Monday, April 28, 2014

To Dashel Robert Thomas

Hey all,

Well, I suppose it would be appropriate to dedicate this one to Dash.

I am deeply saddened to hear the news about Dash. I didn't believe what I read at first, but after reading all of the letters, it hit me and I spent a few minutes alone soaking it in. Many tears were shed for that dear dog, and I'll miss him a lot. I'm sure that to a lot of people, it seems dumb to talk about the influence of a dog, but Dash really was a big help to me in many ways, and I would like to talk about those things today.

I wanted a dog for so long. As long as I could remember, I wanted a dog. I don't think I really knew why I wanted a dog, it just seemed like something that would be cool. Whatever the reason, I wanted one. I'm sure that Mom can testify of the many pleading on my part to get one. I think that it was a good lesson for me to ask for so long, and looking back, I think that was my first thing that I really pushed for for a long time. Many things, if I'd ask and get a "no" response, I would call it quits there. I think that a dog was the first thing I really stuck with. If things are worth it, you'll wait for it, as long as it takes. I think that was the first thing that Dash taught me, and I didn't even have him yet.

I remember very well the Christmas when Mom finally said we could get a dog. It was a small box, red if I remember right, with a ribbon around it. I opened it, and was confused, because at first I didn't see anything in it. I dug around the blue (I think) tissue paper and pulled out a small stuffed dog with a collar and a leash around it. I thought that Mom was trying to be funny and that that was my supposed "dog," but below everything in the box was a green note card, that should still be somewhere in my room still. I have kept that card all of these years because it meant a lot to me. All it said was a large "YES," written right in the morning, and in the upper corner "(Spring)." It clicked, and I remember shouting, "Oh my gosh! We're getting a dog!" No one really listened too much, they paid more attention to their presents after a quick cry of excitement. I remember crying when I got that gift, and I think that that was the first time I ever cried in my life because I was happy.

 I am reminded greatly of the scripture in 3 Nephi,
 9 Or what man is there of you, who, if his son ask bread, will give him a stone?
 10 Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
 11 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

I know that Mom didn't want a dog, but she wanted me to be happy. Thinking back on it, I think that that was the first principle of parenting that I learned. Being a good parent means doing things to make your kids happy, which I'm sure doesn't mean that they are things that make you happy. I am sure that millions of Dads get home from work, and the last thing they want to do after a long day is be the punching bag of an army of little kids, but they do it to see the smiles and hear the laughter of their kids. I learned there that loving others means sacrificing for them, a trait that my wonderful mother shows so greatly.

I learned, too, about the importance for preparing for the future. I remember buying a book about dog training and reading it often. We looked for kennels, thought of names, where he would sleep, what he would eat, how we would walk him, all that jazz. It annoyed me at first when Mom and Dad always wanted to plan something new about getting the dog. I learned, with time, that they were all necessary things to do before he got there. But, once he finally arrived, I realized how even though we plan a lot, there are things to wing always. I guess the principle I learned there was to plan all that you can to prepare yourself, and then be ready to make lots of things up as you go.

All of these things so far I learned before we ever even had Dash, excepting the last few sentences in the last paragraph. I attribute those lessons learned to him still, because without knowing that he was coming, I wouldn't have learned those things. Now, I'll start talking about when he finally got there.

I remember the search for a dog to buy, originally looking for a Bischon Frise (I really don't care how you spell that), but the breed came to light first of a Goldendoodle, but then it was settled on a Cockapoo, a word that sounds as silly as it looks. We searched, and I remember one day, I think it was the last day of school, Mom had printed out a picture of a small Cockapoo puppy with green eyes. We had searched hard, gone and visited, and found nothing. Mom asked me if we wanted to go see him that afternoon, and I remember expressing doubt about that puppy at first. I remember that Mom got a little frustrated after working so hard to find a puppy and I didn't even want to go see it. I felt bad, and we decided to go later that afternoon. I think we went to Camp Snoopy that day for the last day of school, but all I thought about was getting the dog. We met up at a McDonalds, if I remember, and held the puppy. He didn't leave my arms after that moment. The owners spoke about how they always hid him because they didn't want to see him go. We bought him, and he became ours.

I sat in the back of the Suburban with him, with newpapers on the seats to prevent damage from accidents. He licked my face, ran around a little confused, and I remember that Nikki and Amber were jealous that I was holding him. It was there in the car, I think, that we picked out the name Dash, because before going home, we stopped off at Walmart to print off a dog tag with his name on it, "Dash Thomas," with our address and phone number. Since the Incredibles had recently come out, we decided on Dash, which quickly became, Dashel Robert Thomas. (The kid's name in the Incredibles is Dashel Robert Parr.) We made it home, and there were fireworks to celebrate summer break. He was horrified and we tried to comfort him inside, but it didn't work too well.

