So...since October 2012 General Conference for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I've been thinking about whether or not to serve a mission for 18 months for the Church when I am 19 (Following the Conference where Thomas s. Monson announced the new ages for missionary work). I had the question in mind when listening to the Conference and came out with a pretty firm but hazy answer; Prepare for a mission now and I will tell you closer to the time.
I then began preparing by studying my scriptures, Preach my Gospel, learning more about the Atonement and the basic principles of the church and spending time with the missionaries in Canberra. It was perfect timing because my brother was preparing for his mission at the time, so we spent a lot of time going and learning about missionary work together. It's something I've enjoyed so much and have grown heaps from.
I began a missionary journal and would write little things that encouraged me to go and to prepare NOW so that when the time did arise for me to put in my papers, I wouldn't be hesitant about it. I wouldn't think twice if something "better" arose. I didn't want to be standing there at a crossroad between potential marriage or serving a full-time mission. I want to be so firm in my decision of serving Christ that NOTHING would change my decision. So, of course, the best way to clear my mind and set everything straight and of priority is for me to write it down. To make a sort of, 'pros and cons' list but in a different way.
Firstly, my fears of serving. In the scriptures, Jesus Christ is consistently telling the people to "Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness" (Isaiah 41:10) - "Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you; and ye shall bear record of me, even Jesus Christ, that I am the Son of the living God, that I was, that I am, and that I am to come" (Doctrine and Covenants 68:6) - "And again, verily I say unto you that it is your privilege, and a promise I give unto you that have been ordained unto this ministry, that inasmuch as you strip yourselves from jealousies and fears, and humble yourselves before me, for ye are not sufficiently humble, the veil shall be rent and you shall see me and know that I am - not with the carnal neither natural mind, but with the spiritual" - (Doctrine and Covenants 67:10).
I think of the possible things that I fear the most about a mission; Possibly learning a new language, depending on where I am called to serve. Teaching people the gospel and having the be bold about it. Being without my family for 18 months. Where am I going to get the funds to serve a mission? What happens if I don't get along with my companion? all these things I freak out over, things that keep me up at night with 'what ifs?'.
Learning a new language absolutely frightens me. The idea of being sent somewhere over seas and having the learn a new language to teach in is something that makes my knees weak and my throat dry from fear. I think, "I can barely teach in English, how the heck am I meant to teach in a WHOLE other language that I just learnt a few weeks prior in the MTC?". I've been trying to learn French for the past couple of months now and at most, I can say 'La pomme" which means 'The apple'...like honestly?! I know that Heavenly Father can see my ETERNAL POTENTIAL but even then...learning a language frightens me to no end. I do have a glimmer of faith inside that with Christ, anything is possible but I have a feeling in the back of my mind (Probably the Adversary's whisperings) that I am going to struggle to no end with learning a language. Who knows, I might not even be called over seas! But...that slight chance of potentially being sent over seas to a non-English speaking area...it makes me almost want to burst into tears from fear like I did at EFY at numerous occasions (Almost cried...I didn't actually cry...) I personally feel that I wouldn't be as effective teaching in another language as I would if I taught in English, my first language. Maybe Heavenly Father knows and feels that I can with certainty and trusts me to be able to do it as long as I put my faith in Him...I'd hope He'll give me that surety before I go and get set apart.
Teaching people frightens me as well; I'm a very introverted person so I don't speak very loudly. When you teach, you have to teach with conviction. What I worry about is that my teaching won't be 'bold' or that I'll be too shy when I first meet people that I'll just completely flake out. I have taught with the Elders and Sisters before, I have been in that situation of teaching, I've also had a surprise scare when an Elder asked my brother and I to surprise teach a lesson and we stupidly chose the 'Atonement' as the topic to teach about :|
My biggest concern, as of right now (28/3/2013), is funding for the mission. I worry that in the next 2 years, I won't be able to find a job to save up the money towards my mission. I want to be independent and be able to work for every single dollar of my mission. Hopefully, if I pray and exercise faith, obeying with exactness, that Heavenly Father will bless me with opportunities to find work. I'm sure it's a silly concern, but it's a concern nonetheless.
