Thursday, December 29, 2011

December 26, 2011

This last week was really neat, although the teaching opportunities were a few less than normal. We had a great zone conference, focused on spiritual gifts. There were great thoughts shared about gifts of the restoration, the Atonement, and others. But the greatest gift of all of course came back to John 3:16, where we learn that God loves us so much that He freely gave mankind His Only Begotten Son. That day was very neat to be a part of and very spiritual. On Christmas Eve, we had a day to do service. We cut up some firewood for a family in the ward and also planted a tree for a lady we met last week. These were fun to have a part in. Then, during the evening, a family in the ward has a tradition to buy up poinsettas from some of the stores and drop them off at various families in the area with the missionaries. It was neat to take part in making a few families Christmas' a little bit more special.
The Carroll's, where I called home from, gave us a few Christmas presents and also a stocking full of various things. One of the presents was a little rocket. Similar to the one we had a few years back and flew off from the middle school. We started building them yesterday and will finish them up to hopefully shoot off during the New Year's Eve preparation day. I am grateful for the kindness and generosity of the many people that had a part in the day.
It was a big treat to be able to call home. That was a neat reboost to hear the voices of familiar loved ones. This week on Wednesday we have another conference for all missionaries who have been out for less than 3 months. Everytime we get together like that it is a great spiritual experience. But we lose out on the opportunities to find new people to teach. We played basketball this morning for a couple of hours. It felt great to exercise and sweat, because in the mornings the pushups and situps and things don't quite bring the same results.
This weeks email will be pretty short, as time in this day is going quick and we have to get a few more things done before getting back to work.
With love and charity
Elder Graziano

December 19, 2011

This week we had some really great contacts with a number of people, including a few different friends of members in the area. There are so many people that could use the feeling of warmth and love that comes with attending church. We were scheduled to have a few more people come to church yesterday, but who ended up running into a road block one way or another. One thing I am gaining such an appreciation for is the strength we can draw from by going to church. The strength of the Spirit in the building from other members is very noticeable and this ward has so many strong members that love the Lord and everyone around them. Some of the life stories we hear are very sad, but also very mendable with the warmth of simply going to church. I pray specifically that those people will find the courage to come just once, because that is all it would take.
From my personalility that has developed over the past few years, I rarely find myself in a mad state of mind. Especially here on a mission when the work is so full of joy. However, I found one thing that gets me close. It breaks my heart to hear people that haven't been to church in decades or people who don't know much about the church refer to members who have turned them away from the Gospel. My mind is drawn to the joy which comes from introducing someone to the fullness of the truth. Compare that same joy to the guilt which would come from being the reason someone fell away from the arms of the Savior. I certainly do not want to have to answer for unkind words or actions that would be the reason for someone to miss out on the blessings that are available to us.
My heart aches for the Solomon family. What a sad experience to go through. I remember a line from the book True to the Faith - To take the sorrow out of death, you have to take the love out of life. Obviously love cannot be taken out of life, and sorrow cannot be taken out of death, because of the universal laws about opposition in all things. But having the sure knowledge of the potential to live in a family unit for eternity can cause those feelings of sorrow to diminish quicker than anything else in the world. That knowledge is a great motivation to try and do all we can to be worthy of that gift from God.
Also a bummer to read that Campo's streak ended. What a great run though. It was fun to get the weekly updates even though I am far away.
I still haven't heard anything about my visa. But I know there is more for me to learn and do here in Tennessee. I absolutely love Brother and Sister Carroll. He is the ward mission leader and does so much not only for us, but for anyone he comes in contact with. We will be at his house for Christmas afternoon and will call home from there. I will most likely wait until the late afternoon and we will have an hour to talk.
Today will be a first for me. I plan on entering a barbershop and paying someone for a haircut. I am not quite sure how to tell them what I want, but hopefully it goes well. A couple of the attachments on the hair trimmers we have in the apartment are broken and they happen to be the ones I need. Tomorrow we have a zone conference - a special one for Christmas. I was reminded this week of a quote from President Hinckley - Get on your knees and pray, get on your feet and work. As we are counseled to always have a prayer in our hearts, this provides insight on how to do so. We can pray and ask for help and guidance and what we might need. Then we get up and go to work trying to help God help us answer those prayers. Kind of like the saying that He can't drive a parked car. That is something I keep in mind as I go throughout my studies and work everyday.
Well thanks for the letters and I got some neat Christmas cards this last week. I won't have time to respond by letter to everyone, but thanks to the Severson's, Peirce's, Jex's, and Steven's. The thought goes very far.
With much love and charity
Elder Graziano

