Friday, October 31, 2014

Mission Presidents Seminar with Elder Christopherson

We returned from the mission president’s seminar last week.  It was in San Diego and we were with 31 other mission presidents.  Elder Christopherson of the 12 attended for 3 days as well as Elder Maines, Johnson and Nielson.
I love Elder Christopherson.  He is the most humble, personable man.  During one session he was looking for a scripture and couldn’t find it right off the bat, he said,…. “I think it moved”, as he was thumbing through the pages.  It was very funny.
He speaks in a very simple and direct way.  He gets to the heart of the matter quickly, states the truth and then doesn’t say much more.  He reminds me of Elder Balentyne a former missionary in our mission.  Here are some things he talked about over the 3 days he was there with us:
  • Testimony is different than Conversion.  (He was talking about this in relation to how return missionaries can fall away from the church.)  Mos 4:2,3 and 5:2.  We can definitely believe without living our beliefs.  When we believe and  live our beliefs, we are converted.  Conversion is having experiences with the atonement that affects our heart, it’s not just knowledge in our minds.  Our heart feels a desire to change, it wants to be clean and pure, and our heart loves God more than the world.
  • We live in the time of being observers and watchers.  We need to be owners instead.  It reminds me of a missionary who said in his departing testimony, “I want to be a doer, not a sayer.”
  • Marriage and Family is critical in God’s plan.  Woman and Men both bear the burdens of life.  Unity as man and woman is critical.  Adversary is attacking that unity.  Our time will be well spent in teaching marriage and family ideals.
  •    Justification cleans us from sin.  Sanctification removes the effect of sin.  We had a training with the missionaries a few weeks ago and it was explained in a way I understood better than I ever had before the difference between justification and sanctification.  Imagine a scale,  __-2__-1__0__+1__+2 __.  Justification is what happens to us when we have sinned and are in the negative and we repent.  The atonement brings us to zero by washing and cleaning us.  Sanctification is what happens to us to move us past zero.  It makes us holy, Christ like, and enabled.
  • 1 Corin 3: 5-7  We plant and water, but the increase comes from the Lord.  Pride is foolishness and a lack of understanding.  Without Him; His spirit, and all that that implies there would be no increase.  He allows us to have the china and the linen in our hands because He loves and trusts us.  But He is the increase.
  •    You can only know if you are truly a success by receiving a witness from the Lord.  If He approves then you are a success.  He also said, “I want to say thank you, but it is inadequate.  But the Lord can express thank you perfectly to you.”

I am grateful that living apostles and a prophet are on the earth today.  The priesthood keys they hold mean everything to the spiritual work going on in the earth today.  

Monday, October 27, 2014

Oh, so this is what a bad day feels like!