Dad always reminded me of the responsibility of having a dog. I listened to his words, but they went in one ear and out the other, I think. That first night, we put him in the kennel, but he whined and whined. I called it quits, Dad spent all night with him. Woops, my bad. I realized quickly that this dog thing wouldn't be too easy. I remember having thoughts about maybe giving up, that this whole "dog" things wasn't so much fun after all. I do remember getting up with him in the morning and sleeping next to him while he slept on the vent by the front door. I remember seeing him and thinking about how unreal it still felt that I had a dog, and that kept me going with him instead of giving up. I studied in that dog training book, and read a little bit about how they whined because they missed their siblings/mothers, and they needed to be around someone. We tried it out, setting up a barricade in my room, and it worked! He whined a little, but soon went to sleep. I think that there I learned that new responsibilities are hard to get used to, but with studies and a good motivation, you figure them out and you realize that they are totally worth it, because you finally have something that you want.

I loved walking Dash. I remember the days when a walk to the end of the street and back, and that would knock him out for a good 4 hours. Picking up after him on the walks wasn't too bad either, and he didn't need that much food. But, little by little, he needed longer and longer walks, he left bigger messes, and he needed more food. Those thoughts returned of, "is this whole dog thing worth it?" It was tough, I remember doing something I promised Mom I would never do: complain about my dog responsibilities. She knew that would happen. She kept pushing me and reminding me of my promises, and I did my best to keep them. I tried to walk him every day, but I wasn't perfect in that. The initial excitement of getting him started dying down, and the realization of the long time commitment of a dog became more of a reality.

Mom and Dad kept reminding me of the things I promised, and I kept all of them as best as I could. Because he grew, we put in an electric fence, and he picked up really fast on how it worked. He only got shocked two or three times and then knew what the white flags meant: stay away. He never really had problems with going to the bathroom in the house, I can remember two or three times it ever happened. We were in classes with him to learn tricks and stuff, and he caught on quick. (We stopped going to those classes, woops). He learned how to play fetch really easily, and loved doing it. And seeing him do those things brought me another kind of motivation. Growing up adds to our responsibilities, but the growing up in turn allows us to be able to do bigger and better things. Although it does get a little harder at first, as they learn more, they become more independent. And seeing those growing up progress brings us happiness.

Dash would touch the leash with his nose when he wanted a walk, move the bowls when he wanted food or water, brought his ball when he wanted to play, growled when he wanted to be petted, and scratched at the door when he wanted to go outside. As he grew, it became more of a thing like me saying, "Hey, you know the things I can do to help you out. When you need something, just ask." He got to that point, and life with Dash continued to get more and more normal, and more and more happy. That's where we all need to get eventually with our Father in Heaven. He wants us to learn all of the right things, and become as independent as we can, and also recognize that help is always there if we need it and ask for it. Growing up is tough, but the progress we make is so important. Heck, Dash even got the point when he could let himself in the garage door! That's my boy!

He was, however, a barker and a biter, something that he never got better at. We tried very hard to work with that, and he just wouldn't get better. I don't have too much more to say about that, because it doesn't take a lot of words to say that he barked and bit a lot, but that's just a good reminder that no matter how hard we try and work at it, we and all of those around us will have flaws and weaknesses that we should always help with, but also accept it as part of them sometimes.

I loved my walks with Dash, and the people I often walked with. Those walks involved great conversations that helped me personally. I remember that those walks were important times for me to be able to think about all kinds of things. I loved using those walks as ways to get away when I was invited to parties or whatever where dumb things would be happening. I'd take him on a long walk, just him and me, and I loved that. It was one those walks that I dedicated a lot of time to thinking about my own future, the things that I wanted to accomplish and the things that I wanted to have. Those walks helped me to make initial decisions that led to bigger, better ones. Those walks became very special moments for me. That was one of the things I was most looking forward to about going home. I am saddened to know that that won't be possible any more, but I will always remember those walks, be them alone or with someone else, as very happy, very peaceful moments.

I am grateful for those who have taken care of him for me whenever I haven't been able to, before the mission or during it. I hope that I have said thank you thousands of times for Dash, I have tried to make that something I do often. He taught me to be so very grateful for the things that we have. He was my miracles. I always asked for him, but never knew if I'd ever get a dog. I realize the sacrifices it caused for many, especially Mom, but I hope you know how grateful I am for every single minute that I had with him. I feel more gratitude for Dash than almost everything else in my life. He taught me to always be thankful for what we have.

