Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Like Unto Job

April 28, 2014

Sometimes, I really just like to take things completely out of context and think of exactly what is happening. I never tire of reminding myself that I am living on some strange little island in the Amazon River.

There I was in a ghetto ambulance speeding through the island passing by Motokars. This little Mexican girl that I have come to love a lot was laying down and looked up at my pale face and shaking hands (the ambulance sent me straight into a Panic Attack, maybe I should have been the one laying down!) and a light clicked in her face. She looked like she was going to cry. "I am SO sorry!" she whispered. I asked what she meant and she said "I didn't mean to call you crazy."

It had been a long, hard five days. We had been in the hospital for almost a week and the Doctors could not find out what was wrong with my companion. The Doctor finally gave up and called it "anxiety." She instantly started protesting and claiming that she wasn't crazy and she was too strong to have anxiety.

When members and other missionaries came by to see her they all said the same thing. Every time someone asked what's wrong she just said that they think she is crazy. I just sat there quietly listening feeling myself being labeled as crazy and weak. Of course, no one had any idea that I have that problem, but the words still hurt.

My poor companion felt horrible for what she had said, but honestly I was fine. I just wanted her to get better. The doctors realized it wasn´t anxiety when she started having seizures and, long story short, my favorite companion boarded a plane Friday night, after one week in the Hospital, and was sent home to Mexico for better care.

 Hermana Allphin, the one that lives down the street from me, looked over at me in the airport and said, "Well Job, how is it going over there?" I got a good laugh out of it. She said I reminded her of Job because, over the space of three weeks, I literally lost everything.

 It started out with my health and then the anxiety got really bad. Shortly after that, my area started falling apart. We couldn't find anyone to teach, and the fact that, between my companion and I, we have been in the hospital for a total of 13 days in 3 weeks. Then, when my Zone leaders saw that my baptisms have gone down, they told me I can't just stop working my hardest just because I feel sorry for myself and are talking to President to tell him that I shouldn't be Sister Leader anymore because I can't handle it. The Zone leader said I should stop training, stop opening new areas, and step down from my spot on the Leadership Council and end my mission being Junior Companion to someone with less time than me. I really started feeling like everything was getting taken away from me.

Saturday night, the power went out and I just remember sitting in the dark, by myself, planning by candlelight for an area that is falling apart. I wanted to just be done. I was ready to just give up and go to bed, when a word came into my mind and pierced my heart. "Diligencia." I realized that, even with everything that has happened, I need to do my best to be a Diligent and Obedient missionary. There is a strong force (Satan) that really, really wants me to get discouraged and go home. So, I have my choices. I can give up and just pack my bags, I can stay in the mission and make excuses and not work as hard as I should, or I can just press forward and stay on it.

My new goal is to find out WHY Satan wants me to give up. I need to find the people that he doesn't want me to find. I need to help the people he is trying to keep me from helping. I need to marry and baptize the families he doesn't want me to marry and baptize and, more than anything, strive to become the person he doesn't want me to be. Right before my companion left, Elder Mejia and Elder Scott came over to give her a blessing, and no one wanted to leave or say goodbye, so we just kind of awkwardly sat there, avoiding the unavoidable.

Elder Mejia saw my journal, which I have sadly left untouched for about six months, and started reading it. I didn't care 1. Because it's in English and he wouldn't understand all of it, and 2. Because there are no great secrets, just a bunch of stories. Anyway, he read all of what I had written when I was new. Honestly, I don't even remember being this way, but every single day I had written something like "I am scared." "I just want to go home so bad." "I hate this place." "I will never learn Spanish." "The food makes me sick." "I just want to give up."

I couldn't help but think. What would have happened if I would have just gone home my first transfer when I really, really wanted to? Look at all of the people I have Baptized, who would have taught and found them? What would I be doing with my life if I weren't here? What would have happened to all these poor people I have helped??? Maybe someone else would have helped them eventually, but how sad it would be for me to have lost the amazing privilege of being there.

