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Friday, January 24, 2014

10 Things We've Learned (or Relearned) in 10 Weeks

The end of a year always comes with numerous "Top Ten" lists, so we thought we would add our own.  These are not ranked by importance, but are a list of lessons we have learned or relearned on our mission thus far.

1.  "There is no comfort in the growth zone and no growth in the comfort zone."  This quote is from a talk given by our Mission President's wife at our last Zone Conference.  It struck a chord with me.  There have been many times since being on our mission that we have felt way in over our heads, but somehow we have muddled through, and, in the process, grown a lot.

2. As Gandalf says in Fellowship of the Ring, "All we have to decide is what to do with the time given." Senior missionaries have a lot of flexibility in creating their work assignments.  We must decide what needs top priority each day and then remain open to the unexpected--an injured Marine who needs a blessing, a Marine wife who needs to be picked up at the airport,  a member whose dog just gave birth to 10 puppies, etc.  It is never dull on a mission!

3.  You really can care for someone you have just met.  Each day, we pray that we will love the area and the people who live here.  It is amazing, but true, that we really do love those we meet and serve.  We have been blessed to see a person as the Lord must see her -- not the somewhat messed up, struggling, hurting person the world may see, but a loved child of Heavenly Father with potential and talents.

4.  I have been told that when someone is learning to play the bagpipes they must first learn to play the drone note.  This is the low note that stays constant underneath the melody as it is played.  In a scripture class I attended, the teacher asked, "What is your drone note?  What is the foundation of what you do?"  I have thought about this in relation to our mission and have decided that our drone note is love -- love for the Lord and love for the people we serve.  It is what makes our mission a joy, even when things don't turn out as planned or when we are tired at the end of a long week.

5.  "The pen is the antenna to inspiration." As we write our thoughts and observations, we often see connections we may have previously overlooked.  Our thinking becomes clearer.  As we study and write about the scriptures,  we look for patterns and for "packets of light" that illuminate key principles and then record them so we don't forget what we have discovered. It has been a delight to have dedicated time set aside to read and study each day.

6. "Out of small and simple things, great things come to pass." We recently learned you can read all the  standard works of scriptures in one year by reading 7 pages a day.  Who knew it could be that easy?  When we left for our mission, our Stake President counseled us to have kneeling couple prayer morning and night.  A simple thing really -- although with our creaky knees we weren't sure we could physically manage the kneeling part.  But we did. (A soft carpet in the bedroom helps.)  And as promised, we have grown closer together and it has created more unity in our work.

7. One of the tenderest experiences on our mission has been working with the LDS Addiction Recovery Program.  I recently shared in one of our meetings a story told by Rachel Remen in her book, My Grandfather's Blessings."  Her Grandfather, an orthodox rabbi, had been telling the young Rachel the story of the first Passover.  When he got to the part where the Israelites had safely crossed the Red Sea, the young Rachel asked "Are they so very happy Grandfather?"  When the Grandfather replied that they were not very happy and even wanted to go back to Egypt, Rachel cried, "But they were suffering in Egypt.  Why would they want to go back?"  Her Grandfather explained that they knew how to suffer.  They had done it for a long, long time and they were used to it. But they did not know to be free.  He then made the  thoughtful observation, "The choice people have to make is never between slavery and freedom.  We always have to choose between slavery and the unknown.  But, whenever anyone moves toward freedom, God himself is there."  It is scary for someone with addictions to give up what they have used to cope with life's stresses and heartaches.  It is familiar.  They are used to it.  As they work the steps of the Addiction Recovery Program, they learn how to move into the unknown and toward freedom one step at a time.

8.  In the Book of Mormon, Lehi, a prophet during the time of Jeremiah in the Old Testament, is told to flee with his family from Jerusalem as it was to be destroyed. After going into the wilderness, Lehi realizes they will need to take scriptures with them if they are to remain true to the Lord.  He sends his sons back to Jerusalem to obtain the Brass Plates which contained the writings of Moses and the prophets to that point.  After two failed attempts, Nephi, Lehi's younger son, makes one last attempt by himself and is successful. In one of President Bernhisel's letters to the Raleigh Mission missionaries, he asked the question, "What would Nephi have learned by having a warm reception from Laban in trying to obtain the Brass Plates? Perhaps getting a picnic basket full of food and the request to forward fond greetings to Lehi and Sariah as they opened the gift-wrapped plates of brass would have been welcome, but would not have developed Nephi into a great leader."  As we face challenges and trials, we gain strength and learn who we really are. We have found as we strive to do things we've never done before on our mission, we find new strengths to use and new weaknesses to work on.

9. Speaking of trials, in the scriptures we read "In everything give thanks" and I always wondered, "Really? Give thanks for troubles and hardships?"  I see people struggling with heavy loads and I think, "Should they be expected to give thanks for what they are going through?"  One day, I finally understood that we are not asked to give thanks FOR the trials and hardships we encounter, but, rather, IN all things we should give thanks.  Even in the most difficult situations there are "tender mercies" that we can be grateful for--the kindness of a friend, the beauty of a sunrise, the comfort of a favorite poem or scripture.  Sometimes, the tender mercy is so personal and unexpected that we know that it is a message sent by God that He cares and He knows what we are going through.  Our burden may not be taken away, but we will feel strengthened and comforted.  This is a short clip from one of my favorite talks by Elder Bednar on tender mercies.

10. Continuing with the theme of growth through challenges, I loved the talk by Elder Zwick where he counseled us to never limit ourselves by what we think is our capacity, but to allow Heavenly Father to expand our capacity -- and that HE WOULD!  Five years ago, I was battling a rather aggressive form of Stage IV non-Hogkins Lymphoma.  When I completed my last round of chemo, my sister, Joyce, sent me a poem that I brought with me to North Carolina.

     A mighty wind blew night and day,
     It stole the oak tree's leaves right away,
     Then snapped its boughs
     and pulled its bark
     until the oak was tired and stark.    (think me -- gaunt and no hair)
     But still the oak tree held its ground
     while other trees fell all around.
     The weary wind gave up and spoke,
     "How can you still be standing, Oak?
     The oak tree said, "I know that you
     can break each branch of mine in two,
     carry every leaf away,
     shake my limbs, and make me sway.
     But I have roots stretched in the earth,
     growing stronger since my birth.
     You'll never touch them, for you see,
     They are the deepest part of me.
     Until today, I wasn't sure
     of just how much I could endure.
     But now I've found, with thanks to you,
     I'm stronger than I ever knew.

So there you have our top ten for our first 10 weeks in Jacksonville. (Although it has taken me a little longer than 10 weeks to get them typed and ready to publish).  

Like our masthead says, we are learning, serving and growing in the North Carolina Raleigh Mission.
And we're loving it!

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