Sunday, September 27, 2009

New Blog

Hello everyone! I'm just writing to let you know that from now on I will be updating you all on my life at the following address: I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Do I Bite My Nails?

I've recently been studying the beginning of the Doctrine and Covenants. As I was reading section 3 I was impressed when the Lord says to Joseph, "But remember, God is merciful; therefore, repent of that which thou hast done which is contrary to the commandment which I gave you, and thou art still chosen, and art again called to the work." Joseph had just lost 116 pages of scripture. That's no small mistake. I'm sure he knew the levity of that error, but the Lord told him in essence, "You're not perfect. Yeah, it was a big mistake, but you're still learning. Just don't do it again." And what is amazing to me is that Joseph learns. He doesn't do something like that ever again.

So I have a friend with a horrible habit: he bites his nails incessantly. I remember once I was sitting by him watching a movie. He had asked me to help him stop biting his nails, so we had agreed that I would push his hand away from his mouth whenever he went to start biting his nails. So the movie started. His hand went up. I pushed it away. Ten seconds later his hand would go up again. I would push it away. This pattern continued until the two of us gave up. He must have tried to bite his nails, I don't know, 20-30 times in just ten minutes. It was absolutely exhausting. This happened over four years ago. Recently I was talking to this friend and he was still biting his nails as much as ever. Nothing has changed in four years. He told me that he stopped biting his nails on his mission, but that when he got back he started right up again.

How many times have I done something of a similar nature. I am in no way, shape, or form perfect. I do try to do my best, but I find that I make the same mistakes over and over and over. When I was on my mission, I went through the same trials repeatedly. I think the Lord was trying to tell me something. He was trying to teach me and it just took me a long time to figure it out. How amazing it is to me that Joseph only needed to be told once and he changed. That is true repentance. It's changing. It's being different. The Lord is so patient with me. I didn't even have the patience to push my friend's hand away for more than 10-15 minutes.

The Lord is so patient with me, but this is not to say that He doesn't expect us to change. The Lord goes on to tell Joseph in section 5, "Oh, this unbelieving and stiffnecked generation—mine anger is kindled against them."All the Lord expects of me is that I change and that I do better every day. Surely, it's not as hard as I make it out to be. I just need to be more aware of my own nail being drawn to my mouth.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

One Day More

Hello family! It's so nice to hear from you again. As much as I love the fact that we have email, I am more than excited to be able to actually talk to you! Yay!

It's been a crazy week. As always. Nothing changes.

This week I went to a funeral. That was my first and hopefully only experience with Portuguese funerals. Wow. One of the sisters in the other ward, Sao Miranda, her mother died last week. We found this out Thursday morning. So we deliberated all day wondering what is culturally appropriate to do, go to the viewing or the funeral or both. We went to both. The viewing was on Thursday and when we walked in, Sao looked at me like I was an angel. We've grown close through our time in the choir and I was grateful that I was able to help her during this difficult time in her life. The next day we felt that we needed to go to the funeral, so we walked the 40 minutes to the other chapel and got there in time for the service. That was all normal and wonderful. It was a beautiful service. Then we went to the cemetery. I was slightly shocked. I think that was one of my first experiences with culture shock. We got to the cemetery and then got out of the car to walk alongside the hearse. Then we got to the gravesight. It was all just dirt, there was no cobblestone, no cement, nothing. Just a large plot of dirt (probably about a 1/2 acre). Then we got to the plot and I saw a long row of graves dug out, probably about 20. There was only about 1'1/2" space between the graves and we were only given a few minutes at the plot because there were other groups coming in. I was shocked when they started burying the coffin right in front of us. It was so different and such a cold experience. How grateful I am for the gospel and the beautiful service that we had in memory of São's mother. São is a really great lady.

Right after the funeral we had Leide's baptismal interview. Everything went really well. Her only problem was that she didn't know how she was going to keep the Sabbath day holy, because of work. Some problems had arisen and she wasn't sure if she would be able to go to church on Sunday. But Elder Fernandes saw how ready she was to be baptized and so everything was fine. I called her the next day just to see how she was doing. She surprised me when she said that she had quit her job. She later told us that she needed to make a decision and so she did. She is now looking for a job where she won't have to work on Sundays. If that isn't faith, I don't know what is. She is so willing to do all the Lord asks of her. We are all so excited for her baptism. The ward has really come together to get things ready. I am impressed.

Cibele is still doing okay. She becomes more endearing every time we see her and her countenance is also changing. Clotilde is also starting to understand the Restoration and what it means for her, so hopefully she will be able to have the courage to change her life.

