Sunday, January 25, 2015

"Our mission doesn't change us, living the gospel changes us."

This week Pres Mullen and I spoke in the Spokane Valley Stake Conference.  Usually we speak on missionary work, but this conference they asked us to speak on-- If we were starting our family new, what are some of the things we would apply after being mission presidents.
We have seen hundreds of missionaries come and go.  Every one of them has had a different journey.  I have great respect for each one of them, and each individual journey.  I have seen them work hard when they are tired, I’ve seen them coast when they lack confidence, I’ve seen them struggle with great family difficulties, I’ve seen them love and long for changes to be made in people’s lives that don’t happen, I’ve seen them so excited as they see the Lord work through them to change people’s lives, I’ve seen them burn with testimony as they realize the Lord really knows them and answers prayers, I’ve seen them higher than high coming out of a lesson that was full of the spirit and then lower than low as a beloved investigator rejects their message.  (We call that the bi-polar effect of missionary work and can happen within an hour of each other.)
I have seen missionaries come to the mission field with an expectation that their mission is going to be perfect.  They can’t help it.  They are young and full of the stuff dreams are made of.  They think they know the way the Lord thinks; they think He thinks like they do. Haven’t we all been there?  I think I’m still there when I go through some new curve ball that doesn’t make any sense. I’m thinking, “Lord what are you thinking, this was the way it should have been, it would have been so perfect.”   For them it goes something like, “I am on a mission so the Lord will bless me and my family!”  For most of us we just have that expectation that, “I’ll work hard, do the right things, and things will go as I expect.”  Then the opposition of life continues to happen and it kind of rocks our world a little.  Missionaries see parents’ divorce, death of loved ones, sickness and injury, sadness, anxiety, hurt feelings, rejection, unbelief, and lots of peoples pain.     
God’s plan was that we would experience opposition in this life.  But it’s still hard to accept that sometimes.  We are suppose to see and experience good and evil, right and wrong, sickness and pain, heartache and regret, but also joy, happiness and peace. Yet we can still be so surprised when things don’t go perfectly.  I have to laugh at myself as I say that because I’m so there.  It’s no different as a missionary.  We don’t know anything until we have experienced it for ourselves.  But God’s plan still exists no matter who we are, or how we are serving.
I have seen missionaries go through the hard stuff and come out on the other side full of love and hope as they finish their mission; on fire for the gospel.  At the end they say, “My mission changed me so much.”  But the reality is, it was living the gospel that changed them.  Romans 8:28--We know that all things work together for good to them that love God…  We can live the gospel before the mission, during the mission, and our whole lives after the mission.  We can have that beautiful, sacred feeling our whole life.  That means you can come out of any hardship or pain a better person than when you went into it.  You can receive clarity of mind, understanding, peace, comfort, knowledge, happiness, and confidence when you live the gospel.
What is the gospel of Jesus Christ?  It’s Faith, Repentance, Covenanting to be His through baptism, living by the Spirit, then repeating that over and over.
Here is what I would try to be more careful about teaching my children:
Living by Faith means you believe God.  You will see and experience things in this life that you just don’t understand; things that don’t make sense to you and you will think your way was much better.  Faith means you believe God knows you, knows your life, sees you and has a plan for you.  You trust that even though you can’t see, He can.  You trust that His way is best.  He sees things perfectly; the big picture.  You trust Him enough to hold on, that He will get you to a better place.  I would ask, “Have you asked God about that.”  “Do you know what God is trying to do to help you.”  And, “What do you think God is trying to tell you.”  Spiritual Independence between children and their Heavenly Father is one of the greatest gifts we can lead them too as parents.
Having real experiences with repentance and the atonement would be invaluable.  Not just saying sorry to their brother or sister, but really understanding what it means for their life.  Repentance means you stay clean and worthy of the spirit.  Repentance means to change. It’s a beautiful thing, not to be dreaded. We have a natural man inside of us that constantly pulls at us to be angry, bitter, confused, hard, and to live life doing the easy thing; the natural thing.  Repentance means to turn away from this natural path and change.  It means when life isn’t fair I’ll turn from bitterness and choose peace, when things are hard I’ll still be grateful, when I see pain and misery I’ll choose to stay soft and open and trust God, when people don’t do what I want I’ll still love. This change is difficult but can be done through the atonement of Christ.  As we repent our heart is changed, we stay soft and open allowing the spirit to be able to dwell there. The feelings of love, peace, trust, gratitude, when this imperfect life happens, are the result of changing from the natural man to the son/daughter of God inside of us.  We let go of the natural man’s way and choose the son/daughter of God’s way.  Repentance is the most beautiful gift our savior has given to us.  Understanding how to use the atonement and that it can be used all day long to keep us moving towards God would be such an amazing foundation for our lives.
Living by the spirit is the most beautiful thing we can do for our lives.  Being soft and open; free to receive the spirit, creates a place in our heart for the Lord to put clarity, understanding, knowledge, love, peace, and comfort.  Living by the spirit means we strive all day long to keep the world away using our savior’s atonement; making a place for God to live in our heart.  We don’t need to re-live and talk about injustices and pain again and again; we don’t think of the unfair thing over and over, we don’t dwell on the loss, hurt or angry feelings.  Instead we strive to let Christ hold, carry, worry and make fair whatever is driving the spirit away, allowing Him to fill our heart with His love, knowledge, peace and understanding. Living by the spirit means we do a heart check all day long to use Christ all day long.
Then we repeat these things over and over, letting God make us into the kind of person that can live with Him again.