Of course I can focus on every little detail about a mission that petrifies me to no end and churns my stomach, but that's not what I'll be remembering if I DO SERVE a mission. They'll seem so insignificant compared to the many miracles, blessings and growth I'll experience throughout my mission.
I was thinking about serving a mission and stumbled across a blog about a sister who is currently serving her mission. I read a few of the blog posts and felt the Spirit comfort my fears of serving. The Spirit helped me realize that the MTC/mission will be a lot like EFY was.
Spiritual lessons every single day, feeling the Spirit strongly, growing close to the Scriptures, meeting new people and making friends with them, teaching each other...it's going to be JUST like EFY. If that's the case, it's going to be...
1. Hard and at times, troubling to the point where I'll want to go home and whine, but in the end I will have grown so much, learnt so much, met so many new people, and it will get to that point (like it did on the 4th and 5th day of EFY) where I will not WANT to go home.
2. Humbling; EFY was a scary experience. It's like being on a ship in the middle of the ocean...then being thrown off the side of the boat to learn how to swim. You're thrown into all these experiences where you have to teach, bear testimony, be in the light where everybody can critique you and place their judgements, meet people who intimidate you for the very first time and trying to connect with them enough to share the gospel with. If you think you're 'ALL THAT' and 'Super amazing'...you're going to get thrown under the humbling bus and run over a couple of times to ease out all that pride. You can, clearly as day, tell pride from being humble and meek. Pride thinks that they know it all, they can do it all and not lean on anybody else because only they are good enough to do it, they think 'Oh yeah, I got this...step back everyone because I'm about to do it". It's selfish, boastful, and wants to be thought as higher as they are. Being meek and humble means relying on others and being open to their help, being open to the Lord's grace and mercy for you so that He can literally pour out the blessings of Heaven unto you. It thinks, "I am aware of my weaknesses, I know that there are things that I simply cannot do on my own but I know that with Heavenly Father's help and the help of those around me, I can do it and have nothing to fear. I am easily teachable because I realize that I DON'T KNOW EVERYTHING". EFY was a very humbling experience, it built up a wall in front of you listing every weakness you have, it was confronting. BUT! if you were humble and willing to be taught, a line was drawn on that wall through all your weaknesses showing you a way, through Christ, to be made strong.
3. Spiritually strengthening; Every single day of EFY was the usual - Pray, read scriptures, have lessons almost every day about Spiritual principles and doctrines- It was amazing and something I truly enjoyed because I felt the Spirit so strongly. I personally felt so close to my Saviour and Father in Heaven that, at one point during the testimony meeting on the 4th day, I swear I could feel their presence in the room. I grew spiritually so much in only 5 days and have learnt principles and patterns that I've tried to live by every single day because of EFY. It strengthened my testimony greatly and that was in ONLY 5 DAYS. Imagine 18 months!
4. Prayer; I learnt how much I needed to rely on prayer at EFY. I prayed so many times during the day just to feel the Spirit, to express gratitude for my many blessings at being at EFY, for strength and courage when I felt like quitting and going home or when I felt so inadequate at everything, and most importantly...just to speak to my Heavenly Father about my day and what I had learnt by the Spirit. Prayer is SOO powerful but at times when I don't receive immediate answers, I begin to question it and it shows that I lack the faith that I will receive an answer eventually in one way or another.
5. Most importantly, it will be WORTH IT. Even though EFY almost mentally and physically killed me, I wouldn't change that experience or give it up for ANYTHING. It helped me grow so much and, like an artist carving a sculpture by chiselling at the parts he doesn't want, Heavenly Father was sculpting me continuously throughout EFY. There was many times I wanted to quit, or focused on something so unimportant in the grand scheme of things that I can't even remember now but when I look back at my growth throughout EFY, it was worth it.
Now, to be more 'optimistic' and 'counting my many blessings', I want to write about the many good points of serving a mission to encourage myself because it seems that I've scared myself senseless about serving and it's opening a nice gateway for the adversary to jump right in and begin messing up everything that Heavenly Father is gently setting in place.
