Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"I know I need to live it. I just don't want to"

*Editor's Note: While the story below is true, the investigator's name has been changed.

SAN DIEGO — For today, I just wanted to tell you two things that have been on my mind. The first is about our investigator, *Suzy.  Suzy is an investigator I have been teaching since the summer. We have had a lot of ups and downs together, and let me just say nothing has changed!


February 26, 2012

It is amazing the highs and lows you have as a missionary. I suppose that is just life really. Looking back on my journal, I know that many of these pages are filled with the success and triumphs as well as failures and disappointments while teaching Suzy.

I can still remember the first time I taught her with Sister Nelson, I had no idea what she was saying, and frankly, I don't think she did either. As I fast forward in my mind, I can see the night that Sister Kennington called me as we were on exchanges practically squealing that she had just taught Suzy the Restoration, and all she could say was, "I get it. I get it. I get it!"

I fast forward again and clear as day I can see the light growing brighter in Suzy's countenance as she prays, reads, and agrees to live the commandments.  Then the moment we taught her the Law of Chastity leaps off the pages of my memory — I can still feel the disappointment, and the sadness as Sister Kennington and I realized that she was not willing to change, I can still hear the words, "I know I need to live it, but I just don't want to".

Again, I fast forward to yesterday and there I was, sitting in the teaching room at the Battalion with tears spilling down my face as I recalled the conversation we had just had with Suzy just a few days before about choosing this day whom she would serve. She had made her decision not to follow Heavenly Father, and there I sat staring at the cell phone, knowing that God expected me to account to her for her decision. My heart broke as I dialed her number, as the message machine picked up, and as I had to leave her a message telling her that because she chose not to follow Heavenly Father, there was nothing Sister Kennington and I could teach her that would matter if she wouldn't follow God anyway.

I struggled with myself that night. We had been fasting for Suzy. We had been praying for her. Studying for her. I knew I could not doubt God, for if there is one thing I know without a doubt. HE KNOWS BEST.

This morning came, and I struggled to have high spirits, for the sting of her decision was still weighing on my soul. How could she not choose Heavenly Father? I was in my own mind, thinking about that as we were driving to church as I looked down, and my breath caught. The screen on the cell phone was blinking: incoming call-Suzy. I answered the phone, thank goodness she could not see my face, for both Sis Kennington and I both had mixtures of curiosity, dread, and pure excitement on our faces.

She told us that she was in the church parking lot and wanted to know where we were.

I can't explain entirely the lesson I learned this week. But that does remind me of the second thing I wanted to tell you that I learned this week.  I was watching the church DVD called, "On the Lord's Errand" the other morning. It is a biography of President Thomas S. Monson. There is one comment that President Monson said that has had more impact on my mind than I ever knew could.

I probably won't be able to say it as good as he did, but I will give it a try. He said, " I want to be the kind of person that the Lord can turn to me and say, "I can ask Tommy, he will run my errand."

I have thought about that a lot this week. I think of the people that I can rely on to help me with the things that I need. I also think of those that honestly I wouldn't ever ask, because I know they would let me down. What kind of servant am I? What kind of servant are you?  Are you more focused on doing what you want in the way that you want at the time that you want? Or are you the kind of servant that has given your will to God. A servant that your Heavenly Father can turn to and say, I can ask (so and so), they will run my errand? Think about that. I know I have, and there are some things I need to change in my life.

Prayer is real. God is real. And He can only give us power according to our faith.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Preparedness, prayer, and the Ten Virgins

SAN DIEGO —I am kind of scatter brained right now. This morning Sis Kennington and I were at Zone Leader Council with Elder Zwick from the Seventy. He is touring our mission this week, and President Clayton picked Sister Kennington and I as the missionaries he interviewed afterward. I have a lot of thoughts and stories I want to share with you from the Past 2 days he has been touring the mission. Here is an excerpt from my journal about what happened yesterday-

February 20, 2012

Sister Kennington was starting a tour tonight. We were just about to start when I looked up, I being the one who was facing the front door, and saw our director, Elder Seegmiller, running up the stairs with the most frantic face I have ever seen. It was as though he had just seen a ghost or something. He waved me to come out of the tour with the frantic look on his face intensifying.