I love to see our missionaries leave the field on fire.  They cry because they are so grateful to have served the Lord and changed so much. What really changed them was actually living the gospel. Live the Gospel; get it into your heart.  Teach the Gospel carefully to those in your influence.  It’s the greatest gift we could give.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Gratitude is Repentance

I learned something good this week that I wanted to share.  My learning usually comes in layers and I think the Lord has been trying to teach me and comfort me for some time now and I just get little things that help me here and there, but this week I changed.
I’ve talked a little about our family in a past post and referred to it some but I’m just going to review a bit. 
In the summer I felt our family came face to face with some pretty difficult things to bear.  I think everyone of us suffered, and still suffer in some dramatic ways.  I, especially, felt so much pain.
I remember when we were called as mission presidents that I thought this calling would be so wonderful for our family.  We seemed so strong and spiritually blessed.  I thought it was perfect timing for us to go on a mission.  Our oldest children were returning from missions, our youngest would be getting ready to go and we would be serving while they served.  How perfect!
We had learned so much from raising our children, who had some serious struggles while growing up.  Early on in our mission we felt deeply consecrated, that Lord had, “raised us up”, to serve him in this calling because we were using so many of the things we had learned from raising children who had ADD, Social Skills problems, Mood Issues, Depression and OCD.  We were so familiar with these issues that missionary’s problems just seemed normal to us.  We felt we finally had some answers as to why we had to learn about these things while raising our young children.  How perfect!
We had tons of energy, deep testimonies and a strong desire to serve.  How perfect!
Our children who would be getting married could live in our basement and take care of our yard while we were gone.  How perfect!
Our parents were still in good health.  How perfect!
I can remember those thoughts 2 ½ years ago so clearly.  And I think it really was falling into place for about the first 2 years.  It seemed like all trials we faced early on seemed easily dealt with and my spiritual “bubble” was so intact. 
The mission is still great and the missionaries are fantastic.  We see so much wonderful, good service being done for the Lord.  But our personal struggles have been amazingly hard for 6 months now.  I started questioning the Lord about, “Why Us”, “How could this happen”, and, “Where are the blessings we’ve been promised?”
I could feel a little corner of my heart forming a hard spot.  I could feel I wasn’t quite as trusting, happy or at peace.  I still loved the Lord.  I still wanted to serve Him and I really relied on Him to get me through the demanding days.  And He did!  I saw His hand in dramatic ways to help us, help the missionaries.  But at night the weight would settle and my pain would set in.  I learned to repent of hardness, worry, doubt and fear a lot and try to be soft so the Lord could have a place in my heart to give comfort and answers.  I learned to see blessings and His hand in my family’s lives.  And I learned that the best place to be when your heart is breaking is on a mission.  All of this learning came as my prayers were answered in layers as I could get past the pain and open up my heart. But the trial still exists so my pain has lingered on.
Like I said I learn in layers and I felt a bit more learning happen for me this week.  I’d been feeling really sorry for myself for a few days.  Usually I can focus on others, call on the atonement to help me and push threw my pain and feel pretty successful as a missionary.  But I have to admit I kind of got to a wallowing state earlier in the week.  I recognized that I was focusing on myself and my pain, which was why I was in this awful state.  But I was so far gone in worry, concern and hurt that I couldn’t even ask for the atonement to get me through the things I needed to do like I usually do. 
But a few nights ago I just happened to be on the computer trying to catch up because I haven’t looked at my emails for weeks. L  I saw a link to a Mormon Message and watched it.  (Click here to watch it.)
It really touched me.  Not like, “wow someone has it worse off than me”, or, “if they can do it so can I”, but just more like, “everyone has struggles, heartache and pain, I can be grateful for my things, and not be a victim to them.” 
I got on my knees to pray.  My habit is to feel sad for my struggling sons, (Nathan in particular), and pain at what they are going through.  Instead, with this Mormon Message in my mind I thought to express gratitude for my sons.  I thought of their cute personalities, the amazing blessing they have been their entire lives to us, the respect I should feel at their own personal journey in life, the health they do have, what they have given and done.  I have focused for so long on what I wanted for them, and what I thought their lives should be.  I felt my heart change drastically as I was infused with gratitude for who they are and acceptance for what the Lord has given them.
I was absolutely amazed at how fast I changed. I could see differently when I didn’t see them or their situation through the world’s eyes, but I could see them through the Lords eyes.  I felt acceptance for God’s plan for them.  I felt the cloud lift, I felt strong enough to continue and I felt at peace.  A peace I hadn’t felt in a long time. 
Some of the things I thought would be so perfect have really not turned out to be so perfect.  My parents health is failing, our basement as an apartment for the kids didn’t turn out so good, and our children have all struggled in various degrees.  Isn’t life just like that!  It can be so hard to give up what we thought would be so perfect, for reality, and feel good about it.

