Saturday, January 10, 2015

A Year in Review

Liebe Familie,

One year ago today, I sat in a chair, weeping. President Gleason, the stake president, looked me in the eyes and said that he released me as a full-time missionary. I wept harder. I loved my mission more than anything. I was so grateful that I had been called to serve a mission. I couldn't understand why my Heavenly Father loved me so much that He gave me that opportunity. I wept as I considered the blessing my mission had already been in my life. I wept as the realization sunk in that that chapter of my life had come to a close.

As I reflect on this past year, it certainly has not been easy. I have indeed been dragged to the lowest of lows as the Lord has continued to shape me into the person He knows I can become. I learned a lot on my mission, but I have continued to learn and grow as I have come home and attempted to make this most difficult of transitions. Everyone talks about how difficult missions are; they are difficult and, thus, deserve the attention. However, no one seems to talk about how difficult coming home is. Coming home, having life fall into place, and having eternal bliss seem to be the expectation. If one is not always as happy as a fourth-grader at a Halloween party, that person is almost expected to "fake it 'till ya make it," find a nice Pinterest quote to get through the day, and keep feelings pent up until an improvement is made. I felt alone and confused so much, and, thinking I was the only one who felt this way in my struggle to come home, crawled back into my shell, expecting that the empty feelings I had would just go away with time. It seemed for awhile that no matter how hard I tried, nothing was working out. Failure was all around me; from classes, to friends, to work, eating worms seemed like the only logical next step on many occasions (though, I must assure you, no worms were ever consumed).

In a speech at BYU in 1982, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave an address called "The Inconvenient Messiah." He explains his title thus: "I wish to speak this morning of the demands of discipline and discipleship, of the responsibilities we have to face when we choose to follow Jesus Christ. In the Savior’s life and in ours, Satan counters such discipline with temptations of an easier way, with an offer of “convenient Christianity.” It is a temptation Jesus resisted, and so must we. Life was very inconvenient for him, and, unless I miss my guess, it will often be so for you and for me when we take upon us His name."  I suppose I thought that by serving a mission, life would be made easier upon returning. While I certainly have received blessings, I have become a greater threat to Satan, and he will try even harder to break me down. Later in the speech, Elder Holland said: "If for a while the harder you try, the harder it gets, take heart. So it has been with the best people who ever lived."

On another occasion, Elder Holland said, "I have absolute certain knowledge, perfect knowledge that God loves us. He is good. He is our Father, and He expects us to pray and trust and be believing and not give up and not panic and not retreat and not jump ship when something doesn’t seem to be going just right. We stay in, we keep working, we keep believing, keep trusting, following that same path, and we will live to fall in His arms and feel His embrace and hear Him say, 'I told you it’d be OK, I told you it’d be alright.'"

I'm still not entirely sure why life needs to be so hard so much, but I do know that He sends tender mercies along the way to remind that He is there, and He still hears our prayers. 

As I plodded through my trials, I found another quote from President Monson in which he said, "To live greatly, we must develop the capacity to face trouble with courage, disappointment with cheerfulness, and triumph with humility." This is so difficult to do! When trouble comes, being discouraged is so much easier. I think that a lot of times, we think that because we're doing good or because we've done good, things will just work out perfectly, and we will beat every Goliath that stands in our way. That's the blessings of keeping the commandments, right? 

In Doctrine and Covenants 90:24, we are promised, "Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good, if ye walk uprightly and remember the covenant wherewith ye have covenanted one with another." That's it. Three simple things we need to do in order to have everything work out: search diligently, pray always, and be believing. However, I think we too often skip over the prepositional phrase "for your good." In so doing, we forget about and lose hope. Preach My Gospel says, "Hope is an abiding trust that the Lord will fulfill His promises to you. It is manifest in confidence, optimism, enthusiasm, and patient perseverance. It is believing and expecting that something will occur. When you have hope, you work through trials and difficulties with the confidence and assurance that all things will work together for your good. Hope helps you conquer discouragement. The scriptures often describe hope in Jesus Christ as the assurance that you will inherit eternal life in the Celestial Kingdom." Danielle, one of the first investigators I taught on my mission, once said something that I think Jesus Christ likewise says to us, "I haven't lost hope; I hope you haven't, either."

In 3 Nephi 9:13, Christ is talking to the Nephites right before he comes to visit them. He asks, "[Will] ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?" (emphasis added) He doesn't say that He will; He says that He may. He'll do what is best for us to become the best we can be and ultimately have joy.

In March 2013, Elder Bednar gave an excellent CES Devotional about trusting in the Lord. It was called "That We Might 'Not... Shrink' (D&C 19:18)." In it, he asks a question: "Do you have the faith to not be healed?" We must likewise determine if we are going to keep trusting in the Lord, even when "for awhile, the harder [we] try, the harder it gets."
In the October 2011 General Conference, President Thomas S. Monson said, "May we ever be courageous and prepared to stand for what we believe. ...[In] reality, we are never alone when we stand with our Heavenly Father."     

This year included a lot of setbacks, rejections, and other disappointments. Yet, I am at peace. I know that I am where my Heavenly Father needs me right now. I know that He loves me and is guiding me along the path that is right for me. Just as my mission didn't go as planned, so has the past year not gone as planned. Yet, I know that everything has happened for a purpose. As much as it sometimes hurt, I am so grateful for the things I have learned and experienced since returning home from my mission one year ago. While I recognize that life will continue to be difficult, I also know that He is there, and He will never leave my side as long as I "search diligently, pray always, and [am] believing." 

Elder Robert D. Hales said, "Yes, 'weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.' Then, in the dawn of our increased faith and understanding, we arise and choose to wait upon the Lord saying, 'Thy will be done.'"

I close with the words to the hymn "How Firm a Foundation." 

"How firm a foundation, ye Saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in his excellent word! 
What more can he say than to you he hath said, 
Who unto the Savior… for refuge have fled?

In ev'ry condition—in sickness, in health,
In poverty's vale or abounding in wealth,

At home or abroad, on the land or the sea—
As thy days may demand… so thy succor shall be.

Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid.
I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my righteous… omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not thee o'erflow,

For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee… thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.

The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume… and thy gold to refine.

E'en down to old age, all my people shall prove
My sov'reign, eternal, unchangeable love;

And then, when gray hair shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs shall they still… in my bosom be borne.

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I cannot, desert to his foes;

That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I'll never, no never, I'll never, no never,
I'll never, no never, no never forsake!"

Last Sunday, during the bearing of testimonies, I flipped to this hymn, and the words touched me deeper than they ever had before as I considered their meaning. I pulled out my journal and wrote most of the above thoughts. I love my Savior, and I am excited for what lies ahead.

Alles Gute im neuen Jahr,