I am not one to get nervous, but seeing that look on his face, I have to admit, my heart started racing a little bit. Elder Seegmiller explained to me that he had woken up from his regular "p-day nap" to a voice mail from President Clayton explaining that they would be arriving at the Battalion any minute to inspect the sisters apartments (Mind you, they had told us they would be inspecting our apartments, but they told us it would not be until Friday this week). He asked for all the sisters' spare keys, and then disappeared to go meet President and Elder Zwick. News spreads fast at the Battalion, and I quietly watched as sisters became aware that their apartments may be inspected. Some of their faces showed their anxiety. I swear I could even see a green tint a few of them.

Are you as ready as you could be? (Matt 25:1-13)

One of the sisters voiced how unfair it was that he was coming today instead of Friday because they hadn't been able to prepare. I have to admit, I got a little anxious as I reviewed in my mind how our apartment had looked as we left it that morning. Thankfully, I had full confidence that it was clean enough, as Sister Kennington and I always have things picked up and cleaned.

I was thinking about that this morning as I was reading in the Doctrine and Covenants 33:16-17

"And the Book of Mormon and the holy scriptures are given for your instruction; and the power of my spirit quickeneth all things. Wherefore, be faithful, praying always, having your lamps trimmed and burning and oil with you that you may be ready at the coming of the Bridegroom. For behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, that I come quickly."
It was a wake-up call this morning as I thought of what happened with the apartment checks. As I was reading this scripture, I imagined President Monson announcing to the world: Christ is coming, He will visit the earth tonight, and judge every one according to their works.

I wonder what the world would do? Would some complain of the unfairness that Christ did not give them enough notice? Would some be anxious and green in the face at the prospect of the Savior inspecting their thoughts? Their actions? Would some run around frantically trying to fix things they would have done differently? Would we spend more time with our families? Would we read from the scriptures? Would we treasure the opportunity to repent? I hope and pray that we all would be able to take a minute to reflect on our lives and feel a sense of relief that we had done all we could do.

I want to share one more thing that Elder Zwick shared with Sister Kennington and I. We were able to have an interview with him. After the interview, he let us ask him any question. I asked him what is one thing that he has learned now that he wished he would have known when he was my age. He told us he wished he would have understood the power of prayer.

He then told us a story of when President Packer was younger, there was a huge flood that was destroying his property. President Packer called up Elder Zwick (before he was a general authority) and asked if he could bring some machinery over to help save the property and a bridge he and his sons had built. Elder Zwick went right over. As others were trying to save the bridge, Pres Packer drove he and Elder Zwick up a hill where there was a pond and some trees. President Packer told him that this is the place where he came many times to pray. He asked Elder Zwick, "Where is your pond?" 

I thought about that for myself. Elder Zwick kept saying, "I wish I had learned to prepare to pray."

This is what he meant. We need to prepare our hearts and our minds, we need to prepare the right environment as well, so that we can communicate more clearly with Heavenly Father. So today, I want to ask all of you reading this: Do you have a pond?

If you answered no, Please, find one! Heavenly Father wants to talk with you. Prayer is so much more than kneeling down sleepy, and puffy eyed at night and mumbling a few words and then jumping into bed without even listening for the answer. Believe me, coming from experience, that does not work. Prayer is powerful, it is sacred, it is real. God is there. He WILL answer us if we prepare to talk and to listen to him.

I have one more story to tell you. In the middle of Zone Conference today, Elder Zwick asked us if we would like to stand up. All of us of course took the opportunity to stretch our legs. Then Elder Zwick got a big smile on his face and told us a story. He explained that when he was first called into the Seventy, he was sitting in the temple with the Apostles and other members of the Seventy and it was a pretty small room. In the middle of the meeting, President Hinckley said, "let's stand" and then Elder Faust said, "Yeah, lets stand for something."

