Well, it's official!
For those of you who don't know, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is actively engaged in the work of salvation, meaning we desire to share the light of the gospel and the love of our Savior Jesus Christ with any and all of God's children who will listen. That's why many of us send in an application to our dear Prophet Thomas S. Monson and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who, through revelation from God, assign us to serve in a specific mission anywhere across the world for 18-24 months.
I was called to serve in the Land of Enchantment, the New Mexico Albuquerque Mission, the land that now holds my heart forever.
Yes, I was half of those sets of two who wear black name tags, ride bikes, and knock on your door. I was one, like tens of thousands of others, who leave home, family, work, and school to consecrate all of their might, mind, strength, and time to proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ and serving our fellow brothers and sisters. Many say this is a great sacrifice at a time of our lives where college, dating, and doing countless other things may seem more desirable. It sounds noble, but I came to learn that serving a mission truly isn't a sacrifice compared to the price our Savior paid for each of us. The crazy part is, you go on a mission expecting to repay Him and show your gratitude for what He has given you, and you return home so much more indebted to Him. The experiences He allowed me to have changed my eternities. I became well acquainted with the Master whom I served, and there is no price too great to pay for that precious gift. Like so many other missionaries, I learned that my reasons for going on a mission and my reasons for staying were dramatically different. Because trust me, there are days when it's tough and you have to dig deep and literally fall to your knees begging for strength and understanding. When you've walked all day and had doors slammed in your face, when strangers have yelled and trampled all over the beliefs you hold so dear, it really makes you ponder your testimony and your reasons for choosing to go on a mission in the first place. I know now that I originally went to be an influence for good and to share the truths I treasure, and don't get me wrong those reasons still remained. But I stayed because of my deep and abiding love for the Lord and the people I was called to serve. I gained a deep understanding of how desperately, every moment, I rely upon His grace. And if I need it so desperately, doesn't ever other human on this planet need it just as much? That is why I was and will continue to be a missionary and to do all that I can to invite others to come unto Christ.
To be honest, when you return home after 18-24 months of complete immersion in the Spirit, being separate from anything worldly including music or movies, you're a little bit weird. Ok, let's be real, a lot a bit weird. I continued to wear my calf-length proselyting skirts for about a week after returning home and had a melt down the first time I tried to go shopping with the latest pop song blaring in the background. I had to kneel and say a prayer before watching Frozen for the first time, it felt like breaking an 18 month fast! I missed the heightened spiritual sensitivity a mission gives you and found myself doing everything possible to resist "the world" from creeping back in to my life. I missed the undistracted purpose of inviting others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel. In so many ways coming home actually felt like leaving home. In the word's of Elder Holland, one of the Twelve Apostles, leaving your mission doesn't mean going back to "real life." Your mission is as close to "real life" as you'll ever be on this earth, completely focused on the work of the Lord and the things of eternity. New Mexico and the brothers and sisters I reunited with there will forever hold a piece of me, a part of my heart and soul that I never knew was even available to give away. It is there that I experienced the deepest sorrows and the most profound joys, all in the tiniest similitude of the price our Savior paid for each and every one of us. I returned home with well worn knees and shoes from countless hours spent in prayer and on my feet. In so many of those moments I felt the Savior's presence so near me it was as if I could reach out and touch Him. I know without a doubt that the Master labors alongside His servants in the vineyard, and He sends angels round about us to bear us up.
How do you even answer questions like "How was your mission?" "How are you adjusting?" Formulating a response without sitting that person down and making them listen while you bear your soul for the next several hours just doesn't seem like enough! And quite frankly, I hope I never adjust. I firmly believe that a mission shouldn't just last for 18-24 months, but is meant to springboard you into a lifetime of dedicated discipleship to the Lord Jesus Christ. Again, in the words of Elder Holland, "(to) every returned missionary who ever stood in a baptismal font and with arm to the square said, 'Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ.' That commission was to have changed your convert forever, but it was surely supposed to have changed you forever as well."
