Saturday, March 17, 2012

Lander, WY: Prayer of the Children

Lander, of the best places on this earth. I couldn't have started out in a better area, and I couldn't have had better companions there (Elder Goff and Elder Catron). The people I met were incredible. I learned so much from my ward leaders and from the people we taught.

Upon getting to my first area, I discovered quickly that a  mission was much different than what I thought it would be. On my first day, we knocked on a door where an older lady answered and immediately said, "I don't want any." We tried to inform her we weren't selling anything, but she proceeded to yell "I DON'T WANT ANY!", "I DON'T WANT ANY!" repeatedly...She really didn't want any...yet!

As missionaries, we can easily spend 13-16 hours a day doing some of the hardest work possible. I started to really work hard in Lander, and we had a lot of fun doing it most of the time. We labored diligently in an attempt to share the incredible message of the restored gospel, but we seemed to gain very little footing. Some days, it seemed that no matter what we would do, it was never enough. Some days I felt like giving up. Some days, I asked myself "what on Earth am I doing here?" Some days, even now, when the going gets tough, I may falter and ask myself that question again. But, whenever I do, I recall an incredible experience that happened on a cool and rainy spring morning in Lander. I remember what I refer to as: The day I felt the 'Prayer of the Children'.

After weeks of disappointment and struggles, the Lord let me know why I was out here. On this particular morning, I was really down. I was having my personal study, and I found myself praying silently, pleading for help, while some music played in the background. The song changed, and I felt a shift in the room. I listened up and heard these words beautifully sung: 

Can you hear the prayer of the children on bended knee, in the shadow of an unknown room? Empty eyes with no more tears to cry turning heavenward toward the light. Crying," Jesus, help me to see the morning light of one more day, but if I should die before I wake, I pray my soul to take."
My first thoughts turned selfishly inward. I thought, "'s talking about me." But then I felt the distinct impression that I needed to really listen (Mark 7:16). The song continued...
 Can you feel the hearts of the children aching for home, for something of their very own. Reaching hands with nothing to hold onto but hope for a better day, a better day. Crying," Jesus, help me to feel the love again in my own land, but if unknown roads lead away from home, give me loving arms, away from harm."
At this moment, I felt, just as it said, the hearts of Gods children, in Lander, WY and in the Montana Billings Mission aching for something more. They want to get back home, to God. It reminded me how I felt on that fateful night I finally cried out for help a few years prior. I heard the cries, and I wanted so much to answer their call. I realized I possessed for what these people yearned. I had the Gospel in it's fullness, and they needed me to find them and share it.
Can you hear the voice of the children softly pleading for silence in their shattered world? Angry guns preach a gospel full of hate, blood of the innocent on their hands. Crying," Jesus, help me to feel the sun again upon my face? For when darkness clears, I know you're near, bringing peace again."
 I realized how this Gospel gives peace in this hostile world. I knew that what I had was a gift from God. I needed to share it, at all costs, because it is the only thing that brings "peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come" (D&C 59:23). I felt something grow inside of me. I felt the most sincere desire to do all I could, even if it seemed like everyone was going to say, "I don't want any!" I was going to give it my best, and do what I could to invite others to Christ. That's what I have sought to do each day since that misty morning, and I have experienced so much joy and happiness (D&C 18:16). Can you hear the prayer of the children?

Coming soon! Lewistown, MT: Late Night in Zion...

Friday, March 16, 2012

Provo MTC: Lead, Kindly Light...

The MTC...what an experience! Being surrounded by thousands of young men and women anxious to get out and preach the Gospel was amazing. But before the MTC, there was the heart breaking moments of "See ya in two years!"

Saying goodbye to the family was pretty tough, especially to my nephews and nieces. I remember dropping off one of my nephews at his school that morning and giving him a final hug. I watched him trod off slowly, his heavy backpack swaying as he moved, head sunk down crying. For anyone who has spent more than five minutes with me, you know exactly what I did...bawled like a baby. Talk about a tear jerker...

A few hours later I was thrown in the mix of the MTC, and I soon found out what my mission was going to be like. All the sadness of saying goodbye was swallowed up in the joy of meeting a group of Elders that has changed my life. I hadn't spent very much time around other active LDS people up to that point in my life. It was an eye opener to have 7 exemplary Elders show me that Mormons aren't as bad as I thought. In fact, they are pretty legit! (Confusing? maybe, but I was inactive most of my life.) My MTC experience was incredible to say the least. The growth in testimony: the friendships forged; the genuine fun had was a springboard propelling me into this awesome mission adventure.

