Thursday, June 21, 2012

Grandpa Thomas

Josh's grandfather passed away on Tuesday and his mission president encouraged him to write something about him that could be shared with other family members.  We felt that his message was applicable for all and we hope you enjoy it.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Grandpa Thomas is stories. Without fail, each time that we visited he always had a story for whatever topic we were discussing. Every single visit revealed another crazy childhood adventure, and who could forget the stories of my dad as a kid. Grandpa always had a way of bringing a smile through his willingness to share his life with others. I attribute this to the fact that he lived a life that saw a plethora of experiences, each contributing to the man that we all knew. We all loved him, and we will all miss him, but we must remember that love is the cause of our sorrow, because it is impossible to remove the sorrow from death without removing the love from life. The death of one we love serves as a reminder of the importance of every moment in life, for we do not know our appointed time, thereby making it neccesary to make every day count. (See Hebrews 9:27) My experience with Grandpa Thomas taught me this principle well - I will forever remember and charish all of the stops at Mama Petrillo's for some pizza and salad, going to Dodger's Baseball games, trips to the zoo, and time spent building relationships of love and trust by sharing in each other's experiences.
Herein lies the miracle of our Savior's sacrifice on Calvary - through his atonement, we can rest assured that this life is but a small moment in comparison to the eternities, that the seperation before us is temporary, and that the reunion on the other side is an eternal one. Elder Richard G. Scott has taught that "We can strengthen our relationship with the departed individual we love by recognizing that the separation is temporary and that covenants made in the temple are eternal." Having made the sacred covenants neccesary to see this promised reunion occur with his wife Jaydene and his family, and having done what is required of him here, we can find peace and reassurence in the fact that Grandpa Thomas is at rest in the life beyond this. 1 Corinthians 15:22 tells us that in Christ all will be made alive. Grandpa Thomas "[ran] with patience the race that [was] set before [him], looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith," (Hebrews 12:1-2) and because of that we can know that he is happy on the other side, rooting for our success.
Towards the end of his life Grandpa Thomas faced many health challenges, which caused him much difficulty and suffering throughout his daily life. Despite all of this, he continued pressing on. He was a shining example of one who endured to the end. The scriptures promise us that those who do so will "be lifted up at the last day, and shall be saved in the everlasting kingdom of the Lamb." (1 Nephi 13:37) What a beautiful thought! It is my testimony that this promise is true, that those who follow Christ and endure well the race of life will find peace and everlasting joy in the kingdom of our Father in Heaven. Because our Heavenly Father loves us so much, he gave us a plan whereby we can be saved, and it is only through our Savior that this plan could lovingly be brought to pass.
The passing of a loved one always brings sorrow, but that sorrow can be replaced with joy as we come to understand more fully Christ's Atonement and our Father's grand plan of happiness. I testify that Christ did suffer for each of us individually, and that his selfless sacrifice encompasses all of our pains and sorrows. As we turn to him who knows us best, we will find an emotional burden and weight lifted, to be replaced with faith and hope. Grandma, I know that Grandpa loved you more than he led on. He would put up with a lot from us kids, but he would never allow any disrespect for you. Ever. You were his princess, his fairy tale ending. Never forget that our Savior loves you, and that he loves all the same. I know that as we follow Christ we can find peace and joy once again, if we but have faith in him. As the hymn so beautifully states,
He lives to silence all my fears;
He lives to wipe away my tears;
He lives to calm my troubled heart;
He lives all blessings to impart.
Through Him, the pain of loss can be replaced with a fullness of joy. He lives and cares about us. We only need turn to him, for "his hand is stretched out still." (2 Nephi 19: 12,17, 21)

