Tuesday, January 12, 2016

78 - Giving Thanks For My Mission

I gave my homecoming talk the Sunday before Thanksgiving. I recorded it and finally finished typing it out. It's really not my favorite talk in the world... but it's ok, and I took the time to type it all out. So here ya go! This is my could-have-been-better-prepared-but-still-inspired homecoming talk!

***
I’m so grateful for the sacrament. It helped to calm me significantly even though I’m still a little bit nervous. I’d just like to say, thank you all for being here, and all those who came to support me and welcome me home. It is wonderful to be with you today as a return missionary in the ward that I grew up in, with an arsenal of gospel experiences to recount. I now have a few other wards that I call home, but this will forever be my first home, and whoever coined the phrase “homecoming” couldn’t have been more spot on. I feel at home.
A few facts about my mission. I was called to serve in the South Dakota Rapid City Mission. When we looked it up, it turned out it was the largest land mass mission in the United States, save Alaska. But Alaska’s a different animal entirely. So, actually, because of the growth of the church in that area – in the South Dakota Rapid City Mission – actually they split the mission! They redrew the boundaries when I was serving there, and the mission headquarters was changed, and so now it is called the North Dakota Bismarck Mission. So I returned home from the North Dakota Bismarck Mission.
I served in three different locations. I served first in Bismarck, North Dakota. That’s where the temple is, and it’s the capital of North Dakota. And then I served in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. That was the biggest city in the mission. But now it’s not in the mission, since the boundaries have gotten redrawn. So I am grateful to have served there while I could. And then the last place that I served was Williston, North Dakota, and that is the oil boom town. That’s where everybody was going to North Dakota for work because of the oil boom. I loved all of these places where I served.
I had, I like to say, seven-eleven companions on my mission. Explaining that, in our mission we have transfers that last six weeks, and so usually you’re with a companion for six weeks. But I was with four of my companions for less than that – three weeks or less. So depending on how you count them I either had seven full-fledged companions, or eleven if you count those other four.
Also, the mission gets very cold, as you can imagine. At this time last year I was experiencing negative temperatures when you include wind-chill. It was probably about... I think it was seven degrees the morning of Thanksgiving when I was in Sioux Falls. And that was one of the coldest times, thank goodness. November was very very cold. After I received my mission call, I remember that Fargo, this place called Fargo – which I now know of well, but at the time I didn’t – it reached this low, lower than Canada, and people were pointing at me saying, “that’s where you’re going, good luck!” Thanks... I’m just glad I flew south for the winter. I was in South Dakota verses North Dakota, so that was good. But it also was a mild winter, so blessings there as well.
So those are a few facts about my mission, and today I’ve been given the topic of living in thanksgiving daily. And as soon as I was given that topic, I remembered last Thanksgiving when I was trying to prepare some sort of thanksgiving message to share with the family we were eating dinner with, and I found a scripture that relates just perfectly with this principle. This scripture is found in the middle of Alma. It’s in Chapter 34, and at this point, Alma and Amulek – who have such companionship unity by the way. They’re great companions. I’ve learned a lot from them and have found a new appreciation for their companionship – they were preaching to the poor people of the Zoramites who got cast out of their synagogues because of their poverty. And they’re asking Alma how they can possibly worship God if they are cast out of their synagogues! And Alma is super happy, because he sees that they’re teachable. He then proceeds to tell them the sermon that we commonly know which is about faith, comparing the word to a seed. And then Amulek, he adds the testimony to that of his companion, telling them that they should worship wherever and whenever they choose! That it doesn’t have to be on Sunday. It doesn’t have to be a holiday, or any specific occasion. It doesn’t have to be Thanksgiving to give thanks. He says to them.
“My beloved bretheren. I desire that ye should remember these things, and that ye humble yourselves, even to the dust, and worship God in whatsoever place ye may be in, in spirit and in truth. And here’s the key part. And that you live in thanksgiving daily for the many mercies and blessings which he doth bestow upon you.
Brothers and sisters, I have seen so many mercies and blessings that have been granted to me over the course of my mission. And today, I would just like to dedicate this time to describe some of the key experiences that I’ve had that have made my mission so unique and personal to me, something that I am so blessed to have experienced.
I was blessed for many reasons for Heavenly Father sending me to Bismarck as my first area. It was a hard area, as far as the work goes. We did not teach a whole lot of people. We didn’t have less actives who would see us regularly, and we didn’t have investigators who would see us regularly. But when you are in an area where you are compromised and have to really get on your knees and ask and be directed, then you are guided by the Holy Ghost probably more than any other time. And without that experience first, then I don’t think I would have been as close to the spirit in order to help people in areas where there was work.
So, Heavenly Father, he knows. He knows what you need and I found joy in the journey as much as I was able, and I tried to apply that principle of living in thanksgiving daily. So I found things to be grateful for.
I was so grateful for the apartment. We had a very nice apartment, and we stayed with two other sisters who were in the other ward (there were two wards in Bismarck), and they were awesome, and at no point in time was there any disagreements in-between us sisters as long as I was there. What a blessing. And we were so close to the temple. I’ve been privileged to attend the temple five times while I was serving in my mission, and many many of my companions, they had never been to the temple because they had never served around there, and they didn’t get the chance to go basically until the time they went home. And so, I’m just super grateful.