Like I said, I wasn't very active before my mission, so I didn't know many hymns. Luckily, Elder Houston, my missionary companion in the MTC (and later on...we'll get there) is an amazing singer and introduced me to quite a few goodies. One in particular reminds me of the MTC every time I hear it: "Lead, Kindly Light".
"Lead, kindly light amid the encircling gloom; lead thou me on! The night is dark and I am far from home, lead thou me on! Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see the distant scene one step enough for me."
This verse describes pretty well how I felt going into the MTC. I didn't know what to expect, and it was so hard for me to finally get there. But I wanted to do what the Lord wanted me to do. I asked for His help, and He got me there. I was finally saying to the Good Shepard, "I'll go where you want me to go..." (I still struggle with wanting to see the distant scene though...haha).

"I was not ever thus, nor prayed that thou shouldst lead me on. I loved to choose and see my path; but now, lead thou me on! I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears, pride ruled my will. Remember not past years."
 I've said it many times before: I never wanted to go on a mission growing up. It wasn't a thought for me. I was going to do what I wanted to do, and for a long time I did. I lived a life contrary to the commandments of God, and with that came consequences that were more than I could handle alone. I thank God every day that He opened my eyes and gave me this chance to change. It was in the MTC that I gained a testimony that the only way to true joy and happiness is through Jesus Christ. I'm grateful He 'remember(s) not past years'.

"So long thy power hath blest me, sure it still will lead me on o'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till the night is gone. And with the morn those angel faces smile, which I have loved long since, and lost a while!"
Although the MTC was incredibly fun and uplifting, it was full of challenges as well. I missed my nephews and nieces so much. I had been with them nearly every day of their lives. The thought of not seeing them for two years was difficult to say the least. This verse told me the Lord would help me endure all challenges, including being away from my best friends. He had brought me through hellish torment before, and He would get me through every trial and difficulty till the 'morn' that I will see the 'angel faces' of my nephews and nieces 'smile'. He will continue to help me until I see Him as He is. I know that for those who put their trust in Jesus Christ, and "...keep (His) commandments and endure to the end (they) shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God." (Doc. & Cov. 14:7)

Here is a beautiful version of this classic hymn. Lander, WY: Prayer of the Children is coming soon...stay tuned! 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Beginning of the End...

Missions end. It's just the way it is. We return home to the life we put on hold with a wealth of experiences that have eternally changed us. How can one sum up two years of teaching, preaching, learning, growing, etc. into a few paragraphs? Impossible! So over the next few weeks (with the assistance of music of course) I will write posts about each of the areas in which I have served and some of the experiences I've had here in the marvelous Montana Billings Mission. Stay tuned for Part 1: Provo MTC

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Shhhh! Don't Say That Word...

Trials, disappointments, sadness, sickness, and heartache. These things, which we are all prone to experiencing, can be summed up into one word, which may be a bit of a taboo word for some: Adversity. 

It comes from different sources, whether that be our own prideful disobedience (my default setting), or the natural results of life. However it may come, it is how we respond to adversity that determines whether it brings us closer, or further away from God. I love the words of Walt Disney on the topic: "All the adversity I've had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me... You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you."

Here are a few words from members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on their views of adversity.

Elder Wahl (LDS missionary): "Adversity helps me to be humble. It helps me remember that it's the Lord on whom I must rely."

 Dani (recent convert): "I think what has helped me most to get through the hard times is knowing that what I live through is nothing compared to what Jesus did for us. He suffered so that we can live with God one day."

Dana (lifelong member): "I'm grateful for adversity because it drops me to my knees. I've learned to love my Father more in my struggles, to trust him more in my adversities, to feel his love more in my challenges, than I ever do during the good times. In fact, it keeps my heart open and humble and full of love and charity. Sometimes when things are good, I'll skip along my way with a little "Fa la la la la" in my step and just kinda oblivious to life. Adversity slows me down and shakes me a little as if to say, "Focus up, girl!" The best part is that I've learned to feel every great and wonderful and desirable feeling even in the midst of great difficulty."