All of the sisters I have trained and the areas I have opened...what would have happened with all that? I am SO grateful that I stuck with it. Anyway, long story short, but in that candlelit moment I decided to not just stay, but to rise to a sense of new commitment and be the most diligent and obedient missionary that I can. And, can I just say that the Lord is already blessing me for my decision? Sunday morning, when I wanted to just sit and feel sorry for myself, I got up and started studying and the phone rang. The President´s Assistants called me and said that someone from my area had been going to their ward and they wanted me to visit them that same day. I was able to find a member to work with me (since I can't do it alone) and when we got to the house I knocked on the door and someone that I taught a long time ago opened the door, and quickly shut it in my face saying that the new person I was looking for wasn't there.

I was ready to give up, but remembered that I had her phone number, so I turned the corner and called the lady, Shirley, and she answered and said that she was in the house, so she sent her daughter out to meet us and let us inside (the lady that shut the door in my face was in a corner, pouting that we had found a way into the house) and we started teaching this single mother and her two teenage kids.

I noticed that Shirley was shaking a lot and couldn't look anyone in the eye. As I got to know her a bit, she admitted that she suffers from very serious anxiety. She explained that she was living in Lima and was being taught by the Elders, and then came to Iquitos and her anxiety got worse. One day, she was out walking (and having a very serious panic attack) and looked up and saw a church and felt peace and has been going there every Sunday for a month. I explained to her that there is a church a lot closer to her house and we got talking and, after a very Spiritual lesson, the whole family committed to baptism. It was amazing.

The lady almost cried as I talked about receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost and said that that could help her cope with her anxiety. It was...well...just amazing. Amazing. The Lord loves me and is taking care of me. I am so thankful for Him and the blessings that he gives me for trying to be diligent and obedient even when it is so hard. I love him and love His work and SO grateful to be a part of it.

So incredibly grateful.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Yet If Thou Wilt, I'll Drink it Up

Okay, let me just start off by saying one thing I AM OKAY. I promise.  Okay, just thought I would get that out there before I get into explaining my week. Well, it was a long one. A REALLY long one.  It started off Monday when I plunged into a horrible panic attack in the middle of a relaxing P-Day. I was just so done with everything that I had been feeling. I remember just praying for help that I could get some answers and get these things figured out. Luckily, that morning I had FINALLY written a very honest letter to my mission President explaining that I really was not okay. I was shaking all the time. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I had come to the point that I was feeling so dizzy and stressed that I would just randomly fall in the street at times. I was SO sick of feeling that way.

Tuesday night, the phone rang. I looked at the Caller ID and didn’t understand why the Zone Leaders were calling me so late, and they told me that Hermana Gomez needed to talk to me right away. I gave her a call and she explained that President had just read my letter and that they were very concerned. They asked me a lot of details of things that have been happening and I was finally honest and explained everything. They asked me to buy some weird fish oil syrup type thing to take for now while they looked into other things.  The Anxiety just kept getting worse and worse. I drank the syrupon Thursday morning and it just about killed me. The WORST thing I had EVER tasted in my life. I choked the cup down with the faith that maybe, just maybe it would help me start feeling better. My companion asked me how I felt and I quoted Jeffrey R. Holland “If the bitter cup won’t pass, drink it and be strong, trusting in better days to come.” We got a good laugh out of that.

Thursday dragged on and I was so anxious that I, yet again, just about passed out. I was laying on my bed and my companion started saying that she was going to call the Zone Leaders. I forbid her to do it. Well, it didn’t matter, because, sure enough, just a few minutes later they called us.

“Hermana Simonson! We have good news! You’re not going to have language study today. Instead, you are going to go to the corner of Quiñones and Guardía Civil, and in that corner you are going to see a car. And you are going to get in that car. That car will be driven by President and Hermana Gomez….and they are going to take you to the hospital.”
I freaked out. I wanted to refuse to go, but I knew that I couldn’t. We got there, and it turned out that it was just President, with a very concerned look on his face.  He took me to the Hospital and when the Doctor attended us he asked me why I was here. I responded “Because they made me come.” He got a good laugh. I don’t think President thought it was as funny as I did. He started explained that they “obligated” me to be there because I was fainting in the street, shaking all the time, incredibly stressed out, not sleeping, not eating, etc. They wanted to see if it was Anxiety for sure, or maybe just some Parasite.

