Monday, August 26, 2013

Let the journey begin.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to give my farewell talk in church. I wanted to share with others the reason I have decided to serve a mission and other experiences I have had that have strengthened my testimony as a member of this church. I decided to post it here. Although it is not what I said word for word, it is pretty close and I hope that something I said can touch others' lives.

Ever since I was a little girl in primary, I loved to be in sharing time to sing the Primary songs. I would even venture to say that I belted it out on occasion, especially to one song in particular. My very favorite—We’ll Bring the World His Truth, or Army of Helaman. It was always the song I’d beg the chorister to let us sing, and whenever my wish was granted and we got to sing it, I know I was ecstatic and just beaming. I never could have imagined I’d be standing here at this time of my life preparing to enlist as a member of that very army.
Having made the decision to serve a mission, I am often asked why. “Why are you going on a mission?” To which I usually respond with something without much explanation such as simply “Because I want to.” But I can assure you that there is much more reason behind my choice than just that. It’s not only that I want to; it’s also that I know I need to. I’d like to share an experience with you today that led me to make the choice of serving a mission.
Last summer I had the opportunity to go on a humanitarian trip to Tonga with an LDS group and it was one of the best experiences of my life. Along with being on the work site and serving the people there, we had group prayer and scripture study each morning, we were able to attend church on Sundays, and we also got to go to the Tonga temple. We went to church on one particular Sunday and it happened to be their ward conference. A missionary who had just returned from a mission in Utah got up for a few minutes to bear his testimony and talk a little bit about his mission. He started speaking and I just remember the Spirit that was there being so strong. I don’t even remember anything that he said, but I remember what I felt. As I sat there with tears streaming down my cheeks, a thought came into my head that repeated itself over and over again. “I need to serve a mission.” “I need to serve a mission.” After the meeting, I walked with a few girls down to the beach where we studied our scriptures for some time. I was on track to read Alma 26, and what I read in that chapter only affirmed to me what I had been thinking in church earlier that day. As I read two things stuck out to me: missionary work and how mindful God is of each and every one of us. It is from this chapter that the scriptures on my missionary plaque come from. (Alma 26:30 and 36) I know it was not coincidence that my thoughts aligned perfectly with the scriptures I read that day. The Lord was trying to tell me something, and I knew from then on that I needed to serve a mission and share my love of the gospel. There I was, an 18 year old girl, thinking I needed to go on a mission. It seemed so far away, and I had no idea how I was going to make it happen. I only told one person that was on the trip with me, I was too scared that I’d start saying I wanted to go on a mission and then not end up going. I was about to venture off to BYU—and everyone knows the rumors of quick marriages down there. So jumping ahead a little bit, I started my freshman year down at BYU and was assigned to teach a Relief Society lesson the week before general conference. We talked about how to prepare for conference and that we should ask for answers to specific questions. I decided that I wanted to find a question to get an answer to, and started reading my patriarchal blessing. It says something along the lines of me listening to the prophet at General Conference, that he will say things that will direct me to pursue particular goals that would bless me throughout my life. I prayed and asked to hear something that would help me find a goal to pursue. Then my prayers were answered when President Monson announced the age change and it was clear—I was going on a mission.
            So, I don’t know about you, but I learn things best when I can see it in front of me, through examples and analogies. As I prepared for this talk on obeying with exactness, I started studying the scriptures for examples of both obedience and disobedience. For obedience I thought about Noah and the Ark, Helaman’s Army, Nephi and Lehi. For disobedience my mind went directly to Laman and Lemuel, or Alma the Younger before he converted. I looked at the blessings for obedience, and the consequences for disobedience. But still I wanted to find something more. I wanted to know what lead the people to choose disobedience. As I continued studying, I recognized that it came from a lack of understanding of God, greed for power and riches, a lack of belief or faith, and pride. I want to talk more about pride because I think that it can be present in our lives without us even being aware of it. As I continued my studying, I came across the story of Naaman in 2 Kings.
Naaman was captain of the host of the king of Syria, “a mighty man in valour, but he was a leper.” Naaman’s wife had a maid, who said to her mistress how she wished Naaman could be sent to the prophet in Israel to be healed. Naaman readied gifts and riches for the king of Israel and made his journey. When the king heard the reason for Naaman’s arrival, he began to worry because he did not have the power to cleanse a leper. Elisha the prophet heard of the king’s distress and sent word that he could make the man clean. (Vs. 9)“So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha.” However, Elisha did not come to meet Naaman. Instead he sent a messenger to belay the message which said, (Vs. 10) “Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean.” Naaman was angry. Angry that Elisha would not come directly to him and angry that he should wash in the river Jordan when there were cleaner rivers back where he was from. He turned away in rage and did not hearken to Elisha’s counsel. Then Naaman’s servants said to him, (vs. 13) “My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? How much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?” Naaman surrendered his pride, dipped himself seven times in Jordan, and was made clean.  Naaman let his pride get in the way of something that was so simple if he had only heeded Elisha’s counsel. I think that we often do the same thing Naaman did without even recognizing how prideful we have become.
