Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge

Thursday, October 27, 2016

In Times of Loss

I was finishing planning with my companion when President Gary Reynolds called us. It was about 9:30pm. He said that he wanted to speak with me. I didn't move, but we took the phone off of speaker and I held it against my ear. He expressed his sentiments that he was deeply sorry but he had been in communication with my father and that about forty-five minutes previous my grandmother had slipped away into the spirit world.

I don't know much worse as a missionary than getting a call someone has died. To hear that someone has passed beyond the veil and to know that I can't be with my family, I can't comfort them. I can't attend the funeral, I can't pay my respects in person. I am here in New York - so very far away from Oregon and my family. I am a missionary, but at times like these I wish so desperately I could be a sister, daughter, a granddaughter.

When I heard the words spoken by my Mission President I admit I lost my composure. I was sad, I wanted to be with my family.... but all the same I didn't want to go home. I want to be in Oregon, I want to attend the funeral, but my work is here right now. I committed to God that, though I occasionally don't know why, I would serve this mission. Right now, it is where I need to be. And yet, it is so difficult to think about much else than my grandma, when for all I am I am trying to remain focused on my missionary purpose. Which purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ.
Every moment, every day, I remember her. I try to reconcile the fact that she is actually gone. That no longer will I be receiving letters from her, making quilts with her, singing songs with her, buying
temple dresses with her. All of that is gone. And it's rather difficult being on my mission in the middle of it.

With how frequently she crosses my mind, it also was one of my primary focuses when Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the LDS church, came to speak with us. He may not have responded to that specific aching personally, but some comments his wife gave most certainly did. He mentioned that due to Sister Holland's health, she wasn't even going to go, but it became a family affair with their son and his wife and Elder Holland's grandson Danny, so they all went. He said what a treat it was for both him and us to have her there. And the first thing she said when she got up to speak was, "I know Sister Reynolds and my daughter in-law Paige are both here to represent your mothers, but I'm privileged to be here representing your grandmothers." 

That comment made me extraordinarily emotional as it was my grandmother who, at that moment, I wished to hear from and see most. Even more her comments touched my heart as she told a personal story about attending school for music in New York. My grandma played the piano in her youth, and it seemed as though it could have been a story about my grandma. One of the very last things my grandma did when I saw her in July was tell me that she wanted me to know she had a testimony of the church and the Book of Mormon. As Sister Holland bore strong testimony of the Book of Mormon I felt as if it could have been my grandmother bearing the same testimony.
The gospel has so much power. And yes, I'm still deeply and immensely sad about my grandma passing on. I still think of her every hour, perhaps every few minutes. Henry F. Lyte expresses it better than I when he put into song the words,"swift to its close ebbs out life's little day. Earths joys grow dim; it's glories pass away. Change and decay in all around I see; O thou who changest not, abide with me!" 

With no family around to uplift me, the Lord has given me his fair share of consolation. As I reach my heart out in prayer, it is so much easier to feel of His love for me.
President Reynolds told me I could call my family if I wished after he had called me. As I did so, my grandfather said, " We appreciate the work you are doing. She...still...loves... you." What a beautiful knowledge to have because of the gospel that life doesn't end here. That over in the spirit world somewhere she is watching my work and cheering me on. She loves me now, the same and perhaps even more than she did before.

"So long thy pow'r hath blessed me, sure it still will lead me on. O'er moor and fem, o'er crag and torrent, till the night is gone. And with the morn those angel faces smile, which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!" -John Henry Newman

Some things are temporary, like life or possessions or money or houses or clothing. But some things are eternal. And a family that has been sealed in the temple will be together forever. I'll see her again
one day, and this life is so short it won't be long anyhow. It's sad now, but a knowledge of the eternal scheme of things makes it seem a less heavy burden.

