminary, or serve a mission, or commit himself to anything churchy.  His mom is afraid he'll go less-active when he leaves home, so we've been asked to accompany him to Seminary and participate in class with him (he's actually the only student right now, so this is helpful for the teacher as much as Riccardo).

This week, our lesson was on 3 Nephi 1-7, discussing the importance of the Book of Mormon generally. Since Riccardo didn't have much to say, Giusi, the teacher, asked me how the Book of Mormon has affected my life, so I got to bear testimony on how the Book has helped me to know the Savior.

Finding Christ in the Book of Mormon
Christ in the Americas by Walter Rane
You know, we always talk about Christ, and know who He is in the sense that He's the Son of God, that He came to earth and died and was resurrected; but do we really know Christ?  Know Him?  As in personally?  Intimately?

I talked about how the Book of Mormon, through my study of it and application of what it teaches, has helped me to come to feel that I actually know the Savior, at least on some level.  The great promise of the Book is that by study and living the principles everyone can feel that too.  I may not be the stature of an apostle or prophet of the Lord, but in my own way, I can say that I know Christ lives. And even more important than the historical events surrounding His actual death and resurrection, I know that through studying and following Christ's teachings, we can have a fuller life.  A more meaningful life.  A more joyful life.  And the Book of Mormon is the key to all of that because it contains Christ's teachings and it shows example after example of people who have and have not followed those teachings, and the results in their lives from those choices.

Followers of Christ prosper, are happier - they still face trials and hard times, sure.  That is a fact of life. But they face them with greater help, ample support, and mightier power to back them up.  This helps them find peace instead of torment in life.  I love bearing testimony of the Book of Mormon.  The Spirit was there. Don't know if it helped him, but I hope something struck a chord.

Uprooted Again - The Continuing Saga of Landlord Troubles
Speaking of trials and torment - We got a call from the Elders on Wednesday, "Hey...uh...[your landlord] didn't tell you, did he?"
     "Tell us what?"
     "That you are moving today."
     "No.  No he didn't."
     "Dang it!  I just knew it!  Well, don't worry, we are coming over right away to help."
We asked Elder Burnham why exactly we had to move on that particular day and he said he'd tell us in person.  So we cancelled all Wednesday appointments due to the emergency move. We didn't know why we had to move suddenly. But we did it anyway.  To be honest, we just want it to be over.  So this threw the day off a little.  Thankfully the elders were a great help and we got things upstairs in a couple of hours.

Surviving the Eruption
Eruption of Mount Vesuvius
The reason why we had to be out of the house? According to landlord, it was "because some people were coming over to buy the apartment." And they couldn't see the house with us in it?  Well, after the rush of moving, guess what?  No one ever came to the apartment, and no one is living there. :|

But, I'm happy to tell you -  I had something of an emotional breakthrough on Wednesday.  A week before this happened, I probably would have exploded like Mount Vesuvius.  I'd been smoking and oozing lava like Etna already.  But when we got the call from the elders in the morning, I just started laughing and laughing.  And the bright mood continued all day.

Now, you might be thinking that I officially lost it, that I was only in hysterics.  But, no, what really happened was that I finally left the barren landscape of indignation and reached the peaceful valley of perspective. Here is what I finally discovered: it doesn't matter.  That's right.  It does not matter.  The landlord is a Class-A Jerk in every sense of the word, but that shouldn't affect me.  In the long run, this is only a small chapter of my life.  I will be leaving Palermo and never see him ever again.  So, I can step away from the smoldering mountain of exasperation, take a chill pill from the Spirit, and enjoy the view of what's ahead. Ah, perspective.
Easter lentil dinner at church
photo: Melissa Bradford (Sorella Bradford's mom), pictured on right
Claire Bradford, Mikesell, Jackson, Marsh, Nef, Prete, Kasper, Dalton Bradford
photo: Melissa Bradford
Marsh, Jackson, Mikesell and Nef with Chocolate Baci Eggs

Easter Processions
We had a lovely Easter. We went to Sorella Giambona's home for dinner and watched the Easter processions from her balcony.

During the procession, they have station points marking the various episodes of Christ's journey. Under our balcony was the 4th station of the cross.

They would sing a song, say a prayer, and recite the history of that station - when Mary met with Christ along the way of the cross.

