Saturday, March 25, 2017

That Scary Word


CANCER

That is a big, ugly, scary word. It is a word that people whisper in hallways so it doesn't taint the ears of others. It's a painful word. A dark word. And you know what? I want to talk about it.

As the readers of this blog know, my initial purpose in beginning this website was to share bits and pieces of a journey I would undergo as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, I came home 8 months earlier than I had planned because I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lymphoblastic Lymphoma, with Stage 3 CNS Involvement. It has been a long and difficult journey, and a battle that continues to challenge me every single day. However, I will bore you with the details of my diagnosis in another blog post.

The other day I had the opportunity to complete a scholarship that asked me to write a letter to myself that I wished I had received at the beginning of my diagnosis. I wanted to share it and highlight the fact that no matter what happens to us in this life, we have a choice. We can choose to be positive and to humble ourselves, or we can choose unhappiness and rebellion. I am not going to act like I am optimistic each and every day -- I can assure you that I am not -- but that's not the point. As Marjorie Hinckley once said, "The only way to get through life is to laugh your way through it. You either have to laugh or cry. I prefer to laugh. Crying gives me a headache."

Dear Hailey,

Life is beautiful, and you are strong. You are going to have to remember and believe that, especially when it gets hard. I am not writing this letter to convince you that your sickness will pass like a lemon drop fantasy. I am not going to lie to you. Cancer is hell. Fighting this demon they named lymphoma is going to take everything you have and everything you are. But you are a light. You are vibrant. You pulse and breathe with color. And lights shine the brightest in the darkness.

There are going to be dark times. There are times where you are going to think that this is the end, and you can’t go on. Times when you feel that the only air in the room is pressing down your lungs and choking you with desperation. Times when your fears rain down and drench you until your toes are numb with cold. Times where your soul will scream agonizing cacophonies unheard to anyone but yourself and you will feel that no one truly understands the pain the anguish and the deep set hurt and the questions of why and how that tumble through your mind like black glass breaking on a shore of heartache.

These are but passing moments. There is so much more. There are the moments you truly are alive for. The moments that count.

Life is full of sunlight drifting through cotton puffs of clouds that tints your cheeks pink and makes your eyes shine like diamonds. It is full of reflections and of memories that flit backwards through your mind and replay themselves on the sides of skyscrapers. It is full of the sweet sting of water on your face as you laugh up at the stormy sky. It is the moment when you fall asleep in a bundle of warm linens freshly toasted by the sun, and when the night is so still that you can hear the whisperings of the stars in the heavens above you.

Life is in the people who surround you. It is in the loving face of your mother and the worry lines that have appeared there since your treatment began. It is in the piercing blue eyes of your father smiling over his princess’ little bald head. It is in the doctors and your nurses, your mortal angels who sometimes sing Billy Joel to cheer you up. It is in the friendship you found with a woman named Brenda who brings you crushed ice when you are sick and talks to you about God. It is in the sacred memories of the people who stole your heart from across the sea who have supported your every footstep.

Your life is a story. So take the pen and write. Run with your life and savor every good moment, every great moment. One day this night will break and you will realize that the sun is rising over those dusty purple mountains and it will break with hues of gold and fire and victory. And you know what? That’s just the start. There are whole new worlds you are going to discover that lay beyond those beautiful mountains. There are lives to touch, foods to eat, people to meet, and a person to become. THIS ISN’T THE END. This is only your beginning.


-         - One Who Has Walked the Road

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Homecoming Talk - Being a True Disciple of Jesus Christ and Diagnosis

A lot has happened in these few short weeks. I was sent home from a mission and a work that I loved, and I was diagnosed with cancer. More specifically, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lymphoblastic Lymphoma

That shocked me a little bit. I always seemed to think that cancer was a disease that other people get, or at least it sure feels that way. I just never thought it would happen to me. But here I am, sitting in a hospital bed and having chemotherapy. While this path will be scary and hard, I have complete faith that God will lead me through it. As it says in Joshua 1:9, "...Be strong and of good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest". I can feel the love of God with me, even when things aren't easy or the way I would like them to be. But I know that he is at my side through the pain and will carry me through this trial on His shoulders.

