Saturday, December 28, 2013

Buon Natale

HAPPY BIRTHDAY GRANDMA!  Eighty is great....y

Well not much to say about this week, because I'll be talking to you in two days!  I got the okay-go to do it Christmas day at 6:00,  so I will see you all there!  Sorry, Dad, that I had to cut you off on the phone.  I felt really bad, but we are only supposed to make a quick call and I knew I would stay up and chat past my bedtime if not. 

Last pday with Sorella Foster - at the Forum

It has been a crazy busy week--getting Sorella Foster ready to go and helping Sorella Wiltbank settled in.  I feel so bad that she had to leave the week before Christmas.. President owes us BIG time.  

My Twin
But I adore her and we work REALLY well together and agree on everything.  It's so funny, because we really are like the same person... and we look really similar.. and we have similar mannerisms, so everyone thinks we are twins.  Heavenly Father is being funny with me because the other day I was thinking about how all of my companions have been really different from me.  

I was wondering if I would ever serve with someone who is similar to me or thinks the same way I do, and then he sent me Sorella Wiltbank.  We are creepily similar.  I feel like I'm talking to myself sometimes, and she feels the same way... obviously. 

Monday we had an FHE with Carol and the Teodosi family, and it was so much fun.  We had pizza and joked about how Italians pronounce Albuquerque "alber-koo-key" and then we taught a lesson about following the prophet and it was a beautiful experience for us to all share our testimonies about living-day prophets.  

We asked bishop to share his testimony about how he has felt the Lord sustain him in his new calling as a bishop and it was a beautiful testimony.  I love serving with the saints here in Italy.  They are an incredible example of dedication and sacrifice for the gospel.  They have taught me so much about love, family, and the blessings of a Christ-centered life. 
Teodosi Family

The Word
Tuesday we taught Carol the Word of Wisdom.  It was really great because she was a ballerina for 20 years so she has a really strong testimony of living a healthy lifestyle.  Sorella Foster made me laugh because she said if I have taught her one thing it's the importance of eating healthy... I know you don't believe me Mom... 

She said that she had always looked at the what not to do part of the Word of Wisdom and not the "what should you do" part.  I even got her to eat broccoli AND LIKE IT.  So it was sweet hearing Sorella Foster bear her testimony of me teaching her the principles of the Word of Wisdom, haha. 

An Angel 
Wednesday I got my new companion!  She is an angel sent from heaven to me right now.  She is such a good missionary.  So dedicated and so ready to work, and she has been such a good example to me.  I just realized that she is my first companion (other then my trainer) that has had a companion other than me.  

Sorella Nef had me and Sorella Cojan one transfer and then Sorella Foster has only had we all did missionary work according to how I was taught by Sorella Cojan.  So it's been cool to see a new perspective and get new ideas.  I know we are going to see a lot of miracles here together this next transfer.  I'M PRAYING President doesn't split us up and the start of the next real transfer, because it's just been going really well.

The Law

We also got to teach the Law of Chastity this week from the talk of Elder Bednar.. which I love. When we taught Carol she said that no one has ever been able to explain the WHY of the Law of Chastity.  

Everyone says "because it's a sin" and that's it.. but studying it from the Plan of Salvation has taught me so much and made me so grateful for those commandments growing up and a greater understanding of why.  I've had a huge love for the Plan of Salvation since coming on my mission and I've been so grateful for the added knowledge that it gives me.  

The Plan
I met a tourist family on the metro the other day and chatted a little about the mission and who we were.  I happened to put an English Plan of Salvation pamphlet in my bag, so I gave it to them and bore my testimony of the blessings it has brought me.  I was so embarrassed when I almost started to cry because I just really meant it.  

That knowledge has blessed me so much and given me so much direction, and I'm so happy to give others the chance to know it too.  That's what makes missionary work worth it:  when you WANT to share that knowledge...when you want others to be happy and you want to help them find that happiness. 

A Different Christmas
I've been thinking a lot about Christmas lately.. obviously because it's Christmas... and how all the RMs I've talked to have said that Christmas on the mission was their best Christmas.  

I've been feeling guilty because honestly the Christmas season hasn't felt much different to me than other days, so I wanted to know what was wrong with me.  Why wasn't I feeling more of the Christmas spirit like everyone said I should?  and I decided it's just because here on the mission every day is Christ-centered.  Every day we are thinking of Him and sharing our testimony of him. 

I have loved being able to go to the Spanish Steps to sing Christmas carols and help others remember Him too.  I have learned so much about what it means to live a Christ-centered life... when every day you do what you do for Him because you love Him.  

I can't say enough good things about serving a mission.  Yeah it's hard to be away from home, and yes I miss sleeping in, dryers, and Bon Iver... but serving a mission has been the best thing I've ever decided to do. 

The Change
It has changed me in ways I didn't know I needed to be changed.. and I know I say that alot.. because it's true.  I'm grateful for the joy in missionary work and the people I've met and the spirit I've felt.  

The church is true.  It just is.  I just know it.  

And I know that others are looking for a Christ-centered life.  They are looking to change even if they dont know it.  So with the Lord's help, I hope to find those people and just give them the chance to feel the abiding love of the Savior Jesus Christ every day of the year. 

BUON NATALE!  See you soon.  Thank you for your prayers, your love, your support and your letters.  It means the world to me to know that there are people over there in America rooting for me. 

Vi voglio un mondo do bene.

With love from Rome,
Sorella O'Connor 

Roman rooftops

Missionary work is very tiring

(Email Sent - December 23, 2013)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Surprise News

Not quite like Queen Bey coming out with a new album...  but Sorella Foster is getting transferred. surprise!!

Advanced English Course saying goodbye to Sorella Foster

President called on Friday and was like "It's time for transfer calls" What? Those were three weeks ago.  One of the sisters is going home mid-transfer to make it home for Christmas so President had to move some things around.  Turns out Sorella Foster's getting the boot and going to Bari the week before Christmas.  

New Companion
My new comp will be Sorella Wiltbank from Arizona, who is actually companions with Sorella Nef!   Sorella Nef said she likes photography and followed my blogs before the mission.

Sorella Wiltbank and Sorella Nef in Palermo

So that's the big news of the week.  It's funny because President  hardly made any changes last transfer because he didn't want to move people before Christmas, and then the WEEK before Christmas he is moving around 8 sisters. 

This week was a pretty busy one. We did two scambis (exchanges) in a row, so I was hardly in my area.  But it was a fun week. 

Put it on the Calendar
We had an INCREDIBLE lesson with Georgia on Monday.. AND SHE HAS A NEW BAP DATE FOR FEB 2nd.  

We decided to focus on following little commandments to give her the faith and strength to follow the big ones.. Soo we did a lesson on the atonement and the spirit was really strong.  

Usually there are a ton of people in our lessons with her, but this week it was just us three.  It was great because she really opened up to us about what has been holding her back and we were able to help her with those issues. 

Just writing about it now and remembering it, I can feel the spirit.  It was probably one of the strongest moments on my mission.  We were all just so happy.  Anyone who walked in would have thought we were crazy because we were all just sitting there smiling and staring at each other.   

I pulled out a mini calendar I happened to have in my bag and said, "Okay Georgia, let's pick your date.  When do you WANT to be ready to be baptized...?" 

We were dancing the whole way home and she said she had never felt happier. 

True Story
So that was the best part of my week. We also got to see my best friend Carol several times.  We taught her the Plan of Salvation and we did a repass lesson of the Restoration and watched the video of Joseph Smith. 

It was really cool because at the end I asked her if she believed that the story was true.  She said she didn't know if it was true, but she believed it was.  She is still praying for a date, but we feel so good.  The members love her and everyone asks,  "WHEN IS SHE GETTING BAPTIZED?"

Carol came with us to the Spanish Steps ... caroling

We had the ward Christmas party this week and it was way fun.  A lot of members brought friends and they did a Christmas skit and we had a dinner together. It was a really fun night and Carol came and brought Brazilian dolci.  

Skit at the ward Christmas party

Here We Come a Caroling
Then on Sunday night we did caroling at the Spanish Steps which was great, but so scary because only six of the missionaries showed up and some tourists.  

One of the tourists was Nicole, whom I met through the Poway boys my sophomore year.  She was just passing through Rome with friends when we announced the caroling in church.  They ended up coming and handing out a ton of pass along cards and even a Book of Mormon.  

It was super fun and we are going to try and do it this week too.  It's funny because the Spanish Steps are right across from all the ritzy stores in Rome.. so people would walk down that street and end up stopping at the stairs to hear us singing Christmas hymns.  

