Friday, April 10, 2015

the reality of being a new missionary

I loved the MTC! It was like being at the best summer camp with the best people, best spirit, best knowledge, and worst food (stick with the cereal, embrace the cafeteria lines, and celebrate on pizza night). You have to remember, serving a mission wasn't my plan. It was God's plan. So, when I got thrown into the action of missionary work I suddenly saw it was just that – work. Hard work! And it through me for an absolute loop. People tell you it's going to be hard but you either disregard such thoughts or fail to comprehend them altogether. This blog isn't going to be entirely rainbows and butterflies, I experienced some real challenges on my mission and I'm not afraid to admit that. But here's the thing to keep in mind, the Lord will not let us fall. Remember the "brotherly hands and determined arms that reached into the abyss of death to save us from our fallings and our failings, from our sorrows and our sins" (Elder Jeffery R. Holland, Where Justice, Love, and Mercy Meet). I wasn't falling to my death in the MTC, but I was indeed falling. God's grace is enabling, and I experienced that enabling power as a missionary time and time again.

September 27, 2013

First meal in the MTC was the worst meal. WORST MEAL EVER. For all those future missionaries out there, avoid the wraps and take into consideration 4pm dinner time.

We were split into three groups, each taking turns teaching different investigators. I learned the importance of kneeling for prayer and the power of singing hymns.

I had my first teaching experience and found out what they mean when they say "the MTC is hard". My companion and I both felt that our lesson didn't go well and - you know me, miss perfectionist - struggled with it throughout the entire day. I pretty much lost it during the last hour or so of the our final classroom instruction. It was personal/companion study time, and we were once again struggling to know what to teach our investigator. We went in with a message prepared and tried to make that work instead of individualizing the message. I'm experiencing the overwhelming "how can I do this?" feelings that come when learning to be a good missionary.

Overwhelmed and frustrated. I need to really pray for help and confidence.

And when I had said this, the Lord spake unto me, saying: Fools mock, but they shall mourn; and my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness; And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them (Ether 12:26-27).

Thursday, April 9, 2015

the beginnings of a missionary

September 26, 2013

It's day two. They certainly keep you busy here, which is good though because you have no time to miss home. We ate at Cubby's before my parents dropped me off. Skipping lunch might've been a good idea. I didn't feel anxious, I still felt at peace, but my body told a different story. I cried when we first drove past the MTC. Seeing all those elders waiting for the new arrivals just reconfirmed that this is exactly what I'm supposed to be doing. My farewell with mom and dad was short and sweet, it's better that way. I met my host who kindly pulled my three bags, hugged my parents, said goodbye, and that was it. I walked away. I remember dad's last words being, "do work" – he had tears in his eyes.

I thought I was fine, but as I walked away the tears just started streaming down, hello waterfall on my face. Everything was very organized, which the perfectionist within was grateful for. Got my nametag, key, ID card, books, room. I saw Tehya (Sister Griffiths now) and it was such a tender mercy to see a familiar face! My companion arrived. She's a very kind girl who definitely has a testimony and personal relationship with Christ. She has already been such a dependable companion, always finding opportunities to serve me.

My district is small, only 4 companionships, but small is great. I love our teachers. They're quite different, but in the perfect sort of way. The spirit here is amazing! When we sing hymns as missionaries… ahhh! I die! I tear up every single time. I downright cry every time I'm asked to pray. Last night my roommates and I said a "family prayer" and I lost it. Not in a homesick kind of way, more of a I feel their love and prayers sort of way. I know they are praying for me all the time.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

homecoming

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so here's how it works -- you do a bunch of paper work, go though a few interviews, get a white envelope in the mail, buy a bunch of missionary clothes, give a farewell speech in church, and then before you know it your mission is over and you're giving another talk in church. i basically stood in front of a bunch of people and cried my eyes out while talking about the blessings of the temple. i was blown away to see so many friends and loved ones there to support me, so many unexpected surprises!  best part of that day was reuniting with my DC peeps, i have a special place in my heart for them. mom was a total rockstar and put together a fabulous luncheon. RM life is still pretty overwhelming and weird, but it's good to be back. now for the real substance here – the blessings of the temple! this isn't verbatim, i ended up blabbing away from my notes a bit and i can't remember exactly what happened, but here's the gist of it. in fact, this written one is more articulate and relays what i wanted to say before the nerves got the best of me. just picture a constant stream of tears while you're reading and we're good to go.

 

I was asked to talk about the blessings of the temple & temple covenants. Are you even kidding me?! This is like every Visitors’ Center sister’s dream topic for giving talks in church. I just spent the last 18 months of my life near the Lord's temple. And not just any temple, but THE tallest temple in the whole world. It’s unbelievably beautiful by the way, I remember my first time seeing it, I was awestruck! It's one thing to see it in pictures, but to actually see it in person… there are no words. I was thinking about the difference between the picture version and the real thing and I've decided it's more than the grandeur of it all, it's the spirit. There is something special about being on temple grounds, it's sacred and heavenly. There is also something special about being in a Temple Visitors' Center. The same spirit and sacredness is there, it's essentially an extension of the temple.