When I write you each week, that is what I hope you desire to do- to stand for something! There is more to our life than just living and breathing. Yes, work, friends, and fun is part of it, but does not even come close to our role in life. If anything, I hope you take an inventory of your life, and decide today if you have your priorities straight. If Christ came tonight would you be ready?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Less actives, Church tech, and forever without force

SAN DIEGO — Happy Valentines Day! Hope you are having a good one!:)

I got the email from Dad about Mormon Battalion Day. That was cool:) I have to say my quote wasn't very profound- oops! Sometimes, I just run out of cool words to say! When you've been out so long, unfortunately the everyday miracles that happen fade into just everyday events. I am trying so hard to get my "greenie" perspective back, but it is hard work, I tell you! I guess that is something I will have to watch out for when I get home as well. Falling into that trap of seeing every day as another day, and forgetting that it is 24 more hours to become like the Savior and see his Atonement work in the world. What a miracle just that itself is!

I have a few random things I wanted to tell you about this week:

In our area, we have been struggling so much with finding new people to teach. We are teaching Oliver, who is getting baptized in March and that is pretty much it. But Heavenly Father has sent us so many less-actives to teach. I have found a new love for rescuing those that have lost their way a little bit. Oh, I wish I was better at that when I was at home!

Two of the people we are working with are preparing for missions now. It is so amazing to see the Atonement work! We were teaching Paul last week how to teach the Restoration. We had to help him learn Joseph's account of what happened with hand actions (that was pretty funny), and then committed him to have it completely memorized by the next time we saw him. We were meeting with him this week and asked him to teach us the Restoration, he got a "Pshhhh, that is so easy" look on his face and totally recited the whole thing! It was so great!

We were helping a member with the exact same thing just yesterday and as we were leaving his house, he told us about Whitney Houston passing away. As a tribute, Sister Kennington and I belted "I will always love you" on our way out to the car. Lesson 1 of being a missionary: you have to learn how to laugh and enjoy every second!

Speaking of Oliver, He is doing SO GREAT. He is so solid. He lives with a member who has really exotic pets. Last time we were there, they were showing us their parrots. The great big one hates girls and will bite you if you get to close. Yesterday when we were walking up to the house to teach him, the big parrot was on her perch on the front door. We started walking up and she jumped at us, (and you knowing how scared I am of birds) and I hid behind Sister Kennington like a little girl. So she, being the brave one, held up her bag over her head and ran to the door bell so we could get inside. It is those silly moments I wish I could take a snapshot of and send home to you.

We are also being trained on using CHAT. The church is trying to help us missionaries stop using "19th century techniques in a 21st century world", so they are training us on teaching lessons over the phone, texting, and online. We at the Visitors Center also are learning how to use the chat feature on mormon.org to chat online with people all over the world who have questions. Just yesterday as we were being trained, a man from Europe got on and told us about how hopeless he felt. His wife had just left him, he lost his job, and he was worried about his little daughter. We taught him about Jesus Christ and how His Gospel could lift and strenghten him. It was so amazing. We have another appointment set up. Technology can be such a blessing!

Sister Kennington and I been talking a lot about how Satan has such a tight grasp on the world today. There was an older gentlemen giving a talk on Sunday, and was talking about how marriage in the world is "till death do you part". Sister Kennington and I looked at each other, it was sad to see in her eyes, a reflection of what I was thinking and feeling inside — it may have been true that in the past, people were married "till death do you part", but Satan now has twisted the world so that they truly believe that they can be married forever without someone who holds the permission from God to do that.

Now as missionaries today, when we preach about families being together forever, they say I already have that. When we talk about Jesus Christ, they either believe that they are saved by grace alone, or they don't need Jesus Christ, they can do it on their own. Just yesterday, we had a former investigator look us in the eyes after he felt the Spirit with its full force testify of the reality of Christ, and still, he said, "I don't want Jesus in my life." It's really sad. Thats all I know what to say. The thing is, who is Satan to think he can win? Families CAN be together forever, the Gospel HAS been restored. Jesus Christ IS real. I know that more now than I ever have in my life.