Pasquetta - A Holiday for Picnicking
Sorella Bradford came back with her family to visit Palermo for a few days, so we were with them in Church on Sunday, then dinner later. Monday was another holiday - Pasquetta.  You know, I think Italians make a holiday for the day after every major holiday (the day after Christmas, St. Stephen's Day, is big).

Anyway, Pasquetta is a day for picnicking, so we met up with Vescovo Ganci's family and the Bradfords in Monreale.  It was everything you ever imagined a picnic in Italy would be - in the country, with a light breeze, crystalline sunlight, a lovely view of Sicily, good food, close family, and a crazy grandma (she has Alzheimer's and sings a lot. Pretty darn cute). Today we are climbing Mount Pellegrino with the Bradford's. Looking forward to it.

Conference Catch-Up
We finally saw the rest of General Conference this week (Sunday afternoon session).  Elder Packer's talk, The Witness, and Elder Christofferson's talk, The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, ROCKED!!!!  They bore such strong testimony of the Savior.  How perfect for Easter.

Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled
I did my Easter reading schedule again that I created last year (a series of scriptures leading to Christ's Atonement).  One thing struck me.  I was reading through the chapters talking about the Second Coming (Matthew 24-25, Mark 13), when Christ was detailing the Signs of the Times to the apostles (the destructions, the tempests, the wars, men's hearts failing them etc), and then I read a verse in John.
"Let not your heart be troubled:
ye believe in God, believe also in me."
John 14:1
What I didn't know, until I read that verse, was that in reviewing the Signs of the Times, I had become anxious and a little tense.  But when I read the words "Let not your heart be troubled," a peace filled me up. It was a sweet, reverent, subtle thing, but so penetrating and touching all the same. The idea came that:
     Christ is there for me (omnipresent)
     He is in control (omnipotent)
     He is all knowing (omniscient)
An unstoppable trifecta!  These bible verses reveal how He already knows the bad news and is giving us the heads-up.  And if Christ can predict the problem, then He can prepare us and solve it. Because Christ is all present, all powerful, and all knowing - we don't need to fear.

The Easter processions this week (and most religions for that matter) focus on Christ's death.  But, guess what?  He arose again.  He lives.  And, because He lives - He is in control.  Let not your heart be troubled.

Because of Him
Because of Him, not only do we have nothing to fear, but we have everything to hope for.
Love to All,
Sorella Ashley Nef

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Buona Pasqua - Happy Easter

If  you're gonna graffiti, have something important to say - Yahweh (Jehovah)
The Boscia family has really caught the spirit of missionary work.  What's great is that even though they are timid about sharing the gospel, they're throwing caution to the wind and giving it their best shot.  First on their list of people to share with: a farmer friend who they knew to be a religious man, but wanted to see if he would be interested in learning more.  So, we (along with Brother Boscia) headed on over to the farm.

Sharing with the Sheep Farmer

The farm was mainly sheep and goats, but he also has a large garden, chickens, geese, ducks, bunnies, and he makes ricotta cheese.  So, he is a man with a lot to do.
Farm Tools
Cactus in the garden

He didn't seem very interested in hearing about the Church: he's old, set in his ways, and very Catholic.  But the cool thing about the appointment was in helping Brother Boscia see how simple missionary work can be.

We casually meandered around the farm, and realizing that the gospel didn't magically come up in conversation, Brother Boscia decided to call it a day, "I'm ready to go whenever you are."

"I Can See You are Religious"
Making Ricotta Cheese
His picture of Mother Teresa
That's when I turned to the farmer and said, "I can see you are religious," pointing to a picture he had up of Mother Teresa and other saints.

The farmer looked at me (mind you, he spoke 100% Sicilian, not Italian) and replied, "Yes, I am. Always have been." Brother Boscia remarked that he had picked up on that fact a few days before when the farmer had borrowed the movie Jesus of Nazareth.

"You know," Boscia said, "I am not a Catholic. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - a Mormon."  And from there, he told of his conversion story, how he had been searching for the truth, but wasn't satisfied by what he saw in the Catholic church, or in other churches. Then one day he encountered the missionaries.  From there, he came to know that Joseph Smith was a prophet and the Book of Mormon was true scripture, and thereby gained a deeper testimony of Jesus Christ.
His sheep dog has gold eyes

Chickens lay very large eggs here

He was doing such a great job, I didn't really say anything else the rest of the time except in asking if we could offer a prayer together to conclude our visit.

As we drove away, Boscia said he could see the farmer was set in his ways, that the only difference between his pre-conversion self and this farmer was that he, himself, had been looking for the truth.  The farmer, on the other hand, didn't know he needed to be looking.

