Friday, July 1, 2016

Dear Little Brother: Entering the Mission Field


oh maaaaan. I can't believe this is finally happening. You're leaving in less than a week! As you requested, here are some of my insights and memories about entering the mission field.

First off, you gotta remember that before the mission, I was scared of EVERYTHING. I hated travelling, flying, and change (that part is still true, but I'm getting better at that). So as sick as I was of the MTC by the time nine weeks were up, I was FREAKING TERRIFIED of leaving the 13 people who had become my family in those two months. I burst into tears when we were supposed to get on the bus. And on the train to the airport. I was basically having an anxiety attack the moment we left the MTC gates. So embarrassing. I was under a lot of stress though. Also, I'd never left the country before and all I could think about was everything that could go wrong (my dad always liked to tell me about how Thailand was like the number one country for sex trafficking or something?? thanks, dad. Really reassuring).

ANYWAYS. What I knew in my head but didn't quite understand in my heart at that point was that EVERYTHING WORKS OUT and GOD TAKES CARE OF HIS MISSIONARIES. It's harder to see those things in the MTC because you're surrounded by missionaries in probably the safest environment in the world, but it's true. In a weird way, it's like when you put on the nametag, you become someone else. You and everything you have/are belong to the Lord. Sometimes, that can be kind of difficult to come to terms with, especially because you're still you, with all your individual preferences and goals and ideas, but at the same time you are 100% THE LORD'S servant. As such, nothing that happens to you REALLY happens to you, because you're under the mantle of your calling. Does that make sense?

Think of the worst thing that could happen to you while you're travelling. You could get your stuff stolen, get lost, miss a flight, lose your passport...any number of things, right? Well that and many more things have already happened to TONS of other missionaries, sometimes through no fault of their own. So relax, stay with your companion/district, and roll with whatever happens. Don't be stupid, though. (I don't feel like you have problems with that...but you can never be too careful with Elders ;))

I don't know if I told you or not, but my first three months in country were by far the worst months of my life. I've never felt more spiritually blocked or been angrier at God or cried more tears than I did in a city in the middle of the jungle in Thailand. Seriously. Still not 100% sure why that happened, however, I will say this; living in a different country can be a huge emotional and psychological shock. This probably seems obvious, like of course it's going to be different from America! But it actually goes a lot deeper than that. Sometimes you won't perceive all the stresses involved with living and working in a new country but they'll still be taking a huge toll on you. Here's a quote from a doctor about that:
If you have been treated for [or ever experienced any kind of] mood, anxiety, or other psychological disorders, including panic attacks, bipolar disorder, clinical depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, etc. be prepared for a regression with many symptoms resurfacing after about a month in your host country.... This regression is due to the extra stress of living and working abroad.
It impacts everyone differently (and from personal experiences, I'd say it can have a stronger negative impact on women), and it might not impact you much or at all, but keep that in mind that there might be things happening in your head that make it hard to cope, and that's okay (as a side note, you should also keep that in mind when you train a new missionary or even with people from your MTC district: some of your companions/friends may have a harder time than others).

It's totally okay if this happens to you, it just means you need to be aware of your personal warning signs and SLOW THE FRICK DOWN, BUDDY. GOD DOES NOT WANT YOU TO WORK YOURSELF TO DEATH OUT THERE.

Let me say it again in case you weren't listening. GOD. DOES. NOT. WANT. YOU. TO. KILL. YOURSELF. IN. THIS. WORK. The mission is important and everything, but you've got an eternity of being a husband and father and those are ultimately going to be the most important things you ever do. Don't forget it. If you need to stop and get off your bike for a 5-minute breather, do it. You're not slowing your companion down, you're actually helping him because what good are you going to be to him in a lesson if you pass out or fall asleep?

