Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Last MTC email before NORTH CAROLINA!

From Laura, with special mention of Kelli and the Michaels...

First of all, thank you Michaels for the wonderful cookies! I can't wait to share them with my District/class tonight! They are going to go crazy!!!! And a huge thank you to everyone sending me mail and Dear Elders - it is so nice to hear about anything and everything from back home. Also, thanks for sending me my tea and chocolate chips - they were gone so fast! Everyone loved it :)

The most amazing thing happened last night. Every Tuesday evening, we have a devotional with all 2,000 missionaries and someone comes and talks to us. Every once in a while, one of the Apostles comes and last night was one of those nights. Usually, about 15 minutes before it starts, we sing a few hymns together, which is usually my favorite part. We were on our last hymn and suddenly everyone starts to stand up. Elder Holland had walked into the room. When that happened, we all forgot to sing for a few measures, then remembered that we were singing and sang so loudly and beautifully for the rest of the hymn. It was like we had to prove that we could sing. I started laughing.

Pic by Ashley because, why not?
There were a few main points from his talk that I want to share. First, he basically said that we are not allowed to come home and go back to who we were. If we are expecting those we teach to change and come unto Christ, then we have to do the same thing in our lives and how dare we think that our actions won't affect them. A lot is expected of the missionaries. We don't have a symbol of our church (like the cross) but if we did, it would be a picture of two missionaries. Missionaries are referenced in sitcoms and books and people know who we are and so we have to live up to those expectations. One of the things that he said - and this is not the first time I've heard this at the MTC, but probably only the second - is that we are the Lord's investigators. Just as we are teaching others, he is teaching us. If there is one person we convert on our missions, it should be ourselves. Then Elder Holland likened us to the Apostles. We are doing the same thing that they do in building the Kingdom of God on earth only without the same authority and Priesthood keys that they have. While we are missionaries, we are apostles - little 'a.'  Then came the amazing part. He read the first few chapters of the book of Mormon with us. It was like being in the best English class and Sunday School class combined. He pointed out all kinds of things. In that first chapter we see that prophets exist, they pray, have spiritual manifestations, dreams, get records, have spiritual promptings, call people unto repentance, receive revelations. Not only that, but anyone has access to that kind of power if they want it. Nephi didn't just take is father's word for it, he prayed about what his father, the prophet saw, and Nephi saw it too. Elder Holland called us out on reading the Book of Mormon. It is through reading scripture that we can gain the holy ghost to be with us always. One more note on this devotional, he told us that we need to teach "after the manner of the working of the Spirit" (Moroni 6:9) rather than just with or by the Spirit. We teach simply, directly, with the spirit, individualized lessons, persuasive, provocative (call to action), and cleanly (worthy of the spirit). Just something interesting to ponder on. Teaching like the Spirit, not just with the Spirit.

On Monday I had a bit of an adventure off the MTC campus. My companion, Sister W., was supposed to have a doctor's apt. And through many miscommunications (not on our part, but ont he MTC staff's part) she did not make it, but was able to reschedule (miraculously) for the next day. So we didn't get to leave like we expected, but that's OK, because after dinner, we had to go to Instacare (the same one that Ashley had to go to when she snapped her ankle moving me in). She was having her cereal course (I've taught my district well) and started coughing. We didn't think much of it until about 20 minutes later when she still was coughing and ended up barfing. We went to the front desk since the medical clinic was closed, they called the doctor, he said to just calm her down, it wouldn't get any worse, but if it did to call him back. She kept coughing and crying and throwing up and it was not pretty. Eventually they just sent us to Instacare. She vomited one last time in the waiting room and then seemed to calm down a bit. They said that it might have been an allergic reaction, but she wasn't eating anything that she hasn't had at every meal at the MTC. It was weird to be outside - we don't leave except to go to the Temple which is just across the street.

I have little patience in general, but especially with people who go over their allotted time and then get mad at us when we are late for our next meeting/class or don't like it when we have to get up to use the restroom because we didn't get a break. It's part of public speaking - you need to know how to end on time.

We leave for NC on Monday. Our flight isn't until 7, but we have to be ready to go, in the bus at 4am...wooohoooo (sarcastic). We have an hour layover in Georgia. We have been getting a few letters from some of the Sisters in NC. When we arrive, there will be 14 sisters in 7 areas. It was so wonderful to get little notes from them. Some send pictures. They gave us advice and words of encouragement and excitment. I can't wait to meet and work with them.

I had a CD made of my pictures, I'll be sending that home ASAP.

Um, I think that's all for now. Love you!!!

