Today in Relief Society we had our first lesson about President Benson. The gospel principle was about the first commandment, loving God. There are many reasons that I can think of for why this is the great commandment. I feel like it sets the stage of how we keep the other commandments. For example we will keep them willingly and not because someone is looking over our shoulder. It teaches me that keeping the commandments is an act of love and that by being obedient we are expressing our love for Father in a much deeper way than words are capable.
As we talked about how loving God leads us to obedience the Prophet Abraham came up. The story of how he loved God enough that he was willing to sacrifice his son. I believe that we all have a similar moment in our life where we have to face ourselves in the mirror and honestly answer this question, "am I willing to give everything up for God." I know that for me a mission was a form of answering this question. I would like to explain to you three of the things I gave up for God. I am in no way saying my giving is finished. No, I believe that this is only the beginning. I know that my experiences on my mission prepared me for my life and I expect many more times when I have to look into myself and see if I really am willing to give what He asks for.
My first sacrifice was my family. Saying good-bye to my sister at the airport was perhaps the hardest thing I had done in my life thus far (marathons included). I am grateful that He did not require me to separate myself from them completely, but He did require that I stop relying on them so heavily. The blessings I saw from this was an increased closeness with God. He is who I turn to first. He is my rock. Another blessing was a love for the people I served with. I did not think I would be able to say this at the airport 18 months ago, but coming home was one hundred times harder than leaving. Each of the people I met and worked with on my mission has a piece of my heart, and because of this sacrifice my capacity to love has expanded.
My second sacrifice was who I was. I was first asked to give up my name (who knew how hard it would be!!) Then my habits that distracted me from God, and then habits that kept me from working in harmony with my companion. The one I wanted to mention today was running. Looking back I never understood how much running was a part of who I was. If you looked me up in the dictionary most of the entry would be about running. It is not something bad and not something I had to give up but I know that I was blessed because I did. This too brought me closer to God because he became my stress reliever. I am also thankful that now I am able to define myself for more than the things I do. Don't worry now that I am home I will be returning to this hobby, but I am thankful to know that God is more important.
Lastly and perhaps the most public sacrifice I made on my mission was staying in Virginia. This was the sacrifice that unlike Abraham I was asked to fulfill completely. It's hard for many to understand why this was required of me, and I have given up for the most part trying to explain it. I imagine that it is because it's difficult to understand something you have not experienced yourself. I know I would not feel the way I do now if it was not for the many hours I spent on my knees talking to God about this very thing. It is something sacred to me that I hope others can see this experience for its goodness. To express my gratitude I will try one more time to share the beauty of this trial.
Two years ago I would not have appreciated my wait in Virginia. I recall talking to someone about the difficulties of obtaining a visa to Brazil and me bursting out how mad I would be if I had to report to the Provo MTC. Having this background it might surprise you to know that I chose to stay in my reassignment even after my visa came.When I became aware of the reality of my reporting to Provo I knew that I had two choices. I can either drag my feet or I can smile. I chose to be loyal to my faith and trust that God would take care of me, but that does not mean it was easy.
I remember looking down at a purple piece of paper and reading for the first time Richmond Virginia. I had spent 6 weeks at the Provo MTC learning the Portuguese language and now because my Brazilian visa had still not been approved I was asked to serve somewhere in the United States temporarily. I do not believe there are words in the English language that can properly capture my emotions at that moment. I managed a smile and then reminded myself that the gospel is the same no matter where I am. With that I knew my purpose and continued forward. In the beginning my cheerful attitude about being reassigned were just words: inwardly I was confused, frustrated and scared. For a long time my prayers consisted of my pleading for the visa and I admit my first transfer most of my thoughts were about Brazil. Looking back now I am so grateful for these months, because this is when I learned first hand how God answers prayers, but more importantly that I cannot change the will of God.
These months passed quickly after I buried myself in the work of a missionary. Each morning instead of worrying about how my Portuguese was rusting I thought about the men and women that we would be teaching that day. Everything a missionary does is to prepare themselves to serve others, and if what we are doing isn't serving someone it becomes very easy to forget to do it. This is what happened to the time I spent studying Portuguese. I remember talking to my Mission President one day about how difficult it was for us to find time for me to study Portuguese. I remember him chuckling but I do not remember what he told me. I do know that this is when I first realized that I could stay in Virginia. It was something foreign to me, and a thought that I know was not my own.
It took me three more months after this moment for me to recognize that this was the will of God. I will never forget the peace that came to me after I finally acted and obeyed His will. I felt free for the first time in months and I knew that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I would go through this experience a hundred times over, because I know that I am closer to God because of it. I have always had a thick skull and I am grateful for a Father that knows how to get through to me.
This is my word to others that have gone through similar experiences, don't doubt your ability to receive revelation. Hard things bring us to our knees but they do not take away our ability to communicate with God. Also know that this trial didn't come because you did something wrong and it is not meant to be a punishment. Honestly hard things come because Father knows that he can trust you with this assignment. And always know that you are loved and watched over by seen and unseen forces.
I know that Christ lives. I know that His work is to bring about the eternal life and happiness of man. He is the redeemer of the world! This knowledge is my most prized possession and I am thankful for this gift God has given me.