Was I Supposed to be Looking?
Isn't that a dilemma that most of us encounter? Not looking? Closing ourselves off?  Scripture has a phrase for that: hard hearts. The barrier we encapsulate ourselves behind - sometimes as a protection, other times as a defense, but always as a way to keep things out.  The only problem with keeping things out - good stuff can't get in.  Kind of like this egg the farmer is holding.  The chick inside can only find its purpose by coming out of its shell.  Sure, it's protected and the hard layer is necessary for a time, but its destiny is not to stay cocooned.  Just beyond that hard exterior is greater light. Just outside of the hard casing is a grander world of truth, if it will only break the barrier.  I was hoping our visit would help our farmer friend to make this discovery. Until next time...

"But it is interesting to me," Boscia said, "that none of the conversation would have happened if you hadn't said something, sister.  All it took was a simple statement, 'I can see you are religious', for dialogue to open so we could talk about the gospel!"

"That's the Gospel Truth"
Then the Boschia's invited us over to their home for pronzo and a visit with their 82 year-old aunt.  She grew up an orphan, raised by her older brother during World War II, never went to school, but figured out how to read and write on her own.  You can tell she is a highly intelligent woman.  She was given a Book of Mormon not too long ago, started reading it, and declared it to be "the gospel truth" (told you she was smart).  She likes our Church a lot, has come in the past, and would like to know more.  Problem is, her two sons living with her want nothing to do with it.  We straightforwardly told her we are there to prepare people for baptism, "The decision is yours," we said, "if you want to progress along this path or not."  Her family jumped in, bore testimony, and invited her to Church with them.  She agreed to come.

Family Home Evening
That evening, Marsh and I handled Family Home Evening.  Since we had no investigator to direct a lesson toward, we asked the other missionaries if there was a specific message they wanted. Anziani Kasper and Prete said they'd like Riccardo La Carta (who is being baptized this week) to hear thoughts on commitment: commitment to Baptism and in living covenants after baptism.  So, we decided to teach Testimony vs. Conversion. And we used cookies as our example.

We All Know Cookies are Great!
"You all like cookies, right?" YES was the general response. "I could go on and on about how much I love cookies. Cookies are the greatest." Everyone agreed.
     "Since you know cookies are great, then that must mean you don't need to eat cookies ever again. Tasting is no longer necessary since you already have cookie palate understanding. Isn't that knowledge enough?"  The room exploded in an uproar.  "Aspetta!" "Non si fa!"
     "Ok, then. It's wonderful to know that cookies are good.  But it's even better to be eating the cookie!" They nodded.  "Well, the same is true with the gospel of Jesus Christ." Let's compare the two.

Conversion is Like Eating the Cookie
A Testimony is like knowing cookies are good.  To have that belief that the gospel is good, that it's true. But Conversion is like eating the cookie.  You not only know the gospel is good, but you experience it.  You internalize it and live it.
It was appropriate at this point to pass around a bag of cookies as we talked about Conversion and read excerpts from Elder David Bednar's talk about how Conversion means "consistently being true to what you know."

Testimony is terrific, but Conversion puts testimony into action.  The more you act upon what you know, the deeper the conversion. And, conversion, by definition, means to change.
Since living the gospel is a way of life for all disciples of Christ, this process of conversion will be a life-long pursuit of growth and change.
The Challenge:
So we put forth a challenge that I'll pose to all of you, my fine readers.  Think of one thing you could upgrade.  Think of a true principle that you need to apply more effectively to improve your life (family relationships, honesty, patience etc.).  Now think how you could go about changing that behavior.  What principles you should apply, what mannerisms you could omit, what thinking patterns you might change. Then, put it into action and see what happens.  The more you see positive changes the more you will be converted to that principle. And, oh how sweet it is.

Super Missionary Meets His Kryptonite
Anziano Kasper is a bit of a legendary missionary in the mission.  He was AP (assistant to the president) for 5 months of his mission, and a Zone Leader for the rest. He's a good guy who literally talks to every person on the street.  Highly dedicated.  Also an authoritative presence - tall, calm, cool, collected.  But he has two fears:
1) Singing solo in public.  2) Girls.
He is TERRIFIED of women. Painfully. Will actually run in the opposite direction if a girl so much as looks at him (I've seen it happen...more than once).  HILARIOUS.

