Saturday, July 19, 2014

'Merica

Yes. I cried on the plane home. Repeatedly.
Downright bawled when I saw
my beautiful mountains again.
So.
I'm home.
In America.
In case you'd missed that part.

It's been almost two weeks and admittedly, I'm getting awkwarder by the day.
Still saying things like "I'm freuing myself" and "I totally schaffed that" and expecting people to understand me.
Still asking my parents for help with my iphone.
Still going through quark withdrawals (though greek yogurt has helped).
Still missing the benefits of weekly planning.
Still somewhat terrified to talk to people my own age.
Still going through shock every time I go into a building because of freezing air conditioning (which most people enjoy apparently).
Still asking how many Euros something costs.

However, the adreneline rushes I used to get from checking my email are gone and technology is starting to become routine again.

So things come and go in their own time.
Life will be normal again.

I loved my mission.
Obviously.
It will forever be a huge part of me because my faith makes me who I am.
I'll still be counting the blessings for the time God gave me to serve His children in a century. Okay, maybe I won't be alive in a century, but someone will be reaping the blessings still.

For those of you that want to keep following my much-less-than-exciting-non-missionary life, I'll be keeping my normal blog again (http://clairemw.blogspot.com/) so you are welcome to look at that when you are avoiding homework, chores, mending your socks, cleaning out the cellar, or other undesirable activities.

A smattering of you wondered if you could have my homecoming talk so I thought I'd just post it here. It's not everything I said, but a rough draft. Rough like sandpaper.

I’m really excited to be here with you today! I spent the last eighteen months serving as a missionary in the Germany Berlin Mission, which covers the entire northern half of Germany. There were about 250 missionaries in our mission-about 70 of those were sisters. This is the fifth Sunday in a row where I’ve been permitted to give my testimony during sacrament meeting, though this is the first of four different locations where I’ve been permitted (or rather expected) to talk in English. Please forgive me if I briefly pause to frantically recall words I’ve used too much in German to remember their English counterparts.
I loved teaching so many incredibly different people from all over the world in Germany—our crazy Africans that called us “you people,” our brilliant and curious Chinese students, our destitute and humble Eastern Europeans, our stubborn and deep feeling Germans. I met with people from Poland, Ukraine, Africa, Russia. Serbia, England, America, Fiji, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Chile, Columbia, Venezuela, China, Vietnam, Brazil, India, Italy, and Pakistan. Regardless of our differing circumstances, I know we all need the Gospel more than anything else. 
I get to share a little bit of what I’ve learned and experienced with you today in relation to my missionary purpose and the fourth article of faith. Which is….to invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ through faith, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end.
Active belief in these things, namely in the Gospel, requires a lot of pushing, a lot of energy, a lot of our souls—even our whole souls. Energy to believe on something you can’t touch or see or even understand completely but only feel. Energy to change yourself, to not only retire from sin but to leave it behind forever, to turn from being a good person to a better person. Energy to make and keep promises with God to follow Him so we can be worthy of the Spirit.
I wanted to share a story I shared with a lot of people on my mission about this task of pushing.

PUSH (pray until something happens)
There once was a man who was asleep one night in his cabin when suddenly his room filled with light and the Saviour appeared to him.
The Lord told him He had a work for him to do, and showed him a large rock explaining that he was to push against the rock with all his might. This the man did, and for many days he toiled from sunup to sundown; his shoulder set squarely against the cold massive surface of the rock, pushing with all his might. Each night the man returned to his cabin sore and worn out, feeling his whole day had been spent in vain.
Seeing that the man showed signs of discouragement, Satan decided to enter the picture - placing thoughts in the man's mind, such as ``Why kill yourself over this?, you're never going to move it!'' or ``Boy, you've been at it a long time and you haven't even scratched the surface!'' etc. giving the man the impression the task was impossible and the man was an unworthy servant because he wasn't moving the massive stone.
These thoughts discouraged and disheartened the man and he started to ease up in his efforts. ``Why kill myself?'' he thought. ``I'll just put in my time putting forth just the minimum of effort and that will be good enough.'' And this he did or at least planned on doing until, one day, he decided to take his troubles to the Lord.
``Lord,'' he said, ``I have labored hard and long in Your service, putting forth all my strength to do that which You have asked of me. Yet after all this time, I have not even budged that rock even half a millimeter. What is wrong? Why am I failing?''
To this the Lord responded compassionately, ``My friend, when long ago I asked you to serve Me and you accepted, I told you to push against the rock with all your strength and that you have done. But never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it. At least not by yourself. Your task was to push. And now you come to Me, your strength spent, thinking that you have failed, ready to quit. But is this really so? Look at yourself. Your arms are strong and muscled; your back sinewed and brown. Your hands are calloused from constant pressure and your legs have become massive and hard. Through opposition you have grown much and your ability now far surpasses that which you used to have. Yet still, you haven't succeeded in moving the rock; and you come to Me now with a heavy heart and your strength spent. I, my friend will move the rock. Your calling was to be obedient and push, and to exercise your faith and trust in My wisdom, and this you have done.''