So here are some pointers about taking care of yourself. I don't know exactly what the climate/mission is like there but I think most of these things are universal:
  1. Some doctor person I think said that however many hours different your destination is from your origin, is how many days it will take your to get over jet-lag (I don't have a medical source on that, I've just heard it). You're looking at 10-11 hours of difference, right? So plan on being suuuper tired for the first couple weeks, and be patient. I remember we would finish daily planning at 930 and I'd be asleep minutes later. Sometimes we would go home for lunch break and I'd sleep for an hour. I'd also fall asleep in church and sometimes in lessons. I felt so bad, but looking back it was honestly just jet lag. It's okay.
  2. WATER WATER WATER. Make that the first response to any ailments you experience. Headache? drink water. Diarrhea? drink water. Joint pain? drink water. Sounds silly, but honestly you can get dehydrated so fast without even realizing it and the symptoms of dehydration are super broad. You'll need more water anyways just with the increased physical activity of being in the field, and it's easy to forget about it but it's honestly so, so important. I just got in the habit of sucking on my water bottle anytime I was stationary (on a bus, waiting for an investigator, eating, etc.).
  3. Take breaks. I mentioned this earlier, but it's totally okay to take breaks for snacks/water/breathing. Every missionary works at a different pace and it's okay if you work at a slower pace than your companion. This is also expected when you're a greenie. In the future, you may have a kid/companion who can't work at your pace. No matter how frustrating it may seem or how much faster it would be if you just did the work alone, slow down. Be patient, with others and with yourself when you can't quite work at the speed you feel you should be able to. Because that's literally the point of missionary work, is to invite EVERYONE to come unto Christ, and it starts with you and your companion.
When you reach your limit and feel like giving up, take a minute to say a silent prayer pleading for strength from on high, then work for 30 more minutes (or 20, or 15) and watch the hand of the Lord work in everything you do.

Okay so I feel like the letter so far seems a little bit negative. I had a reallyyyyyy negative experience getting into the country and being a greenie. It's okay. I will say that my saving grace in the field were the members and the people we taught. I felt like they were truly my family. Even when I was super isolated from my trainer and having a hard time with EVERYTHING, the members loved me and as I searched for the little ways that I could serve them, they loved me even more. It definitely got me through that period.

So I really don't know how it will be in your mission, but there were a few big problems in my mission. One was that there was this conception that the more intense you could work, the better a missionary you were. NOT. TRUE. It's not about who can stand out in the sun contacting the longest or who can teach the most lessons after church. It's about doing YOUR BEST. And I know I've mentioned this before, but sometimes your best is not punching your companion in the face or not swearing out loud, haha. Seriously though. It's okay. There was another problem in my mission where everyone just took everything wayyyy too seriously. And certainly being serious is good, but my favorite missionaries were the ones who weren't stiff as a board and could crack a smile and laugh and have fun. Play games with the members. Get involved. Earning their trust is far more effective than contacting the streets for 8 hours a day. I think you have enough personal examples of that to understand how important that is (I'm thinking of that one Elder who served in our ward when we were younger...maybe he was a little too immature or goofy at inappropriate times, but he had my trust at a time that was crucial in my life and conversion and I think yours, too).

Now about your trainer: I don't know who will have the great pleasure of calling you their son out in your mission. I'm sure he will be wonderful and try his best to train you and do the work. But being a trainer is hard. Trainers feel a huge amount of responsibility towards their children and also to their area, and sometimes they feel like they have to do it alone. It's a balance trying to keep your kid involved but also do what needs to be done. Be open about what your needs are -- if you want him to translate certain conversations or maybe just when your investigators ask questions...and be willing to adjust that system as often as you need it. Be patient and loving, with yourself as well as your companion. You are your most important investigator, and are as deserving of God's love just as much as the people of Armenia!

Being a trainer is a lot like being a parent (hence all the slang with calling people family terms). Being a parent is really hard, and your trainer is gonna do some stupid things. Guaranteed. They might not even realize they’re doing stupid things. Somehow, the mission is intense enough that everyone suffers from memory loss and forgets how awful being a greenie can be (which is probably a blessing, frankly).

I hope this helps. It's actually been really healing for me to write you these letters and reflect on my mission experience, so I have to thank you for giving me the opportunity to get my thoughts out on paper. I hope this didn't come across as negative; I believe you will be a healthy, happy, successful missionary in every way and you will see and work miracles out there. Everyone's mission serves a different but vital purpose in God's plan -- it's possible that you might not fully know or understand what your mission's purpose is until much later, and that's okay. Patience in God's timing is really the key.

Best of luck, little bro. You're gonna rock it out there :)

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Dear Little Brother: the in-field orientation day letter

[note: because of how honest and cynical this letter sounds, I considered not publishing it. I shouldn't have to say that this is my opinion and reflects my feelings at the time that these events occurred, with some additional lessons I've learned since then.]

Dear Little Brother,

You asked me in your last email about in-field orientation day and what to expect...I remember that day very clearly because it was one of the longest in my life. I know you've heard rumors and ideas about what this day is like, so I'll try to break it down for you a little more based on my experience.

This letter is gonna be long. Buckle up.

It all started the day before our orientation, during gym time. I was running that track upstairs in the big gym building (I mean idk if you can really call it running, but I was making an attempt) and I saw some of the sisters from my district doing a lunge walk. I decided to join them, and we did a lunge walk/race around the track to see how many lunges we could do and how fast we could go.

