Thursday, July 30, 2015

The White Girls Are Here! (7/27/15)

Today marks two months of the mission complete! As usual, here's some Mississippi culture to celebrate:  When we knock on the door for a follow up appointment, the little 5 year old girl peeks through the curtains and yells, "THE WHITE GIRLS ARE HERE!" Pretty typical occurrence, actually.

Man, I love Mississippi. Something I love less about Mississippi is how everyone's dog is some sort of pitbull. And how sometimes we get chased by them. Keeps me repenting daily - ya never know when a pitbull might take ya to meet God a little sooner than planned :)

Pioneer day was this week! Our little branch had a fun outdoor activity planned, then lo and behold - the first rainstorm in weeks. Lightning, a tornado in the neighboring area, all that fun stuff. Miraculously, the rain stopped just in time. And we had FOUR investigators (and their kids) there. It was a BLAST. Tug of war, stick pull, 3-legged races, stilts, all that jazz. We returned home muddy, tired, and happy that night.

As if it couldn't get better, we had R. come to sacrament meeting for her first time! She's usually sick with her diabetes or busy on Sundays, so this was a miracle! She loved it, and got to see Sister Kerr and I sing the special musical number Abide with Me, Tis Eventide. Afterwards, she received a priesthood blessing from the branch president to help her quit smoking. She is doing great! Then, for third hour (relief society), B, her mom, and C. came! B. and her mom had a lot of stuff that popped up keeping them from getting to the first two hours, but were determined to make it for the end, and they did! They did NOT want to make us push their baptismal date back again! They had a great time, and it's great to see them develop friendships with branch members!

I can't express to y'all how much I love this gospel and how much joy to brings me to see others come to love it too. It's all about BECOMING. Becoming through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Titus 2 lays it down: Our goal is to deny ungodliness in our lives to become more like God. Jesus gave himself for us to purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. I love the word peculiar. Because keeping God's commandments, living the gospel, definitely makes us peculiar. Weird, if you will. In the best way. It sets us apart from the world, and draws us nearer to God.

This week, let's all try a little harder to be a little more peculiar!

Love y'all to the moon and back.
Sister Lanning

Planning blues

Dead baby alligator we parked on top of in the street

Bad Things Happen to Good People (7/21/15)

From fire ant bites, to 114 degree heat index, to flat tires, to being stood up, to getting fatter, to awkward/painful situations, bad things happen to good people (me). Being a missionary is hard. It's hard to get rejected, and it's harder to see people reject the truths you hold so dear. It's hard to be working from 6:30 am to 10:30 pm each and every day. Here in Mississippi, these good people have experienced some bad things. Murder, abuse, addiction, extreme poverty, broken homes, debilitating illness - the list goes on. Bad things happen to good people. About 2000 years ago, there lived a perfect man. He only loved, he only served, he always sacrificed. He was the most good a person can be - because he was perfect. Yet he suffered the worst. He gave us everything, yet he was mocked, reviled, betrayed by his friends, and crucified. That man is our Savior, Jesus Christ. "He understands perfectly what it's like to suffer innocently." - Dale G. Renlund. So when these things happen, don't blame God and ask him why bad things happen to good people. Rejoice in knowing you're not alone. Rejoice in knowing that everything unfair about this life is made fair, is made bearable, through the Atonement. Rejoice in knowing that hardships are making you stronger - helping you reach your potential. God loves you, and He will never leave you. Just please, don't leave Him - don't leave the one who loves you - understands you - infinitely.

On a lighter note, I'm done with my first transfer in the field, and.... I'm staying in McComb! Thank goodness. I love this place, and my work is not done here! The work is progressing, people are changing and drawing nearer unto Christ, investigators are becoming missionaries, baptisms are approaching, the kingdom is growing.

This week, I went on transfers with Sister Blaylock in Albany. Most eventful part of that day was a gnarly flat tire that kept us from getting anything done until 4 pm. Then zone conference is always fun.

So we visit a lady in a nursing home. With a disgruntled look on her face, she says, "There's something in my butt. It's climbing in there. I need to see what it is." Yeah, I don't know either.

