Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Farewell Talk

         I have been called to serve in the Paraguay Asuncion North Mission, and I will be leaving for the Argentina MTC on February 25th. For those of you, who like me when I opened my call, know very little about Paraguay, it's located in the middle of South America by Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia. It is one of only two land-locked countries (with Bolivia), which also makes those the two poorest countries on the entire continent. It is extremely hot and humid, with temperatures reaching up to 120 with 100% humidity. It also rains constantly because of the humidity, and the dirt roads turn to mud that can reach past your knees. Paraguay also has the unique distinction of having two national languages, both Spanish and Guarani, which is an indigenous language that they speak in many of the more rural cities.

          Today I want to share with you how I made the decision to serve a mission — and how through the Spirit, Heavenly Father helped me to not only align my will with His, but also come to know more greatly of His love and of the detailed plan that he not only has for me but for everyone. I learned about how the Spirit works in ways that I never realized and I hope that you will be able to greater see how the Spirit can or maybe already has worked in your life.

          As many o
f you may know, my sister Rachel returned home this summer from serving her mission in Nauvoo. We were roommates at BYU before her mission, and we were roommates again this past semester, so we obviously talk a lot with one another. When she was on her mission, I would try to write her extremely detailed letters so that she would be able to understand what was going on in my life and respond accordingly. Because of her limited time and her brief style of writing, however, she was unfortunately rarely able to give me substantial responses or even address most of the things I had written her about.
          There were a few weeks this past spring in which I had a lot of things going on, but I was feeling kind of directionless. I had good roommates and good friends and was keeping busy with school and work, but I just sort of felt stagnant in spite of how involved I was. I felt like I wasn’t really progressing in the things that mattered most to me, and I didn't really know what things I could be doing differently to achieve my goals. I was praying to know what the Lord would have me do at that time, but my path forward seemed very hazy.

          I was writing to Rachel one week all about how directionless I felt and also updating her about all my weekly “drama,” and I had a few situations that I really wanted her to address. I was trying to make a few seemingly important decisions, and I really needed her timely opinion and words of comfort. Instead, I got back a few sentences worth of text that said something to the effect of, “well none of this even matters, because you’re just going to go on a mission anyway," and "read D&C 15." I was upset and annoyed, to say the least. This was NOT the sisterly response I had been looking for, and I was NOT going to go on a mission. So I looked up D&C 15, which reads "For many times you have desired of me to know that which would be of the most worth unto you. Behold, blessed are you for this thing... and now behold, I say unto you, that the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father."

          So obviously looking back, that was a direct answer to my prayers of literally "what would be the most worth unto me at this time," but I didn't really see it that way at the time. I mean, I knew that those scriptures were referring to missionary work, but I never felt like that was something I was going to do.

 I didn't want to go not because I don’t love missionary work, but because there are so many aspects of it that I knew would be difficult for me. I knew serving a mission would involve going to the dentist and the doctor, giving a farewell talk, waking up early, living a strictly controlled lifestyle, not being able to take naps, not being able to date, and not to forget the aspect of my need for willingness to go anywhere. Even if it meant going somewhere hot, humid, poor, and potentially dangerous. So even though that scripture directly told me that serving a mission would be of the most worth unto me, my heart wasn’t ready to receive the answer. I think this is a very common problem when we feel like we aren’t receiving revelation about important questions we have – we are praying for big answers to big questions, but our hearts haven’t made the space to receive all that Heavenly Father wants for us. So as time passed, I thought less about Rachel’s response, but it didn’t change the fact that it had planted the seed or that those scriptures had been an answer to my prayers.

​          This past fall, I returned to Provo from a study abroad. I hadn’t seen one of my best friends all summer, so I met up with her almost immediately upon returning. When we were talking, she surprised me with the news that she had just decided to go on a mission. I was super surprised! Not because I didn’t think she would/should go but just because a mission for her was going from a theory to a reality (she actually just left the MTC and is serving in Peru).