If you don't have thighs of steel already, this is a stupid thing to do. I didn't realize that until that night when I noticed that I was already feeling sore. But I assumed that the pain was a side effect of an amazing workout, and I brushed it off and went to bed.

I felt fine the next morning, until I moved my legs to slide out of bed. I was always the one to turn the alarm off because I was closest to it, and when I got up I think my legs actually buckled under me. My thigh muscles were so sore that I felt like I was crippled. The other sisters in my district were also feeling it (though to this day I'm pretty sure it affected me the worst haha). Seriously. I could barely move without gasping in pain. I remember limping to breakfast and then to our orientation. I seriously could not walk without help, either from a wall, a railing or my companion. And she was feeling it, too. We looked like a couple of old ladies (I'm not bashing on old ladies, of course -- we just looked horribly out of shape for our age).

In-field orientation is a round-robin style of hands on, participation activities designed to help missionaries prepare for real-world missionary experiences. You'll be separated from your companion probably as you are assigned to walk around the room talking to "strangers" or the other missionaries. You'll practice street contacting, talk about how important unity with your companion is, etc...


I get now that we were probably just supposed to care about the principles of what we were going over. Maybe it was just because we'd been in the MTC for eight weeks by that point, or maybe because I'm just a really cynical person, but I did not appreciate anything about in-field orientation day. And the whole sore killer thighs thing really didn't help. All the sitting around definitely made the soreness worse, and by the end of the day I was popping pain meds and leaning on absolutely anyone for support to keep from bending my legs and extending my thigh muscles haha.

So if I remember correctly, we had several hours of the round-robin workshops talking about different elements of missionary work (again, all for English-speaking missions in America), and then a lunch (but not in the cafeteria, so we were stuck with whatever they gave us -- I think it was pulled pork sandwiches and a bag of chips and a cookie? I remember it wasn't nearly enough to get me through till dinner, haha). After that, I think we all came back together in the big room and they did a play.

Yes, you heard me right. They put on a play for us to illustrate how to work effectively with ward leaders. Which is really great...unless you're going to a country where the majority of the active church membership are still recent converts themselves, and the words "church" and "organization" never occur in the same sentence. It was the corniest, cheesiest production I've ever seen, maybe in my life. It's worse than the Testaments, if you've seen that movie ("Jacob...Jacob"). And my entire district of 14 missionaries were laughing our heads off the entire time. I think we were just really jaded with MTC life at that point and we were a little irked at how scripted and fake the whole play was.

But NOBODY ELSE THOUGHT IT WAS FUNNY. It's like when you make a joke at the pulpit and only your family laughs in the back row. Our whole district was IN TEARS we were laughing so hard, almost peeing ourselves...and everyone else was being reverent and spiritual and taking it seriously. We got so many stern looks and passive-aggressive "can you be quiet? I'm trying to feel the SPIRIT LIKE YOU SHOULD BE" hushes.

People take the MTC waaay too seriously. There's a time and place for everything, and I fondly recall the special spirit within those walls and the audible, personal answers to sincere prayers whispered as I knelt outside my bedroom after 1030pm. But it just isn't reasonable to expect a bunch of 18-21-year-olds to stay on a spiritual high 24/7 when they're all in close, confined quarters. We all have our breaking points. Some people stress-eat, some stress starve, some freak out and start working 200% more than they did before, some make themselves physically sick from the stress, some get overly competitive...we had all types in our district. But one thing we were all really good at was laughing it off together. I did so much laughing in the MTC; frankly, I wish I'd done that more. After all...the immortality and eternal life of man is a pretty joyous work, wouldn't you agree?

On a semi-related note, MTC district sisters finally came home this Friday. It's caused me to wax philosophical and reflective (even more so than usual, haha). I had an incredible experience going to TRC this weekend. I met with two Elders who, rather than teaching the lesson they had prepared, asked me question after question about my mission, and about Thailand. It's a tender subject for me, still. They asked me about the people I taught, how I saw their lives change. And then they asked me about the changes I saw in MY life in Thailand. And I don't think I really started to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ until I went to Thailand. It was only after days, weeks and months of disappointment and failure that I really began to understand that because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, I always had someone who understood perfectly how I was feeling.

Christ is always reaching out to us; we only have to pray to reach out to Him. There have been so many days in the last month when I didn't think I could even get out of bed -- I managed only to kneel and just beg Heavenly Father to help me make it through the day, to give me enough strength to be okay just until I was done with class. And on those days I have seen miracles and felt strength and support. When you feel like no one else understands how you feel...well, you're probably right. But Jesus Christ does.

