Monday Memoir: “The Breath of Life, Even Eternal Life”

In the beginning, I was forced down from the top of a very high mountain.  A man at the bottom convinced me I needed to go back up the mountain, that it was crucial to my well-being.  I started back.  I crossed over a bridge that would lead to my mountain.  In my mind’s eye, I could see the man watching over the progress of my journey from elevated ground.  I found the trail that led up the mountain and made my way up about half way.  There I met someone who tried to talk me out of going further up the mountain and wanted to convince me that he had the prize right there in his hand.  It was a giant, delicious muffin (I had been working for Sam’s Club previous to this time).  I thought he was right.  What an amazing prize.  Then, the man appeared and showed me the true value of this imaginary prize.  In his hand, it looked tiny and bland, and I realized that this was only a counterfeit and nowhere near the glory of the real prize.  I continued up the trail and then had to climb a rope ladder.  Only, the ladder was like a tunnel, and it was lined with giant books that I had to climb over.  It was challenging and it took a lot of work getting through.  Once I was finally through, I had reached the top of the mountain.  There I observed the Savior’s tomb.  I went inside.  On the stone bed where He would have laid were photographs of the Man, but he was not there.  While I combed through the pictures, I knew why He was not there.  I began to weep at the realization of what He had done for me.  Then I was beckoned out of the tomb by a woman who I knew for her Christlike characteristics that I admired.  She shined, she was fun and faithful, and kind.  She was what I thought I wanted to be, and I knew she had served her mission in Hawaii.  She led me out onto a tier in the back of a large church.  The lower level was full of people wearing colorful clothes.  When we walked out, the whole congregation turned and looked back at us as we each testified of what we had witnessed in the tomb.

When I woke from this dream, I knew instantly that I had had a vision.  I knew that through my life’s challenges I would gain the character and the testimony of Christ that would prepare me to serve a mission, and allow me to grow in the light of Christ throughout my life.

Then, I got my mission call – to Hawaii.  I knew that was where the Lord needed me to be.  As soon as I walked off the plane and could feel the humidity (a stark contrast from the dry air in Provo), saw the palm trees and the beautiful sky, I knew I was going to love my mission.  I wanted to be a good missionary with all my heart.  I knew my goal was to learn to know my Savior and have a personal relationship with Him as my Brother and my Redeemer by serving the people of Hawaii.

I arrived after dark on Christmas Eve and drove up Temple View Drive while the temple was lit in all its beauty.  I knew I was going to love my mission.

I really did love my mission.  I loved the sisters and senior couples, the people, and that beautiful place.  I have many fond memories, met amazing people, and watched people grow in the gospel and be baptized.  I loved my daily study, and testifying of the gospel to anyone who would listen as I gave tours at the Visitors’ Center.  I even met someone when I returned home whose journey to finding the gospel began on a tour I conducted from the Polynesian Cultural Center!  I look back on my mission with great fondness and many great memories.

That being said, I want you to know that my mission was also the most challenging experience of my life.  As I am now coming out of some years of depression, I am able to come to terms with the reality that I suffered from depression on my mission, even if I didn’t realize it at the time.  My anxiety was overwhelming!  I was constantly bombarded with negative, doubtful thoughts about myself, my worth and my abilities. I was crushed by these feelings, and beat myself up most days with the fear of all my failure.  I was inauthenic, self-conscious, awkward.

Nevertheless, I worked hard.  My mission has been the only time in my life I have been able to wake up on time, early in the morning, consistently, with hardly an alarm (I am not a morning person).  I pushed myself to do things that were intensely challenging for me, especially when coupled with my severe self-doubt.  There were many, many times when I was able to overcome my fears and even did it cheerfully, and gained wonderful, memorable experiences!

Still, when my mission was drawing to a close I was overcome with angst that I was not the missionary I could have been, and I longed to return to the beginning and start it all over again.  I still wish I could go back knowing all that I know now.

However, my mission president gave me a blessing before my departure that I knew was inspired.  He told me that my mission literally saved my life.  Whether that was in a temporal or a spiritual sense is all the same.  I knew that by serving my mission I had served the Lord with all my “heart, might, mind and strength” (D&C 4:2), and I did all I could with what I had at that time, in spite of all my weaknesses.  And because of that service, I would be saved in the Kingdom of Heaven because of how my service had, and would influence my  choices throughout my life.

The moment I arrived home and was released, the dark spirit that plagued me on my mission was gone.  My confidence soared.  I was immediately called to serve as the temple committee co-chair in my singles ward, teaching temple prep classes, and becoming an ordinance worker.  Soon, I was called to serve as a chair on the “transition committee” serving new-comers to our ward and making sure they were not lost in the mix.  With confidence, I was sincerely extroverted and was even described as having an “electric personality.”  I loved my life.  I escorted my dear friend through the temple for her own endowment – the one who went on my tour of the Hawaii visitors’ center!  I went to school.  I worked in the temple.  I went on dates, determined to learn whether the guys in my ward were marriage material (because I couldn’t honestly say so without getting to know it for myself – see Elder Oaks’ talk summarized in the Ensign, June 2006, Dating Vs. Hanging Out).  Each of the guys I went on dates with had incredible talents: writers, musicians, dancers, even a mathematician.  But soon, my husband returned from his mission and we started dating before he had been home one month.  The Lord knew we were meant to be, and he is better for me than anyone I would have chosen for myself.  Everything that has happened since my mission has been incredibly rewarding!  The decisions I have made have been inspired, and influenced by my experiences there.