PS Kelli, I have been getting your Dear Elders - I only have your Tarzana address, so my letters back are going there. My District enjoyed your jokes. Also, I wore your hat and everyone loved it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

First week recap

An email from Laura (edited, because I can't help it):

Sorry I didn't get to write earlier in the day, my email wasn't working so we had to go get it fixed and then it was temple time.
So the MTC. Basically, we work all day long. It feels a lot like EFY sometimes, but with no breaks or laughter or secret flirting.We have classroom instruction with either Brother Nate or Brother Pinnock for about 6 hours a day. Then we have Zone teaching, where we are currently playing investigators for the other, more experienced zone members. Gym time for 50 minutes (more on this later). Meals at ridiculous times considering we don't really get more than water and bathroom breaks. Personal study, companion study and planning. It's insane, but the busy-ness makes it easier. I haven't had time to think about being homesick until basically today - though I do think about you all constantly.
My companion is amazing. She is so full of love and forgiveness and the Spirit. She is helping me become a better person - more friendly and a bit quieter. (Nobody else gets to talk in our class... oops.)
Throughout the week, when something reminds me of you I put them on a list of things to tell you...I love lists <3
  1. I broke a bowl. I picked it up quickly to get some cereal course (after dinner) and it hit the sneeze shield and flew out of my hand. Better luck next time.
  2. Dad, I want the list of scriptures you were challenged to memorize on your mission - I think it would be really helpful in accomplishing my goal of being able to cite my sources. I don't want to just say things and not have anything to back me up. If an investigator questions me, I want an answer from God, not me. If that makes any sense. I've been writing down the ones I come across in my tiny notebook and trying to memorize the gist with the reference as I have a spare moment here and there.
  3. The sister missionaries are special and we get 6am optional exercise. Monday is step class, none on tuesday :( , Wednesday is aerobics, Thursday is yoga, Friday is kickboxing, and Saturday is Pilates. I love this part of my day. It is the best way of waking up. The elders don't have any special gym time, but that's probably cuz there are a lot more of them. Regular gym time is at random points throughout the day, which makes for awkward getting ready in the middle of the day as well as the morning. The way the gym is set up the track (10 laps to a mile) goes past the elipticals, and so I crank up the resistance on the eliptical and my companion and another sister in our district run around the track and we memorize things. I give them a line, then they run a lap and then repeat it to me. So far we have gotten the missionary purpose (PMG 1), the first vision account (shortened in PMG), part of D&C: 4, and most of the Articles of Faith. What a great use of time! This is also when I get my personal scriptures down. There is also another gym in a different building where they do P90X and have TVs with General Conference or Mormon Messages running. They have free weights there.
  4. My district doesn't get the need for cereal course or PB. I have PB with every meal (mostly because the meat here scares me a lot of the time, but I need my protein and fat and I love PB). They also think I'm weird for mixing cereals, but so do you. Editor's note: I don't know why she thinks this. Our family is KNOWN for mixing cereal. I am especially fond of Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch mixed with Cheerios.
  5. Ashley, the hynmbook has been so wonderful. It is getting "Sister Benning" on the front and I use it multiple times every day. We sing a lot.
  6. Tea please!!! Peach and apple cinnamon spice and raspberry, whatever we have in the cupboard. Also some Chocolate Chips. We had a lesson on how the fundamentals of the gospel are like the chocolate chips in a choco chip cookie. Without them, it isn't a choco chip cookie. I want some to share with my district. We are planning to send some herbal tea and chocolate chips later this week.
  7. Along with PB I also love the wrap bar. They have all kinds of options for innerds for you to wrap and it is very happy :)
  8. Our District Leaders are going to Finland. They are fun people. One of them says "anyong" for 'Hi.' (If you caught the Arrested Development reference, you are right on, though I did have to guess the spelling)
  9. Al Jazeera did an interview that will be airing in April with some of the missionaries. I'm not on it, but possible in the background as they were filming in the cafeteria as we were eating.
I have learned so much!!! My faith and testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his Atonement have been strengthened tenfold and will strengthen even more. As I was in the temple this afternoon, I was hit with the amazing feeling it will be when Christ welcomes us with open arms and says, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."
My challenge to you all this week is to read the Book of Mormon and sincerely pray about it, for it is through the Book of Mormon that we can know of the truth of all things and of the fullness of the Gospel of Christ. We have been working a lot this week on helping investigators understand and relate the BoM to their lives. It is an amazing book, with so many truths your mind will explode. This sounds a bit messy. I wonder if they give missionaries rubber gloves to clean up the mess after they blow the minds of investigators...
Also, I challenge you to family prayer - both these challenges apply to everyone, not just my LDS readers. In 3 Nephi 18:21 Christ commands us to pray with our families that we may be blessed. There is nothing more beautiful than sharing the experience of kneeling in prayer with those you love the most and humbling yourselves before God so that he may bless you.
I love my family - your personal letters are on the way. Wow, 30 minutes goes fast. I just had to write this (rather lengthy) email and I'm running out of time!
'Til we write again,
Sister Benning
ps I love signing my letters like that!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Surprise MTC pics and a letter!