Being a Visitors' Center sister… the thought never really crossed my mind before I got my mission call. When I read my assignment it was a pretty much a no brainer though, I knew I was meant to be in the Visitors' Center. Miracles are real and they still happen every single day. I witnessed daily miracles in that Visitors' Center, a few of which I'll share today. I have to admit something though, I didn’t love being a Visitors' Center sister at first. Being a new missionary is hard, you don't know what you're doing and then you get thrown into so much at once and it all becomes too much. I didn't understand my purpose and I was kind of just a mess. But the Lord always comes through when we're dealing with the messes of life. Let's talk about one of those light at the end of the tunnel moments for me. Almost exactly one year ago I gained a testimony of the power of the temple & the Visitors’ Center. Here's a little journal excerpt about it…

March 11, 2014 -- Tonight we had an amazing lesson at the Visitors' Center with Z. Amazing I tell you! Sister Connelly and Checketts are such good missionaries! I learned so much from them and I really hope Z felt the spirit that I felt. I wonder that sometimes, if those we're teaching feel the same things we do... Maybe they do without realizing it? I hope Z realized that what we talked about tonight was what matters most in life and what Heavenly Father wants for her. We talked about the temple and how we can prepare for the temple by attending church and reading our scriptures. Ahhh! I can't get over how amazing the tour was! It was perfectly tailored to what Z needed to hear and reflect on. My own testimony of the temple was strengthened tonight. I was actually praying for that when I was at the temple last time, and I sort of expected to have some kind of amazing experience that day in the temple, but I didn't. Instead I had amazing experience today, when I least expected it. Perhaps I needed it more today than I did when I was asking for it. I just felt so much love from Heavenly Father tonight and so much love for the temple. I felt a little snippet of the joy I felt my first time going through. I'm grateful for the tender mercies Heavenly Father gives me as I try my best to serve his people here in Maryland. I also gained a testimony of the power of the Visitors' Center and the sister missionaries within. It was humbling to see how our lessons at the VC can impact the lives of others, missionaries included. I feel so honored (and sometimes overwhelmed) to be a Visitors' Center sister. I get to represent the temple and the joys that are within.

That night had a huge impact on my life. My understanding of the sacredness of the temple grew so much in a matter of minutes because I was in the Visitors' Center where the spirit can teach and touch without restrictions. About temples, President Monson said this, “The temple provides purpose for our lives. It brings peace to our souls—not the peace provided by men but the peace promised by the Son of God when He said, Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” [John 14:27]

We have these cards in the Visitors' Center that we give to almost everyone who walks in. There is a picture of the temple on the cover and when you open it up you see a picture of the Christus (a stunning statue of Christ) with these words underneath: Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. I've learned to recognize that peace, perhaps even more so now that I'm no longer spending every day in the VC. There is one particular experience that comes to my mind as I ponder the peace of the temple. It was just a few weeks before I returned home and the kind of experience that had me in tears wishing to remain a missionary just a little bit longer.

February 23, 2015 -- We had a VC miracle this week. Elder Fowler talked about the election of grace at training meeting and then that very same night we experienced that heaven sent miracle of God's elect. We talked about how people are foreordained to walk into the VC and hear MY testimony. We looked up election in the bible dictionary and discussed God sending his children to the VC to have favorable contact with the gospel. Can you think of a more favorable place than the visitors' center that overlooks the Lord's holy temple?!? And then we met D. He spent over three hours in the VC that night. In case you were wondering GPS stands for God's Personal Satellite because soooo many people are lead to the Visitors' Center by their GPS. Heavenly Father literally leads His children to hear about the gospel! We talked about the temple for a little while and then sat in front of the Christus, where he then poured out his heart and soul. D is going through a lot right now so we helped him focus on the peace that's missing in his life and the peace that he'll find near the temple, in the Visitors' Center, in the gospel, and ultimately in Jesus Christ.

I love when I can physically see the peace that someone else is feeling when visiting temple grounds. It's as drastic as turning on a light switch in a dark room. That moment was a drastic one for me where I undoubtedly felt the same peace D was feeling. That's what the temple provides for me in my life, peace. In fact, I felt that peace just Saturday! If you've been anywhere near me these past few days you'll know that RM life has been a challenge. I was lacking a real sense of purpose and peace and where did I find it again? The temple. I was crying before we even made it up the hill and into the parking lot. I was just so overwhelmed with that peace only Christ can give. The temple is more than peace though, it's a place for knowledge and power. The temple teaches us about God’s plan – helps us understand who we were before this earth life, provides a sense of purpose to our current state of existence, and helps us prepare to return to live with God in families that last forever. Not only did I experience the power of the Temple in the Visitors' Center, but also in the home of some members who were struggling. If we make Christ and the temple the center of our homes, we can feel that same sense of peace even there. See, the thing about the temple, is if you go often enough that sense of peace and guidance follows you home. You get to bring that holiness with you! It's empowering, beautiful, and absolutely necessary, so go often!