"The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear".. right,  Will Ferrell?

It's been a super crazy week.  But I'm excited for Christmas. I keep forgetting it's so soon.  
Christmas Lights

I'm still not sure when we are Skyping because I have to wait for my new comp to come and everything and figure out where we can do it because we aren't allowed to do it at members' homes anymore.  I'll call you.  I'll probably email next Monday too.

Thanks for all the updates.  I'm mad Beyonce didn't wait for me to come home.  She knows how much I love her.  I'm excited to see you all on Christmas.  I forgot my planner, so I can't remember what else I want to tell you.. oops. don't tell Pres.

Merry Christmas.

(Email Sent - December 16, 2013)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

I'm Dreaming of a "White" Christmas

Christmas preparations at St. Peter's Square

This was a really good week to be a missionary.  We got to see Carol four times this week!  I'm obsessed with her.  She loves Downton Abbey and Gossip Girl and Friends and I'm pretty sure we are soul sisters.  

Member Missionaries
We had a really fun FHE with the Bosco family. They invited us over and we gave a spiritual thought about the Book of Mormon and we got to play with their two beautiful children. 

Nativity Scene at a member's house

Then we had a lesson on Thursday and we invited Sorella Steurer to come with us (the Steurers work in the office, and since we teach in English we thought it would be a cool option for her to teach with us) and it went REALLY well.  We taught the first part of the Plan of Salvation, and as we were teaching about the purpose of the Savior and his life on earth I felt impressed to talk about baptism.
Sorella Steuer (right) with Sister Ballard

So we read Jesus' invitation to be baptized in Third Nephi and it was so powerful. 

We invited Carol to be baptized and she said she wants to but she is going to keep praying about it. There is no better spirit than when you are extending an invitation to follow the example of the Savior... especially when you love them so much.  Then on Saturday there was a baptism for a little boy and we invited her to come and she did!  Then we saw her again at church on Sunday. 

My dream is to go to her baptism on Christmas -- celebrating the Savior's birth with a spiritual rebirth. What could be better? 

We love seeing her so much.  She is just one of those people that come prepared.  Our ward mission leader saw her at church and was like, "Who is that? She just has this light about her." and she does.  Anyway, enough about my girl crush. 

Last pday Sorella Foster and I decided to try "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" because it seems like the Christmas thing to do... and so I asked this old Italian man how you eat them... and so he takes one in his hands, cracks it open, and starts to hand feed it to me haha.  Then he went in for a "baccino" or to kiss me on the cheek and luckily I got away. Sorella Foster wasn't so lucky.  He did the same thing to her and I just watched as he went in for it. so funny. 

chestnuts roasted on an open fire

Funny Face
Sorella Foster has this funny face she makes when she is scared and doesn't know what to do.  I just laugh (because it's funny) but it makes her mad.  The only other times I've seen that face was when a member started breastfeeding during an appointment and another time when I made her sit by herself on the bus to talk to people and she got approached by a drunk guy... good times. 

Tuesday we had an incredible specialized training with all the missionaries and I learned so much.  We really focused on working in unity... as missionaries and with the members.  At the end we did a nativity scene!  

It was so great.  It really brought the Christmas spirit.  There is no better time of year to be a missionary. 

Don't I Know You?
Also I saw this Italian lady who reminded me SO much of Ashley's mom... so I just HAD to talk to her. It felt like I was just sharing the gospel with someone I know. 

We did a lot of finding this week because we made a goal to get 20 lessons (because I'm competitive and want to do whatever the Milan missionaries are doing).  So we had a lot of other lessons and miracle people that had tons of great questions and seemed so interested... but none of them really made any sort of progress. 

Ready for Happiness
That's why I really want to focus on working more with our members: because they can be an extra support that we can't be as missionaries.  A lot of times members have a fear of doing missionary work because they feel their friends aren't "ready"... when in reality everyone is ready.  

All we are doing is inviting them to make changes that will make them happier.  We are inviting them to come to know why they are here and how they can fulfill their purpose.  Maybe they aren't ready to make all of those changes at once.. no one is. If that was the qualification, we wouldn't have need for missionaries or the scriptures or church or prayer. Inviting a friend to know about the gospel is inviting someone to make small changes in their lives to be happier. 

Beautiful Gift
I loved Elder Ballard's talk he gave in conference. 

