Monday, October 3, 2016

Final Farewell

Today was our last day in New Zealand.  We went in to the office for our last Monday morning devotional.  We both shared our testimonies with the group.  Then I asked those who we had helped to find a family name to take to the temple to please stand.  My heart skipped a beat as I saw many of that group rise to their feet.

The beauty, the friendships, the good times and adventures have all been amazing.  But in the end, this is what it has been all about.  We have had the privilege of taking the message of eternal families throughout New Zealand and the Islands of the Sea.  
We have had the opportunity to assist people in learning about their family heritage and giving them the tools to take family names to the temple to perform sacred saving ordinances.
Literally hundreds of souls have been baptized vicariously by their descendants because of our mission.   Testimonies have been strengthened, among them my own.

One of the things we did in this last few weeks was to write our testimony into a whole case of copies of the Book of Mormon.  Those books will be distributed around the Auckland Mission by the young Elders and Sisters in the months to come.   I will probably never know whether any of those books will lead to specific conversions.  I doubt I will ever know in this life if the words we wrote had any impact on someone having a desire to read the book or to pray to know if it is true.

But this I know for sure - the words I wrote in those many copies of that precious book are carved deep into my heart and soul. I know that the Book of Mormon is true. We read the book all the way through five times during the course on our mission.  We finished it again just a few days ago and have already begun reading it again.  Every single time I found new insights, new answers to specific questions that I had, new layers of understanding that have deepened my love for this book.

So many times throughout this mission I saw the hand of God at work in our lives.  There were miracles galore that gave solid evidence to us that He is truly in the details of our lives.  Prayers were answered.  Comfort came when it was sorely needed.  Over and over again we were led in what to do or say far beyond our own abilities.  We cannot take credit for all the successes.  This is truly God's work.

I know that we are led today by prophets called of God.  I know that the work we do in Temples really does bind on earth and in heaven the generations of families into eternal chains.
I think I had a pretty strong testimony of the Gospel before we left on this mission.  But the experiences we have had over the past 22 months of this mission have blazed it into my life for keeps.

I do not know what the future holds for us when we return back to Boise.  We will take off our badges and no longer spend the bulk of each day teaching this work. I will find some sort of job and we will get back into a "civilian" routine.  But I hope I can always live my life in such a ways that it will be very clear that I am a representative of Jesus Christ, even when my mission is done.

I am so deeply grateful for these experiences.

Good bye New Zealand.

It's time to go home.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

One Last Time

For the past week I have been sorting and packing, preparing our apartment to leave it for the very last time. We had our last walk on the beach, our last time a Lake Pupuke, many other "one last time" sort of farewells to our favorite places here.  On Friday there was a potluck gathering of Senior Missionaries at Elder and Sister Graham's home to honor those of us who will be leaving soon...us, the Olsens and the Spencers.   There was much laughter and some tender moments.  Some shared special poems, others gave a thought or a song.  Good food and dear friends made it an evening to remember.  I will always treasure these dear people we have served with here.  They have blessed my life in so many ways.
Today we attended Auckland Ward for the last time. We bore our testimonies and expressed our love the best way we knew how. I shed many tears as we drove away.

Oh how I have loved my mission life, even though at times it was difficult.   Leaving is hard. Tomorrow is the big day we get on the plan and head back to America.

Farewell Aotearoa.   Thank you for all of it.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Dinner at Bishop Kau's house

The last couple weeks have been an emotional roller coaster as we have said farewells to so many people who have been dear to us in preparation for our departure and return home to the USA.

Tonight we had dinner at our Bishop's house  The Kau family are such good people!  Oh how I will miss associating with our brothers and sisters from the islands.

We have felt so truly loved during our time here in New Zealand.  We are eager to go home to return to our home, our family and our friends.  Still, there is much about our mission life we know we will miss.  This time of getting ready to leave is bittersweet indeed.