My last Sunday was weird. Irma Oliveira has been very tired this past week and Sunday was a hard day for her. It was weird for me. We had to do so much for the baptism and it was my last Sunday. Suffice it to say that I was a little bit stressed. :) But everything went well. We sang "Nearer My God to Thee" as the opening hymn in Sacrament meeting. That was a tender mercy for me. That hymn is my favorite hymn in Portuguese and has been very special for me. I felt the love of the Lord for me as we sang.

It was also comforting to see how nothing changes. Six months is plenty of time to pick up the patterns of a ward. Setubal 1 is such a funny ward. It really has become my home ward during my time here. I love the members so much. They have become like family for me. It will be hard to leave them. But I will see them again.

I also went to a rest home for the first time in Portugal. It was actually really nice. We visted an elderly Angolan sister. She was so delightfully Angolan. I have missed the Angolans and Cabo Verdians here in Setubal. The Relief Society president wanted to take me there to sing hymns with her and it was just wonderful. She was so excited that we were there. I love service! Nothing is better than singing hymns with people. They just love it.

Sunday night Irma Oliveira just wanted a good meal, so we went to the house of a member who ALWAYS gives us soup or something else that is amazingly good. But, alas, she had not made anything because she was too tired. But as we left her house, another member of the ward called and said that she's made us dinner. That was such a blessing for us. The Lord truly watches over us.

Monday we had district meeting and we took district pictures in our Sporting or Benfica jerseys. That was fun. We have quite the rivalry in our little district. Then I had decided that I would give out "district presents." What I did was gather together all the stuff that I didn't want anymore, divide it up and put it in separate bags. Elder Fernandes got my bandaids, Elder Gray my extra ibuprofen, Elder Walker got my travel size toilet paper and Irma Oliveira my hair gel that I hated. They laughed so hard. It sure is nice to give, isn't it?

Yesterday was a great day. Super normal. That's what I wanted for my last full day, was just a normal day. We taught, we had lunch with the Gaspars, and then we knocked some doors at the end of the day. It was also SUPER hot and the sun was bearing down on us. Perfectly normal in every way. I couldn't have asked for a better day.

Well, family, as always, I have much more to say, but not enough time to say it. But, this time I'll be able to catch you up in a few days! Thank you again for all of your love and support. I love you all!

Até já!!!
Irmã Laura Thomas
(the last time)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

One Loyal Dog


Thank you for your interest in Laura and her mission. Next week will be her last email update. She will be returning home late on Friday, August 7th. She asked me to invite anyone in the Dallas area to come and listen to her speak in Church on Sunday, August 9th at 11:00 am. It's The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the address is 1324 W. Exchange Pkwy., Allen, Texas. Our home phone number is 972-727-2919 if you want to call her starting on the 8th. She will probably only be home a few days before heading back to Provo to find a job and an apartment - back to real life!. Her email address is:

Have a great day!

Hello dearest family! Thank you once again for the emails and the support. I love hearing from you every week. Remember that I still have one more week for emails. :)

It's been another crazy and full week. I got POUNDED by water balloons last week. Seriously, I think they all thought, "ooo let's get the seeshter!" i was soaked...good thing it was cloudy and a bit chilly...It was really fun to get all of the youth together though. I loved it.

I also had my last division of my mission last week. Irmas Watkins and Lister came down from Seixal. It was good to see them both and to get to know Irma Watkins better. When we were on our division, we passed by Clotilde's house. We've been trying to meet with her, but she lives really far away and always said that she didn't have time to meet with us. But we passed by and it was great! She was very excited to see us and seemed like she really needed to talk. So we went in and had a great lesson about the importance of prayer. We were about to drop her as an investigator, but I just felt like we shouldn't. I truly felt like an angel as we talked to her.

Then we went to the Duarte's house. Irmao Duarte is still very sick (it's been three months now). We swept their patio and then talked to Rita. I feel like I've been able to help them in some small way. I have always strived to be a better disciple of Jesus Christ every day, rather than worrying about the business of the day. When I am there I feel like I am right where the Savior would want me to be. There is no better feeling than that.

We also taught Leide about modesty last week. My goodness she's amazing. She took right to it, and while she doesn't have much money at all, she has done some small things to be modest. Every time we see her she is perfectly modest. She came to church in a very modest dress and nice sandals and a big smile on her face. She had gotten home from work Saturday night at about 2:00am and then went in to work early (7:40am) so that she could get her work done and come to church. That is true sacrifice. The ward is actually excited for the baptism, so that is a great sign. Maybe this is exactly what the ward needs so that real changes and progress can be made here. Who knows? But Leide is doing great and is very excited to get baptized next week!