I hope you all know how much I love you. I pray for you everyday. I wish I could talk individually with every single one of you, all of you who read this, and share with you the miracles I see every day, the testimony I have been given, and the truth I get to teach. It's real. You can do hard things. God loves you!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

God is the Gardener

SAN DIEGO — Another week has come and gone. It has finally gotten cooler, which helps remind me that time is passing. When the sun shines everyday of the year, sometime it feels as though I am repeating July 12 months straight!

This week has honestly been so hard. As a missionary, the work seems to be compared to a roller coaster ride. There are moments when we have so many people to teach, many progressing, we are finding, and teaching, and the work is moving forward. Then the adversary notices what is going on, and tries his best to derail us. You know the part in The Book of Mormon when the Lamanites are taught and thousands turn their hearts back to God and are baptized? At the same time, the Nephites harden their hearts past feeling that not even the Gospel can penetrate their hearts? I am beginning to believe that I am living the same story that was written in The Book of Mormon, though I am the missionary trying to teach the Nephites.

I have been truly humbled this week. I realize for the past 8 months of my mission, I have not fully allowed Heavenly Father shape me into who I need to be. I have squirmed, and protested, and fought back a little bit, when the times got tough, and I felt the heat of the refiner's fire. I was thinking about what Heavenly Father is trying to teach me, and what lessons I need to learn to be a better missionary, daughter, sister, and future wife and mother.

As I was sitting in Zone Leader Council this week, President Clayton answered my question by reading us a talk by Hugh. B. Brown.


"You sometimes wonder whether the Lord really knows what He ought to do with you. You sometimes wonder if you know better than He does about what you ought to do and ought to become. I am wondering if I may tell you a story that I have told quite often in the Church.

It is a story that is older than you are. It’s a piece out of my own life, and I’ve told it in many stakes and missions. It has to do with an incident in my life when God showed me that he knew best.

I was living up in Canada. I had purchased a farm. It was run down. I went out one morning and saw a currant bush. It had grown up over six feet high. It was going all to wood. There were no blossoms and no currants.

I was raised on a fruit farm in Salt Lake before we went to Canada, and I knew what ought to happen to that currant bush. So I got some pruning shears and went after it, and I cut it down, and pruned it, and clipped it back until there was nothing left but a little clump of stumps. It was just coming daylight, and I thought I saw on top of each of these little stumps what appeared to be a tear, and I thought the currant bush was crying.

I was kind of simple minded (and I haven’t entirely gotten over it), and I looked at it, and smiled, and said, “What are you crying about?” 

You know, I thought I heard that currant bush talk. And I thought I heard it say this: “How could you do this to me? I was making such wonderful growth. I was almost as big as the shade tree and the fruit tree that are inside the fence, and now you have cut me down. Every plant in the garden will look down on me, because I didn’t make what I should have made. How could you do this to me? I thought you were the gardener here.” 

That’s what I thought I heard the currant bush say, and I thought it so much that I answered. I said, “Look, little currant bush, I am the gardener here, and I know what I want you to be. I didn’t intend you to be a fruit tree or a shade tree. I want you to be a currant bush, and some day, little currant bush, when you are laden with fruit, you are going to say, ‘Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for loving me enough to cut me down, for caring enough about me to hurt me. Thank you, Mr. Gardener.’”

Time passed. Years passed, and I found myself in England. I was in command of a cavalry unit in the Canadian Army. I had made rather rapid progress as far as promotions are concerned, and I held the rank of field officer in the British Canadian Army. And I was proud of my position. And there was an opportunity for me to become a general. I had taken all the examinations. I had the seniority. There was just one man between me and that which for ten years I had hoped to get, the office of general in the British Army. I swelled up with pride. 

This one man became a casualty, and I received a telegram from London. It said: “Be in my office tomorrow morning at 10:00,” signed by General Turner in charge of all Canadian forces. I called in my valet, my personal servant. I told him to polish my buttons, to brush my hat and my boots, and to make me look like a general because that is what I was going to be.