I was very close to leadership in Bismarck. All the leadership – my sister training leader and my zone leaders – were there, and as a new missionary, I was very very green, and I just soaked up information like a sponge that couldn’t hold all the information, and they were that ultimate reservoir for me. They were always there for me. They comforted me in times where I felt inadequate, which often happens as a new missionary. And it was such a blessing to live with the sister training leader. I grew a fond relationship with her, and she always cared about me, and I really really looked up to her. She was my inspiration and my model of what kind of missionary I wanted to be. Because, as a new missionary, you’re kind of floundering about, ‘What’s the right way?’ ‘How do I do missionary work?’ ‘What is the right way for me?’ And, she was very similar to me. She was very dignified and yet, was so herself, her silly self, and that, that is what I wanted. I wanted to still be myself, but still be a representative of Jesus Christ and she was the perfect example for me.
There were many many miracles that occurred during my time in Bismarck. It was not manifest in baptisms, but it was manifest in those small and simple things.
One miracle, that I count as a miracle, was meeting somebody named Tracy. Now the missionaries, they met Tracy before I came to the area, but only just before. She is a mother of three young boys, who at the time were four, six, and eight. So three young boys, and they reminded me of my brothers. They just, they played well together, they laughed, and they were just so funny and quirky, and I just loved their family. –The boys were crazy.. that’s my brothers right there. And, I just saw Tracy as this mother who just wanted to be such a great mother and she was. But she had so many struggles with the father of the boys. They were never married, but they were separated. They had been separated for about three years, and she was struggling on what to do, as far as to go back with him or to continue living on her own when she was working like, three jobs. It was insane what she was going through. And it seemed that every time we showed up at her house – because, she told us to just drop by. Scheduled things didn’t really work for her and drop bys did. So, every time we dropped by it seemed to be in a moment of need.
One time it was after a funeral with one of her close friends, and it was such a sacred experience to be there and comfort her with the words of the gospel. Another time it was when she was really struggling financially, and we had received permission from our bishop – we brought it up that she was struggling and that she was trying her best to progress. We got permission to bring her groceries and... the look on her face... of amazement and surprise and gratitude... it made me want to cry. I’m so grateful for all the times that we have been her tender mercy. She is that person I still pray for that I met in Bismarck.
Another experience that I’ve had was brought about and made possible by being obedient to something that I said I would do. I have a testimony of putting things into practice as soon as you learn them. I was on exchanges with Sister Christiansen, my sister training leader. And what exchanges are is you’re with your assigned companion for those six weeks, but the sister training leader, just to switch things up and help companions learn and things like that, you do an exchange for one day, and you pick a focus on what you want to learn and then you switch back at the end. It’s really an incredible experience, and miracles happen on exchanges. I also have a testimony of that.
I learned from this particular exchange that it is inspired to follow the schedule that you had written down the night before, that if you follow the schedule as you planned it and be in the places that you previously designed to be, then you will be blessed.
So I was debating – this was the day after exchanges – I turned to my companion, Sister Gray, and I said, “Well, we still need to finish this and that. We can do it now. I mean, we’re already at the apartment.” She put me in my place, thank goodness! She said, “don’t you wanna do what we wrote down?” And I said, “Yes, let’s do that.”
We were on our way to try and see a potential, a potential investigator, somebody who we had tracted into. We weren’t there for that person. We were there for the people across the street.
We went to this street, and there was a family, back with a million groceries in the back of their truck, a whole lot of groceries. And they had a little girl that looked about three, and she had a rare chromosome deletion I later found out. Her twenty-third chromosome, part of it was deleted, and it kind of looked like she had down syndrome or something like that, and... my heart just... I felt such a connection to her, because of... well, Marshall. She reminded me of Marshall in a huge way, just her sweet spirit. Her dad was handing her groceries and sometimes he would take out big things in the grocery bag so there’d only be like, a few ounces of weight so that she could help with the groceries.
We asked if they needed help. Of course, you know, “Ah, no no we got it,” you know. But their family just captivated me. We knocked on the door. There was no answer. Even though we were denied that opportunity to go and help, I just started pickin’ up groceries and bringing them into their yard. And I started talking about Marshall and how he has spina bifida and asked them about their daughter, and they also had a son who was about two, the girl is actually five, and the two-year-old, it seemed like he had down syndrome. And I was able to tell them that their children were beautiful, from somebody who actually meant what they said, and I think, now I’m not for sure, but I really feel that they just needed that. They weren’t interested in learning about the gospel, but that was such a tender mercy for me and I believe it was a tender mercy for them as well. And I hold that experience as one of the most sacred on my mission.
The next experience I would like to share is a principle about diligence. Diligence brings blessings. If I were to define diligence for you, it would be consistent effort. It doesn’t always mean that you will have success right away. But, it will bring you the blessings that will inevitably come from your consistent effort.
I came up with a saying actually because – skipping ahead – Williston was kind of the bread basket of the mission. A looot of baptisms happened there. Our area was really booming! And one of our leaders called us and said, “what are you doing to make this happen?” And we said, “we’re not doing anything. It’s the Lord who’s doing all the work.” And, the spirit guided my words to say, “Sometimes there’s feast, and sometimes there’s famine. But there is always diligence.”
