Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Farewell

So many people came to Alyssa's final talk in sacrament meeting before leaving on her mission.  She was extremely nervous for her talk but did a wonderful job.  She talked about one of the greatest tools of missionary work and that is to be a living example of Christ everyday.  She shared personal experiences about specific people and their examples that influenced her in her life.  If only she had more time,  she could have listed so many more.  She ended with a powerful testimony of Christ and her desire to serve him and that is why she is willing to leave everything behind for 18 months.
We had an open house afterwards and we received so much support with people bringing food and just coming by to wish her luck.  I was too concerned about everything that I didn't take many pictures..  This is just a miniscule representation of the people that came.
I was overwhelmed by Alyssa's sphere of influence.  She has touched numerous lives and I can't express enough gratitude for all those that influenced hers and helped her get to where she is today.  Thank you to everyone.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

I Love To See The Temple...I Went Inside Today

When I was a little girl, one of my very favorite songs was "I Love To See The Temple".  I would get so excited every single time I would drive by one, and would animatedly point it out to whoever I was with at the time.  I thought they were the most beautiful buildings in the world (a thought that I still wholeheartedly cling to), and could not WAIT to go inside.
At 12 years old I obtained my recommend and was able to enter the Mt. Timpanogos temple for the first time to perform baptisms for the dead.  I thought it was the neatest thing and I couldn't remember ever going to a place so peaceful in my entire life.  I loved the feelings that I had there, I loved the work that was performed, and I wanted to be there all the time.
When I was a freshman in high school, one of my friends got the idea that our group of friends should start trying to go to the temple once a month (and of course, hit the local JCW's afterwards for ice cream), and I loved it.  We made it a tradition and it is a habit that I like to keep up as best as I can even today. 
My cute friends and I at ages 14-15 after our monthly temple trip
Temple trip with some girls from my cross country team

Last temple trip I had with my best friend Spencer before he left for his mission to El Salvador the next day