I’ve learned this week that gratitude is repentance.  The natural man doesn’t see with gratitude.  The natural man looks at things selfishly, negatively, critical, prideful and discontented.  Gratitude is rejection of the world, and puts the natural man on the path to God. I think gratitude is a direct conduit to our Heavenly Father, creating a place in our hearts to feel understanding, love, and acceptance of His will.  These beautiful gifts of the spirit are evidence of a grateful heart that can feel and accept God’s love even when His will is so different from our own.

Jordan vs. The Missionaries

I love the Lord. I want to serve Him well.  I wish life were easier so I could serve Him perfectly.  Here is an example.
Earlier in the week Jordan was expressing some pain for his mission and us serving our mission.  I didn’t recognize this could happen when we came out or even the first year of our mission, but mission president’s children can feel abandoned and neglected.  I know Jordan feels alone and lonely here in Spokane and sometimes feels that we care more about the missionaries than him. 
As I listened to him I felt a lot of concern.  The next morning I was praying and felt I should stay home with him and miss interviews.  Interviews are important to the missionaries.  Interviews are a time when they get to spend one on one time with us and feel, “known”.  Interviews are important to us because we get the opportunity to try to meet individual needs.  So I told the prompting, “no”.   (If I miss a day that is about 20 missionaries I wouldn’t be meeting with.)  I have worked so hard to be a good missionary I don’t ever want to feel like I didn’t do my job.  Again I felt, “let go of the missionaries and take Jordan to his dr’s appointment and out to lunch”.  Again I said, “no”.  And added, “Remember if I take care of the missionaries the Lord will take care of my children”, (our area seventy told us that).  The thought came to me, “You know what the spirit is telling you, you know what it feels like to fight against the spirit, and you are doing that now.  Follow promptings, obey the spirit, you know you will be blessed even though this seems different than how you usually feel to spend your day.” 
It was hard to let go.  The prompting just felt so different.  Take the day off and spend it relaxing with a child?  Really Lord?  I asked, “what about the missionaries.”  Direct revelation came, “you take care of your son today, the Lord will take care of the missionaries.” 
So I let go of trying to fit everything in, make it all work and spent the day with Jordan.  When I told Jordan I was going to follow him around for the day he was like, “ok, good”.  He didn’t feel one bit bad about taking me away from the missionaries!  Shocking. J
That night he came into my bedroom and said, “Thanks for spending the day with me.”  I knew he was the most important thing and I had done the right thing.
I have a great desire to serve the Lord well as a missionary.  There are definitely things I’m not doing here on the mission that I feel I should, but find I just can’t get to them. I want to, but I get wrapped up in the schedule and demands and don’t find the time.
I have a great desire to be a good mother and meet the needs of my children.  But I can tell with my two 19 year old sons that doesn’t always happen. 
In both of these roles I feel I’m not perfect!  I wish I was, but I am trying and doing a lot, and what I can’t do I try to give to the savior so I can still feel happy with what I am doing.  My family is important to me, serving the Lord well here on a mission is also important to me. I know my missionary service and my mothering are both imperfect things in my life.  The care of two struggling sons is demanding, and juggling that, with being in the mission field has been the most difficult thing of my life.  Usually I am cramming all of it in together and making it work the best I can, but today I learned that the Lord doesn’t just care about his missionaries.  He also cares about Jordan and my family.

I’m so glad the heavens are open and we can receive personal revelation for our lives.  Knowing we can receive personal revelation directly from a loving Father in Heaven for our lives is what makes The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints different from any other church on earth.  The heavens are open today.  I know that is true.  If we listen He will guide us and help us.  He wants to do that.