It describes perfectly how and why we do missionary work. THAT'S WHY WE ARE HERE PEOPLE.. All of us.  We are here to take part of the Lord's work and his glory.  As we serve others to help them come closer to Christ, we can't help but come closer to Him ourselves.  It's a beautiful gift. 

A Little Help from My Friends
Lastly, my favorite story from the week:  

We had ALL of Saturday open because we only had one appointment scheduled (who stood us up anyway) so we planned on visiting some people that we've talked to before. We were on the bus and this sweet old lady asked someone to help her get her shopping cart (not the american ones.. they are smaller with two wheels) off the bus.  

So I asked her if we could help her take it to her house. Usually people decline our offers of assistance, but I insisted and she agreed to let us help.  

So we got off the bus and there was this HUGE hill to her apartment building.  She kept thanking us because she didn't know how she would have been able to get up the hill. 

So we got to the top of the hill and she thanked us and told us we could go, but there was about 20 stairs up to the apartment building, so I told her we were going to take it up the stairs.  She protested but I started walking up anyway.  She thanked us again, saying how hard it is for her at 85-years-old to walk all those stairs.   

She said, "I can take it from here." 

and I said, "Signora, what floor do you live on? 

"Oh no don't worry about it.

"Signora, which floor?

"Third.." which in America is actually the 4th. So we take her groceries to the top floor of her apartment as she tells us how long it takes her to walk all those stairs with her bag of groceries. 

Then when we got to the door she told us that we were angels sent from our Heavenly Father and that she had been praying for someone to come help. I laughed to myself as I remembered all the times she had denied our help even though she had been praying for that help. 

Let the Savior Help
How often do we do the same thing? We pray for help or guidance and then when it comes its hard for us to swallow our pride and just let someone help, let the Savior help. 

I've been thinking about that idea a lot, especially with another investigator who, when we went to teach her this week asked, "I know that there are people who believe and those who don't believe.. but what about the people who believe and don't want to follow?" 

I believe that THAT is the danger that we find in the world today, and those are the saddest stories that I hear every day:  those who believe, those who know that true happiness comes from making the Savior the center of your life, but choose another path anyway.  Those are they who find the most disappointment,.. but the invitation of the Savior is always there. 

How grateful I am everyday to serve. I know I say it a lot, but I really mean it.  I have grown so much and I have felt so much joy.  Most days I walk down the street and I just yell, 

"I LOVE IT HERE!"--not too loud though.  Sweet is the work. 

Hitting My Stride
I was talking to another missionary I served with in Cagliari and who came to the baptism, and we agreed that at first the work seems so hard and there is so much to do and become.  Then when you start getting to the end is becomes a walk and then a stride and then it's done.  

I'm still far from being done, but I was wondering the other day if I am sacrificing enough because I am so happy... it doesn't seem nearly as hard as I used to think it was...  I know that it will change and it will get hard again, but for now I'm happy knowing that not all sacrifices have to be hard.

Love you guys.
With love from Rome,

Sorella O'Connor 


Looks like it will be a white Christmas after all.

(Email Sent - December 9, 2013) 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Three Thanksgivings, Two Turkeys, One Lasagna

Happy Thanksgiving to all at home! 

I hope it was filled with Turkey and Gratitude.  

We are so blessed to be serving in Rome 2 because we have several American families here either as missionaries, working on the temple, or working with the government.. so we got 2 American Thanksgivings and 1 Italian Thanksgiving. 

Thanksgiving with the Rigby family

Thanksgiving with the Gilespie family (their daughter just got called to Milano) 

 Thanksgiving the Italian Way

It was the best. As I was sitting around the table eating a beautiful plate of homemade lasagna and I was thinking, "Why don't WE do this every year?"  So my new tradition is that I will always make a homemade Italian lasagna for Thanksgiving. 

Really I feel like I don't have much to say this week.  All of our investigators were super busy and most people canceled our appointments.  Because it was transfer week, we were helping a lot with that.  

Last Monday for pday we went to the mission home to help Sorella Waddoups set up the Christmas tree and just kind of hung out around home because we didn't have much time for anything else. 

Hard to Find
The shining moment of missionary work was our lesson with Carol.  We taught the gospel of Jesus Christ (in English.. so weird) and we invited her to be baptized and she said she is going to pray about it. yes.  She is one of those really prepared people who is honestly seeking for truth.. and those kinds of people are so hard to find. 