We taught Leide with a recent convert in the other ward, Weverton. When we were with him he took us to a woman who is a less-active member from Brasil. Don't worry. She works at a bar. Seriously, we go to the strangest places to talk to people. And we talk to EVERYONE. It's been a great experience and she was actually very open to talking to us.

We got some sad news this week however, due to some complications in Tavira (which is in the Algarve), Elder Valencia was emergency transferred to that area. So we no longer have the "Dream District," but it was great while it lasted and the elders in our ward have been two of the best that I've served with. Things change so fast, don't they?

We went to Azeitao on Saturday. My goodness it was scortching hot. We couldn't hardly get anything done because the sun was so strong. Ick. My legs felt like lead by the end of the day. But, fortunately, Irma Oliveira told me some funny stories from her ward in Fortaleza. We had had a street meeting earlier that day and she gave away a copy of the Book of Mormon wrapped like a present. So funny. It worked though.

We had our musical fireside on Sunday. It went really really well. The Spirit was so strong and the choir just did great. I was so proud of them. However, between the two wards, only about 20 people showed up. President Torgan spoke (as did I, I found out about five minutes before...) and he also sang a solo. That was a shocker to us all. Never would have expected that one.

Yesterday we had a funny experience. Really, the strangest things happen to us. The Caleiras have two dogs, as I've mentioned. The one, Luna, followed us for about 20 minutes the other time and then went home when we got to our destination. This time she came with us for two hours. We had to stop at the church to get her water as it was quite hot. We knew that she was lost, so we called the Caleira's and they had to come pick her up. Seriously, the things we do. We couldn't work because we were babysitting a dog. I got a good chuckle out of that one. But she is a very very loyal dog. I am impressed by her.

We are also teaching a young Brasilian family, Andreia, Thays and Richard. Last week Andreia gave the most sincere prayer about how her life has gotten better since knowing us and this week, little Richarde, who is only 8 or 9 years old, asked us how to know which church is the true church. Wow. I am excited to see what happens with them before I go home.

Well, that's all the time I have. I have so much more to tell, but I'm sure you'll hear all about it. I love you all and have a great day!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Fishy Hands, Crazy Make-Up and 40ºC

Hello dear family! It's been a very eventful week, so this is going to be a poorly written email so I can include everything. Here we go...

So last p-day that Nelsons came up from the Algarve to go to Mafra with us! It was so amazing and I LOVED going back. When we were on the main highway just north of Lisbon heading to Mafra I got SO excited. We saw the convent and drove around. It's a bit different now, they are making it more touristy and it looks good. We also went to see the Esteves and that was my favorite part. We walked in and President Esteves greeted us very warmly, as always. But my favorite part was when little 8-year-old Emma lit up when she saw me. Not only is she young, but it's been a year since I've been there. She remembered me! That was so exciting. I am so grateful that I got to know that wonderful family. I saw pictures of Filipe on his mission in Mozambique and he looks so happy. It was a nice visit.

Then that night we taught Leide more about keeping the Sabbath day holy. I felt very guided as we taught her. I explained that all of us can do better to keep this commandment and I invited us all to do better and to keep the Sabbath day holy as best we can. I was about to close up the lesson, but I felt like I needed to share with her what my dad always did when he had to work on Sunday. That he would go into work really early so that he could get back in time for church. That next day we called her to see how she was doing and she told us that she was going to work it out with her boss so that she could go in early then leave for church and then go back and stay later if she needed to. I was touched at her desire to keep the commandments.

We returned on Friday and had a great lesson on the gospel of Jesus Christ. We then invited her to be baptized on the 5th of August. She immediately accepted and said, Yeah, that sounds like a good day to me. It is certainly perfect for me too! That will be my last day in Setubal and will be the last real thing that I do as a missionary. She is the most amazing person. Truly humble and willing to change. It's been such a joy for me to see her change and become ever so much happier. So yay!

Friday night there was an activity in the other ward that we invited people to, so we went and were surprised to find out that it was an activity all about strengthening your marriage. We watched a film all about how to make your marriage better. It was a good film and very American. It was SOOO weird to see the American culture again and hear the different accents. I will have a shock when I go home. For sure. I couldn't stop laughing at the expressions that they used. Elder Valencia was laughing right along with me, so I'm not alone.

On Saturday we had a church cleaning project. I felt so Mormon as we cleaned. They really need to do more service projects here. Then right after we had a "Sardinhada," which is basically a sardine barbeque. Let me tell you what, sardines are not my favorite, but carapaus (horse mackerel)are AMAZING. What you do is put a piece of bread on your plate and then the grilled fish on top, then you peel off the skin and dive in with your fingers to eat the fish. It was SOOOO good. I ate four. Don't you worry. I am more Portuguese with every day. I LOVE fish. Who knew? We did smell like smokey fish the rest of the day though. But we're used to the smell. It's all the restaurants grill here.