I remember making up our version of "Golddigger," sustituting things that Dash did, such as steal underwear, throw up all of the time, jump up on the table to steal our food, with the chorous being, "Go ahead, Dash, go ahead, get down," which was a fun day. He got stuck in the pipe under the road once, that was a fun one, too. I remember how sneaky we tried to be, too, when we would find Dash's throw up before Mom, and we wanted to clean it up before she noticed. We resorted to some crazy things, especially Heather and I. Mom could still probably tell, but it was still fun to try and fool her.

The nice things about dogs is that they always feel like they are your friends. I remember just feeling better being around him, and I felt like we were buddies. I fought so hard for him, and liked doing things with him. He was always there when you walked home, always barking when Steel walked by, always bringing his ball up to you. I'll miss hearing him, as he sits next to us, growl until we pet him. He was a good friend.

Sorry if the letter doesn't have a good flow, I haven't revised it well and I feel kind of out of it, but hopefully I got my main points across.

I remember at the beginning of my mission having the gut feeling that I wouldn't see Dash again. I suppose I know why I felt that way now. I am quite sad about his passing, I was hoping so much to walk with him again. I am glad that he was able to be a fun thing for Eliza and Jack and other little kids, and that he passed away with Mom, Dad, and Amber. That dog meant the world to me, and he still does. I am grateful for all that I learned from him. I have only listed a few of the things that I remember of him and very few of the many memories that I have of him--there are certainly many more. The influence he had on me was one that I will remember, for because of my time with him I learned important lessons about responsibility.

I loved Dash a lot, and I am grateful for the time that I had to be with him. I'll miss him a lot, and hopefully I can use many of the things I learned from raising him as the time comes for me to start a family of my own.

Thanks for everything, Dash.

Con amor,

Elder Thomas

Saturday, April 19, 2014

"Today is Thursday, Dwight thinks it is Friday. And that is what I'll be doing today!" Jim Halpert

Hey all,

Well, I was in Quito 2 days this week. Lots of traveling, but it was all good stuff that we were doing. And we ate some really good food, too.

I just watched a new Bible video about la Semana Santa, it was super good with some new clips from the resurrection and other parts of the week. The Church is super true. I'll put some Easter thoughts at the end of the letter and fill you in on the week this week.

I only had one day to study this week, which stunk. On Monday, we had the morning to study, then we had to go to the offices a little bit earlier than usual. An Elder, a zone leader, had extended his mission three weeks, so with his going home, we had to do some changes. In the changes, President assigned a new assistant to work with us, Elder Miranda. He is very humble and very awesome. We'll be in a trio until the change ends, then Elder Ospina is going back into the field to work as a zone leader and Elder Miranda will be the one who kills me. I'm excited and sad. Excited because Elder Miranda is awesome and we'll work really well together, and sad because Elder Ospina and I have been companions for 6 months, and right when we're in a great rythm together, it's time to split up. But, that's almost always how it goes. Right when you're getting good at something, that something ends. A good example of that is eating a really good hot dog. You figure out the right stuff to put on it, enjoy the first few bites, and right when you're really enjoying it, you accidentally bite your fingers because you ate the whole hot dog without realizing it. I hope that I'm not the only one that that has happened too...

We spent the day doing verifications, we had a pretty good week. April will be a weird month because we only have to weeks where we can do confirmations, which is frustrating. But, it'll all turn out okay. We spent the night at President's house and got ready for the trainings we would do during the week.

On Tuesday, we had a meeting with two zones, Calderon and Ofelia. It went really well, and we put Elder Miranda right to work. He did a really good job, especially considering that he had no idea what was going on. We gave him a crash course, and he was able to use the powerpoints to help him now the general direction of everything. We're doing a good job of doing everything that we need to do in the right amount of time. If you go too long with missionaries, they stop paying attention. We do lots of practices and offer them lots of pizza at the end, and we manage to keep their attention.

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and this morning, we were in Otavalo. I love going there because it is so pretty there. Wednesday and Thursday, we did the specialized trainings. They went fine, just like the rest of them. We try to change things up a little bit every time just so that we don't get bored of saying the same things 8 times a month. They're fun missionaries there, so they made the training fun.