So, Sunday, he and his companion were at a park during the Festival of Colors (a hippie-fest here) when they passed by a group of girls speaking English.  Kasper's companion, Prete, turned and said, "Hey, you speak English!"  "Worst mistake of my life" he said afterwards. Turns out, it was a group of drunk/high tourists. The girls immediately moved toward the elders and started groping them, offering drinks, and climbing on them.

When we met the elders afterwards on the street, and they explained what happened, Prete said Kasper, bright red and sweating, was stiff-arming one girl, keeping her at bay at arm's length, though she kept wrapping herself around his arm.  Even rehashing the episode, poor Kasper was beside himself, nervously folding his arms and turning red again. "That's the closest I've ever been to a girl in my life - on my mission."  Sorella Marsh and I laughed for the next 2 hours straight.  SOOOooo funny!  Of course, of any elder in the mission, stuff like that keeps happening to him every day.  Clearly, the Lord has a sense of humor.

Hold it Right There!
Speaking of keeping someone at arm's distance.  Because Gaspare was getting a little too chummy with us sister missionaries, we had to pass him over to the Elders for continuing discussions.

Domenica delle Palme - Palm Sunday
Triumphal Entry by Walter Rane
Palm Sunday celebrates Jesus' triumphal entrance into the City of Jerusalem to celebrate Passover when the Jews welcomed Him by waving palms and lining the streets with the leaves.

Why did they use palm branches? Apparently, the Palm was an emblem of Judea (even imprinted on coins of the day). By covering the ground with palms, they were, in essence, rolling out the red carpet for Christ.

Waving Palm fronds was their way of celebrating their abundant livelihood and blessings.  Since the many varieties of palms were plentiful in Jerusalem, the Jews learned to use every part of the plant: milk, food, seeds, oil, fibers - even the rot-resistant timber was valuable for making utensils and boats.

By surrounding Jesus' entrance into the city with palms, Judea was showing their willingness to give up worldly necessities and luxuries and welcome Christ as their leader.

Palm vendor in front of a Palm-adorned fence
Palme! Palme!
In Sicily today, the palm custom continues.  Palm Sunday (Sunday before Easter) is a day they put up palms throughout the city and bring palm fronds and olive branches into church prayer service and then keep them in homes or gift them to friends and family as a blessing for the remainder of the year.

To aid those of us who are palm deficient, Palermo bristles with Palm vendors.

Purple Easter banners in the Quattro Canti (4 Corners)
Vendors are everywhere - in front of churches, cathedrals, stoplights, open markets, walkways, parks - all hoping you buy their palms decorated with bows and ribbons, some painted, and many braided into fans or formed into gift cone/cups. "Palme!  Palme!"

Happy Easter this week everyone.  I am excited.  We have a couple of easter egg coloring kits, but the real trick is finding white eggs.  All eggs are brown here. Also looking forward to seeing how the most Catholic part of Italy celebrates Easter. Hoping to see some processions and parades.

Wearing Week
Apartment drama. We are moving back upstairs to the old apartment tonight.  Hopefully all goes smoothly and we won't have any more problems (with living quarters or landlord).  Frankly, it is all very exhausting. I'm tired of the drama, tired of dealing with it, tired of living it.  I had a few rough days this week.  Between a beloved fellow-missionary deciding to end his mission early (whom I had been fasting and praying for), ongoing landlord problems, fatigue, and not having much work to do, I was a bit down.  But, thanks to the Lord, prayer, and Marsh's upbeat attitude, I am feeling much better.  But, as I've trudged through the puny trials of my week, I can't help but think of the magnitude of weight that Christ shouldered in His final week.

The Final Week of Jesus
Just think: the week before Easter - Jesus' final days.  I've been pondering the players nearing the stage, the props put into position, and all of Heaven watching.  It was a long-awaited week.  I'm sure a hush fell over heaven as Jesus faced his final days to the Atonement - the zenith of history.  All of the past pointed to it and all of the future would depend upon it.

In the Garden of Gethsemane
Christ in Gethsemane by Heinrich Hofmann
I'm sure as Jesus approached the Garden of Gethsemane it weighed on him. He knew that what needed to be done, only He could do.
     An angel couldn't do it.
No angel had power to break open hell's doors.
     No man could do it.
No man had perfection to erase sin's damage.
No force on earth could face the force of evil and win - except the Son of God.

