Monday, March 18, 2013

Conversion: A Stranger's Testimony

See that amazing girl in those pictures?? Not the funny brunette (that's me), but the gorgeous blonde?
She's my sister.
OKAY, not biologically.
But pretty much.
We've been friends since Fourth Grade!
Anyway, her name is Jandee.  It rhymes with candy.  Which is perfect...because she's seriously SUPER SWEET.
Jandee and I have this deal where, no matter how late it is, when we need to vent, or cry, or fantasize, or celebrate, or just be girls, we call each other up and go to Denny's. Usually it's super late at night, but a couple weeks ago we went there for breakfast one morning because Jand wanted to celebrate my successful first Half Marathon (that's a story for next time).
WELL, picture your stereotypical grumpy old man.  Loud, extremely opinionated, loves his coffee, possibly looks something like this:
Or this:
Or this:

Ya, you get the point.  So, THAT GUY was sitting behind us in Denny's, drinking his coffee, and going off about 'The Mormons.'
Everything he was saying was completely wrong.
I thought about how his loud voice was carrying through the entire Restaraunt.  If that was the first thing people ever heard about our Religion, they would think we are freaks. A cult. Have horns.  Worship Joseph Smith.  You know, all the typical, completely wrong, totally untrue, assumptions people tend to make.  ALL BECAUSE THEY HEAR THINGS FROM PEOPLE JUST LIKE THIS GUY!
I thought about all the different approaches I could take to set this guy straight.  I thought about going over there with all the boldness of a missionary and telling him just how wrong he was about everything he was saying.  I wanted to DARE him to read the Book of Mormon and then JUST TRY to tell me that he still believes that we're crazy or dishonest.  I wanted to tell him to get a good look at my face and promise him that if he didn't take my challenge, we would meet before God who would ask him why he didn't listen when testimony came from my mouth.
I could use a softer approach--ask him if he believes in the Bible, and then show him how the Bible and the Book of Mormon fit together in perfect harmony.  Then bear him a sweet testimony of the Gospel and tell him how much I love it and tearfully ask him to stop saying such awful lies about things that are sacred and holy to me.
I just sat there and stirred in my frustration.  I stared at Jandee, who watched my knuckles turn white around my glass of water.  We left Denny's.  I drove to work, fighting tears the whole way.

It wasn't fair.  I was preparing to give up everything I've ever known for eighteen months to preach the gospel and try to make a difference in people's lives.  But people like that man could ruin all of that.  Their words could make people form negative opinions about my religion before I even get a chance to teach it.

Satan started to move in.  To discourage me.  To bring me down.  To make me afraid. 
How I could even make a difference in the world?
There's too much evil.
Satan is winning.
I WAS AT WORK.  I'm a cashier at a grocery store called Lin's. ^Cute, right? 
Anyway, it was just a normal, busy day.  A little hispanic lady came through my line.  She hardly spoke English, so I couldn't communicate with her very much.  But then, and older white lady came through the line, called the lady by name, and the two started hugging, crying, and speaking in Spanish.  The hispanic lady left, and I began to ring up the older lady's groceries--she had A TON of them, which meant plenty of time to try to be a good little cashier and make small talk with her.  I had no idea just how amazing that conversation would be.
With my biggest smile, I asked:
"So, how are you doing today?"
She responded with:
"I'm great! I'm all emotional after seeing her though."
"Oh! How did you two know each other?"
She told me all about how she met the hispanic lady while serving a part-time mission for the church.  She and her husband had been called to teach English to people in our town.  She told me all about how much she loved her mission, how close she got to the people, how well people treated her whenever she wore the mission nametag, how well the Lord blessed her for serving a mission, and how sad she was when her mission was cut short due to her husband's health issues.  Then, she looked up at me with a bit of an embarrassed smile and said,
"I don't know why I just told you all of that.  I mean, I don't know anything about you or if you've ever thought about serving a mission or if you'd even want to..."
"I'm actually leaving on one in three weeks!!"
She looked down at the ground for a long time, then looked back up at me with tears streaming down her face.
"Where are you going?" She asked through her tears.
Her tears got heavier and heavier and she looked me in the eye and said:
"Thank you.  Thank you so much, Sister, for your willingness to serve the Lord.  You have NO idea how much it means to me.  My husband and I joined the Church fourteen years ago because of amazing young missionaries just like you.  It has been the greatest blessing.  You need to understand that there are people who have lived their whole lives searching for the truth, AND YOU HAVE IT.  I had given up on life.  I stopped attending any church at all.  I gave up all hope.  And then some amazing Elders taught us the truth.  We're still very close to those Elders that baptized us.  You will find people that need you, and need you SO badly."