There's a kid in our branch who told us a very long story during church, which included, but was not limited to: "The daddy alligator gave me a ride through the water. I'm not lyin, this is true. There were 557 alligators and they all thought I was their uncle. My brother's leg got stuck in the railroad tracks. Then I got bitten by a vampire bat." It gets better, but I'll leave y'all wondering.

I love this place. Every day is an adventure. And it's even better that I get to share the beautiful gospel of Jesus Christ with these people.

Read the Book of Mormon, y'all! We've got it for a reason. Let it change your life :)

Sister Lanning

1 Month of Miracles (7/13/15)

I've been in McComb, Mississippi for a month! Time is a crazy thing! In honor of me surviving a month in the South, let's discuss Mississippi a little bit more. Everyone has a front porch. Everyone sits on their front porch. My English is rapidly TANKING. Grammar is gone. Almost everyone smokes, and the aroma of my clothing is a testament to that.
So, apparently, we've been tracting in a neighborhood that's straight HOOD. That we just now became aware of it being an area we're not supposed to go to... so... yeah. Here's how we found that out: One of our investigators invited her friend to take the lessons with her. We were teaching them in his SUV (not as sketchy as it sounds, promise) and suddenly she looks out the window and gasps. His first response is to duck and yell, "WHO'S SHOOTIN?" It turned out to be a spider on the window. Kay, so maybe that's a bad neighborhood. We know that now. No fear, we're safe. And also on the prowl for some pepper spray.

We're really trying to get McComb excited about sharing the gospel. We're getting members to come to lessons with us and share the gospel with friends and family. But sometimes, that can lead to interesting experiences. Sometimes members will say the CRAZIEST THINGS! I don't have the time to go into detail, but don't say I didn't warn ya.

In other news, I met someone who doesn't believe in Jesus Christ. His name is Jay, and yes, he's the first non-Christian I've met in Mississippi.

Miracles galore here in McComb. One of our less actives, Sister H is coming to church and has committed to quit smoking! Only the spirit can make someone desire to change like that. Two 19 year old girls definitely didn't do that.

We've been teaching B and her 4 yr old daughter. First of all, the daughter fell asleep on my legs while we were teaching a discussion. It was adorable. B's mom had met the missionaries before and they had invited her to read the Book of Mormon. She came and listened as we taught B, and we asked her if she had been reading the Book of Mormon. She has been reading it day and night and carrying it in her purse every day to read when she needs peace. She has prayed about it, is sharing the gospel, knows the Book of Mormon is true, and knows Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. We set a baptismal date for her and B right then and there. She has a baptismal date after her FIRST lesson. Uh, if that's not a miracle I don't know what is. God and the spirit truly do this work. It's not us - we just happen to be the mouthpiece. He really is preparing those with open hearts to receive the restored gospel. God loves his children so much y'all! I love being a missionary. It's the hardest thing I've ever learned to love. It hurts so good.

Peace and blessings, y'all. I'm prayin' for ya.

Sister Lanning

So. Ponds are infested with alligators.

It's really cold in our apartment in the mornings for study because Sister Kerr cranks up the ac at night.

Ya live, ya learn, and ya laugh it off (7/6/15)

Highs and lows. Missionary work is full to the brim with em. It's an emotional and spiritual roller coaster, for sure. Makes me want to puke sometimes, but at the end of the day, I'm always glad I got to go on the ride. This week was no different.

A less active, Sister H, has made a lot of progress. She has word of wisdom issues, so we've been working with her on being truly converted to Christ's restored gospel. I asked her to read Alma 22 on her own, to which she texted us later, saying, "read alma 22. blew my mind and brought me back to the ground." That Sunday, she not only came to church, but cried bearing her testimony. She now remembers how willing God is to answer our prayers. How cool is that?

We saw B. for the first time since I've been here! She is realizing how much the Book of Mormon really applies to her own life. She and her daughter came to church for 2 hours this Sunday, and both loved it! We were also blessed with church meetings that were even more saturated with the spirit than normal!