As much as I loved baptisms however, I was looking forward even more to going inside to receive my endowment and eventually be sealed to my eternal companion.  I was originally so sad that I was going to have to wait until I was 21 or married to go inside, but when the age change happened and I had made the decision to serve a mission, I was ecstatic when I realized I could go inside as early as 18 years old when I received my mission call.
Well folks, after years of dreaming, my time came.  I expressed to my Bishop in my home ward that I wanted to go through the temple as soon as I possibly could, because I could not wait to make the sacred covenants with Heavenly Father and attend as much as I could before serving my mission.  He was totally supportive of my enthusiasm and told me as soon as I had my call, I could get going with my Bishopric and Stake Presidency over at BYU.
I received my mission call on September 8th, and in the weeks following I set up my appointments with my Bishop and Stake President in BYU ward.  Both interviews were so amazing and I could hardly contain my enthusiasm.  When I obtained my temple recommend and was told to enjoy the temple, I was practically skipping out of the clerks office.  I was SO excited, and contacted my family to tell them the good news.  They were thrilled for me, and I had to make the decision of which temple I wanted to go through.
I was honestly torn between Mt. Timpanogos and Draper.  I loved Draper and thought it was beautiful, and many people recommended it to me for my first time because the sessions had a tendency to be smaller.  However, Mt. Timpanogos had a special place in my heart because it was the first temple I had ever gone through and was my home temple.  As silly as it was I was completely agonizing over the decision and was doing everything from praying about it to emailing my best friend on a mission to ask his advice. 
Eventually, I made the decision to attend Mt. Timpanogos and I called and set my session for 8 o' clock on Thursday, October 1st.  It was about a week away from the time I called, and I couldn't bear to wait any longer.
Finally, the day arrived.  I was surprised to discover that along with my excitement though, there were some nerves.  It hit me the magnitude of the covenants I was about to make and the change in lifestyle that I would undertake.  I mean, I was a girl who was in love with her soccer shorts, and wearing garments wouldn't exactly work out with that.  But, I knew it was the right thing to do and I was still so happy to learn more about my purpose on earth.
Before I went through, I received some amazing advice from loved ones.  My parents reminded me that I was going to the Lord's house and had nothing to worry about, and Spencer advised me to focus on my feelings and the covenants I was making and the rest of the knowledge would come with time and experience. 
I got out of my last class on Thursday and got dressed and then the nerves started up again like crazy.  As I was driving home, I put on my MoTab Pandora station, and the song "I Am A Child of God" came on.  The spirit reminded me that Heavenly Father was so proud of me, and I really felt His love.  It was incredible and gave me all the excitement and reassurance I needed.
Me outside the temple before I went in to receive my endowments
My mother was my escort for the night, and I was later joined in the session by my grandparents, some aunts and uncles, a dear family friend, and my latest young womens president.  It was so special to have so many loved ones there to support me, and I felt their love very strongly.
In short...the temple was AMAZING.  It was everything I had dreamed about and more.  I felt the spirit so strongly and the peace and love I felt from my Heavenly Father was incredible.  I received confirmation about my choice to serve a mission as well as knew that I had been called to the right place.  I was filled with such warmth and happiness and I couldn't stop smiling the entire night.  I LOVED my garments and the spirit that came from wearing them, as well as all the promises and blessings.  The endowment was also amazing, and I loved every minute of it.  The second it was over, I wanted to go back.
One of the coolest parts of the evening though was that one of the ordinance workers I came in contact with was one of my very favorite seminary teachers in high school.  When Brother Hoffman walked in, I was so excited for that little tender mercy from Heavenly Father.  He was so great and I loved getting to talk to him in the Celestial room afterwards.
As I left the temple, I felt like I was walking on air.  People told me I looked like I was glowing, and I honestly felt like it.  The temple was THE BEST.  It is still the best.  I try and attend every single week, because it is AMAZING. 
I encourage everybody to attend the temple as much as possible, because it is truly such a divine gift.  If you haven't received your endowments yet, be SO EXCITED!  It is such an amazing and special experience, and nothing on earth can compare.  Do whatever you need to in life to ensure the temple is constantly in your sights and goals, because it is such a blessing.
I have such a strong testimony of temples and I am so grateful that I live in a place where I am surrounded by so many.  I am sad that after the MTC I will not have the chance to attend the temple on my mission, so I am trying to make the most of my time now.  But really though, just as a recap...I LOVE THE TEMPLE SO MUCH!  IT IS THE VERY BEST! 
Me with Sister Long and Sister Terry

Mommy and Daddy


So happy to have had my Dad in the temple with me

The beautiful Mount Timpanogos Temple

Wednesday, September 9, 2015


A few days after receiving my call, I decided that I was too excited focus on my classes at BYU any longer and all I wanted to do was learn about Japan!  So I called up my mom, and within a few hours we had a girls night planned.  We went to dinner, talked all about the mission, and ended the night at Barnes and Noble where we grabbed stacks and stacks of books about Japan, specifically Kobe and the other cities that I will serve in.  It was so much fun and really helped to put more fire in my veins about my excitement for my call.  I began to truly fall in love with Japanese culture from what I was able to learn from the books, and I am so excited to get out there in real life!
Should have been studying for American Heritage, but I thought learning about Japan would be way more fun (and FYI, I was totally right with that assumption)

Thank goodness Barnes and Noble had a globe for the traditional "Point Where You Are Going" photo, because at the Pickering household we are sadly lacking.
SUSHI!  Which just so happens to be my very favorite food...

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Photos From the Opening of the Call

After what felt like eternity of envelope FINALLY arrived!

I was so ecstatic I was literally jumping for joy.  Besides, I always like a good excuse to show off my hops.

I was so happy to bring my beautiful roommate Amber home with me to open my call

Kawika and I have been friends for 7 years now, and we have been going through the entire mission process together.  I have been so blessed to have a friend like him throughout all this time.

The cute little Bateman family-my Aunt Amberly,Uncle Dane, and my adorable cousins Maleah and Lily

The Webster family!! These guys may be my cousins but we were raised as close as siblings.  As an added bonus, my Uncle Roland served in Tokyo and was thrilled to have another Japanese speaker in the family.