Friday was a leaders' meeting, we have one every three months in different groups. We have a lot of new leaders and a lot of leaders that aren't doing a bad job, so instead of complaining about them not doing what we want, we train them for a few hours so that they being to do what we expect. A lot of times people seem to be failing just because they truly don't know what to do. Some can eventually stumble upon how to lead, some do it naturally, and some need you to sit down with them and go step by step how to do the job. We do a little bit of everything in the training, helping each kind of leader. Everyone has the potential, we just need to help them find it a lot. Little by little, they're getting where they need to be. It was another good meeting with some promising new leaders getting their feet set.

I've learned a lot about how important it is to be patient with the missionaries. When I first got to the offices, if a missionary wasn't doing well, I just wanted to get mad at him for not working well. I've grown to learn how different each missionary is, and that if we aren't seeing the fruits from them that we want, they're probably struggling with something or just don't know what to do. A quick division with them helps out a ton, and as we focus on them as individuals, we begin to look at them not as problems, but as a person needing a solution. It's fun to work with them to help them figure out how to do things. That's a fun part about my job right now.

Friday afternoon, President gave a fun training to future missionaries in the Ibarra District. That district is the oldest district in the whole Church, no joke. We are trying really hard to be able to make it a stake, and President's training helped out a lot of the youth to go on missions. If they can go on missions, when they get back, they would be a big strength to be able to make the district a stake. We did quick divisions at night, then stayed overnight one more time. For Holy Week, there is tons and tons and tons of traffic between Quito and Otavalo, so we waiting to leave until this morning to avoid traffic. Sister Richardson is still in the states, so we got to stay in the hotel with President. The pictures I'll attach will say enough about how awesome that hotel was. Paradise right there, baby.

Usually when we go to Otavalo, it is very pretty, but very cloudy. You can't ever see the tops of the mountains, but the green hills are pretty. This trip, we got super lucky. I'll attach the pictures, but one night was crystal clear, which basically never happens there. Otavalo is a very simple city with few lights, so little light pollution. We got to the hotel, right on the lake, and the water was still as can be, making itself a mirror of the sky. It was a full moon, giving off tons of light, allowing you to see the outline of the volcano Imbabura. The stars dotted the sky and there was no noise whatsoever. A perfect night. Would have been a great time to ask someone to marry you. What?

The next two mornings were also perfectly clear. The sunrise was beautiful, with mist whisping off the lake, creating an awesome light. The sun shone brightly, illuminating the valley and making all colors more vibrant. Not one cloud was in the sky, and you could see the entire volcano Imbabura. Super, super pretty. The birds chirped, the ducks quacked, and the llamas almost spit on President. Super pretty.

We've had a low key day today. We went shopping for food for the first time in weeks since we've been traveling so much. Now, we have food. I'm on a NutriGrain crave. The box isn't too expensive and they taste great, so I can't complain.

So, that was my week! I have had no time to study at all, which is a bummer. I want to go over the Conference talks, but I haven't even had time to download them yet. Being busy is great, but we need a normal, low key day in one of these days to be able to study and to catch our breath again.

Today and tomorrow all of Ecuador has Stake Conference. It's going to be a broadcast from the Area, the first time they've ever done it, we'll see how that goes. Knowing South America, something probably won't work out.

It looks like you guys had a lot of fun with the family visit this week, thanks for sending the videos. The kids are really cute and Mom and Dad don't look any different. Did you get new couches?

I am very grateful for this Easter season. Here, the week is filled with a ton of apostasy. Tons. It's pretty sad to see how much weird stuff goes on in the churches here to apparantly celebrate "Pascua," or Easter. The most sad part of it all, I think, is that they pretty much don't do anything in regards to the resurrection of the Lord. They focus so much on His suffering, on His pain, and they somehow think that His pain must become theirs. It is a clear evidence to me of one of the many things that Satan does to gain power--to focus on the loss of a mortal body instead of the eternal resurrection that we are all destined to received. Of course thoughts of receiving a body that can't die would make Satan furious, so he wants people to forget about that as much as they can. Here, it works.

I am so thankful for the knowledge and understanding that we have from the Restoration of the Gospel. We know that His suffering was great, but it ended. His death was terrible, but it wasn't in any way permanent. The thing that makes it all different is that we truly know that He lives as a glofied being, never to suffer death again. We feel so much more light in our lives focusing on that. Seeing a wooden carving of a beaten and bloodied Jesus carrying His cross is not the message of Easter. The message of Easter is that He did something that no one before Him ever did. He overcame death, and now, we can as well.

I am reminded a lot of a few scriptures in Doctrine and Covenants that I wish everyone here in Ecuador could read,

15 Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I  smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.
 16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would  repent;
 17 But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
 18 Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—
 19 Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.