So in Bismarck, we tracted a lot and Sister Gray, she was a pretty new missionary as well, and she came from an area where she maybe knocked on a dozen doors. She had not experienced much tracting, and it was a hard hard thing for her. And she struggled with tears a lot even, because of it. But we just kept on working through it. We were together for just one transfer but most of our miracles happened within that transfer, and most of the growth within ourselves I would say.
At the end of our companionship, at the end of that transfer, we were knocking on doors, we were trying to locate this less active, and we tried that door and there was still a little bit of time left in the night, and we said, “oh, let’s knock a couple more. We went to the next one. Eh. It was a person. They weren’t really interested. But the next one we knocked on. A teenage girl answered, and we had a conversation with her, and we asked if her father was home. While he was getting ready to come to the door we kept on chatting with her and it seemed to be going great. And the father came to the door. He was so warm and welcoming. He let us into their home.
...Brothers and Sisters... this was a family of eleven kids... who weren’t lds! And seven of them lived at home! And we were just.. we were in shock! And they had just moved here, and they took the gospel very well, they were educated, like all of their children had like, Jewish names, like, biblical names, they had like, church set up at home type things, and they were very very religious, and just.... holy cow! We just found this family from tracting!?
We shared just the first part of the restoration because time was short. We set up a return appointment – which they kept by the way! That never happens. And we just, we got out of the lesson and we just said a prayer of gratitude right there. Oh! Stop the car. We need to say a prayer right now and thank Heavenly Father for this blessing that was undoubtedly because of our diligence.
I never really got to teach that family. I did for the return appointment, but for that return appointment I had received a call beforehand letting me know that I was getting transferred. So my heart was kind of ripped out because their youngest, their five-year-old, she thought that I looked like her older sister or cousin or someone, and she grabbed onto me and said, “don’t go!” And then, she’s five so she turned to my companion and said, “you go home!” Haha, her mom of course got onto her, “don’t you say that! Don’t say that! You apologize!” So that was kind of funny.
They were a great family. Later on they did say, no, I don’t think we are ready to come to church yet, and I don’t think we can meet anymore, but it was good while it lasted. And they are great formers to follow up with. And that moves me onto Sioux Falls.
My second area was my area that I spent winter in. It was hard, the winter, but what made it sweet was the people. I loved the people in Sioux Falls. They were an incredible blessing.
When I got to Sioux Falls, I arrived and my to-be companion and her previous companion were like, speaking in Sign Language for like, a little bit like, “see you at home!” And stuff like that and I’m like, are you just doing that for fun or... Then she turns to me and she’s like, “By the way, you’re basically serving in the deaf ward.”
I, screamed. I knew that I was going to help the deaf people. Even though I was not called to a deaf speaking mission, I knew that I was going to use the talents that were within me, and help those people who communicated in sign language. And that was an incredible confirmation.
We had this one less active/recent convert – she was baptized then she kind of slacked on coming to church for one reason or another and she was a delight to work with. Her name is Sunshine, and she has such and incredible spirit. And teaching her, she voiced very well, so teaching her was a great learning tool. It was a great refresher for all those sign language years of looking at sign language but not really doing sign language that I was able to refresh and improve on my signing.
I had one couple that is in Sioux Falls that were really people that I think of even now. That is Henry and Elizabeth. And they’re not baptized, but we taught them and they progressed so well. And Satan worked so hard on them. I know that they will be baptized one day. One of the most profound experiences was Henry when he prayed for the first time. His grandmother was killed in a car accident, and so he was angry at God for about seven years. The thing that softened his heart was the birth of this baby daughter, and she was about six months old when we came, and we tracted into them as well actually. And when he prayed for the first time, that was about as big as baptism. That was an incredible experience, and I will never forget that.
And then I was transferred again, and I went to Williston. When I first got to Williston, I was serving in the second and third wards, and in third ward boundaries there was a little town that was called Ray, and I absolutely adored Ray. It was a pleasure to work there. It was cool because when we went to Ray we stayed with a family that had four girls who were either of mission age or close to being mission age, and we were able to take them out and inspire them. And we were able to meet people in Ray that really needed to be brought back into the gospel.
But the most distinguishing thing about Williston was the amount of baptisms that happened and who I’ve taught there. We had eight baptisms. And that, is a lot. And, I always wanted to see baptisms on my mission, but wow, eight baptisms! And something that’s interesting is that Williston, for some reason, I think the work factor has lots to do with it, there were tons of Africans in Williston! And five of the baptisms that I had on my mission were African. And one was Pilipino, one was white, and one, was deaf.
And brothers and sisters. Seeing the baptism of someone who is deaf is an incredible experience. Because, as you are, you have five senses, and you are very aware of those senses, and when you are baptized you’re just so excited, and you want to express yourself, but you are self-conscious about all the things that you say and do. But when you’re deaf? When she came up out of the water, this older lady, she was laughing. She was laughing and applauding out of sheer joy, and it was such a beautiful experience. And I know that Sioux Falls, that area, it prepared me to teach her. I thought I was maybe done helping the deaf people. I thought, “oh, well, that was a good run,” but no. It was a preparation in order to help Memory become baptized.
And, there’s so many other experiences but, I think my time is about up. But, I’ve loved my mission. I’ve loved the experiences I’ve had on my mission. And pull me aside and I’d be glad to tell you more experiences. But for now I’d just like to bear my testimony in sign language.
*Insert testimony about the atonement in sign language here*

Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer. This is the most important thing to be thankful for. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

77 - It's Good to be Back

It was the big day. October 30th, 2015, my Mom's "happiest day since the day she got married." Nobody really set an alarm because we were all so used to getting up at 6:30, and if we woke up at 7:00 it was all good, because we didn't need to leave for the airport until 9:30.

I was jolted awake. I was having a dream where someone was looking at my pictures on my phone or camera or whatever and it was all happy pictures until they got to pictures of like, burn victims with no skin on them and it freaked them out and freaked me out and shocked me awake. Do I really want to remember that? Well, I guess so, since I typed it out haha. So that was a weird uneasy start to the day.

I showered and put on the same dress that I originally left in. Yes, I totally planned to do that. I then went upstairs to eat breakfast with the others, and also take some bonine because I get motion sick pretty easily. That's to one thing that I hate most about airplanes, the likelihood of me getting sick. Some of the Sisters were commenting that it still didn't feel real, that we were going home, but it felt real to me. I think going home 'with' your companion really helped with that though.

We loaded up our suitcases in their van in the brisk morning of Bismarck, North Dakota. But before we left, we just had to get a picture.




Sister Hawkes LOVES motorcycles, and she has been so excited to get back on one when she gets home. 






And President Hess is a boss and has one. He rode it back into the garage and everything. The sound was quite exciting.



We piled in and were off to the airport. It's so funny the places you are so close to, yet so far away from. The airport wasn't in my area when I was serving in Bismarck and I never went there until flying home, but it was always just fifteen minutes or so away.

The airport will get to know President and Sister Hess very well. They will be regulars every six weeks! picking up new missionaries, then a day later dropping off 'dying' ones. We were quick checking in and didn't have to walk hardly at all to get to the security line and the later terminal. Just up the escalator and we were there! We all hugged President and Sister Hess goodbye before going through security.


The security line went smoothly for all of us, except they had to check my bag because I had a roll of quarters that they couldn't identify clearly with the xray. It's so cool to see the xray of all the stuff in your bag!

Now, it was time to wait for our plane for the scheduled boarding time of 10:37am, but my camera was close to dying and we couldn't have that! So I found a plug and dragged Sister Clegg over to wait with me. 

There is a missionary joke that often times trainers do to their trainees that's pretty funny. Sister Easter did it to me when I was her greenie. We saw a plane in the sky and she asked, "how far away is that plane?" I replied, "Not too far." It wasn't the response she wanted though because she said, "Noooo you're supposed to say a distance! Then I'm supposed to say that no, it's actually seventeen months!"

Now we were sitting at the airport, all these sisters that I was in the MTC with. It was getting closer to boarding time and at a certain point Sister Clegg said:

"How far away is that plane? ...Five minutes! Aaah!"

AAAAHHH!!! That comment punched the crazy realness up a notch!! The five minutes passed super fast and we stood in line with our tickets to board the plane.





We were at the back of the line, so we waited in the in-between tunnel gate thing for a bit before boarding. These are all five of us Sisters! All going home to Louisiana, California, two of us to Utah, and yours truly to Arizona!








That excitement and adrenaline of about to step onto that plane was crazy!!! AAAAHHHH!!!

My duffle bag was pretty massive, but they didn't hold it because they figured that it could squeeze into the overhead compartments. It was a tight squeeze, but it worked. This plane had two seats on each side. I was in seat 5C, significantly in front of all the other missionaries. 

I sat by a women a little older than me and of course, I wouldn't be a true missionary if I didn't open my mouth and say something about why I am on this plane right now next to her! Turns out she's from Utah, born and raised LDS, but then was 'excommunicated' as she put it, but then corrected herself by saying that she just doesn't go to church anymore and she's atheist and she doesn't like to get into the details of why because it offends people. Fair enough. I asked her though what she finds joy and hope in, and she said her job, which is working in mental hospitals for kids. She loves it. She loves seeing the progress that they make. She was glowing as she talked about it. It was really cool!

Pretty much as soon as the plane got all the way up in the air, we began to make our decent. It was only an hour flight to our layover in Minneapolis. I tried to get my duffle bag out myself, but it was crammed in there good and I didn't want to be a big hold up. One of the Elders helped me get my bag.

We got off and it was time to split up and go to our respective gates. Sister Paniagua and Sister Lewis took off immediately because their flight was taking off pretty soon. A quick goodbye was all they could manage to us.

After a bathroom stop, the Elder that was planning to be the follower actually ended up being our leader. The night before, Elder Deeter was saying he knew nothing about airports and that he was lucky to have the same flights home as Sister Hawkes and Sister Clegg, but in the moment of truth, he saw the monitors displaying our destination gates and led the way! I had about half an hour till I had to board the plane for Phoenix. The rest of the Elders and Sisters were very nice- they were in agreement to lead me to my gate, because Elder Merritt's gate was close to mine, and the three going to Utah had over an hour of a layover.

Elder Deeter led us to the tram light rail thing and we rode it for a few stops. They walked me to my gate, F5, and it was time to part ways, for me to be alone, yet surrounded by people. After hugging all the sisters and shaking the elders hands, I found a spot to sit and wait for the remaining fifteen minutes. There wasn't time to buy food, so I'm thankful I snagged a trail mix at the mission home! Yup, I was one of those normal awkward people, just sitting and pouring trail mix into my mouth. When I polished that off and my stomach was happy, I put in my pillowcase the essential items that I might want to take out on the plane. My wallet, my camera, some more trail mix, and a Book of Mormon. I just opened the Book of Mormon when it was 1:17- time to board.

I scooted my heavy duffle bag along, waiting in line. Poor security in little vehicles guys, having to try not to run over all the people which were in more of a massive clump in and not-small hallway instead of in an organized line. When the guy scanned my ticket, I asked him if I should have them hold my bag, if it was too big. He said it should be fine. He was right. This was a bigger plane, three seats on each side, and there was plenty of room. I just put it in one of the row 3 compartments, since I wouldn't be needing to get to it on the flight. 

I assumed my position in my seat-20C. I sat next to two guys. I talked to the guy who was directly next to me, saying that I was about to go home from year-and-a-half mission and see my family for the first time since I left. You could tell that he thought it was ridiculous to have a religious program that kept them from seeing their family for that long. I explained to him about consecration. I also had the opportunity to explain about the Book of Mormon and why it's not in contradiction to 'don't add or take away from these words,' found in the Book of Revelations. He definitely had his guard up, but I just bore my testimony of the Book of Mormon and Jesus Christ. He wasn't receptive to taking the Book of Mormon, but that's ok. He was a nice Christian man.

This flight was longer, three hours. when we were level in the air, I read a chapter of The Book of Mormon. Needed to get my reading in for today! Then I rested on my pillow in front of me as much as possible to prevent sickness as best as possible. I never fell asleep though. Also, the middle aged guy pouring the drinks and giving the snacks, he totally had that gay voice that people do when they are joking... except this was his real voice... and he kinda had some of the mannerisms... so that was weird! It was just bizarre, because I didn't expect just a stereotype to be a real thing. Just a strange observation.

"Ladies and gentleman, we have begun our initial decent. We will be arriving in Phoenix in about twenty-five minutes at approximately 3pm. Please note the two hour time change. Thank you and enjoy the rest of the flight."

I had my eyes closed, the pillow over me to keep me snugly and warm. I didn't look lively, but inside the adrenaline was building! As the time passed, my thoughts were whizzing, and every other thought seemed to be the phrase, "I'm so excited! ......... I'm so excited!....." My feet were tapping on the floor. I was starting to get some butterflies that were making me feel a little nauseous. Whether it was the decent or the adrenaline that was the culprit I don't know. But the nauseousness went away thank goodness. I AM SO EXCITED! This is the moment, the moment you always envision in your head! Even when you're little! Coming off the plane to greet your family for the first time in over a year! I'M SO EXCITED!!!

The plane... touched down. I smiled.

***



Meanwhile, my family was at the terminal, waiting for me, as well as two of my best friends. They all wore their most appropriate outfits, from video game shirts, to shirts I bought them, to just looking nice. I'm sure the anticipation for them was worse than it was for me. They were all excited, and thoughts were spinning in their heads just as they were mine.

"Now all of you can go first," mom said. "I want the very last hug."

There was not a day that went by that mother did not miss her only daughter. This is why this would be the best day since her wedding. She would have her back.



***

The plane came to a stop. In my mind, I planed the best way to go about this. Should I have my camera? Nah. Pillow? ......Probably not. SO! I went up (when I was able) and got my bag, and took some time to stuff my pillow in my bag. I was nearly the last one off.

"You got your pillow?" one of the flight attendants asked.
"Yeah, got it in here, thanks!" It was nice of him to ask.

My heart was so sky high! For some reason, half of the time, I imagined walking down from the stairs of a plane outside and running to my family. Didn't quite happen like that particular dream, and it felt silly that I had that expectation now, haha. Walking ouuuut, faaammmilllyy- nope. Walk further Sister Sanderson- er.... Hannah...

The glass dividers in the middle of the hall were familiar from previous flights in as I walked in the midst of all the people getting off. My heart was flitting! My family! They were seconds away! I kept straining to look over the crowd and spot them! I SAW A GLIMPSE OF GRANDMA! I tried to weave through the people faster! I SAW MOM! AND HEARD HER!

"RUN!!!"

I ran! and dropped my bag, casting it aside, and headed straight for my mother. I had already decided. She got the first hug.

Tears flowed from my face unrestrained, gasping as I held onto my mother that I love so much.

"Mom!" I exclaimed, emotion distorting my voice.

I registered that there was Adam there, and Alyssa, and my brothers Noah and Marshall, and Dad. I heard all their voices. But I just couldn't let go of mom.



"Okay, group hug," Dad said. He hugged us, and I was able to let go then and hug him. What a moment this was.


Then I walked over to cute little grandma, who pulled me away for a second to look at me and say, "and you're even wearing my dress!" and hug me again.







And then Marshall! Oh, it was the best hug ever! He almost strangled me with his arms grabbing around me again and again, pulling me tighter and tighter! I missed you too Marshall.



And Noah. He stuck out his hand. I smiled. We have a mutual understanding of his oddness and lack of displaying affection. I shook his hand gladly. "You're gonna freak." "I already have!" (Apparently "Hannah's gonna freak" has been the saying at home for awhile.)

And I hugged Uncle Mark. "Welcome back Hannah."

And I hugged exceedingly tall Adam! "It's so great to see you! Thanks for coming!"

And I hugged lastly my best friend Alyssa. It was beyond amazing to feel everyone's familiar arms around me.

This moment was everything I wanted it to be.



We didn't talk about anything incredibly significant afterward. I do remember that when I went to the bathroom mom asked me what all I did today before arriving. So I told her, and in that time, Dad came back with my suitcases in hand. We then walked out to the car. Before getting in the van Alyssa asked me if I was ok.

"I don't know. Am I ok? I just don't know what to do with myself!"

We concluded that I was in shock. 


We started driving out of the airport and holy cow! Actual six lane freeway! And holy cow! Mountains! Those don't exist in the Dakotas! Not where I served anyway.




We drove to my Stake President's house so he could release me as a full time missionary. I love President Thomas so so much. He is the sweetest man in the world. 




He took me back in his office and he asked me how I felt about my mission. I felt wonderful. He told me that I was a pure vessel, and that because I had served a worthy and honorable mission that I was clean of all my sins. He also told me to write an essay on what I have gained from my mission experience, and that I'll be glad I did. He explained when my homecoming would be and when I would return and report with my testimony to the high council. Then came this words.

"Sister Sanderson. As your Stake President, I release you as a full time proselyting missionary. Your missionary work will continue without your badge. Thank you for your service to your Savior."

"Do you want me to take this off now?"

"Why don't you wear it home."

"Ok!"

