The proud parents-I love you Mom and Dad!

It's going to be so hard to leave my siblings behind for 18 months..probably almost as hard as me coming to terms with the fact that I am officially going to be the shortest Pickering child

Family photo time
My best friends of 11 years came home with me to open my call.  I love these girls so much and am so grateful for how much they have changed and shaped my life throughout the years.  Makayla and Sadie are both huge parts of the reason I will be serving a mission.
I had the chance to run cross country with Bekah all throughout high school, and she was so sweet to come out for the night

Brittin is basically my little sister, and another girl I had the privilege to know through cross country

Madie and Rilee are two of my favorite human beings ever.  They are always there to brighten my day with their testimonies and inspire me so much everyday. 

Called To Serve...

I submitted my mission papers on Tuesday, August 25th and I had heard from a little birdie up at the church office building that my call had been assigned by the end of that week and was being sent to my residence at BYU on Tuesday, September 1st.  Naturally, one would assume that because of my living in close proximity to Church headquarters, my call would have arrived within the week.  Alas, that did not occur. 
This was me right after submitting my papers, wearing my mom's old tag and super excited to have my call on the way
Needless to say, by the time that Tuesday, September 8th had rolled around, I was an emotional wreck.  Normally it wouldn't have been a big deal for me to wait two weeks because I don't consider myself a terribly impatient person, but every single day I would wake up with hopes my call would arrive only to have them come crashing down around me by 3 or 4 each afternoon.  Knowing that my call SHOULD have gotten to me by that point and hadn't yet was agony, and I was not amused with Heavenly Father in His attempts to teach me patience, which I OBVIOUSLY didn't need. 
That afternoon by like 4 I had consigned myself to the fact that my call wasn't coming again, and then I was further depressed by the news that a former classmate of mine had put in his papers after my call had already been assigned, and his white envelope was sitting at his house.  I was so beyond the point of despair, I decided to take matters into my own hands and march down to the Provo post office that delivered to BYU and demand some sort of explanation as to why my call was taking so long to arrive from a city that was 45 minutes away.
After waiting in a long line at the post office, some worker told me that they had no idea what was happening with my call, that it was probably lost, and that I should check back again tomorrow.  Holding back tears, I walked back to my car where I had a total breakdown.  The entire way home I just cried because I was so frustrated with the situation.
When I arrived to my room, still crying, I offered Heavenly Father a very impassioned prayer.  I was very adamant (maybe more than I should have been in retrospect) that I was at my wits end.  I basically told Heavenly Father that emotionally I couldn't handle waiting anymore, and if He wanted me to serve a mission for Him, I needed my call RIGHT NOW.  I ended the prayer, and then went down to meet my friend Kawika for dinner at about 6.
Kawika was also waiting for his mission call, as we had been assigned on the same day.  However, his call never made it out of the mail room where we knew mine had.  We were eating our food and lamenting at our "woeful" circumstances, when I had the feeling I needed to check my phone randomly.  I pulled it out of my pocket and noticed that I had a voicemail from a strange number.  My heart started pounding as I realized what this could mean, but I tried to keep my emotions in check as I listened.
"Hi Alyssa, this is the Cannon Center front desk.  We are calling to let you know that we have your mission call here waiting to be picked up and...."
Whatever the rest of the message said was irrelevant. I jumped out of my seat and began shaking and crying in pure happiness.  When I had told Heavenly Father that I needed my call NOW, I had meant tomorrow, or MAYBE the next day.  But, it wasn't even fifteen minutes later from when I had offered the prayer to when the office called me about my call arriving.  It was SUCH a tender mercy, and I know with certainty that Heavenly Father was holding on to my call for me so I could have an incredibly real and personal answer to a prayer.  It was amazing and I am so grateful for the knowledge that He was in fact always listening to me.
When I went to pick up my call, we were pretty amused with its condition.  It was completely battered and bent and tearing open at some of the edges.  It looked like it had literally traveled around the world before arriving to me in Provo, but I didn't care one bit.  The fact that it was addressed to "Sister Alyssa Pickering" made it absolutely perfect in every way.
This picture was taken by a friend of mine about five minutes after I picked up my envelope.  If you couldn't tell, I was absolutely ecstatic.