Another family in my ward also planned a homecoming party for me and their son. It was super sweet of them. Pictures are included below.

But anyways, I am at home now, and I have already given my homecoming talk. If you would like to read it, I have pasted it below


Being a True Disciple of Jesus Christ

Good morning. My name is Sister Christensen and I just returned from serving in the Brasil Campinas Mission. I loved my mission. I loved the experiences, I loved learning and teaching about the gospel, but most of all, I loved having the opportunity to do my small part in the changing of lives.

I believe that two things should happen while you are on a mission. 
  1. You invite others to come unto Christ. 
  2. You become a different person than who you were when you left.

As a missionary, you see and experience a lot of things. You see heartache. You see pain. You see illness and depression. In short, you see Satan trying to destroy the hope and faith of humanity. As Paul says, “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). There is a lot of darkness in the world and it is a real power. No one can deny that.  However, God is more powerful, and His work is far greater. His kingdom brings light and hope, and has the power to change lives.

Without the gospel of Jesus Christ, people are lost. They are as sheep with no master. As Matthew puts it, the blind are leading the blind (Matthew 15:14). But as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, we have something different. We have the light. And because we have something different, we need to do something differently.

Our purpose, as missionaries (and as members in general) is to share the light that we find in the gospel with others. As we do so, we take our friends and our loved ones by the hand and lead them out of the darkness and into the light. This light comes from our faith. We have faith in Jesus Christ.
On my mission, I had the opportunity to do just that: to invite others to come unto Christ.

There is a scripture that I really like in Ether 12:4 which reads:
“Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.”

This scripture says that it is through our faith in God and Jesus Christ that we obtain a hope for a better world. Despite all the works of the adversary, we can have hope that because of Jesus Christ, we are free from our worries, our illnesses, our weaknesses, and our sins. We have a greater perspective that all of our sufferings and afflictions will “give [us] experience, and shall be for [our] good” (D&C 122:7).

The next part of the verse says something equally as important. When we have faith, we must abound in good works. So how do we abound in good works? How are we made sure and steadfast, being led to glorify God? The key is action. We must act on our faith and our beliefs if we are to inherit all of these promised blessings.

I think that James sums it up for all of us when he said, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22).

When we are true disciples of Jesus Christ, we seek to apply his teachings in our lives. As we do so, we quickly find that it is much easier to talk the talk than to take up your cross and follow Him. I have learned that the best missionaries aren`t the ones with the best language skills or the most scriptures memorized. The best missionaries, the best disciples, are the ones who love others as He did and does. They are the ones who are doing the work of the Savior. Anyone can talk about Christ. But it takes a devoted and humble servant to get up and do something; to follow in the footsteps of Christ and to change themselves for His sake; to leave everything at His feet and to serve as He did.

When we are baptized we make the promise that we are “desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another`s burdens, that they may be light… [and] willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that we may be in, even until death” (Mosiah 18:8-9).

You will notice that this scripture does not say to do these things until you are too tired, until you think you have done enough, or until that person that you are serving starts to get on your nerves. It says that we must comfort those who stand in comfort, we must mourn with those who mourn, and be an example at all times, even until death. There are no time-outs in the road of discipleship.

As members of the church, each and every one of us made that promise when we were baptized. I would ask of you, how are you acting to keep this sacred covenant with God?

One way that we keep this covenant is through charity.

It is no wonder that the first and greatest commandment is to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind… and the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:37-39). It is through service that we become more like our Heavenly Father and more like Jesus Christ. It is through service and through action that we take up our crosses and follow Him. 