The message of Easter has nothing to do with sadness or suffering. The message of Easter has everything to do with light, happiness, and eternal life. Because of this week, we don't have to suffer. It is not the Lord's intention to have us to suffer. As long as we repent, we can feel His love always. He never invites us to suffer as He did, but to follow Him, to put our load on Him, and to learn that through His life, we can live forever with Him. That knowledge makes me happy.

I testify that Jesus Christ lives. I testify that He loves us. Everything that He did, He did for us, and all that He asks is that we live His Gospel. I will follow Him always, for I know that only through Him can I be happy. He is the Lord of all things. I know these things are true.

I wish you all a happy, bright, and inspiring Easter. I hope that you can all remember how great it is to have the Restored Gospel and to know how to follow Christ again. I love you all tons!

Con amor,

Elder Thomas

Monday, April 14, 2014

"I don't even have to floss!" Groundhog's Day

Hey all,

Another week under the old belt. And I mean that quite literally, my belts are quite old and starting to fall apart. How the week actually got under the belt is the real question.

This week has been a good one. I don't remember if I've explained this to you, but we got through a three month cycle of what we do with the missionaries. One month is zone conference, one month is a specialized training, and one month is interviews with President Richardson. We keep that cycle until the Second Coming pretty much.

This month we have specialized trainings. We've only had one so far, but it went well for us. We're training on how to teach the Apostasy better, it's a fun training, as I kind of talked about last week. We're studying the Apostasy, like the actual events that happened during the Apostasy. It really is a great Apostasy, there is tons of junk that went on when all of the Apostles died. It's so true what Preach My Gospel says about the importance of teaching it well. We talk about how often times, especially here in South America, many people understand and accept the story of the Restoration, but they don't progress because what they really don't understand is the concept of the Apostasy. Many people here think that any Church is fine, a common phrase is "It all leads us to the same God, right?" And sometimes we get frustrated that they aren't understanding the Restoration, but more often than not it's the Apostasy that isn't quite clicking. We train a bit, then we do tons of practicing. We want to get better at doing practices because if we don't practice, they probably don't do what we ask them or don't do it well. We're spending about 75% of our training times now doing practices. It's going well, hopefully they will now apply everything we learn in the field. If not, they are dumb.

President does his training on the Restoration, and he does a great job. He talks about the importance of the First Vision, that that should be the spiritual climax of the lesson, and it is true. I don't know how many times I've recited the First Vision, I imagine that between practices and lessons it's getting close to a thousand. But, every single time, without fail, you can feel the Spirit easily and strongly. He talked about how important it is that we say it with feeling, something that some missionaries don't do too well. We need to keep eye contact, testify, and help them to know that they are feeling the Spirit. A very important question to ask in a lesson is "How do you feel?" It is probably the most important question you can ask. What they feel is a lot more important than what they understand (few people understand everything that we teach in the first lesson). How they feel will be something that they remember a lot longer than what we taught in the specific lessons during their investigation of the Church. Again, we spend about 75% of the time practicing, and we've seen some good practices. Woo First Vision!

I was studying this week about the importance of councils. I learned a lot, great tips there. While there aren't tons of councils of big groups of people, so to speak, in the mission, we do have councils with President every week and the leaders' council once a month. It's important to help everyone have a great experience being part of any kind of council, and it is important to have a council in pretty much everything that we do. The chapter starts explaining that the Godhead is the Great Presiding Council of the Universe. How sweet is that title? How do I apply?

"Oh, Elder Thomas, what do you do for a living?"

"Oh, I am a member of the Great Presiding Council of the Universe."


It also provided an interesting study of Abraham 4-5, looking for the use of words like us, we, they, our, the gods, indicating a work of many people to build the earth, or a council to do so. I'd never really payed great attention to that before, but it's totally true. Rarely does it talk about one person, if ever, creating the Earth alone, it is always with plural words. Pretty sweet.

It also explained that the Church is governed entirely by councils and that the purpose of each Church council is to "help God's children enjoy the full blessings of the Gospel." That is the purpose of ward councils, the Council of the Twelve, the Council of the First Presidency, councils of the presidencies of the Church in their various organizations, family councils, all of them. It spoke a lot about the family council, how we should use it to prepare the family for the future, and that when more people feel ownership of a problem on any level, including the family, more will want to find solutions and more gets done.

It included two talks by Elder Ballard about the importance of councils. It taught a lot, but I won't share everything, just four points he gave to make us have more effective councils.