Letter from June 18th, 2012

Life is good here in the 'Dell. Life is real good. We are living under constant threat of a hurricane, and have to continually review the evacuation procedure just in case. Love it! This past week was really cool - I had my first baptism!! It was the first investigator I wrote home about, Joey. Exactly one month after we started working in our brand new area we were able to bring someone to the gate leading towards eternal life. What a blessing. I had the distinct honor of being the one to actually baptize him, and according to our Bishop, he's never seen someone smile so big in the font (reffering to me haha). He was confirmed and recieved the priesthood the next day, and we are working on getting the new member lessons in the coming weeks. So cool! It was scary because at first there was a mix up with the baptisimal interview, and so we thought that it wouldn't be able to go through, but we worked it out and everything went smoothly. I was very happy, and truly saw the scripture fulfilled: "And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!" (D&C 18:15)
Despite such success, this week was overshadowed by a lot of unfortunate events. Every single one of our investigators dropped us. Well, I guess there is one guy, but we haven't seen him in weeks because he's traveling, but still.... but we've worked hard and have a lot of potentials that we hope to meet with this week, so we just need to work and pray even harder! We will see the fruits of our labor, or at least I hope we do. Which reminds me of my brother's last letter home from Chile - this life is all about the fruits. Great thought bro.
Also, we've spent a lot of time visiting a certain member of our ward who is struggling as he is facing a diagnosis of cancer. It has been absolutely heartwrenching to see the sorrow in their eyes as we visit with them. One of the days he was looking into space and saying "I've lived a good life. Death won't be too bad. It's been a great adventure" to which I had no response. He even asked for another blessing from us, and his wife mis-heard that he would live for a long time, and it broke our hearts to tell her that that was not said when she excitedly talked to us about it. I've never seen shoulders drop that low. But, it is a great reminder of our Savior's Atonement and how his suffering was for all the bad that we experience in this life, and that we must run well the race of life, "looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith." (See Hebrews 12:1-2). They are finding strength in the thought that every trial is for a reason, and that God, the master potter, is continually shaping our lives through adversity and hardship. To quote Elder Holland, "salvation is not a cheap experience," and it is through our trials that we are bettered and our imperfections are made into strengths that benefit us in the economy of the heavens. I constantly find myself praying for this poor family, and the other people who I know are suffering from similar afflictions for the strength to continue running their race despite the trials. One of the things that differentiates the restored gospel from other teachings is the doctrine of enduring to the end. Rather than a singular experience where we "find Jesus," we believe in following the Doctrine of Christ in a cyclic pattern throughout life. The beautiful thing is the promise made in 1 Nephi 13:37, that those who endure to the end will be blessed with being lifted up unto eternal life through the grace of Christ. Anyways, that is a lot of what has been on my mind as I have gone throughout the week, sorry for the crazy long tangent.
That's all for this week folks, and I will try and send pictures from the baptism next week (camera problems this week)!! I love you all, and hope that you have a safe and wonderful week! The church is 100% true, no bones about it, I promise!!
Elder Thomas

Monday, June 11, 2012


I finally figured out how to convert Josh' pictures so I could post.  Enjoy!