For me, the blessings and spiritual growth seem to outweigh the fear I feel towards a mission. My desire to serve burns brighter than my numbing fear. I was absolutely petrified of EFY, I wanted to go SOOOO badly but then when it finally came time to go...I was paralysed with fear. I even wanted to decide not to go but to skip it all together. I feel inside that it's the same thing concerning a mission. I'm absolutely petrified of it, inside I have this inner thought of not even going and serving and just running away but that fear of regret of not going is what I NEVER want to feel. I don't want to stand in front of my Heavenly Father with the knowledge that I used my own gift of agency to NOT serve Him who gave me it. I don't want to miss that opportunity to teach a family while on my mission that, perhaps, Heavenly Father sent me to go and teach. If I don't teach them because of my lack, who will step up and take the blessings that I so freely gave away? Of course, that's not the only reason I'd be serving a mission. It's not because of fear of what may be, or how I'll feel in the presence of my Father. It's not that I want to be seen as AMAZING or SPIRITUALLY STRONG by men of the world.
I want to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because I want to serve Christ. I want to help other lost sheep of Christ find their way back to him and to feel that joy, happiness, and peace that comes from having the knowledge of the gospel in their lives. I want other families to experience the same blessings my family have experienced from coming back to the Lord's church and being sealed to one another for all time and Eternity. I want to go into the presence of my Saviour and be able to say to Him with a smile on my face and a song in my heart, "I helped as many as I could, Brother. I shared the testimony that burns within me of You. I opened my mouth and shared what I knew to be true in my heart and spirit". I want others to know about the Atonement of Jesus Christ and to know that they can become clean and forgiven through the Atonement, that it's a gift given to each and every single one of us individually. I want those lost sheep to know that there is a prophet on the Earth again and that Heavenly Father hasn't abandoned us, no, He is always with us guiding His children back to Him if only they listen and obey. I want them to know that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love them, that they are a daughter/son of a LOVING Heavenly Father who knows them individually by name, hopes, dreams and every detail of them.
I don't want to go up to the Judgement Bar where my Saviour and Father are standing and to see the individual souls beside them of whom I could have shared the gospel with on my mission but decided not to. I don't want to see their disappointed faces because I didn't open my mouth and share of the beautiful gospel with them. If I do see that, I don't think my heart could take that. THAT would be the regret I would hold the most dear and with the most pain.
That's what is burning inside of my chest, that underlying feeling and desire to serve. When I truly think about it...18 months is not a lot of time to share this wonderful gospel. 2 years is not even enough. I know that if I dedicate myself to full-time service for 18 months, they will fly by in moments. One minute I'll be thinking, "Wow! I am about to serve my Heavenly Father and Saviour for 18 months!" to "I can't believe I'm going home...".
In the grand scheme of eternity, a year and a half is not long at all. Of course my fears, along side with the adversary's whisperings in my head, might tempt me to succumb to my natural man's weakness and frailty but if I just dedicate my life for EIGHTEEN MONTHS to the Lord, my fears will seem small compared to the Spirit's comforting peace.
I know that the next 2 years of preparation are going to be 2 years that the adversary has to chuck an enormous amount of temptation my way, a lot of doubt and fear that he can place in my heart to turn me away from the Lord's errand but if I continue striving and thirsting after righteousness, I know that the adversary has absolutely no hold on me unless I give it to him.
It's something I need to remind myself daily of because, in reality, I'm my worst critic. Nobody judges me as harshly as I judge myself.
Only other people can see my true potential, especially Heavenly Father. This is where Faith comes into practice of believing and hoping in something that is not seen but is true. This is the time I need to hone in on listening to the very quiet and still voice of the Spirit, teaching me and prompting me of what to do to prepare instead of listening to the distracting voice of the adversary.
To be honest, I'm absolutely petrified. I'm scared. I don't know what might happen in the next 2 years. It's making me teary-eyed just thinking of the truth and vulnerability behind the words, "I'M SCARED".