One response to adversity should be constant-we must trust in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. No matter what our struggle may be, God will help us through it. The Prophet Alma taught, "Whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day" (Alma 36:3)

I know that scripture is true because I have experienced it for myself. You can do it. You can make it through whatever adversity you now face. You will be able to look back on this time in your life and smile. The lessons you are learning will prepare you to meet and overcome more adversity in the future. Trust in God, and let the peace flow in.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

I Dislike Making Decisions...

Making choices; not a strong point of mine. I tend to procrastinate as long as possible before I come to any conclusion as to what direction I should take. There has been a decision looming in the back of my mind. I kept saying, "I'm a missionary. I can worry about that later." Then a few weeks ago, someone reminded me that I needed to make a decision, and I needed to do it right quick! What is the decision? Where on this earth to I finish up my schooling?!?

If I go to school A, I won't be close to my family. If I go to this school B, I won't be in the exact program I want. If go to school C, I may not get into the graduate program I want. If I go to get it. What to do? Where to go? What to sacrifice? This has been racking my brain, which I haven't liked as I am supposed to be focusing on missionary work. So I had a little heart-to-heart with the Man upstairs. You know what He told me? I need to figure it out myself. Not what I wanted to hear...

My mind went to a scripture found in the Doctrine and Covenants. In section 6, the Lord reveals to us a pattern that we can use to obtain revelation, or divine guidance, from our Father in Heaven. We find the template in verses 7 and 8. 
"you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But...I say unto you, that you must study it out in your own mind;
Study it out in your own head: weigh the options, list pros and cons, play out scenarios, seek counsel from others, the list goes on. Yes, we can pray and ask for help along the way, but God gave us noggins for a reason. We can put our mind to the task and think it out. Then, once we feel we have the correct choice, we can take it to our Father in Heaven in prayer. We can share with Him how we intend to act, and ask if it is the right choice. The scripture tells us the promise that, "if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right."

I know that this pattern works, because I have used it time and time again and experienced it for myself. So where am I going to school? I don't know exactly. After pondering it out in my mind, Heavenly Father helped me to see that I wasn't even to that decision yet. I was able to figure out that I have a lot of options, and that all I need to do for now is apply to the schools I am interested in. Then I can make a more concrete decision when I get home. I'm grateful that Heavenly Father doesn't tell me exactly what I need to do. He allows me to grow by using my own mind (even though I have limited cognitive ability). I know that this same pattern can work for you!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I'm Glad They Called Me On A Mission!

It was a bit of a surreal week for me. I turned 26...that may not seem very old to some people. But, I feel old. (Attention: people who are older than me, please don't take offense! I'll try to explain.) This was possibly the biggest concern I had about coming out on a mission nearly 2 years ago.

In reality, I had a million reasons I didn't want to come out on a mission. Being 26 when I got home was a big one though. I had all these things thought up:

Who wants to postpone joy?
  1. In school, I was doing exceptionally well (straight A's!!!). I finally start to do well and I put it off for two years?
  2. The relationship I had with my family was the best it had ever been. I wouldn't see my nephew's and niece's.
  3. I was starting to finally get my feet under me and I was headed in a good direction. Wasn't I doing good enough? 
  4. I really wanted to find a wifey and start a family. 
     A mission meant postponing or losing many opportunities besides just these ones listed. It meant putting what I wanted on hold, and I didn't want to do that! Who does that? Who wants to do that? Not me! Well....

    It was a tough thing for me to come to terms with, and I struggled with the decision to come on a mission for quite a while. (To read more about how I came to the decision of going on a mission, click here.)
    But I finally made the decision and did all that I had to do to get out here. The call letter came, I opened it, and it said I was coming to Montana. My life has been changed forever because of that.

    I had all these reasons to not come on a mission, and I'm sure each and every prospective missionary has ones that are a lot more legitimate than mine. In fact, I know many do. I am so privileged to serve with amazing young men and women who have given up so much to be out here: Going without seeing their families for two years or more (sometimes siblings leave for missions right before they get home); Missing the hunting season; College athletes giving up scholarships; leaving behind pretty lady friends whilst returned missionaries are waiting to swoop in; parents, grandparents, and siblings passing away; the list goes on and on.