Sometimes we end up moving things as we push with all our might, as we test our faith. But the movement isn’t the most important part. Missions are hard because we do an awful lot of pushing and running around and often don’t see a lot of movement. A story from a sister I knew serving in Rostock sums that up. The work was going really slowly for her and her companion, despite their ardent pushing. They hadn’t found new people to teach in many weeks but they had prayed and fasted to find someone new who was ready to accept their message about Jesus Christ.
They did indeed find someone shortly thereafter and they were so excited to go visit them at the appointed time and place. After traveling o'er hill and mountain in pouring rain to reach their appointment, they discovered a false address had been given, without a phone number to boot. And so as they tried to put on a tough face, they went to a nearby park, sat on the swings, and cried in the rain.
That is a missionary story for you. Not a magical miracle. But a "life happens" one.  But faith doesn’t end on swing sets, it keeps going past the rain and keeps pushing. Which is what these sisters did as they strived to relay even more on the Atonement of Christ to carry them.  My mom sent me an article on my mission from Betsy VanDenBerghe, who had served a mission in Brazil a couple of decades ago. She remembers, “The dynamic currents of religious experience passing through your being often lapse into doldrums, particularly in mission life, where every inch of spiritual enlightenment must be paid for in miles of endurance. A disinterested populace, indifferent investigators, companionships issues, less-than perfect mission leaders, fatigue, and most of all, our own inner demons ensure that the faith of LDS missionaries is not born of…blissful stupidity…rather it’s a faith born of gut wrenching prayers, intensive study, and inner transformations only God could empower. Otherwise, who would do this?”
So now that I’ve intimidated you with some of the hard times of a mission, let me tell you every ounce of effort was worth it. I loved my mission with my whole heart and the transformations I saw in myself and others were heaven-sent.
I loved my mission largely because of the miracles I saw and the deep joy that came from sharing the restored Gospel.
One of my miracle people was a student from Africa named Chako, who I met at the beginning of my mission when I was serving in Leipzig. Now, I taught a lot of Africans on my mission, but Chako was the very first one  and he was special. We had actually contacted his roommate first and then his roommate told him we were giving out free bibles in any language so he called us asking to meet. We excitedly met with him for the first time and shared the precious story of Joseph Smith and explained the Book of Mormon. He listened very attentively and reflected the whole time asking questions here and there. At the end of our lesson, he looked reflectively at the Book of Mormon and then met our eyes and said, “You have given me a golden book.”
Chako was a great example of faith for me; he was one who felt the truth of the Gospel and wanted to bind himself to that truth as soon as possible.