With the help of Kawika and some other friends, I spent the next 30 minutes on the telephone arranging for all of my friends and loved ones to come to my house in Saratoga Springs for me to open my call at 8 that night.  I was still shaking with happiness, and having my envelope in my hands was the best feeling in the world.  Knowing that I would know within a few short hours where I would be called to serve the Lord was exhilarating.
I piled in the car with my roommate, Kawika, and another friend, and we were homeward bound.  We listened to and sang hymns the entire drive in an attempt to calm my raging nerves.  I kept my call on my lap the entire drive because I think I was secretly scared if I let go of it, it would disappear again.
I got home and immediately hugged my parents.  They looked about as anxious as I was, but they were wonderful and were handling it with an incredible amount of grace.  Over the course of the next hour my house filled up with friends, family, ward members, teammates, and other amazing people.  I was touched by the sheer number of people who showed up to support me on such an important night.
Right before I opened my call, I slipped upstairs and offered a prayer of gratitude and humility to Heavenly Father and thanked Him for my chance to serve.  I also asked for a confirmation that I would know that I was assigned to where I needed to be.  I felt at peace after the prayer, and knew it would all be okay.  I also went and had a family prayer with my parents and siblings, because I went back inside already emotional and bawling again.  Then, it was time.
My parents both took a second to thank everyone for coming, then my Grandfather offered a prayer.  Then it was my turn to talk.  I thanked everyone for coming, and proceeded to offer my testimony.  The love that I felt for the gospel and everyone in that room in that moment was overwhelming.  It was a unique feeling that I am not sure I will ever feel again, nor would I necessarily want to replicate based on how special it was.

Here I am, delivering what I am sure was a grand speech
 I struggled opening the actual envelope because my eyes were already blurred with tears and I was shaking so badly.  Everyone seemed to be pretty amused with the situation however.
Having technical difficulties opening the call
When I finally got the letter open, I decided to be a diligent soul and use my information packet to cover the letter so I couldn't cheat and would only read line by line.
Here I am, right about to start reading, when I still have my emotions in check
When I read the words "Dear Sister Pickering", I absolutely lost it.  I started crying again (because I am a girl and apparently that is how I roll), and had to take a moment to collect myself.
I was so in shock that after years of dreaming, I was FINALLY opening my own mission call
"Dear Sister Pickering,
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 JAPAN KOBE mission.  It is anticipated that you will serve for a period of 18 months.  You should report to the Provo Missionary Training Center on January 6, 2016. You will prepare to preach the gospel in the Japanese language."
I absolutely lost it after finishing.  The feeling was surreal.
Completely shocked wouldn't even be an adequate beginning to start to describe my feelings.  When I read the words "Japan Kobe", I literally gasped.  I was going to JAPAN.  Japan!  I couldn't believe it.  It made no logical sense in my head, and yet in my heart and soul I felt so at peace with my call, I knew that it had to be right.
I went and hugged my mom immediately and we cried together for a second.  But I felt her love and knew she was so proud of me, and it was amazing.

My dad was all too thrilled that I was going to Japan, a place he has always dreamed of visiting.  The first thing I said to him was "Daddy I can't speak Japanese" to which he immediately responded "Yes you can.  And you will."
 The next fifteen or so minutes was a blur of tears and hugging loved ones.  Everybody was in shock that I was going to Japan.  Because of my extensive Spanish background, nobody for a second dared to think I would be serving anywhere besides the States or a Latin American country.  However, I had two Japanese RM's in my midst: my Uncle Roland who served in Tokyo North, and Brian Sabey, the father of my best friend who served in Tokyo South.  They immediately got together and started looking at my call and going through my packet to find out the situation on where exactly I would be serving.  They were thrilled to add a future Japanese speaker into their lives. 
The Call Letter

Brian immediately hugged me and started speaking to me in excited Japanese.  I just stared at him wide-eyed until he offered his congratulations in English haha.