1. Remember that it is ALL God's work
2. Focus on the fundamentals
3. Focus on people
4. Promote free and open expression
5. Participation is a privilege

With number two, he talked about how easy it is to get off track and start talking about things that have nothing to do with the doctrine of councils or trying to discuss deep doctrine of the Church. He explained that if it isn't doctrine, it isn't in the council. He also warned against the danger of not talking about the names of people, and that a lot of council meetings just turn into calendaring. If we aren't mentioning specific names and making specific plans to help that person in the majority of the council, we aren't doing it right.

I learned a lot about councils from that, it was a great read. You should check it out if you have time in that booklet I sent several months ago.

In the Book of Mormon, I am reading about Christ's visit to the Americas. I loved seeing His pattern of adjusting His teachings to the needs of the people there. He starts out teaching the big things He taught in Israel, and once He covers, as He explains, what the Lord had commanded Him, He starts sharing things that the people need to hear to really understand. He explains the Sacrament, He explains the whole other sheep stuff, how important true faith is, just a slew of things that they needed to hear. He blessed the children, prayed for all of them, a great, great example of doing what we should do and should say, then looking around to see what else they need. We need to be good about that as missionaries, too. With the new Preach My Gospel way of teaching, we do have specific things that we need to teach them, but we also need to be listening well to be able to adjust the lessons to the needs of the people we teach. If we are robots, people don't think that we are awesome. Although robots are pretty sweet. (See Iron Man)

In Preach My Gospel, I am currently studying chapter 2 about effective studying. It's a great chapter, I always find something that I want to do better in my studies. What stuck out to me this time as I was reading was the importance of knowing more than you teach. In more than one place, it talks about how we should always be obtaining more knowledge on the doctrine, but rarely, if ever, we will teach everything that we know, But, obtaining more knowledge will strengthen our testimony and help us to be better prepared and better converted with whatever question we face or whatever principle that we teach. So, we need to studying a ton if we want to be a good teacher. Right next to that, it has a quote by Hyrum Smith, I think, about how we know that we're true masters of something if we can teach it to a child and they understand. So, we need to know tons and also know how to sum it up very simply. That being said, if anyone wants to know more about Nephite rock carving customs, I'm your guy.

Since this month is specialized trainings, we are able to do a lot more divisions, which I love. I love my time in the offices and the things that I am learning, but it feels so good to get out and work for a whole day and teach and find. I miss that a lot. We get to some nights during the week, but never all day long. It's great. I miss a lot of things about working in a sector all day. One thing is that whenever you pass by a little bakery and smell the fresh baked bread, you take a quick pit stop to each a bread or two, drink something, then get going again. I love when citas fall and you have to think of something more productive to do. Teaching people, seeing them understand what you teach and accept it, man, gotta love it. We do good divisions; we're so anxious to work all day that we bust it. We'll do as many as we can this month, I want to do tons in the next two months.

This week was a little tough for President because his son got married and he didn't get permission to go to the wedding. Sister Richardson and Andrea did get to go, though. President used Skype to pretty much be there all day, and they had a cardboard cutout of him there. He's alone here, so Elder Ospina and I are staying with him for another week or so until his family gets back. We were with him a lot of yesterday to keep him occupied playing games. By the end of the day, the phone they were Skyping with from the States died, so they charged it for 10 minutes and it would die again. Poor President, you could see how much he wanted to be there. But, technology is a big blessing, and he could see almost everything that went on at the wedding. A good example of being obedient and sacrificing to better serve the Lord. Great man, President Richardson. He's in the jungle this weekend for a baptism. I really wanted to go, but no luck this time.

We went to the Teleférico today for an activity. It was fun, I went at the beginning of my mission, too. I'll send a picture of today and a picture of almost two years ago to see if I've changed at all.

Anyways, I think I've bored you guys enough for this week. Hopefully you've enjoyed reading at least some part of the letter, and remember that I am always willing to have that talk about ancient Nephite rock carving customs if you are interested.

Love you guys! Thanks for all of your prayers and support!

Con amor,

Elder Thomas

The picture with us reading the scriptures is "lámpara" as they say in Ecuador, it would be something like cocky or showy in English. We're gonna use it for our council to show that we're always thinking of the Gospel :) 

Monday, April 7, 2014

"Infamous? What's infamous?" "It means the he's so famous, that he is IN famous!" Three Amigos

Hey all,

How awesome is General Conference? I loved it so much. It's a great opportunity to be around many other missionaries to listen to Conference together. It is a miracle that we have such easy access to watching each session of Conference. In one room, we had it perfectly streamed in English, in another room in real time Spanish. Pretty amazing stuff.

