Thursday, November 27, 2008

I made it! My first week at the MTC

Dear Everyone!

It is so great to finally have the chance to email all of you and let you know what I've been up to! It was so strange the first few nights I was here to not be able to call or write anyone and let them know how I was. Luckily, they have mercy on us the first night and let us right a short letter home. Family, did you get it? Hope so.

Note: Caitlin was the winner for first to write me, followed closely by Mckenzie. Grandma, you got third. But I love all the letters anyway!!! You all are the best.

The first day I was here was great! I was so excited to finally get started after months of anticipating what being here might be like. We had innumerable orientations, introductions to teachers, etc. After our initial orientation with our families, we had "in-processing" (I know... like the military, right?). We had to wait in several lines to get our room keys, companion assignments, missionary handbook, schedule, spanish books, etc. Also part of this was a checkpoint where they check your immunization record, and if you're missing any shots, they poke you right then and there! They were going to give me a flu shot, but luckily I had the excuse of having a little bit of a sore throat and stuffy nose, so I managed to get out of it. After allllllllllll of that waiting in line, I finally got to go to my room and meet my companion. Her name is Camille Blanco, and she is from Maryland, in a city which is a suburb of Washington, D.C.. We're both headed to Houston, Spanish-speaking. It's been great to get to know her and talk about Houston and what we think it might be like. Later that night after dinner, we had the opportunity to go and meet our district, with whom we'd be in class for the rest of the 9 weeks we'll be here. They're all great missionaries... very mature and dedicated to the work. We were a little nervous to be in the minority amongst throngs of 19-year-old young men, but with the district we managed to get into, we should be just fine.

In other news, Hermana Blanco and I recently (as in yesterday) got moved up to the intermediate Spanish class. At first we were excited, but when we found out that we would have to switch districts, branches, bedrooms and everything, we weren't so sure about it. We loved our teachers and all of our district members (4 hermanas and 4 elders total). But yesterday (monday), a brother came and got us (and two other elders who were being moved up). He took us to our new class and we got new schedules, new room keys, new books, and new mailboxes.

Here at the MTC, there is never a shortage of things to do. They have you scheduled back to back. I feel like I'm rushing almost all the time (with the exception of the times that I'm sitting in class, of course), but it feels great to be so deeply involved in such a great cause. We received numerous discourses on using our time wisely, as well as the fact that we are now on the Lord's time, and we need to make sure we use it in His way, and thus Hermana Blanco and I have been very careful to make sure we are as obedient as we can be. Let me tell you... it is glorious to wear something that isn't a skirt! It hasn't been horrible wearing a skirt and nylons everyday, but wearing pants is most definitely more comfortable, and more my style.

I apologize for the choppy-ness of my writing. My clock is running out, so I have to go, but I hope you are all doing very, very well. Please feel free to write and I will do my best to reply.Love,Hermana Austin Hollenbaugh

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Farewell Talk

Chances are most of you weren't at church today to hear my farewell talk (although there was a great turn-out!). For those of you who weren't there, here is a copy. It won't be nearly as good without my voice inflections, of course. But this will just have to do.

Given on November 16, 2008

Good afternoon brothers and sisters! I can’t believe this day has come! First of all I’d like to say hello and welcome to all my friends and family that came to support me today! I hope this talk touches all of you in some way or another.

To begin, I would like to relate a story, which will lead into the main topic of my talk. As I have explained before, the road that has led me to this point has not been an easy one. I was in the midst of a year of teaching when I felt the first inklings that Heavenly Father might want to lead me somewhere I hadn’t planned to go. Eventually, these whisperings led to a more obvious discomfort with the plans I had, to remain teaching at the school at which I currently worked. Soon, it became clear that while being a teacher wasn’t a bad idea, Heavenly Father had a better idea for me. Thus, I quit my job, packed up my apartment, and moved home this summer.

Still, I had never had sure plans to serve a mission, so even when the papers were in, a part of me still complained at the thought of leaving my blue jeans, and cell phone alone for eighteen months.

Now, this is where all of you come in.

