I woke up this morning with a song in my heart. It was 6:00 AM- I had been up until midnight, and I was recovering from a rotten cold. I am away from family and friends, with very few material possessions. The peace and joy I felt made no logical sense.
As a scientist I always want to analyze data that is not logical to find the “secret” or the unknown cause that is lurking beneath the unexpected data. As a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints of 35 years, I am still amazed how differently the Lord works, and how easy it is when we do what we are asked. It does not always make sense, but it always works…
What brings this joy, this feeling of accomplishment on a mission, when we are not doing anything that we don’t do in our normal lives in our home in Washington with our own friends in our own surroundings??? I am not sure, but I want to understand it so that I can have it for the rest of our lives. Here are some of my hypotheses…
1. In a real, tangible sense, totally trusting your life to the Lord. Going on a mission where you say that you will go anywhere you are asked and will do anything you are asked is sort of like jumping off of a building and asking the angels to catch you. When you land, it is like being in OZ and saying OK, now why am I here? It really causes you to reflect about what is important to the Lord and how you can use your skills and talents to do what God thinks is important, rather than trying to sift through everything in your daily life. There is no waiting until we have time for things or until whatever we think needs to get done gets done. It never does. Those things are what we are here for, and get #1 priority. Interestingly, the tiny little things that we are continually doing here, that seem insignificant in themselves, are a big deal to the people on the receiving end at that moment. It is very rewarding to not have the distractions that we do in real life to do things we see that need to be done and be able to do them right then in a way that works.
2. You are no longer yourself. I always thought the missionary badge would be inhibiting, but it is surprisingly liberating. People recognize you as a representative of the Lord, rather than as Dan or Lezlie. Because of that they assume you want to be nice, and most people are inordinately polite and helpful. We know who we are, so it is just amusing if people seem afraid of the tags. On base, because of the competent and dedicated work our predecessors did, we are welcomed with open arms. Anyone who has worked with Sr missionaries in the past has been not only respectful but almost in awe. The biggest confusion they have is that they cannot believe we are not getting paid. They recently had to hire a Catholic Priest on base to serve mass to the Catholic candidates, because they did not have a Catholic Chaplain here, and some of the other distinctive faith leaders that are volunteers will not come to the early morning meetings, so all the chaplains are very amazed that the Mormons are having services with up to 5 volunteer leaders who come at 5:00 in the morning if necessary- our bishop came down ( 40 minutes to our early services today) because one of the officer candidates needed a marriage interview so he can get married in the temple when he graduates in Dec. We feel we are filling big shoes. But we know we are competent to do whatever is asked. It is a good feeling- to know that your life experience has taught you something you can use for the good of something much bigger! Seeing the dedication that the other missionaries here have is inspiring- People have the stereotype of the young elders knocking on doors, but we see them working in food banks, tutoring, building retaining walls in parks, weeding and painting Boys Clubs, and singing in the hospital. We feel every time that we put our badges on that it is an honor to wear them.
3. We have only what we need to make us comfortable. The apartment we have is very simple but adequate for our daily life- a comfortable bed, 2 working bathrooms, a view of a woods and a bonus for us is the dog walking area is right out of our window- tender mercies) a friendly toad and squirrel that visit frequently, and a large, efficient oven. We have a desk for our computer and enough closet space for our clothes. It takes us 10 minutes to get ready in the morning, and 10 minutes once a week to clean the apartment. We have nothing personally we think we have to do. We do not have to get back or change plans to water the plants, or feed the dogs or watch a TV show. Instead of being a hardship, it is quite liberating.
4. Dan and I are focused on the same goals every hour of every day. We are a great team, but it is easy to get in routines and our own interests at home. Not that that is bad, but it is invigorating to have to revitalize and use each other’s skills as we work to achieve the same end. We make a plan each day, divide up the work, and then do what we each do best and help each other. The end result is appreciated by both of us. For example, I research LDS military families that are new or struggling in the area, and determine where they are geographically and group them. Dan takes care of being sure the car is ready, and checks past visits for any special needs. I bake something to take or we take a coloring book or flowers, depending on where we are going. Afterward he records what happened while I plan the next visit. When I do a lesson, he does the audio-visual, and vice versa. It has been fun to be in new situations where we have to depend on each other in new and yet old ways. Along these lines, we are together all the time- never more than a room away. Instead of feeling like we have to make an effort to give one another attention, it is automatic, and we both receive enough attention from our spouse..!
5. We are forced to be resilient and flexible and creative. This gets more difficult as you get older, and it is good to exercise this quality. We plan every evening for the next day, and adjust it in the morning, and there has not been a day gone by that something hasn’t thrown our entire plan out the window. A young elder breaks his foot, they cancel one of our meetings with OCS, no one shows up at TBS because they are in the field, the other Sr missionary couple here got salmonella, one of the OCS candidates wife finds out she may have been exposed to a dangerous disease while pregnant, a young sister missionary must be sent home and we must transport to Richmond, and on and on. But interestingly, we have dealt with these things and STILL accomplished all that we had planned. Not in the same order or at the same time, but by the same deadline we had set for ourselves. As a matter of fact we are currently ahead of schedule. This doesn’t work out on paper, but we are experiencing it happening. Sort of the parable of putting the pebbles in before the sand… So see the flexibility & resiliency of the young missionaries is unbelievable. Today was transfer day- they had 1 day to pack up everything they have and be ready to start work with a new companion in a new area. They are very close to their companions so it is very difficult to leave friends they have just begun to feel comfortable with. But it works. They obey and receive skills and blessings that cannot be described and will be with them their entire life. We do not feel interrupted or bothered like at home when something comes up- it is as though this must be what we are supposed to deal with now. This is our job. And it is amazing to be in the places you can help and make a difference when you are willing to do it. These are qualities we are learning and hope to carry over more off our mission.
I am sure I will have many more reflections on why this works over the next several months, but right now we are enjoying having a very positive and amazing experience doing very simple things.(Dan - I would like to echo Lezlie's reflections and agree with all she has said. We are having an amazing experience in only our first month, and it is hard to capture exactly why it is so amazing. I think that being able to truly make service to others and thereby service to God your number 1 priority all the time provides wonderful feelings of peace, contentment, and fulfillment. We love what we are doing. We love being missionaries.)