When I say I was shy, I should probably clarify. I was phobicly afraid of social situations and speaking in public, let alone talking to random strangers on the street. I still struggle with this from time to time, actually.
A little time after receiving that tidbit of wisdom from Brother Shupe, my mother enrolled me and my brother in 4-H. One of the first projects we joined was the presentations project, and in six months I went from barely being able to be heard when addressing the club to being a super loudmouth with the ability to fill a large conference hall with my voice, unaided by audio equipment. This was the first instance of my preparation for a mission.
Later on, I participated in leadership projects and held positions of relative responsibility in 4-H, gaining valuable interpersonal skills and the ability to lead and make decisions. I partially overcame my fear of making phone calls, which still hits me from time to time. Another case where I was being prepared.
In my last two years of high school, I went through traumatic circumstances in 4-H and Boy Scouts. My mind was barely capable of dealing with daily life as a result, and I lost a lot of confidence, even though I learned crucial lessons in dealing with emotional crisis, forgiveness, and objective prioritizing. It was a very difficult time for me.
Then I joined the Cabrillo Youth Chorus in my last semester of high school, and found that I could develop my voice, and release my emotions through music. It was perfect for me, as you can tell from my favorite scripture, D&C 25:12:
“For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.”
I felt God's love, the shadow that clouded my spirit was lifted, and I knew that I could overcome all the challenges of life.
Around that time, the age change for missionary service was announced. I had been thinking of going when I was 19, the old standard age, but hadn't planned for it and hadn't prepared personally, as it always seemed to be a distant goal. But I was serious about it, so I started the process. I was ordained an Elder, and began to laboriously get the medical prerequisites done.
The start of my three-year personal preparation was slow, because my phone-phobia reared its ugly head. I didn't really make any medical appointments until I'd been stewing on it for six months, and even then I needed my mother to help out. It was a struggle, but things began to happen, albeit slowly. I had numerous dental issues that took a long time to resolve.
After almost a year had passed, I realized that I needed to participate in funding my mission. As engineers always say, there's no such thing as a free sandwich, and a mission is no different. I got a job and started collecting supplies.
This was an enormous blessing, but the real benefit did not come from my biweekly paycheck. I learned so many things about dealing with people and managing a business that I could observe myself maturing. I saw myself reacting to situations differently, thinking with different paradigms and leading employees to success – and occasionally messing up and taking responsibility for my mistakes. And this was yet another example of my being prepared.
I say I was being prepared – I've said it a few times now – because it's my firm belief that I was being guided, by the Lord, in the direction it was important for me to go. It was important that I experience what I did when I was in high school. It was important that I learn the hard way to manage my money when I was only in 8th grade. It was important that I gain leadership experience, both in 4-H and as a manager at Dollar Tree. These things were important, because they prepared me so I could stand here today, about to leave on a mission.
I have an absolute testimony that the Lord has a plan for me. He was a work for me to perform, and a critical step in it's completion is this mission. This is as clear to me as the day, and I am grateful for it. Because of my life, I am prepared. No matter what happens, I know I will prevail.
The hardest part of my mission preparation was the waiting. I was constantly waiting for some piece of paperwork to be done, some dental procedure to be completed, or an appointment to be kept. I chose to put off my undergraduate education at Cabrillo because I didn't want to be halfway through, and then postpone the rest of it for my mission; neither did I want to postpone my mission until I had completed my Associate's degree. Now I regret that choice – Given the amount of time it took from when I started preparing to when I was finally ready, I could have my AA in vocal performance already.
An unfortunate side-effect of this choice was lot's of depression and self-doubt. I'm a man with a plan, you could say, because I love to plan for the long-term. The past three years, I could make few long-term plans that required constant attention, because I knew my mission would interrupt them. And so, in a way I've already partially dedicated that time, even though it was mentally and emotionally harmful. I was always too optimistic in when I would be done with my dental procedures and ready to submit my application.
Several times I almost decided to give up on a mission altogether. Each time, I made my choice – to keep on with my plan. Each time I made that choice, my faith grew, and I was more and more determined to serve the Lord.
And now here I am! I stand as a witness that the Lord will prepare a way for those who wish to serve Him. And I very strongly believe that He has prepared me; as has been said, many situations and circumstances that I experienced were for my good, even though at the time they often brought pain and fear.