He ran a few tests for physical things and there was no problem. Then, he did a few Anxiety tests and looked at my President and said “Ya..she definitely has a problem. There is a reason she can’t sleep.” He told President that I need a Psychiatrist and President whipped out his IPhone trying to find the best one and get an appointment for as soon as possible.

The next day, my companion and I went to the Psychiatrist and we talked a little bit and figured a few things out. I was diagnosed not only with Anxiety, but also with Major Depressive Disorder. I almost didn’t believe it. I was really upset, I felt like everything was spinning. We went to go buy the pills and they informed us that our insurance wasn’t going to cover it, so we had to call the Zone Leaders to call the Insurance. 

Side story, the Zone Leaders hadn’t known anything about any of this until President had called them and they were pretty hurt that I had never told them. Anyway, as I talked to them and explained them what was going on, and then explained the Diagnosis Elder Avila, one of my best friends in the Mission, just cut me off and said “Hermana, just tell me one thing, How are YOU?” I answered “Fine” and he asked for details and I ended up doing what I had avoided doing for the longest time. I burst into tears. He listened intently and said “Don’t worry about the Insurance thing for now, we are going to get that taken care of. Just know something, okay? You are my hero. I admire you so much. I know that everything sucks right now but just know that this all means that you can start getting better at last. So many people would have quit and you kept going for SO long. While training, opening areas, being a leader, and facing these big problems, you’ve also been setting Baptism records and helping a lot of people. Just know that you’re amazing.”

So there I was, crying like a baby in the middle of a Hospital in the middle of the Amazon Jungle. Who would have EVER thought that my life would have come to this? My companion walked me outside and smiled and said “Well, I can cross that off my list.” I asked what she was talking about and she said “I never, ever thought that I would see you cry. I’ve lived with you for the longest time and have never seen anything less than a smile. I certainly don’t believe that you’re depressed!” We sat outside laughing and crying together and turned around to see President Gomez showing up. The Zone Leaders had called him and he wanted to see if I was okay, and talk to the Insurance people. The pills were bought and President explained that he was in the middle of some interviews and had to get back. I felt so special that he had left the interviews just to see if I was okay.

My companion forced the pills down my throat, but here comes the funny story. They were REALLY strong, instant pills and I started feeling a little TOO good. Long story short, I had been overdosed by the Peruvian Doctor. I spent the whole Saturday Conference laughing and sleeping and falling and fainting and saying crazy things. After the afternoon session, we were sitting outside of the Church and President and Hermana Gomez came over and saw me and said “There’s the drunk missionary!” and everyone laughed. “I am not stressed anymore!” I yelled and laughed. Oh, it was just hilarious.

It’s been hard, but you wouldn’t believe the support I have. Obviously it’s not something that I am telling everyone, but my District Leader and Zone Leaders and companion and Mission President (the people that I am forced to tell) make a great team to keep me going. One of the suggestions that the doctor gave was to get more exercise. My new District Leader, Elder Mejia, promised we wouldn’t be alone in that. Now, he and his companion have also committed to waking up half an hour early everyday just to go run with us. Such a sweet gesture.

After everything, I don’t take back what I have always said. Happiness IS a choice. Sometimes it is a choice to just think positive and take some vitamins. Sometimes it is a choice to move on with life. Sometimes, it is a choice to take the pill, be honest, ask for blessings, trust in God, and move forward. I don’t care if some Peruvian Doctor has declared me as depressed, I am just going to keep being happy. And, wanna know the best part? I still have five more months to wake up everyday and preach the Gospel of Happiness to these amazing people. I will honestly say that my life could not get any better.

