Monday, December 30, 2013

12-30-13: ‘Twas the week after Christmas...

...and all through the house,
all the sisters were screaming, "let us go raus*!"

*raus=out, but usually it’s people telling us to get out J

Okay, enough of this poem nonsense.
Back to real life.
Which actually isn't so much real life because my skype call with my family made me realize how I don't really live real life right now. And actually it is real, but just so different from standard real life.

Anyways, it was kind of a weird week. A Christmas week! But weird missionary-wise. I'm grateful I am able to serve in a place that celebrates Christmas not one, but THREE days. During those days, we spent time with member families and attempted to go finding when we arrived a little early to one appointment, but people weren't really in the mood for outside chatter about God--who is why they have these holidays, in case you forgot.
So yes, the night before Christmas (also known as Christmas Eve in every-day language) was lovely. We had a Christmas Eve service in our church and it was full of visitors, which was like an early Christmas for all the missionaries. It was a pretty short program with music and some stories and then everyone went home to celebrate with their families. We went to the northern part of Berlin with the Schröders and some of their extended family. Unfortunately, the other sisters couldn't come because Sister Meisenfelder has been really sick, so that was a bummer for them L.  But we took lots of videos so they could relive it the next day.

Back to Christmas Eve. It felt so good to be with families J.  And the Weihnachtsman (Santa) showed up to deliver presents to everyone, but before anyone could receive his or her presents, he or she had to share something cool. As in a talent or skill or something. Like playing the harp, piano, reciting a poem, doing the splits, or doing a backflip.
Yes all of those were done.
Sister Kriser and I sang Jingle Bells.
Embarassing. Sister Kriser and I should probably have practiced and performed The Nutcracker.
We came home and had a little Christmas devotional with the other sisters and I recited to the best of my memory the story of Jonathan Toomey, which my Mom reads to us every Christmas Eve. Joy to the world.

The day of Christmas, we got up and had a wonderful run in the dark for morgen sport (morning exercise) like we do every day. But our shoes were full of magic-elf dust so we were able to run slightly faster. We ate with another family who lives way out in the woods and skyped with our families. Huzzah!
The day after Christmas...was still Christmas! I cherished the opportunity to wish passersby a merry Christmas for an extra day. Mwahaha! We ate with another family who lived forever away and had a sweet lesson about sharing light with each other.

We were kinda grateful to get back to the normal swing of things after the prolonged Christmas celebrations. We had an exchange with the sisters in Tiergarten this week and I got to teach some awesome people in their area. One was an artist from England whose family does voodoo but she wants to escape it's a long story. We talked about the Atonement of Christ with her and she started crying as we talked and said, "Wow, it's just I always think I'm messing everything up and I didn't know I could be free of that guilt." I sometimes forget how wonderful the knowledge of Christ is that we have and the ability to repent and become clean and new through Him. Another quote from her: "It's always when I'm going through the hardest times when you call and I just think, 'Oh the Mormons! God is back!'"

And now for the miracle portion that is not always present in my emails anymore but...naja.
Wunder der Woche
Remember Homar? Homar who we thought was another Homar and then we found out that he was already baptized but then he went to work in Hamburg and then he called and told me he loved me (#sistermissionaryproblems) so we weren't really sure where to go with that but then he came to Berlin for the holidays? Actually you don't have to remember all that information because I think I only shared the first part of that before. Anyways, he finally came to church! After months of us calling and inviting and coaxing him to keep his baptismal covenants and come to church, he came! Missionary gifts from above!

Running with Africans
We found this cool guy from Nigeria this week named Michael. I was on exchanges for our first lesson with him, but apparently it was good. He asked about our schedule and Sister Kriser told him we run every day and he asked if he could come. So this morning we had a visitor for our morgen sport! There is approximately one hill in all of Berlin and we try to run it about once week, so we took Michael up and almost killed him. His comments about our running abilities? "Wow, you guys are really strong! Strong, strong, women!" He asked if he could come again, so maybe we'll start teaching lessons when we run too J.
It was sweet. I love running.
And Christmas.
And people.
And sunshine! Which graced us with its presence today.
Keep carrying your torches high my friends and happy new year!

-- Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

Monday, December 23, 2013

12-23-13: 'Twas the week before Christmas

'Twas the week before Christmas
and all through Berlin,
many creatures were stirring, seeking presents for kin.
Our Books of Mormon and cards were stacked with care,
in the hopes that investigators soon would be there.
Yet the people stayed home, all snug in their beds,
and the missionaries went out, while dreams of conversion danced in their heads.
And me in my running tights hidden under my skirt,
rallied a caroling brigade, twice our bliss to assert!
And what to passersby’s ears should sound,
but foreign singers, not even asking for a pound.
Confusion, apathy, and occasional joy--
We thought it was quite a wonderful ploy.
We carried it further to a cold street display
(where we considered moving Christmas to May)
We sang and shouted "Merry Christmas to all!"
A snowflake sticker with that and they heeded our call.
Two exchanges also this week,
spreading good news to Marzahn and Spandau, sisters faithful and meek.
The people we continue to work with, the ones that are rare?
Nga wished God a merry Christmas in prayer,
A sweeter girl there could not be.
We celebrated Christmas with our lonely, older women and drank fruit tea,
expressing our love for our dear Heavenly Father.
'Twas the week before Christmas,
we were happy as a clam.
And so grateful for the gift of the Lamb.
For Christ is our light and the very important reason,
we celebrate and share this beautiful season.
Thus ends the quickly-put-together-attempt-of-a-Christmas-poem for the week. I'll take and give whatever I can to add a bit more Christmas feeling to the week.

Because Christmas is coming! Nigh upon us! Especially in Germany, where we have three days of Christmas. We start tomorrow with Christmas Eve, where pretty much everyone goes to some kind of church even if they aren't religious, and most Germans open presents that night. Then we have the twenty-fifth, which is normal Christmas and then the second day of Christmas follows the day after, as the name implies. We are allowed to have three-hour member appointments during these three days and all of our appointments happen to be forever away, but we are excited that we are able to celebrate with them and really embrace the spirit of Christmas this week. For our Christmas gifts, we made brownie mixes for all of our investigators and members so they can make some at home J. Never have I made so many brownies (everyone here is crazy for them) or baked so much bread (which is a good thing of substance to give to people).

Also, maybe you missed it, but I brought my trademark Christmas-joy stickers here and they were put to good use.

Also, Germans don't know what caroling is. Tragic.

More good news: we are past the twenty-first of December, so theoretically it should be getting lighter every day.
Theoretically speaking of course.

I am thankful for this Christmas time, this time to ponder, to speak and show our love, this time where people want to feel something. I am grateful for the capacity to feel and for the wonderful life that I have been given. I just feel blessed on my mission and don't completely understand why so many other people got such hard lives and I didn't, but I trust in God's plan and I know that He lifts us all from wherever we are and He fills us up when we reach in ourselves and really try to feel something. I miss my family and I miss America a bit, but I know I am not alone for Christmas here and that I am never alone.

Thanks for the seasons' greetings and your love and prayers and thoughts.
A Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.  

-- Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

12-16-13: The Beer Pong Door, Wedding Dresses, and other Christmas-related Activities

So maybe those things don't sound related, but have patience and all shall be made clear. The good news this week: the Christmas cheer that went on holiday last week returned in time for us to assemble cute 12 Days of Christmas Countdowns for all of our sisters, to have an awesome Christmas conference in our mission, and to play a part in our ward's elaborate Christmas activity where approximately 4.2 million visitors showed up. Okay, not that many, but close.

Christmas Cheer
I know, you wanted to hear about the beer pong door first, but we're starting backwards this time. Just to keep you on your toes.

And because Christmas is great!
So we had our Christmas conference where the whole east half of our mission came together and that was grand. Not only did we have many a' magical musical numbers by various talented missionaries, but we also watched 17 Miracles together. Which in case you forgot, is the first movie I've seen in almost a year. I may or may not have cried through the entire movie. Before it even got sad or intense. Because my heart just felt so full and it was like I couldn't breathe and I'm not sure if that is normal when you watch movies to feel so deeply and I just forgot what it was like or maybe I was just so touched by stories of love and faith and sacrifice and felt blessed to give my small sacrifice. It wasn't even a Christmas movie, but we were all so grateful to receive this treat that uplifted and inspired us and helped us be grateful for all we have and can do and give.

The other good Christmas cheer came from our ward Christmas activity, which was super sweet. Our ward worked really hard to set up a mini Christmas market INSIDE our church with food and gifts and then they had this really great nativity program. Oh my gosh it was so much and everyone was so stressed but it was so good and so many people came, like our Vietnamese girl Nga and her two little sisters. It was their first time EVER seeing the nativity and we were so glad they got to come.