Emotional Health
We have had many missionaries who have gone home on medical releases in our years here.  I have gained a greater understanding of pain as I have watched these good young people want to serve, struggle to feel well, reach out for help and understanding, but just feel physically and emotionally sick with different kinds of anxiety.
Missionary anxiety comes in many forms:
Social anxiety at having to actually talk to people, extend themselves outward to start conversations with complete strangers, and worrying about what people are going to think.  Situational anxiety at having to be with a companion 24/7 and they can’t escape them.  And Performance anxiety; they feel so much pressure to find well, teach well, plan well, work with members, know scriptures and-- love everyone while you’re doing it!  Think about it.  This generation is wonderful, but have their own specific challenges unlike any other generation has ever had.  Our councilors describe it like this:  This generation has access to computer, TV, and phone constantly so they can escape whenever they feel the need. The demands placed on them are geared to their own achievements instead of serving or doing for someone else.  In many cases they aren’t use to getting outside their comfort zones so they don’t know they are coping when they are spending hours in the gym or all day in their bedrooms on the computer or watching TV.  They are able to escape easily, so instead of facing feelings of boredom, sadness, fear or disappointment, and dealing with those feelings, they turn to distraction and entertainment without even realizing that that is what they are doing.  It can be a total shock to get on a mission and have a bad day and have to live with it and figure out what to do with it. 
Missions are quite demanding.  Missionaries are in an unfamiliar environment; learning new skills, being with new people, eating weird food, learning new languages all while very high expectations are being placed on them.  Those are a lot of stressors to be going through.
There can be a lot of anxiety wondering constantly, “Am I obeying every rule exactly”, “Have I filled up my planner so every second is being used”,  “Did I talk to everyone so that someone’s eternal salvation wasn’t ruined because of me”, “What did I do wrong that my investigator didn’t come to church, keep their commitment or dropped us”, “Did I teach to needs”, “Did I establish my purpose”, “Did I ask inspired questions”, and “Why haven’t I progressed anyone to baptism”. 
When a missionary is thrust into a situation that causes anxiety over and over again they develop physical symptoms: headaches, back aches, stomach aches, joint pain, etc.  They feel so sick.  We have found we can help missionaries get over homesickness and depression, but those who suffer from acute anxiety tend to get sicker and sicker until it’s just pain for them, everyday all day long.  We try to help them but many of them get to the point that they are in so much pain they become non-functioning.  I feel like they have fought a war and are coming home with post traumatic stress disorder.  I’m not a professional; that is just how I feel. 
If there is any message I could send it would be to put your arms around any missionary who comes home for any reason early.  They are struggling.  They need people to not ask, “When are you going back out?”  You really have no idea what they’ve gone through, how they have felt, or the situation they have been in. They need everyone to smile, laugh with them, love and support them in their recovery, no matter what the reason is.  Those who are suffering from anxiety are probably going to associate church with pain for awhile.  They need to have time to heal. 
My son Jordan came home from his mission on a medical release a few weeks ago.  What a hard experience his mission was.  He had horrible back pain the entire year from an old gymnastics injury. He had physical therapy and injections in field but finally came home for a nerve oblation.  He had allergies and asthma we could never get under control in his particular mission.  And to top it all off he couldn’t sleep at all and became horribly sleep deprived.  He seemed to get it from all sides and there were no breaks in site.  We are so sad at his experience.  We don’t really have any answers as to why this turned out the way it did.  But we are glad to have him home and hope to take care of him the best we can. 
I don’t have all the answers of why missionaries struggle. But, this is what I know:
They want to serve the Lord, but life, (and missions) aren’t perfect, and people aren’t perfect.  Why couldn’t we just know everything at the beginning, have everything fall into place and be skilled and talented right from the get go.  I guess it’s because that wasn’t our Heavenly Fathers plan.  We were meant to not be perfect missionaries, children, spouses, parents and providers.  We were actually meant to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.  We would have to learn to love and forgive, even when things would be done that were hurtful and damaging.  We would have a savior who would be able to make us clean and free if we would stay soft, open and humble.  He could make us worthy of the spirit and that spirit would make everything be turned to our good because we would progress and grow from our new found knowledge. 
I know we can recover from every pain in life if we will repent of hardness, doubt, fear and pride. If we will be open to the Lord and the spirit He will get us there.  If we will hold on to Him He will show us the way.  If we will stay humble, clean and worthy of the spirit He will work all things together for our good and it will come out ok.  That is His promise to us, and I have felt it’s truthfulness over and over. 

I really can’t express my love well enough for these good young people and their good hearts and desires.  Their desire to work and sacrifice for the Lord is a testimony to the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Very few young people in this world would give this much.  And for those who struggle it is not in vain.  There is a plan and purpose for all God’s children, the trick is to accept and love His individual plan. 
PS  This blog doesn't deal with the therapy and medication side of emotional issues but let me just say that I believe it's good to fix problems and counseling and medication can really help when applicable.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Their journey is acceptable.