I've been thinking a lot about what our church teaches regarding the plan of salvation.  Our doctrine says that we all lived as spirit beings in the presence of God before we were born into this earth life.  In the pre-existence we were taught many things about how to become more like our Heavenly Parents and follow their plan.  Then we had a choice to come to this mortal existence where we would gain a physical body and have experiences that would instruct and test us.  How we lived our lives here would determine our progression after we died.   Part of that plan included a veil of forgetting that would be placed on our minds when we came into mortality.  We would have no memory of our time with God or of the promises we made there.

In the past I have at times resented the veil, wishing with all my heart that I could recall even a small fraction of what it had been like in our pre-existent home.  It felt deeply unfair to me that I would be held accountable to covenants I made that I now have no memory of.

But I feel very different about all that now.  My heart is so heavy as I prepare to say goodbye to all my New Zealand friends.   I know I will miss this season of my life for many years to come.   I now recognize that the veil of forgetting over our Pre-Existence life was a loving gift from our Father in Heaven.   He knew that if we could remember the tremendous beauty and love we experienced there it would be nearly impossible for us to deal with the empty feeling of being cut off from our Heavenly home. We would be so homesick for Heaven that facing the hardships and adversity of this life would break our hearts.

So instead, we came down to this world not remembering.  Sometimes we may get a fleeting sense of deja vu when we meet someone that we are just sure we knew before.  Or, at times we get deep comfort from the Holy Ghost reminding us we are beloved children of our Heavenly Father.   But for the most part, in this life we journey through it on our own, walking by faith rather than recall.

When this life is over and I return to that place I do not now remember I suspect I will feel a lot like I do today...so excited and grateful to return to the place I truly call home, but heavy hearted for all leave behind.

I have so loved this mission experience.  I hope I will be able to hold on to the feelings and lessons forever.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Pray Always

Victoria Fitisemanu

We had another powerful Monday morning devotional today.  Oh how I have loved the messages we hear in these short meetings that start every new work week!

This time the speaker was Victoria Fitisemanu.   She based her remarks on three scriptures in 2nd Nephi, Chapter 32.

 Do ye not remember that I said unto you that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels? And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost?

 Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.
 But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul.
(emphasis added)
Victoria talked about how there are a lot of good people working here in the Pacific Area Office who have much knowledge and experience.  However, with all that we may know about our particular areas of expertise, we need to remember not to get in too much of a hurry in making decisions.  We should not depend solely on our own abilities, no matter how good we may be at our jobs.  We need to remember to council with the the Lord in all things rather than depending on our own wisdom.
OH how those words rang true for me.  .   At the beginning of our mission we HAD to rely on the Lord for every single thing because we didn’t have a clue what we were doing!  But over the past 22 months we’ve learned a lot and had so many powerful experiences.  These last few months there have been times when it would have been all too easy to rely on our own skill and knowledge that we have gained.  But we’ve seen time and time again how as soon as we begin to think we have the right answers without consulting the Lord first it quickly becomes VERY apparent that we have made a big mistake.
As I prepare to return to "Civilian" life,  I want to be sure I remember this lesson so I will stay close to the Lord in ALL that I do.

During April Conference last year,  Elder Russell M. Ballard gave a talk titled  The Greatest Generation of Young Adults.   While much of those remarks were geared to the young elders and sisters, what he spoke about most definitely applies to me too  He said:
“RM” doesn’t mean “retired Mormon”! As a returned missionary, you “should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of [your] own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.”2
Please use the skills you learned on your mission to bless the lives of people around you every day. Do not shift your focus from serving others to focusing exclusively on school, work, or social activities. Instead, balance your life with spiritual experiences that remind and prepare you for continued, daily ministering to others.

We have had so many deeply personal "tender mercies" and some outright miracles on this mission.  I wish those feelings would be the same when I go back to the world, but I don't really expect that to be the case.  I CAN, however, do my part to keep the spirit of the Lord with me where ever I may go.