​          I obviously thought about missions more during this time than I had previously, as my sister had just gotten back, my best friend was submitting her papers, and all my roommates happened to be recent RMs. My apartment would jokingly play the game, “if Holly were to go on a mission, where would she go?” This obviously made it much more real to me than it ever had been before. One night, my friend came over to let me know that her call had arrived in the mail. After she left, I was talking with my sister (who has been a huge advocate of me serving a mission), and we were talking about if I would ever really consider a mission (like for real).

          I only have one semester of school left (I was set to student teach and graduate in April), and I was also in the process of applying to teach at a school in China. That was something I had planned on doing for several years, and this specific program I had my heart set on can only be done right after graduating from BYU. I said that if I did decide to serve a mission (IF I did), I wouldn’t start my papers until after this summer. As my sister and I talked that night, however, she made the comment to me that if I wanted, I could go after Fall semester. It was something that had crossed my mind (in the way that a lot of random thoughts cross your mind), but that I’d never truly considered. It didn’t make any sense to me to leave right before I graduated. Like I said, I had always planned on graduating this April and then going to teach in China, and all my plans had fallen into place quite nicely. When she mentioned the possibility of me leaving so soon, however, I actually found myself legitimately considering it.

          I am the type of person that loves to go after and seize all opportunities, so this idea of applying for a mission starting immediately really resonated with me. I just like to apply for things, so even though you can't really get "rejected" or "chosen" for a mission based on merit, I still kind of liked the idea of applying for it. For some reason that I still don’t really understand (obviously in retrospect it was the will of God), I was so motivated to action by this conversation that I decided the very next day to start my papers and see how I felt moving forward. In James 2:20 we learn that “faith without works is dead,” so I knew I needed to act in order to receive revelation. This is obviously a HUGE jump from where I had been mentally before that. And it really happened that fast in my mind. I have found that to be the pattern of receiving personal revelation in my life – not having huge moments of obvious spiritual insight, but rather the almost invisible, but powerful force of the spirit guiding me forward. Hyrum Smith is quoted as saying, “that sometimes the Spirit may constrain us to do something, not just warn us against an action.” We know that faith is an action oriented principle, and that true faith is our belief put into action. So because of this compulsion towards a mission I suddenly felt, I set up an appointment with the bishop, met with him that Sunday, got my dental work done that week, and had made appointments for my physical. Everything was progressing super smoothly, and by default I had decided that if I didn’t get the answer of “no,” then I would actually go through with it. Again, this is a huge mental jump from where I had been only days before. I know looking back that only the spirit could have changed my heart so quickly yet so subtly. We learn in D&C 14 that as often as we inquire, we will receive instruction of the spirit, and that that same spirit will “enlighten our mind.”

          My bishop was moving slowly through the process of submitting my papers, and it ended up taking me several weeks longer than I had thought. I was honestly at the point where I just wanted to finish them and be done with it (for again, a reason that I can only describe as the spirit compelling me forward. It was seriously the will of God that I became so involved in the missionary application). Slowly but surely, it had come to the point that my interview with the stake president was the next day. I was still in a bit of disbelief that I had made so much progress towards a mission that I had never planned on serving. There was still a huge problem though – I hadn’t received a definitive answer as to whether or not I should go. There were a lot of reasons that I thought I should go, but I didn’t feel excitement, peace, or any sense of surety that I assumed would indicate that I was feeling the Spirit. I shared these feelings with my sister, and I was close to tears as I realized that I might be submitting my papers for a mission I wasn’t excited to go on. She then asked me the reasons that I thought I should go, and why I had even made it so far in the process. I responded that I still didn’t feel excited about it, but it just made so much sense for me to go. It was perfect timing, because I would come back and still have a semester of school left. And it made sense in terms of my eternal progression, because I was increasingly feeling like my life was coming to a standstill, and I knew that I needed to focus more on service and putting God first in my life.