By the time we finished talking, I was choking back tears as well.  She wished me the best of luck, thanked me again (quite profusely) for my willingness to serve, asked my name, and left the store, completely oblivious to what she had just done for me.  Because, as we talked, something amazing happened.  All those sacrifices that seemed so big, suddenly became extremely small.  All that fear and discouragement I'd felt after hearing that man shout across Denny's, magically disappeared.
BECAUSE IF I COULD FIND just one person like that lady, and touch her life the way that those Elders touched hers, EVERYTHING would be completely worth it.  It was time to completely forget myself, my fears, my discouragement, my hurt, my frustration, my sacrifices, and start searching for people like that amazing lady--people that need the truth.
D&C 18:14-16:
14 Wherefore, you are called to cry repentance unto this people.
15 And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!
16 And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the Kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many soul unto me!
I know my mission won't be easy, but if I can bring just ONE SOUL to the waters of Baptism, it will be worth EVERYTHING.
The FIRST SOUL we need to bring to repentance is our own.  I've already felt unbelievable joy from that!  I can't wait to feel the joy that goes beyond even that.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Words, Words, Words!

(My friends will appreciate the 'Last Exorcism' Reference!)

Honestly, I would already have my mission paid off if I had a dollar for every time I've had this conversation in the last month or two:

"WOW! I am SO excited for you. Now when is it that you leave?"
"March 27!"
"March 27? That's coming right up!  Are you ______?"

I always answer "Yes" because I am all of those words!  In fact, I am all of those words AND their opposites.  I am all of those words, their opposites, their synonyms, their brothers, their sisters, their cousins, and their cousin's great-grandchildren.

But the thing about all of those words, is that they're JUST WORDS.

And until recently, they really were JUST WORDS. Just words that I used to describe how I felt, not because I really felt them, but because I knew that I SHOULD have felt them.  But honestly, I didn't feel a whole lot.  Everything was just so surreal. 

THEN, last week happened.  Oh, what a week!
*My parents were out of town and only reachable through email. (Good Practice.)
*I began packing for the mission.
*I started my mission journal.
*I stood in Deseret Book for two hours searching for mission-related inspiration.
*I got my mission clothes.
*I hung out with friends who were down for Spring Break.
*I watched my Temple Buddy recieve his own Endowment.
*I said my first goodbyes.
And today, we had a returned Sister Missionary speak in Sacrament.

With all of those things going on, all those WORDS, finally became FEELINGS.

I DO FEEL excited, and scared, and nervous, and ready...

Extra Sensitive to the Spirit.
Hungry for American Food.
Like this is all I've ever wanted.
Like I'll be extremely successful.
An adrenhaline rush.
Like my eyes won't stop leaking.
Like I want to just live in the Celestial Room of the Temple until I go.
Like time is going by way too slow.
Like time is flying by super fast.
So incredibly ready to get to work.
Like my Spanish es muy bien.
Like I'll never, ever learn Spanish.
Like a good example.
Like a bad example.
That I've worked hard enough to prepare.
That I haven't worked hard at all.

BASICALLY, if you could see all my Pre-Mission Emotions,
they'd look like this:
 And this:
And this:

And this:
And this:
And a little bit of this:


But then, I remember this:

The moment when, just two weeks after my 19th Birthday, the Lord's true and living Prophet announced that "able, worthy young women who have the desire to serve, may be recommended for missionary service beginning at age 19, instead of 21."
So many people told me that they KNEW he was going to say nineteen.

CALL ME CRAZY, but I didn't KNOW he was going to say nineteen...

I REMEMBERED that he was going to say nineteen.

As soon as he began that announcement, it was like time froze.  Something Eternal clicked inside of me, and I remembered that the age would be changed.

I REMEMBERED that I was supposed to go.
And this:
Just two and a half weeks after the announcement was made, I held my mission call in my hand.  I was surrounded by the people that I loved most.  They heard me read:
"Dear Sister Simonson,
You are hereby called to serve as a missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
And then they heard me pause and gasp and watched me bury my head in my hands and squeal with joy, because my eyes had jumped ahead of mouth and read the words:
"You are assigned to labor in the Peru Lima North Mission."
Somehow, I felt at home with a place I'd never even seen.  I knew it was right.
But mostly, I remember this:
And honestly, when that happens, nothing else really seems to matter.
Sure, there's a lot to be scared and nervous (and a whole lot of other things!) about.  But, my main purpose for the next 18 Months is to tell people how I feel about My Savior, and I can definitely do that.  I mean, after all, HE DIED for me.  I love Him.  All that matters is that I let the people of Peru see that.