Just Don't Care
People told me that the problem with serving in Italy would be the traditions of (other religions)...  but in reality the problem is that most people have become uninterested in religion and have given up on spirituality.  

Most people we talk to just don't care about having God in their lives.. even if they believe in Him.  

Honest Seeker
So it's really incredible to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ to someone who is honestly seeking Jesus Christ in her life.  AND she comes to church every Sunday for ALL three meetings.  AND the RS president and her husband invited us all to their house tomorrow night, so we are really happy about that.  We have the best members.  So willing to help with our work.  Also she is going to bring Brazilian food to the Christmas party. yay. 

the sorelle with a member
(some are leaving for the holidays)

Making Conversation
I've really been trying to push myself and Sorella Foster and to do more finding and talk to more people. So we were on the bus and I made Sorella Foster sit in the seat facing the other way so that she could talk to the person in the chair across from her. 

Then this lady gets up to give her seat up for an old lady and comes to stand by me.. so I start talking to her and she is from this totally random country that I have never heard of and she invites us over Sunday night to her house! So we are excited about her. 

So last night we were doing more finding and I made a goal to have 3 really good conversations about the gospel before we got home. The first was with this sweet old man who told me that it was so beautiful to see people actually devoted to their religion instead of just going on Sunday and not really practicing throughout the week. 

Doesn't Look Good
The second was on the metro when there was this beer bottle that was knocked over and rolled down the aisle, so I stopped it with my foot and picked it up to throw it away.  Then I realized it probably looked bad for a missionary to be holding a giant empty beer bottle.. so I turned bright red as the people by me were watching me.  

So I just said, "I don't want people to think it's mine."  

One guy was like, "Yeah, that might not look too good.

and I said "Yeah, especially while I'm wearing this name tag with Jesus Christ's name on it."  

So this nice old man offered to throw it away so I wouldn't be embarrassed and the guy I had been talking to asked where I was from.  Turns out his family used to meet with the missionaries and invited them over for Thanksgiving and everything. so cool. 

Nice to Meet You
The last conversation was with a girl that had converted from Christianity to Islam.. so that was really interesting. That's what I love about being a missionary:  just talking to people.  People will tell you anything if you just ask.  I've met so many incredible people from just talking to them on the street, in the metro, in the train, anywhere really. 

I was re-reading the notes from the blessing I received when I got set apart, and it talks a lot about loving the people and just appreciating their lives. I have truly seen that blessing come to pass during my time here. I love being able to just talk to people, find out about their lives, the things they hold dear and the things they are searching for. 

And I love being able to bear my testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ to them. 

I Get It
I love being a missionary. I love it I love it I love it. 

I finally get what everyone was talking about when they said there is just a joy you can't find anywhere else.  Sometimes I'm just walking down the street and I want to yell.. "I LOVE THIS!" because I do. I love living in Rome. I love learning about the gospel. I love seeing people change their lives to be in harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ. I love it all. 

Like Paige said, I've been thinking a lot about people back home and the sadness and the hardships that have been going on in the lives of our friends.  

I was reading the talk from President Uchtdorf this week, "Come, Join with Us," and I was overcome with a sense of gratitude for the gospel and a realization that trials come to everyone.  

But with the gospel of Jesus Christ, they are made bearable.  Anything broken can be made whole through the Atonement.  Walking with the Savior every day prepares us to face the challenges that will come. 

Through scripture study and prayer we are blessed with a strength and a power that the world can never offer.  How blessed are we to be taught these principles?  How blessed are we to be given this strength and this courage and this hope?  How blessed are we for the love of Jesus Christ? 

Christmas is Coming...
I'm excited to be talking to you soon at Christmas.  President just sent us our Christmas guidelines.  I get one hour on any day from the 24th to the 26th, so we can just organize it with Paige.  

President said we aren't allowed to use member computers anymore for Skype, so I have to go find a cold, dark internet point where everyone will surely judge me for crying.  But I'm trying not to murmur. 

Also THANK YOU for the packages. I got the third one and I LOVE the letter advent calendar. genius. seriously. Sorella Foster had to physically restrain me from opening them all at once.  But she could not restrain me from eating the watermelon licorice. probably because I shared. 

Love you all. Thank you for your love and support. Happy Thanksgiving. 

With love from Rome,
Sorella O'Connor