December 12, 2011

WOW what a great email to read that Campo football won again. That is so exciting. That is too bad that Vince's back is hurting and bothering him but to hear he kept playing is no surprise. We all learned that bit of "self-sufficiency" (also known as stubborness) from our wonderful Grandma Barnes I think. But how gratfeul we all are for that trait of dedication and will.
This week was full of good. Elder Clark and I continue to work hard and focus on making sure we are living worthy to have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. The members really seem to be feeling it and a few of them have started to mention the names of some of their friends to us. One of the members said she had been waiting for a set of "hard working Elders" to introduce a particular friend to. She just said that yesterday, so we will see when that meeting can happen. But obedience and consecration to the work are being noticed. The main girl we are teaching, Sierra, says she has received an answer the Book of Mormon is true and loves coming to church and feeling the consistent love and warmth of our ward family. Something she identifies as being unique from the other churches she has been exposed to. On Thursday, all of our plans got canceled, except for a dinner appointment, luckily. Sierra sent us a message right after all the cancelations saying she had a friend she wanted us to meet. After our studies finished in the morning, we went to her apartment and met her friend named Autumn. She had some initial questions about various things, and then Elder Clark and I began to teach the message about the Restoration of Christ's Church. At the end of the lesson, Autumn said she felt overwhelmed at the feeling that she had. I then had the opportunity to invite her to be baptized. It was all due to the undoubted presence of the Holy Ghost which had confirmed to her the truth of the message. She said yes! Come to find out from Sierra, Autumn said she hadn't planned on believing anything or feeling anything while she talked to us. It was a powerful testimony builder for me. We will now have to see how she reacts to the witness she received and we will pray her parents are receptive to it as well. They are very active in their faith at an Assembly of God congregation.
We also had the opportunity last night to meet with a man named Robert Jenkins. He was exposed to scouting with an LDS troop as a teenager and has fond memories of the warmth and love of the ward that he was involved with. He lives with a woman and their two children and has been feeling lately that church is what their family is missing. He also commented that because of his familiarity with the overall love and concern that church members seem to have as a whole, he thought it no coincidence that we knocked on his door at the time we did. In reality, we knocked on his apartment door while looking for a family on our ward roster who apparently moved away some time ago.
Elder Clark and I can really feel blessings of the Lord being poured upon us. Another thing we have squared away, thanks to the idea from Dad, was to get a little blurb in the newspaper. On Thursday this week, there will be a small article advertising our service to help with any last Christmas decorating and also to help take down and haul away Christmas trees. This exposure will not only keep us busy, we're sure, but hopefully produce a few more good contacts for us to start teaching. We have had some crazy times on our bikes. The shoulders on most of the roads here are as thick as the wide paint strip on the side of a lane. And the people seem to have many places they need to get to in a hurry. I have been riding on the side with two cars in parallel to my left a few times more than I would like to admit.
I got a great package from the Bishop Sorenson and his family this week and their kindness is amazing. Please make sure they know of my love for them and gratitude for the their thoughts on my behalf.
I didn't hear back about my camera battery charger, which I really would like to know soon so I can either buy a new one or get it mailed out to me. I would like to take some pictures and send them home. Please let me know.
Everyday is a great day to wake up and dawn the nametag with the name of our Savior. As I read about laying up treasures in heaven this week, the thoughts about what some of those treasures hit me. Obviously nothing physical with go with us. But the knowledge, Priesthood, attributes, and family we have developed in this life are all the treasures that our loving Heavenly Father would want us to develop so we will have treasures after this life. I look forward to developing the kind of treasures that will eternally significant and not come and go with a strong breeze of bad times during the course of my life. I love you all. Thanks so much for the unending prayers and thoughts.
With love and charity,
Elder Graziano