Throughout my preparations, many of you offered your services to me. Some offered simple gifts of service they probably didn’t even know they were giving, such as a listening ear, or a word of encouragement, and others offered larger services such as monetary help or teaching aids, among many other things. Slowly, because of the services you performed for me, my desire to serve increased. I feel confident in saying that it is partially through the many small acts of kindness you offered to me, that I have been further converted to the gospel, and to serving a mission. It is through this experience that I realize how large a part service can play in conversion. This is the topic that I will be addressing today: service and missionary work.

While considering how I should present my topic so that all of you would best understand it, I thought of several different options. At first, because I am a teacher, I kept thinking that I would need visual aids, and pictures, a chalkboard, etc. But I quickly realized that wasn’t really an option for a sacrament meeting talk. Then, for all you math buffs out there, I thought of a mathematical equation having to do with the commutative property. It went something like, service brings the spirit, the spirit bears testimony, and through testimony people are converted. Thus, service=conversion. Then I realized that if I used that, I would have nothing else to say, and since I’m supposed to speak for longer than a few seconds, I had to trash that idea. Finally, I decided that offering up stories and examples from my life or lives of others would probably be the best way to help you understand what I will be discussing, and keep to the standards of a talk in sacrament meeting.

So, let’s move on to a story.

During my freshman year of college, I was living in the dorms at Brigham Young University. On each floor of the building lived a resident assistant (or R.A.) to help the incoming freshman get acquainted with the way things run at BYU, and help with any roommate problems, etc., that might occur. My roommate and I were already acquainted having been on the same ballroom dance team here in Washington. We were both beyond excited to be there, and we showed it in our actions. We wanted to be friends with everyone. We set to work immediately memorizing everyone’s names, and practiced on a regular basis by calling anyone we saw by their name and saying hi. We were pretty sure some of the girls thought our exuberance to be a little odd, but hey, we were having fun, and what better way to make people feel comfortable than to call them by name. A week or two passed, and our R.A. called us to her room. She asked us if we would like to be the “SWAT” team for our floor. “SWAT” stood for “Service Without A Trace”. Of course we were happy and excited to participate in this secret operation, and readily agreed. We immediately began brainstorming what we could do to make each girl feel welcome and special on our floor, and quickly decided on leaving a note on the door of one girl each week, highlighting her special talents and positive characteristics. Then over the course of the week, we would leave little treats from the vending machine in the lobby, usually attached to a note with some sort of pun, such as “You make us Snicker” attached to a Snickers bar. Throughout the year we wrote the note every Sunday evening, and then, after everyone was asleep, we’d tip-toe down the hall as silently as we could, and tape the note to the girl’s door, hopefully without being seen. That week, if one of us happened to see the girl we were spotlighting sometime during our school day, we would always be sure to let the other roommate know if the girl looked happier, or more confident. This challenge of being the SWAT team was a great source of joy for my roommate and I, and over the course of the year we developed a great love for all the girls on our floor, and recognized the impact we were having on the girls to whom we left notes.

There is a story in Preach My Gospel that does a great job of illustrating how service can lead to a greater ability to reach the heart of anyone who may be investigating the gospel. It’s called Pablo’s Story (page 168 of PMG)….

Because the missionaries in this story were willing to be patient, and continue offering their service to Pablo, they were able to build up a trusting relationship with him. Then because Pablo knew he could trust the missionaries, he knew he could trust the things that they taught him. Through trusting hearts, the gospel can be shared.

Preach my gospel says, “When we are baptized, we covenant to give [loving] service [to others]. We are to become aware of others’ physical and spiritual needs. We then give of our time, talents, and means to help meet those needs. We follow the example of the Savior, who came to serve others. We are to do what Jesus did and become like Him.”
I went through a particularly rough patch at the beginning of this year. I was teaching school, and as much as I loved my fourth graders, dealing with twenty-five 9 and 10 year olds and all their problems everyday is just exhausting. I was also dealing with a few other personal problems. I began feeling trapped, as if there was no way to make things better. So I decided to go to a friend for advice. He reminded me of a story President Hinckley told regarding his youth that I’m sure many of you have heard before: (Way to Be pg. 91). I had heard this story, and when I realized that this was the advice he was giving me, I had to be completely honest, and tell him that that thought just stressed me out further! I don’t know how many of you have felt this before, but I always feel like, “How can I possibly worry about helping out other people, when I can hardly take care of myself!” Then, he gave me some advice that was magic to me: He told me that we are given this piece of advice because it is in the act of focusing outward, that we will find peace. “Forgetting ourselves” as Pres. Hinckley put it is not just another thing we need to add to our to-do list. It is the antidote for our aching souls. It will bring relief to anyone suffering from a troubled heart. Service is the medicine that our Father in Heaven prescribes.