Please don't ever forget that "doing your best" on some days just means you don't deck your companion/investigator/people cursing at you on the street. Some days, your best is holding back the tears just until you turn off the lights and then you cry yourself to sleep. God cares infinitely more that you keep trying, that you keep getting out of bed every morning, than whether you are perfect at the language or always know exactly what to do or say.

Like I said, this was a long one. I have a lot of thoughts and emotions about the mission, haha. I hope that you are little bit more positive than I was about in-field orientation -- I did enjoy it, but mostly because I knew I was leaving in less than a week after that. ;) I hope you're not getting bored of the MTC food yet and you haven't gone crazy!

I love you! Live it up!

Dear Little Brother: Surviving the MTC

[note: I had the great pleasure of sending off my dear (non-biological) little brother to the MTC a few months ago. He spent two months in the MTC learning the language and then flew out to his mission. I sent him this and a few other letters per his request with some personal sibling advice about some different elements of the MTC and the mission and decided to publish these as blog posts because of how much they helped me with some of the mental and emotional recovery from returning home early. This first letter is compilation of a few letters sent over his first few weeks in the MTC]

Dear Little Brother,
I can't believe you're actually old enough (or tall enough) to be doing this. You've already gotten worlds of advice from your parents, from friends and mentors...why you keep asking me for advice, from someone who didn't even finish a "complete" mission, is sometimes a mystery to me. I'm honored, more than anything else.

So first things first, there's the last-minute tips about surviving the MTC. I'll put these in a bullet list so we can get them out of the way.
  • write up your weeklies beforehand during personal study in the journal/notes section of your regular LDS account, and then paste it into your email and send it. It'll save you soooo much time.
  • take pictures of your name tag at the temple, take district pictures, take companion pictures, take pictures with people in your zone and with your mission country's flag, if you can. Those pictures will become more valuable to you as you go on in your mission, even if it seems silly or unnecessary at the time.
  • if you struggle with low blood sugar on fast sundays, buy a candy bar or something from a vending machine before fast Sunday to have at some point during the day, because you won't get anything at all until dinner and if you have a late dinner time then you won't be feeling good at all that day.
  • take the role-playing seriously. It may seem weird to pray for investigators who are actually just actors but God wants you to be learning the principles of missionary work in the MTC and if you take the experience seriously He will make the experience real and you will receive real promptings to help your "investifakers" and there won't be anything weird or fake about it. God understands the point of the MTC.
  • remember that you are actually your most important convert, and second most important is your companion. It's because your conversion is so important that God has called you to serve where you're going at the time you are and with the people you'll serve with.

I'm so proud of you. You're on fire about this work, and frankly it's inspiring. I remember that feeling on the mission...I didn't always have it. It came and went, and some weeks/months/transfers were better than others. But you have it already and it's so strong! I think you had it long before your mission. You went in prepared, not just in the language but in spirit, and ultimately that matters worlds more than anything else. I am genuinely so proud of you and so excited for the work you will do and the people you will serve. There are less than 60 missionaries in your mission? That's incredible. For reference, my mission had about 120-150, and I remember thinking WE were small in numbers...but as long as the Lord's servants truly seek to do His will, then it really doesn't matter whether you have two missionaries or two thousand!

Have I ever shared my mission scripture with you? I feel like I probably have...sorry to be repetitive, then. It's 3 Nephi 5:13.

"Behold, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I have been called of him to declare his word among his people, that they might have everlasting life."

I still get goosebumps reading it. It always sounds like it's in all-caps when I read it in my head. There is so much power in your calling and the work that you will do wherever you are, in the MTC or in the field.

Godspeed, little brother!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

the calm after the storm: life as a newly-returned RM

Coming home from the mission is like getting sucked out of a riptide and tossed in a kiddie pool.

You're used to going hard and working 10-hour days (that's not including the time you put in for studies) and suddenly you're not working. At all. Your knee-jerk reaction is to talk to everyone about the gospel. In the store, on the street, you even want to stop and pull over the car just to talk to someone on the sidewalk. Can't you just see a girl in a black hoodie and sweats pulling a minivan over and rolling down the window: "hey there, do you wanna hear a message about Jesus Christ?"

Apparently, that's not considered normal in the real world.

It gets weirder when you try to introduce yourself. Your brain keeps choking on itself and you can't think of yourself by your proper name. Is it your first name? Should you just scrap it and go by your last name? Your first name on the mission is "Sister/Elder" so maybe you should just stick to that....