There was one day on my mission where we woke up to find that a tornado had passed through the area, destroying entire parts of neighborhoods and cutting trees across as though they were toothpicks. There were several members whose homes were completely demolished – walls had fallen down, the ground had sunk, entire roofs were lifted away in the wind, not to mention there was about two inches of water inside of the houses. It broke my heart to see the scene that had unfolded in front of me. I saw people who I loved sunk down in utter despair at the sight of their homes. They were afraid and had a hard time seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

However, that very same day, I watched as the entire ward sprang into action to help their suffering brothers and sisters. In less than ten minutes after sacrament meeting, the ward had organized parties to go help repair and clean houses, as well as lunches for the families affected by the tragedy. They dropped everything to go and help. I even saw a man with a vial of consecrated oil in his hand, ready to give a blessing to whoever was in need.

And yet their love and service didn`t stop there. Over the weeks, they organized a donation of clothing, mattresses, and food for the affected families, both inside the ward and in the community. I saw the hand of God working through the ward to reach out and comfort his other children. I was touched by their selfless love.

A couple weeks later I had the opportunity to see how a great be with a true disciple of Christ. The last few weeks of my mission I spent with Sister D. We were in the hospital, in the mission home, or traveling between the two. It was exhausting. I can`t imagine how tired she must have been, but she didn`t show it. She slept on a bad hospital bed and didn`t say a word. She called the President to give updates with a smile in her voice. And if I was struggling, she was there with arms open to give me a hug, and encouraging words to say. There wasn`t one moment where she was annoyed or frustrated. I looked at her and I saw Christ by my side. I saw that she wasn`t just teaching people about the gospel, she was living it.

I think that is the most important thing that you can learn in this life: to love and serve others humbly. 
I was asked to speak about how I have changed on my mission. I could give you a list of things that I believe have changed about myself, but I feel like that wouldn`t prove much. What I believe is that the mission starts a process. It starts us on the road of true discipleship. It is when we leave our will behind that we may truly become as the Savior was.

--- end talk fabulously and bear testimony-- 

My last invite can be found in Mosiah 4:10, which reads, “and now, if you believe all these things, see that ye do them”.

PHOTOS

Waiting for the Bus to the Airport

My Friend who Came to Pick Me Up and I Eating Icecream

Arrived Home!

Homecoming Party with Friends

Homecoming Party/Banners

In the Hospital with my Sister

Monday, July 11, 2016

7/11/2016: Week 42 - Coming Home

Family and Friends,

So as most of you know, this will be my last group e-mail. In a nutshell, I will be coming home this week. I have been having some serious health problems these past couple months and they worsened this past week. I stayed in the hospital a few days, and the President talked to the doctor who was taking care of me. I should be back home by the end of the week.

I feel so grateful for the opportunity that I have had to be a missionary. It is truly impossible to fully describe. I see miracles happening every day. I have seen the impossible become possible through faith. I had the opportunity to give a little light to this dark world and spread a little bit of hope. I had the opportunity to watch people change their lives for Christ, and my life has been changed forever because of this experience. My heart breaks to know that this dream is going to end 8 months early, but I know that God has a purpose in everything. I know that he has a plan for me and my life, and that there is more waiting for me because I am His daughter. 

I love this church and this gospel with all of my heart. I know that Christ lives. He is my Savior and yours. And I know that it is only through Him that we can have peace and joy in this life that will endure for all eternity.

I had the opportunity this past Sunday to get up in front of the ward and bear my testimony to them. Sister D and I also sang Savior, Redeemer. It was a fitting last Sunday.

The Lord also blessed us with one last miracle before I came home. The family that we are teaching are going to be baptized. W and B are going to be married. In fact, we are going to legally mark the date today. I may not be here for their baptisms or the wedding, but I will be watching and praying from back home.

With love,

Sister Christensen

Sunday, July 10, 2016

7/4/2016: Week 41 - Service Project and Elect Family

Minha querida família e meus amigos maravilhosos,

Happy 4th of July! This week Sister M and I have been working with a family that is elect. They have been completely prepared to hear our messages. W and B are the parents, and they have three kids named T, P, and I. The two daughters have come to church two weeks in a row, and they love it. One has been going to mutual, and the other is taking piano classes at the church. 

