2014 is the only year where every single day, I have been a missionary. We are 3 days away from 2015!!! WHAT? I distinctly remember being in Tampere last New Year's Eve. I slept on the top bunk and I couldn't sleep that night. I was way homesick and felt like a mountain was right in front of my face and the only direction I could go was up and forward. I remember laying in bed and waiting for midnight to come. I was praying so hard that Heavenly Father would help me feel that He was near and that I wasn't alone. I opened up the blinds in our room and I saw fireworks shooting over the lake. Kind of a unique answer to a prayer, but I knew that Heavenly Father wanted me to be happy and have fun and He really was with me. I have known that ever since. But it's been one heck of a year. Crap, now I'm crying. I wouldn't trade this year for anything and 2014 will always be "The Great Pivot" year for me. I feel like the course of my life completely changed for the better. I am so grateful for 2014 and so excited to bring in 2015...not going to lie, I'll probably sleep through it, but I will eat some guacamole and do the "Cha Cha Slide" before I go to bed...I know that's what you all will be doing! :) But Happy New Year to you all! Let's make this year the best one yet!
So I told you on skype how it snowed, but man...I just wish you could all be here to see Finland in the snow. It is unreal. This country was created to be in snow. It is SO BEAUTIFUL. And FREEZING cold! It is -20 degrees Celsius today and my hair and eyelashes and cheeks and nose were completely frozen this morning. It was hilarious. I have tried to capture the beauty of Finland in the snow, but my camera doesn't do it justice. It is amazing though and I was SO grateful to have a white Christmas. It was a tender mercy if I've ever seen one :)
We had our last district meeting on Christmas Eve Day. It was really fun. We all sang and did the actions so "Once there was a Snowman." Man, I wish I had a video of that. Super funny! We had a really good meeting about Christ and everyone bore their testimonies about Him. I feel like, more so this Christmas than any other, I have come to love and appreciate my Savior so much more. I am so grateful for the relationship I have with Him. I am grateful that becoming like Him is a process. I always have something to work on and do better. I will never be perfect, but I know that I can try to be like Him. That really brings more joy than anything else. I will miss this district. It's been a really good district, but guess what, Sister Pace is coming down to Espoo to be with Sister Bruce so we will be in the same district again! haha way funny! I am really excited to see her!
So I didn't get to really tell you about our Christmas on skype, so I'll do that now! Well, in Finland, their Christmas Eve is the same as our Christmas Morning. In other words, Santa comes on Christmas Eve night and all the kids open their presents then. I think that happens because Santa actually lives in Finland in Rovaniemi by the Arctic Circle so he goes to his homeland people first! :) Anyways, we went to the H family that night. They are the funniest people in the world and I love them both so much. Their house is completely white. Like everything. White. It is really cozy and nice though and it was fun to sit and talk with them. They invited us and all of the recent converts over for dinner which was so fun! We had a way sick dinner. We grilled our own food on these portable grill things they had and we also made like deluxe grilled cheese sandwiches with cheese from France. Honestly, America does food right, but Europe has bread, cheese, and chocolate down. It's a miracle I can still wear my clothes :) Just kidding but the food was SO good. Then after that we sang Christmas carols while Sisar H played the piano. Guess what guys, I have memorized the alto parts to Silent Night and Angels we have Heard on High. I am basically pro! :) then after that, we opened up presents. I didn't expect to get anything, but my gosh, we have the best members in the world. They gave both Sister Nielsen and I and the recent converts so many nice things. It was so sweet. I told Sisar H that she needs to be careful or she is going to be translated pretty soon! :) It was just an amazing night.
Sisar H drove us home after the party and I was sitting there, listening to Christmas music, looking at the beautiful snow and then I remembered, "I get to talk to my family tomorrow." I didn't even realize it, but I burst into tears and was so excited to see you all. It's so funny because I talk about you guys all the time, but I don't really let myself feel bad or miss you. Does that make sense? It's like I have you with me always, but I have trained my brain over time not to be homesick. But man, all those feelings just came rushing to me and I was just bawling. Luckily I composed myself enough to say goodbye to Sisar H and then we went inside and went to sleep.
The next morning we woke up and opened all our wonderful Christmas presents from the best family in the world. Thank you all so much for the sweet letters! I loved ALL of them and had a good cry sesh in the morning! It feels good to cry sometimes, ya know? :) But I love all the gifts! I am using Luke's legit clay pot for my earrings and rings and I have worn my scarf, hat, and socks everyday this week. I look pretty hipster now that I figured out how that hat works...man I am a hopeless hipster! :) Except that I speak Finnish. I am holding on to that! :) But thank you all so much for the gifts. We read the Christmas story in the Book of Mormon in 3 Nephi 1 and of course in Luke 2. It was a really special morning.