Well, I'll start off with my General Conference comments then I'll take you through my not too bad week.

First off, I thought the flowers and stuff behind the speakers were really pretty. Nailed it.

I thought it was very interesting how a good number of the talks, especially on Saturday, focused on the increasing need to defend our faith. That story of the sister missionary by Elder Holland was a great example, I've had many times where I, too, have wanted to beat people in the face. I just throw a rock at their dog instead. Elder Holland gave a great talk, firm as always. I loved his statements about not having a "comfortable" God who is always happy with what we do, but a God of commandments and high expectations.

Sister Reeves gave a great talk, as well. She, too talked a lot about standing up for what is right, even when the world says else wise. She spoke in a very effective way about the dangers of pornography and in contrast the happiness that a strong, clean, united family can bring to us. We should have daily desires to change.

Elder Anderson talked about the trails we will face, I like how he said that the best defense is reading the Book of Mormon--it gives us strength to fight against temptation.

I love President Eyring. He's a great speaker and a great leader. I loved his statement that every day, we can choose to make or keep covenants and our covenants leave an inheritance of hope for those who follow us. Mom and Dad have done a great job of keeping their covenants and giving us hope for our future. I thought of their example a lot during the talk. He talked about how many of the prophets have the attitude, "Oh, things will work out," an optimism that we should strive to have as well.

Elder Nelson and Elder Scott both did a good job talking about staying on the right path and preparing ourselves for the opposition that we will surely face in the near future. They both stressed that popularity doesn't affect God's commandments, wrong will always be wrong.

Poor Elder Hales, he was looking so weak. It is a such a tender thing to see men in such difficult stages of life still dedicating their time to the work of the Lord. As weak as they are, they still give great, great talks. His testimony of obedience was so great, I hope that all of the missionaries were listening. He talked about two kinds of disobedience to avoid--"natural man" disobedience and "selective" obedience. Any missionary who serves right should leave free of those traps of disobedience, but many times that doesn't happen. The obedient missionaries are always the happiest missionaries.

Elder Cook did a great job of reminding us how important it is to have temples today and the importance of the work we do there. I miss the temple so much, I am very anxious to be able to go there again. Poor President Richardson, he won't be able to go for three years.

Elder Oaks gave a great talk, one every member should read and study, especially the sisters in the Church. He explained perfectly how things are organized in the priesthood and how we all are part of the duties that the priesthood entails. He is a master speaker. I also liked how he talked about how there is not "up" or "down" in the Church, only forwards or backwards.

Elder Uchtdorf gave a great talk about not sleeping through the Restoration. I'm sure that was a comical time throughout the talk as many men prodding their seat partner awake to listen to the talk. The three things that make us sleepy are selfishness, addiction, and wrong priorities. Great talk. Didn't even doze off during it.

President Eyring gave a great talk, I think the one that touched me the most, the one that made me want to act the most on what was being said. I have a bad habit of praying kneeling down in my bed. That leads to half-awake prayers, often falling asleep right in the middle of it. I need to get a lot better about praying, and Elder Eyring talked about how to do that. Very great talk about our heroes and how they influence our lives. It's weird, having Batman as a hero, you'd think I wouldn't have problems about falling asleep at night.

President Monson's talk about being courageous was outstanding and just what a lot of people needed to hear as we enter difficult times. He said that if we ever find ourselves where we shouldn't ought to be, get out! I liked what he quoted about Jabari Parker, too. As President Monson talked about the importance of being the same person wherever we are and whoever we're with, he threw in the quote by Jabari, saying basically that we should be the same person in the dark and in the light. Great advice, great council that we will need as we face more and more opposition in the coming days.

President Uchtdorf gave a great talk on being grateful. I like how he said that instead of having gratitude for things, we should be grateful in every situation that we are in. He talked about how we think too much about the end of things, but, as children of God, no end exists, only small interruptions. We can always choose to be grateful. Good stuff, it's like he's a prophet or something.

Elder Ballard gave a talk that I hope you all listened to about missionary work. I hope you all do what he asked and buy a Preach My Gospel and share your studies with me and the missionaries in the ward. I'll do better about talking about it, too. Be sure to follow up, too, and to invite someone at least once a quarter to listen to the missionaries.

Bishop Stevenson gave a cool talk, but I felt totally out of the loop since I had no idea what happened in the Olympics. Girls do the snowboard half pipe?

Elder Bednar is a stud, his talks are always great. We always need loads to give us spiritual traction or we will be stuck wherever we presently are. His explanation of being yoked with Christ was excellent, gotta love it. His testimony at the end of this being the day of Christ's birth was very touching.