          I continued to list off reasons why it made sense for me to go. I told her at the end that it made so much logical sense for me to go, it actually resulted in me feeling good about it. I didn’t feel “excited” to put in my papers because I still had a lot of fear, but I felt such clarity about the fact that serving a mission was the right thing for me to do. As I was listing all these things it then became blaringly apparent to me that Heavenly Father had been answering my prayers the whole time. He knows I am a logical person, so he was speaking to me in a way that worked for me. Fear was a natural result of all my insecurities, but Heavenly Father was silently changing my heart even through all my doubt. In Words of Mormon 1:7, it says, “And now, I do not know all things; but the Lord knoweth all things which are to come; wherefore, he worketh in me to do according to his will.” I know that as we strive to do God’s will, he will help us in our efforts and allow the spirit to work in our hearts to align our will more perfectly with His.

          Even just a few months ago, I would have said that serving a mission right now would be extremely illogical for me. Like I said, I had a plan for my life. But as I talked with my sister that night, it seemed as though it were the most logical thing in the world. In 2 Nephi 31:3, it says "For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth The Lord God work among the children of men. For The Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.” I so often am looking for obvious answers to prayer “in my heart,” that I sometimes overlook that the spirit also speaks to our minds.  I’m so grateful that we have a Heavenly Father that answers our prayers so directly, while still allowing us to figure things out and make decisions. I know that He will give us revelation in the way that works for us personally if we look past our fears and put our faith in the wisdom of His plans for us. Sometimes we just need to carve out more space in our hearts so that we are able to have enough room for God to give us the answers we are looking for. Even the opportunity of teaching in China, which had once seemed so important to me, now seemed small and inconsequential in light of the greater perspective I had been given.

          After I had officially submitted my papers, I prayed every day that I would feel a sense of peace and excitement about where I was called to serve. My prayers often resembled the scripture in Mark 9:24: “Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.” Even though I now knew for sure that serving a mission was what I needed to be doing, the excitement part was still lagging because I know that missions aren't easy, and that I needed to be willing to go anywhere. Honestly, I really didn't want to go to South America AT ALL, and I would joke that I was going to get called to the center of South America just for that reason.      The next few weeks were REALLY hard for me, and I felt a lot of despair about nothing in particular. I had heard that Satan works really hard on people that are about to do really big things (like get baptized, or are trying to repent of something, or are going on a mission), but I had never experienced it before. It was SO intense, and SO miserable. It also didn't help that this was over Thanksgiving break, and my call took almost two weeks longer to come than it should have.

          It finally came in early December, and I had the opportunity to open it outside of the conference center by temple square with my mom and sister. When I opened and read my letter, it was one of the most intensely spiritual moments of my life. I knew instantly, just like I had asked for in prayer, that this was exactly where I was supposed to go. I felt peace and excitement and it was a wonderful experience. Like I said, I didn't know too much about Paraguay before my call, but for those of you who can locate it on a map, it's comically almost literally in the exact center of South America. It's just such a blessing and an answer to my prayers that I legitimately feel excited to go to and live in a place so foreign and different from anything I’m used to. So much of my fear has been replaced with assurance, and I know that this is a blessing from Heavenly Father. Again, I testify that He will bless us with exactly what we need in the ways that work for us personally. In 2 Timothy 1:7, it reads: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

          I have learned so much through this experience about how Heavenly Father speaks to us individually, and I know that as it says in D&C 88:68, our answers will come “in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will.” Just like Nephi, I do not know the meaning of all things, but I do know that God loveth his children. I am so excited to share with others the knowledge of God’s love and God’s plan for each of us. Whenever I find fear creeping back into my mind, I try to remind myself of the words of Elder Holland, who said, “I am convinced missionary work is not easy because salvation is not a cheap experience.” I know that as we pray and read the scriptures, our wills will be more closely aligned with the Lord’s, and that we will receive answers to the questions of our hearts in His timing.

          In closing, I’d like to express my gratitude for this amazing ward and the inspired leaders that have been such great examples to me throughout my life. I am also so grateful for the gift of such amazing friends, and I truly consider them some of my choicest blessings. I love my family and I love this gospel, and I know that by following the example of Jesus Christ we can find true happiness.

          This past conference Elder Godoy gave a talk about the need for our continuing progression. He said, “The best paths in life are rarely the easiest. Often it is exactly the opposite… Are we prepared to leave our comfort zones to reach a better place?” I have a testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and I know that if we ask, we shall receive, and if we knock, it shall be opened unto us. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment