Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Three Weeks and Counting

Dear Family and Friends,
The exciting news for today is that today is my 3 week mark. Exactly three weeks from right now should be in Phoenix. I'm pretty excited. Actually, more than excited. I really can't wait to get to Phoenix and start using everything that I'm learning here. Other news of interest is that now I am in a threesome. Well, sort of. There is a new Hna in our room who is a solo sister, which means she is with Elders for classes, but then for gym time, and p-day and Sunday she is with us. She's from Toronto Canada, but her parents are from Peru, so she's a native Spanish speaker. I can't even begin to tell you what a blessing that is for me. I've really been working on speaking Spanish as much as possible, and I learn so much when I practice with her. It's pretty great. It's also interesting because she has grown up within the Latin culture, so I'm getting a chance to get used to how Latino culture works and I'm learning more about the people I'll be working with from her than I had ever expected to learn in the MTC.

Now for an amusing story. We were practicing teaching the other day in class and we were talking about the baptizing of infants. Well, in Spanish there are two words, one is infante, meaning baby, the other is Infanta, meaning princess of Spain. Yours truly taught that Spanish princesses didn't need baptism. *grin*. Better here than out in Phoenix. The winner this week was in the TRC when one of our Elders had a discussion on the forgiving of fish (pecado= sins, pescado=fish... don't mix them up).

This week I also got new insight into what that little green dot on your name tag (signifying that you are an international arrival) will and wont get you. I got all the joys of being yanked out of class, but come to find out I missed out on the cool part. One day part of the native class next door was missing and upon asking we were informed that all the international missionaries get invited for a day on Temple Square. So apparently that green dot will get you parasite pills but not a trip to temple square. I wouldn't have minded too much, but some of the people who got invited were Americans who also happened to report from elsewhere. Alas. No worries though, I've been there before, so I wasn't really upset, but I did make sure to whine a little about the indignity.

I'm currently putting my musical training to good use here. No really, I am. And I haven't touched a flute. (Mostly because the flute here wins the award for the nastiest flute I've ever set eyes on. One look at it and I was convinced it could give me rabies. So I politely declined and decided I'd wait to get to Phoenix to try and get my hands on a flute). I've played piano for tons of things. Once they find out you play piano here you play for everything. I've actually enjoyed it, and have everyone fooled into thinking that I know what I'm doing. I feel pretty sneaky. The other way I am using my music is I'm working on helping our Elders get ready for our farewell hymn for Sacrament Meeting. Each leaving district traditionally sings a hymn in sacrament meeting the week they leave. After multiple sub par weeks of farewell songs (Latinos and 19 year old boys are not known apparently for their understanding of intonation) the Elders informed me that they want to sound good for our song. So we're singing Lead Kindly Light, and I'm working on them to help them learn the parts. It's an interesting experience, and I was surprised to discover that they aren't as tone-deaf as I thought.

Also, another cool note from the week, Elder Nelson came for our Tuesday Night Devotional. It was amazing. I really really enjoyed it and just about lit my paper on fire trying to take notes as fast as I could. He had so many good thoughts on teaching and working and how to be a good missionary. It was so cool.

Okay, now to respond quickly to peoples notes.
I'm glad to hear Grandpa Messinger is doing better. I hope you keep feeling and getting better!
Grandma and Grandpa Okeson, CONGRATS ON YOUR MISSION CALL!!! I would send you a letter, but it won't arrive until after you leave, and then I didn't know where you will be when you get back. Also, enjoy Israel. That sounds so cool! Also thanks for the President Monson quote, it was really timely and I really enjoyed it. And Grandpa, sorry you didn't get to run your race, but it does sound like not running it was probably better...
Tanner - I'm glad you enjoyed your camp out, and that you had so much fun playing capture the flag.
Morgan - I'm still super jealous of all these naps you keep taking. Take one for me some time!
Todd - Well, there's always next year for Volleyball. That spike you told me about sounds pretty sweet, I wish I could have been there to see it. did you get any good pictures for me? Also I thought your story about Ollie was really cool, I'm so proud of what a good example you are. Some day you will be an amazing missionary.
Mom - I'm glad things are going well for you with everything for Relief Society. I certainly know how you feel wishing you had someone to speak for you. I feel like that so often when I try to teach in Spanish. I'm learning though that when we act in faith and just open our mouths then the Lord will bless us and put the words that we need in our mouths. It's pretty cool, but scary too, opening your mouth when you don't know what will come out is hard to do, atleast for me. Also, I can't hear the football games, but I do hear the bell tower.
Trent - I sent you a letter, so you should get it soon. I sent it to Preston, so here's to hoping you don't get transferred. Also, I've run into tons of people who know you here. And your old roommate, Elder Hatch, says hi. He said he loved reading your e-mails.
I'm learning so much right now. The days go by in a blur, and by the time I get done in the evening I can barely believe that it's only been one day. My Spanish is slowly improving, and this week I practiced talking with a sister from South America and she told me my Spanish was really good. It pretty much made my week. As you can probably tell from my letter, the better my Spanish gets the more I forget how English works, it's pretty amusing. I don't even know what language I'm speaking in anymore.

My time is almost up, so I guess I'll finish up. Missionary work is amazing. This week has been such a roller coaster (Hna Cannon got hurt this week so we spent more time, again, in the clinic) but things always work out. I know that. Thank you all for the letters you send and the support you are to me, it really makes a difference. Also, just so everyone knows, we have been encouraged only to write on P-days, so if I get a letter after dinner on Tuesdays then you won't hear back until the next week.
I love you all and pray for you.
Have a wonderful week!
Hermana Okeson

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cabin Fever

Hi Family, Friends, and Fan Club! *grin*
As you can probably guess from the title of my letter, things at the MTC have been crazy this week. The biggest news being that I've now got less than a month left before I leave for Arizona!!! My month mark was on Friday, and then my 1 month left at the MTC mark was on Saturday. I'm getting pretty excited to head out, and starting to really get antsy. I think we all are. It's especially hard on the Elders spending all day in the class room. So, after being here one month I thought I would share a list of a few things I've learned after a month at the MTC:
1. Letters are like manna from heaven. Seriously. You all would not believe just how awesome it is to get letters, it can make any day better.
2. Always test your salad dressing before you put it on your salad. They have some pretty nasty ones here.
3. The eggs at breakfast wouldn't be able to tell a chicken from a giraffe.
4. Personal scripture study time after gym time looks a whole lot like nap time if you aren't careful.
5. Studying the scriptures out in the sun on the grass seems like a good idea at first... but may not actually be such a good idea.
6. It's not good enough to pray to feel the Spirit, or to pray to speak your language unless you are doing everything you can to make it happen.
7. Only you can control your attitude.
8. Missions are 99.5% attitude and .5% what actually happens.