And then, as people congratulate you and welcome you back, you finally realize what Frodo Baggins is talking about in Lord of the Rings, when the hobbits go back to the Shire after fighting the war of the Ring and the Shire is...exactly the same. As Frodo says:

How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand... there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep, that have taken hold.

While perhaps serving a mission isn't nearly as traumatic as traipsing into Mordor to destroy a weapon of ultimate evil, missions can be pretty dang painful and difficult. And nobody really knows what happened, what you've been doing and how you've changed the world. How you've changed. You realize that there are things you will never be able to explain or share with the people closest to you. The lives you've seen change, the miracles, the experiences, the answered prayers after months of begging for answers. The gospel means so much more to you now than just going to church for three hours a week, it's living and breathing itself.

People will ask you about the food, the language, the people, the baptisms. But these are all just a fraction of what you've experienced and what you felt.

Shoutout to Tolkien for creating a story that would help explain the plight of newly-returned missionaries. Always knew I could count on you, JRR. (Not coincidentally, JRR Tolkien wrote Frodo's character the way he did because he was reflecting his own feelings on returning home from World War I a shell-shocked veteran.)

The things you thought you'd be interested in when you got home are pointless to you now. You had a list of movies several pages long in little notebook, but you've watched maybe one or two of them. You just do the little things like exercise and shower and read scriptures every day and wonder:

Where do I go from here?

People who aren't also newly-returned missionaries laugh and say, "well, marriage, of course!" But you're still married to the mission in your head. You know you have to move forward but there's nothing hold onto in the future and the recent past is all so very real and there. You don't want to change, but you can't live a missionary lifestyle anymore. It's just not your calling anymore.

I know I'm not the only one going through these odd withdrawal feelings. In fact, I know people who've had them worse than I have. This is not a new phenomenon, but I've noticed that there isn't really anything to help newly-returned missionaries in their transition back from missionary life. We have the Missionary Training Center to help us prepare for life in the mission field, but there's nothing on the flip side. Just an airplane flight and that's it. The stake president shakes your hand and sends you on your way and just like that you're not a missionary anymore.

But the mission does a pretty good job preparing you for heartbreak, instability and sudden change. Living out of two suitcases and facing the possibility of moving every six weeks will do that. So you come home, unpack your bags, get rid of a bunch of stuff, and get ready for the next thing. Maybe it's a job, maybe school, maybe both. You have to figure out your own purpose now. It's not clearly spelled out in page 1 of Preach My Gospel.

But in the midst of my own personal search to find some meaning to this new, unfamiliar life, I realized that our purpose to "invite others to come unto Christ" isn't reserved for people with a nametag on their chest, and if a mission has taught me anything, it's that as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have not only the privilege but the responsibility to do missionary work for the rest of my life!

And missionary work is so much easier for me to do now with a phone and access to as many social media websites as the internet can provide. God didn't intend for missions to end, He meant for them to be a big first step onto the rest of our lives onto earth. Everything is meant to prepare. My two months in the Missionary Training Center prepared me for the mission, the mission has prepared me for the rest of life, and this life is preparatory for eternity.

So while I'm certainly not the most experienced returned missionary, I think I'm finally getting a handle on things with the same purpose that kept me going on my mission.

Isn't it cool that we have a Heavenly Father who made this incredible plan and figured it all out?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

why do we serve?

best. day. ever.
For over a year now, I've been preparing to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It's been an exhausting, trying process, and I've put a lot of sweat and tears into preparing. And now that I have my call, it finally feels like it's really going to happen: I've been called to serve in the Thailand, Bangkok Mission! I couldn't be more thrilled. I've never had Thai food and I've never spoken a word of Thai in my life but it already feels like home to me.

But when people ask me about the mission, it's always about where I'm going or when I'm leaving, but almost never is it why I'm going. I've been getting increasingly frustrated at the reactions when people find out I'm going to Thailand. They congratulate me and then proceed to talk about how exotic Thailand is going to be, how I'm going to love seeing elephants and petting tigers or taking in the architecture. And I know they're just happy for me, but it frustrates me that people believe this will be like an exotic vacation.