I love my grandmother. Having her pass is sobering and difficult. But I know I will see her yet again. And that knowledge gives me peace beyond anything in this life. 
"God be with you till we meet again; By his counsels guide, uphold you; With his sheep securely fold you. God be with you till we meet again.
God be with you till we meet again; When life's perils thick confound you, put his arms unfailing round you. God be with you till we meet again.
God be with you till we meet again. Keep love's banner floating o'er you; Smite death's threat'ning wave before you. God be with you till we meet again.
Till we meet! Till we meet! Till we meet at Jesus' feet.
Till we meet! Till we meet!
God be with you till we meet again."
-Jeremiah E. Rankin

My deepest and most heartfelt sympathies to anyone who is suffering from death in their family, especially those in my family still struggling. I love you all so much. And I want everyone to know the extent and deeply-rooted love I have for my grandma. She has shaped me in so many ways, and I will always miss her.

God be with you till we meet again.

A loving granddaughter,
Allison June Voss

These are a few of my Favorite Things!

"Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes, snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes... cellists one meets on the subway in rain, people who listen with intent unfeigned!" Things are still a bit rainy and cold but overall quite lovely here in Brooklyn, New York. I had some lovely experiences and some sad experiences, but all are part of this beautiful mortal journey. The sad bit is that we decided to stop teaching a family we found near the beginning of my time here because they weren't keeping commitments and didn't have a true desire to change. It's very unfortunate, given we have come to know and love this family dearly. I still can't really believe we dropped them.... But I know that there are more people who are ready to change and take the steps necessary to come closer to Christ.
There are so many people here!

Also, we had a mix-up as to a member who we thought we were going to take to the temple, but who is going to wait for a while. We made some cookies in apology, realizing we hadn't truly understood the full situation. It is a little difficult with the language barrier we have with our ward. We understand most things, but occasionally something doesn't cross the edges of our understanding, which leads to conclusions such as this. The bright side of that situation was the cookie recipe was for Oreos, and it was pretty dang good. (Shoutout to Elder Creager for his recipe).
Also... and I'm not sure if this is sad or happy.... I met a cellist going to the Bishop's from Coney Island last Monday. I saw him, and it was the very first cello I had seen since coming to New York. I went over to the cellist immediately and started talking to him. I said I played cello, and he didn't speak much English (he moved here from The Republic of Georgia in Asia) but we bonded over our mutual cello-ness. I asked him his favorite composer (Bach - it's difficult for a cellist to say differently), his favorite concerto, and his favorite symphony. The fun part was I had no idea what he was saying for those last two given the accent and the name pronunciation, so he began to sing them,
and I sang right along! My companion thought I had gone crazy, singing these random music works by various composers with a complete stranger. For me, I felt completely in my element. Talking music and studios and works with a man who couldn't even hardly understand me.
My creeper picture of the cello...
Oh, also, we went to Coney Island this week! :) It was super fun! 

He said he was on his way to rehearsal in Manhattan with the Session Symphony. Then he asked me if I wanted to play, and to my extraordinary regret, I said no. I knew if I played I would likely cry, just seeing one I felt weighed down emotionally. Yet, in the end it made no difference. He pulled up a video of himself playing as we walked out onto our stop and I was basically a waterfall. I miss my cello so much. So, so much. Seeing the cellist, it all came back in a rush. I miss hearing my music, I miss knowing if I can even play, I miss it all. Apparently homesickness can apply to wooden instruments even more so than people or places. So, basically I love my cello dearly and that fact has not changed. Nor ever will. :)
Maybe I don't follow traffic laws...
Waiting for a train...
"When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I'm feeling sad... I simply remember my favorite things and then I don't feel so bad!" Oh, also we we had exchanges his week! I taught lessons in Spanish, and to some Russian ladies. My Russian isn't very good (fine, it's nonexistent) but we have a Russian missionary here that I referred her to. I showed them the 'Reclaimed' video in Russian and they loved it! .... I think.... I didn't have much to go on other than their encouraging faces.
On exchanges we had a dish Sister Shiobara made called kabocha no nitsuke which is like pumpkin and rice in a delicious sauce. I've never had cooked pumpkin, and was very pleasantly surprised! What a perfect October dish!
Not much else happened on exchanges... I wish I was more exciting. Sister Shiobara was sick, and Sister Fields took lots of nice selfies with cats, and we made pancakes, but that's pretty much it. It's fun, because we got to stay in our old apartment and *shh* do our laundry there for free since there is a washer and a dryer.
Exchanges with the Sister Training Leaders.

