Monday, February 8, 2016

A Roller Coaster Week

Oh this week was a roller coaster!  

So Wednesday and Thursday Sister Fast and I went back to Wien, again!!  SO SO awesome :)  We went on an ultimate tausch (tausch = companion exchange) with the new sister training leaders.  Ultimate just means that we all stayed in their apartment in Wien but just switched companions for the day!  It was the best thing ever.  I learned soooo much from Sister Baugh about faith, and learning German, and just how to be an awesome missionary and an awesome person.  She is about to go home so I was just juicing 
everything I could out of her.  That night was like a giant slumber party...that ended promptly at 10:30! haha ;) but it was so fun!  

Then when Sister Fast and I were coming back home on Thursday, we got stuck in this tiny creepy place called Leoben for like an hour!  It was so weird, and what should have only taken us three hours to get home, actually took us five!  So we were very exhausted.  But I will still never get over the beautiful scenery on these train rides.  Like we are train tracking through the most beautiful mountains in the world!  Just winding around the sides, and over the rivers and through the woods.  I feel like I'm in a movie every time I get on a train here.

Friday was our service day!! We helped out at the ward primary carnival which was LEGIT.  People here go all out for the primary and they are the cutest kids, and mostly it's just cute to hear their German in squeaky voices instead of deep scruffy voices like most people have.  Sister Fast and I were in charge of face painting, and it was so fun.  Afterwards we went with the elders to get ice cream cuz it was my 100TH DAY AS A MISSIONARY. EEEP!  It's so crazy, it feels like it was just yesterday that I left, but at the same time it feels like AGES ago!  Time is just a very strange thing on a mission.  
This whole week we have also been working on cleaning out and organizing our apartment in hopes that the office will let us move.  We have a giant moth problem.  Like they eat our food and lay their maggot eggs in our kitchen and I just want to throw up it's so gross.  We also have major plumbing problems because our sink floods like every day and we have moldy peeling paint on our ceiling!  So pray that we will be able to get a new apartment!  Or at least get it renovated and exterminated!

Saturday we had a super awesome day full of lessons and finding planned, but everything basically completely fell through.  And to top it off I had the most embarrassing moment of my mission so far, which I'm not even going to talk about because I'm still embarrassed (hahaha.)  But just know that that happened!  

Sunday was DIRNDL DAYYYYYY!  (dirndl = a type of traditional dress worn in Germany and Austria)  Literally the best day ever.  I bought my very own dirndl last pday and on Sunday Sister Fast and I wore ours to church because people actually wear trachten like all the time here. It was so fun, and the members LOVED it.  Best way to reach the heart of the Austrians is to dress like them ;)  

Today for pday we hiked Schlossberg again with our elders and the Wiener Neustadt elders and sisters. Just can't get enough of that place. :)

So how has the 21 day challenge been going for you people?  If you haven't started it yet I hope I am pricking you with guilt because you should probably start sometime soon.  What's a commitment without a follow-up right?  I would love to hear from all of you to see how it went when you're finished!!  This week I was able to start reading the Book of Mormon from the beginning again, and it is just so great.  The Book of Mormon really is true guys.  I am going to challenge all of you to read the whole Book of Mormon, cover to cover, in 6 months.  I'll even attach this fun dot to dot chart to motivate you :)  Read with a specific question in mind, write it in the front on a notecard, and just watch how that question is answered even within the first few pages of reading.  If you are already in the middle of the Book of Mormon, just start from where you are and read all the way back to where you started!  The dot to dot chart should make that easy :)  

My testimony of the Book of Mormon has strengthened so much since I've been on my mission, and so has my love for my Savior, Jesus Christ.  I am so grateful for everything He has done for me, and everything He continues to do for me every single day!  Like I am a very hard person to help sometimes!  It's like carrying a sack of potatoes through the sand!  But He loves me more than I can imagine, and I know He is always on my side :) 

Love you guys, and thanks for the prayers and love and support :)

1 Nephi 3:7
"Ich will hingehen und das tun, was der Herr geboten hat; denn ich weiß, der Herr gibt den Menschenkindern keine Gebote, ohne ihnen einen Weg zu bereiten, damit sie das vollbringen können, was er ihnen gebietet."
(And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father:  I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.)