A mission is anything BUT a vacation! Not going to lie, I'm going to appreciate the break from school, but that's about the only thing I'm taking a "break" from. I'm gonna be working like I've NEVER WORKED BEFORE, not with animals or exotic sites but with PEOPLE. Missionary work is ALL ABOUT PEOPLE. So it didn't matter to me whether I was going "stateside" or foreign, I was just so excited to have the opportunity to serve Heavenly Father's precious children. The place does NOT matter. Of course there were places I didn't want to get called and places I was afraid of going, but I knew either way once I opened the call that it would feel right, because the call comes from God. It's not a randomized process. We are sent where and when we need to go for a reason. And now that I know where I'm going, I'm even more excited! I love the people of Thailand with a love I didn't know I had in me, comparable to the love I have for my family and closest friends.

I've always been a loving person, and growing up, I always assumed my ability to love people as deeply and openly as I did made me weak, but I realize now it gives me more motivation and power than any of my other strengths. LOVE IS WHY WE SERVE. And more than that, love is the central purpose behind so much of what we do in this Church! It's the backbone of missionary work, the Relief Society program, the Church Welfare program...and most importantly, the Atonement, in which Jesus Christ took upon himself the sins of the world to allow us to find a way back to be with Him and our Heavenly Father -- because He LOVES us. I don't think I could ever overemphasize the importance of love; it's the biggest motivator behind my going on a mission and I already know that love will keep me going during the moments of my mission when nothing else does.

I love this gospel, I love the people of Thailand, and I'm so excited to go serve them! #thechurchistrue

Sunday, December 29, 2013

"if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work"

While it's tempting to leave the responsibility of missionary work to the missionaries, in doing that we are ignoring our calling as members! Too often I have either heard or expressed the sentiment "when I'm a missionary" followed by a list of amazing personality changes that will somehow activate upon opening the mission call. As much as us "premies" would like to believe that, I think we all secretly know it's not true. We won't be blessed out in the mission field if we don't make daily efforts to improve and develop into the person we want to be.

The following are all phrases I've said or thought at one time or another in my life to try and excuse myself from missionary work, and my responses are all things I've learned from other people's examples and advice, or personal revelation through studying the scriptures.

"I don't have a companion."

Oh, but you do! When you were baptized as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and you received the gift of the Holy Ghost, you were promised that as long as you remained worthy, you could have the constant companionship of the Spirit. When we take the sacrament, we promise to be obedient, and in return we are promised that we may "always have his Spirit to be with [us]" (Moroni 4:3).

"I don't have a mission." or "I don't have my call yet."

Yes you do! God has a hand in our lives constantly, not just in sending us on missions, and you are where you are on the Earth right now for a reason. If you will be open-minded and pray for opportunities, you will find ways to serve and share your testimony with those around you wherever you are. It may be that a coworker or classmate needs your testimony and strength, or even that a stranger needs to see your example to soften their heart. We can't know where we would be most useful, but the Spirit does. Allowing the Spirit to guide our actions will allow us to touch more lives and serve more meaningfully than we ever could on our own.

"Long before leaving our earthly home to serve a full-time mission, we left heavenly parents to fulfill our mortal mission. We have a Father in Heaven, who knows us--our strengths and weaknesses, our abilities and potential" (W. Christopher Waddell, "The Opportunity of a Lifetime").

You do have a call! You were placed on this Earth, in your family and circumstances, for a reason. There is nothing random about when you came to this Earth. You were placed where you could have experiences that would shape you into a unique individual with a unique testimony and perspective on the gospel, and you can use that to help people that maybe only you can reach.

Doctrine and Covenants 4:3 says "Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work." I don't think this verse means "If ye have desires to serve God ye shall receive a formal mission call for 18 to 24 months." If you have desires to serve, you are called to serve today. You are called to stand as a witness of God "at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death" (Mosiah 18:9).

"My family members/friends have already rejected the Church."

My parents are converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and 20+ years later, my extended family still hasn't accepted the gospel, despite our ongoing efforts to share it with them. Explaining to them that I just wasn't going to be around or very accessible for 18 months was a little hard for them to wrap their heads around, understandably. But we haven't given up trying to share it with them and include them in our beliefs whenever we can, as well as participate in reasonable discussions about our differences and similarities. It can be more nerve-wracking to bear testimony in front of close family or friends than total strangers, sometimes. Continue to stand for what you believe in, and the Lord will bless you with confidence and the companionship of the Spirit so that you will never have to feel alone even when you have to stand alone. Be willing to share your testimony if you ever find yourself in a situation that calls for it, and the Lord will bless you to know what to say. Your family members and friends may never accept the gospel in this life, but your example can be key in softening their hearts or at least making them more open-minded. One of my fears is that when I pass through the veil into the next life, I will be greeted by family members -- aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins -- who will ask me why I didn't tell them, why I didn't share what I knew and believed my whole life.

And if all efforts seem to fail, continue to pray for them, love them, and serve them.

