Sunday, December 1, 2013

Farewell My Friends!!

I promised a few people that I would post my farewell talk on here since they weren't able to make it last week. I can't believe that I leave in 3 DAYS!!! Surprisingly I am not nervous or scared at all, I am just so excited to get out there and start serving the wonderful people of Ohio.

Farewell Talk
November 24, 2013

Growing up in this ward I remember listening to all of the departing missionaries giving their farewell talks and thinking, “Man, I am so happy I’m not a boy and I don’t have to go on a mission. Missions seem so hard and farewell talks seem really scary.” Oh if only little 10 year old me could see myself now. Apparently God had other plans for me.

President Uchtdorf once said in a general conference address:
Hope is not knowledge, 17 but rather the abiding trust that the Lord will fulfill His promise to us. It is confidence that if we live according to God’s laws and the words of His prophets now, we will receive desired blessings in the future. 18 It is believing and expecting that our prayers will be answered. It is manifest in confidence, optimism, enthusiasm, and patient perseverance.

Hope, along with faith, has been one of the guiding factors that helped me reach the decision to serve a mission. And of course, faith goes hand in hand with hope as it says in Moroni; “How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope?”
We must first have hope before we can have faith.

As I was thinking about the past year of my life, I remember one exact moment when I knew, “I am going to serve a mission.” But looking back I realized that that seed of desire to serve was planted long before that day.

I was going through lots of my old journals reflecting on different experiences in my life, and after of course some good laughs and reminiscing on a good handful of embarrassing times, I noticed that God has slowly been leading me to this point throughout my life.

First of all, I know for a fact that I would not be where I am today, as well as who I am today if it weren’t for the absolutely amazing people I have been blessed to know throughout my life; ward members, teachers, young women leaders, and most importantly my friends and family. Having three girls growing up my parents never really pushed us to go on missions in anyway, and so I had never really planned on it, or even considered it for that matter. My friends growing up in high school were the ones that first planted that seed of me wanting to serve a mission. All through high school they always knew what their first goal was after graduation; serve a mission for the Lord. None of them had ever waivered wondering if that was the right thing to do or if they even wanted to. They just knew that it was the right thing to do.  This resulted in over 20 amazing young men serving missions all around the world. Going to all of their farewells you could see their excitement and desire to serve, but that wasn’t what really pushed me to want to go. It was all of the wonderful letters that I receive from them while they were out serving. They would tell me of their wonderful stories of all of these amazing people they were meeting and what great experiences they were having. Not only were they changing other people’s lives, but also in the process, their own life was being changed. I could tell just how much these missionaries loved the people they were teaching and how their testimony was growing so much. It wasn’t just the fact that my friends all served missions, so why not join the bandwagon and do the same? It was hearing about Tibor learning about the Plan of Salvation and reading the Book of Mormon and slowly coming to find the truth of this gospel for himself; or of Betty coming back to church after 45 years; or the Chavez family all learning about the gospel and slowly working through their issues, and then getting baptized together, or even getting the opportunity to teach inmates at the prison. (Don’t worry Dad I won’t be doing that) It is all of these small experiences I was told that got me thinking, “I want to do that. I want to be able to help people remember why they’re here and change their life.” However I thought, “Ehh turning 21 is still years away for me. I don’t need to worry about making that decision for a long time.”

Little did I know that one year later, that decision would be coming much sooner than I thought. I remember all the excitement about the mission age change and I thought, “Wow! That’s so exciting! For everyone else…” I didn’t really think it affected me all that much. However, later that evening I was riding up to Salt Lake with some friends and just thinking back on what I had learned at conference when suddenly the question I had for myself popped into my head. Now most college students stress over this question about every other day, so to no surprise my question was, “What should I be doing with my life right now and where should I be headed?” I will never forget that feeling of complete surety of knowing in that very moment that I was going to serve a mission. I didn’t know when, and of course I didn’t know where, but I knew for certain that one day I would be a missionary. I got all of this excitement and just wanted to go the next day! However, “all things must come to pass in their time.” (D&C 64:32) God had a few more things in store for me before I was ready for a mission.