I remember the scripture that tells me to continue to pray at all times and in all places:
In the book of Alma, Amulek reminds us that our Heavenly Father is deeply interested in all aspects of our lives, but that his guiding power comes fully into our lives only as we seek it. “Exercise your faith unto repentance,” Amulek teaches, “that ye begin to call upon his holy name. …
“Humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him.
“Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks.
“Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening.
“Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies. …
“Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them.
“Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase.
“Pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness” (Alma 34:17, 19–22, 24–26).
I want to live my life in such a way that even without a badge there will be no doubt that I am a follower of Jesus Christ and that I include Him and my Heavenly Father in all I say and do.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Many Faces of Rescue

Stake Clerk, Brother Rangi Williams
We heard a great talk in Sacrament meeting today by  Brother Rangi Williams who serves as the Stake Clerk in Waterview Stake. His talk was titled What We Must Do to Be Rescued By The Savior. It was powerful!  I asked Brother Williams for his permission to share parts of his talk here and he generously agreed.

Brother Williams based his talk on a conference address by Pres Dieter F. Utchdorf from the Sunday morning session last April called "He Will Place You On His Shoulders and Carry You Home."

Brother Williams began by asking the congregation "Have any of you needed to be rescued?"   He then shared some personal stories of times when he was rescued and spoke about the parable of the lost sheep. 

Image from Seeds For the Soul

 One comment he made went right to my heart:

"Does the sheep need to have a big house, a flash job, plenty of money or a prominent education before the Good Shepherd will come to the rescue?   No.  Certainly not!  His sheep are worthy of divine rescue simply because we are loved by the Good Shepherd.  Our Savior, the Good Shepherd, knows and loves us.  He knows and loves you."

This is consistent with what President Utchdorf taught in his address:

"My dear brothers and sisters, my dear friends, I testify that God sees us as we truly are—and He sees us worthy of rescue...
He will rescue you.
He will lift you up and place you on His shoulders.
He will carry you home."

I've been thinking about that a lot, and what it means to be rescued, as well as how I might be better engaged in "going to the rescue" of others in need.

There have definitely been times when I needed rescuing. Larry literally saved me from drowning one time when we lived in Florida. My older brother, Wayne, rescued me more than once from dicey situations I got myself into as a kid.
Elder Bennett and I most certainly experienced God's rescuing love during our recent travels on the South Island of New Zealand.

We had a very full day on Wednesday, truly the icing on the cake after several days of travel through stunning beauty and many special spiritual experiences.  That evening as we were driving back to the house where we were staying we were bone tired, but very happy.   It was dark and rainy outside, but inside our hearts were filled with light.

We were talking about how blessed we were for all the experiences we had over the trip, and indeed over our entire mission experience.  As we drove through the dark, wet night we were both feeling happy, and perhaps a bit distracted.  We were thinking about getting back to our room to pack up in preparation to return to Auckland the next day.

As we went through an intersection, just a few short blocks from the house where we were staying, all our peace and happiness came to an abrupt halt when a car came zooming in front of us.  We were about to slam right into it.  I honestly don't know if they ran a stop sign or we did. No matter how many times I play the event over in my head, I still can't make sense of it.  One minute we were going along safe and happy.  In the the next minute everything turned upside down as we could see our car and this other vehicle zooming toward each other, about to have a very serious crash.  Both Elder Bennett and the other driver slammed on their brakes as hard as they could.  The tires screeched on the wet pavement, but there was no time to stop.  We were headed straight for impact.  It seemed there was no way we were going to avoid it, and we knew it was going to be bad.  

We were careening toward each other at a speed that told me there would soon be broken glass, tangled metal and quite possibly seriously injured bodies in the mix.  In that instant I could SEE in my mind's eye the impact coming.  I could sense that it was going to be horrible.  In that terrible instant, I knew we could get seriously hurt or even killed.

Except it didn't happen.   Our cars both went zooming straight at each other and then just STOPPED.  This wasn't brakes slowing us down.  We were moving and then we weren't.  We just stopped. The two cars were perfectly still exactly next to each other. The next day in the light we could see just the faintest paint transfer where we had lightly touched.  But there was no impact.  There was no harm.