And this leads me into my real topic for today.
“Keep the Commandments.” This is a mantra we hear all the time, at Conference, in Sunday School, family home evenings, and in talks during Sacrament meeting. In Hymn 303 we sing,
“Keep the commandments; keep the commandments! In this there is safety; in this there is peace. He will send blessings; He will send blessings. Words of a prophet: Keep the commandments. In this there is safety and peace.”
The sheer volume of times this sentence can be found in talks and articles on LDS.org belies its importance; our religion is built on a foundation of obedience to eternal principles and divine commandments from God.
Of course, there are many commandments, although we don't have it quite as bad as the Israelites did under the law of Moses. There are twelve principle commandments we follow today, beginning with the Ten Commandments:
- Thous shalt have no other gods before me.
- Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
- Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord they God in vain.
- Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
- Honour thy father and thy mother.
- Thou shalt not kill.
- Thou shalt not commit adultery.
- Thou shalt not steal.
- Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
- Thou shalt not covet.
The Great Commandments, however, can be harder to parse, and definitely harder to obey always. They can be found in Matthew 22:37-39:
“… Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
"This is the first and great commandment.
"And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
Loving your neighbor as yourself is difficult. Often we feel we have no interest in others' lives, or only seek to show them “love” in order to advance our social status. Or we outright use them, discarding them when they no longer serve our temporary purpose.
Nevertheless, it is a commandment.
God gave us these, and other commandments both as rules for our lives, and conditions for our return to Him someday. And although some of the commandments are obviously beneficial, such as “Thou shalt not kill,” we are often led astray, reasoning why one or other of them aren't for us. On that note, President Monson said,
“God's commandments are not given to frustrate us or to become obstacles to our happiness. Just the opposite is true. He who created us and who loves us perfectly knows just how we need to live our lives in order to obtain the greatest happiness possible. He was provided us with guidelines which, if we follow them, will see us safely through this often treacherous mortal journey.”
God is infinitely wiser than us. We need to trust His wisdom and place our feet in His footsteps by obeying His commandments. If we do, we will be blessed.
There are many blessings that come from keeping the commandments, not the least of which are self-control and personal discipline. We learn to control our subconscious thoughts and overcome the base desires of the “natural man”.
Speaking on commandments and blessings, King Benjamin said in Mosiah 2:22:
“And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you.”
Now, one could write a whole treatise on each of the twelve principle commandments, and definitely a talk on any of the other commandments found throughout ancient and modern scripture. But the one that principally concerns me right now is the commandment to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
President Ezra Taft Benson said, “We are commanded by God to take this gospel to all the world. That is the cause that must unite us today. Only the gospel will save the world from the calamity of its own self-destruction. Only the gospel will unite men of all races and nationalities in peace. Only the gospel will bring joy, happiness, and salvation to the human family.”
Scriptural mentions of the importance of missionary work abound. Isaiah 52:7 says:
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!”
Jesus Christ Himself commanded, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all the things whatsoever I have commanded you...” (MATT 28:19-20)
The commandment to spread the gospel is vital to our faith. And were it not a commandment, but merely a suggestion, it would still hold much weight – for what person, having the cure for many of the worst evils of human nature, would keep it to himself and hide it from the world? Or should you have the cure for a deadly disease, would you not give it to your afflicted friend?
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (MATT 5:16)
I take this call seriously. It's a real thing, not a passing whim.
I'd like to state my personal goals, and my personal reason for serving a mission. They are, 1) to serve the Lord, 2) to inspire people to enact great positive changes in their lives, 3) to convert and save souls, 4) to serve anyone and everyone I can. Baptizing is a happy consequence of the successful accomplishment of these four goals.
I'm sure I'll be very annoying to my mission president. Any time I notice the missionary effort devolving into a numbers game, I'm going to say something. I'm not spending two years in Southern California to play Yahtzee, I can do that just fine at home.
Brothers and Sisters, we have all been commanded to share the gospel. It is the Good News of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ! It mends hearts, protects relationships, and saves lives. Eternal salvation is what we share; it is not only a commandment, but our moral obligation. It's importance is best put by Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians:
“For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 COR 9:16)
I am honored to serve a full-time mission.
Namarië! Aal hin miiraad viin us hi.