He did the best he could with what he had to work on, and I went up to London. I walked smartly into the office of the General, and I saluted him smartly, and he gave me the same kind of a salute a senior officer usually gives—a sort of “Get out of the way, worm!” He said, “Sit down, Brown.” Then he said, “I’m sorry I cannot make the appointment. You are entitled to it. You have passed all the examinations. You have the seniority. You’ve been a good officer, but I can’t make the appointment. You are to return to Canada and become a training officer and a transport officer. Someone else will be made a general.” 

That for which I had been hoping and praying for ten years suddenly slipped out of my fingers.

Then he went into the other room to answer the telephone, and I took a soldier’s privilege of looking on his desk. I saw my personal history sheet. Right across the bottom of it in bold, block-type letters was written, “THIS MAN IS A MORMON.” 

We were not very well liked in those days. When I saw that, I knew why I had not been appointed. I already held the highest rank of any Mormon in the British Army. He came back and said, “That’s all, Brown.” I saluted him again, but not quite as smartly. I saluted out of duty and went out. I got on the train and started back to my town, 120 miles away, with a broken heart, with bitterness in my soul.

Every click of the wheels on the rails seemed to say, “You are a failure. You will be called a coward when you get home. You raised all those Mormon boys to join the army, then you sneak off home.” 

I knew what I was going to get, and when I got to my tent, I was so bitter that I threw my cap and my saddle brown belt on the cot. I clinched my fists and I shook them at heaven. I said, “How could you do this to me, God? I have done everything I could do to measure up. There is nothing that I could have done—that I should have done—that I haven’t done. How could you do this to me?” I was as bitter as gall.

And then I heard a voice, and I recognized the tone of this voice. It was my own voice, and the voice said, “I am the gardener here. I know what I want you to do.” 

The bitterness went out of my soul, and I fell on my knees by the cot to ask forgiveness for my ungratefulness and my bitterness. While kneeling there I heard a song being sung in an adjoining tent. A number of Mormon boys met regularly every Tuesday night. I usually met with them. We would sit on the floor and have a Mutual Improvement Association. As I was kneeling there, praying for forgiveness, I heard their voices singing:

“It may not be on the mountain height
Or over the stormy sea;
It may not be at the battle’s front
My Lord will have need of me;
But if, by a still, small voice he calls
To paths that I do not know,
I’ll answer, dear Lord, with my hand in thine:
I’ll go where you want me to go.”
(Hymns, no. 75.)

I arose from my knees a humble man. And now, almost fifty years later, I look up to him and say, “Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for cutting me down, for loving me enough to hurt me.” I see now that it was wise that I should not become a general at that time, because if I had I would have been senior officer of all western Canada, with a lifelong, handsome salary, a place to live, and a pension when I’m no good any longer, but I would have raised my six daughters and two sons in army barracks. They would no doubt have married out of the Church, and I think I would not have amounted to anything. I haven’t amounted to very much as it is, but I have done better than I would have done if the Lord had let me go the way I wanted to go.

I wanted to tell you that oft-repeated story because there are many of you who are going to have some very difficult experiences: disappointment, heartbreak, bereavement, defeat. You are going to be tested and tried to prove what you are made of. I just want you to know that if you don’t get what you think you ought to get, remember, “God is the gardener here. He knows what he wants you to be.” 

Submit yourselves to his will. Be worthy of his blessings, and you will get his blessings.


As that was read, it hit me like a ton of bricks that I have to let Heavenly Father prune me. I have no idea what is good for me, but HE does. We are so prideful in this world. ALL OF US! (yes, that means you, you who are shaking your head no after reading this statement, that means you too.)

We have to stop comparing, stop holding grudges, stop holding on to the "us" that WE want to be.

Believe me, you want to be who HEAVENLY FATHER wants you to be, not who YOU want to be. I am a living testimony of that.

I love you all. I never knew that I could be so happy. There is true happiness that comes from not only living the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but allowing it to become who you are.