Our hearts were pounding and our breath came out in ragged gasps from our chests.  We kept looking around saying "Are you ok?  Are you alright?"  We expected the other driver was every bit as shocked and amazed as we were.  However, we never met that driver.  Once he or she came to grips with the fact that there had been no collision, they simply pulled away and drove on down the road.  Shaking, we did the same, going on to our little rented house where we offered fervent prayers of thanks for this protection, for this rescue.

I know beyond any shadow of a doubt that we were protected from what could have been a horrific accident on the streets of Dunedin that night.  I know our "Guardian Angels" were there, taking charge of the momentum of both vehicles regardless of the laws of physics.  I don't know why we were kept safe.  Plenty of other faithful missionaries have been injured or even killed in accidents at various places around the world.  Bad things do indeed happen to good people.  But for whatever reason, God protected us that day.

As dramatic as that experience was, it is no more remarkable than all the other many ways that we have been rescued.   As Brother Williams said in his talk: "being rescued by the Savior has many meanings beyond just physical rescue".

I think back to a season in my life when my mind and heart were filled with confusion and sorrow.  It was a time when life's trials seemed more than I could bear.  Yet Heavenly Father was surely with me during those dark days, sending the right people into my path to lift me back into the light.

President Utchdorf said in his talk: "it matters not how completely ruined our lives may seem.  It matters not how scarlet our sins, how deep our bitterness, how lonely, abandoned, or broken our hearts may be.  Even those who are without hope, who live in despair, who have betrayed trust, surrendered their integrity, or turned away from God can be rebuilt...The joyous plan of the gospel is this: because of the eternal plan of happiness provided by our loving Heavenly Father, through the infinite sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, we can be redeemed from the fall and restored to purity".

There was a time when I felt very lost in so many ways.  Yet Heavenly Father was there for me, with a love and patience I could scarcely comprehend.  Brother Williams talked about his own hard times and various ways he felt rescued.  I could relate.  While my circumstances may have been very different, I felt every bit as much like a repaired humpty dumpty as he described.

There is much I do not know.  I love the quote from David Bednar who said in a 2013 talk:

I do not know why some people learn the lessons of eternity through trial and suffering—while others learn similar lessons through rescue and healing. I do not know all of the reasons, all of the purposes, and I do not know everything about the Lord’s timing. With Nephi, you and I can say that we “do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Nephi 11:17)."

But this is what I know for sure:  whether in times of safety or times of peril and adversity - God's love is real.  Even when He doesn't rescue us from some of the bad things that happen in this world,  He WILL rescue us in the way that matters most of all.  If we are willing to do our part, by turning to Him with faith and obedience, He will ultimately bring us home.  That is something I know beyond the shadow of a doubt.  

Friday, September 23, 2016

A New Kind of Music

 We made our way back from the South Island and now we are winding up our final days of this experience.  We are scheduled to leave on October 3.

As we began to pack up to return to the states, we were sad we could not take Larry's guitar back with us.   I have enjoyed many a lovely evening listening to him play and he has learned quite a few new songs in the time we have been here. Alas, the guitar was 2 centimeters too long for us to take back with us without paying a fortune in oversize baggage fees. Then we got a great idea. We took the guitar down to Music Planet and traded it in on a Ukulele. THIS will fit in our suitcase. HOORAY! 

Now he needs to learn how to play some of our favorite island songs like Savalivali! 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

South Island Trip - Day 8: Learning to Recognize the Spirit of Elijah

We had an AMAZING night at the Dunedin Family History Center.  We started off by filling out the inventory of equipment and downloading the teaching tools we have been taking to all the centers here in the South Island.   Then we had an opportunity to work with some of the folks who were there, explaining the My Family 15 program.  Everyone was excited to show what they had done and to talk about next steps for expanding the information in their trees.

