Relationships #2 - Believe it or not sometimes mission presidents don’t get along with their companion either. Oops, can I say that? Yup, it’s true and shouldn’t come as a shock. Not to think we’re fighting, or anything like that, but we can be at odds with each other and have contention we have to work out. This post is about what I have learned about relationships by serving a mission with my husband and having Elder Anderson of the quorum of the twelve apostles visit our mission. I’ll need to set this up with a little honest background first.
President Mullen and I are very different in probably every way but one; we both love the gospel and the Lord. But I can’t think of anything else we are the same in. Needless to say, being married to your opposite can be a challenging thing. The good thing is we love and respect each other so we’ve been open to change in our marriage. The bad thing is change is hard. This means we’ve both had a lot of work to do.
When we started out in marriage Don was a people, relationship oriented person, I was a task oriented person. He was indirect, I was direct. He was activity oriented, I was task oriented. He was funny; me, not so much. He was all about a good story and dreaming; I can’t tell a story for the life of me and am very realistic. He was disorganized, I was organized. He recharges his batteries by being around people; I am totally about being alone. He was very outgoing, talking and social; I was introverted, thinking, and fearful. I loved to read, write in my journal and communicate; he, not so much. He was all about playing hard; I was all about working hard. You get the idea. I do have to say we both spend money frugally though, so that was not one of the things we had to work out.
The result of marrying your opposite means nothing seems easy in the beginning. Oh my goodness, that feels like a huge understatement. But I really feel the Lord gave me a huge love for Don so that I would marry him and begin an amazing journey of learning, growth and change in my life. I have become such a different person being married to Don. He pulls me to the middle and I think he feels I pull him to the middle also. Most people would not think of me as a fearful, introverted, task oriented person, and I’m not anymore, but that is just a reflection of what loving your opposite can do for you.
So marriage, right from the start, has been all about layers of change for both of us. But we do have a great marriage and get a long really well. Don is a really amazing man and even though I still don’t understand him as well as I would like; (our brains do not work the same at all), we really love each other and have been working at it hard for 27 years. The missionaries see this great relationship and may think it just magically happens. We try to be very open and up front about how hard we have to work at our marriage, so they don’t think a good relationship is just easy.
The thing is, every one of these changes I have made has really been hard won for me. I give credit to the Lord. I feel I can work on my behavior but in the end He changes my heart. These changes are sacred to me. I pretty much have a story for every good change I’ve made, here is one of them:
On this mission we are together pretty much constantly. It is really great to work together planning, training, and traveling 24/7. We discovered at the beginning of the mission that Don teaches a lot different than I do. And of course, as usual, I found myself thinking my way was better and wishing he would change. Hmm imagine that. Luckily I can recognize the signs of pride and know when I need to change and could tell this was one of those times.
I started working on my behavior; telling myself to: focus on the positive, gain a testimony of being called of God, God knows what He is doing and telling myself my way was not the right way. (Secretly it was only kind of working.)
That was when Elder Anderson came to visit and spoke with our missionaries. What he taught was a lightning bolt to my heart, it was absolute truth and I didn’t have to work on my behavior any more, the Lord gave me heartfelt understanding through the power of the Holy Ghost. He said:
“Isn’t it great that the Lord allows so many different kinds of people to have testimonies? Look at Pres Palmer and Pres Mullen, they couldn’t be more different, yet they were both called of God to serve as mission presidents in the WA SPOKANE Mission and have done a great job. We experience this as apostles too. Pres Monsen loves to shake hands and be out among the people; Pres Packer prefers to be in the back room with the door closed studying a book. Yet both are called of God and fulfill their assignments amazingly. Everyone has a part to play and one person will touch and influence for good someone that another person can’t.”
“We don’t have to be alike. We can be different and still be just as effective as another.”
“Spiritual progression happens differently for everyone too. We don’t grow in the same way. We don’t learn in the same way. We don’t receive answers to our prayers in the same way. We don’t feel the spirit in the same way. Accept your way. You don’t have to be anyone else.”
“But we do repent in the same way. We become worthy in the same way. We express faith and go forward in the same way. Be patient with your own individual spiritual growth. For some of you it’s in your bones. Some of you are a little more tenuous.”
“Be patient. The church is true. The Book of Mormon is true. Joseph Smith is a prophet. It will come. I have seen a lot of growth in myself. I was never an AP or…… Keep the faith, don’t give up on yourself. Years of work will make you into an exceptional person. No one stays the same. You get to decide and choose.”
“This is the right place for your mission. You are not meant to know everything in the beginning. You were meant to grow and learn along the way. Don’t worry…..”(He talked about missionary work here.)
Then He quoted Alma 5:13 and said, “Using the atonement is spiritual learning. We can’t read about the atonement and know it, or understand it. It takes time, life, experiences for yourself. Keep the faith, you understand in layers. Stay humble. Ask to understand more. Change is progression. You’ve never “got it”.”
“The spirit will lead you to think less about: self, what you want, cares of the world, the temporal, and your individual suffering, and more about: others, what god wants, spiritual things, eternal perspective and the blessings that come from suffering.”
He talked then about more missionary things.
What the spirit drove into my heart was first-God loves my husband. I instantly felt such appreciation for Don’s great testimony and the way Don does things, because I knew God was ok with him and loves him. Isn’t that ironic? When I knew deep in my heart how much God loved Don, I felt at peace and could just accept him and relax. Second I had a deep understanding that every single one of us is different and there really is not a right way to do something. I knew without a doubt that, “My way is just “A way”, someone else’s way is just “A way”. The only, “The way”, is God’s way.
Then something amazing happened. I knew Elder Andersons message in the beginning was that everyone’s process is Ok. How they, Feel it, Do it, Say it, is OK with the Lord. I felt the Lord was helping me to understand that we all need to be ok with each other’s path and way of doing things. This is how I will be able to love more. But as he continued to talk I had a very calm feeling settle over me. The spirit bore witness to me that if the Lord directs all of us to love and accept each other’s journey, then He must love and accept our individual journey’s too. Imagine that, the Lord is ok with my struggles, where I am at, how I do things. What amazing knowledge. The Lord is actually ok with me. I didn’t even know I needed to know that but I instantly felt so free and so full of love. As I understood the Lord wants me to accept everyone’s way, I knew He accepts my way.
So I love how the Lord teaches in layers. It’s like He opens a door and then continues to show you what you’re meant to know. That weekend we spoke in a stake conference. A man came up to Pres. Mullen and was just crying. He passed by me with tears streaming down his face and said, “I love everything your husband says. He speaks the way I learn.” The Lord was just adding an explanation point to what he wanted me to know. How great the Lord is to teach us what we need to know so that change can happen. This is why I feel the Lord changes me, I don’t change myself.
This experience has been incredibly valuable to me. As I learn to respect others individual journey and “way” of doing things, I have come to know the Lord respects my own individual journey too, and I can feel His love and acceptance of me. It kind of changes everything.