Liebe Grüße,
Sister Thunell

Oh yes... 
P.S. Sorry for the typo last week (haha) I meant schönen Woche (beautiful week.) #germanprobs

Last week, Savannah ended her email with "Schönen welche!" which I wanted to add a translation for since none of us reading this actually speak German, but she was already gone before I could ask her.  Google Translate said that it meant "beautiful which"  ????
"beautiful week" makes so much more sense.  

Sunday, February 7, 2016

New Callings

Someone from the Bishopric texted me this morning and asked if he could come by for a few minutes before church.  That's almost never a good thing, especially when you really love the calling you currently have.  In the 90 minutes that I had to wait, I conjured up plenty of things to potentially be worried and irritated about.  I'm not sure why I do that.  Anyway, I must have let all those things out of my head because McKay, who happened to be sitting next to me when I got the text said, "Well, why don't you just tell him no if you don't want a new calling."  I have a hard time doing that when my prayers lately consist mostly of pleas for humility and more opportunities to be useful in the Kingdom.  So then he said, "...or you could just cry."  Ha!  Oh, this boy has come to know me way too well in his short 12 years on earth.  I have to admit that I considered that a pretty good option for a minute or two.  It has worked in the past.  

But, in the end, I decided to stop fretting and just go say a prayer and muster up a little humility and willingness.  

And guess wasn't as disappointing a visit as I anticipated.  The great news is that they didn't release me from this Gospel Doctrine calling I love the heck out of.  Thank goodness, because man, I love the Book of Mormon!  And I've already planned next week's lesson and it's gonna be good, so it would be a shame not to be able to teach it.  The not so good news is that In addition to teaching GD every three weeks, they also want me to be the ward choir director.  ugh...that is not my favorite calling.  In fact, I was just having a conversation over Christmas break with someone about how that happens to be my least favorite calling in the whole church.  Apparently what happens when you carelessly release stuff like that into the universe is that you immediately have another chance at that thing you hate and another opportunity to learn to love it.  

All that praying this morning must have helped, though, because as I sat in Sacrament today, all I could think of was how grateful I am for the small handful of things I can do.  Directing the choir might not be my first choice of callings, but at least I know I'm somewhat capable of it.  I have access to good music.  I've been in good choirs before and I know what works and what doesn't.  I can certainly stand up there once a week and lead a bunch of people who want to sing...and we have a dang lot of enthusiastic singers in our ward!  I'm grateful to be able to contribute and to have been asked.  And surprisingly, when I thought about the last time I directed a choir, instead of remembering all the ways that I failed miserably at that calling, I was actually flooded with all the really good memories of that experience.  There were lots that I had forgotten.

I'm grateful today for the Spirit that brings gratitude and remembrance in abundance when we ask for it, and for the floods of happy things that have filled my head all day, even in the middle of the Super Bowl.  It was kind of a nice day to be reminded of stuff.  

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Tornado Clean Up and A Photo Shoot

Forever it's probably been a year...I submitted some pictures to the Church's website to be considered for use in some of their publications.  I also sent an email expressing interest in being a Church Service Missionary Photographer.  And then nothing happened...the pictures I submitted were approved and that's pretty much it.  I didn't get a response to the email or the application I sent, so I just assumed they had all the CSM Photographers they needed, and I forgot about it.  