We can only see R and J once a week because of their work schedule, but when we do see them, it's always amazing. SO much faith. We taught them the Plan of Salvation and they ate it up. We set September 5th as their baptismal date! Funny thing that people do is they KNOW that the Book of Mormon is true, that our message is true, and they tell us. But then they proceed to say that they don't know this church is true. Come on now y'all, the lessons we teach and the Book of Mormon ARE this church! You already know!! So it's our job to help them understand that :)

Not so much a low, but a real burden on a missionary. This week, T told us that all this time we had been talking about being baptized by priesthood authority, she was planning on getting baptized into her previous church... what. She started to think we didn't value her church at all, and got defensive. She was another one that knew our message was true, but not the church. We could only explain that we only ADD to faith, never tear it away. We only give MORE. That's what the restored gospel is, and the only way to know if it's true is to ask God and to trust and act on those answers he gives us through the spirit. That was a hard day. Sister Kerr and I drove home that night and just sat in the car outside our apartment, thinking about that experience. T was our most solid investigator. And here we were, crying for her. Not for us, but for her. This work really gives a taste of what Christ feels for us. It breaks his heart when we choose not to follow him, when we ignore those promptings he gives us. As missionaries, our thoughts and feelings should always be directed toward others. And so we feel that burden with them. Sister Kerr related this to Christ by saying, "People love us. They consider us family. But they aren't willing to follow us." Just like Christ. If we love Him, we NEED to follow him. "If ye love me, keep my commandments."

Fun event of the week:
This morning, we took the trash out and locked ourselves out of the apartment. We had brought the keys, but it only unlocks the front door, which was deadbolted from the inside. So we sat in the car and read the book of Mormon until the landlord came 2 hours later. Ya gotta laugh it off! It makes for fun memories :)

Hope y'all had a great 4th of July! Mine consisted of severe lightning and torrential downpours and a chicken sandwich and (free) frosty at Wendy's. Life is good y'all, count your blessings! Look for God's hand everyday; I promise you it's there!

Sister Lanning

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Stateside Foreign Mission (6/29/15)

I may be in the US, but Mississippi is out of this world. This week, Sister Kerr had a tickle, and a few minutes later a bug fell out of her hair. Fire ants and mosquitoes everywhere. Stay out of the grass. This morning, we were going to clean the apartment. Sister Kerr asks me to go get the comet from my bathroom. I open the cupboard door. I see the can of Comet. There is a plastic spider on top of it that is big enough to cover the entire top of the can. My heart stopped, and I'm impressed that a previous sister got me so good with that prank. UNTIL IT MOVED. THAT WAS A REAL SPIDER.

We spent 10 minutes building up the courage to kill it - put on rain boots, gloves, the works. Finally, I was able to smash it with a bottle of Windex. In the process, Sister Kerr not only fell down running away from it, but also jumped onto the toilet and BROKE THE LID IN PIECES.

Funniest thing ever. I conquered a beast today. I feel powerful. Also traumatized.

My favorite thing to say is, "DO IT FOR THE EMAIL." So I hope y'all know that every time I have to deal with something ridiculous, I can get through it knowing that someone will have fun reading about it later.

Fun eat of the week: turkey neck. Actually very good.
Quotes of the week: Investigator in a retirement home: "Will ugly people still be ugly in Heaven? That doesn't sound like Heaven to me."
Sister Kerr, talking to little girl at church: "Have fun!"

This week we had specialized zone training in which Sister Kerr and I, two greenies, had to give instruction on the area book. We laughed that we were assigned to do this, because we're both so inexperienced. But the Lord helped us, and with lots of hard work, it went great!

This week we got T. to commit to living the Word of Wisdom. We CAN promise so many blessings that come from obeying the commandments the Lord has given us. How cool is that? Commandments are ONLY for our own good - for our own growth and development.

We saw lots of other people, saw lots of miracles, and saw God's hand in everything this week. He's here. He's helping us do his work. What a privilege. I love thinking about how a mission is the perfect time to be as much like Christ as possible. We spend 100% of our time doing what Christ would do if he were here in Mississippi. We strive to align our will and our purpose with his. It's an amazing feeling and an amazing thing to continue striving for.

Make no mistake, this work is hard. But it's so rewarding. And I'm never alone. Just got to keep pressing on, finding those people that are ready for more. I love the Lord, I love the Gospel, I love ya'll!