I am scared because of my weaknesses, I'm scared that people will see them and judge them, I'm scared that I won't be as effective as I possibly could be....I'm scared. BUT! the difference is that I have the knowledge through the gospel of Jesus Christ that He is there for me. That He knows me by name, He knows my heart and my intentions and He will see me through because of grace. I am saved by grace, and I cherish that. I am blessed because of my weaknesses, because now I can lean on my Heavenly Father and Saviour Jesus Christ to strengthen me through them and to build my faith through my weaknesses. The next 2 years are going to be trying times and potentially a lot of trials of faith. Trials to see if I really have enough faith to follow my Saviour even when I can't see the steps in front of me. I'm scared but I have a glimmer of faith that He will see me through, holding my hand and saying "Come, follow me" (Matthew 16:24)
I want to leave a message to myself in the future for the next time whenever I read this;
- Ashleigh Shontelle Klenka, you are strong. You are one of the great and noble ones, selected by Heavenly Father Himself. You were given this life because you were strong enough to live it. You were not destined for failure, or created for giving up. You know that Heavenly Father thinks the world and more of you. He loves you with every single bit of Him. You have had so many prayers answered through people and through the Spirit, don't forget that, lean on those experiences when you feel your faith wavering. Continue writing in your testimony book, cherish and show Heavenly Father that you find these answers sacred. Do not ever, no not ever, think that because you have weaknesses and that you fail sometimes that you have failed Him. You can never fail Him if you continue to pick yourself up, dust off the sins of the world, and continue to follow Him. This life is a test, a probationary time to prepare yourself to enter in your Father's presence again. DO NOT WASTE THIS PRECIOUS TIME FREELY GIVEN TO YOU! Even though it is a gift, do not treat it like trash. Cherish it, praise it, use it wisely. Do not live in a way that when you enter back into your Father's presence, you will experience all your regrets flooding back. When times seem the darkest, when you literally feel that you cannot continue any more and that you feel that Heavenly Father has forsaken you, remember that He is going to welcome you back home with His loving arms open to embrace you. He loves you so dearly, Ashleigh. Though this world may tell you otherwise, know that right now He is waiting for you to speak to Him in prayer, to tell Him every detail of your day and to know that you used your own agency to speak to Him. Know that right now, I feel that burning testimony of Christ and of the love Heavenly Father has for you. It even says in your patriarchal blessing just HOW MUCH HE LOVES YOU! You are a ruby in His sight. Never doubt your infinite and divine worth. I love you. Jesus Christ loves you and died individually for your sins because of it. Heavenly Father loves you with all His heart and He knows in His eternal perspective that you are destined to become a Queen. The Holy Ghost is always with you and loves your Spirit. You are loved by many, Ashleigh, even though at times you may not feel that way at all. DO NOT LISTEN TO THOSE FEELINGS. Anything that is not love and peace is not of the Spirit but of the miserable, angry and hateful one called Satan. He doesn't love you at all and wants to make you feel the same way he feels. It's not wrong to have those feelings, but it is wrong to listen to them and to give them thought.
You are a strong spiritual daughter of the Eternal Father. He knows you better than you know yourself because HE CREATED YOU! Rejoice in that. Know that with every fibre of your being.
"It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ's Atonement shines" - Jeffrey R. Holland.
You are never going to reach perfection in this life. You cannot work your way into Heaven or buy yourself a ticket. Live simply day by day following the Spirit, following Christ's example and understanding the knowledge and peace that the gospel brings. You can do this, Ashleigh, because Past Ashleigh believes in you :3
~ Sappy letter over ~
I know that somewhere, deep down in my Spirit that I am serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints. It's destined. It's a part of Heavenly Father's plan for me. I just need to remember the courage I had in the Pre-mortal existence when I chose to follow Christ. I feel it. I will know it one day. I love my Saviour and Father and I will never be able to express it enough in this life. I hope that whoever reads this can feel the Spirit in some small portion or understand me a little better :)
"For verily I say unto you, that great things await you" - Doctrine and Covenants 45:62
(My favourite scripture)
- I'm sorry this is SOOO LONG! I really needed to rant because I was hysterically crying from fear about serving a mission after we saw Michael off at the Airport as he left for Adelaide. It's not that I was crying because I missed him, I did plenty of that at the airport, but it was because I really needed to look deep down and find out for myself with certainty - Am I serving a mission in the next 2 years, and if so, what am I doing to prepare for that day by day? -. Sorry it's so long! :D It's very heartfelt though so I guess that's a bonus! -