One month later I got accepted to the International Learning Program where I was fortunate enough to go and teach English in Ukraine for 3 ½ months. Now between the time I had received the surety that serving a mission was right for me and leaving for Ukraine was about 7 months. Which meant I had a lot of time to think, which isn’t always the greatest thing for me. I started to have doubts on whether serving a mission was the right path for me to go, or if I could even handle missionary work. The Lord truly does hear our prayers and knows our concerns. In order to answer mine though he had to send me across the world to Ukraine. I’m so grateful that He did though because what I learned there and the experiences I had became the largest deciding factor for me and I will cherish for the rest of my life.

When I moved to Ukraine it was the first time that I had ever lived in a place that wasn’t largely populated with Mormons. I grew up here in Gilbert, which is pretty much the Provo of Arizona, then decided to spread my wings and go to college…in the most densely Mormon populated town in the world, Rexburg. Upon arriving to Ukraine it was quite the culture shock. I didn’t know the area, I didn’t know anyone there (besides my best friend that came with me), and most importantly I didn’t know the language. My first thought was, “What did I get myself into?” I remember praying to Heavenly Father that first night and pleading with Him for his help, guidance, and protection over the next few months. I knew that I would not be able to go through this without Him. Multiple instances proved that He truly heard my plea to him that night and was my constant companion.

The most significant day to me out of that entire time over there, was May 10. (Now a few parents in the congregation don’t know this story in it’s entirety, but just keep in mind that we are home safely now.) I was fortunate enough to have my best friend Toree come with me on this grand adventure, and what a blessing that was. I was so lucky to get permission from the mission president to see Stephanie while I was over there. One weekend we took a train all night and arrived in Khmelnitsky at 4:00 am. We were a little unsure of what to do and decided that our safest bet would be to just sleep in the train station until the sun came up. Around 5:30 we decide to head out to go find our hotel. (Our host Mom had given us a map, in Russian, to help us out) I thought we were actually doing pretty well, until about 45 minutes later when we realized that we had absolutely no idea where we were. Now unlike my other two sisters, I have been blessed with a very good sense of direction. This was the first time in my life that I had ever truly been completely lost. Trying to keep cool so that Toree didn’t realize that I had absolutely no plan, we just kept walking. We tried asking people for directions, only to be reminded that we in fact do not speak Ukrainian, no one speaks English, and trying to get directions through a game of charades is probably harder than actually learning Ukrainian. We kept walking and walking and our bags got heavier and heavier. We tried to use our phones to call anyone, but of course those weren’t working.  Finally we both just sat down on a curb with absolutely no clue of where we were, or what we were going to do. I’m pretty sure I seemed much calmer to Toree, but my mind was complete panic and chaos. I mentally said a very heartfelt prayer to Heavenly Father. I told Him that we were completely in His hands and in His guidance. We were lost on the other side of the world, we couldn’t communicate with anyone, and we had no plan. I knew that He was our only hope. We decided to keep walking and we make it to a bus stop on a busier street. My first thought was, “No way are we getting on a bus. Who knows where that will take us? We will just be even more lost than we already are, if that was possible.” We sat on the bench and I had the odd impression to look through my pictures on my phone. Really, at a time like this? But there wasn’t exactly a plan B so I followed the prompting. Going through them I found picture of an e-mail I had saved from Stephanie a few weeks back. She had given me directions on how to find a hotel near her apartment and how to pronounce, in Russian, what to say to a taxi driver. It was a tiny little miracle, but it felt as big as the crossing of the Red Sea to us that morning. After trying to track down a taxi, then struggling to get the taxi driver to understand my very Americanized Russian, we were finally on our way to safety. I have never been more relieved in my life than when we pulled up to that hotel. By this time we had been lost for probably about 3 hours, but it had felt like it had been about 3 days to me.