Lots of love from Mississippi,
Sister Lanning

Sweet is the Work (6/22/15)

This has been another good week! Less finding and fewer new investigators, but the people we're working with are progressing well! There's NOTHING better than seeing the light in someone's eyes when they get it - when they get that there's so much more to this life, that we can change, that faith moves mountains, that we can have eternal life through Jesus Christ.

T. is someone the sisters have been teaching and reading the Book of Mormon with for months. We just taught her the Plan of Salvation and the Gospel of Jesus Christ and committed her to a baptismal date! She has so much faith, and I can't wait to see her in white! There's still a long road ahead, but we can do hard things and change with the help of Christ's atonement.

R. and J. make my soul fly. They're a late-20's couple living together. They look like they've done hard drugs. Honestly, J. looks like a thug. But of ALL the people I've met on the mission, they are the most humble, Christlike, trusting, childlike people. They are SO willing to do exactly what God asks of them. Both aren't great readers, but they got SO much joy out of us reading the Book of Mormon with them. They were so excited to read their verses aloud, sounding out every word. When we asked them to continue to read the next chapter, J. said he was going to read all the time and wanted to read lots of chapters! They've already told us that they know the Book of Mormon is the word of God - the DAY we introduced it to them! Just goes to show that God is preparing people for the restored gospel - he knows who is ready, even when to us they might look like the LAST people who would be interested. When we are guided by the spirit, we're led to people who need us.

I love all the people here. They don't have easy lives. Lots of people work at Sanderson farms, cutting raw chicken for 12 hours straight on an assembly line, with 12-minute breaks. But they appreciate everything they have. And they give, they give so freely.

We started riding bikes to save on miles this week, and wow, I'm pathetic. This heat and these hills can be killers, but I'm happy we have a car and that I get to burn off some of the calories from all the fried food!

We laugh a lot. We smile a lot. God is so good. This is His work. How lucky I am to know of God's love and the restored gospel and have all this time to share it with others!

Look for God's hand in your life - it's there all the time!

Sister Lanning

Monday, June 15, 2015

Greeny Fire in Mississippi (6/15/15)

Hey y'all!

Sister Lanning here, in McComb, Mississippi. It's as Southern as Southern comes. These people are so sweet and some of them are pretty whacky! I've met a baby named Da'Money. This is not a joke. Da'Money.

I smell like Mississippi. You can use your imagination as to what that might smell like. But with all the quirks and humidity here, I love it!

My companion, Sister Kerr, has only been out 2 transfers, so we're both greenies! People (me included) have been amazed at the success we've already had together. We work together super well and she's a blessing in my life. My first Saturday in the field, I saw TWO people in the branch get baptized - convert baptisms. They are two sweet girls - 8 and 10 - that the sisters have been teaching, but whose parents aren't members. Love them to death.

My first day in Mississippi, we got to work right away. We went tracting and found some very promising people. The 5 days I've been in McComb, we've had 6 new investigators, 23 lessons, and 2 baptisms. Wow. God is good. These people know Jesus well already and so many of them are being prepared to learn more. I love teaching about the restored gospel of Christ, and in doing so my testimony of the Restoration has already grown tenfold. Every day, I'm getting more and more excited to get out and teach these people. There is a lot of poverty here, a lot of broken homes, and a lot of hardship. We have a LOT of people to teach. We're always booked. The gospel not only touches hearts, but changes lives. The people of the South are ready for more. I'm honestly astounded about how many people invite us into their homes when we knock on their doors and listen with an open heart and mind to our message. So far, we have been very well received. And we have tons of return appointments and people truly interested in the Book of Mormon. I love missionary work!

We've also been visiting members and investigators in the nursing homes around here, as well as helping out with Bingo. Those people are the absolute sweetest. The gospel is for everyone, kids and the elderly, the ones that have gone astray, everyone. I love it. And I love these people. SO many people have already told us that we're the answer to their prayers. That is so humbling. I LOVE THESE PEOPLE. How many times can I say it?

Sister Lanning
Rachel at the airport with the mission president and his wife.

Rachel and her companion.

In front of her apartment, which is part of a transport company building.  

The inside of her apartment.

Getting ready for a baptism.