The musical fireside is coming along quite well. We will be singing this Sunday and so it will be my last time with the choir on Sunday. I'm actually really sad about it. It's been my favorite service project that I've given on my mission. They very "subtley" asked me and Elder Wray to leave the room at the end of the they may be planning a party for us. We'll see.

Monday was a crazy day. President Torgan called Sunday afternoon and moved our interviews from Monday to Tuesday. It threw everything into chaos because we had eight elders in Setubal from other areas who then had to stay for an extra day and had nothing to do that whole Monday. But the zone leaders saved the day. We had our district meeting and then we took a lunch break and then we went back and played a "game" that Elder Wray made up. We had to go out and talk to as many people as possible and at the end we had to see who got the most points, based on a scale that we didn't know anything about when we set out. We got points for knowing how old an old lady was, for how many times and older man said that he was too old to change and how many times a business man said that he was in a hurry. It was so funny to hear the different points. At the end the companionship with the most points (we almost won) won "Companionship Night," which included a board game, popcorn, two ties and candy. We laughed so hard. The elders are so funny. Of course, you get a group of 19 and 20 year old boys togehter, what do you expect? They all really are like brothers to me.

Unfortunately, that whole day it was SCORTCHING hot. It hit 40ºC, which is 104ºF. Yes. It is hot here. Well, right now it's chilly and overcast...but that's beside the point.

Yesterday was a great day too. We had interviews. It was good, but very different. Then we went out with Sara Cordeiro, who is amazing. She went knocking with us and then went with us to teach Maria de Nascimento (Mary of the Birth). We had to HIKE up a HUGE hill to get there and then when we got there we walked into her house and saw that she had a shrine to the Holy Family. Really, very big. It was also very hot and this lady had makeup smeared all over her face. She kept rubbing her eyes and smudging it even worse. I don't know how I kept my composure, but I was really blessed. I hardly even cracked a smile. All I could think of was Iza from the Emperor's New Groove. Think of her and you will be able to picture this lady. I think by now I have pretty much seen it all.

Well, that's pretty much it. Phew! Today we're having a water balloon fight with a bunch of missionaries and pretty much all of the youth and young single adults of Setubal. It's going to be great! I love you all and have a great week!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Colombian Chili and American Cake...YUM!

Hello family! Thank you so much for the emails and support! I love hearing from you all every week.

It's been another ridiculously fast week. I don't know where the time goes. It's so interesting that when you want time to slow down it speeds up.

We've met with some of our members this past week and talked to them about who they know who would benefit from hearing about the gospel. We had a great experience with a couple in the ward, the Martins. They are amazing and they came up with some great ideas. We have been trying to meet with them for weeks, but it never worked out. We are trying to do the work differently here. The members need to do their part and find people for us to teach. Our best as missionaries is just not good enough, so we're working more through them members and teaching them their role in the work.

Sunday I had an interesting experience. We were sitting in Relief Society and the lesson was about the temple. The Portuguese are always talking about having a temple in Portugal and wanting a temple in Portugal. So the lesson just became a bit of a debate on why there's no temple in Portugal. The teacher did a great job of teaching about the temple and the lesson came back to where it needed to be for us to learn and be edified. But as the little discussion was going on I became a bit frustrated and sad at how they just didn't seem to "get it" about why the Church here isn't ready for a temple. As I pondered about it I realized that we can use this great passion that the members have for having a temple here to give them the motivation for doing missionary work. If they want a temple here, then the Church needs to be stronger, so they need to share the joy of the gospel with those around them that they know. I felt very strongly that we needed to change a good amount of things in the ward and set a goal for the number of people we want in the ward by the end of the year. I talked to the ward mission leader and he agreed completely. Since then, we have all been brainstorming ideas and tonight we will meet with the bishopric to make some changes here. The Church here is so ready for growth. We have laid the foundation and now it can really grow. I know that by the end of the year, there will be great growth here in our ward, if the members do their part. And, they are amazing, so they will. I am grateful that I am here to be able to get things started.

Monday we had our district meeting and before it started we had a great lunch. Elder Valencia made us some GREAT chili and it tasted SOOO good. Wow. It was also Elder Walker's birthday. So...I used the cake that Mom sent me and made a birthday cake for Elder Walker. Oh my. The elders were all soooo excited to see that cake. I got thank yous for the rest of the day from all of them.

