Dear Ma familia,
It sounds to me like things are falling into a pretty good routine back home. School is starting, Haley and Jordan are working on their house, soccer is coming in full swing, BYU is starting up again etc etc... It really is nice to have a daily routine and have some structure to everyday life. I really enjoy hearing how everything is going smoothly and just the fun things that are happening. I really look forward to your letters and emails everyweek, they mean a lot to me. I am glad that emma and Taylor are doing so well. It is crazy to think that Taylor is already a junior. I remember really well when I was a junior and man it doesn't feel like it was three years ago. A couple of the people that we have been working with said they looked Taylor up and gave him a call this last week. Haha how did that go? I wish you luck with finding a venue for Prom as well, I didn't realize that he was in charge of doing all that stuff as well. I am glad that Emma is enjoying junior high so far, man I was looking at that picture that you sent and she seems so much taller and older. It really caught me off guard haha. And I am excited to hear about your new house Haley and it was cool to hear about the crazy number of black berries which is 15 haha. I really enjoyed getting your letter this week. And that sounds pretty crazy with all of the girls at girls camp. I have met people like that as well, and it shows me the importance of having a mother and father and founding your family on righteousness. I think we were all really blessed as kids to be raised in such a great family.
I guess I will start with an exerpt from my president's letter this week:
"This has been one of those up and down weeks. It seems like everyday we were able to see miracles, but first came an obstacle that challenged us to exercise our faith. Sometimes it was hard to gather the excitement and enthusiasm that we regularly have, but I did learn a valuable lesson. I realized that I didn't fail because I fell, but I did succeed when I got back up. It reminds me of a quote from one of the Batman movies. Bruce's father asks him, "Bruce why do we fall down? So we can learn to pick oursleves up." Also what comes to mind is President Uchtdorf's talk from this last conference where he compares all of us to waddling toddlers that are taking our first steps. Just like our earthly parents, Heavenly Father doesn't chastise us for falling down when we try to walk, but he encourages us for trying. We had a lesson with a new family in our ward, the Pattens, and we were able to share with them a lesson in which I get to play the guitar. We then asked one of their daughters how she felt and she said, "happy." I think that is the best answer ever. I knew that the spirit was there and at its core, the spirit makes us feel happy. The gospel really is plain and simple and sometimes I need to take a step back from the chaos of everyday life and just appreciate the simplicty. Pretty much what President Eyring said in his article in the Ensign this month. But that experience made me change my mindset this week from, "There are a lot of things I could be doing better" to "I am so happy that I am trying my best." You really do learn a lot on your mission haha.
I read in Mosiah today where King Benjamin talks about the journey we take through gospel.King Benjamin explains it as follows in Mosiah 3:19: We "putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.
Elder Bednar describes it as going from "bad to good and good to better." And I feel that is the process that happens as we work on Christlike attributes and really try our best to be disciples of Christ. We become more like a child, appreciating the plain and precious truths of the gospel and thus we become more like our Savior. Pretty cool."
Haha another funny thing that happened at the Pattens is that after we finished the song that same little girl with a look of disbelief said, "Wow, that was amazing..." That made me feel pretty good, probably did more for my self-esteem than she probably realized haha. But this really was kind of an up and down week and it really tried my patience and love. We have talked about it before where it is much easier to be understanding and patient when you feel good and are rested and happy...but when you are a little anxious, tired and stressed it is a completely different story. Looking back it is hard to think of all the little things that put me into the funk, but I can remember the feeling of general uneasiness. I think that is why I enjoy your letters and emails so much each week, becasue they are a good reminder of the blessings that I have and help me to focus on the things that are really important.
A couple highlights from the week:
We went to the a nice sister's this week, because she requested a blessing and while we were there they made us lunch and each gave us a box of cereal (honey Bunches of oats). I had a cool experience giving her a blessing; I had this prompting to tell her something in the blessing and it seemed to me something pretty big and I wasn't sure if I should say it or not, but it just kept coming to my mind, so I said it. She told me after the blessing that what I had said has been something that she has been thinking about for awhile and helped her answer and understand more about what is going on. I felt very humbled to be an instrument in the Lord's hands.
We were having a pretty down day on wednesday and we were running low on miles so we decided to bike. We knew it was probably going to rain soon, but we did it anyway. After we got out of an appointment the Heaven's opened and it began to pour and pour. It was awesome! I really loved biking in the rain and we just said, "well we are going to get wet, so we might as well enjoy it." It must have been very odd for people driving by seeing two guys in shirts in ties, soaked, biking in the rain, with large goofy smiles on their faces waving to everybody. That is an experience that I will remember and I just felt really happy. I haven't gotten a flat tire on my mission yet until this last week and it was right in the middle of that rainstorm haha. I got a little pinch flat and so we walked to somebodies house we knew nearby and I just patched it up real quick and it is good as new. It is interesting that we could have had pretty bad attitudes because of our circumstances, but we made the decision to be happy and we were. I loved it haha and I can still picture the disturbed and sympathtic looks that we got as we were biking down the road. That same day we were able to go see E. and his brothers and that went really well. They are the most polite people I have ever met and they call me and Elder Stratford "Sir." That makes you feel pretty important. But we gave them each a Book of Mormon and they told us that they would read it. They want us to come back each week and I am just grateful to be able to teach them because in return they teach me a lot by their example.
We went to Walmart one night and when we got out our car had died. We called a member to come help us out and as he was on his way the guy parked in front of us came out and was so willing to help us with a jump. His name was AJ and he was really nice. We left him with a Book of Mormon and our number. I don't know if he will call, but I hope that he knows that he was an answer to prayer. It made me think of the concept in that book the Power of Everday missionaries that people to want to help. That when they feel like the church, or the missionaries, need them they jump at the chance. And in reality we do need their help, everybody has something to offer. That book is pretty amazing, I finished it this last week andI think it will be something that I read again and again on my mission. The stories are so cool.
We went to this little restaurant in Thibodaux called Bubba's II Po-boy's. It looks like this little hole in the wall place and when you walk inside it has all of this memorabillia from sports and other things. It reminded me of a place that you would see on diners drive-ins and dives. I got a shrimp and oyster po-boy and it was actually pretty good. Suprisingly I enjoyed the oyster more than the shrimp. It was expensive, but I enjoyed the experience and I will send you guys some pictures. Later that day we went to Bro Tabors and he had gone fishing earlier and caught a few catfish. He said that he could fry some up for us and so he showed us how to fillet them and prepare them. He uses a mixture of milk egg and mustard to soak them and then he puts them in the fish fry with a little extra salt and pepper, season-all and some Zatarains (or that Slap Ya Mama's). That was the best catfish that I have had on my mission and real southern food comes from good home cookin'. I am excited to cook for you guys when I get home.
I love you guys so much and I really appreciate all of the support and help that you offer me. I couldn't have asked for a better family. And last night I got to just sit on our porch, play guitar and watch the Louisiana sunset. That was a good memory and it helped me just ponder on everything that Heavenly Father has given me, you guys are the best thing he has given me. Thank you guys.
Prayers and thoughts always
Elder "Debunhamms" Soper