    We missionaries all have weaknesses. We aren't the best teachers in the world. But we have been called by a prophet of God to share what we know. We know our message is true. That's why I'm out here doing what I do. That's why tens of thousands of other young men and women are serving as well. We know that Jesus Christ really was born of Mary in Bethlehem. We know that Jesus did perform the Atonement and that through Him, all mankind can be saved by obedience to the first principles and ordinances of the gospel. That's all someone needs to know to come out on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    I have received so many blessings for serving a mission. It's amusing to me to see how pretty much all of my concerns I had with coming out here have been resolved.
    1. I'm going to do so much better with school. I'll be taking higher level courses and the study habits I have learned as a missionary will help me to do well in those.
    2. I have been away from the family for nearly two years. I appreciate them so much more now and I know I will treat them even better. Our relationships will be much stronger.
    3. The growth that has taken place in these short 21 months would have taken a lifetime to achieve. I'm so much further ahead of the person I would have been if I had not served a mission. This is the best path I could be on.
    4. I will be a much better father and husband because of the experiences and growth that have taken place as a missionary.
    I know that serving a mission is the best decision I have ever made in my life. It's going to set the stage for the rest of my existence. Oh, and I don't feel all that old anymore. Missionary work seems to be the fountain of youth (because I hang around a bunch of 19-21 year old missionaries every day). (It could be that, or that I'm really immature for my age.)

    I know that serving a mission is the best decision I have ever made. I've sacrificed a lot to be here, but so have many others. We are all receiving so much more in return. But as with all things, we should ask God if its what we should do.

        Friday, November 25, 2011

        More Than a Mighty Change of Hair...Part 3!!!

        I was pretty hesitant to share this part of the story because it is something that I have held very close to my heart. It's gotten me through very difficult times and has pushed me to never return to where I was. I have prayed about it, and feel that it can be helpful to someone. So...

        Beautiful St. George, UT
        It was a tradition in my family that my siblings wrangle up their spouses and kiddos and head down to St. George, Utah to turkey it up at my parents. I love St. George so much because this is where my spiritual rebirth began to take place.The house was just starting to get packed as we awaited our feast. I was still really sick and not feeling my best. But I had to put on a good show, because it was time to be Uncle Elder Ika.

        I have the greatest nephews and nieces anyone could ask for. They are my joy and happiness. Being away from them while serving a mission is definitely in the top three most difficult things I have had to go through. I have always been close to them. They were my first reason that I wanted to change and be better. It's because of the love I had for them, and them for me.

        At the end of a very tiring and physically trying day, we set up shop in the living room to watch a movie. I had my little sweet pea (one of my nieces) as well as her two goofy brothers. We popped up some corn and started to watch the movie "Meet the Robinsons". We laughed and had a good time all the way through it. I remember how happy I felt as I listened to the laughs of these little tikes that I love so much. I remember their smiles and the hug that my little sweet pea gave me right before she fell asleep in my arms. The movie was just about to a close when I realized that my two nephews were asleep as well.

        I was about to get up and turn the movie off, but a song started to play. I love music, and it didn't sound too bad, so I decided to listen to it. Here are the lyrics:

        Let it go,                                                               Let it slide,                                                      All of my regret
        Let it roll right off your shoulder                            Let your troubles fall behind you                     Will wash away some how
        Don't you know                                                     Let it shine                                                       But I can not forget
        The hardest part is over                                        Until you feel it all around you                         The way I feel right now
        Let it in,                                                               And I don't mind
        Let your clarity define you                                    If it's me you need to turn to
        In the end                                                            We'll get by,
        We will only just remember how it feels               It's the heart that really matters in the end

        The lowest of low...
        As I heard the words to this song, I felt something burning within me (nope, not heart burn). I was enveloped in love. I looked around me and saw three little angels, my two nephews and my niece. I felt a greater love for them than ever before. I now know that I was surrounded not only by those visible angels, but also angels unseen. I know my nephews and nieces who hadn't been born yet were there. My Grandparents who passed away years earlier, as well as many others, came to buoy me up.

        In that moment, I knew the hardest part was over. I knew that I could put all the negative behind me. It was at that moment that I knew that all of the regret, disappointment, shame, guilt, sorrow, and every other thing that was weighing me down, could be washed away. I didn't understand how, but I knew that I would find out. I prayed and thanked God for my nephews and niece. I prayed and thanked Him for everything. I gave the most sincere prayer of Thanksgiving I have ever given Him.
        To happier than I have ever been!

         A few years later and Pow!, here I am. I'm a missionary from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My life was transformed. God changed my life and gave me what I always wanted: true peace and lasting happiness. He continues to do that for me. I know that God can do the same for you. He will help you to overcome any weakness you have. He loves you. Don't take my word for it. Ask God what He can do for you.