Friday, September 27, 2013

"I am the way, the truth and the life" John 14:6

 Hello! I am so sorry for not blogging last week. I will be completely honest with you, I just plain forgot. I hope no one was waiting eagerly by the computer for my post, but if you were I will try and make this week's entry extra wonderful just for you. 

I have wonderful news. I got transferred! Not only did I get transferred, but I have been assigned to labor in paradise. I now live on a gorgeous little island called Jeju. It has palm trees framing stunning ocean views. I'm in love. Not to mention that my house has more than one room now! I've officially upgraded to a two-room apartment. It feels as if I'm living in a palace. I can already tell it's going to feel quite overwhelming when I go back to the US and live in an American sized uber-house again. 

The branch in Jeju is wonderful as there are actually members here, which is a welcomed change. Our branch has around 50 people coming every week. I feel so blessed to be in this area. Hopefully I get to stay in paradise for a little while. 

I have a secret confession to make. I actually think it is the second one that I have disclosed so far. Of course they both have to do with food. Last night I ate pasta with octopus, and I loved it. What's happening to my squeamishness at eating things with tentacles and eyes attached? I'm not sure, but I think I'm just going to go with it. 

I came across a talk this week by Elder Holland and it touched me so much that I wanted to share its message with you. The talk is called Broken Things to Mend. One thing that particularly stood out to me is was trust. Talking about Christ he says: "He is saying to us, 'Trust me, learn of me, do what I do. Then when you walk where I am going,' He says, 'We (you and your Savior), can talk about where you are going, and the problems you face and the troubles you have. If you will follow me, I will lead you out of darkness'.... When He says to the poor in spirit, 'come unto me,' He means He knows the way out and He knows the way up. He knows it because He has walked it. He knows the way because He is the way."

The first thing Christ asks us to do is walk His walk. If we expect Him to lead us along we have to get on the path that He would walk if He were here, and tend to the things he would do. If we want to follow Him we can't jump on the highway with our friends and drive in the opposite direction and then think He will lead us along a back-country road that often leads to dead ends. Instead we need to head the signs that are placed along the road to mark the path that He has set out for His followers. The road that takes us full circle back to our Father in Heaven.

 More often than not that path is not easy. There are so many neon signs with pretty colors and enticing slogans that the plain and simple signs of Christ seem dull in comparison. As we look ahead sometimes it seems like we can take the flashy road and still be able to exit off when we need nourishment or rest. Sadly, it is often difficult to get off the wrong path. Sometimes I think we tend to keep plowing ahead down the wrong road is because we figure that it easier to stay on the path we chose rather than searching for an exit leading to a better path. It doesn’t matter how we started down the road, either following the Saviors road signs, or being diverted by the neon signs, getting on and staying on the road that takes us home to our Father takes trust. To confuse the issue even more is that guidance doesn't come until after we choose His path. We have to make a conscientious decision to follow Him first before we can recognize the sins before us. So while we're finding our way either to, or along, Christ’s path we have to trust that He will lead us along as soon as we get close enough to grab His hand. 

Christ is the way. He is the way out of darkness, shame, misery, fear, and hopelessness.  His path leads us toward light, grace, joy, and hope. He is the path up, the way forward and the way back. He set an example for us with His life.  His actions are our posted signs. Following His example of Christ like forgiveness, charity, and love help us recognize His path and then keep us on it. This applies to all aspects of our life; in our homes, at school, at work, with our spouse or children, in our business dealings, and with strangers we meet along the road. If we truly strive to live as He lived we will never stray from His path. If we follow His path we will never be lost. His path is the only way Home. Even if we take a wrong turn all we need to do is pray, search the scriptures, follow the commandments and commit to heeding His road signs set before us. It is then, after we have sought Him out, that He will take us by the hand and lead us straight back to our Heavenly Father. 

I love you all and hope you are well.
Love Sister Annie

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

"I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction." 1 Nephi 20:10

Salutations from the Far East! That is to distinguish it from the “Near”, and the “Middle” Easts. And I am the farthest of the Far. (If you are a humanities major please do not write me of my outdated orientalist view, let me just use this literary license please.) I am still pushing along and still fighting strong. I don’t mean this to sound like it is a struggle, but in a sense it is. Every day is in some way for all of us trying to do what is good and right. If we are not thinking about our progress on a daily basis we are standing still by definition. And I do not want to stand still. I want, and need to move forward. That doesn’t mean that every day is an adventure or a thrill, because some are just ordinary. So as days go as they added up to a week, this one was not the most eventful of my mission.

I failed to hold anything live that could technically be eaten, whether I wanted to eat it or not, but I did have my first encounter with "Bible Bashers". So maybe it was eventful after all.