April 10, 2014 – Best night of my life!! We had such an amazing miracle today! We had dinner with brother and sister W, who have been struggling for years now. The spirit was so strong tonight and I know that everything we did and said was lead by the spirit. As Sister Chapman and I were studying this morning we both felt impressed to talk about temples tonight. I had found a Mormon message – the blessings of the temple, and Sister Chapman had at the same time found quotes in preach my gospel that talked about temples. It was so amazing to see how from the very beginning The Lord was guiding us in the direction that would best help them. They had lost a son at a very young age and experienced 4 deaths in a 6-month time period. It was those troubling, yet humbling experiences that allowed them to accept missionaries and the plan of salvation. It was the temple and the promise that families can be together forever that sparked their interest. It's that same message that allowed us to have such a spiritual experience in their home tonight. I know that their son is helping us from the other side, that was made very apparent to me tonight. I can't get over now amazing tonight was and how guided we were by the spirit.

I testify of these eternal families and the power and reality of God's plan for all of His children. Death is absolutely not the end. At the beginning of this year the Visitors' Center got it's greatest addition, a cut-out model of the Washington, DC Temple. As sisters we got a little sneak peek and it was in a meeting that Elder Eyring's sweet testimony of the temple strengthened my own. Notice a pattern here? I didn't gain my testimony all at once. It happens over time and with continuous study and temple attendance. Not only did I get to hear the director of the Visitors' Center share his thoughts on the temple, but I also got hear his brother, an apostle of the Lord, testify of eternal families. That moment was significant for me. My grandmother passed on the exact same day I got to hear a special witness of Christ share his testimony of the temple. Being a missionary, I didn't fly home to be with my family, I was miles away in a situation that could have been depressing and immobilizing. God is so aware of us. It was no coincidence that the day my grandma passed away, I got to feel the power and reality of eternal families in a very special and sacred setting. I again felt peace because I was in the Visitors' Center hearing a true message about the temple.

President Monson describes being in the temple as being next to heaven. “To members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the temple is the most sacred place on earth.” Are we truly grasping that concept? Do we truly understand that temples are THE most sacred place on earth?! If we really understood that, we would be going way more often wouldn't we? We’re here to become perfected in Christ, right? Well if we don’t go to the temple we are denying ourselves that opportunity. We’re essentially working for perfection without the help of The Lord – which quite honestly, is impossible. Everything about the temple leads us to the Savior of the world. “Sacred temple work will increase our faith in Christ, and then we can better influence the faith of others. By the nourishing spirit of the temple, we can learn the reality, the power, and the hope of the Savior’s Atonement in our personal life.” Sister Marriott, Second Counselor in the Young Women General Presidency.

The temple enables us to serve those around us, both on earth and those who have already passed on. Sister Burnham was once that influence of faith and love for me. I was really struggling at the time and in great need of a temple trip. Lucky for me, we got to go every 6 weeks. As I walked into the Celestial Room, I was greeted by an open-armed, loving Sister Burnham. She probably had no idea just how much I needed that hug. I've been thinking about that hug ever since and have come to the conclusion that Christ would have reacted the exact same way. We are His hands and voice here on the earth today. Sister Burnham gave me a hug, but I also felt Christ hug me in that moment. Picture that when you go to the temple. Do you see the Savior standing there with open arms? Do you let Him embrace you? Do you then embrace others and help them feel that love from on high?

Each temple is engraved with these words on the outside: Holiness to the Lord, the house of the Lord. That holiness is real and cannot be acquired by any other means than temple attendance. My dear sweet mission mom, Sister Cooke, once shared a hymn with us that had touched her heart and has since touched mine, especially in relation to the temple.

More Holiness Give Me – hymn 131

1. More holiness give me,
More strivings within,
More patience in suff'ring,
More sorrow for sin,
More faith in my Savior,
More sense of his care,
More joy in his service,
More purpose in prayer.

2. More gratitude give me,
More trust in the Lord,
More pride in his glory,
More hope in his word,
More tears for his sorrows,
More pain at his grief,
More meekness in trial,
More praise for relief.

3. More purity give me,
More strength to o'ercome,
More freedom from earth-stains,
More longing for home.
More fit for the kingdom,
More used would I be,
More blessed and holy--
More, Savior, like thee.

That is the purpose of the temple. To bring that holiness into our lives and help us become more like the Savior. The temple is an anchor, a place of beauty and peace. We go there to glorify God and become who we were always meant to be. I love the temple and feel so grateful that I got to spend the last 18 months of my life near and in the Washington, DC Temple. I've always loved sharing the following scripture when talking about the temple: "Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God." [Ether 12:4]

It's interesting because in that same chapter of scripture it talks about weaknesses and how if we let Him, the Lord can help us overcome them and even turn them into strengths. The temple is where that perfection begins. You don't have to be perfect to go inside or near the temple, we just have to be willing to let Christ help us. We're the ones who have to open the door. I love this gospel, I loved being a missionary, and I love the temple!