Be Bold and Show Up

I am, by nature, a rather passive person. When depressed, my tendency towards passivity is incredibly damaging. 

I felt stuck. I couldn’t stop the thoughts that I was incapable because I didn’t do anything. I wanted my actions to be centered on love and connection but was worried my efforts wouldn’t be correct or welcomed.

As a new missionary, I was also timid and afraid. I devoted a lot of study time to the topic of boldness but, unfortunately, didn’t find much that was particularly helpful. The prophets were so sure of themselves, their spiritual promptings so distinct. I knew the Spirit only as a general feeling—I didn’t understand what it meant to receive directions so clearly. Some examples from other missionaries didn’t strike me as bold as much as downright mean. I knew the truth could be hard to hear, but does it then necessarily follow that we must be hard when we deliver it? I wanted to be brave, but I didn’t want to be unkind.

A couple of months into my mission, my trainer and I were affected by an emergency transfer. Our Zone Leader, knowing that this was a tense situation for us, came to give us Priesthood Blessings that morning. In mine, I was told that there were people waiting for me to teach them the gospel and that I would find them and have a successful mission if I could be bold. I appreciated the encouragement of the Spirit, but also thought, I know, I’ve been trying, but how am I supposed to do it?

Later, that same day, a sister from the ward called to say she couldn’t go with us as scheduled to a lesson because she was feeling unwell. I told her that was fine, and I hoped she got better. I thought we’d go by ourselves, but my trainer told me to find someone else. I prayed to know who to call and felt that I should call back the original sister. That seemed rude to me. She’d just told me she was sick. I thought it was just wishful thinking on my part, a desire to avoid any more phone calls, and tried someone else instead. That failed. I felt again that I should call back the original sister.

I thought about the Priesthood Blessing and my direction to be bold. I was afraid the sister would be mad at me for bugging her when she’d already told us she couldn’t. I decided to call her but not push her. I said, “I’m sorry you’re sick, is there something we can bring to you when we go out to our appointment?” So bold. She replied that she had just been talking with her daughter and realized they weren’t sick, they were just feeling low and what better way to get out of the dumps than to go out with the sister missionaries. She asked if we still wanted her to go with us to our appointment. I was amazed! I had done something bold!

When my trainer and I arrived at the sister’s house, she asked if we could take some flowers to her mother’s grave on the way. What happened in the graveyard was far more than I expected and taught me what it was to be bold in a way I hadn’t thought of before. The full story can be read in the post “A Light in the Darkness.” I would like to add that while I wish it was some grand inspiration that made me move and help the injured man in the cemetery, it was not. I was frozen and I didn’t answer my companion’s call to come and help, at least not right away, because I was too afraid. A dog came out of the woods and I went to the dog. I love dogs and they don’t scare me. I pet his head and shooed him away. Then, I went to help.

I have learned that boldness is to act in spite of fear. It is to move when you think you can’t, even if the move is small. One action will bring more. Confidence grows as we simply try. Sometimes, “all we can do” is show up and then the grace of God will meet us where we are (2 Ne 25:23). The reality of our fear isn’t as big as we imagine and the realization of our hopes is always grander than we dreamed. 

A Light in Darkness

This post is part of “my story” which begins with the post “Finding Purpose”

Hope is not the same as wishful thinking. Hope requires knowing where you want to go, some knowledge of how to get there, and confidence in your own ability. With these three together, hope can give you the persistence to keep going when the road gets rough. God gave me hope when I was a missionary, and the Spirit brought it back to me again. 

I had been in the mission field for two months when my missionary trainer and I were scheduled to teach a lesson with the help of another sister in the ward. When we met up with this sister, she asked to quickly put some flowers on her mother’s grave on our way. There are many small cemeteries scattered around the country areas of Georgia and Tennessee. This should not have added any time to our trip.

When we first pulled into the graveyard, I was in the back seat and could only glimpse the van that was parked in front of us and the man that was collapsed next to it. The sister was at first upset that someone was parked beside her mother’s grave and then near panicked when she realized he was seriously injured. Due to poor cell reception, she needed to leave to call for an ambulance. I got out of the car with the full intention of helping, trying to remember first aid, and then froze.

My mind went completely blank, paralyzed by a sudden and intense fear. Not the fear of physical violence, that had already been done, but fear of palpable darkness. As I stood there, it seemed as though someone was laughing at me. I was ashamed that I could not move, embarrassed at my own weakness, and someone thought that was hilarious. Unseen fingers slick with a heavy oil sought to cover my skin and seep into my pores. My companion kept calling for me to come over to her until I finally moved.