Our journey is acceptable: As mission presidents we have realized almost from the very start that a missionary comes in all different shapes and sizes. It is absolutely amazing to me how every single missionary is so different.  (We've served with probably over 500 missionaries over our 27 months and not one of them has been like another.)
I have a deep respect for every one of these missionaries and their own personal journey.  I have seen wonderful young Sisters and Elders who struggle with various things like: depression, anxiety, homesickness, OCD, ADD, testimony issues, perfectionism, and social skills.  They work hard and try hard and fight to progress and overcome their fears, doubts and negative emotions. They are truly in a vulnerable state on their mission and it’s great!  That is why they learn so quickly and make so much personal progress on their missions.  They have to turn to the Lord if they are going to be successful, and if they are going to find happiness and joy in the work.  This isn't like any other work they have done before.  This is a spiritual work so they have to rely on the Lord to find and teach with the spirit. 
I’ve have seen many missionaries mourn about how great they were in high school; about how much they could do and accomplish and wonder why they feel so different on their mission.  We just try to teach them this work isn't the same.  Its spiritual work and you have to rely on the Lord, listen and obey that voice in your heart and let Him direct the work and you.
I have seen so many physical problems with missionaries that just break my heart. Really good young people who want to serve the Lord and they have things like: chronic migraines, ulcers, diabetes, crone’s disease, chronic back pain,  lots of various kinds of abdominal pain and many other things.  We have had 3 gall bladders removed, 2 appendix removed,1 missionary who was hit by a car, and many bike accidents, not to mention every p-day we have several injuries. L  (We had one elder who got injured every pday so we finally grounded him from pday activities for a month to try to encourage him to not go full throttle and sacrifice his body to win.) J
I am in charge of mission medical and several hours almost every day I spend on the phone doing mission medical things.  I love to help the missionaries, but sometimes, especially when we have a lot of problems going on at once, I feel tired of it.   I was in a natural man state one transfer not too long ago when the Lord taught me a profound lesson about these good missionaries who struggle with health problems.  We were receiving a missionary who we were surprised made it past mission medical.  Her problems were great, her health history complicated and her list of medications she was taking was very, very long.  I was kind of feeling tired of having so many missionaries with problems and feeling a little doubtful about this sister when these new missionaries were arriving.  We went to meet the plane to greet them. 
We left the airport to go to downtown Spokane to go fear busting.  (That is when we take all of our brand new missionaries, fresh off the plane to the city and let them go right out and find with some of our seasoned missionaries to guide them.)  We arrived at the place where we meet up with the seasoned missionaries and I started to go around and personally talk with the new missionaries to get to know them.  I came to the sister who has all the health problems and I felt a distinct voice say, “This is my missionary, not yours.  Her journey here, however long it is, is acceptable to me.  She is here because she has a great desire to serve and the part she gives is perfect, no matter how long.”
I instantly felt different. I knew the Lord had just spoken to my heart about His missionary and how He feels about each one of them.  Every time when any of them need something now when I’m tired, I remember the Lords words to me and I feel happy to do it. I know the spirit gave me knowledge and understanding to my heart that changed me instantly. 
Every one of these missionaries has a different journey.  All of them struggle at least a little; many of them struggle a lot. I feel their work is sacred.  Whatever they are trying to give, do, learn and sacrifice for Him is acceptable to Him.  They aren't mine, they are the Lords, and whatever they give is just fine.

I know the Lord feels the same about each one of us. I have felt that personally so many times.  Early on in our mission I started feeling unhappy.  I was feeling guilty about everything and then feeling guilty about feeling guilty!  I remember one night praying; sincerely thinking, “I just want to be happy like I use to be.”  I couldn't even think of everything, I just knew I needed to repent of all the care and worry that had built up.  I asked my Heavenly Father if He would apply the atoning blood of Christ to my life and let Him carry all of my stuff.  I felt instantly free of all of it and just knew my savior was happy to hold it all.  I went from being miserable to amazingly happy in an instant. With it came the feeling that God accepted my struggle, He was OK with where I was at and wasn't that worried about my performance as much as He just wanted me to turn to Him through it all.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Age Change

The Age Change: I am the Mission Presidents wife of the WA Spokane Mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  I am an ordinary woman called to do an extraordinary thing; serve the Lord for 3 years as a missionary, councilor, cook, trainer, driver, speaker, health coordinator, event planner and supporter of all things missionary.

It’s not hard to serve a mission. The Lord helps you out; makes you enough, buffers the stress of the schedule, brings so many things to your mind that you just know he is there telling you what to say, puts love into your heart, and reminds you to be humble and teachable pretty much every day.  Lately I've been learning that He really will ease our burdens so we can hardly feel them and strengthen us so that we can bear them with ease when we turn to Him.  (Actually serving a mission is difficult when I do it by myself.  But with the Lord it isn't hard.)

