Hello my family!! How is everyone doing this week? I hope all is good! :) This week has been one of the most craziest, odd, and hardest weeks of my life. Even though it's been hard, there has been many tender mercies and many blessings that have come from it!
One of my good friends and fellow Elders went home this week. His name is Elder Wilson and he's the guy I actually met before the mission (the one who lifts weights). He was serving in the Bronx, and turns out he had depression. He lost 20 pounds being here and he didn't know why he was depressed. It was sad for us to hear about him going home and it kind of put a damper on the week. I couldn't believe it when I heard it. Pray for him. He needs it. He said that he would call President Morgan every night and talk to him about what he was feeling, and then he had a meeting with him. In the meeting he was crying and didn't know what to do, and President Morgan suggested that he should go home. Elder Wilson was disappointed that he couldn't say he served an honorable mission, and president got angry with this. He went and grabbed Elder Wilson's face, got up in his face and said "don't you EVER let anyone say you didn't serve an honorable mission. You cleaned your life up to get here, you wanted to serve with all your might, but because your body wouldn't let you anymore, is why you need to go home. Don't let anyone ever tell you this...ever." He then gave Elder Wilson a blessing and he flew home the next day. President Morgan has the perfect balance of being understanding and lovable, and tough in times where that is required. We will miss you Elder Wilson.
Last week I told you all I was sick and had to stay in bed most of last week. On the mission, being sick is very emotionally aggravating because you have sacrificed so much to be on a mission and then you are stuck at home because you get sick. You feel so frustrated and guilty which isn't good and just makes you more sick! Haha. So I couldn't take being inside anymore so I decided to go out with my companion and start to work again while being sick. That wasn't the smartest idea. It only got worse and worse and all the Elders in my zone kept telling me to call Sister Morgan (President Morgan's wife) and ask her what to do, but I didn't listen because I thought I would just get better. It was weird because I had a fever for two weeks straight, and body aches, my lymph nodes have been really swollen especially on the side of my neck (I look like Frankenstein or the hulk haha...my neck is super swollen right now) and I have had a really bad sore throat that keeps getting worse. I've had headaches and have felt restless. I checked my weight yesterday and within a week, I have lost 13 pounds. Not good at all. Yesterday we went on splits (so I went to Scarsdale and one of the Scarsdale elders came here to Yonkers) and I got to sleep in a nice bed. Their apartment was so nice! In all honesty it wasn't that nice, but compared to where we live in Yonkers, it was heaven. Anyways I went to sleep and I woke up in the night choking on my saliva because my throat was so sore, I couldn't swallow. So I spent the rest of the night in the bathroom spitting out my saliva so I didn't have to swallow it. It was a rough night! There is an elder named Elder Burton in my zone who also lives in the Scarsdale apartment and he saw me shaking yesterday from my fever, and he got up in my face about not calling sister Morgan or the doctor. It was needed and I thank him for doing so. I called Sister Morgan and she said I needed to call the doctor. I then called the doctor and after he looked at all the symptoms he said I had strep throat and an infection running through my body. He gave me a prescription for some medicine. I'm on that now, so we will see how it works. I haven't been this sick in a long time, and I think some of it was stress related.
When I get super stressed, I usually hold it in and don't tell anybody so my body then gets sick. It hit me this week. I had given up on myself here. I was eating ramen at every meal. I couldn't sleep because I was depressed. I stopped exercising, I would never drink water, and I completely just stopped caring about myself. In a bad way. I realized that if I'm going to be able to help anyone, I first needed to make sure I was healthy mentally, physically and spiritually. I had given up because most everyone else in this place has given up on their lives and it was infectious. By infectious I mean this. All the apartments/ houses here in Yonkers look like the houses were made out of sticks and slapped together in a day, then the telephone lines look like someone blind put them up, there is trash everywhere, everyone dresses like they are homeless (except at church haha) and everyone sits outside on their steps doing drugs. It's one of the most dirtiest places I've seen. It looks like a ghost town with people still living here. My companion calls them animals. Haha he says we have been placed in a concrete jungle of animals and it's our jobs to find the people still left here. Anyways, because of all this this, I really didn't like it here, and slowly started giving up on me. I had lost all hope. There was nothing I could find to get excited about. But I've been praying really hard this week for God to change this and let me see some hope, to feel some joy for something...anything. And slowly I started to feel hopeful, but I didn't even know what for. Being super sick, I realized I had to eat better, so I'm going to stop buying ramen and get some good healthy food. We are hitting up trader joes and whole foods today!