9. The gift of tongues is real, I can speak way more Spanish now, and far more fluently than I have every been able to before in my life. It is so cool!
10. This is God's work.
This first month has really been a roller coaster, but I feel like I have learned so much and I am really enjoying life here. We're working really really hard, and I feel like I'm finally starting to see progress. Week five, from what I had been warned is a rough week, because you feel like you've been in the MTC forever, and you still feel like you have forever left. Luckily now it's really starting to feel like the downward slope and I'm getting pretty excited to leave.
I have some time, and my immediate family didn't ask a whole lot of questions, so I thought I would answer one from my Grandma and Grandpa Okeson that I thought would make for an interesting addition to the letter. They wrote and told me about a series of events where their schedule didn't turn out as planned, but it ended up being for the best. Then they asked me if I've seen that so far in my mission.
The easy answer is, yes, every day. It seems like things at the MTC are made up of so many little things that just happen to line up perfectly but may not have been exactly as you first thought they ought to turn out. The biggest example being getting transferred at the very beginning of my time here. It was really a pain to have to move rooms, and districts, and trying to get to know a new companion after already starting to settle in to my first district and get used to my first companion. But, it really has turned out for the best. I've really grown to care about all the Elders in my District and I just have enjoyed serving with them so much. The real blessing has been my companion. I really feel so blessed to be serving with her and to get to work with her for the next month. I feel like I am learning so much from her every day and that we're really starting to work well together as a companionship. It's pretty cool. I've also been blessed because one of my MTC teachers had to deal with a lot of problems from migraines on her mission, and she has been so good to talk to and work with. It's really been such a blessing to me.
Now for some thoughts on learning another language. I've reached that odd spot where I don't really know what is happening anymore in English or in Spanish. When I try and speak in English, Spanish comes out, and when I'm aiming to only use Spanish I hear English instead, and then the rest of the time I can't think of the words I want in either language. It's pretty comical. Hna Cannon and I spend a lot of time each day looking at each other going "I don't know what I want to say in any language". Our teachers tell us it's a good thing, but I sure feel ridiculous when I don't know how to communicate anymore in Spanish or in English. I'm making progress though, we have started eating meals with the native speakers, and I feel like I can keep up with the conversations, although I'm still a little slow to reply. Some countries are easier to understand than others. The Elder from Panama is still completely impossible to understand because he drops syllables and cuts things out like crazy. Hna Cannon does way better understanding him than me because she lived in Puerto Rico for 6 years and they speak the craziest Spanish of all, so after that nothing is difficult.
I have 6 more minutes... I feel like I don't have much to tell you all, because so much of our days run together here. Oooh, for Relief Society this week they had Susan W. Tanner come speak. That was pretty awesome, and I really enjoyed hearing her. That and Dani came and surprised me again which was also awesome. We also had a really really good fireside on Sunday night, the highlight of which was when one of the sisters who was speaking got up and did a day at the MTC in song. It was hilarious. I wish I could have recorded it or something. It was so funny.
Also, I've gotten questions from multiple people, so I thought I would just answer this in a note that goes to everyone. My favorite things to get in care packages are snack foods. I love getting anything, but I'm working hard to stay extra healthy on my mission, so things like nuts, dried fruit, gold fish and things like that are extra appreciated. Of course letters are the best and so really I am just happy to get any letters. Those really do make my day.
I love and miss you all. Thanks for all the prayers in my behalf, I'm feeling way better this week.
Hna Okeson