Hugging one of my best friends Rilee

Hugging another best friend Cheyenne

And yet another dramatic hugging shot.  P.S. Ignore my red crying face

My roommate was the best for putting up with my tumultuous emotions for two weeks straight.  Amber is an angel

As the night died down and people started filing out, I got to learn more about my mission.  Kobe is absolutely beautiful, and I was so excited to see pictures and want to start learning all about it.  I got to read some things on my mission president as well, and he seems wonderful.  All night people were emailing and texting me information about my mission, and it was the best.
Despite my complete and utter shock about being called to Japan, I am filled with absolute certainty that the Lord needs me to serve the people of Kobe.  I have had so many instances where this has been confirmed to me, and with every experience my testimony not only grows, but my excitement to serve as well.  The more I research and learn, the more I am convinced that the Lord called me to the most perfect mission for me, and I cannot wait to go and find the people that the Lord would have me meet.
I have such a strong testimony of missionary work, and I know it is a divine calling.  I feel so humbled and blessed to be a part of this magnificent blessing to mankind, and I know the Lord will help me through all the challenges that will inevitably come my way.  Because I have been given much, I too must give, and I am so excited to start giving on January 6th.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

How Alyssa Decided She Wanted To Become Sister Pickering

I have been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints for my entire life.  I have been incredibly blessed to have grown up in a very faithful family, and I made the super important decision to be baptized when I was 8 years old.
I was baptized and confirmed on December 4, 2004 with one of my best friends Makayla
My daddy and I on my baptism day
When I was 12 years old I entered the temple for the first time, and fell in love with it.
I absolutely love the temple.  SO MUCH.
The gospel was something I loved and had a very strong testimony of, but in all honesty, I never really had a burning desire to serve a mission.
I come from a family where the circumstances are rare where almost every female in the family before me served a full time mission at the age of 21.  Because of this and because of my faith and devotion to the gospel, it kind of just became assumed that I would serve a mission someday as well.  I am the oldest grandchild on both sides of my families, and so people just figured as the oldest I would make the decision to serve and blaze the trail for all the younger kids to follow. 
Just a small portion of my large, LDS, mission-serving family