President Monson gave a great talk on love. It is something that we all have to do better at, and very prophetic for him to talk about it. With the problems that we unavoidably face with things like gay marriage, many will be tempted to get angry at those who support it, but we cannot do that as disciples of Christ. We must all love and respect everyone's agency and hope that they do the same for us. He said that we may forget the acts of kindness that we perform, but the recipient never will.

Sweet Elder Packer, like Elder Hales, is such a great example of enduring to the end. He, too, looked so very weak, but he still gave a powerful talk as an Apostle of the Lord. A great instruction on knowledge and intelligence and various other things that he has learned throughout his life. His testimony at the end was so powerful, where he basically testified that he has seen the Savior and knows that He lives. Elder Packer is a spiritual giant, and I love hearing his great advice and his great testimony.

Elder Perry gave a great parable of a horse with the driver and the bit. I had no idea that a scripture existed that talked about that. Pretty cool. I think we all need to do better about being sensitive to the tugs and pulls of the Spirit.

Elder Christofferson's talk on the Resurrection was wonderful, as well. He said something along the lines of, "For having redeemed us from the Fall, our lives are essentially His." He quoted Elder Maxwell, and the quote went something like, "The Atonement eliminated the human predicament, now there are only personal predicaments." Nailed it, Neal.

What a wonderful conference. I am excited to be able to study it again when the Liahona comes. Hopefully it gets here before I leave, sometimes it takes awhile to get here. I have two big resolves after this conference: to pray better and to make conference a bigger part of my life. I study the talks every now and again, but never as I should. I want to avoid any tendency of listening to it, remembering it for a week or two, and then not thinking about it again until the week before the next conference. I want my study of the General Conference talks to go hand in hand in my study of the Book of Mormon-- it should be a daily thing. I need to get better at that. I know that it will make me happier. I also don't want to fall asleep as I pray.

Also, a quick side note, Elder Zivic and Elder Aidukaitis gave excellent talks, and the whole time I was thinking, "They speak English just like the bat from Anastasia." I hope someone else thought that same thing.

I love conference. I am ready to keep working hard, it is a good dose of spiritual vitamins that kick us back into gear and remind us just how much work their is to do, and that we so easily fall into a routine that doesn't demand too much from us. We are reminded in conference that we should spend time every day helping the work to progress. I am excited to work hard and to help the other missionaries in the mission to do the same.

Alright, so my week really quick.

Tuesday, we had our leaders' council and it went very well. We talked about how to commit people to do something and how to follow up, just what Elder Perry was talking about. March was the best month that the mission has had so far, it went really well for us and we are very happy for the work of the missionaries. April will be tough because the first week is General Conference (no confirmations) and the third week we have an Area broadcast for the Stake Conferences here. But, we'll still work hard. It was a good council.

Wednesday and Thursday, we had time to plan and to work in our sector. We got just about everything set for April. This month, we have specialized trainings, and Elder Ospina and I are going to train about how to teach the Great Apostasy better. President is going to train about how to teach the Restoration better. We read in Preach My Gospel that if people don't understand the Apostasy, they will see no need to listen to it. The compare it to a diamond on black velvet. The black velvet is the Apostasy, and the diamond, the Restoration. When they understand the Great Apostasy, the message of the Restoration will shine in their eyes, minds, and hearts. It should be fun. We're talking about super apostate things, basically the history of the Apostasy. When we finish the slide show, I'll send it so you can see.

Friday, we had a leaders' council, but not like Tuesday's. This one was with district leaders, zone leaders and sister leaders. We have a bunch of new leaders again, especially district leaders, that have no idea what they are doing. We prepared a leader's booklet for them, outlining everything that they should be doing as leaders. We spent a lot of time practicing, and they all left more confident in their abilities to lead. It was a great meeting.

And, yesterday and today was General Conference. It's the best "holiday" in the mission. I think I've said that before, but it's true. On days like Christmas, you spend all day picturing the delicious food at home and stuff like that. With Conference, we get time to rest, but leave super pumped to work hard and serve the Lord. Game time, baby.

I got to study more this week, but this letter is already really long since I talked about the conference talks. Next week, we can talk more about my studies. Plus, you should now be talking to me about your studies, especially in Preach My Gospel. Get on that!

Anyways, love you guys tons! I hope you enjoyed conference and set your own goals on things that you want to get better at. I hope you all have a great week, and I hope the same for me! Also, I haven't taken pictures in a week or too, sorry for not sending more.

Con amor,

Elder Thomas