Wedding Bells Are Ringing...
Okay, actually they were Christmas bells disguised as wedding bells, meaning all of the sister missionaries wore wedding dresses as we played our role as angels in the nativity. And by all of us, I mean Sister Kriser got to wear a sheet that made her kind of look like a priestess, but the rest of us definitely looked like brides. And let me tell you, it was a stressful wedding day. I had to accompany a musical number that I'd only practiced once and it was a little rough and then right before the nativity performance, my dress's zipper broke and we also had people that we wanted to talk to but you can't really talk to be people and have it be normal when you are wearing a wedding dress or now an unzipped wedding dress that we pinned together with one precious safety pin and a white sash. So I ended up accompanying still in the wedding dress with one pin and singing a bunch of angelic choruses and greeting a few people before running away like the runaway bride I wanted to be and putting on my normal missionary attire.
Never thought I'd wear my first wedding dress on my mission.

How Greifswald stole Christmas
Okay, more lies. They didn't steal Christmas. I'm just not that witty anymore, but I am accepting suggestions for more clever ways to write about...things. The Greifswald sisters came down right before our mission conference to go on exchanges and it was good. We received a huge Albanian baked bread-frit thing filled with cheese that was delicious while we tried to stop by and see people and had a good time talking about how to overcome hard things on a mission. I was with Sister Schmidt, who I was in the MTC with and who came over with me, so that was fun. It was interesting to see where we've been and what new challenges we've encountered and how you get off the swing when you have to sit down to cry for a bit. I think it's just kind of a hard time for missionaries all over.

Behind the Beer Pong Door
It is not the title of a game or book, but I'm considering using it someday for some sort of something. On Saturday, we knocked on doors at a student housing place near our church to invite them to our Christmas activity and we came across a door that was decorated with all sorts of pictures and quotes about alcohol and we hesitated knocking, but went ahead anyways, interested in seeing who was behind the beer pong door. A surprisingly normal looking man opened the door and asked if we were Mormons and said he actually already had a Book of Mormon, but he hadn't read and wouldn't mind learning more. So that was sweet. Except he wasn't there when we went back later. Lame. But we shall find him because we know where he lives and he already had a book.

What I didn't know about missionary work before I went on a mission:
A lot.
For some reason I thought that missionaries just ate with ward members and taught the ward members’ friends and always had regular appointments with people who had been learning about the church and had a desire to learn and would probably join the church eventually and the hardest thing would be getting along with a companion.
All false.
Because appointments fall out all over the place and we have so many cool finding experiences and then we seem to never get more than a first appointment, if that, even though we are constantly trying new things, and then we just talk to people or do a lot of travel  to try to visit other people and it's just different and I will never have a life like this again.
But it's good. And Christmas is going to be bomb. We are so stoked. Because that's how we live life. Stoked.

Joy to the world!

-- Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

Monday, December 9, 2013

12-9-13: The Tragic Beauty of Swinging in the Rain

For someone normally as close to a Christmas elf as genetically possible during the month of December, it sure has been a lot harder this week to feel and spread the Christmas joy that normally fills my heart to bursting, and sometimes unto complete combustion. And I could talk about lots of things that are hard, like people not making progress despite all you do to try and build up their testimony and that the days are only getting darker, but I thought I'd share a story from one of the sisters we visited in Rostock this week to better illustrate my point.

Rostock (on the Baltic Sea) is kind of a hard place to find people to teach and they have had a dearth of investigators for a large part of their four transfers up there together. Except one day, they found someone and they were so excited to go visit them at the appointed time and place. After traveling o'er hill and mountain to reach their appointment, they discovered a false address had been given, and without a phone number to boot. Oh and I forgot to mention it was raining buckets. Of water. On them. And so as they tried to put on a tough face, they went to a nearby park, sat on the swings, and cried in the rain.

That is a missionary story for you. Not a magical miracle. But a "life happens" one. And I know that magical miracles happen and I have seen them and am thankful for the success stories that others share and the optimism that they bring. I also know that sometimes you just have to sit on a swing in the rain and cry and then you feel better and feel like you can go forward again.
I didn't sit and cry in the rain this week (though maybe I would have relished the tragic beauty of it), but I gave myself a lot of pep talks as we struggled to find courage to talk to people in the cold and as we let ourselves feel slightly frustrated that people somehow don't care about the huge difference that Gospel can make in their lives, that is worth every little sacrifice or change that they have to make.  
It is so worth it.
Instead of buying a cool car to make me feel better, I contemplated borrowing a dog from someone, but decided on chocolate in the end. It helped, a bit.