Another family temple trip

However, I wasn't really sure I wanted to do this.  It seemed like a nice concept and all, but it didn't really seem to fit into my plans very well.  It would require me leaving my college education when I was one year away from graduating which seemed awkward and inconvenient, and for some absurd reason (I was a young child, forgive my ignorance) I thought 21 was really old and if you weren't married by then, then there was probably something wrong with you. 
But, everyone wanted me to serve so desperately and I didn't want to let anybody down, so I just kind of went along with their plan, not really vocalizing my opposition to serving a mission.  I just didn't see myself going, but I didn't know how to break the news yet.
Flash forward to May 2011.  I was fourteen years old, just finishing up eighth grade, and I received numerous impressions that it was time for me to receive my patriarchal blessing.  I just had the feeling that it would be incredibly beneficial for me to have before I start high school, and so I followed the spirit and started the process.  On a Sunday a few weeks later after a long day of fasting, my parents and I arrived at the home of the patriarch so I could receive my blessing, and the experience was sacred and beautiful.
The patriarch was emotional throughout the entire blessing, but at one particular point, he stopped speaking entirely.  He started to sob, and fourteen year old me started to get incredibly nervous.  What did he know about me?  Had I done something wrong?  What was happening?  However, as he proceeded, he spoke with a power and with emotion that I have never felt in my life again.
He began to speak to me very directly and specifically about serving a mission.  I was overwhelmed with the Spirit and also began to cry, because the feelings the Spirit had washed over me were undeniable in every sense. 
After my blessing ended and I had returned home, I spoke with my parents.  "Well" I said hesitantly.  "I guess I am serving a mission."  They both beamed with pride and hugged me.  The truth of the matter though was that despite the incredible instruction I had received about my mission, I still wasn't wanting too.  I knew it was practically imminent at that point and denying the promptings would be bordering on blasphemy, but I still wasn't convinced.  I have to confess that I moved forward with this revelation somewhat begrudgingly, thinking maybe Heavenly Father had been mistaken about me.
Flash forward again to October 2012.  It was the Saturday morning of general conference, and my mother had dragged me sleepy eyed out of bed to come watch the session.  I remember very distinctly sitting in her bed and listening to the hymns and the prayer and the usual welcoming that happens with conference.  However, I remembered as President Monson began talking about missionaries, something changed.
When the historic announcement was made that boys could now serve at 18, my thoughts immediately turned to my best friend Spencer, who would now be leaving in 3 years instead of 4.  I barely had time to think of anything else before President Monson began to speak specifically to the sisters. 
When he announced that sisters would now be eligible for missionary service beginning at age 19 instead of 21, I literally gasped.  That shock was coupled with the very specific feeling and thought that popped into my head, which was very much an "I told you so" sort of feeling.  And the Spirit was right.  I had been told I would be serving a mission before, but I then felt an overwhelming confirmation that it was right.  Not only that, I wasn't just filled with confirmation to go serve, but a DESIRE.  I WANTED to serve a mission.
Ever since that day in October 2012, I have planned on serving a full time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  I haven't just been planning on it, I have been excited beyond belief to go and do it.  I had been filled with confirmation so many times of the divinity of missionary work, and I knew that I had to be a part of it. 
The decision to serve a mission shaped the entirety of my teenage years.  Whenever temptation or a difficult choice came about, I had already made my decision about my standards, because I wanted desperately to live close to the Spirit and be worthy to serve.  It gave me a marvelous goal to work towards, and it also was an incredible motivation to study the gospel further and prepare to teach.
Holding to my decision hasn't always been easy though, especially as I have come closer to my actual departure.  Sometimes I find myself overwhelmed with fears of inadequacy and failure, sometimes I can't bear the thought of leaving my family and loved ones behind for 18 months with minimal contact.  However, I have always received comfort in the following ways.
First, when it comes to inadequacy and perfection, I have to keep reminding myself that the Lord did not put us on this Earth to fail.  Likewise, if He gave me the instructions and promptings that He wanted me to serve a mission, He isn't going to let me fail as long as I am obedient and striving to do my best.  No missionary called is perfect, and so nobody is going to expect me to get out there and be flawless all the time.  We are also blessed with the knowledge that the Lord can make more out of us that we could ever hope to make out of ourselves, and I know that He will help refine me to be the missionary that He would have me be. 
Secondly, in this gospel we are blessed with the knowledge that families are forever.  That being said, allow me to quote the incredibly cliché missionary saying that can be found so frequently on various Pinterest boards:
"A missionary is someone who leaves their family for 18 months so that others can be with their family for eternity."
And as completely cheesy as that may sound, it is SO true.  I was blessed with the amazing privilege to be born into this gospel to a wonderful and loving family, and I have grown up with these truths that I think we all so often tend to take for granted sometimes.  However, despite the fact that we are all children of our Heavenly Father, not everybody is automatically blessed with the truths and beauty of the gospel.  And because I have been given much, I too must give.  It is my responsibility to go and share the good news with my brothers and sisters, because I know that is exactly what the Savior would have me do.
So, I will be changing my name for 18 months from simply Alyssa to Sister Pickering.  I will trade in my soccer sweats, hoodies, and fuzzy socks for skirts, blouses, and a name tag.  I will give up my schooling, my hobbies, and my pastimes to teach the gospel and serve the Lord.  Most importantly, I will surrender my will to Him as I try and become the missionary the Lord would have me be. 
I have such a strong testimony of this gospel, and I know with certainty that it is true.  Jesus Christ is my Savior and my redeemer, and I can do anything through His enabling atonement.  There is a Heavenly Father who loves each of us personally and intimately, and He cannot wait to bless us and bring us home to be with Him someday.  The Book of Mormon is an inspired book, and we will get closer to God by abiding its precepts than any other book on earth.
I know all this and more, and this is why I am choosing to serve a mission.  I am so excited and humbled for the chance I will have to serve, and I am looking forward to it as the best 18 months of my life thus far.
I am clearly super pumped to be a missionary!