And then last month, someone from Salt Lake called asking if I was still interested.  (He actually called me a few times right before Savannah left on her mission and left a few messages, but I completely blew him off because I had zero time to even think about anything but getting Savannah to Germany...oh, and selling a house.)  In January, I had more time to listen to him explain what they were looking for.  Honestly, it sounded to me like they were mostly interested in pictures of people (people reading scriptures, people going to church, people working, cooking, playing together.)  And I don't typically take pictures of people.  At least, they're not what I would prefer to take pictures of.  In the couple of years that I've been doing this, I've managed to limit my photography scope to rural America and abandoned buildings, and I rarely stray from that.  I mentioned that to the nice man on the phone and told him I didn't think I was what the Church was looking for, and he suggested that I submit about 20 photos anyway and let the Church decide what they were looking for.  So I did that last month...and heard nothing for three weeks.  And because in my head, hearing nothing always means rejection, I assumed that I wasn't what they wanted and I stopped hoping for an email from Salt Lake.  

And then on Monday, I got an email from someone in the Church's Social Media Department.  She said that they had reviewed my images and thought I had "very good potential to become a missionary photographer," but they wanted to see a little more variety.  (That means they want more than barns and flowers and hay a person or two in an occasional shot would be a very good thing.)

Fortunately her email coincided with an upcoming service opportunity in our ward this weekend.  Last month when those tornados hit the DFW area, a lot of homes and farms were destroyed.  There are still trees down everywhere and tons to clean up.  The wards in the area have taken Saturday shifts to try and assist all those people in clearing debris from their homes and property.  This morning about 40 people from our ward went to a little ranch in Farmersville called Rama Llama.  The sweet lady who owns this place lives by herself and raises llamas to be herd guardians on sheep farms.  How cool is that?  During the tornado chaos, she lost most of the outbuildings on her property and several huge trees...and also two llamas.  The clean up would have been impossible for her to manage by herself.  What an amazing thing for her to watch 40 strangers show up in yellow jerseys to help her do what she could not have done on her own.  She was immensely grateful.  

And I had the opportunity to capture the whole amazing day in pictures.  Here's what it looked like...

This is Megan's "friend" Joel, by the way, and I only included this picture in here because he looked like a beast hauling all that farm wood around today.  Such a great kid.  We just adore him.  

Hopefully there's enough variety in these shots that I'll have a chance to be considered for that missionary photographer opportunity, but if not, it was still an incredible way to spend a day.  How grateful I am for a church that promotes service, for kids who are willing to work hard, and for a great reason to get out of bed early on a Saturday morning and magnify a few talents.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Sick Days

Well, these have been my companions for the week.  Except for a couple of trips out of the house on Monday and one exceedingly miserable 3-hour DMCO rehearsal last night (made possible with the aid of some significant drugs) I haven't left the couch at all.

It's been a long week.  

But, on the bright side, I used all of my non-sleeping couch time to become better acquainted with the AppleTV.  I watched a fascinating PBS documentary about the assassination of President James Garfield, another one about Lehi's journey in the wilderness, and one about the Holocaust, and also every single Eagles video on, I'm serious...every interview, every song, everything they've ever done that's available on YouTube is now permanently imprinted in my head...and maybe a few Jeff Lynne videos, too.  Um, why did I think the Traveling Wilburys were just Roy Orbison and George Harrison??? 

I think my capacity for hoarding information increases dramatically when I'm on DayQuil.  

Monday, February 1, 2016

Missions are FUN!

Hello all! 

This week was great :) probably one of the best weeks of my mission so far!  For p-day last week we hiked Schlossberg, the famous mountain in the middle of the city! You should google it because it is so awesome and it has such a funny legend behind it!  But at the top there are biergartens, old castle/church ruins, the famous Graz clock tower, a bell tower, gardens with paths and benches, a souvenir shop, and the most beautiful views in the whole city! Like if you want the perfect place to propose to your girlfriend, go to Schlossberg. It's really awesome because you can either hike up the side, climb the stairs up, take a tram up the side, or go on an elevator ride straight through the middle of the mountain! And the city buildings are built like right up next to and onto the mountain, so it's very much incorporated into the city. Best day ever :)