Word of the week…
from our favorite German, Mark? "Tasteful," as in "This brownie is so tasteful."

On a cold and windy night...
we were in Rostock, where a mild hurricane passed through apparently, but it just seemed like a bunch of super strong wind to us. We made sugar cookies and drank herbal tea after working that night and felt safe and protected from the outside elements.

Wunder der Woche
I've been skimping on the miracles, so sorry. I'll say a couple to make up for the lost chances in the past. A.) I broke my retainer a couple of weeks ago and got it fixed for 10 euros this week. That was a sweet deal. B.) A lady we've been trying to visit since September finally answered her phone and we are meeting with her on Tuesday! C.) We made Christmas cookies and cut out snowflakes with a less active family in our ward and talked about serving others to help them feel God's love . That last activity helped me get out of my grinch-ish funk and I feel more prepared to conquer whatever rains, winds, and times of darkness come.

And I'd like to end with a quote from Heber C. Kimball about the nature of God: "I am perfectly satisfied that my Father and my God is a cheerful, pleasant, lively, and good-natured Being. Why? Because I am cheerful, pleasant, lively and good-natured when I have His Spirit. That is one reason why I know; and another is - the Lord said, through Joseph Smith, 'I delight in a glad heart and a cheerful countenance' (D&C 59:15). That arises from the perfection of His attributes; He is a jovial, lively person, and a beautiful man."

So come closer to God by being happy and don't forget the reason for the season.
I love you all.

-- Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

12-2-13: Advent

Once upon a time (meaning the present time), Germany did a great job of celebrating Christmas. They had markets and everyone put up lights and candles and then every Sunday leading up to Christmas is a part of Advent. We celebrated Advent yesterday by giving joyful testimony of the Christmas spirit and eating a magnificent baked apple with vanilla sauce and fruit. Feel free to close your eyes and try to imagine the taste of Advent. Yes, it is going to be a glorious season. Even though it starts to get dark at 3:30 pm now and it's cold and wet with no snow. We do all we can to combat the darkness though, especially Sister Kriser.

We came back to our apartment one afternoon for language study and about ten minutes in, Sister Kriser gets up and goes out on our balcony and starts screaming at the sun to come back. She eventually came back in after it continued to set, but periodically continued to look out the window and shout in vain.

I think we need some Christmas lights in our apartment.

Highlight of the week?
Decorating Christmas trees at the church. Because let's be real; anything that has to do with Christmas gives my heart reason to sing. And my vocal chords. That's been the other way we combat the darkness: singing loud songs in German about our life. But back to the trees, they were wonderful. I am so blessed to be in a place where Christmas is celebrated similarly, if not in more splendid bloom.

Breaking the ice and cutting wood
We helped Frau Möbius cut off a bunch of branches this week so that she can have heat in the winter. Hurray! I love opportunities to serve: we get to wear pants and it's one of the few things where you feel like you really gave all you had and your help was something of value. Plus I love Frau Möbius; she is such a funny, stubborn, and quirky lady. We still are hoping she will have the desire and will to get baptized soon and she wants our message to be true because she's gone to church every week for the past five years and loves it, but she creates obstacles for herself. So we shall keep serving and loving and doing our best until she breaks the ice barrier.

Doesn't exist in Germany. But we are blessed to have an American in our ward who invited the sisters over to eat with them. We didn't eat turkey, rather a delicious Germanified Thanksgiving meal. It was really nice though and felt simply good.

Words of Wisdom
We had a Leadership Council on Black Friday. Which also doesn't exist here; this was the first Black Friday in 5 years that I haven't worn one of my Christmas skirts, for they are all at home L.  But it was a sweet day anyways and I thought I'd include some good words that were spoken and some other random words throughout the week.
  • When asked for specific instructions on how to do something, Sister Kosak: "Find a way and use common sense."
  • After a sister semi-complained about elders, President Kosak: "I don't want any elder eaters!"
  • In a letter from Sister Ricks's friend about missionary work: "I feel like we are working so hard, but no one is moving!" It's hard to get people to change.
  • In her testimony on Sunday, Sister Kriser: "We don't need excuses, we need joy!"
  • And something Christmasy from our prophet, President Monson: "Giving, not getting, brings to full bloom the Christmas spirit. We become more interested in people than things. To feel the true spirit of Christmas, we need to reach beyond ourselves...doing so helps us comprehend the love our Savior has for each one of us."