Later that evening we met up with Stephanie. I have never been so happy to see a familiar face in my life. Of course she still had to be a missionary while we were there, so she just got two more companions to tag along with her. I realized that I had some very big misconceptions about being a missionary. One of which being that all missionaries, once they took that first step into the MTC turned into these missionary machines and were in complete, intense missionary mode 24/7. Seeing Stephanie as a missionary I was able to realize that missionaries are still normal people, they just have a much more spiritual and important purpose.  Later that night in my journal I wrote:

 [Journal excerpt]
"I had so much to thank Heavenly Father for tonight!! We have been so extremely blessed and watched over whole we have been in Ukraine! This morning especially! We were so extremely grateful to find that hotel this morning. And grateful that we had actually made it to Khmelnitsky and nothing bad happened to us while we were lost. After I thanked Heavenly Father profusely for everything, I asked about me serving a mission. Throughout the day it had constantly been on my mind. I was watching Stephanie be a missionary and saw just exactly what it was and what they do. My perspective of what a mission was like was completely wrong. I thought that missionaries were in intense missionary mode 24/7 and were completely different people. That's not how it is at all! They are still normal people! They just have an important calling to spread the Lord's gospel and that is their main focus. They still talk about cute clothes they see or have funny, random inside jokes. It was so comforting to see this, and it was EXACTLY what I needed!! I asked Heavenly Father if going on a mission when I got home from Ukraine was the right thing for me to do. I was a little hesitant in asking because deep down I already knew the answer to that question. As soon as I asked it I was immediately overcome by peace and comfort and knew that that is what Heavenly Father wanted me to do . After spending the day with Stephanie I was way less scared and knew that I was capable of going on a mission. AFter living inUkraine just this little bit, I feel like there isn't anything I can't do. This morning when we were getting ready I was talking to Toree and I said, "I feel like when we get home, no matter how hard life gets, I can think, 'At least I'm not list in Ukraine!'" And it is so true! One of the biggest things I have learned while on this adventure is that: I can do hard things!!"

That is what Heavenly Father needed me to learn. I can do hard things. In this one day I had been completely at the mercy of my Heavenly Father, with no plan of my own, to deciding for the last time that without a doubt, serving a mission was the right thing for me.

I loved the rest of my time in Ukraine so much, but no other day has stuck with me as much as that day has. I met many more amazing people, had lots more experiences that were perfect preparation for a mission, and came to realize the importance and blessing of being able to share the gospel. However, I will always be grateful for that day of getting lost in Khmelnitsky.

Growing up I have been incredibly blessed throughout my life in so many areas. Although I have struggled with different health issues, that has never been able to get in the way of accomplishing my goals and living my life to the fullest extent. I have been blessed with amazing, supportive parents, sisters that I can call my best friends, and best friends that are like family. Looking back I have realized all the many blessings that the Lord has blessed me with. How could I ever repay Heavenly Father for the amazing life that He has allowed me to live? I never truly can. But I can try. Dedicating 18 months to serve a mission seems like such a small price compared to what God and Christ have done for me. There is no better way to show Heavenly Father my gratitude, then by going and serving His children.

For when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.  (Mosiah 2:17)

Now while all of these different experiences and impressions helped me decide to serve a mission, I know for a fact that I could not have done any of those things or even had the opportunity to do those things, if it weren’t for my absolutely amazing family. They are my very best friends. Erin is always there for me to talk to about anything. I have always looked up to Stephanie for how she lives her life and who she is.  She has always been the greatest example to me and been one of my biggest supporters. My mother has always had such a deep love and devotion to this church. She loves this gospel, she loves all the members, and she even loves all of her church callings. She has taught me how to be loving and caring to everyone I meet. I know that I have my father to thank for all of the amazing experiences and opportunities I have had throughout my life. I’m so grateful that my parents have given all of their daughters the chance to leave the nest go and experience the world for themselves. My dad has been the greatest example to me of service. He is the most selfless person I know. My dad has always had many sayings and snip-its of advice for his girls, but I think that the most important one that he has taught me is to “Work hard, and always be nice.” I am so happy that I have had the support of my incredible family throughout my life and that I have them supporting me throughout my mission.

A few years ago I was blessed to have a very wonderful Sunday school teacher. One day he had given me a note he had written for me, and one line has stayed with me to this day,

“The Lord needs you on His side.”

 How true that is. The Lord needs me on His side. The Lord needs you on His side. He needs us all on His side. This world is becoming more and more corrupt each day and He needs more righteous followers to bring His light and His truth to His children.

I know that this gospel is true and that it brings more happiness in this life than anything else. I know that Joseph Smith is a true prophet and that he translated The Book of Mormon for all of us to have today. I know that we can find answers to our prayers and comfort and guidance through reading and searching the scriptures each day. I know that Heavenly Father loves each and everyone of us and that he truly does hear our prayers. 

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