We came home and it was the same place I had left, and they made a big sign for me! It warmed my heart! 



I was then also presented my new phone which was the phone Raleigh John was using before he left for his mission in July. It's an LG Flex! It's massive and I've never had a super cool phone like this!



And before I forgot to, I broke into my duffle bag and put on...



My new nametag! The one I had been planning to make and wear since nearly the beginning of my mission!

I walked inside and it felt wonderful. It was home.



Poor Strider though. He's aged so much since I left. Poor dog. We may as well call him patches with his fur comin out of him like it is.





And Forrest, a great may-as-well-be-part-of-the-family friend, was there to greet me in the gameroom with a, "Sup Hannah."


I expected to get right home and play videogames, but people puttsed around first and then we put in videogames, which makes a lot of sense with my family seeing things in retrospect.

But regardless! Super Smash Brothers Brawl was the last game I played with my brothers the forty five minutes before I got set apart. And my first game that I played after I got home was, you guessed it.



THE NEW SUPER SMASH BROTHERS WIIU!!! It came out while I was on my mission! What a glorious thing, to have a controller in my hands once again! It's been a long time coming! There's nothing like sitting down and playing Super Smash Brothers with your friends and family!!!


The panoramic got a little too close to Forrest's Face...


And of course, we had to play pictionary on Warioware, because it's awesome, and Adam was there and he gets into it with pictionary and it's hilarious!



And I totally called that we would have hamburger vegetable soup for dinner! It's one of my favorites! And these bowls are my favorites too! I missed them! And I missed being silly with Alyssa! And now I can be silly with her again!




Then my cousins trickled in and we played on the Nintendo 64 some Pokemon Stadium mini games (which I am still and will always and forever be the queen off), and a Banjo-Tooie shootout (which I won that too), then some more Super Smash Brothers before I called it quits at 11:00.

As people finished up gaming, I walked into my room. I would sleep in my same bed, but it was Raleigh John's old room, who is on a mission now. And all the packages that I sent home were on the desk beside the bed. And they got me a Zelda calendar! Which I highly appreciate!





















My prayers that night were absolutely filled with gratitude. I told Heavenly Father, I'm so grateful that I have a worthy mission behind me. And I told him, it's good to be back.

***

Halloween day. I slept soundly and awoke around seven. My mom was up too, and my cousin Adam who just got back from his mission a month before I did. Mom asked us questions about mission stuff, and it was good to talk about, really good conversation. Then we started talking about movies. Well, one thing led to another and it was decided!



We went out to the Habit grill by our house for lunch!



Then we went to JURASSIC WORLD at the cheap theater! And Etzio from Assassin's Creed took our picture! There were many people dressed up as random characters because it was Halloween! Super awesome!

Jurassic World was super epic and intense and just yes! It was an awesome first movie!

Then, I was going to be a missionary for Halloween. But that got vetoed by my entire family. Darn. So we went to the store, to get me a costume. So, I got the idea to be a mime. Couldn't find gloves, but, oh well. It was still legit.



We went to the church trunk or treat and it was so fun to see everyone, and it was so funny to have some people walk right past because they didn't recognize me! And, it was a beautiful night outside might I add. The weather was perfect!


Perhaps this is why missionaries
don't hold babies...



Sunday! Church! YAAAY! It was to great to see everyone that I didn't see at the trunk or treat! Also, I have Sisters to go out teaching with! Blessings!

I became emotional and tears flowed from my eyes as Noah blessed the sacrament. In general, Noah is very cynical and does not express too much positive or sympathetic emotion. But he really holds his priesthood responsibilities sacred and as he blessed the bread it was full of meaning, said with passion and with sincerity and, it brought tears to my eyes. And of course seeing Marshall passing the sacrament in his wheelchair always touches me.

And Noah, being as it was fast Sunday, even got up and bore his testimony. He started out:

"So Hannah's home, but really nothing has changed, and I didn't really miss her either. Because always she would be on her computer and I would be in the other room playing games. And yesterday I was playing games and I come out and I see Hannah, on her computer. Nothing's changed. Didn't miss her.

"But I wanna talk about the sacrament today. We were learning in institute in 1 Corinthians I believe and it talked about how the Jews literally sacrificed the body and blood of the Savior and how when we take the sacrament we acknowledge that we really actually killed Jesus. But if we don't admit that we killed him and we have to pay then for all of our sins. So I just thought that was cool and interesting. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ amen."

That right there is so Noah. Mom said to me later, "In this whole time you've been gone, I have never seen Noah get up and bare his testimony. And he may say that he hasn't missed you, but he has been much more engaged and expressive since you have been home."

Dad also bore his testimony, thanking me for my service and seeing me endure to the end, and I bore my testimony, talking about my name tag and how I do still represent Jesus Christ without it.



Later that night, we celebrated Forrest's birthday. Yay!

And we then sang through choir songs for fun as a birthday dinner addition! It was great! I got to sing with my family and hear grandma play the flute, and we were able to sing "Behold They Handmaiden" again, Mom and I!

Then Monday. Back to the normal routine for my family.



I saw Marshall off to school in the morning, just like I did 18 months ago, but this time, I would be home to see him when he got back.

It has been quite something, coming home from my mission. But, if I had to sum up in just a few words how I feel, it would be this:

It's Good to be Back.

76 - The First and the Last

You know you don't have very much time left as a missionary when you log onto the missionary site and it says on there "You must be assigned to a proselyting area in order to report key indicators." How then are we supposed to report our three baptisms darn it! Oh well. I guess the zone leaders will take care of it.

