Monday, September 29, 2014

A Day of Homecoming

There are many things that we do each day and at different points in our life. When we are young, we wake up, go to school, eat. We grow and begin to drive and date. Eventually, we leave home and decide what we will do with our life. Get married, go to college, find a job, start a family. As our life continues, we do more and more, always adding to the never ending list of to dos. But just as vital as what we do is who we are.
We can go through the motions of life and never let anything really change us. We can do Christian things, but not be a Christian. That is the fact of doing. But as we are doing, who are we becoming? Our Savior, Jesus Christ has said, “Behold I am the light; I have set an example for you.” (3 Nephi 18:16) The life the Savior led was one of humility, charity, strength and obedience. As we work to emulate Christ’s life, we will be able to become the amazing work of art that our Father sees us becoming. But we can’t become like the Savior if we don’t know who He is. The next question then would be, who was the man named Jesus of Nazareth?
Humble. 2000 years ago, a babe was born in a manger. He would come to be known as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, but on that night, none watched over but the stable animals and the local shepherds. He truly was humble.
Knowledgeable. As the babe grew, he increased in wisdom. When he was just a boy, his parents took him to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. As they left the feast, they looked to their company and realized the Boy was not with them. They frantically ran back to the city where they found Him in the temple among the rabbi’s and teachers who were both hearing and questioning the young Boy. And “all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.” (Luke 2:47) Mary and Joseph were stunned and, after gathering the Boy, headed back to their home town while Mary pondered all these things within her heart. As He grew, we are told that He “increased in wisdom and stature.” (Luke 2:52) He truly was knowledgeable.
Obedient. The Boy became a man and at the age of 30, he left into the wilderness in search of John the Baptist. As Jesus came to John, John looked to him in surprise. “I have need to be baptized of thee,” (Matthew 3:14) he said. John knew who this man was. He recognized in him one who was perfect, without sin or blemish. Why would a perfect person need to be baptized? Jesus responded, “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:15) The Savior understood the eternal significance of being obedient.
Hopeful. After His baptism, Jesus began his earthly ministry. One day, a ruler of the synagogue, came to the Savior pleading for His help. The man’s daughter was on her deathbed and she was but 12 years old. Jesus followed the man to his home, but as they went, they were stopped by a servant who told the ruler, “Thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Master any further?” (Mark 3:35) Hearing this and knowing of the sorrow that must have filled the man’s heart, Jesus quickly said, “Be not afraid, only believe.” (Mark 3:36) They continued to the man’s house and as the Savior looked down on the still body he quietly says, “Talitha cumi” (Mark 5:41) meaning “Daughter, arise.” The young girl was healed and the man was filled with joy. Truly, the Savior was an emblem of hope.
Faithful.  As the Savior continued His ministry, another parent came to him. This man’s son had been afflicted with a devil from a young age. The father plead with Jesus saying, “If thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us.” (Mark 9:22) Surely the Savior knew of the hardships of this man’s family. Constantly having to care and look after a boy who would throw himself into the fire, gnash at his teeth and tear at his own body. How exhausted the boy’s parents must have been. In response, the Savior says, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” (Mark 9:23) Straightway, the father cries, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” (Mark 9:24) With the seed of faith that this father held, the Savior healed his son. Even thou the man was still yet filled with unbelief, the Savior knew of his faith and yearned to help him build it. Truly the Savior knew the power of faith.
Charity. Though Jesus went about doing good, many were not happy with the way He taught. There were some who constantly tried to find new ways to condemn Him. One such group of people brought a woman to the Savior. With accusatory glances they described why this woman was at Jesus’s feet. “Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?” (John 8:4-5) Instead of looking at the accusers, the Savior looks at the ground and begins to write. His response was simple, “He that is without sin, let him cast the first stone.” (John 8:7) There was only one in the room without sin who had the authority to cast a stone at the adulterous woman and that was Jesus himself. Slowly, each of the accusers left the room, leaving Jesus and the woman alone. What does the Savior do to the woman now? Does He through the stone? No. He looked to the woman, eyes full of love and said, “Woman, where are those thine accusers?” (John 8:10) With a heart full of gratitude which only the forgiven can understand she said, “No man, Lord.” “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” Charity is so much more than an act of service or money given to an organization. It is the pure love of Christ. Truly, Christ was our perfect example of charity.
Courageous. The condemnation continued until the accusers could wait no more. They accused Jesus of their highest treason, blasphemy and condemned him to death. They bound Jesus in chords and took him to the governor, Pilate, to be judged. Standing before this great Roman authority, the Savior boldly proclaimed, “My kingdom is not of this world. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world.” (John 18:36-37) Even in His last moments, Jesus was courageous.
Trusting. Just before judgment, the Savior prophesied to His apostles of the hour that would soon come where they would each “be scattered, every man to his own” (John 16:32) and would leave the Savior alone. Nevertheless he said “He that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone” (John 8:29) As the Savior proceeded with the infinite and essential Atonement which only He could accomplish, the Father knew that for the Atonement to be complete, the Savior would need to finish this great act on His own. Thus, as the Savior hung on the cross, he cried “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” meaning “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” For a moment, the Eternal Father would need to withdraw His Spirit and the Savior would be left completely and utterly alone. Here was the ultimate test. Even though the Savior could not feel His Father around Him, would he still hold strong to the promises that had been made to Him? Would he completely and totally trust in His Father? Yes. Of all things, the Savior was always trusting in His Father.
Humble, knowledgeable, obedient, hopeful, faithful, charitable, courageous and trusting. It is essential that each of us develop these attributes in this life. But how? How can we possibly hope to attain a level of perfection and example that the Savior showed? The Book of Mormon gives us the answer. “Come unto Christ and be perfected in Him,” (Moroni 10:32) Through our Savior and His atonement, we truly can be perfected. We can develop each of these traits through earnest study, prayer and action.
I know that on my mission, I could have gone through the motions and done all of the things that missionaries do. But instead of doing missionary work, the Father needs each of us to be missionaries. There were very specific instances in which each of these attributes became important. Times where without them, I would have utterly failed.
I began my mission in Evansville, Indiana. I was so excited to be a missionary. But I quickly realized that I had a lot to learn. I was trained by one of the best sisters I’ve ever known, Sister Chelsey Earl. Yes, she taught me how to do missionary work; how to teach, make lesson plans, contact people on the street. But more than anything else, she taught me how to be a missionary. She was my example of someone who truly loved her mission. I could not have been more excited to continue to learn at her feet for the 12 weeks I would be trained by her. Then, 6 weeks into my mission, we got a call from our mission president. “Sister Thorne,” he said, “The Lord has a great calling for you. He needs you to open a new area in Jasper, Indiana and train one of our new sisters coming in. Will you answer the Lord’s call?” My heart sank. In shock I said, “I will go and do whatever the Lord needs me to.” He then asked to talk to Sister Earl so I handed the phone to her. Suddenly, the car was suffocating me. I couldn’t breathe. I looked to her and mouthed that I needed some air. I got out of the car and immediately, all my strength came crashing down. My shoulders shook with sobs and all I could do was pace behind the car and stare up at the heavens angrily. “How could you do this to me? I can’t do this! There’s no way you can expect me to do this. What on earth are you thinking?” After a minute, Sister Earl got out of the car and wrapped me in her arms. I calmed down and we headed into our appointment. Later that night, the zone leaders came and gave me a blessing. In the blessing, the Lord told me that He would give me the strength, the words, the gifts that I would need to accomplish what He had called me to do as long as I was willing to ask. He told me that I needed to never lose my hope, never lose my faith. Keep trusting in Him and everything would work out. As I left Evansville and went to Jasper with Sister Junk I prayed harder than I have ever done in my life and I faced many many hardships. The refiners fire was far from over. But through it all, I held strong to the hope that God had given me. Through prayer, I knew of the promises He had made to me. Hope truly is a power that can get us through anything.
Before my mission, I spent 11 days in the Provo MTC. It was a very overwhelming time. It felt like drinking from a fire hydrant. I specifically remember one day as we sat and the teacher, Sister McGill, told us that today we were going to learn about Charity. She started explaining that she had only felt true charity twice on her mission. Confusion came over my face. What? Charity was service you give to others. You go work at charities. Or you give money to them. How could she only have felt that twice on her mission? We then turned to Moroni 7:47 and read “Charity is the pure love of Christ.” Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Wait a minute. That was very different from the definition I grew up with. So immediately I set out to understand what Charity was. I spent many hours during those 11 days studying every scripture I could find that mentioned the word charity. Slowly, I understood that charity was truly the deepest love that could ever exist. It was the love that gave our Savior the strength and the reason to accomplish His great sacrifice. Because He loves us. I decided that that would be my mission goal. To develop true charity. It didn’t come all at once. I didn’t wake up one morning and say, “I have true charity for everyone!” It came gradually. So slowly, I didn’t even notice. But by the end of my mission, I realized that as I went through each day, as I talked to people on the street, I loved them. It didn’t matter what they looked like, who they were, or how they treated me. They were a son or daughter of our Heavenly Father. And He loved them eternally. So I did too. I have never felt so much happiness in my life. Understanding the love that God has for each of His children is truly miraculous.