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tender Mercies

Hi Family and Friends,
This week has been a rough one. I've been sick the whole time I've been at the MTC, but this past week really has been the crowning jewel. If I had been writing you all this time yesterday I would have entitled the letter, Hna Okeson's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week. But today I'm feeling far more optimistic.
Since getting here I've been fighting the on going cold that seems to sneak away only to come back with full force again. I finally thought I had beat it away on Wednesday night, but by Sunday night I was feeling it again. Monday morning I woke up and just felt awful. Awful enough to let Hna Cannon talk me into going into the Health Clinic here again. I went once and was not amused, and therefor had decided that I'd show them and just not go there again. If nothing else, a mission teaches you to never say never. I got an appointment scheduled for Monday afternoon and then spent the day in bed, alternating between oblivion and deranged musings about what was really wrong with me. Turns out I just have a very sneaky sinus infection. So now I am on all sorts of exciting medication, and the world has a new look to it. Slightly happier, and a little fuzzy around the edges. It's some pretty awesome medication.
My favorite of the medication that I'm taking is some stuff to help me sleep. That was courtesy of Danielle's father in law who is in a Branch Presidency here (and Dani came and surprised me Sunday at Relief Society which probably ranks as my biggest tender mercy of the week, because prior to that I was ready to just curl in a ball and be done. Seeing her was the extra push I needed to start off this week, and every time I think about it I still can't help but smile.) Now, back to the sleeping stuff. I was warned that some missionaries, upon taking this experienced hallucinations or other thrilling things. I dutifully warned my companion and the other sisters in my room about it and told them if I started acting like a Pirate, or like I was flying or anything else crazy that it wasn't my fault. That warning resulted in them all watching me with excited looks on their faces while I took that pill before going to bed. Much to their disapointment it just knocked me out, although I distinctly remember thinking before I fell asleep that I wanted to yell something at the top of my lungs that was completely crazy and then blame it on the drugs in the morning. Luckily the medication kicked in pretty fast after that and I don't remember anything else.
My next amusing story for the week (sorry this e-mail is short, I feel a little groggy and putting together coherent sentences takes every ounce of concentration I have, so if this ends up sounding crazy, I'm sorry... it all makes sense in my head) okay back to my story. My next story actually happened at the end of P-day last week. We were having District review after the Tuesday night devotional (which was absolutely AMAZING) and in walked a new Elder who had arrived early from some foreign country (I surmised that because I recognized that the poor sucker had a green dot... but I didn't think much of it because he looked awfully white and had a western last name). At the end of the review Brother Jurgens (one of the branch presidency members) asked this new elder to pray... in Spanish. I remember thinking, poor sucker, that's what you get for showing up early. So this Elder started praying, and as I listened first I thought he had a speech impediment, all of his last syllables sounded funny and he was slurring his words together in bizarre ways. As the prayer progressed on I realized it wasn't him with the impediment, it was me. HE WAS A NATIVE SPEAKER! Yeah, talk about humbling. Suddenly I realized I have a lot more to learn to be able to speak and understand Spanish. I caught most of the prayer, but I really had to concentrate.
Okay, and to end, because I only have a few more minutes, I thought I would explain why I titled my e-mail, tender mercies. This week really was a rough one, I spent a lot of time in bed and really didn't want to do much. But each day there was something that happened that made me feel like Heavenly Father was really watching out for me. Seeing Danielle in Relief Society was one of them, getting letters from all of you was another, and so many other little things. My favorite was an experience I had on Wednesday. Tuesday night as I was falling asleep I remember craving pears like crazy, but we've never had pears here so I didn't think much of it. Wednesday morning, for the first and last time I've ever seen in the cafeteria here, there were pears! It wasn't much, but it made me realize that as missionaries we are blessed so much.
I'm pretty much out of time, so I'll say goodbye. Have a wonderful week. I love and miss you all. Sorry if I don't get many of you written back today, once I finish this I'm going back to bed until dinner.
Love, Hermana Okeson

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Conference Week

Hi Family and Friends!

First off, I want to thank you again for another great week of letters and support. Yesterday you all blew the rest of the Elders in my district out of the water with 1 card, 1 package, and 10, that's right, 10 pages of dearelder letters. It was pretty awesome. The package from Anne was quite fun and my whole district had a great time reading the laffy taffy jokes together before our afternoon class.

Second, I thought I would share the first, and what sadly for you won't be the last, nerdy missionary joke I've picked up here. Someone told it at a Large Group Meeting last friday, and I'll write it in Spanish, because it's funnier that way, and then I'll provide a translation... ready? Cual es la differencia entre una perra y una novia de un missionario? (what is the difference between a pear and a missionaries girlfriend.)Una, es perra, y otra no esperra. (One is a pear, and the other doesn't wait... see I told you it's better in Spanish... just humor me.)

Next up I thought I would share an interesting experience, this week as we were waiting for a fireside Sunday night I got contacted by none other than an Elder Swendsen! Nothing like running into family in the MTC! It was fun to see him, and hopefully I'll get to run into him a few more times before he leaves for the MTC down in Lima.

Also, I thought I would continue for you the epic of what happens when you report to the MTC from a foreign country. I recieved a note telling me that I had to report for a dentist appointment here in the MTC. I thought it was funny, but since most of my dentist appointments consist in the dentist telling me I have pretty teeth, I thought I'd oblige, because what did I have to loose. I showed up at the clinic at the same time as a bunch of missionaries from Russia and from Mexico. I got to practice my Spanish with the Mexican Elders, which was fun as I tried to explain to them what my family is doing in Suzhou China. Eventually it was my turn to go for the appointment and I walked into a room where a dentist who probably knew Moses proceeded to ask me in incredibly broken Spanish
"Sabes que es un dentista"
"Quierro ver tus dientes"
"Okay, I've never had a cavity in my life"
"Tu hables ingles muy bueno"
"Yeah, like it was my first language, actually I'm American"
"Where did you get your dental work done"
"here in Provo"
"you can go"
It was fairly comical and my companion and I left laughing and congratulating ourselves on escaping a class lesson on how to conjugate verbs in the preterite.