Yesterday we had a great experience. I have been bugging one of the young men here in the ward, Pedro Caleira, about teaching his friends, because he's a great member missionary and talks to his friends all the time about the Church. So yesterday we finally taught his friends. It was a great lesson. I love teaching about the Restoration! I was so pleasantly surprised at how well his friends paid attention (there were five of them, all age 17 or 18) and listened and participated. Two of his friends were really excited to get the Book of Mormon and to read and pray about it. The Spirit was very strong as we taught and testified. I was so grateful for all of the preparation that Pedro did so that his friends would have the respect to listen to what we had to say. Some really good seeds were planted yesterday. I am excited to see what happens with them.

Other than that, nothing else really has happened. Leide continues to do really well. We invited her to find a new job before Friday so she can get baptized, so we'll be working hard so that can happen. I love you all and hope you have a great week!

Yes, I CAN Sing All Parts

Hello family! First, I will not be emailing you all individually today. We had everything planned out, but then we had a little mishap with our money being left at home, so...we had to go back and that used up my other half hour of time to write you right now. I hope to be able to come back later today and respond. But, paciencia. I will be printing out your emails and reading them. Thank you!

Well, it's been a FAST FAST FAST week here. Really, time is FLYING by here and I am honestly starting to freak out a bit about it. Yesterday we had Zone Conference, my last one. :( It was great to meet President Torgan and Irma Torgan. They are wonderful people and will continue the work that President and Irma Terry started here. It was a bit of the "Irma Thomas Show" yesterday, to my dismay. I have already mentioned before that we have the chance to give a talk, at the choice of President Torgan, and guess who got chosen...ME! I was just a bit too smiley when they got here and kept making eye contact. I should know better than that. He went right up, pointed right to me and was like "Seester, you will speak on faith, Elder you will speak on charity." Bam Bam. He has such a thick accent. It's crazy and he's got a booming voice so it was just a little scary. It went okay...I could've prepared better...I also had the chance to give my "final testimony." No, I did not cry. Yes, I teared up and was very close to crying. It just has started to hit me that I'm leaving and will never come back here as Irma Thomas. It's very sad for me in that regard. But I feel a peace about what I've been able to accomplish and what we still have to accomplish. I have loved my mission and am so grateful that the Lord told me I needed to serve. It has changed me and my life. I also got called up by President Torgan to be used as an example. And they kept talking to me and Elder Wray. Actually, that was very nice. Irma Torgan went up to the pulpit and thanked me and Elder Wray for our service and wished us the best in our lives. I could feel her love for us and that was a tender mercy. Conference was very different, but very good. President Torgan will be changing a lot of things, but it will help the work grow here.

This week we had a couple of divisions with the young women in the area. We went first with Sara Cordeiro, who's actually a young single adult. Everything fell through, so we left the building we were at (after being chastised by an older lady--out her window on the 3rd floor, mind you--about how we shouldn't ring on her neighbor's door because no one was there, although someone showed up. Oh Portugal, the funny things people do here.) So I turned to Sara and asked her where we were going to go. She got a real panicky look on her face and said, no no no, Irma, I don't choose, you do. But we insisted and we ended up on this road. We knocked on the first several doors. Nothing. But then we knocked on the door of Heloneida, a lady from Cabo Verde whose sister is a member. She let us right in and we talked to her. It was a great experience and when we left, I turned to Sara and said, Wow! Look what you did! She got a big smile on her face and said that she didn't do anything at all.

Leide is doing great and we're still working on her papers and her job situation. We had a great lesson with her and she bore her testimony of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. She has such a faith and is very elect. I love working with her and seeing her change. What a miracle she is.

Last night after Conference everything had fallen through and I thought of where we should go. Immediately, Lindalva came to mind. She had not been progressing at all, but we needed to go by anyway, so we went. When we got there, her husband, Marcelis, informed us that Lindalva's sister had died that day in Brasil, very suddenly, of a heart attack. We talked to her and listened. I felt so strongly the love of our Heavely Father for her. She really needed to talk to us and hear what we said. I felt so guided. Every day I am more grateful for the help I receive.

Sunday we had choir. So I was helping them with "Beautiful Savior." I ended up first helping the sopranos, while the altos were in with the piano. The sopranos got it down. Then the altos were okayish, but we were changing the ending, so I went upstairs to see how the men were faring. It was not pretty. But, fortunately, I knew the bass I helped the basses. Yes, it was funny. Then the tenors were lost, so I learned the tenor line and helped them. We all laughed a bit. My voice was so hoarse. I love serving through music.

That's all I've got time for!I love you!