Letter from June 11th, 2012

It's been an extremely slow week here in the 'Dell. We've been hit with three straight days of torrential rain storms, so with us being in a bike area we have been stuck in the apartment for long stretches of the day. We like to refer to it as a "God-given P-Day" haha. In the breaks between pockets of heavy rain we would throw on our coats and head out into the steady rain and try and maximize our time, and in the process we have had some great opportunities to teach and preach. Every one of the lessons we had have helped us to strengthen our relationships with some of the shaky investigators and identify their real concerns with our message. It has been cool because we have been afforded some great opportunites.
Our baptism with our first investigator is this weekend, and we are really excited. He has been progressing well, and we hope to have a great support network in place as we transition him to the ward. Our other investigators, the family I mentioned last week, has dropped off the face of the planet. They loved the message and then are never home and won't return calls. So we are giving them a couple of weeks and some space, keeping them in our prayers, and hoping they will allow us to continue teaching them.
A super cool experience this week came with a less active family. The dad has MS, and him and his son live together a mile or two away from our apartment. We stopped by and were pretty apprehensive about how the visit would go because no one was saying anything, and then boom. He started talking about the physical symptoms that he had and I completely understood everything that he was saying thanks to AP Psychology. Who knows, maybe that's why I felt strongly to take that class even though I found no use for it at the time. He really started to open up about how he was struggling, and he just started to softly cry as he expressed a feeling of helplessness. Instantly Alma 7:11-12 came to mind, and so after we let the Spirit work for what felt like a solid minute, I reached for the Book of Mormon and instantly heard a "just start talking," so I did, without that reference. I had no idea of what to say, but I know that what I did say came directly from heaven. All I remember is that we did say that we were literal representitives of the Lord Jesus Christ, sent to minister to the people of Slidell, and that his sacrifice was on behalf of everyone, and through it we could find comfort from our trials and hardships. That was concluded by the statement "He loves you so much." All that the man could say was "I know that" through his tears. My companion then bore testimony of the Atonement and our Savior's love once again, and we proceeded to give him a priesthood blessing. The spirit was crazy strong thoughout the entire experience. Like, almost palpable. It really made me think about the name tag and who I represent. I am so humbled by the opportunity to be a literal representitive of Him. The cool thing is that we weren't guided there by a strong spiritual prompting, but rather we were simply trying our best to work hard and serve to the best of our ability, and we were able to fulfil our purpose of inviting others to come closer to Christ because of this experience. There is so much to be gained from that principle - serve the Lord with all of your heart and he will provide the opportunites needed to fulfill his purpose for you. Love it.
Well, that's all for now folks. The weather report says that the next few days will be rainy, but I sure hope that we can get a lot done and be safe in the process. As a member reminded me at church yesterday, "we don't want another hurricane." Amen. I hope this letter finds everyone well. The Church is true, and I love it!
Elder Thomas

Letter from June 4th, 2012

Hey there friends!
It's been another week of mayhem here in the 'Dell. There's nothing quite like the South with its humidity and heat. Heaven help us once August comes. This week we didn't really have anything too crazy happen, with the exception of a crazy rain/thunderstorm stranding us on an investigator's porch. Just another week of working hard and knocking doors, which has caused me to get some petty cool calusces 
The investigator that I talked about last week is still progressing to baptism, but we had to move the date to the 16th. We lost contact with him for an entire week, and he couldn't make it to church because of an emergency, so we will need to wait until the 16th. But I'm really excited to see how he is embracing everything we teach with open arms. Already there has been a change in his countenance, and I'm sure it has come about through the Holy Ghost's involvement in his life. 
We also committed a family to baptism for the same date. We found them via tracting 30 minutes after I sent my email last week, and it was a super cool experience. After she shared her thoughts and concerns about modern religion, we found that the message of the Restoration covered every single one of them. Everything seemed like a revelation to her. She even started crying as we recited the Joseph Smith story. The spirit was super stong throught the entire lesson, and my companion and I were both learning from the experience. She even told us that for the past few days she had been praying for God to reveal the truth to her, and we showed up shortly after. Hopefully they can continue progressing towards baptism, because that would be such a miracle. Following the strugle we had for the first week or so in opening the area, miracles are starting to occur. 
We've also had some really cool things happen in working with members. We've been given the opportunity to give multiple blessings in a day, and the words that have come out of our mouths have left me speechless.  I love the ward so much - there are some very interesting people here. One of the older couples is my favorite. We had dinner with them the other night, and my companion and I were crying because of how much they were making us laugh. He was yelling (in his Cajun accent) "Baby, stop making food, can't you see they're done!?" to which she would reply "It's not like we're going to kill them Walter!" followed by even more food hitting the table. Then she would lean over to us and whisper, "After 52 years of marriage, we talk like we're going to murder each other, but it's really not that way, don't you worry." This continued for a good 10 minutes. I guess you had to be there, but man - words can't describe how hilarious they are. Shoot son!
As for this week, I think that's all that I have to report. Congrats to everyone who graduated this past week - the world is yours for the taking, go have some fun! I love you all and hope you have a great week!
Elder Thomas