Well at 11 we had a brunch with all the temple missionaries. It was so great to be with them and eat some good, home-cooked food. It tasted just like food from home which was great! We talked with them for awhile, then Sister Nielsen and I decided we wanted to watch all the Bible Videos on lds.org. So we did that...we didn't make it through all of them, but Oh man....it was so great! I loved it so much and the spirit was so strong. What a great way to spend Christmas....hearing the words of Christ. Then around 3:30 the A family came to pick us up for Christmas dinner with their family. We had the traditional Finnish Christmas food which consists of ham, carrot casserole, potato casserole, beet salad (Grandma, you would love it) liver casserole (my favorite...psych) glögi (the delicious Finnish Christmas drink) and gingerbread. It was so good! Their family is great and they gave us some wool socks for a present. That is literally the greatest gift you could get. You can't buy socks like these! :) It was just a great day!
After that, we skyped....and boy was that fun! I am so happy that you are all doing well. I just love you all so much and can't wait to see you and give you all a big hug! Definitely will be one of the happiest days of my life! :) Minä rakastan teitä!
So this Christmas was pretty amazing. I am so grateful for all that happened, but, I am always a little sad when Christmas is over. I just love that spirit in the air. I love thinking about Christ...all the time. But every year on December 26th, I think, "Dang it....365 days left." After we skyped, we came home and I was writing in my journal and I wrote, "Man, why can't everyday be Christmas?" Then I was sitting there, thinking, and the thought came to me, "Psh, everyday totally CAN be Christmas!" After that, I made a list of all the things I love about Christmas. I love being with family. I love thinking about the Savior. I love serving people. I love giving and receiving gifts. I love eating GOOD food. :) I just love the happiness I feel in my heart. That list got me thinking, "Ok, this is totally possible to make everyday Christmas." So the idea came to me that this year, starting on December 26, each day, I am going to consciously give 1 gift back to my Savior. Hopefully I give more than one each day, but at the end of the day, I am going to write down what gift I gave to Him that day. Whether it's writing someone a note that needs it, or being friends with someone who doesn't have a friend, or helping a family member or friend, I'm going to do it. Next Christmas Eve, I will have 365 gifts to give to my Savior and I am going to read back through all of the things I wrote down and then give it to my Him as my Christmas present. I will have all these wonderful memories of things I have done throughout the year and I know that I will become more like Christ and I will have the spirit of Christmas with me everyday this year! :) It has already been amazing. I have noticed how Christ is still very much in my mind as I go throughout the day trying to serve others and do what He would do if He were here. It's pretty amazing how that really is all that it takes. Be like Jesus and Christmas will be everyday!
Anyways, it's funny having a companion going home. She is winding down to the end of her mission and I am weekly planning for next week. The thought has occurred to me over and over again this week how funny it is and remarkable it is that the work of the Lord never stops moving forward. We leave from our missions or from callings, but the work doesn't stop there, someone else just picks up the ball and keeps going. It's pretty humbling too, because the work will go forward whether we are on board or not. I don't ever want to be left behind. We got change calls this week and guess what.....SISTER NYMAN IS COMING TO BE MY COMPANION. Oh my goodness....she is incredible. I went on splits with her a couple of weeks ago and I thought in my head, "Man, it's too bad Sister Nyman and I won't ever get to be companions." I thought that because she was training and only had 1 transfer left so I figured that she would just stay there, but nope, she's coming to be with me! I am so excited. She is from Norway and is literally the nicest person I have ever met. We get along really well and have crossed paths a lot on our missions. We are already way good friends and I know this transfer is going to be amazing! I am really excited.