"I'm too shy."

So was Moses. And yet, he had enough faith to overcome and do mighty miracles through the Lord! Granted, in his case, Aaron became his spokesperson -- but the Lord still provided that way for him to overcome his challenge, and He will help you overcome your challenges, too. I used to hate talking to strangers, or just public speaking in general. I still get horribly nervous bearing my testimony or giving a talk or teaching a lesson, but I can do it, and the more I do it, the more accustomed I get to it. Now is as good a time as any to practice getting out of your comfort zone, because the mission will push you and stretch you farther than you knew you could go.

Also, trust that if you're doing what you're supposed to be doing, you won't feel shy. It takes time, but little by little you'll start to notice yourself doing things you didn't think you were capable of doing before. The Lord works miracles in all of us!

"My faith/testimony isn't strong enough yet for me to share with others."

This was probably the biggest thing that kept me from even mentioning church to anyone I knew in high school. I assumed that I didn't have a testimony strong enough to share. When I came to university, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to make my testimony stronger so I could share it, and I learned that I already had everything I needed. I knew that the church was true, I knew the Book of Mormon was true, I knew that I had a Heavenly Father who loved me, and I knew that all those things had made me happier than anything else in my life, comparatively. I didn't have science to back up my beliefs; but you don't need science to know what you feel is right, and bearing your testimony shouldn't be like going into a bible-bashing session or any kind of a fight. You're just sharing what's important to you. If you try and approach it that way, it'll be easier for those around you to understand what it means to you and respect you for it even if they don't agree.

Plus, as I mentioned earlier, you can have the Holy Ghost as your companion, and if you have that and you study and make honest efforts to expand and share your testimony, "it shall be given to you in the very hour, yea, in the very moment, what ye shall say" (D&C 100:6).

"I've already prepared enough for the mission."

Until you are out in the field, you are always preparing for the mission, whether you realize it or not. If you think you're prepared enough, you may need to be working more on humility. Every time I think I'm ready, something happens to prove to me that I'm totally wrong and seriously need a change in perspective. I am confident in the knowledge that when the Lord calls me to serve, I will be ready and prepared enough to do what He wants me to. But until then, every second of my life is a second I could be spending preparing to serve.

We prepare in tons of different ways! Physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally... and beyond that, just practicing being an example and representing Christ at all times, things, and places. Motivating yourself to get out of bed in the morning is preparation for the mission. Pushing through a really difficult homework assignment is preparation for the mission. Learning to love a difficult roommate, be it a friend or family member, is preparation for the mission!

"I'm too young to do this on my own."

Nephi was most likely in his teens when he slew Laban and retrieved the plates (although this hasn't been doctrinally approved or anything, most scholars estimate he was between 14 and 25 during the events of 1 Nephi). Philippians 4:13 "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." In my opinion, there should be an exclamation mark at the end of that verse, because it's so empowering! Don't worry about being too young; if you study the scriptures, pray daily, and keep the Spirit with you, you will be just fine. You are never alone in your efforts to do the right thing!

"I'm not planning on serving a full-time mission." or "I don't know if I should serve."

So you've decided that serving a mission isn't right for you? Congratulations! I came to a similar conclusion a few months ago and I thought I was quite happy with it until I realized that the reason I wasn't going was because I was scared, not because it was actually right for me to stay home. I didn't want to go because I didn't want the responsibility of sharing the gospel with total strangers away from the comforts of home for such a long period of time. Deciding not to serve a mission doesn't absolve you from your responsibility as a member to support the missionaries and share the gospel through your example and living your covenants. As members, we should all develop the desire to be missionaries and support missionary work, no matter where our life choices take us.

With some redirection from the Spirit, I realized that serving a mission was exactly what I needed to do -- despite my fears. But there is not one answer that works for everyone! Even the experiences of others can only guide you. Your decision needs to be something you feel is right for you and that's between you and the Lord, not you and your culture, your parents' expectations, or even a boyfriend (if you're a girl).

"I've made too many mistakes to be worthy enough to be called."

But that is exactly why you're here, isn't it? We all make mistakes; yes, some are more serious than others. Some of the wounds of sin can take time to fully heal, and there are usually scars left that shape us into the unique individuals we are. I don't advocate sinning just for the experience; you will get far more experience just by enduring to the end. However, there is much to be gained from experiencing the process of repentance. You will have a stronger relationship with the Lord and a greater appreciation for the Atonement. One of my best friends on a mission said that it's likely that all our weaknesses are divinely inspired, because in overcoming them we are brought closer to God and we grow stronger. Ether 12:27 says "And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness that they may be humble... for if they [men] humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." Trust that you can overcome and forgive yourself, and see your weaknesses for what they really are; tools to bring you closer to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

I love Jacob 6:3, "How blessed are they who have labored diligently in his vineyard." We are all called to serve in the Lord's vineyard. And why do we serve in the first place? Because everything we have and are is God's, and His love for each one of us is the reason for everything we have and have access to in this life through the gospel.