We went to visit a family named the Feliz family and the husband does calisthenics (street workouts) and he was in extremely good shape. He taught me his workouts which are very clever and creative. He was at a point in his life where he was doing 5,000-10,000 push-ups a day. And I believe it because he's in very good shape. Like crazy shape. This got me fired up to start working out again when I get better. We've been trying to teach this family the entire time I've been here, but every appointment has fallen through, and I know it was meant to be that we met with them this week, because this man gave me some hope again right when I felt like I couldn't go on anymore. I can't wait to get better so I can flip things around again. There's that saying, "Either I'm going to change the world, or the world is going to change me." I was letting the world change me...in a sense destroy me physically and mentally, and the only place I've been able to go for help is the Lord. But perhaps he means it to be this way. I will talk about this more later. Mr. Feliz is a really great guy. He's this big buff looking tough guy but he has a heart. He is looking for another job right now so he can quit his job now and come to church because he works on Sunday's. He lives in a crazy place so he scoped out the area outside for us before we left and was like a bodyguard as he walked us to our car. Cool guy! Can't wait to teach his family again.
We had an event this week where all the missionaries from our zone came to Yonkers and we went to a place called south Broadway and Getty square and we sang as missionaries. Both these areas are terrible areas to be in, but that's where they assigned the event. It was honestly pretty scary at first. Here's a group of 6-10 white missionaries, both Elders and Sisters amongst black, Dominican, and Hispanic people, happily singing in a courtyard filled with homeless people and druggies. It was interesting. Even though our surroundings were not the best, it was amazing the peace and joy I felt when we all sang those hymns together. The fact that you could feel the spirit so strong in such terrible surroundings was amazing to me. And that same spirit attracted some people to us, and one of them was a 19 year old guy who happened to be the boyfriend of one of the girls in our church. We talked to him for a while and he really wants to be baptized, and get sealed to his future wife and family for time and all eternity in the temple. Looking back, that whole event was meant to find him. The sisters in our Ward were having a baptism the following day in our church and we invited him to come. We told him we would make sure his girlfriend was there. She didn't end up showing up, and even though she didn't, he did, and he sat there and watched as this 11 year old girl got baptized by our bishop who holds the authority from God to do so, and he said after the baptism that he has never felt such a peace and such a heavenly feeling before. We told him that that was the Holy Spirit or the spirit of God and it testifies of truth, we told him the reason he was feeling this was because what he watched was truly of God. He told us he wants this feeling in his life and is willing to do whatever to have it. He told us he wants to start "hanging out" with us more, so we are going to start and help him out and teach him about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. It's amazing to see someone carry himself the way he does with good standards and good dreams in a city of the opposite when he's had nobody but himself to teach him of these good morals and ways of living that bring happiness. The Lord truly does prepare people to receive the teachings of God. We are going to start teaching him.
There is a special spirit there at baptisms. It feels like a peace of heaven opened up to you while you're still in this world, and you don't just now see with an eternal perspective, but you feel it. You can feel there's more. You can feel that it's right. You can feel that it's of God. There's no way anyone can experience that feeling of great joy and say it is of this world. There's is nothing I've ever felt that has made me this happy, except this feeling...the feeling of the spirit – God’s way of communicating to us, what is true eternally. I had the chance to play the piano while Sister Smith and the girl getting baptized sang a duet. It was great. There was this family who was at the baptism...We had dinner with this family before and I got to know them pretty well and bond with their kids. I taught one of the kids how to spin a basketball on his finger and he loves it. This family was there and they came up to me (they have about 6 kids) and they told me that they all were praying for me to get better every day multiple times a day. All the kids and the husband and wife. It's so awesome to be able make these bonds with these people. It's definitely very humbling.
We had dinner again at Judy and shasha's house and it was great. They were both really sick but they still made us dinner. These two are some of my favorite people here. Even though I won't miss much else here in Yonkers, I will miss them. Judy even called us last night because she felt impressed to call us and see if everything was alright. It was right when we were picking up medicine and she just wanted to check up and see if we were still ok. She told us anything we need, she will help us with. It was quite an odd call, but Elder Paiz and I both told her she has no idea how comforting it would be to both of our mothers to know there is someone like her watching out for us like we are her own. She is a very Christlike woman. Mom you would love her.