I love the gospel of Jesus Christ so much.  I KNOW I knew God and Jesus Christ in the pre-existence and I loved them then, just as much as I do now.  I love having made choices to consecrate my life over the years to God and the blessing that has turned out to be in every instance.  I feel so full and it is a witness to me that God just blesses us and fills us when we do his will, he doesn't take, he just gives, as we give our lives to him.

I want to share briefly what happened in our mission around the time the age-change happened; the first 18 months of being in WA.  Our mission was due to be split when we arrived.  We started out right from the beginning having huge transfers to build our missionaries up from about 170 missionaries to about 260.  Our mission would lose about 60 missionaries to the Kennewick Mission so the big influx of missionaries was necessary.  We fed, trained and housed about 90 new missionaries in a few months’ time and then 60 were gone due to the split.  Then we needed to build our compliment back up to 250 so we started all over again.

Starting in March of 2013 we saw a reflection of the age change in our transfer’s, we went from about 20 sister missionaries to 100 and started receiving a lot of 18 year old elders.  Our largest transfer brought 39 new missionaries in at once and then 35 and 37 were the next ones.  Some of these numbers were visa waiters who were coming and going too.

It was hard at first.  The early sisters who came out seemed a bit unprepared emotionally and physically for the demands of a mission and the elders just seemed really young.  We were also losing our foundational missionaries in the midst of all of this change.  By August we started to worry about losing the great culture of our mission.  Out of necessity 6 week old missionaries were training 6 week old missionaries and 12 week old missionaries were training brand new missionaries.  (Babies were training babies in other words)  It was a difficult situation that most missions were facing, not just ours. 

We prayed a lot about what to do.  I want to share this with you because I love to witness of the Lords hand in our lives.  We felt we needed to buckle down and do some intense training with everyone.  We called a 3rd Assistant and sent them on the road to meet with every district and train on, “How To Begin Teaching”.  We had interviews and introduced “Boot Camp” It was an intense study program they were to do for 4 weeks that taught them doctrine, how to teach simply and ask inspired questions. (We gave them extra study time every day to complete it.)  We held a specialized training where we taught them how to progress less actives, get members to fellowship, and teach simply and powerfully to investigators.  They were to have a full schedule that night to go out and actually do the things we taught and then they came back the next morning to report.  (It was like practicing on real people.)  It was awesome! Then we held a specialized training and called it Cleaning House.  The “House”, dealt with cleaning our Physical, Emotional and Spiritual selves.  (The apartments were dirty, the emotional resource book the church had put out for missionaries was introduced and spiritually we just taught doctrine.)  That was great too.  We gave them 2 weeks to totally de-junk and deep clean their apartments.  It was great.  I also held a sisters conference and had two therapists speak on depression, anxiety, and relationship skills.  During that sisters conference we had 12 musical numbers throughout the day and talked about grooming, nutrition, questions of the soul, and even had a clothing exchange.  The sisters loved it.  Our mission had 54 training’s in a 6 week transfer.  We worked hard, the missionaries worked hard and the members drove a lot and made big sacrifices.  But we felt driven by the Lord to do it. 

Then the question came, “What Next Lord?”  It felt like we were preparing for something.  And we were exhausted.  It was the end of October 2013, and it was time to go to the mission president’s seminar.  Elder Ballard was there along with the presidency of the seventy.  They are serious about missionary work and we felt it.  It wasn’t a, “Let’s fill you up with the spirit and make you feel good, kind of seminar.”  It was, we need to increase our vision and our expectations.  They set goals to double our baptisms in the next 6 months, increase church attendance in our wards and get every missionary to be teaching every day.  I was very overwhelmed, but on the 5 hour drive home we gained a testimony for ourselves that this was exactly what the Lord was leading us too.  And we were exactly ready because we had followed promptings. 

We came home and started preparing for zone conference and let the spirit do the work.  It was amazing. We talked to them of the vision of doubling our baptisms and the goals to get there. We also introduced accountings.  We knew we needed follow through with these young missionaries if we really were serious about helping them.  They started calling in every night to account for the daily goals of teaching 3 lessons every day, (to members if you have to), and having 10 gospel conversations with new people.  The missionaries loved it.  We had so many missionaries who changed.  It was kind of eye opening.  In interviews in December we had so many comments we never expected.  They just talked about how happy they were, how unified their districts were, how easy it is not to feel guilty, just repent and do it tomorrow, how important it is to account because it makes you change and bring what you know you should be doing to the front burner and make you do it and not procrastinate.  We thought we would just see them get to be better teachers, and increase investigators.  (That shows you our limited vision).  We almost doubled our baptisms in December.  How amazing is the Lord in leading us.  We have almost consistently kept that increase. 

I will write more about what has happened in 2014 later, but I just want to say that our sisters who came into our mission that first transfer at 19 years old have now gone home.  They were pioneers.  I couldn't be more appreciative and grateful for their good service.  The sisters in our mission are amazing young women.  It is so inspired to have these spiritually sensitive women out here doing missionary work. 

I felt last year the Lord declared to us as mission presidents that He is in charge of His work.  He will lead and guide us in doing this great work if we will be open to receiving revelation and acting upon that revelation.  

Saturday, October 18, 2014

I am having a victory today.

Every day I need to change.  I feel that strongly.  Writing this blog is one of the changes I have needed to make in my life for two years.  How sad is that!!
I have received promptings since Don and I were in the MTC to write a blog.  We were encouraged there to bring people to Christ in all ways and one of the ways they suggested was to write a blog.  I felt instantly that I should do that.  And instantly I filled my mind with, “I can’t’s and I’m not’s”;
·        I’m not a writer. (I’m not that great at grammar and punctuation either.)
·        I’m not capable.
·        No one will read it.
·        I don’t have time for that.
·        No one will read it. (I know I said this before, but it deserved to be said twice since this is my biggest argument with the Lord.)
I feel ashamed that I have received so many promptings over the last two years and have ignored them and pushed them aside.  I have actually been repenting and promising the Lord I would do this for about 5 months now, and I ‘m just barely doing it.  How bad is that!  I have to just laugh at myself.  But I have 8 months to cram 3 years of spiritual learning into.  I hope I can do it and that it will be what the Lord intends for it to be.
What I have learned from the 2 year process of beginning to write this blog is:
Good stands on its own.  We teach that to the missionaries.  Good isn't good because of the result we achieve.  In missionary terms that means talking to people you feel prompted to talk to is good, weather they are interested in the gospel or not.  Teaching a lesson, knocking on a certain door, or planning a particular finding activity is good, in spite of the outcome.  Trusting in the Lord means we do good without worrying about what the outcome was or will be.  So it is a good thing for me to write this blog whether anyone will read it or not.
Overcoming fear is huge if I want to consecrate myself to the Lord.  Fear is the big reason I have been arguing with the Lord over this blog.  If you fill your mind and heart with I can’t’s and I’m not’s, you can’t and you’re not.  If you think you can’t, you can’t.  We also talk to the missionaries about this all the time.  If you get up in the morning and tell yourself you can’t exercise, can’t study, can’t pray, can’t talk to everyone, can’t be nice to your companion, you won’t exercise, study, pray, talk or be nice.  I know the fruit of the spirit is confidence and trust in ourselves and in the Lord.
My intent in writing this blog is to bring anyone who reads it closer to Christ through sharing honestly my own experiences of learning and growing.  I want to be honest, that is my nature, but I also feel in my heart I have to protect people, (missionaries, children, my husband, myself, investigators, etc.), so in some things I will not be totally forthright and won’t be using names, and may be vague about the situation.  But I feel the need to be honest.  I never learn from perfect people or situations.  So honesty for me is important.
I will write about my experience of learning and growth.  I will include spiritual experiences, training's I have given, things I have written to the missionaries, changes I have gone through, things missionaries have taught me or said that have touched me, and experiences I have had as I have tried to invite and teach people the gospel.
I know the Lord has a hand in our lives.  I've never felt it more than on this mission.  I want to do His work in His way and for me one of the ways I feel I can bring others to Christ is to write what we are going through, what we are learning and how our eyes are being opened to the absolute reality of God’s hand in our lives. 

This is a work of faith for me.  You have no idea.  I am conquering huge doubt and fear by starting this blog and even posting this one entry.  But I feel so happy in doing it.  Repentance and change makes our life a miracle.  Every time I am willing to change and repent I feel it is a victory.