Now as I reflect on my mission, and I see all the good that came out of it – my dear friends whom I served with, memories of teaching amazing people that I grew to love, my personal gospel study, that obedience brings blessings, all the things I learned about the church organization and all that the church does to strengthen families, and yes, even the challenges I faced – have indeed been the source of my salvation.  I have learned more about grace, repentance and forgiveness, and countless principles of the gospel than I could have ever learned by not serving.  I learned deep lessons of obedience, charity, sacrifice, work, service, and priesthood.  This is why I urge anyone (who is able) to serve a mission.  And my advice for anyone who serves is the same as the advice President Hinckley received from his father when he despaired on his mission: “forget yourself and go to work” (Ensign, May 1995, Sweet Is the Work: Gordon B. Hinckley, 15th President of the Church).  The Lord needs whatever it is you have to offer.  Your unique qualities will touch lives.  Let your light shine in whatever capacity you have, and just love the people you are with.

“Aloha” in Hawaiian means hello, and goodbye, but it also means love.  My mission gave me another new perspective of that beautiful word.  We had a mission motto that went something like this:

 We are called to serve in the Hawaii, Honolulu mission, the “Aloha” mission.  The atonement of Jesus Christ is our message, love of God and others is our motivation, and obedience to the commandments and mission rules is our strength.  By sharing the gospel with others, we give them the “ha” – the breath of life, even eternal life.  Aloha!!

My journey to the top of this mountain may be over, but I see many peaks in my future I have yet to conquer.  But from now on, I am armed with a testimony of the Plan of Salvation, the Atonement, and all of the appendages of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I have been given the gift of “alo-ha”.

If you are preparing to serve a mission, my suggestion is that you make the temple your goal.  Go to the temple often, and do the things that will keep you worthy of that goal.  Don’t give in to the counterfeits that may try to keep you from reaching that mountain summit.  Study the gospel.  Know the scriptures in and out if you can.  Serve whenever you can in any capacity.  And, learn life skills like cooking and cleaning, money management, and proper diet so you aren’t distracted by those things while you serve.  Learn the true meaning of charity, faith, and obedience.  Then, be authentic, and lose yourself in the work (Mark 8:35).

Here are just a few of the special moments on my mission:

MTCVC muu muusBanyon TreeAll Hawaii Sisters ConferenceHukilau CafeHawaii, Tonga, Tahiti PCCVC SistersJessica baptismPCC TramDebra baptismMaui baptismDavid baptismLast day

Wednesday Words of Wisdom: Justice

Justice and mercy are not independent principles. Justice is merciful when you think about it. It would not be just to be tested on a subject you never learned or to be tried for a crime you did not commit. In God’s infinite wisdom and justice, He prepared a perfect plan for our progression and happiness. As part of that plan we experience tests and trials within the sphere of our capabilities that are designed to stretch us and refine us, and prepare us for celestial glory in the mansions of our loving Heavenly Father.