We had a training conference this past week with President Morgan, his assistants and with all us new missionaries and our trainers. I want to share a few things that he talked about.
He was called as a bishop at age 32, and there was a couple in his Ward...an older couple who had served a total of 15 missions together. 15! They were truly consecrated to the Lord. They gave everything they had to Him. 15 missions are many years and years, serving others. He loved his wife with all his might as did she love him with everything she had. One day, Betty (his wife) had a stroke and went into a coma. Her husband rushed her to the hospital and checked her in in the middle of the night. Well President Morgan got word of this (bishop at the time), woke up and rushed over to comfort him and his family at the hospital. Every day friends and family would come in and sing her songs of joy and life, hoping that she would wake up out of the coma. Her husband didn't sleep much at all during that time as he sat next to Betty in the hospital bed grasping her hand as she was stuck in the coma. A week went by and she was still in the coma, and then on a Saturday night, poor Betty passed away. Betty's husband was now left here on the earth without her. Betty and her husband every week would create these beautiful flower bouquets and they would come and decorate the chapel every Sunday. They built a greenhouse and planted the flowers specifically for this purpose. As Bishop Morgan walked out of the hospital that night with Betty's husband right after she passed away, Betty's husband looked him in the eyes and told him to not worry, he would make sure the flowers are there tomorrow Sunday morning at church. Bishop Morgan told him not to worry about it and that should be the last thing on his mind. He insisted he must bring them and he told him not to worry about it many times. Betty's husband then grabbed Bishop Morgan’s hands, looked him in the eyes, and said "Bishop Morgan, I really love Betty, but I love God more." He then brought the flowers just as he said he would to church, decorated the room, only hours after his wife had passed away whom he loved so dearly. He put off what he was feeling, so he could turn outward, and serve others. When in his darkest hours,he looked outward to serve the people of the ward, and ultimately to serve God. This man was amazing.
I have come to know, that even though God is so grand and has created creations beyond number, we matter to him. You matter to him. He knows more about what will make you happy in the long run than you could ever know yourself. He knows all of us by name. He knows everything we are going through, and he knows all our thoughts. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and I want to share a talk (at the bottom of this email) that has helped me come to understand that. So after this, grab a cup of herbal tea and go sit outside and get reading away :)
I had an interview with President Morgan, and I can truly say that he is a man of God, called by God. I don't think I've met anyone (besides Elder Nelson of the quorum of the 12 Apostles) who is closer to God than him. I could see him being called to be prophet eventually. He is more in tune with God than anyone I've seen. The first thing he ever told me was the biggest thing this mission is supposed to do is the following. He said it will be the by far the hardest time of my life ever, but it's because He wants me to get to know Him (as he points to a picture of Jesus). He told me this and it sticks with me through the hard times when I feel like giving up. He truly is a man of God and words cannot describe it (it's beyond any language - the feeling you get when you are around this man), but I have faith and know he is in communication with what God wants so if he assigns me here it's for a reason. He's amazing. Just know I'm in good hands.
VIDEO OF THE WEEK: Like this man, be different. Help someone this week in need, when nobody else dares to. A depiction of the Savior's parable of the Good Samaritan, in which a man is robbed and beaten by thieves, and a Samaritan shows mercy on him.
With much love,
- Elder Celaya
P.S. It's time to flip things around here in Yonkers!!!!
P.S.S. Here is the talk that is so peaceful:
You Matter to Him (by Dieter F. Uchtdorf)
The Lord uses a scale very different from the world’s to weigh the worth of a soul.
Moses, one of the greatest prophets the world has ever known, was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter and spent the first 40 years of his life in the royal halls of Egypt. He knew firsthand the glory and grandeur of that ancient kingdom.
Years later, on the top of a distant mountain, far removed from the splendor and magnificence of mighty Egypt, Moses stood in the presence of God and spoke to Him face to face as a man speaks with his friend.1 During the course of that visitation, God showed Moses the workmanship of His hands, granting him a glimpse of His work and glory. When the vision ended, Moses fell to the earth for the space of many hours. When his strength finally returned, he realized something that, in all his years in Pharaoh’s court, had never occurred to him before.
“I know,” he said, “that man is nothing.”