First I need to explain some backstory to the aforementioned experience. My companion and I were merrily on our way to the bus terminal when we crossed paths with some women who were proselyting for another faith. They saw us first and stopped us. They wanted to talk so we did what we always do. We were polite and didn't argue and traded a pamphlet for their newspaper. We then went along our merry way and didn't think any more of it.  Unbeknownst to us, one of the women called and asked to set up an appointment to talk with us, I believe with the intent of arguing. All our caller said was that she had received a pamphlet and was interested in learning more about our church. We were so excited! We wondered, “how often do people come looking for you?” We made an appointment for a few days time and decided to meet at a local café. As we approached the café, my companion recognized the women from our previous encounter and worried aloud that it did not look good. I was still kind of optimistic. I thought maybe they had some real concerns and questions. Unfortunately, my companion's prediction turned out to be very true. We of course entered the café and greeted them politely. However, they immediately began what I would call haranguing us. I have never been harangued. It was a new, but very unpleasant experience. I felt doubly horrible because I could not understand anything the women were saying. They were quite emotional and loud for respectfully polite Korean women. All I could understand was "Jesus Christ" and "Bible's promise". They were saying over and over again in rapid-fire delivery. It wasn’t that I felt bad that I couldn’t understand them; it was that I was leaving my sweet companion to fend for both of us all by herself. She is a native Korean and is so very polite and quiet. I watched her maintain her demeanor in spite of being barraged in tandem. She was more patient and kind than I thought was possible in a situation like this, and I knew that she was relying n the Holy Ghost to guide her in how she responded to the women.  I watched her continually try to excuse us from the situation, but her Korean politeness maintained that she not be rude. So it actually took us over an hour to leave the situation. Even though she was “Rosie” and I was her “Sophia Grace” (oh pop culture I love you), I still felt a little worse for wear. It was stressful to say the least, and I might even choose eating Korean blood sausage over it the next time, but I have to say I am grateful for the experience. These are the things my testimony is made from. Being smack dab (my grandma’s word), in the furnace of affliction.

It was after going home that evening feeling that I somehow lacked in my ability to stand tall and bear Christ’s image in the face of adversity, I came upon the scripture that titles this post. What particularly caught my eye was the simple preposition “in”. “In” is a preposition of time. In any language they need to be used exactly, because they designate very specific meanings. “In” indicates a location, so around, over, under, beside, or on does not have the same meaning. It also designates immediacy, so before, or after means something different too. The scripture says: “I have chosen the IN the furnace of affliction”. It is often IN the very midst of our trials that the Lord calls us. It is during our trials when our faith is being tested to its limits. It is then that we are asked to make a decision. Not before we enter, and not after we are released, but while the heat is scorching our face. It is IN our affliction when we choose to stand strong It is IN our affliction that we hold fast to our faith to sustain us. And it is while we are IN our affliction that we become tempered and refined. Sadly, sometimes we cower when the heat rises and we search for an easy exit, or at least an open exit. My companion didn’t cower, and neither did I, but I think she got charred while I just got a little singed. However, we both emerged with a stronger faith than before. If while we are in our affliction of furnace we search for that easy exit, we are doing ourselves a great disservice. By choosing to cool our feet we deny ourselves opportunities to grow. Not just to grow, but also to become stronger and more resilient than we were before.

The words that precede this scriptural passage say: "For, behold, I have refined thee". The common analogy of the refiner's fire to affliction is well known. Raw ore cannot become beautiful silver until it is heated in a crucible, in such high temperatures that all of its imperfections are burned off, leaving a metal whose distinct characteristic is described as having a glossy reflection. It becomes more pure through the process.  I can't imagine that this is a pleasant experience for the sliver; perhaps it feels that its state of ore-dom (I’m using the word whether correct or not), is beautiful just the way it is, and that it was happy living in the rocks, they are safe and no one expects anything of it. It is comfortable and content in its current state. However, this is because the perspective of the silver is so limited. It cannot see its potential. It has no concept of the luster that it is capable of reflecting. It cannot even imagine what it has hiding in its crusty crevices.

We are the same. We might feel that we are fine just the way we are, that our progress is fine just where it is. We may feel that our life is easier when we know where all the exits are, and we are ready to use them. However, we cannot see what the Lord does. He alone knows who we can become. But we agreed a long time ago that we would search for our potential when we came to earth. I know…we always make promises without understanding what we are really getting into, but that's why we have been given help. We have been given the Holy Ghost. Sometimes we take HIS hand and step into the furnace deliberately, and sometimes we just cling to it as we find ourselves pushed into it.

But, we always have His hand if we seek it. Speaking of affliction, President Hinckley said, "I can't promise it will be easy, but I promise it will be worth it." It is only while we are IN our refining fires that we can become who we are meant to be. It is only then that we can be raised up high enough that we can get a glimpse of our Savior and His love for us. It is then that He chooses us as His disciple.I pray that when we are asked to cross that fiery threshold we will find the faith to step IN and endure until we come out on the other side a little shinier.

I miss you all and I love you very much,

Sister Annie