I love people and love that I get to serve and teach them. I love my Savior and am excited for the extra Christmas spirit this month in proclaiming His message to the world.
Rejoice this month.
And have a happy second Advent on Sunday. J

--Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

11-15-13: Gratitude and Missionized Kid Stories

Most of you are familiar with "The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf." If not, please go find some of your lost childhood and then come back and continue reading.

My dear companion, Sister K, is now the main character in a spin-off, "The Little Girl Who Cried Transferred."

Yes, that's right, even though President Kosak told us three weeks ago that she was leaving, she is staying for her seventh transfer in this area (about 9 months so far) and our third transfer together. Shocked but thrilled are we. I am so stoked to spend Christmas with her and though I haven't had a companion for so long before, I am glad that it is her. The only embarrassing part is that she keeps telling people that she is leaving and writing cards and saying goodbye (this is her second time believing she was leaving) and other sentimental things only to show up at church and say “PYSCH! I'm still here!”

No one is going to believe her next transfer when she really has to go.

In honor of Thanksgiving, which we don't celebrate here, I thought I'd write a gratitude list for you all about my week and my life. I am therefore thankful for...

·  Making it home despite getting lost 20 minutes away from our apartment in the dark. Somehow because of varying bahn and bus schedules and paths, it took an hour and a half for us to get home from somewhere where we can ride our bikes to in twenty minutes. But the important thing is that we made it home before 9:30. Into our warm apartment. J
·  We had a good street display this week and I got to use my chalking skills again to share my testimony. It's a little harder wearing gloves though.
·  I saw my dad. Wait, scratch that. I SAW MY DAD! Yes, that-person-who-raised-me-that-I- haven't-seen-in-10-months dad. That was weird. But so great! He was here for work and got permission from my mission president to say hello, so we ate dinner together and he came to church and met all of the wonderful people I get to serve and it was just a crazy missionary experience that missionaries don't usually have but brought an extra dosage of Ammon Joy (see last week’s letter) regardless.
·  Funny people. Or maybe they aren't that funny but somehow you end up laughing because they are drunk and alternate between crying, complimenting your skirt, and questioning the authenticity of your American citizenship. Oh the people we see!
·  Our constant supply of new investigators. Even though most of them don't stay L. Like the miracle Cameroonians from last week. But we can get them back.
·  Sister K staying for another 6 weeks!
·  Christmas is coming! And coldness and darkness. But Christmas!
·  Canned pumpkin. Gifted from my mother through my father to me. Score.
·  Our nice apartment.
·  A living prophet and apostles who give us revelation and direction from God.
·  Living with three other wonderful sisters. I love them so much.
·  Getting to serve as an STL (Sister Training Leader) and work with other sister missionaries in our program.
·  Church! I love going to church and feeling uplifted for the upcoming week and I love that the church is the same all over the world and how you always have a family in the Gospel.
·  Music. Especially Christmas music. Which is not yet played to excess, but simply to satisfaction.
·  Chocolate.
·  Socks. Especially in winter and in cold apartments.
·  Friends J
·  My family. My grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and especially my wonderful brothers and parents and dog.
·  Laughter.
·  Scriptures.
·  Quark. (a German dairy product--sort of a cross between non-lumpy cottage cheese and yogurt)
·  Books. Even though the only books I read right now are the scriptures. But I still love them.
·  Words. Connected with the above point.
·  Letters and emails.
·  A fridge.
·  The ability to remember and the faith to look forward to the future.
·  Education.
·  Shoes (that should probably have gone with socks).
·  A wonderful mission president.
·  Prayer! And especially answers to prayer.
·  Health!

I think that was a good sampling of some of the feelings in my heart. I am just dang blessed all the time. I really know that God gives us people and experiences in our lives exactly when we need them so that we can be lifted up and so that our faith can grow. Also I realize that two of my bullet points are not grammatically correct in how I introduce them, but it is too late. Actually it's not. But. Yes.

So that was my ode to Thanksgiving. Just spreading some Thanksgiving cheer among people who understand Pilgrims and Indians and what really went down. And the cherry on top comes from Elder Gordon Watts: "The depth and the willingness with which we serve is a direct reflection of our gratitude."

I know our gratitude increases when we are actively involved in expressing it. I am so happy to show every day how grateful I am for Jesus Christ and His Gospel.

--Sister Claire Michelle Woodward

Sister Woodward and her dad