Yet, Jesus confessed, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."  His human nature begged to be delivered from what His divine nature could see. Jesus, the man, the carpenter, felt the dark, immense weight and asked,
"Is there no other way?"
I wonder, did he know the answer before he asked the question?  Did his human heart hope his Heavenly Father had found another way?  We don't know.  But we do know he asked for a way out - an exit.  We do know there was a time when, if he could have, he would have turned his back on the whole mess and walked away.  But he couldn't.

He Wanted You to Know He's Been There Too
Christ in Gethsemane by Carl Bloch
He couldn't because He saw you and me.  Right there in the middle of a world that isn't fair, He saw you cast into a current of a life you didn't ask for, in the muck of trials you didn't create.
He saw you betrayed by those you love.
He saw you with a body that gets tired and a 
     heart that grows weak.
He saw you in your Gethsemane and wanted you 
     to know you're not alone. He's been there too. 

He knows what it's like to be confused.
He knows what it's like to be turned against.
He knows what it's like to be torn between two 
He knows what it's like to face the filthiest, 
     darkest, and evilest of Satan's forces.

And, perhaps most of all, He knows what it's like to beg God to change His mind and hear Him say gently, but firmly, "No."  For that is what God the Father said to Jesus.
Crucifixion by Carl Bloch

"When life is hard, remember -
 we are not the first to ask,
'Is there no other way?'"
Elder Jeffrey Holland

Jesus accepted God's answer and completed His work; He followed-through with the Atonement. Thank Heaven He did!

Then an angel comes and ministers to Jesus' sin-laden, weary body in the Garden, and He is able to stand. He is able to wipe the anguish from his eyes. He is somehow able (unfathomable to me) to absord our sins, carry them to the cross, and put them to death.

What amazing strength.
What a triumph.

He Lives by Simon Dewey

I don't know how He did it, but I am so eternally grateful that He did.  And, when I have difficult weeks like this last one, I can recall His sacrifice and know He did it, not just for everyone, He did it for me too.

Buona Pasqua (Happy Easter),
Sorella Ashley Nef

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Preparing for General Conference

Marsh, Jackson, Mikesell, me (Man, that orange apron is really unfortunate on me)
This week we had a great time prepping for General Conference.  We went around talking to as many people as we could, just spreading general pleasantries, meeting some cool people, and making friends in the process.

We've had a couple of lessons with Adriana, our new 10 year-old convert. As we talked about the Plan of Salvation on one occasion, and Prophets on another (using cut-out pictures and having her teach us), her mother (who is semi-active) seems to be gaining more from the Lessons than Adriana (who is doing great). The spirit in the lessons has been really beautiful.

Conference Games and Goodies
As we brought up General Conference, they agreed watch it on their computer, but I wanted to make sure.  So we went home and made some conference game sheets:  Bingo, and pages for coloring or writing:
1) The color of the speaker's tie. 2) What I learned from the talk. We also made brownies (every Italian's favorite American treat). When we returned to Adriana's house to deliver the games and goodies, it was met with some enthusiasm: Adriana's older brother, Andrea (also less active) wanted to participate.  They thanked us then told me I have eyes like Jesus from the movie Jesus of Nazareth by Franco Zefferelli.  I will take that as a compliment, thank you very much.

How Can We Share the Gospel?
The Boscia family had us over for lunch and admitted their insecurity about doing missionary work.  They asked for ideas. As we ate (pasta with tuna and red sauce - surprisingly tasty), we shared some ideas on how they could help in the work.
     Invite a friend to a Family Home Evening
     Invite someone to a Church activity
     Introduce them to the missionaries
     Share Church materials: DVDs, pamphlets, Book of 
       Mormon, and bear testimony
     Bring up the Church in casual conversation, "This 
       weekend I taught a lesson in Church on families."
     Refer friends to the website
We didn't tell them anything they didn't already know, but you could tell they appreciated the confirmation to what they knew.

Who Are You?
We passed by Monreale Cathredral and talked with a guy running the restrooms behind the Cathedral. He wanted to know who we were, so we told him and then expounded on the fine little tid-bits of living revelation and prophets.  We then gave him a card and told him he could read more about us on that site and find us in Church.

He too said I have eyes like Jesus of Nazareth (that same movie).  Since it's Easter season, apparently they've been playing it on TV.

Visit to Put Us in Sheep-shape
Pecorelle Easter Cookies
photo: siciliancuisine.blogspot
We did a couple of days of exchanges because Marsh and Mikesell had to do fingerprinting for their Permessos.