During the week, Sister Fast and I decided to have a movie night, because all we do is finding ALL DAY LONG EVERY DAY, and we needed a little break! So we came home a little early one day, planned really quick, got into our jammies, pulled out all of our snacks and all of our nail polish, and just watched church movies!  We own basically every movie President Kohler has approved for missionaries to watch, and we have a little portable DVD player in our apartment! #blessed  It was so nice to relax for a little bit, while also being spiritually edified!  If I've learned one thing this week, it's that I need to be a little easier on myself and not get so caught up in working myself to death, but to have fun on my mission! I've been too concerned with being exactly on time for everything, and thinking that we needed to be working our butts off every second of the day.  The Spirit does not dwell in uptight, stressed out places!  As my dad told me, "even the General Authorities need to take off their white shirts and relax sometimes!"

Friday we had to wake up early and catch a train to Wien for interviews and training. Literally, the best day ever!!  Wien is three hours away, so the whole train ride we were playing games with the Elders and it was so fun!  And I felt so cool when we got there because I knew exactly how to get us to where we needed to go.  I seriously didn't realize how much I missed Wein, and how much I had grown to love it while I was there until I went back on Friday!  I think a little piece of my heart will always be in Wien!  President Kohler is the best.  We watched the worldwide broadcast for missionaries for our training, and it was basically like a mini general conference for missionaries!  6 of the 12 apostles were there, so that tells you how big a deal it was!  And it was so great to think that all of my missionary friends around the world had watched it too :)  I actually saw Gracie Berrett in the broadcast!  So crazy!  Then while we had district meeting, President Kohler took us one at a time for interviews.  I got some GREAT advice and counsel from him, and I'm just really grateful to have such a cool mission president :)  We definitely came back to Graz on such a spiritual high!!

So to answer some questions:
My ward is actually the biggest ward in Austria!  There are at least 100 people, and most are active!  My ward in Wien was around 70 people.
Most wards in this mission have one set of elders and one set of sisters assigned to them, and most church buildings just have one ward that meets in them because the boundaries are so big!  In Graz Ward, we have us, the elders, and a senior couple!  So six missionaries in one ward, which is super awesome...not gonna lie.  :)
We still take street trains and busses to get around here, but the public transportation is definitely not as big as in Wien. And there are real houses here!!  I love it!  Most people still live in apartments, though
So far it has snowed for exactly two days since I've been in Austria.  And this week we didn't even need our jackets and gloves while we were walking outside!  So whoever told me that this would be the coldest winter in 40 years forgot about global warming, I guess!

So the spiritual thought for this week is "reach out with love." You seriously HAVE to go watch that Mormon message because it is the cutest!! 
This week I've been focusing on how I can be more charitable, and more humble. Those two things are must-haves out here on a mission, but, surprisingly enough, missionaries aren't just bestowed with perfect charity and humility when they are set apart.  I've been learning more and more each day how to forget about myself and put others first, and it is harddddd, but it brings more joy and happiness than being selfish and thinking about yourself ever could!  Trust me, I know both sides very well.  I keep thinking about a scripture that I read for personal study this week, Moroni 7:6-8
"For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing. For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness. For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God."
We need to reach out with love with real intent!  If we perform acts of service grudgingly, or just because we think others are watching, or because we're just trying to check one more thing off of our list, then we might as well not have even done it at all!  To have true charity, which is the PURE LOVE of CHRIST, we need to truly care about people, and truly try and be like the Savior. #WWJD

So this week try and reach out to someone new!  Make a new friend!  It will be great :)  We make new friends as missionaries every day!  And it's so funny because we are like the most popular/most hated people in the world!  It's so awesome!!

Well, I just want you all to know that missions are fun :) and I am so grateful for the perfect example of my Savior, Jesus Christ.  I never have to worry because as long as I'm following him, everything will work out!  

Love y'all!  Schönen welche! 

Liebe Grüße,
Sister Thunell

Sunday, January 31, 2016

January Weather

When it's 60 degrees in January, you can do weird things like sleep in hammocks out on the patio.  

I texted this picture to my poor father-in-law this morning who had just come inside from shoveling the snow off his driveway for the third time in 24 hours.  They're thinking it might be time for a trip to Dallas.  