We got our first letter from Laura on Saturday, followed on Sunday by some pictures taken by my mother's dear friend Gigi. Gigi and her husband have been in callings at the MTC and she managed to find Laura in the mass of students. Thanks, Gigi!

 Remember, you can send Laura a letter at the address in the right sidebar, or go to and put in her information to write her a letter electronically. Dear Elder prints the letter and delivers it to the MTC with same-day service if you submit before noon. This service is FREE, though they ask for donations if possible. Laura's P-Day (Preparation Day, or, the day she is allowed to write and send letters) is Wednesday for her time at the MTC.

Also, don't forget to sign up for email notifications whenever there's a new post on this blog. Just fill out the form in the right sidebar and I'll add you to the list.

Laura's letter:

Dear Family,
I am alive and well. Just barely made my flight! Katie, Kayley, Sadie, and I went to Subway, then took a picture at the temple, then screamed to the MTC.  It was fun. Since they kept the energy up, I couldn't get nervous.

My companion is Sister Wilson and she is going to North Carolina with me. I think she is actually the solution to the odd numbers. She moved up her MTC day by six weeks. I love her enthusiasm. Also, my purple dress-- she has. And my orange turtleneck thingy she has in purple.

They have extra morning exercise for the sisters. This morning was yoga at 6am and it felt so good to move. Tomorrow is kickboxing. Pilates on Saturday, then we have gym time everyday (except P-Day). I haven't experienced that yet.

Our District Leaders are really nice. One of them has a knit TARDIS hat (I got a pic). They are all going to Finland. Helpful boys elders are everywhere! They bus our trays and hold doors. Everyone says "Good morning" to each other.  Wearing a dork dot is a bit like wearing an "I'm Celebrating" pin at Disneyland; everyone welcomes you to the MTC.

The food is eh, but there is PB!

Our lessons have been a lot about seeing people as God does and understand why they, specifically, are important to Him. Just something for you to think about.

I love my family, miss you terribly, but working hard.

Sister Benning

Hehe! I have a nametag! :)

"The worth of souls is great in the sight of God." D&C 18:10

Laura and her companion

Laura and Gigi

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

At the MTC

This is Laura's sister, Ashley, officially taking over as the scribe on this blog for the next 18 months. I'll update whenever Laura sends a letter home or when we hear any news about where she is or what she's up to.

Laura left this morning on the 6:30 am flight to Salt Lake and spent lunch with some of her dear friends--past roomies-- Sadee, Katie, and Kaylee.  Katie was awesome enough to remember to take pics and post them on Facebook so I could steal them.  Here is Laura just before entering the MTC, or Missionary Training Center, where she will live for the next three weeks before shipping out for Raleigh, North Carolina. Want to learn more about the MTC? Click here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Setting Apart

I am leaving in less than two hours to be set apart and I thought I'd do one last post before my sister takes over.

Being set apart is basically when I officially become a missionary. The Stake President (leader over a group of about 5 congregations, called wards, led by bishops) will put his hands on my head, and with the authority of the priesthood, give me a blessing and make me a missionary. It is called a 'setting apart' because he is setting apart my life to this one specific purpose. In our Church, everyone who has a job is set apart in that job - from the nursery leaders to the bishop and his counselors. It is a really cool experience to get a blessing, it's like God is talking directly to you.

Packing today was not fun, but packing never is.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Farewell Talk

It has been requested that I post my farewell talk. Please keep in mind that this is only what I wrote, not what I said.

Good morning, brothers and sisters. I am so excited to be here today, to be able to share my thoughts with you before Tuesday when I will be blessed and set apart as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And since Tuesday is also Valentine’s day, I decided to chose love as my topic. Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite holidays because it isn’t a real holiday and because the history of St. Valentine is actually a bit gruesome. I love it because suddenly pink, red, and purple don’t look so weird together. I love the unspoken rule about wearing pink and red on February 14th. I love candy and Love Potion #31 ice cream from Baskin Robbins. I love it because it gives everyone a reason to express love. As I was preparing this talk on love, I couldn’t help but think of the great love that Christ has for everyone and the love that we experience on a daily basis. There are moments in our lives when we get a little glimpse of how God feels about us. I got to experience the world through God’s eyes back in December.