We took photos of everyone there and showed them how to upload the pictures in the memories section.  That was well received.  We especially appreciated having Bishop Mather from Dunedin 2nd Ward there that evening so we could fill him in on the Family 15 program and encourage him to get his ward leaders and members engaged.

One of the most rewarding parts of the evening was working with Eric M. He had done quite a bit of genealogy back in the old PAF days, but was not at all familiar with the new web based FamilySearch.   We showed him how to access the tree and how to add and edit data.  He discovered that his own mother had never been sealed to her parents, so he was able to submit that work to be done.

Eric has Parkinson's disease, so he has some real challenges with using the computer.  I served as his hands as he showed me the information on paper print outs that he wanted to put in.   Because of the Parkinson's Eric generally shows very little facial expression, but when we helped him print out the temple card he had tears in his eyes and a smile on his face, feeling so much joy.

Bishop Jason Mather of Dunedin 2nd Ward

Eric M. submitted a family name to take to the temple

Gail P. is Ward Family History Consultant in Dunedin 2nd Ward

                                                Annette T. of Dunedin 2nd Ward has her Family 15

 Nicholas T. has his Family 15


Missionaries serving in Dunedin Stake are learning to use FamilySearch as a way of teaching the gospel.     Left to right: Elder Bowers from Bountiful, Utah, Elder Pearse from Brisbane, Australia, Elder Gardner from American Fork, Utah and Elder Andelin from Springville, Utah. We love our missionaries!

The next part that was very powerful was working with the young missionaries who came in to learn about how to use Family History when teaching about the gospel to investigators.

We got them putting in some basic information and then did the exercise we have repeated so many times on this mission, putting them into pairs and then having them each tell a story about some member of their family.  Then we went around the room to ask each one of them to tell what they had felt while they were telling those stories or listening to their companion's story.

As usual we heard of love, curiosity, excitement,  pride.

We helped them recognize that the good, warm feelings they were experiencing was what we sometimes refer to as "The Spirit of Elijah", and then reminded them of Elder Nelson's teaching about the Spirit of Elijah being a manifestation of the Holy Ghost testifying of the divine nature of families.

We told them that when they first begin teaching people who are investigating the church that the people may be unfamiliar with what the Spirit feels like.  By starting with family history they can help the people they work with to learn to recognize the way the Holy Spirit communicates with them personally.  Once they achieve that, then when they ask the people to read the Book of Mormon and to pray about it those people will know what feelings to look for and to recognize and answers to their prayers.

As I talked about this with those dear young elders, I experienced it myself,  feeling a STRONG witness from the Spirit that this work we do IS true.  Through sacred temple ordinances families can be eternal.  The Gospel IS true.  Christ really did atone for my sins and is aware of me personally.

As I felt this complete certainty coursing through my mind, heart and spirit I was again so grateful for these mission experiences. 

  I am used to gathering information and knowledge from many different sources.  There are things I know because I have studied them, applying questions and testing them out.  There are things I know because someone I trust has explained them to me.  There are things I know because I read about them in a book.  All of these can be useful for living my life.  Most of those things, however, are subject to change or adjustment as new information becomes available.  So nearly all the knowledge I carry is somewhat conditional, based on whatever level of understanding is available at the time.

However, the things that I know because I have had personal spiritual witness from the Holy Ghost are in a whole different category.  Personal revelation is a powerful thing.  When the veil becomes very thin and I feel communication with Heaven, that builds a kind of certainty that goes all the way to my bones.

In relaying the story of his First Vision,  the Prophet Joseph Smith stated:  "
I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it".

While I have never seen an actual vision with my eyes,  I have felt experiences of the soul which have been ever bit as powerful for me.

Being here on this mission has filled me with such a rich sense of meaning and purpose.  I am very grateful for the opportunities I have had to help others grow closer to their families, and in so doing grow closer to the Spirit.  But I am especially glad for what it has done for my own testimony and my own sense of my divine nature as a daughter of a loving Heavenly Father who knows me personally.

It was a great day.  It was a powerful night.