Thursday, December 8, 2011

December 5, 2011

I just read the great news about Campo football! How exciting. Congratulations Vince and everyone involved. That is so awesome to get to play in the Oakland Coliseum. I will be waiting with anticipation to hear the results next Monday. Awesome about getting co-MVP for the defense. You are great Vince! Keep working hard and always keep your eyes and head up.
We had a good week here in Tennessee. We made some good contacts with various individuals and will be returning this week to hopefully begin the teaching process. Last night we watched the Christmas devotional from the First Presidency. The comments were great and brought the true focus of Christmas into my heart. The video they showed from was also very powerful and I wish I could spend more time on the computer to watch those types of things. But seeing that depiction of the Savior's birth was very powerful. Sierra was able to watch that with us at the Carrolls house after they invited her at church. She has been doing really good lately and we are scheduled to have dinner with her and her mom next Sunday which will be great because her mom has not been too excited about her learning from us. Hopefully this will help. Jill, the other one we had consistently been teaching, is struggling with the pressures from her parents, and could certainly use your prayers. We have been trying to help the bishop out lately by going to the addresses of people who haven't been seen in a while and seeing if they are around. This has produced some of the good contacts I mentioned earlier. We have also continued our service efforts and can still feel the power of doing so.
I had the thought this morning of how my understanding of time is changing a bit. At times, when we are not busy and having to really think about what the best thing to do next would be, the minutes go by slow. But, when he have plans to teach, or visit people, or even better, serve others, the time goes quickly. This will certainly help the rest of life. Many times we comment on how ugly this life is, or how sad it can be. True. But when we forget ourselves in the service of others, we forget about that aspect of time to a large degree. And if we were able to perfect this, we would not be weighed down so much by the sadness of having time in front of us, but rather look forward to the Spirit we can invite to the lives of others by serving them and sharing the Spirit of Christ with them.
I got a great package from the Harries almost two weeks ago now and have a letter written to them, but the box got thrown away without having copied their address down. Could you please send that to me either in a letter or email so I can finally send that letter next week?
Last Monday we played a bunch of dodgeball and a little basketball with the other missionaries in our zone. It was fun. We had a big lunch together too. It's too bad we can't do that more often, but the areas we serve in are far enough apart to make it a bit of a pain to gather like that.
My mind was drawn to a verse in Philippians earlier this week that Bishop Sorenson shared with me about a year ago. Philippians 4:11. I can feel the attribute developing in me to find joy and contentment in whatever state I am in. This is most useful to me when I cannot control the situation, but am still able to find happiness in an undesirable setting. When we get a door slammed, or told where we are going for eternity (not heaven), I am still able to smile and trust in the Lord. Alma 38:5 has helped as well: "as much as ye shall put your trust in God even so much ye shall be delivered out of your trials, and your troubles, and your afflictions, and ye shall be lifted up at the last day". I do try to put in as much trust as possible, seeing as we have that great promise.
As far as getting to Brasil - I do not have any idea how long that will take. It could be another week or it could be a few more months. I approach everyday with a fire to accomplish as much as possible for the good and feel this is the right way to approach the situation. I do not want to miss any learning opportunities during this fine time I have to serve in Tennessee.
Thank you so much for the prayers and love that I can feel daily. The support I feel is a huge bonus to how I approach the days as well.
With love and charity,
Elder Graziano