Friday, January 29, 2016

Divine Compensation

Last night was the first rehearsal of the DMCO season.  I can't even tell you how happy and excited I was to be back there singing with that group.  I walked right back to my usual spot in the front row and it was as if I hadn't even been gone all those months.  

And look what we're singing!  Yep, I know...I had to hold back the tears while we sang it. 
"My mind was drawn immediately to Nephi’s phrase “the tender mercies of the Lord,” and I knew in that very moment I was experiencing just such a tender mercy. A loving Savior was sending me a most personal and timely message of comfort and reassurance through a hymn selected weeks previously. Some may count this experience as simply a nice coincidence, but I testify that the tender mercies of the Lord are real and that they do not occur randomly or merely by coincidence. Often, the Lord’s timing of His tender mercies helps us to both discern and acknowledge them." - David Bednar
Last September when I left DMCO, I couldn't see any possible way that I would ever have an opportunity to sing with them again.  And I poured out many, many tearful prayers to Heavenly Father saying that very thing, and wondering how in the heck I was ever going to find a way to magnify this talent He's given me that I have come to love so much.   But that's the great thing about Heavenly Father and His timing... there is compensation for every loss.  Every single one of them.  I know that for sure.  Whatever we ache for and are heartbroken over, He will compensate for in our lives with abundant joy somewhere else.  I'm sure it won't always look like my DMCO experience with the very thing returned exactly as it was before or as quickly, but I do know that I have had enough experiences with joy following loss that I now have a blazing testimony of divine compensation.  There are other things that I ache for regularly and shed way too many tears over, but this experience reminded me that somewhere down the road there is abundant joy waiting in some delightful form that my limited perspective can't even imagine adequately.  And that is a huge reason to have HOPE and to look forward to the future with joyful anticipation.  
"The Lord compensates the faithful for every loss. That which is taken away from those who love the Lord will be added unto them in His own way. While it may not come at the time we desire, the faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude."  - Joseph B Wirthlin

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


We spent the morning at the DMV, and these two girls are officially permitted drivers.  

Emma wants to drive to seminary tomorrow.  I'm pretty sure this whole drivers ed thing falls way outside my job description, but Craig is conveniently out of town almost every weekday.   And now that there's a piece of paper saying she can drive a car around, Emma is relentless about finding any opportunity to do that very thing.  Fortunately, Megan isn't as enthusiastic about driving a car so I may be able to put her off for awhile.   

At least the good thing about treating them like twins is that we just killed two birds with one trip to the DMV.  I don't think I could handle multiple visits to that place.

(don't worry, no actual birds were harmed today...)

Well, Emma drove to seminary this morning (in the dark!) and she did awesome!  We left at 5:45 just in case it took a littler longer than the 2 1/2 minutes it usually takes me, but we got to the church by 5:54.  She stopped for a full 20 seconds at the STOP sign.  She didn't hit any curbs or cars or seminary kids.  And she got up to 34 mph on an actual road outside of the subdivision.  She's pretty proud of herself.  And Megan and I are thrilled that we made it there in one piece.  :)

Monday, January 25, 2016

Welkommen zu Graz!

German moment of the week: Apparently in Switzerland the German word for "Christian" is "Christ," and Sister Jest has only served in Switzerland so we have just been innocently telling people here that we are Christian! But in Austria Christian is just Christian, and Christ means Christ.. Haha so we've actually been telling people we are Christ.. Oops...