A few years ago, I hit a point in my life where I was completely overwhelmed and dissatisfied with myself. I didn’t feel like I was accomplishing things with the same quality of work I had done so many times before, and I began to get so frustrated. I let this go on for some time, and it almost seemed as if there was something missing—a type of emptiness, and I couldn’t place it. It got to the point where I knew I needed to fix something. I was finally humbled to kneel down in prayer and pour out my concerns to the Lord and ask for His help. He listened and I know He was there for me at that time. I found for myself that I needed to place the Lord before anything else. I hadn’t been reading my scriptures or praying often and that was a large contributor to the emptiness I had felt. I knew that if I would set aside my pride and put the Lord’s will before my own that I would be happy and everything else would fall into place. I let myself get distracted and put the ways of the world before the gospel. Just like Naaman, I was prideful and didn’t want to accept the help that was there for me the entire time. For me, obeying the Lord’s counsel to study my scriptures and say my prayers was enough to keep me happy.
The Lord may not always ask us to do difficult things like spend forty years in the wilderness, build a boat to carry hundreds of animals, or fetch plates from a wicked King. He will often ask us to do the simple things such as read scriptures, pray, go to the temple, serve others, or in Naaman’s case something as easy as bathing in a certain river to be healed of leprosy. However, even though these things may appear to be simple, it requires from us the same amount of faith. The obedience and faith we put into doing what the Lord asks of us is what will determine the blessings we receive from doing as He asks.
Obedience and sacrifice go hand in hand. Sometimes we have to give up one thing to be obedient to receive the blessings for something greater. The Lord would never ask us to give up something if He didn’t have a plan to replace it with something better that will make us happier. The ultimate and perfect example of obedience and sacrifice is the Atonement of Jesus Christ. He obeyed His father and willingly came to this wicked earth—with faith—even though He knew He would be persecuted, and knew that He would suffer for our sins and die on the cross for us. He knew that if He obeyed His father with exactness He could be the means of saving us all—even if that meant giving His life. Some may say that there is nothing that can replace that, nothing that could possibly be greater or make one happier than life—but there is. Heavenly Father asked Christ to give up something as great as His very own life because He had a plan that could replace it with the greatest gift imaginable—eternal life.
Becoming a missionary requires sacrificing many things: music, endless seasons of shows on Netflix, cell phones, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. Or others, which are more important, like spending time with friends and family. Those relationships are going to be the hardest to go without, and it is because of them that I am standing here today. Thank you to everyone who came today, for my teachers, leaders, the bishopric, extended family, and friends. I have been blessed with incredible friends that only make me want to be better. I have never had to worry that they would not be there for me, and that is something that I will forever be grateful for. And to my family. You are the reason I am who I am today. Jake, Erin, Taylor, and Livvy, you are all such incredible examples to me of hard work and service. I look up to all of you more than you could ever know. To my brothers, thanks for setting the example for me to go on a mission and for fulfilling it to the best of your ability. It’s amazing to me that we have grown closest as a family when you were out serving the Lord. And to my parents. Just like my favorite primary song says, I have been born of goodly parents who love and serve the Lord more than anyone else I know. They have taught me to always put my trust in the Lord and that with Him on my side; I am capable of doing great things. I love you more than you could ever know and I am so grateful for your amazing efforts to create such a strong and close family, and hope that I will be able to create that for myself one day. I know that if I am obedient to the guidelines put before me as a missionary, go forward with faith, and put aside the things of the world for a short time, the Lord will put other things and experiences in my life that will make me even happier.
Brothers and sisters, if there was one thing that I could leave with you today, it would be for you to know that I have a testimony of this gospel. I know it is true with everything I have. I know that the Book of Mormon is true and I have experienced the blessings that it brings to my life when I read it. I know Joseph Smith was a prophet and that he restored the church for us to be led by a prophet of God today. I am so grateful for Heavenly Father and for the Savior and His atoning sacrifice. I know that I will be able to return to them again one day if I do my best to follow their teachings. I am so grateful for the happiness the gospel brings to me and for the opportunity I have to share it with others. I get to go to Houston Texas as a representative of Jesus Christ and His church. I get to share with others the gospel, the thing that brings me the most pure joy and help them feel of that same happiness. I get to invite others to come unto Christ, and in turn grow closer to Him in the process. I get to take a part in helping bring the world His truth. I am so excited and grateful for this opportunity to serve.

Now it is my turn to go out and serve the Lord with all my "heart, might, mind, and strength." (D&C 4:2) In about three hours I will be set apart as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  I will be living the life of a missionary for the next eighteen months and I could not be happier or more excited! Tomorrow morning I will be flying to the Mexico Missionary Training Center where I will be learning the wonderful Spanish language for six weeks. I feel so blessed for the opportunity I have to serve a mission and I know the things I experience will bless my life tremendously. I am so grateful for all the support I have from friends, family, and most importantly my Savior Jesus Christ. I know that I am going to have bad days and hard times on my mission but that the good will greatly outnumber the bad. I'm going to have to put my trust in the Lord and rely on Him more than I ever have before, but I am so grateful that I will have the opportunity to grow closer to my Savior. I am so excited and grateful to be a missionary! Houston, Texas here I come!

Love, the soon to be Hermana Hoj

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