Speaking of Spanish. Yesterday was day one of 100% speak your language. So now we are trying to speak Spanish all the time. It's going fairly well, and I can already see the difference, although I'm hoping that soon the whole district will be completely on board because it's hard to make it work when not everyone is willing to really work and try to only speak Spanish. That said, we as a district are really starting to buckle down. I think it was a combination of making it to week 3 and having a Elder transfer out. I think either would have helped, but the two together really made a difference. It was a rough go of it with that particular Elder, and while we all wanted to help him, he didn't want to be helped, he's now transferred to the District he thought he would be happier in and is still miserable. I talked to him some in the lunch room on Sunday and just felt bad for him, hopefully he figures things out soon or I don't know that he'll last much longer.

Saturday night we had a rather interesting event. As I was getting ready for bed the fire alarm went off. Next thing I knew all the Hna's in the building were being herded out and we got to wait outside while they sent people in to see what had happened. Turns out some Sister really really really burnt a bag of popcorn. Bad enough to explain the layer of smoke on the floor below us. Gross. Actually, it felt kind of nice to sit outside on the grass in my pajamas while our building was "burning down." I certainly took my time going back in, I was enjoy sitting out in the night air so much it was hard to go back in the building.

Now to actually tell you a little about conference weekend. It really is a very special experience here at the MTC. One of my teachers told us that it would be General Conference on steroids. She wasn't joking. I absolutely loved it, and got so much from the talks. It was interesting because I could swear that half the speakers had been hanging outside of our districts classroom taking notes on what they thought each of us needed to hear. We've been working with a practice investigator who really struggles with the concept of Faith, and Hna Cannon and I decided that that was what we were going to focus on for a few days, and low and behold there were so many good talks about faith. It was really cool. For those who were wondering, none of the Elders in my district sang in the Priesthood session. Technically that's probably my fault, since I managed to share the cold that I got with everyone in my district. Everyone by Hna Cannon, go think on that one. Clearly she has an immune system of steel.

For those lucky enough to be traipsing Japan right now, I was glad to get your letters, it sounds like you are having a really good time. I can't wait to hear from you about the whole trip and for you to send me pictures. *hint hint*

Elder Okeson, congrats on the baptisms. I cheered out loud for you when I read that. Also, today at lunch the elders gave me your letter! I was so excited to get it. I'm actually in the process of writing you one, and hopefully I'll get it out soon, although I think I'm going to send it to your mission home because I'm a little worried about where to send it and I know if I send it to your mission home then you'll get it some time. That said, Mom if you have a better idea get on dear elder and send me a note so I know exactly where to send his letter. If I don't get anything by tomorrow at dinner I'll probably just post the letter and call it good.

Things here are really going so well. I feel like I am settling in here and really starting to get things figured out. It's interesting because there are some really rough moments each day, but by the time I go to bed I'm always happy and glad to be here. We are learning so much and the language is going well. I actually feel more comfortable now teaching in Spanish than in English. Mostly because then I have to keep things simple and I can't over explain myself. I also just am really getting to like the language. I only read in Spanish now for anything (besides letters that is, and those any language is good).

I really can't believe that I've almost been here a month, it's flying by. Our Elders are finally maturing and so we can get things done with them, and we are really making progress. Most of what I learned from studying Spanish in school is completely back, and now I feel like I am actually more comfortable with a lot of things now than I ever was in high school.

Take care everyone and have a wonderful week. Keep sending the letters, they make my day and I've been doing my best to try and write back when you send them.
Lots of love,
Hermana Okeson