In other news, I finally got my visa!  A long and painful process that I will have to do again soon.  My last few days with Sister Jest were really good, which I am extremely thankful for. We learned a lot from each other.  Our very last day together all of our appointments fell through, so we just went finding for the whole day and into the evening, which was FREEZING, but we talked to some super awesome people!  Then we went home and made dinner together and just kinda had a recap of how our transfer together had been, and what we both learned and what we could still both improve on, and laughed about our stubbornness. :)

Thursday was transfer day!  It was a day full of train rides for me, and I loved it! Just imagine riding in a warm train through the snowy alps, with beautiful trees, valleys, frozen lakes, and mountains surrounding you, little brightly colored cottages tucked in the snow in the middle of nowhere, and snow flurries fluffing up as the train passes, and that's exactly what I was doing :) it was like the Polar Express!!  I went to Salzburg to meet my new companion, Sister Fast, and then we traveled back to Graz together!  I'm not too good at the geography of where everything is here, cuz you know, I just go where the Lord wants me to go, but according to my calculations it was a very long way, and also a very long day.

Let me just say how extremely difficult it is to drag suitcases down cobblestone streets. And if you add snow and ice to that, it is a nightmare!  Definitely need to get rid of some stuff... SISTER FAST IS THE BEST! HOLY POOP! (are missionaries allowed to say "holy poop" because I still say that a lot..?) I am literally crying I love her so much.  She is from California and she is so happy and energetic and kind and such a hard worker, just everything I want to be as a missionary basically :) This is gonna be a great transfer, I CAN JUST FEEL IT IN MY BLOOD.  I don't think I have laughed or smiled this much my whole mission so far.

Church on Sunday was great.  This ward is super awesome!  In my last ward basically everyone was over the age of 80.  We had 4 primary kids, no young women, and like 3 young men. But this ward has children to spare!  And young women too!  Yay!!  Everyone in Graz ward is SO ENERGETIC.  Like I felt like I was being attacked by jumping beans the whole day (haha.)  I don't know if I can handle this much socializing every Sunday!  It's crazy!  

So I don't know what kind of rumors were being spread about me before I got here, but I had people coming up to me asking if Sister Fast is helping me learn English, too (seriously why does everyone think I can't speak English,) and what it's like in the Philippines, or if my family lives in Asia, and this one guy spoke to me in Spanish for a good 10 minutes before he found out I wasn't Hispanic.  I was just so confused the whole day. But I have already gotten to know the members so well, and I'm sooo excited and happy to be here!

So! Geistigen Gedenken! (Spiritual thought). In Wien, Sister Jest and I were sharing this "21 day challenge" with members, and I really think it's super awesome so I'm gonna share it with all of you! (It's attached at the end). It's in German so I will translate.  So first you need to write down a list of all your friends, family members, or neighbors who you would like to share the gospel with.  Then for 21 days you should pray for them, day and night, and read the scriptures that go along with each day.  Elder Robert E. Wells of the Quorum of the Seventy has promised that if we take this challenge and ACTUALLY DO IT then by the end of the 21 days at least one person from your list will be ready to meet with the missionaries! That's basically a promise from Heavenly Father himself, people!!  So now you have all officially been challenged :)

Have a lovely week! Ciao! Tschüß! Papa! Auf Wiedersehen! Bis später! Schönen Tag noch!

Random Austrian fact: there are a bazillion different ways to say goodbye here. And if you don't say at least 3 of them you haven't really said goodbye (haha.)

Liebe Grüße,
Sister Thunell

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Gospel Doctrine

I've been mildly obsessive about this whole Fitbit thing and keeping track of my steps and stats and calories every day...and whatever else I can get this thing to track.  Because I'm obsessive about it, I usually try to remember to take it off on Sundays so it's not a distraction.  I must have forgotten today.

I've been planning this Gospel Doctrine lesson for two weeks and it was just on the Tree of Life.  It should have been pretty straightforward.  But I had such huge inspirations all week about things like "gathering seeds of every kind" (1 Ne 8:1) and "diligently seeking things" (1 Ne 10:19) and having our minds "swallowed up in other things" (1 Ne 15:27) that by Friday it had become far from straightforward.  I think it went fine, but I stressed out a lot about it today before church.  Like A LOT.  Apparently so much that my FitBit recorded 36 minutes of activity this afternoon between 12:00 - 2:30 based on my heart rate.  

Who knew teaching Gospel Doctrine could be considered an aerobic activity? :)