That morning we got, surprise surprise! A transfer call! It was kind of bummer news though. Elders are coming into the area. The Elders are Elder Ashby, who is a wonderful and experienced missionary, and he's training a new missionary. It'll be good and the Lord knows what's best... but we are super sad that there's not going to be any sisters. No sisters in Williston at all... But they want to put sisters back in they say. Maybe in the spring.

Monday I was also pretty miserably sick with a nasty cold. I was very cranky at some points of the day and in the evening we just ended up staying inside and sleeping basically. I'm just glad I got sick BEFORE going home, and not during the traveling process.


However, despite sickness, I did suck it up and go play bowling with our district like we had planned as a last hurrah.





Also, don't play bowling with lady claws, because this will happen to you.

Sister Lewis broke her nail good! haha.





Packing packing and packing. It's a project. Especially when neither of you are feeling super well. But we got through it, packing in spurts Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday morning. We were going to prepare the area with tons of sticky notes with random tips as well, but we were just too exhausted and booked up with packing.


Our relief society president is a saint and she took us out to lunch and got us each a going away present. She gave each of us this same ornament to remind us of the magic of her taking us up to Grenora in her red truck of a sleigh to bring the magic to the sisters in Grenora. How nice is that! And she told us that if we brought her boxes that were addressed, that she could send home anything that we needed if our stuff was too much for our suitcases to pass the weight limit test at the airport! She is so awesome!

It was Wednesday now and we were both feeling much better than the day before. We finished up packing and we brought four boxes to our relief society president for her to send home for us. It was time for the in person goodbyes. I was hoping not to put on my coat for the rest of my mission, but this last day it was in the 30s. So on our jackets went.

We said bye to a sweet old less active lady that we hadn't seen in awhile. And we then walked two doors down to say bye to Vaasa. He was SO happy for us. Holy cow, we've never seen the man smile so much. Him and his Russian self being so Russian.

"Mission is good. But normal life better. Normal life you need to go and get good education. And find good man who take-en care of you. Because American, is no good. American vomen is too much power. European vomen, zay understand-ez zis. Find man who love-ez you and take-ez care of vomen. Have good life and excited for you for marriage. Sank you for everysing."

He was just over the moon a the thought of us settling down and having a family with a good man! So funny. What a good old man you are Vaasa.

Then we drove out to Lukenbill to say bye to the Brown family, because they are just so awesome. We will miss them.

Then we stopped by Elias and Mr. Kiwi's house to see if they were home. Mr. Kiwi was and Elias would be in a minute. So we gave each other a hard time until Elias got there and he came with his friend Cab. I call him that because this friend would often provide transportation for him.

It was almost five and we had a tradition to fulfill tonight. At the end of your mission it is customary among missionaries to burn a skirt or dress if you're a sister, or a suit coat if you are an elder. Not every missionary does this tradition, but it's a fun one if you choose to do it. We had eaten dinner with the Awesome family the night before. (This was the "All-So Awesome" family. The Awesome's I've always previously talked about are the "Crazy Awesome" family. Brother All-So Awesome and Brother Crazy Awesome are biological brothers.)

As we told them about this tradition, they immediately, being the red neck fun kinda people they are, offered to help us light em up, with gasoline and everything! Heck yeah!

So we were at Elias and Mr. Kiwi's house when we heard that we were good to come over. They were very confused as to what was going on and it was just so funny and one would try to explain and the other would be like 'stop trying to explain, you don't know what you're talking about' and it was just hilarious. We were just like, "Just follow us. Come on!" And we drove on over there, trusting that the All-to-Awesome's wouldn't mind three Africans tagging along to watch the fun!

Before we get fully into the skirt burning though, I need to tell a story.




Once upon a time, I found a skirt. It was in my mom's closet and I needed clothes to take on my mission, but I didn't have very many skirts. She had three skirts just right there that were like magic! They were all the same cut, simple, cute, and the colors were a tan, a black, and a gray. She allowed me to take them on my mission and they have been my staple skirts, but the tan one was my favorite because it fit just perfect because for some reason in was a size bigger. I loved it so much.

Then one day. I endeavored to fix my watch's thing that holds down the loose strap... with super glue... and a big drop got on my skirt... After trying a few times to get it out with just water and soap, I was dumb and tried to get it out with fingernail polish remover and it distorted the coloring in the skirt. I ruined it! SAD FACE!

So. I Decided it would be given a proper burial.








YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!! Look at that!






And there it is. It's life with me began with the mission and ended with it too. Farewell skirt. Time to burn another skirt!




Sister Lewis's burned for a long time! Because it was cotton. And eventually it got a little less cool and she put it on the block.






Anyone for marshmallows?

So that was super fun and fulfilling.




Then we saw Kristen and the cute kitten that got so much bigger! Holy cow! We were instructed though to come back and get a present for us later that night.

In the mean time we went to dinner with the members that are like our grandma and grandpa of Williston. The lady that we helped by filling her pill containers last week and the man who baptized Elias. She was doin alright enough with her fractured pelvis to still go out to eat using her walker. It was SO humid in that Chinese buffet! It looked like it was raining outside, but no, it was just all the condensation on the windows. Sister Lewis, being a Louisiana girl, was in heaven.

After our last dinner as a missionary in Williston (it gets more and more real that you're going home with every 'last this' and 'last that'), we called Jaffar to see if he was alive. This was his last chance! He had NOT been responding to us, the stinker, and he hadn't even signed his baptismal record yet because he ducked out of church early for whatever reason! And surprise. He didn't pick up.

So we said goodbye real fast to our ward mission leader and his wife, and then! Jaffar called us back! YOU'RE ALIVE! So we went over to see him!

