Thanks for all the letters that have been flooding into my inbox! Sorry for the lack of response -- slowly but surely I'll get back to everyone eventually. :)
This week was pretty good. Met with lots of ward members, had a great lesson with Alisa (she wants to see a baptismal service, which we'll do soon), had a fun youth activity (cook-off! And what did I do? Took pictures and then ate the food :) ), and of course talked to (or tried to talk to) lots of people about the gospel. Pretty much a typical week. By the way, winter is definitely upon us here in Ukraine; snow is on the ground, kids are sledding and building snowmen, Christmas songs are playing... a lot like back in America. Yes, there's also been civil unrest and protests, but honestly, you probably know more about it than I do. It's all happening in downtown Kiev, which isn't in my area, so you don't really need to worry about me.
Quick spiritual thought before I have to (get to) get back to work. It's about the Atonement. I read an interesting verse this week: Alma 31:38 -- "And the Lord provided for [Alma and his brethren] that they should hunger not, neither should they thirst; yea, and he also gave them strength, that they should suffer no manner of afflictions, save it were swallowed up in the joy of Christ. Now this was according to the prayer of Alma; and this because he prayed in faith."
I loved that phrase because it doesn't mean that they didn't have afflictions; it means that somehow the Atonement made up for those afflictions. It healed them, strengthened them, gave them hope where no hope was to be found, somehow filled in a hole that no other source could fill. I also found it interesting that in Moses 7:41, Enoch's sorrow as he views the history of the world is described with the words "his heart swelled wide as eternity," and a few verses later (v.53) Christ is described as "the Rock of Heaven, which is broad as eternity." Instead of a care-free world, we live in a very difficult world in which God provided the Way for all our difficulties to be overcome, with the end result being our growth, joy, and ultimately our salvation.
I wrote a journal entry about this a few months before my mission when I was having a particularly hard day, and I feel like it'll help some of you (it has sure helped me) :
There's one thing that I can remember that brought me comfort that day; it's about changing your thoughts about the "status quo." If we think things ought to be happy and cheerful and free of suffering, then naturally we'll be disillusioned with this world. We'll turn to God and ask, "Why do you allow such suffering in the world?" If, on the other hand, we change our status quo to our fallen state—that without God, there would be no hope or joy or purpose, and there would be abundant evil and suffering—then things change. Instead of asking God about why He allows suffering, you start to ask, "Why did You provide the Atonement for us? Why have You given us everything we need to be happy and safe?" Then, instead of being bitter, you start to actually be grateful. The Atonement can overcome all the evil and suffering in the entire world in its entire history, and that is miraculous. I still have a lot to learn about the Fall, but it's comforting knowing that, in the end, with Christ, it will all be as good and even better than we hope for.
I hope to make the Atonement more real in my life so that these aren't just words, but that it actually brings me the comfort that I (and we all) seek in life.
K, gotta go. I love you all so much, and hope you have a wonderful week!