Off to the Bayou (6/8/15)

It's my last day at the MTC! We're all done with class time and teaching investigators here. The sisters in my district fly out tomorrow morning. We have to be ready at 3:30 am. Yikes. Next time I email, I'll be in the grand Bayou! How crazy is that?!

I am so excited to get out there, but no matter how well they prepare you in the MTC, you can never really know what to expect in the mission field. I'm really just relying on the Lord and trusting that he'll help me in his work. My knees are bruised from praying so often and for so long. But the Lord really does answer our prayers, in his own way and in his own time. Most often, our prayers are answered simply with a feeling of peace, comfort, and love, or through other people. There's no way I'm strong enough to do this on my own, and I know he is supporting me and blessing me with those people and experiences I really truly need.

It's really hard not to get discouraged here. It's really easy to beat yourself up for not being a good teacher, for not having enough faith, or for just not thinking you're cut out for the work. But discouragement NEVER comes from God. The spirit only brings peace, joy, charity, and comfort.
Elder Christofferson spoke to us this week about missionary work. That was amazing.

Now onto a crash course of what I've learned at the MTC: 
1) Turn outward. When your selfish side is telling you to throw yourself a pity party or worry about yourself, that's when you most need to serve others. "The difference between testimony and conversion is turning outward." - Elder Bednar, Character of Christ
2) EVERYTHING is about Christ. Literally everything.
3) We don't teach. The spirit teaches.
4) The gospel is true. It changes lives.
5) Fear is the opposite of faith.

I can't wait to meet the crazy awesome people of Louisiana!


Sister Lanning

"Elder T lost his leg to cancer a couple years ago, and we like to make leg jokes. We had a competition. One day during gym he took his prosthetic off and used it as a headrest, so I was like, "I can do better." and I put both my legs behind my head.  (If you've never seen Rachel do this, you've missed out!) I win. He's really cool. And I'm a big fan of making it a fun thing instead of a sad thing, Take a sucky thing and make it a way to laugh." 

Note from Rachel's mom:  Elder T was in Rachel's district in the MTC and he's her "absolute fav person".  He's serving in San Jose, which is our mission!  I'm really hoping we have a chance to meet him.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Week One and I'm Loving Life

Hey everyone!
Sister Lanning here. Week one at the MTC is complete. It's been amazing but so so hard. And so so worth it. Elder Holland once said that angels guard the windows and doors of the MTC, and I think that's true. There's something so special about being surrounded by amazing people who have all dedicated themselves to serving others and the Lord for 18-24 months. Who've left it all behind, who have sacrificed so much, who work so hard, and who love so deeply.

The number one thing is that I'm learning how much I need to learn and how much I need to improve. We're constantly learning and constantly trying to be more like Christ. It can be emotionally draining, but it's the best experience and I'm so grateful for it. With the Lord's help, we truly can do anything.

I've seen so many tender mercies while I've been here. The sisters and elders in my district are so so amazing. Sister A is the funniest gal on the face of the planet, I swear. Sister J is so humble. My companion Sister L teaches with power. All four of us are going to Baton Rouge on June 9! They all have such sweet strong testimonies, and I have a lot to learn from them. Elder M (St. George), Elder T (San Jose), Elder C (Chicago), and Elder M (Chicago) are all awesome. We have a lot of fun here. I honestly don't think I've ever laughed this much in my life, except maybe with my roommates (WHO I MISS AND LOVE) at BYU. The elders have started to catch on to how awesome we sisters are. We're pretty funny, not gonna lie.
We have 3 people that we're teaching here at the MTC. Sister L and I make a lot of mistakes, but we're really learning too. We love those people and really truly want to help them find the happiness that we've found in this gospel.
I absolutely love it here! I'm scared about how much about teaching and serving people that I don't know yet, but I'm so stoked to get out in the field and meet the people of Louisiana! I'm also stoked for the 100 degree weather with 100 percent humidity. The sweat is gonna be a big part of my life soon.

I'm starting to realize that I'm actually a missionary! And I LOVE it. This is where God wants me to be.

Love you all! I'd dig hearing from you!!

Rachel and her companion.

Rachel and Catherine Woodwell!!