It's impossible to make a list of every lesson learned and knowledge gained as a missionary, but here is a short list of some of the things I've taken away from my time in New Mexico:
- An unwavering conversion to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Many of you may not know what exactly it is that we believe, and just about everyone has heard something about "Mormons," most of which isn't accurate, but that's ok. Here is a brief run down: We believe that we are all children of a Father in Heaven who, much like our earthly father, loves us completely and desires us to inherit all that He has. For this purpose we chose to come to earth and were placed in families, the ideal environment for learning to become more like Him. The Fall of Adam and Eve made it possible for us to come to earth and receive physical bodies in order to gain that mortal experience. But because of the Fall, we are each also subject to physical death, meaning we are mortal, and spiritual death, meaning we sin and become unworthy to dwell in the presence of God. But, as was promised from the beginning, a Savior, our older brother Jesus Christ, was provided for us. His Atonement, meaning His suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane for our sins, pains, and afflictions, His death on the cross, and His resurrection on the third day, opened the windows of heaven for each and every one of Heavenly Father's children. As we are obedient to God's laws, or the commandments, exercise faith in the Savior, repent of our sins, enter in to the covenant of baptism and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands by one holding proper priesthood authority, receive further ordinances in His holy temples, and do our best to keep those covenants and continue on that path, He promises us eternal life, or to live forever in His presence together with our families. This gospel has been preached by God's chosen prophets, and the Savior Himself, since the beginning of time. After the Savior's death, the world because of wickedness, fell into a state of apostasy. This means that the fulness of the gospel and God's priesthood authority wasn't found upon the earth. Unauthorized changes were made to the pure gospel the Savior taught, and many honest seekers of truth were left in confusion. But because of God's mercy and love, He reached out in love again by calling another prophet to proclaim the fulness of His gospel at a time when the world was prepared to hear it. That prophet's name was Joseph Smith. By the power of God he translated a volume of ancient scripture, a record started by a family who left Jerusalem and later settled in the Americas, at the same time the Bible was being written. This volume of holy scripture, known as The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, is a sacred companion to the Bible. We read them both side by side and they, together, testify of the divinity of the Son of God and His role in our lives. It is through reading and pondering about the The Book of Mormon, which is convincing evidence of the restoration of the gospel in our day, that we can come to know for ourselves that Jesus is the Christ and that Joseph Smith truly was called as His prophet in this last dispensation. We can all come to know this through prayer and a witness by the power of the Holy Ghost, which teaches us "the truth of all things." Further revelation given to Joseph Smith revealed God's plan for our families, that we can be sealed for time and all eternity in God's holy temples. These blessings are available to all, living and dead, through the work performed in these sacred temples. I came to know for myself that all these things are true through study, prayer, and having to defend them to many who doubt or simply haven't asked for themselves to know if it's true. I know for myself that our Savior lives, that Joseph Smith is a true prophet, and that The Book of Mormon is the word of God. I witnessed the converting power of The Book of Mormon and the teachings found there heal hearts and save families.
- Obedience to the commandments and the promptings of the Spirit brings true happiness and confidence before God.
- I experienced a deeper love than I ever knew existed for the people we served. I believe this came from trying my best to truly forget myself, to pray for charity and love when it didn't come naturally, and simply because the Lord blessed us with a small piece of the love He feels for each and every one of us. Some of the most profound moments came when watching someone we'd grown to love so deeply step into the waters of baptism dressed in white and come up out of the water completely clean, beginning their new journey in life as a covenant keeping witness of the Savior.
- Our faith truly is the power through which the Lord produces miracles. "With God, nothing is impossible." We witnessed mountains moved in people's hearts including our own. I can honestly saw there wasn't a day during that 18 months that we didn't witness a miracle, whether big or small.
- God ALWAYS keeps His promises, as long as we keep ours to Him. It isn't always according to our preferred timeframe, but He knows all and will provide us with what He knows is best, no matter what.
- Families really can be together forever through Heavenly Father's plan. I saw this with families we taught as well as with my own family back home. The blessings poured down upon my family during my time as a missionary were beyond anything I could have imagined.
- Each of us can and will receive direct, specific personal revelation and answers to our questions and concerns if we do our part. We must be worthy of the Spirit, spend time on our knees in prayer, time in the scriptures searching, and time in our hearts fasting. For the honest seeker of truth, the answers DO come.
- Being with a companion 24/7 is a refining process that will be a great blessing to you if you allow it to be. It gives you the opportunity, if you're willing, to give up your selfish desires for a greater cause: your companion's happiness and for the Spirit to be with both of you so you can succeed in the Lord's work. To make His purpose ours, bringing to pass "the immortality and eternal life of man." I think giving up selfishness for the sake of a greater cause is a valuable life skill that can be applied to many different relationships and situations!
- Every single person on this earth is a precious child of a loving Heavenly Father. No one is beyond the reach of His love. He loves us all the same, no matter what mistakes we've made. He loves those of His children who don't have the gospel just as much as He loves those of us who do, and it is His greatest desire for us to share it with them so they can be eternally happy and return to His presence. We are all different. We all look different. Some of us have blue hair and tattoos. (You know who you are and you know that I love you!) But it is not our job to judge, it is our duty to love. Each of us have the same innate, natural yearning to love and to be loved in return. We all want happiness. And our Father wants to give it to us. We are His hands and His feet, we simply have to be humble enough to look outside ourselves, see past the exteriors, pray for His love, look into their eyes, and open our mouths to share with them what we have!
There is a quote from President Hinckley that President Eyring has hanging in his home. It says, "My Mission is to Bless." Imagine how different this world would be if we each strived to make that phrase our own personal mission statement! I am so imperfect and I recognize my need for the Savior's Atonement every moment of every day, but it's my goal to make this a part of who I am.
I remember in October 2012, one year before I left on my mission, I listened to a talk in General Conference that changed everything. President Eyring shared the story of his daughter-in-law. She longed for more children and after countless miscarriages she began to lose hope and was even tempted to be angry towards God. Finally, after years of trying, she found herself walking alone on the beach one day. She prayed aloud, her heart on the verge of breaking or bursting. For the first time, she didn't ask God for another child. She submitted her will completely to His. "Heavenly Father," she cried, "I will give you all of my time; please show me how to fill it." She submitted her will completely to her Father's, and instead of pleading for what she wanted, she asked Him to give her a divine errand. She was filled with an immediate peace. A year later, she and her husband received a mission call and moved their family overseas. In the mission field, she gave birth to their long-awaited child. I learned from this that our Father isn't sitting upon His throne withholding blessings from us on purpose. In fact, it's the opposite. He wants to grant us the righteous desires of our hearts, but He also wants us to stretch and grow and experience what we need to in order to truly be prepared for those blessings at the right time and according to His will.
I heard this talk at a time in my life where nothing was working out as I had planned. I felt a constant inner turmoil as my will and Heavenly Father's continually butted heads, and I was the unhappiest I'd ever been. But that night, after hearing President Eyring's words, I knelt in prayer and for the first time I followed the example of this courageous young mother. "Heavenly Father," I said, "I trust you. I know that You have a plan for my life that I'm not allowing myself to see. I want You to know that I submit everything to You, my desires, my time, my will. Please fill my life with a divine errand."
Exactly one year later, at the age of 23, I entered the mission field, the last thing I ever expected to do with my life. But Gods plan for me was better and it was more. So much more.
God knows us and loves us completely. Our agency, or ability to choose, is a key part in His plan. It is the one thing He desires us to submit and give back to Him so He can shower us with an even greater abundance of blessings.
Now that I'm home, I find myself on my knees praying for the exact same thing I did almost 3 years ago, for the Lord to fill my life with a divine errand. I'm still working on capturing His vision for my life and to act accordingly. I have seen Him place many opportunities in my path already. Each of us have a purpose here on this earth, each of us are here for a reason, blessed with specific talents and abilities that the Lord needs us to use for some greater purpose. My invitation to you is to pray for His eyes, to see what that divine errand is, and then to have the faith to act upon it.
A wise leader on my mission once told us, "You can tell what type of missionary someone was 10 years AFTER their mission." The evidence of how we fulfill God's plan for us, no matter what that plan may be, won't be manifested in what we say, but in who we are. And not just for a short season of our lives, but forever.
Thanks for reading, those of you who made it to the end of this novel! I want to publicly add my witness that I know God lives, and to thank Him for the gift of serving a mission. I hope you have felt that God loves you. You may fall short sometimes, actually I guarantee that you will. We all do. But always remember: alone we are nothing. But with Christ we are everything.