This Church is true!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

the nature of sacrifice

I'm approximately a month and half out from being able to submit my mission papers for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It's been a really long, hard road getting to this point, and I'm so grateful for the support of my family and friends in all my struggles and endeavors. I've been so incredibly blessed that for me to express anything other than gratitude would be an insult to my Heavenly Father and all those who have been supporting me so strongly.

But like I said, it's been a really long, hard road, and it still is. It's been especially hard for me to reconcile some of the sacrifices I've had to make in preparation for the mission, particularly the sacrifice of time. I was 17.5 years old when the mission announcement was made in October of 2012, which meant that while my college roommates and friends could all experience the joy of going within a few months of the age change, I would have to wait a full year and a half -- just over 18 months, to be exact -- before I could fully appreciate the same blessing of going out in the mission field.

I've spent countless nights crying myself to sleep, struggling to be close to the Spirit but constantly questioning why I could not experience the same blessings in the same time frame. Then there was the issue of financing the parents are converts to the church, and with my four siblings, it hasn't been the easiest just providing for everyone, much less paying for me to go on a mission. So I went and got a proper job to try and earn as much as I possibly could, continuing to wonder why some of my friends could just pick up and go. I'll even admit that I felt a great deal of jealousy for some of my friends. It has been a humbling experience to do something on the Lord's time frame when that time frame differs so drastically from my own. And I justified a lot of complaining, too, because the desire to go on a mission is such a genuinely good desire. I even began to doubt my Heavenly Father's love for me because of the timing -- why was I being required to sacrifice so much more to go? Was I not as good as the people I knew who were leaving within a few months of the announcement?

Ultimately, with help from the Spirit, my family, and some dedicated friends, I've been humbled and brought to a better knowledge of my Heavenly Father's love for me. I also finally understand at least a small part of why I've had to go through the things I have, and it all comes down to the nature of sacrifice. As Latter-Day Saints, we believe that sacrifice is a vital part of our lives -- and not only do we believe that, we believe that we have been asked to make sacrifices because of what we believe. There are lots of different kinds of sacrifices, from those we make willingly like sacrificing our time or talents to serve others, and those that we are forced to make through the circumstances of our lives (there's a wonderful talk by Dallin H. Oaks about this topic that you all need to go read or listen to). The sacrifices we make refine us by teaching us about who we are and what we really value. When forced to give up something, do we turn in faith to the Lord, trusting that He knows all, or do we become angry or frustrated because we cannot understand why? There's an oft-quoted phrase that goes something like "our trials should make us better people, not bitter people."

The Lord is so eager and willing to bless us, even for the sacrifices we make for blessings. In sacrificing for the mission and actively pursuing it, I have been blessed with hundreds of mini and major miracles, too many to count or describe. I've been blessed with the knowledge that the Lord is preparing me to be a far better missionary than I could have been if I had left last year. I've been blessed to better develop and refine traits and abilities that I did not have a year ago. On top of all this, I've also been blessed with the knowledge that I will be able to enjoy and appreciate serving a mission more than I ever would have if I had not poured in all the time, sweat and tears that I have. It's not a competition to see who can get the most baptisms or who can leave first or who can go to the most exotic place in the world; it's an opportunity to get to know the Lord on an intensely personal level and draw closer to Him by focusing on loving His children 24/7 and spreading the infinite joy of the gospel, and I couldn't be more excited or grateful for the Lord's timing and plans.

If you are struggling with the sacrifices you have been forced to make, or when you feel tempted to look around and compare yourself to those whose lives seem infinitely easier than yours, remember that:

"Good timber does not grow with ease,
The stronger wind, the stronger trees.
The further sky, the greater length.
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow."

Your Heavenly Father loves you infinitely more than you can imagine, and He is so proud of you for your personal growth and achievements. He does not compare us to others; why should we? I promise you that the sacrifices you make, either by choice or by the course of life, will bless you not only eternally but in this life. You can experience the happiness and peace that comes from doing the Lord's will, and you can be grateful to know that your Heavenly Father knows you and loves you well enough to want to refine you into the person He already knows you can become.