Funny stories:

We met a lady outside a bus stop. When we tried to talk to her (she was a Brooklynite) she said, "excuse me? You're not from here are you? Don't go around talking to people. Be careful girls. Are you from Utah? Oh so you're a Mormon." This quickly changed into a story about her mother during the war. "My mother said she would kill for three things!" At this point about five people at the stop turned around warily, more than a bit concerned. "Tea, coffee, and stockings!" Under my breath I muttered, "If she had a word of wisdom pamphlet she would have only killed for one thing." Sister Gourley laughed, I'm glad someone here in New York appreciates my lame jokes. :)

On Thursday after studies I got ready to go out and work and was at the door with my companion, wondering why she hadn't started the prayer, and noticed her staring at my feet. "What is it?" I asked. Well, apparently I was wearing flip flops. Also, apparently flip flops are not mission-approved apparel. Oops.

Pictures during Facebook lessons.

We were sad we dropped all the investigators so we got ice cream for dinner.

What we do when all our companions are on temple trips.
Not funny, but weird, when we went to Coney on Monday we got our food paid for by our waiter. That was slightly disconcerting, but I wouldn't have any of that kind of flirting. I waved over a different waiter, who I had put the meals on my card. To quote Hercules: "I'm a damsel. I'm in distress. I can handle it. Have a nice day!"
We went to McDonald's yesterday and overheard a brilliant authentic New Yorker conversation. In the illustrious words of Hermana Gourley with minimal edits by Hermana Voss: 'We sat next to some crazy old guys while eating. One was whining about the price of maids for his multiple houses. The other guy said, "If my wife wasn't dead you coulda used her!" "Is it cheaper to get a wife?" An old lady from across the isle eating salad with chopsticks called out, "It's cheaper to make a livin'!"' It was during this conversation that I heard, for the first time, "Fergettaboutit!" So: is the New York accent truly alive and thriving? I am happy to say yes, dear friends, it is.

We taught eleven lessons this week, moving up in the world! We are still talking to hundreds of people a week, though, which is good given our limited proselyting time recently. It is completely dark by seven, so we are advised to not be on the streets. The air is cold and harsh, the people barely warmer, but we work and teach and preach all the same!
"Brown paper packages tied up with string [thanks mom and dad!], these are a few of my favorite things." <3
My love from Beautiful Brooklyn,
Hermana Ally Voss
Welcome to the new Ward building! 200 church attendees for the win!
Rainy days with less actives :)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Worth the Sacrifice

¡Buenos D√≠as!

I'm fairly positive I wrote home just yesterday, yet apparently it has been a week. Time flies by here in the mission field! I wake up, get to work, get home, plan, and sleep. Reflection happens when one realizes how much time has, in truth, passed. I have almost been on my mission for three months - what an odd thought! That's approximately one sixth of my mission, passed here in gorgeous Brooklyn.

I love the rain dearly! :)
A thought by Elder Oaks in *General Conference on Saturday prompted me to consider whether I was fully utilizing my time to its full extent here in the mission. Each night my companion and I look at each other, and some days are harder than others, but we ask one key question. "Is there anything we could have done differently?" Was there an activity that perhaps didn't lead to success that day? Did we talk to every soul we possibly could have? If the answer is that we truly couldn't have done anything differently, we allow ourselves to be at peace with our day. If there was something we could have improved, we try to implement stratagems to strengthen the weak area. We are constantly looking to try to become more Christ-like, intelligent, brighter, happier, effective missionaries.