Each of these attributes were goals that I had set for myself, things that I wanted to work on. But there is one trait more than any of the others that God worked within me without me even knowing. It is actually my ultimate spiritual weakness. That of trusting in God and His plan. I am the kind of person that always has my own plan. I always have steps set out to accomplish that plan and I know my limits so I know exactly what I can and can’t accomplish. I didn’t want to leave it up to God to accomplish my goals, because I didn’t know for certain that He would. I never truly trusted Him. That is why my favorite scripture is Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths.” It is in reality my life goal. As my mission was coming to a close, I was filled with fear. What would happen next? Where would I go? What would I do? Would everything with school work out? I didn’t even want to begin to think about dating. There were so many what ifs that I had absolutely no control over. Each night, I fell to my knees asking for direction, answers, anything. But nothing happened. I remember one day, our plans started going terribly wrong. One of our investigators actually ended up in jail. Yep. Definitely not in the plan. Sister Brian came to me and asked, “What are we going to do? How is this going to work out?” Her eyes searched mine, begging that I would have some answer that would magically fix our problem. Without thinking about it, I said “I don’t know. But it’s going to be okay. Everything will be okay. God will make sure of it.” Sister Brian looked at me and asked, “How can you be so certain?” Suddenly, the Spirit was all around me. Tears filled my eyes and I said, “Because I trust Him.” In that moment, the Lord worked in me a mighty miracle. He showed me that through the course of 18 months, above all attributes, He had taught me how to trust Him. He had truly made my weakness into a strength. I knew that no matter what happened, either with our investigator, or once I got home, everything would be okay. It would all work out. Because I trusted my Father and I knew He was in charge.

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