So Jackson and I went to Palermo 2 and had a meeting with a less active.  Lucky for us, they demonstrated how to make sheep cookies for Easter. The molded sheep are a traditional almond candy/cookie called Pecorelle. Once out of the mold, they paint details and display them.

Then we went to hang out on a bench outside the Church of San Severio for a little comp study time.  As we read Mosiah 3, some crazy homeless guy came over and played the recorder tunelessly in front of us. Good mood music.

Sorella Giambona's Arancine Festa
Assembly Line:  Orange Apron, Marsh, Jackson, Mikesell, The Wonderful Sorella Giambona, son, Rigby, Burnham
Saturday before Conference, Sorella Giambona had us over to make Arancine (Rice balls filled with meat, rolled in bread crumbs, and then deep fried). She had us making a variety of flavors: traditional ones with ragu, some with pumpkin and cheese, others with spinach and cheese...all were good.
About the size of a Racket ball.
Goo on hands and nose! Burnham photobombing
Everyone gets a turn in the hot oil jacuzzi
Sorella Giambona, Marsh, Jackson, Mikesell, Nef

Catchin' Conference 
Then we headed over to Palermo 2 chapel to watch Conference with the elders of Palermo 2.  It was the best!  Hunkered around the archive computer, eight of us sardined ourselves into the narrow room.
Jackson's sexy leg, Anziano Busdicker, Stout, Kennedy, and Carr

Conference Quote Un-Quote 
Loved Conference. Here are some goodies:

Loved it when Elder Holland said, "Some people like to say that Christ was a comfortable god. REALLY?!"

Loved Elder Bednar's talk on the loads we carry and the Grace of Christ.
"His Atonement also enables us to do good and become better
in ways that stretch far beyond our mortal capacities."
Elder David Bednar
It's funny because just two days before, I had just read his 2001 talk, "In the Strength of the Lord."  In it, he talked about the "strengthening, enabling power of the Atonement of Christ" - or in other words, the Grace of Christ.

The Grace of Christ
Christ in Gesthemane by Harry Anderson
I have been thinking a lot about Grace and how much we often underrate it.  We know that Christ's Atonement helps us be forgiven of sin.  To be washed clean.  Shame removed.  Guilt lifted.  But we often forget that the Atonement goes so far beyond all of that.  The Power of Christ's Atonement - His Grace - works side-by-side with us to help us through every day of our lives.

Because of that Grace, He helps us through stuff:
     Through sorrow and sickness
     Through weakness and frustration
     Through shortcomings and inadequacies
- to levels far beyond what we may have held possible.
"Thus, the enabling power
of the Atonement [Grace] strengthens us
to do and be good and serve beyond our own individual desire
and natural capacity."
 Elder David Bednar, "In the Strength of the Lord," 2001

What if I Don't Feel Like it?
The Atonement even helps us work beyond our desires (or lack thereof) - because, though we know we should, sometimes we don't want to do the right thing.

What do you do in that situation?  When you don't feel like doing what's right?  You turn to Christ.  You ask for help.

And because He loves you so completely, and understands you deeply, and has the Power to help, He will give you strength and desire and power to continue on and do the right thing.  He's the key.

Don't underestimate the all encompassing nature of His power - His Grace.  And, don't underestimate our need for Him.  He is the ONLY way we can make it back, because He is the only One that can get us to that level of goodness.  He pushes us beyond ourselves to places we could not go otherwise.  How?  One word: Covenants.

Covenants are the Way to Growth
Through the gospel, we make Covenants (promises) with God in the name of Christ.  Covenants are the means by which we link ourselves with the Savior.  The closer the link, the more active His power shows up in our life.
"The purpose of the gospel is...
to make bad men good and good men better,
and to change human nature."
Bednar quotes President David O. McKay
Making covenants links us to the Atonement and, with His help - His Grace, we are able to progress, refine, grow.  Anyone could make it to the Terrestrial Kingdom by "sheer grit and willpower," as Bednar puts it.  But the only way anyone makes it to the Celestial Kingdom is through Christ's power.

Loved the enlightenment I received this week with inspiring talks.  Great Conference.

This week, we have prepared for the words of the apostles and prophets. Now Conference has prepared us for the days and weeks ahead.

We came and listened.
Now it's time to live it.

Sorella Giambona put butterflies in our hair

Have an Enlightened Week, Friends,
Sorella Ashley Nef