There is an interesting phenomenon that occurs when opening a mission call. Suddenly you know and care about a whole group of people without having any knowledge of them other than their locality. I remember reading the letter from the First Presidency, not knowing what to expect but, for the first time, being truly frustrated that the full name of the Church is so long because it took that much longer to get to the good stuff. “Dear Sister Benning: You are hereby called to serve as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You are assigned to labor in the North Carolina Raleigh Mission.” Suddenly everything felt right. The anxiety of the previous weeks seemed silly. Of course I would be called to serve in North Carolina I love the North Carolinians – seriously, those were my thoughts, never been there, but duh I love them because God loves them. No matter where I am serving the Lord, I want the people I meet to know of God’s love for them, the love that I glimpsed and can barely comprehend.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The people I go to serve – and all of us for that matter – are loved and important enough for God to send his only begotten son to earth, to suffer for our sins so that we can return to live with him in heaven. I am not Christ, not even close, but God is sending me to serve these people: to remind them how much God loves them and of his desire for them to accept the atonement and the plan of salvation so that they can live with him again. How hard it must have been to send us all off to Earth, to learn and grow and then to sit in heaven, anxiously waiting our return, knowing that some wouldn’t make it all the way back.

Whether or not you have any religious background, everyone needs the reminder that they are important and that there is someone watching out for them. It is easy to forget this when bad things happen to good people and in those moments when life makes no sense. But it’s true! God lives! And because He lives, we have the potential to be made clean and live with God. The way is perfect in its simplicity, not ease, but simplicity. This always makes me think of the Israelites and the serpent of brass. It was the easiest thing, God commanded Moses to make a serpent of brass and hang it on a pole, the people then only had to look at the serpent and be healed. But many of them did not even look. So simple, but yet so hard to overcome pride or to allow ourselves to have the faith required to turn our heads (Numbers 21). All we must do is recognize that we have sinned, that we are not perfect, but that through the atonement of Christ, the price of our imperfections is paid and we can be made clean to return to Heavenly Father. Isaiah quotes the Lord saying that “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). We make mistakes, but we are not forever condemned for them. God has perfect love and can forgive perfectly if we but ask him for it.

It is hard to comprehend this kind of love because it makes no sense in our little human brains that any one person can love and know every human that has ever or will ever live, or that he created everything. President Uchtdorf, in his talk during last General Conference, remarked that “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! … 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.” I have seen the hand of God in my life and in the lives of others. There is a story about a young man throwing pearls into the ocean.

Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work. One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out "Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?"

The young man paused, looked up, and replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean."

"I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll die."

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, "But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!"

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, "I made a difference to that one!"

Alone, we cannot accomplish everything, we cannot throw every single starfish into the ocean, but we can make a difference to the ones around us. We can be God’s hands and show His love for each of his starfish."
It is for this purpose that I have chosen to serve a mission. Too many people do not feel the great love that God has for them. I often wonder what life would be like without the great blessing of the atonement, that ultimate example of love, as an active part of my life. What would it feel like not to understand that the pains of human life are only a short blip in an eternal perspective and that I can live with my family forever in the presence of our Heavenly Father? It would be hard, that’s what it would be like. The death of loved ones would cripple me if I didn’t know that I would see them again. I would feel so worthless compared to the amazingly talented people around me. When life seems to be too hard to handle, there would be no eternal perspective to get me through it all.

But I am not just the one throwing the starfish back, I am also a starfish. Growing up in this Church, we are taught of our diving nature as sons and daughters of God. This knowledge has shaped my life. I have participated in countless lessons on my worth as the spirit daughter of a King and how that makes me a princess. I really took it to heart for those of you who remember me coming to Church in tiaras. But on one lesson, Sister Waldman took a different spin on this important lesson. She emphasized the ‘daughters’ part and not the ‘God’ or ‘King’ part saying that just how my own father is ready and willing to help me with whatever I need, my Heavenly Father is there in the same way. Whenever I turn to him, he is there, ready to reply. God is great in our sight, but Doctrine and Covenants Chapter 18 emphasizes the reciprocal idea that “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” He looks as us and is proud of our accomplishments and wants the very best for us. I cannot say it enough, but God knows us individually. He knows and cares about the things that matter to us, he understands our trials and pains and rejoices with us in our successes. If there is one thing that I know, it that God loves each and every one of us. He guides our leaders so that they can keep throwing starfish back in the ocean – it is a constant process, but it is a work of love. Perhaps we should take the time to send Him a valentine this season. A simple thank you for the wonderful and countless blessings he bestows on us every second of every day.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf. "You Matter to Him."October 2011 General Conference

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Farewell California

My dear friends, the time has come, the time is now, Sister Laura Benning will you PLEASE GO NOW! (if you didn't catch the Dr. Seuss reference, you were obviously a neglected child)

I have been called to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the North Carolina Raleigh Mission. I report to the Missionary Training Center in Provo, UT on February 15th. There, I will learn as much as possible and prepare myself to enter the field. I can't wait to devote everything I have to serving and loving the people of NC.

This blog will be updated by my lovely sister with my weekly emails home, pictures, address information (letters are always welcome) and whatever else she decides to post. So any questions, comments, concerns, or complaints should be directed to her.