I remember walking home after that first lesson with him with my companion and just beaming. It had just rained and there was a double rainbow over the bridge we walked across and it was one of those really beautiful, sacred moments of my mission, where I knew God was God and this was His work.
So sometimes our faith leads us through rainbows. Sometimes it leads us through rainstorms. But it leads us ultimately to peace.
As hard as change is, we have peace when we exercise our faith and do what God wants us to do. I love the German word for repentance—umkehr. It literally means to turn around. We have to stop doing wrong and start doing good. I love how Elder Bednar describes it, “Repentance is a principle of hope and healing—not of discouragement and despair.”
When we hold to that hope, it is natural to want to join Christ’s church by being baptized, by keeping our promises with him we made at baptism so that we can always have the Holy Ghost with us—the special part of the Godhead who can dwell with us at all times.
I loved the switch when investigators stopped saying “your church” but rather “our church.” I loved seeing ward members welcome visitors and our investigators feeling like they were home when they were at church. I loved seeing people develop relationships with God, especially those who previously had no religious background. We taught a Chinese student in Berlin named Annie, who said her first prayer with us. She spoke for a long time in Chinese and then said Amen and then looked at us a little sheepishly. She asked if we understand Chinese and when we replied no, she sighed in relief and said good because she was telling god secrets and basically pouring out her heart. To someone she didn’t even know was there. That is faith. And that relationship with our Heavenly Father is at the core of our religion. I think we should all pour a little more of heart out to Him and share a few more secrets with Him.
It all goes back to love in the end—love of God. His love for us and our love for him. (1 Nephi 11:22)
I think people go on missions for a lot of different reasons. And people join the church for a lot of different reasons. And I think that’s okay. But I believe that ultimately, we stay on missions, we stay active in the church, we keep pushing, because of the love of God. That’s partially why I left last year, but it’s entirely why I stayed. Elder Holland said, “No worthy accomplishment has ever come easy.” And it was definitely worth it.
Joan of Arc wrote, “Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing, and yet they give their lives to that little or nothing. One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it and then it's gone.”
So I’m my life to this big thing, no matter how hard it may be, no matter what questions I may have. Because I know it’s true.

This is true joy—to live the Gospel with constant influxes in life as we try to maintain and develop faith, repent, are baptized, and follow the Holy Ghost. I love it. It helps me live life in crescendo, relying on my Savior Jesus Christ, who is the high priest of good things to come, the author and finisher of our faith and of our joy. 


Saturday, July 5, 2014

7-5-14: Forward Motion

Here is the bonus email we got from Sister Woodward today: 

My whole mission I'd planned on sending this scripture (3 John 1:14) as my last email with nothing else attached:
"I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face."

But we all know I don't have the self-control for that because I like words and writing too much. And smiley faces JJJJJJJ

We cleaned up and packed up the apartment in L√ľneburg this week, which will stay empty until we have enough missionaries again for two to serve there. We were blessed with one last perfect missionary day before leaving; we had a super uplifting and spiritual lesson with a less active lady who adores sisters, we went by on a young mother who invited us in and wanted to meet again soon, we had an awesome lesson with a lady we found last week plus her husband, AND we topped it off with a joint teach with the previously mentioned young mother's sister.
#tendermercy
It was mildly depressing to see these people get so excited about the Gospel only to tell them that we actually couldn't come back though...
The elders in Lauenburg can drive down to meet with some of them, but they were slightly suspicious of men and it was just hard to leave knowing no missionaries were coming after us.
Except the elders.
To whom I should probably give more credit.
They'll (the investigators) be taken care of somehow.

Yesterday we took a train to Berlin and I was reunited with my wonderful companion from over a year ago, Sister Darrington! We get to stay with her until we leave and once again, Ammon joy was achieved J.  We've been able to see several members and be with Sister Kriser's sister here and it has been grand.

Anyways. Prepared for sentimental thoughts?
Also known as shortened semi-memoirs?

When I think about my mission of the past year and a half, I think about chasing busses and bahns (trains), fallen out appointments, companion dates, and waiting on investigators.
When I think about my mission, I think of missionary conferences, the Kosaks, and lots of study time.
I think about more trains and good elders and gentle sisters, of testimony, of crazy people, of foreigners.
I think of conversion, of God's love, of intense personal growth.
When I think about my mission, I am happy with what I've been able to give.
I am thankful for this experience that has shaped so much of who I am and where I am going.
I am going forward.

A friend sent me this quote a couple of months ago from Elder Maxwell: "All crosses are easier to carry if we keep moving."

So we keep moving, leaping and bounding as much as we can.
Forward motion is what counts.

I know Christ lives and that I have a perfect Father in Heaven who knows me personally. I know that Christ's church is here today restored by Joseph Smith. I know the Book of Mormon and the Bible are the word of God and they help us with our forward motion. Miracles come from diligence and faith.

Thanks for your prayers, emails, letters, and thoughts throughout this time. I'm excited to see you soon J.

Liebe,

Sister Claire Michelle Woodward