We have several tools in becoming the kind of missionaries we want to be. One of them is: Zone Training Meeting! Essentially, it's a meeting where around 50 missionaries in 2-3 zones meet up and are trained by the Mission President and the Assistants to the President. So my Zone Training was all of the missionaries in the Brooklyn Stake and those on Staten Island. We learned how to plan more effectively to be more productive in the Lord's work. In implementing some of the ideas, we have shortened planning, and managed to fit more content into the condensed time. Definitely one of the best skills I'll take away from my mission, I believe, is in planning productive activities for every moment of the day.

In unrelated zone news, I am now a part of Zone 1. I figure it's called such because we are the #1, best of the best, truest Zone in the mission. Also in orthogonal news is the fact I am working on the Christ-like attribute of humility right now.
Views from the F Train

Freezing with Hermana Gourly
A beautiful thing about being out east are the number of rainy and cloudy days. I love the rain! There is nothing better than getting soaked from head to toe in pouring rain. Unfortunately, the heavens forbore, and though every day was quite cloudy (also, there's a chance I had meatballs this week) the rain was honestly kind of wimpy. It was cold enough that it seemed a bit like fake snow. It was like walking through the mist machine in Disney World. Expect colder and windier. Much windier. My umbrella was basically gone with the wind. *ba dum tsh* I even had a couple of Mary Poppins moments coming off the steps up to the train.
Looking for the N Train

Hermana Gourley loves me too! :)

Hermana Gourley and I waiting for the D train.
Interesting events of the week?

We find we get rather pointed commentary, often pertaining to the weather such as one fairly recent comment outside an Irish Pub we had to walk past, "and they said the sunshine wasn't comin' out today." Sir, I assure you the sunshine is out every day while the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is on the earth.

Also, I did yoga and exercise on the patio a few mornings ago. It was very brisk, but well worth the gargantuan effort of waking myself up enough to step outside. It was excellent, because Hermana Gourley could exercise inside and I could exercise outside and we could see and hear each other yet do our individual routines. :)

Food recommendations of the week are Lenny's Pizza in Bensonhurst and Las Margaritas in Bay Ridge. We had no groceries so we ate out a decent bit. I suppose that is why we get a bit more to spend than in some missions - we literally can't go home to eat hardly ever. It is often more than an hours travel time, which is time we don't have frequently! The nice thing about walking so much, though, it that I haven't gained a pound! The MTC scared me a bit, but out here in the field we are too active to be worried about gaining much. :)

*General Conference was amazing for me. I listened to three of the sessions in English, and the Sunday morning session in Spanish with my Ward. I loved listening in English, because I was able to easily apply principles and see how they applied to my investigators and I. However, being with my Ward listening in Spanish was absolutely celestial. We came with a less active who hasn't been to church in over ten years (since before she moved from Ecuador I believe) and came last week for the first time. We are working with her to strengthen her testimony. What was amazing though was seeing not just her but four other less active mothers and their children come and sit in the side pews right next to each other! They proceeded to help one another with their children and were edified and instructed together during the meeting. My heart warmed as I saw them increase in their knowledge of Christ as our savior. It is very difficult for many of them to come, as the father figure isn't often there or is working a lot of the time, but they make the effort and are blessed beyond measure for it.
"Between the Lions, between the covers of the book lets have a look
between the lions." ūüéĶ

Elder Nattress told a story during General Conference about how his mother read the Book of Mormon to her children day after day because she was promised if she did so that she would not lose her children. Elder Nattress said that to him it was quintessential to know that even though he wouldn't listen or wouldn't appreciate what he mother did that *he* was worth the sacrifice his mother made. Heavenly Father knows how hard we try and how much we sacrifice to attend church. Let me tell you: it's worth the sacrifice. Church attendance brings blessings of spirituality, blessings of sociality, blessings of service. Heavenly Father will bless you, I promise that. Moreover, He sacrificed His only son for us because *we* are worth the sacrifice. We are worth more than anything to him - we're his children! He loves us dearly and wants us to return to Him. I pray we will all make the sacrifices we need to return to Him. It starts with the little things like going to church. It ends with glorious celestial splendor.