I am going to miss Sisar Nielsen. We have had so much fun together and hello...we're cousins so that's pretty hilarious. She is such a great missionary and has done so much good in Finland. There is definitely going to be a hole here when she leaves, but I am so grateful for the relationship I have with her. We are best friends and she is awesome! I gave her your email and number mom so they will get in contact with you about going to her homecoming. I would love you all to meet her! :)
So two cool stories of the week. Ok, wait, hold on...sidenote: so in Finland, a lot of people drink alcohol...did you know that? haha it's disgusting and I hate it, but during holidays, we as missionaries have "Red Days". I think I have told you about those before, but it means that we can't go outside unless we have scheduled appointments because there are so many drunk people around and that's never good, or safe. Anyways, we had 3 full red days this week, so we didn't get a chance to do a lot of "normal missionary work", but we had a great day Saturday. We found 2 new investigators who happen to be people I talked to on the train about a month ago. They are from India and are coming to a temple tour on Saturday so pray for them! :)
We went to the J family again this week. We had planned to teach them about church attendance and why it's important. I was sitting there, about to read Moroni 6:4-6 when all of a sudden, the spirit just came whooshing into the room so strongly. It kind of shocked me how fast it came and the feeling it left. Anyways, I said," Ok, so in Moroni 6, it....Sisar J, how long ago did you get baptized?" Uh what? Where did that come from? She responded "about 3 years ago." Then, Sister Nielsen asked, "Have you had the new member lessons before?" (new member lessons are just the PMG lessons again to recent converts after they have been baptized). Sisar J said, "No, but I really want to learn more." Turns out, she was baptized and then a week later, she and her husband moved to Austria and there was no church there so she basically was baptized and immediately turned less active. Anyways, she is so excited to learn more about the church. Sister Nielsen told me how hard missionaries have worked to help this family, but it just never worked out. It wasn't their time. But I really know their time is now. I am really hoping and praying and have this "vision" so to speak that they will be sealed as a family within the next 4 months. I know it is possible and I am so excited to work with them! Their family came to church again yesterday and Sisar J even called and set up an appointment with us...first time that has happened on my mission! YIPPEE! Time to do work! :)
Well,I have learned so much this week. I told you how I felt during all the conferences we have had over these past few months that I needed to get to know my Savior better. I have come to know Him better and am so excited to continue to do that, but I wanted to know what my next direction should be. I have wanted to read Doctrine and Covenants on my mission, and I figured out if I read one section a day, I will finish on the last day of my mission....gross. Anyways, that is one thing I am doing now and so far it's been great. I was reading in section 3 the other day in verse 4 which says, "For although a man may have many revelations, and have power to do many mighty works, yet if he boasts in his own strength, and sets at naught the counsels of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires, he must fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him." Woah...pretty scary! :) Just kidding. But in this section, Joseph has just given the 116 pages to Martin Harris and now they are lost. I have always kind of winced when I hear that story. Can you imagine how he must have felt? Ugh...pretty awful. But this scripture really hit me that really all we do or have done or will do is because of Heavenly Father. All we have has been given to us and can be taken away. But then I continued to study and came across verses 7-8 which say: "For, behold, you should not have feared man more than God. Although men set at naught the counsels of God, and despise His words- yet you should have been faithful; and he would have extended His arm and supported you against all the fiery darts of the adversary; and he would have been with you in every time of trouble."
Another scripture which I have come to love came into my mind as I was reading that. It's Matt 16:24-27
24 ¶Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
26 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
27 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
That sentence in bold hits me so hard every time I read it. I know before my mission, I never thought that not reading my scriptures one day or not going to church one day would bring upon me hell fire, but I have realized that any little sin we commit, may not really "kill us." Like not going to church on Sunday....probably won't kill you. Swearing...probably wont' kill you. Drinking coffee...probably won't kill you. But the thing that will kill you is the fact that you are breaking a commandment. What will a man give in exchange for his soul? Nothing is worth more than our souls. Not even the life of God, himself. Think of what Christ did to win our souls back and think of how easily we sell our souls to lame little sins. It really just isn't worth it. Nothing is worth more than being in the presence of our Heavenly Father one day as a family. That scripture and story really has changed me and the way I think about the gospel and commandments. We don't always understand why we have commandments or how on earth that will help us, but the thing is, we have to have faith that whatever we "sacrifice" by keeping a commandment is nothing compared to the joy we will have in the eternities. It's like my favorite scripture says:
41 And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it.
Man, if that doesn't motivate you, I don't know what will. I know that keeping the commandments brings us happiness. I have seen both sides of the coin so clearly on my mission and I know now, more than ever which side I want to be on and will be on for the rest of my life. I am not going to compromise my standards or sell my soul for stupid little things that bring pleasure and maybe even sometimes happiness, but not eternal joy. Being obedient to commandments and rules really saves us from self-inflicted trials. It doesn't take everything away, but boy, it makes life a lot easier. I am so grateful for that lesson I have learned on my mission. I am so grateful for all of you! You are the most wonderful family in the world. Seriously. It's true. I love you all more than I can say. I am so happy to be in Finland. I am happy that you are happy and I hope you know, even though I am thousands of miles away, if you ever need anything, I am here...on Monday mornings...haha and you are always in my prayers! Have a wonderful week and especially party hard on the New Year...but not too hard! :) I love you!!
Sisar Olivia Bitner
P.S. "Something Finnish"....they are really into "mood lighting". All the houses of the Finns are dim, dim, dim. They love the natural light. Dad, you would fit right in :) Pretty interesting! Have a great week!!
|Last District pic|
|Matching sweaters for Christmas!|
|Our Christmas Eve group|
|Cute Sister Smith gave us these (temple couple)|
|The famous White Church|
|Christmas Eve and the H family's house|
|Christmas Eve...thanks for the pajamas grandma!!|
|Christmas Morning!! Thanks for the gifts!!|
|My beautiful Finland|
|The nativity in front of the temple|