Pres. Hinckley also said it another way: “Do you want to be happy? Forget yourself and get lost in this great cause. Lend your efforts to helping people… Stand higher, lift those with feeble knees, hold up the arms of those that hang down. Live the gospel of Jesus Christ”.

Sometimes, however, even if we have gone out of our way to perform many acts of service and kindness, some people may never come around. At a moment such as this, it is important to remember as PMG puts it, that “No Effort is Wasted”. At times it can be easy to think that what you’ve done or the efforts you make don’t result in anything worthwhile. Nevertheless, our Heavenly Father would have us remember that everything that we put in to helping others will not be forgotten. The person who received the service will not soon forget it, and it is a surety that our Heavenly Father will not forget it. Preach My Gospel says, “When people choose not to investigate the restored gospel, your work is not wasted. Your consistent efforts in serving as many people as you can is one way God prepares His children to eventually receive His servants. He often reaches out to His children through you”.

Now, while keeping all of this in mind, I want to point out one important fact. While all service is worthwhile, I believe that the greatest service missionaries perform for investigators is the act of teaching them the truths of the universe, and bringing all saving ordinances within their reach. It is this flame of hope that missionaries all over the world willingly sacrifice 18 months, 2 years, or sometimes more, to the cause of heaven. I myself have felt this flame, and it is this flame that has allowed me the opportunity to respond to the call that Heavenly Father has extended to me. It is this flame that has led me to stand before you today.

I would like to close with one final story. About forty years ago, in Anchorage, Alaska, two sister missionaries knocked on the door of a small mobile home. A woman with short dark hair answered. A ribbon of steam rose from the woman’s coffee cup, and the sisters could smell cigarette smoke. Still, the sisters introduced themselves, and asked if the woman at the door would be interested in hearing a brief message about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Normally the woman at the door wouldn’t have let strangers in, but because the people on her doorstep were female, and because the woman thought she would enjoy some company, she let the sisters in. The three women got to know each other, and the missionaries shared their message. The sisters were invited back, and the woman in the mobile home found that the messages the two missionaries shared struck her as truth. The woman learned of the restored gospel. She learned of our Savior Jesus Christ. She learned of God’s love for all of his children, and she learned of eternal families. All three women continued to visit, teach, learn, and be edified and uplifted together. Eventually the investigating woman was baptized, and began bringing her two-and-a-half year old daughter to church. The woman’s young daughter grew. She attended primary, young womens, and then began attending relief society. This daughter soon had a daughter of her own. Throughout the years, she did her best through many struggles and hardships to make sure her daughter and other children knew how important it was, and is, to keep themselves clean and to be worthy of the Lord’s spirit. Now, what does this have to do with today you ask? Well, the woman in the mobile home was and is my grandmother, and her daughter is of course, my mother. Because these sisters decided to knock on the door of a young mother, in Anchorage, Alaska my grandmother was able to join the church, her daughter was raised up in the church, and I have the privilege of standing before you today, about to embark on one of the great adventures of my life.

I am so grateful to my mother and grandmother as well as all my other teachers, for teaching me to stay close to the spirit… with allowed me to hear his prompting to leave the things that I love behind for the greater cause of spreading the gospel.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Let the Festivities Begin

Yesterday, my brother Coy flew in from Utah, so he could be here for my farewell. Tomorrow I'm giving my farewell talk at church. We're having an open house tomorrow evening. On Monday, we're all going out to dinner at one of my favorites, Red Robin. My mom and grandma are making Coy and I some of our favorite Thanksgiving food (since we won't be here to celebrate the real Thanksgiving). Then later that night, the stake president and his wife will be here to set me apart, along with my bishop and his wife.

It's actually happening.

One word: Surreal.