May that be your goal, as it is mine.

Besos y abrazos,

Hermana Ally Voss

*(In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we have an opportunity two times a year to listen to many church leaders speak to us concerning guidance for our lives, and ways we can learn and become better members of our church. This is called General Conference)

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Brooklyn is an Adventure!

“All the easy things that the Church has had to do have been done. From now on, it’s high adventure, and followership is going to be tested in some interesting ways.” -Neal A. Maxwell
Brooklyn Bridge
It's difficult to believe how quickly things occur when one is on a mission. This week I visited the Brooklyn Bridge, saw a bus fight, moved apartments and church buildings, had a driving test, set off a smoke detector, shattered a mirror, watched Women's Conference (In English, not Spanish, which is a first for church here!) broke in new shoes, ate authentic gelato, and so many more things.
First of all, downtown Brookyln and the Brooklyn Bridge are amazing, I highly recommend the experience! We went on a stormy Monday, so there really wasn't anyone there which was beautiful. Seeing the city from that close is tantalizing and awe-inspiring. Seeing the innumerable skyscrapers and people, seeing the water, the Statue of Liberty, walking along the bridge and looking down, across, up, sideways, and just appreciating the grandeur of everything was breathtaking. I wished I could stand there all day and drink it all in. There is so much to see, so much to do, so much potential, so many fulfilled dreams and uncountable dreams yet to be fulfilled. The world is such an inspiring place.

Also, walking along the cobblestone on the shore by the.... Hudson River I believe? Well, that was just beautiful. New York may seem big or outlandish or crazy, but to me it all feels so close now. Everything is just a subway or bus ride away. It reminds me of a line in Peter Pan, where he says the directions to Neverland are to go to the "second star to the right and straight on till morning!" Now that I know the public transportation well, I find myself thinking "second N train on the left and straight on till Coney!" Life is quite the adventure, but at least it's an interesting one!
On Tuesday we moved apartments from Bay Ridge to Bensonhurst. It was absolutely insane, and since the Sister Training Leaders were in the leadership training later than they expected, we moved them as well. We certainly got a workout in, to say the very least. The mini miracle, though, was that instead of having to try to take everything on the busses, like we planned, a member of the Chinese ward offered to help us move since she is one of the few members with a car in this area! It was a heaven send, and instead of the probably 3-4 trips we would have had to take, we took all of ours *and* the sister training leaders items in 2 round trips.
Our new apartment reminds me a lot of the 'Yellow House' as my family calls it, or our old 1105 Rosemont Avenue Frederick, Maryland house! It is an old colonial with a red door, green rafters, huge pine trees, and a wrought iron gate. It even has two pedestals on either side with frogs, and we have a lovely outdoor patio (ideal for determining weather when we don't actually want to truly go outside yet). It has bright teal walls, a rather interesting tiled green bathroom with a marble-patterned toilet, and is complete with woodwork and creaky floors, a set of bedroom blinds I've managed to accidentally pull down, and a fully-functional smoke detector. (Note to self: when making pancakes without butter, do not use coconut oil as a substitute). I also managed to shatter a mirror by turning the blinds to the patio so that the sunlight came into our exercise room. The sunlight came down into our room all right, and the full-length mirror resting against the blinds did, too. We flipped it over, put two garbage bags over it and taped it with painting tape, sweeping up the shards.My mother would have been very proud with how we handled it, I'm sure. :)
Our apartment/house (not the whole house is ours, that'd be insane, we have  half the 1st level) :)