The entire family has received witnesses that this is the church of Jesus Christ. Sister M actually made a contact with the two girls one day about a month ago and she was unable to find their home. However, last week (when we found them), we were eating lunch in one member's house and we ran into them again, and found out where they lived. It was nothing short of a miracle. W said that God had sent us to her home and that it was no coincidence that we found them. B also said that we were the response to a prayer he had been saying for over a month.

This week we invited them to be baptized, and they all accepted, except the father, who said he wanted to learn more first. But later, he was talking to his wife, and asked if she really was going to be baptized. She responded, "No, we are going to be baptized." She has a great testimony of the gospel and is completely willing to change her life to follow God.

The only problem as of now is the fact that they need to get married, but I will update you all on what is going on with that.

We also had the opportunity to do a service project in Campinas for the people who were affected by the tornado that passed through there. We divided a bunch of clothes, and even the mission president was there. 

Here's to another great week!

Sister Christensen









Monday, June 27, 2016

6/27/2016: Week 40 - New Area and New Companion

Hello everyone!

We had transfers this week! I was moved and my new companion is a Brazilian from the northeast. She is an absolute sweetheart and is full of joy and the love of missionary work. She only has 3 months on the mission but already knows how to teach and use the spirit. We giggle and take a lot of photos together. This transfer will be an awesome one.

This week also went very well. I had the opportunity to go to another Festa Junina, and we brought two new investigators with us to the party. They loved it, and then came to church the next day!

We have 10 new investigators this week with a lot of potential. I will keep everyone updated on what happens with them and when we have a baptism. ;)

I love you all! Thank you for your support and love!

-Sister Christensen





Tuesday, June 21, 2016

6/20/2016: Week 39 - Group Email and Photos


Hello!

I don't have much time this week, but I will give you a quick run down and some of photos.

1. I am being transferred -- I don't know where to yet, or who will be my companion, but I will let you all know in my next e-mail. 

2. I found an American flag.

3. I ate at McDonald's for the first time in 9 months. It is exactly the same as it is in the US.

4. We had a Festa this week: basically a lot of food and people dressed like rednecks/cowboys...and a lot of corn and square dancing. 

 5. The other sisters baptized M this week. 


With love,
Sister Christensen



Found an American Flag

McDonalds
 
Temple

Festa 

Companions

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

6/14/2016: Week 38 - A Bazaar and A Coincidence

Hello!

So, last week I told everyone about the mini tornado that we had. This week, the church gathered a bunch of clothing, food and mattresses, and we had a donation Bazaar in the church for the people who lost things in the storm. Sister B and I were there, and we talked to every single person who entered, sharing a bit of the gospel, and asking if they had interest in learning a little bit more. All in all, I think about 50 people gave us their addresses or numbers, wanting to learn more about the church. 

Sister P and I also had the opportunity to teach about 20 people about the church and Jesus Christ as they waited to enter into the Bazaar. It was really neat to stand in front of these people and teach them what I know to be true. I don't know who was really listening, but I know that we gave them the choice to know more, and we did our part. 

This week, we will be focusing on contacting all of these people.

Sister B and I also had the opportunity to teach a woman named H about the Book of Mormon. She told us that everything that we said makes sense, and then she said that when she reads the Bible, she likes to open up to a random page and read it. She then went and did the same with the Book of Mormon, and to my surprise she opened to Alma 32:21 which says, "And now as I said concerning faith -- faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true." 

That in and of itself was cool, because of all the random scriptures she could have read, she read a beautiful verse on faith; a verse that we use in our teaching as missionaries. But then something even weirder happened. We started to talk about marriage, and she said, "Lets try the book again." This time, when she randomly opened it, she read the following verse in 4 Nephi 1:11: "and they were married, and given in marriage, and were blessed according to the multitude of promises which the Lord had made unto them." 

This time, her eyes got wide. I don't know if that was all coincidence or not, but I do know that God works in mysterious ways, ha ha.

Com amor e beijos,
Sister Christensen

PS We also went to the temple this week -- I will send pictures next week!