This weekend, we had a mission conference and the incredible opportunity to hear from Elder Dallin H. Oaks, one of the twelve apostles! I got to SHAKE HIS HAND and I was so excited about that. In fact I was so in awe as I shook his hand that I totally didn't even know what to say and I just stared at him for a second. Finally, I realized I was starting, and so I blurted out something lame like, "Thank you for coming!" He just smiled and I I think he said, "No, thank YOU!" Haha. Silly me. But it was a cool experience. I also was privileged to be conducting the music for the entire mission. I'm not going to lie, I was actually a bit nervous on the first hymn to be conducting for an APOSTLE. Good thing I had to take that "basic conducting" course for my music minor so I could pull out two-handed conducting and look like a pro. Phew! Who would have known it would end up being one of my favorite and most practical classes I took in college?!
But oh my, what a huge blessing it was to hear from Elder Oaks this weekend! I loved the opportunity to be in his presence, since he truly reflects Christ in his countenance and the spirit just exudes from him. I can say with all the conviction of my heart that he truly is an apostle of the Lord. He focused on the importance of pointing those we teach as well as ourselves toward the temple and how faithfully keeping the covenants that we make with Heavenly Father truly needs to be our ultimate goal in life. He talked about the attitude that has invaded LDS culture that the mission is IT--THE ultimate goal. I know that I have been guilty of having this attitude! He shared an experience from Elder Perry who was going through the temple with his grandson before his grandson left on his mission. All of the temple workers kept talking with his grandson about his mission, how awesome it was that he was going, etc. Elder Perry said it made him sad...he said that here he was with his grandson, who was about to make sacred covenants with his Heavenly Father that would allow him to return to His presence once again, and all the people could focus on was his mission. Of course a mission is important, but Elder Oaks' point was that the culminating experience of our lives is not our mission experience, but the opportunity we have to make covenants with Heavenly Father. My whole life I always planned on going on a mission but didn't have too much of a plan beyond that. I LOVED how he highlighted the importance of viewing a mission as a wonderful privilege and opportunity to build a solid foundation, but that we need to recognize that missions are here to prepare us for the things to come. Even though this is obviously something that I knew already, it was very eye-opening to hear it from an apostle in the context that he discussed it. I keep hearing recently about returned missionaries who fall away from the gospel and I couldn't figure out why or how that could happen. But I realize that this is because I kept viewing a mission as being "the ultimate goal" or the "ultimate conversion experience"...and honestly, those who fall away afterwards probably viewed their mission in the same light. However, for me, hearing Elder Oaks speak helped me to understand things in a broader, more eternal perspective. A mission is so short in the eternal scheme. It is an excellent opportunity to become converted, to strengthen our testimonies, and to strengthen our relationship with the Lord, but it really is just a starting point for our spiritual growth. It is so much more important to make sure we are continuing to strengthen our testimonies after our missions. Serving a mission teaches us about keeping covenants to prepare us to continue to make and keep sacred covenants for the rest of our lives. Basically...I had a spiritual EPIPHANY this weekend. And it rocked.
He also talked about how important it is for us to be focusing on marriage when we get home from our missions. He started talking about "hanging out" vs. dating...he said, "These doggone RMS go home and start 'hanging out'! If it's not a sin, it sure is close to it!" hahahaha. He was actually really funny. I found myself laughing a lot. Probably one of the funniest moments was when Sister Steg and I (who were sitting next to each other) started laughing so hard about something he said that we kept laughing after everyone else had stopped...and then he as well as the rest of the mission noticed and started laughing because we were laughing. (If you think MY laugh is loud, you should hear hers!!) He also talked about testimony and opened it up for missionaries to share experiences about how they received their testimonies, which was very powerful.
It was the culminating experience to a FANTASTIC week of missionary work! We saw a lot of miracles this week. I continue to love my ward more and more. It's a little discouraging because we haven't baptized since Luigi, yet I feel like I am working harder here than I have on my mission. I am especially working harder than I ever have to get to know the ward...I've never done as much member work as I have here in Wellington, but Sister Johnson and I are really striving to get to know all of the members and have been visiting them and sharing brief messages and prayers (and even dropping off cookies!). It has really paid off!! We have been able to gain the trust of the ward and hopefully that means the missionary work will start picking up soon here. I feel like in a lot of ways, even though we aren't seeing a lot of "outward success" right now, we are laying a foundation for great things to happen with missionary work in the future here. And I have learned so much from getting to know the ward members and seeing their amazing examples! The members here are incredible. I love them all so much and have been so impressed with them. I find myself thinking things like, "I hope I can be like Sister Moore and Sister Oaks when I grow up!" They have all been so kind to us! We had one family invite us over for Christmas Eve and another family tell us how much they want us to come over for Christmas. It has been so wonderful to feel their love as we reach out and try to serve them. This week, we were talking to our Bishop and he was telling us what happened after we left the ward council meeting on Sunday. He said that the elders' quorum president commented, "We need more sister missionaries!" and then the 2nd counselor in the bishopric said, "No, we don't need more sister missionaries....we need more sister missionaries like THOSE two." It was a truly humbling and wonderful thing to hear from him, to recognize that the ward sees our hard work and effort.
So even though I'm not seeing success the way I want to, I know we are doing the things the Lord wants us to do. We have had the opportunity to strengthen a lot of ward members, as well as less-actives and part member families, and have been able to see the fruits of our labors as some of these members return to church or come to church for the first time. God really is blessing us... and teaching us about patience at the same time.
Life is good! And life as a missionary is even better :)
PS- Met a new sister in our mission this week who came up to me and said, "I hope this doesn't sound creepy...but I know who you are because saw your blog before I came out here on my mission." Obviously I didn't think it was creepy at all. I loved it. :)