We Are Less Than We Suppose
The more we learn about the universe, the more we understand--at least in a small part--what Moses knew. The universe is so large, mysterious, and glorious that it is incomprehensible to the human mind. “Worlds without number have I created,” God said to Moses. The wonders of the night sky are a beautiful testimony of that truth.
There are few things that have filled me with such breathless awe as flying in the black of night across oceans and continents and looking out my cockpit window upon the infinite glory of millions of stars.
Astronomers have attempted to count the number of stars in the universe. One group of scientists estimates that the number of stars within range of our telescopes is 10 times greater than all the grains of sand on the world’s beaches and deserts.
This conclusion has a striking similarity to the declaration of the ancient prophet Enoch: “Were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations.”
Given the vastness of God’s creations, it’s no wonder the great King Benjamin counseled his people to “always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness.”
We Are Greater Than We Suppose
But even though man is nothing, it fills me with wonder and awe to think that “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.”
And while we may look at the vast expanse of the universe and say, “What is man in comparison to the glory of creation?” God Himself said we are the reason He created the universe! His work and glory--the purpose for this magnificent universe--is to save and exalt mankind.8 In other words, the vast expanse of eternity, the glories and mysteries of infinite space and time are all built for the benefit of ordinary mortals like you and me. Our Heavenly Father created the universe that we might reach our potential as His sons and daughters.
This is a paradox of man: compared to God, man is nothing; yet we are everything to God. While against the backdrop of infinite creation we may appear to be nothing, we have a spark of eternal fire burning within our breast. We have the incomprehensible promise of exaltation--worlds without end--within our grasp. And it is God’s great desire to help us reach it.
The Folly of Pride
The great deceiver knows that one of his most effective tools in leading the children of God astray is to appeal to the extremes of the paradox of man. To some, he appeals to their prideful tendencies, puffing them up and encouraging them to believe in the fantasy of their own self-importance and invincibility. He tells them they have transcended the ordinary and that because of ability, birthright, or social status, they are set apart from the common measure of all that surrounds them. He leads them to conclude that they are therefore not subject to anyone else’s rules and not to be bothered by anyone else’s problems.
Abraham Lincoln is said to have loved a poem that reads:
Oh why should the spirit of mortal be proud?
Like a swift-flitting meteor, a fast-flying cloud,
A flash of the lightning, a break of the wave,
Man passeth from life to his rest in the grave.
Disciples of Jesus Christ understand that compared to eternity, our existence in this mortal sphere is only “a small moment” in space and time.10 They know that a person’s true value has little to do with what the world holds in high esteem. They know you could pile up the accumulated currency of the entire world and it could not buy a loaf of bread in the economy of heaven.
Those who will “inherit the kingdom of God”11 are those who become “as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love.”12 “For every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”13 Such disciples understand also “that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.”14
We Are Not Forgotten
Another way Satan deceives is through discouragement. He attempts to focus our sight on our own insignificance until we begin to doubt that we have much worth. He tells us that we are too small for anyone to take notice, that we are forgotten--especially by God.
Let me share with you a personal experience that may be of some help to those who feel insignificant, forgotten, or alone.
Many years ago I attended pilot training in the United States Air Force. I was far away from my home, a young West German soldier, born in Czechoslovakia, who had grown up in East Germany and spoke English only with great difficulty. I clearly remember my journey to our training base in Texas. I was on a plane, sitting next to a passenger who spoke with a heavy Southern accent. I could scarcely understand a word he said. I actually wondered if I had been taught the wrong language all along. I was terrified by the thought that I had to compete for the coveted top spots in pilot training against students who were native English speakers.
When I arrived on the air base in the small town of Big Spring, Texas, I looked for and found the Latter-day Saint branch, which consisted of a handful of wonderful members who were meeting in rented rooms on the air base itself. The members were in the process of building a small meetinghouse that would serve as a permanent place for the Church. Back in those days members provided much of the labor on new buildings.
Day after day I attended my pilot training and studied as hard as I could and then spent most of my spare time working on the new meetinghouse. There I learned that a two-by-four is not a dance step but a piece of wood. I also learned the important survival skill of missing my thumb when pounding a nail.
I spent so much time working on the meetinghouse that the branch president--who also happened to be one of our flight instructors--expressed concern that I perhaps should spend more time studying.