Hermana Simonson

Thursday, April 3, 2014


March 31, 2014

It was a week of miracles! Actually, this last month has been a whole process of miracles as we worked with the family that got Baptized on Saturday. We rarely get references from our ward, but a while back the Young Men´s President informed us that he went looking for some inactive young men, and showed up at the wrong house. He apologized for bugging them and said “Well, maybe I am here for a reason. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and I want to invite you to my church.” The wife of the family was in church the following Sunday

We started visiting them and she accepted Baptism in the first lesson, but her husband (that is not technically her husband because they are not married but they all just say husband and wife anyway) was really hard hearted and would not accept marriage or Baptism and said that he wouldn’t change his life just because two little girls were visiting them. In one lesson, the wife, Aided, just burst into tears and said “Hermana, I FEEL it. I feel it and he doesn’t. He doesn’t feel anything.” It broke my heart. We couldn’t do anything for her if the husband wouldn’t budge.

One day, we showed up at the house and he said “Hermanas, I did what you said. I prayed. I know it’s true. You can Baptize me.” It was amazing. So amazing.  But, we did not realize how hard it was going to be. He didn’t have an ID Card, which makes getting the marriage papers EXTREMELY difficult. And, he doesn’t have ANY money, so paying for their marriage rights was going to be really hard.

 A few weeks ago, when we tried to talk to the Ward Council for help, they told us they were too busy to help us. I wanted to die. Elder Muñoz looked at me and started speaking in English “APRIL Five, just you Baptize them on April five. Don’t push it for this month just to meet you goal.” As we left the church he looked at me and said “Why are you so sure about this day, it will be impossible.” I got a little frustrated and promised him that the date we had chosen had NOTHING to do with meeting a goal and that we wanted to move the date back but the Spirit was really strong telling us that they needed to be Baptized on this day. “I NEVER set dates just for the numbers” I promised him, and he decided to believe me.

The Zone Leaders got really excited and started saying that if we pull it off we will be setting a record for baptisms. I tried to tell them we don’t care about the record and we don’t want to hear more about it. Then, they got suspicious and thought that they didn’t believe that we could be Baptizing so many people and thought the people weren’t actually dedicated. So, they set up a test. 

They told the family that they needed to be at the Chapel that was furtherest away from there house at a certain time to sign papers. This sweet little family with absolutely nothing got permission to leave the job they just got, borrow money to pay for the Motokar, and showed up at the Church, completely by themselves. Was I super mad when I found out about the “test”? Yes. Extremely. But, they passed. And the Zone Leaders just looked at us at said “Okay, we believe you. We get it. You can Baptize them.”

In their Baptismal Interview, the wife cried and told the Zone Leaders that when she wanted to know if this was what she was supposed to do, she dreamed that she was standing by a river, and that I came up to her in a canoe and stepped out and was sparkling with light and a voice told her that this was the angel God had sent her….just a funny side note. These people and their dreams.

It was SO hard to get things done. We put together an activity to raise the money and the day of the activity, the skies were completely black. Peruvians DO NOT leave their houses when there is rain. I was ready to break. We sat in the plaza waiting and I just lost it and looked up and the skies and broke into English. “Why???” I shouted. “Why today why now???” I remember just staring at the sky and trying to command the clouds to move (worth a shot). 

I just remembered Aided’s crying face when she thought they weren’t going to be able to get married and I thought of all of my love for her and for the family and I was completely broken down. I kid you not, in that moment, sun started to shine on the Plaza, it got brighter and brighter within a matter of minutes and it NEVER rained. 

The Spirit spoke so firmly “I TOLD you that this family was to be Baptized this week. Why couldn’t you just trust me? I did the miracle with the husband’s heart. I did the miracle with the ID Card. I did the miracle with the papers. I did the miracle with the “test”. Why couldn’t you trust me for one miracle more?”

We needed to get 120 soles for the wedding, wanna know how many we got? 121. No joke. When we showed up to the activity, we came down the hill and saw a whole group of white shirts sitting there. I wanted to cry. The WHOLE zone came (other than they zone leaders.). Their love and support was amazing. 

Then, on Saturday, Aided and Angel were Married and Baptized, and yesterday they were confirmed members of the Church of Jesus Christ. I couldn’t believe it. When the Lord tells us we need to do something and when we need to do it, it seems impossible. But He will always help us. He will touch the hearts, find the papers, and even stop the rain.

I love this Gospel. I love my Heavenly Father. I love serving His children in this amazing place that, for me, is sacred ground.

Hermana Simonson