I am pleased to say we received a new set of Spanish √Člderes, √Člder Pav√≥n and √Člder Oaks! √Člder Weisler was named District Leader for our district, and we are excited to have yet again three sets of missionaries in our ward. The ward is thrilled as well, given it has been about five months since they have had this many missionaries. We hope to really push the work along as we all aid to strengthen the church in Brooklyn.
DSW, The oldest subway car I have ever seen
All day every day we work. And we love it. We talk to everyone, we spread the message of our Lord, and we hope for interest and investigators. One interesting experience happened when I had to go to the restroom something dreadful while we were walking 5th Ave. I said, "I give up! Let's go in the McDonalds, I'll use the bathroom and buy something." As I came downstairs, I went to buy three cookies. I didn't actually want said cookies, I only went to use their facilities, but I noticed my compa√Īera talking to a family after I got my order. I joined, and not too long after I asked their names. After I said my name, a beggar came up to us. Only, I didn't recognize him as a beggar, I thought he was just a Hispanic man who was interested in our conversation. Before he got a syllable out, I asked, "¿como se llama?" (What's your name) Extraordinarily uncomfortable he shifted a bit. By this point, I still wasn't aware he was a beggar, but I proffered him the unwanted cookies not a second after I asked his name and asked if he wanted some. By this point the man was beyond confused but rejected my cookies (his loss). My compa√Īera quickly handed him a card, she recognizing his intentions of wanting money, and said, "take this, it's better than money. It's salvation!" At which point I yet again offered the cookies, and the man walked away, disappointed and very much not in control of the situation. It reminded me that truly I am indescribably lucky to get the sustenance I need, and more so the spiritual sustenance every man on this earth needs. And it made me sad that addictions and substance dependence lead some people to forget the importance of spiritual matters as they all to often ask or expect that which they don't need to lead a happy life.
Speaking of happiness, Hermana Gourley and I found an authentic Italian Bakery which sold gelato. It was pure, blissful happiness. One of the perks of living in such a diverse area is all of the genuinely different cultures and the food that comes with them!
We love authentic gelato!

Enjoyed taking selfies while eating dinner near the bishop's storehouse :-)

Walking along the shore, a guy gave us free drinks at Shake Shack even when we basically threw our cards at him and acted concerned and confused, but my root beer was dang good.
We went to Chick Fil A! One of only two in our entire mission!
Oh, also, apparently our Spanish is good enough that people have actually begun asking which country we are from. I get asked if I am a Spaniard a decent bit (two times this past week), which is fun. :) I'm certainly not, but I enjoy the compliment!
The highlight of my week was Women's Conference with a dinner before for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I loved hearing from Elder Uchtdorf, and the three wonderful women who spoke. The music numbers, especially, touched me. I was, as I always am, profoundly moved by the hymn How Firm a Foundation. "I will not, I can not, desert to [God's] foes. That soul, though all Hell should endeavor to shake, I'll never no never no never forsake." I am so glad for my opportunity to serve a mission for my Savior and share His Message. His gospel is at the very heart of existence. I certainly never will forsake!
There are difficult things about missions, though. There always are. One for me is the food. The dinner before conference was a stake activity planned by an English Ward, I believe, so we had a buffet-style food array. I love serve-yourself situations, since I get it so rarely in Hispanic culture. Hispanics have delicious food very often, yet I am all-together too picky so unfortunately I fear I don't appreciate it often enough. I ate more than I would normally, I think, since food tastes better when one serves oneself what and how much they enjoy. I am working on liking eating at members' home, in fact if I am completely honest I might say it has been the greatest trial for me so far on my mission. I get nauseous and light-headed at the very thought of our dinner appointments.... One of my great many thorns in the flesh.
Manhattan Bridge in background
I know so many of you have trials and struggles in your lives that are obnoxious and crazy and ridiculous and more difficult than mine. So, as a word of comfort, I'll share something my grandpa likes to say every time I see him. "Everything will be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end!"
I love you all! So much. I pray for all of you and your well-being and happiness. If everything isn't okay right now, remember it will be in the end! :)
¡Buena suerte en todo que haces!
Todo mi amor,
Hermana Ally Voss
How Amazon packages get around once they get to our missionaries...
Checking out shoes at DSW