We went and slapped him for being dead. Not really, but we let him know that we were concerned about him. His work, his construction work, had him working in Minot lots those ten days on, and so he was getting home super late and yeah. But now are his four days off. So we set up a return appointment for the elders and had him sign his baptismal record, and gave him his picture, which he really appreciated.

Then, even though it was super late, we went over to see Christen as she instructed, and she gave Sister Lewis some scotcheroos, something that Sister Lewis can actually eat that she loves, and...




She gave us both crosses that were carved IN Jerusalem! So neat! And she and her daughter that is a member and comes out with us all the time, and her son all signed the back. How nice is that!!



We got back at almost 10:30. Oops. So we basically went straight to bed.





"But many that are first shall be last; and the last first," (Mark 10:31).

We woke up at 6:30 on Thursday as per usual. But this was not a usual day. It was for both of us our last full day as a set apart missionary.

We were scrambling to get some final notes written for the elders and get numbers jotted down for us and to get our suitcases in the car. We had just over an hour to do this and I feel bad, but we kind of left the apartment a bit of a mess for the elders... Don't worry though. We wrote an apologetic sticky note as well.




At 8 o'clock, we were off! Just us and our bags, going straight for the four-hours-away place called Bismarck! Man, there's so many ways in which I've ended my mission the same way I began it. I started in Bismarck, and I never thought this would happen, but I'm flying out of Bismarck as well. Going home missionaries used to fly out of Rapid City, SD.






I also came into the mission with one day of snow on the ground and what a nice and symbolic thing to leave the same way. So cool.





We got to Bismarck a little before noon and waited for the transfer train to get there. Lunch was provided for all the missionaries that were there. It was weird, not recognizing more than half of the missionaries and talking to them saying how long we've been out and I would say, "I'm goin home." "Oh!..." Now I was that missionary that was goin home. Just crazy. And insane to think that it was in this very church that I first started, with this bags, seeing my trainer, Sister Easter, and taking a picture next to the temple for the first time, eighteen long months ago.

It was around 2 now and the transfer train was loaded up with everyone's suitcases that was being transferred. But my district leader, the punk, Elder Reynolds shook my hand and said, "Wait, you're dead now. Bye Hannah!"

And I was SO caught off guard- I screamed! AH! No! You're not supposed to call me by my first name! lol And he just ran away doing his little 'nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah!' laughing noise thing! Hahaha.

Now that all the missionaries who were goin home were gathered at the church and the transfer tvan was departing, it was time to go to the mission home with President and Sister Hess! I'd never been in the mission home before! Wow, so exciting.





We arrived, all eight of us. Elder Gruver, Elder Merritt, Elder Deeter, Sister Hawkes, Sister Paniagua, Sister Clegg, Sister Lewis, And Sister Sanderson. I didn't know the elders very well, but I know all the sisters.



All of us received a binder that has all the weekly reporting emails we sent to president, a contact list of all the missionaries that were out during the time we were out and their listed home addresses and stuff which is super nice, and some talks and official letters addressed to returned missionaries. Oh, and any mail that they held for us in this last week.



We were instructed to relax while President had final one on one interviews with people.

While president was doing interviews, those of us who were musically inclined gathered around the piano and sang hymns. My voice was still not recovered fully from being sick, but I made do, and it was really fun.






We then ate an early dinner, with lots of ham! It was very good.



While dinner was being cleaned up I had my interview. It was crazy being in presidents office and seeing the transfer board that we weren't on anymore. In my interview, I expressed to president that one of the things I had learned most on my mission is how to rely on the spirit. I commended me for that and assured me that I would use that ability the rest of my life.





And after dinner we went to the temple! Which was really cool for Sister Lewis, because this was her only time that she's gotten to go to the temple on her mission, because seriously she has served everywhere else BUT around the temple! Super cool for her to finally go. This what my fourth time going.



You can actually see the temple from the mission home's back porch view! You have to know what you're looking for, but you can see the spire just to the left of the big blue water tower.







When we came back we had dessert, cheesecake!

Then we all went downstairs and played a game with tennis balls which was just fun and also served as an object lesson. It was the game where you passed the tennis balls in a certain order, but you had five or six balls going and it was easy to get distracted. If your get distracted, you'll mess up either the sending or the receiving. Moral of the story: keep focused on what really matters.

Then President and Sister Hess gave us a 'Mom and Dad' talk. They exhorted us to keep clean. They talked about dating, about keeping good habits, about centering things on Jesus Christ, all that good stuff. And the coolest thing was that President Hess explained that it's a promise that when you are released as a missionary it is a promise that you are absolutely clean and pure. That's powerful.

President Hess then had us go around and share scriptures that defined our mission experiences. We had some really good ones. One of the elders shared the story in 1 Samuel 17:41-47 and talked about there were many goliaths on his mission and that there will be after returning home as well, but that if you are fighting together with the Lord that you don't need to fear. The other two elders shared scriptures from the famous prayer of Nephi in 2 Nephi 4, and I shared 1 Corinthians 12:9-10 and I shared my "RAPID" acronym that I talked about earlier in my blog. (Reproaches, Afflictions, Persecutions, Infirmities, Distresses.) But my favorite was Sister Clegg's:

"Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God," (Helaman 3:35).

That really just sums up what a mission does for you. Brilliant use of this scripture.




We then went to bed. I thought I would take a picture of Hamlet one last time. We ended up going to bed about midnight because the devotional went passed eleven. We all went to sleep, sleep which was preceded with a prayer of gratitude and a request of blessed travels for the monumental journey in the morning.