I'm trying to put the finishing touches on my farewell talk, but I'm having a hard time! One minute I'm excited about what an awesome adventure this whole thing is going to be, then the next I'm feeling nervous because all attention is going to be on me for the next few days. Then I feel a little twinge of sadness (or at least that maybe I should feel sad) that I'm leaving everything for eighteen months, and then I wonder why I'm feeling sad because I was just fine a couple seconds ago. Ah the plight of a missionary-to-be.

But most of all, I'm excited for all the partying to start, because the sooner it starts, the sooner it'll all be over, and the sooner I can get on that Salt Lake City bound plane at 11:22 Tuesday morning, and begin my eighteen month journey.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Celebrating in the Rain!

These are, of course, Caitlin's wedding! KK (furthest to the left) had them on her camera and just uploaded them to facebook. I seriously LOVE them!

I didn't get the memo about not posing in this one :)
Caitlin had the most gorgeous dress, and even went barefoot and splashed around in the puddles some! All of us had an awesome time.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Because who doesn't love to read the box?

While savoring a delectable bowl of Annie's Completely Natural Macaroni and Cheese, I was reading the box, and noticed an ad on the side, endorsing being green. Apparently if you send them a self-addressed stamped envelope, they'll send you a free "Be Green" bumper sticker. Well, I'm all about free stuff.

So I did it!

Send your own self-addressed, stamped envelope to:

564 Gateway Drive
Napa, CA 94558

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Getting the Jitters

One week from this moment, I will be in Utah, less than 24 hours away from entering the MTC.
I'm officially getting a little nervous.

I didn't think I would, but there is still so much left to do! I'm getting sort of panicky just thinking about it all. My farewell and open house are this Sunday, then I fly out on the 18th. AH!

Oh, and here's me looking very missionary-esque. This is the photo that will be on my plaque, along with 2 Nephi 31:20.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Two Poems from an Ashram in India

I promised more quotes from one of my favorite books, Eat, Pray, Love.

In the book, the author spends four months in India at an ashram doing yoga and eating vegetarian food and meditating on a previous divorce, and another failed relationship, etc. There are two poems. The first was written after being at the ashram for only a month, the second after almost 4 months.


All this talk of nectar and bliss is starting to piss me off.
I don't know about you, my friend,
but my path to God ain't no sweet waft of incense.
It's a cat set loose in a pigeon pen,
and I'm the cat-but also them who yell like hell when they get pinned.

My path to God is a worker's uprising,
won't be peace till they unionize.
Their picket is so fearsome
the National Guard won't go near them.

My path was beaten unconscious before me,
by a small brown man I never got to see,
who chased God through India, shin-deep in mud,
barefoot and famined, malarial blood,
sleeping in doorways, under bridges-a hobo.
(Which is short for "homeward bound," you know)
And he now chases me, saying: "Got it yet, Liz?
What HOMEWARD means? What BOUND really is?"


If they'd let me wear pants made out of the
fresh-mown grass from this place,
I'd do it.

If they'd let me make out
with every single Eucalyptus tree in Ganesh's Grove,
I swear, I'd do it.

I've sweated out dew these days,
worked out the dregs,
rubbed my chin on tree bark,
mistaking it for my master's leg.

I can't get far enough in.

If they'd let me eat the soil of this place
served on a bed of birds' nests,
I'd finish only half my plate,
Then sleep all night on the rest.

I love love LOVE the second poem. Someday I'm going to escape to a place much less civilized for awhile so I can revel in nature.

Friday, November 7, 2008


My sister Emily has this uncanny ability to remember the birthday of any person she meets. Sometimes we tease her about it, other times it comes in very handy! The other day I needed my grandma's birthday and so I went and checked her calendar. September 4th. Because Emily has always been very, very right in the birthday arena, that is the birthday I used. Later, I came across a book which noted that same grandma's birthday as being on September 12th. This book should have had more credibility than my 17-year-old sister, but still I questioned it based on Emily's history of flawlessly remembering birthdays. BUT... after checking yet another more reliable source, this grandma's birthday was indeed September 12th.

Me: "Emily! You wrote Grandma Hollenbaugh's birthday down wrong! It's really September 12th!"
Emily: "... What??? OOOOOOOOH NO! I'm a FRAUD!!!"

We (me and all my siblings, which had spontaneously appeared at the mention of Emily's birthday error) looked at each other for a moment, before erupting into rioutous laughter.