The man, now lying on his back, was fatally injured. We wrapped the wound as best we could, but there wasn’t much to be done. We prayed, spoke with him for as long as he was able, sang hymns, and then kept silent. We were surrounded by a light that shielded us from the darkness. Sitting next to him, I felt completely calm. My lungs expanded without constriction, my mind took in not only our conversation and his condition but also the light filtering through the trees and the beauty of the place. The beauty of the whole world astounded me. I felt completely at peace.

We remained with the injured man in this state for about half an hour until he passed away. With that final breath, the light began to recede. A couple of minutes later when the emergency vehicle arrived and the EMT began her work, I became aware again of the darkness. This time, however, they were farther from me. Fingers that before were taunting and pushing were now clenched in rage, but they could not touch me.

Even so, the feeling of that much rage directed at me brought back doubt of my own strength. I cried to God asking why I was sent there when I was unable to do anything of any use. The man had died. I had not helped him. I thought a Priesthood holder would have been more effective: the Zone Leader, the District Leader, a man from the ward that lived in the area, so many choices other than me. I felt useless and powerless.

In answer there came to my mind a picture of myself wearing the mantle of a missionary and emanating light. There also came the knowledge that I had fulfilled that which was asked of me. I pushed back the darkness. That was my purpose as a missionary. Where ever I stood, darkness could not. 

The light that shone from around me was brilliant and powerful. I understood at that moment that I had made covenants to my Heavenly Father and with those covenants came the ability to call upon the accompanying blessings at any time and the assurance that my call would be answered. I would be able to fulfill all that God asked me to do because He would enable me to do it with all the light and power of heaven. 

This is what I wanted to be again. Full of light. A light for my family. Sure of my own power to conquer the darkness. I wasn’t there yet, just as I wasn’t yet a confident missionary when this first happened, but I felt the hope just the same. I knew that I could get there because the light of heaven is still promised to me, and heaven always answers.

Remember, remember…doctrines over habits

This post is part of “My Story” which begins with “Finding Purpose”

We are never grateful for our trials until we start to learn from them—until we start using them to build strength in spite of fear and pain. The memories of previous trials and triumphs give us the courage to face current ones. When we learn from our experiences, even the failures, the truth we’ve gained gives us power throughout the rest of our lives, come what may. 

For me, the turning point in Michigan came late one night when I couldn’t go to sleep even though I so desperately needed to. Filled with various levels of rage, frustration, self-loathing, and weariness, the most shocking thing was how familiar it felt. Lying in bed with my thoughts swirling around, I remembered that I had felt this way before. 

It had happened in the Missionary Training Center, in an auditorium full of missionaries. I just panicked. I felt like a fraud. What have I done? I asked myself. I’m not strong enough to serve a mission. This is the stupidest mistake of my life.

Then I looked down and read from the Joseph Smith History, open on my lap.

For I had seen a vision, I knew it and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God 

As I read these words, memories returned of the things that I knew from personal revelation, those things that God had taught me Himself through His Spirit such that I knew it, and God knew that I knew. My mission was an expression of gratitude to Him for all that had come before. Knowing that He wanted me to do this for Him, it seemed ungrateful to quit.

I was still terrified, but I served. I served with love, and I grew, and I found joy. Not only had I survived my mission, I had thrived as a missionary. 

Lying in my bed, seven years later, I remembered being that missionary. Once again, I was scared, but I remembered the promises and the blessings. Did they still apply?

Before leaving my mission, I spoke with the Branch President in my last area. Sensing my sadness about going home, he told me not to worry. “Your title and job description change, but you are always serving,” he said. “In all important matters, nothing really changes. You just move from one calling to another.”

I tried at first to think of the missionary schedule—the measurable goals, the reporting methods. These didn’t work in my new life, no matter how hard I tried. I no longer had two full hours in which to study, or a 24-hour companion, or the luxury of focusing completely on the work of God. My responsibilities had expanded and become so varied, I felt pulled in too many directions.

But that Branch President was right. My covenants didn’t change. My study time may have decreased, but the scriptures are still a source of inspiration. I still serve many people in many ways. As a missionary, I learned how to serve. Those lessons were just as powerful as ever. I loved my mission because I had become a missionary. 

In Preach My Gospel there is a quote from President Boyd K. Packer that I used constantly when planning lessons for others: 

True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than the study of behavior will improve behavior. 

If someone was having a hard time with a particular commandment or aspect of the gospel, I would try to find the underlying doctrine that would help. I was there to help people build testimonies, not boss them around. I now needed to do the same thing for myself. 

Just as memories had strengthened me in the MTC, memories of previous victories over depression and pain strengthened me again in Michigan. The circumstances were different, but the feelings were the same. I combed through my memories, reliving the experiences and paying particular attention to the lessons. I thought about the significance of those lessons and how they applied to me in my new roles. I discovered that eternal truths apply regardless of position or circumstance. And truth really does set you free.