20120606-005428.jpg

Alma and the sons of Mosiah being rebuked by an angel. Photo courtesy of lds.org

Alma was a prophet in the Book of Mormon who understood justice and mercy very well. He felt the saving grace of the great Mediator of all mankind when he was “snatched” from sin (Mosiah 27). But, he also stood by and witnessed the martyrdom at Ammonihah (Alma 14), and declared, “therefore this life became a probationary state, a time to prepare to meet God” (Alma 12:24).
I love in Alma 29 when he is contemplating the justice of God and says, “Oh that I were an angel…that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people! Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with the voice of thunder, repentance and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth” (Book of Mormon, Alma, Chapter 29). Wouldn’t it be great if we could all know and understand the gospel perfectly and be able to always act according to that knowledge?! Wouldn’t life be so much easier?
But Alma continues: “But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me.
I ought not to harrow up in my desires the firm decree of a just God, for I know that he granteth unto men according to their desire…For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true” (Book of Mormon, Alma, Chapter 29).
Heavenly Father has in His infinite justice and mercy granted that we be free agents in directing the course of our lives and have the freedom to act rather than be acted upon.
I have been thinking about this principle a lot lately. I’ve been noticing a trend and a temptation to place some people above others and ourselves and attribute some hierarchy of righteousness or worthiness. Like a popularity thing where some are inferior to others based on their maturity and knowledge. I find that almost laughable if only I weren’t prone to do it myself. I’ve only recently been learning how to not compare my weaknesses to someone else’s strengths. I still need more practice.
The point is we are all on the same journey here in mortality. We are all treading the same course here together. We are not ahead of nor behind one another, we’re just experiencing different things at different times. That is why no calling in the church is more important than the others and why a Bishop can later be called into the primary. I was once in Relief Society presidencies and chairman of committees. Now I teach the Young Women and it is a great calling! None of us are ever going to be perfect in this life. We all have something to learn from each other. In the end I think we will all need each other to really be saved.
When Alma says we will learn the gospel in our own language, I wonder if it would also include learning it in our own spiritual language as well. Bear with me here. What one person considers a laborious trial, someone else might chuckle at their naïveté. I suggest we are all naive in one way or another. Some people can at least acknowledge it. That’s what humility is, and what becoming like a child means: to acknowledge God’s hand in everything and to never counsel Him but to take counsel from Him. We each receive that counsel differently. Some people need to hear a voice of thunder. Others need only listen to that Still, Small Voice. All of us are one or the other at different times and situations in life. Perhaps we’ll hear it in the temple, or during scripture study, or while listening to a talk, or a favorite uplifting song. Or maybe we’ll hear His voice through the voices of our children telling us what they need, or teaching us by their example. Whatever it is, it will come in a way we will individually understand because the Lord knows us each so well, He will deliver it to us that way.
That’s why the gospel is so perfect. The Atonement is both universal and individual. While the Savior died and lives again for all mankind to be saved, He also did it so that you and I might experience His redeeming love on a personal level. Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions…I go to prepare a place for you…I will…receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2-3, also Doctrine and Covenants 98:18). I believe our Savior has prepared a place for everyone who heeds God’s counsel one way or another. You and I cannot judge what place that is or at what point in this eternal progression another is on.
It blows my mind when people label others or place other people into neat little categories like that is even possible. I learned in my personality class that we have a tendency to judge other people by attributing a personality characteristic to them rather than judge the situation they are in. For example, you see someone driving recklessly, cutting people off and speeding. What do you think of that person? Most people would have special names to call them, or they would say he is a careless driver. How many of you stop to think that person maybe had a rough day, or maybe they are in a hurry because of an emergency? Why do our behaviors in different situations mean we are always that way? Do you always trust your first impression of someone?
I have been experiencing deep depression for the last couple of years. For a while I thought I was over it but my situation hasn’t changed and I feel it creeping back in on me. I cannot seem to convince the people around me who didn’t know me before my depression that I am not this person. I want to be who I know I am but I cannot rise above the mire. I usually feel like I am wading through it all on my own and no one believes in me.
I don’t know why I have to experience this. I don’t know what the Lord has planned for me. Again, I know we all experience different trials at different times and situations. I don’t consider myself better than anyone if I experience different trials. I recently learned of a friend of mine whose baby perished after she was born. Another friend is suffering from a temporary infection that has her in constant pain. Others suffer with cancer, or the inability to bear children. Are their trials better or worse than mine? I don’t know. I just know that a loving Heavenly Father has a plan for each of us. He knows each of us. He is teaching us and preparing us to meet Him in a way that each of us is sensitive to and will understand in the language that has the greatest impact on us. The answer won’t always be in this lifetime. All we can do is pray for the enabling power of the Atonement to carry us and lift us above our own capacity to manage.

Related posts and websites:

“My New Mantra” http://wp.me/p1zyo4-q
“The Merciful Obtain Mercy” http://wp.me/p1zyo4-6l
“Overcoming Adversity – What is the purpose of trials?” http://wp.me/p1zyo4-3w
Agency: http://www.lds.org/study/topics/agency?lang=eng

Wednesday Words of Wisdom: “The Merciful Obtain Mercy”

In Conference on Sunday, President Uchtdorf gave some very sound advice: “This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon,” he said. “When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm—please apply the following: Stop it!” He goes on to say, “We are not perfect. The people around us are not perfect. People do things that annoy, disappoint, and anger. In this mortal life it will always be that way.
“Nevertheless, we must let go of our grievances. Part of the purpose of mortality is to learn how to let go of such things. That is the Lord’s way.”

I have often pondered the concept of not judging and have tried to improve. It feels impossible sometimes. In my psychology class I’m taking right now, I learned about a study where two subjects were selected, a man and a woman. The woman had her picture taken, but the picture was put aside. Instead, the man was given a picture of a different woman depending on the reaction the study wanted to see. For example, the man was shown a picture of an attractive woman. Then he received a phone call from the woman whom he thought was pictured. The conversation was recorded. The recording was played back to a college class, except the only portion that was played back was the woman’s end of the conversation. Women who were perceived by the men as attractive were more warm, humorous and poised than when the man was shown a picture of an “unattractive” woman. The conclusion is that we not only judge other people, we also respond to the judgements placed upon us whether we know it or not (Study from “The Personality Puzzle” 5th Edition by David C. Funder page 187). That was shocking to me. I started to realize how my behavior through my depressive stage may not have just been how I felt about myself or the people around me, but actually my response to how people around me had perceived me.

I love this video illustrating the story President Monson told in his talk “Charity Never Faileth” in the Relief Society General broadcast in 2010. If you get the chance to read it, it is a great talk.

Conclusion: if you judge others: “Stop it!”

(I’m sorry if you can’t see the video doesn’t work. Here is a link anyway.)