She really has a great talent for using just the right saying at just the right moment.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Sleep Talking

My sister Katie and I have been sharing her double bed since I've been home. On school nights she's always in bed before me because she has to wake up for seminary. Usually when I get in bed she moves around a little bit, or I might have to move her arms or legs back over to her side of the bed, but she doesn't say anything.

On the contrary, this is what happened last night.

11pm-I crawl into bed for the night

Katie: (sits up and looks around the room, and says, in a sleepy voice) "What are we supposed to be doing?"
Me: Uh... sleeping...
Katie: Huh?
Me: Just sleeping.

Then she layed back down and went to sleep again.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Photo Practice

Can I just say I LOVE photography?

A family friend has been teaching me a little bit about taking pictures over the past week, and I'm so thrilled, because I've been wanting to learn more about photography for years! She runs a photography studio out of her home, used to be in our ward (before we moved), and is just about the nicest person you could meet. I've been babysitting her darling 19-month-old daughter Jade (see bottom picture) on occasion for the past few weeks, and I asked if she would mind if I watched her edit her pictures for a bit so I could glean a little bit of knowledge from all her know-how... and she didn't. SO I got to watch her edit some pictures and see how some of the tools worked on her computer programs... etc. It's been great! Below are some of my beginner attempts. Let me know what you think :).

Voting Day!!!

Well friends, I am off to vote. I'm excited to get my "I Voted" sticker!

And finally, after much thought and consideration,

this blog will endorse:

Senator Barack Obama


May the best candidate win... in all areas of our government!

Great Wolf Lodge

A couple weekends ago my dad took my sisters and I to the new Great Wolf Lodge which was just built in our area. Dad's girlfriend works for a local news station, and got us free passes to stay for a night. It was amazing how much there was to do! The place was definitely built with kids in mind.

We got there at about 3pm. The first thing I noticed is that it's HUGE inside. I knew that there was supposedly a waterpark in there somewhere, but I couldn't even see anything might lead to a waterpark from the front lobby. After checking in, we made our way up to our room. Half the people we walked past were in their swimsuits. We were all kind of hungry, but it was too early to eat, so we went to the waterpark instead. They have a wave pool, a kiddie pool, several waterslides, water basketball, and numerous other water games. The slides start inside, then the tubes travel around outside the building before dumping you out in a pool which is back inside the building. One of our favorites was the Howling Tornado (pictured below). It starts like a normal slide (with the exception of being on a four person tube--you have to have at least two people per ride), then you go down a steep drop and slosh around in that big cone shaped thing before sliding through the rest of the tube and into a pool which is again back inside the building. It was even better in the dark! The tube was pitch black until you get to the cone and there are neon flashing lights inside it!

When we went to hit the waterpark later that night to go on the Howling Tornado in the dark, we noticed that in the lobby they were having a dance. There was a DJ, flashing lights, and loud music, and the room was filled with about one hundred pajama-wearing children, who were dancing like there was no tomorrow. We stood on the balcony and admired their dance moves for a good ten minutes... because where else are you going to see something like that? I'm only sorry I didn't get any pictures.

In addition to all that, they have the most fabulous buffet/cafeteria with just about any kind of delicious food you can think of, unlimited! We were all wishing our stomachs were bigger. As it was I had two plates of dinner and a couple plates of dessert, but I definitely would've had more if I could've fit it :).

They also had this cool scavenger hunt sort of game, called MagiQuest. You purchase a wand and activate it, then you run around the whole first five floors of the lodge waving your wand at various objects to see if they will give you the next clue to what you need to find (well, it's a little more organized than that...)

And if that's not enough, they also have a huge arcade, a spa (one for kids and one for adults), a teen room with the video game Rockband and other video games, plus storytime, tons of places to eat, a starbucks downstairs, a big gift shop, etc. etc. etc. We were there a week or two before Halloween, and so they even had a Dr. Seuss themed trick-or-treating/scavenger hunt activity going on. Seriously, you could bring kids of any age to this place, and they'd be entertained for days. They probably wouldn't even remember you were there (except when they needed money for the arcade, or food :)) It was crazy. I would definitely go again. In our short 16 hours there, we simply did not have enough time to experience everything they had to offer.