Rachel with a friend from BYU

Sister Lanning

God Be With You Till We Meet Again

This is it. I'm off to the MTC! I can't express how excited I am. How terrified I am. How grateful I am. I'm embarking on the journey of a lifetime!
This is going to be hard, the hardest thing I've ever done. But as I like to say, I'm sure it will "hurt so good." I know I will learn so much, grow so much, and have amazing experiences. I can't wait to see what the future holds.
I'm a missionary now!

Note from Rachel's mom:  I just logged in to her blogger account and saw this draft.  I don't know if she intended to publish it or not, but I figure why not.  She's been in the MTC almost a week now, and is doing great!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

I Know He Lives.

I sincerely hope that all of my blog posts come across as little bits and pieces of my testimony, but I wanted to make one post that is dedicated solely to the things I believe, the things I know, and the things that bring me indescribable joy and peace.

I know that there is a God. His power and love are beyond description. Somehow, he loves every single person with perfect, unconditional love. He wants us to return to him. He wants the very best for us - and sometimes that means we have to go through very hard things so that we can learn, grow, and become more like him. 
Mistakes are inevitable. Sin is inevitable. Pain is inevitable. It's all part of being human. It's all part of the process. God, in his infinite knowledge and love, made a way for us to overcome all of it. He sent his son. Jesus Christ gave up his throne on high to come to earth and dwell with sinners like us. To die for sinners like us. He paid the price for our sins and mistakes and imperfections. He was the only one that could pay the price because he was the only one who didn't have his own sins to pay for. He suffered every single pain that you have endured. He knows you perfectly and he knows perfectly what you are going through. He is your most loyal, most understanding, most dependable friend. He conquered death, and now we can too. Because of him, we have eternal hope and we can return to live with him if we have faith in him. I know that following Christ, coming to know him, and keeping his commandments is the path to true happiness. 

The Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ. It goes hand in hand with the Bible in testifying of him. It is true. Studying it can bring great peace and understanding of God's plan for us and his love for all of his children. God still speaks to us. We can be guided by the Spirit and receive answers to our prayers through personal revelation. Our loving Heavenly Father still reveals his will to his prophets, just as he did in ancient times. He has not abandoned us. 

I wouldn't be giving up 18 months of my life to teach people these things if I didn't believe them with every fiber of my being. Everything happens for a reason. If we place our lives in the hands of God, he will make more out of our lives than we could have ever imagined. I know that God lives and loves us, I know that Jesus Christ died for us, and I want to shout it from the rooftops!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Big White Envelope

My papers were in. It was out of my hands now. I just prayed that wherever I was sent, I would know it was right. Guesses were pinned on a world map, and I was checking the mailbox compulsively. Let me tell you - it is a weird feeling knowing that your fate has been decided and you don't know what it is yet. Especially when the only thing standing between you and finding out your fate is the speed of the postal service.

Then, on Friday February 27 at about 4 in the afternoon, I could barely believe my eyes when I opened the mailbox to see that big white envelope. I might have done a happy dance and let out a little scream. Okay, a big scream. 

In front of lots of friends and family, I opened my long-awaited mission call, fumbling a lot of words.
Dear Sister Lanning,
You are hereby called to serve as a missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. You are assigned to labor in the Louisiana Baton Rouge Mission. It is anticipated that you will serve for a period of 18 months. You should report to the Provo Missionary Training Center on Wednesday, May 27, 2015. You will prepare to preach the gospel in the English language.
(This is a lot more to the letter, but that seems to be the paragraph people care about.)

Louisiana. A year ago, I would have frowned at that call. 
English speaking? Boring. Stateside? Boring. 

But not anymore. 

I am so excited to teach people that I can relate to, although their culture will still be different and exciting compared to what I'm used to! I am so excited to teach in my own language so that I can express my testimony exactly as I feel it. 

Here's a fun way to think about stateside missions:
Jesus - the greatest teacher of all - only taught Jews. His ministry and mission was teaching his own people in his own land in his own language. Having that similarity with the Savior is pretty cool.

It was so cool to read where I'll be spending the next year and a half of my life, knowing that it is exactly where God wants me to be. I felt a tidal wave of unconditional love for the people of Louisiana crash over me.

This call is exactly right. It is inspired. It is for me.