My friends and fellow student pilots engaged themselves in free-time activities as well, although I think it’s safe to say that some of those activities would not have been in alignment with today’s For the Strength of Youth pamphlet. For my part, I enjoyed being an active part of this tiny west Texas branch, practicing my newly acquired carpentry skills, and improving my English as I fulfilled my callings to teach in the elders quorum and in Sunday School.
At the time, Big Spring, despite its name, was a small, insignificant, and unknown place. And I often felt exactly the same way about myself--insignificant, unknown, and quite alone. Even so, I never once wondered if the Lord had forgotten me or if He would ever be able to find me there. I knew that it didn’t matter to Heavenly Father where I was, where I ranked with others in my pilot training class, or what my calling in the Church was. What mattered to Him was that I was doing the best I could, that my heart was inclined toward Him, and that I was willing to help those around me. I knew if I did the best I could, all would be well.
And all was well.15
The Last Shall Be First
The Lord doesn’t care at all if we spend our days working in marble halls or stable stalls. He knows where we are, no matter how humble our circumstances. He will use--in His own way and for His holy purposes--those who incline their hearts to Him.
God knows that some of the greatest souls who have ever lived are those who will never appear in the chronicles of history. They are the blessed, humble souls who emulate the Savior’s example and spend the days of their lives doing good.16
One such couple, parents of a friend of mine, exemplify this principle for me. The husband worked at a steel mill in Utah. At lunch he would pull out his scriptures or a Church magazine and read. When the other workers saw this, they ridiculed him and challenged his beliefs. Whenever they did, he spoke to them with kindness and confidence. He did not allow their disrespect to make him angry or upset.
Years later one of the more vocal mockers became very ill. Before he died, he requested that this humble man speak at his funeral--which he did.
This faithful member of the Church never had much in the way of social status or wealth, but his influence extended deeply to all who knew him. He died in an industrial accident while stopping to help another worker who was stranded in the snow.
Within a year his widow had to undergo brain surgery, which has left her unable to walk. But people love coming to spend time with her because she listens. She remembers. She cares. Unable to write, she memorizes her children’s and grandchildren’s telephone numbers. She lovingly remembers birthdays and anniversaries.
Those who visit her come away feeling better about life and about themselves. They feel her love. They know she cares. She never complains but spends her days blessing the lives of others. One of her friends said this woman was one of the few people she had ever known who truly exemplifies the love and life of Jesus Christ.
This couple would have been the first to say they were not of much importance in this world. But the Lord uses a scale very different from the world’s to weigh the worth of a soul. He knows this faithful couple; He loves them. Their actions are a living witness of their strong faith in Him.
You Matter to Him
My dear brothers and sisters, it may be true that man is nothing in comparison to the greatness of the universe. At times we may even feel insignificant, invisible, alone, or forgotten. But always remember--you matter to Him! If you ever doubt that, consider these four divine principles:
First, God loves the humble and meek, for they are “greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”17
Second, the Lord entrusts “the fulness of [His] gospel [to] be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world.”18 He has chosen “the weak things of the world [to] come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones”19 and to put to shame “the things which are mighty.”20
Third, no matter where you live, no matter how humble your circumstances, how meager your employment, how limited your abilities, how ordinary your appearance, or how little your calling in the Church may appear to you, you are not invisible to your Heavenly Father. He loves you. He knows your humble heart and your acts of love and kindness. Together, they form a lasting testimony of your fidelity and faith.
Fourth and finally, please understand that what you see and experience now is not what forever will be. You will not feel loneliness, sorrow, pain, or discouragement forever. We have the faithful promise of God that He will neither forget nor forsake those who incline their hearts to Him.21 Have hope and faith in that promise. Learn to love your Heavenly Father and become His disciple in word and in deed.
Be assured that if you but hold on, believe in Him, and remain faithful in keeping the commandments, one day you will experience for yourselves the promises revealed to the Apostle Paul: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”22
Brothers and sisters, the most powerful Being in the universe is the Father of your spirit. He knows you. He loves you with a perfect love.
God sees you not only as a mortal being on a small planet who lives for a brief season--He sees you as His child. He sees you as the being you are capable and designed to become. He wants you to know that you matter to Him.
May we ever believe, trust, and align our lives so that we will understand our true eternal worth and potential. May we be worthy of the precious blessings our Heavenly Father has in store for us is my prayer in the name of His Son, even Jesus Christ, amen.